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Posts Tagged ‘Economic Issues’

Privatization: A Demonstrably Bad Idea

October 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Two blog posts yesterday described a report released Wednesday by the Center for Media and Democracy titled “Outsourcing America Exposed“. For any readers who are skeptical about the belief that “if we just get rid of government and replace it with the private sector, everything will run a whole lot better”, I suggest reading Thom Hartmann’s “A Red Privatization Horror Story”  posted on his blog. It describes the debacle of deregulated for profit charter schools in FL and PA and demonstrates that:

Ultimately, private corporations are only interested in making money and are only really accountable to their shareholders, not “We the People.” The way they see it, it doesn’t matter if prisoners have to eat rotten meat, if students get a crappy education, or if for-profit hospitals like the ones in Texas don’t have proper staffing. All that matters is making a quick buck, and if that means screwing over the public, then so be it.

The only bone I had to pick with Hartmann was this sentence:

And Republicans will never change their mind about selling the commons off to the highest bidder, because from the Republican point of view, these aren’t scandals or horror stories, they’re success stories.

As I wrote in a comment I left, the Democrat party is just as willing to sell the commons when it comes to public education, and that is a real problem for those of us who believe all children are entitled to the same kind of public education as the most affluent children in this country receive.

Alas, Common Dreams writer Dierdre Fulton also overlooked the outsourcing of public education in her article, focussing on prisons, legal costs, and water in her article, which included this quote:

Some experts estimate that $1 trillion out of the $6 trillion that federal, state, and local governments spend annually are handed over to private contractors, according to the Center.

The lack of coverage about deregulated for profit charter schools doesn’t reflect the report they are highlighting, which cited ALEC’s support for online for-profit charters and their well documented failures in OH, PA, and FL. IF public education becomes privatized, taxpayers should be aware that more of their trillions of dollars will be going to private for-profit contractors and given the choice, those contractors will be more interested in satisfying their shareholders than meeting the needs of the taxpayers… and they can’t be voted out of office.

Teaching Fear

October 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Yesterday as I was driving into town from our home in rural NH with my wife I observed that cars were waiting at the end of dead-end streets and fairly long driveways to meet elementary school children as they got off the school bus. We recalled our disembarking from the bus and that of our children when we lived in situations where the bus picked them up and could only recall a handful of times that we met our children at bus stops and could recall no times when we were met by our parents at bus stops. I lamented that the parents who waited daily for their children were implicitly teaching their children fear and dependence: by waiting for them on a sunny fall day they were conveying the idea that it was unsafe for them to be outdoors on their own— even to walk from the bus stop to their home.

I read a CBS news account this morning that Baltimore County is installing an “integrated camera network (that) gives police an inside view of school buildings” in each of its schools and is “on a fast track to outfit middle and high schools, with an additional $9.5 million of improvements, including a card identification system.”

An incident in one of the schools in the district serving well over 100,000 students prompted the action which will require over $10,000,000 in equipment and an unreported amount in personnel cost… assuming someone will be watching the footage on a daily basis and/or notifying parents when a child fails to swipe a card at the entrance or exit of the school.

Here’s what concerns me: as relatively well off as Baltimore County is, I’m sure that teachers would rather see $10,000,000+ spent on additional teaching staff, guidance staff, and classroom upgrades than cameras and security staff. And once the cameras and security staff are in place there is very little chance that they will be kept in disrepair or cut from the budget. If taxpayers want to provide security in schools they should be willing to pay for it in a separate budget so that security dollars are not forced to compete against instructional and support dollars.

Public education has always included a hidden curriculum… and increasingly fear of “the other” and the acceptance of 24/7 surveillance is now part of the hidden common core.

Why We’re Losing the Global Education Battle

October 6, 2014 Leave a comment

If you want to see the antithesis of the US version of workforce preparation look no further than Germany, a country that a Think Progress post reported has eliminated all fees associated with attending college. Why, because they want to address the issue of inequality and they saw the $630/year fees a hindrance for many students who were qualified to get into school.

I know that Germany has a different system for determining which students are eligible to attend college, one that is based on national standardized tests. But there are other differences as well. Where we have unpaid internships Germany has paid apprenticeships. Where our country wants to have market forces applied to post-secondary public education (AND K-12 education) Germany’s government and businesses fund programs to ensure that all youth can transition into the workforce. And the result: the last time I looked Germany had the strongest economy in the EU and a standard of living that rivals what we once had before the .1% hollowed out the middle class by off-shoring employment in the name of efficiency.

In the system, students without the financial wherewithal or the necessary educational background to attend post-secondary school after the age of 18 are enticed to take on debt for schooling that includes non-credit bearing remedial education and/or degrees that are worthless in terms of gaining employment. At the same time, instead of the traditional paid apprenticeships that exist in Germany our country has unpaid internships and a galaxy of low-paying service jobs designed to prevent the employees from qualifying for health benefit and a living wage.

I believe we could develop a hybrid system that draws from the best elements of the German schooling and our more libertarian system that would reintroduce equal opportunity into our public education. If we abandoned the notion that examinations determining entry into post secondary schooling or the workforce must be taken at a certain age level, replaced all unpaid internships with work-study jobs, and adopted the idea that passing an entry exam would qualify a student for full tuition or full-time employment, we would create an incentive for students to persevere in public schooling until they can pass a mastery test that qualifies them for workforce entry or entry into a fully funded post-secondary school. A rational individual, given the choice of taking on debt to attend a school that does not guarantee a wage to pay-off the debt, working part-time at a dead-end job, or scrabbling out an existence might opt for the latter… and that appears to be what is happening in our country today. Ironically, a market economy depends on rational consumer behavior, even if that rational behavior is not good for society as a whole. The best way to break this cycle of dropping out of the workforce is to have the government create meaningful work for those no longer seeking employment, work that would be funded with the profits accumulated by those who are benefitting from today’s debtors. Oh… that’s right… I forgot… government can’t be part of the solution because government is the problem!

Over the past several days I’ve written posts describing the profiteering in post-secondary education, blogged on countless occasions decrying the movement to privatize K-12 education, and frequently lamented our country’s lack of faith in government. Germany shows one way a country can establish a system that promotes equal opportunity. Maybe our education policy makers need to borrow some ideas from one of our competitors who seems to be doing a better job preparing for the future and creating a system where equal opportunity is valued.

Privatization + Deregulation = Debt

October 5, 2014 Leave a comment

An Upshot article by Kevin Carey in today’s NYTimes describes how for for-profit post-secondary institutions prey on unemployed and naive high school graduates who are seeking jobs in the medical field. The best way to summarize the article into an algebraic equation is this:

Privatization + Deregulation = Debt

The deregulated post-secondary education “system” is rife with institutions that provide programs that are superfluous, costly, and fully funded by the federal government when a student defaults on loans. The poster child for this abuse is in the training of medical assistants, an area where there will be unarguable job growth in the coming decades. But the first problem with these training programs is described in this paragraph:

A small number of public community colleges have successful medical-assistant programs, minting graduates who make $25,000 per year or more. But the industry is dominated by for-profit colleges, which produce more than nine out of 10 medical assistant certificates nationwide. For-profit programs are typically expensive and financed primarily with federally backed grants and student loans.

So a “small number” of publicly funded schools graduate students who make $25,000 per year… a reasonable wage and one that arguably yields a good “return on investment” which seems to be the primary motivation for education based on the thinking today. But the “expensive” programs offered by for-profit institutions cost upwards of $15,000 and the average wage for graduates is just over $14,000: a terrible return on investment by any measure. Here’s what makes the “investment” even worse: the certificate earned after paying tuition to these for-profit schools is worthless! 

No state or federal law requires medical assistants to have a medical assistant certificate from a college. Among the hundreds of medical assistant job openings on Craigslist in the New York City metropolitan area, it’s nearly impossible to find an employer who explicitly requires a certificate. Instead, the ads are full of phrases like “experienced multitasker,” “skilled phlebotomist” and “fluent in Russian.”

As noted in earlier blog posts on loans, the only winners in this game are the investors in the for-profit schools and the banks who get their loans paid by taxpayers even if the loans are not paid. We don’t need to create new metrics for post-secondary institutions if we intend to invest scarce federal education dollars wisely: we only need to regulate the for-profit post-secondary schools and close down those that offer superfluous, costly degrees.

One last note: is there any reason to believe that for-profit K-12 institutions will do any better than for-profit post-secondary when it comes to recruiting “customers”? Is there any reason to believe that market forces are appropriate for a public good like schools?

 

 

College Students Lose, Colleges Win

September 26, 2014 Leave a comment

Distressing news today for college students as reported in Huffington Post: the USDOE has decided NOT to punish colleges for “questionable servicing practices” that resulted in students being punished for loan defaults while colleges whose loan servicing caused the defaults allowed to remain open and free of any financial penalties.

Here’s the way it works for college students who need to borrow money to attend college: They can get a federal loan or grant through their college. Over the course of their education, the school they attend might change the companies that service their loans, making it conceivable that a degreed or non-degreed student might have multiple collectors seeking paybacks for the money they borrowed. This phenomenon is called “split-servicing”. As recently as November 2011 USDOE reported that “…some 500,000 borrowers with federal student loans were being forced to make multiple monthly payments to different loan companies.” If one or more of the servicers is negligent in collecting the funds, the student is penalized.  How?

Borrowers in default on at least one of their federal student loans face high collection fees, damaged credit scores, an inability to secure home mortgages or auto loans, and garnishment of their tax refunds and Social Security payments, said Cochrane of the Institute for College Access & Success.

recent federal audit revealed that the Education Department is demanding so much money from seniors with defaulted student loans that it’s forcing tens of thousands of them into poverty. At least 105,000 Americans had a part of their Social Security benefits garnished last year to the point that their monthly benefits were below federal poverty thresholds, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Here’s the way it works for colleges: as long as less than 30% of the college’s student/borrowers do not default on a loan within the first three years they are required to make payments, the government will continue to guarantee the loans. If, however, the default rate is 30% or greater, the college could lose access to taxpayer-provided student aid, and that “…would be the equivalent of a death sentence for most colleges.” 

And here’s what’s happening: at least 20 institutions should have gotten the so-called “death penalty” but they dodged a bullet because the federal government did not include students who were current on payments for ONE loan but made no equivalent provision for the students. This decision had the effect of lowering the percentage of “default students” giving the institutions a reprieve from the “death penalty” but maintaining the penalties applied to students.

Borrowers aren’t getting any relief or similar consideration from the Education Department,” said Debbie Cochrane, research director at the California-based Institute for College Access & Success, which advocates affordable education. “If the school isn’t held accountable for the default, then the borrower shouldn’t either.”

“Borrowers have no control over who services their loans. So why not remove the defaults from the borrowers’ records as well?” Cochrane said.

Of course the real winners in this are the servicers who collect the fees and the banks who collect the money even if the students default. “WHAT???”, you ask?

Jeff Baker, a senior official at the Education Department’s Federal Student Aid office, says the Education Department

…has tried to ensure that all student borrowers only deal with one company when making their loan payments. For example, it has put an emphasis on borrowers with Direct loans and FFEL loans owned by the Education Department, which it purchased under a 2008 financial crisis-era law that amounted to a $110 billion bailout of the student loan industry, according to figures cited by Baker.

I’m not a financial expert, but I BELIEVE that $110,000,000,000 did not go to colleges and did not go to students who couldn’t make loan payments… it went to banks. Oh, and where exactly did that $110,000,000,000 come from? I think my tax returns helped a little bit. Oh… and if I’m wrong and someone wants to set the record straight, please do so…

Money, Politics, and Public Education

September 25, 2014 Leave a comment

One of the education blogs I receive included a link to this chilling report from the NPR station in New Mexico. It seems that Kathy Korte, a school board member in Albquerque, New Mexico, launched a grassroots organization called Stand4KidsNM, “…a statewide movement and social media campaign to oppose what they see as corporate standardization and an overemphasis on testing.” Because education has become intertwined with politics in NM, the group has effectively endorsed the Democratic candidate for governor, who shares their concerns. As a result, Ms. Korte is being slimed by members of the Republican party in the state and the attention of a “GOP opposition research group” from Washington DC. Monica Youngblood, a Republican members of the NM House of Representatives,  has “…alleged that the Stand4kidsNM group is in violation of the campaign reporting act, stating that the group “Raises, collects, expends or contributes money or any other thing of value for a political purpose… advocating the election of (Democrat) Gary King”, all without registering as a political action committee.”  

There is one problem with Ms. Youngblood’s assertion: Stand4KidsNM has not made any campaign contributions to Gary King. There is another problem for Ms. Youngblood and the opposition research group: Ms. Korte is not easily intimidated:

“I’ll be damned if anybody tries to bully me into quiet and submission” she says. “If I am a voice for a lot of  people who are afraid  then so be it, I’ll be that voice, I don’t mind being that voice. There are a lot of people who are afraid ” she says.

“It’s like you know what, if you don’t agree with this then you ought to have the ability to say that, without being scared that you are going to be fired” she says.

The title of this post— “Money, Politics, and Public Education”— reflects what is happening more and more with “reform” opponents like Ms. Youngblood and, as noted in earlier posts, progressives like Bill diBlasio: the people with money are willing to do whatever is needed to marginalize or quiet those who oppose the testing and privatization movement… and, as witnessed in NYS, Democrats are as complicit in this as Republicans.

I read a recent editorial lamenting the difficulty in recruiting qualified people to run for public office. When  outspoken local school board members like Kathy Korte are the focal point of national political organizations it is not surprising that people want to avoid public service… and those national political organizations could not thrive without “dark money”. We need to get money out of politics if we want good people to run for office and if we want to have an informed and reasoned debate about public policy.

 

Deconstructing Reynoldsburg From a Distance

September 25, 2014 2 comments

Over the past several months I watched the conflict between the Reynoldsburg School Board and the Reynoldsburg Education Association unfold from a distance. At this juncture, I have a bad feeling about how this is all going to end for Reynoldsburg because it appears from blog posts I’m reading from 1,000 miles away that the conflict in the community MAY be a proxy for what is occurring at the State level… and if that is the case, “higher forces” may want to see a “victory” instead of a settlement. I am offering this unsolicited advice to both parties on the assumption that the Reyonldsburg community is not interested in being a proxy and wants to reach a settlement that will get children back into classrooms and get the Board and REA working harmoniously in the years ahead.

Thanks to Google, I was able to review news reports from the past several months. From those reports I identified areas where I believe the Board and the REA made some tactical errors… and an area where they both erred. After reading through this information, writing a draft of this post, and reflecting on it for a day, my conclusion is that the fastest way out of the woods would be to have the federal mediator to persuade the REA and Reynoldsburg Board to agree to binding arbitration.

Here’s where I believe the Board erred based on media reports and “best practices”:

  • The Board did not conduct a wide and public search for a Superintendent: The current Superintendent, Tina Thomas-Manning, was appointed by the board without any public input or engagement. As one who was on the receiving end of several searches and one who has conducted several searches, I am a strong believer in the need to have public engagement as part of the administrative search process. An administrative search that includes public engagement provides the Board with a sense of what the community and teachers are seeking in a leader and provides the incoming administrator with a greater understanding of the context of the assignment and the community, teacher, parent, and Board expectations. Public interviews, which are often a part of the public engagement process, can be problematic for the “recruit” since they often require the release of the applicant’s name and credentials which can create some turmoil in the applicant’s current workplace. But having been in that situation on several occasions I believe the trade off is worth it. While Thomas-Manning was a known quantity to the board and the school community, her credibility as the optimal applicant would have been strengthened had she been hired using a more open process… and some of the claims about her allegiances to State level politicians I’ve read in various blogs might not have as much traction.
  • The Board delegated too much authority to the Superintendent in the negotiations process: In the six states where I served as Superintendent, in my graduate courses in the 1970s, and in many negotiations seminars I attended over three decades, I learned that the Board should “own” the negotiations process and decisions and the Superintendent should play the role of intermediary. In some small districts I served as chief negotiator for the Board, but in those cases I made it clear that only the full board could make the final decisions regarding bargaining positions. In larger districts I worked with the Board and administrators to set negotiations objectives and conferred with the board negotiations team on an as needed basis. In many instances the board hired a professional negotiator, often an attorney with a strong background in state and federal employment laws. In all cases, the majority of the board members made the key decisions regarding the bargaining process and set the collective bargaining parameters. By giving the full authority to a newly appointed Superintendent with no previous collective bargaining experience (at least none that was referenced in article announcing her appointment) they acted irresponsibly and placed the Superintendent in a very difficult position since she will ultimately be responsible for unifying the district once the strike is over.
  • The Board is stuck on one form of performance pay: The traditional lock-step unitary pay schedule is imperfect but it DOES have a “merit” component! It defines “merit” as the accumulation of years of experience (steps) and graduate credits (tracks). The board and superintendent seem to be stuck on the notion that steps and tracks should be abandoned and standardized test scores should be used to define “merit”. This notion mirrors the “school reform” philosophy of the current leaders of the Ohio State Department of Education and the current USDOE leadership. As I’ve written repeatedly on this blog (see value added entries) the use of test scores to measure teacher performance has no statistical validity and has the effect of narrowing the curriculum. I’ve also written elsewhere on this blog that there are other ways to replace the traditional pay scale that would use a more holistic and research based means of measuring “merit”, ways that MIGHT gain traction with the REA if they were considered.
  • The Board was intent on keeping schools open at all cost: Authorizing the contract with Huffmaster, whose “Strike Services” division’s motto is “when strikes threaten, no one works harder for you” and authorizing the acquisition of $200,000+ of  laptop computers to “…support lessons given by substitute teachers paid to cross picket lines” was a signal that the Board was going to try to keep school open even if it required them to pay more money for poorer services. It had two other adverse effects: it undercut the sincerity of their binding arbitration offer and made it appear that privatization might be their ultimate goal.

Here’s where I believe the teachers erred based on media reports:

  • The REA did not emphasize their willingness to explore “merit pay”: One article from a weekly Reynoldsburg News reported that “(t)he district has studied merit pay for three years and has included REA members in the discussion. More than 20 volunteered to participate in a two-year merit-pay pilot program, and hundreds have received a “student incentive award” based on student performance, for the past 10 years.”  The REA should emphasize this as evidence of their openness to exploring “merit pay”, explain why the pilot program was deficient, and explain why they do not want this kind of compensation plan even though “hundreds” of teachers received “student incentive awards” over the past 10 years. The REA could also educate the public about the preposterous way test scores are being used to measure the performance of teachers in the district now as a means of demonstrating the impracticality of basing “merit” on tests.
  • The REA did not provide a clear explanation of their rationale for refusing binding arbitration: The GFA Blue Blog, which is evidently somewhat right of center in its politics, poses a question in this blog post from earlier this week that the REA should address: “Why did the REA Reject Binding Arbitration?”. If the answer is “we wanted to retain the right to strike”, if public will ultimately perceive the REA as “causing” the strike. If there is another answer the REA should provide it ASAP.
  • The REA did not link class size caps to open enrollment revenues: From all evidence on line, Reynoldsburg is gaining students from its open enrollment plan… and gaining corresponding revenue of $5700 per student as a result. Those funds could be used to limit the budget’s impact on taxes OR they could be used to ensure that teachers have a manageable class size. It appears that the open enrollment initiative and the increase in class sizes are linked… and… if that is the case the REA is missing an opportunity to make a stronger case for their “cap” demands.

And here’s where I believed BOTH parties erred: they wanted a victory instead of a settlement.

One possible way to get teachers back into the classrooms without either party “losing face”: have both parties agree to binding arbitration. This would clearly require a concession by both parties, but concessions are necessary for a settlement to be reached and having an impartial third party resolve the conflict in this case seems to be the best way out of the woods.

The REA apparently didn’t want to enter into binding arbitration because it would prevent them from striking… Well… they’ve had a strike and from what I’ve read in some alternative media sources, the results aren’t good. The REA could “save face” on this issue by accurately claiming that their members are dismayed at what they are witnessing in the schools during the strike and want to get back into their classrooms and spend time with their teachers. After proving their point about the right to strike they are now prepared to let an arbitrator decide who is right. If, on the other hand, the REA remains closed to the idea of arbitration to “save face” they could appear to be stubborn and unyielding and, as note above, be perceived as causing the strike in the first place.

By agreeing to re-offer arbitration offer to the REA, the Board would “save face” by using that action to demonstrate its desire to achieve a settlement quickly so that teachers and administrators can get back to work educating the children in the community. If, on the other hand, the Board wants to withhold its binding arbitration offer because of the REA’s vote to strike, they would effectively be advocating that what is happening now in the classrooms is OK and insisting that the REA be punished for striking.

Will a settlement occur after Sunday’s scheduled session? Has the strike softened positions or annealed them? I would hope that the majority of the public would be on the side of the students who want their teachers back in the classroom and, sensing that community will, BOTH sides will soften their positions… forget about “winning”… and get a settlement.