Congress Passes Bill Scrapping Teacher Preparation and Accountability Regulations, Ignores Civil Rights Concerns

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A bill aiming to dismantle Obama-era regulations on accountability and teacher preparation has squeaked through Congress and been presented to President Trump.

The joint resolution targets two rules in the Every Student Succeeds Act that define how States must implement the provisions that “require them to have an accountability system based on multiple measures, including school quality or student success, to ensure that States and districts focus on improving outcomes and measuring student progress”.

A press release for the bill, H.J. Res. 57,  argues that the ESSA regulations “dictate prescriptive accountability requirements and violate prohibitions on the Secretary of Education’s authority.”

Before the bill passed senate by the slimmest of margins (50-49, along party lines), The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights sent an advocacy letter to U.S. Senators asking them to continue the implementation of the ESSA regulations and reject H.J. Res. 57.

“These regulations will help states, districts, and schools to faithfully implement the law and meet their legal obligations to historically marginalized groups of students including students of color, students with disabilities, and students who are English learners, immigrants, girls, Native American, LGBTQ or low-income.”

Instead of fully implementing the ESSA regulations around accountability, the Betsy DeVos led Department of Education has already released new, watered-down “guidelines”. EdWeek notes that the biggest difference between the templates is around the requirement of outreach. In the Obama template, the language dictated states must engage in “meaningful consultation” with stakeholders who “reflect the geographic diversity of the state”. The Trump template: “if you feel like it, go for it”.

While comments from the Trump administration line up with the Republican talking point of “federal overreach”, the Leadership Conference and the 45 co-signing Civil Rights and education organizations note that the regulations came about as a result of the bipartisan crafting of ESSA and that federal oversight is necessary for state cooperation in advancing equity.

But, in the new administration, one thing is clear: ‘state rights’ Trump civil rights.

 

 

Trump must offer more than crowd-pleasing one-liners to improve public education

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As readers know well, I have been critical of the Obama Administration on many of its major education decisions.

It was especially troubling, after failing to secure a timely reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, that the Administration exercised executive power in a very harmful manner, supposedly to “fix” the law. In effect, essential accountability under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was badly weakened in return for states promising to adopt “reforms” that ultimately materialized on paper but seldom on the ground. Now, with no student achievement gains to show for it, and in the wake of a change of Presidents, the “reforms” will gradually but substantially vanish.

The recent election, of course, didn’t turn out well for the Democrats. Now we ponder where education policy is headed under President-elect Trump and his Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos.

Let me begin with some nice words.

For some reason, I like Donald Trump, certainly far more than do most of my peers. (Lord only knows, and I hope I’m right. But that’s all for another discussion.) In addition, I must say I am increasingly pro-choice in education, so I am impressed with the focus the new Administration is placing on choice.

With that, though, the nice words come to an end.

Let me state it simply. If Donald Trump were running education policy like he ran his successful businesses, he would never take the approach he is currently taking.

First, this talk of Common Core is utter nonsense. The feds haven’t promoted Common Core since the early Obama days, and now, they can’t, by law. However one feels about Common Core, what exactly is this “back to the locals” President saying he will do? Is he saying he’s going to demand that states and districts that choose to use the standards on their own should be prohibited from doing so? Somehow, I don’t think so.

Can you imagine the quite successful businessman, Donald Trump, acting in such a fashion in the management of his real estate entities?

Yet, the one area in which he and fellow Republicans have clearly eschewed a federal role is in demanding accountability for results from those who have been bestowed the largesse of federal borrowing, taxing, and spending.

Education policy now is little more than “we stopped doing this, and we will stop doing that” (which mostly means we’ll no longer hold local politicians and educrats accountable for their use of the billions of dollars the feds send their way).

I fail to see anything conservative or intelligent in the resulting policy. Now the feds are basically spending billions, leaving all the decisions to state and local bureaucrats, and no longer demanding student progress as the quid for the quo of the spending. And this will be the approach whether there are gains or not.

Would businessman Donald Trump act this way? Would he send tons of money to partner businesses with total control of how the dollars are spent and without any accountability for success? NO WAY.

Sadly, I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s simply throwing out crowd-pleasing lines in education talk. They get applause. But, a a smart guy, Trump would never go this way, if he truly cared about the enterprise. And, as a person who seems to care a lot about economic growth, opportunity, and jobs, he should care about the details of education policy and insist upon, not merely wish for, its success.

This brings me back to the issue of parental choice. I’m for choice, and I’m glad he and his Secretary-to-be are, too. But is there to be any accountability to parents and taxpayers in the choice? And what happens in the policy if all or even most of the students and parents don’t get choice because choice opponents stall or minimize the degree to which choice occurs?

In other words, choice must be done right, and choice does not an entire policy make.

The real overall issue for Trump is whether he’s satisfied to relegate education policy to the typical sphere of ideology and political tummy tickling and back scratching. It would be more difficult to do the hard work to assure success. But, hard, smart work is the only true way to effect improvement for students. And it’s the only true way to effect improvement for the economy through a better-educated workforce.

The President-elect faced similar choices when he built his businesses. And, he knows: the easy, sloppy path didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. If he thinks through it deeply, he will understand. I hope he does. America will not be great under his watch if he doesn’t.


Sandy Kress is a former senior education adviser to President George W. Bush with respect to developing and passing the landmark No Child Left Behind legislation. This post was republished from his blog with his permission.

Are charter schools really ‘public’ schools?

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The question of whether or not charter schools are “real” public schools is among the newest and most important – legally speaking – challenge to the viability of those schools. Court cases and the arena of public opinion have argued charters are not “public”, and therefore, they are not entitled to the public funding that traditional district schools receive. The public-or-not question is complex, messy, and easy to politicize, but with so many students in all states at risk of not succeeding in traditional district schools it is a question worth addressing thoughtfully. Enter Bill Berthke, a civil rights attorney, labor arbitrator and education law attorney who has worked in Colorado since 1978. Mr. Berthke recently spoke at a charter school authorizing conference in Atlanta about the issues complicating the public-ness of charter schools. His remarks are published here with his permission.


 

When is Public School Not a Public School?”  One answer lies in a recent Washington Post headline:  “National Labor Relations Board decides charter schools are private corporations, not public schools.”  Like all good headlines this oversimplifies and yet cuts deep into real questions.

Charter advocates have a rejoinder I will try to summarize below.  But first let’s admit this headline is a self-inflicted wound.  We would not be discussing this issue if charters did not at times insist they were “private.”  I do not merely refer to charter schools that sought this NLRB classification, though that’s included.  Rather, we invite this view when we resist application of transparency laws; evade pension contributions; counsel out students; serve as the supine platform of a dubious EMO; hide a genuine problem at a school behind a rhetorical wall of “autonomy,” “the market” or “de-regulation”; and make invidious comparisons with those other public schools.

None of those examples is a categorical wrong.  Some transparency claims are oppressive.  Some pension costs are out of control.  Some students should be steered to a school equipped to serve them.  Some large charter organizations do good work.  Independence to pursue an approved mission is at the core of the charter movement.  School choice should be valued.  And there are schools (traditional and charter) that are academic sinkholes.  But when we stretch those points, we sow what we are just beginning to reap.  To state the risk I will borrow a concept from Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln proposed that when the “public mind” settled a question, no law or court decision would stand before it.  And I believe the public mind will not reliably pay tax dollars for the benefit of “private corporations” that are not “public schools.”  The extent of vouchers versus the extent of charters — about an order of magnitude — is a good approximation of how far we may have to fall.

I promised to summarize the standard case for charters as public schools.  Here goes:  charters are open to all students (unless they are pushed out).  Charters are subject to public sector non-discrimination principles (with the same exception), Charters provide education meeting public standards (though some condemn the “common core”).  Charter academic performance is measured by standardized tests (unless parents opt out).  Charters are subject to public financial expectations (except when they don’t comply).  Charters are subject to closure for poor performance (except when they aren’t).  And, in most cases, the equity left in a closed charter school belongs to the public (if there is any).  Putting aside caveats, this rationale focuses on student academics and finances.

Some may think I have given this position short-shrift.  But let me turn to a different kind of evidence.  Years ago I had occasion to ask a sophisticated charter school board why charters existed.  The unanimously accepted suggestion was that charters existed to produce students who could pass the state standardized test.  Put aside, for the moment that the test has changed twice since and that attitudes toward testing have become, shall we say, more complex.  At this meeting, it took cross examination to get, with reluctance, to students who would succeed in college; students who could earn a living; and, at the very end, students who would behave decently toward others.

Now, let us return to the Post headline.  Its claim has nothing to do with students.  Instead, it focuses on charters being “private corporations.”  This is not just a fair summary of the NLRB’s decisions.  It is a reasonable summary of ongoing state constitutional litigation to disestablish charters in Washington and Mississippi.  It is also a powerful sound bite that is not answered by the standard rationale for the public charter schools.  You say you serve public school students?  So what, you’re a private corporation.  You say you meet public academic standards and expectations?  So what, you’re a private corporation. Notice that these two arguments talk right past each other.  And the talking point that punches above its weight belongs to the anti-charter side.

To engage the other side we must “think anew.”  The charter movement has maintained, throughout its short history, an admirable focus on students, teaching, and, to a less consistent extent, parents.  While important, this misses a major point.  It ignores the core of the American theory of public schooling.  It was through this theory that public education spread across the United States, and embedded itself in state constitutions largely in the 19th century.  To illustrate, I’m going to quote from a 19th century source — a report of the Colorado territorial superintendent of education issued in the early 1870s.  If you examined similar reports and debates around the country between about 1830 and 1900 or even later you would find similar sentiments prominent and widespread.  Here’s the quote:

No one familiar with the history of our Republic can doubt that the free school system is the safeguard of our liberties.… The common school is the child’s republic, all classes are here … thrown together, they see each other’s good and evil, and must learn to respect each other’s rights, to manage and conciliate amid this daily conflict; ….

In other words, the purpose of a public school is to cultivate citizens of a republic.  At that charter board meeting I mentioned above, not one of those smart 21st century American citizens even hinted at this.

To go one step further we should ask how Americans learn small-d democratic, small-r republican values — at times, we may we even wonder if they learn them.  It is not mostly through a civics class or through cultivating a “peer culture” or even just through schooling.  It is at least in part through children and adults seeing and participating in institutions running in a way that reflects democratic values.  This was Alexis de Tocqueville’s insight into the foundation of democracy in America.

Here’s a more recent restatement:

[I]t is the small associations and mediating bodies, where society is realized, that act as the seedbeds for the civic virtues.  For it is in them that we learn the habits necessary to sustain democratic political life.

Now, many in charter circles disdain calls for “political” accountability.  Part of the problem with public schools has been elected school boards, right?  Or maybe it’s elected big-city mayors?  I get confused.  But before we just set aside elections, we should pause.  If we are not responding to elections, in what sense are we organizationally part of a public and democratic system of schooling?  It need not be through direct election.  Federal judges are not elected.  The Federal Reserve is not elected.  The governing board of the Smithsonian is not elected.  Juries are not elected.  Independent, deliberative, and participatory bodies are part of a mature democracy.  But when legitimacy does not come through election, explanation is required.  A start may lie in a very old American distrust of simple majoritarianism.  In a famous passage, the leading theorist of our constitution, James Madison, put it this way:

[T]he smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression.

This is a succinct critique of the inherent virtue of elected school boards (and even more so elected mayors).  And it is less than a ringing endorsement of often self-perpetuating charter school boards.  But a Madisonian response to having two different types of public institutions operating in the same field, each flawed, could be to put them in tension with each other.  In other words, the policies defining the relationship between representative institutions — our traditional public school system —and participatory institutions — charters — if well thought out, just might make both more legitimate to the public and as public bodies.

So where does this leave us?  I suggest four points.  The simplest is that it that we should not be too concerned with being “corporations.”  After all, cities are corporations, school districts are corporations, and, for that matter, Chief Justice John Marshall once called the United States “[t]his great corporation.”  In the public school context, “corporation” only becomes disparagement when conjoined with “private.”  Thus, the real response to this attack lies in unmistakably defining how our organizational existence is “public.”

In that regard, we need to remember that we proposed a triad for charter school accountability: academics, finance and governance.  But our attention to governance has been thin.  What makes charter governance a legitimate, public part of the republic remains largely unexplored.

Critically, we must conduct that exploration and make our governing bodies “public.”  As the example of juries suggests this does not imply they must be elected or directly appointed by public officials.  It does imply public standards, including conflict of interest rules, ethical principles, authentic transparency, standards for removal, and others that will be a fair subject for regulation, debate and litigation.  This is the zone in which we must justify our organizations with well-designed rules while staving off suffocating regulation — a balance we already seek in other domains.

Last, as public bodies our fate is at the mercy of Lincoln’s “public mind.”  It is all well and good to suggest that some institutions, including central banks and juries and charter schools, should not be subject to “mobocracy.”  But it is necessary that we acknowledge — most of all to ourselves — that our existence as a sector is not earned with test scores, or clean audits, or close attention to Roberts’ Rules of Order.  Our existence is earned, and must continuously be re-earned, by cultivating broad public trust, in part in our care for public school students; in part by good stewardship of tax dollars; but finally through governance that visibly serves democratic values — in part, that is, by exhibiting citizenship in governance and thus cultivating citizens, children and adults, who value that part of the life of our republic provided through their charter schools.

We have work to do.

Where in the World is Karran Harper Royal? Maryland and Across Louisiana

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Editor’s Note: This is the latest in an occasional series documenting where the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association sends Karran Harper Royal.

It’s been a while since we checked in on the union-funded travels of our old friend, Karran Harper Royal. If you’ll remember, last winter, Royal was busy flying across the country – from Los Angeles, to Boston, to Chicago – to share her distorted portrayal of charter schools in New Orleans, courtesy of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

As winter turned to spring, however, things seemed to die down for the Big Easy’s preeminent anti-charter school activist. Apparently, AFT stopped calling and had turned their attention elsewhere. While Royal maintained an unusually low profile for most of the summer – and the rest of us enjoyed a vacation from her incessant lies about education reform – it was only a matter of time before she jumped back into the fray. All she needed was the right opportunity and the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) has provided it.

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ESSA, which was signed into law by President Obama in December, represents a significant shift away from the strict accountability measures of its predecessor, No Child Left Behind, by giving states much more flexibility in how they measure school performance and address failing schools. Now that states are preparing to adjust their policies to comply with the new law, the teachers unions – in particular, the National Education Association (NEA) – have launched a nationwide campaign to water down state accountability standards and promote community schools as an alternative to charters.

In Louisiana, NEA is attempting to shape public opinion through a series of community forums on ESSA that their state affiliate, Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE), is hosting in cities across the state. Moreover, the union has hired Karran Harper Royal to assist in their propaganda efforts to perhaps give them a veneer of grassroots authenticity.


Over the past two weeks, Royal has appeared at LAE’s ESSA forums in Shreveport, Lafayette, and Lake Charles, where she urged community members to reject charter schools and embrace the community schools model.  At the meeting in Lake Charles, for example, Royal told audience members that the proliferation of charters in New Orleans had been a disaster for the city’s children, whereas community schools promised to “catalyze the revitalization of not just the student, but of the whole community.”

From LAE's ESSA forum in Lafayette.

From LAE’s ESSA forum in Lafayette.

But Royal’s work on behalf of NEA isn’t limited to Louisiana. On Friday, she was in Rockville, MD to share her lies and misinformation about charter schools at a NEA training session for union leaders and educators from across the Northeast.


Where will Karran Harper Royal shill for the teachers unions next? Only time will tell, but rest assured that we’ll be following her exploits here on Citizen Ed!

We used to be responsible for children and our village, but that was then

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I want to reminisce a little bit.  There used to be a glorious time when youth were able to ride bikes, jump double-dutch and play Hide and Seek with their only concern being the street lights coming on – indicating that it was time to go in the house.

Nowadays, some youth are missing out on the simple joys of childhood because of the threat of violence looming on every street corner.  And what’s even worse is places that were once considered safe havens from the streets are no longer that–our schools have become battle grounds, too.

Our students aren’t safe anymore.

The headline in the Chicago Tribune read, “CPS Worker Killed in Front of West Side School: Our Babies Go Here.” Just last week, a young CPS employee who had no criminal record or gang affiliation was shot and killed in front of McNair Elementary School on the west side of Chicago causing the school to be locked down and their eighth grade graduation to be delayed.  Over the years, there have been similar headlines highlighting gun violence in near vicinities of CPS schools.  In most cases, there’s an investigation, crisis counselors are called to support the staff and families, CPS makes a statement, school commences and it’s over…until it happens again.

Our students aren’t safe anymore.

Addressing the issue of urban violence is a tricky one because, as a society, we tend to want to place the blame on the most “obvious” culprits–the government, the police, the school district, the criminals, etc. And while there’s a strong likelihood that one or more of these entities have a larger part to play in the demise, we sometimes neglect to accept responsibility for our individual roles.

Our students aren’t safe anymore because they’re being failed by us–the community.

Let’s reminisce again. Back in the day, there was a village–a sense of community where people looked out for one another and sought to protect their family AND neighbors from danger.

Back in the day, people instilled invaluable morals and ethics in their children with hopes of them growing up to be decent human beings.

Back in the day, students were able to attend school without the threat of hearing gunshots outside of their classrooms.  And, back in the day, innocent people like Denzel Thornton didn’t have to worry about losing his life while trying to make an honest living.

People are looking for policy recommendations or a step by step strategy in which order will be restored.  Here I offer, in theory, a simpler solution that doesn’t involve the time constraints or complications that come with politics–we have to reclaim our communities and rebuild our villages.

We have the task of educating and raising our youth to be responsible and respectful adults.  We have to support and uplift one another.  We have to collectively reprimand those that are destroying our communities.  And, when something threatens our quality of life, we have to work together to stop it.

Our youth have to feel safe in order to thrive and that begins with us being accountable for their futures.


Taneesha Peeples blogs at Chicago Unheard.