States’ Rights and Wrongs

The rollback of civil rights enforcement in education is underway, says law professor Derek Black…

Jennifer Berkshire: The Trump Administration has just rescinded guidelines to schools banning discrimination against transgender students. There’s a lot of speculation about just how *joint* the joint letter from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions actually was. But you seem unconvinced by the portrayals of DeVos as a fierce protector of civil rights.

Image result for transgender bathroomDerek Black: The stream of bad news over the past few months has been steady. The Trump transition team said the administration would scale back the civil rights work in education.  At her confirmation hearing, Betsy DeVos was reluctant to take an affirmative stance on enforcing students’ disability rights.  Since taking the post, she has remarked that she could not *think of any* current pressing civil rights issues where the federal government has a role to play; things like racial segregation and exclusion of females were things of the past in her opinion.  

Now reports are coming out that Gail Heriot is likely to be the next head of the Department’s Office for Civil Rights. Heroit has been critical of the Office’s aggressive civil rights stance in recent years. With these individuals in place, it is hard to imagine much good happening at the federal level. Even if they do not rescind other Department positions on integration, school discipline, English Language Learners, and school resources, they are very unlikely to enforce existing regulations and policy guidance. Disparate impact enforcement, for instance, will be non-existent.  Rather than take on traditional civil rights concerns, I would expect they will identify fringe issues to pursue.  Continue reading →

School Turnarounds in the Age of Trump

When bad education policy and immigration politics collide, the result is uncertainty and anxiety for immigrant students…

Kristen Leathers with some of her students at Boston’s Brighton High School.

By Kristen Leathers
A few weeks ago, I received a letter from the Boston Public Schools informing me that I’m being let go from Brighton High School where I’ve taught for the past 10 years. I wasn’t the only one. Brighton High and two other Boston schools were deemed turnaround schools last fall and every staff member in each of these schools, from the headmaster to the paraprofessionals, was excessed. When faced with questions about the future, I told my students that I am still committed to working at Brighton High and teaching them, but I can offer them no assurances as I have none for myself.

We recently did a project in my intermediate ESL class where students wrote a letter about how the turnaround process was affecting them and what they felt would be needed to fix Brighton High School. We’ve been talking a lot about current events and I felt that it was important for them to find and use their own voices. Many of them talked about how devastating it is to be losing their teachers. They described this place as a refuge and a second home; losing that makes them feel frightened, anxious and confused. Continue reading →

You’re Fired!

The idea that schools can be fixed by firing teachers has become a fixation. In this episode of Have You Heard, Jack Schneider and I discuss the origins of the idea, which he has helpfully distilled here in this amazing graphic. We hear from three Boston teachers whose schools are about to be turned upside down, the lives of their immigrant students made even more chaotic in these unsettled times. As scholar Tina Trujillo explains, the turn-and-churn model of school reform reflects a larger erosion of the idea that public education is public good. Be sure to listen to the very end of the episode (or skip down to the bottom of the transcript below), where we announce our guest for episode #3. Fine, I’ll give you a hint. She was in the running to be Secretary of Education… If you have a question you want us to ask her, flag us on Twitter at @BisforBerkshire or @edu_historian, or leave a comment here. And if you missed episode #1 of this season, Vouchers: a Love Story, you can catch it on Soundcloud, or iTunes.


Berkshire: Welcome back. I’m Jennifer Berkshire. We’ve been talking about school turnarounds in this episode of Have You Heard and we have a special guest on the line. Tina Trujillo is an Associate Professor at UC Berkeley. Tina are you there?
Tina Trujillo: Hi, I am here. It’s good to be here.
Berkshire: We’ve been hearing from some teachers at two different Boston high schools that are in the process of being turned around. All of the teachers are having to re-apply for their jobs. One thing that came out so clearly is the teachers high level of skepticism about this particular policy path and as you’ve been arguing for some time now, research actually bears them out.
Trujillo: Absolutely, yes. I would say that the warnings about these types of competition-oriented, test-driven reforms, they didn’t start with my work with Michelle Renee. Jack has done great work and pointed to the weaknesses in these theories, historically speaking. Others have looked at this for some time. We have over two decades of solid, empirical evidence that explains the reasons why these types of high-stakes turnaround reforms are destined to fail. We have work that looks at early efforts to reconstitute staff and it shows not just that student achievement did not change, or did not significantly change, gaps in achievement between different racial or linguistic or socioeconomic groups. They don’t change under these models. What does happen is there are other counterproductive effects and I would imagine that those are some of the concerns that the teachers you’ve been talking to intuitively understand about what happens professionally when you completely lay off a staff and change the composition of the faculty and the principal. We have the research that shows us this.
We can also think of this from the commonsensical perspective and not the dominant common sense that we hear so much about –the market mentality and the need to just get tough on schools and have higher standards. Thinking about it from the students’ perspective, what happens when you walk into the school door and every adult looks different and all the teachers are new and there’s a new principal and that principal has enormous challenges facing her or him as far as developing the skills of an entirely new staff immediately to attain some kind of dramatic gains in test-based achievement. It just doesn’t happen. Stability goes down in schools, the climate suffers, teacher churn increases— even the teachers whose jobs aren’t threatened. We’ve seen in DC and elsewhere from other evaluations and research that they voluntarily leave and they’re not necessarily the worst or least experienced teachers who leave. They’re teachers who are demoralized by these types of threats that they know from their own professional judgment, they know that this is not the way that you improve and learn new skills.
Schneider: Tina, I did my best to try to lay out some of the policy assumptions that guide belief in turnarounds and reconstitution. I’m wondering if you could maybe speak for a minute about what you think the logic is and what the evidence base of those who support emptying a school out and then repopulating it with teachers and a new curriculum etcetera, what evidence would they point to and how would you explain the policy logic that underlies that kind of work?
Trujillo: If you think about the original policy logic or the theory of action, if you would call it that, behind school turnarounds and the reconstitution of staff, it comes out of business and industry. In business and industry, there was once an assumption that if you can lay everybody off and use a much more dramatic approach to making big, bold changes in the composition of who is working for you that you can dramatically turn around a company quickly. In the research world, we know from the business and management literature, that that logic didn’t play out there either. Schools have actually adopted an approach that has already been disproven in the industry where it originated.
I think that the theory of action behind school turnarounds and reconstitution rests on a few assumptions. One is that teachers aren’t motivated enough to change, but if they know that their job is threatened, that they don’t have job stability, then they will then know what to do to change and those changes can actually result in significant improvements in student achievement. We also assume that there are better, more qualified teachers available to fill those vacancies just like we assume there are better, more qualified principals to replace those outgoing principals, but we don’t have evidence that this happens. We have evidence that, in fact, the replacements for these teachers are often of an equal quality or lower. We also have evidence that these coercive threats of losing your job or being sanctioned in one way or another, they demotivate teachers, they demoralize them and they push them out. We don’t have evidence that supports those types of assumptions.
Berkshire: I want to ask you, there’s been, obviously we’re in a very robust period as far as education news. There’s been so much going on that the previous administration’s enormous investment in school improvement grants and the disappointing results that that effort produced got a little bit lost in the shuffle. The responses to that were pretty interesting. I saw, some people were saying, this basically shows that you can’t turn a school around. This is making an even stronger case for-
Schneider: Shutting them down.
Berkshire: Voucher programs. For shutting them down, opening up more charter schools, etcetera. For teachers like the ones that I’ve been interviewing who feel so strongly that this isn’t the right path, what kinds of policies should they be pushing for?
Trujillo: That’s a great question. I share your concern, Jennifer. There’s a lot of discourse right now in education and what’s happening nationally, a lot of rhetoric around vouchers and choice. There are, and this isn’t to oversimplify things, but we know of more productive, more promising policies and reforms. We know that school integration is one of the strongest ways to close different gaps between racial and socioeconomic groups; integration policies are one. Adequate funding is an enormous issue right now and it’s a challenge that schools are facing in all 50 states, the inadequacy of the general funding and the inequitable systems for allocating funds across districts. Those finance systems need to be reformed.
We also know that increased learning time in the form of extended learning opportunities that are high-quality, that that makes a difference in student achievement over the long-term. We have more affluent communities where the families can make up for whatever time that students aren’t in school with music lessons, with summer camp, with after school programs, different opportunities for enrichment. Then we have much more economically, which are also oftentimes racially, isolated schools in communities where those resources don’t exist. We know that extended learning time, high-quality extended learning time, is something that is related to higher student achievement. We know that investments in early childhood education pay enormous benefits over the long-run of the students’ academic careers as well as their long-term life outcomes. We know that reforms that are embedded in more community-based efforts and that engage the community can be sustained for longer. This work comes out of long-standing work out of Chicago and elsewhere, like Bryk and his colleagues have said, they have found that the more the community is engaged with the reform itself rather than being threatened or losing the school entirely, the more likely that that reform is to really be sustained over a number of years.
Schneider: Tina.
Trujillo: There’s also just the issue of timing and giving a reform time to work. I want to hear what you have to say in just a second, Jack.
Schneider: Sure.
Trujillo: Most of the appeal of the turnaround model is that it sounds really sexy and dramatic. You can do something really quickly overnight, but that’s not, and we know from a research perspective and from a practitioner perspective, that’s not the way schools change. Jack you were going to say?
Schneider: I want to make an observation here. It’s an observation about how politics work because you mentioned two kinds of approaches. One is desegregation and the other you gave us a series of research backed interventions that of course cost a lot of money so extended learning or wraparound programs, universal early childhood education, high-quality early childhood education. The observation that I have here is that these things take a lot of political and financial capital and they involve people giving up some of their own private good for the public good. Desegregation, the idea there is that everybody is going to be better off but you may not get to go to the very kind of school that you wish to because there is a greater good that we’re after here.
I just wanted to make an observation that the failures of efforts to marshal people around the idea of the collective good in the sixties and seventies kind of led directly to this approach birthed in the eighties and coming to fruition in the nineties and early oughts which would be we don’t need to give anything up, you don’t need to make any sacrifices, you don’t need to divert your tax dollars to poor kids, you don’t need to send your kid to school with kids of color because we can replicate what works. We can create a good school anywhere. We can have excellence for all and all we need to do let’s look at what works, we’ll get a good building, we’ll get good teachers, we’ll get a good curriculum and of course those assumptions are really easy to make if you’re engaged in this simplistic policy thinking about what makes a school.
Whereas when you’re seeing a school as an ecosystem and as a rich highly contextual place where each part affects all of the others and, for instance, swapping out all of the teaches is going to have a devastating impact on the ecosystem. That’s a very different way of looking at it. I’m wondering if you can comment and then I think we need to move on. Jennifer is giving me the wrap it up look.
Berkshire: I am. I also happened to catch your reference to excellence for all.
Schneider: Yeah that’s a plug.
Berkshire: I’m pretty sure you were plugging one of your previous books.
Schneider: Oh yeah. I get a dollar for every one that’s sold but so the question that I’ve got is do you see any hope for revitalizing the common mission of education, education as a public good and getting people politically motivated around the kinds of reforms that we know work so integrated schools, universal Pre-K, high quality Pre-K, providing schools with all of the resources they need even if it is additional services to give kids equal opportunity?
Trujillo: I think you are hitting on one of the largest challenges that is facing public education right now, Jack, and that is thinking about a common good or a collective good or a public good. Thinking about education as a public good, that is no longer the dominant way of thinking about public schools. We now have generations, decades, of test-based reforms and discourse around schools that very much focuses on individual achievement and individualized attainment of different educational resources and goals and things like that. What we have, then, is a society that is very much socialized to think in terms of me, not in terms of us, not to think about education as something that is a common good. Thinking of education as a public good means sometimes making certain sacrifices or doing something that is going to benefit the broader collective or the community or society, and not only thinking about my individual children and what is only best for my children, instead of thinking about what is best for the group.
I see that in my students. My students who have never taught before the era of high-stakes testing and accountability, they don’t yet have well-developed notions of what a common good is or how public education in this country is an inherently communitarian concept. They talk about-
Schneider: And of course-
Trujillo: They talk about themselves and their identities in terms of their students’ test scores. A good example is I had a student just last year where we were reading John Dewey and we were reading about progressive education and his critique of John Dewey was that John Dewey didn’t establish benchmarks and that Dewey was not explicit about his measurable results.
Schneider: Measurable gains. You’ve got a Teach for America core member on your hands there.
Trujillo: He dismissed Dewey and these notions of progressive education because they didn’t fit into this schema that he had developed as a teacher who has only worked in this very individual-focused, individualistic, test-based, competitive culture of public schools. I cut you off, Jack. What were you going to say?
Schneider: No you didn’t cut me off. You kept me from cutting you off. You had a clear line to the goal line there and you were not going to be tackled.
Trujillo: Sorry.
Schneider: I was just going to add that, of course, people say that the Secretary of Education doesn’t have a tremendous amount of power but of course Betsy DeVos who is a big supporter of choice and particularly of vouchers, has the power of the, it’s a mini-bully pulpit, but to foster this vision of education as a private good, as a market commodity that people can shop for.
Trujillo: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.
Berkshire: Tina Trujillo I want to thank you for letting us pepper you with questions. If people don’t know your work, they should look you up. Tina Trujillo at UC Berkeley. Tina, hang out on the line for just a second because Jack and I are foreshadowing our next episode and I think you’re going to be very interested. Jack do you want to do the honors?
Schneider: Sure.
Trujillo: I’m excited.
Schneider: Coming up on episode three for those who have managed to sit through two episodes will be a special guest, Michelle Rhee will be joining us. If our listeners want to brush up, they should rewatch Waiting for Superman or at least check out the famous Time Magazine cover with Michelle Rhee holding a broom on it. If people want to send us questions in advance, things that they would like us to talk about, they can tweet those at us using the hashtag #haveyouheard or directing them @bisforberkshire or @edu … I believe it’s an underscore.
Berkshire: You’re an underscore.
Schneider: I’m underscored. Edu_historian. Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Snyder. Tina if you want to give us a question that you should be thinking about before our conversation with Michelle Rhee, we will put you on the spot here.
Trujillo: Oh, at this moment? Okay. There are quite a few questions that I think are important to ask Rhee at this point. I think talking to Rhee about her record and the lack of positive results in her record, that’s a conversation that could be rehashed, but I think we already know what happened in Washington DC. I’m more interested in whether she is considering the decades of evidence that point to the lack of promise behind the types of reforms, choice-based reforms, that she promoted and that she continues to promote. I think moving forward at a national level, that is an enormously important question to ask of anybody who is engaged in the national scene on educational policy. These notions of choice and competition-oriented reform—if you look at the evidence, and do not just stick to ideological beliefs, we don’t have the evidence to support them. Is she expanding her considerations of the roles of teachers unions, of community-based reforms, more democratic investments in schools and communities? Because that’s where the evidence lies.
Berkshire: Excellent questions all. We will be back in a few weeks. I’m Jennifer Berkshire.
Schneider: I’m Jack Schneider.
Berkshire: This is Have You Heard.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos says she wants to empower teachers to make them great. Detroit teacher Stephanie Griffin isn’t buying it… 

By Stephanie Griffin
When teachers in Detroit organized sick-outs last year, we weren’t in *receive mode,* as Betsy DeVos would say, waiting to be told what to do. The protests came about because no one would listen: not the school district, not our union, not our political representatives, and not the state that has been running the Detroit Public Schools for nearly two decades, during which conditions for teachers and students have gotten progressively worse. And our protests weren’t *sponsored and carefully planned.* My school, Cass Tech, is one of the best schools in the city, but teachers here believe in solidarity, and we knew that our only hope of drawing attention to the plight of teachers and students in Detroit was to join the protests. So we joined in, along with teachers from 90 other schools, and we ended up getting national attention. Continue reading →

The Next Big Thing

The Springfield Empowerment Zone is light on results, heavy on hype and rife with red flags…

Barely had Massachusetts voters cast the last *nay* vote on raising the charter cap, aka the Last Big Thing, than the Next Big Thing was sweeping the Bay State. I speak, of course of the zones of empowerment, that suddenly have everyone who is anyone talking. The experiment in school turn around-ing underway in Springfield, headed up by education reformer magnate Chris Gabrieli, is now in its second year and has already put up impressive numbers. No reader, not the measurable results that were the occasion for the takeover. I mean *buzz* as they say in the biz. There’s Boston Globe sage Scot Lehigh singing the Empowerment Zone’s praises. Now here’s Chris Gabrieli singing his own praises. Here’s Governor Baker giving the EZ a shout out and proposing a statewide expansion. Here’s the Globe editorial page echoing the Governor’s call. Now here’s the front page of the Globe reporting on the growing momentum behind the Empowerment Zone crusade. Oh, and here’s Representative Alice Peisch, fresh off her turn as lead flog-stress for the Last Big Thing, filing the *enabling legislation* that will empower the growth of zones across the land. Continue reading →