NYC Public Schools Serve 111,500 Homeless Students. What Does This Mean?

When Matthew Desmond, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, spoke in Cleveland last month, he began his address with these words that introduce one of the book’s final chapters: “The home is the center of life. It is a refuge from the grind of work, the pressure of school, and the menace of the streets. We say that at home, we can ‘be ourselves.’…  At home, we remove our masks. The home is the wellspring of personhood. It is where our identity takes root and blossoms, where as children, we imagine, play, and question, and as adolescents, we retreat and try. As we grow older, we hope to settle into a place to raise a family or pursue work… In languages spoken all over the world, the word for ‘home’ encompasses not just shelter but warmth, safety, family—the womb.  The ancient Egyptian hieroglyph for ‘home’ was often used in place of ‘mother.’  The Chinese word jia can mean both family and home. ‘Shelter’ comes from two Old English words: scield (shield) and truma (troop), together forming the image of a family gathering itself within a protective shell.” (Evicted, p. 293)

When children lack a permanent home, the upheaval in their personal lives affects their schools. Some of the details emerge in new reporting from New York City’s public schools. New York City’s 1,800 public schools serve 1.1 million students. Last week the NY TimesElizabeth Harris reported: “More than 111,500 New York City students were homeless at some point last year, whether they were staying in a shelter, in a hotel or with family and friends… The upheaval of homelessness means those children are often anxious and traumatized, and that their parents are as well. Many of them travel long distances from where they sleep to school in the morning, leaving them exhausted before the day begins.  Drained and frightened, they bring all of that with them to school… The (city’s education) department said that during the 2016-17 school year, homeless students accounted for 13 percent of all suspensions….”

A report last month from Advocates for Children of New York on homelessness among the school district’s students puts the size, scope, and meaning of the challenges for children and for the school district in perspective: “If these students made up their own school district, it would be one of the thirty largest districts in the nation, with twice the number of students as the entire Boston public school system. In New York City, students in temporary housing have worse educational outcomes than their permanently housed peers…. Outcomes are particularly bleak for students living in New York City shelters—38,000 students during the 2016-2017 school year.  For example, during the 2015-2016 school year:  53% of NYC students living in shelters were absent on 20 or more school days—missing the equivalent of one month of school. Only 15% of third through eighth grade students living in shelters scored proficiently in reading. Only 12%… in math.”

Advocates for Children explains: “Homelessness can create a chaotic living environment where students are exposed to high levels of stress. In addition to the trauma of housing loss, children may have been exposed to other traumatic experiences, such as domestic violence, which is now the primary driver of homelessness in New York City. Homelessness uproots children from their systems of support and care, which may include relatives, friends, teachers, service providers, medical providers, and mental health providers.  Families who are homeless must balance competing priorities including juggling multiple social services appointments and the search for permanent housing. These stressors exacerbate the challenges that children living in poverty already face. While school can serve as a key source of stability for students, the City places most families in shelters far outside their neighborhood. Last year, only 50% of families were placed in the same borough… where their youngest child had been attending school prior to the family entering shelter.  As a result, families must decide between long commutes to school and transferring schools.”

Everyone wants better services for homeless children, to reduce their trauma, reduce chronic absence and cut the number of disciplinary problems and suspensions. Coordination between the school district and the city’s enormous social service bureaucracy is chronically difficult. And the needs of homeless children compete for budget dollars with the needs of all kinds of other students. What is clear is that the magnitude and rapid growth of homelessness in NYC have complicated the district’s capacity to respond. In mid-March, the NY Times’ Elizabeth Harris reported: “After rising steadily for about five years, the number of homeless students in New York City public schools jumped up in the 2015-16 school year to the somber threshold of 100,000 students. Then it took another leap: More than 111,500 students were homeless at some point during the 2016-17 school year… The education department has rules and employees in place, both in schools and in shelters, to try to minimize student absences. But the comptroller’s office found that in many cases, protocols weren’t followed, seemingly because those charged with trying to keep children in schools were overwhelmed.  During the 2015-16 school year, there were 110 family assistance workers responsible for helping the 32,243 students in city shelters—giving them an average caseload of 293 children each.”

In addition to placing education staff in the shelters to help support children’s placement in and adjustment to school, staff at school provide targeted services. Harris describes some of these efforts at Frederick Douglass II middle school, which has been trying to reduce suspensions among homeless students: “Frederick Douglass II has had an additional full-time social worker since last year, and the parent coordinator has attended training on how to better support homeless families. The school has had a mental health clinic on site since the 2015-16 school year.”

This month, Richard A. Carranza replaced recently retired Carmen Farina as the new Chancellor of NYC’s public schools. Advocates for Children urges Carranza and Mayor Bill de Blasio to increase staffing significantly—appointing a deputy chancellor to address the growing needs of homeless students. Advocates for Children also recommends doubling the number of school social workers and installing at least 50 new school social workers in the city’s shelters to coordinate with school staff to meet children’s needs. NYC’s Comptroller Scott Stringer adds that improvements are needed in the school district’s electronic data system to ensure that school staff can better track students who are chronically absent from school.

It is important for blogs like this one to report on the magnitude of poverty and homelessness in school districts like New York City’s. The No Child Left Behind Act mandated annual achievement testing for all children in grades 3-8 and once in high school.  The law also established sanctions—punishments—for public schools unable quickly to raise scores.  So-called failing schools were subjected to a range of turnarounds—fire the principal and teachers—close the school—charterize the school.

None of these so-called “solutions” has addressed the kind of challenge posed by massive homelessness in New York City and across America’s cities. What’s clear in New York City is that many students in the public schools face overwhelming obstacles from social conditions the schools cannot themselves control.  Extreme poverty and homeless among students, in turn, pose enormous challenges for teachers, counselors and social workers. How can our society set a universal standard of public school “success” or “failure” when schools in wealthy suburbs and schools in impoverished communities face such disparate circumstances?  Our society owes impoverished and homeless students, their families, and their schools far greater support.

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State School District Ratings and Report Cards: Educational Redlining and Steering?

In his recent book, The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein shows how explicit government policies following WWII—Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans, low-interest Veterans Administration home mortgages, government sanctioned insurance-writing policies, and others—have caused the racial segregation of America’s cities and suburbs. What we have called de facto segregation—segregation that just happened somehow—was really driven by explicit policies written or sanctioned by the government.

As I think today about states’ rankings and ratings of school districts and specific schools within districts, Rothstein’s book comes to mind. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) (which replaced No Child Left Behind) requires labeling of schools. Congress has said that states must test students every year and then—based on the test scores and graduation rates and at least one other factor the federal government and states choose to use—rate schools. Congress says the purpose of this exercise is to help parents know about the quality of their children’s schools.

Some states like Ohio go further.  They aggregate all the indicators into an overall grade, what is known as a summative rating.  Some states classify schools into categories—Excellent-Good-Failing; others award  “A”-“F” grades on a school district report card. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act does not require summative ratings; it merely says states must create a way to tell parents about the quality of schools—based on test scores, graduation rates, and one or more other characteristics states choose to use.

Ohio has chosen to use summative letter grades for school districts—“A” through “F.” A couple of years ago, I began really to think through the implications of Ohio’s school district report cards when I was invited to a forum on education sponsored by our local fair housing agency, Heights Community Congress (HCC), which has been working since the 1970s to prevent block busting, disparate treatment and steering under the Fair Housing Law.  Fair housing advocates at HCC had become very concerned about the school ratings published online by real estate listing companies like Zillow and Trulia.  Aren’t these companies really engaging in steering? Aren’t they, in fact, pushing families to choose to look at real estate listings in school districts where the schools get an “A” and to avoid the communities where the schools get a “C” or an “F”?  Isn’t what is happening really a sort of educational redlining?

What struck me as I sat at HCC’s forum—even before I read Richard Rothstein’s book about government sponsored segregation—was this fact: The school ratings published by companies like Zillow and Trulia are not calculated by educational experts and statisticians hired by Zillow and Trulia. These companies are simply using the data gathered under the federal education law and used by our state government, by federal requirement, to rate the schools in each community. The companies are merely publishing the state’s ratings. Isn’t government complicit in educational redlining? Isn’t the state of Ohio itself complicit, by ranking schools, in steering real estate buyers to what test scores tell us are desirable school districts?

Here are some educational implications from experts that put the topic of educational redlining in some perspective. You have previously seen this information in this blog, but I’ll quote it again because it is so important.

First there was Sean Reardon’s 2011 report on growing residential segregation by income—which correlates tightly with segregation by race.  Reardon used a massive data set to document the consequences of widening economic inequality for children’s outcomes at school. Reardon showed that while in 1970, only 15 percent of families lived in neighborhoods classified as affluent or poor, by 2007, 31 percent of families lived in such neighborhoods. By 2007, fewer families across America lived in mixed income communities. Reardon also demonstrated that along with growing residential inequality and residential segregation by income is a simultaneous jump in an income-inequality school achievement gap. The achievement gap between the children with income in the top ten percent and the children with income in the bottom ten percent, was 30-40 percent wider among children born in 2001 than those born in 1975, and twice as large as the black-white achievement gap.

Second there is Daniel Koretz, in his urgently important 2017 book, The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better, explaining how the test scores that are so central to states’ school ratings don’t really measure the quality of the schools but instead reflect the aggregate economic level of a school’s families and neighborhood:  “One aspect of the great inequity of the American educational system is that disadvantaged kids tend to be clustered in the same schools. The causes are complex, but the result is simple: some schools have far lower average scores…. Therefore, if one requires that all students must hit the proficient target by a certain date, these low-scoring schools will face far more demanding targets for gains than other schools do. This was not an accidental byproduct of the notion that ‘all children can learn to a high level.’ It was a deliberate and prominent part of many of the test-based accountability reforms…. Unfortunately… it seems that no one asked for evidence that these ambitious targets for gains were realistic. The specific targets were often an automatic consequence of where the Proficient standard was placed and the length of time schools were given to bring all students to that standard, which are both arbitrary.” (The Testing Charade; Pretending to Make Schools Better, pp. 129-130)

Currently the Ohio Legislature and the State Board of Education are re-evaluating Ohio’s school district report cards.  I’m personally delighted to see politicians looking at problems in the report cards, and especially pleased that some critics of our current report cards are looking more deeply at the injustices in this rating system and not merely trying to manipulate the algorithms used in the calculations.

The Plain Dealer‘s Patrick O’Donnell reports on a bill  introduced in the Ohio House by Rep. Mike Duffey for the purpose of revising the state report cards. Duffey does worry about how the formulas work in the current report cards: “Gap Closing” and “K-3 Literacy” “are either counter-intuitive or just too hard for parents to understand.”  And Duffey believes student growth should “matter more,” but thinks “educators don’t trust how ‘value -added,’ Ohio’s main growth measure, is calculated.”

More important, however: Duffey is discerning about the systemic injustice in the current system: “(R)eport card ratings almost always make poor districts look bad, compared to affluent ones… A-F grades lead to a punitive approach to schools and should be dropped.”  Yes, Yes, Yes!

O’Donnell adds: “His bill would create a new report card with no A-F grades because they ‘produce a particularly visceral emotional response from parents,’ Duffey said, that can doom tax votes for schools, even when a school is doing well. ‘Sometimes an F is representative just of the demographics of the district….'” “‘We should move away from the winners and losers approach to the report card,’ Duffey told the education committee last week.”

Duffey would like Ohio’s school report cards “also (to) highlight special course offerings or extracurricular activities schools offer.”  He is making the radical proposal that in Ohio, the state could possibly give school districts high marks for a fine music program, a great high school newspaper, a robotics team, or an effort to replace punitive school discipline with conflict mediation and restorative justice. He is absolutely correct that parents would like to learn about such special offerings.

I have a personal bias in all this, of course.  I live in an inner-ring suburb of Cleveland, a community where our family chose to educate our children. It is a mixed income community where black and white children go to school together.  I am so tired of reading about all of the white, affluent suburbs in the outer-ring whose schools, according to the state, “earn” an “A” rating, while high quality schools in the communities around mine get low grades from the state.

Representative Duffey is right that low grades on the state report card make it hard to pass the school levies. What is worse, however, is that the state has been condemning poorer and racially diverse communities with a system of educational redlining. Although this sort of thing has not yet been made explicitly illegal by any current law, fair housing advocates at Heights Community Congress would understand the state school report cards as a form of explicit steering.

The Meaning of Teachers’ Walkouts in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky

One indication of the power of recent walkouts by schoolteachers is that people who have traditionally delighted in criticizing teachers and their unions have been investing energy and messaging expertise to try to downplay what has been happening this month in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky.

The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington points to a messaging guide created by the State Policy Network (SPN), a formal organization connecting far-right-think thanks across the states and coordinating their work and messaging with the work of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC): “The ‘messaging guide’ is the brainchild of the State Policy Network (SPN), an alliance of 66 rightwing ‘ideas factories’ that span every state in the nation. SPN uses its $80m war chest—funded by billionaire super-donors such as the Koch brothers and the Walton Family Foundation… to coordinate conservative strategy across the country. Another financial backer of SPN is the billionaire DeVos family…. SPN’s previous campaigns have included a plan to ‘defund and defang’ public sector unions. Now it is turning its firepower on the striking teachers.” (SPN’s Messaging Guide is embedded in Pilkington’s article as a SCRIBD document.)

Here is how SPN introduces its new Messaging Guide: How to Talk about Teacher Strikes: “A message that focuses on teacher hours or summer vacations will sound tone-deaf when there are dozens of videos and social media posts going viral from teachers about their second jobs, teachers having to rely on food pantries, classroom books that are falling apart, paper rationing, etc.  This is an opportunity to sympathize with teachers, while still emphasizing that teacher strikes hurt kids… Independent research has repeatedly shown that time out of school disproportionately hurts low-income kids. Low-income kids already face serious disadvantages and they shouldn’t be punished because adults can’t agree.”

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin clearly got the memo. Without any evidence—and apparently assuming that teachers’ primary role is babysitting—Bevin jumped to the conclusion that a teachers’ strike might endanger kids: “I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today, a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them… Children were harmed—some physically, some sexually, some were introduced to drugs for the first time—because they were vulnerable and left alone.”

And Education Secretary Betsy DeVos sort of got SPN’s advice right about focusing on the students, although, as usual, she pretty much misses the point that what hurts schools and teachers also affects the children: “I think about the kids. I think we need to stay focused on what’s right for kids. And I hope that adults would keep adult disagreements and disputes in a separate place, and serve the students that are there to be served.”

Despite efforts by the far-right to message in a way that minimizes the impact of a month’s walkouts by teachers, the President of the United Steelworkers, Leo Gerard sees something else: “GOP politicians have so denigrated public school teachers that the educators in three states have engaged in wildcat strikes, mobbing their capitol buildings and demanding improved school funding for students and better pay and benefits for themselves and other workers.  Teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky, like the 1920s West Virginia coal miners, had nothing to lose… What these states have in common is Republican control and union suppression.  All are states that forbid labor organizations from charging workers who choose not to join the union fair share payments to cover the costs of collective bargaining… Parents, communities and educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona know that tax-cutting, labor-hating Republican politicians are to blame for the school disruptions.”

Economist Jared Bernstein agrees that repression of unions in the states where teachers have walked out is one of the reasons why teachers’ salaries and investment in public schools have declined dangerously: “First, by ‘what has gone wrong,’ I mean the erosion of institutions whose purpose is to even out inherent power imbalances that arise in all societies and are particularly steep in our current moment… While the union movement has always had its problems—no institutions are immune from their own internal power imbalances—it has always existed, back to the Middle Ages, as a counterfoil to dynamics that today take the form of rising inequality, the defunding of a government that is increasingly dysfunctional, nonrepresentative elections, and the unfettered rise of corporate power and finance.” Bernstein continues, describing striking schoolteachers: “They are pointing the way toward an essential and huge missing piece from today’s politics: middle- and low-income people organizing to fight for an amply funded, functional public sector that balances the scales that have been so sharply tilted against them.”

The Washington Post‘s Valerie Strauss published Peter Greene’s explanation of the month’s walkouts by teachers.  Greene is a career high school teacher in Pennsylvania; he also publishes the Curmuducation blog: “Teachers strike because they are out of options. They strike because the other side won’t negotiate in good faith. They strike because they feel dismissed and disrespected. They strike because their work conditions have become awful, with no relief in sight. They strike because they feel the future of their profession and their school are in peril. They strike because they can’t think of any other way to make things better. But a strike? Couldn’t they get their message across some other way? Guess what? They’ve been trying, and trying some more. In fact, teachers have been engaged in a slow-motion strike for about a decade, walking off the job one or two at a time. But instead of recognizing this as a work stoppage, we’ve labeled it a ‘teacher shortage.’ And instead of responding by asking how we can fix the job so that it is attractive enough to recruit and retain teachers, states have mostly responded by saying, ‘How can we lower standards so that we can put any warm body in a classroom?’”

Retired Michigan music teacher—and author of a regular column about teaching for Education WeekNancy Flanagan considers what teachers have been trying to accomplish this month: “It’s time to talk—again—about this myth that teachers need to run themselves ragged for the pure and holy aim of helping The Children learn. The cherished legend of the teacher who devotes 24/7 to being accessible to her students, never taking time to refresh her own intellect or spirit.  The martyr… Teacher walkouts are the ultimate outcome of wringing every drop of energy, patience and creative juice out of a well-meaning workforce. Ideally, teaching is fully professional work, involving a researched knowledge base, careful training and field preparation, induction and mentoring protocols and the rewards of collegial sharing and personal growth in addition to the satisfaction of knowing one is shaping the nation’s future citizens. An adequate salary and benefit package would help, too. Without all of these in place, we can’t expect high-quality candidates to be attracted to teaching…. What’s happening now is an unmistakable call: Suffering teachers need help to do a better job for the children entrusted to their care. Want better schools? Pay attention.”

Of course what teachers do matters in the deepest ways for children and families—which is why so many parents and students, even children in elementary school—have been marching to support their teachers this month. Education writer Mike Rose captures the essence of what teachers do in a recent blog post: “I value the small stuff.  The teacher who encourages a hesitant question; who remembers a student’s name outside the classroom; who in discussing a paper suggests a book, a podcast, a movie; who spends an extra five minutes in a conference…. These are everyday signs of commitment, micro-evidence of care. Over the years, I’ve interviewed a lot of students from kindergarten to adult education, and I’ve been struck by how meaningful the small stuff is to them particularly to those students who feel out of place, and in some cases, are having a hard time of it. These behaviors register, I think, because of their everydayness, because they seem to flow naturally from who a particular teacher is and therefore are experienced as real, authentic.”

Rose is, of course, describing teachers’ enormous contribution—the work for which they should be paid fairly and supported with an adequately funded, staffed, and supplied school environment.

Red States: Waking Up to Public Responsibility for Educating Children?

This is the first of two updates on this spring’s wave of walkouts by schoolteachers.  Today’s post will examine the fiscal implications.  Tomorrow’s will explore what the walkouts may mean about shifting attitudes across some of the Heartland’s Red-states.

In a fine piece for NPR’s All Things Considered, Cory Turner provides some context for the fiscal crisis beneath walkouts across a number of states: “How did we get here? When you put that question to people who study teacher pay, you’ll often hear something like this: ‘I have been saying, Why aren’t (teachers) in the streets?  What took them so long?‘ says Sylvia Allegretto, a labor economist at the University of California, Berkeley.  She’s compared teachers’ weekly wages to workers with similar levels of experience and education and says teachers consistently earn less.”

In a brief for the Economic Policy Institute, Allegretto’s bar graph displays the nationwide disparities in pay between schoolteachers and other college graduates—but it is a lot worse in some places than others.  Oklahoma’s teachers have been making only 67 percent of the income of their college-educated peers in other fields.  Arizona’s teachers (the lowest-paid) have been making 62.8 percent; West Virginia’s teachers 74.6 percent; and Kentucky’s teachers about 78.8 percent. Across the United States, teachers’ wages average 77 percent what others make with equivalent education, and in not one state do teachers’ salaries exceed what their peers are making.

Turner also quotes Bruce Baker, the school finance expert at Rutgers University: “‘Teachers in Arizona are actually at the bottom of the heap…. And teachers in Oklahoma are pretty near that’… He mentions Tennessee and Colorado as other states with a teacher wage gap.  ‘What’s really so striking to me is that it’s had to get this bad. It was kind of like that slow boil over time.'”

Turner adds: “When you focus on teacher salaries, which make up the lion’s share of schools’ spending, data published by the Education Department show that, after adjusting for inflation, U.S. teachers earned less last year, on average, than they did back in 1990. In Oklahoma, teachers’ wages averaged $45,245 last year, down roughly $8,000 in the past decade. Over the same span, in Arizona, teachers’ wages are down roughly $5,000.”

Turner also addresses the myth of the gold-plated teacher pension: “(I)n many states, teachers don’t qualify for Social Security benefits, either. So they really depend on that pension.”  However, new teachers usually have to teach in a school district for five years even to qualify for the pension system. Turner quotes Chad Aldeman, who edits a publication about teacher pension systems: “In the median state, about half of all new teachers won’t stick around long enough to qualify for any pension at all.”  And while school districts must pay, on average, 17 cents on retirement costs for every dollar in teachers’ salaries, Aldeman explains: “Of that 17 cents, about five of it is actually going in benefits, and 12 cents of it is going to pay down unfunded pension obligations.”

One reason the massive walkouts have exerted so much pressure on legislatures is that huge salary disparities across state borders have fed teacher shortages in states paying less.  Teachers in West Virginia have been leaving for Maryland and in Oklahoma for Texas.  POLITICO’s Caitlin Emma quotes Tulsa School Superintendent, Deborah Gist speaking from her cell phone as she marched with striking teachers from Tulsa to Oklahoma City. Gist compared the average teachers’ salary in Texas at $52,575 to the Oklahoma average of $45,245: “I’ve had superintendents in Texas thank us because they hired our teachers. It creates an extraordinarily unstable situation.” Emma adds: “The Sooner State has had to issue emergency certifications to thousands of people in recent years to staff classrooms, raising concerns about qualifications.”

What have teachers won so far through the mass walkouts?  Though teachers have won raises and in some cases school funding boosts, legislators have not been willing to restore cuts to progressive income taxes or to bring back capital gains taxes on wealthy residents and corporations.  Sadly, regressive sales, consumption and sin taxes have prevailed.

Last month West Virginia’s teachers achieved a five percent raise, after the state’s governor had previously offered only one percent. And the state will give the five percent raise to all state employees. It is still unclear where the money will come from as the Governor has promised not to increase taxes.

In Oklahoma, teachers also will get a significant raise, though not the kind of increase they’d hoped for to increase overall school funding. The NY TimesDana Goldstein and Elizabeth Dias report: “In a deep-red state that has pursued tax and service cuts for years, teachers won a raise of about $6,000, depending on experience, while members of schools’ support staff will see a raise of $1,250…  To fund the measures, as well as some limited new revenues for schools, the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin instituted new or higher taxes on oil and gas production, tobacco, motor fuels, and online sales. The state will also allow ball and dice gambling, which we will be taxed.”

After days of striking, Kentucky’s teachers returned to their classrooms after the legislature passed a budget that increases funding for K-12 education and a tax plan to pay for the increase, but Governor Matt Bevin vetoed the spending plan and the taxes to pay for it.  So, last Friday, Kentucky’s teachers closed school for an additional day and brought their enormous presence back to Frankfort. The legislature responded, according to the Associated Press report: “With the chants of hundreds of teachers ringing in their ears, Kentucky lawmakers have completed an override of Gov. Matt Bevin’s veto of a more than $480 million tax hike that helps pay for increases in public education spending.”

The Washington Post‘s Jeff Stein adds that Kentucky’s funding scheme, important as it is, is the definition of regressive: “The plan would flatten Kentucky’s corporate and personal income-tax rates, setting both at 5 percent. Currently, Kentucky’s corporate tax rates runs between 4 and 6 percent, while its income-tax rate ranges from 2 to 6 percent. The new flat rate of 5 percent for everyone means that small companies and Kentuckians with below-average incomes will face tax hikes, and higher earners will get tax cuts. The bill attempts to make up for those cuts by nearly doubling the cigarette tax and imposing sales taxes on 17 additional services, including landscaping, janitorial work, golf courses and pet grooming.”

Pressure from teachers’ walkouts in all these states and a #RedforEd movement threatening its own walkout in Arizona seems to have awakened Arizona’s Governor Doug Ducey, who announced a plan late last week to raise teachers’ salaries 20 percent by 2020. The Arizona Republic reported: “Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday boosted his proposal for teacher raises next year to 9 percent, up from 1 percent he proposed in January, saying lawmakers would work through the weekend to figure out how to fund the plan.  Coupled with 5 percent raises the following two years—and the 1 percent raise given last year—Ducey said his proposal would give teachers a ‘net pay increase’ of 20 percent by 2020.”

Columnist for Tucson’s Arizona Daily Star, Tim Steller warned, however, on Saturday that it’s too early to celebrate in Arizona: “Everybody was right that the governor’s announcement was hopeful news, but this is no time for teachers or the #RedForEd movement to declare victory and stash away their crimson shirts. The only thing that has gotten them this far is collective action and increasing pressure. They cornered the governor in an election year, and they shouldn’t let him out till they’ve got their raises and increased school funding in hand… Ducey’s dramatic announcement was a great relief, but it was just words. It was a proposal to use money of unclear origin to raise the pay for teachers but not other employees like counselors and teachers’ aides. It’s a good gesture, but so far nothing more.”

Meanwhile on Sunday, April 8th, legislators in Kansas—under pressure from the state’s supreme court which had, last October, set an April 30 deadline for compliance with its earlier court order to increase school funding—passed a $534 million increase in school funding over five years. The state’s funding for public schools had collapsed in recent years as a result of former Governor Sam Brownback’s  failed experiment with tax cutting and supply side economics. However, after some hope early in April that the Legislature has likely appropriated enough money to meet the Kansas Supreme Court’s expectation, it turns out there was an $80 million flaw in the math behind the plan. The Associated Press‘s John Hanna reports: “The bill approved by lawmakers early Sunday was meant to phase in a $534 million increase over five years, and with the flaw, the figure is $454 million or perhaps a little less.” After a two week break, the Legislature will now return on April 26. There seems to be hope that the miscalculation will be fixed.

In these all-Red states across the Heartland, it is clear that a reckoning has begun. But so far there is neither clear agreement that paying taxes is a responsibility of citizens and businesses nor that taxation should be progressive with the heaviest responsibility falling on those who can best afford to support the public. At least, driven by the voices and actions of desperate schoolteachers—and in Kansas by a supreme court enforcing the state constitution—governors and legislators are having to face that their citizens seem suddenly to agree that there is a floor beneath which education services must not fall. And there seems to be an awareness that enough well qualified teachers are at the heart of what is necessary. That is a positive development.

NAEP Scores Flatline, Achievement Gaps Persist. Millions of Children Are Still Left Behind

For almost two decades since the passage of No Child Left Behind, our society has been operating according to an educational policy scheme by which we say we’ve been holding educators accountable. The two year National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores were released this week, however, and while experts are parsing the meaning of the difference of a couple of points of gain or loss at fourth or eighth grade on the new  scores, what is clear is that No Child Left Behind has neither significantly raised student achievement nor closed racial and economic achievement gaps.

For the Washington Post, Moriah Balingit reports: “The gap between high- and low-achieving students widened on a national math and science exam, a disparity that educators say is another sign that schools need to do more to lift the performance of their most challenged students.  Averages for fourth-and eighth-graders on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also called the Nation’s Report Card, were mostly unchanged between 2015 and 2017.  The exception was eighth-grade reading scores, which rose slightly.  But scores for the bottom 25 percent of students dropped slightly in all but eighth-grade reading.  Scores for the top quartile rose slightly in eighth-grade reading and math.  The slippage among the nation’s lowest-performing students raised concerns among educators and experts….  Peggy G. Carr, associate commissioner for the National Center for Education Statistics, said there were no statistically significant changes when it came to different categories of students.  This means black and Hispanic students continue to trail their white counterparts on the exam. Students from low-income households also performed below the national average, as did special-education students, though they posted significant gains in 2017 compared with two years earlier.”

Unlike state-by-state achievement tests mandated by the 2002 No Child Left Behind and continued under the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, the NAEP is given to a representative sampling of students across all the states. Its purpose is to gauge the overall state of public education across the nation, not to compare scores for particular states or schools.  There is no test-prep for the NAEP.

Education Week‘s Sarah Sparks summarizes the 2017 results: “Across the board struggling American students are falling behind, while top performers are rising higher.”  This certainly reflects the growing gap noticed by Stanford University sociologist Sean Reardon who, several years ago, used a massive data set to document the consequences of widening economic inequality for children’s outcomes at school. Reardon showed that while in 1970, only 15 percent of families lived in neighborhoods classified as affluent or poor, by 2007, 31 percent of families lived in such neighborhoods. By 2007, fewer families across America lived in mixed income communities. Reardon also demonstrated that along with growing residential inequality is a simultaneous jump in an income-inequality school achievement gap. The achievement gap between the children with income in the top ten percent and the children with income in the bottom ten percent, was 30-40 percent wider among children born in 2001 than those born in 1975, and twice as large as the black-white achievement gap.

In an Education Week follow-up on the release, also this week, of a special subset of NAEP data comparing the scores of large urban school districts, Sparks declares that over time, “America’s large urban districts have been improving faster than the nation as a whole.” Scores in cities of over 250,000 are rising more quickly than the scores of other students, but rising so slowly that it will take decades for them to catch up if growth continues at the current rate. A basic score on NAEP is the lowest level, while proficient is scored in such a way that students deemed proficient are achieving at somewhat above an average level. Sparks describes the trend of rising scores among urban students: “These gains are a mixed blessing: Urban 4th graders scored on average at the basic level in math and reading. Urban 8th graders scored on average at the basic level in reading and below basic in math. Yet, 27 percent of urban 8th graders scored at or above the proficient level in reading in 2017, up 8 percentage points since 2007.  That’s faster than the 5 percentage-point reading growth for students overall.”

For the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Patrick O’Donnell describes a mixed bag of gains and losses for students in that very poor city: “The major bright spot was in eighth-grade math, where Cleveland had the third-highest increase among cities. That placed Cleveland’s scores ahead of the Baltimore, Detroit, Fresno and Milwaukee districts and in a tie with Shelby County (Memphis), Tenn. The district also mostly held on to a sizeable gain it made in fourth grade reading between 2014 and 2015, the previous NAEP test, falling just a single statistically insignificant point. But fourth grade math and eighth grade reading scores had the worst and third-worst drops out of all tested cities.”

The Detroit Free Press’s Lori Higgins reports discouraging scores in that other very poor Rust Belt city: “In Detroit, students had the worst performance not only among large, urban districts but also compared with all states in fourth- and eighth-grade math, as well as fourth-grade reading.  Detroit shared the bottom spot with Cleveland for eighth-grade reading.”

This year the NAEP was administered online to 80 percent of students, and there has been complaining that the change may have lowered scores. However, Peggy Carr of the National Center for Education Statistics explained to the Post‘s Balingit that scores were formally adjusted to compensate for the online administration of the test—and to make the scores comparable with the older paper-and-pencil version: “Research shows digital assessments are tougher for students than paper-and-pencil tests. So, Carr said, her federal center adjusted results so the change in format ‘would not influence the comparisons and trends that we are reporting.'”

The stated purpose of federal policy in education since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2002 has been to hold schools accountable for raising achievement among the nation’s lowest scoring students and to close achievement gaps. In the meantime, as the teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky have shown us this month, states have cut funding for education due to the economic recession of 2008 and continued tax slashing across many states.  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has documented this trend, with 29 states in 2015 providing less overall funding, adjusted for inflation, than in 2008. In 19 of those states, local school districts also cut funding. Comparing 2018 general fund, per-pupil formula funding in 12 states for which that data is currently available, CBPP reports that Oklahoma, Texas, Kentucky, Alabama, Arizona, West Virginia, Mississippi, Utah, Kansas, Michigan, North Carolina, and Idaho spend considerably less today than they did in 2008.

Nobody traces small changes in NAEP scores to particular causes from school district to school district. Surely, however, three major trends are implicated in the flattening of NAEP scores over time.

  • Our society has not addressed deepening poverty and widening inequality, at a time when growing research demonstrates that family and neighborhood poverty affects children’s achievement at school.
  • Nearly two decades of education policy has focused on punishing public schools—too often the schools in our poorest communities—by closing schools, by firing teachers and principals, by charterizing schools, or by imposing portfolio governance.
  • As school teachers are now exposing, funding in too many places has collapsed below acceptable levels.

Arizona Supreme Court Denies In-State Tuition for Dreamers

This morning I am thinking about higher education for Dreamers, students who were brought here as young children by their undocumented parents, students who have grown up in our communities but who have been relegated to the shadows without protection of significant rights by law.  The term “Dreamer” comes from the name of the law to protect their rights—a law whose passage these young people have been seeking now for almost two decades, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

I first learned about the academic challenges these students face nearly twenty years ago from a high school counselor in Arizona who explained to me that the valedictorian at her school could not qualify for in-state tuition or a college scholarship to a public community college or university in her state.  Neither could such a student qualify for a Pell Grant or a federally guaranteed college loan.  The counselor was beside herself; she didn’t know where to turn to find help for this student. At that time the lack of protection for these students was unknown to me, and I was shocked.

Since that time, eighteen or so states have created their own laws to allow these students to matriculate with their peers (and pay the same tuition) at their state colleges and universities. But the right is still regularly contested as legislators try to block these laws and as they are tested in court.

To protect undocumented young people from deportation, President Barack Obama established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2014. To qualify, a young person must have arrived in the United States before 2007 and have met several other conditions. Although President Obama protected Dreamers from deportation and created their right to drivers licenses and work permits, however, under federal law he was unable to establish their right to in-state college tuition or federal student loans or grants.

On Monday of this week, the problem of a state’s denial of in-state college tuition once again made the news.  The Arizona Supreme Court upheld an appeals court decision denying Dreamers’ right to Arizona in-state tuition.  The Washington Post‘s Samantha Schmidt reports: “The Arizona Supreme Court on Monday ruled that young immigrants protected from deportation under an Obama-era program will no longer be eligible for in-state tuition at the state’s public colleges. The court unanimously agreed with the Arizona Court of Appeals, which ruled that federal and state laws do not allow Maricopa Community Colleges to grant in-state tuition to Deferred Action for Childhood recipients, also known as ‘dreamers.'”

The difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition will prevent a number of students from continuing their education. Schmidt explains: “The decision means that Arizona college tuition costs could double or even triple for DACA recipients. In-state tuition for the next school year at Arizona State University, for example, is $9,834, while nonresident tuition is $27,618…. Arizona residents pay $86 per credit hour at the Maricopa Community Colleges, while nonresidents pay $241.”

In a short update from Fronteras, Jorge Valencia explained on Monday: “The unanimous ruling from the seven-member court stems from a lawsuit brought by the Maricopa Community Colleges District, which wanted to give in-state tuition to students who had been brought to the country illegally as children.”  Maricopa County encompasses greater Phoenix.

In a policy brief, Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA), explains federal law as it applies to in-state tuition for Dreamers. According to NASPA, the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) denies the right to in-state tuition. The language is confusing: “(A)n alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a State (or political subdivision) for any postsecondary education benefit unless a citizen or a national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit… without regard to whether the citizen or national is a resident.”  This statement would seem to mean that any state with different in-state and out-of-state tuition rates could not grant in-state tuition to a young person who is a resident of the state but who lacks U.S. citizenship.

NASPA then explains how a number of states states have justified their policies that do grant in-state tuition to Dreamers:  “(S)tates have argued that in attempting to stipulate tuition requirements, the federal policy infringes on a fundamental right of the states, and a number of states have instituted policies which determine state residency regardless of immigration status, using instead location of high school attendance as the primary indicator.”

The National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) explains further: “Supporters of the legislation argue that the requirement to receive in-state tuition is based on high school attendance and graduation, not residency, and so it is not in conflict with IIRIRA.”

In a 2015 policy brief, NCSL identifies 18 states which have, since 2001 granted in-state tuition for undocumented graduates of their states’ public high schools: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.  In the same document, NCSL names three states that have at one time or another specifically prohibited the granting of in-state tuition for undocumented students who are graduates of their high schools: Arizona, Georgia, and Indiana.  NCSL adds, “Alabama and South Carolina go one step further and prohibit undocumented students from enrolling at any public postsecondary institution… At lest five states—California, Minnesota, New Mexico, Texas and Washington—allow undocumented students to receive state financial aid.”  Some states have given their Boards of Regents permission to grant in-state tuition; these include Rhode Island, Hawaii, and Michigan. Virginia’s attorney general has granted in-state tuition to students enrolled formally in DACA.

The National Conference of State Legislatures adds that the right to free public K-12 education was guaranteed in a 1982 decision of the United States Supreme Court: “Due to the landmark 1982 Plyler v. Doe U.S. Supreme Court decision, states are required to provide all students with K-12 public education, regardless of students’ immigration status.  Although the court did not declare education a fundamental right, it was determined that a ‘public education has a pivotal role in maintaining the fabric of our society and in sustaining our political and cultural heritage; the deprivation of education takes an inestimable toll on the social, economic, intellectual, and psychological well-being of the individual, and poses an obstacle to individual achievement.’ ”

I believe this is a moral issue. What kind of society would deny the kind of basic rights we all take for granted to young people who have lived for almost their entire lives in our communities? These young people are our own children’s peers.  In the language of the decision in Plyler v. Doe, doesn’t the deprivation of higher education also take an inestimable toll on the social, economic, intellectual, and psychological well being of the individual, and doesn’t higher education also play a pivotal role in maintaining the fabric of our society and in sustaining our political and cultural heritage?

The Washington Post‘s Schmidt reminds readers that the news about the Arizona Supreme Court’s denial of in-state tuition “also comes as the DACA program as a whole is in limbo. The Trump administration planned to phase out the program and rescind work permits for hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients beginning March 5.  But federal district judges in California and New York issued nationwide injunctions blocking these plans.” President Trump made full-funding for his border wall a condition Congress must meet before he claimed he would sign a bill extending DACA, but when Congress promised the funding, the President changed his mind and demanded all sorts of further restrictions on legal immigration. Dreamers face an unknown and precarious future.

Puerto Rico Will Experiment with Shock Doctrine Education Reform

Even though our education-disrupter-in-chief, Arne Duncan, has moved to the private sector to work for Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective, L.L.C., we should not expect his kind of thinking in education to disappear. Duncan—purveyor of disruption through charter schools—believer in social entrepreneurship as a replacement for old fashioned school systems—father of rewarding the kids who can race to the top in a climate of competition—represented a wave of business school theorizing about public education that is absent from Betsy DeVos’s plain old libertarian philosophy. Still, it turns out, DeVos is quite supportive of a new plan to introduce marketplace school choice in Puerto Rico.

Catherine Cheney reports on a Global Skills & Education Forum last week, a forum whose agenda reflects today’s push to turn over whole education systems to philanthropic-driven experiments in privatization. In Cheney’s report, you’ll see that venture philanthropists are exploring how to bring “quality education for all” across the world and doing it for profit—or sometimes not-for-profit—based on theories hatched in think tanks underwritten with billionaire philanthropic dollars donated to foundations or L.L.C.s like the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative or Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective.

It is sometimes hard to parse out how all this will work when one reads about it through the glowing haze of business school rhetoric.  Here is Cheney’s description: “‘There is definitely an interest in for-profit companies that serve the very poor right now, but it’s mostly concessional ventures, groups that are quasi-philanthropic,’ said John Rogers, a partner and education sector lead at the Rise Fund, a global impact fund led by the private equity firm TPG. The fund is looking for opportunities to help the mass market in a way that is not concessionary, Rogers said.  The Rise Fund’s first investment in Latin America was in Digital House, a group of schools based in Argentina providing digital skills across Latin America. Rogers said he hopes more groups that are making grants and program-related investments will consider for-profit companies because they may find that the focus on profit also delivers greater scale.”

Cheney describes lots of controversy and discussion at the recent global education forum about Bridge International Academies (BIA), the for-profit, tech-heavy schools exported to Kenya, Uganda, Liberia, and India, where governments have been contracting with—and sometimes disgustedly cancelling the contracts with—BIA schools. Bridge International Academies was built with a huge personal investment by Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and others. There have been problems of high tuition for parents along with mixed results for children and for the governments that worry about undermining stressed out public systems by contracting with an international, tech-heavy scheme. Cheney describes controversy swirling around BIA schools: “New models that push for change are often met with resistance, and that has certainly proven true in efforts to transform education.  Bridge International Academies is one high-profile example of the backlash against Silicon Valley’s involvement in education. The tech heavy chain of private schools has come under fire in multiple countries, leading to a legal battle over some of its schools.  Some Bridge investors have dismissed many of the concerns, saying the backlash comes from people who do not want to see the status quo disrupted….”  One analyst explained: “Bridge International Academies serves as a cautionary tale about the problems of perception when a model appears to be replacing people rather than supporting people.”  Of course, the problem may be reality rather than mere perception: people may well be concerned when electronic devices are used to increase class size and reduce the number of live teachers.

All this international policy talk serves as a backdrop for what is being discussed and planned in Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory ravaged by Hurricane Maria last September. The reality is that when disaster strikes these days, there are plenty of philanthropically funded think tanks and consultants poised to sell your government on the ideology of privatizing your public schools.  Remember that after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, one of the primary funders of the privatization of New Orleans’ schools was the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

On March 22, POLITICO reported: “A law that would overhaul Puerto Rico’s education system—and usher in charter schools and taxpayer-financed vouchers for alternatives to public schools—is on its way to the desk of Gov. Ricardo Rossello.  The plan was pitched as the island’s education system grappled with a tough recovery and mass migration to the states following Hurricane Maria.  The proposal finalized by both legislative chambers this week would reduce the number of students who can receive school vouchers to… 3 percent—down from the 5 percent Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives had approved last week… The Legislation would allow for the creation of charter schools, or for the conversion of existing public schools into charters. An amendment from the island’s Senate, however, prohibits specialized schools, like Montessori schools, from converting to charters.”

The source of this plan, according to The Nation, is Julia Keleher, Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Education, but previously a consultant from Philadelphia hired by Puerto Rico to “reform” the island’s education: “(I)n the four years leading up to her appointment, Keleher’s consultancy firm, Keleher & Associates, had been awarded almost $1 million in contracts to ‘design and implement education reform initiatives’ in Puerto Rico… With the assistance of DeVos’s office, Keleher’s department has now produced an education-reform bill designed to increase ‘school choice through measures such as the creation of charter schools and school-voucher programs.'”

How have Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education been involved?  Apparently Keleher has worked through the winter with Jason Botel, DeVos’s assistant secretary.  For The Intercept, Rachel Cohen reports: “DeVos and her federal education department have certainly been involved. DeVos’s Deputy Assistant Secretary Jason Botel has been in ‘close communication’ with Puerto Rio’s Education Secretary Julia Keleher for months since the storm, and in a blog post published in January, Botel wrote, ‘We look forward to supporting students, educators and community members as they not only rebuild what’s been lost, but also improve, rethink and renew.'”  Cohen adds: “At a time when the island is starved of investment and inching slowly through a storm recovery, many Puerto Rican’s worry that the government is treating this more as an opportunity to disrupt education, rather than stabilize it—while also potentially opening the doors for supercharged corruption.”

Only weeks after the governor’s signing of the new education plan, Puerto Rico’s Department of Education has now announced the closing of 283 public schools. Valerie Strauss puts this number in perspective: a third of the public schools on the island. The stated purpose of the school closures is to save money by consolidating schools after many students have left Puerto Rico for the mainland.

Nobody in a position of power seems to have questioned the logic of expanding school choice and privatization at a time when public school enrollment has already been falling as families abandon the island. Researchers like Bruce Baker and scholars at Chicago’s Roosevelt University have, however, pointed out repeatedly that by expanding the number of charter schools in the same geographic space while public school enrollment has already been dropping, cities like Chicago have further undermined their public school districts by creating an ongoing cycle of closure of neighborhood public schools.

Many worry that Puerto Rico’s experiment with privatization is another example of what—in relation to the seizure and privatization of New Orleans’ schools after Hurricane Katrina, Naomi Klein called “the Shock Doctrine.” Certainly those at the Global Skills and Education Conference are contemplating disruptive education reform—developed with money from technology-driven venture philanthropies to be introduced top-down in the developing world where public schools are suffering.  Klein’s description of the use of Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 natural disaster, as the excuse to disrupt and privatize the public schools of New Orleans remains pertinent to  Julia Keleher and Jason Botel’s plan for the disruption of education in hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico today.

Here is Naomi Klein: “In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and the electricity grid was brought back online, the auctioning off of New Orleans’ school system took place with military speed and precision.  Within nineteen months, with most of the city’s poor residents still in exile, New Orleans’ public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools.  Before Hurricane Katrina, the school board had run 123 public schools; now it ran just 4.  Before the storm, there had been 7 charter schools in the city; now there were 31.  New Orleans teachers used to be represented by a strong union; now the union’s contract had been shredded, and its forty-seven hundred members had all been fired.  Some of the younger teachers were rehired by the charters, at reduced salaries; most were not.  New Orleans was now, according to The New York Times, ‘the nation’s preeminent laboratory for the widespread use of charter schools’…. I call these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, ‘disaster capitalism.'” (The Shock Doctrine, pp. 5-6)