News, Trump Administration

Betsy DeVos accused of citing bogus statistics

President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is using bogus data to back up recent calls for reforms in American public schools, Chalkbeat reports today.

From Chalkbeat:

In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made a remarkable claim: “Children starting kindergarten this year face a prospect of having 65 percent of the jobs they will ultimately fill not yet having been created.”

This statistic bolsters DeVos’s view that schools need to radically change in order to accommodate a rapidly evolving economy.

But there’s a problem: that number appears to have no basis in fact.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education did not respond to a request for a source for this statistic.

DeVos is not the first person to use a version of this claim. In fact, it’s been percolating for some time, across the world. After a number of British politicians repeated some iteration of the statistic, the BBC investigated its source.

Apparently the claim gained popularity in a 2011 book by Cathy Davidson, a CUNY professor; this in turn was cited by a New York Times article. But attempts to track that claim back to an actual study have failed, which Davidson herself now concedes, saying she no longer uses the figure.

Others making the claim offer an even flimsier citation. For instance, a reportreleased by the World Economic Forum says, “By one popular estimate, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types,” and simply cites a series of popular YouTube videos (which doesn’t even appear to make that precise claim).

Some even say the number is higher: A Huffington Post headline said that “85% Of Jobs That Will Exist In 2030 Haven’t Been Invented Yet.” The piece links to a report by Dell, which bases the claim on “experts” at a workshop organized by a group called Institute for the Future.

In short, no one has pointed to any credible research that lands on the 65 percent figure.

Of course, making predictions about the future of work is inherently tricky. But a recent report by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated areas where the most new jobs would be created between 2016 and 2026. The positions included software application developers but also personal care aides, nurses, fast food workers, home health aides, waiters, and janitors — and though that’s less than 10 years in the future, these are mostly jobs that have been around for some time.

Sweeping, unsourced claims like this about the future economy are not uncommon — and seem to be a driving force behind some policymakers’ approach to education. The fact that DeVos’s go-to number isn’t backed up by evidence raises questions about the foundation of her view that schools need dramatic overhaul.

After citing the 65 percent figure, DeVos continued, saying, “You have to think differently about what the role of education and preparation is.”

DeVos is a wealthy GOP booster and school choice advocate tapped by President Trump for the nation’s top education policymaking job this year. She’s been a lightning rod for critics since then.

During her confirmation hearings this year, DeVos was even accused of plagiarizing sections in a Senate questionnaire. 

 

News

In Robeson County, local paper endorses controversial charter takeover

A controversial state plan for charter takeover of a struggling Robeson County elementary earned a rude reception from many residents and public officials in recent weeks, but the local newspaper writes in an editorial that local opposition to the Innovative School District is “weakening.”

Members of the Robeson Board of Education have until February to vote on the state’s proposal to take over Southside-Ashpole Elementary in Rowland. State law allows the district to accept the takeover or close, dispersing about 270 students within the district.

Robeson commissioners and school board members have been reportedly engaged in a bizarre back-and-forth over whether or not commissioners agreed to a “joint” October resolution in opposition.

Regardless, members of the school board are expected to mull the proposal to shutter Southside-Ashpole, possibly as soon as December. But The Robesonian argued this week that the district has little choice.

From The Robesonian:

The Robeson County Board of Commissioners last week wiggled off a hook, awakening from a slumber and distancing itself from the Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County, which is without ammo in opposition to the state taking over control of Southside-Ashpole Elementary School.

That left the county Board of Education alone in opposition to the Rowland school’s inclusion in the state’s Innovative School District, a Republican-led initiative to give students stuck in low-performing schools some kind of escape from schools that have chronically failed to provide students the education that the state constitutionally guarantees.

The commissioners appeared confused about earlier action regarding a joint resolution between the boards in opposition, couldn’t find a single voice, and therefore did not sign off on the resolution that essentially kicked the ball down the road. Why should it have been left to the state to point out the problem when it pervades the system, with 27 out of 42 schools identified as low-performing? This conversation would not even be happening if not for the creation of the ISD as any urgency had eluded the local school board.

The commissioners know that the state has all the cards, and that oppositition is weakening, epecially in the Rowland community. Eric Hall, the superintendent of the ISD, continues to effectively make the case that the school, where fewer than one in five children are performing at grade level, deserves a chance to try something different.

As Commissioner David Edge said: “What do we have to lose?”

That leaves the 11 school board members standing in opposition, but they have state law in their way. Their options are to relinquish control or close the school, and if they close it they have to find a place for 270 mostly minority and poor students who will not be warmly embraced where they are deposited. That is simply an ugly truth.

The confusion stemmed from a joint meeting of the two county boards on Nov. 9 with Hall.

School board member Brian Freeman raised his voice at Hall, saying: “This is an unproven model that failed in Tennessee. You’ve offered no plan except that you will hire a new principal and interview the existing classroom teachers.”

We will give Freeman high marks for hubris, given he sits on a board that governs a system that has 66 percent of its schools as “low-performing,” and can be convincingly fingered as the worst in the state. Yet he is asking for evidence of the state plan.

Hall has been clear that a plan will be developed when shortcomings are identified, and that will take time. But it is clear to us that Hall expects to use autonomy the school will enjoy to shift resources toward the hiring of stronger teachers who can act as mentors.

The Rowland community soon enough will sign on to the program, and realize the ISD for what it is, at least potentially, an escape from blissfully accepting less for these children — and the five-year commitment that provides time for it to make a real difference.

Enough commissioners recognized that to stop the county’s endorsement of the resolution, in effect unhitching themselves from a position that could be damaging next time voters are darkening a ballot. They are willing to accept that the local system needs help, and in this case that might require stepping aside.

Our belief is that as soon as Hall and the management team are allowed to get to work and bring in new teachers and a game plan, results will follow — and that other local communities that have been failed by their local schools will raise their hand for inclusion.

Stay tuned for more updates from Policy Watch as they develop.

News

Expert urges caution as North Carolina lawmakers consider school funding overhaul

An expert in school funding models told North Carolina lawmakers Wednesday they should tread lightly to avoid “unintended consequences” as they consider a major face-lift for K-12 funding.

Michael Griffith, a school finance strategist with the Education Commission of the States—an interstate compact for K-12 policymaking—said legislators should also court public feedback.

“The  more you can bring the public into the process, the better it’s going to be,” Griffith said. “And the easier it’s going to be for them to accept the formula.”

Griffith addressed a pivotal legislative panel that, over the next two years or more, is expected to prepare a comprehensive overhaul of the state funding system or patch shortfalls detailed in a scathing 2016 report.

It’s unclear if or when state House and Senate legislators on the Joint Legislative Task Force for Education Finance Reform would hold public feedback sessions on the proposed overhaul, which is expected to steer leaders toward a simpler funding model.

Lawmakers rebuffed calls to include representation from local school district finance offices when they created the task force this year.

The panel, which is likely to produce an interim report sometime in 2018, will move in its first meetings to develop members’ knowledge base on the complicated funding method.

The state’s system hinges on 37 separate allocations for various K-12 needs, which dictate how local governments receive cash from state coffers. Separate allocations exist for teachers, classroom supplies, students with limited English proficiency as well as poor and rural counties.

N.C. Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union

Lawmakers are pushing for a “student-based” funding method, whereby the state sets a certain dollar amount per student and builds in weights for students in need of additional support.

“In order for us to grasp really the scope and extent of what’s in front of us, we need to learn a lot more about how we got here, what other states are doing and what our options are,” said Rep. Craig Horn, the Union County Republican who spearheaded this year’s efforts to launch the task force.

Griffith was the only presenter on Wednesday’s agenda. An expert who says he’s read all 50 states’ funding formulas, Griffith characterized North Carolina’s model as complicated, but not the most complicated in the nation.

However, he criticized the system as being overly “rigid,” requiring constant adjustment by state leaders as they reconfigure public school costs.

Griffith also reminded lawmakers that other methods such as the student-based funding model don’t necessarily guarantee greater equity for students, a key consideration as legislators consider doing away with various allocations erected to dispense more cash to high-needs districts.

Whatever the state’s decision, Griffith emphasized the difficulty and controversy baked into a complete funding model change, suggesting legislators extend at least a temporary “hold harmless” provision in to any funding model change that would buffer any districts that may lose dollars.

A date for the task force’s next meeting has not been determined yet. Stay tuned to Policy Watch for more updates.

News

North Carolina lawmakers to take up education financing reform again Wednesday

North Carolina lawmakers will again take on the “heavy lift” of reforming the state’s education funding system Wednesday morning.

Members of the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform are expected to consider funding methods in other states in the coming days, part of the panel’s slow roll-out.

GOP lawmakers convened the task force this year after a 2016 report from the legislature’s Program Evaluation Division criticized the state’s allocation funding system, which is built on 37 different allotments used to dispense cash to local school systems.

And, despite some criticism, legislators aren’t likely to take up the sufficiency of the state’s K-12 funding anytime soon. 

Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union

“But adequacy is a different issue,” committee co-chair Craig Horn, R-Union, said earlier this month. “This is an issue of what funds we have, and how they’re distributed. Because, regardless of how much money we have, if we’re not distributing it properly and for the benefit of students, then we’re wasting money.”

Lawmakers have indicated they hope to simplify the complicated funding system, although advocates have urged legislators to be cautious in order to avoid “unintended consequences.”

For more background on the task force, check out Policy Watch’s Facebook live recording Monday.

Wednesday’s meeting is slated to begin at 9:30 a.m. in the General Assembly’s legislative office building. Look for live Twitter updates on the meeting from Policy Watch @billy_k_ball.

News, Trump Administration

State, national educators say U.S. House tax plan would risk K-12 jobs, funding

School busesState and national education leaders say a U.S. House tax proposal to nix much of the state and local tax deduction (SALT) would “blow a hole” in public school funding from state and local governments.

Its just the latest criticism of ongoing tax wrangling in the nation’s capitol. Teachers are also fired up over a House proposal to do away with a $250 deduction for classroom supplies.

But K-12 leaders with the National Education Association (NEA) and the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) say Congressional Republicans’ SALT plan may put about 250,000 education jobs at risk across the country.

NEA’s state-by-state analysis of the SALT plan says that more than $5 million in revenue to support public schools would be jeopardized in North Carolina over the next 10 years, along with more than 6,000 educator jobs.

On Thursday, public school chiefs with the NEA and NCAE characterized the SALT proposal as a “$5 trillion tax plan giveaway to the wealthiest and corporations.”

From their statement:

“The Republican leadership’s tax plan is another example of misguided priorities in Washington,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “The plan is a tax giveaway to the wealthiest and corporations paid for on the backs of working people, students and educators.”

The NEA analysis also showed that nationally the bill would lead to cuts of approximately $250 billion in public education funding over the next 10 years. Corporations, by the way, get to keep their state and local tax deductions. A cut of this magnitude is akin to eliminating the Title I and IDEA special education programs overnight. If enacted, the elimination of state and local tax deduction could have a negative, ripple effect on states’ and local communities’ ability to fund public services such as public education. In North Carolina, that amounts to nearly $5 billion over ten years.

“Eliminating the state and local tax deduction would jeopardize the ability of our state and local governments to adequately fund public education,” said Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators. “This will translate into cuts to public schools, lost jobs to educators, overcrowded classrooms that deprive students of one-on-one attention, and threats to public education.”

The impact of eliminating SALT on public education is nearly equal to the education jobs lost during the Great Recession. By most accounts, the country lost about 300,000 education jobs during that time. To cope with the economic crisis our country faced, schools made draconian cuts to public education funding that had a negative impact on students. In addition to losing teachers, school aides, and other key education support professionals, some school districts reduced the number of school days from five to four; critical education programs (before and after school programs, kindergarten) also took a hit. Class sizes ballooned.

The Republican leadership bill comes as the nation also faces a teacher shortage. At the start of the 2017-18 school year, every state in the country was facing a teacher shortage. In addition, according to the Washington Post, school districts also are struggling to fill positions in math, reading and English language arts, as well as finding substitute teachers.

“Instead of tax cuts for the wealthy, we must ensure that our students have caring, qualified, and committed educators in order to succeed. Now here come the tax cuts for the rich paid for by students and middle-class families,” said Jewell. “This bill is terrible for our state because it is a giveaway for the wealthy and corporations funded on the backs of our students and the middle class. We urge Congress to reject it.”

The criticism from public school leaders comes with U.S. Senate Republicans expected to announce their own tax plan in the coming days.