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.


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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.


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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.






The School to Prison Pipeline

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  • The drop out rate for urban high schools in the U.S. is 40%.
  • 70% of prisoners in the U.S. are high school drop outs. (Coherent Education).

The connection between high school drop out rates and incarceration is known as the school to prison pipeline. Some people believe it begins with a disproportionate number of students of color who are punished, suspended, or expelled from school. “Black students are suspended or expelled three times more frequently than white students. And while black children made up 16 percent of all enrolled children in 2011-12, according to federal data, they accounted for 31 percent of all in-school arrests”(

This is the result of a zero tolerance policy. Students affected by the zero tolerance policy begin to fall behind academically, suffer emotionally, and often give up and drop out of school. These students are given their first exposure to the criminal justice system and so begins the cycle. Other believe the cycle starts when under-performing students are pushed out of high schools because their standardized test scores would not help the school increase their overall performance. Regardless of the reason, the problem exists.

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This is the cost to the dropouts. What is the cost to taxpayers?

  • High school dropouts cost taxpayers $300,000 over the course of their lifetime.
  • The average cost to incarcerate one prisoner per year in a federal prison in 2015 was on average $32,000.
  • If all of the high school dropouts from the class of 2011 earned diplomas, the nation would benefit from an estimated $154 billion in income over their working lifetime (

As if the importance of universal preschool has not been stated enough, one way to break the school to prison pipeline is to support preschool for all children, and educate teachers on how to use positive reinforcement with all students.  Halley Potter, a fellow at The Century Foundation found that many of the problems children have in school might begin in preschool, and have a lot to do with how white teachers view behaviors of white children differently than black children. What might be acceptable for white children, such as pushing another child down in frustration- the same action from a black student might be seen as the beginning of aggressive behavior and dealt with more harshly (  Potter found one resolution to this is to help teachers understand what motivates children to react as they do, and address this before it becomes a problem. How important is this? Wilson (2017) found that, “preschool improves poverty level kid’s achievement and high school completion” (Coherent Education).

  • The average per pupil spending amount in the U.S. is $11,000, but can go as high as $20,000 (New York) or as low as $7000 (Utah) (

What strikes me about the studies and data is the disparity of dropout rates and incarceration with students of color when compared to white students. If you carefully consider the amount of money spent to educate a student compared to how much it costs to incarcerate a prisoner, why aren’t we spending more time and energy ensuring all students have a quality education in this country – an education that begins with preschool?

My dad used to say figures don’t lie, liars figure. Rather than supporting the idea of strengthening our public schools to reverse these trends, the plan is to take this per pupil spending amount, funnel it towards charters and vouchers and see if that fixes the problem. The reformers figure they have the solution but the problem goes deeper than per pupil spending and charters. The problem seems to be rooted in racism and discrimination. Maybe we start there.

These are my reflections for today.


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What happened to 9,000 low-income students in North Carolina?

Effective teachers know how to challenge students academically, and do so on a regular basis. Students enjoy the academic challenge, and will rise to the level of expectation placed on them by their teachers. The benefits of students placed in academically appropriate classes can be seen later in school as they qualify for Advanced Placement classes. Students on an AP track likely move on to college, for example.

In many districts across the country, qualifying students in public schools are offered academic enrichment or gifted and talented classes. These G/T courses go above and beyond what is taught in the classroom. Students are identified  for G/T courses through a process which may include test scores, grades, and teacher recommendations.  An investigation in North Carolina recently revealed a systemic disparity in the children who were being offered opportunities for academic enrichment.

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Two newspapers in North Carolina, The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer conducted a six year investigation on which students were qualifying for gifted classes based on end of year test scores. “From school years 2009-10 through 2014-15 across the state, a lower proportion of low-income students with superior scores on end-of-grade tests were placed in math classes for gifted students the following year than their classmates from higher-income families” (The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer). Specifically, 9,000 low-income students were left out of opportunities for gifted classes even though they qualified for them. Why were so many students in North Carolina being denied these opportunities?

What this investigation revealed is disturbing on so many levels- most importantly the investigation found a consistent pattern over six years (2009-2015). This was noted across rural, urban, and suburban districts across the state.

Analysis of data collected revealed:

  • In 2015, one of every three low-income students with superior math scores was labeled gifted, compared to one out of two high-scoring students whose family income was too high to qualify for federal lunch subsidies.
  • In Wake County, 24 percent of low-income third graders scoring a 5 in 2014 were labeled gifted in math the following school year. The percentage for their higher-income counterparts was more than twice as high: 54 percent.
  • In 2015, Wake County filled 291 gifted slots with higher-income fourth graders who had average end-of-grade math scores. At the same time, 228 low-income children with superior scores were left out. This also occurred in several other large districts, including Durham, Guilford and Forsyth.
  • These high-potential, low-income students are less likely to take high school math in middle school, an important step toward the type of transcript that will open college doors. Only one of every two low-income third graders who scored above grade level in 2010 took high school math in middle school, compared with three of four more affluent students with the same scores.
  • Even those low-income students who start high school math in middle school are far less likely to take Advanced Placement math classes in high school than classmates with similar scores but more family income (The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer).

What are the ramifications of students not taking AP classes?  Students who only take Math 1 in eighth grade in NC, fall behind their college-prep counterparts, with many teachers believing that once students fall behind, they aren’t able to catch up.  “Among low-income students who test above grade level in sixth grade but don’t take high school math by eighth grade, only one in 14 go on to take four advanced math courses in high school. For those who do start high school math by eighth grade, the numbers are better: two in five.” (The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer).

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While the investigators made recommendations based on the study results, I present a few of my own:

  1. Criteria for inclusion in G/T courses must be consistent and monitored -from within and outside the program. Administrators and curriculum supervisors may be well-suited for the task. This would ensure ALL qualifying students are given equal opportunities.
  2. Training for teachers who teach honors courses. AP teachers are required to meet certain criteria by the College Board.  Honors teachers may benefit from training to ensure they possess the tools to assist students who want to succeed, and are given every opportunity to succeed.
  3. Professional development for K-12 teachers to better understand how to meet the academic needs of all students in the classroom. Every student should be provided with academic challenges.
  4. Counseling students in and out of higher level courses- providing scaffolding and support for students placed in these courses for the first time. If a student qualifies in 6th grade for a G/T course, or 9th grade for an honors or AP course, this may be quite an academic shock as they have not performed in such a course. Facilitating their growth and success would ensure they are succeeding in these higher-level classes.

There are varying opinions on gifted and talented education. This study is not about the value of gifted and talented classes, rather it is about the equal opportunities afforded to all children.  This investigation revealed a weakness in the system in North Carolina. In response to the study, Cathy Moore, Wake’s deputy superintendent for academic advancement, said what the investigation revealed  was “disturbing.” “I think there is a sobering punch in the gut about what is happening here,” she said (The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer).

“Students who show promise need to be challenged,” said Keith Poston, executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, a nonpartisan advocate for better schools. “Schools need to see their promise and push them into more rigorous classes early so they aren’t left behind and left out.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Ann Clark says the key is individual tracking. In high schools, for instance, Charlotte-Mecklenburg now has counselors reviewing each student’s transcript every year to make sure the student is getting appropriate classes to meet his or her goals, whether that’s earning a diploma or building up advanced credits to be competitive for a top university. (The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer).

It may have been easier to understand one or two districts demonstrating such bias, but a six year study revealing state-wide systemic bias such as this is unacceptable. Regardless of how NC got here, the question is how do they get out? Perhaps a non-partisan study every year similar to the one in this investigation would ensure ALL students who qualify for gifted/talented and AP courses are offered these courses. Accountability would be a good first step.

These are my reflections for today.


Post script:  Since I started Reflections in Education in November, I have had 900 visitors with almost 1,300 views of 43 posts, and my site has been viewed in 10 different countries. That may not seem like a lot to you, but it does to me – I didn’t think anyone would read it.  So, thank you for reading, sharing and re-posting. I hope my blogs have got you thinking, talking, reading more, and reflecting. I will keep writing if you keep reading. I appreciate your support. Thank you.



DeVos: HBCUs “pioneers of school choice”

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were created in response to the Jim Crow laws in the South that mandated enforced segregation. These laws institutionalized educational disadvantages, resulting in shutting out black students from traditionally white schools. They were created in slave states after the Civil War.

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Last week I watched the video of Betsy DeVos giving a commencement speech at Bethune- Cookman University which is an HBCU. In the video, students stand and turn their backs to DeVos in peaceful protest. This controversy arose over statements DeVos made in February to a group of HBCU leaders. According to Douglas-Gabriel and Jan (2017) of the Washington Post, after a meeting with HBCU leaders, DeVos praised their schools for identifying “a system that wasn’t working” and taking it upon themselves to provide the solution.  DeVos said HBCUs “started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education.”  She said HBCUs are “living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality” (Washington Post).

Tweets poked fun of her characterization of HBCUs as about school choice— “as if white/colored water fountains were about beverage options” and comparing the Montgomery bus boycott to “pioneering new scenic walking paths.” (Washington Post).  

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Selena Hill of Huewire said, “This display of public outrage should serve as a wake-up call to DeVos and the Trump administration: It’s going to take a lot more than photo ops and empty speeches to win over black students. Black institutions deserve protection, more federal funding, and better public schools that prepare students of color for college. Anything less is unacceptable” (Huewire).

Some say the protest was appalling, disrespectful-saying students should have their diplomas taken away, and should have used this as an opportunity for engagement and discussion with the Secretary.

I’ll play devil’s advocate. What if what DeVos was saying is that HBCUs were “pioneers of school choice” because black students weren’t afforded an education due to segregation so they found a solution to a problem and created colleges and universities with opportunities for learning. She might think they were pioneers, but at the same time she has  oversimplified racial segregation, the Fourteenth Amendment and discrimination.

Putting the past aside is one thing – understanding the past is another. Equating discrimination and segregation to pioneering choice fails to acknowledge the discrimination in the first place. Blacks were forced to create their own schools because the laws of this country did not protect them- in fact Jim Crow Laws supported discrimination and segregation.

I’m reminded of recent comments by HUD Secretary Ben Carson who said slavery was considered “hope for freedom”,  and slaves were “immigrants coming to a land of dreams and opportunity.” If I remember correctly, slaves were forced into a life of servitude-often abusive, always inhumane. They were not here by choice, nor did they have much opportunity. DeVos’ statement about choice and Carson’s statement about slavery ignore  reality. From their perspective, DeVos and Carson thought they were speaking the truth. It’s hard for me to interpret their words as anything other than ignorance. George Santayana said it best, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

My guess is the Secretary was not randomly selected to give the commencement address at Bethune- Cookman, nor was she shocked by the reaction from the students. I would bet money this was as contrived as Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery. This was a planned visit, a canned speech, and likely nothing more than a publicity stunt. I would also guess that DeVos had no idea what an HBCU was before taking office-but maybe was schooled just after she learned she was giving the address.

The #1 rule of public speaking is to know your audience.

These are my reflections for today.




1.6 million poor kids lose in ED budget

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The White House released the proposed education budget this week. The budget is harmful to public education- cutting teacher training and funding to reduce class size, and ending the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which would affect 400,000 students. And no surprise to anyone who has been following, charter schools would receive $500 million in new funding, an increase of 50%. This is  bothersome.

Equally as disturbing is the $1.2 billion cut of the 21st Century Community Learning Center. This program provides after school academic enrichment for 1.6 million children in the US (ThinkProgress). Children who benefit from this program generally come from high poverty, under-performing schools.

According to the program’s 2014–2015 performance report:

  • 80% of parents whose children are served by after-school programs say that those programs helped them keep their job.
  • 65.2% of teachers reported an improvement in homework completion and class participation for students served by the program.
  • 56% of teachers reported improvement in student behavior (ThinkProgress).

Halley Potter, a fellow at The Century Foundation whose work focuses on educational inequality said, “Their stated reason for cutting after-school programs is the idea that there isn’t evidence quickly boosting student achievement.”

This budget is adding $500 million to a voucher program which has very little evidence to support its effectiveness (especially with regard to the positive effects on children living in poverty), while cutting programs which positively affect 1.6 million poor children and data supports its effectiveness. How does this make sense?

With data collected from 30 states, the program’s performance report shows how this program has an overlapping positive impact on the children and  families who participate. Let’s not forget the report which came out recently showing how the DC voucher program was not working.

What’s in the budget for DeVos?  “An additional $158 million for salaries and expenses in the Education Department.” A portion of this money will go for increased security for DeVos, who has contracted the U.S. Marshals Service instead of the ED’s security team (The Fader).

This budget is aligned with what Trump and DeVos have been pushing all along – the privatization of public schools. It’s interesting to note that with all the president has on his plate lately, he still has time to destroy public education and ignore the needs of so many children in this country.

DeVos and her husband are deeply rooted in their evangelical Christian beliefs. Her actions and her beliefs seem to take distinctly different positions on educating poor children. The irony is not lost on me.

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If you would like to get involved in the campaign to let your representatives in Congress know how you feel about the proposed budget:

These are my reflections for today.