Education Opportunity Network

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5/26/2016 – Charter Schools Heighten Education Politicization

THIS WEEK: Racial Integration Works … School Conditions Worsen … Nation Hit With School Bomb Threats … Marketing To Kids In Schools … Conservatives Attacking Public Ed


How Charter Schools Heighten The Politicization Of Education

By Jeff Bryant

“Regardless of how you feel about charter schools, because of the way they’ve been forged in the crucible of politics, they’ve become much more political beings than they are institutions of education. Simple mandates to expand these schools, without any attention to these political consequences, will make matters worse.”
Read more …


The Children Of Children Who Went To Desegregated Schools Reap Benefits, Too, Study Finds

The Hechinger Report

“Integration has been a powerfully effective tool for raising the educational levels and living standards for at least two generations of black families … Desegregation was accompanied by more educational spending, and that helped these children learn more and eventually become better educated parents, who would raise their own children to work hard at school … Desegregation had no effect – positive or negative – on how white children fared.”
Read more …

If Students’ Learning Conditions Are Teachers’ Working Conditions, These Students Are in Trouble

The Nation

“A new teacher survey [in New York City finds] … educators are squeezed from both sides, by harsh standards imposed from above, and unmet needs among their students, and are left with hardly any room to do their job … 1 in 5 students in the city’s public schools have disabilities, one-eighth have limited English skills, and more than three-quarters live in poverty. About 1 in 12 kids doesn’t even have a home … Half of students are enrolled at overcrowded facilities … nearly half of respondents report ‘the facilities they work in are not clean, in bad repair, and inadequate for student learning’ … Many teachers indicated that they struggled to cope with students’ social and emotional troubles.”
Read more …

Wave Of Bomb Threats Hits Schools Nationwide

USA Today

“A wave of threats directed at schools across the nation on Monday forced authorities to lock down buildings or evacuate students. The threats, which appear to be driven by automated calls, were directed at elementary, middle and high schools in at least 18 states across four time zones … Bomb hoaxes have the hallmarks of swatting … ‘highly disruptive’ hoax threats that are intended to trigger massive police response … They are often described as robotic, computer-generated voices that call in threats to schools or police departments.”
Read more …

Schools Are Now ‘Soft Targets’ For Companies To Collect Data And Market To Kids – Report

The Washington Post

“Student privacy is increasingly being compromised by commercial entities that establish relationships with schools – often providing free technology – and then track students online and collect massive amounts of data about them. Then they tailor their advertising to keep the young people connected to them … Children who are subjected to ‘constant digital surveillance and marketing at school’ come to accept as normal that corporations play a big role not only in their education but in their lives … Google and Facebook are probably the largest companies that data mine in schools.”
Read more …

Why Oppressing Transgender Students Is An Attack On Public Education

Campaign For America’s Future

Jeff Bryant writes, “But many public schools had already been steadily working at ways to accommodate transgender students well before North Carolina started its attack on transgender rights … Rather than protecting innocent children or defending local schools from federal overreach, what conservatives are doing is a calculated pivot to generate fear among the populace for political gain. And it’s nothing new that they have chosen public schools as the battleground. They always have.”
Read more …

How Charter Schools Heighten The Politicization Of Education

Last year a breakthrough policy brief from the National Education Policy Center exposed some of the financial machinations charter schools engage in to further the interests of profit-seeking entrepreneurs. But what about the political machinations?

The politics of charter schools are less quantifiable than their financials but troubling nevertheless, and the expansion of these schools will no doubt lead to increased politicization of education in local communities.

Consider the following anecdotes.

Florida Fracas

Recently a Florida news outlet reported about a charter school management company that “disappeared from the scene” after being told by the local school board to explain financial and operational problems. The company that operated four schools had racked up $1.8 million in debt after receiving $4.5 million in taxpayer money.

This seems like pretty blatant fraud, but it gets more complicated when politics get involved.

As the article explains, parents and school leaders at one of the schools, Windsor Prep, felt pretty gung ho about their school and responded to its vanishing manager by pitching in, on a voluntary basis, to take over some school operations. However, the board still felt the obligation to address the problems posed: the missing money, the management company scofflaws, and the welfare of lots of students who need more than just enthusiastic amateurs to oversee their education.

While the local board was attempting to sort out the mess another, other issues involving Windsor Prep continued to surface: unaccounted for grant money and $300,000 in mysterious consulting fees.

Based on these ongoing concerns, the school district’s staff recommended putting Windsor Prep and the other charters on a 90-day notice of termination.

Charter school families, mostly from Windsor, flooded the board meeting to express their disapproval. Families expressed their fondness for their charter schools and complained that finding alternatives would be a struggle. School board members responded by pointing out to parents the available seats at local public schools. But many parents contended the public schools are inferior to charters. They point to the “C” letter grades the states have given these schools, even though the school their children attend, including Windsor Prep, are also rated C. Nevertheless, the parents are sure the local public schools are “bad schools.”

To make matters even more supercharged, now a state senator has jumped into the fray to plead the parents’ case to keep Windsor open. According to a local news outlet, “The senator has been a key player in legislation that has empowered more charter schools to operate in Florida and he is a vocal support of giving parents a choice when public schools fail.”

As a local columnist for the same paper observers, it’s hard to blame the parents and the school board when you have a political situation not of their making.

Florida lawmakers, he writes, ” have created an atmosphere that favors charter school operators above almost everyone else.” So charter schools get enough leeway to ensnare their operations in potential financial and academic problems, and local government authorities have to step in to ensure accountability for taxpayer money. But when parents, who’ve been convinced charter schools are the shining alternative to their dysfunctional public schools, get wind of any disruption to their schools, they lash out. And politicians who helped start the whole mess into motion eagerly step in to make themselves look like heroes.

It’s hard to see how there is any positive end to this.

Consider another, yet very different, example of how charters heighten politicization.

Quaker State Quagmire

Recently a Pennsylvania state auditor alerted the Allentown school district that it may have violated state laws when it made a charter school real estate deal with a developer, according to a local newspaper.

The developer Abe Atiyeh had hired a consulting firm to promote two new charter schools for the district. The owner of the consulting firm pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit extortion and bribery offenses and tax evasion, but nevertheless, the proposals for the two new charters remained on the books, and the developer was still eager for a deal.

In January of last year, the school board approved a lease with Atiyeh for the first school, which the district opened in September. Then the board approved an application for the second charter school submitted by Atiyeh to open at a building he already owned.

The deal the board made with Atiyeh to ensure approval of both schools hinged on a pledge from Atiyeh not to open more charter schools and to provide $150,000 worth of advertising to help promote the charter schools.

Where local authorities ran afoul of state law, according to the auditor, was in hiding from the public information about the two pledges from Atiyeh.

This whole affair seems like a simple matter of government transparency. But here again, because of the politics of charter schools, decision-making about charter schools is way more complicated than it seems.

As the news article reports, the state auditor stated the school district was in a “no-win” situation.

Like in Florida, charter schools in Pennsylvania have a significant advantage in gaining approval. Local school boards that block new charters are almost always overturned when the charter applicant appeals to the state. And state statutes governing charters are written with such generous consideration to these schools, courts tend to side with charter operators.

Also, as in Florida, local public schools in Pennsylvania lose millions every year to competitive charters – so much, in fact, that at least on school district in the Quaker State is thinking of getting out of operating high schools altogether.

So if Allentown had tried to block the new charters from opening, the state or the court would likely have overruled the district, and the community would be stuck with the two schools anyway, but without the benefit of the advertising money and the pledge to open no more new charters. If the district had given approval but then insisted on making its agreement with the developer public, the developer would have likely backed out.

Either way, the district loses.

Going To Get Worse

The above two anecdotes are plucked from my newsfeed in just the past few days, but these kinds of political cul de sacs arising from the current ways we create, operate, and govern charter schools happen all the time, all over the country.

Notice also that in both situations, the subject of education is by and large overlooked. Indeed, concerns for teaching and learning never came up because there was too much other flack in the air – the public perceptions of the schools, financial matters involving public money, political deals, and the needs of parents to have a guaranteed school seat for their children.

Regardless of how you feel about charter schools, because of the way they’ve been forged in the crucible of politics, they’ve become much more political beings than they are institutions of education. Simple mandates to expand these schools, without any attention to these political consequences, will make matters worse.


5/19/2016 – The Growing Crisis Of Our Education Infrastructure

THIS WEEK: Segregation Worsens … Accommodating Transgender Kids … Harsh Punishments Don’t Work … Slow Pace Of Pre-K Expansion … Changed Rhetoric About Teachers


The Growing Crisis Of Our Education Infrastructure

By Jeff Bryant

“We’ve drifted away from talking about education as ‘essential infrastructure.’ That’s a mistake, and our students, and the nation’s future, are worse off for it.”
Read more …


Black And Latino Students Lose Out To White Peers. And It’s Getting Worse.

The Huffington Post

“Schools have become increasingly racially isolated for both black and Latino students. And these institutions also routinely fail to provide students of color with the same resources given to their white counterparts … Governmental agencies such as the Department of Education and Department of Justice are not doing all they could to dismantle this system … Since 2001, the share of schools serving a student population that is at least 75% black or Latino as well as overwhelmingly poor has increased from 9 to 16% … High-minority schools still tend to receive fewer material resources … These schools offer fewer high-level courses … Students in these schools are also more likely to get held back or face harsh discipline like suspension or expulsion.”
Read more …

Many Schools Already Accommodate Transgender Students

Education Week

“Obama administration guidance … put schools on notice … they must allow transgender students to access restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity. But followers of school law and transgender student advocacy will tell you that the federal agency already enforced this interpretation in the past and that many schools were already making such accommodations … Many states have already required their schools to honor the gender identity of transgender students … That’s not to say that it doesn’t matter that the Obama administration issued these instructions.”
Read more …

Unhelpful Punishment


“Strong punishments are likely based on the assumption that when kids act out, reprimanding them has the potential to remedy the psychological impulse that caused the bad behavior in the first place. But recent research suggests this assumption might often be wrong … Bad behavior may result from a deeply rooted biological response to toxic stress. And the current American regime of discipline and punishment that attempts to rein in these impulses is only making things worse … Adverse childhood experiences (or ACEs) – including abuse, neglect, mental illness among parents, or an unstable family structure – are a known source of debilitating stress and longterm dysfunction.”
Read more …

At This Rate, It Will Take 150 Years To Enroll 75 Percent Of U.S. Kids In Quality Preschool

The Washington Post

“Universal quality pre-kindergarten has been gaining support around the country … Gains in enrollment and efforts to improve quality aren’t keeping pace with the pressing need … Though total state spending on pre-K programs has risen by 10 percent since the 2013-2014 school year, New York alone accounted for two-thirds of this increase … Enrollment for 3- and 4-year-olds crept up during the 2014-2015 school year … an increase of less than 1 percentage point.”
Read more …

Hillary Clinton Shows How We’ve Changed The Way We Talk About Teachers

Think Progress

“It’s important to recognize that, up until recently, Republicans and Democrats were taking a similar tone when talking about teachers … focused on holding teachers ‘accountable’ … rarely acknowledge[ing] the few resources teachers were provided in struggling public schools … Now, there are signs the landscape is shifting … Clinton’s acknowledgement that a decent quality of education isn’t teachers’ responsibility alone is likely refreshing to many teachers.”
Read more …

The Growing Crisis Of Our Education Infrastructure

You’ve probably heard about the fierce battle over school bathrooms raging across the country. It’s an important story for sure because transgender students should not be blocked from entering facilities of their gender identity.

But the current fight over gender equity shouldn’t take away from another bathroom battle taking place in our nation’s public schools: whether students have access to a functioning bathroom at all.

In Detroit, a local news outlet recently reported bathroom facilities in some schools are in such poor states of repair that teachers are forced to tell students, “No, there’s nowhere in the building to go to the bathroom.”

Physical conditions in Detroit public schools have gotten so bad, teachers created a Twitter campaign showing pictures of broken toilets, leaking ceilings, moldy walls and buckled floors. A prolonged sickout by the teachers finally got the government’s attention, but the legislature is still dithering over the money to fix the schools.

In Philadelphia, a recent audit by the City Controller deemed bathrooms throughout the district “not up to first world standards,” according to a local news report. Inspectors called school conditions in general “dangerous,” and bathrooms “are worse.”

In some school districts, the physical state of the buildings has gotten so bad, community groups organize to take on the maintenance tasks governments won’t provide. In one Kansas community, a high school student resorted to a crowdfunding campaign to raise enough money to fix his school’s bathroom.

Since this is Infrastructure Week, as my colleague Dave Johnson reports, let’s consider an essential infrastructure that’s not talked about as much as roads, bridges, trains, and utilities: education infrastructure. Lets’ examine how schools in so many places have deteriorated to deplorable states, why we drifted away from talking about education as “essential infrastructure,” and what we need to do to get the discussion back on track.

Not Just About Buildings

As I reported earlier this year, a massive backlog in school construction and maintenance has left thousands of school buildings nationwide in need of upgrades.

I pointed to a survey of the backlog reviewed in The Washington Post that revealed, “The nation is spending $46 billion less each year on school construction and maintenance than is necessary to ensure safe and healthy facilities.”

I also noted that a national project to address this backlog would likely create and sustain over 400,000 jobs, based on calculations by economist Jared Bernstein.

But it would be a mistake to confine a discussion of education infrastructure to school buildings alone. Schools are so much more than that.

In Atlanta, for instance, getting to school is often the problem. At one point in the school year, nearly a quarter of the district’s bus fleet was disabled and unable to transport kids to classes. In rural districts, the problem of adequate transportation is even more pronounced as consolidations extend the length of travel to and from schools and transportation costs continue to spiral upward.

Some rural school districts try to solve the transportation problem by bringing instruction to students via digital delivery. But recent research finds online delivery could potentially harm the quality of education. (Plus, close to 50 percent of rural residents don’t have access to high-speed broadband at 25 mbps and above, considered the minimum necessary for such applications as video, according to a federal broadband statistics report.)

The largest outlay for school infrastructure, though, is for personnel. Schools need human capital of all kinds, most importantly, classroom teachers.

But despite growing populations of students in the U.S., the number of teachers employed in our education system has barely increased. While the number of teachers projected to be in schools in 2013, the most recent year available, was 3.5 million, that figure is only 1 percent higher than the number in 2003.

What we invest in those teachers has declined dramatically, too. A recent op-ed in U.S. News & World Report reviewed data on teacher pay and found it is “low and flat-lining. The average starting salary for U.S. teachers is $36,141, and the average overall salary is $56,383. Holding constant for inflation, the latter number has actually decreased since the 1999-2000 school year – in other words, teachers haven’t gotten a raise in 15 years.”

Conservatives like to rail against “high education costs,” but the reality is our nation is spending less on education.

We’re eight years away from the Great Recession, yet most states still spend less per student for elementary and secondary schools – in some cases, much less – than they did in 2008. Nationally, total per-pupil spending on K-12 public schools has dropped three years in a row.

The Case For Education Infrastructure

No one would be surprised to see a roadway system bearing ever increasing amounts of traffic year after year, while getting diminishing infusions of maintenance and personnel attention, to eventually show signs of deterioration. But somehow there are different expectations for schools. Why is that?

First, there are prominent voices in our government who really do want to get rid of public schools.

With the rise of the Tea-Party faction in the Republican Party, we’ve witnessed the growing influence of those who advocate ending public schools. In 2011, a branch of the tea party that operates in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania openly declared its intention to get rid of public schools. In a 2011 article in Think Progress, Teri Adams, the head of the Independence Hall Tea Party and a leading advocate of passage of school voucher bills, stated, “We think public schools should go away,” and, “Our ultimate goal is to shut down public schools and have private schools only.”

In the 2012 presidential election, there was a legitimate candidate in the Republican Party, Rick Santorum, who advocated for ending public education.

The emergence of the Tea Party in part led to Republican takeovers of state houses and governorships across the country, and many of these officials refuse to do what is necessary to maintain public schools – and even work to undermine local efforts to improve public education.

There is another, however, even more pernicious conversation about public schools that frames them as something other than essential infrastructure.

For years, politicians from both parties have gone from talking about education as a human right to talking about it as a “choice.” Schools, we’re increasingly told, are consumer items offered in a competitive market where choice should be maximized.

For instance, former Florida governor and Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush once compared access to schools with shopping for milk. “I wish our schools could be more like milk,” he opined. “Go down the aisle of nearly any major supermarket these days and you will find an incredible selection of milk…They even make milk for people who can’t drink milk.”

Bush took his observation from the dairy aisle and turned it into Florida’s disastrous school system, where charter school corruption runs rampant and for-profit operators exploit the most vulnerable communities.

So we’ve gone from a conversation about what people really want most – the guarantee of a high-quality public school, accessible to all students – to a conversation about “choice.” How absurd that conversation would be if it were applied to transportation or utilities infrastructure. What different kinds of roads and bridges do we need other than the ones that are the best engineered based on what we know about roads and bridges? What is the argument for a utility grid that would be anything other than what works best for as many people as possible?

Students completely understand this. Just as they are awakening the national consciousness to the need to lift the weight of prejudice and oppression from transgender students in schools, they’re calling for adequate investments in their education infrastructure.

Most recently, hundreds of students in Boston walked out of school to protest the lack of investment in their system. As The Boston Globe reports, for the second time this year students across the city left class, hit the streets, and thronged City Hall Plaza and a City Council hearing “to protest cuts to the school budget” and “highlight the need to fully fund education.”

“I think that the first priority of the entire world should be education,” the Globe reporter quotes one of the students, “because education is the future.”


5/12/2016 – Teachers Are Increasingly Frustrated With Their Work, And That’s Bad For Students

THIS WEEK: School Choice Doesn’t Fix Inequality … New Orleans Is Not Going Local … Charter School Graduation Rates … Most Teachers Want To Quit … Income Segregation Is Worse


Teachers Are Increasingly Frustrated With Their Work, And That’s Bad For Students

By Jeff Bryant

“The nation’s frontline educators are committed to their students and generally satisfied with their schools and their colleagues but are deeply frustrated with how they’re being treated … The discontent teachers feel in the workplace is actually the continuation of a long and alarming trend with undoubtedly negative impacts on students.”
Read more …


School Choice Hasn’t Fixed Graduation-Rate Inequity In N.Y.C., Study Says

Education Week

“Since 2004, students in New York City have been allowed to choose where to attend high school. But that freedom to leave their neighborhood schools hasn’t translated into higher graduation rates for students from low-income families … While New York City’s overall four-year graduation rate reached 70% in January, the graduation rates for students who live in low-income neighborhoods lag behind those of their wealthier peers by as much as 34 percentage points … Overall, the persistent low graduation rates in low-income, high-minority neighborhoods means that school choice has ‘not fixed the problem it was designed in part to solve.'”
Read more …

New Orleans Tries To Mix Charter Schools With Democracy: Is This The District Of The Future?

The Washington Post

“Louisiana seized control of most New Orleans schools and turned them into charter schools after the devastating storm in 2005 … Now the state is poised to relinquish its oversight … Critics say it is a whitewash, written to appear as if local control over public education will be restored when the bill really leaves most of the power in the hands of the unelected boards of directors who run each of the city’s charter schools … The parish school board … would be prohibited from interfering with school-level decisions about a litany of issues, including instruction, schedules, staffing, contracting, and collective bargaining.”
Read more …

Charter, Alternative, Virtual Schools Account for Most Low-Grad-Rate Schools, Study Finds

Education Week

“Charter, virtual, and alternative schools account for a disproportionate share of U.S. high schools with low graduation rates … Even though they enroll only a small slice of students, they account for more than half of the U.S. high schools that graduate 67% or less of their students in four years … Researchers called attention to the preponderance of low-grad-rate schools among charter, alternative, and virtual schools in part because the numbers of those schools have been rising in the last 15 years. Additionally, they enroll large shares of low-income, black, and Hispanic students.”
Read more …

Survey: Nearly Half Of Teachers Would Quit Now For Higher-Paying Job

USA Today

“Teachers are a frustrated bunch. About six in 10 are losing enthusiasm for the job, and just as many say they spend too much time prepping students for state-mandated tests. Nearly half say they’d quit teaching now if they could find a higher-paying job … While 64% say they like their school and are part of ‘a satisfied group’ of teachers, 49% say the stress and disappointments ‘aren’t really worth it.’ … Teachers in the survey ‘were very clear about the things they were vexed by,’ including poor leadership, not enough time to teach all the content that’s required – and too much testing.”
Read more …

Data Show Segregation By Income (Not Race) Is What’s Getting Worse In Schools

The Hechinger Report

“Rich families are increasingly pulling away from poor ones, and sending their kids to different schools. At the same time, more families are living in poverty … Income segregation between different school districts increased 15% between 1990 and 2010. Within large districts, the segregation of students who are eligible and ineligible for free lunch increased by about 30% during the same 20 years … The poverty rate in predominantly minority schools is rising faster than the poverty rate in predominantly white schools … This new income segregation is now exacerbating racial achievement gaps … For every 10-percentage-point difference in the poverty rate of white and minority students’ schools, the achievement gap grows by roughly one-quarter of a grade level.”
Read more …

Teachers Are Increasingly Frustrated With Their Work, And That’s Bad For Students

Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week. So some folks thought it might be a swell idea to ask teachers how “appreciated” they feel. The short answer? Not so much.

Results of a wide-ranging new survey of 3,328 K-12 classroom teachers finds the nation’s frontline educators are committed to their students and generally satisfied with their schools and their colleagues but are deeply frustrated with how they’re being treated.

Most teachers believe their voices are ignored by policy makers at the district (76 percent), state (94 percent), and national (94 percent) levels.

Although most teachers say what would really help their work would be smaller class sizes and more time for planning and collaboration with colleagues, what a majority of them report is too much emphasis on testing, especially in high- and medium-poverty schools where teachers say they are way more apt to spend more than a month on test-prep activities for district and state tests.

“A majority of teachers believe they spend too much time preparing students for state-mandated tests (62 percent) and district-mandated tests (51 percent),” the survey summary states. “Very few teachers believed they spent too little time preparing students for district and/or state-mandated tests.”

In the meantime, the tests have an impact on the evaluations of most teachers, even though a majority of these teachers say these evaluations are only minimally or not at all helpful.

The discontent teachers feel in the workplace is actually the continuation of a long and alarming trend with undoubtedly negative impacts on students.

Teachers Are “Clearly Frustrated”

At USA Today, education reporter Greg Toppo notes, “In the survey sections that invited open comments, teachers wrote in almost equal measures about their desire to help and support students and their frustration with an education system that is too focused on testing.”

As a result of these disconnects between what teachers want and what they’re getting, most (60 percent) say their enthusiasm for teaching has lessened, and nearly half say they would leave teaching soon if they could get a higher paying job.

“They’re clearly frustrated and they’re clearly feeling overwrought,” Toppo quotes Maria Ferguson, executive director for the Center on Education Policy, the organization that released the survey.

The level of frustration teachers feel may be affecting the supply of good teachers available for our children’s classrooms.

“These survey results may shed some light on why a growing number of school systems are having trouble recruiting and retaining teachers,” CEP surmises in its survey report, citing data from studies pointing to poor retention rates for new teachers and the declining population of students enrolled in teacher preparation programs.

A Long, Depressing Trend

The level of frustration teachers feel is a continuation of a long and depressing trend. Four years ago, when I last made Teacher Appreciation Week an opportune time to check in on teacher morale, I linked to findings of the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, an annual polling of teachers no longer carried out.

In that survey, roughly one in three teachers said they were likely to leave the profession in the next five years, noted a report in the New York Times. The Times article noted that dissatisfaction rate had risen from a rate of one in four recorded by the Met in 2009.

The specific complaints teachers recorded in the 2012  are similar to teachers’ objections today – larger class sizes, unhelpful evaluations, and cuts to arts, music, and other programs, which are outcomes of the increased emphasis on test scores in math and reading.

The Times summary also noted the Met teacher survey of 2012 recorded the highest level of job dissatisfaction among teachers since 1989.

So what we see is a very long trend line of teachers being increasingly frustrated with how they’re being treated in their work – with dissatisfaction rates over the past seven years going from one in four, to one in three, to now nearly one in two. The survey instrument changed, but the trend can’t be denied.

How are government leaders responding?

Politicians Don’t Get It

As I noted in my 2012 post, we’ve recently had a rash of Republican governors – such as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Ohio’s John Kasich, and New Jersey’s Chris Christie – who have pushed education policies that are exceedingly harsher on classroom teachers, challenging their rights to collective bargaining and due process, subjecting them to unfair and inaccurate evaluation processes, and threatening their health and retirement security.

At the federal level, in 2012 President Obama and his then-challenger Republican Mitt Romney generally agreed on key issues affecting teachers, favoring teacher evaluations based on standardized test scores, expansions of charter schools instead of investing more in teacher pay and existing public schools, and creating competitive merit pay programs for teachers.

Most politicians – with a few notable exceptions – now take on clashes with teachers’ unions as a badge of honor.

So how’s that working out?

A Rising Volume Of Discontented Voices

When people aren’t listening to you the natural response is to raise your voice.

Teacher discontent is spilling out of the schoolyard and into the streets. As the Christian Science Monitor notes, in its summary of the CEP survey, “Teacher strikes have made headlines in recent months as teachers in Chicago, Detroit, and elsewhere have organized large-scale protests both in support of their fellow teachers and against an education system they say is failing them and their students.”

In a series of “school walk-ins” earlier this month, teachers speaking out about the conditions in their schools were joined by students and parents. In coordinated actions in 75 cities and counties around the nation, public education activists demonstrated at local schools and then walked into their buildings en masse to show their support for teachers and public schools.

The walk-ins are organized by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS), a coalition of community and national organizations and unions, as “a positive action that says that these are our schools and our communities.”

In an overview of this month’s walk-ins, Mother Jones notes, the walk-ins that began last spring “have doubled in size since February.”

It’s true, changing economic conditions, such as a new employment downturn, could alter the trend in teacher shortages in schools and in the preparation pipeline. And many policy leaders are calling for increases in teacher pay, including President Obama.

But making meaningful changes to teachers’ work conditions has to go beyond filling jobs and increasing pay. Teachers need smaller class sizes and more opportunities for planning and collaboration with their peers. They need to be relieved of the emphasis on standardized testing and the use of test scores in their evaluations. And our schools need to support the broad range of curricula that teachers know students benefit from, including the arts and music.

The reality is teachers’ work conditions are inextricably connected to their ability to engage in quality instruction and to develop cultivating relationships with students. Teachers know this, but people in charge won’t until they start listening to them.


5/5/2015 – Republicans In Congress Want To Cut Free Lunches For Poor Kids; Don’t Let Them

THIS WEEK: Walk-Ins … ‘Reform’ Can’t Fix Inequity … HB2 Hurts Kids … Unions Work … Learning Data Analytics Fail


Republicans In Congress Want To Cut Free Lunches For Poor Kids; Don’t Let Them

By Jeff Bryant

“A bill introduced by a Republican in Congress called ‘The Improving Child Nutrition And Education Act’ does the exact opposite of what it claims to do. In this case, ‘improving’ children’s nutrition means cutting the availability of federally subsidized lunches to hungry children in public schools … The bill is still in committee, but it’s not too early to tell Congress this is bad public policy that needs to go away.”
Read more …


Tell Congress: Don’t Cut School Lunch Programs

Campaign For America’s Future

“Republicans in Congress continue to wage a ‘War on Children,’ this time proposing literally taking food out of their mouths by cutting food programs for low-income school kids. Tell them no way.”
Stop the war on kids …


Kids To Admins: Charter Schools Have Got To Go

Mother Jones

“In nearly 75 cities across the country, students, parents, and teachers marched at their public schools on Wednesday, protesting inadequate funding and charter school takeover … ‘Resources are being pulled out of the public sector and privatized … the very people they’re supposed to help have no say.'”
Read more …

Achievement Gaps And Racial Segregation: Research Finds An Insidious Cycle

Education Week

“Fifteen years of new programs, testing, standards, and accountability have not ended racial achievement gaps … Racial achievement gaps yawn in nearly every district in the country – and the districts with the most resources in place to serve all students frequently have the worst inequities … ‘In the most advantaged places, you have this increased competition and focus on school success … Where competition is high, resources matter even more … We may not be able to just school reform our way out of that kind of inequality.’”
Read more …

Unvalued And Unprotected

NC Policy Watch

“LGBTQ students nationwide face higher levels of depression and lower levels of self-esteem, lower grade point averages, higher truancy rates and staggeringly high rates of physical violence … Among LGBTQ people between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is one of the leading causes of death … It’s why … no one should be surprised by recent reports of spiking crisis line calls for LGBTQ residents of North Carolina following the March 23 passage of House Bill 2, sweeping legislation that, among its many tenets, axes local nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender residents. It’s a set of reforms that could wreak havoc in the state’s K-12 facilities.”
Read more …

Want Your Kids To Get A Good Education? Support Their Teachers’ Workplace Rights

The Nation

“In a lawsuit … education reformers go after teachers’ labor protections. Their line of attack is, ‘But what about the children?’ It’s an alluring idea… wrapped around a pernicious attack on labor rights … Labor advocates, however, challenge the reformers … with a more expansive definition of civil rights in schools: making a school community equitable and inclusive is a democratic project … A California Appeals Court recently struck down the central argument advanced by reform advocates backing the suit … A democratically run union with close community ties, like the militant Chicago Teachers Union, might play a key role in retaining expert veteran teachers and maintaining equitable funding.”
Read more …

Data Collected About Student Behavior Doesn’t Help Improve Teaching Or Learning

The Conversation

“Universities and schools … are devoting immense amounts of time, money and other resources to a new measurement approach called learning analytics … from the learning management software systems (LMS) … There is no body of evidence showing that LMS and other system data improve student learning or teaching … Focusing on things that do not make an important difference to student learning means we are not paying attention to the things that do … Learning analytics data and the systems that gather it have become proxies, surrogates for what we should be measuring.”
Read more …

Republicans In Congress Want To Cut Free Lunches For Poor Kids; Don’t Let Them

Conservative lawmakers are well known for wanting to cut funding to public education. But just remember, every time they take a swing at public school budgets, they hit poor kids.

The newest blow aimed at public schools will hit low-income students in the stomach, literally.

A bill introduced by a Republican in Congress called The Improving Child Nutrition And Education Act does the exact opposite of what it claims to do.

In this case, “improving” children’s nutrition means cutting the availability of federally subsidized lunches to hungry children in public schools.

Specifically, the bill would tighten eligibility restrictions that govern how many schools can take full advantage of the free and reduced price lunch program, potentially cutting off food to thousands of schools and millions of students.

The bill comes at the worst possible time.

Public schools across the nation are still reeling from years of budget cuts as most states continue to fund schools less than what they did in 2008, and overall per-pupil spending in public schools has dropped four years in a row. While these budget cuts have rolled out, school enrollments have increased, and many more of the students entering the system live in poverty.

Low-income students are now the majority in public schools nationwide, with nearly one in five schools classified is as a “high poverty” school.

The bill is still in committee, but it’s not too early to tell Congress this is bad public policy that needs to go away.

Why This Hurts Poor Kids

Food insecurity among Americans has been on the rise for years, with recent studies finding hunger levels among children and youth at historic highs, affecting more than one in five – a staggering 15.3 million – children.

The negative effects of hunger and poor nutrition on children are well known. Children who don’t get enough to eat or who are relegated to poor quality food are generally less healthy, less psychologically and emotionally secure, and more prone to experience developmental challenges than their more food secure peers.

Children who are hungry or fed low-quality food also do less well in school, often exhibiting an inability to concentrate, lack of energy, tiredness, symptoms of illness, and problematic behavior.

Faced with a full understanding of the need to address food insecurity among poor children, especially in the context of their ability to learn in school, Congress passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010.

As Cory Herro of Think Progress explains, that act specifically addressed low-income children’s food insecurity by improving nutritional standards for school lunches and increasing funding for free and reduced-price lunch programs in schools.

“The Act” Hero contends, “improved school nutrition for more than 31 million students nationwide, half of whom live in low income households and qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. For many of these students, free lunches are their only reliable source of food during the week.”

The 2010 Act also addressed another obstacle to providing students with healthy meals during their school day. Previous to that legislation, students who were not immediately eligible to receive price breaks on school food, had to produce documentation in the lunch line to prove their eligibility – basically, admitting to their fellow students they were of low- or moderate-income status.

“This created unnecessary stigma” explains Elizabeth Barrow of the New America Foundation. “School administrators,” she writes” expressed concern that poor students were simply choosing not to eat rather than be subjected to the stigma of proving that they were experiencing food insecurity.”

But the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act improved participation in school lunch programs. “Schools participating in the initial pilot program saw a 9.4 percent increase in school breakfast participation,” Barrow notes, “and a 5.2 percent increase in school lunch participation.”

What Republicans are pushing in Congress would undermine a good deal of this progress.

What’s In This Bad Bill

The cuts to free lunches for poor kids in the bill are related to proposed changes to a technicality in the 2010 law.

As Jared Bernstein and Ben Spielberg of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explain on a Washington Post blog, current law includes a provision that helps overcome the difficulties schools had in delivering free or low-cost food to students and eliminates the humiliation students often felt in applying for it.

The Community Eligibility Provision in the current law ensures high-poverty schools get enough funding to offer free school meals to all students. Granting these schools universal eligibility, Bernstein and Spielberg explain, “simplifies the school meal process and helps ensure that kids have something to eat during the school day, all at very little cost.” It also eliminates the stigma associated with proving eligibility in the lunch line.

But what Republicans are proposing to do in this new bill is to raise the bar for schools that want to make free and low-priced mid-day meal service universal. Currently, schools can take advantage of CEP if 40 percent of their students qualify automatically. The bill would raise the bar to 60 percent.

That change alone would affect more than 7,000 schools and threaten free and reduced price lunches to nearly 3.4 million students.

Adding to the negatives in the bill are additional bureaucratic provisions that complicate the application process for parents. As Richard Kirsch points out for The Hill, what Republicans are proposing would make it more difficult for parents to understand their eligibility and more burdensome on parents to renew qualification and navigate the verification process.

On the plus side of the ledger, the bill does propose a modest increase in funding for school breakfast programs for eligible students, and extends some additional funding to summer food programs for those same students. But on balance this doesn’t come close to making up for the damage done to the much more universal and beneficial lunch program.

Republicans also defend the proposed legislation as a way to improve efficiency and relieve regulatory burden. But it really does the exact opposite.

“Raising the threshold would save a little bit of money, as fewer students would qualify for free school meals,” Bernstein and Spielberg argue, “but the overall savings of about $1.6 billion over 10 years wouldn’t come close to offsetting the administrative burden, increased social stigma for low-income students, and negative health and academic effects.”

Who Thinks Up This Stuff

The bill comes from Indiana House Rep. Todd Rokita, a Tea Party Republican with a history of cutting public spending, despite any negative consequences, and diverting money from public schools to alternatives.

Rokita was part of the “Hell No” caucus in 2011 that threatened to send the nation into default by scuttling an agreement on raising the deficit ceiling. As Think Progress reported at the time, Rokita declared he was willing to vote down a debt ceiling raise “even if it means ‘the economy might get worse.'” He deemed anyone disagreeing with him as being “‘piggish’ and ‘un-American.'”

As the Think Progress writer noted, failing to raise the debt ceiling would have resulted in immediate and massive spending cuts that would have caused a massive economic downturn and risked the recovery from a recessionary economy.

Rokita also once said, when he was Indiana Secretary of State, that African Americans have a slave-like relationship to the Democratic Party.

And Rokita has never been particularly supportive of public schools.

As Doug Martin, author of the book Hoosier School Heist, explains at the Schools Matter blog, Rokita has received significant donations from proponents of charter schools, which are alternatives to public schools and compete for the same public funding.

For his devotion to charter schools, a prominent charter school-lobbying group awarded Rokita a “Champion of School Choice” in 2015. Rokita also favors school vouchers that redirect taxpayer dollars from public schools to private schools.

Let’s Summarize

Of course, for conservative Republicans to propose cuts to federal school lunch programs is nothing new. GOP House leader Paul Ryan includes cuts to school food and nutrition programs in his proposed budget.

Rather than cost cutting, what’s needed is some increased spending. Students should have more access to federally subsidized breakfast and summer-time meals without sacrificing mid-day meals. Research also shows more money needs to go toward improving the quality of food low-income kids get in schools.

Instead of solutions, Rokita and his colleagues are proposing a bill that

  • does the exact opposite of what it declares to do,
  • burdens schools with more paper work and costs,
  • subjects vulnerable school children to humiliation and hunger,
  • risks damaging low-income students’ physical and mental development and ability to learn in school, and
  • hits schools at the worst possible time when they are increasingly saddled with budget cuts and exploding populations of needy students.

Tell them no way.



4/28/2016 – How School Vouchers Promote Religious Schools And Hurt Education

THIS WEEK: NAEP Results Disappoint … Online Schools Stink … Does Money Matter? … Race And Testing … Student Protests Rise


How School Vouchers Promote Religious Schools And Hurt Education

By Jeff Bryant

“Due to school voucher programs, in all their forms, ‘religious schools actually are receiving large amounts of government money’ … That means public tax dollars are funding religion based curriculum … Voucher proponents claim all of this is fine because parents have ‘made the choice.’ But shouldn’t we have a choice about whether or not we fund this?”
Read more …


Low Performers Show Big Declines On 12th Grade NAEP Test

Education Week

“Much like their 4th and 8th grade peers, high school seniors have lost ground in math over the last two years, according to the most recent scores on a national achievement test. In reading, 12th grade scores remained flat, continuing a trend since 2009.”
Read more …

National Education Policy Center Report Urges Stopping The Expansion Of Virtual Schools

Ed Surge

“Large, for-profit providers dominate the virtual school market … ‘The school performance measures for both virtual and blended schools indicate that these schools are not as successful as traditional public schools. Nevertheless, the evidence suggests that their enrollment growth has continued’ … Policymakers [should] halt the growth of virtual and blended schools until researchers have found a reason for students’ poor performance and ways to correct it.”
Read more …

Can More Money Fix America’s Schools?


“While the money in Camden, N.J., has led to relatively little academic progress … North Carolina, Indiana and Massachusetts offer a compelling counterpoint to the idea that money doesn’t really matter. So, too, do a pair of recent studies … Money can make a difference in the classroom. If … The money reaches students who need it most … The increases come steadily, year after year … The money stays in the classroom.”
Read more …

Race And The Standardized Testing Wars

The New York Times

“As testing season unfolds this year … more minority educators, parents and students are criticizing the tests, opening a rift with civil rights groups … The battle lines are clearly shifting … Because testing provides an incomplete picture of the problems at low-performing schools, it can lead to policies that worsen those problems rather than ameliorate them.”
Read more …

The Protest Generation Wants Its Education Back

The Progressive

Jeff Bryant writes, “A wave of protest actions going on in the Tarheel State … is indicative of a national-level fight for education justice and civil rights throughout all of public education … At a time when public education is increasingly being operated as a business-oriented, market driven enterprise, and democratic input into the system is being treated as a nuisance, students themselves are more disenchanted and are demanding a say in their education destinies.”
Read more …

How School Vouchers Promote Religious Schools And Hurt Education

The recent debate about Harriet Tubman replacing Andrew Jackson on the front of a twenty-dollar bill revealed broad disagreements in the country about the value of lifting up the contributions to the nation made by women and people of color.

It also revealed the importance of being properly educated in American history.

We’re used to seeing history curriculum being altered by religious fundamentalists and conservatives to impart false ideas to schoolchildren.

In Texas, state school board members recently issued geography, history, and U.S. government textbooks that pushed conservative Christian fallacies about U.S. history, including warped views of Biblical influence on the nation’s founders and the importance of slavery as the chief cause of the Civil War.

Also in Colorado, school board members in a district outside of Denver made national news when they rejected a highly regarded history curriculum because it didn’t “sufficiently “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority, and respect for individual rights.”

But at least those controversies took place in public, so opposing points-of-view could respond.

The Texas textbooks caused such a storm a publisher of one of those books, McGraw-Hill, was forced to issue an apology about a caption in the book that referred to African slaves who were forcibly brought to the Americas as “workers.” The textbook controversy prompted California lawmakers to introduce a bill in the state legislature to prevent Texas-approved changes from seeping into textbooks in the Golden State.

In Colorado, the actions of the conservative school board caused mass student walkouts in high schools across the district, and local parents organized a successful effort to kick the offending board members out of office.

American history school curriculum has been a subject of heated debate forever, and indeed it should be as history stays alive by reflecting on and then reconsidering whose point-of-view the narrative comes from.

But what if the debate, instead of taking place in the public, gets completely hidden from view?

That’s the question members of Congress need to consider this week as they deliberate over a bill to renew funding for the school voucher program in Washington, D.C.

The Fad Over School Vouchers

As an article in The Washington Times explains, the voucher program gives low-income students in the district the opportunity to transfer from public schools to private schools at taxpayer expense. Conservative Republicans champion the program as a “promising new pathway” for children out of “failed” public schools.

The Obama administration, which has declared it will not veto the bill should it pass the House, opposes the vouchers because they don’t produce any statistically significant results for the children who use them.

As I reported for Salon in 2014, school vouchers – which are frequently disguised with euphemistic terms such as scholarships or tax credits – have long been dismissed by liberals, yet their presence has significantly increased in state and federal education policy.

These programs are now prominent features in education policies in about a third of the states in the country, siphoning billions of dollars from public service budgets.

Most recently a voucher program passed in Nevada, according to Education Week, would allow all parents of public school students to “use state funding earmarked for their child toward tuition or other expenses related to a nonpublic education.” The law is currently tied up in court, but according to a report in The Washington Post, prominent conservatives, such as former Florida Governor and failed presidential candidate Jeb Bush, are already trying to push the Nevada voucher program nationwide. “Lawmakers in Georgia, Iowa and Rhode Island considered similar legislation this year,” the Post reporter explains.

Track Record On Vouchers Mostly Negative

There is a long track record of failure for vouchers, particularly in Milwaukee, where a 26-year program has produced little gains for the students who’ve have taken advantage of more than $1.7 billion in taxpayer money to transfer to private schools. Even more significant, the voucher program has done nothing to lift up the entire system.

An analysis last year of a long-running statewide voucher program in Louisiana found the program “harms students’ academic performance,” as reported by U.S. News & World Report.

The D.C. voucher program has had more mixed results producing “no conclusive evidence” in overall achievement for the students who participated but significant improvement in high school graduation rates. Although it can be argued that the quality of education in the District has improved of recent, the D.C. schools as a whole continue to produce some of the most unequal results in achievement between white students and their non-white peers.

Most of the war over voucher programs is fought over quantifiable data about the academic results these programs hardly ever seem to produce and the money they redirect from public schools to private pockets.

But there is an important quality issue as well.

How Vouchers Promote Religious Schools

First, there is the issue of church and state separation. All research shows that most of the money voucher programs redirect from public schools to private institutions ends up going to religious schools. In D.C., 80 percent of voucher users attend religion-based private schools. North Carolina’s relatively new voucher program sends 93 percent of its money to “faith-based schools.”

Due to voucher programs, in all their forms, “religious schools actually are receiving large amounts of government money,” David Berliner and Gene Glass explain in their book Myths & Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools.

Berliner and Glass explain how, through various workarounds approved by ideologically driven courts, many states have reversed historical precedent to ensure the public is unwittingly funding religious-based instruction. In Arizona, a tuition tax credit program ensures that people and corporations who donate to a fund for private, mostly religious, schools can take that donation off their taxes, which decreases the amount of money the state has to spend on public services. In Ohio, government funds pay directly for parents’ tuition payments in private schools, most of which are religion-based. In New Jersey, the governor enjoys a special set-aside of $11 million for two religious schools in the state.

In most of these cases, the majority of the students receiving voucher money were already previously enrolled in religious schools. So much for “opening promising new pathways” in the public school system.

Voucher programs that redirect money to private religious schools are in clear violation of the federal Constitution’s establishment clause and state constitutions’ Blaine Amendment language, but the programs continue to proliferate and expand nevertheless.

This Should Alarm Every American

As Berliner and Glass explain, “Diversion of existing public schools resources to private schools results in taxpayer support for all kinds of religious instruction at all kinds of religious schools, with little or no oversight by states or the public.”

That means public tax dollars are funding religion based curriculum that teach, for instance, a creationist view of science or a version of history that portrays slaves as happy servants to their masters.

Curriculum materials that depict people of color in demeaning, stereotypical ways that have created such consternation in public schools can be readily adopted for private schools using vouchers. And how many schools getting voucher funding will choose a right-wing version of history that teaches the founders of the nation never intended the separation of church and state but sought instead to construct a Christian theocracy?

Voucher proponents claim all of this is fine because parents have “made the choice.” But shouldn’t we have a choice about whether or not we fund this?

Most Republicans running for president have come down firmly on the side of embracing more “choice” in education including vouchers.

GOP front-runner Donald Trump’s education policy ideas are still largely a mystery. But his perspectives on American history are pretty obvious. When questioned about the decision to replace Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, Trump replied, according to the Wall Street Journal, he’d prefer to keep Jackson on the 20 and put Tubman on the $2 bill instead.

But then again, Trump is also on record declaring, “I love the poorly educated.” Should the craze for school vouchers continue, Trump may get just the kind of electorate he prefers.