Archives for category: Poverty

This is a wake-up call to the “reform” industry. For the past 15-20 years, they have been telling us that the biggest problems in education are low expectations, bad teachers, teachers’ unions, tenure, seniority, and the need for competition and accountability.

The nation’s top teachers, the people who are the best teachers in their states, don’t agree.

According to a survey of the nation’s teachers of the year, the biggest obstacles to student success today are family stress and poverty. We need a new reform movement that focuses on the real problems of our society, not the fake problems that generate profits for the education industry.

Lyndsey Layton reports in the Washington Post:

The greatest barriers to school success for K-12 students have little to do with anything that goes on in the classroom, according to the nation’s top teachers: It is family stress, followed by poverty, and learning and psychological problems.

Those were the factors named in a survey of the 2015 state Teachers of the Year, top educators selected annually in every U.S. state and jurisdictions such as the District of Columbia and Guam.

The survey, to be released Wednesday by the Council of Chief State School Officers and Scholastic Inc., polled the 56 Teachers of the Year, a small but elite group of educators considered among the country’s best, on a range of issues affecting public education.

Asked to identify the greatest barriers to student academic success, the teachers ranked family stress highest, followed by poverty, and learning and psychological problems.

Why don’t Congress and the states listen to the experts?

Seth Sandronsky and Duane Campbell respond to an article in The. Sacramento Bee that blamed Democrats and public school teachers for urban riots and uprisings.

They write:

“Public schools, teachers and their union lobbying efforts at the state Capitol are unable to address what really ails low-income households. There are too few jobs with livable wages in California. Nearly 1.3 million adults are officially unemployed, while California’s poverty rate is tops in the nation.

“At the same time, the Golden State also leads the United States in the number of billionaires – 131, up 23 last year, Forbes reports. We have an oligarchy amid broad-based poverty and inequality. Is this the fault of public education?

“Deindustrialization of Oakland, like that of Baltimore, creates a group of citizens who have no place in the mainstream. Police and prisons are their bitter fate in our new Gilded Age.

“Why are public schools, teachers unions and Democrats to blame for that?”

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/soapbox/article20776800.html#storylink=cpy

This comes from Michael Hynes, one of the best superintendents on Long Island, Néw York, epicenter of the Opt Out movement:

Public Schools Work- We Need to Focus Below the Iceberg

Everyone in American education hears the relentless and consistent criticism of our schools: Compared to schools in other nations, we come up short. But the evidence on which that judgment rests is narrow and very thin.

A January study released by the Horace Mann League and the National Superintendents Roundtable, “School Performance in Context: The Iceberg Effect,” challenges the practice of ranking nations by educational test scores and questions conventional wisdom that the U.S. educational system has fallen badly behind school systems abroad.

The study compared six dimensions related to student performance—equity, social stress, support for families, support for schools, student outcomes, and system outcomes—in the G-7 nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States) plus Finland and China. They then examined 24 “indicators” within those dimensions.
Of the nine nations, the United States remains the wealthiest with the most highly educated workforce, based on the number of years of school completed, and the proportion of adults with high school diplomas and bachelor’s degrees.

“Many policymakers and business leaders fret that America has fallen behind Europe and China, but our research does not bear that out,” said James Harvey, executive director of the National Superintendents Roundtable.
Despite high educational levels, the United States also reflects high levels of economic inequity and social stress compared to the other nations. All are related to student performance. For example, in American public schools today, the rate of childhood poverty is five times greater than it is in Finland. Rates of violent death are 13 times greater than the average for the other nations, with children in some communities reporting they have witnessed shootings, knifings, and beatings as “ordinary, everyday events.”

Some key findings:

• Economic Equity: The United States and China demonstrate the greatest gaps between rich and poor. The U.S. also contends with remarkably high rates of income inequality and childhood poverty.

• Social Stress: The U.S.reported the highest rates of violent death and teen pregnancy, and came in second for death rates from drug abuse. The U.S.is also one of the most diverse nations with many immigrant students, suggesting English may not be their first language.

• Support for Families: The U.S. performed in the lowest third on public spending for services that benefit children and families, including preschool.

• Support for Schools: Americans seem willing to invest in education: The U.S. leads the nine-nation group in spending per student, but the national estimates may not be truly comparable. U.S. teachers spend about 40 percent more time in the classroom than their peers in the comparison countries.

• Student Outcomes: Performance in American elementary schools is promising, while middle school performance can be improved. U.S. students excel in 4th grade reading and high school graduation rates, but perform less well in reading at age 15. There are no current studies comparing the performance of high school graduates across countries. All nations demonstrate an achievement gap based on students’ family income and socio-economic status.

• System Outcomes: The U.S. leads these nations in educational levels of its adult workforce. Measures included years of schooling completed and the proportion of adults with high-school diplomas and bachelor’s degrees. American students also make up 25 percent of the world’s top students in science at age 15, followed by Japan at 13 percent.

“Too often, we narrow our focus to a few things that can be easily tested. Treating education as a horse race doesn’t work,” said HML President Gary Marx.

American policymakers from both political parties have a history of relying on large, international assessments to judge United States’ school performance. In 2013, the press reported that American students were falling behind when compared to 61 other countries and a few cities including Shanghai. In that comparative assessment—called the Program for International Student Assessment—PISA controversially reported superior scores for Shanghai.

The study doesn’t oppose international assessments as one measure of performance. But it argues for the need to compare American schools with similar nations and on more than a single number from an international test. In a striking metaphor, the study defines test scores as just “tip of the school iceberg.”

A fair conclusion to reach from the study is that while all is not well in the American classroom, our schools are far from being the failure they are painted to be. Addressing serious school problems will require policymakers to do something about the huge part of the iceberg that lies below the waterline in terms of poverty and economic inequity, community stress, and support for families and schools. We must stop blaming public schools and demonizing educators. The problem is not at the tip of the iceberg, it is well below the surface.
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Michael Hynes is the superintendent of the Patchogue-Medford School District and member of the National Superintendent’s Roundtable

Stephen Colbert funded every request for aid by teachers in South Carolina. It is one of the poorest states in the nation.

No competition. No race. No quid pro quo. No mandates.

Help where it is needed. A good person. A hero, now on our honor roll.

Peter Greene was not happy with Nicholas Kristof’s column saying that–after twelve years of trying–school reform hasn’t worked out and it was time to pay attention to the youngest children, where research was clear and there was bipartisan agreement.

Here is a snippet of Greene’s outrage:

“Look, I believe there are a handful of reformsters who know better, and I’m sure plenty of them mean well. But this is just too much. I’m pretty sure that I read Kristof more often than he reads me. But I have a message for him anyway.

“Dear Mr. Kristof:

“Does a decade seem like a long time to work at education? Does working at education seem hard? While we’re at it, have you noticed that water is wet?

“This– this “well this has been difficult, it’s time to move on”– THIS is why from the first moment reformsters showed up on the scene, teachers across America rolled our eyes, squared our shoulders, and turned away. Because we knew that the day would come when the tourists decided they wanted to pack up and leave. Because you were not in it to get the job done.

“Reformsters were never the white knights or the saviors of education. The vast majority of reformsters were the people who swept into a home, pulled all the furniture out from the wall, burned the drapes (because you don’t want these old things) and started to tear the floor up. Then somewhere around day three, you declare, “Man this is hard, and this couch doesn’t fit against that wall (which we had told you all along)” and so you pack up, drive away, and leave the residents to put things back together.

“You think twelve years was a long time? I’ve been at this for thirty-six, and I have plenty more to go because there’s still work to do, and as long as I can do it, I will. Plenty of my colleagues have done and will do the same. You think educating in the face of poverty and lack of resources and systemic inequity is difficult? Many of my colleagues have been doing it for decades. But reformsters have been so sure that they didn’t need to listen to the locals. They and their giant balls knew better than any stupid teachers.

“Doing the education thing takes a lifetime. In fact, it takes more than a lifetime– that’s why we’ve constructed an institution that provides continuity above and beyond what we could get from any single human being.

“You think that the education thing is hard, “a slog,” after just a decade! You amateur. You dabbler! You tourist! Has the education reform movement “peaked”? Well, guess what! Education has not. We are still working at it, still striving, still doing our damnedest. When reformsters have moved on because it’s hard and challenging and a slog and not just as fun as it was a whole ten years ago, we will still be here, doing the job, educating students and doing it all in the midst of the mess created by a bunch of wealthy well-connected hubristic tourists with gigantic balls.

“You think education is hard? What the hell do you think dedicated teachers across this country are doing with their entire adult lives?!!

“So get out. Go. Move on to the next big opportunity and screw around with that until you’re all distracted by the next shiny object. Education is not the better for your passing through.

“Education needs people who will commit, people who are in it for the marathon, not the sprint, people who are willing to dedicate their whole lives to teaching because that’s the minimum that it takes. Students and communities need schools that are permanent stable fixtures, not temporary structures built to long as a reformster’s attention span.”

This is quite a remarkable admission. Nicholas Kristof writes today in the New York Times that the “reform” efforts have “peaked.” I read that and the rest of the column to mean that they have failed to make a difference. Think of it: Bill Gates, the Walton family, Eli Broad, Wendy Kopp, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, Florida Governor Rick Scott, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama, Michelle Rhee, Campbell Brown, and a host of other luminaries have been singing the same song for the past 15 years: Our schools are broken, and we can fix them with charters, vouchers, high-stakes testing, merit pay, elimination of unions, elimination of tenure, and rigorous efforts to remove teachers who can’t produce ever-rising test scores.

Despite the billions of dollars that the federal government, the states, and philanthropies have poured into this formula, it hasn’t worked, says Kristof. It is time to admit it and to focus instead on the early years from birth to kindergarten.

He writes:

For the last dozen years, waves of idealistic Americans have campaigned to reform and improve K-12 education.

Armies of college graduates joined Teach for America. Zillionaires invested in charter schools. Liberals and conservatives, holding their noses and agreeing on nothing else, cooperated to proclaim education the civil rights issue of our time.

Yet I wonder if the education reform movement hasn’t peaked.

The zillionaires are bruised. The idealists are dispirited. The number of young people applying for Teach for America, after 15 years of growth, has droppedfor the last two years. The Common Core curriculum is now an orphan, with politicians vigorously denying paternity.

K-12 education is an exhausted, bloodsoaked battlefield. It’s Agincourt, the day after. So a suggestion: Refocus some reformist passions on early childhood.

Wow! That is exactly what I wrote in “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools,” along with recommendations for reduced class sizes, a full curriculum, a de-emphasis on high-stakes testing, a revival of public policies to reduce poverty and segregation, and a recommitment to the importance of public education.

When I look at the Tea Party legislature in North Carolina or the hard-right politicians in the Midwest or the new for-profit education industry, I don’t think of them as idealistic but as ideologues. Aside from that, I think that Kristof gives hope to all those parents and teachers who have been working for years to stop these ideologues from destroying public education. Yes, it should be improved, it must be improved. There should be a good public school in every neighborhood, regardless of zip code. But that won’t happen unless our leaders dedicate themselves to changing the conditions in which families and children live so that all may have equal opportunity in education and in life.

Civil rights groups, led by Kati Hatcock of Education Trust, assert that standardized testing is a civil right. Without it, they say, black and brown children would be overlooked, neglected, forgotten. No one would know about the achievement gaps.

Of course, we do know about the achievement gaps in the nation, states and major cities whose NAEP scores are reported every other year. It is not necessary to test every child every year to report what is already known.

Nonetheless:

““Removing the requirement for annual testing would be a devastating step backward, for it is very hard to make sure our education system is serving every child well when we don’t have reliable, comparable achievement data on every child every year,” Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, said in recent testimony before the Senate education panel. Her group joined 20 civil rights organizations to lobby Congress to keep the requirement to test all children each year in math and ­reading.

“The civil rights argument adds a new dimension to one of the most contentious education issues in decades: whether standardized testing is good for students. Congress is wrestling with that question as it reauthorizes No Child Left Behind. The Senate education panel is expected to begin debating a bipartisan bill next week that would maintain annual testing, but it is unclear how the bill will fare in the House, where conservative Republicans want to drastically scale back the federal role in education.”

But Gary Orfield, a long-time civil rights watchdog, says that testing does not help minorities:

““The main victims of this misguided policy are exactly the people the civil rights groups want to help: teachers and students in high-poverty schools,” said Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA. The focus on math and reading has squeezed out science, social studies and the arts from high-poverty schools, he said.

“Tests don’t address the social problems that poor children bring to school or the fact that many start kindergarten already lagging behind more affluent children, he said.

“They also don’t fix the inequality of a public education system funded primarily by real estate taxes, where schools in wealthy communities are well equipped and attract the strongest teachers, while high-poverty schools often have fewer resources and weaker teachers, he said.

“The idea that you can just ignore the conditions that create inequality in schools and just put more and more pressure on schools and if that doesn’t work, add more sanctions, makes no sense,” Orfield said. “As if it’s just a matter of will for the students and teachers in these schools of concentrated poverty.”

The civil rights groups apparently are unaware if the history of standardized testing, and its ties to the eugenics movement. I wrote about that in chapter 4 of “Left Back.” Historically, standardized tests were used to deny educational opportunities to under served groups and to re-enforce theories of white supremacy, based on test scores.

Like school choice, standardized testing was a weapon used by racists to deny civil rights, not a force for civil rights.

Tim Slekar is dean of Edgewood College in Wisconsin. He is a tireless activist against mindless reform. He blogs at Busted Pencils. He explained in a comment why he was disappointed with the Senate version of the reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB:

Slekar writes:

“I’m not really that thrilled because while it addresses the excessive authority of the DOE, I can not find anything that recognizes the role poverty plays in the achievement gap and once again we have a bill that thinks improving schools is primarily the job of standards, curriculum, teachers and tests. Tests, Tests, Tests. Is it an improvement to get the federal government out of the school improvement business? Yes.

“However, why do we have any faith that state governments will actually attack the achievement gap without the status quo “test and punish” approach. Remember test and punish is an ideology that is still rooted in a hatred and disdain for public schools.

“This hatred and disdain is clearly present here in WI with “accountability” legislation being introduced at the state level that gives the finger to the feds but then simply puts in place a state level “test and punish” accountability system that will never help children, teachers and schools.

“It continues the system—test and punish—approach that blames public schools for the achievement gap. And there is nothing that allows the people to hold the state legislature accountable for purposely ignoring poverty and in a lot of cases creating the political culture that creates poverty.”

One of the central narratives of the faux “reform” movement is that poverty is just an excuse for bad teachers. In my book “Reign of Error,” I documented many reformers claiming that poverty can be overcome by high expectations and great teachers. The fact that test scores reflect family income, they say, demonstrates that poor kids are not getting great teachers.

But social science research has demonstrated for decades that poverty hurts children and families. It means less access to medical care, good nutrition, and good housing. It means that families lack economic security, a decent home, and the many advantages that middle-income and upper-income families take for granted.

Now, new studies of brain development are showing that poverty has even deeper effects on children’s health and well-being than previously suspected. The effects of living without the basic necessities of life can damage children’s life prospects. In this age of affluence and austerity, it seems wildly radical to say it, but I will: education will improve if we reduce poverty. Poverty will decrease if the federal government creates real jobs. Real jobs will be created if the federal government invests in rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

The problems of our society should be addressed by action. Demonizing teachers does not help children or improve education.

To learn more, read Bob Herbert’s powerful book, Losing Our Way.

Edward Placke is Superintendent of the Greenburgh-North Castle Unified School District, which serves students from urban areas who are primarily of African, Caribbean and Spanish heritage. All students are eligible for the federal free lunch program and are identified as disabled, primarily emotionally disabled. He wants the public to know that these students have been shamefully neglected in the state budget, for years.
There is a small yet growing cohort of students in our State that are identified as disabled with significant behavioral and psychological challenges, live in urban poverty and have found little success in their home public schools and other public schools such as District 75 and BOCES. As a result, there are few alternatives for these students. The ten New York State Public Special Act School Districts in our State have traditionally been the sole alternative; student live on the campuses in light of their family situation or commute daily from their communities. They provide a comprehensive education for these students to assist them to cross “The Bridge to Adulthood” with graduation rates that are significantly higher than the State average for student with disabilities. For most it is the last option before leaving school and facing those negative outcomes associated with not earning a high school diploma. Clearly Public Special Act School play a role in educational options for student with disabilities.

The Public Special Act School Districts are funded via a tuition rate in which the methodology is established by the New York State Education Department and all increases are approved by the Division of Budget overseen by the Governor. Four of the last five years the Public Special Act School Districts have not received an increase in tuition. As Teacher Retirement, Employee Retirement, New York State Health Insurance, utilities, materials and supplies have all significantly increased, the support from the Governor and our representatives have not. Our students do not have a voice as do the community school districts and charter schools. We do not have the resources to purchase billboards, run ads in the media and most disappointingly have very little parent involvement and advocacy. Therefore it is our elected representatives in Albany to be the voice for these most vulnerable students. They had an opportunity this week to include the Public Special Act School Districts in the budget to ensure our sustainability but they chose not to and once again ignored the most needy student cohort in our State.

As a former New York State Education Department Assistant Commissioner, public school administrator and teacher for over thirty years I have face a variety of challenges and disappointments. The unwillingness of our so-called representatives to advocate for the Public Special Act School Districts is certainly disappointing but repressible. The message this week from Albany is clear—community public school districts for the most part received an increase in State Aid and the Public Special Act School Districts that educate our most disabled poorest cohort of students were disregarded. My greatest fear based on Albany’s outright disregard for these key public districts and the students they educate is they will not exist in the very near future. At that point there will be a new generation of students. With time running out my only hope is the Governor will have the courage to be the voice for our students.

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