Education Opportunity Network

Education Opportunity Network -

7/30/2015 – We Won’t Get Great Teachers By Treating Them Badly

THIS WEEK: Poverty Hurts Kids’ Brains … Toll Of Inequitable School Funding … Kasich’s Lousy Education Record … Teacher Bathroom Privileges … Teachers Stuck With Classroom Costs


We Won’t Get Great Teachers By Treating Them Badly

By Jeff Bryant

“The bigger, unaddressed issues affecting teachers’ work environments are the current love affair with economic efficiency and the cognitive dissonance among believers in the education “reform” movement that although teachers are the ‘single most significant’ determiner of student academic outcomes, we need to make their jobs harder and less secure.”
Read more …


Poverty Disturbs Children’s Brain Development And Academic Performance

Scientific American

“For children, growing up poor hinders brain development and leads to poorer performance in schools … Up to 20% of the achievement gap between high- and low-income children may be explained by differences in brain development … Children who grew up in families below the federal poverty line had gray matter volumes 8 to 10% below normal development. [The researchers] did not find differences between children from middle class and affluent families but those only 50% above the poverty line showed gray matter volumes 3 to 4% below the norm … More money does not necessary mean better outcomes but at a certain point a ‘drop-off’ effect of income occurs where a lack of financial resources is detrimental to development.”
Read more …

‘These Kids Are Just Pawns’: The Rising Toll of Inequitable School Funding

NEA Today

“Reading, Pennsylvania is one of the nation’s poorest cities … Tour Reading’s 19 schools and you’ll see mostly aging buildings with broken floor tiles, leaky ceilings sprouting patches of mold, students crammed into too-small classrooms, and feral cats squatting under classroom trailers … Just a mile and a bridge away, Wyomissing Area School District – where 77% of students are White – spends a whopping $4,000 more per pupil each year. Students attend bright and modern schools, have a rich curriculum, and smaller class sizes … Research shows that students in districts with concentrated poverty benefit greatly from high-quality early childhood education, tutoring, ELL programs, dropout prevention measures, and other services … Those are the very programs that have been scaled back or cut altogether due to lack of funding in Reading schools.”
Read more …

What Ohio Gov. John Kasich Is Doing To Public Education In His State

The Washington Post

“With two-term Ohio Gov. John Kasich joining the crowd of candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, it’s a good time to look at the public education mess that has developed in his state … Under his watch, funding for traditional public schools … declined by some half a billion dollars, while funding for charter schools has increased at least 27% … despite the fact that many charters are rated lower than traditional public schools … Ohio charters … misspend tax dollars more than any other public sector.”
Read more …

Using The Restroom: A Privilege – If You’re A Teacher

The Atlantic

“A recent survey conducted jointly by the American Federation of Teachers and Badass Teachers Association asked educators about the quality of their worklife … 3 in 4 respondents said they ‘often’ feel stressed by their jobs… Of the various everyday workplace stressors educators could check off, one of the most popular was ‘lack of opportunity to use restroom’ … putting it in third place only after time pressure and disciplinary issues … One of the most pervasive strains on teachers’ lives at work has little to do (at least directly) with the problems that get the most attention in policy circles and the media.”
Read more …

Teachers Are Spending Thousands to Stock Classrooms With Basic Supplies


Classroom teacher Bronwyn Harris writes, “During my last year of teaching, I spent over $5,000 of my own money on my classroom during the year, and I know I wasn’t alone. On an annual salary of $42,000, that was hardly pocket change … Many public schools, even districts located in wealthy areas, do not give their teachers any money for supplies … Even the more generous PTA grants of $500 or higher don’t provide for much past the initial setting up of a classroom … Relying on private donations only works in middle- and upper-class areas … You often find teachers purchasing food for children who don’t eat enough at home. I’ve had friends buy clothing for children, especially socks and underwear, and I even know one teacher who bought a bed for a student who didn’t have one.”
Read more …

We Won’t Get Great Teachers By Treating Them Badly

An article by Alia Wong for The Atlantic this week caused quite a stir by pointing to a recent survey of teachers that found one of the main stresses they have during their busy days is getting a potty break.

Wong looked at results from a poll about the work conditions of teachers conducted by the American Federation of Teachers and the Badass Teachers Association, a grassroots teacher-led movement resisting current education policies.

She found lots of interesting findings on the “everyday stressors” teachers face in the workplace, including time pressure, student discipline problems, and mandated curricula. But “the biggest takeaway” Wong got from the data was that “of the various everyday workplace stressors educators could check off, one of the most popular was, ‘Lack of opportunity to use restroom.’” Wong noted bathroom breaks were “in third place” on the list of work-related stressors with about one in two teachers “having inadequate bathroom breaks.”

Part of the “stir” resulting from Wong’s article was evident in the extensive comments that reflected the all-too-typical belief that teachers have “cushy” jobs with short workdays and summers off. This attitude has become so run-of-the-mill that we actually have a political candidate running for president in the Republican Party – New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – who openly chastises teachers for being “part time workers” who get “full time pay.”

These contentions about the supposed leisure the teaching profession affords fly in the face of long standing studies that show classroom teachers in the U.S. work longer hours with less financial return than in practically all other countries in the industrial world.

The other, more widespread, “stir” Wong’s article prompted was more surprising.

Shortly after The Atlantic’s article went live, members of the Badass Teachers group – one of the organization’s responsible for gathering the survey data – took to Twitter and Facebook to decry the publication for “trivializing” their work conditions. The Twitter account for the Badass group kicked off a long thread with the hashtag #BoycottTheAtlantic that accused the publication of publishing “garbage” instead of “real issues” about teacher work conditions. The Twitter accounts for the various BAT state chapters chimed in immediately, accusing Wong’s article of marginalizing “teacher suffering.”

To be fair, Wong hardly “trivialized” the discomfort and the potential health hazard of being unable to relieve oneself throughout the work day. In particular, she called attention to how that situation might impact pregnant teachers – certainly a significant population in the profession due to the gender and age of the average worker – teachers with health conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, and teachers who respond to limited toilet breaks by abstaining from drinking water during the day and becoming dehydrated.

However, as a comment on the article from “Los Angeles PUBLIC school teac” points out, Wong’s original version stated, “Educators are, moreover, known for their tendency to complain about and perhaps over-exaggerate their stress levels.” Interestingly, this sentence has been removed from the current version. But some of the BAT’s resentment is justified.

Many of the tweets from the BAT account accuse Wong of ignoring the subject of teacher suicides, which apparently was one of the issues that prompted the desire to conduct the survey. In fact, just hours before Wong’s article appeared, local press outlets in New York City reported that an elementary school principal had committed suicide by stepping in front of a subway train. The principal had been accused of cheating on state standardized tests – tests that have been very controversial in the state because many contend they are designed to make educators look bad.

Fairfield University professor and BAT member Yohuru Williams tweeted, “I wish @TheAtlantic cared more about #teachers than to publish the rubbish they did on the #teachershortage.” The teacher shortage is in fact one issue Wong did touch on, highlighting a shortage of teachers in Kansas and a report finding the number of students interested in becoming educators has dropped “significantly” from 2010 to 2014. But it’s hard to believe people en masse avoid the profession because word on the street is once you get the job you never get to use the bathroom.

So what’s going on here? For sure, those who say teachers have a cushy job – including blowhard pols like Christie – are to be ignored. But like what so often happens in the current education debate, contentious arguments get mired in detail while much bigger issues are allowed to lurk in the background unaddressed.

Those much bigger, unaddressed issues affecting teachers’ work environments are the current love affair with economic efficiency and the cognitive dissonance among believers in the education “reform” movement that although teachers are the “single most significant” determiner of student academic outcomes, we need to make their jobs harder and less secure.

The cult of economic efficiency that currently predominates all levels of government continues to press for measures that a majority of teachers despise.

For instance, lawmakers continue to pass budgets and push policy ideas that increase class sizes or fail to reduce them where class sizes are too large. According to an overwhelming amount of survey data, teachers prefer smaller class sizes and say larger class sizes negatively affect their quality of work. For sure, you can always find an economist, usually working for a conservative think tank, who argues that class size matters little to student test scores. But many of these studies have been refuted outright or at least seriously called into question. And none of these findings can change the reality that increasing class size will make most teachers’ lives miserable.

Another favorite of the efficiency cult is to tie teacher pay to student test scores, either through performance pay scales or an evaluation process.

Education historian Diane Ravitch has found that in-depth, extended studies of merit pay have found that these programs hardly ever show much benefit in terms of raised test scores (not that that should stand as the be-all and end-all of education). Also, teachers hate it.

Research also shows teacher evaluations based on student test scores continue to be mostly inaccurate, unreliable, and subject to too many variables. By the way, teachers hate these evaluations too.

Nevertheless, the efficiency cult continues to push their favorite measures instead of attending to what teachers say they value most: work environment.

While the efficiency cult grinds away at teachers’ working conditions, people who call themselves “reformers” say they value teachers but then do all they can to undermine their job security by challenging teachers’ collective bargaining rights, opposing seniority privileges, or working to end due process rights when teachers are threatened with being fired.

Like it or not, if you’re anti-union you are to some extent diametrically opposed to what teachers say they need to make their work conditions better.

As Matthew Di Carlo argues at the blog for the Albert Shanker Institute, “In the majority of cases, disagreeing with unions’ education policy positions represents disagreeing with most teachers. In other words, opposing unions certainly doesn’t mean you’re ‘bashing’ teachers, but it does, on average, mean you hold different views than they do.”

Di Carlo concludes, “Vociferous opposition to teachers’ unions is too often a shield behind which advocates hide, thus precluding their having to acknowledge and address their disagreement with most of the teachers who make up those unions.”

But mostly, let’s be clear, a conversation about teachers’ well being while on the job matters. First, because their working conditions are the students’ learning conditions.

Second, because there’s evidence that making teachers more stressed out and unhappy at work may have an effect on decreasing the supply of quality teachers.

Many states are currently experiencing steep drops in enrollments for teacher preparation programs. As Education Week recently reported, “Massive changes to the profession, coupled with budget woes, appear to be shaking the image of teaching as a stable, engaging career. Nationwide, enrollments in university teacher-preparation programs have fallen by about 10 percent from 2004 to 2012.”

In some states, the constricted supply of new teacher recruits has lead to an “employee’s market” for teachers that makes it difficult for schools and districts to find suitable candidates at the budget levels they are given from the state.

Classroom teacher and popular blogger Peter Greene has noticed that the problem of teacher shortages has become “cost to coast.” Greene cites examples of teacher shortages – or teacher recruitment and substitute teacher shortages – in many states and highlights numerous examples of diminished supplies of teachers for rural schools and specific subject areas – such as science and math. He also notices many states are responding to shortages by creating new programs that “fast track” new teacher recruits into the classroom with less preparation – which seems like a recipe for raising teacher attrition in the coming years.

Greene concludes, “There is no state among the fifty that is paying top dollar, providing great working conditions, and treating its teachers like professionals that is struggling with a teacher shortage. Instead, states offer low pay, poor work conditions, no job security, no autonomy, and no power over your own workplace and voila – teacher shortage.”

So yes, schools need to create schedules that give teachers opportunities to relieve themselves, get a bite to eat, and take care of other daily maintenance needs. But don’t stop there. Teachers need education policies made with their input and observant of the dignified treatment these professionals deserve.

Otherwise, it just stands to reason that when you make a job more stressful and negative, you’re going to get fewer qualified people who want to do it. That might not be economically efficient, but it is human nature. We don’t need a “reform” movement to tell us that.


7/23/2015 – Get Ready For The Next Wave Of Education “Reform”

THIS WEEK: Pre-K Reduces Special Ed Placements … Teach Kids To Share … Kids In Poverty … STEM Myth … Real Education Matters


Get Ready For The Next Wave Of Education “Reform”

By Jeff Bryant

“Education activists are rejoicing that the latest versions of No Child Left Behind reauthorization coursing through Congress may give struggling schools a way to have more control over their own governance and destiny … As anti-democratic pressures appear to be easing on the federal front, they are ratcheting up in states across the country. In fact, the next form of education “reform” may be as bad or worse than what NCLB imposed.”
Read more …


How Early Education Can Reduce Special Education Placements

New America Foundation

“Two effective early childhood programs implemented in North Carolina … decreased third grade special education placements through early intervention … Third grade enrollment in special education is a critical benchmark, because transitions out of special education decrease dramatically after third grade … The study found that when combined, the programs reduced special education placements by 39% This not only means that almost 40% fewer children would be enrolled in special education at the end of third grade, improving their later in life outcomes, but also presents significant cost savings to the state … They further add to the research that proves the myriad benefits of high quality early education programs, especially for our most at risk students.”
Read more …

If You Want Your Children To Succeed, Teach Them To Share In Kindergarten

The Washington Post

“Kindergartners who share, cooperate and are helpful are more likely to have a college degree and a job 20 years later than children who lack those social skills … Kids who get along well with others also are less likely to have substance-abuse problems and run-ins with the law… Early-childhood education programs and schools could identify children with weak social skills early on, when they are still very receptive to learning how to behave differently … Children who interact well as kindergartners are more likely to make friends and get positive feedback from teachers and, therefore, are more likely to like school and stay in school.”
Read more …

More Children Are In Poverty Today Than Before The Great Recession


“One out of five American children live in poverty … 22% of children live in poverty, up from 18% in 2008 … Minnesota led the United States in children’s overall well-being … Minnesota has one of the lowest rates of uninsured children in the country. The state also maintains ongoing early childhood education programs … At a time when economic crisis gripped the nation, and when many states cut social welfare programs in a desperate attempt to manage budget deficits, Minnesota preserved many of these programs designed to help low-income individuals and families … At the bottom is Mississippi, where the child-poverty rate is a staggering one in three.”
Read more …

The Frenzy About High-Tech Talent

The New York Review Of Books

“In Falling Behind?, Michael Teitelbaum … vehemently denies that we are lagging in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, now commonly abbreviated as STEM … The US has all the high-tech brains and bodies it needs, or at least that the economy can absorb … Of 19.5 million holders of degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, only 5.4 million were working in those fields … 28% of engineers and 38% of computer scientists were either unemployed or holding jobs that did not need their training … In the decade ending in 2022, the number of engineering jobs will have increased only by 8.6%, which falls short of the 10.6% rise expected for the workforce as a whole. Most striking are forecasts for the chemical, mechanical, and electrical specialties, long mainstays of the profession. Together, the three are estimated to grow by only 4.3%, well under half the expected growth in the workforce.”
Read more …

Real Education Still Matters: Exposing the Limits And Myths of Educational Instrumentalism

Teachers College Record

Sociology professor at Georgetown University Peter Cookson writes, “The dominant narrative concerning the purposes of education has become increasingly narrowed and instrumental … Educational instrumentalism … elevates the quantifiable ‘products’ of education such as paper credentials and time spent in school above the complex, adventurous, and rebellious processes that characterize transformative education … Educational instrumentalism is the background metaphor and rationale of much of contemporary educational policy discussions … Progressive education in the tradition of John Dewey … is desperately needed today. Not only because it is based on ethical principles of freedom that are essential for the preservation of democracy, but expressive, progressive education is the only educational philosophy that can actually prepare today’s students for tomorrow.”
Read more …

Get Ready For The Next Wave Of Education “Reform”

Education activists are rejoicing that the latest versions of No Child Left Behind reauthorization coursing through Congress may give struggling schools a way to have more control over their own governance and destiny.

NCLB originally mandated such unreal expectations on schools the vast majority of them would be branded “failed.” New legislation, as currently written, would change that.

Prominent education groups representing teachers and administrators like this turn of events and want bills from the House and the Senate to quickly proceed to conference.

Should the onerous provisions imposed on schools by NCLB indeed be lifted, lots of struggling schools will breathe easier without the “failed” brand looming over their buildings. But if this new flexibility comes to pass, it’s no time to take a victory lap if you’re someone who believes teachers, parents, and students should have a voice in how their local schools operate.

As anti-democratic pressures appear to be easing on the federal front, they are ratcheting up in states across the country. In fact, the next form of education “reform” may be as bad or worse than what NCLB imposed.

Out With The Old Reform, In With … ?

Alyson Klein in Education Week summarizes specifically what NCLB originally imposed and how that policy may be changed by new legislation.

As she explains, under NCLB, states were required to meet “annual achievement goals” – basically, test score targets – for students including “subgroups” such as English-language learners and students in special education. When schools couldn’t meet these targets – and most schools can’t – they were considered to be not making “adequate yearly progress,” or AYP. As Klein states, “The 2013-14 proficiency deadline turned out to be unrealistic. By 2015, no state had gotten all of its students over that bar.”

Waivers offered by the Obama administration provided states a way to avoid immediate sanctions, but the waiver requirements were equally absurd, and, Klein observes, ” Not many states took the department up on that flexibility.”

What new legislation appears to be aiming for, Klein explains, is a way for states to get out of AYP and develop their own accountability systems.

But as this mostly good thing appears to be happening a mostly bad thing is also in the works, and there is a danger punitive “accountability” policies from the federal government are about to pivot to even more unreasonable measures from states.

The danger, in particular, comes in the form of new policies being taken up by an increasing number of states to create special agencies – usually made up of non-elected officials – with the power to swoop into communities, take over local school governance, and turn schools over to private management groups often associated with large charter school chains.

These appointed boards often take on the guise of a shining knight – using names like Recovery School District or Achievement School District. But they are anything but gallant soldiers coming to the rescue.

Same As The Old Boss

As I reported in my investigation of Nashville public schools, when state lawmakers in Tennessee created its state takeover agency, called the Achievement School District, they gave appointed officials the power to override local governance and take control of the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in the state.

ASD required districts to enforce, for their lowest performing schools, either or both of the following measures: fire school staff or hand the school over to a charter school management organization.

Conveniently, the ASD is also a charter authorizer, so it can designate any of its schools for charter takeover, and indeed has done so numerous times. In fact, the outgoing superintendent of the ASD, Chris Barbic, is the founder and ex-CEO of the Yes Prep chain of charter schools. When the ASD rolled into Memphis, another troubled Tennessee school district, the ASD immediately began targeting the district’s schools for takeover by charter operations.

My article quotes Metro Nashville Public School board member Will Pinkston who explains how “the charter school movement has hijacked education policy” by using the ASD as an opening to impose more privatization of public schools without any local consent of the educators and families affected.

Pinkston accuses the ASCD of engineering “hostile takeovers” of local schools that marginalize community input, much like federal mandates imposed by NCLB did. “It’s immoral to force this kind of change on people who don’t want it,” he states.

It also doesn’t work.

No Way To Govern Schools

Prompted by Barbic’s recent resignation announcement, Andrea Zelinski, a reporter for a Nashville independent news outlet, recalls his initial promise was to “turn the state’s bottom 5 percent of schools to the top 25 percent in five years.” His Achievement District came nowhere near to achieving that.

As Zelinski reports, “Results from last year show reading scores were lower in ASD schools in 2014 than they were before the state stepped in 2012. In the six schools the district has run for two years (a benchmark for inclusion in ASD scores), third through eighth grade reading scores plummeted from 18.1 percent on grade level before the takeover to 13.4 percent in its first year. Last year, reading scores rebounded to 17 percent, but still fall below pre-takeover scores. In that time, math scores have climbed more than five points.”

We’ve seen this kind of failure elsewhere when state agencies step in with takeover efforts and impose their will on a community’s schools.

In Michigan, for instance, a statewide Education Achievement Authority created by Governor Rick Snyder in 2011 has been lording over local schools without having much positive results to show for it.

As an article in The Detroit Metro Times explains, efforts by the Michigan EAA to improve achievement levels of students in that city have been fraught with financial shenanigans and charges of corruption with little to show for improvement in student performance. On the state-administered standardized tests, “a high majority of EAA students are either stagnating in terms of reaching math and reading proficiency, or falling even further behind,” the article explains.

A Detroit-based advocacy group went even deeper into the test data to report, “Most EAA students failed to make even marginal progress toward proficiency. The portrait is even grimmer for the small number of students who had entered the EAA already demonstrating proficiency. In math, 66 percent are no longer proficient. In reading, 37 percent are no longer proficient.”

Despite the poor track record of these state-operated school takeover agencies, lawmakers across the country are still making moves to adopt similar “reform” models.

The Madness Spreads

“Nevada, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arkansas all appear poised to launch state-run turnaround school districts,” similar to the one operated by the Volunteer State according to Tennessee Chalkbeat news outlet.

“In at least five other states – Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin – lawmakers or activists have begun campaigns to launch similar programs,” the report continues. Also, Virginia would likely have its version of an ASD, called Opportunity Education Institute, were it not struck down by a court ruling.

Add North Carolina to the list of states interested in a state takeover program. As education journalist Lindsay Wagner of NC Policy Watch reports, the Tarheel state appears to be the “next to take up this flavor of education reform.”

Wagner reports that an NC Republican Representative is “pushing a bill that would pull five of the state’s lowest-performing elementary schools out of their local school districts and put them into a state-controlled ‘achievement school district.’”

Like the Tennessee model, this policy would allow the appointed agency “to fire all teachers and staff and enter into five year contracts with private charter school management companies to handle the schools’ operations.”

In Ohio, governor, and now presidential candidate, John Kasich is using a law that requires the establishment of an Academic Distress Committee for struggling schools to enact new legislation that overrides local control. According to an Ohio press outlet, the new law lets the state appoint a new CEO who can override the local superintendent, convert “failed” schools to charter schools, and transfer elected school boards to mayoral appointment.

Ohio, it should be noted, may have the nation’s most maligned charter schools – so bad, in fact, they have become the object of ridicule among charter school supporters.

In New York, the state Education Department recently put 144 ”persistently struggling” schools under a new program that threatens them with “outside receivership.” According to a New York news source, this makes the schools subject to being “taken over by an independent entity, such as a college or even a charter school operator.”

Not surprisingly, as education historian Diane Ravitch reports from her personal blog, the schools being targeted for takeover are way more apt to enroll low-income students of color, children with learning disabilities, or students whose first language isn’t English.

A Fight For Democracy

These state takeovers of public school districts invariably send students, parents, and teachers to the ramparts.

As I reported from Nashville, communities being targeted for state takeover of their schools are fighting back. Whether the target is York, Pennsylvania; Youngstown, Ohio; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; or Bellaire, Michigan, Americans insist on having control of their education destinies.

Those who back this new version of education reform call resistance to their plans “government monopoly,” “the education establishment,” or “the status quo.”

I call it democracy.

7/16/2015 – Why Arne Duncan Is A Flop

THIS WEEK: Corporate School Takeover … What Common Core Textbooks? … State Responses To Overtesting … Stupid Teacher Evaluations … End High Stakes Testing


Why Arne Duncan Has Been A Monumental Flop As Education Secretary

By Jeff Bryant

“U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, was the bipartisan stud when the Obama administration debuted but has now devolved into the bipartisan flop as new bills in Congress seek to do all they can to neuter the secretary and make sure future secretaries never do what he did ever again… What’s particularly unfortunate about that policy direction is that the federal government historically has had a mostly positive influence in public schools … So the biggest tragedy of Arne Duncan is not only the millions of students and families ill-served under his tenure but the millions that will likely be ill-served in the future because it looks like his self-righteous, narrow-minded zeal will leave the federal government’s role in education marginalized for the immediate and foreseeable future.”
Read more …


Education: The Next Corporate Frontier


Kristen Steele, Associate Programs Director at Local Futures (International Society for Ecology and Culture) writes, “Over the last 30 years or so, private corporations have been steadily taking over school systems all around the world … In every country, the identical argument is used: public schools are failing, reform is needed and big business will do it best, providing choice and efficiency … Like in all sectors, resistance to these policies takes coordinated effort with a broad base of support. Yet, so far, the fight against privatization in education has been left mostly to teachers, parents, students, and other education activists … Those of us in the new economy and environmental movements need to join our voices to those of the education activists and resist further privatization.”
Read more …

The Great Common Core Textbook Swindle

The Daily Beast

“In response to the new standards, textbook publishers touted new editions they said were aligned to the Common Core. But nearly all of them were just repackaged versions of earlier books. And even 5 years later, the vast majority of textbooks say they’re aligned with the Common Core when they actually aren’t, creating a huge burden for teachers whose performance is often tied to their students’ test scores based on those standards … Publishing giant Pearson … had zero textbooks evaluated as being aligned with the Common Core … If a teacher is saddled with a textbook that doesn’t align with the Common Core, they need to spend time patching together materials that will … That is crucial but time-consuming work and … less time he or she has to plan the kind of deep, meaningful lessons.”
Read more …

Amid Cries Of Overtesting, A Crazy Quilt Of State Responses

Education Week

“After years of outcry and intensifying public debate about whether students are overtested, many states are attempting to definitively address the issue this year. But there’s no consistent strategy across the country … 39 states are examining how to reduce overtesting or cut redundant tests in some fashion … Although new tests tied to the Common Core State Standards have triggered much of the discussion about overtesting, many state chiefs and elected officials support how those tests will inform their policy decisions, or else can’t dramatically cut back their administration because of federal law … The burden of cutting tests is also falling on many district administrators, who have to tread carefully.”
Read more …

Why Are Some Teachers Being Evaluated Using The Test Scores Of Kids They Didn’t Teach?


“Forty-two states across the country have moved in recent years to evaluate all teachers at least in part on student test score growth … But tens of thousands of teachers work with students in grades that aren’t tested … Officials in Nevada are even considering how they might hold support staff – like school nurses and counselors – responsible for student test results … Are educators narrow-subject-area specialists? Or are they generalists who should all be held responsible for teaching foundational skills … As states fumble through policy changes that are very much trial and error, teachers and their students could ultimately pay the price.”
Read more …

Fix Public Education, End High Stakes Testing, Pass ESEA

The Hill

Rev. William J. Barber II writes, “Congress is preparing to vote on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) on its 50th anniversary. What they decide now can change the course of federal aid to education for decades to come … When Congress enacted the ESEA in 1965, everyone knew education opportunities for black children were radically unequal to the opportunities for white students. Now, 50 years later, these gaps persist and are widening – despite the law’s promise … The last time Congress reauthorized ESEA, they and President George W. Bush established high-stakes testing, labeling, and policies that punish schools if kids flunked the tests. Tests don’t teach … Congress has a chance to fix the high stakes testing regime that has failed.”
Read more …

Why Arne Duncan Has Been A Monumental Flop As Education Secretary

For some years now, the term “The Village” has circulated throughout the Internet blogosphere as a shorthand description of the insular life of the Washington, D.C., policy makers and media mavens. As Heather “Digby” Parton explained in 2009, the term is a metaphor for how Beltway folks in policy circles and the press speak with great assurance about what is understood by “average Americans” without ever actually consulting anyone outside a tight circle of anointed “experts” or dipping their toes into the experiential waters of communities very different from their own.

Although thoughts attributed to The Village are most apt to be shared in discussions about economic policy, there is a form of Village narrowcasting in education policy discussions too.

That’s why, for instance, you almost always see news articles about education policy liberally salted with quotes by operatives from a very select few right-wing and politically centrist Beltway policy shops, such as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Education Trust, or Democrats for Education Reform.

When reporters want to “balance” that wonkery with another point of view, they might get a statement from a teachers’ union representative such as American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. But what’s extremely rare is to encounter arguments being made by people of color in communities such as New Orleans, Chicago, Philadelphia, or New York City – you know, the people actually most affected by the kinds of policies being talked about.

Maybe journalists believe ordinary citizens with firsthand experiences can’t be regarded as “experts.” But even when they look for validated expertise, their gaze rarely goes beyond the banks of the Potomac.

This is not to say that those inhabiting the education wing of The Village are dishonest people, lack credibility, or have any bad intentions – or that it may be arguable that people who report about education generally have more journalistic integrity than reporters on other beats. It’s just that when conversations about something as important as public education seem extraordinarily closed off to but an elite few, there are bound to be some completely unsubstantiated claims and atrocious misperceptions being reported by what normally would be considered reliable sources.

That’s likely the dynamic that caused Lyndsey Layton, a normally super-competent education journalist for The Washington Post, to lay this brontosaurus egg in that outlet.

The subject of Layton’s reporting, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, was the bipartisan stud when the Obama administration debuted but has now devolved into the bipartisan flop as new bills in Congress seek to do all they can to neuter the secretary and make sure future secretaries never do what he did ever again.

Nevertheless, Layton does all she can to prop up assumptions of Duncan’s accomplishments and laud him as a bastion of qualities most people agree he has never had.

The result of her off-target report is that not only does she mischaracterize the painful flaws of the Obama administration’s education policies – and the consequences of those flaws for public school children and teachers – but she also misses the most important story about what this failed policy leader leaves in his wake.

What Good Did Duncan Do?

First, let’s look at some grand assumptions Layton makes about what Duncan has accomplished. Because of Duncan, she seems to imply, “Most Americans now accept public charter schools as an alternative to neighborhood schools, most teachers expect to be judged in some measure on how well their students perform on standardized tests, and most states are using more demanding K-12 math and reading standards.”

Each of these conclusions would be true only if you ignored a whole lot of context around them.

First, regarding Americans’ supposed acceptance of charter schools, let’s be clear that because surveys show people generally have a favorable opinion of charter schools, that does not mean most people consider them “an alternative.” The main conclusion of most polling data about charter schools is that most people don’t know what the hell they are. After all, only 6 percent of the nation’s school children attend charter schools, and vast swaths of the country are still relatively charter-free.

So while it’s true Duncan’s pro-charter policies have certainly led to more Americans being aware of charter schools, that’s a far cry from concluding Americans actually see charters as viable alternatives. In the meantime, as the torrent of bad publicity about charter schools continues to grow and spread, favorability of these institutions is likely to head downward.

Second, it’s true that more teachers than ever before are having student test scores used in their performance evaluations. But Layton’s own contention that teachers “expect” this is refuted in her own reporting that Washington state “rejected Duncan’s requirement that it use student test results to evaluate teachers, which experts increasingly say is not a reliable way to identify good and bad teachers.”

Even in those states where the policy has become the norm, as Education Week’s Alyson Klein reports, it has often not been fully embraced and will be quickly dispensed with once Duncan has lost the power he has had to grant waivers to the No Child Left Behind law. In fact, both versions of a revised NCLB currently being considered in the House and the Senate forbid the federal government from enforcing this requirement.

Last, while Duncan was instrumental in pressuring states to adopt new Common Core State Standards, there’s not really any evidence the standards are “more demanding” than what states already had. While that might be true in Mississippi, others have argued it’s not true for Massachusetts. As an article in The Huffington Post recaps, some authoritative reviews of the new standards agree completely they are an improvement over what existed before, while others find older standards in some states, such as those in California and Florida, were better than the Common Core.

The fact is no one really knows what the imposition of new standards will lead to. The first consequence already observed is that student scores on tests related to the standards decline precipitously and will likely continue to do so. But this doesn’t prove the new standards are more demanding. It just proves they are different.

Who Was the Real Arne Duncan?

Where Layton is most off base is in her reporting about how Duncan conducted his job and the widespread perception of him by those who most closely follow education policy.

The first howler is the contention that “unfiltered, direct contact has been key in shaping” the way Duncan views the world. Layton finds this quality in evidence in his routine of keeping up with a network of “strivers” he has come to known over the years. But it’s hard to see how regular phone calls to a handpicked cadre of acquaintances who are already predisposed to agree with him is the same thing as “unfiltered, direct contact.”

In fact, one of the chief ongoing criticisms of Duncan has been his tendency to proceed through every encounter with the public by reciting prepared remarks – an “impenetrable wall of talking points,” as education media critic Alexander Russo described it on his blog.

When education journalist Valerie Strauss watched Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart try to have a conversation with Arne Duncan, she observed on her blog at The Washington Post, “The effort was an exercise in the futility of conversing with someone who won’t deviate from his talking points.”

It’s really hard to reconcile this image of a caring and considerate Arne Duncan with the same man who called his critics “armchair pundits” and said education historian Diane Ravitch, a critic of his, “is in denial and she is insulting all of the hardworking teachers, principals and students all across the country.”

This is the man, after all, who derided parents who dared criticize his imposed testing regime as “white suburban moms.”

An even more unreal image of Duncan Layton conveys in her article is that “In a town where many like to talk, Duncan is regarded as a good listener.”

When classroom teacher and frequent Duncan critic Anthony Cody had what was supposed to be a sit-down with the secretary, what he described was a carefully scripted phone call where Duncan himself consumed half the allotted time, and Cody and his colleagues were unable to squeeze in what they planned to talk about.

“The funny thing about the conversation,” Cody recalls, “was that the whole time, they seemed to think we had questions, and their job was to answer them. We had actually approached the conversation from a different place. We thought perhaps they might want to ask us questions, or hear our ideas about how to improve schools.”

More recently, Duncan showed off his tin ear again during a Twitter chat. As one participant in that dialogue observed on her blog, the chat was entitled “Parental engagement,” but “he didn’t ‘engage’ much with the parents who were asking him the tough questions regarding his education policy that affect their kids. In fact, Duncan didn’t say much.”

But more serious than these personal interactions, Duncan’s tendency to ignore critics, regardless of their stature, was a significant reason why his policies ultimately failed.

When the Obama administration introduced its “Education Blueprint” in 2010, research experts at the National Education Policy Center immediately warned the policies guiding the Department of Education were poorly grounded in research or not based on any objective studies at all. Later in his tenure, Duncan was warned numerous times that using student test scores to evaluate teachers was inaccurate and unfair, yet he persisted in ignoring these warnings. Every time experienced educators challenged Duncan to question his agenda and reconsider policy directions, he responded by … continuing down the same course.


This deafness to expertise, more than any of his deficiencies, is likely why, as Ravitch concludes in here response to Layton’s piece, “It will take years to recover from the damage that Arne Duncan’s policies have inflicted on public education. He exceeded the authority of his office to promote a failed agenda, one that had no evidence behind it. The next president and the next Secretary of Education will have an enormous job to do to restore our nation’s public education system from the damage done.”

The Biggest Failure of All

Among the “damage” Ravitch refers to is what Duncan has done to affect meaningful, positive legislation in the future.

If Layton happened upon the New York Times report on what is currently happening to education policy in Congress, she would have seen the ultimate legacy Duncan leaves behind in the headline “Lawmakers move to limit government’s role in education.”

As the article explains, Congress, in its efforts to rewrite NCLB, has “moved to substantially scale back the federal government’s role in education.” The impetus for this scaling back is bipartisan and shared in both the House and the Senate. And should a new version of NCLB pass, it will limit the federal government’s role in our nation’s schools.

What’s particularly unfortunate about that policy direction is that the federal government historically has had a mostly positive influence in public schools. As the article reminds us, what we now call NCLB was “initially passed in 1965 as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” a law that “was originally designed to protect the nation’s neediest students, and that the federal government must play a significant enforcement role to ensure that poor students, racial minorities and students with disabilities all receive an equal education.”

Because of that act, millions upon millions of impoverished children have had resources funneled to their schools through programs like Title I. Students who do not speak English as their first language have had funds sent to their schools to pay for specialists. Students who have physical disabilities, social-emotional problems and trouble with their learning and intellectual development have had more access to education opportunities and better supports in their schools. More girls and young women have been provided opportunities to play sports and experience a full curriculum.

Sure, this federal mission has not always been fully funded or adequately implemented. But that was the goal, and it was the goal NCLB took our attention away from and the goal this blundering oaf of a secretary refused to take up as his primary job, even though everyone outside his inner circle clamored he do so.

So the biggest tragedy of Arne Duncan is not only the millions of students and families ill-served under his tenure but the millions that will likely be ill-served in the future because it looks like his self-righteous, narrow-minded zeal will leave the federal government’s role in education marginalized for the immediate and foreseeable future.

You would think people who work in Washington, D.C., would get that.

[This article originally appeared at Salon.]

7/9/2015 – State Governments Continue An Assault On Public Schools

THIS WEEK: Texas’ Skewed Version Of History … Every Child Achieves Act … Better Discipline Measures … School Choices Spurs Disruption … Philly Schools A ‘Health Threat’


State Governments Continue An Assault On Public Schools

By Jeff Bryant

“Despite generally favorable, although modest, improvements in state revenue collections and budget growth … political leaders in many states are struggling to pass budgets, often because funding education is the biggest impediment … Some of the individual actions these state governments are taking are just atrocious … To break political impasses, state lawmakers should consider proposals that reflect the entire repertoire of potential measures available to governing bodies … School children everywhere need political leaders to come through for their sake.”
Read more …


Texas Officials: Schools Should Teach That Slavery Was ‘Side Issue’ To Civil War

The Washington Post

“Five million public school students in Texas will begin using new social studies textbooks this fall based on state academic standards that barely address racial segregation … When it comes to the Civil War, children are supposed to learn that the conflict was caused by ‘sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery’ – written deliberately in that order to telegraph slavery’s secondary role … Slavery was a ‘side issue to the Civil War,’ said Pat Hardy, a Republican board member … Historians acknowledge that disagreements over states’ rights played a role in the Civil War. But the states’ rights issue was inseparable from slavery … Nearly half of Americans – 48% – believe that states’ rights was the main cause of the war, compared to 38% who said the main cause was slavery.”
Read more …

Leonie Haimson: Setting The Record Straight About The Every Child Achieves Act

Diane Ravitch’s Blog

At the personal blogsite of education historian Diane Ravitch, founder and president of Class Size Matters Leonie Haimson says, “For nearly 13 years, students have suffered under the high-stakes testing regime of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) … The bi-partisan bill to be debated this week in the Senate, called ECAA, or Every Child Achieves Act … represents a critical step forward … It expressly bars the feds from requiring or even incentivizing states to adopt any particular set of standards … It would also bar the feds from requiring that teachers be judged by student test scores, which is not only statistically unreliable according to most experts, but also damaging to the quality of education kids receive … The bill would prevent the feds from imposing any particular school improvement strategy or mandating which schools need improvement – now based simplistically on test scores … ECAA … deserves the support of every parent and teacher.”
Read more …

What If Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong?

Mother Jones

“How we deal with the most challenging kids remains rooted in B.F. Skinner’s mid-20th-century philosophy that human behavior is determined by consequences and bad behavior must be punished … Contemporary psychological studies suggest that, far from resolving children’s behavior problems, these standard disciplinary methods often exacerbate them … Remarkable research that is starting to revolutionize discipline from juvenile jails to elementary schools … Results thus far have been dramatic, with schools reporting drops as great as 80% in disciplinary referrals, suspensions, and incidents of peer aggression.”
Read more …

Thousands Move In And Out Of Schools During The Year, Creating Disruptions

The Washington Post

“More than 10,000 students transferred into or out of the District [of Columbia]’s public schools during the 2013-2014 school year, a massive ebb and flow that experts say is linked to lower achievement and faltering graduation rates … Dozens of schools in the District gained or lost the equivalent of 10% of their enrollment… The District also is a national leader in school choice, with 44 percent of students enrolled in public charter schools and a lottery system that allows students to enroll in traditional schools throughout the city. Policies that allow for expansive school choice – which communities across the country are beginning to embrace – are intended to improve educational opportunities. But some say they have an unintended consequence … Traditional schools bear the brunt of mid-year turnover. Many charter schools do not admit students after the beginning of the school year, while neighborhood schools are required to enroll students at any point.”
Read more …

Controller: City Schools A Health Threat

The Philadelphia Enquirer

“In a sweep of Philadelphia public schools, investigators from the City Controller’s Office found a litany of health and safety threats … Water damage was discovered at 95% of schools visited, he said. In some bathrooms, cockroaches were found on floors, and toilets perpetually had waste in them … Electrical hazards were found at 70% of schools visited, according to the report, while fire hazards were found at 75% … The report … underscores the need for more school funding … The city’s teachers’ union has long sounded an alarm over physical conditions inside schools.”
Read more …

State Governments Continue An Assault On Public Schools

Nearly two years ago, a North Carolina classroom teacher wrote to her state legislature that her salary of $31,000 “is wholly insufficient to support my family. So insufficient, in fact, that my children qualify for and use Medicaid as their medical insurance, and since there is simply no way to deduct $600 per month from my meager take-home pay in order to include my husband on my health plan, he has gone uninsured. We work opposite shifts to eliminate childcare costs.

“Higher teacher pay may be unpopular,” she argued, “and I am aware it is difficult to see the connection between teacher pay and a quality education for students, so I will try to make it clear. Paying me a salary on which I can live means I can stay in the classroom, and keeping me in the classroom means thousands of students over the next decade would get a quality education from me. It’s that simple.”

Declaring she could “see no end in sight to the assault on teacher pay,” she concluded she might have to leave the profession. Although it isn’t clear what she ultimately decided – the blog where she posted her letter has not had an entry in over a year – she would find whatever kind of end she had in mind still nowhere near in sight.

A small salary increase passed by the state in 2014 gave experienced teachers like her little help. This year, the state has yet to make up its mind on how to support public schools, but the state senate is pushing to eliminate state-paid health retirement benefits for any new teachers hired into the system, and whichever new pay raises are passed, teachers in the Tarheel state will have to work ten years before they see an annual salary of $40,000.

But what the North Carolina teacher calls “an assault on teacher pay” is actually an assault on public education budgets altogether, and it’s not limited to her state.

An Assault On School Children

In Philadelphia, schools are so poorly funded they’ve become “a health threat,” according to a report from The Philadelphia Enquirer. “In a sweep of Philadelphia public schools, investigators from the City Controller’s Office found a litany of health and safety threats.” Ninety-five percent of schools visited had water damage, and many bathrooms had cockroaches on floors, and toilets were fouled with waste. Seventy percent of the schools had electrical hazards, and 75 percent had fire hazards.

In New Jersey, there are similar dire situations in public schools. The Education Law Center has looked at under-funded school districts in that state and found bread, deep cuts to education programs for struggling students who need the most help

In Egg Harbor Township, lack of funding has forced the district to cut 100 staff positions since 2009-10, increase class sizes, keep kindergarten classes at half-day only, and limit preschool to only 72 students, “a small fraction of the more than 900 students eligible.” The district has cut elementary world language and music and elementary and middle school gifted and talented programs and is longer offering summer school for middle and high school students, or math and reading specialists to help middle school students who have fallen behind. Extracurricular activities such as middle school athletics, honors programs, and high school clubs are history. The few non-academic programs remain have “pay to play” fees which limit low-income kids from participating.

In another Jersey district, Elizabeth, the district no longer has the funds to give struggling students extended learning available from afterschool and summer school. “Elizabeth is a large, urban school district serving about 23,000 students. The student body is 90 percent black or Hispanic; 82 percent of students qualify for free or reduced price lunch, and 17 percent have limited English proficiency.”

In the Lindenwold district, funding is so inadequate elementary and middle schools specialists – including art, music, and therapists – provide instruction from movable carts or in small spaces, such as media rooms or offices. “The elementary schools have no designated gymnasium, assembly, or cafeteria space; instead, each school has one multipurpose room suitable for only half the student body.”

Across the country in Nevada, as ELC reports again, a new analysis of that state’s education budget finds it “reduces most districts’ general operating budgets for the 2015-2016 school year.”

This means districts will have to “freeze teacher salaries, increase class size, and make painful cuts to teacher and support staffs, programs, and other essential resources,” including cuts to services for the state’s fast-growing segment of English language learners.

In Washington state, In These Times reports, “at least 30,000 teachers” in 65 school districts recently participated in a rolling strike across the state to protest “unacceptably high class sizes and low pay.”

Who’s To Blame

The culprits in this gross mismanagement of public education are the state legislatures and governors now in charge of public administration and policy leadership.

Despite some signs in the fall of 2014 that political leadership in this country might uphold school resources needs, “only a handful of states that cut money for education during the recession have increased it again during the economic recovery,” a recent report from McClatchy explains in June 2015. The article looks at analysis from a recent study, conducted by Rutgers professor Bruce Baker and the ELC, and found only four states – Illinois, Wyoming, Connecticut, and West Virginia – are spending more on education than they did before the recession in 2008. Fourteen states salt the wounds that lack of funding does to school kids by providing less money to districts with higher concentrations of poor students. “Only 15 states spend more for students in high-poverty schools.”

Despite generally favorable, although modest, improvements in state revenue collections and budget growth – as reported by the National Association of State Budget Officers – political leaders in many states are struggling to pass budgets, often because funding education is the biggest impediment. As The New York Times reports, “While governments routinely wrestle with budgets, experts said the number of states with unfinished plans and the amount of discord over questions of tax level, pension policy and education spending were unusual.”

States where political party differences have created divided governments – such as Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Illinois – have experienced feuds over spending levels on early childhood education and teacher pensions. But even in states with Republican governors and majorities in both legislative chambers – such as North Carolina and Wisconsin – “have found themselves mired in budget battles,” according to the Times.

As another report from the Times notes, the struggle to adequately fund education “is not simply a reflection of state economies still struggling to recover. Experts say politics and policy have also played a role.

“Of the seven states with the deepest cuts in education from kindergarten to 12th grade, six – Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Wisconsin – also cut income tax rates, leading to a series of vigorous protests and public disputes between lawmakers and educators that are still playing out.”

Some of the individual actions these state governments are taking are just atrocious.

Awful Things States Are Doing

As the above report from the Times explains, “Arizona in particular has been crippled by several years of targeted cuts at the state level and local voters’ repeated refusals to raise property taxes to offset these shortfalls.” A school principal quoted in the article explains this means he has $68 for each of his 620 students over the school year to pay for “toilet paper and printing paper; athletic equipment and arts materials; and light bulbs, small repairs and cleaning materials.” Next year, he’ll have $52 per student. Another district as had to cut 170 positions since 2010, freeze teachers’ salaries, and delay replacing its aging buses, and clean out its rainy-day fund. Yet another district will be forced to “operate on a four-day week when the new school year starts in August, a system already in place in 41 of the 230 districts in the state.”

In Wisconsin, according to a knowledgeable source writing at The Washington Post blogsite operated by Valerie Strauss, that state’s new budget “cuts $250 million from the University of Wisconsin system, holds overall K-12 funding flat in the first year with modest increases in the second (which, given inflation, means cuts). And while programs promoting privately run charters are expanded, the budget eliminates Chapter 220 – a metropolitan-wide program designed to reduce racial segregation in public schools and improve equal opportunity for students of color. The budget is also expanding the statewide voucher program, under which tax dollars are funneled into private, overwhelmingly religious schools.”

In New Jersey, “preschool-12th grade public school children will see no increase as the final budget enacts Governor Christie’s proposal for a seventh straight year of reduced or flat funding,” according to ELC. In the meantime, Governor Christie’s proposal ensure the transfer of an extra $37.5 million to charter schools from district budgets, and “the Governor maintained a new allocation of $5.75 million to pay for security in private and religious schools.”

In Iowa, according to The Des Moines Register, “Schools will not receive $55.7 million in additional funding that had been approved by the Legislature for the 2015-16 school year after Gov. Terry Branstad vetoed the line item from a budget bill.”

In Ohio, “Gov. John Kasich took a break from his presidential campaign to cut another $78 million from school districts by eliminating tangible personal property (TPP) tax reimbursement payments in the 2016-2017 school year,” according to Stephen Dyer, the Education Policy Fellow at a state-based progressive advocacy group. Dyer added that the legislature also failed “to pass the first meaningful charter school reform bill since the program started, even though a a majority of the Ohio House was willing to pass the much-improved bill that flew through the Ohio Senate unanimously. So the two-year-long, bipartisan effort to reform Ohio’s nationally ridiculed charter school system came up short, keeping this state’s national joke of a system in place.”

In Pennsylvania, newly elected Democratic governor Tom Wolf vetoed the Republican-backed budget it its entirety because, “it failed to adequately fund public education or provide property-tax relief to homeowners.”

In Washington state, budget passage has been stymied by lawmakers’ unwillingness to pass funding increases to meet class size reduction mandates voted on by the people. That state is chronically non-compliant with court-ordered funding levels for education.

There Are Alternatives

California continues to be a positive exception to the overwhelming inadequacy and inequity in state funding. As Politico reports, “California state lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown agreed on a budget … coming up with a $115 billion plan that includes $14.3 billion for K-12 schools and community colleges. It also includes $6 billion to continue implementing a funding formula that directs money to ‘students who face the greatest challenges,’ Brown’s office said.”

If California can do more to support public schools, certainly other states can too. Further, those states that fund schools more equitably can be held up as models for the rest of the nation, and federal authorities could pressure states to adhere to those examples in much the same way the US Department of Education has succeeded in pressuring states to adopt all kinds of measures. The federal government could also do more to support the numerous lawsuits now being conducted against states to force them to uphold their constitutional duties to provide adequate funding for education.

To break political impasses, state lawmakers should consider proposals that reflect the entire repertoire of potential measures available to governing bodies. That repertoire is on display at the website of the Opportunity to Learn Campaign. OTL’s “toolkit” for raising education revenue features “23 different options within three,” including 14 Personal Income Tax options (such as “Millionaire’s Taxes” and “Estate Tax” options, six Business Tax Options aimed at reducing corporate tax avoidance or eliminating special business tax breaks, and three Sales and Excise Tax options. [Disclosure, OTL is a partner organization with the Education Opportunity Network.]

Significantly boosting education spending – and the equity of that spending – now may be too late to save committed and experienced teachers like the one in North Carolina who asked to simply be paid a decent wage. But school children everywhere need political leaders to come through for their sake.

7/2/2015 – Making It Work For American Families

THIS WEEK: Media Neglect Education News … Texas Schools Leader Homeschooled … Colorado Vouchers Nixed … Teachers Lack Common Core Materials … Teacher Protests Go Worldwide


Can The 2016 Election Be About Making It Work For American Families?

By Jeff Bryant

Elaine Weiss of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education writes, “The United States has spent the past few decades gradually becoming the least family- and child-friendly nation in the Western world … This election must be about changing that reality and giving our children and their families a real future … These ingredients – a strong early start for children, sensitive and well-targeted supports for struggling parents, and new hope, with reason to believe in it – are key to reviving the middle class that is the basis for a thriving democracy.”
Read more …


Report: Education Media Coverage More About Sports Than Policy

Education News

“According to a recent report … almost 7% of all regional news coverage was found to pertain to education in comparison to the 2.3% of national news stories that was found to cover education … Almost 25% of all K-12 news stories focused on school sports, local school events, or education funding, with 13.6% of all education coverage involving sports – almost twice as high as any other topic. Special events, including open houses and field trips, came in second with 5% of all reporting … Stories pertaining to education policy were found to be on the decline. All policy-related reporting done by local, regional and state news sources was found to account for just 7.5% of all education news. Policy topics that saw an increase in coverage in 2014 included education standards, school safety, and school choice.”
Read more …

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Picks Homeschooler To Chair State Board of Education

Raw Story

“Texas Gov. Greg Abbott … announced that he was appointing Houston Republican Donna Bahorich, a former communications director for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, to chair the Board of Education. According to Texas Public Radio, Bahorich homeschooled her own sons before sending them to a private high school. The Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog group, warned that Bahorich would ‘put culture war agendas ahead of educating more than 5 million Texas kids’ … Even Republican State Board member Thomas Ratliff called the move a mistake. ‘Public school isn’t for everybody, but when 94% of our students in Texas attend public schools I think it ought to be a baseline requirement that the chair of the State Board of Education have at least some experience in that realm.’”
Read more …

Colorado Court Rules Use of Public Funds for Private Schools Is Unconstitutional

The New York Times

“Colorado’s highest court … struck down a voucher program that allowed parents in a conservative suburban school district to use taxpayer dollars to send their children to private schools. The split decision … was a blow to conservative education advocates and those who want to redefine public education to funnel tax dollars directly to families who then choose the type of schooling they want for their children … The court’s decision will also stop other school districts around Colorado from pursuing similar voucher programs … Many states are moving forward with programs that allow families to apply public money toward private school tuition.”
Read more …

Years Into Common Core, Teachers Lament Lack of Materials

Associated Press via ABC News

“Five years into the implementation of Common Core, standards meant to steer students from rote memorization toward critical thinking, 45% of school districts reported ‘major problems’ finding good aligned textbooks, and another 45% reported ‘minor problems’ … Publishing industry executives said some education publishers produced materials more quickly than others, but other factors have been at play. Most significant are the shift to digital learning and the lingering effects of the recession, which left many school districts without money to replace textbooks published before the new standards took hold … Even some textbooks that say they are Common Core-aligned aren’t necessarily so, analyses have shown.”
Read more …

When Teachers Protest

The Atlantic

“In an effort to voice their frustration, conquer injustice, or show how integral they are to the social fabric, teachers often resort to protest … Educators around the world have taken to the streets to speak out against issues such as failing schools and subpar working conditions. The discontent seems to be particularly intense in certain countries and regions – throughout Latin America, for example – and sometimes these are the same areas where teachers’ status in society is notably low … Although better wages are the common thread throughout most of the demonstrations … most of the world’s teacher protests probably amount to something much deeper than a call for fair pay. They’re a desperate effort to salvage education when it feels like the government is abandoning it.”
Read more …

Can The 2016 Election Be About Making It Work For American Families?

[Today's guest writer is Elaine Weiss. Weiss is the national coordinator for the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, a campaign that works to advance policies to close the income- and race-based disparities in opportunity that drive achievement gaps.]

As election season heats up, it’s encouraging to see not only education policy in general, but early childhood education, in particular, getting serious attention. With New York City leading the way, and cities from Boston to Seattle and San Antonio working toward universal pre-k, it’s becoming clear that it is, indeed, possible to scale up quality prekindergarten programs fairly quickly. We must anticipate bumps in the road, and pay close attention to ensure sustained quality. But the bottom line is that these public investments are both wise and workable.

Given the rapid changes in our country’s demographics in recent years, however, and shockingly high rates of child and community poverty, conversations about early childhood investments need to be ratcheted up a few notches.

Millions of parents in states across the country work jobs that provide no time off at all to take care of their new babies. It is hard to fathom how this lays the foundation for healthy child development, let alone stable family life. Others who are searching for jobs at a time when there are five, ten, or even fifty people applying for an open position are hampered by their inability to pay for the child care that makes job hunting feasible. And if they do get the job, it is unlikely to pay enough to cover the cost of that care, which in some states now exceeds in-state college tuition rates. Not to mention the trade-offs among such basics as food, clothing, and rent that those families will be forced to make because wages are so far behind the cost of living.

In other words, as President Obama and Hillary Clinton hint, and Bernie Sanders loudly proclaims, the United States has spent the past few decades gradually becoming the least family- and child-friendly nation in the Western world. Indeed, findings from a study of a recent cohort of kindergarten entrants – children who began school in 2010-2011, and who spent their formative early years in the throes of the Great Recession – provide stark evidence of that sobering reality. When children step foot into their kindergarten classrooms for the first time, gaps in both reading and math skills between those in the highest and lowest social class quintiles are already a full standard deviation in size. To get a sense of how enormous those gaps are, the What Works Clearinghouse estimates that it would take at least four independent, highly effective interventions to close them. Before school even starts.

This election must be about changing that reality and giving our children and their families a real future.

One initiative that is out to do just that is the Make it Work Campaign. Recognizing the depth and breadth of the day-to-day struggles millions of working American families face, Make it Work developed a three-pronged, evidence-based policy agenda to help put our country back on the right public policy footing, laying the foundations to rebuild the middle class we’ve been systematically chipping away at since the early 1980s.

Together, the campaign’s three policy buckets – Equal Pay, Caregiving, and Work and Family – would provide a web of supports that enable parents to live dignified, productive lives, including caring for their children well. In particular, Make it Work’s ambitious goals of affordable child care and accessible high-quality pre-kindergarten for all children, bolstered by living wages for the providers and educators who work with them, alleviate critical stressors for working parents and ensure that all kids get the help they need to arrive at kindergarten ready to learn.

While the main focus of this election must be on raising the floor for everyone, however, we can make smart, targeted investments that start to boost those with the greatest needs today. Educare Schools, which now number 18 across 14 states and Washington, DC, offer valuable lessons on how to build comprehensive birth-to-five systems of care and supports for children and their families. From Omaha, where it got its start, to Silicon Valley, where the newest Center opens later this year, Educare “[e]mpowers some of our poorest, most vulnerable children and families to succeed through a coordinated system of home visits, high-quality care and pre-kindergarten, health and nutrition supports, and parent engagement, all centered within those families’ communities.”

And these investments pay off in a big way. Research shows that children who experience Educare for a full five-year course enter elementary school with far more extensive vocabularies and stronger social skills, including self-confidence, persistence, and self-regulation, than their peers. Less touted but also critical are the benefits for parents. As one couple in Omaha described Educare to the filmmakers who produced Ready for Kindergarten, “This place is not just day care. It’s an educational palace. … They are providing a glimpse of hope for us to stand on our own. And one day, we will provide that same help.”

These ingredients – a strong early start for children, sensitive and well-targeted supports for struggling parents, and new hope, with reason to believe in it – are key to reviving the middle class that is the basis for a thriving democracy. As we enter this election season, we must stand with candidates who call out the policies and policymakers that have devastated that middle class for too long. We must urge them to Make it Work for all of us. And we must insist on more investments in programs like Educare. Anything less would constitute a loss before the first vote is cast.