Friday, September 16, 2011

Beyond Teachers

Steve Perry, CNN education contributor and principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School, pillories teachers’ unions as the major culprit for schools failing poor kids. Teachers’ unions are the system. Controlling everything from the length of the school day to the salaries paid. “Education is the antidote, and great teachers are the syringe through which the antidote is delivered.”

This interview is worth a read. It comes from a place of sincerity –getting the students most in need the best education possible. But Perry ultimately misses the mark. Perry is overly selective in his facts. Choosing to see only those that point the villainous dagger at teachers while excusing a host of other realities. He denies disparities in spending. Though your naked eye might be enough to allow you to see the difference in spending from a wealthy suburban district to a poor urban district, you can also depend on significant data. The OECD’s study on brick and mortar spending in public education to within district disparities in spending to inter-state spending – money matters.
Perry illuminates the problem we face in “fixing” education. He’s in the schools and fed-up. He advocates for vouchers because he sees parents and kids stuck in bad schools. He knocks teacher unions because they may be the main force he encounters day to day when trying to “fix” his school. This is not how good public policy should be made. It’s akin to having victims of violence set death penalty policy. They know a great deal about violence, but may not see the big picture. That’s where federal policy must have a broader view. One that can take Perry’s passion to fix schools and channel it beyond vouchers to a system designed to meet the needs of all students. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tavis Smiley on Education Outcomes for Black Boys

A longtime advocate for public policy to meet the disproportionate needs of the African American community, Tavis Smiley has turned his focus to Black boys in public education. He cites the ironic fact of that America now has its first Black president, meanwhile the graduation rate for Black boys hovers around 50%. He's taking his message to the public via an upcoming PBS special, "Too Important to Fail". For the most part he sounds right on target when defining the problem. We look forward to seeing what solutions his special may pose. Here's a good interview he did with TheGrio.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

School’s Back in Session…Is Congress?

Although Congress is back in session, very little business is likely to take place on ESEA. What looms before the education community is the prospect of budgetary cuts as the Congressional Super-committee commences its work. Education Week’s Allyson Klein gives a great overview of the issues at hand. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Battling Re-Segregation (and the Koch Brothers) in North Carolina

An excellent piece by Trymaine Lee posted today in the Huffington Post chronicles recent moves by the Wake County, North Carolina school board to end a long-standing, successful integration program. The story reveals just how far ultra-conservative groups (i.e. Americans for Prosperity) are willing to go to turn back the clock on all forms of social progress in the United States.

Behind the Curtain
As Lee reports, Americans for Prosperity – funded by the multibillionaire Koch brothers who brought us the Tea Party movement – fueled a campaign to pack the Raleigh-area school board with right-wing activists. As their first order of business, the board members pushed through a proposal to establish a "neighborhood schools" program in the district, effectively re-segregating Wake County.

Standing Up to Racism
While parents, community members, Department of Education, and the NAACP admirably fought back and postponed the implementation of the plan, it could still be put into effect in the coming school year. However, what's clear is that the "neighborhood schools" plan is nothing but a thinly-veiled attempt at returning to a schooling system that embraces de facto segregation.

It's also painfully obvious that this ultra-conservative movement backed by big money isn't afraid to openly pursue a racist policy agenda.

It's just up to us to have the courage to call them out.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Bad Idea Blooms

The New Republic reports today that the Department of Education's new NCLB compliance waivers program may very well be illegal. It's unclear whether the Secretary of Education has the authority to bypass Congress completely and his own set of new requirements for states to adhere to if they still want to receive federal dollars.

Something just feels wrong about this approach. It seems like it's destined to raise at least a few eyebrows among Congressional Republicans and might end up stymieing the Obama Administration during an election year. Strategically, it's a big risk. On one hand, something must be done to nix the ridiculous 2014 proficiency deadline. On the other, forcing states to implement largely untested reforms in exchange for coveted waivers might tempt a protracted court battle at a very bad time in the political cycle.

Is it legal? We don't know. Is it going to be fair to students and teachers? Probably not. Were these reform policies forged democratically and informed by the low-income communities of color they most directly affect? Not by a long shot.

There. It's got all the makings of a bad idea.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Waive to the Top (Yes, That's the Best DC Can Do.)

So here we are in August 2011. It's been half a year since the Republican-led Education & Workforce Committee took their seats on Capitol Hill, nineteen months since the Obama Administration's A Blueprint for Reform hit the presses, and nine years and seven months since the Elementary & Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was last reauthorized by Congress.

Nine years and seven months and counting. That means we're about to enter the fifth school year that an ESEA reauthorization has been woefully overdue. Yet, as we've stumbled past watermarks and sign posts with No Child Left Behind's bad policies still hanging over us, Washington lawmakers – Democratic and Republican alike – have made no serious attempts to redesign and reauthorize this critical legislation.

Waiving Away Failed Policies
However, with the Department of Education moving to issue compliance waivers, we have at least an attempt to address the nightmarish effects of NCLB. Just how serious or effective this action will be remains to be seen.

Monty Neill of Fair Test argues in today's Washington Post that these waivers could compel states to exchange one basket of failed policies for another, with the same punitive approach that has proved disastrous over the past nine years. Fair Test's Neill suspects that the Obama Administration will use the NCLB waivers as an incentives for getting states to implement Race to the Top (RttT) style reforms.

Here We Go Again...
As we've seen it played out in two nationwide installments, the RttT approach uses students' standardized test scores to make critical staffing decisions. In other words, rather than directly punishing students for their poor performance on bogus tests, the Administration's best idea was to simply redirect the punishment toward teachers and school communities. It's spelled out pretty clearly in the four turnaround models featured in A Blueprint for Reform.

School closures and comprehensive staff shake-ups are disruptive. They are expensive, sloppy, and (worst of all) they hurt students. If Monty Neill is right – and there's no reason to think that anything innovative and truly community-powered will come out of the Department of Education – this NCLB waiver program will prove just as half-baked as policies it's attempting to fix.

Boycott the Tests?
Neill suggest that we can solve this problem by embracing other forms of school and teacher accountability while simultaneously boycotting test-and-punish regimes across the country. Launching such a national movement seems daunting, but it could be the only reasonable course of action given Washington's unresponsiveness and the increasing severity of the problem. If there's enough energy and coordination, this simple strategy could work in the Administration sticks to the test-and-punish approach in transitioning away from NCLB.

So, let Arne Duncan issue his waivers. Let him dismantle NCLB, but also keep him from putting the same punitive policies in its place.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Degrees We Earn and The People We Value

Today Georgetown University's Center for Education and the Workforce released their report, The College Payoff: Education, Occupations and Lifetime Earnings. For a nice overview, check-out Education Week's Guest Blogger Nora Fleming's post, More Education Leads to Higher Pay, But Not For All. Here are a few sobering highlights for those of us interested in equity and students of color.
*College degrees are increasing in value relative to high school diplomas. A college degree will earn you 84% higher earnings over  your lifetime than a high school diploma. That's up from 75% in 1999. -- When drop-out rates can exceed 50% in schools with majority students of color, we can quickly see the chilling reality behind these numbers.
*A degree can earn significantly less for African Americans and Latinos than for whites. For example, the lifetime earnings of African Americans with Masters degrees doesn't exceed the lifetime earnings of whites with Bachelor's degrees.
*Occupation matters. Depending on your professional choice an associates degree can earn more than a bachelor's degree, this is true on average 28% of the time.