Archive for the ‘National Education Association’ Category

Backing Away: the President’s Budget Proposal

Thursday, April 20th, 2017
diverse community of parents and children at a Colorado elementary

diverse community of parents and children at a Colorado elementary

A notice in the NEA Education Insider, April 9, 2017, reminds teachers that the President’s budget proposal  drops the “U.S. Department of Education funding by $9 billion or nearly 14 percent. The Trump/DeVos agenda calls for voucher schemes that provide billions of dollars for private schools while slashing funding for afterschool programs in public schools, Pell Grants, teacher professional development, and class size reduction.” In addition, such a budget would cut federal food programs for children and health care initiatives that keep children ready for school.

So to go along, three House of Representatives Republicans introduced bill HR 610 on January 23, 2017. It will begin the de-funding process of public schools and effectively start a school voucher system to be used by children ages 5 to 17.

The bill will do just what the president’s budget requests – revise the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 which is the nation’s educational law and provides equal opportunity in education. Compare the budget proposal above with the comprehensive program that covers needs for struggling learners, ESL classes, classes for minorities such as Native Americans, Rural Education, Education for the Homeless, School Safety (Gun-Free schools), Monitoring and Compliance and Federal Accountability Programs. The bill would also abolish the Nutritional Act of 2012 (No Hungry Kids Act) which provides nutritional standards in school breakfast and lunch. For our most vulnerable, this may be the ONLY nutritious food they have in a day. The bill has no wording whatsoever protecting special needs kids, no mention of IDEA and FAPE.

Moreover, to support Pell Grant defunding, on Tuesday, April 11, Betsy DeVos, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and cabinet member of the current administration, withdrew an Obama administration Education Department policy that requires taking into account the past practices of college loan servicing companies before awarding contracts. It seems that Ms. DeVos is aiding the lenders to make money. There is abundant evidence that the industry doesn’t serve the college graduates and American families trying to get ahead. Rather Americans are burdened by unfair loan practices.

What’s the purpose? School “choice.”

Backing away from support for 86% of American children in public schools is to ensure money for school “choice,” especially with vouchers. Betsy DeVos has been looking at models to provide vouchers like the tax-credit model in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program which has been in effect since 2002. The program offers corporations and wealthy individuals a one-to-one credit on their taxes when they donate to one of several nonprofit “scholarship granting organizations” that have been established in the state for distributing vouchers. For example, a corporation that owes $50,000 in Florida taxes, can donate that entire amount to a scholarship program instead, depleting their tax bill to zero. Nearly 100,000 low-income students in Florida attend private, mostly religious schools, and could benefit from these vouchers. But, the voucher model also reduces state revenues by $50,000 from one corporate taxpayer (in the example), thus eliminating funding that could be used for the almost 3 million Florida public school students.

The research on improvement in student achievement by using vouchers to attend a recommended private or parochial school is not absolute, some school moves help, others don’t. However, The New York Times article by Dana Goldstein, April 12, 2017, “The Hidden Costs in Special Education School Vouchers” does expose features of vouchers that often don’t show better results. Parents must understand all the specifics of the voucher applied for. The protections for special education students from the 1975 federal civil rights law Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) may be waived once a scholarship voucher is accepted, as in the John M. McKay voucher program in Florida and, at least, seven other states.

On top of that problem, two assistants have been hired to the USDOE. The president hired Carlos G. Muñiz as general counsel to the Education Department. He is perhaps best known for representing Florida State University in a lawsuit brought by a student who accused the former star quarterback James Winston of raping her in 2012.

Ms. DeVos hired Candice E. Jackson, to be the acting assistant secretary for civil rights. She represented one of the women who attended a news conference before a presidential debate in October to impugn Mrs. Clinton’s treatment of sexual assault victims.

Title IX civil rights must be overseen for students of all ages, pre-K through college – the people for whom the President often reminds us he wants to assure a place in a great America – and then backs away from funding public schools and hires people to back his vision.

Take Care Schools urges you to call your representative and ask him/her to vote NO on House Bill 610 (HR 610).

 

 

 

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

 

SCOTUS to Take a Stab at Unions

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

In late December 2015 Congress did a good thing. Legislation expanded and made permanent tax deductions for eligible unreimbursed classroom spending up to $250, including professional development courses. Bipartisan work made it happen!

 

But, teachers, smile not! and watch out! The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) on January 11, 2016, took on the complaint by 10 California teachers (5 male, 5 female) to get relief from agency fees (also called ‘fair share’) deducted from paychecks by the California Teachers Association (CTA), known as Friedrichs vs. CTA.

Marcia Coyle of The National Law Journal reported on last night’s PBS NewsHour that there was “a clear ideological divide” among the justices over whether such fee rules violate the First Amendment.  It will affect public sector unions all over the country: teachers, hospitals, fire departments, police, county and state employees to name the most obvious.

What are agency/fair share fees? Required by twenty-three states, they are the monies deducted from the paycheck that support union costs for all collective bargaining, benefits, grievances, disciplinary actions, disputes with the administration and lobbying, but don’t support candidates or other “ideological activities” which are considered to violate the First Amendment.

Unions spend about 70% on collective bargaining and 30% on political actions. Additional money for political actions may be given to union PACs, but employees must opt-in for deduction of those funds from a paycheck. Employees who don’t want to support any kind of political action may ask for refund of the money dedicated to such actions and only pay toward collective bargaining. However, if the person wishes to withdraw from the union, but still work in the school district, he/she must still pay the agency fee, minus, if requested, the political action sum.

In the case of Friedrichs vs. CTA, the SCOTUS decision will void a precedent, the Abood vs. Detroit (1977) decision, which upheld “fair share” fees to support collective bargaining. Twenty-four amici briefs have been delivered to oppose the complaint, one of which is a brief from 70 Republican state senators and assembly members. Twenty amici briefs have been delivered to support the claimants.

As Lily Garcia, president of the National Educators Association states, a bad decision “harms not just public workers but also the communities who depend on the services they provide.”

 

Teachers all know the limits on private life and service in a school before unions and collective bargaining existed. Nevertheless, members can name problems in every union over “last hired, first fired”, seniority, length of probationary status, work hours, and salaries – which negotiation must resolve.

However, the teachers who have agreed to be complainants in Friedrichs vs. CTA wish to quit paying fair share/agency fees, although they receive the benefits of collective bargaining in the California districts where they work. They say the fees support actions they don’t like, and payment of such fees violate their First Amendment freedoms.

In fact, the suit was cobbled together by The Center for Individual Rights (CIR) that feels “union stances in collective bargaining are bad for public school classroom teachers and bad for the children they teach.” (from CIR mission goal) CIR is funded by the Koch Brothers and other conservative groups. They have developed actions against Affirmative Action and a suit for the Boy Scouts against admission of LGBT members.

 

What may happen other than SCOTUS deciding for the complainants? That employees don’t have to be a union member and don’t have to pay the fees? Most employees would say it is unfair to be a free loader in any public sector employment.

One, SCOTUS could decide to change how fees are collected. Negotiated action by a union and the state or district could agree, for example, that the 30% not be deducted if the member opts out when first employed. They don’t have to reapply each year. Only under certain circumstances can the member later opt back in.

Two, CTA could negotiate with the state over “the duty for fair representation,” to give union members exclusive right to collective bargaining decisions. Non-union workers do not have any rights.

Three, SCOTUS could remand the case to the lower courts.

Finally, if a public sector employee doesn’t want to be in the union, it would be wiser to find a job in the non-union private sector. Or, if a worker says he/she can make good single-handedly in the middle class economy, go for it, and don’t expect a union member’s dues to give support when trouble appears.

 

 

 

 

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.

Small, Not Large

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

Do you know that only 2000 schools in the United States produce 60% of the dropouts? Those schools can have about 3000 students each. The number accounts for middle and high schools since any statistician knows that students begin to drop out as young as 14.

The 2000 schools (often called dropout factories) are found in low-income neighborhoods where the students come from families with little education in their experience. The students have had poor academic success during the elementary school years so that by now they are below and far below on assessments for proficiency in math and reading. However, the National Education Association (NEA) has a lofty goal to create great public schools by 2020.

How will this happen? Here is an example. In New York City since 2002, large high schools have been remodeled to provide small high schools with academically rigorous curriculum and a personalized learning environment, long considered necessary to help poor-performing students improve. These small high schools, about 100 students per grade level, have reached their goal of increasing the number of students who graduate and go to college.

The nonprofit MDRC (Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation) with sites in New York City and Oakland, California, has reviewed data collected by the National Student Clearinghouse. The review has found that in spite of family income, race and ethnicity, and previous low academic achievement students from the small schools have graduated and gone on to college, four year college as well as community college. In addition, the small high school model costs less per student mainly because students do not need five years to graduate. Find out details of the model at www.MDRC.org.

Now, to ease the number of students who dropout by middle and high school, the emphasis on pre-school programs implemented in many states can address the issue. As of 2011 the federal and state governments have allocated $30 billion. However, children entering pre-schools from low-income families have shown poor literacy and math skills. In addition, programs want to avoid “fade out” of skills learned as has been noted for the premier pre-school project Head Start.

With its emphasis on services for low-income children, MDRC has research on a project focused on enhancement of social and emotional behaviors for small children. Teachers need resources, so the study programs have funding for professional development and coaching. The outcome leads to more instructional time in the pre-school day. The most important point of the study shows that pre-school youth read better by grade 3, a goal of the current federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), when their instructional time focuses on math. This means more than teaching shape names and counting and recognizing 1-20. Many pre-schools and daycare centers have opted for a model called Building Blocks based on views held by the National Science Foundation and that meet standards from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Young children manipulate hands-on materials and computer-based designs. For details:  http://gse.buffalo.edu/org/buildingblocks/index_2.htm.

We need to change our outlook. Small is the word whether size of the child or size of the school.