Tag: George W. Bush

Betsy DeVos’ Deliberate Ignorance

Between 2002 and 2015, the years under which George W. Bush and Barack Obama presided over federal efforts to spur systemic school reform that included the now-abolished No Child Left…

Between 2002 and 2015, the years under which George W. Bush and Barack Obama presided over federal efforts to spur systemic school reform that included the now-abolished No Child Left Behind Act, the number of functionally-illiterate fourth graders, those reading Below Basic on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, declined by 172,078 children. In that same period, the percentage of functionally-illiterate Black fourth-graders declined by 12 percentage points in that same period (from 60 percent to 48 percent) while the percentage of Latino fourth-graders struggling with literacy declined by nine percentage points (from 43 percent to 34 percent), and a 10 percentage point decrease in the number of fourth-graders on free- and reduced-priced lunch programs reading Below Basic (from 54 percent to 44 percent).

The percentage of fourth-graders reading at Proficient and Advanced levels — essentially at and above grade level — increased by five percentage points between 2002 and 2015. This included a five percentage point increase in the number of Black fourth-graders reading at and above grade level, a six percentage point increase among Latino children, and even a four percentage point increase among children on free- and reduced priced lunch programs, the poorest children in America.

Meanwhile the percentage of functionally-illiterate eighth-graders  on free and reduced-priced lunch plans declined by three percentage points within this period, while there was also a nine percentage point decrease in the number of Latino eighth-graders struggling with literacy. At the same time, the percentage of Black eight-graders reading at Proficient and Advanced levels increased by two percentage points in that same period while the percentage of Latino eighth-graders reading at and above grade level increased by five percentage points. Even better, the percentage of low-income eighth-grade students reading at Proficient and Advanced levels increased by three percentage points within that period.

These improvements resulted in part from No Child’s Adequate Yearly Progress provision, which required states to meet their obligations under their own constitutions to provide children in public schools with high-quality education and hold districts and other school operators accountable for failure mills and dropout factories they run. Suburban districts could no longer continue to commit educational malpractice against poor and minority children. School operators had to focus on achieving measurable results instead of damning kids to low expectations. Data became critical to providing all children with high-quality teaching, curricula and cultures.

As Thomas Ahn of the University of Kentucky and Duke University’s Jacob Vigdor determined in a study of North Carolina schools released last year, No Child’s accountability measures have helped the Tar Heel State improve achievement and even helped families in failing schools move into better-performing ones. On average, a North Carolina school failing AYP for the first time improved its math performance by five percent of a standard deviation. A poor-performing Tar Heel State school under Needs Improvement for a fifth consecutive year (and forced to develop a restructuring plan) improved reading performance by six percent of a standard deviation, while math achievement improved by nearly three percent of a standard deviation.

Under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, fewer children were functionally illiterate and more went on to success in adulthood. This is unlikely to happen during the Trump era.

The improvements in education didn’t come just through efforts in traditional districts. As part of their reform efforts, the Bush and Obama administrations continued the effort first began under Bill Clinton to provide more children with opportunities to attain high-quality education they need and deserve. This includes the opening of 4,179 charter schools between 2002-2003 and 2014-2015, according to the U.S. Department of Education, as well as the launch of school voucher programs in Florida, Indiana and Louisiana.

Thanks to high-quality charter schools in urban communities, children in those schools gain 58 additional days of learning in math and 41 additional days of learning in reading compared to peers in traditional districts. More importantly, as seen with charter school operators such as the Knowledge is Power Program, charters have improved the chances of poor and minority children graduating from traditional colleges, community colleges, technical schools and apprenticeship programs (usually run through community colleges) that make up American higher education.

The point in citing these facts? That contrary to the assertions made yesterday by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the reform efforts led by Bush and Obama (and their education secretaries) that began with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act and accelerated with Race to the Top achieved measurable and quantifiable results that improved the lives of so many of our children.

From the accountability provisions that forced states to focus on achievement gaps, to the expansion of charter schools, vouchers and other forms of choice, to support for implementation by states of Common Core reading and math standards first developed in the first decade of this century, to the efforts under the Obama Administration to end the overuse of out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh school discipline (as well as criminalization of youth), both Bush and Obama spurred reforms (including the charters and vouchers supported by DeVos herself in her previous role as a school reform philanthropists) that have helped more children gain the knowledge they need to succeed in adulthood.

This is not to say that the efforts were unqualified successes. Nothing done by man will ever be. No Child’s focus on basic literacy and numeracy, a reflection of the mission of the school reform movement for most of its modern history, no longer suffices in an age in which some form of higher education is critical to economic, social, and political success. The Obama Administration’s No Child waiver gambit, which began the evisceration of accountability that continued with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act two years ago, was arrogant policymaking and sloppy implementation that has harmed systemic reform. Just as importantly, as Dropout Nation has consistently pointed out and as exemplified by the latest edition of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, the need to continue systemic reform remains paramount.

Yet the data (along with the long history of  proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Bush and Obama administrations successfully embraced the federal government’s necessary, constitutional and life-affirming role in ensuring that every child, especially poor and minority children served poorly by American public education, get a chance at high-quality education. The administrations achieved measurable results that are important steps in helping all children succeed — if DeVos and the Trump regime (along with congressional leaders and those at the state level) bother to do their parts.

Barack Obama didn’t always get it right on education policy. But his administration got it right a lot of the time. Which is saying something.

DeVos’ sophistry, however, isn’t shocking. After all, she gave her speech at an event held by the American Enterprise Institute, whose education czar, Rick Hess, has long opposed focusing on stemming achievement gaps and has generally been, to say it kindly, not all that interested in building brighter futures for the poor and minority children harmed the most by the failures of American public education.

More importantly, DeVos’ dismissal of the need for a strong federal role in education policy and protecting the civil rights of Black and Brown children is reflective of that of the administration in which she serves.

As we already know, President Donald Trump spent the last week doubling down on his White Supremacist rhetoric when he called several African nations which account for the bulk of immigrants to the United States (as well as Haiti) “shitholes”, expressed his preference that the nation bring in more emigres from Norway and other European (White) countries, and dismissed concerns from the Congressional Black Caucus, whose members represent Black and Latino children (as well as their communities) on Capitol Hill.

The statement, which came during a meeting over an increasingly-unlikely deal to stop the deportation of 760,000 youth, young adults and classroom teachers previously covered under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, once again highlights the reality that the Trump Administration’s long-term goal is what can best be called low-grade ethnic cleansing against immigrants and Native-born Americans who aren’t Caucasian.

DeVos, along with erstwhile school reformers working at the Department of Education, have been willing collaborators in the administration’s war against poor and minority communities. This includes moves to weaken and end Obama-era efforts to stem overuse of suspensions (as well as use of restraints and seclusion practices that harm children condemned to special ed ghettos), to supporting the expansion of 529 college saving accounts for K-12 expenditures that does little for poor and middle class families.

Meanwhile her unwillingness to condemn Trump’s rank bigotry and demagoguery demonstrates that she has little concern for the most-vulnerable children her agency is charged with protecting. Her allies will argue that her past record of advancing school choice proves otherwise. But her record since her nomination for the nation’s top education policy job makes lie of those claims. This is even without considering her general unfitness for her role.

One thing is ultimately clear: Neither Betsy DeVos nor her boss will be the champions for children their predecessors were. For that, and their general indifference to facts and truth, they should both be ashamed.

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This is Dropout Nation: A Southern Decline


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Five decades ago, the states below the Mason-Dixon line spurred the first modern major efforts to reform American public education. Concerned about low educational attainment, especially among its rural and…

Neither Roy Barnes or his possible future colleagues are doing much on school reform.

Five decades ago, the states below the Mason-Dixon line spurred the first modern major efforts to reform American public education. Concerned about low educational attainment, especially among its rural and poor black and white students, governors such as governors such as Lamar Alexander (a future U.S. Senator) and future presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush (along with state chambers of commerce), began the first moves towards determining the sources of the problem. Their work, along with the publication of A Nation at Risk, spawned the No Child Left Behind Act, the teacher quality movement, efforts to improve curricula and the standards and accountability movement.

These days, however, the same sort of urgency that drove southern governors of previous generations no longer seems to exist. This is evident in Dropout Nation‘s observation of the 11 states defined by the National School Boards Association as the southern region. A few states are exceptions, including Tennessee (winner in the  first round of Race to the Top, and home to Memphis City Schools with its $900 million teacher quality effort funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), Florida (whose efforts on school data systems, vouchers and tenure reform are well-chronicled),  Arkansas (home to Jay P. Greene and an expanding charter school movement) and Louisiana (a  path-leader in teacher quality reform and charter schools).

The rest are lackluster. In Georgia, a state whose problems have been documented by your editor, none of the Democratic candidates for governor support school choice going beyond charter schools. This includes, most shockingly, Commission on No Child Left Behind honcho Roy Barnes, who as Georgia’s governor from 1999-2002, angered teachers unions by successfully passing a measure that ended tenure; he has spent more time apologizing to teachers’ union votes this time around. The Republican candidates, on the other hand, are too busy appealing to suburban Atlanta interests (and, given that the current governor, Sonny Perdue, beat Barnes by appealing to teachers unions) to actually discuss education.

It isn’t much better in the rest of the southern states. The efforts by Alabama’s governor, Bob Riley, to make charter schools a reality in the Cotton State fell apart thanks to the state legislature, who ignored the prospects of Race to the Top money to accede to the demands of the National Education Association’s state affiliate. In South Carolina — a state whose educational attainment has been abysmal at best — the insolvency of the NEA affiliate there has done little to spur any real action on school reform.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell may have gotten a weak charter school expansion bill passed and brought in a noted reformer, Gerald Robinson, to office. But Virginia politicians and educational leaders — especially in Northern Virginia — are too self-satisfied with the status quo (and with the position of being better than D.C.), even if there is growing evidence that the state is falling behind. Texas Gov. Rick Perry and his colleagues are doing little more than faux sparring with the federal government over states rights in education and tolerating alleged fraud; the Lone Star State, once the standard-bearer for aggressive school reform, is now a north star for defenders of traditional public education.

The lack of urgency on education is a pity for southern state  families and, ultimately, the children to which they trust schools with their educational (and economic) destinies. Because changes in demographics are a tocsin for more action, not less.

Within the past six months, the Southern Education Foundation has proclaimed what most of us who once lived in Georgia and Mississippi already know: The American South (as defined by Southern Education, a group of 15 states including Kentucky) is now one of two regions (the other being the West Coast) where blacks, Latinos and other minorities make up a majority of school enrollment. In 1998, whites made up 56 percent of school enrollment (then at 13.9 million) in the 11 southern states surveyed by Dropout Nation. By 2007, minorities make up 51 percent of the 15.4 million students in those states. White enrollment actually declined by 230,321 students even as other population groups (including Native Americans) increased their population counts.

Meanwhile the population of poor students — in this case, students who live in what Southern Education calls “extreme poverty” or live 50 percent below the federally-defined poverty line — has also become a concern. Forty-two percent of the 5.8 million children considered in extreme poverty live in the American South, a wider share than any other region in this country. This matter — as much a consequence of the growth in the Latino populations as is a consequence of the South’s legacy of poverty — can only be addressed effectively by improving the quality of teaching, curricula and schools (including fostering the development of more high-quality charters and private schools) as well as by making parents the kings (and leading players) in all education decision-making.

Once the drivers of school reform, southern states are falling behind.

But this isn’t happening — and the results are clear from the graduation rates for the Class of 2007 (based on eighth-grade enrollment) and National Assessment of Educational Progress data. Although the 72 percent graduation rate for the region is better than the national average, it hides some glaring failures. Four states — Louisiana (56 percent), South Carolina (63 percent), Mississippi (65 percent) and Alabama (68 percent) — are at giant dropout factories. Many of the others aren’t much better: Florida and Georgia each share a graduation rates of 71 percent  (slightly below the regional average);  North Carolina (72 percent), Arkansas (75 percent), Tennessee (76 percent), Texas (76 percent) and Virginia (79 percent) are doing better than average. But the news isn’t good at all: Some 325,216 students from the collective class of 2007 — or 37 students every hour — dropped out.

Meanwhile the NAEP reading data is rather sobering. Georgia may share the same graduation rate as Florida, but not likely for long. Thirty-seven percent of Peach State fourth-graders read Below Basic on the 2009 NAEP versus just (an almost as woeful) 27 percent of their Sunshine State peers. Meanwhile the rates of functional illiteracy for fourth-graders in the other states aren’t much better: Thirty-seven percent of fourth-graders in Tennessee and Arkansas read Below Basic proficiency; for Texas and North Carolina, it is 35 percent; 38 percent in Alabama and South Carolina; a staggering 45 percent in Mississippi, and one out of every two students in Louisiana.

Just 26 percent of Virginia’s fourth-graders read Below Basic, the best in the region. But the rate of functional illiteracy has declined very slowly in the past decade versus other states: Four years ago, for example, Virginia’s Below Basic rate for its fourth-graders was four points lower than that of Florida, today, it’s only one percent ahead. And this has much to do with the complacency of Virginia’s political and educational leaders as it does with the hard work Florida’s leaders — including former Gov. Jeb Bush and his predecessor, Lawton Chiles — have done to improve education for its children. Given the lack of strong reform-minded players (newspaper editorial pages, parents groups, politicians, school reform think tanks, and activists), Virginia (along with Texas) will likely fall behind Florida (and possibly, Arkansas) in the coming decade.

For a region that is increasingly the most-dominant in the nation, the unwillingness to fully embrace the school reform mantle will likely wreck havoc on the national effort — especially as states and the federal government expand their critical role in education policy decision-making. And right now, given the stakes for all of our children, this is no time to whistle Dixie on school reform.

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