EON #11

THIS WEEK: Companies Seeking More Profit From K-12 … An Education Revolution Coming? … Obama’s Big Second-Term Education Problem … The First Race to the Top … Shortage Of American STEM Graduates? TOP STORY Cutting Education: Dumb And Dumber By Jeff Bryant “What’s dumb is to cut money for air traffic controllers … even dumber … Continue reading “EON #11”

THIS WEEK: Companies Seeking More Profit From K-12 … An Education Revolution Coming? … Obama’s Big Second-Term Education Problem … The First Race to the Top … Shortage Of American STEM Graduates?

TOP STORY

Cutting Education: Dumb And Dumber

By Jeff Bryant

“What’s dumb is to cut money for air traffic controllers … even dumber is to cut funding to Head Start and other education programs that ensure the nation’s children have learning opportunities. … Cuts to essential funds for educating our children aren’t limited to the dreaded sequester … If you’re of the opinion that “money doesn’t matter” in relation to the quality of education, then you’re horribly misinformed. Indeed, anyone advocating for better education in America should put the funding cuts at the top of their list of policy mandates to protest against.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Ed. Companies Exert Public-Policy Influence

Education Week

“Education observers are alarmed at what they see as increasingly aggressive moves by companies to make money from the K-12 system … Many companies seeking K-12 business have deep pockets. In addition to spending $6 million in federal lobbying since 2001, Pearson and its employees donated more than $249,000 to presidential and congressional candidates … K12 Inc. and its employees donated more than $1 million to state candidates, political parties, and ballot-measure committees.”
Read more …

The Coming Revolution in Public Education

The Atlantic

John Tierney writes, “The dominant regime for the past decade or more has been what is sometimes called accountability-based reform … Fueled in part by growing evidence of the reforms’ ill effects and of the reformers’ self-interested motives, the counter-movement is rapidly expanding … I predict it will continue … It’s what history teaches us to expect. … Education policies based on standardization and uniformity tend to fail … Policies based on distrust of teachers tend to fail … Many of the organizations involved in ‘corporate reform’ seem to need reforming themselves … If I am correct that a new educational revolution is under way, it will need its own Thomas Paine.”
Read more …

Obama’s Big Second-Term Education Problem

The Washington Post

Valerie Strauss writes, “President Obama has a big problem in his second term in terms of education policy: his first term … The agenda was ambitious, designed to shake up the status quo — and it did. But it has had major consequences for schools, students, teachers, principals and superintendents — some of them clearly unintended, and they threaten to consume Obama’s second-term education policy agenda … the reforms were not well thought out, not based in solid research and were rushed into implementation.”
Read more …

The First Race to the Top

The New York Times

“It turns out that the race to the top has a lot of history behind it. Members of the Boston School Committee fired the first shots in the testing wars in the summer of 1845 … The examiners’ report lambasted the schools … The examiners believed that the teacher made the school … They named the worst ones and called for their removal … No one could explain, however, why some schools did better than others.”
Read more …

Study: There May Not Be A Shortage Of American STEM Graduates After All

Washington Post

“A study released Wednesday by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute reinforces what a number of researchers have come to believe: that the STEM worker shortage is a myth … the U.S. has ‘more than a sufficient supply of workers available to work in STEM occupations.’ Basic dynamics of supply and demand would dictate that if there were a domestic labor shortage, wages should have risen. Instead, researchers found, they’ve been flat, with many Americans holding STEM degrees unable to enter the field and a sharply higher share of foreign workers taking jobs in the information technology industry.”
Read more …

Cutting Education: Dumb And Dumber

Cuts to government spending like the now-reviled “sequester” are not only “dumb” as my colleague Robert Borosage explained this week. They are literally making us dumber. What’s dumb is to cut money for air traffic controllers and endanger airline passengers and relegate them to long waits for delayed flights. What’s even dumber is to cut … Continue reading “Cutting Education: Dumb And Dumber”

Cuts to government spending like the now-reviled “sequester” are not only “dumb” as my colleague Robert Borosage explained this week. They are literally making us dumber.

What’s dumb is to cut money for air traffic controllers and endanger airline passengers and relegate them to long waits for delayed flights.

What’s even dumber is to cut funding to Head Start and other education programs that ensure the nation’s children have learning opportunities that vastly improve their futures and our national prosperity.

Unfortunately, cuts to essential funds for educating our children aren’t limited to the dreaded sequester. The assault on spending is pervasive in all aspects of education budgeting at every level of government. Even worse, spending cuts are aimed at the very areas where we should be investing the most.

If you’re of the opinion that “money doesn’t matter” in relation to the quality of education, then you’re horribly misinformed. Indeed, anyone advocating for better education in America should put the funding cuts at the top of their list of policy mandates to protest against.

Stupid Sequester

Anyone advocating for good schools for all kids should be particularly alarmed at the damage being done by cuts to spending resulting from imposed across-the-board budget cuts called “sequestration.”

Sequester cuts are especially damaging to schoolchildren who are the most vulnerable and critically in need of government funding.

As Think Progress and other news outlets reported, the sequestration resulted in numerous cuts to programs that give poor children access to early education.

  • In Indiana, “At least two Indiana Head Start programs have resorted to a random drawing to determine which three-dozen preschool students will be removed from the education program for low-income families.”
  • In Tennessee, “Cuts have affected the Head Start program in several ways,” including that “bus transportation will discontinue.”
  • In Washington, there will be “dollars lost” from a “child care food program,” a program “for serving kids with disabilities,” and pre-K education. “Spokane Head Start currently serves 900 families and there are a thousand more on the waiting list,” but cuts are on the way nevertheless.
  • In Pennsylvania, cuts to Head Start threaten “lunch and snacks to the children . . . cleaning or other supplies . . . [and] fuel for Head Start’s buses.”
  • In Palm Beach County Florida, transportation to Head Start centers “would be eliminated,” affecting “roughly 400 of the 2,296 children enrolled” and resulting in “the elimination of 14 jobs.”
  • In a community in New Jersey, fewer children will be able to enroll in Head Start.
  • In Missouri, a Head Start program announced that nearly 200 fewer children would be enrolled next fall.

Of course, funding targeted to families and very young children isn’t limited to Head Start. Parents with little children need day care, too. According to an article at The American Prospect, “Quality child care costs more in most states than tuition at public universities. In 22 states and D.C., the average cost of infant care in a center was more than the median rent in 2012.”

Nevertheless, “states cut services for the poor, including the child-care subsidies. A study by the National Women’s Law Center found that families in 27 states were worse off in 2012 than in 2011″ (emphasis original).

In addition to Head Start and child care cuts, according to a report from Reuters, schools serving “school districts near Native American reservations, military bases and other areas where property tax revenue is kept low by a federal presence are getting ‘severe spending cuts’ equaling $58 million.”

These cuts are especially devastating to states like New Mexico that have large percentages of Native American students. In New Mexico, federal spending is “12.8 percent of the state’s gross domestic product,” according to the Reuters article cited above, and federal aid can provide as much as half or more of what a school gets to fund its programs.

Schools that educate the children of our military families are also victim to the sequester cuts. School districts near military bases report the need to furlough teaching staffs, cancel Friday classes, and shorten school years. According to Reuters, this affects schools in New York, Wisconsin, Texas, and California.

Sequestration cuts also have had negative impact on the amount of money available to schools that get federal Title I money for educating children from low-income households, money for teaching children with learning disabilities, and funds for rural schools and teaching jobs.

  • In Kentucky cuts stemming from the sequestration have reduced Title I federal funding by a double-digit percentage, cut money for school lunches by 7 percent, and reduced funds available for educating students with learning disabilities.
  • North Carolina schools stand to lose $25 million in funding and 350 teaching jobs due to sequestration.
  • In Montana, rural schools are getting particularly hard hit, losing millions of dollars in funding.

The Center for American Progress has a great chart and ongoing news feed tracking the effects of the sequester.

Wait, It Gets Worse

Sequester cuts come on top of other massive budget cuts that rolled out to the nation’s children over many years. The cuts often target education programs that have the most potential for enhancing the future lives of students – particularly in their early years.

The evidence that high-quality early education gives children the foundation they need to succeed is “overwhelming,” according to studies cited by the U.S. Department of Education. Young children who receive high-quality, full-day preschool experience “crucial benefits in high school graduation rates, employment and avoidance of criminal behavior,” according to “the best scientific evidence.”

Numerous studies have found “High-quality preschool appears to propel better outcomes by enhancing non-cognitive skills such as persistence, self-control and emotion regulation.” That’s why, as The Huffington Post’s education reporter Joy Resmovits recently reported, “several police chiefs have highlighted the need for more and better preschool as a tool for long-term crime reduction.”

Despite the enormous benefits of early childhood education, government policy makers over the years have chosen to cut these programs.

This week, a new report from the National Institute for Early Education Research nieer.org published its annual research study for 2012, which found, “State funding for pre-K [education] decreased by over half a billion dollars in 2011-2012” – the largest one-year drop ever – enrollment in state pre-K stalled, and “state funding per child fell to $3,841” – well below the inflation-adjusted national average of what states paid ten years ago.

In a good review of the research, a reporter at Education Week noted,

  • 27 of 40 states cut early childhood programs – 13 by 10 percent or more – and only 12 states increased funding per child in 2011-2012.
  • Only 15 states plus D.C. provide “enough per-child funding to meet all 10 benchmarks for quality standards.”
  • Pre-K enrollment increases are not enough to offset population growth and increase the percentage of children served. Only “4 percent of 3-year-olds and 28 percent of 4-year-olds were served in state-funded pre-K.”
  • Head Start programs boost enrollment levels to 41 percent of 4-year-olds and 14 percent of 3-year-olds, but these levels have “stagnated.”

Money Matters

Government budgets that cut education spending are deeply harmful to the well-being of children. It’s a universal truth that education outcomes – as measured by achievement tests, high school graduation levels, and college completion – are strongly correlated to the level of affluence and financial investment children experience growing up.

Writing in The New York Times this week, Sean F. Reardon explained that the achievement gap in our society closely tracks the income gap, and the greater the income inequality, the more children are apt to experience an “opportunity gap” in their lives that reduces their long-term wellbeing.

“Children of the rich,’ Reardon wrote, “have better grades and higher standardized test scores, on average, than poorer students.” And nothing education policymakers have been enacting in schools “has reduced educational inequality between children from upper- and lower-income families.”

“Over the past three decades, Reardon said, the opportunity gap between students of the rich and less well-off – even middle class – families has widened – not because we’re doing such a worse job of educating less-well-off children, but “because rich students are increasingly entering kindergarten much better prepared to succeed in school than middle-class students. This difference in preparation persists through elementary and high school.”

“Not only are the children of the rich doing better in school than even the children of the middle class, but the changing economy means that school success is increasingly necessary to future economic success, a worrisome mutual reinforcement of trends that is making our society more socially and economically immobile.”

What’s needed to rectify this growing inequality is “to invest much more heavily as a society in our children’s educational opportunities from the day they are born.”

Reflecting on Reardon’s words, Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and former Chief Economist and economic adviser to the Obama Administration, wrote at Salon.com that instead of cutting education funding, we should be focused on the “need to offset the impacts of the income disparities by providing less-advantaged kids with access to the enrichment opportunities they’re increasingly not getting. Quality preschool has got to be the right place to start.”

Education historian Diane Ravitch considered Reardon’s piece as well and concluded, “What have we been doing for the past 30 years? Relying on standards and testing to close the gaps. It hasn’t worked.”

What we need instead, Ravitch contended, is “parent education, early intervention, support for children.”

Yet, that is precisely what our leaders are choosing not to do.

What’s Needed Instead

It’s not too late to turn this dreadful trend around. Also this week, authors of a new book Closing the Opportunity Gap spotlighted the actions state and school district officials should take to address the nation’s opportunity gap.

“Quite simply, children learn when they are supported with high expectations, quality teaching and deep engagement, and made to feel that they are entitled to good schooling,” explained the book’s co-editor Stanford University Professor Prudence Carter. “The richer those opportunities, the greater the learning. When those opportunities are denied or diminished, lower achievement is the dire and foreseeable result.”

Writing at the blog site of The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss, another co-editor of the book, Kevin Welner of the National Education Policy Center, explained, “There is no way to tease those data into showing that test-based accountability reform is accomplishing its key learning goals … In particular, we have failed to build capacity or increase opportunities to learn.”

“American society has the means to provide supports for communities, for families, for students, and for teachers,” Welner wrote. What’s needed is more spending that ensures “children are safe and healthy and ready to learn, that they have access to rich learning environments in schools and also in their homes and in their communities, and that they have qualified, experienced teachers.”

Cutting Education Is Bad Economics Too

Regardless of what budget austerity fans tell you about the necessity of spending cuts, cutting education is also not good economics, either.

Writing at Salon.com, economist Simon Johnson explained, “In recent decades, some families chose locations and occupations that seemed to offer a reasonable means of support and good prospects for their children. Many of these decisions turned out badly, largely because information technology (computers and how they are used) eliminated many middle-class jobs. Increasing globalization of trade also did not help in this regard. In addition, as Till von Wachter of Columbia University has documented, prolonged periods of unemployment for parents have a severe and lasting negative impact on their children.”

“Children whose families cannot provide a decent start in life deserve help,” Johnson maintained. “Imposing austerity on poor children is not just unfair; it is also bad economics. When economists, again with their dry jargon, talk about a country’s ‘human capital,’ what they really mean is the cognitive and physical abilities of its people.”

Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman agreed with Johnson, writing at The New York Times this week, “We’re cheating our children. How? By neglecting public investment and failing to provide jobs.”

“What about investing in our young?” Krugman asked. “We’re cutting back there …  having laid off hundreds of thousands of schoolteachers and slashed the aid that used to make college affordable for children of less-affluent families.”

“Fiscal policy is, indeed, a moral issue,” Krugman concluded. “We should be ashamed of what we’re doing to the next generation’s economic prospects.”

Time To Address Real Causes

Once upon a time, America’s political leaders sought to resolve big problems by acting on the actual causes. Recall how government policies eventually took action on the harm cigarette smoking and tobacco use were having on the populace?

Now the nation’s leadership tends to favor policies that either ignore real causes or even exacerbate what’s making things worse.

We know our children’s education attainment is key to their future development and prosperity – and the very health of our democracy. We know poverty is to academic achievement what tobacco use is to cancer, and children’s education attainment is strongly correlated to levels of affluence and the investment they receive.

So anyone who really cares about our children’s well-being must make this priority #1: Stop the cuts. Invest in children.

EON #11

THIS WEEK: Feds: Do More To Promote Equity … “Reform” For “Other People’s Children” … New Tests Outpace Lessons … Common Core Standards Attacked By Republicans … Florida Teachers Sue State For Unfair Evaluations TOP STORY Wrong Lesson From Sandy Hook Shootings By Jeff Bryant “While federal lawmakers hesitated and then faltered to take action … Continue reading “EON #11”

THIS WEEK: Feds: Do More To Promote Equity … “Reform” For “Other People’s Children” … New Tests Outpace Lessons … Common Core Standards Attacked By Republicans … Florida Teachers Sue State For Unfair Evaluations

TOP STORY

Wrong Lesson From Sandy Hook Shootings

By Jeff Bryant

“While federal lawmakers hesitated and then faltered to take action on restricting gun commerce, policy makers elsewhere in America have had no problem using the Sandy Hook shootings to rationalize new ways to turn school buildings into harsher, more punitive environments for the students who populate them … If the horrendous crime that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary can’t provide the impetus for positive action on gun control, let’s make sure it doesn’t provide the rationale for turning schools into extensions of a brutal, uncaring culture we want our children to abhor.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Feds Can Do More To Promote Funding Equity, Report Urges

Education Week

“Civil rights leaders and education advocates say it’s time to push for new efforts to address decades-long disparities in how resources are parceled out to public schools … Those recommendations … are outlined in a new report from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights that … focuses on five areas to help close the resource and achievement gaps between poor students and their middle and upper-class peers.”
Read more …

Of Rich Dads And iPads

Huffington Post

Chicago parent activist and attorney Matt Farmer asks: “When is a Chicago elementary school with 23 kids in a classroom not considered by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to be an ‘underutilized’ school? Answer: When it’s his kids’ school … Chicago’s school ‘reform’ efforts have always worked best on other people’s children.”
Read more …

Students Face Tougher Tests That Outpace Lesson Plans

New York Times

In New York, “a pall has settled over classrooms across the state because this year’s tests … have been redesigned … are tougher… and cover at least some material that has yet to make its way into the curriculum. The new tests … align[ed] with Common Core standards … are so new that many New York schools have yet to fully adopt new curriculums – including reading material, lesson plans and exercises – to match.”
Read more …

Common Core Standards Attacked By Republicans

Washington Post

“Republicans have launched an attack on the Common Core State Standards, an initiative that more than 45 states and the District of Columbia … that has been facing increasing opposition in recent months from both right and left. This new effort could undermine what has largely been bipartisan cooperation … Those on the right say that the initiative is nothing more than a federal move towards a national curriculum.”
Read more …

Teachers Union Suit: Florida’s Merit-Pay Law Violates U.S. Constitution

Orlando Sentinel

“Florida’s teachers union Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit … challenging how the state ties teacher evaluations to student test scores. The lawsuit argues that Florida’s sweeping merit-pay law unfairly resulted in many teachers’ evaluations being based on the test scores of students or subjects they did not teach. That violates the equal-protection and due-process clauses of the U.S. Constitution, the lawsuit claims.”
Read more …

Wrong Lesson From Sandy Hook Shootings

By now, there have been plenty of negative reactions to last week’s defeat of sensible gun regulation in the U.S. Senate due to the power of the gun lobby to have more sway with senators than popular opinion has. In his Rose Garden address, President Obama was incredulous that legislation favored by 90 percent of … Continue reading “Wrong Lesson From Sandy Hook Shootings”

By now, there have been plenty of negative reactions to last week’s defeat of sensible gun regulation in the U.S. Senate due to the power of the gun lobby to have more sway with senators than popular opinion has.

In his Rose Garden address, President Obama was incredulous that legislation favored by 90 percent of Americans couldn’t get 60 votes in the Senate.

News stories about the bill’s defeat invariably referenced the origin of the bill in the “tragedy” of the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Even former U.S. House Representative Gabrielle Giffords – an ardent backer of the bill and a victim of gun violence herself – castigated the senators’ fear of the gun lobby as a shameful contrast to “the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended by a hail of bullets.”

The quick take on this might lead you to believe that the massacre of innocent school children in Newtown has had little to no effect on how Americans have dealt with school safety and gun proliferation.

You would be mistaken.

Legacy Of The Sandy Hook Shootings

Although connecting the Sandy Hook shootings to high-profile legislation in D.C. seemed to impart little power to passing the bill, the aura of that tragedy has quietly been at work producing all kinds of other actions around the country

While federal lawmakers hesitated and then faltered to take action on restricting gun commerce, policy makers elsewhere in America have had no problem using the Sandy Hook shootings to rationalize new ways to turn school buildings into harsher, more punitive environments for the students who populate them.

The result is likely to be more students – particularly students of color – having disciplinary issues that result in suspensions, expulsions, arrests, and referrals to the criminal justice system, and what has become known as America’s “school to prison pipeline” will quite probably grow ever larger unless this wave of nonsense stops.

More Guns And Guards In Schools

Following the Sandy Hook shootings, there were widespread reports of school districts adding more police presence, in the form of “campus resource officers,” to their campuses.

As this article in The Atlantic  reported, following the killings, there was “a spate of new bills proposed at the state level – including in Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Virginia – to either allow educators to carry weapons or to add armed guards to public schools.”

Altogether, The Sunlight Foundation, found that, post-Sandy Hook, 36 states were considering legislation related to guns on school grounds with “the vast majority of these bills” making it “easier for school personnel, guards, and volunteers to carry guns on campus.”

As the Politics K-12 blog at Education Week observed, the Obama administration helped move this effort along by providing “incentives for schools to hire resource officers . . . by giving priority to applicants who plan to use the U.S. Department of Justice’s COPs grants.”

The National Parent Teachers Association noted the White House’s move to encourage more guns and guards in schools and declared that action a “disappointment.”

What’s wrong with heightened “school security?”

What More Guns And Guards Do To Schools

As the above-mentioned article in The Atlantic noted, “about a third of states already allow school personnel to carry concealed weapons on campus,” so there is a long and well-researched track record for what happens when school and government officials respond to violent incidents by stocking schools with more guns and guards. That track record is not good.

As a recent op-ed in the Raleigh News and Observer noted, “on the heels of the Columbine High School massacre,” schools “rapidly increased deployment of law enforcement officers.” This resulted in “soaring rates of suspension, dropouts and school-based arrests and court referrals” that pushed students committing school infraction into the juvenile and criminal systems.

A recent article in The New York Times also looked at the track record for adding more guns and guards in schools and found “the most striking impact of school police officers so far, critics say, has been a surge in arrests or misdemeanor charges for essentially nonviolent behavior – including scuffles, truancy and cursing at teachers – that sends children into the criminal courts.”

“Nationwide,” the report continued, “hundreds of thousands of students are arrested or given criminal citations at schools each year” with Texas setting the worst example, “where police officers based in schools write more than 100,000 misdemeanor tickets each year.”

“A large share are sent to court for relatively minor offenses, with black and Hispanic students and those with disabilities disproportionately affected,” the report found.

When a Washington, D.C.-based civil rights group studied the results of increased police presence in schools, their investigation found that officers were so rarely called upon to address real emergencies that they found “something else to do” and became “the de facto disciplinary arm of the school.”

As reported by USA Today’s Greg Toppo, increased police presence in schools resulted in a spike in students being arrested in school “for things like disorderly conduct” that previously would not involve the criminal justice system.

One of the researchers, testifying before Congress just three days before the Newtown shooting, explained that school discipline is “increasingly handled by law enforcement, and today, students are more likely to be arrested for minor in-school offenses.”

According to Toppo, her testimony included the statistic that harsher, more punitive security measures in schools have resulted in over 3 million students being suspended and over 100,000 students being expelled nationwide, each year.

There’s Money For Guns And Guards

At a time when most states are cutting education budgets, and depressed property taxes are reducing local revenues for schools, lawmakers are having no problem finding cash to spend on guns and guards in schools.

According to The Center for Public Integrity, post-Sandy Hook, a state legislative delegation in Florida approved a proposal to increase property taxes to pay for more school police, “at an annual cost of up to $130,000 per officer.”

A bill in Mississippi “set up a $7.5 million school-security fund.” Alabama legislators proposed “a lottery to pay for a $20 million plan to put police officers in every school.” And Indiana lawmakers weighed a measure to “set aside $10 million to offer grants to schools to hire local police to post in schools.”

Minority Students Hit Hardest

The increased rates of suspensions and expulsions that result from more police presence in schools are particularly devastating for students of color.

According to a report in The Christian Science Monitor, the number of school suspensions nationwide has grown dramatically in recent decades, from nearly 1.8 million students – 4 percent of all public-school students – in 1976, to, by 2006, 3.3 million – 7 percent of all students. “In addition to the suspensions, 102,000 students were expelled – removed from school for the remainder of the year or longer – in 2006.”

Suspensions and expulsions for certain groups – “particularly African-Americans, Hispanics, and those with disabilities” – are disproportionally high,” the report found, with African-Americans making up 18 percent of the students but “accounting for 46 percent of students suspended more than once, 39 percent of students expelled, and 36 percent of students arrested on campus.”

An even more recent report, this one from The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles Civil Rights Project, found “an increasing gap between suspension rates of black and white students,” with “24 percent of black students” getting the brunt of harsh discipline measures while only “7.1 percent of white students” experienced the same treatment.

According to a write-up of the report in The Huffington Post, “Most of the suspensions came not in response to violent behavior, but for minor infractions such as dress code violations or lateness. The research also found that suspensions increase the likelihood kids will drop out of school and commit crimes.”

Some Say “Enough!”

The strong correlation of guns and guards in schools to increasing rates of school suspensions, expulsions, and arrests has not gone unnoticed, and a growing number of educators and lawmakers have expressed concern that society will pay down the road for more jobless and incarcerated young people.

In fact, a different article about the study from the UCLA Project, quoted one of the report’s authors who noted, “The likelihood of dropping out from school can rise to 32 percent for a ninth-grader who’s been suspended just once.”

The civil rights coalition that produced the research from The Advancement Project, cited above, took action to preempt more guns and guards in schools with a “Gun Free Way to School Safety” recommending schools “focus on prevention of crisis situations through creation of a positive school culture,” enact “appropriate security measures” that don’t involve law enforcement personnel, and develop a “school crisis plan.”

Recently, the National School Boards Association released a report declaring that the use of out-of-school suspensions had reached a “crisis” level. The report, released in conjunction with the National Opportunity to Learn campaign (a funder of the Education Opportunity Network), included new policy guidelines for “discipline policies aimed at ending excessive and discriminatory out-of-school suspensions.”

Education Week reported that NSBA declared “School board members should lead the charge to reduce, if not eliminate, the practice of out-of-school suspensions and instead push comprehensive strategies for preventing the removal of students from school for disciplinary reasons.”

Students have spoken out as well, organizing in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and elsewhere in separate yet connected efforts to promote a process called “restorative justice.”

These and other recent actions got the attention of the editorial board of The New York Times, who last week expressed concern about “a larger police presence in schools” that can “create a repressive environment in which children are arrested or issued summonses for minor misdeeds — like cutting class or talking back — that once would have been dealt with by the principal.”

The editors called for “greater transparency in the reporting process to make the police even more forthcoming” and more efforts “to dismantle . . . the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Their recommendation: “Districts that have gotten along without police officers should think twice before deploying them in school buildings.”

Truly, isn’t this the least we can do?

If the horrendous crime that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary can’t provide the impetus for positive action on gun control, let’s make sure it doesn’t provide the rationale for turning schools into extensions of a brutal, uncaring culture we want our children to abhor.

Despite Education Funds, Obama Budget Unites Progressive Opposition

Now that every major media outlet has weighed in on the budget that President Obama introduced last week, the conventional wisdom is that Obama has proposed a “balance” of new revenues and spending cuts with an emphasis on sacrificing “entitlements” enjoyed by old people in order to increase “investments” in children. This sensibility was most … Continue reading “Despite Education Funds, Obama Budget Unites Progressive Opposition”

Now that every major media outlet has weighed in on the budget that President Obama introduced last week, the conventional wisdom is that Obama has proposed a “balance” of new revenues and spending cuts with an emphasis on sacrificing “entitlements” enjoyed by old people in order to increase “investments” in children.

This sensibility was most obvious in a quote in The New York Times from Virginia Senator Mark Warner who talked about “the math on entitlements” causing the federal government to “squeeze early-childhood programs … Head Start,” and “education.”

Warner continued, “There’s nothing progressive about a business or any other enterprise to invest less than 5 percent of its revenues on the education of its work force … and that’s what we’re doing.”

The “rift” the Times article refers to over the Obama administration’s budget became even more obvious when a broad coalition of progressive groups took to the streets in immediate opposition to Social Security cuts – known as “Chained CPI” – while the Center for American Progress hailed the budget’s proposals for early childhood education as “historic,” and Democrats for Education Reform gave the it “high praise” for it education measures.

The narrative that there’s a sort of generational warfare breaking out in the Democratic Party is remarkably false, though. Because Social Security spending is completely independent from the budget, it in no way puts a “squeeze” on how much the federal government spends on education and children.

Further, Democrats who fear opposition to Social Security cuts included in the Obama budget runs the risk of scuttling worthwhile spending on the younger generation should rest assured their fears are unwarranted.

What the Obama administration is proposing for education is in no way worth the sacrifice being demanded from the elderly, disabled, and poor.

What’s Being Praised

For sure, education items in the Obama administration’s proposed budget seem attractive at first glance.

As Education Week’s Alyson Klein observed, the proposed new outlays would increase the U.S. Department of Education’s spending “to $71.2 billion for fiscal year 2014” – a “4.6 increase” over what the DOE was spending before the automatic sequester cuts took effect.

“This would constitute the largest expansion of educational opportunity in the 21st century,” the article quoted Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

What’s most often praised in the budget plan is the new money allotted for a big expansion of prekindergarten programs. The Center for American Progress, in the article cited above, labeled the program a “bold new $75 billion investment in preschool over 10 years,” claiming the investment “would significantly shrink the preschool-access gap by helping states establish and expand high-quality programs.”

Other big-ticket items in the budget proposal were to boost the federal government’s spending on competitive grant programs, including

  • $300 million for a “competitive-grant program aimed at helping high schools better prepare students for post-secondary education and the workplace and focus on science, math, engineering, and technology.”
  • $1 billion more for a new Race to the Top competition focused on higher education.
  • A big increase for the School Improvement Grant program, including $125 million for “school turnarounds.”

So, what could be wrong with these?

What’s Problematic

Despite the near-universal praise for the Obama budget’s support for early childhood education, more critical takes on the proposal have turned up some serious problems.

As The Huffington Post’s Joy Resmovits pointed out, the proposal does not “require states to actually expand preschool offerings. Rather, it would give incentives for them to do so.”

Paraphrasing early education expert Sara Mead, Resmovits noted, “The federal government can’t mandate that states expand preschool,” so many states that have been unwilling to expand these services will quite probably continue to do so.

Resmovits likened the proposal to the Affordable Care Act, with its optional health insurance exchanges that have been rejected by 21 states.

“But the preschool incentive may be even less compelling to states than Obamacare,” Resmovits wrote, “since Preschool for All doesn’t help governors fulfill a federal mandate.”

Raising further complications, Sara Meade, who Resmovits cited, had more to say about the Obama preschool proposal at the blog site Education Sector.

Meade wondered about other impediments to implementing the pre-K program, such as whether “quality requirements” would “make states hesitant to take the funds.”

She also noted that at the 10-year target range for new federal outlays, as a percent of funding for early childhood education, would actually be “lower than the current federal share of all government spending on early childhood education (where federal funds account for the majority of public dollars).”

How does this “incentivize” states?

The increases to competitive grant programs in the proposed budget pose complications as well. There is emerging evidence that requirements for federal education grants often result in new costs to school districts that exceed the money rewarded in the grant.

Many school districts across the state of New York, an RTTT winner, have come to the realization that “no one did the math,” as one school superintendent put it, to see whether the federal grant would cover the costs of the very heavy strings attached.

School officials, according to this account, “are finding they will have to spend significantly more – perhaps 50 to 100 times as much, in some cases – to meet Race to the Top’s demanding requirements.”

Yet, many of the districts either got no federal money or “received grants of less than $50,000.”

Similarly, in Ohio, which was awarded its RTTT grant in 2010, “about 80 districts and charter schools across the state” recently backed out of participating in the program because “school officials realized that grants weren’t enough to cover the requirements attached to them.”

What’s Missing

While backers of the Obama budget like to recite the big numbers associated with the proposal’s preschool and competitive grants, what they often fail to mention is that the budget areas where the federal government has traditionally had the most effect on education – Title I grants for disadvantaged students and special education funds stemming from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – have been completely level-funded.

This is especially problematic at a time when the nation is experiencing sharp increases in child poverty; now 23 percent of all children live in poverty.

Further, the federal government’s obligation to cough up its share of spending on special education students is long overdue. As this blog post recently pointed out, the original legislation establishing IDEA obligated the federal government to pay up to “40 percent of the average per-pupil expenditure.”

But federal expenditure levels are currently nowhere near 40 percent, making special education, essentially, “an unfunded mandate.”

These are indeed glaring omissions in what the administration is proposing.

Educators Voice Concerns

It’s telling that even a constituency normally reflexively supportive of increased education spending – the nation’s teachers’ unions – is none too pleased with the president’s proposals.

One communiqué from the National Education Association called the budget proposal “a mixed bag for those who care about students, schools and working families” acknowledging that the budget proposal cuts the “social safety net.”

In a more formal statement, NEA president Dennis Van Roekel repeated this concern, stating the budget failed at being “balanced and fair by demanding more of the wealthiest and corporations while staying true to our nation’s commitment to seniors and those most in need.”

Van Roekel also lamented that spending increases are in the form of competitive grants that states have to apply for. “This is disappointing,” he said, “because competitive grants leave too many students behind.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, also voiced “serious concerns” about the budget’s cuts to Social Security and Medicare that “are irresponsible and untimely.”

What Just Happened?

In the conventional wisdom of how Washington is supposed to work, things aren’t going to plan.

Those aligning with the “special interests” devoted to education funding should have been bought off by the carrot dangled before them rather than joining the resistance defending what heretofore have been “old people’s issues” – Social Security and Medicare.

Things may yet work out as the David Brookses of the world would have it, where Democrats “get a lot of the good ideas” the pundit class has allotted to them – such as, um, making more men “marriageable” (?) – while Republicans get to “restructure” America to benefit their corporate benefactors rather than ordinary Americans.

But what seems equally, if not more so, likely is that progressive Democrats have rallied around a unifying principle to defend the common good.

What has become the galvanizing issue today – defending Social Security – will perhaps set a precedent for resistance in the future from a coalition that unites the “special interests” of young and old.

EON #10

THIS WEEK:1 in 4 Black Students Suspended … Police In Schools, More Children In Court … Michelle Rhee’s Reign of Error … Academic Gains In NYC, D.C., Chicago Overstated … Interest Rates On Student Loans Set To Double TOP STORY Despite Education Funds, Obama Budget Unites Progressive Opposition By Jeff Bryant The conventional wisdom is … Continue reading “EON #10”

THIS WEEK:1 in 4 Black Students Suspended … Police In Schools, More Children In Court … Michelle Rhee’s Reign of Error … Academic Gains In NYC, D.C., Chicago Overstated … Interest Rates On Student Loans Set To Double

TOP STORY

Despite Education Funds, Obama Budget Unites Progressive Opposition

By Jeff Bryant

The conventional wisdom is that President Obama has proposed a “balance” of new revenues and spending cuts with an emphasis on sacrificing “entitlements” enjoyed by old people in order to increase “investments” in children. … The narrative that there’s a sort of generational warfare breaking out in the Democratic Party is remarkably false, though. … Democrats who fear opposition to Social Security cuts included in the Obama budget runs the risk of scuttling worthwhile spending on the younger generation should rest assured their fears are unwarranted. What the Obama administration is proposing for education is in no way worth the sacrifice being demanded from the elderly, disabled, and poor.

Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

School ‘Discipline Gap’ Explodes As 1 In 4 Black Students Suspended, Report Finds

The Huffington Post

New reports “show the increasing gap between suspension rates of black and white students. One million – or one in nine – middle school and high school students were suspended in 2009-2010, including 24% of black students and 7.1% of white students. Most of the suspensions came not in response to violent behavior, but for minor infractions such as dress code violations or lateness. The research also found that suspensions increase the likelihood kids will drop out of school and commit crimes.”

Read more …

With Police In Schools, More Children In Court

The New York Times

“As school districts across the country consider placing more police officers in schools, youth advocates and judges are raising alarm about … a surge in criminal charges against children for misbehavior that many believe is better handled in the principal’s office … The effectiveness of using police officers in schools to deter crime or the remote threat of armed intruders is unclear … Yet the most striking impact of school police officers so far, critics say, has been a surge in arrests or misdemeanor charges for essentially nonviolent behavior – including scuffles, truancy and cursing at teachers – that sends children into the criminal courts.”

Read more …

Michelle Rhee’s Reign of Error

Taking Note

Veteran education journalist John Merrow reports, “Michelle A. Rhee, America’s most famous school reformer … glossed over what appeared to be widespread cheating during her first year as Schools Chancellor in Washington, D.C. A long-buried confidential memo from her outside data consultant suggests that the problem was far more serious than kids copying off other kids’ answer sheets … Choosing to bury the problem and minimize investigation allowed Rhee to continue with her radical makeover of the low-performing D.C. public school system.”

View here …

Academic Gains In NYC, D.C., And Chicago Overstated, Report Contends

Education Week

“School improvement strategies highly touted by leaders such as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and former District of Columbia schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, have produced overwhelmingly disappointing results for the poor and minority children … Each of those leaders … have exaggerated the success stemming from policies … ignored the positive benefits of other strategies.”

Read more …

Interest Rates On Student Loans Set To Double Even As Students Fall Deeper Into Debt

Think Progress

“Student loan interest rates are scheduled to double on July 1, from 3.4% to 6.8% … Students are relying more heavily on federal loans to pay for education as states have uniformly gutted higher education funding, pushing tuition costs to new heights … Student debt is directly responsible for the feebleness of the housing recovery.”

Read more …

EON #9

THIS WEEK: Education Spending Misdirected … The Onion … What Legislators Should Know About Education … Bill Gates Changes His Mind … Unrealistic Expectations … Wages Of College Grads Stagnate TOP STORY When Making Deals In D.C. Hurts Children By Jeff Bryant “Instead of putting the interests of children first, there’s a prevailing wisdom among … Continue reading “EON #9”

THIS WEEK: Education Spending Misdirected … The Onion … What Legislators Should Know About Education … Bill Gates Changes His Mind … Unrealistic Expectations … Wages Of College Grads Stagnate

TOP STORY

When Making Deals In D.C. Hurts Children

By Jeff Bryant

“Instead of putting the interests of children first, there’s a prevailing wisdom among political centrists inside the Beltway that ‘compromising’ with radical conservatives is the only serious approach to governance and policy-making. So when ‘hard fought’ compromises are reached … centrists hold self-congratulatory press conferences, but the lives of children are cleaved in two. We see this in deals made over sequestration, in the new budget being proposed by the Obama administration, and regarding school security measures.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Investments In Education May Be Misdirected

New York Times

“Angry, worried debate over how to improve the nation’s mediocre education … is missing the most important part: infants and toddlers. Research … confirms that investment in the early education of disadvantaged children pays extremely high returns down the road. It improves not only their cognitive abilities but also crucial behavioral traits like sociability, motivation and self-esteem … The costs of not making these investments are also clear.”
Read more …

Ten Percent Of U.S. High School Students Graduating Without Basic Object Permanence Skills

The Onion

“A new study finds that many American students do not realize that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be seen or heard.”
View here …

Ten Things Legislators Should Know And Do When Making Education Policy

Education Week

Teacher-blogger Nancy Flanagan offers “a guide for legislators to making useful education policy” that includes “You don’t know education just because you went to school … pay many non-photo op visits to lots of schools … Take the tests that kids have to take … Examine your assumptions … Follow the money, not the party … Remember you were elected to create policy that represents your constituents’ goals and desires, not ALEC’s.”
Read more …

Realistic Expectations for New Teacher Evaluation Systems

Dana Goldstein

“For over a century, school reformers have been dissatisfied with how teachers are evaluated, yet overhauling rating systems has not, historically, been an effective way to improve educational outcomes for kids. This is like hoping to lose weight by buying a new, high-tech scale, without changing your diet or exercise routines.”
Read more …

Did Bill Gates Just Reverse Course?

Diane Ravitch

“Bill Gates decided to make teacher evaluation the biggest crisis in American education … No one did more to push the idea that teachers should be judged by the test scores of their students … Now he says that test scores are not the only way to identify great teachers. They might not even be the best way. Now he is worried that there is a growing backlash against standardized testing and he says he gets it. He even concedes that tying pay to test scores is offensive.”
Read more …

Wages Of Young College Graduates Have Failed To Grow Over The Last Decade

Economic Policy Institute

“Wages of young college graduates have fared poorly during the Great Recession and its aftermath … However, the wages of young graduates fared poorly even before the Great Recession began … Young graduates who enter the labor market during periods of strength (e.g., 1995–2000) face much stronger wage prospects than young graduates who enter the labor market during periods of weakness (e.g., 2001 to the present).”
Read more …

When Making Deals In DC Hurts Kids

Everyone at all familiar with the Judgment of Solomon has to be aghast as political leaders reverse that Biblical wisdom and proceed to “split the difference” over who gets whose way on matters affecting children. Instead of putting the interests of children first, there’s a prevailing wisdom among political centrists inside the Beltway that “compromising” … Continue reading “When Making Deals In DC Hurts Kids”

Everyone at all familiar with the Judgment of Solomon has to be aghast as political leaders reverse that Biblical wisdom and proceed to “split the difference” over who gets whose way on matters affecting children.

Instead of putting the interests of children first, there’s a prevailing wisdom among political centrists inside the Beltway that “compromising” with radical conservatives is the only serious approach to governance and policy-making. So when “hard fought” compromises are reached in the back corridors of the nation’s capital, centrists hold self-congratulatory press conferences, but the lives of children are cleaved in two. We see this in deals made over sequestration, in the new budget being proposed by the Obama administration, and regarding school security measures.

The Centrist Rejection Of Solomon’s Wisdom

Recall that when King Solomon was confronted by two interested parties vying over the well being of a child, he threatened to serve both parties involved by hacking the kid in two.

This caused one party to stubbornly press its case and say, “Go ahead,” while the other party abandoned its own personal interests for what was in the best interest of the child in the long term. Solomon – understanding the long-term best interests of the child, and not the needs of the vying parties, was central to the matter – was able to rule justly and correctly. That’s called wisdom.

But in today’s political climate, the “centrist Solomons” in charge begin with the belief that compromise must rule the day and let the sword fly. This is called realistic.

Solomon Says: “Sequestration”

If you question at all how political centrism has damaged the lives of children, consider the recently enacted financial sequester. This sterling example of bipartisan legislation is now rolling out its appalling effects on the most vulnerable children.

As Sam Stein and Amanda Terkel report at Huffington Post, among the first and most affected by sequestration are “hundreds of lower-income parents forced to game out major life adjustments to accommodate cuts to Head Start” – the federal preschool program delivering educational, health, and nutritional services to disadvantaged young children age 3 to 5.

“Across the country,” they report, “drastic measures to meet the 5-percent cut, as mandated under the sequester,” are resulting in reduced access to programs, early closures, and curtailed services. “In Wisconsin, 700 families could end up losing Head Start access. In Cincinnati, nearly 200 children are at risk. In Oklahoma City, that number is 100.”

A report by the National Education Association found two Head Start programs in Indiana that “removed three dozen students by random drawing in order to offset the coming budget slashing.”

Beyond the negative impact to Head Start, the sequester also harms children attending schools in rural and military and Native American communities.

According to a blog post in Education Week, provisions of the sequester are forcing “rural communities nationwide must repay $17.9 million” in funds used primarily for education services.

CBS News recently told about the sequester’s effects on Impact Aid that provides “$1.2 billion annually to 1,400 school districts nationwide near military bases and Indian reservations.”

The sequester cuts $60 million of that funding. The report quoted a school administrator whose district is affected by the cuts, “You should have excellent schools for our military that has done so much for us, and to cut them is just callous.”

A Budget Compromise On Kids

In striving for a Grand Bargain in his new budget, President Obama also mostly abandons the interests of children for the sake of a compromised deal.

In what The Washington Post describes as a “break with the president’s tradition of providing a sweeping vision of his ideal spending priorities, untethered from political realities,” the budget deal, according to a Bloomberg report, doesn’t include any stimulus spending related to the interests of children.

Although, according to Education Week’s Politics K-12 blog, money in the budget is allocated to a new effort to expand access to pre-K education, those funds are provided by a back door method – “raising federal taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products” – rather than a straightforward new revenue stream investing in the nation’s children.

Like the proposed cuts to Medicare and Social Security that are built into the president’s budget, according to The New York Times, the Obama administration’s shortcomings on child-centered spending is all due to “his willingness to compromise with Republicans.”

If budgets are supposed to reflect values, then what we are seeing again is the interests of Beltway bipartisanship winning out instead of the interests of children.

Where Spending Continues Unabated

While centrist Solomons search for the place where they’ll cut the kids, at least one party to the deal is continuing to pursue its own self-interests unabated.

While cuts roll out of DC, conservative Republicans across the country are demanding that state and local lawmakers go on a spending spree on arming schools with more guards, guns, and security paraphernalia.

Accompanying the National Rifle Association’s push to get more guns in schools, lawmakers in 36 states have introduced legislation to put more guns in schools, according to a report by the Sunlight Foundation.

“The vast majority of these bills would make it easier for school personnel, guards, and volunteers to carry guns on campus.”

The report notes that the NRA and its backers have, “played tough on this issue,” taking every opportunity – even after the horrendous killing of school children in Newtown, CT – to press its case, not compromise.

The negative effects on children of ratcheting up these security measures on schools are multifaceted. Studies conducted where there already is widespread presence of armed guards and strict security in schools have generally found that these measures tend to lead to more students being pushed out of school and into the criminal justice system.

Writing at Huffington Post, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman, recently wrote

There is no evidence that armed guards or police officers in schools make children safer. An armed guard at Columbine High School in 1999 and a full campus police force at Virginia Tech in 2007 were unable to stop the massacres that occurred at both schools. A 2010 review of existing research found no evidence that the use of police to handle school disorders reduces the occurrence of problem behavior in schools but there is evidence that over-policing leads to a new set of problems. (emphasis original)

Instead of arming schools, Edelman recommends “better ways for providing an effective model school safety plan, that an include an emphasis on “relationship building . . . consistent reinforcement of positive norms . . . and individualized approaches to student discipline and intervention that seek to address root causes of misbehavior rather than to punish indiscriminately.

Effort to put more weaponry in schools are not only damaging to children, they are expensive.

As the recent post at the blog for the National School Board Association noted, “Public schools spend billions each year on school resource officers, according to a report on NPR’s Marketplace Morning Report. One officer could cost between $50,000 and $80,000 per year, depending on the district.”

A recent report in the local newspaper in Charlotte, NC found that that the school district was struggling to come up with “an added $800,000 required by a change in the city formula for paying school resource officers.”

So while political leaders in DC make the federal deficit the defining interest of the nation, elsewhere, conservatives are promoting huge new expenditures for their constituents, and the interests of children get completely lost in the deal making.

That any Democratic administration would find the interests of the NRA as a place to compromise on the well being of children is appalling.

“Splitting The Baby” Not An Option

The way that the Wisdom of Solomon has been interpreted by America’s leaders today resembles the cruder version, reflected, according in the Wikipedia article cited above, in the legal profession, where attorneys propose a simple compromise they call “splitting the baby.”

But that’s not how Solomon’s judgement became “an example of profound wisdom” and not what we need for the well being of our youngest citizens.

Occupy The Department Of Education Ushers In America’s Angry Spring

No offense, but the Lyndon Baines Johnson Department of Education building in Washington, DC is not a pretty sight. Crossing the National Mall on 4th street, you pass between the glisteningly modern National Air and Space Museum and the sculpted brown stone of the National Museum of the American Indian to come face to face … Continue reading “Occupy The Department Of Education Ushers In America’s Angry Spring”

No offense, but the Lyndon Baines Johnson Department of Education building in Washington, DC is not a pretty sight.

Crossing the National Mall on 4th street, you pass between the glisteningly modern National Air and Space Museum and the sculpted brown stone of the National Museum of the American Indian to come face to face with what can only be described as a monument to bland austerity.

It was at the base of this concrete and glass slab that a band of public school teachers, university professors, librarians, parents, and students gathered to speak out against the nation’s current regime of testing students, firing teachers, and closing public schools.

For four straight days, speaker after speaker spoke, shouted, and sang into a microphone placed near the entry way of a building bearing the name of an American president who arguably did more to advance the well being of poor people than any other political leader in American history. The group railed at the building and its occupants – especially Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The speakers exhorted the audience to chant protestations to the building, turn their backs to it, shake their fists at it, and curse it.

Why so much anger thrown toward a very big, ugly building?

“You’re hurting children!” The crowd shouted. “You’re spreading injustice! You’re harming teachers! You’re ruining schools! You’re shredding democracy! You’re selling out the common good to private corporations!”

These are things, it would seem, worth getting upset about – if it weren’t happening in a capital city where getting upset is viewed as unseemly.

Of course, like most undernon-funded grassroots efforts, the speakers were not vetted through a PR staff that would normally accompany a DC event. So one speaker said something reprehensible that everyone else participating in the event deeply regretted.

But even though the agitators gathered on the plaza in front of the DOE were mostly ordinary citizens of no obvious distinction, the speakers were anything but that. As The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss observed, the speaker roster included education historian and NYU professor “Diane Ravitch, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, veteran educator Deborah Meier, early childhood expert Nancy Carlsson-Paige, and language acquisition expert Stephen Krashen.”

Writing at Strauss’ site, Amy Rothschild noted the event, called Occupy the DOE 2.0, drew “leading scholars and teachers, who have decades of classroom, school, and university leadership guiding them. They are demonstrating in front of the Education Department because the people working inside have ignored their message.”

At the website of Mother Jones, one of the event organizer, Peggy Robertson explained the protest was organized because “liberal school advocates are deeply unhappy with President Barack Obama’s education reform agenda.” She called policies such as Race to the Top “No Child Left Behind on steroids.”

Writing at the online site of Empower Magazine, Occupy participant, Denisha Jones explained that this was the second anniversary of the event. The original rationale for the event was to raise people’s awareness “about the dangers of high stakes standardized testing, school closings, for-profit charter schools, and the billionaires club that is destroying public education.”

Although the crowds for both events have been relatively small, the organizers and participants this year, Jones, maintained, have been pumped up significantly by recent events, such as the successful Chicago teachers strike and the boycott of standardized testing in Seattle and elsewhere.

The resistance tactic of boycotting or “opting out” of high-stakes testing was a focal point of the event. The first four speakers, who were the principal event organizers, each exhorted parents to exclude their children from the tests, teachers to refuse to give them, and students to refuse to take them.

But based on what the rest of the event’s speakers said, and conversations heard in the audience, it’s broadly acknowledged that problems with current education policies extend way beyond testing alone, and just saying no to tests is not viable in every situation.

Parent activist Leonie Haimson, and founder-leader of a grassroots group Class Size Matters, warned that current education policies are headed toward a “two tiered system” in which more well-off parents get to send their children to schools with small class sizes and well-rounded curriculum, while less well off parents are relegated to schools with big class sizes, narrow, test-driven curriculum, and governance dominated by “big data” rather than research-based practices.

Early childhood education expert Nancy Carlson Page warned that the same kind of reforms damaging elementary-secondary education are being pushed down to the classroom of youngest children.

While she applauds the Obama administration’s recent proposals to make pre-K education more accessible, she worried that the designs of programs being pushed by the new policies would follow the same mistaken guidelines of Race to the Top and other edicts that mandate standards and accountability without regard to the developmental needs of young children.

“The expectation that little kids are going to learn the same things at the same rate at the same time is wrong,” Page declared.

Literacy expert Stephen Krashen warned about the unprecedented level of testing in American schools – “more than we have ever seen on the planet.” Krashen decried the “enormous costs” of the testing mandates – New York City and the state of Florida alone are expected to spend more than half-a-billion dollars each just to enable the Internet connections the tests require. He pointed out how in tough economic times these expenditures take away from more worthy basic needs like expanded breakfast and lunch programs, school nurses, and libraries with books.

And then there were the stories. Counter balancing the current fad to base education policy solely on numerical data – regardless of the merit of the source – this event offered an abundance of stories about the reality in schools today.

Katie Osgood who currently works on a child and adolescent inpatient psychiatric unit in Chicago recounted her experiences in dealing with the traumatic fallout of school reform measures.

“Every year I am getting more kids coming into our unit as a direct result of the pressures of high stakes testing,” she explained. “Kids not only feel the pressure themselves but they understand the pressures being put on teachers.”

“The busiest admission weekend in the history of our hospital was the week before the tests this year,” she observed.

Osgood also relayed incidents of children being traumatized by school closures and harsh discipline policies employed in charter schools that don’t follow the regulations that are required of traditional public schools.

“We’ve had incidents where students actually die when schools are closed and the children have to cross dangerous neighborhoods to get to their new schools,” she recounted. “Children also come to my hospital because they are depressed and angry that their friends have been physically hurt when they are transferred to new schools. One kid who was so afraid and angry he stopped going to school and was classified as mentally ill by the school administration.”

“We also see students traumatized by harsh discipline policies in charter schools – schools that punish students by making them run up and down stairs or stare at walls – and schools that charge parents fees for their children’s misbehavior. Then when kids refuse to go to these schools they are called sick. They aren’t sick. The charter school is sick.”

Numerous teachers and administrators spoke about being compelled to engage in education practices they believe compromise their professional ethics.

Teacher Kris Nielsen, formerly with Union County Public Schools in North Carolina and now in New York, compared academic targets based on test score results to retail sales quotas. “Kids are not dealt the same hands but have to meet the same quota, which isn’t fair,” he maintained. “Also the targets are meaningless to students.”

Chicago teacher Phil Cantor spoke about children in his school being rated and grouped by test scores with the “bubble kids” being targeted for more intense instruction because they have “the best chance of moving out school off probation.”

“Our students aren’t test scores,” Cantor declared. “Policies that only see them that way harm kids, and these policies are destroying public education around the country.”

Amidst the critiques of the current administration there were proposed solutions as well, including smaller class sizes, services that attend to students’ health, nutrition, and emotional needs, and increased access to libraries, art and music programs, and other academic pursuits that are often cast aside due to wave after wave of testing.

But make no mistake, the mood of the crowd was indeed angry, and when the throng gathered to march to the White House, their numbers grew from a few score to 200 – 300. As a police contingency escorted the demonstrators along the National Mall, onlookers shouted encouragement, with some jumping off the sidewalk to join in, so the crowd grew as it advanced down the street.

Do such outpourings make a difference? Who knows, but progressives everywhere need to understand that we are about to head into a very angry season. The same administration assaulting public schools is about to be the first Democratic presidential office to cut Social Security and Medicare – the New Deal compacts that support the nation’s poor and middle class.

We should be angry. But this anger is too readily dismissed by the current cynicism dominating media outlets these days.

As Richard Eskow recently observed, “It has become a tired rhetorical gambit of self-described ‘centrists,’ . . . to paint their opponents as agitated (presumably as a contrast to their own calm rationality). This maneuver is routinely deployed to imply that anyone who doesn’t embrace their ideology – and it is an ideology – is overly emotional and therefore somewhat less rational than they are.”

Progressives who believe in the need for change can’t be deterred.

Instead, we must embrace the reality that there will likely be much more angry shouting at big buildings in the nation’s capital. And eventually the people in those buildings will have to come out and talk to us.

EON #8 – Mar 27-Apr 2, 2013

THIS WEEK: School Discipline Feeds Prison Pipeline … Who Loses With School Choice … Teacher Evaluations Revamped For What? … Atlanta Cheating Scandal Caused By Test Obsession … State College Funding Cuts Fuel Student Loans … Student Debt Blocks Millennials From The Middle Class TOP STORY Will Charter Schools Survive The Charter School Movement? By … Continue reading “EON #8 – Mar 27-Apr 2, 2013”

THIS WEEK: School Discipline Feeds Prison Pipeline … Who Loses With School Choice … Teacher Evaluations Revamped For What? … Atlanta Cheating Scandal Caused By Test Obsession … State College Funding Cuts Fuel Student Loans … Student Debt Blocks Millennials From The Middle Class

TOP STORY

Will Charter Schools Survive The Charter School Movement?

By Jeff Bryant

“As states … loosen government regulations of [charter] schools … proponents of charter schools are calling for tougher oversight … Stories of low-quality charter schools, in fact, have now become routine in local and national news… The whole movement-driven notion that charter school proliferation should be enabled by lifting regulations and bureaucracy is completely contradictory to the imperative for higher quality charter schools.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

School Suspensions: Does Racial Bias Feed The School-To-Prison Pipeline?

Christian Science Monitor

“While African-Americans make up 18% of the students in this large sample, they account for 46% of students suspended more than once, 39% of students expelled, and 36% of students arrested on campus … A ‘zero tolerance’ mentality has contributed dramatically to a spike in exclusionary discipline that involves racial disparities … [and] a ‘school-to-prison pipeline.'”
Read more …

Letter To Civil Rights And School “Choice” Advocates

Cloaking Inequality

Texas education professor Julian Vasquez Heilig argues, “School choice advocates are a motley alliance between those whose primary focus is … to see greater opportunity for historically underserved students of color (Civil Rights) and those that want to see the state reduce its role in public education … Guess who loses out in a school system dominated by choice? … Students without capital (test scores become capital in addition to $) are denied access in markets. If you go to the grocery market without cash, you will come away empty-handed.”
Read more …

Curious Grade For Teachers: Nearly All Pass

The New York Times

“Education reformers and their allies in both parties have revamped the way teachers are graded, abandoning methods under which nearly everyone was deemed satisfactory … Advocates of education reform concede that … after many millions of dollars developing the new systems and thousands of hours of training, [the results] are worrisome.”
Read more …

Atlanta’s Former Schools Chief Charged Under Law Used Against Mafia

The Washington Post

Valerie Strauss writes, “In 2009, Beverly Hall was tapped as the National Superintendent of the Year, hailed for driving up standardized test scores in the Atlanta Public Schools … But the scores were illusory, and Hall was just indicted under a law used against Mafia leaders, charged with leading a ‘corrupt’ organization … These cheating scandals have been a result of test-obsessed school reform.”
Read more …

College Affordability Is A Struggle As State Aid Drops, Tuition Rises

McClatchy Newspapers

“States have cut their support for public colleges and universities – deeply, in some cases – and schools have raised tuition … dropped classes, eliminated faculty and reduced other services … Twenty years ago, fewer than half of students at four-year public and private institutions graduated with loans … Now, two-thirds shoulder an average debt of $26,600.”
Read more …

How Student Loans Are Keeping You Out Of The Middle Class

AlterNet

“Millennials have accumulated less wealth since entering the workforce than their parents did at the same age … The problems that have led to today’s middle-class crisis for borrowers aren’t unknown. Cuts to public funding for higher education have gradually shifted the costs of a college education on to individual students. With scholarship and grant funding limited, students have turned to loans … Advocates have begun to push for student loan interest rate reform.”
Read more …