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NYTimes Sees Through Cuomo. Will They See Through His “Education Reform”?

July 2, 2015 Leave a comment

Today’s editorial in the NYTimes describes Mayor de Blasio’s “surprise attack on Governor Andrew Cuomo, whom the Times editorial describe a politician who poses “…as liberal and reform-minded when it suits him”. de Blasio (and the Times editorial board) was upset with Cuomo’s unwillingness to enact any legislation that would help him improve the quality of life in NYC. Because of the legislative arrangement in NYS, the Governor has an inordinate amount of power over the mayor in the city and that dynamic invariably results in tension. But the philosophical rift between the idealistic progressivism of de Blasio and the pragmatic neo-liberalism of Cuomo make the tension greater than it has been for decades, and according to the editorial board, needlessly so. Many political insiders question de Blasio’s wisdom in attacking the governor, who has a track record of vindictiveness. The editorial concludes with these paragraphs:

Mr. de Blasio’s many critics say he was foolish to go on the attack and are waiting for Mr. Cuomo to bury the hatchet, in Mr. de Blasio.

But really — what should he have done?

State law gives the Legislature and governor far too much control over New York City’s business, and whenever the mayor — any mayor — takes his petitions to Albany, he has to beg, wheedle, cajole and bargain.

For a year and a half, Mr. de Blasio — maybe naïvely, maybe cunningly, maybe because he had no other choice — played nice with Mr. Cuomo, stressing their decades-long acquaintance and going out of his way not to pick fights. Sometimes it worked, as when the mayor won funding for a huge expansion of prekindergarten. Sometimes it didn’t. He was never going to eliminate longstanding mayor-governor tensions. But he has seemed to be making an effort to get past the nonsense, with a steadfast focus on policy over personality and power plays.

Some are now wondering whether Mr. de Blasio’s stand-up-to-the-bully tack will backfire. If it does, it will make clearer than ever who the bully is.

In reading this, the highlighted phrases jumped out at me because they reflect the difference between Mr. de Blasio’s approach and that of President Obama, whose executive authority has been similarly challenged by recalcitrant and bullying legislature. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

One more news item I’m eager to read about on the editorial page: the conclusion that Mr. Cuomo’s bullying extends to public schools and his desire to undercut public education is a power play as blatant as the one he is taking against the city.

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Poverty Narrows the Bandwidth of the Brain… and the Scale Isn’t Binary

July 1, 2015 Leave a comment

Kathleen Ebbitt’s Global News article, “This is Your Brain on Poverty: 5 Facts” describes the neurological impact of poverty using the metaphor of bandwidth. She uses her personal experience of moderate financial stress as a starting point and then enumerates five broad findings on poverty:

  1. Research shows that a lack of money affects cognition
  2. Everyday hardships affect those in poverty more than those who are affluent because those with affluence can effectively buy coping mechanisms and/or their status makes them exempt from some stresses. For example, if a CEO is five minutes late for a meeting because his limo gets caught in traffic there are no consequences. A lower level employee, on the other hand, could lose their job if the bus they are taking makes them late for work.
  3. Children are impacted by poverty more so than adults.
  4. Brain scans show that the surface of the brain is different in those experiencing poverty…. and the brains of children whose parents earned $30,000-$50,000 varied considerably from those whose parents earned $90,000 to $110,000.
  5. The last “fact” is that something CAN be done about this… ranging from better school lunches to systemic changes to income distribution.

Alas, getting the things done that would change all of this seems increasingly unlikely as most politicians and many stressed people in the $30,000-$50,000 income range push back against efforts to help them and those who earn less.

Patty Murray and “Bi-Partisan Seeking” Democrats Should Recall Jeffords in NCLB Reauthorization

June 30, 2015 Leave a comment

In reading an account in the ASCD Journal about the tug-of-war over the reauthorization of NCLB I recall the original bi-partisan passage of the bill. During the final negotiations, Jim Jeffords agreed to vote for the bill because it was supposed to include a proviso that would fully fund the special education law. This was a key issue for Jeffords whose home state, VT, included scores of small districts who constantly struggled to balance budgets when students with extraordinary special needs moved in. When the final bill was adopted Jeffords saw that his Republican colleagues pulled that proviso out of the bill, an action that contributed to Jeffords decision to pull out of the party and create a slim Democrat majority in the Senate.

Whenever I read about the desire for “bipartisan agreements” and promises of provisos that will include elements that ensure more equitable funding I think of Jim Jeffords. I hope Patty Murray does not fall victim to the same shenanigans… but expect to see vouchers and abandonment of the replacement of national common core tests with state developed tests as elements in whatever bill passes the Congress… Alas, Murray and other bi-partisan minded Democrats have nowhere to run.

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Will the Repeal of NCLB and the Demise of RTTT Bring Relief… or More Headaches?

June 29, 2015 Leave a comment

As reported in a post earlier this week, the prognosis for federal spending on public education is not good and, as intimated in earlier posts, those of us hoping to see NCLB and RTTT replaced with something better might be disappointed. Allie Bidwell’s interview with Senate Education Chair Lamar Alexander in the US News and World Report makes me think we should be pessimistic about the repeal of NCLB and the demise of RTTT. My pessimism is based on the following:

  • As the quote below indicates, neither the house or the senate reauthorization will eliminate the use of standardized tests. The quote:

The consensus we came to in our Senate education committee was that the federal role should be to require measures of student achievement, tests, and to publicize them so that parents and students and taxpayers would know how the schools were doing.

  • That same quote implies that both legislative bodies are viewing schools as a commodity whose worth can best be measured by standardized tests and, presumably, if they don’t like the “product” available in their public school will be able go elsewhere to purchase something better.
  • The Democrats, the presumptive “pro-public education branch” traded new funding for pre-school for vouchers. Alexander indicated to Bidwell that the compromise between the parties was reached when he and his Democrat counterpart Patty Murray “exercised restraint in search of a result” and abandoned positions on issues that divided them.
  • The President and Congress seem to be in agreement on the broad issues, including the continuation of standardized testing. When asked about the prognosis for passing the reauthorization bill, Alexander was optimistic: “Whenever you get both houses of a Republican Congress on a parallel track and you’re talking with the president of a different party at the same time, your chances of success are pretty good.

As I’ve written often in this blog, those who want to replace the Common Core should be careful what they are wishing for… because when the decision about what to teach and test is returned to the STATES it is highly likely that academic rigor will be replaced with Christian culture… and this may prove to be one of the worst outcomes of the Obama administration’s ineffective roll-out of a national accountability measure.

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End of School Year Article Suggests Alliance Among TRUE Reformers

June 28, 2015 Leave a comment

Ruth Coniff’s Common Dreams post last week provided a good synthesis of the dismal year public education experienced in 2014-15 and suggested a brighter future IF those who oppose the privatization of public schools can get their agendas aligned.

The overview for the past year was necessarily grim. The “failing government school” meme continued to gain traction in legislatures who enacted ALEC inspired legislation expanding vouchers, public funding of deregulated for-profit charter schools, and diminishing the power of local school boards and teachers unions. But there are some signs that things have gotten so bad that the public might be ready to re-examine the direction their states are headed and the way USDOE has led the states.

  • The opt out movement grew, especially in NYS where one out of six students stayed home rather than take the standardized tests linked to the common core.
  • The common core itself has fallen into disrepute with many of the governors who once championed the idea of a tough national curriculum now disowning their positions. This is particularly the case where those Governors might be aspiring to the Presidency (e.g. Walker, Christie, Kasich, Jindal).
  • The mismanagement and outright corruption in charter schools has become headline news, particularly in those states where regulations were eliminated in the name of “flexibility” and states who advocated on-line learning as a cheaper and more effective means of educating children.
  • In some states, the general public is pushing back against vouchers, seeing that they are hurting children raised in poverty and effectively subsidizing parents who were previously paying for parochial schools themselves.
  • Finally, some elections over the past school year indicate that the public wants to take back their schools. The election of Ras Baraka as mayor in Newark, NJ, the election of governor Tom Wolf in PA, and the election of Tom Torklason as State Superintendent in CA were all the result of a grassroots movement to push back against privatization and regain Board and voter control of local schools.

Coniff’s article concludes with a section titled “Now What?”… and she suggests that MORE grassroots activism is needed and among groups that have a common interest in maintaining the current governance of schools while ensuring there are sufficient resources to improve those schools:

Superintendents, school boards, as well as administrators of local public schools have been writing letters and testifying against the privatization and defunding of public education.

Parents are engaged as never before.

Communities, from urban mostly black and brown districts to conservative, rural areas, are rising up against budget cuts and the threat of school closures.

“It’s not too late,” one impassioned letter from a group of school superintendents declared, urging citizens to stand up and resist the defunding of public schools and their privatization.

Let’s hope they are right.

Indeed… let’s hope it’s not too late to undo the damage done in states that have drastically cut funding to schools and stripped the programs that bring joy and depth to public education.

 

USDOE Budget Update: No Way to Sugar Coat It— Bad News

June 27, 2015 Leave a comment

According to an Education Week blog post by Lauren Camera on June 23, the Senate Appropriations Committee has increased the funding for USDOE by $1,100,000,000 over the House budget. That’s still not good news since it represents a cut of $1,700,000,000 over the current level. This is all in advance of the real budget battle, which will likely take place in the fall… but it does show where both the House and Senate agree on cuts… and it doesn’t look good for at risk children. Here’s where cuts seem inevitable:

…the proposal would slash funding for a slew of education programs and eliminate 10 others, including Investing in InnovationPreschool Development Grants, and Striving Readers.

…School Improvement Grants would be cut by $56 million,Promise Neighborhoods would be cut by $20 million, and 21st Century Community Learning Centers would be cut by $117 million. Other cuts would include:

  • Migrant Education would be cut by $9.8 million

  • Teacher Quality State Grants would be cut by $103 million

  • State Assessments would be cut by $28 million

  • Safe and Drug-Free Schools would be cut by $10 million

  • Elementary and Secondary School Counseling would be cut by $26.6 million

  • Teacher Incentive Fund would be cut by $5 million

  • Magnet Schools Assistance would be cut by $6.6 million

  • Advanced Placement would be cut by $5.6 million

  • English Language Acquisition would be cut by $25.3 million

Eventually it appears the conservative wing will get its wish and the Department of Education’s budget will be small enough to drown it in a bathtub… and if the test-and-punish regimen persists few will lament it’s passing.

Special Education Services: Neediest Get The Least

June 26, 2015 Leave a comment

The title of Wednesday’s NYTimes op-ed article by Paul Morgan and George Farkas posed this question: “Is Special Ed Racist?” The short answer is “No”. The reason?

Black children face double jeopardy when it comes to succeeding in school. They are far more likely to be exposed to the gestational, environmental and economic risk factors that often result in disabilities. Yet black children are less likely to be told they have disabilities, and to be treated for them, than otherwise similar white children.

Based on my experience, poor children of any race face the same double jeopardy because in the final analysis the root of special education’s problem is funding. Everyone agrees we need to meet the unique individual needs of children and everyone agrees that the warehousing of severely needy children is abominable… but no one wants to pay the costs needed to provide these services. When the federal government passed 94-142 it promised to provide 40% of the costs. That has never happened. Worse, the mandated services effectively require districts to hire case managers who serve as quasi-administrators, instructional assistants who often shadow students all day long, and central administrative staff to oversee this personnel and make sure that the program is in compliance. This all costs money… and since the federal mandate is not matched with federal money there is no incentive for schools to aggressively identify children with special needs, especially in districts that are financially strapped to begin with.

But in affluent districts, engaged and informed parents seek the services of attorneys who serve as advocates for their children. Sadly, the parents of the poorest children in the most impoverished schools are often uninformed with it comes to special education services and, as a consequence, their children are underserved. While it is unimaginable that any level of government would fund advocates and perhaps equally unimaginable that some attorneys would take on this work pro bono, absent such a movement children raised in poverty will miss out on the services they are entitled to and schools will be incapable of providing children with the services they need to afford an equal opportunity to all children.