The conversation around accountability within our schools needs to become more focused on the accountability our schools need to be held to in terms of the resources that are provided for students. Accountability should not be mainly based upon teacher evaluations. Those teacher evaluations need to be decoupled from test scores.
Instead, accountability should be measured with different tools that identify equity within the schools, districts, and states. An equity assessment tool needs to be established on a national level to get a comprehensive look at how well all schools are complying with the 1954 federal mandates from Brown vs Board of Education. A more appropriate measuring stick needs to be developed that will truly measure an educator’s effectiveness. Students and teachers will benefit from it.
While the original intention of the charter school model was theoretically put into place as a way to improve public schools, it has become apparent that for-profit organizations have co-opted the model as a way to divert federal and state dollars to private interests. What is happening with the charter school model looks different from state to state. But the charter model overall is problematic. We should support the NAACP call for a moratorium on charter school accountability until measures for accountability and transparency are put into place.
Department of Education
It has been more than apparent that Betsy Devos is not the person that we need to lead the Federal Department of Education. There are concerns with business ties to the corporate education reform movement as well, an agenda to create pathways for public funding of private religious schools, and even a push to arm teachers and students. The recent cuts to the Department of Education, especially the Office of Civil Rights are more than enough for concern, they should be sounding off alarms. Just admitting that she is not effective as the Education Commissioner is not enough. Elected officials in the Senate and Congress need to take action and direct steps to join together in a concerted effort to have her removed from office.
The situation of the approximately 800,000 Dreamers who were promised protection to remain in this country after obtaining a higher education is yet another example of how the federal government is failing in its efforts to provide a quality education for all. Using Dreamers as a negotiating chip to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico is immoral and unethical. The federal government needs to honor its promise to the Dreamers -- independent of the political machinations that are going on. Protection for Dreamers is an issue that stands alone and must be addressed immediately.
Federal Education Budget
The spending priorities of the U.S. government have been skewed for many years now and 2018 is no exception. A review of the discretionary spending of the U.S. Congress reveals that in 2018, over 50% of discretionary spending was spent on the military budget, while only 5% was spent on education. The most recent military budget includes $30 million for a military parade in Washington, D.C. Additionally, the U.S. government has pledged to spend $1 trillion over the next 25 - 30 years for a total “upgrade and modernization” of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, making it bigger and more powerful than it was even during the height of the Cold War. If even a fraction of this money were used to increase spending on education, so much could be done -- from establishing tuition-free college, hiring more teachers, purchasing more books, supplies, computers and more.
Although IDEA has seen better funding levels within the past few years, it is still not at full funding levels. Funding for IDEA needs to be taken out of discretionary budget spending and moved into mandatory spending. The source to fully fund IDEA is available. But currently it is being diverted to the Defense Fund. We cannot base the future of all of our children through decisions made out of fear. We need to work hard to make sure that IDEA becomes fully funded, with emphasis placed on early identification and intervention programs that are research based and proven to improve educational opportunities and outcomes throughout a child’s life.
Safety in our Schools
Safety in our schools will not be served by requiring teachers to be trained in how to use a gun or by asking teachers to carry a concealed weapon to class. The presence of more weapons in school only increases the possibility of violence and puts students more at risk, not less. There must be a better way to address the issue of safety and security in schools.
The “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) has created a minimum level of standardized testing. States have still not taken advantage of this opportunity to reduce the amount of standardized testing that is forced upon the students. There has been little movement in the creation of alternative testing methods such as portfolio assessments that remove the racial and socio-economic biases that accompany standardized testing. Amendments to ESSA should be put forth to create a maximum level language for the amount of assessments that are utilized in the classroom, with a call for the increased use of formative assessments instead of summative assessments.
Testing within our schools should not be corporate driven, from Pearson or any other corporate education reform corporation. Tests need to be locally created and controlled, developed by education professionals with the collaboration of stakeholders, with the best interests of students and educators in mind, not corporate interests. Simply stated, those interests are not the same.
Betsy DeVos has shown that she will fail to consider the rights of all students by her decision to stop the Office of Civil Rights from investigating complaints relating to transgender youth. As a section of the population that experiences bullying in schools at an alarming rate, this decision sets back efforts that have been effective in reducing incidents of harassment, bullying, and intimidation that afflict our school systems. Federal legislation needs to be examined and passed that will guarantee protection for transgender youth.
Approximately two dozen countries offer free college tuition to their residents and even in some cases to international students. Approximately three states, Tennessee, Oregon and New York, do the same. The Economist reported in June 2014 that U.S. student loan debt exceeded $1.2 trillion with over 7 million debtors in default. This kind of staggering debt often makes it impossible for students to pursue their dreams. Instead, they must pursue a career path that affords them a way to pay back their student loans. Alternately, they never obtain a degree because education costs are too high. There is no reason the U.S. couldn’t offer free college tuition nationally, joining many other countries in a similar strong commitment to higher education. Money to pay for tuition-free college can be found in the over-bloated military budget, in particular the $1.3 trillion pledged over the next 30 years to totally revamp and upgrade the entire nuclear arsenal.
School vouchers are being marketed in states and on a Federal level as a way to provide school choice for parents, selling them the promise of something better. The choice that they provide is merely an illusion. In some areas, the additional funding they offer is not really the amount needed to allow for access to ‘better’ schools. The real relief of financial burden is still not lifted for youth that are most in need of elevation in schools. Vouchers are nothing more than a way for public money to be shifted away from the public school system and diverted into the hands of corporate profiteers.