Education Bill Fails in Senate Committee

Betsy DeVos once said, “School choice increases equity for our nation’s students and families by placing power in the hands of parents and families to choose schools that are best for their children” (Washington Post).   Apparently the Senate Appropriations Committee does not agree as it overwhelmingly rejected the Secretary’s budget (29-2) last week. Not only did the committee reject the 14% cut in the budget, but members voted to increase spending  by $29 million (Washington Post).

The budget included $2 billion for Title II, a federal teacher training program, which Trump  proposed scrapping. The budget did not include a $1 billion increase Trump  wanted in funding school choice programs There was a $25 million dollar increase in funding for charter schools, but that fell far short of the $167 million proposed (Washington Examiner).

The Trump administration wanted to cut $1.2 billion for the 21st Century Community Learning Center program, which helps school districts cover the cost of after-school and summer-learning programs. That, too was rejected (EDWeek).

The administration had sought a $1 billion boost for the nearly $15 billion Title I program, the largest federal K-12 program, which is aimed at covering the cost of educating disadvantaged students. The Trump administration had wanted to use that increase to help districts create or expand public school choice programs. And it had hoped to use the Education Innovation and Research program to nurture private school choice.

The Senate bill essentially rejects both of those pitches. It instead would provide a $25 million boost for Title I, and $95 million for the research program, a slight cut from the current level of $100 million.

But importantly, the legislation wouldn’t give U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her team the authority to use that money for school choice. In fact, the committee said in language accompanying the bill that the Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos must get permission from Congress to create a school choice initiative with the funds (EDWeek).

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Republicans and Democrats on the committee acknowledged that the bipartisan agreement isn’t the bill either side would have written on its own. Patty Murray (D-WA) said,  “While this budget is not what I would have proposed on my own, I am pleased we are continuing to invest in our students and educators and I will continue to hold Secretary DeVos accountable if she tries to undermine our public schools”  (EDWeek).

This budged was lauded by teachers unions, state governors, and other educators across the country. There is still work to be done – especially when it comes to cutting funding for Pell Grants for college students,  but this is a bipartisan step in the right direction.

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Agreement on this budget is not expected until the end of year, but there is reason to hope Congress, perhaps, is doing their homework on such important issues in education.

These are my reflections for today.

9/15/17

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Sphere of Influence

Today I have a guest blogger, my esteemed colleague, co-author and friend. She writes about a sphere of influence we all have and may choose to act on or not every day.

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With the recent events in Charlottesville, Houston, and the current impact of Irma as it hits Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the people in my life who live and work all over the United States. It’s not that I forget about them when their specific cities or states are not blasted all over the morning news and radio programs, but at times it’s easy to be lulled into thinking our lives are progressing in forward-thinking momentum. Yet when natural catastrophes, violent human behaviors, and unpredictable incidents occur, it often serves as a harsh reminder that this world does not always operate in positive progress. These events clearly impact huge numbers of people – time seems to stand still, lives are changed in an instant. These events also give us individual opportunity to truly consider our own thoughts, words, and behaviors – our proactive and reactive responses. What are the ways in which our thoughts, words, and behaviors impact and influence others?

In recent years, my research on preparing pre-service teachers to work in environments with diverse students and families led me to examine some of the social structures and interpersonal dynamics present in other areas of scholarship, such as psychology and government.

In government, sphere of influence is defined as a country or area in which another country has power to affect developments though it has no formal authority. In psychology, it is a systematic way to view how one’s surrounding environment influences who one is and will become. I would argue that each one of us can not only be acted upon by these outside forces, but each also possesses the potential to act upon, within, and even beyond our spheres of influence.

So the sphere of influence as a concept is not a new notion, but applying sphere of influence to the field of education is a new opportunity to address the intersectionality of our lives as learners, teachers, mentors, coaches, colleagues, administrators, professors, family members, and friends.

It’s been said that a teacher has a ripple effect on human lives. Specifically, a teacher in Year One teaches 25 students, then in Year Two teaches a different 25 students, in Year Three teaches a third unique set of 25 students, and so on. And for each individual life a teacher touches, this individual grows up and takes the lessons learned as a young person into a whole other sphere which comprises their adult lives. So as a pebble thrown into the middle of a huge lake, the original point of impact ripples out to reach, eventually, the farthest edges of the shore.

Yet educators are not the only ones with a widespread sphere of influence. Each of us, and our own families and homes, neighborhoods and communities, workplaces and professional organizations, possess a great potential to powerfully contribute toward creating a kinder, more respectful, inclusive world. This potential power within each of us centers on our choices. Quite simply, each morning when we wake up we have choices – choices such as how we greet the people we encounter, whether we will stop and help someone in need, how we will respond to that one person who is always complaining. These interactions stem from the specific spheres of influence each of us occupy.

So the questions surrounding sphere of influence are really WHAT and HOW.

WHAT: What do you represent? What beliefs are worth the effort of standing firm? As educators, many of us believe in developmental growth and learning. As a mother, I advocate for all children to receive equitable access and opportunities to quality healthcare, education, and housing. As a human, I greatly value respect for and acceptance of all people.

HOW: How will you use your sphere of influence? Will it be something you acknowledge and capitalize upon in your life? Will you use it to propel positivity or harbor hate? Or will you pretend your life and choices bear no impact upon others’ lives, refraining from action?

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I urge you to think. I urge to you act. The world cannot survive with our silence.

Cori Brown, Rowan University.

9/8/17

 

 

 

A new box of crayons

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Many of us remember when we were kids, one of the highlights of going back to school was getting new school supplies. There was nothing better than a brand new box of Crayola crayons. Whether it was 12, 24, 48, or if you were really lucky, you got the 64 box with a built-in sharpener. The smell. the perfectly flat heads, and the colors; brick red, periwinkle, and the ever-popular burnt sienna. New crayons were a simple pleasure, and one we revered. Much like new sneakers could make us run faster and jump higher, a new box of crayons could make us artists.

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) roughly 15 million children (or 21%) are living in families with incomes below the poverty threshold. Not only can these families not afford to provide for their basic necessities, but school supplies are a luxury. A new box of crayons is for privileged kids.

In researching for this blog, I found inspiring stories about how communities are making sure kids are getting the supplies they need.

In Raleigh, NC, children from low-income families, came up with a plan to raise money for supplies, and new clothes. Two children set up a lemonade stand called “Sweet and Sour Lemonade.” On a good day, the stand can make up to $100. The money raised will be used to help members of their community get what they need to start school (KRON). 

In Rockingham, NC  the owners of Hooks BBQ and Buffet sponsored a BBQ with support from other community sponsors to give low-income children a good time and some needed school supplies. Hundreds of people attended and at the end of the evening 200 book bags stuffed with binders, pencils and crayons were given away as prizes (Richmond County Daily Journal).

Just outside Sacramento, CA community members used facebook to ask parents how much they spent on school supplies and if they knew if their child’s classroom pooled supplies. “The post generated a lengthy discussion from dozens of local parents, teachers and one board member. Most reported how much they spent on school supplies this year. Answers ranged from $25 to $100, many indicating that this cost was outside of new backpacks and clothing” In this district, 61% of  households classify as low income, so parent donations are needed and greatly appreciated. (Galt Herald online).

In Westchester County NY, community members are teaming with The Sharing Shelf to collect and distribute school supplies to children in need. Rob Astorino, Westchester County Executive said, “Since launching our backpack partnership, we have helped give vital school supplies to thousands of children in Westchester County. As always, our goal is to help as many children as we can” (Pelham Daily Voice).

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Photo courtesy of http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20150715/submitted/150719388/

In Maine, members of the Augusta Elks Lodge plan a back to school giveaway of items they say are “tools kids need to have a chance to be successful in the classroom” (Kennebec Journal). The giveaway includes pens, pencils, notebooks, backpacks, lunch boxes, clothing and healthy snacks.

For 25 years, Catholic Charities in Joliet, IL has a Back to School Fair for students from low-income families. This event offers pens and paper, books, medical exams and social services (The Herald News).

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Photo courtesy of  http://www.theherald-news.com/lists/2017/08/03/1230d07772f24b56a92682c691fc50f0/index.xml?page=1

I found so many stories of this kind- a wonderful demonstration of communities helping children. Each of these stories has the common thread of giving kids the tools they need to succeed. If you remember the excitement of a new box of crayons, how about the next time you see a Crayola display pick up a few boxes and take great joy in proving that excitement for a child who wouldn’t otherwise get that.

Local churches, temples or other houses of worship, the community YMCA, and Starbucks are a few places that accept donated school supplies. You could always just take them right to a school. Providing a new box of crayons to a child who can get creative and colorful, and start the school year on a positive note.

These are my reflections for today.

9/1/2017

 

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For a couple of hours

This week, I digress.

For a couple of hours on Monday many of us forgot about politics and frustrations. We stayed away from news feeds. The conversations at work, at home, on the phone and at our favorite coffee houses didn’t revolve around what is or is not happening in Washington, and the horrific events of the past two weeks.

For a couple of hours we were reminded of the power of Mother Nature and how she is so much bigger than all of us, and transcends everything we do. We had a math lesson     (or refresher) on the orbit of the Earth, moon and sun. Many of us were reminded of where we were in 1979 or 2009 when we saw the last eclipse.

For a couple of hours we gathered at the beach, in a field, outside of our workplace, homes, or in the streets. We drove north or south depending on our location. We set up camp, threw down a blanket, unfolded a chair. We shared drinks and protective glasses. We had conversations with strangers.

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We took off the gloves, put down our phones and caught our breath. We watched as the moon moved in between us, throwing some shade. We shared a sense of awe, excitement, and unity. And when it was over, we smiled and went about our business. If you were one of the fortunate people who participated in the eclipse in some way, perhaps you walked away feeling better.

For a brief period of time on Monday we didn’t read about crimes being committed, accidents or fires, charter school failures, poverty, school closures, or racism. We got together for a commonality and shared it with each other.

Maybe we needed the eclipse to help us slow down for a little while, or to look up from our phones and computers. Maybe we needed the eclipse to remind us of how small we really are in comparison.

As the event came to an end, we folded our blankets and chairs, took off our glasses, and went back to whatever we were doing. If we consider this a singular moment, existing in isolation then maybe we missed a message. The eclipse helped us remember who we are. We can stop what we’re doing to help others, to talk with others, to give of ourselves. We can share a moment, a commonality, and a pleasant word.

After all – and despite our current political climate – this is who we are.

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These are my reflections for today.

8/25/2017

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Charter schools as civil rights issue

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Last summer, the NAACP at their annual convention passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on charter schools until several issues could be explored and addressed. One of the issues with the NAACP was accountability.  Whether charters are public or private, for-profit or not for-profit, these schools are generally not held to the same standard as public schools, though they are supported in part, by public tax dollars.

“The NAACP has been in the forefront of the struggle for and a staunch advocate of free, high-quality, fully and equitably-funded public education for all children,” said Roslyn M. Brock, Chairman of the National NAACP Board of Directors. “We are dedicated to eliminating the severe racial inequities that continue to plague the education system” (NAACP.org).

That was October 2016. In June 2017, the organization again called for a moratorium.

“With the expansion of charter schools and their concentration in low-income communities, concerns have been raised within the African American community about the quality, accessibility and accountability of some charters, as well as their broader effects on the funding and management of school districts that serve most students of color” (US News).

The continuance was the result of a year-long study of the educational needs of inner-city children and based on hearings held in New Haven, Memphis, Orlando, Los Angeles, Detroit, New Orleans and New York.  Testimony came from educators, administrators, school policy experts, charter school leaders, parents, advocates, community leaders and students to gain insight into public education. The report can be found here.

The NAACP expressed concerns that charters perpetuate segregation, subject students to overly harsh discipline practices, divert funding away from traditional public schools and face weak oversight.

Here are the recommendations from the NAACP Board of Directors:

  • More equitable and adequate funding for all schools serving students of color. Education funding has been inadequate and unequal for students of color for hundreds of years. The United States has one of the most unequal school funding systems of any country in the industrialized world. Resources are highly unequal across states, across districts, and across schools, and they have declined in many communities over the last decade. In 36 states, public school funding has not yet returned to pre-2008 levels-before the great recession, and in many states, inner city schools have experienced the deepest cuts. Federal funds have also declined in real dollar terms for both Title I and for special education expenditures over the last decade.
  • School finance reform is needed. To solve the quality education problems that are at the root of many of the issues, school finance reform is essential to ensure that resources are allocated according to student needs. States should undertake the kinds of weighted student formula reforms that Massachusetts and California have pursued, and the federal government should fully enforce the funding-equity provisions in Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
  • Invest in low-performing schools and schools with significant opportunity to close the achievement gap. Students learn in safe, supportive, and challenging learning environments under the tutelage of well-prepared, caring adults. Participants in every hearing stressed the importance of the type of classroom investments that have consistently been shown to raise student achievement. To ensure that all students receive a high-quality education, federal, state, and local policies need to sufficiently invest in: (1) incentives that attract and retain fully qualified educators, (2) improvements in instructional quality that include creating challenging and inclusive learning environments; and (3) wraparound services for young people, including early childhood education, health and mental health services, extended learning time, and social supports.
  • Mandate a rigorous authoring and renewal process for charters. One way that states and districts can maintain accountability for charter schools is through their regulation of the organizations that authorize charter schools. States with the fewest authorizers have been found to have the strongest charter school outcomes. To do this, states should allow only districts to serve as authorizers, empower those districts to reject applications that do not meet standards, and establish policies for serious and consistent oversight.
  • Eliminate for-profit charter schools. No federal, state, or local taxpayer dollars should be used to fund for-profit charter schools, nor should public funding be sent from nonprofit charters to for-profit charter management companies. The widespread findings of misconduct and poor student performance in for-profit charter schools demand the elimination of these schools. Moreover, allowing for-profit entities to operate schools creates an inherent conflict of interest.

Greg Richmond, President and CEO of Charter Schools Authorizers does not agree with the decision. “A great majority of charter schools are all about opening opportunities for students of color, many of whom were stuck in their failing neighborhood schools until quality charter schools opened their doors” (HuffPost). Richmond believes the moratorium will “hurt the very kids the NAACP represents, the kids on charter school waiting lists, whose parents are desperate for a spot in a school that will help their child succeed (HuffPost).

Here’s my favorite two quotes from Richmond. “Their children need good schools, regardless of who runs them”  And “We believe NAACP can right this bad decision, and join us and others in making schools better for more children of color” (HuffPost).

Look closely at what the NAACP is asking for, and you’ll see it really isn’t anything absurd, and charter advocates should support the recommendations- if their motivation is in the best interest of students.  The organization is not asking to shut down charters, only to ensure they are equitable and accountable. So why the protest from Richmond?

Richmond and others sell charters as a civil rights cause, when they are actually segregating public schools even more. The Network for Public Education (NPE) recently wrote how charter schools and voucher programs result in, “separate, unequal schools that isolate black and Hispanic students, English language learners, and students with disabilities in schools with fewer resources and less experienced teachers.”

This is from the National Education Policy Center (2010)

A national study of charter school operated by education management organizations (EMOs) found only one-fourth of these schools had a racial composition similar to public schools. Over 70% had extreme concentrations of either high-income or low-income students. These schools consistently enrolled a lower proportion of special education children than public schools. And well over half the charters did not have a population of English language learners (ELLs) similar to public schools.

NPE addresses the true civil rights issue of charters and vouchers.

The Civil Rights Movement taught us that separate schools for different children will never be equal. Concentrating low-income and minority students, students whose first language isn’t English, and students with disabilities in segregated schools is not a solution for improving the well-being of all children. We need a public system that is about advancing the well-being of all, not just helping some families and children get ahead while leaving the rest behind (Network for Public Education).

What would motivate the NAACP to call for a moratorium?  What would motivate the Charter Schools Authorizers to speak out against a moratorium? What if we put all our energy into strengthening public schools and stop taking money away from schools for social experiments and service opportunities?

How’s that for an idea?

These are my reflections for today.
8/18/2017
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Did you hear the one about _____?

While many of us are busy enjoying the waning days of summer – here's a few stories you may have missed. Maybe they were buried under so much other news dominating the front pages.

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So what if it doesn't work?  The Brookings Institute compiled data for two years on the effectiveness of voucher programs. Four studies with four different research designs came to the same conclusion: “On average, students that use vouchers to attend private schools do less well on tests than similar students that do not attend private schools” (Newsday).  What the study found was that students who remained in voucher programs for three to four years began to make up for what they lost academically in the first two years. What this means is after three or four years of a voucher education supported by taxpayers, students gain some ground but only end up where they would have been without them.

Florida charter dodges a bullet.  A charter school which had received a failing grade (F) for two consecutive years (and D's before that) has closed  but… wait for it…. will reopen as a private school, thus still able to siphon $170 million from the public schools to open as The Orange Park Performing Arts Academy. Administrators have already assured students and parents that they are all eligible to receive scholarships from the state of Florida (Clay Today Online).

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How much for that Governor?  Carol Burris reported this week just exactly how much money has been contributed to Governor Andrew Cuomo (The Answer Sheet)The corporation with the largest number of charter schools under the control of the SUNY Charter School Institute is the Success Academy charter chain, run by Eva Moskowitz.  Her political action committee, the Great Public Schools PAC, contributed $65,000 to Cuomo in 2011-2012 and another $50,000 to date in 2017. Success Academy Chairman Daniel Loeb, founder and chief executive of Third Rock Capital, and his wife, have directly contributed over $133,000 to Cuomo. Since 2015, Loeb has added $300,000 to Moskowitz’s PAC, and another $270,000 to other PACs that support Cuomo. That’s more than $700,000.

Sorry, kids it's just not working out.  Two homeless students in a New Orleans charter school were suspended for not having the right uniforms (Alternet.org). The two boys, ages 7 and 10 showed up wearing new sneakers their mother borrowed money to buy. The school requires solid black shoes, and when the boys showed up wearing sneakers with check marks on them, they were sent home. "Their mother covered up the checks using a black marker, which she thought took care of the problem, but the school said that wasn’t good enough and unless they were in compliance, they couldn’t come back to school" (Alternet.org).

Show me the money. In the City of Brotherly Love is a charter school call Khepera in North Philly has a pretty bad track record. According to Philly.com Khepera has had some problems:

  • Closed early last year because of financial problems.
  • Teachers are still owed back pay.
  • The landlord has gone to court to kick the school out of its building because of unpaid rent.
  • The company that provides special-education teachers, substitutes, and counselors has filed suit, alleging it is owed $90,000 for its staffing services.
  • Khepera failed to make $1 million in payments to the state teachers’ pension fund.
  • The school failed to submit annual financial reports for 2015 and 2016, as required by state law.

The School Reform Commission (SRC) voted in June to begin the process of revoking Khepera's charter. While the SRC considers the fate of the charter, the school will still receive a $400,000 payment from the School District for the academic school year.

It costs how much?  Politico reports this week that the U.S. Marshals Service will charge the government almost $8 million to protect Secretary DeVos for the next six months.  How does that compare? The past four Education secretaries have been protected by the Education Department’s own small security force.

And finally…

Wait, what???  According to Matt Barnum, in 2015-16 something like half of New York City teachers were evaluated in part, by tests in subjects or of students they didn’t teach. While it may only be 53% of the teachers, that number is actually lower than in previous years (City and State).

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These are my reflections for today.

8/11/2017

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A mediocre teacher in every classroom

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In what may be considered a blessing, charter schools are having trouble staffing their schools. To solve that problem in New York, the State University of New York (SUNY) Charter School Institute is going to make it easier to “certify” teachers to staff their charter schools.

Currently in New York, to obtain a teaching license one must earn a graduate degree in education from an accredited university and pass some sort of test or performance assessment. Other states require either a 4 year degree/certification program or a two year alternate route as many states offer as well as the test and/or performance assessment.

According to the New York Times the SUNY proposal states, along with a Bachelor’s Degree, “candidates must have a minimum of 100 hours of ‘field experience’ under the supervision of another teacher, a requirement that could be fulfilled in about two and a half weeks of school.” The  proposal under consideration includes a minimum of 30 hours of classroom instruction. “If, when its charter comes up for renewal, the school is able to show its teachers are producing successful students, the program would be allowed to continue” (Times Union). This certification would apply only to teachers in SUNY charter schools.

Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers hammers back:

“The state requires prospective cosmetologists to receive 1,000 hours of specialized instruction and real estate brokers to get 120 hours of instruction and two years of field experience,” Mulgrew said in his letter to Joseph W. Belluck, the chair of the Charter School Committee at SUNY in Albany. “But SUNY’s proposed regulations would, in essence, let charter schools — many of which have admitted having difficulty hiring and retaining certified teachers — create their own special teaching licenses for anyone who finishes one week of specialized instruction and works only 100 hours in a classroom under the supervision of another teacher or administrator, including those who are not themselves certified” (UFT.org).

Charter school advocates say the proposal would help schools struggling to find quality teachers who are certified in New York.

This begs the question, what defines quality teachers? Put it simply, would you rather have a teacher who graduated from an accredited teacher education program who has passed all the requirements for graduation and state licensure? Or would you rather someone with a Bachelor’s degree in anything and 30 hours of classroom instruction on teaching and no certification, no passing score on a performance assessment, and no pedagogical training? This will not produce quality teachers.

The question I continue to ask, because it frustrates me the most is why aren’t these charter schools opening in affluent suburban communities? (*most charters in NY are in NYC).  Because I have taught in both urban and suburban areas, I am confident when I say a charter school in a middle or high income district, staffed by unlicensed and inexperienced teachers would go over like a lead balloon. But that’s not where the charters are opening.

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Maria Bautista of the Alliance for a Quality Education said the proposed changes are racist.

“We know they’re going to disproportionately impact black and brown children,” Bautista said at a recent SUNY Charter School Committee hearing. “You would never have uncertified teachers teach your children. Why is it OK for black and brown children? That is not OK” (wbfo).

On every level, that is not OK. It’s not okay for the teaching profession, and it’s not okay for the minority and low-income children this will directly impact. Is there an expectation of ignorance with these decisions? Is the SUNY Charter Institute counting on this being an 11th hour decision when no one is paying attention? Yes and Yes.

The following statement comes from the 1983 report from President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education. This report was considered by many to be a landmark event in modern American educational history.  “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform” was controversial at the time, as many believed it did not go far enough to report on the effects of poverty, as low achievement was equated to poor schools instead of neglected communities.  

Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world. This report is concerned with only one of the many causes and dimensions of the problem, but it is the one that undergirds American prosperity, security, and civility. We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people (ed.gov.).

a rising tide of mediocrity – We have persistently failed to address the economic and social injustices that created these communities and then blame schools and teachers for students’ failure. The solution is not to lower the bar of teacher qualifications, rather we should do the opposite. Teach and train more people to be effective in our classrooms-both urban and suburban. Hold teachers to a high standard, and give them the tools they need to succeed.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) a French moralist and essayist once said, “Mediocrity is excellent to the eyes of mediocre people.” As a nation, we must expect excellence in our teachers who will bring out excellence in our students. Anything less is simply unacceptable.

These are my reflections for today.

8/4/2017

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