Archive for August, 2011

“And coming events cast their shadows before”

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

The line from the 18th century poem “Lochiel’s Warning” by Thomas Campbell has resonance today. All the time we hear politicians say they will cut funding for children’s programs that were legislated long before. Do they contemplate how the upcoming program cuts will benefit children later?

Do those legislators think that by the time their children pay taxes, they will have forgotten about the programs in “the old days?” And make do? Below are statistics which foreshadow the future.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is based in Baltimore, Maryland, with its mission to see a better future for disadvantaged children. It is a private charitable organization. The founders are Jim Casey of UPS and his siblings. The foundation is named for their mother.

Current data in Kids Count was released August 17, 2011, by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, from which grants are made to help states, cities, and neighborhoods in low-income areas. In case the reader hasn’t heard on the radio or read in the newspapers, here are statistics from the report, hard to explain away.

In 2010, of the 300+ million national population, 11% of children had at least one unemployed parent. Children affected by foreclosure were 4%.

In California (population 37+ million) 1,196,000 or 13% of children had at least one parent unemployed and 985,000 or 7% were touched by foreclosures. Also 7% of the children in the state were members of single parent families.

Looking at teens in California, 5% were not in school and had no high school graduation diploma. Eight percent were not in school and not working.

As can be inferred from just this amount of data, school work, behavior, and drop-out rates are affected. Children’s health is harmed in spite of the efforts by groups like the Women, Infants, and Children Assistance who argue for improved food offerings and children’s healthcare. For example, First Five California is ready to be dismantled in the state’s budget balancing battle by a conservative opinion that spending cuts are the only priority.

This education blog continues to wonder at the blistering comments against teachers who must help students learn in spite of reduced budgets because debt must not be passed on to the next generation.

What will that generation look like when 20% of the children through no fault of their own are in the midst of hardship in 2011? One can be unaware of the economic difficulties when cars zip along the highways, shopping malls are busy, restaurants have plenty of customers, and the classroom is filled with well-dressed children who have plenty of pencils and paper in their backpacks.

A teacher in a low-performing school, however, spends the day trying to overcome the needs that poverty produces. If the nation is looking for well-educated, healthy adults in the coming years, now is the time to support the big programs that government can provide. The shadows are long and dark.

Not only K-12 kids are losing out!

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

The furlough days in California, the shortened school year in Hawaii, minimum required hours in West Virginia fill K-12 teachers and administrators with gloom. Editorial after opinion piece describing the poor high school graduation statistics and increasing middle school drop-out rates lead to hand-wringing.

California middle school

California middle school

And this week in California Jack Scott, community college chancellor, and Charles Reed, state universities chancellor, have chastised the state legislature and Congress for looking away when students pay $10 more per unit in community college fees and CSU student yearly fees have risen 19%–AND students still can’t get into classes needed for timely graduation.

Surely everyone knows the government’s problem: an inability to raise revenue, not only by cutting unnecessary spending but raising revenue from taxes. How is the country going to hire job seekers with the abilities needed for work in the U.S. economy without a strong education component?

One of the few areas where jobs were lost but soon recovered after 2009 is Silicon Valley. Those workers DID NOT finish their education with a high school diploma!

People still think manufacturing jobs will return. They think health and service jobs will be enough to put us back into the middle-class. It’s not going to happen. The only private industry that needs lots of brawn and a few college-grad engineer brains is the oil industry. The country better get used to the idea of education, both K-12 and college, and the funds needed to make public universities accessible to Americans.

In California, one conservative assemblyman, Tim Donnelly (San Bernardino) offered that “they’re  whining about…more taxes to chase more business out of the state. You can’t have a high level of investment when you’ve killed off the golden egg.” This legislator thinks professors should be paid less and labor unions and trial lawyers reined in. See the San Francisco Chronicle “Chancellors blame campus woes on GOP” by Nanette Asimov, August 23, 2011.

There was no evidence in the quotation to support his positions and in fact California’s business relocations have been minimal. Joseph Vranich’s June 2011 blog post had counted 129 businesses relocating out of 3.2 million small businesses in the state in 2011. That hardly seems like the golden goose has flown away. We’re not talking corporations in this post for which no statistics were found in the search.

However, Jack Scott and Charles Reed are adamant about the difficulty of keeping faculty courted by other universities. Lower salaries are going to help retain faculty to teach the students who need to graduate?

One can read reports from both liberal and conservative education foundations and institutes galore to see improvement to K-12 academic growth. The uniform graduation rate that requires all states to report the number of students who graduate in four years with a standard high school diploma; the U.S. Department of Education agreement to give waivers to improve the process to close the gap between poor and well-off students; and schools that have managed to set in place extended days instead of furloughs and still keep the budget under control. Not many: 1000 of the 300,000 schools in the country, but a start.

If only the minority of legislators that look at the budget or debt-reduction plan in their hands could see the consequences of shortchanging students, K-12 and college, both immediately and long term.

School Starts So Soon

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

The school year has begun one week earlier than last year. San Francisco, San Jose, and my district are starting in order to cover the curriculum standards before the school days zip by and state testing looms before us.

Not that I haven’t been in school most of the summer. If one wants a Master’s degree, summer is the time to finish two more classes. I did take a vacation, but not before I wrote a literature review, synthesizing 30 peer-reviewed research articles; planned my research project for the second year of the MA program; and wrote up the project’s organization–research on how well students perform non-fiction writing when reading science and social studies books, not the textbook.

California schools received the results of the summative tests taken last spring. Our school did well, though not the highest scoring school in the district. On the Academic Performance Index (API), the state’s scoreboard, the school has maintained its 900+. Any school in the state would be overjoyed with such a score.

I’ve been reading the newspapers and it’s a good thing our school is high-performing because school budgets in California are still wobbly. The 188 low-performing schools throughout the state will be earmarked to receive any state and federal monies left in the bucket.

Those schools would benefit from the waivers that the U.S. Department of Education is offering if California shows a plan that will demonstrate progress to reach benchmarks. Friends in my MA program at San Jose State University who teach in low-performing schools are hoping the state will adjust the benchmarks. Even our school won’t reach the No Child Left Behind law’s Annual Yearly Progress scores by 2014. Already our Hispanic and African-American students are falling behind.

The San Francisco school described in the San Francisco Chronicle, August 16, 2011, article “State schools closer to making the grade” will certainly benefit from a plan to celebrate gains students have made. Wouldn’t the wise move be to provide resources to continue improvement rather than punish the school for not making benchmarks that were unrealistic to begin with?

According to the article, the students at San Francisco’s John Muir Elementary are spending the year on strategies to become good readers. My students can read well; they need to improve their ability to write non-fiction compositions. Maybe one genre for my research project can be simple persuasive essays. My students can persuade Tom Torlakson, new California Superintendent of Public Instruction, to apply for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education. Relieve the stress on students to reach unrealistic benchmarks. Every class has at least one student who would benefit from a compromise.

Waiver to NCLB Goals?

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Vacation is over and our weekly posts resume just in time to comment on the waivers proposed by Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan to No Child Left Behind legislation that states 100% of United States students be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

Not long after 2002 when the law took effect, most teachers shook their heads as it became apparent that the goal was laudatory, but not gonna happen.

So four years after the legislation was up for revision and Congress still failed to amend the law, the Department of Education has overridden the requirement and set up a plan for waivers.

Did you hear sighs of relief even in states with high numbers of proficient students? Chiefs For Change, a bipartisan group of heads of state Departments of Education relaxed their pinched shoulders. They are all for setting high standards but allowing states to adjust for the needs of the students in their states. Last year, 2010, about 38,000 of the nation’s 100,000 public schools didn’t make the grade. As the benchmarks rise, more schools will “fail.”

On the other hand, the National Education Association (NEA) noted that now was the time to look at teacher-led and student-focused comprehensive reform. NEA wants to turn away from one-size fits all standardized testing. A good point that comes up the minute any state begins to adjust proficiency levels.

Waivers for flexibility in benchmark goals for reading and math will be offered under strict conditions, but even “plans in progress” will be taken into account, according to Duncan.

How about diverse California, where school starts next week in order to account for furlough days because of scarce money and to provide enough teaching days before state criterion-referenced tests are given in May? Will the state apply for a waiver immediately since it has pockets of proficient students among an abundance of students who are teetering on, if not already fallen below, the California proficiency level for 2010.

The state has not finished re-organizing its learning standards to agree with the Common Core Standards needed for various federal grants, nor completed a revised teacher evaluation and school accountability system. For certain, the state hopes it has sufficient “plans in progress.”

To top off these issues, on Wednesday, August 10, the news came out that the state has not gained enough revenues to keep its budget balanced. If revenues don’t increase, drastic cuts will affect schools and other social services. That’s what the state legislature agreed to in June 2011. Aside from flexibility waivers to achieve reform for California schools, will there be money available?

Who in California’s legislature will blink first?

Vouchers Cross the Lips Again

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

You’d think the anxiety about debt, deficit, revenue, and spending cuts would leave school vouchers, one of the bugaboos of public education, to molder in the corner behind the trash containers.

But, no, the Ryan budget proposal let the V word out when explaining his plan for Medicare revision. It is supposed to save Medicare, but like all voucher plans, the story has more than one ending.

Recall the ruckus to settle a budget for the entire United States government (only until October 2011)? The Obama administration negotiators actually held onto a good number of education programs ready to be hooked and tossed into the education budget garbage bin by conservative players in the game. Notably, Title I grants, special education state grants, Race to the Top (RTTT) competitive-grant programs, Investing in Innovation (i3), Head Start, Pell Grants, and Promise Neighborhoods Initiative remained, mostly unscathed.

But, House Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) and his cadre, slipped in a measure to reinstate the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship program, euphemism for vouchers of up to $12000 for a low-income student to attend a private school. OK, the measure does provide some aid for Washington, D.C. public and charter schools also.

Did you figure out why House of Representative billion dollar slashers would put funds back into an education program? The ideological love for parochial school education and “choice” are the often heard reasons. Also “competition” for funds would force schools to improve academic achievement in order to keep funds on the school district balance sheets. Back to the school system as “marketplace.”

Three school systems in the U. S. have passed and maintained legislation to provide student vouchers, also called “tuition tax credits” by Ronald Reagan and “school choice” by economist Milton Friedman. Milwaukee-1990, Cleveland-1995, and the entire state of Florida-1999 have voucher programs touted as an alternative to help to low-income students attend private and parochial schools with better academic success.

As yet, after 25 years, studies of schools with voucher students have not shown significant gains in student achievement, the main goal in school reform efforts. However, parents who apply for the vouchers for their children cite the desire for schools where students behave and where students graduate from high school. In D.C. students in voucher programs do have better graduation rates than students in public schools.

Five talking points on vouchers are promoted on the National Education Association (NEA) website. In brief, 1) as stated above, vouchers don’t mean gains in student achievement. 2) Voucher schools have almost no accountability in place for the public funds that are siphoned off. 3) Vouchers don’t reduce the cost of public school education, but ask tax payers to fund two systems, public and private/parochial. 4) Parents must search around to find real “choice” in private and parochial schools which, for example, maintain exceedingly high admissions requirements and fees far above the voucher sum. 5) Surveys show that the public prefers spending their scarce taxes to improve the schools in the public system.

An article by Mike Winerip, August 8, 2010, from the New York Times examined public schools in Boston who applied for and are instigating turn-around programs which use tax dollars exactly as stated above. As most programs in which improvement begins to show significant results, these schools have implemented teacher leadership, teacher training, smaller classes, ongoing staff development, collaboration, and adequate resources to support the needs of the variety of children. It is difficult, relentless work to assure failing schools improve.

Furthermore, for anyone interested in justice for all,

“We have to be careful not to succumb to this nonsense that a public system is inherently flawed and that therefore we have to turn to the marketplace for solutions. I’ve never in my entire life seen any evidence that the competitive free market, unrestricted, without a strong counterpoise within the public sector, will ever dispense decent medical care, sanitation, transportation, or education to the people. It’s as simple as that.”

–Jonathan Kozol, author of “Savage Inequalities” and “Amazing Grace.”