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Archive for February, 2020

No Surprise: Chicago Teachers “Game” NWEA Accountability Test

February 25, 2020 Leave a comment

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The Chicago Tribune article above describes several instances where teachers “gamed” the NWEA tests. The NWEA tests, originally designed as formative assessments to measure individual student growth, were used for different purposes in Chicago:

Students who took more than six hours on the test — which measures growth and in CPS can also factor into high school admissions, school ratings and teacher performance reviews — were nearly seven times as likely as the average student in CPS to show “unusually large gains,” according to Inspector General Nicholas Schuler’s report.

It should come as no surprise that the teachers would intervene when a misused test is the basis for their continued employment AND their students’ future. But the tests are cheap, fast and easy!

The Problem is Deregulated For Profit Charter Schools

February 24, 2020 Leave a comment

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Fred Hess and Matthew Rice miss the point in their article about charter schools and the 2020 election. The Democrats don’t oppose charter schools, they oppose deregulated and for profit charter schools that are not governed by elected school boards who convene their meetings in public. But that idea doesn’t fit the Conservative narrative and so they repeatedly frame the issue as unions versus taxpayers and parents… with Democrats on the side of unions.

“Employer U Innovation” Reflects Diminishment of Corporate Training, Consequences of Unpaid Internships

February 23, 2020 Leave a comment

Brandon Bustead, the President of University Partners at Kaplan and former Executive Director of Education & Workforce Development at Gallup, wrote an op ed for Forbes magazine breathlessly describing a new innovation he calls “Employer U”. There are (at least) three problems with this article.

First is that the description of “Employer U” describes cooperative work study programs that have been in place for generations at colleges like Drexel (my alma mater), Northeastern, and Cincinnati to name a few. When I attended Drexel in the late 1960s I earned enough to pay my tuition, room and board and have enough left over to get married and begin a family…. which brings me to the second problem with Mr. Bustead’s article.

Second, corporations have side-stepped cooperative work study programs by “offering” unpaid internships to students, especially students from “brand” colleges and universities who can afford to work during the summer for free. These unpaid internships favor the children of extraordinarily wealthy families thereby eliminating an opportunity for equally talented but less affluent children to benefit from the programs.

Third, and most crucially, Mr. Bustead fails to point out that a generation ago corporations had their own training programs, programs they abandoned in the name of efficiency and reducing costs to provide shareholders with more money. Unsurprisingly, the elimination of employer-provided training coincided with the national outcry for more employment-ready high school and college graduates.

Many business-minded individuals want schools and colleges to provide better trained graduates while at the same time avoiding the payment of taxes to fund those kinds of programs AND while shedding employees in their own company who would offer such training. That kind of thinking created the problems we now have where there is a “mismatch” between graduates’ skills and corporate needs. The fix isn’t just an overhaul of post-secondary education: it’s also an increase in the wages paid to trainees in cooperative work-study programs and the willingness of corporations to pay individuals in their enterprises to train incoming workers.

Civics Education Destroyed by Tests and Partisan Politics

February 22, 2020 Leave a comment

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This Forbes article laments the failure of today’s students to understand basic civics facts and lays the blame on schools… but if schools are ultimately measured by standardized tests that neglect civics and policy makers can’t achieve consensus on what facts students should know and the purpose of government please don’t hold teachers accountable. Like most in my generation I learned a lot of misinformation about government… but I did learn some fundamental facts that have not changed no matter how the Constitution is interpreted.

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

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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.