5 Things We Learned From Election 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How Public Education Shaped Election 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Election 2018: Voters Deliver Big Wins for Public Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our Crumbling Public School Infrastructure

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

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

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

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

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

school infrastrucutre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Profits Over Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political Pressure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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School Funding Goes Directly Before the Voters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

florida amendment 5

‘Schools Cemented Into a Permanent Recession’

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

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

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

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

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

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

north carolina income tax cap amendment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing the Growing Economy With Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Media and Anxiety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discussing Social Media in the Classroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Study Upends Conventional Wisdom About Private School Superiority

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

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

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

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

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

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

The results show that socioeconomic advantages, not the school itself, is more predictive of student success.

Despite the arguments in favor of the use of vouchers or other mechanisms to support enrollment in private schools, this study finds no evidence that private schools, exclusive of family background or income, are more effective for promoting student success.” – Robert Pianta, Dean of the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

Pianta is quick to point out that this study is not an evaluation of voucher programs. The findings are obviously relevant to the debate since private schools are viewed as the superior choice by voucher proponents. The UVA study does point out, however, that research into existing voucher programs provides little tangible evidence that private school education is producing better academic outcomes.

“Independent investigations of programs in Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, and New York City indicate that enrollment in private schools had mixed effects on achievement for low-income students compared with program-eligible peers not attending private schools,” Pianta and Ansari write.

The UVA study is not the first that casts doubt on the supposed advantages of private school education. Pianta and Ansari cite the work of  Christopher Lubienski, a researcher at the University of Indiana, and his wife, Sarah Theule Lubienski, a researcher at the University of Illinois, who in 2013 co-authored The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools. In the book, the Lubienskis draw on two national data sets and conclude that, once you account for socioeconomic factors, public schools actually outperformed private schools in math instruction.

Lubienski told NEA Today in 2013 that parents need to question these faulty assumptions about private schools if they are looking at that particular option for their children.

“Instead of just looking at whether a school is private or public, [parents] may want to look at the type of preparation and pedagogy the teachers have had or the type of curriculum a school offers. Are the teachers certified or not? These things should matter quite a bit,” Lubienski said.

Parents may not ask these important questions because most people misunderstand the heterogeneity of private schools, says Pianta.

“We have a stereotypic view of private schools – the kinds of prep schools we see in movies – terrific teachers, striving kids, a real focus on achievement and excellence,” Pianta explains. “But there is a very wide range of private schools – some are very small one-room schoolhouses that run under religious auspices or a very specific model of schooling, while others are like school districts themselves – such as the Catholic schools run by the Archdiocese of New York.

“The issue here is that private schools are as variable as public schools, perhaps more so.”

The school privatization agenda subsists largely on false narratives (along with an enormous amount of corporate cash) that tend to dissolve under scrutiny. Private school superiority over public schools appears to be no exception, which is good news for students. The further away the national conversation turns away from the fixation on vouchers and other privatization schemes, the better.  Perhaps soon,  Pianta and Ansari write, lawmakers can focus on “better understanding the mechanisms in schools and families that support student success, and strengthen those resources accordingly.”


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Educators Speak Out on Buying Their Own School Supplies

Their own salaries continue to stagnate, and many are looking to a second job to help make ends meet. Still, practically all public school educators are reaching into their own pocket to pay for school supplies without reimbursement. According to a recent survey by the National Center for Education Statistics, 94 percent of teachers spend their own money to stock their classrooms with the necessary supplies and resources. On average, a teacher will shell out about $479, although 7 percent spent more than $1,000, according to the survey.

So what are they buying? It’s not just pencils and masking tape. Recently, the National Education Association asked educators to share their #OutOFMyPocket stories – how much they spend annually on classroom supplies, what they purchase, and why they believe it’s necessary to dig so deep into their own paychecks. Here are just a few of the stories from educators who, as they continue to stand up to lawmakers to demand better pay and school funding, are doing what they can in the meantime to help get students the support they need. 

Serra Laurenco, California
Every year I start “back to school shopping” as soon as school gets out. I have to buy pencils (hundreds), erasers, white board markers, packs of crayons, scissors, glue sticks, pencil boxes for all my kids, cases of copy paper, index cards, colored pencils, markers, and more!! I spend an average of $3,000 every year. I purchase books for my class and individual students who don’t have any at home, sometimes backpacks and jackets for kids who need them as well. Being a teacher isn’t easy; we spend so much time on our profession and money from our pockets.

Juli Taylor, Missouri
I’m a special education teacher, and many of my students have physical disabilities, so they need specific adaptive equipment in order to meaningfully access their education. These include sensory bins, vibrating teethers, fidget toys, and many other things. Each year, we are given a budget of $150 to place a requisition order. This year, I spent $109 out of $150 on a special order, and was told two weeks into the school year that the items I wanted were sold out. I have not heard back yet whether or not I can place a new requisition order for the year.

In addition to special adaptive items, I buy snacks for my students out of pocket. We also cook each Friday to practice important functional measuring skills. I think this activity is soimportant, and I am given a budget of $100 to spend on the groceries required to cook the food. We spend that $100 within the first eight weeks of school.

I do not have access to a colored printer in my building, although many of my students’ level of literacy representation is colored line drawings. I can use the copy center if I can wait two weeks for the materials, but I frequently need visual supports the next day to help students who struggle with emotional regulation to be successful in their school day. So I bought my own printer, I buy my own colored ink, and I bought my own laminator. I spend hours at home printing and laminating my own materials, and hundreds of dollars on colored ink and laminating film.


Regino Ramos, Texas
As a band director at a Title I district, I have many students that come from very disadvantaged families. In some cases, both parents work, and the father has an extra job. They make minimum wage, and with all that have a hard time making ends meet. In order for the student to march in the band, they must purchase marching shoes ($50), supplies for their instrument, ($25), band shirts and a band hat, ($35). Regularly I put in $1500 to cover the expense of these students. Then there are times when I need to purchase supplies, reeds, etc.

Our district is very supportive of the program, but these expenses are not covered by Title 1 funds and we are not always able to fundraise.

I love my kids, I love my community, but I wish that our state would give us higher wages, or a greater tax deduction, or maybe even a tax credit!

Jamie McAlpine, Maine
Out district does reimburse teachers up to $250 they may spend each school year, but as a paraeducator, I do not receive that benefit. I teach social skills and while I was extremely grateful that teachers in my building donated games and materials to me for use with my kiddos, I still spent around $200 on books, games, and teaching materials (amen for Teachers Pay Teachers!) to use with my kids. This year the district helped fund more of the curriculum I will be using, but that was a big hit last year working on a para salary. I’m thankful for supportive colleagues and online resources to help me get through!

Mandy De Groote used her own money to create a flexible, more engaging learning evironment for her students.

Mandy De Groote, California
This year, we received 12 pencils, 3 boxes of crayons, 2 Post-it notes,  and a handful of composition books. Everything else in my classroom was funded by me. As teaching becomes more challenging, from a student and an administrative expectation standpoint, it is important to create a learning environment that inspires the students and yourself. This year I financed all the flexible seating, all the school supplies, additional chromebooks, and curriculum to meet state standards (we have none for NGSS) as well as curriculum that is innovative and engages students.

Alicia Fisher, Maryland
Even at the Dollar Store and Target, things add up. I have spent approximately $200 this summer for the 2018-19 year and my aunt spent approximately $50. Each year she makes a donation to my class. We bought crayons, pencils, bulletin board paper and border, a broom, wipes, snacks, folders, Sticky Tack and bins to name a few. Still need a couple pillows and a rug. That’ll come later.

Elizabeth Brown, Utah
I’m an art teacher at four schools with almost 3,000 students. My budget is around $350. My budget covers a piece of construction paper per student. Without searching out grants, leg work for Donors Choose, and my own pocket, all we would do is draw with pencils and old broken crayons.

Larry Grimaldi, Illinois
I spent quite a bit last year knowing I might get a small portion of that back on my tax return. Not anymore. Teaching science is tough without supplies, and even in an affluent community such as the one I teach in, our science budget is lacking due to the other initiatives the district prioritizes. If I’m going to bring an engaging unit to life, I need supplies and consumables to do just that.

Alicia Fisher (left) and her aunt after a visit to the dollar store to buy classroom supplies.

I hope I can find some residual income to do similar things in my classroom this year that I was able to do last year.

Debra Deskin, Oklahoma
As a Gifted and Talented teacher for two school sites, I get little to no extra funding, even though students who are identified as Gifted get money brought into the district. STEM-related activities are wonderful, but these activities can become expensive for the teacher. I have literally had to choose whether to purchase items for my classroom and students or pay bills. Honestly, the bills get put on the backburner more often than not. I am embarrassed to not live in a home that I would like teacher friends to visit. I just can’t afford this job, yet I have stuck with it for 15 years.

Ryan Knight, Indiana
Every year I budget $1,000 for my classroom expenses. I have to buy basic supplies for my room: tissues, paper towels, markers, cleaners, pencils, erasers, pencils, folders, binders, glue, hole punchers, whiteout, staples, tape, Post-it’s, flash cards, “clickers,” and more. Some people don’t realize that middle and high school teachers rarely have classroom supply lists like elementary teachers do…the cost falls back on us.

I also bought my own audio system because my music classroom does not have a sound system. I spend money on educational posters and visual tools to help students remember details and stay engaged. I teach in three different classrooms, so I purchase materials for all three spaces. Our school has given us some help with supplies, but teachers can only request supplies up to $75 for the whole year.

Our school has been given 1:1 devices, but I had to buy my own case and accessories. I also bought a lot of the software used to run my department: website hosting, Adobe subscription, cloud storage, study tools, and other online resources that the school won’t pay for. I’ve even bought styluses for my class because kids don’t have them and the school can’t afford to get one for every child.

Let’s also remember that teachers are paying for more than classroom supplies. We take some field trips, so I often pay partial costs for students who cannot afford to go otherwise. I have also purchased clothes, shoes, and school tech accessories for students in need. I don’t charge for voice lessons even though I should, but my kids can’t afford to pay. I do these things out of love for my kids and I don’t ask for a refund from anyone. But I think the community ought to know the real amount of money teachers are putting into their classroom, school, and kids’ overall education.

Share Your #OutOfMyPocket Story

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Are Schools Ready to Tackle the Mental Health Crisis?

For Melodie Henderson, it was one of those “Tag, you’re it!” moments.

“When you’re an educator, often it’s just you and a student at a particular, challenging time in the classroom and you have to step into their world,” says Henderson, a special education teacher at Manchester High School in Chesterfield County, Va.

That’s what happened a few years ago, in the middle of Henderson’s grammar instruction. A student got out of his seat without warning, walked toward the window, and began to sob uncontrollably. Henderson approached the student, who quietly told her that the previous night he had made a deal with the devil, but wished he hadn’t.

“I made a mistake. Give me my soul back!” he shouted. “I don’t need to go!”

Henderson promised him that the school and the school’s staff would keep him safe. Seemingly reassured, he quietly returned to his seat.

This wasn’t the first time Henderson had handled a situation with a student whose behavior demonstratrated a mental health concern. But this particular incident made her realize that the patchwork of resources available to educators in her school and district that were designed to help students who may be grappling with mental illness was—although marginally useful—inadequate.

Henderson dove into her own research into best practices and interventions. Eventually, she developed a workshop geared toward educators who were looking for basic information, tips, and strategies on ways to create a better learning atmosphere for students who have a mental illness. Henderson conducted the workshop at professional development conferences sponsored by the Virginia Education Association.

The workshop only “scratches the surface,” Henderson says, but the educators at her presentations were always grateful for the information.

Ideally, all school districts in Virginia and across the country should be designing and implementing effective, school-based, holistic programs so that individual educators like Henderson don’t have to shoulder the burden of training their colleagues.

Even though educators can be extremely effective in identifying red flags in student interactions and behaviors, says Theresa Nguyen, vice president of policy and programs at Mental Health America, “our teachers are already pushed to the max.”

“It’s best that they be seen as partners—with parents, the administration, the community—in helping students with mental health challenges,” Nguyen says.

Although Nguyen and others see local and state officials beginning to look more closely at more substantive, evidence-based programs, the U.S. public education system simply isn’t addressing student mental health in a comprehensive way. The magnitude of the problem cannot be overstated. At least 10 million students, ages 13–18, need some sort of professional help with a mental health condition. Depression, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and bipolar disorder are the most common mental health diagnoses among children and adolescents. And the overwhelming majority of those do not have access to any treatment.

The Child Mind Institute reports that half of all mental illness occurs before the age of 14, and 75 percent by the age of 24—highlighting the urgent need to create systemic approaches to the problem.

“One in five students in this country need treatment,” says Dr. David Anderson, senior director of the Institute’s ADHD and Behavior Disorders Center.  “We are seeing a real movement to properly and systematically tackle this crisis, because what these students don’t need is a ‘quick fix.’”

Mental Health in Schools: Stigmas and Culture Shifts

Melodie Henderson

The growing crisis around students’ mental health, and the scarcity of available care, has long been a concern of many educators and health professionals. Interest among lawmakers, however, is a relatively new trend, sparked primarily by the spate of mass shootings. There is also a growing awareness of the stress and anxiety gripping so many teenagers, the role of trauma in their lives, overdue scrutiny over punitive school discipline policies, and the devastating effects of poverty.

It’s the proverbial perfect storm, says Kathy Reamy, a school counselor in La Plata, Md., and chair of NEA’s School Counselor Caucus.

“The public’s natural response is to say we need more mental health services and programs, and we do,” Reamy adds.

But much of the national conversation has been inherently reactive, focusing on “crisis response”—to school shootings in particular—rather than a systematic approach to helping students with their mental health needs.

Crisis management is obviously important, says Anderson, but communities must also understand the devastating impact untreated mental illness has on learning.

“The research is very clear that when a school has a system-based, evidence-based, whole school approach, all students are more engaged academically,” says Anderson.

Such programs differ but they generally provide substantive professional development for staff, workshops, resources, and have social and emotional learning competencies integrated into the curriculum.

According to a 2014 study by the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools, students who receive positive behavioral health interventions see improvements on a range of behaviors related to academic achievement, beyond letter grades or test scores.

“Improvements include increased on-task learning behavior, better time management, strengthened goal setting and problem-solving skills, and decreased rates of absenteeism and suspensions,” the report states.

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.

While districts may look at hiring more school counselors to fill gaps, Kathy Reamy cautions that their role is often misunderstood. Counselors unquestionably have unique training to help students deal with the social and emotional issues that interfere with their academic success. But real improvement to school mental health programs doesn’t and shouldn’t end with hiring more counselors.

“The services they provide are typically responsive and brief therapy in nature,” explains Reamy. “The misunderstanding of the role of the counselor often either prevents students from coming to us at all or they come expecting long-term therapy, which we simply don’t have the time to provide.”

The stigma around mental health is another obstacle to getting more services in schools. Even if services exist, stigma can prevent students from seeking help.

We’re seeing progress that hopefully will continue. We can’t wait until a student is at a crisis state. Like diabetes or cancer, you should never wait until stage 4 to intervene.” – Theresa Nguyen, Mental Health America

Still, more students are asking for help from their school. “We’re finding that young people are more eager to talk about these issues, says Nguyen. “They hunger for this type of support and conversation and are looking to their school to provide it.”

The fact that schools have become essentially the de facto mental health system for students may be jarring to many educators, district leaders, and parents. As important as the task is, many see it as someone else’s job. The change in perspective is a formidable culture shift for many communities.

“What makes it a little tougher is the need to change how we see students—specifically, thinking less about a students’ belligerent behavior, for example, and more about the reasons for that behavior,” says Joe O’Callaghan, the head of Stamford Public Schools social work department in Connecticut.

But getting there requires training, ongoing professional development, and resources.

“You have to make sure the whole school knows how to support these kids,” O’Callaghan says. “Sometimes what happens is a student will feel a lot of support and encouragement from a social worker. But then they’ll go back into the school and may not receive the same understanding from the teacher, the principal, the security guard, whomever. So in a whole-school program, everybody needs to be relating to and engaging with each other over students who are experiencing difficult things in their lives.”

“Tell Us What You Need”

O’Callaghan helped lead a district-wide effort to overhaul Stamford Public School’s mental health program after three students from three different high schools took their own lives in 2014. The shaken community was galvanized to think about how to improve and support the school mental health programs.

“Just tell us what you need,” a member of the school board asked O’Callaghan after the deaths.

The district always took student mental health seriously, evidenced by a strong team of counselors and school psychologists, plus solid relationships with community agencies.

“We were doing a lot of things right and our team was valued in the community,” O’Callaghan recalls. “But we had to take a step back and think systemically and comprehensively about the work we were doing.”

No small undertaking for a 21-school, 16,000-student school district, with high levels of poverty and a large immigrant population.

Joe O'Callaghan

Joe O’Callaghan

The district hired the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut (CHDI) to audit mental health programs. The resulting 2015 report found strength in some areas, but indicated overall efforts had focused on crisis management as opposed to early identification, prevention, and routine care.

This new “continuum of care” is now the central tenant of Stamford’s revitalized program, along with intensive training of all staff in mental health issues and data collection, an area that had been sorely deficient.

The district worked with CHDI to deploy Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS), a school-based program for students grades 5–12, who have experienced traumatic events and are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The district also implemented a counterpart for grades K–5 called Bounce Back.

By 2017, Stamford Public Schools had expanded the number of evidence-based services for students from zero to four, implemented district-wide trauma and behavioral health training and supports for staff, and integrated community and state resources and services for students.

The goal, explains O’Callaghan, is to create a self-sustaining, in-house program.

“Other districts are outsourcing CBITS to local community agencies who are sending their own social workers into the school. There’s nothing wrong with that model, but we’re training our own staff to create our own institutional expertise.”

Doing so provides a layer of protection against budget cuts or grants approaching expiration.

Even in the face of potential budget tightening, “we’re fortunate to be part of a community that has a long history of supporting what we do,” he adds.

In Chesterfield, Henderson is encouraged by the strides her district has taken, namely the introduction of an SEL curriculum in the lower grades, soon hopefully in the high schools.

“We can always do more, but I think we’re seeing a more proactive, less reactive, approach.”

That shift is a critical first step forward, says Theresa Nguyen, and is indicative of many schools and communities beginning to think about mental health early.

“We’re seeing progress that hopefully will continue. We can’t wait until a student is at a crisis state. Like diabetes or cancer, you should never wait until stage 4 to intervene.”

student anxietyThe 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.

trauma and childrenHow 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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Teacher Pay Gap Reaches a Record High

The overdue national attention on the erosion of teacher salaries across the nation couldn’t come at a more urgent time. According to a new paper by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the teacher pay penalty – the percent by which public school educators are paid less than comparable workers – has reached an all-time high.

When adjusting only for inflation, the researchers found that teachers, compared to other college graduates, are paid nearly $350 less per week in salary in 2017, or 23 percent less.

When they adjusted for education, experience, and demographic factors, the gap had barely shrunk – 18.7 percent, up from 17 percent in 2015.

While benefits such as health insurance and retirement improved for teachers relative to other professionals during that period,  the total compensation (wage and benefit) penalty for public school teachers grew from 10.5 percent to 11.1 percent in 2017.

“This growing compensation penalty is a key part of the story of changing teacher pay but shouldn’t obscure the importance of the wage penalty alone—only wages can be saved or spent on housing and food and other critical expenses,” the authors write.

The teacher pay penalty has grown significantly among women. In 1960, female teachers earned 14.7 percent more than comparable female workers, an advantage that lasted throughout most of the 1970s but was completely erased by the 1990s. In 2017, the wage gap for female teachers was 15.6 percent.

The male teacher wage gap is actually much wider, standing at 27 percent in 2017.

Not surprisingly, the largest pay gaps can be found in the same states that saw large-scale protests this year over salary and education funding: Arizona (36.4 percent),  North Carolina (35.5 percent), Oklahoma (35.4 percent) and Colorado (35.1 percent). Overall, weekly teacher pay lags by more than 25 percent in 16 states.

There is no state where teacher pay is equal to or better than that of other college graduates.

“Wages for teachers have been falling relative to comparable workers all over the country for many years,” says Lawrence Mishel, EPI Distinguished Fellow and co-author of the paper with University of California at Berkeley Economist Sylvia Allegretto.

“Deteriorating teacher pay is not just a fairness issue. Eliminating the teacher pay penalty is crucial to building the teacher workforce we need. In order to recruit and retain talented teachers, school districts need to address the inadequacy of teacher pay,” said Mishel. “As we’ve seen across the country in states like Washington, Arizona, and Oklahoma, teachers are tired of working demanding jobs with low pay.”

In large part because of meager pay – along with increased pressure from testing, ballooning class sizes, and deteriorating working conditions – many school districts have been unable to fill teaching positions in 2017-18.

Judging by a recent poll by Phi Delta Kappan that found two-thirds of Americans believe teacher salaries are too low (and would support educators in the own communities if they went on strike for higher pay), the public appears wiser to the reckless decisions made by lawmakers that are hurting our schools.

As the EPI paper makes clear, blaming the Great Recession for the widening teacher wage gap no longer holds any water in light of fiscal policies in states – including Arizona, Oklahoma and North Carolina – where the teacher pay penalty is largest.

According to a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, seven of the 12 states that have cut education funding by at least 7 percent over the past decade also enacted deep tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals and corporations, costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

It’s a “man-made crisis” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, and it’s the students who pay the price for low teacher salaries.

“Public school teachers deserve professional pay for professional work,” Eskelsen Garcíasaid  “Low teacher pay comes at a very high cost. To recruit and retain talented teachers for the long-haul we have to pay them what they’re worth.”

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Back to School Without a Qualified Teacher

Last week, as school got underway in Oklahoma, the state Board of Education approved its 2,153rd emergency teaching certificate for the school year, enabling a record number of non-certified teachers to teach in its public schools.

Seven years ago, only 32 were issued.

“We appreciate Oklahomans willing to step in and fill the gap, but it begs the question: why do we have this gap at all?” asks Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest. “Our growing number of emergency certifications is a symptom of a greater sickness—a sickness caused by chronic underfunding, a decade without raises and a culture of disrespect toward education.”

Across the nation, but particularly in states like Oklahoma and Arizona where educators have long been frustrated or deterred by a lack of classroom resources and extremely low pay, the teacher shortage has grown acute this year. Hundreds of thousands of students across the U.S. are being taught this year by unqualified or under-qualified instructors, estimates the national non-profit, nonpartisan Learning Policy Institute (LPI). The consequences for students, who strongly benefit from high-quality students, is likely to be enormous.

“It’s a serious problem that districts in almost every state in the nation are struggling with,” says Linda Darling-Hammond, professor emerita of education at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education and LPI chief operating officer.

Recently, LPI published a report, “Taking the Long View: State Efforts to Solve Teacher Shortages by Strengthening the Profession,” which offers evidence-based policies that some states are investing in to strengthen their workforce and address teacher shortages. These include student loan forgiveness; high-retention pathways into teaching, like residency programs; and more effective mentoring for new teachers.

These strategies also have been championed—and in many cases, piloted and paid for—by NEA’s Great Public Schools (GPS) grant program. For example, a three-year, $600,000 GPS grant to Florida’s Brevard Federation of Teachers helped create a teacher-led, union-run orientation program and a meaningful mentoring program.

The LPI report also notes that short-term strategies, like hasty certification programs, likely worsen the problem. Under-prepared teachers leave at two to three times the rate of well-prepared teachers. LPI also notes that students of color, and students in low-income communities, are most likely to be assigned uncertified or inexperienced teachers

A National Epidemic of Untrained Teachers

“There’s a good chance the teacher in front of your child’s classroom this year, isn’t fully trained to teach,” the Arizona Republic announced last month, after its reporters analyzed state Department of Education teacher certification data.

In the past three years, the Republic found, the number of certifications granted to teachers who aren’t fully trained to teach has increased by more than 400 percent in Arizona. Meanwhile, the state has cut funding to Arizona schools by more than $4.5 billion since 2009.

Studies of the relationship between teacher preparation and teacher turnover suggest teachers with little to no pedagogical preparation are 2 to 3 times more likely to leave the profession than those with the most comprehensive preparation.” – Learning Policy Institute, “Taking the Long View: State Efforts to Solve Teacher Shortages by Strengthening the Profession” 

This past spring, angry Arizona educators held the largest walkout of educators in history, demanding state legislators find the funds to pay for books, air-conditioning, classroom repairs, and pay raises. They won the pay raises, but continue to press hard for increased state funding.

In Florida, as school opened last month, a Florida Education Association (FEA) review of teacher job vacancies found 4,063 job vacancies. Two years ago at this time, the number was about 2,400. “That’s the acceleration in the teacher shortage you need to be looking at,” FEA legislative specialist told the state Board of Education.

In Colorado, the Denver Post reported that as many as 3,000 new teachers are needed to fill existing slots, especially in rural communities, while the number of graduates from teacher-prep programs in the state has declined by 24.4 percent over the past five years. In April, its teachers held a one-day #RedForEd walkout, protesting decades of legislative neglect. Half of Colorado school districts can’t afford five days of school a week and have switched to four.

As part of its dive into teacher shortages, LPI also has published interactive state maps, which include ratings for teacher pay and working conditions, as well as teacher qualifications and teacher turnover, in every state. It is clear that these variables are inter-related. For example, Arizona earns the lowest possible ratings for teacher turnover, qualifications and pay. By contrast, Pennsylvania, which earns the highest possible score for teacher turnover, also has the best rating for teacher qualifications and pay.

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Public Support for Teacher Strikes, Higher Pay Runs Wide and Deep

Arizona educators crowd the lobby of the state Senate to demand better school funding (AP Photo/Matt York)

Educators across the nation have mobilized and organized in 2018, scoring impressive victories for their students and their profession. Lawmakers stood and listened – eventually and begrudgingly – in part because they realized that fighting for students and educators is a cause championed also by parents and the general public. The tired, misleading rhetoric of “blame teachers first” has clearly run its course.

Just look at the results from the new 2018 Phi Delta Kappan Delta (PDK) Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public School.  Seventy-eight percent of public school parents (and 73 percent of the public) say they would support teachers in the own communities if they went on strike for higher pay. Two-thirds of Americans believe teacher salaries are too low. At a measly 6 percent, “teacher salaries are too high” barely registered.

Educators’ decision to take a stand for themselves clearly has inspired the nation, said National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García.

“The results of this year’s PDK/Gallup Poll are not surprising. The public understands and supports educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado and beyond. They are calling out those in power, demanding that they provide teachers with the resources we need to set students off toward a great future.”

Policymakers would be well-advised to pay attention to the broad support the public is giving the nation’s educators, added Joshua P. Starr, chief executive officer of PDK International.

“It’s striking that after a year of high-profile teacher walk-outs – from West Virginia and Kentucky to Oklahoma and Arizona – Americans strongly believe we aren’t paying teachers enough,” said Starr. PDK has surveyed the American public every year since 1969 to assess public opinion about public schools.

As in recent years, the PDK poll also found that inadequate school funding is the most often-cited problem facing public schools today.

Despite the remarkable level of support for teachers evident in the survey, low pay and benefits, along with other factors,  has taken its toll on the profession’s allure.  For the first time since the poll was conducted, PDK found that a majority of Americans (54 percent) say they would not want their child to become a public school teacher.

This year’s poll also measured parents’ attitudes toward school safety. Only 27 percent currently have confidence that their child’s school is equipped to deter that sort of attack, and one-third are fearful for their child’s safety, up dramatically over recent years.  In 2013, only 12 percent expressed these concerns.

Still, the proposal to arm teachers and staff has very low support. Sixty-seven percent of parents don’t want their child in a classroom led by a teacher who has a firearm. High levels of support were found for mental health screening of all students (76 percent), armed police in schools (80 percent) and metal detectors (74 percent). Although when asked to prioritize school spending on security, 71 percent of parents opted for mental health services over armed guards (28 percent).

These results mirror a recent NEA survey of 1000 of its members conducted in March. Seven in ten said arming school personnel would be ineffective at preventing gun violence in schools and eight in ten said they would not carry a gun in school.

Here are some additional highlights from the 2018 PDK survey:

  • Closing the Opportunity Gap. Sixty percent of Americans prefer spending more on students who need extra support rather than spending the same amount on every student. The respondents were split on how to pay for this support. Half favored generating funds through higher taxes, while the other half prefers spending less on students with fewer needs. Overall, the public sees significant gaps in educational opportunities. Seventy-five percent say students in low-income communities have fewer opportunities than those in affluent communities, and 55 percent believe schools in low-income areas have lower expectations for their students. 
  • Reform or Replace? Nearly eight in 10 Americans prefer improving the existing public school system rather than finding an “alternative” approach. That number is higher than in any year since the question was first asked two decades ago.
  • Paying for College. Seventy-five percent support free tuition for community college, while 68 percent support increasing federal funding to help students pay tuition at four-year colleges. College affordability is a serious challenge for many parents. Only about half say they’re at least “somewhat likely” to be able to pay for college. That number drops to just one-third and among those making less than $50,000 a year.
  • Changing Schedules. School schedules – particularly school start times – is one of the hottest education topics of recent years. Although the PDK poll found that the overwhelming majority of public school parents were generally satisfied with their child’s schedule, 66 percent of high school parents would prefer school to start at 8 a.m. or later.  Sixty-four percent say their child’s current school start time is between 7 and 7:45 a.m. 

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Fewer and Fewer States Escaping School Privatization’s Reach

According to a 2017 national poll, a strong majority of public school parents give the traditional public schools in their neighborhoods either an A or a B – higher grades than they have given in years. The same survey also found that the majority of the public believes that lack of funding is the biggest problem facing schools today.

While creating and supporting great public schools should be the focus of lawmakers across the country, the reality is quite different. The commitment in state legislatures to the “great equalizer” that is public education has eroded quite dramatically.

That is the sobering conclusion of a recent report released by the Network for Public Education and the Schott Foundation titled “Grading the States: A Report Card on the Nation’s Commitment to Public Schools.”

“Grading the States” examines the far reach of the school privatization movement and its impact on public schools and students. 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.

The proponents of these policies and the corporate interests that bankroll them insist their goal is to improve the quality of education – a dubious claim, the report states, “in the face of the reality that too often there is little to no public accountability, fiscal transparency, or maintenance of civil rights protections for students in privatized programs.”

Source: “Grading the States,” Network for Public Education and Schott Foundation

Private schools and charters are not designed to serve all students, but this hasn’t stopped these programs from establishing a strong foothold in communities across the country. Every state except three have charter schools and 28 states have in place some sort of school voucher program. The trend – which shows little sign of letting up – has sown exclusivity and division into the educational system and depleted public schools of valuable resources.

“Although parents always have a right to send their children to private schools at their own expense,” the report states, “they are not and never can be the model for educating all of this nation’s children, nor should they be supported by public dollars.”

The State Report Card

The researchers assigned all 50 states and the District of Columbia with a letter grade, deducting points based on the presence of charter schools and voucher or “neo-voucher” programs (merely voucher programs tweaked to circumvent legal restrictions against giving public money to private schools through tuition tax credits and education savings accounts.)

Twenty-two states received overall grades between a C and a B+. Six states and the District of Columbia received a grade of D or D+ and 17 received a grade of F.

school privatization

In “Grading the States,” higher grades were assigned to states who resisted public funding for charter schools and voucher programs. Only nine states received an over all grade of A or B. (Click to Enlarge)

States were awarded an A+ if they have successfully resisted public funding for privatized alternatives. The top ranked states are Nebraska (99.5 score), North Dakota, and West Virginia. Kentucky and South Dakota received an A.

As the report makes clear, it’s no coincidence that rural states received the highest marks. Many rural areas are strapped for cash and most residents have no appetite for draining already-scarce funds out of the education system. Still, not all rural states have followed this path, and Kentucky, it’s noted in the report, may see its A rating disappear if lawmakers find the money to fund its recent charter school law. So far, no such schools have opened in the state.

The state with the worse overall score was Arizona (31.5), followed closely by Florida (35.5).

California is ranked near the middle with an overall score of 66.7. California has the largest number of students enrolled in charter schools (568,800, representing over 9 percent of all public school students in the state) but the state has so far successfully turned back attempts to divert taxpayer money to pay for private school vouchers.

Evaluating Charter and Voucher Programs

Merely having charter schools and/or vouchers didn’t automatically generate failing grades. The researchers looked at a state’s specific school privatization program, deducting points for failing to protect students’ civil rights, charter school accountability and oversight shortcomings, a lack of transparency, and poor charter school performance. While charter schools in California fail to meet these benchmarks, Virginia lost fewer points because its nine charters must be authorized by the public school district – evidence of some level of oversight.

These are the major findings in each category:

Overall Civil Rights Protections. Charter schools and voucher programs allow for institutions to circumvent civil rights obligations that are mandated to public schools. Charter schools often have  “strict codes of discipline, a lack of free or reduced lunch programs and free transportation, and curriculum with a religious bent” that makes them increasingly exclusive. Of the over three-quarters (75%) of all states with privatization programs, 19 fail to include additional state and local civil rights protections for students.

Although parents always have a right to send their children to private schools at their own expense, they are not and never can be the model for educating all of this nation’s children, nor should they be supported by public dollars.”

Accountability and Oversight. At most charter and private schools, requirements for teacher certification, testing practices, financial disclosure, and facility maintenance are not upheld. Neo-voucher programs, such as ESAs and Tuition Tax-Credits create even more challenges because they have virtually zero accountability while further draining public funding. Arizona’s ESA program, the largest in the country, “expects no evidence or monitoring of student achievement,” according to the report.

Transparency. While public schools are run by elected school boards and have full transparency regarding disciplinary practices and student achievement, rarely any information about voucher programs and charter schools is shared with the public.

Charter Schools. Thirty states prioritize children of board members or employees in the enrollment process, with little to no conflict of interest requirements. Children with disabilities are not provided for and are often excluded in admissions in 39 of the 47 states with charter schools.

Loosening privatization’s grip requires a moratorium on new charter schools and voucher programs, according to the report. The authors recommend a phasing-out of existing programs so as to not displace children currently in the system. Charter schools should be “absorbed” completely into the public school system to ensure that they are governed by the taxpayers whom the district serves.

Educators and their unions have been leaders in pushing back against school privatization, particularly in preventing school vouchers from gaining a foothold in many states, including California, Idaho, and New Hampshire, and thwarting efforts to expand existing programs, most notably in Arizona. The dismal record of these privatization initiatives has fueled the nationwide mobilization of educators demanding lawmakers support public education.

“While it is easier to transfer public funds to private entities than to undertake the challenging work of fixing our public schools,” the report concludes, “it is fruitless and short-sighted to divert resources from the public schools that serve the vast majority of students. … Just as this nation was intentional about the establishment of the public education system, we must continue to be intentional about the urgent need to prioritize a quality public education for all students and not privatize the educational system for the benefit of just a few.”

Join the fight against school vouchers at vouchers.nea.org

Sara Luster contributed to this story

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Educators Demand Safe School Water as Nationwide Lead Crisis

The Amherst Education Association’s two-year push to ensure safe drinking water across their New Hampshire district started when President Larry Ballard asked, “When was last time anyone checked our water for lead?”

School administrators and facilities mangers were at the table, but no one could remember.

It was 2016 and questions about the safety of water in our public schools were on educators’ minds as a water crisis was unfolding in Flint, Michigan. There, pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha documented a spike in children’s lead levels following a switch in the municipal water supply that officials soon discovered was unsafe but covered up.

According to a new study by the Government Accountability Office that was also prompted by the Flint crisis, only 43 percent of school districts test for lead in drinking water. About a third of districts that do test reported elevated lead levels.

That means tens of millions of students and educators could be exposed to lead—a proven neurotoxin that is especially devastating to children’s developing brains—through water they consume at school. Educator unions are leading the charge in many communities to demand water testing and access to the results and advocating for policies to ensure future monitoring.

“Nobody could recall if Amherst schools had conducted water tests after the schools were switched from well water to a municipal water supply,” says Ballard, a music teacher now in his 23rd year of teaching.

New Hampshire, like most states, did not have a law requiring lead testing in schools. That meant that while the water itself was tested by the public utility, no one was checking its safety as it flowed through the district’s aging buildings.

Flint water crisis McClendon

During the Flint water crisis in early 2016, elementary school teacher Darlene McClendon delivered bottled water to her students. (Photo by Jose Juarez)

An initial round of testing ordered by the superintendent revealed a few serious problems—but information was not shared. An elementary school water fountain was shut down, but no one was told that the water it dispensed tested 100 times the EPA lead limit.

The union would press for months to gain access to the results, and expand the testing to other schools.

“It just took a lot of work for use to get the district to do all of the testing that was clearly needed, and we felt they could have been more transparent about the results at the outset,” Ballard says.

“They Came to Us Instead”

In Portland, Oregon, lack of transparency was an even greater problem.
“Our school district knew that there was lead in our water, and they didn’t act upon that information in even the most basic ways, beginning with letting people know,” says Suzanne Cohen, a middle school teacher and president of the Portland Association of Teachers.

Once the truth came out in early 2016, the union stepped up to get answers for outraged educators and panicked parents. Could they send their kids to school once the water was shut off? Should they have their blood tested for lead? Why hadn’t they been informed when lead was found in 47 sites back in 2010?

“This was pretty much the lowest moment in Portland Public Schools history in terms of trust,” says Cohen. “Families and educators could not go to the district for reliable information, so they came to us instead.”

“Nobody could recall if Amherst schools had conducted water tests after the schools were switched from well water to a municipal water supply,” says music teacher Larry Ballard.

Next, the local advocated to make sure that the district would reimburse educators who wanted their blood tested. Several students would discover they had elevated lead levels.

Water fountains and cafeteria water supplies would remain shut off across Portland Public’s 90 school buildings for more than two years, during which time students and educators made do with prepackaged foods and bottled water.

The Oregon Education Association pressed for policy changes that the state would adopt, including regular water testing. OEA also teamed up with Oregon PTA and Children First for Oregon to call on the state to address the $7.6 billion in deferred maintenance desperately needed across the state’s public schools.

“Oregon has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the nation, and some of the lowest per pupil spending,” explains Cohen. “What we are dealing with is schools that are terribly underfunded, and ours is a district that gave up on facilities maintenance to keep educators in the classroom.”

The local’s Social Justice and Community Outreach committee worked quickly to revise a bond issue to include school health and safety, which Portland voters passed in May 2017. The district has announced that it will re-open this year with all fountains and faucets turned on.

What Underfunding Means for Student Health

The New Jersey Education Association has made progress in ensuring water safety as part of Healthy Schools Now, a coalition that lobbied the state Department of Education to issue regulations requiring lead testing in 2017. The coalition is still working to get a law passed to make that requirement permanent.

Mike Rollins who heads up NJEA’s Worksite Safety and Health Committee helps locals establish their own health and safety committees to serve as “watchdogs” not only to ensure regular water monitoring, but other facilities issues as well.

“We train them to oversee what materials are being used during construction, for example, and what chemicals are used around the campus,” Rollins says. “The idea is for the local to collaborate with administrators. It’s not a ‘gotcha’ situation, it’s a chance to improve the environment for the educators and for the kids.”

Larry Ballard says the superintendent was very responsive to the Amherst Education Association’s requests for future monitoring, establishing an air and water quality testing schedule in all school buildings. During contract negotiations the local association was able to write a requirement into their collective bargaining agreement that the union will receive copies of all testing results within 10 days of receipt.

This spring, Amherst School District voters approved a ballot article for a $310,000 project to replace pipes in a middle school building constructed with solder containing an average of 54 percent lead.

New Hampshire has also passed a law that will soon require universal water testing in all schools, joining eight other states with similar laws.

“Our buildings are older and we’re going to see a lot of school districts discover that they have some pretty big issues,” Ballard predicts.

Although there is no federal law that requires states test school drinking water for lead, the GAO report strongly recommends that federal agencies including the EPA and Department of Education should update their guidance on lead testing and remediation, and make those resources more readily available to districts.

Federal investment in school infrastructure would go a long way in ensuring that states can efficiently investigate and address health and safety issues that include lead.

“As a community and an entire nation we need to understand what underfunding schools can mean,” says Suzanne Cohen.

“It’s not just things you can see and quickly understand, like how big is my class, what curriculum do I have, how long is my school year. It includes every aspect of students’ learning conditions from the air they breathe to the water they’re drinking.”

environmental racismSchools in Farming Communities Surrounded by Dangerous Pesticides
In one of the most productive agricultural regions in the United States, thousands of students – the vast majority of them Hispanic – may be poisoning themselves just by breathing the air. Corporate profit has been judged more important than children’s health, say educators, who have become the loudest voices in demanding change.

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School Nurses Vital to Student Health, In and Out of School

School nurses are an essential component to the health and wellbeing of students, particularly those with acute and chronic health conditions.

“For many of these students, without nursing services, attendance would decrease or students would be unable to attend school,” says Louise Wilson, health services supervisor and a school nurse in the Beaver Dam Unified School District in Wisconsin.

Wilson recalls sitting at her desk recently when she received a call from a concerned mother questioning whether her four-year-old son, diagnosed with diabetes, would be cared for during the school day. The child had Type I Diabetes, a chronic health condition that requires constant monitoring and a level of medical knowledge most educators and school administrators do not possess.

“I knew this mother was overwhelmed,” says Wilson, a nurse for 37 years, the last 25 working at schools. “She herself was trying to learn how to manage and safeguard her child.”

In recent years, school nurses have transcended treating the traditional bumps, bruises, and scrapes, to become a central force in helping parents gain access to healthcare for their children.

For example, in some states, school nurses work in conjunction with private healthcare providers and parents to help manage students with chronic diabetes, asthma and other conditions. At many schools, nurses screen students for hearing and vision problems that could create a barrier to learning.

Community Connections

The job of a school nurse has become what the National Association of School Nurses (NASN) calls, “the hidden healthcare system,” offering lifesaving care to students across the nation.

“I have connected families to resources to obtain eye exams and glasses,” says Wilson. “Sometimes, I collaborate with local organizations to complete these activities.”

Nina Fekaris, NASN president and a school nurse in the Beaverton School District in Oregon, says school nurses play an increasingly important role in the lives of children with chronic health conditions because they are the first healthcare provider students visit without a parent present.

Nina Fekaris

“School nurses play three main roles,” says Fekaris, “providing direct care for students, educating staff and students on personal healthcare, and finding healthcare for students beyond the school.”

With the many services that nurses provide to students and staff, budget constraints have caused some districts to cut back on hiring nurses. According to Wilson, one Wisconsin district has a nurse available only four hours a month. This forces the nurse to delegate care for children with food allergies, feeding tubes, and diabetes to unlicensed staff.

“School districts should not have to make the decision [between] paying for curriculum or school nursing services,” Wilson argues. “I have prevented medication errors by training unlicensed staff to properly administer oral and other medications, establishing and insisting on compliance with procedures and protocols, and clarifying medical orders.”

New Legislation

In recognition of a school nursing shortage, Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada introduced companion legislation with Montana Sen. Jon Tester to help schools hire more full-time nurses. The Nurses for Under-Resourced Schools Everywhere (NURSE) Act, will allow public elementary and secondary schools to apply for grants to reduce the cost of hiring a nurse.

The legislation was introduced to the Senate in 2016, then reintroduced last March. However, the bill has been stalled in the first stages of the legislative process, according a representative with the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The act requires that funding for a school nurse is provided for Title I schools, where 20 percent or more kids are on the school lunch program.

“School nurses are on the front lines, promoting wellness, managing chronic diseases, administering medication, and addressing issues that affect students in and out of the classroom,” said Titus, in a press release.

School nurses coordinate care with the parents, school cafeteria staff, and teachers.

“They facilitate meal planning for the diabetic students, for example,” says Wilson. “The nurse also teaches staff how to count carbohydrates so the correct amount of insulin for some students is administered at meal times.

Scarce Commodity

As the new school year begins, public elementary and secondary school students nationwide are facing the consequences of underfunded school-nursing programs.

“There are days when I would like to clone myself so that I can be in two places at once,” says Lynnette Ondeck, a school nurse for the Nooksack Valley School District, Everson, Wash.

Ondeck covers five schools, sometimes travelling upwards of 10 miles between buildings. In her district, nurses have to triage injury and illness over the telephone. Without a school nurse present to coordinate policy, students with complicated health needs will face challenges throughout their academic career.

“I have to rely on non-nursing personnel to administer medications, provide first aid, and chronic disease management,” says Ondeck. “Every student should have access to quality health care at school.”

School Nurses Affiliated with NEA

As school budgets tighten more than ever for the 2018-2019 school year, many districts will face the diffult decision to hire either more teachers or a sufficient number of mental health professionals, such as school nurses.

NEA policy analyst John Riley works closely school nurses who are categorized by NEA as specialized instructional support personnel (SISP). Some nurses are categorized by NEA and state Associations as education support professionals (ESP).

“Many policy makers turn to standardized test reforms to improve school performance,” says Riley. “In reality, attendance and ability to focus are integral to obtaining high achievement among students. These factors are tied to student health.”

More than 1 million SISP work in our nation’s public schools. They include school counselors, psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, library media specialists, speech language pathologists and others.

Approximately 2.8 million school support staff work in K-12 public schools and colleges. Health and Student Services is one of nine NEA ESP career categories. In addition to providing first aid, monitoring immunizations, conducting health screenings, and assisting sick and injured children, these ESP also assist students with chronic conditions and disabilities. Some job titles include:

• Licensed Practical Nurses
• Nurses’ and Health Aides
• Health Technicians
• Family and Parent Services Aides
• Community Welfare Services Workers
• Non-managerial Supervisors

Whether a school nurse is categorized by NEA as an ESP or SISP depends on local bargaining contracts, member education levels, state health and education laws, and other factors.

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10 Challenges Facing Public Education Today

Whether you’re a classroom teacher, school counselor, paraeducator, bus driver, cafeteria worker or school secretary, everyone who works in a public school faces a new school year ready to do the job they love. But they are also prepared to confront undeniable challenges. These challenges may differ district to district, school to school, but one thing is clear: the voice of educators is needed now more than ever and their unions are providing the megaphone. It’s not up to our teachers and school staff to shoulder this burden themselves. Administrators, parents, communities, lawmakers must do their part. But as the mobilization of educators that began earlier this year has demonstrated so powerfully – the “Educator Spring” as NEA President Lily Eskelsen García calls it – the nation is finally listening to what they have to say.


When educators from around the country walked out of their classrooms last spring, their message was clear: Our students deserve better. By taking this action, they said no more jam-packed classrooms with 40-plus desks, no more decades-old textbooks held together with rubber bands, and no more leaky ceilings, broken light fixtures, pest infestations, and cuts to basic curricula that are essential to a well-rounded education.

“We are truly in a state of crisis,” says Noah Karvelis, an educator from Arizona, where cuts to public school funding have been deeper than anywhere else in the country.

Public school funding has been cut to the quick all over the country after excessive and reckless tax cuts.

It’s been more than 10 years since the Great Recession, but many states are providing far less money to their schools today than they did before the crash. Our schools are crumbling and educators are leaving the profession in droves, unable to pay off student debt or make ends meet on stagnant salaries.

As of the 2017 – 2018 school year, at least 12 states had slashed “general” or “formula” funding—the primary form of state support for elementary and secondary schools—by 7 percent or more per student over the last decade, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Seven of the states—Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma—enacted tax cuts costing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars each year, instead of restoring education funding.

“To add to this heartache, new teachers in our state of North Carolina have never known anything different, and many even believe our current reality is normal,” says Todd Warren, a Spanish teacher and president of North Carolina’s Guilford County Association of Educators. “While the wealthy and corporate elite recovered from the recession of 2008, public school teachers and their students did not. North Carolina public school teachers make more than 11 percent less on average than we did 15 years ago when salaries are adjusted for inflation.”

But it’s the students who suffer the most from budget cuts, particularly poor students. Public education has been a pathway out of poverty for families for generations, but that pathway is blocked when schools are unable to offer a decent education.Too often, low-income students end up in schools with the lowest funding, fewest supplies, the least rigorous curriculum, and the oldest facilities and equipment, according to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

On average, school districts spend around $11,000 per student each year, but the highest-poverty districts receive an average of $1,200 less per child than the least-poor districts, while districts serving the largest numbers of students of color get about $2,000 less than those serving the fewest students of color, the study says.

No more, says Todd Warren.

“There are enough of us to say, ‘Enough!’” says Warren. “It is time to leverage our power now.”

Join millions of voices fighting for our nation’s public school students and educators. Take the #RedforEd Pledge! 


A 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center conducted two months after this year’s February school shooting in Parkland, Fla., showed that 57 percent of U.S. teenagers are worried that a shooting could take place at their own school. One in four are “very worried” about the chance.

Those numbers are staggering but hardly surprising given the rash of school shootings that have captured headlines this year, and in previous years. Since the shooting at Colorado’s Columbine High School in April 1999, more than 187,000 U.S. students have been exposed to gun violence in school.

Fed up with lawmakers’ inaction, students across the nation in 2018 are leading a national movement to bring common sense to the discussion.

Educators understand if students don’t feel safe at school, achievement suffers. It’s the paramount duty of everyone in the community–and the politicians who represent them–to help create safe learning spaces.

Arming teachers and school staff is not the answer. According to an NEA survey, seven in 10 educators said arming school personnel would be ineffective at preventing gun violence in schools and two-thirds said they would feel less safe if school personnel were armed.

Educators across the U.S. stood up to reject the idea that more weapons would help save student lives. As of May 2017, only one state had passed a law that mandated arming teachers and staff.

“We don’t want to be armed. We want better services for our students,” says Corinne McComb, an elementary educator from Norwich, Conn. “More psychologists and counselors who can be present for the students more than one day a week or month. We need services for families. We have the money, we can do this.”


Kathy Reamy, a school counselor at La Plata High School in La Plata, Md., says the trend is unmistakable.

“Honestly, I’ve had more students this year hospitalized for anxiety, depression, and other mental-health issues than ever,” says Reamy, who also chairs the NEA School Counselor Caucus. “There’s just so much going on in this day and age, the pressures to fit in, the pressure to achieve, the pressure of social media.”

It doesn’t help, adds Denise Pope of Stanford University, that schools have become “a pressure cooker for students and staff…and student and teacher stress feed off each other.”

According to a 2018 study by the University of Missouri, 93 percent of elementary school teachers report they are “highly stressed.”

Stressful schools aren’t healthy for anyone. There’s nothing wrong with a little pressure, a little nervousness over an exam, or a teacher who wants students to succeed. We all feel pressure, but something else is going on.

The causes and convergence of teacher and student stress has been a growing concern over the past decade. Research has consistently shown that stress levels in newer educators especially is leading many of them to exit the profession within five years.

Teachers need adequate resources and support in their jobs in order to battle burnout and alleviate stress in the classroom. If we do not support teachers, we risk the collateral damage of students.

One solution for students could be more one-on-one time with psychologists and counselors. But that’s a challenge since so many of those positions have been cut and are not coming back. That said, more and more schools take the issue of stress seriously, and have begun to look at ways to change policies over homework, class schedules, and later school start times to help alleviate the pressure many students feel.

“People are finally seeing what negative stress does to the body, what that does to the psyche, and what it does to school engagement,” says Pope. “Schools and communities know stress is a problem and they want solutions.”


Think back on the days when you were in middle school and high school. Remember the awkwardness, anxiety, and angst that hung over you like a cloud? Your students, no matter their behavior, are probably grappling with the same troubling emotions, says Robin McNair, the Restorative Practices Program coordinator for Prince George’s County in Maryland.

“When you look beyond behavior, when you truly look at the person behind the behavior, you’ll often find a cry for help,” says McNair, whose work in Restorative Justice Practices (RJP) aims to drastically reduce suspensions and expulsions, increase graduation rates, and transform student behaviors.

RJP has proven to be the most effective way for educators to break the school-to-prison pipeline, a national trend where children—mostly low-income and children of color—are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems through harsh “zero tolerance” discipline policies for even minor infractions.

In the 2013 – 2014 school year, the most recent nationwide data available, black students were three times more likely to receive both in-school and out-of-school suspensions than white students.

Rather than casting out students after wrongdoing, RJP seeks to reintegrate them into the classroom or school community to make amends and learn how to handle problems more positively. 

Simply put, students are better off in school than they are when they’re kicked out and left to their own devices in an empty home or apartment, where court involvement becomes more likely. But all students who participate in RJP—even those not directly involved in a conflict—report feeling safer and happier.

McNair suggests that educators strive to create a tight-knit community, even a family, in their classrooms from day one so that students not only know each other, but genuinely care about each other. 

“Restorative practices aren’t only for use after a conflict or incident. These practices allow us to proactively build community within a classroom and within a school by nurturing relationships between teachers and students,” McNair says. “When students know that you care about them they are more likely to follow the rules and more likely to stay in the classroom and do the work,” adds McNair.

Learn more about restorative practices in schools.


According to the U.S. Department of Education Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), about 8 million students missed more than three weeks of school during the 2015 – 2016 school year, up from 6.8 million the previous year.

Chronic absenteeism is typically defined as missing 10 percent or more of a school year. This translates  to roughly 18 days a year, or two days every month. Chronic absenteeism is usually a precursor to dropping out. And dropouts often wind up before the court.

Educators like Lois Yukna have created innovative ideas designed to keep kids in school. Others can learn from what Yukna is doing. 

For more decades, Yukna was a school bus driver in Middlesex County, N.J. Today, Yukna is a school attendance officer in New Jersey’s Woodbridge Township School District. Her job now is to make sure that once students get to school, they stay. 

When students don’t attend school regularly, Yukna works closely with students, parents, and the courts to turn the situation around.

“Something needed to be done because the main goal is to educate students, and they can’t be educated if they’re not in school,” says Yukna.

She noticed that students who were frequent no-shows at school were the same ones whose behavior when they attended resulted in detentions, suspensions, and sometimes, trouble with police.

Yukna and a guidance counselor in the Woodbridge district put their heads together to come up with something that would emphasize restorative practices instead of suspension and encourage students to return to and stay in school.

Supported by NEA grants, the program exposes about 100 students “to a world of possibilities through internships, mentorships, and achievement incentives.” Parents have classes on nutrition, health, and the impact of social media and family dynamics on learning. “They learn how to motivate their children to come to school and do their best,” Yukna says.

In the first year, approximately 85 percent of the students improved in at least one area: academics, attendance, or attitude. In the second year, all of the students improved in each area. Best of all, of the participants who were seniors, 100 percent graduated in 2017.

—Contributed by Joye Barksdale


In the last few years, schools and states nationwide have spent a lot of time designing new plans to coincide with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed by Congress in 2016. 

Now that ESSA state implementation plans are done, what should educators expect in the new school year? 

Expect to see more schools identified for improvement under the law’s expanded accountability system. Some states, like Washington, have already released their list of schools, which were identified through multiple measures of academic and school quality indicators, not just test scores.

The challenge here is that while the accountability system was expanded, the money to help support the additional schools identified for improvement was not. These schools will be put on tiers of support. The greatest amount of money will go to the highest priority and trickle down. 

As the school year continues, district leaders will need to create ESSA implementation plans, leaving schools identified for improvement with the task of building their own site-based plans. Since the plans must include educator input—not only teachers, but also paraeducators, nurses, librarians, counselors, and other education support professionals—this is the period during which the voices of NEA members will be critical. 

“Get in front of it,” recommends Donna Harris-Aikens, director of NEA’s Education Policy and Practice department. “It is possible that the principal or superintendent in a particular place may not be focused on this yet.”

To learn what’s available at their schools, educators can use NEA’s Opportunity Checklist, a short, criteria-based tool to quickly assess what’s available at their school, and the Opportunity Audit, a tool that is rooted in the seven NEA Great Public Schools (GPS) criteria, which addresses the research and evidence-based resources, policies, and practices that are proven to narrow opportunity and skills gaps.

While some may be discouraged by the thought of placing more schools on an improvement plan, the truth is that despite some funding challenges, ESSA remains a promising opportunity. 


(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

If the last several months are any indication of the challenges educators will face around the immigration status of students, they should expect uncertainty and fear.

It’s been an emotional roller coaster for Dreamers—young people brought to the U.S. as children, who have received the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, protections over the five years of the program. In September 2017, President Donald Trump rescinded DACA. Five months later, he vowed to work with Congress to protect undocumented immigrants who entered the country illegally as children. In April, he tweeted “DACA is dead” and “NO MORE DACA DEAL.”

“We have a lot of students on hold,” says Hugo Arreola, a campus lab technician for the Phoenix Union High School District in Arizona. A DACA recipient himself, he sees his students and community in turmoil. “Many are afraid to renew their DACA applications, student anxiety is up, and people are still scared. The environment is very tense.”

Hugo Arreola

“It’s hard being in this limbo,” says Karen Reyes, a 29-year-old teacher of deaf pre-kindergartners in Austin, Texas. A former Girl Scout who has lived in the U.S. since the age of 2, Reyes attended U.S. public schools from kindergarten through graduate school, eventually earning a master’s degree in Deaf Education and Hearing Science from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

“One moment you have your hopes up, thinking a deal might happen, and then there’s a tweet and people think you’re back to square one,” she says. That’s not the case, she explains. “But they don’t realize all the work we’ve done, the allies we’ve made, and the foundation we’ve built. We’re not back to the beginning. We’re just on a detour.”

Arreola and Reyes are active union members helping to inform, engage, and empower the immigration community in their respective hometowns.

Through Arreola’s unions, the Arizona Education Association and Phoenix Union Classified Employees Association, and local allies, he’s involved in various workshops, information forums, and trainings that help inform people of their rights. “It starts in the local area and making sure you have representatives who understand the realities of the situation and how this impacts their area,” Arreola explains.

Reyes has been involved with citizen drives, sponsored by her local union, Education Austin, and United We Dream. 

Educators can take steps in their own communities to fight the uncertainty and fear undocumented students face.  Go to NEA Ed Justice to learn more about Safe Zone school board policies and NEA’s toolkit for “Know Your Rights.”


Every few months it seems educators get inundated with stories about the next big thing in classroom technology—a “game changer” set to “revolutionize” teaching and learning. Sound familiar? It should. Education technology, for all its benefits (and there are many), tends to be subject to egregious hype. A lot of money, after all, is to be made and many school districts—eager to demonstrate that their schools are on the “cutting edge”—can make some rather questionable purchasing decisions. 

Just recall the 2013 decision by Los Angeles Unified School District to proceed with a $1.3 billion plan to put an iPad loaded with a Pearson curriculum in the hands of every student. Technical glitches and lack of teacher training were just a couple of problems that eventually crippled the initiative.

Educators know better than anyone that healthy skepticism or at least caution about the latest classroom technology will end up serving their students best. It’s a stand that gets teachers branded as resistant to change, a convenient and unhelpful label. It has more to do with what’s best for student learning. 

The good news is that the impulse to buy into the latest hype has been curtailed somewhat over the past few years as educators have taken a seat at the table. If you want to try the latest and greatest virtual learning, gamification, personalization, the first question always has to be “What is best for my students?” As Tracey Matt, a language arts teacher in Albia, Iowa, says. “It takes a great teacher to foster independent learners. This must be done with the use of technology on the forefront, but it should not supersede the importance of an instructor.”

Technology will continue to advance and more “game-changers” are invariably lurking around the corner. Maybe they can revolutionize the classroom, but it’s the educator who is best suited to determine how and why new tech should be used to best serve students. 


Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos may be privatization’s most visible and stalwart proponent, but school privatization has been a threat to public education for more than 20 years and is financed and championed by a network of corporate interests. Their goal: to use their financial muscle and propaganda to undermine the mission of public schools and position the nation’s students as commodities upon which to draw a sizeable profit. 

Still, DeVos’ appointment to lead the nation’s education agenda in 2017 was a huge boost just as charter schools and voucher programs were losing a little steam. (Vouchers have been voted down at the ballot box every time they’ve been attempted through referendum.)

DeVos is a vocal advocate of cutting education spending and freeing up federal dollars to expand charter and voucher programs nationwide. Charter schools have expanded dramatically since their introduction in 1992, and currently serve about 5 percent of the nation’s students. 

Educators, however, are determined to stop vouchers from taking hold in the way charters have done. Voucher schemes drain hundreds of millions of dollars away from public school students to pay the private school tuition of a select few.

They “are destructive and misguided schemes that use taxpayer dollars to “experiment with our children’s education without any evidence of real, lasting positive results,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

Educators and activists are making a huge difference in their states by lobbying lawmakers to reject vouchers (often rebranded by their advocates as “education savings accounts” or “tuition tax credits”).

In 2018, New Hampshire educators led the way in defeating a plan to establish so-called “education savings accounts,” which would have diverted a massive chunk of taxpayer money from public schools to fund the private school education of some students. Private schools would have to accept public funds but provide “no access to financial records, student achievement data, and no say in how the school is run,” says Megan Tuttle, president of NEA-New Hampshire. “The absence of public accountability for voucher funds has contributed to rampant fraud, waste, and abuse in current voucher programs across the country.”

NEA: Vouchers Cost Kids

Voucher proposals have been defeated in other states but their proponents are nothing if not relentless. Which is why, according to David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, activists must stay alert to the ongoing effort to push school voucher initiatives and to hold them up to public scrutiny.

“There’s a need to be vigilant in every state where governors and key legislators support these bills,” Sciarra says. 

Join in the fight against vouchers and pledge to protect quality public schools for all students.


Did you yell at the TV when you heard Betsy DeVos confuse proficiency and growth during her confirmation hearing? Are you disturbed by out-of-touch lawmakers like Arizona’s John Allen, who said teachers work second jobs so they can afford boats and big homes? Do you cringe at the fact that some Kansas lawmakers have tried to skirt the state supreme court’s ruling that they must remedy the woeful underfunding of schools?

 The reality is that too few elected officials at the local, state, and federal level have the in-depth knowledge of public education that only comes from working as an educator. And it shows in their policies and their budgets. 

 As if educating students every school day weren’t enough, it’s also on you to make sure officeholders understand the issues you face in the classroom and how to make progress solving them.

 The key is to show up and speak up.

 “We have to make our voices heard by the people who are making decisions that affect our classrooms,” says Maryland music teacher Jessica Fitzwater.

Balvir Singh, a high school math teacher from Burlington, N.J., won a seat on the Burlington County Board of Freeholders in November. Singh, an alum of NEA’s See Educators Run candidate training program, previously served on his local
school board.

“Elected officials need to understand that it’s not just dollars and cents, students’ entire lives will be impacted by these decisions,” she adds. 

That means showing up and sharing your story at school board meetings, lobby days with state lawmakers, and town halls when your members of Congress are back home. Check your state association website and attend your next local association meeting to find out how to get involved. 

And if your elected leaders still aren’t listening, throw your support behind people who will.

 This November brings a critical opportunity to elect (or re-elect) pro-public education candidates who are not beholden to those who want to privatize education, and who are willing listen to educators and parents. 

Educators are reliable voters. But you can inspire others to head to the polls for pro-public ed candidates as well.

 Latwala Dixon, a math teacher at Columbia High School in Lake City, Fla., says talking to people about the importance of voting in past election cycles has made her even more passionate about the issues that affect her as an educator and a citizen.

 “I tell a lot of people, if you don’t use your right to vote, you will lose it,” Dixon says. Some of the people she speaks with—friends, acquaintances, colleagues—have responded enthusiastically, but others indicate they do not believe their vote makes a difference.

“So what you’re only one vote? Your vote counts,” Dixon says emphatically. “What if all of you ‘only one vote’ people got out there and voted? It could really turn the tide.”

Here’s another “tide turning” way to make sure elected leaders invest in schools—become one yourself! If you’re considering a run or supporting a colleague who is running for office, check out NEA’s candidate training program for members at SeeEducatorsRun.org.

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Five Facts You Need to Know About Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

With the recent retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the next Supreme Court justice will have enormous power over the future of Americans’ lives, especially public school students and educators. The impact that President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, can have on public schools, if approved by the U.S. Senate in the coming weeks, will last for generations to come.

Americans want a Supreme Court justice who will be a fair-minded constitutionalist and who will apply the law fairly and protect our rights. It is important now more than ever that the next Supreme Court nominee understands how the law impacts real people and will work to protect all Americans, not just corporations, the wealthy, and the powerful.

Here are five quick facts about Brett Kavanaugh:

1. From Private Schools to Writing the Starr Report to Working in the White House

Kavanaugh attended Georgetown Preparatory  School, a Catholic school in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and then Yale University. He later went on to become a principal author of independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s controversial and highly-politicized report to Congress involving President Bill Clinton. After Starr, Kavanaugh worked as a senior aide to President George W. Bush, where he had a key role in developing that administration’s wiretapping and torture policies. In 2003, Bush nominated him to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, though he was not confirmed until 2006. Few Supreme Court nominees in modern history have as extensive a history in partisan politics as Judge Kavanaugh.

2. Handpicked by Heritage

The Heritage Foundation, a corporate-funded organization who is a major supporter of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos – and a group which DeVos has supported financially for decades – vetted and approved Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Their objective has been no secret: Select a justice who will support an agenda to privatize public schools and push a voucher system that will divert tax payers’ dollars away from public schools to fund private ones; to strip protections for people with pre-existing conditions in health care while trying to end Medicare and Medicaid; and strive to weaken workers’ rights and to silence their voices in the workplaces.

3. Should School Vouchers Be a Constitutional Right? Kavanaugh Thinks So. DeVos Too.

NEA DeVosKavanaugh has signaled that he would recognize legal theories that would lead to a proliferation of vouchers, the centerpiece of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s agenda, who intends to withdraw funding from students in public schools and give it to private schools through vouchers.

Kavanaugh has praised a line of Supreme Court rulings that have allowed public money to be funneled into religious institutions, stating that Justice Rehnquist was successful in “ensuring that religious schools and religious institutions could participate as equals in society and in state benefits programs, receiving funding or benefits from the state so long as the funding was pursuant to a neutral program that, among other things, included religious and nonreligious institutions alike.”

Kavanaugh’s nomination has been decried by pro-public education groups, including NEA, which predict that the 53-year-old could tip the balance for generations on Court decisions of critical importance to public school students and families.

“This is exactly why Judge Kavanaugh can’t be trusted to protect the interests of students and educators,” said NEA Presdient Lily Eskelsen García.

4. Kavanaugh has Consistently Sided with Corporations and Employers over Workers

The Heritage Foundation approved Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination because he could be trusted to advance their plans. Kavanaugh has consistently sided with corporations and employers over workers and unions, and applies different legal rules depending on the outcome he seeks. He has disregarded the deferential standard of review for National Labor Relations Board decisions when the board upholds workers’ rights, but hides behind the standard when the Board’s decisions are unfavorable to workers.

Kavanaugh also once reversed a district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of unions for civilian employees of the Department of Defense, and held that a statute authorizing the Secretary of Defense to create a temporary labor relations subsystem empowered him to abolish collective bargaining altogether. This was an unpopular position with which even the Secretary at the time disagreed.

5. Kavanaugh Will Likely Rule Against Protections for People with Pre-Existing Conditions

In line with the Heritage Foundation’s goals, Kavanaugh has signaled that he would find unconstitutional the individual mandate and protections for people with pre-existing conditions, putting the health care of millions at risk. Kavanaugh dissented in two Affordable Care Act cases that signaled he would agree with the Justice Department’s current anti-healthcare theory on pre-existing conditions.

In Kavanaugh’s dissent in Seven-Sky v. Holder, he claimed that a future president “might not enforce the individual mandate provision if the president concludes that enforcing it would be unconstitutional” because “[u]nder the Constitution, the president may decline to enforce a statute that regulates private individuals when the president deems the statute unconstitutional, even if a court has held or would hold the statute constitutional.”

After a thorough review of his record, the National Education Association is urging Senators to stand with educators and their students by rejecting Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination.

To take action, email your senators using our Legislative Action Center.

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More Money For Schools Means Better Student Outcomes

As every educator knows, the last thing states should be doing is decreasing school funding. Yet, In 2015, 29 states provided less school funding than in 2008. Education budgets in other states have, at best, barely recovered from pre-recession levels a decade ago.

Educators have had enough and are mobilizing around the country, demanding lawmakers adequately fund our public schools.

As hard as it is to believe, the perception that funding makes little or no difference in student success persists. These are beliefs, says Bruce D. Baker, professor of education at Rutgers University in New Jersey, that are based on outdated and faulty research.

Baker is the author of a new report from the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) that confirms what educators know to be true — students benefit from more school funding. The report, “Money Matters,” surveys a large body of national data to determine the impact financial inputs have on student achievement, particularly for minority and economically-disadvantaged students.

“Right now, in many states, schools with the highest-need students receive fewer resources than those serving the most affluent, which translates to less experienced teachers, larger classes, and, ultimately, lower graduation rates and lower achievement levels,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, President and CEO of LPI.

“While money alone is not the answer to all educational ills,” Baker writes in the report, “more equitable and adequate allocation of financial inputs to schooling provides a necessary underlying condition for improving the equity and adequacy of outcomes.”

money matters for schools

Baker draws three main conclusions in “Money Matters”:

Per-Pupil Funding Improves Outcomes

Aggregate per-pupil spending increases student outcomes in every situation, an effect that was larger in some studies than others, and mattered more for low income students.

A specific study cited by Baker showed that a “21.7% increase in per-pupil spending throughout all 12 school-age years for children from low-income families is large enough to eliminate the education attainment gap between children from low-income and non-poor families.”

Even smaller levels of spending made a significant difference in educational outcomes, inlcuding test scores and graduation rates.

“Increasing per-pupil spending by 10% in all 12 school-age years increases probability of high school graduation by 7 percentage points for all students, and by roughly 10 percentage points for non-poor children,” Baker writes.

Resources Count

Money matters for smaller class sizes, additional instructional supports, and early childhood education outcomes. These critical resources improve outcomes dramatically, especially for poor and minority students.

Join the Fight to Convince Elected Leaders to Invest in Public Schools.
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-Stop subsidizing corporations
-Ask companies to pay their fair share in taxes
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-Eliminate ALL school voucher schemes

In addition, when school districts increase teacher pay, the benefit for students are clear, especially in districts with less favorable working conditions.

“Increases in teacher wages have also been found to be associated with increased student achievement—presumably because more capable teachers are recruited and retained,” Baker writes.

Funding Distribution is Important

In Baker’s analysis, sustained improvements to level and distribution of funding across local public school districts led to improvement in level and distribution of student outcomes. While funding alone cannot provide improved learning outcomes, it provides an underlying condition that makes them possible.

Schools in high poverty neighborhoods, in particular, need additional funding to help students succeed.

“As poverty increases, costs of achieving any level of outcomes increases significantly,” the report states.

And yet, high poverty students aren’t getting the necessary funding. In fact, in most areas, high wealth areas get significantly more funding.

Baker looks at finance reforms in several states that led to a comparatively more equitable distribution system, increased revenues for schools in high poverty areas, and improved student outcomes.

“Our nation’s economy depends on a well-educated, high-quality workforce and that means investing in all students,” says Darling-Hammond. “Investments in these students are investments in their future and ours. If we don’t ensure they have the quality schools that their wealthier peers have, we deny far too many of them the opportunity to succeed and to contribute to society.”

education budget cutsThe High Cost of Education Budget Cuts
What happens when lawmakers opt for tax cuts over education investments? Students across the nation pay a very steep price. The school funding crisis, says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, is a “man-made crisis” that lawmakers created and that they absolutely can fix—if they choose to.

school fundingMath Teachers Explain: 3 Reasons Lawmakers Fail at School Funding
Educators and parents have led the effort to help other citizens see how state lawmakers have neglected school funding to finance outrageous tax giveaways that have left the states with a massive budget shortfalls. Here are several pervasive school funding problems — and their solution.

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Reinvented School Libraries Unleash Student Creativity

At Caine’s Arcade, $2 will get you a Fun Pass worth 500 chances to play miniature basketball, soccer, and other games. Like most arcades, you get tokens and can win toy prizes. Unlike any other arcade, Caine’s is constructed of cardboard and packing tape.

The proprietor, Caine Monroy, used empty auto parts boxes, coloring supplies, and his nine-years-old imagination to assemble an elaborate collection of games in the vacated office space adjacent to his father’s auto body shop in Los Angeles.

The arcade inspired an 11-minute documentary, “Caine’s Arcade,” by filmmaker Nirvan Mullick that has garnered more than 10 million views on YouTube and inspired children around the world to innovate with everyday materials to open up arcade businesses.

The film also received the admiration of adults, including school librarians.

“I’d like to think our kids could learn a thing or two from Caine,” writes blogger Gwyneth Jones, the “Daring Librarian.” Jones is a teacher-librarian and technology specialist at Murray Hill Middle School in Laurel, Maryland.

“This is the kind of spirit of ingenuity and optimism we foster here at Murray Hill,” she adds.

“The idea of the school library as this quiet place where school librarians are there to shush everyone and check out books is archaic,” says Courtney Pentland, a teacher for library services for Omaha Public Schools in Nebraska.

Librarians across the country are working to create innovative spaces for their students, to enhance their learning process and nurture their imaginations.

“Back in the day, people were information seekers and consumers,” exaplins Priscille Dando, coordinator of library information services in Fairfax County, Virginia. “Now, information is easier to come by so people want to create … something.”

A Place for Every Student

school library makerspace

The Daring Librarian’s Makerspace Starter Kit

At Randallstown High School in Baltimore County, Maryland, students flock to the library. It is usually full of students reading, collaborating on homework, creating art or using technology involving robotics and drones, according to Joquetta Johnson, a librarian media specialist at Randallstown.

“The library is the hub of the school,” says Johnson, who is credited with many of the library’s innovations. “The students see the library as their space, to create their authentic selves.”

Johnson first embraced the new social trend at libraries by creating zones, separating floor space into different sections so every student could find a comfortable spot. There are reading areas, places to use technology, and creative spaces where students can talk and collaborate.

At Murray Hill, Gwyneth Jones is dedicated to making her library a place where every student can feel comfortable. “Not all kids feel safe to explore at school,” she says.

Jones works hard to provide library access to all sorts of “creative types.”

“Some kids don’t enjoy your typical recess, so they need the library,” says Jones. “I am a geek. I was one of those kids.”

Unleashing Inventors

In 1997, Jones got the rare opportunity to help design the library from the ground up during the construction of Murray Hill. She was one of the first librarians in the district to create makerspaces, which are innovative, do-it-yourself areas for children who want to invent, explore, and create in a hands-on manner, reminiscent of Caine’s Arcade.

“You have to unleash their inner inventor,” says Jones. In her library, the makerspace includes robotics, Legos, coloring books, games, animation, and TV production materials. The makerspace model is constantly evolving. It is also employed in learning centers to develop vocational skills.

NEA: Save Our Libraries

At the Pearl City High School in Honolulu, Hawaii,  a senior led a session on 3-D printing with Autodesk Inventor during lunch one day.  “The student also offered to share cool and ‘advanced’ features of the software with engineering students,” recalls librarian Audrey Okemura.

Makerspaces are not the only creative developments happening in school libraries. Sue Navarro, a teacher-librarian at Fresno High School in California, decided to embrace the creative spirit of computer games by hosting a Minecraft tournament during lunch. Minecraft is a computer game which allows players to build and create their own worlds using virtual blocks and mines.

“Many special education students participated and loved the competition,” says Navarro, who provided them with custom T-shirts and trophies. “I was able to capture an audience that doesn’t usually participate in activities on campus.”

Becoming a Digital Citizen

Dando says “librarians teach students how to be good digital citizens and to communicate through technology.” Students need to know how to talk peer to peer, peer to teacher, and with strangers over social media, according to Dando.

On her blog, Jones writes that instead of banning technology, schools should be reinforcing positive ways of using social media.

Students can reach out to experts and organizations through different social media sites and gain knowledge directly from the source, according to Johnson.

“Social media can be used to amplify student voices,” she says.

“Librarians are a change agent,” says Dando. “Certified librarians get the chance to work with everyone in the school and make a difference in the way people operate, teach, and learn.”

Jones believes librarians should take this unique opportunity to shape and influence their school, staying up to date with changing times and innovative ways to teach.

“Being a teacher is about adapting,” says Jones, “and education is a practice.”

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Educators, Students Forced to Deal With Sweltering Classrooms

When a public school educator takes to Twitter to declare “We did it!” you might expect some good news about student achievement, a school victory, or maybe an advocacy win benefitting public education.

But last May, Mark Westpfahl, a history teacher in St. Paul, Minnesota, was pointing to a milestone that was hardly worth celebrating.

One week later, there was no relief in sight as a heat wave gripped the midwest. With only a few days left in the school year, Westpfahl wasn’t letting up.

Westpfahl had already written a letter to district officials about these unacceptable conditions that had forced him to send a dozen students to the nurse’s office. He was soon lugging bags of ice and igloo coolers into school and took to Twitter again to asked if anyone in the area could spare a few barn fans to help create a little cross breeze in the school’s stifling hallways.

School officials in St. Paul acknowledged the problem and delivered 2,000 water bottles and 361 fans to schools cloaked in hot temperstures. They also told families to provide their children with plenty of water and wet towels to wrap around their necks .
That the district had to scramble to help students and staff cope with the heat is unsurprising in view of the fact that air conditioning is installed in only one-third of its schools.

Relying on Stopgap Measures

Very few districts have mandated temperature maximums, nor is air conditioning required in many schools. A 2017 analysis found that a dozen of the largest districts in the country, including Baltimore County, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, and Jefferson County, Colorado (suburban Denver), did not have fully air-conditioned schools.

So what actions do they take when classrooms become too hot? Often schools just close early, or they stagger toward the last day of school with a patchwork of quick, temporary, and usually inadequate fixes.

Many districts deem air conditioning to be an inordinately expensive investment, pointing out that the suffocating heat of summer generally arrives and stays after school gets out. Students and staff, however, still have to cope with May and June, and oppressive temperatures stick around long after they return in August or early September.

And even if a school is equipped with air conditioning, systems break down and often don’t get repaired or upgraded. The air conditioning in Mark Westpfahl’s school in St. Paul, Capitol Hill Magnet, malfunctioned as the heat wave hit the area in May.

hot classrooms

Many of the largest school districts in the United States do not have fully air-conditioned schools. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

At Attleboro High School In Plainville, Massachusetts, students spent much of their time of the last days of the 2017-18 school year in the air-conditioned auditorium, library or computer labs.  The school’s AC system wasn’t pushing enough cool air to reach most of the classrooms.

School officials and educators kept close track of any potential heat-related health effects and moved students around when classrooms became too hot.

As Brianna, a junior at Attleboro, told The Sun Chronicle, “It can be really hard to concentrate in class when it’s this hot. I do a lot better when it’s cool as it helps me stay calm and relaxed.”

On the hottest days, she added, the two fans situated in her classroom don’t provide much relief.

“This time of year you do the best you can do,” said Plainville Public Schools Superintendent David Raiche.

Hot Classrooms Make it Harder to Learn

But “best” may not be good enough. Coping with oppressive heat in a sweltering classroom isn’t just a bothersome rite of passage before summer break. Hot classrooms are unhealthy for students and staff and, as a team of researchers concluded recently, the lack of air-conditioning in schools is directly impairing student outcomes.

In a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Joshua Goodman, Michael Hurwitz, Jisung Park, and Jonathan Smith examined test results of 10 million students attending high school from 2001 to 2014. They then used federal weather sensors to measure the temperature experienced by students on school days in the year leading up to the test.

By crunching this and other data, the researchers were able to determine that students who took the exam after experiencing a hotter year had lower scores compared to their test performance after a cooler year. Without air conditioning, each 1°F increase in school year temperature reduces the amount learned that year by one percent (or the equivalent of being absent for two days).

“Air conditioning appears to offset nearly all of the damaging impacts of cumulative heat exposure on academic achievement.” they concluded.

hot classrooms

As a heat wave gripped St. Paul in late May, teacher Mark Westpfahl hauled bags of ice and igloo coolers into the classroom to help students cope. (Photo: Mark Westpfahl)

Most troubling, though hardly surprising, is the disproportionate impact of hot classrooms on students of color. The report’s authors conclude that “heat effects account for up to 13% of the U.S. racial achievement gap.”

Black and Hispanic students are more likely to attend high-poverty schools, which are more likely to lack air conditioning. In addition, more affluent parents are better positioned to reduce the academic effects of hot classrooms on their children with home air conditioning, or paying for a tutor after school.

The researchers acknowledge the strain air conditioning can put on a district’s budget, but argue the long-term benefits can’t be overstated.

Goodman, the study’s lead author, told Earther in June that since the paper’s publication, he has heard other ideas about curtailing heat in classrooms.

“I see school air conditioning as one piece we know for sure how to do,” Goodman said. “It doesn’t mean it’s the best solution or only solution but it is a potential one. I’ve gotten email from folks about planting trees and shading schools that could help.”

Lawmakers in New Jersey are stressing this point as they marshal support for a bill, introduced in March, that would require all schools to have temperature-controlled classrooms. The bill’s supporters in the legislature say there are various ways to help cool a classroom, but air conditioning tops the list.

If the bill is approved and signed into law, the New Jersey departments of education and health will be charged with creating guidelines, which districts will be responsible for implementing.

The state’s public school educators have lined up to support the bill.

“Extreme temperatures like those that exist in too many of our schools hurt student learning,” said New Jersey Education Association President Marie Blistan. “If we can air condition every movie theater in New Jersey and heat every fast-food restaurant, there is no excuse for failing to modernize our schools in order to give our students the best possible learning environment.”

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How Exclusionary Discipline Creates Disconnected Students

Balancing appropriate discipline with school safety, classroom effectiveness, and positive outcomes for students is a daunting task for teachers and administrators everywhere. Many schools continue to rely on exclusionary discipline, removing students from the classroom through suspension or expulsion for various innfractions. The damaging long-lasting effects of “zero tolerance” has gotten more attention over the past few years, sparking a movement among many schools to move away from these practices and focus more on social-emotional learning, restorative practices, and positive behavioral interventions.

 The Center for Promise, the research institute of America’s Promise Alliance, recently analyzed how and why students become disconnected from school after facing harsh disciplinary action. The findings can be found in a new report,  Disciplined and Disconnected: How Students Experience Exclusionary Discipline in Minnesota and the Promise of Non-Exclusionary Alternatives.

“The reality is that exclusionary discipline practices do not make schools more conducive to learning, do not help improve student behavior, and do not make schools safer. But these practices do force youth off-track,” says Dr. Jonathan Zaff, executive director of the Center for Promise.

The Center studied three school districts in Minnesota that had previously relied on suspensions and expulsions, interviewing 38 middle and high school students who had experienced these exclusionary practices. What the researchers found was that kids wanted to be engaged in school, but felt that the administration and penalization methods inhibited them from doing so.

“When students don’t feel heard or understood, that leads them to check out and disconnect not only from school, but their future. That is a terrible and unnecessary result,” explained John Gomperts, president and CEO of America’s Promise

Students who faced exclusionary treatment, the study found, felt silenced, undervalued, and misunderstood.

“All you got to do is get suspended one time and you’re labeled,” said one student interviewed for the study. “I see it, like they follow the same kids around, like everybody knows, hey, those are the bad kids….”

Another student commented, “It’s really dumb, ’cause my grades dropped because of it. I missed a lot of school. It was really stupid, and it didn’t even happen during school… They didn’t give me any of my work… I got suspended on finals. I didn’t get to take them…”

When students don’t feel heard or understood, that leads them to check out and disconnect not only from school, but their future. That is a terrible and unnecessary result.”

In analyzing student and administrators’ thoughts on the matter, the Center concluded that kids who were suspended or expelled were more likely to drop out and disconnect from their education for three reasons: the true root of the problem was not addressed, their learning was interrupted, or the students did not feel valued or connected to their school community. Additionally, students of color are disproportionally targeted by the exclusionary practices.

To reform their disciplinary system, the Minnesota districts decided to listen to students’ perspectives on discipline, make sure they know their rights and school rules, build trust between administrations and family, provide opportunities for students to make academic progress while disciplined, and invest more in research on non-exclusionary discipline.

As in many other districts across the nation, the communities in Minnesota found that students were being suspended for infractions that were not serious enough to warrant harsh discipline.

“Not only have suspensions and expulsions been disproportionately applied in Minnesota, but nearly half of suspensions and exclusions in schools are for minor, non-violent student behaviors that did not endanger others,” said GradMinnesota Director Alexis Goffe of the Minnesota Alliance With Youth. “What we’ve learned is that, without clear and objective standards, students may be subject to individual school personnel biases about what constitutes disruption.”

Source: Minnesota Department of Education

The National Education Association is a vocal proponent of improving disciplinary policies and has promoted bringing restorative justice programs to more schools. At the 2016 NEA Representative Assembly, educators approved a policy statement calling for a campaign of awareness and advocacy to address and end the school-to-prison pipeline.

In 2016, Dallas-NEA worked with the Dallas school districts to implement restorative programs in six of the schools across the city. They used methods like “circling,”which brings students and teachers together to discuss behavioral problems and lets the kids explain themselves and be heard.

Dallas educators found that when students feel heard, they are more likely to abide by the rules and engage in their learning process.

“This effort has focused on students building relationships with teachers in the hopes that in these relationships, problems can be addressed and solved before they become bigger issues” says David Griffin, a teacher in Dallas.

In Dallas, the rates of in school suspension dropped by 70%.

School districts across the country are following suit, turning to restorative justice and other programs that foster understanding and communication over excluding students from classrooms.

“If we want more students to stay on a path to graduation,” says John Gomperts, “schools should consider a non-exclusionary approach to their discipline practices and policies to make sure they’re not doing more harm than good.”

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The High Cost of Education Budget Cuts

Not only do some Arizona teachers have to contend with mice in their classrooms, they also have to buy their own glue traps.

Classroom globes that spin to reveal two Germanys, antiquated plumbing that regularly floods a school hallway also known as the “poo pod,” decades-old textbooks that overlook the last 10 elements added to the periodic table or call Ronald Reagan our current president—this is just some of the evidence of how Arizona lawmakers have neglected their public schools.

There also are the 48 students crammed into their high school English classroom, and the elementary school counselor who cares for 1,430 children.

No state in the nation has cut K–12 funding more than Arizona, where lawmakers slashed school support by 36.6 percent between 2008 and 2015, according to the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). This year, school funding is 13.6 less than in 2008. Even as the state’s economy rebounded from the Great Recession, Arizona lawmakers opted for corporate tax cuts rather than investments in public education. Now Arizona students are paying the price.

“My students—and all students in Arizona—deserve more. They deserve more. They deserve to be learning in a fully funded classroom,” says kindergarten teacher Amy Ball, who has taught for 12 years in central Phoenix. “Every single student in Arizona deserves to have the most opportunities for success.”

The state’s educators aren’t taking it anymore. In late April, about 75,000 Arizona Education Association (AEA) members and allies held the largest educator walkout in history, flooding the streets in Phoenix to demand more state funding.

“I have spent 30 years in education and in that time we’ve seen cut after cut after cut and excuse after excuse. We’ve absolutely had enough,” says Phoenix technology specialist Thomas Oviatt, an educator for 30 years.

“Not only do I think Arizona students deserve better, I think every student deserves better. Arizona is a symptom of what’s been happening across the nation,” he says. “Every one of our students have been robbed of funding for decades.”

Oviatt is right—the education funding crisis isn’t just Arizona’s. In 2015, 29 states provided less school funding than in 2008. Since state funding fuels nearly half of the nation’s K–12 spending, these cuts have huge implications. They force school boards to either cut programs and hike class sizes, or raise more money locally. But for low-income communities especially, there is no choice. They must cut. And, research shows, those cuts do affect student achievement.

Educators across the nation have had enough. In what NEA President Lily
Eskelsen García has called an “Education Spring,” enormous rallies, walkouts, or strikes were held this spring in Oklahoma, Colorado, Kentucky, and most recently North Carolina to demand state lawmakers fulfill their promises to children.

Many were inspired by West Virginia Education Association members, who led a nine-day strike in February that closed public schools in every one of the state’s 55 districts.

“This is an absolute movement…and it’s not just one state,” says Eskelsen García. “Talking to legislators isn’t working. It’s like talking to a wall. We have to get the public’s attention. We have to rally. We have to be in the streets.”

The school funding crisis, says Eskelsen García, is a “man-made crisis” that lawmakers created and that they absolutely can fix—if they choose to.

In fact, in Arizona and elsewhere—Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma—state lawmakers have opted to enact tax cuts that cost tens or hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

This is money that could have paid instead for lower class sizes, current technology and textbooks, or even a fifth day of school in the hundreds of districts that have been forced to cut back to four.

Mice, Mold, and More

With photos shared on social media, teachers and education support professionals have pulled back the curtain on classroom conditions that have shocked parents and community members.

In Oklahoma, where lawmakers cut K–12 funding by more than 15 percent between 2008 and 2015, the pages of 1990s textbooks are held together with duct tape. Classroom chairs and desks are broken. Class sizes are outrageously large.

In Arizona, where some schools restrict the use of air conditioners to 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and daytime temps can top 110 degrees, one teacher made her own homemade air-conditioner with a Styrofoam ice cooler and electric fan. Meanwhile, school librarians haven’t had money to buy new books since 2008. (Do Arizona kids think there’s just one Diary of a Wimpy Kid? Since 2008, Jeff Kinney has published 12 sequels!)

In Colorado, more than half of school districts have switched to four-day weeks to save transportation costs. Art, music, physical education, world languages, high school journalism, and more—in many states, these classes should be on an endangered or extinct species list.

Troubling trends in state funding explain why educators and allies have taken to the streets to demand more for schools.

In these states, pay is not the issue that has driven educators to the breaking point, but it is a fact that their pay is abysmal. In Oklahoma, there’s a teacher who sells his blood to help support his family. Everywhere, teachers work late into the night as Uber drivers or restaurant servers.

In Arizona, the weeklong walkout ended in early May after Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill that he claimed would give teachers a 20 percent pay raise. (AEA’s calculations say the money adds up to less than a 10 percent raise, and union leaders point out it doesn’t provide a dime for support staff.)

Arizona educators aren’t satisfied. Their movement isn’t about pay. It’s about funding. They’re committed to fighting for more money in their classrooms—for their students—and they are prepared to set their next battle at the ballot box.

In Oklahoma, educators ended their week-long strike in mid-April when lawmakers voted to override Republican Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of the budget and tax bills, which combine to modestly fuel an increase in state K–12 investment.

Through their persistent presence in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) members won a pay bump for teachers and support professionals. Even more important, they won the first state tax increase in the past 28 years.

This is new, recurring revenue for Oklahoma classrooms, points out OEA President Alicia Priest, and the thousands of OEA members and parents who worked for it “should be overwhelmed with pride.”

But is it enough? No.

“They say Oklahoma students don’t need any more funding, and they’re wrong,” says Priest. OEA members now will turn their attention to state elections in November. “The state didn’t find itself in a school funding crisis overnight. We got here by electing the wrong people to office.

“No more,” she promises.

There Are Solutions

It’s up to educators to call on their state’s elected leaders to:
1. Stop subsidizing corporations
2. Ask companies to pay their fair share in taxes
3. Raise income tax rates for top earners
4. Eliminate ALL voucher schemes

Join us in the fight to convince elected leaders to invest in public schools.
Sign up at EdVotes.org today!

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Racial Isolation of Charter School Students Exacerbating Resegregation

At the Milwaukee Math and Science Academy, more than 98 percent of the 335 students are African-American and nearly all qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. (AP Photo/Carrie Antlfinger)

In December 2017, the Associated Press conducted an analysis of charter school enrollment nationwide and found that the schools were among the most racially segregated in the nation.

While only 4 percent of traditional public schools have student bodies that are 99 percent minority (2014-15 school year data), 17 percent of charter schools are 99 percent minority. Furthermore, of the 6,747 charter schools in the country, more than 1,000 had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent.

The numbers were troubling, if not particularly surprising, to anyone who recognizes that high levels of racial and economic segregation is systematically linked to wide gaps in educational opportunity and achievement.

“Desegregation works. Nothing else does,” Daniel Shulman, a Minnesota civil rights attorney told AP. “There is no amount of money you can put into a segregated school that is going to make it equal.”

But for others, the latest bulletin on how segregation is becoming more entrenched in America’s schools warranted little more than a collective shrug of indifference. “I think a lot of people have given up on integrating our schools,” says Dr. Andre Perry of the Brookings Institution.

A national spotlight on the racial isolation of many of its students is just the latest setback for the sector. The more people have learned about poorly managed, unaccountable schools with at best mixed academic records – not to mention the network of anti-union billionaires and for-profit education companies that are fueling much of the expansion – the more charter schools’ popularity has declined.

No surprise then that the AP analysis stung the sector. Charter leaders immediately coordinated a swift and indignant response, arguing that they were being blamed for segregation. Furthermore, critics were not recognizing success stories or acknowledging parents’ right in making these decisions for their children.

In other words, “choice” trumps everything.

charter school segregationNo one is holding charter schools responsible for the the return of Civil Right-era levels of segregation. Clearly, decades of decisions by conservative courts provided legal cover for communities to abandon desegregation efforts that were put in place following Brown v. Board of Education.

At the same time, the racial isolation in many charter schools is undeniable. Because its numbers continue to grow,  the sector is exacerbating the problem nationally.

A 2011 analysis by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California found that charter schools are more racially isolated than traditional public schools in virtually every state and large metropolitan areas.

“As charters represent an increasing share of our public schools, they influence the level of segregation experienced by all of our nation’s school-aged children,” the report stated.

No Innocent Bystander

“It’s disheartening that you would have an entire sector say ‘Integrating students – that’s not our business,’” says Perry. “What they don’t realize is that it is all of our business,” he says.

“Business” is the operative term for the charter sector because its expansion is fueled by a very corporate, market-driven approach. Indeed, the schools that are most segregated tend to be those that are run by private companies and those that target specific communities of color.

It didn’t necessarily have to be this way, says Perry. “Charters generally are not bound to geographic zones. So we should have seen cooperation and collaboration between these schools, traditional public schools, and districts in using them to break down segregated systems. Instead, charter schools just go where the students are.”

The result is almost unfettered expansion. While the enrollment numbers are impressive, they can’t disguise middling academic gains, enormous costs to school districts, and highly concentrated segregation. And yet, lawmakers in every state continue to champion charter schools without demanding proper accountability, even as they drain scarce resources from traditional public schools.

The charter sector isn’t merely an innocent bystander as school resegregation worsens. A new report by the UCLA Civil Rights Project, co-written with researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC), makes the case that charter schools in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County are “directly and indirectly undermining” district efforts to redesign student assignment boundaries to break up high concentrations of racial segregation.

In Mecklenburg County, the majority of charter schools, far from serving students in high-poverty areas, are located in suburban areas. According to the report, many parents are using the schools as a political cudgel to protect the status quo:

“The proliferation of charters in Mecklenburg County served as grist for the political activism of suburban parents who threatened a middle-class exodus from CMS to the charter sector if new assignment boundaries did not honor their current neighborhood school assignments. These threats indirectly undermined policy actors’ initial willingness to act boldly and decisively in revamping pupil assignments to curb segregation.”

Long ago, Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools were the “nation’s bellwether for successful desegregation,” said Roslyn Arlin Mickelson, professor of Sociology at UNC.

“Today, the district exemplifies how charter schools can impede districts’ efforts to resist re-segregation.”

The New ‘Separate But Equal’?

As charter schools exacerbate resegregation trends, their advocates often resort to justifications that, to many ears, echo those heard during the “separate but equal” era – that integration is not necessary to meet the academic needs of children.

Furthermore, the argument goes, if parents choose to send their son or daughter to a charter school that is deeply segregated but academically successful, who are we to question that decision? And what about those high-performing charters in high-poverty areas?

It’s a point that tends to get oversold, says Preston Green, professor of urban education at the University of Connecticut. Several “schools of excellence” emerged during the separate but equal era that were able to overcome the obstacles of segregation and inequitable funding to achieve impressive academic records.

“A significant characteristic of those schools was that schools and communities had a shared sense of duty,” explains Green. “People today think they can overcome these challenegs and create successful schools as well. But we’re not taking seriously the dangers that privatization creates.”

In a new paper looking at the charter sector in California, Green and Joseph Oluwole, associate professor of educational leadership at Montclair State University, examine how the private entities that are fueling charter school expansion in the state are essentially robbing traditional schools in the neighborhood from state funding and resources.

While modern day versions in the form of charter schools are indeed popping up in some black and Latino communities, the lack of regulation and oversight will have devastating consequences.

“If these outside organizations are allowed to develop charter schools without any restrictions, they may create a parallel system of schools that drain the resources from the traditional school systems that serve black and Latino communities, which are already underfunded,” Green explains. “This scenario of dueling school systems could create a situation in these communities that would be even worse than the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson decision.”

In short, separate but equal wasn’t possible more than 60 years ago, and it’s even less possible today.

Ultimately, says Andre Perry, many charter school operators seem content to experiment with students’ lives – instead of helping to break down the segregated state of our schools

“Segregation is the source of inequality in America. To dismiss it is to accept structural inequality and the status quo.”

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In Teachers We (Should) Trust

When author and innovation expert Ted Dintersmith set out to visit public schools in all fifty states during a single school year, he hoped to find solutions to the most vexing problems facing classroom educators. He soon discovered that the very solutions he sought had already been found – by the teachers themselves. All we need to do, he says in his new book, What School Can Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America, is to listen to them and trust in their creativity and expertise.

NEA Today sat down with Dintersmith to talk about the extraordinary educators he met during his cross-country journey.

First of all, tell us what an innovation expert is.

Ted Dintersmith: It’s someone who understands what constitutes a legitimate innovation, what types of people can make innovation happen, and what conditions are conducive to innovative people and organizations.  I spent my career in this world, running an innovative start-up business, spending more than two decades in venture capital, and supporting innovative non-profit initiatives.  The trip that inspired my book was all about listening to and learning from remarkably innovative teachers showing us how to prepare students for a world of innovation.

You set out on your cross-country journey to raise awareness about the need for innovation in our schools, but your goals expanded. Why?

TD: As my nine-month immersion unfolded, I stayed true to raising awareness, but was stunned by the remarkable innovative teachers I was meeting along the way.  They know there’s urgency in reimagining school and moving beyond obsolete metrics, and I was blown away, and a bit humbled, by their insights, perspective, and classroom practices.

What else surprised you about the educators you met?

TD: For starters, every single one struck me as dedicated, caring, and willing to go to the ends of the earth to help the children in their care.  These teachers don’t get the trust, respect, and compensation they deserve, but they manage to power through it to fight for better lives for their students.  That is inspiring to observe, and something all adults in our country need to be aware of.

What were the school conditions that allowed the teachers you met to become extraordinary educators?

TD: It starts with trust. The innovative practices I write about were created and driven by classroom teachers, but supported by administrators who, in different ways, had the back of their teachers. Then, I think it’s important to make the surrounding community aware of the need to reimagine school.  If you’re a lone wolf teacher who has students enthusiastically taking on ambitious and authentic challenges, working in teams, being held accountable to a high standard of accomplishment, you still can get wailed on for doing things differently. It’s really important to bring the entire community (parents, school boards, local businesses) into the discussion of how best to prepare our students for a very different world.  Finally, I found that teachers — counter to what many assume — are not averse to being held accountable, but want to be held accountable to standards that matter, and to standards they have a voice in designing.  Given trust, community support, and well-conceived standards, our teaching force can be unstoppable.

What other qualities do extraordinary educators share?

TD: The classrooms I was blown by away were, in the specifics, quite distinct.  But they shared certain common principles. These teachers were creating learning environments where students master what they study, develop essential skillsets and mindsets, have the agency to blossom into self-directed learners, and approach their school work with a sense of deep purpose.  I use the acronym PEAK (purpose, essentials, agency, and knowledge) to keep these core principles in mind.

What outdated modes of education need to end and what new modes should we usher in?

TD: The outdated models are the conditions and metrics we impose on our schools, with public schools bearing the brunt of these constraints.  In the world of innovation, young adults need to be creative problem solvers, critical thinkers, collaborators, communicators, and responsible citizens (they all start with ‘C’ for some reason!).  But when we hold teachers and schools accountable to obsolete, generally poorly-designed tests, we put our teachers in a horrible dilemma.  In meeting and talking with thousands of teachers, they — far more than legislators, policymakers and mega-foundations — understand that these tests of low-level and narrow competencies aren’t preparing our kids for their futures, and all too often driving the joy and real learning from our classrooms.  What I find as I travel, though, is that there is a deluge of pent-up innovation in our teaching force, which would be unleashed if we just trusted them to engage and inspire their students.

Ted Dintersmith

Ted Dintersmith

What did you learn from you trip that made you hopeful?

TD: There’s so much to be hopeful about.  Someone said to me recently, “The dam may be about to break.”  I think they’re right.  So many have seen the abject failure of the reform agenda — from NCLB to RTTT to today’s lack of national education leadership.  It’s time to move on, and start trusting those who own the consequences of what happens in the classroom — our teachers and students.  They are more than up to the challenge, and are doing amazing things all over the country.  Time to unleash them!

We’re seeing very encouraging signs of what happens when people join together to make real, and informed, change in our country — from the student-led movement to enact sensible policies on guns to the teacher-led movement to provide adequate resources to our schools.  We’re at a real inflection point in the future of our country, and we can’t afford to tinker around the edges of our most pressing challenges.  I put education at the top of the list, since if we launch young adults into life as purpose-driven problem solvers, we will be in a position to make headway across the board.  But if we continue to let the reform agenda rule the day, with its focus on testing, accountability, and college-ready, we will leave millions of young adults vulnerable in a world where machine intelligence is advancing rapidly, erasing millions of routine jobs.

Can teachers lead the way to transforming our schools?

TD: Not only can they, but they are doing it, all across the country.  I was so inspired as I traveled to see the positive change that’s happening.  In every community I visited, I found remarkable, inspiring innovations led by classroom teachers.  If we can celebrate these practices, and put in place the conditions that let all classroom teachers do what they entered the profession to do — engage and inspire our children — we’ll be entering an education period that might well be called a modern day Renaissance.

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Bargaining for the Common Good in Higher Education

The story around parking at UMass Boston is decades long, and rife with buried trash, political corruption, and imprisoned public officials. The latest twist is this: The university is building a new garage, and it plans to charge everybody—students, custodians, faculty alike—$15 a day to park.

“For students, across the school year it adds up to almost the cost of an additional class, and the university is saying that they can add that cost to their tuition bills…so, more debt!” says Annetta Argyres, a UMass Boston faculty union leader. “Also, consider our classified employees, who are our lowest paid employees. They are required to be on campus five days a week, 50 weeks a year. It adds up to an enormous amount of money, far more than any raises on the table.”

A possible solution is this: A growing movement around “bargaining for the common good.”

In common-good efforts, unions partner with community groups—students, parents, racial-justice organizations, etc.—around contract demands that benefit not just the members of the bargaining unit but also the wider community, explains Marilyn Sneiderman, director of the Center for Innovation in Worker Organization at Rutgers University. (Read more about it from Sneiderman, here.) Since 2012, several K12 NEA-affiliated unions, most notably in St. Paul, Minn., have used this strategy to win contract provisions that include more school counselors and librarians, and less standardized testing.

It makes sense to also use bargaining for the common good in higher education, especially at public institutions whose missions—and funding—are entangled with the well-being of their communities. They’re often the largest local landowners and employers, and fuel the economic development of their regions. Bargaining for the common good can transform institutions “from crucibles of inequality into epicenters of democratic…empowerment,” said Joe McCartin, executive director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University.

Recently, Argyres and other Massachusetts Teachers Association members, as well as leaders from the California Faculty Association (CFA), attended a convening at Rutgers, co-sponsored by NEA, with more than 200 union, community and racial-justice leaders, where they learned how to run these types of campaigns.

“We’re in a time and place where people are willing to look differently at their unions and the work that they do,” said CFA Vice President Charles Toombs, who led a delegation of CFA members to the Rutgers event. For CFA, this has meant re-writing its bylaws so that it focuses more on anti-racism and social justice.

“This social justice work is going to be a way to insure strong membership,” said Toombs. And, even more important, “in a state like California, to ignore these issues is to do a disservice to the students we teach, especially as we have so many students of color and DACA students.”

In its last contract, CFA won a new article that addresses “cultural taxation,” or the penalty paid by many faculty of color for the disproportionate work they do to support students of color. Now, money has been allocated to help compensate faculty, often in the form of release time, who do “exceptional work with those students,” said Toombs.

This is an example of common-good bargaining—it takes a common-good issue, like the success of students of color, and codifies it in contract language. “It’s a way to bring our concerns with anti-racism and social justice into the contract,” said Toombs.

Common-good bargaining is also a way for “not only our members to see why they need unions and what they do, but also our larger community to see why we need unions and what they do,” said Argyres.

In Boston, common-good bargaining may start with parking—the union’s proposal calls for no student parking fees—but it may lead to bigger issues around public land use and student services. “We need to get more bold and more creative about how we use our contracts,” said Argyres, who also plans to invite students to the faculty union’s next bargaining session with the university.

“We see no reason that they shouldn’t be there for open bargaining,” she said. “This is a conversation that affects all of us.”

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Educators Push Teacher Pay Penalty Into National Spotlight -NEA Today

“Something has to change,” says Noah Karvelis, a teacher at Trios Rios Elementary School just outside of Phoenix. Only in his second year teaching, Karvelis has already seen too many colleagues walk away from the profession in a state where the salaries are so low. Arizona ranks last in teacher pay and in per-pupil spending.

“Being a teacher isn’t a viable career choice here any longer,” Karvelis says.“No one got into this profession to get rich. But we do expect to be able to make a living. And in Arizona, that’s not the case.”

Between 2014 and 2016, Arizona educators increasingly fled the state for jobs in neighboring California, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, where teachers make on average $10,000-15,000 more than their counterparts in Arizona.

“Each day that goes by without action by our elected officials, another teacher decides to leave Arizona,” said Arizona Education Association President Joe Thomas.

In 2015, special education teacher Robin Edgerton left the Lake Havasu School District for a position in Needles, California, that doubled her salary. She commutes 40 minutes from her home in Lake Havasu.

“I went from living paycheck to paycheck, to where now I can buy a house,” Edgerton told The Arizona Republic. “With Arizona pay, it never would have happened.”

Over the past few weeks, educators across the state have mobilized to demand a 20 percent increase in teacher pay (which would still place Arizona below the national average) and a return of pre-recession school funding levels. With each unacceptable response from Governor Doug Ducey and the state legislature, the #RedforEd movement has grown stronger, joining educator-led protests in other states that have pushed low teacher pay and the divestment in public education into the national spotlight.

The walkout of Oklahoma educators has entered its second week and their counterparts in Kentucky continue to protest funding shortfalls and a bill that would decimate their pensions. The fire was lit in February by the historic nine-day strike by West Virginia educators (“That victory has been incredibly empowering for educators in Arizona,” said Karvelis). Since then, it has swept through other states as teachers and other school staff have become fed up with inadequate resources and the penalties they have to endure to stay in a profession they love.

The dramatic resurgence of the teacher pay issue specifically, says Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute, has been simmering for some time.

“You’re seeing two factors—the debasement of the teaching profession and the erosion of wages and benefits to the point where educators are rightfully angry,” says Mishel. “They’re determined to protect their families and their profession.”

Video: Tulsa educator Jennifer Thornton supports herself and her teenage son on less than $2K a month.

A Man-Made Crisis

“Wages for teachers have been falling relative to comparable workers all over the country for many years,” says Mishel. This “teacher penalty” continues to grow,  forcing many educators out of the profession and making it less and less attractive to potential candidates.

And many who remain are forced to take second jobs just to make ends meet. A 2016 report from the National Center for Education Statistics estimated that about 16 percent of teachers across the nation work second jobs outside the school system.

According to a new EPI analysis by Sylvia Allegretto, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, teacher pay (adjusted for inflation) fell by $30 per week from 1996 to 2015, while pay for other college graduates increased by $124. Even when accounting for benefits, the teacher compensation gap widened by 9 percent, to 11.1 percent over that same time frame.

In Arizona, teachers earn just 63 cents on the dollar compared with other college graduates—the widest pay gap in the nation. The gap is 79 cents in Kentucky, 67 cents in Oklahoma, and 75 cents in West Virginia.

It’s a gap that is abated by collective bargaining, according to 2016 analysis by Allegretto and Mishel.  They found that in 2015, “teachers not represented by a union had a 25.5 percent wage gap—and the gap was 6 percentage points smaller for unionized teachers.” (See Mishel’s recent summary of the research into collective bargaining’s impact)

Since the successful strike in West Virginia, in which teachers and education support professionals pressured Governor Jim Justice to agree to a 5 percent pay raise, the message around education funding and teacher pay has clearly struck a chord with the general public.

“We’re seeing an outpouring of support and respect for teachers in these states,” says Mishel.

A new poll by CBS found that 68 percent of Americans say teachers in their community are paid too little—a majority that cuts across political party lines.

This community support is absolutely critical. For too long, lawmakers have degraded the teaching profession with myths, exaggerations that serve to undermine public education and advance a school privatization agenda.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin pulled out this rhetorical toolbox last week when she compared protesting teachers to “a teenager who wants a better car.”

There are clear cracks in the mantra that tax cuts are the panacea for everything and I think they’re going to grow wider as the public becomes more aware of their impact. How quickly this pans out remains to be seen but the signs are all there.” – Michael Leachman, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The remark was an offensive and clumsy attempt to divert attention away from the reckless tax cuts she and other politicians have championed that have decimated public services in their respective states.

“This is a man-made crisis,” NEA President Lily Eskeslen García told a rally of educators in Oklahoma City on April 2. “Tax giveaways to big business. Starving the revenue that pays for quality education—they’ve been digging this revenue hole for a dozen years.”

Michael Leachman of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analyzed the impact state tax cuts have had in Arizona and Oklahoma. While the individual tax breaks differ, the effect is the same: funding education has become increasingly difficult, which it turn makes it even harder to improve teacher pay.

Arizona and Oklahoma were cutting taxes before the Great Recession and haven’t stopped.

“While most states have gradually restored the school funding that they cut when the recession hit, Arizona and Oklahoma have not come close,” Leachman writes. “Most states have reduced average teacher pay since 2010, after adjusting for inflation, but Arizona and Oklahoma are among the deepest-cutting states.”

Although raising more revenue in these states is a daunting political challenge, the ground is shifting, says Leachman.

“There are clear cracks in the mantra that tax cuts are the panacea for everything and I think they’re going to grow wider as the public becomes more aware of their impact. How quickly this pans out remains to be seen but the signs are all there.”

No More Nickel-and-Diming

Arizona educators are all-too familiar with this stubborn allegiance to tax cuts for the wealthy. Derek Harris, a band teacher in Tucson, sat stunned at a meeting with lawmakers at the state capitol last month as educator protests began to gather momentum.

“They told us to our faces that the tax cuts were absolutely necessary and that the reason we had these budget shortfalls was because the district was spending the money fraudulently,” Harris recalls.

This spring the legislature stands ready to approve a capital gains tax cut that will benefit almost exclusively the 183 richest Arizonans — those making more than $5 million a year — to the tune of an extra $27,000 each.

Meanwhile, Governor Ducey has offered teachers a 1 percent pay raise.

Arizona teachers and education advocates march at the Arizona Capitol highlighting low teacher pay and school funding on March 28, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

“It’s just another slap in the face,” says Harris.“It’s too much. We’re not going to be nickel-and-dimed anymore.”

On April 11, as part of the #RedforEd movement, teachers, education support professionals, and parents across the state are holding “walk-ins” to educate the community about the funding shortfalls facing public schools. Large-scale rallies will be held outside school buildings and are expected to attract huge crowds. The goal right now is to mobilize as much community support as possible to pressure Ducey—who on Tuesday dismissed #RedforEd as “political theater”—and the legislature to change course.

In addition to the 20 percent salary increase for teachers and the restoration of school funding to 2008 levels (approx. $1 billion), educators are also demanding competitive pay for all education support staff, a permanent salary structure that includes annual raises, and no new tax cuts until per-pupil funding reaches the national average.

What happens next is up to the legislature. If they take no action, lawmakers should not expect educators to put down the megaphone and go home, says Joe Thomas, president of AEA. “I  have not seen this many teachers this frustrated since I’ve been in Arizona.”

Educators will only be more empowered and determined to stand up for their students and their profession, adds Noah Karvelis.

“We are no longer willing to come to school each day unable to do the job that we love so much. An entire generation of students have not been given the education that they deserve. That’s devastating to all of us.”

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Striking the Right Tone: Staff Collaboration Key to a Healthy School

Nurse Sheryl Lapp (right) often meets with staff members like teacher Sandy Doyon to coordinate students’ health care needs.

Three students with food allergies are sitting at the nut-free table during lunch at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in South Plainfield, N.J. In accordance with a new school protocol, they have invited several friends to join them.

“It used to be that they could invite only one friend to sit with them,” says school nurse Sheryl Lapp. “But one student had several friends and couldn’t pick just one, so we worked to create an environment of acceptance instead of exclusion.”

Among some students, it is socially prestigious to have lunch in the peanut-free zone. Among teachers, food service workers, and paraeducators it is imperative to know the health plans of students with food allergies. They must also be trained to recognize symptoms of a first-time allergic reaction in a previously undiagnosed student. In case of an emergency, working as a unit is vital.

At Kennedy, teamwork, camaraderie, and mutual appreciation are the pillars upon which the school operates. This spirit of staff cooperation stems from the same impulse present at most if not all public schools: the desire to help one another succeed on behalf of students.

“It’s the tone of the building,” says teacher Sandy Doyon, vice president and building representative of the South Plainfield Education Association (SPEA), which includes 450 paraeducators, secretaries, and teachers. “We have great administrators and educators who put students first and know how to work together.”

Kennedy can boast almost 100 percent participation in SPEA.

“The folks here are very supportive of NJEA (New Jersey Education Association),” Doyon adds.

In Sync

At most schools, a principal’s leadership style pervades the buildings, playgrounds, cafeteria and all points in between. Whether positive or negative, it trickles down through the staff.

“Our principal is very supportive and fair, calm, and friendly,” Lapp says. “He can work with everyone here as well as the superintendent and board members.”

Principal Kevin Hajduk arrived at Kennedy in 2015 after serving as principal of South Plainfield Middle School.

It’s one thing to state that staff workers at Kennedy work well together. Educators at many schools do that. It’s another to see their teamwork reflected in the smallest detail.”

“Kennedy was known for its progress on state assessments, great programs, and very supportive staff,” says Hajduk. “Immediately, you can see they are a close-knit group.”

It’s obvious that Hajduk’s loyalty runs deep. After all, he was born in South Plainfield and graduated from South Plainfield High School in 1995.

“We are a family-oriented team,” he says, “with students at the center of the discussion.” Of the school’s 55 staff members, only Hajduk and the physical education coach are male. The unity around gender may be a factor in the team’s success, though Hajduk chooses to credit each individual’s willingness to try new things, resolve disputes quickly, acknowledge each other’s strengths and weaknesses, address certain concerns in private, compliment each other on jobs well done, forgive one another when mistakes are made, and offer feedback when asked.

“It takes all of us, working together, to know our roles and to execute them effectively,” he says. “Respect, trust, and good team communication are our keys to success.”

School Hub

The second grader entering nurse Lapp’s office rushes past a teacher in Lapp’s office and blurts a quick “Hi.” The student is distracted by debris lodged in her eye.

“Let me see…don’t scratch,” says Lapp, whose multi-purpose office is a school hub of sorts.

The sun-soaked space includes a vast storage area for medical supplies and two private restroom facilities—one for hurried teachers and another for students who might experience a stomach-related emergency.

“Sometimes, it’s like I’m the school mother,” says Lapp, who joined Kennedy in 2013 replacing a nurse who had been at the school for 25 years.

“You never hesitate to ask Mrs. Lapp for anything,” says paraprofessional Juliann Bickunas. “She’s well-trained for the job and works well with everyone.”

In a corner across from Lapp’s orderly desk is a wheel chair, oxygen tank, and low-rise bed where students rest after Lapp has tended to a nose bleed, bruised eye, knee scrape, or puncture wound that could be located almost anywhere.

Even teachers are known to visit Lapp’s office for a quick consultation.

“I’m here for them, too,” she says. “Staff members consult me about their own pains, bumps, and bruises as well as those of their students.”

At Kennedy, Lapp works as closely with education support professionals as with teachers and administrators on the academic progress, and emotional and physical health of the school’s 280 preK–fourth graders.

“We talk a lot amongst ourselves,” says Amy Leso, third-grade teacher and a 2002 graduate of South Plainfield High School. “When I have a student with an allergy, I’ll mention it to other teachers and staff.”

Staff are trained to maintain student confidentiality but to also collaborate on care.

All for One

It’s one thing to state that staff workers at Kennedy work well together. Educators at many schools do that. It’s another to see their teamwork reflected in the smallest detail.

Custodian Marilu Hernandez, who has worked at Kennedy for six years, often collaborates with Lapp on choosing the safest cleaning products for students as young as age 5. They read bottle labels together.

“Always, students come first with Mrs. Lapp, the teachers, principal…all of us,” says Hernandez. “When a teacher calls me [after a student has an accident], I go quickly.”

Nurse Sheryl Lapp at work in her multi-purpose office.

Teacher Heather Hearne-Pascale says Hernandez and Lapp are familiar faces in her classroom of nine K–second graders with multiple disabilities. Each student has a different health care plan involving seizures, diabetes, or life-threatening allergies.

“The majority of my students can’t tell me what they’re feeling, especially when it comes to toileting,” Hearne-Pascale says. “We have a lot of little accidents.”

Five paraeducators work with Hearne-Pascale on helping students with everything from language and communication skills to toilet training and personal hygiene.

Outside the classroom, paraeducators are responsible for escorting the students to the cafeteria, gym, music, and other classes.

“All our teachers know these students by name,” Hearne-Pascale says. “We look out for each other and each other’s students.”

Special education teacher Brittany Lillis, who teaches third through fifth grade, also credits caring parents with helping to maintain a healthy school climate.

“We listen to them and they to us,” she says. “You get to know them, which helps us even more to serve our students.”

The margin for error regarding student health and safety becomes slimmer when parents are factored in, explains teacher Alicia Berardocco.

“Parents are very accommodating here,” she says. “We communicate on a daily basis with some of them.”

Crisis Contained

Last fall, Lapp had to rush out of her office to help a student having a seizure in a classroom.

“Most seizures last about five minutes,” she says. “This one went on for almost 15.”

Fortunately, classroom staff knew to remain calm, began tracking the time and the length of the seizure, monitored the student’s breathing and protected the student’s head until Lapp arrived and activated EMS.

“Our secretary knew whom to call…our maintenance staff were on standby to help with whatever was needed,” Lapp recalls. “We are very lucky that our school administration recognizes the importance of having a full-time nurse in the building.”

The student received efficient care and was back in class within several days. The student is among 8 percent of children in the U.S. diagnosed with food allergies. Of this group, 40 percent have the potential for a life threatening severe reaction known as anaphylaxis, which causes blood pressure to drop and airways to constrict.

Anaphylaxis can be fatal without rapid treatment. According to EdSource, a non-profit education news website, almost 20 percent of severe allergic reactions at schools happen to children who have not been diagnosed.

“Sometimes you don’t know until the first time,” says Lapp.

The incident at Kennedy was an example of the high level of collaboration and commitment to the health and safety of students.

“In a school environment that stresses communication and collaboration, I think you’ll find low levels of absenteeism and high levels of [staff] morale and student achievement,” Lapp says.

In Good Hands

Lapp maintains a drawer in the front desk reception area filled with student-specific and stock EpiPens organized in baggies. EpiPens are auto injectors with spring-activated needles and can be administered in a thigh through clothing. Each baggie contains a printout of the student’s medical history and photo, and the EpiPen.

“Many of our staff have been trained to recognize symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction, how to administer an injection and follow-up procedures,” she says.

The school’s specialized instructional support personnel (SISP) also collaborate on student psychological assessments and case management.

“She (Lapp) tests thoroughly,” says speech therapist Peggy Monagle. “The students we work with have many medical conditions which require in-depth knowledge of their situation and cooperation from everyone.”

School psychologist Ashley Kellett recalls the many cross-departmental meetings between social service workers, teachers, and others where student health issues are analyzed.

“With certain students, you have to determine what’s causing the (psychological) problems,” Kellett says. “For that, you have to be organized and work together.”

For More:
Nurse Sheryl Lapp and other staff from Kennedy are featured in a video as part of the Classroom Close-up NJ series sponsored by NJEA. The video premiers May 6. View here: classroomcloseup.org

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Despite Progress, the ‘Charade’ of High Stakes-Testing Persists

The proliferation of high-stakes testing is most often associated with No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the national education law that was in place for more than a decade. With good reason – the law imposed a crushing accountability regime that turned many of our schools into test prep factories and corrupted what it meant to teach and to learn. But test-based accountability was well-established long before NCLB was signed into law in 2002. And it persists today, two years after the law was replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), says Daniel Koretz, author of The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better.  

While the campaign led by educators, parents and students against overtesting has helped bring about real improvements, Koretz, professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, cautions that too many policymakers refuse to give up their  “blind reliance” on high-stakes tests – to the detriment of students, schools and the teaching profession. “Test-based accountability has become an end itself in American education,” he writes in The Testing Charade, “unmoored from clear thinking about what should be measured, how it should be measured, or how testing can fit into a rational plan for evaluating and improving our schools.”  Koretz recently spoke with NEA Today.

Test-based accountability didn’t begin with NCLB. When did this shift begin and what were the factors that triggered it?

Daniel Koretz: This started at least as early as minimum competency testing in the 1970s and “measurement-driven instruction” in the 1980s. However, looking back, what we called “high-stakes testing” back in the 1980s was very weak tea compared with what we see now. The pressure really started ramping up in the early 1990s, when states began putting in place concrete sanctions and rewards based on test scores. NCLB federalized these programs and made them harsher, but most of its components we had already seen before.

Many people attribute some of the impetus for serious test-based accountability to the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983, which painted a dire picture of the condition of American education. However, within a short time, this approach developed so much momentum that few people questioned it. There were ongoing arguments about how to use tests for accountability, but few questioned the basic approach.

You’re not anti-testing, so what’s the “charade” around testing as you see it?

DK: You’re right, I am certainly not anti-testing. Good tests, used appropriately, can be very valuable. They can provide information about the condition of education that we can’t get anywhere else, and they can provide teachers with useful, specialized information.

The charade is the phony signs of progress—the badly inflated test-score gains—that test-based accountability has produced. This misleads the public and allows those in charge to pretend that these policies are making schools better, while in reality they are not. In fact, in many instances, they have generated more problems than they have solved.

There is an irony in this: high-stakes testing has actually undermined the value of tests because it leads to inflated scores that aren’t accurate and informative.

In the book, you talk a lot about the impact of excessive test prep. What are the most damaging outcomes?

DK: One of the most damaging outcomes is the score inflation I mentioned above. It’s not uncommon for studies to show that gains on the tests used for accountability are three to six times as large as they should be, and we have cases of large gains on a high-stakes test that are accompanied by no real gains in learning whatever. This is what has allowed the charade to continue for so long.

Worse, some schools, districts, and states have more severe score inflation than others. This means that we sometimes identify the wrong teachers, schools, or programs as effective or ineffective.

The University of Chicago Press is offering a 30% discount off the list price of The Testing Charade. Visit the publisher’s site and enter the code AD1717 at checkout.

Second, bad test prep undermines the quality of instruction. Teachers have only so many hours a day, and time wasted on bad test prep can’t be recovered for real instruction. And bad test prep is often mind-numbingly boring, which turns kids off to school and, worse, to learning. And teachers have a strong incentive to forgo good instruction for test prep: test prep has the promise of increasing scores more quickly, albeit by producing bogus gains.

Third, test prep has undermined the very notion of good teaching. Many new teachers are taught not only to use bad test prep, but even that this test prep constitutes “good instruction.” And many of these teachers have never seen any instructional program that isn’t dominated by test prep.

As you discuss in the book, even some the architects of standardized testing decades ago warned about the potential misuse of testing. Why have these warnings, along with the mountain of evidence supporting them, continue to be ignored by many policymakers?

DK: I wish it were only that the reformers haven’t seen the evidence. To be fair, that is undoubtedly the case for many of them, even though that evidence has been accumulating for nearly 30 years. However, it’s certainly not true of all of them. Time and time again, I have encountered people who had been presented with the evidence and simply ignored it, insisted that it must be wrong, or denied that it would apply to their own policies. This denial was facilitated by the many researchers and evaluators who used scores from high-stakes tests as if they were trustworthy measures.

This was one of my primary motivations for writing Charade. I finally lost patience with the pretense. My hope is that the book will make it a bit harder to hide from the facts about test-based accountability.

Test-based accountability is defended as a tool for equity – that it’s essential to hold struggling schools accountable so that our most vulnerable students don’t fall through the cracks. What’s the evidence tell us?

DK:  A desire for improved equity was one of the primary motivations of some advocates of test-based accountability. For example, the expectation that test-based accountability would improve the education of low-performing groups was the main reasons why some leading liberals in Congress supported NCLB.

Good intentions notwithstanding, test-based accountability has largely failed to improve equity. There is no evidence that these policies have contributed to the slow and erratic narrowing of the gap between minority and non-minority children, which started much earlier, and the gap between rich and poor students has been widening. There is some evidence of small relative gains by students at the bottom of the distribution of test scores, but that evidence is both inconsistent and limited.

We know some of the reasons why. Bad test prep tends to be more extensive in disadvantaged schools, and by the same token, we sometimes find that disadvantaged students experience much more severe score inflation. This leads to an illusion that equity has improved when it really hasn’t.

Despite the mobilization against testing in recent years by educators and parents, dislodging the system is a major challenge. What are the encouraging signs moving forward? 

DK: There are a few reasons to be guardedly optimistic. While many in the press are still credulous about test-based accountability, a growing number have become aware of the problems it has created. A slowly growing number of people in the education policy community admit that test-based accountability has been problematic, even if their responses to those problems haven’t always been adequate. And there are signs that parents are increasingly fed up with what test-based accountability has done to their schools.

However, this isn’t enough, and there is a long way to go. While ESSA did end some of the worst excesses of NCLB, many policymakers remain wedded to the old approach. For example, the Minnesota legislature is considering a bill, SF 2816, that would establish a rating system for schools and districts that is based entirely on test scores for elementary schools and only on test scores and graduation rates for high schools and districts.

To bring about the larger changes in direction that we need will take real work. Those who want this real change—educators, parents, and other concerned citizens—will have to make their voices heard. That’s why I wrote The Testing Charade.

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