Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Reich: Strengthen human capital by investing in education

Our nation’s future depends on all Americans living up to their responsibility to help provide quality public schools for all students. Unfortunately, budget cuts and a very aggressive attack on public schools are creating new urgency to support, defend and strengthen public schools.

In this video, Robert Reich, former U.S. secretary of labor, urges Americans to shift the focus from investing in financial capital to investing in human capital in the form of public education. “Our schools are the engines of our human capital, and if we don’t bail out public education, we face a bigger economic Armageddon years from now,” says Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. “Human capital is the one resource that is uniquely American, on which our future living standards uniquely depend."

Investments matter:
  • According to a recent report by the Center on Education Policy, about 70% of all school districts experienced funding cuts in school year 2010-11. An even greater proportion of districts, about 84%, anticipate funding cuts in school year 2011-12.
  • Laying off teachers, counselors, and other school staff is a primary means used to make up for these funding shortfalls. About 85% of the districts with funding decreases in school year 2010-11 cut jobs for teachers and other staff (CEP). 
  • About 60% of districts that anticipate funding cuts for school year 2011-12 plan to let go of additional teachers and other personnel (CEP).
  • McKinsey & Company has estimated that closing the achievement gap between White students and their Black and Latino peers could increase the annual Gross Domestic Product by more than half a trillion dollars (Lost Opportunity).

Friday, August 12, 2011

Ohio judge takes steps hold Ohio charter operator accountable for actions

Our friends at the Public Education Network highlighted this news article that’s a reminder about the lack of accountability of charter schools.

With White Hats like these...
An Ohio judge has ordered charter-school operator David L. Brennan to turn over a detailed accounting of how his for-profit management company White Hat spends the millions of tax dollars it receives each year, The Columbus Dispatch reports. The state’s law “clearly and unambiguously requires operators of community schools to provide their governing authorities with a detailed accounting of how public funds are spent,” Judge John Bender wrote in a 12-page decision. 

Last year, charter schools in the Akron and Cleveland areas sued to terminate or renegotiate contracts with White Hat, saying their input was ignored and White Hat ran the schools “as they deem fit regardless of many legitimate objections, questions, and challenges that the (community schools) have raised.” Under contracts with the schools, White Hat receives 96 percent of the state aid schools are given. 

Bender’s decision means White Hat must turn over a broad range of financial data, including how much is spent on teacher salaries, computers, textbooks, and other classroom equipment; an inventory of personal property for each school; how much is spent on lobbying state lawmakers or making political contributions; and funds paid for security.

Brennan is the second-biggest Republican campaign donor in Ohio over the past decade. His lobbyists wrote many of the proposals governing charter schools in the Ohio House's proposed state budget this year, although most were removed by the state Senate.

Read more here

Thursday, August 11, 2011

CDF's Marian Wright Edelman: Zero tolerance policies are a failing idea

In her "Child Watch" column, Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund draws attention to an exceptionally timely topic -- the over-reliance on counterproductive zero tolerance policies and the resulting school-to-prison pipeline. In addition to Edelman's column, we encourage you to learn more about this issue by visiting the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice's "Redirecting the School to Prison Pipeline" project.

Marian Wright Edelman's Child Watch® Column: 
Zero Tolerance Discipline Policies: A Failing Idea
Release Date: August 5, 2011

Many school children in America are on summer break right now, but here’s a pop quiz about discipline policies in our nation’s schools that’s just for grownups:

Would you suspend a student from school for four months for sharpening his pencil without permission and giving the teacher a “threatening” look when asked to sit down?

Would you expel a student from school for the rest of a school year for poking another student with a ballpoint pen during an exam?

Would you expel a student from school permanently because her possession of an antibiotic violated your school’s zero-tolerance drug policy?

Would you call the police, handcuff, and then expel a student who started a snowball fight on school grounds?

If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions because they sounded too unfair to be the result of an actual policy, give yourself a failing grade. All four are real examples of zero tolerance school discipline policies in Massachusetts—and there are thousands of stories like these throughout that state and across the country. Suspended and expelled students are at greater risk of dropping out of school and dropping into the prison pipeline, and using automatic suspensions and expulsions for minor infractions often has a major negative effect on a child’s entire future.

Read the rest of Edelman's column here.

When you get what you pay for

It is often said, in certain circles, that “money doesn’t matter in education.”  But, as that well-known social commentator, Deep Throat, observed, to understand what’s going on, we need to “follow the money.”
This chart shows the dramatic per pupil spending differences between some of our nation’s largest school districts, a sample of wealthy public school districts and three of our most prestigious private schools.

The three schools on the far right are well-regarded private schools, the American equivalents of Eton and Harrow.  They are boarding schools, so the typical boarding charges ($12,000 annually) have been deducted from these figures.  The remainder, the per student expenditure, averages $62,000.  Some of this is from tuition, some from the school’s endowment and other sources. 

The middle three columns represent the per student expenditures of school districts in upper-middle-class communities well-known for the quality of their schools. Their per student expenditure averages just under $20,000, less than a third of what the private schools spend.

Chicago, Los Angeles and Baltimore are large urban districts with all the challenges that go with that.  They spend, on average, $12,000 per student, less than one-fifth what private schools spend.

Phillips Exeter, St. Paul’s and Deerfield Academy have classes that average 11 students (remember this when you hear someone say,  “class size doesn’t matter”); student-to-teacher ratios of 5:1, and send their students to Harvard, Columbia, Georgetown, University of Pennsylvania, Yale, Dartmouth, Stanford, Brown, Middlebury, Princeton, Tufts and Amherst.

Presumably, the parents of the children sent to Phillips Exeter, St. Paul’s and Deerfield Academy know that investing in their children’s futures is worth the price. 

So it should be for all children in this increasingly inequitable society.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

EdVox Blog: NY 2011 test scores are no time to celebrate

The citywide test scores for New York’s public school students were released this week, and Zakiyah Ansari from the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice voices concern about blowing modest gains out of proportion:

"Without a real commitment to providing the supports parents, students and educators need to get us out of this crisis, a small improvement measured by questionable scores that are already so low is nearly irrelevant."

Read Zakiyah Ansari's entire blog post, published on the EdVox blog, here.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Do away with "test-and-punish" for real opportunity to learn

By Monty Neill, Ed.D.
Executive Director, FairTest

With the teaching profession and public schools under attack as never before, teachers, parents and others rallied in Washington, D.C., at the end of July to “Save Our Schools.” The two most prominent themes at the SOS event were:

  1. The nation’s failure to address poverty or to provide every child with a strong opportunity to thrive and learn, and
  2. The overuse and misuse of standardized tests imposed by No Child Left Behind and made worse by the actions of many states and districts. 

Teachers, students, parents and many others recognize that testing mania has gone way too far. It undermines the limited educational opportunity low-income youth do have.

Under NCLB, the rate of improvement on National Assessment of Educational Progress reading and math scores has slowed or stagnated compared with the prior decade. This is true in both reading and math. It affects low-income and minority group students, English language learners and students with disabilities. (See here for a detailed report on this: http://www.fairtest.org/detailed-fairtest-study-naep-results-shows-nclb-ha.)

Meanwhile, the graduation rate barely reaches 50 percent in many cities. Harsh disciplinary policies combine with the boring drudgery of schooling-reduced-to-test-prep to drive many youth out of school. Far too many end up in the criminal justice systems. (For the links between testing, discipline and the school-to-prison pipeline, see http://www.fairtest.org/position-paper-nclb-and-school-prison-pipeline). 

Lack of funding and unwise testing policies combine to narrow the curriculum. Children lose access to subjects that engage them, missing out on knowledge and skills they will need as adults. Reducing instruction to test prep in reading and math, as is happening in many schools, compounds the problem. Children of color and low-income youth lose the most, in part because their families can’t afford to make up for what they don’t get in school (see http://www.fairtest.org/racial-justice-and-standardized-educational-testin). 

The U.S. must shift the “education reform” paradigm from test-and-punish to helping schools improve. The Forum on Educational Accountability, which I chair, has proposed ways to do that (see http://www.edaccountability.org). The recommendations include:

  • reduce the amounts and consequences of testing, while supporting high-quality assessment;
  • ensure strong professional growth for teachers;
  • fully fund the federal Title I and IDEA Part B programs (respectively, funds for low income youth and students with disabilities); and
  • provide high-quality early childhood education.

Other alliances and groups recommend similar changes. FairTest, for example, explains how to overhaul assessment and evaluation (see http://www.fairtest.org/fact-sheet-better-way-evaluate-schools-pdf). 

Unfortunately, the test-and-punish ideology of leading elements in both political parties, backed by some large foundations and major corporations, will be tough to dislodge – but dislodge it we must. That was the purpose of the SOS rally. One event in D.C. is only a step on our way, not the end. Winning the change requires educating, organizing and mobilizing the vast numbers of people who know we cannot defund or test our way to educational improvement. That work is our main task.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Public schools continue to outperform charters

Charter school advocates claim that they produce better results for children, but educational achievement as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) does not bear this out.

NAEP Grade 8 Reading scores for 2009 showed that students in charter schools were much more likely to score below the Basic level than students in other public schools and less likely to score at the Proficient level.

Both students who are not eligible for National School Lunch Program (a measure of poverty) – that is, students from more prosperous households – and students who are eligible because they come from low-income families do better in non-charter public schools than in charter schools.

White, non-Hispanic students do better in charter than in non-charter public schools, as measured by NAEP Grade 8 Reading scores, while Hispanic students do about the same. Black students do better in non-charter public schools and Asian students do considerably better in non-charter than in charter public schools.

The numbers paint a telling portrait. As a nation, we must commit ourselves to investing in public education – a system that serves the majority of our children.

Charter schools have proven to be a lackluster attempt at education reform. What the data tell us is that public schools continue to serve our children better than charter schools, and it makes sense to invest our taxpayer dollars in public education, where it can have the greatest impact.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

VOYCE: The high price of zero-tolerance policies

Today’s guest blogger, Stephanie Mayo, is a student leader with Voices of Youth in Chicago Education, an organizing collaborative for education justice led by students of color from seven communities throughout the city of Chicago. Feeling powerless to make positive changes at her middle school, she joined VOYCE two years ago because she saw the group as a force for including the student voice in local education reform. Through VOYCE, she is working to make sure that students have a say in the education policies that affect their lives.

By Stephanie Mayo
VOYCE Student Leader
Albany Park Neighborhood Council

Every day, we students experience overly harsh school discipline measures in action, and see the effect that this approach – known as zero tolerance – has on us and our school culture. Because zero tolerance relies on multi-day suspensions, expulsions, and arrests for even minor or first-time offenses, it is a barrier to building the trusting relationships with school staff that we students need to succeed.

We are glad that school administrators across the nation are finally realizing that zero tolerance does not work, especially in light of the results of the recent study from Texas that examined the impact zero tolerance policies are having on student success.

With research showing proof that being suspended and/or expelled increases a student’s chance of dropping out and being incarcerated, it’s time to stop using suspensions and expulsions to address inappropriate behavior and instead support more effective ways to prevent and respond to misconduct. We don’t need to be arrested, pushed out onto the street, and watched every day by police cameras. We need college counseling, restorative justice, peer and adult mentorship, and mental health supports.

Truly serious problems with school safety, like bringing a gun to school, happen only when young people fall through the cracks of our education system. Zero tolerance doesn’t close the cracks in the system — it just makes them wider by pushing young people onto the streets and into prisons.

In addition to being ineffective, zero tolerance is also expensive.

For example, in 2011 Chicago Public Schools spent $51.4 million on security guards but only $3.5 million on college coaches. And even while they are claiming to have a $600 million budget shortfall, CPS is also considering signing a $100 million, three-year contract to place police in our schools. Spending more and more money on the school-based police officers, metal detectors, and surveillance cameras needed to enforce zero tolerance only prevents the system from investing money on social services that would actually benefit the mental health and engagement of students in schools.

The impact of this uneven spending is that all the students in my school know the security guards and police officers, but we have no idea if our school even has a social worker.

At my school, there is only one college counselor to serve a class of more than 300 seniors, which prevented me and my friends from getting the individual attention we need. The lack of college counselors also results in a huge number of students not applying to college at all.
If our public schools devoted more funding to improving the relationships students have with their teachers and school staff, our students would do better in school. Safe spaces, challenging coursework, strong relationships, high expectations, and relevance to students’ lives are the keys to creating an encouraging environment that promotes academic excellence.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Colorado’s school funding case goes to trial

Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice

[Yesterday], the Lobato v. Colorado educational opportunity case began with opening arguments in the state District Court in Denver. The trial is scheduled for a content- and witness-packed five weeks. View videos from [yesterday’s] press conference.

Follow the trial on Twitter or the blog.

Plaintiffs say they will prove that the State is not providing the resources necessary for a "thorough and uniform system" of public education, as guaranteed by the Colorado Constitution. Instead, the lack of resources guarantees failure, plaintiffs said. They will ask the court to order the legislative and executive branches to remedy the problem.

Defendants will argue that the finance system is OK and ask the court to refrain from issuing an order.
Plaintiffs are students and their parents and 119 Colorado school districts. Defendants are the State, the state board of education, the education commissioner, and the governor. The attorney general represents the state defendants.

A combination of pro bono attorneys and law firms represent the original plaintiffs. Kathleen Gebhardt of Children's Voices, Kenzo Kanawabe of Davis Graham & Stubbs, and Alex Halpern of Alexander Halpern are lead counsel for plaintiffs, and lawyers from DGS, Faegre & Benson, Greenburg Traurig, The Harris Law Firm, Holland & Hart, Perkins Coie, Reilly Pozner, and Snell & Wilmer will handle various aspects of the case. 

MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund) represents plaintiff intervenors, who are additional students and parents concerned about opportunities and missing resources for low-wealth students and students learning English.

For more background, see: Lawsuits in Other States, Denver Post, and One of 119 Plaintiff School Districts, Craig Daily Press.

Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org