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.

The Street Where You Live Leads to a Better Chance for Success

June 25, 2015 Leave a comment

David Leonardt’s Upshot column last Thursday reported on several reports that underscored the importance of place.. and highlighted the shameful reality that black middle class families live in markedly poorer neighborhoods than white middle class families. This resonated with me based on my experiences as a young adult in Philadelphia where banks, realtors, and politicians conspired to “red-line” certain neighborhoods,  practice that led to the phenomenon called “block-busting”,  practice that took place subtly and explicitly in many northern cities.

I witnessed this block-busting first hand when I rented an apartment in West Philadelphia in the late 1960s in a neighborhood that was bordered on one side by a railroad line and on the other by the University of Pennsylvania. The homes on the “Penn Side” of the rail line were becoming gentrified as the University City neighborhood moved slowly and inexorably westward. The homes on the “other side” of the tracks, however, were slowly deteriorating. One of my many part-time jobs in college was working for Philadelphia Gas, doing door-to-door canvassing in the neighborhood on “the other side of the tracks”. That neighborhood was targeted by Philadelphia Gas because many “new residents” were moving in due to “turnover” in houses because “older people” were moving to the suburbs. After spending a week knocking on doors it became evident to me that every “new resident” was black. Some of the blacks were clearly middle class: their living rooms looked like the one in my suburban home and they were interested in doing everything they could to improve the new home they purchased. Other blacks, though, were clearly struggling. I recall one family in particular who had spent every dollar they had on their home. They had hardly any furniture and could barely afford their electricity let alone gas heat conversions. The man who answered the door was clearly exhausted from working, but he told me he was proud that he had put together enough money to buy the home and hoped someday he’d have the furniture to fill it and maybe someday he’d be able to get gas heat. The few white residents who answered the door did so cautiously: they looked through the curtains to see who I was and peered through a cracked door. They were not interested in any home improvements because like their former neighbors they were looking to move elsewhere.

Fast forward fifty years and you have the reality described in Leonardt’s article: “the typical middle-income black family lives in a neighborhood with lower incomes than the typical low-income white family.” And where you live matters greatly in terms of the schools you attend and the quality of your life. As Leonardt notes at the end of this piece, which is full of data from many carefully researched reports, improving the quality of housing is the best way to address poverty… but it is not a policy that is likely to be pursued any time soon:

Housing developments that allow low-income families to move into higher-income neighborhoods appear to be a cost-effective antipoverty strategy. Vouchers that help lower-income families move into better neighborhoods may be even more so.

Partly inspired by the new research, federal housing officials, including Julian Castro, the housing secretary, have recently shown more interest in varying the value of vouchers to encourage families to move to better neighborhoods. Current policy — both federal and local, on both vouchers and taxes — goes in the opposite direction, creating incentives to put up buildings in worse neighborhoods and for poor families to remain there.

The notion that your neighborhood matters is almost a cliché. But it’s also true — and yet much of the nation’s housing policy effectively pretends otherwise.

Let me conclude this post by concluding my anecdote about life in Philadelphia. Two years after knocking on doors in the neighborhood on “the other side of the tracks” I was teaching in a junior high school in that same neighborhood. The value of the houses had declined and many of the homes were rented. The school was overcrowded and among the worst in the city in terms of its standardized test scores (yes… even in the early 1970s they ranked schools by test scores). As I patrolled the halls and bathrooms to ensure that fights did not break out I often wondered how the homeowners I visited two years earlier felt about their neighborhood.

Solving Big Data’s Big Dilemma in Public Education

June 25, 2015 Leave a comment

As noted in many previous posts, public schools have been collecting massive amounts of data on individual students for decades… data that has been stored in stuffed file folders and various generations of microfiche and computer formats. This inconvenient and inconsistent method of data collection made it impossible to use group data to determine the effectiveness of teaching methods, to track an individual student’s learning, or to do systematic research in education.

The advent of cloud storage, the adoption of uniform learning standards, and the extensive use of standardized tests makes it possible to gather and analyze data systematically. This should be nothing but good news for teachers and parents… but as we’ve seen with the NSA, data collection has a dark side as well. Recent articles in the NYTimes and Atlantic describe the dilemma researchers and practitioners face in making use of the data that is now available: the reluctance of parents to have information about their children stored on line.

The Times article, “When Guarding Student Data Endangers Valuable Research” looks at the Data Dilemma from the research angle. As the writer Susan Dynarski notes, the data gathered is invaluable:

Educators parse this data to understand what is working in their schools. Advocates plumb the data to expose unfair disparities in test scores and graduation rates, building cases to target more resources for the poor. Researchers rely on this data when measuring the effectiveness of education interventions.

Noting that despite the fact that no one has hacked into the student data and despite the fact the student data is not a likely target for marketers, many legislators are proposing laws that would hamstring the efforts of researchers to draw on the data to gain a better understanding of what works and the efforts of teachers to use the data to personalize instruction. To use a phrase of one of my colleagues in Maryland, the legislators are using a shotgun to kill a mosquito. Her solution to this is to provide the Department of Education with the ability “…to impose serious penalties on districts and states as soon as they are found to have violated privacy regulations” noting that “…the states, districts and the courts then need to do the hard work of enforcing laws that protect student privacy.”  A noble idea, but a non-starter in Congress who, even if they passed such a law to pacify indignant parents, would fail to provide the funding for enforcement.

The Atlantic article by Andrew Giambrone describes one way to solve this data dilemma. Given the government’s seeming inability to deal with this problem, and the given the demand for data analytics on the part of schools (e.g. a 2012 survey of educational professionals indicated that 80% of the respondents “…believed analytics would become more important in the future”), developing an acceptable means of defining appropriate use of data may fall to local districts working with eager vendors. Giambrone describes how this is happening across the country… and it calls to mind a Ted Sizer quote I used frequently: “How does change occur in education? Slowly, Carefully, and All At Once”. His concluding paragraphs underscore why the systematic collection of student data is a good idea… and why this change will happen slowly and carefully:

Jose Ferreira, the founder and CEO of Knewton, a New York-based company that develops adaptive-learning tools, says a lot of student data is going to waste right now; rather than being forgotten at the end of each school year or semester, it could be harnessed responsibly to drive learning outcomes. His company tracks students’ proficiencies across a variety of subjects, but will not share that information—even with teachers—unless explicitly authorized to do so by a student’s legal guardians.

“If you’re going to touch people’s data, it’s very important that the benefits be clear,” he explains. “‘Why should I let you collect my data? The benefits are fantastic? Now you have to reassure me you’re going to use it in a way I’m comfortable with.’”

Like Ferreira, I am convinced that reams of student data is going to waste.. but like the majority of parents, I am not yet comfortable with the way the data could and might be shared. That will take some time.

 

What If Every Educator Pledged to Vote in 2016?

June 24, 2015 Leave a comment

wgersen:

This wouldn’t have done much good in NYS… or ANY state where a neo-liberal DINO is running against a voucher-loving ALEC funded conservative… and if we have another Bush-Clinton choice those of us who are opposed to privatization might want to look seriously at a third party…. and all of this makes voting in off year elections and school board elections especially critical.

Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:

So many terrible education policies have been enacted in the past several years, and so many people feel powerless to act and make a difference. But there is a way to take action: Vote. That’s the only way to get better leadership. It works, but only if everyone votes.

What if every educator took a pledge to vote in 2016? If you vote, you can beat big money. Imagine the difference educators can make in every state. You can save public education, save the teaching profession, and restore democracy.

This idea is starting in Néw York. It should spread to every state and city and town and village and school district.

Subject: Educator Oath To Vote

Hello, Fellow BATs,

I have a bit of an announcement to make – sort of a “Coming to a School Near You” kind of thing and I believe, if successful, it will change the…

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Common Core Testing: Wedding Planners Deciding the Fate of Teachers

June 24, 2015 Leave a comment

“Grading the Common Core: No Teaching Experience Required”, a matter-of-fact article by Mokoto Rich in yesterday’s NYTimes, describes the techniques national standardized testing consortia are using to grade their Common Core tests… and it’s not a pretty picture! Instead of hiring trained and carefully screened teachers and professors to grade the tests as ETS does for its AP tests, PARCC and Pearson are hiring temporary employees recruited through want ads… and here are the results:

There was a onetime wedding planner, a retired medical technologist and a former Pearson saleswoman with a master’s degree in marital counseling. To get the job, like other scorers nationwide, they needed a four-year college degree with relevant coursework, but no teaching experience. They earned $12 to $14 an hour, with the possibility of small bonuses if they hit daily quality and volume targets.

I found it fitting that the linchpin of the factory school— the standardized test— was graded using the factory model perfected by fast-food chains, as described by a Pearson executive below:

Officials from Pearson and Parcc, a nonprofit consortium that has coordinated development of new Common Core tests, say strict training and scoring protocols are intended to ensure consistency, no matter who is marking the tests.

At times, the scoring process can evoke the way a restaurant chain monitors the work of its employees and the quality of its products.

“From the standpoint of comparing us to a Starbucks or McDonald’s, where you go into those places you know exactly what you’re going to get,” said Bob Sanders, vice president of content and scoring management at Pearson North America, when asked whether such an analogy was apt.

“McDonald’s has a process in place to make sure they put two patties on that Big Mac,” he continued. “We do that exact same thing. We have processes to oversee our processes, and to make sure they are being followed.”

An article several years ago disparagingly compared students to widgets being manufactured in a factory… and now we have an executive favorably comparing his corporation to McDonalds… which effectively compares students to raw meat being converted into hamburgers for mass consumption.

One thing Rich’s article did not mention: these tests were inextricably linked to RTTT grants that, in turn, mandated the use of these test results to evaluate teachers. The net result: wedding planners and retired radiologists being paid $12-$14 dollars per hour are determining the fate of experienced classroom teachers across the country. But hey… it’s cheap, it’s fast, and it’s politically popular. What’s not to like?