You are browsing the archive for schools.

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 →

Obama’s Universal Preschool Plan: As Good as It Sounds?

6:56 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

President Obama promises to strengthen early childhood education, but will he follow through with funding? (Children's Bureau Centennial / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Originally posted at In These Times

Of all the mildly liberal, media-genic proposals that peppered President Barack Obama’s state of the Union Address, one seemed especially designed to withstand curmudgeonly criticism from the Right: universal preschool. The image of millions of young tots learning their ABCs and fingerpainting is hard to demonize as evil Big Government.

Nonetheless, Obama’s sweeping plan for the nationwide expansion of early childhood learning programs may not be as straightforward as it seems, especially for the workers who will be expected to carry out the program. The White House’s broad talking points leave open the question of whether the dramatic expansion of preschool programs will be coupled with adequate federal funding.

Plenty of empirical research shows that strong early childhood education can boost future educational development, particularly among kids facing socioeconomic barriers like poverty. But getting early education right means cultivating skilled and motivated teachers. Early childhood programs have long lacked the sustained funding to ensure that educators are equipped with pedagogical training and resources to help “level the playing field” for poor kids. Exacerbating the problem, severe state budget cuts have led to deep funding deficits nationwide.

Generally, the White House’s plan—which aims to achieve “common and consistent standards for quality across all programs”—does appear to promote fairer compensation and support for practitioners, including pay that is comparable to regular K-12 teachers.

But ensuring every kid in the country has a shot at a a high quality preschool program means starting earlier, with teacher training, in order to close massive gaps in the early learning workforce, which advocates say lacks the resources to maintain a well-trained, decently paid corps of educators. And that’s at current enrollment levels; unmet needs will likely soar under a universal preschool system, since currently, many eligible children are unserved because their families lack access to under-resourced public programs like Head Start. The White House’s overhaul proposal so far says little about whether Washington will reverse decades of underfunding.

If we want highly qualified staff that really understands child development and can really deliver high quality preschool, then the implementation of the proposal is definitely going to have to include some support for that workforce to be able to get those credentials and better compensation,” says Christine Johnson-Staub, an analyst with the social policy think tank CLASP.

How to nurture great early-childhood educators

From a labor perspective, the current system fails to provide real job sustainability. Early childhood educators are among the worst-paid education professionals. Unionization rates are typically low, and turnover is extremely high—especially when educators might earn far more money teaching kindergarten instead of pre-kindergarten next door. Many preschool educators are denied basic benefits that K-12 school teachers typically enjoy, such as class planning time and decent health benefits.

Advocates say that programs for early childhood development are often viewed simplistically as caregiving work, rather than as a critical part of a child’s education. That contributes to the low salaries and leads to a patchwork credentialing system and widely varying budgets. According to a 2009 analysis of the early childcare and education (ECE) workforce by the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at University of California, Berkeley:

Read the rest of this entry →

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 →

Freeing the University: Education Occupation on May Day

2:47 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Rand School (Wikimedia)

Cross-posted from In These Times

Pop quiz: what’s the value of an American education? To some, it’s a booming industry that preys on debt-crippled students. But to the educators, youth and workers who keep the system running, school increasingly seems like it’s just not worth the struggle. This May Day, masses of working people–and students who are working to build a future for themselves–are converging in New York City to rethink education and test those ideas in the real world.

Everyone understands that merit and hard work should pay off somehow in the economy. But the narrowing and commercialization of education at every level, from preschool to postdoc, has drained people’s academic aspirations and bank accounts.

On May 1, following the massive 1T Day rally against the “student debt bubble,” the Free University of New York City will bring together various Occupy-inspired grassroots education experiments. Combined with other May Day-related Occupy demonstrations, the program of workshops and talks aims to put theories of “horizontal pedagogy” into practice by inviting regular folks to learn about and question the systems surrounding them: the economy, politics, and school itself.

The planned program, centered in Madison Square Park, will include:

over forty workshops, classes, and collective experiences during the five hour educational experiment. Attendees will be introduced to movements such as Take Back the Land, which has been occupying foreclosed housing; radical student organizing within the City University of New York (CUNY); and indigenous environmentalism. Other workshops focus on creating new ways of living, from permaculture to open access academic publishing, from nonviolent communication to immigration relief for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

It’s kind of an anti-university, seeking to break down the bureaucratic fortress of credits and degrees. The focus is on empowering both students and teachers, through educational work doesn’t test book-smarts but expands critical thought and challenges expectations.

The Free University, together with parallel initiatives like Occupy University, Occupy CUNY (City University of New York) and Occupy Student Debt campaign, aim to democratize education in the tradition of old school union education programs and the pioneering RAND School of Social Science. The idea is to see workers as students, teachers as workers, and education as a public trust. Read the rest of this entry →

While Schools Sink, NYC Teachers Get Slammed in Shame Game

9:16 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Image: www.justseeds.org

Cross-posted from In These Times.

If ensuring the quality of teaching in public schools were a perfect science, you’d think that officials would have figured it out by now: since the enactment of the sweeping federal No Child Left Behind law, teachers have been measured, graded and ranked by all kinds of metrics, from demographic trends to standardized test scores. And yet we can’t seem to find that elusive numeric solution to the crisis in public education—possibly because complex social problems can’t be reduced to averages and bell curves.

But the fuzzy math hasn’t stopped New York City from publishing data reports for some 18,000 public school teachers: ratings based on convoluted performance measurements measures for reading and math classes in the fourth through eighth grades.

While officials pit the public’s supposed “right to know” against teachers’ privacy rights (a similar political controversy exploded in 2010 over teacher data for Los Angeles schools), the data hasn’t done much to enhance public understanding of what’s going on in the classroom. Many educators and parents are confused or angered by data that are, according to news reports, riddled with inconsistencies and errors. Though the “value added” ratings are supposed to account for some social disparities, the teachers union and other critics decry the methodology as critically flawed. The figures are further muddled by seemingly arbitrary variance in ratings among schools, as well as massive margins of error (dozens of points in math and reading scores).

Methodological gaps aside, the major problem with the data is an ethical one: the idea of “naming and shaming” teachers as a way to spur school improvement. Karen Fine, a teacher at Manhattan Public School 134, commented on New York Times’ Schoolbook website: 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 →

Struggling New York School Workers Get Knocked Hard in Budget War

8:41 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

New York City workers rally against budget cuts. Photo courtesy of District Council 37

Cross-posted from In These Times.

When kids across New York City shuffle into their classrooms next week, they’ll discover that a few members of their school community won’t be attending, and their absence will be sorely felt.

Fresh casualties of the city’s budget wars, about 700 city school aides and other support personnel have been expelled. As of October 7, many schools will have to adjust to fewer hall monitors, parent coordinators, and other assistants who help administrators and teachers cope with stuffed classrooms, dwindling supply cabinets, and endless standardized tests.

At an Occupy Wall Street solidarity rally on Wednesday, Lillian Roberts, executive director of the prominent municipal union District Council 37, called the school workers’ plight a textbook example of New York’s economic injustices, from an anti-worker tax structure to the unabashed greed of the city’s financial sector:

Just this week, more than 700 low-paid DC 37 members, mainly workers of color at the NYC Dept. of Education, will lose their jobs while wealthy private contractors will continue receiving millions of dollars in payments from New York City and the [Department of Education (DOE)]. The ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protestors have said enough is enough, stop the destructive corporate greed. We couldn’t agree more. Read the rest of this entry →