The education headlines this week have been dominated by talk of school discipline.
After decades of research pointing to racial disparities in the way schools suspend and expel kids, the Obama administration issued a warning to education leaders across the country: Eliminate discriminatory policies or face the consequences. That “Dear Colleague” letter, issued in 2014, informed school districts that their discipline policies constituted “unlawful discrimination” under federal civil rights law if they didn’t explicitly mention race but had a “disproportionate and unjustified effect on students of a particular race.” Critics contend that the guidance forced districts to adopt “racial quotas” and caused chaos in schools across the country.
Now with President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at the helm of federal policymaking, the guidance document’s biggest critics are fighting for a big change. Tuesday morning, The 74’s Mark Keierleber published a long look back at the research on racial disparities in school discipline, investigating the platforms of recent Education Department hires and appointees and interviewing key advocates on both sides of the debate as federal officials weigh changes to one of the Obama administration’s signature education legacies. Read his feature here.
Meanwhile, across the country, very different issues are driving local education conversations. Here are seven storylines we’re watching this week from states that are home to America’s dozen biggest school districts — and more than 4 million public school students:
New York — Renewal Schools: More than half of New York City’s Renewal Schools’ are falling short on graduation rates
California — Leading Democratic candidates for governor throw support behind universal preschool
Illinois — State’s lieutenant governor looks to boost rural schools through expanding online classrooms
Florida — Miami seeks graduation-test waiver for hurricane-displaced students
Nevada — State officials admit that funding mistakes hurt school districts
Texas — Held Back: Some Houston-area schools have high retention rates for elementary students
Virginia — State becomes first in nation to require computer science education
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This article is part of The 74’s ongoing coverage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, and the new law’s implementation across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. You can follow our complete coverage here — and see state-by-state updates via our interactive ESSA map at ESSA.The74Million.org.
Earlier this year, the Collaborative for Student Success and Bellwether Education Partners brought together more than 30 education experts — with state and national experience, Republicans and Democrats — to independently review the first 17 state ESSA plans submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.
While the results of that review can be found at CheckStatePlans.org, peer reviewers also shared their thoughts on different aspects of state ESSA plans – topics like what they were looking for, what they wished they had seen, and what they’re hoping to see in the second round. In a new series, we’ll be sharing those thoughts as we lead up to the review of ESSA plans submitted by the 34 second-round states.
Reviewers had many different perspectives — and priorities — coming into the review. So, we asked them: Share how states’ ESSA plans could actually impact what kids experience in the classroom.
Here’s what they had to say:
1. Shanna Peeples, 2015 National Teacher of the Year: Better classrooms leaders — and more freedom for them to measure the ‘whole child’
“Each state-level ESSA plan, as a document, creates a shared understanding among everyone in a community about how best to harness the potential of each child into lifelong learning and success. Two of ESSA’s most important impacts on the classroom are its flexibility in assessment and its encouragement of teacher leadership. More control over assessment means that districts will have opportunities to measure the whole child beyond one day’s narrow test score. Encouraging teacher leadership motivates and inspires teachers to see themselves as people who affect the community beyond their classroom and therefore creates commitment to daily excellence as a model for their colleagues.”
2. Alice Johnson Cain, Teach Plus: Teachers who are even more focused on helping every one of their students grow
“States that recognize that their educators are indispensable partners every step of the way and prioritize educators’ growth and development can impact classrooms through a commitment to equity and real sense of urgency to do right by all students. With high expectations for all students, schools can measure progress against those expectations in a fair, logical, and understandable way; and states that demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of how to infuse data across the system can provide a clear, accurate measure of how schools are doing and how they could do better — all feeding into evidence-based interventions that will yield better results for students.”
3. Gini Pupo-Walker, Conexión Américas: A deeper commitment in better serving English language learners
“State plans must now rate how well schools and districts are moving English learners towards English language proficiency. In many cases this will be the first time that teachers, parents, and stakeholders will have this information. In many schools across the country, there are only a handful of English learner classrooms — and so it will be essential for teachers, parents, and partners to come together to address student progress towards proficiency and to create meaningful changes when necessary in order to ensure students are on track.”
4. Rashidah Morgan, Education First: Greater transparency about school quality, which will ultimately empower parents to make more knowledgeable choices about schools
“A parent’s understanding of two important factors — how the state will determine whether a school is good or not, and how the state would support schools that were not high-performing — also informs which schools he/she chooses for his/her child. State plans that do not include sufficient support for schools that need to improve risk negatively impacting students — like those who are of color, are English learners, or have disabilities — which would be evidenced by classroom performance as well as social and emotional health. State decisions on these issues impact the makeup of schools’ community and the children who will attend classes together.
“Additionally, children are impacted most directly by the teacher in their classroom. If state plans don’t ensure students have equitable access to the most effective teachers, students will surely feel the impact in their classroom.”
5. Virginia Gentles, senior adviser for education reform policy and advocacy organizations: Clearer school ratings that will better inform parents and incentivize educators to do better
“For the states that are committed to developing or maintaining quality accountability systems, the ESSA plans describe the summative ratings — for example, schools receiving A–F letter grades — states will use to clearly communicate school performance to parents. Principals and teachers know that classroom-level activities ultimately determine the school rating. If the plans are implemented as described, parents and schools ideally will see a commitment to quality instruction in the classrooms designed to result in higher school performance ratings.
Members of Philadelphia’s state-sanctioned School Reform Commission — a controversial five-member panel that has governed the city’s public schools in lieu of a school board for the past 16 years — moved to abolish that body in a historic vote on Thursday, triggering both exultation and concern from local education observers.
The disbandment clears the way for the appointment of a new school board, which will take control over the district at the end of the 2017–18 school year. Members would be appointed by the mayor, though a forthcoming referendum will likely give the city council approval over his selections. Members of the new board will face immediate challenges, including declining public school enrollment and significant structural deficits.
Still, many Philadelphians cheered the vote at the end of last week. Parents, activists, and teachers gathered at the district’s headquarters to celebrate the return of the district to local control. The commission is widely seen as an imposition on municipal autonomy; a 2015 Pew survey revealed that just 11 percent of Philadelphians supported its existence.
“The takeover was a massive educational experiment on black and brown and immigrant children — from reckless charter expansion to mass school closings,” Councilwoman Helen Gym told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “These were strategies not backed by any educational research, they didn’t solve the existing and terrible problems within the district, and they hurt far too many children. Today, we recognize that we need to chart a new path.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called the move “a huge victory for the people of Philadelphia.”
Not all board members voted for abolition. Former chairman Bill Green, an energetic reformer and son of a Philadelphia mayor, cast the lone dissenting vote. Farah Jimenez abstained, warning that the precarious nature of the district’s finances called for caution going forward. Budget officials say that the school system could face a nearly $1 billion deficit by 2022.
The development follows a trend of big-city districts reverting to local control years after takeovers by state legislators. This January, the first fully empowered school board in seven years was seated in Detroit, and Newark re-emerged from 22 years of state control in September.
New Jersey Gives Newark Green Light to Resume Local Control of Schools After 20 Years in Receivership
The commission was created in 2001 as a compromise between city officials and state lawmakers, who wanted more of a say in a district that was $200 million in debt. Philadelphia is one of the most academically troubled major districts in the country, a problem made all the more intractable by the yawning gaps in per-pupil school funding across the state of Pennsylvania.
Many figures in the city opposed its creation, viewing the panel as technocratic overreach. The mayor was allowed to nominate two members of the SRC, while the state’s governor was given three nominations. The imbalance rankled locals, particularly the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which has opposed budget cuts and education reform measures like the expansion of charter schools.
The cutbacks imposed by the SRC and Superintendent William Hite — another oft-criticized figure among the city’s labor activists — became a particularly painful bone of contention, as nearly 4,000 workers were laid off in 2013 and 2014 and 24 school buildings were closed. But the architects of the retrenchment say they were necessary steps to keep the district’s lights on.
In return for granting the state such a generous measure of control, it’s not clear that the city profited. An analysis conducted by the state’s department of education shows that per-pupil funding in Philadelphia has remained essentially stagnant in the SRC era, even as the majority of the district’s pupils live below the poverty line.
With the election of Democratic Governor Tom Wolf in 2014, the stage was set for a change. A political ally of the teachers union, Wolf promised as a candidate to ditch the SRC. The 2015 ascent of Mayor Jim Kenney, who also won the union’s endorsement, made the unwinding almost inevitable.
In an op-ed, former SRC chairman Green counseled incoming board members to take lessons from the reform commission.
“A new school board and the city could face hard choices if the state no longer has a say in district governance,” he wrote. “When you tell the state to get lost, it just might.”
More Money, More Problems (Solved Correctly): New Study Shows American Kids Do Better on Tests If You Pay for Answers
Much of American students’ poor showing on international math assessments can be explained by an absence of motivation to do well on low-stakes tests rather than a lack of learning, according to a new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
In an experiment that reproduced math problems from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test — an influential barometer of international education administered every three years — American students who were offered money for correct answers worked harder and answered more questions right, while Chinese students’ performance was unchanged by the incentive. Among the Americans, male students were more galvanized than girls by the promise of a reward.
The study sheds light on a long-simmering debate over the perennial underperformance of U.S. students on international tests. The United States was assessed 35th in math out of 60 countries on the PISA exam in 2016. Then–Education Secretary John King warned, “We’re losing ground.”
The study was conducted by a team of American and Chinese academics including Uri Gneezy and John List, co-authors of an acclaimed book on behavioral economics.
Students from two schools in the U.S. (one a high-performing boarding school, one a large public high school that enrolled both low-performing and average students) and three in Shanghai (one below average in academics, one slightly above average, and one far above average) were given a 25-minute test of 25 math questions that had previously been used on PISA. Just before the test, some of the students were given envelopes filled with 25 one-dollar bills and told that a dollar would be removed for every incorrect or unanswered question.
In the United States, students who were offered the money scored noticeably better than the control group. But the performance of the Chinese students did not improve.
“In response to incentives, performance among Shanghai students does not change while the scores of U.S. students increase substantially,” the authors write. “Under incentives, U.S. students attempt more questions (particularly towards the end of the test) and are more likely to answer those questions correctly.”
If the effects of the experiment carried over to nationwide PISA participants, the research team estimates that American performance would improve by 22 to 24 points. That’s roughly the equivalent of moving from our 36th-place finish (out of 65) on the 2012 exam to a 19th-place result.
A leap of that magnitude might significantly change narratives around our dismal scores compared with international competition. After decades of being shown up by most of the developed world, Americans have grown accustomed to dark prophecies of academic decline.
But those results might be more indicative of apathy than ignorance. Tests like PISA — which have no impact on students’ grades or school accountability measures — aren’t taken as seriously as federally mandated assessments or the SAT.
“The degree to which test results actually reflect differences in ability and learning may be critically overstated if gaps in intrinsic motivation to perform well on the test are not understood in comparisons across students,” the authors write.
The boost in scores was not identical across all American student groups. Those predicted to score around the U.S. average saw the greatest improvement, while those predicted to perform below average gained little advantage from financial incentive.
A gender difference prevailed as well: While scores for American girls increased by about one question out of 25, American boys’ scores improved by 1.76 questions. This imbalance was also present in Shanghai, where boys saw an improvement of 1.13 questions and girls experienced negligible impact.
“Interpreted through the lens of our overall findings, these results suggest that boys in particular lack intrinsic motivation to do well on low-stakes tests,” the authors conclude.
Early Education Is a Game Changer: New Report Shows That Reaching Infants and Toddlers Reduces Special Education Placement, Leads to Soaring Graduation Rates
Access to early-childhood education significantly reduces students’ chances of being placed in special education or held back in school and increases their prospects of graduating high school, according to new research published by the American Educational Research Association. The report synthesizes evidence of the lasting, long-term benefits of high-quality preschool programs, which have often been dismissed as transient.
Authors from Harvard, New York University, the University of California, the University of Washington, and the University of Wisconsin contributed to the brief, a meta-analysis of 22 experimental early-childhood-education studies conducted between 1960 and 2016. Although previous research reviews had focused on programs targeting 3- and 4-year-olds, the AERA brief examined services offered to children between birth and age 5.
The results were impressive: The programs reduced subsequent special education placement for participating students by 8.1 percentage points, reduced the chances of being held back by 8.3 percentage points, and boosted high school graduation by 11.4 percentage points. Though high-quality preschool is generally thought to accelerate cognitive and language development in the near term, the researchers conclude that its effects can be detected as late as high school.
“These results suggest that classroom-based ECE programs for children under five can lead to significant and substantial decreases in special education placement and grade retention and increases in high school graduation rates,” they write.
Tallying the financial blow of children’s academic struggles, the brief presents a case for greater public investment in early education. The estimated cost of placing a student in special education classes is roughly $8,000, and holding a student back a grade costs about $12,000, according to the report. Meanwhile, each of the 373,000 American high schoolers who drop out each year earn almost $700,000 less over the course of their careers than peers with diplomas.
Although providing excellent preschool programs to the millions of children currently without them is an expensive proposition, economists have recently argued that later-life payoffs — better health, lower rates of incarceration, and higher earnings for participants — justify the costs many times over. In a study of two of the oldest and most famous preschool experiments, the Carolina Abecedarian Project and the Carolina Approach to Responsive Education, Nobel Prize–winning economist James Heckman estimated that the programs yielded $7.30 of benefit for each dollar spent.
Intensive Preschool Programs Can Yield Massive Returns, Especially for Boys, Nobel Laureate’s Study Shows
Yet even as states have contributed millions of dollars in new spending on preschool systems, skeptics like the Brookings Institution’s Russ Whitehurst believe that the impact of the programs is unlikely to be retained once they are scaled up to serve millions more children.
Others have pointed to evidence of “fadeout,” a phenomenon by which the positive impacts of preschool dissipate in the years following completion. One Michigan lawmaker, whose nomination to a post in the Department of Education was withdrawn after a cache of his old blog posts were criticized, denounced the federal Head Start early childhood initiative as “a sham program” this month.
“There have been a number of independent studies over the years that have concluded that these program children come to school with no more social or cognitive abilities than their non-program counterparts,” he wrote in one post. “So why then do we continue to pay for this failure?”
But the authors conclude that nearly 60 years of experimental studies indicate clear results from such programs that last into at least adolescence.
In fact, the effects on special education and retention were found to be greater when researchers followed up years later than they were at the end of the early-childhood programs in question.
A school lockdown appears to have saved the lives of numerous students during Tuesday’s deadly shooting rampage in northern California.
Tehama County Assistant Sheriff Phil Johnston said the staff took “monumental” action that saved children’s lives.
“This incident, as tragic and as bad as it is, could have been so much worse if it wasn’t for the quick thinking and staff at our elementary school,” he said.
Safety experts have advocated lockdowns, which involve securing and sometimes barricading classroom doors, since the 1999 massacre at Colorado’s Columbine High School.
Police could find no motive for the Tuesday’s school attack, part of a larger shooting spree that left five dead, including the gunman. One child was injured at the Rancho Tehama Elementary, a small K-5 school in Corning, California, two hours north of Sacramento that employs only four teachers, according to its website.
Within minutes of hearing gunshots around 8 a.m., staff put the school on lockdown. The gunman, wielding a semiautomatic weapon, entered the building and tried to get into classrooms, but locked doors kept him out. A witness said the school secretary yelled for everyone to get inside and students “cowered under desks” to stay safe.Thwarted, the gunman returned to a stolen car and drove away until police found and killed him in an exchange of gunfire.
The superintendent of the school district, Richard Fitzpatrick, called the response of his staff “absolutely heroic.” The school was on lockdown within two minutes of the first gunshots, he said.
Here’s what we know about the shooting so far:
1 Five are dead, including the shooter, identified as Kevin Janson Neal, 44, The New York Times reported. Two children were wounded, one in the school and the other in a vehicle, but none were killed. At least 8 others were injured.
2 The gunman began shooting just before 8 a.m. Tuesday in the neighborhood near his home in remote Rancho Tehama Reserve, killing two there, authorities said. Witnesses said he drove away in a stolen pickup truck, continuing to shoot from inside the vehicle. He got out of the truck and fired several rounds at the school, authorities said. He entered the building, but when he found his entrance to classrooms blocked, got into a vehicle and continued shooting as he drove away. Police pursued him, pushing his vehicle off the road and exchanging gunfire, ultimately killing him. — KCRTV
3 The victims appear to have been selected at random. Assistant Sheriff Johnston said authorities had not found a connection between the gunman and anyone at the school. The rampage may have begun with a neighborhood dispute. Neighbors told reporters the gunman was known to fire off gunshots near his home and allegedly stabbed a neighbor in the past.
4 Authorities recovered a semi-automatic rifle and two handguns believed to have been used by the gunman.
5 Rancho Tehama Elementary School is closed until further notice, according to a statement on the district website. “The District will make alternate arrangements for student instruction,” the statement says.
The shooter fired into a classroom window, hitting a child in the chest and foot, a parent who was in the room at the time told KCRTV.
“Within a minute, we were all buckled in our classrooms and all of a sudden there were gunshots going for a good 20-25 minutes. My window was hit by a few shots and a student was injured in my classroom. He got nailed somehow, it happened all so fast,” the parent, Coy Ferreira. He said 14 children were in the room at the time.
Dozens of “arts integration” programs, which employ artistic expression as a means of teaching a variety of subjects, are eligible for federal funding under the Every Student Succeeds Act, according to a new study from the American Institutes for Research. More investigation into the efficacy of the method is needed, the authors report, but 10 such programs have already been shown to meet ESSA’s highest evidentiary standards.
Arts integration is a curricular strategy that combines fine-arts activities with instruction in other content areas. Teachers might use rhyming songs in a lesson about fractions, design a writing exercise around analysis of a Rembrandt painting, or stage a play to help build reading skills. It can be used to organize individual classroom exercises or inform an entire school model, and teachers use it with students from kindergarten through high school.
“These funding opportunities can be used to support activities such as teacher professional development, school improvement efforts, supports for English learners, arts integration courses, instructional materials, extended learning time programs,” the authors write. “They can also be used to support arts-focused charter or magnet schools.”
The 10 programs that meet with highest tiers of evidence, including preschool arts enrichment services and field trips to museums and the theater, could be especially promising candidates.
Extra revenue is particularly important at a moment when arts funding has yet to recover from recession-era declines. Over a nearly decade-long period when schools in many states were struggling to keep teachers paid and buses running, music and art classes were often among the first to be cut. In March, when President Trump’s proposed budget called for deep cuts to federal arts and humanities agencies, many feared for the thousands of classroom programs across the country underwritten by the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
In the AIR study, conducted for the Wallace Foundation, researchers reviewed 135 studies of arts integration conducted since 2000. Their goals were to determine whether various programs were sufficiently rigorous to merit federal funding under ESSA and to isolate their average impact on student performance.
In all, 44 separate interventions, ranging from poetry-writing to origami to live theater, met with ESSA’s four tiers of evidentiary rigor. Most only met the lowest level, Tier IV. But studies of 10 arts integration programs actually cleared Tiers I–III (“promising evidence,” “moderate evidence,” and “strong evidence”), which require proof of statistically significant effects.
Even those interventions that cleared the lowest bar of Tier IV are judged by the authors to be potentially worthy of federal funds available under ESSA. While those made up the majority of the programs deemed eligible for funding, a handful also withstood scrutiny under Tiers I–III.
The authors warn that, with their conclusions often based around the outcome of a single study, more research is required into the impact of arts instruction on specific student populations and subject areas.
How Will America’s New Education Law Change Your School? 5 Experts Pick the Most Important Issue Parents Should Be Monitoring in States’ ESSA Plans
Earlier this year, the Collaborative for Student Success and Bellwether Education Partners brought together more than 30 education experts — with state and national experience, Republicans and Democrats — to independently review the first 17 state ESSA plans submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.
While the results of that review can be found at CheckStatePlans.org, peer reviewers also shared their thoughts on different aspects of state ESSA plans — topics like what they were looking for, what they wished they had seen, and what they’re hoping to see in the second round. In a new series, we’ll be sharing those thoughts as we lead up to the review of ESSA plans submitted by the 34 second-round states.
Reviewers had many different perspectives — and priorities — coming into the review. So, we asked them: Which element of the states’ ESSA plans should parents be watching most closely?
Here’s what they had to say.
1. Dale Chu, formerly of America Succeeds: How will schools create opportunities for every student?
“I look at things through three buckets: excellence, equity, and opportunity. Were states looking for opportunities to expand all three of those things? So, for example, when you think about excellence and whether or not students are performing well in one area — you could really look for that through their long-term goals that were provided by each state. When it comes to equity, certainly what the states are proposing in regard to the performance of all of their students in the state as well as specific subgroups, especially those subgroups that have traditionally been marginalized by society. And then opportunity — there’s a lot of areas, certainly around funding and then how states are proposing to use federal dollars to promote greater opportunities among students.”
2. Terry Holliday, former Kentucky commissioner of education: How will schools tie classroom achievement to broader visions of college and career?
“I was looking for states that have clearly been able to align their state vision, their long-term goals, accountability indicators, and being able to utilize the flexibility within ESSA to merge all the different title plans into an integrated system that would drive toward their vision.
“Most of the states have a vision of college and career readiness for all; they voice it in different ways, but that is the common vision. And I was looking for how the states were using the flexibility and innovative ability to align their plans and strategies across all the title areas, not just Title I.”
3. Lindsay Jones, National Center for Learning Disabilities: How will schools support their students with disabilities and engage their parents?
“Two areas of focus. How seamlessly did they involve students with disabilities? If you’re a kid with a learning disability, you’re spending your entire day almost with a generalist teacher. So, the way to ensure that your state is planning for you from the get-go is really important for your education.
“And then I was really focused on how will parents know how their schools are performing. What are they proposing for accountability metrics and how are they going to report out on those…. Parents have very little time; they need to make important decisions for their kids, and too much data can be overwhelming for them.”
4.Gerard Robinson, former Virginia secretary of education and former Florida commissioner of education: How will schools bridge the achievement gap and find a way to lift up the students struggling most?
“I didn’t have one big area of focus, but there was something I particularly wanted to make sure was addressed: how were they going to close the achievement gap and how were they going to address the students in the lowest-performing 5 percent. Those students are the ones who superintendents, teachers, others have to pay a great deal of attention to. So, I did want to see what states had to say on it.”
5. Conor Williams, New America Foundation: How will schools engage students who don’t speak English at home?
“The historic divisions of equity in the U.S. are race and class. Those are the ones we spend the most time thinking about as a field and for good reason. However, the demographics of the U.S. are shifting. About 22 percent of our student speak a non-English language at home. If you are not looking at equity through a language lens, in addition to race and class, then you are missing an enormous part of the population … If we don’t think about it, then we can’t really be serious about pushing for equitable opportunities for all students.”
Teacher Voice: Taking Away $250 Tax Deduction for School Supplies Speaks Volumes About How We Value Teachers
Updated Nov. 15
The Senate on Tuesday released a revised version of its tax reform bill which not only restored the teacher tax deduction for classroom supplies but doubled it from $250 to $500, Education Week reported. The GOP tax bill approved by the House Ways and Means Committee last week eliminated the deduction. The two bills will eventually have to be reconciled.
When I was a teacher, I didn’t have a “cute” classroom. My colleague upstairs designed a reading space for students, complete with comfortable seats, a special carpet, and twinkle lights.
I was lucky if my posters stayed on the wall (which often they didn’t because of the school’s erratic temperature changes).
Regardless, most students loved my class as much as they loved my colleague’s. I think they actually developed an affectionate spot for the chaos of the room. Some generously told me that it mirrored the personality of my energetic teaching.
Despite outward appearances, both my colleague and I spent hundreds of our own dollars, as well as a lot of our free time, to make our classes fun and welcoming places where students wanted to go to learn.
My colleague’s expenses were obvious. She created a place where children want to go to read. That’s money well spent.
My expenses weren’t so obvious. You couldn’t tell from looking around my classroom, but it was also money well spent. No amount of colorful paper or pretty lights would have helped me keep a tidy and cute classroom, but I too purchased things to keep my students engaged in learning. These were my hidden costs of teaching.
I stocked my classroom library — a concept strongly encouraged but not funded by our district — with books I thought my students would want to read, like Looking for Alaska and Feed, rather than leftovers from the “one dollar/free” bins.
Even though I taught English, I purchased and put up a beautiful world map when I realized my ninth-grade students didn’t know that Great Britain was an island.
At the beginning of the year, students bonded over naming the classroom fish (Finley), and they took turns feeding him. They did the same when I bought the second fish (Dobby the House Fish) and a better fish tank, after the first one — the fish, not that tank — died.
I created a game for vocabulary practice that used board games and a cowbell. It was as delightfully bizarre as it sounds. It was also effective, though: the students learned their roots and words. They had to do their homework if they wanted to play.
Before winter break, we did a community-building activity involving toothpicks, marshmallows, and paper plates. 145 students participated. It was a competition to design and build igloos. On the daily agenda, I labeled it “spatial reasoning test,” just to mess with the kids before class started.
There was more too, of course. I didn’t regret a penny I spent (well, except for the third fish, Little Sebastian; alas, there’s a time to cut your losses) because I believed that my work mattered, that every creative choice I made had an impact on the lives of students.
Unfortunately, the GOP’s tax plan just sent teachers a different and disheartening message: Your work doesn’t matter. We don’t value your money. We don’t value your time. We don’t value your dedication to children.
The GOP’s tax plan cuts the $250 deduction that teachers were allowed to take to compensate for their personal spending on school and classroom supplies.
For me, the subtext behind this move is equally as upsetting as the monetary loss that comes from eliminating the deduction.
Many teachers actually spend a lot more than $250 on their classrooms, but the deduction embodies a symbol that society values teachers, their ingenuity, and the sacrifices that they make out of their commitment to the kids.
Allowing the GOP to cut this deduction will send a strong message about the value that we, as a nation, place on those who attempt to make a profession out of educating America’s youth.
It’s no secret that teachers make a lot less money than other similarly educated professionals. After all, no one goes into teaching for the money, but, surprisingly, teachers also don’t leave teaching because of the money.
The pay wasn’t the reason I left teaching. I left teaching because I felt that, despite my education and expertise, society didn’t regard the work I did as equal in value to that of other professions requiring similar education levels and skills.
Teachers teach because they love their students and their subject matter. That’s always the silver lining, but, for many people, being a teacher means knowing that policymakers don’t include your voice in their decisions. Parents, school districts, and school boards undermine your authority and take away your autonomy in the classroom. You won’t receive raises based on your merit, and tenure laws not only protect the jobs of your ill-qualified colleagues, but also ensure that they receive larger paychecks.
For a lot of teachers, the GOP’s slight will be just another in a very long list of unacknowledged frustrations. It’s another sign that those who should regard teachers as equals actually don’t respect their profession. Politicians either praise teachers as heroes or use them as scapegoats, but they rarely listen to them or support their professionalism.
We live in a society where school districts increasingly expect teachers to have a master’s degree and simultaneously expect these educated professionals to sacrifice the right to go to the bathroom. It’s not surprising that we have a hard time attracting talented people to the profession.
Ultimately, our country needs a strong education system to be successful, and a strong education system needs the best teachers. Shouldn’t the federal government work to incentivize the best candidates to go into teaching, not further discourage them?
When I told my students I was leaving teaching, a few started to cry. One student was particularly upset. I tried to comfort her by reminding her that I wouldn’t even be her teacher the next year, but she kept crying and saying: “You don’t understand.”
Maybe she’s right. Maybe we don’t understand. Maybe the only people who truly value and understand the importance of having good teachers are the ones who experience the difference they make on a daily basis. Indeed, they’re the ones that stand to lose the most as the nation continues to struggle to recruit highly qualified people into teaching.
Unfortunately, they have no voice, and the people that do are speaking loud and clear in a familiar tone that reminds me of why I left the profession.
With California poised to become the sixth state to allow recreational use of marijuana, educators are grappling with how to adapt their anti-drug policies to a new reality where pot is sold at local dispensaries and advertised on billboards.
The state will follow in the footsteps of Colorado by using taxes from marijuana sales to fund education and prevention efforts for kids.
California will begin issuing licenses in January for the legal sale of recreational marijuana. The law, known as Proposition 64, will allow adults 21 and over to possess, purchase, consume, and share up to an ounce of marijuana.
Three other states plan to allow recreational use by 2019, and many more have eased up on prohibition by allowing medical marijuana.
It can be difficult for administrators to explain to kids why it’s OK for adults — sometimes just three years older than a high school senior — to use marijuana and not them.
“[Teens] think that if it’s legal, it must be OK,” said Pam Luna, a consultant with the RAND Corporation.
Stanton Glantz, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine who focuses on tobacco, e-cigarette, and marijuana issues, said the marketing of marijuana complicates the issue. A RAND study released last year shows that marijuana advertising is associated with a higher likelihood of use one year later.
“It’s just everywhere now, and the market hasn’t been fully opened,” Glantz told NPR. “It’s the same thing as alcohol and cigarette advertising. It is all directed at normalizing it and presenting it as a fun thing to do.”
To aid the conversation, California’s Department of Public Health recently launched a website called “Let’s Talk Cannabis” to answer frequently asked questions and provide information for youth and parents.
California will also set aside 60 percent of tax revenue from marijuana sales for youth drug prevention, education, and treatment, according to BallotPedia, which provides information about elections and politics.
In Colorado, schools are using taxes collected from marijuana sales to pay for additional school nurses, counselors, and social workers to aid in prevention efforts and intervene early when problems arise, according to the Denver Post.
Researchers believe students are more likely to use marijuana when they believe it is safe, so education about the dangers can discourage use among students, as it has with alcohol and tobacco, said Richard Miech, a research professor at the University of Michigan, who recently worked on a study about adolescent marijuana use and teens.
“We’ve seen tremendous declines in adolescent use of both substances over the past two decades, so we have examples to work from,” Miech told U.S. News.
A flurry of racially charged incidents at schools this fall — attributable to everything from homecoming to the polarized political climate — has caught many educators and administrators off guard.
In October, the examples were numerous: Carving a swastika into a pumpkin. Shouting racial slurs at high school football players. Wearing a prison jumpsuit with the name Freddie Gray, an African American who was killed in police custody in Baltimore, on the back.
Some of the recent incidents occurred during homecoming, which comes as students reacclimate to school and join friends at large pep rallies and football games.
Yet precise national statistics on the number of such incidents are hard to come by. Many teachers and administrators anecdotally report such incidents are on the rise, according to the Associated Press. Dan Domenech, head of the School Superintendents Association, said he believes there has been a spike this year.
“You have to be aware of it. You have to monitor it. You have to prevent it from escalating,” he said.
In a study released last month, about 28 percent of teachers reported an increase in students making derogatory remarks about other groups during class discussions. The UCLA survey was conducted at the end of the 2016–17 school year.
After a number of incidents in the Philadelphia area last month, officials from the Quakertown school district reached out to the Peace Center in nearby Langhorne to help develop a racial tolerance and conflict resolution program.
“Middle school and high school students need to be talking about this,” the Center’s director, Barbara Simmons, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “Kids are being drawn into groupthink when it comes to white nationalism, racism, intolerance, and hatred.”
Some have blamed President Donald Trump and other elected leaders for normalizing hurtful rhetoric and not speaking out strongly enough against hate groups. More than 90 percent of teachers in the UCLA study agreed that “national, state, and local leaders should encourage and model civil exchange and greater understanding across lines of difference.”
The Peace Center’s Simmons keeps a spreadsheet of bias incidents in Bucks County, Pa. Since Trump’s election, it has grown to five pages, which she said may be attributable to the president’s comments. In August, for example, Trump called some of the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Va., “very fine people.”
However, not all experts are convinced of the so-called Trump Effect.
“I think we need to be careful not to play the ‘Trump’ card and conclude that his administration is to blame for all this,” Maura McInerney, legal director of the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania, told the Inquirer. “That approach ignores the broader pre-existing problems of racially motivated incidents of bullying and harassment in our schools that have not been adequately addressed.”
Whether there has been an uptick in actual incidents, in student reporting of such incidents, or in media interest in those stories — or some combination — can be difficult to untangle, and there have been some notable false reports.
Dealing with incidents that occur on social media can also be prickly for school administrators, who are responsible for maintaining safe learning environments without infringing on students’ First Amendment rights.
In public schools, there needs to be a clear “nexus” between social media behavior and the school environment before a student can be disciplined, Kelli Hopkins, associate executive director of the Missouri School Boards Association, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Meanwhile, frustrated educators are looking for answers to an issue that has caught many of them off guard. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks media reports of hate incidents in schools, found more 90 incidents across 30 states in October.
“There’s a sense of just really not knowing quite what to do,” said Maureen Costello of Teaching Tolerance, a branch of SPLC.
The ‘A’ Word: Holly Kuzmich — ‘Many of the Challenges Still in Place Can’t Be Tackled Via Policy Change’
This piece is part of The ‘A’ Word series, produced in partnership with the Bush Institute to examine how “accountability” became a “dirty word,” and what can and should be done going forward to ensure accountability withstands the test of a bad reputation. Click through the grid below to read the ‘A’ Word conversations.
Accountability — what does it mean today? We have been discussing this question for several years at the Bush Institute. We’ve always stood for accountability in education, but it seemed that instead of getting heads nodding in agreement when we talked about our work on accountability, there’s been growing skepticism of the concept. We wanted to talk to experts, those charged with implementing educational accountability at the federal, state, and local levels, which is what led to this series of interviews.
Upon reflecting on what each of these experts said, the good news is that the core principles of accountability that have guided progress in our schools are still widely agreed to: setting high standards, assessing regularly to those standards, measuring improvement, and providing supports for students and consequences for schools that don’t improve. Disaggregation of data is vital and has led to a focus on closing achievement gaps, especially for poor and minority students. Those basic tenets guide the work of these experts no matter what political party they are affiliated with or what position they hold.
But they also acknowledged the fundamental truth that policymaking is an imperfect process. No policymaker gets all the details right, and policymaking in and of itself requires different sides to bring together their varying points of view, which inevitably leads to some level of trade-offs.
This imperfect policymaking process has led to shifts over time in how accountability has been implemented at the federal, state, and local levels. The focus on accountability largely grew out of efforts by several states back in the 1980s and 1990s.
While some states were leading the charge, others were lagging behind, so the federal government took on a much more significant role through passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002. But we’ve now seen a shift back to the state and local level with the perceived overreach of the federal government. The Every Student Succeeds Act keeps some of the fundamentals in place, but shifts authority for the design of accountability systems back to the state level.
No matter where the balance of control lies and what kind of progress we’ve seen to date, there still is serious room for improvement. The experts we interviewed outlined a series of issues that have yet to be fully addressed if we are to improve outcomes for kids and remove barriers that stand in the way.
Some of these issues should be addressed by policymakers, but many of the challenges still in place can’t be tackled via policy change. They instead are in the hands of administrators, school boards, teachers, parents, and engaged citizens. For example:
- While we have general agreement on the importance of an annual test to measure whether students are learning to read and do math on grade level, we still often find too much test prep in our schools. There is widespread support for the annual assessment, but an overreaction to that assessment with too much test prep.
- Parent voices in communities across the country are too often limited to a segment of parents — often white, upper-middle-income parents. But they are usually the minority of parents within a community, so it’s important that low- and middle-income parents are engaged and heard from as well.
- There’s room to grow the accountability system and look at not just how students do through high school, but beyond high school. Danny King in Pharr–San Juan–Alamo wants to know how students graduating from his South Texas district are persisting into higher education. That signifies a local leader willing to take ownership.
- Data receipt is often too slow to be actionable. For all the progress we’ve made on the use of technology to deliver real-time information, there are still serious lags in getting data and information to parents to understand how well their child is performing and whether they are on track.
- Finally, there was an acknowledgement from several experts on the disconnect between what accountability and data tell us and how resources are aligned — or too often misaligned — to the priorities that data tell us we should focus on. Kevin Huffman discussed that the billions of dollars that are spent on professional development across the country are often spent independently of accountability. It’s been a widely known fact that professional development dollars have been poorly implemented and targeted for years, and yet we’ve seen little change. That’s a significant set of resources that, if aligned more seriously to the needs of kids and teachers in a particular district, could make a real difference.
What was particularly encouraging from these interviews was the leadership each person has demonstrated. The implementation of accountability at the ground level can lead to different reactions. It can be seen as a tool for improvement or can stoke a culture of fear. These leaders all view it as a tool for improvement. They are committed to using data, and are not afraid to admit when more of the same is not working.
We could use more like them, and I hope they continue to lead. Our students will be better off for it.
Holly Kuzmich, executive director of the George W. Bush Institute, worked on educational policy issues at the White House and the U.S. Department of Education under President George W. Bush.
The ‘A’ Word: Dustin Marshall — ‘It’s Shocking, Appalling, That There Are Arguments Made in Education That Data Is Bad’
This interview is part of The ‘A’ Word series, produced in partnership with the Bush Institute to examine how “accountability” became a “dirty word,” and what can and should be done going forward to ensure accountability withstands the test of a bad reputation. The interviews were conducted over the telephone, transcribed, and edited for clarity and length. The same questions, or types of questions, were put to each participant to see what they thought independently and collectively about accountability. Their answers will take the reader into the inner workings of schools, the intricacies of the politics of education, and the ways in which campuses can better serve students. Click through the grid below to read other ‘A’ Word conversations.
Dustin Marshall has served as a Dallas Independent School District trustee since 2016. Marshall survived four contested elections in that short tenure (a special election, a regular election, and runoffs in both races). His support for data and research-based education reforms galvanized parents to vote in each race. The Dallas businessman, who was a member of the 2016 Presidential Leadership Scholars class, is known for using data to drive decisions and to best determine the strategies that will help Dallas students succeed.
In this ‘A’ Word interview, Marshall explains the pressures that exist in a district to not upend the status quo. Teachers unions or associations particularly stand in the way of change, in part through blocking efforts to remove underperforming teachers. He also details how some school trustees obstruct change, often by voting against a measure that actually would help students in their districts.
Marshall, though, is hopeful that reform groups in Dallas and forward-looking educators will succeed in using data and the principles of school accountability to improve the educational outcomes of students. As he sees it, nothing less than North Texas’s economic success is at stake.
How do you define accountability?
For me, accountability is about bringing data to bear on tracking outcomes, and the inputs that go into outcomes, in a measurable and definable way. It means using that data to evaluate against a benchmark, and using data to make more-informed decisions at all levels in the organization.
Has that changed for you over time?
As a definition, accountability probably hasn’t changed overtime. The practical reality of how to implement accountability has changed. Since serving on the Dallas school board, I’ve been enlightened a little bit that it’s not as easy as I’d like it to be. What is accomplishable within the political context is probably what has changed.
What specifically has enlightened you?
It’s easy to underestimate the fervor with which some people will protect the status quo. They’re vocal, and they support the current power structure. And they will protect the status quo at any cost. That makes it difficult for folks that want to use data to make decisions to make progress.
Why do you think they work so hard and fast to protect the status quo?
I’ve thought about that until I’m blue in the face and stayed up nights thinking about it. I don’t have a silver-bullet answer. It’s some combination of a couple of things.
One is racial politics. In DISD’s case, there’s a general opposition to anything that is being pushed by anyone who’s perceived as too white, too Republican, and too associated with business.
Second, teacher unions or teacher associations influence elections. There’s an effort to protect all teachers, whether they’re underperforming or not.
Finally, a lot of this is cronyism. School board members know many of the teachers in the schools in their districts, and they like them as people, whether they think they’re effectively educating kids or not.
Is it worse than you thought it would be?
I come from a management consulting background at Bain. Every decision is supposed to include data, and data is not thought of as a bad word. A partner at Bain had a plaque above his desk that read, “In God I trust. Everyone else must bring data.”
It was shocking to me, and fairly appalling, that there are actually arguments made in education that data is bad, that you need not talk about data because data’s misleading.
Are there DISD educators who are willing to use data at the classroom level?
Yes. I would array teachers along two different continuums. One is a continuum of performance, from strong to weak. But there’s also an important continuum of a willingness to be assessed and to learn from that assessment.
Many teachers want to be supported and improve their practice. But there are also teachers who say, “Leave me alone. I know what I’m doing. Don’t talk to me. I’m an expert.” In my district, quite a few teachers are eager for assessment and coaching and professional development.
How do you see the Dallas school board using accountability practices?
I try to make accountability come into play on everything we vote on. Certainly, the principal-effectiveness evaluation system and the teacher evaluation system are the two largest centerpieces.
We’ve also been evaluating early childhood education and looking at ways to expand access to quality pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds. We’re tracking everything you can track. For example, we are studying whether a student’s participation in 3- and 4-year-old pre-K improves that student’s kindergarten-readiness rate and then, in turn, their third-grade literacy rate.
Our [Accelerating Campus Excellence] program is another great example. We’re identifying our best-performing teachers and then paying them a stipend to go into our worst-performing schools. We’ve seen tremendous success in reducing the number of improvement-required campuses in DISD largely as a result of that program.
Those are tactical ways we’re using data and assessment and, broadly speaking, accountability to make decisions. Unfortunately, not every board member is interested in that decision-making philosophy. We’ve got a group of five that get most things passed 5 to 4. But we didn’t pass the Tax Ratification Election because we needed six votes.
Can you tell us about a time where you were advocating for something you really thought was in the best interest of the kids and families that you serve in your district that faced significant opposition?
The TRE is the most obvious example. It’s just it doesn’t make any sense. The state continues to underfund education in Texas, and the only tool that’s left to us to get the money we need to educate kids is the TRE.
We’ve got the second or third lowest tax rate in North Texas. We’ve got 90 percent poverty. Every school district around Dallas is passing a TRE, most of them unanimously. You could count on one hand the number of trustees in all the North Texas school districts that voted against it. We’ve got four people on our DISD board not supporting it.
Why do you think something that sparks so little controversy in surrounding communities is so controversial in Dallas?
I don’t know how broadly applicable this is to the statewide or national stage, but some DISD board members derive their power largely from being seen as oppositional. If you look at the number of items that are pulled off the consent agenda at our DISD board meetings, 99.9 percent are pulled by two people. And, if you look at the amount of time spent speaking at our board meetings, it’s 90-plus percent those same two people.
The great irony is that we often have unanimous votes on the items they pulled off the consent agenda and then spent 20 minutes talking about. In my opinion, those members need to be perceived by their constituents as yelling about something. And I literally do mean yelling, raising their voices, and banging the table.
Their constituents, unfortunately, don’t have — or don’t take — the time to be well-versed about the issues. Instead, they have the perception that their board members are down there fighting, so they must be fighting for us. The terrible reality is they’re actually voting to undermine their own constituents’ best interest.
Let’s go back to your mention of the role of teachers unions or associations at the school board level. How do they come into play, specifically around educator evaluation?
We have a three-level grievance process at DISD, and any dues-paying member of one of the associations is represented throughout by a union or association representative who will grieve a dismissal all the way up through the process. I think 100 percent of the ones that [the American Federation of Teachers] is involved with go all the way to the board. They continue to push it even when the fact pattern is very clear.
I think roughly 100 percent of the appeals are denied by the board because the fact pattern was clear. Nevertheless, they push forward and make it as difficult as possible for the district. We pay dozens of attorneys to manage this and spend many hours on the process.
The biggest impact that the teachers groups have in DISD elections is that most teachers live in the same districts as many of our struggling schools because the real estate is more affordable. We don’t, unfortunately, pay teachers enough to live in other parts of the district. There’s extreme voter apathy in DISD elections in those areas, so teachers make up a significant number of the people that vote. And they hear from their association whom they should vote for.
In fairness, the teachers would say business-related groups also invest in races.
There aren’t any voters in those business groups, though. They mostly live outside the district. The business groups invest money, but they don’t get voters.
How do we build greater support for accountability?
What Dallas Kids First is doing is really effective locally. First, they track the key issues that come in front of the DISD board, and they also track every trustee’s vote on every issue. They put that data into an easy-to-use graphic that highlights for people how their representative voted on core issues. They tally it up, and they give a scorecard grade presented in a very easy-to-understand fashion.
Second, they have got the new Camp Fellowship program. They get 20 people, mostly millennials, to go through a yearlong class where they spend one day a month learning about campaigning, politics, and how to be an effective door knocker and campaign volunteer. Then they give them a stipend of a couple thousand dollars in exchange for working 100 hours on a DISD campaign.
The fellows are taking the scorecard out in the field and explaining to people, “These are the votes that matter. This is the data of why those votes matter, and here’s what your incumbent representative did on those votes.”
What should we expect from school board members and other decision makers?
We should expect them to bring a thoughtful and organized decision-making process, consistently applied, to their work. That entails the ability to ask the right questions, to gather the right data, to assess that data, and to solicit community input to make sure they are getting anecdotes and color around that data. You must bring that together to make as informed a decision as possible.
For folks like me, who have no teaching experience, part of the input process is seeking the color that an educator would bring to a decision as well. I liken it to consulting. Consultants get really good at asking questions. If you ask enough of the right questions, and you can cut through the bull to know whether you’re getting the right answer, then you can bring all that together to make the best choice you can for kids.
You have to be governed by only thinking about the kids, because there’s a lot of noise.
Does asking the right questions in a deliberate way break up some of the politicizing and the focus on adult issues?
You can see that happen at the board table sometimes. I’ve started coaching myself to ask questions in a way, in front of everybody, that if the answer is given, normal, rational people will come to their own natural conclusion without being told what to think. I try to ask some leading questions and let it sit, and I’ve seen that start to break up some of the old mindset. It has the most impact on people in the audience and on the media covering DISD.
That can be a difficult strategy to deploy because it requires getting control of your emotions.
It requires more patience than naturally comes to me. I like to ask, “Can you tell me a little more about that?” That’s a great question, by the way. If you get a first answer that you know isn’t fully the whole picture, that’s the question to ask next.
What initiatives would you prioritize now?
The teacher pipeline is the biggest problem we’re confronting, and we’re dancing around it in a frustrating way. We ought to ban crummy, alternative-certification programs and never hire any teachers from them. We ought to grow our own teacher training process — like a scholarship program for DISD graduates where we pay for their college and then they come back and teach for four or five years.
We need to get creative in how we solve that teacher pipeline problem. No more of this stuff where you see “Want to teach? When can you start?” on billboards. Every time I see that, I swear I drive 30 miles per hour faster. It makes me angry.
I would also like to tackle a principal training program. Teaching Trust is a world-class program [in North Texas], and I would love to put every DISD principal through it. Teaching Trust is educating 10 or 20 of our principals per year, and the kids in their school perform 84 percent higher on tests every year. How can you argue that that doesn’t work? Of course it works.
The way we’re handling early childhood education is too politicized. We’re doing it but not in an authentic or ideal way. We ought to offer full-day, free pre-K for all 3- and 4-year-olds, whether they’re covered by the state or not.
We also need to change the length of the school year and the length of the school day. Of course, lengthening the school year will make the tourism industry mad.
What about TEI, Dallas’s new Teacher Effectiveness Indices? Is that driving results for DISD?
TEI is where the rubber meets the road. In the last couple of years, DISD has gone from the 24th performance percentile amongst districts in the state to above the 80th. I credit that improvement — if not most of it — to the teacher evaluation system and managing out teachers that need to be in a different career.
How do you respond when TEI critics claim it is chasing teachers out of DISD?
People will ask whether it is true, and we say, “Well, yes, it’s true, but cut the data by performance band.” We’ve got nine educator performance bands. Last year we retained 100 percent of the teachers in the highest two bands of performance. Not a single teacher in the district in the top two bands left, and all the ones that are leaving are in the bottom couple of performance bands. That means the design is working.
To what do board members who are not fans of TEI attribute the DISD’s recent success?
They will talk about ACE as a positive thing, but of course, you can’t have ACE without TEI. You need to identify your higher-performing teachers in order to offer them spots in ACE. Sometimes my colleagues oppose something until it works, and then they’re all about it. That’s always fun.
What’s at stake for Dallas to get these education issues right?
The city’s whole economic future is at stake. By 2020, 60 percent to 65 percent of the jobs in the city will require some sort of post-secondary education. Right now, 30 percent of Dallas citizens have any post-secondary degree.
We simply don’t have the labor force to fill current jobs, let alone the jobs that are coming at the growth rate Dallas is seeing. The Texas and North Texas economic miracle of the last 20 years will dissipate quickly if we can’t fill those jobs. And we’re not on a trajectory to fill them.
It’s challenging to get people to care about three, four, five years out, let alone 20 years out, but the Commit! Partnership has done a good job showing the correlation between key indicators at different moments along the pipeline.
They’ve been able to extrapolate data to show that if we have 55 percent kindergarten-readiness level in this cohort of kids, their SAT scores are likely to be this, which is then a likely predictor of their graduation with a four-year degree within six years after finishing high school. We can track that in a way that doesn’t make us wait the 15 years to see student outcomes. That has been helpful.
The high school graduation rate for American students with disabilities lags 19 percentage points behind the overall rate, according to an analysis from The Hechinger Report. On-time graduation rates for students who are classified as special education in certain states are beneath 50 percent, and the disparity between the highest-performing states for disabled students and the lowest-performing is enormous.
Multi-year data from the Department of Education shows a 64.6 percent on-time graduation rate for special education high schoolers, who experience learning challenges ranging from deafness to dyslexia to autism to bipolar disorder. That figure is notably lower than the 83.2 percent on-time rate for all public school students. Among states, Arkansas graduates the highest proportion of its students with disabilities — 81.9 percent — while just across its eastern border, Mississippi graduates only 30.7 percent.
The 10 lowest-performing jurisdictions (Nevada, Mississippi, Louisiana, the District of Columbia, South Carolina, Virginia, Oregon, New York, Colorado, and Georgia) all feature even larger graduation rate gaps than prevail nationally.
Last-place Nevada, even while boasting a 71.3 percent graduation rate for all students, moves only 29 percent of its special education students across the finish line. Although Mississippi improves slightly on Nevada’s performance for classified students, its higher overall rate (75.4 percent) means that it can also claim the largest gap of any state: nearly 45 percentage points.
Writers for The Hechinger Report point to familiar explanations for the states’ dismal results: a shortage of qualified staff, lack of funding for programs, and the walls of bureaucratic obstruction erected by districts determined not to divert resources to special education.
“We tend to see the same districts over and over again,” one Arkansas special education lawyer told the authors. “I still think that they’re lazy in general and they will continue to try to play the odds that they won’t get sued.”
Certain states have become notorious for abuses in both practice and reporting. As the Houston Chronicle detailed in a blockbuster report last year, officials in Texas — the state with the second-highest disabled graduation rate, just behind Arkansas — enforced a secretive and arbitrary cap for a decade on the number of students in each school allowed special education services. Alabama isn’t even shown on Hechinger Report’s list because state officials admitted to artificially boosting its overall graduation rate just last year.
Several other states have experienced eye-popping jumps in special education graduation rates over recent years. Alaska increased from 42 percent to 57 percent between 2014 and 2015; Georgia moved from 36.5 percent to 54.3 percent; and Kentucky rose from 52 percent in 2013 to 70 percent in 2014.
Improvements of that magnitude tend to raise eyebrows, particularly when they occur so quickly.
One positive development that has met with less cynicism is the proliferation of postsecondary programs that specifically cater to adults with learning disabilities. The number of “work readiness” college programs located on college campuses has grown tenfold from 2004 to 2017.
Folded into respected institutions like Syracuse and the University of Massachusetts, the programs specifically aim to include adults with significant developmental delays by offering academic courses alongside training in life skills like résumé-writing.
Report: 30 Million Well-Paying Jobs, Mostly in the West and South, Exist for Workers Without Bachelor’s Degrees
Despite decades of downsizing and shrinking workforce participation, there are 30 million well-paying jobs in the United States that do not require a bachelor’s degree, according to new research from workforce experts.
That represents roughly one-quarter of America’s labor market. But those positions are increasingly concentrated in specific regions — and a high school diploma is often not a sufficient qualification to be hired for one, according to the study, a joint effort by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce and J.P. Morgan Chase.
“Good jobs that pay without a BA,” as the study dubs them, are divided between blue-collar work, often in labor-intensive trades, and “skilled-services” positions in industries like finance and health care. They typically require an associate’s degree, and their median annual salary is $55,000, enough to ensure something like a middle-class lifestyle in most of the U.S.
The good news is that such jobs have grown by 3 million over the past quarter-century. The bad news is that their share of the overall job market has shrunk significantly over the same period: from 60 percent to 45 percent.
Growth has slowed parallel to the decline of the manufacturing economy: Although 23 states have added blue-collar jobs since 1991, they have been concentrated in industries like construction. The shuttering of America’s factories and mills, which became a noisy centerpiece of the 2016 election, accounts for 83 percent of the vanished middle-class jobs for workers without bachelor’s degrees, the report acknowledges.
What remains of those jobs, whether blue-collar or more skilled, are clustered in the West, South, and upper Plains states.
“Between 1991 and 2015, the growth of good jobs in blue-collar industries was strongest in the Western states and weakest in the Northeast,” write the authors, including CEW Director Anthony Carnevale. “The number of good blue-collar jobs more than doubled in Utah and nearly doubled in North Dakota and South Dakota. But good blue-collar jobs declined by nearly 40 percent in Rhode Island and by about 30 percent in West Virginia, New York, and Massachusetts.”
Driving south along I-95 from Boston would provide a tour of a region hemorrhaging opportunities. Of the 12 jurisdictions where well-paying blue-collar jobs have disappeared in industries even outside the battered manufacturing sector, the report said, eight are in the east (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia). Another two, Michigan and Wisconsin, aren’t far afield.
Massachusetts presents a particular case in point. Along with New York and D.C., it is one of three jurisdictions — all of them highly educated — that have shed jobs since 1991 in both blue-collar and skilled-services industries. Meanwhile, its investment in workforce-preparation measures like career and technical education has been underwhelming in recent decades.
The festering neglect of Boston’s flagship vocational school, which emerged as an issue for Mayor Martin Walsh in his successful bid for re-election this fall, typifies the state’s emphasis on college preparation over career readiness. Local observers say that choice has cost jobs even as it helped drive the state’s rise to academic excellence in the 1990s.
Certifications, industry credentials, and two-year programs could be the answer, the authors suggest. Even as high school graduation rates have spiked in the past few years, the share of good jobs held by workers with only a diploma has fallen in 46 states. Highly desirable skilled-industry positions are increasingly being given to workers with associate’s degrees.
More HS Students Are Graduating, but These Key Indicators Prove Those Diplomas Are Worth Less Than Ever
“Associate’s degree holders have gained more than 3 million good jobs across the country since 1991. Associate’s degree holders held a larger share of good jobs in 2015 than in 1991 in every state,” they write.
Teachers can get up to $1,000 in matching funds for projects to involve families in student learning under a new program from a popular online fundraising site for educators.
The Carnegie Corporation will match money raised for the teachers’ family engagement events through a partnership with DonorsChoose.org.
The goal of the project is to support family engagement efforts and to learn more about what works best, said Carnegie Project Officer Ambika Kapur. Carnegie has committed $500,000 to the initiative over the next year.
“We hope that there will be many, many creative projects that come out of this,” Kapur told The 74. She cited research that indicates parents often think their children are doing better academically than they are, making teacher-parent communication extremely important. Additionally, parent involvement in learning is shown to increase student achievement.
To qualify, teachers post a project on the site and flag it with a code for the matching fund campaign. Projects must cost $2,000 or less and create an opportunity for family engagement outside of school hours. Staff at DonorsChoose.org will vet the teacher posts and select projects for the matching program.
They can then share the post with family and friends, and anyone who visits the site can donate. Once the project is fully funded, DonorsChoose purchases the materials and sends them to the teacher’s school.
After each project is completed, a teacher and parent will complete surveys so Carnegie can collect information about what successful family engagement looks like.
“Teachers know best” how to get families involved, Kapur said.
— DonorsChoose (@DonorsChoose) November 3, 2017
Disclosure: The Carnegie Corporation of New York supports The 74.
As Taylor Swift releases her sixth studio album, Reputation, on Friday, there’s only one question pressing upon the public consciousness: What does Taylor Swift think of the Every Student Succeeds Act?
Of course, she’ll never come out and directly say; it takes a sleuth digging through her heavily shrouded lyrics to find any sort of real meaning:
ESSA's the reason for the teardrops on my guitar/The only thing that keeps me wishing on a wishing star. https://t.co/1d6SmKmvl6
— david cantor (@cantorrac) March 13, 2017
Perhaps Swift is so compelling to the education policy community because of her obsession with the theme of accountability, said Swift lyrics analyst David Cantor. “Throughout all her songs, she consistently holds the men accountable,” Cantor said, adding, “Well, not, ‘Look What You Made Me Do.’ That’s actually her biggest anti-accountability song.”
Even if Swift will not publicly share her opinions on the Common Core and school vouchers, we’ve identified education policy areas where she has come out in some pretty Fearless ways … Are You Ready for It?
There’s Lots of Social-Emotional Support for Students, but Not for Teachers. Here Are Some Programs Looking to Change That
“Were you just kidding ’cause it seems to me, this thing is breaking down, we almost never speak, I don’t feel welcome anymore, hey school district what happened, please tell me ’cause one second it was perfect, now the students are halfway out the door.” — Forever and Always
Opt Out Round II: States Walk a Line Between Boycotters’ Demands and Feds’ Funding Threats
“Don’t be afraid, we’ll run away from this mess, it’s the Opt Out movement, baby just say yes (actually no, please say no to tests).” — Love Story
President Trump Donates $100,000 of His Salary to Education Department; Still Wants $9B Cut to ED Budget
“Now we’ve got problems, and I don’t think we can solve ’em. You made a really deep cut, and baby, now we’ve got bad blood…and also no money.” — Bad Blood
2 in 3 High School Students Know of Kids Who Cheat Using Digital Devices — but Few Admit Doing It Themselves
“You should’ve said no, you should’ve gone home, you should’ve thought twice before you let it all go, you should’ve know that word, ’bout what you did on that test, would get back to me.” — Should’ve Said No
Portland Schools End Up in National Spotlight After Suing Parent Activist, Reporter Over Public Records
Reporter: I’ve got a list of names and yours is in red underlined. I check it once, then I check it twice.
School District: Oh, look what you made me do, look who you made me sue.
— Look What You Made Me Do
Science Is for Boy Scouts; Critical Thinking Is for Girl Scouts. Here’s How They Differ in Their Gendered Messaging to Children
“When you’re 15 and boys talk over you in class, you’re gonna believe it. And when you’re 15 feeling like the girls will never dismantle the patriarchy. Count to 10, take it in, this is life, before you go get your MBA. I didn’t know it at 15.” — Fifteen
New Teen Survey Reveals Cyberbullying Moving Beyond Social Media to Email, Messaging Apps, YouTube
“Someday, I’ll be living in a big old city, and all you’re ever gonna be is mean. Someday, I’ll be big enough so your Snapchats don’t hurt me and all you’re ever gonna be is mean.” — Mean
Empty Cabinet: Education Department Has Highest Top Staff Vacancy Rate, at 80%
“Got a long list of Ed Department vacancies, don’t tell me it’s insane, but I’ve got a blank space baby, and I’ll write your name.” — Blank Space
5 Lessons Other Districts Can Take Away From Latest Rand Personalized Learning Study of Small High Schools
“Can’t you see that I’m the one who understands you, been here all along, so why can’t you see this Personalized Learning Plan belongs with me?” — You Belong With Me
District Schools? Charters? In Indianapolis, Partnership Schools Offer a Third Way
“You’ve got that James Dean daydream look in your eyes and I’ve got that reinventing-public-schools thing that you like, and when we go crashing down we come back every time, ’cause we never go out of style, we never go out of style.” — Style
A ‘Start School Later’ Success Story in Missouri: Higher Graduation Rates, Fewer Suspensions
“‘Cause I don’t know how it gets better than this, you let me sleep in and I come to school fearless. And I don’t know why but with more sleep I am more likely to graduate.” — Fearless
House Republicans’ Tax Plan Has Implications at All Levels of Education
Opponents: I knew you were trouble when I walked in.
Supporters: Haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate.
—I Knew You Were Trouble and Shake It Off
New Research: As Tuition Rises, Vaunted Public Universities Cater to a Wealthier Clientele
“Big reputation, big reputation, ooh, you and me would be a big conversation, aah, and I heard about you, ooh, you like the fancy schools, too.” —End Game
With Batman & Batmobile Costume, Washington School Resource Officer Is a Real Live Superhero Cop
“Tall, dark and Batman, he puts on his uniform and drives away, to save the world or go to work, it’s the same thing to kids.” —Superman
Fake Education News? With False Betsy DeVos Report, Progressive Sites Fall Victim to the Very Fake News Trend They Criticize
“This fake news is blowing up the left wing, high above the whole scene, DeVos leaving soon? Call it what you want, yeah, call it what you want to.” —Call It What You Want
Gray day … Everything is gray. I watch. But nothing moves today.
—Dr. Seuss, My Many Colored Days
Gathered on a rug in the Floresville South Elementary School library, a small group of grief counselors broke the news to a room of second-graders: Their classmate, 7-year-old Emily Garza, was dead, a victim of gun violence.
Emily’s sister Brooke Ward, a 5-year-old kindergartner at the same school, and their mother, 30-year-old Joann Ward, were also among those killed on Sunday while praying at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The mass shooting left 26 people dead and 20 hurt, 10 critically. Among the injured was Emily and Brooke’s 5-year-old brother, Ryland, also in kindergarten, who was hospitalized after being shot several times.
3 Students Killed, 6 Injured in Texas Church Shooting; Schools Provide Grief Counseling, Extra Security
Young children in elementary schools — many who have never experienced the loss of a loved one — often fail to understand the permanence of death.
“We did what we do, which is go in and give kids really bad news and let kids know that it’s OK to be sad, it’s OK to be angry, it’s OK to not be sad and angry,” said Kimberly Ridgley, director of counseling for San Antonio’s Northside Independent School District, who helped officials in the much smaller Floresville district approach the children. “How you acknowledge your feelings, and how you work through them, that’s scary for a lot of folks.”
Working in a large urban district, Northside officials are used to breaking tough news to young children, including the deaths of students or teachers. Within hours of the shooting, they began to mobilize, and the day after the shooting, 13 Northside counselors arrived at the Floresville elementary school to inform the children of the tragedy and to help them recognize and embrace their emotions.
The process began with morning telephone calls to parents, who were invited to visit the school as Ridgley’s team broke the news to their kids. Generally in these situations, she said, about half of parents are able to make the trip. Counselors tell parents how to recognize warning signs in their children, which include not eating, not sleeping, behavioral problems, or changes in academic performance. They also advise parents to monitor children’s access to social media and news of the tragedy. “Kids don’t need to know the gory details that everybody else knows,” she said.
Then, the children were ushered into the library. While most students in the room knew about the shooting, she said, all of them knew some form of tragedy had occurred. Quickly, the conversation pivoted from the event to focus on emotional healing.
“We talk about what you can do to feel better,” Ridgley said. “You can drink water and get the cortisone and adrenaline out of your bloodstream. You can talk to someone you love and trust. You can exercise. You can color.”
Next, the counselors read the children a book by Dr. Seuss, called My Many Colored Days. The book never mentions death, but rather associates a range of emotions with colors.
Finally, students were asked to color paper hearts and include words that described their emotions. This activity, Ridgley said, has two purposes: to help children embrace their feelings, and to help identify students who may need additional supports. A student who colors the heart black, for example, raises a red flag.
Even with supports in place, the event — which Texas Gov. Greg Abbott described as the worst mass shooting in state history — will likely have a profound effect on the community, particularly its children, for years to come.
On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence visited the small town, where he met with victims’ families and spoke during a vigil at Floresville High School. “It seems like too often we hear of another tragedy, another senseless act of violence against the innocent,” Pence said. “In these times, I expect it’s easy for some to lose heart, but as the good people of Sutherland Springs taught the nation this week, faith is the antidote to fear and despair. Faith is now, and always has been, our source of strength.
Said Ridgley, “I liken it to things like 9/11. There will always be an impact because it so deeply affected their community,” she said. “If they were directly related to the families, I think there will always be that grief. My hope, and my hope always in these situations, is that we’ve done some really good work with students so that, emotionally, moving forward, they’re in a good place, and if they are not, they know where to go for help.”
Feds Award $8 Million in Emergency Aid to Hurricane-Struck Districts — Puerto Rico Ed Secretary Says Recovery Will Cost $1 Billion
The U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday that it will dole out $8 million in federal emergency response money to the education departments in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, following hurricanes there this fall.
Puerto Rico Education Secretary Julia Keleher told The 74 she is grateful for the federal funds, but the island’s battered education system will need at least $1 billion to rebound from Hurricane Maria.
A $2 million grant has already been awarded to the Texas Education Agency through the federal Project School Emergency Response to Violence program, commonly known as Project SERV. Plans to award $2 million grants each to Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands are in motion, according to an Education Department news release.
“The victims of these hurricanes remain in our constant thoughts and prayers, but as I continue to visit the many impacted schools, I am heartened and in awe of those who are working around the clock to ensure our nation’s children are able to get back to class as quickly as possible,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in the release. “While Project SERV grants are but a small part of this administration’s overall recovery and rebuilding efforts, they provide much-needed funds to help schools become operational again. As these funds are distributed, the Department of Education will remain a partner in the long road to recovery.”
The announcement came a day after DeVos visited storm-battered schools in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. While in San Juan, she met with Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and Keleher.
On Thursday, Keleher told The 74 the visit was productive.
“It was a packed visit, but it was time extremely well spent,” Keleher said. “I got the sense that she is genuinely concerned about the welfare of public education in Puerto Rico.”
DeVos Pledges $2 Million in Federal Money to Help Rebuild Puerto Rico’s Storm-Wrecked Schools
Even though Florida and Texas schools were battered by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, school officials there have embraced an influx of students from the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territories in September. Figures released this week by Puerto Rico’s Department of Education show that more than 6,400 Puerto Rican students have fled the island to schools on the U.S. mainland, primarily in Florida.
Officials at Orange County Public Schools, which serve Orlando, told The 74 earlier this week they’ve welcomed 1,530 hurricane evacuees to their campuses this fall.
Puerto Rico’s 1,113 public schools were closed after Hurricane Maria struck the island Sept. 20 as a Category 4 storm. As of Thursday, 651 of those schools — more than half — had reopened, Keleher said.
The Project SERV grant program was created to help local education agencies recover from traumatic events that disrupt learning environments, including natural disasters and student homicides.
“Our goal is to just see that children can get back to school and get back to learning,” DeVos told reporters in Puerto Rico on Wednesday. “We look forward to continuing to work with the superintendent and the governor in trying to facilitate that to the extent that we are able to. We are here as partners to do that.”
Illinois Lawmakers Override Their Governor on Cursive, Say All Students Will Benefit From Handwriting Instruction
The question of cursive in schools is swirling again, this time in Illinois. Lawmakers there recently passed a measure mandating cursive instruction, overriding the governor’s veto and joining at least 14 other states that require penmanship classes.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the measure, calling it “yet another unfunded mandate,” the Chicago Tribune reported. But a bipartisan consensus in the Illinois House and Senate voted to override his veto. It is far from the first time the state Congress has overridden a Rauner veto.
“Cursive writing is a skill children will need throughout their lives,” Senate Assistant Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, a Democrat who led the push, said in a statement. “You cannot write a check, sign legal documents, or even read our Constitution without an understanding of cursive writing.”
The law requires cursive instruction by fifth grade for Illinois students starting in the 2018–19 school year.
The Great Cursive Debate has resurfaced several times since 2010, when many states adopted the Common Core State Standards, which require keyboarding skills but not penmanship. In 2014, a segment on the PBS NewsHour asked, “Is Cursive Handwriting Dead in America?”
But in a 2016 opinion piece, The Washington Post’s Joe Heim declared that cursive was “Like Madonna and newspapers” in its “gritty staying power.”
“Cursive writing was supposed to be dead by now,” Heim wrote.
In some places, maybe it is. An attempt to introduce cursive requirements in the state of Washington failed to even get a committee vote in the state house last year.
And yet, in the past two years alone, states including Louisiana, Arkansas, and Arizona have implemented cursive legislation. The country’s largest district, New York City, encourages cursive as well.
But do kids really need the fancy letters to succeed? Critics say teaching cursive takes up time and resources better spent on other things. And some educators argue that if it’s not mandated by the Common Core State Standards, why bother?
Some research suggests that writing by hand rather than typing helps students remember what they write, and neat writing is important for success in school, education professor Steve Graham told Education Week last year. But whether students learn to write by hand in cursive or print doesn’t make much difference, Graham said.
Others suggest that students need cursive to access historical documents and write faster. And cursive may make reading and writing easier for some students with learning disabilities, according to a 2014 New York Times article.