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1/29/2015 – Senator Warren Clarifies The Money Matter

THIS WEEK: Get Rid Of College Debt … Common Core Is Less Common … School Choice Is Hard … Teacher Run Schools … Rich Kids Get Most School Funds

TOP STORY

Senator Warren Clarifies The Money Matter In Revising NCLB

By Jeff Bryant

“Where can Democrats find clarity in the current debate over how to rewrite No Child Left Behind legislation? … The federal government spends nearly $79 billion annually on primary and secondary education programs, and state governments eagerly want to get their hands on that money … What’s sorely needed in the revision of the federal statues is to put the emphasis back on its original intent to spend money where it’s needed most. Senator Warren has provided a powerful corrective message that Democrats everywhere should heed.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Liberate 41 Million Americans From Student Loan Debt

Campaign For America’s Future

“It is time for a truly transformative idea: Let’s abolish all student loan debt in America. If you agree, click here

to take action … Our massive student debt burden is a moral and ethical challenge. This debt draws upon the as-yet unearned wealth of each new generation, mortgaging tomorrow’s wealth and inhibiting the prosperity of the future … We are not naïve. We know that this idea will meet with bitter resistance from those who argue that it ‘rewards the undeserving’ … There are those who will argue that the idea is fiscally irresponsible, despite the fact that it will have a positive economic impact in the long-term … This is a new idea to most people. It represents a fundamental shift in our moral universe … These shifts don’t come easily. They take time, and debate – and an organized movement. We hope you will join us

.”
Read more …

What Happens When The Common Core Becomes Less … Common?

The Washington Post

“The Common Core State Standards were envisioned as a way to measure most of the nation’s students against a shared benchmark, but education experts say political upheaval and the messy reality of on-the-ground implementation is threatening that original goal … As some states head into their first round of testing, the picture has fragmented amid political blowback from parents and conservative lawmakers … There has been even broader resistance to the common standardized tests … Opposition to the Common Core tests has come amid a broader national debate about standardized testing, which many parents and teachers argue has warped public education.”
Read more …

Parents Confront Obstacles as School Choice Expands

Education Week

“Research shows that an abundance of school choice doesn’t guarantee access, and many parents in high-choice cities struggle to find adequate information, transportation, and, ultimately, the right school for their children … Part of the argument for school choice is based on the idea that consumer demand for good schools will increase their supply and starve out their poorly performing counterparts. But parents, especially those with less education or with children who have special needs, face multiple barriers when choosing a school … As choices multiply, new problems crop up, often with no clear entity to take charge of solving them … Having a large enough supply of good choices is also a challenge.”
Read more …

Let Teachers Run The Schools

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Teachers are in charge of at least 70 public schools in 15 states; most, but not all, are charter schools. Ten more teacher-run schools … are in the planning stages. These schools are not only redesigning the learning process to better engage students, they’re improving student performance. On top of that, they’re stemming the high dropout rate among teachers … Most teachers have no say in their schools’ decisions about hiring, promotions, firing, budgets, pay levels, curriculum or scheduling. This lack of control is a big reason they leave the profession … Having more control keeps teachers and students more engaged … There are many different teacher-run models; some schools have principals, but teachers make the key decisions, even selecting the principal … The biggest obstacles to the spread of teacher-run schools are school districts’ central rules, most of which make it impossible to use unusual personnel configurations, alter budgets and make myriad other changes the teacher-run model demands.”
Read more …

Rich Kids In Low-Income Countries Get Most Of The Public Education Money: UN

International Business Times

“A new United Nations report finds … almost half of public education resources spent in low-income countries of the developing world goes to benefit just 10% of the best-educated students, who tend to come from affluent families … The trend documented by the report shows poor, developing-world countries mimicking a trend in the United States … In the United States ‘many high-poverty schools receive less than their fair share of state and local funding’ … Unicef is calling on wealthy countries and corporations to devote more international aid to education initiatives that will more fairly distribute resources.”
Read more …

Senator Warren Clarifies The Money Matter In Revising NCLB

Where can Democrats find clarity in the current debate over how to rewrite No Child Left Behind legislation?

For sure, we appear to be in the midst of is an education policy turmoil where instead of right and left “meeting in the middle,” what we see instead are forces on the right and left coming together to oppose what a bipartisan coalition helped create.

Take, for instance, state adoptions of the new Common Core Standards: For years, support for the new national standards was presented as a unifying front, with the Obama administration and numerous Democratic governors joining with prominent Republicans leaders from across the country.

But opposition to the new standards from the right wing of the political spectrum is now famous. Republican lawmakers across the nation – from Louisiana to Indiana, North Carolina to Wisconsin – have led prominent advocacy and legislative campaigns either to overturn adoption of the standards, to revise the standards so they no longer reflect national guidelines, or to reject the standardized tests that were meant to accompany the Common Core

What’s less known but equally influential, is Common Core opposition coming from Democrats too. Last year, U.S. News and World Report reported, “The push against Common Core is coming from both sides of the political aisle.” The reporter noted, “Liberals fear the curriculum, and the standardized evaluations, will amplify the high-pressure, high-stakes atmosphere that No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush’s education initiative, helped create.”

More recently, The Seattle Times reported a key governing body of the Washington State Democratic Party “voted to condemn” the Common Core and criticized the federal government for pressuring states “into adopting the Common Core by making the standards a requirement for states or districts that wanted to win one of the big grants that the department gave out under its Race to the Top initiative.”

So it’s confusing out there in education policy land. But whenever things get confusing in a political debate, it’s important to remember the one thing that always seems to be at the heart of the dispute: money.

Now wading into the turbulent waters comes a debate on how to revise No Child Left Behind. The 2001 legislation was last a matter of serious scrutiny seven years ago, and no parties involved could come to complete agreement on what to do.

While the debate over NCLB revision entails lots of issues – including standardized testing, school services for a broad range of students, and supports for principals and teachers – make no mistake, that a big part of the debate is about the money.

The federal government spends nearly $79 billion annually on primary and secondary education programs, and state governments eagerly want to get their hands on that money.

What’s a Democrat to think?

It’s The Support, Stupid

The great NCLB debate kicked off most prominently in the Senate where the committee with responsibility for crafting most education-related legislation has meet to deliberate on rewriting the bill.

Last week’s hearing presented a confusing scene with Democratic Senators supporting, mostly, the needs for federally mandated annual testing of every student – despite advice they were getting from public school educators (traditionally a left-leaning constituency) in attendance – while Republicans seemed mostly to disagree with school administrators and policy wonks who wanted educators to continue to perform the annual assessments. Confusion reigned.

The topic for this week’s Senate hearing was “Supporting Teachers and School Leaders,” and almost right away the conversation veered toward issues that weren’t, well, very supportive. Instead, Senators, and at least two of the people providing testimony, mostly wanted to discuss teacher evaluation and the role of the federal government in directing states in their efforts to manage the teacher workforce.

In his opening remarks, Committee Chair Senator Lamar Alexander from Tennessee stated, “Today’s hearing is all about better teaching – how we can create an environment so teachers, principals, and other leaders can succeed,” but then he quickly transitioned to touting his record for constructing huge processes to evaluate them.

How an evaluation process is supposed to create a better “environment” for teachers was never really clarified by the Senator, but he regaled the audience about his “brawl with the National Education Association” and Tennessee’s “work on measuring growth in student achievement” and “teacher effectiveness” – a relationship that is now very much disputed in the research.

Democratic Senator Party Murray from Washington, to her credit, opened with remarks that connected the matter of “support” to what sounds genuinely supportive, saying, “I believe we need to invest more in teachers and pay them enough to continue to attract the best and brightest to the profession … Unfortunately, I hear all the time from teachers – three-quarters of whom are women – who feel like they aren’t getting the resources they need.”

But testimony from Terry Holliday, Commissioner of Education, Commonwealth of Kentucky, continued the misdirection away support. In describing his state’s “teacher effectiveness system,” and the federal government’s “role in evaluation systems,” his main point was, “We as state leaders in education, do not need the review or approval from the U.S. Department of Education.”

Holiday’s testimony dovetailed nicely with the message Republican Senators on the committee returned to again and again, that while it’s okay for the federal government to send states money in the name of “supporting teachers,” the feds should keep their hands-off the ways state officials choose to spend it.

Money For What?

The hands-off message came out especially strong in remarks by North Carolina Senator Richard Burr.

Burr laid down the argument Congressional Republicans seem intent on making, that states should be able to spend federal dollars any way they want. He pointed to a charter school in his home state – part of the KIPP charter chain that is, in Burr’s words, “the biggest utilizer of Teach For America” temporary teachers – as an example of a school that is “doing things differently” and supposedly has more positive “expectations” than what is held for local public schools. “I don’t know what it is,” Burr said of the KIPP School. “But it’s something, and we don’t tie their hands for how they use their money.”

His remark prompted the public school principal who provided testimony to the hearing, Christine Handy-Collins from Gaithersburg High School, Gaithersburg, Maryland, to counter that what her school needed, rather than a blank check, was funding from the federal government that should be “dedicated money for professional development.” Burr cut her off, insisting that “getting this right” is about “taking the shackles off” and saying to education systems around the country, “create whatever works for you.”

That’s when the microphone passed to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren who said, “I’m just going to pick up where Senator Burr left off.”

She did much more than just “pick up.” (Watch here at the 1:29:00 mark.)

What Warren Said

Warren asked the principal who Burr had so rudely cut off, “Do you see anything in the Republican draft proposal that requires that a single dollar in federal aid be used to improve teaching?”

After the principal explained there was a “list of allowable uses,” Warren continued, “I understand there is a list, but nothing that requires that any of it be spent on teachers.

“As I read the Republican draft proposal,” Warren continued, “states and districts would no longer be required to invest Title II funds [the section of NCLB defining how federal money can be used for teachers] into teachers and leaders. Maybe it will happen sometimes, but nothing in this draft requires the state to spend a single tax dollar on strengthening teachers … Giving billions of dollars in federal aid to states without requiring them to spend a dime on helping our teachers is not a responsible use of our federal tax dollars.”

Pivoting to her next point, Warren noted, “For the first time poor children will be the majority of public school children in America. The law that became No Child Left Behind was originally enacted back in the 1960s as part of President Johnson’s War on Poverty. And we have to ask ourselves how can we make this law a more powerful weapon against poverty.”

She asked a first grade teacher Rachelle Moore, from Seattle, who had also provided testimony to the Senate committee, “Do you have all the resources you need to combat the effects of poverty in the school where you work, and if not, what are the resources and support that would help you in your work.”

Moore replied, “No, I don’t believe I have all the support that I need.” Moore described how her school deals with “a lot of students who are dealing with the effects of trauma, whether that be domestic violence and abuse, homelessness, poverty.”

Yet despite the clear needs to have some extra support to, in her words, “take into consideration all those other things beyond just the academic piece.,” funding for the school nurse “has gone down each year, and we have to rely on outside funds such as our [Parent Teacher Student Association] to provide for days for her to be at the school. Without the nurse, without the healthy snack programs and things like that, I’m not sure that my students would be coming to the classroom feeling that they were ready to learn.”

Then Warren asked Moore, “Are you confident that without any guidance or any accountability in the federal statute that every state will target federal funds to the classrooms of the students who need those additional resources the most?”

“Without hearing teacher voices, I would worry that we wouldn’t know what needs we have, so without really getting into the classrooms and figuring out what their students in order to be successful in the classroom then I’m not sure we would know what they need.”

“There’s a lot going outside the classroom in the lives of our vulnerable children, Warren concluded, “and we need to make sure children have access to the full range of services that they need to learn and to succeed. This means school nurses and counselors and making sure that our kids can see the board in class – that they aren’t hungry, that they have the health care they need. Education is about building opportunity and it is about making sure that federal dollars go the kids who most need to help to have a chance to succeed.”

There’s ample evidence we can’t trust states to do that.

Where The Money Goes

For the past three years, a national report card has rated states on how they provide for equitable funding to schools ensure they provide more money to schools who need it the most. The report card “examines each state’s level of commitment to equal educational opportunity, regardless of a student’s background, family income, or where she or he attends school.”

The most recent version found “The majority of states have flat or regressive funding distribution patterns that ignore the need for additional funding in high poverty settings. Even among ‘progressive’ states, only eight provide more than a 10 percent boost to high poverty districts. In the five most regressive states (North Dakota, Vermont, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Nevada), the poorest districts receive at least 20 percent less funding than higher wealth districts.”

Noted David Sciarra, Education Law Center Executive Director, who co-authored the study, “These latest results show school finance in most states is decidedly unfair, a condition which deprives equal educational opportunity to millions of public school children across the nation.”

The study, noted another co-author Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights in Washington, D.C., confirmed, “states across the country are failing to adequately and equitably invest in children.”

It’s important to understand a “we can’t trust the states” position is not just a reference to historic racial discrimination against black school children in the South, nor is it about Democratic officials in the federal government imposing policy onto states run by Republican government officials.

Numerous Democratic governors have shown us that state lawmakers who profess to align with the left on many issues also can shirk their responsibly to poor school children and their families. It’s just too easy for them to do this.

A noticeable example of Democrats acting against the interests of low-income black and brown school children is New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo.

According to a recent study reported in The New York Daily News, “Funding inequalities between rich, poor school districts reached record levels under Cuomo. Overall, schools in poorer districts spent $8,733 per pupil less in 2012 than those from wealthier ones, an inequity that grew by nearly 9 percent from before Cuomo took office in 2011.”

So we know, state leaders of all political stripe can, and often do, lose their way and allow local forces to channel resources to the interests of the powerful and more well-to-do. That’s why Democratic office holders at the federal level have to be enforcers for how federal money should be used to uphold opportunity to the nation’s most vulnerable children and the teachers charged with providing that opportunity.

This is not to say we need to maintain the status quo. Certainly, what we have in the current form of No Child Left Behind, and the federal waivers to that law provided by the Obama administration, is not working for poor kids.

What’s sorely needed in the revision of the federal statues is to put the emphasis back on its original intent to spend money where it’s needed most. Senator Warren has provided a powerful corrective message that Democrats everywhere should heed.

1/22/15 – Democrats: Listen To Senator Whitehouse

THIS WEEK: Money Matters A Lot … How Parents Choose Schools … Most Students Live In Poverty … True Cost Of Teach For America … Koch Brothers/Charter School Nightmare

TOP STORY

Democrats Should Listen To What Senator Whitehouse Said About Education Policy

By Jeff Bryant

“A populist message for public education needs input from the populace, not just from Beltway wonks that have fed the policy mill at the Department of Education for years … If Democrats want to have any clout in the education arena, they must find their populist voice just as they are doing for other issues. If President Obama isn’t going to provide that, maybe Senator Whitehouse just did.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

When Public Schools Get More Money, Students Do Better

The Washington Post

“Beginning 40 years ago, a series of court rulings forced states to reallocate money for education, giving more to schools in poor neighborhoods with less in the way of local resources … A new study on those who went to school during the school-finance cases a few decades ago found that those who attended districts that were affected by the rulings were more likely to stay in school through high school and college and are making more money today … The benefits were most obvious for students from poor families … A 10% increase in the money available for each low-income student resulted in a 9.5% increase in students’ earnings as adults. A public investment in schools … returned 8.9% … The increased funding had the greatest effect if it was used to raise teachers’ salaries, reduce class sizes or lengthen the school year. ”
Read more …

A New Study Reveals Much About How Parents Really Choose Schools

NPR

“The charter school movement is built on the premise … parents, empowered by choice, will vote with their feet for academically stronger schools … An intriguing new study … suggests that parent choice doesn’t always work that way. Parents, especially low-income parents, actually show strong preferences for other qualities like location and extracurriculars – preferences that can outweigh academics … A choice-based system all by itself won’t necessarily increase equity. The most economically disadvantaged students may have parents who are making decisions differently from other families … If this is true, choice could actually increase, rather than diminish, achievement gaps.”
Read more …

Majority Of U.S. Public School Students Are In Poverty

The Washington Post

“A majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families… 51% of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 … The explosion in the number of needy children in the nation’s public classrooms is a recent phenomenon … The shift to a majority-poor student population means that in public schools, a growing number of children start kindergarten already trailing their more privileged peers and rarely, if ever, catch up. They are less likely to have support at home, are less frequently exposed to enriching activities outside of school, and are more likely to drop out and never attend college. It also means that education policy, funding decisions and classroom instruction must adapt to the needy children who arrive at school each day.”
Read more …

The True Cost Of Teach For America’s Impact On Urban Schools

The American Prospect

“When public school districts hire teachers from Teach For America, they pay a greater upfront cost than if they hire traditional entry-level teachers … TFA hiring contracts are generally non-refundable, even if a teacher turns out to be a serious problem or quits early … TFA, which is built on a model of two-year teaching commitments, presents a challenge for schools that are looking to recruit teachers who will remain in their classrooms for the long haul … Districts, their students, and their communities pay a high price to support TFA’s routine teacher turnover … [TFA] receives millions of dollars from the government each year, and is increasingly funneling its recruits into charter schools. TFA reports that 33% of their recruits teach in charter schools, up from 13% in 2008. Many of these charter schools were founded by TFA.”
Read more …

Koch Brothers/Charter School Nightmare: “White kids get to go to a school with a Montessori approach while children of color get eye control”

Salon

An in-depth investigative report by Jeff Bryant from Nashville finds, “a raging Music City controversy. Conversations about public education … have exploded into acrimonious bickering, full of charges and counter-charges … Low scores on student standardized tests and other indicators led the state to designate 15 Metro Nashville Public Schools … which gives the state or district power to … hand the school over to a charter school management organization … Enforced charter takeovers like the ones being carried out in Tennessee are happening across the country … In every one of these charter takeover cases, there have been large numbers of students, parents and teachers who have spoken out in opposition … Due to the influence of federal policies, such as Race to the Top, and relentless marketing by charter school advocates, virtually every state has a methodology for designating ‘low performing’ schools as Priority and targeting them for radical solutions like charter school takeover … Charter schools have become a darling of conservative politicians, think tanks and advocates. One of those powerful advocates, nationally and in Tennessee, is the influential Americans for Prosperity, the right-wing issue group started and funded by the billionaire Charles and David Koch brothers.”
Read more …

Democrats Should Listen To What Senator Whitehouse Said About Education Policy

A curious thing happened this week on Capitol Hill: A politician said something about education that made sense.

The “something” didn’t come from President Obama.

In the president’s annual State of the Union address, “K-12 policy largely took a back seat”, Education Week’s Alyson Klein observed. Indeed, the issue was barely in the car. Although the president took credit for “the highest math and reading scores on record” and a high school graduation rate at “an all-time high,” there were no strong claims about the success of his programs, no bold, new initiatives, and no combative stances against the oppositional positions on K-12 policy.

As Klein noted, he ignored “the hottest K-12 policy debate” about the role of federally mandated standardized testing in No Child Left Behind. And his speech neglected to mention his administration’s recent budget request to Congress for an additional $2.7 billion in new education spending, including an extra $1 billion in Title I money, to increase resources for disadvantaged students.

The president’s address prompted Andy Smarick, a former official in the George W. Bush administration who now works at education policy consulting group Bellwether, to post “My Reactions to K-12 Issues in SOTU” on his blog and leave it totally blank.

The sensible message came out in a senate committee hearing the next day.

Testing Is ‘Chief Booogeyman’

The hearing was conducted by the Committee on Health, Labor, Education and Pensions, and the subject at hand was “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability.” Chief among the topics to be addressed was the federal government’s demands for a battery of standardized tests to ensure public schools provide data that are demanded by the Department of Education. Again, Education Week’s Alyson Klein was on the scene to explain that “testing has turned out to be the chief boogeyman” as Congress determines how to rewrite NCLB.

The backstory: “The law mandates 17 annual tests: One reading and one math test each year in grades 3 through 8, and once for each subject in high school. Also, science is assessed once in elementary, middle, and high school.” The hearing’s testimony revealed that the testing burden is even heavier than what the federal government demands, as states and school districts have added many more assessments throughout the year to prepare for the federal tests because of their high-stakes nature.

What the committee was to discuss, specifically, was a draft bill that Tennessee U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander penned which offered two options for revising NCLB’s assessment demands, according to Klein: “One that would keep in place the current annual system, and another that would let states use any type of testing schedule they please, including annual tests, portfolio exams, grade-span tests, and more.”

As Klein described, senators on “both sides of the aisle” were “coming down on all sides of the discussion.” Principally, the senators went back and forth over the needs to ensure “accountability” for how federal tax dollars are spent – not a trivial topic, by any means.

The original intent of NCLB, as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act created in the Lyndon Johnson presidential administration, was to ensure states provided resources to schools serving disadvantaged students. NCLB’s testing regime was supposed to incentivize states to be more responsible for complying with that original intent.

The Things Senators Say

Witnesses assured the senators that the current assessment policy indeed has helped fulfill some of that original intent, but too many states still shirk their duties to high needs students. How or whether the two options in Alexander’s draft bill would improve on that situation was not the topic most senators wanted to talk about.

Instead, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, spoke of the need to “make sure federal dollars aren’t being wasted.” (Federal dollars are being wasted in the current approach, two witnesses made clear.) Minnesota Senator Al Franken wondered if the whole darn mess could be cleared up by using “computer adaptive assessments.” (Maybe, if you want to spend a whole lot of time and money, a witness replied.)

A theme throughout the hearing was the need for the tests to “ensure students are learning,” a causal relationship that seems difficult to prove. Students, after all, learned before the advent of NCLB, and since the tests do not affect students’ grades, it’s hard to see how they are making students learn “more,” whatever that means.

Michael Bennett of Colorado made the absurd claim that annual high-stakes testing needs to continue to ensure first graders know how to read. “That is the most important thing we can do,” he said. (Seriously, how many first graders know how to read?)

What Whitehouse Said

Finally, at the hearing’s very end, Rhode Island’s Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said something that made educators everywhere smile: (watch here at the 2:24:30 mark)

“My experience in the education world is that there are really two worlds in it. One is the world of contract and consultants and academics and experts and plenty of officials at the federal state and local level. And the other is a world of principals and classroom teachers who are actually providing education to students. What I’m hearing from my principals’ and teachers’ world is that the footprint of that first world has become way too big in their lives to the point where it’s inhibiting their ability to do the jobs they’re entrusted to do.”

Indeed, the footprint made by education policy leaders in classrooms has left behind a form of mandated testing that is “designed to test the school and not the student,” Whitehouse stated, and he described a dysfunctional system in which teachers don’t get test results in a timely fashion that makes it possible for them to use the results to change instruction. Instead, educators spend more time preparing for the tests and encouraging students to be motivated to take them, even though the tests have no bearing on the students’ grades, just how the school and the individual teachers themselves are evaluated.

Whitehouse compared the federal funding that has poured into policies mandating testing, such as Race to the Top, to “rain falling over the desert. The rain comes pouring out of the clouds. But by the time you’re actually at the desert floor, not a raindrop falls. It’s all been absorbed in between. I’ve never had a teacher who said to me, ‘Boy, Race to the Top gave me just what I need in terms of books or a whiteboard, or something I can use to teach the kids.’”

Whitehouse urged his colleagues to consider more closely the purpose of testing – not just how many tests and how often but how assessments are used. He concluded, “We have to be very careful about distinguishing the importance of the purpose of this oversight and not allow the purpose of the oversight to be conducted in such an inefficient, wasteful, clumsy way that the people who we really trust to know to do this education – the people who are in the classroom – are not looking back at us and saying, ‘Stop. Help. I can’t deal with this. You are inhibiting my ability to teach.’”

‘Stop. Help. I Can’t Deal With This.’

In support of Whitehouse, two hearing witnesses said what amounted to, “Stop. Help. I can’t deal with this.”

First. Jia Lee, a fourth and fifth grade special education teacher from New York City, explained, “Multiple choice, high-stakes tests have reliably padded the profits of education corporations, draining public tax dollars but have been unreliable in measuring the diversity of students’ capabilities and learning. The use of those same tests in evaluating teachers is, simply put, statistically invalid.”

Lee spoke of a “great crime” in schools where “the focus on testing has taken valuable resources and time away from programming,” such as a well-rounded curriculum, arts and music education, and library services.

She described schools that have become “data driven rather than student driven,” causing many parents to “opt out” their students from standardized tests in protest.

Next, eleventh grade U.S. history and English teacher Stephen Lazar, also from New York City, explained, “When the stakes of the testing are high, students do not get what they need … it does the most harm to those with the lowest skills.”

He described how his teaching has eliminated research, discussion, “dealing with complexity,” and other features of a robust education in order to teach how to write “stock, formulaic essays and practice mindless repetition of facts,” so his student could perform better on tests. And they did – “10 to 20 percent above city averages” – at the expense of sacrificing “a month of my students’ learning.”

He criticized “the demands of testing every student every year, and the psychometric demands of high-stakes assessments,” saying that most federally mandated tests are “a one-time assessment that privileges multiple-choice questions over authentic demonstrations of students’ knowledge and skills.”

“Teachers learn little from these exams that can lead to better instruction and increased learning, especially when they come at the end of the year.”

Not Either-Or, Both-But

Rather than choosing either-or from Alexander’s draft options, what these classroom teachers are calling for seems to be more “both-but,” saying that annual testing is needed, but for diagnostic purposes rather than high-stakes decisions, and states and school districts need resources and support in developing more flexible assessments at the classroom level to provide feedback on how individual learners are doing.

Lee demanded policy leaders “abandon stack ranking of our children and schools” that has been the result of federally mandated tests. She called instead for education policies that encourage schools to teach a program focused on “problems that have far more complex solutions than a multiple choice test.”

Yet, “We do need standardized information on how schools and districts are doing,” Lazar stated. He called for annual tests that include a representational sampling method, similar to the National Assessment of Education Progress, to “get key information about districts and schools.”

He concluded, “To test every student, every year, simply for the sake of school accountability is the very definition of government waste.” That money would be better spent, he explained, on helping provide educators at the school and classroom level with “improved tools” for assessing individual students on more robust education outcomes that standardized tests can’t measure adequately, timely, or efficiently.

Why Should Democrats Care?

President Obama’s State of the Union speech was evidence “populism has gone mainstream,” as an analysis at Bloomberg put it.

The president’s “direct appeal to taxing the rich and giving to the poor,” Jonathan Allen wrote, “is a sign of just how mainstream populism has become.”

In his appeal to affordable child care, college, and health care, and his promise to lower taxes for working families, Obama “defended activist government on the side of working people,” my colleague Robert Borosage wrote at Campaign for America’s Future. “Progressives should applaud the president’s combative populist message,” Borosage concluded.

Editors at The New York Times agreed, and one-upped the president’s combative stance by urging he, “Resist his instinct to follow the false promise of compromise. Give-and-take is part of the legislative process, but trade-offs amounting to Republican legislative triumphs are unacceptable.”

So the populist agenda framed by the president includes raising wages, more access to affordable higher education and reducing college debt levels, relieving the burden of child care on poor working families, and investing in the nation’s much-deteriorated infrastructure, including roads and bridges, research and development, and new energy sources. Why not K-12 education?

The absence of a populist agenda for education in the Democratic Party is acute and chronic. As I observed in 2012, when K-12 education is the issue, Democrats mute their populist voices in deference to a bland stew of policy points with very little resonance among working people Democrats fight for in other arenas.

Witness for instance, when the Republican Congress recently submitted a budget that completely left Race to the Top out of the mix, hardly anyone cared.

Indeed, a populist message for public education needs input from the populace, not just from Beltway wonks that have fed the policy mill at the Department of Education for years.

Republicans for sure, have ginned up populist rhetoric for all kinds of education issues, including opposition to top-down imposed Common Core Standards and concern with the overuse of standardized tests.

If Democrats want to have any clout in the education arena, they must find their populist voice just as they are doing for other issues. If President Obama isn’t going to provide that, maybe Senator Whitehouse just did.

Why The Test Debate Is About Politics, Not Education

Here’s how ridiculous the nation’s obsession with standardized testing has gotten: Last week Education Week reporter Catherine Gewertz came across a news item about a school in Florida that “forbid the flushing of toilets during testing … to cut down on the distraction.” (emphasis original)

As she quoted from her news source, the school administrators feared, “The whooshing water sounds from classroom bathrooms … might disturb test-taking classmates and send their focus, and their scores, spiraling down the drain.”

Before you dismiss that as just one “over the top” anecdote, consider that the big new assessment fad sweeping the nation is to demand testing of our youngest students, the earlier the better. In Maryland, for instance, as a different article in Education Week reported, a “kindergarten readiness assessment” to see if little kids are “ready” for kindergarten has teachers worried. The exam on “language, literacy, math, science, social studies, and physical well-being” took the students “at least one hour, and sometimes more than double that.” This is not unusual, as the reporter explained, because “at least 25 states mandate a kindergarten readiness assessment and this is likely to rise.”

It’s true that many educators have used some form of “school readiness” assessments on little kids for years. But those primarily consisted of very small tasks and brief observations. Nothing like what we’re seeing now, and, as the reporter noted, ” kindergarten teachers across the country are raising … objections.”

We all know the reason for this. Although educators administer the tests, testo-crats took over education policy with the advent of No Child Left Behind in 2002, so now, what happens in the classroom is not nearly as important as what spits out of an algorithm designed by some wonk working in a cubicle in L’Enfant Plaza.

Back when NCLB was conceived, conservatives wanted the testing because they weren’t going to give away tax money without some very heavy strings, more like shackles this time, attached. Liberals wanted it so they could make state governments do what too many of them have loathed to do throughout our history: Provide an equitable education to all students, regardless of their race, income level, language, or ability level.

By 2014, all students were to be scoring at the proficient level on standardized tests, an impossible goal that no other nation in the world – except Lake Wobegone – has ever accomplished.

When US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took over in 2009 and saw the 50-car pile that was going to happen down the road, he designed all sorts of clever workarounds to NCLB that would – wait for it – put even more emphasis on the tests and tie them to all sorts of high-stakes decisions affecting teachers, principals, and schools.

Now, conservative governors are complaining that all the testing is administratively and financially untenable, and left-leaning parents, educators, and public school advocates are incensed at how testing has subverted the purpose and goals of education. Now a full-blown test rebellion is underway.

Policy leaders in Washington, DC have finally gotten wind of this situation and have sprung into action.

How is the debate going? See if this makes sense to you:

Conservatives want to let states have potentially more options for wasting taxpayer money on wayward attempts in “accountability,” and liberals are insisting on continuing measures that have been mostly bad for the education of black and brown students.

Huh?

A closer look reveals that Republicans led by Minnesota’s John Kline in the House and Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander in the Senate are resolved to remake NCLB, something that has been tried off and on in Congress since 2007. Kline has announced intentions to “dismantle NCLB,” and now Alexander has a draft proposal that includes, as Education Week’s, Lauren Camera and Alyson Klein break down, that would let states determine how federal money is spent on testing.

Secretary Duncan and Washington Senator Patty Murray are countering that states must continue to test every kid in grades three through eight and once in high school to, in Murray’s words, “allow parents, civil rights groups and policymakers the ability to see how students are doing.” Their views are backed by civil rights advocates, who, as The Washington Post reported, maintain that the federal government must continue to require states to perform annual assessments in reading and math.

What’s so unfortunate about either of these views is that neither would directly address the matter at hand.

Policies the Republicans are advancing would let states, on the one hand, continue current practices or potentially create new assessments that have nothing to do with the original intent of the Elementary and Secondary Act, which NCLB renamed, which was to enforce on states their responsibilities to provide equitable education.

Meanwhile, Democratic leaders and their civil rights supporters insist on a policy that has done nothing to advance ESEA’s original intent either. As Valerie Strauss explains at The Washington Post

We have had 13 years of federally mandated annual testing, and achievement gaps are still gaping. As education historian and activist Diane Ravitch noted on her blog, tests don’t help close achievement gaps; they only measure them. What standardized tests measure accurately is family income; look at SAT  and other scores to see how closely they are linked to wealth and poverty. Standardized tests benefit students from privileged families, not children from low-income and minority families or children with disabilities.

In other words, while the arguments on both sides continue to vie back and forth over issues of how many tests should be given and how frequently, what’s completely lost in the debate is the more important issue of how tests are used.

Political strategist and education policy critic Jason Stanford nut-shelled it on his personal blog, stating, “Let’s assume that standardized tests are effective diagnostic tools. Let’s assume that the test scores we’ve been getting since No Child Left Behind and now with Common Core are producing useful, actionable information … What do we do with that? What is the point of this data? … Remember, the thermometer doesn’t cook the meat.”

As Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker writes on his personal blog, School Finance 101, “Missed in most of the conversation are the valid, relevant uses of student assessments, and the different uses, and approaches to using testing, measurement, large and small scale assessment in our schooling system.”

As Baker explains, if we’re going to use tests for diagnostic and instructional purposes, then the current format of standardized exams being given periodically is horrible. If we’re going to use tests for system monitoring, then we should be using a “sampling method” rather than testing every student, and we should understand the results do not provide actionable data. The question of whether testing is a means for achieving more equitable outcomes in education all “depends on how that testing is used.”

Tests do uncover disparities in our education system, as the National Assessment of Education Progress has revealed for many years long before NCLB.  Gerwerz, again, at Education Week, notes about NAEP, “When I look at it, I see the absence of nearly every single trigger point in today’s testing debates. Every kid required to sit for hours and hours of tests? Nope. Here we have only two hours of testing, given to a sample of the school’s students. Weeks of test prep? Nope. Students tied in knots over potentially bad test scores? Nope.”

Further, as Baker concludes in a subsequent post, if the federal government really wanted to do something about inequities in our education system, it would develop policies that gave states more incentive to correct what’s really causing inequities: the ways “in which our schools are organized and segregated.”

Why isn’t anyone talking about this? Because the discussion over testing, at least how it’s being carried out in Washington, DC, isn’t really about education. It’s about power politics. Seen in this frame, it’s really hard to believe the Democrats are going to win.

In a really helpful retrospective on the politics of NCLB revision. Education Week’s Alyson Klein explains, the policy trend over the years has been heading “further and further away from the idea of a strong federal role in accountability that was at the center of the original No Child Left Behind Act.”

The reality is Democrats are caught on a slippery slope. As Republicans continue to present alternatives to the untenable situation posed by the current testocracy, Democrats aren’t going to get footholds simply by saying the tests will get better (in fact, they won’t as new, harder exams being rolled out this year will cause even more negative consequences.)

Anyone who has been paying attention saw this coming a long time ago. When Democrats bowed toward the Beltway deity of bipartisanship and rationalized their support for Republican plans for education “accountability” by saying they were doing it for civil rights reasons – regardless of the lack of research or other evidence to support that rationale – they essentially took on a sure failure their opponents would eventually hang around their necks.

If Democrats want to gain any footing on the sloping ground they find themselves on, they need to move from a conversation on testing that’s all about how many and how often to upping the stakes in a conversation about the purpose.

1/16/2015 – What The Test Debate Is About

THIS WEEK: More Jails Than Colleges … What Will Derail Common Core … Jeb Bush Education Foundation … Parents Don’t Care About Teacher Ratings … Corporations Cheat Schools

TOP STORY

Why The Test Debate Is About Politics, Not Education

By Jeff Bryant

“See if this makes sense to you: Conservatives want to let states have potentially more options for wasting taxpayer money on wayward attempts in ‘accountability,’ and liberals are insisting on continuing measures that have been mostly bad for the education of black and brown students.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

The U.S. Has More Jails Than Colleges. Here’s A Map Of Where Those Prisoners Live.

The Washington Post

“There were 2.3 million prisoners in the U.S. as of the 2010 Census. It’s often been remarked that our national incarceration rate of 707 adults per every 100,000 residents is the highest in the world … Hundreds of thousands more individuals are locked up in the nation’s 3,200 local and county jails … We have slightly more jails and prisons in the U.S. – 5,000 plus – than we do degree-granting colleges and universities … Prisoners are literally every where you look in the U.S. Nearly 85 percent of U.S. counties are home to some number of incarcerated individuals.”
Read more …

Will Test-Based Teacher Evaluations Derail The Common Core?

The Hechinger Report

“The one-two punch of Common Core and new test-based accountability systems is too much to handle and leaves teachers – and students – overwhelmed … A major backlash erupted in the last year against both teacher evaluations and the Common Core. The backlash has become mainstream, no longer relegated to teachers and administrators, and has fueled legislation and multiple lawsuits aimed at dialing back the new policies … Some supporters of the new standards have blamed the Obama administration for its ambitious and controversial initiatives to overhaul American public education … Earlier this summer, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation called for a two-year moratorium on states or districts basing personnel decisions on Common Core-aligned tests. And in August, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urged states to delay using test results for an additional year when tabulating teacher ratings. Despite a temporary reprieve, a recent study jointly commissioned by Scholastic, the education publisher, and the Gates foundation shows that, among teachers, support for the Common Core has started to wane.”
Read more …

Jeb Bush Education Foundation Played Leading Role In Mixing Politics, Policy

The Washington Post

“[Jeb] Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education has an unusual role mixing politics and policy – drafting legislation and paying travel expenses for state officials, lobbying lawmakers, and connecting public officials with industry executives seeking government contracts … The foundation has, for instance, pushed states to embrace digital learning in public schools, a costly transition that often requires new software and hardware … The foundation has helped its corporate donors gain access to state education officials through a committee called Chiefs for Change, composed of as many as 10 officials from mostly Republican-led states who convene at the foundation’s annual meeting … his foundation has secured $5.2 million since 2010 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the primary funder of the campaign to promote the [Common Core] standards.”
Read more …

Parents Make Few Requests For Teacher Evaluations In New York School Districts

New York Daily News

“After battles in Albany over who should have access to results of state-mandated teacher evaluations, the group given the right to see them – parents – appears to be showing little interest … Few, if any, parents have asked for their child’s teacher’s rating since New York began requiring teachers to be classified every year as ‘highly effective,’ ‘effective,’ ‘developing’ or ‘ineffective’ … The AP found there were zero requests in Syracuse, Rochester, Batavia, Amherst, Hudson Falls and Amagansett on Long Island.”
Read more …

Cheating the Schoolkids: Corporations Don’t Pay Their State Taxes, Either

Common Dreams

“Most of the attention to corporate tax avoidance is directed at the nonpayment of federal taxes. But state taxes, which to a much greater extent fund K-12 education, are avoided at a stunning rate by America’s biggest companies. As a result, public school funding continues to be cut … The percentage of corporate profits paid as state income taxes has dropped from 7% in 1980 to about 3 percent today. It may be getting worse. A PayUpNow analysis of 25 of our nation’s largest corporations shows a total state tax payment of 2.4%, about a third of the required tax … companies play one state against another, holding their home states hostage for tax breaks under the threat of bolting to other states … The effects of state tax avoidance are seen all around the country, with impacts on schools.”
Read more …

1/8/2015 – An Education New Year’s Resolution

THIS WEEK: Crucial Year For Common Core … Teacher Diversity Problem … Preschool For Low Income Kids … Worst Way To Address STEM … Students Stuck Funding Colleges

TOP STORY

An Education New Year’s Resolution We Can All Believe In

By Jeff Bryant

“Let’s resolve to make 2015 the year we work on the most important education issue of all … Recognition of the blatant inequity in our nation’s education system is growing … Maybe 2015 can be the year that education equity gets the emphasis it deserves.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Why 2015 Is A Crucial Year For Common Core

Vox

“This spring, hundreds of thousands of students will be tested against the standards for the first time… In New York and Kentucky, two states that adopted Common Core tests early, the percentage of students considered proficient in reading and math plummeted … This year, 39 more states will join them … Many states haven’t been preparing parents for lower test scores this year. And in most states, teacher evaluations will eventually be based on students’ test scores. That means the stakes are higher … 2015 could be the year that political controversy over Common Core is revived, and with a different coalition of opponents this time.”
Read more …

Our Teacher Diversity Problem Is Not Just About Recruitment. It’s About Retention.

Slate

“For the first time in our country’s history, a majority of public school students are children of color. But most teachers – 82% in the 2011-2012 school year – are white … The number of teachers of color who left their schools or the profession altogether jumped 28% between 1980 and 2009 … Minority teachers are more likely to work in high-poverty, low-performing schools where turnover rates are higher among teachers of all races and backgrounds … A significant body of research suggests the benefits of a racially diverse teaching force are considerable … There are countless programs designed at drawing more minority teachers into public schools, but comparatively few focus on supporting them once they get there. A few promising new initiatives aim to counter this trend, however.”
Read more …

Study Endorses Preschool For Low Income Kids

Associated Press via Komo News

“A new study shows low income kids from Washington state who go to a state supported preschool are likely to do better academically than their peers at least through fifth grade … Kids who attended state funded preschool when they were 3- and 4-years old, had a 7% higher passing rate on the fifth-grade reading test and a 6% higher passing rate on the fifth-grade math test … Department of Early Learning Director Bette Hyde said … ‘This appears to dispel the myth of fade-out, or diminishing impact of early learning’ … The study does not reach the gold standard of academic research, since children were not assigned randomly to a preschool or control group. But researchers believe they got close to that standard by looking only at children who were eligible for the program and comparing those who attended with those who did not.”
Read more …

The Worst Possible Way To Push Kids Into Studying Science, Math And Engineering

The Washington Post

“President Obama has perennially championed science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) as key fields for the economic success and competitiveness of the economy … The tech industry, of course, is a huge booster of STEM education … A new study from Stanford looks at what happened in Italy, when a 1961 law doubled the number of students in STEM majors graduating from the country’s universities … The first surprise: College seemed to provide no financial benefit to the students from the technical schools, who typically came from less-educated families … Italy’s experience is in part a cautionary tale … A huge increase in the number of STEM graduates sounds great, but the workers themselves didn’t seem to benefit that much financially. It’s anyone’s guess what the optimal number of science and technology workers is in an economy, but industry will always lobby for more job candidates who will compete with each other and drive down wages.”
Read more …

Student Tuition Now Officially Pays More Than States For Public College Funding

The Huffington Post

“Students now pay more of the cost of attending public universities than state governments … Tuition officially surpassed state funding in fiscal year 2012, the GAO found, accounting for 25% … State sources dipped from 32% in 2003 to 23% in 2012 … State budget cuts drive up tuition at public colleges … Many young Americans typically blame colleges – public and private – for rising student debt … The federal government’s Pell grant now covers smallest portion of the cost of college in the program’s history.”
Read more …

An Education New Year’s Resolution We Can All Believe In

So far, most predictions for education policy in 2015 are pretty dreary.

NPR’s Claudio Sanchez sees a series of bad to worse situations: “standardized testing under fire … more troubles for the Common Core … Vergara fallout … Ferguson effect.” Ugh.

According to Alyson Klein at Education Week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan foretells lots of big numbers resulting from what’s been done in the past (we’ll see) but tellingly doesn’t even mention a reauthorization of the federal government’s signature accomplishment: the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (now called No Child Left Behind).

Maggie Severns at Politco notes, “Considering Congress has spent seven years trying to rewrite NCLB, the debate over reauthorization is still plenty chaotic.” She foresees a squabble between conservatives in the now Republican-dominated Congress and civil rights advocates over the frequency of standardized tests the federal government requires states to employ in schools.

Far more important, of course, are the issues of how the tests are to be created (with the input of classroom teachers?), administered (with the consideration of student needs, abilities, and cultural backgrounds?), and used (to inform curricular and instructional decision-making rather than to fire teachers and close schools?). But that more substantive debate seems lost in the Beltway bromide.

To education professor and research expert Julian Vasquez Heilig, all this sounds like, “The more things change the more things stay the same.”

Asked by NPR for his predictions for 2015, Heilig writes, “Both parties have bought into a test and accountability system … controlled in a top-down fashion … They will talk about turning around 1,000 schools, when in fact very few of the schools stay ‘turned around’ because the poverty in communities and special learning needs of the students are not being addressed.”

And he’s right.

So instead of relegating the New Year to more of the same, let’s resolve to make 2015 the year we work on the most important education issue of all.

It’s The Inequity, Stupid

This week, the editorial board of The New York Times called out the issue that is “the central crisis” in education in that state. Targeting the real “heart of the matter,” the editors state, requires “confronting and proposing remedies for the racial and economic segregation that has gripped the state’s schools, as well as the inequality in school funding that prevents many poor districts from lifting their children up to state standards.”

The editors write of “shameful inequities” that continue in New York state despite court rulings that demanded lawmakers address the underfunding of schools, especially those schools that serve rural and low-income families. They agree with previous demands that the state commit at least $5.6 billion more per year in financial support for these schools. And they point out that addressing any other “legitimate issues,” such as teacher evaluation and training, are “unlikely to improve the schools unless they were paired with new investments along the lines of the $2 billion in extra spending.”

This is a welcome stance from a newspaper that has often sided with government leaders and politicians who place much of the blame for struggling schools solely on the backs of “low-performing teachers.”

Further, the editors note how inequities of school funding are driven by the nation’s profound and persistent problems with race. “These inequalities,” they state, “are compounded by the fact that New York State, which regards itself as a bastion of liberalism, has the most racially and economically segregated schools in the nation.”

On her personal blog, education historian Diane Ravitch calls the editorial “miraculous,” noting, “For the past dozen years or so, The New York Times has been a cheerleader for corporate education reform, especially testing. Its editorials have faithfully repeated the talking points of the corporate reformers who slam ‘failing public schools’ because they have low test scores.”

Ravitch also notes, “Any serious effort to improve education must direct more resources to districts that need them and must address the racial segregation in New York’s schools.”

As It Is In New York …

What led the Times editors to such an “astonishing,” in Ravitch’s words, turnaround?

Maybe they read their own newspaper.

In the December 19, 2014 edition, an article revealed how the inequality so evident in New York is rampant across the nation.

The article “How School Segregation Divides Ferguson – and the United States,” looked at the tragic shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in the context of the deeply segregated and unequal education system he gew up in. The writer, Nikole Hannah-Jones, noted the school Brown attended was among the poorest and most segregated in Missouri and “ranks last in overall academic performance,” while the school “just five miles down the road” serving students who are “predominantly white, with almost no poverty to speak of … is regularly ranked in the top 10 percent in the state.

“As hundreds of school districts across the nation have been released from court-enforced integration over the past 15 years,” Hannah-Jones wrote, “the number of what researchers call ‘apartheid schools’ – in which the white population is 1 percent or less – has shot up. The achievement gap, narrowed during the height of school integration, has widened.

Adding to Hannah-Jones’ insights, a new report from The Leadership Conference accuses the nation of heading in full-scale retreat from its foundational commitment to equality, including our country’s education policy.

The report, “50 Years after the Civil Rights Act: The Ongoing Work for Racial Justice in the 21st Century,” finds, “Minority students, to an overwhelming degree, disproportionately attend underfunded and under-resourced schools. The result is that students whose families already face hardship are placed at an even greater disadvantage.” The report cites evidence from the Department of Education’s DOE’s Office for Civil Rights that, “state and local education agencies are failing to provide students with the classes needed for students to succeed in college or post-secondary career-education programs including math and science courses required for admission to many universities.” It notes that poor management and inadequate staff have stripped these schools of counselors and behavioral supports and instead substituted law enforcement officers who raise the expulsion and incarceration rates of minority students.

Among the report’s recommendations is the demand for the federal government to “require all states – as a condition for continuing receipt of Title I funds – to ensure that all schools have the resources needed to enable all students to achieve college-ready academic standards.” It also urges the Obama administration to adopt the recommendations of the 2013 report by the Equity and Excellence Commission “For Each and Every Child: A Strategy For Education Equity And Excellence.” As I wrote at the time of its publication, among that report’s recommendations were that the federal government direct states to change finance systems so they “provide a meaningful opportunity for all students” and amend Title I of NCLB so it no longer “endorses the local practice of often providing lesser amounts of state and local funds per pupil to Title I than non-Title I schools.”

Why isn’t anyone in Washington, DC talking about this?

Some People Are Getting It

Recognition of the blatant inequity in our nation’s education system is growing.

In the November elections, Pennsylvania voters, angered – in part – by the gross inequities in the education funding policy in that state, turned their conservative governor Tom Corbett out of office. Corbett more than doubled the gap between what wealthy districts and poor districts spend to educate children, and his successful opponent Tom Wolfe campaigned on changing the state’s education funding system.

In Minnesota, returning governor Mark Dayton is pledging to increase his already strong support for public education with more funding, increased access to early childhood education for low-income children, and addressing the state’s persistent achievement gap.

But the state leader sounding the most like someone who really gets it is California governor Jerry Brown. In Brown’s last term, he not only ensured the restoration of billions in state’s education funding cut by previous administrations; he led a breakthrough policy change to address funding disparities between districts serving students in poverty. Looking at the rollout of this new funding policy, a reporter for Education Week found some “bumps,” which were to be expected, but the goals are clear: “The idea is to give schools with the largest numbers of needy students more money and also more autonomy over spending, in the hopes of reducing inequities and improving achievement.”

In Brown’s inaugural address, he pledged to continue on the path to “remedy the wide inequities among different school districts.”

Despite the grim predictions coming from the Beltway, maybe 2015 can be the year that education equity gets the emphasis it deserves.

12/19/2014 – Education’s Newsmaker Of The Year

THIS WEEK: Wave Of Immigrant Minors Hits Schools … Climate Change Denial Goes To School … 2015 Policy Forecast … Rural Schools Hit By Cuts … Reading For Common Core

TOP STORY

Education’s Newsmaker Of The Year: Charter School Scandals

By Jeff Bryant

“In 2014, charter schools, which had always been marketed for a legendary ability to deliver promising new innovations for education, became known primarily for their ability to concoct innovative new scams … from local stories to national scandal … the charter school scandals of 2014 forever altered the narrative about what these institutions really bring to the populace.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

U.S. Schools Are Saying Goodbye To Foreign Languages

The Hechinger Report

” So far in fiscal year 2014, the number of unaccompanied minors caught on the southern border is more than triple the number apprehended in 2010 … Whatever their reasons for coming, the vast majority of the newly arrived children … are now attending the one American institution legally bound to serve them: public schools … Many new arrivals have had little formal schooling. A majority stopped attending school after sixth grade … In addition to learning English and the subject matter of their various classes, they also must learn to raise their hands to answer questions, change classes when a bell rings and never wander the halls without a bathroom pass … Students have faced starker trauma on their journey here. Several girls told staff at Oakland International that they’d been raped … Many students have lost family members to the violence in their hometowns or even seen them murdered.”
Read more …

The Plan To Get Climate-Change Denial Into Schools

The Atlantic

“Truth in Texas Textbooks coalition, a volunteer-run organization of more than 100 activists that wants global warming to be taught as an opinion rather than fact … have accused publishers of creating textbooks with an ‘anti-Christian’ and ‘anti-American’ bias … Textbooks are often the first conduit between climate science and young people. The books that the Texas truth coalition is fighting over are expected to be used by more than 5 million Texas public school students for at least a decade. Texas is also the second-largest market for textbooks behind California, and publishers often peddle best-selling Texas textbooks in other states … The coalition’s system of rating textbooks could soon spread beyond Texas. White says that activists in California, Florida, Indiana, Maine, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, and Wisconsin have already contacted the coalition to learn how they can create their own rating system.”
Read more …

State Leaders Confront Full Plate Of K-12 Issues

Education Week

“Common standards, testing, and school choice are likely to dominate the education policy debate … A generally improving economic climate … could turn up the heat on lawmakers in many states to raise K-12 spending … Changes to assessment policies could attract significant bipartisan interest … Issues include whether high-performing districts should be allowed to opt out of certain tests, and whether districts should be permitted to pick tests they believe are better than those aligned with the Common Core State Standards … Pushback to the common core could also surface in legislatures.”
Read more …

Rural Schools Hit Hard By Budget Cuts

District Administration

“Funding cuts since the recession have drained the accounts of rural districts, which cannot rely on a resurgence in property tax revenues as heavily as urban school systems can. Some 9.7 million students are enrolled in rural districts, representing more than 20% of all U.S. public school students. And rural enrollment continues to rise… The average expenditure for rural students is $5,826 per pupil, compared to the national average of $11,153. With so few students, it is often more difficult for rural districts to get federal grants to pay for technology or special education. And transportation costs are high, since students are sometimes spread out over hundreds of miles. Finding and retaining teachers for upper-level math and science courses is also a challenge.”
Read more …

How The Newest High-Stakes Tests Are Stealing The Joy Of Reading From Our Kids

Alternet

Chicago teacher Katie Osgood writes, “I haven’t heard many people complain about our skill-based reading instruction that has been in vogue since before [Common Core State Standards], but now under the new standards it’s bad literacy on speed … Even when we choose beautiful pieces of literature, they become lifeless vehicles to teach a dry, decontextualized skill … That looks like reading two myths without any teaching around what myths are, about Ancient Greece, about how the myths point to our own humanity … We are told to do a ‘close read’ of stirring passages about the Underground Railroad for the sole purpose of pulling out the main idea and supporting details. We don’t actually talk about the Underground Railroad, letting the horror of slavery sink in. No, it’s simply about getting the skill, so the kids can demonstrate the same skill on the dreaded test … Schools under high-stakes accountability have been forced into this twisted form of reading instruction for many years. But things are getting worse.”
Read more …

Education’s Newsmaker Of The Year: Charter School Scandals

Since it’s the time of the year when newspapers, websites, and television talk shows scan their archives to pick the person, place, or thing that sums up the year in entertainment, business, sports, or every other venue, why not do that for education too?

In 2014 education news, lots of personalities came and went.

Michelle Rhee gave way to Campbell Brown as a torchbearer for “reform.” The comedian Louis C. K. had a turn at becoming an education wonk with his commentary on the Common Core standards. Numerous “Chiefs for Change” toppled from the ranks of chiefdom. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett went down in defeat due in part to his gutting of public schools, as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker remained resilient while spreading the cancerous voucher program from Milwaukee to the rest of the state. New York Mayor Bill De Blasio rose to turn back the failed education reforms of ex-mayor Bloomberg, only to have his populist agenda blocked by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo who insisted on imposing policies favored by Wall Street. Progressives formed Democrats for Public Education to counter the neoliberal, big money clout of Democrats for Education Reform. And Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush emerged as rival voices in the ongoing debate about the Common Core among potential Republican presidential candidates.

But hogging the camera throughout the year was another notable character: charter school scandals.

In 2014, charter schools, which had always been marketed for a legendary ability to deliver promising new innovations for education, became known primarily for their ability to concoct innovative new scams.

From Local Stories To National Scandal

Troubling news stories about the financial workings of charter schools had been leaking slowly into the media stream for some years.

A story that appeared at Forbes in late 2013 foretold a lot of what would emerge in 2014. That post “Charter School Gravy Train Runs Express To Fat City” brought to light for the first time in a mainstream source the financial rewards that were being mined from charter schools. As author Addison Wiggin explained, a mixture of tax incentives, government programs, and Wall St. investors eager to make money were coming together to deliver a charter school bonanza – especially if the charter operation could “escape scrutiny” behind the veil of being privately held or if the charter operation could mix its business in “with other ventures that have nothing to do with education.”

As 2014 began, more stories about charter schools scandals continued to drip out from local press outlets – a chain of charter schools teaching creationism, a charter school closing abruptly for mysterious reasons, a charter high school operating as a for-profit “basketball factory,” recruiting players from around the world while delivering a sub-par education.

Here and there, stories emerged: a charter school trying to open up inside the walls of a gated community while a closed one continued to get over $2 million in taxpayer funds. Stories about charter operators being found guilty of embezzling thousands of taxpayer dollars turned into other stories about operators stealing even more thousands of dollars, which turned into even more stories about operators stealing over a million dollars.

While some charter schools schemed to steer huge percentages of their money away from instruction toward management salaries and property leases (to firms connected to the charter owners, of course), others worked the system to make sure fewer students with special needs were in their classrooms.

Then the steady drip-drip from local news sources turned into a fire hose in May when a blockbuster report released by Integrity in Education and the Center for Popular Democracy revealed, “Fraudulent charter operators in 15 states are responsible for losing, misusing, or wasting over $100 million in taxpayer money.”

The report, “Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud And Abuse,” combed through news stories, criminal records, and other documents to find hundreds of cases of charter school operators embezzling funds, using tax dollars to illegally support other, non-educational businesses, taking public dollars for services they didn’t provide, inflating their enrollment numbers to boost revenues, and putting children in potential danger by foregoing safety regulations or withholding services.

The report made charter school scandals a nationwide story and received in-depth coverage at Salon, Bill Moyers and Company, The Washington Post, and The Nation.

A Summer Of Scams

Charter schools scandals continued to break throughout the summer.

In Ohio, report after report continued to reveal how popular charter school chains like White Hat Management had sky-high dropout rates while they poured public money into advertising campaigns and executive pay.

In Pennsylvania, a report found exorbitant costs associated with charter school operations and lavish CEO salaries and bonuses for charter school operators despite vastly underperforming the state’s traditional public schools. Another report revealed how Pennsylvania charters had gamed the system for special education funding, resulting in annual profits of $200 million to the schools.

In Michigan, a series by the Detroit Free Press found charter schools with “wasteful spending and double-dipping. Board members, school founders and employees steering lucrative deals to themselves or insiders. Schools allowed to operate for years despite poor academic records.”

In Florida, an investigation by the Orlando Sun Sentinel found, “Unchecked charter-school operators are exploiting South Florida’s public school system, collecting taxpayer dollars for schools that quickly shut down.”

Another Florida local news outlet investigating charter school operations found millions of taxpayer dollars misdirected from classrooms and students to management companies. The report pointed to charter school chain Charter Schools USA that uses tax-exempt bonds to build schools that it then rents to UCSA-affiliated schools. Then the CUSA schools are saddled with rent payments back to CUSA and its management company at rates considerably higher than those charged to other non-CUSA schools in the area.

Still more news stories came out about charter schools related to the largest bricks-and-mortar charter-school chain in the United States run by the secretive Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gülen, who lives in exile from Turkey in rural Pennsylvania. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Chicago-area Concept Schools, part of the Gulen charter chain, were subjects of an ongoing federal investigation. The enquiry is about nearly $1 million that has been paid to contractors all with ties to the Gülen network.

Articles from The Washington Post found District of Columbia charter school operators evading rules to pocket millions in taxpayer dollars and charter schools pumping public money into for-profit management companies.

A report in The Arizona Republic found, board members and administrators from more than a dozen charter schools “profiting from their affiliations by doing business with schools they oversee.”

The rash of summer charter scandal stories resonated in news outlets across the country.

Then to cap off the summer of charter scandals, The Progressive reported an upsurge in FBI raids on charter schools all over the country. “From Pittsburgh to Baton Rouge, from Hartford to Cincinnati to Albuquerque, FBI agents have been busting into schools, carting off documents, and making arrests leading to high-profile indictments.”

Reporter Ruth Conniff found charter schools allegations range from “taking money that was meant for the classroom,” to spending taxpayer dollars on “luxuries such as fine-dining and retreats at exclusive resorts and spas,” to engaging in “bribes and kickbacks.”

Back To Schools For Scandal

As Back to School season rolled out, charter schools scandals broke harder and heavier.

The Center for Popular Democracy, Integrity in Education, and ACTION United published a continuation of their charter schools study with a new report that disclosed charter school officials in Pennsylvania had defrauded at least $30 million intended for school children since 1997.

Startling examples of charter school financial malfeasance revealed by the authors included an administrator who diverted $2.6 million in school funds to a church property he also operated. Another charter school chief was caught spending millions in school funds to bail out other nonprofits associated with the school. A pair of charter school operators stole more than $900,000 from the school by using fraudulent invoices, and a cyber school entrepreneur diverted $8 million of school funds for houses, a Florida condominium, and an airplane.

Then in November, The Center for Popular Democracy, with the Alliance for Quality Education, submitted yet another continuation of its analysis of charter school financial fraud, this time finding as much as $54 million in suspected charter school fraud in New York state.

Specific examples from the report included a New York City charter that issued credit cards to its executives allowing them to charge more than $75,000 in less than two years, a Long Island charter that paid vendors over half a million dollars without competitive bids, an Albany charter that lost between $207,000 to $2.3 million by purchasing a site for its elementary school rather than leasing it, a Rochester charter that awarded contracts to board members, relatives, and other related parties rather than get competitive bids, and a Buffalo charter with a leasing arrangement that paid more than $5 million to a building company at a 20 percent interest rate.

A write-up of the report in the New York Daily News noted CPD “investigators uncovered probable financial mismanagement in 95 percent of the [charter] schools they examined.”

More recently, a widely circulated report from progressive news outlet Propublica revealed how charter schools increasingly use arrangements known as “sweeps” contracts to send nearly all of a school’s public dollars – anywhere from 95 to 100 percent into for-profit charter-management companies.

Reporter Marian Wang wrote, ” The contracts are an example of how the charter schools sometimes cede control of public dollars to private companies that have no legal obligation to act in the best interests of the schools or taxpayers … it can be hard for regulators and even schools themselves to follow the money when nearly all of it goes into the accounts of a private company.”

The New Face Of Charter Schools

In their defense, charter school advocates object to the negative portrayals of their operations by claiming the reports cherry pick bad actors from the broad population of charters. But this year’s avalanche of malfeasance should dispel any argument about cherry picking.

For sure there are examples of charter schools that are doing an excellent job of educating students. But rapid growth in the industry continues to come from charter operators who are not willing to run their operations like these successful charters because it doesn’t suit their “business model.”

Further, would a public school advocate defend public schools by countering, “But look at this good one over here?” they would be mocked and derided by charter school proponents.

Advocates for charter schools also defend the explosion in charter school scandals by pointing to scandals in a public school and contenting, “Look, they do it too.” Indeed, there are instances of financial and other types of scandals in public schools. That’s why they are heavily regulated. Yet charter school backers continue to fight regulations, contribute big money to political candidates who promise a hands-off approach to their schools, and use powerful lobbying firms to coerce legislators to continue unregulated charter governance.

Charter school defenders also argue that these widespread scandals will be remedied by the “market” – that the inevitable “bad” charters will get closed while only the “good” ones remain. It’s true that charter school closures are becoming more commonplace, but charter operators often resist closures – even calling on parents to rally to their cause and appeal to local authorities. Charter schools that close abruptly leave school children and families in the lurch and severely interrupt the students’ learning. Operators of closed charters often flee the scene to practice their malfeasance elsewhere, taking with them the supplies and materials they obtained at taxpayer expense. Meanwhile, enormous sums of precious public money are wasted – with no apparent education benefit – all for the sake of this “market churn.”

As a result of the flood of charter schools scandals, public attitudes about these schools are bound to change.

Surveys show the public generally doesn’t get what charter schools are and don’t understand whether they are private or public or whether they can charge fees or teach religion. Charter operators themselves have muddled their image by arguing successfully in numerous confrontations with legal authorities that “they are exempt from rules that govern traditional public schools, ranging from labor laws to constitutional protections for students.”

But a recent poll in Michigan, a state where rampant charter fraud has been well publicized, found that 73 percent of responders say they want a moratorium on the creation of new charter schools. In many communities, announcements about new charter operations opening up have been greeted with outspoken public protests as we’ve seen in in Nashville, York, PA, and Camden, NJ.

Forecasts about what 2015 will bring to the education landscape frequently foresee more charter schools as charter-friendly lawmakers continue to act witlessly to proliferate these schools. But make no mistake, the charter school scandals of 2014 forever altered the narrative about what these institutions really bring to the populace.