It’s Time To Do Something, Anything, EdSec DeVos!

We are now six months into the Trump Administration, and when it comes to education policy, we must finally ask, what is the strategy, folks?

Just last week, we saw former governor, former U.S. Education Secretary, and current Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander call out the DeVos Administration for failing to understand what ESSA says about state decisionmaking.

We saw the head of the Department’s Civil Rights office state that most Title IX complaints are the result of the woman regretting a night of alcohol and a subsequent breakup with the accused.

And we witnessed supposedly sympathetic Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives pass a federal education budget without the needed funding for the EdSec’s signature school choice effort.

While the Administration continues to struggle to find individuals to take top education positions, the “successes” from the past six months include stripping billions in Title II teacher support dollars from the budget, and freezing action to absolve students from paying back loans to attend failed proprietary colleges.

One may not agree, ideologically, with the Trump/DeVos Administration, but we should all want to see it success when it comes to improving teaching and learning across the United States. And as we complete the first eighth of President Donald Trump’s first term in office, we all should wonder what the plan is here.

Despite what some may want to believe, the concerns facing public education in America are both wide and deep. We struggle to find qualified teachers for our high-need schools, particularly in areas like STEM, ELL, and sped. And we do so as the teaching profession itself has been stripped of the respect it had long enjoyed and deserves.

We fail to see the problem with continuing to pursue a homogenous approach to K-12 education at a time when our population of learners couldn’t be more diverse. And we do it by resisting the incoming wave of personalized learning and differentiated instruction. 

We ignore where we really stand when it comes to student performance, making excuses for the United States placing 38th out of 71 in PISA math and 24th in PISA science. And we do it while criticizing learning assessment itself, rather than focusing on a new generation of better, more effective tests.

The DeVos administration came into power without owing anything to those individuals, organizations, and interests beholden to the status quo and the way things have always been done. There is no benefit to defending flat test scores as other nations experience significant rises. There is no gain in ensuring the protection and support of dropout factories. There is no win in ensuring another generation of short-term educators without the knowledge, skills, and support to succeed in the classroom.

It is now past time for DeVos and her skeleton crew to take real action, be it with the power of the checkbook or the strength of the bully pulpit. What could this action look like?

  • A whistle-stop tour to discuss the true value of school choice, particularly in those communities that don’t already enjoy a robust charter sector. This could be particularly appealing to the special education community, giving it a deep dive on what Florida’s McKay vouchers have meant to sped families in the Sunshine State.
  • A collaboration of the Education, Labor, and Commerce Departments, supported by corporate partners, to make a major investment in career and technical education, with an emphasis on the STEM skills and jobs that will be needed for a strong economy 20 years from now. This can even include the apprenticeship push announced by the President earlier this year.
  • A reinvestment in early childhood education, building on the family leave and support efforts of First Daughter Ivanka Trump. This could include finally having the Federal government recognize that early childhood education is the purview of the U.S. Department of Education, and not Health and Human Services.
  • A refocus on teacher quality, offering even stronger executive action on teacher prep provisions than the recently revoked Obama language. Through a “return on investment” lens, this could include returning Title II dollars for efforts that raise the quality and results of teaching, looking at the outcomes of the teaching profession, not just the inputs.

Six months in, and federal education policy is still stuck in neutral. And based on the state of public education in the United States, neutral means that millions of kids are losing ground. Losing ground when it comes to reading proficiency. Losing ground when it comes to 21st century skills. Losing ground when it comes to required remediation.

It is past time to roll up the sleeves, seize the rostrum, and get it done. If this Administration is seeking to shake up the status quo, if this Administration is serious about breaking from the failed policies of the past, and if this Administration believes that traditional public schools are indeed failing, then do something about it. You are now steering the ship. Take us somewhere. Anywhere.

 

A Step Closer to School Vouchers

As it closed its 2017 session, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that private religious institutions could receive public taxpayer dollars when the provide public services. While many were quick to say that the Court offered a particularly narrow finding in its ruling, it seems clear SCOTUS has provided a legal opening for those seeing to dramatically expand school vouchers in the United States. 

This is the topic we explore on this week’s #TrumpED program on the BAM! Radio Network. Give it a listen!

Home Schoolers Don’t Want to Be a “Choice”

Earlier this week, EdSec Betsy DeVos continued to tease the details of the big school choice plan that is likely to come from the Trump Administration. The next day, the President’s budget reflects that same commitment to dramatically expanding access (and dollars for) public charter schools and vouchers for private education.

In all of the discussion, though, an interesting voice has spoken out asking NOT to be included in the expanded school choice plan. That voice? The homeschool community. As Eduflack explains in the most recent edition of #TrumpED on BAM! Radio Network, the reasons for this make a great deal of sense. With federal dollars comes federal oversight and regulations.  And while the homeschool community may largely trust President Trump and his administration on the topic, there are no guarantees that a future President or EdSec will hold the same level of respect for homeschoolers.

Give it a listen. I promise it is an interesting examination of an equally interesting topic.

Of School Vouchers and Civil Rights 

For more than a decade now, we have heard advocates position the fight for education reform as the great civil rights battle of our generation. And there is little question that discussions of equity and equal pathways to college and career success for all students – regardless of their race, family income, or zip code – is a worthy fight.

It is on this fight that so much of the current school choice frame is constructed. The expansion and adequate funding of public charter schools is all about civil rights. And the renewed attention to vouchers is no different. 

As part of his first address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, President Donald Trump again tied school choice to civil rights. But at a time when actual civil rights – from Title IX to LGBT to IDEA – are front and center of current school and education debates, is it fair to position private school vouchers in the same manner?

This is the topic we explore on the latest edition of #TrumpED on the BAM! Radio Network.

Interestingly, immediate response to the segment began referencing the United Nations and Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. No one should question that access to free, high-quality public education education is indeed a right all around the world should advocate for. And ensuring that parents have a say in the educational path that is best for their children should be rightly included in such discussions. In crafting Article 26, did the UN really intend for such language to be used to provide cover for those choosing not to send their kids to a community public school or a local public charter school, and instead send them to a possibly expensive private school with the financial support of taxpayers? Particularly if those vouchered tax dollars largely exceed what that same family was paying in taxes to support the local schools?

You be the judge. Give the program a listen. I realize Eduflack won’t necessarily make friends with the reform community by posing such questions, but it is an important discussion to have.

 

A Texas-Sized Step Back on Edu-Thinking

Earlier this month, the Texas Young Republicans passed a resolution adopting a two-page platform and recommending the Republican Party of Texas endorse it whole cloth in 2016. Why is this important? Well, the two-page platform included some specific language regarding education policy (in the non-Common Core-adopting Texas).

The Texas Young GOPers stated:

We believe that all children should have access to quality education. Parents have the primary right and responsibility to educate their children, and we support their right to choose public, private, charter, or home education. We support the distribution of educational funds in a manner that they follow the student to any school, whether public, private, charter or home school. We reject federal imposition of educational standards and the tying of federal education funding to adopting federally mandated standards.

Reads like the flag and apple pie, huh? Setting aside the problem of using the Oxford comma at the beginning, and then forgetting the serial comma in the second set of school descriptors, let’s take a look at the statement.

Sentence one, I’m with ya. Every child should have access to quality education. I’ll do you one better, Young Texans, every child should have access to quality public education. And high-quality public education at that.

I’m also with you on parents having the right and responsibility to educate their kids. I didn’t realize that such parental rights were under siege. If anything, the main issue seems to be what we do when parents do not exercise said right, and their kids’ education is then solely the responsibility of teachers. We should be focusing more on getting parents more involved in what happens in our schools.

Then we shift into the “money follows the child” philosophy, with an added wrinkle. Not only are we calling for equal funds to go to charters (school choice) and privates (vouchers, or school choice on steroids, depending on your perspective), but we are now saying that money should follow the home schooler? Are we suggesting that each parent who decided to home school is now entitled to a $10k or $20k tax rebate (per child), for keeping them out of the public schools altogether?

And we finally get the horcrux that continues to dog just about every education discussion. The notion that the evils of everything public education lies embedded in Common Core State Standards. Forget that Texas had no issue rejecting the “imposition of federal standards” in the first place. Forget that most states who put the standards in place didn’t get a federal dime to do so (while they may have hoped to, there were far more Race to the Top losers than there were winners). Yes, now is the time to take a strong stand on a policy decision that was made four years ago (in terms of initial adoption of the standards and tying $$ to them).

At some point, we — and that includes those young Republican Texans writing political platforms — just need to acknowledge that the vast majority of states have adopted CCSS. They decided, for a range of reasons, that these standards were better than the hodgepodge of crappy standards each individual state had developed and adjusted and weakened over the years. They did so by their own free will, and did so (presumably) because they saw it as a positive step for their state, public schools, and communities. We need to see it isn’t a bad thing that many students will be held to higher standards than their older siblings, and we should embrace it.

Most importantly, we need to see it is imprudent to try and undo a policy decision that was made eons ago (politically) and that, instead, we should focus our attentions and energies on ensuring that said standards are implemented well and done so with fidelity. That we focus on the best in terms of instructional materials and PD. That we move forward with efforts to improve those standards and make them stronger and better over time (particularly with regard to early childhood and the math). That we use this as a foundation to build a stronger public education system for ALL students, and not as a “last stand” for those looking to reopen the battles of the past.

I yield the soapbox, and suspect I won’t be asked to speak at the Texas GOP convention in 2016 …

Parent Survey (or Statistics are Dangerous)

We began the week reflecting on an AP poll on parent sentiments about public education.  As we roll into hump day, we now have the 2013 edition of the Gallup/PDK poll of “what Americans said about the public schools.

This year’s Gallup/PDK highlights:
* As we’ve heard for decades, most Americans give the public schools a “C” grade, but give their own schools an “A” or “B”
* 62 percent of parents have never heard of Common Core State Standards
* 36 percent believe increased testing has hurt school performance, 22 percent say it has helped, and 41 percent said it makes no diff at all
* 58 percent oppose using standardized test scores in teacher evals, up from 47 percent in last year’s survey
* 52 percent said teachers have a right to strike (yes, that really is a question PDK asked)
* 88 percent say their child is safe when they are in school
* 66 percent favor educating children whose parents are in the United States illegally
* Only 29 percent favor sending kids to private schools at public school expense
Overall, the survey results aren’t that big a surprise.  They seem to jive with what PDK reports annually in this survey, and they aren’t too big a deviation from what AP released earlier in the week.
What’s disappointing is how PDK decided to present this year.  One would think that a semi-intelligent human being could take a look at polling toplines and understand that when only 22 percent say high stakes testing helps school performance, the majority doesn’t believe it to be so.  Unfortunately, PDK dumbed it down a step further, putting out a “highlights” document that makes sweeping statements without providing any statistical backup,  While one can track down the supports, it is definitely a dangerous document in the hands of the wrong folks.
Some of these self-proclaimed “highlights include:
  • Common Core – “Most Americans don’t know about the Common Core and those who do don’t understand it.”
  • Standardized Tests – “The significant increase in testing in the past decade has either hurt or made no difference in improving schools.”
  • Charter Schools – “Charter schools probably offer a better education than traditional schools.”
  • Online Learning – “High school students should be able to earn college credits via the Internet while attending high school.”
  • Biggest Problem – “Lack of financial support continues to be the biggest problem facing public schools.”
Let’s just take the last item.  Per-pupil public school funding is at its highest rates ever in the history of United States public education.  Do we honestly believe that is the biggest problem facing the schools?  More so than the obscene achievement gap?  More so than a third of all fourth graders unable to read on grade level?  More so than our inability to address the needs of a growing ELL population in our classrooms?  More so than ensuring that good teachers remain in the classroom and get the support and respect they need?
They again, sometimes poll results are just poll results.  But looking at the latest PDK release, Eduflack is left with two thoughts.
“A little information is a dangerous thing.” Albert Einstein
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Mark Twain

“No Criticism is Too Vicious and Too Fact-Free”

Earlier this week, CBS Radio star and White House expert Mark Knoller (@markknoller for you Twitter followers) noted that former President Bill Clinton, while at a political event, said “‘no criticism is too vicious and too fact-free’ for opponents to use against Pres Obama.”

It was one of the few times, particularly lately, when Eduflack really paused to reflect on something I had seen on Twitter.  Regardless of whether it applies to the Obama-Romney showdown this fall, one thing is true.  President Clinton’s statement definitely applies when one looks at education reform.
Yes, there is no criticism too vicious or too fact-free for opponents to use against education reform.  Or perhaps, to be a little more generous and to paraphrase a line from Seinfeld, when it comes to defending the status quo, it isn’t a lie if you believe it to be true.
Don’t believe it?  Take a look at the opinions and vitriol that follow education reform across the nation.  In state after state, those who defend the status quo issue the same lines and look like carbon copies of other status quoers.  
If one is for greater accountability, then one is pro-bubble sheets and only teaching to the test.
If one supports public school choice, then one is stealing dollars from our community schools.
If one demands increased parental involvement and parental rights, then one is anti-teacher.
If one calls for teacher evaluations, then one is anti-collective bargaining.
If one provides philanthropic support to improve public schools, then one must be a profiteer looking to make personal fortunes off public education.
If one highlights the achievement gap and the disparities in both quality and outcome for Black and Latino students, then one must be a race-baiter.
If one asks for public school improvement, then one must be trying to privatize the schools and enact a voucher system.
If one believes we can do better and wears the tag of education reformer proudly, then one must be an anti-teacher, anti-union, anti-public school Republican looking to take over the system.
Sadly, there are no attacks that are too vicious or too devoid of fact for the defenders of the status quo.  In our modern era of campaign politics, it is all about trying to tear down the opponents.  It isn’t about policies.  It isn’t about facts.  And it certainly isn’t about the students.  It is about protecting what one has, no matter how ineffective the system may be.
And what of the reformers?  They simply have to stand and take the attacks and the vitriol, no matter how ridiculous.  Try to confront it, and you merely encourage those status quo defenders.  Try to set the record straight, and any egregious statement you don’t address is automatically accepted as gospel.  
In politics, we keep talking about the need for an end to negative politics and a new era of debate and collaboration.  The same can be said of education reform.  This should no longer be an argument of who is anti-teacher, who is anti-accountability, and who defines what as a true public school.  Instead, we should be focusing on both identifying the problem and offering real solutions.
Defending the way we have always done things because that is how we have always done things is not a solution.  Now is the time for ideas, for promising practice, and for real solutions.  Now is the time for a debate robust in facts, not a time for fact-free attacks.