Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hillary on Education -some promise but overall incomplete and somewhat disappointing

this is a continuation of my crossposting diaries from dailykos on the educational plans of the Democratic candidates for president. To read the original version of this diary on Clinton with all the comments, use this link. This is posted without changing the original date references

Yesterday the American Federation of Teachers, with over 1.4 million members endorsed Hillary Clinton for President. Thus it seems an appropriate time to examine what Hillary has to offer about education on her website. When one goes to her issues page, there is no specific link to education, but if one goes to the link entitled SUPPORTING PARENTS AND CARING FOR CHILDREN one finds a number of items pertaining to education. In addition, one find a number o educational items on the various INITIATIVES AND FACT SHEETS which are available as links under the list of HILLARY ON THE ISSUES.

Let’s examine the items listed (only as bullet points) that appear after the lead-in of “Among the issues she has fought for and will make a priority as president are:”

In the block quote below I have included the full text of the five (out of a total of ten) items that can in any way be considered part of an education program. These are

• Attracting and supporting more outstanding teachers and principals, and paying them like the professionals they are.
• Reforming the No Child Left Behind Act. This law represented a promise -- more resources for schools in exchange for more accountability -- and that promise has not been kept.
• Increasing access to high-quality early education and helping to create Early Head Start.
• Promoting programs, like Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, that provide new parents with support and guidance in caring for their children. As First Lady of Arkansas, she helped bring HIPPY to the U.S.
• Protecting children against violence and sexual content in the media and studying the impact of electronic media on children's cognitive, social, and physical development.

I recognize that the final point is not strictly education, but as cognitive, social and physical development are areas of concerns for children’s ability to succeed in school, they are as relevant to an education plan as are Edwards’ proposals about vision and hearing testing, for example.

All of the points listed are good, but I see no comprehensive vision that ties them together. For example, I would like to know what specific proposals for reforming NCLB she would be willing to support. Given that she sits on the Senate Committee (HELP) with responsibility for the reauthorization, I find the lack of such detail somewhat bothersome, especially given her long track record in dealing with issues of education, a record that was quite extensive in her role of FIrst Lady of Arkansas.

There are six items listed under INITIATIVES AND FACT SHEETS:
• A Modern Progressive Vision
• Agenda to Lower Health Care Costs
• Universal Pre-K
• Hillary's Housing Initiatives
• Youth Opportunity Agenda
• Protecting Against Elder Abuse

One would not expect the first, fourth and sixth of these to be related to education, and a quick examination confirms such to be the case. But what about the others?

The Modern Progressive Vision begins with a detailed list of items that are wrong in America. It is interesting that the final level of the URL for this fact sheet is “inequality” which is the issue the vision is supposed to address. Clinton lists 9 principles/policies that together are presented as addressing the issue of inequality. Of these, only two address educational matters:
5. Give every young person an opportunity to attend college, and ensure that education starts early in life and continues into adulthood.College should be made more affordable so that students of all backgrounds can attend. Also, every child should have ready access to high quality pre-K.
6. More support for community colleges and lifelong learning. We should expand regional skills alliances and other job training programs to ensure workers have the valuable skills they need.

Neither of these addresses the issue of K-12 education which has been being destroyed by NCLB.

The fact sheet on Universal Pre-K is quite detailed. One finds citations to support the case for universal pre-K, similar to the kinds of citations in Edwards’ educational plan. Like Edwards, there is a requirement for a bachelor’s degree for providers, and there are some good points about sustaining current community-provided pre-K centers and working through governors to make the application of federal funds more locally effective.

Most of the detailed information related to education is found in the section on the Youth Opportunity Agenda. There is material that is repeated from other sections - thus one finds again the details of the plan for universal pre-K, including a funding level of $10 Billion (no time period is specified for that amount).

One finds some overlap with the plans offered by other candidates. Thus Clinton proposed $100 Million for “a New Public/Private Summer Internship Program” intended to address the the loss of learning that at-risk children experience during the summer. I have previously noted that Obama, perhaps given his experience as a community organizer, made addressing the summer learning gap a major part of his educational proposal. Thus while I am glad to see this proposal, I have to point out that the amount proposed is laughably small given the number of children we would need to reach. Universal Pre-K is given 100 times this amount to cover a period of one year: for four-year olds. If one considers pre-school to cover 10 months compared to the 2 months of summer, the funding disparity is at a rate of 20-1. But the summer would in theory be covering every year after K, or a total of 12 years, after K through after 11. Even if we are are not staffing at the same level we need to use for pre-K, it seems to me that this provision does not even represent a bandage on the hemorrhaging of learning that is occurring during the summer months.

There are several other provisions in this initiative that are educationally related. There is a section entitled “Expand Early-Intervention Mentoring Programs to Help One Million At-Risk Youth Aspire for College and Job Success.” Perhaps because this is based on some preexisting programs, Clinton intends this to fulfill some of the need that I would have expected to be addressed in the summer program. The two are related, and do appear consecutively, under the title “PROVIDE EARLY MENTORING AND SUPPORT TO KEEP AT-RISK YOUTH ON TRACK”.

There are also two items listed under the heading “SUPPORT COMPREHENSIVE, COMMUNITY-BASED APPROACHES TO REENGAGING DISCONNECTED YOUTH”. The first of these is somewhat less purely educational: “Provide Opportunity for 1.5 Million Disconnected Youth in Job Programs Linked to High-Growth Economic Sectors”. It is dealing with those who are no longer in school. The first sentence after the title is as follows:
Hillary understands that young people who are out of work and out of school need more than a minimum-wage job -- they need skills, self-confidence, a supportive community, and relevant academic and skills training that can put them back on the path to education or a high-paying job in their own community.
It does relate to education, because sometimes students can be reconnected to education through recognizing the relationship between the opportunity for a particular kind of work and specific related education. Clinton proposes to build this upon a number of extant and successful federal programs which currently serve only about 200,000 students.

The second area in this section is entitled “Support City and Community Plans to Track Drop-Outs and Take Responsibility for Disconnected Youth”. The first sentence makes clear the origins of her thinking on this:
Hillary believes it will truly "take a village" to address the overlapping educational, economic and social challenges facing disconnected youth.
Clinton proposed making this community based, and is willing to send $250 million ANNUALLY (the only time I found a time period specified) on a “competitive grants” basis to “lower-income cities and communities. “ I have several problems with this. The dropout problem does not only exist in lower income communities, the approach implies pitting communities against one another, and the funding amounts again seems quite meager given the scope of the known problem.

I have covered EVERYTHING I could find related to education policy. Let me now offer some more analysis and summary of my own.

I do not know the timing of when Clinton developed and posted her ideas versus when Edwards or Obama did. Thus I am not going to engage in accusing anyone of borrowing from or playing off of the previous efforts of a competitor. In fact, there are few new ideas in education, and most of the good ideas have been out there for quite some time. We know the issues confronting our communities, our schools, our teachers, and our students.

I note detailed efforts at the front end: pre-K. I note serious efforts to address those who are dropping out, although as noted I find these not funded at a level that I think will truly make a difference. Similarly, I do note some attempts to address the issues of at-risk students during the summer. And here I acknowledge that when LBJ began large-scale federal assistance to schools through Title I it was intended to address issues of inequity facing so many at-risk students. Thus I do not object to a focus on that.

What bothers me is the complete lack of detail to so much of what is at the heart of our educational crisis. I see no detail on addressing the problems of No Child Left Behind, not even a statement about moving to measuring individual student growth instead of comparing unlike cohorts - and this is an issue on which there is widespread agreement, even from the leadership of the Department of Education. I see nothing about using different measures of accountability rather than single measure tests. And even when some issues are mentioned, I find a lack of specificity and completeness that concerns me.

For example, let’s return to the first point mentioned, which I will again quote:
Attracting and supporting more outstanding teachers and principals, and paying them like the professionals they are

I see nothing on retention, on professional development, on TREATING them like professionals - and that is an issue of which low pay is only one part of the problem. How does Clinton propose to pay teachers more? What will she require in return? Edwards is willing to pay additional to National Board Certified Teachers willing to mentor others, to serve in high needs schools, and so on. What about working conditions, for example overcrowded classrooms?

One critical issue for AFT is the decrepit condition of America’s school buildings. One reason I know is that I was asked if I would be willing to write about the report AFT did on the subject. You may remember my highly recommended diary entitled Raw sewage, mold, and mice droppings. I see nothing in Clinton’s plan that addresses this critical issue. I am going to exercise privilege and quote two and a fraction paragraphs of what I wrote in that diary almost two years ago:
I am in my 12th year of public school teaching. I have taught in 3 buildings, student taught in two more, and during my training and teaching had occasion to be inside several dozen additional school buildings in multiple cities and districts. I have encountered, either personally or by observation, situations of exposed wires, puddles on floors, buckets in hallways to catch the leaks from the roof when it rains, mouse droppings, room temperatures not under the control of teachers ranging from 45 degrees in winter to 90 degrees on other occasions. I have been in rooms with no natural light when the power went out and the only thing preventing total darkness was a screen saver on a computer. I have seen student bathrooms with no doors on the stalls and hence no privacy. I know of school buildings in which a series of teachers on the same corridor all became seriously ill. I have encountered science labs that lacked proper ventilation. There have been classrooms with more students than desks (fortunately I have avoided this in my own career), and desks and chairs that were too small, or broken. There would be water fountains that didn’t work, and worse.

Students are often far more perceptive than adults realize. They see the conditions in which they attend school and quickly draw the conclusion that their learning is really not important, otherwise they would not be subjected to such indignities. As adults we would be quite upset to be confined by force of law to such an environment and then be expected to perform to a set of standards that were already in many cases unreasonable. Were we describing such conditions in a manufacturing environment we might rightly attached the pejorative label of sweatshop, and we would expect that the authorities would intervene on the grounds of public health and safety. And yet for far too long we have tolerated such conditions in our public schools.

If we are truly going to insist on educational equity, as is the underlying principle of NCLB, then such equity must include the conditions under which we attempt to have our children learn.

Clinton has a track record, going back to her service as First Lady of Arkansas, which shows a deep commitment to education, especially of those who are at-risk. She know the benefits of a good public education, having herself attended superb schools in suburban Chicago. She now has almost 7 years service on the Senate Committee which addresses education. Given all that I have to say that I am disappointed by what I DON'T see about education on her campaign website. What she has is pointed in the right direction, but it is in my opinion quite incomplete. I do not see how the pieces totally tie together, perhaps because of what I don’t find, such as the missing specifics I have already addressed.

I have little doubt that a Hillary Clinton administration would be far friendlier to and more supportive of public education and teachers than is the Bush administration. But that is not enough for me. I look back to some of the educational policies of her husband both as governor and as president and see the seeds that led almost inevitably to NCLB. Remember, Bill Clinton was responsible for Goals2000, which set an unreachable goal - to be first in the world in math and science by 2000. That is the obvious precursor to the impossibility of 100% proficiency by 2014 that means that the Adequate Yearly Progress feature of NCLB will inevitably lead to well over 95% of American schools being labeled as ‘failures” well before that magic year hits.

I hope that Clinton will be willing to flesh out her educational plan with more detail as the campaign progresses. I wish she would be more of a leader on things like the rewrite of NCLB.

Were I deciding on a candidate to support at this point, and only looking at what they present on education, both Obama and Edwards would be far ahead of Clinton based on what I can read on their websites. I am not deciding now. Nor will I decide solely on education.

My students just got interim progress reports for the 1st quarter. That lets them know how they are doing, and what changes are necessary for them to be successful. For Mrs. Clinton, I would, besides any letter grade i would award, add the appropriate comments to the effect that she has an interest in the subject, but does not seem yet to completely follow through on her work. She shows some promise, but the jury is still out. Or as I said in the title of this diary, “some promise but overall incomplete and somewhat disappointing.”

That is, disappointing so far. This would be like the student who the teacher knows is capable of so much more. A good teacher affirms what is good, but challenges the student to live up to her potential. So I hope that Mrs. Clinton will pleasantly surprise me with improvement the next time I check her work on education.


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