Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

Congressman Bowman’s Overly Ambitious Plan for Green Schools Invites Sliming from the Right

July 19, 2021 Leave a comment

Common Dreams writer Jake Johnson describes an ambitious— make that OVERLY ambitious plan for reforming public education set forth by Congressman Jamal Bowman calling for a “revolution in public education”.  The plan is summarized in bullet form as follows: 

  • $446 billion in Climate Capital Facilities Grants and $40 billion for a Climate Change Resiliency Program

    • Climate Capital Facilities Grants will fully fund healthy green retrofits for the highest-need third of schools, as measured by the CDC Social Vulnerability Index, and offer a mix of grant funding and no- or low-interest loans for the middle and top thirds. Grants will cover two-thirds and one-third of retrofit costs for these schools, respectively. 

  • $250 billion in Resource Block Grants

    • Resource Block Grants will fund staffing increases, expanded social service programming, and curriculum development at high-need schools. The program will allow Local Educational Agencies across the country to hire and train hundreds of thousands of additional educators and support staff, including paraprofessionals, school psychologists and counselors, and learning specialists. The funds may also be used to design locally-rooted curricula; adopt trauma-informed, culturally responsive, and restorative justice practices, to move towards a “whole child” approach to public education; and partner with community organizations to offer a range of services to schools and surrounding neighborhoods, such as after-school programs. 

  • $100 million for an Educational Equity Planning Grants Pilot Program

    • Educational Equity Planning Grants will encourage neighboring Local Education Agencies to form regional consortia, which will receive funding to conduct extensive community outreach, identify the historical and current sources of educational disparities within the region, and create and implement a Regional Education Equity Plan to address those disparities. This pilot program is modeled on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grants, which are designed to encourage equitable, locally-driven economic development. 

  • $695 billion over 10 years for Title I and IDEA (Individuals With Disabilities Education Act) increases

    • This bill proposes quadrupling Title I funding to reach $66 billion annually to support schools and districts with students living in poverty, as well as increasing funding for IDEA Part B to reach $33 billion annually to support students with disabilities.

As I noted in a comment I left:

Congressman Bowman’s plan is ambitious and, alas, does not stand a chance of getting a hearing within his party let alone the GOP. Why? Because too many in his party remain in the thrall of market-based solutions and “accountability” based on standardized test scores. Moreover, as the comments below indicate, even those who identify as progressives (who else reads this?) have become disenchanted with public education and would be reluctant to “throw money” at the kinds of solutions the Congressman proposes. His best bet (and that of the Democrats) would be to emphasize the spending needed to make the facilities “green”. To go beyond that at this point would invite a culture war that gives the Fox News anchors a chance to continue sliming “government schools”.

I am grateful, though, that the Congressman has put this on the table… staking out a position for the Democrats that might replace the market-based ideas embraced by the neo-liberals who still seem to control the dialogue on public schools in their party. 

Where We Are Headed in NH Thanks to “Divisive Concepts” Legislation: A Train Wreck

July 18, 2021 Leave a comment

I used a couple of posts from this blog as a springboard for an op ed submission to the Valley News, our regional newspaper… an op ed that was published today. Here’s my prediction on how “divisive concepts” will be defined:

Despite the protests of advocates of public education and free speech, New Hampshire’s “divisive concepts” legislation will go into effect this fall. To implement the law, Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut is will issue a technical advisory for administrators and school boards, an advisory that he states “will aim to delineate exactly how the new teaching prohibitions will apply in the classroom”. I do not believe it is possible to develop an exact delineation of “divisive concepts”. Instead, the definition of “divisive concepts” will emerge from a succession of appeals to administrators and school boards by parents and “concerned citizens” who are uncomfortable with some element of a school’s curriculum or operations. Three examples below illustrate how I believe the definition of “divisive concepts” will emerge, examples that show how this incremental process will affect school boards, school administrators, and especially classroom teachers.

A Fox News report by Joshua Nelson in early June offers a preview of what lies ahead for school boards in New Hampshire. The report described RI parent Nicole Solas’ appearance on Fox and Friends where she recounted her efforts to find evidence that her Kindergarten child was being exposed to “anything with gender theory or anti-racism”.

She called the principal who told her that they refrained “from using gendered terminology in general terms of anti-racism” and also learned that kids in kindergarten were asked “what could have been done differently at Thanksgiving” which struck her “as a way to shame children for their American heritage”.

Ms. Solas then sought to see the curriculum for herself. To do so, she had to submit a public records request through the Access to Public Records Act (APRA). Upon receiving some information, Solas said she “did not see any evidence of gender theory or anti-racism” but knew that it was being taught to students. She told the Fox and Friends hosts that she was continuing to use the APRA request system to seek answers to more of her questions but the school district was scheduled to meet about possible legal action over her request.

This kind of pushback from an elected board seems indefensible, but what Fox News didn’t report was that Ms. Solas had filed 160 public information requests that cost the district over $10,000 to retrieve and print. Given the likelihood that there are parents who, like Ms. Solas, are willing to spend hours poring over documents to “prove” schools or teachers are teaching “gender theory or anti-racism” NH school boards might want to consider where to draw a line in responding to information requests. Should they provide printed curriculum documents for every parent for every subject? Should individual teacher’s lesson plans subject to public scrutiny if a parent claims they are teaching “divisive content”? And how much time and energy can a school board exert to reach any kind of understanding with a parent who “did not see any evidence of gender theory or anti-racism” but knew it was being taught?

A personal experience I had over 20 years ago in Wappingers, NY illustrates how the assignment of a controversial book plays can impact administrators. A lone parent in the school district was upset with a book a High School teacher assigned her daughter’s class, Bless Me Ultima by Rudolpho Anaya. During the Citizen Participation portion of a school boards meeting she read a page from the book that she found particularly disgusting, a page that was full of profanity and sexual innuendos which, when taken out of context, seemed needlessly vulgar. After her reading, she demanded that the board immediately take this book off the reading list and out of the library. Fortunately, the Board Chairperson was aware that the school district had a policy for the review of controversial materials, a policy that required me, as the Superintendent, to be the final arbiter. After reading Bless Me Ultima, I concluded that the “vulgar” pages in question were essential to the story and, on balance, not offensive. The parent appealed my decision to the State Board, who upheld my finding based on procedural grounds. However, once one book was called into question, two other appeals followed, one of which came from a parent who believed Harry Potter to be satanic. And once one book was called into question, principals and teachers began to review all of the books they assigned. I daresay every school district in NH is now open to similar appeals since many “controversial” books could be classified as “divisive”, and I daresay Superintendents, administrators, and teachers might find themselves examining their syllabi to avoid teaching “divisive concepts”.

Teachers, though, are affected most by the “divisive concepts” legislation. A NYTimes article on described the experience of Justine Ang Fonte, a Health and Wellness teacher at Dalton School.  Ms. Fonte, described in the Times headline as a “sex educator”, accepted an offer this past May to teach two Zoom sessions on “pornography literacy and consent” to 120 Juniors and Seniors at a Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School on the Upper West Side. Following the class, two anonymous parents complained about the content of the lessons. Then:

About a week later, she woke up to find herself featured in The New York Post: “Students and parents reel after class on ‘porn literacy,’” said the headline. That story was followed by another soon after: “Dalton parents enraged over ‘masturbation’ videos for first graders.” The articles included screen shots from Ms. Fonte’s lessons, a possibility in the Zoom-classroom world. Versions of the articles appeared in The Sun, The Daily Mail and on Fox News.”

Neither the school that invited her to offer the course nor Dalton, the school where she worked, came to her defense. She subsequently found herself in the cross hairs of anti-sex education advocates and, to make matters worse, her lessons on sexuality pushed the buttons of groups who were offended by lessons on “diversity, equity and inclusion”. This led to a series of drive-by protests by trucks plastered with signs protesting “Woke Schools”, petitions claiming that employees of Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School were laying the “groundwork” for “a race-focused ideology”, violent threats in her email inbox, and harassment on social media. The Times article provided evidence that the lessons Ms. Fonte offered were age appropriate, supported by the medical and mental health communities, and— in most states, including New York— supported by curriculum standards. In a State where “divisive concepts” cannot be taught, I cannot help but wonder how inherently controversial topics included in the health curriculum will be covered. Will local school boards stand behind teachers who offer lessons on gender equity? Gender identity? Will the State stand behind teachers who teach dating violence and date rape, topics that are currently mandated in the curriculum? Presumably, Mr. Edelblut’s technical advisory will shed some light on this.

I am certain that Superintendents, school board members, and teachers across the nation will be watching to see how their counterparts in New Hampshire weather the inevitable controversies that will emerge in the coming months, controversies that the right-wing press will be only too happy to amplify in their efforts to undercut “government schools”, controversies that will divert attention away from important topics like equitable funding, and controversies that will ultimately define what constitutes a “divisive topic”.

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AZ Governor Ducey Issues a Directive that’s a Doozy

July 17, 2021 Leave a comment

As the CNN report below indicates, AZ GOP Governor Doug Ducey has decided that the health and well-being of voters should take a back seat to politics. Despite the advice of his health department, the CDC, and virtually every doctor on the planet, Mr. Ducey is demanding that schools NOT follow recommended quarantine protocols to help control the spread of COVID. Why? Because HE contends these protocols violate state laws governing school attendance. This paragraph illustrates the stance of the school attorneys and the medical establishment:

“Simply stated, a student’s temporary quarantine in conformance with guidance published by the CDC, the Arizona Department of Health and the Pima and Maricopa County Health Departments does not violate either the letter, or sprit of [the state law],” the lawyer for the school districts wrote. “Instead, this practice promotes public health.”

But this is AZ where the GOP seems to think that they can rewrite laws on the fly, ignore medical science, and overturn elections… oh, and while they are at it ignore the reality that climate change is real and is going to make living in the desert a challenge.

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