Archive for the ‘achievement gap’ Category

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”.

 

 

Victory Often Changes Her Side

Monday, December 19th, 2016

The president-elect’s cabinet is filled with conservatives whose goal is to kick federal bureaucracies down the right field, incorporating policies that most in education, for example, wince to hear or read.

The president-elect’s choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is a billionaire philanthropist with ties to Amway and the Family Research Council, both funding religious organizations and schools. She was selected, first, because she contributes large amounts to the GOP and, second, because she has spent years in Michigan supporting for-profit charter schools that are not doing as well as the public schools (National Assessment of Educational Progress – NAEP – results) and vouchers for private and parochial schools.

Some charter schools in some states have served children well, especially when the purpose is to provide students with alternate modes of learning. When the schools are promoted as a tool for providing the “Christian” way of learning, which Ms. DeVos advocates, the founding fathers’ First Amendment policy of “separation of church and state” is attacked.

Children go to Saturday or Sunday School or After-School Fellowships to ponder any number of religious ways of thinking. Public schools teach reading, written expression, oral language use, mathematics, science and social science/history, and do not “advance God’s kingdom,” as Ms. DeVos stated at a gathering of Christian philanthropists. New York Times, Op-Ed “DeVos and God’s Plan for Schools” by Katherine Stewart, December 13, 2016.

Vouchers can be looked at as another tool, which proponents may say is to provide better learning opportunities for all children, but if the funds are directed to be used to attend private “Christian” or parochial schools, the same problem exists.

In addition, the president-elect has proposed a $20 billion federal voucher program for “school choice”, right up Ms. DeVos’ alley. However, only 9% of the $600 billion a year spent in the country for education comes from federal sources used for specific purposes – for students with special needs or in low-income neighborhoods. Along with all the tax cuts, tax credits, military spending, and eliminating the budget deficit that the president-elect proposes, it is hard to fathom $20 billion being available or enough to help all the students in the United States, even if states are told to kick in some of the cost.

Assuming she’s confirmed and Ms. DeVos actually enters her office at the Department of Education, it might be possible that she has done some reading about the policies of the DOE. Perhaps she’ll realize the value of advocating for the pursuit of strong programs in every United States school to close the achievement gap; to further support Common Core State Standards (remember, devised and coordinated by the states), in spite of VP-elect Mike Pence’s dislike of the standards movement; to understand the conflict over testing vs. learning; and to keep her mouth closed about her LBGT feelings in light of the total number of students her position demands she support.

What can we do? Check out the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, founded by two educators in Chicago and supported by NEA and AFT along with eight other strong national organizations, to stage a Day of Action on January 19, 2017, all over the country, the day before the inauguration. Along with the January 21 Women’s March, Mr. Trump, Ms. DeVos, and his other cabinet members might soon see that it’s necessary to address the concerns of the 65,746,544 popular voters for Ms. Clinton. His side may be the Electoral College winner, but “Victory often changes her side.” Homer, Iliad.

 

 

 

 

Projects to Overcome Problems

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016

Nightly, Project XQ, one of PBS The Newshour sponsors, advocates a new concept to refocus, recharge, rethink American high schools. The XQ premise is that high schools were designed for the economy of the early 20th century and must be redesigned for the needs of students in the 21st.

In fact, as the 2016-17 school year begins, the lack of equitable school finances; the oft times weak teacher/principal/curricula efforts; the resistance to efforts that alleviate poverty and economic segregation; the opposition to accountability and governance; and the need for early childhood education provide the news articles about schools found daily in the media.

Let’s begin, though, with some good news. In the New York Times, August 28, 2016, “The Good News About Educational Inequality,” a report from the National Center for Education Statistics confirms that the achievement gap in reading and math between Kindergarteners in 1998 and 2010 has narrowed and the achievement of 4th graders on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exams holds the gain. Even with the distance between high and low income families and economic segregation, the effects hold for both groups.

Why? It is easier to find affordable high-quality early childhood education. Low-income homes have books and parents read with their youngsters. The nation has realized that the first few years are consequential for learning.

We cannot, however, take the stakes off the long term table.

In this post, Take Care Schools shares suggestions from KQED (local PBS affiliate) articles about relief for the neighborhood segregation in schools in Oakland, California. Since court-ordered desegregation was never successful country-wide, schools stick to improving the quality of the neighborhood school in hopes of more students choosing to attend – health clinics at the site, wrap around services for the students and families, low class -size, transportation.

Or the district may rewrite its method to be assigned a school. Right now, like in many districts across the county, Oakland public school students are allowed six choices of schools to attend. However, the priority for selection is 1) siblings at the school and 2) families living in the neighborhood. Then, other students are admitted until capacity. It hasn’t made change in the number of majority white or black/Hispanic schools. Perhaps the regulations may be rewritten to assure that 60-80% of the students admitted to each school (K-12) qualify for free/reduced price lunch. In that way the school populations would mix.

Furthermore, Understood.org, a group seen in the New York Times, August 4, 2016, provides excellent information for parents of special needs students, another category of student for which support from school districts is hampered by budget limits, supply of credentialed teachers, and administrator awareness of the diverse student needs in the school.

To conclude, Project XQ, founded by Russlyn Ali and Lauren Powell Jobs of Emerson Collective who see the current American high school as frozen in time, is determined to offer the next student generation high schools that adapt to our changing world. An ideal opportunity would provide generous time to master the fundamentals of literacy; collaborate; expand the horizons for the curious, original thinker; and encourage lifetime learning. Sound good? Sound necessary? Sound hard to overcome resistant thinking?

The question is: Does the education world start with local change, address the low-income issues that absorb all of a school’s energy? Or look at school change as an act of social justice? Shake off our fear of difficulty and move forward to innovate?

 

 

Every Student Succeeds Act

Sunday, December 13th, 2015
K-8 school, Lopez Island, Washington

K-8 school, Lopez Island, Washington

On December 9, 2015, fourteen years after the No Child Left Behind Act’s debacle, Congressional eyes opened. Congress voted to try again to give all students in public school education a chance for academic achievement, optimistically called Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Anyone with an interest in education has an opinion on whether student achievement will succeed in the seven years until Congress debates revision again of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

What were teachers doing this Fall, waiting for Congress to get its act together?

In most states, besides planning and teaching lessons based on the new-ish Common Core State Standards (CCSS), they  hoped the legislation would reflect their long held stance that excessive testing does not lead automatically to academic proficiency in reading and math. ESSA makes CCSS voluntary. That brings a breath of relief to some states, but what now? is the question of many others as state and local entities decide on standards.

Another sigh of relief because the legislation does reduce the number of yearly standardized tests. Yearly tests are mandated, but they may be designed as the state wishes. If a state doesn’t like current assessments available, there will be another scramble to find suitable tests. From test examples on the websites, that may be good or bad.

What else are teachers talking about in the lunchroom?

A special report in the latest CTA Educator used six pages to explore the details of housing costs that outpace educator salaries. The new ESSA does not discuss salary and little about staff development that may lead to a raise in salary. That issue is resolved locally, of course, but collective bargaining that does influence teacher pay is low on ESAA’s totem pole. It’s true that NEA and AFT, the two national teachers unions, support ESSA because the focus is taken off teacher evaluation as the source of all troubles for schools, even though the legislation removes the clause in previous education legislation which protects collective bargaining.

The “Superintendent Shuffle” is another concern for teachers and school districts. For example, “Two-thirds of superintendents in the state’s (California) 30 largest districts have been in their posts for three years or less according to EdSource.” Sherry Posnick-Goodwin, Educator, November 2015, p. 33. Again, ESSA assumes states and local districts will readily resolve administrative issues. If that actually happens, superintendents should be very happy; if not, districts will be absorbed with hiring, not effective teaching.

In the 3000 schools (the 5% lowest-performing schools in the country) that will depend on Title I federal funds, staff and teachers have devoted their efforts to keep up attendance, reduce dropout rates, and from Kindergarten on prepare students to graduate high school. ESSA combines funds for special education, English Language Learners, at-risk and more into a huge Title I block grant for each state to handle. And, states must set aside funds for private/parochial school students who need help. Since there is no discussion of meaningful curriculum or disparities in school discipline and suspension, it is those 1 million students who will be subject to the arbitrary local program decisions in high-performing and low-performing school districts.

One good thing about NCLB was the transparency of data used to identify interventions and accountability. Now, the Southern Poverty Law Center and NAACP Legal Defense Fund worry that the data may be transparent, but the federal oversight of the data is the weakest link in ESSA. As David L. Kirp said in his opinion article “Left Behind No Longer” New York Times, December 10, 2015, “advocates will need to keep up the pressure for equity.”

That has ever been the educator’s responsibility since 1965 when Lyndon Johnson said ESEA was the “passport from poverty.” General enthusiasm may be the spin of the bipartisan ESSA legislation, but recall Alexander Pope’s famous line “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

 

School Days 2015-16

Monday, August 17th, 2015
rural California high school

rural California high school

A new school year begins country-wide, but few newly credentialed teachers frantically interview, cross their fingers, hope to find a position before the first day students appear. It’s the school districts that are frantic. Why?

School districts wouldn’t be the in this situation if there were enough teachers who remained at their assigned school. But, as you have heard many times, new teachers often leave after five years. New hires are few because experienced teachers who move to a new state have licensing trouble. Higher Education teacher preparation lags.

Districts wouldn’t be in trouble if sufficient budgeted funds for the school year were settled before October of the new school year. Does it make sense for a legislature to fight and schools to wait?

Districts would not be on the horns of this dilemma if salaries were high enough to make new teachers jump to replace retiring faculty. Right now, the only money perk in most school districts is health benefits. Do you hear ca-ching when a teacher sees the salary schedule and must repay debt for an education, buy a house, support a family?

Schools would not be in turmoil, even schools that are low-performing, if teachers had the opportunity for substantial professional development and leadership roles to “own” the school.

The final reason teachers are fed-up is testing. Not that students shouldn’t be tested, but the school districts and the states are unable to stand back and make testing decisions that benefit students first and parents, teachers, administrators last.

The latest protest confuses the Common Core State Standards (which strive to close the achievement gap for public school students in this country) with the fury about testing that has overwhelmed certain schools from the highest-achieving to the lowest-performing.

The disapproval is based on the number of tests that students take during the school year, an average of 113 country-wide. Critics blame the federal government under which the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), a Congressional measure, is still the law and mandates accountability for students, teachers, schools, and districts. But only seven (7) assessments are required under federal law. They include the reading and math yearly assessments, testing to measure the fluency of English Language Learners, and assessment for Special Education. Anything else is designated by the state and district where the protest should be directed.

Teacher concern is based on the time used for assessment. According to the National Education Association (“Thousands of Students Opt Out of Common Core Tests in Protest” Associated Press, Christine A. Cassidy, April18, 2015), 30% of school year time is devoted to test preparation, proctoring, and reviewing results. In the view of this blog, analysis of test scores is valid, if time is set aside for such work and if teachers have the power to make curriculum decisions based on those results.

Another teacher criticism of assessment is the weight of student testing proficiency (which can be up to 50%) included in the teacher’s yearly evaluation. This year in revision of NCLB, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, not yet made into law, the Senate allows states to determine the weight to give tests when evaluating teacher and school performance. Oh, great!

In the end, parent protest to opt out of testing has reached a crescendo in states that use PARCC assessment, like New York and Colorado. On the other hand, in California and other states, opting out is legally authorized and is rarely used. Also, California has determined that schools will not be held accountable for results this year. However, in the spring 2015 California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance, a substantial number of 11th grade students in four high-achieving high schools in affluent areas of the state opted out. One high school with 37% low-performing students had a high rate of opting out. California has 9,324 public schools (2015 statistics).

Try these three (3) actions. Strongly advocate for alternative assessments at sessions of state and district school boards. Insist on funds so teachers have time to learn to analyze the assessments. Concede that teachers be paid to take time to assure assessment provides adjustments to learning. That’s how the achievement gap will close.