Posted in Article Medleys, Charters, Equity, NPE, OECD, PISA, SchoolFunding, Segregation, special education, Testing

A Report on Reports

Need something to do this weekend?

Here is a chance to get dig deeper into some issues important to public education. Below are links to reports about school inequity, special education, vouchers, segregation, charter schools, and other topics of interest.

You can learn how

  • the election of 2016 has caused stress and conflict in the nation’s high schools
  • public investment in education has declined
  • international test scores don’t tell the whole story about public education in the U.S.
  • charter schools drain money and resources from actual public schools
  • socio-economic status continues to be the most accurate predictor of academic success

ISSUES ABOUT MONEY, FUNDING, AND POVERTY

Education inequalities at the school starting gate

Economic inequities abound in the U.S. and schools are not equipped to address all the issues facing children alone. Policy makers and legislators must work with schools by providing funding for wraparound services, a fully funded school curriculum, and strategies to improve economic development in communities. Ignoring inequity, or asking schools to perform miracles without necessary resources is a guarantee of failure.

From Emma García and Elaine Weiss, the Economic Policy Institute

What this study finds: Extensive research has conclusively demonstrated that children’s social class is one of the most significant predictors—if not the single most significant predictor—of their educational success. Moreover, it is increasingly apparent that performance gaps by social class take root in the earliest years of children’s lives and fail to narrow in the years that follow. That is, children who start behind stay behind—they are rarely able to make up the lost ground…

What can be done about it: Greater investments in pre-K programs can narrow the gaps between students at the start of school. And to ensure that these early gains are maintained, districts can provide continued comprehensive academic, health, nutrition, and emotional support for children through their academic years, including meaningful engagement of parents and communities. Such strategies have been successfully implemented in districts around the country, as described in this report, and can serve to mitigate the impact of economic inequalities on children’s educational achievement and improve their future life and work prospects.

A Punishing Decade for School Funding

We are ignoring the underfunding of schools and services for our children and the future of the nation is at stake. Instead of planning for the future with an investment in our children, we’re living “paycheck to paycheck” and ignoring the fact that we are limiting the future of a huge number of our children…which limits the future of our nation.

From Michael Leachman, Kathleen Masterson, and Eric Figueroa, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Public investment in K-12 schools — crucial for communities to thrive and the U.S. economy to offer broad opportunity — has declined dramatically in a number of states over the last decade. Worse, some of the deepest-cutting states have also cut income tax rates, weakening their main revenue source for supporting schools.

Separate and Unequal: A Comparison of Student Outcomes in New York City’s Most and Least Diverse Schools

Yet another study which shows that diverse school populations helps children and segregation harms them. Have we given up trying to abide by the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling?

From David E. Kirkland and Joy L. Sanzone, NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of School

Diversity along lines of race and socioeconomic status seemed to modestly close achievement gaps (i.e., opportunity gaps), while hyper-segregation seemed to greatly exacerbate them (i.e., opportunity barrier). 

Deconstructing the Myth of American Public Schooling Inefficiency

Betsy DeVos continues to use international rankings in order to criticize, blame, and demean our nation’s public schools. Rarely, if ever, does she include the fact that poverty has been, and continues to be, the societal problem which contributes the most to our average achievement. She rarely discusses the fact that American students from low-poverty schools score higher than any students in the world. She only uses the “failure” of public education as a tool to transfer the billions of education dollars into private pocketbooks.

The following report discusses some of the apples-to-oranges problems of comparing the U.S. to other advanced nations.

From Bruce D. Baker and Mark Weber, the Albert Shanker Institute

The United States is faced with a combination of seemingly high education expense, but noncompetitive compensation for its teachers, average to large classes, and high child poverty. Again, it’s hard to conceive how such a combination would render the U.S. comparable in raw test scores to low-poverty nations like Korea or Finland, or small, segregated, homogeneous enclaves like Singapore or Shanghai…

Finally, it is equally important to understand the magnitude and heterogeneity of the U.S. education system in the context of OECD comparisons, which mainly involve more centralized and much smaller education systems. Lower-poverty, higher-spending states that have been included in international comparisons, like Connecticut and Massachusetts, do quite well, while lower-spending higher-poverty states like Florida do not. This unsurprising finding, however, also tells us little about relative efficiency, and provides little policy guidance for how we might make Florida more like Massachusetts, other than by waving a wand and making it richer, more educated and perhaps several degrees colder.

POLITICS AND ITS IMPACT ON EDUCATION

Teaching and Learning in the Age of Trump: Increasing Stress and Hostility in America’s High Schools

During the years I taught I often stopped to reflect upon how politicians and policy makers seemed intent at making the job of teaching harder.

Today’s political climate is no different. The election of 2016 has had an impact on our public schools beyond policy…

From John Rogers, UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access

VI. Educators can mitigate some of these challenges, but they need more support. Ultimately, political leaders need to address the underlying causes of campus incivility and stress.

  • 72.3% of teachers surveyed agreed that: “My school leadership should provide more guidance, support, and professional development opportunities on how to promote civil exchange and greater understanding across lines of difference.”
  • 91.6% of teachers surveyed agreed that: “national, state, and local leaders should encourage and model civil exchange and greater understanding across lines of difference.” Almost as many (83.9%) agreed that national and state leaders should “work to alleviate the underlying factors that create stress and anxiety for young people and their families.”

PRIVATIZATION

Charters and Consequences: An Investigative Series

The Network for Public Education reports on charter schools and their impact on real public schools, public school systems, public educators, and our nation’s students, the vast majority of whom attend public schools.

[Full disclosure: I contribute to, and am a member of, the Network for Public Education.]

From the Network for Public Education

• An immediate moratorium on the creation of new charter schools, including no replication or expansion of existing charter schools
• The transformation of for-profit charters to non-profit charters
• The transformation of for-profit management organizations to non-profit management organizations
• All due process rights for charter students that are afforded public school students, in all matters of discipline
• Required certification of all school teaching and administrative staff
• Complete transparency in all expenditures and income
• Requirements that student bodies reflect the demographics of the served community
• Open meetings of the board of directors, posted at least 2 weeks prior on the charter’s website
• Annual audits available to the public
• Requirements to follow bidding laws and regulations
• Requirements that all properties owned by the charter school become the property of the local public school if the charter closes
• Requirements that all charter facilities meet building codes
• Requirements that charters offer free or reduced-price lunch programs for students
• Full compensation from the state for all expenditures incurred when a student leaves the public school to attend a charter
• Authorization, oversight and renewal of charters transferred to the local district in which they are located
• A rejection of all ALEC legislation regarding charter schools that advocates for less transparency, less accountability, and the removal of requirements for teacher certification.

SPECIAL EDUATION

Federal Actions Needed to Ensure Parents Are Notified About Changes in Rights for Students with Disabilities

Two things in this section, first, an article discussing the GAO Report. Then a short blurb from the report itself.

From Elise Helgesen Aguilar, Americans United for Separation of Church and State

A New Government Report Shows Private School Voucher Programs Fail To Provide Information, Especially To Families Of Students With Disabilities

Specifically, it found that most private school voucher programs do not provide necessary or even accurate information to parents of students with disabilities about the rights those students forfeit by enrolling at a private voucher school.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that students with disabilities are provided with certain rights and services in public schools, including a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that is tailored to their individual needs.

But students who leave the public schools with a voucher forfeit many of those protections because they are considered parentally placed in private schools. For example, students accepting vouchers are not entitled to FAPE or to the due process rights that students in public schools have.

Many parents are not aware that they are giving up those rights when enroll their child in a private school voucher program. In fact, the report found that one-third of all voucher programs across the country do not provide any information to parents about the loss of procedural safeguards and due process protections under IDEA.

From the U.S. Government Accountability Office

Our draft report also included a recommendation for Education to require states to notify parents/guardians of changes in students’ federal special education rights, including that key IDEA rights and protections do not apply when a student with a disability is moved from public to private school by their parent. In response, Education stated that IDEA does not include statutory authority to require such notice, and suggested that the department instead encourage states to notify parents. However, as noted in our draft report, Education already strongly encourages states and school districts to provide such notice. Despite these efforts, we found that in 2016-17, more than 80 percent of students nationwide who are enrolled in private choice programs designed for students with about changes in IDEA rights, or provided some inaccurate information about these changes. We therefore continue to believe that states should be required, not merely encouraged, to notify parents/guardians about key changes in federal special education rights when a parent moves a child with a disability from public to private school. To this end, we have converted our recommendation into a Matter for Congressional Consideration to require such notice.

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Posted in David Berliner, DeVos, MLK, OECD, PISA, poverty, Public Ed, Stephen Krashen, Testing

The Myth of America’s Failing Public Schools

Betsy DeVos, who recently bought the office of U.S. Secretary of Education, spouts the same myth that’s been going around for decades…that American public schools are “failing.”

The Answer Sheet, in DeVos: Outcomes at U.S. schools are so bad, they probably can’t get much worse, reported

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on Wednesday that U.S. public schools nationwide are in such bad shape that she isn’t “sure how they could get a lot worse.”

And, like other myth-spouters in the “education reform” movement, she invoked international tests, adding,

“I’m not sure how they could get a lot worse on a nationwide basis than they are today. I mean, the fact that our PISA scores have continued to deteriorate as compared to the rest of the world…

She’s wrong.

The U.S. is regularly in the “middle of the pack” when it comes to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international test administered by the OECD. In 2015 U.S. students were 31st, 20th, and 19th in Math, Reading, and Science respectively. This score, and previous, similar scores, have been used by politicians and policy makers to claim that America’s public schools are failing.

The problem that DeVos and others don’t understand, or just simply ignore, is poverty. American public schools accept everyone and test everyone. Not all countries do that. We don’t weed out our poor and low-achieving students as they get older, so everyone gets tested. To be fair, Secretary DeVos might not know this. She never attended a public school and never sent her children to public schools. In her experience, children who weren’t achieving academically might have been weeded out of her private schools. She probably never realized that they were then sent to public schools, where all students are accepted.

The fact is that students who come from backgrounds of poverty don’t achieve as well as students from wealthier backgrounds. And we, in the U.S. are (nearly) Number One in child poverty.

PISA

Putting PISA Results to the Test

According to a 2015 report by UNICEF, the U.S. has the second-highest child poverty rate (23.1%) among industrialized nations from the European Union and OECD; only Romania’s is higher (25.5%).

…the majority of children attending U.S. public schools – 51% – are growing up in low-income households, the highest percentage since the federal government began tracking the figure.

Poverty matters when it comes to achievement. Students who live in poverty in the United States come to school with issues that don’t affect wealthier students. Stress, for example...

Children growing up in poverty often experience chronic stress…chronic stress can affect the developing learning centers of the brain, with impact on attention, concentration, working memory and self-regulation.

In other words, the simple fact of growing up in poverty affects a child’s ability to learn. In addition, there are factors outside of school which contribute to low achievement.

David C. Berliner examined the impact of out-of-school factors on achievement. In Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success, Berliner wrote,

OSFs are related to a host of poverty-induced physical, sociological, and psychological problems that children often bring to school, ranging from neurological damage and attention disorders to excessive absenteeism, linguistic underdevelopment, and oppositional behavior.

These factors include conditions having an impact on developing fetuses, such as the medical care given to the mother, the mother’s general health, and any toxins ingested by the mother either through drug or alcohol abuse, or through environmental toxins in the environment. After the child is born things like low birth weight, inadequate medical care, food insecurity, environmental pollutants like lead poisoning, family stress, and other characteristics of high-poverty neighborhoods all have an impact on a child’s ability to learn.

To place all the blame for low achievement on public schools serving large numbers of students living in poverty is unfair to the schools, teachers, and students.

TEST SCORES REFLECT ECONOMIC STATUS

Mrs. DeVos probably doesn’t know that low test scores correlate exactly with high poverty (see here and here). Children from American schools where less than 25% of the students qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch, score high on the PISA test. In fact, they would rank first in reading and science and third in math among OECD nations.

On the other hand, American students from schools where more than 75% of the students qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch, score much lower. Because the U.S. has a much higher percentage of students in poverty than nearly all the other OECD nations, the overall U.S. average score is below the median.

We can show these results using graphs from PISA: It’s Still ‘Poverty Not Stupid’.

The first graph shows where schools with various percentages of students in poverty would fall if only those schools were compared to other countries in the OECD.

This graph compares schools with various percentages of students in poverty to countries in OECD with similar poverty levels. The first side, for example, shows how students from schools with a poverty rate of less than ten percent compare to nations with a poverty rate of less than ten percent.

These two charts from PISA: It’s Still ‘Poverty Not Stupid’ clearly show the impact that poverty has on American students’ test scores. In every case, students who attend schools with a given percentage of children in poverty 1) score higher than students who attend schools with lower percentages of children in poverty and 2) score higher than countries with similar rates of poverty.

At the very least we can say that the child poverty rate, over which schools have no control, has an impact on student learning. In his blog post, Why Invest in Libraries, Stephen Krashen, USC Professor Emeritus, wrote,

Poverty means, among other things, inadequate diet, lack of health care, and lack of access to books. Each of these has a powerful impact on achievement (Berliner, 2009; Krashen, 1997). The best teaching in the world has little effect when children are hungry, undernourished, ill, and have little or nothing to read (emphasis added).

FINDING SOLUTIONS

Can schools do nothing to overcome the impact of poverty on student lives? Not alone. However, with the help of legislators, taxpayers, and parents, support for students struggling to succeed can help.

Here are some suggestions – most of which cost money – to help raise student achievement. These ideas come from various sources, including The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids, Identifying and Implementing Educational Practices Supported by Rigorous Evidence, and The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve.

Legislators should help by fully funding public education in order to

  • Develop age-appropriate Pre-K programs
  • Reduce class sizes
  • Provide a well rounded, age-appropriate curriculum
  • Include the arts, recess, and physical education in the curriculum
  • Eliminate unnecessary testing (this one saves money)
  • Recruit experienced and diverse staff including classroom teachers and specialists
  • Include non-teaching staff when needed, such as nurses, counselors, and social workers
  • Maintain high quality facilities
  • Introduce parental support programs

THE CHALLENGE TO POLICY MAKERS

When she looks at the U.S. international test scores, Secretary DeVos, and other policy makers see “failing schools.” This is wrong. The low average scores, and the even lower scores aggregated for low income students, indicate that economic inequity is overwhelming the infrastructure of our public school systems. Instead of blaming public schools, politicians and policy makers must take responsibility for ending the shameful rate of child poverty and inequity in America.

In his Southern Christian Leadership Conference Presidential Address, on August 16, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. said,

…we are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.

Special thanks to Meg Bloom, Phyllis Bush, and Donna Roof, all members of the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education, for their help in preparing the presentation from which this blog post was adapted.

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