Category Archives: Federal Education Policy

Can You Name the Branches of Government? Most Americans Can’t.

Today is Constitution Day, a holiday commemorating the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787 — 230 years ago. As “a nation of immigrants,” America’s national identity is largely tied to our founding documents, endowing the Constitution with a unique importance in American culture. However, many Americans know little about this document that we are supposed to support and defend.

Last week, the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania released its Constitution Day Civics Survey, with dismal results. Only one in four respondents were able to name all three branches of government, a 12-point decline since 2011. Shockingly, 33 percent could not name a single branch.

The survey also asked respondents to identify which rights are guaranteed by the First Amendment. While nearly half (48 percent) were able to name “freedom of speech,” only 15 percent could name “freedom of religion.” Even fewer respondents identified the other rights (freedom of the press, right to petition, and right of assembly). Thirty-seven percent couldn’t name any.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of APPC, expressed her concern: “Protecting the rights guaranteed by the Constitution presupposes that we know what they are. The fact that many don’t is worrisome.”

Perhaps, in prior years, this warning may have seemed overblown. But in the Trump era, amid a seemingly constant slew of anti-democratic rhetoric, it feels right on the nose. For example, when asked whether those who are in the country illegally have any rights under the Constitution, 53 percent of APPC’s respondents disagreed. In this context of widespread ignorance and misinformation, the United States has seen an uptick in hate crimes associated with the rise of President Trump, beginning in 2015, persisting into 2016 and 2017, and culminating in the violence of the “Unite the Right” rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville last month.

Luckily, some states are taking action to bolster the civic knowledge of their students. For example, over the past three years, 17 states have adopted a “citizenship test” requirement for high school students. In eight of those states, students must receive a passing score on the test to receive a high school diploma. The questions are drawn from the the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) naturalization civics test, which immigrants must pass to become legal U.S. citizens.

This is a good first step, but it is far from sufficient. The test is not designed to be a high school civic literacy exam. It sets a low bar, with basic multiple-choice questions that ask test-takers to identify one branch of the government, or know how many amendments have been made to the Constitution. The simplicity is reflected in the initial test results, with very high passage rates and few students failing to pass the test after repeated attempts.

However, such a test is only one tool available to policymakers. They can design and administer higher quality civics assessments; implement robust standards and curricula for civics instruction; and provide real-world, project-based opportunities for students to learn about government and civic engagement. For example, New Hampshire passed legislation in 2016 requiring a civics test. But, rather than simply implementing a citizenship test for high school students, the legislation allows for the creation of locally developed assessments that can include a broader range of questions. Additionally, the state created a recognition for students who pass the required test by authorizing school districts to issue civic competency certificates.

New Hampshire Senator Lou D’Allesandro, a former civics teacher who sponsored some of the state’s legislation, summarized the issue well: “We always complain, ‘people don’t know anything about the system, they don’t get involved, they don’t vote.’ Well, they don’t vote because they don’t understand the importance of voting and how meaningful it is to participate in the process.”

If America wants to protect our constitutional rights and democratic ideals, we must ensure that our next generation of citizens are knowledgeable and engaged. That starts in the classroom.

In Light of DACA Repeal, What Can Educators Do Now?

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/peoplesworld/6649238679/in/photolist-b8z61c-4RQmyt-9Cyku1-9CvmU4-datE3o-dEusfL-buDiFk-4FQ457-4FQjJw-c1eLxL-hCp4i-8V26FA-c1ELVw-d9GmjA-kW5Dg-H3zvXa-d9Gm7K-hCoTs-8xVpix-v2QfRK-RxuMq5-c1ELJq-hCoKv-8xVqaD-natkW8-8xYrrs-hCopC-8xYr4L-9MyCEe-aDbMLz-dA61aW-4Ro7WA-d9Uw88-c1EMUQ-buDd7Z-bAHAhP-bNkhN8-9Cvr14-bQCmSK-buDigr-8xcrkt-buDfRD-pPPJ8L-bzqvx7-4FKUST-buDmhP-8LHuxQ-buDhTg-d9UuaV-hCr29

An Immigrant Youth Justice League rally in 2011. Photo via Flickr user peoplesworld.

Having immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines at four years old, I know firsthand the difficult decision my parents made to leave behind the country they called home in search of opportunity for my family. Although I have family abroad, this country is the only place I know as home.

Recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) were brought to the U.S. as young children by parents who made the courageous decision to leave the only home they knew, often due to danger, conflict, poverty, or a lack of opportunity. While my immigration story is different, I can’t help but feel connected to the 800,000 DACA recipients whose only chance of hope and a future in this country was abruptly taken away from them this week.

In the wake of DACA repeal, I sought advice from Mayura Iyer, a Teach For America corps member teaching in Dallas, TX. Mayura’s main priority is to control the one thing she can in this moment – to make her immigrant students feel as safe and welcome as possible in her classroom. Every educator has this opportunity and responsibility, and below are some resources and suggestions Mayura offered to continue supporting immigrant students in her classroom:

Make sure students and their parents know their rights. Provide students with materials they can share with parents, particularly in-language translated materials, such as those from Remezcla and Here to Stay. Have these materials readily available in the classroom to allow the students to pick up on their own time – if and when they’re ready.

In addition, it’s important to clarify any misconceptions and myths that students hear on a daily basis. For instance, many undocumented families may fear that immigration authorities are present in schools and that undocumented students may be vulnerable to deportation at school. Clarify your school or district’s policy to protect immigrant students (see, for example, the National Education Association’s “Safe Zones” resolutions policies or Virginia’s guidance regarding school division responsibilities and actions in reference to students and immigration) and ensure students and parents know that school is a safe environment for them.

Uplift and value the experiences of immigrants and students of color. Celeste Hayes’ “How to Decolonize a Classroom” addresses the whitewashing of narratives about people of color in history. Teachers can actively uplift the stories and voices of immigrants and people of color by being intentional about the historical figures they post on their classroom walls or the projects they assign to their students.

Incorporate cultural competency in lessons. Teach Tolerance offers a number of instructional resources on diversity, identity, and social justice that teachers can use to help facilitate difficult conversations on topics such as race, immigration, and inclusion. No matter how difficult, these discussions are vital to creating a welcoming environment for all students, particularly during these uncertain times. While conversations about immigration and inclusion may seem most relevant to classrooms with large immigrant populations or students of color, it is equally if not more important to make sure these conversations take place in schools with small minority populations. Students take these discussions outside of the classroom and to their homes, and if we’re trying to make our country a more immigrant-friendly place, then teachers must make a conscious effort to create such environments in their classrooms.

DACA recipients are among our students, teachers, friends, and neighbors, all of whom are inextricably woven into the fabric of America. Repealing this executive order, with no guarantee from Congress that timely legislation will pass before it expires, is irresponsible and inhumane. In the meantime, educators play an important role in ensuring that immigrant students feel like they belong in the classroom — and in this country.

Four Things You Should Know About the ADA on its 27th Anniversary

Twenty seven years ago today, the first comprehensive civil rights act for individuals with disabilities was signed into law. The vote yesterday to move forward on debate for the “Obamacare” repeal has created a strange anniversary for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Now with the possible repeal of Obamacare and massive cuts to Medicaid looming, the legacy of progress for individuals with disabilities is threatened. On the anniversary of this groundbreaking bill, here are four things you should know about the ADA:

President Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. Wikimedia.

1. Like other civil rights bills, the ADA didn’t work as intended right away and was only the first step in a long process to advance civil rights for individuals with disabilities. 

Twenty seven years ago, former Senator Tom Harkin, the chief sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act, proclaimed: “The ADA is indeed the 20th century emancipation proclamation for all Americans with disabilities.” He likely wasn’t aware of how unfortunately prophetic those words would become.

Harkin intended to celebrate the major breakthrough of passing comprehensive civil rights for individuals with disabilities. The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications. The law ultimately requires that buildings and transportation be wheelchair accessible, television programming have closed captioning, and that individuals with disabilities be provided with appropriate workplace accommodations.

Yet similar to the emancipation proclamation which did not end slavery, the ADA did not immediately grant full civil rights for individuals with disabilities. The path from ADA passage to ensuring individuals with disabilities received the access Congress intended included a series of setbacks. In 1999 the Supreme Court restricted the reach of the ADA’s protections by narrowly construing the definition of disability. As a result, individuals with a wide range of impairments — including cancer, epilepsy, diabetes, hearing loss, multiple sclerosis, HIV, intellectual disabilities, and post-traumatic stress disorder — were routinely found not to be disabled and therefore not covered by the ADA. This lead to the eventual passage of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), which reversed those decisions by broadening the definition of disability under the law. These Amendments also extended protections to individuals using a variety of supports including cochlear implants, hearing aids, and prosthetics.

2. Before passage of the ADA, many students with disabilities were not being educated at all.

Prior to the ADA, large numbers of children with disabilities were systematically excluded from American public schools. Many have estimated that in the early 1970s, approximately one million school-aged children with disabilities were excluded from public educational programs. Moreover, an additional three million children with disabilities attended public schools but were not provided services to meet their educational needs.

3. The ADA applies to non-religious private schools and private universities even if they do not receive federal funding.

Unless subject to the exemption for religious organizations, private schools must comply with the public accommodations portion of the ADA and ADAAA. This means private schools must ensure students with disabilities are not excluded, denied services, segregated, or treated differently than other students. These schools must also make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures that deny access unless this would result in a fundamental change in the nature of their program or result in undue administrative costs.

4. While accessibility extends to websites, the standard for web accessibility is an unsettled area of the law.

When originally enacted, the ADA did not include websites as places of “public accommodation” because the internet was still in its infancy. As internet usage has become ubiquitous and an unlimited number of goods and services have been made available online, courts have interpreted places of public accommodation to include websites.

During the Obama administration, the Office of Civil Rights required schools to make their websites accessible to the disabled. Yet, currently there is no clear legal standard that has been adopted for schools to follow. While the Department of Justice has asked for public input on website accessibility issues, their proposed rules have been delayed several times and are expected to be released in 2018.

Relationships Matter: How States Can Include Teacher-Student Interaction in ECE and ESSA Plans

This blog post originally appeared at New America as part of the Early Learning and ESSA Blog Series

Pre-k class at the Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, photo by Jocelyn Biggs

Relationships and interactions between teachers and students make a big difference in the classroom. Teacher-child interactions form the cornerstone of children’s academic and social emotional development, especially in early learning classrooms. As states look for ways to measure and improve educational quality beyond test scores, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act provides an opportunity to consider data on teacher-child interactions. Washington, DC, and Louisiana provide two examples of states exploring this promising avenue, with some valuable lessons for their peers who might be considering teacher-child interaction measures, or other non-traditional quality measures that include or emphasize the early years.

So, what should other states take away from DC and Louisiana?

Pick a reliable tool and get to know it well

States, localities, and Head Start grantees are currently using tools designed to reliably measure teacher-child interactions in ECE settings. Both DC and Louisiana use the Classroom Observation Scoring System (CLASS), a well-researched observational tool widely used in early childhood and Pre-K settings, with versions available through high school. Both states took several years to pilot the implementation of this tool to learn more about teacher-child interactions before using it as a quality measure. DC has used CLASS for several years as a citywide Pre-K performance measure in a sample of 3- and 4-year-old classrooms. The DC Public Charter School Board also uses CLASS for Pre-K in its formal Performance Management Framework, the accountability tool for charter schools. Similarly, after the Louisiana Department of Education chose CLASS as a common statewide measure of early learning quality, the state piloted CLASS for several years, working with local early childhood networks to improve local implementation and understanding along the way. Continue reading

What DeVos Could Be Saying About Education Innovation (But Isn’t)

Last week, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos addressed the attendees of the ASU-GSV Summit, an education technology conference attended by many system leaders, funders, and entrepreneurs. By most accounts, the pre-written remarks were tightly controlled, and the session didn’t allow for real questions about her vision for education innovation. (Here’s the video of her session and a rundown of the scene via EdSurge.)

This week, education leaders from across the country convene at the NewSchools Venture Fund Summit. DeVos isn’t slated to speak. And as Matt Barnum notes, “Notably, there’s not much about Trump, DeVos, or private school vouchers on the NSVF agenda, suggesting that the conference may steer clear of the topic — at least officially.”

These two major events could have been DeVos’ best opportunity to chart a course for the federal government’s role in education innovation in front of forward-thinking education professionals.

Not only does it seem that her ship has sailed, DeVos has confirmed that her view of K-12 innovation consists mainly of charters, vouchers, ed-tech, and deregulation. Reasonable people can debate whether these policies have merit, but they certainly don’t qualify as a serious education innovation agenda.

As I’ve written before, a serious education innovation agenda would invest federal funds in rigorous research and development (R&D), incentivize states to spur activities that accelerate innovation, and use the federal bully pulpit to spotlight achievement gaps and chronically failing systems. Without innovation-specific conditions and activities that drive continuous creation, the sector won’t be able to improve at a rate of change commensurate to the challenges it faces.

Here are some things DeVos can implement at the federal level to make the U.S. Department of Education an innovation machine: Continue reading