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Reflections on a Half-Century of School Reform: Why Have We Fallen Short and Where Do We Go From Here?
American school reform has not been bold enough or comprehensive enough to substantially improve public education, writes Jack Jennings on the Horace Mann League website. Over the past 50 years, reform has been dominated by three movements: promoting equity, increasing school choice, and using academic standards to leverage improvement. The equity programs of the 1960s and ’70s improved education for many, especially where efforts were backed by civil-rights guarantees, but impact was constrained because these became separate, add-on services funded with limited federal aid and placed on top of inequitably distributed state and local funding. As to choice, only 17 percent of charter schools produce higher test scores than comparable public schools, according to a comprehensive national review of such schools, with 37 percent of charters producing lower scores. Vouchers satisfy religious proponents by using public funds to send children to religious schools, but achievement-wise, voucher results mimic charters’. And standards-based reform aimed to identify what students needed to know and do at specific grade levels and measure student mastery, but it has collapsed into test-driven accountability. The shortcoming of all these movements is that they sought effect through external means. Jennings feels it’s time to concentrate on core components of what happens in the classroom: Who is teaching, what is taught, and how those key elements are funded. The quality and training of teachers and administrators must be improved, common standards must be fully infused throughout the education system, and schools should offer high-quality preschool, summer programs, adult mentors, health clinics, and after-school programs to compensate for parental and societal deficiencies. Equal educational opportunity for all ought to be declared a federal civil right. If states can’t broadly improve the quality of teaching and learning and provide sufficient funds to pay for that, then the federal government should step in.
How Can The Federal Government Step In
“The fight for freedom” is really only about those fighting for their own business interests, by maintaining the status quo. 25% of super PAC money coming from just 5 rich donors
Corruption Makes it impossible to Tell the Truth about Climate
Breaking news: A look behind the curtain of the Heartland Institute’s climate change spin
It’s not unexpected to find tobacco companies donating to an anti-science
organization, but AT&T? Microsoft? And Lilly? Why would these companies
be giving money to an organization whose documents state (among many other
Development of our “Global Warming Curriculum for K-12 Classrooms” project.
Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist
perspective. To counter this we are considering launching an
effort to develop alternative materials for K-12 classrooms. We
are pursuing a proposal from Dr. David Wojick to produce a global
warming curriculum for K-12 schools…His effort will focus
on providing curriculum that shows that the topic of climate
change is controversial and uncertain — two key points that
are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science.
Read that last line again: “dissuading teachers from teaching science”.
This is a goal that AT&T and Microsoft support? Really??
list of donors, which includes these:
Allied World Assurance Company Holdings (2011: $40,000)
Altria Client Services, Inc. [Philip Morris parent] (2011: $50,000)
AT&T for IT&T News (2010: $70,000)
Charles Koch Foundation (2011: $200,000)
Credit Union National Association (2011: $30,000) [not to be confused with the National Credit Union Association]
Eli Lilly & Company (2010: $25,000)
General Motors Foundation (2011: $15,000)
Microsoft Corporation (2010: $0, 2011: $60,908)
Nucor [Steel production & recycling] (2010: $400,000)
Reynolds American Inc. (2011: $110,000)
What it would take
A recent report by the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College at Columbia University establishes a legal framework for providing the country’s neediest children with both improved educational resources and other “wrap-around services” — including health care and after-school programs. The report details the cost of providing those services, and projects the long-term return on such an investment. The first white paper (one of five that make up the report) argues that NCLB “implicitly establishes a statutory right to comprehensive educational opportunity through its stated goal of providing fair, equal, and substantial educational opportunities to all children, and its mandate that all children be proficient in meeting challenging state standards by 2014.” The second paper estimates the annual cost of public policies to narrow the achievement gap through comprehensive educational opportunity to be $11,800 per child in New York City and $10,400 per child in New York State. The authors assume a full program of 18-and-a-half years, offered to children currently eligible for federally subsidized free and reduced-price lunches. Authors of a third paper further estimate those costs would total approximately $4,750 more per child (in New York City) than what’s now being spent in supports for underprivileged children. A fourth paper calculates significant long-term return on this investment through increased high school graduation rates, and the final paper proposes essential standards and resources.
No holding back
Lawmakers in Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, and Tennessee want to hold back students who aren’t at grade level by the end of third grade, but this short-term solution could do long-term harm to children’s social and educational development, writes Emily Richmond in The Atlantic magazine. Research shows third grade to be a critical year. Students not at grade level by then are found to have a mere 20 percent chance of ever catching up, and are four times more likely to drop out of school. Yet retention is proving a poor remedy. Florida implemented a third-grade retention initiative in 2002 and saw fourth-grade reading scores rise but eighth-grade scores later flat-line. “Everybody supports the idea that if a student isn’t reading well in third grade, it’s a signal the child needs help,” says David Berliner of Arizona State University. “If you hold them back, you spend roughly another $10,000 per child for an extra year of schooling. If you spread out that $10,000 over the fourth and fifth grades for extra tutoring, in the long run you get a better outcome.” Accordingly, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is focusing on three key factors — readiness, attendance, and summer learning. Its goal is that students arrive at school with the fundamental reading readiness skills from the outset, younger students develop “a culture and habit” of regular attendance, and investments be made in early childhood education and literacy programs.
A different tack
Reviving an effort to improve low-performing middle schools, New York City is concentrating on improving reading and writing skills in those grades, The New York Times reports. The plan is the second phase of a campaign started in 2008 by the City Council and the city’s Education Department to bolster student performance at 51 of the lowest-performing middle schools. “The core problem of literacy in middle school is you’re transitioning from learning to read, to reading to learn,” said Josh Thomases of the Education Department. Middle school teachers are often not trained to guide that evolution. Teachers are generally taught to work in elementary or high schools, with only a fraction having specific middle-school certification. Over the remaining two years of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s term, 18 new schools will receive from $157,000 to $219,000 annually, based on size. The money will go to retraining teachers, hiring reading specialists, and buying software and books. The Education Department chose different schools for the campaign’s second phase because officials believed they’d have more success with schools whose principals were already in the same support networks and regularly talked to one another, according to Thomases. They also looked for schools that enrolled many low-income, minority students but were stable and showing signs of progress.
Black and White Thinking vs. Grey Thinking
The corporate education reform agenda often rests on black-and-white thinking, teacher Kelley Leathers writes on the Beyond Chron website, and at a recent Michelle Rhee protest in Oakland, Leathers found these false dichotomies had seeped into her own thinking. In Rhee’s rhetoric and elsewhere, Leathers says we are presented with a “stark choice”: “Let our children languish in crumbling, ineffective traditional public schools, or join the parade to the bright shiny future of charters.” She thought her sign at the protest, “Charter Schools Leave Children Behind — by Design,” might prompt the Rhee audience to realize that privatizing public education would not help all students. Yet it brought a charter teacher nearby to tears. This teacher explained there was no place for her at the protest — the signs, chants, and fliers made her out to be the enemy. The kids she served were also high-needs, and she and the teachers at her school had the same goal as Leathers and her colleagues: to serve their students and help them succeed. Leathers had bought into an either/or fallacy herself. She therefore calls for all sides to “get the gray area out there into the public debate, and quickly. Policy decisions are being made daily under the influence of this black-and-white thinking.”
What they don’t know can hurt them
Many don’t realize that the dismantled Mexican-American studies program in Tucson Unified School District was extraordinarily successful in graduating Latino students and sending them to college, writes Christine Sleeter in Education Week. Nationally, Latino students drop out of high school at about 18 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. College-enrollment of Latinos across the country is only 32 percent — lower than that of other racial and ethnic groups, according to the same study. Students completing Tucson’s Mexican-American studies program (over 13 years, 5,726 Latino students and 712 non-Latino) graduated high school and entered college at a higher rate in a district that is 60 percent Latino. On Arizona’s achievement tests in reading, writing, and math, its students outscored students of all racial and ethnic groups in the same schools but not in that program. The success of Tucson’s program is supported by research documenting that black and Latino students who have a positive ethnic identity and an understanding of racism and how it can be challenged tend to take education more seriously than those who don’t. Sleeter believes what shuttered the program is a fear of the knowledge Mexican-American students find precious and empowering. “Dismantling a program that has demonstrated enormous academic benefits for Latino students because some people find it threatening feels to me like racism,” she writes.
Credit where it’s due
America’s public schools have never been perfect, but they helped hold the country together through wrenching economic crises that left many communities deeply wounded and many Americans wondering if they had a future, writes Mark Naison on the Answer Sheet blog in The Washington Post. Some of what went on in our most economically depressed schools involved real courage and heroism, he says, and all of it required patience and hard work. One thing these schools showed is that they could effectively run institutions without huge salaries and bonuses for executives and without a huge gap between the employees and their managers. In most public schools, the principal’s salary was never more than a third higher than the highest paid teacher, rather than the 400-to-1 CEO-to-worker ratio that now exists in American industry. Perhaps this was one reason public schools survived economic crises better than private companies, whose top executives often made out well with so-called golden parachutes, even when their companies failed. “It is time to look more realistically at the role our public schools have played in America’s transition from an industrial society into service information society, which has left out huge portions of our population,” writes Naison. “And it is time to give educators the respect they deserve for handling one of the most difficult jobs in society with a lot more endurance and courage and generosity than some in the private sector.”