David Kirp’s article in yesterday’s NYTimes, “Who Needs Charters When You Have Schools Like These?” describes the success experienced in the Union Public Schools district in the eastern part of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Like most districts in Oklahoma, Union is woefully underfunded. But despite the shortage of money, it is doing an amazing job of educating its largely Latino and poverty stricken population. How? By accepting full responsibility for the well-being of the children who attend and by offering all the children in the school a challenging STEM curriculum…. But I believe the acceptance of responsibility for well being and the caring for each and every student that goes with it are the primary factor.
“Our motto is: ‘We are here for all the kids,’ ” Cathy Burden, who retired in 2013 after 19 years as superintendent, told me. That’s not just a feel-good slogan. “About a decade ago I called a special principals’ meeting — the schools were closed that day because of an ice storm — and ran down the list of student dropouts, name by name,” she said. “No one knew the story of any kid on that list. It was humiliating — we hadn’t done our job.” It was also a wake-up call. “Since then,” she adds, “we tell the students, ‘We’re going to be the parent who shows you how you can go to college.’ ”
Last summer, Kirt Hartzler, the current superintendent, tracked down 64 seniors who had been on track to graduate but dropped out. He persuaded almost all of them to complete their coursework. “Too many educators give up on kids,” he told me. “They think that if an 18-year-old doesn’t have a diploma, he’s got to figure things out for himself. I hate that mind-set.”
The school operates like an institution that is the parent who can show the way and a one-stop community service center:
The school district also realized, as Ms. Burden put it, that “focusing entirely on academics wasn’t enough, especially for poor kids.” Beginning in 2004, Union started revamping its schools into what are generally known as community schools. These schools open early, so parents can drop off their kids on their way to work, and stay open late and during summers. They offer students the cornucopia of activities — art, music, science, sports, tutoring — that middle-class families routinely provide. They operate as neighborhood hubs, providing families with access to a health care clinic in the school or nearby; connecting parents to job-training opportunities; delivering clothing, food, furniture and bikes; and enabling teenage mothers to graduate by offering day care for their infants.
This integration of social services is a universal key component to every high performing public school, as is are the extended hours for child care and/or extra-curricular activities. And while the services offered in the “neighborhood hub” model don’t add a dime to the school budget, they DO require the school to re-format itself, to adopt a new algorithm for success apart from preparing students for the next standardized testing cycle.
Mr. Kirp concludes his article with a paragraph consisting of two questions:
Will Ms. DeVos and her education department appreciate the value of investing in high-quality public education and spread the word about school systems like Union? Or will the choice-and-vouchers ideology upstage the evidence?
I trust he knows the answer… and I sense he shakes his head in dismay as he poses the questions.
Several media outlets, including The Hill, announced yesterday that President Trump issued a letter that rolled back Obama-era guidance that forbade student loan debt collectors from charging high fees to defaulted borrowers. This rollback was based on a technical argument that “…the initial guidance handed down by the Obama administration in 2015 should have been subjected to public comment before it was issued.” 7,000,000 people with loans through the Federal Family Education Loan Program that are held by guaranty agencies are affected by this decision. The last sentence of the article is chilling:
The amount owed in student loan debt has surpassed that of credit card debt — about $1.2 trillion.
So it is now conceivable that 7,000,000 voters are subject to fees that are as much as 16 percent of the loan’s principal and accrued interest should they fall behind in their loan payments for any reason. This means that when these borrowers are forced to choose between paying off credit cards or paying off student loans they might opt to defer the credit cards… or might skip a meal every day or so… or let their electricity be turned off. One thing is certain, they will be less able to buy goods and services, which will put a drag on the economy. And another certainty is that fewer students will plunge into debt making it increasingly difficult for our workforce to improve its skills.
And where are the voices of protest from the Department of Education? From the GOP? Or, for that matter, from the Democratic Party?
One hopes the Trump administration might seek public comment on this change… but it is unlikely to do so for they know that many of those who would protest it would be wearing those bright red hats that say “Make America Great Again”.
I get daily feeds from ESchool News, a daily blog that features articles that are often written by technology entrepreneurs or, as in the case of the one featured in this blog post, leaders of non-traditional on-line educational institutions. David Knoche, the Executive Principal of Pikes Peak Early College (PPEC) in Peyton, Colorado, posted an immodestly article titled “Groundbreaking School Blends High School and College Together”. While I am suspicious of articles touting success of institution that are in their infancy, I DID find the model for PPEC to be compelling. As described by Mr. Knoche, PPEC offers a highly personalized approach to high school and post-secondary programs that offers asynchronous on-line coursework augmented by regular interaction with classroom instructors and supplemented with external learning opportunities. Here’s how Mr. Knoche describes the “typical” schedule for a PPEC student:
Days in school consist of teachers leading project-based learning to complement what students are learning online, as well as helping students master the concepts they are learning in the online courses. Students spend the other two days of the week completing online courses at home, participating in internships or shadowing opportunities, or attending classes on community college campuses.
PPEC also offers counseling services, flexible schedules, and monetary support to students in an effort to meet the uniques needs of difference kinds students, which Mr. Knoche characterizes as “high-achieving or elite students to students who aren’t as high-achieving, but are highly driven; first-generation college students; and students from populations that are under-represented in post-secondary institutions.”
As one who finds the traditional high school model designed nearly a century ago to be outmoded and irrelevant to most students, it appears that PPEC has a model that would connect with disengaged students. My only suspicion is that the program appears to have begun a year ago, making it’s claims that students can seamlessly transition from high school to college somewhat incredulous. The PPEC concept, though, IS appealing and could hold promise for States like Vermont and New Hampshire where high school students can attain credits for experiential learning and can cross-enroll in state post-secondary institutions while they are enrolled in high school. Stay tuned to see if PPEC is in existence a decade from now and if, at that time, it is delivering on the promises described in Mr. Knoche’s article.
An article by Washington Post writer Lisa Grace Lednicer describes the work to two Washington DC activists whose personal stories led them to push for increased government oversight of homeschooling, an advocacy that pits them against a lobbying behemoth seeking complete deregulation for homeschooling even if it means children may suffer at the hands of their well-intentioned parents.
Lednicer’s article describes the work of Sarah Hunt and Carmen Green, two DC attorneys who were both homeschooled by fundamentalist parents who tried fruitlessly to break their will to leave the de facto cult that their families had established for them. Some cases of the need for homeschooling oversight are relatively easy to describe and regulate. If parents are physically or sexually abusive their misconduct is indefensible. But these kinds of behaviors could go on for years if there was no regulatory mechanism for the “homeschooling” these parents offer. Other forms of abuse, what Ms Lednicer describes as “debilitating social alienation” are more subtle but very bit as harmful to the well-being of children…. and the article offers several examples of how complicated it is to draw the fine line between parental oversight that is stifling to a point where it is abusive and “only” overly cautious. Lednicer describes the battle lines between the pro- and anti- regulation forces as follows:
The regulation advocates want stronger oversight, methods to monitor the quality of the education and ways to protect children from the dangers that can unfold behind a family’s closed doors.
The oversight advocates are up against a lobbying Goliath, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). For decades the organization, co-founded by longtime culture warrior Michael Farris, has preached the virtues of home schooling and parental autonomy, and Farris sees the call for greater oversight as “preposterous.”
To push back against this potent “lobbying Goliath”, Mss. Hunt and Green created their own lobbying group, the Center for Home Education Policy, whose mission is to emphasize “…the right of home-schooled children to have a greater say in their destiny, even when it contradicts their parents’ wishes.” And the two advocates soon found themselves swamped with young adults thing to escape stifling households. When the advocates used social media to reach out to homeschoolers, they learned of cases of “… child abuse, of parents who refused to obtain birth certificates and Social Security cards for their children, and about girls who had received less of an education than their brothers.” The lengthy article describes several case studies of individuals who “escaped” from homes where fundamentalist parents drastically restricted their children’s contacts with the outside world. It also offers case studies that show how difficult it is for legislators to develop regulations that are arguably too intrusive on the rights of parents who want to define their own disciplinary parameters.
The laws about home schooling are a patchwork across the United States. Some states require students to be assessed academically but don’t obligate parents to submit the results. Others don’t require parents to notify local officials that they intend to home-school. Still others allow any parent to home-school, regardless of their educational or criminal background.
Regulation advocates say that at a minimum, children should be seen annually by an outside authority figure and be academically assessed, with a record kept of what they learned. They also want a system to flag at-risk children. And many say that parents with a history of serious felonies shouldn’t be allowed to home-school.
Without oversight, advocates say, home-schooled children can be invisible and at risk. Hunt keeps a tally of reports of home-schooled children — 84 at last count — who have died after being abused or medically neglected. They include Hana Williams, a 13-year-old from Washington state who died in 2011 after years of beatings and confinement. She was adopted from Ethiopia and raised by fundamentalist Christian parents who had little contact with outsiders. Her death galvanized home-school reform activists.
But the deregulation advocates view any form of regulation is an intrusion on families. Ms. Lednicer quotes, Michael Farris, president and chief executive of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which litigates religious-freedom cases around the world on the issue:
“If every child in America must be monitored, then every preschooler must be monitored,” he says. “It’s a preposterous idea. A free society can’t be built on a distrust of families.”
Besides, Farris notes, public schools are highly regulated but not every child enrolled in them gets a good education.
When homeschooling started in Maine in the early 1980s I was working as Superintendent in a rural school district. The law required that homeschooling families present us with a curriculum and confer with us twice annually. It provided no funding for us and no regulatory guidelines beyond the mandatory “conferences” which did not have to be face-to-face. I decided to oversee the program at the district level, which meant I would be in direct contact with the parents.
Our district had two families who participated: one was a goat farmer and his wife who lived off the grid and wanted their child to have a purely experiential education. She was a voracious reader and, based on the worksheets the family willingly shared, was sufficiently skilled at mathematics. She got socialization skills at various farmers markets and community dances where she was able to interact with peers. While her Dad and I discussed goat farming and her overall “program”, his daughter drew pictures on scrap paper we had and flipped through magazines. I never laid eyes on the other child who was homeschooled. The parents sent us the curriculum they intended to use, which included a book titled “Mathematics for Christians”, after repeated phone calls. Before the end of the year the family evidently moved away. I never met them and they left no forwarding address. After making some inquiries at the State level, I was advised to keep a written record of all of this. But in the end, I have no idea what became of that child or his family.
So… would a requirement that a child “…be seen annually by an outside authority figure and be academically assessed, with a record kept of what they learned” constitute a “…society built on distrust of families” or would it constitute a society built on the indifference to the well-being of children?
Jacobin blogger Tanner Howard posted an article debunking the Meritocratic Myth that elite universities provide a means for poor and working class students to advance to a higher class. Ms. Howard offered the following data gathered in a recent study conducted by Northwestern University to support her assertion:
The report revealed that most college students at elite universities come from the upper echelon of American society. In fact, thirty-eight institutions enroll more students from the top 1 percent than students from the bottom 60 percent.
And fixing this will not be easy since the cost of attending these elite universities is daunting and most students from the bottom 60% do not qualify for student loans. And even if the lower income students DO get in, they may not have access to all that the university can offer:
Wealthy parents can buy their children into a good school with a strong brand name and a $70,000-plus tuition bill without giving it a second thought. These schools admit and fund a handful of low-income students so they can call themselves economically diverse institutions, even as those students cannot afford to participate in many of their institutions’ quintessential experiences, such as study abroad trips or unpaid internships.
Ms. Howard’s solution to this problem is to offer free tuition to students who qualify for entry into a public university. But, as she notes, public universities have been starved of funds in the recent past, diminishing their appeal to prospective teachers and students alike. She offers City University of New York as a case in point:
The City University of New York system shows that large-scale, well-funded institutions of higher learning can expand access to working-class populations. In fact, five CUNY colleges appear in the top twenty of the 2016 Social Mobility Index, which measures how effectively schools provide low-income students with a low-tuition education and allow them to avoid taking on debt .
The City College of New York, founded in 1851 as the nation’s first free public university, became known as “the Harvard of the proletariat” for successfully educating “the children of the whole people.” City College also established the nation’s first degree-granting evening program, offering numerous opportunities for workers with full-time jobs to work towards a college degree. The CUNY network today serves nearly 275,000 degree-seeking students.
But the neoliberalization of public education has been particularly hard on CUNY students. Between 1990 and 2010, the percentage of funding derived from student tuition at senior colleges nearly doubled, from 21 percent to 41 percent. And in 2016, Governor Cuomo proposed cutting$485 million — a third of the school’s funding — from its budget .
Although Cuomo recently announced his intention to offer free tuition to students coming from families making less than $125,000, his track record gives us reason to pause. Considering that CUNY faculty have received no pay increases in six years, and that adjuncts — many earning less than $30,000 annually — teach half of the school’s students, increasing financial support for students will not restore public universities to their full potential. Robust spending on all aspects of public institutions, including living wages for all faculty and service staff, is just as necessary to promoting successful universities as reducing the cost of admission.
Until quality post-secondary education becomes affordable, the notion of education being a means of economic mobility will remain a myth… and thousands of parents and students will become increasingly disillusion with the way our current system operates. As Ms. Howard writes in the concluding paragraphs:
…Any suggestion that elite schools actually challenge class hierarchy creates a meritocratic myth. Stories like the Obamas’ help perpetuate the illusion that any American, regardless of their origins, can join the 1 percent if they work hard enough. The visibility of a small handful of high-profile success stories obscures the limited possibilities afforded to most poor students.
Elite universities will never offer genuine, mass opportunities for advancement for working-class people. We have to restore public university funding and reduce costs to expand access to higher education to all.
Ohio Governor Kasich Proposes Teachers Learn About the Local Economy… How Will That Work Where No Local Economy Exists?
Diane Ravitch’s post this weekend included a link to an article by Doug Livingston, Akron Beacon-Journal staff writer on Governor John Katich’s proposed mandate that teachers “…see what it’s like to work outside the classroom so they can better match their students to the needs of local employers.” How will this be accomplished?
“It could be as simple as teachers touring local business and having those conversations … to just get a better sense of what those in-demand jobs are,” said Ryan Burgess, director of the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation, which put together the group that developed the “on-site work experience” externships and about 20 other proposals in Kasich’s budget.
Asked how kindergarten teachers might benefit from touring a local business, Burgess said it’s never too young to explore a career.
For the next generation of firefighters, he said, teachers who have toured fire stations can work the experience into lessons. “As the governor would say, how do we capture the imagination of young people?”
One of the rebuttals was that schools should require that the business leaders be required to spend a day in schools so that they could understand the public school teachers’ perspective. We did such a thing in the mid 1990s in the MD district I led at the time, whereby some businessperson spent a day in the classroom and the teachers spent a day at the businessperson’s worksite. Unsurprisingly the businessmen came away with an appreciation for how difficult teaching is! You have to be at work by 7:00 AM??? You have over 100 kids a day at the HS??? You don’t have “at-will” bathroom breaks at the elementary school??? You’re on your feet five+ hours a day??? There is so much information to keep track of!!! Egads! Oh, and this was the reaction even with a teacher with them in the classroom who had prepared a skeleton lesson plan for the visiting businessperson to follow! Some of the teachers couldn’t resist pointing out that they needed to work part-time after school to help cover mortgage payments or set aside money for their kids’ educations.
In fairness to Mr. Kasich’s proposal, the exchange worked well the other way. Teachers DID see how the workplace had changed from what they either recalled (from summer temp jobs in college) or read about… But it was purely voluntary and, consequently, rewarding for both parties.
But there is one reality to pulling this off at the state level: the paperwork is DAUNTING! Worksites will require the signing of waivers (many businesses DO have non-governmental workplace regulations to follow!), some sort of structured activities for the visiting teachers to follow, and someone at some level will have to make certain that the teachers comply with the externship regulation. What concerns Becky Higgins, president of the Ohio Education Association and members more than anything is “…the apparent devaluing and extra mandates placed on teachers“. As Ms. Higgins asked:
“Are there any other licensed professionals who have to do an externship outside of their area of expertise to get their licenses approved?”
Will this idea work in Ohio… I have my doubts. I wonder how businesses will feel about finding time and space for thousands of teachers to spend time visiting? More importantly, how will districts with no industry or local businesses deal with this? Will teachers spend time observing in local convenience stores? Or shadowing a local contractor? Or will they need to trave to the nearest town that has a Walmart? Or what if the only local enterprise is a coal mine? Or a military base? Or another government agency? And lastly, I wonder how some employers will feel about inviting a union member to work in their midst?
National Debate on Public School Leadership Playing Out in NH… With One Difference: It MIGHT Be Possible to Avoid a Calamity
Today’s Valley News features a story by AP reporter Kathleen Ronayne titled “School Choice Advocates See Ally in Chris Sununu. As noted in earlier posts, Governor Sununu, like Republican President Trump, has selected an inexperienced individual who favors guns in schools, gay conversion therapy, creationism, and de facto vouchers to head the public schools in our State. Like Ms. DeVos, who sent her children to private schools, Mr. Edelblut’s children did not attend public schools as he and his wife homeschooled their seven children. Like Ms. DeVos, Mr. Edelblut is a millionaire… but unlike Ms. DeVos he earned it himself, making a plausible argument that he knows how to lead a large organization like the State Board. But, as one of my earlier posts indicates, he has no understanding of what the State Department has already accomplished in his “signature” reform area of “personalization”.
But here’s what may turn out to be the biggest difference between DeVos and Edelblut: his appointment might be blocked! Here’s the text of an email I received from State Senator Martha Hennessy, who represents my town:
Call Councilor JOSEPH KENNEY this week to OPPOSE EDELBLUT and identify yourself as a parent if you are one!
Executive Councilor Joseph Kenney may still be willing to oppose Edelblut’s nomination for Education Commissioner but says he has not heard from enough parents. Please forward this information to every parent you know. Ask them to call Kenney THIS WEEK and urge him to oppose Edelblut’s nomination and to identify themselves as parents. If you have already called but didn’t say you are a parent, call again. His contact info is here:
Not only does Edelblut have no professional experience in education but as a state representative he supported legislation that would ALLOW GUNS IN SCHOOLS, and he refused to support a bill that would ban CONVERSION THERAPY FOR GAY YOUTH. Moreover, he is a CREATIONIST who wants “all theories of human origins” taught in schools. At his hearing he avoided answering important questions about his views on these issues and would not commit to staying out of partisan politics as commissioner. A good synopsis is here:
By nominating Edelblut, Sununu did not uphold STATE LAW that REQUIRES that the commissioner must be qualified by reason of education and experience. This is not about political party. This is about keeping our children safe and protecting their future. Please call. Please forward. The confirmation hearing has been postponed until next week.
Here’s hoping parents across the State respond to this call and sway one vote away from the “party line” and toward a better future for public schools. The last thing NH schools need is more guns, less tolerance toward LGBT students, and a curriculum that includes Creation science.