Archive for the ‘National Education Association’ Category

Legislation on the School Year’s Last Days 

Monday, May 27th, 2019

End of May. Another school year is almost over including state testing and continuing conflict over ‘school choice.’ What does choice mean to U. S. Department of Education Superintendent Betsy de Vos versus to families in marginal communities?

De Vos and the Trump administration keeps promoting vouchers for school choice, but Congress and federal departments have passed legislation to assure other kinds of choice.

HR 5, the Equality Act, was passed by the House of Representatives in May 2019 to specify that equality is a protected characteristic under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for all students no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity. Not only is a student’s choice protected in education, but in public accommodation, facilities, and employment. A similar bill, S 788, is under consideration in the Senate, but it is hard to expect the majority party to choose to take up the issue.

This month the U.S. Department of Agriculture has chosen to restore payments to the Secure Rural Schools Act. These funds have been allowed to lapse and be reduced over the last several years. Since the USDA and Department of the Interior oversee forest and other public lands, and so school districts in these rural areas can’t count on taxes to provide district services in the communities. The U.S. departments covers 800 counties with 4,000 school districts, providing for 9 million students in forty states. More than restoring funds to Secure Rural Schools, the problem needs a permanent fix. Senators Ron Wyden (Oregon) and Mike Crapo (Idaho) have introduced an extension and plan to introduce legislation to create an endowment fund especially for forest land communities. Watch to see if 9 million kids will have the choice of a well-financed basic public education.

National Education Association has found that the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) which oversees schools on fourteen U. S. military installations has chosen, without negotiation, to require 24 unpaid additional hours per academic quarter for teachers and school staff to pursue professional development – read articles, write reflections, take surveys – all of which may provide useful information – but not under the mandated circumstances. The accumulated time of 96 hours out of a 180-day school year does not mean that coaching, team planning, mentoring, supervising clubs – all part of providing a well-rounded education – is now excluded. Also, teachers spend plenty of extra time helping students succeed, but they choose to do it. Originally, a flexible bank of hours with advance notice for special meetings was part of a school year agreed to by DoDEA. The Federal Education Association is researching the current action. What choices will students in those schools have now?

On May 22, 2019, the Day of Action in Washington, D.C. and around the country, three main demands were brought up at the rally in front of the Supreme Court – educational equality, adequate investment in neighborhood public schools, and swift passage of the bicameral Keep our PACT (Promise to Children and Teachers) Act, introduced again on April 11, 2019 by Senator Chris Van Hollen (Maryland) and Representative Susie Lee (Nevada). As teachers have read, the Trump administration has chosen to reduce Title I funds in its budget proposals. The bill will fully fund Title I and IDEA (disabilities legislation) for ten years. To understand the need, between 2005-2017 Title I, providing assistance to America’s highest need students and schools, has been underfunded $347 billion (Alliance to Reclaim Our School statistics). After the rally, buses toured two schools, one well-resourced in a predominately while neighborhood and one under-resourced, with predominately students of color.

The choice of Journey for Justice Alliance, associated with AROS, is to promote 25,000 community schools by 2025, also a project of the Schott Family Foundation.

 

 

 

 

 

Schools at End of 2018

Sunday, December 23rd, 2018
As of December 22, 2018

As of December 22, 2018

School takes a break for the winter holidays, a time to relax and enjoy time with friends and relations. Except there’s no break from the anxiety for schools produced by the current president and his administration.

On Tuesday, December 18, just before winter break, another change in procedures was dumped on schools. The administration rescinded Obama-era school discipline guidance that aimed to address disproportionately high disciplinary rates for students of color. This decision despite, for example, black students on Long Island are about five times more likely than whites to be suspended from their public schools, according to a report released December 9, 2018, by a coalition of education, civil rights and business groups that finds similar racial disparities across the state. (Schott Foundation for Education newsletter 12/14/18)

On the one hand, the administration claims, with no evidence so far, that districts are pressured to keep dangerous students in school. On the other hand, long time research shows that the numbers of suspensions are a strong factor in dropping out of school. Disproportionate school discipline constitutes discrimination, and the American Association of University Women, for one, urges the administration to reverse this action and instead reaffirm their commitment to supporting equal rights and opportunity for all.

The announcement comes just three days after the Federal Commission on School Safety led by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released a report detailing recommendations for helping schools become safer. Despite claiming to be responding to school shootings, it is hard to find suggestions in the report that directly address gun violence. It does encourage the improvement of mental health services for students, recommend “character education” programs for students and training school personnel in the use of firearms. (AAUW Washington Update newsletter 12/21/18)

Winter holidays always include lots of time for delicious food. However, families with children will be affected by the government partial shutdown of many agencies and, most important, by the Department of Agriculture (DOA).

Earlier in December Congress passed the farm bill with strong bipartisan support. It protects the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nation’s largest anti-hunger program with 40 million beneficiaries. After strong opposition by the National Education Association (NEA) to provisions of the House version of the bill, the provisions were stripped from the final bill. They would have impacted nutrition benefits for millions of families, undermined access to free school meals, and imposed unnecessary new work requirements. (NEA Education Insider newsletter 12/16/18)

Nevertheless, days after signing the bill, the president along with DOA Secretary Sunny Perdue have found a way around the bill to place more stringent work requirements on adults who rely on SNAP. Supposedly, the rules would apply only to single adults, but there are many who work for schools and who still rely on food assistance.

In addition, Perdue plans to relax the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act school lunch rules implemented in 2010. Three provisions for grains, dairy, and sodium in school lunches are to be revised. Perdue seems most interested in allowing sugary flavored chocolate milk to return to schools.

Improving health by using whole grain rich foods does not mean complaints, according to Ann Cooper, Food Services Director from Boulder Valley Schools, Colorado. Few schools have requested exemptions.

Relaxing restrictions on sodium content in food is not as tricky or as conflict-consuming an issue. Schools will not be required to pursue the correct sodium content as aggressively as in the 2010 rules.

Although 99 percent of schools have reported that they can meet the 2010 rules according to a USDA report in 2016, the School Nutrition Association, advocate for the country’s food companies, love the changes. Not good news for children’s school lunch health.

What do trade tariffs easing and now the shutdown mean for students?

The DOA is not completely shut down. However, according to Senator and Vice Chair Leahy of the Senate Appropriations Committee, with the trade extension, USDA plans to distribute $1.2 billion in commodities through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which provides supplemental food to soup kitchens, food banks, and pantries. Help is needed to mitigate this influx of commodities, but a shutdown would really hamper this program.  The Food and Nutrition Service would not be able to purchase commodities or provide the funding for transportation, distribution, or storage. This could be especially harmful to food banks that receive these commodities at a time when more families rely on their services – the winter and holiday months.

With that news, happy holidays and, we wish, hope, and call on the administration to see the light by the New Year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Has the DOE Done this Month? 

Saturday, September 29th, 2018

mailDo you remember? On September 28, 1979, Congress under President Carter established the United States Department of Education. Lots of change since then at the DOE.

Just beginning this month, Betsy DeVos, the current Superintendent, has proposed that students defrauded by for-profit colleges “show they have fallen into hopeless financial straits or prove that their colleges knowingly deceived them.” Erica L. Green, The New York Times, “DeVos Proposes Curtailing Loan Forgiveness for Defrauded Students,” July 26, 2018. The proposal, worked out by the education department, now stocked with for-profit executives and criticized as releasing the industry from oversight, is set to go into effect by July 2019.

Next, DeVos is finalizing policies to reshape the Obama guidelines which were seen to better specify the procedures to address sexual misconduct on school campuses, especially colleges and universities.  Now, the policies will strengthen the rights of students accused of sexual harassment, rape, and assault. At the same time, the rules will reduce liability for institutions, but encourage greater victim support. Surprising, since the policies narrow the definition of sexual harassment.

Take Care Schools outlined this proposal last fall when the Obama letter was rescinded. Considering the conflict in the Senate this week about the very issue of sexual misconduct and how it is viewed when each side has a completely different vision, the policy DeVos wants will continue to be inflammatory.

Last, Betsy DeVos has offered another ludicrous proposal as part of the deliberations of the Commission on School Safety. Although she said the commission was not going to consider gun issues, the proposal would allow schools to use taxpayer $$ to buy guns and pay for firearms training to teachers and staff. Her department team is examining an obscure federal policy to get around the Congress’ legislation that no taxpayer funds can be used to purchase arms, ammunition, or firearms training for schools.

What to do with Congressional funds instead? Think about protocols (which have been developed by the DOE) that address “school climate.” For instance, how to respond to student outbursts of belligerence, how to penalize without suspending or expelling. Unfortunately, there is no requirement that schools implement the protocols, nor funding to do so yet.

What about funding for more mental health services? According to numbers in the September 28, 2018 Alliance to Reclaim our Schools (AROS) newsletter, New York City, for example, has only one counselor for every 407 students. If you want school safety, reduce the school to prison numbers, and prevent school shootings, it’s a no-brainer that more counselors and psychologists available are necessary.

How about implementing ‘threat assessment teams’ in schools? Virginia K-12 schools have such teams. There are good results that show fewer student threats to injure others. Besides federal gun safety and control legislation, these reforms can provide school safety.

Why no funding support for these issues? The Schott Foundation for Public Education has figured that between 2005-2017, the United States has spent $580 billion on public school education, but the net worth of the 400 richest Americans is $1.5 trillion.

Does that make sense? No wonder Colorado has an initiative on the November ballot to raise corporate taxes and personal income tax for people making more than $150,000 and use the $1.6 billion for public schools. No wonder Maryland has a measure on the November ballot to use additional dollars raised from gambling industry funds for public schools. No wonder an Arizona initiative is on the ballot to overturn education savings accounts that allow families to draw on public school funds to pay tuition to private schools.

Another AROS newsletter (September 21, 2018) reports that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has found that one/half of the states in the union provide fewer total dollars to education than in 2008, the start of the Great Recession. In the meantime, the Senate passed the FY2019 appropriation bill and sent it to the House of Representatives for a vote. It only slightly increases funds to Title I, IDEA, and Pell Grants, still a big gap in funding since 2010.

For explanation, download and read Confronting the Education Debt to learn how, even with the U.S. increase to 51 million public schools, one in five students live in poverty.

Seems to Take Care Schools, the DOE should be working on how to implement the true school climate and safety issues that will increase academic success in school. Congress better implement policies and funding to decrease the number of impoverished communities.

 

 

The Future: Teachers and Unions

Saturday, July 21st, 2018
West Virginia Teacher's Strike

West Virginia Teacher’s Strike

This past Educator’s Spring 2018, after strikes in West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Kentucky with weak unions, hampered by ‘right to work’ legislation, the slogan “enough is enough” won the day. Colorado walked out also, but the stronger unions in their state can collect ‘fair share’ fees.

Turns out a mid-April NPR/Ipsos poll found that three-quarters of Americans believe educators have the right to strike and only one in four feel teachers are paid fairly. Those numbers overruled the political establishment pushback from governors, legislators, and U. S. Superintendent Betsy DeVos which named the usual suspects: not enough money in the state budget, unions want everything, teachers disregard what’s best for students, to name the most often said.

Interesting that the states where teachers went on strike are bastions of conservative values and of teachers who do not usually rock the boat. But when you read stories about having to work second jobs, using ancient text books, scrambling to find sources for leftover crayons, and turning dried out markers into watercolor paints, teachers who have reaped the benefits from states where unions can negotiate with school districts root for the teachers in the states that don’t have that right.

However, if you’re oppressed long enough, the ‘people’ will rebel and stand up against legislators that finally do something when they realize they need those teachers’ votes in November if they wish to stay in power.

So, the union song “Which side are you on, boys?” is a good question for state legislators and governors as well as for the people striking. And “I’m sticking to the union” was the right choice for the teachers in those states.

On 6/27/2018 after the strikes were over and settled, the U. S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decided Janus v AFSCME. A worker who is employed by the school district, or hospital, or government facility can ‘opt out’ of paying ‘fair share’ fees to a union that represents and negotiates terms for every employee (whether the person joined the union or not). In other words, SCOTUS sided with calling ‘pay or not pay’ a free speech decision. It doesn’t matter whether a person pays ‘fair share’ fees to the union – that person can still benefit from the negotiations that a union makes with their employers.

Whether unions in the states named above will be able to maintain their wage and benefit settlements depends on how strong their teachers’ unions can stand behind them. The SCOTUS decision can mean fewer union members, but every teacher should hope they stick together.

Now that Janus v AFSCME has been decided, what other school-related issues are showing up this summer that teachers’ unions support or oppose?

In Washington D.C. the controversy continues about federally funded voucher programs that allow students to attend private schools with public money. Unions quote studies by the Institute for Educational Science’s National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance that continue to show lower gains in math (10%) and reading scores (3.8%) in schools receiving vouchers compared to public schools.

Think about the effects on the children that someday will be taught in U.S. public schools, when the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee in the FY2019 appropriations bill has endorsed long-term detention with their families. It undoes the Flores v Reno ruling that defines the amount of time children can be held in custody.

The Koch Brothers and DeVos Family has spent the summer funding the campaign to advertise the ‘opt out’ provision of SCOTUS’ Janus v AFSCME decision in the effort to limit union membership and influence.

However, last week, youth groups – the Center for Popular Democracy, Make the Road-New York, and Urban Youth Collective – gathered at the U. S. Department of Education for a “People’s Listening Session” to debate actions on Superintendent DeVos’ School Safety Commission. They called on the Education Secretary to maintain Obama-era guidelines aimed at addressing racial bias in school discipline policies and protested her decision to ignore any discussion of gun safety.

At the recent annual conventions of the National Education Association (June 30-July 5) and the American Federation of Teachers (July 13-15), teachers connected their workplace grievances and union organizing, including fights for economic equality, racial and gender equity, and sensible gun control.

Public schools are one of the few remaining institutions that are truly public. Teachers interface with the community, are entrusted to teach the values of democracy, to be catalysts for dissent and engines for economic equality. (The Alliance to Reclaim our Schools, July 17, 2018.)

“Which side are you on, boys? Which side are you on?”

 

 

 

Congress and Doing the Math

Sunday, November 26th, 2017
preparing students to be college or career ready

preparing students to be college or career ready

The ongoing news about the man who sexually compromised high school girls 40 years ago and is still running for the Alabama special election Senate seat makes one despair for women and girls. Will they ever get their chance for a decent education or job or any professional accomplishment?

Despite the above worry, are you rooting for improved education outcomes for female (and male) students and for the teachers whose profession is to make sure those kids actually graduate from high school prepared to benefit from the many higher education possibilities? You are faced with the foolhardy attempt by Congress to pass a tax bill.

If you’re really, really rich, or run an exceptionally large corporation, you may be happy or you may be discomforted by your luck compared to the rest of taxpayers. Why?

First of all, eliminating state and local tax deductions for the ordinary tax filer – which taxes, nationwide, cover an average of 46% of the funding for public schools – risk cuts to education funding of $370 billion in the next decade. (NEA’s Education Insider, 11/19/2017) The dominos will fall – JOBS for custodians to food prep workers to teachers to school district personnel.

Second, the House bill eliminates the measly $250 a year deduction for teacher’s purchase of school supplies for classroom instruction. That small amount is the last straw on the state/local tax deduction, property tax deduction, and medical expense deductions that will be eliminated and thus increase a teacher’s taxes due.

Next, students who have taken out loans to finish their higher education will not be able to deduct the interest on the loan for taxes due. In addition, of the $2500 deduction available to graduate students who get a tuition waiver or work for professors will be eliminated. So, tell me why the wealthy will be able to stash away $10,000 a year in tax-free accounts to pay for their child’s private school tuition?

In an end-run attempt to trash the Affordable Care Act, the individual mandate will be eliminated, thus 13 million Americans will likely lose benefits. Students in those families that can no longer afford insurance are doubly whacked with the reduction in state/local taxes to support school nurses and assistants. Furthermore, adopted students and their families are damaged if the adoption tax credit is eliminated.

Also, excluding mortgage interest deductions will affect all families, including teachers and students making less than $75000 a year. How can lack of affordable housing be reduced by eliminating such deductions and thus raising taxes?

Last, to make the bill work, any middle-class tax cuts still remaining will sunset in 10 years. (David Leonhardt, New York Times, 11/19/2017)

Take Care Schools thinks that members of Congress who will vote for this bill were not well-prepared for higher education mathematics, an important project for high schools, community colleges, and four-year institutions since 2013.

Improving Students’ College Math Readiness… by the Center for Analysis of Post-Secondary Education and Employment (CAPSEE) proposed instructional improvement in five independent strands of mathematical learning. The outcome is to produce math proficiency for all students before they enter the work force – including the government.

  • Conceptual understanding of when and why mathematics are important;
  • Procedural fluency to use procedures in the right way for the right purposes;
  • Strategic competence to present formulations that make sense;
  • Adaptive reasoning to use logic to explain mathematical relationships;
  • Productive disposition to believe sustained effort leads to benefits in life.

If mathematical learning is good for students, why is the Congress unable to formulate a tax bill that benefits the American public? Is it true, as Chris Collins (R-NY) says, his donors call for an action, any action, or don’t call for more money.

That is one reason, but hardly logical if you want to run a government that will do good for all Americans, not just the rich.

Perhaps Congressional members should do the right thing and listen to procedurally fluent graduates in statistics, percentages, and sensible formulations that may determine tax legislation that provides beneficial wealth distribution in the United States.