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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 →

Teachers Seek to ‘Reclaim’ Education

6:48 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

(Chicago Teachers Local Union 1/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Originally published at In These Times

After years of being backed into a corner, on Monday public-school teachers stood up in defiance against what they see as their chief bully—budget-slashing school reforms that have made school more stressful and less fulfilling for both them and their students.

Under the banner of a National Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education, educators, students and community groups coordinated demonstrations, rallies and other public gatherings in dozens of cities. In the long run, the day of action kicked off a broader campaign by a coalition of unions and community groups to chart an alternative path to education reform.

According to a policy statement by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the leading union behind the campaign, and its partner groups, the goal is to foster “a community-union movement for educational equity and excellence.” While that agenda may sound neutral to the uninitiated, it speaks to growing resentment toward the prevailing reform rhetoric pushed by the White House and many politicians: corporate-oriented “standards” and “management,” leading to a test-heavy curriculum focused on math and reading at the expense of all else. First imposed under the No Child Left Behind law of the Bush administration, this hardline approach rests on the belief that a lack of academic rigor and “ineffective” educators are impeding U.S. students’ performance. The prescription has been an avalanche of high-stakes testing, public-school funding cuts and free-market privatization measures such as charter schools, often funded by corporate-oriented philanthropists and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

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Educators Wary of Tech Fixes for College Affordability Crisis

1:32 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

(Wikimedia Commons/Avatar)

Originally published at In These Times

As tuitions rise and the job market still slumps, many young college graduates are wrestling with the question of how to make their increasingly expensive educations pay off. Now, new technologies are emerging as a potential solution for the college affordability crisis, according to some educational administrators and officials. The growing public fascination with “Massive Open Online Courses,” or MOOCs, suggests that in the near future, a public university degree may become cheaper and more accessible, with a greater economic “return on investments” for the government. Yet some education advocates are wary of the MOOC phenomenon and urge the government to focus on brick-and-mortar educational investments before seeking a magic bullet.

Though MOOCs are still in their experimental phase, they are being heavily marketed through flashy programs like EdX, which features online courses ranging from “International Human Rights” to “Neuronal Dynamics,” taught by faculty at Harvard, MIT and other top universities and accessible tuition-free, worldwide.

And President Obama’s recently issued college affordability plan cites MOOCs as a tool for boosting return on investment for public education funding, since the model can ostensibly be scaled up to full degree programs—sometimes simply by tacking on a completion certificate that makes the MOOC credentials more official. These education modules are delivered at a mass scale with little overhead, accessible from any Internet connection and supplemented with online tests, peer discussions and tutors.

A new report by the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education, however, warns that college administrators and politicians might be investing too much in corporate-controlled, data-driven online learning programs.   Read the rest of this entry →

Mexico City Erupts Over Neoliberal Education Bill

1:34 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Teachers have gathered en masse in Mexico City to protest President Nieto’s new education reform legislation. (Eneas De Troya/Flickr)

Originally posted at In These Times

In Mexico City, school teachers are meting out some serious discipline to a government gone awry.

For the past several weeks, the metropolis has pulsed with a labor insurrection. There have beenfierce union-led rallies, clashes with police, and mass demonstrations that have paralyzed the city, climaxing with an estimated 12,000 teachers storming the streets on Wednesday. The catalyst is Mexico’s new education reform legislationchampioned by President Enrique Peña Nieto and his PRI party, which teachers union activists blast as a thinly veiled attack on organized labor.

After lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to implement the reforms last week, demonstrations flared across the capital, blocking traffic and drawing crowds around the French, Spanish and U.S. embassies. The National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), a radical union faction representing a third of Mexico’s public school teachers, has mobilized tens of thousands of protesters. The conflict is now widely seen as as a principle test of Peña Nieto’s political strength, symbolizing the class and ideological tensions between Nieto’s center-right PRI party and Mexico’s embattled leftist movements.

The government maintains that the law, which amends articles of Mexico’s constitution that guarantee the right to public secular education, is necessary for improving management of Mexico’s school system and raising the quality of teaching. Reflecting the same neoliberal “reform” impulse that politicians have pushed in the United States with charter schools and draconian testing systems, the idea is to tighten controls on educators and students by imposing standardized tests and evaluations. The reforms would also ease the process for firing teachers, aiming to dismantle traditional union control and cronyism in employment decisions. As in the U.S., the “reformers” are pushing “merit-based” performance measures other market-oriented reforms.

Teachers see this as an assault on a sacrosanct public institution and view the law as a union-busting campaign masquerading as public-minded reform. In a Labor Notes report last December, Dan La Botz quoted Rubén Núñez Ginés of SNTE Local 22 in Oaxaca:

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Civil Rights Groups File Complaint Over New York’s High Stakes Tests

7:39 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

NYC Coalition for Educational Justice, which signed on to the complaint about race and class bias in secondary-school entrance exams, holds a press conference to protest public school defunding and closing in underserved areas. (New York City Coalition for Educational Justice)

Originally posted at In These Times

Every year, New York City middle-schoolers subject themselves to a grueling academic ritual that could make or break their educational futures, or so they’re told. The 2.5-hour multiple-choice Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) serves as the sole gateway to a suite of elite public schools—particularly Bronx Science, Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Technical. The kids who make the cut tend to be disproportionately Asian and white; Latino and black students are vastly underrepresented.

Civil rights groups are now waging a legal challenge accusing New York City’s education authorities of tying the elite tier of schools to an arbitrary test that effectively perpetuates inequality. The complaint was filed by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College on behalf of a coalition of civil rights and community groups.

The backdrop to the legal controversy is a growing rebellion against high-stakes standardized tests, which some say perpetuate racial and socioeconomic equity in urban schools. The SHSAT is separate from the state’s standardized test system (which is designed to comply with federal education reforms), but, as a gatekeeper to educational opportunity, raises similar concerns. 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 →