Posts Tagged ‘funding equity’

MI Court Rules State NOT Required to Educate Well

November 21, 2014 Leave a comment

In a case that could have national implications, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the state has “…no legal obligation to provide a quality public education to students” in a school district that the state turned over to a charter school that has not improved its performance. This overturned a lower court decision that the State has a “broad compelling state interest in the provision of an education to all children.”

Kary L. Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties of Michigan who filed the suit on behalf of eight students of nearly 1,000 children attending K-12 public schools in Highland Park, MI, stated that “This ruling should outrage anyone who cares about our public education system. The court washes its hands and absolves the state of any responsibility in a district that has failed and continues to fail its children.”

As reported in The Michigan Citizen blog,

The suit, which named as defendants the State of Michigan, its agencies charged with overseeing public education and the Highland Park School District, maintained that the state failed to take effective steps to ensure that students are reading at grade level.

Let’s remember it was the state that turned the entire district over to a for-profit charter management company with no track record of success with low performing schools,” said Moss. “It is the state that has not enforced the law that requires literacy intervention to children not reading at grade level. It is the state’s responsibility to ensure and maintain a system of education that serves all children.

Why could this have national implications? As noted in earlier posts, school districts in “failing districts” are often taken over by the State who, presumably, have the ability to overcome the effects of poverty more effectively than the local school boards and, increasingly, States look to privatization as the answer (e.g. Newark and Camden NJ; Philadelphia PA; Chicago IL, to name a few). If State’s are not responsible for providing a quality education, who is? Are parents in affluent districts the only ones who will have their children attending quality public schools? Will for-profit schools be allowed to continue to operate even if they fail to get results?

While I am not well versed in the structure of MI’s court set up, I have to assume their Supreme Court will have the find say on this… and I assume the MI State “…agencies charged with overseeing public education and the Highland Park School District” will continue to argue that they are not responsible for ensuring that every child gets a quality education.

Here’s my final question: how can the state defend it’s willingness deny a quality education to all children while at the same time wresting the control of “failing schools” from local boards who are more than willing to make every effort to achieve that goal?

Fear of Prekindergarten

November 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Nick Kristoff’s column in today’s NYTimes poses this question: “Do Politicians Love Kids?“. My answer is: “Yes…. but… they love shareholders more!”

Kristoff’s column focuses on the need for universal prekindergarten, an issue he believes both parties can support. The column offers James Heckman’s research as evidence along with lots of statistics comparing our nation’s preschool programming with our “competitors”.

But, as noted in earlier posts on this issue, I believe Republicans and “school reform” advocates will use the expansion of prekindergarten as an opportunity to expand “choice” and expand the privatization movement that has burgeoned under NCLB, RTTT, and in urban districts under the control of business minded neo-liberal and/or conservative mayors. This led me to leave the following comment:

Given the Republican majority in the House and Senate and a handful of sympathetic neo-liberal Democrats here’s the likely pre-kindergarten scenario: vouchers. Instead of putting prekindergarten programs under the aegis of public school systems Republicans and “school reform” Democrats will advocate for “parental choice” and use the funds to open privatized programs instead of expanding the mission of “failed government schools”… and the shareholders of these programs will benefit while urban neighborhood schools and small rural schools wither.

Politicians love kids… but they love shareholders even more… because kids can’t vote or make campaign contributions but shareholders can.

Funding Public Community Colleges

November 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Friday’s NYTimes featured a lengthy article by Gina Bellafonte titled “How Can Community Colleges Get a Piece of the Billions that Donors Give to Higher Education?”. The article described the plight of LaGuardia Community College using its experiences to described the typically underfunded community college. It offered heartwarming stories of successful graduates who went on to earn college degrees against great odds, contrasted the fund raising apparatus at LaGuardia (a staff of four) with that of Williams College (a staff of 50), and offered several ideas of ways community colleges might “…get a piece” of the billions donors offer to elite colleges. But the primary answer to the question about where money is being donated was embedded in this sentence:

In 2012, more than twice as much money — $297 million — was awarded to charter schools from the country’s largest foundations as was given to community colleges, even though two-year colleges educate nearly four times as many students.

Those charter school donors are often characterized as wanting to help “reform” public education, to provide students raised in poverty with a means of getting a better education so they can get a better life. But there is much evidence that their real intention is to privatize the operation of a public enterprise that is viewed as a potential cash cow— a sector ripe for profiteering.

There was a time, not so long ago, that students who could not afford to go away to college could enroll in a nearby community college and work part time to earn enough money to complete four years of college with no debt. There was a time, not so long ago, when public schools were viewed as essential linchpins of the urban neighborhoods and small towns across the country. There was a time, not so long ago, when public schools held occasional bake sales to raise money to give teachers extra supplies instead of perpetually raising money to fund additional staff members. That time still exists in many school districts across this country: the ones that serve affluent communities. Elite public schools in elite communities have a tax base that perpetuates their standing. Their high school graduates seldom attend community colleges because their high school has provided them with a robust course of studies, with ample academic support if they struggle in school, and guidance services to help them find a school that matches their skill sets. And most importantly, the graduates of elite high schools have the financial wherewithal to go directly to college. Until those in elite communities are willing to pay higher taxes so that children raised in poverty have the same opportunities we will continue to have the economic divide in place today… and donating to for-profit charter schools is no substitute for supporting the broad-based funding of public education.

PA Joins the State Lawsuit Parade

November 15, 2014 Leave a comment

When I was researching for the series of posts I wrote outlining a recommended platform for President, I determined that all but five states in the union had at one time been entangled in a lawsuit based on inequities in school funding. Earlier this week, six school districts, seven parents, and two statewide organizations filed a lawsuit against the State to change it’s funding formulas. As reported in Common Dreams post by Deirdre Fulton, the complaint states that:

“…state officials have adopted an irrational and inequitable school financing arrangement that drastically underfunds school districts across the Commonwealth and discriminates against children on the basis of the taxable property and household incomes in their districts.”

Among the districts filing the lawsuit is William Penn District, where I worked as Assistant HS Principal from 1975-78. At that time the school board had a critical mass of parochial school parents whose primary goal was to suppress property taxes based on the logic that they were not receiving any benefit from the schools and should therefore not be required to pay as much. Furthermore, at that time the William Penn District was a recently consolidated district. This meant that the affluent towns in the new district were effectively underwriting the budgets of the less affluent communities, and this redistribution of school funds rubbed some of the taxpayers the wrong way. Those dynamics are at play in PA to this day and are compounded by the rise of the Tea Party wing of the Republican party and the “reform” movement that seeks to convert as many schools as possible into for-profit charters. Any effort to redistribute funds to less affluent districts is characterized by conservative lawmakers as “throwing money at the problem” or, worse yet, kowtowing to teachers unions by giving undeserving and greedy teachers higher salaries and better benefits.

One lengthy quote from Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights underscores the reality that this is NOT a PA problem:

Pennsylvania is not alone in denying adequate funding for its students, especially those in high poverty school districts. But this case shows that Pennsylvania is one of the worst offenders in the nation. The disparity in education resources has created an educational caste system that the Commonwealth must eliminate. We will continue to take action to vindicate the state constitutional rights of all students to an education that prepares them for citizenship and the workforce. We also call on the U.S. Department of Education to investigate Pennsylvania for the glaring inequity in essential education resources in schools serving poor and minority school children and to take decisive corrective action on the findings.

As noted above and in my earlier post on a proposed education platform for 2016, those seeking changes to funding in the courts have often prevailed but legislatures have not responded to the court orders in a timely fashion. In NH, for example, two lawsuits have mandated changes in State funding and to date only marginal changes have occurred and they are insufficient. Given this reality, I offered this idea as a plank to the 2016 presidential race:

  • Redirect all Federal funds to constitutionally underfunded districts: Over the past several decades all but five states have been sued over inequities in school funding. At the same time federal funds have been allocated to every district in the country, even the most affluent. If elected I will take steps to see that in states where legislatures have not responded to court decisions calling for changes to the funding systems, all federal funds, including funds for handicapped children in affluent districts, will be redirected to those districts that state courts identify as being short-changed. If State legislatures fail to provide every child with an equal opportunity, the federal government has a responsibility to do so.

I believe the federal government SHOULD intercede meaningfully when the state fails to provide equitable funding and one way they could do so is to redistribute ALL their funds to those districts who sue for equity but fail to receive the relief the courts provided. Doing so would shine a bright light on this issue and compel voters to get their legislators to take action so that federal funds could be restored. If there is are no consequences to the state legislature for ignoring court orders the districts serving children in poverty will continue to get short-changed.


Rotten Apples? Hardly!

November 14, 2014 Leave a comment

A few weeks ago Time magazine hit the news stands with this horrific cover:


When the article came out progressive bloggers went ballistic and Facebook was full of links to send letters to the editors of Time to decry their cover, which stated (wrongly) that is was impossible to fire a teacher. Having written several posts on this topic, I clicked on the AFT’s link and sent a letter explaining the reality of the situation, namely that teachers have a probationary period that is typically three years and that some of the teachers who “opted out” of the profession were, in fact, counseled out. Because of this, the reality is that 98% of the teachers are doing well in their work even though this fact vexes politicians like Andrew Cuomo.

My daughter in Brooklyn who shares my frustration at the bashing of public education sent me a link to this blog post from Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post, who dedicated most of the space to a well researched letter to Time in response to their reprehensible cover. Written by Nancy F. Chewning, assistant principal of William Byrd High School in Roanoke, VA, the letter includes the following points, some of which I have not made in my earlier posts decrying the bashing of teachers:

  • Aspiring teachers are held in low esteem on campuses
  • Teachers make substantially less than others with an equal education
  • The OECD reports that “American teachers work far longer hours than their counterparts abroad.”
  • No other professions are held to a 100% standard- Only teachers!
  • And this gem: “According to a new study from the Journal of Patient Safety, 440,000 people per year die from preventable medical errors. In fact, this study found that medical errors were the third leading cause of death in the United States today.” Are we closing hospitals because of this? Are doctors losing tenure because of this?
  • The NEA [National Education Association] ranks 221st in terms of lobbying expenditures… WELL behind banks, military, and other professions— like doctors– who are not depicted as “Rotten Apples”

The letter describes the money teachers spend on their own supplies and to provide their students with food, school supplies, and clothing. It describes the time teachers spend advocating for their children outside of school. It describes the responsibilities teachers are asked to assume for the well-being of their children. And it describes the devastating impact poverty has on the children in Roanoke, VA, impact that is felt in every district that serves children who are raised in poverty across the country.

I wish some political leader in our country would stand up for public education and especially for the teachers who work tirelessly to help children raised in poverty…. but it’s easier to blame teachers than to blame poverty because “fixing” poverty requires the redistribution of wealth and (gasp) spending money on people in our country who are in need. Here’s hoping the silence about poverty ends as we consider who to elect for President in 2016.

How the Election Looked to Others

November 14, 2014 Leave a comment

One benefit of practicing Buddhism is that I learn to look at the world from other people’s perspective… and the looking at the 2014 election through the eyes of the editors of The Oklahoman is transformative to say the least. From their perspective, the lesson of the 2014 election is summarized in this paragraph:

In short, time and time again voters have rejected calls to increase taxes and spend more money on schools simply to spend more money. At the same time, they’ve rewarded politicians who support school choice and education reform. Last week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott was re-elected after expanding private school scholarships for low-income students, eliminating tenure and tying teacher pay to performance. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was re-elected after expanding vouchers and reforming collective bargaining.

Sadly for those of us who believe that the election had some silver linings (e.g. Torklason’s re-election in CA and Wolf replacing Corbett in PA), there’s some truth to the editors analysis of what happened across the country…

But wait!, the NEA’s blog site, came to a completely different conclusion! In a post titled “Ballot Measure Wins show Strong Support for Pro-Public Education policies Amanda Litvinov overlooked Scott and Walker’s re-elections and the “rejected calls to increase taxes and spend more money on schools” and focused instead on the “many voters who had the opportunity to vote on specific issues supported policies that are good for students and working families”. Thus, the votes to increase minimum wages was (I believe rightfully) viewed as a victory for public education. Also the widely predicted defeat of an absurd ballot initiative in MO was scored as “support for pubic education” as was a non-binding referendum to increase school spending in IL— an initiative that was NOT supported by the governor elect in that state. The NEA also viewed the voters rejection of funding private preK programs as a victory and also thought the as-yet-to-be-determined results from WA on a class size initiative was a “victory”. Hm-m-m-m… these “victories” wouldn’t make me happy to see some of my union dues being spent for political campaigns.

Finally, there is a report from ThinkProgress that banks are urging investors to buy stock in private, for-profit colleges since the Republicans have been elected. Here’s why:

The Higher Education Act needs to be renewed, and BMO’s Jeffrey Silber argued that a Republican Senate will produce a bill that is much friendlier to the companies that run for-profit schools, according to Buzzfeed. Credit Suisse wrote in Barron’s that the “diminished regulatory risk characteristics of a Republican-controlled electorate” makes student lending company stocks likely to rise in value because “Republicans have historically fought detrimental legislation originating from Congressional Democrats.”

Expensive deregulated for-profit colleges  is good news for investors as well for banks who issue loans… but bad news for students who will be drawn into schools that fail to provide an education that prepares them for work and worse news for taxpayers who will inevitably have to bail out the banks when graduates and/or drop outs can’t make payments on their loans.

After reading the post election analysis from all angles, I’m more convinced than ever that Paul Simon was right: “Any Way You Look At It You Lose….”

Grit and Boys Weeklies

November 13, 2014 Leave a comment

I am preparing a for a six week course on George Orwell’s essays that I will be offering at an Adult Education program offered through Dartmouth College beginning in Winter, and just finished reading a critique of an essay Orwell wrote on “Boys Weeklies”. Inexpensive magazines and comics that were published with young British boys as the target audience, Orwell believed that the Boys Weeklies in the early 1900s taught boys to “love their rulers” and accept the social order in place at the time. He suggested that these stories followed a formula that led him to believe that they “must have been written, just as they were published, by a syndicate”.

This essay came to mind as I read “Enough Talk About Grit, It’s Time to Talk About Privilege“, a Truthdig article by Paul Thomas. The article opens with a description of the “prevailing winds” that suggest grit or perseverance can overcome economic disadvantages or racial prejudice.  The Orwell essay on “Boys Weeklies” came to mind as I read about how the notion of “grit” is being applied in classrooms:

In one middle school visited by Tovia Smith of NPR, a “typical lesson” in social studies is spent exploring the career of Steve Jobs. The goal of the lesson… is to instill in these students the value of risk-taking and persistence. As Smith explains:

One way to make kids more tenacious, the thinking goes, is to show them how grit has been important to the success of others, and how mistakes and failures are normal parts of learning — not reasons to quit.

The children observed by Smith quickly grasped the lesson about Jobs:

Kids raise their hands to offer examples of Jobs’ grit.

“He had failed one of the Mac projects he was creating,” says one student.

“He used his mistakes to help him along his journey,” says another.

Thomas suggests teacher might want to assign a counter-narrative from a short story/allegory by George Saunders that leads to this conclusion:

…effort among people in the same status may well distinguish who succeeds, but relative privilege or poverty erases the impact of effort in most cases, especially when connected to social class and race, which often cancel out the promise of grit.

The balance of the article reviews a series of recent articles that blow the “grit” theory out of the water by providing evidence that supports the moral of Saunders’ allegory. Among the writers he draws on is the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates who finds the “grit” theory problematic for African-American students as evidenced in this quote:

Urging African-Americans to become superhuman is great advice if you are concerned with creating extraordinary individuals. It is terrible advice if you are concerned with creating an equitable society. The black freedom struggle is not about raising a race of hyper-moral super-humans. It is about all people garnering the right to live like the normal humans they are.

Like Orwell before him, Thomas has no time for those who want to create nationalistic myths, as his concluding paragraphs indicate:

Moralistic lessons based on the successes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are no more than twisted fairy tales, stories that promote effort as a mask for privilege, and hide the lesson we do not want to admit: opportunity and talent trump effort in this country, a fact that can be proven along both race and class lines.

Without equal opportunity, individual talent and effort pale against the advantages of class and racial privilege. Thus, despite cultural myths about effort, the U.S. remains a country where the accident of anyone’s birth is a greater indicator of success than how hard anyone tries. It’s time we stopped pretending otherwise.

As readers of this blog realize, we do not have anything resembling equal opportunity in our country, as the fact that citizens in 45 states have at one time or other filed lawsuits seeking more equitable funding for public schools. Until all schools can offer programs that match those offered by the most affluent in this country equal opportunity will remain a myth.