Thursday, May 31, 2012

More Math, Science and College For U.S. Students Than Ever Before

Earlier this week I posted a piece on the Brookings report that schools are no worse today than in the past, contrary to the hysteria whipped by Ed Deformers and pundits that school’s today are in crisis. Their analysis of PISA test scores indicated that while U.S. math and science scores have been improving slightly, they never were (and still aren’t) very strong compared with other wealthy countries.

However, in many ways, K-12 education has been making dramatic gains. Students today are taking more math and science courses than a generation ago, while more are going straight to college after graduation. Between 1990 and 2009, the percentage of high school students taking chemistry jumped from 49% to 70%, and the percentage taking physics rose from 21% to 36%, according to The Condition of Education 2012, a new report reviewed on the Good Education website. There were similar gains in math, with 16% of students taking calculus in 2009, compared with 7% in 1990, and 11% taking statistics, compared with 1% in 1990.

The number of students entering college right after high school jumped from 49% in 1979, to 70% in 2009. While gains were seen for most ethnic groups and were largest for African Americans (66% in 2010, compared with 43% in 1975), there are still significant disparities in total college enrollment. A higher percentage of white students (70%) and a much higher percentage of Asian students (88%) are going to college right out of high school than black students (66%), while the rate for Hispanic students has remained flat over the past several decades. The most glaring disparities, however, were among different income groups, with only 52% of low-income students attending college right out of high school, compared with 82% of students from high-income families.

Anti-Teacher Bill Passes California State Senate

SB 1530 was passed in the California State Senate this week. The bill eliminates timelines for notifying teachers of impending disciplinary action and allows districts to send out dismissal notices during the summer, when many teachers are on vacation and not even in town to receive and act upon the notice.

The bill would also allow districts to use old and unrelated information from a teacher’s past to prosecute current misconduct cases, which is like using a past speeding ticket as evidence that someone later ran a stop sign. The legislation is that it will eliminate teachers from the Committee on Professional Competence. 

Jobs Trump Pay & Conditions Says San Diego Labor Council

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
Collaborate with the bosses! Accept their unsubstantiated claims of declining profits and their insane demands for pay cuts and speedups, or else feel their wrath by way of mass layoffs.

Sound like the insane ravings of a corporate CEO, or right wing pundit or politician?

Think again.

This was the cry of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, which recently called on the San Diego Educators Association (SDEA) to work more closely with San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) in order to avert layoffs, according to San Diego

To be fair, labor council CEO Lorena Gonzalez said she was not making concessions for SDEA and she did ask SDUSD to provide “real” numbers so the union could better assess their actual financial status. However, the council’s demand that they go back to the bargaining table and work together suggests the council has lost patience with SDEA, (which is a member of the labor council), and that they expect a quick resolution, even if that means more concessions on the part of the teachers. It also suggests that they expect SDEA to accept the district’s dubious financial prognosis and use it as a basis for determining how much to concede, rather than backing the teachers’ reasonable expectation that the district should be the party to compromise find a way to compensate and treat them fairly.

The union and the district have been in a contentious contract battle since last summer, when the district demanded numerous concessions from SDEA, including furloughs and a continuation of the pattern of no pay increases that has been ongoing for the past few years. The district says the concessions will avert mass layoffs, yet Reduction in Force (RIF) notices have already been sent out to nearly 1,700 SDEA members (one in five district teachers, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune). The district claims that either the concessions or the layoffs are necessary in order to close a $120 million budget gap. However, if the district follows through with all these layoffs, they will be unable to open school in the fall because there won’t be enough teachers.

Lorena Gonzalez, CEO of the Council, said "We can't sit back and wait for things to work themselves out like in years past." Yet she did not make it clear how today is substantively different than in years past. Sure, the budget gap is larger than usual and the number of layoffs is high, but large numbers of teachers are laid off every year due to budget uncertainties and most get hired back once the budget is ironed out in the fall.

There is, however, one difference that neither the labor council nor the district want to admit: teachers may be unwilling to go another year without a raise, while continuing to have greater and greater job demands and duties imposed on them.

Like most large labor organizations around the country, the labor council’s officials are more concerned with a possible public backlash against unions (and the potential threat to their livelihoods as union officials) than they are with the pay, working conditions and wellbeing of their constituents, San Diego’s teachers and other working people. Thus, getting the teachers to agree to concessions, in exchange for reduced layoffs and labor peace with SDUSD, become much more important than wages and working conditions.

SDEA has apparently come to an agreement with SDUSD that would give teachers a raise starting July 1. However, the district plans to lay off 20% of teachers starting on June 30 to pay for it, according to the Union-Tribune. It is a false causal relationship. The district has plenty of other ways to cut costs, starting with its bloated administration. It can also start doing what district throughout the country should have been doing long ago: demanding an increase in local and state tax revenues.

From the union’s perspective, it was the right move. Their members deserve a raise, as do all working people, who have been paying for years for a financial crisis caused by the wealthy and which has benefitted only the wealthy.

The district cannot open school in the fall with a 20% reduction in teachers without significantly increasing class sizes and cutting course offerings, something they are unlikely to accomplish without a significant backlash from teachers and parents. If they do, the union should strike.

Today in Labor History—May 31

Scene at Bossenden Wood

May 31, 1838 -- Kentish peasants clashed with armed British troops at Bosendon Wood. (From the Daily Bleed)

May 31, 1905 – The Spanish anarchist Alexander Farras threw a bomb into a procession headed by French President Loubet and the King Alphonso XIII of Spain. The leaders were not hurt, though several people were wounded. Farras was never caught. Four other anarchists were arrested, tried and acquitted. (From the Daily Bleed)

May 31, 1906 – Another attempt was made on King Alphonso XIII. This time, anarchist Mateo Morral hid a bomb in a bunch of flowers and threw it at the King during his royal wedding. Because he worked in Modern School’s publishing house and was a friend of Francisco Ferrer (the founder of the first Modern Schools), Ferrer was later arrested and imprisoned as an accomplice.
Protest for Sacco and Vanzetti in London, 1921
May 31, 1921 - The infamous trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, in which the two Italian anarchists were railroaded for a crime they did not commit, began in Dedham, Massachusetts. Judge Webster Thayer’s anti-worker and anti-immigrant opening remarks set the tone for the trial. (From Workday Minnesota)

May 31, 1921 – Over 300 were killed in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the worst race riot in U.S. history. The violence was precipitated by a false report in the Tulsa Tribune, accusing a black man of attacking a white girl in an elevator. While the headline made the front page, there was an accompanying editorial on the back page calling for a lynching. White Tulsans began shooting blacks, and then looted and burned their homes and businesses, completely destroying the black community of Greenwood. (From the Daily Bleed)

May 31, 1955 – The Supreme Court ordered school integration "with all deliberate speed." (From the Daily Bleed)

May 31, 1961 – A U.S. sponsored coup in the Dominican Republic led to the killing of Dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo. Dominicans then voted in Juan Bosch, who incensed the military and the ruling elite by refusing to buy military airplanes, announcing agrarian reforms, legalizing divorce, and increasing workers' wages. Within seven months there was another coup, by the same generals who led the coup against Trujillo, School of the Americas alumni: Generals Imbert and Wessin y Wessin. The U.S. immediately recognized the new government.
(From the Daily Bleed)

May 31, 1968 –Student protests were spreading throughout the world, with protests on this date in Vienna, in Denmark and Buenos Aires on June 1, and the Yugoslav insurrection beginning soon after. Thousands of students went on strike in Brazil on June 6, followed by protests in Geneva and Turkey, 20. (From the Daily Bleed)

May 31, 1986 – The Tiananmen Square demonstrations entered their 18th day, with 100,000 filling the Square. (From the Daily Bleed)

May 31, 2000 – Protesting teachers burn pamphlets at a fence around the Los Pinos presidential residence in Mexico City, as riot police attempted to protect the building. Teachers throughout the country had been protesting for better wages and education reform since May 15.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Brookings Study Indicates Public Education Not So Bad After All

We're #11 Mofo! And Proud of It!
The 10th Brown Center Report (Brookings Institution), which analyzed PISA and other common standardized test scores, debunked two common myths: that the U.S. once led the world in math and science education scores and that it has been declining ever since. In reality, the U.S. has never led the world on international achievement tests, according to the report. The report also found that some of the states that won federal Race to the Top (RttT) grants actually underperformed states that did not receive the grants on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), thus suggesting that the “reforms” mandated by the Obama Administration are not improving educational outcomes.

According to Brookings scholar Tom Loveless, U.S. science and math scores have been mediocre compared to other wealthy nations since at least 1964 and, contrary to the claims of Ed Deformers and accountability maniacs, they have not been getting any worse. America’s schools are NOT in a state of crisis or deterioration. Indeed, evidence suggests that they have been improving (see Jay Mathews’s Class Struggle). In 1964, we scored near the very bottom, compared with 2010, when we scored near the middle in science and literacy.

Despite the fact that we’ve never been number one (or even close to it) in K-12 math and science scores, the U.S. has continued to dominate the world economically over the past 50 years, suggesting that pundits and critics have been completely wrong about the importance of this metric to our international competitiveness. Furthermore, despite our relatively weak K-12 math and science scores, we continue to pump out some of the most effective scientists and mathematicians in the world, including more Nobel laureates than any other country.

One might conclude from this that our K-12 science and math education has been sufficient for preparing students for the rigors of university level science and math. This would probably be an incorrect assumption. What is probably happening is that some U.S. students are excelling at science and math (primarily the same middle class and affluent students who tend to excel at school, in general) and these students are also succeeding in college, while large numbers of lower income students are struggling across the board, including in math and science.

The improvements in PISA scores, as well as the increasing numbers of lower income and minority students who are taking and passing SAT and AP exams, probably do reflect improvements in teaching, as well as changing attitudes and policies about promoting college and higher level course work to low income and minority students. Yet our inability to score at the top of international tests is not due to the quality of the schools and teachers, which have been improving, but to socioeconomic conditions, which have actually been declining for large numbers of Americans. When disaggregated by class, our middle class students do as well as those from almost any other country. At the same time, the countries with the highest PISA scores tend to have far less childhood poverty and income gaps than we do.

Thus, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, if we really want to see PISA scores go up, along with graduation rates, science literacy, and any other academic indicator, we need to close the wealth gap, end poverty and start investing in education a level comparable to Finland.

55% of Oakland’s African American Males At Risk of Not Graduating

New research by the Urban Strategies Council of Oakland found that 55% of African American male students in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) were at risk of not graduating due to high suspension rates, chronic absences and poor academic performance. This compares with a still high rate of 37.5% for the general student population, according to the Bay Citizen.

Of those who were not on track to graduate on time, 73% were chronically absent in elementary school, missing at least 10% of school days. This parallels findings from a Baltimore study (see here). The same percentage had been suspended at least once in middle school.

It is easy to blame schools, teachers and parents for the problem. Indeed, the Bay Citizen quoted Hedy Chang, director of Attendance Works, who said that “five-year-olds don’t miss school without an adult knowing at home,” as if the parent was keeping the child home for illegitimate reasons. Yet, high absenteeism is not primarily due to irresponsible parents who simply keep their kids home or don’t monitor their attendance. Rather, high absenteeism correlates with poverty and lack of health insurance or access to affordable care, suggesting that poor kids stay home more because they are not receiving preventative or prompt curative care, leading to longer and more severe infectious and chronic illnesses.

Of course, at the higher grades, students sometimes cut class for other reasons, like preferring to be out on the streets or with friends, to avoid gangs or bullies, or because they are so behind in grades or academic skills that school has become a traumatic and unpleasant experience for them.

Most of these problems, likewise, cannot be directly blamed on parents, teachers or even the students themselves. Poverty creates an achievement gap before children have even entered kindergarten (see here and here). The achievement gap only gets worse as children progress through the system, with affluent students continuing to reap benefits like summer travel, enriching extracurricular activities and better health and nutrition that are denied to their lower income peers. Failure and frustration are thus built into the system and routine for many students and cutting class could be seen as a rational response to the embarrassment, powerlessness or frustration of being stuck in classes in which one is lost, confused and has little chance of passing.

Gangs are also a product of socioeconomic conditions and a problem that can be significantly reduced or eliminated by eradicating poverty and providing jobs and extracurricular activities for youth. Until that happens, students who must cross through rival gang territory in order to get to school could be provided with transportation alternatives that bypass the dangerous turf or reassigned to other schools.

Bullying is also a societal problem. It occurs at home and in the streets and playgrounds. Politicians, bosses and community leaders also engage in it. Until it as addressed at these levels, children and adults will continue to see it as a normal (and effective) way to interact and achieve one’s goals and the problem will persist. However, schools can do a lot more to reduce bullying on campus by better educating their staffs and creating and enforcing disciplinary policies that treat it as a serious offense.

High suspension rates are also related to socioeconomic factors. While racial bias probably plays a role in the higher suspension rates for African American males among certain teachers and administrators, it is unlikely the main cause (see Parsing the Black-White Suspension Gap for more analysis of this topic). Rather, lower rates of academic success (remember, the achievement gap is already in place before students even start school) likely create a frustrating academic experience that contributes to disruptive behavior. Also, the middle class culture, mores and expectations of school often come into conflict with the culture, mores and expectations of lower income and non-white communities, leading to the unnecessary escalation of conflicts and more severe punishment for students.

Oakland students of color, particularly black males, indeed have an appallingly high risk of not graduating on time from high school. However, if we really want to see improvements, we need to stop scapegoating the parents, teachers and children themselves and start addressing the socioeconomic factors that are the primary cause of the problem.

Tax Dollars at Work: CSU Spent $2 Million on Presidential Homes

Tuition at the California State University (CSU) system increased from $1,428 per year in 2001-2 to $5,472 in 2011, with another 9% rate hike planned for the fall of 2012. Because of budget cuts and financial insecurity, the university has also cut course offerings and services. Yet in that same 10-year period, CSU spent over $2 million renovating eight university-owned presidential residences, including such extras as expanding garages and hiring interior designers, according to a report this week in the Bay Citizen.

In 2012, alone, CSU spent over $400,000 remodeling presidential homes at CSU Fullerton and CSU Northridge, in the Los Angeles Area. In 2011, it spent $257,000 on kitchen upgrades and swimming pool replastering at San Diego State, and another $230,000 on kitchen upgrades and lighting at Cal Poly San Luis Obsipo. Cal Poly also spent $200,000 on renovations in 2010--$831,000 total since 2004, 99% of which was paid for through state funding.

11 university presidents live in these lavish homes at tax-payers’ expense. Another 12 university presidents are getting $60,000 per year in housing allowances to covering living costs off campus. All this is on top of their six-figure salaries (some have also received raises), which alone ought to be sufficient to live comfortably within easy commuting distance of any of the CSU campuses.