"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Friday, April 9, 2021

No Pause in Indiana's Push for Privatization

Should we give a cheer that the Indiana Senate eased up on the offensive expansion of vouchers that the Indiana House passed in its 2021 Budget bill?

THE HOUSE VERSION

The House version gave nearly 40% of all new education money to the less than 5% of the state's students in the form of increased voucher spending, including money for unaccountable ESAs (educational savings accounts).

It also provided an increase in voucher availability to a family of four making nearly $150,000 a year. This House plan was not the "save poor children" voucher plan that Mitch Daniels proposed ten years ago. It very definitely expanded voucher money for wealthier students.

It's probably good that Indiana Republicans are no longer trying to pretend that their voucher program is so that "poor kids can escape from terrible schools." Instead they're all but admitting that public schools don't interest them. Privatization is the goal no matter what that pesky state constitution says. At least now they're being honest about it.

THE SENATE VERSION

The Senate still included an increase in vouchers so they're not backing off entirely. Families of four with six figure incomes would be able to get a 90% voucher allowing their kids can enroll in mostly segregated private schools that teach creation science and that slavery was a good investment. This assumes of course, that the school will have their child since private schools can reject students for nearly any reason.

The Senate version, while not as extreme as the House, still contains a significant increase in voucher support, including a foot-in-the-door new ESA plan that lets parents use tax dollars to buy "educational" services without public oversight or accountability. Hmmm...I wonder if they might try to increase money for that in years to come?

HOUSE WILL BE "AGGRESSIVE"

The bill now goes to a conference committee where House members will try to put back what the Senate took out. Speaker of the House Todd Huston, whose campaign contributions include $35,000 from Betsy DeVos's Hoosiers for Quality Education (see also here), said that the house will "be negotiating very aggressively" to get back what was taken out so they can satisfy their lust for privatization.

One might even think that the plan all along was for the House to propose an extreme expansion of vouchers, then have the Senate back off a bit to pacify public school advocates (and more than 170 school boards around the state), and settle on a more "modest" increase in voucher money and an ESA plan.

It's still an increase in Indiana's ever increasing move towards total privatization.

For Further Reading

New Indiana budget proposal scales back private school voucher expansion
After a chorus of opposition from public school districts and advocates, Indiana Senate Republicans significantly scaled back an expansion of the state’s private school voucher program under their budget proposal Thursday.

The Senate plan would not extend private school vouchers to as many middle-class families as suggested in the House budget proposal and other legislation discussed this session. It also would dramatically curtail a proposal for education savings accounts, which would give stipends to parents of children with special needs who do not attend public schools.

Senate budget would dial back voucher expansion
...the Senate budget would partially roll back the ambitious expansion of Indiana’s private school voucher program that was included in the House budget.

Like the House budget, it would create a new K-12 education savings account program, but it would limit participation and costs. Also important: It would remove a House-approved cap on the complexity index, the funding formula feature that favors districts and schools with more disadvantaged students.
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Monday, April 5, 2021

2021 Medley #5 - Vouchers, Testing, and Reading

Vouchers, Testing, and Reading


VOUCHERS

Scholars show how to challenge voucher discrimination

How many ways can we say it? School choice is not about parents choosing the school for their child. It's about schools choosing which students to allow through their doors. Private schools get to choose their clients.

The law may state that private and religious schools must not discriminate in order to receive state funds, but the actual real-world actions of schools accepting vouchers shows that private schools can, and often do reject certain students based on various characteristics such as religion or sexual preference (or the sexual preference of their parents). Under other circumstances, this discrimination wouldn't be a problem. Religious schools should be allowed to require their teachers and students to follow certain theological teachings. However, it becomes a problem when public funds are used to further such discrimination.

The simple fact is that private schools, and religious schools in particular should not be allowed to use public funds because they are not required to accept all students. Public tax dollars should go to public schools which accept all students -- gay and straight, faithful and faithless, white or black. Using tax dollars to support religious schools that discriminate is contrary to the intent of the founders. Jefferson wrote,
...to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness...
Using tax dollars to support private and religious schools which discriminate based on religious beliefs is forcing taxpayers to pay for something they might not believe in. It's "sinful and tyrannical".
Green, the lead author, said supporters promote vouchers to expand opportunities for students and families. But, as the programs expand, state officials often enable them to deny those benefits to entire groups of students.

“Vouchers were sold as program that all could benefit from, but the anti-LGBT provisions give the lie to that statement,” Green said.

Voucher programs come in a variety of forms, but all provide ways for states to provide full or partial tuition funding to private schools for qualifying students. Indiana’s program, established in 2011, serves over 36,000 students in more than 300 private schools, nearly all of them religious schools, at a cost of $172.8 million. Lawmakers want to expand the program and extend it to upper-income families.

Vouchers Are About Abandoning Public Education, Not Freeing Parents

Public education is a public good, like roads, water systems, and libraries. It benefits everyone.
Vouchers are not about freeing or empowering parents. They are about empowering private interests to chomp away at the giant mountain of education money in this country. They are about dismantling any sort of oversight and accountability; it's striking how many of these voucher bills/laws very specifically forbid the state to interfere with the vendors in any way, shape or form.

Think of voucher programs this way.

The state announces, "We are dismantling the public education system. You are on your own. You will have to shop for your child's education, piece by piece, in a marketplace bound by very little oversight and very few guardrails. In this new education ecosystem, you will have to pay your own way. To take some of the sting out of this, we'll give you a small pocketful of money to help defray expenses. Good luck."

...Voucherization is also about privatizing the responsibility for educating children, about telling parents that education is their problem, not the community's.


TESTING

Lawmakers Backing Standardized Tests Should Practice What They Preach

Forcing students to waste time taking standardized tests this year (and, actually, any year) is absurd. It is a waste of taxpayers' money -- even more than during normal (aka non-pandemic) times.
Educators are scrambling to teach safely and most lawmakers stand aside unsure how to help.

We can’t figure out which students to assist, they say, without first giving them all a batch of standardized tests.

It’s absurd, like paramedics arriving at a car crash, finding one person in a pool of blood and another completely unscathed – but before they know which person needs first aid, they have to take everyone’s blood pressure.

I mean come on! We’re living through a global pandemic.

Nearly every single class has been majorly disrupted by it.

So just about every single student needs help – BUT SOMEHOW WE NEED DATA TO NARROW THAT DOWN!?

Our duly-elected decision-makers seem to be saying they can only make decisions based on a bunch of numbers.

Does Education Secretary Cardona Recognize the Two Huge Problems with High-Stakes Testing?

Following the pattern of previous Democratic and Republican administrations, the Biden administration's Secretary of Education has determined that the most important thing the Federal Government has to do for public schools throughout the country is force them to take wasteful standardized tests. Arne Duncan would be proud.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona insists that federally mandated standardized testing will go on as usual in this COVID-19 dominated year. While his decision feels particularly impractical, intrusive, complicated and disruptive in the midst of COVID-19, the decision is of much deeper concern for two reasons.

One would like to think that Dr. Cardona is familiar with the huge debate that has consumed education experts and also many parents who have been opting out for years now. But when Dr. Cardona explained why testing must go on as usual, he didn’t even bother to offer a rationale that addresses any of the reasons experts have insisted he should cancel the tests once again this year. Instead he said we need the tests so that the Department of Education can ensure that federal investment goes to the school districts that need it most. That is such a lovely thought, and if tests were designed and used to gauge needed investment in the poorest communities, it would be wonderful.

READING

The Reading Helper

Halfway through my career I moved out of my general education classroom and became, what Russ Walsh calls, a Reading Helper.

In this post, Walsh reminds us that the most important aspect of being a teacher is the relationship between teacher and student, not standardized tests...not state standards...not grades.
I have a teaching certificate that says I am a qualified Teacher of Reading, and Reading Specialist and Supervisor, but from the time I got a certain Valentine's Day card from a student in 1993 I have thought of myself as a Reading Helper. That card was from a second grade vulnerable reader named Danielle who had been my student since that September. The cover of the hand made card was full of many colored hearts and flowers and said, of course, "Happy Valentine's Day." Inside was a message that I will never forget and which has defined my work ever since: "Thank you for hleping me read. Love, Danielle" Yes, exactly, "hleping." Danielle still had some spelling reversals crop up from time to time. But the message could not have been clearer. I was being thanked for helping and it meant the world to me.

Why Do So Many Children Have Dyslexia? What is it Exactly?

The word “dyslexia” literally means “difficulty with written words”. In my experience -- more than forty years as a paraprofessional, teacher, and retiree volunteer -- there are as many different types of dyslexia as there are struggling readers — every child is different! Parents define it based on their own child’s (or children's) struggles. Teachers define it by what they've seen in their own isolated classrooms. I’ve watched arguements between parents and teachers exposing the conflict as “that’s dyslexia,” “No, this is dyslexia”. The arguments about reading programs are even worse. There is no one perfect program that works for every single student. There is no panacea.

Nancy Bailey is absolutely correct in this post, that we need to stop worrying so much about the label and find out what works for each individual child. If a parent wants to call their child’s struggles dyslexia, so be it, but we still need to figure out what works for the child.

This post is followed by an interesting discussion in the comments. Many of the comments prove the points that Bailey makes in her article.
It’s important to continue to raise questions about reading problems and to seek school programs that help children learn to read.

But we should also be asking why so many children present such problems when they show up to school.

No matter what causes reading problems in children or what the label, schools, and teachers must continue to provide students with the individual help they need. There is no one perfect reading program for all children. Schools need to provide rich reading environments and extra phonics for students who need it.


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