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  • July 29, 2014 01:21 PM Why a New Jersey School District Decided Giving Laptops to Students is a Terrible Idea

    Inside Hoboken’s combined junior-senior high school is a storage closet. Behind the locked door, mothballed laptop computers are strewn among brown cardboard boxes. Others are stacked one atop another amid other computer detritus. Dozens more are stored on mobile computer carts, many of them on their last legs.

    That’s all that remains from a failed experiment to assign every student a laptop in this northern New Jersey suburb of New York City. It began five years ago with an unexpected windfall of stimulus money from Washington, D.C., and good intentions to help the districts’ students, the majority of whom are under or near the poverty line, keep up with their wealthier peers. But Hoboken faced problem after problem and is abandoning the laptops entirely this summer.

    “We had the money to buy them, but maybe not the best implementation,” said Mark Toback, the current superintendent of Hoboken School District. “It became unsustainable.”

    Mothballed laptops locked inside a storage closet at Hoboken Junior Senior High School. School staff will inventory them and hire a recycling company to discard them. (Photo: Jill Barshay)

    Mothballed laptops locked inside a storage closet at Hoboken Junior Senior High School. School staff will inventory them and hire a recycling company to discard them. (Photo: Jill Barshay)

    None of the school administrators who initiated Hoboken’s one-to-one laptop program still work there, but Toback agreed to share Hoboken’s experiences so that other schools can learn from it.

    Despite tight budgets, superintendents and principals around the country are cobbling together whatever dollars they can to buy more computers for their classrooms. This year alone, schools are projected to spend almost $10 billion on education technology, a $240-million increase from 2013, according to the Center for Digital Education. Educational technology holds the promise of individualizing instruction, and some school systems, like Mooresville, North Carolina, and Cullman, Alabama, have shown impressive student learning gains. But districts like Los Angeles and Fort Bend, Texas, who jumped on the tech trend without careful planning, have had problems with their programs to distribute a laptop or a tablet to every student, and are scrapping them, too.

    By the time Jerry Crocamo, a computer network engineer, arrived in Hoboken’s school system in 2011, every seventh, eighth and ninth grader had a laptop. Each year a new crop of seventh graders were outfitted. Crocamo’s small tech staff was quickly overwhelmed with repairs.

    We had “half a dozen kids in a day, on a regular basis, bringing laptops down, going ‘my books fell on top of it, somebody sat on it, I dropped it,’ ” said Crocamo.

    Screens cracked. Batteries died. Keys popped off. Viruses attacked. Crocamo found that teenagers with laptops are still… teenagers.

    “We bought laptops that had reinforced hard-shell cases so that we could try to offset some of the damage these kids were going to do,” said Crocamo. “I was pretty impressed with some of the damage they did anyway. Some of the laptops would come back to us completely destroyed.”

    Crocamo’s time was also eaten up with theft. Despite the anti-theft tracking software he installed, some laptops were never found. Crocamo had to file police reports and even testify in court.

    Hoboken school officials were also worried they couldn’t control which websites students would visit. Crocamo installed software called Net Nanny to block pornography, gaming sites and Facebook. He disabled the built-in web cameras. He even installed software to block students from undoing these controls. But Crocamo says students found forums on the Internet that showed them how to access everything.

    “There is no more determined hacker, so to speak, than a 12-year-old who has a computer,” said Crocamo.

    All this security software also bogged down the computers. Teachers complained it took 20 minutes for them to boot up, only to crash afterwards. Often, there was too little memory left on the small netbooks to run the educational software.

    Hoboken math coach Howard McKenzie says he also had problems with the software itself.

    “We wanted to run a program for graphing calculators, but it didn’t work very well; it was very sticky,” said McKenzie “We kind of scrapped it.”

    Ultimately, the math teacher just showed it to the class on a Smart Board, an interactive whiteboard.

    Superintendent Toback admits that teachers weren’t given enough training on how to use the computers for instruction. Teachers complained that their teenage students were too distracted by their computer screens to pay attention to the lesson in the classroom.

    Michael Ranieri, a junior at Hoboken’s high school, aspires to be an electrical engineer. He said when he did use the computers for schoolwork, it was mostly for word processing and Internet browsing. He would write an essay on the laptop for English class, for example, or research information using Google.

    “We didn’t really do much on the computer,” said Ranieri. “So we kind of just did games to mess around when we had free time. I remember really big was Crazy Taxis that we used play. If we found solitaire on line, we used to play it.”

    Ranieri said he was relieved to be free of the stress of keeping track of his laptop. Families had to sign papers agreeing to be financially responsible if the computers were lost. Every week Ranieri roamed his classrooms looking for his.

    “It was usually under my desk in English class,” he said.

    Superintendent Toback inherited the laptop program when he arrived in 2011. At first, he tried to keep it going.

    But he faced skyrocketing costs, which hadn’t been budgeted for. The $500 laptops lasted only two years and then needed to be replaced. Toback said new laptops with more capacity for running educational software would cost $1,000 each. Licenses for the security software alone were running more than $100,000 and needed to be renewed every two years.

    And the final kicker: the whole town was jamming the high school’s wireless network.

    “A lot of people knew the username and password,” Toback said. “So a lot of people were able to walk by the building and they would get wireless access. Over a period of years, you had thousands of people. It bogged it down, it made it unusable.”

    Allison Powell says Hoboken’s headaches are not unusual. Powell is a vice president for state and district services at iNacol, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, where she works with school leaders on how to use computers to personalize instruction by delivering different lessons to each child.

    But Powell says many schools are continuing to make Hoboken’s mistake of shopping for technology without a plan to make teaching in the classroom more effective.

    “Probably in the last few months I’ve had quite a few principals and superintendents call and say, ‘I bought these 500 iPads or 1000 laptops because the district next to us just bought them,’ and they’re like, now what do we do?” Powell said.

    Back in Hoboken, the school staff will spend the summer going through the laptops one by one, writing down the serial numbers and drafting a resolution for the school board to approve their destruction.

    Then they’ll seek bids from recycling companies to figure out how much it will cost Hoboken to throw them away.

    Read more about how schools are bringing technology into the classroom.

    [Cross-posted at the Hechinger Report]

  • July 29, 2014 09:40 AM Report: 31 Million Americans Have College Credits, But No Degree

    At a time when policymakers are struggling to increase the proportion of Americans with college and university degrees, more than 31 million people have already accumulated credits but quit without graduating, a new report shows.

    And while a third of those left after as little as a single term, about 21 million spent more than a term on campus before giving up on their higher educations, according to the research, from the National Student Clearinghouse. More than four million have at least two years of college under their belts, which they earned 10 years ago or less.

    That means they’re close to getting at least associate’s degrees or certificates.

    The figures show the huge number of Americans who start college but never finish, though the report does not include the reasons this is happening. Other research cites the high cost of tuition, lack of support services, and students’ competing obligations, such as families and jobs, among other obstacles.

    “These students represent a vast resource of untapped educational capital.” Joni Finney, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education

    About a third started and ended their higher educations within the same year, but another third remained enrolled for two to three years before dropping out and yet another third spent as much as four to six years in college without ever getting a degree.

    They represent a potential reservoir of degree-holders to universities and colleges that reach out to them, accept their credits, and help them finish, the report said.

    “These students represent a vast resource of untapped educational capital that the country can ill afford to overlook,” said Joni Finney, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. “Ensuring that students who begin college complete their certificate and degree coursework must be a national priority.”

    Colleges and universities in some states are already starting to go after this market.

    In Florida, for instance, 11 public and private higher-education institutions this fall will offer more than 50 online programs leading to degrees and certificates for that state’s estimated 2.2 million residents who have started but never finished college.

    The program, called Complete Florida, will make teams of advisors available to help these students stay on track this time. It will also let people transform their relevant work experience into academic credit.

    [Cross-posted at the Hechinger Report]

  • July 28, 2014 05:22 PM Special Education Law in Need of an Overhaul

    New America’s Clare McCann writes on The Hill that lawmakers have constructed a formula that creates significant disparities in federal special education funding to school districts. She writes,

    The fact that states are receiving such inequitable IDEA allocations to afford education for one of the country’s most vulnerable populations should serve as evidence that lawmakers need to take action to update and revise the formula and rid it of those disparities. States and local school districts are on the hook for the remainder of the costs… So far, members of Congress have only had one thing to say in response to demands for a revamped IDEA, though: Get in line.

    Read the full article here.

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central]

  • July 28, 2014 12:06 PM US Educators Lead the World in Overestimating Student Poverty, Which May Affect Educational Mobility
    Source: Andreas Schleicher OECD

    AndreSource: Andreas Schleicher OECD

    Do educators’ perceptions of how disadvantaged their students are matter? Put another way, when teachers think their students are underprivileged, do they have lower expectations for them, and do their students achieve less at school?

    In a July 22, 2014, article “Poverty and the perception of poverty - how both matter for schooling outcomes,” Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), argues that perceptions often matter more than reality, with distressing consequences. He found that principals in some countries vastly overestimate the poverty level of their students, and their perception of disadvantage negatively correlates with student math achievement. That is, the greater the misperception of poverty, the more likely it is for 15-year-old students’  math scores to be predicted by their actual socio-economic status, and the harder it is for disadvantaged students at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder to score among the top students.

     “In countries like France and the United States, perceived disadvantage is far greater than real disadvantage, and it makes a significant difference for student performance,” Schleicher wrote in the article.

    Conversely, he found that educators in many top-performing nations greatly underestimate how disadvantaged their students are. Yet the truly disadvantaged students in these nations are more likely to score in the top tier on the PISA math test. 

    Schleicher’s data analysis mashed together three different data sets: international math test results, teacher surveys and socio-economic indicators. (Footnote: The math test was the OECD’s Program for International Assessment (PISA) given to 15-year-olds around the world. The survey data was from the OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) question 15c. Socio-economic indicators came from the OECD’s own index of economic, social and cultural status (ESCS) that is generated with the PISA test results.)

    In the United States, for example, 65 percent of teachers work in middle schools where the principals surveyed said that more than 30 percent of their students come from socieconomically disadvantaged homes, the highest perception-of-poverty rate among the 30 countries analyzed by Schleicher. In reality, only 13 percent of American 15-year-olds come from disadvantaged homes, by OECD calculations. (Footnote: The OECD socio-economic index factors in not only income, but also parental education, educational resources at home and other family possessions. Because the United States is a relatively rich country, many among the 21 percent of school-age children living below the national poverty line are not counted in the low-income bracket by OECD standards, hence the OECD’s seemingly low figure of 13 percent.)

    At the same time, Schleicher calculates that only 20 percent of disadvantaged students in the United States are able to score in the top quartile on the PISA math test. In France, it’s about the same. In Israel, another country for which there is a large gulf between perception and reality, only 10 percent of disadvantaged students score among the top in math.

    By contrast, the percentage of actually disadvantaged children in Japan and Korea (about 10 percent) is similar to the percentage in the United States — but  only 6 percent of Japanese principals and 9 percent of Korean principals report believing that 30 percent of their students are disadvantaged.  Six times as many U.S. principals believe the poverty rate is that high. In Croatia, Serbia and Singapore, more than 20 percent of students are actually disadvantaged — much higher than in the United States — yet not more than 7 percent of principals say they have significant populations of disadvantaged students.

    (Andreas Schleicher’s bubble chart, reproduced at the top of this story, depicts perception on the horizontal axis and actual disadvantage on the vertical axis. The larger the circle, the more educational inequality there is in that country, i.e., the more a student’s socio-economic status determines his math achievement. Click on the chart to see a larger version).

    In Singapore more than half the students from the bottom quarter of the socio-economic spectrum score in the top quarter of the world’s students on PISA. In Japan, 45 percent of disadvantaged students perform better on the PISA test than their backgrounds would predict. That’s remarkable educational mobility: roughly half of the most disadvantaged students in the bottom 25 percent in these countries score in at the top 25 percent.

    This is fascinating. I asked Scheicher how much this analysis hinges upon where you set the poverty level. If the OECD were to set the bar higher, closer to where the U.S. sets its own poverty line, there would not be such a giant gulf between perception and reality. And we could not blame US educators for overestimating poverty so enormously.

    Schleicher admits that poverty is a relative measure, which each country defines differently. If the OECD used a higher bar, every nation’s poverty rate would simply be much higher. But American educators would still have the highest perceptions of student poverty. His conclusions about educational opportunity — or lack thereof — for the bottom quartile would still be true.

    “Obviously, a child considered poor in the United States may be regarded as relatively wealthy in another country,” he wrote, “but the fact that the perceived problem of socio-economic disadvantage among students is so much greater in the United States – and in France too – than the actual backgrounds of students also suggests that what school principals in some countries consider to be social disadvantage would not be considered such in others.”

    The main concern I have about the correlation between perceived poverty and educational opportunity is that U. S. students post mediocre performances on the PISA math test in general. Yes, low-income students don’t do well on PISA test, but most wealthy students don’t, either.  And I suspect that U.S. teachers don’t harbor lower expectations for rich Americans!

    Related stories:

    What makes for happier teachers, according to international survey

    PISA math score debate among education experts centers on poverty and teaching

    Top US students lag far behind top students around the world in 2012 PISA test results

    The number of high-poverty schools increases by about 60 percent

    [Cross-posted at the Hechinger Report]

  • July 25, 2014 01:47 PM Poison Ivy, Again

    For the early part of this week social media was really excited about this piece in the New Republic about social mobility and the nation’s fanciest colleges.

    The Ivy League apparently has a zombie asshole problem. Attending an Ivy League (or Ivy Leage-ish Stanford, Williams, Duke, Amherst, etc.) school will ruin people, and risk turning them into “out-of-touch, entitled little shits.”

    As William Deresiewicz writes:

    Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.
    When I speak of elite education, I mean prestigious institutions like Harvard or Stanford or Williams as well as the larger universe of second-tier selective schools, but I also mean everything that leads up to and away from them—the private and affluent public high schools; the ever-growing industry of tutors and consultants and test-prep courses; the admissions process itself, squatting like a dragon at the entrance to adulthood; the brand-name graduate schools and employment opportunities that come after the B.A.; and the parents and communities, largely upper-middle class, who push their children into the maw of this machine. In short, our entire system of elite education.

    He is, I suppose, technically right. But this isn’t about fancy colleges. The author is confusing a greater American economic and philosophical problem with what happens in a few colleges.

    The idea that following all of the rules, and going through the rat race of success, will make you both mindless and kind of a jerk is a familiar concern about American life. There’s more out there to learn and love and experience.

    That more or less the specific, plot-based lesson of, say, The Catcher in the Rye. All of those preppy phonies and their pointless lives and useless concerns. But the reason that book is taught in public high schools in Marshalltown, Iowa, and South Central Los Angeles is that the greater message is universal: Conformity and philistinism and a life unexplored is unsatisfying. That’s not about where you went to college or even, in fact, if you went at all.

    poisonIvy

    America’s most selective schools do turn out a lot of zombies, but it’s probably not the schools that do that. Indeed, it’s not even clear that Harvard produces a greater percentage of zombies than the nearby, and less selective, University of Massachusetts.

    The writer points out that America’s top colleges are full of “toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression.” Well, so are America’s Walmarts. It’s not our system of elite education that does this; it’s our whole system. That’s how employment works, too.

    What to do?

    Instead of service [volunteering in the Amazon or teaching English as a second language], how about service work? That’ll really give you insight into other people. How about waiting tables so that you can see how hard it is, physically and mentally? You really aren’t as smart as everyone has been telling you; you’re only smarter in a certain way. There are smart people who do not go to a prestigious college, or to any college—often precisely for reasons of class. There are smart people who are not “smart.”

    Oh, stop. This is confusing a public struggle with a private one. Yes, it’s true that many relatively affluent children no longer have the experience working summer jobs in factories that many college students did 20 or 30 years ago, but that’s a result of changes in the American economy.

    Furthermore, while an experience on the admissions committee (the author did “a daylong stint on the Yale admissions committee”), and interviews with very recent graduates, might tell an observer one thing, just looking at the alumni magazines will tell you something thing else. The top schools produce lots of “out-of-touch, entitled little shits,” but they also produce lots of ordinary people, dentists and lawyers, and a fair number of artists and nonconformists. Zombies? Well, only as far as America’s professional adults as a whole are zombies.

    Zach Schonfeld over at Newsweek, points out that 46 out of 91 [of TNR’s editorial] staffers hold undergraduate or graduate degrees (or both) from an Ivy League institution.

    This something we often face here at this magazine when the College Guide comes out in the fall: Well, readers ask, where did you go to college? Where would you send your kids?

    The Monthly’s best colleges, of course, are the best colleges in terms of their services to the country, not “what is the fanciest place to send your kid.” And, to be honest, most editorial staff at magazines of ideas went to fancy colleges too. At the Monthly, back when I was on full staff and I worked seriously on the last college guide, alma maters of the editorial team included Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, Columbia, Yale.

    TNR is attempting to undermine the standard assumption that fancy college produce a lot of great people. The author is pretending to say, oh no, look we’ve done real investigative journalism and discovered that the Ivy League sucks. Send your kids to less selective school.

    Yeah, I’ll believe that when Chris Hughes (Harvard) has a child who matriculates at SUNY Brockport or editor Franklin Foer (Columbia) has a child who graduates from the University of the District of Columbia.

    Come on, we know how this works. Sure, there are zombies at top schools, but there’s aren’t more zombies at top schools. The zombies are everywhere.

  • July 24, 2014 10:55 PM Stop Trying to Plan the Campus for the Future

    One of the big trends in policy journalism has to do with discussing college “in the future.” You know, when robot teachers instruct multiethnic superstar children in their bedrooms on Jupiter, or something.

    We’re never quite sure what’s going to happen, but it’s pretty clear it’s going to involve a lot of amazing new technology.

    Future

    Sometimes institutions attempt to plan for this, and design buildings for technology that doesn’t exist. This is maybe stupid, suggests Avi Wolfman-Arent in the Chronicle of Higher Education; it’s maybe better to just let the college change as it needs to.

    That’s what Cornell is trying to do on its new technology campus in New York City:

    [Dan] Huttenlocher is certain his needs will change. As dean of Cornell Tech, a closely watched collaboration in New York City between Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Mr. Huttenlocher is overseeing the creation of an institution dedicated to technological innovation, academic experimentation, and the kind of serial flexibility those two principles require.
    “My goal as the dean is to create an environment where everything can be repurposed,” Mr. Huttenlocher says.
    He and his team are in the tenuous middle stages of planning and building exactly that: the chameleon campus, a space where interchangeability permeates everything.

    It’s an odd project, trying to build a technologically up-to-date space two decades in the future when technology needs change faster than the carpet wears out.

    Well, they’re trying anyway. So far this looks like not really planning much. As the article explains, much of this planning has to do with just having a lot of empty space that the institution can fill with whatever it needs, eventually.

    The second, third, and fourth stories of the five-level structure are stunningly undefined, dominated by large, uninterrupted spaces. Classrooms? Faculty offices? The building will have little of the former and none of the latter. Instead there are “office zones,” which will be filled with workstations; those seeking some form of enclosure can enter a “huddle room,” “swing space, “collab” room, or “hub lounge.” The entrepreneurial patois, conspicuous as it sounds, reflects a real attempt to break down traditional academic boundaries.

    “Huddle room,” “swing space, “collab” room, and “hub lounge” are, of course, meaningless tech jargon that is open to change at the direction of higher-level administrators, or new money. But it’s an interesting project, trying to build based on an awareness that a tech campus has to be able to change quickly, and relatively cheaply.

    We, in fact, have campuses with all sort of archaic features like fireplaces in the dorms and particle accelerators under the football fields, smoking rooms in the libraries, extra-wide doors to accommodate hoop skirts, and slave quarters in the attics. This is part of what makes older campuses so much fun to explore.

    As someone who went to college in a place a lot of pretty old buildings, I assure you it’s pretty clear that we adapt structures as we need them. We work around it, we renovate these things later for the campus we really need.

    But leaving a lot of open space means it’ll be relatively inexpensive to adapt. Specific rooms for the day’s technology fads are pricey to remove.

  • July 24, 2014 01:00 PM Why Grandparents Should Pay for College

    The cost of college is looking a little too high? Maybe you aren’t sure how you can ever afford four years of a rigorous collegiate education for your kids. Even public schools are looking pretty pricey these days. What to do?

    Well, your parents sure look to be living pretty luxuriously in their retirement. Maybe they could pay for your children’s college.

    That might be a fairly good idea, argues Robyn Post in a Reuters piece:

    Generosity can also be channeled toward significant tax and estate planning benefits for the grandparents.
    A 529 plan… provides for tax-free distributions for college. It also allows grandparents to give the funds to another grandchild if the intended recipient does not go to college or need the money.

    And it’s good for them, too.

    Grandparents may also be eligible for state income tax deductions when they make 529 contributions - they are available in 34 states and the District of Columbia. They can also take required minimum distributions from their IRA accounts and transfer those funds to the 529 plan, where they can continue to grow tax-deferred.

    According to the article, about half of grandparents plan to contribute money toward college. A third say they plan to pay more than $50,000.

    This makes some degree of sense, since back when they were sending kids to college, and attending it themselves, it was a lot cheaper. And then, partially as a result of tax revolts by people who are now old, not to mention their escalating health care and pension costs, states began to cut funding for state universities, and so higher education got expensive.

    It’s probably best not to use that last paragraph if you go to ask your parents if they might be interested in contributing to your child’s college education. It’s still their money you’re asking for, after all.

  • July 23, 2014 04:08 PM A Path Forward on Early-Ed Reform

    If the recession was difficult for adults, it was just as hard on young children. Between 2009 and 2013, enrollment in state-funded pre-K programs barely budged, up from 40 to 42 percent. Meanwhile, per-child spending on those pre-K programs fell, and Head Start programs felt the effects of sequestration more acutely than most, with 57,000 kids forced out virtually overnight and their parents stranded to scramble for child care. Policymakers continued to ignore the needs of a growing dual-language learner population. Achievement gaps between rich and poor kindergartners have grown, as have gaps in fourth-grade test scores for low- and high-income children.

    A new report my colleagues and I released last week, Beyond Subprime Learning: Accelerating Progress in Early Education, charts a path forward for early learning in America with a series of essential improvements–and a few bold ideas that, with enough political will, could fundamentally change the design of the birth-to-third-grade educational spectrum.

    Although the report’s recommendations are wide-ranging and cover a number of topics, two categories in particular could make a big difference: streamlining the current system, and tapping into sources for sustainable public funding.

    What do we mean by streamline? As of now, the road to receiving early education services is littered with complications. Head Start is available primarily to families at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty level; free lunch and food stamp eligibility is set at 130 percent of the federal poverty level, which reduced-price lunch is available all the way up to 185 percent of the poverty level; child care eligibility is based on a maximum of 85 percent of a state’s median income; and states set their own limits for pre-K programs. In some programs, like with child care subsidies, families become ineligible entirely when their incomes pass the limit by as little as a dollar.

    Even teachers are caught up in the confused system: Each state sets its own markers for what kindergartners, for example, should know and be able to do; and each states designs its own teacher licensing structure. And while some states offer early education or early elementary licenses, like birth-to-age-5 or PreK-3rd grade, others offer omnibus licenses that cover all grades, from pre-K through elementary or even middle school. Teacher preparation programs, particularly in omnibus-license states, often neglect early-grade teachers’ niche needs, like social-emotional learning.

    Lawmakers should make it simpler for families to access early educational opportunities by standardizing eligibility. But they should also work towards cohesion in the early educational system, including closer alignment between pre-K and early grade teachers and greater consistency in our understanding of what children need to know.

    But streamlining alone is not enough. Of course, ensuring access to high-quality pre-K and other early education, and building those programs into the larger educational system, comes at a cost. Although most Americans in a recent poll stated that they support investments in early education, policymakers have yet to catch up to public opinion. There’s not nearly enough money to go around.

    Instead, we propose that states increase their investments in pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds–with help from the federal government, at first, through a matching program–and take responsibility for those programs. States and school districts are already responsible for the bulk of K-12 educational costs, while the feds tack on about 12 percent of the total funding; pre-K should be incorporated into that system, with teachers paid comparably to K-12 teachers and funded through the same funding formulas as the other grades.

    Meanwhile, lawmakers at all levels of government should begin thinking creatively, using sources such as reappropriated dollars from inequitable tax expenditures, public-private partnerships, and even as yet unproven sources like social impact bonds to kickstart the changes. Already, the current generation of young children is off to a rocky start, with more kids subject to the incredible stress of poverty and unemployment caused by the Great Recession and many of the services available to their families made victims of belt-tightening on Capitol Hill. There is not time to waste in moving forward to ensure their younger siblings have more opportunities.

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central]

  • July 22, 2014 07:07 PM Unaccompanied Children Crisis Has Implications for Education Budget

    By now, readers have undoubtedly heard about the tens of thousands of children streaming over the border, largely from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The ranks of unaccompanied children, as they are known, has grown dramatically in recent months as children flee some of the most dangerous countries in the world outside of active war zones in hope of finding safety and refuge away from the gang violence and murder in their hometowns. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson predicted a few weeks ago that their numbers would reach 90,000 by the end of the fiscal year on September 30, most of whom are expected to be from Central America.

    By the middle of next month, the federal government could run out of money for detaining and deporting them. The president has requested $3.7 billion in emergency funds to carry federal agencies through the end of fiscal year 2014. Whether Congress will return to Washington, D.C. for a vote on the bill before the federal government runs out of money isn’t clear yet. But one thing is becoming clear: Immigration may not be the only policy affected by the influx of these children. Education funding could feel ripple effects, too.

    Under federal law, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) is responsible for placing and caring for unaccompanied children through its Office of Refugee Resettlement, rather than Immigration and Customs Enforcement or another office. But usually, HHS serves about 7,000 to 8,000 children a year — until fiscal year 2012, when it jumped up to 13,600, and then increased again to more than 24,600 in 2013. HHS uses these funds to provide the kids a baseline of safety, health, and education. But doing right by these children isn’t cheap. Of the $3.7 billion emergency request the White House made earlier this month to deal with the situation, $1.8 billion would be earmarked for HHS to care for the children.

    But the funding typically isn’t augmented by emergency funding — it’s folded into the agency’s annual budget. In fiscal year 2014, Congress enacted funding totaling $868 million for unaccompanied alien children, up from $376 million just one year prior. And that funding doesn’t even include the emergency dollars, so as the numbers of children keep growing, next year’s regular budget will likely need to be even larger.

    That’s where the trouble starts for education spending. In 2011, Congress passed the Budget Control Act (BCA), implementing a series of spending caps to limit federal appropriations funding over the next decade. Under the BCA regime, funding is zero-sum, because absent congressional action (like lifting or removing the caps), the limits hold for all appropriations. So once the HHS funding for unaccompanied children is wrapped into the regular appropriations–rather than counted as emergency funding, which isn’t subject to the spending caps–every dollar directed to that cause will be counted against the overall appropriations limit. And since the Departments of Labor, HHS, and Education are all funded in one package by Congress, the trade-offs in funding will likely come from within those agencies. If the problem continues to grow, funding for the immigration crisis could eat into the federal budget for education programs.

    And there’s another political concern, even beyond Congress’s spending caps. As the unaccompanied minors debate is heating up, members of Congress are taking sides. A number of Republicans in Congress have vehemently opposed the Obama administration’s recent detention efforts for the children, arguing they aren’t coupled with strong enough border security and deportation efforts. Given the delays and pushback the administration has already seen on its emergency funding request, it seems possible, if not likely, that it won’t be the last time lawmakers hesitate to write a check. As Congress prepares to produce and pass fiscal year 2015 spending bills (albeit something that will likely happen after the deadline passes on September 30, 2014), the unaccompanied children funding could likely be on the list of reasons lawmakers choose to hold off on approving new spending.

    Lawmakers are now dealing with a humanitarian crisis: tens of thousands of unaccompanied children traveling to the U.S. to escape violent, poverty-stricken countries. But now that the crisis is in full swing, lawmakers have to decide whether they want to stand by the arbitrarily determined, sometimes-painful spending limits in place now, or whether they should revise the budgetary policy to fit these exceptional circumstances. The choice is theirs.

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central]

  • July 22, 2014 03:49 PM Imitating White Privilege: Why Our Public Schools Don’t Look Like the Public

    “Why can’t New Orleans have a charter school for middle class blacks?” A black physician and parent of a teenage daughter unashamedly asked me this question as we deboarded a first class cabin from our flight to the Crescent City. If I weren’t bourgie (African American slang for Bourgeoisie - pronounced boo-zhee), I would have cringed.

    Our affectations won’t allow us to admit, but black middle class families really do need quality public schools. Many middle-income families simply can’t afford their pretentious tastes for private and parochial schools, and we also don’t want to send our children to overwhelmingly white environments for fear of cultural isolation.

    Click to read more columns.

    Click to read more columns.

    So, who is fighting for the Bourgie Charter Academy?

    A school may assuage the pressure that middle class blacks are feeling in New Orleans. Black families make up about 60 percent of the total population and approximately 90 percent of the public school population. Since 1999, the share of New Orleans’s black middle and upper income households dipped from 35 percent to 31 percent while their white counterparts increased from 60 percent to 68 percent. In addition, post-Katrina structural changes to New Orleans Public Schools altered the student bodies of the traditional middle-, working-class havens. Eleanor McMain and McDonogh 35 lost some of their luster after changes in their entrance requirements and demographics. Consequently, those schools have yet to prove it was the school and not its demographics that brought acclaim and pride.

    Enrollment and social struggles among the black parochial schools also reflect declining numbers and the difficulty that comes with inclusion. Unfortunately, schools’ reputations seem to be negatively correlated with the number of poor folk they educate.

    While I’m sympathetic to the burden of Bourgie black folk, class struggles within individual ethnic groups are yet another set of barriers that keep schools and communities from reaching their democratic and educational ideals. The middle and upper middle classes’ perceptions and prejudices of poor black children are a primary reason New Orleans’ schools ended up in this systemic spaghetti bowl.

    Public schools should look like the public. But public schools are the manifestations of the projected fears of the middle class - poor, black children.

    We typically talk about white flight when describing the period when white families abandoned the public school system. However in New Orleans, we can easily describe the phenomenon as middle class flight. Whites represent approximately 35 percent of the total population but approximately 60 percent of the private/parochial schools. Blacks comprise about 35 percent of the private/parochial market. Whites alone didn’t exit public schools.

    Middle class parents of all stripes feel they’re risking their children’s educations by placing them in schools with high concentrations of students in poverty. I held my nose when I placed my three year-old child in a lottery for entry into a popular charter school. (Pardon the digression. The idea of placing your child in a lottery offends bourgie parents) After not getting in the school, I did the middle class rite of passage. I enrolled Robeson in a private school - more indication that I’m bourgie.

    Nevertheless, our fears that poor children possess some sort of psychosocial virus areas ridiculous as the defense of affluenzia. Privileged parents don’t fully appreciate how their precious child’s academic progress may have as much to do with how much money their grandparents earned as with their tremendous academic potential.

    Education reform can’t be about learning how to educate poor people. The current movement hasn’t helped itself much with its teary-eyed, pity rallies that literally place a black or brown child on a stage to serve as raison d’etre. After the tears and checks flow, middle and upper middle class families return to the schools for their kind of people.

    The middle class should try to end poverty instead of shunning poor people. Maybe then our public schools would look like the public. Maybe our reforms would include more root causes.

    With over 60 years of collecting data on predictors of academic success, income/wealth consistently ranks high. Quality curriculum and instruction only gets us so far. Education reform would certainly see fewer tears and more jobs if we didn’t abdicate our responsibility for addressing poverty. Our drive for exclusivity isn’t finding the best education for our children. School reform minus efforts to be more inclusive only reinforces our biases of people in poverty. Further, saying that “poverty is out of our control” keeps us from going upstream.

    There are some schools in New Orleans and across the country that are simultaneously trying to provide quality curriculum and instruction, strive for inclusion as well as involve the public. In particular, Morris Jeff Community Schools and the Bricolage Academy have explicit goals of including diversity when they talk about “high expectations.” They are not realizing the proverbial “tipping point” from their efforts. Consequently, they are pushing a system that is myopically focused on limited notions of academic growth. Meredith Broussard is right. Poor schools won’t win at standardized testing. We can meet the needs of the whole child if we are willing to pay for it. In addition, states should include diversity points in how they measure school performance.

    Charter schools in New Orleans can also do more to promote programs for high achieving students (they do exist in public schools), which can raise the bar for the school even further while easing middle class parents’ concerns that public schools can’t push their children. Too much of reform has been about remediation. How do leaders know how far children can go if opportunities for acceleration don’t exist? Authentic Advanced Placement courses is part of the solution.

    But our bourgie dreams for exclusivity keep us from seeing real solutions for building better schools and stronger communities. I certainly don’t have the answer, but I know that using public dollars to create private schools isn’t it. Alas, solving for poor thinking may be a bigger problem than poverty itself. The middle class seems overly willing to change poor folk and not ourselves.

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

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