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Two Profs and Provost Who Protested College President’s Call to Drown Cuddly Bunnies are Dismissed

February 10, 2016 Leave a comment

In a reprehensible action, the President of Mount Saint Mary’s (MSM) College dismissed two professors and the college provost who protested his request that teachers submit lists of incoming Freshmen who were likely fail their classes after only one month on campus. As reported in a ThinkProgress article by Byron Dewan, first year MSM President Simon Newman, a former private equity CEO who earned his MBA from Stanford, fired the tenured professors and “celebrated provost David Rehm”, all of who had (ahem) coincidentally expressed concerns over Mr. Newman’s plan to identify probable drop-outs early to boost MSM’s retention rate and thereby boost their ranking in the USNews and World Report college rankings. This paragraph recounts the blunt advice Mr. Newman offered:

Several months ago, Newman asked professors for a list of students unlikely to succeed in college, and told college administrators to have “a frank discussion” with them about the prospects of finishing their degrees. Students in that group who dropped out before a certain date could receive a refund on their tuition. Newman has reportedly shown little, if any, sympathy for struggling Mount St. Mary’s students, as evidenced by his remarks to skeptical colleagues that “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.”

This isn’t over yet… but it echoes the charges brought against NYC Charters who ruthlessly push out low performing students and offers  yet another example of how running an education enterprise like a business drowns innocent students who may end up putting Glocks to the economy… or our heads.

The Lesson from Flint: Deregulation is Good for Business But Bad for our Health

February 9, 2016 Leave a comment

Over the past two days, the NYTimes ran two articles about drinking water that should make every American get on the phone to their State and Federal legislators and demand more testing of water and a massive investment in the infrastructure that provides us with see drinking water.

What the Science Says about the Long Term Damage from LeadAaron E. Carroll’s Upshot article in yesterday’s paper should be a wake up call for those who want to see improvement in our public schools. Carroll reviews the research linking lead contamination with this lead-off:

Jessica Wolpaw Reyes, a leading expert on the effects of lead exposure in children, found that not only did elevated lead levels correspond to low achievement test scores in third and fourth grade, but also that communities where people managed to lower their lead levels in the 1990s saw increased scores in the 2000s.

Carroll then offers a synopsis of decades of research on the impact of lead before circling back to Ms. Reyes in depth studies on how the impact that goes beyond the classroom:

The damage associated with lead exposure goes far beyond schooling. In a paper published in Economic Inquiry last year, Ms. Reyes used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to examine the possible link between lead exposure in early childhood and later behavioral outcomes. She found that, even after controlling for other factors, high blood lead levels were associated with increased oppositional, hyperactive and bullying behaviors in children.

Teenagers who had high lead levels in childhood were more likely to have had sex by 13, be pregnant by age 17 and smoke or drink while in their early teens. There is even some evidence of a connection to crime.

While he doesn’t assign a specific price tag to the cost of fixing our infrastructure, Carroll does give a sense of the scope of the problem:

Ms. Reyes emailed me: “Once the lead has been mobilized from the pipes, it’s not so easy to put it back: Lead may continue leaching into the water for some time. Further, water filters have finite capacity, and filters dealing with heavily contaminated water may need to be changed more often than every three months.”

Moreover, too much lead is still around in old paint in deteriorating housing. It’s still in the soil from when lead was commonly airborne from exhaust. Until we solve the lead problem for good, we may be condemning children to a lifetime of problems. Flint is just the latest example.

Today’s NYTimes has a lengthy article by Michael Wines and John Schwartz that elaborates on the problems with lead poisoning and describes the legislative inertia that makes it highly unlikely that this problem will be addressed any time soon. They outline the scope of the problem, which is daunting:

The Environmental Protection Agency says streams tapped by water utilities serving a third of the population are not yet covered by clean-water laws that limit levels of toxic pollutants. Even purified water often travels to homes through pipes that are in stunning disrepair, potentially open to disease and pollutants.

Although Congress banned lead water pipes 30 years ago, between 3.3 million and 10 million older ones remain, primed to leach lead into tap water by forces as simple as jostling during repairs or a change in water chemistry.

And while one would hope Flint MI’s case would serve as a wake up call, nothing of the sort has happened. Indeed, Congress not only ignored the problems with the sources of drinking water in the nation, they attempted to pass laws to weaken the oversight of water! Why? Wines and Schwartz summarize the problem with this sentence:

Efforts to address shortcomings often encounter pushback from industries like agriculture and mining that fear cost increases, and from politicians ideologically opposed to regulation.

So the corporate bottom line is more important than the lives of thousands of children and the principle that unregulated  capitalism is necessary is unshaken despite the evidence that it creates suffering among those who cannot find good jobs and live in underfunded communities with obsolete and unsafe infrastructure. And the problem isn’t going to go away and the cost to fix it will be high:

The (EPA’s independent Drinking Water) advisory group also urged the E.P.A. to require water systems to eventually replace all lead pipes, but it did not address the main obstacle to that goal: cost. At $5,000 per pipe, by one estimate, that would consume between $16.5 billion and $50 billion — and that is but a fraction of the $384 billion in deferred maintenance the E.P.A. says is needed by 2030 to keep drinking water safe.

Erik D. Olson, head of the health and environment program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: “You think our roads and bridges aren’t being fixed? The stuff underground is just totally ignored. We’re mostly living off the investment of our parents and grandparents for our drinking water supply.”

Will my generation do the right thing and make the investment in drinking water that previous generations made on our behalf? My hopes for such a change of heart are low, but maybe when we see the need to protect our grandchildren from the ill effects of poor drinking water we might be willing to make a small sacrifice. If my investments and my social security incomes don’t grow quite as fast, it would be well worth it.

Jonathan Pelto: In Connecticut, Follow the Money

February 9, 2016 Leave a comment

As I wrote a couple of days ago,” I am certain the Governor and the legislature realize when the state education funds are cut the children who suffer most are those who live in towns and cities that cannot raise local property taxes because they do not have the economic wherewithal to do so. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

Welcome to the wonderful world of ESSA… where the oligarchs get a chance to set the policy for public schools state-by-state…

Diane Ravitch's blog

Governor Dannell Malloy of Connecticut sold his soul to hedge fund managers and corporate reformers.

Jonathan Pelto reports the tawdry details:

“Call it the new American Way. The billionaires, millionaires and corporate elite who fund charter schools give generously to Democratic and Republican politicians and the politicians return the favor by shifting public funds into the coffers of the privately owned, but publicly funded charter schools.

“Here is in Connecticut the system was clearly on display last week when Governor Dannel Malloy and his sidekick, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, rolled out their new “austerity budget” for 2016-2017.

“In classic fashion their plan slashes the full array of vital services while giving the wealthy yet another tax break. Their plan makes absolutely no effort, what-so-ever, to require Connecticut’s richest resident to pay their fair share in taxes.

“But their budget certainly targets the middle class and all of Connecticut’s working families, along…

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Connecticut Governor’s Funding Decision is Harbinger of ESSA’s Failures

February 7, 2016 Leave a comment

Diane Ravtich wrote a post with a link to an article by Jacqueline Rabe Thomas in Friday’s Connecticut Mirror titled “(Governor) Malloy: Increase Charter school, Cut Neighborhood School Funding”… which is a great way to frame the way funds flow. Fiscal conservatives— both Democrat neoliberals and Republican libertarians— claim to want decisions made at the local level, a claim that is overridden by their passion to run schools like a business. Fiscal conservative’s demand for efficiency in all government operations combined with their faith in market forces makes the model of deregulated charter schools appealing. Deregulate charters can provide the commodity of education much more cheaply than “government run” schools with their bureaucracies, unions, and legacy costs. Their faith in the market leads them to believe that if we break the stranglehold the government has on schools, we can lower taxes and introduce innovations that would otherwise wither on the vine. Branding the schools as “government run” helps the fiscal conservatives make their case… but labelling them as “neighborhood schools” makes it clear that by abandoning public education taxpayers are abandoning their control over what transpires within the four walls of their local institution and may lead to its demise.

The article itself is stomach turning. Mr. Malloy, in an effort to appease those in the legislature who complained bitterly when he markedly increased charter spending at the expense of public schools a year ago, promised to include an increase for public education in this years’ budget— a promise he rescinded. The State’s commissioner of education, an appointee of the Governor, defended the decision to cut public schools while adding millions to charters thusly:

“Those are kids that we made promises to. If we made a promise that a fourth grader is going to have a fifth grade to go to in the same school, then we need to keep that promise,” said Wentzell.

So, the kids in charter schools were promised the ability to continue in their school with the same amount of money and that promise is more important than the requirement that all the other children in the state deserve more funding to sustain the programs in place? And, as I am certain the Governor and the legislature realize, when the state education funds are cut the children who suffer most are those who live in towns and cities that cannot raise local property taxes because they do not have the economic wherewithal to do so. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

One last note: Thanks to ESSA, Malloy and his friends in the legislature get to make MORE decisions about the fate of public schools… and so do Walker, Brownback, Rauner, Kasich, Cuomo, Christie, Abbot…. you get the picture… The federal government is aiding and abetting this distortion of funding that is exacerbating the economic divide that cripples our nation’s progress, a distortion they once were committed to fixing.

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

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….