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10/30/2014 – Big Money Taking Over Education Politics

THIS WEEK: Civil Rights & Accountability … Don’t Dis TFA … Fewer Want To Be Teachers … Black Girls Suspended More … New Accountability Needed

TOP STORY

Big Money Taking Over Education Politics

By Jeff Bryant

“Big money from businesses and private individuals and foundations is now altering the electoral process in school board elections and state level contests for school administration. Often, the big money comes from people who associate with the Democratic Party. Further, these wealthy Democrats often collude with conservative Republicans in these school-related elections in ways they never would in other contests. This confluence of big money is often called ‘bipartisanship.’ But the results are apt to be the same we’ve seen in more popular elections – a distortion of democracy that leads to governance that is less progressive.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Civil Rights Groups Want Resources For Students To Factor in Accountability

Education Week

“Federal and state accountability has to do more than just hold schools’ feet to the fire when it comes to student outcomes, a coalition of civil rights groups said in a letter sent to President Barack Obama and congressional leaders … The systems also have to ensure that school systems and policymakers at all levels are held accountable for ‘inputs,’ including providing conditions that make it possible for learning to take place. Students – especially poor and minority kids – need equal access to resources, including good teachers; social, emotional, and health and nutrition services; and high-quality instructional materials (everything from technology to facilities). Schools must also provide tailored professional development to educators that work with diverse student populations, and sustained outreach to parents and communities.”
Read more …

This Is What Happens When You Criticize Teach For America

The Nation

“Teach For America has spent nearly $3.5 million in advertising and promotion… Much of this promotion goes toward attacking journalists … The organization, which represents less than 0.002% of America’s teaching force, enjoys disproportionate sway in the political realm … 63% of recruits work, as Teach For America puts it, ‘full time in education,’ yet a 2010 study found that 80% of Teach For America recruits quit after three years. The disparity suggests that while TFA recruits may not be able to stomach teaching, they do feel up to the task of other education-sector activities, like policy reform and foundation management … TFA alumni like [Michelle] Rhee, [John] White and [Cami] Anderson continue to be hailed as innovative policy experts … Despite much empirical evidence to the contrary, Teach For America’s premise remains tenable thanks to the enormous prestige afforded to TFA recruits. In this light, TFA’s PR extensive apparatus begins to make sense; lacking results, their image is the only thing left for the organization to stand on.”
Read more …

Steep Drops Seen In Teacher-Prep Enrollment Numbers

Education Week

“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% from 2004 to 2012, according to federal estimates from the U.S. Department of Education’s postsecondary data collection … Some large states, like heavyweight California, appear to have been particularly hard hit … Federal data … show an overall drop in education degree programs across all institutions … The enrollment downturns already appear to be contributing to some unsettling hiring patterns.”
Read more …

The Economic Impact Of School Suspensions

The Atlantic

“A recent report finds African-American girls were suspended at six times the rate of white girls, and more than any other group of girls (and several groups of boys). This is despite evidence that African-American students do not misbehave more frequently than their peers … The study … shows how poor educational outcomes can limit their opportunities, from lower graduation rates to setbacks in expected lifetime earnings … African-American girls are more than twice as likely as whites to be held back a grade … The reasons for such setbacks have less to do with student behavior … than with disproportionate and overly punitive disciplinary practices that remove African-Americans from classes for minor and subjective infractions (examples include violations of dress code or even wearing natural hairstyles).”
Read more …

Coalition Wants New School Accountability

USA Today

“The nation’s two largest teachers unions – along with school administration organizations, business advocacy groups and school equity leaders – on Tuesday announced a new framework for accountability that focuses more on a holistic ‘support-and-improve’ model than the longstanding ‘test-and-punish’ mindset that’s commonplace in schools nationwide … The New Accountability framework centers around making changes to three central concepts in educational accountability: standardized testing, teacher evaluation and school resource equity … Rather than advocating for an outright repeal of standardized testing, the partnering organizations say they want fewer, better tests that more accurately measure what schools and business leaders say is the most important objective for students who’ll soon have to compete in the high-tech, global economy.”
Read more …

Big Money Taking Over Education Politics

Most folks in the Democratic Party have a problem with the Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that permitted goo-gobs of corporate and private interest cash to be dumped onto our elections. The party’s platform supports amending the Constitution to reverse the decision. President Obama has also called for such an amendment, and Hillary Clinton has said she would consider supporting it.

Most Democrats are also alarmed by the enormous amounts of cash funneled into the electoral process by folks like Karl Rove and the Koch brothers who use corporate and private interest money to overwhelm citizen voice in elections and usurp democracy.

But if you’re a Democrat, you should know the influence buying unleashed by Citizens United and perpetrated by people like the Koch brothers are at work – with the blessing and participation of fellow Democrats – in education politics.

Historically, elections that determine public education governance – from local school board races to contests determining state administrative leadership – have been fairly subdued affairs in comparison to mayoral and legislative races.

That’s not necessarily a good thing, because education has long been America’s most collaborative public enterprise, affecting virtually everyone and determining how we nurture the next generation of citizens, workers, and leaders.

But lately, these contests have grown more animated as a new element –money from big business and private individuals and foundations – is now altering the electoral process in new and fundamental ways.

Examples of this new dynamic have surfaced in the upcoming 2014 elections at both the local school district level and at state level contests, and in each example, the big money often coming from people who associate with the Democratic Party. Further, these wealthy Democrats often collude with conservative Republicans in these school-related elections in ways they never would in other contests.

This confluence of big money is often called “bipartisanship.” But the results are apt to be the same we’ve seen in more popular elections – a distortion of democracy that leads to governance that is less progressive.

Big Money Goes After School Boards

As Valerie Strauss pointed on her blog at The Washington Post recently, “For several years now local school board races around the country have attracted big money from outside the state — and sometimes from across the country — as school reformers and their supporters seek to elect like-minded public officials. In 2013, for example, millions of dollars were spent on school board races in Los Angeles and in 2012, outsiders poured money into a New Orleans school board race.”

In that post, Strauss pointed to an article by Minneapolis-based writer and former teacher Sarah Lahm, published by In These Times, describing how big money is arm twisting the democratic process in her local school board election.

Lahm explained how one of the candidates, Don Samuels, is benefiting from “extensive financing and canvassing support … from several well-heeled national organizations, such as the Washington, D.C.-based 50CAN, an offshoot of Education Reform Now called Students for Education Reform (SFER).”

Samuels has out-raised his main competitor, incumbent Rebecca Gagnon, by almost 4 to 1 including “tremendous support from outside of Minnesota. The D.C.-based 50CAN Action Fund filed a campaign finance report in Minnesota showing that it was devoting $14,350 in financial resources to the Minneapolis school board race, as well as in-kind donations valued in the thousands of dollars.”

Another report on who is influencing the Minneapolis school board race, from Beth Hawkins on the MinnPost website, described big donations coming into the race from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and, again, 50CAN and Students for Education Reform. That report also mentioned another recipient to the largesse, candidate Iris Altamirano.

50CAN, a nonprofit organization with a stated mission to “advocate for a high-quality education for all kids,” was founded and is led by Marc Porter Magee, a former employee of the Democratic Leadership Council’s think tank, a centrist-minded Beltway group carrying a Democratic Party label but supportive of many policies favored by Republicans.

The DLC, as my colleague at the Campaign for America’s Future Robert Borosage described, “led the Wall Street-funded, corporate wing of the Party. The New Dems scorned the base of the Democratic Party – labor, feminists, environmentalists, minorities, peace activists. Rather than resist conservative headwinds, they argued vociferously that Democrats should tack to them, adopting a muscular foreign policy, trimming social liberalism, posturing tough on crime and the poor.”

According to Wikipedia, early funding for the DLC came from big corporations including “ARCO, Chevron, Merck, Du Pont, Microsoft, Philip Morris and Koch Industries.” A more recent report, from The American Prospect, adds a whole slew of corporate money and influence into the DLC make-up.

So now 50CAN – with funding from the likes of Google and lots of rich private foundations including those of Bill and Melinda Gates and the Walton family of Walmart fame – has emerged as a DLC clone with a mission to determine the results of local school board elections.

Despite what 50CAN states as its mission, the organization seems clearly more geared to a political strategy than it is on developing high quality schools.

In an interview featured on the website of a conservative D.C.-based think tank, Magee has stated his intentions of “breaking up the old ways of thinking in the Democratic Party … by asking: How could we solve conservative problems with liberal means, and liberal problems with conservative means?”

Apparently, that recipe includes using the “conservative means” of big money to influence the “liberal problem” of education policy.

Students for Education Reform is a similarly minded group loosely linked to the Democratic Party label but more often at odds with progressive causes. As a recent article in The Nation described, “SFER has received $1.6 million from Education Reform Now, whose PAC, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), shelled out $1 million to attack the Chicago Teachers Union. DFER worked with the Koch brothers and ALEC to push Proposition 32, which if passed, would have blocked labor unions from using automatic payroll deductions for political purposes. Though SFER claims neutral territory, its motives are laid bare by its rallying around the funding of charter schools, the issue of limiting tenure, and its strict focus on testing.”

In Minnesota, as Lahm reported, the state branch of SFER “received $26,000 in outside money, some of which it spent on such things as paid canvassers and campaign infrastructure, and $4,350 of which it passed along to the 50CAN Action Fund for ‘walk literature.” These effort by 50CAN and SFER on behalf of two candidates in the race have been bolstered with more money coming from Republican donors and charter school advocates, Lahm explained.

But to what ends, Lahm asked? Minneapolis is being “primed” Lahm contended for charter schools expansions.

Samuels’ campaign in particular, Lahm found, “appears to support the proliferation of charter schools in Minneapolis.” Altamirano, the other candidate benefiting from the outside money, supports charters as well.

As Lahm noted, “the outside money flowing to the Samuels campaign follows a relatively recent national pattern that’s played out in places such as Texas, Oregon, Colorado and New Jersey, where local school board races have been heavily influenced by the political and financial heft of outside groups.” In the 2014 election, you can add Indiana to that list.

But big money coming from Democratic Party advocates for “education reform” is targeting state elections as well.

Big Money Floods A California Superintendent Race

Education historian and public school activist Diane Ravitch recently called our attention to the race for state superintendent of school in California where Marshall Tuck, running against educator Tom Torlakson, got a late infusion of huge campaign contributions” from many of the same entities influencing the Minneapolis school board race – Michael Bloomberg, the Waltons, and other heavy weight private foundations.

As Poltico’s Stephanie Simon explained, the contest is between two Democrats – incumbent, Tom Torlakson, a former teacher and veteran legislator, and a former Wall Street and charter school executive Marshall Tuck.

The Torlakson campaign is “backed by all the traditional constituencies of a mainline Democratic campaign, Simon explained, “including public sector unions, environmentalists, reproductive rights groups and even the party apparatus itself

Tuck, on the other hand, “has been endorsed by every major newspaper in the state – and by a bipartisan array of wealthy donors,” including the above mentioned Bloomberg and Walton as well as mega-wealthy Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad and numerous Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, all of whom register their political leanings to the Democratic Party.

For that reason Simon claimed, “The race has become a highly symbolic fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party – and is shaping up to be major test of waning teachers union power.”

Calling it, “a campaign that echoes the same ‘Main Street vs. Wall Street’ divide that has roiled the Democratic Party in recent years,” Simon noted Tuck’s negative stance on teacher tenure and his strong support for charter schools compared to Torlakson’s opposition to unfair teacher evaluations and over-emphasis on testing that have been imposed by the Obama administration.

An analysis of the two candidates at Education Week highlighted the divergence in their assessments of what current school policies are achieving. Whereas Tuck prefers the language of failure – saying, “We have a status quo that has been broken for kids for a long time, that’s failing kids” – Torlakson talks about recent accomplishments, including “California 8th graders’ significantly higher scores on the NAEP reading test in 2013, a record-high graduation rate of 80 percent for the class of 2013, and a new funding formula intended to provide more resources and power to school districts.”

Simon noted that Tuck is particularly eager to take on the California Teachers’ Association, the state teachers’ union, calling it too influential, while Torlakson has defended hard won union contractual agreements with the state.

As the education news outlet EdSource noted, both candidates have raised about the same amount of money, $2.5 million for Torlakson and $2.4 million for Tuck. But with total spending likely to hit $25 million, according to Simon’s report, most of the money is coming from outside the candidates’ efforts.

As the EdSource report explained, “There are no limits on donors to outside groups, identified on campaign disclosure reports as ‘independent expenditure committees.’ These committees have intensified their efforts in the past few weeks,” mostly in a rush of support to Tuck.

Democracy Gets Lost

What’s getting lost in the flood of money into both these and other similarly afflicted races is the integrity of the democratic process.

When a small group of private individuals get such an out-sized ability to control the conversation, the voices of the electorate are drowned out.

Those who welcome the big money coming into these contests from corporate and private interests are quick to note that labor organizations have long used their money to influence education-related elections.

They are quick to cast these contests as being referendums on the power of unions, as Politico’s Simon did, and argue that these are merely two equivalent interests dooking it out on a level playing field.

But that in fact is a false equivalency, as Simon herself seemed to admit in a recent Twitter exchange with me.

Teachers unions are fundamentally democratic organizations, as Matt Di Carlo has explained on his blog at the Albert Shanker Institute. “Teachers’ unions are comprised of members who are teachers, they’re led by teachers (many still in the classroom) who are elected by teachers, and union policy positions and collective bargaining agreements are voted on and approved by teachers,” he wrote. “When you hear ‘teachers’ unions,’ at least some part of you should think ‘teachers.’”

Furthermore, union influence can’t hide behind the secrecy that outside PACs and independent expenditure committees enjoy.

That’s different from what you should think when you hear about organizations working to undermine the interests of teachers – like 50CAN and Students for Education Reform – whose sole constituency is comprised of a few very wealthy people.

What you should think of them, at least if you are a Democrat, is Citizens United and Koch brothers.

 

10/23/2014 – Will Education Save The Democrats?

THIS WEEK: States Decrease Per-Student Spending … Demand For After-School Programs … More Private Money For Public Schools … Real Accountability … School To Prison Pipeline

TOP STORY

Will Education Save The Democrats?

By Jeff Bryant

“Democratic-leaning activists have stepped up their ground game to make support for public education a wedge issue in campaigns around the country … Should the actions of grassroots public schools supporters help bail out the campaigns of some Democratic candidates, there are lessons to be learned and potentially intriguing shifts in how the Democratic Party treats education policy ahead.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

School Funding: Most States Have Decreased Per-Student Expenses Since Recession

International Business Times

“A majority of states are still providing less cash for schools than they were prior to the recession … Although most states have increased their per-student funding in the current school year compared with the last … that funding has not increased enough to make up for cuts in recent years. Some 46% of total education spending in the U.S. relies on state funds … Costs of state-funded services have surged as a result of inflation, growing needs and a shift in demographics. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that there are about 725,000 more K-12 students … Additionally, more than 37,000 unaccompanied child migrants between January and July have joined adult sponsors and family members in communities across the nation. All are entitled to a public-school education … The state-level education cuts have a national impact, as they’ve slowed the nation’s economic recovery from the recession.”
Read more …

Demand For After-School Programs Outstrips Supply by Millions

Education Week

“Interest in after-school programs over the past decade has far surpassed their growth, shutting out millions of families that need a safe place to send their children while parents are at work … More than 10 million children attend after-school programs, up from 6.5 million in 2004 … 89% of parents said they were satisfied with their child’s program and 83% agreed that having after-school programs available helps working parents keep their jobs … Nationwide, there are 19.4 million students – two for every child enrolled – whose parents want them in an after-school program, but can’t find anything available or affordable … 11.3 million children – 800,000 of them in elementary school – are on their own after school, with no adult supervision.”
Read more …

Nation’s Wealthy Places Pour Private Money Into Public Schools, Study Finds

The New York Times

“Private groups are raising an increasing amount of money for public schools in wealthier communities, highlighting concerns about inequality … Nonprofits organized by parents and community leaders more than tripled in number and more than quadrupled the dollars they generated between 1995 and 2010. Communities with higher median incomes were more likely to have these fund-raising groups in the first place and, perhaps not surprisingly, more likely to raise more money per student than those in less affluent neighborhoods … In some communities, the amounts can rise to four figures per student … State funding for education has fallen since the beginning of the recession, however, at a time when schools are being asked to incorporate new, academically rigorous standards and tests and support a growing group of students from low-income families and students who are learning English as a second language … Private fund-raising has not filled the public gap.”
Read more …

Report Urges Revamping Student Testing

EdSource

“A new report … recommends alternatives to annual standardized tests … Schools should focus more on ‘formative assessments,’ the curriculum-based problems and quizzes that teachers give to students throughout the school year for feedback on how students are doing, in addition to locally developed alternatives to assessments, … science experiments, literary essays, classroom projects and, by the senior year of high school, internship experiences and portfolios that students can present to employers and colleges … It is critical to stop using annual tests as the chief gauge of school success and student achievement … Congress would give states more flexibility to create strategies addressing student achievement, an equitable distribution of resources and teacher preparation.”
Read more …

For More Teens, Arrests By Police Replace School Discipline

The Wall Street Journal

“A generation ago, schoolchildren caught fighting in the corridors, sassing a teacher or skipping class might have ended up in detention. Today, there’s a good chance they will end up in police custody … At school, talking back or disrupting class can be called disorderly conduct, and a fight can lead to assault and battery charges … Some jurisdictions are so overwhelmed that they are experimenting with routing schoolchildren into specially designed courts that would keep first-time offenders from being saddled with an arrest record. Others have passed new laws or policies to dial back police involvement in school discipline … Police, judges and civil-rights organizations all say schools are increasingly the way young people enter the justice system.”
Read more …

Will Education Save The Democrats?

When evidence emerged a month ago that education is the top “turnout message” for the Democratic Party in the upcoming election, some candidates may have chosen to act on that information.

Indeed, Democratic-leaning activists have stepped up their ground game to make support for public education a wedge issue in campaigns around the country. And the fate of some Democratic candidates could rely on how they play an education card in their contests.

Should the actions of grassroots public schools supporters help bail out the campaigns of some Democratic candidates, there are lessons to be learned and potentially intriguing shifts in how the Democratic Party treats education policy ahead.

Education Is A Top Tier Issue

Crack reporter Stephanie Simon at Politico recently explained, “In Florida, Kansas, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, Republicans are on the defensive about education. It isn’t usually a top-tier concern for voters, but Democrats see issues such as college affordability and K-12 funding as their best chance to motivate the on-again, off-again voters who often sit out midterms.”

Simon quoted from research conducted by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, first reported on the Education Opportunity Network website, showing, “The top testing turnout message overall emphasizes education, specifically Republicans’ efforts to cut programs for students while giving tax cuts to the wealthy. This message is the strongest argument for coming out to vote in all of the states except Colorado (where it ranks second, just behind a message focused on how Republicans are working to turn back the clock on women’s rights).”

Simon also cited the work of Democratic strategists James Carville and Stan Greenberg who “found that unmarried women in North Carolina and Georgia were particularly swayed by messages about expanding access to early childhood education. In Iowa and Colorado, affordable college loans hit the mark. Combining those issues with an appeal to raise the minimum wage, they wrote, creates a ‘powerful, populist opportunity to shift the vote.’”

In senate races, where education is less apt to be an issue, among the most contested races, the one where Democrats seemed best positioned to win, Senator Kay Hagen’s reelection in North Carolina, education has been an especially prominent issue. The Hagan campaign even ran radio ads on the subject specifically targeting African-American voters.

A Wave Of New Democratic State Governors?

The Democratic party is plowing especially promising ground in state gubernatorial races while using education issues a fertilizer.

As journalist Sam Wang recently reported for The New Republic, “Much of the chatter about next month’s midterm election has focused on Republican gains in the Senate, possibly enough to take control of the chamber … But an examination of governors’ races around the country paints a different picture – one that is potentially good for Democrats.”

Wang found evidence of “weakness in the Republican field in five states – Alaska, Pennsylvania, Maine, Illinois, and Rhode Island” – and eight states where the candidates are either tied or within 1 percentage point or less of each other.

Voter anger at incumbents and at Republican governors who rejected Medicaid expansion included in the Affordable Care Act may be what has put Republicans in hot water, according to Wang.

But among the states that are either leaning Democratic or are too close to call, according to Wang’s calculations, support for public education could be a deciding issue.

Education has made some Republican incumbents especially vulnerable Politico’s Simon noted in the article cited above. “Pennsylvania’s Corbett, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker,” Simon said, “all have been forced to spend considerable time – and campaign dollars – knocking back attacks on their education policies.”

In the Florida race, according to a report in Education Week, the candidates, Republican incumbent Scott and Democratic challenger and former Gov. Charlie Crist, are both “attempting to outdo the other with pledges of greater financial support for schools battered by the recent recession.”

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Corbett is far behind in the polls and has even lost the support of a significant percentage of Republicans in part because of how much he cut education funding.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scot Walker, a presidential aspirant, faces a tough challenge from Democrat Mary Burke, a school board member from Madison who has pointedly disagreed with Walker on the issue of school funding.

Early childhood education has risen to prominence in many contests, as Politico recently reported. “Voters in three key election battleground states want to invest more in early childhood education, according to new polls. In Florida, Ohio, and Colorado, voters said one of their top priorities is giving children a strong start at life so they can succeed in school and the workplace.”

Similarly, Education Week reported that polling conducted recently found, “A majority of voters in five battleground states … support expanding early-learning programs such as preschool and home-visiting programs,” adding Georgia and North Carolina to the states Politico cited.

College student loan debt is another voter concern propelling many Democratic candidates’ platforms. A recent analysis at Inside Higher Ed found the issue has gotten prominent attention from Democratic candidates in senate races, particularly due to the numerous appearances of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren in campaign rallies.

The analysis stated, “In a handful of competitive races, Democrats are aiming to tie GOP candidates to student aid cuts in the budget proposed by Representative Paul Ryan, a prominent Republican advocate of reducing federal spending, and also pouncing on calls by some Tea Party-backed candidates to shutter the federal Education Department.”

Reporter Michael Stratford found examples of Democratic appeals to voter concerns over student loans in races in Iowa, Georgia, North Carolina, South Dakota, and California.

Grassroots Pressure For Education

Democratic-leaning interests groups have added to the pressure for candidates to support public schools. Teachers’ unions in particular are pulling out all the stops this election in their effort to make many of the contests about education.

Another report from Education Week found, “Teachers’ unions, hoping to affect education policy at the state and local levels, are expecting to pour more money into those campaigns in the 2014 midterm elections than ever before,” with record-setting amounts of $60 million in total from the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

The reporter, Lauren Camera, noted the unions are especially focused on defeating Republican incumbent governors, particularly in in Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

It’s tough to determine how much influence the money from the teachers’ unions will have on the elections.

As the Ed Week article noted, influential advocacy groups that generally oppose an agenda to support public schools and classroom teachers – including Democrats for Education Reform, Stand for Children, and StudentsFirst – are throwing large amounts of money into races as well. And as a post at Media Matters reported, right wing organizations backed by the Koch brothers and Karl Rove are significantly out-spending teachers unions in races, such as the senate contest in North Carolina where their contributions are three times the amount of what the unions have mustered.

Nevertheless, this groundswell of money represents a calculated belief that education has become an electoral issue to an extent it never has before. In fact, environmental groups and women’s groups are also running education spots in some contests.

What This Could Mean

It’s certainly too early to tell what the effects of all this education agitation will produce – in terms of not only the fate of the candidates involved in these races, but also the direction of education policy after the elections are over. Yet there are intriguing potentials to consider.

For one, while education has risen to prominence in many of the midterm races, the way candidates have pitched the issue has a unifying theme regardless of party.

That was the conclusion of two policy analysts from the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Frederick M. Hess and Max Eden, who looked at the campaign websites for the 139 major party candidates for governor and U.S. senator.

Their findings, which appeared at The Washington Post, were that the education issues most in vogue in the prevailing policy status quo were absent from the candidates’ platforms. “Topics familiar to education reformers seem foreign to sitting and aspiring governors,” the pair of analysts wrote. Many of the pet projects that policy leaders in the Beltway and state capitals have been so enamored with – “teacher tenure reform … charter schools … choice” – barely appeared.

Even support or opposition to the Common Core – certainly the topic most in the news of late – failed to register as rallying cries, either for or against, in the majority of the candidates’ platforms.

One issue, however, did dominate the agenda: “Just over half the candidates for governor – for whom K-12 and higher education will prove to be the largest budget item – call for increasing education funding.”

So if we are to take these candidates at their word, does that foretell a rush of new funding for schools two years from now?

Another intriguing potential result arising from some races has more to do with the relationship of Democratic candidates and their grassroots base, particularly classroom teachers.

As Politico reported, some of the Democratic candidates the teachers’ unions have buttressed have not always been very reliable supporters of teachers.

In Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn “has done plenty to anger teachers unions, starting with cutting their pension benefits,” yet “teachers, are rushing to his side” with a contribution of more than $5 million” into the fight to re-elect him.

“Similar dynamics are at play in Connecticut,” Politico noted. “Educators were furious with Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy over remarks he made in 2012 suggesting that teachers earned tenure simply by showing up for work … But labor leaders deem Malloy better for unions than his rival, Republican Tom Foley.”

Also in Colorado, teacher unions are “rallying behind” Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who angered teachers with new evaluations based in part on student tests scores. Yet now, “the Colorado Education Association has been warning members that Republican candidate Bob Beauprez would divert public resources to vouchers.”

Should these Democratic candidates prevail, how would teachers’ loyal support affect the entrenched indifference toward classroom teachers that has become so characteristic of the Democratic Party?

Intriguing questions for sure, but one conclusion seems certain either way: Voters’ concerns for public education seem here to stay. Get used to it.

10/16/2014 – Why Change How We Talk About Education

THIS WEEK: Parent Trigger Misfire … Republicans Vulnerable On Education … Calls For Fewer Tests Build … Blended Learning Is About Making Money … Free College, Not For-Profit College

TOP STORY

Why To Change The Way We Talk About Education

By Jeff Bryant

“At a time like this when policy ideas that once seemed so resolute become shaken by strong voices of opposition, it’s important to reflect back on what kind of thinking went into the policy to begin with … Fortunately, there’s a new book to help us in the serious work of rethinking the nation’s education agenda. What it proposes is to start that work by changing the way we talk about education.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Adelanto Report Card: Year Zero of the Parent Trigger Revolution

Capital & Main

“Throughout 2011 and 2012, the eyes of the education world were focused on Adelanto … and the Desert Trails Preparatory Academy, the first (and so far, only) school in California and the U.S. to be fully chartered under a Parent Trigger law… At the end of Desert Trail’s inaugural, 2013-14 school year, a group of eight former Desert Trails teachers hand-delivered a 15-page complaint to the Adelanto Elementary School District (AESD), charging Desert Trails with an array of improprieties and its executive director, Debra Tarver, with unprofessional and sometimes unethical conduct … Among the most serious accusations are charges that administrative chaos at Desert Trails has resulted in both a stampede of exiting teachers and staff; that uncredentialed instructors have taught in its classrooms; and that Desert Trails had an unwritten policy of dissuading parents of students with special learning needs from seeking special education … The school’s extreme miserliness shortchanged teachers and students on basic classroom tools … Only nine of Desert Trails’ first-year teacher roster – or 33 percent – are returnees this year.”
Read more …

This Is What Happens When Republicans Try to Destroy Public Education

The Nation

“Republican candidates around the country are confronting a shared, and significant, vulnerability: education … Several Republicans could fall victim … Conservatives are on the defensive in Kansas, North Carolina, Michigan, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin over their records on education… Polls in several states show education as a top-tier issue … Democrats running for Senate in red and purple states are also picking on education to highlight the impact of Republican policies … Education is also a hot issue in local elections, where some races are attracting a flood of big money.”
Read more …

Fewer Tests: Momentum Building, But for Different Solutions

Education Week

“There is a swirl of new activity on the anti-testing front, and it’s yet another sign that the fervor to cut back on testing is moving from the grassroots into the policy world of Washington … A certain angle on the evolving conversation about rethinking testing … seems to be that if we can only clear all the underbrush and make way for PARCC and Smarter Balanced, our testing problem would be solved … But the argument that Smarter Balanced and PARCC will collectively address the nation’s testing problems is unlikely to win universal acclaim … There is a growing chorus of folks out there who don’t see testing as a solution to testing. To put it a different way, they want less testing, or no testing, not different tests. The agitation of those parents, teachers and activists is helping light a fire under the discussions that are creeping increasingly into the salons of Washington’s alphabet-soup groups.”
Read more …

Rocketship To Profits

Rethinking Schools

“Blended learning, the hallmark of the Rocketship education model, is based on using computers more and teachers less. Its roots lie in a [Silicon] Valley dominated by high-tech factories … Where do teachers fit into this picture? Rocketship’s charter application in Morgan Hill specified that its staffing ratio would go from 35.92 students per teacher in 2014-15 to 41.27 in 2016-17. Many teachers are hired from Teach For America, and noncredentialed paraprofessionals staff the learning lab … In Silicon Valley the commodification of education is proceeding rapidly. But the takeover of privatized education isn’t inevitable … The Morgan Hill district rejected the corporate charter petitions because of a strong mobilization by the union and other groups.”
Read more …

How To Pay For A Free, Non-Racist Higher Education

Black Agenda Report

“The dominos are falling in the for-profit college racket, a cauldron of corruption that has crushed the dreams of millions of African Americans … Corinthian College’s stock fell from a peak of $33 a share, ten years ago, to 33 cents last month, when it became clear that the federal government intended to pull the plug on the $1.6 billion a year rip-off … Corinthian is only the third or fourth-worst offender in the pantheon of for-profit colleges created for the sole purpose of diverting public money to the coffers of hedge funds and mega-banks … Players like the University of Phoenix and Ashford University have become the top producers of baccalaureate degrees among Blacks. But the [Obama]administration – and the Democratic Party, as an institution – also worships at the alter of privatization. Rather than eliminate the felonious educational enterprises root and branch – and spend the money on a nationalized system of free education – Obama will continue to provide tens of billions to nourish the poisoned tree … The for-profits should be put out of business with all deliberate speed, but it would be a further crime to shift that portion of federal aid to schools that have never demonstrated a willingness or competence to serve the demographic so cruelly exploited by the likes of Corinthian.”
Read more …

Why To Change The Way We Talk About Education

Sometimes when you get enough people beating on the outside of a building, those sitting comfortably on the inside start to feel the vibrations. That’s what it feels like is happening as the voices from the grassroots movement protesting the nation’s oppressive governance of public education are starting to reverberate in the cushy offices and conference rooms of education policy leaders.

At a time like this when policy ideas that once seemed so resolute become shaken by strong voices of opposition, it’s important to reflect back on what kind of thinking went into the policy to begin with.

While the “insiders” of the debate are more often inclined to propose doing the same things better, “outsiders” are more likely to want bold changes. But if the thinking doesn’t change, nothing truly different is likely to emerge.

Fortunately, there’s a new book to help us in the serious work of rethinking the nation’s education agenda. What it proposes is to start that work by changing the way we talk about education.

An Education Policy Agenda In Flux

Since the passage of No Child Left Behind legislation in 2002, the nation’s schools have been dominated by a regime of standardized testing that started in two grade levels – 4th and 8th – but eventually rolled out to every level for the vast majority of school children. Then, the Obama administration took the policy obsession with testing to extremes. Race to the Top grants and other incentives encouraged school districts to test multiple times throughout the year, and waivers to help states avoid the consequences of NCLB demanded even more testing for the purpose of evaluating teachers, principals, and schools. The latest fad is to test four year olds for their “readiness” to attend kindergarten.

An increasingly loud backlash to the over-emphasis on testing has been growing and spreading among parents, teachers, and students for some time, resulting in mass public rallies, school walkouts, and lawsuits. There are clear signs those voices are starting to have an effect on people responsible for education policy.

Writing for Education Week, seasoned education journalist Alyson Klein recently observed, “there are signs that the movement to limit the number of federally mandated tests students take may be gaining momentum.”

Examples of the changing landscape Klein cited included, “legislation in Congress backed by teachers’ unions that would allow states to give summative tests in math and English/language arts only in certain grade spans” and recent remarks from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that “testing – and test preparation – takes up too much time.”

Another article, from Klein’s colleague Catherine Gewertz, reported, “There is a swirl of new activity on the anti-testing front, and it’s yet another sign that the fervor to cut back on testing is moving from the grassroots into the policy world of Washington.”

Gewertz found “a growing chorus of folks … want less testing, or no testing, not different tests. The agitation of those parents, teachers, and activists is helping light a fire under the discussions that are creeping increasingly into the salons of Washington’s alphabet-soup groups.”

How We Got To Here

When you’ve lost your way, it helps to retrace your steps.

A recent retrospective on NCLB by a reporter for NPR tried to do that, observing, “The law set a simple if daunting goal: All of the nation’s students would perform at grade level on state tests … So here it is, 12 years later, 2014. And the law, NCLB, is still in effect. All children, under federal law, are supposed to be at grade level … They’re not.”

The reporter, Anya Kamenetz, asked various critics and proponents of the law why NCLB has fallen so woefully short of its lofty goal. Morgan Polikoff, an education professor at the University of Southern California, blamed the failure on the targeted goal, calling proficiency a “crude gauge of student performance.” Another professor, Andrew Ho at Harvard, seemed to think the goal was merely imprecise, more a “rhetorical goal” than a hard-and-fast measure.

All seemed to concede, as Arne Duncan’s former chief of staff to Joanne Weiss stated, “the requirement of 100 percent proficiency … basically incented states to keep dumbing down and lowering their cut score in order to get more kids across the bar.”

But the article seemed to conclude that this “gamesmanship,” as Polikoff called it, could be avoided, and NCLB, or similar legislation, could be improved if the measures were just changed – more precise or nuanced – and a “new accountability” forged.

But isn’t this notion of a “new and improved” measured accountability just the same old thinking in a brand new bottle? What if the whole notion of measured accountability is what is wrong?

Wrong Way To Talk About Education

What if instead of just getting rid of NCLB, we got rid of the thinking that created it? That was a question I asked three years ago when the failed legislation was gasping toward its tenth birthday. At that time, I likened the thinking behind NCLB to an econometric approach to problem solving, which is unsuitable for a pursuit like education that is values driven.

Now there’s a new book arguing that we can’t change the way we think about education policy until we change the way we talk about education. The book is Dumb Ideas Won’t Create Smart Kids: Straight Talk About Bad School Reform, Good Teaching, and Better Learning by Eric M. Hass, Gustavo E. Fischman, and Joe Brewer.

The book queries why federal and state policymakers put so much energy into “reforms” – such as raising standards and standardized testing – that have very little to no evidence of effectiveness. What the authors contend is that policymakers continue down the same never-ending path to policy failure because they operate from a failed “prototype” for education – a way of thinking about teaching and learning that leads to conclusions that sound good but are built on false beliefs (what the authors call “rightly wrong thinking”). And rather than looking for genuine results, policy makers tend to adhere to a “confirmation bias” that dismisses contrary evidence and reinforces the prototype.

The authors observe that we tend to talk about schools – and indeed the whole nation – through the metaphor of the “family.” And whenever we think about family, we tend to think about two kinds: the “strict, authority-based” kind and the “caring nurturance-based” kind. It’s the authors’ belief that current education policy is dominated by the former and needs lots more of the latter.

Policy adhering mostly to strict authoritarian ideals, they contend, promotes a faulty approach to education.

The first faulty approach is to equate education to a process whereby a teacher acts as a “conduit of information” to students who are “empty vessels” to be filled with content. The conduit-to-empty vessel metaphor reinforces thinking of ideas and understandings as objects, lessons and units as containers, and teaching as sending.

The conduit-to-empty vessel metaphor leads to all kinds of rightly wrong thinking, including prescribing a factory model of schooling with standardized curricula and measuring school quality with standardized test scores.

A second faulty approach is the tendency to see freedom as a “lack of constraint.” This metaphorical confusion leads to an emphasis on reform remedies that lift restrictions, unleash “market forces,” and “get the bureaucracy out of the way” rather than providing resources that increase students’ opportunities to learn.

The authors identify Michelle Rhee and StudentsFirst, the organization she created and once led, as exemplars of the current faulty approaches, calling for alternative teacher certifications, smaller class sizes, and vouchers, that only make sense if you believe teachers are mere conduits for information and education problems are primarily due to government regulations.

So Let’s Say This

What’s needed instead of this failed strict, authority-based approach is a shift to the caring nurturance-based approach, the authors believe. This shift, they argue, would replace the metaphors we use to talk about education with metaphors that are more compatible with how students actually learn.

Because the conduit-to-empty vessel approaches to education – too much step-by-step instruction, over-testing, and “delivery of lots of right answers” – lead to policies and practices that actually hinder learning, the authors call for a “learning as growth” metaphor.

The learning as growth metaphor would reinforce thinking about students’ minds as “soil” and ideas and understandings as “plants.”

“The logic of learning as growth metaphor is based on two key ideas,” the authors write. “First, people develop or construct their ideas and understandings … Second, people need support to help them construct accurate understandings.”

In this metaphorical description, the teacher’s role is more akin to a gardener and the education process more aligned to cultivation. “It says that teaching and learning are cooperative activities,” the authors write. “Like a plant, a student’s understanding will thrive when he or she gets attention tailored to his or her individual needs.”

The authors also call for replacing the freedom as the lack of constraints metaphor with a “freedom as support” metaphor, which equates freedom to providing the resources teachers need to teach and the students with more opportunities to learn.

“Schools, for example should act as community centers that provide tutoring and library materials, and possibly food and health services,” the authors maintain. “Students need the inputs of basic resources to survive and thrive.”

Time To Grow

Beyond citing research literature, the authors point to promising ideas being developed in the field, including bilingual education, projects-based learning, and simulation games.

They single out the Lindsay Unified School District in California that chucked standards-based approaches for a performance-based system emphasizing open-ended projects and collaborative activities. They cite an approach from the WRITE Institute that develops teachers in San Diego County with increased abilities to teach writing. And they laud the work of the Nation Board Certification that has an evidence-based track record of developing teaching skills that result in higher student achievement.

But “until we abandon the conduit and empty vessel-based model, we will most likely continue to repeat ineffective educational ideas,” the authors conclude. “Better learning demands that students and their families have access to the resources and supports needed to do the difficult work of constructing knowledge.”

Calls for “better testing” and evermore complicated “accountability” metrics are pruning around the edges of a dead shrub. With a new way to think about education, with the language of learning as growth, we can get beyond today’s failed remedies. Let’s talk it up.

 

10/9/2014 – Education ‘Reformers’ Have Lost Their PR War

THIS WEEK: Absenteeism Hurts Achievement … Cheating Is Widespread … Teachers Souring On Common Core … Suburban Schools’ Uncertain Future … Don’t Major In Business

TOP STORY

Education ‘Reformers’ Have Lost Their PR War, So Now What?

By Jeff Bryant

“Americans have become accustomed to seeing the figureheads of big-money interests distort reality to suit their needs and get a lot of well-meaning folks to agree with them in turn … But despite nearly a generation of browbeating and finger wagging, the efforts of the ‘education reform’ campaign have completely and utterly failed. Popular opinion appears to be more behind public schools than ever. Few of the measures that have been mandated by self-anointed “reformers” appear to be widely held in favor. And those reform measures that still have some support are not generally well understood by most people and therefore remain shaky.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Chronic Absenteeism Can Devastate K-12 Learning

Education Week

“Half of all students who miss two to four days of school in the first month will go on to miss nearly a month of school in excused or unexcused absences … Nine out of 10 students who missed five or more days in the first month went on to be chronically absent – defined as missing 10 percent of the school year in excused and unexcused absences – for the year … In the early grades, students who are chronically absent have lower reading and math scores, as well as weaker social-emotional skills than they need to persist in school … Chronic absence in middle school is another red flag that a student will drop out of high school. By high school, attendance is a better dropout indicator than test scores … Poor attendance can be turned around if schools and community partners work together with families to monitor who is at risk for poor attendance, nurture a habit of regular attendance, and identify and address the challenges that prevent students from getting to school. The key is using data to identify and intervene early, before students have missed so much school they can’t catch up.”
Read more …

Shockingly Widespread Standardized Test Cheating In Schools In 39 States

Alternet

“The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) … has found documented cases of cheating, and in some cases, systematic manipulation of scores, in 39 states and the District of Columbia, over the last five years alone. The organization has also identified more than 60 methods administrators and teachers have used to alter student scores on these tests, from urging low-scorers to be absent the day of the test, to shouting out and otherwise indicating correct answers during testing … FairTest’s director of public education, Bob Schaeffer says … ‘The cheating scandals are one reason among many why the U.S. needs to adopt a new direction in school assessment. We need to move away from testing overuse and misuse, and towards systems of performance-based assessment, in which we look at the real work students do over time, which is much harder to game.’”
Read more …

More Teachers Are Souring On Common Core, Finds One Survey

The Hechinger Report

“Fewer teachers are enthusiastic about Common Core implementation and fewer think the new standards will help their students … The percentage of teachers who are enthusiastic about Common Core … is down from 73% last year to 68 … The percentage of teachers in the survey who think the Common Core standards will be good for most of their students is down sharply from 57% in last year’s poll. The percentage of teachers who think it will hurt has more than doubled from 8 percent to 17 percent. And the percentage of teachers who think the standards won’t make much of a difference remained the same at 35 percent … Teacher enthusiasm appears to be declining despite the fact that more teachers report that they are prepared to teach Common Core … teachers with negative views of the core are more likely to express concerns that the standards are not grade appropriate and more likely to worry about how student standardized test results will affect teacher evaluations.”
Read more …

America’s Suburban Schools Facing New Pressures

The Washington Post

On the blog of Valerie Strauss, professors Amy Stuart Wells and Douglas Ready write, “In suburbs across the country, we see this 21st Century version of ‘white flight’ leading to a declining tax base and too often increasing racial tension … Our nation’s K-12 public school population – now more than 50 percent ‘minority’ – implies that suburban public schools will be the front line of these changes moving forward … The number of Americans living below the federal poverty line is now greater in the suburbs than the cities, and fewer than 20% of people in the largest metropolitan areas still live in predominantly white suburbs … Once predominantly white and middle-class communities and their public schools begin to change demographically, absent a concerted effort to stabilize the housing market and public schools, a downward fiscal and educational spiral can ensue.”
Read more …

In U.S., Business Grads Lag Other Majors in Work Interest

Gallup

“U.S. college graduates who majored in business are the least likely of those who majored in the four large major categories – social sciences/education, sciences/engineering, arts and humanities, and business – to express strong interest in the work they now do, regardless of what career path they may have followed after graduation … Fewer than two in five U.S. college graduates with a business-related degree (37%) strongly agree that they are deeply interested in the work they do, notably lower than majors in the social sciences/education (47%), sciences/engineering (43%) and arts and humanities (43%) … Those who majored in business also lag by a substantial margin behind their academic peers in the critical area of purpose well-being … Less than half of business majors (48%) are thriving … Despite the perceived marketability of business fields that should help boost a person’s earning potential, business majors do not enjoy clear leads over other majors in the area of financial well-being.”
Read more …

Education ‘Reformers’ Have Lost Their PR War, So Now What?

Americans have become accustomed to seeing the figureheads of big-money interests distort reality to suit their needs and get a lot of well-meaning folks to agree with them in turn.

Recall, if you will, as Jonathan Chait recently did in New York magazine, how Wall Street-backed elites “fomented panic” about the national debt and influenced policy leaders to promulgate devastating austerity measures. Now we know their forecasts of imminent financial disaster were wrong and their judgment was in error. Yet their well-honed PR machine continues to buoy their influence forward despite the evidence.

But every once in a while, there are exceptions to the supremacy of wealth-driven messaging, and you see foundational, progressive beliefs that remain resilient among Americans despite what they have been told again and again by the spokespeople of the 1 percent.

For instance, for some thirty years, influential power-brokers and political leaders have tried to convince Americans that their system of public education is broken to the extent it poses a “risk” to the nation’s prosperity – indeed, even a threat to national security.

Despite nearly a generation of browbeating and finger wagging, the efforts of the “education reform” campaign have completely and utterly failed.

Popular opinion appears to be more behind public schools than ever. Few of the measures that have been mandated by self-anointed “reformers” appear to be widely held in favor. And those reform measures that still have some support are not generally well understood by most people and therefore remain shaky.

Even those who have been pressing the case to remake public education into a program dictated by powerful interests are now realizing their campaign needs to be completely retooled. They increasingly realize their calls for an “accountability” agenda based on unfounded measures of “success” are not only counter to what most Americans believe, they aren’t producing anything that even resembles success.

For instance, a recent review by the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) of SAT test results – an exam many believe to be a measure of college readiness – found that after years of these “reform” efforts, SAT scores have dropped and gaps in scores among racial groups have widened significantly. So much for “success.”

Fortunately, there are new and better directions being proposed by those who support public education and classroom teachers. And the best way forward for policy leaders and advocates is to push these new ideas into the forefront of public attention.

Support For Public Schools Remains Resilient

Last week, the daily news brief from Politico pointed us to new survey findings that voters “strongly back” increased funding for public schools and express “strong support and admiration for public school teachers.”

The survey, from Democrats for Public Education, “found that 79 percent of Democrats, 57 percent of independents and 45 percent of Republicans support increasing funding for public schools. By contrast, voters express serious doubts about reforms such as online learning, private-school vouchers, parent trigger laws, and handoffs that let private companies take over management of public schools.”

Delving deeper into the results, one finds that “the survey validates that those who castigate public schools and teachers are simply out-of-step and out-of-touch with the American people, parents and voters,” according to the report summary.

“Solid majorities back more funding for public schools and teacher pay, and overwhelming majorities rate local public schools and their teachers highly.” Plus, Americans aren’t at all happy about reform mandates that put “too much emphasis on testing,” threaten teacher “due process”, and push a rigid form of “accountability” that is “solely fixated on tests.”

Although privately operated charter schools – another favored policy point of the reform crowd – remain nominally popular, “there is confusion about them and a mixed verdict on the performance of for-profit charters.” Specifically, there is no common ground on the status – public or private – of charter schools or their academic track record.

The pollsters concluded that education policy ideas “aligned with Democratic or progressive principles” – such as smaller class sizes and increased funding – “test higher than positions normally aligned with reform, including using student scores on standardized tests to evaluate teachers, vouchers, and running schools “like a business.”

Reformers Now Hedge On ‘Reform’

The message that reform fads are fading is not lost on those who’ve claimed the label of reform and have been pushing these measures for years.

Most of the reform fads were originally framed as ways to ensure public schools and classroom teachers were made “more accountable.” As these accountability efforts – including more emphasis on standardized testing and harsher evaluations of teachers –increasingly fare negatively in opinion surveys (the poll conducted by Democrats for Public Education is not an outlier), even reform fans are now coming to the realization they need to rethink their agenda and call for a “new approach” to accountability.

One of the most prominent of those voices, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Chester Finn, recently observed, “when it comes to statewide standardized testing of the sort that’s become universal in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era, a great many parents – and a huge fraction of teachers – appear to have had enough.”

Unfortunately, the “reboot” Finn prefers seems very similar to the current version: more “choice,” vouchers in the form of “attaching money to the child,” and substituting technology for high-quality teachers. Other aspects Finn outlines for Accountability 2.0 seem more like vague talking points – “transparency-oriented testing based on rigorous standards for the curricular core” (like Common Core?) and “customizing kids’ instructional experience” (without adding more costs for school staff and “customized” instructional materials, of course!) – rather than real accountability measures.

Reform champion Center for Reinventing Public Education admitted, “We are still struggling to get accountability right.” Their proposal, “New Start on Accountability,” stays true to their fervor to press the need for a “system of accountability” – something not generally in dispute – but their new recipe for accountability seems mostly to add more ingredients to the dish – more “indicators” of “progress,” more “options” (without any more money, of course), and more harsh evaluations of “schools, not just individual teachers.”

In reviewing CRPE’s list of “new start” principles, classroom teacher and popular blogger Peter Greene stated, “There is nothing remotely new about the list of Things To Do – it’s the same old, same old reformster stuff we’ve heard before.”

The only plus Greene could give to the reform movement’s “reboot” of accountability was to note that at least they included a “list of problem areas.” Greene added that there are “‘problems’ in the sense that gravity is a problem for people who want to jump naked off high buildings, flap their arms, and not get hurt. … But the recognition of obstacles shows some grasp of reality, and that’s always a nice sign.”

Fresh Ideas Please

While reform fans continue to reboot, renew, restart, etc., the real fresh thinking about education accountability is emerging from other sources.

For some time, Julian Vasquez Heilig has posed a plan for Community-Based Accountability that “would allow for a district to drive a locally based approach that focuses on the process of education for its one-year, five-year, and ten-year goals.” As an example, he offered San Antonio’s Café College resource centers that were developed when the city made higher education enrollment and graduation, rather than high-stakes testing outcomes, a priority.

Heilig returned to that idea more recently in a discussion posted on Education Week in which he said, “A bottom-up approach would enable local communities to focus on a set of multiple measures in addition to, or instead of, standardized high-stakes testing. … The role of the state and federal government would be to calculate baselines, growth, and yearly ratings for a set of goals that communities selected in a democratic process.”

Other examples of community-based accountability he brought up included a High Performance Coalition (HPC) of 20 districts in Texas a plan in 2012 and the recent move by the California Legislature to pass a locally based accountability approach for school finance.

Also in the interest of advancing a more authentic form of education accountability, the National Education Policy Center in Boulder, CO recently announced the Schools of Opportunity project to “recognize public schools for what they do to give all students the chance to succeed, rather than turning to test scores to determine school quality.”

The project, currently being piloted in Colorado and New York but eventually expanding nationwide, will recognize schools that “use research-based practices to close the opportunity gaps that result in unequal opportunities to learn, in school and beyond school.”

In reporting the announcement, Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post wrote, “The people behind the Schools of Opportunity project are Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in the Rockville Centre School District in New York, and Kevin Welner, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education who specializes in educational policy and law.”

Struass republished on her site a post written by Burris and Welner stating, “As schools chase [test] scores, it is easy for us all to lose sight of the factors that truly matter in providing all students with a high-quality education.”

In contrast to that status quo, they expect their project will “recognize public high schools … for creating inputs that help close opportunity gaps and report improved outcomes.” The inputs include eleven practices – such as health and psychological services, fair discipline policies, and high-quality teacher induction and mentoring – that are identified and set forth on a Schools of Opportunity website.

Burris and Welner encouraged schools to apply for the recognition and concluded, “These are the stories we need to tell. These are the practices that should be emulated.”

Where We’re At

Self-proclaimed reformers have realized they may be losing the PR strategy for their campaign to accomplish, well, who knows what.

Unfortunately, that realization has not been accompanied by any fresh thinking on their part about what would be a better way forward. Fortunately, alternative options with real positive potential are emerging if political leaders are ready to take the initiative to advance them.

It’s clear that big money folks have not gotten their way on the nation’s public education agenda. This is both a testament to the strength of the progressive spirit in the country and to the vision that our founders had for a system of schooling that would lift the populace up to a well-informed citizenry capable of supporting a viable democracy.

Anyone who believes in a brighter future for the nation should celebrate this.

10/2/2014 – Student Protests Are A Big Deal

THIS WEEK: Transformation, Not Reform … No Art For Poor Kids … Lowering Test Score Influence … Online Reading Gap Worse … Wealthy Fuel Education Gap

TOP STORY

Student Protests Are A Bigger Deal Than You Think

By Jeff Bryant

“When hundreds of high school students across a suburban school district outside of Denver, CO recently walked out of classes to protest a history curriculum, it quickly became national news … But it’s even bigger than you think.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Public Education System Needs Transformation Not-Reform

The Nation

Editors of The Nation write, “The strategies pursued by education reformers frequently dovetail with those of austerity hawks. The latter burnish their conservative credentials by cutting budgets and defunding schools. The reformers sweep in to capitalize on the situation … The havoc wreaked by so-called education reform has had the upside of crystallizing a movement of parents, teachers, school staffers and kids who are fighting for education justice … A truly progressive vision for public education shouldn’t focus on stories of how a few kids competed their way out of blighted neighborhoods. Instead, it should focus on taking back that stream of money going to charter chains and corporate tax cuts and redirecting it toward schools anchored in strong communities and using proven methods for teaching kids.”
Read more …

Why The Kids Who Most Need Arts Education Aren’t Getting It

The Washington Post

On the blog of education journalist Valerie Strauss, Michael Sokolove writes, “Arts instruction in America’s schools is something that almost everyone agrees is a great idea. Just, apparently, not for all children … The reason is no great mystery: The accountability movement in education … has resulted in a zero-sum equation in America’s schools. Time spent on anything other than the essential mission of elevating test scores is too often perceived as time wasted … Arts education is not just for privileged kids. It’s not an extra or a frill, no matter how desperately some students may struggle to grasp the basics of reading and math.”
Read more …

New School Evaluations Will Lower Test Scores’ Influence

The New York Times

“New York City is overhauling its system for evaluating schools, de-emphasizing test scores in favor of measures like the strength of the curriculum and the school environment, and doing away with an overall A-through-F grade for each school … Under the old system … 85 percent of the overall letter grade was based on test scores… The new assessment … ranks the school from poor to excellent on questions like ‘How interesting and challenging is the curriculum?’ and ‘How clearly are high expectations communicated to students and staff?’ … It also rates the school from poor to excellent on students’ improvement on state English and math tests.”
Read more …

Growth Of Online Reading Fuels New Achievement Gap, Researchers Say

Education Week

“A new study … found ‘a large and significant achievement gap, based on income inequality, in an important new area for learning – the ability to read on the Internet to learn information’… In an age where the Internet is an increasingly essential daily tool for finding answers, seeking understanding, and communicating, that spells big trouble … [Researcher Donald Leu explains] ‘Kids are reading both online and offline, and we have to account for both components, because the achievement gap is even greater than we thought it was … The most economically challenged schools are under greater pressure to raise test scores. In wealthier districts, there is certainly pressure, but there are many more degrees of freedom to explore things, and as a result, there is better integration of the Internet into the classroom.’”
Read more …

School Spending By Affluent Is Widening Wealth Gap

Associated Press via Yahoo News

“Wealthier parents have been stepping up education spending so aggressively that they’re widening the nation’s wealth gap. When the Great Recession struck in late 2007 and squeezed most family budgets, the top 10 percent of earners – with incomes averaging $253,146 – went in a different direction … Their average education spending per child jumped 35 percent to $5,210 a year during the recession compared with the two preceding years – and they sustained that faster pace through the recovery … Research has linked the additional dollars to increased SAT scores, a greater likelihood of graduating from college, and the prospect of future job security and high salaries.”
Read more …

Student Protests Are A Bigger Deal Than You Think

When hundreds of high school students across a suburban school district outside of Denver, CO recently walked out of classes to protest a history curriculum, it quickly became national news.

According to a local reporter, the students took to the streets multiple days in a row “to voice their concerns over a proposed curriculum review panel they believe could stifle an honest teaching of U.S. history.” But the story has now widened into a much larger controversy.

The students’ teachers got involved as well, staging a “mass sick-out” in support of the students. The national outlet for Fox News has since chimed in with an alarmist interpretation of the events, which prompted an immediate response from liberal news watchdog Media Matters.

Now, prominent national political leaders, like potential Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, are voicing their interpretations of the events, and even organizations as well known as The College Board have seen fit to take a stand.

So this is a big story. But it’s even bigger than you think.

Protesting A ‘Patriotism’ Curriculum

What’s driving events in the Denver suburb of Arvada for sure is a controversial move by the local county school board to, as the Associated Press reported, “Establish a committee to review texts and coursework, starting with Advanced Placement history, to make sure materials ‘promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights’ and don’t ‘encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.’”

Students who are alarmed to know they’re not allowed to learn about civil dissent and protest have quite rationally chosen to protest.

As other reports have noted, the controversy goes way beyond the borders of Colorado. The AP course that’s causing controversy has become a favorite target of right-wing extremists on a national level.

Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post explained, “Conservatives have said that the new history framework – being used this fall in classrooms around the country – does not highlight American achievements or mention key American historical figures but spends a lot of time talking about America’s worst period. Top officials at the College Board, which owns the Advanced Placement program, have said there is nothing anti-American about the document.”

An analysis at The Hechinger Report meticulously explained what exactly had been changed in the course. Apparently, most of the changes are the result of a shift from giving teachers “a list of suggested topics” – without telling them which ones will be covered on the exam – to a “curriculum that outlines specific concepts that must be covered,” such as, “Africans developed both overt and covert means to resist the dehumanizing aspects of slavery.”

These changes are likely related to new Common Core Standards, the Hechinger analysis concluded, that Colorado and most other states have adopted, at the federal government’s urging. “The College Board has acknowledged that elements of the new course align with the goals of the new standards,” and the course’s emphasis on “developing students’ ability to analyze historical texts … dovetails with the Common Core.”

But there’s more to the students’ protests than just an extension of the War Over the Core between conservatives and education technocrats.

More Than The Core

In a news program broadcast by MSNBC, host Melissa Harris-Perry interviewed two student leaders of the protest, Ashlyn Maher and Kyle Ferris. When Harris-Perry asked the students to explain their motivation to walk out of school, Ferris explained, “We wanted to get the school board’s attention. They’re not really listening to the concerns of the community.”

In the story’s video footage, the protest signs the students brandished proclaimed, “Keep public schools public,” and “Support our teachers.” Commenting on this, Harris-Perry correctly jumped to the assumption that the issues might be broader than just the curriculum, and asked the students, “What else is all of this about?”

Ferris replied there were indeed other issues including “teachers’ wages, which they’re messing with,” and “funneling funds away from public into charter schools.”

Indeed, student protests around the country for some time have been nearly unanimous in their raising of specific issues: lack of student voice in school governance, mistreatment of classroom teachers, and funding austerity, including lack of resources and the redirection of public funds to private interests such as charter schools.

Beginning last school year, students in metropolitan school districts across the country began speaking out in prominent, headline-earning protests, using their social media and organizing skills to send hundreds of their peers into the streets to protest – including previous actions in Denver.

To spur the protests, students in Philadelphia, Providence, Rhode Island, Portland, Oregon, and elsewhere have formed student unions that have developed attention-getting tactics, which have spread to a national scale. The issues students continue to rail against are school closures and budget cutbacks, widespread teacher firings and wage reductions, and top-down implementations of mandated standards and high-stakes testing.

The rapid scaling up of student unrest prompted activist Hannah Nguyen to write at the time, “Students all over the United States, from Portland to Chicago to Providence, are tired of feeling powerless when it comes to decisions that affect their education … They’ve begun to organize together, forming student unions and fighting back against threats to their education, such as budget cuts, high stakes testing, and school closings. From mass walkouts and sit-ins to creative street theatre and flash mobs, these students are demanding that their voices be heard.”

Student Protests Are Not Going Away

As the current school year rolls out, the protests are likely to continue and to build in intensity as school “reform” – including resource depravation, top-down standardization, and autocratic rule – continues to plague the public education system.

As the news site at The Nation devoted to student activism documented at the beginning of the school year, the slaying of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teen, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri set off a wave of student led actions in schools calling for racial justice in both the education system and society at large.

“On August 18,” The Nation reported, “more than 100 members of the Chicago Students Union, alongside parents, teachers and elected officials, marched on Chicago Public Schools headquarters demanding the fair funding of schools and a democratically elected board of education.”

In September, Newark, NJ students organized a two-day boycott, demanding the resignation of Superintendent Cami Anderson’s who is installing a school “reform” plan that “disguises itself as a means of giving students more school choices while eliding lack of funding, accountability from the state and the voices of students.” The students “shut down Broad Street, the busiest street in New Jersey’s biggest city, laying down and chanting for nine hours.”

More recently, The Guardian reported about “a spate of revolts against school dress codes appears to be gaining momentum across the United States, with students staging walkouts and other protests to complain at the way girls have been ‘humiliated’ and forced to cover up. A vocal campaign has emerged after recent incidents angered students in New York, Utah, Florida, Oklahoma and other states, with some accusing schools of sexism and so-called ‘slut shaming’.”

What’s at the core of all these student actions is their call to have some say-so in how they are being educated in a system that increasingly imposes “sameness” and rigid “accountability” from remote authorities who seem unanswerable to anybody.

The Adults Don’t Get It

The controversy over a history curriculum in Colorado is an argument over a very much bigger issue. It’s about how we’re treating our nation’s youngest citizens with a substandard form of education that emphasizes fiscal efficiency over learning opportunity and standardization over individual needs and interests. And it’s about how we treat students as learners, imposing education as something done to them rather than with them.

Indeed, the arguments back and forth over the Denver-area high school protests treat the students as if they were inert objects rather than active agents in their own learning.

For example, in trying to sort out the curriculum controversy, Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic wrote, “Conservatives want schools to emphasize faith and obedience, while liberals are more likely to care about teaching tolerance and curiosity. You can guess how each group would react to a curriculum that asked some hard questions about U.S. history.”

In other words, students are  passive recipients waiting to be filled with right-ways of thinking, and it’s up to the adults – liberal or conservative – to decide what to populate their empty minds with.

That’s so wrong.

Students are not empty vessels waiting to be filled with prescribed content vetted by technocrats in government and well-funded think tanks. To treat them that way is both disrespectful to their humanity and bad education that doesn’t reflect the ways we know that human beings learn.

You call your “reform” a “patriotism curriculum.” You can call it “college and career ready.” Either way, you’re leaving the students out of the matter. And until we start putting the interests of students at the center of any type of “reform,” were getting our education policies all wrong.