Education Opportunity Network

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5/28/2015 – Education Makes The Progressive Punchlist

THIS WEEK: Costs Of Child Care Balloon … Poor Kids Need Lenient Schools … Poverty Hurts Teacher Morale … What Top Teachers Want … Make College Debt Free


Education Makes The Progressive Punchlist

By Jeff Bryant

“For years, the progressive punchlist of issues has neglected education policy … But there are now signs education – in its entirety, from pre-K through college – may be taking its place as a mainstay on progressive platforms … In its video series on ‘The Big Picture: 10 Ideas to Save the Economy’ MoveOn features [Robert] Reich … addresses not only the now required support for universal pre-K and college loan debt relief, but also addresses K-12 agenda policy … Like Fight for $15 and Black Lives Matter, the movement to resist and reform the nation’s policies governing public education has now gone mainstream and become woven into the media narrative of grassroots discontent surging across the country. Some progressives are starting to get this.”
Read more …


The States Where Parents Spend The Most On Child Care

The Washington Post

“Over the last three decades, weekly out-of-pocket spending on child-care for families with an employed mother has almost doubled … The average annual cost of daycare is now higher than the price of in-state college tuition in 31 states – and exceeds 40% of the average annual income of single mothers in 22 states … Expensive, unreliable child-care is often why many new mothers have trouble getting ahead in the workplace … Average annual cost of daycare for an infant in Alabama is $5,547 … about one-sixth of the average working woman’s income … Working mothers devote a third of the average annual income in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New York.”
Read more …

Long-Term Gains Seen For Kids Who Leave Poor Neighborhoods

Education Week

“The younger children are when they move out of impoverished neighborhoods, the better their long-term outcomes are … Those results may derive in part from the likelihood that children in low-poverty neighborhoods are more liable to be given second chances … The relative leniency of schools and authorities in lower-poverty areas may have a positive effect on educational outcomes even if the academic programs don’t differ significantly … Children who moved to low-poverty neighborhoods before age 13 earned an annual income as adults that was $3,477, or 31%, higher than their counterparts who stayed in high-poverty neighborhoods … Though the neighborhoods that families moved to were substantially less impoverished than their previous neighborhoods, the schools their children attended were only modestly different from their previous schools as measured by poverty rates and test scores.”
Read more …

High-Poverty Schools Continue To Wear On Teachers, Surveys Show

Tampa Bay Times

“It’s hard to teach at a high-poverty school. There’s less buy-in from parents. Kids don’t follow the rules. There aren’t even enough computers. And staff turnover is sky high … Although 77% of teachers countywide were satisfied with their jobs, those numbers were 56, 58 and 60% at … The challenge of staffing high-needs schools stymies many districts, as seasoned teachers often opt for less stressful jobs in middle-class neighborhoods. Despite their best efforts, districts end up filling vacancies in their highest-poverty schools with teachers who are new to the district or right out of college.”
Read more …

Poverty, Family Stress Are Thwarting Student Success, Top Teachers Say

The Washington Post

“The greatest barriers to school success for K-12 students have little to do with anything that goes on in the classroom, according to the nation’s top teachers: It is family stress, followed by poverty, and learning and psychological problems … The survey comes at a time when studies show a large percentage of U.S. public school students come from low-income families … Asked to identify three top school funding priorities, the teachers ranked ‘anti-poverty initiatives’ as their top choice, followed by early learning and ‘reducing barriers to learning’ … Few thought access to technology needed more investment and none thought funding should be devoted to research. And funding for testing and accountability had little support, ranking near the bottom.”
Read more …

Tell Congress College Should Be Debt-Free

Campaign For America’s Future

The movement for debt-free education is growing. Senator Elizabeth Warren and Reps. Keith Ellison, Brian Schatz and Raul Grijalva have sponsored a resolution that gets at the heart of the student debt issue: “Resolved, that Congress supports efforts to ensure that, through a combination of efforts, all students have access to debt-free higher education, defined to mean having no debt upon graduation from all public institutions of higher education.” Tell Congress you support this resolution.
Click here to sign the petition telling Congress to pass this resolution and support debt-free college

Education Makes The Progressive Punchlist

For years, the progressive punchlist of issues has neglected education policy.

Back in the 2012 election, education was mostly a no-show in presidential debates, and very few candidates were standard bearers for public schools, leaving these issues primarily matters left to ballot initiatives totally remote from party or movement platforms.

Again in 2014, a strong coalition in support of public education generally did not affect political campaigns, with the exception of Tom Wolf’s strong victory over incumbent Tom Corbett in the Pennsylvania governor’s race.

More recently, there have been disturbing signs education issues pertaining to K-12 schooling would again be left off the progressive agenda for 2016.

But there are now signs education – in its entirety, from pre-K through college – may be taking its place as a mainstay on progressive platforms.

On the national scene, calls for universal access to early childhood education have now become practically ubiquitous, thanks in part to some leadership from the Obama administration and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Also, the staggering mountain of loan debt this nation has piled onto college students has now become an issue every national candidate seems compelled to address. “The rise in college costs – and student-loan burdens – is breaking through as a hot issue in the 2016 presidential race,” The Wall Street Journal declares. “Congressional Democrats are advocating for debt-free public higher education and pushing party front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton to take up the issue in her campaign,” says The Washington Post.

Support for K-12 education appears to be joining the list too.

Robert Reich: “Reinvent Education”

In 2013, the Education Opportunity Network, in partnership with Campaign for America’s Future and the Opportunity to Learn campaign, published a progressive plan for education policy called the Education Declaration to Rebuild America. Renowned economist Robert Reich was one of the first prominent voices to give his support to that document. Now Reich has teamed up with progressive dynamo to press this progressive agenda further.

In its video series on “The Big Picture: 10 Ideas to Save the Economy” MoveOn features Reich explaining progressive pathways to getting America back on track to a nation of middle class prosperity. One of the ten ideas is to “Reinvest Education.”

In a three-minute video, Reich says “fixing” education is “crucial to our kids and the economy,” and he addresses not only the now required support for universal pre-K and college loan debt relief, but also addresses K-12 agenda policy.

He calls current education policies an “outmoded” assembly line approach left over from the last century and outlines a six-point education agenda that can be part of every movement progressive’s policy plan.

1. Stop Endless Testing – It’s “destroying the love of teaching and learning,” he says. “Give teachers space to teach and students freedom to learn.” By now, it’s obvious the nation’s obsession with standardized testing in grades K-12 has done nothing to lift the education achievement of low-income students and create more equity in the system. There are moves already underway to turn back the tide of testing. Let’s support those and propose better alternatives to testing.

2. Limit Class Sizes – Classes should have no more than 20 students, he maintains, so teachers can give students the attention they need.” This makes sense, and there’s a significant research base to support it. Austerity minded reformers have been engaged in a war on class size, but parents and voters have generally fought them every step of the way. After all, why do elite private schools tout small class sizes in marketing their programs?

3. Increase Funding and Services – In calling for increased federal funding for education, Reich wants to see more financial support for educating low-income students. In particular, he wants poor children having more access to high quality early childhood education and money for “community based schools that serve the whole child with health services, counselors, and after school activities.” Recent research has found these types of educational interventions hold promise, and there are practical models of this approach from real schools to follow.

4. Technical Training – Questioning the current push for a universal “college readiness,” Reich calls instead for high school students to have opportunities to pursue other post-secondary education paths such as technical education. He believes there should be lots of avenues into the middle class, “not just four-year college.” It’s important to note what Reich proposes is not a dual track system where some students follow an education course of study that destines them for a particular life or career outcome. Instead, high school students should have opportunities, before they graduate, to pursue their varied interests.

5. Make Higher Education FREE – “Higher education isn’t just a personal investment,” Reich insists. “It’s a public good.” Students of all ages need the opportunity to learn as much as they can, and when they do, society benefits by having a more educated work force and more well informed citizens capable of participating in democracy. In calling for this, Reich has joined with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth and newly declared Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to erase college student loan debt and ensure it never becomes an impediment to education attainment again.

6. Increase Teacher and Staff Pay – Reich points out that while investment bankers are getting paid “a fortune to tend to America’s financial capital,” we’re neglecting the pay of teachers and other public education staff who “develop the nation’s human capital.” Just like in all other arenas, in education money matters. Yet in some parts of America, full time teachers make so little money they qualify for food stamps and can take as long as 16 years to reach a salary level of $40,000. Research has found strong correlation of investment in school staffing quality and quantity to student outcomes, so yes, invest more in teachers.

Why Education Belongs On Progressive Platforms

It’s important to note, the progressive education agenda MoveOn and Reich call for is similar to what other prominent progressive advocates have put forth.

In its “Populism 2015 Platform: Building a Movement for the People and the Planet,” the Campaign for America’s Future states, “Every child must have the right to high-quality, free public education.” CAF cites “preschool, smaller classes, summer and after-school programs, and skilled teachers” along with “free four-year, post-high school education” and “relief” to student debt as education “basics” our government should provide. [Full disclosure: CAF is a partner of the Education Opportunity Network.]

All of this platform-proclamation is what my colleague at CAF Robert Borosage calls the beginning of an “ideas debate” that he believes will dominate the 2016 elections.

Looking beyond the spotlight of the big money in the contest, Borosage identifies a “competition to formulate a compelling message and agenda that appeals to voters.” That competition is between “the authority of the old elite arguments” and a rising populism that is calling for policies that produce greater equity in the economic outcomes of Americans.

So if national politics is going to be about ideas, which ones? And who decides?

While progressives in prominent media outlets, advocacy groups, and Congress have been silent or uncertain on education policy, public schools have endured a decades-long regime of top-down austerity and standardization enforced by a test-and-punish philosophy. And centrist “Wall Street” Democrats have colluded with the right wing to frame an education policy based on market based thinking and school privatization as somehow “progressive.”

But given the new landscape Borosage describes, it would seem that if the debate pits a new brand of populism against an aging elite, then certainly we would expect progressive proclamations to be the products of ground-up efforts, manifesting themselves in public outpourings in town squares, city streets, and social media hubs across the country.

If that’s indeed the case, then the progressives must look to signs everywhere of a widespread discontent with education current policies.

Last week alone brought numerous examples of the populist upheaval related to public school teachers. In Seattle, thousands of teachers across the city walked out of schools to protest funding cuts that would increase class sizes and undo promises to increase teacher pay. In Newark, a thousand students walked out of classes across the city to protest a decision by the district’s state-run management to ignore student and parent voices and turn more public schools over to privately operated charter school management groups. And the venerable PBS News Hour reported on the explosive growth of the nationwide rebellion against standardized testing. “The movement has been relatively small in total numbers,” William Brangham explained. “But it picked up a lot of support this year in places like New York State, where as many as 165,000 students opted out. In New Jersey, 15 percent of the high schoolers who were slated to take the tests chose not to do so.”

A Winning Issue, If Progressives Want One

Further, a progressive stance on education can win elections. This has been most evident in the recent victories achieved by progressive mayoral candidates in New York City, Newark, and now Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia example is especially instructive. As local Philly journalist Will Bunch explains, the progressive victory in that city drew its strength “from regular citizens exercising their 1st Amendment rights in the city that produced the 1st Amendment.” In particular, Bunch notes “Philadelphia school kids who … clogged Broad Street with their signs of protestfast-food workers and the airport workers who risked their jobs … to demand a higher minimum wage … educators and the parents who screamed bloody murder … hundreds who snaked their way through the streets of Philadelphia on a cold December night. … carrying signs with their simple yet profound message, that #BlackLivesMatter.”

Like Fight for $15 and Black Lives Matter, the movement to resist and reform the nation’s policies governing public education has now gone mainstream and become woven into the media narrative of grassroots discontent surging across the country.

Some progressives are starting to get this.

5/21/2015 – Charter Schools Won’t Solve Racial Injustice

THIS WEEK: Resisting Tests Promotes Equity … No Accountability for Billions Spent On Charters … Teachers Feel Underappreciated … For-Profit College Lobbying … Pre-K Spending Rises


Charter Schools Won’t Solve Racial Injustice In Baltimore, Or Anywhere Else

By Jeff Bryant

“After riots broke out in Baltimore, prominent advocates for charter schools contended these schools had the power to ‘save’ the city … What plagues public schools in Baltimore, and other big cities for that matter, is not lack of charter schools … Rather than calling for unproven gimmicks like charter schools, advocates for racial equity and social justice would do more for their cause by urging government and policy leaders to actually address these problems directly.”
Read more …


Resistance To High Stakes Tests Serves The Cause Of Equity In Education

The Network For Public Education

Seattle high school teacher Jesse Hagopian writes, “High stakes tests are doing more harm than good to the interests of students of color … The United States is currently experiencing the largest uprising against high-stakes standardized testing in the nation’s history … Increasing numbers of people from communities of color are leading this movement … it is vital to understand the disparities that exist in education and to detail the opportunity gap that exists between students of color and white students … Yet we know that high-stakes standardized tests, rather than reducing the opportunity gap, have been used to rank, sort, label, and punish students of color … Standardized testing is not the only, or the most important, method to know that students of color are being underserved … Inequitable opportunities are manifestly evident to anyone who cares to look. The use of tests for this purpose has become part of the problem, rather than a solution.”
Read more …

Feds Failed To Keep Tabs On $3b In Aid Doled Out To Charter Schools

New York Daily News

“The federal government shelled out $3.3 billion over the past 20 years to launch new charter schools nationwide, yet failed to monitor how that money was used … Federal spending to launch charter schools zoomed from a mere $4.5 million in 1995 to more than $253 million today … with President Obama now asking Congress for a whopping increase to $375 million for next year … That’s on top of billions of dollars state governments spend for charter school operations … The U.S. Department of Education doesn’t even bother to keep a public record of which charter schools get money.”
Read more …

The Stark Inequality Of U.S. Public Schools, Mapped

City Lab

“Earlier this year, the Southern Education Foundation released a report that … examined concentrated poverty in American public schools by state. Now, the Urban Institute has taken a deeper dive by mapping the data by county, illuminating how poverty and race are distributed in public schools across the country. There are three main takeaways … 1) Poor kids are six times more likely to attend ‘high-poverty’ public schools … 2) Poverty isn’t just concentrated in inner-city public schools … 3) Black students are six times more likely to attend high-poverty schools … The key to resolving these disparities may lie in combining fair housing policies with education policies geared toward integration.”
Read more …

For-Profit Colleges Flex Political Muscle

Miami Herald

“For more than a decade, ‘accountability’ has been the education buzzword in Florida … The rules are different at for-profit colleges … Florida’s Legislature continues to encourage the growth of the industry … Lawmakers have increased funding sources and reduced quality standards and oversight … A Herald examination of campaign records since 2008 found that for-profit colleges have contributed more than $1.2 million to state lawmakers and political parties. The Legislature, in turn, passed 15 laws benefiting the industry … As state lawmakers have turned the for-profit colleges’ wish lists into legislation, they also have passed at least three bills that hindered community colleges, which directly compete for many of the same students … The for-profit colleges have made their voice heard in Washington as well, while passing out nearly $400,000 in campaign contributions to Florida-based candidates.”
Read more …

National Report: Preschool Spending, Enrollment Up Incrementally

Education Week

“40 states with state preschool programs and the District of Columbia spent $116 million more on public preschool in the 2013-14 school year than they did in 2012-13 … Enrollment increased overall by 8,535 children, with several states increasing enrollment and other decreasing enrollment … Across the country, 29% of 4-year-olds and 4% of 3-year-olds were enrolled in state-funded preschool. Including Head Start, 41.5% of 4-year-olds were enrolled and 14.5% of 3-year-olds. … Washington, D.C. is winning on 3-year-old enrollment. The district enrolls 69 percent of its 3-year-olds in publicly funded preschool … Spending per child ranged from less than $2,000 in South Carolina and Arizona to $15,732 in the District of Columbia.”
Read more …

Charter Schools Won’t Solve Racial Injustice In Baltimore, Or Anywhere Else

The disturbing death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore while in police custody, and the ensuing riots after news of his death spread, have continued to prompt countless analyses of the chronic problems in our nation’s urban centers.

My colleague Terrance Heath correctly assigns blame to a direct source: chronic abuse committed by police against people, especially black and brown people, taken into custody. A recent report from progressive news outlet Alternet reveals “nearly 2,600 detainees” from Baltimore police were turned away from the city’s detention center in the past three years because they were too injured to be accepted.

Jelani Cobb, writing for The New Yorker, expanded his analysis to historic cases – including a similar event in Ferguson, Missouri – and found, indeed, incidents of police brutality sparked “every major riot by the black community of an American city since the Second World War.”

Cobb correctly connects police violence against communities of color to “historical roots in segregation” that plague the country yet remain largely unaddressed as incident after incident persistently calls our attention to racial discrimination.

Editors of The New York Times seem to agree, declaring, “Racism doomed Baltimore.”

However, this common sense analyses hasn’t stopped others from spinning Baltimore, and other big metropolitan communities plagued with racial inequity, into an argument de jour for more charter schools.

Will Charters “Save” The City?

After riots broke out in Baltimore, prominent advocates for charter schools took to Twitter to contend their schools had the power to “save” the city.

Editors at The Washington Post, in an editorial, “The schools Baltimore needs,” declared, “Baltimore’s tumult underscores the need to go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan that welcomes high-quality charter organizations.”

The editors contend “competitive pressure” charters impose on public schools “might help,” and they criticize Maryland state lawmakers for being “so hostile to charter schools.”

Similarly, editors of The Wall Street Journal make the same illogical leap in their support for charter schools while criticizing anyone who stands in the way of expanding these institutions willy-nilly. While claiming that charter schools are “an escape for poor children,” the editors rail against Maryland laws that give local authorities governance over new charter start-ups – a bizarre argument coming from a conservative news outlet for sure.

First, let’s be clear that what plagues public schools in Baltimore, and other big cities for that matter, is not lack of charter schools.

The Equity Problem

Writing at his personal blogsite, Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker explains that a long time ago Maryland isolated Baltimore as a segregated, high-poverty school district with inadequate funding and support.

“Baltimore City really isn’t provided sufficient resources to address its extreme needs,” Baker argues, pointing to data indicating that, relative to the socio-economic conditions of students across the state, Maryland earns a grade “D” for the way it funds high-poverty schools like those in Baltimore.

Maryland’s new Republican governor Larry Hogan is likely making matters worse. As Politico points out, in its daily education newsletter, Baltimore’s mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has demanded the governor “release $68 million in funding for school districts” including hers. And the state’s teachers’ union has held events “urging Hogan to release the funding,” which would send nearly $12 million to Baltimore’s schools.

A recent report on these events in The Baltimore Sun notes that advocates want some of the money targeted to turning more city schools into community schools, which provide health and social services to children of low-income families who often come to school with learning problems associated with poverty.

Further, Baker points out that given the way funds are spread within the district of Baltimore, schools serving the highest percentages of the lowest-income children spend less on teacher salaries – a pretty good indicator that the city’s high-poverty schools have lower ratios of certified teachers per student and higher percentages of novice (first two years) teachers.

Charter schools in particular have high ratios of these novice teachers, “a staffing model,” Baker argues, that “isn’t likely sustainable in the long term, unless as a matter of policy, large shares of teachers are annually dismissed.”

Although charter schools advocates like to point to data indicating charters in Baltimore serve some of the city’s neediest kids, these statistics are skewed in a really crafty way. As Baker points out in an older post, charter schools located in lower poverty zip codes in the district tend to enroll the lowest income kids. “But, in the higher poverty zip codes, charters tend to be serving lower poverty populations.” See how that works? Get your poverty cred from serving the lowest income students in the part of town where families are generally better off, and then cream the best students in neighborhoods where families are really struggling. How clever.

So Baltimore public schools are by no means an example of “throwing money at the problem” of racial inequity, and charter schools, rather than helping to solve racial inequity, may be adding to it.

Public School Progress

Also, rather than contributing to chronic poverty and racial injustice, Baltimore’s public schools may be one of the city’s few institutions that is creating some genuine progress.

As Baker finds in his first blog post, “Baltimore has shown reasonable average gains, given expectations,” on the most common measure of academic achievement, the National Assessment of Education Progress.

“Although nearly all the pro-reform commentators insist Baltimore schools are failing, statistics suggest otherwise,” Take Part’s Joseph Williams points out. “According to the school district’s website, 83 percent of pre-kindergarten students emerged ready to learn, state standardized assessment reading test scores jumped nearly 20 percent from 2004 to 2013, and math scores climbed more than 25 percent during that same time frame.”

In the wake of the turmoil in Baltimore, the city’s public schools are promoting some genuine understanding and community healing. According to a report in Education Week, school leaders have declared their intentions to conduct “classroom activities and events to help students process what happened.” How is that effort helped by adding to the divisiveness that has become one of the primary features of charter school expansions?

Further, there are some indicators that new efforts to change from zero tolerance discipline policies to more positive restorative justice practices may be taking hold in Baltimore, which would reduce student suspensions and expulsions and de-escalate tensions that lead to school and community violence and end the city’s school to prison pipeline.

Instead Of More Charters

Instead of adding to the numbers of charter schools in Baltimore, Maryland state lawmakers made the right decision by putting the brakes on Governor Hogan’s plan to expand these schools for what amounts to ideological reasons.

State lawmakers, rather than ignoring the plight of poor kids as they are accused of doing by newspaper editors, are likely paying attention to recent revelations that charter schools expel students at a higher rate than traditional schools and are plagued by millions of dollars in waste, fraud, and abuse nationwide.

The federal government has spent billions on charter schools with virtually no accountability. Where there are cases of charter schools out-performing public schools on standardized tests, there doesn’t seem to be anything especially innovative about these schools to indicate they’ve found new approaches that need to be rapidly expanded throughout a school system like Baltimore’s.

Rather than calling for unproven gimmicks like charter schools, advocates for racial equity and social justice would do more for their cause by urging government and policy leaders to actually address these problems directly.

In communities like Baltimore, what’s more likely to advance real progress are new policies that take real steps to end racial discrimination in law enforcement, alleviate the chronic underfunding of high-poverty schools, promote racial integration in housing and education, and transform punitive education policies to practices that advance understanding, cooperation, and respect.

4/23/2015 – An Alternative To Failed Education Reform

THIS WEEK: Opt-Out Movement Grows … Low-Income Kids Need Music Class … More Schools Have Longer Days, Years … More Scholarships Go To Wealthier Kids … Students’ Race Affects Teachers’ Perceptions


An Alternative To Failed Education ‘Reform,’ If We Want One

By Jeff Bryant

“It would seem that at a time, such as now, when the nation’s education policy is in such disarray, and incoherence rules the day, it would be good to pivot to alternatives that might provide a more positive path forward. Indeed, such an alternative approach is at hand … California – the state with by far the most K-12 students, one in eight – has started to take education policy in a different direction … Instead of fiscal austerity and top-down accountability, financial support for local schools has grown, local authorities have been empowered to create change, and trust and verification have taken over from rigid oversight.”
Read more …


Opt-Out Movement Accelerates Amid Common-Core Testing

Associated Press via ABC News

“Thousands of students are opting out of new standardized tests aligned to the Common Core standards … This ‘opt-out’ movement remains scattered but is growing fast … Some superintendents in New York are reporting that 60 percent or even 70 percent of their students are refusing to sit for the exams. Some lawmakers, sensing a tipping point, are backing the parents and teachers … Opposition runs across the political spectrum … From pre-kindergarten through grade 12, students take an average of 113 standardized tests … Teachers now devote 30 percent of their work time on testing-related tasks.”
Read more …

Low-Income Kids Benefit From Music Class, Show Greater Reading Skills

Medical Daily

“Music classes are usually cut first when schools reevaluate their budget. But a new study … shows these classes are valuable, especially to low-income children … Since music and language skills stem from auditory processing, researchers decided to measure the impact music classes have on low-income children … Children taking a music class showed greater reading abilities in comparison to children not taking a music class … Researchers added they interpreted these results to mean “auditory enrichment” offered in a music class may improve literacy skills and combat the otherwise negative impact of a low-income environment.”
Read more …

Longer School Days And Years Catching On In Public K-12

Education Week

“Twice as many schools today have a longer school day or year than just two years ago … Of the 2,009 schools that had expanded learning time last year, 1,208 – or 61% – were regular public schools … In the past two legislative sessions, lawmakers in all 50 states introduced hundreds of bills giving schools and districts the scheduling flexibility and funding to go long. More than 40 of them passed … The majority of expanded time schools serve low-income, high needs students.”
Read more …

Wealthier Students More Likely Than Poor To Get Private Scholarships

The Hechinger Report

“Federal data show that poor families that need the private scholarships the most are less likely to get them than higher-income ones … Nearly 13% of students from families that make more than $106,000 a year get private scholarships, compared with about 9% of those whose families earn less than $30,000 … Two-thirds of parents with incomes of $75,000 or more could name scholarships as potential sources of financial aid, only one in four with incomes under $25,000 a year could … Wealthier students are more likely to go to private or well-funded suburban high schools with knowledgeable college counselors… Students at private and suburban schools were significantly more likely to have spoken with a college counselor than those at urban schools … Private scholarships have grown to represent 13% of all direct grants given to American college students.”
Read more …

Students’ Race Affects How Teachers Judge Misbehavior, Study Says

Education Week Teacher

“Racial disparities in school discipline are well-documented … A new study … aims to dig a little deeper into this by looking at how a student’s race may play into teachers’ reactions to discipline problems … Studies … presented a total of 244 K-12 teachers … with a fictional student’s disciplinary records. The records were labeled with either a stereotypically black name (Deshawn or Darnell) or a stereotypically white one (Greg or Jake) … Teachers who had the black student’s file were more likely to feel ‘troubled’ by the student’s behavior and to recommend more severe punishments for him after the second instance of misbehavior … Researchers also asked the teachers to rate how certain they were of the student’s race. They found that teachers who were more sure that the student was black were also more likely to feel that the student was a ‘troublemaker’ and that his behaviors were part of a pattern … Teachers involved in the study were predominantly white and female, much like the teaching profession.”
Read more …

An Alternative To Failed Education ‘Reform,’ If We Want One

The movement to boycott standardized testing has caught the media totally by surprise. The mostly parent-led effort started with Facebook pages and neighborhood meetings has grown into a firestorm of resistance.

As the Associated Press reported this week, “This ‘opt-out’ movement remains scattered but is growing fast.” The article points to New York – where perhaps as many as 200,000 students recently sat out the standardized tests – but also mentions strong opt-out movements in New Jersey, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.

Even education policy influentials who have long advocated for an accountability system driven by standardized tests have been shaken by the resounding opposition to their policies.

Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, momentum is growing behind a US Senate bill rewriting No Child Left Behind legislation that governs national education policy. As Zoë Carpenter describes for The Nation, the new bill, the Every Child Achieves Act, isn’t exactly “a stake through the heart of NCLB,” but it likely puts the accountability mandates of NCLB into a state of flux in which federal enforcement of Adequate Yearly Progress would end and states would have more leeway in crafting their own accountability measures.

It would seem that at a time, such as now, when the nation’s education policy is in such disarray, and incoherence rules the day, it would be good to pivot to alternatives that might provide a more positive path forward. Indeed, such an alternative approach is at hand.

Lessons From An ‘Outlier’

California – the state with by far the most K-12 students, one in eight – has started to take education policy in a different direction.

As Claremont Graduate University professor Charles Taylor Kerchner explains in an op-ed in Education Week, the Golden State is an “outlier” when it comes to education, veering sharply away from policies pushed by President Barak Obama and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

“The state has refused to sign on to the test-score-accountability provisions of the federal agenda,” Kerchner writes. And, “The state legislature has terminated its old statewide testing system altogether and suspended its single indicator system.”

Also, at a time when politicians pay more lip service to inequity in the country, California’s education policy has actually taken steps to address that problem. “The state has coupled the revival of its financial fortunes with a revolutionary change in how it spends its education dollars,” Kerchner explains. Through the state’s recently enacted local-control funding formula, “substantial fiscal control” is now in the hands of local school districts, and “districts with low-income students, English-language learners, and foster youths receive 20 percent more in the current version of the formula. Those where 55 percent of students fall into one or more high-needs categories will get an additional grant.”

These changes have turned “the education policy of the last four decades on its head,” Kerchner argues, and instead of fiscal austerity and top-down accountability, financial support for local schools has grown, local authorities have been empowered to create change, and trust and verification have taken over from rigid oversight.

A Build-And-Support Approach

The California Model is described by former state school chief Bill Honig as a Build-and-Support approach, as opposed to the Test-and-Punish policy carried out since the advent of NCLB.

In my recent interview with Honig at Salon, he describes Build-and-Support as consisting of

  • Trusting educators to want to improve.
  • Providing local schools and districts the leeway and resources so they can improve. Making instruction, not testing, the center of improvement efforts.
  • Creating successful teams at the school site that share knowledge of teaching approaches, focus on what works, and continue to improve.
  • Ensuring a strong liberal arts curriculum is in the center of school programs.

Honig describes how his state has avoided many of the emotional conflicts that have consumed education policy decision making elsewhere by divorcing policy innovations, such as Common Core Standards, from test-based accountability. “We wanted instruction, not testing, to drive the effort,” he explains. “The state also is developing an accountability system that has broader measures than just annual tests and will be primarily aimed at feeding information back to improvement efforts at the school and district.

Honig concludes. “Our path forward is what the best educational and management and educational scholarship has advised, irrefutable evidence has supported, and the most successful schools and districts here and abroad have adopted.”

Choosing The Right Drivers For Improvement

Much of the philosophy behind the California Model is derived from the work of Michael Fullan, who is an acclaimed author and consultant in the field of education governance and reform.

Fullan contends American education policy since NCLB has been obsessed with “the wrong drivers.” In his studies of education systems around the world, he finds, “In the rush to move forward, leaders, especially from countries that have not been progressing, tend to choose the wrong drivers. Such ineffective drivers fundamentally miss the target.”

Four “culprits” Fullan finds that “make matters significantly worse” are over-emphasizing accountability and test results, promoting individual rather than group solutions, substituting technology for good instruction, and choosing fragmented strategies instead of systemic strategies to improve the system.

Although these drivers can be “components” of reform, Fullan argues, it is “a mistake to lead with them. Countries that do lead with them (efforts such as are currently underway in the US and Australia, for example) will fail to achieve whole system reform.”

Alternatively, Fullan calls for policies that lead with “right drivers” that are evident in countries that consistently score highest on international assessments of academic achievement: Korea, Finland, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Canada.

The right drivers Fullan finds at work in high-performing countries are

  1. Building capacity in schools and teachers rather than stressing accountability.
  2. Emphasizing teamwork and group quality instead of individual performance.
  3. Focusing on instructional improvement rather than technology.
  4. Enacting whole system reforms rather than piecemeal reforms.

These four improvement drivers, Fullan insists, are “the crucial elements for whole system reform.”

Education policy leaders in California seem to agree and have started acting on these ideas.

Beyond NCLB Accountability

To move toward an education policy with the right drivers, California has moved beyond the notion of accountability enforced by NCLB.

As Kerchner describes in a blog post for Education Week, “In an era where Congress is deadlocked, California is pushing to create new, multiple measure accountability measures.”

Kerchner explains how his state has gone beyond a myopic attention to test scores to look at other kinds of results, such as “tracking progress of English Learners,” student preparedness for college, suspension and expulsion rates, chronic absenteeism, dropout rates, graduation rates, and access to a well-rounded curriculum.

This approach to accountability is echoed in calls from National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen Garcia. Garcia and the NEA call for any revision of NCLB to include an “opportunity dashboard” similar to what California is pursuing. In a letter she sent to Secretary Duncan, she states, “We need a new generation accountability system that includes an ‘opportunity dashboard’ –indicators of school quality that support learning.”

The “dashboard” she and NEA propose would require states to go beyond merely tracking test scores and show they provide supports for student learning. Supports-based measures on the dashboard could include evidence that students have access to advanced coursework, that fully qualified teachers are employed in all classrooms, that arts and athletic programs are included in the curriculum, and that school support personnel – such as school counselors, nurses, and reading specialists – are provided for students who need them.

An Alternative, If We Want One

As the rest of the country goes to war over standardized tests, California may be showing it can do school improvement without them.

That’s the conclusion reached by Pomona College professor David Menefee-Libey who shares blog space with Kerchner at Education Week.

California’s move to its new policy of local control of finance and accountability, Menefee-Libey explains, has led to “a new multiple-indicator accountability system” that “fundamentally changes the politics of finance and accountability, substituting local politics and grassroots agency for state-driven mandates and compliance reviews.”

This “Post-NCLB Era,” his words, is not without its complications. In my interview with Honig, he admits new policies have not yet been implemented uniformly across the state, and much is still “a work in progress” that will require “adjustments.”

Other obstacles to progress rear their ugly heads as well. The state is still embroiled in a political conflict over teacher tenure. Efforts to privatize public schools, rather than build their capacity and support them, continue to be pushed by wealthy foundations and investors. Even more important, the state faces massive problems with inequality that threaten the education system from the outside.

Nevertheless, as the rest of the nation plunges further into the conflict over NCLB-era accountability, California is showing us an alternative is available – if we want one.

4/17/2015 – Worthy Revision Of NCLB

THIS WEEK: Arne Duncan Needs To Pay Better Wages … Little Kids Don’t Need Academics … New York Parents Rebel Against Testing … Where’s Hillary Clinton On Education … Colleges Tap More Tuition Dollars


Is A Worthy Revision Of NCLB Really Possible?

By Jeff Bryant

“Senators are now also advancing a bipartisan bill … a bipartisan revision to the law known as No Child Left Behind … Education policy experts who often don’t agree … found something positive in the bill… Should the bill reach the Senate floor, and get acted on in the House, Democrats at some point should come forth with a proposal to include some provision that would ensure more equitable resources for schools that face the most difficult challenges. And Republicans need to heed those in their party who genuinely want to govern, and abandon any school privatization schemes.’
Read more …


Workers Who Clean Our Government Offices Say They’re Being Ripped Off


“Even the janitor who cleans the Secretary of Education’s office says she’s not being paid what she deserves … Cleaners at Department of Education headquarters report being paid between $9 and $10 an hour without benefits, in violation of the [Service Contract Act] janitorial wage rate of $11.83 per hour plus $4.02 per hour in benefits. … Sonia Chavez, who works as a janitor for a contracting company that deals with the US Department of Education, says that she is being ripped off for her due wages, even as she cleans the office of US Education Secretary Arne Duncan each night … ‘We’re surviving day by day. We regularly get eviction notices because we can’t afford to pay rent on time.’”
Read more …

Report Debunks ‘Earlier Is Better’ Academic Instruction For Young Children

The Washington Post

“The debate about appropriate curriculum for young children generally centers on two options: free play and basic activities vs. straight academics … A new report … says that beyond free play and academics, ‘another major component of education … must be to provide a wide range of experiences, opportunities, resources and contexts’ … Longitudinal studies of the effects of different kinds of preschool curriculum models debunk the seemingly common-sense notion that ‘earlier is better’ in terms of academic instruction … ‘Intellectual dispositions’ of young children may actually be ‘weakened or even damaged by excessive and premature formal instruction.’”
Read more …

It’s Not Multiple Choice, It’s A Resounding No As Fed-Up Parents Revolt Against New York’s Standardized Exams In Historic Fashion

New York Daily News

“The entire structure of high-stakes testing in New York crumbled Tuesday, as tens of thousands of fed-up public school parents rebelled against Albany’s fixation with standardized tests and refused to allow their children to take the annual English Language Arts state exam … More than half the pupils at several Long Island and upstate school districts joined in – at some schools in New York City boycott percentages neared 40% … Conservatives … have formed an unusual alliance with liberal education advocates who claim the test … This was not provoked by any politician or the teachers unions … Tens of thousands of parents got tired of being ignored.”
Read more …

Hillary Clinton And Education: What’s Her Record? What Will She Campaign On?

Education Week

“Where would Clinton take the nation – and a divided Democratic Party – when it comes to testing, the Common Core State Standards, accountability, charter schools, and education funding? … As first lady of Arkansas, she helped … bring rigorous coursework to far-flung corners of the Natural State… Clinton helped to push Early Head Start and programs for foster children. And she was a fan of after-school programs … As a senator, Clinton voted in 2001 for the No Child Left Behind Act … but expressed qualms behind the scenes about the bill’s impact on high-flying suburban districts. And, when the Senate was mulling an NCLB rewrite in 2007 … she wanted to add a preschool grant program… One big thing from the 2008 primary season: Clinton was not in favor of merit pay for individual teachers based on test scores, an idea that then-candidate and later President Barack Obama embraced. And she’s a fan of charter schools.”
Read more …

Public Colleges’ Revenue Shift

Inside Higher Ed

“Tuition dollars made up roughly 47% of revenues for public higher education for the third straight year in 2014, cementing a trend in which tuition revenue now rivals state appropriations as the main funder of public colleges and universities … Public colleges rely on tuition dollars nearly a third more than they did before the recession. In the five years preceding the economic decline, tuition accounted for a significantly smaller share of public higher education revenues, hovering around 36% … Twenty-five states generate more than half their public higher education revenue from tuition, with 15 states generating more than 60 percent from tuition.”
Read more …

Is A Worthy Revision Of NCLB Really Possible?

Confirming what a recent reporter for Reuters claimed, “the ‘do-nothing’ US Congress may actually be starting to do things.” The report hails passage of “bipartisan initiatives” such as the fix to physician reimbursement in Medicare and the demand that Congress have a say in any Iran nuclear deal reached by the Obama administration as signs “that gridlock may not be a permanent condition, after all.”

Senators are now also advancing a bipartisan bill that could revise federal policy governing K-12 public education. The Senate committee assigned with addressing federal education policy just took a huge step forward by unanimously passing a bipartisan revision to the law known as No Child Left Behind. According to a report from Education Week, “Members of the U.S. Senate education committee approved the measure 22-0 Thursday, amid much back-slapping and promises to continue working across the aisle.”

So while a law that many knowledgable people argue has failed may be heading toward a rewrite, there is an important issue that still needs to be addressed and one big potential pitfall that could thwart eventual passage of a better policy.

The first problem is a glaring oversight in the bill itself. The second is the root source of political obstructionism in Washington DC that impedes any progress.

This Didn’t Start Out Well

The first stab at rewriting that federal policy – originally, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 – came from the House of Representatives in February, and it was decidedly not bipartisan.

As I reported at the time, “The bill, HR5 the Student Success Act, was written completely by Republicans, passed through committee without any Democratic support, and has already drawn strong opposition from the Obama administration and others.”

If HR 5 is not substantially altered or tossed altogether, Democrats of all persuasion should definitely oppose this bill, and the president has threatened to veto it.

However, the way the Senate has gone about revising NCLB is a whole lot different.

A Senate Compromise Emerges

Leaders of the Senate committee responsible for drafting education legislation, Republican Chair Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democratic Ranking Member Patty Murray of Washington, worked together on a bill, “The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015,” that avoids many of the most polarizing proposals from the House.

As Education Week’s Lauren Camera reports, “the compromise measure includes education policies that are attractive to both sides of the aisle in making over the law.” Education policy experts who often don’t agree – such as education historian Diane Ravitch and conservative think tank operative Andy Smarik from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute – each found something positive in the bill.

What’s Good About This Bill

Ravitch, writing on her personal blog, says, “This is a far better bill than I had hoped or feared.” She hails the bill’s steps to curtail misguided federal government mandates, including NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress designation, which unfairly labels schools as “failing” when they don’t show increases in intricate statistical measures related to student test scores. According to the original provision of NCLB, nearly all schools don’t meet AYP which is why the Obama administration has issued waivers to practically every state.

Ravitch also welcomes an end to federal government “dictating to states and districts how to ‘reform’ or ‘turnaround’ or ‘fix’ low-performing schools.” Ravitch is willing to trade off the bill’s upholding of current mandates for annual testing for an end to requirement that states use the test results to evaluate teachers. And she supports how the revision would make states adopt or maintain academic standards, but not necessarily the controversial Common Core.

The conservative Smarick was even more enthusiastic in his support of Every Child Achieves, calling it “the best proposal we’ve seen for solving the problem that’s held up ESEA reauthorization for ages.”

He too welcomes the retention of testing requirements, as long as “accountability plans” are upheld and “ultimate performance targets” that include “postsecondary education or work.”

Although Smarick worries the bill’s accountability enforcements may not be stringent enough, he inadvertently alerts us to a glaring hole that will have to be addressed in the amendment process.

The Proposal’s Oversight

When Smarick concludes his praise for the legislation by stating, “It focuses on the needs of all kids,” he stumbles upon where the proposal actually falls short.

The word “needs,” assumes the bill addresses inputs into the system of public education, in addition to addressing outcomes such as test scores and “college and career readiness.” Certainly students do need very specific resources, supports, and opportunities at all stages of their education if they’re going to reach their full academic attainment.

NCLB’s lack of attention to the real needs of students has always been it’s most obvious and harmful shortcoming.

As Ravitch explains in a recent article in The New York Review of Books, the federal government’s role in education originally “had one overriding purpose: to send federal funding to schools that enrolled large numbers of children living in poverty.

“Over the years,” she writes, “federal education funding for poor children has steadily grown but has never been enough to overcome the vast inequities between rich and poor.

But “NCLB decisively changed” that purpose, Ravitch argues.

NCLB continued to maintain, through the provision of Title I and other sections, additional funding from the federal government to help schools attend to the needs of students who struggle the most – children raised in poverty, students with learning disabilities, and children whose first language isn’t English. But the legislation also ushered in mandates, Ravitch contends, that replace supports and resources with standards and testing.

At a time when studies show more than half of our students are raised in poverty, and increased numbers are struggling with learning disabilities and multiple languages, any meaningful revision of federal education policy needs to increase, not decrease or simply maintain, federal intervention and oversight of equitable resources.

But as Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association explains to The Washington Post, Every Child Achieves doesn’t get her organization’s endorsement, so far, “because it does not go far enough to create equal educational opportunities for poor children.”

Garcia tells The Post reporter she and her union want “any new federal education law to address the inequities between high-poverty public schools and those in more affluent communities.”

Any new legislation, Garcia maintains, should “address the problem by requiring schools to publish an ‘opportunity dashboard’ that would disclose how much each school spends on teacher salaries, the number of experienced teachers and counselors they employ, access to Advanced Placement and honors courses and other indicators, so that disparity between schools is transparent.

The union also wants any new federal law to hold states responsible for reducing the resource gap between schools.”

These are smart proposals that Democrats on Capitol Hill should insist on adding to the bill.

The Political With Republicans

The other impediment to meaningful revision of federal education policy is Republican obstructionism.

As my colleague Dave Johnson so often points out, the common narrative about our do-nothing Congress is really mostly about Republicans. As Johnson points out, when Republicans were a minority in the Senate, they used filibusters, or threats thereof, to block legislation from going forward. Now they can use their majorities in both chambers.

In the context of education policy, Republicans have insisted for years that any revision of NCLB must include some mechanism, such as vouchers, allowing the transference of funds directed toward public education to private entities, whether they be private schools or privately operated charter schools.

As Education Week’s Alyson Klein recalled some time ago, the last time there was a serious attempt at revising NCLB, back in 2011, Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky “threw a monkey wrench into the Senate markup” to propose multiple amendments to the bill, including proposals for vouchers.

This year, Republicans in the House and Senate Republicans as well, in the amendment process of Every Child Achieves, have proposed “Title I portability” that would let low-income parents who withdraw their students from public schools take a portion of federal dollars provided to that school and use that money to send their children elsewhere.

Vouchers and Title I portability are radical departures from the original purpose of ESEA, and President Obama has quite rightly insisted he would veto any legislation containing these provisions.

Worthy NCLB Revision Is Possible

Without a doubt, the Senate committee that produced Every Child Achieves has done outstanding work in creating a promising revision of a badly outdated and misguided law.

The bill weathered an amendment process in committee that was curtailed by Alexander’s plea for restraint. As Politico reports, the one amendment to surface during debate was a call for Title I portability coming from Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. Fortunately, Scott withdrew the amendment

Should the bill reach the Senate floor, and get acted on in the House, Democrats at some point should come forth with a proposal to include some provision that would ensure more equitable resources for schools that face the most difficult challenges. And Republicans need to heed those in their party who genuinely want to govern, and abandon any school privatization schemes.

4/9/2015 – Populist Progressives Meet The Education Spring

THIS WEEK: More Schools Feed Hungry Kids … Atlanta Cheating Scandal … What’s Inside A High Performing Charter … Corporate Fundraiser Ripoffs … Predators Of Public Schools


Why Populist Progressives Must Embrace The Education Spring

By Jeff Bryant

“The recent Chicago mayoral election where Democratic incumbent Rahm Emanuel, ‘tagged as the mayor of the 1 percent,’ went from an ‘expected coronation’ to ‘an unprecedented runoff’ … What likely animated voters’ desire to oust Emanuel was his attacks on public schools and school teachers … In 2013, the Chicago teachers’ strike became a symbol, as well as a catalyst for other actions, for a national movement – an Education Spring – that has since swept the country and now defines the political debate in education policy … Because 2016 will be a general election drawing from a wider swath of the electorate, support for public education is apt to matter more … Until Democrats are solidly supportive of public education, it is difficult to see how they will effectively counter Republicans.”
Read more …


Schools Becoming The ‘Last Frontier’ For Hungry Kids

USA Today

“The number of low-income children in public schools has been persistent and steadily rising over the past several decades … Such a stark trend has meant more schools are feeding children … More schools provide not just breakfast and lunch but dinner, too … Nationwide, one in five households with children are considered food insecure … More states are providing after-school meals … More schools are opening permanent or mobile food pantries … More than a third of teachers, 37%, buy food more than once a month for students.”
Read more …

America Is Criminalizing Black Teachers: Atlanta’s Cheating Scandal And The Racist Underbelly Of Education Reform


Rutgers University professor Brittney Cooper writes, “Last week, an Atlanta jury convicted 11 teachers and school administrators of racketeering in a system-wide cheating scandal … Scapegoating Black teachers for failing in a system that is designed for Black children, in particular, not to succeed is the real corruption here … Black children have for generations been … disproportionately poor, over-disciplined, and systematically ‘tracked’ out of high-performing classrooms. And yet we expect teachers to work magic in conditions that are set up for failure … Locking up Black women for racketeering when the system couldn’t be bothered to lock up even one of the bankers who gave disproportionate amounts of terrible home loans to Black women leading to a national economic crash… is patently unjust … Nothing is just about making Black women sacrificial lambs of an educational system hellbent on throwing Black children away. Meanwhile, the real racket – privatization and defunding of public schools … gets obscured.”
Read more …

At Success Academy Charter Schools, High Scores And Polarizing Tactics

The New York Times

“Though it serves primarily poor, mostly black and Hispanic students, Success [Academy] is a testing dynamo, outscoring schools … Rules are explicit and expectations precise. Students must sit with hands clasped and eyes following the speaker … Incentives are offered, such as candy for good behavior … For those deemed not trying hard enough, there is ‘effort academy,’ which is part detention, part study hall. For teachers, who are not unionized and usually just out of college, 11-hour days are the norm, and each one is under constant monitoring … One consequence of the competitive environment is a high rate of teacher turnover … Former staff members described students in third grade and above wetting themselves during practice tests, either because teachers did not allow them to go to the restroom … or because the students themselves felt so much pressure that they did not want to lose time on the test.”
Read more …

These Corporations That Raise Money For Schools Keep 48 Percent For Themselves

Think Progress

“Booster Enterprises, which says it currently hosts Boosterthon events in schools in about 35 states, is one of several firms offering to outsource fundraisers known as ‘fun runs.’ In 16 states, kids are participating in a similar program hosted by an Arizona-based company … Still other schools use … FundRunners … The companies send a team to each school to promote ‘character education,’ fitness, and pledges. They host pep rallies, spend several days getting the kids excited for the fundraiser, and then cheer on the students … And they take a large percentage of the haul … These programs are emblematic of a national move toward more corporate involvement in public education … little more than marketing arrangements that have few benefits for schools … Programs like these fun run companies take up school time for things that are simply not part of the school’s curriculum.”
Read more …

Predatory Equity Leads to Subprime Schools

The Huffington Post

The Black Institute’s Bertha Lewis writes, “Financial institutions used to ‘redline’ communities of color, denying us access to credit for purchasing homes or starting businesses. Then they realized we were the perfect target for predatory lending that would eventually make the U.S. economy crash and burn … New York State government has ‘redlined’ poor school districts for decades, shortchanging them billions even after New York State’s highest court ordered it to make restitution. But instead of granting communities of color the ‘credit’ needed to educate children in public school, the predatory equity crowd swooped in with a new option they said would work for us – just like they did with subprime loans … If we allow these same bad actors to continue down the path of expanding charter schools and privatizing public education, then we’re placing the future of our children in the hands of predators.”
Read more …

Why Populist Progressives Must Embrace The Education Spring

Is there really “a populist energy building in America, and beginning to drive the debate in the Democratic Party,” as my colleague Robert Borosage recently wrote?

If your inclination is to answer that question, “Yes,” the evidence you’re most apt to cite is the popularity of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and her crusade against Wall Street dominance of public policy. And you’re apt to point to, as Borosage does, activism like the “Fight for 15” campaign, demanding a $15 an hour minimum wage and union representation in the workplace.

Other issues that often make the checklist for progressive activism are debt-free higher education, Social Security expansion, clean-energy, and affordable healthcare.

Does all this grassroots activism matter at the ballot box?

Borosage contends it does, and points to, among other evidence, the recent Chicago mayoral election where Democratic incumbent Rahm Emanuel, “tagged as the mayor of the 1 percent,” went from an “expected coronation” to “an unprecedented runoff against a populist challenger.”

Borosage is not the only person making this argument.

David Sirota, writing for Salon, argues that Emanuel’s surprisingly contentious reelection is evidence that “the old corporate Democratic assumption” is being challenged by “a massive grassroots organizing campaign” opposing Wall Street.

The fact Emanuel won doesn’t refute the argument. As another of my colleagues, Richard Eskow, observes, “The fact that Emanuel was forced into Chicago’s first mayoral runoff is itself a sign of vulnerability for corporate-friendly politicians.”

So, Eskow asks, “Why was a powerful mayor forced into a runoff in a city known for patronage and machine politics, despite the backing of wealthy interests and national party leaders?”

Why indeed.

Eskow cites a number of reasons for Emanuel’s vulnerability, including “privatization of many government functions” and his ties to Wall Street “investors and other financial interests.”

But if you want to get more specific, what likely animated voters’ desire to oust Emanuel was his attacks on public schools and school teachers. That’s the argument John Nichols, writing for The Nation, makes. “The fact that there is a race at all,” he contends, “owes everything to the evolving debate over education policy.”

Nichols argues, “Emanuel would not have faced serious competition had he not ordered the closing of dozens of neighborhood schools, as part of an ongoing fight with public-education advocates and the Chicago Teachers Union.”

In fact, the leader of the teachers’ union, Karen Lewis, was considered to be a formidable opponent for Emanuel until she was sidelined for health reasons.

Although Nichols praises Emanuel’s eventual opponent, Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, for being “an outspoken champion of teachers and neighborhood schools,” Garcia was likely not outspoken enough to press his advantage on the education issue.

That’s the conclusion that Black Agenda Report’s Bruce Dixon makes. In an interview with the senior editor for The Real News, Paul Jay, Dixon argues, Garcia likely fell short of victory because “he couldn’t denounce the mayor’s educational policies” with the fervor and authenticity that Karen Lewis would have done.

Anger at the mayor’s public education policies was at its height in 2012, when public school teachers went on strike to defy the mayor’s agenda of cutting school budgets, expanding class sizes, increasing the number of charter schools while closing neighborhood schools, and requiring teachers to work longer hours for the same pay.

As I observed in 2013, the Chicago teachers’ strike became a symbol, as well as a catalyst for other actions, for a national movement – an Education Spring – that has since swept the country and now defines the political debate in education policy.

That national movement continues to coalesce around four common grievances voters have with public school policy, which include: resource deprivation, inequity of funding, public disempowerment in the system, and the widespread perception that governing policies are driven by corruption.

Dixon’s contention is that Garcia didn’t fare as well with African American voters – a significant part of the Chicago electorate – because he failed to connect his candidacy to that national movement and its anger with “federal education policy that’s designed to create excuses to discredit and close public schools, and privatize them.”

Dixon points to a “national policy of privatization” of public schools in black and brown communities that is being carried out across the nation – in “not just Chicago,” Dixon explains, but also “Philadelphia … New York … Kansas City … Atlanta.” This is “why President Obama parachuted his mayor into Chicago in the first place,” he states, “the reason why Rahm Emanuel was able to raise and spend ten or twelve times as much” as Garcia.

What kept Garcia from denouncing the national campaign to privatize public education, Dixon maintains, was the fact “he was a Democrat” and the privatization agenda “is national policy … the way the Democrat Party goes.”

Dixon is not alone in thinking this. Nichols, as well, contends, “Democrats … often go as far – even further – than conservative Republicans in embracing the wrong thinking of those who would undermine public education with ‘charter’ experiments, voucher schemes, and privatization plans.”

It’s not terribly surprising that “centrist Democrats,” as Dixon brands liberals who push the privatization of public schools, would work to undermine public education. The money backing this national campaign to undermine public schools and schoolteachers – what education historian Diane Ravitch calls “The Billionaire Boys Club” – is an open ATM for any political candidate willing to align with it.

In fact, the same centrist Democrats willing to sell out public schools are the same ones willing to compromise with Republicans to cut Social Security, the same Democrats who side with financial policies coming from Wall street, the same Democrats who undermine union organizing and collective bargaining for the sake of “letting the free market work.”

So it’s understandable why the corporate branch of the Democratic Party won’t speak up when public schools are under attack. But why won’t more progressives?

That’s the question recently posed by public education advocate and former classroom teacher Anthony Cody on his personal blog. Surveying an email he received from the progressive activist group Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Cody notes support for public K-12 education isn’t on the checklist of policy points PCCC is urging “all candidates for president to campaign on.”

“There is no mention of K12 education,” he remarks. “No mention of the issues confronting public schools, the attempts to privatize, voucherize and charterize our schools. No mention of school closures in African American and Latino neighborhoods. No mention of assaults on teacher unions and due process rights. No mention of the test obsession destroying the quality of education in our schools, leading students to walk out by the thousands.”

Cody wonders when Democrats in general, and progressives in particular, will “wake up to the movement of teachers, parents, and students that is taking shape across the country.”

Maybe they are. One sign is that after Cody’s complaint spread throughout the Internet, a spokesperson for PCCC contacted him to assure there was “a lot of common ground to build on.”(Cody also invited someone from PCCC to attend the upcoming  Network for Public Education conference in Chicago later this month.)

The other, more important sign is that advocacy for public schools can pay off for progressive candidates at the ballot box.

In both Chuy Garcia’s strong challenge to Rahm Emanuel, and, as Nichols points out, law professor Zephyr Teachout’s “exceptionally strong Democratic primary challenge to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo,” support for public schools was an influential factor in getting people to the polls.

In the midterm elections of 2014, we saw how discontent with the economy determined much of the outcome. A coalition pushing the fight for public education showed up only here and there – such as in Tom Wolf’s triumph over Republican incumbent Governor Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania.

Because 2016 will be a general election drawing from a wider swath of the electorate, support for public education is apt to matter more.

Nichols goes so far to contend, “Until Democrats are solidly supportive of public education, it is difficult to see how they will effectively counter Republicans like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, who have aligned themselves with the billionaire proponents of an ‘education reform’ movement that is all about deforming and diminishing the promise of the great equalizer.”

That support for public education will matter that much to Democratic candidates in general can perhaps be argued either way. But for candidates who claim to be progressive, it’s a dead cinch.