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Here and Now in the Education World

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Taking on the latest in the controversy about the best for public school students from the viewpoints in a family of teachers and trainers.

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L.A. Strikes During National School Choice Week

January 26th, 2019
Post by CJN
Los Angeles teachers strike

Los Angeles teachers strike

Is this a joke? This year’s National School Choice Week (NSCW) – January 20-26, 2019 – to supposedly celebrate with thousands of events for the many choices that parents and students have for their education is not what it seems. For Take Care Schools, the first clue is that Betsy DeVos, charter and voucher advocate, is a firm long-time supporter.

The website states it wants to celebrate traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling. When searching for schools only in the California Bay Area, full of a diverse education selection, I did not find any traditional or magnet public schools highlighted, but plenty of charters, private, and religious schools. Not surprising since the president, Andrew Campanella, of the NSCW organization, while desiring to celebrate the good in schools, is a proponent of choosing charters and using vouchers.

It turns out NSCW is “a carefully crafted public relations campaign designed to remind lawmakers of the financial muscle of its sponsors” with dances, cheers, and signature yellow scarves for free (Carol Burris, Network for Public Education). With further examination by Media Matters in 2016, the last time any organizations were listed on the website, it was funded by conservative groups like American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Gleason Family Foundation, Cato Institute, Freedom Foundation, and Heritage Foundation, to name a few. For 2019 the website doesn’t list its funders.

The joke, coincidence or not, is that the celebratory week comes just as Los Angeles Unified School District endured a serious six-day strike that ended Wednesday, January 23, and the federal government has been shut down. Federal funds for schools were on hold until January 25, when it looks like the government will open for the time being.

The Los Angeles Unified School District strike comes not long after strikes last year in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona and may be followed by striking teachers in Denver, CO and Oakland, CA.

What is the strike result? The negotiating team used strategies from Bargaining for the Common Good and involved parents and the community which led to good outcomes. First, teachers will get a 6% raise over two years; class size will be reduced, especially in high school English and Math classes; a nurse at every school five days a week; more counselors (1:500 students) and a librarian five days a week for every high school. Working groups will be formed to address the lack of resources for Special Education and excessive standardized testing (to be cut in half).

In addition, schools will curtail and revise ‘random search’ procedures which lead to fear in schools. The district will replace the industrial look of many schools by planting green areas, thought to have a therapeutic effect on the atmosphere in schools. In addition, Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, will support the Schools and Communities First initiative to be placed on the November 2020 ballot in which commercial property taxes will be revised in response to 1978 Proposition 13 regulations.

The most interesting effect of the strike is that legislation will be taken to the State legislature to put a cap on the number of charter schools allowed in California. Especially important to traditional public school teachers are the large number of charters in Los Angeles. The charter schools remaining will be ordered to show a degree of transparency in the demographics, funds over and above the school district, and results of standardized testing. (Information is taken from several sources but check out details in the LA Times.)

When these changes take effect in the second largest school district in the country, let’s hope that next year every single student in Los Angeles and California will wear the NCSW yellow scarf to celebrate the beginning of victory for improvements. The scarves are free, just order them. The organizations supporting National School Choice Week pay for them.

 

Schools at End of 2018

December 23rd, 2018
Post by CJN
As of December 22, 2018

As of December 22, 2018

School takes a break for the winter holidays, a time to relax and enjoy time with friends and relations. Except there’s no break from the anxiety for schools produced by the current president and his administration.

On Tuesday, December 18, just before winter break, another change in procedures was dumped on schools. The administration rescinded Obama-era school discipline guidance that aimed to address disproportionately high disciplinary rates for students of color. This decision despite, for example, black students on Long Island are about five times more likely than whites to be suspended from their public schools, according to a report released December 9, 2018, by a coalition of education, civil rights and business groups that finds similar racial disparities across the state. (Schott Foundation for Education newsletter 12/14/18)

On the one hand, the administration claims, with no evidence so far, that districts are pressured to keep dangerous students in school. On the other hand, long time research shows that the numbers of suspensions are a strong factor in dropping out of school. Disproportionate school discipline constitutes discrimination, and the American Association of University Women, for one, urges the administration to reverse this action and instead reaffirm their commitment to supporting equal rights and opportunity for all.

The announcement comes just three days after the Federal Commission on School Safety led by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released a report detailing recommendations for helping schools become safer. Despite claiming to be responding to school shootings, it is hard to find suggestions in the report that directly address gun violence. It does encourage the improvement of mental health services for students, recommend “character education” programs for students and training school personnel in the use of firearms. (AAUW Washington Update newsletter 12/21/18)

Winter holidays always include lots of time for delicious food. However, families with children will be affected by the government partial shutdown of many agencies and, most important, by the Department of Agriculture (DOA).

Earlier in December Congress passed the farm bill with strong bipartisan support. It protects the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nation’s largest anti-hunger program with 40 million beneficiaries. After strong opposition by the National Education Association (NEA) to provisions of the House version of the bill, the provisions were stripped from the final bill. They would have impacted nutrition benefits for millions of families, undermined access to free school meals, and imposed unnecessary new work requirements. (NEA Education Insider newsletter 12/16/18)

Nevertheless, days after signing the bill, the president along with DOA Secretary Sunny Perdue have found a way around the bill to place more stringent work requirements on adults who rely on SNAP. Supposedly, the rules would apply only to single adults, but there are many who work for schools and who still rely on food assistance.

In addition, Perdue plans to relax the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act school lunch rules implemented in 2010. Three provisions for grains, dairy, and sodium in school lunches are to be revised. Perdue seems most interested in allowing sugary flavored chocolate milk to return to schools.

Improving health by using whole grain rich foods does not mean complaints, according to Ann Cooper, Food Services Director from Boulder Valley Schools, Colorado. Few schools have requested exemptions.

Relaxing restrictions on sodium content in food is not as tricky or as conflict-consuming an issue. Schools will not be required to pursue the correct sodium content as aggressively as in the 2010 rules.

Although 99 percent of schools have reported that they can meet the 2010 rules according to a USDA report in 2016, the School Nutrition Association, advocate for the country’s food companies, love the changes. Not good news for children’s school lunch health.

What do trade tariffs easing and now the shutdown mean for students?

The DOA is not completely shut down. However, according to Senator and Vice Chair Leahy of the Senate Appropriations Committee, with the trade extension, USDA plans to distribute $1.2 billion in commodities through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which provides supplemental food to soup kitchens, food banks, and pantries. Help is needed to mitigate this influx of commodities, but a shutdown would really hamper this program.  The Food and Nutrition Service would not be able to purchase commodities or provide the funding for transportation, distribution, or storage. This could be especially harmful to food banks that receive these commodities at a time when more families rely on their services – the winter and holiday months.

With that news, happy holidays and, we wish, hope, and call on the administration to see the light by the New Year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post-Election School News

November 30th, 2018
Post by CJN
high school in southern California

high school in southern California

The House of Representatives flipped this month, giving Take Care Schools hope for better legislative results for public school students. Even so, several steps have been finalized by Betsy DeVos and the United States Department of Education (DOE) that are not decisions to cheer for.

After issuing a few details at a time all year, on November 17, 2018, the new sexual assault regulations have been overhauled and released by Superintendent of Education, Betsy DeVos. With a few words of support to protect victims, the main support is regulation changes for the accused and, above all, to reduce the liability to schools. The institutions can choose a higher standard for evidence of sexual attack or abuse and establish an appeals process for the accused that allows cross-examination. All of these regs will help schools not be found in violation of Title IX and susceptible to the threat of pulling federal funding (although that has never happened). The rules will go into effect after a 60-day comment period.

Betsy DeVos lost in a decision by the court in favor of the Attorneys General of 19 states in September 2013 concerning student loan procedures. Problems with the DOE’s enforcement of regulations for student loan servicing is still being discovered, this time posted by the Associated Press on November 20, 2018. It has been found that Navient, the third largest provider of student loans, drove borrowers into higher-cost repayment loan procedures. After the DOE found indications of deception by Navient, the department argued that they don’t have jurisdiction to admonish or litigate the issue. Attorneys General for California, Illinois, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Washington filed lawsuits on behalf of students who were offered 3-year maximum forbearance (with interest accumulating) or the repayment plan. Other possible plans were not mentioned, breaking student loan regulations.

Furthermore, the Department of Homeland Security has expanded the definition of “public charge” (someone deemed likely to depend on the US government for subsistence). With the proposal, again open to public comment until December 10, immigrant families must choose between a green card and access to basic needs like food, shelter, and health care. What will happen to children in school? Damage to emotional stability and health will lead to difficulties in learning.

Finally, on Friday, November 23, 2018, the administration released The Fourth National Climate Assessment. The administration continues to ignore the report’s disclosures and to roll back environmental regulations, claiming that fewer rules touching industry will improve the economy. Surely pollution will increase. Particulate matter from fire and poor air quality keeps students inside, not allowing recess and physical education and increasing respiratory illness. Lead in drinking water and groundwater brings neurological problems which leads to more special needs help in schools. New studies have shown that pollution affecting mothers also affects their unborn fetuses which later affects the child’s chances to succeed in academic learning.

In the face of these decisions and studies, by the winter holidays students and teachers will have completed a third of the 2018-2019 school year. After the New Year, let’s hope for better outcomes.

 

Money, Money, Money, Money 

October 27th, 2018
Post by CJN

Rose in LAToday’s New York Times posted an article about New York schools’ Renewal program, an attempt to improve 94 failing public schools is failing to raise the scores and reduce absenteeism enough. So, after 3 years (2015-2018), only one-third of the schools improved out of the program. Why?

Renewal based its model on the idea that a student’s academic achievement would increase if the schools “were given a wide array of school services and teachers were better trained.” New York Times, “New York Kept Children in Schools Likely to Fail”, October 26, 2018. And the services were substantial – mental health clinics, dentists, and food pantries at the site – which studies show are needed to improve student achievement in impoverished communities.

So, why stop now? Is it the money spent and what is the result? “We should stop ourselves from spending money on things that don’t work,” said James Kemple, the executive director of the New York University’s Research Alliance for New York City Schools (Ibid).

Students, however, still must attend school. Wouldn’t it serve them better if the Renewal project people went over the model, looked at more research, and make changes to spend money on things that DO work.

Look at California schools which have had to make do with less money since 1978 when the infamous Proposition 13 was passed. At that time schools reaped the money from local property taxes that placed California high on the U.S. list of funding per public school. Once the proposition passed, money decreased significantly, and now the state provides 60%, local funds provide only 30% and federal money (mostly from Title I) provide 10% to some schools.

In an attempt to find out how to improve the California public school situation, an October 2018 study from American Institutes for Research (AIR) shows that, from all resources, California in 2017 actually spends $12, 204 per student. An adequate amount per student is $16,890. The actual amount spent per student places California 41st of all public schools in the nation.

An “adequate” amount is quantified from the average California school enrollment and demographics like numbers of free-reduced price lunches, English Learners, special education students.

The “adequate” amount is also computed by including teacher support for sufficient planning and training; hiring experienced, flexible teachers; student opportunities outside the classroom (STEM, arts, other extra-curricular activities); high quality early childhood education; engagement for families at the school; English language Learning with home-language support; and, most important, social-emotional support for students and families.

For schools with high numbers of EL, special ed, and free/reduced price lunch students, additional amounts to retain small class size, richer special education programs, and extra professional development for teachers, early childhood education programs, and extended day/year (for remediation and enrichment) are necessary.

After every ‘extra’ program was eliminated in schools because of the decrease in funding, the consequences of the passage of Proposition 13 in California is that every adult lost confidence in public schools. In fact, you can see the video A Rose in LA from the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) about the systematic disinvestment even in 2018 in Los Angeles public schools serving black, brown, and low-income students.

The conclusion of the AIR report reminds us that the actual expenditure per student doesn’t account for central administration, maintenance, transportation, or food service needs for a school district. The report also identifies the other multiple factors that define how students learn including their socio-emotional feelings and physical health.

The AIR findings tell us what must be done to truly improve student achievement from California to New York. Recognize that just throwing money at a school may not lead to success but deciding the programs that each school needs and funding those programs is the key. It is a model that takes far more than three years of relentless, consistent attention.

A model that does show promise of using money on something that works is the Schott Foundation for Public Education-supported Community Schools – a model with most of the needs described above that can succeed and is worthy of the attention. The Partnership for the Future of Learning has put out the Community Schools Playbook for anyone to see.

Also the W.K.Kellogg Foundation with the Schott Foundation supports a program to reduce racial bias, reduce harsh discipline policies, and support positive school climate.

Two models that are available to New York’s Renewal and California to begin the road to recovery and success for every student.

 

What Has the DOE Done this Month? 

September 29th, 2018
Post by CJN

mailDo you remember? On September 28, 1979, Congress under President Carter established the United States Department of Education. Lots of change since then at the DOE.

Just beginning this month, Betsy DeVos, the current Superintendent, has proposed that students defrauded by for-profit colleges “show they have fallen into hopeless financial straits or prove that their colleges knowingly deceived them.” Erica L. Green, The New York Times, “DeVos Proposes Curtailing Loan Forgiveness for Defrauded Students,” July 26, 2018. The proposal, worked out by the education department, now stocked with for-profit executives and criticized as releasing the industry from oversight, is set to go into effect by July 2019.

Next, DeVos is finalizing policies to reshape the Obama guidelines which were seen to better specify the procedures to address sexual misconduct on school campuses, especially colleges and universities.  Now, the policies will strengthen the rights of students accused of sexual harassment, rape, and assault. At the same time, the rules will reduce liability for institutions, but encourage greater victim support. Surprising, since the policies narrow the definition of sexual harassment.

Take Care Schools outlined this proposal last fall when the Obama letter was rescinded. Considering the conflict in the Senate this week about the very issue of sexual misconduct and how it is viewed when each side has a completely different vision, the policy DeVos wants will continue to be inflammatory.

Last, Betsy DeVos has offered another ludicrous proposal as part of the deliberations of the Commission on School Safety. Although she said the commission was not going to consider gun issues, the proposal would allow schools to use taxpayer $$ to buy guns and pay for firearms training to teachers and staff. Her department team is examining an obscure federal policy to get around the Congress’ legislation that no taxpayer funds can be used to purchase arms, ammunition, or firearms training for schools.

What to do with Congressional funds instead? Think about protocols (which have been developed by the DOE) that address “school climate.” For instance, how to respond to student outbursts of belligerence, how to penalize without suspending or expelling. Unfortunately, there is no requirement that schools implement the protocols, nor funding to do so yet.

What about funding for more mental health services? According to numbers in the September 28, 2018 Alliance to Reclaim our Schools (AROS) newsletter, New York City, for example, has only one counselor for every 407 students. If you want school safety, reduce the school to prison numbers, and prevent school shootings, it’s a no-brainer that more counselors and psychologists available are necessary.

How about implementing ‘threat assessment teams’ in schools? Virginia K-12 schools have such teams. There are good results that show fewer student threats to injure others. Besides federal gun safety and control legislation, these reforms can provide school safety.

Why no funding support for these issues? The Schott Foundation for Public Education has figured that between 2005-2017, the United States has spent $580 billion on public school education, but the net worth of the 400 richest Americans is $1.5 trillion.

Does that make sense? No wonder Colorado has an initiative on the November ballot to raise corporate taxes and personal income tax for people making more than $150,000 and use the $1.6 billion for public schools. No wonder Maryland has a measure on the November ballot to use additional dollars raised from gambling industry funds for public schools. No wonder an Arizona initiative is on the ballot to overturn education savings accounts that allow families to draw on public school funds to pay tuition to private schools.

Another AROS newsletter (September 21, 2018) reports that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has found that one/half of the states in the union provide fewer total dollars to education than in 2008, the start of the Great Recession. In the meantime, the Senate passed the FY2019 appropriation bill and sent it to the House of Representatives for a vote. It only slightly increases funds to Title I, IDEA, and Pell Grants, still a big gap in funding since 2010.

For explanation, download and read Confronting the Education Debt to learn how, even with the U.S. increase to 51 million public schools, one in five students live in poverty.

Seems to Take Care Schools, the DOE should be working on how to implement the true school climate and safety issues that will increase academic success in school. Congress better implement policies and funding to decrease the number of impoverished communities.

 

 

Contributors

Ongoing posts by CJN, Claire Noonan, M.A., elementary teacher in large urban schools with fifteen years in the classroom and twenty years supervising and coaching the reading/language arts curriculum.

Occasional posts by PEN, Paula Noonan, Ph.D., thirty years in training and consulting services to companies across the nation and content expert/teacher of M.Ed. programs for Jones International University.

Periodic posts by SEN, Sarah Noonan, the teacher starting her career in a suburban elementary school hit with all the budget and achievement dilemmas in beautiful California.