Don’t placate us, fix our schools!

Don’t placate us, fix our schools!

This week I attended a launch meeting of the Delta Teacher Efficacy Campaign, a collaboration aimed at enhancing student academic achievement by focusing on helping educators. I ended up arriving half way through, but made it in time for the Q & A session. Here’s one question from a parent that really stood out for me.

This parent stated that she is afraid to send her child to her local public schools in Lithonia and pays to send her child to private Christian school. She wants to know what she should do? (Basically, your schools suck, what are you going to do about it?)

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

The panelists were Valarie Wilson, head of GA School Board Association; Tyler Barr – head of GA PTA, and Dr. Beasley who is a DeKalb Schools administrator. Beasley replied by noting that schools are a reflection of our community and we should work to get to know our principals. Which I agree with – if the principal is willing to work with parents (unlike former Avondale Elem principal who reined for 10 years!)

He mentioned that we have a great school choice program in DeKalb, basically saying that if you don’t like your school, no problem, go pick one of the others. Problem with that is – parents have to provide their own transportation. What if it isn’t possible for this parent to drop off and pick up at a school across the county?

Basically, he never answered the question. He never admitted any wrong doing, or fault on behalf of the county. This is one of the reasons charter schools are popular, especially in underserved areas. They offer a choice that may not be too far away for a parent to provide transportation. They offer a choice to parents who are otherwise forced to send their child to a private school and pay out of pocket.

There are stories like this all over the state, the country and we are paying them lip service by no fixing those schools. Here is the parent comment from a former post of mine on this topic:

She is entering Kindergarten next year. It’s too late for her to go to a public charter school to get picked for the lottery. The schools around one of her homes (she has 3—long story, don’t ask) is BAD, the school around her other home is WORSE and the school around her last home is THE WORST. She’s a smart kid and I only want the best for her. Private school isn’t a viable option at this point.

We need to do better.

 

 

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Proximity to charter schools increases home values in Metro Atlanta

Proximity to charter schools increases home values in Metro Atlanta

The Andrew Young School Fiscal Research Center recently issued a report titled: Willing to Pay: Charter Schools’ Impact on Georgia Property Values by Carlianne Patrick

Comments below are from a public release of the report by the Georgia Charter Schools Association:

Happy Hispanic Family Portrait in Front of Beautiful House.

The report finds that over a 10-year period home sale prices were 7 to 13 percent higher in areas with the greatest chance of charter school enrollment.

Although there is extensive research on charter school achievement outcomes, relatively little is known about how the general public values these schools,” said Carlianne Patrick.

  • For elementary school neighborhoods: Homes sold for 9 to 13 percent more than similar homes in priority two zones.
  • For middle school neighborhoods: Homes sold for 8.5 to 10.5 percent more than similar homes in priority two zones.
  • For high school neighborhoods: Homes sold for 10 percent more than similar homes in priority two zones.

While this data points to a high demand for homes in neighborhoods with charter school enrollment priority zones, the report also helps refute notions that charter schools erode public schools. The increased home values mean increased tax revenue, which is a benefit for public school districts.

“The results suggest that homebuyers want to live in areas with access to charter schools and are willing to pay for it,” Patrick said. “It’s another way to value school choice, and it’s a win for advocates in Georgia, and across the nation.

From the study:

 

Table 3 indicates that single-family residences in priority one attendance zone sold for an average 7-8 percent more than similar houses located in priority two zones between 2004 and 2013. These results suggest that households value the choice, flexibility, and accountability that characterize charter schools.

Tables 4-6 present results by elementary grades, middle grades, and high school charters, respectively. Table 4 suggests a 9-13 percent premium for being located in a priority one zone for a charter serving elementary grades. Table 5 indicates a slightly lower willingness-to-pay for middle-grade charter priority zone one admission probabilities, with priority one zone single family residential transaction values 8.5- 10.5 percent higher than priority two zone values. Households pay an average of 10 percent more for similar houses in high school charter school priority one zones according to Table 6.

Cost of the status quo is way more expensive

Cost of the status quo is way more expensive

Just read this great article by a parent who works in a public charter school. Charter schools are not immune to the problems of traditional public schools – But you also can’t

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

read this article and proclaim traditional charters are superior. Please focus on the content of the article, about parents making choices for their own kids.

These are two former blogs about this very topic – what parents decide for their own kids:

When the only option is a failing school & Sounds good in theory, but not in practice

This article is written by a parent working in the same school her own child attended.

My 8-year-old daughter’s class was chaotic after her first-year teacher got married in Chicago and then relocated to Texas after Christmas break. It was hard enough to bring on a new teacher in the middle of the year, but the situation was only exacerbated when the replacement teacher was also brand new to the profession. (In fairness, my daughter’s class of 28 students was difficult to manage even for more experienced teachers. Teachers had to tap into their inner guru each and every day.)

My administration was trying to work with the replacement teacher, but it was painful for me to watch professional development attempts being made for a novice teacher who was in full crisis mode. Assurances from my school leaders that, with more instructional coaching, the class would gradually get better in time, fell flat with me. It was now February—how much more time could my child afford?

The complacency that the administration goes through in keeping this teacher, or hiring her in the first place. I talked a little bit about how teacher education needs to be improved in this blog but I am tired of administrations doing what they can to help (even if it’s ineffective) and settling for that being the best they can do. We need all of our kids to have an excellent education and large part of that is a great teacher.

My kid wasn’t ambivalent; she knew what she wanted. In fact, she begged me to transfer her out of the school that she had once loved. Even at 8, she was willing to say goodbye to all her friends to gain a sense of emotional safety and sanity.

I love my school and count many of my colleagues as my friends. The teachers (including my daughter’s former teachers) work extremely hard, and it’s obvious that they care about the students. And since it’s a charter school, parents like me feel fortunate that our kids’ names were pulled from the lottery and granted admission. I’ve often lamented that all kids and parents don’t have access to good schools like this one, district or charter.

But now I found myself contemplating the unthinkable—transferring my little girl out.

Parents are dealing with these struggles every day. Charter or traditional public school we need to make sure that every child has an effective teacher. I keep saying that our kids aren’t going to get those days of lost education back. We need to care right now about getting the best kids in the classroom.

The mom continues…

Last week, a colleague passed on a powerful article about the author Doug Lemov, who wrote “Teach Like a Champion,” to my principal, who then passed it on to me. These bits from the article gave me peace about the decision I made:

The evidence suggests that a child at a bad school taught by a good teacher is better off than one with a bad teacher at a good school. The benefits of having been in the class of a good teacher cascade down the years; the same is true of the penalty for having had a bad teacher.

In 1992, an economist called Eric Hanushek reached a remarkable conclusion by analyzing decades of data on teacher effectiveness: a student in the class of a very ineffective teacher—one ranked in the bottom 5 percent—will learn, on average, half a year’s worth of material in one school year, whereas if she was in the class of a very effective teacher—in the top 5 percent—she would learn a year and a half’s worth of material. In other words, the difference between a good and a bad teacher is worth a whole year.

Here you go. Evidence that our kids are literally loosing out by not having a great teacher. Parents are left with very few options if they feel their child is not getting an adequate education. And sometimes they choose another school, yet they shouldn’t have to. While education theorists and unions and the media are criticizing themselves daily, our nation’s kids are sitting in classrooms with ineffective teachers. We need to spend more time “on the ground” with kids and teachers and less time in the ivory towers of “theory” and “rhetoric.”

The mom ends:

It means that if any one of my students’ parents were to have insight into the day-to-day happenings in the school or classroom the way I am privy to it as a staff member, would they trust that their child was getting the absolute best education possible?

In other words, it means that educators need to approach our practice with the same diligence we would have if our own biological child sat in every single class.

My household operates on a tight budget, so the $700 a month private school tuition bill I now have to pay really hurts. But now that my little girl is excited about learning again and is able to focus in class, I realize that the cost of the status quo was way more expensive.

Alisha Thomas Morgan, new head of Ivy Prep Academies

Alisha Thomas Morgan, new head of Ivy Prep Academies

I’alisha appointed to Ivy Prepm proud to report from the Charter Confidential blog that Alisha Thomas Morgan has been named the new Executive Director of Ivy Preparatory Academies, which serves more than 1,300 students in three metro Atlanta public charter schools.

I know Alisha personally and volunteered on her State Superintendent campaign in 2014. She has been an avid supporter of charters and sponsored legislation to pass the charter amendment that allowed an alternate state authorizer to open charter schools denied by reluctant local school districts in 2012.

“Ms. Morgan has been very involved with public education in the state of Georgia, especially within the charter school movement,” said Christopher Kunney, chair of IPA’s governing board.  “She is very passionate about providing students with a quality education. Her commitment to kids will resonate well with our teachers and the community that we serve. Under her leadership, we will build Ivy Preparatory Academies into a national model for single-gender education.”

“I am extremely excited that the board selected Ms. Morgan as Ivy Prep’s new Executive Director,” said Dr. Nina Gilbert, founder of IPA. “Locally, many only know Ms. Morgan as a politician. However, I also know her as passionate and bold leader who understands what it takes to improve student achievement. In addition to her work as a legislator who fought tirelessly for the children she now serves, she is also a Broad Fellow and is among an elite group of individuals who lead some of the nation’s largest urban districts and charter school networks. She has great plans for Ivy, and I have complete confidence in her ability to advance the mission and vision of our schools. I look forward to working hand-in-hand with Ms. Morgan and the thousands of parents, teachers, and supporters we are engaging with on this journey to make educational excellence and college completion a reality for more metro Atlanta children.”

“I remember my floor speech about the ‘Little Girls In the Green Jackets’ who, like all Georgia students, deserved quality public schools that met their needs,” Morgan said. “After advocating for Ivy Prep as a state legislator for many years, it feels like coming home to now serve as their leader. My work as a public servant and education reformer has prepared me for this moment. I am looking forward to partnering with parents, the community, and our stakeholders as we make Ivy Prep a proof point for what is possible in public education.

“We need to lead the nation in innovation and producing scholars who are critical thinkers for the 21st century,” Morgan added. “With the support of the board, I’m excited to lead the organization to the next level. We will work together, leveraging every resource that we have, to achieve that vision.”

I am excited to see where Alisha takes Ivy Prep and looking forward to sharing any of my expertise that can be helpful.

“Student achievement is my No. 1 priority,” Morgan said. “And while we celebrate the successes that we have had at the girls’ schools, it is unacceptable that we have not met the needs of our young men. If we are not here producing top quality scholars, then we are not doing our job. I won’t accept any excuses. We will do whatever it takes to make sure that all of our scholars are learning at high levels.”

 

Analysis of district/union collaboration in Lawrence, MA

Analysis of district/union collaboration in Lawrence, MA

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

In this last post, I took a look at the state takeover / Turnaround plan in Lawrence, MA. Being touted as a true collaboration between districts and unions I wanted to dig a little deeper to see what may have transpired and potentially what could draw success in the future.

A strong leader is something I believe both unions and pro-reformers want. Lawrence was fortunate to have a leader that was willing to forge a middle ground by investing time in human capital. A strong leader on either the union side or a firm pro-reform side (or one that is simply neither) may not be able to bring about results. Finding strong leader talent is difficult, but often a very important piece.

Jeffrey Riley was appointed by the MA Education commissioner and was awarded all the powers of a superintendent and a school board. He did not have to negotiate with unions and didn’t quite at first. It appears he worked to implement certain reforms and then seeing some progress proceeded to work with unions to solidify.

Expanded learning time is usually promoted by both unions and pro-reformers, but unions only if teachers are being paid for it. Lawrence likely was able to make pay available through grants – we’ll have to see how they are able to keep it flowing through changes in school funding. It’s generally a given that expanded learning time, executed correctly is greatly beneficial to students. So what are districts to do if they can’t immediately find the money to pay teachers for the extra time? I see the teacher perspective of wanting to be paid for the extra time, but really how much extra is it? At one point someone decided that 7 hours a day was all students needed. Now it may be 9 hours. Should students have to suffer without expanded learning time in districts where there isn’t extra money for teachers?

Generally speaking unions are against charters – unless they are running them. Lawrence was able to put together a collection of charter management, union management and LPS management in the turnaround plan. So, I guess unions aren’t all against charters, all the time?

Lawrence is using a myriad of data to evaluate students and in turn teachers. This is not usually something that unions go along with. So maybe unions aren’t all against data for performance?

Successful building principals have autonomy to make changes in their own school, including staffing. However teachers did receive 2 1/2 hrs of collaborative planning time (likely assisted by the expanded learning time) in which to analyze student data and make curriculum adjustments. It was not clear on the specifics of professional development, but there appears to have been more offered.

I took a look at the Lawrence teacher’s contract and found some interesting items:

  • It provides the superintendent wide sweeping authority to make changes to school operational procedure throughout the year
  • Under Teacher hiring and promotions, Article 26: “In filling positions, principals have the authority to select the best qualified staff from both internal and external candidates without regard to seniority.” It is often the case that if a senior member of the district’s faculty wants a position he or she will get it. This allows more leeway to have the district make the right decisions for kids.
  • Another win for kids, in Article 35, when there is a reduction in force district is allowed to consider data and teacher evaluations over seniority:

“The Superintendent has the right to lay off teachers and other district staff due to reductions in force or reorganizations resulting from declining enrollment or other budgetary or operational reasons. The Superintendent will establish the selection criteria for layoffs of teachers and other district staff. Such selection criteria may include, but are not limited to qualifications, licensure, work history (including elements such as discipline, attendance, evaluations, etc.), multiple measures of student learning, operational need and the best interests of the students. Where all other factors are equal, seniority may be used as the deciding factor.”

This is also probably largely due to the law Stand for Children MA passed in 2012 which made job performance, not seniority, the primary consideration in teacher staffing decisions in every public school in Massachusetts, with the new evaluation systems being a key component of how job performance is measured.

  • Still not sure why teachers are allowed 15 sick days per year when they only report to school for 183 days (in Lawrence). Most professional jobs give you 1-2 weeks of paid leave and maybe a few sick days or those are included in the 1-2 weeks. The fact that they can accrue up to 200…what would someone do with 200 days of sick leave???

Fifteen days of full pay shall be allowed during the school term from August to June in case of illness. Any or all of the fifteen (15) days of full pay that have not been used may be carried over to the following year’s allowance and such allowance may be accumulated to two hundred (200) days of full pay.

  • Health insurance premiums which are usually a hot debate on contract negotiations are not clearly outlined. Unless teachers are buying into the statewide health insurance plan.
  • Article 66: The career ladder is one of the more interesting elements to the contract. Each level of advancement is based on certain performance evaluations, although no salary can be decreased due to evaluations, I assume the teacher would stay at the same level. I believe that in those cases the consequences of the evaluation system come into play. Often if you are at a needs improvement or unsatisfactory level for “x” number of years there are improvement plans and opportunities or consequences that take over. The career ladder also allows for excellent teachers to advance through the ladder commensurate with their evaluations. A new teacher could be eligible for the salary of a veteran teacher within 5 years.

A Novice teacher shall advance to Developing I and a Developing I teacher shall advance to Developing II annually provided that the teacher does not receive an end-of year evaluation rating of “unsatisfactory.”

A Developing II teacher shall advance to Career I and all Career level teachers shall advance a level annually provided that an end-of-year evaluation rating of “proficient” or “exemplary” is received, with “proficient” or better ratings on all four standards. A teacher with an overall end-of-year rating of “proficient” who has achieved less than “proficient” ratings on all four standards may still advance to the next level with the recommendation of the building principal and the approval of the Superintendent.

A teacher who does not receive the requisite evaluation rating can appeal for a review of the evaluation to the Evaluation Committee.

If no end-of year formative or summative evaluation is completed for a teacher, the teacher shall advance to the next level.

A teacher may advance on the salary scale more rapidly than described above with the recommendation of the school principal, subject to the approval of the Superintendent. Any such advancement will be limited to two levels above what the performance plan would otherwise provide, provided however that a teacher may not advance to Advanced or Masters status without going through the review process that applies district wide. The union shall be notified of all such advancement decisions.

Novice, Developing, Career, and Advanced teachers shall not have their salary reduced based on their performance evaluation.

Based on past experience and performance, a newly-hired teacher may enter the Lawrence Public Schools above the Novice level based on a principal’s recommendation and Superintendent’s approval.

 

The career ladder:

Master

___________

Advanced

___________

Career

Level 4

Level 3

Level 2

Level 1

Developing

Level 2

Level 1

Novice

  • Article 67 – Expanded learning time pay is included in this contract. It is not clear to me when the ELT pay is issued – as time is accrued throughout the year or as a lump sum at the end of the year. Also, I’m not sure if the pay is based on each increment, or just a flat rate at the end. For example, if a teacher works 1525 hours,  does he/she receive a one time payment of $3,000, or does the teacher receive $2,000 for hours 1400-1449, and $2,500 for hours 1450-1499…etc. FYI $2,000 for 50 hours of work is $100/hr.

Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, teachers working an extended day shall receive stipends in the following amounts based on hours worked:

1400-1449 hours             $2,000

1450-1499 hours             $2,500

1500-1549 hours             $3,000

1550-1599 hours             $3,500

1600-1825 hours             $4,000

Total teacher hours during the normal school day for the year shall not exceed 1,825 hours, excluding functions outside the normal school day, such as parent meetings, after-school functions and other similar activities.

These stipend compensation amounts shall be included in base pay, or otherwise considered as part of the teacher’s annualized salary, for retirement purposes.

Here are some comments from AFT union leaders reported in the Education Week article:

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, who is generally an outspoken opponent of state takeovers, has been highlighting the progress in Lawrence as an example of transformation that’s possible when the union and the district work together.

“Lawrence is succeeding because of the work between people—including the superintendent, the teachers, and parents, and now, the city administration,” she said. “Let me be really blunt. Anybody who thinks that it’s structure rather than human capital will make a huge … policy mistake.”

Frank McLaughlin, the president of the Lawrence Teachers’ Union, praises the gains and Mr. Riley, though he credits strong leadership and an infusion of resources for the positive momentum, not the state takeover itself.

It appears that concessions can be made in the right environments. I think it’s worth noting that Mr. Riley basically made it mandatory that teachers join the union. I’m sure that went a long way to making the negotiations easier….you know so AFT can bank every dollar! 😉

Please free our schools from the current education monopoly!

Please free our schools from the current education monopoly!

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

This post and response by AJC writer Maureen Downey and local attorney Glenn Delk, a school choice advocate reminds me why we need education reform – and not just because of mishandled funds.

Maureen Downey writes an opposition piece opposing Gov. Deal’s Opportunity School District bill defending our need for more funding and questioning how the state could allow these circumstances of cutting education funds for years  – and suddenly come up with an idea and begin caring about students.

But students have suffered since 2003 from $7.6 billion in funding cuts. Hardest hit by the cuts were rural districts that could not make up the lost funds through local property digests, and low-income children for whom lower class sizes and after-school programs mean the difference between passing and failing

When districts complained to the Legislature, the reply was succinct: Do more with less.

Glenn Delk reminds me that it is not just that schools aren’t spending the funding correctly, but that the monopoly that is our education system needs to be broken down.

Like the teachers’ union, the school boards’ association and the superintendents’ association, Ms. Downey chooses to ignore the cold hard fact that, contrary to her claim that we have to rebuild communities before academic performance can improve, organizations such as KIPP, Basis Schools and High Tech High have proven low-income minority students, can and do perform at world class levels without spending more money, if freed from the current monopoly.

For example, Basis students, while receiving $6,500 per student, far less than Georgia’s average of $9,000, outperform the entire world on the international tests.

Ms. Downey and opponents of giving students additional opportunities to escape the monopoly known as district-run schools should attend the April 22 screening in Brookhaven of the documentary, “Most Likely to Succeed.” The movie shows what is possible when the best and brightest are hired to teach, treated as true professionals with freedom and autonomy to teach students who’ve chosen to attend and expected to take ownership of their education.

The movie focuses on High Tech High, a San Diego-based charter network, which, while operating on $7,200 per student, has managed to achieve an 88 percent graduation rate from college. More than 8,000 students apply annually for the 400 slots, while 1,500 teachers apply for 50 positions. High Tech High has no admission tests, with students chosen by a random lottery.

History shows us that monopolies do not give up their power voluntarily.

So yes, schools can be successful and bridge the community gap with less funding. It just needs to be focused in the correct ways. I have heard a former top KIPP administrator in GA talk about the way they engage parents and students in their school community. He admits it is hard work. You can’t just wake up one day and the system is perfectly in place. But these are key samples of things that schools could do now. You know what holds school up from community engagement? Uninterested and unwilling staff and teachers. Charters like KIPP and the MET, build in an expectation that all of their teachers and staff will engage with parents and students regularly and after school hours if necessary. He mentions students who choose to attend these schools and are expected to take ownership of their education. I remember when a Warwick, RI city councilor told me that she mentored kids at the MET and they didn’t respond well to taking ownership of their education. Just because a student doesn’t latch onto an idea initially doesn’t mean it isn’t a skill that needs to be learned and can be learned. I guarantee you that those students who don’t do well taking responsibility are just as lost in traditional public schools.

But, since we are on the topic – please we need to only be paying salaries for effective teachers, effective principals, no excess in school admin positions in the multiple 6 digits, remove the nepotism, and actually make sure that what is “discovered” at the district level is actually being implemented in each school.

Sounds good in theory, but not in practice

In response to this post about AL moving towards charters: AEA spews lies in response to “School Choice” March, I received this comment:

“…By the way, the people who decided to send their kids to a private school chose to do that, oftentimes not because the school was “failing”, but because of too many black people. Their choice to abandon public for private is their choice, but they shouldn’t get a voucher for it. Afterall, they are the one’s who turned their back on the local community, rather than fighting for it. As someone in the Dekalb Democratic Party you ought to know that racism is usually a determining factor when kids are sent to private school. The same will happen with charters. The domino affect means fewer good kids in public schools and what’s left will continue to drag society down rather than good people finding a real solution. Really it’s laziness on their part and people like you who just run away from the problems, opening schools that “get away” from the less fortunate, and closing schools they “don’t like anymore”. Seriously, it’s downward spiral once kids start abandoning a school, but you know this. Frankly, it’s astounding your arguments here and that you consider yourself a democrat…”

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

©Depositphotos.com/Margaret Paynich

1. I never mentioned race, you did. So I would have to say it is you who is the racist one against black people because your mind went there.

2. Parents send their children to private or charter schools for a variety of reasons – avoiding an underperforming school, religious or educational style preference, or personal experience just to name a few.  I believed that one major concern with “vouchers”  was that money could be sent to a religious school and that is a conflict of church and state. But it makes sense that the money should follow the child wherever the parents decide is best for them. Educational style differences such as The Met in Providence or even the Waldorf school or Sudbury School here in Atlanta are all reasons why parents may choose another school. Traditional Public schools do not generally offer these alternative, hands on, democratically arranged school curriculum so parents would have to send their children elsewhere.

3. Turned their back on the community? What about principals like here in my feeder pattern who would only allow parental involvement on HER terms and pushed soo many parents away that they created their own charter school practically next door. What about school administrators who don’t fire ineffective teachers and principals, or just move them around? How does that serve the community? When we graduate students who are not equipped to lead successful lives and therefore end up in a life many would not consider positively contributing to society – the schools were a big part of that result. And you are concerned that parents turned their backs?

4. I was talking with a teacher friend of mine who if getting her PhD and currently works running a program to assist with suspended and frequently offending students in schools. She admitted that if she lived in an underperforming school district, that she would send her child to another school, but would still work within the community to make that community school better. That’s a beautiful act to take – however, if you are a single parent, or even a two parent household with multiple jobs/kids, it maybe all you can do to manage relationships at your children’s actual school. It could prove difficult to split time between a school your kids do attend and the neighborhood school.

5. Again, who is the racist one, who doesn’t believe in the capacity of students? You state that when we take the “good kids” out of the poor schools the schools just get worse and will drag society down. The only thing that determines how well a school does are the students and teachers in the school. Has nothing to do with the students who are not there. The money follows the child and that is the same everywhere.

6. Everything you say sounds good in theory. The problem is, when a parent is faced with what they should do with their child in the moment – its going to be what is best, not necessarily what is best for the community. Parents have a responsibility first to their child, not the community. Parents choose other schools not to diminish the community but to do their best to offer their child a quality education. Kids don’t have any time to waste. Every minute that they spend in an underperforming school is a school day the child will never get back. There is more on this posted here: Democrats are cavalier about students.