Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

Picting: The New Literacy Amid Declining Writing & Reading Skills

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

Carol-Josel-appleIn this era of selfies and emojis, it’s no surprise that, in a recent article, veteran elementary/middle school teacher Chrissy Romano-Arrabito says that picting–using images in place of text to convey thoughts and ideas–“is becoming the norm among today’s digital-first students.” And that, she posits, might just be a new literacy

With no mention of the ongoing decline in reading and writing skills, she continues with such facts as:

  1. Snapshot allows its more than 173 million daily users capture video and pictures that vanish in a few seconds.
  2. Social networking Instagram enjoys more than 400 million daily users all  with the ability to share both photos and videos.
  3. YouTube boasts over 5 billion videos.
  4. 75% of tweens & teens engage in social media like those above, Facebook and Twitter, too

Meanwhile, though 90% of classroom time remains text-based, 90% of non-school time is spent with image-based materials via such sites as those above.

The result: The National Center for Education Statistics finds that SAT mean scores in writing dropped from (more…)

Welfare Spending: In Need of Reforming?

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

Just as the cost of living and taxes keep going up every year, so does spending on welfare programs. Indeed, citing the U.S. Census Bureau’s Annual Surveys of State and Local Government Finances, journalist Gabrielle Olya recently reported that spending on public welfare–think Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, medical assistance programs, food stamp administration, child welfare services, etc.–exceeded $609 billion in 2015 alone, with the main reason being the expansion of Medicaid programs.

Whatever your politics, this should give pause–and it certainly has for writers of The Tribune-Democrat, The Associated Press, which did an opinion piece, “Tightening Welfare Rules Is Necessary.” It ends with this:

“…Reforming public assistance as a whole is a good idea.

“Welfare was never meant to become a way of life. It was a way to help the poor until they could transition back into the workforce.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 was the latest federal government attempt to encourage the move from welfare to work.

“We don’t begrudge the public assistance that worthy individuals receive, but we do not condone those who cheat the government, and ultimately taxpayers, by receiving more than their share.

“Those unscrupulous individuals are why the system needs to be tightened.”

Have they got a point?

 

 

 

Even More Student Data Collecting under ESSA

Friday, November 3rd, 2017

As Daarel Burnette II reported in the October 26th issue of Education Week, state-issued school report cards are in for a make-over in both appearance and information, and that’s no easy matter. It’s also a concern for those dubious about the merits of data collection. As Burnette explains, “The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to visualize in an ‘easily accessible and user-friendly’ way plenty more data points than was required under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), including school-by-school spending, stats on teacher and principal quality, school discipline rates, and preschool, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate offerings–all broken out by more than 10 student subgroups.”

And here’s the kicker: “In all, states will have to shove into its report card an estimated 2,107 data points about its public school system…” Or so predicts the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Daunting, no? How about a waste of time, energy, and lots of money?

from Mark Binelli’s “The Michigan Experiment” on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

123rf-education-21508154Again, with thanks to Mark Binelli’s “The Michigan Experiment” talking about U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Give a listen and start worrying…

  • “Nationally, the pro-charter tent is large and unwieldy enough to include education-reform wonks, hedge-fund managers, billionaire philanthropists and politicians from both parties, and Trump’s tapping of DeVos has placed the movement in a complex situation. Despite the policy ignorance displayed in her confirmation hearing, she’s an ally, and one whose influence on the 2018 Trump administration budget is already evident: Amid huge cuts to overall education spending, there’s a $517 million increase in funding for charters and private-school vouchers and an additional $1 billion worth of grants set aside for local districts willing to implement ‘open enrollment’ programs’ (allowing students to attend any area public schools, charters included, and take allotted stated and federal funds with them.)”
  • “Eighteen Republican governors sent the Senate’s education committee a letter in strong support of DeVos and what they called her promise to ‘streamline the federal education bureaucracy’ and ‘return authority back to state and local school boards.”
  • “But even many charter proponents are troubled by the Michigan model that DeVos has such a crucial role in creating. In a column in Education Week published in March, Greg Richmond, the president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, corrected ‘friends and neighbors’ who assumed he must be happy about the new education secretary, explaining that he rejected a ‘free-market approach to charter schooling’ that ’embraces the principles of choice and autonomy while gutting accountability’ and insisting that ‘true supporters of charter schools will not abide by this co-optation of what it means to be a charter school.’ With DeVos and her ideas ascendant in Washington, Michigan has become a symbol–and, for some, a cautionary tale–of a movement gone astray.”
  • Says Bryan Newland, Bay Mills Indian Community board member & tribal judge, “I learned at a relatively young age not to ascribe malice to people as a motivation. I think when she [DeVos] says, ‘I care about having our kids learn,’ I believe that. But, she didn’t go to public school. Her kids didn’t go. My guess is she doesn’t hang out with a lot of people who know what it’s like going to a school with 50 percent people of color. And I haven’t seen evidence that she’s taken the time to learn.”

 

 

 

$1.4 Million Reasons to Be Wary of For-Profit Charters

Thursday, October 12th, 2017

This just in from ProPublica’s Heather Vogell:

With a frozen state budget and funding cut to most school district, Ohio’s Education Department  paid Capitol High, a charter run by for-profit Edison Learning, $1.4 million in taxpayer dollars for no-show students–most of whom are the neediest and least reliable of all.

In fact, ProPublica’s review of 38 days of Capitol High’s records from late March to May found that:

  • One room was filled with empty chairs facing 25 blank computer screens;
  • Three students sat in a science lab;
  • Nine students sat in an unlit classroom, including one kid who was sound asleep.

Plus:

  • Only three of the 170 students attended the required 5  hours one day in May;
  • Six students skipped 22  days or more straight with no excused absences;
  • Two students were missing for the entire 38-day period.

Nevertheless, this per-student funded charter got away with billing the state for teaching the equivalent of 171 full-time students, hence the $1.4 million pay-out.

Keeping that in mind and as you continue to pay your taxes, try to wrap your head around the fact that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos continues to champion school choice as a way to lower absenteeism and dropout rates.

P.S. In September, DeVos’s Department of Education awarded $250 million in charter grants to states and charter management organizations/agencies that help fund the building of new charter schools…

 

 

Take Note: Pennsylvania’s Under-Performing Virtual Charters

Thursday, October 12th, 2017

In “DeVos Champions Online Charter Schools, But the Results Are Poor,” Politico’s Kimberly Hefling writes:

“Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has touted online learning as a school-choice solution for rural America, saying that virtual charter schools provide educational opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

But in Pennsylvania, an early adopter where more than 30,000 kids log into virtual charter schools from home most days, the graduation rate is a dismal 48 percent. Not one virtual charter school meets the state’s ‘passing’ benchmark. And the founder of one of the state’s largest virtual schools pleaded guilty to a tax crime last year…”

As Hefling also notes, virtual schools keep expanding across America, despite their ineffectiveness. Pennsylvania actually boasts 14 of them–and they’re reportedly flourishing, while our traditional public schools get short shrift.

Meanwhile, says DeVos, “I’m willing to wait for the right moment and the right strategy to pursue my choice goals.”

Nevertheless, she’s also quite pleased with the way things are going, since they appear to be going her way. As she reminds us, “The reality is that most of the momentum around this, and frankly, most of the funding around it, comes at the state level. More and more, states are adopting programs that embrace a wide range of choices. And I expect that to continue apace.”

Your tax dollars at work…

 

 

Sexually Explicit Lyrics’ Impact on Young People

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

Back in 1949, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” won an Academy Award; in 2016, it made it big again, this time because Minneapolis singer-songwriter Lydia Liza and Josiah Lemanski found the lyrics to Frank Loesser’s 1944 classic song provocative–and, apparently, they  weren’t alone.

While The Huffington Post‘s Jenna Amatulli called it ” a really screwed-up tune,” The Daily Beast went so far as to describe it as “Everyone’s Favorite Date-Rape Holiday Classic.” Along those same lines, Urban Dictionary lists it under the “Christmas Date-Rape Song” heading.

And so, while many just mindlessly sing along when it pops up on Christmastime radio, Liza and Lemanski dissected its lyrics and then wrote their own version. It put them on the map, so to speak, and earned them the regard of like-minded folks.

But perhaps it would be more effective to target today’s music than a 72-year-old classic. After all, the airwaves are filled nowadays with with songs titlled “F*ck and Run,” “How Many Licks,” and the like.” Along those same lines is the first stanza of Ciara’s “Body Party” which goes like this:

“My body is your party, baby
Nobody’s invited but you baby
I can do it slow now, tell me what you want
Baby put your phone down, you should turn it off
Cause tonight is going down, tell your boys is going down
We in the zone now, don’t stop…”

And those words are actually comparatively tame.

Indeed,”A Feminist Analysis of Popular Music: (more…)

Obama’s Costly Education Legacy

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Writes Education Week’s Alyson Klein, “Obama swept into office in an enviable position for pushing his school agenda. His education secretary, Arne Duncan, had fans on both sides of the partisan aisle. The Democrats had hefty majorities in both chambers of Congress, where lawmakers were itching to update the No Child Left Behind Act. Obama hadn’t gotten the teachers unions’ endorsements, but won the Democratic nomination anyway, freeing him to push for policies the unions opposed, such as evaluations tied to test scores.”

Dreamstime ObamaShe goes on to remind readers that, thanks to his American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to jump start the sluggish economy, he started with $100 billion to spend just on education–and that included $4.35 billion for his Race to the Top grant program. The initial one offered up to $700 million each to states if, in their applications, they went along with Obama’s education priorities: standardized tests, teacher evaluations based on student performance, turnaround policies for dealing with struggling schools, expanding data systems, and the Common Core Standards, too. Oh, yes, to win, states’ applications also had to be deemed praise-worthy all around by the powers that be.

Not surprisingly, hungry for money, just about every state (more…)

America’s Priorities & Who Comes in Last

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

This crossed my desk the other day and comes under the heading of worth sharing:

  • The salary of retired U.S. Presidents: $180,000 a year for life
  • Salary of House/Senate members: $174,000 a year for life
  • Salary of the Speaker of the House: $223,500 a year for life
  • Salary of Majority/Minority Leaders: $193,000 a year for lifes
  • Average salary of a teacher: $40,065
  • Average salary of a deployed soldier: $38,000

Your tax dollars at work…

Obama’s Race to the Top’s Non-Academic Impact

Monday, November 28th, 2016

According to a report by the Institute of Education Services, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education, there’s little evidence that the Obama administration’s initial $4.35 billion Race to the Top (others followed) had much, if any, impact on student achievement or state policy. If you remember, this signature grant program of his and then Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s–in  essence a government bribe–rewarded states for adopting such priorities of theirs as rigorous standards (think Common Core), updated data systems, turnaround policies for “failing” schools, and value added measures to evaluate teachers based on student test scores.

Not surprisingly, just about every state applied and at great expense, but just 11 and D.C. went on to win and receive good-sized shares of those billions; 7 almost-winners got smaller awards…

Your tax dollars at work…

 

 

George Will on Academia

Monday, November 28th, 2016

In a USA Today commentary, George Will wrote, “… Campuses create ‘safe spaces’ where students can shelter from discombobulating thoughts and receive spiritual balm for the trauma of microaggressions. Yet the presidential election came without trigger warnings?” He continues to note that on November 7, whether elated or despondent, most “normal” folks got back to the business of their lives, but not so many college students, too traumatized to get on with their studies on campuses that are no longer bastions of free thought and dialogue among those with opposing views. No, not at all.

As Will notes:

  • A Yale professor made the day’s exam optional for students distraught by the election’s result.
  • A University of Colorado student wrote “free speech matters” on 680 posters that warned about politically incorrect speech.
  • Catholic DePaul University decried an “Unborn Lives Matter” poster as bigotry.
  • Bowdoin College offered counseling services to students “traumatized by the cultural appropriation committed by a sombrero-and-tequila party.”
  • Some Oberlin College students suffered breakdowns because schoolwork interfered with their political activism.
  • Cal State University, Los Angeles, provided “healing spaces” to help students handle a speech made 3 months earlier.

And on and on it goes , with esteemed professors (more…)

Pre-K For All Is No Cure-All

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

fotosearch-kindergarteners-paa186000022So is universal pre-school the great equalizer politicians claim, the silver bullet that ensures academic success for at-risk children? That certainly has been the hope and the justification for schooling our youngest learners and spending a whole lot of money in the process.

Indeed, as reported by Lilliam Mongeau for Education Week, “The 42 states with public preschool programs and the District of Columbia spent $6.2 billion to serve 1.4 million 3- and 4-year-olds in the 2014-15 school year.” And that bears repeating: In just one school year, taxpayers shelled out some $6.2 billion on pre-K education alone.

So, how much bang are we getting for our bucks? Certainly not nearly as much as Obama and his Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. would have us believe.

As pointed out in an article by Esther J. Cepeda, a 2013 study of 3,000 Tennessee children randomly assigned to either attend pre-K or not, found that, short-term, those attending were more prepared for kindergarten, had better work skills, and enjoyed more positive attitudes toward school than the non-attenders. However, 2015 data showed that…

  1. By year’s end, their first grade teachers rated them as possessing “weaker work skills, less prepared for and more negative about school.”
  2. Moreover, at the end of both 2nd and 3rd grade, they did not perform as well on academic tests as those who never attended pre-K.

Concludes Cepeda, “Maybe for the youngsters in question, two extra years of high-stakes education and testing cast school as a drag to be endured rather than experienced happily.”

A better bet, she suggests: effective anti-poverty programs and parenting classes for their moms and dads. Oh, yes, a whole lot less screen time, too. Maybe throw in more book reading and family time, as well.

Kids Are Smarter Than We Think

Monday, November 14th, 2016

Fotosearch Test Taking 26734All along, the powers that be have said American kids come in either above or below the all-mighty grade level mark when it comes to academic performance–but not apparently on it. Really. Meanwhile, it was also determined that just 5% to 15% of our students scored in at that “above” range. Yikes, right?!

But then Johns Hopkins researchers recently went to work analyzing performance results in three key states to definitively answer the question: “How many students perform above grade level?” and targeted three states:

  1. Florida because it opted out of the Common Core State Standards adopted by most states in one form or another.
  2. Wisconsin because it adopted the Common Core but not its related SBAC  online assessment’s adaptive features, which is known there as the Badger Exam.
  3. California because it went all in for the Common Core and its related SBAC online assessment.

And here’s what they discovered:

  • In Wisconsin,  32% of 3rd graders and 45% of 8th graders scored 1+ years above grade level in English/Language Arts. When it came to math, 38% of 3rd graders and 26% of 8th graders did so. Plus, more than 33% of the 8th graders scored at or above the 11th grade proficiency level.
  • As for performance on the SBAC in California, 21% of 3rd graders and 37% of 8th graders scored 1+ years above grade level in English/Language Arts; 19% of 3rd graders and 34% of 8th graders did so in math.
  • And in Florida that has not relied whatsoever on the Common Core, 30% of 3rd graders and 42% of 8th graders scored 1+ years above grade level; 36% of 3rd graders and 38% of 7th graders did so in math. Eighth grade scores were not available.

The researchers’ conclusion: Our kids are far better off academically than that previous 5% to 15% figure.

Another interesting take-away: California, with its Common Core curriculum and related standardized test, by no means outdid the other two states…

Education Week Takes on Virtual Charter Schools

Saturday, November 12th, 2016

The special report, “Rewarding Failure,” starts off by saying, “With growing evidence that the nation’s cyber charter schools are plagued by serious academic and management problems, Education Week conducted a months-long investigation into what is happening in this niche sector of K-12 schooling…” and found that:

  • “Collectively, online charters receive more than a billion dollars in taxpayer money each year.”
  • “Online charters serve more than 200,00 students across 26 states; many are run by for-profit companies.”
  • “Stanford researchers say cyber charters have an ‘overwhelmingly negative impact’ on student learning.”

All on its own, highly touted K12 Inc. has:

  1. Hired 321 lobbyists over 14 years;
  2. Incurred lobbying expenditures of $10,585,177 since 2000;
  3. Donated $2,124,002 to candidates, party committees, PACs, and ballot measures.

Not far behind in spending your money is Connections Education which:

  1. Hired 212 lobbyists over 13 years;
  2. Incurred lobbying expenditures of $3,784,818 since 2002;
  3. Donated $62,500 to candidates, party committees, PACs, and ballot measures.

The report goes on to say that, despite their poor academic results, “Online charter advocates counter that the schools provide a safe haven for students who would not otherwise succeed in regular public schools and offer flexibility that some students and parents want. They argue that cyber charters should not be evaluated by the same measures as regular public schools.”

What measures one would wonder then, even as your tax dollars continue down the charter school drain…

More Federal Guidance from Education Secretary John B. King, Jr.

Monday, October 24th, 2016

Almost every day, U.S. Secretary of Education does his best to rework the Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA to his liking. Signed into law by Obama in December, it replaced No Child Left Behind. Last month, he actually released his proposed education funding regulations while Congress was recessed. Known as “supplement-not-supplant,” the debate revolves around its implementation. As Jason Russell explains, “The idea is that federal aid to schools and districts should be in addition to what they already get from state and local funding, not a substitute for other aid.”

That then promoted Senate education committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) to say at the time: “His proposed regulation would give Washington, D.C. control over state and education dollars that is has never had before. Federal law gives him zero authority to do this. In fact, our new law [ESSA] specifically prohibits his doing this.”

Indeed, Alexander went so far as to add, “If anything resembling [the proposed regulation] becomes final, I will do everything within my power to overturn it.”

Meanwhile, a few Secretary King quotes:

  • “The USA is fortunate, I think, as a country to have some high-performing charters that are doing a great job providing great opportunities to students–charters that are helping students not only perform at higher levels academically but go on to college at much higher rates than students at similar neighborhood public schools. That’s good. We should have more schools like that, and I think any arbitrary cap on that growth of high-performing charters is a mistake.”
  • “Teachers should prepare students to become more involved in their communities, to volunteer, and to think beyond our own needs and wants… Educated citizens who take part in society will push to curtail racial profiling and end discriminatory practices by prosecutors and courts that have a dire impact on poor people.”

(more…)