Education Opportunity Network

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2/25/2015 – Dumb And Dumber In The House Education Bill

THIS WEEK: Testing Wrong Things … Preschool Shouldn’t Be Like School … Problems With Virtual Education … Suspension Rates Too High, Racially Biased … Education ‘Experts’ Aren’t Experts


Dumb And Dumber In The Republican House Education Bill

By Jeff Bryant

“The bill, HR5 the Student Success Act, was written completely by Republicans, passed through committee without any Democratic support, and has already drawn strong opposition from the Obama administration and others … Should the bill pass, as is predicted, Democrats then must continue to insist that any revision of NCLB must ensure equity and quality rather than austerity and further privatization.”
Read more …


We’re Testing Children On The Wrong Things

The New York Times Magazine

NPR’s education reporter Anya Kamenetz writes, “Are we measuring what we really want to measure in education? A flood of recent research has supported the idea that creative problem solving, oral and written communication skills, and critical thinking, plus social and emotional factors, including grit, motivation, and the ability to collaborate, are just as important in determining success as traditional academics. All of these are largely outside the scope of most standardized tests, including the new Common Core–aligned tests … So some important things we don’t test because the tests aren’t up to it. Some we could test but don’t bother. And for the things we do test, the tests are actually too small a sample of behavior to make wide-ranging judgments.”
Read more …

Why Preschool Shouldn’t Be Like School


“While learning from a teacher may help children get to a specific answer more quickly, it also makes them less likely to discover new information about a problem and to create a new and unexpected solution … Direct instruction really can limit young children’s learning. Teaching is a very effective way to get children to learn something specific … But it also makes children less likely to discover unexpected information and to draw unexpected conclusions … Adults often assume that most learning is the result of teaching and that exploratory, spontaneous learning is unusual. But actually, spontaneous learning is more fundamental. It’s this kind of learning, in fact, that allows kids to learn from teachers in the first place … It’s more important than ever to give children’s remarkable, spontaneous learning abilities free rein. That means a rich, stable, and safe world, with affectionate and supportive grown-ups, and lots of opportunities for exploration and play. Not school for babies.”
Read more …

Virtual Education: Genuine Benefits Or Real-Time Demerits?

The Atlantic

“Proponents, including [Jeb] Bush … argue that conventional learning is holding students back and that virtual education, both in and out of K-12 classrooms, is allowing them to advance at their own rate … The outcomes are hardly positive. In fact, due to the way many virtual courses are structured … the temptation to cheat is almost irresistible. These students not only understand how to get around the system, they also know they can pad their GPAs with As in honors and AP courses … They can take multiple online courses per semester. And they often learn nothing unless the course is so outdated they can’t find the test answers online … This could be just why some states, like New York and New Jersey – which according to Bush’s report received failing grades on various aspects of digital learning – are leery about accepting virtual credits … Other states are backtracking on virtual-education efforts.”
Read more …

Suspended Students Lose Millions Of Days Of Instruction While Out Of School

The Washington Post

“Suspension rates dropped for many of the nation’s school districts … but US students still lost about 18 million days of instruction to out-of-school punishments in the 2011-2012 school year… School systems in Missouri, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania … showed ‘alarming’ suspension rates of 20% or higher for elementary school children … National suspension rates have not changed in a meaningful way and racial gaps persist … 16% of black students were suspended in 2011-2012, compared with 7% of Hispanic students and 5% of white students.”
Read more …

Education ‘Experts’ May Lack Expertise, Study Finds

“Prominent interest groups are promoting reform agendas and striving to influence policymakers and public opinion using individuals who have substantial media relations skills but little or no expertise in education … People associated with the American Enterprise Institute were nearly 2.5 times more likely to be cited in education media … Likewise, experts were 1.78 and 1.5 times more likely to be mentioned in blogs if they were affiliated with Cato or the American Enterprise Institute, respectively … Perhaps the most troubling finding was that possession of a doctoral degree was associated with 67% fewer blog citations and 60 % fewer newspaper mentions, and fewer Klout points, which indicates that academic researchers with empirical expertise in education are often far removed from popular and policy conversations.”
Read more …

Dumb And Dumber In The Republican House Education Bill

For sure, there is a lot for Democrats to dislike about the current version of No Child Left Behind federal education legislation steaming toward approval in the US House of Representatives. The bill, HR5 the Student Success Act, was written completely by Republicans, passed through committee without any Democratic support, and has already drawn strong opposition from the Obama administration and others.

But with Republicans firmly in charge of efforts to rewrite NCLB, it’s important to identify specifics in the bill that should become bright lines Democrats can’t cross and points for inclusion to fight for in Senate negotiations and joint deliberations.

What’s Dumb

At the top of the list of what Democrats oppose in the Student Success Act is the insistence among Republicans that federal money for public schools be further constricted.

While a number of state governors and prominent voices on Capitol Hill have come to the realization that levels of spending on education need to increase substantially, the bill from the Republican controlled House would ensure long terms cuts. Quick to criticize this, President Obama was quoted in Beltway news outlet The Hill saying the Republican bill would “lock in cuts to schools for the rest of this decade.” A White House report elaborated, explaining how the bill would cement education cuts demanded by the 2013 sequester and ensure federal education funding will be lower in 2021 than it was in 2012.

At The Huffington Post, president of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten voiced similar criticism that the Republican bill would “lock in recession-driven cuts to education. It would allow state and local governments to walk away from their responsibility to maintain funding from year to year.”

And as Valerie Strauss reported on her blog at The Washington Post, 115 education groups contend the funding levels proposed in the House bill “are inadequate to properly support K-12 public education.” In a letter to Congressional leaders, these organizations argue, “HR5 locks in over $1.7 billion in education cuts” at a time when “public school enrollment will increase by more than 2.2 million students.”

There is definitive research that spending at sufficient levels is really important if we want “student success,” as the Republican bill purports to legislate. And the federal government has a very important role to play in providing this funding, especially because most states are currently reliant on federal money to help them maintain education funding from year to year.

What’s also galvanizing Democratic Party opposition to HR5 is the bill’s complete neglect of funding for preschool education. Education Week reporter Alyson Klein reported US Secretary Arne Duncan opposes the legislation, in part, because it “doesn’t create any sort of new investment in early childhood education,” an area that Duncan and House Democrats have been saying they’d like to see significant new investments.

Democrats mostly agree with a coalition of education professionals and advocacy groups that has “urged lawmakers to consider adding dedicated funding for preschool in the bill” according to Allie Bidwell at U.S. News & World Report. These advocates argue, “Any legislation should create a dedicated funding stream for states to receive targeted federal dollars to expand early learning and child care programs in schools with high concentrations of low-income students.”

Federal support for preschool education would come at a time when more states are also seeing the need to increase funding for these programs. As District Administration magazine reports, “For the third year in a row, both Republican and Democratic policymakers are making significant investments in state-funded preschool programs.”

The article found a 12 percent increase in state investment over fiscal year 2013-14. Yet, increased spending levels for pre-k are not universal, as many states still struggle to afford these initiatives.

Research continues to show that spending more money on education programs for three and four year olds produces strong gains in education achievement and other measurements later in life. So any legislation coming out of DC that would blunt the upward momentum in pre-k funding would be a step back.

What’s Dumber

What’s worse, HR5 would also eliminate progressive elements in the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act dating back to the presidential administration of Lyndon B. Johnson.

Specifically, HR5 would discontinue federal enforcement of states’ “maintenance of effort” in public education funding. The term maintenance of effort refers to the requirement that state and local funding levels remain relatively constant from year to year; otherwise they lose eligibility to receive federal grant support.

An analysis from the National Education Association explains, eliminating maintenance of effort “will trigger a race to the bottom in state and local support for education as federal dollars would be reduced to backfilling holes in state and local support … Removing MOE requirements also undercuts the effectiveness of the ‘supplement, not supplant requirements’” that ensure states don’t substitute federal money for their own responsibility to educate children.

“Currently, the MOE requires districts to spend at least 90 percent of the state and local money they spent in the prior year, yet districts may reduce their spending by up to 10 percent without penalty, which provides sufficient flexibility already.”

The other terrible idea in the House bill is to enact Title I Portability. Title I of the original ESEA ensures federal dollars create more funding equity in education by targeting money to schools and districts with the highest concentrations of low-income students. What the Republicans are now proposing is that Title I money would “follow the child” when parents opt out of a Title I designated public school to attend a wealthier school or a charter school.

As Politico reports, Secretary Duncan maintains allowing Title I dollars to follow the child would cause the money to flow out of high-need districts. A report from his department contends, “The 100 largest school districts in the country serving high concentrations of black students could lose $1.3 billion. For districts serving many Hispanic students, the loss could total $1.8 billion. Detroit City Schools stands to lose $265 million and Los Angeles Unified School District could lose $782 million.”

Rural schools will be harmed as well, as Jackie Mader explains at The Hechinger Report. “In Mississippi, where more than 56 percent of students attend rural schools, Title I funding could be cut by $7 million, with the largest cuts taking place in five high-poverty Mississippi Delta districts.”

A report from the Center for American Progress called Title I Portability “Robin Hood in reverse,” stating, “school districts with a poverty rate of more than 30 percent would lose money, while districts with a poverty rate of under 15 percent would see dramatic increases in funding.”

Title I Portability is also flat out unworkable. States opting into it would turn the budgeting process in the most struggling schools into a guessing game. It would also rob these schools of their economies of scale. When a school would lose a percentage of students in a particular grade level or across grade levels, the school would not be able to cut its teaching staff proportionally, as that would leave the remaining students underserved. So what would have to happen instead would be to cut a support service – such as a reading specialists or a special education teacher – to offset the loss of funding. This would damage the effectiveness of the school long term and cause it to slide further into the ranks of “low performing.”

Title I Portability is also an especially important point of opposition because some Democrats have adopted conservative talking points that “letting the money follow the child” and allowing “parents to vote with their feet” are stands-ins for sound fiscal policy and regulation that would enforce equity and quality.

Proposals like Title I Portability are the logical outcome of any argument that would base education policy on a market-based ethic rather than basic guarantees of quality and equity. That position is a slippery slope to privatization. As The Washington Post’s Emma Brown explains, “Many Democrats see it as a first step toward federal vouchers that would allow students to use federal funding for private school enrollment.”

There’s More

There are certainly other things to dislike about HR5. Promoters of the bill contend it provides states with more flexibility, but then it includes the absurd condition that use of federal funding for reduced class sizes (Title II) be limited to 10 percent.

The bill lifts the outmoded and damaging federal enforcement of Adequate Yearly Progress that has unfairly labeled struggling schools as “failures,” yet it leaves in place much of the strict testing requirements that are broadly opposed by parents and teachers. And the bill allocates more money for charter schools but provides no new conditions or requirements for what has now become a wildly unregulated and corrupt sector.

The Network for Public Education, a public education advocacy founded by parents, teachers, and education scholars, has provided an online tool to support people wanting to write their congressional representatives and tell them to vote no on the bill.

Should the bill pass, as is predicted, Democrats then must continue to insist that any revision of NCLB must ensure equity and quality rather than austerity and further privatization.

2/19/2015 – Testing Isn’t Helping

THIS WEEK: Young Black Males In Crisis … Scott Walker’s Bad Priorities … Charter Schools’ Low Performance … NCLB’s Test-Based Reforms Failed … Student Loan Defaults Rise


Memo To Civil Rights Activists: Testing Isn’t Helping

By Jeff Bryant

“Is forcing every child to take annual standardized tests in reading and math a civil rights issue? That certainly seems to be one of the questions most in consideration in Washington, DC, since deliberations began on how to rewrite the federal government’s most significant education policy No Child Left Behind … However, the civil rights argument for The Big Annual Test continues to devolve into circular reasoning: Justifications for the tests are based exclusively on what the tests produce – that we need to test every poor black and brown child every year to see what their test scores are. We know what to do when we’re going in circles. Change directions.”
Read more …


In The Nation’s Capital, Fewer Than Half Of Black Males Graduate From High School

Mother Jones

“A new report on the state of black youth in the public schools, looks at suspension and graduation rates and points to some alarming trends … 15% of black males nationwide have been suspended from school, versus only 5% of white boys … Suspensions increase the likelihood of students dropping out, and many end up in the criminal justice system … Only 59% of black males graduate from high school, versus 80% of white males. The worst rates were found in Washington, DC, and in Nevada.”
Read more …

WI Gov Walker Budget Cuts $300 Million From UW, Sets Aside $220 Million For NBA Stadium

National Education Association

“Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker revealed his priorities this month when he announced a massive $300 million cut to the University of Wisconsin (UW) system – and a $220 million donation of public funds to the Milwaukee Bucks to build a new basketball arena … The cuts are ‘way too big’ … at UW-Madison alone, they would equal 650 faculty positions or 1,083 staff positions – or the total budgets of five smaller colleges within UW-Madison … In Maine, where Walker’s cohort Gov. Paul LePage cut support for the University of Maine system, the University of Southern Maine responded this year by eliminating its geoscience and applied medicine programs, as well as New England studies, the classics, and 10 others. More than 50 faculty – basically 1 out of every 5 or 6 – are gone.”
Read more …

Charter Schools Struggling To Meet Academic Growth


“Students in most Minnesota charter schools are failing to hit learning targets and are not achieving adequate academic growth … The gulf between the academic success of its white and minority students widened at nearly two-thirds of those schools last year. Slightly more than half of charter schools students were proficient in reading, dramatically worse than traditional public schools, where 72% were proficient … Minnesota is the birthplace of the charter school movement … But the new information is fueling critics who say the charter school experiment has failed … Just like traditional public schools, the highest-performing charter schools tend to serve students from more affluent families.”
Read more …

No Child Left Behind’s Test-Based Policies Failed. Will Congress Keep Them Anyway?

The Washington Post

At The Answer Sheet blog by Valerie Strauss, education research experts with the National Education Policy Center write, “There is now a parent-led backlash against ‘over-testing’ … Nevertheless, the debate in Washington, D.C., largely ignores the fundamental criticism leveled by parents and others: testing should not be driving reform … We as a nation have devoted enormous amounts of time and money to the focused goal of increasing test scores, and we have almost nothing to show for it … Some state and federal initiatives are aimed at evidence-based reforms, such as expanding high-quality early childhood education and community schools. These remain small exceptions, however, within a system that still has test-based accountability at its core.”
Read more …

Student Loan Defaults Rise Throughout 2014

Washington Examiner

“Student loan balances and delinquencies are rising … The broader picture of household indebtedness is more encouraging … Total household debt is still nearly 7% below the late 2008 peak … But within that trend … is the explosion of student debt, which has doubled since the start of the recession to $1.16 trillion. The share of student loan balances at least 90 days past due rose from 11.1% to 11.3% in the quarter, higher than any other form of consumer credit … Many economists expect student loan delinquencies to keep rising as the effects of the recession wear off, as the large cohort of students who entered college during the worst of the jobs crisis end their post-college grace periods and begin repayments.”
Read more …

Memo To Civil Rights Activists: Testing Isn’t Helping

Is forcing every child to take annual standardized tests in reading and math a civil rights issue?

That certainly seems to be one of the questions most in consideration in Washington, DC, since deliberations began on how to rewrite the federal government’s most significant education policy No Child Left Behind.

Back in January, when Congressional committees in both houses began their conversations, The Washington Post reported, “a coalition of civil rights groups” had released a statement urging Congress to maintain the annual standardized tests in math and reading.

“The testing requirement has come under fire from a strange-bedfellows movement of teachers unions, parents, and conservative lawmakers,” notes The Post’s Emma Brown, “who argue that the exams represent an overreach by the federal government that has turned schools into one-dimensional test-prep institutions.”

Indeed, parents and teachers across the country are up in arms about their schools’ overreliance on standardized tests. The blogsite Fairtest, by The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, keeps a running tally of news stories across the country reporting on resistance to the tests including boisterous street protests, demonstrations at school board meetings and state capitals, and efforts to boycott the tests. You’d be hard pressed to find a state where there isn’t open and prominent rebellion against the tests.

A lot of the controversy addresses not only the existence of the tests but also how the scores are used for high-stakes decisions on how schools and teachers are performing and whether to pass students onto the next grade or to graduation.

The nation’s largest teachers’ union, the National Education Association, has come out firmly against the annual testing. So has the other national teachers’ union, the American Federation of Teachers at least in terms of how they are being used in the high-stakes decision making.

But the civil rights groups argue that annual testing is necessary, Brown reported. “No Child Left Behind’s testing requirement has unmasked yawning achievement gaps and forced all states and school districts to focus on serving poor and minority students, including those with disabilities.”

“Any rewrite of No Child Left Behind should keep annual testing provisions” writes the editorial board of The Washington Post. Their editorial accused teachers unions of giving “lip service to accountability as long as their members aren’t the ones held to account.”

“The tests were intended as a way for schools to see whether all student groups, but particularly minorities and poor students, were being taught adequately” an article in The New York Times states, noting that the Obama administration is steadfast in insisting annual tests stay in the legislation.

A particularly vehement defense of annual testing appearing at the blogsite Education Post, operated by a former communications director in the Obama administration’s Education Department, compares proposals to curb annual testing to efforts by the National Rifle Association to block most federal research into gun violence and deaths. The writer calls it a “blatant attempt to dump the evidence.”

So how bout that evidence?

Are Black Males Better Off?

After 12 years of test-driven education accountability aligned with a “civil rights” cause, you would expect to see substantial improvements among student populations most in need of being better served by the system.

That’s not the conclusion of a new report released by The Schott Foundation for Public Education. [Full disclosure, Schott is a partner of the Education Opportunity Network.] The report, the most recent edition of “The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males,” analyzed over a decade of data on the chronically troubled population of young Black males in the country and found too little progress and evidence of recent deterioration.

Despite stated intentions of federal education policies, gaps in scores in reading and math tests on the National Assessment of Education Progress between black males and their white peers continue to be wide. Nationally, 38 percent of white males scored at or above proficient on the 2013 NAEP assessment in reading, but only 17 percent of Latino males and 12 percent of Black males did. In math, 13 percent of Black males scored at or above proficient on the 2013 NAEP Grade 8 math assessment, while scores were 21 percent of Latino males and 45 percent of White males.

These gaps in achievement get reflected in graduation rates. Of the 48 states where data were collected, “in 35 states and the District of Columbia, black males remain at the bottom of four-year high school graduation rates. (Latino males were at the bottom in 13 states.)”

Nine states and the District of Columbia still have alarmingly bad track records for graduating black males of 55 percent or less.

While there has been some progress in high school graduation rates for black males over the past decade, the report’s estimate of 59 percent for the 2012-2013 school year are actually lower than the 61 percent mark the US Department of Education forecasted in 2011, which means the direction for these students may be going backward.

Nationally, the graduation gap between black and white males has not only persisted, but widened from 19 percentage points in school year 2009-10 to 21 percentage points in 2012-13. Eleven states have over a 25-percentage point gap between black and white student graduation rates.

In higher education, these attainment gaps are reflected in data as well, showing only 16 percent of black males eventually holding a Bachelor’s Degree or higher – half of what white males achieve and only somewhat better than the 12 percent rate among Latino males.

“Black males continue to be both pushed out and locked out of opportunities for academic achievement,” the report states, “including notable disparities in their enrollment in Advanced Placement courses and participation in Gifted and Talented programming. Furthermore, Black students were more likely to be classified as students with disabilities.”

These findings continue to make clear there is “a systemic problem impacting black males,” as Schott’s executive director John Jackson writes in remarks.

The report calls for “tailored approaches adapted to personal educational needs, social contexts, and students’ learning styles. The current standard approach does not serve high or low achievers well.”

You could argue these findings are irrelevant to issues of standardized testing – that the tests are meant to chart the academic progress of each student year to year, and eventual trajectories such as high school graduation and college degrees are affected by other factors not discernable through annual testing. But that’s the point. While so much emphasis has been focused on standardized testing, much bigger, more important issues impacting young students of color have been sorely neglected. The demands of testing have simply crowded out those issues.

The Bigger Picture On Test-Driven Education

“For very good reasons, many civil rights groups lined up behind NCLB (just as some now continue to support test-based reforms),” a recent brief from the National Education Policy Center states.

But “it is important to note that achievement gaps were well known prior to NCLB,” the brief notes. So what have we accomplished, in terms of civil rights advancement, with 12 years of test-driven reform?

“Since NCLB became law in 2002,” the researchers write, “students may have shown slight increases in test scores, relative to pre-NCLB students. Looking at the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), however, any test score increases over the pre-NCLB trend are very small, and they are miniscule compared to what early advocates of NCLB promised. We as a nation have devoted enormous amounts of time and money to the focused goal of increasing test scores, and we have almost nothing to show for it.”

A recent broadcast of the Diane Rehm show had a noteworthy point counter-point on the issue of testing between pro-test advocate Matthew Chingos of the Brookings Institution and Elaine Weiss of the Broader Bolder Approach to Education who advocates for a very different direction in education policy.

In the discussion, Chingos claims there was “pretty good research evidence” that the goals of of NCLB have been accomplished in part, but Weiss points to a study by the National Academy of Sciences that found an over reliance on test data had produced no substantial gains in student achievement and had led to narrowing of the curriculum, particularly in schools serving low-income students.

The study, reported on by Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post, found, “Standardized tests commonly used in schools to measure student performance – including high school exit exams and tests in various grades mandated by former president Bush’s No Child Left Behind law – ‘fall short of providing a complete measure of desired educational outcomes in many ways.’”

While Chingos argues to the radio audience that annual tests can tell us what effect a school has had on the year-to-year progress of a student, Weiss counters these tests “do a horrible job of telling us how schools are doing.” In fact, because of the strong correlation of test scores to the household income level of the student being tested – a correlation that is undeniably true all over the world – tests mostly “tell us how many poor kids are in the school,” Weiss explains.

What should we be doing instead?

How Bout This Instead?

To begin with, “Testing should not be driving reform,” the folks at NEPC assert. The disparities among subgroups of students will not close by perfecting our testing strategies but only when we commit to “sustained investment and improvement based on proven strategies that directly increase children’s opportunities to learn.”

Their conclusion is, “An incremental increase in reading or math scores means almost nothing, particularly if children’s engagement is decreased; if test-prep comes at a substantial cost to science, civics, and the arts, and schooling as a whole shifts from learning to testing.”

Instead they call for “a sustained, fair, adequate and equitable investment in all our children sufficient to provide them their educational birthright.”

Echoing these recommendations, the policy document from Broader, Bolder Approach linked above calls for “comprehensive supports for the disadvantaged students.” Specifically, the document advocates universal access to high-quality early childhood education and family supports, more “quality time” for enriching instruction, and a “supports-based approach” that includes attention to these students’ nutrition, health, wellness, counseling/guidance, and mental and emotional health.

Another intriguing idea is to change annual testing from high-stakes assessments of every student to a sampling of students – disaggregated by race, income and other factors – for the purpose of diagnosing learning problems – a sort of schools-based NAEP.

However, the civil rights argument for The Big Annual Test continues to devolve into circular reasoning: Justifications for the tests are based exclusively on what the tests produce – that we need to test every poor black and brown child every year to see what their test scores are.

We know what to do when we’re going in circles. Change directions.


2/12/2014 – Why Reject Bobby Jindal’s Education Plan

THIS WEEK: More State Takeovers Of Schools … Teachers Mixed On Common Core … New SAT Problems … More College Freshmen Depressed … TFA’s Truth Problem


Why Democrats Must Categorically Reject Bobby Jindal’s Education Plan

By Jeff Bryant

“Education is one front where the apparent strength of newfound Republican populist rhetoric threatens the Democrat Party’s traditional ‘ownership of the issues’ … This week, Bobby Jindal came to the nation’s capital to proclaim a ‘sweeping education plan’ … Unfortunately, for Jindal, conservatives in charge of education policy in Louisiana have produced some very troubling results … The Republicans’ track record for education is their undoing. So seeking ‘the center’ and copying Republican education policies, as Democrats have a tendency to do, will likely lead to more assurance of a Democratic Party defeat.”
Read more …


More State Takeovers Of Public Schools Possible

USA Today

“The recent takeover of the Little Rock School District by the Arkansas State Board of Education has angered parents … but as schools nationwide begin to see the results of new math and reading tests based on tougher Common Core standards, they could find themselves the targets of similar moves … Proposed reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind law – which orders states to assess academic achievement at specific grade levels – would give state governments more power over troubled school districts. That means more potential takeovers … Several analyses have predicted that more students will fail to hit academic goals laid out by new Common Core standards.”
Read more …

Teachers Mixed On Common Core, Support Blended Learning

THE Journal

“More than 9 out of 10 teachers in America report using technology in the classroom. Two-thirds said they support the idea of a blended classroom, where students spend part of the school day working with a teacher and part working on a computer. A similar number of teachers said they like the idea of requiring students to take at least one online course … The Common Core isn’t a big favorite among the country’s educators. Slightly more than half said they have an “unfavorable” opinion about the learning standards. Only three out of 10 teachers said they believe the standards will improve the quality of education in their communities or state; 36% said they believe they’ll have no impact; and 34% said they believe they’ll have an ‘adverse effect.’”
Read more …

New SAT, New Problems

The Atlantic

“The new [SAT] test will correspond with the Common Core Standards … That means the new SAT could have the opposite of its intended effect … closing opportunities for students who aren’t yet well-versed in the standards. Kids who lack access to in-person test preparation … could also suffer. The most vulnerable students are those who live in low-income areas or don’t speak English as a first language … It will force students and schools to play a long game of catch-up … Students at struggling schools – where teachers tend to have less experience and support and where Common Core-related textbooks can be scarce – could be at a disadvantage.”
Read more …

Emotional Well-Being Of College Freshmen At All-Time Low Levels, Survey Shows

Education Week

“A new survey of college freshmen finds stress and depression is on the rise, with students rating their emotional health at the lowest level in 30 years … Among the freshman class entering in the fall of 2014, about half considered their emotional well-being above average or in the highest 10% of their peer group … The other half described themselves as average, below average, or in the lowest 10% in the emotional health categories … In the mid-1980s and then only about one-third of students put themselves in the lowest three categories … The survey also revealed nearly 1 in 10 students in last fall’s incoming freshman class reported feeling “frequently” depressed – the highest level since 1988 … Students report spending less time socializing, partying, drinking, and smoking than in previous years.”
Read more …

Teach For America’s Truth Problem: TFA Advocates Aren’t Being Honest About Education Reform


At Salon, Jeff Bryant writes, “Evidence of Teach for America’s academic benefits to students continues to be a mixed picture at best … Meanwhile, costs of hiring TFA recruits continue to overtake costs of hiring traditionally prepared teachers … So why all the clamor to support, even expand, TFA? … We must remember hard truths of American schools revealed to self-proclaimed reformers … are not revelations about schools their own children attend. Their drive-by prescriptions … are meant for ‘other people’s children,’ not theirs.”
Read more …

Why Democrats Must Categorically Reject Bobby Jindal’s Education Plan

My colleague Bill Scher recently called our attention to an opinion piece by Thomas Edsall in The New York Times which revealed “the Republican appropriation of leftist populist rhetoric.”

Republicans “plan to bring the fight to the Democrats on their own turf,” according to Edsall. Edsall cites numerous examples of “the Republican appropriation of leftist populist rhetoric (and even policies),” and an “emerging Republican populism” that he pegs to “the compassionate conservatism of George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign, which has now been adopted and amplified by a younger generation of conservatives.”

Edsall concludes, “The danger for Democrats is that they will lose ownership of the issues.” But Scher cautions, “There remains one obstacle that Republicans must overcome: reckon with their past failures.”

Approaching the 2016 election season, Scher explains, “The level of scrutiny for Republicans will be exponentially greater. Republicans could get away with not proposing any ideas in 2014. That will be impossible for 2016.”

Although neither Edsall or Scher mentions it, education is one front where the apparent strength of newfound Republican populist rhetoric threatens the Democrat Party’s traditional “ownership of the issues,” to use Edsall’s words.

Prominent Republicans who many assume to be presidential contenders in the 2016 election, including Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, are putting education front and center in public events and policy maneuverings.

Often, what they advocate – that education is a moral imperative and low-income children deserve access to quality education – sounds like what a Democratic candidate would say.

However, because most potential candidates from the Republican side are sitting or past governors, there certainly are “past failures” to be reckoned with. And while their rhetoric may sound populist, the ideas they put forward are anything but.

A likely Republican presidential hopeful – Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal – has an education prescription he is eager to roll out to the nation. He embellishes the plan with the language of opportunity, freedom, and the moral obligation for change. And it’s not at all clear how – or even whether – Democrats will challenge him.

Moral Imperative For What?

This week, Bobby Jindal came to the nation’s capital to proclaim a “sweeping education plan,” according to The Daily Signal, the news outlet for The Heritage Foundation, a Beltway conservative think tank.

Waving a 42-page “K-12 Education Reform: a Roadmap,” Jindal laid out a national policy, according to Heritage, “Devoted to what it calls the principles of parent choice, limited government, and educator freedom.”

Calling for “a moral imperative to provide a quality education to each child,” Jindal’s plan advocates for increasing “school choice,” “reforming” teacher tenure, and rejecting new Common Core standards that are being implemented in most states, including Louisiana.

More specifically, Jindal wants more school vouchers, called “scholarship programs,” that allow parents to take money budgeted for public schools and use it to send their kids to private schools. He wants to increase the numbers of charter schools. He advocates for less “regulation” including state and federal requirements for teacher certification and job protections for experienced teachers. And he wants to abandon Common Core standards he used to support.

“Jindal’s national education reform package mirrors his efforts in Louisiana,” New Orleans-based news outlet The Times-Picayune reported. New Orleans, where the state took over the vast majority of schools after Hurricane Katrina, most closely reflects Jindal’s ideas for unleashing school privatization, deregulating the teaching profession, and greatly expanding charter schools.

“Smart policy,” a Heritage staffer described the Jindal plan.

Troubling Results

Unfortunately, for Jindal, conservatives in charge of education policy in Louisiana have produced some very troubling results.

As my colleague Isaiah Poole observed in an email, “Interesting that the Daily Signal piece seems to divorce Louisiana’s low ranking of its public schools from who controls the governor’s mansion and the state legislature.”

What Poole refers to is Louisiana’s historically low performance on the National Assessment of Education Progress, a.k.a., “The Nation’s Report Card.”

As The Times-Picayune reported after the most recent NAEP results for Louisiana, in reading, fourth graders in that state ranked above their peers in only three other school systems – Washington D.C., New Mexico and Mississippi. Louisiana’s fourth-grade math scores tied for last place with Mississippi. Eighth graders’ math scores ranked above only those for Alabama and D.C., while Louisiana’s reading scores topped those of students in only New Mexico, Mississippi and D.C. (The version of NAEP referred to assesses reading and math in only those two grade levels.)

Trends in NAEP assessments have not fared any better under the Jindal administration. With the exception of eighth-grade reading scores, which increased two points from 2011, progress for Louisiana students on the test “was mainly flat,” the reporter noted.

It Gets Worse

When you look at other sources of assessment data on Louisiana schools, it only gets worse.

As cross-town think tank rival Center for American Progress observed in a Think Progress email blast, “holding up New Orleans’ all-charter Recovery School District as a model for the nation,” may not be such a good idea.

Pointing to new data leaked to Louisiana public school teacher and edu-blogger Mercedes Schneider, CAP’s reporter Alice Ollstein writes, “Most of the class of 2014 graduating from the 100%-charter New Orleans Recovery School District scored so low on the national ACT test that they didn’t meet the minimum requirements for Louisiana’s colleges.”

“According to numbers crunched by, just over 6 percent of high school seniors in the Recovery School District scored high enough in English and Math to qualify for admission into a Louisiana four-year college or university straight out of high school. Five of the district’s 16 high schools produced not a single student who met these requirements. … Despite Jindal’s claims of ‘remarkable gains,’ there has been only a 2 point improvement in New Orleans’ Recovery School District ACT scores since 2005. The class average is now 16.4, one of the lowest in Louisiana. There was a 0.6 decline statewide.”

The Think Progress post concludes by pointing to Jindal’s efforts to cut hundreds of millions of dollars to his own state’s education budget, in complete rejection of the research clearly showing the relationship of sufficient money to school quality.

What Jindal advocates for in place of money is a belief in “choice” as a cure-all for struggling schools.

You Call This ‘Choice’?

As I observed in a post for Salon, “school choice” under the Jindal regime has been larely a mirage.

“If you’re a parent in New Orleans,” I wrote, “you can apply to send your kid to some of the worst performing schools in a state with one of the lowest achievement levels in America … Further, the NOLA system means that if you don’t like your child’s school, you’re less likely to have a way to do something about it, because the charters are often run by private boards and management companies, many of which aren’t based in New Orleans or even based in Louisiana. This is called ‘choice.’”

“There is a cruel hoax being perpetrated upon the most academically needy students in New Orleans,” writes New Orleans public school parent and education activist Karran Harper Royal on the website of Parents Across America.

“New Orleans schools are not a model that should be replicated across this country, unless we want to replicate trapping students in failing schools so that charter schools can have the appearance of being successful.”

Harper Royal elaborates further on the school choice failure in an interview with Rethinking Schools. “Most of these new charter schools have very young, inexperienced staff; they simply don’t know what they’re doing, and the children pay the price in the lack of a quality educational program. They pay the price when they don’t fit into the model that the school founder has dreamed up. Children with disabilities are treated as liabilities. These charter schools further segregate children based on ability level – more so than any traditional school district ever did.”

Indeed, numerous studies have shown “school choice” and the proliferation of charter schools generally increase segregation of students on the basis of race, income, and ability.

School Voucher Travesty

Voucher programs touted by Jindal have resulted mostly in a glut of public money going to private schools teaching dubious curricula filled with religion and right-wing propaganda.

In another Salon piece, I pointed to recent research that found schools receiving money from state voucher programs least 20 schools teaching “a creationist curriculum … These 20 schools have been awarded 1,365 voucher slots and can receive as much as $11,602,500 in taxpayer money annually.”

Further, “voucher schools rarely if ever show evidence of improving the academic outcomes of children … There’s little evidence school vouchers generally represent a systemic way to ‘rescue’ students from underperforming schools. In voucher schools in Louisiana, for instance, nearly half of the students in the state’s program last year used voucher money to attend ‘schools with performance scores in the D to F range of the state’s grading scale’ – hardly “a move up from the back of the line” for these children.”

What Jindal’s plan for voucher and charter school expansions certainly achieves is robbing public schools of the money they need to educate their students. As he calls for more cuts to public school budgets, opening of new charters and the diversion of tax money to school vouchers further depletes the resources of neighborhood schools.

As a local news source in Lafayette, Louisiana, The Advocate, recently reported, public schools in that community “could lose up to $17 million over the next two school years as the three charter schools in the parish expand and a new charter school opens.”

While the local school board had rejected the initial applications for the charters, the state board approved the news schools, forcing them on the local community.

Common Core Diversion

In the meantime, likely as a diversion to his sorry record, Jindal has turned the Common Core standards into a political football. As education historian Diane Ravitch explains on her personal blogsite, “Jindal signed the agreement to adopt Common Core. But when Common Core turned toxic among conservative voters, Jindal declared he would pull his state out of Common Core and the federal test.”

As he and state commissioner John White jockey for who will get the upper hand on education policy, “Teachers and schools are caught in the middle. They don’t know what test will be the state test this coming school year.”

This really is the Louisiana plan Jindal wants to roll out across America: More imposition of privatization, and more politicization of education policy, not better results for students.

Where Are The Democrats?

For sure, there are strong divides within the Republican Party over some education issues, most notably the Common Core standards.

But Republicans remain untied in their rhetoric, while Democratic candidates counter with … what?

Returning to Edsall’s warning, “The danger for Democrats is that they will lose ownership of the issues.”

As Republican candidates frame their education ideas in the language of freedom – talking about “unlocking” schools from “government control” and “unleashing” parents to exercise more “choice” – Democrats can’t simply say, “Oh, I’m for choice and charter schools too.” That would place the Republican frame around their necks.

Scher is right that the Republicans’ track record for education is their undoing. So seeking “the center” and copying Republican education policies, as Democrats have a tendency to do, will likely lead to more assurance of a Democratic Party defeat.

Instead, Democrats must reclaim the turf of a party intent on providing the best possible education, and nothing less, to each child.

2/5/2015 – An End To Education Austerity?

THIS WEEK: Pre-K Save On Special Ed … School Spending Drops, Again … The Activity Gap … More Churches In Schools … Lani Guinier On Meritocracy Lie


Is This The End Of Education Austerity?

By Jeff Bryant

“Don’t get too excited yet, but there are signs we may have finally turned a corner for the better in the war for public school financing. Recently, government officials and politicians – from the Beltway to the heartland – have declared allegiance to do what has been, up until now, the unmentionable: Spend more money on public education.”
Read more …


Study: Early Childhood Programs In NC Reduce Special Education

Raleigh News & Observer

“Children enrolled in North Carolina’s state-supported early education programs have a reduced chance of being placed in special education by third grade, Duke University researchers say. The findings suggest that state investment in quality early childhood programs can prevent costly special education later … Access to the state’s prekindergarten program for 4-year-olds (at the 2009 funding of $1,110 per child) reduced the likelihood of third-grade special education placements by 32% … The study confirmed … there are conditions in young children that could be improved by high-quality early childhood education … Even children who were not funded for an NC Pre-K slot benefited.”
Read more …

School Spending Per Student Drops For The Second Year In A Row

The Hechinger Report

“The most recent data, from the 2011-12 school year … show that average per-pupil spending fell 2.8%, to $10,667, from the previous school year. That’s the second year in a row that per-student spending fell … the steepest drops were in Arizona, Florida, Texas, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C. … One major reason is that federal funding to schools fell by more than 20% … The U.S. has a higher percentage of children in poverty than other top performing countries, and many experts say that poor children need more resources … It is troubling to see the rise in poverty and a decline in education spending happen at the same time.”
Read more …

The Activity Gap

The Atlantic

“Income-based differences in extracurricular participation are on the rise, and these differences greatly affect later outcomes. This disparity exacerbates the already-growing income achievement gap that has kept poor children behind in school and later in life. While upper- and middle-class students have become more active in school clubs and sports teams over the past four decades, their working-class peers ‘have become increasingly disengaged and disconnected,’ particularly since their participation rates started plummeting in the ’90s … While there’s always been a gap in access to extracurriculars, participation numbers for the two groups increased at about the same rate until they started to diverge precipitously – in the early 1980s for non-athletic activities and in the early 1990s for sports teams … outside experiences have just as much impact on a child’s life as the classroom ones.”
Read more …

The Movement To Put A Church In Every School Is Growing

The Nation

“The fusion of church and school … is an increasingly common phenomenon in the U.S. Indeed, a number of national and international franchise networks are dedicated to planting churches in public schools across the country, sometimes providing services that fill in the vacuum left by the government underfunding of public education. The mingling of church and school has also been encouraged by some poorly understood but profound changes originating in recent Supreme Court decisions about the relationship between religion and public education … Evangelical networks that have planted churches in public schools across the U.S. … The religious right has invested in legal-advocacy organizations that promote a certain version of Christianity in public life and seek to destroy the separation of church and state.”
Read more …

Lani Guinier On Our Ivy League Meritocracy Lie


In a Salon interview with Lani Guinier, Jeff Bryant writes, “You remember Lani Guinier. In the early days of the Bill Clinton presidential administration, she became a lightning rod for wingnut conservatives when news broke that Clinton would nominate her to be the first black woman to head the Civil Rights … In her new book, ‘The Tyranny of the Meritocracy,’ she once again takes on a component of right-wing authoritarianism … Guinier argues for a radically different view of how merit is awarded in American society starting with the college admission process. Guinier does not confine her argument to higher education, but merely uses the college admission process as a launching pad to critical examinations of K-12 education policy and the greater public arena. ‘We need a culture shift,’ she writes, “about how we reevaluate the meaning of merit by measuring its democratic values rather than its testocratic machinery.’”
Read more …

Is This The End Of Education Austerity?

Don’t get too excited yet, but there are signs we may have finally turned a corner for the better in the war for public school financing.

Recently, government officials and politicians – from the Beltway to the heartland – have declared allegiance to do what has been, up until now, the unmentionable: Spend more money on public education.

If they’re sincere, we may be on the cusp of a historic turnaround in the politics of austerity – at least at it pertains to how we treat the nation’s youngest citizens.

Should these new intentions become reality in policy, we know who to thank for making the remarkable turnaround happen and who to chastise for not getting on the bandwagon now that it is moving forward and picking up speed.

A Way Out Of Austerity

This turnaround is important because if we really want to provide high quality education to America’s children and youth, raising our level of financial commitment is essential. What you hear from the “money doesn’t matter” crowd is merely clever conservative propaganda based on slight-of-hand statistics.

Make no mistake: If we want to provide good schools for all kids, money matters. As The Washington Post recently reported, “Research has found that when schools have more money, they are able to give their students a better education. A new study on those who went to school during the school-finance cases a few decades ago found that those who attended districts that were affected by the rulings were more likely to stay in school through high school and college and are making more money today.”

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.”

However, there’s little doubt that for years our nation has been lost in a wilderness of education miserliness. For years, states have cutt education spending so much they now fund their schools less than they did before the Great Recession. As The Hechinger Report recently told us, “The most recent data, from the 2011-12 school year … show that average per-pupil spending fell 2.8 percent, to $10,667, from the previous school year. That’s the second year in a row that per-student spending fell.”

A big part of the decline is due to funding cuts from the federal government – more than 20 percent, or nearly $17 billion. But states contributed their share to the decline too. The map included in the Hechinger article shows the vast majority of states making huge cuts to education spending while only three – Delaware, New Jersey, and Vermont –increased it to a level keeping up with inflation.

This governmental stinginess comes at the worst possible time, as Hechinger reporter Jill Barshay noted, “The United States has a higher percentage of children in poverty than other top performing countries, and many experts say that poor children need more resources to catch up to their wealthier peers. Just last month, the Southern Education Foundation calculated that poverty is increasing so much in the United States that for the first time the majority of public school students qualified for free or reduced price lunch in 2012-13. It is troubling to see the rise in poverty and a decline in education spending happen at the same time.”

But there are signs that some government officials have come to their senses.

An Obama Education Budget We Can Believe In

Leading the way in the new education good sense is the Obama administration.

The first sensible step the president and is making is to declare an end to the mindless across the board cutbacks passed in 2013, called “sequestration,” and a pledge to include healthy increases in education spending in its new budget.

As The Washington Post’s education reporter Lindsey Layton explained, “The president is seeking $70.7 billion in discretionary funds for education, a 5 percent increase over the 2015 budget of $67.1 billion.”

Some details worth noting, by reporters from Politico:

  • Expanded access to high-quality care for more than 1.1 million additional children under age four by 2025.
  • Tax credit for 5.1 million families with children under four to cover costs of child care for 6.7 million children.
  • More than $1 billion in additional funding for Head Start and $750 million for preschool development grants, up from $500 million in 2015.
  • A $1 billion increase for Title I funding to serve disadvantaged students.
  • New investments for special education and English language learners.
  • More support for teachers “before they reach the classroom and…throughout their careers.”
  • $1 billion to expand opportunities for native youth.
  • $3 billion in STEM education and a $125 million grant competition to redesign high schools, with a goal of expanding underrepresented students’ access to STEM.
  • A free community college proposal pledging $60 billion over 10 years.
  • $200 million for a new American Technical Training Fund.

Perhaps as important as the actual dollars and cents of the matter is the rhetoric Obama used in his announcement. He declared “an end to mindless austerity,” as the Associated Press reported.

It’s clear the president is using “his ‘bully pulpit’ to push the country in a new direction,” my colleague Dave Johnson explained. “To make this dividing line even clearer, President Obama has told Congress that he will not sign a budget that does not increase spending,” Johnson noted.

“An End To Mindless Austerity”

Speaking of the “dividing line,” Capitol Hill Republicans have been quick to announce their opposition to these increases.

The Post’s Layton writes, “Republicans who control Congress seem unlikely to embrace much of an increase in spending on education.” Politico reporters agree, “The Republican-controlled Congress is likely to swat down most of the proposals.”

Yet, the political outlook for increasing education funding is now clearly adversarial, with sharp distinctions drawn, as opposed to the mutually agreed upon austerity imposed by the sequestration cuts of 2013.

As Politico reporters observe, “The budget remains an important window into the [Obama] administration’s ongoing – and shifting – priorities.” Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans seem mired in the old priorities of withholding money children need.

Those Republicans may think they are still on the smart side of political winds, but they may want to look over their shoulders at what their conservative colleagues are doing out in the states.

The New Republican Generosity

Indeed Republican governors increasingly seem more in line with the president on education spending than with their partners inside the Beltway.

As The New York Times recently reported, “Republican governors across the nation are proposing tax increases – and backing off pledges to cut taxes – as they strike a decidedly un-Republican pose in the face of budget shortfalls and pent-up demands from constituents after years of budget cuts.”

The article cited tax increases being proposed by conservative governors in Michigan, Utah, South Carolina, South Dakota, Arizona, and elsewhere.

Because public education remains one of the top priorities for state governments – vying with health care, usually, for the number one or two spot in budgets – no doubt a large portion of these tax increases will be funneled into public schools.

In fact, one of those Republican governors, Brian Sandoval of Nevada has already earmarked $1.1 billion of the tax increases to go to education. Florida Governor Rick Scott, after a contentious reelection race that often included criticism of his cuts to education spending, has proposed, “record high education spending.” with $261 more per pupil than what’s currently being spent. Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has proposed a new budget that would increase education spending by seven percent .

No doubt, Beltway conservatives are upset with what they see their conservative brothers and sisters doing in the states. The Times article notes Grover Norquist, who has pressed Republicans to sign no-tax pledges, was “annoyed” to hear about Republican governors calling for tax increases. But with the upward trend in education spending bearing down on government leaders at all levels, it’s a matter of time before cracks start to appear in the Congressional wall of austerity in Washington, DC.

There’s a reason, of course, why the Beltway crowd seems to be the last bastion of education austerity.

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

Popular support for spending more on public schools has been a groundswell effort coming from the people who send their children to public schools – not education policy leaders in DC and elsewhere who continue to insist “money doesn’t matter” or at least never make money central to their arguments for “reform” and “accountability.”

Indeed, the education reform movement has fit hand in glove with austerity measures as the reform narrative of “failed schools” set the frame for politicians and policy leaders who want to cut funding to those schools.

As education research experts David C. Berliner and Gene V. Glass explain in their new book 50 Myths and Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education, reform advocates, inside and outside the Beltway, have joined with business interests and conservative think tanks to repeat the claim “over the past four decades, the per-student cost of running our K-12 schools has more than doubled, while our student achievement has remained virtually flat.”

“There is simply no evidence to support the claim that academic achievement has been flat,” the authors explain, and point to the many ways that myth is supported by misinterpretations of data and outright refusal to acknowledge other important statistics.

Berliner and Glass conclude, “Despite the rants of some politicians and business leaders, we have ample evidence that money matters in education. What we do not have is evidence that the alternatives offered by these folks, particularly the extensive use of high-stakes standardized testing, do anything to produce more successful teachers or students.”

While the reform crowd has been ignoring the financial plight of our schools, a nationwide Education Spring erupted years ago and has gradually built popular momentum to increase support for public schools.

No doubt conservative Republican governors are realizing how the populist uprising that unseated Governor Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania last year has legs in their states too. Corbett enacted significant budget cuts to schools which voters tended to view negatively, and challenger Tom Wolf capitalized on the voter anger to win.

It’s clear the wave of anti-austerity for our nations schools is breaking on Beltway shores. It may be time for government and policy leaders to either batten down the hatches and resist getting swept away, or learn how to ride the surf.


1/29/2015 – Senator Warren Clarifies The Money Matter

THIS WEEK: Get Rid Of College Debt … Common Core Is Less Common … School Choice Is Hard … Teacher Run Schools … Rich Kids Get Most School Funds


Senator Warren Clarifies The Money Matter In Revising NCLB

By Jeff Bryant

“Where can Democrats find clarity in the current debate over how to rewrite No Child Left Behind legislation? … The federal government spends nearly $79 billion annually on primary and secondary education programs, and state governments eagerly want to get their hands on that money … What’s sorely needed in the revision of the federal statues is to put the emphasis back on its original intent to spend money where it’s needed most. Senator Warren has provided a powerful corrective message that Democrats everywhere should heed.”
Read more …


Liberate 41 Million Americans From Student Loan Debt

Campaign For America’s Future

“It is time for a truly transformative idea: Let’s abolish all student loan debt in America. If you agree, click here

to take action … Our massive student debt burden is a moral and ethical challenge. This debt draws upon the as-yet unearned wealth of each new generation, mortgaging tomorrow’s wealth and inhibiting the prosperity of the future … We are not naïve. We know that this idea will meet with bitter resistance from those who argue that it ‘rewards the undeserving’ … There are those who will argue that the idea is fiscally irresponsible, despite the fact that it will have a positive economic impact in the long-term … This is a new idea to most people. It represents a fundamental shift in our moral universe … These shifts don’t come easily. They take time, and debate – and an organized movement. We hope you will join us

Read more …

What Happens When The Common Core Becomes Less … Common?

The Washington Post

“The Common Core State Standards were envisioned as a way to measure most of the nation’s students against a shared benchmark, but education experts say political upheaval and the messy reality of on-the-ground implementation is threatening that original goal … As some states head into their first round of testing, the picture has fragmented amid political blowback from parents and conservative lawmakers … There has been even broader resistance to the common standardized tests … Opposition to the Common Core tests has come amid a broader national debate about standardized testing, which many parents and teachers argue has warped public education.”
Read more …

Parents Confront Obstacles as School Choice Expands

Education Week

“Research shows that an abundance of school choice doesn’t guarantee access, and many parents in high-choice cities struggle to find adequate information, transportation, and, ultimately, the right school for their children … Part of the argument for school choice is based on the idea that consumer demand for good schools will increase their supply and starve out their poorly performing counterparts. But parents, especially those with less education or with children who have special needs, face multiple barriers when choosing a school … As choices multiply, new problems crop up, often with no clear entity to take charge of solving them … Having a large enough supply of good choices is also a challenge.”
Read more …

Let Teachers Run The Schools

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Teachers are in charge of at least 70 public schools in 15 states; most, but not all, are charter schools. Ten more teacher-run schools … are in the planning stages. These schools are not only redesigning the learning process to better engage students, they’re improving student performance. On top of that, they’re stemming the high dropout rate among teachers … Most teachers have no say in their schools’ decisions about hiring, promotions, firing, budgets, pay levels, curriculum or scheduling. This lack of control is a big reason they leave the profession … Having more control keeps teachers and students more engaged … There are many different teacher-run models; some schools have principals, but teachers make the key decisions, even selecting the principal … The biggest obstacles to the spread of teacher-run schools are school districts’ central rules, most of which make it impossible to use unusual personnel configurations, alter budgets and make myriad other changes the teacher-run model demands.”
Read more …

Rich Kids In Low-Income Countries Get Most Of The Public Education Money: UN

International Business Times

“A new United Nations report finds … almost half of public education resources spent in low-income countries of the developing world goes to benefit just 10% of the best-educated students, who tend to come from affluent families … The trend documented by the report shows poor, developing-world countries mimicking a trend in the United States … In the United States ‘many high-poverty schools receive less than their fair share of state and local funding’ … Unicef is calling on wealthy countries and corporations to devote more international aid to education initiatives that will more fairly distribute resources.”
Read more …

Senator Warren Clarifies The Money Matter In Revising NCLB

Where can Democrats find clarity in the current debate over how to rewrite No Child Left Behind legislation?

For sure, we appear to be in the midst of is an education policy turmoil where instead of right and left “meeting in the middle,” what we see instead are forces on the right and left coming together to oppose what a bipartisan coalition helped create.

Take, for instance, state adoptions of the new Common Core Standards: For years, support for the new national standards was presented as a unifying front, with the Obama administration and numerous Democratic governors joining with prominent Republicans leaders from across the country.

But opposition to the new standards from the right wing of the political spectrum is now famous. Republican lawmakers across the nation – from Louisiana to Indiana, North Carolina to Wisconsin – have led prominent advocacy and legislative campaigns either to overturn adoption of the standards, to revise the standards so they no longer reflect national guidelines, or to reject the standardized tests that were meant to accompany the Common Core

What’s less known but equally influential, is Common Core opposition coming from Democrats too. Last year, U.S. News and World Report reported, “The push against Common Core is coming from both sides of the political aisle.” The reporter noted, “Liberals fear the curriculum, and the standardized evaluations, will amplify the high-pressure, high-stakes atmosphere that No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush’s education initiative, helped create.”

More recently, The Seattle Times reported a key governing body of the Washington State Democratic Party “voted to condemn” the Common Core and criticized the federal government for pressuring states “into adopting the Common Core by making the standards a requirement for states or districts that wanted to win one of the big grants that the department gave out under its Race to the Top initiative.”

So it’s confusing out there in education policy land. But whenever things get confusing in a political debate, it’s important to remember the one thing that always seems to be at the heart of the dispute: money.

Now wading into the turbulent waters comes a debate on how to revise No Child Left Behind. The 2001 legislation was last a matter of serious scrutiny seven years ago, and no parties involved could come to complete agreement on what to do.

While the debate over NCLB revision entails lots of issues – including standardized testing, school services for a broad range of students, and supports for principals and teachers – make no mistake, that a big part of the debate is about the money.

The federal government spends nearly $79 billion annually on primary and secondary education programs, and state governments eagerly want to get their hands on that money.

What’s a Democrat to think?

It’s The Support, Stupid

The great NCLB debate kicked off most prominently in the Senate where the committee with responsibility for crafting most education-related legislation has meet to deliberate on rewriting the bill.

Last week’s hearing presented a confusing scene with Democratic Senators supporting, mostly, the needs for federally mandated annual testing of every student – despite advice they were getting from public school educators (traditionally a left-leaning constituency) in attendance – while Republicans seemed mostly to disagree with school administrators and policy wonks who wanted educators to continue to perform the annual assessments. Confusion reigned.

The topic for this week’s Senate hearing was “Supporting Teachers and School Leaders,” and almost right away the conversation veered toward issues that weren’t, well, very supportive. Instead, Senators, and at least two of the people providing testimony, mostly wanted to discuss teacher evaluation and the role of the federal government in directing states in their efforts to manage the teacher workforce.

In his opening remarks, Committee Chair Senator Lamar Alexander from Tennessee stated, “Today’s hearing is all about better teaching – how we can create an environment so teachers, principals, and other leaders can succeed,” but then he quickly transitioned to touting his record for constructing huge processes to evaluate them.

How an evaluation process is supposed to create a better “environment” for teachers was never really clarified by the Senator, but he regaled the audience about his “brawl with the National Education Association” and Tennessee’s “work on measuring growth in student achievement” and “teacher effectiveness” – a relationship that is now very much disputed in the research.

Democratic Senator Party Murray from Washington, to her credit, opened with remarks that connected the matter of “support” to what sounds genuinely supportive, saying, “I believe we need to invest more in teachers and pay them enough to continue to attract the best and brightest to the profession … Unfortunately, I hear all the time from teachers – three-quarters of whom are women – who feel like they aren’t getting the resources they need.”

But testimony from Terry Holliday, Commissioner of Education, Commonwealth of Kentucky, continued the misdirection away support. In describing his state’s “teacher effectiveness system,” and the federal government’s “role in evaluation systems,” his main point was, “We as state leaders in education, do not need the review or approval from the U.S. Department of Education.”

Holiday’s testimony dovetailed nicely with the message Republican Senators on the committee returned to again and again, that while it’s okay for the federal government to send states money in the name of “supporting teachers,” the feds should keep their hands-off the ways state officials choose to spend it.

Money For What?

The hands-off message came out especially strong in remarks by North Carolina Senator Richard Burr.

Burr laid down the argument Congressional Republicans seem intent on making, that states should be able to spend federal dollars any way they want. He pointed to a charter school in his home state – part of the KIPP charter chain that is, in Burr’s words, “the biggest utilizer of Teach For America” temporary teachers – as an example of a school that is “doing things differently” and supposedly has more positive “expectations” than what is held for local public schools. “I don’t know what it is,” Burr said of the KIPP School. “But it’s something, and we don’t tie their hands for how they use their money.”

His remark prompted the public school principal who provided testimony to the hearing, Christine Handy-Collins from Gaithersburg High School, Gaithersburg, Maryland, to counter that what her school needed, rather than a blank check, was funding from the federal government that should be “dedicated money for professional development.” Burr cut her off, insisting that “getting this right” is about “taking the shackles off” and saying to education systems around the country, “create whatever works for you.”

That’s when the microphone passed to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren who said, “I’m just going to pick up where Senator Burr left off.”

She did much more than just “pick up.” (Watch here at the 1:29:00 mark.)

What Warren Said

Warren asked the principal who Burr had so rudely cut off, “Do you see anything in the Republican draft proposal that requires that a single dollar in federal aid be used to improve teaching?”

After the principal explained there was a “list of allowable uses,” Warren continued, “I understand there is a list, but nothing that requires that any of it be spent on teachers.

“As I read the Republican draft proposal,” Warren continued, “states and districts would no longer be required to invest Title II funds [the section of NCLB defining how federal money can be used for teachers] into teachers and leaders. Maybe it will happen sometimes, but nothing in this draft requires the state to spend a single tax dollar on strengthening teachers … Giving billions of dollars in federal aid to states without requiring them to spend a dime on helping our teachers is not a responsible use of our federal tax dollars.”

Pivoting to her next point, Warren noted, “For the first time poor children will be the majority of public school children in America. The law that became No Child Left Behind was originally enacted back in the 1960s as part of President Johnson’s War on Poverty. And we have to ask ourselves how can we make this law a more powerful weapon against poverty.”

She asked a first grade teacher Rachelle Moore, from Seattle, who had also provided testimony to the Senate committee, “Do you have all the resources you need to combat the effects of poverty in the school where you work, and if not, what are the resources and support that would help you in your work.”

Moore replied, “No, I don’t believe I have all the support that I need.” Moore described how her school deals with “a lot of students who are dealing with the effects of trauma, whether that be domestic violence and abuse, homelessness, poverty.”

Yet despite the clear needs to have some extra support to, in her words, “take into consideration all those other things beyond just the academic piece.,” funding for the school nurse “has gone down each year, and we have to rely on outside funds such as our [Parent Teacher Student Association] to provide for days for her to be at the school. Without the nurse, without the healthy snack programs and things like that, I’m not sure that my students would be coming to the classroom feeling that they were ready to learn.”

Then Warren asked Moore, “Are you confident that without any guidance or any accountability in the federal statute that every state will target federal funds to the classrooms of the students who need those additional resources the most?”

“Without hearing teacher voices, I would worry that we wouldn’t know what needs we have, so without really getting into the classrooms and figuring out what their students in order to be successful in the classroom then I’m not sure we would know what they need.”

“There’s a lot going outside the classroom in the lives of our vulnerable children, Warren concluded, “and we need to make sure children have access to the full range of services that they need to learn and to succeed. This means school nurses and counselors and making sure that our kids can see the board in class – that they aren’t hungry, that they have the health care they need. Education is about building opportunity and it is about making sure that federal dollars go the kids who most need to help to have a chance to succeed.”

There’s ample evidence we can’t trust states to do that.

Where The Money Goes

For the past three years, a national report card has rated states on how they provide for equitable funding to schools ensure they provide more money to schools who need it the most. The report card “examines each state’s level of commitment to equal educational opportunity, regardless of a student’s background, family income, or where she or he attends school.”

The most recent version found “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.”

Noted David Sciarra, Education Law Center Executive Director, who co-authored the study, “These latest results show school finance in most states is decidedly unfair, a condition which deprives equal educational opportunity to millions of public school children across the nation.”

The study, noted another co-author Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights in Washington, D.C., confirmed, “states across the country are failing to adequately and equitably invest in children.”

It’s important to understand a “we can’t trust the states” position is not just a reference to historic racial discrimination against black school children in the South, nor is it about Democratic officials in the federal government imposing policy onto states run by Republican government officials.

Numerous Democratic governors have shown us that state lawmakers who profess to align with the left on many issues also can shirk their responsibly to poor school children and their families. It’s just too easy for them to do this.

A noticeable example of Democrats acting against the interests of low-income black and brown school children is New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo.

According to a recent study reported in The New York Daily News, “Funding inequalities between rich, poor school districts reached record levels under Cuomo. Overall, schools in poorer districts spent $8,733 per pupil less in 2012 than those from wealthier ones, an inequity that grew by nearly 9 percent from before Cuomo took office in 2011.”

So we know, state leaders of all political stripe can, and often do, lose their way and allow local forces to channel resources to the interests of the powerful and more well-to-do. That’s why Democratic office holders at the federal level have to be enforcers for how federal money should be used to uphold opportunity to the nation’s most vulnerable children and the teachers charged with providing that opportunity.

This is not to say we need to maintain the status quo. Certainly, what we have in the current form of No Child Left Behind, and the federal waivers to that law provided by the Obama administration, is not working for poor kids.

What’s sorely needed in the revision of the federal statues is to put the emphasis back on its original intent to spend money where it’s needed most. Senator Warren has provided a powerful corrective message that Democrats everywhere should heed.