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    COMMENTARY: Teachers need more community, parental support

    The latest data from the Center for American Progress shows that the average salary for an attorney is more than two times that of elementary and middle school educators. The Washington Post reported last week that nearly 1 in 10 hosts who rent out their apartments, homes and spaces on Airbnb are teachers. Low salaries, compared with other college graduates, may inhibit highly-effective professionals from pursuing a career in education; specifically for people of color who currently make up just seven percent of public school teachers.

    I come from a family of educators. My mother, both of my grandmothers, and one of my sisters were teachers. However, the family tradition of educating children ended after me. None of my daughters, nieces, or nephews decided to pursue a career in education. Data comprised from surveys completed during the NNPA’s National Black Parents’ Town Hall Meeting echoed this sentiment. When asked what they believed is needed to close the academic achievement gap, respondents selected community participation and funding over the acquisition of highly-effective teachers.

    Many reasons have led to frustrations with teaching in the United States. Work-to-pay ratio, a lack of resources, and an increased focus on standardized testing has made it increasingly difficult for teachers to be highly-effective.

    This year, teacher strikes broke out in several states concerning school funding and teacher pay. Teachers in Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and West Virginia left the classroom for the state house to protest the lack of resources in the profession. NPR reported in April that teachers have begun to seek support outside of the educational bureaucracy; forming “supply shops” where teachers can swap educational materials for free or at a dramatically reduced cost.

    A first-year teacher who attended the National Black Parents’ Town Hall Meeting in Norfolk, VA, said that she stepped into the role of teaching, initially excited, but found by the end of the year she was extremely drained physically and emotionally. “I stepped into the role, mid-year, with no lesson plan. What can be done to keep teachers teaching and encourage new teachers coming into the program? I really want to teach, but there is very little support.”

    Highly-effective teachers require competitive pay, professional support, and access to innovative resources. President Barack Obama signed the current national education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December 2015 with educators in mind. Title II of ESSA provides program grants to states and districts that can be used for teacher preparation, recruitment, support, and continued learning. ESSA also ends the requirement of states to set up teacher evaluation systems based significantly on students’ test scores which should reduce the pressure teachers feel to teach to the test. The Teacher and School Leader Innovation Program provides grants to districts that want to try out performance pay and other teacher quality improvement measures. ESSA became effective this 2018-2019 school year.

    With data compiled from 26 school districts, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) found that on average there were small differences in the effectiveness of teachers of high- and low-income students, hiring patterns and teacher transfer patterns were consistent, with only minor differences, between high- and low-income students, and that in 3 of the 26 chosen districts there was meaningful inequity in access to effective teachers in math. Data showed that access to highly-effective teachers was relatively equal across the board. Yet, inequities in educational outcomes between low-income students and students from wealthier families persist throughout the United States.

    As a new teacher, the constant challenge for me was parental engagement. A working parent’s schedule often left little time during school hours to participate in their child’s education and those who were free during school hours, failed to realize the importance of their presence and participation. Today, meaningful parental engagement remains a challenge for educators.

    So, this is a call to action for all parents. Let’s listen to teachers. They are calling for more support and increased pay. Let’s attend to school meetings to find out how to provide them additional support. Let’s attend city and the state meetings to advocate for competitive pay. Let’s vote for leaders who support the academic advancement of our children through access to additional resources.

    By Elizabeth Primas, Ph.D.

     

    Elizabeth Primas, Ph.D., is an educator, who spent more than 40 years working towards improving education for children of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds. She is the program manager for the NNPA’s Every Student Succeeds Act Public Awareness Campaign. Follow her @elizabethprimas.

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    COMMENTARY: We owe our children the best education possible

    I am a native Washingtonian. I still live on the same street that my parents brought me home to 50 plus years ago. I am a product of D.C. public schools. I began my education prior to integration. I was taught by, in my opinion, the best-prepared teachers in the city. I remember that most of my teachers had masters’ or doctorate degrees and they taught in the field in which they earned their degree. They were highly qualified, dedicated, and allowed no child to be left behind. The principal knew every student by name. She knew our strengths and weaknesses. She made sure that her teachers addressed the individual challenges of each student. I left public school well prepared to face the world.

    Through the years, I have witnessed many changes in both education and community. I have watched my neighborhood demographic change from middle class Black families, to a neighborhood where drug use, unemployment, and the lack of marketable skills has resulted in random acts of violence. Today, my neighborhood is nearly unrecognizable due to gentrification. However, my immediate concern is not growing property taxes or well-intentioned, but ill-informed redevelopment projects. My immediate concern is for the children in my neighborhood, right now; the children struggling to succeed in a rapidly changing environment and an ineffective education system; children who are taught by teachers, who do not relate to their personal struggles and lack the skill set to respond to their individualized needs.

    The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) addressed many of my concerns in education. The NNPA continues to echo the message that giving parents a voice in how the school system operates is vital to closing the achievement gap. It’s critical that parents engage with educational leaders and demand equal access to high quality teachers. Unfortunately, high-poverty schools are disproportionally staffed by unprepared, substitute, and out-of-field teachers. Although there are numerous causes for this phenomenon, the fact remains that, ill-prepared teachers undermine student achievement.

    According to an article by Emma Garcia published by the Economic Policy Institute, about eight in 10 poor Black students attend high poverty schools. Garcia found that 81 percent of poor, Black children attend high poverty schools compared to 53.5 percent of their poor White peers. It is also noted that attending a high-poverty school lowers math and reading achievement for students in all racial and ethnic groups. These discrepancies in access to adequate education expand into discrepancies in economic prospects and social mobility.

    ESSA requires states and districts to ensure that low-income students and students of color are not disproportionally taught by ineffective, inexperienced, and out-of-field teachers. ESSA requires state and school district report cards to include the percentage of inexperienced teachers, principals, and other school leaders; teachers with emergency or provisional credentials; and out-of-field teachers. Reporting this data provides states with the comparative data necessary to examine the root causes of inequities. Title II of ESSA provides program grants to states and districts that can be used for teacher preparation, recruitment, support, and continued learning. ESSA changes the distribution formula for funds by requiring that any increase in funding is prioritized to states with high rates of students living in poverty. ESSA has ended the requirement of states to set up teacher evaluation systems based significantly on students’ test scores. Growing evidence suggests that using student test scores to determine teacher effectiveness is misguided and does not improve instructional practices. ESSA includes a Teacher and School Leader Innovation Program that will provide grants to districts that want to try out performance pay and other teacher quality improvement measures.

    At some point, we must stop treating our children like widgets. They won’t all fit into a round hole; some of them are square pegs. They all have gifts and talents, but it is difficult to realize potential with a rotating door of teachers and school leaders. The cuts in the federal education budget have targeted teacher training and professional development. We owe our children the best education possible. They are our future.

    Together, we can fulfill the promise of ESSA and ensure that every student succeeds.

    By Lynette Monroe
    NNPA columnist

    Lynette Monroe is a master’s student at Howard University. Her research area is public policy and national development.
    ONLINE: nnpa.org/essa

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    Families believe inequality growing in schools, ESSA plans could worsen laws

    Black families overwhelmingly believe that their schools are underfunded, and that racial inequality is growing, according to a poll conducted by The Leadership Conference Education Fund and the Anzalone Liszt Grove Research firm.

    The Leadership Conference Education Fund, which is the education and research arm of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, developed the poll to “explore how Black and Latino parents and families view the American education system’s success in educating their children,” according to a press release about the survey.

    The poll revealed that 90 percent of Black parents and families believe schools in Black communities are underfunded compared to White communities.

    The poll also showed that almost 75 percent of Black parents and families believe that the education Black students receive is worse than what White students.

    A report about the poll said that, “Among Black parents and family members whose child’s teachers are mostly White, only 42 percent believe that schools are trying their best to educate Black students, 16 points below the share of those whose children have mostly Black teachers.”

    Liz King, the senior policy analyst and the director of education policy for The Leadership Conference Education Fund, said that there has been a lot of research that’s come out lately that suggests an implicit bias that educators, who are mostly White, have towards Black and Latino children.

    The press release stated the findings come at a critically important time for public education in the United States as states are currently developing education plans as part of their obligations under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

    “These plans are states’ opportunities to make a clear declaration about their belief in the education of all children and a commitment to ensuring children get the education they deserve,” the press release stated.

    Republicans in the United States Congress continue to chip away at ESSA, making it harder for states to clearly define those commitments.

    In March, Republicans voted to rollback accountability measures established by the Obama Administration, Education Week reported.

    “The Obama-era accountability rules, finalized late last year, set ground rules for how schools must be rated for school-improvement purposes, specified the requirements of (and flexibility for) states dealing with high testing opt-out rates in individual schools, and outlined how states would have to handle the ‘school quality’ indicator in accountability systems,” according to the Education Week blog post.

    Opponents of the Republican-led rules change said, “that the move was unnecessary, would create confusion in states about whether and to what extent their ESSA accountability plans comply with the law, and could endanger crucial protections for disadvantaged students.”

    In the report, researchers with the Leadership Conference Education Fund said that the findings of the “New Education Majority” poll, should be a clarion call for advocates and policy makers who must come to terms with the fact that a successful education policy must be responsive to the needs of Black, Latino and Asian children, who make up a majority of public school students in America.

    Researchers recommended opening the decision-making processes around educational policies to Black and Latino families, especially decisions regarding priorities and funding; integrating implicit bias and cultural responsiveness training into teacher preparation and professional development; preparing, hiring, supporting and retaining strong Black and Latino teachers; designing accountability systems that focus on high academic achievement, especially for Black and Latino children; and supporting and improving any school where Black or Latino children are not being effectively educated.

    Given the context of ESSA implementation, King said that the federal government, states, school districts and schools have a great opportunity to put policies into place that are responsive to the needs and values of the new majority of public school children.

    “We need to ensure that every single school is organized around excellence for every single child,” said King. “Parents in this poll spoke to the value of a state’s rating of a school’s success in educating children well, a central piece of ESSA’s accountability requirements, as well as the need to ensure that educators have the [resources] and preparation to support every child’s success and to overcome historic barriers to opportunity.”

    The “New Education Majority” national poll conducted by The Leadership Conference Education Fund suggests that Black families believe that racial inequality is growing.

    By Bria Nicole Stone
    NNPA Newswire Contributing Writer

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    Lawmakers attack Obama’s education law

    Educators nationwide are voicing concern following a push by Republicans in Congress to overturn accountability regulations for ESSA which could have far-reaching consequences for how the law works in states.

    Groups supporting the move argue that it would free schools from unnecessary burdens, while opponents contend that overturning the rules could hurt vulnerable students and create turmoil in states and districts trying to finalize their transition to ESSA.

    ESSA, which also reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), received bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 10, 2015. The regulations are administered by the U.S. Department of Education and ESSA goes into full effect at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year.

    Under the 2015 law that replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, each state will adhere to more flexible federal regulations that provide for improved elementary and secondary education in the nation’s public schools.

    “The ESSA law was established to help increase the effectiveness of public education in every state,” said Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association. “Our task is to inform, inspire, and encourage parents, students, teachers, and administrators to fulfill the intent and objectives of ESSA with special focus on those students and communities that have been marginalized and underserved by the education system across the nation.”

    Last week, the House of Representatives approved a joint resolution that would overturn ESSA accountability rules issued by the Obama administration.

    Those rules, which became final in November, are intended to detail for states the timeline for addressing underperforming schools, how schools must be rated, the ways English-language learners must be considered in state accountability plans, and other policy issues.

     

    “One of the things that should be included in any modification of ESSA is the fifth criteria for schools which is about school climate,” said Helen Levy-Myers, founder and CEO of Athena’s Workshop, Inc., a texting application for educators. School attendance is often dependent on other factors, like the friendliness of the staff, school leadership, safety of the school and neighborhood, health of the community, and the level of engagement between students and teachers, she said.

    A white paper presented by Levy-Myers noted that the “cold, hard truth is that chronically absent children end up leading harder lives.”

    Students who miss just two or three days each month in kindergarten and first grade never catch up. They become chronically absent, defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year.

    While many Republican lawmakers have moved to strike down the implementation of ESSA, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told state school officers around the country that despite a delay, several regulations will be reviewed and changed by March 21.

    DeVos told the officers that state ESSA plans will still be accepted either in April or in September.

    In a memo to state school heads DeVos wrote: “Due to the regulatory delay and review, and the potential repeal of recent regulations by Congress, the Department is currently reviewing the regulatory requirements of consolidated State plans, as reflected in the current template, to ensure that they require only descriptions, information, assurances, and other materials that are absolutely necessary for consideration of a consolidated State plan.”

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    Historians rank President Obama’s legacy highly

    Supporters and critics alike may eventually come to view President Barack Obama’s two-term White House tenure the same way.

    His determination for change never appeared to cause him to stumble on his goals, be it Obamacare or commuting the sentences of so many who were imprisoned for so long — primarily because of antiquated laws that punished mostly low-level minority drug offenders.

    Even as Obama is set to leave office, he took unprecedented steps to retaliate against alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election.

    Obama labeled Russia’s action as significant, malicious and cyber-enabled and sanctioned six Russian individuals and five Russian entities while ordering dozens of Russian diplomats to leave the country.

    The president also gave them and their families just three days to pack up and leave.

    “These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior,” Obama said in the statement released by the White House.

    It’s the kind of action that some said will make them miss the progress of the past eight years and critics will come to realize that Obama’s place in history will be a lofty one.

    “The biggest tragedy of the Obama presidency was the relentless and often irrational unwillingness of Republican lawmakers to work with him to achieve meaningful objectives,” said Mario Almonte, a public relations specialist who also blogs about politics and social issues. “Even so, many years from now, when the history of his presidency comes into better focus, our society will come to recognize the enormous impact Barack Obama had on American culture and possibly world culture as the first Black president of the United States.”

    And, as Kevin Drum a writer for Mother Jones wrote, Obama has moved forward on eight substantial executive actions over the past month – aside from the Russian sanctions – including enacting a permanent ban on offshore oil and gas drilling in areas of the Arctic and the Atlantic Seaboard; he’s refused to veto a UN resolution condemning Israel’s settlements in the West Bank; designated two new national monuments totaling more than 1.6 million acres – Bears Ears Buttes in southeastern Utah and Gold Butte in Nevada; and he’s instructed the Department of Homeland Security to formally end the long-discussed NSEERs database.

    Obama has also instructed the Army Corps of Engineers to deny final permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline where it crosses the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and he’s issued a final rule that bans the practice among some red states of withholding federal family-planning funds from Planned Parenthood and other health clinics that provide abortions.

    Also, the outgoing president completed rules to determine whether schools were succeeding or failing under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

    “He was most effective as a normal president, and he helped put the presidency back on a human scale,” said Stephen Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “He was a devoted and involved father, a loving husband, a man with acknowledged – albeit – vices, and someone who made it clear that he did not regard himself as omniscient.”

    “As president, he showed that effective governing requires careful deliberation, discipline, and the willingness to make hard and imperfect decisions, and he let us all watch him do just that.” Walt said future historians will give President Obama “full marks” for never acting impulsively or cavalier.

    Daniel Rodgers, the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History, emeritus and historian of American ideas and culture who taught at Princeton University, wrote that what buoyed Obama’s aspirations was not a program, but a dream that in his person, the people might come together and shape politics to their will and common aspirations.

    “That was what the ‘we’ in the brilliant ‘Yes We Can’ slogan in the 2008 campaign was essentially about,” Rodgers said. “He has not called the nation to new feats of courage — ala Kennedy — to make war on poverty — as Johnson did — even to dream more freely than ever before — as stated by Reagan. What Obama’s words have called for is for Americans to be the people they already are.”

    The single, biggest impact on Obama’s presidency has been the shattering of psychological obstacles in the American psyche toward electing a non-White president, Almonte said.

    “When Hillary Clinton first ran for president, her gender was a major issue among voters. The second time around, it was not,” Almonte said. “With this psychological barrier removed, in future elections, we will see candidates from all walks of life, genders, nationalities, and possibly even lifestyles pursue the presidency with greater ease than they could have before.”

    Even as Donald Trump and other Republicans promise to do all they can to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obama’s signature piece of legislation, historians wrote in New York magazine that it has been the president’s greatest accomplishment.

    They noted that presidents from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton failed to accomplish a passable affordable health care law.

    “Obamacare is easily the signal accomplishment of this president, assuming current efforts to unravel it will be defeated,” said Thomas Holt, the James Westfall Thompson Professor of American and African-American History at the University of Chicago.

    “It’s an achievement that will put Obama in the ranks of [President Franklin Delano Roosevelt] with social security and Lyndon B. Johnson with Medicare because of its enduring impact on the average American’s well-being,” Holt said. “He won’t need bridges and airports named after him since opponents already did him the favor of naming it ‘Obamacare.’”

    The Affordable Care Act’s progressivism stands out as the embodiment of Obama’s best intentions, said Nell Painter, an American historian notable for her works on southern history of the nineteenth century and a retired professor at Princeton University.

    “Some three million poor people have gained access to health care, thanks to the extension of Medicaid. But those people will not be in deep-southern states where poor people are numerous, but Republicans rule,” Painter said. “I see this convergence as a consequence of watermelon politics, as unsavory a legacy of Obama’s time as Obamacare is fine.”

    Finally, one historic trend-break that occurred during Obama’s presidency that has major significance for the well-being of African-Americans has been the beginnings of a decline in the national prison population, after decades of expansion, said Gavin Wright, professor of American Economic History at Stanford University.

    “The Obama Administration deserves a fair share of credit,” Wright said. “In 2010, Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, reducing prison time for convictions involving crack cocaine.”

    Wright said, “Under Attorney General Eric Holder, sentencing guidelines were made retroactive, leading to the release of thousands. To date, the reductions have been small compared to the total incarcerated population, but the reversal is historic, and its disproportionate significance for African-Americans is evident.”

     

    By Stacy M. Brown
    NNPA News Wire Contributor

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