Seventeen months ago, and eight months after I became the secretary of education in Puerto Rico, the worst hurricane in over a century decimated much of the island, dislocating thousands of families and bringing daily life here to a halt. Our school buildings were no exception; those that weren’t destroyed suffered damage ranging from power outages to missing roofs. We continue to wait for approval from FEMA to address most of our physical infrastructure needs and are hopeful that the federal government will honor its promise to ensure all students have access to a safe, healthy, and engaging learning environment.
The storm created an opportunity for the world to see the challenges confronting Puerto Rico’s schools. Hurricane Maria and its economic repercussions exposed the negative impacts of poor decision-making and the politicization of the public education system. The operation of the public schools was largely ineffective and inefficient and characterized by a mass exodus of students and teachers. Over the years, the system neglected to prioritize the provision of basic resources, such as books and technology, or allow for the development of innovative and more effective instructional practices.
Since then, Puerto Rico has made dramatic improvements in the quality of its public education system. Dedicated families, communities, teachers, and students have made it possible for great things to take place since the hurricane left our shores.
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Last fall, Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker used Southern Door High School’s newly installed 3D printing lab in this small town near Green Bay as a backdrop to propose a $639 million increase in public school funding.
“We know that ensuring our students’ success, both in and outside the classroom, is critical to the state’s continued economic success,” said Walker, now in a fierce campaign for a third term against long-time state schools chief Tony Evers.
The Southern Door County schools, administrators say, got almost none of that money. In fact, the 1,029-student district—rural, losing students, and hampered by tax revenue caps put in place more than 20 years ago—had to make severe budget cuts this year and pull an extra $200,000 out of its savings account. If a referendum on the county ballot this fall allowing the district to exceed its revenue cap fails to pass, there will likely be more cuts next fiscal year.
The intricacies of Wisconsin’s school spending and whether districts like Southern Door need more or less money from the state has come to dominate the gubernatorial contest between Walker and Evers, both of whom have made their education records a high-profile piece of their pitch to Wisconsin voters in the November election.
Walker says that by leading the charge to turn Wisconsin into a right-to-work state with the passage of legislation in 2011 that stripped the bargaining rights of public employee unions including teachers, he’s saved the state more than $3.5 billion, while keeping property taxes low and expanding school choice. He has claimed his most recent budget provided districts with $200 more per student, though many dispute that fact.
Under Walker between 2011 and 2013, the state cut education funding by some $800 million, hitting some districts harder than others. Spending has rebounded since then, but Walker’s critics say it hasn’t been enough to keep up with inflation.
Evers says Walker’s budget cuts over the years crippled school districts’ ability to provide students with basic resources, causing massive layoffs and a teacher shortage across the state. He has proposed to boost spending by more than $1.7 billion…
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It’s indisputable that most students perform better academically when they have parents or adults to help with homework and to be advocates with teachers and principals.
But in many communities, parents who juggle multiple jobs, don’t speak much English, or have low levels of education often don’t have the time or resources to make meaningful connections to their child’s schooling experience.
That’s why some leading-edge districts have made it their job to reach out to families and create more welcoming and accessible ways for parents to be part of their children’s schooling.
In Washoe County, Nev., for example, the school district’s family-engagement work includes organizing home visits by teachers—and training those teachers to make the most of those face-to-face encounters in students’ homes.
In Federal Way, Wash., the leader of family-engagement efforts taps a diverse array of parents to serve on committees or task forces that inform major decision making in the district, including high-level hires.
Still, the specialized field of parent and family engagement has mostly been driven by ambitious leaders at the district level. And even in districts with robust programming, resources to support the work are often tight.
But new and potentially bigger forces are building around the need for schools and educators to forge deeper connections with parents and community members.
Philanthropists—in particular the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation of New York—are championing the flow of more money into family-engagement initiatives, including research to identify what efforts are effective.
And the federal budget has set aside $10 million to help fund efforts by several state education agencies and outside partners to develop strong parent and community programming.
The Every Student Succeeds Act also directs states and districts to develop plans to work with families and surrounding communities—a requirement that has spawned a multistate endeavor to create guidelines and exemplars for schools and districts to follow.
Advocates for building strong ties between schools and families say it’s a major opportunity for a proven, yet underutilized strategy to make schools better.
“There is a lot of excitement, and more of an evolution in where both policymakers and funders feel like they want to increasingly put their money,” said Vito Borrello, the executive director for the National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement…
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A dispute over pay and class size in Chicago boiled over into the nation’s first charter school strike this month, raising questions about how teachers’ unions, going forward, will reconcile their longheld opposition to charters with their need to pick up more dues-paying members.
The historic walkout—and the concessions won by the Chicago Teachers Union on behalf of the striking charter school teachers—was welcome news for unions, which are predicted to potentially shed substantial members and revenue after the fateful U.S. Supreme Court Janus decision earlier this year.
Soon after the strike started, people began asking whether cracks were starting to show in the charter movement, the first viable public alternative—and challenge—to traditional public schools. For so long the charter movement has steadily expanded in many American cities, propelled by some of the world’s wealthiest philanthropists.
The Chicago teachers’ strike has been largely cast in the media as a major symbolic win for teachers’ unions and a warning sign for charter schools and their supporters.
But there are equally fraught—if less examined—questions facing unions as they simultaneously decry charters as the tools of billionaires trying to privatize public education and encourage charter teachers to join their ranks. A growing unionized workforce in the charter sector may very well require changes from teachers’ unions as well as charter schools.
Anti-Charter Policy Pushes
Unions have longed positioned themselves as the defenders of traditional public schools, and have used their considerable political and financial clout to stymie charters. In Chicago, the Chicago Teachers Union has called for a moratorium on all new charter schools. Elsewhere, unions have lobbied to block additional state funding for charter schools, backed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of charter schools, campaigned to keep caps on the number of charter schools allowed to open, and called for bans on charter management groups and companies…
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A few weeks ago when I heard Charleston County School District for the first time had received accreditation I thought, “What the what?”
I was both surprised and concerned. I had never imagined our county school district until then was not accredited. I knew that Charleston County School District has some low performing schools, but it never occurred to me the district was not accredited. I mean, very few things are any good unless it’s accredited. Sure we have some individually challenged schools, but surely the district was accredited, I had just assumed. So hearing that CCSD was just getting accredited for the first time had me flabbergasted.
I remember when I was applying to colleges all those years ago; one of the things I looked at was the school’s accreditation status. I felt like a degree from a non-accredited school wouldn’t mean very much, so accreditation was important. How could it be Charleston County School District was not accredited? So I asked a few questions.
I’m finding that this accreditation business is a very complex issue. The first thing I learned was that although the district as a whole had never been accredited, certain schools – the county’s high schools especially – were. That made sense. High schools had to be accredited otherwise their graduates might not be accepted at institutions of higher learning.
Okay that was a concession, but I still was left wondering how an elite, arrogant community like Charleston County didn’t have an accredited public school district. In one brief exchange with a friend, I asked whether the fact that we received accrediting for the first time was good or bad. My friend answered with an emphatic “good!” I respect my brother Jason’s perspective, but I can’t imagine how being accredited for the first time in its history can be a good thing for a 200-year-old school system. By the way, Charleston County school district is the last Lowcountry school district to receive accreditation. I guess Jason figures better late than never.
Jason and I never got the chance to fully discuss the subject of CCSD accreditation, so I’ve still got a lot of questions I think our community also should be concerned about. First and foremost, just what does being accredited mean? Maybe the folks at South Carolina State University could help. They were facing some real challenges about accreditation.
Like SCSU did as an institution of higher ed, Charleston County School District got its accreditation from one of the foremost accrediting agencies around for education systems– AdvancEd. I looked ‘em up and they apparently can cut the mustard. I was concerned CCSD administrators weren’t just giving us another dog and pony show, hiring some no-name company to take a pay off in exchange for a good rating. But AdvancEd appears to be reputable.
And AdvancEd didn’t just hand over the all-clear without some stipulations! For those of us who have lived here a long time the stipulations seem repetitive – improve governance, classroom culture, school alignment, allocation of resources and community engagement – stuff constituents have complained about for years. AdvancEd gives its accreditation for five-year cycles and will allow the district a few years to make the improvements if it wants to keep the accreditation. I’m anxious to see how that plays out.
At the top of the heap of the stuff that has to be improved is board governance. Charleston County always has had a racist, elitist and self-serving school board. It’s now devolved into a dysfunctional one as well. I’ve seen some back-biting entities – that’s not the nature of the beast, that’s the nature of stupid people! That’s also our fault (voters) because we continue to elect people to the board who don’t serve the interest of the community as a whole. We continue to elect people to Charleston County School Board who serve parochial interests – people who obviously have no understanding of the reality that high tide raises all boats.
I tell people all the time our school system, with all its flaws and inequities, works exactly as it is intended. The system isn’t designed to provide equal education opportunities to all children – and I don’t know where this new cliché about education opportunities depending on zip codes comes from. What does that mean?
Okay, okay, okay. It’s complicated. But you put people in position to achieve certain outcomes. People are spending a lot of money to get elected to the county school board. The first time I heard a guy had spent $50,000 to get elected it blew my mind. Now folks are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to get elected. They’re forming slates of candidates. You don’t have to be real bright to realize that means people have agendas and are willing to go all the way to achieve those agendas.
We’re talking about a system that provides billions of dollars to the local economy and facilitates how our community is shaped in many ways. Public education is serious business! It ain’t just about insuring little Johnny learns to read. Lil Johnny doesn’t need to read to push the hamburger button on a cash register at Burger King. And soon they won’t need lil Johnny at all because customers will be placing their own orders! Some kids get a good education in Charleston County because some kids will push hamburger button, others will own the restaurant or design the buttons.
So what about school district accreditation? I’m still a little confused about the why and how it will affect public education in Charleston County. But as I argued with a friend recently, every little bit helps. Accreditation certainly can’t hurt. I think the real issue is will we move beyond getting accredited.
Capitol Hill’s budget arm says that among the many options federal lawmakers have for cutting the budget deficit, they could consider eliminating Head Start and federally supported school meal programs.
The Congressional Budget Office’s “Options for Reducing the Deficit: 2019 to 2028” is the latest in a series of reports the office releases to help lawmakers consider options for reducing the federal deficit, which in fiscal 2018 stood at $778 billion, or 3.8 percent of gross domestic product. There are a total of 121 possibilities the CBO lists for reducing the deficit, and there are a few programs listed that education policy advocates and observers might be interested in. The report also explores changes to Pell Grants and certain loan forgiveness programs available to teachers.
Keep in mind that this report from the CBO doesn’t require or place any burden on Congress to do anything—the office is just listing options for lawmakers to consider. Also: The CBO isn’t explicitly endorsing any of these options.
Child Nutrition Programs
Instead of the current funding and structure provided to school meal programs, the CBO outlines an approach familiar to many who deal with education policy and politics: block grants.
“This option would convert SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps] and the child nutrition programs to separate, smaller block grants to the states beginning in October 2019. The block grants would provide a set amount of funding to states each year, and states would be allowed to make significant changes to the structure of the programs,” the report states.
The budget analysts say this approach would reduce total spending on child nutrition programs by $88 billion, while savings for SNAP would be $160 million over the same time period. Spending on child nutrition programs like school lunch totaled $23 billion in fiscal 2018…
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[/media-credit] Participants in the DanceLogic program. (Facebook)
Shanel Edwards, co-instructor of danceLogic, stated that “danceLogic is helping these girls have access to the arts realm and science world as possible career paths, it is allowing them to stretch their own boundaries of what success looks like for them. ”DanceLogic, a unique S.T.E.A.M. program that combines dance and computer coding leading to the development of original choreography and performance, is continuing onto its second year. Girls ranging from the ages of 13 through 18 years participate in the program held at West Park Cultural Center in Philadelphia and learn the value of focus, dedication, and teamwork, as well as industry standard coding language.
During the dance class, led by instructors Edwards of D2D The Company and Annie Fortenberry, a performer with Ballet 180, the girls learn dance skills and movement techniques. This is followed by an hour of learning industry standard coding language under the direction of coding instructor Franklyn Athias, senior vice president of Network and Communications Engineering at Comcast. “I’m helping the kids see that someone, just like them, was able to use Science and Technology to find a very successful career,” Athias expressed in a press release.
The girls use coding to create their own choreography. “The combinations of dance and logic have good synergies. Learning something like dance requires practice, just like coding,” said Athias. “The dance is more physical, but it requires the students to try, fail, and try again. Before long, the muscle memory kicks in and the student forgets how hard it was before. Coding is really the same thing. Learning the syntax of coding is not a natural thing. Repetition is what makes you become good at it. After learning the first programming language, the students can learn other programming languages because it becomes much easier.”
“My favorite thing about the program is that the students can explore leadership roles. By building their own choreography and supporting each other in coding class, they navigate creating and sharing those creations, as well as resolving conflict to make one cohesive dance. There’s a lot of beauty and bravery in that process,” stated Fortenberry.
]The very first session of danceLogic culminated with the girls performing choreography and sharing what they learned through coding and how it has impacted their lives.
Now that the Every Student Succeeds Act has been officially in place for a whole school year, states are beginning to release their lists of schools that need extra help. And there’s a particular group of schools that experts are watching closely: Additional Targeted Schools.
That’s a wonky term for a particular set of schools that need improvement, but it’s one to watch: It could end up describing anywhere from 30 to 70 percent of schools, according to preliminary observations by the Center for Assessment, a nonprofit that works with states on testing and accountability. (Although that may be the typical range, many states will be under the 30 percent threshold, the Center said.)
This bears out in individual states, too. In California, at least a quarter of schools would qualify, according to a report compiled by the state board of education earlier this year. (Check out page 429 of this document for more.) And a plurality of those schools would qualify because of struggling performance among students in special education.
Similarly, Louisiana found by using data from 2015 and 2016 that about 42 percent of its schools would fall into the category. Most would be identified because of poor performance of students in special education. (Check out page 66 of the state’s ESSA plan for more).
So what exactly are Additional Targeted Schools and what’s required of them under ESSA? Under the law, states must flag Title I schools that are in the bottom 5 percent of performers in the state for what’s called “comprehensive support and improvement.” In those schools, the district is required to come up with an evidence-based plan to fix the school’s problem, monitored by the state…
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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said that the country’s higher education system is in “crisis” thanks in part to a “government takeover of the student lending system” put in place by the Obama administration. But her contention was quickly fact-checked by a former GOP Senate staffer and other higher education experts.
“Our higher ed system is the envy of the world, but if we, as a country, do not make important policy changes in the way we distribute, administer, and manage federal student loans, the program on which so many students rely will be in serious jeopardy,” DeVos told the Federal Student Aid Training Conference in Atlanta in prepared remarks on Tuesday “Students are taking out tens of thousands of dollars in debt but many are misinformed or uninformed as to the implications of taking on that debt and their responsibilities to pay it back.”
Student debt, she said, is now 10 percent of national debt. “The student loan program is not only burying students in debt, it is also burying taxpayers and it’s stealing from future generations,” she said.
DeVos offered solutions for ballooning student debt, including giving students the opportunity to pursue the postsecondary path that’s right for them, even if that’s not a four-year college degree. She also called for boosting “innovation.” And she appeared to take a swipe at the free-college movement, whose champions include Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate.
“Nothing is free,” DeVos said. “Someone, somewhere ultimately pays the bills.”
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One year into a four-year $49 million initiative to improve training for aspiring school principals, a new RAND Corporation report found that seven universities are beginning to change their principal preparation programs to better reflect the real-world demands of the job.
The seven universities participating in The Wallace Foundation’s University Principal Preparation Initiative (UPPI) are redesigning their programs by working with local high-need school districts that hire their graduates as well as accreditation agencies in their states—a move not typical of most other programs.
“Past research shows that successful principal preparation programs should include partnerships with districts,” said Rebecca Herman, a senior researcher at RAND and a lead author on the report. “Our report illustrates such engagement is feasible, valuable and critical to creating these programs.”
Principals help set school vision and culture, supporting teacher effectiveness and, ultimately, improving student achievement. Some educators say many university programs that train principals favor theory over practice and provide too little field experience in which candidates learn by taking on duties of school leaders. The initiative seeks to boost such programs by generating lessons for other universities on how best to design a program that prepares effective principals.
The RAND report found that, during the first year of the initiative, programs are working to better align programs with expected skills needed upon graduation, as well as ensuring their programs meet state and national leadership standards. All have taken evidence-based self-assessments to see how programs can be improved and developed models to guide their redesign. Programs are trying to develop a more coherent curriculum that integrates theory and practice, and offer more hands-on training opportunities and greater collaboration with school districts by asking practitioner-leaders to work as part-time instructors.