Archives for the month of: May, 2020

Every state is facing financial catastrophe because of the economic consequences of the pandemic. Jan Resseger argues that Congress must pass legislation to avert draconian cuts to education, public health, and other vital public services. The states are facing a national crisis not of their making, and a responsible Congress would promptly enact fiscal relief. Under Mitch McConnel, we do not have a responsible Congress.

Resseger begins:

There is plenty of confirmation from the experts about the 50 states’ desperate need for additional federal relief dollars for school districts to open public schools next fall. Without immediate help from Congress, state budget cuts will diminish educational opportunity especially for the school districts that serve our nation’s poorest children. We must not take for granted that public schools will be able to provide the same programs for our children as they did before what promises to be a deep recession. The pending school funding crisis—across all 50 states—has received scanty coverage in the press, which has paid more attention to whether, how, and when schools can reopen. Here are the grim fiscal realities.

On May 15, the House passed a new federal relief program—the HEROES Act (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act), but the U.S. Senate went on a Memorial Day Recess prior to even taking up the bill. Education Week‘s Evie Blad reports: “The HEROES Act would create a $90 billion ‘state fiscal stabilization fund’ for the U.S. Department of Education to support K-12 and higher education. About 65 percent of that fund—or roughly $58 billion—would go through states to local school districts. The bill would also provide $1 billion to shore up state and local government budgets that have been hard hit by declining tax revenues as businesses closed to slow the spread of the virus.”

The HEROES Act passed by the House on May 15 is far from perfect. The New York Times Editorial Board explains: “The Democratic-led House passed a $3 trillion relief package on May 15. That bill was imperfect but it was something. Mr. McConnell, on the other hand, has repeatedly said he’s in no hurry for the Senate to offer its own proposal. He has put talks on an indefinite pause, saying he wants to see how the economy responds to previous relief measures. The Senate may get around to putting together a plan when it reconvenes next month. Or perhaps it will be in July.”

School districts cannot plan for essential staff like teachers, counselors, nurses, social workers, and librarians when their state budget allocations are being reduced right now before the fiscal year ends on June 30—with more state budget cuts projected moving into next fiscal year. The director of state policy research for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Michael Leachman explains: “As economic projections worsen, so do the likely state budget shortfalls from COVID-19’s economic fallout. We now project shortfalls of $765 billion over three years…. States must balance their budgets every year, even in recessions… The coronavirus relief bill that the House passed on May 15, the HEROES Act, includes substantial state and local fiscal relief… States will need aid of this magnitude to avoid extensive layoffs of teachers, health care workers, and first responders….”

The Economic Policy Institute’s Josh Bivens rejects Mitch McConnell’s argument that Congress should wait and see about the need for additional federal stimulus dollars: “Congress is currently debating a new relief and recovery package—the HEROES Act—that would deliver significant amounts of fiscal aid to state and local governments—more than $1 trillion over the next two years, all told. This is a very welcome proposal. The incredibly steep recession we’re currently in is guaranteed to torpedo state and local governments’ ability to collect revenue. Further, nearly all of these governments are tightly constrained—both by law as well as by genuine economic constraints—from taking on large amounts of debt to maintain spending in the face of this downward shock to their revenues… Recent justifications for denying aid to state and local governments sometimes rest on claims that this spending has been profligate in recent years. This is absolutely not so—growth in state and local spending has been historically slow for nearly two decades. Given the importance of what this spending focuses on (education, health care, public order), this decades-long disinvestment should be reversed, not accelerated due to an unforeseen economic crisis.”

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David Berliner, one of our nation’s most eminent researchers, advises parents not to worry that their children are “falling behind.” School is important. Instruction is important. But “soft skills” and non—cognitive skills matter more in the long term than academic skills. Relax.

He sent this advice to the blog:

Worried About Those “Big” Losses on School Tests Because Of Extended Stays At Home? They May Not Even Happen,
And If They Do, They May Not Matter Much At All!

David C. Berliner
Regents Professor Emeritus
Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ.

Although my mother passed away many years ago, I need now to make a public confession about a crime she committed year in and year out. When I was young, she prevented me from obtaining one year of public schooling. Surely that must be a crime!

Let me explain. Every year my mother took me out of school for three full weeks following the Memorial Day weekend. Thus, every single year, from K through 9th grade, I was absent from school for 3 weeks. Over time I lost about 30 weeks of schooling. With tonsil removal, recurring Mastoiditis, broken bones, and more than the average ordinary childhood illnesses, I missed a good deal of elementary schooling.
How did missing that much schooling hurt me? Not at all!

First, I must explain why my mother would break the law. In part it was to get me out of New York City as the polio epidemic hit U.S. cities from June through the summer months. For each of those summers, my family rented one room for the whole family in a rooming house filled with working class families at a beach called Rockaway. It was outside the urban area, but actually still within NYC limits.

I spent the time swimming every day, playing ball and pinochle with friends, and reading. And then, I read some more. Believe it or not, for kids like me, leaving school probably enhanced my growth! I was loved, I had great adventures, I conversed with adults in the rooming house, I saw many movies, I read classic comics, and even some “real” literature. I read series after series written for young people: Don Sturdy, Tom Swift, the Hardy Boys, as well as books by Robert Louis Stevenson and Alexander Dumas.

So now, with so many children out of school, and based on all the time I supposedly lost, I will make a prediction: every child who likes to read, every child with an interest in building computers or in building model bridges, planes, skyscrapers, autos, or anything else complex, or who plays a lot of “Fortnite,” or “Minecraft,” or plays non-computer but highly complex games such as “Magic,” or “Ticket to Ride,” or “Codenames” will not lose anything measurable by staying home. If children are cared for emotionally, have interesting stuff to play with, and read stories that engage them, I predict no deficiencies in school learning will be detectable six to nine months down the road.
It is the kids, rich or poor, without the magic ingredients of love and safety in their family, books to engage them, and interesting mind-engaging games to play, who may lose a few points on the tests we use to measure school learning. There are many of those kinds of children in the nation, and it is sad to contemplate that.

But then, what if they do lose a few points on the achievement tests currently in use in our nation and in each of our states? None of those tests predict with enough confidence much about the future life those kids will live. That is because it is not just the grades that kids get in school, nor their scores on tests of school knowledge, that predict success in college and in life. Soft skills, which develop as well during their hiatus from school as they do when they are in school, are excellent predictors of a child’s future success in life.

Really? Deke and Haimson (2006), working for Mathmatica, the highly respected social science research organization, studied the relationship between academic competence and some “soft” skills on some of the important outcomes in life after high school. They used high school math test scores as a proxy for academic competency, since math scores typically correlate well with most other academic indices. The soft skills they examined were a composite score from high school data that described each students’ work habits, measurement of sports related competence, a pro-social measure, a measure of leadership, and a measure of locus of control.

The researchers’ question, just as is every teacher’s and school counselor’s question, was this: If I worked on improving one of these academic or soft skills, which would give that student the biggest bang for the buck as they move on with their lives?

Let me quote their results (emphasis by me)
Increasing math test scores had the largest effect on earnings for a plurality of the students, but most students benefited more from improving one of the nonacademic competencies. For example, with respect to earnings eight years after high school, increasing math test scores would have been most effective for just 33 percent of students, but 67 percent would have benefited more from improving a nonacademic competency. Many students would have secured the largest earnings benefit from improvements in locus of control (taking personal responsibility) (30 percent) and sports-related competencies (20 percent). Similarly, for most students, improving one of the nonacademic competencies would have had a larger effect than better math scores on their chances of enrolling in and completing a postsecondary program.

​This was not new. Almost 50 years ago, Bowles and Gintis (1976), on the political left, pointed out that an individual’s noncognitive behaviors were perhaps more important than their cognitive skills in determining the kinds of outcomes the middle and upper middle classes expect from their children. Shortly after Bowles and Gintis’s treatise, Jencks and his colleagues (1979), closer to the political right, found little evidence that cognitive skills, such as those taught in school, played a big role in occupational success.

Employment usually depends on certificates or licenses—a high school degree, an Associate’s degree, a 4-year college degree or perhaps an advanced degree. Social class certainly affects those achievements. But Jenks and his colleagues also found that industriousness, leadership, and good study habits in high school were positively associated with higher occupational attainment and earnings, even after controlling for social class. It’s not all about grades, test scores, and social class background: Soft skills matter a lot!

Lleras (2008), 10 years after she studied a group of 10th grade students, found that those students with better social skills, work habits, and who also participated in extracurricular activities in high school had higher educational attainment and earnings, even after controlling for cognitive skills! Student work habits and conscientiousness were positively related to educational attainment and this in turn, results in higher earnings.

It is pretty simple: students who have better work habits have higher earnings in the labor market because they are able to complete more years of schooling and their bosses like them. In addition, Lleras’s study and others point to the persistent importance of motivation in predicting earnings, even after taking into account education. The Lleras study supports the conclusions reached by Jencks and his colleagues (1979), that noncognitive behaviors of secondary students were as important as cognitive skills in predicting later earnings.
So, what shall we make of all this? I think poor and wealthy parents, educated and uneducated parents, immigrant or native-born parents, all have the skills to help their children succeed in life. They just need to worry less about their child’s test scores and more about promoting reading and stimulating their children’s minds through interesting games – something more than killing monsters and bad guys. Parents who promote hobbies and building projects are doing the right thing. So are parents who have their kids tell them what they learned from watching a PBS nature special or from watching a video tour of a museum. Parents also do the right thing when they ask, after their child helps a neighbor, how the doing of kind acts makes their child feel. This is the “stuff” in early life that influences a child’s success later in life even more powerfully than do their test scores.

So, repeat after me all you test concerned parents: non-academic skills are more powerful than academic skills in life outcomes. This is not to gainsay for a minute the power of instruction in literacy and numeracy at our schools, nor the need for history and science courses. Intelligent citizenship and the world of work require subject matter knowledge. But I hasten to remind us all that success in many areas of life is not going to depend on a few points lost on state tests that predict so little. If a child’s stay at home during this pandemic is met with love and a chance to do something interesting, I have little concern about that child’s, or our nation’s, future.

Bowles, S., & Gintis, H. (1976). Schooling in Capitalist America. New York: Basic Books.

Deke, J. & Haimson, J. (2006, September). Expanding beyond academics: Who benefits and how? Princeton NJ: Issue briefs #2, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Retrieved May 20, 2009 from:http://www.eric.ed.gov:80/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/28/09/9f.pdfMatematicapolicy research Inc.

Lleras, C. (2008). Do skills and behaviors in high school matter? The contribution of noncognitive factors in explaining differences in educational attainment and earnings. Social Science Research, 37, 888–902.

Jencks, C., Bartlett, S., Corcoran, M., Crouse, J., Eaglesfield, D., Jackson, G., McCelland, K., Mueser, P., Olneck, M., Schwartz, J., Ward, S., and Williams, J. (1979). Who Gets Ahead?: The Determinants of Economic Success in America. New York: Basic Books.

Larry Buhl of Capital & Main reports on Betsy DeVos’s raid on federal funds intended for public schools and small businesses. Her cv overriding goal has been unwavering for at least 30 years: privatization of public schools.

She has no intention of letting a crisis go to waste.

Congress thought it was appropriating new money to help public schools, but DeVos has insisted that the money must be distributed by enrollment numbers, not by need or poverty.

Count on DeVos to put charters and voucher schools first and to disregard the public schools that enroll the vast majority of the nation’s students.

Betsy DeVos has been rebuked by Congress, even by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, but she refuses to back down from her plan to force states and school districts to share emergency funding with private schools, even elite private schools.

Erica L. Green writes in the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, defiant amid criticism that she is using the coronavirus to pursue a long-sought agenda, said she would force public school districts to spend a large portion of federal rescue funding on private school students, regardless of income.

Ms. DeVos announced the measure in a letter to the Council of Chief State School Officers, which represents state education chiefs, defending her position on how education funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, should be spent.

“The CARES Act is a special, pandemic-related appropriation to benefit all American students, teachers and families,” she wrote in the letter on Friday. “There is nothing in the act suggesting Congress intended to discriminate between children based on public or nonpublic school attendance, as you seem to do. The virus affects everyone.”

A range of education officials say Ms. DeVos’s guidance would divert millions of dollars from disadvantaged students and force districts starved of tax revenues during an economic crisis to support even the wealthiest private schools. The association representing the nation’s schools superintendents told districts to ignore the guidance, and at least two states — Indiana and Maine — said they would.

Humorist Andy Borowitz of the New Yorker recommends moving the GOP convention from North Carolina to Moscow.

The GOP has friends there. No protests.

Los Angeles is trying to figure out how to reopen its schools, safely but with no assurance about how they will pay for the changes.

Sixteen students to a class. One-way hallways. Students lunch at their desks. Children could get one ball to play with — alone. Masks are required. A staggered school day brings on new schedules to juggle.

These campus scenarios could play out based on new Los Angeles County school reopening guidelines released Wednesday. This planning document will affect 2 million students and their families as educators undertake a challenge forced on them by the coronavirus crisis: fundamentally redesigning the traditional school day.

The safe reopening of schools in California and throughout the nation compels the reimagining — or abandoning — of long-held traditions and goals of the American school day, where play time, socialization and hands-on support have long been essential to the learning equation in everything from science labs and team sports to recess and group work.

The Los Angeles County Office of Education guidelines offer an early top-to-bottom glimpse at the massive and costly changes that will be required to reboot campuses serving students from preschool through 12th grade, critical to reopening California. The 45-page framework was developed through the work of county staffers, outside advisors and representatives from 23 county school systems, each of which must develop its own reopening plan….

When campuses closed in mid-March, school systems scrambled to develop a new style of education on the fly — one that relied on “distance learning.” Administrators quickly handed out computers and internet hot spots. Teachers trained on Zoom and other online platforms. Parents oversaw learning at home, even as they faced economic hardship.

Despite these Herculean efforts, school leaders and teachers report uneven student engagement and impediments to learning at home, underscoring the importance of an academically robust return to campus — even as the governor’s proposed budget envisions a cut for schools of about 10%.

The Wall Street Journal wrote about how different districts are planning their reopening in the fall.

Students wearing masks, eating lunch in classrooms and attending school in person only two days a week are among the scenarios being looked at in school districts throughout the U.S. planning to reopen in the fall.

Children who are academically behind or without internet access would get preference for in-person learning under some proposals. Other plans prohibit sharing school supplies and desks closer than six feet apart, and limit parents and other visitors on campuses.

Most school districts won’t decide on their plan until the summer. Some haven’t yet shared their ideas publicly, others are surveying parents and staff for input. Schools are trying to end the largest remote-learning experiment ever—more than 50 million students at home—as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s tough. A school is not designed for social distancing, it’s designed for massive groups of people. We’ll have hand sanitizer all over the place. We’re exploring masks. Will a kindergartner keep a mask on all day at school?” said Gerald Hill, superintendent of the West Bloomfield School District in Michigan.

The pressure is on to reopen schools so parents can get back to work. Some school districts planning a mix of in-person and remote learning are working to offer full-day child care.

Some districts are considering year-round schooling to allow students to catch up academically and have flexibility in case a second wave of the virus hits. Others are thinking about starting school early to help students catch up.

“It’s apparent to me that, because of the circumstances, year-round school is now more valuable than ever,” said Jonathan Young, a school board member in Richmond Public Schools in Virginia, where the method is being considered. “I’m really concerned about our students. Many of them arrived already unprepared. Now, because of Covid, that problem has been exacerbated.”

Dr. Hill in West Bloomfield plans to use a split schedule to educate his 5,700-student body. Classes would be divided into two groups, with each attending two different days a week. All students would learn remotely on Wednesday so schools can be deep-cleaned. Students struggling academically would attend school in person three days a week. Dr. Hill said the district is seeking community input and open to tweaks.

Some states are creating guidelines for reopening but leaving it up to local school districts to create their own plan

Juan Gonzalez is a veteran journalist who wrote a regular column for the “New York Daily News” for many years. He retired from the “News” but frequently appears on “Democracy Now” as co-host with Amy Goodman. Gonzalez is renowned as an investigative reporter and champion of justice. He wrote this post for the blog.


New Brunswick, New Jersey Community Fights to Save a Public School
From Corporate Hospital Industry Expansion

A plan by the political and financial elite of Central New Jersey to demolish a downtown New Brunswick public school this summer so that one of the state’s largest hospital chains can embark on a $750-million expansion has provoked repeated street protests since January, drawn hundreds of angry parents and community residents to public meetings and has already spawned two lawsuits – even in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown.

​The fight to save the Lincoln Annex Public School has emerged as a classic David-and-Goliath battle. On one side are New Brunswick’s low-income Latino residents. More than 50 per cent of the city’s population is Hispanic. Most are immigrants from Mexico and Central America, and many reside in rented houses surrounding the downtown business district. They have garnered support from a dozen Rutgers student organizations and the Rutgers faculty union, AAUP-AFT.

Arrayed against that community alliance is a group of powerful and entrenched institutions that have long pursued a policy of gentrifying the city. They include Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, the Rutgers Cancer Institute, the New Brunswick Development Corp. (DEVCO), and the Middlesex County Democratic Party machine, led by Mayor James Cahill, who has ruled New Brunswick for nearly 30 years.
​​​
​Last June, RWJ/Barnabas Health, Rutgers and several major state politicians announced plans to build a new 12-story $750-million cancer research and treatment pavilion. At the time, however, they didn’t specify the exact location of the new building, even though internal emails later obtained by parent advocates show they had already decided where. Within months, some local media began reporting that talks were underway behind the scene for the city’s Board of Education to sell a public middle school across the street from RWJ, so that the school could be demolished and the cancer pavilion erected there.

​Lincoln Annex School has an enrollment of 760 children, more than 94% of them Hispanic and more than 80% from economically disadvantaged families. Many parents of the students are not eligible voters and therefore have very little political influence. The school, however, was only opened in September of 2016, after the city purchased the former St. Peter’s elementary and high school, and completely renovated the site at a cost to taxpayers of $22 million. As a result, Lincoln Annex is in far better condition than other schools in the district, and it happens to be one of the city’s best performing schools, with an excellent gifted and talented program.

​Throughout the fall and winter, hundreds of parents and residents began attending the monthly school board meetings to ask if it was true that the city was about to sell their school. At each meeting, the BOE members insisted these were just rumors, or informal discussions, that nothing was on the table. Not until early February did Mayor Cahill officially acknowledge the school would be sold and demolished by this summer. He immediately launched a public relations campaign, claiming “cancer can’t wait,” and he labeled opponents of the plan as somehow opposed to cancer treatment.

​The plan is to relocate the Lincoln Annex students in September to a “swing space” the school district leases on the outskirts of town, nearly two miles from the current Lincoln Annex. The building is actually a warehouse in an industrial park that was converted into classrooms. The students would attend that “swing space” for at least three years until a replacement school is built. Given the notorious delays in school construction, it could likely be much longer. The last school population that was relocated there, the Redshaw School, ended up with pupils spending 10 years in the facility due to such delays.

​Robert Wood Johnson and its developer, DEVCO, have promised to pay for the new school. Initially, they mentioned $25 million. But as community opposition grew, they upped the offer to $50 million, then to $55 million. Still, the students would have to be bused to the “swing space” for years while the new school is built, disrupting their education.

​To make matters worse, Mayor Cahill initially proposed a vacant brownfield site also on the outskirts of town for the new replacement school. The Coalition to Defend Lincoln Annex, the alliance of community groups that formed, soon obtained state environmental records that revealed the site was hopelessly contaminated with heavy metals and carcinogenic chemicals, which the city and its private owners had not been able to remediate after 10 years of effort. Once the group made that information public, the city came up with a new site, one closer to the current Lincoln Annex, but one that is still a contaminated brownfield site. The extent of that contamination is not known because of delays in state responses to freedom of information requests since the COVID-19 lockdown.

​All the while, parents and community residents mounted numerous protests – at Board of Education meetings, at meetings of the Rutgers Board of Governors, at City Council meetings and at Planning Board meetings, but officials continued to ignore the public pressure and bulldoze ahead. As many as 200 people showed up to the Feb. 25 board of education meeting, all in opposition.

​Even the Catholic Church was drawn into the fray. When the Diocese of Metuchen sold the site to the Board of Education in 2013, it specifically included a deed restriction that the property had to be used as a “public school or for public administrative purposes” for fifty years. The parents, most of whom are Catholic, began to ask Bishop James Checchio to invoke the deed restriction and prevent the sale. They even appealed to Cardinal Joseph Tobin in Newark and to Pope Francis for help. Church leaders have declined to meet, but the bishop keeps issuing statements that he wishes to reach some kind of agreement with all parties.

​Faced with such overwhelming uproar, the New Brunswick Board of Education has resorted to limiting public testimony, ousting people from meetings, conducting official business in private, and otherwise violating state regulations on how to close or erect new public schools.

​Even after the coronavirus pandemic erupted, city officials kept moving forward with their plans, holding all meetings in telephonic conversations that further limited public participation. Initially, they claimed that the new school would not cost taxpayers a penny because Robert Wood Johnson would pay for the whole project. But then early this month, the Middlesex County Freeholders suddenly voted out of the blue to provide $25 million for the new cancer pavilion.

​At one point, members of the Coalition attempted to seek help from New Jersey’s non-profit Educational Law Center, which famously spearheaded the historic Abbott v. Burke decision thirty years ago that mandated the equalizing of state funding for public schools. But the center never responded. Only later did Coalition members learn that David Sciarra, the civil rights attorney who heads the law center, is also on the board of directors of DEVCO, the non-profit developer that is sponsoring this project!

​The Coalition eventually went outside of New Jersey, to a New York based Hispanic civil rights law firm, LatinoJustice/PRLDEF. Last week LatinoJustice filed two key actions. One is a complaint in Middlesex County Superior Court on behalf of parents and residents to enforce the deed restriction against a sale and raising key issues of violations of due process in the decision to sell the school. The other is a complaint to New Jersey Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet, asking him to reject the Long-Range Facilities Plan that New Brunswick submitted a few weeks ago to the state, which must approve any school district’s amendments to its school facilities.

​The degree of wealth and power confronting this parent-community coalition is breath-taking. Twenty executives of the the non-profit RWJ hospital and its parent chain received more than $1 million in compensation in 2018, a review of their IRS 990 tax form shows, topped by RWJ/BarnabasHealth’s CEO Barry Ostrowsky’s $4.9 million, northern regional president Thomas Biga’s $3.5 million, and RWJ President John Gantner’s $2.1 million. Dr. Steven Libutti, director of the Rutgers Cancer Institute, was paid $1.1 million; Christopher Paladino, the chief executive of DEVCO, received nearly $700,000. All of this raises serious issues about how public education policy is being driven by corporate interests, how public officials are seizing on the COVID-19 pandemic, in shock doctrine style, to push through their agenda without public accountability, and why a supposed “sanctuary city” like New Brunswick is running rough-shod over the interests of its immigrant community.
​Meanwhile, parents and community leaders have repeatedly said they will continue to resist the sale of Lincoln Annex.

​For more information, follow Defend Lincoln Annex on facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/Defendamos-Lincoln-Annex-110326327234225/

This would not normally be news, but in the a Trump era, when science is disregarded, it is amazing.

The Oklahoma Legislature approved state science standards that include evolution and climate change!

The e-word — “evolution” — is unabashedly used: for example, a high school standard for biology expects students to be able to “[c]ommunicate scientific information that common ancestry and biological evolution are supported by multiple lines of empirical evidence.”

Anthropogenic climate change is also straightforwardly acknowledged: for example, a disciplinary core idea in Earth Systems is that “Changes in the atmosphere due to human activity have increased carbon dioxide concentrations and thus affect climate.”

In contrast, the old standards conspicuously avoided use of the e-word, and even their limited treatment of climate change was challenged by the legislature, which repeatedly tried but ultimately failed to block their adoption, as NCSE previously reported.

The new standards were submitted to the legislature for its approval on March 2, 2020. A resolution to approve the standards (House Joint Resolution 1041) passed the House on a 97-2 vote on May 13, 2020, but was not considered by the Senate before adjournment