Archive for the ‘Race to Top’ Category

What Concerns Teachers?

Monday, November 26th, 2012

School Budgets? Charter Schools? Common Core State Standards? Turn Around Schools? Tenure? Accountability? Merit Pay? Graduation Rates? NCLB Testing?

Teachers, have you spent your hours and hours of curriculum preparation contemplating these issues? You’d have to be the appointed representative to your district union or take evening time twice a month to attend school board meetings to know which, if any, of those concerns affect your class day. Otherwise, you teach, using the models your school literacy coach, department chair, or principal discusses at monthly meetings.

Have you even heard how many students are in your school district? For a comparison, 90% of American students attend public school, right now that’s about 50 million students. The other 10% attend parochial and private schools or are homeschooled. Now established in forty states, charter schools account for about 5% of the 50 million public school students. Remember, charter schools are paid for with the state’s public school budget and may also be for-profit, charging a fee to enroll.

So, no time to read the staggering number of education reports available on these subjects? Here is a summary of thought that has appeared on this blog about each of the main concerns found in the education journals and newspaper sections on education.

School budgets: As the controversy over the fiscal cliff/hill/slope drifts on and on, most states foresee loss of federal money before tax changes start in the following year. Even in California which passed a tax increase to finally help balance the state budget, bets can be placed to guess the amount of money sent to school districts.

Turn Around Schools: If you teach at one of the lowest-performing schools in the nation, your school may have benefitted from Race To The Top grants generated by the stimulus funds four years ago. Some improvement in student abilities has been reported at those schools in spite of bitter critiques by education reform experts. Reformers want to make change fast and furious, but avoid the massive problem facing those schools in impoverished neighborhoods. The best turn around schools address as many of the community difficulties as possible while using models that institute curriculum reforms to improve learning.

Charter Schools: Reform advocates promote charter schools as competitive drivers for school change and choice for parents. The best charter schools show success for students by trying out new teaching ideas, longer days and school years, small class sizes, and other approaches to improve learning. Never mind that additional tuition money is asked for to provide the tools for success. Studies show that a well-equipped public school is just as successful.

Accountability: If you must choose, keep an eye on accountability issues. The strongest current concern is evaluation of students, teachers, and schools. Testing, tenure, common core standards, and merit pay have their role in the decisions that will be made over several years before accountability is set in place for public schools. For example, in the latest speeches by and interviews with Arne Duncan, the United States Superintendent of Schools, the present emphasis will be on principal preparation and evaluation.

Remember, accountability affects you, your students, the kind of school where you teach, and the entire school community.

Binder of Support

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

Remember, teachers, the November general elections are coming. Time for each of you to seriously think about which candidate’s ideas are likely to carry on improvement for education in the United States.

Think back to 2001. The one benefit of the legislation called No Child Left Behind was to cause schools to think about access to good education for all students. Most teachers, however, could see the loophole right away.

States received the mandate to make sure every student achieved 100% proficiency in English and Math by 2014. States were left to decide how that difficult goal would be achieved. No government funding, other than Title I, was attached to the legislation. Each state had to find the money to satisfy the requirements.

Think about 2009. A new president and new Superintendent of the United States Department of Education took on the legislation. A jolt provided a chance for student achievement in an economy that needs well-trained, skilled workers; a call was made to turn around low-performing schools; and money, notably Race to the Top funds, was offered to help states achieve the goals.

Quickly, school change has resonated across country. In any education journal, one reads how school districts produced a model for growth from low- to high-performing. States have redesigned evaluation for students, teachers, and administrators without denigrating or chasing away unions. The national Governors Association agreed to the establishment of Common Core Standards for the country’s curriculum. It’s amazing to hear about the variety of school plans that take into account the student demographics, from the poorest neighborhood to the wealthiest.

True, using one standardized or criterion-referenced test a year is still a controversy, and not the best or only way to assess students. The “how to” for teacher evaluation has not been acclaimed by all.

Compared to the mishmash of educational ideas that would take place with another change in presidency, it is difficult to imagine any teacher, even one who doesn’t like the testing situation or the school district’s evaluation scheme in use at the moment, would want to go back to the old ways.

Paying attention to statements put forward during the GOP campaign should raise alarm. Would you want education funding to be slashed further? Do you want to solve the issues for public education with an opt-out program such as vouchers? Or the candidate who would only preserve the U.S. Department of Education in order to go after unions?

In addition, the GOP candidate suddenly pledges lower taxes to middle-income voters although his tax plan is an unfair mathematic muddle. The candidate insists on reducing the deficit by cutting all services that benefit families and thus your students. Not to forget, the Affordable Care Act that helps families and students will be decimated.

Teachers, vote early or by mail or at the polling place on November 6, but you must choose. Who will support your profession or the students for whom you have dedicated your time and effort?

School and November Elections

Monday, October 8th, 2012

School critics come in two groups.

a desert high school awaits November elections

a desert high school awaits November elections

The first think teachers’ unions are anathema to improvement for low-performing schools and only for-profit elementary to high school charters and colleges are the answer.

The second, foundations call attention to states who have received Race to the Top grants or ‘waivers’ and turn in plans that game the outcome to show evidence of turning around poor-performing public schools.

In the 15% of U.S. public schools that carry a heavy burden toward recovery, teachers hear over and over about the “quiet revolution” called by Arne Duncan, the United States Secretary of Education, aimed at quality teacher evaluation as an important goal to improve student success. See Motoko Rich’s “Loopholes Seen at Schools In Obama Get-Tough Policy,” The New York Times, October 5, 2012.

Nonetheless, this is October of an election year. Teachers have other issues on the table. As an example in California, the state in perpetual budget crisis, teachers are gearing up for the election to support the initiative that stops cuts to school district budgets and helps pay down the state’s deficit. Since the measure involves raising tax revenue it has loud advocates and opponents. Everyone knows California schools were once the envy of the nation but without a change will generate more layoffs, inability to renovate dilapidated infrastructure, loss of programs.

Another California initiative is one of the deceptive measures that are written to fool the uninformed voter. While it claims to stop special interest money in politics, especially union funds, the measure exempts ‘super PACs,’ corporate special interests, and very wealthy Americans. Teachers are spending plenty of time educating voters about this deliberately misleading proposition.

On top of election issues on teachers’ minds, gasoline prices have skyrocketed in the last two weeks. Despite explanation of the circumstances in California and the governor’s action for early changeover to ‘winter blend’ from ‘summer blend’ gasoline (all used to minimize pollution on the state’s highways), not only teachers, but parents of students, are paying the price. What kind of disruption is that causing in low-income neighborhoods? A very local problem that plays its part in the difficulties of elevating student success. See San Francisco Chronicle, October 8, 2012.

Local or statewide or national, critical issues take over the attention of teachers at the same time they are called on to improve public education. It’s a political football!

Waivers Set Off More Change

Friday, July 13th, 2012

The news that five more states have received waivers from Congress’s 2001 No Child Left Behind Act adds up to 29 states so far that have requested help from the United States Department of Education.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation which has cluttered Senate and House committee desks since the 2007 date for revision, still has not made it to any votes. Therefore, action by the U.S. Department of Education allows states to make changes. Several other states who have sent applications for waivers have not received notification yet. And Iowa, for instance, had no measures for teacher performance in its application and was returned for further development.

For a state to get a waiver to abandon NCLB goals of 100% student academic grade level status by 2014, the application must have new reasonable standards in place that evaluate school and teacher progress for student academic success. The waivers must emphasize service to special education, English Language Learners, and economically disadvantaged youth. Test scores on a yearly summative test must be used as only one of several factors such as peer review, graduation rates, and attendance to establish school success.

Waivers are big news. Another specific issue in the media concerns middle school age students. (See New York Times, 6-18-2012, The Middle School Conundrum) Should those students be relegated to separate schools with teachers who are isolated from elementary teachers? Often, especially with budget cuts by state legislatures, teachers do not receive professional development that may open eyes to the range of academic and social/emotional issues for that age student.

The question comes down to support K-8 schools or 6-8 middle schools. Honestly, the configuration of school demographics and infrastructure for each school district will determine the outcome. Either way, the administration and faculty must set up the school program to care for the intellectual range and be sensitive to the emotional needs of these students.

No state education department want students to fail a reading or math course, have a poor attendance rate, receive marks for unsatisfactory behavior. That student is unlikely to graduate.

With the possibility of failure or success in mind, Ohio has been in the news for revising its school goals. (See The Plain Dealer 7-2012) With a GOP governor and legislature, a Democratic mayor in Cleveland, a strong superintendent of Cleveland schools, and 2010 Race to the Top funds, the state will put a new plan in place by the 2013-2014 school year, affecting all state schools but especially Cleveland.

The most important changes were agreed to by all from the governor to the teachers. The school principals as well as teachers will be observed, asked to establish yearly goals, and be evaluated on them. Principals will be required to assert more academic leadership, not just address the budget and discipline. Evaluations for all school employees will determine hiring, moving to another school, and raises. Seniority will not be the factor it once was. Besides test scores, staff will take part in team professional activities and engage the community.

For Cleveland Schools, the need for change is most important. The schools have depressed scores which has led to Watch status. Passage of a tax bond will be required to support changes in Cleveland.

Hope for success.

Money Rolls In

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

In spite of comments about the Obama administration from the right and the left, one of the big coups that has just landed in California comes from a United States Department of Education’s Race to the Top grant. Anyone in the education world is happy to grab money for young kids to provide readiness before they start kindergarten. Finally, the state has written a grant that has been approved. Would anyone raise his or her hand to vote to give the funds back? The GOP has tried time after time to snuff out funds for early childhood education.

So, the Obama administration hasn’t shown leadership-when?

Here is a list from Elaine who commented on David Brooks and Gail Collins post on the Opinionator, December 14, 2011.

President Obama’s successes:
-End the Iraq War.

-Health care reform-this will change the way Americans can access health insurance . It will make health insurance affordable for everyone. Who in their right mind can argue the benefits?

-Brought down Osama bin Laden. This is a big deal.

-A great deal of financial intervention, aside from stimulus, during a time when the economy was poised to go over a cliff.

-Recognized the problem with unemployment and the reasons behind the problem-meaning recognizing the real reasons unemployment stays high. Corporations are holding back, not hiring, and also taking this opportunity to practice age and other discrimination.

Also one might add, help to orchestrate the demise of Muammar el-Qaddifi.

Stimulus funds, though not enough and fought over since they were voted for, helped California fix Interstate 5 after trucks had destroyed the right lane. Have you seen the ARRA signs around?

The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The resuscitation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (NCLB) that was about to go another year without revision. The administration finally suggested “waivers” and offered them to states.

The California Early Learning Challenge grant of $52.6 million squeezed out of Race to the Top monies given to eight other east coast states is for a specific program that will primarily fund local Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) being developed by Regional Leadership Consortia – voluntary groups of local First 5 commissions, county offices of education, and county governments. These Consortia will work with licensed child care programs, school districts, and child care partners.

Although the current Congress has a perverted way of counting every penny, one of the ways that the administration has led the nation is by looking out for young children. All those, including teachers, who need to criticize, must keep their students in mind.