In the Budget Reconciliation, Congress Must Support Biden’s Plan to Increase Investment in Full-Service Community Schools to $443 Million

President Biden has proposed urgently needed reforms to address poverty and income inequality and their effects on children. By expanding the Child Tax Credit (for this year only) in last spring’s American Rescue COVID-19 relief plan, Biden and Congress took a major step to reduce child poverty temporarily. As part of the federal budget reconciliation, Congress absolutely should include Biden’s proposal to extend the expansion of the Child Tax Credit. But Congress should also take care of another of the President’s plans that has not been as extensively reported: President Biden has proposed to increase funding for Full-Service Community Schools—from $30 million to $443 million.

Full-Service Community Schools provide wraparound services located inside the school building to address families needs at an easily accessible location. Here is what I was astounded to discover a decade ago when I visited New York City Public School 5, The Ellen Lurie School. This elementary school houses a medical clinic; a dental clinic; a mental health clinic; rooms filled with young children in Head Start and a brightly lit room filled with toddlers—some accompanied by their parents—in Early Head Start. We saw a classroom set up for evening English classes for parents and another classroom filled with commercial sewing machines for job training for parents. We observed an after school program serving well over a hundred children; some of the children were folk dancing while others were tending an enormous garden and others were cooking the vegetables they had grown in the garden. We talked with the Community School Director, who helped parents connect with other social services located outside the school and also patched together funding from Medicaid, Head Start, and the federal “21st Century Learning Centers” after school program, along with some philanthropic grants. Her responsibility was to work with the principal to coordinate the Community School services along with an excellent academic program.

Income inequality and poverty are overwhelming challenges for American families. In early September, for The Guardian, Ed Pilkington reported new data from the Russell Sage Foundation documenting economic inequality between white, African American, and Hispanic children in the United States: “In 2019, the median wealth level for a white family with children in the U.S. was $63,838. The same statistic for a Black family with children was $808. Hispanic families with kids fare little better. They have a median wealth of $3,175, which equates to 5 cents for every dollar of wealth in an equivalent white household… Wealth is calculated by aggregating a family’s assets and subtracting from it their debts. The median for white families largely consists of the value of the homes they own minus mortgages, with additional wealth coming from savings and inheritance. Among Black families homeownership is much less common, as are savings or inheritance, which collectively shrinks the median wealth to the paltry figure of $808.”

Families without resources need help locating assistance, and Full-Service Community Schools locate support for families right in the same building where the children are at school.  The growth of Full-Service Community Schools is not merely an urban phenomenon.  The Minnesota education writer, Sarah Lahm reports on the importance of a Community School in the Deer River School District, “a rural district serving approximately 900 students in the densely forested, lake-filled reaches of northern Minnesota,” where “the school district pulls kids in from the surrounding towns and covers more than 500 square miles…. Also, the school district is located within the Leech Lake Reservation, which is home to nearly 10,000 members of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe…. Approximately one-third of Deer River’s student population is Native American…. More than two-thirds of the district’s K-12 students live in poverty, according to federal income guidelines; 85 Deer River students are listed as being homeless” and “almost 25 percent qualify for special education services.”

Earlier this month Lahm explored the role of a Full-Service Community School in inner-suburban Minneapolis—in Brooklyn Center rocked by the tragedy in April 2021 of the killing of Daunte Wright by a police officer: “Offering assistance in a time of crisis is something full-service community schools may be especially equipped to do.” Programming supported by community partnerships helped bring the return of school engagement not only after Wright’s tragic death, but also after a year of disruption by the COVID pandemic: “Sizi Goyah, a high school math teacher in Brooklyn Center… is overflowing with enthusiasm these days. It’s summer, and students from Brooklyn Center Community Schools, where he teaches, have been spending their days outside, learning about drones and other hands-on science and technology topics. ‘They are seeing engineering coming to life,’ Goyah says happily, noting that the summer program he’s part of is a way to help students re-engage in learning after the disruptions caused by COVID-19 shutdowns. The summer school option has been brought to life with help from local partners that work alongside Brooklyn Center Community Schools, an approach that is standard practice for this suburban school district… This includes not only support for summer school courses but also a whole range of on-site and community based initiatives.”

U.S. NewsLauren Camera cites data documenting the effectiveness of Full-Service Community Schools: “Research shows that community schools have a wide range of positive impacts on students and throughout the community, from improving attendance, academic achievement and graduation rates, to reducing disciplinary actions and increasing the physical and mental health of students and their families.  One analysis found that community schools yield up to $15 in social benefits for every dollar invested. And they’ve proven especially important for underserved students and their families….”

The President and CEO of the Southern Education Foundation, Raymond Pierce celebrated Full-Service Community Schools in a commentary last week for Forbes Magazine: “President Biden’s budget request for the U.S. Department of Education includes an investment of $443 million to expand the Full-Service Community Schools program. That’s more than 10 times the amount invested in fiscal year 2021, and for good reason. In his testimony presenting the Department’s proposed budget, Education Secretary Cardona explained: ‘This program recognizes the role of schools as the centers of our communities and neighborhoods, and funds efforts to: identify and integrate the wide range of community-based resources needed to support students and their families, expand learning opportunities for students and parents alike, support collaborative leadership and practices, and promote the family and community engagement that can help ensure student success.'”

The Danger of Conflating Public School Stability with Preservation of the Status Quo

Two major education organizations have recently released public opinion polls describing—after last year’s disruption by the COVID-19 pandemic—Americans’ opinions about public education in general and respondents’ views of their own communities’ public schools.  It is fascinating to compare the sponsoring organizations’ interpretations of the meaning of the results they discovered.

Phi Delta Kappa International describes its mission: “Established in 1906, PDK International supports teachers and school leaders by strengthening their interest in the profession through the entire arc of their career.”  As an organization supporting public school educators, this year PDK probed how the pandemic affected parents’ attitudes and more broadly the opinions of adults in general toward public education.  PDK’s executive director Joshua Starr interprets the new poll results: “For 53 years, PDK has polled the American public on their attitudes toward the nation’s public schools…  (A)s we all know, the 2020-21 school year was anything but typical. So, we decided to take a different tack, setting aside our usual approach to the survey and… zeroing in on the questions that matter most right now: How have the public schools performed during the pandemic, and what are Americans’ main concerns about the coming 2021-22 school year? The results offer a rare glimmer of hope at a difficult time. Not only have the nation’s educators persevered through the hardest school year in memory, but according to our findings, most Americans—especially parents with children in the public schools—remain confident in their local schools’ ability to provide effective instruction and leadership.”

In contrast, several of Education Next‘s corporate reformers describe the new poll from the point of view of that publication. Education Next is edited by  Paul E. Peterson, the Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government and Director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.  Peterson’s program, a pro-corporate reform think tank, is housed in the Harvard Kennedy Center and is separate from Harvard University’s department of education. Education Next is the house organ for Peterson’s program.

Here is the spin of Peterson and three colleagues as they describe the results of the new Education Next poll: “Calamities often disrupt the status quo… Yet not all such catastrophic events lead to an appetite for change… The 15th annual Education Next survey investigates how Americans are responding to the worst pandemic since 1919.  In the realm of education, a desire for sweeping reform might well be expected, given the pandemic’s particularly severe toll on K-12 schooling…  In the political sphere, expectations for large-scale innovation are running high…  Our survey results should temper expectations for major shifts in any political direction and post a warning to advocates of any stripe. At least when it comes to education policy, the U.S. public seems as determined to return to normalcy after Covid as it was after the flu pandemic a century ago… The shifts are not large enough to be statistically significant for some items: in-state tuition for immigrant children, higher salaries for teachers when the respondent is informed of current pay levels, testing students for accountability purposes, tax-credit scholarships, and merit pay.  On other items, such as preschool education, the survey does not include information on the state of opinion in both 2019 and 2021, but we find no evidence of a surge in demand for change and reform.  All in all, the public appears to be calling for a return to the status quo.”

The Phi Delta Kappa poll should reassure those who have been worried that masses of parents have given up on public schools disrupted by long sessions of virtual schooling and hybrid in-class/online schedules.  “Majorities of Americans give high marks to their community’s public schools and public school teachers for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic during the 2020-21 school year.  Further, the public is broadly confident in schools’ preparedness to handle the challenges ahead in 2021-22. Teachers fare especially well in these assessments.  About two-thirds of adults overall, and as many K-12 public school parents, give their community’s public school teachers an A or B grade for their pandemic response.  Parents are almost as positive about their community’s public schools more generally, giving 63% As or Bs, though the positive rating slips to 54% among all Americans… People whose public schools mainly used a hybrid model are 7 to 17 points more apt than those with fully remote schools to be confident in their schools’ preparedness to reopen fully this fall…. Confidence on catching up on academics and dealing with social-emotional impacts is higher still among those whose schools mainly used in-person learning.”

Education Next compares polling results from its 2019 poll to this year’s survey, and points to declining support in every single category of policy change, from the kind of reforms Education Next supports—merit pay for teachers, annual testing, Common Core state standards, national standards in general, charter schools, universal private school tuition vouchers, low-income vouchers, and tuition tax credits; to reforms public school supporters prefer—more school spending and increased teacher salaries, to reforms in higher education—free public four-year college and free public two-year college. The Education Next poll even asks respondents about the impact of teachers unions: “A plurality of Americans (50%) say unions made it neither easier nor harder to reopen schools in their community.” “In short,” explains Education Next, “The public seems tired of disruption, change, and uncertainty. Enthusiasm for most, perhaps all, policy innovations has waned… All in all, the public appears to be calling for a return to the status quo.”

It is significant that these polls highlight something that neither organization names explicitly: Public schools are the only widespread institution outside the family itself that parents can count on to support their children, to shape a dependable family routine, to support parents as they learn to understand and appreciate their children’s challenges and gifts, and simply to introduce children to their broader community in a safe and structured setting.

Despite the worries reported in the press that parents might have lost faith in their public schools due to the incredible challenges posed by COVID-19 and some reports speculating that children will leave in droves to online or private alternatives, PDK’s poll affirms that most people will return their children to the public schools they continue to count on as the essence of their communities.

Education Next‘s spinners, determined to impose their set of technocratic reforms, forget to identify public schools as essential institutions and forget that public schools represent the identity and the history of each community. In describing the poll, Education Next conflates the meaning of stability with something else entirely: returning to the status quo.  People who love the stability of their community’s public schools may desperately want school improvement, but they generally don’t choose the kind of technocratic change Education Next supports and includes in its new poll: merit pay, annual standardized testing, the Common Core state standards, national standards, privately operated charter schools, and publicly funded tuition vouchers to pay for private school tuition.

Parents and members of the community whose grandchildren and neighbors attend public schools more likely define essential change in the context of particular improvements needed for safety, security, and educational opportunities for the community’s children and adolescents: the return of a shuttered school library—small classes to bring more personal attention for each child—the return of a school nurse—an art program—a school orchestra—enough guidance counselors to ensure that all high school seniors have help with their college applications—better chemistry labs and a Calculus class at the high school—an additional school social worker—Community School wraparound services to support families who need medical care, better after-school programs, and summer enrichment.  Most families don’t look to find this kind of reform in a privatized charter school or by carrying a voucher to a private school.

Education sociologist Pedro Noguera reminds us, “What I try to remind people is that despite their flaws, public schools are still the most stable institutions in many cities, particularly the poor cities. The job now is to figure out how to make them better, not simply how to tear them down, especially given there’s no other institutions stepping up.”

Recently as I explored the books of the late Mike Rose, a profound advocate for the importance of America’s system of public education, I found this passage examining what ought to be the definition of school reform. Rose was not a fan of the status quo; instead he was a strong believer in the need for ongoing public school improvement: “Citizens in a democracy must continually assess the performance of their public institutions. But the quality and language of that evaluation matter. Before we can evaluate, we need to be clear about what it is that we’re evaluating, what the nature of the thing is: its components and intricacies, its goals and purpose…. Neither the sweeping rhetoric of public school failure nor the narrow focus on test scores helps us here.  Both exclude the important, challenging work done daily in schools across the country, thereby limiting the educational vocabulary and imagery available to us. This way of talking about schools constrains the way we frame problems and blinkers our imagination.” (Why School? p. 203)

Rose continues: “My concern… is that the economic motive and the attendant machinery of standardized testing has overwhelmed all the other reasons we historically have sent our children to school. Hand in glove, this motive and machinery narrow our sense of what school can be. We hear much talk about achievement and the achievement gap, about equity, about increasing effort and expectations, but it  is primarily technical and organizational talk, thin on the ethical, social, and imaginative dimensions of human experience.” (Why School?, p. 214)

Mike Rose would have been reassured by this year’s Phi Delta Kappa poll, which demonstrates that parents are sticking with the public schools—not leaving in droves as some people had feared.  Rose would have called us all to keep on fighting to ensure that our public schools are well resourced to ensure that every child discovers opportunity at school.

COVID Relief Dollars Should Be Used to Address School Districts’ Immediate and Sometimes Desperate Problems

In Schoolhouse Burning, published in 2020, constitutional scholar, Derek Black summarizes the fiscal condition of school districts a decade after the 2008 Great Recession: “Before the recession of 2008, the trend in public school funding remained generally positive… Then the recession hit. Nearly every state in the country made large cuts to public education. Annual cuts of more than $1,000 per student were routine.” But the recession wasn’t the only cause of money troubles for public schools: “(I)n retrospect…. the recession offered a convenient excuse for states to redefine their commitment to public education… By 2012, state revenues rebounded to pre-recession levels, and a few years later, the economy was in the midst of its longest winning streak in history. Yet during this period of rising wealth, states refused to give back what they took from education. In 2014, for instance, more than thirty states still funded education at a lower level than they did before the recession—some funded education 20 percent to 30 percent below pre-recession levels.”  (Schoolhouse Burning, pp. 31-33)

And in, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, published in 2021, Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire warn readers about the same fiscal conditions: “Almost every state reduced spending on public education during the Great Recession, but some states went much further, making deep cuts to schools, while taking aim at teachers and their unions… Moreover, states including Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, and North Carolina also moved to permanently reduce the funds available for education by cutting the taxes that pay for schools and other public services.” (A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, pp. 35-36)

These warnings are why I worry about press reports quoting the corporate school reformer-economist Marguerite Roza, of Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab, worrying (here and here) that Congress has not imposed enough regulation of how school districts can spend the mass of one-time COVID-19 American Rescue Plan relief dollars released by Congress last spring. While Roza advocates for innovation instead of basics like small classes and facilities repair, public schools across the United States entered the COVID-19 era far behind—many with crumbling buildings, others short of teachers and counselors, and others lacking libraries, school nurses, and art and music programs. The only exceptions are the school districts in wealthy exurbs which can tax their citizens at high rates to enrich their own local schools.

I think local school superintendents and elected school boards— the people closest to each school district’s challenges—are best positioned to identify and prioritize what needs to be addressed with this year’s infusion of COVID relief funds.

To their credit, these same reporters also investigate why school districts cannot afford to worry about Roza’s advice. For Chalkbeat, Matt Barnum describes “School officials debating how to balance what students need now with their balance sheets down the line—and whether it’s responsible to use relief money to add large numbers of staff.”  After all, when this money runs out—Congress has given school districts three years to invest the COVID-19 relief dollars—a school district may not be able to raise enough funding from state and local tax revenues to sustain the employment of recently hired, salaried staff.

For the Associated Press, Collin Binkley and fellow reporters explain: “The Associated Press, relying on data published or provided by states and the federal government… tallied how much money was granted to nearly every district in the country… The AP tracked more than $155 billion sent to states to distribute among schools since last year, including general pandemic relief that some states shared with their schools… Nationwide, high-poverty areas received much more. Detroit received the highest rate among big districts at more than $25,000 per student. It was followed by Philadelphia, with $13,000 per student, and Cleveland, at more than $12,000.” COVID relief dollars are being distributed by Congress according to the Title I Formula, which prioritizes federal dollars for school districts that serve concentrations of very poor children.

The AP‘s reporters devote considerable attention to Detroit and the plans of the district’s relatively new school superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, appointed when the district was finally returned to its elected school board after being nearly bankrupted by years of state takeover under Governor Rick Snyder, who appointed emergency fiscal managers for the purpose of cutting costs.  Darnell Earley, for example, was appointed to manage Detroit’s schools after he left Flint, where, as that city’s emergency manager, he cut costs in the city’s water program and created the lead-poisoning water crisis.

Vitti, who just earned a high rating from his school board for his handling of last school year during COVID-19, is featured in the AP‘s story about the almost desperate choices facing school superintendents as they decide how to invest COVID-19 relief dollars in schools suffering from staffing shortages and delayed maintenance:  “In Detroit, that means fixing buildings with crumbling ceilings and mold infestations… The district is using some of the government money to hire tutors, expand mental health services, and cut class sizes.  But at least half of its $1.3 billion windfall is being set aside to make long-neglected repairs. ‘For decades, we have been inequitably funded to deal with the enormous needs that poverty and racial injustice have created in our city,’ Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told the Associated Press in an interview. ‘Now with the COVID relief, we’re going to be able to put a significant dent into the challenge.’… In Detroit, federal money will be used to continue hazard pay and teacher bonuses that the district started offering last year. Vitti said teaching is harder in the city because of its deep poverty, and he wants teacher pay to reflect that.”

The Schott Foundation for Public Education argues that using COVID relief dollars for delayed school building maintenance is urgently needed—something that has been highlighted by inequity in schools’ capacity to adequately ventilate buildings to protect children and teachers from the spread of COVID -19: “Exposure to indoor pollutants at schools is also disproportionate by race.  Black students are 16% of all public school students, but more than a quarter of them attend schools with poor air quality.  52% of all students are white, but only 28% of them attend schools with the worst air quality… To combat COVID-19, federal and state governments have allocated hundreds of billions of dollars, including large sums to improve school infrastructure. And fortunately, actions taken to minimize the pandemic threat in schools will also address these longstanding air quality problems: modernized ventilation ducts, heating in the winter, cooling in the summer, HEPA filters, and less crowded classrooms will leave students and educators in even healthier environments than they had in 2019.”

How serious is the fiscal crisis for some school districts? For the NY Times, Eleni Schirmer describes the pileup of long term indebtedness. For Philadelphia and Chicago, for example, paying debt service has taken precedence over reducing class size, hiring more counselors and maintaining buildings. Schirmer reports: “For Philadelphia teacher Freda Anderson, setting up her classroom involves clearing plaster, dust and paint chips from tables, chairs and desks… Years of deferred maintenance have caused dust and paint chips to scatter across the room… A report released this spring revealed an asbestos epidemic creeping through Philadelphia schools. During the 2019 school year, 11 schools closed because of toxic physical conditions; a veteran teacher is suffering from mesothelioma, a lethal disease caused by asbestos.”

Here is how school district indebtedness works: “To keep the lights on, the School District of Philadelphia—like thousands of districts across the country—has increasingly turned to debt financing: They issue bonds to borrow money from financial markets… Investment funds purchase these bonds, thus lending the funds to local governments or school districts.”

But there is built in inequity that places the heaviest burden of school district debt on the school districts with little property tax base and populations living in poverty: “Moody’s Investor Services, a pre-eminent credit-rating agency, bases a school district’s credit score on the district’s existing property value and residential income. The poorer the school district, the more it pays in interest and fees to borrow—from the point of view of creditors, such schools are ‘riskier.’  The results of this process are unsurprisingly classist and racist… What starts as public schools’ budget shortfall ends with financial sector profits. The interest that creditors take from lending money to municipal governments is also, conveniently, tax exempt, rendering municipal bonds into a kind of onshore tax haven.”

What is clear from all this reporting is that the competing needs school superintendents must manage differ from place to place, but they are complex and in many cases critical. Yes, Congress has imposed little regulation on American Rescue Plan relief dollars for school districts. But years of sometimes catastrophic underfunding are forcing school administrators to invest COVID relief dollars in the most basic requirements for building maintenance, staffing and programming.

The debt-service problem only further exacerbates the desperation of some of the nation’s largest school districts that serve concentrations of children living in poverty.  In Chicago, with mayoral governance of the Chicago Public Schools, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s must balance political calculations around her civic and educational responsibilities. Lightfoot has said she will respond to creditors instead of reducing class size, hiring school social workers, or repairing buildings. Schirmer explains: “In the short term, the Biden administration’s agenda could provide a much-needed cash injection into the schools… However, even this aid is vulnerable to private sector bond market obligations… Mayor Lori Lightfoot promised the city’s creditors that she would use the money to pay debt service.  In response, community organizing coalitions, including the Chicago Teachers Union, have demanded that the mayor use relief funds to help people—not banks.”

Remembering Mike Rose

Mike Rose, the education writer and UCLA professor of education, died in August.  Those of us who value thinking about education practice, education philosophy, and education policy will deeply miss Rose’s blog and his wisdom. But we will continue to have his books, and now is a good time to revisit some of them.

Rose was an educator, not a technocrat. In our society where for a quarter of a century education thinkers and policymakers have  worried about the quality of the product of schooling as measured by standardized test scores, Rose calls our attention to the process: “I’m especially interested in what opportunity feels like. Discussions of opportunity are often abstract—as in ideological debate— or constructed at a broad structural level—as in policy deliberation. But what is the experience of opportunity?”  (Why School?, p. 14)  In Why School?  Rose explores a very different philosophy of education than what was embodied in No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top: “I’m interested here in the experience of education when it’s done well with the student’s well-being in mind. The unfortunate thing is that there is nothing in the standard talk about schooling—and this has been true for decades—that leads us to consider how school is perceived by those who attend it. Yet it is our experience of an institution that determines our attitude toward it, affects what we do with it, the degree to which we integrate it into our lives, into our sense of who we are.” (Why School?, p. 34)

In the mid-1990s, Rose spent several years traveling around the United States visiting the classrooms of excellent teachers. The product of this work is Possible Lives, perhaps the very best book I know about public schooling in the United States and about what constitutes excellent teaching. Rose begins the book’s introduction: “During a time when so many are condemning public schools—and public institutions in general—I have been traveling across the country visiting classrooms in which the promise of public education is being powerfully realized. These are classrooms judged to be good and decent places by those closest to them—parents, principals, teachers, students—classrooms in big cities and small towns, preschool through twelfth grade, places that embody the hope for a free and educated society that has, at its best, driven this extraordinary American experiment from the beginning… Our national discussion about public schools is despairing and dismissive, and it is shutting down our civic imagination. I visited schools for three and a half years, and what struck me early on—and began to define my journey—was how rarely the kind of intellectual and social richness I was finding was reflected in the public sphere… We hear—daily, it seems—that our students don’t measure up, either to their predecessors in the United States or to their peers in other countries… We are offered, by both entertainment and news media, depictions of schools as mediocre places, where students are vacuous and teachers are not so bright; or as violent and chaotic places, places where order has fled and civility has been lost.  It’s hard to imagine anything good in all this.” (Possible Lives, p. 1)

Here, however, are Rose’s conclusions in the book’s final chapter: “What I began to see—and it took the accumulation of diverse classrooms to help me see it—was that these classrooms in addition to whatever else we may understand about them, represented a dynamic, at times compromised and contested, strain in American educational history: a faith in the capacity of a people, a drive toward equality and opportunity, a belief in the intimate link between mass education and a free society. These rooms were embodiments of the democratic ideal… The teachers I visited were working within that rich tradition. They provided example after different example of people doing public intellectual work in institutional settings, using the power of the institution to realize democratic goals for the children in their charge, and finessing, negotiating, subverting institutional power when it blocked the realization of those goals.” (Possible Lives, pp. 412-413)  In his stories of four years’ of visits to public schools, Rose presents our nation’s system of public schooling as a defining American institution.

Rose appreciates and celebrates the work of public school teachers: “To begin, the teachers we spent time with were knowledgeable.  They knew subject matter or languages or technologies, which they acquired in a variety of ways: from formal schooling to curriculum-development projects to individual practice and study. In most cases, this acquisition of knowledge was ongoing, developing; they were still learning and their pursuits were a source of excitement and renewal…  As one teaches, one’s knowledge plays out in social space, and this is one of the things that makes teaching such a complex activity… The teachers we observed operate with a knowledge of individual students’ lives, of local history and economy, and of social-cultural traditions and practices… A teacher must use these various kind of knowledge—knowledge of subject matter, of practice, of one’s students, of relationwithin the institutional confines of mass education. The teachers I visited had, over time, developed ways to act with some effectiveness within these constraints—though not without times of confusion and defeat—and they had determined ways of organizing their classrooms that enabled them to honor their beliefs about teaching and learning… At heart, the teachers in Possible Lives were able to affirm in a deep and comprehensive way the capability of the students in their classrooms. Thus the high expectations they held for what their students could accomplish… Such affirmation of intellectual and civic potential, particularly within populations that have been historically devalued in our society gives to these teachers’ work a dimension of advocacy, a moral and political purpose.”  (Possible Lives, pp. 418-423

With his strong interest in the life of the classroom and the experience of education, Rose definitely does not ignore education policy, but he looks at policy decisions from the point of view of the students, their families and the community.  Here is how he examines one of No Child Left Behind’s and Race to the Top’s strategies: —school closure as a turnaround policy: “Closing a school and transferring its students is unsettling in the best of circumstances… For low-income communities, the school is often one of the few remaining institutions. Transfer also brings to the fore issues with transportation, with navigating streets that mark gang turf, with shifting kids from the familiar to the strange. And all this happens in communities already buffeted by uncertainty about employment, housing, health care, and food on the table… Race to the Top… raises broad questions about innovation in public education and makes funding contingent on change… But the model of change has to be built on deep knowledge of how the organization works, its history, its context, its practices. The model of change in Race to the Top seems to be drawn from ideas in the air about modern business, ideas about competition, innovation, quick transformation, and metrics—an amalgam of the economistic and the technocratic.  This is not a model of change appropriate for schools….” (Why School? pp. 63-65)

Rose was not, however, a fan of the status quo; he was a believer in the need for ongoing school improvement, but not the technocratic, top-down, ideological school reform imposed in recent decades: “Citizens in a democracy must continually assess the performance of their public institutions. But the quality and language of that evaluation matter. Before we can evaluate, we need to be clear about what it is that we’re evaluating, what the nature of the thing is: its components and intricacies, its goals and purpose…. Neither the sweeping rhetoric of public school failure nor the narrow focus on test scores helps us here.  Both exclude the important, challenging work done daily in schools across the country, thereby limiting the educational vocabulary and imagery available to us. This way of talking about schools constrains the way we frame problems and blinkers our imagination… There have been times in our history when the idea of ‘the public’ has been invested with great agency and hope.  Such is not the case now.  An entire generation has come of age amid disillusionment with public institutions and public life, disillusionment born of high-profile government scandal and institutional inefficiency, but, even more from a skillful advocacy by conservative policy makers and pundits of the broad virtues of free markets and individual enterprise.” (Why School?, pp 203-204)  “My concern… is that the economic motive and the attendant machinery of standardized testing has overwhelmed all the other reasons we historically have sent our children to school. Hand in glove, this motive and machinery narrow our sense of what school can be. We hear much talk about achievement and the achievement gap, about equity, about increasing effort and expectations, but it  is primarily technical and organizational talk, thin on the ethical, social, and imaginative dimensions of human experience.” (Why School?, p. 214)

In the age of Teach for America, created by Wendy Kopp as her senior project at Princeton for the purpose of inserting brainy Ivy Leaguers into classrooms because their privileged backgrounds were thought to be gifts to the children of the poor, Mike Rose’s perspective is countercultural.  Rose instead wrote about the experiences of students discovering higher education as the first in their families to enroll in college. Lives on the Boundary and Back to School: Why Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education examine the work of community colleges, the challenges their students face economically as they struggle to pursue an education, and the personal meaning of their experiences apart from the job training they may acquire. And in The Mind at Work, Rose explores the intellectual demands of so-called blue-collar work.

I urge you to read or re-read some of these books as a way to celebrate Mike Rose’s legacy. None of these books feels dated. Rose’s writing is fresh and lucid. He will challenge you to examine the importance of public schooling in these times when corporate, test-based school accountability and school privatization continue to dominate too much of the conversation about education in the United States.

New Plan Tucked into Ohio Budget Creates a Path Out of State Takeover for Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland School Districts

Jeff Bryant introduces a special, back-to-school issue of The Progressive with a commentary, The End of School Reform.  Bryant’s piece narrates the quiet death of long running policies across the nation’s school districts, programs that were central to corporate, standardized test-based school accountability and the idea that punitive school turnaround plans would quickly raise overall test scores.

“It was telling that few people noticed when Chicago’s Board of Education announced in late May that it was closing down its school turnaround program and folding the thirty-one campuses operated by a private management company back into the district. The turnaround program had been a cornerstone of ‘Renaissance 2010,’ the education reform policy led by former Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan…. Another news event affecting Chicago public schools that got very little national attention was the decision by the Illinois state legislature to rescind mayoral control of Chicago’s schools and bring back a democratically elected school board… A third story from the Chicago education scene was that, in December, Noble Charter Network, the city’s largest charter school chain, disavowed its ‘no excuses’ approach to educating Black and brown students because of the racist implications… Each approach was among the pillars of ‘education reform’ favored by previous presidential administrations….”

This blog will take a late summer break.  Look for a new post on Wednesday, September 8.

In the same commentary, however, Bryant notes this year’s dramatic rush across state legislatures to expand private school tuition vouchers and increase the number of charter schools. Public schools remain threatened by some of the trends of the past two decades, but some of the corporate accountability ideology seems to be fading—not with a bang and with hardly a whimper.

These same trends are operating in Ohio, where—in the new state budget— the legislature found myriad ways to expand vouchers, introduce new tuition tax credit and education savings account neo-vouchers, and expand charter schools.

But at the same time, the legislature simply and quietly incorporated a plan to phase out one of Ohio’s worst school turnaround strategies: the House Bill 70 state takeover of so-called failing school districts by state appointed Academic Distress Commissions that oversee so-called “failing” school districts and push aside their elected boards of education. The legislature has created a path to end the Youngstown, Lorain, and East Cleveland state school takeovers.

History of House Bill 70 and Ohio’s State School Takeovers

House Bill 70 was passed in the middle of the night just before the legislature’s summer recess in 2015. As the Ohio Senate considered a House bill to expand the number of wraparound, full-service schools that locate medical and social services in school buildings serving poor families, someone introduced an amendment for state takeovers of school districts with low test scores, and the amendment replaced the original bill’s purpose. The amendment was introduced; opponent testimony was not permitted; the bill passed; and it was immediately signed into law. At the time, accountability-hawk school reformers in the legislature and the Ohio Department of Education believed that state appointed Academic Distress Commissions would radically improve low scoring school districts.

As recently as 2019, the Ohio Senate even considered a plan to further expand state takeover of local school districts. A Senate proposal would have established a statewide School Transformation Board which would have assigned a state approved nonprofit or for-profit school improvement organization for any district with an “F” rating for three years running on the school district report card. The state’s School Transformation Board would then have appointed a  local School District Improvement Commission to serve the same function as the original HB 70 Academic Distress Commission and appoint a CEO for the district. The local CEO in the Senate’s proposed plan would have had the power to fire principals and teachers, charterize the schools, privatize the schools, abrogate collective bargaining agreements, and even shut down schools. The plan was never enacted, but debate continued from late spring into September.

New FY 2022-2023 Ohio Budget Provides a Path to End State School Takeovers

The phase out in this year’s state budget of what’s called “The Youngstown Plan” has received little press coverage. But the plan is significant, though it does involve a three year process and significant state oversight all along the way.

The Elyria Chronicle-Telegram‘s Carissa Woytach explains: “The new plan gives districts three years to meet state-approved benchmarks, with the option to apply for up to two years of extensions. During that time, the powers of the CEO (appointed by the district’s Academic Distress Commission) are reduced to those of a regular superintendent, and the locally elected school board regains its power. The academic distress commission would remain in place until the district is fully released from the state’s purview. If a district does not meet its goals, it will revert back to state control as outlined by House Bill 70.”

Awareness of the failure of HB 70 has been building within the Ohio Department of Education. The Ohio Capital Journal‘s Susan Tebben quotes the state school superintendent expressing his loss of confidence in a program he once supported: “In a 2019 report about Academic Distress Commissions, the state’s superintendent of public instruction criticized the existence of the commissions saying they lacked the input of the local education administration and tried to fit unique academic situations into a ‘one size fits all approach.’ ‘While an Academic Distress Commission approach may produce some positive results, the potential for significant opposition makes it tremendously challenging for it to function in a way that leads to successful district turnaround,’ Superintendent Paolo DeMaria wrote in the report.”

Today the mood in Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland is hopeful. The Youngstown Vindicator‘s Raymond L. Smith describes the reaction of Youngstown’s current elected school board president, who will no longer be shunted aside by the Academic Distress Commission: “Youngstown school board President Ronald Shadd said the board will look at multiple ways of preparing to move forward.  It will wait for results of a state performance audit of the district and will be working with CEO Justin Jennings and the Academic Distress Commission in making a plan for the district’s future… Shadd expressed appreciation to all those in the community—including (Rep.) Michelle Lepore-Hagan and Sen. Michael Ralli… who have been working toward a goal of local control.  School board member Brenda Kimble, the previous board president, said she is overjoyed the three school districts will have paths forward to move from under that system. ‘We have to make our plan and focus on ways to make it successful,’ she said.”

East Cleveland, Youngstown, and Lorain are among Ohio’s poorest communities.  In Ohio, we have all watched years of upheaval as state appointed Academic Distress Commissions put in place arrogant CEOs—Krish Mohip in Youngstown and David Hardy in Lorain—who fought with parents, teachers and the community at large. The attitude of the legislators who rammed through this program was shameful. The Plain Dealer‘s Patrick O’Donnell quoted then-Senator Bill Coley, who mused: “I think its maybe the wrong people are running the show and we need to try something different.”

Woytech quotes Lorain School Board President Mark Ballard: “This was a hard-fought battle over the last six years to right what we believe was a flawed approach to trying to improve schools… Our community wants local control and local oversight of our schools and today, we now have a path to make that a reality. This legislation is the culmination of years of behind-the-scenes work, dozens of trips to Columbus, and hours of discussions with the state.”

Ohio education finance expert, Howard Fleeter reminds us all, however, that in the new state budget, the Legislature failed to fund a significant increase in Disadvantaged Pupil Impact Aid, despite that full funding of this program in FY2022 had been a central part of the Fair School Funding Plan whose methodology was adopted into the state budget. Youngstown, Lorain, and East Cleveland are three of Ohio’s school districts that serve concentrations of children living in poverty. While the Legislature has done a good thing by providing a path for these districts out of state takeover, the Ohio Legislature has a responsibility to fund these districts adequately to address the urgent needs of their students. These districts will need significant assistance to meet the state’s conditions for the phase out of state takeover.

Ohio has a history of aggressive punishment of poor school districts and a failed history of helping them.

DACA Once Again Thrown Out by Federal Judge: Hundreds of Thousands of DREAMers Fear for Their Future

The need to protect DREAMers is an old and still urgent issue. DREAMers are adolescents and young adults who remain undocumented and were brought here as very young children by their non-citizen parents. They are members of every community; they attend our public schools; and in many cases, once they have grown up, they are teaching in our schools or working in our communities.  In most instances the United States has been home to these young people during almost their entire lives. English is likely to be their primary language, and they may not know anyone in their parents’ home country. But they remain undocumented and, these days, threatened with deportation if DACA, the program President Obama created to protect them, is eliminated.

These young people are called DREAMers because the protection they and their advocates have sought has been called the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act).  A 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe protects their right to a public school education despite that they are not U.S. citizens, but until President Obama created DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) by executive order, they were left vulnerable. DACA was a temporary program intended to at least protect these young people’s right to work, to apply for a driver’s license and to avoid deportation. Some states still deny DREAMers access to in-state tuition at public colleges or to publicly funded scholarships.

The NY TimesMiriam Jordan explains who has been eligible for DACA  protection: “To qualify for DACA, applicants must have entered the United States before age 16, lived in the country continuously since June 2007, finished high school or enlisted in the military, and have a clean criminal record.”  Approximately 700,000 young people are currently protected.

A week ago, a federal judge in Texas ruled against President Obama’s DACA program, letting current protection stand for young people already in enrolled in the program, but banning the Department of Homeland Security from awarding DACA protection for any new applicants, including a huge backlog of applications already filed that the Department of Homeland Security has allowed to build up during this COVID-19 year.

Jordan reports: “A federal judge in Texas on Friday ruled unlawful a program that has shielded hundreds of thousands of undocumented young adults from deportation, throwing into question yet again the fate of immigrants known as DREAMers. The judge, Andrew S. Hanen of the United States District Court in Houston, said President Barack Obama exceeded his authority when he created the program… by executive action in 2012.  But the judge wrote that the current program recipients would not be immediately affected, and that the federal government should not ‘take any immigration, deportation or criminal action’ against them that it ‘would not otherwise take.’  The Department of Homeland Security may continue to accept new applications but is temporarily prohibited from approving them…”

For NPR, Rachel Treisman reports that in 2018, another lawsuit threatened the DACA program; the same judge, Andrew S. Hanen ruled against the program; and, in 2020, the program was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Now, “Some two years later, following the Supreme Court ruling and a series of motions and arguments in the Texas case, Hanen directed the involved parties to bring their claims before him again.”

CNN‘s Elie Honig explains the difference between the 2018 and the current case: “Just last year, DACA survived an existential legal challenge when the Supreme Court, by a five to four majority, rejected the Trump administration’s effort to repeal the Obama-era executive action that created the program. The Court ruled that while one president generally has broad authority to modify or repeal the executive action of a prior president, such action still must comply with certain administrative procedures. The Court found the Trump administration failed to follow these guidelines because it never offered a ‘reasoned explanation for its action’… (T)he… new case involves the underlying constitutionality of DACA itself. Judge Hanen ruled that DACA is unconstitutional because it was created by executive action rather than legislation.”

In the current case, the NY Times‘ Jordan reports, “Texas led the effort to terminate the program, and was joined by Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Carolina and West Virginia.  Officials in those states had argued that the program was improperly adopted and left them with the burden of paying for education, health care and other benefits for immigrants who remained in the country under DACA’s protections.”

Judge Hanen’s decision last week will likely be appealed. Treisman reports for NPR, “One day after a federal district judge in Texas ruled against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, President Biden said the Department of Justice intends to appeal the decision.”

The case could be overturned by a higher court on appeal or could become irrelevant if Congress were to agree on legislation to protect the rights of DREAMers. The National Immigration Law Center responded to last week’s ruling by federal Judge Hanen by pointing out that, “DACA is a hugely successful and transformative policy with overwhelming public support.” And despite dysfunction in a polarized Congress, it is possible that some agreement can be reached on DACA: “The House of Representatives already passed the bipartisan Dream and Promise Act in March, and this week Senate leadership included a pathway to citizenship as part of its budget resolution.”

The History of Public Education Demonstrates the Importance of Understanding the Implications of Racism

Conservative legislatures and state boards of education across the states are trying to prohibit what they call the teaching of “critical race theory,” which these far-right ideologues are redefining as any ideas that might make white Americans uncomfortable.  At the same time, on Monday, the NY Times featured an article about a tragic violation of our nation’s declared values of equality and justice for all—the century long mandate that American Indian children be enrolled in U.S. government-run boarding schools. Children were taken forcibly from their families and communities and sent, often far away, to boarding schools designed to force them to assimilate into the American dominant culture.

In a stunning history, Education for Extinction, David Wallace Adams describes the establishment in the 1870s of mandatory boarding schools for American Indian children and the philosophy of education that defined their purpose: “The word was civilization. European and American societies were civilized; Indians on the other hand, were savages… Indians must be taught the knowledge, values, mores, and habits of Christian civilization… The first priority was to provide the Indian child with the rudiments of an academic education….  Second, Indians needed to be individualized… In the philanthropic mind Indians were savages mainly because tribal life placed a higher value on the tribal community than individual interests… Education should facilitate individualization in two ways. First, it should teach young Indians how to work… But teaching Indians how to work was not enough. In the end, they must be inculcated with the values and beliefs of possessive individualism. They must come to respect the importance of private property… and they must come to realize that the accumulation of personal wealth is a moral obligation… The third aim of Indian education was Christianization.” (Education for Extinction, pp. 12-23)

The Boarding Schools’ purpose was forcing assimilation. Students were punished for using their primary languages and forced to speak English. They were given “American” names. This week’s NY Times story describes Dzabahe, a young Navajo girl renamed “Bessie Smith” by her boarding school: “The last day Dzabahe remembers praying in the way of her ancestors was on the morning in the 1950s when she was taken to the boarding school… Within hours of arriving at the school, she was told not to speak her own Navajo language. The leather skirt her mother had sewn for her and the beaded moccasins were taken away and bundled in plastic, like garbage. She was given a dress to wear and her long hair was cut—something that is taboo in Navajo culture.  Before she was sent to the dormitory, one more thing was taken: her name.”

The boarding schools for American Indian children represent one example of the ways the United States contradicted its founding promise that all are created equal and all are worthy of liberty and justice  In his profound book, The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935, James D. Anderson begins by acknowledging the blindness, bias, and misunderstandings that have defined the project of expanding the meaning of equal education for our nation’s children: “The history of American education abounds with themes that represent the inextricable ties between citizenship in a democratic society and popular education. It is crucial for an understanding of American educational history, however, to recognize that within American democracy there have been classes of oppressed people and that there have been essential relationships between popular education and the politics of oppression. Both schooling for democratic citizenship and schooling for second-class citizenship have been basic traditions in American education. These opposing traditions were not, as some would explain, the difference between the mainstream of American education and some aberrations or isolated alternatives. Rather, both were fundamental American conceptions of society and progress, occupied the same time and space, were fostered by the same governments, and usually were embraced by the same leaders.”(The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935, p. 1)

American Indian boarding schools are now a thing of the past, but today we have a lot of work to do before we can move forward to address injustices.  We must find a way to understand the truth of our history in spite of today’s ideologues who insist that what Anderson calls “the politics of oppression” never existed and certainly does not operate today. In a powerful new book, Scripting the Moves: Culture & Control in a ‘No-Excuses’ Charter School, Vanderbilt University ethnologist Joannne Golann dissects the biases she uncovered in her 18 month study of the culture of one of today’s no-excuses charter schools, which she identifies with a pseudonym, “Dream Academy.”  Although Dream Academy’s staff believe they are imparting social capital and so-called “middle class values” to their mostly African American students, Golann’s research demonstrates that the no-excuses school inculcates in children a very different understanding of their social place and their rights than the sense of entitlement possessed by more privileged children. “(W)e can interpret the rigid behavioral scripts employed by no-excuses schools as in line with a long history of managing poor youth of color through social control, surveillance, and punishments. The poor have long been viewed as intractable, in need of guidance and reform.” (p. 14)

Golann continues: “Instead of putting the onus on schools and teachers to provide the extra supports to help all students achieve, the no-excuses philosophy was reinterpreted in the context of the school’s behavioral script to mean, as reflected in… (a) teacher’s words, ‘holding students responsible for their character and their actions and their education.’ This perspective attributes the failures of urban schools to low-income Black and Latino children who are seen as lacking the right attitudes and values (like hard work, diligence, personal responsibility) to be successful and sees success as holding these children to tighter expectations.” (p. 40) “As students learned to adhere to the school’s demanding scripts in order to gain privileges, they developed what I call a sense of earning… A sense of earning, however, contrasts with a sense of entitlement, which sociologist Annette Lareau has identified as a middle-class mindset…  Schools… cater to middle-class White families, positioning them as ‘consumers’ whose needs ought to be attended to rather than ‘beneficiaries’ who should be grateful for the privilege of attending the school.” (p. 46)

In a profound 1998 book, Common Schools: Uncommon Identities, Walter Feinberg, professor emeritus of educational philosophy at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, considers the urgent importance of a critical approach to the teaching of the nation’s history: “To be an American, that is, to submit to the nation’s laws, is different than to identify oneself as an American and to participate in the public will formations that determine the direction of national action and inaction. This identification is active and requires an engagement with interpretations of events that comprise the American story. That there is an ‘American story’ means not that there is one official understanding of the American experience but, rather, that those who are telling their versions of the story are doing so in order to contribute to better decision making on the part of the American nation and that they understand that they are part of those decisions. The concept is really ‘Americans’ stories’…  This means, among other things, that students must learn about the various meanings that people from different backgrounds might give to different events. They need to address these differences in ways that promote continuing discussion…  (T)he common school must be involved in teaching students both to speak from the knowledge that their cultural identity provides and, as audience, to hear the voices of others… It is within and across this medley of difference that the common school continues the dialogue begun during the American Revolution about the nature of national unity and the character of national identity.” (Common Schools: Uncommon Identities, pp. 232-245) (emphasis in the original)

In a recent letter, 135 academic and professional organizations protest the far right attacks on public schools’ teaching honestly about the racism in American history.  They conclude: “Suppressing or watering down discussion of ‘divisive concepts’ in educational institutions deprives students of opportunities to discuss and foster solutions to social division and injustice. Legislation cannot erase ‘concepts’ or history; it can, however, diminish educators’ ability to help students address facts in an honest and open environment capable of nourishing intellectual exploration.”

In “Scripting the Moves,” Joanne Golann Exposes the Demeaning Hidden Curriculum in a No-Excuses Charter School

Joanne W. Golann’s new book is all about schools that insist their teachers follow the guidance of Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion instead of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, but whose principals and teachers have convinced themselves they are liberating students from oppression.

Lured by the promise that their middle school will put them on the path to college, many of the students in Scripting the Moves: Culture & Control in a “No-Excuses” Charter School quickly become angry and disgruntled as teachers assign them demerits for failing to sit at attention or whispering or speaking as they walk in straight lines marked by squares on the hallway floors. At Dream Academy, teachers are driven obsessively to “sweat the small stuff.” School leaders warn teachers that the whole system might collapse if anyone loses control.

Golann explains that, Dream Academy, the pseudonymous name of the school where she conducted her ethnographic study, typifies to one degree or another no-excuses charter schools managed by many of the huge charter management organizations, beginning with KIPP, but also including Achievement First, Aspire, Democracy Prep, Green Dot, IDEA, Mastery, Match, Noble Network, Promise Academies, Rocketship, Success Academies, Uncommon Schools, and YES Prep.

Anyone with the most rudimentary, university-based, public school teacher certification training—including philosophy of education, educational psychology and learning theory—will likely find it shocking to read what Golann describes observing in her year-and-a-half ethnographic study. Yet Dream Academy exemplifies the kind of schooling so many families are choosing—based on a promise that college admission will follow.

SLANT, the basic behavioral script launched in the KIPP schools, has been copied across no-excuses charter schools including Dream Academy:  S (sit up straight), L (listen), A (ask questions), N (nod for understanding ), and T (track the speaker).  Dream Academy has added more than three dozen other possible infractions (divided into three categories according to their seriousness) for which students earn a range of penalties: “Over the course of the school year, teachers at Dream Academy assigned a total of 15,423 infractions to the school’s approximately 250 students. Students on average received 60 infractions over 188 days or approximately 1 infraction every 3 days. Six students, with an average GPA of 3.9, managed to slip by without a single infraction over the school year; on the other extreme, one fifth-grade Black boy, with a 1.36 GPA accumulated 295 infractions. Teachers had little choice but to enforce the school’s rigid behavioral scripts because they too were evaluated on their adherence to them.” (p. 32)

Golann, the ethnographer, shapes her analysis from the point of view of the sociologist: “(W)e can interpret the rigid behavioral scripts employed by no-excuses schools as in line with a long history of managing poor youth of color through social control, surveillance, and punishments. The poor have long been viewed as intractable, in need of guidance and reform.” (p. 14)  “If ‘no excuses’ is supposed to be about the school making no excuses for student failure, it ends up being about the school accepting no excuses from students for deviating from the school’s rigid behavioral script… Instead of putting the onus on schools and teachers to provide the extra supports to help all students achieve, the no-excuses philosophy was reinterpreted in the context of the school’s behavioral script to mean, as reflected in… (a) teacher’s words, ‘holding students responsible for their character and their actions and their education.’ This perspective attributes the failures of urban schools to low-income Black and Latino children who are seen as lacking the right attitudes and values (like hard work, diligence, personal responsibility) to be successful and sees success as holding these children to tighter expectations.” (p. 40)

Although Dream Academy’s staff believe they are imparting social capital and so-called “middle class values” to their students, Golann’s research demonstrates that the no-excuses school inculcates in children a very different understanding of their social place and their rights than the sense of entitlement possessed by more privileged children: “As students learned to adhere to the school’s demanding scripts in order to gain privileges, they developed what I call a sense of earningA sense of earning, however, contrasts with a sense of entitlement, which sociologist Annette Lareau has identified as a middle-class mindset. Middle-class families foster in their children a sense of entitlement whereby their children feel deserving of other people’s time and resources. Children with a sense of entitlement believe that others are partially responsible for their success. Through their self-advocacy, entitled students gain advantages for themselves, from extra attention in preschool to classwork assistance in elementary school to a grade bump in college… Schools also cater to middle-class White families, positioning them as ‘consumers’ whose needs ought to be attended to rather than ‘beneficiaries’ who should be grateful for the privilege of attending the school… Scholars have criticized the ‘myth of meritocracy’ for fostering a ‘context-neutral mindset’ that ignores or minimizes the structural obstacles that make it difficult for certain racial and socioeconomic groups to climb the social ladder. For affluent White students, believing that they have earned their way through hard work legitimates social privilege. For low-income students of color, conversely, believing in a meritocratic system puts students in the precarious position of deriving their self-worth from their achievements.” (pp. 46-47)

Golann explores Dream Academy’s failure to work with students to develop critical thinking and the kinds of study and interactive skills they will need if they do go on to college: “Dream Academy was successful in getting its middle school students to think about college and in getting its high school graduates to apply to, and be admitted to, college.  But… Dream Academy’s rigid behavioral scripts did not encourage students to develop the types of cultural capital that higher-income students use to gain advantages in college. Cultural capital, which I have defined as tools of interaction, comprises the attitudes, skills, and styles that allow individuals to navigate complex institutions and shifting expectations. These tools include skills like how to express an opinion, be flexible, display leadership, advocate a position, and make independent decisions.” (p. 58)

Finally Dream Academy teachers’ obsession with minute behavioral infractions undermines trust and generates anger and antagonism: “No-excuses schools ‘sweat the small stuff.’  Under a sweating-the-small-stuff approach, authority is exercised over ‘a multitude of items of conduct—dress, deportment, manners—that constantly occur and constantly come up for judgment.’… (A)s teachers took on the role of disciplinarians, they became enmeshed in a racist system that perpetuated stereotypes of Black and Brown bodies as needing to be controlled rather than one that humanized students as individuals to be understood, cared for, and respected.  It is unlikely that belittling and shouting at students, for example, would be acceptable at an affluent White school, yet these practices are common at no-excuses schools, which serve almost exclusively Black and Latino students.” (pp. 86-99)

Golann concludes: “Instead of developing a sense of ease with figures of authority, most of whom are White, these young Black and Latino kids developed a sense of antagonism, learning to be distant, suspicious, and resentful. A sense of antagonism impacts learning and classroom management, but also shapes how students learn to interact with authority more broadly… Sociologist Pedro Noguera writes, “When children are presumed to be wild, uncontrollable, and potentially dangerous, it is not surprising that antagonistic relations with the adults who are assigned to control them develop.” (p. 101)

In a later section of the book, Golann profiles the teachers who find themselves working in schools like Dream Academy.  Many of them are young, many inexperienced, many from Teach for America.  And, despite that Dream Academy claims the school’s scripted discipline makes it “teacher-proof,” many teachers last only for a year or two.  In the year before Golann conducted her study, the school was able to retain only 44 percent of its teachers.

In contrast to the education philosophy at Dream Academy, Paulo Freire, the father of liberation pedagogy, understands education as a mutual partnership between student and teacher: “Education must begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students.” The efforts of “the humanist, revolutionary educator” “must coincide with those of the students to engage in critical thinking and the quest for mutual humanization… (Teachers) must be partners of the students in their relations with them.” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, pp. 53-56)

By Proposing Big Bump in Funding for Full-Service Community Schools, Biden Signals Shift in Education Policy

First Focus on Children’s Bruce Lesley points to the President’s American Families Plan and Biden’s federal budget proposal as statements of values and priorities. Indicting the Trump administration’s utter failure to address the needs of America’s families and children, First Focus shows that the percentage of federal spending on children has declined every year since the end of the Obama-Biden administration from 8.19 percent in 2016 to 7.48 percent in 2020.

First Focus on Children praises President Biden for taking steps to turn around this downward trend by pressing Congress to enact his American Families Plan, which would extend the Child Tax Credit, passed temporarily earlier in the spring as part of COVID relief; provide universal pre-Kindergarten; invest in child care; increase support for educators and child care providers; create a national paid family and medical leave program; reduce child hunger and improve child nutrition; extend affordable family care tax credits; and extend access to college.

First Focus’s emphasis is on social supports for middle and lower income families. Public education policy is also children’s policy, and under No Child Left Behind and programs like Race to the Top, the federal government set out to punish the schools in America’s poorest communities—to turn them around quickly and force them to raise test scores. Many public school advocates continue to watch and to hope that President Biden and his Education Secretary Miguel Cardona will turn away from test-and-punish.

Writing for The Progressive, Jeff Bryant highlights one significant budget proposal which he believes does portend such a shift. Tucked into President Biden’s proposed education budget is a magnificent increase—from $30 million to $443 million—for Full-Service Community Schools.  Bryant believes this investment would begin not only to correct the failures of President Trump and Betsy DeVos but also to turn away from the education policy mistakes of President Obama and Arne Duncan.

Bryant explains: “President Joe Biden’s first budget request for the U.S. Department of Education signals a significant departure from the education policy priorities of previous presidential administrations. And not just a shift from the priorities of the Trump Administration, which was expected, but also from those of the Obama years.  It’s a welcome sign that the era of blaming teachers for low test scores may finally be coming to an end… Obama’s first budget request for the Department of Education, submitted to Congress in 2009, was all about fiscal austerity and accountability.  It called for cutting Title I funds—the federal government’s program to support high-poverty schools—and shifting $1 billion from that program to grants for highly disruptive federal interventions in ‘low-performing’ public schools (read schools with low test scores). Other budget priorities included controversial teacher pay-for-performance programs and extra resources targeted just to high schools—all ‘while holding down spending,’ Education Week reported.”

Bryant continues: “Biden faces a difficult economic climate, as did Obama, this time caused by a pandemic, and the fact that his party’s majorities in Congress are much thinner than those that Obama enjoyed at the start of his term. Yet Biden’s first budget is much more progressive than what Obama offered, calling for more than doubling Title I from its current $16.5 billion to $36.5 billion… Other notable proposals from Biden include: more money for early childhood education; an approximately 20 percent boost of $2.6 billion for educating students with disabilities; and $1 billion to help schools hire more counselors, nurses, and mental health professionals.”  And then there is the enormous proposed increase for Community Schools.

President Biden’s proposed investment in Full-Service Community Schools would fund the kind of support for poor families—the social service and medical investments First Focus highlights in Biden’s American Families Plan. Half a century of research has demonstrated that in many ways poverty undermines children’s capacity to thrive at school. Community Schools gather and manage already available services right in the school building where they are accessible for children, parents, and the entire family.

I once had the extraordinary experience of visiting a Full-Service Community School. The Ellen Lurie School, a New York City public school, is located in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. This Community School, founded in 1993, is well established. New York City Public Schools reports that the school’s students are 92 percent Latino-Latina and 92 percent disadvantaged. The school is part of a network of public schools operating in partnership with the Children’s Aid Society of New York City, the lead partner whose appointed Community School Director coordinates all the social and medical services that wrap around the school’s academic program led by the school principal. My group visited this school right at the end of the school day, when children had transitioned to a marvelous after-school program funded by a federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant. There was a community garden at the school, and some groups of children were working in the garden, while others were chopping vegetables from the garden as part of a cooking project.  Many other children were involved in a dance program. Right in the school building were a medical clinic where children could get immunizations and checkups, a dental clinic, and a mental health clinic—all this funded by Medicaid. Federally funded Head Start and Early Head Start were housed right in the school. One classroom was filled with commercial sewing machines and huge spools of thread—equipment used by parents for job training. The school also boasted a fine summer program that served a majority of the school’s students.

Bryant points to the documented success of the model, with a study in 2020 from RAND confirming that Community Schools have “higher rates of attendance, graduation, and math achievement, as well as fewer in-grade retentions, dropouts, and disciplinary actions.”  Such massive data studies almost seem superfluous when you tour such a school. The data merely confirms what could be the only result of such programs designed to engage and help families and nurture children.

Bryant points out that President Biden’s priority for the expansion of Full-Service Community Schools sets him apart from from the Department of Education’s guiding philosophy in the Obama years during which Biden himself served as Vice President: “The Obama Administration, through policies like Race to the Top, incentivized states to adopt a ‘no-excuse’ approach… that punished schools and teachers for low test scores…. During the Obama years, legislation to fund the Full-Service Community Schools Program was introduced in 2011 and submitted again in 2014, but it never passed out of committee. Then in 2015, two amendments to the Every Student Succeeds Act… authorized a full-service community schools grant program and made program coordinators an allowable use of federal funds. Under Obama the program’s budget was a mere $9.7 million in 2015 and $10 million in 2016… Under Trump, Congress managed to boost funding for the program to $30 million, where it stands today.”

Bryant believes Biden’s new budget reflects an extraordinary strategic shift in priorities: “Biden’s budget would boost funding for the Full-Service Community Schools Program by $413 million, an almost fourteen-fold increase, to $443 million.”

New Ohio Budget Will Demonstrate What Our State’s Leaders Value

I have never observed such a sense of urgency among educators and parents as we wait to see the compromises that will come out of Ohio’s House-Senate budget conference committee as soon as this afternoon. The Ohio Legislature must pass a budget and send it to Governor Mike DeWine for his signature by Thursday, the beginning of the FY 2022-2023 biennium.

One reason anxiety is running high is because the Ohio Senate has put off acting on a House-passed, brand new, school finance formula that experts say would comply with the demands of the Ohio Constitution for the first time since the Ohio Supreme Court found our state’s school funding unconstitutional 24 years ago. The Ohio Senate allowed legislation for the new school funding formula to die on December 31 at the end of the session by refusing to consider or vote on the bill after the House passed it earlier in the month.

Senate leaders argued they needed more time to study the plan, which the House reintroduced as Issue 1 last winter. When the Senate again failed to act, the House inserted the Fair School Funding Plan into its version of the next state budget, but the Senate didn’t respond until early June, when Senate leaders inserted their own substitute school funding plan—without significant discussion—into the Senate’s version of the state budget.

The House Fair School Funding Plan was developed by legislators, educators, and school finance experts over three years, while the Senate’s alternative merely appeared. The state’s seasoned school funding expert, who has studied and reported on our school funding system since the early 1990s, Howard Fleeter has explained not only that Senators based their new formula on outdated property valuation and median income data, a problem guaranteeing that the Senate’s plan won’t keep up with inflation, but also that the Senators failed to correct a mistaken calculation in the old formula that mismeasures each school district’s capacity to generate property tax revenue.

Why does all this arcane stuff seem frankly frightening to parents and teachers and school superintendents? Here are two experts dissecting the ongoing deterioration of Ohio’s method of funding public education, which left all of the state’s 610 school districts with state funding frozen at the FY 2019 level throughout the past two school years, and which previously had left over 80 percent of the state’s school districts on hold-harmless guaranteed funding or with state funding capped.

  1. In April, outlining Ohio’s urgent need for the Fair School Funding Plan, Policy Matters Ohio’s state fiscal expert Wendy Patton explained: “Even as policymakers have expected public schools to do more, they have cut state aid to public schools over time, by allowing it to be eroded by inflation and diversion of funds to charter schools… and vouchers… As a result, public schools have increasingly relied on local resources, which causes unequal funding…. This is because our state’s school funding system relies heavily on property taxes, which advantages wealthier districts… As corporations eliminated jobs with living wages in Ohio, racial discrimination in employment and government-sanctioned segregation forced Black, Indigenous and other people of color into neighborhoods of concentrated poverty…. Schools in these communities need additional resources, but the declining local tax base cannot generate what’s needed. Many rural and small-town districts have faced economic challenges that make it hard for them to provide local funding.”  Overreliance on local property taxes was specifically found unconstitutional in the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in DeRolph.
  2. In May 6, 2021 testimony to the Senate Education Committee, Howard Fleeter described how the framers of the House’s Fair School Funding Plan designed the plan to address what has been alarming and  long-standing inequity in Ohio school finance: “Funding for economically disadvantaged students in particular has lagged well behind the growth in the number of such students over the past 20 years (funding has increased 22% while the number of (these) students has increased 61% since FY01)… Studies in other states have indicated that the additional costs of educating low-income students are typically 30% or more… Targeted Assistance and Capacity Aid should be retained as is the case in the HB110 funding formula (the Fair School Funding Plan).  These two formula components supplement formula funding by providing additional funds to low wealth districts that lack the tax base to pursue local educational initiatives in the same manner that wealthier districts can through local levies.”

Thankfully, both chambers of the legislature say they will agree to eliminate the state’s punitive and disequalizing school district deduction method for funding vouchers and charter schools—a method which deducts a state-set fee for each voucher or charter school tuition right out of the local budget despite that the school district’s state per-pupil foundation assistance is in many cases less than the cost of the voucher or charter school tuition. But despite this important reform, the Ohio Senate’s school funding plan exacerbates several other problems for public schools on top of the primary problem of our dated, inequitable and inadequate school funding formula. The Senate’s budget hurts public schools by:

  • expanding  the size of each taxpayer funded, private school voucher from $4,650 to $5,500 for K-8 students and from $6,000 to $7,500 for high school students;
  • adding a neo-voucher tuition tax credit program for families with income below $300 percent of the federal poverty line;
  • creating taxpayer funded education savings accounts for home schooling;
  • permitting widespread scattering of charter schools across all the school districts in the state, while in the past their location has been limited to so-called “challenged” school districts; and
  • requiring that school districts sell or lease a school building to a charter school if the public school building was used in the previous school year for academic instruction for students at less than 60 percent of building capacity.

All this is in addition to the Ohio Senate’s proposed 5 percent cut in income taxes. Policy Matters’ Wendy Patton presented testimony demonstrating that only the wealthy will benefit from what the Senate is proposing: “Nearly half of the tax reduction would go to those in the top 5%, who are paid more than $221,000 a year. The top 1% percent, who have income of at least $526,000, would average a cut of $1,712 and receive a quarter of the tax reductions. The tax reductions in the Senate bill come on top of huge tax cuts the richest Ohioans have received over the past 16 years. While lower-and middle-income Ohioans on average saw little change or paid more in state and local taxes, the top 1% received more than $40,000 a year in tax cuts.”

Despite Patton’s warning, Gongwer reports that Senate President Matt Huffman explained last week that new higher revenue projections for the upcoming biennium in addition to American Rescue Plan funds might push him to increase tax cuts above the 5 percent already proposed in the Senate’s early June budget. Huffman has declared that higher revenue must be spent on one-time expenses this year instead of long-term investments in education or other programs.  However, he has failed to acknowledge that the tax cuts he is proposing—based on this year’s revenue—would not be rescinded at the end of this year. These tax cuts would be permanent unless the legislature subsequently raised taxes.

Alarm about House-Senate budget negotiations is not limited to public school supporters.  In a letter last week to legislators and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, 97 state and local organizations identified problems in the Ohio Senate’s version of the budget: “It removes the plan to fairly and equitably fund our K-12 schools, dismantles the state’s foundation for ensuring high-quality child care, and removes critical funding to expand broadband access to our neighbors across the state. Another change will lead to fewer affordable housing options for low-income seniors, people with disabilities and parents trying to provide a better life for their children… All of these changes will be damaging to the long-term health and well-being of children, adults and families… particularly Ohioans with low wages… State lawmakers have cut income taxes for the wealthiest Ohioans for 16 years and Ohio continues to fall behind the nation on jobs, wages, and overall quality of life.”

The Plain Dealer‘s editors castigate the lack of moral principle in the Ohio Senate’s proposed budget: “The Senate says it’s just being frugal but the numbers belie that. Its proposal would add to inequities in school funding while perpetuating divisions over something that should unite Ohioans of all political stripes—the need to invest in our children.”

This blog has examined Ohio’s Fair School Funding Plan here.