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Walton’s Acknowledge Failure of On-Line For-Profit Charters… But STILL Believe in the Business Model

February 11, 2016 Leave a comment

The Walton Foundation, major investors in for-profit charter schools, recently commissioned three reports on cyber-charters each of which concluded that on-line learning was a failure. As reported by Alternate blogger Steve Rosenfield and cross-posted on Naked Capitalism the findings were summarized in a recent op-ed article in Education Week:

“If virtual charters were grouped together and ranked as a single school district, it would be the ninth largest in the country and among the worst performing,” co-wrote Walton’s Marc Sternberg and Marc Holley, respectively the foundation’s director of educational giving and its evaluation unit director, in a recent Education Weekcommentary. “Online education must be reimagined. Ignoring the problem—or worse, replicating failures—serves nobody.

As Rosenfield notes, “re-imagining” is not the same as “eliminating” and Walton the Walton Foundation operatives call for regulation of on-line charters falls short of calling for regulating for-profit charters, a distinction that is not accidental.

One could spend hours speculating why this might be, but the most clear-cut answers relate to money: as in, too many important people are making money from what can only be described as one of the biggest education scams pushed upon taxpayers in recent years by Wall Street and Silicon Valley.

I see a place for technology in schools. As one who sat through hours of movies in high school history and science classes in the 1960s an one who sat in huge lecture halls in college and graduate school I can see the promise of flipped instruction once all homes and dormitories have broadband. As one who taught middle school mathematics to urban students in the early 1970s I can see the potential for having on-line supplementary learning in class rooms in order to match the curriculum to the wildly diverse skill levels of students and to differentiate the lessons to match students learning styles. I can even see a place for asynchronous on-line instruction for students who have the capability to work independently… just as many people in the private sector participate in webinars when the time is right for them. But I am not at all surprised the wholesale use of on-line instruction is a dismal failure for, as Rosenfield notes, most teenagers are incapable of applying themselves and many have parents who will not oversee the learning at home:

Go back to the teenagers you know. If you put them in front of computers, told them to read a bunch of stuff and absorb it, gave them assignments with future deadlines, and mostly left them alone to do all of this, how soon do you think it would be before they were texting friends, watching videos and doing everything teens do instead of doing their homework?

…(these) findings are saying cyber charter schools mostly abandon kids, have far-off teachers, have trouble keeping students focused, and end up relying on parents—all of which it suggests might be “reason for concern.”

Despite these obvious drawbacks, on-line learning is especially appealing to those who seek profits because the overhead is incredibly low and the profit margins incredibly high… and some of those profits can be channelled into campaign contributions that help State legislators make up their minds. Moreover, since the costs to operate charters ARE low, they can operate at discounted rates which means that legislators can limit spending on schools and point to the efficient charters as examples of public education’s profligacy. It’s a vicious circle that feeds the shareholders and “starves the east” of public funding.

So don’t be surprised if ALEC starts introducing legislation to lightly regulate on-line charters and for-profit charters start taking steps to limiting enrollees so that they can boost their pass rates… and the vicious circle will continue rolling…

 

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.

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….

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.

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.

Resegregation Facilitated by Charters? Not to Worry “..because “this is not the civil rights era.”

January 31, 2016 Leave a comment

Washington Post blogger Valerie Strauss’ post today discusses School Choice Week and, as her headline accurately notes, “What passes for acceptable school choice rhetoric is appalling”. Ms. Strauss’ opening section of her post includes this concise description of pro and anti choice groups:

School choice proponents say that charter schools (including ones run by for-profit companies) offer parents important options for their children’s education and that traditional public schools have failed in many places. School choice opponents say that school choice is aimed at privatizing the public education system and that many of the choices being offered are not well-regulated, sometimes discriminatory and siphon funding away from local school districts.  

She then reprints a blog post from Sarah Lahm, a Minneapolis based writer who formerly worked in public education, who attended a National School Choice Forum at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis… and what she heard would have enraged the namesake of that institution. From my perspective as a progressive, however, it was not surprising.

Ms. Lahm noted that she was disappointed at the lack of bi-partisanship because the panelists consisted of one Democrat who was an advocate of charter schools, one right-leaning Republican, plus one far-right lawyer who wholeheartedly endorsed public funding of religiously affiliated charter schools. Ms. Lahm “...quickly realized how thoroughly (bipartisanship) has become cover for groupthink. If both Democrats and Republicans support the dismantling of our public institutions, then shouldn’t you, too?” Any progressive observing the passage of the “bipartisan” Every Child Succeeds Legislation” rallies that ESSA, like NCLB and RTTT before it implicitly– but perhaps more subtly— supports the dismantling of public schools. It succeeded because neoliberal thinking has captured the center and consequently both Democrats and Republicans support the notion that markets can solve every problem and save every child…. and charter schools are predicated on the notion that schools, like groceries and hardware supplies, are commodities.

And one of the major consequences of the commodification of schools is the notion that segregation is a choice made by consumers. A concept that was appallingly underscored in this section of Lahm’s post:

The morning’s panel began with a quick dismissal of the desegregation lawsuit filed in Minnesota last fall, which, if successful, could require the state’s charter schools to develop and implement integration plans. The panelists seemed to agree that the resegregation happening across the country now is simply due to “parental choice.” Reichgott Junge — the Democrat — declared herself “not neutral” on this topic, and told the audience not to worry because “this is not the civil rights era.” 

Given the free market attitude of charter school providers, Ms. Junge is right, this is NOT the civil rights era… it’s the New Jim Crow era where African American “consumers” are “choosing” to live in neighborhoods full of substandard housing or in dilapidated housing projects while affluent whites “consumers” are choosing to live in pristine suburbs. It’s the same as the bad old days before Brown vs. Board of Education where blacks chose separate but equal schools.

Ms. Lahm, sitting in a forum in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis wonders:

What would our education policy discussions be like today, if America had turned out “less Reaganite” and “more Humphreyish”? The hammering narrative of failure, applied with force to our nation’s public school system, found fertile groundin the Reagan era, of course, through the hyped “Nation at Risk” report. That report helped propel America away from further investment in public schools, and towards school choice schemes (hint: privatization).

Now we have another crossroads: will we sustain the legacy of Ronald Reagan and the free market neoliberalism he espoused or find out what America could be if it were “more Humphreyish”? The next few weeks will tell us.