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Congresswoman Foxx’s Advice to Betsy DeVos: “You can start with: Don’t do anything.”

April 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Earlier this week the “TrumpEd” articlesection of the eSchool Media Website published an by Anna Douglas of the McClatchy news organization titled “Could the Education Department’s Days Be Numbered”. The short answer to the question posed in the title is “NO”… but, as the article notes, NC GOP Congresswoman Virginia Foxx is ready to do everything possible to minimize the impact of the department under Mr. Trump’s and Ms. DeVos’ leadership. Ms. Douglas writes:

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx wants the federal Department of Education to disappear. She wants Washington to stop passing down rules and regulations schools have to follow.

As the new chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, the seven-term North Carolina congresswoman has a powerful forum to talk about all that…

Foxx, who helped lead the writing of the 2016 Republican Party platform and served in House leadership, figures she’ll have to dilute Education Department power bit by bit. Already, she’s championing the use of a rare legislative tactic in Congress to eliminate some Obama administration regulations.

And Foxx is putting pressure on her colleagues in Congress to write the sort of legislation she wants, contending that some past laws were written sloppily and left too much leeway for federal departments to fill in gaps with rules and regulations.

Any federal educational policies, she told McClatchy in an interview, should come from lawmakers–not bureaucrats.

“We’ve got some good laws in place–let Congress do its oversight,” she said. “Sometimes doing nothing from the federal level is good.”

I would hope after seven terms in office that Ms. Foxx would understand the necessity for bureaucrats— not members of Congress— to write policy and develop regulations. Given the arcane financial products on the market, the detailed medical and scientific knowledge required to regulate health providers and consumer products, and the broad scope of Congress’ work it is hard to fathom how “lawmakers” could devise any meaningful policies in those fields.

I would also hope that Ms. Foxx realizes that if the federal government had “done nothing” in the past that poverty and inequality would be even more rampant in our country… and racial equality would be even more retrograde than it is now.

On the other hand, though, Arne Duncan and Barack Obama’s insistence that standardized tests be used as a metric for school quality and teaching effectiveness makes Ms. Foxx’s notion of “doing nothing” seem like a good idea. Indeed, one of the two items the GOP repealed using the Congressional Review Act was a misguided attempt by the Obama administration that “…required states to build a rating system for local teacher education programs, including judging teacher preparation based on student performance.” ETS and Pearson probably bemoaned that decision, but teacher educators and current teachers and administrators should be happy to see a de-emphasis on testing. The other item the GOP repealed, a “requirement to submit detailed school-accountability plans to the federal Education Department“, may or may not be salutary. Had standardized testing been a primary element of the “… detailed school-accountability plans”, in all probability the high-stakes testing regimen would have continued for another decade or so. But it is also possible that allowing the States to develop their own school accountability plans could lead to mis-use of tests by increasing VAM and/or ignoring any disparate scores that minority and low income students attain on such tests.

While ending the Department of Education is unlikely, it IS highly likely that the Department will be stripped of its authority. As Douglas explains:

Democrats in Congress will have limited power as Foxx and other conservatives look for a reset at the Education Department. Foxx said she’d found an ally in Secretary Betsy DeVos.

As things unfold, Foxx’s simple advice to DeVos has been: “You can start with: Don’t do anything.”

Rules, regulations and “dear colleague” letters from the department in the past incensed Foxx. Too often, she said, federal departments use regulations or executive power to distort legislative intent.

“We’re gonna stop this foolishness of letters and then people saying, ‘I’ve got to do this.’ Where is the authority for that? There’s no authority, but the school systems are scared,” she said.

One would hope that instead of “doing nothing” the federal government would pass legislation that intends to level the playing field for all students so that everyone, no matter what zip code they are born into, would have an equal opportunity. Alas, with Foxx, DeVos, and Trump setting the tone I do not foresee that kind of moral leadership forthcoming

 

OCR’s Investigation Into Richmond VA Suspensions Could Indicate Future Direction

April 18, 2017 Leave a comment

After blogging yesterday about the appointment of Candace Jackson– an inexperienced anti-feminist and anti-affirmative action attorney– as de facto head of OCR, I read with interest K.Burnell Evans’ article that appeared in yesterday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch. Titled “US Department of Education Launches Investigation into Richmond Public Schools”, Evans’ article opens with these paragraphs:

The U.S. Department of Education has launched a civil rights investigation of Richmond Public Schools at the request of advocacy groups that say the district’s disciplinary policies discriminate against black students and students with disabilities.

The decision was announced Monday by the Legal Aid Justice Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, which received word last week that the federal agency’s Office for Civil Rights would investigate concerns the organizations submitted in August.

Among them: Black students with disabilities were nearly 13 times more likely than white students without disabilities to receive short-term suspensions, Virginia Department of Education data from the 2014-15 academic year show.

The article details the basis for the complaint, noting that “…at least 1 in 4 students were suspended from eight Richmond Public Schools in the 2014-15 school year, including at two elementary schools”. The article also noted that State had taken action in two other counties with lower suspension rates. But reading on, it seemed less clear that the State would take any action in Richmond’s case.

Although the Virginia Department of Education does collect self-reported student discipline data from school districts, it was unclear Monday whether Richmond Public Schools had been cited for issues of discipline inequity in recent years.

Public school systems for Chesterfield and Henrico counties have.

State Education Department spokeswoman Julie Grimes said the agency does not conduct investigations based on the data. The information is reported to the federal government for funding purposes.

If the State is not using data to take action, why does it bother to collect the data at all? And if it is “…reported to the federal government for funding purposes” are there any consequences at that level if there are marked disparities in suspension rates?

Based on the closing paragraphs, I think I know the answer:

The federal Education Department did not immediately provide information Monday about the percentage of complaints the Office for Civil Rights agrees to investigate. It was unclear when the probe might conclude.

With Candace Jackson at the helm, I doubt that OCR will display much zeal in their investigation… and frankly doubt that any meaningful investigation will take place. Indeed, given the review of rules taking place, I would not be surprised to read that disaggregated data on suspensions will cease in the name of “efficiency”…

Florida’s “Schools of Hope” Based on Wishful Thinking, Faulty Logic

April 1, 2017 Leave a comment

The Florida GOP, having had charter school laws on the books for more than 20 years and having no evidence whatsoever that they are more successful than public schools, has now introduced old wine in new skin in the form of “Schools of Hope”. As reported by Kristen Clark in the Miami Herald, the Florida GOP is proposing a “…bold– and costly– idea” to help the 77,000 students who are “trapped” in failing schools.

They want to spend $200 million in 2017-18 to entice “the best of the best charter schools in the entire country” to set up shop near Florida’s failing traditional schools and establish “schools of hope” that would offer a better education — and better chance to succeed — to those students currently in struggling neighborhood schools.

Republican House leaders say traditional public schools and county school districts have had ample opportunity, flexibility and resources to turn around perpetually failing schools, but the results haven’t yielded enough success.
And what does the “schools of hope” legislation offer in place of “traditional public schools and county school districts”?

(The bill) provides a pathway for a nonprofit charter school operator “with a record of serving students from low-income families” to set up and run a “school of hope” for a minimum of five years in a community where there is a perpetually failing traditional school that’s eligible to receive Title I federal funds.

The bill offers some guidance on what criteria would be required for a “hope” operator, but which operators ultimately get that status would be up to the State Board of Education. Operators with that designation would then have access to grants, loans and other state funding from the $200 million pot to build their “school of hope,” train teachers, recruit students, promote community engagement and implement their innovative strategies.

Each “school of hope” would have to be able to accommodate the entire student population of the struggling public school — potentially allowing the new “school of hope” to muscle out the traditional neighborhood school.

As Ms. Clark reports, there are several Democratic party legislators who contend that the failure of schools is tied to the conditions in the community that are beyond the reach of educators:

But some Democrats, school board members, public school teachers and parents caution that the solution isn’t as simple as bringing in out-of-state operators to run brand-new schools that could essentially replace languishing neighborhood schools.

The problems are far more complex than who the teacher in a classroom is or which principal leads a school, they say; it’s generational and systemic poverty that plagues these students — who are most often black or Hispanic and who also face racial and geographic disparities in their educational opportunities.

“When you look at these communities where these schools are, there are some common threads to all of them: Poverty, you have kids having kids, and a lot of times these kids don’t know how to be parents,” said Port St. Lucie Democratic Rep. Larry Lee, who said he grew up in such a community.

“We’re bringing in external forces in these school districts and asking them to turn it around,” he said. “Sometimes I, as a black man, go back into the area where I grew up and, at times, even I am not accepted because they say, ‘You don’t live here anymore.’ You need people in those communities to buy in.”

Some other legislators note that the $200,000,000 infusion of new funds would be better spent supporting existing schools and, I would note, making the safety net more secure. For example, if the legislature REALLY wanted to support children in need they should give serious consideration to expanding Medicaid funding so that they can offer health benefits associated with the so-called Obamacare bill. Instead, the market-drivenlogic of the GOP would rather make more choices available to the “consumers”. And then there’s this little detail Ms. Clark interjects near the end of her article:

Several House Republicans involved in the legislation — such as Corcoran, Bileca and Diaz — have connections to the charter-school industry.

And one of those legislators, Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., the House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman, was quoted as characterizing the funding of this $200,000,000 choice plan as a “moral responsibility”.  The marketplace, unfortunately, is amoral… and it is the government’s responsibility to balance the scales so that students in those schools in poverty stricken areas have the same chance for success as students in affluent schools. Until that happens, there will be no “schools of hope”.

President Trump’s Starving of USDOE Starts NOW!

March 29, 2017 Leave a comment

In a post yesterday I shared a list of vacancies that exist in key positions in the USDOE and suggested that this was not a bug but a feature. Yesterday’s Politico feed reinforced that notion in it’s lead section on the $3,000,000,000 cut the President is proposing for THIS fiscal year, which has five months left:

After proposing a $9.2 billion cut to the Education Department’s budget for next year, the President Donald Trump is now calling on Congress to slash nearly $3 billion in education funding for the remaining five months of this fiscal year, according to a document obtained by POLITICO. The White House on Friday sent House and Senate appropriators detailed instructions on how they should craft spending legislation to fund the federal government beyond April 28, when the current stopgap spending bill expires.

– The Trump proposal seeks cuts across many federal agencies, but calls for the deepest reductions at the Education Department. The administration proposes $1.3 billion in cuts from the Pell grant program’s surplus this year – on top of the $3.9 billion proposed cut for next fiscal year. The CBO estimates the program will operate with a $10.6 billion surplus next year, but advocates for student aid and Congressional Democrats have blasted efforts to “raid” the Pell surplus and direct that money outside of financial aid programs.

– The White House is seeking to slash in half Title II, Part A funding for the current year. The program helps boost teacher and principal quality through professional development and also funds efforts to reduce class sizes. “Funding is poorly targeted and supports practices that are not evidence-based,” the administration wrote in the document. Trump’s “skinny budget” for next fiscal year called for eliminating the $2.4 billion program entirely.

– Also on the chopping blockfor elimination this year: A $47 million program that provides grants to school districts and other organizations to support physical education programs and a $49 million competitive grant program that provides money for elementary and secretary school counseling. The White House is also proposing to nix a $152 million program to boost math and science instruction and a $189 million program called Striving Readers that provides competitive grants to states to improve literacy instruction. All of those programs were eliminated by the Every Student Succeeds Act, which created a new large state block grant for those types of support and enrichment activities. But that grant program isn’t currently funded under the continuing resolution.

– The Trump plan calls for reductions this year to other agencies that affect education: National Institutes of Health (3.8 percent cut); National Science Foundation (5 percent cut); NASA (nearly 1 percent cut); National Endowment for the Arts (10 percent cut); National Endowment for the Humanities (10 percent cut); and educational and cultural exchange programs at the State Department (23.7 percent cut).

– But the request for cuts – which would be absorbed by federal agencies between April 28 and Sept. 30 – could prove to be too little, too late from the White House, report POLITICO’s Helena Bottemiller Evich and Sarah Ferris. Top Congressional appropriators have indicated that they’re prepared to reject Trump’s calls to gut programs they deem important – and some have said the White House weigh in too late in the appropriations process to affect the outcome for the current fiscal year.

The last section indicates that the first portions might be a purely political ploy… but the first sections DO reinforce the intentions of the Trump administration to diminish programs that help the less affluent children and to slash programs in the arts. The federal role in public education in the Trump/GOP administration will be to funnel block grants to states to use as they choose… and the choice in many states will be to diminish taxes and not enhance equity.

The Double Edged Sword of Deregulation: States Can Ignore Equity and Civil Rights with Impunity

March 10, 2017 Leave a comment

To no one’s surprise, yesterday Congress passed a bill that will effectively eliminate the regulations that the Obama administration wrote as part of the implementation procedure for ESSA. NYTimers reporter Dana Goldstein summarized some of the elements of the legislation, focussing primarily on the issue of standardized testing:

It is customary for federal agencies to issue detailed regulations on how new laws should be put into effect, and Mr. Obama’s Department of Education did so in November. But some lawmakers from both parties saw the regulations as unusually aggressive and far-reaching, and said they could subvert ESSA’s intent of re-establishing local control over education and decreasing the emphasis on testing.

The Obama regulations pushed states to weight student achievement measures, such as test scores and graduation rates, more heavily than other factors in labeling schools as underperforming. The regulations also required schools to provide parents and the public with an annual report card detailing schoolwide student achievement data and other indicators of success.

Among the most contentious of the Obama rules was one that required schools to test at least 95 percent of their students.

“The regulations were an overreach,” said Robert Schaeffer, the public education director of FairTest, a group that fights standardized testing. But, he said, “the total repeal is also an overreach,” because it targets civil rights regulations as well as testing rules.

And therein lies the conundrum of standards and regulations: how can a government at any level, including the school board level, avoid imposing standards and regulations when housing patterns and the accompanying economic and educational well-being of children is inequitable. As Ms. Goldstein writes, there is a change in sentiment about the role of the federal government in the setting of standards and measurement of performance:

Beginning in the 1980s, moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans tended to agree that the federal government ought to hold local schools to tough standards, and monitor them closely to make sure they were shrinking achievement gaps between different groups of students. The ESSA repeal effort shows that center no longer holds. On the Senate floor Wednesday, Mr. Alexander said a regulatory repeal would “restore to states, to classroom teachers and to school boards decisions about what to do about the children.”

Giving states the authority over education sounds good… but history shows that when states are given that obligation racial and economic justice take a backseat and the education of ESL and handicapped students flags. The fact that 42 states have experienced lawsuits over funding equities should serve as sufficient evidence that some kind of federal oversight is needed and the relatively recent trend of resegregation of public schools should reinforce the need for some kind of federal intervention. But for now, economic and racial justice are taking a backseat. For the sake of poor, minority, ESL, and handicapped children, I hope the pendulum swings back with a vengeance.

AZ Superintendent’s Letter to Editor Shows Where “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts” Lead

February 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Sierra Vista AZ Superintendent Kriss Hagerl’s letter to the editor of her local newspaper the Sierra Vista Herald, describes the how AZ’s proposed “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts” would play out in her school district. Having downloaded, read, and bookmarked the Center for Media and Democracy’s (CMD) 2016 report on ALEC’s privatization movement, it is evident that AZ legislators are proposing a bill of the “scholarship genre”, described in the CMD report follows:

A handful of ALEC bills claim to offer “scholarships” for sympathetic populations—like students with disabilities or foster kids—but are actually targeted voucher programs that act as the proverbial “camel’s nose under the tent” to advance a privatization agenda.

One ALEC bill, the Special Needs Scholarship Program Act, carves out vouchers for students with special needs, regardless of family income. Nine states—Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New York, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island—considered similar legislation in 2015, or expanded existing laws. This bill uses taxpayer funds to send vulnerable children to for-profit schools not bound by federal and state legal requirements to meet a student’s special needs that public schools must follow.

Another ALEC bill, The Foster Child Scholarship Program Act, would create a voucher program specifically for children in foster care, and was introduced in Missouri.

Opportunity Scholarships,” introduced in four states—Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, and New Mexico—earmark vouchers for students in schools deemed “failing.”

The similar Smart Start Scholarship Program, introduced in four states—Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Tennessee—offers vouchers for pre-school and kindergarten on a sliding scale starting with families eligible for reduced price school lunches. The strategy with these bills is to use the notion of helping poor families as a first step towards expanding taxpayer-funded, private “scholarships” to any family, regardless of their ability to afford private school.

ALEC and its allies have additionally sought to move away from the term “vouchers” and towards “education savings accounts,” even though the impact is ultimately the same: to shift taxpayer funds from public schools to private or religious institutions.

Versions of the ALEC Education Savings Account Act were introduced in seven states—Iowa, Illinois, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia—in 2015. The bill subtracts funds directly from state school aid and deposits these funds into savings accounts for low-income students that can be used to pay private school expenses.

And how would this bill affect Sierra Vista, AZ schools? Ms. Hagerl explains that uncertainties regarding enrollments make it impossible to develop budgets since her district must educate all children while “…private schools can choose to be open or can shut their doors at any time.”  Moreover,  public schools cannot say “we are full; you will have to go somewhere else” nor can they turn away students who are disabled or disruptive. And most unjust is the fact that the private schools and homeschool parents who are siphoning money from public schools do not need to meet the accountability standards established for public schools. Ms. Hagerl writes:

A parent may accept Empowerment Scholarship dollars for their child on a yearly basis and never have to demonstrate their child’s learning in any way. I am at a loss as to how the state has decided to provide taxpayer money from the state’s general fund to parents who opt to take their child out of a public school and send them to a private school or home school them in a program that does not have to keep track of academic progress or be held accountable for student growth and success.

This issue is hitting close to home for me since the NH legislature is considering SB 193, which would effectively accomplish the same ends as the bills under consideration in AZ… and the bill is currently labelled as “ought to pass” and, according to the fiscal note at the end, will have no impact on state finances. Why? Because no additional STATE funds are needed to implement the bill!

After writing this post I intend to be in touch with my local delegation, urging them to oppose this bill, which would clearly have an adverse impact on NH public schools across the state. In the meantime, I urge any readers of this blog to see if your State legislature is proposing “scholarship” bills that get the camel’s nose under the tent…. Because it is evident that privatization and vouchers— and the destruction of “government schools” are the ultimate goals of the legislatures— and not just in AZ and NH!

 

My Open Letter to Frank Edelblut

February 18, 2017 1 comment

Pasted below is an open letter I composed for newly appointed NH Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut. I submitted it to the local newspaper who indicated they might find space for it when I emailed it last week. As of today it had not been published… and so I am prospectively posting it for tomorrow. If it doesn’t find its way into print I will mail it to Mr. Edelblut when I return from a weekend trip.

Dear Commissioner Edelblut-

Congratulations on your appointment to Commissioner of Education in New Hampshire. Earlier this month when the Governor nominated you, I wrote to the Executive Council during their deliberations to express my concern about your appointment as Commissioner. As a retired public school superintendent I felt that your lack of experience as a teacher, administrator, board member, or public school parent would place you at a decided disadvantage given the complex challenges facing the New Hampshire Department of Education. Now that you are appointed, I want to offer some thoughts on how you might proceed in your new assignment.

Until a few months ago No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RTTT) effectively dictated state educational practices. With the passage of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), however, states have the responsibility for curriculum design, for the development of student assessments, and for setting the parameters for school accountability. This provides the State Department of Education with an opportunity to transform public schools in New Hampshire in a way that has not been possible for over a decade.

Given this opportunity to replace the top-down system that was imposed by the Federal government in years past, I would encourage you to use a grassroots approach. I urge you to spend as much time as possible in face-to-face meetings with educators, School Board members, and parents to get their views on how to improve public schools. I know that your predecessors made a point of attending Superintendents’ regional meetings and visiting schools that had had exemplary programs, and I know their presence was always appreciated. In those meetings and local visitations we learned from each other and developed a mutual respect and understanding. I am certain the School Boards Association would welcome an opportunity to meet with you to describe the challenges they face governing schools, meeting existing standards, and managing their budgets. I am also confident the NEA and AFT leaders would welcome an opportunity to share their views on how the State department might help teachers succeed in the classroom.

After meeting with those working in the field, I recommend that you draw on the expertise of the State Department staff and a team of practitioners to help develop an accountability system that is less reliant on standardized tests. This revised accountability system will help you define the direction for public schools in the coming years and help school boards and administrators develop long and short term goals accordingly. Under NCLB and RTTT, scores on standardized achievement tests linked to the Common Core were the primary measure of student and school success. These scores determined if school was “in need of improvement” or “failing”. As the scores required for a passing grade rose, almost every school in the state fell short of the mark. Your predecessor, Dr. Virginia Barry and her staff resisted this over-reliance on tests and worked with educators across the state to develop alternatives to these one-size-fits-all assessments mandated by NCLB and RTTT. By capitalizing on their earlier efforts, you can expedite the development of a new accountability plan, one that will not require a complete change in direction or philosophy.

As I am sure you realize from your experience as a legislator, the provision of equitable state funding for schools is an ongoing problem in New Hampshire. The reliance on property tax means that school districts with a strong tax base can raise adequate funds for schools without overburdening homeowners. At the same time, school districts in less affluent communities struggle to hire and retain qualified teachers and maintain their facilities, which in some cases are in dire need of improvement. Should the State be willing to raise more funds for public education or should federal funds become more flexible, I urge you to advocate for full funding of the formula designed to provide equity for those communities who cannot raise sufficient funds through property taxes. This would not only address a longstanding disparity in educational opportunities for children in the state, but also ensure that small rural schools and schools in poverty stricken communities can survive.

I read with great interest that you wanted to move toward a more “personalized” education system where students “could earn credits in traditional classroom settings, through online courses or vocational settings”. As I trust you learned in your recent meetings with members of the State Board, those opportunities already exist for New Hampshire students. Since 2005 high schools have been able to grant credits based on the fulfillment of competencies. By 2008-09, every high school in the state had created their own sets of competencies and they were authorized to award credits outside the traditional classroom based on the mastery of those competencies. Two years ago, EdNext, a publication of the conservative Hoover Foundation, rightfully hailed New Hampshire as a “trailblazer” in the development of this competency based education program, which is the prerequisite for developing an effective personalized learning system. If you haven’t done so, I recommend you read the article by Julia Freeland. It explains the remarkable accomplishments of the State Department of Education to date and provides a good description of the challenges they are facing in scaling up their personalized learning initiative. Drawing on the information in that article and feedback from administrators and teachers in the field, you should be able to build on the foundation Dr. Barry and her staff and fulfill the promise of a wholly personalized education system.

I know that you are an advocate for charter schools. When you visit with school board members, administrators, teachers and parents, you will discover that many who are affiliated with public education also support charter schools. The Department of Education webpage lists 26 charter schools that are governed by publicly elected boards or authorized by the State Board. I believe local school districts and the State Board would support the expansion of charter schools to meet the needs of students who are currently struggling in school. However, I do not believe School Boards, educators, or taxpayers want to see funds directed to for-profit, sectarian, or un-regulated charter schools. They expect all publicly funded schools to be held to the same levels of academic and financial accountability as their local public schools.

In closing, the Commissioner of Education does not “offer a product” or “run a business”. The Commissioner is responsible for overseeing a government agency that delivers a public good, a government agency that develops and implements policies and regulations designed to ensure that the state provides all children in the state with an equal opportunity to receive a high quality education. You are fortunate to have a State Department staff that is committed to this mission and fortunate to be working with School Boards, administrators and teachers who want children to succeed in school and in life. I think you will find that leading schools is as rewarding as it is difficult. I wish you well!

 

Sincerely,

Wayne Gersen