As their sit-in at the office of their schools superintendent went into its third day, student activists in Newark, N.J. are firm in their demands that the superintendent should either speak with them about a controversial new program or resign.
The eight protesters, members of the Newark Student Union (NSU), say they will not leave until Superintendent Cami Anderson meets with them to discuss her One Newark program, which was implemented in September 2014, two and a half years after she was appointed by the state to run Newark’s struggling schools.
One Newark requires the city's students, from kindergarten through high school, to reapply for acceptance at 100 different Newark schools, including some charter schools and non-traditional public schools. An algorithm decides which schools the students will attend.
Anderson says that the program will increase schooling options for students. The student activists say that the program forces them to attend schools in inconvenient locations and devalues the rights of black and Latino classmates.
The protestors say they will remain in the offices until Anderson agrees to meet with them and attend a meeting of the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board, a parent group.Short of that, they’d like to see her resign.
“The only way we will leave this occupation is if she attends the advisory board meeting or she meets with us, or both. We most likely want both,” said Thais Marques, a community organizer with New Jersey Communities United (NJCU), a local non-profit group that aims to empower low- and middle-income people.
Two members of NJCU have joined the protesters to assist them in their action.
The protesters say that the program puts a heavy burden on disadvantaged black and Latino households that do not have the means to commute to schools far from where they live. They also say the program prevents them them from attending predominantly white schools.
“We definitely find this to be a racial issue,” Marques said. “Newark is one of the most segregated cities in the country, and the One Newark plan only exacerbates this kind of segregation.”
9 reasons Finland's schools are so much better than America's
If there's any consensus on education in the US, it could be this: other countries are doing it better. And in the doing-education-better sweepstakes, Finland has long been the cold and snowy standout.
Finland might be a popular example because, no matter your general beliefs on education policy, you can find something to back them up. The result turns into a policy wonk buffet — nearly everybody can a policy lesson to learn from Finland's success, or a factor that explains why it isn't replicable in the US. Even if some of those lessons directly contradict each other.
Here are 9 reasons that have been cited to explain Finland's success.
1) Finland's teachers have high status, professional support, and good pay
Becoming a teacher in Finland is hard, but they enjoy more autonomy and professional development. (Shutterstock)
Teachers in Finland with 15 years' experience make about as much as the typical college graduate with a bachelor's degree; in the US, they make less than that. And the workload is also less demanding. Teachers in Finland teach about four hours a day, with another two hours of professional development, and they develop their own curriculum based on a set of national guidelines. The leadership ranks of education are also drawn from former teachers. The result, writes Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish teacher and researcher who has become a one-man promotional machine for the country's schools, is "an inspiring and respectful environment in which teachers work… Parents and authorities regard teachers with the same confidence they do medical doctors. Indeed, Finns trust public schools more than any other public institution, except the police."
American teachers unions point to the high status and professional flexibility for Finnish teachers as something they'd like to have themselves. They also often note that nearly all Finnish teachers are unionized and the unions are relatively powerful. They argue that to improve schools, the US should focus on treating teachers the way Finland does — with more professional support and greater respect — rather than using students' standardized test scores to reward and grade teachers, a trend the Obama administration has encouraged.
2) Finland has more selective and rigorous schools of education
One reason teaching in Finland is prestigious is becoming a teacher isn't easy. Finland, like the US, used to have a large number of teachers' colleges. But in the 1970s, Finland dramatically changed how teachers were trained. Teacher education became the responsibility of the country's eight universities, and teachers are required to earn masters' degrees. It takes five years of teacher education to become a teacher, and only about one in 10 applicants to teacher education programs is accepted. Secondary teachers get a master's degree in the content area they're going to be teaching, and all master's degree recipients have to write a research-based dissertation.
This is the other side of the argument about teaching: education reformers in the US argue that Finnish teachers get more respect because they earn it through a rigorous, selective entry process. The policy lesson they draw isn't that teachers should be treated like they are in Finland — it's that the teacher corps in the US needs to be more like Finland's. Groups like the National Council on Teacher Quality argue that teachers' colleges aren't selective or rigorous enough. About half of all new teachers come from the bottom third of college graduates, as measured by SAT or ACT scores, according to a 2010 McKinsey report.
On the other hand, the fact that Finnish teachers are so intensely trained also appeals toopponents of programs like Teach for America. A popular saying among opponents of the two-year program is that there is no "Teach for Finland," because in Finland, teaching is a lifelong career with a long and rigorous training program.
The most common praise for Finland (pushed by Sahlberg and others) goes something like this: Finland has no national standardized tests and no rewards or punishments for schools that pass or fail them — and yet they still outperform American students on international exams. Students in Finland take one standardized test at the end of high school. The rest of the time, teachers are responsible for setting expectations and evaluating whether students can meet them. The nation doesn't monitor the quality of schools in any way.
Some people argue that the success of Finnish schools without standardized testing means that testing shouldn't be necessary in the United States, either – and that it's possible for the US to improve its educational performance in other ways.
4) Finland emphasizes subjects other than reading and math
It's not clear how much this has to do with the success of the Finnish school system, but Samuel Abrams, a visiting scholar at Columbia University, argued in the New Republic that these subjects allow students to apply science and math skills in the real world. They're also an example of what some parents fear has been lost in the US as teachers spend more time preparing students for standardized tests.
5) Finland has a history of tight oversight for schools
Big Education Ape: Twitter Call to Action! Tweet your trouble with NCLB rewrite! The Network For Public Education | http://bit.ly/1AjngfH
The House is set to clear a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act next Friday.
A new schedule laid out Thursday afternoon would send the Republican-backed bill, which the education committee passed on a party-line vote Feb. 11, to the floor for debate Wednesday and Thursday, with a final vote scheduled for Friday morning.
The House Rules Committee, which sets parameters for how bills are debated on the floor, set a deadline for members to file any amendments they wish to offer by Monday at 3 p.m. The committee plans to set the rule for the bill Tuesday before it goes to the floor the following day.
What can we expect for debate on the floor?
For starters, take a look at all the failed amendments that committee Democrats offered during the markup. Those will likely be offered again, in some form or another. A source who has knowledge of the forthcoming process said that Democrats plan to break up the 17 amendments they offered during the markup into smaller amendments, meaning they could offer something like 40 amendments instead.
One to watch: An amendment offered by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., that would allow states to audit the number and quality of tests students take and to eliminate any that are deemed repetitive or of low quality. The proposal is based on a bill she introduced in January that has bipartisan backing.
When Bonamici offered the measure during markup, Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., agreed with the premise of the amendment, but he noted that it would authorize additional funding and create a new program, two things he opposes. He also said that by block-granting a majority of the funding in the bill, states would be free to audit tests on their own. In the end, she withdrew the testing amendment.
As for interesting Republican amendments to watch, everyone in the education policy world seems to be holding their collective breath to see if members pass an amendment that would allow Title I dollars for low-income students to be used at private schools.
As it stands, the Republican-backed bill would allow Title I money to follow students to the public school of their choice, including charter schools. During the committee markup, an amendment from Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., would have further altered Title I portability and allowed it to be used to pay for private schools, something Democrats and a hefty number of education advocates vehemently oppose.
Jesus “Chuy” Garcia has spent the past 30 years in public service as Chicago Alderman, Cook County Commissioner, and Illinois State Senator. Chuy has broad and diverse support from Chicagoans in neighborhoods citywide, who believe in his vision of a Chicago that works for everyone. Chuy is known for his integrity and longtime commitment to progressive politics and community organizing.
“It is time to take this city in a new direction,” said Garcia. This is no surprise to anyone who has watched the career of 58-year-old Garcia. He has rarely been comfortable with the status quo.
His new direction for the city includes violence reduction through more effective community policing, adding 1,000 new police officers, and greater support for public schools, including a democratically-elected school board that will be responsive to people in the neighborhoods.
Over the last three decades, he has advocated vigorously for progressive policies and political reform throughout the city and county and worked for better housing and schools in the Little Village community he represents on the Southwest Side.
Garcia is no stranger to elected office. He’s been a Chicago alderman, a state senator and, in 2009, was elected to the Cook County Board of Commissioners, which allocates the county’s $3.5 billion budget.
County Board President Toni Preckwinkle lost no time naming him her floor leader to help with her drive to enact a reform agenda.
As floor leader, Garcia successfully urged his colleagues to roll back an excessive one percent county sales tax imposed under former board President Todd Stroger—“The hated Stroger sales tax,” Garcia recalls with a smile.
Last year, Garcia resisted pressure from a small army of real estate lobbyists and passed a ban on their refusing to rent homes to people who rely on federally funded housing choice vouchers, including low income families, veterans, the disabled and others. This had become the practice of some suburban landlords.
Garcia also sponsored an ordinance that stopped county officials from cooperating with a Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs program that was identifying people accused of minor offenses who were suspected of being undocumented immigrants.
“Families were being torn apart,” Garcia recalls, “and it also cost taxpayers money because some of the names on the list were there by mistake and they filed lawsuits.”
Garcia was born in Durango, in a picturesque village at the edge of the Sierra Madre in north central Mexico. His father was a farm laborer who worked the fields of California, Kansas, and Texas under the US Government’s World War II-era bracero program. He sent much of his earnings home to support his family. When Garcia was 10 years old, they gained permanent residency status and moved to Chicago, settling in the Pilsen/Little Village area where he still lives. Garcia later became a US Citizen.
His interest in politics started while attending St. Rita High School, inspired by the speeches of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, and United Farm Workers Union leader, Cesar Chavez.
He got his first taste of political organizing when he and fellow students threw a picket line around the old Atlantic movie theater on 26th Street, which had become seedy and rundown. It closed, but was cleaned up and reopened later, which inspired the newly minted high school activists.
Garcia enrolled in the University of Illinois-Chicago and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in urban planning. While attending university he worked as a paralegal assisting immigrants and people with low incomes.
In 1983, Harold Washington was elected mayor, which spawned what some see as the golden age of progressive politics in Chicago. Harold named Garcia Water Commissioner and two years later he was elected alderman of the 22nd Ward, an election that would change the balance of power in the City Council.
Old guard stalwarts of the Chicago Machine had a majority in the council and outvoted Washington’s forces in furious clashes that became known as the “Council Wars.” The 1986 election gave Mayor Washington the upper hand as a fresh batch of his supporters, including Garcia, were voted into office and started on the reform of city government.
Alderman Garcia won funds for construction of the Little Village Arch that sweeps across 26th Street in the 22nd Ward. He also pushed through an ordinance that helped immigrants fill out forms, write letters, and apply for green cards that allowed those with permanent resident status to work legally.
Garcia moved from the City Council to the Illinois Senate where he passed legislation limiting fees charged by notary publics to immigrants for assistance with legal matters. He also won passage of a bill requiring interpreters be made available to hospital patients who could not speak sufficient English to understand their treatment options.
Garcia’s time in Springfield came to an abrupt end when he was defeated in 1998 by an opponent who was supported by the Hispanic Democratic Organization, a group firmly aligned with the old guard patronage machine in Chicago politics.
With Jesus “Chuy” Garcia are his wife, Evelyn, left and daughter, Rosa right.
Garcia’s response was to plunge himself into community organizing. He founded, and was Executive Director of, the Little Village Community Development Corporation. This organization is now called Enlace, which means “connections.” At the beginning, Garcia was the only employee. Within a year, the organization had 27 full-time employees, 120 part-time workers, and an annual budget of $5 million.
Among other activities, Enlace raised money to upgrade community housing and sponsored night classes in subjects such as computer science, violence prevention, dropout prevention, and English as a second language.
On Mother’s Day in 2001, the group caused a sensation when a contingent— mostly mothers—went on a hunger strike to pressure the Chicago Public Schools administration to deliver on a promise for millions of dollars to construct a new high school.
The hunger strike went on for 19 days. The neighborhood eventually got its school—Little Village-Lawndale High School—which continues to serve the community today. The protests also resulted in changes to the administration of CPS, headed by Arne Duncan (now US Secretary of Education).
Garcia’s wife is Evelyn; they have three children, Rosa, Jesus, and Samuel.
At both AB #1 and SB #1 hearings multiple people provided testimony that pointed specifically to the legislature and that the individuals that comprise the legislature are the ones truly accountable to children in public schools. The legislature creates the conditions in which public schools thrive or starve or simply suffer decades of purposeful neglect and budgetary torture.
Well, since nothing has happened on the legislator accountability front we now have another blatant piece of evidence—at least for education policy—that legislators must be held accountable for their constitutional responsibility to public schools.