Archive for February, 2016

Complicated Calculus for Kankakee, IL Legislator Kate Cloonen

February 29, 2016 Comments off

In a letter to the editor in the Herald News, a daily serving central Illinois, Kankakee legislator Kate Cloonen advocates against a State takeover of Chicago schools for fear that her community and other downstate communities will be on the hook for the bailout of their schools. Ms. Cloonen’s position on this issue is indicative of the kinds of complicated calculus that is coming to the fore as a result of the over-promising of elected officials at the bargaining tables in years past combined with the unwillingness of taxpayers to face the true costs of providing government services. It is not hard to imagine a scenario where gridlock might occur at the state level whereby legislators from hard-pressed urban areas decide to withhold funding to address costly issues like flood prevention in Kankakee in order to save taxpayers money… but that defies the spirit of community that undergirds democracy.

I share Ms. Cloonen’s concern for a State takeover. My concern is that Governor Rauner’s solution for Chicago will be to declare bankruptcy, withhold pensions of teachers, custodians, and other hard-working and low paid staff members, pay off bond holders, and close down the costly public schools with their legacy costs and replace them with privatized for-profit schools bankrolled by his donors.

State legislatures are responsible for providing a high quality education to every child in their state and when they allocate funds to school districts they have every right to ensure that they are spent wisely. The fiscal crisis in Chicago is not only the result of mismanagement and profligacy at the local level, the State bears responsibility as well. The state needs to accept its share of responsibility, pay its share to bail out the schools, and determine how it will oversee the fiscal management of schools more effectively going forward. Ducking the responsibility at this point could feed gridlock and harm the children in Chicago.

“The Myth of a Hero Teacher” Promotes Blame of ALL Teachers, Avoidance of REAL Problem: Poverty

February 28, 2016 Comments off

I just read “The Myth of the Hero Teacher“, the NYTImes article by John Leland that is a de facto book review of Ed Boland’s new memoir, “The Battle for Room 314: My Year of Hope and Despair in a New York City High School.” As I’ve written in previous posts, I began my career as a junior high school mathematics teacher at Shaw Junior High School in Philadelphia. One of the lowest performing schools in the city, Shaw was plagued with tensions that resulted from ongoing gang violence in the city in the early 1970s and by overcrowding that led to housing over 3000 students in a split shift plan in a school designed for 1200. In my initial year I floated into over 20 “classrooms” that included a cafeteria, adaptive PE space, a dilapidated science lab where I taught reading after receiving a crash course in the first few weeks of school, and rooms on all three floors of the school. In short, I know the world Mr. Boland inhabited during his first year— and envy him for having only ONE room to fight battles in!

The article describes Mr. Boland’s lack of training in classroom management as the primary problem he faced:

“Of all the hours I was at graduate school, I don’t think there was all together an hour devoted to classroom management,” he said. “We were developing beautifully crafted lesson plans that no one could use. I was learning esoteric phrases about test design. I spent two semesters doing a research project. I just wish somebody told me how to get a cellphone out of a kid’s hand.

My colleagues and I shared the same lament 45 years ago in the faculty room at Shaw Junior High School and I recall having a similar conversation with a colleague in the mid-1990s when we were discussing the need to expand our alternative education program. Like Mr. Boland, I struggled mightily in my first year… but unlike him I got on top of things after Christmas because I had some experience in “managing” students because I worked as a per diem substitute in my senior year in college in Philadelphia schools and because I had an early conference with an Assistant Principal who coached me on the need to set my priorities on classroom management first and the advice from several colleagues who coached me on the use of the overhead projector that enabled me to post work on the blackboard without turning my back on the class.

The ultimate solution advocated in the article, some kind of residency program, would be ideal. Even better would be early intervention to introduce children raised in poverty with the skills needed to engage in learning in the classroom. These ideas, like all of the ideas dealing with educating children raised in poverty, require money… and funding for schools in poor neighborhoods and communities is being slashed. Until we are willing to provide more funds to educate the kinds of students described in this article, the vicious cycle of poverty will continue.

Is Pennsylvania the Future of Public Education? Too Many Legislators Hope So!

February 27, 2016 Comments off

Among Diane Ravitch’s posts yesterday was one including a link to a Pittsburg Post Gazette article describing the PA Department of Education’s latest memorandum to school districts which offers them guidance on how to close schools when they run out of money. This guidance is needed because of an ongoing budget deadlock between the Governor and the legislature: the Governor was elected by taxpayers who were distressed over the fiscal mismanagement of his predecessor who left behind a operating deficit that can only be closed with higher taxes… which was NOT the solution the voters or the legislature had in mind. The result?

…many districts are facing difficult decisions about how to pay their bills. A survey earlier this month by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association found that 63 percent of the 195 responding districts will not make it through the year without borrowing funds.

And what kind of guidance is the State Department offering to beleaguered school administrators and school boards?

The memo advises officials to develop plans to educate students in grades K-12, to review collective bargaining agreements and to plan how to pay debt service, among other recommendations.

There’s the solution! Go after those fat contracts that result in greedy teachers getting middle class wages, health benefits, and (gasp) pensions! And whatever you do, make sure you pay your debt service to the banks and pay the interest on the money you are borrowing to keep your schools afloat during this crisis.

As yesterday’s blog post indicates, PA is likely a canary in the coal mine when it comes to funding as states trim school funding and turn to for profit charters who pay at-will employees ever decreasing wages. The fix for our economy is not strangling wages, for that strangles demand and, in turn, pushes down wages and eliminates jobs. Maybe someone will make this clear to voters in the coming election cycle… but it is a tough message to deliver because no one wants to hear it.

A Gaggle of Headlines Tell a Sad Story About State Funding For Public Schools

February 26, 2016 Comments off

Every day I get a feed from Google that batches stories about public education from across the country. Often these stories are about relatively inconsequential issues: weather closings, local bond votes, teacher-of-the-year celebrations, etc. Today’s headlines, though, paint a very dismal picture of school funding across the country, including stories on the following:

  • Sun Sentinel op ed article by a FL legislator describing her misgivings about the skewed funding formulas that starve public education at the expense of for profit charters
  • Willamette Week article describing the sad state of repairs in Portland OR public schools and the reality that IF a bond passes that district will hit its bond ceiling, precluding any future facilities upgrades
  • A report in the Indianapolis Star that Indianapolis public schools are forecasting another loss of 1,000 students to charter schools thanks to legislation that promoted those schools while shortchanging public schools.
  • A link to WLWT Cincinnati’s NBC affiliate’s report on how frustrated parents and administrators are with the “failing grades” their city received due to the recent administration of the PARCC tests… the administrators specifically noting that the grading system for the test is deeply flawed.
  • An op ed piece from the Daily Journal, a regional newspaper that covers NE MI, describing proposed legislation that will follow-the-child wherever they enroll in school, legislation that will drain public dollars into private schools of all kinds
  • An article from SD’s Daily Republic describing the passage of legislation that provides tax credits to insurance businesses that underwrite a fund that supports parents seeking tuition payments to prove schools— legislation ripped from the ALEC playbook.
  • A report from KNOE, a CBS affiliate in LA, reporting on that State’s decision to cut “another” $44,000,000 from its funding for public schools.
  • And just in case you are thinking that public schools are safe havens for children, a report from the Herald Mail in Washington County MD that the nearby Waynesboro PA schools will be providing naloxone in the event an overdose occurs while school is in session.

Seven states facing fiscal crises and one district offering naloxone… not the best way to start the day…

Want to Know Where The Donald Stands on Public Education? Here’s the Answer: “Trump University”

February 25, 2016 Comments off

In all of the verbiage written about Donald Trump I had not read anything about Trump University until yesterday when there was a mention of an ongoing lawsuit against the institution in Politico. When I entered “Trump University” into the Google box it helpfully suggested I enter “Trump University scandal” which, in turn, led to strove of articles including this one from Salon blogger Alex Mierjeski presciently titled “The Donald Trump Scandal No One Is Talking About”. At the time the article was written, last June, the media generally saw his candidacy as a publicity stunt that was unlikely to gain traction and even less likely to derail the Bush-Clinton rematch everyone expected at the time. But reading the article now, it seems to be full of quotes from The Donald that sound like the ones he is using to demean his primary foes and offers an insight into how he would view privatization.

The scandal was summarized in this paragraph:

In August, 2013, New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the he was filing a lawsuit against Trump for the dubious promises of his higher education endeavor, Trump University. Schneiderman’s lawsuit alleged that the school’s real estate program, which was unlicensed as an actual university, was complicit in “persistent fraudulent, illegal and deceptive conduct” towards its students, who were often saddled with debt from expensive seminars in lieu of brimming with the promised insider secrets from “Donald Trump’s handpicked instructor[s],” most of whom turned out to have emerged from real estate-derived bankruptcy, or have little background in real estate at all.

Trump’s reaction to the suit was unsurprising given his treatment of his opponents in the primary:

Trump himself pushed back hard against the allegations, calling Schneiderman a publicity seeking “lightweight” with “gross incompetence,” and filed ethics complaints against him, according to reports at the time.

And Mr. Trump’s attitude toward the students who went into debt to pay for his worthless seminars?

When asked his thoughts on making higher education affordable (at a talk at Simmons College in Iowa in April 2015), Trump launched into a garrulous discussion about how jobs were being sucked by China and Mexico––”Mexico is the new China”––and that students saddled with high levels of debt are emerging into a jobless market. We need a strong leader, he said, to bring back those jobs in order for college students to pay off their loans, all but sidestepping the prohibitive tuitions many consider the root cause. 

And, I might add, completing sidestepping the fact that he ran a for profit institution that “…netted around $5 million in profit” according to the lawsuit filed by the “grossly incompetent lightweight” Eric Schneiderman…. profits that he is using to help him land the job as our “strong leader”.

Mr. Trump’s outlook on education? There’s a sucker born every minute who believes that they can get rich quick if they learn insider secrets.

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Public Education Works IF It Is Supported

February 24, 2016 Comments off

A Common Dreams article by Paul Buchheit caught my eye based on its title, “Why We Need Democratic Socialism to Fix Our Public Schools” and the title of this post is the heading of one section that jumped out at me. That section is reprinted below:

The National Bureau of Economic Research found that a 10 percent increase in per-pupil spending leads to higher earnings and less poverty for children from poor families. The Shanker Institute concurs, concluding from several studies that “On average, aggregate measures of per-pupil spending are positively associated with improved or higher student outcomes.” 

Yet public education is NOT being supported. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities(CBPP) recently stated: “Most states provide less support per student for elementary and secondary schools—in some cases, much less—than before the Great Recession…Worse, some states are still cutting eight years after the recession took hold.”

Most damaging may be the cutbacks to pre-school programs, which have been shown by numerous studies to provide the social and emotional foundations for lifelong skills, and for higher earnings, especially for disadvantaged children. In 2013 Head Start was hit with the worst cutbacks in its history.

Earlier in the article Buchheit described the dismal reality of public education funding and support now: the  OECD report describing the lack of numeric and reading skills among 16-19 year olds; the failure of the market-based “reform” movement– particularly reforms that relied too heavily on technology; and the failed charter school movement. After citing the data in the section above, Buchheit concludes that we should emulate Finland if we are serious about improving public education. He concludes with this:

Even free-market economist Milton Friedman once stepped out of character and agreed: “We have always been proud, and with good reason, of the widespread availability of schooling to all and the role that public schooling has played in…enabling people from different cultural and religious backgrounds to live together in harmony.”

Children aren’t products to be bought and sold. The profit motive should end at the front door of the public school.


Graduation Tests Too Tough? ETS Tests to Expensive? Take the ASVAB and Become Recruitment Bait

February 23, 2016 1 comment

In a gambit that seems to come out of a Kurt Vonnegut short story, Alternet reporter Pat Elder reports that New Jersey seniors who opt out of taking the standardized tests administered to them by the State now have two options:  the College Board’s ACCUPLACER test or the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, (ASVAB).  There are a few differences between the tests:

  • The ACCUPLACER costs roughly $35 to take while the ASVAB is free.
  • The ASVAB is much easier to pass than ACCUPLACER or the PARCC examination given by the state
  • The ASVAB results can be used to recruit you into the armed forces, and IS used for the purpose 85% of the time… but it wot help you get into college
  • FERPA laws don’t apply to ASVB, but they do apply to other STATE administered tests

So here’s a question: would an affluent student who aspires to college entry take the ASVAB?