Bloomberg’s Post-Secondary Blueprint is Outstanding… If Only his K-12 Thinking Changes

February 21, 2020 Leave a comment

I view myself as a progressive independent when it comes to politics. As such, I believe that the government should ensure that every child has an equal opportunity to succeed in schools, which, in turn, envisions a world where all public schools are funded as robustly as those in the most affluent communities in our country. If that were the case, by the time a student has completed his or her K-12 studies, they would be capable of making an informed choice about what they want to do next with their lives. At that point, the government should ensure that every child leaving high school has an opportunity to pursue whatever additional studies are needed to take that next step.

As readers of this blog know, I do not support school choice for K-12 students as a means of creating equity. Any choice plans require full engagement of parents many of whom are working multiple jobs to make ends meet and do not have the wherewithal to engage in the complicated processes that invariably accompany choice plans. Children who are born into such families are effectively penalized because of their parents economic challenges, many of which are the result of under-education. Choice, then, reinforces the vicious circle that creates inequality. When Mike Bloomberg was mayor of NYC, he went all in on school choice the same way he went all in on stop-and-frisk.

When I read that Mike Bloomberg had a plan to address the inequities in post secondary education, I expected more of the same: maybe some kind of choice or voucher plan that would paper over the inequities that exist in college the same way his “choice” plan papered over the inequities in K-12 education. But I was wrong. Bloomberg’s framework for reforming post-secondary education is very fair and forward thinking. Here’s the Executive Summary:

Ensure that no one is denied a chance to get ahead because of the cost of college

Mike believes that college should be available to all Americans, regardless of income. Mike’s plan will enact this idea by doubling the size of Pell grants and removing current barriers of access to Pell Grants for DREAMers and formerly incarcerated students. He’ll combat the crippling student debt crisis that has handicapped a generation, cutting the cap on student-loan payments by 50% and forgiving loans tax-free after 20 years. Mike will make public college debt-free for the lowest-income students by funding the cost of attendance including real costs of college beyond tuition — including expenses for books, meals, transportation, and child care that often present barriers to degree completion.

Level the playing field so every student can achieve a high-quality higher education

Mike will end admissions legacy preferences and strengthen fairness in the college-admissions process. He’ll increase college graduation rates for low- and middle-income students by making the real costs of college more affordable, investing in evidence-based strategies to improve completion and success rates, and help more students attend and graduate from selective colleges with high graduation rates. His plan also expands direct investments into Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUS) and institutions serving students from low-income backgrounds and underrepresented groups.

Help students complete degrees and equip them to succeed

Mike will ensure graduates are equipped with skills needed for good-paying jobs while closing gaps for low-income students and underrepresented minorities. At the same time, he’ll combat food insecurity on campuses by facilitating SNAP benefits and covering all meals for low-income students through expanded Pell grants and federal and state funding. He’ll also encourage programs to re-enroll and graduate adults who have some college but no degree, then help connect those students to good-paying job opportunities. Mike will build and strengthen career-training programs and facilities at community colleges working with employers. He will also help one million students annually enroll in work-based college degree programs where students participate in paid apprenticeships and internships along with relevant courses equipping students with the skills required for good-paying jobs.

The detailed ideas he has for encouraging states to restore funding for STATE post-secondary programs is especially promising. Mike Bloomberg seems to “get” what is needed to create a level playing field for students who want to get more training and education AFTER they graduate from high school. MAYBE he will “get” the message that his plans for choice at the K-12 level are not getting it done in terms of providing equity and re-think his approach to funding at that level so that every child entering Kindergarten has the chance to avail themselves of the plans he aspires to when they graduate. My sense is that Bloomberg is stubborn when it comes to holding onto ideas (see his unwillingness to change his thinking on stop-and-frisk) but at his core he will change his thinking if he is presented with data that undercuts his position. Here’s hoping someone is preparing reams of data that show that the “choice” plan he put in place is not providing an equal opportunity for all.

Benton Harbor’s Segregated Schools are Betsy DeVos’ Sordid Legacy

February 21, 2020 Leave a comment

This Time magazine article describes how the market driven for-profit laissez-faire funding model adopted in Michigan resulted in a school system that is racially and economically segregated. This is where our entire country is headed thanks to the notion that “choice” is more important than equality.

A Collapsed Roof is the Goal of Betsy DeVos… Will the Supreme Court Allow the Blizzard to Begin

February 20, 2020 Leave a comment

NYTimes columnist Sarah Vowell wrote a somewhat humorous but ultimately damning op ed article on a Montana lawsuit that could ultimately overturn the intention of the framers of Montana’s recently revised constitution and, in doing so, create a precedent whereby State funds can be funneled into sectarian schools. The suit brought against the state by a parent seeking $150 of state funding to help her underwrite her costs for parochial school hinges on this question: is the small amount allocated to school districts in the name of equitable funding fungible and, if so, can a parent use the funds to provide a de facto voucher for their child to attend a parochial school.

In the article, Ms. Vowell, a Montana native, describes the history of the $150 per student allocation which emanated from a early 1970s constitutional convention, and describes how the loss of that relatively small amount of funding would send shock waves throughout the state and especially hurt this schools who receive the supplement to help offset their lack of a local tax base.

She concludes her article with this synopsis of the situation, which is the basis for the title of this post:

The public schools the framers (of the State constitution) conjured ask the taxpayers to splurge on fairness, not privilege, to pull together, not away. That beekeeper, those clergymen and moms chartered a state in a republic where a first grader on horseback is supposed to be as big and important as the mountains. As the Supreme Court justices ponder whether to upend all that over what appears to be a $150 trifle, I’ll pass along this lesson of Montana winters: A collapsed roof starts with a single snowflake.

The Charter School Movement Is Imploding. What Comes Next May Be Worse

February 19, 2020 Leave a comment

As always, Jeff Bryant gets to the root of the issue when it comes to the privatization movement…. and “charters and choice” was always a backdoor means of getting vouchers…. and vouchers, in turn, will undercut public education overseen by elected officials who do their best to provide the kind of education their children need. This quote from Diane Ravitch describes the way the pro-privatization forces used charter schools to move forward:

“I have known for many years that right-wingers went for charters only because they lay the groundwork for vouchers,” wrote education historian Diane Ravitch, after learning of the Trump Administration’s abandonment of charter schools in its budget. “Charters pave the way for vouchers. They turn citizens, invested in public institutions, into consumers, looking out only for their own child.”

And in our culture, where “consumers” can presumably “choose what they want” the lure of receiving a bundle of money in the form of a voucher to buy whatever education their child needs is alluring. But when the “consumers” find that their voucher only covers a basic education plan and then find that their child may not qualify for enrollment in that plan, their choice vanishes. In the meantime, the Walmart Chain of Basic Education Schools makes a profit by offering low cost education taught by low-paid staff members in abandoned public schools or empty shopping malls that they pay very little for. And if the voucher carrier is dissatisfied with their purchase? Caveat Emptor!

Jeff Bryant closes his Common Dreams article describing President Trump’s “Education Plan” with this:

So sure, Trump lied during his State of the Union address about saving the educational destiny of a young African American girl in Philadelphia, but that lie exposed a much deeper one: That the political establishment, conservative and liberal alike, has been deceiving us about the goals of school choice—vouchers and charter schools—all along. It’s always been about turning education into a private enterprise.

I bold faced and underscored “conservative and liberal alike” to emphasize that point: the federal legislation that led us to where we are today was bi-partisan and the government policies that emerged from the bi-partisan legislation were implemented under both Democrat and Republican administrations. If the Democrats are astonished at this latest development, they have not been paying attention to the public education advocates like Jeff Bryant, Diane Ravitch, and- yes- the leadership of the AFT and NEA. The time to wake up is now!

Source: The Charter School Movement Is Imploding. What Comes Next May Be Worse

Categories: Uncategorized

MAYBE the Tide is Turning: Parents and Students Want Counselors, Not Cops

February 19, 2020 Leave a comment

This Wake County NC news report recounts a parent and student petition to the school district to replace cops in the schools with more counselors and nurses. MAYBE this kind of thinking will go viral.

Conservatives Discover Mastery Learning, the Flaws in the Carnegie Unit… Can Their Abandonment of Standardized Tests be Far Behind?

February 18, 2020 Leave a comment

I make every effort to read every perspective possible in my education feed, and as a result I received an article from The Hill by Margaret “Macke” Raymond titled “The Diploma Dilemma”. Ms. Raymond, who is the founder and director of the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University recently authored a policy briefing of the same name as part of the Hoover Education Success Initiative. And what is the dilemma as Ms. Raymond sees it?

Despite evidence that our students’ performance is flat or declining on many levels, our high school graduation rates have continued to rise significantly over the past six years. This paradox may not be widely known or understood, as politicians and policymakers have consistently trumpeted the steady rise of graduation rates. The casual observer would be led to believe that public education is improving because more students are being granted a diploma.

The truth is, in most states, there is a critical chasm between the rising graduation rate and the underlying knowledge and skills of large shares of degree holders. Many students, especially low-income students and students of color, are inadequately prepared to take the first step of college, training, military service or employment, let alone have the foundational knowledge needed to improve their lives in the future.

The truth is that US public schools are not as bad as standardized tests make the out to be or as good as graduation rates make them out to be… except for those underfunded schools serving low income students and students of color. The data on this truth have been evident for generations and yet nothing has been done to address it. After decrying softer grading standards, seat time as a metric, and “low expectations”, Ms. Raymond offers this idea to close the gaps at the high school level:

So what’s needed? States and school districts need mastery-based approaches to capturing and rewarding high school learning to ensure that students earn a high school diploma that provides a fair and clear signal of its value. Better and more frequent measures of high school students and courses would illuminate the pathways that students follow, and the benefits gained from them.  Linking course passing with known requirements for post-high school options will improve the success that holders of a U.S. high school diploma can achieve. In order to realize these things for our students, school systems leaders will invariably be placed in a diploma dilemma —strengthening requirements will almost certainly mean falling graduation rates in the short-term. 

Ms. Raymond’s prescription sounds very familiar to this blogger. In the early 1990s I attempted to launch a district-wide initiative called “Teaching for Mastery” based on the premise that TIME needed to be the variable and LEARNING needed to be the constant. Here’s what I learned from that experience: changing the dominant paradigm as a Superintendent was beyond my reach. Indeed, Ms. Raymond seems to miss the entire point of mastery learning, which is that TIME must be a variable if LEARNING is constant and so time-driven metrics like standardized testing and graduation rates tied to a student’s age are meaningless.

Our current system was implemented in the 1920s and it was designed to sort and select students with no regard or expectation that ALL students would master the K-12 curriculum. There was an expectation that many of not most students would fall short of the standards and find work in the fields or factories. And thanks to labor unions many of those jobs paid well and enabled workers to have good life. That economic paradigm disappeared in the 1970s and 1980s and it isn’t coming back any tie soon. When oh when will our education paradigm change? When will TIME be a variable and LEARNING constant?

The Reading Wars AGAIN??? When Will We Look at the Metrics Instead of the Results?

February 17, 2020 Leave a comment

Here we go again… according to a recent NYTimes article by Dana Goldstein the reading wars are beginning anew! As a retired school Superintendent I’ve seen this movie before and know how it ends… lotos of pointless debates about The One Best Way to teach reading despite the reality that all children learn differently AND at different rates.

Alas, too many policy makers overlook the real issue, which is the metric we use. We define “failure” based on standardized tests, tests based on the assumption that students within an age cohort all learn at the same rate. Tests explicitly designed to sort those students based on their rate of learning on a predetermined set of reading “skills” that can be readily measured by a multiple choice test.

This just in: students develop at different rates physically and intellectually. Schools began grouping students by age in the name of efficiency in the 1920s and began testing them in these cohorts in earnest after World War II. In the name of “efficiency” we also instruct students in the same content in large groups— the chanting of “Tuh! Ah! Puh!” as descried in Ms. Goldstein’s article is a classic example.

In the 1920s we did not have the capability to provide tailored instruction to students when they were ready to learn it. Technology gives us the tools to do this now…. why are we arguing over test scores based on the assumption that all children learn the same way at the same rate?