Archive for the ‘American Federation of Teachers’ Category

What’s Up, What’s Down in Education

Friday, March 30th, 2018
West Virginia teachers' strike

West Virginia teachers’ strike

We begin with the words about our controversial Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. After her stumbling interview on 60 Minutes, Sunday, March 18, 2018, she was, among the least unpleasant thoughts, called “incompetent and dangerous” by The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (post 3/23/18).

Be that as it may, neither DeVos nor Trump got what they expected when Congress passed the FY 2018 Omnibus Spending Bill, March 25, 2018, to allocate money to nearly everything in the country. DeVos’ pet project to cut Title II funds which provide federal money for professional development and smaller class sizes was increased. In fact, most commentators say that Congress did what it wanted, not what the current administration wanted.

For education, Title I, IDEA, 21st Century Community Learning Centers, Career and Technology Education (CTE), Impact Aid, Pell grants, and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) received more money than was scheduled in the 2018 budget. Even the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) Act, which sunset years ago, was re-authorized.

And who would believe it, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention was given funds to study gun violence prevention. In addition, federal funds earmarked for school safety programs are prohibited from using the money to buy firearms and/or train teachers to use them in schools. We say that students calling out have made some change happen.

Heads up! The 19th Anniversary of the shooting bedlam at Columbine High School comes up April 20, 2018, and the marches and calling out will be for legislation to order universal background checks, ban assault weapons and hefty bullet magazines, and universal Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) actions by which family members may ask for an order to remove guns from a dangerous situation or person. For more see Every Town for Gun Safety’s paper on ERPO.

DACA, however, was not legislated, but the bill’s authors say there is time to get it passed. Judges in New York City and San Francisco have stopped by injunction the president’s September 2017 roll back of the Obama policy to protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation. We hope this holds true because this blog and the news media will keep it up front when election season arrives.

What else is happening this month or coming soon? Strikes of course. Beginning February 22, West Virginia’s teacher union led to a 5% better salary nine days later – March 2. The Peoria People’s Project with aid from Peoria Federation of Teachers called back on February 23, 2018, for the same access to excellent public schools as other richer areas of the city.

Will Oklahoma teachers go on strike? Negotiators have until Monday, April 2, 2018, to raise salary and benefits. Arizona teachers threaten to walk out over salary raises, restoration of cuts to school funding, and stopping tax cuts until per-pupil spending reaches the national average. Chicago teachers and parents are unhappy about the difficult problem of public school closings they call “privatization and gentrification.”

Moreover, Janus v. AFSCME comes up before the United States Supreme Court over the same issue that was fought over in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. To recall, the issue was should teachers pay their fair share of dues, not to PACs or to support candidates, but to support negotiations for every teacher in the school district whether a union member or not. The difference in the Janus case is that corporations are trying to bust unions by making “right to work” the policy. In other words, an employee does not have to pay a yearly fee to the union, but still get the benefits.

Let’s end this post with good news about the Schott Foundation’s “Loving Cities Index.” The report describes twenty-four community and school-based supports that provide children with equal opportunities to thrive and succeed. Under CARE the report looks for cities with good food sources, clean air, health insurance, for example. Under STABILITY the report looks for consistent Early Childhood Education programs, alternatives to expulsion, and anti-bullying programs among others in the community. Under COMMITMENT to support the student the report searches for public transportation, affordable housing, banking services and more. Last, CAPACITY in the city is measured, for example, by number of experienced teachers, well-resourced schools, and strong high school curriculums.

Find out more about the “Loving Cities Index” that will make your community safe, schools well-provided for, and healthy to live in.

 

 

 

Community Schools? 

Thursday, May 11th, 2017
small island school perfect for community school

small island school perfect for community school

Let’s concentrate on the news about the president’s proposed FY 2018 budget and, not yet signed into law, AHCA which passed in the House of Representatives and now goes to the Senate.

What jumps out to an educator is the decline in $9 billion in funds allocated to the U. S. Department of Education with no outcry from the administration’s cabinet member, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Next, the decline in funds in the AHCA plan for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) which immediately, if it becomes law, affects the health and readiness to succeed for students from pre-K to 12th grade.

If $1 billion of the budget is diverted from existing programs to voucher-type programs, then after-school programs, class size, professional development, Pell grants are likely to go. (Note, however, Ms. DeVos has said year-round Pell Grant funding will be restored, but she has decided to roll back loan protections for borrowers. New York Times, “Graduates Meet DeVos with their Backs Turned” by Erica L. Green, May 11, 2017) If Medicaid becomes block grants with not enough money for a state to provide for all residents, the vulnerable are the victims and so, money will be diverted from education funds to provide for insurance for those with pre-existing condition, for children, for the elderly – children helped to stay alive, but no school. Is that not juggling until the balls drop? See NEA Education Insider, May 7, 2017.

Because of apprehension about possible disasters to public school education, establishment of well-defined and implemented “community schools” may help to overcome fears. In fact, states, districts, and even local communities have found ways to consolidate resources and people to ameliorate education problems, especially in low-income neighborhoods. In fact, Randi Weingarten, AFT president, escorted Betsy DeVos to see a community school in Dayton, Ohio.

However, many school districts have health centers or preschools or after-school programs or attendance clerks, nurses, and counselors or a public library attached to a school, but are not organized to be proficient and productive.

What are the ‘best practices’ model for community schools?

Two national organizations can help a school or district or region establish a community school: the Coalition for Community Schools, housed at the Institute for Educational Leadership, and The Children’s Aid Society of the National Center for Community Schools. Both organizations are standards-driven and use evidence-based strategies to promote equity and educational excellence, as noted on the websites.

The models are set to devise and implement four components to ensure a good community school. Focusing on Academics, think tutoring, homework centers, arts and music programs, academic challenge games, student government. For Health, think an open gym, dental and mental health centers, intramural sport programs, and an on-site clinic. For Community Resources, think advisory councils, services located at or near the school, community partners who seek funding. For Family, think ESL or GED or literacy classes, fitness, homework help for parents in school, adult sports. The options are endless to make the parents, community, and students think of the school as the resource for all.

The models instituted in Erie, Pennsylvania; New York City; Oxnard, California; and Flint, Michigan call for a coordinator to oversee and foster relentless support for the school community. The payoff is a place where education is valued and supported.

The hard part is the persistent under-funding, especially in low-income regions, and to secure state level fiscal equity and funding adequacy. Reading about New York City’s initiative, first call is to make efficient leverage of current and new public funding; second, use the district’s financial department knowledge to search for foundation grant funding; third, as many Harlem Children’s Zone community schools do, look to the private sector to broker partners and funding.

The end outcome is to achieve sustainability for community schools, and that is why the FY 2018 budget and AHCA are unnerving.

 

 

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”.

 

 

Good Habits for Pre-Schoolers

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

Take Care articles in April 2016 focused on character traits that can be encouraged in public schools and in May 2016 focused on the need for pre-K at public schools. Two program models that enhance the traits of self-control, perseverance, sociability, and others enable children from infancy on to negotiate life in and out of school.

Paul Tough, author of Helping Children: What Works and Why, described a project in Kingston, Jamaica, that focused on training for parents and adults caring for children even before they were old enough to attend pre-school. The researchers coached a group of parents to spend more time with their infants and toddlers: playing with them, reading to them, singing and talking to them. Seems obvious to adults with time to nurture their children to understand how to prepare their children for the education world. But it’s not to all families, especially those in which work takes up most of the day and education is not the highest priority. A second group received a kilogram of milk each week.

Guess what? As the research followed up on the children, those who were played with did much better when they reached school age than those whose nutrition improved. They did better “throughout childhood on intelligence tests, aggressive behavior and self-control.” New York Times, “To Help Kids Thrive, Coach Their Parents,” May 22, 2016.

If only Congress and state legislatures would see how funds are better spent for a model that coaches parents to prepare students, especially in impoverished neighborhoods, and that would help those children grow to productive adults.

Intervening with adults who have very young children is valuable, but a second program addresses coaching pre-school teachers to overcome stress as well as the four-year-olds in low-income neighborhoods. Those children can come from chaotic family situations which leads to quick anger, inability to follow directions, and acting out. The Chicago Readiness Program developed by Cybile Raver, a professor of applied psychology, and her research team from New York University, trains Head Start teachers in practices to create a calm, consistent classroom day. They pick up methods to set clear routines, redirect negative behavior, and help children manage their emotions. In this research model, mental health professionals are assigned to work in designated classrooms, concerned as much with the mental health of the teacher in a difficult environment. As any teacher wishes, the idea is to be calm and balanced throughout the teaching day.

Again the results of follow-up on the children indicates that those who spent their pre-K year in the program had better attention skills, impulse control, memory ability, and stronger vocabulary and math skills even though the year did not focus on traditional kindergarten readiness.

Professional development to improve pre-K classrooms is one of the most important to improve education throughout K-12 and beyond. The Century Foundation offers more support to these propositions: https://tcf.org/content/together-from-the-start/

“Favorable working conditions for the teacher predict improved academic growth [at all levels], even in schools serving low-income, high minority student populations.” Randi Weingarten, President AFT, “How the teacher shortage could turn into a crisis.”

 

Testy Words About Testing

Monday, April 8th, 2013
analyzing data from test results

analyzing data from test results

Them’s fightin’ words! Atlanta schools’ superintendent and a throng of teachers are alleged to have manipulated yearly tests in an effort to improve Atlanta’s public schools’ reputation. The last few months Atlanta’s school superintendent is the center of news attention.

You can bet there’s evidence on both sides of the question. You can put money on the fact that the case will erupt into a huge controversy of pros and cons about testing in the so-called No Child Left Behind legislation (not revised since 2007).

There are advantages to testing as promoted since 2003 by NCLB.

  • State departments of education have been forced to regularize state testing.
  • State departments of education can use data to see which public schools are doing well and which are not, so various remedies can be applied.
  • This tool can be used in plans for evaluation of schools, administrators, and teachers. This idea led to the controversial “value-added” assessments in Los Angeles.
  • Assuming knowledge is cumulative, tests let the analysts know if the test-taker has accrued the learning expected at a certain grade level.

Testing controversy has been addressed regularly by American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, and affiliates. President Obama in 2009 called on Congress to revise the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the actual name for NCLB. Ultimately the federal Department of Education under the new superintendent set out its own new guidelines which started a rapid change for each state to upgrade its public schools, in spite of the recession. Came further lobbying for charter schools and choice-vouchers. Came Common Core Standards. Came federal waivers as 2014 neared and states complained that they could not reach the absurd goals set by the un-revised  NCLB.

Little federal word came out about testing design or strategy. Hard to believe! The disadvantages of the current testing model enrage all types from Diane Ravitch to Bill Gates, not just AFT and NEA.

  • The current goals set by NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress plan can’t be reached by all students in the country.
  • States were allowed to design their own tests and decide on levels of student proficiency. Results can’t be compared state by state from the outcomes of tests taken.
  • State promoted tests are not required by parochial or private schools. How can those schools be championed to be “best?”
  • Failing schools have received less money or been closed. While the issues of school districts may require some closures, the problem of testing is not helped or discussed in the debates.
  • Preparation for yearly testing has left less time for art, music, physical education in the elementary grades.

What is not addressed? All the difficulties with the current model of testing.

Who takes the test? Is it a criterion-referenced test like authorized in California or a standardized test? (A degree in statistics is needed to understand the difference.) How is each test designed? (Common Core Standards have been developed to make exams comparable.) Why does “proficiency” depend on which state you live in? (Only the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress provides a nation-wide sample of how students are performing in math and language arts and it has many critics.)

Last, but not least, recall that private companies design the tests for public school districts and make a lot of money nation-wide.

Until tests are designed and implemented so schools and teachers can analyze how to help students; until it is recognized that some children are not good test takers but may have other traits to be supported; until a magical test is designed that can evaluate a highly-qualified teacher, arguments will only be arbitrated in the court.

Public schools and students deserve better.