Archive for July, 2012

Stand up for legislation that helps kids

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

This warm summer parents continue to worry about finances: how to pay the mortgage and other utilities, buy food, save for health care premiums, clip early coupons for school supplies, and contemplate a short vacation if they have money left. They don’t have much time. School begins mid-August unless students go to a year-round school which is already in session.

In the meantime, the news media tells how conservatives in the House of Representatives have determined a reauthorization of Farm Bill HR 6083 and reduction of the deficit by cutting funds for food stamps and school lunches ($16.1 billion to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP]). Note that small farmer surpluses reduce the cost of school lunches and provide products for food assistance to families with low-incomes. The farm bill will, however, spare cuts to agribusiness subsidies.

California is one of the fifty states with hefty budget problems still unresolved. Students, notably in low-income neighborhoods, will go back to schools for which renovation money has been yanked to bolster other state services.  The California lawsuit settled in 2005 to fund repairs in dilapidated schools with health and safety hazards has never been adequately implemented. Teachers and students continue to walk over fallen ceiling tiles and skirt around mouse traps.

With some nerve, conservative pundits criticize the one federal program authorized under the current administration to give states waivers to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.  States that provide a good plan to reform their low-performing schools will be allowed to adjust the unreachable required 2014 levels of proficiency in math and reading. Congress, as this blog has noted time and again, has not been able to legislate a revision to the NCLB Act. Nevertheless, Michael Gerson of The Washington Post, “The Quiet Overturn of NCLB,” July 20, 2012, wrote, “New accountability systems will once again be so confusing that no taxpayer or parent can understand them.” Such a statement doesn’t note the abundance of excellent accountability systems that are being implemented and have been explained in this blog.

Last, if, by December 2012, the erratic Congress doesn’t resolve its fight over raising revenue and chopping government funds, parents, teachers, and students will feel a severe contraction of services to education and the safety net.

What will happen? Education will be gutted and the safety net will shrink because federal funds to the state will shrivel. Notice of these calamities is reported in the Annie B. Casey Foundation annual rankings.

Talk to your Congressional representatives. Thank them if they are looking out for education needs; correct them if they do not see the outcomes for students on end-of-year votes.

Waivers Set Off More Change

Friday, July 13th, 2012

The news that five more states have received waivers from Congress’s 2001 No Child Left Behind Act adds up to 29 states so far that have requested help from the United States Department of Education.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation which has cluttered Senate and House committee desks since the 2007 date for revision, still has not made it to any votes. Therefore, action by the U.S. Department of Education allows states to make changes. Several other states who have sent applications for waivers have not received notification yet. And Iowa, for instance, had no measures for teacher performance in its application and was returned for further development.

For a state to get a waiver to abandon NCLB goals of 100% student academic grade level status by 2014, the application must have new reasonable standards in place that evaluate school and teacher progress for student academic success. The waivers must emphasize service to special education, English Language Learners, and economically disadvantaged youth. Test scores on a yearly summative test must be used as only one of several factors such as peer review, graduation rates, and attendance to establish school success.

Waivers are big news. Another specific issue in the media concerns middle school age students. (See New York Times, 6-18-2012, The Middle School Conundrum) Should those students be relegated to separate schools with teachers who are isolated from elementary teachers? Often, especially with budget cuts by state legislatures, teachers do not receive professional development that may open eyes to the range of academic and social/emotional issues for that age student.

The question comes down to support K-8 schools or 6-8 middle schools. Honestly, the configuration of school demographics and infrastructure for each school district will determine the outcome. Either way, the administration and faculty must set up the school program to care for the intellectual range and be sensitive to the emotional needs of these students.

No state education department want students to fail a reading or math course, have a poor attendance rate, receive marks for unsatisfactory behavior. That student is unlikely to graduate.

With the possibility of failure or success in mind, Ohio has been in the news for revising its school goals. (See The Plain Dealer 7-2012) With a GOP governor and legislature, a Democratic mayor in Cleveland, a strong superintendent of Cleveland schools, and 2010 Race to the Top funds, the state will put a new plan in place by the 2013-2014 school year, affecting all state schools but especially Cleveland.

The most important changes were agreed to by all from the governor to the teachers. The school principals as well as teachers will be observed, asked to establish yearly goals, and be evaluated on them. Principals will be required to assert more academic leadership, not just address the budget and discipline. Evaluations for all school employees will determine hiring, moving to another school, and raises. Seniority will not be the factor it once was. Besides test scores, staff will take part in team professional activities and engage the community.

For Cleveland Schools, the need for change is most important. The schools have depressed scores which has led to Watch status. Passage of a tax bond will be required to support changes in Cleveland.

Hope for success.