Friday, January 28, 2011

RIGHT DESTINATION WRONG VEHICLE - The Schott Foundation's response to the State of the Union

"The President claimed this as America’s “Sputnik moment” and reiterated his goal that America will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. Schott applauds the President for refocusing the nation on this audacious goal—but a Race To The Top competition frame for ESEA will not meet that goal."

Read the response
Aside from its astute analysis, I think it noteworthy that there is at least one major foundation in the US that is supporting alternatives to school privatization and the deprofessionalization of the teacher corp.

Lance Hill, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Southern Institute for Education and Research

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Black Community Crusade for Children

Marian Wright Edelman, life-long children’s advocate and President of the Children’s Defense Fund posted the following blog at the Huffington Post promoting the new report, “The Black Community Crusade for Children.” Her blog and the report are in sync with the OTL Campaign’s message that quality education is a civil right for all children, and an essential requirement to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty that threatens black children.

The Black Community Crusade for Children
Marian Wright Edelman
Huffington Post
January 19, 2011

“As our country remembers the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., new research conducted for the Children’s Defense Fund has found the vast majority of America’s black community, seven in 10 adults, view these as ‘tough or very bad times’ for black children and many see poor black youths falling further behind. When 40 percent of black children are born poor, 85 percent of black children cannot read or do math at grade level in fourth grade and later almost half drop out of school, and a black boy born in 2001 has a one in three chance of going to prison sometime in his lifetime, we know we are facing a crisis. So an intergenerational group of black leaders have just committed to a renewed movement to reweave the fabric of family and community for black children and to provide a stronger voice for children in their states and nationally.

“We met in December for three days at the Children’s Defense Fund-Haley Farm near Knoxville, TN, to address what many of us believe is the worst crisis faced by millions of black children since slavery. The meeting had three purposes: (1) to wake up the black community and the nation to the ominous clouds encircling black children and youths whose life chances are less positive than their parents and white peers; (2) to commit to replacing the Cradle to Prison Pipeline® with a pipeline to college, productive work, and successful adulthood for all black children; and (3) to launch the second phase of the Black Community Crusade for Children (BCCC) on the 20th anniversary of the launch of the first Black Community Crusade for Children to Leave No Child Behind®.”  

Read Full Article

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dr. King and the Achievement Gap

Brain Jones a teacher and activist in New York City posted this blog in the Huffington Post remembering Dr. Martin Luther King’s views on education to gain perspective on today’s efforts to close the achievement gap between white children and children of color.  Many of his, and Dr. King’s, observations highlight what the OTL Campaign calls the Opportunity Gap.
By Brian Jones
Huffington Post
January 10, 2011

The approach of a national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King provides an opportunity to reflect on one of the hot topics in education reform today: the racial achievement gap. Everyone wants to close the gap. Or so it would seem.

Despite the hope many invested in President George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) initiative, which highlighted the persistence of the gap, and set the goal of closing it by 2014, progress toward that end has been incremental at best.

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg claimed to have reduced the gap "by half" in some places. But in the summer of 2010, when city's tests were re-scaled, the scores were revealed to be only half as good as previously believed. Only 40 percent of Black students were found to have met the state's math standards, compared with 75 percent of white students. The new scoring revealed that only 33 percent of black students met the English standard, while 64 percent of whites and Asians did.

The most reliable measure of the country's academic trends, the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), has confirmed a similar picture nation-wide. Apart from a period of dramatic progress in the 1970s and 80s, the NAEP has found that the gap widened substantially again during the 1990s, and has neither grown nor declined significantly since. In July of 2010, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) published a report based on the 2008 NAEP results, which showed, for 13-year-olds, a 28-point racial gap in math scores, and a 21-point gap in reading scores. Both of these results represent marginal progress since the 1990s, but both are also wider than they were in the late 1980s.

An analysis of the NAEP's most recent findings, published by the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS), focused on the situation of African-American male students. Titled, "A Call for Change", the report is full of striking revelations. It points out, for example, that in 2009, in large cities, the average mathematics scale score of eighth-grade Black males without disabilities was two points lower than the average score of eighth-grade white males with disabilities.

While both reports hesitate to draw definitive conclusions, they point to glaring socioeconomic factors as the most likely culprit.

The forces working against Black families in the second half of the 20th century, and consequently, against Black education, the ETS finds, include: the concentration of public housing in relatively small areas, while well-paying jobs fled the central cities; the transportation systems built to increase the mobility of suburbanites, and reduce the mobility of urban-dwellers; and as a result of increasing geographic segregation, the inner city areas were cut off from important sources of tax revenues. "All of these things were going strong in the lives of Black people born after 1965," they write, "the beginning of birth cohorts when progress in closing the achievement gap stopped."

Likewise, the CGCS points to an array of statistical data that shows how the deck is stacked against African-American males before they even enter a classroom. In a section titled, "Readiness to Learn" they mention the fact that, in 2008, Black children 17 and under were fifty percent more likely to not be covered by any kind of health insurance. In the same year, they were also twice as likely to live in a household where no adult had full-time or year-round employment. In 2007, they point out, 34 percent of Black children lived in poverty, while only 10 percent of white children did.

The ETS report, looking back at the period when the achievement gap was closing, cites several progressive social programs as likely agents of the positive change. "At the top of the list of factors that may have contributed to progress in closing the gap" the ETS cautiously proposes, "are the federal government's investment in Head Start and Title I of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)." Furthermore, they assert that it's likely that desegregation had a positive impact, especially in the South. Third, they cite "compelling evidence" demonstrating that reduction in class sizes "generates higher achievement in the early grades but also that the effects are larger for minority students."

Predictably, some commentators have jumped on the fact that some sections of the CGCS report seem to challenge the notion that that socioeconomic conditions are a significant factor. "Poverty alone does not seem to explain the differences," The New York Times summarized, "poor white boys do just as well as African-American boys who do not live in poverty, measured by whether they qualify for subsidized school lunches." But instead of exploring the possibility that racism has manifestations beyond not for qualifying for school lunch, these voices are quick to conclude that the problem must be black parenting. Dr. Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard, told the Times that there needs to be "conversations people are unwilling to have" about the practices of Black parents. "The activities that parents conduct with their 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds," he said. "How much we talk to them, the ways we talk to them, the ways we enforce discipline, the ways we encourage them to think and develop a sense of autonomy."

Of course, every educator knows that parenting plays an enormous role in a child's development and academic achievement. However, to divorce the question of parenting styles from larger social concerns is utter hypocrisy. Even with the "best" parenting techniques available, how much free time parents have to spend with their children, how stressed or relaxed those parents are able to be during that time, and a host of other factors are mostly not able to be changed merely through conversation.

But the current fad in education "reform" is to put as much daylight as possible between racial justice and social justice. The result is fine words about closing the achievement gap, but little to show for it. Worse, the proposals on offer today -- charter schools, privatization, testing, teacher data-reports -- threaten to actually widen the gap, while those that have demonstrably had some effect -- Head Start, desegregation, smaller class sizes -- are ignored.

This is an historic reversal. It was the Civil Rights Movement that placed the onus on society to deal with the effects of racism. "We are likely to find," Dr. King wrote, "that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished."

Today, the onus is increasingly placed on the individual teacher, or the individual student, or the parents. Any discussion of poverty or racism is tantamount to "making excuses."

"The task is considerable," King wrote, "it is not merely to bring Negroes up to higher educational levels, but to close the gap between their educational levels and those of whites."

But against the current "reform" consensus, King understood that providing a quality education is very much a question of resources. "Much more money has to be spent on education of the children of the poor;" King argued, "the rate of increase in expenditures for the poor has to be greater than for the well-off if the children of the poor are to catch up." He went on to argue for reductions in class sizes, for greater community involvement, a greater commitment from educators, and a strategy for promoting desegregation.

If we truly want to close the achievement gap, we should remember Dr. King's words. At the end of his life, his perspectives were diametrically opposed to those of today's political elites. Yet, come Monday, they will all line up to praise his dreams of equality. They will quote his famous speech from 1963, but not his perspectives from 1967:

"If the society changes its concept by placing the responsibility on its system, not on the individual, and guarantees secure employment or a minimum income, dignity will come within reach of all."

Read the full article

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Fundamentals that Bernanke and Obama Miss

By Greg Jobin-Leeds and Saulo Colon

I wrote in an earlier blog that “Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke was correct when he stated that educational differences contribute to the U.S. having the biggest income disparity gap of all industrialized nations” but that “he overlooks the fundamental and critical issue of economic inequality”.

This post focuses how the current economic crisis and our nation’s misguided tax policies are damaging public education, increasing the inequality that threatens our children’s and our nation’s future.

In California, like many states, the governor is cutting billions of dollars from the state's public education institutions. Deteriorating schools are leaving scars on our children that will last for many years. Declining funding undercuts the quality and capacity of the next generation. Instead of generating revenues for access to quality schools--by increasing taxes on the wealthiest 1%--California’s governor, like almost every other, sacrifices the public education of our children and future adults. Meanwhile, according to the Los Angeles Times, the economic disparity gap in the state widens with the share by the state’s total income earned by the top 1% going from14% to 25%.

Why is this happening? Politicians depend on the wealthiest (corporations and the rich) for election contributions--and surround themselves with these contributors and lobbyists. This situation exposes the increasing reality of America’s economic system. Campaigns for all major local, regional, and national offices depend on buying expensive mass media exposure. Candidates' ads must propose as "common sense" ideas that benefit these wealthy contributors--such as the demonization of tax increases for the wealthy and that the government should bailout banks instead of homeowners. They promote the myth that somehow tax cuts for the wealthy will mean more jobs and deny the reality that the tax cuts mean cuts to social program employees. These ideas are also promoted by think tanks, organizations, university institutes, etc. that are financed by the wealthy. Similarly, newspapers and TV are owned by the same corporations.

Politicians concerned with reelection and a future career in corporate America dare not propose increased state revenues from corporations and the rich in order to fund social programs like public education (where their children don’t go). Instead the politicians cut state programs not primarily used by their patrons even though the programs serve everyone else--the majority. As corporations send more skilled jobs overseas, the wealthy who own these corporations need fewer educated US workers. This is a key reason why there is less and less support by both political parties for quality public education from kindergarten to affordable universities. This is why so many students are beginning to protest the cuts.

In New York a recent study of public elementary and secondary schools reveals the stark economic inequalities of the public education system, the two Americas resulting from unequal educational opportunities for our nation's children: "In poorer schools, their ceiling is meeting state mandates; for more affluent schools, the academic floor is even higher than the poorer schools' ceiling”. Minimal standards for these affluent schools are not even expected, thus not funded, for poorer schools. A court decision in New York that the government is only obliged to guarantee an 8th grade education further exemplifies this disparity of expectations. In addition, in response to the economic crisis, NY’s Democratic governor cut $750 million from the budget's provision for schools and local governments and then proposed that in the next budget, school aid be cut by another $700 million.

In our current tax structure, the current economic crisis is exacerbating educational inequalities. Working class, poor and middle class school districts have higher rates of unemployment and home foreclosures, declining real estate values, and smaller family budgets than wealthier school districts. This situation creates a short-term need for lower property taxes by these homeowners which, in the long-term, lowers the local school funding available to their children. As the US education scores decline relative to our international counterparts, it’s important to note that the US is the only industrialized nation that funds schools with local instead of national dollars. Coast to coast, most students' job, income, and life prospects are falling further behind those of the children of the wealthy class and countries that prioritize education and social service. Failure to fully support our public education system and provide every child an opportunity to learn threatens our society's future as much as our current housing and jobs crises.

State and federal legislators, governor and president should reverse the last 30 years of tax cuts for incomes over 1 million dollars a year, and close of all corporate loopholes (a savings to America of a trillion dollars!). These steps would make possible the full funding needed for an opportunity to learn for all. Join students, parents and teachers who are campaigning against these cuts. Join us and others in the Opportunity To Learn movement.

For more information and ways to get involved on budgets, taxation and revenue, go to websites like Fiscal Policy Institute, Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and National Priorities Panel.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Another Look at PISA

The following blog was written by Diane Ravitch (recently named America’s most influential education scholar) on the results of the international comparisons of education known as PISA. The PISA results show that the United States is not doing well on nation-to-nation rankings. Ravitch points out that when poverty rates are taken into account, the picture is very different: “American students in schools with low poverty rates were first in the world when they were compared with students in nations with comparably low poverty levels . . . We have many outstanding schools and students, but our overall performance is dragged down by the persistence of poverty.” Other studies have shown that when students living in poverty attend schools that predominately enroll low poverty students, they do much better than in their neighborhood schools.

We know how to deliver top quality education—we just do not make that education available to those students condemned to a lack of opportunity by what Ravitch calls our “exceptional and shameful rate of child poverty.”
--Michael Holzman, Schott Foundation for Public Education

Another Look at PISA
By Diane Ravitch
January 04, 2011
Education Week

Dear Deborah,

I have been fascinated by the continuing commentary and controversy about the results of the international tests of reading, mathematics, and science known as PISA (the Program for International Student Assessment). President Barack Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan immediately said that the mediocre standing of American students was "a Sputnik moment," which should produce strong support for their agenda of testing and privately managed schools. Others used the results to promote whatever their favorite remedy was.

Some worried that the high test scores of Shanghai were an omen that the Chinese were on the verge of world domination (forgetting that Shanghai is one city in China and not representative of China as a whole). Others looked admiringly at Shanghai's high scores and dreamed that American students might somehow be compelled to accept the rigorous discipline, large classes, after-school tutoring, and devotion to academic success that produced those scores. In The Wall Street Journal, Jiang Xueqin, the deputy principal of Peking University High School, lamented that those high scores were purchased by sacrificing such qualities as independence, curiosity, and individuality. Even educators in Shanghai, he wrote, recognize that the singular devotion to test scores was "producing competent mediocrity."

Many American educators looked longingly at Finland as a successful model. Finland seems to be the educational utopia that was envisioned by John Dewey but came to fruition in Finland. Here is a nation that avoids standardized tests altogether, that prizes teacher autonomy, and that has regularly achieved great academic success on PISA. Skeptics said that Finland was ethnically homogeneous, relatively prosperous, and not at all like our society, so held no lessons for us. And the debate goes on.

Two points are worth noting about PISA. First, the two top-scoring participants—Shanghai and Finland—both have strong public school systems. Neither is deregulating their schools and handing control over to private organizations. Different as they are, they achieved academic success by strengthening the public sector, not by deregulation and privatization.

The other salient factor about U.S. performance on international tests is that we have an exceptional and shameful rate of child poverty. Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution says that more than 20 percent of our children live in poverty, and she expects that proportion to increase to nearly 25 percent by 2014. As poverty deepens, Sawhill writes, we should be strengthening the safety net that protects the lives of the poorest. Robert Reich, the former treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, says that income inequality is higher now than it has been in many decades. Most of the nations (and cities) that compete on PISA have far lower child-poverty rates.

In recent years, we have become accustomed to hearing prominent reformers like Secretary Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and Joel Klein say that reference to poverty is just making excuses for bad teachers and bad schools. But there is plenty of evidence that poverty affects students' readiness to learn. It affects their health, their nutrition, their attendance, and their motivation. Being hungry and homeless distracts students and injures their health; living in an environment where drugs and violence are commonplace affects children's interest in academics. Living in communities where many stores and homes are boarded up, and where incarceration rates are very high, affects children's sense of possibility and their willingness to plan for the future.

Researchers for the National Association for Secondary School Principals disaggregated the PISA results by income and made some stunning discoveries. Take a look at this link ("PISA: It's Poverty Not Stupid"). It shows that American students in schools with low poverty rates were first in the world when they were compared with students in nations with comparably low poverty levels. Thus, the picture painted by doomsayers about American education is false in this respect. We have many outstanding schools and students, but our overall performance is dragged down by the persistence of poverty. Poverty depresses school achievement because it hurts children, families, and communities.

At a time of fiscal stringency, it seems crazy to talk about helping lift children and families out of poverty. Critics say, "We can't afford to do anything anymore," "Sorry, the money is all gone," "No one should pay any new taxes," "This is not a time for social innovation; it is a time for educational innovation." But in light of the overwhelming evidence of the dire consequences of persistent poverty, it seems even crazier to ignore it and to assume that we can reach the top of the international achievement tables by closing schools, firing teachers, and hastening privatization. These strategies will shatter already fragile communities. They will not give us schools that foster the creativity, originality, self-discipline, and initiative that we claim to value. They are strategies that avoid the hard, incredibly hard, task of economic improvement. Today's school reformers scoff at the idea of attacking poverty; it is so much easier to fire teachers. So long as we continue to avert our gaze from the festering problems bred by deep poverty and racial isolation, it seems unlikely that any school reform agenda can produce the transformation that our society seeks.


Link to article