Education Opportunity Network

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9/18/2014 – What’s The Matter With Kansas Education Policy?

THIS WEEK: Americans Want Highly-Qualified Teachers … Teachers Find Greener Pastures … Schools Arming Up … High School Rankings Make No Sense … Student College Loan Debt Hits Elderly Too


What’s The Matter With Kansas Education Policy?

By Jeff Bryant

“Since the nation’s Great Recession, public education in Kansas has seen state funding cut repeatedly … Kansas is not the only place … Even now, as some state budgets see some recovery, and national leaders agree on new appropriations (the few times they can), most public school budgets are still unable to get back to funding levels they were prior to the recession … The American populace is increasingly angered by the financial calamity that has befallen their schools, and there are signs some politicians may have rude awakenings in upcoming elections this November and beyond.”
Read more …


Americans Want Teachers To Take A Bar Exam

The Atlantic

“In a new poll out today, Americans say they want teacher preparation programs to raise the bar for entrance, provide longer training periods for practice teaching, and require new teachers to pass a rigorous certification exam … Nearly two-thirds (64%) of Americans said they had ‘trust and confidence’ in public-school teachers … The percentage of Americans who say they favor tying a teacher’s evaluation to her student’s test scores has been steadily declining, to 38% this year from 52% in 2012 … There’s been a steep plummet in the percentage of Americans who said a college education was ‘very important’: 43% this year, down from a high of 75% in 2010.”
Read more …

Half Of Those Leaving Teaching Report Better Working Conditions In Other Jobs

Education Week

“Of the 3.4 million public school teachers teaching in 2011-12 … 84% stayed at their schools, 8% went to a different school, and 8% left the profession … Teachers in years 1-3 of teaching were more likely to move to a different school (13%), but actually less likely to leave the profession altogether (7%) … Teachers who left the teaching profession in 2012-13, 51 percent said they had a more manageable work load and 53% reported better working conditions in their current positions.”
Read more …

Schools Acquire Grenade Launchers, MRAPs and Other Military Equipment – What Could Possibly Go Wrong?


“More than 20 school districts across the county have been acquiring surplus military equipment from the Pentagon … The school districts and campus security forces range in size from small Saddleback College in southern California, whose nine-member squad received a MRAP – mine resistant ambush protected – vehicle … to Los Angeles Unified School District, which received 61 M16 assault rifles, three grenade launchers and one MRAP … San Diego’s school district also requested and received an MRAP …In Edinburg, Texas, the district has its own SWAT team … ‘It is frankly difficult to imagine how a grenade launcher, or any of these items, could be safely used in any scenario involving schools,’ the [NAACP] wrote in a letter to the federal program’s administrators.”
Read more …

Ranking High Schools Tells You Which Schools Are Rich Or Selective


Education journalist Libby Nelson writes, “The recent spread of rankings mania to high schools makes no sense … The public schools that top these lists are mostly selective magnet schools that get to pick which students they educate. If they’re not, they’re much likely to enroll fewer poor students than public schools as a whole … Knowing what the best high school is doesn’t matter if you can’t afford to live in its attendance area or if you don’t have the test scores to get in … The problem is that most of this isn’t about what the schools themselves are doing … Nobody should take these rankings seriously.”
Read more …

Student Debt Collections Are Leaving The Elderly In Poverty


“Elderly Americans have more student loan debt than ever and are more likely to become chronically unable to make payments than younger borrowers … Federal student debt among Americans 65 and older increased six-fold since 2005 … Over 80% of elderly borrowers were still struggling to pay off loans they took out to pay for their education … Some 31% of the student loans held by Americans aged 65 and older were in default last year. That makes the elderly about twice as likely to hold defaulted loans as Americans under the age of 50 … Most of those who saw Social Security payments slashed to repay student loans in 2013 were living on benefit income that was under the poverty line.”
Read more …

What’s The Matter With Kansas Education Policy?

Since the Wizard Oz, the term “we’re not in Kansas anymore” has been shorthand for saying we’ve changed the usual surroundings for a new, disorienting terrain. For school children who actually live in Kansas, that would likely be a relief.

Since the nation’s Great Recession, public education in Kansas has seen state funding cut repeatedly since 2009. This has left students and teachers in that state bereft of what would normally be viewed as “the basics” by anyone who has a modicum of understanding of how to run an effective school system, with swelling class sizes and elimination of basic programs like art, music, and athletics.

Unfortunately Kansas is not the only place in America where public school conditions are causing students to wish they could be transported to the yellow brick road.

For a short term, the federal government stepped in after the recession to provide some relief. But not only is that no longer available, sequestration budgets bit even deeper into what the feds were accustomed to providing to the nation’s public school.

Even now, as some state budgets see some recovery, and national leaders agree on new appropriations (the few times they can), most public school budgets are still unable to get back to funding levels they were prior to the recession.

Fortunately, the American populace is increasingly angered by the financial calamity that has befallen their schools, and there are signs some politicians may have rude awakenings in upcoming elections this November and beyond.

What’s The Matter With Kansas?

Since the seminal book What’s the Matter with Kansas? by Thomas Franks, left-leaning people have been warned to pay attention to how conservative politics in the heartland resonate into nationwide trends.

This dynamic is especially acute in the public education arena.

In 2013, a report from the Center on Policy and Budget Priorities revealed that the majority of states – 38 – had responded to the Great Recession by severely slashing their education spending. But Kansas occupied a truly special place in the ranks of education cutting: the fourth worst, according to a Kansas-based news outlet.

That news report noted, “State aid to school districts was reduced by more than $400 million from the 2008-09 to the 2009-10 academic years … Kansas schools are about $100 million under budget, and cuts to education may have lasting effects on the quality of education.”

The predictable effects have indeed emerged. A report from the Kansas-based Kansas Center for Economic Growth found budget cuts have meant “classrooms are getting more crowded.” Since 2009, he state’s school population has grown by 19,000 students while reducing the teaching force by 665 fewer teachers. The result: “Almost half of districts have seen their average class size grow.”

Cuts in per pupil spending, using the most recent available data from 2013, have decrease almost $1,000, and “96 percent of districts say base state aid per pupil for 2015 will be insufficient and say it has not kept up with increased costs to run schools.”

Another outcome of budget cuts: “Fewer extracurricular programs – About 30 percent of districts have reduced or eliminated athletic and non-athletic extracurricular activities, as well as arts and music programs.” A report on the cuts to music education in Kansas in 2011 found in the three years prior to the report, “185 music education positions had been cut” statewide.

And of course, students who are struggling with school the most, get hit the hardest. The state cut millions of dollars earmarked for students at risk of falling behind or failing, even though the percentage of students deemed at risk in the state rose from just over 34 percent in 2009 to 43 percent in 2014.

Angry parents filed a lawsuit against the state government. The states obstinate governor Sam Brownback pushed the case all the way to the state supreme court, which ruled state education funding was at levels that were unconstitutional. So then Kansas lawmakers responded by passing a new bill that changed the states funding formula. It’s not yet certain how much relief this will provide to districts, and in the meantime, a new a new tax credit for corporate contributions to private school scholarships will send more public funds to private schools.

We’re All Becoming Kansas

Kansas is not the only state afflicted with such antipathy toward spending money on school children.

As USA Today recently reported, there are at least seven states that are as bad or worse than Kansas in their financial support of public schools. But even states that don’t qualify as “the lowest of the low” for school spending are funding public education at levels that are completely inadequate.

My own recent analysis, gleaned from numerous news accounts and research studies, identified billions of dollars cut from school spending in New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, and Florida.

Just as in Kansas, angry citizens have taken legal actions against states because of inadequate funding levels since the recession – at least 14, according to one count taken at the end of 2013. More recently a lawsuit in the state of Mississippi upped the count to 15, as 30 more school districts indicated they may join a new legal action already in progress. Also, a high court in the state of Washington held state legislators in contempt for not adequately funding education

For a while, federal stimulus dollars helped stave off the carnage, but as a recentl analysis by the website FiveThirtyEight revealed, “public schools are hurting more in the recovery than in the recession.”

Federal per-student spending fell more than 20 percent from 2010 to 2012 and continued to fall in 2013-2014. Title I was down 12 percent. Spending on disabled education went down 11 percent. No increases are coming from the feds for the 2015 school year.

A recent report from the Government Accounting Office found that federal cuts enacted in the 2013 budget “sequestration” severely damaged schools. According to reporters as Education Week, “across-the-board federal budget cuts last year forced some school districts to cut academic and after-school programs, scale back professional development, and delay physical and technology upgrades.”

This year, Congress has done nothing to restore the levels of federal spending that school children need.

While the Obama administration and some leaders in Congress have made early childhood education a priority (but still no funding to show for it), other urgent needs have remained off the agenda. For instance, a recent report found that little to no attention has been paid to adequately funding kindergarten – what most people think of as the first year of formal schooling. As Education Week reported, the analysis found, “Just 15 states require students to attend kindergarten. And while most states require districts to offer at least a voluntary half-day program … that half-day could be just a few hours.”

The inattentiveness by federal authorities to school funding is especially shocking in light of the federal government’s increasing influence in K-12 education since the rollout of No Child Left Behind in 2002. The current Department of Education has been especially skillful at using incentives and punishments and a barrage of waivers to avoid the consequences of NCLB to coerce states into enacting all sorts of measures – such as new academic standards and teacher evaluations based on test scores. Yet the administration and Congress have done virtually nothing to coerce states to fund education adequately.

As Congress hastily wrapped up the current legislative session – vacating Washington, D.C. until after November election – the only positive accomplishment lawmakers could show in the K-12 education arena was “bipartisan support” for a bill to fund education research.

The stopgap spending bill to keep the government funded until December 1 that passed the House will continue to keep federal education spending flat lined. Meanwhile, lawmakers – “with broad bipartisan support” – found all sorts of money to fund a program to train and equip Syrian rebel groups, ushering the nation’s entry into yet another quagmire in the Middle East.

What Will Voters Say?

In the upcoming November elections, the fate of numerous candidates for governor and state administrative and legislative offices may swing on education issues.

In Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott has had to come out in favor of steep increases in education funding to stave off an opponent who still leads him in the polls. Nevertheless, his previous support of new Common Core standards has gotten him into trouble with the Tea Party faction.

In Pennsylvania, Republican Tom Corbett is likely “the most vulnerable governor in America”, according to a recent analysis in The Washington Post. ” Education spending cuts is one big reason he’s faced a backlash,” that analysis concluded.

In Kansas, Republican Governor Sam Brownback also faces a backlash from voter anger of harsh spending cuts in education. “With the election less than three months away,” a recent report by Al Jazeera found, “a third of voters [say] that the results of the education debate will determine their vote.”

That report quoted Brownback’s opponent Democratic state House Minority Leader Paul Davis at a recent rally slamming Brownback for “the single largest cut to school funding in state history. People are seeing the larger class sizes, the fees that parents are having to pay. The test scores are going down.”

The attacks may be working. Davis led Brownback in three August polls, according to the Aljazeera report. And a recent analysis by one political insider pronounced Brownback “vulnerable.”

Even elected officials at the federal level who neglect education may be more at risk to voter wrath than usual.

According to a recent Education Week analysis, “Education policy issues are at the heart of a handful of highly competitive U.S. Senate races that could help determine which party controls the chamber next year.”

The article cited examples from North Carolina, Georgia, and Iowa where “education policy has fueled fierce attack ads and detailed exchanges at candidate debates and forums.”

If these trends continue, it’s not school kids but the elected officials who have cut those children’s support who may be waking up on November 5 realizing they aren’t in Kansas anymore.

9/11/2014 – Real Leadership For Education Progress

THIS WEEK: U.S. Teachers Work Harder For Less … We’re #1 On Cutting Education Spending … Anti-Testing Movement Grows … Teaching In Ferguson … Government Partnering With College Debt Collectors


Recognizing Real Leadership For Education Progress: Mayor Bill de Blasio

By Jeff Bryant

“Despite all the interest, access to high-quality early education opportunities for every child … remains elusive … Politicians seem incapable of coming up with the money. Mayor de Blasio is the exception. Not only did he make campaign promises to expand pre-k programs, but he has proven that a capable leader can make those promises reality.”
Read more …


American Teachers Spend More Time In The Classroom Than World Peers, Says Report

The Huffington Post

“American elementary school teachers spend more hours actually teaching students than peers in any other surveyed country … American middle school and high school teachers spend more time educating students than peers in every OECD country except Chile … In addition to classroom time, U.S. teachers are required to be at school for more hours than most of their international peers. Despite the long hours, American teachers aren’t well compensated … While U.S. raw teacher salaries are high compared with the rest of the world, the pay lags behind that of similarly educated American workers.”
Read more …

U.S. Is Often An Outlier In Global Education


“The United States cut back on education spending after the Great Recession, whereas the government of the United Kingdom poured more money into its schools. Those two contrasting data points are part of a massive new analysis of the state of education around the world … The U.S. remains the world leader in overall education spending … Even so, spending dropped by 3% in real terms for the 3 years after the global financial meltdown in 2008. Only five other countries chose to go that route … The data on education mobility – whether an adult child completed more education than his or her parents did – are sobering. Along with Germany, the U.S. sits in the bottom tier of countries when it comes to giving the next generation a leg up the skills ladder. Only 30% of U.S. adults no longer in school, and 25% in Germany, have surpassed their parents in the classroom.”
Read more …

Anti-Testing Movement Growing, Finding Success Around Country

The Washington Post

“A new report on growing resistance to high-stakes standardized testing around the country finds that the movement is growing and meeting some success in numerous states where officials have decided to cut back on the numbers of tests students must take and/or the consequences for students and educators … A national look at how states are responding to growing resistance … found … States repealing high school graduation requirements and rolling back other test requirements … States postponing the consequences of Common Core testing … Successful, high-profile protests in the form of opt outs, boycotts and other actions … Opinion polls showing shifts in public attitudes against high-stakes testing … Candidates winning office by speaking out clearly against high-stakes testing.”
Read more …

Teaching In The Shadow Of The Ferguson Shooting

Education Week

A teacher from Michael Brown’s school district writes, “Even before the shooting and the dramatic aftermath broadcast around the world, our district was accustomed to being and bearing bad news. Normandy is a poor, predominantly African-American community beset by challenges in housing, employment, and access to social, emotional, and physical health care … Now, factor in the shooting … There is the unspoken but ever-present awareness, especially among the boys, that life can end in a flash, even for the kids – like Michael Brown – who manage to navigate the system and graduate. So how do you tell a 14-year-old about the value of staying in school, given what happened here? Believe me, I’m trying. The other day, I watched a group of my students – all boys, unprompted – wordlessly re-enact the shooting from beginning to end, using a fistful of my newly sharpened pencils as the cigarillos Michael allegedly stole before he was gunned down … I’m one adult alone in a room with other people’s children in the heart of a community in pain.”
Read more …

The Education Department’s Problematic Billion-Dollar Partnership With Debt Collection Agencies


“A new report … claims that the $1 billion per year partnership between the Education Department and private loan collectors leads to abuse and hurts students borrowers because of its ratings system and compensation structure for debt collection … Because those private agencies are driven by profit … they often act in their own financial interests, rather than those of borrowers … Under their partnership, the government pays sizable, percentage-based commissions to debt collection agencies if borrowers pay down their balances or have their wages garnished, but pays out only small administrative fees if borrowers switch to income-based repayment plans or have their loans cancelled because of disabilities … The system also makes it less likely that borrowers receive services like disability or bankruptcy discharges.”
Read more …

Recognizing Real Leadership For Education Progress: Mayor Bill de Blasio

What’s wrong with this picture?

During the nation’s Back-to-School Season, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been touring states in a bus to “highlight the champions of reform.”

At one stop, where he spoke to an audience of parents at a Nashville, Tennessee middle school, he challenged the National PTA, according to reporters for Education Week, to “make education a presidential campaign issue.”

Good idea. But when the Secretary offered to the audience an example of an ideal candidate, he pointed to a Republican.

“Duncan pointed out that Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, is one of the few politicians who has followed through on promises of being ‘the education candidate,’” reported Lauren Camera.

Sadly, there are too few leaders in the Democratic Party who would qualify as education champions. But there is one very clear example. Not only is he a Democrat, but he is an unabashed progressive. And if Arne Duncan really wants to find politicians who “walk the walk” of real education reform, he can find an example of authentic progress coming not from Republicans, but from the left wing of his own party.

But first to dispense with the Haslam-hysteria that has overcome the Secretary.

Haslam Is No Education Hero

Duncan’s proof of Haslam’s supposed accomplishments and ability to “walk the walk” (Duncan’s words) of education progress is the “state’s recent academic gains. Tennessee’s students made the biggest improvements in the country in math and reading on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress. Duncan said the increased scores are a direct result of the state implementing the Common Core State Standards.”

Crediting Tennessee’s NAEP scores to adoption of the Common Core is a huge leap of faith for sure, especially since the state has backed out of using Common Core aligned tests created by one of the two national consortia endorsed by Duncan.

Also, Tennessee is chronically one of the nation’s poorest performers on NAEP, so it had the most ground to gain in comparison to other states. And for every state Duncan can identify as a “top performer” on the NAEP assessment, one can find at least one state or more that has excelled in NAEP score gains without adopting the measures Tennessee has exemplified.

A more recent and comprehensive gauge on Tennessee student achievement – the state’s own assessments – shows that student performance levels have barely budged at all, even decreasing slightly in grades 3-8 reading.

Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker recently looked at Tennessee’s support for education and found the state to be woefully lacking:

Tennessee is persistently among the lowest spending states in the country on its public education system.

Tennessee is not only one of the lowest spenders, but Tennessee spends less as a share of gross state product than most other states.

Tennessee has one of the largest income gaps between public school enrolled and private school enrolled children, and has among the higher shares of private school enrolled children.

Tennessee has relatively non-competitive teacher wages with respect to non-teacher wages.

Baker contended that regardless of how you feel about any of the “reform” measures Tennessee has adopted – Common Core, charter school expansion – “none can succeed in a system so substantially lacking in resources, and none can improve the equity of children’s outcomes unless there exists greater equity in availability of resources.”

Speaking of charter schools, in addition to adopting Common Core, Tennessee’s Governor Haslam has been eager to expand the presence of privately operated, even for-profit, charters. As education historian Diane Ravitch noted on her personal blog, “The Governor and the legislature enacted legislation in 2011 authorizing the Tennessee Virtual Academy, an online charter school run by K12 Inc.”

K12, a for-profit company traded on Wall St, is infamous for its bad reviews in the New York Times and the Washington Post and the atrocious academic results it has achieved in Pennsylvania.

Nevertheless, Tennessee state leaders are determined to inflict K12 schools on their own state’s students, even though those schools continue to be “one of the lowest performing schools in the state,” according to Ravitch.

So, sorry Arne, Governor Haslam is hardly an education “reform champion.” What’s even sadder than the fact that you think he is an example of one, is the fact there is a leader on the national stage who has championed a real education reform. But you’ll need to look further left to find him.

A Real Education Reform Rolls Out In New York City

While Duncan was touring Tennessee, praising Republicans, a genuine reformer was leading positive change in New York City.

As The New York Times reported, “Mayor Bill de Blasio, elected on promises of fighting income inequality, trumpeted the expansion of prekindergarten as a crucial step in leveling the playing field among children and declared it his first priority. His push to expand the system so rapidly, more than doubling it in eight months, is seen as a crucial test for his young administration. On Thursday, all that planning sprang to life as tens of thousands of 4-year-olds poured into freshly painted classrooms adorned with letters and numbers.”

Now, that’s real education progress! As the editorial board of the Times noted, “It’s worth pausing to note what an accomplishment this is. Fifty thousand is a small city’s worth of children, each getting a head start on a lifetime of learning. It is so many families saving the cost of day care or private prekindergarten. It is a milestone of education reform.”

As I wrote earlier this year, “There is definitive evidence that expanded pre-k programs can benefit poor children socially, emotionally and academically.” Research has shown that high quality education programs for three- and four-year olds who can be viewed as being academically at risk can “produce strong economic returns ranging from about $4 per dollar invested to over $10 per dollar invested.”

Expanding education opportunity to more little kids also happens to be very, very popular. As the new pre-K program was rolling out in New York City, a new survey from Gallup found, “Seven in 10 Americans say they favor using federal money to make sure high-quality preschool education programs are available for every child in America.”

Even most Republicans (53 percent) are in favor of federal dollars going to early childhood education.

Despite all the interest, “access to high-quality early education opportunities for every child who needs them – especially for every child in low-income working families – remains elusive,” as a report from the New America Foundation found this summer.

The hang-up has always been finding a way to pay for it. As folks at New America point out on their foundation’s blog, funding for early childhood programs has become a new “third rail” in policy discussions. As more children living in poverty are added to waiting lists to get into programs like Head Start, politicians seem incapable of coming up with the money.

Mayor de Blasio is the exception. Not only did he make campaign promises to expand pre-k programs, but he has proven that a capable leader can make those promises reality. Of course there was resistance to his initial proposal, which was to find the money for pre-k in rich people’s pockets.

As Sarah Jaffe reminded in Truth Out, “Once elected, the mayor seemed to be a step behind Governor Cuomo when it came to negotiating in Albany. The struggle began shortly after he took office in January, and it seemed to reach a rather nasty peak in early March when Cuomo appeared at a pro-charter schools rally held in Albany by charter school entrepreneur Eva Moskowitz on the same day as de Blasio’s rally for his pre-K plan.”

Then came a deal – “the result of de Blasio’s heavy lobbying,” according to Jaffe –with $340 million in the budget for a statewide pre-K program. The Times agreed, writing in its editorial, “Mr. de Blasio’s dogged lobbying worked.

Noted WNYC on its School Book blog, “The mayor said there were no glitches on the first day of the 2014-15 school year,” despite the negotiating tactics from the governor that delayed money until April and made the City ramp up its program in less than six months’ notice.”

De Blasio’s determination in the face of resistance should be held up as an example to follow across the country.

In addition to championing universal access to pre-k, his administration opened afterschool programs to more than 70,000 middle-school children. And instead of reflexively opting for more unproven charter schools, he recently outlined a plan to “set a ‘clear standard’ for charter schools” that includes “how they serve high-needs students, their student retention rates, and even how much they ‘teach to the test.’”

This is what real education reform looks like: increasing children’s opportunity to learn and demanding authentic accountability from schools, not mere test scores.

Recognizing Real Progress

Mayor de Blasio’s accomplishments in New York City make Secretary Duncan’s praise for Governor Haslam look all the more ludicrous. In fact, when Haslam was recently given opportunities to support expanded access to pre-k, he balked.

As Chalkbeat Tennessee recently reported, “Both of Tennessee’s largest school districts, in Nashville and Memphis, are not only pushing to expand pre-K, but to also make it more effective.” Where is Haslam’s support for this effort? He is waiting for a study, “according to a spokesman.”

While we’ve yet to see any recognition of de Blasio’s achievement coming from the Department of Education, others are noticing.

Next month, the progressive group Campaign for America’s Future (disclosure: a partner of the Education Opportunity Network) will honor de Blasio – along with Saru Jayaraman, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and Lee Saunders, President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees – as “progressive champions.”

Perhaps Secretary Duncan will consider attending.


9/3/2014 – The Education Conversation ‘Reformers’ Want Versus The One They Get

THIS WEEK: Hating Teachers … Grit Not So Good … Music Lessons Help Disadvantaged Kids … Never-Ending Testing … Fox News Lauds Arming Teachers


The Education Conversation ‘Reformers’ Want Versus The One They Get

By Jeff Bryant

“Recent calls for more “civility” in discussions about education and for taking ‘the politics’ and ‘partisanship’ out of policy debates are suddenly all the rage among the edu-policy crowd gravitating around Washington, D.C. There are reasons why Beltway-inspired education wonks are calling out the tone police – but it’s got very little to do with honesty and ‘facts.’ Instead, read a little more deeply into these calls for taking ‘the politics’ out of the debate, and what you find is itself a rather political agenda.”
Read more …


Why Do Americans Love To Blame Teachers?

The Atlantic

In reviewing Dana Goldstein’s new book The Teacher Wars, Noah Berlatsky writes, “Discussions of education in the U.S. have repeatedly been framed in terms of moral panics. A moral panic, she says, occurs when ‘policymakers and the media focus on a single class of people … as emblems of a large, complex social problem’ … That helps to explain the otherwise mystifying path that current school reform has taken … The dream… seems to be that if only our schools could get rid of the career educators and install angels instead, the millennium would arrive … Our education system has many problems, but one of the biggest is that we define those problems in terms of ‘teacher wars’ – and then try to solve them through a war on teachers.”
Read more …

‘Grit’ May Not Spur Creative Success, Scholars Say

Education Week

“Studies … have found that a person’s ‘grit’ – a measure of conscientiousness and perseverance – could predict everything from graduation rates at West Point to National Spelling Bee champions. Those findings have sparked intense interest among educators in nurturing student motivation … Two separate analyses … found that neither grit nor two related characteristics of consistency and perseverance predicted a student’s success in various types of creative endeavors, including visual and performing art, writing, scientific ingenuity, or even creativeness in everyday problem-solving … A student’s openness to new experiences was most closely associated with his or her likelihood of accomplishing creative works.”
Read more …

Music Lessons Enhance Brain Function in Disadvantaged Kids

Pacific Standard

“New research finds one important aspect of neural functioning is gradually strengthened when underprivileged children engage in a challenging but fun activity: Music lessons … ‘Community music programs can literally remodel children’s brains in a way that improves sound processing, which could lead to better learning and language skills,’ reports lead author Nina Kraus … Researchers found this particular benefit of music education doesn’t kick in until after two full years of training. A few lessons won’t do it … It all adds to the mass of evidence … that music training impacts young brains in ways that go far beyond aesthetic appreciation.”
Read more …

In Miami-Dade Schools, Testing Doesn’t End

Miami Herald

In the nation’s 5th largest school district, “Out of the 180-day academic year, Miami-Dade County schools will administer standardized tests on every day but eight. Though not every student will take every test, the number and consequences of testing are facing a growing backlash from parents, teachers and even some district officials … Bound by state and federal rules, Dade officials say they have little control over how many tests they have to give, and when they have to give them … In Florida, standardized test scores can mean the difference between a student’s passing or failing a grade. For teachers, student test results can lead to a raise or a pink slip. Schools can face closure if students consistently under-perform.”
Read more …

As Children Go Back To School, Fox News Hosts Push Discredited Plan To Arm Teachers


“The hosts of Fox & Friends roundly endorsed a Texas school district that allows teachers to carry guns, even though security experts reject the idea of armed teachers and civilians with concealed guns have not stopped past mass shooting incidents … There is no evidence that teachers carrying guns will prevent future school shooting incidents … Mass shootings at schools have even occurred where schools have armed guards … Programs that arm teachers are opposed by the National Education Association … School safety expert Bill Bond, who works for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, has also noted that the responsibility of carrying a gun would distract teachers from their prerogative to educate students.”
Read more …

The Education Conversation ‘Reformers’ Want Versus The One They Get

What will $12 million get you? How about a “conversation about education?”

That’s what a new organization Education Post aims to get for its “initial grants,” courtesy of, according to education reporter Lindsay Layton of The Washington Post, ” the Broad Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Walton Family Foundation, and an anonymous donor.”

In a debut post, the organization’s leader Peter Cunningham – a former “communications guru,” according to Layton, for U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan – called for a “new conversation.”

That “new conversation” Cunningham wants, is less “screaming at each other from across the aisle … an honest, open conversation … based on the facts.”

Layton also quoted Bruce Reed – former chief executive of the Democratic Leadership Council and now president of the Broad Foundation that “originated” the new site – who said the idea for Education Post came from “a shared disappointment in the tenor of the debate.”

Education Post is not being terribly original here. Recent calls for more “civility” in discussions about education and for taking “the politics” and “partisanship” out of policy debates are suddenly all the rage among the edu-policy crowd gravitating around Washington, D.C.

There are reasons why Beltway-inspired education wonks are calling out the tone police – but it’s got very little to do with honesty and “facts.” Instead, read a little more deeply into these calls for taking “the politics” out of the debate, and what you find is itself a rather political agenda.

Bipartisan Banality

Echoing the Education Post’s zeal for making nice over differences on education policy, two right-wing think tank operatives who have differed in public over the Common Core Standards recently declared their determination to overcome the acrimony of that debate.

Writing in The Washington Times, Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom endeavored to lay out “the facts on which we think everyone should agree.”

Looking past the hubris of a claim to overcome differences that include only those held by conservatives, their facts are “technically” – a word they use in describing the process used to adopt the “voluntary” standards – true. Yet the facts they put forth are very carefully chosen, ignoring, for instance, the fact that the standards are by-and-large a product of the testing industry, without much influence from educators and parents.

From another conservative corner, columnist Juan Williams, writing for The Hill, came the similar call for “getting beyond the tired old fights” in education policy. His preference was to declare a “crisis in the nation’s schools” and steel political leaders to direct federal money to school voucher programs and do something about all those “bad teachers” that plague the system.

Unfortunately for Williams, his arguments happen to be the oldest and “tiredest” of all.

School vouchers, Greg Anrig has reminded us, were originally conceived by the economist Milton Friedman in 1955 and have been a cornerstone of Republican education policy since the presidential administration of Ronald Reagan. And education journalist Dana Goldstein, in her new book The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession, reminds us that as far back as the early 1800s, “the history of education reform shows … recurring attacks on veteran educators.”

In his review of Goldstein’s book appearing in The Atlantic, Noah Berlatsky equated current calls for weeding out America’s “bad teachers” Reagan-era claims about a scourge of “welfare queens.” He wrote, “If welfare mothers are the cause of poverty, then you can solve the problem of poverty with tighter restrictions on welfare mothers. If teachers are the problem with education, then you can solve the problem of education with ever more vigorous control, and ever more constant evaluation, of teachers.”

(Interestingly, Williams also conflates vouchers and teacher tenure with renewing No Child Left Behind, which has nothing to do with either of those issues.)

Outside of conservative circles (sort of), former press secretary for the Clinton White House, Mike McCurry recently lamented “an American political system ripped apart by partisanship.” The salve to apply to the bitterness – indeed, “the antidote to the poison that’s now invaded our political system” – McCurry believes is to rally around the “the school choice movement.”

Interestingly, McCurry’s remarks were carried by a conservative education policy outlet RefinedED, illustrating the absurdity of calls for consensus between right and left on education policy that is absent of any representation from what is truly “left.”

“The school choice movement’s appeal to all points on the political spectrum is a source of pride, McCurry said. The movement needs to continue doing the hard work of making the center hold, of putting aside differences on other issues to find common ground on kids and education.”

No doubt, McCurry has not been to Newark, N.J. lately where a new plan for district wide “school choice” is not being opposed by “partisanship,” but by the parents and students in that community.

In a similar vein, New America’s Conor William, writing at the online news outlet The Daily Beast, recently hailed the achievement of charter schools, no doubt part of the “bipartisan” composition of the “school choice movement.”

Noting that three charter schools were in the top echelon of an annual ranking of best performing American high schools, Williams declared there was “growing evidence – borne out by this year’s rankings – that the charter approach can make an extraordinary difference for students.”

Williams may want to look a little more deeply to notice that the charter schools he recommended for the rest of America have “student bodies that are disproportionately affluent and white.” They also experience very high student attrition and graduate very small numbers of students.

The Outsiders Want To Be Heard

In an attempt to clarify the standoff over education policy, Rick Hess from the American Enterprise Institute (yet another conservative Beltway think tank) recently wrote that the divide over education policy was between two easily delineated factions that are bent on “reform.”

On the one hand, you had “progressive” reformers who “have historically been wedded to a technocratic vision … and a belief that the right policies and programs can cure society’s ills.” And on the other hand, there are “conservative” reformers who “respect the limits of government.”

In this mutually held “reform” agenda, the “points of traditional agreement” – charter schools, incentivizing/ punishing teachers, Teach For America, and so forth – seem unchangeable, while oppositional lines are drawn only over the issues of “means and ends.”

This analysis may all be well and true. It just leaves out the vast majority of Americans. Surveys show that what Americans have a problem with are more than just issues of means and ends of “reform.” They’re increasingly disturbed by what’s being posed to them as “reform” altogether.

What Hess described is really just a view from the “inside” of the debate. Now the “outsiders” want to be heard.

Score One For The Education Spring

The tables didn’t start turning just last week.

Let’s go back in time to a white, hot moment that illustrates what’s really happening today.

It was June 2011. It was Madison, Wisconsin. Republican legislators had come prepared to ram through a radical education agenda that included taking away teachers’ collective bargaining rights, rolling out Milwaukee’s deeply flawed voucher program to the rest of the state, expanding charter schools, and drastically cutting public school budgets.

At the time, teachers were clamoring from the state house rafters, parents and students pitched tents and carried signs in protest to what was befalling their communities, and public school activists were banging drums of resistance to seeing the common good stolen away from them.

What did the “insiders” think then?

At the time, a field operative for the Democrats for Education Reform observed that the “worst part” of the conflagration was not the drastic harm being done to Wisconsin communities and their school children. No, the “worst part” was the “fall of bipartisanship on education.”

That bipartisanship, I wrote at the time, consisted chiefly of declaring education “a crisis, blame the teachers, bring in the privatizers, and muster financial backing from Wall St. to push it through.”

What’s changed since then is that the Wisconsin stirrings erupted into an Education Spring sweeping the nation, and the voices of those on the outside, who reject the education bipartisan agenda crafted by insiders, have increased in volume and intensity.

The outsiders are now becoming more organized too and have started to reach into the confines of Beltway think tanks and foundation boardrooms.

Recently, the group Democrats for Public Education formed to counter the weak complicity represented by Democrats for Education Reform and other groups whose views completely fail to include the progressive majority.

One of that group’s chief leaders, Democratic Party strategist Donna Brazile, decried those “under the guise of ‘education reform,’ undermining America’s public schools.”

In sharp contrast to the insider consensus that has ruled education policy for years, Brazile observed

“Here’s what dedicated parents and seasoned educators all across the country see: stalled reform efforts, poor implementation of programs, and nervous students spending 30 percent of their school year on test preparation. By speaking out about this troubling pattern, teachers are exemplifying what it truly means to be answerable to and responsible for the well-being of children…”

No one benefits when ‘education experts’ – many with only a couple years in the classroom and some with none at all – tell teachers that their expertise doesn’t matter and they don’t have the best interests of children at heart. When you peel back the onion, it’s clear these well-orchestrated attacks are coming from nothing more than a few well-funded, vocal groups intent on cherry-picking statistics and warping facts.”

She concluded, “Enough is enough. It’s time we collectively push back against efforts to undermine America’s education system, our teachers, and the kids themselves.”

This may not be the education conversation the reformers want. But it’s the one they’re going to get.

8/28/14 – Charter Schools Don’t Need An Ad Campaign

THIS WEEK: Widening Inequality … Report Urges Fewer Tests … Arne Duncan’s Harmful Policies … High Teacher Turnover … Student Loan Apocalypse


Charter Schools Don’t Need An Ad Campaign, They Need Regulation

By Jeff Bryant

“This time of year, while classroom teachers and administrators in public schools are busy welcoming students back to a new school year and figuring out how they’re going to cope with devastating financial constraints, advocates in the charter schools industry are propping up their image with an extensive new public relations campaign, called ‘Truth About Charters.’ That contrast alone pretty much tells you everything you need to know about where we are in the nation’s parallel education narratives, in which a gritty documentary competes with what is essentially an advertising campaign for a shiny, new product.”
Read more …


Back To School, And To Widening Inequality

Robert Reich

Economist Robert Reich writes on his personal blog, “The achievement gap between poor kids and wealthy kids isn’t mainly about race … It’s a reflection of the nation’s widening gulf between poor and wealthy families. And also about how schools in poor and rich communities are financed … As we segregate by income into different communities, schools in lower-income areas have fewer resources than ever. The result is widening disparities in funding per pupil … The wealthiest highest-spending districts are now providing about twice as much funding per student as are the lowest-spending districts … The United States is one of only three, out of 34 advanced nations surveyed by the OECD, whose schools serving higher-income children have more funding per pupil and lower student-teacher ratios than do schools serving poor students … Until we recognize we’re systematically hobbling schools serving disadvantaged kids, we’re unlikely to make much headway ”
Read more …

Accountability Report Urges Fewer Tests, More Peer Review

Education Week

“Accountability for the public schools should be far less test-driven and more the product of teachers holding one another to high professional standards, the National Center on Education and the Economy proposes in a report … Essentially, the NCEE calls on the U.S. to administer tests only in 4th, 8th, and 10th grades, and to use tests that focus largely on performance tasks. In other grades, tests would be taken by random samples of students. To ensure coverage of the full curriculum, these tests would gradually test science and other subjects in addition to English and math. If the results of these exams suggested that a school was falling behind the state curriculum or not sufficiently educating vulnerable students, they could trigger school inspections … The report also urges states to help set up “career ladders” in which experienced teachers would take on roles mentoring colleagues and refining teaching practices; teachers would be held to high standards by their peers.”
Read more …

Is Doing Less Harm Enough For Education Secretary Duncan?

The Washington Post

Barnett Berry, chief executive officer at the Center for Teaching Quality writes, “It has taken [Secretary of Education Arne] Duncan far too long to heed educators’ concerns about new evaluation systems reliant on tests not yet aligned with new college- and career-ready standards … So, what next? … The federal government could spread best practices for evaluation found in top-performing nations like Singapore … The U.S. Department of Education could help to ensure that evaluation systems yield useful information by encouraging states to implement serious peer review systems that give teachers information and support … The USDOE should maximize its new Teach to Lead initiative—inviting accomplished teachers to create and lead professional learning systems that spread expertise to improve student outcomes.”
Read more …

Half Of Teachers Leave The Job After Five Years. Here’s What To Do About It.

The Hechinger Report

“A new report … found that about 13% of the nation’s 3.4 million teachers move schools or leave the profession every year, costing states up to $2 billion. Researchers estimate that over 1 million teachers move in and out of schools annually, and between 40 and 50% quit within five years … The high turnover rates are sometimes due to layoffs, ‘but the primary reason they leave is because they’re dissatisfied’ … New teachers need more on-the-job training and mentor programs for the first two years that’s designed to keep them in the profession. Called ‘comprehensive induction,’ the training should include a high-quality, pre-screened mentor who is an experienced teacher, common planning time with other teachers, regular and rigorous training, and ongoing contact with school leaders.”
Read more …

These 9 Charts Show America’s Coming Student Loan Apocalypse

The Huffington Post

“More than half of Direct Loans … aren’t being repaid on time or as expected … Nearly half of the loans in repayment are in plans scheduled to take longer than 10 years. The number of loans in distress is rising. The increase in troubled loans comes as the average amount of student debt has significantly outpaced wage growth … The Education Department released data this month providing a much more detailed snapshot into how borrowers are coping with their federal student loans and how the government’s handpicked loan companies are juggling their obligations to borrowers and taxpayers … With a lackluster economy, tepid wage growth and vast numbers of Americans still looking for full-time work, some federal policymakers fear current borrowers will need more time to repay their loans than previous generations … The larger fear … ‘Will we have a generation of people who hit age 65 or 70 without any assets?’”
Read more …

Charter Schools Don’t Need An Ad Campaign, They Need Regulation

This time of year, while classroom teachers and administrators in public schools are busy welcoming students back to a new school year and figuring out how they’re going to cope with devastating financial constraints, advocates in the charter schools industry are propping up their image with an extensive new public relations campaign, called “Truth About Charters.”

That contrast alone pretty much tells you everything you need to know about where we are in the nation’s parallel education narratives, in which a gritty documentary competes with what is essentially an advertising campaign for a shiny, new product.

There are good reasons for charter schools advocates to feel they need an ad campaign. Recent polling results from the annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Towards the Public Schools show that Americans generally have favorable opinions about charter schools but don’t really know very much about them.

That situation is eerily similar to what has befallen another education policy favored by influential private interests and federal and state authorities: the Common Core.

Last year’s PDK/Gallup survey found that the Common Core was pretty much a mystery to most Americans, although public support for national standards was high. However, as new standards rolled out, and people became more knowledgeable about them and all they entail, opinion gradually changed. According to this year’s survey, over 80 percent of Americans have heard about the Common Core – 47 percent indicating they have heard a great deal or a fair amount. And most Americans, 60 percent, now oppose them.

A similar evolution may be occurring with charter schools. Because only about 6 percent of school children are enrolled in charters, the vast majority of Americans have had virtually no actual experiences with these schools. But in communities where charters are more prevalent, public opinion is more starkly divided. In school systems such as Philadelphia, Bridgeport, Pittsburgh, and Chicago, where charter schools are major providers, parents and local officials have increasingly opposed charter takeovers of their neighborhood schools.

Probably even more concerning to charter school advocates is the news that credit rating agency Standards & Poor’s recently down-rated the nation’s charter sector to a “negative” outlook.

What are the concerns? Apparently while charter advocates have their version of “truth,” another version of the truth has been playing out in communities around the country.

‘A Racket”

A recent article in the online news outlet The Progressive reported, “There’s been a flood of local news stories in recent months about FBI raids on charter schools all over the country. From Pittsburgh to Baton Rouge, from Hartford to Cincinnati to Albuquerque, FBI agents have been busting into schools, carting off documents, and making arrests leading to high-profile indictments.”

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

Conniff couldn’t help but conclude the special attention from the FBI is due to the likelihood these charter schools are “a racket.”

Recent news of charter school financial malfeasance abound.

The Washington Post reported, according to a pending civil lawsuit, the District of Columbia financial officer “responsible for monitoring charter schools’ business practices and ensuring their compliance with rules meant to prevent financial mismanagement” was instead allegedly receiving $150,000 to help three former managers of a local charter school chain “evade those rules and take millions of taxpayer dollars for themselves.”

Another report from The Post revealed that “about 25 percent” of the city’s charter schools pay fees – “ranging from 3 percent to 100 percent” of the schools’ total revenue – to nonprofit or for-profit management companies. Not surprisingly, several of the operating agreements with these management organizations prevent “the kind of transparency necessary to assure that schools are operating appropriately,” a DC school board review contended.

In Florida, a local news outlet investigating charter school operations found millions of taxpayer dollars misdirected from classrooms and students to management companies. The report pointed to charter school chain Charter Schools USA that makes “tens of millions” by operating as, essentially, a real estate firm.

CUSA uses tax-exempt bonds to build schools that it then rents to UCSA-affiliated schools. Then the CUSA schools are saddled with rent payments back to CUSA and its management company at rates considerably higher than those charged to other non-CUSA schools in the area.

One CUSA school will pay “more than $2 million this year in rent” – a 23% share of its budget. “That’s money that won’t be spent in classroom resources or teachers,” the report noted.

Education historian Diane Ravitch, writing on her personal blog, recently highlighted a report from the Florida League of Women Voters that explained how these charter school real estate schemes work across the state:

After receiving a variety of grants, loans and tax credits for building a charter school, the for-profit chain charges ever escalating rents and leases to the school district, paid by taxpayer education dollars. The for-profit then reaps the profits when the building is sold in a few years. Meanwhile the properties with high, non-taxable, values based on claimed ‘commercial’ revenue streams from public taxpayer dollars are leveraged to borrow additional funds to build more school buildings.

The League’s report noted, “The high per student management fees (around $450 ) plus rent/lease fees (at least 20 percent of the total school budget) mean that there is less funding available for ‘instruction,’ including teacher salaries, books, etc.”

The charter school racket goes beyond real estate deals.

The Arizona Republic recently “reviewed thousands of pages of federal tax returns, audits, corporate filings, and records filed with the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools” and found, “Board members and administrators from more than a dozen state-funded charter schools are profiting from their affiliations by doing business with schools they oversee. The deals, worth more than $70 million over the last five years, are legal, but critics of the arrangements say they can lead to conflicts of interest.”

In Newark, NJ, the money making opportunity for the charter school chains when the federal government made available millions of dollars in school construction bonds for charter schools. Noticing the potential windfall, the administration of governor Chris Christie promptly withheld funds designated for repairing and renovating existing public schools. This created a bonanza for new charter school construction, while local public schools went deeper into disrepair.

As Owen Davis reported for Truth Out, “By systematically underfunding the public sector while extending market incentives to private actors, the Christie administration has essentially placed its thumb on the scale for charters. The result: Some charters enjoy gleaming new facilities (bankrolled by the same financial milieu that spends its down time plugging them), while the public sector continues its decline.”

The Gülen Factor

An increasingly frequent target for scrutiny is the largest bricks-and-mortar charter-school chain in the United States run by the secretive Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gülen, who lives in exile from Turkey in rural Pennsylvania.

In her Progressive article, Conniff pointed to an August 12 story in The Atlantic that found Gulen schools “don’t have a great track record when it comes to financial and legal transparency.”

Reporter Scott Beauchamp found a Utah Gülen school that was $350,000 in debt while using much of it publicly provided funds to donate to Gulen-affiliated organizations and “pay the cost of bringing teachers to Utah from Turkey.”

Beauchamp also linked to a report in The New York Timesthat found two Gulen schools giving $50 million to Gülen-connected contractors “even though other contractors had offered lower bids.” And in Georgia, a county audit found three Gülen schools “skipped the bidding process altogether and paid nearly half a million dollars to organizations associated with the Gulen movement.

Federal investigations into Gülen schools across the Midwest have found similar shady practices. The Chicago Sun-Times recently reported that Chicago-area Concept Schools, also part of the Gulen charter chain, are subjects of an ongoing federal investigation. The enquiry is about nearly $1 million that has been paid to contractors for work at done at three Chicago-area charter schools run by Concept. The contractors, a management consulting firm, and a foundation – all with ties to the Gülen network – are wrapped up into the scheme.

In California, state auditors are looking at the Magnolia network of charter schools, also affiliated with the Gulen charter network. The audit stems from a sampling of transactions from the charter campuses by the inspector general of the Los Angeles school district, who “found over $43,000 in duplicate payments to vendors.”

Another review revealed, “the schools sent $2.8 million to the network’s management organization. The funds were poorly documented loans, and much of the cash was never paid back to classrooms.” Only a judicial intervention has prevented two of the Magnolia schools from being closed, and now the state has to intervene.

In Ohio, charter schools operated by Horizon Science Academy, also part of the Gülen Concept network, are accused by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks of being covers for Turkish nationals to get into this country.

According to a local news report, four former teachers from one of the Horizon schools, “accused officials at the school of possibly completing state tests for students, of unqualified teachers, of teachers showing videos day after day in class, of women being treated as second-class citizens and of teachers encouraging sexually harassing behavior toward female students.”

Another Ohio press outlet reported that the Gülen schools involved in the scandal are also “related through membership, fundraisers and political giving to the nonprofit Niagara Foundation, which provides trips to Turkey for state, local and federal lawmakers.”

Indeed, the influence of the Gülen network goes beyond the schoolhouse into the statehouse, by “making inroads in US politics,” according to a recent account at BuzzFeed.

“Liberal Democrats like Yvette Clarke, Sheila Jackson Lee, and Al Green, and conservative Republicans like Ted Poe and Pete Olson have all benefitted from donors affiliated with Gülen,” reporter Rosie Gray found.

“The patterns of giving suggest some level of coordination,” Gray discerned, and a number of the donations handed over to political campaigns from modestly paid classroom teachers are surprisingly large, the maximums allowed.

A ‘Market For Lemons’

In his Atlantic article on the spread of Gülen-related charter schools, Beauchamp felt compelled to note, repeatedly, that it could seem xenophobic to single out the Gülen schools for their mysterious use of public funds. However, “it isn’t the Gülen movement that makes Gülen charters so secretive,” Beauchamp wrote, “it’s the charter movement itself.”

Indeed, one of the supposed advantages of charter schools was their exemption to laws and regulations that some feel shackle public schools. But do these exemptions, in fact, lead to less transparency and accountability?

For instance, as a post on the Ohio blog Plunderbund recently explained, charter schools in that state are exempt from over 150 laws required of public schools, including “minimum standards” covering such things as training and qualifications of personnel; public disclosure of instructional materials, equipment, and facilities; “organization, administration, and supervision of schools; and “reporting requirements.”

The blogger, “Greg,” wrote, “If it wasn’t so appalling, we might be able to laugh at the continued insistence that Ohio’s charter (community) schools are held to the same level of accountability as are traditional public schools.”

An article appearing on the website for the University of Connecticut reported the conclusions of a professor who found, “the phenomenal growth of charter schools nationwide has been aided by a canny legal strategy in which the schools claim to be public for the purpose of taking in tax dollars but private for the purpose of evading government oversight.”

The article noted, for instance, “While public schools must provide due process to students when making decisions about suspensions or expulsions, most states exempt charter schools from school district discipline policies.”

Another example of how charter schools evade public scrutiny: A recent law passed in North Carolina, supported by charter schools lobbyists, “allows private, for-profit charter school management companies to keep their employees’ salaries secret, even though they are paid with public funds.”

Another example: When a Hartford, CT charter management group was recently rocked by scandals involving its leadership, the firm responded to media enquiries by simply closing its books.

Another way charter schools organizations evade public scrutiny is by simply rebranding its services under another corporate name, as the online charter company K12, Inc. recently did with one of its product groups.

The culprits behind all this lack of transparency are, of course, public officials, many of whom – fiercely urged on by powerful charter schools lobbying and public relations efforts – actively support charter schools.

As Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker recently wrote on his personal blog, School Finance 101, “In theory, the accountability and efficiency advantage of charter schooling is driven by the market for choice of one school over another. Increasingly, state education agencies have moved from being impartial technical assistance agencies and accountability reporting agencies to strongly promoting the charter sector. This advocacy behavior corrupts the state agency role and creates what economists refer to as an ‘asymmetry of information’ – in the extreme case a ‘market for lemons.’”

For ‘The Kids’?

Faced with the expanding number of charter schools scandals (keep in mind, the above examples are just a sample of what’s been reported just in the past two months), some government officials are beginning to wake up and act.

As Education Week recently reported, “Charter school authorizing, caps, and performance-based closures are among six policy areas getting growing attention in state charter school laws, according to a policy brief released by the Education Commission of the States this month.”

One such measure got the attention of Diane Ravitch who noted on her blog, “The Massachusetts State Senate voted 26-13 not to increase the number of charter schools in the state. A similar bill cleared the House by a vote of 114-35 in May.”

So how do charter schools proponents respond to this kind of legislation? By fighting it tooth and nail.

As edu-blogger Jennifer Berkshire reported on her Edushyster blog, during negotiations on the bill, the positions of the Massachusetts charter lobby were, “any compromise was completely unacceptable.”

And the decision was immediately made a matter of rhetorical overkill by Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Baker, who according to Ravitch, “issued a statement suggesting the Senate ‘bowed to political pressure and handed urban families stuck in struggling schools a massive defeat by shutting down access to high performing schools.’”

Other charter school proponents responded by comparing anyone wanting to put the brakes on charter school expansions to “George Wallace” declaring “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Really?

Indeed, when charter proponents aren’t engaged in a clever PR campaign, they resort to demagoguery, accusing any and all detractors of charter schools of being engaged in “politics.”

And they say they do this “for the kids”?

8/20/2014 – Schools White People Cannot See

THIS WEEK: Obama Losing Public Support … Bad News For Common Core … Justice Panels Instead Of Suspensions … NCLB Waivers Lose Favor … What To Teach About Michael Brown


Back To Schools White People Cannot See

By Jeff Bryant

“The ‘oxymoronic’ term ‘majority-minority’ is another ‘clear indicator’ of how white people continue to perceive themselves as a “majority” even when statistically they no longer are, in many respects. Public education, in particular, is now one of those ‘majority-minority’ arenas … Given this understanding of the way white privilege distorts perceptions of reality, it’s not a leap of logic to suggest that political and policy leaders have a distorted understanding of the conditions in schools populated by children who look nothing like them. And it’s not unfair in the least to wonder if these leaders are incapable of really seeing the schools they purport to render policy direction for.”
Read more …


Obama Losing Public Support On Education Issues, New Poll Finds

The Washington Post

“Results of a well-regarded annual poll: Support for President Obama on education issues is waning – with only 27% giving him an A or B … A majority of the public … have more trust in their local school board than in the federal government … Support for Obama in education has fallen every year since 2011… A majority of Americans cite the biggest problem facing public schools today as lack of financial support.”
Read more …

Bad Week For The Common Core


“Two new national polls … found the public souring on the academic standards … One … found a steep plunge in support for the standards among public school teachers … [Another] … found that 80% of Americans have heard about the Common Core … Familiarity has apparently bred distrust: Fully 60% of respondents said they opposed using the standards to guide instruction in their community … Among those naysayers, more than three-quarters told pollsters their opposition was motivated at least in part by a belief that local teachers don’t support the standards … Though the major unions both back the Common Core, leaders have complained that their members lack the training, resources and support to implement the standards properly.”
Read more …

Schools Find Justice Panels More Effective Than Suspending Students


“Children’s advocates, teachers and principals have long argued that suspensions are ineffective at improving student behavior … One suspension more often that not leads to many more; students who are suspended are also more likely to drop out of school, break the law and eventually end up in jail. By using justice panels, student mentoring and peer-led conflict resolution, schools … But restorative justice comes with its own difficulties. The student must take responsibility for his or her actions.”
Read more …

Sheen Fades as NCLB Waivers Near Three-Year Mark

Education Week

“In 2011, states chafing under the badly outdated No Child Left Behind Act leapt at the Obama administration’s offer of relief … The biggest policy pothole experts identify over and over again: The waivers tied together the controversial Common Core State Standards, new aligned assessments, and teacher performance … The combination has led to political strife in states … Even state officials with a generally positive view of the waivers say the Education Department has at times fallen short of its rhetoric on collaboration … The waivers have been panned by the administration’s own congressional allies … as a retreat from accountability, particularly for the poor and minority students that the NCLB law was designed to protect.”
Read more …

What Do We Teach When Kids Are Dying? #MichaelBrown

Practical Theory

Chris Lehmann principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA writes on his personal blog, “When I heard that Mike Brown was shot – unarmed, multiple times – by a police officer, my thoughts immediately went to the many stories I have heard over the years from my students of color about their experiences with the police … Conversations I have heard have spoken to a deep level of distrust and fear between students of color and the police … The reaction of the authorities in Ferguson, MO since Mike Brown was shot … has looked more like a police state than anything I can remember in America in my lifetime. All over the country, students are on social media asking – what kind of country does this to its own citizens? … It is incredibly daunting to think about how we frame this issue in our classrooms, but that cannot be the reason for educators to shy away from it. And, if nothing else, now is a moment where educators need to listen deeply to students who need to express what they are feeling … Mike Brown’s death must serve to remind us that there is no such thing … as passive anti-racism. His death – and the police state that Ferguson, MO has become since his death – must remind us that institutional racism is the norm in this country and therefore we have to actively work to do better.”
Read more …

Back To Schools White People Cannot See

As the season for new school openings rolls out, there are reasons for a new consciousness-raising about those schools – the kind of consciousness-raising that can be brought about when there’s a shock to the system like Ferguson, Missouri.

Of the many heartfelt, well thought-out, and clearly written responses to the ongoing travesty happening in Ferguson, one of the most insightful was “Dear White People: The Race You Can’t See Is Your Own” that appeared on Blue Nation Review.

Written by author and communications consultant Anat Shenker-Osorio, the post delved into the issue of race and perceptions of race – the starting point for understanding not only what caused events in Ferguson but also what conditions the different ways people have responded to those events.

From a scientific perspective, Shenker-Osorio explained, people “formulate judgments by race. Not only does race constrain our ability to recall and differentiate among faces and constrain empathy for physical pain, it structures our desired responses to public policies.”

These are just the facts of the matter – with one notable exception, as Shenker-Osorio noted: “whites don’t see race … when they’re looking at other whites.”

To illustrate this phenomenon, Shenker-Osorio recalled a focus group she had run in which “we showed different groups an all white image and asked them to discuss it. None of the white folks remarked upon the lack of people of color, but for the African American, Latino and Asian-Pacific Island groups, it was the first thing they said.”

Shenker-Osorio also pointed out how the “oxymoronic” term “majority-minority” is another “clear indicator” of how white people continue to perceive themselves as a “majority” even when statistically they no longer are, in many respects.

Public education, in particular, is now one of those “majority-minority” arenas. As numerous recent reports have recently conveyed, this new school year will be the first in which white students are no longer a majority in public schools.

Of course, this seismic demographic change didn’t happen overnight. For years, schools have been becoming more and more populated by higher percentages of non-white children, with many districts having been mostly non-white.

But given this understanding of the way white privilege distorts perceptions of reality, it’s not a leap of logic to suggest that political and policy leaders have a distorted understanding of the conditions in schools populated by children who look nothing like them. And it’s not unfair in the least to wonder if these leaders are incapable of really seeing the schools they purport to render policy direction for.

Failure To See The Funding Crisis

Take the issue of school finance. While some would have us believe that the “recovery” has healed school finances, the reality for most schools is very different.

The financial recovery that has occurred in some public and private sectors simply has not happened in K-12 education. Despite some improvements in overall state tax revenues (which provide about 45 percent of K-12 education funding), according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

  • New state budgets for school year 2013-2014 provided less per-pupil funding for kindergarten through 12th grade than they did six years ago – often far less.
  • 34 states provided less per-student funding for K-12 education in 2013-14 than they did in fiscal year 2008.
  • Schools in around a third of states entered the school year with less state funding than they had the preious year.
  • At least 35 states provided less funding per student for the 2013-14 school year than they did before the recession hit.

Adding to the financial plight, counties and municipalities that fund schools at the local level collected 2.1 percent less in property tax revenue in the 12-month period ending in March 2013 than in the previous year. There are no indications 2014 is any better.

Federal funds for K-12 education have continued to decline too according to a report in FiveThirtyEight. Federal per-student spending fell more than 20 percent from 2010 to 2012 and continued to fall in 2013-2014. Title I was down 12 percent. Spending on disabled education went down 11 percent. No increases are coming from the feds for the 2015 school year.

The impact of funding cuts were significant as school administrators had to dig deeper into budgets and cut instructional-related expenses, including teaching positions, instructional materials, and teacher professional development:

A survey of school superintendents found that federal funding cuts implemented in 2014 resulted in reduced expenditures on professional development (59 percent), eliminated personnel (53 percent), increased class size (48 percent), and deferred technology purchases (46 percent).

Another survey of school district leaders found only 11 percent disagreed/strongly disagreed that budget shortfalls would be “a challenge for my school district.” Only 16 percent of district officials surveyed about their instructional budgets in 2013 said they expected their financial situations to improve in 2014. It’s not likely 2015 will bring on a recovery.

The ‘Recovery’ Isn’t Happening

Where funding has increased, it has generally not increased enough to make up for cuts in past years.

A recent report on school funding levels in New York by the Alliance for Quality Education found a $5.9 billion shortfall on what is owed to schools in that state. The report quoted a school official who said, “We’ve cut writing classes, science, athletics, arts, everywhere.” Another official said, ” We have eliminated our entire business program, cut our JV sports teams, reduced our academic intervention programs, as well as decimating our administrative leadership team.”

Cuts to school funding in Pennsylvania have been so severe staffing levels have hit a ten-year low. Democratic state leaders accuse Governor Corbett of cutting a billion dollars from the state education budget, with one public school advocate quoted as saying, “We’ve lost over 400 teachers … 20 percent of the teaching compliment of the Allentown School District.”

In the current North Carolina state budget, education gets $500 million less than the 2008 inflation-adjusted budget, even though school populations have grown dramatically. Progressive group NC Policy Watch has tracked, county by county, the effects of budget cuts on classrooms, documenting slashed classroom teacher and teacher assistant positions, increased class sizes, and cuts to instructional supplies and textbooks. One little-noticed provision in the budget ensures schools no longer get more money when their enrollments increase.

In Florida, Governor Scott declared this year’s budget includes record levels of education funding, but his proposal left the state’s per pupil spending about $200 lower than in the 2007-08 school year, while district needs have only risen.

In Michigan, after a previous state budgets cut education spending over $1 billion, modest increases in the 2015 version barely recovered a quarter of what had been cut. This means a school district, such as Ann Arbor for example, will have funding levels of $6,445,869 (based on 2010-11 levels) compared to $7,727,263 from the previous year. But the cumulative results are still a near $30 million shortfall over a four year period, and that’s just for one district.

In Kansas, largest-ever cuts in state school funding history took funding back to 1992 levels, when adjusted for inflation. The cuts resulted in the elimination of teaching aids, school specialists, and classroom teachers. Textbook purchases were put on hold, schools resorted to radical measures including removing half the light bulbs, dropping tutoring activities, and cancelling summer school.

In Nevada, state funding for schools is so inadequate, communities are resorting to unheard of measures, including, as NPR recently reported, a district raising funds through bars and brothels.

Nationally, a recent survey of teachers found one in three using textbooks 10 years old or older. Thirty percent of teachers report not having enough textbooks to assign homework. Another national survey found budget cuts have resulted in only a third of schools now having school librarians.

Funding Disparities Follow Race/Income

The relationship of education cuts to race becomes even more obvious when recognizing how resources, as dear as they are, are being distributed.

The budget cuts themselves have been distributed in inequitable fashion, with schools serving the poorest – and by proxy nonwhite – children bearing the brunt of the disinvestment.

As an annually recurring report on school funding fairness found in its 2014 edition, “The Great Recession triggered dramatic reductions in state and local revenue from property, sales and income taxes. To prevent layoffs and cuts to education programs, the federal government provided substantial stimulus funds on a temporary basis. When the stimulus ended, however, states faced a crucial test: either restore revenue or allow cuts to education funding and programs. This report shows many of the states failed this test, sacrificing fair school funding after the foreseeable loss of federal stimulus.”

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

Even within school districts there are huge disparities in spending depending on the wealth – and by proxy, the race – of the local community. As a recent article on The Huffington Post contended, “Students who live in wealthy communities have huge advantages that rig the system in their favor.” The article pointed to an analysis  showing that “wealthier districts” use private local education foundations to ensure their students “attend summer schools that provide educational enrichment, help students make up courses they missed or failed during the academic year, and look good on students’ transcripts when they apply to college.” For students who aren’t in these affluent districts – no such luck.

“Just within Los Angeles County,” the author noted, “there are huge differences between wealthy communities like La Cañada Flintridge (with a median household income of $154,947 and 2.1 percent poverty rate) and San Marino ($139,122 — 4.6 percent) and poorer cities like Pomona ($48,864 — 20.4 percent) and Huntington Park ($36,620 — 27.7 percent) in their ability to raise additional money for their local schools.”

Regarding federal funds, as the above referenced report from FiveThirtyEight noted, “most federal education aid targets two groups, low-income and special education students, who are overrepresented in urban school districts. As a result, urban districts have been hit harder by the recent cuts.”

Funding Fairness Matters, A Lot

These funding disparities have consequences.

As the author of the above linked Huffington Post article noted, “Affluent students in well-off school districts have higher rates of high school graduation, college attendance, and entry to the more selective colleges. This has little to do with intelligence or ability.”

According to a report at Vox, researchers found, “Spending more money on educating children in poor districts can dramatically change the trajectory of those children’s lives.”

The analysis found, “A 20 percent increase in per-pupil spending could make a big difference for students from poor families … The additional spending had virtually closed the high school graduation gap between poor students and their wealthier peers. High school graduation rates increased 23 percentage points for poor students, and those students attended school or college for another year on average.”

Another recent study, according to an article at Education Week, found, “How much state governments spend per pupil and how they spend it does in fact have a significant correlation with achievement, particularly for the low-income students.”

The researches found, “A $1,000-per-pupil funding increase is correlated with a .42-point increase in National Assessment of Education Progress scores for low-income 4th graders … an increase of 20 percentage points in the state share of spending correlated with a 1-point improvement in the 8th grade math scores of low-income students.”

Funding fairness mattered even more as, “An improvement in the equity of funding across a state can improve academic performance without any additional spending overall. And the effect is significant: For example, a 20-point improvement in the equity ratio, holding all other factors constant, is correlated with nearly 2 point improvement in 4th grade NAEP reading scores for low-income students, equal to a roughly 1 percent gain.”

The School Reality White People Cannot See

Many who slough off the importance of equitable funding for schools instead point to other issues they deem to be more apt to even the playing field – such as promulgating new standards or changing teacher personnel policies.

According to this view, if we were just to “raise the bar” on what we expect all students to achieve or “hold teachers more accountable” for the results students get on standardized tests, then these issues of funding simply wouldn’t matter.

These arguments are distractions. As the new president of the National Education Association Lily Eskelsen Garcia recently stated, “That is their narrative. Because if you can talk about something like that you don’t have to talk about why do these kids have an Olympic swimming pool and these kids have a leaky roof. How come these kids get French classes and AP classes – and they should – and these kids don’t even get recess because they spend it drilling and practicing for the standardized test. Equity costs money, so you want to change the subject as fast as you can.”

Back to Shenker-Osorio, she concluded her reflection on the Ferguson tragedy with a call “to face some hard truths. The race we don’t see is our own, and it keeps us from understanding our privilege and thus others’ lived experience of baked-in, perpetual, harms.”

One of those “baked-in, perpetual harms” is that too many of the schools in this country are like the school Michael Brown attended in Ferguson. As a recent post on the liberal blog site Daily Kos noted, Brown’s schools “was created by merging two of the poorest, most heavily minority districts around St. Louis – Normandy and Wellston. The poverty rate for families sending their kids to Normandy Schools was 92 percent. At Wellston School District, the poverty rate was 98 percent. Every single student in the Wellston district was African American.”

The fact that Brown graduated from this school and was about to attend college may have been a “miracle,” as the post claimed. But the reality of his dead body bleeding on the street should spur a call to action very different from the actions education policy leaders want us to undertake. The fact these folks can’t see that is what really is the whole problem.