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

August 8, 2018 Leave a comment

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.

 

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

August 7, 2018 Leave a comment

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 Leave a comment

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?

 

My Annual Rant Against US News and World Report’s Ratings

May 13, 2018 Comments off

It’s the time of year when newspapers across America trumpet the schools in their states who achieve the highest ratings in their State and, in some cases, in the entire nation based on the US News and World Report’s metrics… and it’s the time of year when bloggers like me remind readers that these ratings are completely bogus because they are primarily based on standardized tests which, in turn, are inextricably linked to family affluence and education.

To find out how the US News and World Report calculates their rankings, one has to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page touting the importance of the ratings past the click-bait headlines listing the top high schools overall, the top charter schools, the top STEM schools, to a hot-link in the lower right hand corner. Once the link is clicked, the reader is led to another series of links where eventually the reader learns that in calculating the rankings:

…U.S. News & World Report teamed with North Carolina-based RTI International, a global nonprofit social science research firm.

RTI implemented the U.S. News comprehensive rankings methodology, which is based on these key principles: that a great high school must serve all of its students well, not just those who are college bound, and that it must be able to produce measurable academic outcomes to show it is successfully educating its student body across a range of performance indicators.

This sounds very high-minded, but the four step process is ultimately based on standardized tests and/or family income. .

Step One, for example, purports to determine “...whether each school’s students were performing better than statistically expected for students in that state (in standardized tests).” How is this done? “...(B)y looking at reading and math results for all students on each state’s high school (standardized) proficiency tests”Schools scoring in the top 10% were automatically carried forward, those scoring in the lowest 10% were dropped, and some manipulations were applied to identify schools serving disadvantaged students that performed “…much better than statistical expectations.” 

Step 2 “...assessed whether their historically underserved students – black, Hispanic and low-income – performed at or better than the state average (on standardized tests) for historically underserved students.

Step 3 looked at graduation rates, eliminating any schools that failed to graduate 80% of the cohort that entered the school. This is indirectly linked to standardized tests since 12 states require the passage of such a test to earn a diploma. But it is inextricably linked to family income since more than one third of all drop outs were raised in poverty.

Step 4 is the clincher. For schools whose students score well on State standardized tests and whose students graduate at an 80% rate, the ultimate benchmark is “college-readiness performance” – which is determined by “...using Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate (standardized) test data as the benchmark for success.” 

So how does a school assure itself of high ratings in the annual US News and World Report’s index? Easy: it attracts students who aspire to college, students who enroll in AP and IB courses, students who pay for the AP and IB assessments, and students who do well on those tests. This creates a barrier to entry that precludes hundreds if not thousands of schools since schools or students must pay fees for each test they take, schools must pay to have teachers trained to offer AP and IB courses, and IB certified schools must pay annual fees in excess of $11,000.

And, as noted in earlier posts decrying these rankings, the whole system is based on the assumption that schools enrolling students who score well on standardized tests are meritorious. One would hope that US News and World Report writers realize that quality should be based on something more than standardized tests scores, but the test scores are seemingly precise and objective, readily attainable from public data-bases that are relatively inexpensive to glean data from from, and provide an easy means for sorting and selecting schools. In the end, the selective public and charter schools and the public schools serving the children of affluent and well educated parent achieve medals… and the vicious cycle of poverty continues.

 

David Leonardt Looks at the Political Landscape and Offers Democrats a Winning Strategy: Support Public Education!

March 21, 2018 Comments off

NYTimes writer David Leonardt offered Democrats a winning political issue that is, in his words, “hiding in plain sight“: public education! His op ed article opened with these paragraphs:

In Alabama’s recent special Senate election, the progressive group Priorities USA was looking for ways to lift African-American voter turnout. So Priorities tested several different advertisements, to see which ones made people want to vote.

There was no shortage of potential ad material in Alabama. Roy Moore, the Republican nominee, had a trail of bigoted statements and alleged sexual molestation. Doug Jones, the Democrat, had prosecuted Ku Klux Klansmen for murder. Priorities tested each of these themes and others, too: Moore’s ties to white supremacists; Moore’s closeness to President Trump; Jones’s endorsements from civil-rights leaders.

Yet none of these tested as well as a 15-second ad that never mentioned Moore.

“My kids are going to do more than just survive the bigotry and hatred,” a female narrator says, as the video shows a Klan march and then a student at a desk. “They’re going to get an education, start a business, earn a good living, make me proud. Education is my priority. That’s why I’m voting for Doug Jones.”

Mr. Leonardt noted that this result was astonishing to Priorities USA because our schools are supposedly “failing” and education is no longer seen as the solution to economic inequality.

The media regularly run stories suggesting education is overrated. K-12 schools are said to be in a never-ending crisis, and college debt has become a new crisis. A much-discussed Pew Research Center poll recently found a jump in the number of people saying colleges had a negative effect on the country.

But is seems that most Americans who retain hope for the future still see education as a means to improving their well being, a conclusion that is still supported by facts. As for the Pew poll, Mr. Leonardt implies that politicians seeking to unseat Mr. Trump might want to look closer at the results:

And that Pew poll? It was legitimate but misunderstood. The rise in negative feelings toward colleges came largely among Republicans, many of whom see campuses as bastions of liberalism. Yet those Republicans still want their children to attend college. They understand that the benefits of education outweigh any risks of lefty brainwashing.

And Mr. Leonardt, a writer who has often been taken with the “reform” movement that both parties have embraced, seems to understand that the voters want something bigger and better:

Given the passions of the Trump era, this isn’t the moment to settle for the modest, technocratic education proposals that Democrats often favor. It’s a time for big, ambitious ideas.

In education, that means universal preschool, which would address both inequality and child-care needs, and universal tuition-free community college. A century ago, the United States led the world toward universal high school, and today’s economy demands more than a high-school diploma. Community colleges are part of the answer, and are also a common pathway to four-year degrees. Importantly, free tuition there isn’t a huge subsidy for the upper middle class and the affluent, who typically start at four-year colleges.

Mr. Leonardt isn’t calling for more tests and more charters, then. He’s calling for a truly progressive overhaul of schooling where children receive schooling from ages three through 21…. the kind of education most upper middle class parents offer their children. He concludes his essay with this hopeful paragraph:

Sometimes, good policy and good politics align quite nicely. The single best bet that a society or an individual can make — education — also turns out to be the rare idea that transcends today’s partisan divide.

I hope that 2018 State legislators and candidates for the House and Senate read this message and act accordingly… and hope even more that 2020 Democratic Presidential aspirants adopt Mr. Leonardt’s position that “…this isn’t the moment to settle for the modest, technocratic education proposals that Democrats often favor. It’s a time for big, ambitious ideas.”

The Conservative-Libertarian Federalist’s Analysis is ALMOST Correct… Offers Some Possible Avenues to Undo “Reform”

February 22, 2018 Comments off

The Google feed that provides me with articles on public education from the entire political spectrum offered up an op ed piece by Federalist writer Stella Morabito with the click-bait title “13 Ways Public Schools Incubate Mental Instability in Kids“. After reading the article, I came away convinced that libertarian-conservatives and progressives share many of the same perspectives about the ways public schools function in an adverse way for many students… but clearly do not share a common perspective on how to address the defects.

As I read through the list of thirteen ways public schools create a negative environment for most children, I found myself nodding in assent in most cases, particularly in large urban schools where test-driven “reform” has taken root:

  • The size and model of mass schooling IS alienating
  • Public schools are abnormal settings that feel like prisons
  • Public schools are breeding grounds for hierarchical cliques
  • Giant public schools are breeding grounds for aggression
  • Public schools are increasingly politicized
  • Schools are becoming more repressive
  • Public Schooling stunts personality development
  • Kids with special needs are especially judged as different

In most cases I could have written (and maybe HAVE written) similar observations, albeit coming from a completely different perspective. The school-to-prison pipeline, which is not referenced at all in Ms. Morabito’s article, is the result of schools becoming more repressive. The next four “ways schools incubate mental instability” are arguably accurate, but for completely different reasons than Ms. Morabito offers:

  • School bureaucracy tends to reinforce social pecking orderThe social pecking order is reinforced more by the way school attendance zones are established than by “the school bureaucracy”. Moreover, the “school bureaucracy” doesn’t SET “the social pecking order”, it mirrors “the social pecking order” that parents want to see in place. 
  • Reduced content knowledge promotes conformity: Ms. Morabito attributes the “reduced content” to “identity politics, fads, and political activism” instead of the true culprit, which is the slavish adherence to standardized tests as the means for measuring whether schools are “successful”. This has narrowed the curriculum so that the topics Ms. Morabito values— like “history, geography, and classics”– are pushed out. 
  • Public schools disregard students’ family and non-school lives: This is true but NOT for the reasons Ms. Morabito contends. While she sees that “Parents and families are increasingly treated as nuisances to the collectivist agenda of training children to conform to politically correct attitudes and emotions”, I see the problem as schools disregarding the needs of single-parent families and/or families where both parents work. And where Ms. Morabito laments the hours children spend in school, I would focus on the hours many children spend before schooling begins sitting in front of screens.  

 

Then there are two completely groundless assertions:

  • Public schooling is increasingly hostile to Christianity: Ms. Morabito writes: “Growing and intense aggression against any form of Christian prayer in the schools has a further alienating effect. It teaches any child who is emotionally hurting that he can’t even seek solace in a private and silent conversation with God without knowing he’d be ridiculed if his peers knew. The hostility towards religion also leads us on a path to utter lawlessness, since the rule of law evaporates when left to the devices of elites.”  While Ms. Morabito professes to desire that we do a better job of instructing children about the Constitution, she chooses to ignore that part of the Constitution that provides freedom from religion in government… the basis for precluding prayer in school. While many teachers, administrators, and “bureaucrats” may wish to allow prayer in school, those who work for the government are required to follow the laws of the land as interpreted by the courts. 
  • Enforced conformity promotes peer victimization: This somewhat confusing statement makes the point that the anti-bullying initiatives in schools are falling short of the mark, which may be the case in some school districts. But Ms. Morabito’s analysis of anti-bullying is off the mark. She groundlessly asserts that “…A bully is free to target with the taunt “bigot” any child who comes from a traditional Christian home, and the curricula will back them up”, but fails to suggest that additional counseling and direct instruction on the teaching of tolerance might be helpful in addressing the bullying behavior that is arguably a part of human nature that needs to be controlled if we want to live under a rule of law as opposed to a rule of vigilantism. 

As I read about the libertarian thinking on education, I am struck by how often I find myself agreeing with some of their principles, many of which are grounded in common sense and research. But too often their anti-establishmentarian ideas ascribe intent and power to bureaucracies that do not exist. Ms. Morabito’s belief that the “school bureaucracy” sets the pecking order in schools is a case in point. For better or worse, there is no monolithic “school bureaucracy” that exists in our country. Our public education system is radically decentralized and immune to edicts from the Supreme Court. If that were not the case we would have fully integrated and equitably funded public schools and adhering to a “Common Core” curriculum that would would have been in place for decades. Instead our schools operate democratically under the control of local boards elected at the levels established by each state. It’s a cumbersome system that is exceedingly difficult to change… but it better than any alternative… especially an alternative that is based on religion.