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New York’s All-Day Pre-K Plan: Good News for Teachers?

3:21 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Students at Bank Street Head Start in New York City, a free pre-K program for families under the federal poverty line. Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to provide universal pre-K in NYC. (Image: Bankstreet College of Education)

Originally published at In These Times

Following a national trend of opening public schools to children younger than 5, New York’s newmayor, Bill de Blasio, plans to provide universal access to all-day pre-kindergarten, funded by an income tax on the wealthiest New Yorkers.

Expanding pre-K services to all eligible 4-year-olds in the city—perhaps as many as 50,000 kids—would cost an estimated $340 million, both to enroll new students and to expand half-day programs. Back in the late 1990s, New York state led the country in boosting public pre-K with a law mandating universal access, but since then districts have failed to fully fund this measure, and New York City’s school system falls far short. De Blasio proposes to fund his program with a “rich tax” that would bring in roughly $530 million. The balance of the money would be invested in afterschool programs for middle-schoolers.

The program is a popular one across party lines. Reams of research show that investing in preschool for all children can dramatically shrink “achievement gaps” across racial and economic lines. And it may also pay fiscal dividends: According to the progressive think tank Economic Policy Institute, “High-quality pre-kindergarten benefits government budgets by saving government spending on K-12 education, child welfare, and the criminal justice system, and by increasing tax revenues.” Even conservatives, generally skeptical about anti-poverty programs, can at least value the idea of pre-K as a welfare supplement to alleviate the childcare burdens of parents who might otherwise be working more hours. And community groups, teachers and unions have championed De Blasio’s  initiative, focusing on the promise of much-needed resources to serve more pre-school students with more comprehensive programs.

While advocates generally see universal pre-K in New York as a potential boon for the early-childhood education field—one of the few public-education sectors that’s actually expanding nationwide in a time of severe budget cuts—some are concerned about whether the plan will meet the needs of both educators and students in struggling public schools. Read the rest of this entry →

New Orleans Teachers Get Justice, but Schools Still Under Attack

12:30 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Rain Rannu via flickr/creative commons

Cross-posted from In These Times

After Hurricane Katrina washed over New Orleans, many survivors had virtually nothing left to lose. But the city’s teachers were then hit by the storm’s ripple effect: the loss of thousands of jobs in the tattered school system. Recently, a civil district court ruled that the state had effectively robbed thousands of school employees of funds that were supposed to help tide them over as the city recovered.

After Katrina, the New York Times reports, most New Orleans schools were taken over by the state’s Recovery School District, which absorbed a stream of federal aid while the local school board was left impoverished:

In December 2005, the local school board, with few schools and little money in its control, passed a resolution firing 7,500 school employees, who at that time had been on “disaster leave without pay,” an employment status that Judge Julien found in her decision to be “fictional.” She concluded that the state was liable for rendering the local board unable to fulfill its contractual obligations to its workers.

The ruling could lead to major payments to teachers whose careers and wages were upended by the purge. But aside from recompense for “disaster leave,” New Orleans public schools will remain adrift in a flood of drastic reforms. After Katrina, the city became an incubator for non-unionized charter schools and “experimental” restructuring plans.

But rather than “saving” New Orleans schools from failure, the overhaul has aggravated dividesbetween black and white, wealthy and poor, by pushing schools to operate more like corporations. Read the rest of this entry →

Amid ‘Turnaround Agenda,’ Teachers, Communities Overshadowed by Corporate Reforms

3:10 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Photo: Sharon Schmidt, SubstanceNews.net

Cross-posted from In These Times.

The conversation about school reform in Washington is replete with big ideas–glossy proposals for “accountability,” putting the “students first,” fixing “broken” schools, all in hopes of making America “competitive” again.

Yet our schools are poorer than ever, and in many communities, the child poverty has deepened while test scores have stagnated. The experts leading the education reform debate have failed to draw a simple equation: a system with adequate resources does better than one without.

The gap in the logic has widened as state governments press school districts to conform to new standards–or else. States are gunning for a competitive grant fund known as “Race to the Top,” which the White House dangles as an incentive to restructure school systems. This hyped-up free-market reform rhetoric seeped into President Obama’s suggestion to “offer schools a deal” in his State of the Union address.

The No Child Left Behind corporate-style reform template emphasizes tests and evaluations, purging bad teachers, and shuttering failing schools.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is pressuring teachers’ unions to agree to major reforms so the state can tap into a Race to the Top grant. At issue are efforts to impose evaluation schemes that might make teachers’ jobs contingent on potentially misleading or incomplete data. A Washington Post editorial praised Cuomo for standing up to the supposed obstructionism of unions to defend childrens’ civil rights.

In recent remarks commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. Cuomo spoke of his increasing intolerance for a school system that regularly fails so many of its students. “Our schools are not an employment program,” he said, according to a report in the New York Times.

Got that? Organized labor equals failing students. Because unions may resist the shedding of teachers who don’t conform to the standard model of constant testing and reducing education to a set of data spreadsheets. And why should teachers feel so entitled to job security when children’s grades are at stake? Read the rest of this entry →