de Blasio to Expand Community School Initiative

Mayor de Blasio announced earlier this month that the DoE will expand the number of schools participating in his Community School Program, a program that provides low-performing schools with added resources, such as mental health, additional instruction time during the school day, and concentrated parental outreach. The program has only been an existence for two years, and while peformance results of those years have been mixed, the expansion seems worth it.

Students in participating schools are years below appropriate reading and/math levels. Depending on what grade a student is in, she could have been exposed to as much as 12 years of less than sub-par teaching/social support (or lack thereof). The impact of those years could be deleterious to the point that two years of support is likely not enough to rectify that damage. That is not to say that it would take 12 years to make up for the neglect but just that a mere two years is not sufficient to notice real positive change . During the time of a school’s poor performance, students are consistently experiencing, dealing with, and internalizing any combination of mental, social, familial, economic, and academic issues, which make up who they are at the moment these additional services come into play.

With that said, what is so admirable about the program is that it aims to help alleviate some of the burden that poverty places on students. The program acknowledges that poverty is an issue. Expanding the program would only provide researchers with a wider data set to validate the program’s level of success; whatever success is defined as.The Bloomberg administration, on the other hand, focused more at the macro-level: closing entire schools and replacing them with smaller traditional public or charter schools. Though I don’t enitrely disagree with this method, perhaps a combination of both closing schools and providing additonal support could be the way to go. Creating smaller classes sizes (not neccessarily smaller schools), revamping the faults of a failing school’s culture and providing additional support, seems to be a more cohesive, well rounded solution that treats school reform as more of a complex issue than de Blasio or Bloomberg’s policies do their own.

“Reforming schools is a complex, slow process. To rush it is to ruin it” – Pasi Sahlberg

2017 New York State Public School Testing Season

It’s New York State testing season and as this Times article notes, some schools are under tremendous pressure to do well. Schools in Mayor de Blasio’s Renewal Program, an effort that works to provide consistently and critically underperforming schools with additional social, mental, and academic support (as opposed to closing them), will no doubt be under a microscope. The schools in the program are in their last  year but have shown “mixed results” thus far. The Education Department does not know what it will do with schools that do not “pass” the three-year program. 

As I was reading, I wondered what metrics they will use to determine successful, detrimental and eveything-in-between aspects of the program. What impact does having added social support and how can you slice and dice different answers to that question. Perhaps students are still underperforming but there seems  correlation with a particular health program that shows suspension rates gave gone down. I worry that most people will focus academic performance so much that it will be hard to see these other forms of “wins”. The article may have the same concern and cites Norman Futcher at the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools to point out weaknesses as a test-heavy data point for reasons to close schools . Futcher honestly and realistically notes that real test gains, with the history of schools in the Renewal program, won’t be realized immediately. Fair enough. It’s not uncommon for seventh grade teachers, for example, to inherit students who are several grades below their reading and math levels. At that point, we are expecting some teachers to fix years worth of the system’s neglect. Students are promoted to the next level when they have hardly adequately grasped…makes no sense. As I mentioned earlier this year, in addtion to the changes New York City is making to supply  support, it should work on changing the system for students in the earlier grades. Part of the biggest issues is that the system tries to rush an “fix failing schools ” too late. The schools are not the problem per se. The students who are forced to do work they are not prepared to do (at no fault of their own) need help sooner rather than later. Period.

Detroit Press Exposes Great Example of Why DeVos is About Money

​Back in September 2016, Stephen Henderson, a columnist at the Detroit Free Press, wrote a piece about how Betsy DeVos and her family used their wealth to influence a vote on whether Detroit charter schools should be held to the same accountability standards as Detroit public schools.

More specifically, DeVos and her family “donated” more than $1.45 million dollars to the Michigan Republican Party in the two months following the rejection of the bill, including a $475,000 “donation” made in one day. I placed words stemming from the verb “to donate” in quotes because this action has a positive connotation that implies some level of selflessness. DeVos, having never attended or continuously worked with the public school system and having been on the financial receiving end of failing charter schools and outrageous student loan programs, wants to selfishly and narrow-mindedly destroy the public school system. Her donations are in fact a request to buy votes in favor or against education policy issues that will impact her bottom line. 

I wanted to find something in her history that said,  “I’m actively engaging in working with the public school system to identify and rectify what is wrong with this system. Equally, I am working with the charter school/voucher program sector to identify severe flaws.”…Unfortunately, I learned that it is true: she very much appears to believe vouchers and the expansion of all types of charters, especially for-profit and this that continuously fail students, are the only changes that should be made.  She hardly acknowledges the charters that score below standards but are still allowed to open more schools. She won’t acknowledge that Charters and vouchers are not the answer to our troubled public school system. Instead, she continues to ignore it.

After Henderson points out the blatant corruption her family’s partakes in, DeVos jumps on the defense, writing this deaf piece that disregards Henderson’s points about her family wielding their money to get what they want and how what they want is evidently just as harmful, if not more harmful, than the public school system we have now. Just because DeVos represents change, doesn’t mean it’s for the better. 

Why Senator Cassidy Took DeVos’ Hearing for a Joke

One of the most infuriating moments from Betsy DeVos’ hearing is republican Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy’s line of questioning. He asked exceptionally vague questions with the expectation that DeVos’ answers were as equally vague. The main point of any public nominee hearing is for the public to get a taste of what a nominee is capable of through thoughtful and prudent questions from senators.

This Washington Post article explains why Cassidy didn’t care to ask a  more serious, challenging, and engaged set of questions that can provide his constituents in Louisiana with beneficial insight into the capabilities of the potential head of the federal Department of Education. We need to realize that the HELP Committee is voting on behalf of their states and the United States as a whole. So the committee’s questions should elicit and demand more than surface level answers from DeVos. Even if Senator Cassidy knew he was going to vote for her because his education policy initiatives align with DeVos’, the hearing wasn’t about what Cassidy wanted; it was for the benefit of the tens of millions of people who have never heard of DeVos and who don’t know or understand her initiatives. So what’s Cassidy’s issue?  Aside from taking a brief moment to ask DeVos about the highly important and laudable topic  of dyslexia and disability protections, why did he waste his precious, public five minutes of conversation with DeVos that illlustrated only DeVos’ ability to say yes or no to very broad questions? 

Senator Bernie Sanders later points out the DeVos and her family have donated more than $200 million to members of the Republican Party who push the same philosophies as the DeVos’. With that said, it’s no surprise that Cassidy, spreading charter schools and vouchers wherever possible in Louisiana (but especially in New Orleans), received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from DeVos or her family members in the last three years. 4 out of the other 12 republican senators on the HELP Committee are in a similar position. Why this isn’t a conflict of interest is beyond me. 

In addition to all democrats voting against DeVos, we need three republicans to vote against her as well. Hopefully, republicans will take her poor performance, as noted in my last post, when voting tomorrow.

DeVos Proves to be Incompetent During Hearing

Billionaire Besty DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, looked like a fool at her confirmation hearing last week. At first, I felt embarrassed and tried to give her the benefit of the doubt–maybe she was nervous. But I resigned that sentiment, as it became obvious that she is blatantly an inexperienced, unfit, visionless, uninformed, and one track minded puppet.

If we learned anything from DeVos’ hearing it’s that she does want to act on two initiatives as Trump’s Secretary of Education: decentralize federal education and privatize our public education system. DeVos seems to believe that most education policy issues should be left to the states, including whether guns should or shouldn’t be in schools. She continuously deferred responsibility to the states. This deferral of responsibility seems to act as both a way for DeVos to let Americans know that she plans on rolling back the federal government’s role in education while allowing her to avoid providing substantive answers that demonstrate her knowledge (or lack thereof) of education policy. Despite her efforts to conceal her ineptitude, senators Warren, Sanders, Murray and Kaine, to name a few, asked questions that revealed how little she knows outside the realm of right-winged charter and  voucher initiatives.

So although Americans can now say that while we know DeVos is likely to try to shed some of the current federal policies currently in place to protect students, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, we dont know much outside of that. DeVos did not engage in conversations that clearly illustrated some of her goals or helped America better understand how she would execute a single initiative. Most answers were so vague, she could have applied it to any question. 

It didn’t help when Chair Alexander continuously denied Democrat senators’ request for a second round. Citing precedents from Obama’s two Secretary nominees who brought with them an extensive available-to-the-public education history, Chair Alexander made an unfair decision to limit each senator to one round, five minutes. But Chair Alexander’s decision was all about politics. Anyone listening to DeVos’ answers can tell you they were shallow. He didn’t care that the reason more senators were requesting more time is because DeVos hardly answered questions and when she did, they were surface level. 

Here is the complete hearing:

Here are clips from the hearing:

Elizabeth Warren:

Tim Kaine

Maggie Hassan

Bernie Sanders

Al Franken 

School Choice Advocates Don’t See Flaw in Their View

School choice advocates have been applauding Donald Trump for nominating Betsy DeVos, a stalwart supporter of school choice and charter schools, as the Secretary of Education. DeVos and her family have a lobbied for and funded school choice initiatives in Michigan; DeVos’ husband went as far as starting a charter school. And with Trump’s campaign trail vow to defund public schools and increase school choice and charter school funds, DeVos’ most monumental goal is probably to do just that.

Fred Hiatt published an opinion piece in the Huffington Post that suggests how DeVos should go about this task. Hiatt makes three commendable points:

  1. Any school choice initiative should protect low-income students and families and students with disabilities.
  2. Test the possible school choice proposal on 1-2 volunteering states.

While I agree with the idea that a change of that magnitude should be tested on a micro-scale (Hiatt suggests that a couple of states should volunteer to act as guinea pigs) before being rolled out countrywide, his idea of protecting low-income and disabled students is limited to ensuring they are adequately funded. The article, and others like it, fail to address how these same vulnerable students would be shielded from bad, ill intentioned, inexperienced, for-profit charter, private, and parochial schools that would no doubt prey on these very families. While one could say that poor test scores would cause parents to send their child to another school, the truth is that the money has already been wasted; the child given a poor education and an unstable learning environment. Damage done. And since non-public schools under a school choice system would not be held to the same auditing requirements as today’s public schools, it would be harder to identify and stem financial abuse. Basically, it’s one of the reasons why I have an issue with charter school system.

My second issue lies with the market-based system school choice advocates. There would no doubt be an increase in schools across the board: public, private, charter, and parochial. Without a set of common core standards that states are not required to adopt, standards will undoubtedly be all over the place.

How would school choice cupporters go about fixing these detrimental flaws in their school choice argument?

It’s not that I am 100% against school choice. I just don’t see how deregulation of tax dollars and weak standards would be beneficial to low-income and disabled students.