Posts Tagged ‘vouchers’

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”.



Now what?

Sunday, November 20th, 2016
independent reading in a diverse elementary classroom in California

independent reading in a diverse elementary classroom in California

The election is over and the president-elect is not known to think much about schools. However, one of the president elect’s well-known campaign assertions is about to take effect: getting rid of gun-free zones.

In California, the state with some of the toughest gun safety measures in the nation, Kern High School District School Board in Bakersfield, home of famed House of Representatives majority whip Kevin McCarthy, can and has approved 3 to 2 to allow teachers and staff to carry concealed guns. In total 4 high school districts and one unified school district in the conservative counties of the state have sanctioned concealed carry.

Other than that, nothing has been heard except rumor that Michelle Rhee, former superintendent of Washington, D.C. public schools, may be appointed to head the United States Department of Education.

On the other hand, as reported in the Take Care post of 7/2016 the USDOE may be gone. Pfft! Since it wastes money, harbors fraud, and embraces bureaucratic regulation.

The president-elect may be too busy trying to find like-minded cabinet members. Jeff Sessions, up for approval to be attorney general, will not likely be a protector of education rights. Beginning with what is known about his position on immigration, no wonder high school and college students continue demonstrating day after day. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, better known as DACA, is in jeopardy for all the students who crossed the border with their parents when young and who thought they may have a chance to become legal residents of the United States. And elementary students, K-5, spend their days when they should be learning, worrying instead if they will be deported along with their parent.

The day after the election, teachers felt the need to stop academics and spend time on values – no bullying, no name-calling, no writing slurs, no shoving or hitting, no ostracizing – all actions that were on television and radio all during the campaign. The few words from the president-elect hasn’t stopped the action in the streets.

From the Archbishop of Los Angeles to the Chief of Police of New York, city governments felt obligated to speak out that they would not support deportation by ICE. Still, schools are one of the first places that worry is displayed.

Some teachers have used written language time for students to write opinion essays: Why the man who won should/should not be President. Other classes used time to discuss why in a democracy one must respect the outcome. Students are taking part in Project Cornerstone which asks the students to think in terms of “up-standards” – looking for the positive ways to approach an outcome with which you disagree.

Views of the vice president-elect make it difficult to expect a generous outcome when the administration finally gets around to any thought about public schools. A man who as Congressman and governor never supported a bill that he thought led to “federal intrusion,” also thinks Common Core State Standards are intrusive on the state, and prefers charter schools (good or bad) and vouchers. He is not likely to advocate spending effort or money on federal funding for schools.

Good bye Title I funding for low-income public schools, farewell to Title IX that assures fair sports funding and prohibits gender harassment, and exit now to Title II that provides funding for highly-qualified teachers and administrators.

In addition, since the start of the great recession in 2008 until 2016, 23 states have cut taxes and so cut funding to education, a position that suggests deliberate policy. Three of those states had initiatives on the 2016 ballot, but only Maine voters passed its initiative. Of the other 27 states, only California and Oregon had measures on the ballot. California passed both measures, a substantial bond measure and an extension of the special tax on high incomes. Oregon voters didn’t pass its initiative.

This brings us to the point that everybody loves to criticize schools, but if states won’t provide funding, the federal government must step up. It’s “the duty of the executive branch to ensure, through regulation and supervision,” (New York Times, “Schoolchildren Left Behind”, November 12, 2016) that funding supports schools with students most in need. A public-school-minded executive branch must pressure the conservative members of Congress who are well-known for efforts to cut Title I funding.

Who will teachers point to as models of tolerance and advocates for public education, one of the most basic foundations of our civil society since the days of the Puritans?



Compare Education Views of 2016 Presidential Candidates

Friday, July 29th, 2016

No doubt, no time to linger over the education positions of the presidential candidates for the November elections: the new school year approaches. So, scan this summary.

Donald Trump, GOP candidate, has only a video issues website. In talk, he sticks to education points he has made since 2000. There is too much money, waste, fraud, and abuse in school systems and in the United States Department of Education. It’s not clear what he refers to when he says ‘abuse’ – cruel disciplinary punishment in schools (some evidence exists) or funding abuse.

He threatens to cut the Department of Education because it is a federal body, and it set up the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that he wants to get rid of. Education should be managed through each local, not the federal, government (i.e. the state). However, The Washington Post’s article by Michelle Ye Hee Lee, 2/2/2016, reminds us that the CCSS was crafted by bipartisan state governors and school chiefs (with major funding from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), and the decision for states to adopt was voluntary – so it is already a local choice, not federal.

He does know about for-profit higher education, as we’ve all heard. He is likely to desire loosening regulations for accreditation, although he has not approached the higher education issue since word has spread about his attempt at a for-profit college. Also, Trump is opposed to ‘gun-free’ zones on school campuses and, last, he has come out against unions.


One can read in depth about Hillary Clinton’s education plans. The most written about is her proposal for higher education students to reduce debt from loans and tuition fees. A student from a family making $85,000 will be compensated to go to a four-year institution by 2017, and a student from a family making $125,000 by 2021. It is proposed to make community college tuition free. States must invest, colleges and universities must account for student success and low tuition. In addition to money for minority student colleges, all proposals will be paid for by limiting tax expenditures for high-income taxpayers.

For K-12 education, the most valuable programs are to modernize teacher preparation, support, and pay; to use a “Modernize Every School bond” to provide capital for infrastructure needs: energy efficiency, asbestos removal, science labs, and high-speed broadband; and to provide universal pre-school and child care investments for which parents pay less than 10% of their income.


Now, Mike Pence, Trump’s Vice-Presidential running mate, has one neutral education position: he voted against No Child Left Behind (because of federal intrusion) before the standards were seen as impossible. When he became governor in 2012, he got rid of CCSS to which his predecessor had agreed. He insisted the standards were a federal intrusion. Then he turned around and spent money to devise Indiana’s own standards, suspiciously similar to CCSS. Because of turmoil about CCSS-based testing Mr. Pence paid for a new test based on the Indiana standards. Everyone complained and so another test is being designed to use in 2018. Is this expensive or what?

The governor has been a full-throated supporter of charter schools and school vouchers. A second good thing is he started pre-school programs, but dancing around his dislike of federal money, grant applications have been written, pulled, and submitted again, destabilizing anything good for schools. In addition, he has slashed public school funds in order to pay for corporate tax exemptions.


What can Clinton’s Vice-Presidential candidate Tom Kaine bring to the ticket? His emphasis has always been civil rights, but as governor he is known for the gun safety laws he pushed through the legislature after the massacre at Virginia Tech. Also he pushed for high quality pre-K accessibility. He opposes school vouchers. In the Senate, he wrote a bill to extend the interest rate cuts for college student loans and increase in tuition assistance at the state level.

On July 27, 2016, Vice-President Joe Biden reminded voters that “Being a teacher is not what you do, it’s what you are.” That is how Take Care Schools looks at the candidates – to see who is supporting what you are.

The Trouble with DFER

Monday, September 15th, 2014

The media has been filled with news about the initial start of pre-kindergarten classes. Bill De Blasio, New York City mayor, has made the biggest leap. Several states have been building up such a program for many years: Oklahoma and Tennessee are two examples. Thus, President Obama has seen light glimmering for one of his education reforms.

At the same time, struggle goes on over Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and how to implement them in a responsible way. Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a title calculated to mislead, is one of the stalwarts in stirring up trouble about procedures. On the one hand, its website espouses opening the top-down education monopoly that its board sees as taking away power from parents. Reading between the lines that means parents should have access to vouchers so they can choose to send their children to any school that’s not failing.

On the website, it states that schools are captive to powerful entrenched interests that want to preserve the position of adults, not students. Guess what those words infer? Teachers unions! One of DFER’s purposes is to spend money on candidates for office that support its ideas. Can you guess who is not getting support?

Another strong statement on the website advocates accountability at public schools and closure of failing schools. The statement infers testing and Value Added Measures for scores and teacher evaluation based on the percentage of students who pass these exams. As has been stated many times in posts on this blog, an evaluation process is easy to design but difficult to implement fairly. Until the assessment process is sorted out country-wide, teacher evaluation based on test scores is not valid.

For those who dig deep into the education reform movement, examine the board for DFER. One will find lots of well-known educators who, in the past, have promoted liberal education ideas. And a lot of hedge fund members who often choose philanthropy that is supposed to help impoverished children but is also easy for results-oriented business executives to understand (see Joe Nocera). Thus, charter schools proliferate, like many in New York City, Los Angeles, Denver, and other big cities with troubled schools. Are hedge fund executives suddenly knowledgeable about education in the public schools? No.

Joe Williams is the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform in addition to running Education Reform Now, a non-profit, and Education Reform Now Advocacy Committee, Inc., its 501c4 advocacy affiliate. If one reads the articles named in his biography, they range from liberal to conservative viewpoints. Often they are published by the conservative Hoover Institute in California. The CA DFER is led by Steve Barr, known from the Profile in The New Yorker about Green Dot Schools (charters) that do allow union representation. What do you think? It’s Los Angeles! Eli Broad, the big money man in Los Angeles is a DFER supporter.

On the other hand, Diane Ravitch, who once backed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and at one time was supportive of DFER is now against its efforts as well as against most government efforts to remodel public schools. A quote from her blog states that the business model is not transferable to education. Many teachers will agree with that position. Ravitch also stomped on a Colorado DFER member when she said professional educators do make a difference when teaching children, but that won’t happen when a school district continues to hire short-term teachers because they’re cheap.

Last, Paul Horton, a history teacher at University High School at the University of Chicago Lab Schools, wrote to the president, castigating his support for Race to the Top and Teach For America among other ideas with unintended consequences loved by DFER, promoted by the U.S. Department of Education and Arne Duncan.

As Michael Hirsch in an article in the New York Teacher way back in December 2010 warned, should you wait to see how DFER’s conservative ideas like vouchers, merit pay based on faulty assessment plans, and curbs on tenure play out?


Small Steps To Good Schools

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

What to do for the two-thirds of the school year to go? Keep a stiff upper lip? Put on rose-colored glasses? Dip a finger into the cup half-full?

What if your school was one of those that volunteered to have students take the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment test (PISA)? The test of math, science, reading is given to 510,000 fifteen year old students in 65 countries every three years. Since the results came out this past autumn, the hurtles for U.S. students to overcome in order to stifle the cries of failing public schools has filled pages of education articles.

The United States education community does want students to perform well in math, language arts and reading, as well as science, history, art and music. One hopes experts look to find the evidence of success anywhere on earth. For example, countries doing well promote early childhood education and champion the teaching profession.

Of course, the number of school-age children in the U.S. (about 6,000,000) is far grander and more diverse than most countries against which we are compared and so requires strategies that education experts don’t see in many countries. However, there are also policies carried on in U.S. public schools that should be expelled.

For instance, fast-track certification for teachers should not be the norm for the profession. Countries with students who do well on PISA spend much money for high-grade teacher education programs.

Incentives like salary bonuses for teachers who have students that perform well on state tests, a tool that supposedly makes students and teachers succeed, is not a world-wide standard. Nor should vouchers to move students from low-achieving schools be the answer to upgrade U.S. student success.

Countries held up as the best do not penalize struggling schools by allowing the in-and-out procession of principals and teachers, a major problem for low-achieving U.S. schools.

There is not a constant uproar in high-ranking country governments over education funding. In Costa Rica, for example, 8% of GDP is budgeted for education. See “Letters to the Editor” in the New York Times, Monday, December 23, 2013.

To raise student performance level in the United States, curriculum based on the Common Core State Standards suggest a coming together in 45 states on acceptance of robust norms for student progress. Rather than complain about poor results on tests, attention to a school’s climate invites the community to find ways to have open communication, give teachers an opportunity to make decisions, create a positive ambience among the adults.

Last, but certainly not least, rich and poor countries that have high scores every three years on PISA address the issue of poverty. U.S. students will perform better when this factor is pursued country-wide, the recommendation of Dennis Van Roekel from the National Education Association (NEA). All of these qualities are difficult to maintain and can’t be assessed by an exam, but benefit students.

Think about the rest of 2014’s school days. There’s still time to look up, not down, and take a few small steps for a positive year.