When a Bake Sale Isn’t Enough: Crowdfunding for School Projects

From international food festivals and popcorn sales to fun runs and penny wars, many educators are taking matters into their own hands to raise much-needed funds. With nearly half of public school funding nationwide coming from local taxes, annual budgets vary drastically from one school district to another. According to the National Center for Education, funding can range from less than $4,000 per student in the least affluent areas to more than $15,000 per student in the wealthiest districts.

In Oakland, Calif., where Ashley Wallace teaches humanities and theater arts, the city faced a $23-million budget deficit in 2018, and millions more in cuts are expected in the 2019-2020 school year. “Funding doesn’t often come to our school,” Wallace says. “I need to get things for my students as quickly as I can.”

With few options, Wallace turns to crowdfunding to find resources for her students. In the last three years, Wallace has raised more than $35,000 for her school on Donors Choose. org, a crowdfunding site that connects teachers in high-need communities with donors (corporations, foundations, and/or individuals) who want to help fund classroom projects.

“The economic problems we have in Oakland don’t allow for our kids to participate in traditional school fundraising events,” Wallace says. “This is not an area where kids are walking around selling candy bars—and there’s only so much candy you can sell teachers.”

How Does Crowdfunding for School Work?

DonorsChoose.orgcrowdfunding for school, DigitalWish.com, and Fundly.com are all popular crowdfunding sites. While each site is a little different, educators follow the same basic steps: Create a description of a fundraising project; fill the online cart with items from the listed businesses or make special requests for items not found on the site; and wait.

The sites vet the requests and cost for each item and then track donations as they arrive. Sometimes sites offer dollar-for-dollar matches for donations—some offer even more! When the project is fully funded, the site orders the requested items and ships them to the teacher’s school.

Wallace’s crowdfunding efforts have landed supplies for the parent and student hygiene pantry as well as a washer and dryer for students to wash their uniforms.

Extreme Makeover-Classroom Edition

In summer 2019, Wallace listed three projects needed for a classroom redesign. “I wanted to create a space that reflected a welcoming, home environment,” she says. “Our students are better equipped and ready to learn when they feel relaxed, happy, and safe.” Some weeks later, a company funded every project in Oakland.

Wallace scored a $6,000 classroom makeover that included ergonomic stand-up tables and comfortable couches, among other items. The funds helped create more comfortable spaces where students can sit on the floor and work at coffee tables. A “Rainbow Lounge” now showcases student art highlighting their diverse Latino, African American, and Southeast Asian communities. The lounge is peppered with rainbow colors to help all students feel at home.

Wallace involved her students in the planning and build-out for the makeover, which took place over the summer. She taught a class, called Project Renovation, in which her students first researched and designed their own perfect classroom, complete with a budget, and then spent the remainder of the time cleaning and painting the room, building the furniture, and hanging pictures.

“It was an amazing experience,” Wallace says. “I still can’t believe it happened.”

Fast-Food Fundraisers

A flyer advertising McDonald’s “McTeacher’s Night”

Many families can’t afford the time or expense required to participate in school fundraisers. Add school funding disinvestments to the mix, and you’ll get many school officials and educators turning to less practical measures, such as inviting corporations to hawk its products. McDonald’s “McTeacher’s Night” is a prime example.

“McTeacher’s Night” is an event at which educators work behind the counter at a local McDonald’s franchise and serve up hamburgers, french fries, and soda to their students. McDonald’s bills the event as a “popular and successful school fundraiser,” but only a small percentage of nightly proceeds go to participating schools. NEA has long opposed and rejected “McTeacher’s Nights” for exploiting public schools, educators, and workers to market junk food to students.

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Student Performers Explore Impact of School Segregation

What is the purpose of school? What does separate but equal mean? Who benefits from school segregation? How did we get here?

These were questions posed by five high school actors in a performance titled Nothing About Us at NEA headquarters on November 2. The performance, cosponsored by the National Coalition on School Diversity and NEA’s Education and Policy Practice department, was an exploration of educational segregation written and performed by EPIC Next, a group of New York City public high school students – those who attend segregated schools but are rarely asked about its impact on them.

New York City, home to 8 million people and 800 languages, is renowned for its culture and diversity. Yet more than 60 years after Brown vs. Board of Education, it has one of the most segregated school systems in America.

“Integration has risen to the top of city politics. Now we even have presidential candidates talking about it. But it’s not about busing. It’s going to take more than moving bodies around to confront modern day segregation,” said Matt Gonzalez, New York University Metro Center director of Integration and Innovation Initiative (i3) who addressed the audience after the EPIC performance. “Every school needs to reflect the diversity of its surrounding community.”

According to Gonzalez,  young people must be included in the process and help shape the policy. When speaking at meetings, town halls, panels and community discussions, he brings the EPIC Next ensemble to break the ice and bring people directly to the most volatile issues, “because young people help ease the tensions surrounding the tough topics of race and segregation and inequality,” he said. “They amplify the conversation.”

EPIC Next is a program of New York’s Epic Theater Ensemble, a collective of theater professionals and Teaching Artists that aims to build bridges between school classrooms, professional stages, and civic centers.

The Epic NEXT program pairs Epic’s professional artists with selected students from Epic’s partner schools beginning in a summer lab and extending throughout the school year. Each Epic ensemble artist mentors two or three students a year in the theater-making process as well as in leadership development, civic engagement, and college readiness. As the culmination of their work in the summer intensive, the students integrate the ideas and concepts explored in the program to create a full-length theater piece, like Nothing About Us.

Epic believes that theater is an art form uniquely capable of fostering social change when it challenges an audience’s expectations and inspires them to talk about what they experienced and learned with their community.

Matt Gonzalez at the National Education Association.

Each performance begins with a single question. In Nothing About Us, it is “What is the purpose of school.”

One by one the student performers, scattered throughout the audience, each wearing a black t-shirt that says “I Am Epic,” rises to answer the question.

Kayla Villanueva, 16, a high school senior from the Bronx, says her answer is both facetious and serious: “School is a way of warehousing troublesome younger members of society.”

To many high schoolers who must pass by uniformed police officers and through metal detectors on their way into school, the building feels more like a prison or “warehouse” than an institution of learning. The students who attend those schools are almost entirely children of color.

The EPIC Next ensemble then gathers in the front of the room and creates a mock town hall about diversifying schools. One one side, students portray parents concerned about low test scores. On the other, the parents of students accused of bringing down test scores.

“Our children are smart and caring and creative,” says a parent. “They could be friends with your children.”

Another, angrier parent: “I see you as taking!”

“We are not taking,” a parent on the opposite side shouts back. “We are earning! This is a meritocracy.”

More shouts: “I’m not racist! I have a lot of black friends! I saw Black Panther three times! I am not racist. I don’t see color! All lives matter!”

The group then morphs into a mock episode of the 90’s sitcom “Friends” where students talk about race at their local coffee shop. It’s humorous but revelatory as some of the “friends” realize hard truths about the challenges of talking about race and white privilege with their white friends.

They pose another question: Who benefits from educational segregation? The powers that be? People with money?  The fortunate few who get plucked out of poverty and placed into a better school with mostly white students?

Or, they ask, is it the system that benefits? The answer, they say, is clear. The system has a life of its own and the system is doing exactly what it is designed to do. It not only benefits from segregation, its survival depends on it.

Nothing About Us is thorough in its exploration of segregation of schools and it challenges the audience to rethink what’s at the root of the problem. It concludes with a simple message – whatever the cause, the problem of education segregation cannot be solved without students.

In the closing scene, the five-member ensemble chanted a phrase that underscored the meaning of the play’s title, “Nothing about us without us is for us!”

Find out more about how NYC Metro Center and New York City high school students are advocating for sustainable integration with the Five R’s: race and enrollment, resources, relationships, restorative justice, and representation.

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Jobs Threatened By Privatization, Educators and Their Allies Strike Back

Nancy Cogland really didn’t think it would happen again. But in early 2019, there she stood facing the possibility that her job—and those of the other 166 paraprofessionals in Old Bridge Township, New Jersey—could be outsourced to a private company.

The last time they faced this threat, the district’s paraeprofessionals were, “caught a little off-guard,” Cogland says. That was eight years earlier, when the school board of this 10,000-student district—saddled with new cuts in state aid and a large budget gap—announced they were considering privatizing paraprofessionals. With a quick vote scheduled, the board left it up the paraprofessionals — lose your jobs or give up your family and medical benefits.

“We had no real choice and no warning,” Cogland recalls. “We obviously didn’t want to lose our jobs to a private company, so we agreed to surrender our benefits.”

Luckily, those benefits were reinstituted in the next round of bargaining. But after announcing another round of state cuts in 2018, the school board looked again for savings. Again, the paraprofessionals’ jobs were on the chopping block.

Many districts already outsource other education support professionals (ESP), such as bus drivers, school custodians, and cafeteria workers. The focus on paraprofessionals, says Tim Barchak, senior policy analyst with the National Education Association, opens up a relatively new front in the privatization fight.

“Everyone is vulnerable now,” he says. “The key is to change the environment in districts to make it more difficult for privatizers to thrive.”

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

Mapping the march of school privatization across the United States reveals significant expansion of charter schools and, to a lesser extent, private school voucher programs. Zoom in closer, and you’ll see a concentration of privatization inside public schools: the outsourcing of school staff. That is, after all, what privatization is—turning a public good over to a private entity.

Everyone is vulnerable now. The key is to change the environment in districts to make it more difficult for privatizers to thrive.” – Timothy Barchak, National Education Association

Many school districts insist such a move is necessary because they can’t afford pension obligations and health care costs. Or it could also be “plain old opposition of taxpayers to paying more than they would like,” says Samuel Abrams, director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Educationat Columbia University in New York City.

ESPs are frequently the easiest targets. “Often the specific service they provide is not viewed as core to the mission of educating our students,” Barchak explains. “And these workers are not usually allied with stakeholders in the community,” making it a challenge to build alliances when these threats materialize.

Although not ESPs, substitute teachers are viewed the same way and are also contracted out to private firms. Substitutes usually don’t need to be licensed educators, and are more deeply embedded in the gig economy than any other school job category.

Whoever the specific target, says Abrams, “ultimately, such privatization is penny wise and pound foolish. Privatizing these jobs will mean hiring people with less experience and generating more turnover. This is the opposite of what schools need.”

nancy cogland

School board members say they needed to look for savings, but “it was our job to explain to them what our value is to the students we serve,” said paraeducator Nancy Cogland.

On the Chopping Block

Many flush with venture capital funds, companies are deploying aggressive marketing campaigns, ready to swoop in and privatize school services in any district looking to cut costs. Kelly Staffing Services, Swing Education, SPUR, and EduStaff offer enticing—although short-sighted and often misleading— offers of savings, quality, and streamlined efficiency. As for the individual workers, some companies hope to usher them into the flexible world of the “gig economy.”

The pitch: Agree to self-privatize and get a hefty one-time boost in salary. Left out of the pitch: Say goodbye to adequate health insurance and pension security.

Flipping a School Board Can Make All the Difference
Transferring the work of public school employees to the private sector leads to inferior services and fewer connections to students and their education. A successful campaign by a Pennsylvania local association struck a blow against privatization that is having a lasting impact.

Substitute teachers are a lucrative market. With growing teacher shortages, schools need quality substitute teachers more than ever. But in many states, subs work without any employee protections or access to health and retirement benefits.

Some substitute teachers, like Greg Burrill, like the flexibility but he belongs to a union and works in Oregon—a state that requires certification. He knows he’s lucky. “Substitutes need protection, especially as more districts farm the service out to private companies,” Burrill says.

Kelly Educational Services has a foothold in many districts, including Shawnee Mission, Kansas, where Laura Holland teaches. She has often complained about the quality of the substitutes being sent to her school. “Generally, they don’t belong in the classroom,” Holland says. “They’re not licensed or prepared. These companies view them as temp workers. That’s a disservice to students.”

‘We Weren’t Going to Stand For It’

Fortunately, the paraprofessionals in Old Bridge Township had critical structure and relationships in place, and persuaded the school board to drop its outsourcing plan. They made sure the district knew that any short-term savings were not worth the inevitable decline in quality and accountability.

“The fact is, you get what you pay for,” Cogland says. “We weren’t going to stand for it, and the parents weren’t going to stand for it.”

After the 2011 cutbacks, Cogland had become more involved in her local union, Old Bridge Education Association, and participated in workshops and leadership trainings sponsored by the New Jersey Education Association. By the time the privatization threat re-emerged in 2019, Cogland and her colleagues were ready to organize and mobilize the community.

All the paraprofessionals in the district work with special education students. Their parents are organized and very vocal in protecting their students, and they immediately went to bat for the paraprofessionals. Strengthening those relationships was front and center in the campaign to ward off privatization.

The school board got the message. In May 2019, the board took the proposal off the table before any bids from companies had been solicited.

“It’s the board’s job to find ways to save money,” Cogland says, “but it was our job to explain to them what our value is to the students we serve.”

Hillsborough County school custodians rally against district proposal to outsource their jobs.

It’s Hard to Privatize Names

The 1,500 school custodians in Hillsborough County, Florida—the eighth-largest school district in the country—also tapped into a reservoir of goodwill in 2019, when they turned back an attempt to outsource their services to a private contractor.

“We were able to use the media and our public protests to talk about what our custodians do for our schools and students,” said Iran Alicea, a school security officer and president of the Hillsborough School Employee Federation (HSEF). “You’re talking about replacements entering our school buildings. These are workers who have no real connection to the school. Would they really always be there for the students?

Including when disaster strikes—literally.

Civics teacher Scott Hottenstein recalled the critical role his school’s custodians played during Hurricane Irma in September 2017, when the school became an emergency shelter. The custodians worked around the clock to keep the shelter clean. “Our entire custodial staff moved their families to the school for 48 straight hours to serve the community. Are you going to get that with privatized janitorial services?” Hottenstein asked the Hillsborough school board in May 2019, as it debated privatizing their jobs.

In October, the board scrapped the proposal.

That is, until it’s back on the table—or the board tries to outsource another job category. As long as school boards are looking for savings, and private companies see public schools as profit centers, the threat of privatization looms.

“Unfortunately, that’s the world we live in,” Barchak says. “But kids don’t just drop into a classroom ready to learn,” he adds. “Every school has a network of caring adults who have to do their job professionally every day to make that happen. ESPs need to tell their stories about what they do and develop relationships with stakeholders. It’s relatively easy to privatize the ‘bus drivers’ or the ‘custodians.’ It’s a lot harder to privatize the individuals who have names that know and take care of your kids.”

NEA resources on fighting ESP privatization in your community

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How Higher Salaries Could Save the Teaching Profession

Biology teacher Seth Knolhoff with students at Bartram Trail High School in St. Johns County, Florida.

Florida science teacher Seth Knolhoff says if things don’t change in his state, he’s going to have to leave the profession he loves. He and his wife (also an educator) rarely see each other, let alone spend quality time together. They work multiple side jobs in the evenings and on weekends just to pay their rent, and they still can’t afford to start the family they dream of.

“It’s not the most fun way to live, and it almost feels like we are being punished for being teachers and giving back to the community,” Knolhoff says. “We’ve looked into getting out of teaching, and each year it becomes more and more likely.”

Their departure would add to the more than 3,000 teacher vacancies in the state—a shortage some are calling “a silent strike” that’s directly attributed to low pay and lack of support.

“Teachers are taking a pass on teaching in Florida schools, and it’s easy to see why,” says Florida Education Association (FEA) president Fed Ingram. “How many people would spend four years in college to take a job that won’t pay their bills?” Recent graduates of schools of education ignore Florida recruiters at job fairs, Ingram says. Many educators who began teaching careers in the state are leaving those classrooms with no plans to return.

The average starting annual salary in Florida is $37,636. And Knolhoff earns $40,000 with eight years under his belt. But he’s not giving up without a fight.

Knolhoff is on the bargaining team for the St. Johns Education Association and is active in the FEA’s “Fund our Future” campaign, which is pushing legislators to stop destructive policies that hurt public schools and suppress salaries. These policies include: diverting much-needed funding to charter schools; dangling one-time, virtually unachievable bonuses that have neither retained nor recruited educators; and preventing teachers from receiving cost-of-living increases.

“Teachers aren’t paid nearly enough, and they feel less appreciated, more stressed, and less supported than they have in the past,” Knolhoff says. “If the state is serious about helping its students, it would make sure its teachers are taken care of. Higher pay attracts the best, most qualified teachers.”

Knolhoff used to teach in Illinois, where he grew up. When he started teaching right out of college in a small district, he earned roughly $33,000. After four years, he made $37,000, supplemented by $3,500 he earned as a freshman basketball coach.

“We also received steps each year and negotiated for raises on top of the steps,” he says. “So we could count on making a regular raise each year, which made planning for the future a much easier task.”

In Florida, educators have to negotiate raises from year to year (if they get them at all!), and, have to hope for fair evaluations, the basis of any increase. There are no steps or guaranteed cost-of-living increases. Making matters worse, district financial advisers have warned Knolhoff and his colleagues how bad the state’s retirement system is and that they should have savings outside of the district plan.

“In Illinois, we thought the state took better care of teachers in terms of test scores and evaluations—we didn’t have standardized tests other than the PSAE (Prairie State Achievement Examination) and ACT, and our evaluations had no bearing on pay. Illinois also has a fair retirement system.”

Big Win in Illinois

Despite these differences, Illinois is experiencing the same teacher shortage as the rest of the nation, due to low pay and increasing demands on educators. But Illinois teachers now have more incentive to stay in their state. In August 2019, Gov. JB Pritzker raised the minimum salary for Illinois teachers to $40,000. The change will be phased in over four years and will then rise based on the Consumer Price Index.

That’s a big morale booster for teachers like Bentley Stewart. It’s only her second year of teaching at the Crossroads Learning Center in Illinois’ Jacksonville School District, and she’s already feeling burned out. She currently earns $34,000 and says teachers need to feel more secure and valued in their profession.

“This [raise] is a good first step, and teachers can see that they are appreciated, which is amazing,” Stewart said at the bill signing ceremony.

Illinois teacher Bentley Stewart speaks the day Gov. J.B. Pritzker (left) signed a bill that raises starting teacher salaries.

The Illinois Education Association (IEA) advocated for the starting salary increase as a way to attract and retain new educators and place more value on the critical work they do.

“We are losing people, and we’re having a hard time convincing people that this is a good profession to go into,” says IEA communications director Bridget Shanahan. “There’s research that shows for the first time ever, parents are telling their kids not to be teachers. That’s alarming! It should really make folks think about the state of public education.”

In 2019, IEA’s State of Education Report showed that more than half of Illinoisans believe teachers are paid too little. “The two words most closely associated with teachers in Illinois are ‘underpaid’ and ‘undervalued,’” Shanahan says. “That has to change.”

And in Maine!

Positive change is slowly taking place in other states as well. A recent salary increase for Maine educators is hopefully making teaching a friendlier proposition in that state as well.

Gov. Janet T. Mills’ 2020 – 2021 budget raises the minimum annual salaries for teachers to $40,000, “to ensure that teachers in Maine will not be forced to leave the state for a living wage,” she said in a statement.

The salary increase will be phased in over three years, starting with the 2020 – 2021 school year, when schools will be required to pay starting salaries of at least $35,000. The following year, the minimum rises to $37,500. The full $40,000 minimum kicks in for the 2022 – 2023 school year.

“What we’re seeing is a recruitment and retention issue in the teaching profession, and by increasing pay we move one step closer to ensuring our students have quality teachers who don’t leave the profession,” says Grace Leavitt, Maine Education Association President. “No one gets into teaching for the money, however that is not an excuse to pay teachers poorly. It is long past time that we respect our teachers enough to pay them more, and this new law in Maine is certainly a step in the right direction.”

Not Only About Money

Maine, too, is experiencing a teacher shortage—one that’s sure to get worse as about 35 percent of the state’s teachers approach retirement. One of those teachers is Vaughn McLaughlin, who has taught music for Caribou Public Schools for 35 years.

McLaughlin knows teaching is much more than a paycheck.

All communities improve when educators make a professional wage, but especially small towns where the school district is often the largest employer.” – Vaughn McLaughlin

“I have a student who is the first female astronaut from Maine aboard the space station,” McLaughlin says with pride. “She contacted me this summer to see what type of saxophone mouthpiece she should take into space with her. This is why we do what we do—we build personal relationships with our students and that is critical to their development as human beings.”

But the personal cost shouldn’t be so high, he adds. Over the more than 30 years that McLaughlin and his wife have spent in the classroom, they have raised their children (and now grandchildren, due to the nation’s drug epidemic) and have amassed more than $200,000 in debt.

“The lack of funding for education has put us in the unenviable position of having to find a full-time job upon my retirement from teaching, as we were never able to put any money away for retirement,” McLaughlin says.

Keeping the Profession Viable For The Next Generation

The stresses of teaching are far higher than they were a generation ago, and they are taking a toll on young educators.

“We are seeing fewer young people go into education,” says McLaughlin, whose son Brendan wanted to follow in his parents’ footsteps and pursue a career in education.

Music teacher Vaughn McLaughlin

After completing his teaching degree in math, Brendan McLaughlin found a job in a neighboring town. He did so well that the superintendent actually called Vaughn McLaughlin to tell him about his son’s excellent work.

“But after only three months, Brendan called me to say he couldn’t do this for the rest of his life. He had already burned out,” McLaughlin says. “If we don’t do something as a nation to promote our profession, increase pay, and fund our schools we run the risk of intellectual, political, and economic collapse.”

Determined to shore up the profession as much as he can before he retires, McLaughlin became president of the Caribou Education Association.

With the new budget passed by Gov. Mills, all educators will get a salary bump and McLaughlin will get a 3.2 percent increase, but he is most pleased by the new starting salary increase—a change that MEA has been fighting for since 2014.

“All communities improve when educators make a professional wage, but especially small towns where the school district is often the largest employer,” he says. “These folks raise their families here, shop in the local stores, and are an integral part of the culture and well-being of every community. How they see themselves and their profession becomes a big part of the success and vibrancy of the town.”

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States Take On ‘Lunch Shaming’, But Child Nutrition Still Under Threat

Incidents of “lunch shaming”—practices that stigmatize students whose meal accounts have a negative balance—have drawn a lot of attention in the news and on social media in recent years.

The tales are heartbreaking: There was the Alabama 8-year-old whose arm was stamped with the words, “I need lunch money,” for all his peers to see. Some Minnesota school districts considered barring high school seniors with outstanding lunch debt from graduation ceremonies, until the state attorney general stepped in to prevent it. And earlier this year, a Pennsylvania school district sent letters to the parents of 1,000 students with unpaid lunch debt stating the parents could face delinquency court, which may result in, “your child being removed from your home and placed in foster care.”

Stories like these have fueled efforts at the local, state, and federal level to ban stigmatizing practices such as lunch shaming, and many have been successful.

But school meal programs remain under tremendous pressure to be self-supporting. More than three-fourths of schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program reported some degree of meal debt in the 2016-17 school year, according to the School Nutrition Association.

Instead of working to make it easier to enroll students for free or reduced-price meals or raise reimbursement rates to schools, the Trump Administration is seeking changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that would only increase the number of students facing food insecurity, if not lunch shaming.

States Take the Lead

In 2017, educators were among those who urged New Mexico lawmakers to create the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights. This made New Mexico the first state in the country to address and eliminate the issue of lunch shaming. The law requires schools to enroll eligible students into the free and reduced-price meals program if their guardians have not, and provide all students with a healthy meal. It expressly prohibits publicly embarrassing students whose families cannot pay.

This photo of an Alabama student’s arm stamped with the words “I Need Lunch Money!” was shared far and wide on social media. Alabama does not have a law prohibiting such practices.

Educators and other child welfare advocates have pushed for similar anti-shaming bills around country. Currently, fifteen states have passed laws that address how schools handle students with meal debt.

California passed a new law last week that guarantees every student will receive a full lunch regardless of their ability to pay. That measure goes further than an earlier law that offered an alternative lunch to students with meal debt.

The Virginia House and Senate unanimously passed an anti-lunch shaming bill in 2018, putting an end to practices that could stigmatize children in cafeterias across the state. It was a step cheered by educators like Shan Lighty, a nutritional manager at Albert Hill Middle School in Richmond, Va.

“There came a point where our administration said we couldn’t allow kids to credit meals any longer,” says Lighty. What that meant in practice was that cafeteria staff were supposed to take the tray of food away from any student carrying meal debt once they had gone through the line and reached the cashier.

Lighty couldn’t stomach it. She was known to pay for meals out of her own pocket—whatever it took to make sure every student could eat.

“We don’t know when that child’s last meal was or when the next one will be. And there is no need to hurt a child’s physical and mental state because their family can’t pay,” she says.

Students enjoy lunch at the Yorkshire Elementary School in Manassas, VA. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

Fortunately, her district now offers meals for all students regardless of their ability to pay, alleviating stress for students and educators alike.

In April, the Anti-Lunch Shaming Act of 2019 was introduced in Congress. If passed, the act will prohibit the public identification or stigmatization of a child with outstanding lunch debt. No school in the country will be allowed to single out children with lunch debt with handstamps, wristbands, alternative meals, or by assigning chores not required of students generally.

NEA supports the bill, along with other critical efforts to undergird federal child nutrition programs, including a thoughtful reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act and federal support to help make training accessible to more school cafeteria workers.

Theoretically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture could set a policy that bans lunch shaming tactics nationwide. Instead, the agency is pursuing an entirely different rule change that would deny nearly a million students access to free school meals altogether.

Changes Could Hurt Students

Trump’s USDA has proposed a new rule that would change the way states determine who qualifies for SNAP benefits. All told, 3.1 million individuals could lose SNAP benefits—mostly families with children, older people, and people with disabilities.

SNAP, our nation’s largest federal food assistance program, provides low-income people with monthly funds specifically designated for food purchases. Forty-four percent of SNAP beneficiaries are children.

In essence, the USDA is attempting to accomplish through rulemaking what Congress rejected in 2018, when members approved a Farm Bill that rejected cuts to SNAP benefits because of the harm those cuts would have done to families.

Nearly a million students who are automatically eligible for free school meals because they live in SNAP households could be denied those meals under the proposed rule. It was previously believed that roughly 500,000 students would be affected, but a surprise release of data by the USDA this week makes it clear that the number is nearly twice as high.

The changes could hurt students like those Shan Lighty serves.

Student accessing school lunch account. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Four years ago, Richmond Public Schools began serving free breakfast and lunch to all students under the Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. That provision allows schools with many low-income students (40 percent or more) to serve free meals to all students regardless of their income.

The provision eliminates not only the possibility of lunch shaming, but the likelihood of any child falling through the cracks of the system. It also reduces the administrative burden on schools to no longer have to enroll every child individually.

The USDA’s proposed changes put community eligibility at risk; if enough students in a given school are cut from SNAP, the school would no longer qualify.

“If the people making these decisions could hear from educators what we see every day, they might realize how losing access to school meals affects kids,” says Lighty.

The double whammy of losing benefits that support their nutrition at home and losing access to school meals would be devastating to those students’ health and learning.

A 2014 study found that participation in SNAP for six months reduced children’s likelihood of food insecurity by about 33 percent. Although SNAP is a crucial safety net for families, its benefits do not cover low-income families’ entire food bills. Free school meals are essential to help fill the gap.

School employees know that when students go hungry, they cannot focus on learning. “Food is a need, not a want, and if we want kids to be able to concentrate and grow and be healthy and happy, we must see to it that they are fed,” said Lighty.

Because of the demand that most school nutrition programs be self-supporting, even a small drop in participation can have a negative impact on their stability.

NEA working to defend SNAP benefits and Community Eligibility, to prevent hungry students from falling through the cracks. Read more about NEA’s priorities on child nutrition.

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Have Lawmakers Learned Anything From the Great Recession?

In too many states, school districts are still mired in a seemingly endless slog to get back to pre-recession funding levels. Others have seen significant increases over the past 18 months. These improvements have occurred in states, not coincidentally, where educators launched successful protests demanding a greater investment in public education.

Experts caution however that the revenue sources that boosted funding are vulnerable to back-tracking over the next few years, even as the U.S. economy remains on fairly strong ground.

For the time being at least. All of a sudden, everyone’s talking about a downturn in 2020 or even a full-blown recession. If the more pessimistic predictions prove accurate, will lawmakers take our public schools down the same disastrous path of a decade ago – drastic and reckless budget cuts from which the public education system has yet to fully recover?

If so, the consequences for our students will undoubtedly be severe.  According to a new study by the American Educational Research Association (AERA), in those counties hit the hardest by the 2008-09 Great Recession, the ensuing spending cuts led to significant decrease in student achievement. The steepest declines were in districts serving the most economically disadvantaged students.

Co-author Kenneth Shores of Pennsylvania State University acknowledges that the AERA study is hardly the first to establish a link between funding and student performance. The evidence has been piling up for years. As Northwestern economist Kirabo Jackson told Chalkbeat last year, “By and large, the question of whether money matters is essentially settled.”

Researchers know that, and so do educators.  Across the country – particularly in those states that have cut education the deepest – the #RedforEd movement has notched key victories in legislatures previously fixated on reckless budget cuts.

The schools in areas that were hit with the steepest job losses, for example, saw their spending levels decline at a much faster rate – $600 more per pupil per year- for the first two years of the recession.”

And yet, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos repeatedly calls for deep cuts to programs that serve predominantly lower-income children,. She also champions private school vouchers and for-profit charter schools that siphon off billions of dollars from public schools. (“The notion that spending more money is going to bring about different results is ill-placed and ill-advised,” she told a Senate committee in 2017.) The privatization agenda she has vocally supported for more than decade represents nothing less than a sweeping divestment in public schools.

By analyzing the impact of taking money out of public schools, Shores said in a statement, “we show that divestments in educational spending matter nearly as much for student achievement as do investments,”

For the study, Shores and Matthew Phillip Steinberg of George Mason University poured over data (including student achievement information from the Stanford Education Data Archive and demographic information from the  Department of Education) covering 2,548 counties for school years 2008-09 through 2014-15.

They found that the Great Recession led to an average decline in per pupil revenues of nearly $900 across the nation. But the consequences varied substantially among counties. The schools in areas that were hit with the steepest job losses, for example, saw their spending levels decline at a much faster rate – $600 more per pupil per year- for the first two years of the recession. By contrast, in the years leading up to the collapse, spending levels were only marginally different among the most and least affected counties.

That rapid decline has had long-lasting repercussions, said Shores.

“The first two years of differential declines in school spending were enough to put those hardest hit students at an academic disadvantage, even after spending levels began to increase [in the 2012-13 school year].”

On average, students in grades 3-8 achieved about 25% less than expected in math and English language arts between 2008 and 2015.  These declines were predominantly in districts that served the most low income students and the most African American students.

One surprising finding in the AERA study – one that contradicts existing research – is that the drop in academic outcome triggered by divestment was more pronounced among older, not younger, students. While unsure of the precise reason, the researchers speculated on the impact of layoffs.

“Teacher layoffs were concentrated in older grades,” Steinberg said. “If true, parents with older children would rightfully be concerned that schools’ responses to spending cuts were affecting those students disproportionately.”

While the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 helped curb the damage the Great Recession inflicted upon the nation’s schools, the impact could have been greater, said Steinberg.

“Our findings suggest that greater fiscal support should be targeted to schools that not only serve the most vulnerable student populations but that also are located in communities that are the most vulnerable to the adverse consequences of an economic recession.”

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Every Educator Deserves a Living Wage

Debbie Reyes is a strong voice for her fellow ESPs (photo: Kimberly Davis)

Debbie Reyes gets very emotional when she recalls the day a student broke her nose. A special education paraeducator for the Pfleugerville Independent School District, in Texas, Reyes works with students on the autism spectrum, many of whom are nonverbal and have severe sensory and behavior challenges.

It was the end of the day and time to clean up, but the boy was sleeping. His mother said he regularly woke up at 3 a.m., wanting to go to school and unable to go back to sleep. The special educators often let him nap, but when Reyes woke him up that afternoon, he responded by striking out, hitting her in the face with his elbow.

“I heard a pop and a crack,” she said. Her nose was fractured in two places, requiring surgery. It took more than a year for her nose to heal.

“I don’t blame him,” Reyes says, tearing up as she tells the story. “He needs a lot of behavior support, and his parents asked us for help. I work with him in the communications unit, a section of the special education room where we help students calm down and communicate what they’re feeling, because a student can’t learn until his behavior is under control.

He just needs help and I want to be a voice for him.” Reyes is committed to being a voice for her special education students. She’s also a voice for her fellow education support professionals (ESPs) who are essential to a well-rounded education for their students but still don’t earn a living wage.

Every Job Matters

Reyes and fellow ESP members of the Pflugerville Educators Association (PfEA) in central Texas have been fighting for a $3 an hour pay raise for all hourly employees since last school year. Committed to their students, they work second and third jobs and rely on food stamps and other public assistance to make  ends meet so they can continue their work in education, which most say is their calling.

“Every single one of our ESPs is critical to the success of our students and they shouldn’t have to worry about paying for groceries or making rent,” says PfEA President Cindy Maroquio. “Everybody matters, every job matters, and they all deserve to have a living wage income.”

Reyes, a single mother who lives with her 10-year-old daughter in income-based public housing, brings home $1,500 a month in her paycheck. Her rent is $1,000 and just went up by $40. She expects it will continue to rise as she struggles to stretch the rest of her wages to pay for food, gas, utilities, and everything else.

Sabrina Reid is an educational associate for essential academics. She’s a single parent to four kids. “I didn’t set out to be a single parent, I set out to be the best parent I can be, and that hasn’t changed,” Reid says. “What has is the cost to support them … Many times I have to tell my children no because of financial reasons, which breaks my heart. I work hard and want to be able to earn enough to provide for my family.”

One month when she couldn’t pay the electric bill, she had to rely on help from her church.

“How are we supposed to survive without a proper living wage?” Reyes asks. “How am I supposed to show up at work and do a good job if I haven’t eaten a decent meal or if I’m not properly dressed? It’s not OK.”

Her job is critical to the school district—it takes a strong, caring, and extremely dedicated person to work with students with severe special needs and behavior problems.

With a $3 an hour raise, Reyes would earn $20.57, about the same hourly rate as a landscaper, bank teller, or truck driver.

To earn at least as much is a matter of dignity and respect. In other parts of the country, in smaller towns or rural areas, $1,500 a month might be livable. But in Pflugerville, part of the Austin metro area, the cost of living has skyrocketed as more and more people move there and older, traditionally low-income areas of the city gentrify.

Rising Cost of Living

Austin is consistently voted one of the best places to live, not just in Texas but in the United States. In many low-income communities of color around the city, people are being pushed out by young, higher earning professionals who want to experience life in the “Live Music Capital of the World.”

“The cat is long out of the bag,” says Maroquio. “Austin is an amazing place to live.”

But it should be an affordable place to live for everyone— including the ESPs who want to live in the same community as their students. To Reyes, it’s an issue for all ESPs, but especially for ESPs of color whose low wages can’t keep up with gentrification.

Reyes regularly makes calls to members to encourage them to share their stories at school board meeting. (Photo: Kimberly Davis)

Many of the ESPs in her district were raised in poverty in border towns like Donna, Brownsville, Mission, or Mercedes.

They live in trailers or crammed with two or three other families into one-bedroom apartments. As the cost of living rises, even those will become unaffordable unless they receive a raise.

“I tell them I will keep fighting for you because I know. I also started at $11 an hour,” Reyes says. “I know poverty. I know how bad it is.”

After years of stagnant wages coincided with enormous increases in the cost of living and the fastest growth rates in rent and home prices in the state, PfEA ESPs decided to take action.

Last April, they circulated a petition, asking all Pfleugerville educators to support the $3 an hour raise. Then they took that petition—with its hundreds of signatures—to spring and summer school board meetings.

With more than 30 union members, all wearing blue, sitting behind her in support, Reyes addressed board members in April, sharing her story of having worked in the district for more than a decade as a special education paraeducator, and loving her job despite the physical assaults and constant stress. She held aloft a copy of her pay stub alongside her monthly bills, explaining that her current pay was not enough to cover expenses for herself and her daughter.

One of the school board members has a nonverbal daughter with autism who is one of Reyes’ special education students.

“He said we were paid enough,” she says. “I was completely heartbroken to hear him say that, knowing that I worked with his daughter, knowing her struggles. I pleaded with him and the other board members to come to our classroom and walk in our shoes for a day and then tell us we don’t deserve the increase.”

According to PfEA President Maroquio, anyone who claims the Pflugerville ESPs “make enough” do not have to live on $35,000 a year.

“They haven’t experienced what that’s actually like, making only $35,000 a year and supporting a family,” she says.

“Do they realize the heart and soul and blood, sweat, and tears these educators put into our students? They have no understanding of the nature of the work that these dedicated people do, nor do they understand how critical it is.”

Show of Solidarity

Over the years, Reyes has seen special education paraeducators and other ESP members come and go. She’s not surprised. It’s a hard choice, but many who can’t make ends meet have to leave for better paying jobs.

“Costco pays $15 an hour, and most of our ESPs start at $11 an hour, so why stay?” she asks. “It took me more than a decade to get to $17.57 an hour, but I can’t imagine doing anything else.

How are we supposed to survive without a proper living wage?” Reyes asks. “How am I supposed to show up at work and do a good job if I haven’t eaten a decent meal or if I’m not properly dressed? It’s not OK.” – Debbie Reyes

I love my work as a special education paraeducator. I worked at a state hospital and a treatment center helping patients with behavior issues. I feel like this is my calling.”

The Pflugerville ESP members aren’t alone. ESPs working in neighboring districts also struggle with low wages. Maroquio and other PfEA members support other district campaigns and regularly attend their school board meetings in a show of solidarity.

“Their stories are the same as ours,” she says. “Someone at a Killeen district school board meeting spoke about being homeless for a month because of their low salaries. Another woman couldn’t pay for hot running water. These are people who barely have enough for their own expenses but will still reach into their own pockets to bring in food for their students who don’t have enough to eat. These are people who dig down deep to support their students and are simply asking for the same support from their school districts.”

As of late September, the school board had voted to give hourly district employees a 5 percent increase, which would raise Reyes’ salary by about a dollar to $18.45.

“We are going to continue the fight,” says Maroquio. “We will continue to go before the school board and ask for that $3 an hour. We’ve been advocating for this for a long time and we’re not going to stop now.”


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Educators, Parents Derail Charter Industry Scheme to Defy Will of Voters

In November 2016, Massachusetts voters rejected Question 2, a ballot referendum financed by the charter school industry to raise the cap on charter school expansion. The vote, 62 percent to 38 percent, wasn’t close, sending a clear signal across the state that public education wasn’t for sale.

To the surprise of … well, no one, school privatization advocates didn’t get the message. Charter school CEOs and their allies licked their wounds and regrouped. An opportunity soon presented itself in New Bedford, Mass., where a 2018 proposal to expand one charter school soon morphed into a transparent scheme to pry open the door to a statewide expansion.

“It was an attempted end run around the will of voters,” said Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association. “But our members and the alliances were at the ready.”

Educators and parents launched an unrelenting campaign against a proposal they believed was tantamount to extortion. By May 2019, the plan had stalled in the legislature and charter school advocates soon abandoned the effort.

The proposal—a deal brokered behind closed doors—was dangerous on many fronts. Most alarming to public school activists was the plan to carve out an attendance zone for the Alma Del Mar charter school, making it the first neighborhood charter school in the state. Students in the proposed zone would, by default, become charter school students.

“In what world is it acceptable to tell a child they have to go to a privately-run charter school?” asked State Representative Chris Hendricks.

Alma Del Mar would have been the first neighborhood charter school, but most definitely not the last, said teacher and activist Cynthia Roy.

“Those of us who could see the bigger picture knew that what was happening in New Bedford was actually a calculated step toward privatizing our schools statewide.”

Coercion, Not Innovation

The drastic underfunding of New Bedford public schools is visible to anyone who visits a campus, says New Bedford parent Ricardo Rosa.

“You would immediately see tiles hanging or falling from the ceiling. Certain schools don’t run air conditioning in classrooms or hallways. We have schools built on toxic sites…We’re underfunded by about $40 million every year.”

“Those of us who could see the bigger picture knew that what was happening in New Bedford was actually a calculated step toward privatizing our schools statewide.”- Cynthia Roy, teacher and co-chair of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools

And yet, in late 2018 lawmakers were considering a mind-boggling 1,200-seat expansion for Alma Del Mar, in a city that was already losing more than $15 million every year to charter schools.

“The financial hit this would have delivered to our schools would have been devastating,” said Rosa, co-chair of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools (NBCSOS), a grassroots organization of families, community activists, and educators.

The coalition, which includes the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the New Bedford Education Association, helped sink the proposal soon after it was unveiled.

That wasn’t the end of it. In January, a deal engineered by Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley, Alma Del Mar CEO Will Gardner, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, and Schools Superintendent Thomas Anderson emerged from behind closed doors. Hailed as a “compromise,” the new plan would actually have a more far-reaching impact than the original expansion.

Although the number of new seats would be reduced to around 400, the new proposal would allow Alma del Mar to open a new campus at a former city elementary school property (at no cost) and enroll students within a neighborhood attendance zone, instead of using a citywide lottery. Students would automatically be enrolled in Alma Del Mar unless their parents opted out – but that would still require the approval of the superintendent.

Because the proposal signified a major shift in charter school policy, existing state law would have to be changed. In a dubious maneuver designed to skirt this process, sponsors presented the proposal to the state legislature in the form of a home-rule petition, setting the stage for a dangerous precedent.

“It would have allowed that substantive changes to education policy or charter school finance can be done through maneuvers which evade scrutiny, favor the charter industry, and subvert the will of the people,” said Roy.

Furthermore, if the deal was rejected, the state made it clear it would move ahead and grant Alma Del Mar a 594-seat expansion.

“The whole plan was based on coercion,” Rosa said. “This was a model for survival to skirt citizen resistance. It had nothing to do with innovation.”

Throwing Sand Into the Gears

It was clear to MTA that the charter industry was eyeing a “portfolio model” for New Bedford. A competition-based strategy championed by privatization advocates and already implemented in some cities, portfolio models carve up districts into smaller, individual “portfolios,” which are then “diversified” with more options for parents and students. Unaccountable charter schools and private schools usually flourish, while public schools are squeezed out.

As columnist Clive McFarlane wrote in May, if the New Bedford’s home rule petition was approved, “you can be sure that charter school entrepreneurs will be drawn to the city like gold miners of old to San Francisco.”

Luckily, the coalition that led the charge to defeat Question 2 two years earlier was still very much intact and ready to mobilize.

“There’s no question that that campaign motivated and educated parents and community members across the state,” Najimy recalled. “Everyone was ready.”

The strong partnership between MTA and NBCSOS was critical in lifting the barriers that can hamper a successful resistance.

“It was seamless because of a shared commitment to democratic principles and quality public education,” said Roy, a NBCSOS co-chair.

Coalition leaders held community forums and canvassed neighborhoods not only to engage parents and others about the dangers of the proposal and privatization in general, but also discuss what it takes to build a quality public school system.

Massachusetts Teachers Association President Merrie Najimy (center) listens to a New Bedford parent at a community forum to discuss the charter school expansion. (Photo courtesy of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools)

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” recalls Rosa. “The turnout at these events was tremendous. It was multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-generational. …These communities were all pushing back, saying ‘no, we do not want this.’”

It was important that the coalition “moved the table,” Rosa added, so that dialogues could be held in families’ homes and in their schools to include as many people in the conversation and empower them to take action.

MTA worked closely with the New Bedford Education Association to provide necessary resources on the ground and kept the pressure on wavering lawmakers in the legislature to reject the home rule petition.

In May, MTA and NBCSOS filed a lawsuit arguing that, by appropriating public money or property toward an entity that is not publicly owned and operated, the proposal violated the state constitution. The suit also charged that the proposal would “open the door wide to political abuse stripping poorer municipalities of their assets.”

Every step of the way, said Najimy, the goal was to “throw sand into the gears, and we did. And it worked.”

Indeed, by April 2019, the public confidence expressed by the plan’s sponsors began to wane. The home-rule bill was on life support, and on May 31, they pulled the plug.

The demise of this particular scheme followed another setback dealt to the charter industry in Massachusetts earlier in the year. In February, educators and parents in Haverhill were successful in stopping the creation of a 240-seat Montessori charter school that would have siphoned off more than $1.6 million a year from district public schools.

With each defeat, charter industry allies grumbled in the media about lawmakers “doing the bidding” of the union and paid professional organizers – compelling evidence, said Najimy, that they have yet to grasp the growing resistance in communities to the privatization agenda.

“This proposal was defeated because of parents’ activism. As a union, we used our power, but we used it to support families and communities who were vehemently opposed to a charter school expansion and model that they knew was detrimental to public schools.”

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Teacher Spending on School Supplies: A State-by-State Breakdown

Spending their own money on school supplies is for teachers as integral a back-to-school ritual as classroom seating arrangements, new lesson plans, meeting parents, etc.  At a time when they are standing up for more education funding and a fair salary, public school educators continue to dip into their own pockets – to the tune of at least $459 every year, according to a new analysis by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

This figure, writes EPI economist Emma García in a blog post, “does not include the dollars teachers spend but are reimbursed for by their school districts …The $459-per-teacher average is for all teachers, including the small (4.9 percent) share who do not spend any of their own money on school supplies.”

Nine out of 10 educators will not be reimbursed for their back-to-school purchases, whether it’s pencils, notebooks, whiteboards, posters, even software.

García looked at data from the 2011-12 and 2015-16 Schools and Staffing Survey survey, The earlier survey was a little more useful because it included state-by-state data. The numbers in the map – adjusted for inflation – are not indicative of a post-Great Recession spike, notes García, because spending by teachers increased in subsequent years. The 2015-16 survey shows that teachers spent on average $479 on school supplies.

California educators forked over about $664 annually. Spending by North Dakota educators came in at $327.

García says these discrepancies do not suggest that educators in certain states are more altruistic or dedicated than their colleagues elsewhere.

Educators Speak Out on Buying Their Own School Supplies
In 2018, NEA asked educators to share their #OutOFMyPocket stories – how much they spend annually on classroom supplies, what they purchase, and why they believe it’s necessary to dig so deep into their own paychecks.

“State-by-state spending differences are likely due to a combination of factors, including students’ needs, how schools are funded in the state, the cost of living in the state, and other factors.”

García points out that the lowest percentage of educators spending their own money on school supplies without compensation isn’t low at all – 91% in Mississippi.

“The dollar amounts and shares paint a unifying, generalized pattern of generosity across the country,” she writes.

Unsurprisingly, teachers in high-poverty schools shell out more of their own money. In 2015-16, these educators spent $523 compared to the $434 average for low-poverty schools.

While the dollar figures are too high, the fact that educators are spending their own money on school supplies isn’t “in and of itself a major problem,” says García. Teachers are excited about the new school year and want their classrooms to be enriching learning environments.

Still, reimbursed spending is another burden educators take on as other pressures continue to mount, “potentially affecting perceptions of the teaching profession, teacher recruitment, and teacher retention,” García writes.

That is why it is necessary, says Ryan Knight, a music teacher in Indiana, to call attention to the great lengths educators go for their students.

“I do these things out of love for my kids and I don’t ask for a refund from anyone. But I think the community ought to know the real amount of money teachers are putting into their classroom, school, and kids’ overall education.”

Source: Economic Policy Institute



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Has the Personalized Learning Hype Worn Off?

Many, if not most, public school educators recognize the pattern. A new education buzzword or trend enters the conversation about public education. Proponents say it is nothing less than a “game-changer” that will “revolutionize” student learning. The hype surrounding this new idea is usually borderline messianic, but is backed by enormous amounts of corporate money. Anyone who raises the slightest objection or reservation is often branded a stuffy defender of the status quo.

The idea is embedded in a few school districts and steadily begins to expand. Within a year or two, it’s clear that – oops! –  the promised positive results have yet to materialize. A backlash grows. By this point, tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent, time and resources have been wasted, and proven ideas about what really works in the classroom have been marginalized.

Sound familiar? The U.S. public education system has been squeezed by a series of half-baked innovations or “reforms” over the past couple of decades, driven by a “failing schools/bad teacher” narrative. The tireless activism of educators and their allies has, to certain extent, stalled the momentum behind many of these policies, including for-profit charter schools, vouchers, and high-stakes testing.

The latest education trend to find itself in the hot seat is personalized learning.

By now, most educators have heard of personalized learning.  Many have implemented some version of it in their classrooms. No one seems to agree precisely on what personalized learning means and what it entails, beyond a general consensus that it involves tailoring instruction and curriculum to individual students’ needs.

This general idea is hardly new and, behind it all the recent hype and noise, personalized learning can be appealing, says Faith Boninger of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC).

“Many educators are attracted to and enthusiastic about the child-oriented promises held out by various approaches to personalized learning,” explains Boninger. “This is children having more freedom to pursue their own interests and teachers having more time to mentor children individually, to develop a strong relationship with each child and provide each one what he or she needs at any given time.”

So far, so good. But the modern version of personalized learning is tightly hitched to digital technology and data – and the outsized and powerful for-profit corporate interests behind it.

Or as Peter Greene succinctly put it: “Personalized learning smells like money. Lots of money.”

Faulty Assumptions

Boninger, along with Alex Molinar and Christopher Saldaña, examines the alarming direction personalized learning has taken in a new study. The researchers raise red flags that should alarm anyone anxious about the nexus of digital technology, corporate privatization, powerful backers such as Betsy DeVos and Charles Koch, and the lack of oversight that has allowed personalized learning to proliferate in school districts across the country.

Marketed aggressively to districts by tech companies, many programs have been designed around several “false assumptions” about teaching and learning that are central to the agenda advanced by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Tech-infused personalized learning is “so carefully and forcefully marketed as satisfying the needs of both children and educators, it sounds like a perfect solution to everyone’s problems.”- Faith Boninger, National Eduction Policy Center

This vision of personalized learning extols continual assessment, record-keeping, and feedback that rely on a steady and endless stream of quantitative data. Perhaps more than any other factor, the resulting concern over threats to student privacy, has undermined personalize learning’s popularity.

And, as Boninger, Molinar and Salda write in the NEPC report, the central assumption behind these programs “narrows pedagogical practices and curriculum because they must be limited to elements that can be both logically structured and measured making them, not coincidentally, technology friendly.”

Once a district buys into this premise, tech companies may appropriate an even greater space in it schools than they had before.

Cynthia Roy, a teacher in New Bedford, Mass. says districts are being made “irresistible offers.”

“It is difficult for schools with tight budgets to turn away technology. Even if we are growing skeptical of the bright and shiny offers pitched by ed tech companies, many of us are still desperate enough to accept them,” Roy explains.

In addition, says Boninger, district leaders often lack the time and expertise to properly evaluate what they’re being sold. “When they’re told that a product will adaptively respond to children’s specific needs, for example, how are they supposed to determine if that’s really true?”

Hyper-Individualized, Industrialized Learning Environment

The research into personalized learning is thin at best. What is available shows little or no substantive improvement in student learning. In January, ChalkBeat reported that Summit Learning, the online platform funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, turned down an offer by the Harvard Center for Education Policy Research to evaluate its program.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos calls personalized learning “one of the most promising developments in K-12 education.”(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

A team of educators in East Pennsboro, Pa., avoided some of these pitfalls by ensuring that personalize learning was done by them, not to them. Profiled by NEA Today in 2017, the teachers were leaders in both the design and implementation of the program, opting for a hybrid blended learning model that merged technology with project learning – all without relinquishing their role in the classroom.

That wasn’t Paul Emerich’s experience at a private school in Silicon Valley. The educator was initially excited about going deep in a tech-centric personalized learning environment. Emerich quickly became disillusioned by what he called a stressful and isolating (for both teacher and student), “hyper-individualized, industrialized” learning environment fueled by “big data and a playlist.”

The company behind the schools didn’t have the research or the evidence to support its approach, Emerich wrote on his blog, and student results were no better, if not worse, than results at the public school he taught at previously.

“Their primary concern was not the children’s education: their primary concern was monetizing the tools….Hyper-individualization does precisely what the emerging body of research says it does and more: it isolates children, it breeds competition, it assumes that children can learn entirely on their own.”

Emerich details his experiences and lays out his vision for personalized learning in a new book, “Reclaiming Personalized Learning: A Pedagogy for Restoring Equity and Humanity in Our Classroom.”

‘Teachers Don’t Need Apps For This’

Sensing a looming backlash, a couple of companies in 2018 issued a document calling for a personalized learning message makeover. The document instructs like-minded stakeholders to tone down the hyperbole about technology, data, and increased “student agency,” (parents are increasingly nervous about all three) and talk more about how great these programs are for teachers.

“In an effort to generate excitement, we inadvertently scared the public,” the report said.

This should also sound familiar. School privatization advocates have tried to rebrand school vouchers and other schemes to make them more palatable to a skeptical public. As with these initiatives, the problems facing personalized learning need much more than a PR reboot.

personalized learning

Many educators, while supporting the general idea behind personalized learning, believe tech companies have essentially hijacked the concept. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

The NEPC report recommends that policymakers and schools take a step back from promoting and implementing these programs “until rigorous review, oversight, and enforcement mechanisms are established.”

The authors also call on states to establish independent entities to establish safeguards to protect student and teacher data, review curriculum and pedagogical approaches, and open all assessment instruments and algorithms associated with personalized learning materials to review by third-party education experts.

While the heightened scrutiny in into these programs is welcome and long overdue, interest in personalized learning remains high.

The problem, says Boninger, is that tech-infused personalized learning is “so carefully and forcefully marketed as satisfying the needs of both children and educators, it sounds like a perfect solution to everyone’s problems.”

Resisting that sales pitch when you’re under considerable pressure to avoid being perceived as failing or resistant to change can be difficult.

“We can transform the public education system so that no district is desperate and vulnerable to these schemes,” says Cynthia Roy. “Fully funding our schools is one answer. Another would be to resist narratives of incompetent educators and failing public schools.”

Teachers know what they are doing and welcome innovation in the classroom, she adds.

“Professional educators are fully capable of merging knowledge domains – technology, content, and pedagogy,” says Roy. “They know how to differentiate instruction to truly personalize learning. Our public school teachers do not need apps for this. They do not need businessmen to tell them how to educate, nurture, and innovate,’ 

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Parents Continue to Stand Beside Educators In Fight for Funding

Almost eighteen months after educators ignited the #RedforEd movement to call for greater investment in our public schools, parents – and the general public – are unwavering in their support.

According to the 2019 Phi Delta Kappan (PDK) Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, 74 percent  of parents and 71 percent of all adults say they would support a strike by teachers in their community for higher pay. Furthermore, 84 percent of parents would support a strike for more school funding, and similar numbers would support a strike for greater teacher voice in a school’s academic policies.

For the eighteenth consecutive year, adults surveyed in the PDK poll named inadequate funding as the most pressing problem facing U.S. public schools.

The PDK poll has been tracking public opinion on schools since 1969. For the first time in 18 years, the poll this year includes responses from educators.

While the #RedforEd movement has scored multiple victories in communities across the country – not only securing more education funding but also changing the national conversation around the future of public education – the movement is only getting started. Politicians now recognize that teachers and education support professionals are a force to be reckoned with, one that’s getting ready to make an impact in 2020.

“Over the last several years, hundreds of thousands of NEA members and parents have stood together for the public schools our students deserve,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “And yet, while the #RedForEd movement has helped more students and educators get the support they need, today’s PDK poll should remind everyone that there is still so much more work to be done to correct the years of inadequate funding of our public schools.”

Still, as the poll results make clear, the majority of teachers remain frustrated and angry.

Sixty percent of teachers say they are unfairly paid, and 75 percent say schools in their communities are underfunded. Sixty-one percent of parents and 60 percentof all adults agree.

But as any educator will tell you, the importance of being paid close to what other college-educated professionals make is only part of the story. It’s also about respect and support. According to the PDK poll, only 52 percent of teachers say their community values them.

Feeling valued, unsurprisingly, is often connected to better pay. Among teachers who say their salary is fair, 68 percent say the community values them. If they do not believe their salary is fair, that number falls to 42 percent.

The PDK poll found that inadequate pay, stress/burnout, and lack of respect are the top three reasons why teachers have considered leaving the profession over the past few year. Fifty-four percent of teachers say their schools are underfunded have thought about making this change, compared to the 39% who say their schools are adequately funded.

A recent city-by-city analysis by USA Today found that new teachers can’t afford the median rent almost anywhere in the nation. Second, even third, jobs are commonplace. Add to undue stress and lack of support to the mix and many educators find they cannot continue in a job they otherwise love.

“Low educator pay comes at a very high cost,” Eskelsen García said. “To recruit and retain talented teachers for the long haul we have to pay them what they’re worth. In the end, it’s students who pay the price for low teacher salaries.”

PDK survey respondent Deanna, a mother of two from Colorado, agrees.

“They are the people who are with our kids day in and day out. They are rearing our children along with us. You wouldn’t want just anybody to be part of your village. Our school district rarely retains good teachers. Who would stay when they’re not being paid a livable wage?”

The 2019 PDK survey also took parents and the public’s temperature on a number of controversial, although important, issues affecting public schools.  Here are some of the findings:

  • 77 percent of parents and 75% of all adults believe that the best way to assess a school’s performance is to look at student progress over time, instead of a test score at any given time.
  • 97 percent of all adults believe schools should be teaching civics. Sixty percent of parents and 70 percent of all adults also say it should be required.
  • 58 percent of all adults say schools should offer Bible studies as an elective, and 6 percent say it should be required, totaling 64 percent who favor Bible classes in some form. Sixty-eight percent of parents and 58 percent of teachers agree.
  • Among parents, 69 percent believe mediation is an effective approach to managing school discipline, compared to 72 percent of teachers. Overall, two- thirds or more of parents, teachers, and all adults see mediation or counseling as more effective than detention or suspension.
  • A slim majority (54 percent) of parents and the public believe academics should be a school’s focus. Forty-five percent of teachers believe it should be preparing students to be good citizens, while 37 percent say academics. Only about 2 in 10 of parents, teachers and all adults say workforce preparation should the top goal.

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Almost One-Third of New Teachers Take on Second Jobs

Jess Marboe, a fifth-grade teacher, waits tables during her second job at Jaker’s Bar and Grill in Idaho Falls, Idaho. (John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP)

One of the most persistent and annoying myths about educators is that they have “summers off.” Far from enjoying a two- or three-month vacation, they use a good chunk of that time writing curriculum, attending workshops, catching up on professional reading, etc.

And many of them work summer jobs, generating additional income necessary to make ends meet.

Overall, 16 percent of teachers have non-school jobs over the summer. If you’re younger and newer to the profession, however, it’s more likely you’ve been spending a good part of the summer earning another wage, according to a new analysis by the Pew Research Center.

Digging into data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) covering the 2015-16 school year (the most recent figures available), Pew found that roughly one-third of teachers with one year or less experience had non-school jobs over the summer. About 20 percent of teachers with two to four years experience had summer jobs, compared with 17 percent of teachers with five to nine years.

For those newer teachers, the money earned during the summer amounted to 12 percent of their annual earnings, higher than the 7 percent it generated for more experienced educators.

Pew also found that teachers younger than 30 are more likely to hold summer jobs than their older colleagues. About a quarter of teachers under 30 worked during the summer of 2015, compared with 16 percent of those ages 30 to 39, 14 percent of those 40 to 49, and 12 percent of those 50 and older.

Of course, second jobs are not exclusive to the summer months. The financial strain that compels teachers and education support professionals of all ages and experience levels to take on second, sometimes third, jobs doesn’t subside after Labor Day.

Krista Degerness, a teacher in Colorado, worked 40 to 70 hours every week during the summer of 2017 and 15 to 25 hours a week at her second job during the school year.

“We work second jobs because our salaries alone are not sufficient to pay our bills, let alone save for the future,” Degerness told NEA Today in 2018.

Overall, about 20 percent of teachers hold second jobs during the school year, accounting for roughly 9 percent of their annual income. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, teachers are about three times as likely as other U.S. workers to take on this burden.

While none of this is breaking news to public school educators, the #RedforEd movement that began in West Virginia in early 2018 and quickly spread to other states has forced lawmakers and the general public to recognize the financial plight of the individuals charged with educating their children. In an apparently healthy economy, educator salaries continue to stagnate. According to NEA’s annual Rankings and Estimates report, the average classroom teacher’s salary in the U.S. has declined 4.5 percent since 2009-10.

Jess Marboe, who graduated in 2017, took on two additional jobs during her first year in the classroom. Workdays started at 4 am and sometimes didn’t end until 10 pm. Marboe teaches fifth grade in Idaho, which ranks 44th in average teacher salary. She told the Idaho Falls Post Register in July that she was exhausted most days. “I feel like I’m always on the go.”

Stress and Disengagement

Researchers at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) recently found that when you factor in second jobs within the school system, the percentage of moonlighting educators increases substantially to 59 percent.

According to a EPI report released in April, 44 percent of those educators with second jobs were earning this extra pay by coaching, mentoring other teachers, or teaching evening classes. In one Virginia school district, teachers stepped in to fill a bus driver shortage.

The high numbers of educators supplementing their income with jobs inside or outside the school system is glaring evidence that teacher pay is too low, a major factor in the growing teacher shortage. Carrying extra jobs only exacerbates the stress that drives too many educators out of the profession, EPI economists Emma García and Elaine Weiss write:

“Moonlighting can increase stress and drive disengagement, as teachers are forced to juggle multiple schedules and have their family and leisure time reduced. And if moonlighting occurs outside the school system, the challenges of juggling the extra work are likely greater. For these reasons, the causes and conditions under which this moonlighting occurs determine whether it makes teaching more or less attractive.”

García and Weiss recognize that second jobs within the school system can be rewarding professionally, allowing educators to “engage more deeply with their schools, enjoy enhanced collegiality with other peers, or further their professional development.” Many educators, however, don’t have access to these sorts of paid opportunities in their districts — particularly if they work in high-poverty districts.

“It’s an appalling reality that many of the professionals whom we entrust with the critical job of teaching our children are under such financial stress that they work a second or third job to supplement their paycheck,” said Weiss. “And the pay penalties are worse in high-poverty schools, where we must provide extra supports and funding, not only to support students directly, but to reduce the teacher shortage.”

While #RedforEd actions have notched up some key victories for improved school funding, including higher pay, educators across the nation are keeping up the pressure on lawmakers and the general public.

“While I think most Americans have all intentions of improving education and funding education better, it’s kind of like, OK so when? When are we actually going to do it?” said Jess Marboe. “I don’t think you can have top-notch education in Idaho if you don’t have great educators. And in order to have better educators, we have to pay better.”


Nationwide, many public school teachers and education support professionals work nights and weekends to supplement the income they receive from teaching.

How Economic Pressure Affects Teachers
What happens when teachers not only have to contend with poor pay, but also with rising home cost? It’s not good—for them, or their students.

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NEA Calls For More Accurate Measure of Special Educator Workloads

The National Education Association (NEA) is advocating for schools to shift to a workload analysis model for special education professionals that would more fairly measure their growing responsibilities today and the heightened intensity of their work.

The model would replace the traditional caseload structure that is based on the number of students with Individual Education Programs (IEPs) that are assigned to each educator, which critics say does not adequately account for a shift toward more consuming inclusionary practices and mounting pressure to meet academic standards.

“This is important to special educators because we want to provide the best academic and social emotional support for our students,” says Sharon Schultz, a former teacher, administrator, and professor in special education who has worked extensively on the model through an NEA resource cadre addressing issues related to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. “In order to do that, we need to have the appropriate amount of time or it is impossible to meet student needs.”

The model, detailed in an NEA backgrounder report, notes that workload data takes into consideration the direct and indirect services and supports provided by special education professionals through specially designed instruction.

“Given the transition to more inclusionary practices such as co-teaching and supported instruction in the general education setting, thinking in terms of workload more accurately addresses the service demands of special education teachers, paraeducators, and specialized instructional support personnel,” the report says.

The model spells out the responsibilities that should be considered in order to accurately measure their workload, including both direct instruction and a wide range of indirect services that are specific to each student. They include inclusionary practices such as co-teaching, supported instruction and “push-in” or specialized services, along with multiple responsibilities related to management of IEPs.

It also recommends a three-step process for assessing workload considering minutes devoted to caseload, inclusionary practices and IEP management. It suggests that a desirable allocation of time be developed based on available instructional minutes per week, and a determination be made about whether enough time is available.

It also provides two examples of the workload calculation, for both a “desirable” and “typical” special educator workload. Under ideal circumstances a special education staff person would have about an hour available for consultation with parents, emergencies or other unplanned work, but the report indicates that in a typical setting they actually are expected to devote significantly more time to assigned responsibilities than they have available – nearly six hours in a week.

“This model allows educators to have a framework to analyze their workload and a tool to advocate for their profession, whether it’s for more time for preparation or instruction or even to advocate for hiring additional personnel,” says Katherine Bishop, a veteran special education teacher who also has served on the NEA cadre working on the issue for several years.

Bishop, who is vice president of the Oklahoma Education Association, says while the problems stem from the structure of the caseload calculation and growing responsibilities growing from increasing inclusion, a shortage of qualified special education teachers and a lack of funding for hiring has exacerbated issues for special educators.

“The reality of a teacher shortage in many states becomes front and center for our most vulnerable students,” she says. “Not having time to prepare or instruct and provide students with the specialized instruction they need is the reason many professionals are leaving the field of special education. We have to attract aspiring educators into the field, and then provide them with the pay, support and resources they need.”

Schultz agrees, and says that the new model should be promoted with state and district officials.

“Changes are needed at both levels, but realistically, the district level is where the action is,” she says. “When a district understands and embraces this workload model there often is more lasting positive change that survives into the future.”

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Plight of the Poor Takes Center Stage at Campaign Forum

Photo: Poor People’s Campaign

Teachers Keila Foster and Philimena Owona arrived at The Poor People’s Campaign forum at Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C. to connect the dots between the lives of their students from Prince George’s County, Maryland, and what nine 2020 presidential candidates might say about education and other issues.

“I’m on the ground level of education and community affairs,” says Owona, who teaches at Maya Angelou French Immersion School in Temple Hills. “I’m looking to connect what is said here and how it might affect my students, their families, and the community in which we live.”

The three-day conference which started Monday was hosted by the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival, a year-old group led by the Rev. William Barber II and Rev. Liz Theoharis of the Kairos Center. It was broadcast online by MSNBC and moderated by national correspondent Joy Reid.

The presidential hopefuls who spoke at the forum included former Vice President Joe Biden of Delaware; and Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Mayor Wayne Messam of Miramar, Fla.; Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Cal); self-help author Marianne Williamson; Michael Bennet; and entrepreneur Andrew Yang also addressed hundreds of activists from across the country assembled in the university’s expansive gymnasium.

President Donald Trump was asked to attend but did not respond to the invitation, according to organizers. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro was scheduled to attend but missed the event due to a cancelled flight.

Intersecting Injustices

The campaign is often described in media reports as a movement which addresses poverty and systemic racism while demanding federal and state living-wage laws, equity in education, the right to join a union, a single-payer health-care system, voting rights, and enforcement of environmental laws to maintain clean air and water.

“If students don’t have clean water, how can their bodies be hydrated so they can perform at their full potential,” says Keila Foster, who teaches at Highpoint High School in Beltsville.

“As educators, we are sometimes limited in how much we can do,” Owona says. “Framing the issues and electing pro-education legislators can make a big difference in the lives of our students.”

The second day of the conference featured an array of workshops and tracks which examined, for example, “militarism and the war economy,” “ecological devastation,” policy and power-building,” and “organizing the dispossessed.” One of the aims of the campaign is to link movements that seem to be interconnected, such as racism, sexism, militarism, and classism.

“Today, we are seeing the re-segregation of high poverty schools,” said Barber, a Protestant minister and president of Repairers of the Breach, a nonprofit organization addressing moral and constitutional values. “We are here because the war on poverty did not die.”

The campaign takes its name from the original 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, which was an effort to gain economic justice for poor people in the United States. The campaign was organized by Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Advocating for Students

Foster and Owona are members of the Prince George’s County Education Association (PGCEA).

“These are our activists,” said Theresa Mitchell Dudley, PGCEA president, who attended the event with several other members. “I want to hear the candidates address these issues so I can make an informed decision on who to support for president in 2020.”

Dudley is particularly focused on learning how the candidates plan to improve public schools for “all students.”

“Don’t pander to me and tell me you are going to pay me more,” she says. “Tell me what you are going to do to serve students.”

PGCEA is comprised of 10,500 members strong with a 95 percent penetration to include teachers, speech pathologists, counselors, librarians, and school psychologists.

“We just settled a big contract to restore missed steps for educators and class size issues,” Dudley added. “In Prince George’s County, about 60 percent of children live in poverty. This condition puts them at a higher risk of having adverse experiences as they grow and develop.”

Breaking the Cycle

At the forum, of which NEA was a sponsor, each candidate was asked a question by an impoverished American about how they would improve the lives of the poor. Candidates were also asked if they would support a presidential debate in 2020 that focused on poverty issues. All agreed they would.

“We cannot have another election cycle like we had in 2016, where we had 26 presidential debates in the primary and general election — and not one focused on systemic voter suppression and gerrymandering, and not one focused on poverty,” Barber said. “We have to demand that we focus on these issues.”

At the event, campaign officials released a report on U.S. poverty: The Moral Budget: Everybody Has a Right to Live. The study finds that 43.5 percent of the nation — 140 million people — live in poverty, including 39 million children and 21 million people over age 65.

The report was submitted on the third day of the conference at a Capitol Hill hearing of the House Budget Committee where leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign testified.

“The statistics on poverty are jarring,” said Rep. John Yarmuth, committee chair. “The purpose of this hearing is to shine a light on the challenges Americans face in meeting their basic human needs.”

Over the next year and a half, the Poor People’s Campaign is planning to hold a series of town halls, trainings and voter-registration drives in an effort to mobilize Americans who do not typically vote in presidential elections. The group said the effort will culminate in the Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington on June 20, 2020.

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Neighborhood Public Schools Forced to Give Up Space to Charter Schools

(Photo: United Teachers Los Angeles)

Catskill Avenue Elementary, located about 14 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, is a “legacy school,” says 5th grade teacher Elizabeth Untalan.

“It’s been around for 71 years….Grandparents, great-grandparents, daughters son have all gone through our doors.”

But Untalan and many of her colleagues and neighborhood parents are worried. They believe Catskill’s deep standing in the community is endangered by the possibility that it may soon be sharing its building with the new Ganas Academy Charter School.

This is called “co-location,” one of the more unfamiliar practices behind the sector’s dramatic expansion in California. (As of 2017-18, charter schools serve almost 630,000 students in the state.)

In Los Angeles alone, more than 70 public schools have seen valuable learning and collaborative spaces appropriated by charter companies for their staff and students. Co-locations also exist or have been approved in San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego, and the state’s Central Valley area. The same trend has been underway in Chicago and New York.

If the co-location with Ganas goes into effect, students at Catskill could lose their library, computer lab, parent center, and rooms for counseling.

“These are the resources we pour into our children, these are the resources that raise student achievement,” Untalan told. “Why should our students have to give them up just so a charter business can expand into a community that doesn’t want it?”

How bad could it get? Some of the schools special education students and their instructors will lose their classroom and be forced to move into a closet.”

United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) is mobilizing its 33,000 members and parents in opposition, but Ganas is pushing ahead, undeterred by concerns over how the co-location will impact Catskill’s 522 students. Thirty percent  are English language learners and 90 percent are federally subsidized under the U.S. Department of Education’s Title I program.

Howard Elementary in Oakland also serves a similar high-needs student population who rely on the school’s well-rounded services and facilities. Howard already shares mobile classrooms with the Francophone Charter School. But starting this fall, Francophone is moving into the main building, displacing Howard teachers and students.

How bad could it get? Some of the schools special education students and their instructors will lose their classrooms and be forced to move into a closet.

Back in April, Howard teacher Yael Freidman urged the Francophone board not to select their space, saying it would bring  “a catastrophic disruption” to the school.

“Just because something is legal does not make it ethical,” Friedman said. “It is unethical to force teachers of special needs students to work in subpar conditions. It is unethical to further marginalize children of color by denying them adequate space to learn.”

Howard Students Need Classrooms, Not Closets

Co-Location = Encroachment

Charter schools are usually situated in buildings or facilities owned by an entity other than the school district, or in buildings formerly owned by the district. Virtual charter schools, of course, depend on little if any physical classroom space.

Still, in order to expand, for-profit charter companies want more access to facilities. Fortunately for them, many politicians and laws have compelled the district to provide it.

Co-location in California was teed up by Proposition 39, a school-funding ballot initiative adopted by voters in 2000. Embedded in the law is a provision that requires districts to offer charter schools “reasonably equivalent … facilities that will sufficiently accommodate all of the charter’s in-district students.”

If a space or room in a public school is not a classroom used by a teacher, it may be deemed “unused” – and therefore up for grabs for a charter company that requests it.

Co-location is a tactic of the California Charter Schools Association and its billionaire benefactors who push a ‘win at any cost’ business model. They don’t care if a local school is harmed as long as charter corporations get more classroom seats.” – Alex Caputo-Pearl, UTLA president.

In some instances, where there is genuine underutilization of space in a neighborhood public school, co-location may be minimally disruptive. The Center for Reinventing Public Education, a charter-friendly research organization, concluded in 2015 that – theoretically at least – public schools and charters school could “coexist peacefully” under certain conditions. It also added that “leveraging co-location for school improvement isn’t easy.”

How it’s being carried out in most communities, however, is typical of the the charter industry’s focus on competition with neighborhood public schools, while operating without adequate transparency or accountability.

As a result, co-location proposals usually create tension and division in communities, and not just in California. In New York City, charter schools are allowed to operate in public buildings at no cost, a policy started under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. A charter advocacy group and the city’s Education Department have publicly clashed over widely differing claims about just how much city owned space is available to co-locate charter schools in Brooklyn.

Setting aside the hazards of wedging two distinct school “cultures” together under the same roof, co-location can be devastating for schools already struggling with scarce resources.

To parent Amber Marie Elgins, charter school co-location is just “charter school encroachment.”

Antonia Montez is a veteran teacher at Eastman School in East Los Angeles, which has been co-located since 2016 by the Extera charter company. When the school arrived on campus, the students’ art room, STEAM lab, parent center, garden programs, and food bank were all impacted, she says.

“We already have an innovative school that provides numerous opportunities for our students during and after the school day,” Montez explains. “We don’t see why Extera should be here. They’re not providing anything innovative or different from what our public school or our community already has.”

‘Your Are Predatory and Aggressive’

While co-location may fall a little more under-the-radar than other privatization initiatives, charter companies have been aggressively pursuing the tactic to solidify and expand their presence.

Indeed, in order to survive on the Catskill campus, Ganas has been aggressively recruiting students from Catskill and the surrounding community. If a Catskill student leaves to go to Ganas, the public dollars would go with the student to the charter school, leaving the public school with less funds and fewer resources.

“Co-location helps fuel the decades-long strategy of the privatizers, including the charter lobby, of starving public schools of funds, using misguided ‘accountability’ policies to label them as failures, and pitching privatization as the answer,” says NEA senior policy analyst Bob Tate.

Fortunately, a growing number of educators see what is happening. Curtailing school privatization – specifically the expansion of unaccountable, for-profit charter schools – has been a pillar of the RedforEd movement. Recent city-wide strikes in Los Angeles and Oakland helped drive support for the state legislature’s recent actions restricting the charter sector.

Carrying over the momentum from their strikes, UTLA and the Oakland Education Association have led the charge against co-location, collaborating with parents and community groups  to expose how the practice depletes valuable resources from their most vulnerable students.

Catskill educators and parents have demanded answers from the Ganas charter corporation on why they are pushing head against the clear the wishes of the community. “You are predatory and aggressive” teacher Christina Gan told a Ganas board meeting in April, which was announced only one day in advance after two and-a-half months of refusing to hold any public meetings.

Despite a LAUSD spokesman’s insistence that the decision to co-locate Catskill was designed to “minimize disruptions and potential impacts,” stripping critical resources and services from their students will do precisely the opposite, says Catskills teacher Chris Collins.

“Co-location is nothing good for us. It will only hurt our school and our students are going to suffer. They already know that there may not be an art teacher next year because there won’t be a room for him.”

US mapNEA Report: Only Five States’ Charter School Laws Rate “Mediocre” or Better

Privately-managed charter schools do not have to operate by the same rules as district schools and in many places do not have to be as transparent about how they spend public money. They are run by private boards who do not have to be accountable to the public. A new NEA report card on state charter laws and statutes zeroes in on the weak regulation and lax oversight that enable for-profit organizations to open and manage charters in most states.

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School Climate – The Overlooked Factor in the Teacher Shortage

Curbing the national teacher shortage depends a great deal on paying educators a professional salary.  Teachers are struggling to make ends meet, and the gap between their salaries and those in professions requiring similar levels of education turns many potential candidates away from the classroom.

Focusing exclusively on the “teacher pay penalty,” however, underplays the complexity of the teacher shortage and the challenges school districts face in attracting and retaining quality educators.

Will a second or third year teacher decide to stay in the classroom if he is expecting a bump in salary the following year? Perhaps, but suppose the barriers to student learning are accumulating, encouragement and support from the administration is scarce, or classroom autonomy has been stripped away.

These are just some of the factors that determine the quality of the work environment or “school climate.”  An unduly stressful and taxing school climate erodes job satisfaction and morale, driving a growing number of teachers out of the profession.

Which is why improving the working and learning environment in schools has been a centerpiece of the #RedforEd movement. Educators across the nation are hitting the streets to demand increased funding for the kinds of resources and supports that improve teaching conditions and foster greater student learning.

According to a new study by the Economic Policy Institute, (EPI) more than half of teachers do not feel supported in their jobs, and 25%  consider leaving the profession as a result. The study is the fourth in EPI’s series looking at the trends – challenging working environment, low pay, lack of professional development opportunities, and the diminished status of the profession – that have undermined the teacher labor market.

“The teacher shortage is a growing national crisis that needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner,” said EPI research associate Elaine Weiss. “Obviously compensation is a major part of the issue, but improving teaching environments would go a long way toward helping teachers feel more supported.”

Analyzing data from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Teacher and Principal Survey, Weiss and EPI economist Emma Garcia identify several factors that shape school climate, including barriers to student learning, administration support, autonomy in the classroom, a voice in school policy decisions, and job stress and personal safety.

Specifically, half of teachers reported not feeling a great deal of support or encouragement from the administration, and 6 out of 10 said cooperation and collaboration among staff at their school was lacking.

school climate teachersOver one in four teachers also reported that poverty was a “serious problem” challenging their ability to teach and their students’ learning. And roughly a quarter said that students’ unpreparedness to learn and parents’ struggles to be involved were also serious problems.

These challenges are widespread, the report finds, but are felt most severely in high-poverty areas.

For example, in low-poverty schools, only 12% of teachers report that student come to school unprepared to learn. That number triples to 38% in high-poverty schools. A wide gap also can be found in parental involvement. Only 9% of teachers in low-poverty schools report it as a serious barrier, compared to 31% in high-poverty schools. Student apathy, absenteeism, poor health, and class-cutting are all seen as greater problems in high-poverty schools.

On other factors, the gap is narrower. Teachers in all schools believe they lack any sort of voice in shaping curriculum, setting performance standards for students, devising discipline policies, or evaluating teachers.

The impact of school climate on the decision to stay or exit the profession is real.

Across the board, the EPI report said, “teachers who quit the profession were more likely to have reported, in the year before they quit, feeling stressed, unsatisfied, unsupported, and not involved in setting school or classroom policies.”

Despite their substantial training, expertise, and ability to deal with everyday challenges of the job, said Garcia, educators can be expected to do so much to improve working conditions. The focus needs to be on reversing the chronic underfunding of schools and elevating the status of the profession.

“Schools’ climates are shaped by rising poverty, ongoing racial and economic segregation of schools, and insufficient public investments,” García explained. “Because these larger societal forces contribute to deteriorating working environments in schools, they can’t be blamed on students or parents. Rather, improving the funding and resources to counter them should be made a priority.”

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How Closing Schools Traumatizes Students and Communities

A student walks down a hallway at the Jean de Lafayette Elementary School, on the final day of school Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Chicago. The school was one of 50 slated to be closed by the city.(AP Photo/Scott Eisen)

Since 2004, Oakland Unified School District has closed 16 schools and is now targeting an additional 24 by the start of the 2019-20 school year. District officials call it “right-sizing,” a term borrowed from corporate America – appropriate given that many of the shuttered schools will be converted into for-profit charters. While policymakers see failing or “bad” schools, parents, students and educators see pillars of the community that have not been adequately funded and are worth fighting for.

Closing down his school, one Oakland seventh grader testified in January, “is like putting me up for adoption ..[My school] made me who I am.”

These are scenes that have been playing out in urban school districts across the country. In 2013, Chicago announced it was closing 50 schools, 90 percent of which served all-black student populations. The plan triggered massive protests from parents, educators, students and community members.  The mobilization to save their neighborhood schools is recounted in “Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side,” by Eve L. Ewing.

In the book, Ewing, who in addition to being an assistant professor at the University of Chicago is also a poet and podcaster, vividly describes the anger, destabilization and sense of displacement felt by the families impacted most by school closings. 

These are the voices that need to be heard as policymakers make decisions that put children’s lives on the line, Ewing says. And, as she recently told NEA Today, no amount of  bureaucratic jargon and cherry-picked data can conceal the racist underpinnings behind the top-down, punitive policies that have dominated the education agenda over the past two decades.

“Ghosts in the Schoolyard” should be read by any official who actually makes these sort of decisions, but what other audiences do you most want to reach? Did you happen to see the teacher in Boston publicly handing out copies of your book to members of the School Committee who were considering closing the school where she works?  That must have been gratifying. 

Eve L. Ewing, author of “Ghosts in the Schoolyard.”

Eve Ewing: Yes, I did see that story. The photo of the teacher holding the book up was profoundly moving. So certainly I’m interested in lawmakers reading the book, but I also wanted to reach the people who have been closely impacted by these decisions to close schools – the parents, teachers, community members. Many have told me that the find the book to be validating. It makes them feel like they didn’t dream this up, you know?  It’s really unfortunate that the world we live in makes people feel that those sort of experiences are not being legitimated. I hope the book can be a lesson for researchers to take people at their word about how they are so deeply affected.

Another audience is young people. I want them to understand the history and context of the social system in which they find themselves, but also the history and context of struggle and how the people who came before them have worked really hard to try to make a better world.

You taught in Chicago public schools. How did that experience shape the way you approached the book and your work in general?

Ewing: With all the research I do, whether it’s about school closings or anything else, I’m always trying to think about how people on the ground who are actually living with the consequences of how things actually play out.

Every public school teacher has had the eye-rolling experience of being handed something to try in your classroom where you are like, “Ok, this is not going to work.” Had anyone talked to me or had any respect for me, I could have told them that, but no one ever asked.  So I don’t want to be that researcher. I try really hard to think closely, and to ask people about their actual lived experiences, rather than assuming my own expertise.

ghosts in the schoolyard coverI also worked as an aide in a couple of other schools on the South Side. All of them were 100% black and low-income, but I saw real differences in how the teachers approached the students. I saw teachers who were punitive and, frankly, cruel, and teachers who were what we call in the literature “warm demanders” – very loving, very caring,  but also had high expectations. So I saw how the tone, tenor and climate of the schools – and how what the students were able to do – changes when someone treats them like human beings.

Reading about the sense of loss felt by students, parents and educators was difficult. This was a traumatizing experience for them. Were you prepared for that when you interviewed them and listened to their testimony?

Ewing: I think I was intellectually prepared but I don’t think there’s any way to be emotionally prepared. Because some of these experiences were mirrored in my own life, I sort of knew what to expect. But I spent lot of time listening to recordings of children crying. On a very visceral level, that’s very difficult, but it’s important for me to have that perspective.

Yeah, people tell me all the time that reading the book was upsetting. But that affective reality, that sort of emotional reality, should be part of the calculus when we make these decisions that impact the lives of children so deeply. So no, while the trauma experienced by these families wasn’t surprising to me, it might be surprising to the people who were the engineers of this policy.

The avoidance to talk about the role of race in any of these decisions is pretty strong, right? 

This community’s choice to resist a school being characterized as “failing” is in fact about much more than the school itself: it is about citizenship and participation, about justice and injustice, and about resisting people in power who want to transform a community at the expense of the people who live there.” – From Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s Southside by Eve L. Ewing

Ewing:  People are comfortable talking about race when they are talking about how some racial groups are not performing up to par, when it’s through the lens of talking about deficits that are perceived in students of color, particularly black students.

It would be a different if we pushed ourselves to talk about race and education policy in terms of the way that current policies reinscribe and reinforce racial inequalities, and the way the education system interacts with other stratified systems in our society to ensure that students don’t have the same resources or opportunities based on race.

There’s a difference between talking about race and talking about racism. Scholars before me have established that that sort of deflection can in many ways be a racist tactic. The idea that it’s not racism, it’s this other thing, has been a very effective way of silencing any sort of critique.

As you say in the book, racism can be just as much, if not more, about the outcome as opposed to the intent. To what extent has it saturated our recent education policies?

Ewing: Well, the speaker goes to 11! To me, these questions are entirely about race. What underlies all these supposed reforms has so much to do with how much we control black people, how we control black children, how we assimilate immigrant groups, how we commit cultural genocide against native people. All of these in their way are the underlying projects of school reform.

“We Need to Be Disruptors of Institutional Racism in Our Schools”
To tackle institutional and systemic racism, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García told the South by SouthWest conference in March, we have to be aware of every part of the system, including the silence of implicit bias that blinds us to the larger system and what needs to be disrupted and dismantled.

So much goes uninterrogated about how and why our schools look the way they do. Why, for example, are people are so attracted to curriculum reforms that supposedly elevate test scores and graduation rates to astronomical levels simply by ensuring that children live under an intense disciplinary regime – one that minimizes their capacity for free expression and maximizes the degree to which their bodies are under control?

These are the costs that people are willing to pay for the supposed dividends of test scores, right? And even a lot of policymakers who identify themselves on the left and who are White still advocate for policies for children of color that they would never dream of implementing if their own children were in the classroom.

More room has been made recently for a serious discussion about funding inequality in our education system. How far can that conversation go without talking about race?

Ewing:It’s a start, but it depends on how much we want to scratch below the surface. If we want to talk about funding inequality, we have to talk about property taxes. If we want to talk about property taxes we have to talk about residential segregation. We have to start talking about wealth inequality, right? We have to start talking about the transference of wealth. We have to talk about opportunity hoarding.

I often bring up about the analogy and the sneeze and the cold. One is the symptom and one is the actual virus. At some point you have to talk about the virus if you’re sitting around sneezing all the time. What is it that is actually making us sick?

Are you optimistic about the heightened awareness of how many of these policies are affecting students? There’s been quite a bit of progress on some fronts, including charter schools and overtesting. 

Ewing: Well, I’m not really sure we’re seeing all that much progress yet. I do think we’re seeing rhetorical progress and that is a really important first step. And I do think that people across racial groups are beginning to see the brunt of some of these policies. So that’s a real potential for solidarity.

But I don’t know that the heightened awareness has been matched by the policy environment. Under Betsy DeVos, I think we’ve been regressing on quite a few areas, just thinking about vouchers for example. But there is a potential of something powerful happening there, for sure.

closing schools and race

The nine-day strike in February by the 3,000 members of the Oakland Education Association forced the district to put s temporary hold on its plan to close 24 schools.

You’ve said that people shouldn’t conflate “schooling” and “education.” Schooling are those institutional practices that, as you said earlier, emphasis control and standardization, whereas education is genuine discovery and learning. To what extent are competing visions or ideas about the role of public education getting in the way of transformative change?

Ewing: We live in a hyper-individualist society. So when many people think about schools, they see them as an engine to attain the most material gain that they possibly can for their individual child. And I think that’s fine. It’s a natural human impulse, especially for parents.

But we should expect policymakers to have a different lens. They have to think about how we build systems that work for all students, that are not based on principles of competition, but instead on principles of resource provision. So how are we meeting  our ethical and moral obligation to provide all children regardless of their social position with adequate resources?

But I think a deeply-rooted anti-blackness undercuts that. A lot of research bears this out. When people are choosing schools, when people are assessing what a good school is and what bad school is, when they are thinking about what kind of curriculum they want to implement in schools – if the children being served are black, the game changes from one of thinking about nurturing and resource provision to one of punishment and control.

People see blackness as a proxy for low-quality and the presence of black children as a proxy for badness. So that and hyper-individualism are two mindsets that have to change, but policymakers and politicians have to take a lead on that. We can’t sit around and wait for people to suddenly be better people in order for our school systems to be better. We have to demand courage and innovation to create the policies that are going to create conditions of equity. And then everybody else has to catch up or not.

“A System That Blames Children”
relay program for teachersMass school closures in Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and other cities has created a multi-tier system where academically strong schools at the top are located in higher-income neighborhoods and not readily available to all students. Closing schools not only has a negative impact on student performance but also creates hardship for communities already struggling with disinvestment.

Pushed Out: The Injustice Black Girls Face in School

Black girls make up 16% of girls in U.S. public schools, but 42% of girls’ expulsions. What forces have made these students targets?

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Serving the Whole Child Involves Every Educator

Meeting the needs of the whole child in our nation’s public schools requires an integrated approach to include social, emotional, and academic learning. And the federal government wants to help the cause to the tune of $260 million.

“It’s not like you can do just one of these,” said Jessica Cardichon, a director with the Learning Policy Institute (LPI), which sponsored a recent discussion at the U.S. Capitol titled, How Federal Policy Can Empower States and Communities to Provide Whole Child Education For All Students

“It’s a comprehensive approach across school systems,” said Cardichon, who moderated a panel of education, research and policy experts who stressed the need for federal funding to support the implementation of research-based whole child approaches that foster 21st century skills. “Additional after-school services are also essential to some students to reduce the negative effects of poverty.”

In April, the House Appropriations Committee released a fiscal year 2020 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) funding bill, which includes $260 million for a Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Initiative to support a whole child approach to education.

“It’s not groundbreaking,” said panelist Philip Tizzani, a staff member with the House Appropriations Committee. “It’s been a slow-build.”

Tizzani said the SEL initiative, which is pending, would require districts to match federal funding. Federal funds make up approximately 9 percent of states’ education spending along with state and local efforts.

“We (Congress) need to make investments in these policies,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), who delivered introductory remarks at the event. “We need to embrace proven holistic policies that educate the whole student.”

Child-Centered Environment

Panelists discussed how sufficient funding would help schools meet whole-student needs and what states, districts, and schools can do to provide a multi-tiered system of student support.

“When kids enter school, they are not all at the same starting line,” said Deborah Delisle, president and CEO of Alliance for Excellent Education. “How do you bridge that gap?”

One solution: States and districts can provide professional development for school staff to help create child-centered environments that foster students’ well-being and encourage creativity, according to panelists.

“It’s also important for educators to be engaged in their own learning,” Delisle said.

Abbe Futterman is the principal at The Earth School in New York.

“You have to know where the child is in their development,” said Futterman, a panelist. “Teachers need to be prepared to support children as they come … fostering an emotionally and culturally supportive environment.”

The Learning Policy Institute has offices in Palo Alto, Calif., and the District of Columbia. Its staff includes researchers, educators, public policy and communications specialists who work with policymakers, educators and community groups to promote and advance fair and equitable education policies.

Collaboration between schools, health care agencies, housing and other community groups also helps students to reach their full learning potential.

“A strong community that supports robust relationships is a key factor in whole child education,” said Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, LPI president, in a statement. “Education Support Professionals (ESPs) are key members of this community, fostering safe, positive learning environments as they work with students in and outside of the classroom. Their work is critical to meeting the needs of the whole child.”

ESPs: A Rich School Resource

There are almost 3 million school support professionals working in the nation’s K-12 schools and higher education institutions. Of NEA’s 3 million members, almost 500,000 are ESPs, who are organized by NEA into nine career categories.

“One third of the adults interacting with children in our K-12 system are ESPs,” said Tim Barchak, an NEA senior policy and program analyst who attended the event. People such as paraeducators, school secretaries, custodians, bus drivers, food service and health workers, security officers, and others “help students succeed not only in school but in life,” he added

During the question-and-answer segment, Barchak remarked that given their responsibilities, ESPs should be provided with sufficient professional development to reflect the role they play in assuring student safety, health and other SEL needs.

“That workforce should also be stabilized with fair compensation and by ceasing privatization,” Barchak added. “Preparing students for the future requires more than looking exclusively at instructional methods and curriculum.”

Panelist Charles Kamasaki, a senior advisor with UnidosUS and the National Council of La Raza, said in response to Barchak’s comments that “the most diverse segment in a school are ESPs.”

They often act as confidants and translators between Latino and Asian parents, teachers and school administrators, he explained.

“I’m in one hundred percent agreement with you (Barchak) that funds should be provided for their (ESP) training,” Kamasaki said. “They are often the entry point and great supporters of kids who are ELL (English language learners).”

Added Delisle: “Every adult who interacts with that child, like the bus driver, should be trained to understand their (student) needs.”

Within NEA, the whole child framework is built upon five tenets where each student:

  • Enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.
  • Learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.
  • Engages in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.
  • Gains access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.
  • Is challenged academically and prepares for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.

Specialized Instructional Support Personnel (SISP) also work to remove barriers to student learning. School staff in this category include school counselors, psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, library media specialists, speech pathologists and others.

“School support professionals are key to assuring students have the services they need to succeed academically and socially, inside and outside the classroom,” Barchak said.

LPI has produced several publications addressing whole child issues, including Educating the Whole Child: Improving School Climate to Support Student Success, Community Schools: An Evidence-Based Strategy for Equitable School Improvement, and Protecting Students’ Civil Rights: The Federal Role in School Discipline.

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What Does a Global Arts Classroom Look Like?

Julie Midkiff, an art teacher at Bradley Elementary School in Mount Hope, West Virginia, is an NEA Foundation Global Fellow who studies the connection between global arts and the Appalachian Arts and Crafts Tradition. She is also a contributor to 12 Lessons to Open Classrooms and Minds to the World, which supports students’ need for a globally conscious education.

NEA Today spoke recently to Midkiff about what a global arts classroom looks like.

How does arts education lend itself so well to global education and crossing international lines?

Julie Midkiff: Arts education is one of the core pillars of the Humanities; it helps us to gain a higher understanding of common human experiences.  The visual arts and the arts in general help us tap into this higher understanding of the human experience through the senses, whether it be what we see, hear or feel, or common things we all experience, such as growing up and going through life’s milestones while learning about our culture and the emotions we feel along the way.

Throughout history visual artists have used universal human experiences, feelings, and emotions in their work, and students from many different countries and cultures can easily relate to, for instance, a photograph of a mother cradling a baby, a painting such as Picasso’s Guernica, depicting the ravages of war, or emotions captured in Käthe Kollwitz’s drawings.

What commonalities do students from different parts of the world find in your art and theirs? What traditions are shared?

JM: When students see or experience a painting, sculpture, drawing, or installation, it helps them tap into these core experiences and they start to interpret these works within the framework of what they already know of the world.

It is my goal as an elementary arts educator to use a global lens to help my students expand their world from the familiar and local to include regional, national and international perspectives.  I like to use functional craft as a common example in my elementary Art classroom to help my students find commonalities between traditions and cultures shared around the world.

We use the four global competency domains to not only investigate and analyze artwork, but also as a lens for understanding the history and cultures of the artists we study.” – Julie Midkiff

My students in Appalachia can relate to quilting as an art form. They understand that quilts have been made and passed down from generation to generation and that some are used to keep them warm at night while others have been made to memorialize family members.  I build a regional perspective by helping them compare quilt making in Appalachia to the quilts of Gee’s Bend, Alabama.

On a global scale, I’m expanding their understanding of textile arts by introducing my students to artists I met and learned about as an NEA Foundation Global Fellow in southern Africa, including the work of Anthony Bumhira from Zimbabwe who uses blankets, doilies, and painting techniques to explore cultural and contemporary traditions.

I’m also researching the work of Thania Petersen from South Africa whose work taps into her Indonesian heritage and experiences with Islam and uses costume as imagery to explore personas and her own identity.

What does global competency mean for students in your classroom? What about global citizenship?

JM: According to the Asia Society, students can demonstrate global competency in four ways: When they can investigate their world with awareness and curiosity in learning about how it works, recognize their own perspectives and those of others with the understanding that others may not share their perspectives, effectively communicate ideas verbally and non-verbally with diverse audiences, and take action to use their knowledge and skills to make a difference in the world.

My young learners range from Pre-Kindergarten through fifth grade and we use the four global competency domains to not only investigate and analyze artwork, but also as a lens for understanding the history and cultures of the artists we study.

Global citizenship naturally goes hand in hand with global competency. By being engaged in lessons that use the global competency domain framework, my young learners gain the understanding that they are more than citizens of our town, region and country, but that they actually belong to and live within a world that is interconnected and that we all share the responsibility of making our world a more equitable, fair and sustainable place.

Julie Midkiff

How does creating a lesson with a global reach differ from creating other lessons?

JM: Lessons with a global reach dig deeper into the human experience and condition.  These lessons tend to be longer, and often cover a range of topics connected by a common thread of curiosity, gaining perspectives, communicating specific ideas, or taking action to solve a problem.  Giving yourself time to make these connections as an educator will help you be able to facilitate this in-depth learning in your classroom, no matter your content area or specialization and to help students make connections to real world problems, issues, cultures, etc.

How does global competency starting at a young age help tackle major issues of poverty and climate change?

JM: Tackling issues of poverty and climate change at a young age within the framework of global competency is a tall order for young learners.

Developmentally, they are just discovering themselves as individuals and the world immediately around them.  However, if these young learners can learn to make connections to these larger issues and taking action from an early age, we are positioning them on a trajectory where they will be able generate innovate solutions and to be the creative problem solvers of the future.

When possible, I try to partner with other teachers, community groups or organizations to help my students take action and participate in being part of a change or solution.

This year, I facilitated a partnership between my fifth-grade classes and a citizen’s conservation group in the Florida Keys. The group sent my students plastic trap line that is commonly used by commercial and recreational fishermen that had been cleared from the canals and waterway after the marine devastation caused by Hurricane Irma.

My goal is for my students, who live in land locked state, to gain an understanding of why we need to be good stewards of environment and to care about ocean pollution, which is one of the factors contributing to climate change.  My students researched the problems of recycling trap line, the affect of trap line has as marine pollution and its’ affect on local marine life and ecosystems.  They are in the process of building a sea turtle sculpture out of the trapline to be displayed with a QR code to bring awareness to the marine pollution and climate change issues to our local community.

By engaging in the trap line sea turtle sculpture lesson, my students have an increased sense of agency that they too, at a young age, can take action as global citizens and make a difference in the world.

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Only Five States’ Charter School Laws Rate “Mediocre” or Better

Even as evidence continues to mount that much of the charter school sector has been overrun by a host of problems, its supporters have become even more emphatic. They concede that, yes, a few “bad actors” have emerged, but otherwise it’s all systems go on continued expansion.

Privately-managed charter schools do not have to operate by the same rules as district schools and in many places do not have to be as transparent about how they spend public money. They are run by private boards who do not have to be accountable to the public.

While exposing the financial mismanagement, exclusionary enrollment procedures, and a less-than-stellar academic record is obviously important, singling out individual schools obscures the fact that the system itself is the issue – and that’s where top-to-bottom improvements have to be made.

A new NEA report card on state charter laws and statutes zeroes in on the weak regulation and lax oversight that enable for-profit organizations to open and manage charters in most states.

The report, titled “State Charter Laws: NEA Report Card,” concludes found that nearly every state (44 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico currently have charter schools) is failing to require adequate oversight over the charter school sector. Statutes in forty states received “F” grades. Five states that have laws requiring some oversight received “mediocre” ratings, with grades ranging from “D” to “C-“.

Maryland is the only state that received an “adequate” rating – a grade of “B-”.

“Charter schools were started by educators who dreamed of schools in which they would be free to innovate, unfettered by bureaucratic obstacles,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “Handing over students’ education to privately managed, unaccountable charters jeopardizes student success, undermines public education and harms communities.”

However, the goal of the report card, Eskselsen García added, is not to pinpoint blame, but is to “provide individual states with a roadmap to help build stronger accountability measures.”

Falling Far Short

The report card’s grading system is based on the four basic tenets of NEA’s charter school policy, issued in 2017:

  1. Charters must be genuinely public schools in every respect.
  2. Charters must be accountable to the public via open and transparent governance.
  3. Charters must be approved, overseen, and evaluated by local school boards.
  4. Charters must be providers of high quality education for their students.

Letter grades were generated by answering key questions under each tenet (13 questions in all). To determine, for example, if a state’s statute required charter schools to be truly public institutions, NEA analyzed whether for-profit entities were excluded from opening and managing a charter school. To gauge how accountable charters are to the public, it was necessary to establish whether the schools are audited.

From “State Charter Statutes: NEA Report Cards” (Click to Enlarge)

Overall, it’s not a pretty picture.

According to the NEA report, a number of states do not require even the most rudimentary, commonsense protections that parents and communities rightly insist upon for all other taxpayer-funded schools.  Furthermore, many states don’t bother to require charter school teachers to meet the same certification requirements as public school teachers. And in too many states, charter school operators are allowed to establish a school, almost no questions asked. Community input is either not solicited or ignored, or both. In addition, they are often given the green light despite the absence of any analysis determining if such a school is even necessary.

Growing Backlash

The 2017 NEA Policy Statement on charter schools denounced the expansion of unaccountable charters over the past 20 or so years as a “failed and damaging experiment.”

Lawmakers at all levels of government abetted this expansion by exempting charters from basic safeguards that apply to public schools, and eliminating sensible processes for authorizing new schools. This reckless approach persists in many states, despite substantial evidence of financial mismanagement and profiteering, and lackluster overall performance.

Educators in Los Angeles protest school privatization during UTLA strike in January.

Still, the sector is facing – perhaps for the the first time – significant headwinds. The growing awareness of the costs  that unfettered expansion has inflicted, especially in low-income communities of color, is beginning to resonate with the general public.

“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. “On the contrary, it has been creating more problems than it helps solve.”

It’s a message that has driven many of the #RedForEd protests as educators have successfully linked school privatization to the chronic underfunding of public schools. The strike by United Teachers Los Angeles in January forced the district to agree to a moratorium on expansion (there are currently 200 charter schools in Los Angeles) that has siphoned off $600 million annually from the district’s public schools.

The charter sector in California has come under increased and long overdue scrutiny. In February, Governor Gavin Newsom called for a study looking at the impact charter school growth has had on school districts. Newsom also announced he is working with lawmakers to improve charter school transparency and accountability – “an important and long overdue step toward holding charter schools accountable,” said Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Association.

This move is especially significant given that the California Charter Schools Act currently forbids school boards reviewing applications for new charters to consider how they might impact neighborhood public schools – one of the 13 questions or “guardrails” identified by the NEA that states can use to bring accountability to a sector that sorely needs it.

The 46 jurisdictions that have charter school laws need a roadmap, the report said, because “they have a long way to go to ensure that charter schools actually function to improve public education offerings for students.”

Read the complete NEA report here.

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

charter school segregationRacial Isolation of Charter School Students Exacerbating Resegregation
Charter schools are among the most segregated in the nation. Experts say the justifications offered by many charter leaders are troubling and undermine the promise of equal opportunity for every student.

Fewer and Fewer States Escaping School Privatization’s Reach
school privatizationThe commitment in state legislatures to the “great equalizer” that is public education has eroded quite dramatically. Across the nation, states have implemented and expanded charter schools that are unaccountable to the public and voucher programs that have siphoned off public taxpayer money to pay for private school tuition.

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“If We Don’t Do Something, It’s Never Going to Change”

(photo: Joe Brusky)

At the panel discussion on educator walkouts at the National Education Writers Association (EWA) conference this week, NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia was asked what was driving this unprecedented activism happening across the country, including the latest action in Oregon this week.

“A moment in West Virginia became a movement,” Eskelsen Garcia said. “It is inspiring. It’s energizing. And it’s always a little scary because no one knows how these things will turn out, but so far we’ve had 100 percent success in that every place where teachers have raised their voices and thrown on their #RedForEd t-shirts and gone to the public, they’ve won support. [It’s about ending] the absolute neglect of education funding and giving kids the programs and services they need.”

People are hearing what educators have been saying for years: There is much more that should be done to support public education. It hasn’t been enough for decades.

“Parents, the public, have all marched with their educators in support of more funding for education.” Eskelsen García said. “They’re asking, ‘What do you mean you have to pay for your own supplies? What do you mean you have 40 students in classrooms.’ ”

Panelist Kathereine Strunk, a researcher at the University of Michigan, said we know that kids who miss school on a day unexpectedly miss learning. “If you miss five days of school for a snow day you miss learning,” she said. “We expect to see studies about kids and learning loss from strikes. These are not costless to them.”

Educators walkouts have resulted in more funding for students, Eskelsen Garcia responded, but she’d never seen kids win a million dollars for their school after a snow day.

Dov Rosenberg, an educator from Durham Public Schools in North Carolina who joined his state walkouts, said they are taking action because for the students who are not getting what they deserve and that parents and teachers want the same thing for their students.

“We demonstrate because we feel nobody is listening; it’s necessary to do something we know will have an impact,” he said.

If we don’t do something, it’s never going to change. Teachers keep picking up the slack.” – NEA President Lily Eskelsen García

To lesson the impact, Rosenberg told the panel how they had organized food distribution centers so the kids who rely on them can still receive free breakfasts and lunch.

“We can’t provide childcare, and it is a hardship, these aren’t easy,” he said. “We stay mindful of how we can serve students on days we are striking so there is less hardship.”

Many students, he added, marched with their parents alongside their educators, getting a real-life education in civics and political action.”

Shar Jeffries of Democrats for Education Reform, which supports more charter schools, told the audience that the unions would have the public believe that walking out is the only lever they have to pull. Jeffries said educators should exhaust every lever before leaving the school or classroom to protest.

Rosenberg responded that political action isn’t harming students when the whole point of a walkout is to improve students learning.

“It is the last lever. We tried phone banks, letters to representatives, and supporting legislation that would increase funding, and it didn’t work. We have to use what power we have, and the most power we have is our labor. We are furious that our students are forced to learn in the miserable conditions we are required to work.”

Madeline Will of Education Week, who moderated the panel, asked how unions are faring in the wake of the Supreme Court Janus decision.

“Our membership is up all over the country when we were supposed to be plummeting,” said Eskelsen García . “We are energized. This is about the Koch brothers and their ilk trying to get rid of our membership. We know the only power we have is a collective voice…. And we have three million professionals who love their students and stand ready to put their boots on the ground.”

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Community Schools Deserve Federal Support

While most of the city is still asleep, Janeth Prado heads out to  the busy sidewalks of Milwaukee, carrying with her a large cardboard cutout of a yellow school bus, as bright and cheerful as the rising sun. Prado is one of the parent volunteers who leads the Lincoln Elementary walking school bus.

Stopping at houses along a one-mile route to “pick up” students and escort them safely to school, the walking school bus began after some parents of the bilingual community in the city’s south side said they didn’t want their children to walk to school alone. If they couldn’t walk their kids themselves because of a work or family conflict, they’d keep them home rather than risk their safety.

Lincoln Elementary is a community school and Congressional staffers learned about it and the walking school bus at a briefing on Capitol Hill last week.

Community Schools: Hubs of a Neighborhood

The community schools model centers public schools as hubs for communities and combines a rigorous, relevant educational program with extended learning opportunities, family and community engagement, and an infusion of social services.

Ryan Hurley, director of Milwaukee Community Schools Partnership, explained that community schools operate on the belief that schools and communities can work together through partnerships to build stronger schools and stronger neighborhoods with broad engagement and collaboration from all stakeholders in a community – everyone from students, parents, and school staff to local businesses and nonprofits, government, faith-based organizations, health providers and higher education institutions. The first step, he said, is identifying needs.

“After a series of community conversations, we discovered safety was a top priority,” Hurley said. “The community identified a need and came up with a solution – the walking school bus.”

Now kids are getting to school safely, and in turn, attendance rates are up. One student who was absent more than 20 percent of last year has had 100 percent attendance this year. Yet another benefit is the visibility of the bright yellow school bus cutout and smiling group of kids and parents. People in passing cars honk and wave, happy to see their neighborhood school taking the extra step to provide safety for their community’s children and wanting to show their support or lend a hand.

Community School Coordinators Create and Maintain Partnerships

In a community school, lending support is streamlined by a full time community schools coordinator — a position that can be paid for by federal Title I funds. The community schools coordinator works at the school ad acts as the liaison between the school and community organizations who want to partner with it, matching an organization with a specific need so that collaboration is strategic and sustainable and has the flexibility to change from one year to the next with the changing needs of the students.

“Some community schools are in areas where healthcare is scarce, so partnerships with hospitals or medical schools are created,” said Kyle Serrette, a senior policy analyst in NEA’s Teacher Quality department. “Some might have a dental clinic; another might offer free glasses for kids who can’t afford them. We are obsessed with stakeholders at community schools – it’s about grassroots problem solving where partnerships are tailored to the community.”

Community schools can be successful in any area, but the reality is that more than 50 percent of public school students live in poverty, communities often plagued by hunger, homelessness, and crime. And educators know that children who are hungry or homeless or traumatized by violence can’t learn.

“We don’t want a ZIP code to determine a student’s dreams,” said Stephen Kostyo, a policy advisor at the Learning Policy Institute. “Community schools can help address the needs of students whose housing is insecure or whose nutritional needs aren’t met.” Community schools around the country partner with affordable housing providers, food banks and local grocers or restaurants to fulfill the needs of students and their families.

Federal Funding Should Support Community Schools

They’re also a sound investment. Kostyo says research shows that for every dollar invested in a community school, the community gets $15 back because better schools boost the economy and well-being of its population.

The research also shows that the community schools model fulfills the requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Panelists at the briefing, including Milwaukee Teachers Education Association vice president Ingrid Henry, NEA-New Mexico vice president Mary Parr-Sanchez and coordinator for Community Schools for the Las Cruces Public School District David Greenberg, told the Congressional staffers about federal funding opportunities and how the government can support districts who want to create community schools.

NEA’s education funding action is focused on the  Keep Our PACT Act, a bill that provides a 10-year glide path for Congress to fully fund its 40 percent commitment to IDEA and to fully Fund Title I.

Increasing investment in community schools is an NEA priority, though the Trump administration zeroed out the program for FY20, and through the power of its members is calling on the Appropriations Committee members for a $40 million increase (which is nearly all of the Trump Administrations’s requested increase for charter schools).

Take action and tell your senators to cosponsor the Keep Our PACT Act.


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The Widening Mental Health Treatment Gap in Schools

 As educators, parents and students across the nation continue to advocate for more public school funding, the gaps in resources available to students continue to widen. One major area of concern getting more attention over the past few years is the scarcity of mental health resources in schools.

Without the necessary services, students, especially those undiagnosed or untreated, are falling behind their peers. According to a new study published in The Journal of Pediatrics, millions of children across the U.S. are experiencing depression, anxiety and/or behavioral disorders.

“Mental disorders in childhood can negatively affect…children’s ability to achieve social, emotional, cognitive, and academic milestones,” the report said.

Analyzing data from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health, the researchers found that 7.1%  of children aged 3-17 years had anxiety problems, 7.4% had a behavioral conduct problem, and 3.2% had depression.

By breaking down the research into twelve sociodemographic and health-related characteristics, the researchers found a significantly higher prevalence of anxiety and behavioral problems than other studies, affecting approximately 4.4 million and 4.5 million children respectively.

The study also points to a near 20 percent treatment gap between children diagnosed with depression versus those experiencing anxiety. Overall, roughly 78% of children with depression have received treatment, whereas treatment for anxiety and behavioral/conduct problems was 59% and 54%, respectively. Without access to services, students with anxiety are at higher risk of later developing depression.

For students to cope with mental, emotional or behavioral disorders as adults, they need to begin developing those skills and mechanisms in the classroom along with their peers. Due to a scarcity of resources, however, educators are often forced to separate students that require greater attention or cause distractions, furthering gaps in knowledge and socialization.

The study also found that three out of four school-aged children diagnosed with depression simultaneously experience anxiety. This means an estimated 1.42 million students with these overlapping diagnoses are expected to function at the same at the same level and with the same amount of attention as their peers.

When they do not, they are likely to be labeled as “bad students,” compounding disconnected feelings with punitive disciplinary actions. Exclusionary discipline rates are significantly higher for students of color and students in special education classrooms.

78% of children with depression have received treatment, whereas treatment for anxiety and behavioral/conduct problems was 59% and 54%, respectively. Without access to services, students with anxiety are at higher risk of later developing depression.

The study also found disparities based on race, ethnicity, and income level. Children from low income, Hispanic and African American families are less likely to be diagnosed and treated based on limited access to care. Biases related to diagnosis of behavioral conduct problems are most prevalent with African American students.

Closing the treatment gap in schools starts with more funding so that districts can bring more counselors and psychologists onboard –  key forces for school safety before and after traumatic events. For students traumatized by the increasing incidents of gun violence on campuses, (and for whom suicide is a second leading cause of death) mental health services are a high priority – more effective than increasing police presence  or arming teachers.

At Amanda Greene-Chacon’s school in Oregon, many students never have the opportunity to meet with these trained professionals.

“There is a mental health crisis in our schools,” she told The Register-Guard. “The elementary and middle schools do not have adequate numbers of mental health specialists. At the high school level, we are seeing unprecedented levels of problematic, disrespectful and even threatening behaviors.”

Greene-Chacon, a member of the Springfield Education Association, also believes the “the real issue is the way we serve our students — in overcrowded classrooms where the pressures of standardized testing have robbed teachers of their ability to provide age-appropriate educational opportunities.”

Liz Hurt, a school nurse in Oakland, California, says the addition of nurses in schools leads to quantifiably more time for teachers to educate their students in the classroom rather than focus on other needs. In her school district, where there are only 22 school nurses, Hurt and her colleagues are not only responsible for the physical care of their students, but mental health treatment, implementing individualized health plans, developing accommodations for medical 504 plans, and proper nutrition.

Mental health experts strongly believe starting early makes for better outcomes in later years, but  the lack of programs and services available to preschool children is glaring.

“For both anxiety problems and behavioral/conduct problems, treatment receipt was more common among school-aged children compared to those aged three- to five-years,” the report said.

mental health in schoolsAre Schools Ready to Tackle the Mental Health Crisis?
Despite the obvious return on investment, comprehensive mental health programs are still only scattered across the country. Many resource-starved districts have cut—or never had on staff—critical positions, namely school psychologists, undermining their schools’ ability and capacity to properly address these challenges.

The Epidemic of Anxiety Among Today’s Students
By high school and college, many students have run out of steam. Anxiety—the mental-health tsunami of their generation—has caught up with them. Today’s teens and young adults are the most anxious ever, according to mental health surveys.

How Trauma is Changing Children’s Brains
Traumatized 5-year-olds are three times more likely to have problems with paying attention, and two times more likely to show aggression. Understanding how severe stress affects students is the important first step in creating trauma-sensitive classrooms.

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Average Teacher Salary Down 4.5% Over the Past Decade

Amber McCoy, a fourth grade teacher at Kellogg Elementary in Huntington, West Virginia, has 16 years’ experience under her belt, but still makes just $44,000 a year. She also has about $40,000 left in student loans to pay off. McCoy has worked as a tutor, pet sitter, and Amazon customer service rep to make ends meet.

In February 2018, she decided enough was enough and joined thousands of her fed-up colleagues across the state in launching a successful nine-day work stoppage.

“[It] was our last resort, but it raised public awareness about persistent low pay,” McCoy says.

The average salary in West Virginia is $45,642, one of the lowest in the nation. The national average teacher salary, adjusted for inflation, has decreased 4.5 percent over the past decade, according to NEA Ranking of the States 2018 and Estimates of School Statistics 2019, released this week.

“Across the nation educator pay continues to erode, expanding the large pay gap between what teachers earn and what similarly educated and experienced professionals in other fields earn,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

“Educators don’t do this work to get rich, they do this work because they believe in students. But their pay is not commensurate with the dedication and expertise they bring to the profession.”

In some states, teachers will never earn professional pay. In 1,025 school districts, even the highest paid teachers, most with advanced degrees and decades of experience in the classroom, are paid less than $50,000.

The 2019 Ranking and Estimates report’s findings underscore why the national #RedforEd movement has caught fire. School employees from coast to coast, fed up with living paycheck to paycheck, working two or three jobs to pay the bills, and struggling with work anxiety, sleep deprivation and burn out, have put up a united front in a blaze of red t-shirts and signs.

Over the past year more than 500,000 educators have rallied, walked out, or gone on strike in both red and blue states—including Alabama, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, and California—to demand more funding for education, including higher pay.

The public is behind #RedforEd. Nationwide, nearly 80 percent of public school parents say teachers are underpaid and that they support educators in their communities taking action for higher pay. Some legislators are listening. In April, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, signed into a law a budget will increase starting teacher salaries to $41,000. In his first State of the State address that same month, Idaho Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, announced that he would boost new teacher salaries from $35,800 to $40,000. Two months later, he signed a bill to make it happen.

Educator salaries are also an issue in the upcoming 2020 presidential election. Presidential hopeful Kamala Harris has called for every educator salary to increase by $13,500 to ensure a middle-class wage and attract more people to the profession.

Most Starting Salaries Are Still Below $40,000

For the past 70 years the NEA Rankings and Estimates report has provided comparative state data and national averages on a host of important public education statistics, teacher salaries, student enrollment, and revenue and expenditures for the most recent school year. This year, NEA collected statistics from 11,675 school districts, which accounts for 94 percent of full-time educators.

The 2019 report shows that starting teacher salaries are still lower than pre-Recession levels. In 2017-18, the average teacher starting salary was $39,249. After adjusting for inflation, beginning teacher salaries have decreased by 2.91 percent since then.

More than half—63 percent—of reported public school districts still offer a starting salary below $40,000. Nearly 300 districts pay first-year teachers less than $30,000 a year.



And it’s not just first-year teachers. In some states, teachers will never earn professional pay. In 1,025 school districts, even the highest paid teachers, most with advanced degrees and decades of experience in the classroom, are paid less than $50,000.

In the nation’s largest cities, salaries are a bit higher, but not by much.

Denver Spanish teacher Kelsey Brown has nine years’ experience, but her salary of $56,000 isn’t enough for her to open a savings account, despite her efforts to earn more by coaching lacrosse after school, coordinating an exchange program to Madrid, and participating in a Spanish-language summer camp.

“I am burned out. There are days that I am walking in the building knowing I’ll be there until 8 p.m. that night,” she told CNN. “There are just days that I don’t know how much longer I can do it.”

Like many talented educators, she wonders if she should continue in a profession where she is overworked, underpaid, and undervalued by policy makers.

‘Professional Work Deserves Professional Pay’

A #RedforEd protest in Alabama.

Schools cannot recruit and retain great educators  without making a major investment in raising salaries, says Eskelsen García.

“In order to ensure that every student has a qualified teacher in the classroom and caring professionals in schools, we must make a better investment in our educators. It’s time to show respect to those professionals who dedicate their lives to students and building the future of our communities. Professional work deserves professional pay.”

Financially strapped, many teachers either leave the profession, or move or commute to areas where the pay is higher.

Huntington, West Virginia – where Amber McCoy teaches – is on the border of both Kentucky and Ohio. “I know several teachers that cross the border into those states for higher pay,” she says.

McCoy also has friends with similar levels of education who earn a lot more than she does, and some friends with less education who earn more. New research shows that she’s not alone.

Nationally, teachers are paid 21.4 percent less than similarly educated and experienced professionals, according to a recent Economic Policy Institute (EPI) report, which found that the “teacher pay gap” reached a record high in 2018. This difference between teacher pay and other college-educated professionals’ pay is partly due to the persistent gender gap in wages—across all full-time jobs in the U.S., women earn about 80 percent of men’s salaries. Historically, teaching has been a profession made up mostly of women. Today, 76.6 percent of educators are women.

Visit NEA #RedforEd for a complete interactive map on Rankings and Estimates data and join the movement advocating for better pay funding and resources for public schools.

Another EPI report indicates the national teacher shortage is growing quickly—especially in high-poverty areas. Low educator pay and the pay gap are two reasons why.

“There is a growing consensus that the United States faces an unprecedented shortage of teachers,” says EPI Research associate and University of California economist Sylvia Allegretto. “More and more teachers are leaving the profession, and fewer college students are choosing a career in teaching. We must undo the teacher wage penalty and begin to pay teachers competitive salaries.”

When signing the bill last month to raise starting teacher salaries in Idaho, Gov. Litttle said, “By increasing starting teacher pay, we are sending a clear signal to our teachers and those considering a career in education, that we appreciate and value them.”

The complete NEA Rankings and Estimates report can be found here.

More Highlights from Rankings and Estimates

Expenditure per Student

  • The U.S. average per-student expenditure in 2017‒18, based on fall enrollment, was $12,602. New York ($23,894), District of Columbia ($21,001), and New Jersey ($20,171) had the highest per-student expenditures.  Idaho ($6,809), Utah ($7,187), and Arizona ($8,123) had the lowest.
  • In 2018-19, expenditures per student are projected to increase by 2.5 percent to $12,920, up from $12,602 in 2017‒18. This compares with a 2.7 percent increase in total current expenditures.
  • Over the last decade, the average per-student expenditure has risen by 20.6 percent from $10,715 to $12,920. After inflation adjustment, the expenditure per student in enrollment has increased by 3.3 percent.

School Revenues

  • School funding continues to be state and local oriented. In 2016–17, 47.0 percent of public school revenue came from state funds, while 47.1 percent came from state funds in 2017–18. Local funds contributed similar percentages in both 2016‒17 (45.1 percent) and 2017‒18 (45.4 percent). In those two years, federal funds constituted 7.9 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively, of K-12 education revenue.

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Hostile, Divisive Political Climate Ensnaring U.S. Schools

Political debate in the United States has deteriorated over the past two decades, as reasoned, well-informed dialogue has been eclipsed by hyperpartisanship, name-calling, even paranoia.  But can anyone reasonably deny that the political climate today is debased beyond a point unimaginable perhaps even five years ago?

Unfortunately, this hostility and incivility has seeped into our schools.  Rigorous classroom debate is one thing; verbal attacks designed to incite and divide is something else altogether, presenting educators with a new set of formidable challenges.

That’s the conclusion of a new survey of high school principals conducted by the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA) at UCLA.

“The flow of the nation’s harsh political rhetoric does not stop at the school house gate, but instead, propelled by misinformation and social media, is fueling anger, fear and division that is negatively impacting students, schools and learning,” the report says.

Although the report is called “School and Society in the Age of Trump,” the intent, explains lead author John Rogers, professor of education at UCLA and the director of IDEA, is not to suggest President Trump singlehandedly took a wrecking ball to the nation’s political discourse.

Nonetheless, “the Trump administration has dramatically expanded the practice of demonizing opponents, as well as uses of invectives and violent political metaphors,” Rogers says.

A majority of the 550 principals surveyed are seeing an unmistakable increase in incivility over the past few years:

  • Nine in ten principals report that incivility and contentiousness in the broader political environment has “considerably affected their school community.”
  • Hostile exchanges outside of class, demeaning or hateful remarks over political viewpoints are increasing.
  • Most disturbingly, 8 in 10 report that their students have made derogatory remarks about other racial or ethnic groups, including immigrants. Very often, students will echo Trump’s incendiary rhetoric, with “Build the Wall!” being a particularly popular chant.

As a high school principal in California noted, “students are more and more willing to say outrageously racist, homophobic, ‘whatever-phobic’ things, believing it is their ‘right’ to do so. In the past, when this occurred, there would be a certain acknowledgement and perhaps shame I could elicit through discussion—an ability to see that hate speech is wrong. That is less and less true now.”

Source: “School and Society in the Age of Trump,” The Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, UCLA

Truth Decay

The UCLA survey also focuses on how the steady flow of false information – usually via social media platforms – has corrupted critical thinking and exacerbated political tensions and divisions in schools. Over the past few years, “students struggle to discern fact from opinion, identify quality sources, or participate in inclusive and diverse deliberations on social issues,” the report said.

While this trend long predates the 2016 election, Rogers says, Trump’s relentless campaign to discredit traditional information sources has had an impact.

“President Trump’s rhetoric often obfuscates the public’s understanding of important issues and erodes commitment to the ideal that policy deliberations should be grounded in verifiable facts,” says Roger, who cites Politifact’s 2016 finding that 70% of Trump’s statements were “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire” lies.

In addition, Trump’s constant bellowing of “Fake News!” and “Corrupt Media!” further erodes the public’s trust in traditional, reliable information sources.

According to the UCLA survey, a large majority of principals reported an increase in students making at best dubious claims based on unreliable media sources, and rejecting outright the sources their teachers were using in the classroom.

The report also takes a look at how schools have been struggling to address greater societal challenges, such as gun violence, immigration enforcement, and the opioid crisis.

Trump’s “frequent public threats” to expand deportations, as well as his intention to exploit the immigration issue in 2020, has heightened the fear and anxiety of millions of students with undocumented family members.  Two-thirds of the principals surveyed said enforcement policies and demagogic rhetoric – now adopted by an increasing number of lawmakers and politicians – “have harmed student well being and learning.”

‘There’s Nothing Wrong With Disagreement’

Escalating political tensions, says Rogers, caught many schools a little off-guard, leaving them unprepared for the fallout.

The report offers a set of recommendations that can help stifle tensions and build and protect a healthier school climate.  School climate standards, for example, should emphasize “care, connectedness, and civility,” and be supported by a network of trained educators.

Rogers cautions that some district administrators pressure principals to enforce neutrality in the classroom. While this may sound practical on the surface, taking such a step can silence civil discussions.

“The most effective principals we studied create democratic cultures within their schools, inviting teachers and students to share their ideas and grapple together across lines of difference,” Rogers explained.

In one of the testimonials in the report, a principal in Connecticut pointed out that political differences between students, if handled carefully, can be used to promote engagement and trust in the classroom:

I try to be really real with kids. I try not to shy away from important topics. I tell teachers that their job is to facilitate dialogue and learning; I don’t want any sort of dialogue to be smashed. I don’t want them to feel like when discussions about the election come up that they need to shut them down so as to avoid any sort of hurt feelings or disagreement. I want teachers to have the attitude of ‘there’s nothing wrong with disagreement.’ We need to be able to foster and model how to properly do this for our kids.

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New Mexico Gets Rid of A-F School Grading System

For the past several years, students at Dulce Elementary School, on the Jicarilla Apache Nation reservation in New Mexico, faced the threat of school closure. The only elementary school in the district, if it closed students would have to rise before dawn for a long bus ride over bumpy, dusty roads to the closest schools, more than 30 or 40 miles away.

But rather than punishing the students and their tribal community by closing the only elementary school for miles, New Mexico’s new governor and secretary of education will amend the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), scrap the A-F school grading system and replace the policy of labeling schools as ‘failing’ in favor of actually supporting schools in need and celebrating successes of schools doing well or making progress.

This is ESSA done right, says NEA–New Mexico Vice President Mary Parr-Sanchez.

“The proposed changes to New Mexico’s ESSA plan will ensure that the state and local school districts are measuring things that are important and highlight what is good about a school as well as what needs improvement,” Parr-Sanchez says. “Before, the state ESSA plan merely highlighted shortcomings of schools, with no offer of how to support.

All three schools in the Dulce Independent Public School District on the Jicarilla Apache Nation will finally receive the funding they so desperately need, have applied for, and have been denied under the punitive measures of the previous education secretary, which focused on test scores. Now the district will receive support on things like family engagement and attendance and the emphasis on test scores will be reduced.

Don’t Flunk Schools, Support Them

Beyond the Apache reservation, support will extend throughout the state to the many schools who need assistance. Last year, more than two thirds of the New Mexico’s schools received Ds or Fs; in Santa Fe, 56 percent of schools received the lowest grades.

NEA-New Mexico and other public education advocates called for legislators to recognize that slapping bad grades on a school and threatening them with closure or privatization was not the solution; students at these schools needed better supports.

The new governor, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, ran on making big revisions to the ESSA plan put in place by her predecessor. Those included getting rid of teacher evaluation through test scores, the A through F system for grading schools, and PARCC tests.

NEA-New Mexico members overwhelmingly supported Grisham in the election and from “Day One,” says Parr-Sanchez, “Grisham has worked to change the bad and harmful practices of her predecessor. From Day One, she ended PARCC testing and the grading and labeling of schools in need,” Sanchez says. “This is why elections are so important for educators.”

Accountability to Come Through New Indicators

The shift does not mean that “there are no consequences for underperformance,” said Karen Trujillo, New Mexico’s new secretary of education. “With high levels of support must come high levels of accountability.”

The state is planning to launch a “New Mexico Spotlight Dashboard” in fall 2019, will celebrate the success of the highest performing schools, identify schools that the department will support with federal grant money, and provide families with an opportunity to learn more about their local schools.

Michelle Lujan Grisham

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (center)

“We believe that when schools struggle academically, the system is failing the school, not the other way around,” says education secretary Trujillo.

Based on indicators of academic performance and school climate rather than test score data alone, the New Mexico Education Department will collaborate with districts, schools, and communities to determine what resources are needed to support schools on their path to student success.

Trujillo says the dashboard will give more nuanced information about schools not offered with a simple A-F grade.

Recognizing that there is much more to a school’s story than test scores, the proposed amendments shift points for elementary and middle schools from test scores to educational climate. For high schools, the amendments increase the points for improvements in graduation rates to emphasize an improvement-oriented approach.

“This shift in philosophy will allow the education department to allocate federal resources where they can make the most impact and help every student succeed,” says Trujillo.

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Public Education ‘Ground Zero’ in Radical Right’s Assault on Democracy, Says Historian

Nancy MacLean is an American historian and the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University, where she teaches courses on modern U.S. history and the history of social movements. NEA Today caught up with MacLean for an in-depth conversation of her recent book Democracy in Chains, in which she details the decades-long effort of the radical right-wing to undermine U.S. democracy by establishing footholds in government, think tanks, media, the courts, and academia. The privatization of public education is a priority of this “stealth” campaign. In the book, MacLean introduces the reader to an important but overlooked player.

While many of us are familiar with Charles and David Koch—the Koch brothers—you introduce us to a new figure: James Buchanan, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1986. Who was he and how did you discover him?

Nancy MacLean: James McGill Buchanan supplied the ideas that the Koch network has weaponized to achieve an agenda they know the people do not want: what amounts to a stealth plan to change our country.

I came across him when researching the State of Virginia’s fight against the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. This “massive resistance” mandated tax-funded vouchers for private schools and also the closure of any public school that planned to desegregate. Even after the forced closures left 10,000 white children school-less throughout the fall of 1958 and the courts ruled them unconstitutional, Buchanan wanted to keep the fight going. He urged, in essence, the privatization of public schools, which would have put them beyond reach of the courts.

Why, I wondered, would a believer in freeing markets with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, be allying, in effect, with the most arch segregationists? I learned that the contest over Brown v. Board shaped Buchanan’s career. He arrived in Virginia in 1956, just as its conservative leaders were goading southern states to fight the ruling. Like them, he saw Brown not through the lens of equal protection of the law for all citizens, but rather as another wave in a rising tide of unwarranted federal interference in the affairs of the states going back to the New Deal. In his view, all this violated individual liberty, private property rights, and states’ rights.  Given a center to run at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, he made it his life’s work to understand how the other side became so powerful and, then, to devise a strategy for breaking down the liberal state they had created.

Buchanan and Charles Koch shared the same libertarian political views and espoused the same vision of what the United States should look like—specifically when it came to economic liberty. What defines the economic liberty worldview of Buchanan and Koch? Why should their views make the rest of us so nervous?

NM: Those who subscribe to this philosophy believe that government should have only three roles: to provide for the national defense, ensure the rule of law, and guarantee social order (in short: armies, courts, and police).

Anything that impinges on the liberty of the propertied is suspect in their view, whether taxation for public schools or regulation of corporations—even to address a problem as urgent as climate change.

Only a tiny minority of Americans holds these extreme beliefs (polls find 2-4 percent at most) but because we have allowed such vast wealth to concentrate in the hands of the top one percent, Charles Koch and his fellow donors are able to drive changes they never would be able to without the vast infrastructure of organizations they can fund.

This infrastructure is huge. It includes dozens of ostensibly separate national bodies such as the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the Federalist Society; over 150 state-level organizations whose work is aligned through the State Policy Network; organizing enterprises including Americans for Prosperity, Concerned Veterans for America, the LIBRE Initiative, and Generation Opportunity; and university-based centers of allied faculty—with George Mason University’s Mercatus Center as the best-funded flagship, but many more developing.

Some 400 colleges and universities are now getting money from the Charles Koch Foundation. There’s a great organization called UnKoch My Campus that is fighting this corruption of academic integrity, together with faculty, student, and community allies. NEA members should be aware of them as allies, because the Koch network recently announced that transforming K-12 education will be a top priority going forward. No doubt they will use their university centers to push for privatization.

There are a few issues that particularly raise the ire of libertarians, including public education and unions. Why do they disdain public education so much? Why was breaking the power of unions a central element of libertarians’ playbook?

NM:  In fact, the first thing that brought Koch and Buchanan together, half a century ago, was their shared hostility toward public education—because it was public. The term libertarians use is “government schools.”

In their new order, parents will have to pay out of pocket the cost of their children’s schooling just as they pay for their food and shelter. That’s what the insiders mean by “personal responsibility.” And by attacking teachers’ unions and directing tax monies toward for-profit companies, they get closer to that goal without having to spell it out to the voters. They shift power away from the public and toward corporations that will then lobby to preserve their new sources of profit.

James Buchanan in 2010 (photo: Atlas Network)

Buchanan grew up in rural Tennessee, attended public schools and went to a local teachers’ college. Why did he have such animus towards public goods and America’s existing social contract when he was a direct beneficiary of them?

NM: I I think the answer lies in the right-wing populism Buchanan imbibed as a young white man in a bitter and propertied family. He came to identify with corporations as “producers” and view claimants on government assistance as “parasites” (the root of today’s “makers and takers” talk). This toxic way of seeing came from southern white elites who had to turn ordinary whites against their black fellow citizens to win, and it prepared him to perceive later experiences in patterned ways.

In Buchanan’s own telling, he had a formative experience in the Navy in World War II when he watched Northeasterners from Ivy League schools be promoted while he was passed over because he came from the South and attended Middle Tennessee State Teachers’ college. He knew he was as smart, if not smarter, than they, but believed he was seen as one of “the great unwashed,” in the words of this proud “country boy.”

I suspect that’s why the Brown ruling so upset him and changed the course of his life’s work. He saw the same kind of Northerners he disliked from that military experience now telling southern states what to do. Not just that, but imposing rulings that required communities to spend money on improvements that taxpayers like himself would have to pay for, whether they wanted to or not. He had no children himself and resented those who expected others to pay for teaching theirs.

We forget today how much southern segregationists argued in terms of tax burdens. Just like today’s defenders of local financing, they said why should blacks enjoy the same quality of schooling as whites if they weren’t paying the same amount in taxes? Never, of course, admitting the impossible vicious cycle they kept in place, where poor schooling meant poor job prospects and inability to pay higher taxes.

What role did Buchanan play in furthering Charles Koch’s goals?

NM: Koch was a CEO who in the late 1960s began to devour political-economic theory based on the notion that free-reign capitalism (what others might call Dickensian capitalism) would justly reward the smart and hardworking, and rightly punish those who failed to take responsibility for themselves or had lesser ability. It’s a kind of economic Social Darwinism. He believed then and believes now that the market is the wisest and fairest form of governance.

But before long Koch came to realize that if the majority of Americans ever truly understood the full implications of his vision, they would never support it.  Indeed, they would actively oppose it.

We have to always remember that the architects of this plan are doing what they’re doing in the stealth manner they are because they are afraid of the majority, of the people getting wise to what they’re up to and stopping them.”

So, Koch went in search of an operational strategy—what he called a “technology” —that could get around this big hurdle. He funded hundreds of thinkers until he discovered that technology in Buchanan’s thought. From Buchanan, Koch learned that for the agenda to succeed, it had to be put in place in small incremental steps, mutually reinforcing changes of the rules that govern our nation.

Koch’s team used Buchanan’s ideas to devise a roadmap for a radical transformation that could be carried out largely below the radar of the people, yet legally. The plan was (and is) to act on so many fronts at once, in what insiders call a “big bang” of “interrelated plays,” that others outside the movement would not realize the quiet revolution underway until it was too late to undo it. Examples include what we have seen in the 30 states now dominated by Republican elected officials who have been bent to the will of the Koch donor network: a battery of new laws to undermine unions, suppress the votes of those most likely to support active government, apply unprecedented gerrymandering to mispresent the will of the remaining voters, undermine other strong liberal lobbies such as Planned Parenthood, use privatization to alter power relations, alter the state courts, and more.

How do believers in a democracy for and by the people respond to a billionaire funded movement?

NM: We have to always remember that the architects of this plan are doing what they’re doing in the stealth manner they are because they are afraid of the majority, of the people getting wise to what they’re up to and stopping them. And I am seeing signs of that happening.

Nancy MacLean, author of “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.”

All over the country, I’m seeing a deepening awareness that we are at a pivotal moment, an all-hands-on-deck emergency for the future of government of, by and for the people. I’ve been impressed by the passion out there to protect democracy—and renew it to meet today’s needs.  That awareness crosses sectors, from union members to environmentalists, from feminists to civil-rights activists, from good government groups to senior citizens who worked hard to build a fairer world and don’t want to see it ruined for their grandchildren.

You can see it in the Red for Ed teachers’ mobilizations and the recent strikes to defend public education, in Black Lives Matter, in the Women’s March, in the thousands of Indivisible groups built since 2016, among the Parkland students and their March for Our Lives organizing. This spring, I am working as an Innovation Fellow with PolicyLink to help think through how to stop the Koch juggernaut and fix the chronic problems of our democracy that enabled it to get this far so that we can finally achieve racial and economic equity and environmental and social sustainability.

You mention that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” In the world that we live in—one of “fake news” and extreme partisan polarization—does shedding light on these radical right activists’ actions matter? What actions should we take to stop them from taking over our democracy?

NM: It absolutely matters. It’s vital to inform and engage as many people as we can.

But for greatest impact, the work should be done as organizers would do it, working outward in concentric circles, starting with those most likely to get the need and become engaged. There’s no point now in trying to persuade those who are trapped in the right’s bubble of deliberate misinformation.

Instead, each of us can inventory those we know through our unions, schools, friendship networks, faith congregations, and community organizations and talk with those most likely to become active, maybe even get them in reading groups to discuss what’s happening and what seems most important to work on where they are, with their particular talents and passions and resources. When widening circles engage, the right’s unity will start to crack.

But again, the first step is becoming informed. And when people do, they will realize the right amassed its power through state-level work, so that’s an excellent place to start rebuilding collective power, launching popular education efforts, and working for democracy reforms.

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Teacher Shortage is ‘Real and Growing, and Worse than We Thought’

 While the teacher shortage is being felt across many states and school districts, its impact is not shared equally along socioeconomic lines, according to a new paper by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

Probably the most critical resource denied to many students is an experienced, full-certified teacher –  a deficit that is “much more acute problem in high-poverty schools,” said EPI Economist Emma García. “These shortages threaten students’ ability to learn and reduce teachers’ effectiveness, and high teacher turnover consumes economic resources that could be better deployed elsewhere.”

The study, co-authored by García and EPI research associate Elaine Weiss, is the first in a series  examining the “perfect storm” in the teacher labor market – the causes, the consequences and potential remedies. “The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought,” they write.

As the U.S. economy slowly recovered from the Great Recession and school budgets began to improve, districts began to look for teachers. They soon found that filling positions was more difficult than they had anticipated. Too many districts have struggled ever since. Finding qualified teachers in mathematics, science and special education has been a particular challenge.

The Leaning Policy Institute (LPI), who has sounded the alarm about the teacher shortage in a number of reports, defines a shortage as “the inability to staff school at current wages with individuals qualified to teach in the fields required.”

As García and Weiss note, not all current teachers meet the education, experience, and certification requirements associated with being a highly qualified teacher.

“We argue that, when issues such as teacher quality and the unequal distribution of highly qualified teachers across schools serving different concentrations of low-income students are taken into consideration, the teacher shortage problem is much more severe than previously thought,” the EPI report said.

The shortages are especially severe in California. In 2017, LPI found that two-thirds of principals in high-poverty schools left positions vacant or hired less-qualified teachers. Less than half of their counterparts in schools with fewer lower-income students did so.

In Illinois, of the 1,006 unfilled teacher positions in the state, 74 percent are in majority-minority school districts while 81 percent are in districts where the majority of students are low-income. Ninety percent of vacancies are in underfunded school districts.

Students in high-poverty schools are more likely than their counterparts in low-poverty schools to have teachers who have less experience, fewer credentials, and lack the educational background in the subject matter they are teaching. (See chart below.) These teachers are also more likely to leave the profession.

how bad is the teacher shortage?

Source: Economic Policy Institute (Click to Enlarge)

The EPI paper also finds that the established link between strong credentials and retention weakens in high-poverty schools, as attrition drains these schools of qualified teachers at a greater rate. Richard Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania estimates that half of all teacher turnover occurs in 25 percent of public schools, predominantly in high-poverty urban and rural areas.

“There is no sign that the large shortage of credentialed teachers—overall, and especially in high-poverty schools—will go away,” García and Weiss write. Progress can be achieved only when the problem and its complexities are evaluated properly. This begins by understanding that the shortage is driven by several critical factors, including the teacher pay gap, stress and demoralization, and a scarcity of effective professional development, training and mentoring.

EPI will be take an in-depth look at these challenges – and potential solutions – in upcoming papers.

“In light of the harms the teacher shortage creates, as well as its size and projected trend, it is critical to understand the nature of the problem and the complexity of the teacher labor market,” said Weiss. “While most people understand teaching is a difficult job, our goal is to provide the attention that we have historically failed to in order to understand and fix the problems contributing to the shortage.”

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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After Moving to a 4-Day School Week, There May be No Going Back

The decision last year by School District 27J in Colorado to switch to a four-day school week wasn’t just a case of yet another district taking this consequential and controversial step. Colorado, along with Oklahoma, Oregon, and Montana, has pioneered cutting a school day off the weekly schedule. Half of the state’s districts currently operate on four-day weeks, most of them small and rural communities.

The move by 27J was significant because it’s a suburban district northeast of Denver. Headquartered in Brighton, 27J serves 18,000 students. Around the same time,  Pueblo City Schools, an urban district about 90 miles south, also voted to adopt a four-day week.

While there’s no disputing the growing number of districts taking this step, whether the four-day week makes further inroads into more metro-area districts remains to be seen.

Chopping Friday (or Monday) off the school schedule seems like a drastic step, so why are so many districts taking it? First and foremost, it’s seen as a necessary cost-saving measure, although few districts expect a windfall.  According to to the National Commission of State Legislatures (NCSL), on average, savings ranges from 0.4 percent to 2.5 percent of a district’s overall budget.

District 27J is expected to accrue somewhere north of $1 million annually.

That’s a little more than 1 percent of its annual operating budget. Still, for one of the most underfunded school systems in the Denver area, it was necessary, says Kathey Ruybal, president of the Brighton Education Association (BEA) – particularly after voters rejected a a $12 million bond that would have helped fund better teacher pay and resources for classrooms.

Ruybal was fed up with seeing good teachers come and go, some moving 30 miles west to better paying positions in Boulder. “We were desperate. We had to do something.” (A 2017 BEA survey found that 60 percent of its members reported working a second job, with half doing so during the school year.)

Despite just modest savings from the shorter week, Ruybal believes the switch will prove worthwhile because it will attract more teachers to the district.

“The four-day week is freeing up more time for our teachers to help them professionally, and that’s going to help our students.”

Hitting the Brakes?

Since NEA Today first took a look at this issue back in early 2016, the number of districts moving to a four-day week has grown dramatically, from approximately 120 in 21 states to 560 in 25 states.

Typically, districts modify the week into four, longer days. In District 27J, the school day for middle and high schoolers now begins at 8:30 and ends at 4:32. Whereas most districts opt for Friday, the no-school day in 27J falls on a Monday.

Once a district has taken this step, it is unlikely to return – voluntarily at least – to a five-day week. That’s not to say, however, that the supposed benefits of a four-day schedule aren’t being re-evaluated.

For some lawmakers in Oklahoma, the proliferation of districts opting for four-day school weeks has harmed the state’s workforce. Ninety-two of Oklahoma’s more than 500 school districts operate on shortened weeks. The legislature is currently considering a bill that would reinstate the requirement that school years be measured by days not hours.

The push has met with resistance from many district leaders, who have reported positive results in savings, teacher recruitment, and reduced student absenteeism. One superintendent said forcing schools to return to a five-day week was a curious preoccupation in a state that “has been starved of money, and teachers’ salaries have lagged behind every state in the union over the past decade.”

In 2018, New Mexico lawmakers placed a moratorium on any further four-day scheduling until the long-term impact is a little clearer.

“We have to get a handle of it to see if it’s something that we should allow all school districts to do, or if it is something that we need to put the brakes on,” Senator Howie Morales told PBS Newshour. “How are the students performing? Is it really helping as far as financially in savings for the school district? What’s going to happen in an economic development and a jobs perspective when parents may have to take Fridays off and care for their kids?”

While existing research has concluded that districts can expect only moderate savings from the switch, the impact on students is less clear. A 2015 study did show improved math scores among Colorado students on a four-day week, “suggesting there is little evidence that moving to a four-day week compromises student academic achievement,” the researchers wrote.

‘We’re Trying To Make it Work’

When the idea of a four-day week was first floated in 27J, the Brighton Education Association surveyed its members on the proposal. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The new schedule, says Kathey Ruybal, “treats teachers as the professionals they are.”

Teachers are in the building an hour longer than the students at the secondary level and 90 minutes longer at the elementary level. The days are longer, but they provide educators with more time for collaboration and planning. Professional development is now essentially built into the day.

Ninety miles south, educators in Pueblo are also welcoming the time the new schedule has freed up. The Pueblo Education Association (PEA) worked with the district on the details of the four-day week, a discussion that commenced only after a five-day strike in May 2018 by Pueblo educators for more funding was settled.

As four-day school weeks have proliferated, some experts are concerned that not enough is known about the impact on students and their families.

“We had been having discussions with the district about them wanting to move to the four-day week,” recalled PEA President Suzanne Etheridge. “But we didn’t commit to anything in writing until after the settlement from the strike.”

PEA worked on the details with district leaders to ensure the revised schedule would provide more time for professional development and support for Professional Learning Communities.

“One Friday a month is either a teacher workday or a professional development day,” explains Etheridge. “Quite a few teachers use Friday to get caught up on grading, planning, etc.”

Still, Etheridge adds, the strain on teachers with the longer workday hours was evident. By the end of the fall semester last year, “they were pretty tired.”

Most of Pueblo’s students qualify for free-and-reduced lunch. The impact of a four-day week on them and their families, says Etheredge, is an overriding concern for educators.

If four-day weeks begins to gain traction in more urban districts like Pueblo, experts fear low-income families could bear the brunt of a change that is otherwise quite popular with educators and others in the community. Shortened weeks present child care challenges and makes it more difficult for many students to get nutritious meals.

“The district hasn’t done anything to really keep students occupied on the fifth day by itself,” said Etheridge. “But some of the community partner organizations – local libraries, YMCA, the Boys and Girls club – have worked with the district and also stepped up to run programs of their own on Fridays.” (District 27J offers daycare, including lunch, at most of its elementary schools on Mondays.)

Educators who are supportive of four-day weeks are aware obviously that the underlying problem is a broken school funding system.

“The inequity in our schools is infuriating,” says Kathey Ruybal. “But we can’t stand by and watch good teachers leave our district. That’s hurting all our kids. This new schedule can help us but it has been a difficult adjustment. It’s a multi-year process and we’re trying to make it work.”

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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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