Tag: California

Are Reformers Ready?

Certainly there is plenty of reason to celebrate the results of last Tuesday’s general elections. But the time for that is over. There’s an election coming next year, one that…

Certainly there is plenty of reason to celebrate the results of last Tuesday’s general elections. But the time for that is over. There’s an election coming next year, one that will have impact on the efforts of school reformers to build better lives for all children.

But will the movement be ready?

If you live in Maryland, as your editor does, the gubernatorial race could shape up to be a battle between two reform-minded candidates. One one hand, there’s incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan who, despite some high-profile setbacks courtesy of the Democrat-controlled legislature and White reformers unwilling to work with Black counterparts, has proven to be slightly better than your editor thought he would be three years ago. On the other side, there’s the equally reform-minded Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, who took partial control of the traditional district and has made overhauling it a key priority. If reformers come out to support Baker (and rally others to do the same), it can work out for Maryland’s children.

But only if the movement is ready.

If you are in California, there’s the chance to end outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown’s deliberate rollback of systemic reform by backing former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to replace him. Unlike rival Gavin Newsom (who just gained the backing of the National Education Association’s California Teachers Association) Villaraigosa has proven effective in advancing systemic reform (and battling traditionalists) on behalf of children during his years as Los Angeles Mayor despite having no control over the traditional district there. Reformers also have a chance to put Marshall Tuck into the state superintendent’s office, effectively ending the state education department’s fealty to CTA and the AFT’s state affiliate there.

It can be done only if the movement is ready.

Marshall Tuck, who unsuccessfully ran for California Superintendent three years ago, is one of many reformers the movement must help put into office next year.

There are opportunities to continue systemic reform. There’s Georgia, where Nathan Deal’s successful expansion of school choice can be continued with the right candidate. There is also Colorado, where reformers can work with others to put Teach For America alum-turned-state senator Mike Johnston into the governor’s office. Meanwhile Florida has an opportunity to build on the reforms began under Jeb Bush that have continued in fits and starts under Rick Scott. This is all before you look at the other gubernatorial, chief state school officer, and state board races that will be on the ballot next year.

All of this can happen. But only if the movement is ready.

These days, the school reform movement can use all the political victories it can muster. On the national level, centrist Democrat, progressive, and civil rights-oriented reformers bet badly on Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful presidential campaign,while the hopes conservative reformers had for Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education have proven to be as illusory as your editor said they would be. That the Trump Administration is effectively engaged in a war on the futures of poor and minority children (including the 760,000 covered under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and the native-born children of undocumented emigres) essentially proves beyond a doubt that the federal government is abandoning three decades of advancing reform.

Meanwhile the failures to win voter support expansion of charter schools and overhaul of traditional districts in Massachusetts and Georgia have only been slightly blunted with legislative victories for expanding choice in Colorado, Texas and Illinois. But as seen on Tuesday in Douglas County, Colo., and Denver, the success reformers make in working policymakers isn’t translating into political victories that can sustain those solutions for the long run. Even on the policy front, the evisceration of accountability in Maryland and California (where Gov. Brown signed legislation eliminating the state’s graduation exam), along with the weak plans submitted by most states for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act, serve as reminders that past successes don’t last forever without eternal vigilance.

As you would expect, there are reformers who hope that the U.S. Supreme Court’s likely ruling against compulsory dues collections in Janus v. AFSCME will weaken NEA, AFT and their traditionalist allies and rally more progressive Democrats to their side. This is short-sighted thinking. Even if both unions lose as much as 30 percent of revenue, they still have the bodies and relationships on the ground necessary to oppose reformers at the ballot box. Just as importantly, because some of the nation’s foremost reformers (especially Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights and Center for American Progress) are dependent on funding from other public sector unions and even collect some cash from NEA and AFT, those groups will be weakened financially, hampering the school reform movement’s efforts to help all children succeed.

The school reform movement won’t sustain its solutions if it doesn’t win at the ballot box. This means changing how it does politics.

School reformers can’t simply count on legislative victories or on the weakening of traditionalist opponents. They must do more than simply stand still. As your editor has kept arguing for the better part of this decade, reformers must become politically savvier in order to sustain the systemic overhaul of American public education.

This begins by learning one of the most-important lessons of Tuesday’s success by Democrats in wining the Virginia gubernatorial campaign and other victories at the legislative and municipal levels throughout the nation: Rally support from poor and minority communities, including┬á immigrant households. As Center for American Progress noted last week in its post-mortem on the 2016 election, just increasing turnout among those communities would have made the difference between a Clinton victory and her ultimate defeat.

Considering that poor and minority households are the ones most-affected by the failures of American public education, reformers can make strong inroads by embracing the approaches used successfully by progressive groups this year (as well as by Green Dot Public Schools Founder Steve Barr and Parent Revolution over the past decade). This includes addressing the issues outside of education policy and practice that are of immediate concern to those communities, as well as taking a page from NEA and AFT locals by working with the churches and community organizations connected to the people who live in them. It also means recruiting those from Black, Latino, and other minority communities to run in school board races and other political campaigns, a point made by Democrats in their success this week.

The second step can also be gleaned from Tuesday’s election results: Build strong support for reform among suburban families, especially those from poor and minority households who make up an increasingly large share of the populations there as well as those that are White and college-educated. The lack of support from suburbia is one reason why the effort to expand charters in Massachusetts went down to defeat last year.

Particularly on expanding school choice, reformers can focus on how opening charter schools can help families gain new educational settings that suburban districts deliberately limit for their use in satisfying key constituencies. This includes explaining how families can launch language immersion charters that are now popular with upper middle class households (and are also needed for children from immigrant homes). It also includes helping Black and Latino families challenge Zip Code Education policies that lead to their children not receiving the high-quality teaching and curricula they need and deserve.

The third step lies in embracing tactics used by politicians and challengers in their campaigns. Holding voter registration drives, for example, will help bring new voters to the polls and even help reformers prove their value to the politicians they need to help pass legislation. Running political ads that bring attention to education issues in a simple-yet-comprehensive way is also important to do.

While reform groups have launched 501(c)4 political advocacy operations alongside traditional nonprofits, they must do more. This means starting independent expenditure groups similar to those run by NEA and AFT (as well as other political players) who can finance ads on behalf of (and against) candidates on the ballot.

Finally, and most-importantly, reformers must work together with activists outside of education, including those in the Black Lives Matter and criminal justice reform movements (whose leading lights include alumni of Teach For America) as well as those working against the Trump Administration’s war on undocumented emigres and their families. After all, you can only galvanize people to your side when you show that you care about the lives and futures of their communities as well as their children. More importantly, reformers can’t call themselves champions for children if they are not defending them at all times, addressing the issues outside of schools that affect how they learn within them, and dealing with the reality that American public education at the nexus of the ills that plague the nation today.

As Patrick Riccards noted last week, conservative and many centrist Democrat reformers erred when they criticized Teach For America (as well as other outfits) when it became more-explicit in its efforts to build brighter futures for poor and minority children inside and outside of schoolhouse doors. These reformers should correct the error of their ways. This doesn’t mean that reformers have to join protest rallies. But they can sign letters of support for legislation such as a path for DACA recipients gaining citizenship, as well as support political campaigns of those who want to reform law enforcement agencies that end up patrolling traditional district schools. Such support for those efforts, in turn, help reformers gain advocates on their behalf for transforming American public education.

Reformers can even take stands in elections that are far outside of these issues. The movement’s leading lights, for example, can call out former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice-turned-Republican Senatorial Nominee Roy Moore over allegations revealed this week that he conditioned and engaged in sexual misconduct with underage women. As champions for children, we cannot stand by anyone taking public office who has engaged in the kind of evil for which we would condemn rogue teachers and police officers. It doesn’t take much — and this can even be tied to the issues of protecting our children and youth inside and out of schools.

The coming year is an opportunity for the school reform movement to gain the political support needed to help all children succeed. The steps needed to be taken can be done. It can happen.

But are reformers ready? For the sake of our children, they need to be.

Featured photo: Prince George’s County, Md., Executive Rushern Baker, who is looking to challenge incumbent Larry Hogan, is one of many reform-minded politicians who may end up on the ballot next year.

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Watch: A California Legislator Explains the Need for Action on the Dropout Crisis


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As chairman of the California state senate’s education committee, Gloria Romero would be expected to be feted and beloved by the state’s National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers…

As chairman of the California state senate’s education committee, Gloria Romero would be expected to be feted and beloved by the state’s National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers affiliates. Instead, she has been one of the biggest thorns in the sides of the Golden State’s two primary teachers unions. The California State University, Los Angeles professor — who was the first woman to serve as the upper house’s majority leader — has been responsible for legislation that has removed the cap on the number of charter schools and allowing for student test data to be used in teacher evaluations. And as part of her work with outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to win a share of federal Race to the Top dollars, Romero also helped enact Parent Trigger,┬á the law that allows 51 percent of parents at a low-performing school to remove teaching staff, administrators or even the entire district (and convert the school into a charter). Although the unions have managed to defeat her effort this year to run for state schools superintendent, they haven’t exactly weakened her passion (or her efforts).

Watch this video of Romero discussing the underlying reason why she is pushing for reform: The thousands of young white, black and Latino Californians who, along with more than 1.2 million other teens this year, will drop out into poverty and prison. Think about what you can do to solve this problem — and then take action.

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Teacher Dismissal Problems: The California Example


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News that a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge granted L.A. Unified’s request to remove an allegedly incompetent teacher┬á for the second time has definitely grabbed the spotlight. The fact that…

News that a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge granted L.A. Unified’s request to remove an allegedly incompetent teacher┬á for the second time has definitely grabbed the spotlight. The fact that the district has spent seven years — and more than $2 million — to remove him was also shocking. Unfortunately, when it comes to dismissing laggard instructors, the processes can be lengthy. And the state laws governing the process in California are particularly cumbersome.

The process in California involves 10 different steps, some of which repeated often over and over again, until a dismissal is finalized. This includes giving the teacher being dismissed 90 days to fix their deficiencies and allowing the teacher to wait as long as 30 days before asking for a dismissal hearing. The dismissal is then heard before a three-person panel of the state’s Professional Competence commission that includes a person appointed by the district and a representative of the teacher or the union. Once that hearing is done, the case can linger in the state’s court system for months or even years as more-pressing matters get heard first.

The lengthy process, along with the high costs, explain why just 100 dismissal hearings were heard between 1996 and 2005, according to the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, the watchdog on these matters. And as the L.A. Times reported last year, there isn’t any guarantee that even obviously incompetent teachers will eventually be shown the door. Example: L.A. Unified teacher Shirley Loftis, who kept her job despite a decade-long record of incompetence that featured incidents of students pulling down their pants and fighting with each other under her watch.

This is both a state and a school district problem. The former, influenced by lobbying by NEA and AFT affiliates, has crafted a dismissal process that guarantees that few incompetents ever leave the profession. Sure, dismissal processes in the private sector can (and in many cases, are) arbitrary and swayed by the politics of the moment. But more often than not, truly incompetent staffers are eventually tossed out. This isn’t so in public education.

Then there are the school districts, who don’t conduct the proper evaluations required to show that a teacher deserves firing. Even though states due control that process — and only 13 of them mandate annual evaluations for all teachers — districts do have some leeway in bolstering their cases. They must make evaluations, dismissals and every other aspect of “human capital management” (the term used these days by education reformers) coin of their realm. This is not only true in California, but everywhere else in America.

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Read: Arne Duncan City Limits Department


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What’s happening in the dropout nation: As readers know, I reported two years ago on the reality that high school exit exams are being watered down or basically rendered useless…

Photo courtesy of AP

What’s happening in the dropout nation:

  1. As readers know, I reported two years ago on the reality that high school exit exams are being watered down or basically rendered useless by so-called alternative methods that allow children to graduate despite being unable to pass the tests. Now the New York Times offers its own story on the same issue. Worth reading.
  2. John Fensterwald notes that more districts in California signed on to the state’s ambitious Race to the Top agenda. Still, only eight of the top 10 districts (and 10 of the top 30) signed on, defying pressure from state NEA and AFT locals. Fensterwald also reports that the U.S. Department of Education official in charge of Race to the Top told a Northern California audience that she was pleasantly “stunned” by the response.
  3. Speaking of districts, here’s my latest report in The American Spectator, this time on Arne Duncan, the bad news out of the Windy City about the district’s issues, and why reforming school districts (especially big urban districts) is so difficult to do.
  4. And as for more Race to the Top news: Editorial pages in Boston and Buffalo advocate for their respective states to get off the wall and embrace reform. Meanwhile the AFT’s New York State affiliate is bringing out the proverbial shock troops to battle against the upcoming reform proposals, especially the lifting of the cap on charter schools. No shocker. (Thanks to Tom Carroll’s crew for the news).
  5. Tom Vander Ark shakes his head at all the negative responses to California’s parent trigger law and other opposition to parental choice. Sadly, such elitism and expertist thinking is typical in education circles. And one wonders why parents struggle to be involved?
  6. Graduation rate data is now streaming out of Indiana, D.C., and other states. In Milwaukee, there’s talk about forming a research and accountability group to observe the city’s woeful school system similar to the famed Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Dropout Nation Podcast. You can listen to the new one, on looking beyond Race to the Top, today.

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Making Families Consumers — and Kings — in Education


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Parent power can’t merely be empty words.

Wall Street Journal's Top 25 Companies of the Decade

Choice is no panacea. But as seen in the consumer products market, choice can help spur innovation. Let's try this in education.

If Calif. State Sen. Gloria Romero succeeds in allowing┬á parents in the state to to replace administrators and teachers at their schools (or convert the schools into charters), it will be an amazing step. Same is true if discussions in New Jersey about expanding its inter-district choice program come to pass. And the┬á federal Race to the Top initiative could provide even more options to parents — especially those stuck with sending their children to the worst urban school systems.

At the same time, these events offer an opportunity to consider what education policy — and America’s education system itself — should look like in the next half-century. And the answer is: Similar to the markets for consumer products everyone enjoys.

Few sectors in the American public or private sector are as dominated by experts, technocrats and lobbyists as education. From the development and approval of curricula to the kind of schools children can attend, the decisions are based, much consideration is given to what some adults want, how some adults want to be paid, national economic and social priorities, and occasionally, what children actually need. Every now and then, what children and their parents want does come into play. But this a rare event.

But imagine if children (and to be honest, their parents) actually could choose the kind of schools they want to attend, select the curricula that they will learn, even whether they will attend a neighborhood school or a manicured campus in suburbia? It would be difficult to figure out the direction of education at that point; after all, parents use schools as much for social-climbing and instilling their own values as they do for providing the most-rigorous education possible for their children. But it would be interesting: Perhaps “education villages” — where hipsters-turned-parents and single mothers can stay in the city and still gain the best of suburbia — would spring up in the heart of Atlanta. Or children otherwise deemed troublemakers in the traditional public school settings of today will learn in classes where the instructional day is compacted for more efficiency (and thus, less time for having to sit in class wasting time as likely to happen for students in Chicago).

These thoughts come as the Wall Street Journal presents its chart on the 25 largest companies in the world at the end of this decade. As pointed out by William Easterly (who spends his time criticizing foreign aid), only eight of the top 25 companies at the end of the 1990s kept their places by the near-end of 2009. Only six tech firms made up the top 25 versus 13 at the end of the 1990s; the tech firms on the list range from old-school software crossing into videogames and consumer wares (Microsoft) to handy cloud computing and search (Google), to a company that managed to switch gears and helped complete the personal technology revolution began by the Sony Walkman (Apple Computer).

Certainly, many of the companies knocked off the list had merged into other companies or went bust altogether; others just seen declines or stagnation in their market value. But mergers and market value losses represent a reality that these companies didn’t cater to their consumer markets. Notes Easterly: “Creative destruction is one of the triumphs of the market. The consumer is king: in 2009… The radical uncertainty of how to please consumers is an argument FOR free markets.”

At this moment, American public education is undergoing its own peculiar form of creative destruction, as education reformers and a smattering of parents — armed with data, research and political power — are forcing defenders of the status quo (teachers unions, schools of education, and school districts) to accept the need for effective change. As Fordham’s Checker Finn points out, reformers are slowly being forced to admit that their longstanding conceits also need updating (and more often than not, ditching altogether).

Yet, as I’ve pointed out over and over, the reformers must also rid themselves of their faith in expertise. They must begin to embrace the grassroots and, more importantly, accept that children and their parents must have more than just a seat at the table of decisionmaking. They must be the decisionmakers, period, and anything less just won’t do.Why? Because the nature of the reforms being proposed, promoted and legislated — all of which┬á involves choice, consequences and accountability — requires active participation from parents, and therefore, their support.

Choice begats choice; this is true when it comes to cellphone plans and this is also happening in education. The advent of Milwaukee’s school voucher plan in the early 1990s didn’t foster widespread development of vouchers. But the program, along with the charter school movement, has spurred the interest among parents in the kind of choice initiatives being considered in these states (and may likely become reality in the Los Angeles Unified School District). Once parents are exposed to having real power and engagement in school decisionmaking, they will not want the traditional expert-driven approach. This is a good thing.

Now, I’m not advocating for an education system that is fully free market in orientation. The reality is that the underlying infrastructure for such choice — easy access to useful information through guides, organizations or Web sites; actual mechanisms for exercising choice that exist outside of home purchases — is only coming into existence. Parents are just beginning to realize that the old concept of education — that the school can educate every child without active engagement of families that goes beyond homework and field trips — has gone by the wayside; they will make mistakes along the way.

Poor parents, in particular, need guidance; yet the current public education system treats them as even bigger nuisances than the middle-class families (who can exercise enough influence to just be merely ignored) and wealthier households (who ditch the public school system altogether). Assuring equality of opportunity in education, no matter one’s income, should not only be of paramount importance, it would be a more-effective form of economic policy than stimulus plans and tax cuts combined; the evidence largely clear that dropouts cannot be contributors to economic and social life.

But giving parents power, choices, options, advice and information should be the governing credo of education reform for the next half-century. It can be done.

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