Current Topics Archive

2011: The Year of the Protester

By Chikere Uchegbu

Henry David Thoreau once said that, "Things don't change. People do." The conditions that exist today have arguably been present throughout the radical evolution of mankind. We have generally adapted, developing coping mechanisms to deal with concerns regarding the provision of ‘needs' such as security and welfare, and ‘wants' such as pleasure.

But as Time Magazine awards its coveted ‘person of the year' honors for 2011 to the "Protester", we are inevitably drawn to the same debate held every so often -generation after another. Are we ‘safer' today than we were yesterday? And what are the protests really about? The dangers and challenges we face as a race are still present and we are yet to conquer these demons.

The anticlimactic end to the "Arab spring" was greeted with transferred enthusiasm towards another social uprising in the "Occupy Wall Street" movement. From the memetic origins of the phrase, to the ideological thinking that has fuelled and ‘legitimized' the movement, we can observe a latent attraction connecting the movement, people around the world and their most pressing issues today. This leads to the question at the heart of the protests, what are the protests really about? And what do the protesters want? From Tunis to Cairo, Tripoli to Damascus and from Wall Street to Boston, DC, Los Angeles and yes, Burlington VT, the protesters hint at the ubiquitous presence of inequality in our lives and its damaging effects on society. Driven by Capitalism, the economic divide between the ‘haves' and the ‘have-not' has grown exponentially tilting the balance in favor of the very few who have managed to accumulate a significant amount of wealth -and with it, influence and power.

The recent clampdown on the ‘occupy' movement across the U.S. by authorities have led some to question the gains made by those who protested especially here in the United States. The victory for the protesters is not in the enactment of legislation, nor in the changing of behavior by the "1%". In so far as inequality has been brought to the fore of the conversation within mainstream America, the protesters can chuck that up against the ‘Win' column. Where once abhorred as a taboo subject, both political parties are now engaging in conversations which have focused on -and by implication acknowledged- inequality.

As memes go, it is often difficult to define, track or evaluate the progression or propagation of ideas. But one thing is for certain, we are talking about inequality, and as Thoreau would say, we are definitely changing.

ESEA/No Child Left Behind


In the fall, the U.S. Education Department announced that they would allow for some flexibility in the implementation of ESEA (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, otherwise known as "No Child Left Behind"). The Department of Education is now offering waivers to states who plan to adopt their own complex systems of multiple success measures. If states are willing to outline and undertake their own state-developed plans to improve education, close achievement gaps, improve teaching quality and increase equality, the Department of Education will grant states flexibility regarding specific requirements of No Child Left Behind.

The waivers will allow states to define their own measures of education success. All states must include a variety of evaluation approaches in their applications for ESEA Flexibility, such as test score growth over time, graduation rates, teacher and principal evaluations etc., according to the Washington Post.

As of December 2, 2011, 28 States, D.C. and Puerto Rico have filed requests for flexibility.

For more information visit the page on ESEA Flexibility
Webinars and other resources are available for states here
Click here to view the Massachusetts ESEA Flexibility Request Application


John Kline (R-MN), House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman, released two new drafts of legislation to reauthorize the ESEA on January 6, 2012. His two drafts are known as the Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act. While both democrats and republicans see a need to improve the current No Child Left Behind system, some favor one nation-wide system while others want increased local control. Kline's drafts reflect a focus on more local control of Education.

The Student Success Act would replace No Child Left Behind's Annual Yearly Progress requirements with state flexibility in assessment. The Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act would eliminate and consolidate over 70 ESEA programs and change funding streams, capping funding amounts and eliminating the potential for earmarks. The democratic response to these drafts criticized them for not being a bipartisan effort. Many democrats also expressed discontent with the program and funding cuts.

More Information
• Read the Student Success Act
• Read the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act
• Read the press release at the House Committee on Education and the Workforce

To see a comparison of the House and Senate ESEA Proposals from the New America Foundation, click here

Supercommittee Failure

Supercommittee Recap:

In the summer of 2011 lawmakers established a bipartisan "supercommittee" including 12 members of the House and Senate, half Democrats and half Republicans. The group was formed to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in savings over 10 years. On Monday November 21, 2011 the Supercommittee conceded that panel members had failed to reach an agreement. Their failure sparked huge political disagreements over funding cuts to military and domestic programs.

What this Means for Children and Families:

Education advocates and school officials fear drastic cuts to many federal education programs in 2013, including Title I, special education, and money for teacher quality.

Sequestration will begin in January 2013, meaning a major cut of about 7.8 percent to many different government programs, including education. Officials estimate a cut like this would result in a $3.5 billion decrease in funds given to the U.S. Department of Education. According to Education Week the National Education Association is estimating that sequestration would result in the loss of more than 24,000 jobs in elementary and secondary education.

Because sequestration won't begin until 2013, education funding will most likely become a huge issue in the 2012 Presidential Election.

News and Opinion Pieces:

Washington Post 11/29/11
Reuters 11/22/11
NY Times 11/22/11
Fox News 11/21/11

Massachusetts Senate Bill 1956

An Act concerning media literacy in schools

The Massachusetts Senate is considering a bill sponsored by Senator Katherine M. Clark concerning media literacy in schools for grades K-12. The bill would introduce media literacy into existing school curriculums.

On November 1, 2011 Wheelock professor Diane Levin, Ph. D. gave testimony before the Joint Committee on Education in support of the proposed bill. Dr. Levin explained that, "By not providing media literacy education in our schools we have given media producers and marketers too much control."

Click here for the full text of Professor Levin's testimony.

New State House and State Senate Districts

This fall the Massachusetts Special Joint Committee on Redistricting released a proposal establishing new districts for many of the Commonwealth's 160 House representatives and 40 senators.

Legislators redrew district lines to better reflect population shifts reported in the 2010 Census, ensuring that districts are now more diverse than ever before. The new district proposals would increase the amount of minority-majority senate districts (districts where the majority of citizens are racial or ethnic minorities) from two to three. The Springfield Senate District will join two Boston districts as a minority-majority district.   Minority-majority districts in the state house will double from 10 to 20.  New majority-minority seats will be created in Lynn, Lawrence, Holyoke, Springfield, Lowell, Brockton, Worcester and Boston.

More Information:

From Birth to School Readiness: Massachusetts Early Learning Plan 2012-2015
(Winning Grant Proposal for the Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge)

In the Spring of 2011, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius unveiled the Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC), a state-level competition designed to encourage states to create organized and holistic early care education systems. The program intends to distribute a total of $500 million for early education by December 31, 2011 to help close the school-readiness gap. The money will be divided amongst the "winning" states in the form of grants of up to $100 million.

On October 19, 2011 Massachusetts Education Secretary Paul Reville and Department of Early Education and Care Commissioner Sherri Killins announced the Commonwealth's application submission. Massachusetts is one of thirty-five states, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, who have applied for the funding.

On December 16, 2011 the White House Announced the nine winners of the grant, including Massachusetts. The U.S. Department of Education Press Release can be found here.  The nine winning states are as follows: California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington.

More Information:

Teacher Preparation

On September 30, 2011 Education Secretary Arne Duncan revealed new Obama administration education reforms targeting teacher preparation programs at colleges. These reforms outline three specific goals:

  1. Rewarding colleges identified as "high-performing"
  2. Improving middle-performing schools
  3. Shutting down under-performing schools

There is already a federal rule that requires states to evaluate teacher preparation programs (Higher Education Act of 1965, Title II, Section 207), but no state has ever shut down a teacher education program under this law, which went into effect in 1998.

Under Duncan's plan, states will evaluate programs based on graduates' job placement and retention rates, performance by graduates on teacher licensing exams, surveys distributed to graduates and the principals they work for, and by comparing test scores of teacher graduates' K-12 students to the teacher preparation program attended by the educator.

In support of this plan: the National Education Association; Teach for America; state superintendents and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE)

Critics of this plan: the American Federation of Teachers argues that using standardized tests to determine the successfulness of a teacher preparation program may not be the best measuring method. They also critique a system that only rewards "high-performing" programs, instead of equally distributing support.

For More Information View the NAICU Spotlight of the Teacher Preparation Issue.

Immigration in Massachusetts: The New Americans Agenda

On July 9, 2008 Governor Patrick signed Executive Order No. 503 "Integrating Immigrants and Refugees into the Commonwealth." This launched the New Americans Agenda for Massachusetts by calling for the Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants (MORI), the Governor's Advisory Council for Refugees and Immigrants (GACRI), and the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) to develop policy recommendations to better integrate refugees and immigrants into Massachusetts civic life and the economy.

Recommendations were generated by a series of public meetings across Massachusetts in addition to research, interviews with experts, and input from state agencies in issue-based policy working groups. The results were publicly released on November 17, 2009 and serve as the basis for Massachusetts immigration issues agenda.

This unique integration based approach to policy making around immigration issues has also been utilized in Illinois, Virginia, Washington, Maryland and other states across the country

For additional facts about New Americans in the Bay State click here.

Social Impact of Casinos in Massachusetts: Cost Estimate Analysis 

A Special Report from Wheelock College

by Chikere Uchegbu
Policy and Communications Project Specialist
Wheelock College Office of Government and External Affairs

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