Pages tagged "K-12"

Education Messaging


Public education is under attack from conservatives who are, essentially, promoting a corporate takeover of public schools. To push back, you need to understand where voters stand on K-12 education issues. According to the Gallup poll:

On standardized testing: Only 22 percent of Americans believe increased testing in the public schools have helped school performance. Thirty-six percent say it has hurt schools and 41 percent think it’s made no difference. Fifty-eight percent oppose linking teacher evaluations to students’ standardized test scores. The public is simply not on the testing bandwagon.

On charter schools and vouchers: Two-thirds express support for charter schools, but surveys of parents show that what they want for their children is “a good quality neighborhood public school” (68 percent) much more than “more choices of which schools I can send my children to” (24 percent). Seventy-six percent of parents oppose spending on charters that comes at the expense of traditional public schools. Seventy percent of Americans flatly oppose private school vouchers.

On trust in teachers: By a margin of 3-to-1, Americans trust public school teachers. Many other polls show that teachers are among the most trusted of all professionals. Teachers are substantially more trusted than police, judges and clergy, and trusted three times more than bankers, lawyers and business executives.

On the quality of schools: When asked to grade schools “A, B, C, D or Fail,” only 18 percent say that public schools nationally deserve an A or B. Among the same Americans, 53 percent believe public schools in their own communities deserve an A or B. And among Americans with a child in school, 71 percent would give the school an A or B.

Because Americans like and trust their local schools and teachers, and because voters generally care more about how policies affect their own communities, you should lean heavily on arguments based on how an education policy will impact local schools and schoolchildren.

Say . . .

For our families and our communities, we need public schools that provide each and every child the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential in life. But to accomplish that, we should recognize there are no standardized children; every child has different strengths and weaknesses. That’s why our schools must offer a complete curriculum provided by professional teachers who have the training to give the individualized attention every child needs. 

Why . . .

The monologue above uses four strategies that should be employed in any discussion of education.

(1)   Focus on the listener’s own children and neighborhood schools rather than education in the abstract.

(2)   Indirectly push back against the overuse of standardized tests and teaching-to-the-test by explicitly pointing out something that every parent knows—every child is different and requires individualized attention.

(3)   Change the narrative about school quality from average test scores to how well our schools provide each and every student the opportunity to learn and excel.

(4)   Insist that only professional teachers, rather than amateurs or computer programs, have the knowledge and skills to do the job right.

Don’t say . . .

Say . . .

The nation’s schools

High-poverty schools

Failing schools, failing teachers

Soft bigotry of low expectations

Student achievement

Our children, local schools, schools in our community

Opportunity to learn, to succeed

The American Dream

Teaching-to-the-test, one-size-fits-all

Each and every child is different, is unique, is an individual

Professional teacher; teaching profession

Why . . .

Our progressive goal is to offer high-quality public schools that provide each and every child the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential in life. The American value behind public education is equal opportunity for all.

Instead of addressing the problem that too many children are denied an equal opportunity to learn, the right wing tries to exacerbate it with vouchers, or as they call them, opportunity scholarships. Their strategy is take advantage of the fact that Americans believe public schools outside their own communities are failing and, instead of fixing them, offer vouchers to enable individual students to escape. The political point of vouchers is to set some parents against others.

The right wing also appeals to Americans’ fervent belief in the market system and urges that parents be treated as consumers and schools be run like corporations. But schools are not businesses, teachers are not factory workers, and students are most certainly not products for sale. After more than a decade of right wing education policy, there is still no evidence that any of their proposals actually benefit schoolchildren.

The major difference between the partisans on education is that progressives accept responsibility for improving our public schools while conservatives want to abandon them. That’s how we distinguish our positions in public debate. For example, say you are arguing against larger class sizes:

Say . . .

Each and every child in our community deserves the opportunity to grow up to live a successful life. So every child needs excellent schools and professional teachers. Smaller class sizes help children learn because they allow teachers to spend more one-on-one time with each student, providing the individualized instruction they need. My opponent’s education policies would help only a few students and abandon the rest. I guarantee you, I won’t give up on the American Dream for any of our kids.

Why . . .

Whatever your progressive solution—whether it’s smaller class sizes, modernized school facilities and equipment, programs to attract and retain excellent teachers, a broader and richer curriculum—press the underlying value of equal opportunity. And also focus on what’s best for “each and every child,” which our listeners hear as their own child or grandchild. If your solution is more resources for public schools, specify how you’d use the money: “for art, music, science labs, technology—what every child needs to succeed.”

Finally, don’t repeat the anti-teacher and anti-child message frames. They do not support progressive arguments.

Don’t say . . .

Say . . .

School “reform”

Run schools like businesses

Achievement gap

There’s a “crisis”

Each child deserves an excellent education, personalized instruction

Opportunity gap


Why . . .

Our nation’s future is on the line. Progressives need to re-take the moral high ground on public education. A little smart message framing can make a real difference.

Education Policy

Our Progressive Vision: Our public schools must provide each and every child the opportunity to achieve his or her fullest potential in life. Children are not standardized; each one needs personalized instruction. That requires both fully qualified professional teachers and opportunities to learn outside of school. Every jurisdiction should: (1) provide adequate funding for public schools; (2) deliver instruction in a way that recognizes the differences in both the interests and needs of specific children; (3) create opportunities to learn outside of the classroom, including afterschool, arts and recreational programs, and libraries; and (4) make schools both safe and fair.

Adequate school funding

K-12 school funding was substantially cut due to the recession and most states are still providing less per student than they did in 2008. Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi and Oklahoma each cut school spending by more than 15 percent. In addition, most states allow substantial disparities in per-pupil school funding from one jurisdiction to another. States and school systems should ensure that school spending is transparent (e.g., charter schools), that money is not wasted on consultants and standardized tests, and that universal pre-K is fully funded.

Personalized not standardized instruction

We must recognize that there are no standardized children; every child has different strengths and weaknesses. That’s why all schools must offer a complete curriculum provided by professional teachers who have the training to give the individualized attention every child needs. School systems need to deemphasize standardized tests and pre-packaged lessons, and instead hire and stand behind fully trained teachers who give each and every student the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential in life.

Opportunities outside of class

A great deal of children’s learning happens outside of the classroom. Kids learn from art, music and dance programs, from athletics, nature and the outdoors, from games and hobbies, from afterschool clubs of all kinds, and from independent reading for pleasure. States and localities need to fully fund libraries, and support nonprofits that provide afterschool and summer school programs for disadvantaged youth.

Safe schools, fair discipline

In order to learn, children need schools that are safe and welcoming. Harassment, intimidation and bullying are well-known to impede students’ ability to learn. Students who are bullied are far more likely to skip school and earn poor grades, and many states and individual school systems have implemented safe school policies to address the problem. Yet, it is also clear that some school systems overuse their discipline processes, often in a discriminatory manner. The U.S. Attorney General and the Secretary of Education jointly announced national guidelines on school discipline that should be implemented at the state and local levels.



Transparency in school spending

With the rise of standardized testing, pre-packaged lessons and charter schools, there has been a noticeable decline in public awareness of how education funds are spent. School systems should disclose exactly what they pay for tests, pre-tests and test preparation programs, as well as consultants and pre-packaged lessons. Similarly, states and school boards should insist that charter schools, especially for-profit management companies, are held to the same transparency requirements as traditional schools. Tax dollars should be invested in classrooms, not in padding corporate profits.

Pre-K for all

Children in poverty often begin school already one or two years behind their more affluent peers. One clear part of the solution to this education gap is universal, high-quality pre-Kindergarten. Experts in early education overwhelmingly agree that children who have two years of a strong pre-K program start kindergarten with much better academic and social skills and that this improvement helps those children succeed later on in school and in life. Studies have also shown that pre-K programs return benefits to the community of seven dollars for every dollar invested. Yet, only about 40 percent of America’s four-year-olds and less than 10 percent of three-year-olds, are enrolled in public pre-K programs. The best Pre-K for All legislation would serve all three- and four-year olds and requires licensing and accreditation by state officials for both private and public pre-K programs. This legislation would also encourage the use of nationally recognized benchmarks to develop curricula that balance direct instructional and play-based approaches, which ensures that children develop the cognitive, physical, and social-emotional skills they need.

Limits on standardized testing

In the more heavily tested grades, students routinely lose more than a month of instructional time because of standardized testing and test prep. Across the country, parents are rising up against this level of over-testing. States and school boards should commission an audit to see how much testing is done and determine the educational and financial cost. They should also limit standardized testing to the minimum amount required by federal law—and children younger than third grade should not be subjected to them.

Ban kindergarten and pre-K suspensions

In some jurisdictions, kindergarten and even pre-K students are suspended or expelled at an alarming rate. But putting a 4 or 5-year-old child out of educational programs is counter-productive and both states and localities can enact legislation to curtail this practice. 

Too Young to Test, End of Life Options, Ballot Initiatives and More

The Public Leadership Institute is a nonprofit educational group organized to raise public awareness on key issues and to develop public leaders who will improve the economic and social conditions of all Americans. To join, click here.

Too Young to Test Act: A recent report from the Council of the Great City Schools found that there is far too much reliance on standardized testing in public schools, hurting schoolchildren, teachers and administrators. The federal No Child Left Behind law requires testing in grades 3-8, but most school systems go beyond that mandate and test in grades K-2 as well. This is developmentally inappropriate—the Too Young to Test Act would stop it.

Our goal is not to change beliefs, it is to change behavior: In almost every jurisdiction, in order to win political battles, we must persuade at least some non-aligned or “swing” voters. But these “persuadable voters” are hardly interested in or informed about politics and policy. Simultaneously, “confirmation bias” makes it almost impossible to change their beliefs. Read about how to handle the problem on IdeaLog, our blog intended to raise eyebrows and engage minds.

End of Life Options: Tuesday, November 17 @3pm Eastern, 2pm Central, 1pm Mountain, Noon Pacific. California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed the End of Life Option Act, authorizing medical aid in dying. The fact is, end of life policies are being enacted all over the nation. Come learn about it from our special guest, Charmaine Manansala, National Field Director for Compassion & Choices. Register for the webinar here.

AP analysis of the 2015 elections: The Associated Press concludes that it was not a good election for either party. Red states stayed red and blue states stayed blue. The full story is here.

Democracy won at the ballot box: Three very significant ballot initiatives recently won. Maine voters approved a strengthening of their Clean Elections Act. Ohio voters approved a bipartisan redistricting commission. And voters in Seattle set up a unique system of campaign finance called “democracy vouchers.” Bill Moyers explains here.

Latest Compendium of State and Local Legislation in 2015: What’s happened so far in 2015? Read about it in our Compendium. If you have additions to suggest, please contact

Public Services, Standardized Testing, Message Framing and More

The Public Leadership Institute is a nonprofit educational group organized to raise public awareness on key issues and to develop public leaders who will improve the economic and social conditions of all Americans. To join, click here.

Access to Public Services for Non-English Speakers Act: Millions of residents can’t easily interact with government agencies because they a have limited ability speak or read in English. The Access to Public Services for Non-English Speakers Act would require a city, county or state to take reasonable steps to provide access for many non-speakers of English.

Did Arne Duncan Just Surrender on Standardized Testing? Days ago, the U.S. Department of Education announced a major policy shift, claiming they would now help states and school districts to decrease standardized testing in public schools. One of the DOE’s proposals, to limit testing to 2% of yearly school hours, is meaningless. But there are other provisions. Read about them on IdeaLog, our blog intended to raise eyebrows and engage minds.

Message Framing 101: Tuesday, November 3 @3pm Eastern, 2pm Central, 1pm Mountain, Noon Pacific. This is an explanation of the fundamentals of message framing which we provide every year or so. We will explain the behavioral science behind why it is so hard to persuade people, offer three rules that help you structure persuasive arguments on any topic, and provide examples of how those rules apply to a wide variety of controversial political issues. Register for the webinar here.

Seattle plan would allow collective bargaining for Uber drivers: A landmark bill was unanimously approved by a legislative committee in Seattle to classify all for-hire drivers as employees instead of independent contractors.

End of Life Options: California Governor Jerry Brown just signed the End of Life Option Act, authorizing medical aid in dying. This Compassion & Choices webpage lists what is happening on the issue in many states all over the country.

Latest Compendium of State and Local Legislation in 2015: What’s happened so far in 2015? Read about it in our Compendium. If you have additions to suggest, please contact

Did Arne Duncan Just Surrender on Standardized Testing?

Days ago, the U.S. Department of Education announced a dramatic policy shift on standardized testing of public school students. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, echoed by President Obama, admitted that a Council of the Great City Schools study was right—there is too much reliance on standardized testing, hurting schoolchildren, teachers and administrators. The Education Department, therefore, published a Testing Action Plan which they claim will help states and school districts to roll back over-testing, at least to some extent.

This about-face is astonishing because Arne Duncan is substantially responsible for our schools’ overreliance on standardized tests. He made evaluating teachers by student test scores a condition of both federal Race to Top funding and his Department’s waivers from No Child Left Behind (NCLB). And it was Duncan who forced states to add standardized tests in subjects like social studies, science, languages, and even physical education.

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Common Core “results” aren’t actually test scores

A few states have now released results from the Common Core standardized tests administered to students last spring. The Associated Press recently published a story about it, and over the next couple of months we can expect a flood of press releases, news articles and opinion columns bragging about the “success” of these tests.

But nearly all the news and opinion pieces will be wildly misleading. That’s because Common Core “results” aren’t actually test scores. In fact, the numbers tell us more about the states’ test scorers than they do about schoolchildren.

Consider the AP story, for example. It says that, across seven states, "overall scores [were] higher than expected, though still below what many parents may be accustomed to seeing." But the only things that have been released are percentages of students who supposedly meet "proficiency" levels. Those are not test scores—certainly not what parents would understand as scores—they are entirely subjective measurements.

Here’s why. When a child takes a standardized test, his or her results are turned into a "raw score," that is, the actual number of questions answered correctly, or when an answer is worth more than one point, the actual number of points the child received. That is the only real objective “score,” and yet, Common Core raw scores have not been released.

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Understand the anti-teacher narratives

If you listen to the advocates for increased standardized testing and decreased rights for teachers, you will hear a series of narratives or stories that underlie all their arguments. These stories are a powerful means of persuasion, even though they are false. The discussion below is not our normal "use these words in debate," which you can find here. Instead it is for you to understand that the other side's arguments are a pile of myths.

First, they insist there is a crisis in education.

The sky is falling! Our schools are failing, they assert, based on the "evidence" of average scores on standardized tests, both domestic and international. This "crisis" in education is used to justify their extreme tactics: closing schools, firing teachers, narrowing curriculum, greatly expanding the use of standardized tests, teaching to the test, opening charters willy-nilly, handing “failing” schools to for-profit “turnaround” specialists, and on and on. There is absolutely no evidence that any of these tactics improve children's lives.

The truth is, there is no education crisis. As Diane Ravitch has fully documented, on domestic standardized tests, and by other measures, student achievement has been rising steadily for decades. And when we look at international standardized tests, if you control for poverty—comparing on an apples-to-apples basis—our students rank as the best in the world. The only reason U.S. test scores look mediocre compared to other countries is that low-income students everywhere score very poorly and we have the highest rate of child poverty among the leading western nations. In short, we don’t have a crisis in education; we have a crisis in child poverty. It's poverty we need to address.

Second, they claim that market-based tactics are the solution.

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D.C. School Test Results Reflect Utter Failure of “Reform” Policies

If this isn’t failure, what is?

The latest results of the DC-CAS, the District of Columbia’s high-stakes standardized test, show that the percentage of public school students judged “proficient” or better in reading has declined over the past five years in every significant subcategory except “white.”

This is important, and not just for Washington, D.C. It is an indictment of the whole corporatized education movement. During these five years, first Michelle Rhee and then her assistant/successor Kaya Henderson controlled DCPS and they did everything that the so-called “reformers” recommend: relying on standardized tests to rate schools, principals and teachers; closing dozens of schools; firing hundreds of teachers and principals; encouraging the unchecked growth of charters; replacing fully-qualified teachers with Teach For America and other non-professionals; adopting teach-to-the-test curricula; introducing computer-assisted “blended learning”; increasing the length of the school day; requiring an hour of tutoring before after-school activities; increasing hours spent on tested subjects and decreasing the availability of subjects that aren’t tested. Based on the city’s own system of evaluation, none of it has worked.

Here are the DC-CAS results copied directly from the DCPS website. These do not include charter schools; school authorities chose to hide those longitudinal results. But we know from a detailed memorandum by Broader, Bolder Approach to Education that—based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—results including charter schools would be little different than this.


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