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6/25/2015 – Lessons From New Orleans Education Reform

THIS WEEK: Walmart’s Charter Schools … Achievement Gap Forms Very Early … DC Achievement Gap Persists … Teen Health A Huge Factor … US House Budget Bill Cuts Education

TOP STORY

Lessons To Be Learned From New Orleans Style Education Reform

By Jeff Bryant

“As the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, you can count on seeing a lot of glowing stories about the great education progress made in New Orleans … You should be very suspicious of this marketing campaign … To those people who initially backed the plan for NOLA school reform – but who demurred from becoming blatant propagandists for it – there now appears to be a sense of frustration and disappointment with a realization that there’s a long way to go before this product should go to market.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Walton Foundation-Funded Charter Schools Marred By Fiscal Mismanagement

Alternet

“The Walton Family Foundation’s billion-dollar effort to create a parallel school system – charter schools mostly funded by tax dollars … has become known for a stunning lack of transparency and accountability … The foundation has ties to 1,500 of the charter school across the country. It gives more than $200 million a year to a range of charter school initiatives … This business model and intentionally disruptive mindset has led to foundation spending that has not only fueled the rapid growth of unregulated charters … but also “hundreds of millions of dollars in fraud, mismanagement and poor oversight … Even though the Walton Family Foundation does not publish independent audits, its fast and loose education strategy has left a stunning trail of … mismanagement, financial fraud, lawsuits blocking accountability to state governments – as well as a record of anti-democratic education practices, from cherry-picking students to fighting efforts to help poorer students.”
Read more …

Young Children Held Back By Social Class, Study Finds

Education Week

“Children enter kindergarten with academic and ‘soft skills’ gaps that can be linked directly to their socioeconomic status… Race-based gaps in skills such as reading, math, eagerness to learn, persistence, and focus shrink significantly when socioeconomic status is taken into account … About 46% of black children live in poverty … 63% of Hispanic ELLs live in poverty … Closing the wide disparities will require a two-pronged approach … Disadvantaged families need more access to programs such as home visiting, high-quality child care, and preschool … Stronger policies also have to be implemented that cut down on the number of poor people.”
Read more …

Despite Progress, D.C. Students Are Still Not Up To Par, Report Says

The Washington Post

“The 2007 Public Education Reform Amendment Act created a governance structure for education in the city that gave the chancellor unprecedented freedom to implement reforms. It also helped pave the way for the city’s charter schools to grow … 7 years after the reforms took root, the District’s poor and minority students are still far less likely to have a quality teacher in their classrooms, perform at grade level, and graduate from high school in four years. Although performance on standardized tests has improved for all groups, the city’s academic achievement gap has not diminished.”
Read more …

Unhealthy Teens Face College And Job Obstacles

Live Science

“Being in poor health as a teenager can have a long-term influence on someone’s educational and job opportunities in adulthood … Teens with either mental health or chronic physical health conditions were less likely to graduate high school or finish college, and were more likely to be unemployed or have lower-income jobs … Teens with mental health problems fared worse than those with physical health issues in terms of economic and academic outcomes … Teens with mental health conditions were more than twice as likely to not complete high school compared with healthy teens … Schools should think of their students’ health as part of the institution’s core business.”
Read more …

House Bill Slices Billions From Education And Health

Center On Budget And Policy Priorities

CBPP Senior Policy Consultant David Reich writes, “The 2016 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill from a House subcommittee cuts funding $3.7 billion below the 2015 level, with its cuts particularly targeted to education and to some health programs … The Department of Education absorbs two-thirds of the bill’s cuts, receiving $2.5 billion less for 2016 than for 2015. The bill eliminates some programs entirely, including grants for improving math and science education and programs to improve school safety. While the bill boosts special education by roughly $500 million, it provides no increase for ‘Title I’ grants to school districts – the basic federal program that assists schools in educating disadvantaged children – leaving that program with less funding than six years earlier… The bill adds $192 million to Head Start (a 2.2% increase). But, because it eliminates the Education Department’s Preschool Development Grants program (funded at $250 million in 2015), the result is a net drop in funding for early childhood education.”
Read more …

Lessons To Be Learned From New Orleans Style Education Reform

As the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, you can count on seeing a lot of glowing stories about the great education progress made in New Orleans since a natural disaster killed nearly 2,000 people, emptied a beloved city, and gave public school reformers what they always wanted: a “clean slate” to have their way unencumbered by the messiness of school boards, local politics, and the voices of teachers and parents.

It really was the “best thing that could have happened,” to use Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s now infamous quote, if you were a fan of creating something that would have little to no consequence for your family.

You’ll also hear many more politicians and pundits touting the NOLA model of education reform for school districts everywhere else.

You should be very suspicious of this marketing campaign.

Advocates for the NOLA model claim it has gotten “results,” but what passes for results is subject to a mad game of interpreting data in a way to make a case rather that to reveal any real truth. Reform advocates like to say they’ve created a better system, but it is a system that seems void of democracy and deaf to the voices of teachers, parents, and students who have to live with the system. And to those people who initially backed the plan for NOLA school reform – but who demurred from becoming blatant propagandists for it – there now appears to be a sense of frustration and disappointment with a realization that there’s a long way to go before this product should go to market.

A Top Down “Solution”

First, a refresher …

After Katrina, as NPR reported recently, “an ad hoc coalition of elected leaders and nationally known charter advocates formed,” and in “a series of quick decisions,” all school employees were fired and the vast majority of the city’s schools were handed over to a state entity called the “Recovery School District” which is governed by unelected officials. Only a “few elite schools were … allowed to maintain their selective admissions schools.”

One reason this action was able to take place so quickly is because it was planned in the immediate aftermath of the storm while the city was in complete disarray. As an article in The Times-Picayune reports, a “lost bit of history” recently surfaced revealing a hidden chain of events that sealed the fate of New Orleans public schools.

After the storm, Mayor Ray Nagin was reluctant to open schools “anytime soon,” and the state education department told local school officials there would be no state funding available for locally run schools.

This essentially made charter schools the only early option, which Sen. Mary Landrieu could help make possible with federal funds. The U.S. Department of Education had money to start charter schools, but nothing to reopen traditional schools. So, the School Board opened the first charter schools, and by the beginning of 2006, “the structure that still holds today was set,” with an elite group of selected admission schools, privately operated independent charter schools, and the vast remainder of schools operated by the state-run Recovery School District, which would convert those schools to charter management.

What’s wrong with this of course is that the people of New Orleans – especially those most chronically disempowered and underserved – had little voice in the remaking of their schools and are still virtually without democratic representation in their schools today.

As NOLA public school parent activist Karran Harper Royal explains, in an interview with the journal Rethinking Schools, “I’m no defender of the status quo; before Katrina we had problems, but there were also successes. Having an elected school board created ways for the public to participate. When Katrina hit, I was serving on the search committee for a new superintendent. For years I served on the disciplinary review committee. … Charters purport to give parents and teachers greater power … But you have little real voice.”

This is where advocates for the NOLA education model interrupt to say, “But this is about the kids … Look at the results!”

Data Obscura

In addition to the glowing rhetoric about “progress” in New Orleans since the storm, you should get ready to be hit by an onslaught of data, lots and lots of data, “proving” the case.

But engaging in an analytic discussion about that data can be like arguing with your teenager about whether or not he cleaned his room – it depends on how you look at it.

On any given day in the ongoing narrative about New Orleans schools, you see a headline “New Orleans school changes worked” alongside another “The New Orleans Model: Praised But Unproven.” Often such contrasting articles will make their case using the very same statistics.

When you get past the headlines though, you find you’re lost in a maze of evidence that could lead to multiple conclusions. For instance, in  the article praising what’s happened in New Orleans, you learn that some of that “progress” in NOLA RSD is associated with student demographics in the city have changed, significant amounts of critical data have been left out, and huge gaps in achievement between low-income kids and their more well-to-do peers remain.

The second, more skeptical appraisal finds “there are positive signs,” but at the expense of some really disturbing outcomes, including a recent report that “found one-third of principals acknowledged trying to exclude certain students and woo others to boost test scores.”

Engaging with a NOLA RSD official, as I have, can be an excruciating exercise in disassembling a Rube Goldberg contraption to see if you can refit the parts into something that goes straight from point A to B.

For instance, claims about increases in percentages of students on grade level in NOLA RSD have to be held in light of the fact the state changed the formula and scale for measuring grade level performance from 2012-2013, which artificially inflated the district’s performance. Declarations about the schools scoring better on state A-F report cards should be recast with the understanding that State Superintendent John White changed the scoring system to help engineer that “improvement.”

Classroom teacher and historian John Thompson goes through this frustrating exercise as well on the popular blogsite Alexander Russo’s This Week in Education. Responding to an article “How New Orleans Made Charter Schools Work” for Washington Monthly, Thompson calls out the article’s claims that charter schools in the district receive less per student funding. Turn out, what they failed to include in their calculation is the “additional $3,500 per student funding provided for post-Katrina schools.”

Even a statistic as seemingly simple as high school graduation rates becomes a slippery eel in the hands of NOLA-style reform propagandist, as researcher Adam Johnson found when he looked into the matter. On his blog, he painstakingly recounts his personal quest to find the source of an often-cited “fact” that NOLA RSD graduation rates improved 50 percent, from 54.4 percent to 77.8 percent, from 2004-2013. His search led him to the discovery that “graduation rates date back to 2005 only.” The 54 percent is a complete fabrication that got passed around, like in a game of telephone, from a dubious source through a series of politicians and media folks wanting to tell their version of the New Orleans story.

Louisiana schoolteacher and author Mercedes Schneider took this search further. She finds, that the “50 percent improvement in graduation rate,” based on the erroneous pre-Katrina metric, masks the fact New Orleans RSD graduation rates experienced a steep drop between 2011-12 and 2012-13. Further, the gap between graduation rates for NOLA RSD and Louisiana in general is widening.

Don’t Buy It

In the Politico article cited above, reporter Caitlin Emma finds, “Mayors and governors from Nevada to Tennessee have sought to replicate the New Orleans model by converting struggling public schools into privately run charters.”

The latest state to buy the NOLA snake oil is Georgia, where Governor Nathan Deal has pushed through an initiative to create a new state agency to take over struggling school districts and do to them what Louisiana did to New Orleans. An op-ed in a Georgia news outlet sounds a word of caution about this.

J. Celeste Lay, an associate professor of political science at Tulane University, explains that the great sucking sound you hear from NOLA is the siphoning up of public tax dollars into private pockets. “The principal at my nearby charter school makes over $300,000 per year, a 246 percent increase from her salary before the school was chartered. For-profit management companies charge schools 15-20 percent of school revenue. Taxpayer dollars go into hefty administrator salaries and corporate profits instead of reducing class sizes, upgrading facilities, or recruiting and maintaining high-quality teachers.”

And about those “great results?” “The average ACT score of NOLA RSD’s class of 2014 was 15.7,” she notes, “far lower than the minimum entrance requirements at LSU and other public universities. Reform advocates tout growth in these scores, but such growth is neither entirely linear nor significant.”

“Education reform in New Orleans,” she concludes, “provides more of a model of what not to do.”

Other cautious observers of the NOLA model highlight the pitfalls of a top down takeover model that too often leaves the interest of poor and working class families behind.

Speaking at a recent conclave for researchers and policy mavens focused on the New Orleans education story, Marquette University professor and school choice advocate Howard Fuller remarks (on video) that the “positive things” that have happened have “happened at a cost.” The “cost” he describes includes a general sense of community disempowerment in which parents and kids feel they lack control over some decisions being made about their education destinies. “There’s no uniform opinion,” he states, about what has been accomplished in New Orleans and how the schools district should go forward from here.

Another school choice advocate and former New Orleans charter school operator, professor Andre Perry, who had some involvement in forming the New Orleans school district we see today, is harsher in his assessment. In an interview with freelance writer and education commentator Jennifer Berkshire, he says, “The improvements – and I do think there are some improvements – are so marginal when you consider the investment … And by the way, the improvements may not even necessarily be because of the reforms.”

Perry also sees the “many nefarious ways” that advocates for the NOLA model present their case for closing gaps and showing gains, and he questions whether those statistical measures are over-emphasized compared to other important values – including community empowerment, democratic engagement, inclusion, and racial diversity.

His conclusion is, “You don’t ever want to oversell something … When you’re constantly saying ‘now is better than the past,’ or ‘now is worse for the future,’ it’s just not a helpful argument if you’re really sincere about making change.”

So what are the lessons to be learned from New Orleans style education reform?

  • When even the most ardent school choice advocates are disappointed with what’s been accomplished in the American school system offering the ultimate in choice, you have to be skeptical about making choice a remedy for education problems.
  • When you realize the many ways statistics such as test score results, school grades, and graduation rates can be bent and distorted to make an ideological argument, you have to wonder whether those data points are adequate, even worthwhile, measures of something as complex as children’s educational development.
  • When you see a way of doing school impressed on a community by strident outsiders, you have to be concerned whether the cost of usurping democracy is worth whatever gains are being promised.
  • And when someone comes to your community to sell you on the education reform model created for New Orleans, don’t buy it.

6/18/2016 – Clear Choices For Education In 2016, So Far

THIS WEEK: Jeb Bush’s Shoddy Education Record … Congress Shorts Special Ed Kids … Whole Child Approach Works … Factors Outside School Affect Learning … Sen Warren Calls For Student Loan Reform

TOP STORY

Political Parties Present Clear Choices For Education In 2016, So Far

By Jeff Bryant

“For years, there’s been an agreement – a ‘Washington consensus’ – among Beltway policy makers and political elites that America’s schools are in ‘crisis’ and only a punitive program of standards, testing, and accountability can remedy them … ‘Republican and Democratic presidential candidates have been happily copying each other’ on education policy … But there are signs this era may be coming to a close … As prospective and declared candidates in the 2016 presidential race kick off their campaigns, what we’re hearing are clear divisions between Republicans and Democrats. So far.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Here’s What Jeb Bush Really Did To Public Education In Florida

The Washington Post

Education journalist Valerie Strauss writes on her blog, “Now that Jeb Bush is officially in the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, expect his campaign to talk a lot about school reforms he spearheaded in Florida when he was governor … Here’s what you won’t hear … Bush advocates using public money for students to use to pay for private school tuition … The Florida Senate, controlled by Republicans, refused his request to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot repealing a provision in the state constitution separating church and state … He likes outsourcing public education to for-profit education companies who open public charter schools … He doesn’t mention a 2014 report that Florida charter schools had math and reading test scores that were either no better or worse than traditional public schools. Or that under his program of assigning letter grades to schools based on test scores, a disproportionate number of charters get failing academic letter grades … Or that Florida’s charter sector has been marred by numerous closures of charters – some even during the school year – and repeated financial mismanagement scandals.”
Read more …

Congress’ Broken Promise On IDEA Hurts State Budgets, Special Education Students

The National Education Association

“Before IDEA, U.S. schools educated only one of every five children with disabilities … Since then, the majority of children with disabilities have been educated in their neighborhood public schools in the general classroom. Their high school graduation rates, college enrollments, and job opportunities increased dramatically … Although Congress committed to paying 40% of the average cost to educate a child with disabilities, it has never met even half of that commitment. Currently, the federal share of funding for special education services to approximately 6.9 million students is about 16% … Each year, the remaining costs are shifted to the states … The federal cost shift to states in 2014 alone was $17.6 billion … Some members of Congress are working to fix the problem.”
Read more …

City Year Schools Twice As Likely to See Math, English Boosts, Study Finds

Education Week

“Pleasant View School was one of a slew of high poverty schools in Providence, RI, marked for an overhaul in 2012, but three years later, it is out of academic crisis … A big part of the school’s revival … the City Year program’s ‘Whole School, Whole Child’ school wide initiative … Schools that participated in City Year’s 150 school wide programs in 22 cities were more likely to see overall improvements on their states’ mathematics and English/language arts tests than similar schools that did not participate … Rhode Island schools participating in City Year in 2012-13 were 25 percent more likely to improve in language arts during the study and 11 percent more likely to improve in math.”
Read more …

Researchers: Five Ignored Factors Affect Outcomes For Poor Children

The Washington Post

“School leaders and policymakers trying to improve academic results for disadvantaged children need to look outside the classroom at social and economic conditions that directly affect a child’s ability to learn … Five factors that new research suggests hinder the achievement of poor children: parenting practices in low-income households, single parenthood, irregular work schedules of parents in low-wage jobs, poor access to health care and exposure to lead … Efforts to improve academic outcomes for the increasing number of poor children in public schools focus too heavily on incentives aimed at teachers and schools instead of taking on the underlying conditions that hamper children even before their formal schooling begins.”
Read more …

Elizabeth Warren Calls Out Education Department Over Student Loans

The New York Times

“Senator Elizabeth Warren took the Department of Education to task … calling for external checks to be placed on the department, including moving the student loan complaint system from the department to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and granting borrowers the right to take legal action against loan contractors … Ms. Warren laid out a plan for making college more affordable and relieving growing student debt. In doing so, Ms. Warren did not limit her criticism to the Education Department, assigning blame to colleges and universities, as well as to state governments. She also renewed calls to refinance outstanding student loans and reform the federal Pell grant program … College affordability and student debt has become a leading topic for both Democrats and Republicans on the presidential campaign trail.”
Read more …

Political Parties Present Clear Choices For Education In 2016, So Far

For years, there’s been an agreement – a “Washington consensus” – among Beltway policy makers and political elites that America’s schools are in “crisis” and only a punitive program of standards, testing, and accountability can remedy them.

Both Republicans and Democrats bought into that narrative and adopted it into their party platforms.

So, as seasoned edu-journalist, Jay Mathews of The Washington Post has long observed, “Republican and Democratic presidential candidates have been happily copying each other” on education policy and political rhetoric.

This phenomenon started, according to Mathews, when “a group of Democratic governors (including Bill Clinton) started the school accountability movement in the 1980s and several Republican governors (including George W. Bush) joined in.”

But there are signs this era may be coming to a close.

As prospective and declared candidates in the 2016 presidential race kick off their campaigns, what we’re hearing on education policy is a clear division between Republicans and Democrats. So far, one party is doubling down on continuing failed accountability policies, while the other party calls for an investment agenda to relieve years of grueling austerity and ineffective policy branded as “reform.”

Can you guess which party is promoting which?

The Walker Way On Education

On the Republican side, likely presidential candidate Scott Walker, the current governor of Wisconsin, touted his education credentials recently in an op-ed that appeared in an Iowa newspaper where it could get the attention of potential voters in that state’s critically important primary.

In the column, he brags about changing Wisconsin’s “broken system” that provided teachers with some job protections, what he calls “tenure.” He calls attention to a “Wisconsin Teacher of the Year,” who he says was let go because of the “old system” but now would be protected in his new and improved plan. And he claims to have increased “the number of quality education choices all over Wisconsin.

He calls for “moving money out of Washington” so it can be spent “at the local and state level” where it “is more efficient, more effective and more accountable.” And he calls for ” big, bold reforms” like school vouchers that allow tax dollars to flow to private and religious schools.

“The reforms are working,” he declares. “Schools are better. Graduation rates are up. Third grade reading scores are higher.”

What Walker doesn’t mention is that he presided over the “biggest cuts to education” in Wisconsin’s history. His most recent state budget proposal takes an additional $127 million bite out of education spending next year, according to state news outlets, causing school districts across Iowa to consider where they will have to cut next – staff lay-offs, teacher pay, or program reductions.

While he promotes the idea of sourcing school funding decisions at the local level, he actually enacted a freeze on local spending that “greatly restricted schools’ ability to raise property taxes to make up for the lost aid.” The result was another $800 – $900 million cut to school districts.

In higher education, Walker plans to cut $300 million from the state’s prized university system while funneling $500 million to a basketball stadium. As a result, as Think Progress reports, colleges across the state are now planning faculty lay-offs, offering massive employee early retirement packages, and eliminating student majors and degree programs.

Walker’s claims of making education improvements are way over-blown. When Alyson Klein at Education Week looked into reading scores and graduation rates in the state, she found a mixed bag, at best. “Wisconsin trend lines in fourth grade reading on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (aka the Nation’s Report Card) have increased during Walker’s tenure, but their rate of improvement … before Walker came in … are almost identical,” Klein writes.

“Graduation rates tell a similar story. Wisconsin’s graduation rate is up, but the nation’s is up too. And in fact, the Badger State is growing a little slower than the national average.”

And that teacher whose job Walker says his new system would save? First, she wasn’t really a Teacher of the Year, Salon’s Joan Walsh reports. Second, she wants him to stop telling this story. “I am hurt that this story is being used to make me the poster child for this political agenda,” she says, according to The Huffington Post.

The Christie Education Chronicles

Another prospective Republican presidential candidate, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, also has an education agenda he wants to bring to the nation. In a recent speech reported on in The New York Times, Christie claims to know what “real education reform for America looks like.”

If it looks like what has taken place in New Jersey, a Christie presidential administration would be disastrous for the country.

First off, it’s troubling, to say the least, when a top government official equates classroom teachers to terrorists, as Christie did recently did. Watch the video here to see him agree with a questioner’s contention that the nation’s system of education was a “threat” of equal proportion to ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). Then, if you can stomach it, listen further to hear him berate teachers as “part-time workers getting a full-time salary.”

Actually, under the Christie administration, New Jersey has taken a massive retreat from its duties to fund school systems equitably, according top Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker. Although New Jersey has been “among the nation’s most progressive in terms of school funding,” Baker writes, that equitable distribution of funds has “slipped … dramatically.

“Equitable and adequate funding are prerequisite conditions for all else,” Baker concludes. “Money matters. And the apparent dramatic retreat from equity in New Jersey over a relatively short period of time raises serious concerns.”

New Jersey teacher and popular blogger Mark Weber also reviews Christie’s education record and finds a troubling account. “No politician in the history of New Jersey has done more to demonize and denigrate the teaching profession than Chris Christie,” Weber writes. “This is a man who compared us to drug dealers, told us we were greedy, told our students we didn’t care about their learning, and said we only care about having summers off.”

He’s also a government official who has little respect for the law, at least for how it is to be applied in education. As Weber explains, Christie has steadfastly refused to find the money the state is legally obligated to provide to educate “thousands of students living in poverty, or who don’t speak English at home, or who have special education disabilities … Every year, Chris Christie has refused to fund this law, with profound consequences” and to the point where the state is now “a collective $7 billion behind what the law itself says they need to adequately educate our children.”

What Would Jeb Do To Education?

Of all Republican presidential candidates, declared and prospective, the one most likely to put education in front of his appeal is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

Bush is indeed a “big K-12 dog,” as an Education Week headline called him when he officially announced his candidacy. Bush “has perhaps the most extensive and complicated track record in education among all the Republican presidential hopefuls,” the article states.

In his announcement speech, according to The New York Times, Bush pointed to “his record in Florida of introducing a taxpayer-financed school voucher program” and “expanding charter schools.” His campaign’s debut video also champions the Florida school voucher program.

“Here’s what Jeb Bush really did to public education in Florida,” Valerie Strauss explains on her blog at The Washington Post.

First, Bush appears to be averse to calling public schools “public,” Strauss finds, preferring the terms “government schools” and “monopoly” instead. Bush, “likes outsourcing public education to for-profit education companies who open public charter schools but run them like a business,” she notes. “But he doesn’t mention a 2014 report that Florida charter schools had math and reading test scores that were either no better or worse than traditional public schools. Or that under his program of assigning letter grades to schools based on test scores, a disproportionate number of charters get failing academic letter grades from the state. Or that Florida’s charter sector has been marred by numerous closures of charters – some even during the school year – and repeated financial mismanagement scandals.”

Then Strauss turns to education professor Sherman Dorn who provides a more scholarly analysis of the effect Bush’s policies had on education in Florida.

“Governor Bush and his allies generally point to fourth-grade reading as the most important story, and that is where one can see large increases in average scale scores, not only across cohorts of fourth-grade students but in comparison with the national sample of fourth-grade students,” Dorn explains.

But those claims reduce to spin and hype when you go further into the data. “The bottom line,” Dorn finds, other than those fourth grade reading scores, for “most other independent test-score measures, the picture is less impressive.” And what in fact likely produced the reading gains, Dorn explains, is the Bush administration’s decision to invest in an expensive program to provide technical assistance in reading during the early grades. But he doesn’t like to mention that.`

“Bush may become the loudest proponent yet of turning public education into a for-profit enterprise,” writes Matthew Pulver for Salon. “During his eight years as governor, Jeb Bush was a leader in dismantling public education,” Pulver argues and he points to a recent article in The New Yorker that found Bush’s education program was just a piece of “his larger agenda to privatize state-run services, from prisons to Medicaid.”

Back to Pulver: “Bush’s plan is to go full neoliberal, to sell off the State’s largest remaining public venture to corporations, including his friends and associates.”

The Democratic Contrast

In sharp contrast to Republican proposals to cut education spending, denigrate teachers, withhold the resources schools need, and institute a plan to privatize as many schools as possible, education rhetoric we’re hearing from the Democratic side is somewhat scant. But at least it’s starting with the right theme –investment.

Rising to the top of every Democratic Party presidential candidate’s agenda is a plan for debt-free college. “Democrats look to make debt-free college the key campaign issue of 2016,” reports The Guardian and cites a recent resolution from Senate Democrats that “adds pressure on potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidates to either endorse the resolution or come up with a plan of their own.”

Front-runner Hillary Clinton, in particular, is counting on her proposal to alleviate student debt as a key selling point to her candidacy, according to Politico. Due to the influence of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, according to a different Politico source, the Clinton team has a plan that “goes further than what either of Clinton’s Democratic opponents, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, or former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, have proposed.”

Another unified message from Democrats is to expand access to high-quality pre-K education for low-income children. Here again, the Clinton campaign is out in front with a plan that would, according to The New York Times, “give incentives to states to provide public preschool to children whose family incomes are below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. The plan would be directed at the half of the country’s 8.1 million 3- and 4-year-olds who are not currently enrolled in pre-kindergarten, her campaign said.”

Note that none of the education related rhetoric coming from the Democratic side is about cracking down on schools with more “accountability” and privatizing them through a smokescreen of “choice.”

Even Hillary Clinton – who some fear, due to her close ties with the Obama administration, would continue the prevailing policies – has yet to endorse a bipartisan platform including radical Republican ides.

In her campaign announcement, as my colleague Robert Borosage notes in a blogpost for the Campaign for America’s Future, “Her education agenda – universal pre-k, respecting teachers and investing in schools, affordable college – had no mention of the school choice, punitive high-stakes testing, and assault on public schools and their teachers that has been the hallmark and horror of the Obama years.”

Of course, we’re at a very early stage in what is sure to be a long and grueling presidential contest. But on education issues, so far the contrast between the two contesting parties couldn’t be clearer. Let’s hope Democratic Party candidates keep it that way.

6/11/2015 – Education Policy Descends Into A Sad Proxy Battle

THIS WEEK: Many States Screw Poor Kids On School Funding … The Truth About Graduation Rates … Saving Charter Schools … Shoddy School Infrastructure Hurts Learning … Poor Schools Get More Inexperienced Teachers

TOP STORY

Education Policy Descends Into A Sad Proxy Battle

By Jeff Bryant

“As the policy battle over mandatory testing is waged across the nation, new evidence of a real civil rights concern is being completely ignored by federal leaders and the policy elite in Washington, DC … And what really matters in education policy continues to take a back seat to a sad and ineffectual proxy battle over testing … Our more disadvantaged students are worse off for it.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Inequitable School Funding Called ‘One Of The Sleeper Civil Rights Issues Of Our Time’

The Washington Post

“A Funding for public education in most states is inadequate and inequitable, creating a huge obstacle for the nation’s growing number of poor children … In most states school districts in wealthy areas spend as much or more per pupil than districts with high concentrations of poverty … Just 15 states had school funding systems that funnel more resources to students in poor districts than those in affluent districts … The remaining states either devote the same funding to the poorest and richest districts, or they send more to districts serving the most affluent students … Many students in the poorest districts come to school hungry, are in need of health care or lack a stable home life. Such children generally are considered more expensive to educate.”
Read more …

The Truth About America’s Graduation Rate

NPR

“Graduation rates have been rising since 2002 … We identified three major ways that states and districts try to improve their graduation rates … Stepping in early to keep kids on track … Lowering the bar by offering alternate and easier routes … Gaming the system by moving likely dropouts off the books, transferring or misclassifying them … Texas is tied with a few other states with the second-highest graduation rate in the country: 88% … But that figure excludes lots of students – more than 50,000 … The Chicago district is misclassifying hundreds of students who enroll at alternative schools … by saying they left the district … All these strategies – good, bad and ambiguous – raise the question: What does a high school diploma mean?”
Read more …

Saving The Charter School Movement From Itself

Aljazeera America

Century Foundation fellow Amy Dean writes, “Advocates of charter schools argue that they are innovative laboratories of experimentation. But … policies that led to the creation of these schools have been used to advance a political agenda … If the charter school movement is going to play the positive role in education reform that it was supposed to, it will have to do three things: restore its commitment to public accountability for public resources, support increased funding across the system, and respect the rights of teachers … We risk further fragmenting our education system, increasing the inequities of our school funding and foreclosing on the dream of a free and quality education for all.”
Read more …

If You Build It, They’ll Learn Better

US New & World Report

A senior fellow for the Center for American Progress writes, “Many students attend inadequate, outdated school buildings … Even seemingly minor issues like weak air quality can lower achievement … Students from low-income families often get the short end of the infrastructure stick … Low-income districts often get less money from the state, and they have less wealth to tax locally. It can also be challenging for low-income districts to get their communities to support the school bonds that help fund infrastructure projects … The federal government should start collecting data on the current state of our nation’s buildings … make targeted investments … look at states like Massachusetts, which have created a ‘pay-as-you-build’ system that can lower expenditures and shore-up local support for building projects.”
Read more …

Ed. Dept.: Poorest Districts Have More Trainee Teachers

Education Week

“Teachers in high-poverty school districts were about twice as likely to still be learning the ropes as teachers working in the flushest districts in 2011-12 … States reported that 1.5 percent of public school teachers are still completing their preparation – but are nevertheless considered ‘highly qualified’ under federal law … Assuming 25 students in each of the interns’ classes, these teachers are reaching about 800,000 students … Under that 2002 regulation, teachers in alternative-preparation programs – typically career-changers or those in programs like Teach For America – were permitted to be deemed ‘highly qualified’ … even though they were still being prepared.”
Read more …

Education Policy Descends Into A Sad Proxy Battle

If you want to see how far off track the nation’s current education policies have gotten, just look at what is going on in Oregon.

As an Oregon news outlet recently reported, the Oregon House overwhelmingly approved a bill that would “inform parents twice a year of their rights to exempt children from state reading and math tests.”

This is a not a terribly surprising development given recent widespread concerns about the over-testing of children in our public schools. Nevertheless, supporters of the status quo in education policy see Oregon’s action as an enormous transgression – a violation of low-income children’s civil rights, no less – because the scores on the tests are an official record that there is an achievement gap among black and brown students and their white peers.

Never mind the fact that we’ve known about this achievement gap for 30 years, hardline supporters of the status quo insist testing is a civil right, despite ample evidence that testing mandates are doing very little good for children they were intended to help.

Meanwhile, as the policy battle over mandatory testing is waged across the nation, new evidence of a real civil rights concern is being completely ignored by federal leaders and the policy elite in Washington, DC.

We’re Sick Of Testing

Oregon lawmakers are not outliers in the shifting of American opinion on standardized testing.

Based on news accounts,” an editorial by two Miami University professors in Education Week recently observed, “parents opting their children out of testing is a national trend, with some districts reporting that more than 50 percent of their eligible students have missed one or more tests.”

Recent negotiations in the US Senate on new legislation that would rewrite federal education laws have focused to a great extent on remedying widespread over-testing imposed nationally. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan himself has stated his concerns about over testing of students. And his department has issued numerous waivers to federal education laws often due to misapplications and over-reliance on standardized testing in teacher evaluations and other programs.

Oregon is hardly alone in considering measures to make sure parents are aware of their rights regarding standardized testing. Rhode Island is considering such a bill. As Politico reports, Maine state lawmakers also recently revived an opt-out bill.

Further, the Oregon bill doesn’t ban the tests. It just provides an avenue to inform parents of their rights.

Testing Is A Civil Right?

Nevertheless, the action by the Oregon House prompted federal officials at the US Department of Education to fire off a warning that should the bill eventually become law, Oregon schools would “stand to lose $140 million a year or more in federal funding.”

A May 27 email and letter to the Oregon schools chief explain there is a “legal requirement” to impose the annual tests but in addition, and even more significantly, the tests are a “civil rights issue.”

Keep in mind, were the bill to become law and the fed make due on its warning, the funds that would be withheld are targeted principally for the most disadvantaged students – students whose welfare is indeed “ a civil rights issue.”

“Those funds go to very needy schools and children to pay for many things,” an advocate from an Oregon-based organization explains in another Oregon news outlet, “literacy programs, second half of full day kindergarten, other things that really help insure our kids are on the path to success.”

What’s A ‘Civil Right’?

In consideration of the federal government’s intervention in Oregon, education historian Diane Ravitch notes, “The only time in the past that the Feds made similar threats was in the 1960s, when districts refused to desegregate, pursuant to federal law and court orders. Who imagined that the day would come when the ED would threaten to cut off funding if a state allowed parents to refuse the tests?”

This is indeed an alarming development. And we now see that standardized testing – a policy whose impact on the civil rights of marginalized students is indirect (at best) – is being prioritized over things that have direct and verifiable impact on those students.

A Real Civil Rights Issue, If We Still Care

As my colleague Isaiah Poole recounts on the blogsite of the Campaign for America’s Future, a new report by the Education Law Center finds, in many states children who need financial support the most are actually getting the least. “Not only have states been generally slow to restore the cuts to public school funding that they made during the 2007-2008 economic downturn, but there are often extreme disparities between the per pupil spending in wealthy school districts and low-income districts.”

Poole quotes from the report, “Even with improvements in the economy, few states are translating that economic growth into greater investments in school funding … While total GDP has rebounded to 2008 levels or higher in all states except Nevada and Wyoming, 20 states invested fewer total dollars into the education system.”

The report features a “funding fairness report card” which, as a report in The Huffington Post notes, scores only two states “relatively well in all four fairness indicators: Massachusetts and New Jersey.”

The report prompted a “companion piece,” noted a report in The Washington Post, to observe, “School funding decisions are one of the sleeper civil rights issues of our time.” But that statement, from Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and Leadership Conference Education Fund, has yet to wake up advocates who believe testing is the civil right issue of our time.

What Civil Rights Violations Look Like On The Ground

North Carolina-based education reporter Lindsay Wagner vividly captures what that withholding of financial resources looks like on the ground.

Writing for the left-leaning organization NC Policy Watch, Wagner reports North Carolina earned an F from the Law Center’s funding fairness report card, and it’s not a surprise given what the state is doing to its schools – especially the ones serving the most disadvantaged students.

“Moving the needle in a positive direction when it comes to school funding is not a trend that has been playing out in North Carolina,” Wagner explains and quotes a school official from one district who attests, ”We’ve lost 50 percent of our teacher assistants during the past several years … Eighty percent of our textbook funding is gone.”

“Students are lucky if they even have textbooks at all,” Wagner reports from another school district in the Tarheel state, quoting a teacher who says, “If we do have them, they are very outdated.”

“Very basic supplies and materials are hard to come by,” Wagner continues in her report from that district. “Paper, pencils, even desks for students to sit at are scarce. Teachers typically pay out of their pocket all year long to make sure their kids have the opportunity to learn.”

Doesn’t this seem like a civil right issue to you?

Our Sad Proxy Battle

Unfortunately, the standoff over standardized testing in Oregon is not an isolated event.

As members of Congress on Capital Hill struggle with revising federal education policy, testing mandates continue to be regarded as some sort of valiant stand for our most underserved students, while deep inequities in how states support those students continue to get ignored.

So what really matters in education policy continues to take a back seat to a sad and ineffectual proxy battle over testing – and our more disadvantaged students are worse off for it.

6/4/2015 – Common Core Distracts From What Matters Most

THIS WEEK:The Education Civil Rights Agenda … Key School Stats … What To Call Skills … Jeb Bush And Common Core … Community Colleges Get Screwed

TOP STORY

Dumb Arguments About The Common Core Distract From What Matters Most

By Jeff Bryant

“When the subject turns to Common Core, there is a tendency among Democrats to immediately assert their support for the policy because of concerns for equity in the public school system For sure, inequity is a problem – if not the problem – in American schools … If Democrats want to have some credibility in the debate on equity in the public school system, they should focus on policy proposals that really have something to do with equity.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

DC Civil Rights Organizations Fail To Represent Education Civil Rights Agenda

The Hill

A trio of prominent civil rights leaders outside Washington, DC write, “A few national civil rights organizations … uniting under the banner of the Washington, DC-based Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights … are urging parents to comply with annual testing requirements. We strongly disagree. Data from these annual assessments are not a reasonable proxy for educational opportunity, and even more, educational equity … Children of color are more likely to be subjected to over-testing and a narrowing of curriculum in the name of test preparation … We now know students cannot be tested out of poverty, and while NCLB did take us a step forward by requiring schools to produce evidence that students were learning, it took us several steps backward when that evidence was reduced to how well a student performed on a standardized test.”
Read more …

Key Numbers From A Government Report To Congress On The Status Of US Education

Associated Press Via US New And World Report

“More U.S. school-age kids live in poverty and need English-language services … Enrollment in public schools is up, including in charter schools … Smaller numbers of children attend private schools. Fewer students are dropping out of high school. And, while more undergraduate students seek financial aid to obtain a four-year degree, college graduates continue to earn more than their peers.”
Read more …

Nonacademic Skills Are Key To Success. But What Should We Call Them?

NPR

“More and more people in education agree on the importance of learning stuff other than academics. But no one agrees on what to call that ‘stuff’. There are least seven major overlapping terms in play … 21st century skills … Character education … grit … growth mindset … noncognitive traits and habits … social and emotional skills … soft skills … Maybe one day there will be a pithy acronym or portmanteau to wrap all these skills up.”
Read more …

On Common Core, Jeb Bush Is A Party Of One

Politico

“The Republican flip-flop on the Common Core is nearly complete … Virtually every 2016 Republican presidential candidate has turned against the education standards, other than former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush … Bush has said the Common Core should serve as a floor for quality and rigor if states are looking to replace the standards. But this month he said the standards must be state driven, a statement appealing to conservatives … ‘Common Core means a lot of things to different people, so they could be right based on what’s in front of them,’ Bush said.”
Read more …

How Higher Education Funding Shortchanges Community Colleges

Inside Higher Ed

“Community colleges tend to receive the least amount of public financial support compared to other institutions, yet they are asked to push high numbers of low-income students into the middle class with few resources … The most funding tends to go toward highly selective four-year colleges … Wealthy colleges also receive huge tax subsidies … From 2001 to 2011 … funding increased substantially at public and private research universities, while public community colleges actually saw a $904 decline in real funding … A number of states are devising performance-based funding approaches that recognize low-income students have additional needs and need additional support.”
Read more …

Dumb Arguments About The Common Core Distract From What Matters Most

While it’s refreshing to see K-12 education become a prominent issue in the very early stages of the 2016 election campaigns, it’s unfortunate to see support for the Common Core – the contentious new standards adopted by most states – become the focus of the debate.

What’s even worse is to see Democrats saying such bewildering, even misleading, things about the Common Core as they defend it against Republican criticism.

Specifically, when the subject turns to Common Core, there is a tendency among Democrats to immediately assert their support for the policy because of concerns for equity in the public school system.

For sure, inequity is a problem – if not the problem – in American schools. Inequities related to students’ race, ability levels, English language proficiency, and income characterize nearly every aspect of the outputs and inputs of the system. The achievement gap between white students and their black and brown peers has been at the center of education policy discussion for years. Students with learning disabilities experience a similar gap when compared with their mainstream peers. Racial discrimination also plagues school discipline policies resulting in black and brown students disproportionally being targeted for punishments, expulsions, and push-out into a school to prison pipeline. And many states discriminate against students on the basis of income by giving richer school districts more money than poorer ones.

But declaring that Common Core is somehow a solution to inequities is more than a stretch – it’s disingenuous. And if Democrats want to have some credibility in the debate on equity in the public school system, they should focus on policy proposals that really have something to do with equity.

Common Core Confusion

No doubt the Common Core has become a prominent issue in the presidential race, at least in the Republican primary.

As Politico reports, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is the latest presidential aspirant in that party to make a big display of declaring opposition to standards he once championed. Now, the article explains, “Virtually every 2016 Republican presidential candidate has turned against the education standards, other than former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.”

This is a strange turn of events for sure given that the idea of national standards was originally a popular conservative notion, dating back to the publication of “A Nation at Risk” during the Reagan administration. Even in Republican-led states where Common Core backlash has led to revising the standards, “the replacement standards have been near carbon copies of the Common Core,” The Hechinger Report explains.

But instead of pointing out the incoherency of this, Democrat operatives respond to Republican attacks on the Common Core with incoherent arguments of their own.

Common Core Is Working?

“Common Core is working,” declare folks at Think Progress, the action center for the centrist Democratic organization Center for American Progress. As “proof” of its claim, CAP operatives point to Kentucky, which “saw their college and career readiness rates increase from 34 to 62 percent in just four years after the standards were put in place.” That claim is interesting because in a state with a long history of big changes in education policy, going back to 1990, its hard to believe a relatively recent change like Common Core should get all the credit.

Further, a recent analysis by Brookings on the effects of Common Core adoptions on achievement, as measured by the National Assessment of Education Progress, found differences between Common Core and non-CC states to be “quite small, amounting to (at most) 0.04 standard deviations (SD) on the NAEP scale. A threshold of 0.20 SD – five times larger – is often invoked as the minimum size for a test score change to be regarded as noticeable.” And of course, “other factors are driving test score changes, unmeasured by NAEP.”

Regarding Kentucky, “That state’s NAEP fourth grade reading score declined in both 2009-2011 and 2011-2013.”

Common Core Hype Is Just Hope

Nevertheless, from its dubious factual claim about Common Core “working,” the CAP memo springboards into total fantasy, arguing, “One set of standards helps level the playing field to ensure that all kids have an equal chance at succeeding.”

Similarly, the politically centrist organization  Third Way claims the new standards “will improve our schools for all students–especially the ones who are most vulnerable.”

Before the Core, each state had its very own “one set of standards” that applied to all schools in the state. Some of those standards, such as those in Massachusetts, were arguably “better” than the Common Core, according to a report produced by supporters of the Common Core. Yet, among those states with the “better” standards, achievement levels remained chronically unequal.

Nevertheless, CAP executive Daniella Gibbs Leger expounds on the merits of the Common Core further in a guest column for The New Jersey Star-Ledger. She writes, “By providing more rigorous standards and holding all students to higher expectations, students are better prepared to exit high school with the skills they need to succeed in college and careers.”

Actually, as a result of Common Core adoptions and their associated tests, achievement gaps are likely to increase, as a recent article in The Hechinger Report explains.

As student scores on Common Core aligned tests, administered across the country this spring, trickle out over the year ahead, results will likely show widening achievement gaps. “The divergence in scores between disadvantaged students and their peers has already ballooned in Illinois, New York, and Kentucky,” Hechinger’s Tara García Mathewson writes, which were the first state to administer the tests.

Mathewson also notes makers of Common Core tests claim that in “the long run” standards based exams will “narrow the country’s educational inequities. That’s the hope, at least.” And “hope” is all it is.

Common Core Is A Distraction

To be fair, there are good reasons to support the Common Core.

When teachers say Common Core standards are better than the ones they had, they should be respected. When teachers are given opportunity to lead on implementation of the new standards, they should be supported. And of course, states should be allowed to adapt the standards to their needs. It seems naive to the extreme to expect that implementations of the standards in Mississippi would mirror what happens in Massachusetts.

Conversely, there are reasons to be hesitant in giving full-throated support to the Common Core. Just to name a few: Early childhood experts have expressed concerns about the age appropriateness of the standards. And the Core’s prescription of close reading as a method of engaging students in analytical discussion of texts is problematic, to say the least.

So when Democrats respond to Republican Common Core criticism with unqualified support for the Core, they make themselves look misinformed. Even worse, they take the focus away from what matters more.

As popular teacher-blogger Mark Weber explains on his personal website, “If you had to make a list of the things that need to be done to improve the educational outcomes of students, rewriting the standards would be near the bottom.”

Weber asks, “Does anyone really believe that the most pressing need for a child living in food insecurity and attending an inadequately funded school is to make sure her state’s standards are aligned with those in other states? That it’s critically important to make sure her state’s old standards are replaced with the CCSS, even if her school building is crumbling around her? That, if she has a special education need, the sequence of standards that may be developmentally inappropriate for her anyway is as urgent an issue as whether or not she gets critical services in a timely manner? What does a new set of standards do to ameliorate the segregation that is growing worse in our urban schools?”

If Democrats want to present real arguments for education equity, they should propose what the federal government should do about the 23 states who give richer school districts more money than poorer ones.

They should call for measures to ensure the federal government fulfills its original promise to fund 40 percent of special education services (it has historically provided only 18.5 percent or less).

They should explain how a federal administration rededicated to equity would intervene in the twin crises of black males and females being pushed out of education into the criminal justice system.

They should propose plans for federal support of community schools that can provide the range of education, health, counseling, and cultural services needed in communities traumatized by poverty.

But to thrust support for Common Core – or opposition to it, for that matter – into the center of the education debate is an enormous distraction from what really matters.

5/28/2015 – Education Makes The Progressive Punchlist

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

TOP STORY

Education Makes The Progressive Punchlist

By Jeff Bryant

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

NEWS AND VIEWS

The States Where Parents Spend The Most On Child Care

The Washington Post

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

Long-Term Gains Seen For Kids Who Leave Poor Neighborhoods

Education Week

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

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

Tampa Bay Times

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

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

The Washington Post

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

Tell Congress College Should Be Debt-Free

Campaign For America’s Future

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

Education Makes The Progressive Punchlist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Reich: “Reinvent Education”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Education Belongs On Progressive Platforms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Winning Issue, If Progressives Want One

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

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

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

Some progressives are starting to get this.