Education Opportunity Network

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

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


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

By Jeff Bryant

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


Opt-Out Movement Accelerates Amid Common-Core Testing

Associated Press via ABC News

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

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

Medical Daily

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

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

Education Week

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

Wealthier Students More Likely Than Poor To Get Private Scholarships

The Hechinger Report

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

Students’ Race Affects How Teachers Judge Misbehavior, Study Says

Education Week Teacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons From An ‘Outlier’

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

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

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

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

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

A Build-And-Support Approach

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

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

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

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

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

Choosing The Right Drivers For Improvement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond NCLB Accountability

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

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

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

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

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

An Alternative, If We Want One

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/17/2015 – Worthy Revision Of NCLB

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


Is A Worthy Revision Of NCLB Really Possible?

By Jeff Bryant

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


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


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

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

The Washington Post

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

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

New York Daily News

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

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

Education Week

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

Public Colleges’ Revenue Shift

Inside Higher Ed

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

Is A Worthy Revision Of NCLB Really Possible?

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

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

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

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

This Didn’t Start Out Well

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

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

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

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

A Senate Compromise Emerges

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

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

What’s Good About This Bill

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

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

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

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

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

The Proposal’s Oversight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Political With Republicans

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worthy NCLB Revision Is Possible

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

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

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

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

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


Why Populist Progressives Must Embrace The Education Spring

By Jeff Bryant

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


Schools Becoming The ‘Last Frontier’ For Hungry Kids

USA Today

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

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


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

At Success Academy Charter Schools, High Scores And Polarizing Tactics

The New York Times

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

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

Think Progress

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

Predatory Equity Leads to Subprime Schools

The Huffington Post

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

Why Populist Progressives Must Embrace The Education Spring

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

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

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

Does all this grassroots activism matter at the ballot box?

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

Borosage is not the only person making this argument.

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

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

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

Why indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/2/2015 – Resistance To Standardized Testing Not Going Away

THIS WEEK: Test Companies Spend Big On Lobbying … Teacher Attrition Costs Billions … Teacher Experience Matters … Competition Doesn’t Improve Education … Wall Street’s Schemes


Resistance To Standardized Testing Not Going Away

By Jeff Bryant

“What just happened in New York has implications nationwide, as the rollout of new tests in practically every state are prompting widespread opposition … Journalists aren’t describing the resistance well because anger, by it’s very nature, often comes across first as incoherence to those who aren’t yet angry. But make no mistake; it really is ‘something big.’”
Read more …


Report: Big Education Firms Spend Millions Lobbying For Pro-Testing Policies

The Washington Post

“Corporations that dominate the U.S. standardized testing market spend millions of dollars lobbying state and federal officials … to persuade them to favor policies that include mandated student assessments, helping to fuel a nearly $2 billion annual testing business … Pearson Education … underwrote untold sums on luxury trips for school officials …The company is currently embroiled in a lawsuit in New Mexico for alleged bid rigging when landing an ‘unprecedented’ $1 billion contract for K-12 testing … [Educational Testing Service] ETS lobbied heavily for the introduction of a statewide testing system in California and against a bill requiring test agencies to ‘immediately initiate an investigation’ after complaints on ‘inadequate’ testing conditions … Testing companies have donated to the Foundation for Excellence in Education, founded by former Florida governor Jeb Bush, with Pearson writing three checks totaling at least $125,000 between 2012 and 2014. The foundation is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC.”
Read more …

Revolving Door Of Teachers Costs Schools Billions Every Year


An interview with education professor Richard Ingersoll explains, “There’s a revolving door of teacher turnover that costs school districts upwards of $2.2 billion a year. … Beginning teachers are more likely to drop out. Those from top colleges … are more likely to drop out … Minority teachers are more likely to drop out … One of the main factors is … having say, and being able to have input into the key decisions in the building … something that teachers usually have very little of … Shrinking classroom autonomy is now the biggest dissatisfaction of math teachers nationally… One thing that we’ve found that’s effective is freeing up time for the beginning teachers so that they can meet with other colleagues.”
Read more …

New Studies Find That, for Teachers, Experience Really Does Matter

Education Week

“The notion that teachers improve over their first three or so years in the classroom and plateau thereafter is deeply ingrained in K-12 policy discussions … But findings from a handful of recently released studies … suggest the average teacher’s ability to boost student achievement increases for at least the first decade of his or her career – and likely longer … Teachers improved their ability to boost student test scores on average by 40% between their 10th and their 30th year on the job… As teachers gained experience, they were linked to lower rates of student absenteeism. The researchers postulate that more experienced teachers got better at motivating students and in classroom management, resulting in better attendance and fewer infractions.”
Read more …

How Do Schools Respond To Competition? Not As You Might Expect.

The Washington Post

“The school-choice movement is built on the philosophy that competition forces schools to improve. But new research on New Orleans – arguably the nation’s most competitive school market – suggests that school leaders are less likely to work on improving academics than to use other tactics in their efforts to attract students. Of the 30 schools examined in the study, leaders at just 10 … said they competed for students by trying to improve their academic programs or operations … Far more schools – 25 – said they competed by marketing their existing programs … 10 schools exercised some sort of student recruiting or screening, even though almost all of them were supposed to be open-enrollment schools where such selection practices were not permitted”
Read more …

Wall Street’s New Student Loan Scheme: Subprime Loans Are Coming To Financial Aid


Jeff Bryant writes, “Education debt is rapidly becoming a cradle to grave omnipresence … With edu-debt levels mounting higher and higher at every turn, cash-strapped parents, municipal governments and education institutions have turned to solutions from Wall Street … An alphabet soup of new financial vehicles – SLABS, CABS, PPPs, ISAs – that’s been created in the edu-debt sphere spells disaster, as Wall Street tightens its control of how – or even whether – the nation educates its future workers and citizens.”
Read more …

Resistance To Standardized Testing Not Going Away

Does populist outrage matter anymore? Anyone following the growing resistance to unpopular standardized testing in the nation’s public schools may soon see.

Thousands of teachers, parents, students, and public school advocates poured into the streets of New York City to call attention to the plight of public schools and to protest new proposals considered by the state legislature.

As a report from progressive news outlet Common Dreams recounts, the protestors’ demands ranged across an array of threats to public education – including lack of resources for schools and the rapid expansion of charter schools – but chief among the complaints was the increased emphasis on high-stakes testing.

The protests echo demands that rang through the halls of the state capital in Albany two days earlier when, according to a report from a local Fox News outlet, teachers “stormed” the building to express their opposition to a new state budget that puts “more emphasis on testing.” Teachers oppose the testing not only because of the effects over-testing has on student learning but also because the tests will be used in teacher evaluations, placing 50 percent of their performance assessment on student scores.

For these reasons and others, teachers across the state are increasingly advocating for parents to resist the influence of standardized tests by opting their children out of the exams. The head of the state’s teacher union endorsed a boycott of the tests. And for the first time, Randi Weingarten, the leader of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teacher union, spoke out in support of parents who opt their children out of tests, according to a blog post by education historian Diane Ravitch.

Many parents are taking the advice. As education journalist Valerie Strauss reports from her blog at The Washington Post, “New York state has been at the forefront of the opt-out movement, with some 60,000 parents last year deciding not to allow their children to take these tests. Activists say they expect more this year.”

Strauss turned the rest of her post over to New York educators Carol Burris and Bianca Tanis who write, “New York is on the leading edge of a growing national Opt Out movement – a movement that galvanizes the energy of parents, teachers and administrators who are pushing back against the Common Core tests and standardized test-based reforms.”

Burris and Tanis point to a recent survey showing, “by more than a 2 to 1 margin, New Yorkers trust the teachers union more than the governor, and less than 30 percent want test scores to determine teacher pay and tenure.” They point to “a coalition of pro-public school, anti-testing advocates” sponsoring forums across the state to encourage parent to oppose testing.” The forums, they contend, “have drawn hundreds of parents and teachers.”

The opt out movement is becoming so strong, Burris and Tanis maintain, many district school superintendents are taking steps to discourage opt outs for fear of being noncompliant with directives from state board of education.

So after all this outpouring of populist demand, how did state lawmakers respond?

A quick recap in The New York Times notes that negotiations between Governor Andrew Cuomo and state senators produced a bill that enforces “tying teacher evaluations more closely to students’ state test scores.” The resulting legislation will ensure, according to an Albany news outlet, public education governance that “continues to rely heavily on standardized test results.”

Testing mandates sailed through the state Assembly as well, where according to state news outlet Capital, lawmakers passed a bill which “creates a new educator evaluation system” based on a 50 percent wieght from the scores.

New York-based teacher Daniel Katz writes, “The governor’s education agenda only enjoys a 28 percent approval rating. 65 percent do not want tenure tied to test scores. Yet, despite overwhelming disapproval, the Assembly was unable to hold fast with the voting public.”

What’s worse, the legislation that passed ensures test scores will not only become 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation but “no teacher found ‘ineffective’ by the test score component can be found higher than ‘developing’ overall, and an ‘ineffective’ test score component will override an observation based rating.”

In other words, tests rule.

What happened in New York has implications nationwide, as the rollout of new tests in practically every state are prompting widespread opposition.

There’s little doubt a nationwide rebellion against standardized testing is raging. From Redmond, Washington to Toledo, Ohio, thousands of teachers have expressed opposition to the emphasis on standardized testing and how the scores are used to make high-stakes decisions about students, teachers, schools. Parents from California to Florida are opting to withhold their children from mandated tests. A school district in New Jersey recently reported nearly 39 percent of its students were opting out of federally mandated tests.

The Center on Fair and Open Testing keeps a weekly summary of news stories related to the resistance to testing. Each week’s tally features clips from scores of states. The most recent installment began, “The U.S. assessment reform movement is growing so rapidly that it is hard to keep up. This week’s clips include stories from 30 states as well as updates from the fight to rollback federal testing mandates.”

But to what effect?

Recently, in a piece for the Columbia Journalism Review, education gadfly Alexander Russo declared media attention to protests against standardized testing were overblown. “Parents’ willingness to opt their children out of the tests has been high in just a few schools and smaller school districts,” he writes. “Only a handful of teachers have endangered their jobs by refusing to administer the tests.”

Russo criticizes a report by PBS education reporter John Merrow that called grassroots resistance to testing “something big.”

He concludes, “There’s no question that something big is happening in New Jersey and around the country, but it’s not what most reporters are describing.”

Quite likely, journalists aren’t describing the resistance well because anger, by it’s very nature, often comes across first as incoherence to those who aren’t yet angry. But make no mistake; it really is “something big.”

There are signs that government officials are responding. Here and there, – in Connecticut, in New Jersey – public school administrators are buckling to parent demands to allow students to opt out. And some states, beginning with Texas in 2013, have been reducing their numbers of standardizes tests, more recently South Carolina. Even formerly test-happy Florida Governor Rick Scott recently signed an executive order to reduce testing.

Rage against standardized testing has reached the nation’s capital as well. As a report for The Huffington Post notes, lawmakers in DC recently introduced bills allowing states to reduce testing.

For sure, the emphasis on testing isn’t going away anytime soon. The biggest impediment, no doubt, is “the money,” explains NPR education reporter Anya Kamenetz in a piece appearing at Strauss’ blog. Indeed, testing companies pour millions of dollars into lobbying for pro-testing policies, Strauss reported in yet another post.

But all the money in the world won’t be able to wash away the dirty business of test-driven education, as more and more personal stories come forth revealing the damage being done to teachers, and in turn, to students and families.

3/26/2015 – Revisiting A Progressive Education Agenda

THIS WEEK: Will 9 Billionaires Remake NY Public Schools? … Civil Right Complaints Hit Record High … Zeroing Out Zero Tolerance … Hillary Clinton And Progressive Education … Will Progressives Support Public Schools


Revisiting A Progressive Education Agenda: What’s Happened Since?

By Jeff Bryant

“Two years since we heard multiple calls for a progressive education agenda based on equity of opportunity … what we see instead … is an education policy landscape mired in controversy and fraught with politics. What went wrong?”
Read more …


9 Billionaires Are About To Remake New York’s Public Schools – Here’s Their Story

The Nation

“[New York Governor Andrew] Cuomo declared that as governor he would work to enact long-term measures to ‘break’ public education … A few years ago, such blunt threats against public schools … would have been unthinkable. Yet over the last year, a dark-money charter-school advocacy group, Families for Excellent Schools, smashed almost all lobbying records in Albany and a Super PAC, New Yorkers’ for a balanced Albany poured $4.3 million into six Senate races, helping tip the Senate Republican … Several hedge fund–backed organizations have been laying the groundwork for this maneuver for years, even before Cuomo took office. The current push for education reform in New York is not an expression of the vast majority of New York’s parents and children but the result of a five-year-long billionaire hedge-funders’ campaign to realize their own vision for public schools … The hedge-fund community’s fervent advocacy of the charter-school movement reflects its neoliberal social vision.”
Read more …

Civil Rights Complaints To U.S. Department Of Education Reach A Record High

The Washington Post

“Attorneys and investigators in the civil rights office have seen their workloads double since 2007, and the number of unresolved cases mushroom, as complaints have poured in from around the country about students from kindergarten through college facing discrimination on the basis of race, sex and disabilities … Complaints of discrimination to the department have soared … There was no single category of grievance that accounted for the rise in complaints. But a breakdown of agency statistics show that the category of sex discrimination has grown from 391 in 2010 to 2,354 in 2014.”
Read more …

Zeroing Out Zero Tolerance

The Atlantic

“Massive districts are rejuvenating the ‘whole-child’ approach integral to what’s known as ‘progressive education’ – a model that was once viewed as incompatible with urban school systems … Many of the country’s schools are a long way off from enjoying the values typical of progressive education … The nation’s schools since 2009 have, on average, reported an annual suspension rate of 10 percent, the highest it’s ever been … In some charter-school networks … nearly a third of students are suspended annually … It turns out that there are plenty of options, and that’s where progressive education steps in … Progressive schools deemphasized testing and discipline, replacing those practices with student-driven, hands-on learning; collaboration among schools and families; and social-emotional well-being … Evidence demonstrating their benefits has been largely anecdotal … But now that large school districts are adopting similar practices, however, clearer evidence is emerging.”
Read more …

Hillary Clinton Caught Between Dueling Forces On Education: Teachers And Wealthy Donors

The New York Times

“The last time she ran for president, Hillary Rodham Clinton did not have to take a position on the Common Core, Race to the Top or teacher evaluations in tenure decisions … Now, as she prepares for a likely second run at the White House, Mrs. Clinton … is re-entering the fray … She is being pulled in opposite directions on education. The pressure is from not only the teachers … but also from a group of wealthy and influential Democratic financiers who staunchly support many of the same policies – charter schools and changes to teacher tenure and testing – that the teachers’ unions have resisted … The growing pressure on education points out a deeper problem that Mrs. Clinton will have to contend with repeatedly, at least until the Iowa caucuses: On a number of divisive domestic issues that flared up during the Obama administration – trade pacts, regulation of Wall Street, tax policy – she will face dueling demands from centrists and the liberal base of the Democratic Party.”
Read more …

When Will ‘Progressives’ Defend Public Education?

Living In Dialogue

Former public school teacher and public education activist Anthony Cody writes on his personal blog, “This morning I opened my email to find a message from ‘Bold Progressives,’ who exist to rally support for Democratic Party candidates willing to fight for real change … The message was a survey from the ‘Progressive Change Campaign Committee,’ asking if I thought Hillary Clinton should face a primary challenge … There is no mention of K12 education. No mention of the issues confronting public schools, the attempts to privatize, voucherize and charterize our schools. No mention of school closures in African American and Latino neighborhoods. No mention of assaults on teacher unions and due process rights. No mention of the test obsession destroying the quality of education in our schools, leading students to walk out by the thousands. Will we go through another election where Republicans rail at the ‘public school monopoly,’ and Democrats say virtually nothing? … I reached out to the Bold Progressives after posting this, and their representative has responded positively. I invited them to send a representative to the Network for Public Education conference in Chicago in April. There is a lot of common ground to build upon. ”
Read more …

Revisiting A Progressive Education Agenda: What’s Happened Since?

It’s been nearly two years since the Education Opportunity Network, with the Opportunity to Learn campaign and the Campaign for America’s Future, published the Education Declaration to Rebuild America.

As The Washington Post reported at the time, “The document offers a progressive approach to school reform.”

What makes the document truly “progressive,” is that it advocates “equity of opportunity” and adequate financial and instructional support for every child, among other principles.

Immediately, leading progressive luminaries and public school advocates – including Robert Reich, Jonathan Kozol, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Diane Ravitch – endorsed the document.

The Declaration was sandwiched between two other documents that year which called for a similarly progressive education agenda based on equity of opportunity.

One document, “For Each and Every Child: A Strategy For Education Equity And Excellence,” was from the Equity and Excellence Commission – a diverse group of prominent academics, economists, government officials, labor leaders, and education advocates – who, by order of Congress, advise the US Department of Education. It recommended six specific policy changes, outlined here, to remedy the devastating inequities dominating public school systems throughout the nation.

A third, “The Principles That Unite Us,” was an outcome of the work of over 500 individuals and groups in the national community-labor movement for educational justice. Central to the Principles is a call for “access to good public schools … that serve all children.”

Now two years later, what we see instead of a unified education agenda based on equity of opportunity is an education policy landscape mired in controversy and fraught with politics.

What went wrong?

It’s The Inequity, Stupid

First, let’s be clear about the problems with inequity in America’s public schools.

Looking at the latest data from the National Center of Education Statistics, a report at The Washington Post finds, “In 23 states, state and local governments are together spending less per pupil in the poorest school districts than they are in the most affluent school districts.”

The reporter, Emma Brown, writes, “Nationwide, states and localities are spending an average of 15 percent less per pupil in the poorest school districts.”

Although federal dollars help in part to close the gap, that money was never intended to fill gaps. Instead, as Brown explains, federal money was supposed to give schools districts serving low-income kids an extra funding advantage because those schools need more resources to help compensate for the extra costs of educating disadvantaged students.

A new report from The Education Trust goes into even greater detail about the extent of the funding inequity between rich and poor schools. That report, “Funding Gaps 2015,” “finds that U.S. school districts serving the largest populations of low-income students receive roughly $1,200, or 10 percent, less per student in state and local funding than the lowest poverty districts. These gaps add up. For a middle school with 500 students, a gap of $1,200 per student means a shortage of $600,000 per year. For a 1,000-student high school, it means a whopping $1.2 million per year in missing resources.”

Given the accumulation of evidence in these reports, and many others, it’s clear we have an equity problem in our schools. The nature and level of inequity is evident in just about all other education measures, as we see this disparity in inputs reflected in standardized test scores and school assessment systems.

The common rejoinder is that we’ve already tried “throwing money at the problem.” But as Rutgers professor and education finance expert Bruce Baker has pointed out again and again, “Even the most fractionally-witted reader knows that deep disparities still exist in state school finance systems. What is less well known – or less frequently illustrated – is that in many cases, not much has changed in as much as twenty years! … Even in those cases where funding was targeted to areas of greater need, that funding really never reached the levels that would have been needed to make substantive progress on closing achievement gaps.”

So what are political leaders doing about inequity?

Bad Business In New York

In true blue state New York, you would expect state policy leaders to take steps to address inequity in the education system.

You’d be mistaken.

In fact, the state’s governor, Andre Cuomo, was quoted recently in a local news source saying, “We’ve been putting more money into failing schools for decades. … Over the last 10 years, 250,000 children went through those failing schools.”

Regardless of how you calculate New York’s return on education investment, the fact is, the state’s investment has been distributed with atrocious inequity. Baker points to numerous studies he has conducted that find the state has a tendency to “low-ball” estimates of what districts need financially and persistently underfunds high need districts the most.

New York, Baker finds, “maintains one of the least equitable state school finance systems in the nation.

Nevertheless, the state is embroiled in a fight that has almost nothing to do with equity. As a recent in-depth investigative article in The Nation reports, a very small group of influential advocates are collaborating with Cuomo to divert attention away from the state’s troubled funding system.

As reporter George Joseph explains, two groups led by nine billionaires enriched by the hedge fund industry have “dominated” the state capital in Albany with an agenda that basically insists money doesn’t matter, and inequity is not a problem.

Writes Joseph, “Cuomo has banked his gubernatorial legacy on a budget that would again fail to meet the state’s public-school funding requirements.”

Joseph finds Cuomo’s reasoning “curious,” especially since a court case in 2006 ordered the state to “correct its inequitable school-funding formula to provide every student their constitutional right to ‘sound basic education.’”

Despite the ruling, “Low-income New York school districts haven’t received their legally mandated funding since 2009,” Joseph explains, “and the state owes its schools a whopping $5.9 billion, according to a recent study by the labor-backed group Alliance for Quality Education. … Yet somehow in this prolonged period of economic necessity, billionaire hedge-fund managers continue to enjoy lower tax rates than the bottom 20 percent of taxpayers.”

The reasoning to deny poor kids the money they need for an adequate education, while refusing to tax the richest people to pay for that education, only makes sense “from a purely business standpoint,” in Joseph’s words.

To distract from their business agenda, Cuomo and his hedge-fund friends have employed a “hey, look over there” strategy to focus attention on a “reform” agenda that supports charter schools, attacks on teacher tenure, and a flawed teacher evaluation process based on student test scores.

Their strategy may work. But, what a dirty, low form of “business” that is!

California Dreaming

Unfortunately, the business agenda at work in New York is operating nearly everywhere else in the nation.

On the other side of the country, in the truest, bluest state of California, a reporter for the state news outlet Capital & Main asks, “What if it turned out that education reform, with its teacher-blaming assumptions, got it all wrong in the first place?”

The reporter, Bill Raden, points to work done by “a growing number of researchers who … argue that 30 years of test scores have not measured a decline in America’s public schools, but are rather a metric of the country’s child poverty.”

Raden quotes two of those researchers, Gary Orfield and Patricia Gandara of the University of California, Los Angeles’ Civil Rights Project, who contend our country has been engaged in a “tragic distraction from addressing the real roots of educational inequality.”

Sensibly, Gandara asks. “If money doesn’t matter, then why is it that people who have money send their kids to schools that have many, many more resources?”

However, instead of following good sense, California, like the rest of the nation has followed a 30-year pursuit of policies aimed at “lax schools and ineffective teachers,” as Raden puts it.

The results from this long distraction have been especially bad for California. While the state leads the nation in percentage of low-income, predominantly immigrant families, and English learners, its low ranking in K-12 per-student spending – 44th according to Raden – is nearly matched by its ranking in adults with high school diplomas, 48th.

“It is facts like these,” Raden writes, “that recently led the Social Science Research Council to place California at the top of its educational inequality index in December’s Portrait of California: 2014-15 report. Using its own 10-point scale based on such factors as preschool enrollment and high school graduation rates, the report measured a dizzying eight-and-a-half point spread between Santa Clara County’s gilded Silicon Valley and the educational sub-basement of Los Angeles neighborhoods like Huntington Park City, Florence-Graham, and Walnut Park.”

Whatever dream California had to lead the nation in education by following a reform plan crafted in the era of President Ronald Reagan has resulted in a nightmare for the states’ least-served school children – one the state is now coming to consciousness from by passing legislation like Proposition 30.

Time To End The Distractions

We’ve taken a long route away from what matters most in education – focusing on adequate and equitable resources, reasonable class sizes, early childhood education, and extensive opportunities to learn. And it has gotten us nowhere.

The calls for equity sounded in 2013 were a reminder of what a progressive agenda for education truly is. Yet, we’re still letting a “business agenda,” beneficial primarily to the rich and powerful, distract us from policies that are truly beneficial to children.

Let’s hope more states do as California is beginning to do, and take steps to alleviate chronic inequity in our education system.

That’s the only business we ought to be in.