Subsidizing Parochial Parents with Public School Funds

May 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Mario Cuomo’s latest stunt involving the use of public funds to subsidize private schools was so blatantly unfair that even the NYTimes editors were appalled! In “A Costly Tax Break for Nonpublic Schools” the Times editorial board saw the effect of Cuomo’s policies. The first paragraph offers a summary of the bill, that would:

…help private and parochial schools, by offering big tax credits to their donors. This… expensive and possibly unconstitutional bill that Mr. Cuomo has named the Parental Choice in Education Act could cost the state more than $150 million a year. That money should be used to help almost 2.7 million public school students in the state, not given to wealthy donors subsidizing mainly private or religious schools.

The editorial goes on to describe who would benefit from the passage of this bill:

The $150 million pool includes millions of dollars in tax credits for donations that could provide scholarships to private or parochial students from families with incomes of up to $300,000 a year, which hardly targets the neediest students.

So while Cuomo is slashing spending on public education he has devised a bill that would effectively provide tax breaks to upper middle class parents who have already enrolled their children in private schools… and called the bill the “Parental Choice in Education Act” to make it sound as if children raised in poverty will have a choice in attending a different school.

In a concluding paragraph the Times editors appear to be onto Cuomo’s ultimate game:

With this misguided bill, Mr. Cuomo may have found plenty of support from religious leaders and private school donors. But his efforts seems jarring, given his record of seeking more accountability in schools. The state has little say in private and parochial schools over testing, the teaching of basic subjects or other data collection required for assessing a good education.

The Times editors have bought into the notion that giving children raised in poverty the opportunity to attend deregulated for-profit charter schools is the best way to address the problem of “failing public schools”. At the same time the editors have overlooked the fact that these schools primarily benefit the shareholders of the schools and that the State has little say in their operations. MAYBE by looking at Cuomo’s motives in securing passage for this bill they will see that Cuomo’s ultimate goal is to monetize a government service that was designed to promote equal opportunity for all children no matter where they were born.


NYTimes’ Late– and Poorly Analyzed– Acknowledgement of Opt Out Movement’s Effectiveness

May 23, 2015 Leave a comment

On Thursday, the NYTimes finally acknowledged that the opt out movement was having an impact on the “reform” movement but missed the boat completely on their analysis of why it is happening. In “‘Opt Out” Becomes Anti-Test Rallying Cry in New York State“, Elizabeth Harris and Ford Fessenden admitted that the movement had gotten the attention of legislators who were “…now tripping over one another to introduce bills that guarantee the right to refuse to take tests”. But the article is full of misleading statements and erroneous conclusions. Take this paragraph for example:

…some education officials and advocacy groups fear the opt-out movement will reverse a long-term effort to identify teachers and schools — and students — who are not up to par, at least as far as their test performance goes. Of particular concern is that without reliable, consistent data, children in minority communities may be left to drift through schools that fail them, without consequences.

The “long-term effort” to identify “teachers… who are not up to par” based on test scores has just started in NY State and has only been in place in one state since 2003. The “long-term effort” to identify “schools… who are not up to par” based on test scores goes back, at most, to just over a decade when NCLB took effect, though some states have used test scores to identify districts that require intervention for 20 +/- years. And the “long-term effort” to identify “students… who are not up to par” based on standardized test scores has only been in place in NY for anything resembling a “long term”. The whole notion that test scores should be the ultimate assessment for teachers, schools and students, then, is a recent phenomenon.

The notion that children in minority communities “may be left to drift” because of failing schools is preposterous. Schools serving minority students have been allowed to drift for decades… and not even a national Supreme Court ruling overturning “separate but equal” or State Supreme Court rulings requiring funding equity have changed that one iota. The civil rights organizations promoting the use of standardized tests to provide equity should first promote the passage of legislation in their states that would provide schools serving minority students with the same services and curriculum offered to students in affluent suburbs.

And this paragraph from the article elicited many rebuttals from commenters:

The refusal movement sprouted after states instituted tougher tests in recent years aligned with the Common Core standards, which, in many districts, caused scores to plummet.

The commenters made it clear to the NYTimes that they were NOT opting out because the tests were too hard or because they created too much pressure: they were opting out because they did not want the tests to dictate the curriculum in their school and the test scores to define their kids, their school, or the teachers in the school.

The article ends with one a response from a think tank that advocated high stakes testing but has now concluded that some states may have gone overboard:

But Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow and vice president for external affairs at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education policy organization, said that rather than enforcing the rules, government officials might very well retreat.

“You could write a really good history of education writ large about our tendency in this country to go from one extreme to the other, and this has all the hallmarks of that,” Mr. Pondiscio said. “This is not a prediction, but it would not surprise me to see New York, or someplace else, go from testing every kid within an inch of their life to testing nobody, ever.

I doubt that the complete elimination of all standardized testing is happening any time soon… but it may come to pass in the next decade or so that formative testing and competency-based instruction will replace summative testing and norm-referenced instruction… but only if newspapers like the NYTimes help make the public aware of the promise of such an approach.

William Bennett’s Perspective on Public Education Prevails Today

May 22, 2015 Leave a comment

After reading a Forbes op ed column written by William Bennett, it dawned on me that we have gone decades without having a Secretary of Education who spoke out on behalf of the good work that public schools do in the face of adversity. Instead, from Terrell Bell forward each of the Secretaries of Education have used the theme of “failing public schools” as the basis for seeking more funding for schools and from Bennett forward each secretary has implicitly or explicitly promoted the notion that charter schools are a viable alternative. As a result, the re-branding of public education as “government schools” combined with our country’s deep faith in the marketplace has led voters to believe that the best way to fix the “failing public schools” is to replace them with deregulated for-profit charters that parents can opt into the same way they opt into buying a car.

Bennett’s column subtly plays into this notion and is full of disinformation and/or misinformation. Titled “Overcoming the Honesty Gap in Public Education” Bennett implies that States implemented watered down tests to look good but their “dishonesty” resulted in no improvement on the NAEP:

This is a serious problem, but, of course, it is not new. Intentional or not, many states have been offering less than truthful and accurate definitions of proficiency for far too long.

Of course one the reasons for that discrepancy was the fact that states were in effect permitted to develop their own standards and assessments, something that the Federal government was supposedly reversing with the implementation of NCLB Race to the Top. Ironically, one of the “reforms” in the new federal legislation is the chance for States to develop their own standards and assessments, which will exacerbate Bennett’s call for consistent definitions of proficiency.

Bennett also disingenuously misrepresents the development of the common core as a grassroots and voluntary undertaking:

Over the past five years, more than 40 states have diligently begun to implement the Common Core standards, which were conceived in mutual and voluntary agreement between the states, not under the pressure of the federal government. (Granted, the federal government has since intruded in some areas, but that is no longer the case and we must fight to ensure it doesn’t happen again.)

To paraphrase his earlier quote, Mr. Bennett is being “less than truthful and accurate” in his description of how the common core came into being. But the concluding sentences are the ones that jumped out at me because they are irreconcilable with the direction his party wants to take public education:

But the first step to addressing performance concerns is establishing a system that accurately identifies them through the implementation of higher standards and more rigorous testing requirements. American education is moving in the right direction right now. Let’s not slow or stop the progress.

Here’s my question for Mr. Bennett: if you are fighting to keep the federal government from intruding in mandatory testing how will you keep states from “offering less than truthful and accurate definitions of proficiency?”

Minnesota’s Governor Fights Hard for Public Education— MAYBE Too Hard

May 22, 2015 Leave a comment

Mark Dayton, Minnesota’s Democrat governor, wants Universal fully funded pre-Kindergarten offered in public schools across the state. Because of his approach to taxation (as contrasted with his neighboring state Wisconsin), Minnesota has the $125,000,000 needed to do this and have $1,000,000,000 left over to offer rollbacks on some taxes and/or improve the transportation budget. But the Minnesota legislature has a different agenda for public schools, one that seeks more for-profit charters predicated on the belief that “failing government schools” need to be replaced by imaginative and forward thinking charters. So… when the legislature hammered out it’s budget they gave the governor the funding he requested for public schools but omitted the funding for the pre-Kindergarten initiative that was his major priority. The Governors’ reaction? As reported by NPR, Governor Dayton offered these thoughts about the Republicans who dominate the legislature in a press conference:

“They hate the public schools, some of the Republican legislators,” the governor said. “They’re loathe to provide any additional money for public schools and for public school teachers because all of the good programs I’ve seen around this state for pre-K and all-day kindergarten. All of those programs contradict what they say, which is public schools do things badly.”

Predictably the Republicans pushed back… but not on the substance of his statement— their reluctance to “…provide any additional money for public schools and for public school teachers” because of the fact that doing so contradicts their “failing public schools” narrative. No… the Republicans lashed out at the Governor for characterizing some members of the Republican party as hating public schools.

The stories (see here, here, and here) that followed this press conference predictably focussed NOT on the evidence that some Republicans have animosity toward public schools, but rather on the Republican’s demand that Dayton apologize for saying that they “hate” public schools. One of the articles on the apology demand in the Pioneer Press reported that the Governor was not inclined to apologize. Why? At a subsequent press conference he asserted that “Republicans haven’t shown true support for public schools” and offered this quote:

“Actions speak louder than words,” Dayton said.

The Governor’s words were arguably truthful and honest… but they unfortunately gave the legislators a chance to shift the conversation away from their actions toward his words… Here’s hoping that in the coming weeks someone takes the time to assess the voting records and written and verbal statements of “some” Republicans to buttress the Governor’s assertion that “some” members of the party are adamantly opposed to the idea of “government run schools” and detest everything they stand for. Unless MN is different from most states in the country there will be a t least a handful of legislators who are on record in that fashion… But it might be easier for the Governor to acknowledge he could have chosen his words more wisely and offer an apology accordingly. THAT might help shift the conversation quickly to something more substantive.


‘Zero Tolerance’ in Our Struggling Schools Makes Zero Sense

May 22, 2015 Leave a comment

‘Zero Tolerance’ in Our Struggling Schools Makes Zero Sense.

The beginning of the article shows how “good guys with guns” can become an occupying force in schools… and given our fear of “shooters” and willingness to fund police departments while starving schools more and more schools are turning to those “good guys” and students— especially students raised in poverty— are paying the price.

Housing Reform, Social Mobility, School Reform, Equity: Inseparably Inter-related

May 21, 2015 Leave a comment

Several recently published articles indicate that the mainstream media, parents, and politicians are beginning to connect the dots and see that housing reform, social mobility, school reform, and equity of opportunity are all inseparably interrelated.

Last Wednesday’s Washington Post published an article by Emily Badger that provided an overview of the findings of a Southern Education Foundation study indicating that “…America’s public schools had reached a dispiriting milestone: A majority of children attending them are now low-income.”. Featuring an interactive map that graphically displayed the poverty of children on a county by county basis, the article noted that the poverty was not evenly distributed but instead concentrated in several pockets. The article focussed on how this concentration of poverty this led to both racial and segregation and included another map displaying how rural southern blacks are virtually all attending high poverty schools and offered these insights:

This concentration of poverty, which reflects underlying patterns in where the rich and poor live, also means that a poor child in America is much more likely than a middle-class or wealthier child to attend a high-poverty school. About 40 percent of low-income children attend public schools where 75 percent of the other students are low-income, too. The same is true of just 6 percent of non-poor kids.

“This is concentrated disadvantage,” writes Urban Institute researcher Reed Jordan, “the children who need the most are concentrated in schools least likely to have the resources to meet those needs.”

Across the country, black children are also about six times more likely to attend high-poverty schools than white children.

These maps reflect the importance of better integrating schools, creating environments in which poor children learn alongside upper-income peers. But that’s a goal that will be hard to achieve if we don’t talk as well about the housing patterns and policies that helped create these maps.

This past Sunday’s New York Times picked up on the conversation about housing patterns with an editorial titled “Housing Apartheid, American Style”. The article opened with a description of the recent riots in Baltimore and referenced the findings of the Kerner Report nary fifty years earlier that:

…linked the devastating riots that consumed Detroit and Newark in 1967 to residential segregation that had been sustained and made worse by federal policies that concentrated poor black citizens in ghettos. It also said that discrimination and segregation had become a threat to “the future of every American.”

As part of the remedy, the commission called on the government to outlaw housing discrimination in both the sale and rental markets and to “reorient” federal policy so that housing for low- and moderate-income families would be built in integrated, mixed-income neighborhoods, where residents would have better access to jobs and decent schools.

In 1967 Congress reacted to the report by passing the Fair Housing Act, which was intended to accomplish the “reorientation” sought in the Kerner report. As readers of this blog realize, when I was attending graduate school in the early 1970s and beginning my career as a school administrator, there was a hope that this would change the ousting patterns and help bring about the resultant equity of opportunity. But… as the Washington Post reported and anyone who has driven across the country knows, the “reorientation” never happened. Why?

…the effort (to implement the Fair Housing Act) was hampered from the beginning by local officials who ignored or opposed the goal of desegregation and by federal officials, including presidents, who simply declined to enforce it.

The editorial offers a history of the failure to enforce this law by a succession of administrations, noting that the only way any integration has occurred is as a result of housing a civil rights advocacy groups taking local, state, and federal governments to court. The editorial concludes with these paragraphs:

But for these rules to be meaningful, the federal government will have to restructure its own programs so that more affordable housing is built in low-poverty, high opportunity neighborhoods. Federal officials must also be willing to do what they have generally been afraid to do in the past — withhold money from communities that perpetuate housing apartheid.

Given what we now know about the pervasive harm that flows from segregation, the country needs to get on with this crucial mission.

And here’s what is especially maddening about our country’s unwillingness to segregate schools racially and economically: the students attending affluent schools see no diminishment of opportunity or educational quality when low income or black students enroll. Last week the Washington Post’s Emily Badger wrote “What’s Good for Poor Kids Isn’t Bad for Rich Kids” describing a study recently completed by Harvard economists Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren that determined that “…some places in America (Baltimore, Detroit, Orlando, Chicago) offer particularly problematic environments for low-income children to grow up if we want them to have economic opportunity as adults.” Their solution, as paraphrased by Badger:

Poor kids and rich kids need a lot of the same things: high-quality schools, healthy neighborhoods, stable homes. What’s good for one is good for the other.

This blog is full of links to articles describing the challenges of obtaining equitable funding for schools and some articles about the political challenges of providing low income housing… and here’s another one to add to the list: “Mayor deBlasio’s Public Housing Plan to Seek City Aid and More Money from Tenants”. The article describes how the NYC mayor intends to address the biggest challenge his city faces— raising money. To meet that challenge the mayor’s plan calls for higher rents and parking fees for tenants, the opportunity for privatization of new housing units, and additional funds from the federal and state government.

The challenges are fiscal, cultural, and psychological, but the outcome politicians should be seeking is the one described in the quote from Emily Badger’s article: poor kids and rich kids need a lot of the same things: high-quality schools, healthy neighborhoods, stable homes…. and these three things are interrelated and interdependent.

When Trade Barriers Fall, Factories Close, Employment Eventually Rebounds… But Wages Fall

May 20, 2015 Leave a comment

Earlier today I posted an article describing the adverse effect PILOT agreements have on public funding. Sunday’s NYTimes business section featured an article by Binyamin Applebaum describing the impact of trade agreements on one community, Galesburg, IL. When NAFTA passed in the mid 1990s, Maytag closed the doors of its manufacturing plant in Galesburg IL and moved to Mexico. Years later, the dust has settled in the community and across the country and the results are clear and unambiguous… well at least unambiguous from two different perspectives as exemplified by these quotes from two Columbia economists:

David Weinstein… said the image of downtrodden Galesburg should be set alongside the prosperity of Silicon Valley, because the decline of manufacturing in the United States helped free resources to feed the high-tech boom.

“There was a sense that by losing the ability to produce computer chips, we were going to see the American electronics industry collapse, and it turns out that those cheap imported electronic components were just the thing that all of these companies needed,” he said. “What these critiques miss systematically is that the losers know who they are, but the winners don’t know who they are yet.”

(But) Joseph Stiglitz… said the magnitude of these losses was large enough that increased trade may now be harming the American economy.

“The argument was always that the winners could compensate the losers,” Mr. Stiglitz said. “But the winners never do. And that becomes particularly relevant when we have a society with as much inequality as we have today.”

Unsurprisingly to those who read this blog, I concur with Stiglitz’ analysis… and will take it a step further. NAFTA accelerated the race to the bottom on wages that began with the advent of PILOT programs. PILOT programs, after all, are a form of internal “trade wars”. IBM tells two communities it intends to consolidate its operations in one location and the communities bid against each other to provide “incentives”… which are really tax breaks that add to the profitability of each company at the expense of local taxpayers who lose either way. VW announces its intent to build a factory in the US and identifies three or four communities where they know they can pay low wages and avoid unionization. The communities then begin a bidding war and VW receives tax breaks that add to their profitability at the expense of local taxpayers.

The articles premise, which is that of most politicians, is that trade is good because jobs eventually come back, goods are cheaper, and, consequently, underpaid workers can have the same material wealth for lower wages…. but here’s the way that plays out on the ground:

The variety of imports has also roughly tripled since the 1970s, according to a 2006 study that Mr. Weinstein, the Columbia economist, helped write. “We benefit from the fact that it’s no longer just a choice between Maxwell House and Folger’s,” he said.

Walmart opened a supercenter in Galesburg in 2007, but Mr. Broughton said the arrival of the store could hardly offset the loss of the factory.

“The decline in the quality of life for working-class families has not been nearly matched by the low, low prices,” he said. “Maybe those diffuse benefits have benefited America more generally. But it’s not the case in Galesburg.”

The choices may have expanded over the past several decades, but the ability to choose is dependent on the wages one earns and when those wages are suppressed choices are between low grade products. And just as the 1% believes the lower 99% are better off because they can choose between more than Maxwell House and Folger’s, the 1% also believe having a choice between underfunded public schools and highly profitable cut-rate charter schools will add to the quality of life.