Tag: Jeb Bush

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  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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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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Read: Tuesday Morning Teacher Edition


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What’s happening in the dropout nation: – The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board sniffs at the Ford Foundation’s school initiative. Given the foundation’s history of getting itself — and the…

Rarely seen: Black male teacher such as Brandon George. Also under that list: Teachers with strong subject-matter competency. More of both needed.

Rarely seen: Black male teacher such as Brandon George. Also under that list: Teachers with strong subject-matter competency. More of both needed.

What’s happening in the dropout nation:

– The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board sniffs at the Ford Foundation’s school initiative. Given the foundation’s history of getting itself — and the entire philanthropic sector — in trouble in the school philanthropy arena, it may be best for Ford to stick to something more traditional.

Gotham Schools reports that New York State’s Education Commissioner and Board of Regents Chancellor wants to allow for the use of student test data in measuring teacher performance during the first two years of their careers before they attain tenure. This is essentially a revival of a law passed two years ago during the first year of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s tenure that was kibboshed a year later by the legislature and Gov. David Paterson last year at the behest of the state’s AFT affiliate. Nice idea. At least one study suggests that the teacher performance remains constant before and after tenure. But until tenure is eliminated and school districts actually take time to assess teachers, the proposal is rather meaningless. After all, some of the research so far also shows that teacher performance declines after they reach tenure.

– So far, this week, neither Kevin Carey nor Checker Finn have taken potshots at each other over whether stimulus funds should be used for saving teacher jobs. Unfortunately, neither side is focusing on the real problem: How to improve the quality of teaching in America’s schools. The stimulus debate, like the money, will eventually go away. The  impediments to improving teacher quality —  including woeful training at the ed school level, state policymaking that blocks effective performance management, poor selection of aspiring teachers who are both competent in their subjects and care about the children they teach, human capital policies that encourage teacher absenteeism, and lack of diversity in the teacher ranks — will still remain. It’s time for both of them to go back to their laudable work.

– Maureen Downey takes a look at the Florida ACLU suit and former Sunshine State governor Jeb Bush’s response. Hint: Another example of what happens when education statistics(accurate, maybe) and education statistics (unreliable, definitely) collide in public policy debates.

– The Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Brooke Dollens Terry takes a look at teacher quality in the Lone Star State. She isn’t impressed.

– EdSector’s Erin Dillon peruses Teachers College’s report touting desegregation. She not only finds that it lacks rigor, but it uses a “strawman” of free-market school reforms that doesn’t define which form (in the form of charter schools and other school choice measures) at the heart of their discussion. Ultimately, argues Dillon, the need is to ultimately improve the quality of education in every neighborhood in order to achieve true equity between majority-black , majority-Latino and majority white schools.

– The Boston Globe wants Massachusetts legislators to raise the dropout age to 18. Fine. Hopefully, the Globe editorial board will hold state officials accountable for improving curricula, teacher quality and opportunities for engaging students and parents as equal partners with teachers and principals. Increasing the dropout age alone won’t solve much of anything.

Jay Mathews joins Andy Smarick in advocating for shutting down dropout factories and other poor-performing schools.

– Sara Carr’s fascinating series about school choice in New Orleans offers a point I have been making for some time: School reformers must now focus on developing systems for giving parents the information and guidance they need to make decisions. This means improving the quality and delivery of school data — or simply put, let a thousand SchoolMatches bloom — and fostering grassroots organizations that can help parents make decisions.

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