Archive for the ‘public schools’ Category

What does Climate Change Have to Do with School?

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

Every public school teacher and administrator is gritting their teeth when reading the latest about the national budget.

One, Education Secretary DeVos continues to speak in favor of vouchers and sidesteps questions about preventing and ending discrimination (AAUW Action Alert 6/7/2017). She disregards taxpayer preferences. She agrees to allot significant public funds, formerly for public schools, to private and religious. Refusal to acknowledge the special issues of civil rights for disability, economic status, educational achievement, special education, and LGBT students seems to be the Secretary’s pattern.

Two, moving Education Department’s oversight of more than $1 trillion in student debt to the Treasury Department because the president wants to defund the agency by almost 50% (NYT, 5/28/2017) is unsatisfactory.

Another worrisome factor for schools is ICE deportations across the country. In addition, health care proposals in Congress that will affect 5 million children if they lose Medicaid eligibility (and miss school because they are sick) is unacceptable.

Then, the president declines to uphold the Paris Accords, unwilling to recognize the need for responding to climate change because of cost. Saving money is a short-term measure, destroying the world we stand on is a long time away for the current administration.

How do teachers explain the temptation to say, “don’t worry” vs. the necessity to teach about saving the environment? Not to discount the fact that many students in coal-mining, chemical manufacturing, oil producing and refining areas of the country are only concerned about their family’s jobs, not about evidence that the industries are polluting the rivers and oceans, are warming the Earth from burning fossil fuel and emitting carbon gases into the air.

From research into the problem, it is determined that the younger the students are, the easier it is to begin with understanding how earth’s climate system works, and as they get older, the students are more likely to accept new ideas, question conflicting understandings, and resolve the dilemmas.

Usually a teacher needs more resources besides the science text books your school distributes. Go to the internet. It is loaded with ways to strengthen understanding. To help teachers, several handbooks and information from Ohio State University explain principles of Climate Literacy:

-understands the essential principles of Earth’s climate system,

-knows how to assess scientifically credible information about climate,

-communicates about climate and climate change in a meaningful way, and

-is able to make informed and responsible decisions with regard to actions that may affect climate.

Another site, called Population Education, is useful to teachers to strengthen the relation of a young student with the environment. Remember there are plenty of library books to read about the forest, ocean, seasons, plants and animals, such as old favorites, The Happy Day by Ruth Krauss or The Last Forest by Laurie Glick. For upper elementary grade students, lessons provide ways they can begin to help the world: ways to recycle, to reduce energy consumption, to reduce the classroom’s carbon footprint.

Three sites that seem most valuable are provided on the February 2013 blog at Concordia University, Portland, Oregon:

NASA’s Climate Kids is produced by the Earth Science Community Team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, and is exciting in its design for young students.

Climate Change Education has a terrific curriculum for grades 4-5, especially Protect Your Climate-16 Lessons. It is organized by the Bay Area Quality Management District, California

Another is called Journey North, first introducing young students to movements of the earth, moon, and sun. Older students learn about plant, animal, insect migration. Lots of visuals animate the program, supported by the Annenberg Foundation.

As Americans have discovered after the president’s announcement, every state, county. city, and school district can insist on reducing global warming and pollution, protect animal life, and change the culture war over climate change.

Start now; “in a while” is too late.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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

 

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”.