Friday, March 16, 2018

‘60 Minutes’ Snubs the Facts on Education

Beth Richardson is committed to her son’s success. She expected Jed to do his homework once in school, so she did her homework first on the schools near their South Carolina home.

“I visited every single school that was available,” she says. She wasn’t satisfied with Jed’s assigned school, and her research led her to East Point Academy. East Point is a charter school—an independent public school—that provides instruction in both English and Mandarin Chinese.

“They are definitely absorbing the language both verbally and in writing,” Richardson told me in an interview when Jed entered the school in 2013. “I think they are teaching first grade at a second grade level—they are teaching one grade ahead.”

Earlier this week, CBS’ “60 Minutes” grilled Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on why she supports the idea that families like the Richardsons should be able to choose where and how their children learn.

Reporter Lesley Stahl said traditional public schools are doing better today at educating students, and that allowing families to make choices results in less money for traditional schools.

Stahl didn’t provide evidence for these claims, so her line of questioning is worth a closer look.

According to the Nation’s Report Card, a reliable indicator of average student learning state by state, 12th-graders are scoring the same today in reading and math as they did in the 1970s. And while scores for fourth- and eighth-graders have trended upward, the most recent results showed lower scores in math with mixed results in reading.

One data point doesn’t erase a trend, but whatever gains students may be realizing in lower grades appear to be lost by the end of high school.

Test scores aren’t the only way to measure success. One reason we want children to work hard in school is so that they can have more opportunities later in life.

Research on private school options found that students that chose a private school were more likely to finish high school and even enter college than their peers in traditional schools.

Students from low-income families in Washington, D.C., that used a K-12 private school scholarship graduated from high school at higher rates than their peers who didn’t use a scholarship. Similar results can be found in Milwaukee and New York City.

Later in the segment, Stahl says that when some families choose something other than an assigned public school, traditional schools are “left behind” and “can end up with less money.”

But Washington’s budget for the Department of Education sees consistent increases. The Trump administration’s recent efforts to trim spending are notable because budget increases are so familiar.

Regardless, if Stahl is pointing to Washington’s budget, she’s looking in the wrong place. State and local taxpayers account for most—90 percent—of education funding for K-12 schools.

Per student spending around the country also goes only one direction: up.

In 2016, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey led an effort to add $3.5 billion from state reserves to K-12 schools over 10 years, in addition to regular budget appropriations. Schools in Washington state saw a $4.57 billion increase in the latest budget, a jump of 25 percent, according to experts at the Washington Policy Center.

Nationwide, per student spending has increased nearly 30 percent since 1990 after adjusting for inflation.

Stahl’s comment that education research is “complicated” glosses over increases in taxpayer funding for education, uninspiring-to-mixed results, and examples of remarkable student success when parents have opportunities for their child’s education.

But the significance of average scores and percent funding increases is lost on parents that just want their child to succeed. “The ability to provide this in South Carolina is so wonderful, it is exactly what Jed needs,” Richardson says.

“I feel very fortunate to be able to live in [her city] and to be able to take advantage of this opportunity,” she says.

“60 Minutes” should have another look at the facts and then ask why every parent can’t say the same thing as her.


An Education in School Safety
There was a time when secretaries of education could focus on things like curriculum and better learning environments. Betsy DeVos would probably like to trade places with some of her predecessors when the job’s biggest demands were raising national test scores — not keeping children safe. Unfortunately for her and every other administrator in America, the world of education has changed — and it now has a lot more to do with combatting violence than fighting mediocrity.

It’s been almost a month since the latest wake-up call that something in America has gone terribly wrong. There are 17 more empty seats around dinner tables in Parkland, Florida, victims of a story that started in Columbine and continues to break hearts from Connecticut to Virginia Tech. In the days since a 19-year-old walked into the halls of his old school and started snuffing out the futures of so many innocent classmates, the entire nation has been grasping for solutions to spare other parents the unimaginable pain of losing a child. President Trump is a father too. And in the weeks since Florida’s heartbreak, he’s made it clear that he’s willing to cross any aisle and consider any idea to make sure the evil that happened in Parkland doesn’t happen again. At least as far as he can help it.

Over the weekend, the White House rolled out its newest plan for school safety. In it, DeVos explains, are a number of concrete steps the government and state leaders can take to harden their campuses against threats. As he’s said since the beginning, President Trump thinks it’s time to launch “rigorous firearms training” for teachers who volunteer to carry guns at school. “For those who are capable,” Secretary DeVos told reporters on a conference call, “this is one solution that can and should be considered. Keep in mind that among the ranks of teachers are military veterans who have had extensive training. Every state and every community is going to address this issue in a different way.” As the administration has reminded people, President Obama wanted to arm more people after the Sandy Hook tragedy — but he focused on school resource officers, which, as we saw in Parkland, may not be as effective as highly trained teachers themselves. What the White House doesn’t want to do is take more guns away from school officials. “A gun-free zone to a maniac — because they’re all cowards — a gun-free zone is, ‘Let’s go in and let’s attack, because bullets aren’t coming back at us.’”

Another piece of the president’s plan is establishing a Federal Commission on School Safety, which would be chaired by Secretary DeVos. The commission, administration officials say, would focus on several areas, like age restrictions for certain guns, entertainment ratings systems, violent video games, mental health treatment, funding for states to create threat assessment teams, and other recommendations. Apart from that, the president will keep the wheels in motion on tougher background checks, outlawing bump stocks, state-specific “risk protection orders,” and a formal review of the FBI’s tip line, which could (and should) have helped stop the attack in Parkland.

Fortunately, the president understands that these are important steps — but hardly the only ones. “The president,” assured Andrew Bremberg, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, “is determined to get to the root of the various societal issues that lead to violence in our country. No stone will be unturned.” Like us, he knows that Americans are facing a deeper problem than guns or even federal and state cooperation. If we want to reduce violence, we have to rebuild the family. That means an honest conversation about how the past several years of religious intolerance and outright hostility has kept this nation from focusing on what’s important. If Congress wants to stop these tragedies, then it has to start by encouraging the two things — faith and family — that can address the real problem: the human heart.

We can’t use laws to do what only God can. We have to get back to a basic understanding of right and wrong. As President George Washington warned in his farewell address, morality cannot be maintained without religion. If we want to become a more honest and decent people, the kind who care about human worth and dignity, then we can talk about access to guns — but we’ve also got to talk about access to God.

Nothing we do will matter if we don’t acknowledge that America has lost its way. As my friend Ken Blackwell says, “You can’t run faith out of the public square and not expect to have these sort of consequences.” So let’s protect our schools. Let’s harden the targets. But let’s work on softening hearts too.


Trump’s School Safety Plan Includes Hardening Schools, Strengthening Background Checks, Mental Health Reform

The White House on Monday rolled out President Donald Trump’s school safety plan, which focuses on four areas: hardening schools, strengthening background checks, mental health reform, and reviewing funding proposals for preventing school violence.

The president’s plan to harden schools includes providing firearms training to “specially qualified school personnel on a voluntary basis” using Department of Justice assistance programs that will allow schools to partner with local law enforcement.The administration plans to support military veterans and retired law enforcement who want to transition into a career in education.

As part of an effort to strengthen background checks, the president is calling on every state to adopt Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs), which allows the police - with court approval - to remove guns from people who are a demonstrated threat to themselves or others and to temporarily prevent certain people from buying new weapons.

The president also supports improving the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, as proposed by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), which holds federal agencies accountable for reporting information to NICS and incentivizes states to improve reporting.

Trump also supports the framework of the STOP School Violence Act, which gives state-based grants to implement evidence-based violence prevention programs.

The president is proposing increased integration of mental health, primary care, and family services, as well as support for programs that utilize court-ordered treatment. The plan also calls for a review of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and other statutory and regulatory privacy protections.

Finally, the president is calling for the establishment of a federal commission chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos “to address school safety and the culture of violence.” It will study and make recommendations on a number of areas, including: age restrictions for certain firearm purchases; existing entertainment rating systems and youth consumption of violent entertainment; the effects of press coverage of mass shootings; repeal of the Obama administration’s ‘Rethink School Discipline’ policies; and the effectiveness and appropriateness of psychotropic medication for treatment of troubled youth.


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