What is Trump’s Free-Speech Executive Order Really About?


(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

What students and faculty say shouldn’t be controlled—but what they think should be—are the mixed messages that lawmakers have sent this month.

In Florida, proposed legislation would require public universities to annually survey faculty and students to reveal their personal political beliefs. Meanwhile, President Trump last week threatened, by executive order, to withhold federal funds from public universities that regulate speech on their campuses, and a new South Dakota law orders state universities to protect speech that be “offensive, unwise, immoral, indecent, disagreeable…”

These measures are political MacGuffins that have nothing to do with the serious problems that face public colleges—like affordability and access, say advocates. Instead, political efforts aimed at on-campus free-speech problems are about the political effort, says NEA senior policy analyst Mark F. Smith and others.

“I don’t think the man who wants to investigate Saturday Night Live truly understands what freedom of speech means,” says Smith, referring to Trump’s Twitter-issued call for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to “look into” Saturday Night Live after it has repeatedly mocked him in comedy skits.

“The fact is public universities already are covered by the First Amendment. An executive order does not increase that pressure,” says Smith. “Speakers from all over the political spectrum are speaking on college campuses all the time. Controversial ideas are being explored—all the time—in college classrooms. This is what higher education is. Ideas can, and should, be challenged, your commitment to them can, and should, be re-examined.”

NEA’s own resolution on academic freedom says “academic freedom includes the rights of teachers and learners to explore and discuss divergent points of view.” At its heart is the idea that the pursuit of truth on campuses serves a common good in society.

“On our campuses, our members work to provide a safe public forum for free expression of diverse views. Freedom of expression is welcomes and encouraged. This happens on our campuses every day, without fanfare,” said Frederick Kowal, president of the United University Professions (UUP), a union of faculty and staff at the State Universities of New York.

What the Executive Order Means

The executive order doesn’t create any new protections for speech on campus. It just restates the obligations of public universities under current law and policy, such as the First Amendment.

But by previewing it in a speech to conservative activists, and unveiling it while surrounded by conservative activists, Trump is signaling “that this administration’s focus is on the free-speech rights of only some citizens—namely, conservatives,” wrote a Miami law professor recently in the Washington Post.

Trump first proposed the idea of an executive order around on-campus free speech in early March, in a speech that mentioned Hayden Williams, an activist for Turning Point USA, a right-wing organization that maintains Professor Watchlist to track faculty accused of liberal bias. (The intent of Professor Watchlist is to silence faculty speech—and target academic freedom in the classroom—and NEA has condemned Professor Watchlist for those reasons.)

Williams was recruiting students at UC Berkeley when he “took a hard punch in the face for all of us,” said Trump. His attackers were arrested by campus police, and the attack condemned by UC Berkeley officials. A statement from UC Berkeley’s chancellor says the university “has no information indicating” the attackers are affiliated with UC Berkeley.

Most of the so-called debate around free speech has been driven by conservative activists, such as Turning Point USA, who say they face too much hostility and vitriol on campuses. It can be ugly—but it’s extremely rare for any speakers to be silenced.

Even Richard Spencer, a leader of the violent, torch-wielding white supremacist rally at the University of Virginia that left three people dead in 2017, was allowed to speak at the University of Florida (UF) last year, despite concerns by United Faculty of Florida members that Spencer’s neo-Nazi supporters would target and endanger black, Hispanic, and Jewish students. To accommodate him, UF canceled classes and the state governor deployed National Guard reservists to campus. It cost UF at least $600,000, plus millions of dollars by state and local communities.

“It has become clear that Spencer’s cynical invocation of free speech rights is part of a larger assault on higher education,” wrote two UF authors in a NEA publication last year. “For decades, anti-intellectuals have pushed a narrative of universities as hot-beds of liberal indoctrination and political intolerance, rather than havens of free inquiry. This argument has been used as a pretext to defund public higher education and to attack whole programs…”

Spencer, in particular, they write, invokes his campus free-speech rights, so that he can get free publicity and use a university setting to legitimize his racist, white supremacist views.

What’s Next, Florida?

Now Florida faculty are alarmed by the attempts to police their personal beliefs. The bill that would require the state’s public universities to survey faculty and students about their personal political beliefs passed a House committee earlier this month, and has a companion in the Senate. Matthew Lata, professor of music at Florida State University and president of the United Faculty of Florida-FSU chapter, testified to lawmakers during debate.

“Are faculty and students going to be coerced into filling out such a survey?” he asked, and Inside Higher Ed reported. “If I refused to do that, am I going to be punished? Coerced speech is a violation of the First Amendment. I shouldn’t be forced to tell the state of Florida what I believe about certain political matters.”

And what do lawmakers plan to do with the results, he asked, according to a Tallahassee Democrat article. “Let’s say in political science you have 20 people and the survey determines 15 are liberal and five are conservative. Are you going to fire the liberals and hire more conservatives? What would happen?”



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A Community School ‘Wraps Its Arms Around a Family’


Students at Walt Whitman Middle School (© 2019, The News Service & Syndicate, Reprinted with Permission)

What happens to a 13-year-old boy who witnesses the murder of his uncle, then, just days later, loses his father to suicide? What happens when he sees his great grandmother, his sole caregiver, lost in an ocean of grief over her two grandsons and filled with worry because she can’t afford their funeral expenses?

If the family is forgotten or disregarded by their community, that boy could harden against the hurt. He could withdraw, become self-destructive and face a future as grim as his father’s and uncle’s. Fortunately, he goes to a community school, which made all the difference in what happened next.

“A community school wraps its arms around a family, providing services that extend far beyond academics,” says David Greenberg, the coordinator for Community Schools for the Las Cruces Public School District.

“These kinds of services can make or break a crisis situation. If we had no way to support that student, he’d have no chance.”

The boy is an eighth grader at Lynn Community School in Las Cruces, New Mexico, which offers mental health services to students who are in crisis, so that they can cope and not fall through the cracks. The boy was able to talk about his grief and his anxiety rather than swallow it or face it alone. What’s more, the full-time community school coordinator spent hours researching and applying for a grant to pay for his father’s and uncle’s funerals, a time-consuming effort that would be impossible for staff at a regular public school to handle on top of regular workloads.

The funeral costs were covered, the great grandmother received an outpouring of support from the community. Later that fall, she came to the school to pick up a full Thanksgiving dinner to serve at home—one of 150 holiday dinners provided by the school to families who would have otherwise gone without.

What is a Community School?
(Photos by Luis Gomez)

A Long History of Community Schools

At its core, a community school is a network of partnerships offering services that remove barriers to learning, like trauma, hunger, homelessness and the myriad of other problems faced by families living in poverty. Research consistently shows that the problems of students in school and the problems of the community they live in are intertwined. One can’t be addressed without the other. The community schools model aims to tackle these problems together.

The idea of a cohesive community school goes back more than 100 years. The school house has traditionally been a social center where everyone gathered to celebrate or to grieve. Into the mid-20th century, the school-as-social-center continued. Families and neighbors came to enjoy musical performances, to cheer on the basketball team, or meet for spaghetti dinners and pancake breakfasts. When a crisis struck, the community joined together to face the crisis with the affected family, arm in arm.

Then the winds shifted toward individualism. Families moved for better jobs, then moved again, becoming more isolated. Communities became more fractured. Meanwhile the problems of society, particularly low-income society, persisted. Students whose basic needs weren’t met couldn’t focus on learning while struggling under the weight of
poverty. Enter the community school model.

Assess Needs, Offer Services

Up and down the halls of Lynn Middle School is evidence of the community- oriented mission. In a room near the front office, community schools coordinator Sylvia Chavez maintains racks of donated clothes. “We always need shoes. We have boys who wear size 11, 12, 13. I’m constantly looking at men’s feet and asking, ‘What’s your size?’” she laughs. Nearby, “the family computer center,” which includes a pair of computers, printer, and array of office supplies, can be used by parents to update resumes, print documents, sign up for community programs, or whatever they need, says Chavez.

Sylvia Chavez (photo: Mary Ellen Flannery)

During the school’s “assets and needs assessment,” a necessary precursor to the development of a community school, teachers and parents pointed most frequently to hunger and mental health issues. One in four children is food insecure in New Mexico and, as any educator can tell you, hungry children can’t learn.

A new food pantry, supplied by local non-profit Casa de Peregrinos with daily snacks and take-home bags of food, tackles hunger. Between the various agencies involved, some Lynn Community School students eat three meals a day at school, and many take home food for the weekend.

Farther down the hall, in a space now occupied by a teachers’ lounge, a mental health clinic will open later this year with visiting counselors from a community health center. “Our social workers are super overworked. They can do crisis care, but they can’t do the kind of ongoing, sustained behavioral care that parents want,” says Chavez.

These kinds of services can make or break a crisis situation. If we had no way to support that student, he’d have no chance.” – David Greenberg, Las Cruces Public School District

In the adjacent room, a school-based dental clinic will open, too. Being a community school mean inviting the community into the school, but also reaching out, says Chavez. “I meet with teachers and ask them, ‘How can you teach science and also engage with the community? How can you teach social studies and also engage with the community?” One media teacher started a student-run newspaper for and about the community, she says. Others are growing vegetables in their courtyard and sharing them.

Chavez, who was a teacher for 20 years before coming to Lynn last year, calls it a work in progress. “The struggle is to get parents to change their mindset and realize that this is truly their space. This school is for the whole family,” she says.

In essence, all community schools are works in progress as school personnel identify different needs and new partners while looking for additional funding streams and strategies to bring the community back to the schools with an “It takes a village” view.

Educators Focus on Education

Across the country in Alexandria, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C., Walt Whitman Middle School became the second community school to open in the Fairfax County Public School district this academic year, along with Mount Vernon Woods Elementary School.

The schools were chosen based on the high needs of their students who live along what’s known as the Richmond Highway Corridor, a busy four-lane street lined with strip malls and check-cashing stores, low-rent apartment buildings and trailer parks.

It’s a pocket of disadvantage in a sprawling county that is also home to some of the most affluent families in America. At Walt Whitman, more than half of families live below the poverty line. Their most pressing need: food.

Walt Whitman students can pick up clothing in the community room. (Photo: Luis Gomez)

There are hungry students all over the country and educators do everything they can to help, but without someone to help coordinate efforts to reduce hunger on an ongoing basis, those attempts are stretched to the breaking point.

“There is no end to what educators want to give,” says Karisa Gearheart, the social worker at Walt Whitman who used to juggle feeding hungry students on top of her caseload, while helping homeless families find housing, or connecting uninsured students to free medical and mental health services.

“But in a community school, the silos are removed and helping meet students’ needs is more streamlined and sustainable,” Gearheart says.

Now, if someone at the school notices that a student has no warm coat or is wearing shoes with holes, they don’t have to make a weekend trip to Target. They can bring them to the community room to pick something out from racks of clothing brimming with coats, shoes and kid’s attire in every size, including infants. There’s also a food pantry in the community room, stocked by the Capital Area Food Bank, where students and their parents can grab whatever they need for weekday and weekend meals.

“There is no end to what educators want to give. But in a community school, the silos are removed and helping meet students’ needs is more streamlined and sustainable.” – Karisa Gearheart

The community room, a converted classroom now furnished with sofas and tables, is also a meeting space for parents who gather every Friday for workshops on managing household finances, saving for college, and drug, alcohol, and gun violence prevention.

Once a month, the school opens a fresh food market where families can get free fruits and vegetables—even whole chickens and other fresh meats.

It’s enough food to feed a family for at least two weeks. Students and staff work together to set up the market each month, bagging vegetables and carrying groceries for “customers.” The market brings together students who don’t regularly hang out and it builds comradery among educators.

“I like having the opportunity to help other people in my community,” says fourteen-year-old Mario Pineda.

“The first time I carried so many boxes to cars I was really sore the next day!”

Mario is a student in Beverly Wong’s AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) class, a college readiness course that focuses on writing, critical thinking, teamwork and leadership.

Wong, who has taught at Whitman for 17 years, brings her AVID class to the market every month so they can volunteer, earn community service hours and practice leadership skills.

“When my own kids were young, we volunteered at the food pantry and they learned so much from that experience,” says Wong. “I really appreciate being able to volunteer right here at school and involve my students in the process so they can help each other and learn what it means to contribute to their community.

Students give, students receive, and all of this allows us to do our jobs better.” The community schools coordinator, Delia Montecinos, makes it all happen.

She is the conduit between the school, the community, and the services provided through a partnership with Fairfax County Public Schools, Fairfax County Government and Neighborhood Services, the United Way of the National Capital Area, and United Community Ministries, Inc., a community advocacy organization that has worked with low-income residents of Fairfax County for more than 50 years.

By connecting the students and their families to the services they need in the community, Montecinos allows educators to focus on educating.

The hope is that all schools in the district will become community hubs—centers of learning that offer food, clothing, and classes, plus on-site laundry, medical, and dental facilities.

Their lens will widen from focusing only on students in a classroom to focusing also on the needs of a student’s siblings, parents, grandparents, and neighbors. The idea is that lifting up a student isn’t possible unless her community is lifted up, too.

According to Wong, there is one simple reason for the critical work of community schools: “We need to do this,” she says. “We’re raising the future.”



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Educators Look to End the Big Corporate Tax Giveaway


When a school district is $30 million in the hole, the effects are evident.

In Louisiana’s East Baton Rouge Parish School District, some students are crammed into classrooms that weren’t built to accommodate large class sizes. Older buildings are cleaned and patched, but floods and vandalism have taken their toll.

“Conditions in some of our buildings are deplorable,” says Dr. Tia Mills, an elementary special needs educator and president of the East Baton Rouge Parish Association of Educators (EBRPAE). “Schools are underfunded and employees are not getting paid what they deserve.”

Teacher salaries in East Baton Rouge have gone down by more than $9,000 since 2008 (accounting for inflation). So many educators have left the district that in recent years, there have been classes with no permanent teacher all year.

Louisiana ranks 49th in the country for teacher salaries and pay in East Baton Rouge Parish is in the bottom third of school districts in the state, according to the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE).

That’s why Mills, like many of her colleagues, works a second job. In addition to teaching at Eden Park, the district’s alternative elementary school, Mills is an adjunct professor of history—“another salary I can’t live off of,” she says.

But Mills—working with LAE—found a way to fight back, after pinpointing a glaring source of their funding troubles: corporate tax breaks.

Louisiana’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) offers an extreme example of the subsidies that states routinely lavish upon corporations.

For more than 80 years, local governments in Louisiana have lacked control over their own tax-break decisions. Instead, one state body, the Board of Commerce and Industry, has routinely granted petrochemical giants like ExxonMobil long-term property tax abatements. This program alone costs public services throughout the state about $1.7 billion per year, and schools lose the most: about $600 million annually.

EBRPAE members spent well over a year organizing, stayed vigilant during several 7-hour school board meetings, and endured some nasty name-calling from those who oppose their campaign.

“I tell everybody, this is not sexy work,” says Mills. “It’s not. But it has to
be done.”

LAE members’ perseverance paid off: This year, the East Baton Rouge
Parish School Board denied Exxon-Mobil a $2.9 million abatement—a
story so big it dominated the New York Times business section on February 5.

A Lot of Dollars, No Sense

The original purpose of such corporate tax subsidies was economic development. Starting in the 1930s, Southern states created incentive programs to lure companies from the Northeast and Midwest. Now, it happens everywhere.

When companies can credibly threaten to move jobs, they stage secretive tax-break auctions. That is why the high-profile competition to land Amazon’s second headquarters, or HQ2, gained so much attention; it
was a rare public auction.

Residents of Queens, New York, and Arlington, Virginia, were not uniformly thrilled to discover they had been chosen at a cost of $2.8 billion and $796 million in incentives, respectively. Community groups in Queens organized to successfully block Amazon’s arrival; the company abruptly cancelled its New York plan mid-February.

Another high-profile corporate tax abatement drama is playing out in Wisconsin, where former-Gov. Scott Walker awarded $4.8 billion to Foxconn Technology Group in 2017 for a massive flat-panel display factory—the largest subsidy ever awarded to a foreign-based corporation.

(Since the deal was announced, the number and nature of promised jobs has been repeatedly revised downward, and Foxconn recently admitted it may never manufacture anything in Wisconsin.)

Walker lost his re-election bid to now-Governor Tony Evers, who is working to minimize the financial fallout. As the Wisconsin Education Association Council agree has said, even if those jobs do materialize, they would come at far too great a cost to schools. The job creation incentive alone will cost the state $300 million per year between 2022 and 2026, drawing down the funds available for K-12 schools and the public university system.

The harm corporate tax subsidies do to public education has long been understood, but until now, it could not be accurately measured. That has changed as a result of a new government-accounting rule that NEA and other groups helped win in 2015.

Thanks to that new rule, we now know that in 26 states alone corporate subsidies cost schools at least $1.8 billion last year. That’s according to a first-of-its-kind report, The New Math on School Finance, from the watchdog group Good Jobs First.

Dr. Tia Mills (center) and colleagues pushed the school board to use its new power to deny corporate tax exemptions. (Photo courtesy of East Baton Rouge Parish Association of Educators)

The analysis shows that Hillsboro School District in Hillsboro, Oregon— where Intel and several cloud computing data farms enjoy big tax breaks—lost more to corporate subsidies in 2017 than any other school district in America: $96.7 million.

Under Oregon’s school funding formula, that tremendous loss is not absorbed only by Hillsboro; all 197 school districts take a proportional hit.

But that’s not easy in a state with limited revenue sources, where schools have been underfunded for decades.

“Our biggest struggle is class sizes,” says Hillsboro Education Association
President Jill Golay. “We have numbers that are really off the charts.” She’s referring to lower elementary classes of 30-plus and middle school
classes over 40.

“When I moved from Idaho to Oregon in 2010 I went from 18 to 32 first-graders,” Golay says. “That’s a lot of kids when you’re trying to teach them to read. I know the school district is committed to reducing class size if the funding is there.”

That $96.7 million would surely help.

Golay credits companies like Intel for their contributions to local schools in the form of donations and employee volunteers.

“They do a lot for us. But that’s not the same as revenue that you can count on every year,” she added.

If the goal of economic development incentives is to strengthen a local economy, then these lavish corporate subsidies are failing, says Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First.

“When tax abatements cause school districts to have fiscal stress and reduce school quality, they actually undermine the local business climate,” LeRoy adds.

That’s because school quality is an important factor in location decisions both for companies seeking well-educated workers and for those hoping to convince key managers and their families to relocate.

corporate tax breaks schools

Knowledge is Power

Educator unions have long known that corporate subsidies drain resources for schools. But now they have a better idea by how much.

The study by Good Jobs First was made possible by a new accounting standard known as GASB Statement 77, which (finally!) requires state and local governments to report the amount of revenue they lost to corporate tax abatements each year.

That’s good news for NEA members and everyone who cares about great schools. Leaders can steer the conversation away from austerity and terrible choices to how much taxpayer money is given to corporations and whether it is too much.

Maybe some of these incentives made sense 80 years ago, but these huge corporations that make billions should not be taking this kind of money out of the local schools.” – Alexandra Clark, school psychologist

The work the East Baton Rouge local has done to organize against subsidies provides a promising example.

First, Gov. John Bel Edwards—whose election was strongly supported by LAE because of his support for public education—issued an executive order in 2016 empowering local taxing authorities to vote for or against industrial tax exemptions.

EBRPAE educators seized the moment and joined forces with Together Baton Rouge, a coalition of faith and community groups, to inform citizens about how collecting these taxes could boost their local school budgets.

EBRPAE energized its own members by connecting the subsidies to the cuts in school resources and low pay. More members became regulars at union meetings. They circulated information and “Call your school board member” action alerts to all school employees, and showed up to school board meetings wearing bright red in honor of the #RedForEd movement.

School psychologist Alexandra Clark has not only become more active in her local, but outspoken on economic issues.

“I finally understood that if Louisiana would quit giving away our wealth, we would have money for raises and support staff and could retain people,” says Clark.

EBRPAE educators have had a series of meaningful victories. They stopped one request by announcing their intention to take leave and storm the Louisiana Board of Commerce and Industry meeting to speak out against ExxonMobil’s latest exemption request—for facility upgrades that were completed two years ago. The issue was dropped from the meeting agenda.

“Our state is one of the richest in resources but has some of the lowest test scores and worst health indicators,” said Clark. “Can this go on?”

“Maybe some of these incentives made sense 80 years ago,” she said, “but these huge corporations that make billions should not be taking this kind of money out of the local schools.”

Bargaining for the Common Good

Bargaining for the Common Good is an organizing approach where public sector unions use contract fights as an opportunity to organize local stakeholders around a set of demands that benefit not just the bargaining unit, but the wider community as a whole.

In these campaigns, labor and community groups are equal partners who work together to build public support for revenue solutions—including curbing excessive corporate subsidies.

Now, educator unions can demonstrate exactly how much local schools lose to corporate subsidies.

Access the full report from Good Jobs First.Use their subsidy tracker to find out about corporate tax giveaways in your state.



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Put More Play In the Kindergarten Day


This is guest post by NEA Today staff writer Cindy Long.

On a chilly February day, I snuck into my son’s kindergarten classroom a few minutes before story time when I’d be reading to the kids. I opened the door and quietly hung up my coat, eager for a rare look at my boy interacting with his teacher and classmates. The children were gathered around tables laughing and chatting while coloring dragons for a Chinese New Year craft. No worksheets, no sight words, no math problems—just crayons and laughter. I was delighted.

At the kindergarten orientation last fall I’d been surprised (okay, aghast) to learn that the five- and six-year-olds would be given homework folders with nightly assignments, receive 90 minutes of language arts and 45 minutes of math each day, and would even use a computer and mouse to take an assessment test. My son thinks a mouse is a cute, furry rodent with a taste for cheese.

Some fellow kindergarten parents were equally puzzled and concerned, others seem gratified that their children would hit the academic ground running, convinced that early reading and math instruction pay off in higher achievement in later grades. There’s research to back them up.

A new study finds that students in kindergarten classes with more academic content not only show higher math and reading ability, in some cases they have better social-emotional skills.

“The results bolster the stance of researchers who believe that challenging academic content is not necessarily at odds with children’s healthy development,” the five researchers wrote in the peer-reviewed American Educational Research Journal study.

Not necessarily, they say, but what about when my son asks me why some of his friends can read and he can’t? I didn’t learn to read until the end of first grade, I tell him. I didn’t read for fun until third or fourth grade, but now I write for a living and read voraciously, with books stacked on my coffee table and nightstand. “You’ll read when you’re ready,” I say.

“Yeah, okay,” he sighs, and I wish his worries were more about a wiggly tooth and a missing matchbox car than his reading ability.

Fortunately, his teacher, Sharon Collier, works hard to strike a balance between the required kindergarten curriculum and just plain kindergarten fun.

When they’re working on numbers, for example, she has them dance the number five. When they’re learning about letters and words, they act like alligators that begin with “A” or snakes that begin with “S.”

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” Collier says. “I know when they’re learning, and children this age simply won’t like learning if it’s not fun.”

She has different stations in her room for play and creativity, like an art station and a house station, but there’s often not enough time for that kind of kid-directed free play except during indoor recess.

kindergarten reading expectationsThe Reading Rush: What Educators Say About Kindergarten Reading Expectations
Despite the national push to get them to read and write by year-end, most kindergartners aren’t ready.

“We have a lot of students and not enough time even with a full day versus a half day,” Collier says. “Everyone in kindergarten struggles with this.”

We asked our NEA Today Facebook fans if kindergarten has become too academic. The overwhelming response: Yes!

Shawnee Wood teaches kindergarten at Oakview Elementary in Stoneboro, Pennsylvania, but she says over the last decade it’s become more like second grade disguised as kindergarten.  The rigor and academic expectations increased dramatically with the implementation of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and the barrage of testing that came with it.

Wood has noticed that even though the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced NCLB and reduces the amount of required testing, has helped turn the tide, kindergartners are still “in desperate need for appropriate amounts of social and play time.”

For the first time in 12 years, Oakview’s kindergartners have a morning recess break as well as afternoon, and Wood has noticed the difference in their growth.

“When they have time in the morning and afternoon to have free play without me dictating their activities, their little bodies and minds are better able to focus on the academics,” she says. “They’re learning their sight words as well as learning how to play appropriately.”

Like Collier, Wood has been teaching for 20 years, and remembers when she a taught a letter a week and students still managed to learn how to read.  But with more rigorous expectations, students who have learning issues are buried further by the strident expectations, and their behaviors worsen with the frustration.

“Over and over I say, let me teach them to be kind little citizens, to walk and take turns, to learn to love reading and writing, and the rest will come when they are ready,” she says. “Due to state standards, standardized testing, and the demands of society, it is a fight to keep the joy in kindergarten.”

Other educators have joined the fight. Becky Adrian works with first and second grade English Language Learners and believes we need to shift back to play-based education. She says some educators forget that many students are learning sight words as a second language.

“Play lets them interact as equals and gives them crucial linguistic skills necessary for academic development,” Adrian says. “Until early childhood educators have the training to develop language-neutral academics, play is the savior of language learners. Kindergarten should be a welcoming experience for all students.”

Sharon Collier’s classroom is a safe, welcoming environment where students are introduced to basic math and language arts, but also learn to do a mean hokey pokey and to “fill each other’s buckets” with kind words and actions.

“Whether or not they read by year’s end, I want all of my students to be safe and happy,” says Collier. “My job is to bring out their best.”

Is Kindergarten the New First Grade? Without a Doubt, Say Researchers

kindergarten the new first gradeA 2016 study tracked the level of academic focus in kindergarten from 1998 to 2010. While the researchers expected to find some degree of increased attention on the reading and math skills emphasized by the now-replaced No Child Left Behind, they were somewhat surprised by the magnitude. “We’ve seen the kindergarten experience essentially transformed,” said one researcher. “Academic skill-building has really taken center stage in today’s kindergarten classrooms in a way that just wasn’t the case” in the late 1990s.



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5 Key Trends in the Teacher Workforce


Thanks largely to a nationwide campaign by educators, the country is finally talking about how we can recruit, support and retain teachers. This is an important discussion, says Richard Ingersoll,  professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, because “the teaching force has been transformed over the last 30 years, with significant financial, structural, and educational consequences.” 

Ingersoll recently updated “Seven Trends: The Transformation of the Teaching Force,” his longitudinal study on the elementary and secondary teaching force that culls data from several comprehensive sources, including the Schools and Staffing Survey.

“Too often, researchers, school leaders, and policymakers are still operating under false assumptions about who goes into teaching and how teaching careers unfold,” Ingersoll said. “If we want to improve student performance, we must understand this new reality.”

Here are Ingersoll’s key  findings:

A Growing Profession

Since 1987, the size of the teaching force, says Ingersoll, has “ballooned.”

Student enrollment and the number of teachers peaked in the 1970s, then leveled off before climbing again in the late ’80s. The teaching force has been on the uptick ever since (except for the period following the Great Recession), even outpacing the rate of increase for students.

From 1987-88 to 2015-16, total K-12 student enrollment in the nation’s public schools went up by 24 percent. During the same period the teacher workforce increased by 65 percent.

Pinpointing one decisive factor to explain the growth of the profession is difficult. Ingersoll cites the demands for more math and science teachers and more special education teachers. In particular, there has been dramatic increase (225 percent since 1987) in the number of bilingual/English-as-a-second language teachers.

Gender Imbalance Wider

Teaching in public schools has aways been a predominantly female occupation. Over the past 30 years, the gender gap has only grown. Both the number of women entering the field and the percentage of female teachers has increased. In 1987, 67 percent of teachers were women. By 2016-17, that number had risen to 76 percent.

Despite the dramatic increase of women employed in the U.S. labor force overall – 36 percent growth between 1988 and 2016 –   the number of women who entered K-12 classrooms increased by 80 percent during the same period.

If the trend continues, soon 8 of 10 public school teachers in the nation will be women, and more students will encounter few, if any, male teachers during their elementary or secondary school careers.

Moreover, Ingersoll wrote, “an increasing proportion of women in teaching may have implications for the stature and status of teaching as an occupation. Traditionally, women’s work has been held in lower esteem and has paid less than male-dominated work. If the feminization of teaching continues, what will it mean for the way this line of work is valued and rewarded?”

Grayer and Greener

Overall, the teaching force is older than it was in 1987 and retirements are increasing. But Ingersoll notes that this trend is coming to an end.  The number of teachers age 50 and over hit a peak in 2008 with 1.74 million. By 2016, the number had declined to 1.13 million.

At the same time, another trend is occurring, which Ingersoll calls the “greening” of the teaching force, driven by a dramatic increase in new hires.

In 1987-88, there were roughly 65,000 first-year public school teachers. 30 years later, there are more than 190,000. In 2007-08, the most common age for a teacher was 55. In 2015-16, the most common age ranged from the mid-30s to mid-40s.

While new teachers can help revitalize a school, the report noted that a large number of beginners also has its downsides.

“A sufficient number of experienced teachers makes a positive difference for beginning teachers,” the report said. “A solid body of empirical research documents that support, including mentoring by veteran teachers, has a positive effect on beginning teachers’ quality of instruction, retention, and capacity to improve their students’ academic achievement.”

Progress on Diversity But How Much?

In what Ingersoll calls “something of an unheralded victory,” the public school teaching force has seen a bump in racial diversity.

Numerically, there are far more minority teachers than ever before. In 1987-88, there were about 305,200 minority public school teachers. Today, there are over 760,000.

Ingersoll says growth in the number of minority teachers over the past several decades outpaced growth in minority students and was about three times the growth rate of white teachers.

Still, a slightly more diverse teaching profession hasn’t done much to close the wide teacher-student racial gap. It’s also worth noting that the increase in teachers of color is primarily due to an uptick in the number of Hispanic teachers – 3 percent to almost 9 percent. The share of African American teachers, on the other hand, has actually declined, from 8.2 percent to 6.7 percent.

Michael Hansen and Diane Quintero of the Brookings Institution project that in the near future, the change in student demographics will evolve at a  higher rate than any expected shift in teacher diversity. “This means the underrepresentation of teachers of color will likely persist or even grow in the coming decades,” he wrote in a report issued last week.

Where Instability is Concentrated

Teachers of color also have particularly high turnover rates, more so than their white counterparts.  This departure rate is increasing and is driven in large part by where they work.

Newer teachers, regardless of their race, have among the highest rates of turnover of any group of teachers.

The teaching professions has always been hampered by a high attrition rate, but, as Ingersoll points out, it’s not spread out evenly. Half of all turnover occurs in 25 percent of public schools, predominantly in high-poverty urban and rural areas.

Indeed, there is an “asymmetrical shuffling of  significant numbers of employed teachers from poor to not-poor schools, from high-minority to low-minority schools, and from urban to suburban schools.”

Ingersoll notes that while demographic characteristics of schools do factor in a teacher’s decision-making process about where to work, later decisions about whether to stay or depart are driven by other issues.

“What does impact their decisions, our analyses show, are school working conditions, in particular the degree of autonomy and discretion teachers are allowed over issues that arise in their classrooms, and the level of collective faculty influence over school-wide decisions that affect teachers’ jobs,” the report said.

What Happens When a Teacher Leaves Mid-Year?
teachers leaving mid-yearU.S. teachers leave the profession at higher rates than other countries, but the debate and discussion over teacher attrition – reflected in research and in the media – focuses on educators exiting the profession before the beginning of a school year, based on the assumption that’s when turnover occurs. Little is known about teachers leaving mid-year.

A Growing Recruitment Strategy for a Diverse Teacher Workforce

grow your own teachers“How do we help those who should be in classrooms working with students who look like them, sound like them, and will connect with them?” asks NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. An answer may rest within grow-your-own programs, which recruit local community members and help them become teachers, creating a workforce that’s reflective of the full diversity of the student population.



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During Lockdowns, Collaboration Among Staff Key to Student Safety


Shielding her students against a storm of gunfire is something Andrea Beeman hopes she will never experience. It is gut-wrenching to even ponder, says Beeman, a paraeducator at Maple Heights High School in Maple Heights, Ohio.

Contemplating such a deadly scenario is tempered, she says, by knowing her school’s crisis response team includes administrators, teachers, and education support professionals (ESP) who participate in active shooter drills and have specific roles and responsibilities.

“The more collaboration among school staff during a drill, the better prepared we are to keep students safe,” says Beeman, who also serves as a building monitor. “My students will need to listen to my directions and trust me in an emergency.”

In today’s school climate, active shooter drills are as common as fire drills. Nine out of ten public schools currently conduct active shooter drills, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

To prepare for an armed assailant on school grounds, it is advised that schools create a safety team that includes an administrator, mental health professional, nurse, security officials, educators, and even parents, according to the National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of School Resource Officers, who jointly published a guide book titled, “Best Practice Considerations for Schools in Active Shooter and Other Armed Assailant Drills.”

Andrea Beeman

Planning for an active shooter situation should include the adult experience, personal skills, and professional knowledge of food service workers, custodians, and other ESP, says Dan Kivett, a security officer at Citrus Valley High School in Redlands, Calif., and president of the Redlands Education Support Professionals Association (RESPA).

“Trainings and drills must be all-inclusive,” says Kivett, an NEA board member. “For example, if bus drivers are parked on campus during an emergency, do they stay or go?”

Whether mandatory or not, Beeman advocates for staging an active shooter drill within a month of starting school while communicating policies and procedures with parents.

“The start of the school year is when everyone in the education community is reviewing rules and procedures,” she says. “Parents attend open house events and meet with staff. Conducting a drill early on will show our emergency preparedness.”

With ESP located in all areas of a school campus, even during non-working hours, it is vital that they be included in school crisis plans, Kivett adds.

Teamwork

The NEA 2018 School Crisis Guide includes cafeteria, transportation, maintenance, and health and student service professionals among staff who are vital to a comprehensive approach in preventing unnecessary violence during an emergency, though this is not the case at some schools.

“Unfortunately, some ESP may not know what to do because they aren’t trained or fully involved in drills,” says Kivett. “It’s a safety issue that concerns me.”

Kivett trains security officers and helps to conduct emergency operations planning for the Redlands United School District. He’s particularly concerned about playground supervisors and building monitors who may not have been prepared for responding to a range of emergencies, whether caused by humans or by a natural disaster.

“People may reactively know what to do in a crisis, but do they know what to do when they’re responsible for dozens of children,” he says. “With a shooter or earthquake or chemical spill, for example, every second lost can be the difference between living and dying.”

Any School, Any Time

The Educator’s School Safety Network estimates that threats or actual violence happen about 10 times a day in U.S. schools. The 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado heightened the need for schools to be better prepared to respond to armed assailants and other forms of violence, such as bomb threats. About 16 campuses lock down daily, with nine of those incidents related to gun violence or the threat of it, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. More than 6,200 lockdowns occurred during the 2017-2018 school year.

Dan Kivett

Following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn., the U.S. Department of Education recommended expanding the lockdown-only approach for schools, which confined students and staff to their rooms. Instead, the department now recommends an options-based approach that allows school staff to make more independent decisions about how to protect their students depending on evolving circumstances, such as to evacuate a building rather than stay locked in a classroom.

These approaches include adapting the “run, hide, fight” model that was originally developed for adults in response to workplace violence. This expansion has spurred an increase in the number of school districts conducting drills.

“Drills really help staff consider the “what if” scenarios,” says Kivett. “If it’s a hurricane or fire, what do you do? If it’s a shooter, where do you go?”

Student Stress

While lockdowns may save lives during a real crisis, the drill itself can inflict “immense psychological damage on children convinced that they’re in danger,” according to the Post study. More than 4.1 million students endured at least one lockdown in the 2017-2018 school year.

A report from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence indicates that some drills “foster fear and anxiety” and “can intensify the fear of gun violence children already suffer.”

“We encourage immediate access to a counselor in a safe space to ease any stress or anxiety caused by a drill,” says Beeman,  who works with high school students with developmental disabilities.

Should the need arise, NEA encourages schools to work with local hospitals and mental health agencies to aid students experiencing trauma.

Beeman faithfully meets students in the morning as they exit buses and stays with many of them until they are picked up after last bell and head home.

“I escort them to breakfast, lunch, electives, and help them develop soft skills needed to maintain a job after they graduate,” says Beeman, an NEA board member. “I can sense when they are experiencing undue stress. We are there for them.”

Says Kivett: “The point is not to scare students but to do all that is humanly possible to keep them safe in this era of violence.”

‘School Hardening’ Not Making Students Safer, Say Experts

A skewed focus on target hardening neglects the time and resources needed to spend on professional development training, planning, behavioral and mental health intervention supports for students, and other best practices.
But research and experience consistently shows that a comprehensive approach is needed for school safety programs.



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#RedforEd Protests Driving ‘Substantial’ Increases in Education Funding


Photo: Joe Brusky

Arizona, North Carolina, Oklahoma and West Virginia are among the states that made the deepest cuts to education in the decade since the Great Recession. In 2018, however, lawmakers in these states boosted school funding. It’s no coincidence, according to a new paper issued by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), that these improvements came soon after educators launched successful strikes to protest the chronic underfunding of their public schools.

“Protests by teachers and others helped drive substantial school funding increases over the last year,” writes Michael Leachman, Senior Director of State Fiscal Research at CBPP and co-author of the paper.

The funding gains were significant, especially in Oklahoma, where lawmakers increased formula funding per student by 19 percent, adjusting for inflation. Arizona, North Carolina, and West Virginia also saw significant gains, ranging from 3 percent to 9 percent per student, again after adjusting for inflation.

“Oklahoma became the poster child for the funding crisis that led to teacher walkouts in numerous states and cities,” said David Blatt, executive director for the Oklahoma Policy Institute, in a conference call on Tuesday with Leachman and reporters. “For the first time since 2013, we’re no longer No. 1 among states making the deepest cuts to education.” (That would be Texas, where funding per student is now 20 percent below 2008 levels.)

Whether it’s in Oklahoma, Arizona, West Virginia, or most recently in Oakland, CA., educators are hitting the picket lines to demand a reinvestment in public education, says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

“Educators all over the country are #RedforEd,” said Eskelsen García. While specific issues vary state to state, “there are some issues they all share: The concern that public education has been chronically underfunded in state and local budgets for decades, resulting in overcrowded classrooms, too few counselors and nurses, tattered textbooks held together by duct tape, broken computers and outdated materials, and buildings that have fallen into disrepair.”

Although the news is encouraging, the CPBB study makes it clear that states have a long way to go before they dig themselves out of the hole. Per-student formula funding in Arizona, North Carolina, Oklahoma and West Virginia is still well below pre-recession levels.

“While the funding hikes enacted in teacher-protest states last year allowed for teacher pay increases and other improvements, those gains may be reversed in coming years unless the states take additional steps to boost their school funding,” the report said. “Three of the four teacher-protest states that increased formula funding last year used revenue sources that may prove unsustainable, leaving them vulnerable to back-tracking in coming years.”

For example, the #RedforEd protests in Arizona forced lawmakers to approve a budget granting significant salary increases for educators. What’s not clear is where the necessary revenue to finance this and other improvements is coming from. Furthermore, Oklahoma’s new education spending is being financed by cigarette and gasoline taxes – revenue streams that, according to CBPP,  “typically fail to keep pace with state revenue needs over time.”

“Funding sources for these boosts are not stable enough,” concludes Leachman. “And thus far in 2019, leading policymakers in these states haven’t proposed new revenues for school investments.”

The funding crisis that has gripped these states is due in large part to the reckless tax-cutting policies that their governors and legislatures enacted over the past decade.  Seven of the 12 states with the biggest cuts in school funding since 2008 ― Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma ― cut income tax rates in recent years, making it almost impossible to adequately public education.

In contrast, Minnesota in 2013 raised new revenue from high-income earners to generate almost $500 million in new education spending.

The deepest-cutting states – Arizona, North Carolina, and Oklahoma – “can reverse course on the tax cuts as part of a broader effort to improve their educational systems,” the CPBB report said.





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DeVos Won’t Give Up on Vouchers


(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

In her two years as U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos has seized on every opportunity to undermine public education. She has called for deep cuts to federal funding, rolled back protections for our most vulnerable students, and shilled for the for-profit college industry that has defrauded countless students.

DeVos has floundered, however, in advancing her pet cause: the federal expansion of school vouchers. Even with GOP majorities in the House and Senate and the strong backing of President Trump, Congress in 2017 and 2018 rejected DeVos’ efforts to create federal vouchers to attend private schools.

Despite this setback and the recent 2018 elections that sent a pro-public education majority to the House of Representatives, DeVos’ enthusiasm for school vouchers hasn’t dampened. This was evident last week with the introduction of  something called the Education Freedom Scholarships and Opportunity Act.

In a USA Today op-ed touting the proposal, DeVos, Senator Ted Cruz, and Representative Bradley Byrne, the bills’ sponsors in Congress, called it “a historic investment in America’s students.”

The majority of Americans who reject vouchers know better. DeVos’ proposal, said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, is just the “latest attempt to push an agenda that is academically ineffective, fiscally irresponsible and that funds discrimination at the expense of student opportunity.”

The good news is that Congress – who soundly rejected a similar proposal during the 2017 tax debate – isn’t likely to give this reboot a serious look. Still, the corporate interests who have doggedly pursued school privatization for more than a decade are nothing if not persistent, which is why public education activists aren’t about to let down their guard.

What is an Education Freedom Scholarship?

Quite simply, it’s a federal school voucher.  For years now, proponents, acknowledging that “vouchers” are unpopular, have worked tirelessly to reconfigure the scheme to 1) sidestep constitutional obstacles and 2) reintroduce them to a public that has consistently been in opposition, using friendly-sounding euphemisms to make them more politically appealing.

Whether they’re called “Education Saving Accounts,” “Tuition Tax Credits” or “Opportunity Scholarships,” the result is always the same: directly or indirectly, less money for public schools and more for private schools.

The Education Freedom Scholarship is a tax credit program, similar to what 17 states already have on their books.

Under such a plan, individuals and companies earn tax credits by donating money to nonprofit scholarship funds. Students then can use the funds to attend private schools, including religious schools.

Carl Davis, research director at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, calls the DeVos proposal a “supersized” version, because it offers a  dollar-for-dollar credit, meaning that every dollar given takes a dollar off the donor’s tax bill.

“The contributors to these programs wouldn’t have to put up a dime of their own money because the federal government would reimburse them in full,” he adds.

So what DeVos wants is the federal government to reimburse wealthy taxpayers with tax credits in return for providing funding to private schools on the states’ behalf.

“It’s a brazen effort to distort the tax code into a tool for funding private and religious schools with public dollars,” Davis said.

The Cost to Public Schools

In their USA Today column, DeVos and Cruz claim that “this program won’t take a single cent from local public school teachers or public school students.”

That is simply false. Tax credit vouchers will drain public funding from public schools. Under these plans, potential taxes are never paid, which in turn decreases the overall amount in the coffers. This makes less money available for public schools.

“This bill sends a worrisome message about the direction that some private school advocates would like to go. They’re hoping to set the table for a major federal voucher plan the next time the political stars align in their favor.”- Carl Davis, Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy

“The voucher proposal peddled by Betsy DeVos will divert already scarce funding away from neighborhood public schools – where 90 percent of children go – and give it away to private schools, which are not accountable to taxpayers,” said Eskelsen García.

In a 2017 analysis, ITEP took a look at how these programs had impacted the budgets of the 17 states where they had been put into effect.  Taken together, these states were diverting more than $1 billion per year toward private schools via tax credits.

“Allowing certain taxpayers to opt out of funding an institution as fundamentally important as the nation’s public school system erodes the public’s level of investment in that institution–both literally and figuratively,” the report states.

Furthermore, “expanding these programs at the federal level would lead to a loss of federal and state revenue directed at public schools that would weaken the ability of public schools to serve increasing numbers of students in poverty as well as students with disabilities and English-language learners.”

 The Bill is Likely Going Nowhere But…

Soon after DeVos unveiled her proposal, U.S. Senator Patty Murray immediately declared it “dead on arrival.”

“Secretary DeVos keeps pushing her anti-public school agenda despite a clear lack of support from parents, students, teachers, and even within her own party,” Murray said in a statement. “Congress has repeatedly rejected her privatization efforts and she should expect nothing less here.”

With DeVos’ push to expand vouchers stymied (so far), the shift in momentum away from privatization may be modest but it’s unmistakable.

Educators across the nation have been calling attention to the dangers of school privatization as part of the #RedforEd Movement. In November, Arizona voters rejected Proposition 305, which would have significantly expanded the state’s school voucher program.

Still, by attempting to pry open the federal tax code to enable school voucher expansion, privatization advocates are demonstrating how relentless they are and will continue to be.

“While this bill isn’t likely to be enacted during this Congress, it sends a worrisome message about the direction that some private school advocates would like to go,” Davis warns. “They’re hoping to set the table for a major federal voucher plan the next time the political stars align in their favor.”



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Here’s What Happens When Schools Start Later


Starting school later allows adolescents to get more sleep, thus improving student’s physical and mental health, attendance, and academic performance, according to new research published by Science Advances.

Adolescents are recommended to get nine hours of sleep a night, but a number of external factors – including interrupted sleep from academic responsibilities and light-emitting devices – has degraded sleep quality and length so that students are only getting about 6 hours and 50 minutes of sleep per night. And because teens don’t produce melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone, until later in the night, merely going to bed earlier isn’t really helping.

To help combat sleep deprivation, a growing number of school districts are delaying opening bell by up to an hour.

While a growing body of research supports later school start times, researchers at the University of Washington worked with two schools in Seattle – Franklin High and Roosevelt High – to determine if there was any correlation between between the change and academic performance specifically. In 2016, Seattle public schools changed the starting bell from 7:50 am to 8:45 am.

Sleep deprivation has a disproportionate impact on lower income kids and moving to later starts has decreased that harm.” – Cindy Jatul, teacher, Seattle Public Schools

By providing a group of sophomore biology students at each school with sleep-tracking watches and a daily sleep diary, the researchers collected the data two weeks prior to the schedule change and two weeks after. They found that the students on average gained an extra 34 minutes of sleep.

Following the later start time, students were also more alert and engaged in class, absences and tardiness decreased, and final grades increased by 4.5 percent.

Starting school later also helped students combat the symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation, such as fatigue, depression, and memory and cognition impairment.

Delayed start times may even lead to a decrease in the achievement gap between students from low and high socioeconomic backgrounds, said the researchers.

Low-income students make up almost two-thirds of the population at Franklin High, compared with only 12 percent over at Roosevelt High. Although Roosevelt’s students experienced little change after the hour setback, Franklin students’ tardiness and first-period absences dropped to levels similar to Roosevelt’s students.

A Challenge But It’s Worth It

Cindy Jatul, a biology teacher at Roosevelt High School and member of the Seattle Education Association, helped organize the shift in start times for the Seattle school district. After seeing firsthand the effects of sleep-deprivation on her students and her own children, Jatul co-led the Start School Later chapter in Seattle. Start School Later is an advocacy group promoting student health and education by raising public awareness about the correlation between sleep and school hours.

As a former nurse practitioner, Mrs. Jatul has “long been aware of the issues that our early start times have caused in terms of sleep deprivation, which ties into numerous health and learning issues.”

“Sleep deprived teens struggle to learn, have greater risk for depression, anxiety, suicidality, sports injury, and car accidents,” Jatul explains.

After the switch to later start times in Seattle, Jatul noticed that students were more awake and engaged in morning classes and better able to participate in analytical thinking.

The Seattle study showed that more restful students saw a median 4.5 percent jump in their grades, and had better attendance records.

Still, in Seattle and in other districts across the country, many are concerned with the problems that later school start times pose. Parents are worried that children may have to walk home after dark, coaches and club-leaders are concerned about after school activities going late into the night, and administrators are unsure of the cost and logistics of changing bus schedules.

Jatul noted that the district-wide time change did not come without dissent and challenges.

“It took nearly five years of community-based advocacy to get the school board to vote for later starts for middle and high schools. There was opposition from athletic directors, a previous superintendent, and some parent groups. There were also numerous logistical complications to address mainly around transportation,” she recalls.

Jatul and other Seattle Education Association Members formed the Bell Time task force to address concerns about costs and logistics. The team found that delaying opening bell could actually benefit schools. Modifying the bus schedule, for example, would require the district to reevaluate routes. The task force found modified start times would allow them to fix inefficiencies existing in the current bus schedule system.

The task force’s report also pointed out districts would likely save money on programs for disciplinary actions, school health clinics, counseling, and class failures. Students are less likely to need these programs when they get more sleep.

Jatul’s support for later start times has not changed after Seattle implemented the shift. She strongly believes that the adverse effects of sleep deprivation are far more detrimental than the challenges and adjustments created by starting school later.



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‘School Hardening’ Not Making Students Safer, Say Experts


It may be no surprise that 2018 was the worst year on record for school shootings. According to federal data, there were 94 gun incidents at U.S. schools last year. That’s an increase of almost 60% over the previous high, recorded in 2016.

One of those incidents of course was the horrific shooting on Feb. 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 students and staff members. This attack – and the many school shootings that followed –  galvanized a long-dormant national debate over gun violence. Students  mobilized across the country, demanding elected officials step up and fix the nation’s lax gun laws.

While the debate over access to firearms dominated headlines, the discussion over how to create safer schools has addressed a number of issues, including school climate, the scarcity of mental health services, threat assessment, the role of school resource officers, and professional development for school staff.

Something else, however, has been happening on the ground in a growing number of districts. It’s the proverbial “Quick Fix,”  in the form of millions of dollars allocated to “target harden” schools. Eager to demonstrate decisive, quick action to understandably anxious parents, officials have purchased products ranging from mega-expensive state-of-art surveillance technology, metal detectors, facial recognition software, bullet-proof whiteboards, and fortified entries.

Ken Trump, a school safety expert, calls it the triumph of the “wow over the how.” And it comes with a cost beyond what is recorded on a district’s bottom line.

“A skewed focus on target hardening neglects the time and resources needed to spend on professional development training, planning, behavioral and mental health intervention supports for students, and other best practices,” Trump explains.

But research and experience consistently shows that a comprehensive approach is needed for school safety programs.

Students are demanding from the adults in the school system to keep them safe and to provide the resources and supports they need, says National Education Association Vice-President Becky Pringle, and “we can’t be afraid to take all the issues on.”

“It’s absolutely essential that everyone is at the table talking because it’s complex. And we have to attack it and solve it in a thoughtful and comprehensive way.”

The School Security Industry

Marking the somber one-year anniversary of the Parkland school shooting this week, Pringle joined Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and John Feinblatt president of Everytown For Gun Safety in unveiling a new report that provides a policy blueprint to curb gun violence in schools and support safe and healthy learning environments.

The report identifies the need to increase mental health services and social emotional support in schools, and design focused intervention strategies that can be implemented by districts.

But preventing gun violence in schools  also requires a concerted effort to keep firearms out of the hands of  individuals who shouldn’t have them in the first place. NEA, AFT and Everytown call for the passage of  “red flag” laws that allow families and law enforcement to intervene and temporarily restrict a person’s access to guns when it is evident they pose a threat to themselves or others.

“Red Flag laws are a proven tool,” the report states, “and because they are drafted with strong due process protections, they enjoy strong bipartisan support.” Currently, 13 states and the District of Columbia have these laws on the books and more are expected to follow suit in 2019.

The report also calls for passage of the Bipartisan Background Checks Bill which would require background checks for all guns sold as well as most transfers.

While improving physical security in schools is essential (specific recommendations in the report include installing internal locks and limiting the number of entry points), “we cannot convert our schools into prisons and treat our students like prisoners,” said Pringle.

“We need to balance the improvement of the physical security of the schools without compromising our principles and our values around learning.”

In many schools that balance has been obliterated by the school security industry, according to a recent investigation by the Associated Press. While educators, school leaders, and school safety experts are championing proven best practices, the $2.7 billion security industry is working overtime – with noticeable success –  to convince districts that sophisticated and expensive products and services are the answer to their problems.

According to AP, security firms in 2018 “helped Congress draft a law that committed $350 million to equipment and other school security over the next decade. Nearly 20 states have come up with another $50 million, ad local school districts are reworking budgets to find more money.”

“School safety is the wild, wild West,” security consultant Mason Wooldridge told AP. “Any company can claim anything they want.”

Bullet-proof whiteboards are just one of the many products security companies are selling to school districts.

The security hardware and product industry has hijacked school safety, says Ken Trump.

“They have become increasingly organized in their lobbying of Congress and state governments. Their focus includes taking school security out of the hands of education agencies and put under the authority of homeland security departments, which, by their nature, tend of focus on the physical security measures and infrastructure hardening,” Trump says.

According to available research, as a school safety strategy, target hardening doesn’t work and is likely counterproductive. A new study out of Ohio State University finds that students and staff in schools that employ hi-tech security measures experience higher levels of fear. Furthermore, the authors could not point to any demonstrable gains in student safety through target-hardening – a startling conclusion given the immense financial costs associated with this approach.

“Instead of simply hardening schools against attack,” the researchers write, “educators should focus on building school environments characterized by mutual trust, active listening, respect for student voices and expression, cooperativeness, and caring relationships with and among students.”

Arming Educators – The Bad Idea That Hasn’t Gone Away

Last year, the Florida Legislature considered a bill that would allow educators to carry firearms on school property. After considerable pushback from the public, the proposal was scaled back to cover certain trained school personnel, not classroom teachers.

One year later, the same lawmakers have revived the measure, and this time they may succeed. Legislative committees recently approved expanding the “guardian” program to include educators.  Doing so, Sen. Bill Montford warned,  would signal “a monumental change in public education. We are shifting the mission of public education from being one of teaching to being one of teaching and law enforcement.”

arming teachers

A teacher attends an NRA shooting training session(Photo by Sebastiano Tomada/Sipa USA)

Arming educators – a dangerous and reckless idea overwhelmingly opposed by educators – gained traction among state lawmakers after President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos endorsed the idea soon after the Parkland shooting.

If its guardian program is expanded, Florida will become the ninth state  to specifically allow school staff, including teachers, to carry firearms, joining Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming.

Sarah Lerner, a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, believes armed educators would not have made any difference in reversing the horror her school experienced on Feb. 14 2018.

“There’s nothing that a gun could have done in those six minutes .. a handgun would not have been any match for an AR-15, which is a weapon of war.  They’re not equal.”

And during a normal, run-of-the-mill school day, the risks are just too high.

“If the gun falls in the wrong hands, if you mistakenly shoot the wrong student who you think is armed and dangerous, if your gun goes off in class … it is probably the most ridiculous solution I have heard,” says Lerner.

‘We Don’t Need to Reinvent the Wheel’

While arming teachers and turning our schools into fortresses may be misguided knee-jerk responses to school violence, they haven’t succeeded in completely overshadowing the more expansive strategies that focus on mental health, positive school climate and community partnerships.

The most effective programs pool resources, expertise, and training, making it easier to recognize when a student is troubled and requires help. Partnerships between schools and community organizations can facilitate connections and provide a continuum of preventative care services.

A Virginia educator calls for more school counselors at a #RedforEd rally in January. (photo: Virginia Education Association)

But districts, after more than a decade of budget cuts, have to replenish the ranks of school psychologists and counselors.  The counselor-to-student ratio has widened to exceed 1:700 in many states. (The American School Counselor Association recommends a minimum of one counselor for every 250 students.) #RedforEd protests have spotlighted this gap, with striking teachers in Los Angeles recently winning a concession from the district to bring the city’s ration down to 1:500.

Communication and interaction between students, principals, teachers, school support staff, and their neighbors is a  pillar of the school safety strategy of the Radnor Township School District, profiled by NEA Today in 2017.

“A school can have the most sophisticated safety measures in place and still not be truly safe,” said David Wood, president of the Radnor Township Education Association. “We take pride in building trust in our students so they feel confident enough to come forward and tell an adult if they sense another student is struggling.”

Training staff to cultivate a trusting relationship with students, says Ken Trump, is the kind of straightforward best practice that, despite its success, hasn’t been embedded in enough districts over the years.

“The most effective school safety strategies are less visible or even invisible when compared to trendy, quick-fix fads,” he explains. “We do not need to reinvent the wheel. We simply need to implement and sustain the best practices consistently and in a balanced, comprehensive approach over time.”

Security in Numbers
At a social justice training session, Illinois school security officers discuss strategies for exploring the impact of social justice issues on students and educators with the goal of ensuring a safe school climate.

How to Become One of the Safest School Districts in the Nation

Radnor Township has the equipment, training and and emergency drills, but it’s the interaction between community members that has been the ultimate deterrent to school violence.

mental health in schoolsAre Schools Ready to Tackle the Mental Health Crisis?
The growing crisis around students’ mental health, and the scarcity of available care, has long been a concern of many educators and health professionals. With one in five children living with a mental health condition, more schools are creating comprehensive, systemic programs to address the problem.



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Educators and Parents Reset the Class Size ‘Debate’


Earlier this month, Rebecca Segal, a kindergarten teacher in Milwaukee, walked into her classroom, counted the number of students in front of her, and thought to herself, “This is going to be a great day.”

Typically, Segal teaches around 30 kids, but a blizzard and frigid temperatures, while not severe enough for an official snow day, kept more than half her students at home. With only 12 kids in her classroom, Segal knew right off the bat that things were going to be different.

There would be more time for hands-on activities, more one-on-one interaction, a generally slower more focused approach that wasn’t really possible with a class of 30 students or more.

“I physically felt calmer and more comfortable and they did as well,” Segal recalls. “Behavior is handled much more fluidly when you can give kids the attention they need. I remember thinking , ‘Wow, this must have been what it was like back in the day’!”

When the bell rang at 3 o’clock, Segal’s heart sank a little. For only eight hours, she and her students got to experience how things should be but aren’t.  “I was sad because even if it were to change and class sizes became smaller, the kids I have now won’t see it. But that’s what every student deserves.”

Nevertheless, Segal is heartened by the reemergence of the class size issue, particularly the strength educators have shown across the country in forcing policymakers to confront the problem. Many state legislatures – thanks in large part to the influx of new pro-public education lawmakers generated by the 2018 elections – are finally taking it up. Most notably, the recent 6-day teacher strike in Los Angeles led to key concessions by the district in capping that city’s absurdly large class sizes.

Source: “Class Size Reduction: A Proven Reform Strategy,” NEA Policy Brief, 2015

It didn’t start in Los Angeles. Calling for reduced class size has been a centerpiece of the #RedforEd movement that began last Spring. After years of being told the number of students in a classroom didn’t matter or that it was just too darn expensive to fix (or both), educators, students and parents have had enough.

The school funding crisis, says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, is a “man-made crisis.” Lawmakers created it and that they can fix—if they choose to.

Reducing class size is expensive, but…well… so what?

Class size matters and is therefore worth the investment, says Bruce Baker, a professor at the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University.

“The things that cost money benefit students,” Baker writes in Does Money Matter in Education? “Ample research indicates that children in smaller classes achieve better outcomes, both academic and otherwise, and that class size reduction can be an effective strategy for closing racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps.”

Educators are more than happy to talk about costs, but they’ve refocused the debate on class size squarely where it should be: on the costs to our students if no action is taken.

‘A House Party, Not a Classroom’

After her day with only 12 students ended,  Rebecca Segal reflected on her experience and decided to share her thoughts on social media.

“For me it was just a cathartic Facebook post, but I really wasn’t prepared for the response. It really struck a chord. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised because we all want to talk about this issue.”

That was the case when NEA recently asked its members on Facebook and Twitter to share their class size stories.

A music teacher described in detail how too many students in one classroom makes individualized attention virtually impossible.

I’ve had as many as 38 in previous districts. My current has been 31 at times. The worst part of it is that I’m a music teacher, which means teacher’s aides get their preps during my class and their students come without them. I have aides for profoundly disabled students, but inclusion students with 1:1 help on their IEPs don’t have access to them during my class. It’s terrible for them and for the other students in the class, because it often impacts behaviors. Too large class sizes, not enough aides, and not enough respect for the “specials” classes to even consider it a problem that needs to be fixed. We’re being cut off at the knees!…We’re failing them with our large class sizes. It’s not teachers doing a bad job, it’s decision makers making it impossible to do our job effectively.

A 4th grade teacher has fewer students this year and doesn’t want to go back:

I had 35 fourth graders last year. I could hardly work with any small groups or give one on one attention. Grading work and analysis of formative assessment was nigh impossible. And we do not have release time such as PE, art, music, etc because we classroom teachers are expected to teach those on our own. I was at work until at least 6 PM daily! I have 27 kids this year which is much better.

An English Language Arts teacher says fitting all her students in one classroom was a challenge:

 As a first year ELA teacher of 9th graders. I once had a class with 39 students! The class was also an inclusion class with several students who had behavioral improvement plans. I literally didn’t even have space for all the students! It was more like a house party … not a classroom!

This educator crossed Los Angeles off her list when she asked about class size:

I interviewed with LA when I was looking for my first teaching job back in 2003. My first question was about class size. They replied no less than 35 (for fifth grade). I was fresh out of college and knew my classroom management skills needed some work. I finished the interview, but I knew after they said 35 that I would not be moving there. 

Breaking Through

The impact large class sizes have on a district’s ability to recruit and retain teachers tends is undeniable. In 2017, the Learning Policy Institute found that teacher turnover is lowest in states that offer higher pay, make greater investments in education, and support smaller class sizes.

This fact tends to get dismissed or ignored by those who have believe there’s nothing wrong with larger class size that cannot be resolved by a quality educator. Hiring and keeping great teachers, however, is difficult obviously when larger class sizes increase teacher attrition. 

“Class size is a fundamental issue,” says Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). “That is about student learning conditions. That is about educator working conditions.”

California ranks 48 our of 50 states in class size and Los Angeles has some of the largest in the state. Capping class size was a central demand in UTLA’s contract negotiations with the district that eventually broke down in January. The subsequent city-wide strike of 30,000 educators forced major concessions. The district agreed to reduce class sizes in grades 4-12, and eliminate Section 1.5, a provision in the previous contract that allowed the district to cite “fiscal distress” to ignore class size caps.

Up north in the Bay Area, Oakland educators are also demanding smaller class sizes as they gear up for a possible strike. On February 4, 95% of the city’s teachers, who have been working without a contract since July 2017, voted to authorize the action, which could begin if the district continues to reject their demands. The vote, said Oakland Education Association President Keith Brown, sent a “clear message that members are ready to fight for schools students deserve. It’s a mandate for smaller class size, more student support and a  living wage.”

On the class size issue specifically, OEA is proposing to reduce all elementary school classes by one student and all middle and high school classes by five students. These reductions would go into effect this year and then double in 2020.  Brown says these and other steps are critical to stem the teacher turnover crisis that has crippled the district.

As we saw in Los Angeles, community coalitions have been integral to OEA’s campaign. Across the country, educators have a powerful partner in parents.

The voices calling for smaller class sizes are growing louder, says Rebecca Segal, and they’re beginning break through.

“The fact that educators are willing to strike over class size is amazing and we have new leaders at the state level now who understand public education,” she says.

“It’s still a struggle, but we’re not shouting into thin air anymore. We’re shouting loud enough so that people are hearing and maybe will start to do something about it.”





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Experience Matters: The Case for Seniority


One of the most persistent attacks on the teaching profession over the years has been around the issue of seniority. Lawmakers have been chipping away at seniority, believing it saddles schools with ineffective teachers and forces younger educators out of the profession. But experience matters. A lot. The more experienced an educator, the better able she is to address the needs of students because she’s dealt with just about every learning level, behavioral challenge, engagement strategy and classroom management style. She’s there to mentor the newer teachers and help them become the best educators they can be.

NEA Today recently spoke to Emma García, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, who specializes in the economics of education and education policy, about why seniority makes sense for schools and students. 

Why should teacher seniority be preserved when so many new, talented educators have entered the classroom with such great potential?

EG: This should not be seen as an “either or” situation. These are two generations who are naturally linked to each other and who work in tandem to achieve common purposes. Also, we should be careful with “letting teachers go” and rather improve retention and attraction of high-quality teachers (the estimates are that schools are lacking about 110 thousand teachers this academic year, and the forecasts are that shortages will persist).

The evidence from teachers themselves and from research says that experience on the job is a key credential of quality and effectiveness. New, talented and well-trained teachers are needed to replace who leave due to attrition and, sometimes, turnover.

The new and talented educators, whose teaching skills greatly improve during their first years in the profession, can better develop as educators when they are integrated into a stable group and benefit from mentoring and feedback from more senior teachers. Senior teachers not only know their profession very well, but have a well of context knowledge and can play a very important role in helping younger teachers build their careers.

The argument against seniority rests largely on this notion that preserving seniority costs more than making hiring and firing decisions based on merit. How is this off-the-mark?

EG: It depends on the strategy we prefer to adequately staff our schools. Remember, our schools are short of teachers, which is costly to students, other teachers, and the system, and that filling a vacancy in teaching—regardless of who is replaced or what motivated the need for the teacher—is costly as well. It also depends critically on what we understand we mean when we say “merit.” How is it measured and what does it mean for an educator? It is very difficult to disentangle teachers’ merit and contribution to students’ development from the families’, peers’, and schools’ contributions.

Rather than costs alone, we should think about “efficiency”, and about “having a stable and strong teacher labor force.” For example, because merit and seniority are correlated, it may be more efficient (i.e., more effective promoting students’ development relative to its costs) to keep the most senior teachers on board. If we care about the stability of a qualified teacher labor force, it may be better to find the right balance between retaining senior teachers and attracting great new teachers.

Ensuring our schools have strong and effective teachers can also be helped by better early training and mentoring practices, more opportunities for collaboration and professional development, as well as through better working conditions and broad supports for teachers and students; this last option is possibly the most efficient and most sustainable solution.

And then there’s the myth that it protects bad, lazy teachers who want to coast into retirement.

EG: Seniority, tenure and other protections were not put in place to allow for that to happen. If those “lazy”or “bad” professionals are in our system, we need to identify how that happened and fix it. We need great teachers in our schools, and there are many factors—in the schools and institutionally—that can help with that.

How does seniority protect curriculum?

EG: Curriculum, just like the majority of ingredients of teaching and learning, is informed in a key manner by teachers. Seniority also plays a role in that because more experienced teachers have developed the know-how about curriculum contents and about teaching practices in the classroom. Their knowledge about how to deliver it in heterogeneous classrooms and across different schools’ contexts is greatly important.

Well-trained novice teachers can also contribute to improving the curriculum, but their assessment may be more useful when they work with more senior teachers to identify what needs to be added to the curriculum and how to integrate that with the existing contents and instructional practices.

What other ways does it benefit our education system?

EG: Together with education and other skills, training and experience are core components of our human capital. In addition to being one of the credentials of quality and effectiveness, experience is also an indirect indicator that a teacher intends to stay in teaching (an indicator of selection).

I cannot think of any other profession—especially any labor intensive, involving personal interactions, profession such as teaching— where we would accept that the value of experience were put into question. We can discuss if teachers receive the necessary lifelong professional development or whether their students and schools receive the necessary supports, but not if experience is valuable.

What is behind the attack on seniority? What is the endgame of those who would abolish the practice in our schools?

EG: In theory, it is a strategy that pursues objectives besides what the prime goals of education are, that threatens public education and teachers, and that misguides policy. In practice, it’s a distraction from the necessary efforts to address the persistent nature of achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students, and an obstacle to build a solid reputation for teaching and to professionalize it.



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Educators Strike a Blow Against For-Profit Charter Schools


In his January 15 State of the State Address, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey seemed to acknowledge that his zealous pursuit of what he calls “choice and competition” in education was careening a little off course.

“We know improvements can be made,” Ducey said. “More transparency, more accountability, and granting financial review and oversight over taxpayer dollars.”

But, as EJ Montini pointed out in The Arizona Republic, Ducey, an ardent supporter of school privatization, couldn’t actually bring himself to attach the words “charter school” to that or any other sentence in his speech.

“You can’t begin to confront a problem when you can’t even speak its name,” Montini wrote. “If the governor really wants ‘more transparency’ and ‘more accountability,’ as he says, a good first step would be admitting where the problem lies. Just say it … charter schools.”

As catalogued in an investigative series by The Republic, the state’s for-profit charter sector is plagued by financial mismanagement, profiteering, and a mixed (at best) academic record.  Glossing over this reality, however, has become something of a time-consuming — and increasingly futile — task for pro-privatization lawmakers in the state and across the nation.

primavera online charter school

According to an investigation by the Arizona Republic, Primavera Online charter school has the third-highest dropout rate in the state and test scores that are below average. Despite this record, its CEO received an $8.8 million payout in 2017.

Although the rate of expansion has slowed somewhat in recent years, charter schools are deeply entrenched in the American education landscape. (There are approximately 7,000 charter schools spread across 44 states and the District of Columbia.) Some of these schools are generally effective and are subject to the same basic safeguards as public schools. They also adhere to the original vision that led to the opening of the first charter school in 1992 — as incubators of innovation that would collaborate with traditional public schools. Many charter schools today, however, are for-profit, corporate chains that seek not to collaborate, but to compete with public schools for enrollment and taxpayer dollars.

As these schools have saturated many districts across the country, the costs to public education and to communities has become clearer, and the people have begun to push back.

In Arizona, modest charter reforms are finally showing signs of life in the legislature — thanks in large part to the leadership of the Arizona Education Association (AEA). “Our students are the ones who suffer when we don’t hold charter schools accountable,” says AEA President Joe Thomas.

As state legislatures and school districts are starving public education — asking educators to do far more with far less — the corporate billionaires behind the growth of unaccountable charter schools have been privatizing public education and diverting resources from our children to their wallets.” – NEA President Lily Eskelsen García

Ohio’s charter sector — once considered the “Wild, Wild West” for charter expansion — has been knocked back on its heels by a deluge of embarrassing failures, most notably the notorious failure of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, the state’s largest charter virtual school that closed its doors suddenly in late 2018. (Indeed, the record of cyber charters nationwide is dismal across-the-board.)

The resulting outcry forced Ohio lawmakers to pass a series of measures designed to strengthen accountability and require fraudulent charter school funds to be returned to school districts.

It’s California, however, that has dealt the charter industry its most serious recent setbacks. In November 2018, Marshall Tuck, a former charter executive, was defeated in the closely-watched race for state superintendent by Tony Thurmond. Thurmond, strongly backed by the California Teachers Association, has promised to curb the growth of charter schools in the state.

And of course, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), in their historic and successful six-day strike in January, forced the district to reevaluate the impact of charter schools in their communities.

This rather sudden reversal of fortune comes after more than two decades of almost unchecked expansion, fueled by deep pockets, minimal transparency, and adoring national media coverage. Little wonder then that many corporate charter school operators and their backers nowadays may be a little dazed and confused.

Educators and their unions have lobbied for checks on the charter industry for years, but “more communities are coming to see that charter expansion is in no way some sort of magic cure-all,” says Bob Tate, NEA senior policy analyst.

“To the contrary, charter expansion has been creating more problems than it helps solve.”

The ‘Bubble’ Starts to Burst

Just days before Ducey’s address, the Grand Canyon Institute, a centrist think tank based in Phoenix, released a report that suggested that Arizona’s lightly-regulated charter sector may be on the verge of a mini-meltdown.

The institute examined charter school finances between 2014 and 2017 and concluded that more than 100 of the state’s 540 charter schools are in danger of closing because of excessive debt and other financial troubles.

“You will see a bunch of charters folding suddenly,” said the report’s co-author Curt Cardine, a former charter school executive.

Preston Green, a professor of educational leadership and law at the University of Connecticut, isn’t particularly surprised.

Many charter schools open quickly, but they close quickly as well. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, roughly 2,500 schools shut their doors from 2001 to 2014.

In 2016, Green published a paper called “Are We Headed Toward a Charter School Bubble?” in which he made the case that the glut of charter school authorizers and the scarcity of oversight was creating an abundance of poor performing schools in low-income communities. He likened the situation to the subprime loan crisis that triggered the 2008-09 economic recession.

The paper sparked an immediate and fierce reaction from charter school stalwarts. Today, however, the correlation Green drew seems pretty spot-on.

“We warned that the policy of multiple authorizers, which was designed to increase the number of charter schools, could lead to the insufficient screening of charter schools,” Green explains. “Independent authorizers would be freer to issue charters because they did not assume the risk of failure.”

Those risks have become reality. Charter schools open quickly but close quickly too, sometimes mid-year, leaving parents and student scrambling. Roughly 2,500 schools shut their doors between 2001 and 2014.

As teacher and blogger Peter Greene wrote in 2017, “just google ‘charter school closes unexpectedly,’ and watch the stories pile up.”

The charter “bubble” Green identified may be forming in Chicago according to a new article published in Journal of Urban Affairs.  “Faulty and simplistic assumptions behind market-based strategies,” the authors write, “has led to an overproduction of charter schools — the results of a self-interested growth mandate that can undermine the stability of the public school system as a whole.”

‘More Work Needs to Be Done’

Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, takes it a step further. Caputo believes the unchecked growth of unaccountable, corporate charter schools in the city  “will lead to the demise of the civic institution of public education.”

Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) currently has more charter schools and more charter school students than any other school system in the nation. Enrollment continues to grow, sapping $600 million annually from public schools.

Los Angeles educators made a cap on charter schools and a reexamination of their impact a central tenet of their recent historic strike. This week, in a 5-1 vote, the school board passed a resolution calling for a state study into the impact of charters and an 8- to 10-month moratorium on new charters in the district until the study is complete. Caputo-Pearl called the vote “a win for  justice, transparency, and common sense.”

And one that is likely to reverberate across the country. With UTLA showing the way, expect more educators in other states to make unaccountable charter schools and their financial impact on public schools a lynchpin of their organizing and mobilization efforts.

“What UTLA members and community supporters of the strike called attention to is the part about charters that has tended to get talked about a lot less: how charter expansion has deprived public school students of the resources they need,” Bob Tate explains.

This is  “bargaining for the common good” in action. Increasingly, unions are building coalitions with partners around contract demands that benefit the greater community.  Through common-good bargaining “communities and citizens see what they and unions can accomplish working together that they often cannot achieve acting alone,” says Tate.

“Coalitions such as that built between NEA members, parents, and other community stakeholders can be powerful forces for our students and for the common good of our communities — as we just saw in Los Angeles.”

Preston Green also credits educators in helping inform the public about the dangers posed by unfettered charter school growth. While a shift appears underway and some lawmakers are taking encouraging steps, Green also cautions that progress can easily stall.

“More still needs to be done. I do not think the public truly understands all the problems posed by charter schools. Until that time arises, public officials will not act.”

cyber charter schoolsHow Bad Do For-Profit, Virtual Schools Have to Get?
How can hundreds of millions of state funds be squandered on schools fraught with fraud, mismanagement, and a shoddy academic record? Welcome to the world of for-profit, virtual charter schools.

 

Racial Isolation of Charter School Students Exacerbating Resegregation
No one is holding charter schools responsible for the the return of Civil Right-era levels of segregation. The racial isolation in many charter schools, however, is undeniable.





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Virginia Educators Vow to Hold Lawmakers Accountable for Funding


Roughly 4,000 Virginians, led by educators, rallied in front of the state capitol in Richmond on Monday to call out legislators for allowing education funding to suffer even as the state prospers.

English teacher Amy Brown said she was at the rally because her students deserve better than a classroom with moldy ceiling tiles and a wall full of roaches.

“We have cubicle partitions that we can’t hang bulletin board paper on because there’s nothing to staple it to—so we just keep taping in roaches,” said Brown, who works at Henderson Middle School in Richmond.

State support for schools has not been restored even to 2009 levels; in fact, education funding was cut 9 percent since the recession ended. That has resulting in ballooning class sizes, a lack of resources from textbooks to computers, and deepening inequity between schools in Virginia’s richer and poorer communities.

The rally is the latest Red for Ed action in a series of events ranging from the teacher walkouts in West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma, to the recently concluded L.A. teachers strike.

The Virginia Education Association (VEA)—the state’s largest educator union—and the grassroots organization Virginia Educators United coordinated to gather their members and other public school advocates today to deliver the message that the Commonwealth puts far too little of its magnificent wealth into public education.

Virginia Educators United gathered first at Monroe Park, where they were joined by NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia and AFT President Randi Weingarten. The group then marched roughly a mile to meet VEA members in front of the capitol steps.

Virginia elementary music teacher and NEA Secretary-Treasurer Princess Moss riled the crowd by pointing out that Virginia is the 12th richest state in the nation and ranked by Forbes magazine as #1 for business.

In other words, the state economy is strong. Yet the state ranks 42nd in per-pupil state funding and 34th in teacher pay.

“We’re going to hold legislators accountable,” Moss said, then led the crowd in a chant: “I know, you know, Virginia can do better!”

Shortly after the rally, the House of Delegates announced their intent to draft a budget that includes a pay increase of 5 percent for teachers, matching the request made by Gov. Northam.

Virginia Education Association President Jim Livingston called it both a “step in the right direction” and a “down payment.”

“Virginia Education Association members from across the state rallied at the Capitol today to protest the state’s retreat from its funding responsibilities,” Livingston said. “Our members are energized, they are dedicated—and they are sick and tired of being told they’ll get the support their students need…some time later.”

That’s a change educators here would like to see.

“Policy makers need to hear from us, said Eunice Turkson, a teacher at Fairfield Court Elementary in Richmond. “They sit in their offices and look at students as charts and graphs, but we are in the classroom and we see the reality. They should listen more to teachers and give us what we need.”





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UTLA Strike Ends With Historic Agreement


Photo: Joe Brusky

Students and educators are back in their classrooms January 23, as the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) ratified a Tentative Agreement (TA), ending a six-day strike. More than 30,000 members hit the picket lines on January 14 to fight for their students and the resources that the nearly 600,000 kids in Los Angeles public schools need to be successful.

“This is a historic victory for public education educators, students and parents. Class-size reduction, limits on testing, and access to nurses, counselors and librarians will change our students’ lives forever. We won this victory through our unity, our action, and our shared sacrifice,” said Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of UTLA, in a press statement.

The strike came after years of frustration. “Educators and parents reached a boiling point … about conditions in classrooms,” said Caputo-Pearl.

Some of the problems on the table were class sizes of 45 or more students, 40 percent of schools with a nurse only one day a week, inadequate funding for key programs such as early childhood education and special education.

The agreement is a paradigm shift and delivers on the defining demands of UTLA’s contract campaign. Wins include:

  • A six percent pay raise with no contingencies;
  • A nurse in every school five days a week;
  • Lower class sizes, including an immediate reduction of seven students in secondary math and English classes;
  • Counselor-student ratios of 1:500;
  • Commitment to reduce testing by 50 percent;
  • A teacher librarian in every secondary school five days a week;
  • Investment in community schools;
  • A pathway to cap charters via a resolution calling on the state to establish a charter school cap and create a Governor’s committee on charter schools; and
  • Hard caps on special education caseloads and release time for testing

Read the full TA here: utla.net/news/tentative-agreement-2019

“I’m so proud of our members, classroom teachers, counselors, nurses, librarians, psychologists,” Caputo-Pearl said during a news conference on Tuesday.

“When we fight, we win,” said @teacherinroom6 through her Instagram account. “Did we get everything we were fighting for? No. But we did get enough to keep public education headed on a path towards a healthy and concrete future. Privatization did not win today and for that we can breathe a collective sigh of relief.”

Organizing for the Common Good

UTLA’s strategy to win was based on bargaining for the common good, which brings demands in collective bargaining that benefit the entire community, not just union members. Among the wins are plans to increase green space and the end of “random searches,” which send many students of color into the school-to-prison pipeline. Additionally, the school district will provide a dedicated hotline and attorney for immigrant families and will collaborate with UTLA for other services.

Photo: Joe Brusky

Issues like these is what prompted parents and community organizations to stand with UTLA. For example, on January 18, nearly 2,000 parents and students created a chain that stretched nearly a mile. They wore red, and stood with educators.

The role of UTLA and its members was paramount, too. Picket line captains, chapter chairs, and UTLA leaders — and others — united thousands of educators, parents, community organizations, and other union members to rally in support of students and public education. Actors, musicians, and politicians also came out in support of UTLA.

On day one of the strike, 30,000 UTLA members signed in on picket lines across Los Angeles; more than 900 school sites participated; more than 10,000 parents, students and community members joined on the picket lines; and more than 50,000 people march to LAUSD headquarter to demand action.

By day three, more than 12,000 parents and community members came out to support UTLA, including Diane Ravitch and musician/actor Steven Van Zandt.

Crowds remained strong on day five of the strike, with more than 60,000 supporters on the steps of city hall, and day six brought out 1,000 firefighters from across the U.S. and Canada, whom were in Los Angeles for the International Association of Fire Fighters.

#RedForEd is a Movement

The Los Angeles teachers’ strike was just the latest in the national #RedForEd movement that began with walkouts and work actions last year in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Washington state.

“Although the bargaining issues vary greatly from place to place, there are some issues they all share,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García: “The concern that public education has been chronically underfunded in state and local budgets for decades, resulting in overcrowded classrooms, too few counselors and nurses, tattered textbooks held together by duct tape, broken computers and outdated materials, and buildings that have fallen into disrepair”

She added, “What we are witnessing is not a moment but a movement of and by educators who are fighting for the public schools our students deserve. We’re raising our voices together for our students, for our schools and for ourselves as educators. That’s why educators in Los Angeles and all over this country are #RedForEd.”

While 21 months of strained negotiations led Los Angeles educators to strike for the first time in 30 years, the “strike has helped not only move to this agreement, but has helped raise the issue of public education nationally and internationally,” Caputo-Pearl said during yesterday’s news conference. “The creativity and innovation and passion and love and emotion of our members was out on the street, in the communities and in the parks for everyone to see.”

Are Oakland and Denver Next?

#RedforEd is also thriving 400 miles north in Oakland, where educators are preparing for a possible strike. Like their colleagues in Los Angeles, they want smaller classes and more support — such as more counselors, librarians, and nurses — for their students, and a living wage.

Oakland educators have been working without a contract since July 2017.  The district has a serious teacher turnover and class size problem, which the Oakland Education Association (OEA) says isn’t being addressed in the district’s proposals.

“Teachers are fed up with the poor working conditions and salaries, and with the learning conditions that our students are having to endure,” OEA President Keith Brown said. “We are fighting to end Oakland’s teacher turnover crisis and to bring stability for our students.”

If mediation and fact-finding doesn’t move the needle on negotiations, Oakland educators, like their colleagues in Los Angeles, are #Strikeready and could take action later this month.

Members of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) approved to strike on January 22, after more than a year of negotiations with Denver Public Schools (DPS) have failed to produce fair, predictable, and competitive pay.

DCTA has been negotiating with the district for 14 months to bring change to a compensation system that is directly linked to Denver’s teacher turnover crisis — 31 percent of Denver teachers have only been in their school for three years or less. The revolving door is a crisis for kids and families who count on DPS to consistently provide a caring, qualified and experienced teaching staff at every school.

“Denver teachers want to be in their classrooms with their students, not out on strike. But we have reached the tipping point in our negotiations with DPS where we must stand up for our profession and for our students and do what is best to keep dedicated, experienced teachers in this district,” said Henry Roman, president of DCTA.





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What Happens When Teachers Leave Mid-Year?


With the second half of the school year underway, it’s likely some students don’t have the same teacher they had in the fall. Mid-year teacher turnover doesn’t occur as frequently as end-of-year turnover, but it’s likely more prevalent than most people think.

U.S. teachers leave the profession at higher rate than other countries, but the debate and discussion over teacher attrition – reflected in  research and in the media – focuses on educators exiting the profession before the beginning of a school year,  based on the assumption that’s when turnover occurs. Little is known about teachers leaving mid-year.

It’s a knowledge gap that Christopher Redding of the University of Florida and Gary Henry of Vanderbilt University want to close.

“Teachers leaving mid-year is not looked at in the way end-of-year turnover is,” says Redding. “So we wanted to investigate when it occurs and the impact it has on students and schools.”

In a series of recent studies, Redding and Henry found that mid-year exits tend to be more disruptive and consequential to student learning.

Redding and Henry looked at teacher data in North Carolina and were able to distinguish the effect of turnover that occurred before the school year begins and turnover that happens during the school year. The researchers identified more than 13,600 first-year teachers who entered North Carolina classrooms from 2010 to 2012, and tracked them monthly during their first three years in the profession.

They found that while 4.6 percent of teachers in the state departed mid-year, that number jumped to 6 percent for new educators. Mid-year exits accounted for 25 percent of teacher turnover overall and occurred most often in high-poverty schools.

Drilling down into the question of achievement, Redding and Henry found that many math and English scores suffered, as well as a drop in learning. Losing a teacher mid-year was linked to a loss of anywhere between 32 and 72 instructional days during the school year, the study found.

Redding and Henry point to three pivotal factors to explain this outcome: classroom disruption, school instability and less-qualified replacement teachers.

Mid-year teacher turnover, Redding says, can sever the “social capital between the students and their family members, undercutting the child’s support system.”

Furthermore, these departures can make it challenging for educators to create and maintain a collaborative work environment within the school. When the school is forced to hire replacements, staff will likely be assigned to help get that new teacher up to speed, which cuts into their own increasingly scarce and valuable time.

Lean On Me: How Mentors Help First-Year Teachers
Mentors can make a huge difference. According to a 2015 federal study, 92 percent of first-year teachers assigned a mentor returned to their classroom. With a three-year, $600,000 grant from the NEA Great Public Schools fund, educators in Florida invested in a teacher-led, union-run orientation program and created meaningful mentorships between new and veteran teachers.

Teachers leaving mid-year only makes staffing a school with qualified educators more difficult. “When teacher turnover occurs during the school year, administrators choose replacement teachers from a diminished applicant pool comprised mainly of teachers not previously hired to work elsewhere, which is likely to yield less effective replacements,” the researchers write.

Indeed, one of the effects of the national teacher shortage – fueled by underfunded schools, low salaries and a scarcity of support and professional working conditions – is the widespread practice of turning to emergency or short-term licensure to put more teachers in the classroom.

According to the Learning Policy Institute, at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, more than 100,000 classrooms across the nation were staffed by instructors not fully qualified to teach. In Oklahoma, for example, more than 2100 emergency teaching certificates were issued last fall to fill the state’s classrooms. Seven year earlier, the state only issued 32.

Redding and Henry also found that preparation through an alternative pathway also made teachers much more likely to leave the profession during and after the school year. Those educators who attended traditional, in-state teacher preparation programs, on the other hand, were more likely to transfer to another school but less likely to leave the classroom altogether.

Supporting new teachers – either through mentoring or support from their principal – would likely steer many new teachers away from the exits. According to LPI, “strong mentoring and induction for novice teachers can be a valuable strategy to retain new teachers and improve their effectiveness. Well-mentored beginning teachers are twice as likely to stay in teaching as those who do not receive mentoring.”

Mentoring programs and more support from school leaders is a critical piece of the teacher retention puzzle. For any policy or intervention to be successful, however, Redding says we need to have a very careful understanding of when and why teachers leave.

“We have a general idea obviously, but teacher turnover is a diverse phenomenon, so we need more specificity if we’re now getting serious and talking about ways to remedy it.”

Want to Reduce the Teacher Shortage? Treat Teachers Like Professionals
Focusing on recruitment over retention, says one expert, is like “pouring water in a bucket that has holes at the bottom.” We should always recruit new teachers but the real issue is, how attractive a job is teaching? Do people want to work in the school and, more importantly, do they want to stay there?



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Teaching the Children of the Opioid Crisis


‘We Take Them As They Are’

Educators here, as in all public schools, must attend to state standards and the next big test. But they must also keep track of which parents have restraining orders against them and when students need to be released to make their counseling appointments. They keep an eye out for hungry kids so they can slip extra snacks into their backpacks.

Both Jackson County, W.Va., and Lawrence County, Ohio, have faltered and rallied as industries have come and gone. Their once-proud downtowns and neighborhoods are riddled with structures half-fallen, boarded up, or piled with debris.

But their schools are inviting and colorful, filled with student photos and projects, marking their school as a place where each and every one of them belongs.

“Our kids don’t come with a label that says, ‘My mom is an addict,’ or ‘My dad just got out of prison,’ or ‘My family is going through the recovery process,’” Sturgill says calmly. “We just take them as they are and try to figure out what’s best for them.”

There is no part of Julie Sturgill’s life that is untouched by addiction. She has lived the nightmare of seeing her own daughter become addicted to drugs. Now, she is raising her granddaughter.

Madison, who has white blond hair and a whisper of a voice, was exposed to drugs before she was born. Sturgill says her daughter worked hard to get clean, but has since relapsed, so for the past two years, Madison has lived with Julie and her husband, Rick. They are now Madison’s legal guardians.

After a day in the classroom facing more challenging behaviors among 8- and 9-year-olds than she’s ever known in her 20 years of teaching, Sturgill runs a book club as part of a new grant-funded aftercare program for at-risk kids. Not all of those children have families struggling with addiction, but many of them do.

Some evenings and every weekend, Sturgill can be found at church where she and her husband are growing a ministry designed to help people in treatment or long-term recovery and their supporters build a community. Pastor Rick, as his congregants call him, lost his own son to heroin addiction years ago.

As much as her own family has suffered, Julie Sturgill says she is lucky.

“I can do this homework with my granddaughter, I have the ideal schedule, I have the financial means, whereas many grandparents don’t have good health and might be living on very limited means in retirement,” she says.

Every educator we spoke with said that the growing number of children being raised by someone other than their parents is one of the most obvious shifts among their students.

Across the country, 2.6 million children are being raised by family members who are not their birth parents. These “grandfamilies” are most often formed outside of the foster care system, which leaves grandparents or other adult kin to figure out how to nurture children who may be shouldering multiple adverse childhood experiences. Decades of research shows that chronic stress can disrupt neurodevelopment in children and lead to negative coping mechanisms—substance abuse, risky behaviors, and self-harm—in adolescence.

Given the shortage of mental health supports in the community and the difficulty many families have accessing those services, schools are the best place to provide all the supports these children need. But years of insufficient funding have undercut schools’ ability to respond when crisis hits.

So educators do the best they can every day, with every student, even when it comes at a personal cost.



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L.A. Teachers Ready to Strike


Photo: Joe Brusky

Anyone who may have been under the impression that the #RedforEd movement was just a “2018 story” better brace themselves. Thirty-three thousand teachers in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) – the second largest district in the country –  are on the verge of striking to halt years of budget cuts. ballooning class size, and the expansion of unaccountable charter schools. Six hours north in the Bay Area, Oakland educators are also gearing up for a possible walk-out.

United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) and LAUSD have been mired in negotiations since April 2017, and teachers have been working without a contract for almost one year.  Educators made a good faith effort in mediation to reach an agreement, but district officials did not do the same, failing to offer any substantial proposals to reinvest in the city’s schools. In August, UTLA voted overwhelmingly (98% of the membership voted yes) to authorize a strike if talks continued to stall.

Unless a last-minute bargaining round produces substantial progress,  UTLA will go on strike on Monday, January 14, the first walkout since 1989.

The district has tried to present the impasse as a squabble over numbers and teacher salaries, a characterization UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl says is absolutely false and a disservice to students.

“This is a standoff over the future of public education,” Caputo-Pearl explains. “We will not agree on salary only or salary and a few other things.  What we are fighting for is a program of investment in our neighborhood public schools that will create a thriving school district and the education our students deserve.”

Despite LAUSD’s repeated denials, the money to reinvigorate the city’s schools is in fact there – in the form of $1.8 billion (yes, billion) in unrestricted reserves. The state of California  requires only a 1% reserve, yet the district holds 26.5%, predicated on a fiscal disaster that never occurs but is nevertheless used to justify continued draconian cuts.

UTLA is demanding that these reserves be used to reduce class size (LAUSD has among the largest class sizes in the state), hire more counselors, librarians and nurses (40% of schools have a nurse only one day a week), and fund key programs such as early childhood education and special education.

Educators are also calling for a halt to the expansion of charter schools (there are currently 200 in Los Angeles) that are siphoning off $600 million every year from public school.  In addition, they demand an end to the continued toxic over-testing of students (the district spends $8.6 million on tests not required by state or federal government).

“We don’t want our schools to be starved out skeletons, we want them to be vibrant hubs of learning for our kids,” says teacher Julie Van Winkle.

A ‘Portfolio’ for Privatization

The appointment last May of Austin Beutner as district superintendent only strengthened UTLA’s resolve.

la teacher strike

(Photo: UTLA)

A billionaire former investment banker and CEO and publisher of the Los Angeles Times, Beutner has zero experience in school or district leadership. He is, however, eager to bring to LAUSD what like-minded billionaires and school privatization champions brought to New Orleans and other cities: the “portfolio model.”

Under this competition-based strategy, LAUSD would be decentralized and carved up into 32 smaller, individual “portfolios” that would be “diversified” with more options – charter and private schools mostly – for parents and students.

In other words, the “portfolio model” is just school privatization running amok.

“Getting rid of central oversight and accountability would allow the unchecked spread of the worst of the charter sector abuses: not serving all students, financial scandals, misuse of public funds, and conflict-of-interest charges,” UTLA wrote in a statement last November.

Halting this threat and protecting the city’s public schools, says Caputo-Pearl, is why Los Angeles educators “won’t be brought off with a pay raise.”

“We will not agree on salary only…. What we are fighting for is a program of investment in our neighborhood public schools that will create a thriving school district and the education our students deserve.” – UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl

During negotiations, coalition-building has been a key tenet of UTLA’s campaign. Community organizations and parents have joined UTLA at the bargaining table. On December 15th, more than 50,000 parents, educators, students and community members took to the streets in a massive march in downtown Los Angeles to demand a reinvestment in the city’s schools.

A week earlier, hundreds gathered at the  Social and Public Art Resource Center in Venice at a two-day ArtBuild event to create protest art for the march and possible strike.

For elementary school teacher Maria Miranda, engaging the community city-wide has helped demonstrate to the public that the chronic underfunding of schools wasn’t isolated in one particular area.

“When we come together with the community, we show that our challenges are the same. In my school, we don’t have nurses every day or librarians. But it’s not just in my neighborhood. This is a problem for schools across the city,” Miranda said.

#StrikeReady

#RedforEd is also thriving 400 miles north in Oakland, where educators have been working without a contract since July 2017.  The district has a serious teacher turnover and class size problem, which the Oakland Education Association (OEA) says isn’t being addressed in the district’s proposals.

“Teachers are fed up with the poor working conditions and salaries, and with the learning conditions that our students are having to endure,” OEA President Keith Brown said. “We are fighting to end Oakland’s teacher turnover crisis and to bring stability for our students.”

On January 12, Oakland educators will be joined East Bay parents and students for the March and Rally to Fund Public Education Now. One week later, on January 18-20, OEA will be hosting its own community ArtBuild.

If mediation and fact-finding doesn’t move the needle on negotiations, Oakland educators, like their colleagues in Los Angeles, are #Strikeready and could take action next month.

A strike is always a last resort, says Caputo-Pearl, but it’s time is now turn the tables and stand up to an austerity and privatization agenda that has debased the teaching profession and starved public education.

“We have watched underfunding and the actions of privatizers undermine our schools for too long. No more. Our students and families are worth the investment, and the civic institution of public education in Los Angeles is worth saving.”





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The Best and Worst of 2018 in Public Education



2018 was by most measures a pretty great year for public education. It seemed that finally – finally – the conversation about the future of public education was headed in the right direction. The country was actually listening to educators. There were many other successes for public schools in 2018, but also enough disappointments and outrages to splash a little cold water on any year end celebration.

Here are some of the highlights and lowlights for 2018. (It’s hardly an exhaustive list so use the comments field to add your own suggestions.)

Cheers – #RedforEd

The sweeping mobilization of educators demanding reinvestment in our schools and respect for their profession was the education story of 2018. In February, 6,000 teachers and education support professionals in West Virginia, fed up with empty promises by lawmakers and the exodus of their colleagues to neighboring states, launched a statewide strike and, in the process, a national #RedforEd movement to protect the future of public education.

In early April, educators in Kentucky, Oklahoma and Colorado took to the streets. Weeks later, Arizona educators voted to walk out in the largest state-wide action yet. Every one of these campaigns resulted in victories for increased funding for students and higher pay for educators. Momentum is only growing as more actions in a new crop of states are planned in early 2019.

Polls in 2018 also showed that the American public overwhelmingly support more money for schools, professional salaries for teachers and the use of strikes to bring about these changes.  After a decade of “blaming teachers first” – a message cultivated by privatization proponents and the national media  – the country, thanks to #RedforEd, got a look at the true safeguards of our public schools and liked what they saw.

Jeers – DeVos Dismantles Civil Rights Protections

In addition to pushing a national expansion of private school vouchers, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been spending most of her time rolling back civil rights protections for our most vulnerable students. She wasted no time after her contentious confirmation in February 2017 when she rescinded the Obama-era guidance that schools should allow students to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity in accordance with Title IX.

In November 2018, DeVos undermined Title IX further when she weakened protections for sexual assault and harassment survivors in K-12 schools as well as colleges and universities.

In December, the Trump administration released the report from the Federal Commission on School Safety to address gun violence in schools. The report recommends stripping protections that seek to prevent racial disparities in student discipline. These guidelines were put into place to address the wide racial gap in school suspensions and expulsions.

The move by the Department of Education could reverse the progress schools are seeing as they introduce alternative, less punitive discipline policies, says Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University.

In a recent column co-authored with Christopher Edley, Darling-Hammond writes: “Given the extensive research base behind the guidance, and its capacity to help prevent exclusionary and discriminatory discipline practices, rescinding it will exacerbate the inequities in our education system, while rolling back progress on school safety and student attainment.”

Cheers – Election 2018

One of the offshoots of the #RedforEd movement was the unprecedented number of educators who decided in 2018 to step up and run for public office. Their efforts helped generate the enthusiasm that delivered major wins for students and public schools on election day. Nearly 15 percent of all state legislative seats in the United States will be held by elected educators, according to an NEA analysis. Come January, the majority of Americans will be led by governors with a proven track record of championing public education.

The lesson on November for lawmakers was simple, said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “You can either work with educators to address the needs of students and public education, or they will work to elect someone who will.”

Nearly 220,000 NEA members and education families were involved in getting out the vote in 2018 –  a 165 percent increase in activism engagement compared with 2016, a presidential year where activism is historically higher than midterms.

Jeers – Corporate Tax Breaks Breaking U.S. Schools

During the 2018 election cycle, no candidate from either party wanted to be seen as a champion of cutting education funding. Quite the opposite. Boosting spending on schools is a politically popular position, and the election of candidates who made this a central part of their platform  means the public wants them to deliver on this promise.

A good place to start strenghtening school revenue sources, said Eskelsen García at a recent post-election panel at the National Press Club, would be economic development tax incentives granted to corporations.  “It’s always called an ‘economic development program ‘ but study after study shows that the promised job creation and new revenues never materialize.”

And then there’s the jaw-dropping cost to public schools. According to a report by Good Jobs First, in 2017 schools lost $1.8 billion across 28 states through corporate tax incentives.

Although proponents of these tax giveaways argue these deals boost development and investment and grow local economies, they ignore the economic impact of starving the education system.

“It is no exaggeration to say that when tax abatements cause school districts to have fiscal stress and reduce school quality, they are undermining the local ‘business climate,’” the report states.

What could this money have been used for? If it were reinvested in hiring new teachers and reducing class size, the ten most affected states alone could add more than 28,000 teachers.

Cheers – Student Activists Show the Way

Student activist David Hogg speaks at the NEA Representative Assembly. (Photo: Calvin Knight)

The headlines were becoming numbingly familiar: “Another School Shooting Traumatizes Students, Community,”  followed days or maybe weeks later with “No Action on Gun Violence Expected.”  Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of student activists, however, politicians were not going to get off easily in 2018. Following the shooting in February in Parkland, Florida, student activists stood up and  revitalized the stalled movement to demand action to end gun violence.

Student are also making their voices heard in the #MeToo movement and the campaign to end zero tolerance and bring restorative practices to schools.

“We have been speaking up, mobilizing, and standing strong because our friends and family mean the world to us,” student activist David Hogg told NEA delegates . “We are young and that means we don’t have to accept the status quo. And we never will. We intend to close the gap between the world as it is and what it should be.”

Jeers – Arming Educators

The recent report by the Federal Commission on School Safety backed off from mandating schools arm and train teachers,although the proposal is still offered in the report as a possible solution to gun violence in schools. So while it was downplayed somewhat, this preposterous idea lives on.  President Trump and Betsy DeVos immediately floated the measure following the Parkland shooting in February 2018. Unfortunately, too many lawmakers, eager to divert the public’s attention away from real solutions to gun violence, were all too eager to run with it.

The response from educators, parents and many law enforcement officials was swift: arming teachers was a ludicrous and dangerous idea. According to an NEA poll, 74 % of educators opposed the measure. Eighty percent said they would not carry a gun in school. Even among NEA members who own guns, 63% said they would not agree to be armed in school.  Two-thirds said they would feel less safe if school personnel were armed.

Cheers – Unions Flex Their Muscle

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, that requiring fair-share fees in the public sector violated the First Amendment of the Constitution. With the decision, the court weakened the right of educators and other working people to come together in unions and to bargain collectively, effectively siding with corporate interests intent on rigging the economic system further in their favor.

While the Janus decision has undoubtedly created a more challenging climate for unions, it has also served as a rallying point, said Eskelsen García. “We’re not going anywhere,” she said. “Unions will continue to be the best vehicle on the path to the middle class.”

Support for labor unions has risen to its highest level in years and millions of American workers have recommitted to their unions and launched new organizing drives across the country. Through their union, educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, Arizona and North Carolina spoke up and advocated for their students.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Opponents were hoping to see a downsizing of union organizing around the 2018 elections, which clearly didn’t materialize. Educator activism was at an all-time high as the NEA and its affiliates mobilized their members across the country – even helping many of them to run for office.

“Educators are still organized, still aware of their rights, and still ready to defend those rights when they deem it necessary,” Sarah Jones recently wrote in New York magazine. “Janus did not eliminate the incentives for union membership. Organizing still works, and as long as that holds true, people will continue to join unions.”

Jeers – State Policy Network

This mobilization by educators and their unions comes at a time when the same corporate interests that bankrolled the Janus case have turned their attention to conducting well-funded, deceptive campaigns that are urging union members to stop paying dues.

Their goal is no less than to “defund and defang” public service labor unions.

Credit: SourceWatch

The entity behind these campaigns is the innocuously-named State Policy Network, a coalition of 66 separate “think tanks” funded by the Kochs, Mercers, Waltons, and other billionaires who will not rest until the “public” is permanently taken out of public education. In addition to knee-capping unions and pushing school vouchers, the SNP is funneling millions of dollars into campaigns to undermine public pensions and Medicaid.

Cheers – School Privatization Takes a Hit

On election day, Arizona voters rejected Proposition 305, which would have expanded the state’s school voucher program to all of the state’s 1.1 million public school students. The vote wasn’t even close.

In California, former charter school executive Marshall Tuck was defeated by Tony Thurmond in the race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction of California. Thurmond opposes diverting public money to charter schools (“I intend to be a champion of public schools,” he said in his victory statement). The charter school industry spent more than $30 million boosting Tuck’s losing campaign, a stunning defeat in a state where charters had enjoyed almost unfettered growth.

Across the midwest, gubernatorial candidates cruised to victory running on platforms opposing any type of school voucher program and calling for more accountability and oversight over charter schools.

To be sure, school privatization remains a major force. It’s march across the United States over the past decade is going to be difficult to reverse. Still, there’s little doubt that momentum has stalled, perhaps significantly.  Despite school vouchers making inroads in many states, the majority of the U.S. public oppose the idea of siphoning off money from public schools to pay for private school tuition.  The proliferation of charter schools, on the other hand, has slowed down as scrutiny over mismanagement and mixed academic results has intensified. (The colossal failures of cyber charter schools have been a major embarrassment.)

Looking ahead to 2019, Jon Valant of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution told the Associated Press, “There’s not a ton of optimism for charters and choice I think there’s a cultural and political shift on what charters are that actually presents a more fundamental problem.”

Jeers – Dreamers Still in Limbo

One year ago, in December 2017, the U.S. Congress adjourned for the holidays without taking action to find a permanent legislative solution for our nation’s Dreamers —young people brought to the U.S. as children, who received the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

The 800,000 Dreamers were hoping for an agreement that would provide them with permanent legal status.

One year later, Congress still hasn’t taken action.

In September 2017, President Donald Trump, in a callous move, rescinded the program, and then told lawmakers to come up with a solution. The move only sparked fear and uncertainty among  the 600,000 who are high school or college students, and the nearly 9,000 who are educators.

Despite overwhelming public support for the Dream Act, efforts to find permanent solution have been held hostage by political posturing over immigration policy and border security.

The grueling setbacks have not dashed the hopes of these hundreds of thousands of aspiring Americans.

“They don’t realize all the work we’ve done, the allies we’ve made, and the foundation we’ve built,” says Karen Reyes, a teacher in Austin, Texas. We’re not back to the beginning. We’re just on a detour.” (For more information and resources on supporting Dreamers, visit NEA EdJustice.)



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Where Do Teachers Get the Most Respect?


How educators are respected in relation to other professions can be a key marker in determining their overall status in an individual country. In China and Malaysia, the teaching profession is often placed on par with doctors. In Finland, the public aligns teaching with social work. Other countries rank teaching alongside librarians. These are just some of the findings in the 2018 Global Teacher Status Index, a worldwide survey of the general public and educators in 35 countries on the status of the teaching profession around the world.

How teachers were viewed relative to other occupations is one of four indicators the index uses to measure overall respect for the profession. The survey also looked at what teachers should be paid and whether parents encourage their children to enter the profession.

The researchers said 2018 data show a clear positive relationship between teacher status/respect and student achievement as measured by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores.

China and Malaysia have the highest score in the 2018 index, 100 and 93 respectively. Taiwan – the only other country that places teachers on the same level as doctors – is third.  Russia and Indonesia round out the top five. At the bottom of the rankings are Argentina (23.6), Ghana (18.9), Italy (13.6), Israel (6.6) and Brazil (1).

Most countries surveyed recorded an increase in teacher respect for 2018 over the previous year, including the United States. The U.S. score was 39, which placed it 16th overall.

Doctor was the highest status profession in the survey. Other occupations included nurse, librarian; local government manager; social worker; website designer; policeman; engineer; lawyer; accountant; and, management consultant.

(Source: Global Teacher Status Index 2018)

Most countries placed teaching on the same level as a social worker. The U.S. equated the role of teachers to that of librarians, although the educators in the survey chose local government manager.

The survey asked respondents to estimate the starting salary for a teacher in their country, then give a figure that they thought was fair. They were then told how much teachers in their country were actually paid and asked if they thought this was fair.

“In the majority of countries, actual teacher wages were lower than what was perceived to be fair by respondents,” the report says.

 We find that there are major differences across countries in the way teachers are perceived by the public. This informs who decides to become a teacher in each country, how they are respected and how they are financially rewarded. This affects the kind of job they do in teaching our children, and ultimately how effective they are in getting the best from their pupils in terms of their learning.” – Global Teacher Status Index 2018

The survey also found a clear correlation between the level of respect for teachers and the likelihood that parents encourage their child to enter the profession. This holds even when controlling for pay levels, suggesting that teacher salary has little impact on a parent’s decision to encourage teaching.

In most countries, the public “systematically underestimates how much teachers work per week – often by more than 10 hours a week,” according to the report.

Despite the lackluster overall score of the United States, it’s evident from much of the data in the U.S. survey that respect for teachers – indeed, for the entire public education – is on the upswing.

Here are some of the highlights:

-The U.S. public think that teachers are underpaid by $7,500.

– Seventy-eight percent of respondents “instinctively view” teachers as influential, the fourth highest of all the countries surveyed after China, Ghana, and Indonesia.

– Americans’ confidence in their education system is increasing. When asked to rate the quality of their education system out of 10, US respondents said 6.7, a significant increase from 2013 when they rated it 5.9. This places the U.S. 11th of all the countries polled in 2018.

– Over four in 10 Americans would encourage their child to become a teacher, the fifth highest of all  countries surveyed. In 2013, only a third of US respondents would encourage their child to join the profession.

– The U.S. public underestimates the number of hours teachers work, putting the figure at 45.02 hours – almost an entire school day less. Overall, U.S. teachers report they are working significantly longer hours than their colleagues in other countries.

– Teachers in the United States think the status of their profession is lower than the general public does. Teachers who were polled set their status level at 37.1 out of 100, while the general public put it at 48.7 out of 100.

-Support for merit pay has dropped dramatically. Half of US respondents believe teachers should be paid according to the results of their pupils. That’s down from 80 percent in 2013.

These results mirror what we’ve seen from other national surveys. The 2018 Phi Delta Kappan poll, for example, found that two-thirds of Americans believe teacher salaries are too low, and 73 percent of the public would support teachers in the own communities if they went on strike for higher pay – impressive numbers, bolstered by the #RedforEd movement that forced a national debate about public education priorities and helped elect pro-public education candidates across the country in the 2018 mid-term elections.

Reversing the chronic neglect of the nation’s school system and the damage “blaming teachers first” has had on the profession may take a few years, but “the public is on our side,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.



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Want to Prevent Harassment and Assault in Schools? Listen to Students.


For more than a year, the U.S. has engaged in a much needed public dialogue about sexual harassment in the workplace, and the need to hold perpetrators accountable. The conversation marks a long overdue cultural shift toward a movement that has been driven largely by survivors of harassment and assault who have bravely gone public with their stories via the #MeToo movement.

As a result, painful questions have begun to haunt educators and parents: “What about #MeToo at school? Do some schools unwittingly foster a culture of sexual harassment and abuse? How can school administrators, educators, students and parents open up a discussion and address such issues?” Before the national conversation began, one California community was already addressing the issue via Alliance for Girls, an organization based in the San Francisco Bay area. In 2016, the non-profit conducted focus groups with 74 girls of color who attend Oakland public schools in low-income, culturally diverse neighborhoods. The project was created to hear the girls’ thoughts on improving school discipline policies, but the discussions quickly veered.

Facilitators were shocked by what they heard.

In the Oakland Unified School District, some male elementary students had created a tradition they called “Slap Ass Fridays.” It was so pervasive, said one 4th-grade girl, that she and all her friends would stand with their backs against a wall every recess and lunch period to avoid being slapped.

“Sexual harassment and assault starts really early,” says Emma Myerson, founding executive director of Alliance for Girls. “I think sometimes we don’t want to talk about it because it’s scary to think that in third grade and fourth grade girls are experiencing real assault from their peers.”

Other girls talked about how boys in their schools regularly called them “bitches,” “sluts,” or “hos.” Still others talked about unwelcome sexual advances and requests for sexual favors.

“We are all hypersexualized by society,” said one older girl. “Every male that you have some type of relationship with will think he is entitled to you—you are here as a girl of color for that reason, to be sexual— that’s the worst stereotype.”

It’s not just in Oakland. According to research from the American Association of University Women, nearly half of students in grades seven through 12 reported that they had experienced verbal or physical sexual harassment in the 2010 –11 school year. Girls were harassed at a higher rate than boys, and more likely to say that the incidents caused them to have trouble sleeping and made them want to skip to school.

Brave students from across the country shared their stories of harassment
and abuse at school under the #MeTooK12 hashtag, launched in January 2018 by the nonprofit Stop Sexual Assault in Schools.

#metoo at school

Alliance for Girls’ Student Leadership Team (Photo: EdJustice.com)

Unequal Treatment Among Victims

While all girls face harassment and assault, when it comes to reporting incidents, girls of color often face more difficult challenges than white girls.

“In the research we’ve looked at, there hasn’t necessarily been a significant discrepancy in the prevalence of sexual harassment between girls of color and white girls,” says Elizabeth Tang of the National Women’s Law Center.

“But when girls of color, particularly black and Latina girls, report that they’ve been sexually assaulted, schools aren’t responding to them in the same way. They’re disproportionately being ignored, disbelieved, and even punished.”

Tang attributed this in part to negative stereotypes about black girls being louder or more angry. “If a young woman is having her bra snapped in class and a boy keeps doing it and she slaps him back,” says Tang, “she could be suspended because suddenly now she’s the aggressor in the situation. Because now she’s the angry black girl.”

There is also a Catch-22 of school “push-out”: Students who have experienced harassment or assault are chronically absent if they don’t feel safe at school, or face discriminatory and excessive discipline or suspensions.

The result? Their absenteeism rises even more, and they fall further behind in class.

“If you want girls to stay in school, you need to give them the supports they need to stay in school,” says Tang.

“That can mean extra time on tests, that can be homework extensions. It means not disciplining them for skipping school because they don’t feel safe at school. Because then they miss even more school and that makes no sense.”

Momentum for Change

When they occur in school, sexual harassment and sexual violence are both a type of civil rights violation. Unfortunately, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to roll back civil rights protections established during the previous administration to support survivors and make more equitable proceedings related to sexual harassment and violence.

“Rollback of these critical protections for survivors is discriminatory on the basis of sex, and it is arbitrary and capricious,” says Myerson. “But those are a floor, not a ceiling.

“A single caring adult can make all the difference in a girl’s life. It is really, really true. We heard over and over again when that one adult is saying ‘Hi,’ and knows their name, and asks how they’re doing, that really matters.” – Emma Myerson, founding Executive Director, Alliance for Girls

States can still go above and beyond what’s happening now along the federal landscape, and they can restore those protections at the state and local level.”

Alliance for Girls worked closely with Oakland’s students, administrators, parents and community organizations to implement a stronger, revamped sexual harassment policy. Under the new policy, each school has a designated point person who handles sexual harassment and assault complaints, and the reporting process for students, educators and parents is clearly delineated.

The model policy—find it at NEAEdJustice.org—is a starting point that communities can use to create a foundation upon which to build a final policy that includes the perspectives of all key stakeholders — including students, educators, administrators, schools boards, parents and community organizations Alliance for Girls also created “Meeting the Needs of Girls,” a toolkit for educators that outlines steps and suggestions for creating healthy relationships with girls. This includes making sure they have someone at school with whom they feel comfortable discussing problems.

For an individual girl who has been harrassed or abused, it can be hugely important to find one adult at school who truly listens.

“A single caring adult can make all the difference in a girl’s life,” says Myerson. “It is really, really true. We heard over and over again when that one adult is saying ‘Hi,’ and knows their name, and asks how they’re doing, that really
matters.”

For resources that can help your school empower girls, end sexual harassment and assault, and protect students’ civil rights, visit NEAEdJustice.org.

sexual assault in schoolsThe Secret of Sexual Assault in Schools

Student-on-student sexual assault and harassment happens with alarming frequency in school bathrooms, on school playgrounds, and in the backs of school buses. It’s happening at every level of education from preK to college.



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5 Things We Learned From Election 2018


(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

The 2018 midterm election results gave educators much to celebrate. More than 1,000 teachers, professors, education support professionals (ESP), and administrators from both major parties won state and local legislative seats across the country. That’s about two-thirds of almost 1,800 current or former educators from K-12 and higher education who sought office this campaign season, according to NEA. About 100 other educators ran for top state or federal seats, with many more running for seats on school boards and other local offices.

In addition, many gubernatorial and other candidates at the state level made public education a centerpiece of their campaign, second perhaps only to health care or the economy depending on the state or district. Teacher-led protests that swept states last winter and spring lead to a high level of activism among educators, students and parents, and other community members.

“We had a good night,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, during a November 9 panel discussion sponsored by the Educator Writers Association at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. “We’ve never seen anything like it.”

As educators look ahead to the next two years and the 2020 presidential election, here are some of the midterm’s key issues, trends, and takeaways.

An infrastructure has been established from the unprecedented level of political activism among educators

While not all educators were victorious on Nov. 6, just being on the ballot increased activism among NEA members and other educators to unprecedented levels of engagement, according to Carrie Pugh, NEA Director of Campaigns and Elections.

“NEA activism was at an all-time high,” Pugh said. “Texting, phone banking, canvassing … we drove an historic movement.”

The massive teacher walkouts, protests, and strikes that took place in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona this spring, highlighted the opposition to decades of cuts to public education budgets, teacher salaries, poor working conditions, and in some cases, changes to public pension and retirement plans. Those walkouts and demonstrations were largely organized at the grassroots level and became known as the #RedForEd movement.

The midterm elections were regarded by many as a durability test of the educator uprising after just a few short-term contract and policy gains in states like West Virginia and Arizona. In Oklahoma, for example, legislators were immediately persuaded to invoke teacher raises and make historic investments in public schools – underwritten by a tax on the oil and gas industry.

The sustainability of the #RedForEd movement was later proven in Oklahoma during primaries and runoff elections when eight Republican incumbents who voted against the tax measure that increased funds for public schools and raised teacher pay were unseated. Some were replaced by Republicans who pledged to support strong education policy in the next legislative session.

The movement’s success was further sustained as educators nationwide were inspired to run for office while others volunteered on political campaigns in unprecedented numbers.

Both Democratic and Republican candidates, said Eskelsen García, were “talking about how we can do better for our public schools.”

“That is a direct result of the public outpouring of support for the #RedForEd wave,” she added. “It raised public awareness of the decrepit conditions of some classrooms.”

Says Pugh: “Educators who stepped up for re-election, or for the first time, will move up and down the pipeline for years to come. A lasting infrastructure has been built.”

A new diverse generation of female, minority, and first-time candidates support strong public schools.

A record 260 female candidates and 195 people of color were on the ballot this year. Many of them were first-time candidates who were also Democrats. While they had varied backstories and a wide range of reasons for running, they emphasized in speeches, forums, and debates about the need to fund public schools and pay teachers and ESPs competitive wages.

“Even in deep Republican areas, we heard candidates tell us ‘We’re making them talk about education!’” Eskelsen García said at the Press Club. “We changed the conversation. When a teacher knocked on a door and said ‘here is who I am supporting,’ it was more likely they were going to be listened to.”

NEA officials have been encouraged by candidates like Gretchen Whitmer and Michelle Lujan Grisham, who won gubernatorial contests in Michigan and New Mexico, respectively. Both ran on pro-public education platforms.

The diverse freshman class will include two Native American women who won seats in the House of Representatives: Deb Haaland, a Laguna Pueblo from New Mexico, and Sharice Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation from Kansas. Both have spoken about the need to rethink education in tribal schools. Rashida Tlaib and IIhan Omar are one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, from Michigan and Minnesota, respectively.

Education had a good night, but still much work to do

Democrats entered Election Day needing to flip 23 House seats to retake the chamber. They exceeded that goal by winning at least 37 new seats. While Republicans lost control of the House, they picked up seats in the Senate. Many Republican House members who embraced President Trump lost, but some Republican Senate and gubernatorial candidates who backed the president won. The exit polls showed a majority of voters disapprove of Trump’s job as president — yet turnout was high among Republican voters.

Ultimately, proponents of building strong public schools will have to shift their focus away from school choice schemes such as vouchers and back to funding good schools for every student.

In Arizona, for example, voters rejected Proposition 305, which would have expanded the state’s school voucher program. Voucher proponents worked hard to promote the proposition with voters, but “we made sure they (voters) knew exactly what they were voting for,” Eskelsen García said. “Democrats and Republicans agreed with us.”

In general, nearly 50 percent of voters “strongly disapprove” of Trump’s performance in office, compared to roughly 30 percent who approve of the job he’s doing as president, according to election night CNN exit polls. A little more than 50 percent of voters feel the country is going in the wrong direction.

“The bottom line is this: if you have a poor neighborhood school that doesn’t have the funds or resources that those state-of-the-art, top-tier schools in your state have, then there’s something wrong with the way you fund your schools,” Eskelsen García said. “That’s what we’re going to take on.”

Educators with actual classroom experience and training will now help shape education agendas

With more than 1,000 teachers, professors, ESPs, and other educators ready to take the oath of office in January, debates over education budgets and policies will take a different turn than in the recent past. Teachers and other educators will hold approximately 15 percent of state legislative positions nationwide as a result of the midterms, according to the National State Legislative Council.

In states like Kentucky, for example, where teachers walked out of schools amid pension reforms and budget cuts in the spring, 14 out of 51 teachers and educators won their elections.

“Their voice, credibility, and perspective are invaluable,” said Pugh.

Their expertise is also in dire need, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In a report titled, “A Punishing Decade for School Funding,” the center found that over the last 10 years, 25 states are still providing less total funding per student than they were in 2008.

In Colorado, ESP Rochelle Galindo, 28, won her state House race. Galindo, who served on the Greeley City Council, is a member of the Boulder Valley Classified Employees Association and head custodian at Lafayette Elementary School.

NEA Secretary Treasurer Princess Moss (center) campaigns with Rochelle Galindo (far right). On Nov. 6, Galindo won a seat in the Colorado State House.

“Our schools continue to grow yet have to fight for a small pool of funding,” Galindo says on her campaign website. “I will fight to provide schools with the funding they need in order to establish a quality education for all Colorado students.”

At the national level, Jahana Hayes, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, became Connecticut’s first black representative. Rep.-elect Hayes is a former high school teacher who campaigned on strengthening the public-school system.

The new resistance insists on being heard over the voices of Trump-DeVos and incumbents like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

“The Women’s March in Washington was an answer to President Trump’s inauguration,” Pugh said. “A number of women candidates stepped up, won primaries, and are now going to Congress.”

At the time of the march, which took place one day after Trump’s inauguration, Republican officials and conservative pundits said the activism would not last. Clearly, the movement sustained its energy and mission and has translated into real political change.

“It shows the importance of ongoing commitment and infrastructure,” Pugh said. “It led to the increased turnout.”

Pugh also stressed the importance of recruiting and training good candidates, such as through programs like NEA’s See Educators Run.

At the Press Club, Eskelsen García stressed that public education issues gained momentum from mainstream voters who oppose Trump policies involving vouchers, school privatization, and the appointment of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

According to Politico, DeVos was mentioned in $3 million worth of political TV ads and dozens of Facebook ads, overwhelmingly Democratic. Her advocacy for vouchers, charter schools, dampening civil rights protections for students, and promoting loan servicing companies over student borrowers motivated voters in the opposite direction.

Says Eskelsen García: “Betsy DeVos touched a nerve. We asked our members to write to their congressman to oppose her. We were hoping for around 100,000 emails through our website, but we got over a million. They weren’t all NEA members. This caught the attention of the general public.”

Education was the No. 2 issue in campaign ads for most of the 36 gubernatorial races, according to the Wesleyan Media Project.

In Wisconsin, Democrat Tony Evers, the current superintendent of public instruction, defeated Republican incumbent Gov. Scott Walker, primarily on a pro-education platform. According to polling by Marquette University Law School, approximately 40 percent of voters in Wisconsin put K-12 education as one of their top two issues.

Walker took office in 2011 and soon spearheaded passage of an anti-union act that dismantled collective bargaining rights, which accounted for median educator salaries dropping by 2.6 percent and median benefits by 18.6 percent.

Governor-elect Evers proposed increasing investment in all levels of education.



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How Public Education Shaped Election 2018


Votes are still being counted in many states, but the final tally is not going to change the bottom line: Big change is on its way to Washington D.C. and state capitals across the nation.  Come January 2019, newly-minted lawmakers will have to get down to the job of governing and delivering on the promises they ran on.

This includes the many candidates, particularly at the state level, who made public education a centerpiece of their campaign. In 2019, education was a top tier issue, second perhaps only to health care. Did it really drive voters to the polls last Tuesday? What role did the  #RedforEd movement play? How will education policy in individual states actually change?

These were some of the questions before a panel of experts assembled by the Educator Writers Association at the National Press Club on Friday. National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García, Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, and Scott Pattison, executive director and CEO of the National Governors Association joined moderator Daarel Burnette of Education Week to review the education issue’s impact in Election 2018 and look ahead to 2019.

Burnette first asked each panelist for their top takeaways from an election that saw impressive wins up and down the ballot for candidates with pro-public education track records.

The level of political engagement among educators, Eskelsen García said, was extraordinary.

“[NEA] has never see anything like it. We saw an 165% increase in folks who said they would do something more than vote. They saw this as a pivotal election.”

Eskelsen García credited the #RedforEd movement, not only for fueling educator activism across the country, but also for fundamentally changing the conversation about public schools.

The teacher-bashing rhetoric of the past was nowhere to be heard. Instead, both Democratic and Republican candidates, said Eskelsen García said, were “talking about how we can do better for our public schools. That is a direct result of the public outpouring of support for those teachers in the #RedforEd wave.”

Scott Pattison was also struck by the dominance of the education issue – along with health care and jobs – in stump speeches and campaign ads.

“Twenty years ago, every gubernatorial candidate wanted to be known as the ‘education governor.’  Then everyone was the ‘jobs governor.’ Now those two have been put together,” Pattison explained. “There’s a broader expansion in how they see education effecting these other issues, including the opioid crisis.”

Why is it always the first order of business to dish out massive tax breaks to corporations and wealthy individuals? …We have to talk about funding. We have to talk about what every student in this country deserves.”- NEA President Lily Eskelsen García

While Frederick Hess agreed that the 2018 election results were good for public education in that candidates were “saying nice things about schools,” he was less sure of education as a critical factor in any race. Hess questioned whether public education actually motivated many people to vote and called the success rate for educator candidates and pro-public education ballot initiatives underwhelming.

“I’m just skeptical of the political saliency of the education issue,” Hess said.

As Pattison pointed out, however, no candidate in 2018 wanted to be seen as being hostile to public schools.

“In this environment, no one wanted to face the voters as someone who wanted to  cut education,” Pattison said. “There was at least a strong desire [among incumbents] to be able to point to their record and say ‘I increased spending on education.’”

While it is true that many educators who ran for political office were defeated, the importance of getting into the race and talking about the future of public education cannot be overstated.

“Even in deep Republican areas, we heard candidates tell us ‘We’re making them talk about education!’” Eskelsen García said.  “We changed the conversation. When a teacher knocked on a door and said ‘here is who I am supporting,’ it was more likely they were going to be listened to.”

Eskelsen García also argued that the debate over the future of public education has reached far beyond educators and policy wonks. In addition to the attention over the plight of underfunded schools, the appointment of Betsy DeVos – and the intense opposition it triggered – signaled education’s standing as an urgent national issue.

“Betsy DeVos touched a nerve. We asked our members to write to their congressman to oppose her. We were hoping for around 100,000 emails through our web site, but we got over a million. They weren’t all NEA members. This caught the attention of the general public,” Eskelsen García said.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, Scott Pattison of the National Governors Association (left) and Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute discuss Election 2018 and public education at the National Press Club on November 9.

Burnette asked the panelists about the challenges governors will face next year in finding the revenue to increase education funding.

Pattison replied that governors and legislatures are limited in what they can do because an anti-tax climate still exists, even in those states that elected new leaders.  “There’s not a lot of flexibility on the revenue side.  It comes down to the decision-making process, but there are a limited parameters and all kinds of competing priorities. And the economy may face a downturn in the next few years.”

Eskelsen García said the nation needs to take a hard look at those “priorities.”

“Why is it always the first order of business to dish out massive tax breaks to corporations and wealthy individuals? It’s always called an “economic development program” but study after study shows that the promised job creation and new revenues never materialize,” Eskelsen García said. “We have to talk about funding. We have to talk about what every student in this country deserves.”

To be successful, however, the conversation also has to shift its focus away from “school choice” schemes that siphon off hundreds of millions of dollars from public schools. On Tuesday, voters in Arizona rejected Proposition 305, which would have significantly expanded the state’s school voucher program. Voucher proponents worked overtime to sell the proposition to the voters, but “we made sure they knew exactly what they were voting for,” Eskelsen García said. “Democrats and Republicans agreed with us.”

“We need to stop taking about these distractions,” she added. “The bottom line is this: if you have a  poor neighborhood school that doesn’t have the funds or resources that those state-of-the-art, top-tier schools in your state have, then there’s something wrong with the way you fund your schools. That’s what we’re going to take on.”



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What Do Schools Need? More Money and Strong Unions, Say Millennials


Approximately 31% of Americans under the age of 30 turned out to vote in the 2018 midterm election on November 6, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University.  That by itself may not sound like a particularly impressive number (general voter turnout was around 49%), but it represents a huge increase over 2014 and the the highest participation  since CIRCLE began analyzing the youth vote in midterm elections 25 years ago.

“[Youth voters] will play a significant role in shaping our country’s future through their commitment to service and renewed interest in politics,”  John Della Volpe of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University said in response to the numbers.

If their level of political engagement continues to increase, Millennial voters could be delivering good news for public education in the years to come. A recent survey by the GenForward Project at the University of Chicago finds that Millennials (loosely defined as adults aged 18-34) overwhelmingly believe that increased school funding is “the most important way to improve public education in their local school district.”

Investing more money in public education is the foundation of the #RedforEd movement that caught fire across the country in 2018. Many Millennial educators were leaders in the massive walkouts that called attention to cash-starved schools and the plight of teachers and other staff in their districts.

Founded by Dr. Cathy Cohen, Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago, the GenForward Project draws on a nationally-representative survey of 1750 young adults to analyze their attitudes on a number of important issues.

According to “Millennials and Public Education in the United States,”  over 75%  of respondents believe paying teachers more would do more to improve public schools than, for example, creating more charter schools.

And an overwhelming majority also believe that strong teacher’s unions mean a strong public education system.

(Source: GenForward Project, “Millennials and Public Education in the United States”)

On the issue of school safety, Millennials by a wide margin prioritize expanding access to mental health resources over increasing the number of police officers in schools.

In addition, pluralities have a “very” or “somewhat” unfavorable opinion of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, even though a sizable percentage didn’t have a position on her one way or the other.

The survey also reveals, however, that Millennials support school vouchers – more so than the general public, according to other polls.

Surprising? Not really, says Cohen. “Millennials are looking for and willing to support most initiatives they deem reasonable that are framed as improving public education,” she explains.

(Source: GenForward Project, “Millennials and Public Education in the United States”)

At the same time, this expressed support should be put in context, Cohen adds. While millennials may see vouchers as one policy option, they do not prioritize them as one of the most effective ways to improve public schools.

Furthermore, support drops among respondents if the program is not exclusively targeted toward low-income families. In some states where voucher programs exist – namely Indiana – they have been expanded to include more middle-class and affluent families.

“Only about 5% of people of color and 9% of whites in our survey picked increasing school choice through vouchers and charter schools as their first policy option,” Cohen says. “Again, while young adults generally support a number of different policies they believe will improve education, increasing funding for public schools is their preferred policy option across race and ethnicity.” (When given the choice between vouchers and more school funding, 71% of respondents opted for the latter.)

Disaggregating data along racial and ethnic groups is a feature of GenForward’s surveys. Given that differences usually surface in responses, the uniformity in the results in this survey is striking, says Cohen.

“We usually uncover powerful differences tied to identities such as race and ethnicity. There are relatively few policy domains, such as education, where you find the consistency in policy positions among millennials across race and ethnic groups,” she explains. “This level of agreement is unique and suggests strong and stable opinions on the issue of how to improve public education in the country.”

 



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Election 2018: Voters Deliver Big Wins for Public Education


Last Spring, educators in state after state took to the streets to demand greater investments in public schools. The protests launched the #RedforEd movement to elevate public education as a top national issue and harness the energy of educators everywhere and carry it to the ballot box in November.

On Tuesday, they delivered in spectacular fashion, helping sweep pro-education candidates – many of them former or current educators – into office at every level of government.

The victories marked a major victory for students and education and serve as a mandate for real change in our public education system.

The 2018 election may prove to be a turning point for public education, said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

“Lawmakers learned an important lesson tonight: You can either work with educators to address the needs of students and public education, or they will work to elect someone who will,” said Eskelsen García. “Candidates across the country witnessed unprecedented activism by educators in their races. Standing up for students and supporting public education were deciding factors for voters, and educators will hold lawmakers to their promises.”

The balance of power will shift in Washington D.C. as the Democrats’ new majority in the U.S. House of Representatives will serve as an important check on President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. More than 100 women were elected to the House, the most in U.S. history.

It was the gubernatorial and state legislature contests, however, that delivered the most impressive wins for pro-public education candidates. Education policy is decided primarily by these legislatures and the bulk of money allocated to public schools comes from state and local coffers. Winning these races was critical, which is why NEA focused its mobilization efforts most sharply in individual states.

At least 290 state legislative seats and seven state chambers were flipped to pro-public education majorities, many in states that have suffered through a decade of devastating cuts to education and relentless attacks on educators and other public sector workers. Beyond that, at least seven governorships were flipped, including Tony Evers, who put an end to the Scott Walker era in Wisconsin and J.B. Pritzker defeated Bruce Rauner in Illinois.

Walker, of course, led the attacks on public sector unions with Act 10, the 2011 anti-collective bargaining law. In 2015, Rauner was chiefly responsible for pushing the Janus case that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018.

Other big wins included former high school teacher Tim Walz in Minnesota, Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, Janet Mills in Maine, Brad Little in Idaho, Laura Kelly in Kansas, and Michelle Lujan-Grisham in New Mexico.

Nearly 220,000 NEA members and education families were involved in getting out the vote up and down the ballot in the 2018 election. That’s a 165 percent increase in activism engagement this election cycle compared with 2016, a presidential year where activism is historically higher than midterms.

There were a number of state ballot initiatives put before the voters that effected education funding. Maryland voters approved Question 1, whichwill require casino revenue to be set aside for schools, potentially raising $500 million annually for K-12 education. Montana voters approved LR-128, a $6 million levy to support the state’s public colleges and universities.

The 2018 elections also saw an unprecedented number of educators step up and run for office. According to an NEA analysis, nearly 1,800 current or former teachers and other education professionals ran for state legislative seats this year and more than 100 more vied for top state or federal offices. Many of these candidates hailed from states that experienced #RedForEd walkouts: West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, and North Carolina. Oklahoma led the charge with more than 62 educators who were on the general election ballot.

While results were still being tallied on Wednesday, the message sent by these candidates is loud and clear.

“After decades of starving education funding, educators said, ‘I can do better,’” said Eskelsen García. “They found themselves asking, ‘Why not have an educator in that lawmaking decision seat?’ And that’s exactly why they ran for office and voters elected them to serve,” said Eskelsen García.

Despite the victories in Election 2018, Eskelsen García added, educators will continue to engage with our elected officials so they stay focused on delivering for the nation’s students.

“Educators have had enough of empty promises from politicians. We told them we’d remember in November, and educators keep their promises,” Eskelsen García said. “As a result of the historic #RedForEd movement and the 2018 midterm election, educators have found their voice, and they are going to continue to hold lawmakers accountable after this election.”

For all the latest updates on Election 2018 results, visit NEA Education Votes.



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Our Crumbling Public School Infrastructure


It’s one of the critical issues that the #RedForEd movement brought to the nation’s attention: Lawmakers have chronically underfunded our schools. As a result too many educators and students are stuck in deteriorating school buildings where they face problems ranging from unpleasant to outright hazardous.

In some schools, the heat goes out and students sit in frigid classrooms in their coats, hats, and gloves. Elsewhere, a leaky roof means buckets in the hallways and classroom, and moldy ceiling tiles that pose a health risk—especially for those with respiratory issues.

Some problems with old buildings are less obvious but just as serious, including asbestos, radon, and old pipes and water fountains that contain lead.

“If we’re committed to helping every child fulfill his or her potential, then we have to provide safe and modern learning environments for every student,” says Oregon teacher and parent activist Carolyn Smith Evans, who serves on the board of the Healthy Schools Network.

As if we need another reason to renovate and modernize schools. Underfunded school infrastructure also leaves some students without the technology they need to prepare for college and jobs. At least 6 million students—mostly in rural communities—attend schools that lack highspeed internet access.

school infrastrucutre

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How Bad Do For-Profit, Virtual Charter Schools Have to Get?


On January 18, 2018, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), Ohio’s largest K-12 virtual school, abruptly closed its doors for good. The move, which left its 12,000 students scrambling for another option halfway through the academic year, came amidst escalating scandals over the for-profit cyber charter’s operations. ECOT had been inflating its attendance records to siphon off more state funds. At the time of ECOT’s demise, the Ohio Department of Education was trying to recoup $80 million in improper payments based on years of deceptive enrollment reports. Its academic record was also abysmal. More than one-third of Ohio’s dropouts were ECOT students, and the school consistently ranked near the bottom on state assessments.

ECOT’s spectacular failure became a central issue in the 2018 campaign for Ohio attorney general and governor. The voters rightfully want to know: How could hundreds of millions of state funds be squandered on a school fraught with fraud, mismanagement, and a shoddy academic record?

Welcome to the world of for-profit, virtual charter schools.

ECOT was the indisputable poster child for Ohio’s struggling, unaccountable charter sector, says Becky Higgins, president of the Ohio Education Association (OEA). Over the years, OEA relentlessly pushed state lawmakers to scrutinize ECOT’s operations and adopt stronger accountability measures to protect students and taxpayer funds.

It would be a mistake, however, to look at ECOT as one “bad actor.” Six months after ECOT closed, the Virtual Community School of Ohio also collapsed after being told to repay $4 million in state funds.

“Not only are the students being badly served, but the taxpayers are being fleeced. And at a time of declining state revenues, it’s all the more important that tax dollars are well spent,” said Higgins.

In 2017, the National Education Association’s Charter School Taskforce recommended that because of the “combination of inherent limitations they pose to the healthy social and emotional development of students, along with their particularly dismal student outcomes, full-time virtual charter schools should not be authorized.”

ECOT

In January 2018, ECOT, the largest virtual K-12 school in Ohio, closed its doors after failing to repay $80 million in state funds.

While just under half of all virtual schools in the nation are charter schools, together they accounted for roughly 75 percent of virtual school enrollment in the 2017-18 school year.

Would-be ECOTs exist in many of the 27 states that have opened their doors to virtual charters, says Michael Barbour, Associate Professor of Instructional Design at Touro University in California.

“Especially in states that were early entrants into the virtual charter world, there was very little oversight or accountability built into them,” Barbour explains. “Programs were set up by individuals with a strong background in business. For-profit authorizers play a very direct role in the operations of the school. You have voluntary boards handpicked by the corporations whose sole responsibility is to sign a contract with that corporation to operate that school.”

Behind every opening of a full-time, for-profit, virtual charter school, says Barbour, is “an abdication of the public responsibility for education.”

Profits Over Students

The policies and practices of these schools should be subject to increased federal oversight, according to two U.S. senators. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Patty Murray of Washington recently called on the General Accounting office (GAO) to scrutinize how the lack of accountability and transparency is affecting student outcomes.

“Most states distribute funding to virtual charter schools as they would to brick-and-mortar schools,” Brown and Murray wrote in their letter to the GAO. “And yet, there is limited information on how operators allocate those public dollars to educate students and manage company operations. This is especially problematic as the majority of virtual charter schools are either explicitly operated by or connected to for-profit companies that have perverse incentives to minimize the cost of instruction and student supports in order to boost their bottom line.”

The letter coincided with a scathing new report by the Center for American Progress on the academic performance and financial practices of for-profit virtual charter schools.

Meg Benner and Neil Campbell analyzed outcomes at the largest, for-profit virtual charter schools in five states. Many of these schools are run by  K12 Inc., the largest such operator in the nation, serving an estimated 30 percent of students enrolled in these schools.

Source: “Profit Before Kids,” Center for American Progress, 2018

“[Accountability] policies have not kept pace with the growth of virtual education, enabling many for-profit operators to take advantage of fully virtual instruction to boost their bottom line and drive dollars away from instruction at the expense of student outcomes,” said Benner, senior consultant for K-12 Education Policy at CAP.

The extent of the failure detailed in the report is staggering:

  • For-profit virtual charter schools graduate about half of their students, which groups them among the lowest-performing schools in their state. Furthermore, for-profit cyber charters have much lower graduation rates than nearby urban school districts that generally serve more low-income students.
  • The schools generally perform below the state average for third-grade English language arts and eighth-grade math proficiency.
  • Most of the large virtual charter schools in CAP’s analysis also fell far below states’ expectations for students’ academic growth.

Benner and Campbell also take a hard look at the financial records of K12 Inc., which reveal a prioritizing of growth at the expense of results: “Despite concerning outcomes across many of K12 Inc.’s virtual charter schools, the company’s 2018 annual report demonstrates that it continues to divert resources to grow enrollment, thereby limiting funds to improve academic programs.”

Then there are the hefty compensation packages doled out to K12 Inc. executives. Benner and Campbell say the compensation of K12 Inc.’s top five executives is “comparable to the national average cost of educating almost 1,300 public school students.”

Political Pressure

In addition to recommending rigorous new accountability mechanisms for all virtual charter schools, the authors endorse banning for-profit companies from opening and operating these schools. Lawmakers would have to be careful, however, to tailor the language very specifically to cover any arrangements a for-profit entity may use to to avoid compliance.

“The majority of virtual charter schools are either explicitly operated by or connected to for-profit companies that have perverse incentives to minimize the cost of instruction and student supports in order to boost their bottom line.” – U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (OH) and Patty Murray (WA) in a letter to the General Accounting Office

“These guys don’t have much experience in education,” says Michael Barbour. “But they do know business and they know how to find loopholes to get around regulations.”

In September, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill, supported by the California Teachers Association, prohibiting for-profit companies from owning and managing charter schools, a major step for a state that has 10 percent of its 6.2 million K-12 students in charter schools. Strong political opposition, however, appears to have stemmed the expansion.

In Indiana, educators have been lobbying the legislature to curb the growth of the states’ poorly performing virtual charter schools, where more than 12,000 students are enrolled. Their record, says the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA), is “wholly unimpressive for kids and taxpayers.” ISTA advocates a moritarium on new virtual schools and a change in the funding formula so that performance, not enrollment, determines how much they receive from the state.

As the fallout of the ECOT debacle continues, Ohio lawmakers have passed a series of measures in 2018 designed to strengthen accountability and require fraudulent charter school funds to be returned to school districts. Educators and many lawmakers say more needs to be done, because another ECOT could very easily happen.  After all, 4,000 of ECOT students this spring transferred to another virtual charter school, Ohio Virtual Academy – owned and operated by K12. Inc.





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School Funding Goes Directly Before the Voters


As voters head to the polls on Nov. 6, educators in Florida are going to be particularly eager to bring the Rick Scott era to a close. As governor, Scott kept the state’s education funding to crippling lows and never came across a school privatization scheme – or a tax break for the state’s wealthiest citizens – he didn’t wholeheartedly champion.

The Florida Education Association is supporting Andrew Gillum, who has called for increased funding for public schools and a brake on the expansion of unaccountable charter schools. Electing Gillum – not to mention like-minded state legislators – is critical. But in 2018 that victory by itself may not be enough. Further down on the November ballot voters will also find a proposed state amendment that could potentially straightjacket any new plans to reinvest in public education.

It’s called Amendment 5. If approved, it will require any new revenues for any purpose be approved by at least a 2/3 majority of legislators in each house. (Currently, the legislature needs a simple majority to pass any new taxes or fees or to increase existing ones). This supermajority threshold essentially empowers a small number of legislators to block budget proposals that invest in key public services, locking into place Rick Scott’s legacy of austerity for public schools and tax breaks for corporations for decades to come. (Needless to say, Amendment 5 does not extend to efforts to further cut taxes for the wealthy.)

Amendment 5 would likely force even deeper education cuts in a state that already already ranks low on many education funding and performance measures. According to an analysis by the Florida Policy Institute (FPI), Florida ranks 47th in attracting and retaining effective teachers, 44th in high school graduation rates, and 42nd in spending per K-12 student.

The FPI report warns those rankings could dip even further in an economic downturn:

“The rising cost of competing priorities could shift support away from education. If a two-thirds majority cannot be reached, then local lawmakers would be forced to choose between raising local taxes or reducing support for schools and other local priorities.”

As in Florida, the underfunding of public schools has taken center stage across the nation this campaign season. Educators are out in force, leading a #RedforEd movement to sweep pro-education candidates into office (there are 554 educators on the ballot this fall) and push an aggressive legislative agenda to reinvest in their students.

Elections aren’t just about candidates. In many states, voters in 2018 may be determining the future of public school funding.  State ballot measures – the good, the bad and the ugly – have risen the stakes.

florida amendment 5

‘Schools Cemented Into a Permanent Recession’

Florida isn’t the only state where powerful interests are using ballot measures to choke off revenue streams for public services and secure tax breaks for the wealthy. A similar scheme is underway in North Carolina, another state another still reeling from decade of deep cuts to education.

Senate Bill 75 would cap the state income tax rate at 7% (a decrease from the current constitutionally-mandated 10%). Supporters like to call the proposal merely a way to protect taxpayers. What it is, says Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, is “a permanent tax cut for corporations and millionaires that will leave our schools starving.”

According to estimates, an income tax cap would drain $3.5 million annually from the state’s coffers, damaging any effort to make significant investments in public schools and students. Jewell says it would also force lawmakers to increase other taxes, such as property and sales taxes, which disproportionately burden working families.

A flexible income tax helped keep the state afloat in the previous two recessions.  According to the North Carolina Justice Center, “state policymakers enacted temporary top brackets on high-income taxpayers to raise revenue that minimized cuts to public schools, public health, and other investments that were important to the long-term well-being and economic success of the state.”

If a cap is implemented, the state’s public education system will face dire consequences. Progress NC Action called SB75 the “sound of North Carolina’s public schools cemented into a permanent recession.”

Public education activists in North Carolina and Florida believe the experience of other states serve as cautionary tales.

north carolina income tax cap amendment

In November, voters in North Carolina will decide whether to cap the state’s personal and corporate income tax rates at 7 percent. Mark Jewell of the North Carolina Association of Educators calls the proposal “a permanent tax cut for corporations and millionaires that will leave our schools starving.” (Photo: NCAE)

Since 1992, Colorado’s schools have been under the thumb of the so-called “Taxpayers Bill of Rights” (TABOR), a voter-approved referendum that drastically limited the amount of revenue governments could collect and spend.  Although lawmakers have loosened its restrictions, Colorado spends $2,000 less per student on average, compared with other states. Teacher pay is well below the national average, and schools are constantly struggling to fill their classrooms with qualified educators.

Colorado, meanwhile, has one of the fastest growing economies in the nation.

In June, activists delivered 175,000 signatures (significantly more than the required 100,000) to place Amendment 73 on the 2018 ballot. The amendment would raise $1.6 billion a year in additional revenue for Colorado’s public schools, bringing the state closer to the national average in school funding.

Getting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot is no easy task in Colorado. Activists had to collect signatures from at least 2 percent of voters in all 35 Colorado Senate districts, a new rule implemented in 2016 to make it more difficult to change the state’s constitution.

In such a healthy economy, the state has run out of excuses not to bolster school funding. “It is up to all of us to get Amendment 73 passed by voters to ensure students and educators across Colorado have access to a high-quality public education no matter where they live,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of the Colorado Education Association.

Sharing the Growing Economy With Students

Educators in Hawaii and Utah are also determined to open new revenue streams for their students.

Utah educators are campaigning for Question 1, which asks voters to approve a small increase in the gas tax (costing the average driver only $4 a month), with 70 percent invested in public education and 30 percent to improve local roads.

If Question 1 is approved, it could generate more than $100 million in new funding for Utah schools, money that goes directly to classrooms and teacher salaries. “Question 1 is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Heidi Matthews, president of the Utah Education Association, which worked with community members across the state and the legislature to get the measure on this year’s ballot.

Writing in the Salt Lake Tribune, Utah teachers Aaryn Birchell, Valerie Gates, Allison Riddle, and Gay Beck called attention to how the funding generated by Question 1 will empowers those who know their students best:

“Individual schools would create a plan detailing how their allocation will be invested to meet the needs of their students, while the school board verifies the funds are used only for academic purposes. This innovative approach allows each community to participate in how the funding is spent, measure what results are achieved, and ensure that funding isn’t used toward district administration or school construction.”

Thanks to the efforts of the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA), voters in the state will vote on a proposed amendment to the Hawaii Constitution that would permit the Legislature to place a “surcharge” on investment properties valued at more than $1 million, with revenue to be used to fund public education.

No state in the nation allocates a smaller percentage of both state and local revenue toward education than Hawaii.

“If the 1 percent want to call Hawaii home then they should be giving back — and that starts with paying their fair share to ensure our children get the quality education they deserve,” said Corey Rosenlee, HSTA president.

“Every year we say education is a priority,” he added. “But we don’t do enough to improve chronic underfunding of public education while Hawaii’s children are falling behind and schools struggle to prepare students for 21st-century jobs.”



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Social Media’s Impact on Students’ Mental Health Comes Into Focus


According to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, 95% of teens use a smartphone, and 45% say they are online almost constantly. About 70% of teens are on Snapchat and Instagram, while 85% are on Youtube.

One would think all this near constant “socializing” would make teens feel more connected than ever before.

In her classroom, says teacher Cori McAbee, the opposite is true.

“Social media has crippled my students when it comes to interacting with one another in person. Their very ability to communicate is deteriorating,” says McAbee, who teaches 11th grade English in Rutherford County, North Carolina.

The very definition of “social” media may be misleading, according to  experts who are finding that the more time teens spend on social media, the lonelier and more anxious they are.

There’s a correlation between smartphone usage and lower satisfaction with life, according to Jacob Barkley, professor of health sciences at Kent State University.

“Interaction on social media is not beneficial. It’s electronic,” explains Barkley, who has been studying smartphone use and students since 2013. “The higher the cellphone use, the more time spent on social media, and the higher the anxiety. Peer relationships actually get worse the more you use your phone.”

Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, reached similar conclusions in 2017. In her study, Twenge discovered that students who spend more time using smartphones and other electronic devices are less satisfied with their lives than students who frequently engage in face-to-face interaction.

“We found that teens who spent five or more hours a day online were 71 percent more likely than those who spent less than an hour a day to have at least one suicide risk factor (depression, thinking about suicide, making a suicide plan or attempting suicide). Overall, suicide risk factors rose significantly after two or more hours a day of time online,” Twenge wrote in 2017.

Source: 2018 Children’s Mental Health Report, Child Mind Institute

If teens were to follow up high social media usage with lots of time spent socializing in person, the effects perhaps wouldn’t be so adverse. But in most cases, they aren’t. It turns out, liking a post, commenting “Cute,” or keeping up with a “snapchat streak” isn’t the same as catching up. It’s not even close. Yet too many teens, according to these experts, are substituting real life interactions for instagram posts, and paying the price.

Because research into social media and education is still generally in its infancy, many educators are still trying to fully understand the effects of these technologies. Social media can be an effective teaching tool, but many educators are alarmed at the role it plays in heightening student anxiety and stress.

Social Media and Anxiety

In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control issued some sobering statistics about student anxiety and depression. Teens are more lonely, anxious and depressed than ever. About a third of teens surveyed by the CDC said they’d felt persistent sadness or hopelessness. Social media, says John Richter, director of Public Policy at the Mental Health Association, believes social media is exacerbating this trend.

“Researchers are finding that when someone develops depression and withdraws from peers, they see other people on social media smiling and at parties with friends. It magnifies their sense of isolation,” says Richter.

The Child Mind Institute’s 2018 Children’s Mental Health Report focuses on anxiety in teenagers, spotlighting the prevalent role of social media has in their lives.  The report points out that existing research does conclude that social media can be constructive,”youth with a stronger emotional investment in social media are likely to have higher levels of anxiety.”

And yet, students have trouble putting their phone down for too long, says Crystal Huset, counselor at Pardeeville High School in Wisconsin.

“It seems like many students struggle to detach from their electronic devices,” says Huset. “Many students do see social media as an issue, but it is also the only thing that they know.”

Anne Braun, 5th/6th grade teacher at Woodland Elementary in Kansas, noticed the increase of mental health issues in her students. “I never had kids diagnosed with anxiety and depression 10 years ago,” says Braun. “They compare themselves, and it brings on bad feelings.”

Katrina Smith, a 5th grade teacher in North Carolina, agrees. “They base their love of themselves on how people respond to their pictures,” says Smith. ”

The lack of real life communication, the comparison, and the bullying are too much for some students to bear, Smith adds.

Recently, she noticed a student acting out in her classroom. “She was especially agitated and disrupted the class. After working with her, I found that she had a lot more going on, and it had to do with Instagram. Her so-called friends had called her names the evening before.”

Anne Braun, says students will talk about feeling left out when they see their friends communicating on social media. “They have FOMO- fear of missing out. They don’t have the tools to deal with these negative emotions.”

Credit: Common Sense Media, 2018 (click to enlarge)

Discussing Social Media in the Classroom

Ideally, every school district in the nation would be equipped with a comprehensive, systemic program to address students’ mental health challenges.  Despite renewed attention to the problem in recent years, t’s clear schools have a long way to go.

In 2018, New York and Virginia became be the first states to require mental health education as part of the public school curriculum.  It’s a start, says John Richter, because the curriculum will help teach kids how to deal with some of the pressures in their lives.

“How do we help kids who experience anxiety because of social media? The first step is teaching kids to recognize what anxiety actually is and feels like, and how to seek help,” Richter said.

While many districts are taking significant steps in designing new evience-based programs, helping students navigate social media is a challenge that many educators are taking on at the classroom level.

Larissa May, CEO of #HALFTHESTORY, a company dedicated to healthy social media use, believes that educators, first and foremost, should simply be aware of their student’s experiences on social media.

“Every adult has experienced scrolling through Facebook for too long or comparing themselves on social media. Let your students know you understand these issues,” she says.

Showing students other ways to use social media in the classroom can also help prepare them for healthy use in adult life, says teacher Anne Braun.

“I had a student create a website after her friend got diagnosed with cancer, and the website allowed visitors to donate to the American Cancer Foundation,”  Braun recalls.  Her students also respond favorably to positive feedback online via the classroom Twitter account. “They get comments from the online community, as well as parents and grandparents.”

Larz suggests integrating a social media component into every project. “Social media is an extremely useful and powerful tool, and we can’t run away from that,” she says.

Awareness of the issue is the first step for educators, parents and students alike,  says Jacob Barkley of Kent State. “Encourage students to step back and examine their usage more critically,” he advises. “Smartphones weren’t a thing…now we’re using them a lot. How is that affecting our lives?”

It’s not about educators controlling their students’ social media usage, adds Larz, it’s about holding a conversation that many students want to have.

“It’s important to present the impact of social media talk as facts. There is research showing the effect on our mental health, and it’s something to be discussed in the classroom.”



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Study Upends Conventional Wisdom About Private School Superiority


Steadfast public opposition, educator advocacy, and a meager (at best) track record has slowed down the push to expand school vouchers nationwide. Still, voucher advocates soldier on, buoyed by Betsy DeVos’ determination and a rebranding effort (“education savings accounts,” “tuition tax credits”) designed to make siphoning public money for private school tuition more politically appealing. Then there’s the apparent public consensus that private schools are superior to public schools. That being the case, so the argument goes, how can we deny low-income families the opportunity to send their children to these institutions?

Putting aside the fact that voucher programs are often expanded to include affluent families, the assumption that private schools are the better option for students from disadvantaged communities is misleading and “potentially harmful,” says Robert Pianta, Dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia.

Pianta is co-author with research associate Arya Ansari of a new study that concludes  the benefits of private schools are being oversold.

In “Does Attendance in Private Schools Predict Student Outcomes at Age 15? Evidence From a Longitudinal Study,” Pianta and Ansari find that children with a history of enrollment in private schools did perform better on nearly all outcomes assessed in adolescence. Once you controlled for socioeconomic characteristics, however, all of the advantages of private school education were essentially eliminated.

“The study collected a wealth of information on families and students’ performance even before they started school, so it also allowed us to see if private school enrollment added any value over and above those factors,” Pianta explains.

Pianta and Ansari analyzed data from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (SECCYD), which beginning in 1991 tracked 1,364 U.S. children from nine different states from birth to age 15. The researchers evaluated ninth-grade outcomes, academic achievement, education aspirations, social behavior, family characteristics (income and parent education), child characteristics and neighborhood characteristics  – all used to determine to what extent enrollment in private school was related to students’ academic, social and psychological outcomes at age 15.

The results show that socioeconomic advantages, not the school itself, is more predictive of student success.

Despite the arguments in favor of the use of vouchers or other mechanisms to support enrollment in private schools, this study finds no evidence that private schools, exclusive of family background or income, are more effective for promoting student success.” – Robert Pianta, Dean of the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

Pianta is quick to point out that this study is not an evaluation of voucher programs. The findings are obviously relevant to the debate since private schools are viewed as the superior choice by voucher proponents. The UVA study does point out, however, that research into existing voucher programs provides little tangible evidence that private school education is producing better academic outcomes.

“Independent investigations of programs in Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, and New York City indicate that enrollment in private schools had mixed effects on achievement for low-income students compared with program-eligible peers not attending private schools,” Pianta and Ansari write.

The UVA study is not the first that casts doubt on the supposed advantages of private school education. Pianta and Ansari cite the work of  Christopher Lubienski, a researcher at the University of Indiana, and his wife, Sarah Theule Lubienski, a researcher at the University of Illinois, who in 2013 co-authored The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools. In the book, the Lubienskis draw on two national data sets and conclude that, once you account for socioeconomic factors, public schools actually outperformed private schools in math instruction.

Lubienski told NEA Today in 2013 that parents need to question these faulty assumptions about private schools if they are looking at that particular option for their children.

“Instead of just looking at whether a school is private or public, [parents] may want to look at the type of preparation and pedagogy the teachers have had or the type of curriculum a school offers. Are the teachers certified or not? These things should matter quite a bit,” Lubienski said.

Parents may not ask these important questions because most people misunderstand the heterogeneity of private schools, says Pianta.

“We have a stereotypic view of private schools – the kinds of prep schools we see in movies – terrific teachers, striving kids, a real focus on achievement and excellence,” Pianta explains. “But there is a very wide range of private schools – some are very small one-room schoolhouses that run under religious auspices or a very specific model of schooling, while others are like school districts themselves – such as the Catholic schools run by the Archdiocese of New York.

“The issue here is that private schools are as variable as public schools, perhaps more so.”

The school privatization agenda subsists largely on false narratives (along with an enormous amount of corporate cash) that tend to dissolve under scrutiny. Private school superiority over public schools appears to be no exception, which is good news for students. The further away the national conversation turns away from the fixation on vouchers and other privatization schemes, the better.  Perhaps soon,  Pianta and Ansari write, lawmakers can focus on “better understanding the mechanisms in schools and families that support student success, and strengthen those resources accordingly.”

 



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