Think Progress Should Not Be Confused with Thinking Progressively

February 6, 2016 Leave a comment

For the past several weeks I’ve been getting feeds from ThinkProgress on Facebook, probably because I read one article I agreed with… but of late I find myself at odds with almost all of their posts, including this recent one trying to softly advocate for the test-and-punish regimen. The I looked at the list of major donors… which includes the usual “reform” suspects. I will continue reading Think Progress but will do so with a skeptical eye. :

$1,000,000 or more

Anonymous (3)
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund
Ford Foundation
The Hutchins Family Foundation
Open Society Foundations
Sandler Foundation
TomKat Charitable Trust
W.K. Kellogg Foundation
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

$500,000 to $999,999

Anonymous
Barkley Fund LLC
Carnegie Corporation of New York
The Crimson Lion Lavine Family Foundation
The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation
Joyce Foundation
The Pritzker Children’s Initiative
The Rockefeller Foundation
Schwab Charitable Fund
S. Donald Sussman

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A State Report Card that Measures What is Important: Equity and Opportunity

February 5, 2016 Leave a comment

The Network for Public Education (NPE), a non-profit organization that promotes progressive education, recently issued its first report card of State education policies, a report card that counters those devised by conservative organizations funded by pro-privatization billionaires. Mother Jones writer Kristina Riga interviewed Diane Ravitch, the founder of NPE, on why a new report crd was needed… and as expected Ms. Ravitch made a compelling case.

There were all of these state reports coming out from right-wing groups like Students First and the American Legislative Exchange Council arguing that the definition of success is getting rid of public education and taking away any right that teachers might have. These create a climate when there is report card after report card agreeing that the future should be privately managed [charter] schools. There is nobody on the other side other than the unions, which are immediately discredited. There need to be two sides to the debate. Right now [the education conversation] is presented as what Students First is promoting is all that works.

We felt it was important to set up this other criteria and show how effective school systems operate: They are adequately funded, have preschools; they make sure that their teachers are professionals, and they don’t give away their authority. This is how the best nations in the world operate. They don’t operate through vouchers and charters.

Unsurprisingly, when the states were measured against the criteria NPE established, they fell short of the mark as the map below indicates:Maps

One of the factors Rizga flagged was the NPE data point that indicated the gap in spending per student in poor schools compared to rich schools had grown 44 percent in the last decade. Ms. Ravitch’s explanation for this widening gap?

One important reason is that the federal policy has tilted completely toward testing and accountability and away from equity. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 was all about equity and equitable resources for low-income students, and then in the 1990s that began to change. In DC, policymakers think that if we can only have high enough standards, tough enough tests, and hold people accountable, we can close the achievement gap. And it hasn’t happened. Yet the new law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, is based on the same test-based and market-driven framework and ideology, except it lets the states do it.

Ms. Ravitch could have also noted that when states cut back on their funding it has an especially devastating effect on those communities that do not have the local property tax base to offset the cuts and this exacerbates the difference between per pupil spending in rich districts and poor ones. Underfunded equalization formulas lose their impact, and almost every state has diminished their funding since the 2008 market collapse and few have restored their funding since the economy “recovered”.

In the coming months it would be heartening to see the NPE report card referenced in the mainstream media the way Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst Report Cards were promoted… but based on my Google feed it does not appear that local small town newspapers are reporting on NPE’s findings… but then more and more of those “small town” papers are owned by the people who are drawn to “reform” and want to believe that schools can be fixed by “getting rid of bad teachers” the same way that the deficit can be closed by “eliminating waste fraud and abuse”. Wishful thinking is always preferable to hard work.

AlterNet’s Calculations Accurate: USDOE Gave Charters $3,300,000,000+ over six years

February 4, 2016 Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago Alternate blogger Dustin Beilke wrote up his findings on the USDOE’s spending on charter schools in a post titled “Obama Administration Enables Billionaire Takeover of America’s Public Schools.” The article describes the Herculean effort required to get the figures from the USDOE and noted that absent the provision by the Department he and some colleagues calculated that $3,300,000,000 of taxpayers funds went to deregulated charter schools, many of which were for profit enterprises funded by billionaires. What happened next?

In October 2015, after waiting for incomplete answers from ED and state agencies, CMD published “Charter School Black Hole,” a special investigation of federal charter school spending and its links to ALEC.

Two months later, on Christmas Eve 2015, ED released a list of the charter schools that had received federal funding since 2006. The list was incomplete, the dollar figures were still unclear, and everyone knows that you release information on Christmas Eve because you don’t want anyone to see it. Still, it was something.

It WAS something… and Beilke was on the mark when he identified what it showed and what he concluded. The $3,300,000,000 spent on charters shows:

…the extent to which the Department of Education’s charter school agenda matches that of the anti-education, pro-privatization movement that funds and promotes so much of the misinformation about public education.

And as Beilke accurately concludes:

This movement already gets all the support it needs from the Waltons, the Koch brothers, the DeVos family, Bill and Melinda Gates, and tech billionaires.

Let’s put the taxpayers’ money to better use.

Why are we spending millions on for-profit charters while public schools are starved for funds and subject to hostile takeovers by “emergency managers”? Could campaign contributions play a role As always, it helps to follow the money….

NYTimes Catching On about Flint’s Water… But Still Misses Biggest Point

February 4, 2016 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes editorializes against the emergency manager legislation in Michigan noting the anti-demotic nature of the law and also noting that similar laws are on the books in several other states. But they miss one huge point: it’s no accident that laws establishing an emergency manager function were passed in several states: the oligarchs wrote the law and passed it along to governors they helped elect on the platform of being “open for business” and fighting “waste fraud and abuse”.

This law came right out of the ALEC playbook… and the ultimate purpose was to eviscerate public employee unions and privatize public functions like schools, police protection, fire fighting, and—yes— water. This kind of legislation takes money out of the pockets of middle class and transfers it to the shareholders of the private corporations and it does so through the totalitarian rule of an emergency manager who does not have to pay any attention to those affected by his or her desire to run cities and schools like a business. And here’s what’s even worse: the financial problems in the cities and schools where emergency managers are in place were often the result of cuts in State funds…. cuts made to fund the private sector. Alas, I do not expect Congress to do much about this: they, like their brethren in Michigan, are beholden to their donors who, in turn, are raking in profits thanks to tax cuts. It’s a vicious circle that is hard to break.

And here’s the VERY bad news for public education. As I am writing this the ALEC think tank is writing laws to help states introduce “reforms” in public education… reforms that will work in tandem with budget cuts to drive more and more districts into financial crises and into the oversight of the states where “innovations” like vouchers will be introduced to “help those in poverty” have choices outside the “public school monopoly” that feeds teachers at the expense of students.

Eduardo Porter Shares a Bi-Partisan Roadmap to End Poverty

February 3, 2016 Leave a comment

In his most recent NYTimes column, “Finding Common Political Ground on Poverty“, Eduardo Porter shares the findings of a team of policy advisors from both sides of the political spectrum who met over a 14 month period to devise a set of goals they could both accept. While the exercise was an academic one, the participants held antithetical views on poverty. Porter summarizes the differing perspectives thusly:

To the left, deprivation is caused mostly by factors beyond the control of the poor. These include globalization that undercut good jobs previously within the reach of the less educated, an educational system segregated by race and class, lack of parental resources, discrimination, excessive use of prison.

Experts on the right, by contrast, put a lot of the weight on personal responsibility, often faulting the bad choices of the poor. And government support, by providing the poor with an income with few strings attached, has made their choices worse.

The bold faced phrases are those that serve as a good synthesis of each side’s solutions when it comes to public education policy. The progressive left (as opposed to the neo-liberal left, which holds the same views of the right) sees the need for wraparound services at an early age to mitigate the factors that children born into poverty face while neo-liberals and the right (a.k.a. “the reformers”) see choice as the solution. In making school choice available, the “reformers” can sidestep the root causes of poverty and blame the parents of poor children for making bad choices when it comes to rearing their children.

The middle ground the policy advisors found was employment opportunities for those in poverty. Both sides agreed (to varying degrees) that a boost in the minimum wage was needed to provide anyone working with a living wage and that song incentives needed to be in place to encourage the creation and sustaining of intact families. Mr. Porter describes the middle ground in this paragraph:

Many liberals are still skeptical that encouraging marriage will do much to help the poor, but most have come to accept that the children of intact families have a better shot in life. Some conservatives have come to acknowledge that though the push to tie work requirements to public assistance may have made sense in the booming 1990s, the approach might require adjustments to fit the present, less dynamic economy.

The one problem that was not addressed? Funding. Mr. Porter concludes his essay with this:

There is another hurdle that may be even harder to overcome: money. The report’s “close tax expenditures” approach to financing useful proposals has become the standard Hail Mary pass. But given all the interests with a stake in the present tax system, it never seems to muster much support.

As Mr. Strain put it, “it’s impossible to deny that conservatives want to spend less money than liberals.” Indeed, when House Speaker Paul D. Ryan proposed expanding the earned-income tax credit, he favored paying for it by cutting funds for other anti-poverty efforts.

Still, it is worth seeking a deal. If the Democrats retain the White House while the Republicans maintain their grip on Congress, neither party will be able to dominate Washington policy making. For the poor, a compromise along these lines would be a lot better than doing nothing.

A compromise would be better for EVERYONE in the country… because doing nothing will lead to more situations like the water crisis in Flint, will perpetuate the vicious cycle of poverty, and widen the ever increasing divide between the .1% and the rest of the nation.

College President from Finance Has Solution to Drop Out Rate: “Drown the Bunnies”

February 2, 2016 Leave a comment

Bravo to The Mountain Echo, Mount St Mary College’s student newspaper, for publishing an account of their newly appointed college President’s plan to increase the college’s retention rate by pre-emptively culling out students likely to drop out before they counted as part of the statistical baseline. Applying logic that, from all accounts, works well in the private sector, newly appointed college President Simon Newman devised a plan to identify likely failures as soon as possible and counsel them out of school quickly. Here’s an overview of the plan Mr. Newman devised and the purpose for it:

By a certain time into the first semester, the federal government requires colleges to issue a report on the number of students enrolled. This number is the baseline used to calculate drop out rates. For Mt. St. Mary’s that date was September 25.

In an effort to lower that baseline figure by 20-25 students, Mr. Newman developed and administered a survey that all newly enrolled students would take. The students and teachers were told this survey was “…developed by a leadership team here at The Mount, and it is based on some of the leading thinking in the area of personal motivation and key factors that determine motivation, success, and happiness. We will ask you some questions about yourself that we would like you to answer as honestly as possible. There are no wrong answers.” What the teachers weren’t told initially was that these survey results would be used to help identify students at risk of dropping out of college. In a subsequent email to President, the college Dean, after learning the true purpose of the survey posed this question:

“If this is not an anonymous survey, nor even a confidential personality test, but a highly intrusive, and misleadingly framed administrative tool, can we proceed without disclosing to our students’ what’s at stake?”

The Dean was not the only administrator who questioned the plan. There was strong opposition from most of the cabinet once they found out the true purpose of the test. One of the strongest opponents of this was Dr. Greg Murry, who headed a program for incoming freshman. Hurry was even more appalled when President Newman asked him to compile a list of freshmen whom professors in his program “…had determined were not likely to complete their freshman year successfully.”

This pushback led to a meeting with three of those officials and the President, a meeting that included this exchange and sequence of events:

According to Murry, during the course of the conversation, Newman said, “This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t.  You just have to drown the bunnies…put a Glock to their heads.”

Economics professor Dr. John Larrivee was also present and confirmed Murry’s account of the conversation with Newman.

Sources close to the president’s culling plan also confirm that the Mount Cares Committee was asked to provide names of freshmen to be dismissed.

Ultimately, the president’s plan was thwarted as no names were provided by the extended Oct. 2 deadline. “We simply ran out the clock,” Murry said.

A banker who came from an industry that heartlessly issued bogus mortgages to unsuspecting homeowners might not view students as “cuddly bunnies” and might be willing to “put a Glock to their heads” in order to get better numbers for US News and World Report, but fortunately for the students at Mt. St. Mary’s their administrative team defied the edict from the president.

This whole sequence of events is a good metaphor for the way charters cook their numbers… they intimidate and repeatedly suspend students who can’t “meet their standards” and build up their graduation rates by leaving a trail of “voluntary transfers” behind. Fortunately for our country, public school teachers still think of their students as cuddly bunnies.

h/t to Diane Ravitch and Peter Greene

Chris Hedges “Pity the Children” Underscores Need to Change Schooling to Address Violence

February 1, 2016 Leave a comment

Truthdig blogger Chris Hedges writes prolifically and forcefully about the dystopia we have created for those living in poverty and the urgent need for action. “Pity the Children“, his post today, does just that. Using the life story of a young man convicted of murder and sentenced to 35 years in prison, data on crime and poverty, and the writings of criminologist Lonnie Athens and a book about Mr. Athens by Richard Rhodes, Hedges paints a picture of our country that is distressing:

Violent criminals are socialized into violence. And a society that permits this to take place is culpable. Over 15 million of our children go to bed hungry. Every fifth child (16.1 million) in America is poor. Every 10th child (7.1 million) is extremely poor. We have 25 percent of the world’s prison population. We have scaled back or cut social services, including welfare. Our infrastructures—including our inner-city schools, little more than warehouses—are crumbling. Police regularly gun down unarmed people in the streets. The poor spend years, sometimes lifetimes, without meaningful work or nurturing environments. And these forms of state violence fuel acts of personal violence…

In past societies, such as medieval Europe—where corporal punishment, especially of children, was widespread, along with domestic violence, sexual abuse, public floggings and executions—there was a corresponding higher rate of violent crime. In 13th-century England, Rhodes points out in his book on Lonnie Athens, “the national homicide rate was around 18 to 23 per 100,000.” The United States has a homicide rate of 4.5 per 100,000. But when you look at impoverished inner cities you find homicide rates that are astronomical. St. Louis has a homicide rate of 59.23 per 100,000, Baltimore 54.98 per 100,000, and Detroit 43.89 per 100,000. Some impoverished neighborhoods within American cities have even higher homicide rates. West Garfield Park in Chicago, for example, with 18,000 people, had 21 murders last year. This gives the neighborhood a homicide rate of 116 per 100,000 people.

Hedges, a radical writer who strongly opposes the neoliberal direction our nation has taken, does not believe things need to be this way. We do not have to impose austerity measures on the poor, cut their social services, and abandon them to commit murders against each other. Given his strong assertion that violent criminals are socialized into violence, a premise that drives the work of Lonnie Athens, he sees a way we could pull people into the world we live in and develop a future that is less dystopian than the current course we are on today.

Violent criminals, like all of us, begin as vulnerable, fragile children. They are made. They are repeatedly violated and traumatized as children, often to the point of numbness. And as adults they turn on a world that violated them, as the criminologist Lonnie Athens—himself raised in a violent household—has pointed out.

All of us, Athens says, carry within us phantom communities, those personalities and experiences that shape us and tell us how to interpret the world. The impact of these phantom communities, Athens writes, “is no less than [that of] the people who are present during our social experiences.” The phantom community, Athens says, is “where someone is coming from.” When your phantom community is a place of violence, you act out with violence. Violent criminal behavior is not a product of race. It is not even, finally, a product of poverty. It is a product of repeated acts of violence by figures of authority, including the state, upon the child.

And Hedges catalogs the way the State as it is constructed now bring violence into the lives of children by placing too many of them in overcrowded and dysfunctional foster homes, placing most of them in dilapidated and underfunded schools, and by shortchanging the very social services that could serve as a lifeline to them. The solution?

“Give the poor a chance economically by providing jobs, integrate them into the social order, provide vigorous protection and quality education for children, make possible a life of dignity for families, secure neighborhoods, end mass incarceration. If those things are done, violent crime and drug addiction will dissipate. If we continue down the road of neoliberalism and austerity, violent crime and drug addiction—the way many of the broken cope with the stress, humiliation and despair of poverty—will grow.”

For schools this does not mean more tests or more “no excuses” schooling, for those both look like the work of authority figures imposing themselves on children in the same way the violent community does so in their everyday lives. Hedges and Athens both want to introduce love and compassion into shelves of those being raised in violence… and and both believe if we continue down our current path we are doing it at our peril.