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Suspending Preschoolers?: Troubling Pattern Of Zero-Tolerance School Policies That Disproportionately Impact Minority Students

There’s nothing especially surprising about the notion that some kids will get into trouble and face school suspensions. But the fact that in the United States, thousands of preschoolers get suspended, and the pattern disproportionately affects African-American children, is very surprising, indeed.

A staggering new report released by the Department of Education and the Justice Department on Friday highlights a troubling pattern of zero-tolerance school discipline policies that disproportionately impact minority students in general, but also trickle down to the nation’s youngest students.

Overzealous enforcement of school discipline policies and all of the negative outcomes associated with them are often framed around older children and middle and high school students, but the government’s report shows just how deeply the disparities extend.

The entirety of the report is online here.

“This data collection shines a clear, unbiased light on places that are delivering on the promise of an equal education for every child and places where the largest gaps remain,” U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said this morning. “In all, it is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed.”

Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, told the AP, “I think most people would be shocked that those numbers would be true in preschool, because we think of 4- and 5-years-olds as being innocent.”

“Shocked” is certainly the right word. Trymaine Lee’s report included this remarkable statistic: “While black children represent only 18% of preschool enrollment nationally, they make up 42% of students suspended once and nearly half of students who are suspended more than once.”

Let’s also not overlook the consequences of such punitive measures.

Jamelle Bouie had a good piece on this.

Suspensions lead to more absences, as students become disconnected from the school. In one study of 180,000 Florida students, researchers found that just one suspension in ninth grade can drastically reduce a student’s chance of graduating in four years. What’s more – compared to their white peers – black teenagers are more likely to be stopped by the police and arrested for drug possession, despite similar rates of drug use.

When you put all of this together, you have a world where African American youth – boys and girls – have vastly higher rates of juvenile incarceration and are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison…. In other words, we have a status quo that’s nearly designed to deliver the worst outcomes to African American students.

Good for Duncan and the Department of Education for shining a light on the problem. Now it’s time for educators to address these policies in practical, sensible ways.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 22, 2014

March 24, 2014 Posted by | Education, Public Schools | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Confronting The Pathologies Of Poverty:” Do We Invest In Preschools Or Prisons?

Congress is often compared to pre-K, which seems defamatory of small children. But the similarities also offer hope, because an initiative that should be on the top of the national agenda has less to do with the sequester than with the A.B.C.’s and Big Bird.

Growing mountains of research suggest that the best way to address American economic inequality, poverty and crime is — you guessed it! — early education programs, including coaching of parents who want help. It’s not a magic wand, but it’s the best tool we have to break cycles of poverty.

President Obama called in his State of the Union address for such a national initiative, but it hasn’t gained traction. Obama himself hasn’t campaigned enough for it, yet there’s still a reed of hope.

One reason is that this is one of those rare initiatives that polls well across the spectrum, with support from 84 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Republicans in a recent national survey. And even if the program stalls in Washington, states and localities are moving ahead — from San Antonio to Michigan. Colorado voters will decide next month on a much-watched ballot measure to bolster education spending, including in preschool, and a ballot measure in Memphis would expand preschool as well.

“There’s this magical opportunity” now to get a national early education program in America, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told me. He says he’s optimistic that members of Congress will introduce a bipartisan bill for such a plan this year.

“When you think how you make change for the next 30 years, this is arguably at the top of my list,” Duncan said. “It can literally transform the life chances of children, and strengthen families in important ways.”

Whether it happens through Congressional action or is locally led, this may be the best chance America has had to broaden early programs since 1971, when Congress approved such a program but President Nixon vetoed it.

The massive evidence base for early education grew a bit more with a major new study from Stanford University noting that achievement gaps begin as early as 18 months. Then at 2 years old, there’s a six-month achievement gap. By age 5, it can be a two-year gap. Poor kids start so far behind when school begins that they never catch up — especially because they regress each summer.

One problem is straightforward. Poorer kids are more likely to have a single teenage mom who is stressed out, who was herself raised in an authoritarian style that she mimics, and who, as a result, doesn’t chatter much with the child.

Yet help these parents, and they do much better. Some of the most astonishing research in poverty-fighting methods comes from the success of programs to coach at-risk parents — and these, too, are part of Obama’s early education program. “Early education” doesn’t just mean prekindergarten for 4-year-olds, but embraces a plan covering ages 0 to 5.

The earliest interventions, and maybe the most important, are home visitation programs like Nurse-Family Partnership. It begins working with at-risk moms during pregnancy, with a nurse making regular visits to offer basic support and guidance: don’t drink or smoke while pregnant; don’t take heroin or cocaine. After birth, the coach offers help with managing stress, breast-feeding and diapers, while encouraging chatting to the child and reading aloud.

These interventions are cheap and end at age 2. Yet, in randomized controlled trials, the gold standard of evaluation, there was a 59 percent reduction in child arrests at age 15 among those who had gone through the program.

Something similar happens with good pre-K programs. Critics have noted that with programs like Head Start, there are early educational gains that then fade by second or third grade. That’s true, and that’s disappointing.

Yet, in recent years, long-term follow-ups have shown that while the educational advantages of Head Start might fade, there are “life skill” gains that don’t. A rigorous study by David Deming of Harvard, for example, found that Head Start graduates were less likely to repeat grades or be diagnosed with a learning disability, and more likely to graduate from high school and attend college.

Look, we’ll have to confront the pathologies of poverty at some point. We can deal with them cheaply at the front end, in infancy. Or we can wait and jail a troubled adolescent at the tail end. To some extent, we face a choice between investing in preschools or in prisons.

We just might have a rare chance in the next couple of months to take steps toward such a landmark early education program in America. But children can’t vote, and they have no highly paid lobbyists — so it’ll happen only if we the public speak up.

 

By: Nicholas D. Kristof, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, October 26, 2013

October 27, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Education, Poverty | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Brilliant”: Joe Biden’s Gay Marriage Comment Was No Gaffe

From the press drubbing of White House press secretary Jay Carney this week, you’d think that the Obama administration had made some sort of huge faux pas, had displayed some devastating lack of discipline that exposed a divergence of opinion at the top and an inability to control it.

Please.

Here’s what happened: Vice President Joe Biden went on TV on Sunday and said he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage. This is a notable, but not all that interesting, difference of opinion from that of President Obama, who has backed the idea of civil unions but has balked at the idea of full-on gay marriage. Shock! Score! Big story!

It would be easy to believe that Biden, who (unfortunately but also endearingly) tends to say what’s in his head at the moment without first screening it for public consumption, had made a mistake by revealing his personal feelings on the matter. It’s why Biden is referred to, by people who don’t know him, as “gaffe-prone.” It’s why reporters who covered him as a U.S. senator always found him refreshing and frank and real (even if he did, on occasion, say he just had three seconds to talk and then 15 minutes later, you were kindly explaining you had a deadline and had to go). And it’s also why people could believe the highly improbable theory that Biden screwed up, said something that contradicted the president, and forced Carney to try to clean it up.

Again—please.

Obama’s well-positioned for re-election, but that means rallying a lot of supporters who really liked the idea of a transformational candidate in 2008, and now aren’t so sure much has been transformed. Mitt Romney will surely have to do better than saying, “I’m not that guy,” to win the White House. But Obama can’t get his base to the polls by saying, yeah, I know I didn’t do everything I promised or hoped, but think how much worse it would be if you elected the other guy. He needs to get the base to the polls.

Gays and lesbians are part of that equation. They’re not a huge part of the equation, but in a race where battleground states could be decided by a couple of percentage points, Obama can’t risk losing them. And yet, he can’t freak out the independents who might not be so comfortable with gay marriage. And perhaps even more, he can’t so anger evangelicals (who are unhappy with Romney and might stay home) that they actually enthusiastically go out and vote for Romney.

What to do, what to do.

Well you could have your vice president saying he’s OK with gay marriage (becoming the highest-ranking U.S. official ever to make such a statement), making gay and lesbian activists (and their straight supporters) happy. Then, you could have the White House officially saying Obama’s opinion on the matter is still “evolving,” appeasing independents and yet giving gay activists hope that Obama might “evolve” toward the direction of his veep. And you could also give a little comfort to those who like to believe that Obama picks people who are true advisers, and not just sycophants.

And just to be sure, your Department of Education secretary, Arne Duncan, by happenstance mentions on a national broadcast that he, too, supports gay marriage. Look at those high-ranking Obama administration officials, coming out for gay marriage! And look at the president, not just giving in to people he outranks!

The “mixed message” the White House issued on gay and lesbian rights wasn’t a mistake. It was brilliant.

 

By: Susan Milligan, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, May 8, 2012

May 10, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

U.S. Is Urged to Raise Teachers’ Status

To improve its public schools, the United States should raise the status of the teaching profession by recruiting more qualified candidates, training them better and paying them more, according to a new report on comparative educational systems.

Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the international achievement test known by its acronym Pisa, says in his report that top-scoring countries like Korea, Singapore and Finland recruit only high-performing college graduates for teaching positions, support them with mentoring and other help in the classroom, and take steps to raise respect for the profession.

“Teaching in the U.S. is unfortunately no longer a high-status occupation,” Mr. Schleicher says in the report, prepared in advance of an educational conference that opens in New York on Wednesday. “Despite the characterization of some that teaching is an easy job, with short hours and summers off, the fact is that successful, dedicated teachers in the U.S. work long hours for little pay and, in many cases, insufficient support from their leadership.”

The conference, convened by the federal Department of Education, was expected to bring together education ministers and leaders of teachers’ unions from 16 countries as well as state superintendents from nine American states. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that he hoped educational leaders would use the conference to share strategies for raising student achievement.

“We’re all facing similar challenges,” Mr. Duncan said in an interview.

The meeting occurs at a time when teachers’ rights, roles and responsibilities are being widely debated in the United States.

Republicans in Wisconsin and several other states have been pushing legislation to limit teachers’ collective bargaining rights and reduce taxpayer contributions to their pensions.

President Obama has been trying to promote a different view.

“In South Korea, teachers are known as ‘nation builders,’ and I think it’s time we treated our teachers with the same level of respect,” Mr. Obama said in a speech on education on Monday.

Mr. Schleicher is a senior official at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or O.E.C.D., a Paris group that includes the world’s major industrial powers. He wrote the new report, “What the U.S. Can Learn from the World’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts,” with Steven L. Paine, a CTB/McGraw-Hill vice president who is a former West Virginia schools superintendent, for the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation.

It draws on data from the Program for International Student Assessment, which periodically tests 15-year-old students in more than 50 countries in math, reading or science.

On the most recent Pisa, the top-scoring countries were Finland and Singapore in science, Korea and Finland in reading and Singapore and Korea in math. On average, American teenagers came in 15th in reading and 19th in science. American students placed 27th in math. Only 2 percent of American students scored at the highest proficiency level, compared with 8 percent in Korea and 5 percent in Finland.

The “five things U.S. education reformers could learn” from the high-performing countries, the report says, include adopting common academic standards — an effort well under way here, led by state governors — developing better tests for use by teachers in diagnosing students’ day-to-day learning needs and training more effective school leaders.

“Make a concerted effort to raise the status of the teaching profession” was the top recommendation.

University teaching programs in the high-scoring countries admit only the best students, and “teaching education programs in the U.S. must become more selective and more rigorous,” the report says.

Raising teachers’ status is not mainly about raising salaries, the report says, but pay is a factor.

According to O.E.C.D. data, the average salary of a veteran elementary teacher here was $44,172 in 2008, higher than the average of $39,426 across all O.E.C.D countries (the figures were converted to compare the purchasing power of each currency).

But that salary level was 40 percent below the average salary of other American college graduates. In Finland, by comparison, the veteran teacher’s salary was 13 percent less than that of the average college graduate’s.

In an interview, Mr. Schleicher said the point was not that the United States spends too little on public education — only Luxembourg among the O.E.C.D. countries spends more per elementary student — but rather that American schools spend disproportionately on other areas, like bus transportation and sports facilities.

“You can spend a lot of money on education, but if you don’t spend it wisely, on improving the quality of instruction, you won’t get higher student outcomes,” Mr. Schleicher said.

By: Sam Dillon, The New York Times, March 16, 2011

March 16, 2011 Posted by | Education, Employment Descrimination, Equal Rights, Professionals, Teachers, Unions | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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