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$chool$Fir$t NY and Familie$ for Excellent School$: Money Talk$ in Albany

July 29, 2015 Leave a comment

“Follow the Money” was the advice Deep Throat gave Woodward and Bernstein in the book All The President’s Men NYTimes reporter Kate Taylor did just that in researching her article titled “Groups that Back Bloomberg’s Education Agenda Enjoy Great Success in Albany” and here’s what she found: three individuals who are on the Board of StudentsFirstNY, the lobbying group that advocates for “Bloomberg’s Education Agenda” contributed over $250,000 to Cuomo’s re-election campaign and are in the process of amassing a “War Chest” to make certain legislators who believe in “Bloomberg’s Education Agenda” are elected in 2016 so that Cuomo can pass the bills that will permanently enshrine those policies. And what are those policies?

Making teacher evaluations more dependent on test scores, reforming tenure and increasing the number of charter schools in the city were all priorities of StudentsFirstNY and became significant pieces of the governor’s agenda for the 2015 legislative session, which he announced in his State of the State speech on Jan. 21.

This Governor, who managed to undercut any competition from the progressive voters in the State by winning the endorsement of the Working Families Party by promising to work tirelessly to get a Democrat majority in the Senate, acted to implement an education agenda from a group that was working twice as hard (and spending millions of dollars) to accomplish the OPPOSITE goal. From here, it appears that Mr. Cuomo used none of his political capital to promote ANY Democrat running for the Senate and used lots of capital from StudentsFirstNY to implement the market-based for-profit model Bloomberg advocates. And the billionaires funding StudentsFirstNY did act alone in advancing “Bloomberg’s Education Agenda” in Albany. Taylor’s article also profiles Families for Excellent Schools. who are they and what do they stand for? Taylor writes:

Last year, it spent $9.6 million on lobbying, more than any other entity in the state, according to state records. Much of this money was spent on advertisements attacking Mr. de Blasio for his opposition to charter schools and a later ad praising Mr. Cuomo for coming to their aid.

The group has also become closely associated with Eva S. Moskowitz, the chief executive of Success Academy, the city’s biggest charter school network, and one of Mr. de Blasio’s sharpest critics.

Families for Excellent Schools is approved by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)3 organization, referring to the section of the tax code regarding charities, meaning that donations are tax-deductible, and, under New York State law, it need not disclose donors.

So two lobbying groups, one of whom spent more than “any other entity in the State”, are promoting the “Bloomberg Education Agenda” and StudentsFirstNY has extraordinary influence in legislation:

(StudentsFirstNY) is so plugged into the capital that (it’s Executive Director) Ms. Sedlis has sometimes served as a go-between among different government offices, relaying messages and scouting information about education bills being considered.

When the Executive Director of a lobbying group that has three board members who donated $250,000 to the Governor’s campaign serves “…as a go-between among different government offices” it appears that our government has been bought and sold. Here’s hoping the NYTimes digs a little deeper to follow the money and amplify its corrosive effect on legislation.

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The Battle Over Education and Civil Rights

July 29, 2015 Leave a comment

The Battle Over Education and Civil Rights.

Good article on the politics involved in the reauthorization of ESEA… and it included this synopsis of the original intent of the legislation:

The original Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, was part of a civil-rights-era drive to rectify glaring inequality.

It dealt with disproportionate funding within and among the states. It created grants to help low-income students, built libraries and provided text books to schools in poor areas.

Given the original intention, I can’t see why Civil Rights leaders are not insisting that the federal dollars be used to deal with disproportionate funding instead of dealing with low test scores, the after effects of the disproportionate funding. And given ALL of the negatives, I remain convinced that NOT passing ANYTHING would be preferable to passing a “compromise” that does absolutely nothing to address underfunding and testing.

Graphics Show What Readers Know: Boundaries and Attendance Zones Reinforce Economic Segregation, Prevent Upward Mobility

July 28, 2015 Leave a comment

Two recent blog posts provide graphic illustrations of the way arbitrary school boundaries and attendance zones reinforce economic segregation and limit the opportunities for children board born in poverty to get a high quality education.

In his recent Vox post “Want a Good Public Education for Your Kids? Better Be Rich First“, Matt Yglesias uses a scattergram and a Google Earth map to illustrate how the school attendance zones and zoning practices and in his home city of Washington DC  result in de facto economic segregation and, consequently, unequal opportunities. He acknowledges that charter schools afford some opportunity for children to attend schools outside their attendance zone, but it is a limited opportunity at best:

In DC, you are guaranteed the right to send your kid to your in-zone elementary school, but all charter schools admit students purely on the basis of a lottery. Convenience still counts in life, so the charter system hardly eliminates geographic sources of disadvantage. But it does mitigate them. Shifting to more reliance on charter schools or having public schools admit students without geographic preference would be good for equality. But in this case, equality really is a leveling measure that lifts up poorer households in part by dragging down richer ones. 

The Atlantic City Lab blog provides an interactive map that shows how this phenomenon of attendance zoning plays out across the country. In “An Interactive Map from EdBuild Shows How School district Funding Enforces Poverty Rates” Laura Bliss offers some compelling examples of preposterous attendance zone practices that do what the title indicates. She offers three specific examples of how gerrymandering and town boundaries separate children raised in affluence from those raised in poverty and how black students are segregated from white ones… and all of her examples are north of the Mason Dixon line.

If politicians are unwilling to compel boundary changes that yield equitable funding for schools then fair-minded taxpayers should push their legislators to at least ensure that all children attend schools that offer comparable opportunities. That HAS happened in 42 states where lawsuits have been filed to require equitable funding. The shame is that few of these states have responded by increasing the funds for schools. Instead, they have achieved equality by dragging down rich districts instead of lifting up those serving children raised in poverty and selling the public on the notion that schooling, like breakfast cereal, is a commodity that requires choice.

How Big Corporations Cheat Public Education

July 27, 2015 Leave a comment

How Big Corporations Cheat Public Education.

As noted in previous posts, corporations threaten to move in order to get PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) agreements for existing sites to reduce paying local and/or state property taxes. The costs for services are then shifted to taxpayers, many of whom do not connect the dots on the cause of their tax increases and/or want to retain their jobs but don’t want to pick up the costs shifted to their neighbors. This article describes even more blatant examples of tax avoidance. Shame on all those corporations who complain about “bad schools” and then diminish the resources by avoiding state and local taxes.

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Want Less Integration? UCLA Study Indicates Charter Schools Are The Way to Go!

July 27, 2015 Leave a comment

A recent Latina article by Cindy Casares described a study conducted by UCLA that indicated that New York City— one of the most multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multiracial cities in the world— has the most segregated school in our country. How did this happen?

The culprit? Educational choice plans without civil rights standards like “strong public information and outreach, free transportation, serious planning and training for successful diversity, authentic educational options worth choosing, and no admissions screening.”

The problem with using tests as the basis for entering NYC High Schools is well documented and referenced in earlier blog posts.  The consequence of this practice: NYC High Schools are far more segregated than the schools zoned by neighborhoods that fed them students. As test results became an entry factor to elementary and middle schools and “choice” without outreach, free transportation, and “authentic educational options” took over, the elementary and middle schools became increasingly segregated. How can this be fixed? Mayor de Blasio is requiring schools “…to report annually on student demographics in community school districts and high schools and any efforts made to “encourage a diverse student body in its schools and special programs.” But here’s a better idea:

Slate highlights a small program in super crunchy Park Slope, Brooklyn, where one school set aside a large percentage of seats for kids who are still learning English or receiving free or reduced meals.

Segregation will not go away on its own… and when it is addressed at the grassroots level it’s chances for success are created than when it is imposed by “the government”. The Park Slope neighborhood that opened its doors to ESL and less affluent students is acting from an internal sense of economic justice and not because of an edict from Washington DC. If more NYC neighborhoods had the heart of “crunchy” Park Slope instead of the elitist attitude that leads to the kinds of charter schools described in this article, de-segregation would happen quickly and without incident.

University of Chicago Report Hails RTTT’s Results: “Reform” Policies Adopted With No Proof of Efficacy

July 26, 2015 Leave a comment

A recent report written by the University of Chicago was hailed in a recent web site post with this headline: “Race to the Top Initiative Spurs US Education Policy Reform, Report Finds“. The University of Chicago’s late economist Milton Friedman is the father of the voucher movement, and the fact that his former home base is writing favorable reports about RTTT is not surprising, especially given the definition of the RTTT’s goals as they report them:

Race to the Top was designed to encourage higher state standards, create new data systems, improve teacher effectiveness, increase college readiness, stimulate charter-school expansion and strengthen low-performing schools.

According to the press release/web page, a study conducted at the University of Chicago by William Howell shows that one of the primary means of accomplishing this goal, policy changes at the State level, was a success:

In order to see whether Race to the Top stimulated the adoption of education reforms, Howell and a team of researchers examined whether a statewide governing body had actually enacted (not just proposed) upwards of 33 qualifying policies each year between 2001 and 2014. They found that states enacted reform policies at a much higher rate in the aftermath of Race to the Top. 

A “team of researchers” was not needed to make this determination: the USDOE would not grant waivers unless such policies were adopted by State Boards and, given the desperate need for additional funds for schools in the aftermath of the crash in 2008 it did not take a herd of Ph.D. s to “research” this finding. A group of undergraduates could do it by spending an hour with Google. The next sentence in the web posting shows where the researchers should have spent some time:

Howell clarifies that the study “does not assess the efficacy of the particular policies promoted by the initiative, nor does it investigate how Race to the Top altered practices within schools or districts. Rather, the focus is the education policymaking process itself; the adoption of education policies is the outcome of interest.”

It is what Howell DIDN’T research that is the most germane question to answer as Congress considers the reauthorization of ESEA because the reauthorization is based on the same premises as NCLB and RTTT: the way to prepare more students for the workplace or college and to improve “low performing schools” is to set higher standards, collect more data on students (especially data from standardized tests), improve teaching in schools, and open more charter schools. Is there proof to support this? If there IS, the University of Chicago is not looking for it…. and if there IS no one running for office is championing it. On the contrary, both the University of Chicago research team and a herd of President candidates, and the US Congress assume that despite evidence to the contrary, the continuation of the “solutions” based on testing students and punishing and/or replacing “failing schools” is imperative. If we keep wishing for this to work it will…. just like if we keep wishing the global temperatures would decline they will.

What’s More Important in Kindergarten: Civility and Self-Awareness or “Basic Skills”?

July 25, 2015 Leave a comment

David Bornstein’s Fixes column yesterday, “Teaching Social Skills to Improve Grades and Lives“, describes several studies that demonstrate a positive relationships between positive social skills and a host of positive outcomes from school. After describing the studies and their findings, Bornstein writes:

These studies suggest that if we want many more children to lead fulfilling and productive lives, it’s not enough for schools to focus exclusively on academics. Indeed, one of the most powerful and cost-effective interventions is to help children develop core social and emotional strengths like self-management, self-awareness and social awareness — strengths that are necessary for students to fully benefit from their education, and succeed in many other areas of life.

The conclusion of the article described the efforts of the Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, also known as Casel, which has been working for three to four years to help school districts embed social and emotional learning throughout their systems and described ongoing studies in this arena. The description of one of the studies caught my eye:

This year, researchers from Teachers College at Columbia University did some number crunching to estimate the economic value of six different social and emotional learning programs that had strong track records. They looked at the programs’ impact on things like future wages and social costs (pdf), and found that the programs yielded an average return of $11 for each dollar invested.

It’s a shame that our obsession with measurement and economic value are the means of “proving” the worth of civility and self-awareness…. and a shame that these same obsessions are compelling us to measure the effectiveness of Kindergarten teachers by the amount of reading and math students are learning and to measure the effectiveness of college by the post-graduate job placements. Civility and self-awareness are skills that schools should be inculcating explicitly, but they are often viewed as by-products instead of ends in themselves. Schools only have a limited time with children, and using that time to teach skills that could be learned through programmed instruction (e.g. basic math and reading skills)  seems like a waste of teacher talent. We’re so obsessed with “getting ready for college and careers” by the end of 12 years that we overlook the most important elements of life: getting along with others and understanding ourselves.