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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Philanthropy: Not The Answer For Connecticut’s Public Schools

The news is full of the story of the Dalio Philanthropies donating $100 million to the Connecticut public schools. But is private philanthropy the best way to fund public education? I think not.

The Prize by Dale Russakoff documents the disaster it was when Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million, which was matched by another $100 million from other philanthropists, to improve public education in Newark, NJ.  The failure has been attributed to the “parachuting in”  of outside consultants rather than rallying the forces within the school system and to the political football the $200 million became among local officeholders, among them Cory Booker and Chris Christie. Similarly, Bill and Melinda Gates gave over $400 million to design, promote, and implement the Common Core Standards. The Common Core Standards, designed without input from educators,  have greatly reduced the quality of education for students and produced absolutely no increase in student achievement, even by the weak measure of standardized test scores. The results of these well-intentioned philanthropic efforts: NOTHING.

The way to create a state of the art public school system is not found in hand-outs, no matter how generous or how headline-worthy. Instead the way to create a state of the art public school system is:

  • To engage the professionals, the educators, in determining how students best develop as learners and thinkers and then creating curricula to maximize that development.
  •  To provide students in impoverished neighborhoods the same advantages that children in affluent suburbs have: small class size; libraries; guidance counselors, social workers, and special education teachers with reasonable case loads; ongoing professional development for teachers and administrators; adult mentors for students; and clean, well-supplied facilities.
  •  To provide dependable and equitable tax-supported funding from the state and federal governments, funding that can be counted on year after year because it is from the tax base and approved by the voters.

In a democracy, it is the moral responsibility of the citizenry, through their taxes, to fund public education and the moral responsibility of the government to make sure that the allocation of those funds is equitable and the education is of the highest quality for all students.

Philanthropy cannot replace the responsibility of either the citizens or the government. Philanthropy cannot produce the complete and effective K-12 education for all children that a democracy requires.

…………………………

Please read the following article from CT Mirror in response to the donation of the Dalio Philanthropies:

        Philanthropy to the rescue? Not in New Haven schools

 

STOP: KINDERGARTEN SHOULD NOT BE THE NEW FIRST GRADE

How wrong. And how sad.

Nancy Bailey, a veteran special education teacher and noted author explains, in this excerpted article, how we came to hear that statement and why it is so wrong. And so sad.

NCLB was a bi-partisan bill signed into law in 2002 during the Bush administration’s push for school reform.

We now recognize how punitive the bill was, its troubling use of one-size-fits-all standardized testing to demonize and close public schools, the punitive AYP and “highly qualified” teacher credentialing changes, the unrealistic predictions that all children would be proficient in reading by 2014, and the push for unproven charters and choice.

NCLB also created terrible changes when it came to reading instruction, and the impacts are still felt today by children across the country.

Many parents and educators continue to embrace the recommendations by the same individuals who were connected to failed NCLB policy. They subscribe to harmful ideology that claims children must read early, preferably in kindergarten, or they are failures, and that teachers and their education schools don’t know the right way or the “science” to teach reading.

However, teaching reading in kindergarten is developmentally inappropriate! We have monumental research by early childhood developmental researchers that goes back years. We know what is developmentally important to teach at what times.

As far as learning to read goes, language develops from the moment a child is born, and there are many wonderful ways to promote the joy of reading.

Some children easily acquire reading skills without formal phonics instruction. They are curious about words and are able to sound letters out as they listen to and enjoy picture books. They may read well before they start school.Other children learn a little later. And some with disabilities may need extra assistance with a formal phonics program.

Repeatedly testing young children to find out how they read at such an early age would be better spent reading out loud lovely, funny, engaging picture books, and letting children develop their language skills through play!

First grade formal reading might include a combination of sounding out words and reading simple texts, but the school curriculum should be well-rounded, including the arts, science, social studies and other subjects that grab a child’s interest.

By the end of first grade if a child is not interested in reading, can’t remember the alphabet, or rhyme, and other developmental milestones they may need extra help. But even then, a child might be a little slower to read.

Early childhood specialists like those at Defending the Early Years (DEY) and the Alliance for Childhood, recognize this and have written a number of reports telling about the dangers of forcing children to read in kindergarten. My post “Setting Children Up to Hate Reading” has been my most popular blog post.

Race to the Top and Common Core State Standards continued to promote this faulty thinking surrounding NCLB. Common Core State Standards are also developmentally inappropriate for young children. See: “A Tough Critique of Common Core On Early Childhood Education,” Valerie Strauss the Answer Sheet.   

The societal shift in the belief that children must read by kindergarten, or they are destined to fail, is forced and misguided.

When children don’t read well by kindergarten, parents panic and believe something is wrong and their child needs remediation.

So they push children harder! This creates a Catch-22 scenario. Children sense something’s wrong. Reading becomes unenjoyable and something to fear.

All of this takes place before a child sees the inside of a first grade classroom!

Two strategies that parents consider to cope with kindergarten being the new first grade are:

  •  Delaying kindergarten a year so the child is older and developmentally ready to read when that child gets to kindergarten.
  • Repeating kindergarten. This makes kindergarten more developmentally appropriate for the child in the second year, but retention can be socially defeating for a child.

The better solution, the only developmentally appropriate one, is:

Bring back kindergarten! Quit repetitively testing children! Get those play kitchens and sand tables out of the closet! Don’t only say that kindergarten shouldn’t be the new first grade! Bring back kindergarten!

 

Listen And Remember

Listen to Emma’s profound silence.

Remember what took place a year ago today at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School.

Remember the silence of students crouched in closets, hiding from the sound of an automatic weapon being fired in their school.

Listen to the loudmouth lack of silence from the President of the United States as he played golf while Emma Gonzales stood without words.

Listen to the silence of the Members of Congress when students, teachers, and parents asked them to address  gun violence.

Pray that  Emma Gonzales’s silence speaks for a new ethic, a new beginning for this country weary with the noise of violence and corruption.

Listen. Listen. Listen.

Listen to Emma’s minutes of  silence and then speak up to make our schools safe. Listen to Emma’s minutes of silence and then speak up for legislation about gun violence.

Our children need us to listen and then not be quiet any longer.

 

Connecticut Education Needs A New Direction From The Top

According to new research from several European economists, children of same sex parents do better in school than children of parents of different sexes. They have higher test scores and graduate at a higher rate than kids who have parents of different sexes.

If one wanted to be cynical about Connecticut’s efforts to close the large and gaping achievement gap among the students in the state, one might suggest that the state give tax breaks and other incentives to same sex couples who become parents and penalize couples of different sexes if they  have more than one child in order to increase test scores.

That wouldn’t be the solution, of course, because standardized test scores and graduation rates are foolish measures of achievement.  The scores of all standardized tests, from the SBAC in Grade 3 to the SAT in Grade 12, are indications chiefly of the income of the parents and the zip code of the home. Also, graduation rates are reported in unreliable ways – either by dismissing from the school or holding back a grade those students who will not graduate as charter schools have done or by giving students watered-down learning experiences that count as course credit as public schools have done.

The recent research study about the sex of the patents points out that a socio-economic factor applies to its findings. Using a large data base of 1,200 children raised by same sex couples and more than a million kids raised by different sex couples, researchers found that same sex couples were often wealthier than different sex couples. This did not come as a surprise to the researchers since same sex couples often use fertility treatments to have a child, and those treatments are expensive. The cause and effect of high test scores and high graduation rates, therefore, is more complex than the sex of the parents.  One of the lead economists, Deni Mazrekaj, said, when presenting the research to the American Economic Association conference in January, ” Research shows that socio-economic status positively influences the school outcomes of children.” As encouraging and affirming as the recent research is about families with parents of the same sex, the report leaves us in Connecticut with the same basic questions to answer:

  • Do we want standardized tests and graduation rates to be our measure of student learning?
  • Can we ever close a gap in test scores when the scores are based on income inequality?

Governor Lamont and the State Board of Education are in the process of selecting a new Connecticut Commissioner of Education. It’s time for Connecticut to take the lead in the nation in defining what achievement is and how to assess it. To do that, we must have a Commissioner of Education who pushes hard that Connecticut:

  1. Stops using test scores and graduation rates as the measures of school success.
  2. Gives students of poverty the same experiences that more affluent children have: read to them, encourage their questions, give them ample opportunities to converse and to write,  let them express themselves with art and music, give them knowledgeable adults as role models, invite then to explore the wonders of science, literature, history, and diverse cultures, teach them to be diligent in their work habits, and take them on adventures through which they  get to know the world and claim it as their own. Most of all, invite them to be constructors of their own knowledge – to be learners.
  3. Assesses students authentically, asking them to demonstrate skills they will need to be successful, skills never, ever able to measured on standardized tests.  We could assess students on real world skills that Tony Wagner (Harvard Graduate School of Education) suggests: 1) critical thinking and problem solving, 2) initiative and entrepreneurialism, 3) collaboration, 4) agility and adaptability,  5) effective oral and written communication, 6) accessing and analyzing information, and 7) curiosity and imagination.
  4. Stops asking the question: How can we close Connecticut’s achievement gap? Let’s ask, instead: How can we best develop all children as learners and thinkers – the children who have two moms, the children who have two dads, the children with a dad and a mom, the children of poverty, and the children of affluence.

If we do these four actions, there will be a future research team that analyses what has caused the graduates of Connecticut’s schools to be so successful beyond high school, what has caused the graduates of Connecticut’s schools to be making such a difference in the world. Connecticut will have led the country in demonstrating what real achievement is.

 

 

 

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