Archive for the ‘low-performing schools’ Category

2019 – Change for Schools?

Saturday, February 23rd, 2019
Why strikes continue

Why strikes continue

Scarcely a month in 2019 has passed by before teachers have continued to stand up and go forth for change. Fortunately, district administration and negotiators react quickly. The longest so far has been the Los Angeles UTLA strike that lasted six days. The biggest concession for L.A. was to put a state cap on charter schools and voucher payouts.

The West Virginia state legislature backed down when teachers walked out for two days (second time in less than a year) over starting charters and a voucher plan for tuition to private school.

Denver teachers struck for three days and the most contentious negotiation was over the status of ProComp which provides incentives and bonuses over the base pay. The plan sounds good in theory, motivating teachers to work to improve the education in low-performing schools, but the plan needed revision.

Oakland, California, teachers began a strike on Thursday, February 21, 2019, when negotiations stopped over salary increases in a region where the cost of living is among the highest in the state. The quandary is that the district is going broke. Fury over which schools to close because of student demographic losses adds to the tension. Only close the low-performing schools in the flat lands or close high-performing schools in the hills? It’s a mystery how the disparate issues, all involving money, will be solved. No agreement as of this post.

At the same time, what does the president say about education in the State of the Union address on January 28? “To help support working parents, the time has come to pass school choice for America’s children.” Then he went on about socialism. It doesn’t appear that he is on the same wavelength as teachers across the country.

Further, in support of the president at the border wall in El Paso, Texas, on February 11, DJT Jr came out with “You don’t have to be indoctrinated by these loser teachers that are trying to sell you on socialism from birth.” What kind of school did he go to?

In the meantime, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee has approved HR 8- Bipartisan Background Check Act of 2019, authored by Mike Thompson (CA), just in time to remember the mass high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. In the Senate a similar bill to require background checks for all gun purchases, S 42-Background Check Expansion Act, authored by Christopher Murphy (CN), is still in the Senate Judiciary Committee. One hopes with a bipartisan effort the bill will make it to the House floor for a vote, and the Senate will do the same. See Every Town for Gun Safety research on why the legislation is needed.

The House of Representatives Labor and Education Committee under Chairman Bobby Scott (VA) has held hearings for a HR 865, the $100 billion Rebuild America’s Schools Act of 2019. The Senate has S 266, a similar bill, in committee. The legislation’s funds are mainly to address infrastructure repair in the country’s, on average, 44-year-old schools and, also, for districts that are under-funded predominantly in high poverty areas.

Since the 116th Congress has begun, actions by Betsy DeVos, Superintendent of Education, have come to the House Labor and Education Committee’s attention, including decisions for taxpayer money to prop up failing for-profit colleges because she rescinded the actions that The Council for Independent Colleges and Schools can take to pull money from such schools. The superintendent is also likely to be questioned about policies she rescinded that are meant to protect minority students from excessive suspension and from placement in special education.

‘To rescind’ has been an action verb well-used by Ms. DeVos, but let’s hope that positive actions for students will occur with the oversight of the House of Representatives Labor and Education Committee.

 

What Should Be Part of Public Schools

Friday, January 27th, 2017

Concern amplifies about the president’s choice for Secretary of Education after Betsy DeVos could not bring herself to agree that guns do not belong in schools. She seems to think grizzly bears pervade this nation. It’s laughable. Who needs gun safety rules for protection? Students in urban and suburban America is the usual answer. How many schools are up high in the Rockies where grizzlies roam anyway?

Opinion is that her nomination is being held up in hopes that her critics will move on from opposing the billionaire philanthropist with ties to Amway and the Family Research Council, both funding religious organizations and schools. She has the GOP leadership behind her in spite of an extremely poor showing about the duties as head of the United States Depart of Education. She has not withdrawn her nomination.

Recall that she was selected, first, because she contributes large amounts to the GOP and, second, because she has invested millions of dollars lobbying for laws that drain money from public schools and fought against requirements for measures of accountability in the charter schools in Michigan although accountability is what all schools in the United States must value.

Article after news article, senator after senator during her first hearing, observed that Ms. DeVos has no teacher training or experience in public schools. How will she know the best practices to achieve academic success for the diverse schools in the country?

In addition, her critics do not see that Ms. DeVos is a good fit for overseeing the civil rights of the 6 million students in the nation’s schools, including special education needs, LGBT student needs, high-achieving and low-performing school needs. She refused to commit to upholding Title IX guidance requiring schools to investigate instances of sexual harassment or violence.

Moreover, while one mission for all students in the country is to learn citizenship, kindness, tolerance, and responsibility for others, it may be the purpose of the private schools that Ms. DeVos and her children attended, but has never been the purpose for public schools, to “advance God’s kingdom” – (Ms. DeVos words) – whatever that phrase infers.

One wonders if Ms. DeVos has any knowledge of the many projects in the country whose purpose is to help create success in struggling schools? The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, which started in the term of President Reagan, has invested in a program called Turn Around Arts. In the 2015 report Reinvesting in Arts Education, Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools showed the evaluation of a three-year pilot program of Turn Around Arts. The lowest performing 5% of America’s elementary and middle schools in the program showed improved academic achievement, reduced disciplinary referrals, and increased attendance – three strong guarantors of  improvement.

What many studies have shown, students, participating in the arts, science, history even though the programs are not direct instruction in reading or math, improve in those important learning areas, as well as become enthusiastic students, for instance, of the arts – dance, painting/sculpture, music.

The first of these programs are found in thirty-six school districts from Minneapolis to the District of Columbia to Los Angeles. In California, an independent non-profit with financial support from architect Frank Gehry and the California Arts Council provides the funds.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama has urged struggling schools to consider this model to bring academic and arts success. One wishes that the U.S. Department of Education would select a cabinet member that knows about and finances valuable tools that support improvement in schools.

 

Now what?

Sunday, November 20th, 2016
independent reading in a diverse elementary classroom in California

independent reading in a diverse elementary classroom in California

The election is over and the president-elect is not known to think much about schools. However, one of the president elect’s well-known campaign assertions is about to take effect: getting rid of gun-free zones.

In California, the state with some of the toughest gun safety measures in the nation, Kern High School District School Board in Bakersfield, home of famed House of Representatives majority whip Kevin McCarthy, can and has approved 3 to 2 to allow teachers and staff to carry concealed guns. In total 4 high school districts and one unified school district in the conservative counties of the state have sanctioned concealed carry.

Other than that, nothing has been heard except rumor that Michelle Rhee, former superintendent of Washington, D.C. public schools, may be appointed to head the United States Department of Education.

On the other hand, as reported in the Take Care post of 7/2016 the USDOE may be gone. Pfft! Since it wastes money, harbors fraud, and embraces bureaucratic regulation.

The president-elect may be too busy trying to find like-minded cabinet members. Jeff Sessions, up for approval to be attorney general, will not likely be a protector of education rights. Beginning with what is known about his position on immigration, no wonder high school and college students continue demonstrating day after day. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as DACA, is in jeopardy for all the students who crossed the border with their parents when young and who thought they may have a chance to become legal residents of the United States. And elementary students, K-5, spend their days when they should be learning, worrying instead if they will be deported along with their parent.

The day after the election, teachers felt the need to stop academics and spend time on values – no bullying, no name-calling, no writing slurs, no shoving or hitting, no ostracizing – all actions that were on television and radio all during the campaign. The few words from the president-elect hasn’t stopped the action in the streets.

From the Archbishop of Los Angeles to the Chief of Police of New York, city governments felt obligated to speak out that they would not support deportation by ICE. Still, schools are one of the first places that worry is displayed.

Some teachers have used written language time for students to write opinion essays: Why the man who won should/should not be President. Other classes used time to discuss why in a democracy one must respect the outcome. Students are taking part in Project Cornerstone which asks the students to think in terms of “up-standards” – looking for the positive ways to approach an outcome with which you disagree.

Views of the vice president-elect make it difficult to expect a generous outcome when the administration finally gets around to any thought about public schools. A man who as Congressman and governor never supported a bill that he thought led to “federal intrusion,” also thinks Common Core State Standards are intrusive on the state, and prefers charter schools (good or bad) and vouchers. He is not likely to advocate spending effort or money on federal funding for schools.

Good bye Title I funding for low-income public schools, farewell to Title IX that assures fair sports funding and prohibits gender harassment, and exit now to Title II that provides funding for highly-qualified teachers and administrators.

In addition, since the start of the great recession in 2008 until 2016, 23 states have cut taxes and so cut funding to education, a position that suggests deliberate policy. Three of those states had initiatives on the 2016 ballot, but only Maine voters passed its initiative. Of the other 27 states, only California and Oregon had measures on the ballot. California passed both measures, a substantial bond measure and an extension of the special tax on high incomes. Oregon voters didn’t pass its initiative.

This brings us to the point that everybody loves to criticize schools, but if states won’t provide funding, the federal government must step up. It’s “the duty of the executive branch to ensure, through regulation and supervision,” (New York Times, “Schoolchildren Left Behind”, November 12, 2016) that funding supports schools with students most in need. A public-school-minded executive branch must pressure the conservative members of Congress who are well-known for efforts to cut Title I funding.

Who will teachers point to as models of tolerance and advocates for public education, one of the most basic foundations of our civil society since the days of the Puritans?

 

 

CTA Up Against Another Suit 

Sunday, March 6th, 2016
teachers in low-income public school

teachers in low-income public school

The California Teachers Association (CTA) and every other public employee union in the U.S. is waiting for the decision before the Supreme Court on the case over agency fees (see January 2016 post). Now that Antonin Scalia is no longer with us, and since Congress is unlikely to give in to pressure to approve a justice in an election year, a decision is more likely to go in favor of the unions.

Now CTA faces another suit. On Thursday, February 25, 2016, three judges from the California Appeals Court heard a suit brought by student plaintiffs. Their lawyers state that tenure laws give ironclad job protection, making it difficult to dismiss teachers deemed unqualified. The suit claims that these rules deprive students of good teachers and quality education. The union feels that such regulations help recruit and retain teachers.

The issue of tenure has been debated for years and in California a 2014 landmark decision Vergara v. California struck down five state statutes dealing with tenure awards and rules governing teacher dismissal. In the Superior Court of Los Angeles, judges agreed that the statutes violated student rights to equal education, allowing poor-performing teachers to remain in classrooms indefinitely. Poor and minority students are most affected because openings are found more often in low-income neighborhoods and school administrators are obligated to fill those jobs with whomever applies.

On the one hand, teacher unions put the blame for poorly qualified teachers remaining in the classroom on school district administrators. Many give tenure too easily. They do not follow up relentlessly on the procedures to dismiss poorly-performing teachers which administrators claim can be expensive and time-consuming. Nevertheless, in Long Beach the system does work with dismissal handled efficiently. In San Jose tenure and dismissal negotiated changes are on hold awaiting the appeals decision.

On the other hand, the group Students Matter from which the nine plaintiffs were chosen to bring the suit is financed by conservative business giant, David Welch, a long-time supporter of suits against unions. In addition, Partnership for Education Justice, started in New York to bring similar cases, supporting suits against tenure rules, is funded by conservatives Eli Broad and the Walton family. Their interest is long-standing to change public schools.

It’s true that a USC/Los Angeles Times poll establishes that a majority of California voters want change in tenure and dismissal regulations. Any teacher who has worked in a low-performing public school understands the desire to change tenure and dismissal regulations. They all wish to make more expedient decisions on the dismissal of well-documented cases of poor classroom performance and unwillingness to improve, even after assistance to the teacher from unions and other teachers in the school.

Especially, teachers in low-income schools want to make the system of hiring teachers for open positions stronger. Seniority, however, plays a role in the revolving door at these schools. Low-performing schools have more openings at the start of each year. New teachers leave for family reasons or because they are forced out by ‘last in – first fired’ (LIFO) to make room for longer-employed teachers (not necessarily well-qualified) when another school loses students.

A plan for filling those classes with experienced, well-qualified teachers must be found; seniority because of LIFO must change. “The case has already served the function of drawing increased attention to the tenure system we have,” says Stephen D. Sugarman, UC Berkeley School of Law. It’s not clear that the courts will uphold Vergara, he says, but it could trigger legislative responses.

A school of both new and experienced makes a good teaching community. A decision for the unions or the students, either way, means do something to stop this stress on equal education.

 

 

SAT or Not 

Monday, November 16th, 2015
high school in southern California

high school in southern California

In spring 2016 a “new” SAT test, aligned with the Common Core State Standards, will be offered to high school juniors. In both the English section and the Math section, there will be more creative thinking, problem solving, and evidence-based answers from which to choose. I answered sample questions for a passage of text from a speech about impeachment by Barbara Jordan (New York Times, Education Life, November 1, 2015, p.10) and, politically interested in the article, I enjoyed thinking through the questions and answers. Most high school students would not appreciate the history of the piece, but as PrepMatters states, the questions are not traps, mysteries, or obscure.

It is still the case that exam results differentiate between high income students, able to take test prep classes, find more books available, attend schools which stress grades and graduation, and students that live in poor neighborhoods and don’t have access to the above.

Which brings us to the trouble for schools that cannot count on well-educated parents and high-achieving students to show off their success. Do we not want poor-performing students to see the value of an education, even if they should go for welding, not philosophy (as Marco Rubio so casually suggests)? The United States Department of Education is going to have a new leader. It is my wish that he concentrate on those schools and districts that need to rebuild themselves so that middle and high school dropout rates are reduced and graduation rates improve.

I continue to advocate for improved university teacher preparation to adequately train student teachers. I advocate for funds to assign teachers willing-to-stay at troubled schools and to provide the support they need to make a change. I advocate for models where the elementary, high school, and community college in a region work together to improve student outcomes from Kindergarten to college graduation.

Unfortunately, this school year 2015-2016 has seen a huge surge in teacher shortages country-wide at all levels, but especially in special education, bilingual education, math and science. Numerous articles show the reasons that stand out: poor salaries and inadequate funding for curricular programs; attacks on tenure; reduced collective bargaining; constant pressure to evaluate teachers based on the once-a-year test mandated by No Child Left Behind legislation and continuing even though teachers, students, and parents have said enough is enough; little time for authentic teaching because of all the tests required by plans for school reform.

Even  the latest attention to the idea that a class led by three or four great teachers in a row, in spite of poor attendance, large classes, weak school leadership, and students impacted by social problems, can raise the academic success of his/her students does not hold up over time.

So, the price for an excellent SAT score still is the student’s educated parents, lots of books, attendance at a high-performing school, and desire to be high-achieving. That doesn’t mean that a student who gets an average score can’t go to college, but choose carefully and hope your school district tackles the stakes at hand so good teachers enter and remain in the field.