Now That’s What I Call Achievement!

In a recent post, I wrote about Jacob Fialkoff singing the national anthem, unrehearsed and before a large audience, as an example of an achievement that made Jacob aware of both his capabilities and possibilities. I then recommended that we replace standardized tests with that kind of opportunity for all students and, by doing so, redefine student achievement.

In this post, I want to do more than suggest; I want to offer a blueprint for redefining student achievement. The blueprint is a set of criteria to assess high school students at the conclusion of a course. It begins with setting goals for the development of the students as learners and thinkers and then giving them the strategies for developing in the ways we determined are best for them and then, at the end of the course, asking the students to pull it all together and create something new with both those strategies we have taught them and the content we have explored. A surefire result of what the students will produce is that they will amaze us, just as Jacob amazed his audience.

An excellent veteran teacher ran into Amy office after administering his first exams with  that set of criteria and exuberantly proclaimed, “I can’t believe my students did what they did! I didn’t know they could do it!” I have seen that same reaction from innumerable teachers.  Nothing fires teachers up more than to see their students achieve.

Here is the blueprint for redefining student achievement:

                                  CRITERIA FOR MIDTERM AND FINAL EXAMS

Exams that assess student learning require that students: 

  1. Use critical thinking to identify, examine, and analyze the controlling concepts of the course.
  2. Apply and integrate knowledge and learning strategies mqdeveloped during the semester.
  3. Collaborate to increase individual achievement by having their ideas broadened and deepened through dialogue with others.
  4. Think creatively to explore ideas or problems that pull the course together.
  5. Engage in a new challenge which is a learning experience in itself.
  6. Demonstrate individual achievement.
  7. Reflect upon and assess their own development as learners.

High school students of all abilities and in various school settings have demonstrated  achievement with this kind of exam. In a school district in which I supervised 33 high school English teachers who taught students of all abilities, from those who struggled as readers and writers to those who were in AP courses and earning college credit from the University of Connecticut, all the students took exams, based on those same criteria. I read all 99 exams every semester and responded at length to the teachers about the ways in which they required their students of differing abilities to fulfill each of the criteria.

A wonderful result of the agreed-upon exam policy was the energetic and creative discussions about teaching and learning that came about among us as we talked together about creating those exams and grading them. I have copies of those exams and am happy to sharek them with other districts eager to pursue this redefinition of student achievement.

This kind of exam has redefined student learning in both suburban schools and urban schools, even ones termed “failing schools” as determined by standardized test scores.  In one of those schools termed a “failing school”,  a veteran, highly regarded teacher, after teaching her first semester with curriculum goals of developing the students as learners and thinkers and grading her first set of exams that followed the “Criteria for Midterm and Final Exams”, said to me. “I now know what it is to teach.”

Working with teachers, talking with teachers, and respecting the professional knowledge of teachers – that’s how we can redefine student achievement. Hiring standardized testing companies that require us to teach only what a standardized test can measure  and implementing the low-level Common Core standards not written by anyone who teaches has been a short-cut, but a short-cut to nowhere. It’s now time to abandon that short-cut and engage teachers in redefining student achievement. The blueprint of the “Criteria for Midterm and Final Exams” points the way.

Redefining Student Achievement

There are all kinds of suggestions for improving student achievement – privatize public schools, increase the number of standardized tests that students take, implement national standards, and enforce no-excuses classroom discipline. None of these practices, however, have made a bit of difference. That is for two reasons. One reason is that the underlying causes of poverty and racial injustice have gone unaddressed, and the other reason is that standardized test scores can never measure achievement and, instead, reliably indicate only one thing: the income of the parents of the test taker.

So the first step in increasing student achievement is to redefine what we mean by achievement.  I recently witnessed something that crystallized for me what real achievement is.

I was at a ceremony in which community service awards were presented to three high school seniors and two adult members of the South Windsor, Connecticut community. A citation was read for each of the high school seniors and for the first of the two adult recipients, and they each gave a speech describing their impressive community service and the impact that service had on their own lives as well as the lives of others.

When it was time for the second adult recipient, Roseanne Sapula, to give her speech, she spoke about how honored she was to receive the award she regarded as prestigious and how she had tried to write a speech but gave up. It was clear that she gave up because her volunteer work with the Monday Night Social Group, a group comprised of 40 special needs individuals of high school age and older, was so close to her heart that it was hard for her to explain her interactions with those in the group in a short speech. She did tell the audience that thinking up new adventures for those young adults and new ways for them to be part of the larger community was her “calling”.

As Roseanne was talking, she looked out in the audience and spotted one of the members of the Monday Night Social Group, Jacob Fialkoff, a 20 year-old whom I later learned has cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder. She called out to him and asked him a favor. She explained to the audience that Jacob is scheduled to sing the National Anthem at the opening of the Connecticut Special Olympics and that he has a beautiful voice. She asked Jacob if he would sing it for all of us.

Jacob hesitated, probably feeling unprepared and that it was too much of a challenge at that moment. Roseanne, aware of his hesitation, asked him again, telling him that she would not be at the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics and would love to hear him sing the National Anthem. He still hesitated. Roseanne then asked him if he could do it just for her. He softly said OK.

Jacob stood up and began to sing. I have never a heard a more robust and pitch-perfect msinging of “The Star Spangled Banner”. Jacob has a singularly beautiful voice. As soon as he began singing, everyone in the audience stood up, faced the flag, put their hands over their hearts, and listened with rapt attention. I looked in the auditorium row behind me to see Jacob.  His face was full of confidence and pride in himself. He was standing tall and singing with all he had in him. The audience was full of people with tears in their eyes as those words, familiar to all of us, took on new meaning because of the magnificence of the singer. It was a moment I will never, ever forget.

Later, I asked Roseanne if Jacob had known that she was going to ask him to sing. She said no. She hadn’t even known he would be there. She explained that he hadn’t known about the award until a few minutes before the ceremony. He had been playing baseball in a field across from the auditorium and heard from someone at the game that Roseanne was receiving an award that night. When the game was called because of rain, he, in his rain-soaked clothes, ran across jband the street to see her receive her award.

The moment of Jacob singing the national anthem speaks for itself. It speaks about the love Roseanne has for Jacob and the love he has for her, about the confidence Roseanne has in Jacob and about how Jacob did what he, at first, thought he couldn’t do because of that confidence. Jacob did something new for himself. He was transformed by the experience. That is achievement.

Jacob’s singing the National Anthem, unrehearsed and on the spot out of love for the person who asked him, is what is missing in the conversation about increasing student achievement, which has been the illusive national goal since the passing of “No Child Left Behind” in 2001. We have tested and prepared kids for tests. And achievement doesn’t budge. We have declared that urban schools are “failing schools” and opened charter schools.  And achievement doesn’t budge. We have put in place Common Core standards.  And achievement doesn’t budge. We suspend and expel students at high rates, particularly in charter schools. And achievement doesn’t budge. That’s because we have been looking in the wrong places for achievement. We have been looking at standardized tests.

If, instead, we look at achievement as what Jacob did in that auditorium at the awards ceremony and ask our schools to do what Roseanne has done in her long relationship with Jacob, we would write a different story about what students can do.

Roseanne had a clear goal: to help Jacob to be all he could be and to integrate him fully into the community. She respected his gifts and had confidence in him further developing those gifts. She knew what he was capable of and asked him to do more than he asked of himself.  She asked him to show his world what he could do and, in doing that, learn more about his capabilities and more about his possibilities.

We can do the same with our students. With my work as an English teacher, as a district-level curriculum supervisor and evaluator of teachers, and as a curriculum consultant to at-risk schools, I know that it can be done across the board in our schools. Students can be asked to do something they have never done before, something that all of our work with them has prepared them to do, and, from doing it, become aware of their possibilities. Like Jacob singing unrehearsed before the people in his community, our students will be transformed by what they do. And they will delight us.

When Jacob sings “The Star Spangled Banner” at the opening of the Special Olympics, he will be a different young man than he was before Roseanne asked him to sing at the awards ceremony.  He will know for sure that he has a world full of exciting possibilities before him.

Let’s look to Roseanne and Jacob to help us, as a nation, redefine achievement. By doing that, we will give a future full of possibilities to all of our children.

 

(Note: Photo is of Roseanne Sapula in the middle, Jacob Fialkoff on the right, and Brenden Prattson, another member of the Monday Night Social Club, on the left.)

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth Warren and K-12 Education: More Information Needed

Elizabeth Warren needs to let us know her views about K-12 education and what policies she advocates for improving education. Right now, as Steven Singer explains, it’s difficult to figure out where she stands.

At a recent rally in Oakland, CA, Warren allowed herself to be introduced by a divisive, union-opposing supporter of charter schools when, as Singer points out, “charter schools,  enrolling 6% of all U.S. students, cannibalize the funding for the 90% that attend authentic public schools.”

Singer questions why Warren would want to associate herself with those who fund charter schools, the privatizers of public education who often are the hedge fund billionaires that she battles over other issues.

Singer also discusses the ambiguous message that Warren gives when she strongly opposed opening new charter schools in Massachusetts when lifting the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts was put to a vote. Yet, she also is on record as saying, ” Many charter schools in Massachusetts are producing extraordinary results for our students, and we should celebrate the hard work of those teachers and read what’s working to other schools.” I agree that we should always celebrate the hard work of teachers, but as a public official and a member of the U.S. Senate on the education committee, Elizabeth Warren must be consistent: either advocate for more charter schools or, like the NAACP, call for a moratorium on new charter schools.

Similarly, Elizabeth Warren, along with all of the other Presidential candidates, must articulate her position on standardized testing. Thus far, Warren has received an F from the Network for Public Education for her past support of standardized testing as the measure of student achievement and readiness for their future. Singer states that high stakes standardized tests, whose results always and forever have been correlated to the income of the students’ parents, “have unfairly assessed students for decades, and tests have been used as an excuse to deny poor and minority students the resources they need to succeed.”

Singer also comments that Warren’s education policy advisor is Josh Delaney whose credentials are that he took the 5-week crash course to become a Teach for America teacher, taught for two years, and then had a career as an “expert” in education. Singer seems to be alluding to the fact that there is a wealth of research about issues in K-12 education – charter schools, standardized testing, segregation, equitable funding, and class size, to name a view and many knowledgeable and experienced people who could be part of her team.

Singer’s point in his article is not to deny Elizabeth Warren the Democratic nomination or the Presidency but to urge her to research the issues confronting K-12 education and to state her positions clearly.

Hopefully, that is how a Democrat will win the White House and how the Democratic candidate will be on the forward-moving side of history as President.

 

K-12 Education: Democrats Must Choose Between Plans Of Biden and Sanders

Two plans about how to improve K-12 are before us. Which one are the Democrats to choose: Bernie Sanders’ plan or Joe Biden’s plan?

Both candidates presented their plans as centerpieces of their campaigns, Sanders announcing his on the 65thanniversary of Brown vs. the Board of Education, the landmark case making school segregation unlawful, and Biden making his plan the first policy rollout of his 2020 campaign. The differences in the plans tell us about both candidates and give the Democratic Party a choice about where to make its stand about K-12 education.

Difference #1: Biden and Sanders give two different views about teachers.                

Joe Biden sees teachers as suffering financially, stating incorrectly that “public school teachers’ average weekly wage hasn’t increased since 1996” and calling for using Title I funds (federal money targeted for at-risk schools) to increase their pay. Biden’s pledge is to “support our educators by giving them the pay and dignity they deserve”.  It is not just pay he wants to give teachers but also dignity.

Sanders seeks a different way to fund the same need for increased teacher pay. He advocates working with states to set a starting salary for teachers at no less than $60,000, tied to cost of living, years of service, and other qualifications; he also advocates protecting collective bargaining.  Sanders’ plan addresses more than salary increases; he addresses the professional excellence of teachers as he pledges to “give teachers a much deserved raise and empower them to teach”.

Biden, throughout his plan, has a condescending tone and portrays teachers as being without “dignity”, as victims. Sanders’ plan has a different tone in which the dignity of teachers is not in question. Sanders’ plan refers to the high professionalism of teachers. Biden, referring to teachers’ lack of dignity, treats teachers as “less than”. He fails to recognize that dignity is not something that can be given to another – although respect is.

Difference #2: Biden and Sanders both articulate the need for underserved children of color to have teachers of color but differ about how to recruit those teachers.

Biden advocates a fast track: providing training in non-university programs that have no professors, no classes, and no research-base to the practices they advocate and offer little chance of “graduates” passing state certification exams, such as a program that calls itself the Relay Graduate School of Education. Without certification, those trained in non-university programs are ineligible to teach in public schools but can find jobs in charter schools because those schools hire uncertified teachers.

Sanders, on the other hand, advocates the establishment of a dedicated fund to create and expand teacher education programs at historically black colleges and universities, minority-serving institutions, and tribal colleges and universities so that those already qualified and accepted at institutions of higher learning will be attracted to the teaching profession and prepared to enter it.

Sanders’ plan ensures the quality of teachers far better than Biden’s plan. Sanders calls for teachers who are “the best and the brightest educational professionals”. Biden calls for teachers who are under-qualified and get into classrooms by the fastest route.  With Biden’s plan, needy students who would benefit the most from their teachers being “the best and the brightest” will get teachers who are not qualified but quick.

Difference #3: Biden and Sanders have two different views about racial inequities as a leading cause of poor student achievement.

 Biden refers in his plan only obliquely to the fact that no one should be denied opportunities and resources for learning due to being a student of color. Sanders, on the other hand, identifies segregation and racial inequities as being a leading cause of poor student achievement. He specifically calls for providing federal funds to increase community-driven strategies for de-segregating schools especially at-risk schools, to enforce the 1964 Civil Rights Act, to address disciplinary practices in schools that disproportionately affect students of color, to fund school transportation that increases integration, and to increase funding for magnet schools as a means of increasing integration.

Sanders’ plan recognizes poverty and racism as central factors in poor student achievement. He does not follow past administrations which held teachers and schools accountable for raising standardized test scores without addressing the underlying causes of racial inequities and poverty.

Difference #4: Biden and Sanders differ about what they mean by safe schools.  

Biden plans to defeat the NRA and champion legislation to ban assault weapons.

Sanders, similarly, plans to enact comprehensive gun violence prevention laws. In addition, Sanders plans to pass the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act into law to protect the rights of LGBTQ students, enforce Title IX which assures gender equity, and ensure that immigrant children are free from harassment and surveillance at school, regardless of their immigration status. Certainly guns have no place in schools; neither does bullying or harassment. Sanders view of a safe school is far more expansive than what Biden offers. Sanders addresses the day to day safety of every student in every school.

Difference #5:  Biden and Sanders define a successful high school differently.

Biden’s plan states that the primary function of middle schools and high schools is to prepare students for jobs.  He plans to replace high school courses with courses that will give students industry credentials, actual licenses in the trades, gained by graduation from high school so they will exit to high school directly to jobs.  Biden also advocates that high school students take courses at community colleges that can count for credit in both high school and college; thereby, requiring students to take fewer courses and learning less but moving through their education faster.

Sanders, in the other hand, states that, in the 21st century, a rigorous and comprehensive high school education is just the beginning of what students need and, by itself, is not enough. He says that education beyond high school is necessary for all young people and advocates tuition-free public colleges and universities.

With Biden’s plan, a successful high school is one that gives students the quickest path to jobs, even earning industry credentials in high school. Sanders looks at the workforce needs of the 21st century as more complex and requiring a solid high school education, followed by further education in a trade or in colleges or universities.

Difference #6: Sanders takes a firm position in opposition to charter schools. Biden is silent about charter schools.

 Charter schools use taxpayer money for privately-managed schools that have no accountability for how that taxpayer money is spent. Charter schools have greater segregation than public schools. The NAACP has called for a moratorium on funding any new charter schools and accountability for existing charter schools because of their racial inequity and lack of financial transparency.  The charter school industry sets up an alternate school system, takes money from the public school system, and offers no greater student achievement.

Sanders supports the NAACP moratorium on public funds being used for charter school expansion until a national audit is completed and halting the use of public funds to underwrite new charter schools. Sanders states that the country does not need two parallel, taxpayer- funded school systems and insists that we invest in our public schools.

Sanders’ plan states that charter schools, since they use public, taxpayer funds, must:

  • Comply with the same oversight requirements as public schools.
  • Disclose student attrition rates, non-public funding sources, and financial interests.
  • Match employment practices with the local school district, including standards set by collective bargaining and restrictions on exorbitant CEO pay.
  • Allow teachers to unionize.

The words “charter schools” do not once appear in Biden’s plan for K-12 education. That is not acceptable. Those running for public office, most importantly for the Presidency, must take a stand on all charter schools, both the 95% that present themselves as non-profit and the 5% that present themselves as for-profit.  To object just to the 5% and not the other 95%, as some speculate Joe Biden may eventually do, is to give full approval and a green light to the other 95% of charter schools and accomplishes nothing.

Two candidates. Two different perspectives. Two different policy statements.

As an experienced educator of many years, having taught middle and high school English, been a central office administrator for curriculum and instruction, taught teacher preparation courses at universities, and been a consultant to schools at risk, I can tell you that the Bernie Sanders plan shows an understanding of what it means to learn and what it means to teach. Joe Biden’s plan does not.

With the goal of unseating Betsy DeVos and her boss in the White House, I hope that the Democratic Party heeds what Bernie Sanders is saying and makes his positions its own.

Joe Biden’s Plan for Education: Democrats Must Do Better

What  a disappointment Joe Biden’s education plan is.

Democrats must do better.

” Joe’s Plan for Educators, Students, and our Future” does not mention at all the important issues before us in American education. No mention of the funding of privately managed, taxpayer funded, and publicly unaccountable charter schools. No mention of the NAACP call for a moratorium on adding new charter schools because of their racial inequities and their lack of accountability. No mention of standardized testing and the damage that testing does to student learning and the inaccuracy of standardized testing as the dominant way to assess student achievement and potential. No mention of the Common Core and how those standards have done nothing to improve student achievement and how they have removed meaningful and necessary learning from the curriculum of the nation’s schools. Unfortunately, Joe Biden’s plan is poorly written, full of platitudes, and lacks substance.

Democrats must do better.

Joe Biden’s plan calls for actions that would be incredibly damaging to children in K-12 schools in this country.

Joe Biden’s Call to Action #1:

Joe Biden’s plan called for: “more innovative approaches to recruiting teachers of color, including supporting high school students in accessing dual enrollment classes that give them an edge in teacher preparation programs and helping paraprofessionals work toward their teaching certificate”. Of course, we must work to increase the numbers of teachers of color in our schools, but we must do it in ways that honor their intelligence and capabilities and produce excellent teachers. Biden’s proposal neither honors the intelligence and capabilities of people of color nor will produce excellent teachers.

It’s silly to suggest that high school students be taking courses to give them “an edge in teacher preparation programs”.  High school students will best develop their minds and become knowledgeable teachers in the future by engaging in a rigorous high school curriculum not by participating in teacher preparation courses at ages 14-18.

Also, prospective teachers of color deserve the same quality of teacher preparation as other prospective teachers. The “innovative approach to recruiting teachers” mentioned in the plan refers to the bankrupt approach of the Relay Graduate School of Education, which is not a school and does not provide a graduate education. It is a mill to quickly produce “teachers” for the charter school industry. It has been dubbed “the McDonald’s approach” because the program, like the food, is fast and of poor quality. Daniel Katz, Director of Secondary Education and Secondary Special Education Teacher Preparation at Seton Hall University, sums it up like this:

It is a “Graduate School of Education” that has not a single professor or doctoral level instructor or researcher affiliated with it. In essence, it is a partnership of charter school chains Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First… Relay’s “curriculum” mostly consists of taking the non-certified faculty of the charter schools, giving them computer-delivered modules on classroom management (and distributing copies of Teach Like a Champion), and placing them under the auspices of the “no excuses” brand of charter school operation and teachers who already have experience with it.

What Joe Biden is suggesting is an approach to teacher education that produces inadequate teachers to be the faculty for our neediest students. That approach does not in any way fulfill the standards put in place for programs that prepare future teachers in  accredited colleges and universities. Activating Joe Biden’s proposal would produce a markedly inferior teaching force. In fact, in Connecticut, only 38% of the first cohort of The Relay Graduate School of Education even passed the necessary licensure tests.

Call to Action #2:

Joe Biden calls for a high school education that provides a vocational curriculum which “will allow students to earn an industry credential upon high school graduation”. One can only imagine what courses that teach students how to write effectively, how to read thoughtfully, how to do math proficiently, how to think scientifically, how to express themselves artistically, or how to understand history expansively students would have to skip in order to graduate from high school as a credentialed electrician.

Biden says in his plan that he “will provide every middle and high school student a path towards a successful career”. Middle school and high school are much more than paths to careers. They are the prime means for adolescents to develop as increasingly independent learners as well as critical and creative thinkers. We must not deny adolescents that development so necessary for them as individuals and so necessary for the nation as a whole.

Democrats must do better.

Democrats must not simply unseat Betsy DeVos. Democrats must not simply return to the discredited agendas of the past: charter schools, standardized testing, and the Common Core. Democrats must provide vision. Democrats must understand what it is to learn and what it is to teach. Democrats must lead us forward as a nation through equity and excellence in K-12 public education.

Please, Joe, revise your plan and write it better. Please, other Democratic candidates, get it right.

 

Charter Schools: A Promise Gone Bad

Bernie Sanders called for oversight and accountability for existing charter schools and a moratorium on opening any new charters until regulations are in place when he announced his plan last Saturday for K-12 education. The NAACP had already called for oversight and accountability for existing charter schools and a moratorium on opening any new charter schools. Now members of Congress, including Jahana Hayes from Connecticut, wrote to the Secretary of Education, pointing out the misuse of federal funds by the charter school industry and demanding accountability and regulation of charter schools.

Charter schools are a promise gone bad. The country is catching up to that fact. Members of Congress want to end the waste of money and the resulting damage to children, both those who are in charter schools and those who are in public schools that are minus teachers and resources because of the funds siphoned off and given to                   unaccountable and unreliable charter schools.

Please let the Members of Congress who are working to bring quality education to all children by supporting public schools and opposing the unregulated and unaccountable  charter school industry know of your appreciation by calling or writing to them.

Read about those Members of Congress below and read their letter by clicking the link at the end of the brief article.

 

Congressional Leaders Take DeVos to Task and Demand Answers

by dianeravitch

A group of leaders in Congress wrote to Betsy DeVos to complain about her Department’s failure to demand accountability from the Charter Schools that win federal funding. She has $440 million to hand out to charters, and she has chosen to shower millions on corporate charter chains like IDEA, KIPP, and Success Academy. All of these chains are super rich. They don’t need federal aid.

The charter industry is angry because the House Appropriations Committee cut Betsy DeVos’s request from $500 million to $400 million. Tough. She uses the Charter School Program as her personal slush fund.

The fact is that the charter industry wants to play a game of pretending to be progressive while sleeping with Trump and DeVos. Sorry, that doesn’t make sense. You can’t be funded by rightwing ideologues and still be “liberal.” You can’t take Walton money and pretend to be progressive. You can’t be anti-union, pro-segregation and claim to be progressive. Nope.

As the charter industry grows more defensive, watch them cry  “racism.” Please note that many of the signatories of this letter are Black and Hispanic. Note that one of them is Jahana Hayes, the Connecticut Teacher of the Year who was elected in 2018.

The letter can be found here.

K-12 Public Education: Front and Center in the 2020 Election

At last!  At last!  At last!  A candidate for President of the United States has recognized that the bedrock institution of our democracy is in peril, and the same forces of greed and racism that are working to destroy other elements of our society also threaten the very foundation of our society: K-12 public education.

That presidential candidate is Bernie Sanders.

Honoring the 65th anniversary of Brown vs. The Board of Education, the Supreme Court case which outlawed segregation in public schools, Senator Bernie Sanders unveiled his education plan, a comprehensive 10-point agenda, called The Thurgood Marshall Plan for A Quality Education for All.

The bold assertion that Senator Sanders’ plan makes is that every child has the right to a quality education.

In his plan, Senator Sanders endorses the NAACP’s call for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools.  The NAACP calls for that moratorium because it has determined that:

  1. Charter schools have failed in fulfilling their original purpose to innovate and infuse new ideas into traditional public schools. There has been no carryover from charter schools to traditional public schools. Charter schools have not, in any way, been learning labs which try out new ideas that benefit the larger population of students in public schools.
  2. The education that charter schools provide is questionable. The large scale study of student data from the Center for Research Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute found that 17% of charter schools produced academic gains better than traditional public schools, 37% of charter schools performed worse than their traditional public schools counterparts serving similar students, 46% of the schools showed no difference.  Reducing class size, not charter schools, the NAACP states, is how to improve student achievement.
  3. Charter schools take public tax money but are privately managed and do not tell the public how they spend the public’s money.
  4. Charter schools do not accept their share of children with learning issues or who do not speak English as their first language.
  5.  Charter schools “counsel out” students who will not be successful on measures such as standardized tests or graduation rates.
  6. Charter schools have mostly inexperienced, short-term, uncertified teachers.
  7. Charter schools suspend and expel students for behavioral issues at a much higher rate than traditional public schools.

The NAACP opposes charter schools because it insists that children of color have the same rights as white suburban children to a quality education. Similarly, Bernie Sanders’ plan for K-12 education insists on the same fundamental right to a quality education for all children. Sanders’ plan points out that the proliferation of charter schools has disproportionately affected communities of color and increased school segregation– 17 percent of charter schools are 99 percent minority, compared to 4 percent of traditional public schools.  Charter schools stand in opposition to the chief tenet of Brown vs.The Board of Education: A separate education is NOT an equal education.

In addition to issues of racial equity, Senator Sanders’ plan addresses the funding of charter schools.

First of all, billionaires like DeVos and the Waltons (Walmart) together with private equity and hedge fund executives, have bankrolled charter schools and poured tens of millionst into school board and other local elections in order to privatize public schools, and, therefore, control how children are educated and make profits for themselves, such as by buying buildings and then renting out those buildings to charter schools.

Secondly, the Sanders plan points out that charter schools are led by private entities that take substantial tax money but owe no accountability as to how that money is spent. One example of unregulated and unaccountable funding in Connecticut is that heads of charter schools gave themselves salaries in excess of superintendents’ salaries in much larger public school districts and districts in wealthy communities. Tax filings for 2014 show that the two chief executive officers of Achievement First Public Charter Schools each made just over $260,000 and the executive director of Domus, which oversees two charter schools in Stamford, was paid $325,000 while tax filings from 2013 show that the school district superintendent in wealthy Greenwich was paid  $235,00, and the superintendent in Hartford, a school district with 20,000 students, five times the enrollment of the Achievement First schools in Connecticut, was paid $194,000. With no oversight or accountability to taxpayers, charter school administrators are free to determine what to pay themselves.

Thirdly, the Sanders plan highlights how charter schools drain funds from public schools. Charter schools are given the per pupil funds that would have been allotted to the public schools and keep that funding even if students leave or are dismissed from the charter schools and return to traditional public schools.  The public schools, of course, are minus the per pupil funding that accompanied the children who enrolled in charter schools.

Charter schools have been able to function in impoverished communities in ways that more affluent and politically savvy communities would not tolerate. Who in more affluent communities would allow their children to go to schools in which there is no accountability for how the taxpayer money is spent, inexperienced teachers who turn over every two years, racial segregation, disregard of the needs of special education learners, and students being dismissed from school or held back a grade in order to boost the school’s test scores or graduation rates?  The answer is no one.

So how will Bernie Sanders stop the damage to communities caused by unregulated charter school growth? His plan states that, as President, Bernie Sanders will fight to:

  • Ban for-profit charter schools and support the NAACP’s moratorium on public funds for charter school expansion until a national audit has been completed to determine the impact of charter growth in each state. That means halting the use of public funds to underwrite new charter schools.
  • Invest in our public schools system. We do not need two schools systems. That said, existing charter schools must be made accountable by:

– Mandating that charter schools comply with the same oversight requirements as public schools.

– Mandating that at least half of all charter school boards are teachers and parents.

– Disclosing student attrition rates, non-public funding sources, and financial interests.

– Matching employment practices at charters with neighboring district schools, including standards set by collective bargaining agreements and restrictions on exorbitant CEO pay.

–   Supporting the efforts of charter school teachers to unionize and negotiate contracts.

Bernie Sanders has done his homework. He gets it. He knows how to move education in this country forward by enforcing the perspective of those who founded our democracy. He understands what John Adams wrote:

“The Whole People must take upon themselves the Education of the Whole People and must be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one Mile Square without a school in it, not founded by a Charitable individual but maintained at the expense of the People themselves.”

Like John Adams, Bernie Sanders advocates a strong public school system as the foundation of our democracy. The charter school industry has taken us off course; we must invest in our public schools so that our democracy thrives.

And Bernie Sanders is showing us the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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