By Valerie Strauss | The Washington Post
“Dear President Obama, you say you believe in an equal education for all students, but you are embarking on education policies that will never achieve that goal and that can do harm to America’s school children, especially its neediest.
“Stop before it is too late.”
6:30 AM ET, 07/28/2010 - The Obama administration’s approach to improving the most troubled schools are nothing more than a toughened version of largely unsuccessful strategies concocted under president George W. Bush and should be replaced with a flexible system that involves parents and communities, according to a new analysis being released today. [analysis follows in this post]
The sternly worded analysis is the second punch that the administration has received this week over its education policies. It is landing on the same day that Education Secretary Arne Duncan is addressing the Urban League’s convention in Washington D.C., and a day before President Obama defends his education policies in a major speech to the same gathering.
The report, by a new national coalition of 24 community-based groups, includes a proposal for a new school transformation model that emphasizes community involvement, and a list of more than 2,000 schools across the country targeted for one of the four transformation models now allowed by the administration.
A coalition of civil rights groups released a framework for education reform on Monday which thrashed Obama’s education policies on a number of issues -- including funding equity and charter schools -- and said the government should stop using low-income neighborhoods as laboratories for education experiments.
The analysis of school turnaround strategies, released by a new national coalition of community-based groups called Communities for Excellent Public Schools, criticizes the administration for taking “top-down school improvement efforts” that are part of No Child Left Behind and thinking that they will somehow be successful by “adding teeth.” It says that they ignore a growing body of research about what does work.
These are the school turnaround options for districts that were outlined in Obama’s “Blueprint for Reform,” the administration’s plan for reauthorizing No Child Left Behind (formally called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) and that are being tested through the School Improvement Grants program (SIG) :
*Turnaround: The school’s principal and all of its teachers are fired. A new principal may rehire up to 50 percent of the former teachers and must then implement Department-outlined strategies to improve student academic and graduation rates.
*Restart: The district must either convert the school to a charter, or close it and reopen it under outside management--a charter operator, charter management organization or education management organization.
*School Closure: Schools may be closed, with students being transferred to “other, higher achieving schools.”
*Transformation: This model requires that the school principal be replaced (if s/he has been at the school longer than two years) and that schools must choose from an department-determined set of strategies. But under the SIG program, school districts with more than nine targeted schools can only use this model for no more than half.
The report, entitled "Our Communities Left Behind: An Analysis of the Administration’s School Turnaround Policies," calls them “bad policy and bad educational strategy” for reasons including:
*They are imposed rather than developed with the community, even though research shows that community engagement is essential to sustainable reform of low-performing schools.
*They focus primarily on structural, rather than educational change.
*They are “one-size-fits” all and do not take into consideration local political, cultural and fiscal considerations.
This analysis includes a list, released for the first time in one document, of 2,136 schools that have been identified as eligible for federal intervention under the School Improvement Grant program. The compilation is the first effort to identify and assess the characteristics of the schools and their students, a demographic analysis compiled by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University:
*Nearly 1.5 million students attend these schools.
*Eighty-one percent of student in these schools are students of color.
*Eighty-five percent of the most urgently targeted schools have high concentrations of poverty (defined as more than 50 percent of students eligible for federal free and reduced priced lunch).
*Black students are 7 1/2 times more likely to be in a SIG-eligible school than white students.
*Hispanic students are 4 1/2 times more likely to be in a SIG-eligible school than white students.
“Few of the schools will see significant academic gains as a result of these interventions,” the report says. “And even fewer of these gains will be sustained over a period of years.”
The report includes a proposal for a new approach to school intervention called “Sustainable School Transformation,” which has these central elements:
1) A strong focus on school culture, curriculum and staffing.
--Staffing structures that facilitate collaboration
--Professional development designed to meet individual needs of the staff
--A research-based, thoughtfully crafted teacher evaluation program, developed in conjunction with parents, students, teachers and administrators
--A well-rounded, culturally relevant and enriched college and career preparatory curriculum
--Intensive literacy support and “reading recovery” programs to ensure a focus on literacy
2) Wrap-around supports for students
--Access to guidance counselors at the high school level
--A positive behavioral approach to school discipline
--Access to primary health care services to address basic wellness issues, including emotional/mental health issues
3) Collaboration to ensure local ownership and accountability
--A comprehensive assessment of the school’s individual strengths, challenges and impediments to student success that takes a full school year.
--Students, parents and community members must be full partners in all stages,
“Yes, dramatic action is needed. But we have to get it right." the report says.
Let’s hope the Education Department is listening.
Civil rights groups skewer Obama education policy (updated)
By Valerie Strauss | The Washington Post
It is most politely written, but a 17-page framework for education reform released Monday by a coalition of civil rights groups amounts to a thrashing of President Obama’s education policies and it offers a prescription for how to set things right.
You won’t see these sentences in the piece: “Dear President Obama, you say you believe in an equal education for all students, but you are embarking on education policies that will never achieve that goal and that can do harm to America’s school children, especially its neediest. Stop before it is too late.”
But that, in other nicer words, is exactly what it says. The courteous gloss on this framework can’t cover up its angry, challenging substance.
The “Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn” is a collaboration of these groups: Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Schott Foundation for Public Education, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Coalition for Educating Black Children, National Urban League, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
Leaders of these groups were scheduled to hold a press conference Monday to release the framework but it was cancelled because, a spokesman said, there was a conflict in schedules. The delay was, presumably, not connected to public appearances this week by Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan at the convention marking the 100th anniversary of the Urban League in Washington D.C. Obama is making a speech on Thursday; Duncan on Wednesday.
The framework’s authors start the framework seeming conciliatory, applauding Obama's goal for the United States to become a global leader in post-secondary education attainment by 2020.
But quickly their intent is clear. They take apart the thinking behind the administration’s education policies, and note a number of times the differences between what Obama and Duncan say about education and what they do.
About Race to the Top, the competitive grant program for states that is the administration’s central education initiative thus far, it says:
“The Race to the Top Fund and similar strategies for awarding federal education funding will ultimately leave states competing with states, parents competing with parents, and students competing with other students..... By emphasizing competitive incentives in this economic climate, the majority of low-income and minority students will be left behind and, as a result, the United States will be left behind as a global leader.”
About an expansion of public charter schools, which the administration has advanced:
“There is no evidence that charter operators are systematically more effective in creating higher student outcomes nationwide....Thus, while some charter schools can and do work for some students, they are not a universal solution for systemic change for all students, especially those with the highest needs.”
And there’s this carefully worded reproach to the administration:
“To the extent that the federal government continues to encourage states to expand the number of charters and reconstitute existing schools as charters, it is even more critical to ensure that every state has a rigorous accountability system to ensure that all charters are operating at a high level.”
But there’s more.
The framework says that the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, “should seek buy-in from community advocates.” But it notes that Obama’s Blueprint for Education reform makes "only cursory mention of parent and community engagement in local school development.”
It blasts the administration’s approach to dealing with persistently low-performing schools, saying that closing them in the way now being advanced is wrong, and it says that the administration is not doing enough to close gaps in resources, alleviate poverty and end racial segregation in schools.
And it says that the government should stop using low-income neighborhoods as laboratories for education experiments:
“For far too long, communities of color have been testing grounds for unproven methods of educational change while all levels of government have resisted the tough decisions required to expand access to effective educational methods. The federal government currently requires school districts to use evidence-based approaches to receive federal funds in DOE’s Investing in Innovation grant process. So, too, in all reforms impacting low-income and high-minority communities, federal and state governments should meet the same evidence-based requirement as they prescribe specific approaches to school reform and distribute billions of dollars to implement them.
“Rather than addressing inequitable access to research-proven methodologies like high-quality early childhood education and a stable supply of experienced, highly effective teachers, recent education reform proposals have favored “stop gap” quick fixes that may look new on the surface but offer no real long-term strategy for effective systemic change. The absence of these “stop gap” programs in affluent communities speaks to the marginal nature of this approach. We therefore urge an end to the federal push to encourage states to adopt federally prescribed methodologies that have little or no evidentiary support – for primary implementation only in low-income and high-minority communities.”
This is really tough talk, and it is about time that America’s civil rights leaders are speaking up.
The only question is whether anybody in the Obama administration is actually listening.
Civil Rights Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn through Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act -