Education Opportunity Network

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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


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 …


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


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 …


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


“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


“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


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 …


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.

9/25/2014 – Democrats Can Win With A Public Education Agenda

THIS WEEK: Homeless Students At Record High … Right Way To Look At Ed Tech … Solar Powered Schools … Business School Fund-Raisers Bomb … Colleges Prefer Rich Kids


Democrats Can Win With A Public Education Agenda – By Fighting To Fund It

By Jeff Bryant

“Both anecdotal information and empirical data drawn from surveys confirm that voters don’t just value public education; they want candidates who will support classroom teachers and oppose funding cuts to public schools. The evidence is strong that Democrats can make support for public education a winning issue – if they’re willing to take the advice.”
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Number Of Homeless Students Reaches All-Time High

U.S. News & World Report

“There are more homeless students in the nation than ever before, and many are living completely on their own, without parents or guardians … During the 2012-13 school year, 1,258,182 students enrolled in public school across the country were homeless … an 8% increase from the previous school year, and more than an 85% increase from the 2006-07 school year … The number of homeless children is likely under-reported … 81% of homeless youths are essentially invisible under the current guidelines … Studies show homelessness contributes to a range of other problems facing students, including physical and psychological problems, safety fears and academic struggles. Because homeless children move frequently, they’re more likely to miss school and have lower test scores.”
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You Are Asking The Wrong Questions About Education Technology


Contributing op-ed writer Jordan Shapiro says, “Hardly a day goes by that I don’t read an article or have a conversation in which someone makes the familiar argument that ‘education is the one industry that hasn’t embraced the technologies of the 21st Century’ … The very notion of education as an industry is problematic. School is about transmitting values and principles from one generation to the next, not skillfully organizing labor toward productivity … For industry, however, applicability is always prioritized over ideology. Thus, running schools according to the wisdom of the business world is precisely the thought paradigm which led to the high stakes testing procedures that currently plague the United States … We’ve chosen the wrong perspective … We need to make sure that these tools are also aligned with learning outcomes which prioritize human dignity rather than haste, consumption, and algorithmic metrics.”
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Putting Solar Panels On School Roofs Could Dramatically Increase America’s Solar Capacity

Think Progress

“If schools took advantage of their full potential for solar, they would add 5.4 gigawatts to the country’s solar capacity … That would be enough to power roughly one million homes, and a carbon emissions reduction equivalent to taking around one million passenger vehicles off the road … The electricity generated by the 3,727 school solar systems already in place adds up to $77.8 million in utility bills per year, freeing up enough money to pay 2,200 new teachers a starting annual salary of $35,672 … 450 individual school districts who currently lack solar could save themselves $1,000,000 each over a 30-year period by installing a solar system … Solar systems could provide teachers with an opportunity to give their students a hands-on educational experience in science, technology, engineering, and related subjects.”
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Schools’ Activities to Raise Money With Businesses Don’t Pay, Researchers Say

Education Week

“School districts that boost their coffers by entering into money-making agreements with companies rarely gain much in return … [The] impact is marginal, and the cost of administering and maintaining such contracts is seldom factored into the equation … Looking for alternate sources to raise revenues and to provide tax relief … the numbers don’t add up … The efforts might not be worth the potential down side, which includes exposing children as a ‘captive audience’ to the commercial messages, and promoting unhealthy products.”
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Colleges Let Taxpayers Help Poor Students While They Go After Rich, Report Says

The Hechinger Report

“Universities and colleges are shifting their financial aid from low-income students to high-income ones to bolster their prestige and raise them up the rankings … Universities are leaving their poorest families to vie for a piece of billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded Pell Grants … Because of this, the federal government continues to spend more and more on Pell grants … The proportion of private, nonprofit universities and colleges that now charge the poorest families $15,000 or more in tuition and fees – even after financial aid and discounts are accounted for – is rising sharply. That means the neediest students are paying an amount that equals at least half of their families’ annual incomes … The trend is not confined to private institutions. Forty percent of public universities and colleges also now charge $10,000 or more a year to students from families in the $30,000-or-less income bracket.”
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Democrats Can Win With A Public Education Agenda – By Fighting To Fund It

Is it possible that education is the issue that will determine whether results of the upcoming election swing the United States Senate to Republican Party control? Will there be a dramatic change in party control of state governors’ offices because of how candidates stand on supporting pubic schools?

As the November contests approach, these are valid questions according to keen observers and a confluence of new polling data. Education, often thought of as an also-run issue in the political arena, is top of mind to voters approaching the November contests.

Both anecdotal information and empirical data drawn from surveys confirm that voters don’t just value public education; they want candidates who will support classroom teachers and oppose funding cuts to public schools. The evidence is strong that Democrats can make support for public education a winning issue – if they’re willing to take the advice.

New Polling Data: Democrats Are In Trouble

Democrats looking to score points with the voting public should talk up public education. At least that’s the conclusion that can be drawn from new survey data from pollster Celinda Lake.

Lake’s presentation of her findings, “Challenges and a Winning Message for 2014 and Beyond,” were delivered in a private meeting brought together by two Washington, DC-based progressive organizations, Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute. [disclosure: CAF is a partner of the Education Opportunity Network]

The poll was conducted by Lake Research Partners and the Tarrance Group from August 24th – August 28th, among 1,000 likely 2014 voters, with a margin of error +/- 3.1%.

The first conclusion Lake drew from her findings is hardly surprising: “Voters are pessimistic about their personal financial situation.” The vast majority of Americans feel their own personal economic situations have gotten worse (36 percent) or stayed the same (35 percent) over the past four years.

Other non-surprises are that voters are preoccupied with the economy and the ineffectiveness of their government, and they are increasingly concerned about immigration.

Most voters disapprove of the way President Obama has addressed jobs, the economy, foreign policy, and other issues. In a generic Congressional contest, Democrats lose. And voter disenchantment has led to a stasis in which “they care more about thwarting the other side than supporting their own party’s policies,” thereby “endorsing gridlock.”

Democrats desperately need to turn out the vote from the “rising American electorate” that includes unmarried women, African American and Latinos, and voters under 30. These voters want a government that does something to reduce the gap between the rich and everyone else and addresses the problems of the middle class. But these voters are also notoriously difficult to turn out in mid-term elections.

These voters are concerned that a Republican Senate would restrict women’s reproductive health (58 percent), cut access to health care (58 percent), deny equal pay to women (57 percent), and cut funding for Head Start and K-12 education (57 percent).

But what are the positive messages that will get these Democratic Party voters to turn out?

Education Is The Top “Turnout Message”
Education is not often viewed as a hot button issue that will turn out voters. Thus, candidates often mouth virtually identical platitudes about education being “a way out of poverty” and “America’s great equalizer.” Then after the election, they proceed to cut funding for public schools and saddle classroom teachers with more and more burdensome “accountability.”

But 2014 may be different.

According to Lake’s research, “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).”

Taking a strong stance for “education and public schools” was far and away the message that most survey responders found “very convincing.”

Further, Lake found that the “turnout message” with the greatest “intensity was:

Education & Public Schools
Republicans keep cutting education and attacking public schools, hurting our ability to compete economically and taking away opportunities for our children. Republicans proposed cutting billions in public education, including programs like Head Start, to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. That hurts our children, as good teachers leave, class sizes increase, art and music programs disappear, and schools become less safe. Families are struggling, paying for basic supplies, and seeing their schools decline. Those priorities are just wrong.

Lake’s work also examined more closely a potential target of “individuals who shift to higher interest (‘10’) in voting in November.” This group is a significant part of the sample (39 percent), which tends to be women (62 percent), married (54 percent), and under the age of 40 (42 percent).

These voters are particularly moved by education messaging. They are concerned that a GOP takeover of the Senate would result in Republicans shutting down the government again (71 percent) and cutting funding for Head Start and K-12 education (71 percent).

“Two messages are particularly strong with this group,” Lake found. “A message focusing on the middle class falling behind (73 percent very convincing) and the education message (72 percent)” were “the most effective with these targets.”

After hearing messages that include strong support for public schools, 39 percent of these important voters say they are “very interested (rate ’10′) in voting this November.” After being told the election in their state would “determine control of the U.S. Senate, 50 percent say they are very interested in voting.”

Education Is Top Tier Election Issue

The discovery that Americans are highly supportive of public schools is nothing new. Recent polling results from the annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Towards the Public Schools show that Americans overwhelmingly support their public schools and respect classroom teachers.

That survey also found that a majority of Americans do not support current public education initiatives – such as new standards and teacher evaluations based on test scores – that most political candidates are touting as “reform.” When asked what they think are the biggest problems that public schools in their community deal with, Americans of all political persuasions cite “lack of financial support” number one.

This strong support for public schools is having an impact on upcoming elections. As an experienced education journalist at Education Week recently observed, education is top issue in most important senate races in November.

“In North Carolina, candidates are locking horns over education spending and teacher pay; in Georgia, the Common Core State Standards are taking center stage; and in Iowa, higher education and student loans are the subject of the latest skirmish between Senate hopefuls.”

The results of many of the gubernatorial races around the country also hinge on education.

In Georgia, education funding and the role of charter schools in the state’s system have come to the fore in the contest between incumbent Republican Nathan Deal and Democratic challenger Jason Carter, a state senator and grandson of former President Jimmy Carter.

In Kansas, widespread voter anger over school closures and funding cuts have imperiled the reelection of Republican Governor Sam Brownback.

In Florida, Republican incumbent Rick Scott’s support for new Common Core standards and his cuts in education spending have put him in hot water with a range of voters, from conservative Tea Party activists, to Independents, and Democratic Party voters alike.

In Pennsylvania, voters rank education as the most important issue, and current Republican Governor Tom Corbett has been rated “the most vulnerable governor in America” due in part to his support for severe cuts to education funding.

Whether Democrats can overcome the staggering odds against them this election remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: Democratic candidates in these contests and others need to make support for public education front-and-center of their campaigns.

9/18/2014 – What’s The Matter With Kansas Education Policy?

THIS WEEK: Americans Want Highly-Qualified Teachers … Teachers Find Greener Pastures … Schools Arming Up … High School Rankings Make No Sense … Student College Loan Debt Hits Elderly Too


What’s The Matter With Kansas Education Policy?

By Jeff Bryant

“Since the nation’s Great Recession, public education in Kansas has seen state funding cut repeatedly … Kansas is not the only place … Even now, as some state budgets see some recovery, and national leaders agree on new appropriations (the few times they can), most public school budgets are still unable to get back to funding levels they were prior to the recession … The American populace is increasingly angered by the financial calamity that has befallen their schools, and there are signs some politicians may have rude awakenings in upcoming elections this November and beyond.”
Read more …


Americans Want Teachers To Take A Bar Exam

The Atlantic

“In a new poll out today, Americans say they want teacher preparation programs to raise the bar for entrance, provide longer training periods for practice teaching, and require new teachers to pass a rigorous certification exam … Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Americans said they had ‘trust and confidence’ in public-school teachers … The percentage of Americans who say they favor tying a teacher’s evaluation to her student’s test scores has been steadily declining, to 38% this year from 52% in 2012 … There’s been a steep plummet in the percentage of Americans who said a college education was ‘very important’: 43% this year, down from a high of 75% in 2010.”
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Half Of Those Leaving Teaching Report Better Working Conditions In Other Jobs

Education Week

“Of the 3.4 million public school teachers teaching in 2011-12 … 84% stayed at their schools, 8% went to a different school, and 8% left the profession … Teachers in years 1-3 of teaching were more likely to move to a different school (13%), but actually less likely to leave the profession altogether (7%) … Teachers who left the teaching profession in 2012-13, 51 percent said they had a more manageable work load and 53% reported better working conditions in their current positions.”
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Schools Acquire Grenade Launchers, MRAPs and Other Military Equipment – What Could Possibly Go Wrong?


“More than 20 school districts across the county have been acquiring surplus military equipment from the Pentagon … The school districts and campus security forces range in size from small Saddleback College in southern California, whose nine-member squad received a MRAP – mine resistant ambush protected – vehicle … to Los Angeles Unified School District, which received 61 M16 assault rifles, three grenade launchers and one MRAP … San Diego’s school district also requested and received an MRAP …In Edinburg, Texas, the district has its own SWAT team … ‘It is frankly difficult to imagine how a grenade launcher, or any of these items, could be safely used in any scenario involving schools,’ the [NAACP] wrote in a letter to the federal program’s administrators.”
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Ranking High Schools Tells You Which Schools Are Rich Or Selective


Education journalist Libby Nelson writes, “The recent spread of rankings mania to high schools makes no sense … The public schools that top these lists are mostly selective magnet schools that get to pick which students they educate. If they’re not, they’re much likely to enroll fewer poor students than public schools as a whole … Knowing what the best high school is doesn’t matter if you can’t afford to live in its attendance area or if you don’t have the test scores to get in … The problem is that most of this isn’t about what the schools themselves are doing … Nobody should take these rankings seriously.”
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Student Debt Collections Are Leaving The Elderly In Poverty


“Elderly Americans have more student loan debt than ever and are more likely to become chronically unable to make payments than younger borrowers … Federal student debt among Americans 65 and older increased six-fold since 2005 … Over 80% of elderly borrowers were still struggling to pay off loans they took out to pay for their education … Some 31% of the student loans held by Americans aged 65 and older were in default last year. That makes the elderly about twice as likely to hold defaulted loans as Americans under the age of 50 … Most of those who saw Social Security payments slashed to repay student loans in 2013 were living on benefit income that was under the poverty line.”
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What’s The Matter With Kansas Education Policy?

Since the Wizard Oz, the term “we’re not in Kansas anymore” has been shorthand for saying we’ve changed the usual surroundings for a new, disorienting terrain. For school children who actually live in Kansas, that would likely be a relief.

Since the nation’s Great Recession, public education in Kansas has seen state funding cut repeatedly since 2009. This has left students and teachers in that state bereft of what would normally be viewed as “the basics” by anyone who has a modicum of understanding of how to run an effective school system, with swelling class sizes and elimination of basic programs like art, music, and athletics.

Unfortunately Kansas is not the only place in America where public school conditions are causing students to wish they could be transported to the yellow brick road.

For a short term, the federal government stepped in after the recession to provide some relief. But not only is that no longer available, sequestration budgets bit even deeper into what the feds were accustomed to providing to the nation’s public school.

Even now, as some state budgets see some recovery, and national leaders agree on new appropriations (the few times they can), most public school budgets are still unable to get back to funding levels they were prior to the recession.

Fortunately, the American populace is increasingly angered by the financial calamity that has befallen their schools, and there are signs some politicians may have rude awakenings in upcoming elections this November and beyond.

What’s The Matter With Kansas?

Since the seminal book What’s the Matter with Kansas? by Thomas Franks, left-leaning people have been warned to pay attention to how conservative politics in the heartland resonate into nationwide trends.

This dynamic is especially acute in the public education arena.

In 2013, a report from the Center on Policy and Budget Priorities revealed that the majority of states – 38 – had responded to the Great Recession by severely slashing their education spending. But Kansas occupied a truly special place in the ranks of education cutting: the fourth worst, according to a Kansas-based news outlet.

That news report noted, “State aid to school districts was reduced by more than $400 million from the 2008-09 to the 2009-10 academic years … Kansas schools are about $100 million under budget, and cuts to education may have lasting effects on the quality of education.”

The predictable effects have indeed emerged. A report from the Kansas-based Kansas Center for Economic Growth found budget cuts have meant “classrooms are getting more crowded.” Since 2009, he state’s school population has grown by 19,000 students while reducing the teaching force by 665 fewer teachers. The result: “Almost half of districts have seen their average class size grow.”

Cuts in per pupil spending, using the most recent available data from 2013, have decrease almost $1,000, and “96 percent of districts say base state aid per pupil for 2015 will be insufficient and say it has not kept up with increased costs to run schools.”

Another outcome of budget cuts: “Fewer extracurricular programs – About 30 percent of districts have reduced or eliminated athletic and non-athletic extracurricular activities, as well as arts and music programs.” A report on the cuts to music education in Kansas in 2011 found in the three years prior to the report, “185 music education positions had been cut” statewide.

And of course, students who are struggling with school the most, get hit the hardest. The state cut millions of dollars earmarked for students at risk of falling behind or failing, even though the percentage of students deemed at risk in the state rose from just over 34 percent in 2009 to 43 percent in 2014.

Angry parents filed a lawsuit against the state government. The states obstinate governor Sam Brownback pushed the case all the way to the state supreme court, which ruled state education funding was at levels that were unconstitutional. So then Kansas lawmakers responded by passing a new bill that changed the states funding formula. It’s not yet certain how much relief this will provide to districts, and in the meantime, a new a new tax credit for corporate contributions to private school scholarships will send more public funds to private schools.

We’re All Becoming Kansas

Kansas is not the only state afflicted with such antipathy toward spending money on school children.

As USA Today recently reported, there are at least seven states that are as bad or worse than Kansas in their financial support of public schools. But even states that don’t qualify as “the lowest of the low” for school spending are funding public education at levels that are completely inadequate.

My own recent analysis, gleaned from numerous news accounts and research studies, identified billions of dollars cut from school spending in New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, and Florida.

Just as in Kansas, angry citizens have taken legal actions against states because of inadequate funding levels since the recession – at least 14, according to one count taken at the end of 2013. More recently a lawsuit in the state of Mississippi upped the count to 15, as 30 more school districts indicated they may join a new legal action already in progress. Also, a high court in the state of Washington held state legislators in contempt for not adequately funding education

For a while, federal stimulus dollars helped stave off the carnage, but as a recentl analysis by the website FiveThirtyEight revealed, “public schools are hurting more in the recovery than in the recession.”

Federal per-student spending fell more than 20 percent from 2010 to 2012 and continued to fall in 2013-2014. Title I was down 12 percent. Spending on disabled education went down 11 percent. No increases are coming from the feds for the 2015 school year.

A recent report from the Government Accounting Office found that federal cuts enacted in the 2013 budget “sequestration” severely damaged schools. According to reporters as Education Week, “across-the-board federal budget cuts last year forced some school districts to cut academic and after-school programs, scale back professional development, and delay physical and technology upgrades.”

This year, Congress has done nothing to restore the levels of federal spending that school children need.

While the Obama administration and some leaders in Congress have made early childhood education a priority (but still no funding to show for it), other urgent needs have remained off the agenda. For instance, a recent report found that little to no attention has been paid to adequately funding kindergarten – what most people think of as the first year of formal schooling. As Education Week reported, the analysis found, “Just 15 states require students to attend kindergarten. And while most states require districts to offer at least a voluntary half-day program … that half-day could be just a few hours.”

The inattentiveness by federal authorities to school funding is especially shocking in light of the federal government’s increasing influence in K-12 education since the rollout of No Child Left Behind in 2002. The current Department of Education has been especially skillful at using incentives and punishments and a barrage of waivers to avoid the consequences of NCLB to coerce states into enacting all sorts of measures – such as new academic standards and teacher evaluations based on test scores. Yet the administration and Congress have done virtually nothing to coerce states to fund education adequately.

As Congress hastily wrapped up the current legislative session – vacating Washington, D.C. until after November election – the only positive accomplishment lawmakers could show in the K-12 education arena was “bipartisan support” for a bill to fund education research.

The stopgap spending bill to keep the government funded until December 1 that passed the House will continue to keep federal education spending flat lined. Meanwhile, lawmakers – “with broad bipartisan support” – found all sorts of money to fund a program to train and equip Syrian rebel groups, ushering the nation’s entry into yet another quagmire in the Middle East.

What Will Voters Say?

In the upcoming November elections, the fate of numerous candidates for governor and state administrative and legislative offices may swing on education issues.

In Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott has had to come out in favor of steep increases in education funding to stave off an opponent who still leads him in the polls. Nevertheless, his previous support of new Common Core standards has gotten him into trouble with the Tea Party faction.

In Pennsylvania, Republican Tom Corbett is likely “the most vulnerable governor in America”, according to a recent analysis in The Washington Post. ” Education spending cuts is one big reason he’s faced a backlash,” that analysis concluded.

In Kansas, Republican Governor Sam Brownback also faces a backlash from voter anger of harsh spending cuts in education. “With the election less than three months away,” a recent report by Al Jazeera found, “a third of voters [say] that the results of the education debate will determine their vote.”

That report quoted Brownback’s opponent Democratic state House Minority Leader Paul Davis at a recent rally slamming Brownback for “the single largest cut to school funding in state history. People are seeing the larger class sizes, the fees that parents are having to pay. The test scores are going down.”

The attacks may be working. Davis led Brownback in three August polls, according to the Aljazeera report. And a recent analysis by one political insider pronounced Brownback “vulnerable.”

Even elected officials at the federal level who neglect education may be more at risk to voter wrath than usual.

According to a recent Education Week analysis, “Education policy issues are at the heart of a handful of highly competitive U.S. Senate races that could help determine which party controls the chamber next year.”

The article cited examples from North Carolina, Georgia, and Iowa where “education policy has fueled fierce attack ads and detailed exchanges at candidate debates and forums.”

If these trends continue, it’s not school kids but the elected officials who have cut those children’s support who may be waking up on November 5 realizing they aren’t in Kansas anymore.