Archive for March, 2013

Another Foray into School Vouchers

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

With all the issues facing the nation, who would have guessed “school vouchers” would be near the top of the list to save our children’s future?

Nevertheless, in the last nine months seventeen states have legislated or strengthened funding for parental choice. Forget improving a low-performing school; instead appeal to the parent’s pocketbook.

Where’s the best school for your kid? The 17 conservative state legislatures, rather than increase support for public schools, offer a way to escape.

A number of organizations back such moves. Look at the American Federation for Children. On its website, AFC “envisions a vibrant and successful American education system where achievement is high and where low-income children are provided with the opportunity to attend the finest schools possible, whether these schools are excellent public schools, public charter schools, or private schools.”

A variety of legislation accomplishes these goals: vouchers, tax credits, education savings accounts, and combinations. Some may provide poor parents with funds to send their children to a school they believe is the best. And parents deserve choices in education because families have different needs that may not be met by the current public education system.

However, those reasons to choose another school are legislated in education codes in most states already. The evidence strongly suggests that the voucher concept has long been promoted as a way to use public taxpayer money to fund non-public schools. Look up positions by John T. Walton or Betsy De Vos. They would prefer to see the entire U. S. education system privatized, meaning the government would no longer support any public schools; vouchers or some variation would let parents choose between private schools.

On the side of public education, schools all over the country face common core curriculum standards; changes for teacher evaluation; pre-school expansion; or graduation rate turnaround as approaches to reform low-performing schools. Numerous foundations are addressing various modes of improvement.

See Education Bug for the many arguments to oppose school vouchers. For example, school voucher programs vary from place to place, and the legislation is hard to compare. In addition, there is no data showing better student academic achievement results in schools that have taken on students because their parents think the choice is best. Remember, every state has good and weak public schools. Currently the Adequate Yearly Progress reports lay out the data for every public school in every state, but not private or parochial schools.

Here is another case of political conclusions being turned into legislation by seventeen states. Until clear outcomes provide evidence that ‘vouchers’ are the best solution, the question is not answered. How should taxpayer money be spent for the 50 states full of children who need to be educated?

Fix Schools? Why Not Ask a Teacher?

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013
California elementary school

California elementary school

On my school’s agenda this year is California’s Common Core Standards. For once professional development workshops are filling ¬†our in-service days ahead of time. A district administrator is earning my thanks for preparing all of us for implementation in the school year 2014-2015. One good thing! No last minute confusion. No being told to start now when you haven’t even learned what is being required.

I’m willing to try out the new standards. The old California Standards set was frustrating to me since some fourth grade standards had no precedents in earlier grades.

Thus, someone has been listening to us teachers, although the current squabble continues to be conflicting views on how to “fix” schools. As if all schools in California and in the United States are falling apart and students don’t know anything! How can that be? At the same time newspapers and on-line results celebrate improved student achievement levels.

Ask! Every teacher can tell you what a good school looks like. I teach elementary grades, so I know that a decent facility is important. Adequate technological equipment and resource teachers make the school even better. Most important is that all personnel support a common school program, from the custodian to the administrator. Teachers may use different strategies to help students learn, but the outcomes are clear. Decent common core standards play a role here.

Like my school, a good school has parents that understand the school’s plan and support every child. It has an administrator that stands by his/her students and teachers and constantly broadcasts the school’s improvements.

Having been through years of budget strife, I know that good public schools are supported by enough money, smaller class sizes, and enough special teachers to help the weaker academic students. In spite of the opinion of many education experts, unions that keep their eyes out for backsliding or reduction in support of students and teachers is valuable.

I work in a middle-class elementary school. Most of my students learn well, but I know what to do to “fix” schools that must improve. My first piece of advice is that 21st century children have more to learn. So, when I was young and the children I teach were younger, they attended pre-school classes. Many impoverished areas do not have parents who can afford pre-school for their children. You want a good school? Find funds for a pre-school or two years of kindergarten experience.

Last, I think a good school doesn’t squander its resources–people or time or money. Everyone in any good school has high expectations for student achievement and no one forgets that success can happen if kids are thinkers (not answering multiple choice questions), good citizens (but not robots), and engaged in learning.

Exhort the state and Congress to address the issues in impoverished areas, both rural and urban, in this country. Many examples of school districts that have turned around exist in this country. Keep at it and although I may sound idealistic, all schools can do better.

No Money Withdrawn Yet, But Schools Not Safe

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

The California school year still exists with no further furloughs than those already negotiated. State legislators and school personnel await funding dollar signs to evaporate. All the while a number of school foundations still join together to pursue reform goals, putting together research and reports on possible ways to help weak students get the most for their education greenbacks.

Edsource, a California forum, recently announced collaboration with five other groups in the country. The goal is to update information on expanded learning time, especially in low-income neighborhood schools, the ones affected most by poor resources to achieve student success. The research will examine after-school programs, health services, and other social services to elevate student chances for graduation from high school. For a number of years, critics of public schools and charter school promoters have endorsed the expansion of school learning time, not a favorite of long-term teacher’s union negotiators. Funds have been granted from the Ford Foundation, which has made “More and Better Learning Time” a priority in its philanthropy.

A variety of California programs to expand learning time have been tried for many years, especially under the gun of California’s Academic Performance Index and the current unrevised federal No Child Left Behind Act. However, the plans have been underfunded and not analyzed for successful practices although a variety of ways to help students have been tried. Read more in “Expanded Learning Time in Action” from the Center for American Progress.

Speaking of the phrase “under the gun”, arguments about weapons control have not abated nor led to consensus across the country. Last week South Dakota’s legislature authorized school employees to carry guns. The legislation, reported in the March 9, 2013, edition of The New York Times, is riddled with details to make the bill palatable. For example, South Dakota school districts decide whether to permit firearms. Four other states were mentioned that have some variation of laws to carry guns in schools.

On the other hand, Colorado is about to take a final vote to legislate background checks for private and gun show sales, limits to magazine size, and provisions to keep guns from domestic abusers. None of the Colorado bills specifically pertain to laws about firearms in schools, still being debated vociferously after Colorado local laws were upheld by the courts last year.

At the same time, a surprising survey by the General Social Survey shows that the number of American households with firearms has dropped. No matter whether the comparison is between rural and suburban families, houses with children or without, happy vs. unhappy households, gun ownership has fallen by an average of 50% since the 1970’s to 2012. Indeed, households in the South and the West have shown the greatest decline.

Let’s hope that America can make a turnaround in gun control beliefs as much as education experts are looking high and low for long-term provisions to turn around the chance for student achievement. The latest is finding the most successful strategies to extend learning time.