I can't imagine my life without books. My father was an electrical engineer, and my mother was a public school teacher. Books were an integral part of my childhood. Throughout my career as a lawyer, teacher and labor leader, books have remained my constant companion -- stuffed into a briefcase, overflowing on my bedside table, stacked on my desk at work. Books have carried me to distant worlds, opened new doors and made me feel empathy, compassion, anger, fear, joy, acceptance -- and everything in between.
Forty-five percent of our nation's children live in neighborhoods that lack public libraries and stores that sell books, or in homes where books are an unaffordable or unfamiliar luxury. At the same time, two-thirds of the schools and programs in our nation's lowest-income neighborhoods can't afford to buy books at retail prices. That means that today, 32.4 million American children go without books -- even as study after study has shown that literacy is crucial to success in school, future earning potential and the ability to contribute to the nation's economy.
Nearly four years ago, the American Federation of Teachers joined forces with First Book -- a nonprofit social enterprise that has provided more than 120 million brand-new books to low-income children since 1992. Through First Book's unique marketplace, educators serving students in need buy books and educational resources at deeply reduced prices or receive them at no cost.
As one of First Book's biggest partners, we've put 2 million books in the hands of children in need, and we've helped First Book expand its marketplace of registered users from 20,000 to 150,000. AFT members have organized First Book truck events in communities across the country -- in this month alone, a total of 200,000 books have been given away at five events in Massachusetts, New York and Oregon.
However, our partnership with First Book is about more than just giving books to students in need. Our aim is to build on the empowerment that comes from owning that first book to create lifelong readers and lifelong learners.
A landmark study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows a correlation between the ability to read by the end of the third grade, continued academic success and the end of the cycle of intergenerational poverty. Yet with 82 percent of fourth-graders from Creating Healthy Minds With First Book | Randi Weingarten:
IN A January interview U.S. Secretary of education, Arne Duncan declared, “Let me be really honest. I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster, and it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that ‘We have to do better.’” Yet if there is one particularly frightening example for the future of public education it lies in the aftermath of Katrina. The case of using the disaster as a way to push through the largest and quickest privatization scheme of any public school system ever attempted, was made widely known in Naomi Klein’s best-selling book The Shock Doctrine.
Three months after the hurricane hit, free-market fanatic Milton Friedman wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Most New Orleans schools are in ruins, as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system.” As Klein points out:
Friedman’s radical idea was that instead of spending a portion of the billions of dollars in reconstruction money on rebuilding and improving New Orleans’ existing public school system, the government should provide families with vouchers, which they could spend at private institutions, many run at a profit, that would be subsidized by the state. It was crucial, Friedman wrote, that this fundamental change not be a stopgap but rather “a permanent reform.”
A network of right wing think tanks seized on Friedman’s proposal and descended on the city after the storm. The administration of George W. Bush backed up their plans with tens of millions of dollars to convert New Orleans schools into “charter schools,” publicly funded institutions run by private entities according to their own rules….
In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and the electricity grid brought back online, the auctioning-off of New Orleans’ school system took place with military speed and precision. Within 19 months, with most of the city’s poor residents still in exile, New Orleans’ public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools. Before Hurricane Katrina, the school board had run 123 public schools; now it ran just 4. Before the storm, there had been 7 charter schools in the city; now there were 31. New Orleans teachers used to be represented by a strong union; now the union’s contract had been shredded and its forty-seven hundred members had all been fired. Some of the younger teachers were rehired by the charters, at reduced salaries; most were not.1
In fact one of the first state actions, taken only three weeks after the storm, was to fire all the unionized teachers, disband the school board and turn the schools over to a state receiver in Baton Rouge, removing community accountability and effectively breaking the United Teachers of New Orleans. Margaret Spelling, Bush’s secretary of education, poured $24 million into New Orleans, all of which The education “shock doctrine” | International Socialist Review:
Private Interests Coming to a Public School Near You
Government agencies are falling short in their efforts to reform education, so corporations are stepping in. But will they do more harm than good?
Mass teacher evaluation systems, across-the-board learning benchmarks, and new standardized tests hardly lifted America’s public education system out of mediocrity this past year. In fact, in many cases, well-intentioned reform efforts became so entrenched in controversy, or were so poorly implemented, that they undermined rather than boosted student success. Big data helped paint a better picture of the types of kids in the country’s classrooms—but it painted that picture in broad strokes, often overgeneralizing students’ weaknesses and disregarding their strengths.
It’s hard to say what lasting lessons can come from the complexities that plague school reform. But as Nick Romeo recently wrote, “no single solution will be entirely effective.” Romeo was making an argument for what he described as “Slow School.” Mimicking the Slow Food movement, his Slow School strategy would take a holistic approach to solving the “matrix of connected problems” undercutting public education: “rampant standardized testing, excessive homework loads, the reflexive pursuit of prestige by students and parents, and declining performance on international tests,” to name a few.
Of course, policymakers tend to favor band-aid solutions and instant gratification; Slow School is a nice idea, but it doesn’t hit hard, and it sure doesn’t hit fast. Now, amid growing perception that the government is dragging its feet on its race to the top, one player is making its way further into the world of education reform: the private sector. And if the backlash against one-size-fits-all education in 2014 was any indication, corporations will increasingly do what they can to to undo blanket reforms and hyper-standardization, perhaps dramatically reshaping how and where kids learn. But at what cost?
The Obama administration, meanwhile, has called on the private sector to help it equip America’s students with the science, technology, engineering, and math—or STEM—skills that have been widely touted as the key to the country’s future workforce needs. “President Obama believes that our hardest challenges require an ‘all hands on deck’ approach, bringing together government, industry, non-profits, philanthropy and others working together,” the White House website says. Partners in that effort include leaders from Xerox, Intel, and Time Warner Cable. (Whether the U.S. actually faces a shortage of people who could fill future STEM jobs is another matter altogether.)Private Interests Coming to a Public School Near You - The Atlantic:
Republicans may consider slashing the number of federally required tests.
Republicans on the Hill are finding unusual common ground with teachers unions about an overthrow of the annual testing mandate embedded in No Child Left Behind.
Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee is making reauthorization of the law one of his biggest priorities — and testing is expected to take center stage. He plans to tackle the issue during a hearing early in the new year. Under serious consideration: slashing the number of federally required tests or even doing away with them all together.
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This political alliance is part of a larger nationwide movement, buoyed by a grass-roots crusade led by parents and teachers who reject the testing regimes that they say have come to dominate public schools for the past decade.
“We are actively exploring the question of whether the federal mandate on annual tests is warranted,” one GOP aide said. The goal is to give states more flexibility in how they track student progress, report those results to the public and hold schools accountable for all kids.
A bipartisan bill gaining momentum among lawmakers would give states grants to audit their testing regimes — and weed out unnecessary exams.
“Annual statewide assessments are critical to ensuring that all students are held to the same high standards and parents, teachers and communities have the information they need about how their children are doing every year,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said when the bill was introduced. “However, in many places, the amount of testing that is redundant or simply not helpful for instruction has become a real problem.”
While Duncan supports that bill, he and President Barack Obama oppose ending the annual testing requirements in NCLB, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002. They argue that the yearly tests are vital for assessing student progress and holding schools accountable for making sure every child advances.
The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association have railed against what they see as too much testing, especially the kind with consequences. AFT President Randi Weingarten said the annual federal testing mandate must change. The union and GOP can both agree that NCLB’s provisions have “eclipsed what the law was supposed to do, which was improve teaching and learning,” she said.
Now, it’s all about sanctions for those who don’t make the grade, she said. The scores can affect which students advance to the next grade, which teachers keep their jobs and which schools are shut down.
State and school district leaders aren’t waiting on Congress to act. They can’t do
Charter schools, 'predatory' tactics and 'belief' gap
Since the Achievement School District announced its decision earlier this month to take over Neely's Bend Middle School in East Nashville, the rhetoric on the pro and con sides has become heated.
The Tennessean has received and published op-eds by two school board members Jill Speering and Amy Frogge accusing ASD of a "hostile" takeover; ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic accusing critics of suffering from a "belief gap" as it concerns the progress of the lowest-performing public schools; and LEAD Schools CEO Chris Reynolds, defending his charter system's record. LEAD is the network that will be carrying out the takeover of Neely's Bend next school year, one grade at a time.
Each is pointing to data defending his or her position. Sorting out whose data is right or accurate is a task I hope to delve into further.
Below please find excerpts from all three articles, plus links to each one in whole. The Tennessean would like to hear your voice on this important issue of charter schools, charter conversion and the public schools. Post your comments to this article or send your letters to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure to include your full name, address and phone number for verification; we'll only publish your name, city and ZIP code.
ASD riles parents, community with school takeover
By Jill Speering and Amy Frogge
"While the charter movement is allegedly predicated on parental "choice," that choice seems to vanish when appointed ASD officials decide to impose a charter school on a community. The ASD is pushing forward despite protests by parents, teachers, community members, a variety of elected officials from the community (including current and former school board members), and even the MNPS Director of Schools." Charter schools, 'predatory' tactics and 'belief' gap: