Archive for March, 2017

Schools on Alert!

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017
Arena Union Elementary in California

Arena Union Elementary in California

On March 28, 2017, the president wrote his big Sharpie signature on another executive order to dismantle the Clean Power Plan and the progress our country was making to avert catastrophic climate change. As Take Care Schools has said before (if you’re too young, ask your parents), do you want your school age child to go back to a hacking cough because of “smog” in the air at recess or feel the brown haze burning her eyes?

That’s not all. This week the president has approved H.J. Resolution 57, which nullifies the Department of Education’s rule relating to state accountability requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act and H.J. Resolution 58, which nullifies the DOE’s rule relating to assessing the quality of teacher preparation programs.

These are the first actions aligned to the president’s FY2018 budget proposal, with line items to take down public education in favor of a privatized market place of “schools of choice.” Be assured, the impact of these budget cuts will affect most the black and brown students and their community schools.

From The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools On-line Newsletter 3/17/17, here are a few of the priorities:

  • cut of $9 billion (13.5%) for the Department of Education, including teacher training and funding to reduce class sizes.
  • The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program is eliminated. This is the program ($1.2 billion) that funds before-and after-care programs, summer programs, and funding for sustainable community schools
  • $1.4 billion more for privatization programs, including:
    • $168 million increase for the federal Charter Schools Program
    • $250 million for a “new private school choice program”
    • $1 billion to encourage districts to adopt “portability” systems where per pupil funding follows students – often to charters funded in the Title I program.

Although there is a long process ahead to turn these proposals into legislation, in Take Care Schools’ opinion, this anti-public education agenda is wrong for students and taxpayers.

Let’s look at another view about the $168 million to expand charter schools. David W. Hornbeck reminds us that charters are not substitutes for broader proven reforms. In fact, chartering is not an education reform. It’s merely a change in governance. A charter law doesn’t deal with the hard and often costly slog of real reform.

Hornbeck asserts that from research and experience it is clear what works to build schools with thriving students. Keep your eye on the prize:

  • High standards
  • Quality teachers
  • Prekindergarten for 3-year-olds
  • Lower class sizes through the third grade
  • Attacking concentrated poverty through such innovations as Family Resource and Youth Service Centers.

See Lexington Herald Leader “Why I was wrong about charter schools, why Kentucky is better off without them” by David W. Hornbeck 3/10/2017

In addition, possible legislative outcomes if the president gets his way include changes to nutritional programs and services to disabled students.

The federal government currently provides California schools, for example, with $2.6 billion for child nutritional programs in 2017 through the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. During the same year, the state Legislature has spent $161 million to supplement school meal funding, according to the non-partisan Legislative Analyst. These funds will continue through a “continuing resolution” but next year …? How will your state’s nutritional programs survive?

As far as disabled students, educators also have to take in account the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Gorsuch has erected technical legal barriers against the legal claims of students with disabilities — barriers of the type that the Supreme Court has subsequently rejected unanimously. He has repeatedly ruled that students with disabilities are owed only a bare minimum of education, contradicted in SCOTUS decision on March 22, 2017. Judge Gorsuch has joined deeply troubling opinions that hold the constitutional rights of students with disabilities are not violated even when they are segregated and subjected to abusive confinement.

“The next Supreme Court justice could cast the deciding vote in cases involving students with disabilities, as well as other critical issues: public education funding, educators’ ability to negotiate collectively for wages and benefits, and much more. An independent Supreme Court is a check on abuse of executive power.” from Letter to the Senate by Marc Egan, Director of Government Relations, National Education Association, 3/9/2017

 

DeVos and the Advantages of Early Math 

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Betsy DeVos was confirmed, and so, now, advocates of public education can only watch for the actions she takes. It is noteworthy that, in spite of her family right wing policies and religious background, Jeff Sessions and the president had to strong arm her to go along with rescinding Obama’s civil rights executive order on a person’s bathroom use by birth sex and not sex identity. We’ll see. The uproar moves back to the states.

What else to expect? One hopes she will uphold Title IX campaigns on sexual assault at any school campus. Except for such issues raised by Title IX, the federal government has limited fiscal or ideological influence over the education system, especially urban schools. For instance, states impose caps on the number of charter schools that can be started per year, so DeVos may agitate, but all her private billions can’t force the issue as her own money could in Michigan.

Even use of vouchers may not be as certain as once seemed since states do not thrill to use public money to pay for private and parochial schools. In addition, research studies in Indiana, Louisiana, and Ohio show that vouchers have not led to improved academic success for low-income students transferring with vouchers to private schools.

Remember also that charter schools are held accountable for achievement and must admit students no matter their initial achievement level. Vouchers are not held to those constraints. So, who knows about “school choice”, DeVos’ favored word for education opportunity.

Moreover, Keith Ellison, House of Representatives Minnesota, at an AFT rally against DeVos’ nomination gave his opinion of charter school and voucher support as a reaction to the attempt to integrate public schools. “Don’t think for a minute that this plan that they’re trying to pretty up and pass on doesn’t have a lot to do with those ugly plans in the fifties and sixties.” The New Yorker, “The Protest Candidate” by Vinson Cunningham, February 27, 2017.

In a different way, a school’s choice for achievement success can begin in pre-K. Greg Duncan, UC Irvine School of Education, PhD in Economics, has focused recently on income inequality on students’ life chances and realized that to significantly close the achievement gap, the process must begin at the start of education – pre-school for the low-income children whose parents cannot provide the resources available to middle and upper class children. Of all the problems Kindergarten teachers define, the biggest gap is in mathematics achievement between low and high income children.

What should a pre-K mathematics curriculum look like? Not work sheets, but play-based programs like Building Blocks (Building Blocks-Foundations for Mathematical Thinking, Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 2: Research-based Materials Development) used in Boston, Nashville, Tennessee, and Buffalo, New York. The model does not just teach rote counting, but counting sub-skills, like one-to-one matching, cardinal order, recognize the numeral. Not just shape names, but measurement and geometry of shapes.

What about middle school? The New York Times “Math and Race: When the Equation is Unequal” by Amy Harmon, February 19, 2017, describes programs so that gifted, but poor, students don’t drop out of advanced math study in high school and beyond. The same issue remains for these students as for pre-K students just beginning to learn – they don’t have the resources that middle and upper class students enjoy. BEAM (Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics) implemented by Daniel Zaharopol from MIT offers sessions in the summer and follow-up during the school year for sixth and then seventh graders nominated from inner city schools.

It would be wonderful if Ms. DeVos advocated for mathematics programs as proposed in Core Curriculum State Standards, but the pro-active states can’t wait. Adopting or devising improved math readiness for pre-K and helping low-income middle school students to graduate and attend college as a math major is the go-to “school choice”.