A Pivotal Year For Education, What Now?

A Pivotal Year For Education, What Now?

Jeff Bryant 4 comments

All the reviews of last year’s top education news stories are out and the consensus view is 2013 was a “pivotal year” for the nation’s education policy, to quote Texas superintendent John Kuhn.

The pivot from what to what has various interpretations, but 2013 was a year when “an education uprising” made many left-leaning people’s lists of positive developments.

Just like what’s happening in the economic arena, where a populist rage against inequality and systemic unfairness is causing even President Obama to take notice, anger over inequity and unfairness of policies labeled as education “reform” has stirred the masses into action and sent a clear warning sign to policy leaders in 2014, an election year.

Dysfunction Junction

You know 2013 was a rotten year for the nation’s public education system when the best thing many people can remember is that sequestration ended and we stopped kicking little poor kids out of their preschools.

Bad education policy practiced nearly everywhere led at least one nationally prominent broadcaster to declare there was a national program to “kill public education.”

Signs of dysfunction abounded:

In January, Michelle Rhee’s group StudentsFirst issued a “Report Card” that gave good grades to states like Louisiana and Florida – which have notoriously been among the worst school systems and lowest test scores in the nation – and crummy grades to states like New Jersey and Massachusetts, which have the nation’s best test scores and well respected school systems.

In keeping with austerity, most states continued to spend less on education than before the recession. Teachers were increasingly reduced to begging for money to buy paper and pencils. One district in Pennsylvania – a state where funding cutbacks have been particularly ruthless – lacked supplies of pencils students needed to take the required state tests.

A report from an Equity and Excellence Commission – a diverse group of prominent experts commissioned by Congress to advise the U.S. Dept. of Education – called the U.S. an “outlier nation” for its extreme inattention to the needs of a growing population of poor children.

Meanwhile, one of the nation’s largest school districts blew over a billion dollars on Apple iPads. In other ed-tech news, many realized the new online learning sensations known as MOOCs were pretty much a bust – even the guy who invented them.

From coast to coast, there were loud complaints that American students pre-K through college just weren’t learning enough. Policy leaders responded by cutting larger chunks of the curriculum including art, music, science, physics, and a great deal of the humanities.

In cities across the country – New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Oakland – local leaders committed to “school choice” decided to shut down masses of schools in neighborhoods where poor black and brown children live, thus depriving those parents of sending their children to the schools of their choice.

Education “reform” proponents in Washington, D.C., who claim to speak for a “civil rights” cause, came face to face with civil rights advocates from urban centers across the nation who opposed reform. Beginning with Journey for Justice event in D.C. in January, widespread protests broke out across the nation, – predominantly in urban communities of color, but spreading to white suburbs too – to demand a change to failed policies.

According to a recent analysis, grand plans to address these troubled schools in place at the beginning of the year remained that way at the end – just plans, with little to no impact on students’ lives. In Indiana, – a “reform star” that saw its former state school chief Tony Bennett humiliated and driven from public office – a $30 million effort to turn around struggling schools produced no gains. In North Carolina, also high on the reform-fave list, a $43 million effort had done very little to alter children’s classroom experiences.

Nevertheless, in December, U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan decided to direct $43 million more into these very same sorts of programs.

Out Of Chaos, Into What?

The potentially threatening outcome of all this dysfunction is more confusion.

For the past decade or so, education policy-making has pretty much been about reacting to the latest “crisis” news with yet another anxious call to “let’s try this!” Hardly ever is there very much regard for what ordinary Americans think.

For instance, in one recent op-ed, the editorial board of The New York Times, responded to a recent survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showing American workers scored “below average” on mathematical and problem-solving skills by sounding the alarm, “Other countries teach better … students do better overseas.”

With all due haste the writers declared, “The lessons from those high-performing countries can no longer be ignored by the United States if it hopes to remain competitive.”

The prescribed “lessons” were that the nation’s schools must rapidly adopt policies hailing from someplace else – namely, teacher training programs from Finland, funding practices from Canada, and a top-down directed redistribution of resources enforced in Shanghai.

While there’s certainly nothing wrong with examining how other countries go about educating their students, what’s become the tendency is to take comparative results from international assessments and read from that information whatever one wants.

This happens time and again as policy leaders take results from whatever is the latest assessment – more recently the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), for instance – and use it as “proof” we must quickly adopt the reform fad of the day – regardless of what ordinary Americans think.

So with this NYT editorial, here we have yet another example of pulling from survey results what the authors are predisposed to value to begin with – not for instance, that Finnish children start formal schooling at age 7, or that students in Shanghai go to school late into the night and on weekends, or that Canada has practically universal health care and a much lower child poverty rate compared to the U.S.

For sure, Americans want to be Number One in the world, but that doesn’t mean Americans much care about what other countries do. Has anyone ever built a winning political campaign based on the “Finnish Platform”? Or let’s adopt the Shanghai plan? Note, for instance, that the national debate over health care didn’t produce a policy anything like the Canadian system.

True, Americans have that “exceptionalism thing.” But also there’s the very nature of this country’s peculiar system that isn’t based on “what works” as much as “what’s right.” The nation’s foundational documents don’t propose a nation based on equality, liberty, and freedom because there’s proof those “work.”

So rather than declaring allegiance to yet another technocratic “solution” sold as “reform,” policy leaders should take the current disruption in the education debate as an opportunity to listen.

The Main Street Consensus Arises

Discontent is everywhere.

The Huffington Post reported that a new survey has found half of Americans think our system of democracy needs either “a lot of changes” or a “complete overhaul.” And 70% of the citizenry ‘”lack confidence in the government’s ability ‘to make progress on the important problems and issues facing the country.'”

In the realms of foreign and economic policy, there’s a growing belief that a new “main street consensus” has emerged which rejects the past 60-year status quo governing national policy.

Writing at Talking Points Memo, Jonathan Taplin explained, “During the course of 2013 citizens, from liberals to libertarians, have turned against the collective wisdom of both Wall Street and the Council of Foreign Relations.”

At The New Republic, Noam Scheiber has tracked a “group of writers … documenting the growing appeal of economic populism and the rising influence of its practitioners.” He wrote, “Populism can’t be ghettoized in a single issue like entitlements or financial reform. It touches pretty much every economic issue.”

Like education?

Many are seeing the election of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as harbinger of a rising populism affecting education policy in the year ahead. The Nation’s Dana Goldstein claimed that electoral outcome had “changed the conversation about education

“Bill de Blasio’s proposal to provide universal pre-K and after-school programs for all middle-schoolers – and to pay for both by taxing the rich – struck such a chord with the public. Finally, here was someone promising to address the problems pressing on the minds of New York parents.

“People appear to be waking up,” she concluded.

De Blasio promptly made good on his campaign claims by picking as school chancellor Carmen Farina who will, according to experienced observers at Education Week, take education policy in a “different direction” away from the status quo reform “hallmarks” of “rapid expansion of charter schools, the closing of underperforming schools, and an increased use of student test scores for high-stakes decisions.”

At least one outlet for education opinionating has declared, “I predict that this year – 2014 – is the year that reforms driven by teachers and parents take center stage, and reforms driven by hedge-funders and ex-governors finally get gonged.”

Another noted, “2013 will be remembered as the year the free-market education reform movement crested and began to subside. After a decade of gathering momentum, reform politics began to founder in the face of communities fighting for equitable and progressive public education.”

Could it be 2014 is the year we finally get a public education policy in which the “public” have a serious and respected role in most important decisions?

12/24/2014 – What Education Numbers Miss

Jeff Bryant No Comments

THIS WEEK: Teachers Starved Of Resources … Today’s Jammed Schools … Lack Of Resources For Common Core … ‘Failing Schools’ Suddenly Not Failing … More Post-Secondary Students Needed


The Education Story The Numbers Don’t Tell

By Jeff Bryant

“As 2013 closed out, the education world was roiled by yet another controversy over the calculation and interpretation of statistical data used to govern teachers and school services … The whole idea that teaching and learning is a pursuit that can be expressed and judged by numbers and rankings … is increasingly an unsettled matter to most Americans. What they see instead more and more looks like a nation turning its back on the well being of students – especially those who are most in need.”
Read more …


Needing Pencils, iPads Or Piccolos, Teachers Turn To Crowdsourcing

The Hechinger Report

“According to a 2013 study … teachers spent $1.6 billion of their own money on school and instructional supplies in the 2012-2013 school year. Some districts offer teachers limited reimbursements but even those have been shrinking under budget pressures. That money crunch has led more and more teachers to turn to crowdsourcing websites … Teachers need money for books, musical instruments, art supplies and just about everything else in the classroom … [These] sites do not give cash donations to teachers, but direct them to a network of affiliated vendors from which to purchase the needed materials … Teachers can’t count on money from these sites and that can be a problem.”
Read more …

Subtract Teachers, Add Pupils: Math Of Today’s Jammed Schools

The New York Times

“Despite the recovery, many schools face unwieldy class sizes and a lack of specialists to help those students who struggle academically, are learning English as a second language or need extra emotional support … Across the country, public schools employ about 250,000 fewer people than before the recession … Enrollment in public schools, meanwhile, has increased by more than 800,000 students. To maintain prerecession staffing ratios, public school employment should have actually grown by about 132,000 jobs in the past four years, in addition to replacing those that were lost … Districts are making these difficult trade-offs at a time when schools are raising academic standards and business leaders are pushing schools to prepare a work force with better skills … The cutbacks have been particularly pronounced in less affluent school districts.”
Read more …

Survey: Principals Prioritize Common Core, But Report Lack of Readiness

Education Week

“America’s school principals overwhelmingly have put the rollout of the Common Core State Standards at the top of their agenda, but the vast majority also say they are not adequately prepared to manage both the budgeting and the overall shift in instruction that is demanded by the new learning goals … More than 80% said the common-core standards have the potential to provide students with deeper learning and more meaningful assessments … Most principals said they had not yet been able to upgrade curriculum materials or technology to support the new standards … More than 70% also reported that they had not yet taken action to integrate the standards into existing services for English-language learners and students with disabilities.”
Read more …

Most of NCLB’s ‘Failing’ Schools Were Not Targeted the Following Year

U.S. News And World Report

“Most of the schools that were deemed as failing under the sweeping education law known as No Child Left Behind were no longer identified as such one year later, once several states received waivers that increased their flexibility in developing school accountability systems … On average, two-thirds of the schools identified for improvement under NCLB for the 2011-12 school year were not identified once waivers allowed states to develop accountability systems that ranked schools on a relative basis of school performance, rather than an absolute basis … But because school accountability systems vary so widely from state to state, it’s hard to determine if the ‘right’ schools are making the cut … A large percentage of the schools in the most dire category of NCLB improvement, called ‘restructuring,’ were not identified as schools for improvement the next year.”
Read more …

An Upside Down Economy-Education Cycle


“Historical trends suggest that when the economy takes a dive, more people seek improvement in their education as a means to provide them with a competitive edge when the economy returns. As the economy improves, enrollments decline under the theory that plenty of jobs will be available and a higher education may not be as important in a job search … What is noticeably different this time around than during previous recoveries is that the number of jobs requiring a postsecondary credential is higher now than ever before and will continue to be the case … The historical, counter-cyclical relationship between an economic upturn and college enrollments is now upside down … The decline in college enrollments, especially for the over 25 adult learner, is counter-productive for them and the nation.'”
Read more …

The Education Story The Numbers Don’t Tell

Jeff Bryant 4 comments

As 2013 closed out, the education world was roiled by yet another controversy over the calculation and interpretation of statistical data used to govern teachers and school services.

This controversy, coming to us from the nation’s capital, involved, according to the report in The Washington Post, “Faulty calculations of the ‘value’ that D.C. teachers added to student achievement in the last school year.”

“The evaluation errors,” noted reporter Nick Anderson, “underscore the high stakes of a teacher evaluation system that relies in part on standardized test scores to quantify the value a given teacher adds to the classroom.”

This controversy falls into a long line of previous ones stretched across the year. Now that the results from tests are being used to judge just about anything having to do with education, debates over education policy have become an endless back-and-forth over whether the data are reliable and what, if anything, they reveal.

Whether it’s “white suburban moms” disputing their children’s standardized test results or pundits parsing out the meaning of PISA, the nation has descended into a heated cross-fire over the impact and relevance of education statistics brandished by “reform” advocates.

While these arguments rage over the relevancy of test scores in policy making, some are now questioning, to use the operative phrase in Anderson’s sentence above, whether it’s even possible or preferable “to quantify the value” in education.

The whole idea that teaching and learning is a pursuit that can be expressed and judged by numbers and rankings, which seems to be a forgone conclusion to policy makers and economists, is increasingly an unsettled matter to most Americans. What they see instead more and more looks like a nation turning its back on the well being of students – especially those who are most in need.

The Impact Of IMPACT?

The reported problems with D.C.’s teacher evaluation system are just the latest example of the problems that occur when test data become a source for policy direction.

The mistake affected 44 teachers, or about 10 percent of faculty the calculations apply to. But the overall effect is way more significant when taking into account the numbers of students who are linked to each teacher.

Further any report of flaws with the teacher evaluations in D.C. is apt to reverberate across the country. The district’s system, known as IMPACT, was created under the administration of Michelle Rhee and has been touted by education advocates aligned with Rhee as a model for the nation.

As the Post’s Valerie Strauss, who also reported on the IMPACT controversy, noted, “Such evaluation has become a central part of modern school reform … In some places around the country, teachers received evaluations based on test scores of students they never had.”

The Truth Behind TUDA?

The reported problems with IMPACT fell on the heels of yet another statistical data dump from the week before.

That statistical disgorge is known as the Trial Urban District Assessment, or TUDA, which analyzed the performance of students in some cities with populations of 250,000 who took part in the National Assessment for Educational Progress.

The education reporter for The Huffington Post, Joy Resmovits, noted, “Washington, D.C. – a standard bearer for what’s known as the education reform movement since former school chancellor Michelle Rhee’s tumultuous tenure at D.C. Public Schools – was the only city to show score increases in both grades in both subjects since 2011.”

So Michelle Rhee’s organization, StudentFirst, immediately issued a press release claiming D.C. schools as one of the “bright spots” that show “what we can learn” from TUDA. First among the lessons was, you guessed it, IMPACT.

Of course, it’s entirely unclear how students analyzed by TUDA – just fourth and eighth graders in two subjects – were in any way affected by IMPACT. Other explanations for D.C.’s superior results seem equally if not more plausible.

For instance, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, pointed to changes in early childhood education and the city’s demographics as factors. “This is the first group of 4th graders that actually had pre-kindergarten. So what this is saying to us is that all-day kindergarten and prekindergarten is one of the most important investments.” And the city is ” becoming more and more middle class.”

Meanwhile, as Resmovits noted in her article, “Statisticians warn against citing these gains as evidence of efficacy or inadequacy in debates about particular school reforms. ‘It’s not a causal model,’ said Mark Schneider, a vice president at the American Institutes of Research, who used to oversee the Education Department’s research arm. ‘I get very leery when people say that ‘This shows that X happened.'”

Nevertheless, there seems little hesitancy to jump into these statistical suppositions games and then use them to craft whole policies for our children.

PISA Palaver

Perhaps no assessment data draws more media attention and generates more causal explanations derived from test results than the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA.

This year’s PISA results were no exception as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan staged PISA Day, a media event that spent most of five hours arguing that the scores were reasons to get behind his pet policies. And Michelle Rhee took to the pages of Time magazine to use the PISA scores as an opportunity to claim the countries that are excelling academically are doing similar things to what she espouses.

As Rutgers professor Bruce Baker explained at his blog, the primary use of PISA data in the public policy discourse is “to ram through ill-conceived, destructive policies.”

Baker – whose edu-stat crunching has been compared to “Nate Silver’s influential and statistically nuanced election forecast blog posts” – concluded about PISA, “Except for showing that economic conditions matter … simple rankings of countries by their PISA scores aren’t particularly insightful.”

“Nothin’ brings out good ol’ American statistical ineptitude like the release of NAEP or PISA data,” Baker continued in a different blog post. Any gains or losses on these tests, Baker contended are less a matter of proving a school system is doing better “because it allowed charter schools to grow faster, or teachers to be fired more readily by test scores,” and more a simple matter that swings in results “are cohort average score differences which reflect differences in the composition of the cohort as much as anything else.”

To mock the whole idea that these test results provide grand insights into “what works” in education, Matt Chingos, writing for the conservative education policy center Education Next, had a bit of year-end holiday fun and contrived “a rigorous empirical analysis that measures the causal effect of Christmas on student achievement.” His conclusion – including the mandatory Excel graph! – that “student learning rises more or less in lock-step with the amount of holiday spending” is about as convincing as what Duncan, Rhee, and other “reform” leaders pull from the data. But that doesn’t seem to stop them.

Testing data’s absurd level of impact on the nation’s entire education endeavor would be a laughing matter if there weren’t such tragic situations occurring on the ground in schools.

Back To Reality

While the nation’s education leaders get lost in a numbers game, there’s ample evidence from real life experiences that our children’s education destinies are becoming more endangered.

As The New York Times recently reported, “Many schools face unwieldy class sizes and a lack of specialists to help those students who struggle academically, are learning English as a second language, or need extra emotional support.”

According to the article elementary class sizes in parts of California have swollen to 30 students and more. The public school district in Dallas, Texas this year sought state permission for over 200 schools to increase class size of 22 students for kindergarten through fourth grade. Some high schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg County in North Carolina have class sizes of as many as 40 students. And in Cobb County, Ga., average class sizes in fourth and fifth grades are now about 33 students.

The problem arises from the fact that “public schools employ about 250,000 fewer people than before the recession” while enrollments have increased by more than 800,000 students.

“The cutbacks have been particularly pronounced in less affluent school districts,” Times reporter Motoko Rich noted.

On nearly the same day, another New York City newspaper, The Daily News, reported on the alarming state of education services to minority students in the system. “Black and Hispanic high school students are “getting stiffed,” wrote the reporter, based on data provided by the school system.

“On average, white and Asian students attend high schools with twice as many Advanced Placement courses and almost twice as many science labs compared with schools attended by black and Hispanic students.

“Black and Hispanic students also have fewer science subjects available in their high schools and fewer arts classes and rooms … They’re also less likely to have a library, medical office or gym in their school buildings.”

Similarly, a report in a Boston news outlet looked at schools in California and noted, “Hispanic students in general are getting worse educations than their white peers. Their class sizes are larger, course offerings are fewer and funding is lower. The consequence is obvious: lower achievement.”

The Times article caused education historian Diane Ravitch to write on her blog, “We hear so-called reformers proclaim about the importance of teacher evaluation, merit pay, and test scores, but I have yet to hear any of them complain about budget cuts and lack of staff for the arts, physical education, foreign languages, libraries, and so on … How are schools supposed to enact any of their proposals when teachers are stressed out with crowded classrooms?”

How indeed?

2014: A Chance To Change The Conversation

When the last Great Big Education Innovation called No Child Left Behind descended on America’s beleaguered schools, the intention was to address the variance in test score data among K-12 students.

NCLB was supposed to close what was, and still is, called the Achievement Gap. But it’s now widely understood that the whole enterprise was an utter failure. The best that NCLB proponents can offer is that it “woke the country” to the stark differences between the academic attainment of African American and Hispanic school children and their white and Asian peers.

But anyone who needed “awakening” then has doubtless fallen back into slumbers as the country has drifted further and further into a vast sea of segregated schools and education inequality.

Rather than seeking a different course of action, reform-minded policy makers doubled down and brought us even more destructive ways to use test score data, while real experiences of students in actual classrooms – especially in our most financially strained, underserved communities – were ignored.

2014, an election year, offers an opportunity to change that conversation. The American people are ready for it.

12/17/2013 – Rein In For-Profit Colleges

Jeff Bryant No Comments

THIS WEEK: Progress On Pre-K Policy … Test Scores Don’t Equal Cognitive Abilities … Public Schools Beat Private Schools … Corporate Education Reform Fail … College Presidents Doubt Obama Plan


New Regulations Needed To Rein In For-Profit Colleges

By Jeff Bryant

“The good news coming from the U.S. Department of Education recently is the effort to put tougher restrictions on for-profit scam colleges … The bad news is that not all Democrats are behind this effort and pushing for the tighter restrictions … Low-income students and veterans returning are most at risk of being scammed by the for-profit higher ed sector … Constituencies who generally lean Democratic, including consumer advocates and civil rights groups, have pushed for stricter regulations on the for-profit college business … Unfortunately, the money behind for-profit higher ed has eager takers in the Democratic party as well.”
Read more …


Looking Back On 2013: Early Education Policy In The States

The New America Foundation

At NAF’s Ed Central Blog, “Early education (birth through 3rd grade) policy is on the move … The House and Senate introduced pre-K expansion bills (bipartisan in the House!) … Changes states made during the 2013 legislative session to improve their early education systems: 38 bills across 25 states … This translated into changes in the organizational structure of various states’ early childhood bureaucracies, adjustments to teacher preparation guidelines, tighter oversight of boards of education decisions around English language learners, and more specific quality rating and improvement system expectations for pre-K programs … Some legislators were determined to find new funds to expand more and better early childhood options … There’s evidence that momentum is building around improving and expanding early childhood education.”
Read more …

Even When Test Scores Go Up, Some Cognitive Abilities Don’t

MIT News

“Schools whose students have the highest gains on test scores do not produce similar gains in “fluid intelligence” – the ability to analyze abstract problems and think logically … In a study of nearly 1,400 eighth-graders in the Boston public school system, the researchers found that some schools have successfully raised their students’ scores … However, those schools had almost no effect on students’ performance on tests of fluid intelligence skills, such as working memory capacity, speed of information processing, and ability to solve abstract problems … The researchers plan to continue tracking these students, who are now in 10th grade, to see how their academic performance and other life outcomes evolve.'”
Read more …

Public Schools Beat Private Schools

The Boston Globe

An interview with education researcher Christopher Lubienski explains, “School reform advocates have long argued that more autonomy would allow public schools to innovate, and that letting families choose where to send their kids would force schools to improve their game. But … that independence and competition may actually be holding back achievement at private and charter schools … ‘Public school students are outscoring their demographic counterparts in private schools … at a level that is comparable to a few weeks to several months … Our research shows that autonomy can be a problem for independent schools, including charter schools … what we found was many of these types of schools are actually using their autonomy to embrace outmoded or outdated curricular or instructional functions … What we’re seeing is as competition increases in these areas, schools often take on strategies that might not always mean the best outcomes for students. A lot of them are taking resources out of the classroom and putting them more into things like marketing.'”
Read more …

Corporate Education Reform Won’t Solve The Problems Caused By Poverty

Next New Deal

At the blog of The Roosevelt Institute: “Few would dispute that we should hold our educators and the children they are entrusted with to a high bar of excellence, but evaluating performance on test scores has never been a viable strategy … Relying solely on improving testing scores demeans the teaching profession and puts the students who need the most attention and wraparound services at a disadvantage … We have to acknowledge that non-school factors play a major role in learning outcomes and policymakers must know that enough is enough.”
Read more …

Dubious of Obama Plan

Inside Higher Ed

“Most college presidents doubt that President Obama’s plan to promote affordable higher education will be effective, or that it will lead students to make better informed choices. Further, they expect that the wealthiest colleges and universities will be most successful in the ratings system … The skepticism of the plan among presidents is striking given how many of them say that they appreciate the way Obama has repeatedly stressed the importance of higher education … One of the criticisms of the Obama plan from the start is that it would favor the wealthiest institutions, which tend to attract the best-prepared students (and so have high graduation rates), enroll students who are well-connected (which, combined with their good preparation, lands them good jobs) and have the endowments to support generous financial aid packages … Education Secretary Arne Duncan defended the college ratings proposal … and said he wasn’t surprised that college leaders have been critical. ‘This is a fundamental change… Some people embrace that and some people are more wary or scared.'”
Read more …

New Regulations Needed To Rein In For-Profit Colleges

Jeff Bryant 4 comments

The good news coming from the U.S. Department of Education recently is the effort to put tougher restrictions on for-profit scam colleges that rip off students, families, and the taxpayers.

The bad news is that not all Democrats are behind this effort and pushing for the tighter restrictions.

Think Progress last week passed along a report from The Wall Street Journal that Big Ed has drafted a rewrite of regulations to rein in “for-profit schools whose students end up deep in debt or default on their student loans at exceptionally high rates.”

The colleges that would be most heavily affected include the University of Phoenix (owned by Apollo Education Group), Kaplan Higher Education, Devry Inc., The Art Institute (owned by Education Management Corporation), and Corinthian Colleges, among others.

The guidelines provide the teeth for what is referred to in wonk-speak as a “gainful employment” plan. The new regulations could go into effect as early as 2015 and could cause, according to the WSJ report, “as many as 20 percent of programs at for-profit colleges” to lose revenue. Public and non-profit colleges four-year colleges would be exempted.

Writers at Think Progress provided some useful backstory:

“For-profit schools have come under scrutiny for burdening students with debt without giving them degrees or skills that help them get jobs to pay them off. Many for-profit schools and community colleges have higher rates of students defaulting on their loans than who actually graduate. More than three-quarters of the students at for-profit colleges fail to earn a degree within six years.”

Further, low-income students are particularly vulnerable to the predatory nature of these for-profit schools, because these students “attend for-profit colleges at a rate four times higher than other students.”

Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are also at risk of being scammed by the for-profit higher ed sector.

As Mother Jones reported back in 2011, “at 8 of the 10 for-profits that take in the most GI Bill cash, more than half of students drop out within a year of matriculation. Many students find that prospective employers and graduate schools won’t take their coursework seriously,” and “some for-profits have cleaned out students’ military benefits while also signing them up for thousands of dollars in loans without their knowledge.”

But, back to The Wall Street Journal report, “for-profit schools say they are being unfairly targeted, given that some of the highest student-debt burdens fall on those who attend public and nonprofit graduate schools, such as law and medical school. They say they serve many students – such as single mothers and many low-income students who don’t live near a community college – who otherwise would have few, if any, options for attending postsecondary schools.”

Whichever side you take in this debate, clearly big money is involved. According to report filed by David Halperin, when he wrote for the Republic Report , the for-profit higher education industry generates a $35 billion annual revenue of which the vast majority – “about $32 billion” – comes from federal financial aid.

And whenever big money is involved in an issue, it has immediate and considerable effects on the politics of it.

Republicans Boost Scam Schools

For years, Republicans have been big boosters of for-profit colleges.

In the 2012 presidential election, The New York Times followed up a speech given by Republican candidate Mitt Romney in which he recommended that students seeking higher education “should consider for-profit colleges like the little-known Full Sail University in Florida. A week later in Iowa, Mr. Romney offered another unsolicited endorsement for ‘a place in Florida called Full Sail University.’”

The NYT article, written by Eric Lichtblau, was quick to point out that the cost of tuition at Full Sail can run more than $80,000 for a 21-month program, and that many of the school’s programs have a less than sterling graduation rate – as low as just 14 percent of students graduating on time and only 38 percent at all.

Meanwhile, some Full Sail students “carried a median debt load of nearly $59,000 in federal and private loans,” way more than the national average of $23,000.

Republican cheerleading for for-profit colleges isn’t exclusive to presidential candidates.

As Lee Fang reported for Think Progress back in 2010, when the Obama administration first attempted to implement tougher “gainful employment” regulations, the for-profit higher ed industry unleashed a slew of lobbyists to combat the legislation.

Some restrictions eventually passed but nearly two years ago, the Republican dominated U.S. House of Representatives, passed a bill to reduce the Education Department’s regulatory controls of for-profit colleges.

As Think Progress reported back then, the main thrust of that legislation was to repeal DoE’s “standardized definition of the term ‘credit hour’” and other federal restrictions of for-profit colleges.

The bill, which ultimately went nowhere in the Senate, was sponsored by North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx, who also opposed the Obama administration’s successful effort to end $60 billion in government-backed subsidies to predatory student loan companies, as Color Lines reported back then.

Later in 2012, the Education Department’s gainful-employment rules were deemed unenforceable by a court ruling, as reported by Caralee Johnson Adams who covers the college beat for Education Week. The ruling however, left open the door for “the department’s right to craft new regulations.”

So this year, also reported by Education Week‘s Adams, Republicans in the House conducted a preemptive strike against the Obama administration’s re-drafting of the new gainful employment regulations by introducing a bill that would repeal those regulations in addition to ones the House targeted in 2012. Rep. Foxx, again, was one of the bill’s sponsors.

There is a reason why Foxx and other Republicans are so persistent.

As the chair of the House Higher Education Subcommittee, Foxx received $3,000 in donations to her 2008 re-election campaign from the political-action committee of The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, which represents for-profit colleges, as reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education . Employees of Keiser University, a for-profit institution headquartered in Florida – far from Foxx’s district in North Carolina – gave $2,300 to her campaign. And according to the article, “Harris N. Miller, the president of the private-sector association, welcomed Ms. Foxx’s appointment [to chair the House Committee], saying she has ‘shown a lot of interest in our sector.’”

But with Democratic majorities in the Senate and the support of a Democratic presidential administration, it would appear that Republican efforts to reduce regulatory scrutiny of bad actors in the higher education arena would make little headway.

If only that were true.

Not All Democrats On Board

Constituencies who generally lean Democratic, including consumer advocates and civil rights groups, have pushed for stricter regulations on the for-profit college business.

Unfortunately, the money behind for-profit higher ed has eager takers in the Democratic party as well.

As the intrepid Lee Fang again reported, this time in The Nation, “a small group of House Democrats, led by Representatives Rob Andrews of New Jersey and Alcee Hastings of Florida, are organizing an effort within the caucus to protect the for-profit career college industry from any meaningful regulation.

“The two congressmen are among the largest recipients of campaign cash from the industry. Campaign finance data compiled by TheNation.com show Hastings has received $54,500, and Andrews $78,547, from for-profit college executives and political committees.”

Andrews and Hastings circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter asking, according to Fang, “other House Democrats to sign a document asking the administration to back down.”

Added Fang, “Notably, the Association for Private Sector Colleges and Universities, a trade association for the industry, has given only to two House Democrats in the last three months: Hastings and Andrews.”

This Deserves Democratic Unity

Rather than seeking agreement or compromise with Republicans, Democratic lawmakers should unify behind what the Obama administration is trying to do.

The new restrictions being considered are reasonable. For instance for-profit colleges would lose access to federal money if their students’ average debt payments after graduation exceeded 12 percent of the students’ annual income or 30 percent of discretionary income several years after they leave school. Also, schools would face restrictions if the share of students defaulting on federal loans within three years of leaving a program couldn’t reach 30%.

Claims that these new restrictions will discriminate against for-profit institutions ring hollow.

Although it’s true that college completion rates and loan defaults are at unsatisfactory levels across the entire higher ed sector, completion rates, according to the latest report, at two-year public institutions (40 percent), four-year public institutions (63 percent), and for four-year private nonprofit institutions (73 percent) are above what many of these for-profit colleges produce. More than three-quarters of for-profit students fail to earn a degree after six years, as Think Progress reported in the previous year (cited above).

Completion rates at public colleges are actually making progress.

Further, the fraudulence committed by many of these for-profit institutions is just too wide spread. The latest case, investigated by Chris Kirkham at The Huffington Post, found that an institution run by Corinthian Colleges, one of the colleges The Wall Street Journal article claimed would be reigned in by these new regulations, systematically padded job placements in order to market itself more effectively to students and sidestep existing requirements from accreditors.

As Kirkham explained, “It wasn’t the only Corinthian school to try this approach, according to a lawsuit filed in San Francisco in October by the California attorney general. That complaint accuses Corinthian of employing a broad range of fraudulent marketing techniques, including overstating its job placement rates. It specifically accuses two Corinthian campuses in California of paying a temp agency to hire graduates.”

To put the importance of these new tougher regulations into context, you need only venture into the subways of New York City. Car after car are emblazoned with colorful banner ads touting colleges, universities, and certificate programs that offer young adults opportunities to “advance” themselves and achieve “success.” The ads invariably feature images of smiling young adults of color and headlines exhorting them to “aim high” and “advance yourself.” And a prominent bullet point in nearly every ad is “we’ll arrange the financing for you.”

The advertising onslaught stems both from the demand our nation’s younger generation feels as a result of being increasingly unemployed, with fewer and fewer job prospects, and a relentless campaign from institutions of for-profit marketers to capitalize on that anxiety with promises to provide a pathway to future employment through education.

Rather than letting the power of big money and its marketing power to continue to have its way, Democratic lawmakers need to get behind the effort from the Obama administration to ensure taxpayer money for higher ed is being well spent, and students and families are being better served.

12/11/2013 – Day Of Action Reveals Anger

Jeff Bryant No Comments

THIS WEEK: Sequester Cuts Hit Needy Students Hardest … Feeding The School-To-Prison-Pipeline … Failing Third Graders Doesn’t Help Them … School Counselors Rare But Necessary … Costs Of Private Colleges Add To Debt


Day Of Action Reveals Widespread Anger With Current Education Policies

By Jeff Bryant

“A Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education held on December 9 in over 100 sites across the country… took on many forms … but there were common grievances overlapping the events … The wide range of locations for Monday’s events, and the numbers of participants, are testament to the breadth and depth of complaints about current education policies.”
Read more …


Sequester Cuts Hit Hardest Students And Schools That Can Least Afford The Cost

National Education Association

“The across-the-board sequester cuts are not only hurting students and schools, but the cuts are falling unevenly and disproportionately hitting those who can least afford the loss… Students could expect more than $5.5 billion in additional education funding if the sequester was replaced … 1 out of every 6 students attends public schools in a district where 5%-15% of total revenue is from federal Title I funding … 1 out of every 10 school districts rely on federal funding for 20%-50% (or more) of their total revenue.”
Read more …

Zero-Tolerance Policies In Schools Are Often Destructive, Fueling A School To Prison Pipeline


“In recognition of the mounting evidence against zero-tolerance policies and the increasing outcry to radically rethink disciplinary policies, school districts in several parts of the country are now dropping or radically modifying their zero-tolerance policies … Students are attending counseling, completing community service, and going to behavior intervention programs when they commit behavioral infractions, rather than being sent to court … Giving these students more control, autonomy and responsibility … encourages them to take a more active role in the school community, and in turn, that’s creating better behaviors … and leading to a drop in disciplinary problems.”
Read more …

The Third-Grade Crackdown Club

Education Week

Former Michigan Teacher of the Year Nancy Flanagan, writes, “Florida and NY City passed legislation mandating retention of third graders who haven’t achieved an equally arbitrary reading level – with unimpressive results. In at least 13 more states, including my own, policy-makers are now eager to join the Third Grade Crackdown club … Sorting students by age, standardizing their curriculum and rank-ordering their achievement has been embedded American education practice for well over a century… ‘Grade level’ expectations vary widely … They, too, are arbitrary … Although it’s rare, there are cases where retention is the right decision. But that call should be made by teachers and parents, not at the statehouse.”
Read more …

School Counselors Increasingly Are Missing Link In Getting Kids To College

The Hechinger Report

“A single public school counselor in the United States has a caseload of 471 students, on average … In high schools, where counselors are often the primary source of information about college … each one is responsible for an average of 239 students … Budget cuts are forcing counselors to perform more duties unrelated to their traditional roles … Most get scant training in the subject before taking on the job … The result is an overtaxed system in which many students fall through the cracks and either never go to college, go to institutions that are the wrong matches for them, or never learn about financial aid for which they may qualify … Counselors in private schools have a median caseload of only 106..”
Read more …

How ‘Limited Government’ Is Burying A Generation In Debt

Moyers and Company

“The cost of tuition in this country has increased at an almost unbelievable pace over the past generation … While tuitions are rising across the board, the cost drivers are different in public and private institutions … Much more of the growth in private school tuition pays for administrators’ bloated salaries … Americans pay more than three times the average of other rich countries for ‘tertiary education’ out-of-pocket, financed through the private sector … Our disproportionate reliance on private sector higher education, with its bloated administrative spending, has a lot to do with the exorbitant costs American students and their families pay … It’s a huge ripoff and it’s hurting the prospects of an entire generation of Americans.”
Read more …

Day Of Action Reveals Widespread Anger With Current Education Policies

Jeff Bryant 7 comments

“We have to fight for our children’s education.”

Those words, from Philadelphia parent Kia Hinton, crystalized a national sentiment expressed during a Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education held on December 9 in over 100 sites across the country.

The multiple events – held from Maine to San Francisco, New Orleans to Minneapolis/St. Paul – constituted “the largest coordinated action to reclaim the promise of public education in recent memory,” according to a statement from the American Federation of Teachers, a lead organizer and sponsor of the various actions.

The events took on many forms – from street protests and rallies to town halls and news conferences – but there were common grievances overlapping the events.

Over and over, voices at these events complained of lack of resources for their schools and inequality of how resources are spread.

Whether they were teachers calling out unfair evaluations, parents decrying of high-stakes testing, or students criticizing unfair discipline policies, they all expressed feelings of being no longer in control of their education destinies.

And numerous voices in the audiences of these events pointed to governing policies that increasingly are perceived as being driven by corruption and profit making rather than the best interest of students.

Voices From The Streets

At a protest rally in Pittsburgh, a local organizer complained, “Our kids have lost kindergarten, music [and] art … We want smaller class sizes…we want our librarians back.”

At a protest in Syracuse, a representative from a parent group stated, “Not every child gets the same kind of education in New York state … It depends on who you’re born to and where they live, what kind of opportunities are available to you, and that’s not just right … It’s not fair and it doesn’t serve our society.”

A parent speaking at the event in Newark, New Jersey, urged the audience to take back the control of local schools that are now governed by an unelected board. “We need to get back our local control,” she said. “No one’s held accountable. They get to do everything they want.”

Protestors in New Orleans staged their event in front of a school scheduled for closure, which will force parents into the district’s complicated and unfair “choice” system that sends many NOLA students to distant campuses in other parts of town.

“Why do I have to look elsewhere if I shop here, if I pay taxes here, if I live here?” one of the organizers said. “It’s not a failing school. It’s a failing system that set up this school.”

In Columbus, Ohio, reporters described an audience of “educators, parents, labor, and faith leaders” who protested Governor John Kasich’s record of cutting school spending, “while giving money to failing, for-profit charter schools.”

In Chicago, a protest organizer, Jonathan Stith of the Alliance for Educational Justice, complained of “current school reform efforts by corporate education profiteers” that have “bankrupted public education.”

Just How Big

The wide range of locations for Monday’s events, and the numbers of participants, are testament to the breadth and depth of complaints about current education policies.

In New York state, events were held in Nyack, Albany, Binghamton, Rochester, Syracuse, New York City, Yonkers, and the Buffalo suburb of West Seneca.

In Washington D.C., “close to 600 people” endured inclement weather and “packed a high school auditorium … to ask questions of the leading mayoral candidates and serve notice that the community is united behind ‘putting the public back in public education.’”

In Philadelphia, according to the local news report that quoted Hinton, crowds of parents, students, and advocates rallied outside the regional office of Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett, calling for increased funding for that could help with the city’s endless budget crisis.

“The turnout so big, they took over South Broad Street and forced the street to shut down,” the reporter said.

Cross state, in Pittsburgh, local press reported, “more than 100” people gathered outside the governor’s local office to listen to speakers, chant slogans, and wave signs that read, “Education Not for Sale” and “Support Funding for Public Education.”

According to a local news report from Chicago, “A couple hundred parents, students, and teachers braved the frigid night air on Monday to deliver their holiday wish list to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Pat Quinn: Stop school closings, end the privatization of neighborhood public schools, and eliminate mayoral control of the school board.”

At the event in Newark, “some 200 advocates marched to the Newark Public Schools offices and to City Hall.”

“More than 300 supporters gathered,” in Austin, Texas, “to hear speakers address the most pressing issues in Texas schools, including education equity and comprehensive immigration reform.”

In San Francisco, “Over 200 people came out to take a stand” for public education and local schools.

A Mandate From The Progressive Movement

What’s also clear about Monday’s events is that there is widespread evidence that public education has become a rallying point for a huge cross section of the progressive community, including labor leaders, educators, clergy, members of immigrant communities, civil rights activists, representatives from grassroots student and parent groups, and community organizers fighting for fair housing, economic fairness, and other causes.

Many of the participants in Monday’s Day of Action may not have been aware that the impetus for their event began in a hotel in downtown Los Angeles in October – a mere two months prior to this national outpouring.

At that meeting – billed as a combined “organizing summit” and a “conference on civil, human, and women’s rights” – hundreds of activists and organizers gathered to voice a common commitment to public education and to plan specific courses of action to disrupt what most in the audience described as a “corporate model of school reform.”

Those 500 or so attendees provided the catalyst for Monday’s events and unified them under a document proclaiming “The Principles That Unite Us”.

No one at any of these events spoke about quick wins or easy success.

One of the organizers of the Chicago event, Jitu Brown from the city’s South Side, said, “It’s not about doing action and then by magic conditions change … We’re setting the tone change by having parents, teachers, and communities come together around a common set of principles. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Indeed, given Monday’s massive showing, the movement to change directions in education policies appears to only be getting started.

12/4/2013 – Ensuring Quality Teachers

Jeff Bryant No Comments

THIS WEEK:Low Head Start Participation Rates … Music Ed Helps Kids’ Brains … When More Money Moves Teachers … International Test Score Distortions … School Battles For Vets


Time To Change The Way We Ensure Quality Teachers

By Jeff Bryant

“The agenda [Arne] Duncan ‘began to advance in 2009 has now hit serious roadblocks’ … Particularly anger-inducing has been the way the Duncan/reform agenda has faltered on the need to expand access that poor and language-minority kids have to the best teachers … The idea of getting more successful teachers to work in schools that poor kids attend is not without merit … An important new document lays out a holistic view of how to address the many factors that influence “teaching quality” and more equitable distribution of high-quality teachers to schools that need them the most.”
Read more …


Only 42 Percent Of Eligible Children Participate In Head Start

Education Week

” Despite funding increases for Head Start over the past six years, only 42% of eligible children are now served, and just 4% of those eligible are served by Early Head Start … Although money for the programs got a $1.2 billion funding boost from 2006 to 2012, 33 states did not meet benchmarks for either class size or adult-to-child ratios … Only four states – Connecticut, North Dakota, Oregon, and Vermont – filled their classes … Despite increases in funding, the barrier to participation is still money.”
Read more …

Music Training Sharpens Brain Pathways, Studies Say

Education Week

“New research suggests that the complexity involved in practicing and performing music may help students’ cognitive development … Music training may increase the neural connections in regions of the brain associated with creativity, decisionmaking, and complex memory, and they may improve a student’s ability to process conflicting information from many senses at once … Starting music education early can be even more helpful … Not only does [playing music] require attention and coordination of multiple senses, but it often triggers emotions, involves cooperation with other people, and provides immediate feedback to the student on how well he or she is progressing.”
Read more …

What Happens When Great Teachers Get $20,000 to Work in Low-Income Schools?


Veteran education journalist Dana Goldstein writes, “The results of a new study … found merit pay can work … The good news is … a significant pay raise can move good veteran teachers to struggling schools and keep them there. The bad news is that less than a quarter of the 1,500 effective teachers asked to participate in this experiment chose to apply … Our school reform debate has focused almost obsessively on the individual teacher within the classroom. In reality, a school’s working climate – the complex interplay between a principal and teams of teachers – matters just as much … Efforts to recruit good teachers to low-income schools will probably be more successful if transfer teachers are guaranteed not to be overwhelmed by higher head counts … We should listen to what teachers are telling researchers about their preferences: Class sizes should be reasonable, and principals matter. But money matters too.”
Read more …

‘PISA Day – An Ideological And Hyperventilated Exercise

Economic Policy Institute

Economists Richard Rothstein and Martin Carnoy write, “National average scores of students on the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) will be released Tuesday, and we urge commentators and education policymakers to avoid jumping to quick conclusions … The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are planning a highly orchestrated event, ‘PISA Day,’ to manipulate coverage of this release … Advocates participating in Tuesday’s staged PISA Day release include several who, a quarter century ago, warned that America’s inadequate education system and workforce skills imperiled our competitiveness and future. Their warnings were followed by a substantial acceleration of American productivity growth in the mid-1990s, and by an American economy whose growth rate surpassed the growth rates of countries that were alleged to have better prepared and more highly skilled workers.”
Read more …

For Returning Veterans, Back-To-School Brings New Battles – And Not Enough Help

The Hechinger Report

“The road to higher education will remain fraught with challenges for U.S. veterans, some two million men and women who have or will return from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere … It’s a sad state of affairs for a country that educated about 10 million returning veterans after World War II … Today’s veterans often have difficulty accessing their benefits … Some are finding themselves deep in debt due to predatory lenders; others scammed by for-profit colleges that lure them in – and don’t deliver what they’ve promised … They also often struggle to find answers for their unique range of issues – everything from transferring credits to studying full-time while supporting a family to post-traumatic stress and physical injuries.”
Read more …

Time To Change The Way We Ensure Quality Teachers

Jeff Bryant 7 comments

This week’s media extravaganza over the latest results from the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, were the latest distraction from what really matters for the nation’s education policy.

As Valerie Strauss put it on her blog at The Washington Post, “The scores … don’t mean much, if anything, but that doesn’t stop people from saying they do.”

Embracing the urge to say something about the “meaning” of PISA to the extreme, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took the release of the scores as an opportunity to stage PISA Day, a 5-hour (!) media event involving other groups who, as economists at the Economic Policy Institute explain, generally support a political agenda favoring policies that have been branded as “reform.”

What really matters, of course, are the real effects of the Duncan-led reform agenda on the ground. And what are those effects?

As Stephanie Simon reported at Politico, the agenda Duncan “began to advance in 2009 has now hit serious roadblocks.”

“States are balking at reforms they pledged to implement,” Simon elaborated, and “a noisy opposition to Duncan’s reforms has emerged.”

Further, “there’s no clear evidence that Duncan’s prescriptions are boosting student achievement, though his backers say it’s still too early to tell.”

The Bad Deal On Teacher Distribution

Particularly anger-inducing has been the way the Duncan/reform agenda has faltered on the need to expand access that poor and language-minority kids have to the best teachers.

Historically, schools that serve the most disadvantaged children have tended to have the least qualified teachers, as measured by preparation, experience, and other factors. This historic disparity is particularly damaging to these students because most research has shown that the abilities of teachers are the most important school-based influence on student learning.

So in the interest of “equity,” reformers made a deal with states. In order to receive grant money from big ED, and have certain federal laws waived, states had to impose an array of new personnel management policies. Among those policies were implementations of new teacher evaluation systems and pledges to uphold standards for “highly qualified teachers.”

The new policies were claimed to address inequity by using standardized test scores to evaluate teacher “effectiveness” and then coerce states to distribute the “most effective” teachers more widely to under-served schools.

This direction appealed to budget-minded conservative lawmakers by giving them the ability to provide pay raises and merit rewards to smaller pools of teachers – only those who were “effective.” And it appealed to civil rights groups that wanted to see to more poor and minority students with equal access to qualified, experienced, and subject-matter expert teachers.

But now it has become increasingly clear that neither side is pleased.


Just before the Thanksgiving break, according to a report in Education Week, USDE announced that a dozen states – mostly conservative ones – have asked for at least a year delay in rolling out new teacher-evaluation systems they had agreed to impose as part of waiving federal laws known as No Child Left Behind.

Under NCLB waivers, states were “supposed to implement new evaluation systems and tie them to personnel decisions, such as firings and tenure, by the 2015-16 school year.”

Ed Week reporter Michelle McNeil noted the state requests came after USDE had already granted extensions twice before to give states more time – based on the first waiver – “to decide whether they want an extra year to implement a key piece of their teacher-evaluation systems.”

Now states want waivers from the waivers.

An ‘F’ On Teacher Equity

On the other side of the deal on teacher evaluation and distribution, civil rights groups have grievances as well.

Again in the pages of Education Week, we learned that states that wanted waivers from federal laws had to “use teacher-evaluation data to ensure that poor and minority students are not taught by ineffective teachers at a higher rate than their white and better-off peers.”

“Those requirements are now gone.”

The rationale for this lifting of restrictions lies further down the page: “Adding teacher-distribution requirements to waiver renewals would have piled a significant amount of work on states already grappling with implementing the Common Core State Standards and new teacher-evaluation systems linked to student growth.”

Writing at Strauss’ blogsite at The Washington Post, Tara Kini, an attorney for a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization, complained that the Obama administration had pledged “to provide poor and minority students with equal access to qualified, experienced and subject-matter expert teachers.”

Yet, under Duncan’s guidance, states can now get waivers to the federal laws “without having made – or even promising to make – any progress at all on teacher equity.”

Further, Kini accused the Obama administration of “effectively endorsing the disproportionate assignment of teachers-in-training to low-income schools” by allowing teachers in training, particularly those working with Teach for America, to be labeled as “highly qualified teachers.”

“Actions speak louder than words,” Kini concluded. “Right now, President Obama is earning an ‘F’ for his policies on teacher equity.”

There’s A Better Way Forward

The idea of getting more successful teachers to work in schools that poor kids attend is not without merit.

Recent research on a Talent Transfer Initiative conducted under the auspices of the federal government looked at whether a large financial incentive ($20,000 paid out over two years) would encourage high-performing teachers to transfer to selected low-performing schools in their district – and would this transfer raise achievement.

Veteran education journalist Dana Goldstein, writing at Slate, reviewd the study and concluded, “The good news is that … a significant pay raise can move good veteran teachers to struggling schools and keep them there.” The higher-performing teachers raised student achievement by 4 to 10 percentile points.

“The bad news is that less than a quarter of the 1,500 effective teachers asked to participate in this experiment chose to apply.”

Goldstein surmised that reluctance to teach in schools servicing poor kids could be due to working conditions in those schools – particularly high turnovers in administration staffing and lager class sizes.

“In short,” Goldstein concluded, “we should listen to what teachers are telling researchers about their preferences: Class sizes should be reasonable, and principals matter. But money matters too. Showing great teachers how valuable they are, by paying them more and asking them to take on the most challenging assignments, can potentially improve results—a lot.”

Also, what should be noted is that a teacher who was enticed to switch jobs for $20,000 transferred regardless – and here’s the kicker – “of how well her new students performed.”

In other words, no coercion, no competition, and no punishments for “failure.”

Making a similar observation about the study was Diane Ravitch who wrote at her blog, “The bonus was awarded for transferring to the low-performing school for two years, not for getting higher test scores” and it was the “older, experienced teachers” – not new recruits from Teach for America – who got the “better results.”

An Important New Guide

Following on the heels of the TTI study was an important new document from the Opportunity to Learn campaign Excellent Teachers For Each And Every Child: A Guide for State Policy. (Disclosure OTL is a partner of the Education Opportunity Network and the Campaign for America’s Future.)

The guide lays out a holistic view of how to address the many factors that influence “teaching quality” and more equitable distribution of high-quality teachers to schools that need them the most.

Addressing teaching quality, the guide states, must take into account not just the teacher but the factors that affect the quality of teaching, such as the expertise of teachers and their professional peers, learning conditions, school environment, instructional resources, and supports (academic, social, emotional, and health).”

In particular, the guide recommends the adoption of policies to

  1. Recruit diverse and talented individuals into the teaching profession
  2. Prepare teachers to be ready for the classroom and for leadership
  3. Support ongoing professional learning and development
  4. Develop evaluation systems that improve student learning
  5. Address teaching and learning conditions
  6. Fund a sustainable teaching force
  7. Promote comprehensive teaching quality strategies

For state lawmakers and other policy wonks, the guide cites specific laws and policy proposals that support a more comprehensive way to address the issue of quality teaching.

The evidence the guide draws from and its recommendations are sharp contrasts to the Duncan/reform platform that supports crude rankings, harsh sanctions, and never-ending restrictions with waivers of the restrictions.

The publicity introducing this guide claimed, “Recommendations draw from substantial research on teacher effectiveness and from the practices of high-achieving nations like Finland and Singapore” – two countries that, by the way, tend to perform at the top of the PISA rankings. Do you think Arne Duncan will notice that?

11/26/2013 – Dec 9 Day Of Action

Jeff Bryant No Comments

THIS WEEK:Record Number Of Homeless Students … Preschool Done Right … Following Common Core Money … Charters Undermine Public Education … Student Loans As Profit Center


Dec. 9 Declared Day Of Action To Reclaim The Promise Of Public Education

By Jeff Bryant

“Americans everywhere are seeing their local schools being ground into pieces between the twin political augers of government austerity and top-down, corporate-backed ‘reform’ … An increasingly vocal opposition to this status quo has announced a December 9th National Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education … to signal the emergence of a national movement and its collective vision, to begin to create a national echo chamber for a new narrative about public schools, and to support local work and connect it to the national movement.”
Read more …


Nation Marks Shameful Record: Number Of Homeless Students Surges To 1.17 Million

National Education Association

“The number of homeless students enrolled in preschools and K-12 schools in the 2011-2012 school year (1,168,354) is the highest number on record and a 10% increase over the previous school year … The number of homeless students increased 72% since the beginning of the recession in 2008 and is greater than the population of 8 states … 25 states experienced double-digit increases, and 10 of those saw a jump of 20% or more.”
Read more …

The Power Of Preschool Done Right

The Hechinger Report

“As President Obama pushes for a major national investment in the littlest learners, a glimpse into the power of preschool sits less than a five-minute drive from his Hyde Park home … From a full-day schedule to more stringent educational requirements for teachers to a low staff-student ratio, all of the research-based best practices being pushed in Congress and then some are on display at Educare. The school enrolls 149 children, 98% of whom are African-American and all living at or below the poverty line … Educare’s operators seek to demonstrate–to policymakers and the public–effective strategies to stop poor children from falling behind. In doing so, it brightens their parents’ prospects as well.”
Read more …

Following Common Core Money: Where Are Millions Of Dollars Going?

The Washington Post

Award-winning New York principal Carol Burris writes, “The Common Core has some features that are good and others that are awful. We have been through this before – the New Math … Whole Language … Although both programs made some positive contributions, those who wholeheartedly and uncritically adopted them did a terrible disservice to their students … What saved us in the past from wrong-headed reforms was that they were not mandated by state or federal government. They could therefore be adapted or abandoned at the local level. Now that standards and curriculum are connected with Race to the Top money, high-stakes tests and teacher evaluations by standardized test scores, it is exceedingly difficult to do the careful and critical review that every new program deserves … The press needs to ask about Common Core Inc. and all of the vendors that are receiving public money.”
Read more …

How Charter Schools Are Undermining the Future of Public Education


Rethinking School’s Stan Karp writes, “The charter school movement has changed dramatically in recent years … Gradually this charter movement attracted the attention of political and financial interests who saw the public school system as a ‘government monopoly’ ripe for market reform … Invariably, beneath accounts of spectacular charter success lie demographics … A plan that relies heavily on serving more selective student populations is not only unfeasible systemwide, it has a decidedly negative effect on the district schools left in its wake … None of this is meant to deny the reform impulse that is a real part of the charter movement … But the original idea behind charter schools was to create ‘laboratories for innovation’ … That hasn’t happened.”
Read more …

Federal Student Loan Profits Help Duncan Cut Education Spending To Lowest Level Since 2001

The Huffington Post

“In a sign of just how important student loan profits have become for the Education Department’s bottom line, its reported gains off lending to students and their families over the last year comprised nearly half of the agency’s total outlays, the biggest share since at least 1997. By effectively subsidizing half of the department’s total operations … the profits have enabled [Education Secretary Arne] Duncan to reduce his agency’s total cost to U.S. taxpayers to the smallest amount since 2001 … Student loan profits, the difference between what the U.S. government pays to borrow and what it charges students and their families, last year exceeded the amount of money provided to low-income college students … The Education Department’s extraordinary gains come as the Obama administration faces scrutiny over its lackluster debt-relief initiatives … Beyond already announced programs, there’s little else planned to help existing borrowers struggling with their student debt.”
Read more …