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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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School is Out, but Legislation Is Still In

June 24th, 2019
Post by CJN
Parkland, Florida student activists register to vote

Parkland, Florida student activists register to vote

June is time for school graduation. Think about the artists, scientists, doctors, legislators, presidents and people from all walks of life who contribute to our society and were proud graduates of public schools.

First, after all the fuss about graduates getting into prestigious colleges by faking scores on SAT or paying off officials, you should know that studies admit that scores on SAT/ACT indicate a student’s family wealth. If your family makes under $80,000 a year, it’s likely that your scores will be lower, and the gap has increased from 2012-2016. Only changes in government policy that attempt to increase minimum wage and improve community resources have bearing on helping students get better exam scores.

What is happening in legislation to improve the lot of the country’s future graduates?

On June 4, 2019, the American Dream and Promise Act (HR 6) passed in the House of Representatives. It will provide a path to citizenship for 2.7 million students. In addition, the Temporary Protected Status will allow 37,000 teachers to remain in the country. However, we wait for the Senate to do its duty.

Finally, on June 19, 2019, the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education funding bill (HR2740) passed in the House. It increases overall funding investment for schools by $4.4 billion in FY2020. Title I and IDEA will increase by $1 billion; Title II (class size and professional development) by $500 million; Pell ad other student financial aid by $492 million; $40 million increase to “community schools,” helping students in low-income communities to improve and do better on scores to graduate to colleges of their choice. Again, we hold our breath for the Senate to do its duty.

For local legislation, Chicago’s new mayor Lori Lightfoot has appointed an interim seven-member school board. They will work only until a legislation change in the state law allows election of school board members by the public.

What else to improve the future for grads?

To make legislation move forward the country needs legislators that are willing to make laws. Registering more voters will help. That’s why California that allows pre-registration at 16 with help from the League of Women Voters is initiating a 2020 project to register and pre-register all high school students to vote as soon as they are eighteen. Did you know that fourteen states allow students to pre-register when they are sixteen in order to be prepared to vote when they are eighteen? Four states allow pre-registration when students reach seventeen? Students who are now 17 and 1/2 will be able to vote in the November general election. League of Women Voters is a national organization and can register high school students in all those states. In Santa Clara County California, and many other California counties, the League is working with all high schools to register and pre-register students. The time is now to work on legislation to allow pre-registration in the 32 mid-west and southern states.

Although not all newly registered voters will be concerned about schools, they will know that their vote is their voice. What an excellent graduation gift.

 

 

Legislation on the School Year’s Last Days 

May 27th, 2019
Post by CJN

End of May. Another school year is almost over including state testing and continuing conflict over ‘school choice.’ What does choice mean to U. S. Department of Education Superintendent Betsy de Vos versus to families in marginal communities?

De Vos and the Trump administration keeps promoting vouchers for school choice, but Congress and federal departments have passed legislation to assure other kinds of choice.

HR 5, the Equality Act, was passed by the House of Representatives in May 2019 to specify that equality is a protected characteristic under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for all students no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity. Not only is a student’s choice protected in education, but in public accommodation, facilities, and employment. A similar bill, S 788, is under consideration in the Senate, but it is hard to expect the majority party to choose to take up the issue.

This month the U.S. Department of Agriculture has chosen to restore payments to the Secure Rural Schools Act. These funds have been allowed to lapse and be reduced over the last several years. Since the USDA and Department of the Interior oversee forest and other public lands, and so school districts in these rural areas can’t count on taxes to provide district services in the communities. The U.S. departments covers 800 counties with 4,000 school districts, providing for 9 million students in forty states. More than restoring funds to Secure Rural Schools, the problem needs a permanent fix. Senators Ron Wyden (Oregon) and Mike Crapo (Idaho) have introduced an extension and plan to introduce legislation to create an endowment fund especially for forest land communities. Watch to see if 9 million kids will have the choice of a well-financed basic public education.

National Education Association has found that the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) which oversees schools on fourteen U. S. military installations has chosen, without negotiation, to require 24 unpaid additional hours per academic quarter for teachers and school staff to pursue professional development – read articles, write reflections, take surveys – all of which may provide useful information – but not under the mandated circumstances. The accumulated time of 96 hours out of a 180-day school year does not mean that coaching, team planning, mentoring, supervising clubs – all part of providing a well-rounded education – is now excluded. Also, teachers spend plenty of extra time helping students succeed, but they choose to do it. Originally, a flexible bank of hours with advance notice for special meetings was part of a school year agreed to by DoDEA. The Federal Education Association is researching the current action. What choices will students in those schools have now?

On May 22, 2019, the Day of Action in Washington, D.C. and around the country, three main demands were brought up at the rally in front of the Supreme Court – educational equality, adequate investment in neighborhood public schools, and swift passage of the bicameral Keep our PACT (Promise to Children and Teachers) Act, introduced again on April 11, 2019 by Senator Chris Van Hollen (Maryland) and Representative Susie Lee (Nevada). As teachers have read, the Trump administration has chosen to reduce Title I funds in its budget proposals. The bill will fully fund Title I and IDEA (disabilities legislation) for ten years. To understand the need, between 2005-2017 Title I, providing assistance to America’s highest need students and schools, has been underfunded $347 billion (Alliance to Reclaim Our School statistics). After the rally, buses toured two schools, one well-resourced in a predominately while neighborhood and one under-resourced, with predominately students of color.

The choice of Journey for Justice Alliance, associated with AROS, is to promote 25,000 community schools by 2025, also a project of the Schott Family Foundation.

 

 

 

 

 

What More Can Ts Administration Do to Schools?

March 25th, 2019
Post by CJN
2020 budget for schools  -back to chalkboards?

2020 budget for schools -back to chalkboards?

The news media has caught our attention with the articles that reveal more and more, day after day, about the  prestigious colleges and universities that can be entered at side and back doors with loads of dollars.

On top of the dispiriting news to students who struggle to get the best grades in the toughest classes offered at their high school, to get the best references, to do the most community service, and to scrounge for financial resources and scholarships to enroll in college, we also get the news that very few minority group students get to attend the high quality high schools that they prefer. The media attention is about New York City high schools, but the same can be said about big urban school districts all over the country, entrance exams or not.

It takes a strong, mature, astute student to climb over these man-made obstacles.

Then what happens? The Trump administration’s budget proposal for 2020 is revealed. The U.S. Department of Education, with Betsy DeVos’ agreement, will get $7.1 billion dollars less than in 2019. In addition, $5 billion dollars are for vouchers, rejected, if you recall, in the 2017 tax bill debate. With less money, what will be eliminated? Public service loan forgiveness, subsidized student loans, Title II funding for teacher development and enrichment, Title IV funding for academic support and after-school activities are examples.

In the meantime, the Alliance for Quality Education reports on examples of chronic underfunding in New York for urban and rural schools. And so, what does less money mean? Limits are created on educational opportunities and challenges for students – for instance, shortage of support staff, large class sizes, and lack of computers and science lab equipment to name a few. The 2020 Trump budget is not going to address these deficits and make schools better, is it?

Now, how has Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Superintendent of Education, been spending her days lately? On May 10, 2019 she overturned long-standing regulations in the latest edition of ESEA, Every Student Succeeds Act. Up to now, every district using federal funds must offer low-income and vulnerable students in private schools the same services as those offered in public schools. The funds could not be used by a contractor with religious affiliation to provide any services to the school. Then the U.S. Supreme Court, as you may recall, changed that rule in the Trinity Lutheran Church, Inc v Comer decision, stating that it is unconstitutional to deny a federal grant to resurface the church’s school playground because of religious affiliation. Somehow Ms. DeVos has used that limited decision to say that “she will no longer enforce [the] provision in federal law that bars religious organizations from providing federally funded educational services to private schools.” The New York Times, “Secretary Eases Church-State Separation in Education” by Erica I. Green, March 11, 2019.

In other words, is the superintendent spending her time worrying that religious observance and practice is part of the secular public school? Rather than worry if enough federal, state, and local funds are used to improve academic success for public school students in America – which is her obligation?

On the other hand, the Dream and Promise Act 2019, HR 6, introduced on March 12, 2019, by two New York representatives and one California representative, gives 2.5 million people the opportunity for legal status and a path to citizenship. Most important, it allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition and move to citizenship whether it’s via higher education, military service, or employment. The bill includes students brought to this country before their 18th birthday, regardless of whether they participate in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or were allowed to remain here for humanitarian reasons under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED).

Opportunity for all students is money well-spent. The bill needs much support to make its way through the House and Senate, much less to get the unreliable administration to tweet that the dollars spent are for a good reason.

 

 

2019 – Change for Schools?

February 23rd, 2019
Post by CJN
Why strikes continue

Why strikes continue

Scarcely a month in 2019 has passed by before teachers have continued to stand up and go forth for change. Fortunately, district administration and negotiators react quickly. The longest so far has been the Los Angeles UTLA strike that lasted six days. The biggest concession for L.A. was to put a state cap on charter schools and voucher payouts.

The West Virginia state legislature backed down when teachers walked out for two days (second time in less than a year) over starting charters and a voucher plan for tuition to private school.

Denver teachers struck for three days and the most contentious negotiation was over the status of ProComp which provides incentives and bonuses over the base pay. The plan sounds good in theory, motivating teachers to work to improve the education in low-performing schools, but the plan needed revision.

Oakland, California, teachers began a strike on Thursday, February 21, 2019, when negotiations stopped over salary increases in a region where the cost of living is among the highest in the state. The quandary is that the district is going broke. Fury over which schools to close because of student demographic losses adds to the tension. Only close the low-performing schools in the flat lands or close high-performing schools in the hills? It’s a mystery how the disparate issues, all involving money, will be solved. No agreement as of this post.

At the same time, what does the president say about education in the State of the Union address on January 28? “To help support working parents, the time has come to pass school choice for America’s children.” Then he went on about socialism. It doesn’t appear that he is on the same wavelength as teachers across the country.

Further, in support of the president at the border wall in El Paso, Texas, on February 11, DJT Jr came out with “You don’t have to be indoctrinated by these loser teachers that are trying to sell you on socialism from birth.” What kind of school did he go to?

In the meantime, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee has approved HR 8- Bipartisan Background Check Act of 2019, authored by Mike Thompson (CA), just in time to remember the mass high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. In the Senate a similar bill to require background checks for all gun purchases, S 42-Background Check Expansion Act, authored by Christopher Murphy (CN), is still in the Senate Judiciary Committee. One hopes with a bipartisan effort the bill will make it to the House floor for a vote, and the Senate will do the same. See Every Town for Gun Safety research on why the legislation is needed.

The House of Representatives Labor and Education Committee under Chairman Bobby Scott (VA) has held hearings for a HR 865, the $100 billion Rebuild America’s Schools Act of 2019. The Senate has S 266, a similar bill, in committee. The legislation’s funds are mainly to address infrastructure repair in the country’s, on average, 44-year-old schools and, also, for districts that are under-funded predominantly in high poverty areas.

Since the 116th Congress has begun, actions by Betsy DeVos, Superintendent of Education, have come to the House Labor and Education Committee’s attention, including decisions for taxpayer money to prop up failing for-profit colleges because she rescinded the actions that The Council for Independent Colleges and Schools can take to pull money from such schools. The superintendent is also likely to be questioned about policies she rescinded that are meant to protect minority students from excessive suspension and from placement in special education.

‘To rescind’ has been an action verb well-used by Ms. DeVos, but let’s hope that positive actions for students will occur with the oversight of the House of Representatives Labor and Education Committee.

 

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.

 

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.