Archive for the ‘school community’ Category

Black History Month

Wednesday, January 31st, 2018

img7458270 (1)At the end of the sixth month of the 2017-2018 fiscal year Congress is still spending its energy on stop gap, short term measures to fund the government which, among other needs, means the government prevents adequate investment in public education.

Who is most affected by these quick fix solutions? The disability, special education, English Language Learners, and especially programs, like Title I, for low-income students.

And now February is Black History Month which has been a time to learn about famous black Americans in history. This year in Seattle, a project called Black Lives Matter in Schools is making three demands of the school system:

  • substitute the ‘restorative justice’ discipline model for ‘zero tolerance’
  • hire more black teachers
  • develop a sufficient black history and ethnic studies program K-12

Let’s look at discipline. An example can be seen in District U46 south of Chicago. Of 6% black students in a 39,000-pupil district, 26% of those black students got out-of-school suspensions in 2016-2017. Fifty-one percent (2500 black students) received discipline referrals. That seems biased when only twenty-four percent of the Latino students, another minority group and the largest part of the district school population, received discipline referrals. Besides having professional development in cultural awareness, training about racial bias, and a goal to support all demographic groups, the district would benefit by trying a different model of disciplinary treatment, like ‘restorative justice.’

As for a goal of hiring more black teachers, studies show that even one black teacher in grades 3-5 for low-income black boys reduces the likelihood of dropping out and increases the rate of high school graduation and expectation to attend college. Right now, the percent of black teachers in the country is declining sharply.

School districts where I taught spent resources on Black History Month books about famous names for their libraries. Some even developed curriculum for each grade. But considering the current problems that seem to focus on civil rights and racial bias in the news, at least in middle and high school, a more detailed study about the history of slavery and civil rights after the Civil War to present day is the curriculum that matters.

Will this actually happen?

In the past year under Superintendent Betsy DeVos of the United States Department of Education (DOE), $19.2 million has been cut from federal education programs, including college-study programs. At the same time, $250 million of the DOE budget was given over for private school vouchers. In addition, $22 million has been eliminated for teacher training, among other programs.

Right now, Kenneth Marcus has been nominated for Assistant Secretary of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in the Department of Education and has met with the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Senate committee for confirmation. Although he founded the Louis D. Brandeis Center, a civil rights group, his focus was on opposing any anti-Semitism on campuses. OK, but what about other groups who are being discriminated against? In his previous role as Acting Assistant Secretary at OCR from 2002 to 2004, he helped develop regulations governing single-sex education that relied on sex stereotypes. In his Senate hearing he agreed with DeVos’ revisions of student sexual harassment protections under Title IX regulations and other civil rights laws for students – a continuing problem in the DOE.

Think about the broad Congressional support for Every Student Succeeds Act which has only reached one year since it became law and look at the numbers reported above. The issue to ensure every student succeeds is to budget adequate funds for all public education students in states and local districts. Furthermore, Congress must raise the caps on domestic funding, especially to support education, not just defense funding.

How else to deliver sustainable community schools for black or any student in need?




Federal Budget to Cut After-School and Summer Programs?

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017
California elementary school with after-school program

California elementary school with after-school program

Keep in mind the $9 billion education cuts proposed by the president and Superintendent of the U.S. Department of Education, Betsy DeVos, and the Department of Agriculture cuts to school meal funds proposed by Sonny Perdue. These cuts are sitting on the table for all to see while Congress comes up with an actual budget funding bill.

The Committee on Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor, chaired by Republican Virginia Foxx-North Carolina, has designed a bill which passed by committee vote and passed the Appropriations Committee vote on July 12, 2017. It is unlikely to pass a full floor vote, nor in the Senate.

Still the action rattles the education community because some unfortunate version will pass. It cuts $2.4 billion from several sections of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

From Title II-A it eliminates funds to reduce class size, provide professional development, recruit and retain teachers, and provide mentoring services to school districts across the country.

It takes money from Title I services to needy schools.

Most objectionable to districts that try to improve achievement levels and graduation rates are funds being slashed from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21stCCLC) – part of ESSA – that provide for after-school services, summer programs, including meals, to low-income neighborhood schools.

The president and the Budget Director, Mick Mulvaney, insist that the programs are not boosting student achievement. Likewise, the bill claims to eliminate duplicative or ineffective programs and reduce funds to others. Evidence for such statements is rare or non-existent, like voter fraud.

Looking at current research, The Hechinger Report, Covering Innovation and Inequality in Education, focuses on 21st Century Community Learning Center sites in Mississippi’s poor neighborhoods. The document blames the cuts from the Department of Agriculture (USDA) that provide meals as well as the reduction of service funds for 21st CCLC that will lead to cognitive delays from malnutrition as well as no homework help, tutoring, or recreation supervision which means, of course, there will be no growth.

The Texas Education Agency’s evaluation of fifteen 21st Century Community Learning Center sites found higher test scores from grades 9-12 program participants and improved progression through grades. In middle schools, they found fewer disciplinary problems, better attendance and behavior, higher promotion and graduation rates. For details see “Texas study” .pdf in The Hechinger Report, found in the paragraph under subtitle “Related: How does Mississippi really compare…”.

The California Department of Education’s “Independent State-wide Evaluation of After-School Programs” shows reduced juvenile crime rate, higher graduation rates, and improved test scores. To see the details click here and to choose ACES 12/2012 from a list of studies click here.

Take Care Schools has data for California schools. Four hundred programs across the state serve 100,000 California students at 21stCCLC sites and other after-school programs agreed to by voters in an initiative promoted by former Governor Arnold Schwarznegger. California spends 4 times as much from state funds than it receives from the federal government. The problem is that, like in many states, the monies are divided: elementary and middle school programs are funded by state money. Any high school monies for after-school and summer programs come from the federal budget.

Click here for more analysis of California, Texas, and other state after-school programs.

If those funds disappear, anyone can realize that the progress low-income neighborhood schools are focusing on – student achievement, promotion, graduation rates – will be affected.

Do we want 18-year-olds standing on street corners, wandering from low-pay job to job, putting strain on their family or worse as we’ve all seen. Only because the president and his cohorts seem to think that taking all the $$ away, rather than fixing and improving the services, is the solution. Is that so?




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.



Teaching Guns

Sunday, January 20th, 2013
a California elementary school

a California elementary school

It’s in the news, but I can’t imagine keeping a gun locked in a desk drawer in my classroom. Why?

I was ten when carnage occurred at the school in Stockton, California. I didn’t even know where the town was although I should have, going to Sacramento every month to see my great-grandma. When I now see news photos of the 25 year old scene with children lying on the ground, I begin to understand the transformation in school safety from 1989 on. I wonder how many other young or old teachers have been thinking about the changes. California’s assault weapon ban didn’t take long to pass in the state legislature after the shootings even though guns are part of the lifestyle for the majority of the state. Gun Free Zone signs are not uncommon in California schools.

Now that I’m teaching and have my own classroom, we have lockdown drills every year. Having memorized the Code Red Public Address notification-not to be confused with a fire drill or earthquake call-, my students are old enough to help pile desks against the doors to make it difficult, but not impossible, to enter the locked room even if the perpetrator must shoot open the lock.

Since December teachers have been revising plans for a lockdown event. The school district is going to buy “wood board and clamp” mechanisms to put on a door when Code Red is declared. We’ve revised our plan to hide in the little storage room between classrooms. Usually used only for tutoring or small group work, it’s not big enough for two classes of fourth graders to hide. Since the school can’t keep all doors locked all the time, each set of teachers has discussed securing all children in one of the adjoining classrooms so just one set of doors can be barricaded, locked, and boarded.

Now I know why our windows are covered or opaque. I know why some schools hire personnel to roam the playground and hallways watching for stray adults. I know why no one is allowed inside the school unless they have signed in at the office and received a Visitor’s Badge.

I have just finished teaching units on fractions and measurement, rocks and minerals, and California missions. The Gold Rush unit is next when reckless gun shooting, banditry, and killings weren’t prosecuted while California lurched into statehood. Why don’t the curriculum standards stress the wild behavior at that time?

Although I’ve gone out skeet shooting once and was pretty good at hitting those clay disks, the thought of any kind of gun protecting my students and me is absurd. Not all teachers at my school are so hesitant. No one, however, has alluded to the “good guy” statements made by adherents of the National Rifle Association. At lunch every day, we talk about the issue. Most of us agree with President Obama’s plans for improved gun registration and background check guidelines. I mean you have to register each car you own, don’t you? Are bullet-spewing arms less dangerous than cars?

No one I know thinks any human who wants to protect himself needs a weapon with a 100 magazine clip to do the job. If you’ve killed an intruder, it’s doubtful you fired 100 bullets to do it. I agree with the proposal to ban mega-magazine clips.

For all those who think their life is no longer free if they won’t be able to buy guns whenever they want, they need to go to school. I’m trying to teach what it means to be free and the responsibilities of freedom for yourself and all other citizens in the United States. We may often say “it’s a free world”, but not true. It’s not a simple word to fling around.

Guns in Schools?

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

After school children were gunned down in Connecticut last Friday, the American public may be finally toughening its perception of what it means to take care of schools.

Whether you watch TV, surf the internet blogs, tweet, peruse Facebook, or actually read the newspapers, every position has been displayed. And the notorious NRA leadership is mute, at least until this coming Friday. Who’d ever think that would happen?

A few voices are raised to say that all teachers and administrators should carry guns at school. For sure, pointing another pistol would definitely make a semiautomatic-equipped lunatic, determined on vengeance, put down his weapon. Or reduce unintended bodies spurting blood onto the school office floor. However, even the latest Michigan legislation to allow concealed weapons in schools, churches, and other public institutions, affirmed just before the mass killing in Connecticut, was vetoed by the current governor.

In case you can no longer bear to see those little six-year-old faces and read about sorrow in the media, here are three issues, often discussed, which address the safety of schools and the children and staff whose job is to teach reading, writing, math, history, science, and civilized behavior. Not to teach about “lock down,” the place to hide when a deranged maniac is loose in the school, nor the unique time that “silence is golden.”

Across the country, state and national legislators are putting forth measures to improve registration, especially background check procedures for those that want to purchase a gun. First of the most difficult and resisted federal legislation will be to close the private sale “loophole” through which many guns are purchased without a background check requirement. Even this retired teacher’s grandfather who had an antique gun collection would have been required to obtain a background check before selling off his guns. Registration had difficulty when Lyndon Baines Johnson introduced such legislation in 1968 after the five murders of famous people in that single decade. The loophole remains today.

Gun control laws for automatic weapons are in place in several states, including Connecticut where the murders took place, but only for culprits with an illegal semi-automatic. The obvious measure is to return the federal gun control law first introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, voted into law in 1993, but left to sunset in 2004, and never re-authorized. Fear of the NRA lobby is often mentioned as the glitch. The measure identifies the guns permitted in the United States and the guns not permitted to be manufactured, sold, transported, imported, or possessed. The current revision also specifies ammunition, kinds and amounts, permitted. Did you know that the pension fund group for the California Teachers Association (the largest teachers union in the country) has told Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm, that it will no longer invest its $750 million in any company that does business with gun makers? And as of Tuesday when firearms companies went down, down, down on the market, Cerberus decided to sell off Freedom Group, the gun manufacturing holding company that has been part of Cerberus’ private equity company?

Last, legislators backing guns-for-everyone address the mental health issue of many attackers who use semi-automatics to do the job. As if addressing that problem alone will eliminate killing with guns. Even this retired teacher has given up taking guns away from hunters and gun range enthusiasts. In case the concern with mental health issues be forgot, treating people with mental problems costs money. This has been true since Ronald Reagan changed the laws for mental illness, leaving millions of people homeless once the facilities for mental health were closed. The reason was money. Such funds have been reduced for thirty years. Law makers heard mumbling about mental illness are the ones who voted against the Affordable Care Act, the legislation that supports mental health. Back and forth, the issue of who is ill and who isn’t is vast and complex. Such a cure for the gun problem doesn’t even come close to addressing the main issue of who is registered to have a gun.

From a retired teacher’s point of view, when universal registration and control of guns and ammunition is legislated, the other safety issues for schools can be addressed. Be prepared: it will take money. Stinginess won’t be satisfactory. Letting controversy die down won’t take away the sight of the next human bodies splayed on the school floor, blood dripping from gaping bullet holes.