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Building a Progressive Agenda for Public Schools

June 25, 2016 Leave a comment

A good synopsis of the direction we SHOULD be taking in public education! 

If public schools are to realize their democratizing potential, progressive activists must organize and act on an agenda that counters the neo-liberal view of education that currently dominates. We want to believe that public schools serve us, the public, “We, the people.” We want to believe that schools strengthen our democracy, our ability to meaningfully participate in the decision-making processes that impact our communities and our lives.

Source: Building a Progressive Agenda for Public Schools

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One More Eye-Opening Statistic: Resegregation is Rampant

June 24, 2016 Leave a comment

The Federal report referenced in an earlier post taken from the Washington Post had some sobering data on segregation, which was the primary topic of Michele Chen’s post earlier this month in Nation, titled “Millenials Have Lived Through a Doubling of School Segregation” and subtitled “The Old Methods of Encouraging Integration in Our Schools are Failing”. In the article Ms. Chen summarizes the GAO’s findings on school segregations:

 Since 2001, according to a report by Government Accountability Office (GAO), the number of poor, racially segregated schools (with more than three-fourths of one race and high poverty rates) jumped from 9 percent to 16 percent. So today’s millennials have, from the time they entered first grade through high-school graduation, witnessed the degree of educational segregation more than double, from about 7,000 segregated schools to 15,000 nationwide. GAO criticized the Department of Education for being lax in using legal intervention in cases of extreme educational discrimination.

Chen offers three factors that have contributed to this re-segregation, factors that have been highlighted in previous posts on this blog:

School segregation is the product of these structural racial fissures, shaped over generations by financial redliningsocial disinvestment, and, lately, gentrification and displacement in city neighborhoods.

Ms. Chen the summarizes the “free market” solutions offered by conservatives and neoliberals, and, in doing so, underplays their ineffectiveness by failing to point out that these tools have been in play since 2001, the very time that segregation doubled:

In response to subtler patterns of “self-segregation,” some reformers advocate a private-sector driven approach, including promoting “school choice” to facilitate student transfers, or charter schools as alternatives to mainstream public education. But these measures often perpetuate exclusion. Charter schools can intensify racial isolation of students and potentially widen resource gaps between less-regulated charters and traditional public schools. Generally, school choice often spurs the “voluntary” siphoning of kids by race, class, and academic ability.

Ms. Chen DOES offer one idealized solution: voluntary integration through housing policy:

Integration requires targeted housing-policy interventions, argues PRRAC Executive Director Philip Tegeler. Plans for siting public housing, for example, should foster neighborhoods that are designed to promote equitable educational opportunities as well as affordable homes. “State and local housing and education agencies need to be talking to each other, and planning together to promote integration,” Tegeler says via e-mail.

In the meantime, Ms. Chen suggests that school “…should be a safe space to explore and dream, not a bureaucratic gauntlet that “prepares” children for a racist world in adulthood” like the no excuses schools that presumably help minority children navigate our culture.

She concludes with this:

But ultimately no community will voluntarily desegregate without firm intervention, and no intervention works without the community’s trust. It will take a lot of faith to persuade families that the system that did not live up to the promise of the civil-rights movement for an older generation, might still salvage it for the next. 

And it will take even more charity for families who DID benefit from a high quality education to open their doors to children raised in poverty.

 

Worlds Socialist Website Report on PA Schools Pulls No Punches

June 23, 2016 Leave a comment

This post draws from a June 14 post on the World Socialist Website that described the budget crisis in Erie, PA. Titled “Pennsylvania School District Prepares to End Education Past Eighth Grade”, the post by Jason Melanovski summarizes the dilemma Erie faces in balancing its budget:

The district is currently facing a deficit of more than $10.3 million. Over $6 million in cuts have already been decided upon, leaving $4.3 million more to be cut. As a result, Superintendent Dr. Jay Badams has proposed to close all four of the city’s public high schools. Erie residents wishing to obtain an education past eighth grade would be forced to attend a charter school or travel to schools in other districts outside the city. The school district would only provide “limited transportation” to students who chose to attend a public school outside the district.

This action is not only in conformance with state law, it has already been taken by two other PA districts outside of Pittsburgh, Wilkinsburg and Duquesne. And just in case a reader thinks that Erie might be able to find other places to cut, Mr. Melanovski recounts the other cuts needed given the shortfall in state funds and the erosion of the local tax base:

Among the cuts already approved are the elimination of all art and music classes, sports and extracurricular activities, and full-day kindergarten. School libraries at all grade levels would also be closed.

Unlike many other anti-“reform” columnists, Mr. Melanovski does not hold back the it comes to criticizing the source of this budget cutting:

The potential closing of all of Erie’s public high schools is a result of the ongoing nationwide attack on public education, carried out by both capitalist political parties. The Obama administration has deepened this onslaught under its “Race to the Top” educational program. “Education reform,” as promoted by both politicians and corporate-funded foundations, blames teachers for the shortcomings in public education and seeks to turn education into a new source of profit for investors, charter school administrators and other private companies and consultants looking to enrich themselves with public funds. Several major cities in the United States, such as New Orleans, no longer have any public schools at all.

In one paragraph Mr. Melanovski captures both the purpose and the result of NCLB and RTTT which is embodied in the budget problems in Erie. And in his concluding paragraph, he has a scathing indictment of the Democrat party, the supposed champion of the working class:

The destitution of public education in Erie has received cynical responses from politicians in both major political parties, such as Democratic State Senator Sean Wiley, who stated, “There is no greater responsibility of the Pennsylvania General Assembly than to invest in the future of this Commonwealth and that future begins and ends in public education.”

This responsibility is apparently not shared by the State Senator’s own political party, as Pennsylvania, historically one of the most heavily Democratic states in the country, has seen state funding of K-12 education drop from 50 percent in 1972 to less than 35 percent today.

I’ve written several posts about PA, the State where I grew up and held my earliest jobs in public education. When I returned for my reunion in West Chester a few months ago I was astonished at the appearance of the newly renovated high school and the athletic fields that surrounded it. West Chester, an affluent bedroom community of Wilmington DE and metropolitan Philadelphia, has a strong tax base and lots of parents who are willing to pay high property taxes to ensure their children have an opportunity to advance. They won’t be cutting art and music classes, sports and extracurricular activities, and full-day kindergarten any time soon, nor will they be closing their school libraries… and the problems of Erie, Wilkinsburg and Duquesne are the furthest thing from their minds. And I daresay some residents of my hometown probably say that THEY are willing to invest in the future for THEIR children and Erie taxpayers should be willing to do the same. But Melanovski offers the sad reality:

Like many American cities, Erie has suffered greatly from the corporate policy of deindustrialization and suffers from high levels of poverty. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, over 80 percent of the approximately 12,000 students who attend Erie schools come from low-income families, making it one of the poorest districts in the state.

The district has also been hit by the decline of state funding to public schools. Under the state’s formula, public schools are guaranteed the same level of funding as in previous years, even if they lose students. Erie’s public school student population has remained relatively stable, while the percentage of students living in low-income houses has greatly increased, thus leaving it unable to rely on local property taxes to increase funding that it is not receiving from the state.

Erie parents, like many parents in American cities, would like to spend more on schooling… but they can’t. They need a helping hand. Here’s hoping they get it.

A Timeless Post from Two Weeks Ago: Sad But True Facts About Inequality

June 22, 2016 Leave a comment

I’m on a vacation where the internet is unpredictable, and so am drawing on articles I read recently that could have been written months or years ago. This one by Emma Brown, from the June 7 Washington Post, offers 5 “eye-opening facts” drawn from a recent report on the state of public schools in our country…. and here they are, with my observations in italics:

1. In the 2013-2014 school year, 6.5 million children were chronically absent from school, missing 15 or more days of school. Woody Allen said 80% of success is showing up… and when there are 82,000+ homeless in NYC just showing up is a challenge. 

2. 850,000 high school students didn’t have access to a school counselor. And most of them come from families with no understanding about how to apply for college or a job… but counseling doesn’t matter…. because

3. 1.6 million students went to a school that employed a sworn law-enforcement officer, but no counselor. Kids don’t need a counselor if there’s a good guy with a gun. 

4. Nearly 800,000 students were enrolled in schools where more than 20 percent of teachers hadn’t met state licensure requirements. Certification and licensure are needless regulations. Why should a math teacher know anything about math? 

5. Racial disparities in suspensions reach all the way down into preschool: Black children represent 19 percent of all preschoolers, and 47 percent of all those who were suspended. It’s never too early to teach children zero tolerance… unless you want to do it in a fully funded preschool program in which case it’s way too expensive

And the sixth eye opening fact: school is organized today the same way it was 100 years ago.

Homelessness in NYC Expands Mission of Schools, Defies Easy Remedies

June 21, 2016 Leave a comment

A recent NYTmes article by Elizabeth Harris described the daunting challenges one public school in NYC faces in trying to educate its students, and underscored the oversimplified notion most of the public has regarding the “mission” of its schools. “Where Nearly Half the Students are Homeless, School Aims to be Teacher, Therapist, and Even Santa” describes the uphill battle PS 188 faces in its efforts to educate the 500 students attending its school on a given day. Since roughly half of its population is homeless, the turnover in population is daunting, but it also exemplifies the challenges NYC public schools face given that “82,514 children in the city’s public schools were either in shelters, temporarily staying with relatives or family friends, or in some other makeshift living situation at some point during the last school year.” To put that number into perspective, the Times noted that that number early matched the number of students in Austin public schools. Or another way to look at it is this: it’s only 7000 fewer students than attend school in all of Vermont!

Given the day-to-day uncertainty about where they will be sleeping or getting their next meal, it is not surprising that schools serving homeless students have more to worry about than test scores and the teachers who serve those students have more to worry about than incomplete homework assignments. As the Times article notes:

Shoes, for example, are not usually on the list of things a school provides. But P.S. 188 distributed hundreds of pairs this school year. It also gave away backpacks and holiday presents, refurbished computers and uniforms. It is installing a washer and dryer for families whose children come to school without clean clothes…

“I would say 80 percent of our kids could benefit from some kind of counseling,” said Jessie Solomon-Greenbaum, who worked as a therapist at P.S. 188 until earlier this year, with a nonprofit group called the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services.

Some children are separated from their parents or caregivers, perhaps for reasons related to immigration. Many are surrounded by violence in the community that elevates their sensitivity to danger. There is domestic violence — one of the leading reason families end up in the shelter system, according to the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness. There is instability. Nearly two dozen children are in foster care. And for almost all of them, there is poverty.

In a district where 82,000+ children have no address and many are not living with parents or guardians, it is no surprise that schools serving those children are deemed as “failing” since the students they begin the year with are often not the students who are tested in May or June. Given this reality, the Principal at  PS188 has a different definition of success than one based on test scores:

At a school like P.S. 188, what does success look like?

On the standardized state tests taken every year, its scores are flatly disappointing. Only 9 percent of its students met state standards in English last year, compared with 30 percent of students citywide. Just 14 percent of children scored at grade level in math, less than half of the citywide rate of 35 percent.

On annual school surveys, families and teachers give the school and its principal very high ratings. Teachers say they trust the principal and one another. Students say they feel safe and respected, and that they know what their teachers want them to learn. At the Island School, there are outbursts and fights, but the hallways usually feel calm. Children walk from class to class in neat rows, or a rough approximation of them.

To Ms. Ramos (the Principal), when she looks back at the end of the school year and asks herself how the school did, her definition of success reaches far outside the classroom. Is a child who needs counseling now receiving it? Did a father write a résumé? Did a mother get a job?

The problem with Ms. Ramos definition is that it can’t be easily quantified or compared and it is difficult to assign blame if success isn’t achieved. If 80% of the children need counseling at 50% are receiving it, is Ms. Ramos accountable? What role or responsibility does Ms. Ramos play in getting a father to complete a resume or getting mother a job? But here’s a reminder to “reformers”: ALL children need a bed to sleep in and three meals a day first and foremost… and if 82,000 children in NYC are not getting those basic needs fulfilled, please do not blame the schools or the teacher’s unions… and don’t expect a test score to help identify what improvements are needed.

Playing Musical Chairs to Promote Diversity and Avoid Integration

June 20, 2016 Leave a comment

Yesterday I wrote a post on Nikole Hannah-Jones excellent article on the sad state of segregation in NYC schools, an article that described a situation in Brooklyn where an under crowded school serving poor and black students was going to open its doors to mostly affluent white children who attended a nearby neighborhood school that was overcrowded. The parents affected by this transfer protested the proposed boundary realignment for a host of reasons that sounded high-minded but came down to this: I don’t want my child mixing with those children from the projects.

Last week’s NYTimes offered an article that illustrates that this parental attitude is not limited to Brooklyn. In “A Game of Musical Chairs Played With Schools Divides the Upper West Side”, Kate Taylor describes a similar issue in Manhattan where children in an overcrowded school (PS 199) were proposed to attend an under-crowded school (PS 191) in a nearby neighborhood. The problem with the under crowded school?

….most of the children at the other school, P.S. 191, are poor, and black or Hispanic. P.S. 191 has much lower test scores, and last year, the state labeled the school persistently dangerous, though many of its supporters argued that this was a mistake.

The NYC school district, though, came up with a creative workaround!

Now, instead of a simple solution, the department is considering a convoluted one that amounts to an educational game of musical chairs: First, P.S. 191 would move a block west, taking over a building under construction that was originally intended for a new school. The hope is that the move would provide a symbolic fresh start for P.S. 191 and that the gleaming campus would make it more appealing to the families moved there. Then, another school on the Upper West Side, P.S. 452, which shares a building with two other schools, would move into P.S. 191’s current home, giving it room to grow. The school that had been envisioned for the new building would not open.

Unsurprisingly, the parents of PS 452 were not happy with this proposal. Why?

P.S. 191’s building is across the street from a public housing complex, where many of its students live. If P.S. 452 moved into that building, its new attendance zone would probably include part of the complex.

Parents opposed to the move have had to defend themselves against the suggestion that they oppose a change to the school’s demographics.

“The thing is, I really do believe in integration; I really do think every child that goes to public school deserves a good education and deserves to be safe and stable and all of those things,” Sara Roucloux, a member of the Parent-Teacher Association at P.S. 452, said.

Here’s what is particularly distressing: if students from PS 191 attended school with the students from either PS 199 or PS 452 all the students would benefit, especially the ones from PS 191 because their test scores would undoubtedly rise and those safety issues would assuredly disappear. Here’s hoping the city can find a resolution that benefits all the children on the Upper West Side.

Disintegration of Public Education Result of Dis-Integration

June 19, 2016 Leave a comment

Last Sunday’s heart-wrenching NYTimes article, “Choosing a School for my Daughter in a Segregated City” by Nikole Hannah-Jones reminded me that the world has changed dramatically since I attended graduate school in the early 1970s. At that time, we were contemplating a world where Brown v. Board of Education was the final word and the “separate-but-equal” premise of Plessy v. Ferguson was overthrown. Ms. Hannah-Jones article, though, reminded me that recent court rulings and politics have changed all of that— for the worse. The pivot came when President Reagan took office:

When Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, he promoted the notion that using race to integrate schools was just as bad as using race to segregate them. He urged the nation to focus on improving segregated schools by holding them to strict standards, a tacit return to the “separate but equal” doctrine that was roundly rejected in Brown. His administration emphasized that busing and other desegregation programs discriminated against white students. Reagan eliminated federal dollars earmarked to help desegregation and pushed to end hundreds of school-desegregation court orders.

Unfortunately for the generations of black children who enrolled in schools since that time, the de facto re-segregation since that time has had a devastating impact, especially given the recent findings of researchers regarding the positive impact of desegregation.

A 2015 longitudinal study by the economist Rucker Johnson at the University of California, Berkeley, followed black adults who had attended desegregated schools and showed that these adults, when compared with their counterparts or even their own siblings in segregated schools, were less likely to be poor, suffer health problems and go to jail, and more likely to go to college and reside in integrated neighborhoods. They even lived longer. Critically, these benefits were passed on to their children, while the children of adults who went to segregated schools were more likely to perform poorly in school or drop out.

After looking at where we are today, Ms Hannah-Jones concludes:

Legally and culturally, we’ve come to accept segregation once again. Today, across the country, black children are more segregated than they have been at any point in nearly half a century. Except for a few remaining court-ordered desegregation programs, intentional integration almost never occurs unless it’s in the interests of white students. This is even the case in New York City, under the stewardship of Mayor de Blasio, who campaigned by highlighting the city’s racial and economic inequality. De Blasio and his schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, have acknowledged that they don’t believe their job is to force school integration. “I want to see diversity in schools organically,” Fariña said at a town-hall meeting in Lower Manhattan in February. “I don’t want to see mandates.” The shift in language that trades the word “integration” for “diversity” is critical. Here in this city, as in many, diversity functions as a boutique offering for the children of the privileged but does little to ensure quality education for poor black and Latino children.

As illustrated in earlier posts (and will be demonstrated in tomorrow’s post), “diversity” is acceptable but “integration”— especially if it involves mixing with “children from the projects”, is a third rail issue…. and its one we can sidestep with choice.

Amy Stuart Wells, a professor of sociology and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, found the same thing when she studied how white parents choose schools in New York City. “In a post-racial era, we don’t have to say it’s about race or the color of the kids in the building,” Wells told me. “We can concentrate poverty and kids of color and then fail to provide the resources to support and sustain those schools, and then we can see a school full of black kids and then say, ‘Oh, look at their test scores.’ It’s all very tidy now, this whole system.”

So the disintegration of schooling for those attending under-resourced schools where poverty and kids of color are concentrated continues and is reinforced through the use of standardized test scores. It is a tidy system: one that allows affluent parents to opt into boutique “diverse” schools while ignoring the plight of those children only a few blocks away who are unable to have the same opportunities for success. And here’s the final irony: one solution is to make sure that the students attending those schools have the same level or resources… that is… that those separate schools have equal resources.

So much for Brown v. Board of Education….