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.

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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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A Community School ‘Wraps Its Arms Around a Family’


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Long History of Community Schools

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

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

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

Assess Needs, Offer Services

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

Sylvia Chavez (photo: Mary Ellen Flannery)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Educators Focus on Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Educators Look to End the Big Corporate Tax Giveaway


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Lot of Dollars, No Sense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That $96.7 million would surely help.

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

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

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

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

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

corporate tax breaks schools

Knowledge is Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bargaining for the Common Good

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

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

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

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



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Put More Play In the Kindergarten Day


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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5 Key Trends in the Teacher Workforce


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

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

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

Here are Ingersoll’s key  findings:

A Growing Profession

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

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

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

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

Gender Imbalance Wider

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

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

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

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

Grayer and Greener

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

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

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

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

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

Progress on Diversity But How Much?

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

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

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

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

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

Where Instability is Concentrated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Growing Recruitment Strategy for a Diverse Teacher Workforce

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



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During Lockdowns, Collaboration Among Staff Key to Student Safety


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

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

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

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

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

Andrea Beeman

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

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

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

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

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

Teamwork

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

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

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

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

Any School, Any Time

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

Dan Kivett

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

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

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

Student Stress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘School Hardening’ Not Making Students Safer, Say Experts

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



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#RedforEd Protests Driving ‘Substantial’ Increases in Education Funding


Photo: Joe Brusky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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DeVos Won’t Give Up on Vouchers


(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is an Education Freedom Scholarship?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cost to Public Schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The Bill is Likely Going Nowhere But…

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Here’s What Happens When Schools Start Later


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Challenge But It’s Worth It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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‘School Hardening’ Not Making Students Safer, Say Experts


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The School Security Industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

arming teachers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘We Don’t Need to Reinvent the Wheel’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Educators and Parents Reset the Class Size ‘Debate’


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘A House Party, Not a Classroom’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking Through

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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Experience Matters: The Case for Seniority


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does seniority protect curriculum?

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

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

What other ways does it benefit our education system?

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

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

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

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



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Educators Strike a Blow Against For-Profit Charter Schools


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

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

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

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

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

primavera online charter school

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ‘Bubble’ Starts to Burst

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘More Work Needs to Be Done’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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





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Virginia Educators Vow to Hold Lawmakers Accountable for Funding


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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