Education Opportunity Network

Education Opportunity Network -

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

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


How School Vouchers Promote Religious Schools And Hurt Education

By Jeff Bryant

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


Low Performers Show Big Declines On 12th Grade NAEP Test

Education Week

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

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

Ed Surge

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

Can More Money Fix America’s Schools?


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

Race And The Standardized Testing Wars

The New York Times

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

The Protest Generation Wants Its Education Back

The Progressive

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

How School Vouchers Promote Religious Schools And Hurt Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fad Over School Vouchers

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

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

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

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

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

Track Record On Vouchers Mostly Negative

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

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

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

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

But there is an important quality issue as well.

How Vouchers Promote Religious Schools

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

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

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

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

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

This Should Alarm Every American

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/21/2016 – We Won’t Improve Education By Making Teachers Hate Their Jobs

THIS WEEK: New Majority Will Reshape Education … Decaying Schools Hurt Kids … Immigrant Students Blocked … Charters Cashing In On Kids … State Takeovers Steal Democracy


We Won’t Improve Education By Making Teachers Hate Their Jobs

By Jeff Bryant

“One likely outcome of the high work dissatisfaction rate among teachers is that many states and school districts are now reporting acute teacher shortages … There are factors other than economics that are making teachers’ work-lives miserable … A new survey survey finds 83% of respondents said the inclusion of student standardized test scores in teacher evaluations has had a negative impact.”
Read more …


Racially Diverse ‘New Majority’ Set To Reshape Us Public Schools

The Christian Science Monitor

“Since 2014, for the first time in the country’s history, a majority of those in public schools have been students of color … What’s their emerging message? In part it’s in keeping with the age-old desires of families everywhere: a good education in safe schools. But it’s also a call for greater equity in school quality … And for some … shaping lessons that truly embrace diversity … The call for better schools and greater equity comes at an important moment in national education policy.”
Read more …

Decaying School Buildings Have Physical, Psychological Consequences

Education Dive

“Research links children’s ability to learn to the condition of their school environment. That means that the deteriorating condition of school buildings should be more relevant in ongoing discussions about closing achievement gaps … Building decay also impacts the quality of teachers’ instruction, playing a role in their confidence and general wellbeing … Attention must be paid to the physical condition of schools – and that means boosting state or federal funding for much-needed repairs.”
Read more …

Report: Immigrant Students Blocked From Enrolling In School

Associated Press

“Immigrant children living in the US without legal status have been blocked from registering for school and accessing the educational services … Students have faced long enrollment delays and have been turned away from classrooms as the result of some districts’ arbitrary interpretations of residency rules and state laws … The Obama administration’s efforts to find and deport the tens of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children and families … have further complicated the situation, prompting some students to avoid school.”
Read more …

Agassi’s Fund Cashes In On N. Phila. Charter-School Venture

The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Former tennis pro Andre Agassi’s charter-school investment fund is poised to turn a $1 million profit when it sells a North Philadelphia classroom building this week to the charter operator that has leased it for five years … The sale to KIPP Philadelphia Charter School is one of the first by Agassi’s partnership with the California-based financier Bobby Turner since they set out in 2011 … The deal sheds light on a growing niche in real estate … ‘If you want to treat a problem, then philanthropy is fine,’ Turner said. ‘But if you want to cure, really cure, you’ve got to harness market forces to create sustainable solutions that are scalable. And that means making money.'”
Read more …

School District Takeovers: Bad For Students, Bad For Democracy

Schott Foundation For Public Education

John Jackson, President and CEO Schott Foundation For Public Education writes, “in many states and cities there are counterproductive disenfranchisement actions being taken that disempower Black and Latino communities – the takeover of their public schools … Denying these citizens’ right to elect local school boards through state takeovers or mayoral control should sound the same alarm as denying them the vote … Takeover actions taken without the appropriate democratic test being applied and without the state first meeting its constitutional support obligation creates a slippery slope that diminishes our democracy, weakens the role of public schools in communities, and produces poor outcomes for our students.”
Read more …

We Won’t Improve Education By Making Teachers Hate Their Jobs

Does this sound like a place you’d like to work?

The work environment is “depressing” … “morale is at an all-time low.”

“It feels like a lot of busy work and hoop jumping and detracts from the work.” “Every move … needs to be documented and noted.”

“We have to respond to feedback given by an administrator who did a one-minute walk through and thought they knew what was going on … but didn’t.”

“There is no time for conversations” … “my salary has been frozen for six years” … “everyone feels like losers.”

Probably not.

But this is how classroom teachers and school principals describe what it’s like to work in public schools.

The comments come from a new survey of K-12 educators nationwide that yielded responses from 2,964 teachers and principals from 48 states. The survey was conducted by the Network for Public Education, a grassroots public school advocacy group founded by public school advocates, parents, educators, and university professors, including education historian Diane Ravitch. NPE recently released the survey findings in a report titled “Teachers Talk Back: Educators on the Impact of Teacher Evaluation” at its national conference in Raleigh, N.C.

The survey findings add strong anecdotal weight to previous statistical surveys of teachers that have found their work dissatisfaction is at an all time high. A survey from 2012, found teacher job satisfaction has plummeted to 39 percent, its lowest level in 25 years, according to one review of the findings.

Findings from a more recent survey, published in 2015, revealed only 15 percent of teachers feel enthusiastic about the profession, and about three in four “often” feel stressed by their jobs.

One likely outcome of this high work dissatisfaction rate among teachers is that many states and school districts are now reporting acute teacher shortages. One major school system, Philadelphia, still struggles to fill teacher vacancies, even as the current school year nears end.

Meanwhile, other reports reveal record low numbers of college students enrolling into teacher preparation programs, foretelling even worse teacher shortages in the future.

Certainly, it doesn’t help that teacher salaries are stagnant. As an op ed writer in a recent U.S. News and World Report noted, “Teachers haven’t gotten a raise in 15 years.” But poor teacher pay is a chronic problem that doesn’t by itself explain the shortages.

Teacher pension programs are also being chiseled away, but why would even short-timers – such as those coming from Teach for America, whose recruitment is down 35 percent over three years – be discouraged?

Indeed, the NPE survey reveals there are factors other than economics that are making teachers’ work-lives miserable.

What Value Added Subtracts From Teaching

As an article for Education Week explains, the NPE survey had a specific target in mind: to paint a qualitative, descriptive portrait of the effects of new teacher evaluation systems that are now in place in most schools.

“The new evaluation systems,” according to the EdWeek reporter, “were mostly developed as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top competition and NCLB-waiver projects” during the Obama administration. The evaluations combine the traditional practice of classroom observations with a heavy emphasis on student test scores. The test scores are fed into a computer-driven algorithm typically referred to as a value-added model, or VAM, which, according to the reporter, “attempts to estimate how much a teacher has contributed to student-achievement growth by factoring in the gains the student was expected to make based on past performance.”

In 2012, the promise U.S. Education Secretary Duncan and other education policy advocates made was the new evaluation process would lead to closing the notorious achievement gap between black and brown low-income kids and their higher performing white and more well-to-do peers. We were told the evaluations would ensure the worst teachers would be weeded out of the system, the best teachers would emerge from the scores, and these revelations would ensure districts could reassign the most effective teachers to schools with the most struggling students.

The theory was never based on evidence.

In fact, as a recent op ed in a Connecticut news outlet observed, “The policies of the secretary, which he carried with him from his tenure as Superintendent of Schools in Chicago to Washington D.C., never achieved the academic gains that were claimed. A 2010 analysis of Chicago schools by the University of Chicago concluded that after 20 years of reform efforts, which included Mr. Duncan’s tenure, the gap between poor and rich areas had widened.”

The VAM process might make sense in manufacturing or agriculture, but in the flesh-and-blood education profession, classroom teachers hate it.

As the NPE survey finds, “83 percent of respondents said the inclusion of student standardized test scores in teacher evaluations has had a negative impact on classroom instruction.” Teachers overwhelmingly complain the evaluations pressure them to focus on test scores to the detriment of focusing on their relationships with their students. Many think the new evaluation systems reflect racial biases, and most think they unfairly target more experienced staff. In other words, a process that is seemingly objective – through the automation of computers – yields results that are similar to inequities that are all too common in many workplaces.

What’s worse, teachers believe the test-based evaluations damage the education process itself. The EdWeek reporter writes, “Teachers reported that they now felt forced to ‘teach to the test,’ instead of planning fun or meaningful units and spend hours poring over data instead of brainstorming ways to better reach their students.

A Dr. Frankenstein Moment

NPE is not the only organization to reveal the immense distrust teachers have for these evaluations. According to a recent survey, 81 percent of State Teachers of the Year award-winners and finalists strongly disagree with federal policy requirements to use standardized test scores in teacher evaluations.

“Parents … should think twice when politicians say they can use complex computer programs to identify and get rid of failing teachers,” warns New York attorney Bruce Lederman in a recent op ed.

Lederman’s wife, a fourth-grade teacher, was labeled “ineffective” by New York’s VAM evaluation system because she had a student who scored 98 on his standardized math tests. You read that right. The student got two questions wrong on the three-day test but the teacher was deemed ineffective because the computer program gave her a “growth score” of 22 out of 100. You see, the same student scored 100 on his third grade math test the previous year.

“This shows the danger of relying on complex computer programs that claim to be able to predict performance and rate people’s job performances,” Lederman writes.

Results like what Lederman, and others, reports defy common sense and are causing experts to speak out more forcefully for a reconsideration of these approaches.

“I’m deeply troubled by the transformation of teaching from a complex profession requiring nuanced judgment to the performance of certain behaviors that can be ticked off on a checklist,” writes Charlotte Danielson in a recent opinion column for Education Week. “It’s time for a major rethinking of how we structure teacher evaluation,” she declares.

Danielson is a popular author and education consultant whose books on a “framework for teaching” are often the blueprints for teacher evaluations in many schools. Yet, the NPE survey of teachers finds the model in practice is “cumbersome and exhausting.” Teachers say applications of the framework create an evaluation system in which “snapshots of instruction take on oversized importance as measurements of ability, devoid of context.”

Faced with what teacher evaluations, based on her framework, have turned into, Danielson must be having somewhat of a Dr. Frankenstein moment. Indeed, in her op ed, she now realizes applications of her methods have led to teaching being “distilled to numbers, ratings, and rankings, conveying a reductive nature to educators’ professional worth and undermining their overall confidence.”

Despite Danielson’s reflective moment, there are nevertheless hangers-on to the belief in test-based teacher evaluations. One of their last handholds on the slippery slope to irrelevancy is a recent study of the test-based evaluation system in Washington, DC conceived under the administration of former chancellor Michelle Rhee. That study found the higher rate of teacher turnover caused by the more onerous evaluations may have led to more teachers rated “ineffective” who were in turn replaced with teachers who eventually rated “effective.” The “positive” turnover may have been a factor that ultimately boosted student achievement.

But the study of the DC evaluation system is nowhere near as conclusive as proponents of the status quo suggest. Furthermore, who can doubt the somewhat circular logic that designing education systems that increasingly emphasize student test scores – which are rather questionable measures of student learning and education quality – may eventually yield higher student test scores? But how does this drive to have effects on the almighty test scores justify abusing teachers rights?

Do This Instead

“It is difficult if not impossible to isolate the impact of a single individual on a student because teaching is a collaborative and developmental process,” write the assessment experts at the website of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, Their analysis of VAM-based teacher evaluations finds numerous reasons to abandon these systems and no justifications that bear up under scrutiny.

Fortunately, there is an opportunity to lift the burden of these evaluations and develop alternatives based on what makes sense to teachers and what might also bolster student learning.

With the enactment of a new national education policy, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal government is now prohibited from requiring states to use student test scores in teacher evaluations. The law provides funding for states to invest in systems that provide better feedback, but the burden of developing these systems clearly shifts to the states. What will they do?

What Danielson now calls for in evaluation systems is a “collaborative evaluation procedure” with more emphasis on creating “a culture within the school conducive to professional learning.”

Classroom teachers themselves have lots of worthy ideas for how to measure their work performance and the performance of their peers. Maybe it’s time lawmakers listen to them?

No one doubts that teachers, and employees of any kind, need to be evaluated and can indeed benefit from an evaluation system that provides supports for getting better. And the public has a right to know whether its tax dollars are being spent on teachers who do their jobs and schools that provide a quality education.

Using student test scores to determine measures of performance might provide us with some reassurance we are not throwing good money after bad, but it’s a false reassurance. And in the meantime, we’re making teachers miserable.



4/14/2016 – The Flint Effect: Will One City’s Crisis Spark A National Awakening?

THIS WEEK: The Trump Effect … Parents See Racial Disparities … School Closures Don’t Work … Childcare Is A Right … College Loans Not Getting Paid


The Flint Effect: Will One City’s Crisis Spark A National Awakening?

By Jeff Bryant

“While Katrina was a singular event with a tragically long legacy, Flint is proving to be the beginning of a story playing out over a much longer time period and in more than one place … Flint prompted school officials in many places to test classroom sinks and cafeteria faucets for lead. What they found was alarming.”
Read more …


Donald Trump’s Rhetoric Has Made Some Students Feel Unsafe, Report Says

Education Week

“The 2016 presidential election’s heated rhetoric and divisive policy proposals have had a negative effect on school climate, causing some students to feel unwelcome, unsafe, or singled out by their peers … [Survey]respondents overwhelmingly singled out billionaire businessman and Republican frontrunner Donald J. Trump as the most problematic … More than two-thirds of the teachers reported that students – mainly immigrants, children of immigrants, and Muslims – have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families.”
Read more …

Some Parents Of Color Don’t Think Schools Are Even Trying To Educate Their Children

The Washington Post

“Over 80% of African-American parents and over 60% of Latino parents said that they don’t think schools in their communities receive the same levels of funding as schools in white communities … An overwhelming number of parents from both groups said they think schools in low-income communities have fewer resources than schools in wealthy communities … In general, most surveyed black parents said they do not think kids from their communities are receiving a comparable education to the one white students receive, even though they have generally favorable opinions of the individual schools their children attend.”
Read more …

School Closures: A Blunt Instrument

American Prospect

“In urban districts across the United States – from Detroit to Newark to Oakland – communities are experiencing waves of controversial school closures as cash-strapped districts reckon with pinched budgets and changing politics … African Americans have been hit hardest by the school closings … A majority of closed schools are converted into charter schools.”
Read more …

The $90 Billion Question: Do We Need Government-Supplied Daycare?

The Washington Post

“Researchers at the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank in the District, say … America should invest more resources into building a national childcare system, one that rewards quality … The EPI authors recommend … expanding public funding for home visits by nurses to help expectant parents make healthy choices during pregnancy and adding subsidies for those who can’t afford high quality care … They also campaign for the public provision of early childhood education that focuses on cognitive development, so kids with different family incomes, can enter school at more equal levels of preparedness.”
Read more …

More Than 40% Of Student Borrowers Aren’t Making Payments

The Wall Street Journal

43% of the roughly 22 million Americans with federal student loans weren’t making payments … About 1 in 6 borrowers, or 3.6 million, were in default on $56 billion in student debt, meaning they had gone at least a year without making a payment. Three million more owing roughly $66 billion were at least a month behind … Another three million owing almost $110 billion were in ‘forbearance’ or ‘deferment,’ meaning they had received permission to temporarily halt payments due to a financial emergency, such as unemployment. The figures exclude borrowers still in school and those with government-guaranteed private loans.”
Read more …

The Flint Effect: Will One City’s Crisis Spark A National Awakening?

When news about lead contamination in the water supply of Flint Michigan made headlines across the nation, many compared the crisis to Hurricane Katrina. Even Michigan Governor Rick Snyder called the disaster “his Katrina,” comparing the failure of government leadership in his state to the failure to of public officials who left Katrina victims stranded.

But while Katrina was a singular event with a tragically long legacy, Flint is proving to be the beginning of a story playing out over a much longer time period and in more than one place.

It’s the difference between a blockbuster movie and the season opener of a TV serial.

In an update on Flint from the New York Times, we learn the crisis is anything but over. “Reports of rashes, itchiness, and hair loss” are making people fearful of using the city water to bathe in. “Families are going to extraordinary lengths to find places where they can bathe without fear,” the report says

And of course what’s yet to come is evidence of the irreversible damage done to the developing brains and nervous systems of Flint’s children due to the exposure to lead.

But what makes Flint more of a presage is the realization it’s sparking around the country about the conditions being inflicted on our youngest citizens.

Flint Is Everywhere

When New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote, “America is Flint,” he branded the crisis a “wake-up call” to address the national problem of lead toxicity in children’s environments.

Now we know some public officials indeed stirred. As the Associated Press reports, Flint prompted school officials in many places to test classroom sinks and cafeteria faucets for lead.

What they found was alarming: “Among schools and day care centers operating their own water systems … 278 violated federal lead levels at some point during the past three years. Roughly a third of those had lead levels that were at least double the federal limit.”

The reporters found an elementary school in Wisconsin with pipes, buried in the concrete foundation, leaching lead into the tap water and a Head Start center in Missouri whose relatively new building showed up with high levels of lead in the water. These facilities have switched to bottled water at considerable cost.

“No state is immune to the problem,” the article states.

The AP story follows other disturbing reports from big city school systems plagued with lead in school drinking water. As Mother Jones reports, schools in Boston, Baltimore, Camden, and Newark “have been drinking trucked-in water for years due to lead concerns.” (The writer could have mentioned Philadelphia too.)

The article calls schools with verified lead levels “the lucky ones” because officials at least know the water is toxic and have taken steps to address that. The much bigger problem is that many school systems simply don’t know the danger flowing through their pipes.

The article quotes a university professor who studied lead contamination in Flint, who observed, “It’s definitely the schools that you do not hear about” that are the most concerning.

It’s The Aging Infrastructure, Stupid

A significant part of the problem is that, according to Mother Jones, “roughly 90 percent of the nation’s schools aren’t required to test their water.”

But the issues go way beyond testing. As the AP reporter explains, in “almost all cases” of lead contamination, “the problems can be traced to aging buildings with lead pipes, older drinking fountains, and water fixtures that have parts made with lead.”

So even when municipal water supplies show no contamination with lead, that’s no assurance schools are lead free. Lead pipes weren’t banned until 1986, AP explains, but the average age of school buildings in America “date to the early 1970s.”

Some communities have addressed their aging school infrastructure by simply closing old buildings down. But taking that option can result in a number of potentially negative consequences.

First, after closing school buildings down, students still need somewhere to go to school, and again school buildings can often be a systemic problem. There are other problems as well.

As Rachel Cohen explains in a report for The American Prospect, closing down school buildings, even aging ones, has proven to be a very controversial issue in communities across the country. Cohen points to a number of cities where school closings have destabilized neighborhoods, devastated small businesses, and lowered local property values.

“Public schools have always impacted communities in ways that go beyond just educating young people,” Cohen writes, citing the benefits of “well-maintained school facilities” to economic vitality and civic life.

Also, old school buildings that are poorly maintained and in need of repair are located disproportionately in low-income communities of color, which has prompted education and civil rights advocates to connect school closings to charges of race and income discrimination.

Further, a majority of schools that are closed aren’t really closed for good. In fact most find a second life as charter schools, and the problems don’t’ go away; they just change hands.

“Rather than shutter schools,” Cohen explains, “residents argue districts should reinvest in them.”

The Investment We Need

Where will the money come from?

“Increasing state and federal spending could both help struggling urban schools, and also help fortify communities more broadly,” Cohen says. She quotes an expert on school infrastructure spending who suggests the federal government “start contributing at least 10 percent toward district capital budgets” to low-income communities to Title I funding.

Much better still would be a national program addressing our aging education infrastructure. Congress is currently engaged in budget talks, but so far rescuing school children from their increasingly unsafe learning environments hasn’t been on the agenda, with one exception.

The exception comes from the Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose People’s Budget includes an investment of $1 trillion to “transition to 21st Century infrastructure, which ensures our roads, bridges, railways, and facilities are strong and that no town experiences the devastating effects of crumbling infrastructure we’ve seen in Flint, Michigan.” The CPC also calls for “greater investments in K-12 education.”

What better investment is there than making sure school buildings are safe and healthy?

The fact that Flint is not only staying in the news, but is also still in conversations in Congress, is testament to how disturbing the story is. But now we know that Flint is really everywhere, it’s time to go beyond merely being disturbed to taking specific actions. Millions of school children are relying on us.

4/7/2016 – Why The Panama Papers Scandal Is About Cheating School Children

THIS WEEK: Pre-K Closes Achievement Gaps … A Teacher’s Race Matters … Fewer Poor Students Are In College … Teacher Shortages Continue … Testing Flaws


Why The Panama Papers Scandal Is About Cheating School Children

By Jeff Bryant

“Leaked documents, called the Panama Papers, show the myriad ways in which wealthy people …. exploit offshore havens to avoid paying taxes … But much of the reporting about the Panama Papers overlooks two critically important contexts … Tax avoidance at a much smaller scale is actually quite commonplace right where you live … The effects of tax avoidance, in all its forms, are actually most consequential on the individual lives of the least powerful.”
Read more …


The Policy That Could All But Eliminate Achievement Gaps Between Rich And Poor Students

The Huffington Post

“Low-income students could gain more than five months of additional reading skills by attending a high-quality preschool, according to the analysis, which would reduce their learning gap by 41%. Black children could nearly close their achievement gap in reading by gaining nearly seven months of learning, and Hispanic children could completely catch up to white students in reading skills before kindergarten. Results [are] similar for math.”
Read more …

White Teachers And Black Teachers Have Different Expectations For Black Students

The Washington Post

“When a white (or other non-black) teacher and a black teacher evaluate the same black student, the study found, the white teacher is 30% less likely to believe that the student will graduate from a four-year college – and 40% less likely to believe the student will graduate from high school. The discrepancy [is] even greater for black male students … Race affects how teachers see and treat their students.”
Read more …

Fewer Poor Students Are Being Enrolled In State Universities. Here’s Why

The Conversation

“In the face of increasingly tight budgets and pressures to demonstrate their effectiveness to legislators, more and more states are tying at least some higher education funding to student outcomes … Such funding policies … may be reducing access for low-income students at public colleges … States should consider placing provisions in both their enrollment-based and performance-based funding systems to encourage colleges to continuing to enroll an economically diverse student body.”
Read more …

Teacher Shortages Continue Nationwide

AMI News

“The nation continues to weather a shortage of qualified teachers … Most troubling in this job market is the dearth of math, science and technology teachers … While teaching is seen as a stable career by some and as a high calling by many, education schools have weathered the perception that jobs are typically low-paying and conditions are tough. Retention is also a huge and costly issue … In 2012-2013, 7.7% of teachers left the profession … up from 5.6% in 1988-1989.”
Read more …

The Fatal Flaw of Educational Assessment

Education Week

Renowned education assessment expert James Popham writes, “We currently use the wrong tests to make our most important educational decisions … Most policymakers, and almost all parents of school-age children do not realize how these tests contribute to diminished educational quality … Comparison-focused educational tests … [have] completely dominated America’s educational testing for almost a century … However, tests built chiefly for comparisons are not suitable for purposes of instruction or evaluation of instructional quality in education. These tests provide teachers with few instructional insights and typically lead to inaccurate evaluations of a teacher’s instructional quality.”
Read more …

Why The Panama Papers Scandal Is About Cheating School Children

Earlier this week, news reporters and public officials expressed shock at the revelations from an unprecedented leak of files from one of the world’s largest law firms representing offshore investing. As The Guardian explains, the leaked documents, called the Panama Papers, show the myriad ways in which wealthy people – including 12 national leaders and 131 other politicians – exploit offshore havens to avoid paying taxes.

When news reports revealed the tax scofflaws included the prime minister of Iceland, citizens in that country were so angered they poured into the streets, banging pots and pans outside parliament, and forced his resignation.

The revelations caused President Obama to immediately call an impromptu press briefing in which he called for international tax reforms. According to USA Today, he called the data dump a “reminder … that tax avoidance is a big, global problem.” And he used the occasion to hail “new Treasury Department rules cracking down on corporate tax inversions,” whereby companies move their headquarters overseas to avoid taxation.

Treasury’s actions prompted two giants in the pharmaceutical industry, Pfizer and Allergen, to scuttle a planned merger deal.

The ripple effects of the Panama Papers are only just beginning as more recent reports about the data leak reveal that over 1,000 companies in the U.S. are linked to the Panamanian firm at the heart of the scandal.

But much of the reporting about the Panama Papers overlooks two critically important contexts. While the story of the scandal stands out for its grandiosity – involving world leaders, international corporations, and over $2 billion – tax avoidance at a much smaller scale is actually quite commonplace right where you live. And while the consequences of the revelations are so world shaking – toppling regimes, prompting government decrees, disrupting the dealings of mega-corporations – the effects of tax avoidance, in all its forms, are actually most consequential on the individual lives of the least powerful.

Tax Avoidance Is Very American

“Nobody should be surprised that rich people worldwide try to stash their money away or launder it through fake corporations,” writes David Dayen for Salon.

Indeed, as Dayen explains, the method of tax evasion the Panamanian firm used – the formation of “untraceable shell companies” – are commonplace in America.

“According to recent research,” Dayen writes, “the United States is the second-easiest country in the world to obtain an anonymous shell corporation account … Delaware, Nevada, South Dakota, Wyoming – specialize in incorporating anonymous shell corporations. Delaware earns between one-quarter and one-third of [its] budget from incorporation fees … Wyoming bank accounts are the new Swiss bank accounts.

“The term tax haven usually evokes an image of some faraway place like Belize or the Cayman Islands,” notes a report in The Guardian. “Yet in 2015, in a ranking of tax havens most attractive for those looking to hide assets, the US came in third – surpassing Cayman and Singapore.”

Further, the creation of shell companies is only one form of tax avoidance. There are many other ways to keep the taxman at bay. As Dayen notes, “America has become a lure, not only for foreign elites looking to seal money away from their own governments, but to launder their money through the purchase of U.S. real estate.”

The article Dayen links to, in the Miami Herald, pulled from the Panama Papers evidence of money laundering in Miami’s luxury property market, which found “19 foreign nationals creating offshore companies and buying Miami real estate.”

What reporters, and President Obama, uniformly stress in their comments on the Panama Papers is that none of these shenanigans are illegal. Corporations and wealthy individuals are simply using loopholes that are available to them in the system to dodge taxes.

In fact, the U.S. tax system itself is riddled with loopholes. As the Fiscal Times reported last year, 15 of the largest corporations in America – including CBS Corporation, Mattel, Prudential and Ryder System – paid almost no federal income tax on $107 billion in earnings from 2009-2014.

Many of these corporations play similar games to avoid paying billions in state taxes as well. As an article in the New York Times in 2012 reported, Apple, “one of the world’s most profitable technology companies,” might say it has its headquarters in Cupertino, California, but its office that collects and invests the company’s profits is in Reno, just 200 miles away, to avoid “millions of dollars in taxes in California and 20 other states.”

The article noted, “California’s corporate tax rate is 8.84 percent. Nevada’s? Zero.”

A more recent article in the Huffington Post reports wealthy individuals in some states can use a similar trick, the Incomplete Non-Grantor Trust, to avoid state taxes in their high tax states.

Avoiding Taxes Hurts Kids

If none of this is illegal, what’s the harm?

As President Obama pointed out in his impromptu briefing on the Panama Papers, according to The Guardian, “a lot of these loopholes come at the expense of middle-class families … It means that we’re not investing as much as we should in schools, in making college more affordable, in putting people back to work rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our infrastructure, creating more opportunities for our children.”

Tax avoidance is especially harmful to the lives of children. As Paul Bucheit writes for progressive news outlet Common Dreams, “Many of the largest U.S. corporations aren’t paying the state taxes that should be funding our schools.”

Bucheit cites examples from across the country. “Illinois lost over $1.3 billion (more than the $1.1 billion school budget shortfall) in 2015 state tax revenue to just six companies (Abbott, ADM, Boeing, Deere, Exelon, United), which together paid much less than 1% of their profits in state taxes, just pennies on the dollar for the required rate of 7.75%.”

In California, “Google took a $400 million refund on its $8 billion in U.S. profits.”  Chevron took a refund, too. And “Intel managed to pay 1/2 of one percent in state taxes, on nearly $9 billion in U.S. profits.”

Bucheit writes. “Corporate annual reports never mention the need to support the U.S. educational system that helped make their companies prosperous.”

The withholding of funding from the nation’s education system comes at the worst time. As a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds, “Most states provide less support per student for elementary and secondary schools – in some cases, much less – than before the Great Recession.”

So tax burdens on middle class families either go up at the local levels, or the funding shortfalls remain across the board – as is increasingly the case in communities of families who are least capable of bearing tax increases.

Consequently, across the country, per-pupil spending on K-12 public schools has dropped for three state years. Now, a rash of school budget crises seems all but certain in 2016 in cities such as Detroit, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and Chicago and throughout the most struggling districts in the states of Washington and Pennsylvania.

When education budgets are cut, the consequences fall hardest on school children. As numerous studies have shown, spending levels in schools are strongly associated with outcomes for the students.

Actions that the Obama administration took to crack down on tax inversions are positive steps forward. But it’s not enough to address global problems and leave the local problems to fester. States need to take similar steps to crack down on schemes corporations and wealthy individuals use to avoid taxes at the state and local levels.

But as more from the Panama Papers continues to be revealed, remember, “Kids are the victims,” as Bucheit exclaims. Which is the biggest crime of all.

3/31/2016 – Is Education Being Measured To Death?

THIS WEEK: Friedrichs Is Dead … School Climate Matters … Not Enough School Nurses … Teachers Priced Out Of Houses … College As A Commodity


Is Education Being Measured To Death?

By Jeff Bryant

“April ushers in the beginning of testing season in public schools across the nation… but many students and parents appear to be anything but happy about that … The tests don’t serve purposes that are as clear and reasonable as their advocates would have us believe.”
Read more …


The Biggest Legal Attack On Unions In Decades Is Dead

Think Progress

“The Supreme Court announced … Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association is dead … Friedrichs was an attack on what are alternatively called ‘agency fees’ or ‘fair share fees’ … With the Court split 4-4, Friedrichs will have no effect and the Court’s previous precedents permitting agency fees will remain good law, binding on all lower court judges.”
Read more …

School Conditions Matter For Student Achievement, New Research Confirms

Chalkbeat New York

“A new study on New York City schools … found that significant gains in key measures of a school’s climate, like safety and academic expectations, can be linked to the equivalent of an extra month and a half of math instruction and, in some cases, a 25 percent reduction in teacher turnover.”
Read more …

Many School Districts Don’t Have Enough School Nurses

US News & World Report

“Less than half of the country’s public schools employ a full-time nurse, and in some of the worst cases – largely in poor, urban school systems – there’s only one school nurse for every 4,000 students …. The scarcity of nurses comes amid an all-time high in the incidence of childhood chronic illnesses – things like asthma, food allergies, diabetes, obesity and epilepsy.”
Read more …

More Teachers Can’t Afford To Live Where They Teach


“In high cost cities, teachers and their unions are increasingly making cost-of-living adjustments central to contract talks … Scores of cities have added affordable-housing quotas to rules on new development. Some are debating building subsidized condos or apartments specifically for teachers … The hope is that the moves will help stem a teacher turnover crisis.”
Read more …

The Commodification Of Higher Education

The Atlantic

“rankings have helped shape a world in which students are seen as consumers, and colleges and universities as commodities. The rankings are a key reason the higher-education landscape today operates like a marketplace in which institutions compete to convince the best students to buy their product … The larger the applicant pool is in relation to the student body, the more selective the school appears in those rankings … The temptation to dole out more merit aid traces back to the rankings, which incentivize colleges to try and enroll top-notch applicants.”
Read more …

Is Education Being Measured To Death?

T.S. Eliot told us that April is cruelest month. In the world of K-12 education, that couldn’t be truer as the month ushers in the beginning of testing season in public schools across the nation.

“Spring testing season starts,” notes Politico, referring to April’s rollout of standardized testing across the nation, but many students and parents appear to be anything but happy about that.

The reporters point to an elementary school in Chattanooga, Tennessee where more than 200 students, including the child of a state lawmaker, have refused to take the test. In Illinois, officials overseeing the tests are in a quandary for how to deal with test refusal rates that reached as high as 10 percent in some districts last year. In Pennsylvania, test refusal rates that “nearly tripled from 2014 to 2015, are “expected to grow this year.” In New York, where over 220,000 students refused to take state standardized tests last year, state leaders have promised parents fewer questions will be on the tests this year and students will have unlimited time to complete their exams. But parents are vowing to boycott them anyway. In Washington state, where more than half of 11th graders refused to take tests last spring, officials are trying to calm the revolt this year, Politico notes.

Other news outlets report the rise in test refusals as well. Another media source in Tennessee notes, “the opt-out wave” is gaining traction around the Volunteer State. A Colorado outlet reports that more than 65,000 students refused the tests last year, reaching 31 percent for 11th grade math and 25 percent for 10th grade math. School administrators are bracing for a similar if not higher rate of refusals this year.

In Houston, Texas, parents have organized an opt-out movement endorsed by the local teachers’ union. Parents organizing an opt-out movement in New Jersey have printed and distributed over 1,000 lawn signs urging families to boycott the tests. Recently, as the Washington Post reports, “More than 100 education researchers in California have joined in a call for an end to high-stakes testing,” saying that new tests based on Common Core State Standards won’t “improve the quality of education” and lack “validity, reliability and fairness.”

What’s all the fuss about? Aren’t there good reasons for the testing?

As Politico quotes the state superintendent of education in Washington state Randy Dorn saying, “Testing helps districts determine if they are meeting the needs of all their students equitably and fairly, or if they should make adjustments. It helps families know how their child is doing in school and whether he or she needs more help or more academic challenges.”

What could be wrong with that?

Tests Don’t Inform Teachers and Parents

First, the tests are not optional; the federal government mandates them.

Also, the tests don’t serve purposes that are as clear and reasonable as superintendent Dorn would have us believe.

When Dorn explains that the tests help “families know how their child is doing,” that assumes the tests serve a diagnostic role in which the grading of the test would lead to specific instructional interventions from parents and teachers. But, that assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.

As high school teacher and popular blogger Peter Greene explains, the tests aren’t designed as much for “determining if your student has acquired the knowledge and skill [a teacher] tried to teach her” as they’re designed “to be easily gradable by a person who doesn’t even know what the test is about.” Indeed, the tests are often machine-gradable or they’re graded in remote locations by temporary workers.

Further, Greene explains, unlike traditional tests, standardized tests set the passing score after the test has been taken, and at a mark to guarantee a certain percentage of failures.

“No matter how well the students of your state do, some of them will fail,” Greene writes, and, “students will not be able to find out what they need to do” to pass.

What’s more, Green doesn’t mention, the scores become public long after students have moved to other curriculum or even to another grade level. As the report about test refusals in Tennessee cited above points out, “This year’s scores won’t be returned until October, rendering them largely useless to teachers since students already will have started new classes by then.”

Tests Don’t Measure Education Quality

Superintendent Dorn’s assertion that standardized tests help measure education quality is also questionable.

Assessment expert James Popham explains, “Employing standardized achievement tests to ascertain educational quality is like measuring temperature with a tablespoon.”

First, because test makers are far removed form the classroom, and teachers generally have very little knowledge of how standardized tests are created, “there’s almost certain to be a significant mismatch between what’s taught and what’s tested,” Popham argues. As an example, Popham cites a study from Michigan that found, “50 and 80 percent of what was measured on the tests was not suitably addressed in the textbooks.”

Also because of the need for guaranteed failures, the tests purposefully exclude material that the school may have done a bang-up job teaching. Test makers shoot for questions that “are answered correctly by 40 to 60 percent of the students.”

Last, every parent and teacher knows that every kid has different way of being smart. But test makers, Popham argues, design their instruments for students who have a particular way of being smart.

For a test to ascertain the effect of the school, there must be test items included that quizzes students on knowledge and abilities that are not readily modifiable in school. This criterion invariably favors students with a particular “in-born intellectual abilities,” Popham’s words, or, perhaps, with a particular cultural background and understanding of the world that isn’t universal to all children.

“Educators should definitely be held accountable,” Popham concludes, “But to evaluate educational quality by using the wrong assessment instruments is a subversion of good sense.”

Why We’re Doing This

“High-stakes tests were born in China to sort their society more than 1500 years ago,” explains education professor Julian Vasquez Heilig. In the U.S., they’ve been used for the last 100 years “to sort and track children.”

For the past decade, Heilig writes, because of our nation’s emphasis on test scores, schools have dramatically increased the time students spend on testing and test preparation. One study indicated urban students are subjected to an average of 112 standardized tests during their school years. Moreover, research shows that time spent on testing has diminished time for science, social studies, art, second language studies, and recess.

According to Heilig, civil rights advocates began to question the use of standardized tests some 40 years ago, challenging their use in a lawsuit file by the NAACP in 1979 based on the negative impact of tests on minority students. When the court ruled against the NAACP, concluding that tests actually had the power to “eradicate racism,” this led to “a policy makeover,” Heilig argues, that transformed standardized tests from a “sorting mechanism into a civil-rights cause. Never mind that high-stakes exit tests have had a clearly disparate impact on students of color, compounding the effects of severe inequality and underfunding of schools.”

The truth everyone knows is that America’s education system is vastly unequal in how it educates children, and it’s an undeniable fact students of lesser income, and who aren’t white, struggle the most. But while testing can make something already well understood even more apparent, it’s of little use in determining what to do bout the inequity.

As Seattle high school teacher Jesse Hagopian explains in a new TedTalk video, the thinking behind incessant testing is akin to treating a child suffering from hypothermia by repeatedly taking his or her temperature. What’s really required instead of more measurement is “to wrap that child in a blanket,” he argues, in this case a “blanket” of extra health, counseling, and academic services, such as medical care, free meals, specialists, smaller class sizes, and after school and summer programs.

Instead Of Testing

To help relieve some of the test obsession, a number of states have recently cut back on the number of standardized tests being given, and the federal government has provided states with steps for how to decrease testing. Yet nothing appears to be slowing the test rollout this spring.

The latest obsession, for instance, is to develop and use new tests, not for assessing academic knowledge and skills, but to ascertain how well schools and teachers have developed children’s character, such as their self control, reflection, and persistence. As social scientist Angela Duckwork recently noted with concern in her New York Times op-ed, nine California school districts are adding “measures of character into their accountability systems” this testing season.

Duckworth warns against the use of feedback on character as “a metric for judging the effectiveness of teachers and schools.” She writes, “We shouldn’t be rewarding or punishing schools for how students perform on these measures.”

As an alternative to standardized tests, Hagopian calls for “authentic assessment” or “performance-based assessment” that can include problem-solving projects, presentations, and academic reviews of a body of student work.

“What teachers need,” Popham asserts, “are assessment instruments that measure worthwhile skills or significant bodies of knowledge.” He suggests assessing “students’ mastery of genuinely significant cognitive skills, such as their ability to write effective compositions, their ability to use lessons from history to make cogent analyses of current problems, and their ability to solve high-level mathematical problems.”

Heilig believes the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new federal law that replaces the No Child Left Behind laws imposing standardized tests, may provide an avenue to ridding our system from the overload of harmful measurement. ESSA, according to Heilig, “allows states to introduce a dashboard of approaches to evaluate the success of states, districts, schools, teachers and students, with standardized test results used as just a single factor in these evaluations.”

“ESSA could usher in a new era,” Heiling concludes, “in which communities will be able to use high quality assessments including student performances, portfolios, and presentations instead of high stakes standardized tests.”

Let’s hope Heilig’s optimism is warranted. In the meantime, spring testing season seems to feel a lot more like the winter of our discontent.