The Texas Miracle

While campaigning for the presidency, George Bush touted his educational success as Governor of Texas, claiming what he called The Texas Miracle. According to 60 Minutes reporter Rebecca Leung, “It was an approach to education that was showing amazing results, particularly in Houston, where dropout rates plunged and test scores soared.”

Governor Bush was convinced by his education advisor that low test scores and high drop out rates were stifling the public schools. He believed the solution was to make every school give the same test, and depending on the results, direct resources to schools with the most need, and eventually Black and Hispanic students would catch up to the white students. Initially scores rose, and this was considered The Texas Miracle. Bush used this as his platform to be the “education president”.

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The Texas School Superintendent at the time was  Rod Paige. He said credit for the schools’ success, came by making principals and administrators accountable for how well their students did on standardized exams. Principals who met the goals of increasing test scores, and decreasing drop out rates were awarded cash bonuses of up to $5,000 along with other perks. Those who fell short were transferred, demoted or forced out. Education researchers had concerns about making test scores the single indicator of success.

But in Houston there were even bigger problems.  Houston won national acclaim for raising the average scores on a statewide achievement test given to all 10th graders, and principals were evaluated on how well their students performed on the test. But inside many Houston schools there was something about the good news that bothered many people.

An investigation by 60 Minutes found principals were doing some math of their own-perhaps motivated by the $5,000 incentive  They raised average test scores by keeping low-performing kids from taking the test. And in some cases, kept students from entering the 10th grade. Here’s more evidence of Texas cooking the books:

  • Sharpstown High School was one of the “outstanding” schools. The Houston school district reported a citywide dropout rate of 1.5 percent. But educators and experts 60 Minutes checked with put Houston’s true dropout rate somewhere between 25 and 50 percent.
  • Texas started to lose 70,000 kids a year, most dropping out before they had to take the 10th-grade tests that would count against the school. Almost a third of kids in Texas who started high school never finished.
  • Scores on the Texas test rose, but SAT scores for prospective college students dropped. Researchers discovered that the Texas tests primarily measured test-taking ability.  Overall Texas lost ground to the rest of the country, according to Julian V. Heilig, an education researcher at the University of Texas (MSNBC).

Once he was elected president, Mr. Bush named Paige Education Secretary, and Houston became the model for the president’s “No Child Left Behind” education reform act. At the national level NCLB set out to punish schools not showing ‘adequate yearly progress’ and reward schools that did – just like in Texas. But there was no miracle in Texas.

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This January marked the 18th anniversary of NCLB – George Bush’s signature piece of legislation. Diane Ravitch called it “punitive, harsh, stupid, ignorant about pedagogy and motivation, and ultimately a dismal failure.” She concluded, “Those who still admire NCLB either helped write it, or were paid to like it, or were profiting from it.”

Though NCLB and its platform of testing and punishing ended in 2015, many of the ramifications of the legislation still exist.  Part of the law stated schools not meeting adequate yearly progress on annual testing were either closed or privatized.  This is when the privatization of public schools gained momentum.

Why do we keep replicating failed education policies, and failed models for privatizing public schools? After Rod Paige came Margaret Spellings, Arne Duncan (and John King for a bit), and now Betsy DeVos. Each of them stood behind failed policies-with DeVos still pushing failed policies.

I’m torn between quoting Einstein’s definition of insanity, or George Santayana “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

These are my reflections for today.

1/19/18

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Baby it’s cold inside

If you live anywhere on the eastern seaboard you know first-hand we’ve recently had the most frigid temperatures of the season. There were 14 consecutive days of freezing temperatures-often dipping into single digits with sub-zero wind chills. Dangerous cold and wind chills.

In Baltimore, the school district is having an even greater issue with the cold – no heat in the schools. Last week more than 60 schools complained there was no heat in the buildings (US News). The spell of frigid air put additional strain on the heating systems, Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises said. Many heating issues emerged as boilers broke and pipes burst in some schools, she said, adding that drafts from leaky windows and generally “old conditions of our buildings” contributed (US News).

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One teacher said his colleagues were bringing space heaters to classrooms and sharing tubes of caulk to block out the cold air. A picture posted on Facebook showed 62 degrees Fahrenheit inside a classroom.

While some fingers point to the old boiler systems in the schools, other point to the buildings being closed during the holidays, and no one monitored the temperatures in the schools or considered the possibility of freezing pipes.

But it seems the problem goes much deeper. A civil rights and Black Lives Matter activist and the governor had a few things to say about the heating issue.

“There is substantial deferred maintenance that happens each year with [Baltimore] City Schools because there’s not enough money,” DeRay McKesson, a civil rights and Black Lives Matter activist who grew up in Baltimore and formerly worked as the school system’s chief human capital officer, said on Twitter.

“Projects that aren’t dire … get delayed until later,” he said. “Then later comes [and] it’s a crisis. But it stems from there literally just not being adequate funding.” The Hogan administration has pushed back against the charge that city schools aren’t funded adequately.  “Our Administration has fully funded Baltimore City Schools for the entirety of our time in office,” Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford tweeted. “In fact, we provided more than the formulas called for. The money is not reaching the classroom – ask [school headquarters on] North Ave. why?” (CNN).

Notwithstanding is the issue low income area schools face when closing schools as a large majority of the students rely on school for breakfast, lunch, and in many cases dinner. Additionally, parents cannot afford to take days off to stay home with their children.

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers said, “Kids can’t learn and teachers can’t teach in freezing classrooms and in schools with no heat, frozen pipes and frigid winds coming in through drafty windows. These conditions are unsafe, unbearable and unacceptable for students, educators and school employees”  (US News).

Former NFL linebacker Aaron Maybin is a teacher at Baltimore’s Matthew A. Henson Elementary School. He wrote on Twitter. “I got two classes in one room, kids are freezing, Lights are off. No computers. We’re doing our best but our kids don’t deserve this. “It’s really ridiculous the kind of environment we place our children into and expect them to get an education.”

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Former NFL player Aaron Maybin talking to his students about the cold classroom. Twitter, (Baltimore Sun).

These stories drew the attention (outrage) of Samierra Jones, a graduate of the Baltimore City Schools, and current senior at Coppin State University.  Jones helped spearhead a fundraising campaign through GoFundMe to raise $20,000 to purchase space heaters for the schools. As of Monday, the fund had raised $76,000.

The outrage continues. According to the Baltimore Sun, while crews worked over the weekend to fix frozen pipes, and broken boilers, eight schools were still closed on Monday. This equates to several days students may be without a meal. City Councilman Zeke Cohen said the conditions in city schools “constitute a crisis of enduring injustice.” He planned to introduce a resolution Monday, calling on city partners to ensure students have access to free meals even when schools are closed (Baltimore Sun).

To wit, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said “To deal with 60 schools all being offline at the same time was a tremendous effort” (Baltimore Sun). She instructed the Recreation and Parks Department to open centers and provide food in neighborhoods where schools are closed.

This week,  Governor Hogan said, “Because of the immediate, horrendous, failing HVAC systems crisis in Baltimore City, immediately, today we are providing an additional $2.5 million in emergency, discretionary funding,” Hogan said he is withdrawing the $2.5 million from the state’s “catastrophic event” account to help get the heat back on in Baltimore City Public Schools. “Let me be clear, this is not to reward the people who are responsible who have failed. This funding is literally about saving kids from freezing in winter. We simply cannot allow children to be punished year after year because their adult leaders are failing” (WBAL).

Eldridge Cleaver once said, “You’re either part of the solution, or you’re part of the problem.”  Perhaps it takes a crisis like this for Baltimore and other cities to begin to uncover the dysfunction and misappropriation plaguing urban public schools. That would be a good thing.  Reading about the many people who have stepped up to help the children in Baltimore is also a good thing. There is hope in a time of despair.

These are my reflections for today.

1/12/18

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If it sounds too good to be true…

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Last June, NPR reported on Ballou High School, located in one of the poorest sections of Washington DC. In the report, the teachers were tasked with turning around this historically under-performing school. Ballou was set to be the leading example of reform.

In an effort to close the achievement gap, and raise the graduation rates, D.C. Public Schools created its “Excellence through Equity” campaign, which included an allocation of $2.6 million in funds for the District’s 115 public schools in Oct. 2017, (Washington Post). The largest amounts of money were given to schools to fund new programs to help improve scores on college and career readiness tests. Some administrators and teachers received bonuses between $20,000 and $25,000 based on students’ performances.

For months, the school received national attention because, according to school officials every student was accepted to college. Prior to June, however, Ballou had very low graduation rates and very high drop out rates. There was a high teacher turnover as well as absence and truancy issues. So how is it 100% of the students graduated and were accepted to college?

In a follow-up report in November 2017 NPR reported, An internal email obtained by WAMU and NPR from April shows two months before graduation, only 57 students were on track to graduate, with dozens of students missing graduation or community service requirements or failing classes needed to graduate. But in June, 164 students received diplomas. In the last academic year, the graduation rate was 57%. Only 3% of students met the standards in English and no student met the math standards.

In a report released in November from the Washington Post, a majority of Ballou’s 2017 graduating class missed more than six weeks of school, and 20% of the graduates missed over half the school year. All of Ballou’s seniors were accepted into college (some were community colleges that accept all students), but only 16 were enrolled in fall semester classes.

Students interviewed revealed they knew teachers would (or could) not fail them. Teachers told of harassment issues from administrators. For non-compliance to the every student succeeds goal,  two poor teacher evaluations led to either termination or reassignment. Many teachers were concerned about students graduating who were not literate, and did not have the skills necessary to succeed in college.

“They’re not prepared to succeed,” says Morgan Williams, who taught health and physical education at Ballou last year. Williams says the lack of expectations set up students for future failure: “If I knew I could skip the whole semester and still pass, why would I try?” (Washington Post).

Since the original report in June 2017, NPR did a follow-up story, revealing the complete fraud behind the statistics at Ballou. Here’s what NPR wrote in their report, What Really Happened At The School Where Every Graduate Got Into College (NPR).

Six months ago, we reported that for the first time, 100 percent of seniors who graduated from Ballou High School had applied and were accepted to college. We spoke with 11 current and recent Ballou teachers and four recent Ballou graduates, and we reviewed hundreds of attendance documents, class rosters and emails that show many students graduated despite chronic absenteeism. Records show half the graduates missed more than three months of school, or 60 days (NPR).

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser and D.C. Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson  announced in December, there would be an investigation into Ballou and an inquiry into issues related to graduation and grading. The D.C. Council will also begin an oversight hearing on the matter. So, the district is investigating, and the principal has been reassigned. But what about the students?

I heard about Ballou back in June, and scoffed at the idea of a 100% graduation rate. but what was most bothersome was that the report came from NPR. I taught in DCPS after college, I remember the Michelle Rhee debacle when she was Chancellor, and I know of and write about the lying, cheating, and misrepresentation of data about schools with such a quick turnaround.

For most of us NPR is the calm in journalism in otherwise choppy waters. I was astonished NPR allowed the original report to be published without so much as a red flag to whether or not this was a credible story, which clearly it was not.

There are shining examples of schools doing great things, but doing them legitimately. I truly believe schools can change, students can learn, and anyone wanting to go to college can get there. But what happened at Ballou is disheartening – inflating numbers, graduating anyone, but most of all, not giving students the tools they need to succeed- whether they choose to go to college or not.

I know of a great success story at Ballou. “A Hope in the Unseen” by Ron Suskind is an amazing story about Cedric Jennings, a Ballou High School student. The book was based on a series of Pulitzer-prize winning articles written in the Wall Street Journal by Suskind. The story follows Jennings efforts to attend an Ivy League University in spite of his troubled upbringing. I would highly recommend this book. I read it, and loved it. The story is told not just through Cedric’s eyes, but also his parents, teachers, and mentors, offering many perspectives.

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We all know the old adage, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. That NPR did a follow-up story five months later is a good thing, but this should have been the first story, not the follow-up.

These are my reflections for today.

1/4/18

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Taking the high road

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We are the sum of our thoughts and actions. In trying times it’s never easy to take the high road, but it is always the right choice to maintain your moral compass, your personal code of ethics, and your values in the most difficult times. Taking the high road is not about looking good to others, it’s about coming out of a situation feeling good about how you handled yourself.

This year I found myself in a difficult situation where I was faced with the decision to take the high road or not. Despite the level of adversity, to me there was only one choice. It wasn’t easy, but I could not handle myself any other way. First and foremost I wanted to feel good about myself. I also recognized others were watching me to see how I would handle the situation, including my children and I would not miss an opportunity to model for them.

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know I have devoted quite a bit of space to the Secretary of Education. I do not support the policies she is advocating, and I am opposed to her lack of credibility and experience to be in the position she holds in this administration.

This leads to my thinking for today. If I were to have an opportunity to speak with DeVos, what would I say to her. I would think about it like an elevator pitch, where I’d have a very brief period of time to say what I wanted to say. My first thought might be to purge myself of the anger and frustration over her continued push to privatize public education and marginalize so many children in this country. I might talk about the awareness she lacks in having any idea what children and families go through each day just to survive, let alone succeed in school. I could talk about the ridiculous number of charter scandals every day across this country, and the research demonstrating how her agenda of vouchers and charters is a failing proposition.

But I wouldn’t do that. I would take the high road. I would want her to remember what I said – not because I was negative and nasty, but because my message to her was delivered with integrity and professionalism.

It might go something like this:

“I am a teacher educator, life-long supporter of public education, and an advocate for training pre-service teachers to teach effectively in urban environments. My research and publication agenda supports my advocacy and my teaching. You and I view public education from very different lenses. I am a product of public schools, and I have spend most of my teaching career in public institutions. I believe the very best teachers should be recruited and trained to teach in urban areas, and full funding for schools should be given to provide the tools and services schools need to be successful. I believe the investment in public education is ethically and morally the right thing to do, and will save lives, reduce or eliminate prison overcrowding, increase productivity, support economic growth, reduce crime and healthcare costs – to name a few benefits.

You have a tremendous opportunity in your position to advocate for children who have no voice. Your choice is to hear them and help them. But first you must get to know them and understand them, rather than just decide for them. Your legacy can be that you gave voice to the voiceless, and advocated on their behalf. Your legacy can be that you leveled the playing field when it came to ensuring every child-regardless of their zip code-has an equal opportunity for a ‘free and appropriate public education’.

This country has some of the most brilliant educational researchers and public education advocates. Have a conversation with them, and use their experience, research and expertise to learn more. What will your legacy be to the underrepresented children of this country?”

Taking the high road is never easy, but there’s less traffic, and the view is magnificent.

Happy New Year.

These are my reflections for today.

12/29/17

ECOT

No, that’s not a typo, though writing about EPCOT would be more fun that what I’m writing about today. Electronic Classrooms of Tomorrow, or ECOT is the largest online charter school in Ohio.  There is an attractive website touting themselves as “a tuition-free, fully accredited online public school education.” There are so many charter scandals being reported almost daily, and ECOT is just one more.  The most egregious claim against the school is for inflating their enrollment.

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In 2016 ECOT reported an enrollment of 15,322 full-time students. The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) reports that number was inflated by roughly 143% as the actual number of enrolled students was 6,313 – a 60% difference. The travesty in this story is the $6,900 ECOT received from the state for each student “enrolled”.  In 2016, ECOT received a total of $106 million from the state (Dispatch).  For the second year in a row, the school is fighting with the state about repaying millions of dollars. The school owes over $60 million.

According to The Alliance Review the school has been misrepresenting data in other ways:

ECOT counted some students who reported completing more than the required 920 hours of annual “learning activities” as more than a full-time student, and asked for more funding. Curious to know how one becomes more than a full-time student.

Students are required to log 920 hours of time on their computers. One report from ECOT showed a student logged on for 300 consecutive hours, and another straight through from Christmas Eve through New Year’s.  Looks like ECOT’s computer tracking system will count student participation as just having the computer was logged on to the system, regardless of how long, or whether or not they’re actually interacting with the system.

Last summer, the school voted to cut its budget and lay off 250 employees – but not to cut $22 million in annual payments to its founder Bill Lager, who owns two companies that provide management and software services to ECOT. (WOSU). Nice work if you can get it.

ECOT argues that state law entitles them to full funding for a student as long as the student doesn’t drop out or isn’t removed from school due to truancy triggered by failing to log in for 30 consecutive days.

State Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni, said ECOT “has been ripping off taxpayers and cheating students out of a proper education.  ECOT should pay back the money it owes the state immediately” (Dispatch).

In September, state officials told the school it must also repay an additional $19.2 million, based on a review of the school’s 2016-17 student-login records. In recent months,  the ODE withheld more than $10 million from its monthly payments to ECOT, in an effort to recover more than $60.3 million in per-pupil funding the school improperly claimed during the 2015-16 school year with the falsified enrollment statistics (Dispatch).  At last count, ECOT owed $112 million.

In October  the school threatened to shut down in the middle of the school year. They claim the ODE’s efforts to recover the now $80 million dispute is having “a fatal impact” on its operating budget (WOSU).  Ya think????

If ECOT closes, hundreds of educators and administrators would lose their jobs, and thousands of academically struggling students would be displaced.

This week the Ohio Supreme Court rejected ECOT’s request for an injunction or expedited appeal, even though the state’s largest charter school says it will run out of money by March. This is the latest defeat to the charter program.

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According to Education Week, four out of thirteen virtual schools in Ohio have already shut down as a result of attendance and funding disputes.  Provost Academy, the Marion Digital Academy, Southwest Licking Digital Academy, and the Virtual Community School either closed or suspended operations before the start of school this year. Southwest Licking Digital Academy was found to owe the state $140,000 and the Virtual Community School was found to owe $4.2 million (Education Week).

The exhaustive argument ECOT uses to remain open is how devastating it would be for students to return to their already failing schools, saying many will just drop out of school altogether. Nobody at ECOT considers how devastating it is to take money from schools, thus diminishing their ability to provide services children need to succeed all the while the CEO still gets paid $22 million.

Unconscionable.

These are my reflections for today.

12/22/17

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An inspiring story

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Many of my students begin the first semester of our teacher education program with some hesitancy- excited to be starting the education courses, yet a bit fearful of their first fieldwork placement in an urban school. The media-based perceptions of crime and violence in urban areas often leads them to feelings of insecurity and unease. This was the case for one of my students this semester. In her words, “I was apprehensive at first, because I heard horror stories from co-workers while substituting, that the students could be very hostile to young, new people.”

Very quickly her initial perceptions were dispelled. She wrote of her first day how she was greeted by the principal and other staff members who welcomed her into the building.  Upon arrival into her assigned classroom, students greeted her and asked all kinds of questions to learn all about her.

As she got to know students and their lives outside of the school she also learned of the many hardships they face at home, though they show up to school every day with smiles. This had an impact on her.

Throughout my time in this class, I learned each of the student’s stories. They wrote about missing their parents because they were in prison or not in the picture anymore. One child drew his bedroom and explained that he slept in a bathtub. Another discussed how she only comes to school twice a week because she needs to care for her younger siblings at home. My heart hurt for them all.

My student’s perceptions certainly did change as she got to know the students and teachers, and as a result, something else changed. In November she came to me unsure she wanted to continue in the program. Her time in the classroom was beneficial but more for her to see that being a teacher is not her chosen career path. Sitting in my office one afternoon, she explained how the fieldwork placement lit another fire in her; one she did not see coming.

In talking with her roommate one night, she spoke of her observation class and the impact of knowing so many of her students are underprivileged, especially during the holidays. As a result of this conversation, she and her roommate set out on a service learning project to do something to help the children in her observation classroom.

Working with the university service learning office and the School of Education, they put together individual holiday bags filled with toys, school supplies and candy. Each bag was labeled with the student’s name, so they could feel special and accountable. Because of the children’s interest and excitement in our university, she also worked with the bookstore to arrange a discount on purchasing university logo shirts for all the students. They delivered the gifts and t-shirts to the class, and needless to say the students were absolutely thrilled to receive their goodies. She told the students the t-shirt was motivational to remind them to keep up with school and do their very best, so they can be a future student at our university.

With a change in her course, my student will graduate next December with a degree in Psychology. She is committed to working with students in need, specifically in urban environments. She plans to work her way up to be a therapist, working in the school system to help underprivileged children and keep them on track to a successful life.

I am so grateful that I had the opportunity of working in the school system this semester. Even though I will not be continuing my studies as an education major, this showed me what career path I was born to do. Without this semester, I would have never known my true potential and calling for helping kids in need.  

When she told me of her decision, I think she expected me to show some disappointment. What I did show her was how proud I was of her for coming to this revelation on her own. We should all find our passion in life. I found mine many many (many) years ago, and I couldn’t be happier she has found hers.

Do what you love, and love what you do.

These are my reflections for today.

12/15/17

 

 

 

 

Will work for school supplies

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I attended public schools from Kindergarten through 12th grade. So have my children. The majority of my classroom teaching was in public schools. I teach at a public university.  I am a strong advocate for public schools, and in my work I try to recruit and train pre-service teachers to teach in urban public schools.

I believe the very foundation of our democracy is reflected in offering every citizen a free and appropriate public education. We benefit greatly from a well-educated, informed electorate (which is questionable these days…but I digress).  I also firmly believe the quality of an education should not be determined by zip codes or income levels. That is not equal. Wealthy parents who want to send their children to private schools, have the prerogative to do so, but this should not have any bearing on the quality of education offered to every child in this country attending a public school. Not ever. That is not equal.

As I have so often written in my blog, I have such great disdain for charters and vouchers- because that money is taken away from the very students who need it the most.

Let me get to the point. Like many of you, I’m trying to get my head around this proposed tax scandal being considered in Washington.  As far as I can understand, this is how it will potentially impact public education:  The current bill being considered would offer incentives to private school parents while at the same time cutting the deduction for state and local taxes that fund public schools. That means the wealthiest people in this country would be able to divert their tax dollars to pay for private and parochial school tuition, possibly even before a child is born.

“It’s crazy that we’re eliminating the ability of people to deduct their state and local taxes that go directly to local services, including schools . . . while at the same time providing a $10,000 incentive for folks to send their kids to private schools,” said Sasha Pudelski, assistant director for policy and advocacy at the American Association of School Administrators, which represents public school superintendents across the country (Washington Post).

What else is in the tax bill? This from the Network for Public Education:

  • Both the House and Senate bills dramatically lower the federal deduction for state and local taxes, making it tougher to raise funds for public schools. This means you will be taxed on part of your income already taxed to support public schools.
  • The House bill also eliminates the tax deduction for student loan interest, taxes tuition waivers as income, and eliminates the small tax credit for teachers to buy school supplies.

Before the bill was passed, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said, “This change will have real and significant effects. Your vote will expand options for parents and children spending their own money, and will prioritize the education of the next generation of Americans” (Washington Post).

If I could paraphrase, “Your vote will expand options for wealthy parents spending their own money on private and religious schools, and will take from the poorest (and largest) percentage of families, further expanding the level of income inequality for the next generation of Americans”.  

One more thing this tax bill proposes is to eliminates a $250 tax deduction for teachers who spend their own money on classroom supplies. Really???

Rather than further pontificate on this bill, or this Congress, I am asking for your advocacy for public education. Here’s a link to voice your opinion. Please sign and share. Tell this deplorable Congress that taking funding away from the poorest children and eliminating $250 deduction for teachers is absolutely ridiculous.

These are my reflections for today.

12/8/17

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