The Fiscal Cliff Deal’s Impact on K-12, Higher Ed

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If you thought what you saw over the past few days was frustrating, just wait for what the next two months have in store.  The fiscal cliff bill passed last night only delays the impact of the fiscal cliff.  There’s no doubt that many people are concerned about what the incoming Congress will decide on a number of issues–including education.  I’ve compiled a list of pieces on the fiscal cliffs impact on education below:  

  1. Education Services and Special Education Cuts are at Stake

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten summed the problem up best, noting that, “Kicking the can down the road for two months means that we still face the possibility of staggering and debilitating cuts to public schools, health care and services that our kids and families count on.”

Indeed, a looming $1.2 billion cut to Title I funding alone will reduce or eliminate education services for over 1.7 million low income children and federal spe­cial education funding could still be slashed by $1 billion, eliminating support for 536,000 students and resulting in 12,000 special education teachers and paraprofessionals losing their jobs. That means school districts still face significant financial uncertainty as they make budgets for the 2013-2014 school year.”  Read  more: GOOD’s Why the Fiscal Cliff Deal Doesn’t Solve our Education Crisis

2.  Early Childhood Education on the Chopping Block

“If the sequestration cuts do end up going through in March, most school districts wouldn’t feel the pinch until the start of the 2013-14 school year, because of the way that key programs, such as Title I grants for districts and special education aid, are funded. That gives districts a planning window to figure out how to implement the cuts without hurting student achievement—and it gives Congress and the Obama administration more time to work out a deal.

But other programs, such as the Head Start preschool program for low-income children, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, would be cut right away. And the impact-aid program would feel the sequestration sting in April, when districts receive their next payments. That program helps districts with a large federal presence, such as a military base.”  Read about this and more on Ed Weekly:  K-12 Aid Faces Uncertain Future, Despite ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Deal

3.  Higher Education Saved 

The final agreement to avoid certain tax increases and spending cuts passed both houses of Congress late Tuesday, staving off several measures that would have raised the tax bill for college students and potentially deprived universities of critical research funding.

The deal to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff”spared the American Opportunity Tax Credit and extended the measure for five years, EdWeek reports. Born of the 2009 stimulus bill, the American Opportunity Tax Credit allows middle- and low-income families a tax deduction of up to $2,500 a year in education expenses for four years. It can trim the overall cost of a college degree by $10,000. Read more on The Huffington Post:  Fiscal Cliff Deal Spares Higher Education Research Funding, Tuition Tax Credit 

I’m glad higher education was spared.  I hope that K-12 comes out victorious when the final legislation is passed in two months.  Call your representatives and let them know to save education! Our nation’s future depends on our ability to educate our children today. 

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Mississippi’s School to Prison Pipeline

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Colorlines recently published “The Shocking Details of a Mississippi School-to-Prison Pipeline,” which gives readers a peak into the serious injustice happening in the state. Check out an excerpt below:

Among the infractions that landed Green, who is black, in juvenile detention were talking back to a teacher, wearing long socks and coming to school without wearing a belt. He was behind bars for stretches of time as long as two weeks, and the real rub, his mother Gloria said, is that weekends didn’t count as days served. A 10-day suspension stretched to 14 actual days; time for Meridian juvenile justice officials apparently stopped on weekends. All that back and forth out of school and in juvenile took a real toll on Green’s education, and he was held back from the eighth grade.

“It was mind-boggling,” Gloria Green said. “My son loved school and to be kicked out as much as he was, one year he just couldn’t catch up.”

“We did everything we know to do. I went over to the school and got make-up work, and he still failed two subjects and at that point I didn’t know which way what my child was going to go.”

“We talk about the school to prison pipeline and it’s often an abstract thing,” said Shakti Belway, an attorney who worked closely with families on the Meridian case for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “But here it is literally happening over ridiculous, minor charges.” Indeed, children as young as elementary school students have been taken directly from school and forced to serve school suspensions inside a jail cell. In its complaint, the DOJ charged the city’s police department with operating a de facto “taxi service” shuttling students away from school and into youth jails.

In parts of Mississippi, the extreme measures to curb minor infractions in schools are labeling youth and putting them on a path to confinement. As educators, we must be thoughtful in how we invest children in school policies in order to create a positive learning environment.

Reading the stories highlighted in this piece bring me back to my childhood experiences in school. I’ve had family members and peers become victims of the judicial system at early ages. We must support children, not use excessive force to encourage them to want to learn at school. Effective relationship building by partnering with mentorship organizations, an appropriate ladder of consequences, strong school wide culture initiatives and student support staff are just a few ways schools can meet the needs of all students.

In my experience, I learned that my most challenging students are the ones who need the most love and guidance. Their disobedience is a cry for help. Spend more time with them and steer them in the right direction because shoving students into the judicial system is a sign that we’ve given up on them. We cannot give up on our kids. The kids are our future.

Read more about what’s happening in Mississippi http://m.colorlines.com/archives/2012/11/school_prison_pipeline_meridian.html.

Ensuring the Success of Great Startups

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Mark Hecker, Founder and Executive Director of Reach, Inc. published an honest and critical piece on the role privilege plays in the success of our nation’s most innovative solutions. From afar, I’ve always admired Mark’s candid approach to addressing a cause we care about: America’s public education system.

The first time I heard Mark speak was at First Book-DC’s Literacy Bonanza–an event that highlighted nonprofits with innovative solutions to address illiteracy in DC. Mark doesn’t sip the Koolaid of trendy reform. That was evident to me that night as he shared the story of Reach, Inc’s creation and how we all share a responsibility to support the ideas of Reach, Inc and the other startups that night. But what stuck out most to me was his appeal for funding. He didn’t dance around the issue. He was very blunt about the fact that we do need money to make a difference.

After reestablishing the First Book-DC volunteer-led advisory board, I am now in a position where the success of the board is determined by how much money we raise to support our book grant program. As the child of a first generation college student, I know that my network of wealth is slim. When I decided to reestablish the board, I knew that I would have to find a way to tap into DC’s elite philanthropic sector. Slowly, but surely, my board of committed volunteers and I are doing just that. Nevertheless, this is an uphill battle and we’re using all the resources we have.

Moreover, when I read Mark’s piece called “The Power of My Privilege,” I knew that Mark had done it again. He spoke candidly about funding. Yet, this time he spoke not to individuals with small amounts of disposable income who want to make a difference. He called out the huge grantors who truly decide which nonprofits survive the crucial first years.

Below is an excerpt:

For three years, I have been learning the ins and outs of the philanthropy game. And, though the work is often challenging, the community of philanthropists I have discovered are both well-meaning and generous. However, as “data” and “impact” have become larger factors in funding decisions, a frightening selection bias is emerging.

It has become commonplace for funders – corporate, foundation, and individual – to require “proof” before any money is provided. Often, institutional funders will not even consider a request before an organization has been operating for a number of years. So, how is an organization supposed to survive those first few years? How can a great idea see the light of day without the support of the philanthropic community? To this point, the answer has been stated without question. Those in the philanthropic community often say, without reservation, that early organizations must “bootstrap it” or “start off with friends and family.”

I encourage you to read the rest of his piece at Unsectored and share your thoughts.

Additionally, First Book-DC kicked off our Fall into Reading Online Giving Campaign yesterday. I’ll take a page from Mark’s book and ask you to consider making a donation! You can donate here.. 100% of your donation goes to ensuring First Book-DC can continue providing schools and nonprofits with high-quality books to use in their curriculum and ultimately become the property of the kids!

Richard Rothstein Challenges Joel Klein’s School Reform Autobiography

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I’m home in New Jersey visiting my family. Each time I come home, my mind seems to reflect on how my family has supported me each step of the way in my life’s journey. As a critical thinker, I always compare and contrast my life to this point to others in my hometown–a town crippled by poverty. Unlike many of my peers growing up, I have a father who was a first generation college student. It is this, along with other fortunate life situations that I was born into, that has great influence of my present level of success.

This morning, I read a piece by Richard Rothstein titled, “Why Education Reform may be Doomed.” I believe his entire piece pushes us all to reflect on how our level of individual privilege and social capital impacts our life’s outcomes.

Rothstein, born with similar privilege of Klein, argues that Klein misrepresents his family’s economic situation in the name of pushing his type of education reform: one that believes that poverty is not destiny. That he was able to overcome poverty by the hand of a teacher. Therefore, teachers can singlehandedly life children out of poverty. I will post my response to his piece next week.

Here is an excerpt:

Children like Klein and me were privileged, not perhaps in money but in what sociologists term “social capital.” Nobody I know of from my special-progress class dropped out of school; my fellow students typically went on to become college professors, doctors, business executives, accountants, writers, and lawyers. Sure, we loved to play street stickball, but we were not “kids from the streets,” as Klein would have it. We were surrounded by peers with middle-class ambitions and goals.

It would be obscene for me to claim I overcame severe hardship and was rescued from deprivation by schoolteachers. It is more obscene for Klein to do so, because his claim supports attacks on contemporary teachers and a refusal to acknowledge impediments teachers face because of their students’ social and economic deprivation. It’s a deprivation that he never suffered but that many children from public housing do today.

A few superhuman teachers may lift a handful of children who come to school from barely literate homes, hungry, in poor health, and otherwise unprepared for academic instruction. But even the best teachers face impossible tasks when confronted with classrooms filled with truly disadvantaged students who are not in tracked special-progress classes and don’t arrive each morning from families as academically supportive as mine. Instead, they may come from segregated communities where concentrated and entrenched poverty, unemployment, and social alienation over many generations have been ravaging.

The rest of Rothstein’s piece can be read at Salon.. I do encourage you to read it and post your thoughts. As you’re reading, I want you to take a hard look inside and ask yourself just how did you get to where you are today?

The Best Chicago Strike Op-Ed!

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Tonight, as I sifted through tweets checking for articles on the Chicago Teachers Union, I found a gem. In my opinion, the best Chicago Teachers Union Strike op-Ed by far. Posted in The New York Times, the author Alex Kotlowitz asked a serious question, “Are We Asking Too Much of Teachers?” This is a question I asked myself earlier this year as I made the difficult choice to leave the classroom.

Fueled by my passion to create better schools for all public school students, I started teaching giving it 100%, even when that meant putting my life on hold as I struggled to manage the individual life circumstances of each of my students. You see, I never intended to be a career teacher. Being a teacher was just my first step in a lifelong journey to help bring innovative solutions to the most ailing problems facing our nation’s most poverty-stricken communities. I hope to one day be at the table where major decisions are made to benefit our
students. I believe that teacher voice is critical at that table.

Moreover, as my teaching days went on and years passed, writing objective-driven lesson plans aligned to standards every day wasn’t all that would deem me effective under DC Public School’s IMPACT evaluation system. I had to create Girls and Boys Day to introduce my scholars to positive mentors that look like them and had gone to college. I did home visits to build relationships with parents. I brought volunteers into the school to help get it ready for the first day of school. I wrote Donors Choose grants to get more resources into my classroom. I did everything in my human power to try to circumvent poverty’s impact on my classroom.

Nevertheless, late nights and early mornings entering student data in a computer taught me (the hard way) what I knew all along from growing up in an poverty-stricken city in southern NJ–just being an effective teacher alone cannot solve poverty, and I could not stress myself out about it. Because stressing myself out about my some of my students living in homeless shelters, not having food on the table or proper clothes to wear will break a person down–especially a teacher who comes to school every day garnering all hope possible to challenge this reality head on.

Now do not get me wrong. I agree that teachers must teach the best they can while knowing that we’re working against negative neighborhood environments that can suck our children into a tornado of negative choices that limit their life’s positive outcomes. I know that great teachers in every classroom will ensure that a student can be strong enough to believe in their future more than the dark reality that they live. I know that great teachers make a difference, but what Mr. Kotlowitz sheds light on is that teachers alone cannot rid our country of poverty. Putting so much pressure on schools does not serve our children or communities. Schools must also be supported by economic policies at the local, state and federal levels that create more sustainable and socioeconomically diverse neighborhoods that produce more equitable schools.

While so many people have the luxury of never stepping foot in an impoverished community, teachers in our most troubled schools don’t. It’s easy to be on Capital Hill and never come to Southeast DC, but make sweeping generalizations about all the teachers who work in the “failing” schools. It’s easy to work in Chicago Public Schools’ Central Office and never fully empathize with a student who asks you every day to see his incarcerated father, but you have to tell him it’s okay and help him stay focused on the lesson. When we dare teachers to be on the frontlines, having the audacity to fight poverty in they see and feel, we better have their backs every step along the way.

More than likely, Chicago won’t be the answer to Mr. Kotlowitz’s question–just like schools alone cannot heal our nation from wound of poverty. However, when we bring thoughtful dialogue and perspective in the conversation, we allow a better product to be produced. Here’s to a quick end to the strike, but to continued conversation. Thank you for Chicago for sparking the dialogue. We can either use this as a time to point fingers or to really begin to ask the tough questions that help us create systemic solutions.

Mr. Kotlowitz, I applaud you for bringing depth to the conversation. To read his piece that inspired my post click here

Join First Book-DC as We Celebrate Literacy!

This time last year there was no First Book-DC.  However, because of a committed group of people First Book-DC launched and has since had our first grant cycle.  Join us tomorrow as we honor the organizations that received book grants and all of you who supported us along the way! 

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First Book-DC cordially invites you to our

Grant Recipient Celebration 

on Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Tabaq Bistro 

1336 U Street

6:30-8:30pm 

Join us as we celebrate 11 non-profits and schools that were awarded First Book-DC book grants this spring! 

 

RSVP: www.firstbookdccelebration.eventbrite.com

The celebration will honor the organizations that applied to help the most deserving children recieve the gift of reading 

as well as our numerous supporters who helped to make it happen.

 

Enjoy happy hour specials at Tabaq Bistro! 

We hope you can join us!  

Yours in the Literacy Movement,

 

First Book-DC Advisory Board

Get connected:  Twitter @FirstBookDC   

Facebook:  www.facebook.com/firstbookdc  

The Power of Home Visits!

This year, in partnership with the Flamboyan Foundation, my school, DC Scholars Stanton, set a goal of 200 home visits before our early September deadline.  I am proud to say that as a school we surpassed our 200 goal and teachers completed 213 home visits!   I believe that the home visit initiative kicked off this summer propelled our school to a great start this school year.  Family engagement is higher than ever.  Our Back to School Night was filled to capacity, forms are being returned at higher rates, and teacher-parent interactions have increased tremendously.   As a teacher, home visits solidified my belief that:

1.  Parents need structured ways to be involved

Each parent or grandparent I met wanted to be involved in school.  They want to help their children with their homework.   Many just did not know how–either their educational level crippled them from assisting at a beneficial level or they forgot how to do the concept.  At my school we are implementing Academic Parent Teacher Teams this year.   Academic Parent Teacher teams will happen three times this year.  At these 1 and half hour meetings, teachers distribute and analyze  student and class-wide data, teachers instruct two major learning goals, and parents learn and receive materials of practice activities to do at home.  Our first Academic Parent Teacher Team meeting will happen in October.  Parents are already excited for it!  This is just one way that parents will be involved in school this year.

2.  Schools can serve as community hubs

A child’s school should feel welcoming to the community. A parent should not feel as though they do not have anyone to go to when their child is having a problem.   Parents should feel like they belong and have a voice.  Schools must provide parents with ways to be meaningfully involved through ways that ensure their child’s academic success.   At the end of the day, it is the schools responsibility to create the structure for parents to be involved.

Secondly, schools can serve as portals from what is to what is possible.  Many parents and grandparents want to expose their children to life beyond their communities.  In fact, this exposure is an important aspect of their child’s success.  Schools can partner with community organizations and provide opportunities both inside and outside of school that give each child a broaden perspective of the world around them.

3.  We must advocate to end poverty

I’ve done home visits in apartments and homeless shelters.  No matter where I went I was faced with the daunting reality that Americans should be angered at the high level of poverty in our country.   Children should not have to grow up in these types of conditions.

Secondly, the working poor in America was rise up and reclaim their American dream.  For too long have the wealthiest people labeled Americans working poor as lazy Americans who deserve the lives they live.  That notion is farther from the truth.  Each house I went to, parents and grandparents were working or looking for work to make a better life for their family.  The problem is that there is a lack of opportunity and resources.  We must expand welfare policies that train people to be productive members of society and ensure that the communities they live in are filled with resources that uplift their children.

I challenge schools to encourage their teachers and staff members to conduct home visits prior to and during the school year.  Home visits will give teachers more perspective in their scholars home lives as well as connect parents with families prior to the start of school.  I would love to hear your plans for implementing home visits or how your school continues to engage families after the initial home visit.

Systemic Change: Study dismisses poverty, but try telling that to the poor

Washington Post’s Courtland Milloy is spot on when he blasts the Heritage Foundation and their portrayal of America’s poor.  Here’s an excerpt:

By the researchers’ reckoning, we probably shouldn’t be too alarmed by the Census Bureau’s announcement Tuesday that thenation’s poverty rate rose from 14.3 percent in 2009 to 15.1 in 2010. And we probably shouldn’t fret that there are now more Americans living in poverty — 46.2 million — than at any other time in the past half-century.

Just numbers, they wrote dismissively of such poverty data. What the Census Bureau omits, they contended, is an accounting of the benefits that the poor receive from the “welfare state.” From what the government defines as poverty — for instance, a family of four with a household income of about $22,000 a year — a picture emerges of people who might well be regarded as rich anywhere else in the world.

I’m glad to hear so many people beginning to speak out against our nation’s dismal poverty rate.  Just because we can prove that their are exceptions who can escape poverty and be successful, does not mean that we stop fighting to end poverty.  Read more of Courtland Milloy’s piece here.

Systemic Change: Public education’s biggest problem gets worse

As part of my Systemic Change category, I’ve found yet another article that sheds light on poverty’s impact on school reform.  Valerie Strauss, from the Washington Post, recently published Public education’s biggest problem gets worse.  In her piece, she underscores that we cannot truly fix schools without also addressing our nation’s poverty crisis.  Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

But we need to face facts: Problems in schools would remain even if every teacher were magnificent (show me a profession where that is true about every practioner) because teachers are obviously enormously important, but they are not the only factor that goes into how well children succeed.

The current direction of school reform is making it even harder to fix broken schools and improve the ones that do well even if they suffer from 20th century design and resources.

Making teachers entirely responsible for a student’s academic progress — regardless of whether the child eats enough or sleeps enough or gets enough medical attention — is counterproductive. Pretending that these issues can be “factored out” in some kind of mathematical formula that can assess how much “value” a teacher has added to a student’s progress is near nutty. That’s not just me saying it. Leading mathematicians say it too.

The effects of poverty on children matter in regard to student achievement. That is not to say that efforts to improve teacher quality, modernize curriculum, infuse technology into the classroom where it makes sense and other reforms should not be pursued. But doing all of that while ignoring the conditions in which kids live is a big waste of time.

Read more of the op-ed at the Washington Post online by clicking here.

Dr. Steve Perry is No Nonsense about Educating Our Youth

My friend and fellow University of Maryland alumnus, Joi Marie McKenzie, had the opportunity sit down the Dr. Steve Perry.  She asked him some great questions, including one I submitted.  Below is the question and response:

Loop 21: What role do you feel educators have in advocating for policies or programs that help to eradicate poverty?

Dr. Perry: I believe educators are professionally obligated to ensure that they, with all do haste, work for the betterment of children beyond just coming to work and teach somebody how to add. They must advocate for programs and policies that will enrich these children lives that means that if they see a policy that will provide a free reduced lunch for children, they have to support that. If they see a policy that will close failed schools, they have to support that. If they see a policy that will allow children to have choice, as opposed to the current system where the parent has to move the family or a parent has to win the lottery whether it be the economic lottery or the lottery of getting into a good school, then they have to support that. If teachers are truly to fulfill their obligation and represent the calling that is ours, then they have to advocate even when advocacy could lead to the loss of their own job.

What are your thoughts on what Dr. Steve Perry said?

Check out Joi’s entire interview at The Loop 21.