Posts Tagged ‘waivers’

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!

Stand up for legislation that helps kids

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

This warm summer parents continue to worry about finances: how to pay the mortgage and other utilities, buy food, save for health care premiums, clip early coupons for school supplies, and contemplate a short vacation if they have money left. They don’t have much time. School begins mid-August unless students go to a year-round school which is already in session.

In the meantime, the news media tells how conservatives in the House of Representatives have determined a reauthorization of Farm Bill HR 6083 and reduction of the deficit by cutting funds for food stamps and school lunches ($16.1 billion to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP]). Note that small farmer surpluses reduce the cost of school lunches and provide products for food assistance to families with low-incomes. The farm bill will, however, spare cuts to agribusiness subsidies.

California is one of the fifty states with hefty budget problems still unresolved. Students, notably in low-income neighborhoods, will go back to schools for which renovation money has been yanked to bolster other state services.  The California lawsuit settled in 2005 to fund repairs in dilapidated schools with health and safety hazards has never been adequately implemented. Teachers and students continue to walk over fallen ceiling tiles and skirt around mouse traps.

With some nerve, conservative pundits criticize the one federal program authorized under the current administration to give states waivers to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.  States that provide a good plan to reform their low-performing schools will be allowed to adjust the unreachable required 2014 levels of proficiency in math and reading. Congress, as this blog has noted time and again, has not been able to legislate a revision to the NCLB Act. Nevertheless, Michael Gerson of The Washington Post, “The Quiet Overturn of NCLB,” July 20, 2012, wrote, “New accountability systems will once again be so confusing that no taxpayer or parent can understand them.” Such a statement doesn’t note the abundance of excellent accountability systems that are being implemented and have been explained in this blog.

Last, if, by December 2012, the erratic Congress doesn’t resolve its fight over raising revenue and chopping government funds, parents, teachers, and students will feel a severe contraction of services to education and the safety net.

What will happen? Education will be gutted and the safety net will shrink because federal funds to the state will shrivel. Notice of these calamities is reported in the Annie B. Casey Foundation annual rankings.

Talk to your Congressional representatives. Thank them if they are looking out for education needs; correct them if they do not see the outcomes for students on end-of-year votes.

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.

More School Aid

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

In education magazines this week could be found articles on the eleven states who have currently applied to the U.S. Department of Education for waivers. California has not applied yet. It may in February but no decision has been made.

In addition to the report offered by the Think Long Committee under the auspices of the Nicolas Berggruen Institute, analyzed in this blog last week, another report titled “A Blueprint for Great Schools” authorized by Mr. Torlakson, the new California Superintendent of Instruction, and funded by various California foundations, has appeared. It came out in August 2011, but a summary seems to be available to teachers only in the November 2011 issue of California Educator magazine. Its purpose is “the development of a new mission and planning framework for the California Department of Education (CDE). [It provides] innovative and strategic advice to ensure that the state provides a world-class education to all students, preparing them to live, work and thrive in a highly connected world.” Sound familiar?

Knowing how the California Department of Education is entwined with the state legislature’s struggle with funds, this blog has been most interested in how all those pages of goals and objectives in any of the reports that have surfaced are going to be paid for.

The report in last week’s post has offered an initiative for funding at the November 2012 election-one of many.  This report offers to

Create a weighted student formula approach to funding, with most K-12 funding streams consolidated into core formula funding, supplemented by a small number of block grants to ensure that students who are at risk or high cost would receive the services they need.

Establish a flexibility/accountability task force to identify strategies and metrics to determine whether districts are using their funds in ways that support successful outcomes for all students.

Seek new revenue sources for schools: At the state level, explore taxes on selected sales and services; at the federal level, initiate efforts to recapture more of the imbalance in funds between California and the federal government.

Seek legislation to allow districts to pass parcel taxes with a 55 percent majority vote.

Right now (December 2011) in the California education world, school districts are deciding how to economize their resources and adjust the school year to allow five more furlough days in order to absorb the deficits that have shown up in the state budget adopted in June 2011. According to Dan Walters, columnist for the Sacramento Bee, the California budget that governs school aid in California is crazy. In June 2011 as part of balancing the state budget, if revenue did not accrue, the legislature agreed that school districts would be responsible for revenue reduction by automatic spending cuts. That’s currently $1.8 (about ¾ of the current $2.5) billion not being generated.

How many years will pass before the goals outlined above actually become law? Let’s hope the taxpayers suddenly find money, one of the many initiatives pass, or the legislature is willing to stand up.  Everyone wrings their hands about schools, but can’t put out the dough.

For report see

Standing on the Corner

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Public school truancy begins a lot earlier than the public thinks. To overcome the barriers that make students opt to stand on the corner takes a lot of relentless effort.

Start with the small child who enters school unready, who moves from neighborhood to neighborhood, whose parent has no time for her. This is poverty–16% of the nation according to the latest Census Bureau supplementary data measures. Until hardship is overcome and families are stabilized, the school district that keeps accurate attendance data and employs personnel to assure a child’s on time daily attendance (home visits, clothes for children, doctor and dental appointments, family counseling services) provides the support.

If the student makes it through elementary school, middle school can be the truancy breaking point. On top of the problems that an elementary student faced, once an adolescent reaches puberty it takes tremendous strength to not be distracted by the desire to belong. Lack of tutors for difficult subjects and fewer counselors available to oversee student progress means attendance can drop again. It’s easier to stand on the corner than seek help.

The final hurdle is high school. Especially at schools in low-income neighborhoods, under-performing students have insufficient support to improve in high school, prevent moving one from one school to another, avoid homelessness and other family problems. It is easy to become the hidden student and finally the drop out. If the school district does not have budgeted funds to work with these “at risk” students, they disappear and become the unprepared jobless. See the data released Tuesday, November 15, 2011, from Stanford University in California that shows more proof of the demographics of low-income areas in large cities in the nation.

Is that what the United States wants?

Nowadays, the problem is not loss of manufacturing corporations in the U.S. The issue is production has improved with automated machines that need fewer humans to keep them going, i.e. fewer jobs. The people that keep their jobs have graduated from high school and have, at minimum, vocational technological training. An entire group of workers, aged 18-64, now jobless, were high school dropouts who didn’t even complete a General Education Development (GED) exam in order to receive a high school equivalency diploma.

Another large group of jobless workers has been caused by the housing market debacle which has led to the fall-off in construction. If the infrastructure jobs bill in Congress doesn’t pass, there will be another group that is under-educated and that can’t move into the high tech jobs that support the new manufacturing of the day.

What the government can do right now is pass the jobs bill for three reasons. One, to give a wage to construction workers so that the poverty rate falls. Second, low-income families will have time to support the education of their children from pre-school onward. The school can only do so much to keep students in the classroom. Three, teachers will be rehired in the school to help students learn.

Finally, the four states that have just been notified that they received U.S. Department of Education waivers to redo their plans to turn around programs should stress the science, math, and technology curriculum to prepare students for the workplace.

Standing on the corner, waiting for a job, is not fun.