Education Opportunity Network

Education Opportunity Network -

8/27/2015 – People Don’t Like Current Education Policies, So Why Do Policy Leaders?

THIS WEEK: People Hate Education Reform … New Orleans Miracle Is A Myth … No Quick Progress From Common Core … Don’t Let States Take Over Schools … Rep Mark Takano Talks Education

TOP STORY

People Don’t Like Current Education Policies, So Why Do Policy Leaders?

By Jeff Bryant

“The big annual poll on how Americans view public schools and education policy is out, and people who are eager to don the mantle of ‘education reform’ might want to rethink their wardrobe … What is particularly jarring about the findings of this year’s PDK-Gallup poll is how much those results contrast to the pronouncements of current policy leaders from the Democratic Party and Republicans who are vying for their party’s presidential nomination. Recent policy pronouncements in the halls of Congress and from political speeches betray a staunch adherence to education policies that are completely not in favor, or are becoming less favorable, among the populace.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Poll: Most Americans Oppose Key Tenets Of Modern School Reform

The Washington Post

“The 47th annual PDK-Gallup poll, the longest continuously running survey of American attitudes toward public education … finds that a majority of Americans, as well as a majority of American public school parents, object to some of the key tenets of modern school reform … 64% say there is too much emphasis on standardized testing (7 percent say there isn’t enough) … Most Americans have an issue with evaluating teachers with student standardized test scores… About 80% of Americans said that student engagement with classwork and a high level of hope for the future are very important for measuring the effectiveness of public schools … Fewer rated the percentage of graduates attending college and getting a job right after high school as very important. Testing came in last as a measure of effectiveness.”
Read more …

The Myth Of The New Orleans School Makeover

The New York Times

“At a time when states and municipalities nationwide are looking to New Orleans, the first virtually all-charter urban district, as a model, it is more important than ever to accurately assess the results … Stark problems remain … Principals engage in widespread ‘creaming’ – selecting, or counseling out, students … No agency is responsible for keeping track of all kids … Louisiana’s official dropout rates are unreliable … A new report … found that over 26,000 people in the metropolitan area between the ages of 16 and 24 are counted as ‘disconnected,’ because they are neither working nor in school … Adding to the difficulty … Louisiana education data has been doled out selectively, mostly to pro-charter researchers, and much of the research has been flawed.”
Read more …

Lessons From New York: Don’t Expect Fast Change Under Common Core

The Hechinger Report

“As frustration about Common Core has mounted across the country, New York’s experience suggests that it might be many years before there is evidence of success under the new standards and it’s not clear if parents and educators whose patience has been tested are willing to wait that long … Scores have not improved much in the three years … The gulf between black and Latino students and their [white and Asian] peers has widened … These results buck the conventional wisdom that as teachers and students get more comfortable with a test, scores increase.”
Read more …

State Takeover Of Schools Harms Black, Latino Communities, Report Contends

Education Week

“A new report … traces the history of what the group calls ‘market-based intervention and reform,’ from the state takeover of three New Jersey school districts in the late 1980s and mid-1990s to the present-day push to allow state-run schools in Georgia. The authors contend that the growing number of state takeovers and achievement districts has increased segregation, dismantled community schools, and undermined the financial stability of the affected school districts … None of the current takeovers affect majority white school districts … 97% of the students in the currently operating state-run districts are black or Latino … The … report also criticizes the charter school industry, claiming that it has spearheaded the growth of state achievement districts by promoting charters as the solution to poor student performance.”
Read more …

Right On Banks, Wrong On Schools: “No Child Left Behind Wasn’t Designed For The Types Of Realities In My School”

Salon

Jeff Bryant interviews Democratic Representative Mark Takano who says, “I am surprised to the extent to which my own party has members who are true believers in the education reform movement, who take on the mantle of reformer … Where we’re not united is this issue of accountability … That accountability said if your students didn’t meet certain targets on standardized tests, you had to take a number of harsh measures or lose your federal funding. So we had this list of accountabilities that were really punishments … Effective education doesn’t work that way. Effective education is building relationships with students. It’s about teachers strategizing on how to engage students … Test-driven accountability is like constantly pulling the plant out to see if the roots are growing … If you liken education to bean counting, that’s not going to work.”
Read more …

People Don’t Like Current Education Policies, So Why Do Policy Leaders?

The big annual poll on how Americans view public schools and education policy is out, and people who are eager to don the mantle of “education reform” might want to rethink their wardrobe.

As education journalist Valerie Strauss reports the news from her blog at The Washington Post, “The 47th annual PDK-Gallup poll, the longest continuously running survey of American attitudes toward public education … finds that a majority of Americans, as well as a majority of American public school parents, object to some of the key tenets of modern school reform.”

What is particularly jarring about the findings of this year’s PDK-Gallup poll is how much those results contrast to the pronouncements of current policy leaders from the Democratic Party and Republicans who are vying for their party’s presidential nomination.

Recent policy pronouncements in the halls of Congress, from the White House, and from political speeches betray a staunch adherence to education policies that are completely not in favor, or are becoming less favorable, among the populace.

Look at what the survey tells us.

Test And Punish Falls From Favor

One of the “tenets” Strauss refers to is what’s become known as the “test and punish” approach to education reform.

This approach uses standardized tests to determine whether public schools and educators area being “accountable” with taxpayer money targeted to educating the nation’s students. Policy leaders view scores on these assessments as the most authentic measures of student achievement, school performance, and teacher quality view. When test scores inch up, people at the top of the pay scale say this is proof that education reform is “working.” When students don’t “hit the mark” on these exams, there’s hell to pay down the line – usually, for rank and file teachers – not because there’s something wrong with the policies, but because those on the frontlines have failed at “implementation.”

As Strauss points out, of those who answered the PDK-Gallup survey “64 percent say there is too much emphasis on standardized testing” in public schools, and only 7 percent say there isn’t enough.

A deeper look into the polling data finds the distaste for testing is overwhelmingly true for blacks, whiles, and Hispanics, and among Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.

Also, according to the PDK-Gallup poll, people aren’t so keen on using test results to evaluate teachers, as 55 percent of the public, and 63 percent of public school parents, oppose this idea. Here again, the survey responses align across the board, regardless of political party.

Common Core Takes A Dive; Are Charters Next?

Another tenet of modern school reform, Common Core Standards that have been adopted by 43 states and the District of Columbia, has also fallen out of favor with most of the public.

Now that the standards are being rolled out, and people are finally seeing the consequences, a majority, 54 percent, now oppose the standards, with Republicans and Independents mostly opposed and Democrats roughly spilt. This is a remarkable outcome given that two years ago, PDK-Gallup found that two-thirds of Americans had never heard of the standards. However, in this year’s polling, only 12 percent said they had either heard nothing about the Common Core or “didn’t know.” What do they say about familiarity?

Only one tenet of modern school reform remains: school choice. When asked, “Do you favor or oppose allowing students and their parents to choose which public schools in the community the students attend regardless of where they live?” 64 percent of Americans and 67 percent of public school parents give a favorable response. Also, charter schools get about the same levels of support. However, the standing of school choice in the public’s eye may be more precarious than these results indicate.

First, allowing parents to use school vouchers to choose a private school to attend at public expense is favored by only 31 percent of Americans. Second, a glance back at last year’s PDK-Gallup survey finds that most do not understand what charter schools are. Currently, only about 6 percent of American public school students have opted to attend a charter, and there are vast sections of the country that have very few to none of these schools. So it’s not wild speculation to suggest that charter schools could easily be the next Common Core and become more unpopular as people become more informed about them.

What Policy Leaders Don’t Get

Despite clear signals coming from the public that current “test and punish” policies are off base, policy leaders in the nation’s capital continue to press for an extension of that approach.

As Education Week recently reported, in current deliberations focused on rewriting the federal No Child Left Behind act that has set the direction of federal education policy for 13 years, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and US Senators from the Democratic Party recently came down squarely on the side of the status quo in supporting an amendment “that would have required states to establish measurable state-designed goals for all students and separately for each subgroup of students, and to intervene if they didn’t meet those goals. It also would have required states to intervene in their lowest-performing 5 percent of schools and those that graduated less than 67 percent of their students.”

The amendment did not pass, “Fortunately,” according to education historian Diane Ravitch, who said, “It would have revived or worsened the punishments of NCLB.”

Republicans have taken their turns at reinforcing the “test and punish” approach to education policy too, most prominently at a recent summit for Republican presidential candidates hosted by American Federation for Children and The 74, a news venture recently launched by former CNN anchor-turned-education activist Campbell Brown.

According to Salon’s Elias Isquith, Ohio Governor John Kasich set the tone for the event by remarking, ” If I were not president, but if I were King of America, I would abolish all teacher’s lounges, where they sit together and worry about ‘woe is us.’” Other candidates eagerly matched the negative tone Kasich set, according to Isquith, voicing their disapprovals of teachers and their unions. For instance, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stated a desire to “punch the teachers’ union in the face,” repeating a comment he had made previous to the event.

Bloggers at Education Week noticed the Republican candidates generally reinforced arguments for standards and accountability although they differed in their support for Common Core and the role the federal government has in enforcing tests and standards.

Motoko Rich, reporting for The New York Times, reported, “The candidates performed a balancing act as they tried to embrace high standards for schoolchildren while shying away from the Common Core.” But none of the candidates was bold enough to suggest that the whole drive for standards, testing, and accountability might be flawed.

“School choice,” continued to be a unifying theme among Republicans, with former Florida Governor Jeb Bush declaring his intention to ” allow total voucherization,” according to CBS News.

Classroom teacher and popular blogger Peter Greene summarized the Republicans’ education positions as “wanting to have it both ways.” Teachers deserve some praise, “Except for the many, many, many, many terrible ones.” Choice is good except for communities that don’t want to take that approach. “Red tape” is a burden, but schools need to be held more accountable. And standards are important as long as they are not Common Core.

What Do People Want Instead?

Results from the PDK-Gallup poll clearly rubbed those in the education policy establishment the wrong way, prompting some of them to point to a different survey published just prior. That poll, conducted by a conservative think tank, found “the public backs testing,” according to the think tanks’ news release, and “only 35 percent of the public expressing opposition” to Common Core standards.

Certainly, much of this discrepancy between the two surves is the result in differences between the ways questions were worded. And no doubt, any evidence of how the general population feels about education policy should be interpreted with nuance.

But while the survey from conservatives takes the status quo of tests, standards, and accountability as more a less a given, the PDK-Gallup effort goes further to ask more open-ended questions about what people would prefer instead. And in the responses to these questions do we see even starker contrasts between the public’s views and what policy leaders and politicians are saying.

First, based on the survey results, Americans overwhelmingly like and support their local schools, with 51 percent giving schools in their own community a grade of either A or B and only 4 percent giving those schools a failing grade.

Although there is a great disparity in how Americans view their local schools than they do schools nationwide – with survey respondents grading the nation’s schools much more harshly – much of that difference can be attributed to current policy leaders and political candidates who openly bash public schools.

Also, when queried about alternatives to tests for measuring the effectiveness of public schools, “A strong majority (about eight in 10) of Americans believe how engaged students are with their classwork and their level of hope for the future are very important for. Fewer rated the percentage of graduates attending college and getting a job right after high school as very important. Testing came in last as a measure of effectiveness with just 14 percent.”

Further, when PDK-Gallup asked Americans what were the biggest problems facing their local schools, survey respondents overwhelmingly replied “lack of financial support.” Democrats and Independents were about equally assured that money for schools was lacking, while Republicans were split between the need for funding versus the need for standards and “quality.”

So the schools American families participate in are generally doing their jobs, but we need better, more qualitative ways of assessing their work, and what schools mostly need is more funding and support. Why don’t we ever hear policy makers and political leaders talk about that?

The reason we don’t is that in our current political climate, the “test and punish” reform policy is the easier path to travel. Stern rhetoric and “tough-minded” policy-making are rewarded as being “very serious” approaches to governing. Taking a position to support a valued institution like public schools, to assess their outcomes in a richer, student-centered way, and to ensure adequate, equitable funding, would take something altogether different – something more like, you know, real leadership.

8/13/2015 – Don’t Let John Kasich Near The U.S. Department Of Education

THIS WEEK: Teacher Shortages … Revolt Against Testing … Increased Scrutiny Of Special Ed … Why Reading To Kids Is Good … Jeb Bush’s Education Legacy

TOP STORY

John Kasich Doesn’t Belong Anywhere Near The U.S. Department Of Education

By Jeff Bryant

“Some Very Serious People have decided Governor John Kasich of Ohio is the latest personality to emerge from the field of presidential candidates in the Republican Party as a genuine bona fide consideration … On the economic policy front, Kasich has very little to brag about … But one policy area in particular that every state governor owns lock stock and barrel is education … The effect Governor Kasich has had on public education policy in Ohio is especially atrocious.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Districts Facing Teacher Shortages Look For Lifelines

Education Week

” With a new school year approaching, districts around the country are issuing urgent pleas for teachers to come work for them. The words on many people’s lips are ‘teacher shortage,’ and in some places, they have the ring of crisis to them … Districts in California, Arizona, and Indiana, among many other states, are also facing high-profile recruitment challenges … Significant drops in teacher-education enrollment in many states … many experts chalk up to the Great Recession and ensuing cutbacks … Others have charged that poor teacher working conditions, such as low salaries and test-driven school cultures, are nudging existing and potential educators toward other professions … Teaching licenses are not always easily portable, due to differing state requirements and procedures.”
Read more …

20% of New York Students Opted Out Of Standardized Tests, Officials Say

The New York Times

“Twenty percent of New York State’s third through eighth graders sat out at least one of New York’s standardized tests this year … a sign of increasing resistance to testing as more states make them harder to pass … Just 31% passed reading tests and 38% passed math. Both results were slight improvements from last year, and far below the passing rates under the easier, pre-2013 tests … The large increase in students opting out coincided with a push by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to make teacher ratings more dependent on test scores, a move unpopular with teachers’ unions and many parents.”
Read more …

U.S. Probe Into Georgia Special Ed Program Could Have National Impact

The Washington Post

“The Justice Department has accused Georgia of segregating thousands of students with behavior-related disabilities, shunting them into a program that denies them access to their non-disabled peers and to extracurricular activities and other basic amenities, including gymnasiums, libraries and appropriately certified teachers … The department’s legal tack in the Georgia case is a sign that it is expanding an important civil rights approach into the education arena, a move that is likely to have implications nationwide … The department focused on the state’s failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a much more powerful civil rights tool … The ADA, which just turned 25, requires schools to provide people with disabilities with an education and with educational opportunities that are equal to that of their non-disabled peers. It also prohibits the unjustified segregation of people with disabilities.”
Read more …

Brain Scans Show Why Reading To Kids Is Good for Them

Health Day

“Brain scans reveal that preschoolers whose parents read to them regularly show more activity in key areas of their brains … Experts already urge parents to have a regular story time with their kids, starting at birth … But the new findings … offer hard evidence of that theory … The more often children had story time at home, the more brain activity they showed while listening to stories … The difference was seen in a brain region involved in so-called semantic processing – the ability to extract meaning from words. There was ‘particularly robust’ activity, the researchers said, in areas where mental images are formed from what is heard.”
Read more …

The Big Jeb Bush Charter School Lie: Why His Florida Education ‘Miracle’ Is Hogwash

Alternet

Jeff Bryant writes, “As the ranks of Florida charter schools have swollen, the pathway out of poverty these schools were supposed to provide now looks more like a detour to exploitation and profit-making. In fact, the big change Jeb Bush promised is not so much a model for other states to adopt as it is a glaring warning sign for them to heed … A combination of corrupt leadership and lack of regulation … inevitably led to numerous scandals that local media sources soon began reporting around the state … No doubt there are examples of good charter schools and students who have benefitted from attending them. But any argument that Florida’s whole education system been improved by introducing more charter schools is tenuous at best … On the issue of verifiable ‘good’ coming from Bush and his education agenda as whole, there are plenty of education scholars who continue to question his effectiveness.”
Read more …

John Kasich Doesn’t Belong Anywhere Near The U.S. Department Of Education

Some Very Serious People have decided Governor John Kasich of Ohio is the latest personality to emerge from the field of presidential candidates in the Republican Party as a genuine bona fide consideration.

According to a round up of political pundits and campaign strategists compiled by Politico, Kasich – along with Hewlett-Packard ex-CEO Carly Fiorina – put in a superior performance in the recent televised Republican presidential debate on Fox News. Folks at The Hill have christened Kasich a “sleeper candidate” who is “getting buzz because his message resonates more with the beltway crowd.” And analysts at Real Clear Politics, as of this writing, have Kasich edging ever so close to Jeb Bush who trails only Donald Trump in polling for the New Hampshire Republican primary.

Yet in all this horse-race analysis there is very little scrutiny of what Kasich’s track record actually is in the state he governed for the past four years – a consideration that should matter a lot in order to be recognized as a candidate in the first rank.

On the economic policy front, Kasich has very little to brag about. According to a recent op ed by Dale Butland of Innovation Ohio, a progressive think tank in that state, Kasich makes a case for his economic prowess based on an increase in jobs in his state since the Great Recession. But compared to other states, Ohio has “led the nation in lost jobs” and “is still about 140,000 jobs short of where we were in 2007 before the downturn began.” Job creation in the Buckeye state has “lagged the national average for 20 straight months” and kept its rank mired at 41st.

Butland points to an analysis by the Associated Press that shows “Ohio’s real median household income fell from $54,000 in 2007 to $45,000 in 2012 – a far steeper drop than for the nation as a whole. Nearly half of Ohio households now live paycheck to paycheck, and 16 percent have fallen into poverty.”

Another analysis from the Center for American Progress finds Kasich presided over an economy of expanding inequality where “the share of the total income generated across Ohio that has gone to the middle class has declined sharply,” and there has been “increasing concentration of income among extremely wealthy Ohioans.”

Of course, any politician as skilled as Kasich can respond to these judgments on his economic results by pointing to other factors. After all, state governors have only so much control over global and national forces that are screwing up the financial wellbeing of ordinary Americans. The studies by both AP and CAP go back to years before Kasich was elected, which hardly seems fair.

So on economic matters, state governors can often worm their way out of any tight corners their electoral opponents try to paint them into. But one policy area in particular that every state governor owns lock stock and barrel is education. Even with the more intrusive pressure coming from the federal government since the advent of No Child Left Behind, state governments are in charge of education policy, with the governor and his cabinet level staff the folks who are most in the leadership role of determining policy direction.

Given the current crop of Republican governors bidding for the presidential nomination, it is difficult to pick which has been worse on education policy.

As governor of Florida, Jeb Bush slashed education budgets, rolled out an absurd school grading system that stigmatized schools serving low-income kids, and opened the door to an invasion of corrupt charter school operations. In overseeing New Jersey schools, one of the top school systems in the country, Chris Christie has bullied teachers, slashed funding, and made the whole system vastly more unequal. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker has cut education spending, especially to the state’s prized university system, weakened teachers’ job protections, and spread a failed voucher scheme from Milwaukee across the state.

But the effect Governor Kasich has had on public education policy in Ohio is especially atrocious.

A quick report card compiled by Innovation Ohio, a progressive advocacy group in the state, finds that under a Kasich administration school spending hasn’t kept pace with inflation. This has left many school districts to rely more on local property taxes for funding, a financial situation that is virtually guaranteed to increase inequity in support of low-income schools. In the meantime, Kasich has jacked up the proportion of school funds diverted to private pockets, spending over $1 billion a year on charter schools and increasing the amount of money in the state’s voucher program by 113 percent.

Other education funding facts provided by Innovation Ohio

  • Traditional public schools, which educate 90 percent of Ohio’s kids, receive $515 million less state funding than before Gov. Kasich took office.
  • Charter school funding has increased by 27 percent, and charters now receive more state money per pupil than do traditional public schools.

These factors alone should make anyone think twice before letting Kasitch get anywhere near the US Department of Education – the federal agency historically tasked with enforcing states to uphold education equity in their school systems. But Kasich’s education record is so bad, a more in-depth examination is merited.

Right after he took office, Kasich trashed a school spending upgrade put into place by previous Governor Ted Strickland that would have, according to an article in Education Week, revamped state standards and assessments, required all-day kindergarten, and gradually increased spending to align with a “series of court decisions finding the state’s school finance system unconstitutional.”

He stocked the state board of education with charter school advocates, and undermined the state superintendent of education, Deborah Delisle, by creating an Office of 21st Century Education that would work on a “parallel track” to bring more “school choice” to the state. Then he appointed a former charter school executive Robert Sommers to head that office. Delisle was forced to resign.

Then Kasich and Sommers turned their attention to passing a bill, Senate Bill 5, which, according to an Education Week reporter, “would have stripped teachers and other public employees of most of their collective bargaining rights.” When educators fought back by getting the bill put up for a vote in a ballot recall, Ohioans overwhelmingly agreed, voting to reject that measure by a 22-point margin.

With the backing of the state legislature, Kasich then put into place a Jeb Bush style grading system that unfairly labeled schools serving high poverty kids “underperforming.” School officials in Cincinnati, who lead the state’s highest rated school system, denounced the grading system and said it would cause more families to opt for charter schools.

On the matter of charters, Educations Week’s state policy reporter Andrew Ujifusa finds, “The number of charter schools in Ohio has grown on Kasich’s watch, from about 325 in 2011 to about 370 today,” and “the governor made expanding state aid for charter school facility costs a top priority” even though “a study of Ohio charter schools’ performance found their students to lag behind their counterparts in traditional public schools.”

Under Kasich, Ohio charter schools have become a national embarrassment. Recently, an Ohio newspaper ran a story with the headline, “Ohio’s charter schools ridiculed at national conference, even by national charter supporters.”

Another Ohio paper begins its news story about Ohio charter schools, “No sector – not local governments, school districts, court systems, public universities or hospitals – misspends tax dollars like charter schools in Ohio.” Reporter Doug Livingston writes, “State auditors have uncovered $27.3 million improperly spent by charter schools, many run by for-profit companies, enrolling thousands of children and producing academic results that rival the worst in the nation.”

Livingston notes that the Kasich administration’s response to this financial calamity is to starve the state auditors office so more audits are outsourced to private companies, even though, “These private firms found misspending in one of the 200 audits of charter schools they conducted, or half of 1 percent, while the state’s own police force of auditors found misspending in one of six audits, or 17 percent of the time.”

In light of the fact charter school malfeasance in Ohio has gotten so bad it’s even drawn the attention of FBI investigators, state lawmakers recently considered new legislation to stiffen regulation of those schools. Nevertheless, the state House declined to take up a final vote on the bill – an action that has subsequently been linked to political donations – even while legislation expanding school choice options sailed though.

Kasich’s biggest education-related boner, however, my have just surfaced. As education journalist Valerie Strauss reports from her blog at The Washington Post, the man Kasich hand-picked to oversee school choice programs in the state, David Hansen, recently resigned after admitting that he had unilaterally withheld failing scores of charter schools in state evaluations of the schools’ sponsor organizations so they wouldn’t look so bad. Hansen just happens to be married to Kasich’s chief of staff, who is now working on Kasich’s campaign. Because of the scandal, there are growing calls for the resignation of the Kasich-backed state superintendent of education, Richard Ross.

Oh, and by the way, those poor performing charter schools whose lousy results were being completely covered up by state policy leaders under Kasich just happen to be connected to some of the state’s largest political donors.

How has Kasich responded to this latest scandal?

First, Kasich dismissed calls for an investigation of the charter school data scrubbing scandal, calling the disgraceful matter “a political thing.”

He is apparently either ordering or allowing his education department to stall on answering requests for information from journalists who want to know who participated in the decision to illegally exclude the poorly performing charter schools from open accountability.

Now, his latest response is to call for changing the structure and role of state board of education, which currently has 11 members who are elected and eight picked by the governor. One of the board’s chief responsibilities is to pick the state superintendent. What Kasich wants is to be able to appoint the entire board and, thus, determine who is state superintendent and be completely control who is administrating the state’s system of public education.

If the fiasco Kasich has made of Ohio’s education system doesn’t make you concerned about what he would do to federal education policy, consider what his corrupt, misguided governance might mean to national security.

8/6/2015 – Why Chris Christie Hates Teachers

THIS WEEK: NOLA School Reform Myth … Choice Creates Churn … Vouchers Aren’t About Civil Rights … States Drastically Underfunding Colleges … School Privatization In Africa

TOP STORY

Why Chris Christie Hates Teachers

By Jeff Bryant

“What was the most surprising thing about New Jersey Governor and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie’s recent remark that the “national teachers union” deserves a “punch in the face” … was how tepid the response has been from anyone but members of the teachers’ unions themselves … But the antipathy, or apathy, many politicians tend to have toward teachers derives from the reality that politicians tend to have unreal expectations about teachers and what they do.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Reform Makes Broken New Orleans Schools Worse

Salon

“There is … an aggressive effort already underway to sell the New Orleans [education] model … But … the real cost … 7,000 teachers whose firing was described as a wound that won’t heal; the shunting aside of special education students and English language learners, especially in the first years of the experiment; the loss of trust among New Orleanians who believe they’ve been shut out of any meaningful decision-making regarding their city’s schools … The question of who gets to be part of the conversation regarding the shape and future of schools in New Orleans is … touches on a fundamental – and still unresolved – debate about the very purpose that schools should serve.”
Read more …

More Than Half Of School Of Choice Students End Up Moving Schools Again, Study Shows

Michigan Live

“More and more families are opting to move their children out of the schools they would attend by residency to neighboring districts … But a new study for the first time reveals that fewer than half stay in that neighboring district. And the students who most often bounce between schools are the students most likely to be hurt academically by the instability … Low-income students … African-American students … students who are struggling academically are more likely to switch schools … But those same at-risk students are the ones who are most likely to give up on their schools of choice … That matters, because studies show that the more students bounce between schools, the less they learn.”
Read more …

ALEC Admits School Vouchers Are For Kids In Suburbia

The Center For Media And Democracy

“With vouchers gaining momentum nationwide, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) … has decided to drop the pretense that vouchers have anything to do with social and racial equity, and is now pushing vouchers for the middle class – a project which, if pursued enough in numbers, will progressively erode the public school system … Talking points at the end of the bills state … ‘children from low- and middle-income families should receive public support for their education regardless of whether they are attending a public or private school’ … ALEC is not the only organization coming clean on vouchers … Most students receiving vouchers last year were already attending private schools – meaning vouchers were being used a taxpayer subsidy for private education rather than as a way for students to escape underperforming public schools.”
Read more …

Years Of Cuts Threaten To Put College Out Of Reach For More Students

Center On Budget And Policy Priorities

“In almost all states, higher education support remains below what it was in 2008 … 47 states … are spending less per student in the 2014-15 school year than they did at the start of the recession … The average state is spending $1,805, or 20%, less per student … In 13 states, per-student funding fell over the last year … Average annual published tuition has risen by $2,068 nationally, or 29%, above the rate of inflation … Nearly every state has shifted costs to students.”
Read more …

World Bank Peddling Private, For-Profit Schools In Africa, Disguised As Aid

Mintpress News

“Private, for-profit schools in Africa funded by the World Bank and U.S. venture capitalists have been criticized by more than 100 organizations who’ve signed a petition opposing the controversial educational venture … The schools project is called Bridge International Academies and 100,000 pupils have enrolled in 412 schools across the two nations … The statement reflects a growing global movement questioning Western policies pushing private education in developing countries. It was written and signed by 30 organizations in Uganda and Kenya and supported by 116 organizations around the world, including Global Justice Now and ActionAid. They claim BIA uses highly standardized teaching methods, untrained low-paid teachers, and aggressive marketing strategies targeted at poor households.”
Read more …

Why Chris Christie Hates Teachers

What was the most surprising thing about New Jersey Governor and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie’s recent remark that the “national teachers union” deserves a “punch in the face?”

Certainly not that he made the remark. As multiple news outlets reporting on the comment note, Christie “has had several public confrontations with individual teachers.”

No, what was most surprising was how tepid the response has been from anyone but members of the teachers’ unions themselves.

In contrast to the “firestorm,” according to The Washington Post, that Jeb Bush, also a Republican presidential candidate, ignited after he said he was “not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues,” Christie’s remark doesn’t appear to have received a strong rebuke from prominent commentators or representatives of the Democratic Party. Although Bush’s comment has been called a “gaffe” by Beltway pundits, Christie’s comment has not been similarly labeled.

In fact, the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal said Christie’s insult is proof of “the growing consensus that teachers unions are the main obstacle to improvement in American public schools.”

What motivated Christie to make the remark, as an Education Week reporter surmised, was a need to get “an upper hand in a crowded GOP presidential election field.”

If that supposition is true, Christie likely failed. There is nothing unique about Republican candidates attacking public school teachers.

As education journalist Valerie Strauss points out on her blog at The Washington Post, Christie “is hardly the only candidate antagonistic toward teachers and their unions.” Strauss explains that at least three other Republican presidential candidates – Bush and Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin and John Kasich of Ohio – have been more “damaging” to teachers and their unions.

There are also a number of political leaders in the Democratic Party who have histories of making unkind remarks about teachers in public. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has often been accused of being “insulting” to educators in his high-handed governance of the city’s public schools. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has also been accused of waging “attacks” on public school educators.

So political candidates of all stripes seem to have very few inhibitions to attack public schools teachers – or inclinations to defend them when they are viciously singled out.

There are reasons for this tendency that go beyond political gamesmanship. Certainly politicians want teachers to vote for them and give them campaign contributions. And when weighing that benefit against the potential votes and money that could come in from people who resent being taxed to pay for teacher salaries and benefits, there will always be politicians who opt to go for the anti-tax message.

But the antipathy, or apathy, many politicians tend to have toward teachers derives from the reality that politicians tend to have unreal expectations about teachers and what they do.

Teachers And Their Unions

But first, let’s be clear that an attack on teachers’ unions, like the one Christie’s remark exemplified, is an attack on teachers, or at least a very large representation of them.

If you don’t agree with that, then you’ve simply never been to a teachers’ union meeting of any kind. If you ever make it to a national assembly of one of these organizations, what you’ll confront in the convention hall is a massive showing of literally hundreds and hundreds of teachers. Seriously, if teachers’ unions aren’t made up of teachers, who on earth are they made of?

Teachers take any attack on their unions as something personal. As at least one teacher wrote on his personal blog, Christie’s remark strikes at teachers personally: “Christie wants to punch me in the face … After all, I am a public school teacher. I do belong to one of those nefarious teachers unions.”

Now does that mean that teachers’ unions always represent the majority of their members? Of course not. Can any representative body claim that?

But teachers’ unions are, well, teachers, and political leaders who openly disrespect these organizations are in essence disrespecting teachers. Why do politicians so often disrespect teachers?

The Teacher Wars

Dana Goldstein in her tremendous book The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession plunges into that question with great depth and insight this short piece of writing won’t attempt to summarize.

In her detailed account of the complex history of the teaching profession in America, Goldstein grapples with understanding why, in her words, “powerful people seemed to feel indignant about the incompetence and job security of public school teachers.”

Goldstein vividly describes the current regard political leaders have for teachers as a “confusing dichotomy” in which teachers are worshipped in the abstract and ridiculed when they, in the flesh, publically represent their needs and interests. She likens the current obsession with education “reform” to a “moral panic” that by and large has “nothing to do” with the quality of teachers’ work. And she draws on copious evidence from the historical record to today’s news accounts to illustrate how public school administrators working with their local teachers’ unions have developed successful education policies that serve both the interests of teachers and the taxpayers’ needs to know their money is being well spent.

Goldstein’s remarkably nuanced narrative culminates with a brief “lessons from history” that should guide politicians in how they talk about teachers, including the importance of their salaries, their needs for collaborative space and time, and the undue expectations being put on teachers, and the education system as a whole.

But too few politicians do nuance.

“Results” Teachers Can’t Give

What politician do, mostly, is speak in the language of “results.” And in today’s economically minded culture, results are framed in the language of business.

Teaching, we’re so often told, “produces learning” like a sausage machine spits out pods of ground meat wrapped in pig gut. When it comes time for politicians to prove their worthiness to the public, they assume it’s the teachers’ job to show an increase in some sort of measurable output, such as a rise in standardized test scores or a positive swing in graduation rates. When those magic numbers aren’t available, there’s hell to pay, and teachers have to be made “accountable” – never mind that the financial support for education programs is less than it was seven years ago, more students are plagued with the trauma of poverty, teacher salaries are not equivalent to what other professionals make, and higher stress levels in schools have caused teacher morale to plummet.

However, it has never been, and never will be, teachers’ jobs to “produce” learning. Students are the ones who do the learning. And “learning isn’t even a “product.”

As retired teacher and popular blogger Walt Gardner explains for Education Week, teaching isn’t about production as much as it is about relationships. “Teaching by its very nature is a person-to-person undertaking,” he writes. “The trouble is that everything going on today undermines the teacher-student relationship … What good does it do to teach a subject well (high standardized test scores) but to teach students to hate the subject in the process?”

What politicians don’t get is that teachers will generally put up with all the negative conditions of too little money to do a complicated, stress-filled job if people who hold public office would show at least a clue they get this.

Very few politicians do, so their short term interests rarely align with the perspectives of teachers whose very jobs demand they think long term and developmentally. Until one of those two parties adjusts their attitudes, we’ll continue to see teachers openly disparaged, or disregarded, in the public sphere. For the sake of our children, let’s hope the politicians are the ones who make the adjustment.

7/30/2015 – We Won’t Get Great Teachers By Treating Them Badly

THIS WEEK: Poverty Hurts Kids’ Brains … Toll Of Inequitable School Funding … Kasich’s Lousy Education Record … Teacher Bathroom Privileges … Teachers Stuck With Classroom Costs

TOP STORY

We Won’t Get Great Teachers By Treating Them Badly

By Jeff Bryant

“The bigger, unaddressed issues affecting teachers’ work environments are the current love affair with economic efficiency and the cognitive dissonance among believers in the education “reform” movement that although teachers are the ‘single most significant’ determiner of student academic outcomes, we need to make their jobs harder and less secure.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Poverty Disturbs Children’s Brain Development And Academic Performance

Scientific American

“For children, growing up poor hinders brain development and leads to poorer performance in schools … Up to 20% of the achievement gap between high- and low-income children may be explained by differences in brain development … Children who grew up in families below the federal poverty line had gray matter volumes 8 to 10% below normal development. [The researchers] did not find differences between children from middle class and affluent families but those only 50% above the poverty line showed gray matter volumes 3 to 4% below the norm … More money does not necessary mean better outcomes but at a certain point a ‘drop-off’ effect of income occurs where a lack of financial resources is detrimental to development.”
Read more …

‘These Kids Are Just Pawns’: The Rising Toll of Inequitable School Funding

NEA Today

“Reading, Pennsylvania is one of the nation’s poorest cities … Tour Reading’s 19 schools and you’ll see mostly aging buildings with broken floor tiles, leaky ceilings sprouting patches of mold, students crammed into too-small classrooms, and feral cats squatting under classroom trailers … Just a mile and a bridge away, Wyomissing Area School District – where 77% of students are White – spends a whopping $4,000 more per pupil each year. Students attend bright and modern schools, have a rich curriculum, and smaller class sizes … Research shows that students in districts with concentrated poverty benefit greatly from high-quality early childhood education, tutoring, ELL programs, dropout prevention measures, and other services … Those are the very programs that have been scaled back or cut altogether due to lack of funding in Reading schools.”
Read more …

What Ohio Gov. John Kasich Is Doing To Public Education In His State

The Washington Post

“With two-term Ohio Gov. John Kasich joining the crowd of candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, it’s a good time to look at the public education mess that has developed in his state … Under his watch, funding for traditional public schools … declined by some half a billion dollars, while funding for charter schools has increased at least 27% … despite the fact that many charters are rated lower than traditional public schools … Ohio charters … misspend tax dollars more than any other public sector.”
Read more …

Using The Restroom: A Privilege – If You’re A Teacher

The Atlantic

“A recent survey conducted jointly by the American Federation of Teachers and Badass Teachers Association asked educators about the quality of their worklife … 3 in 4 respondents said they ‘often’ feel stressed by their jobs… Of the various everyday workplace stressors educators could check off, one of the most popular was ‘lack of opportunity to use restroom’ … putting it in third place only after time pressure and disciplinary issues … One of the most pervasive strains on teachers’ lives at work has little to do (at least directly) with the problems that get the most attention in policy circles and the media.”
Read more …

Teachers Are Spending Thousands to Stock Classrooms With Basic Supplies

Alternet

Classroom teacher Bronwyn Harris writes, “During my last year of teaching, I spent over $5,000 of my own money on my classroom during the year, and I know I wasn’t alone. On an annual salary of $42,000, that was hardly pocket change … Many public schools, even districts located in wealthy areas, do not give their teachers any money for supplies … Even the more generous PTA grants of $500 or higher don’t provide for much past the initial setting up of a classroom … Relying on private donations only works in middle- and upper-class areas … You often find teachers purchasing food for children who don’t eat enough at home. I’ve had friends buy clothing for children, especially socks and underwear, and I even know one teacher who bought a bed for a student who didn’t have one.”
Read more …

We Won’t Get Great Teachers By Treating Them Badly

An article by Alia Wong for The Atlantic this week caused quite a stir by pointing to a recent survey of teachers that found one of the main stresses they have during their busy days is getting a potty break.

Wong looked at results from a poll about the work conditions of teachers conducted by the American Federation of Teachers and the Badass Teachers Association, a grassroots teacher-led movement resisting current education policies.

She found lots of interesting findings on the “everyday stressors” teachers face in the workplace, including time pressure, student discipline problems, and mandated curricula. But “the biggest takeaway” Wong got from the data was that “of the various everyday workplace stressors educators could check off, one of the most popular was, ‘Lack of opportunity to use restroom.’” Wong noted bathroom breaks were “in third place” on the list of work-related stressors with about one in two teachers “having inadequate bathroom breaks.”

Part of the “stir” resulting from Wong’s article was evident in the extensive comments that reflected the all-too-typical belief that teachers have “cushy” jobs with short workdays and summers off. This attitude has become so run-of-the-mill that we actually have a political candidate running for president in the Republican Party – New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – who openly chastises teachers for being “part time workers” who get “full time pay.”

These contentions about the supposed leisure the teaching profession affords fly in the face of long standing studies that show classroom teachers in the U.S. work longer hours with less financial return than in practically all other countries in the industrial world.

The other, more widespread, “stir” Wong’s article prompted was more surprising.

Shortly after The Atlantic’s article went live, members of the Badass Teachers group – one of the organization’s responsible for gathering the survey data – took to Twitter and Facebook to decry the publication for “trivializing” their work conditions. The Twitter account for the Badass group kicked off a long thread with the hashtag #BoycottTheAtlantic that accused the publication of publishing “garbage” instead of “real issues” about teacher work conditions. The Twitter accounts for the various BAT state chapters chimed in immediately, accusing Wong’s article of marginalizing “teacher suffering.”

To be fair, Wong hardly “trivialized” the discomfort and the potential health hazard of being unable to relieve oneself throughout the work day. In particular, she called attention to how that situation might impact pregnant teachers – certainly a significant population in the profession due to the gender and age of the average worker – teachers with health conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, and teachers who respond to limited toilet breaks by abstaining from drinking water during the day and becoming dehydrated.

However, as a comment on the article from “Los Angeles PUBLIC school teac” points out, Wong’s original version stated, “Educators are, moreover, known for their tendency to complain about and perhaps over-exaggerate their stress levels.” Interestingly, this sentence has been removed from the current version. But some of the BAT’s resentment is justified.

Many of the tweets from the BAT account accuse Wong of ignoring the subject of teacher suicides, which apparently was one of the issues that prompted the desire to conduct the survey. In fact, just hours before Wong’s article appeared, local press outlets in New York City reported that an elementary school principal had committed suicide by stepping in front of a subway train. The principal had been accused of cheating on state standardized tests – tests that have been very controversial in the state because many contend they are designed to make educators look bad.

Fairfield University professor and BAT member Yohuru Williams tweeted, “I wish @TheAtlantic cared more about #teachers than to publish the rubbish they did on the #teachershortage.” The teacher shortage is in fact one issue Wong did touch on, highlighting a shortage of teachers in Kansas and a report finding the number of students interested in becoming educators has dropped “significantly” from 2010 to 2014. But it’s hard to believe people en masse avoid the profession because word on the street is once you get the job you never get to use the bathroom.

So what’s going on here? For sure, those who say teachers have a cushy job – including blowhard pols like Christie – are to be ignored. But like what so often happens in the current education debate, contentious arguments get mired in detail while much bigger issues are allowed to lurk in the background unaddressed.

Those much bigger, unaddressed issues affecting teachers’ work environments are the current love affair with economic efficiency and the cognitive dissonance among believers in the education “reform” movement that although teachers are the “single most significant” determiner of student academic outcomes, we need to make their jobs harder and less secure.

The cult of economic efficiency that currently predominates all levels of government continues to press for measures that a majority of teachers despise.

For instance, lawmakers continue to pass budgets and push policy ideas that increase class sizes or fail to reduce them where class sizes are too large. According to an overwhelming amount of survey data, teachers prefer smaller class sizes and say larger class sizes negatively affect their quality of work. For sure, you can always find an economist, usually working for a conservative think tank, who argues that class size matters little to student test scores. But many of these studies have been refuted outright or at least seriously called into question. And none of these findings can change the reality that increasing class size will make most teachers’ lives miserable.

Another favorite of the efficiency cult is to tie teacher pay to student test scores, either through performance pay scales or an evaluation process.

Education historian Diane Ravitch has found that in-depth, extended studies of merit pay have found that these programs hardly ever show much benefit in terms of raised test scores (not that that should stand as the be-all and end-all of education). Also, teachers hate it.

Research also shows teacher evaluations based on student test scores continue to be mostly inaccurate, unreliable, and subject to too many variables. By the way, teachers hate these evaluations too.

Nevertheless, the efficiency cult continues to push their favorite measures instead of attending to what teachers say they value most: work environment.

While the efficiency cult grinds away at teachers’ working conditions, people who call themselves “reformers” say they value teachers but then do all they can to undermine their job security by challenging teachers’ collective bargaining rights, opposing seniority privileges, or working to end due process rights when teachers are threatened with being fired.

Like it or not, if you’re anti-union you are to some extent diametrically opposed to what teachers say they need to make their work conditions better.

As Matthew Di Carlo argues at the blog for the Albert Shanker Institute, “In the majority of cases, disagreeing with unions’ education policy positions represents disagreeing with most teachers. In other words, opposing unions certainly doesn’t mean you’re ‘bashing’ teachers, but it does, on average, mean you hold different views than they do.”

Di Carlo concludes, “Vociferous opposition to teachers’ unions is too often a shield behind which advocates hide, thus precluding their having to acknowledge and address their disagreement with most of the teachers who make up those unions.”

But mostly, let’s be clear, a conversation about teachers’ well being while on the job matters. First, because their working conditions are the students’ learning conditions.

Second, because there’s evidence that making teachers more stressed out and unhappy at work may have an effect on decreasing the supply of quality teachers.

Many states are currently experiencing steep drops in enrollments for teacher preparation programs. As Education Week recently reported, “Massive changes to the profession, coupled with budget woes, appear to be shaking the image of teaching as a stable, engaging career. Nationwide, enrollments in university teacher-preparation programs have fallen by about 10 percent from 2004 to 2012.”

In some states, the constricted supply of new teacher recruits has lead to an “employee’s market” for teachers that makes it difficult for schools and districts to find suitable candidates at the budget levels they are given from the state.

Classroom teacher and popular blogger Peter Greene has noticed that the problem of teacher shortages has become “cost to coast.” Greene cites examples of teacher shortages – or teacher recruitment and substitute teacher shortages – in many states and highlights numerous examples of diminished supplies of teachers for rural schools and specific subject areas – such as science and math. He also notices many states are responding to shortages by creating new programs that “fast track” new teacher recruits into the classroom with less preparation – which seems like a recipe for raising teacher attrition in the coming years.

Greene concludes, “There is no state among the fifty that is paying top dollar, providing great working conditions, and treating its teachers like professionals that is struggling with a teacher shortage. Instead, states offer low pay, poor work conditions, no job security, no autonomy, and no power over your own workplace and voila – teacher shortage.”

So yes, schools need to create schedules that give teachers opportunities to relieve themselves, get a bite to eat, and take care of other daily maintenance needs. But don’t stop there. Teachers need education policies made with their input and observant of the dignified treatment these professionals deserve.

Otherwise, it just stands to reason that when you make a job more stressful and negative, you’re going to get fewer qualified people who want to do it. That might not be economically efficient, but it is human nature. We don’t need a “reform” movement to tell us that.

 

7/23/2015 – Get Ready For The Next Wave Of Education “Reform”

THIS WEEK: Pre-K Reduces Special Ed Placements … Teach Kids To Share … Kids In Poverty … STEM Myth … Real Education Matters

TOP STORY

Get Ready For The Next Wave Of Education “Reform”

By Jeff Bryant

“Education activists are rejoicing that the latest versions of No Child Left Behind reauthorization coursing through Congress may give struggling schools a way to have more control over their own governance and destiny … As anti-democratic pressures appear to be easing on the federal front, they are ratcheting up in states across the country. In fact, the next form of education “reform” may be as bad or worse than what NCLB imposed.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

How Early Education Can Reduce Special Education Placements

New America Foundation

“Two effective early childhood programs implemented in North Carolina … decreased third grade special education placements through early intervention … Third grade enrollment in special education is a critical benchmark, because transitions out of special education decrease dramatically after third grade … The study found that when combined, the programs reduced special education placements by 39% This not only means that almost 40% fewer children would be enrolled in special education at the end of third grade, improving their later in life outcomes, but also presents significant cost savings to the state … They further add to the research that proves the myriad benefits of high quality early education programs, especially for our most at risk students.”
Read more …

If You Want Your Children To Succeed, Teach Them To Share In Kindergarten

The Washington Post

“Kindergartners who share, cooperate and are helpful are more likely to have a college degree and a job 20 years later than children who lack those social skills … Kids who get along well with others also are less likely to have substance-abuse problems and run-ins with the law… Early-childhood education programs and schools could identify children with weak social skills early on, when they are still very receptive to learning how to behave differently … Children who interact well as kindergartners are more likely to make friends and get positive feedback from teachers and, therefore, are more likely to like school and stay in school.”
Read more …

More Children Are In Poverty Today Than Before The Great Recession

PBS

“One out of five American children live in poverty … 22% of children live in poverty, up from 18% in 2008 … Minnesota led the United States in children’s overall well-being … Minnesota has one of the lowest rates of uninsured children in the country. The state also maintains ongoing early childhood education programs … At a time when economic crisis gripped the nation, and when many states cut social welfare programs in a desperate attempt to manage budget deficits, Minnesota preserved many of these programs designed to help low-income individuals and families … At the bottom is Mississippi, where the child-poverty rate is a staggering one in three.”
Read more …

The Frenzy About High-Tech Talent

The New York Review Of Books

“In Falling Behind?, Michael Teitelbaum … vehemently denies that we are lagging in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, now commonly abbreviated as STEM … The US has all the high-tech brains and bodies it needs, or at least that the economy can absorb … Of 19.5 million holders of degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, only 5.4 million were working in those fields … 28% of engineers and 38% of computer scientists were either unemployed or holding jobs that did not need their training … In the decade ending in 2022, the number of engineering jobs will have increased only by 8.6%, which falls short of the 10.6% rise expected for the workforce as a whole. Most striking are forecasts for the chemical, mechanical, and electrical specialties, long mainstays of the profession. Together, the three are estimated to grow by only 4.3%, well under half the expected growth in the workforce.”
Read more …

Real Education Still Matters: Exposing the Limits And Myths of Educational Instrumentalism

Teachers College Record

Sociology professor at Georgetown University Peter Cookson writes, “The dominant narrative concerning the purposes of education has become increasingly narrowed and instrumental … Educational instrumentalism … elevates the quantifiable ‘products’ of education such as paper credentials and time spent in school above the complex, adventurous, and rebellious processes that characterize transformative education … Educational instrumentalism is the background metaphor and rationale of much of contemporary educational policy discussions … Progressive education in the tradition of John Dewey … is desperately needed today. Not only because it is based on ethical principles of freedom that are essential for the preservation of democracy, but expressive, progressive education is the only educational philosophy that can actually prepare today’s students for tomorrow.”
Read more …

Get Ready For The Next Wave Of Education “Reform”

Education activists are rejoicing that the latest versions of No Child Left Behind reauthorization coursing through Congress may give struggling schools a way to have more control over their own governance and destiny.

NCLB originally mandated such unreal expectations on schools the vast majority of them would be branded “failed.” New legislation, as currently written, would change that.

Prominent education groups representing teachers and administrators like this turn of events and want bills from the House and the Senate to quickly proceed to conference.

Should the onerous provisions imposed on schools by NCLB indeed be lifted, lots of struggling schools will breathe easier without the “failed” brand looming over their buildings. But if this new flexibility comes to pass, it’s no time to take a victory lap if you’re someone who believes teachers, parents, and students should have a voice in how their local schools operate.

As anti-democratic pressures appear to be easing on the federal front, they are ratcheting up in states across the country. In fact, the next form of education “reform” may be as bad or worse than what NCLB imposed.

Out With The Old Reform, In With … ?

Alyson Klein in Education Week summarizes specifically what NCLB originally imposed and how that policy may be changed by new legislation.

As she explains, under NCLB, states were required to meet “annual achievement goals” – basically, test score targets – for students including “subgroups” such as English-language learners and students in special education. When schools couldn’t meet these targets – and most schools can’t – they were considered to be not making “adequate yearly progress,” or AYP. As Klein states, “The 2013-14 proficiency deadline turned out to be unrealistic. By 2015, no state had gotten all of its students over that bar.”

Waivers offered by the Obama administration provided states a way to avoid immediate sanctions, but the waiver requirements were equally absurd, and, Klein observes, ” Not many states took the department up on that flexibility.”

What new legislation appears to be aiming for, Klein explains, is a way for states to get out of AYP and develop their own accountability systems.

But as this mostly good thing appears to be happening a mostly bad thing is also in the works, and there is a danger punitive “accountability” policies from the federal government are about to pivot to even more unreasonable measures from states.

The danger, in particular, comes in the form of new policies being taken up by an increasing number of states to create special agencies – usually made up of non-elected officials – with the power to swoop into communities, take over local school governance, and turn schools over to private management groups often associated with large charter school chains.

These appointed boards often take on the guise of a shining knight – using names like Recovery School District or Achievement School District. But they are anything but gallant soldiers coming to the rescue.

Same As The Old Boss

As I reported in my investigation of Nashville public schools, when state lawmakers in Tennessee created its state takeover agency, called the Achievement School District, they gave appointed officials the power to override local governance and take control of the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in the state.

ASD required districts to enforce, for their lowest performing schools, either or both of the following measures: fire school staff or hand the school over to a charter school management organization.

Conveniently, the ASD is also a charter authorizer, so it can designate any of its schools for charter takeover, and indeed has done so numerous times. In fact, the outgoing superintendent of the ASD, Chris Barbic, is the founder and ex-CEO of the Yes Prep chain of charter schools. When the ASD rolled into Memphis, another troubled Tennessee school district, the ASD immediately began targeting the district’s schools for takeover by charter operations.

My article quotes Metro Nashville Public School board member Will Pinkston who explains how “the charter school movement has hijacked education policy” by using the ASD as an opening to impose more privatization of public schools without any local consent of the educators and families affected.

Pinkston accuses the ASCD of engineering “hostile takeovers” of local schools that marginalize community input, much like federal mandates imposed by NCLB did. “It’s immoral to force this kind of change on people who don’t want it,” he states.

It also doesn’t work.

No Way To Govern Schools

Prompted by Barbic’s recent resignation announcement, Andrea Zelinski, a reporter for a Nashville independent news outlet, recalls his initial promise was to “turn the state’s bottom 5 percent of schools to the top 25 percent in five years.” His Achievement District came nowhere near to achieving that.

As Zelinski reports, “Results from last year show reading scores were lower in ASD schools in 2014 than they were before the state stepped in 2012. In the six schools the district has run for two years (a benchmark for inclusion in ASD scores), third through eighth grade reading scores plummeted from 18.1 percent on grade level before the takeover to 13.4 percent in its first year. Last year, reading scores rebounded to 17 percent, but still fall below pre-takeover scores. In that time, math scores have climbed more than five points.”

We’ve seen this kind of failure elsewhere when state agencies step in with takeover efforts and impose their will on a community’s schools.

In Michigan, for instance, a statewide Education Achievement Authority created by Governor Rick Snyder in 2011 has been lording over local schools without having much positive results to show for it.

As an article in The Detroit Metro Times explains, efforts by the Michigan EAA to improve achievement levels of students in that city have been fraught with financial shenanigans and charges of corruption with little to show for improvement in student performance. On the state-administered standardized tests, “a high majority of EAA students are either stagnating in terms of reaching math and reading proficiency, or falling even further behind,” the article explains.

A Detroit-based advocacy group went even deeper into the test data to report, “Most EAA students failed to make even marginal progress toward proficiency. The portrait is even grimmer for the small number of students who had entered the EAA already demonstrating proficiency. In math, 66 percent are no longer proficient. In reading, 37 percent are no longer proficient.”

Despite the poor track record of these state-operated school takeover agencies, lawmakers across the country are still making moves to adopt similar “reform” models.

The Madness Spreads

“Nevada, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arkansas all appear poised to launch state-run turnaround school districts,” similar to the one operated by the Volunteer State according to Tennessee Chalkbeat news outlet.

“In at least five other states – Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin – lawmakers or activists have begun campaigns to launch similar programs,” the report continues. Also, Virginia would likely have its version of an ASD, called Opportunity Education Institute, were it not struck down by a court ruling.

Add North Carolina to the list of states interested in a state takeover program. As education journalist Lindsay Wagner of NC Policy Watch reports, the Tarheel state appears to be the “next to take up this flavor of education reform.”

Wagner reports that an NC Republican Representative is “pushing a bill that would pull five of the state’s lowest-performing elementary schools out of their local school districts and put them into a state-controlled ‘achievement school district.’”

Like the Tennessee model, this policy would allow the appointed agency “to fire all teachers and staff and enter into five year contracts with private charter school management companies to handle the schools’ operations.”

In Ohio, governor, and now presidential candidate, John Kasich is using a law that requires the establishment of an Academic Distress Committee for struggling schools to enact new legislation that overrides local control. According to an Ohio press outlet, the new law lets the state appoint a new CEO who can override the local superintendent, convert “failed” schools to charter schools, and transfer elected school boards to mayoral appointment.

Ohio, it should be noted, may have the nation’s most maligned charter schools – so bad, in fact, they have become the object of ridicule among charter school supporters.

In New York, the state Education Department recently put 144 ”persistently struggling” schools under a new program that threatens them with “outside receivership.” According to a New York news source, this makes the schools subject to being “taken over by an independent entity, such as a college or even a charter school operator.”

Not surprisingly, as education historian Diane Ravitch reports from her personal blog, the schools being targeted for takeover are way more apt to enroll low-income students of color, children with learning disabilities, or students whose first language isn’t English.

A Fight For Democracy

These state takeovers of public school districts invariably send students, parents, and teachers to the ramparts.

As I reported from Nashville, communities being targeted for state takeover of their schools are fighting back. Whether the target is York, Pennsylvania; Youngstown, Ohio; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; or Bellaire, Michigan, Americans insist on having control of their education destinies.

Those who back this new version of education reform call resistance to their plans “government monopoly,” “the education establishment,” or “the status quo.”

I call it democracy.