Archive for the ‘vouchers’ Category

2019 – Change for Schools?

Saturday, February 23rd, 2019
Why strikes continue

Why strikes continue

Scarcely a month in 2019 has passed by before teachers have continued to stand up and go forth for change. Fortunately, district administration and negotiators react quickly. The longest so far has been the Los Angeles UTLA strike that lasted six days. The biggest concession for L.A. was to put a state cap on charter schools and voucher payouts.

The West Virginia state legislature backed down when teachers walked out for two days (second time in less than a year) over starting charters and a voucher plan for tuition to private school.

Denver teachers struck for three days and the most contentious negotiation was over the status of ProComp which provides incentives and bonuses over the base pay. The plan sounds good in theory, motivating teachers to work to improve the education in low-performing schools, but the plan needed revision.

Oakland, California, teachers began a strike on Thursday, February 21, 2019, when negotiations stopped over salary increases in a region where the cost of living is among the highest in the state. The quandary is that the district is going broke. Fury over which schools to close because of student demographic losses adds to the tension. Only close the low-performing schools in the flat lands or close high-performing schools in the hills? It’s a mystery how the disparate issues, all involving money, will be solved. No agreement as of this post.

At the same time, what does the president say about education in the State of the Union address on January 28? “To help support working parents, the time has come to pass school choice for America’s children.” Then he went on about socialism. It doesn’t appear that he is on the same wavelength as teachers across the country.

Further, in support of the president at the border wall in El Paso, Texas, on February 11, DJT Jr came out with “You don’t have to be indoctrinated by these loser teachers that are trying to sell you on socialism from birth.” What kind of school did he go to?

In the meantime, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee has approved HR 8- Bipartisan Background Check Act of 2019, authored by Mike Thompson (CA), just in time to remember the mass high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. In the Senate a similar bill to require background checks for all gun purchases, S 42-Background Check Expansion Act, authored by Christopher Murphy (CN), is still in the Senate Judiciary Committee. One hopes with a bipartisan effort the bill will make it to the House floor for a vote, and the Senate will do the same. See Every Town for Gun Safety research on why the legislation is needed.

The House of Representatives Labor and Education Committee under Chairman Bobby Scott (VA) has held hearings for a HR 865, the $100 billion Rebuild America’s Schools Act of 2019. The Senate has S 266, a similar bill, in committee. The legislation’s funds are mainly to address infrastructure repair in the country’s, on average, 44-year-old schools and, also, for districts that are under-funded predominantly in high poverty areas.

Since the 116th Congress has begun, actions by Betsy DeVos, Superintendent of Education, have come to the House Labor and Education Committee’s attention, including decisions for taxpayer money to prop up failing for-profit colleges because she rescinded the actions that The Council for Independent Colleges and Schools can take to pull money from such schools. The superintendent is also likely to be questioned about policies she rescinded that are meant to protect minority students from excessive suspension and from placement in special education.

‘To rescind’ has been an action verb well-used by Ms. DeVos, but let’s hope that positive actions for students will occur with the oversight of the House of Representatives Labor and Education Committee.

 

L.A. Strikes During National School Choice Week

Saturday, January 26th, 2019
Los Angeles teachers strike

Los Angeles teachers strike

Is this a joke? This year’s National School Choice Week (NSCW) – January 20-26, 2019 – to supposedly celebrate with thousands of events for the many choices that parents and students have for their education is not what it seems. For Take Care Schools, the first clue is that Betsy DeVos, charter and voucher advocate, is a firm long-time supporter.

The website states it wants to celebrate traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling. When searching for schools only in the California Bay Area, full of a diverse education selection, I did not find any traditional or magnet public schools highlighted, but plenty of charters, private, and religious schools. Not surprising since the president, Andrew Campanella, of the NSCW organization, while desiring to celebrate the good in schools, is a proponent of choosing charters and using vouchers.

It turns out NSCW is “a carefully crafted public relations campaign designed to remind lawmakers of the financial muscle of its sponsors” with dances, cheers, and signature yellow scarves for free (Carol Burris, Network for Public Education). With further examination by Media Matters in 2016, the last time any organizations were listed on the website, it was funded by conservative groups like American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Gleason Family Foundation, Cato Institute, Freedom Foundation, and Heritage Foundation, to name a few. For 2019 the website doesn’t list its funders.

The joke, coincidence or not, is that the celebratory week comes just as Los Angeles Unified School District endured a serious six-day strike that ended Wednesday, January 23, and the federal government has been shut down. Federal funds for schools were on hold until January 25, when it looks like the government will open for the time being.

The Los Angeles Unified School District strike comes not long after strikes last year in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona and may be followed by striking teachers in Denver, CO and Oakland, CA.

What is the strike result? The negotiating team used strategies from Bargaining for the Common Good and involved parents and the community which led to good outcomes. First, teachers will get a 6% raise over two years; class size will be reduced, especially in high school English and Math classes; a nurse at every school five days a week; more counselors (1:500 students) and a librarian five days a week for every high school. Working groups will be formed to address the lack of resources for Special Education and excessive standardized testing (to be cut in half).

In addition, schools will curtail and revise ‘random search’ procedures which lead to fear in schools. The district will replace the industrial look of many schools by planting green areas, thought to have a therapeutic effect on the atmosphere in schools. In addition, Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, will support the Schools and Communities First initiative to be placed on the November 2020 ballot in which commercial property taxes will be revised in response to 1978 Proposition 13 regulations.

The most interesting effect of the strike is that legislation will be taken to the State legislature to put a cap on the number of charter schools allowed in California. Especially important to traditional public school teachers are the large number of charters in Los Angeles. The charter schools remaining will be ordered to show a degree of transparency in the demographics, funds over and above the school district, and results of standardized testing. (Information is taken from several sources but check out details in the LA Times.)

When these changes take effect in the second largest school district in the country, let’s hope that next year every single student in Los Angeles and California will wear the NCSW yellow scarf to celebrate the beginning of victory for improvements. The scarves are free, just order them. The organizations supporting National School Choice Week pay for them.

 

The Future: Teachers and Unions

Saturday, July 21st, 2018

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?”

 

 

 

64 Years After Brown v Board of Education

Friday, May 18th, 2018
Linda Brown Thompson 1945-2018

Linda Brown Thompson 1945-2018

May 17, 2018, is the 64th year since the Supreme Court of the United States decided in Brown v Board of Education in Topeka on May 17, 1954, that separate schools based on race are inherently and fundamentally unequal in the education opportunities and resources they provide. Laws legislated since the Civil War were found unconstitutional.

After years of turmoil including the nine high school students who entered Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957, the Boston desegregation by busing fights from 1974-88, and similar desegregation struggles in Los Angeles, San Jose, California, and many other cities, what is the status of integration in public schools in 2018?

There is no longer de jure segregation from explicit discriminatory law, but instead de facto segregation which refers to patterns of racial separation in major cities in the United States. What has happened?

In 2018 research finds more segregation than in 1968. Seventy-five percent of black students attend poorly funded schools; with poorly maintained facilities; and punitive discipline, leading to high rates of suspension and expulsion.

In addition, it is well-documented that black and other minority students are residentially segregated. They attend schools in high-poverty areas that are given fewer resources and less per pupil spending. The teachers are less well-trained and paid less. Fewer high level academic courses are offered. An example is Manual HS in Denver and Cherry Creek HS in the Denver area.

The massive resistance by state and district school boards in the past has changed to seemingly inoffensive offers of ‘school choice’ – U. S. Superintendent of Education Betsy DeVos’ favorite phrase. In reality that means private school vouchers, also called education savings accounts and tuition tax credits, that take money away from already underserved public schools in an effort to give students a supposed chance at academic success. Another tool is the increased number of charter schools, almost 3 million students in 2018, many in highly segregated communities. Charter schools can succeed, but often are discriminatory and do not provide the achievement advertised.

Take Care Schools has offered information about programs that help low-income students in high-poverty areas succeed, but mainly they are programs for boys. It’s time to pass on statistics about black girls – after all, Oliver Brown of Brown v Board of Education wanted better education opportunities for his daughter, Linda Brown Thompson, who died on March 25, 2018, at 75.

According to research compiled by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) black students are five times more likely to attend high-poverty schools and three times more likely to live in high-poverty neighborhoods. Besides the multitude of problems with the facilities and academics at these schools, black girl students are up to six times more likely to be disciplined by suspension or expulsion than boy or girl students of any other race or ethnicity. Furthermore, since these schools lack the necessary resources for a full range of math and science classes, black girls are underrepresented in AP STEM – only 5% are in math and science, while 78% are enrolled in basic math and science.

Although women who attend college do well in science and math courses, only ¼ of black women go on to obtain a college degree and those are more likely to need student loans and have difficulty paying them back.

This is a question for the current U. S. Superintendent of Education who, despite the numbers, is issuing decrees to make it harder to complete school without debt.

Watch the progress on overcoming poverty in Congress with the National Defense Authorization Act, which seems innocuous, but is a voucher system for military families. It is opposed by the National Military Family Association and the Military Officers Association of America. (Education Insider-NEA May 13, 2018.) We should hope the bill goes down.

On the other hand, the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, May 15, 2018, reminds us that inequalities exist in schools when students are tracked according to what are seen as their abilities. Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington has a curriculum called Honors for All to overcome that bias.

The Krause Center for Innovation’s program for teachers, a hands-on technology infused model for mathematics instruction, called FAME (Faculty Academy for Mathematics Excellence) has developed a revised model for grade 4 and 5 teachers who after the summer session take back the instructional model to their students – the idea is to improve math knowledge for all students, not just the gifted.

Even today with a vast number of concerns for this country’s stability, integration in public schools remains one of the most important obligations of our time. Innovation or diversified funding won’t make public school equal, although there’s always a ray of hope: Georgia State in a suburb of Atlanta has shown innovation to increase graduation of black students. However, where communities are integrated the health of black students is better, the poverty rate is lower, and incarceration declines. Moreover, living in diverse neighborhoods reduces the prejudice of white students and the community.

 

For and Against in October

Sunday, October 29th, 2017
Little Rock 9 walking to Central High

Little Rock 9 walking to Central High

On September 25, 1957, under terrible harassment and fear, the Little Rock 9 desegregated Central High School in Arkansas. Since then the civil rights laws for public schools have improved, but, 60 years later, schools still suffer from concentrated neighborhood segregation – where poverty, unemployment, and indecision among legislators leave much to improve students’ academic achievement.

As of October 8, two Pennsylvania Republican representatives formed a caucus to push for preservation of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, affecting not only college students and teachers, but fire fighters, police, and other public service providers.

Will a bill make it through congress? Will the president sign it? In the same month, Betsy DeVos, Superintendent of Education, has delayed the rules that provide oversight to protect students from predatory for-profit colleges that promise but don’t provide good education and leave students with huge loans to pay back. To top it off, DeVos picked Julian Schmoke, Jr, former dean of for-profit DeVry University to oversee the issue of fraud in higher education.

On October 16, Ms. DeVos went to Washington state to speak before the conservative Washington Policy Center, once again, about the value of for-profit charter choice and private school vouchers for needy “individual students.” This seems to be the solution for education’s poor “systems and buildings” instead of attention paid to the 90% of students in the 600,000 public schools in America. In fact, through the media her comments have been broadcast that parents choosing a school for their child is like choosing among myriad food trucks for a meal. Is that so?!?

On October 21, the Senate barely passed the FY 2018 budget resolution, 51-49, and on October 26, the House of Representatives passed the resolution 216-212. In the resolution non-defense discretionary funding is cut deeply – that means not only cuts to Medicare, but to education and to the Children’s Health Insurance Program which keeps students healthy enough to attend school. So far, no continuing resolution has come forward, and so five states plus Washington, DC will be scraping the empty CHIP funding barrel by the end of the year.

On October 25, Lily Eskelen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, and many others spoke before Congress about the need for a decision on DACA, the Dream Act. There isn’t any time to waste before members of the education community – from bus drivers, to students, students’ teachers, and colleagues – will be affected, and not well. Many teachers have said they can see the fear in their students’ eyes as a result of the president rescinding DACA.

On October 25, the Patsy T. Mink Gender Equity in Education Act of 2017 (GEEA) – so named for the Democratic representative from Hawaii who helped pass Title IX 45 years ago – is up to be passed to further expand Title IX provisions such as, establishing an Office of Gender Equity in the Department of Education; improvements for Title IX coordinators in schools on training and tech support; competitive grants to expand Title IX provisions in K-12, colleges, LEAs, and states.

Title IX and sexual harassment have been a big topic in the media lately, and usually one hears from another student – often female – who has been harassed or abused and how difficult and intimidating resolution can be. The most recent 2017 regulations address the heavy problem of investigating these incidents and providing the correct recourse. But, the new regulations have been intensely argued as too hard on the victim and too lenient on the accused. In fact, new congressional legislation to reverse by law some of the disruptive changes authorized by DeVos is called the Title IX Protection Act.

Besides the victim’s group End Rape on Campus, there is another group called FACE (Families Advocating for Campus Equality) which wants to make sure of the rights of the accused. There have been times where the accused’s case has been dismissed, but the student still pays the price of losing friends, being taunted, deciding to change college or drop out. Members of the victim’s group feel that the same happens on their side.

TakeCareSschools hopes that the appointment of Kenneth L. Marcus to the Office of Civil Rights in the DOE and the legislation providing an Office of Gender Equity can resolve the disparities on each side and still allow for equality of opportunity for an excellent education in college without fear of intolerance or aggression.

Just what the Little Rock 9 were striving for 60 years ago. Now, we are trying to address the right to an education free of harassment and fear, not only because of color, but because of U.S. status or gender.