“Follow the Money” was the advice Deep Throat gave Woodward and Bernstein in the book All The President’s Men. NYTimes reporter Kate Taylor did just that in researching her article titled “Groups that Back Bloomberg’s Education Agenda Enjoy Great Success in Albany” and here’s what she found: three individuals who are on the Board of StudentsFirstNY, the lobbying group that advocates for “Bloomberg’s Education Agenda” contributed over $250,000 to Cuomo’s re-election campaign and are in the process of amassing a “War Chest” to make certain legislators who believe in “Bloomberg’s Education Agenda” are elected in 2016 so that Cuomo can pass the bills that will permanently enshrine those policies. And what are those policies?
Making teacher evaluations more dependent on test scores, reforming tenure and increasing the number of charter schools in the city were all priorities of StudentsFirstNY and became significant pieces of the governor’s agenda for the 2015 legislative session, which he announced in his State of the State speech on Jan. 21.
This Governor, who managed to undercut any competition from the progressive voters in the State by winning the endorsement of the Working Families Party by promising to work tirelessly to get a Democrat majority in the Senate, acted to implement an education agenda from a group that was working twice as hard (and spending millions of dollars) to accomplish the same goal. From here, it appears that Mr. Cuomo used none of his political capital to promote ANY Democrat running for the Senate and used lots of capital from StudentsFirstNY to implement the market-based for-profit model Bloomberg advocates.
And the billionaires funding StudentsFirstNY did act alone in advancing “Bloomberg’s Education Agenda” in Albany. Taylor’s article also profiles Families for Excellent Schools. who are they and what do they stand for? Taylor writes:
Last year, it spent $9.6 million on lobbying, more than any other entity in the state, according to state records. Much of this money was spent on advertisements attacking Mr. de Blasio for his opposition to charter schools and a later ad praising Mr. Cuomo for coming to their aid.
The group has also become closely associated with Eva S. Moskowitz, the chief executive of Success Academy, the city’s biggest charter school network, and one of Mr. de Blasio’s sharpest critics.
Families for Excellent Schools is approved by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)3 organization, referring to the section of the tax code regarding charities, meaning that donations are tax-deductible, and, under New York State law, it need not disclose donors.
So two lobbying groups, one of whom spent more than “any other entity in the State”, are promoting the “Bloomberg Education Agenda” and StudentsFirstNY has extraordinary influence in legislation:
(StudentsFirstNY) is so plugged into the capital that (it’s Executive Director) Ms. Sedlis has sometimes served as a go-between among different government offices, relaying messages and scouting information about education bills being considered.
When the Executive Director of a lobbying group that has three board members who donated $250,000 to the Governor’s campaign serves “…as a go-between among different government offices” it appears that our government has been bought and sold. Here’s hoping the NYTimes digs a little deeper to follow the money and amplify its corrosive effect on legislation.
As noted in previous posts, corporations threaten to move in order to get PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) agreements for existing sites to reduce paying local and/or state property taxes. The costs for services are then shifted to taxpayers, many of whom do not connect the dots on the cause of their tax increases and/or want to retain their jobs but don’t want to pick up the costs shifted to their neighbors. This article describes even more blatant examples of tax avoidance. Shame on all those corporations who complain about “bad schools” and then diminish the resources by avoiding state and local taxes.
University of Chicago Report Hails RTTT’s Results: “Reform” Policies Adopted With No Proof of Efficacy
A recent report written by the University of Chicago was hailed in a recent web site post with this headline: “Race to the Top Initiative Spurs US Education Policy Reform, Report Finds“. The University of Chicago’s late economist Milton Friedman is the father of the voucher movement, and the fact that his former home base is writing favorable reports about RTTT is not surprising, especially given the definition of the RTTT’s goals as they report them:
Race to the Top was designed to encourage higher state standards, create new data systems, improve teacher effectiveness, increase college readiness, stimulate charter-school expansion and strengthen low-performing schools.
According to the press release/web page, a study conducted at the University of Chicago by William Howell shows that one of the primary means of accomplishing this goal, policy changes at the State level, was a success:
In order to see whether Race to the Top stimulated the adoption of education reforms, Howell and a team of researchers examined whether a statewide governing body had actually enacted (not just proposed) upwards of 33 qualifying policies each year between 2001 and 2014. They found that states enacted reform policies at a much higher rate in the aftermath of Race to the Top.
A “team of researchers” was not needed to make this determination: the USDOE would not grant waivers unless such policies were adopted by State Boards and, given the desperate need for additional funds for schools in the aftermath of the crash in 2008 it did not take a herd of Ph.D. s to “research” this finding. A group of undergraduates could do it by spending an hour with Google. The next sentence in the web posting shows where the researchers should have spent some time:
Howell clarifies that the study “does not assess the efficacy of the particular policies promoted by the initiative, nor does it investigate how Race to the Top altered practices within schools or districts. Rather, the focus is the education policymaking process itself; the adoption of education policies is the outcome of interest.”
It is what Howell DIDN’T research that is the most germane question to answer as Congress considers the reauthorization of ESEA because the reauthorization is based on the same premises as NCLB and RTTT: the way to prepare more students for the workplace or college and to improve “low performing schools” is to set higher standards, collect more data on students (especially data from standardized tests), improve teaching in schools, and open more charter schools. Is there proof to support this? If there IS, the University of Chicago is not looking for it…. and if there IS no one running for office is championing it. On the contrary, both the University of Chicago research team and a herd of President candidates, and the US Congress assume that despite evidence to the contrary, the continuation of the “solutions” based on testing students and punishing and/or replacing “failing schools” is imperative. If we keep wishing for this to work it will…. just like if we keep wishing the global temperatures would decline they will.
David Bornstein’s Fixes column yesterday, “Teaching Social Skills to Improve Grades and Lives“, describes several studies that demonstrate a positive relationships between positive social skills and a host of positive outcomes from school. After describing the studies and their findings, Bornstein writes:
These studies suggest that if we want many more children to lead fulfilling and productive lives, it’s not enough for schools to focus exclusively on academics. Indeed, one of the most powerful and cost-effective interventions is to help children develop core social and emotional strengths like self-management, self-awareness and social awareness — strengths that are necessary for students to fully benefit from their education, and succeed in many other areas of life.
The conclusion of the article described the efforts of the Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, also known as Casel, which has been working for three to four years to help school districts embed social and emotional learning throughout their systems and described ongoing studies in this arena. The description of one of the studies caught my eye:
This year, researchers from Teachers College at Columbia University did some number crunching to estimate the economic value of six different social and emotional learning programs that had strong track records. They looked at the programs’ impact on things like future wages and social costs (pdf), and found that the programs yielded an average return of $11 for each dollar invested.
It’s a shame that our obsession with measurement and economic value are the means of “proving” the worth of civility and self-awareness…. and a shame that these same obsessions are compelling us to measure the effectiveness of Kindergarten teachers by the amount of reading and math students are learning and to measure the effectiveness of college by the post-graduate job placements. Civility and self-awareness are skills that schools should be inculcating explicitly, but they are often viewed as by-products instead of ends in themselves. Schools only have a limited time with children, and using that time to teach skills that could be learned through programmed instruction (e.g. basic math and reading skills) seems like a waste of teacher talent. We’re so obsessed with “getting ready for college and careers” by the end of 12 years that we overlook the most important elements of life: getting along with others and understanding ourselves.