Education Opportunity Network

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4/12/2018 – Now Watch Republicans Blame Obama For Test Scores

THIS WEEK: Red State Teacher Rebellion … Racist Student Discipline … DeVos Targets Civil Rights … Race-Based College Spending … Lessons From Strikes


Now Watch Republicans Blame Obama For Test Scores

By Jeff Bryant

“Scores on the 2017 National Assessment of Education Progress (aka. The Nation’s Report Card) … were flat, as they have mostly been since 2009 … Education pundits from the right were quick to locate the cause of such a prolonged stagnation … Obama … that’s what’s so ironic about conservative claims of an Obama education policy failure. Over at least the past 20 years, whether under Republican oversight or Democratic, the nation’s schools have been lorded over by an “education reform” agenda that has always been decidedly bipartisan … Republicans are stealing away from reform and leaving Democrats holding the bag. Recent NAEP scores give them the perfect opportunity to make their case.”
Read more …


Teachers Are Going On Strike In Trump’s America


“Fed-up teachers have found unexpectedly sturdy support among voting populaces that otherwise have tended to favor low to non-existent taxes … Government officials most responsible for those budget-austerity measures seem almost surprised by how difficult it has been to hold the political high ground … Teachers, many of them women, are redefining attitudes about organized labor, replacing negative stereotypes of overpaid and underperforming blue-collar workers with a more sympathetic face: overworked and underappreciated nurturers who say they’re fighting for their students as much as they’re fighting for themselves.”
Read more …

Disparities Persist In School Discipline, Says Government Watchdog


“Black students, boys, and students with disabilities are disproportionately disciplined in K-12 schools across the country … Black students represent 15.5 percent of all public school students, but make up about 39 percent of students suspended from school … these disparities cannot be explained by poverty levels – they existed regardless of the poverty level of schools … schools are struggling to handle an increase in disruptive behavior related to trauma and other mental health issues.”
Read more …

DeVos Review Of Racial Bias Guidance Stirs Controversy

The Hill

“Civil rights groups are fighting to stop Education Secretary Betsy DeVos from rolling back Obama-era guidance on school discipline that aimed to protect black students from being punished more severely than their white peers … The [Trump] administration is using the [Parkland school] shooting as an excuse to roll back critical guidance that helps protect students from discrimination under federal civil rights laws … The school discipline guidance is likely to be the latest casualty in … the administration’s war on civil rights protections.”
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Public Colleges Spend $5 Billion Less Per Year On Students Of Color


“Two-year and four-year public colleges spend more than $1,000 less per year on black and Latino students than on white students … That means that overall, public colleges are spending about $5 billion less per year on black and Latino students than on white students … The analysis is the latest in a growing body of evidence that many of the racial disparities that affect children during their K-12 education persist once they reach college … College isn’t leveling the playing field in the ways we expect and hope … The way state legislators approach funding their colleges and universities plays a role.”
Read more …

What Teacher Strikes Can Teach Democrats About Education Politics


Jeff Bryant writes, “The momentum of this spring’s teacher uprising is growing… Because the rebellions are occurring in ‘red states,’ Democrats are already capitalizing on any perceived advantage the strikes could give their party … But if Democrats are going to attempt to take electoral advantage of the teacher uprising, they’ll need to change their typical education message.”
Read more …

Now Watch Republicans Blame Obama for Test Scores

One of the more interesting stories about the recent release of scores on the 2017 National Assessment of Education Progress (aka. The Nation’s Report Card) is not about the scores themselves but the way conservative education policy operatives are spinning them.

The scores themselves were disappointing.

As US News reports, fourth- and eighth-graders, the only two grades tested, “made little to no gains in math and reading since 2015,” the last year the NAEP was conducted. “While the average reading scores for eighth-graders increased compared with 2015, there were no changes for reading at fourth grade or for math at either grade.”

Not only were scores flat, as they have mostly been since 2009, but “the latest results reveal a disturbing trend in which the country’s poorest-performing students scored worse in both subjects.”

The 2017 scores were not as bad as scores in 2015, which showed statistically significant dips, but the general lack of progress in this year’s results gave education policy mavens fodder to make all sorts of claims.

Who’s to Blame

Education pundits from the right were quick to locate the cause of such a prolonged stagnation.

Mike Petrilli of the conservative Beltway policy shop Thomas B. Fordham dubbed NAEP doldrums “the lost decade,” which, by his reckoning, would take the timeline for stagnant NAEP scores back to 2008. And we all know what happened that year.

The arch-conservative Heritage Foundation is much more blunt, saying, “The scores are a particular indictment of Obama-era education policies, including historically high levels of spending, the addition of new programs, numerous federal directives, and perhaps most consequentially, Common Core.”

What’s downright laughable is the preposterous notion that the nation’s supposedly anemic academic achievement began immediately as the Obama administration took office. All those nine- and thirteen-year-olds who generated flat scores from 2009 to 2015 spent precious little of their academic careers under the Obama regime.

Indeed, if we were to play the pin the NAEP tail on the presidential donkey, we would be looking at that guy who proceeded Obama – George W. Bush.

And that’s what’s so ironic about conservative claims of an Obama education policy failure. Over at least the past 20 years, whether under Republican oversight or Democratic, the nation’s schools have been lorded over by an “education reform” agenda that has always been decidedly bipartisan.

Both Parties

The chronology of education reform’s widespread impact on the nation’s schools begins with the enactment in 2002 of No Child Left Behind, a bipartisan law that began the regime of requiring states to test every student every year in reading and math and using the scores to evaluate schools and determine all sorts of consequences as a result of their scores.

The Obama administration upped the ante by using test scores to evaluate teachers too and developed even more elaborate actions to take when schools had poor results.

Throughout both presidential administrations, there was an assumption that stoking the system with more charter schools to compete with public schools would yield improvements, and although Common Core curriculum standards pushed by Obama became a flashpoint of dispute, both Democrats and Republicans insisted schools needed some sort of “higher standards” to “raise the bar” for students.

Sure, there were lots of policy nuances over the years that may have divided the parties – including the extent of the federal government’s influence on implementation of the policies – but the test-and-punish, standards enforced, and market-base competition philosophy of reform was a Washington Consensus uniting both parties.


It’s not surprising conservatives would bend NAEP results to an agenda.

Scores are often used to justify or vilify whatever education policy the author prefers.

Because scores are broken down by student demographics and reported out for the nation as a whole, for each state and the District of Columbia, and more recently, for many large municipal school districts, there is a wealth of speculative conclusions that can be derived.

This is not to say NAEP scores are useless. But there’s a whole genre of education punditry called “misNAEPery” that exemplifies the way scores are used to make false claims about what “works” in schools.

For instance, former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan used NAEP results for Tennessee from 2009 to 2013 to claim the state’s embrace of reform policies he preferred  – including basing teacher evaluations on test scores and turning over struggling schools to charter management organizations – was proof his reform policies were working. But the claim was roundly debunked by more careful observers, and the state’s scores were flat in 2015 and somewhat down this year.

Similarly this year, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos called out NAEP results in Florida, a state she has long touted as a model for other states to follow. Yet many states with education policies similar to Florida’s – including vouchers, charter schools, and performance grades for schools – had lackluster NAEP results in 2017, including Arizona, Louisiana, and North Carolina.

But why would Republicans reject reform now?

Stealing Away from Reform

“Educators, scholars and policymakers now almost universally regard No Child Left Behind as a washout,” writes education historian and college professor Jack Schneider. “And many critiques of Obama-era reform efforts have been equally blistering.”

DeVos has made it clear she believes nothing Obama or Bush did in education reform really worked. States ruled by Republican governors are abandoning Obama-era test-based teacher evaluations right and left. And influential Beltway education policy poohbahs have posted reflective tomes in which they admit they may have gotten some things about reform wrong.

Meanwhile, Democrats like Arne Duncan fight a rearguard battle to defend reform policies, performing feats of MisNAEPery including going all the way back to 1971 to conflate strong growth in test scores in the 80s and 90s with the general stagnation since 2000.

So, it’s clear Republicans are stealing away from reform and leaving Democrats holding the bag. Recent NAEP scores give them the perfect opportunity to make their case.



4/5/2018 – Striking Teachers Are Fighting For Communities

THIS WEEK: NRA Is Wrong … DeVos-Style Discipline … ICE Raids Hurt Kids … College Students Pay More … 4-Day Week Fail


Striking Teachers Are Fighting For Communities

By Jeff Bryant

“Teacher strikes that started in West Virginia and are now raging in Oklahoma and whipping up in Kentucky and Arizona are being called a “nationwide movement.” But a nationwide movement for what … Teachers … are taking a stand not only about their own financial situations, but also about the conditions of their students, their schools, and their communities.”
Read more …


The NRA’s Narrative About Maryland School Shooting Collapses

Think Progress

“The gun lobby argued that last week’s shooting was stopped by an armed school resource officer, proving that “good guys with guns” can prevent tragedies. But the St. Mary’s County sheriff’s office confirmed on Monday night that the 17-year-old gunman who opened fire at Great Mills High School actually died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound … The NRA’s recent push for more armed guards in schools comes even though the presence of an armed guard didn’t stop a gunman from killing 17 in Parkland with an AR-15. Trump has frequently touted the deterrent impact of armed guards.”
Read more …

‘Hardening’ Our Schools Will Hit Black And Brown Students Hardest

Huff Post

“The White House rolled out its proposal to ‘harden’ schools … in response to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida … As part of the plan, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is set to lead a new commission to re-examine, and possibly repeal … districts … being scrutinized for disproportionate discipline outcomes, particularly zero-tolerance policies that widened the opportunity gap for students of color… The School Discipline Package has provided key guidance to public elementary and secondary schools about how to discipline students … Its recommendations include drawing on positive behavior interventions, such as restorative justice and social and emotional learning – programs that have been successful nationwide.”
Read more …

ICE Is Terrorizing Our Kids: Report Shines A Light On The Impact Immigration Enforcement Is Having On Children

NC PolicyWatch

“Children may be among ICE’s principal victims … Children of immigrants (and even non-immigrants) are experiencing increasing rates of trauma as a result of the threat of deportation and family separation as well as the direct experience of raids, deportation proceedings, and the disappearance of parents … That trauma can have profound negative effects on these children for the rest of their lives … in addition to the direct trauma they inflict on children, ICE deportations impose significant economic costs.”
Read more …

Who Foots Most Of The Bill For Public Colleges? In 28 States, It’s Students

The Chronicle Of Higher Education

“Tuition dollars, not state and local funding, have become the primary revenue source for public higher education in most states … During the 2017 fiscal year… 28 states leaned chiefly on students, not on taxpayers … In 2000, tuition dollars paid by students accounted for more than half of revenue in just three states … Adjusting for inflation, only six states now fund public higher education at prerecession levels.”
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Four-Day School Weeks, A Nationwide Symptom Of Tight Budgets, Lead To More Youth Crime, Study Finds


“As school districts across the country have faced budget crunches, a number have landed on a cost-saving solution: cancelling school one day a week. Districts in at least 21 states have adopted the four-day school week, including one in five districts in Oklahoma … An unintended but perhaps unsurprising consequence of cutting the school week: a spike in juvenile crime … shortened weeks caused youth crime to jump nearly 20 percent, with the biggest spikes in property crime … There was some evidence of an increase in drug offenses. Crime rates jumped the most on Thursdays; the researchers theorized that students treated that evening like an additional weekend night.”
Read more …

Striking Teachers Are Fighting for Communities

Teacher strikes that started in West Virginia and are now raging in Oklahoma and whipping up in Kentucky and Arizona are being called a “nationwide movement.” But a nationwide movement for what?

The Wall Street Journal calls the teacher rebellions a “response to years of steep cuts to state education budgets.” Similar articles in other outlets make the argument that because strikes are currently confined to “teachers in states governed by Republicans,” they are mostly about challenging “GOP austerity.”

While there is much more than a grain of truth to these observations, they are short-sighted.

These striking teachers, in saying “We’ve had enough,” are taking a stand  not only about their own financial situations, but also about the conditions of their students, their schools, and their communities.

These teachers – who span the political spectrum – are taking their grievances beyond the normal confines of partisan politics and labor disputes to decry the dire conditions in struggling communities across the nation. Their ultimate aim is to have an effect at the ballot box.

Uniting a Range of Issues

For sure, a theme uniting the strikes is the need to pay teachers more and fix their broken health insurance and retirement programs. And for good reason.

As the Economic Policy Institute reports, teachers “are burdened by growing pay inequities. Over the last two decades, teachers are contributing more and more toward health care and retirement costs as their pay falls further behind. Teacher pay (accounting for inflation) actually fell by $30 per week from 1996 to 2015, while pay for other college graduates increased by $124.”

But teachers who are striking “are concerned with a range of issues,” EPI reports, and their grievances have been calling attention to much more of the problems in our communities.

Striking for Communities

Since the 2012 Chicago teachers’ strike, teachers have been aligning their labor actions to the tenets of social-justice unionism that extend teacher grievances beyond the defense of their own wage and benefits to fighting for the rights and needs of students and the broader community.

What followed the Chicago strike was a series of generally successful strikes where teachers embedded their demands for better pay with calls for improving the learning conditions of students and increasing community-enhancing supports in schools.

In 2014, teacher unions in Portland, Oregon and St. Paul, Minnesota averted threatened strikes and won significant contract struggles by asserting a bargaining platform based on “the schools our students deserve” and increased supports for struggling students and families, including expansions of pre-kindergarten programs and smaller classes.

In 2015, striking teachers in Seattle not only won increased salaries, but they also were successful in winning student-centered demands for recess, discipline reform, and physical and mental health supports. These were school improvements parents also demanded.

In 2018, St. Paul teachers again averted a strike and won their negotiations, not only for wage increases, but also for student-centered issues, including reducing class sizes, improving education services for English learners and special education students, and funding the implementation of restorative practices – an approach to school discipline that focuses on reconciliation rather than harsh punishments.

Similarly, striking teachers across the nation this year are making demands that go far beyond wages and benefits.

Beyond Wages and Benefits

The wage and benefit demands West Virginia teachers made were accompanied by demands for a five-percent pay raise for all public employees, a realistic commitment from the state to address a broken public employee health insurance program, limits on charter school expansions, and the ability of all public employee unions to deduct dues through payroll collection.

The Oklahoma strike demands also go beyond issues of teacher pay to propose increased taxes on the states’ oil and gas industry so all schools can return to five day weeks, reduce class sizes, renew outdated textbooks, and address chronic teacher shortages.

There’s evidence that public opinion in Oklahoma aligns with the teachers. A recent poll conducted by the Oklahoma association of teachers found, “93 percent of Oklahomans believe the state legislature has not done enough to increase funding for Oklahoma students and public schools. Public support continues to be strong for teachers at 77 percent, while support for the state legislature (17 percent) and Governor [Mary] Fallin at (18 percent) remains very low. The poll also found public support for the walk-out is increasing.”

Seizing Political Power

The message from the current round of teacher strikes is that not only have governing policies made teachers an unappreciated, underpaid workforce, but that lawmakers have forced teachers into becoming first responders on the front lines of communities that are being disinvested and decimated.

Students who are increasingly living in impoverished households are bringing the problems of increasing wage inequality and a declining healthcare system into classrooms while teachers have fewer resources to deal with those problems.

The teacher strikes currently taking place are in states where children are among the most under privileged in the nation. None of these states rank high in health care, and wage growth is exceedingly slow.

Thus, the strikes are an understandable response as teachers in these states are increasingly challenged to deal with the fallout of political systems that are negligent of the student populations they have to serve. It’s no wonder teachers are making their voices heard and calling on allies to come to their support.

Politicians Take Heed

Striking teachers have an eye on November elections.

The strikes, Dana Goldstein observes for the New York Times, “are occurring in states and districts with important midterm races in November, suggesting that thousands of teachers, with their pent-up rage over years of pay freezes and budget cuts, are set to become a powerful political force this fall.”

Teachers in West Virginia made a point of saying their protests were about making a difference at the ballot box. And teachers in Oklahoma and Arizona are making lawmakers in those states choose between demands for lower taxes and smaller government versus upholding the needs of students and communities.

Striking teachers are making it very plain the nationwide movement they represent is reflective of widespread feelings everywhere that political governance has gotten woefully out of touch with what the vast majority of people want. What’s not clear is if politicians will listen.

3/29/2018 – Democrats Can Win If They Lead On Education

THIS WEEK: No To Vouchers … Teachers Under Fire … Pre-K That Works … Food Stamps Boost Learning… Puerto Ricans Protest Charters


Democrats Can Win If They Lead On Education

By Jeff Bryant

“In high-profile Democratic party primaries, education has become a significant issue that progressive candidates are using to challenge more conservative, establishment Democrats. There’s also ample evidence education could be a key issue for Democrats to use against their Republican opponents in midterm general elections in November. But getting the education issue right – something Democrats have not been very good at – will be key … Grassroots progressive Democrats are telling the party’s establishment how it can lead and win on education issues. What’s not clear is if the party’s pundit and policy apparatus is willing to listen.”
Read more …


Congressional Legislation Seeks To Fund School Vouchers For Military Families – Despite Major Opposition From Military Families

The Washington Post

“Thirty Republican U.S. congressmen and three Republican U.S. senators have signed onto national voucher bills that would direct federal tax dollars from public schools … and let military families use these funds for religious schools, private schools, online schools, college tuition, and other educational services. What is most remarkable is that the bills are moving forward in the face of significant military family opposition … Both HR 5199 and S. 2517 use Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) to allow tax dollars to be used for home schooling, for-profit online schools, ‘a la carte’ education, and for private and religious school expenses … The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) is especially worried that unscrupulous vendors will descend on military families even as for-profit colleges have victimized veterans.”
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Parkland Teachers Faced An Impossible Choice: ‘Do I Hold The Door Open, Or Close It?’

The Guardian

” With the crack of bullets still ringing around the corridors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, Mary Trizzino unlocked the door to her classroom to see who else she could save … As thousands of students poured into the hallways of school buildings after the fire alarm sounded within seconds of the first shots being fired, many teachers were forced to make split second decisions … ‘You’re faced with an impossible choice … Do I hold the door open, and put the kids that I have in here at risk, or do I close it and leave those kids out in the cold? … I don’t think we should be faced with that decision at all, and yet society can’t seem to come together to solve this problem, to stop it from happening.'”
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Long-Term Gains: Pre-K Programs Lead To Furthered Education Later In Life

Scientific American

“Structured math and literacy practice in addition to regular parental involvement in school programs during the first eight years of life can have a major impact on a child’s future educational achievement … A study that included more than 1,500 children in a Chicago-based program called Child-Parent Centers (CPC) shows kids reached a higher level of education by age 35 than did ones enrolled in other preschool programs: CPC participants completed more years of schooling and were more likely to earn a postsecondary degree.’”
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Food For Thought: Students’ Test Scores Rise A Few Weeks After Families Get Food Stamps


“Families receiving food stamps get their benefits once a month. A few weeks later, kids’ test scores tick up. The pattern … suggests that the additional access to healthy food helps students do better in school. It’s the latest study to quantify how out-of-school factors affect academic performance, and an example of why some districts are embracing ‘community schools’ that try to provide health and other benefits for students and families. … Other research has linked food stamp cycles and what happens in school.”
Read more …

Disaster Capitalism And Vulture Charters


“Hundreds of Puerto Rican teachers marched past San Juan’s Capitol building … holding signs reading … ‘We defend public education’ and … ‘No to the vulture charters.’ Thousands of students and parents joined the march or held signs in front of their schools in solidarity … In the wake of twin disasters – one man-made in the form of a vulture fund-fueled debt crisis, and one natural in the form of last September’s Hurricane María – Puerto Rican leaders are attempting to implement a vast austerity program … In the eyes of many Puerto Ricans, however, this is textbook ‘disaster capitalism’: capitalizing on a moment of crisis, when the population is weak and unable to mobilize, to ram through pro-market austerity measures.”
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Democrats Can Win if They Lead on Education

While progressives lament their recent failure in an Illinois primary to knock out Dan Lipinski – a conservative, anti-abortion, Congressional Democrat who voted against the Affordable Care Act – they mostly fail to note where and how they won elsewhere in the state.

Zaid Jiani reports for The Intercept that there were numerous progressive “upstart candidates” further down the ballot in Illinois who beat more established Democrats, including Aaron Ortiz in a State House race, Fritz Kaegi for Cook County Assessor, and Brandon Johnson in a Cook County Commissioner contest. Delia Ramirez also won running as a progressive in a State House primary without an incumbent.

These victors had a number of things in common, including endorsements from labor unions and progressive advocacy organizations. But another startling commonality among at least three of the four candidates was a strong support for public schools – Ortiz, Ramirez, and Johnson all made increased funding for public schools key stances in their races. Ortiz and Johnson are public school teachers, and Ramirez pledged to “protect our public-school system from corporate interests which attack teachers and students to destabilize public neighborhood schools and profit from privatizing education.”

Contrast the victors’ strong stances for public schools to Lipinski’s failed challenger, Marie Newman, whose education platform was about “education that leads to real jobs” – a position suitable for a Republican candidate to run on.

Education First

These examples from Illinois align with electoral contests around the country.

In high-profile Democratic party primaries, education has become a significant issue that progressive candidates are using to challenge more conservative, establishment Democrats. There’s also ample evidence education could be a key issue for Democrats to use against their Republican opponents in midterm general elections in November.

But getting the education issue right – something Democrats have not been very good at – will be key.

Education is definitely on voters’ minds. According to a recent survey by Pew Research, 72 percent of the American public rank education as a top priority for the country, behind only one other issue, terrorism, and ahead of the economy and healthcare.

Further, with the ascension of the deeply unpopular Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to President Trump’s cabinet, Democrats are making her an issue in state and local elections and invoking her name in fundraising emails to whip up opposition to centrist Democrats and Republicans.

Virginia, New York and California

Education is already a key issue in Virginia where Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam beat former Congressional Representative Tom Perriello in the Democratic primary in part because Northam has been strongly committed to funding public schools while Perriello has courted the charter school industry.

With education as Virginia voters’ “top concern,” according to at least one poll, Northam went on to win the governor’s race against a Republican opponent tagged as a “clone of Betsy DeVos.”

Education is also a prominent issue in Democratic contests for governor in New York and California.

In the Empire State, actress and public school advocate Cynthia Nixon is challenging sitting Governor Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic party primary. So far, she has aimed her attacks on Cuomo mostly at the chronic under-funding of public schools that has taken place under his regime and his cooperation with state Republican senators who are now pushing to fund school safety measures that include more armed guards in schools rather than counselors and other student supports.

In the primary contest for governor of California, education could be the deciding factor among the three top candidates, former Los Angles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, and State Treasurer John Chiang – all Democrats (California’s primary elections have a top-two design that virtually ensures no Republicans will be in the general election).

Big money interests that back the state’s charter school industry have coalesced behind Villaraigosa while Newsom and Chiang have called for more charter school accountability.

The power of education to be a determining factor in primary contests also holds true for elections where Democrats face Republicans.

A Way to Beat Republicans

Democrats, and even many Republicans, are expecting 2018 to be a wave election favoring blue candidates

Democrats can indeed deliver a beating to Republicans in the 2018 mid-term: since the Civil War, the President’s party, with the exception of two years, has lost seats in both the House and the Senate in midterm elections.

At the state level, this could also be a year of big changes. Of the ninety-nine state chambers in the U.S., eighty-seven are in play. The total number of potential contested seats is 6,066—about 82 percent of the nation’s state legislative seats, over 100 more than were contested in 2016. And thirty-six gubernatorial seats will be up for grabs—there were only 11 in 2016.

Republicans have made themselves especially vulnerable on the issue of school funding by imposing years of financial austerity on schools. Aware of this vulnerability, Republican governors in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, and elsewhere are already flipping their austerity scripts to highlight what budget increases they have pushed in their states, even though these increases still haven’t brought education funding up to pre-recession levels of 2008.

A good indicator of an oncoming blue wave continues to be the number of special elections where Democratic candidates have flipped a Republican seat to their party’s side – at least 39 state legislative races so far.

in a much-publicized upset win for a Democratic candidate in a Wisconsin special election to replace an incumbent Republican State Senator in a strong pro-Trump district, former school board member Patty Schachtner made education her top issue, campaigning to “restore funding for our local schools” and “maintain curriculum, services, and extracurricular opportunities for our kids.”

In another example of a Democrat flipping a traditionally GOP-held office, Margaret Good triumphed over her Republican opponent for a Florida State House seat in a district where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by nearly 13,000. Good made support for education a top issue, with pledges to “ensure that our public schools are fully funded … to provide wrap-around services at local schools,” and to oppose “taxpayer dollars to fund for-profit charter schools.”

In a Kentucky House special election, former teacher Linda Belcher flipped the seat from Republican to Democratic in part by pledging to secure more funding for local public schools and infrastructure. The district had gone for Trump over Hillary Clinton by 72 percent to 23 percent.

in Conor Lamb’s winning campaign to upset a Republican in a Congressional special election in a deeply conservative Pennsylvania district he used an ad in which he talked about his brother and sister serving as school teachers but not getting the respect that he got for being in the military.

A Winning Issue If …

Education is the Democratic party’s “winning issue hiding in plain sight,” writes New York Times columnist David Leonhardt.

Leonhardt points to the Senate special election in Alabama where Democratic upstart Doug Jones beat Trump-backed conservative firebrand Roy Moore. He cites the effectiveness of an ad run by the Jones campaign that appealed to voters’ high priority for education.

But Leonhardt demonstrates his consistently poor grasp of education issues when he recommends, based on his observations of the Jones campaign, that Democrats pledge their support for “big, ambitious ideas” such as “universal preschool” and “universal tuition-free community college.”

However, the ad he lauds clearly doesn’t confine education to the early and post-secondary years. And what, pray tell, should Democrats propose for the 13 years in between pre-K and college?

Similarly, the Center for American Progress, in anticipation of a Democratic sweep in the 2018 elections, recently outlined “7 great education policy ideas for progressives in 2018” that are mostly reflective of lefty pundits and policy makers rather than what’s percolating from the ground up from voters and the campaigns run by progressive Democrats.

For instance, CAP’s proposals for paying teachers more, fixing decaying school buildings, and creating safe and healthy school environments seem in line with grassroots education advocates, but curiously absent from CAP’s “great ideas” are proposals to adequately and equitably fund schools across the board, create more community schools with wraparound services for disadvantaged kids, and resist the creeping privatization of public education through the charter school industry and school voucher programs.

Grassroots progressive Democrats are telling the party’s establishment how it can lead and win on education issues. What’s not clear is if the party’s pundit and policy apparatus is willing to listen.

3/22/2018 – Betsy DeVos Wants To Cut Public Education To The Bone

THIS WEEK: Limiting School Security … Oklahoma Teachers Strike … Return Of Zero Tolerance? … Education And Income… School Funding Inequity


Betsy DeVos Wants To Cut Public Education To The Bone

By Jeff Bryant

“U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s testimony before Congress this week was … to defend the Trump administration’s 2019 budget for her department … Trump’s budget – and in turn the one DeVos defended for her department – is straight out of conservative doctrine for stripping government to the bone. In other words, it’s right in line with what nearly every conservative Republican governor has been inflicting on education systems in the states for years.”
Read more …


The Case For Limiting School Security

Education Wek

“We may think that more metal detectors, more sniffing dogs, and more armed police officers will keep students safer … The darker side of all these safety measures is that they conflate schools with prisons, engendering the school climate with fear, distrust, paranoia – and, yes, violence … It is ridiculous to believe that anyone capable of carrying out a mass shooting would be deterred by locked doors or police presence. The majority of mass shooters are mentally ill … They believe they have nothing to lose … Turning our schools into maximum-security prisons, with more guns, police officers, and locks is not going to solve the problem … Explicitly promoting a culture of empathy … could prevent a great deal of school violence.”
Read more …

Oklahoma Teachers Plan A Strike: “Our Children Cannot Wait Any Longer”

The Progressive

“A seemingly spontaneous teacher revolt in Oklahoma has resulted in a potential statewide walkout to shut down schools beginning April 2 … The grievances of Oklahoma teachers stem from deeply-rooted fears for their students’ future … While the state has cut taxes on oil, state employees have not received an across-the-board pay raise in twelve years. The state is among the last in the nation in teacher pay. The starting salary for a new teacher is $31,600, and the poor pay and lack of resources has resulted in an acute shortage of teachers across the state … It would take about an $800 million tax increase to fund teacher raises and a restoration of basic education and social services. Instead, the state Senate recently passed a proposal for raising $84 million for teacher pay by cutting Medicaid for 43,000 of the poorest Oklahomans.”
Read more …

Zero Tolerance Discipline Policies Won’t Fix School Shootings

The Conversation

“Trump officials and supporters think – or would have people believe – that the new push to improve school discipline had something to do with the Parkland shooting. It didn’t … When students see a school’s discipline approach as overly strict or harsh, they see school authority as arbitrary and unfair. When student bystanders see schools suspend friends who are struggling due to factors beyond their control … students come to see suspension and expulsion as downright perverse … The best chance of reducing violence, and also improving the overall academic achievement and environment of schools, rests in rejecting punitive school discipline and replacing it with supportive systems.”
Read more …

U.S. Income Inequality Hits A Disturbing New Threshold


“U.S. wage growth remains slow and uneven, with African-Americans and women still at a clear disadvantage … Wages for African-Americans declined in most wage brackets, while women with graduate degrees made less money than men with only college degrees … ‘You do see college wages rising faster than high school wages, but that differential is not nearly large enough to explain rising wage inequality in the economy today … You can’t educate yourself out of gender or racial wage gaps.’”
Read more …

Most Schools Funded Far Below What’s Needed To Achieve Average Outcomes

Education Law Center

“Most U.S. states fund their public schools at a level far below what is necessary for students in high-poverty districts to achieve at even average levels in English and math … In numerous states … only the lowest-poverty districts have sufficient funding to reach national average student achievement outcomes … Only a few states … have higher levels of funding across all districts and have near-average outcomes, even in the highest-poverty districts.
The cost of achieving national average outcomes in very high-poverty districts is three times higher – or $20,000 to $30,000 per pupil – than in low-poverty districts … There is wide variation in spending and student achievement outcomes, with strong performance in a few high-investment states and in low-poverty districts … ‘Some states need to increase school funding across the board …. Others need to target increases to higher-poverty districts. And the federal government should find new avenues to support states with comparatively less ability to boost school funding.'”
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Betsy DeVos Wants To Cut Public Education To The Bone


True to form, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s testimony before Congress this week was yet another example of how her utterances about American public education and her governance over the system send people into fits of frustration and outrage.

Appearing before a House subcommittee, she was tasked to defend the Trump administration’s 2019 budget for her department. As prominent news outlets reported, she mostly sparked intense disagreement with her views on “gun control, racial bias, and civil rights.”

Repeated questioning over her views on whether students of color were far more apt to be discriminated against in school disciplinary actions – a matter of fact, rather than opinion – prompted California Democratic Representative Barbara Lee to exclaim, “Madam Secretary, you just don’t care much about civil rights of black and brown children. This is horrible.”

In another fiery exchange, Massachusetts Democratic Representative Katherine Clark repeatedly asked DeVos to say “yes or no” to whether a federal school voucher program would allow public dollars to go to schools that openly discriminate against LGBTQ students. After Clark’s repeated questioning, DeVos eventually answered, “Yes,” but her answer seemed more like a tactic to end the questions rather than a genuine pledge to prevent against discrimination.

On the issue of gun control, Politico noticed that when news of a new school shooting in Maryland trickled into the hearing, Connecticut Democratic Representative Rosa DeLauro asked DeVos, “Do you believe we have a crisis with gun violence in our country? That’s a yes or no question.” DeVos replied, “I believe we have a crisis of violence in our country, yes,” omitting the word “gun.”

Getting Lost in the Outrage

The outrage over DeVos is warranted. Her inability to answer direct questions is confounding, and she insults public school educators, who she’s expected to help support and lead, at nearly every turn.

It’s hard to imagine a worse secretary of education. But public exchanges with her tend to generate more heat than light, and there’s a danger that opposition to her views can veer away from substance toward style.

But it shouldn’t be forgotten that DeVos and what she stands for are not a strange aberration, but rather representative of a powerful faction in American politics.

If you don’t believe that, look at the document she attempted to defend before Congress – her budget.

DeVos’s Budget Is Doctrinaire Conservative

Trump’s budget – and in turn the one DeVos defended for her department – is straight out of conservative doctrine for stripping government to the bone. In other words, it’s right in line with what nearly every conservative Republican governor has been inflicting on education systems in the states for years.

Straight off, the Trump education budget would strip 5.3 percent from the total federal education outlay, Education Week reports, sending federal funding for schools down 10.5 percent from 2017 levels, according to the Center for American Progress.

Two programs would see the steepest cuts: Title II funds that help recruit and retain teachers and the 21st Century Learning Centers block grants, which fund after school programs. Title II funding helps reduce class sizes and bolster the teaching workforce in low-income communities. And after school programs promote academic, social-emotional, and health and wellness benefits for children and youth, particularly in low-income communities.

In complete disregard to recent school shootings and calls from students and teachers to create safer learning environments, the Trump budget would also eliminate Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, Mother Jones reports. These grants help fund school district programs to promote “safe and healthy students,” including social emotional learning and restorative justice alternatives that are showing promising benefits.

Federal funds for the Special Olympics program also get the axe.

Funding for truly essential programs would be flat-lined – which is a really a cut – including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act state formula grants for educating students with disabilities and Title I funding for disadvantaged students, the biggest single K-12 program at the department.

In the meantime, the proposed budget adds $500 million in grants for charter school funding, an increase of roughly 50 percent from current spending levels. The budget also contributes $1 billion to fund a new pilot program for districts to let local funding follow students to their school ‘choice,’ including charter schools. Little is known about how billions of dollars in previous federal grants to charter schools have been spent, and there’s ample evidence much of it has gone to schools that either never opened or quickly closed. Why would we want to add to this wasteful outlay without including new safeguards and accountability?

A proposal to spend $200 million on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education seems like a boost for learning opportunities, but here again, evidence is ignored in favor of conservative orthodoxy. There’s little evidence increased spending on STEM education in K-12 schools increases the number of students choosing STEM related college degree programs. And prioritizing STEM and other “career training” education tracts, while cutting education funding elsewhere, reflects the conservative antipathy to teaching humanities.

Do Budgets Matter?

Does Trump’s education budget and DeVos’s defense of it matter?

“Members of Congress signaled they would probably reject many of the proposed cuts in DeVos’s budget, as they did last year,” the Washington Post reports, due in part to the opposition of some Republicans.

House members who just voted on a final version of the 2018 budget soundly rejected budget cuts Trump and DeVos proposed for education last year, Education Week reports. The House version of the budget the senate will have to vote on would increase spending at the U.S. Department of Education by $2.6 billion, including boosts of $300 million to Title I, $299 million for special education grants, and $20 million for 21st Century Community Learning Centers (instead of being cut entirely).

Funding for Title II would be retained rather than ended, and a a block grant for districts to address school safety, among other needs, would nearly triple from $400 million to $1.1 billion.

Federal aid to charter schools would get the big increase DeVos wants, from $342 million to $400 million, but a $250 million private school choice initiative and the $1 billion program for “school choice” DeVos wanted got axed.

Nevertheless, conservative stalwart the Heritage Foundation calls the cuts in Trump’s proposed 2019 budget “needed” and differs only with the budget’s targets for “school choice” and not the philosophy behind it.

DeVos defended her budget by saying, “President Trump is committed to reducing the federal footprint in education, and that is reflected in this budget.” Few conservatives would disagree with this intention.

The federal government supplies only a small percentage of school funding – less than 10 percent. But in today’s austerity climate, every bit helps because the level of funding that schools get matters a lot to the education opportunities they can provide. Research consistently shows there is a direct correlation between what we spend on schools to how well our students perform on achievement tests and other measures. In states that were forced by court order to increase education spending, research shows students experienced gains in student achievement. Studies also show that higher teacher salaries tend to correlate with better student outcomes. And smaller class sizes often correlate with improvements in student achievement

So it’s important to oppose what Trump and DeVos are proposing in their budget, not because DeVos is a person with reprehensible views, but because she is a person who represents a political philosophy with reprehensible values.

3/15/2018 – Why Public Schools Have Become The Epicenter Of Rebellion

THIS WEEK: After The School Walkouts … What Stops School Shootings … Teacher Strikes Spread … Trump Hurts Kids… DeVos On 60 Minutes


Why Public Schools Have Become The Epicenter Of Rebellion

By Jeff Bryant

“Striking public school educators in West Virginia overcame all odds in getting lawmakers to agree to a five-percent pay raise and a realistic commitment from the state to address a broken public employee health insurance program … This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who’s been paying attention. Public school communities – students, teachers, parents, and citizens – have seen their institutions targeted with deeper budget cuts, greater inequities in the system, harsher penalties for ‘underperforming’ on arbitrary standards, and deadlier gun violence. Is it any wonder that these constituents are starting to stand up and say they’ve had enough?”
Read more …


School Walkouts Were Just The Beginning Of Students’ Activism On Gun Violence


“Students from New York to Nashville to San Francisco walked out of school at 10 a.m. to commemorate the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in which 17 people were killed, and to push for gun reform … Several more nationwide, student-led rallies are planned to keep attention on the issue and press for legislative action … Beyond the national rallies, some student groups have begun planning further actions at the local level.”
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Thwarted School Shooting Plans Don’t Get Much Attention. Here’s How That Affects School Safety Debates.

Education Week

“Schools, parents, and law enforcement agencies regularly intervene before would-be shooters attack schools, but those thwarted plans understandably don’t get the same level of coverage as mass shootings. And the resulting imbalance in discussions can affect the debate over how to keep schools safe … Focusing largely on successful attacks can make them seem inevitable, turning conversations toward physical safety measures – like security hardware and armed officers … Experts say school safety is also about ‘invisible’ prevention measures … Awareness of effective prevention is important when schools and policymakers debate ways to keep students safe.”
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Teacher Unrest Spreads to Oklahoma, Where Educators Are “Desperate for a Solution”

The Intercept

“Increasing momentum for a strike in Oklahoma comes as a strike by West Virginia teachers … reached a deal … to raise all state employee salaries … Oklahoma’s 42,000 teachers make even less than their West Virginian counterparts; in 2016, the average Oklahoma teacher earned $45,276, a salary lower than that of teachers in every state except Mississippi. With no pay increases for Sooner State teachers in a decade, educators have been leaving for greener pastures … when times are tough for teachers, times are also tough for students … Strikes by Oklahoma school employees are technically illegal, but educators have found a legal work-around. If school districts shut down, then that’s a work stoppage that doesn’t involve teachers walking off the job. Many superintendents across the state have already come out in support of closing down schools if the teachers decide to move forward with their strike.”
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A New Report Shows How Trump’s Immigration Crackdown Hurts Kids In School

Mother Jones

“Teachers and school staff across the country say they’re seeing a deeply negative impact on many of their students who worry they’ll go home to find loved ones missing … They’re observing emotional and behavioral problems, as well as missed classes and increased fears and anxieties among immigrant students, defined as those with immigrants in their families … Schools … in the South – those in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and Texas – were more likely to see problems than in other regions … Two-third of educators noticed that concerns about immigration were having an indirect effect even on non-immigrant students, meaning they showed anxiety and concern about immigration or that they expressed worry about their friends’ immigration statuses.”
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Betsy DeVos’s ‘Shining Example’—A Charter Closed for Poor Performance

The Progressive

Jeff Bryant writes, “In the much-written-about 60 Minutes interview of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos … DeVos said, ‘I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.’ But DeVos has visited an underperforming school – only she called it a ‘a shining example.’ The school, which will be closed at the end of the school year due to poor academic performance, was the Excel Academy Public Charter School, an all-girls charter in Washington, DC … Obviously, she didn’t know about the school’s academic performance then, and doesn’t know about it now. I would also contend she doesn’t care. Excel Academy impressed DeVos not because of what it does but because of what it is (or was). When DeVos says ‘options,’ what she really means is “alternatives” to public schools which she has ridiculed as a ‘dead end’… she really means is that there is no place in her worldview for the communal enterprise we know as public education. The sooner her critics get this, the better able they’ll be to convey the real danger she represents to the nation.”
Read more …

Why Public Schools Have Become The Epicenter Of Rebellion

The revolution may not be televised, but it is happening in public schools. This is evident in the growth of student and teacher actions across the country, from walkouts to strikes.

This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who’s been paying attention. Public school communities – students, teachers, parents, and citizens – have seen their institutions targeted with deeper budget cuts, greater inequities in the system, harsher penalties for “underperforming” on arbitrary standards, and deadlier gun violence.

Is it any wonder that these constituents are starting to stand up and say they’ve had enough?

Students Demand Freedom to Learn

This week, mass walkouts of students in middle schools and high schools spanned the nation to protest school shootings and lack of sensible gun control. Actions in nearly 3,000 schools were planned, and news organizations and social media users reported thousands of students participating in the demonstrations in countless cities and towns. Many of the events were captured on a nationwide “snap map” using the SnapChat social media app.

The walkouts, billed as the Enough National School Walkout, took place one month after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 students and educators. The organizers, the Youth Empower branch of The Women’s March organization, called for students to leave the classroom at 10:00 a.m. and stay out of class for 17 minutes: one minute for each person killed in the shooting.

Students haven’t only kept their protests on campus. In Washington, D.C., thousands of students descended on the White House and Capitol Hill. An estimated 60,000 students flooded the streets across New York City.

School boards, administrators, and teachers were generally supportive of the student actions; although there were isolated incidents of schools preventing students from walking out, or threatening suspensions.

The students demand the right to attend school in an environment where they don’t have to worry about being gunned down. “Protect lives, not guns” was an oft-observed sign held aloft in the demonstrations.

Teachers Want to Teach

The mass student walkouts came close after another headline-grabbing story born from the public school community: the successful teacher strike in West Virginia.

In defiance of state laws making public employee strikes illegal, nearly 20,000 teachers and about 13,000 school service personnel in all 55 counties of the Mountain State shut down schools for nine days. School boards and administrators across the state expressed strong support for the teachers and took no actions to end the walkouts.

West Virginia lawmakers buckled to all five of the teachers’ demands including a five-percent pay raise for all public employees, a realistic commitment from the state to address a broken public employee health insurance program, limits on charter school expansions, a continuation of seniority privileges for teachers and the ability of unions to deduct dues through payroll collection.

The successful action of the West Virginia teachers is inspiring similar actions in other states.

Teachers in Oklahoma have set an April 2 date for a statewide strike, if their demands for better pay and working conditions aren’t met by state lawmakers. Like West Virginia, Oklahoma is also a “right to work state” where collective bargaining is outlawed. But the teachers are defiant none the less, and once again, school boards and administrators are backing the teachers.

In Arizona, two public school advocacy groups are planning a march on the state capitol for March 28. Their chief complaints are lousy teacher pay, college student-loan burdens, a shortage of qualified teachers, and cuts to classroom resources.

In Kentucky, hundreds of teachers are protesting cuts to their benefit programs. Local media are reporting the actions are a “precursor to a statewide strike.”

Why Schools?

It’s not surprising that school communities have become a breeding ground for dissent.

People who rely on public schools have a lot to complain about. Government officials at all levels have been underpaying teachers and making their lives miserable, wielding budget cuts that close learning opportunities for students, and pushing schools toward more prison like conditions instead of doing something meaningful about gun violence.

Policy leaders and lawmakers have also remained largely deaf to the demands of those in the public education system.

Even as students were out in the streets calling for sensible gun control, President Donald Trump was reversing himself once again, backing off meaningful steps for gun control and increasing funds for arming teachers instead.

This is opposite of what public-school students and teachers say they want: meaningful gun control. A new bill passed by the House funds new school safety measures without directing more money for guns in schools. That’s progress, but it does nothing to control the proliferation of guns that menace schools.

Kate Doyle Griffiths, writing in Viewpoint Magazine, puts her finger on another key reason public schools are at the epicenter of a new populist rebellion.

In explaining how the West Virginia teachers won, she argues the teachers were successful because “the strike was socialized because of its location at a concentrated point of reproduction: schools.” As occupations increasingly drive employees into cubicles and career niches, schools are one of the few remaining institutions where employees “interface with more people than most other workplaces do, at least in an immediate sense. That these workplaces are connected to other ‘kinship networks’ mean that there’s an imminent possibility that they can be activated politically, becoming a privileged site of class organization.”

Schools are America’s most collaborative endeavor, by far. They’re the places we’ve entrusted to teach the values of democracy. They’re working.