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 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.

The NAACP Tells It As It Is

An English teacher friend of mine was a finalist for Connecticut Teacher of the Year in the mid 90’s.  As one of the culminating steps in the selection process, the four finalists were assigned a topic little was known about at the time. They were instructed to research it and present their findings to an audience.

The topic was charter schools.There were no charter schools in Connecticut at the time. My friend concluded that the worth of charter schools would depend on the answers to two questions:

1) Will the innovations created at charter schools inform and improve the public schools that the vast majority of children and adolescents in the U.S. attend?

2) Will charter schools be held accountable to address student needs as traditional public schools are required to do?

Fast forward to 2017: We now have had charter schools in Connecticut for 21 years. The answers to my friend’s two questions came from the NAACP.

The NAACP, long concerned about the education of children of color, in 2016 passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on opening any more charter schools across the country. Then, from December 2016 through April 2017, a NAACP task force conducted a listening tour, focusing on seven states (including Connecticut), to gather information about existing charter schools and K-12 public schools in general. The answers to my friend’s two questions were part of the report of the NAACP Task Force entitled “Quality Education For All … One School At A Time” . 

The NAACP Task Force Report answered the first question with an emphatic NO. The report states: “Charter schools were created with more flexibility because they were expected to innovate and infuse new ideas into the traditional public school system. However, that aspect of the promise never materialized”. There has been no carryover from the charter schools to the traditional public schools. Charter schools have not been learning labs, free from the restrictions imposed on public schools, which try out new ideas that benefit the larger population of students in public schools. Charter schools have failed in fulfilling their original purpose.

The NAACP Task Force Report also states that, in addition to not improving education in general, the education that charter schools provide to their students is questionable. The report quotes a large scale study of student data from the Center for Research Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute that 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.  The NAACP Task Force Report goes on to state that there are better ways, other than charter schools, to improve student achievement, such as reducing class size.

The NAACP Task Force Report answered the second question with a resounding NOT YET and made specific recommendations for holding existing charter schools accountable.  The NAACP report criticizes charters for taking public tax money but not letting the public know how they spend that money. The report also criticizes charter schools for not accepting its share of children with learning issues and children who do not speak English as their first language and for counseling out students who will not be successful on measures such as standardized tests or graduation rates. In addition, the report criticizes charter schools for giving students inexperienced and uncertified teachers and for suspending and expelling students for behavioral issues at a much higher rate than traditional public schools.

The report recommends that only local boards of education, which are responsive to the voters in the school district, be allowed to authorize and supervise charter schools, not appointed state boards of education or appointed state departments of education.  Charters then would be required have the same level of fiscal transparency and accountability as the traditional public schools in the district. The report also calls for charter schools to have open enrollment and to “not select and reject students based on their educational or behavioral histories and needs”. In addition, the report calls for charter schools to hire certified teachers and to follow the same regulations as traditional public schools regarding suspending and expelling students.

The NAACP Task Force Report insists that children of color have the same rights as white suburban children. How sad that in 2017 that right still needs to be demanded. But it does. The NAACP Task Force Report must be listened to and enacted in order to make real the civil rights of children.

 

 

Protect Transgender Students

What have we come to as a country when we no longer protect our children? What have we come to as a country when we are afraid of our own children?

The removal yesterday of Obama era protections for transgender children in our schools shames us as a country. The fact that our government sees those children as people to fear embarrasses us as a country.

Please read “DeVos Concedes to Sessions and Fails her First Civil Rights Test”.  It was written by Jason Courtmanche, who is Director of the Connecticut Writing Project at the University of Connecticut and conducts professional development for teachers across the state of Connecticut. Jason cites research that tells us that 30% of transgender youth have attempted suicide, 42% have self-injured, 63% have been bullied, and the suicide and self-injuring rates are four times the rates for straight or gender-conforming youth. Also, more than 50 percent of transgender youth avoid school on a regular basis, drop-out of school at staggering rates, and 75% of them report feeling unsafe in school.

Yet our government has decided to increase the risk to these children. Why?  Because Jeff  Sessions and Donald Trump have the power to do so. We, the voters, gave them that power. Shame on us.

The new federal ruling, because it preferences states’ rights, leaves in place Connecticut’s 2011 law that outlawed transgender discrimination, but we in Connecticut must not be complacent. Other states do not offer that protection. We must speak for those students. We must also show our Connecticut students that we are people of integrity and oppose injustice wherever we see it. We, as adults, must be the voice for all children. We, as educators, must stand up for students throughout our nation.

If you are a teacher or a school administrator, please post “DeVos Concedes to Sessions and Fails her First Civil Rights Test” in your faculty room. If you are a parent of a school age child, please bring a copy of “DeVos Concedes to Sessions and Fails her First Civil Rights Test” to your next parent meeting at your child’s school and share it with other parents and teachers. If you are the parent or grandparent of a transgender child, hug that child with a fierce tenderness in the name of all of us who oppose the shameful and fear-mongering ruling of the Trump administration.