Archives for category: Equity

Peter Greene is well-known as a blogger, a teacher, a columnist for Forbes, and a humorist. He taught in the public schools of Pennsylvania for nearly 40 years. He wrote this article at my request.

He wrote:

I believe in public education.

I believe in the promise that every child should have a free quality education. And not by going out to shop for it, to hunt it down like looking for deals on a toaster or a used car, nor to travel far from home to find it, nor to have to beg and apply and hope that the school will accept them, but to have it delivered to them in their own community without exception.

Not that we’ve always hit the bullseye in this country. Our system of tying school financing to housing leaves much to be desired. The same forces of racism and economic inequity that twist and turn our society as a whole also leave their mark on our education system. Those forces include the rise of “I’ve got mine, Jack” culture in which folks don’t want to have to worry about what anyone else needs.

We’re living through a time of unprecedented assault on public education. Members of the data cult, free market advocates, social engineers, profiteers and privatizers (some sincere in their concern, and some motivated by base opportunism) are looking for ways to dismantle the system, disenfranchise parents and taxpayers, and to “liberate” billions and billions of taxpayer dollars. Their ranks are filled with education amateurs who don’t really know what the heck they’re talking about. 

What none of these disruptors promise is an education system that delivers a quality education to every single child in the country. Nor do they promise accountability to the taxpayers who fund the system, nor a system that is owned and operated by the citizens of the community. 

Only public education has those goals as its North Star.

I devoted my professional life to public education because I believe in it. I believe in the goals and promise of public education. I believe that every child in this country deserves a chance to learn, to grow, to discover and become their best selves, to learn what it means to be more fully human in the world (a whole host of things beyond the measure of a bad standardized test). I believe in a system that brings trained, qualified professionals into every community, for every child. 

We will always struggle with challenges. What is required for a quality education? How can each child’s individual needs best be mt? What makes a good teacher? But as long as our North Star is the promise of public education, and not a higher test score or a better ROI, we can navigate those difficult discussions. And we can navigate them in a thousand different ways, as individual communities work out the local education system that best suits them.

That’s the other beautiful part of our public education system—it’s not actually one education system, but thousands and thousands of local individual systems set in every kind of community imaginable. All the variety present in America is there in our schools as well. It is a big, beautiful, sprawling, messy monument to our highest aspiration, our dream that every child can grow and rise because we all, together, work to lift every child up. 

So I believe in the promise of public education. May we continue to sail toward that North Star.

Valerie Jablow is a parent advocate in the District of Columbia. Here she remembers Elizabeth Davis, the president of the Washington Teachers Union, who died tragically in an automobile accident on Easter evening. She was part of the new wave of teacher unionism, which is social justice unionism, a commitment not just to the benefits of teachers but to the well-being of students and to their opportunity to have a well-resourced and equitable education.

Teaching for Change posted this beautiful tribute to Liz Davis and her amazing life in DC. It is both a very welcome personal history–and the story of our DC schools.

Indeed, Liz Davis’s work as the head of the Washington Teachers’ Union has lived larger in my life as a DCPS parent than that of all other DC education leaders I have known put together—and touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of other DC residents. Just since the start of 2021, my email inbox has broadly distributed messages from Liz about needed action on nearly every current pressing matter in DC education, including the research practice partnership, DCPS re-opening, PARCC testing, a survey about teacher computers, re-examining school governance, and school librarians being excessed.

Our mayor may be in control of our schools—but no mayor, and no other elected or appointed leader in DC, has ever been in command of DC education advocacy and justice like Liz Davis. Her tenacity in the face of injustice has been both balm and shield for everyone who has battled for better schools in DC.

Yet always, always, behind everything I ever knew she did or said was that quiet, unflagging belief in a better, more equitable future, which seems to be the legacy of every great teacher. When I chose to sue DC over the chancellor selection panel excluding teachers, parents, and students and had only a few plaintiffs, Liz Davis simply put me in touch with a teacher who agreed to be a plaintiff. Then, without a word otherwise, Liz had the WTU submit an amicus brief. That document was indeed a friend (per the Latin word amicus) in what was for me, a DCPS parent, a notably unfriendly proceeding.

It is hard for me to believe that someone who was so alive is gone–and so suddenly. 

The last email I got from Liz was a letter to the chancellor about IMPACT, DCPS’s teacher review process. Fittingly, it came on April Fool’s Day.

Her last phone call to me was Easter morning, when she left a voicemail about a special education committee meeting this week she thought I might want to know about–and then noted what she thought were two important posts from this blog regarding IMPACT (here and here).

How lucky have we been to have known Liz Davis–and what a great teacher we have lost.

Privatization of important parts of the public sector is a great scourge of our times. No institution is more fundamental to the American Dream than public education, and it is under assault by powerful and well funded forces. By billionaires who have dreams of lower taxes and libertarians who want to destroy whatever government provides. We must fight privatization of the goods and services that belong to us.

Frankly we should join together to fight for a society where there are no billionaires and no poverty. Let us agree to take care of one another and have a fairer society, where everyone has a decent standard of living, where there is no hunger or homelessness. I recommend a book called The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, in which two British sociologists-Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett-demonstrate that societies with more equality are happier than those where great inequality persists. By contrast, scan Bloomberg Billionaires Index. I am not a socialist, but I don’t believe we should have either billionaires or poverty.

The pandemic impoverished millions of people. But the billionaire class got richer, much much richer. Senator Bernie Sanders said recently that the fifty richest people in this country have wealth equal to the bottom 50 percent of the population. That is gross, disgusting, obscene inequality.

Our nation and its democratic ideals are being undermined by extremes of wealth and income. The middle class is struggling not to slip into poverty.

From Forbes in 2018:

In the 1950s, a typical CEO made 20 times the salary of his or her average worker. Last year, CEO pay at an S&P 500 Index firm soared to an average of 361 times more than the average rank-and-file worker, or pay of $13,940,000 a year, according to an AFL-CIO’s Executive Paywatch news release today.

This is not the America I grew up in, and it’s not what America should be.

I have found these old English rhymes to be inspiring.

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.

The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who takes things that are yours and mine.

In this post, Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle respond to a recent article that pitted civil rights groups against advocates for the Finnish model of education. They found the dichotomy puzzling. They wrote this article for this blog.

They write:

Two decades ago, Finland made big news in international education circles. Against all odds it became a top-performer in OECD’s first PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) study that compared 15-year-olds’ knowledge and skills in reading, mathematical and scientific literacies. Since about 2010 education experts and pundits in the United States have debated whether there is anything at all that American school systems could learn from that small Nordic nation’s school system. Ten years on and these debates still go on.


In their March 15, 2021 essay “Finland Meets Civil Rights”, Professor Jal Mehta and co-author Krista Galleberg make good points, including “we can draw on Finnish lessons while making them more relevant to our complex, multi-racial, and systemically inequitable context”, and “build shared responsibility instead of finger pointing, policies based in trust instead of distrust, and schools where Black and Brown students thrive instead of merely survive.”


But in framing their argument, Mehta and Gallebergmake the curious claim that “Since the beginning of the No Child Left Behind era, there has been a schism between what you might think of as the ‘Finland folks’ and much of the civil rights community, particularly its policy and legal advocates.”


We are aware of no such schism. We are curious to know which civil rights advocates would oppose the key foundations of the Finnish education system that are adaptable to the American context – such as comprehensive healthservices for every child and mother from birth, teachers trained and respected as professionals, free healthy school lunches for all, regular play and physical activity as part of every schools’ workplan, smaller class sizes, early indidualized special education support throughout schooling, equitable funding of schools, universal early childhood education and care as a basic right of every child, and highly collaborative schools that strive to integrate students of different capabilities and backgrounds.


According to Mehta and Galleberg, “accountability in the U.S. has historically been promoted by civil rights advocates and bemoaned by the Finland folks.” In fact, the opposite is true in Finland, which places the highest national emphasis on accountability– based on trust and constant productive dialogue between highly professional teachers, children, parents and policymakers. Moreover, Mehta and Galleberg also fail to explain to their readers that in Finland all schools and teachers operate under professional responsibility that expands far beyond the typical punitive,vertical accountability mechanisms that are typical in U.S. education administration.


What Finland does not is waste time or money on so-called “test-based accountability,” or basing its school system on the low-quality, expensive and ineffective governing metric of the universal standardized testing of children, as the United States has done under Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump, and seems to be continuing under President Biden, despite his clear campaign promise to stop it. Instead, the performance of Finland’s education system is monitored by multiple measures that include state-led sample-based standardized student assessments and locally managed school self-evaluations and peer reviews.


 The verdict is in on test-based accountability – it doesn’t work. Twenty years of it has achieved little to no sustained improvement in reading and math outcomes or in reducing achievement gaps in the United States, which were its main objectives. Today, the main driving forces behind “doubling down” on this failure are not civil rights organizations but under-informed philanthropists, politicians and business leaders.

We also find claims by Mehta and Galleberg that “Even today, educational reforms in Finland are framed as part of the country’s national defense plan” and “Excellent education for all is part of the nation’s response to Russian aggression” strange and without factual basis. It is a mistake to believe that Finland’s education policies are designed primarily to serve economic or national security interests. Furthermore, arguing that “Educational equity is therefore not treated as a national security imperative in the United States as it is in Finland” is simply not true. Promoting equity and social justice through education in all Nordic countries is based on human rights imperatives before anything else, certainly something that any civil rights advocate in the United States would wholeheartedly support.


The main lesson of Finland for any nation is that it is possible – and indeed necessary – to strive for both excellence and equity for all students. According to recent data from the OECD, Finland achieves both the highest efficiency of all the developed world’s education systems as measured by hours of study and learning outcomes, and the least performance variation between schools. “The neighborhood school is the best school” is a mantra often heard in Finland, and it is a reality that is widely achieved.


 Finland has deliberately designed its education system, from primary school to higher education, on the values and principles of equal rights to education. Finland upgraded the teaching profession in the 1980s to serve that purpose, so that each and every child would have a great public school in their neighborhood.

In the context of civil rights, Finland is the ultimate American school system.

The landmark Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court case of 1954 declared racial segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional, but it also stipulated in its order that public education “is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” That simple, beautiful phrase is settled national policy in the United States, but it has never been fully honored.
 

Those words should be symbolically carved onto the entranceways of every school, legislature and education ministry on Earth.

In Finland, they already are.

Pasi Sahlberg is a Finnish educator who has researched and examined education policies in Finland and the United States. His book “Finnish Lessons: What can the world learn from Educational change in Finland”published by Teachers College Press won the 2013 Grawemeyer Award issued by the University of Louisville for an idea that has potential to change the world. He is currently Professor of Education Policy at the UNSWSydney.


William Doyle has served as a Fulbright Scholar in Finland, as a lecturer at Finland’s largest teacher training university, and as an advisor to the Ministry of Education and Culture of Finland. In the last three years he has been a public school father in New York City and Tokyo, and currently in Helsinki, where he lives with his family.


Sahlberg and Doyle are co-authors of “Let the Children Play: For the learning, well-being, and life success of every child” (2019), published by Oxford University Press.

Teacher Nora De La Cour writes on her blog that it is time to restore the joy of teaching and learning by abolishing high-stakes testing. She writes that candidate Joe Biden forcefully promised to get rid of standardized testing and restore teacher autonomy, but Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona seems unwilling to commit to granting states a waiver from the mandated federal testing. He did not seek a waiver for Connecticut when he was state commissioner there, and he was noncommittal at his Senate hearings.

She writes:

While NCLB and RTT were marketed as efforts to strengthen public education for disadvantaged students, the overwhelming action of these reforms has been to redirect funding away from normal school operations in under-resourced districts, impose state takeovers and other dehumanizing restructuring plans, and replace community schools with privately run charters. The rampant school closures precipitated by NCLB and RTT have mainly impacted schools attended by the poor black and brown students who are used as mascots by those pushing these neoliberal “equity and accountability” measures. Researchers have documented links between high-stakes testing and high incarceration rates. Test scores have been used to limit opportunitiesfor students with disabilities, another group hailed as primary beneficiaries of test-based reforms.  


The obsession with standardized testing has drained K-12 public education of the vibrant, joyful things that make kids want to be in school. Districts have been forced to cut art, music, extracurriculars, and recess in order to save time and money for tests and test prep. 

The Bill Gates-funded Common Core Standards that drive the current tests have undermined teachers’ creative autonomy, stripping us of our ability to shape instruction around what motivates our students. Instead of teaching whole novels and plays, language arts teachers are pushed into teaching mainly “informational texts” (as though fiction doesn’t contain information) and decontextualized literary excerpts. My students experienced Frankenstein, for example, not as a gripping monster story that prompts questions about what it means to be human, but as a lifeless fragment on a practice test, from which they were required to extract and regurgitate specific information that corporate test-makers deem important. 

She adds, quite accurately:

Standardized tests do not measure teaching. Indeed, the premise that poor children struggle because their teachers are lazy is both racist (teachers of color are more likely to have low-income students) and illogical (why on earth would lazy people pursue positions in underfunded schools?). Contrary to claims, standardized tests don’t measure the skills needed for fulfilling jobs requiring complex problem-solving (although the curiosity- and criticality-punishing accountability system unquestionably prepares kids for drudgery under capitalism). Standardized tests cannot account for the myriad forms meaningful learning can take. The only thing these assessments reliably measure is poverty.

Despite Biden’s promise to get rid of the test-driven policies of the past 20 years, the jury is out on whether he will follow through and he is being pressured by Gates-funded groups to hold fast to the testing regime.

It’s true that some high-profile civil rights groups continue to push for standardized testing–a fact that is reported everywhere privatizers have clout. These civil rights organizations use the same “guideposts for equity” logic Cardona invoked in his statement on 2021 testing for Connecticut students. Unfortunately, many of these groups rely on funding from Gates and other pro-privatization philanthropists and corporations. This funding can mean a variety of things, but it’s reasonable to surmise that some degree of political alignment occurs. 

If standardized tests were actually about ensuring equity, they would not have triggered the closure of schools attended by low-income students of color. If the reforms that spawned these tests were actually about increasing accountability, they would not have occasioned the transfer of power over classroom learning from teachers and publicly accountable officials to hedge fund-backed charter-boosters and profit-hungry edu-businesses

Nora De La Cour has some smart observations about testing and equity, as well as the political forces compelling teachers to do what they know is not in the best interests of their students. This post is well worth a read!

Civil rights groups, led by the Southern Education Foundation, are opposing the voucher legislation proposed by Republicans in Georgia.

SEF leads opposition to education savings account bill introduced in Georgia legislature

One of the first pieces of legislation introduced in the Georgia legislature in 2021 was the Georgia Educational Scholarship Act (HB60), a bill that would divert taxpayer dollars to private schools. In February, SEF and nine other education and equity-focused organizations sent a letter to the Georgia House Committee on Education expressing concerns that HB60 would divert funds from public education at a time when schools can least afford to lose it, and further perpetuate inequities.

SEF prepared analysis of the bill and a backgrounder on academic outcomes and participation requirements for similar tax credit scholarship programs across the country.

SEF’s Legislative and Research Analyst also provided testimony to the Senate Education and Youth Committee on SB47, a proposed expansion of the state’s existing special needs voucher program.

Imagine a state that adopts a state constitutional amendment that ties student rights to an education to their test scores. Would anyone be so dumb as to imagine that the test scores of students of different races would change because of a constitutional amendment? Remember that Minnesota was the first state to pass a charter law, promising to close the academic gaps. That was in 1992. Thirty years later, the state’s Big Thinkers are still grasping at straws.

.About


EDUCATION EXPERTS AND SCHOLARS: PROPOSED MINNESOTA CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT THREATENS STUDENTS’ RIGHTSFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


Today, prominent experts on constitutional law and education sent a letter to Minnesota legislators voicing significant concerns that a proposal to amend the Minnesota Constitution would undermine and weaken students’ right to public education. 
In January 2020, the Minneapolis Federal Reserve proposed to eliminate the current guarantee of a free public education in the Minnesota State Constitution and replace it with language to make education “a fundamental right” to “quality schools” to be “measured against uniform achievement standards set forth by the state.” 


Proponents of the change contend that this new language would reduce gaps in achievement between Minnesota’s white students and students of color. A proposed bill to amend the constitution, H.F. 874, was introduced in the Minnesota House of Representatives on February 8.


In their letter, nationally known constitutional scholars and education law experts outline the negative effects the proposed amendment would have on Minnesota students’ right to public education. The letter explains that while “efforts to strengthen education rights” are welcomed, current Minnesota law already recognizes the rights contained in the amendment. 


The letter points out that the proposed amendment adds new language that may well undermine existing constitutional protections. Most notably, the amendment explicitly links the right to education to state achievement standards, a focus that “may encourage courts to measure rights through the narrow lens of tested academic achievement,” according to the scholars and experts.


In addition, the proposed amendment would eliminate core obligations imposed by the Minnesota Constitution on the state legislature to establish and maintain a statewide system of public schools. These include the requirement that the school system be “general and uniform” and “thorough and efficient.” The letter notes that, in 2018, the Minnesota Supreme Court interpreted this language as prohibiting schools segregated by race, a ruling that is considered “one of the most unqualified restrictions on school segregation that can be found in American law.” The scholars and experts underscore that the proposed amendment could endanger this crucial decision advancing racial justice. 


The letter concludes that “the Federal Reserve’s proposed amendment to the Minnesota education clause threatens to reduce, rather than increase, the rights of Minnesota students.”


Signatories include professors from Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, Rutgers, the University of the District of Columbia, University of Colorado, University of North Carolina, University of South Carolina, Michigan State University, West Virginia University, Loyola University New Orleans, and the directors of several national civil rights organizations.


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Distinguished economist Helen Ladd and her husband, journalist Edward Fiske, studied the accountability system for charter schools in Massachusetts. They specifically addressed equity issues of access, fairness, and availability of a high-quality education, not test scores. They found considerable variation among charter schools, as one would expect. They also found that some charter schools had unusually high attrition rates and unusually high suspension rates. These should concern policy makers, whose goal is to offer better opportunities for disadvantaged students. Their aim in writing the paper is to alert policymakers to the value of an equity-oriented accountability system that goes beyond test scores.

Historian of education Christina Groeger writes that Americans have long believed that education is the key to equality, but she thinks that this faith is misplaced.

She writes:

“The best way to increase wages and reduce wage inequalities in the long run is to invest in education and skills,” wrote economist Thomas Piketty in his landmark Capital in the Twenty-First Century. For nearly 200 years, education has been seen as a central means of reducing the gap between rich and poor. Today, this idea has become something of a national faith, as politicians across the political spectrum tout the power of education to shape a more egalitarian society. However, faith in educational expansion as a means of achieving the American Dream has obscured the ways the same process has in fact deepened economic inequality at different historical moments. If we don’t explore its full consequences, education as a policy tool can become a dangerous trap.

In the U.S., the relationship between education and social inequality points to a paradox. On the one hand, the U.S. has long had among the highest rates of school enrollment and attainment in the world. In 2017, the United States ranked second-highest globally for the average years of schooling for individuals over the age of 25. On the other hand, the U.S. currently has one of the highest rates of social inequality and lowest rates of social mobility in the Global North. In sum, even though many Americans are getting educated at unusually high rates, the U.S. economy is extremely polarized between the 1% and the rest. If education were indeed the great equalizer, this could not be true.

This seeming paradox stems from the fact that the American educational system and the modern corporate economy grew up together and mutually shaped one another from the start.

After briefly reviewing the importance of education in opening up new opportunities for clerical and sales workers and for white collar workers, she maintains that education does not produce equality.

The uneasy truth is that educational solutions often were and are politically palatable to those with the most economic power precisely because they do not directly threaten that power. Educational solutions have tended to place the burden of reform onto individuals to improve their skill level, rather than the larger structure of a vastly unequal economy. The notion that we can “upskill” our way out of an unequal economy, however, misdirects our attention away from the role of employers and economic elites in maintaining their immense workplace authority.

Between the 1940s and 1970s, inequality fell. What role did education play? Many scholars have attributed the decline in social inequality to massive public investment in education. However, the mid-20th century decline had to do with much more than just education. Particularly important was the power of new industrial unions. Unlike exclusive craft unions, industrial unions organized workplaces across lines of skill, race, ethnicity, and gender, reaching a peak of 36% of all private sector workers by 1953. Organized workers became the mass base of support for public policies like a high progressive income tax and social welfare programs. The expansion of public education on its own would not have been able to account for the significant decline in inequality in this period; rather, the growth of worker power, economically and politically, was the primary driver of these changes.

Since the 1970s, workers’ rights have been stripped away, unionization rates have fallen to a mere 6% of private sector workers, budgets for public services have been slashed, and the wealthy pay less in taxes. The economy is increasingly polarized between low-wage service jobs performed disproportionately by women and people of color, on the one hand, and the professional beneficiaries of the “knowledge economy” on the other. The history of the early twentieth century teaches us that there is nothing inherent in educational expansion that means its economic benefits will be equally distributed. In fact, as we are seeing today in the highly-credentialed fields of financial services, corporate law, and specialized medicine, when worker power is at an all-time low, educational expansion without additional protections can simply concentrate the power of existing elites.

The meaning and significance of education is much greater than economic advancement. But until economic subsistence is addressed, education will be tied to these vocational ends, understandably for so many students for whom education is a means of securing a living. If we want to free education up for non-vocational ends, we need to ensure that all people can achieve a livelihood first.

School expansion must be coupled with efforts that build worker power, which historically has been the basis of a more egalitarian society. These include building strong and inclusive unions, raising the minimum wage, expanding social welfare programs, and implementing the progressive taxation necessary to fund them. The collective power of workers, not education level, is ultimately what will matter most for creating a more egalitarian society.

Thus, we can understand the ongoing barrage of attacks on teachers’ unions and the growth of nonunion charter schools as efforts by elites to prevent workers from having any power and from building the egalitarian society that is part of our national creed.

Jan Resseger reminds us of the traditional Masai greeting, “How are the children?” The assumption is that if the children are well, the village or society is well. Many of our children are not well. Too many live in poverty and lack adequate nutrition, decent medical care, and a safe place to live.

Sadly, as Jan explains, the Republican moderates who asked Biden to cut his COVID relief package focused their cuts on aid to children.

She begins:

This week a group of so-called moderate U.S. Senate Republicans proposed to negotiate with President Joe Biden about his proposed $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan stimulus bill.  But even the ten senators, who profess themselves to be moderates and who came forward with a $618 billion alternative proposal, proved themselves willing to neglect the needs of America’s children. The United States, the world’s richest nation, posts an alarming child poverty rate, but, apart from the voices of a handful of social justice advocates, any level of concern about child poverty is inaudible. Hardly anybody seems to have noticed that one of the great strengths of Biden’s American Rescue Plan is the President’s inclusion of funding for programs that would significantly ameliorate suffering among America’s poorest children.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Chuck Marr did recently recognize the significanceof the pro-child provisions in Biden’s new American Rescue Plan: “President Biden’s $1.9 trillion emergency relief plan includes a Child Tax Credit expansion that would lift 9.9 million children above or closer to the poverty line, including 2.3 million Black children, 4.1 million Latino children, and 441,000 Asian American children. It also would lift 1.1 million children out of ‘deep poverty,’ raising their family incomes above 50 percent of the poverty line. To do that, the Biden plan would make the credit fully available to 27 million children—including roughly half of all Black and Latino children—whose families now don’t get the full credit because their parents don’t earn enough….”

Do Republicans not care about our children? Why is military spending more desirable than spending to save the lives of the neediest and most helpless?

Everyone should read The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, which demonstrates that societies are happier when there is more equality.