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The Parents of Homeless Children Have More to Worry About than “Choice”

October 18, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s NYTimes featured an article that headlined an astonishing fact:

With a subheading that read:

One out of every 10 students lived in temporary housing during the last school year.

Another header noted that there are more homeless children in NYC than there are residents in Albany. When I read this, it underscored the fact that “choice” is not going to help the neediest children in New York City or ANY city or impoverished community for that matter. If a parent has no roof over their he’d, choosing their child’s school is a secondary issue: the only thing that is important to them is finding a fixed residence; a place that they can use as a base when they seek employment, try to secure child care before and after school, and have a place to store and prepare their food.

I would agree with those who say money doesn’t matter in schools serving poor children, because if 1 out of 10 of the children attending a school lack a roof over their heads then that— and not the well-being of their child— becomes the focal point of their parents’ life.

I was appalled at the facts reported in the headline and the heartbreaking stories in the article by Eliza Shapiro, but I was even more appalled at some of the comments suggesting that it was the fault of the city government because they offered generous benefits to unwed mothers. A comment that won the approval of 40+ readers landing it in the top tier read:

This situation is a direct and predictable result of the city’s humane, warmhearted, generous, social welfare policies. The city has made itself hospitable to people who cannot support themselves in one of the most expensive urban environments in the country. There is no penalty for irresponsible life styles. Rather, there is an increase in benefits. Why limit the number of children you have,if the city will pay for them? Why not become a single mother if you get lots of benefits? With the best of intentions the city, state and federal governments have magnified a problem that should at worst, be minor.

I daresay that any young woman set out to become homeless or views their life as one that has “”…lots of benefits”. But by holding a view that blames the victims of homelessness of their status, it is possible to believe that one’s tax dollars are being spent frivolously and are being used to magnify a problem that should be minor. In short, it reinforces the GOP mindset that “government is the problem”. Another commenter, whose remarks had the highest number of approvals, escaped from being a child in a homeless household. She had it right she she wrote:

A person can only persevere so much and it saddens me that so much of our policy is based on ‘grit and bootstraps’, with no understanding of how much luck, or lack of it, plays into our place in this world. We should do better and these kids deserve better.

To which I can only say “AMEN!” My place in the world is in part because I worked hard throughout my life… but it is also the result of being born a white male into a family with two college graduates who cared deeply about me as a child and an adult. The government can’t provide every child with that good fortune, but they should be able to provide every child with a roof over their heads, nutritious meals, and clothing. That doesn’t seem to be a socialist dream… only a humanitarian one.

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Arizona’s Education Savings Accounts: The Billionaires’ “Vouchers in Disguise”

October 6, 2018 Comments off

In early September the Guardian’s Steven Greenhouse wrote an article that included a paragraph that offered an excellent summation of Education Savings Accounts (or ESAs), the billionaire “philanthropists'” latest gambit to expand the privatization of public schools. The primary focus of the article was the ongoing efforts of Arizona parents and teachers to stop the expansion of ESAs and restore public education funding to a level that will put the public schools back on their feet. How bad are things in Arizona?

One study found that Arizona, at $7,613, is the third-lowest state in public school spending per student, while another study found that from 2008 to 2015, school funding per pupil had plunged by 24% in Arizona, after adjusting for inflation – the second-biggest drop in the nation.

Determined to push back against this short-changing of public schools, six determined parents decided to launch a referendum effort to push back against the recent action of the Arizona legislature that had enacted a law that was characterized as “the nation’s broadest school vouchers law”, a law that allowed state-raised taxes to be used on private or religiously affiliated schools. Over the summer these parents gathered over 110,000 signatures and got the referendum they sought on the ballot this November. What happened next?

…the Koch brothers’ political arm, Americans for Prosperity, sued to block the referendum. A judge dismissed the lawsuit and approved the referendum for 6 November – it’s called Proposition 305. The vote will be closely watched by people on both sides of the debate as the Kochs and DeVos hope to spread the voucher scheme and opponents look to Arizona for clues on how to stop them.

Near the end of the article, Mr. Greenhouse quotes Lily Eskelen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, who said what has happened in Arizona is “part of a scheme to undermine public education”.

“We know exactly how the plan goes,” she said. “You underfund the kids who need the most. You starve the public schools. You take away the funding so they can’t deliver quality services, and then when things get so bad that nobody wants to work in the schools, the voucher salesmen, the vultures, swoop in and do this nice little bait and switch. Instead of fixing the schools, they say let’s make sure you have the same program as wealthy kids at private schools.” But vouchers, she said, don’t begin to deliver on that promise.

IF the handful of parents succeed in stopping the legislature by passing a referendum it won’t help in many states because not every state has a referendum mechanism. That means parents and teachers who care about public education will need to watch their State elections carefully. During the past legislative session in New Hampshire the legislature narrowly avoided the passage of a bill that would have greatly expanded Education Savings Accounts. The NH legislators wrote their law using the ALEC handbook funded by the Koch brothers and their pro-privatization allies. Like their Arizona counterparts, the NH GOP legislators are starving public education claiming there isn’t enough money to pay for the state formula that equalizes funding so that the kids who need it most get an adequate education… BUT, they did manage to “find” funding to help underwrite ESAs. NH doesn’t have a referendum mechanism, but it DOES have a ballot box referendum. Here’s hoping the voters ensure that they elect a legislature that will abandon ESAs.

Stand Out: A Guide to “Charter School Marketing”

August 30, 2018 Comments off

After reading Mercedes Schneider’s post whose title is the same as this one, I re-blogged and offered the following commentary, which I also left as a comment on Diane Ravitch’s blog that incorporated the link to this post:

The whole notion of marketing a school and making a living as “…a strategic consultant in the field of education reform and philanthropy and specializes in collaborating with leaders and organizations to tell their story” is nauseating…. but in the emerging era of choice and charters public schools DO need to heed one piece of advice offered by the Colorado League of Charter Schools: they DO need to “Include parents on your list of those to be nurtured and recognized.” This was a sound practice in the era when I worked in public education (1970-2011), but it is even more important now! In states where choice is advocated by politicians, I think it is safe to assume that parents are getting bombarded with slick brochures written by “…strategic consultants in the field of education reform and philanthropy”. Public schools do not have the time or money to put out slick brochures, but we should have the time to praise and support parents. Failure to do so will increase the bleeding of students.

deutsch29

Where there is a charter school, there is a need to drum up some enrollment.

“It is not enough for parents to choose any seats,” saith the charter school; “we need for those parents to choose our seats.”

That’s where some nifty marketing assistance is helpful.

In 2015, the Colorado League of Charter Schools (CLCS) produced a publication entitled, Stand Out: A Guide to School Marketing, created by Lisa Relou Consulting:

Stand Out: A Guide to School Marketing was created in collaboration with Lisa Relou Consulting. Lisa Relou is the former Director of Internal Communications and Marketing for Denver Public Schools and has 15 years of experience marketing
schools in Colorado. She is currently a strategic consultant in the field of education reform and philanthropy and specializes in collaborating with leaders and organizations to tell their story. For information contact lisa.relou@gmail.com.

Some thoughts on how parents need help making…

View original post 1,515 more words

MY ROUGH DRAFT Proposal for New Hampshire’s Democratic Candidates for Governor

August 8, 2018 Comments off

To date the Democratic Party in New Hampshire has chosen to avoid making public education a major issue in their primary campaign, despite the horrific record of the incumbent GOP Governor, Chris Sununu, and the fact that his appointee for Commissioner of Education has repeatedly bashed school boards, teachers, and the public schools while advocating for vouchers. I offer this recommended platform for the Democratic party to consider in its effort to unseat incumbent Governor Chris Sununu. This ROUGH DRAFT of a platform uses a July 5, 2016 post offered by Ohio blogger Jan Ressengeras a template and draws on positions outlined in earlier posts of mine.

Introduction:  The Governor of New Hampshire should advocate for a comprehensive system of public education. One that serves all children, is democratically governed, publicly funded, universally accessible, and accountable to the public.

Close Opportunity Gaps by Increasing Funding to Property Poor Communities: The New Hampshire Constitution calls for the State to provide an adequate education for all children in an effort to ensure that all children receive equal opportunities to learn. A candidate for Governor should pledge to uphold this Constitutional mandate even if doing so would require an increase in funding for public education or an expansion of taxes. As it stands now, despite lawsuits won in court by property poor communities in our state, resources available to provide services for children in their public schools are wildly uneven. While children in affluent school districts have access to advanced curricula, abundant technology, the most experienced teachers, and a rich exposure to art, music and other enrichments and a wide array of co-curricular activities, children in property poor districts lack these opportunities for learning and support that more privileged children merely take for granted.

Tax and budget policies need to reduce disparities between property-rich and property-poor districts, strengthen local school boards, and provide all parents with a greater opportunity to support their children enrolled in school. Families in property poor towns often face challenges that prevent them from devoting the same level of support for their children as families in property-rich communities. Families facing economic challenges would benefit from the careful and intentional development of full-service, wraparound services that bring social and health services—health clinics, dental clinics, mental health clinics, after school programs, Head Start, and parent support programs—right into the school building. Families facing economic challenges need affordable, accessible, quality child care. Families facing economic challenges need a guaranteed living wage and labor policies that protect them by establishing work schedules and ensuring that employers inform their employees in advance of their work hours. Families facing economic challenges need employers to provide medical leave and maternity leave.

Reject Privatization and Vouchers:  Privatization and voucher plans presented as “choice” cannot address the challenges faced by property poor communities. Legislation that promotes enrollments in private schools and provides funding for homeschooling diverts scarce resources from public education, especially in property poor communities where schools are already underfunded. Legislation that promotes vouchers and tuition tax credits which use public funds to pay for students to attend private and parochial schools should be unalterably opposed as should any legislation that supports the creation of charter schools that are not governed by elected local school boards.

Restore Respect for a Profession of Well Trained, Certified Teachers: Our elected officials and State Department leaders must stop scapegoating school teachers. Public school teachers work tirelessly to improve the chances for all students in all schools in the State to advance and often do so in facilities that are outdated and without the resources they need to succeed. Instead of modifying certification standards for teachers to expand the applicant pools, we should increase the compensation for teachers, especially those serving in property-poor districts.

Re-Double the Effort to Replace Standardized Norm-Referenced Tests as the Primary Metric for School Success: New Hampshire was one of a handful of states that sought to limit the use of norm-referenced standardized tests as the sole metric for measuring school success. This effort should be fully supported by the Governor and Commissioner of Education and provided with the funding and manpower required for implementation.

Conclusion:  In order for public schools to succeed in New Hampshire, citizens must provide ongoing oversight, demand legislation that ensures equitable funding, and be willing to accept tax policies that either redistribute funds currently available or expand the funds needed to ensure that all children have the same opportunities as children attending property-rich schools. Justice in public education—the distribution of opportunity for all children and not just for some— can only be achieved systemically and with the full support of the Governor and Commissioner of Education.

 

Eliminating Age-Based Grade Levels Face Three BiG Obstacles: Federal Standardized Test Mandates; State Laws;…and Parents

August 7, 2018 Comments off

A recent Hechinger Report monograph written by Chris Berdik describes the challenges a rural North Dakota district faced when teachers in the school decided to eliminate grade levels, and they boil down to three obstacles at three different levels… all driven by one overarching issue: mandated tests. This short paragraph from the report summarizes the problem:

Of course, no matter what individual states and districts allow, federal law still mandates grade-level-pegged testing. Education departments use those scores to evaluate schools. Quite often, so do parents.

These two sentences encapsulate the daunting challenge teachers and administrators face when they propose radical but necessary changes needed to truly individualize instruction. The age-based cohorts that we call “grade levels” are the basis for comparisons of all kinds, comparisons that are the basis for competition between students and, of late, competition among schools. And one troublesome issue for many parents is this: if grade levels disappear how will I know how well my child is doing compared to his or her peers? As Mr. Berdik article implies, when that question disappears, teachers are left to focus on the interests and aptitudes each child possesses and focus less on how a child compares with their age peers. I, for one, see this as a positive benefit of abandoning age-based cohorts.

If readers do not believe it is possible to transform schools, Mr. Berdik’s article offers a crude roadmap for making the transition. It isn’t easy, but the benefits far outweigh the pain of change.

“We Agree on More Than We Disagree On” Overlooks Fact That We Disagree on Fundamental Value of Democracy

August 7, 2018 Comments off

One of Diane Ravitch’s posts yesterday included a link to an op ed article written by Michigan State professor Mitchell Robinson who is tired of hearing this rejoinder from the charter school cheerleaders: “We probably agree on more than we disagree.” Mr. Robinson doesn’t think this is germane since what public school advocates disagree with begins with the whole ideological construct of schools as products that compete in the marketplace and ends with the fundamental inequities in public schools that exist today, inequities that result in the “separate but equal” school systems that are emerging as a result of over two decades of test-and-punish policies in his home state. And what would Mr. Robinson want to see in place of competition in the marketplace? Here are some of his key points:

  • Adequately fund for all schools, to ensure that “...the school in the inner city is as clean, safe and well-equipped as the one in the wealthiest suburbs.”
  • Require certified teachers in ALL schools and an end to “…allowing uncertified, unqualified edu-tourists from groups like Teach for America to be handed the responsibility of educating our children in urban and rural schools”
  • Offer a “...rich, engaging curriculum, including music, art and physical education” in all schools, recognizing that for some children these subjects “…are the things that make school worth going to.”
  • Assure that “…every child has access to a high quality public school, regardless of geography or socio-economic status” and admissions be completely open in all publicly funded schools.
  • Place a “…moratorium on the creation of new charter schools until all publicly funded schools are “competing” on level playing fields“.
  • Restore control of our public schools “…where it belongs: elected school boards made up of concerned citizens from the communities in which their schools are located.

The last point on this list underscores the flaw in the argument that “we agree on more than we disagree on” overlooks the fact that we disagree on the fundamental difference between for profit privatized charter schools and public schools: one operates like a business and the other operates democratically. Public education’s raison d’être is to graduate educated citizens who can serve in a democracy. Unless the system for educating our children IS a democracy our children will not learn how a vibrant democracy works.

 

NY Times Upshot Analyses Show that Money Matters. Will the Editorial Board Wake Up to that Reality?

June 16, 2018 Comments off

I receive periodic updates from the NYTimes Upshot articles which provide interesting statistical analyses and visual presentations of various data points. Yesterday’s email included two posts that underscore the favorable impact that wealth has on opportunities.

The subtitle of the first post, “Money, Race and Success” provides a synopsis of the information illustrated in their scattergram: “Sixth graders in the richest school districts are four grade levels ahead of children in the poorest districts.” While this news is completely unsurprising given the persistent correlation between wealth and test scores, the accompanying article seems to be mystified as to why it persists. Worse, the analysis reinforces the notion that test scores should be the predominant metric for measuring “success” and the notion that all districts need to do is find a successful formula and replicate it and– voila– the gaps in test scores will disappear. Fortunately, some of the successful districts gently push back on that idea.

The second, post, “Where Boys Outperform Girls“, offers data showing that boys who attend schools in districts that spend more on schooling have better scores than there counterparts in other schools. As Claire Cain Miller and Kevin Quealy report in the opening paragraphs:

In much of the country, the stereotype that boys do better than girls at math isn’t true – on average, they perform about the same, at least through eighth grade. But there’s a notable exception.

In school districts that are mostly rich, white and suburban, boys are much more likely to outperform girls in math, according to a new study from Stanford researchers, one of the most comprehensive looks at the gender gap in test scores at the school district level.

Why is this so? Ms. Miller and Mr. Quealy offer these ideas:

High-income parents spend more time and money on their children, and invest in more stereotypical activities, researchers said, enrolling their daughters in ballet and their sons in engineering.

There is also a theory that high-earning families invest more in sons, because men in this socioeconomic group earn more than women, while low-earning families invest more in daughters, because working-class women have more job opportunities than men…

When boys think of academic achievement as desirable and tied to their future success, they do better. Boys who have fathers who are involved in their lives, and who are highly educated with white-collar jobs, are more likely to receive this message, according to research by Mr. DiPrete and Claudia Buchmann, a sociologist at Ohio State…

“We live in a society where there’s multiple models of successful masculinity,” Mr. DiPrete said. “One depends for its position on education, and the other doesn’t. It comes from physical strength.”

What’s good for boys, though, isn’t necessarily good for girls.

Although well-off districts encourage boys in math, they don’t seem to encourage girls in the same way. Researchers say it probably has to do with deeply ingrained stereotypes that boys are better at math.

Teachers often underestimate girls’ math abilities, according to research by Sarah Lubienski of Indiana University and Joseph Cimpian of New York University, who also found the gender gap in math was largest for students from high-income families. They found that as girls move through elementary school, they lose confidence in their math skills – more than they lose interest or achievement.

In the end, though, the bottom line is more resources help both genders. As Thomas DiPrete, a sociologist at Columbia who has studied gender and educational performance notes: “Both girls and boys benefit from being in more academic and more resource-rich environments. It’s just that boys benefit more.”

Researchers know that money matters. Will the NYTimes editorial board ever catch on? Will politicians? Will voters?