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11/20/2014 – People ‘Walk In’ For Public Schools

THIS WEEK: Number Homeless Children Soars … New Test Scores, More Failures … Banks Rip-Off Schools … K12 Charters Tank … $3.9 Billion For EdTech

TOP STORY

Why People Are ‘Walking In’ For Public Schools

By Jeff Bryant

“Organizations representing advocates for public schools have joined their voices today in events across the country as part of a national Week of Action for the Public Schools All Our Children Deserve. The combined groups refer to themselves as the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, a national alliance of parent, youth and community organizations and labor groups fighting for educational justice and equity in access to school resources and opportunities. The actions and appeals of today’s events vary, but there’s a unifying theme throughout: well-resourced community schools.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Number Of Homeless Children In America Surges To All-Time High: Report

The Huffington Post

“The number of homeless children in the U.S. has surged in recent years to an all-time high, amounting to one child in every 30 … Nearly 2.5 million American children were homeless at some point in 2013 … Child homelessness increased by 8 percent nationally from 2012 to 2013 … Neither federal nor state housing assistance nor incentives for developers to create low-income housing have kept pace with demand.”
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Cutoff Scores Set For Common-Core Tests

Education Week

“A consortium that is designing assessments for the Common Core State Standards released data Monday projecting that more than half of students will fall short of the marks that connote grade-level skills on its tests of English/language arts and mathematics … According to cut scores approved Friday night by the 22-state consortium, 41% of 11th graders will show proficiency in English/language arts, and 33% will do so in math. In elementary and middle school, 38% to 44% will meet the proficiency mark in English/language arts, and 32% to 39% will do so in math … If the achievement projections hold true for the first operational test next spring, state officials will be faced with a daunting public relations task: convincing policymakers and parents that the results are a painful but temporary result of asking students to dig deeper intellectually so they will be better prepared for college or good jobs.”
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How The Banks Bamboozled Chicago

Chicago Sun Times

“The City of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools pay more than $100 million annually on interest rate swaps … Banks misled CPS about the risks involved with these deals … Complex financing schemes involving auction rate securities and swaps likely could cost CPS at least $100 million more than plain vanilla bonds … Banks unlawfully steered CPS into these deals without making adequate disclosures about risk … The banks have a legal and moral obligation to give back the money they have stolen from Chicago and CPS.”
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What Went Wrong At The Upstart School Milken Backed?

Bloomberg News

“K12 Inc. (LRN) was heralded as the next revolution in schooling. Billionaire Michael Milken backed it, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush praised it … Plagued by subpar test scores, the largest operator of online public schools in the U.S. has lost management contracts or been threatened with school shutdowns in five states this year … Once-soaring enrollment at the more than 60 public schools it manages has dropped almost 5%. Targeted by short sellers, who benefit from a company’s decline, K12 shares have tumbled by two-thirds.”
Read more …

FCC Proposes $3.9 Billion For School Technology Program

THE Journal

“A proposal … called for a permanent $1.5 billion increase in the cap for E-rate, up from the current $2.4 billion, that would be used to pay for technology in schools … E-rate is funded through a fee users pay as part of their phone bill. The increase in the cap, to $3.9 billion, would be covered by an increase to that fee of about $0.16 to $0.19 per month per residential ‘rate payer’ … The announcement was met with immediate support from education advocacy groups.”
Read more …

Why People Are ‘Walking-In’ For Public Schools

Every school day in the Lincoln Park community on the North Side of Chicago greets students with well-appointed institutions that include some of the best facilities that American public schools have to offer.

Click over to the Yelp ratings for the elementary schools and you’ll read parent reviews that talk about their elementary school’s band programs, afterschool programs, and recent innovative practices being implemented. The high school website features the school’s richly stocked library and well-outfitted sports teams (the swim team has its own Olympic-sized pool, and there’s a golf team, no less). There’s a performing arts faculty, a world language department offering French, German, Spanish, and Arabic; extensive performing arts opportunities; and an International Baccalaureate program. A raft of “specialists” are on hand to support students needing extra help.

This is not at all like the lived experience of students attending public schools on Chicago’s South Side. The schools serving the overwhelmingly black and brown students in those neighborhoods aren’t quite so sparkling. Click over to the websites for those schools (if the sites are still functioning), and you’ll see into a different world: no pool, no library, much shorter lists of academic offerings, and relatively few mentions of the arts.

In fact, according to a recent report at The Huffington Post, the U.S. Department of Education has launched an investigation into alleged discrimination at two of those public schools “where course offerings have been slashed to the point where physical education is only available as an online class,” and students are no longer being offered any honors and other advanced classes they need to attend college.

What’s worse, many neighborhoods in South Side Chicago don’t even have public schools anymore, making their communities “school deserts,” according to a recent report from MSNBC. After years of chronic neglect, their schools were deemed “failures,” and they were closed.

Did the schools fail, or did the system? Do these schools need “reform,” or does the whole system?

You’d think this blatant discrimination would get noticed and addressed in cities like Chicago. But people at the brunt of these disparities have yet to be heard. Today, they are speaking out again.

A National Week Of Action Culminates Today

Many of those who are raising their voices in protest in Chicago are showing up today at a press conference in front of the Mayor’s office at City Hall in which parents, teachers, students, and community members, predominantly from the South Side, will demand a meeting with the mayor and will be prepared to engage in civil disobedience.

The Chicago activists are not alone. Joining activists in Chicago today, there are protest actions in at least 18 other cities. Like today’s event in Chicago, the happenings in other cities are taking place because students, parents, teachers, and citizens from underserved communities in many of our cities are fed up with the conditions of their schools – especially when they can see that schools in the better-off parts of town get what they need.

Organizations representing these aggrieved citizens have joined their voices in today’s events as part of a national Week of Action for the Public Schools All Our Children Deserve.

The combined groups refer to themselves as the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, a national alliance of parent, youth and community organizations and labor groups fighting for educational justice and equity in access to school resources and opportunities.

The actions and appeals of today’s events vary, but there’s a unifying theme throughout. The events coincide with recognition of November 20 being the Universal Children’s Day approved by the United Nation’s Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959.

In many of today’s actions, the Alliance reports, activists will walk their children into schools and hold demonstrations at prominent public buildings. They’ll join with civil rights leaders, elected officials and faith leaders to promote policies that improve schools instead of closing them. They’ll call for their schools to be resourced well enough to include the full range of student needs, including adequate teaching staff for a well-rounded curriculum, school nurses and librarians, and counselors and social workers.

This demand for more well resourced schools that attend to the full range of student needs is being loosely defined as “community schools.”

Walking In For Education Equality

Many of the actions involve walking into schools – as opposed to walking out – as a symbolic gesture of support for public education and an opportunity for concerned citizens and the media to see the conditions and challenges these schools face.

The “walk-in” concept originated in North Carolina and St. Paul, Minnesota, where teachers and students, unable or unwilling to walk out of schools, held walk-ins to voice their concerns, educate their communities, and galvanize support for the movement to reclaim our public schools.

In Austin, public school activists are focusing on Travis High School, a struggling school in an underserved community that has been labeled “failed.” They are inviting media inside the school to see the conditions and view firsthand the challenges the educators and students face in their school. And they are calling for the Austin district to implement the community schools model for school like Travis.

In Boston, public school advocates are walking in early to Dearborn Middle School to support the school, address critical infrastructure issues, advocate for a turnaround approach for the school based on a community schools mode, and protest the school being turned over to a charter operator.

In Detroit, Michigan, people are meeting at the home of one child in the Brightmoor neighborhood and then accompanying their children on their route to school, where they will meet in a press conference to call attention to inequitable transportation for students and demand implementation of sustainable community schools.

In other cities – Buffalo, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and elsewhere – public school advocates are packing school board meetings where they will air their grievances over inadequate resources and call for community schools in their neighborhoods.

Advocates in Philadelphia, New York City, and elsewhere are holding educational presentations with panel discussions and other informative activities. New York City recently gave the concept of community schools a big boost when newly-elected mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to address the city’s most troubled schools with more money and staffing, extended day services, and arrangements for social services to be delivered to students and families on site.

Local Actions, Nationwide Problem

The Week of Action is national because the problem is national in scope.

Many of the participants in today’s events, recently, combined their voices in a project under the banner of a Journey for Justice alliance.

Their report “Death by a Thousand Cuts: Racism, School Closures, and Public School Sabotage,” published earlier this year, concluded, “The public education systems in our communities are dying. More accurately, they are being killed by an alliance of misguided, paternalistic ‘reformers,’ education profiteers, and those who seek to dismantle the institution of public education.”

The report documents that staggering budget austerity being inflicted on school systems in urban communities around the country. While “predominantly Black and Latino communities are experiencing an epidemic of public school closures,” the report contends, “there has been a massive shift in resources from public entities to private organizations, especially within low-income communities of color.”

The authors note that “a small number of community-based charter schools offering high-quality, innovative services that cannot be provided by our local public schools” has morphed into a policy for charter schools to “replace our public schools.”

Their research finds that the disruption of this massive reshaping of urban schools undermines education quality, limits access (and choice) to good schools, wastes resources and diminishes teacher effectiveness, among other results.

Today’s nationwide walk-ins should be a call to all Americans to demand our leaders abandon current public education policies and begin implementing what would truly represent a more positive direction forward.

 

 

11/13/2014 – Can We Stop Using Tests To Drive Education Reform?

THIS WEEK: Where Education Won … What $160 Gets You … Importance Of School Absentee Rates … Choice Breeds Segregation … For-Profit College Stocks May Soar

TOP STORY

Can We, “Stop Using Tests To Drive Education Reform?”

By Jeff Bryant

“With the new standards seemingly a potentially beneficial ends being undone by a stifling, narrow-minded means … the best idea may be to ‘stop using tests to try to drive education reform.’ That conclusion is in fact rapidly becoming the center of the debate over education policy across the country… Reports about widespread protests against standardized tests are now routine … Politicians and public officials are starting to hear the growing chorus against testing … We’ve yet to hear a coherent answer to, ‘Can we stop using tests to drive education reform?’ But any legitimate notion of ‘reform’ will have to come up with one.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Ballot Measure Wins Show Strong Support For Pro-Public Education Policies

National Education Association

“Many voters who had the opportunity to vote on specific issues supported policies that are good for students and working families. That held true even in states that elected candidates who are less-friendly or downright hostile toward public education … Missouri voters took a stand on behalf of their educators and public schools when they voted overwhelmingly against … an initiative to change the state constitution to use student performance on high-stakes standardized tests to determine teacher pay; demote or terminate educators; or punish struggling schools … Illinois voters said ‘heck yeah’ when they were asked whether individuals with incomes greater than $1 million should pay more of their fair share in taxes in order to increase support for public schools … Voters in Hawaii rejected a ballot measure that would have used public money on private pre-kindergarten programs. Opponents of the measure strongly believe that the state should indeed expand early learning programs, but by establishing fully funded preschool through the public education system … Washington state passed its class size ballot measure. [Update here]”
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Running A School On $160

The Philadelphia Inquirer

“The number couldn’t possibly be right, Marc Gosselin thought: $160. That was the total discretionary budget he was handed as the brand-new principal of Anna Lane Lingelbach Elementary … Gosselin zeroed in on students’ reading levels – just 42% were meeting state standards. He wanted to administer short tests to gauge children’s reading … But there was no money to buy the test – or even paper to copy it … The school has no music class nor playground equipment … Nearly 90% of pupils live in poverty … Still, the school is calm. It runs smoothly, and its staff want to be there. They have been the glue holding Lingelbach together, and classrooms are bright with materials teachers have purchased themselves.”
Read more …

Absenteeism: Another Way To Measure School Poverty

The Hechinger Report

“A new report out of New York City suggests that policy makers should identify troubled schools by their absenteeism rates – a relatively easy data point to obtain – and then work to fix the schools by addressing each one’s unique problems, from homelessness and child abuse to teacher turnover and safety … Only 11% of the students at schools with chronic absenteeism passed the city’s math and reading tests in 2012-13. Other schools with similar poverty levels but better attendance rates posted much higher test scores … Schools with chronic absenteeism were likely to be beset by other poverty-related problems, such as male unemployment in the neighborhood and high rates of homelessness.”
Read more …

Cliques Thrive in Schools That Give Students More Choices, Study Says

Education Week

“Students are more likely to organize in homogenous and hierarchical cliques in schools that offer them more choices … ‘Schools that offer students more choice – more elective courses, more ways to complete requirements, a bigger range of potential friends, more freedom to select seats in a classroom – are more likely to be rank-ordered, cliquish, and segregated by race, age, gender, and social status,’ … Such tight social arrangements are less likely to form at schools that limit social choices – encouraging students to interact based on school work rather than on the basis of their social lives – and at smaller schools … Choice in schools just makes it easier for students to form those social clusters. So maybe the answer can be found in addressing those social and emotional elements, rather than taking the choices away all together.”
Read more …

Banks Urge Investors To Buy For-Profit College Stocks Now That The GOP Is Taking Back Congress

Think Progress

“The Republican resurgence on Capitol Hill makes for-profit education company stock a hot commodity, according to industry analysts who expect a GOP-controlled Congress to loosen oversight of both student lending firms and for-profit colleges … The analyses were based primarily on future legislative predictions … much friendlier to the companies that run for-profit schools … ‘diminished regulatory risk characteristics of a Republican-controlled electorate’ makes student lending company stocks likely to rise in value … Stock in Strayer Education Inc., one of the largest for-profit college companies, was up almost 10% from Tuesday morning to Thursday morning. DeVry’s stock is up nearly 3% and Apollo Education Group’s is up over 2.5% … The companies that operate these high-cost, low-value degree-granting institutions are immensely profitable, spend a billion dollars more on recruiting than on educating annually, and reward their executive officers with massive pay packages. In many cases, these companies get 90 percent of their income from federal student loan dollars.”
Read more …

Can We, “Stop Using Tests To Drive Education Reform?”

“Stop using tests to try to drive education reform.”

That’s the conclusion from a recent in-depth report examining the pros and cons of new education standards called the Common Core and the standardized tests that accompany the new achievement targets.

The report “Questioning The Common Core Tests” from American Radio Works, a project of American Public Media, examined the rollout of the new standards, particularly in the state of New York where that rollout has been accompanied by huge controversies over dramatic increases in the failure rates on new state tests.

The reporter, Emily Hanford, casts the new standards as mostly a good thing. She quoted a “a mom and a former math teacher” who claims the standards have led to changes in her children’s school that encourage them to “think more.” And Hanford spoke with Carol Burris, an award-winning principal from a high school on Long Island, New York, who “would like to see students at all schools in the United States get the kind of education that’s laid out in the Common Core standards.”

But Hanford balanced sunny views of the Common Core with the reality of the increased standardized testing that tends to accompany the new standards wherever they go. Indeed, increased testing is now at the heart of “reform” policies being implemented in every school, with new tests now being rolled, even in kindergarten and pre-school and to children who have severe disabilities.

“Testing is sucking the joy out of learning,” the New York mom Hanford interviewed declared. “She’s upset about all the class time taken up by the tests. Students in New York sit for up to nine hours of Common Core testing, at the end of the school year, plus interim assessments and practice tests.”

Another parent complained, “The curriculum has been taken over by ‘constant’ test prep.“ Another said, “The kids hear all day long and all year long, ‘Do it this way so it’ll be right on the test’ … The kids are getting a sense that it’s all about this looming test.”

Principal Burris, Hanford summarized, doesn’t believe any potential good coming from new standards “will happen as long as there are high-stakes tests attached.”

Given the context Hanford’s report established – with the new standards seemingly a potentially beneficial ends being undone by a stifling, narrow-minded means – it’s hard not to reach the same thought she ended with, paraphrasing Burris, that the best idea may be to “stop using tests to try to drive education reform.”

That conclusion is in fact rapidly becoming the center of the debate over education policy across the country, not just in New York and not just in regards to the roll out of Common Core.

Test Rebellion Grows, Spreads

Indeed, reports about widespread protests against standardized tests are now routine.

Most prominent among them was the recent headline in The New York Times “States Listen As Parents Give Rampant Testing An F.” The article told of a recent parent meeting in a Florida high school auditorium in which, moms and dads “railed at a system that they said was overrun by new tests coming from all levels – district, state and federal. Some wept as they described teenagers who take Xanax to cope with test stress, children who refuse to go to school and teachers who retire rather than promote a culture that seems to value testing over learning.”

The reporter, Lizette Alvarez, noted Florida schools this year will “dedicate on average 60 to 80 days out of the 180-day school year to standardized testing. In a few districts, tests were scheduled to be given every day to at least some students.”

The overemphasis on testing, Alvarez found, has led to parents and educators across the state “rebelling.”

Florida, even more than New York, has been a “model” of “education reform” other state leaders have been urged to follow – implementing the Common Core and other “innovations.” But the changes have brought about the increased emphasis on testing. In response to that emphasis, parents and educator inFlorida, like those in New York, are joining what amounts to “a national protest,” in Alvarez’s words, against all the testing requirements that invariably accompany the reforms.

As proof of the national scope of the uprising, the Times reporter pointed to the organization Fair Test, the National Center on Fair and Open Testing, which keeps a running tally of test-related news and commentary on its website. Anyone scanning the weekly accounts will quickly learn that the vehement outrage over increased standardized testing has spread to every state and is continuing to increase in intensity.

Last month FairTest released a detailed report on the testing resistance and reform movement. The report found, “In the spring of 2014, an estimated 60,000 parents refused the tests in New York (5 percent of the state’s students in grades 3-8), more than 1,000 opted out in Chicago, and across Colorado more than 1,400 boycotted. Parents and students opted out in many other states. Meanwhile, people organized to roll back testing in more than half the states, using public forums, social and traditional media campaigns, rallies, petitions and legislative efforts, as well as boycotts. This represents a major expansion from spring 2013; for example, there were 10 times as many refusers in New York this year compared with last.”

Roots Of Test Mania

Where did all the testing come from?

As the Times reporter Hanford noted, “Common Core does not require states to test students, but the No Child Left Behind Act does. That law, signed by President George W. Bush in 2002, says that in order to get certain kinds of federal education funding, states must test their students every year in grades three through eight and once in high school. The law requires states to publish test results. When the law went into effect, it mandated that by 2014, every student would have to score ‘proficient’ on those tests. States that failed to reach this goal could lose federal funding.”

Then the emphasis on testing increased dramatically when new requirements for teacher and principal evaluations rolled out under the Obama administration. “Evaluating teachers by test scores is not part of Common Core,” Hanford explained again, “but it’s been linked to it because of money the Obama administration gave to states as part of its Race to the Top grant program. To be eligible for that program, states had to adopt Common Core (or similarly rigorous standards and assessments), and they had to put into place teacher evaluation systems that use student test score growth as a ‘significant’ part of both teacher and school principal evaluations.”

Actually, it’s difficult to find any aspect of the agenda known as “education reform” that is not inextricably linked to test scores.

Scores on international tests have been used to condemn the American public education system. Test scores are frequently given as chief rationale for state takeovers of local school districts and for closing neighborhood schools. And test scores are now the principal means of determining nearly every value proposition for education – whether to include art and music in the curriculum, choose charter schools over public ones, add extended hours or new technologies.

As I explained some time ago, education reform advocates took their lessons from financial markets that learned how to “flip” the value of a commodity with unclear quantitative value – whether it was the number of hits on a website or the unsecured value of a mortgage debt – into a specific value in the form of a security to buy and sell on Wall Street.

By decreeing that student scores on standardized tests would define the “output” schools would be accountable for, reformers – either unwittingly or intentionally (does it matter?) – turned student learning – and by extension, the students themselves – into a commodity that could be speculated on in the context of all sorts of “reform” schemes – from starting charter schools to lowering teacher salaries to closing schools.

Now the true costs of this mindset – that it might be corrupting, even inhumane – are becoming clear to people who are most affected by the policy.

Leaders Are Starting To Hear But Do They Listen?

Politicians and public officials are starting to hear the growing chorus against testing.

Recently in Ohio, district superintendents in the northeast corner of the state condemned what they called “test mania,” calling the state’s new exam schedule – doubling test time to 10 hours per student – an “abomination.”

As the FairTest report cited above noted in its Executive Summary, “School boards are also resisting test overkill. In Texas, 85 percent of districts passed a resolution condemning testing for ‘strangling’ education. That set the stage for a 2013 parent-led legislative campaign that rolled back the number of graduation tests from 15 to 5. In New York, about 20 districts refused to administer tests used for the sole purpose of trying out items for the next year’s state exams. Parents prodded the districts and provided legal backing. This fall, the Lee County, Florida, school board voted to opt out of all state-mandated standardized tests. Though it later retreated, that school board and others across the state, together with parent and teacher allies, are pursuing strategies to slash state test requirements, making it easier for districts to reduce their own testing mandates.”

In August, Education Secretary Arne Duncan added to the chorus when he wrote in a blog post that “testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools.” Recently, 11 civil rights groups that constitute the Advancement Project told Duncan to drop K-12 test-based accountability system.

Then in October, leaders of state and large-city school districts announced “a joint effort to evaluate and improve the quality and quantity of student assessments in public schools across the nation.”

Back to the question, “Can we stop using tests to drive education reform?”

Answering that question will take more than new policy; it will take a new mindset.

As Hanford noted in her Times article, “New York State Education Commissioner John King believes tests are necessary to get teachers to start teaching the Common Core. ‘People do what’s measured,’ he said at an education policy breakfast at NYU in the Fall of 2012. ‘And measuring the Common Core has to be a part of how we insure successful implementation.’”

This is not only an extraordinarily narrow-minded view of human nature; it’s also bad for education. The notion that something as complex as a school system, overseeing something as ill-defined as “learning,” can be evaluated and governed by specific and isolated “data outputs,” has always been a really bad way of thinking about public policy. In fact, there’s lots of evidence teachers will try new ideas when they’re not being measured.

Changing this mindset will be harder than changing the policy. As teacher and Education Week contributor Peter Greene wrote on his popular blogsite, when Secretary Duncan criticized the over-reliance on high stakes testing in our schools, he was essentially correct. ” It’s just that his words have nothing to do with the policies pursued by his Department of Education … Duncan does not welcome an examination of the way in which standardized testing is driving actual education out of classrooms across America.”

What Greene, Principal Carol Burris, and others foresee, unfortunately, is rather than a complete change in mindset, what we’re seeing instead is just a change in jargon in how supporters of reform express their policy proposals.

So we’ve yet to hear a coherent answer to, “Can we stop using tests to drive education reform?” But any legitimate notion of “reform” will have to come up with one.

 

10/6/2014 – Education Coalition Isn’t There, Yet

THIS WEEK: States Fund Prisons Instead Of Schools … Ant-Testing Movement Grows … Don’t Abolish Teacher Tenure … High Principal Turnover Rates Hurt … After School Programs Help

TOP STORY

The Coalition For An Education Agenda Just Isn’t There, Yet

By Jeff Bryant

“Proponents claiming the mantle of “education reform” have been quick to jump on the one-sided election results as proof-positive of widespread voter support for their ideas … But results from the midterms mostly revealed an education agenda has yet to have its day in the sun, electorally, and any agenda for the nation’s schools will have to be bound into a coalition of other, more populist, causes … There’s evidence that Democrats can get their house in order when they adopt more populist messages that align with coalitions that advocate for economic fairness and social equity. Advocates for public schools won’t reliably win elections until that they embrace that coalition and successfully push the party that direction.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

States Are Prioritizing Prisons Over Education, Budgets Show

The Huffington Post

“If state budget trends reflect the country’s policy priorities, then the U.S. currently values prisoners over children … The growth of state spending on prisons in recent years has far outpaced the growth of spending on education. After adjusting for inflation, state general fund spending on prison-related expenses increased over 140% between 1986 and 2013. During the same period, state spending on K-12 education increased only 6%9, while higher education saw an increase of less than 6% … since 2008, spending on education has actually declined in a majority of states in the wake of the Great Recession … Rates of violent crime and property crime have actually fallen over the years, even while incarceration rates have risen … States’ spending practices are ultimately harming their economies, while not making the states especially safer.”
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The Rise Of The Anti-Standardized Testing Movement

The Washington Post

At the blog hosted by Valerie Strauss, Monty Neil writes, “Across the nation, resistance to test overuse and misuse reached unprecedented heights in the spring of 2014 … Resistance erupted in more states with far more participants, and it won notable victories, such as ending, lessening or postponing graduation exams in at least eight states and easing or ending grade promotion tests … The most visible, dynamic form of resistance was to boycott the tests … Test resistance and reform campaigns used many tactics … School boards are also resisting test overkill … The ultimate goals of the movement are to dramatically reduce the amount of testing, end high stakes uses, and implement educationally sound assessments.”
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Don’t Abolish Teacher Tenure

CNN

Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile writes, “Right now, we should be lifting up and championing educators. The last thing we should be doing is discouraging or dampening the enthusiasm of a new generation … Due process policies such as tenure are put in place to protect good teachers from being fired without cause. They aren’t there to protect ‘bad’ teachers … Contrary to what some naysayers – and magazine covers – continue to hawk, the American people are proud of their public schools. And they’re proud of their teachers, too … Far too many Democrats have largely avoided this issue out of a mistaken fear that running on a pro-public education platform would be a far too risky topic for their campaigns. Turns out these Democrats are just plain wrong. They’re missing a golden opportunity to highlight this important issue.”
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Principal Turnover Takes Costly Toll On Students And Districts, Report Says

Education Week

“The high rate of principal turnover is costing school districts dearly, particularly teachers and students in high-poverty systems … A quarter of the country’s principals quit their schools each year, according to the report, and nearly 50 percent leave in their third year… That churn happens after a district typically has spent an estimated $75,000 on each leader to prepare, hire, and place that person on the job … Strong leaders contribute up to 25 percent of the school factors that influence a student’s academic performance, according to the report. And teachers often make decisions about where to teach and how long they stay at a particular school in a large part based on its leadership … A number of factors drive the principal exodus, including workload, costs – personal, psychological and financial – lack of autonomy, and isolation. Another key reason leaders leave is the lack of support and professional development that principals receive once on the job.”
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After-School Programs Can Help Teens At Risk Of Dropping Out

US News & World Report

“After-school programs … can be an important tool in preventing at-risk teens from dropping out … Students who participate in what are known as expanded learning opportunities – which includes after-school programs – show higher rates of school attendance, lower dropout rates, and improved attitudes toward school … Besides giving students something to look forward to when coming to school, students in after-school have less opportunity to be involved in illegal activities, such as drug use and gang involvement, during the critical hours immediately following school … Teachers reported students in after-school programs improved their behavior in class. Plus, the additional tutoring and homework help often provided in after-school programs can help students improve their grades.”
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The Coalition For An Education Agenda Just Isn’t There, Yet

The anticipated role education was presumed to have in this week’s midterm election generally did not pan out.

Most analysts have concluded the election results derived from a wave of voter “discontent” mostly due to widespread economic dissatisfaction. Republican candidates were generally successful at attributing economic problems to the “failure” of the Obama presidency.

As my colleague Robert Borosage summarized, “The election was fundamentally about frustration with a recovery that most people haven’t enjoyed … The Republican theme was to blame President Obama and tie Democrats to him, arousing their base.”

The election results were also driven to a great deal by an outpouring of conservative big money. As long as Republicans have anchor-store status in the mall of the dark money influencing elections, they will have a strong advantage unless Democrats are able to muster large turnouts that reflect widespread popular support. But Democrats have been reluctant to view populism as a viable strategy to combat the big money leveraged against them.

Regarding education specifically, there were races here and there where the issue served an out-sized role in determining results. So proponents claiming the mantle of “education reform” have been quick to jump on the one-sided election results as proof-positive of widespread voter support for their ideas, which include competitive charter schools, vouchers to transfer public education money into private hands, and harsh accountability measures to punish schools and teachers for the circumstances they have very little control over.

Operatives from the conservative American Enterprise Institute opined that the mid term results would give conservatives an opportunity to take the lead on education reform. Another right wing operative Mike Petrtilli of the Thomas B. Fordaham Foundation, reviewed the Republican victories and concluded, “This will be good for education reform.”

First, it’s hard to believe a huge outpouring to defeat Obama – arguably the most powerful force ever to push for “education reform” – is somehow a resounding call for more education reform.

Second, what results from the midterms mostly revealed is an education agenda has yet to have its day in the sun, electorally, and any agenda for the nation’s schools will have to be bound into a coalition of other, more populist, causes.

It Takes A Coalition

Education showed its biggest presence in voters’ minds in the era of No Child Left Behind when a coalition formed to put the issue in a more populist frame.

That coalition was formed by centrist politicians, civil right rights groups, and business-minded policy advocates who believed they had come upon a magical method to ensure 100 percent of students would be proficient in math and reading by 2014. But today, the political parties have grown more extreme, civil rights groups have come to understand the promise of 100 percent proficiency was a lie, and business interests now view education as less of a cause and more of a sector to coopt for private ownership.

Absent of another broad coalition like the one that existed in the NCLB era, education is struggling to find an entrée status on campaign menus.

In midterm contests this year, Pennsylvania was an exception where education topped the list of concerns among voters in the governor’s race pitting Republican incumbent Tom Corbett against Democratic challenger Tom Wolf.

Corbett enacted significant budget cuts to schools which voters tended to view negatively, and Wolf capitalized on the voter anger to win. But the Wolf campaign successfully melded education with other issues, taking strong stances on populist issues related to economics. Wolf’s campaign talked about creating jobs – particularly manufacturing jobs – for middle class workers, making corporations pay their fair share of taxes, and equal pay for women.

Contrast that to the campaign of incumbent Senator Kay Hagan in North Carolina, another state where education was a top issue in the election, but also where the economy ended up being a more important driver of votes.

In that race, Hagan successfully tied her opponent Thom Tillis to his leading role in cutting education spending while serving as the Speaker of the House in the state’s legislature. But the Hagan campaign was an exemplar of Democratic centrism, touting her as an ardent moderate (as if there is such a thing) and advertising her as a “deficit hawk” who would balance budgets without increasing taxes. She lost.

Wisconsin was another state where a Republican candidate, sitting Governor Scott Walker, seemed vulnerable on education, but his opponent Mary Burke was unable to link his record of cutting schools to other, more populist causes. Walker was successful, an analyst at Slate concluded, because he “tapped into the cycle’s near-universal anti-Washington sentiment” and maintained a popular “man of the people” image (a false image for sure) that eschewed big money and out-of-state interests. Walker won.

A Coalition Of Contradictions

So based on mid-term results, where is the coalition voting for an agenda of education reform?

For years, fans of education reform have linked their campaign to the cause of civil rights, claiming that charter schools and strict accountability measures for teachers are part of an agenda for poor black and brown kids.

But the midterm election results were mostly about the resurgence of white male voters. As a post-election analysis in The New York Times explained, “Voters who turned out Tuesday were older, whiter, and more conservative.” That article quoted conservative Republican Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina who said, “When a diverse electorate shows up, Republicans struggle to win.”

Do reformers honestly claim this is the demographic that cares about “the civil rights issue of our time”?

Education reform’s adherence to politicians who are mostly Republican and resoundingly white eventually undoes them on the ground in places that are Democratic and diverse.

In New Jersey, for instance, the education reform bus ran aground in communities of color when voters turned out to defeat measures closely aligned to the reformy cause. In Bayonne, voters chose overwhelmingly to change from a mayoral appointed school board – a favored status in reform circles – to an elected school board. In Hoboken, opposition to charter schools was a decisive issue in a race that swept into office a new slate of the school board candidates.

The other notable constituent for education reform – business interests and wealthy private foundations – also clashes with a cause that claims to have roots in underserved communities.

That contradiction was most glaringly revealed in the race for state superintendent of schools in California, where incumbent and former teacher Tom Torlakson squared off against Marshall Tuck, a charter school administrator with a background in finance.

The contest was cast as a clash over “education reform,” and the candidates, both Democrats, indeed presented strong contrasts, with Torlakson being supportive of public schools and classroom teachers and Tuck advocating the need to “disrupt” education with more charter schools and stricter, managerial oversight of educators and school performance.

In a race that cost over $30 million, $25 million from outside groups, Torlakson was backed by labor unions and progressive activists while Tuck got the support of establishment newspapers and, according to one source, “30 donors who gave on average $267,000 each, including real estate developer William Bloomfield, Jr., Broad Foundation founder Eli Broad, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Emerson Collective Chair Laurene Powell Jobs.”

In California – a state generally supportive of traditionally Democratic values represented by unions, conservation groups, and organizations supportive of diversity and women’s rights – having a spokesperson for education reform so closely aligned to wealthy interests did not bode well for a candidacy like Tuck’s, and Torlakson prevailed.

The result of the Torlaskon-Tuck contest is yet another sign that strongly Democratic constituencies are increasingly uncomfortable in supporting education reform, and reformers will have to rely more on Republicans to carry their water.

Indeed the “bipartisan” aura of education reform seems to be waning in general. As yet another right wing education operative Andy Smarick surmised, there doesn’t appear to be “a credible, ed reform-oriented” voice in the Democratic Party. And offers of reform coming from Democrats are increasingly unlikely to woo Republican votes. In fact, in midterm elections in Colorado, when the group Democrats for Education Reform – an advocacy group of Republican money masquerading as centrist Democrats – made a high-spending bid to grab control of the state education board, their slate lost.

One Thing That’s Clear

While education reformers continue to present a coalition built on contradiction, those who oppose their agenda have yet to build a strong coalition of their own.

That was blatantly evident in the drubbing that the teachers’ unions took in the midterm, particularly in Wisconsin and Florida, where unions spent heavily and their candidates were soundly defeated.

Were the election to draw an electorate more traditionally aligned to the Democratic Party – with higher participation from the African American and Latino community and more support from younger voters and single mothers – the results may have been different but not assured.

Unfortunately, too often Democrats, as Harold Myerson explained for the American Prospect, find themselves stuck in an “intellectual and ideological” vacuum, where they have little to offer to voters angered about seeing their lot in lives continually worsened. The party’s problems with winning elections, as Ezra Klein noted in his analysis, aren’t with demographics, a structural disadvantage, or holding incumbency. They simply lack messages that resonate enough to draw out their reliable base and tap more Independent voters.

There’s evidence that Democrats can get their house in order when they adopt more populist messages that align with coalitions that advocate for economic fairness and social equity. Advocates for public schools won’t reliably win elections until that they embrace that coalition and successfully push the party that direction.

10/30/2014 – Big Money Taking Over Education Politics

THIS WEEK: Civil Rights & Accountability … Don’t Dis TFA … Fewer Want To Be Teachers … Black Girls Suspended More … New Accountability Needed

TOP STORY

Big Money Taking Over Education Politics

By Jeff Bryant

“Big money from businesses and private individuals and foundations is now altering the electoral process in school board elections and state level contests for school administration. Often, the big money comes from people who associate with the Democratic Party. Further, these wealthy Democrats often collude with conservative Republicans in these school-related elections in ways they never would in other contests. This confluence of big money is often called ‘bipartisanship.’ But the results are apt to be the same we’ve seen in more popular elections – a distortion of democracy that leads to governance that is less progressive.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Civil Rights Groups Want Resources For Students To Factor in Accountability

Education Week

“Federal and state accountability has to do more than just hold schools’ feet to the fire when it comes to student outcomes, a coalition of civil rights groups said in a letter sent to President Barack Obama and congressional leaders … The systems also have to ensure that school systems and policymakers at all levels are held accountable for ‘inputs,’ including providing conditions that make it possible for learning to take place. Students – especially poor and minority kids – need equal access to resources, including good teachers; social, emotional, and health and nutrition services; and high-quality instructional materials (everything from technology to facilities). Schools must also provide tailored professional development to educators that work with diverse student populations, and sustained outreach to parents and communities.”
Read more …

This Is What Happens When You Criticize Teach For America

The Nation

“Teach For America has spent nearly $3.5 million in advertising and promotion… Much of this promotion goes toward attacking journalists … The organization, which represents less than 0.002% of America’s teaching force, enjoys disproportionate sway in the political realm … 63% of recruits work, as Teach For America puts it, ‘full time in education,’ yet a 2010 study found that 80% of Teach For America recruits quit after three years. The disparity suggests that while TFA recruits may not be able to stomach teaching, they do feel up to the task of other education-sector activities, like policy reform and foundation management … TFA alumni like [Michelle] Rhee, [John] White and [Cami] Anderson continue to be hailed as innovative policy experts … Despite much empirical evidence to the contrary, Teach For America’s premise remains tenable thanks to the enormous prestige afforded to TFA recruits. In this light, TFA’s PR extensive apparatus begins to make sense; lacking results, their image is the only thing left for the organization to stand on.”
Read more …

Steep Drops Seen In Teacher-Prep Enrollment Numbers

Education Week

“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% from 2004 to 2012, according to federal estimates from the U.S. Department of Education’s postsecondary data collection … Some large states, like heavyweight California, appear to have been particularly hard hit … Federal data … show an overall drop in education degree programs across all institutions … The enrollment downturns already appear to be contributing to some unsettling hiring patterns.”
Read more …

The Economic Impact Of School Suspensions

The Atlantic

“A recent report finds African-American girls were suspended at six times the rate of white girls, and more than any other group of girls (and several groups of boys). This is despite evidence that African-American students do not misbehave more frequently than their peers … The study … shows how poor educational outcomes can limit their opportunities, from lower graduation rates to setbacks in expected lifetime earnings … African-American girls are more than twice as likely as whites to be held back a grade … The reasons for such setbacks have less to do with student behavior … than with disproportionate and overly punitive disciplinary practices that remove African-Americans from classes for minor and subjective infractions (examples include violations of dress code or even wearing natural hairstyles).”
Read more …

Coalition Wants New School Accountability

USA Today

“The nation’s two largest teachers unions – along with school administration organizations, business advocacy groups and school equity leaders – on Tuesday announced a new framework for accountability that focuses more on a holistic ‘support-and-improve’ model than the longstanding ‘test-and-punish’ mindset that’s commonplace in schools nationwide … The New Accountability framework centers around making changes to three central concepts in educational accountability: standardized testing, teacher evaluation and school resource equity … Rather than advocating for an outright repeal of standardized testing, the partnering organizations say they want fewer, better tests that more accurately measure what schools and business leaders say is the most important objective for students who’ll soon have to compete in the high-tech, global economy.”
Read more …

Big Money Taking Over Education Politics

Most folks in the Democratic Party have a problem with the Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that permitted goo-gobs of corporate and private interest cash to be dumped onto our elections. The party’s platform supports amending the Constitution to reverse the decision. President Obama has also called for such an amendment, and Hillary Clinton has said she would consider supporting it.

Most Democrats are also alarmed by the enormous amounts of cash funneled into the electoral process by folks like Karl Rove and the Koch brothers who use corporate and private interest money to overwhelm citizen voice in elections and usurp democracy.

But if you’re a Democrat, you should know the influence buying unleashed by Citizens United and perpetrated by people like the Koch brothers are at work – with the blessing and participation of fellow Democrats – in education politics.

Historically, elections that determine public education governance – from local school board races to contests determining state administrative leadership – have been fairly subdued affairs in comparison to mayoral and legislative races.

That’s not necessarily a good thing, because education has long been America’s most collaborative public enterprise, affecting virtually everyone and determining how we nurture the next generation of citizens, workers, and leaders.

But lately, these contests have grown more animated as a new element –money from big business and private individuals and foundations – is now altering the electoral process in new and fundamental ways.

Examples of this new dynamic have surfaced in the upcoming 2014 elections at both the local school district level and at state level contests, and in each example, the big money often coming from people who associate with the Democratic Party. Further, these wealthy Democrats often collude with conservative Republicans in these school-related elections in ways they never would in other contests.

This confluence of big money is often called “bipartisanship.” But the results are apt to be the same we’ve seen in more popular elections – a distortion of democracy that leads to governance that is less progressive.

Big Money Goes After School Boards

As Valerie Strauss pointed on her blog at The Washington Post recently, “For several years now local school board races around the country have attracted big money from outside the state — and sometimes from across the country — as school reformers and their supporters seek to elect like-minded public officials. In 2013, for example, millions of dollars were spent on school board races in Los Angeles and in 2012, outsiders poured money into a New Orleans school board race.”

In that post, Strauss pointed to an article by Minneapolis-based writer and former teacher Sarah Lahm, published by In These Times, describing how big money is arm twisting the democratic process in her local school board election.

Lahm explained how one of the candidates, Don Samuels, is benefiting from “extensive financing and canvassing support … from several well-heeled national organizations, such as the Washington, D.C.-based 50CAN, an offshoot of Education Reform Now called Students for Education Reform (SFER).”

Samuels has out-raised his main competitor, incumbent Rebecca Gagnon, by almost 4 to 1 including “tremendous support from outside of Minnesota. The D.C.-based 50CAN Action Fund filed a campaign finance report in Minnesota showing that it was devoting $14,350 in financial resources to the Minneapolis school board race, as well as in-kind donations valued in the thousands of dollars.”

Another report on who is influencing the Minneapolis school board race, from Beth Hawkins on the MinnPost website, described big donations coming into the race from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and, again, 50CAN and Students for Education Reform. That report also mentioned another recipient to the largesse, candidate Iris Altamirano.

50CAN, a nonprofit organization with a stated mission to “advocate for a high-quality education for all kids,” was founded and is led by Marc Porter Magee, a former employee of the Democratic Leadership Council’s think tank, a centrist-minded Beltway group carrying a Democratic Party label but supportive of many policies favored by Republicans.

The DLC, as my colleague at the Campaign for America’s Future Robert Borosage described, “led the Wall Street-funded, corporate wing of the Party. The New Dems scorned the base of the Democratic Party – labor, feminists, environmentalists, minorities, peace activists. Rather than resist conservative headwinds, they argued vociferously that Democrats should tack to them, adopting a muscular foreign policy, trimming social liberalism, posturing tough on crime and the poor.”

According to Wikipedia, early funding for the DLC came from big corporations including “ARCO, Chevron, Merck, Du Pont, Microsoft, Philip Morris and Koch Industries.” A more recent report, from The American Prospect, adds a whole slew of corporate money and influence into the DLC make-up.

So now 50CAN – with funding from the likes of Google and lots of rich private foundations including those of Bill and Melinda Gates and the Walton family of Walmart fame – has emerged as a DLC clone with a mission to determine the results of local school board elections.

Despite what 50CAN states as its mission, the organization seems clearly more geared to a political strategy than it is on developing high quality schools.

In an interview featured on the website of a conservative D.C.-based think tank, Magee has stated his intentions of “breaking up the old ways of thinking in the Democratic Party … by asking: How could we solve conservative problems with liberal means, and liberal problems with conservative means?”

Apparently, that recipe includes using the “conservative means” of big money to influence the “liberal problem” of education policy.

Students for Education Reform is a similarly minded group loosely linked to the Democratic Party label but more often at odds with progressive causes. As a recent article in The Nation described, “SFER has received $1.6 million from Education Reform Now, whose PAC, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), shelled out $1 million to attack the Chicago Teachers Union. DFER worked with the Koch brothers and ALEC to push Proposition 32, which if passed, would have blocked labor unions from using automatic payroll deductions for political purposes. Though SFER claims neutral territory, its motives are laid bare by its rallying around the funding of charter schools, the issue of limiting tenure, and its strict focus on testing.”

In Minnesota, as Lahm reported, the state branch of SFER “received $26,000 in outside money, some of which it spent on such things as paid canvassers and campaign infrastructure, and $4,350 of which it passed along to the 50CAN Action Fund for ‘walk literature.” These effort by 50CAN and SFER on behalf of two candidates in the race have been bolstered with more money coming from Republican donors and charter school advocates, Lahm explained.

But to what ends, Lahm asked? Minneapolis is being “primed” Lahm contended for charter schools expansions.

Samuels’ campaign in particular, Lahm found, “appears to support the proliferation of charter schools in Minneapolis.” Altamirano, the other candidate benefiting from the outside money, supports charters as well.

As Lahm noted, “the outside money flowing to the Samuels campaign follows a relatively recent national pattern that’s played out in places such as Texas, Oregon, Colorado and New Jersey, where local school board races have been heavily influenced by the political and financial heft of outside groups.” In the 2014 election, you can add Indiana to that list.

But big money coming from Democratic Party advocates for “education reform” is targeting state elections as well.

Big Money Floods A California Superintendent Race

Education historian and public school activist Diane Ravitch recently called our attention to the race for state superintendent of school in California where Marshall Tuck, running against educator Tom Torlakson, got a late infusion of huge campaign contributions” from many of the same entities influencing the Minneapolis school board race – Michael Bloomberg, the Waltons, and other heavy weight private foundations.

As Poltico’s Stephanie Simon explained, the contest is between two Democrats – incumbent, Tom Torlakson, a former teacher and veteran legislator, and a former Wall Street and charter school executive Marshall Tuck.

The Torlakson campaign is “backed by all the traditional constituencies of a mainline Democratic campaign, Simon explained, “including public sector unions, environmentalists, reproductive rights groups and even the party apparatus itself

Tuck, on the other hand, “has been endorsed by every major newspaper in the state – and by a bipartisan array of wealthy donors,” including the above mentioned Bloomberg and Walton as well as mega-wealthy Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad and numerous Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, all of whom register their political leanings to the Democratic Party.

For that reason Simon claimed, “The race has become a highly symbolic fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party – and is shaping up to be major test of waning teachers union power.”

Calling it, “a campaign that echoes the same ‘Main Street vs. Wall Street’ divide that has roiled the Democratic Party in recent years,” Simon noted Tuck’s negative stance on teacher tenure and his strong support for charter schools compared to Torlakson’s opposition to unfair teacher evaluations and over-emphasis on testing that have been imposed by the Obama administration.

An analysis of the two candidates at Education Week highlighted the divergence in their assessments of what current school policies are achieving. Whereas Tuck prefers the language of failure – saying, “We have a status quo that has been broken for kids for a long time, that’s failing kids” – Torlakson talks about recent accomplishments, including “California 8th graders’ significantly higher scores on the NAEP reading test in 2013, a record-high graduation rate of 80 percent for the class of 2013, and a new funding formula intended to provide more resources and power to school districts.”

Simon noted that Tuck is particularly eager to take on the California Teachers’ Association, the state teachers’ union, calling it too influential, while Torlakson has defended hard won union contractual agreements with the state.

As the education news outlet EdSource noted, both candidates have raised about the same amount of money, $2.5 million for Torlakson and $2.4 million for Tuck. But with total spending likely to hit $25 million, according to Simon’s report, most of the money is coming from outside the candidates’ efforts.

As the EdSource report explained, “There are no limits on donors to outside groups, identified on campaign disclosure reports as ‘independent expenditure committees.’ These committees have intensified their efforts in the past few weeks,” mostly in a rush of support to Tuck.

Democracy Gets Lost

What’s getting lost in the flood of money into both these and other similarly afflicted races is the integrity of the democratic process.

When a small group of private individuals get such an out-sized ability to control the conversation, the voices of the electorate are drowned out.

Those who welcome the big money coming into these contests from corporate and private interests are quick to note that labor organizations have long used their money to influence education-related elections.

They are quick to cast these contests as being referendums on the power of unions, as Politico’s Simon did, and argue that these are merely two equivalent interests dooking it out on a level playing field.

But that in fact is a false equivalency, as Simon herself seemed to admit in a recent Twitter exchange with me.

Teachers unions are fundamentally democratic organizations, as Matt Di Carlo has explained on his blog at the Albert Shanker Institute. “Teachers’ unions are comprised of members who are teachers, they’re led by teachers (many still in the classroom) who are elected by teachers, and union policy positions and collective bargaining agreements are voted on and approved by teachers,” he wrote. “When you hear ‘teachers’ unions,’ at least some part of you should think ‘teachers.’”

Furthermore, union influence can’t hide behind the secrecy that outside PACs and independent expenditure committees enjoy.

That’s different from what you should think when you hear about organizations working to undermine the interests of teachers – like 50CAN and Students for Education Reform – whose sole constituency is comprised of a few very wealthy people.

What you should think of them, at least if you are a Democrat, is Citizens United and Koch brothers.

 

10/23/2014 – Will Education Save The Democrats?

THIS WEEK: States Decrease Per-Student Spending … Demand For After-School Programs … More Private Money For Public Schools … Real Accountability … School To Prison Pipeline

TOP STORY

Will Education Save The Democrats?

By Jeff Bryant

“Democratic-leaning activists have stepped up their ground game to make support for public education a wedge issue in campaigns around the country … Should the actions of grassroots public schools supporters help bail out the campaigns of some Democratic candidates, there are lessons to be learned and potentially intriguing shifts in how the Democratic Party treats education policy ahead.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

School Funding: Most States Have Decreased Per-Student Expenses Since Recession

International Business Times

“A majority of states are still providing less cash for schools than they were prior to the recession … Although most states have increased their per-student funding in the current school year compared with the last … that funding has not increased enough to make up for cuts in recent years. Some 46% of total education spending in the U.S. relies on state funds … Costs of state-funded services have surged as a result of inflation, growing needs and a shift in demographics. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that there are about 725,000 more K-12 students … Additionally, more than 37,000 unaccompanied child migrants between January and July have joined adult sponsors and family members in communities across the nation. All are entitled to a public-school education … The state-level education cuts have a national impact, as they’ve slowed the nation’s economic recovery from the recession.”
Read more …

Demand For After-School Programs Outstrips Supply by Millions

Education Week

“Interest in after-school programs over the past decade has far surpassed their growth, shutting out millions of families that need a safe place to send their children while parents are at work … More than 10 million children attend after-school programs, up from 6.5 million in 2004 … 89% of parents said they were satisfied with their child’s program and 83% agreed that having after-school programs available helps working parents keep their jobs … Nationwide, there are 19.4 million students – two for every child enrolled – whose parents want them in an after-school program, but can’t find anything available or affordable … 11.3 million children – 800,000 of them in elementary school – are on their own after school, with no adult supervision.”
Read more …

Nation’s Wealthy Places Pour Private Money Into Public Schools, Study Finds

The New York Times

“Private groups are raising an increasing amount of money for public schools in wealthier communities, highlighting concerns about inequality … Nonprofits organized by parents and community leaders more than tripled in number and more than quadrupled the dollars they generated between 1995 and 2010. Communities with higher median incomes were more likely to have these fund-raising groups in the first place and, perhaps not surprisingly, more likely to raise more money per student than those in less affluent neighborhoods … In some communities, the amounts can rise to four figures per student … State funding for education has fallen since the beginning of the recession, however, at a time when schools are being asked to incorporate new, academically rigorous standards and tests and support a growing group of students from low-income families and students who are learning English as a second language … Private fund-raising has not filled the public gap.”
Read more …

Report Urges Revamping Student Testing

EdSource

“A new report … recommends alternatives to annual standardized tests … Schools should focus more on ‘formative assessments,’ the curriculum-based problems and quizzes that teachers give to students throughout the school year for feedback on how students are doing, in addition to locally developed alternatives to assessments, … science experiments, literary essays, classroom projects and, by the senior year of high school, internship experiences and portfolios that students can present to employers and colleges … It is critical to stop using annual tests as the chief gauge of school success and student achievement … Congress would give states more flexibility to create strategies addressing student achievement, an equitable distribution of resources and teacher preparation.”
Read more …

For More Teens, Arrests By Police Replace School Discipline

The Wall Street Journal

“A generation ago, schoolchildren caught fighting in the corridors, sassing a teacher or skipping class might have ended up in detention. Today, there’s a good chance they will end up in police custody … At school, talking back or disrupting class can be called disorderly conduct, and a fight can lead to assault and battery charges … Some jurisdictions are so overwhelmed that they are experimenting with routing schoolchildren into specially designed courts that would keep first-time offenders from being saddled with an arrest record. Others have passed new laws or policies to dial back police involvement in school discipline … Police, judges and civil-rights organizations all say schools are increasingly the way young people enter the justice system.”
Read more …

Will Education Save The Democrats?

When evidence emerged a month ago that education is the top “turnout message” for the Democratic Party in the upcoming election, some candidates may have chosen to act on that information.

Indeed, Democratic-leaning activists have stepped up their ground game to make support for public education a wedge issue in campaigns around the country. And the fate of some Democratic candidates could rely on how they play an education card in their contests.

Should the actions of grassroots public schools supporters help bail out the campaigns of some Democratic candidates, there are lessons to be learned and potentially intriguing shifts in how the Democratic Party treats education policy ahead.

Education Is A Top Tier Issue

Crack reporter Stephanie Simon at Politico recently explained, “In Florida, Kansas, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, Republicans are on the defensive about education. It isn’t usually a top-tier concern for voters, but Democrats see issues such as college affordability and K-12 funding as their best chance to motivate the on-again, off-again voters who often sit out midterms.”

Simon quoted from research conducted by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, first reported on the Education Opportunity Network website, showing, “The top testing turnout message overall emphasizes education, specifically Republicans’ efforts to cut programs for students while giving tax cuts to the wealthy. This message is the strongest argument for coming out to vote in all of the states except Colorado (where it ranks second, just behind a message focused on how Republicans are working to turn back the clock on women’s rights).”

Simon also cited the work of Democratic strategists James Carville and Stan Greenberg who “found that unmarried women in North Carolina and Georgia were particularly swayed by messages about expanding access to early childhood education. In Iowa and Colorado, affordable college loans hit the mark. Combining those issues with an appeal to raise the minimum wage, they wrote, creates a ‘powerful, populist opportunity to shift the vote.’”

In senate races, where education is less apt to be an issue, among the most contested races, the one where Democrats seemed best positioned to win, Senator Kay Hagen’s reelection in North Carolina, education has been an especially prominent issue. The Hagan campaign even ran radio ads on the subject specifically targeting African-American voters.

A Wave Of New Democratic State Governors?

The Democratic party is plowing especially promising ground in state gubernatorial races while using education issues a fertilizer.

As journalist Sam Wang recently reported for The New Republic, “Much of the chatter about next month’s midterm election has focused on Republican gains in the Senate, possibly enough to take control of the chamber … But an examination of governors’ races around the country paints a different picture – one that is potentially good for Democrats.”

Wang found evidence of “weakness in the Republican field in five states – Alaska, Pennsylvania, Maine, Illinois, and Rhode Island” – and eight states where the candidates are either tied or within 1 percentage point or less of each other.

Voter anger at incumbents and at Republican governors who rejected Medicaid expansion included in the Affordable Care Act may be what has put Republicans in hot water, according to Wang.

But among the states that are either leaning Democratic or are too close to call, according to Wang’s calculations, support for public education could be a deciding issue.

Education has made some Republican incumbents especially vulnerable Politico’s Simon noted in the article cited above. “Pennsylvania’s Corbett, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker,” Simon said, “all have been forced to spend considerable time – and campaign dollars – knocking back attacks on their education policies.”

In the Florida race, according to a report in Education Week, the candidates, Republican incumbent Scott and Democratic challenger and former Gov. Charlie Crist, are both “attempting to outdo the other with pledges of greater financial support for schools battered by the recent recession.”

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Corbett is far behind in the polls and has even lost the support of a significant percentage of Republicans in part because of how much he cut education funding.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scot Walker, a presidential aspirant, faces a tough challenge from Democrat Mary Burke, a school board member from Madison who has pointedly disagreed with Walker on the issue of school funding.

Early childhood education has risen to prominence in many contests, as Politico recently reported. “Voters in three key election battleground states want to invest more in early childhood education, according to new polls. In Florida, Ohio, and Colorado, voters said one of their top priorities is giving children a strong start at life so they can succeed in school and the workplace.”

Similarly, Education Week reported that polling conducted recently found, “A majority of voters in five battleground states … support expanding early-learning programs such as preschool and home-visiting programs,” adding Georgia and North Carolina to the states Politico cited.

College student loan debt is another voter concern propelling many Democratic candidates’ platforms. A recent analysis at Inside Higher Ed found the issue has gotten prominent attention from Democratic candidates in senate races, particularly due to the numerous appearances of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren in campaign rallies.

The analysis stated, “In a handful of competitive races, Democrats are aiming to tie GOP candidates to student aid cuts in the budget proposed by Representative Paul Ryan, a prominent Republican advocate of reducing federal spending, and also pouncing on calls by some Tea Party-backed candidates to shutter the federal Education Department.”

Reporter Michael Stratford found examples of Democratic appeals to voter concerns over student loans in races in Iowa, Georgia, North Carolina, South Dakota, and California.

Grassroots Pressure For Education

Democratic-leaning interests groups have added to the pressure for candidates to support public schools. Teachers’ unions in particular are pulling out all the stops this election in their effort to make many of the contests about education.

Another report from Education Week found, “Teachers’ unions, hoping to affect education policy at the state and local levels, are expecting to pour more money into those campaigns in the 2014 midterm elections than ever before,” with record-setting amounts of $60 million in total from the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

The reporter, Lauren Camera, noted the unions are especially focused on defeating Republican incumbent governors, particularly in in Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

It’s tough to determine how much influence the money from the teachers’ unions will have on the elections.

As the Ed Week article noted, influential advocacy groups that generally oppose an agenda to support public schools and classroom teachers – including Democrats for Education Reform, Stand for Children, and StudentsFirst – are throwing large amounts of money into races as well. And as a post at Media Matters reported, right wing organizations backed by the Koch brothers and Karl Rove are significantly out-spending teachers unions in races, such as the senate contest in North Carolina where their contributions are three times the amount of what the unions have mustered.

Nevertheless, this groundswell of money represents a calculated belief that education has become an electoral issue to an extent it never has before. In fact, environmental groups and women’s groups are also running education spots in some contests.

What This Could Mean

It’s certainly too early to tell what the effects of all this education agitation will produce – in terms of not only the fate of the candidates involved in these races, but also the direction of education policy after the elections are over. Yet there are intriguing potentials to consider.

For one, while education has risen to prominence in many of the midterm races, the way candidates have pitched the issue has a unifying theme regardless of party.

That was the conclusion of two policy analysts from the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Frederick M. Hess and Max Eden, who looked at the campaign websites for the 139 major party candidates for governor and U.S. senator.

Their findings, which appeared at The Washington Post, were that the education issues most in vogue in the prevailing policy status quo were absent from the candidates’ platforms. “Topics familiar to education reformers seem foreign to sitting and aspiring governors,” the pair of analysts wrote. Many of the pet projects that policy leaders in the Beltway and state capitals have been so enamored with – “teacher tenure reform … charter schools … choice” – barely appeared.

Even support or opposition to the Common Core – certainly the topic most in the news of late – failed to register as rallying cries, either for or against, in the majority of the candidates’ platforms.

One issue, however, did dominate the agenda: “Just over half the candidates for governor – for whom K-12 and higher education will prove to be the largest budget item – call for increasing education funding.”

So if we are to take these candidates at their word, does that foretell a rush of new funding for schools two years from now?

Another intriguing potential result arising from some races has more to do with the relationship of Democratic candidates and their grassroots base, particularly classroom teachers.

As Politico reported, some of the Democratic candidates the teachers’ unions have buttressed have not always been very reliable supporters of teachers.

In Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn “has done plenty to anger teachers unions, starting with cutting their pension benefits,” yet “teachers, are rushing to his side” with a contribution of more than $5 million” into the fight to re-elect him.

“Similar dynamics are at play in Connecticut,” Politico noted. “Educators were furious with Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy over remarks he made in 2012 suggesting that teachers earned tenure simply by showing up for work … But labor leaders deem Malloy better for unions than his rival, Republican Tom Foley.”

Also in Colorado, teacher unions are “rallying behind” Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who angered teachers with new evaluations based in part on student tests scores. Yet now, “the Colorado Education Association has been warning members that Republican candidate Bob Beauprez would divert public resources to vouchers.”

Should these Democratic candidates prevail, how would teachers’ loyal support affect the entrenched indifference toward classroom teachers that has become so characteristic of the Democratic Party?

Intriguing questions for sure, but one conclusion seems certain either way: Voters’ concerns for public education seem here to stay. Get used to it.