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Here and Now in the Education World

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Taking on the latest in the controversy about the best for public school students from the viewpoints in a family of teachers and trainers.

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Backing Away: the President’s Budget Proposal

April 20th, 2017
Post by CJN
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!

March 29th, 2017
Post by CJN
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 

March 1st, 2017
Post by CJN

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”.

 

 

What Should Be Part of Public Schools

January 27th, 2017
Post by CJN

Concern amplifies about the president’s choice for Secretary of Education after Betsy DeVos could not bring herself to agree that guns do not belong in schools. She seems to think grizzly bears pervade this nation. It’s laughable. Who needs gun safety rules for protection? Students in urban and suburban America is the usual answer. How many schools are up high in the Rockies where grizzlies roam anyway?

Opinion is that her nomination is being held up in hopes that her critics will move on from opposing the billionaire philanthropist with ties to Amway and the Family Research Council, both funding religious organizations and schools. She has the GOP leadership behind her in spite of an extremely poor showing about the duties as head of the United States Depart of Education. She has not withdrawn her nomination.

Recall that she was selected, first, because she contributes large amounts to the GOP and, second, because she has invested millions of dollars lobbying for laws that drain money from public schools and fought against requirements for measures of accountability in the charter schools in Michigan although accountability is what all schools in the United States must value.

Article after news article, senator after senator during her first hearing, observed that Ms. DeVos has no teacher training or experience in public schools. How will she know the best practices to achieve academic success for the diverse schools in the country?

In addition, her critics do not see that Ms. DeVos is a good fit for overseeing the civil rights of the 6 million students in the nation’s schools, including special education needs, LGBT student needs, high-achieving and low-performing school needs. She refused to commit to upholding Title IX guidance requiring schools to investigate instances of sexual harassment or violence.

Moreover, while one mission for all students in the country is to learn citizenship, kindness, tolerance, and responsibility for others, it may be the purpose of the private schools that Ms. DeVos and her children attended, but has never been the purpose for public schools, to “advance God’s kingdom” – (Ms. DeVos words) – whatever that phrase infers.

One wonders if Ms. DeVos has any knowledge of the many projects in the country whose purpose is to help create success in struggling schools? The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, which started in the term of President Reagan, has invested in a program called Turn Around Arts. In the 2015 report Reinvesting in Arts Education, Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools showed the evaluation of a three-year pilot program of Turn Around Arts. The lowest performing 5% of America’s elementary and middle schools in the program showed improved academic achievement, reduced disciplinary referrals, and increased attendance – three strong guarantors of  improvement.

What many studies have shown, students, participating in the arts, science, history even though the programs are not direct instruction in reading or math, improve in those important learning areas, as well as become enthusiastic students, for instance, of the arts – dance, painting/sculpture, music.

The first of these programs are found in thirty-six school districts from Minneapolis to the District of Columbia to Los Angeles. In California, an independent non-profit with financial support from architect Frank Gehry and the California Arts Council provides the funds.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama has urged struggling schools to consider this model to bring academic and arts success. One wishes that the U.S. Department of Education would select a cabinet member that knows about and finances valuable tools that support improvement in schools.

 

Victory Often Changes Her Side

December 19th, 2016
Post by CJN

The president-elect’s cabinet is filled with conservatives whose goal is to kick federal bureaucracies down the right field, incorporating policies that most in education, for example, wince to hear or read.

The president-elect’s choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is a billionaire philanthropist with ties to Amway and the Family Research Council, both funding religious organizations and schools. She was selected, first, because she contributes large amounts to the GOP and, second, because she has spent years in Michigan supporting for-profit charter schools that are not doing as well as the public schools (National Assessment of Educational Progress – NAEP – results) and vouchers for private and parochial schools.

Some charter schools in some states have served children well, especially when the purpose is to provide students with alternate modes of learning. When the schools are promoted as a tool for providing the “Christian” way of learning, which Ms. DeVos advocates, the founding fathers’ First Amendment policy of “separation of church and state” is attacked.

Children go to Saturday or Sunday School or After-School Fellowships to ponder any number of religious ways of thinking. Public schools teach reading, written expression, oral language use, mathematics, science and social science/history, and do not “advance God’s kingdom,” as Ms. DeVos stated at a gathering of Christian philanthropists. New York Times, Op-Ed “DeVos and God’s Plan for Schools” by Katherine Stewart, December 13, 2016.

Vouchers can be looked at as another tool, which proponents may say is to provide better learning opportunities for all children, but if the funds are directed to be used to attend private “Christian” or parochial schools, the same problem exists.

In addition, the president-elect has proposed a $20 billion federal voucher program for “school choice”, right up Ms. DeVos’ alley. However, only 9% of the $600 billion a year spent in the country for education comes from federal sources used for specific purposes – for students with special needs or in low-income neighborhoods. Along with all the tax cuts, tax credits, military spending, and eliminating the budget deficit that the president-elect proposes, it is hard to fathom $20 billion being available or enough to help all the students in the United States, even if states are told to kick in some of the cost.

Assuming she’s confirmed and Ms. DeVos actually enters her office at the Department of Education, it might be possible that she has done some reading about the policies of the DOE. Perhaps she’ll realize the value of advocating for the pursuit of strong programs in every United States school to close the achievement gap; to further support Common Core State Standards (remember, devised and coordinated by the states), in spite of VP-elect Mike Pence’s dislike of the standards movement; to understand the conflict over testing vs. learning; and to keep her mouth closed about her LBGT feelings in light of the total number of students her position demands she support.

What can we do? Check out the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, founded by two educators in Chicago and supported by NEA and AFT along with eight other strong national organizations, to stage a Day of Action on January 19, 2017, all over the country, the day before the inauguration. Along with the January 21 Women’s March, Mr. Trump, Ms. DeVos, and his other cabinet members might soon see that it’s necessary to address the concerns of the 65,746,544 popular voters for Ms. Clinton. His side may be the Electoral College winner, but “Victory often changes her side.” Homer, Iliad.

 

 

 

 

Contributors

Ongoing posts by CJN, Claire Noonan, M.A., elementary teacher in large urban schools with fifteen years in the classroom and twenty years supervising and coaching the reading/language arts curriculum.

Occasional posts by PEN, Paula Noonan, Ph.D., thirty years in training and consulting services to companies across the nation and content expert/teacher of M.Ed. programs for Jones International University.

Periodic posts by SEN, Sarah Noonan, the teacher starting her career in a suburban elementary school hit with all the budget and achievement dilemmas in beautiful California.