Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

Citizens United and School Reform

January 26, 2015 Leave a comment

Zephyr Teachout, whose candidacy against incumbent NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo was surprisingly strong, wrote an op ed piece in today’s NYTimes titled “Legal Bribery“. The column decries the effects of Citizens United on the way business is conducted in politics. Using the recent arraignment of Speaker of the House Sheldon Silver as a springboard for her analysis, Teachout describes the way campaign contributions can impact political decision making and lead to outright bribery:

Think of campaign contributions as the gateway drug to bribes. In our private financing system, candidates are trained to respond to campaign cash and serve donors’ interests. Politicians are expected to spend half their time talking to funders and to keep them happy. Given this context, it’s not hard to see how a bribery charge can feel like a technical argument instead of a moral one.

I read this on the heels of reading a recent blog post by Diane Ravitch about campaigns in Douglas County, CO, where pro-privatization candidates won elections and began to dismantle a schools system that was not encountering any serious difficulties. That led me to post this comment:

There is an effect of campaign finance that should disturb public education advocates like Ms. Teachout: investors in privatized public education are underwriting the campaigns of “reform” candidates who favor the replacement of “failing” public schools with for-profit charters. If you don’t think this is happening now read Diane Ravitch’s blog where you’ll see many examples… this one for example:

And state residents must wonder why “school reform” is a front burner issue in NY, NJ, and CT whose schools are performing far better than headlines and their governors want you to believe. Perhaps a look at campaign financing could shed some light on this issue as well.

I realize that there are differences between the kind of campaign contributions Teachout cites and the ones frequently recounted in Diane Ravitch’s column.

  • Governors and state legislators oversee a wide array of functions and, therefore, have many more opportunities to receive campaign funds with implicit quid pro quos.
  • Their elections, particularly those of Governor, tend to generate more coverage and, therefore, engage a higher percentage of the electorate.
  • Contributors interested in providing privatization services need to spend more money to get a state official elected than getting a local official elected.

All of this makes local school board elections and/or elections of “undercard” positions like State Board or State or County Superintendents a relatively cost-effective way to make inroads in privatization. And these “investments” have two benefits: they are completely transparent and, therefore, more defensible; and they can achieve results more rapidly.

Candidates who run on “reform” campaigns are often clear about their intentions and appeal to those who want to be certain their taxes will not increase. By promoting the virtues of the marketplace and the “failure” of public schools candidates can run on platforms that make it clear they are advocating privatization and, if they choose to or need to, accept donations from any number of enterprises that will offer privatization services with a straight face. The campaign contributions in this case mirror the explicit principles of the candidate. They are, in effect, no different than the Sierra Club contributions received by a pro-environmental candidate.

Most importantly to an investor in privatization, once a school board has a majority of pro-privatization candidates, change can occur democratically AND rapidly. By raising hands at a board meeting it would be possible to replace “failing” public schools with for-profit charters or possible to institute some form of vouchers within the constitutional framework of the state, or possible to close all the schools and replace them with for-profit charters. There will be pushback from those who opposed the candidates platforms— especially those who neglected to vote and especially those who would be effected by the closure of schools.

This direction for public education is difficult to reverse once it gets started… and, unfortunately, “the train has already left the station” in several states. As the analysis above indicates, campaign reform won’t necessarily fix the problem: only voter engagement will work… and voters seem to be slow to recognize the demise of their locally controlled public schools.


Kansas: Funding For Shareholders and Fundamentalists?

January 25, 2015 Leave a comment

Earlier this week, the US edition of  The Guardian posted an article by Sarah Smarsh on the state of public education in Kansas.  As reported in  earlier blog posts, KS finds itself in a funding crisis because their Governor has lowered taxes to entice the expansion of business and recently lost a Supreme Court case filed by a parent who felt that KS was not sufficiently funding its schools and that lack of funding resulted unconstitutional inequities. The Guardian suggests that the Governor or the legislature, which is sympathetic to his cause, might offer a solution that would not only please the court, but would also please privatization advocates like the Koch bothers who live in KS and the large number of fundamental Christians: vouchers. If the legislature closed public schools and offered vouchers to parents that could be used in any school at all, fundamentalists could open private academies to address their concerns about the secular humanism rampant in public education and the Koch brothers’ kindred spirits could open for profit charters and taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay any more money at all. It would be a win-win-win for the taxpayers, the fundamentalists, and the profiteers… but it would be dreadful for the very students whose parent filed the lawsuit because it would end public education as we know it today.

Smarsh notes parallels between Brown v Board of Education in 1954 and this case today, one of which was that the plaintiffs in both cases were pastors of churches. She writes:

It was a good legal strategy that a longtime Christian clergyman became the namesake for Gannon v Kansas (the lawsuit seeking funding equity), a lawsuit bent on increasing funding for a secular institution. Similarly, in Brown v Board some 60 years ago, Topeka dad Oliver Brown took the title spot for being a respected pastor. The two cases contain plenty more parallels, and if there was a poor people’s movement to match the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century today, people would be marching in the streets – not to desegregate schools but to keep them open.

Unfortunately for those of us who want to see a strong and vibrant public education system, the poor people whose children are being shortchanged cannot see how the system is working against them and taking tax revenues to either promote religion or increase profits. The war against the poor is subtler than racism but every bit as pernicious… and seemingly as intractable.

NYC Reorganization’s Underlying Rationale

January 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Wednesday’s NYTimes reported on a reorganization of the NYC central office administration, eliminating the network organizational structure put in place during the Bloomberg administration and replacing it with a more traditional regional hierarchical model. As the article notes, changes like this are often invisible to parents and teachers. But in this instance, the change is likely a signal that the privatization trend in NYC may be coming to an end. Here’s why:

          The earlier models described in the Times article assumed a hierarchical, geographically defined, and centralized management of services and staffing. But most importantly, the previous organizational models assumed a monopolistic and “socialist” economic model whereby administrators in a central office would determine how to fairly and equitably distribute resources.  Bloomberg’s management structure based on the assumption that a market-driven “capitalist” economic model would be put in place. Instead of centralized management services and staffing based on geography, Bloomberg envisioned small, nimble, and entrepreneurial network offices who would compete with each other to provide services to schools.
          The biggest difference in Bloomberg’s approach to public schools was how he dealt with schools that failed to meet the accountability standards he set forth. In the “traditional monopolistic” governance structure, schools that “failed” received additional support from the central office… support in the form of additional staff development, additional supplementary resources, additional funding, or, in some cases, the replacement of the leadership. Under Bloomberg’s model, when schools failed to meet standards set by the accountability office, they were closed and replaced with unregulated charter schools. The charter schools were given complete autonomy in hiring, staffing, and setting wages, hours, and working conditions for their employees. Bloomberg’s vision, which is shared by the Governor, was to privatize the schools across the board. By doing so, schools would compete with each other for “customers” and all of the “bloated bureaucracy” would disappear. Market forces would drive down costs and drive out inefficiency and ineffectiveness. Unfortunately, as we’ve witnessed on a macro level with our market driven economy, those forces work against equality and social mobility, which are the linchpins of public education. Moreover, when regulations diminish, as they have been on a macro level, our environment and health degrades.
           Bloomberg’s way of dealing with poor performance resonated with voters and the media because it implied a fast, cheap, and effective means of dealing with a complicated problem that requires more money, more time, and more patience than voters typically have. Unfortunately for the children raised in poverty, Bloomberg’s methods and those of his kindred “reformers” has not improved the academic performance of those who were formerly enrolled in “failing schools”, but at this point that fact has not penetrated the narrative the “reformers” advance to the public.
          This means that Farina and de Blasio have a challenge on their hands. They need to find a way to show they will deal with failing schools firmly and clearly. The restoration of the geographical hierarchy is the first step in developing a means of systematically intervening when a school needs help. The kind of intervention they provide will need to be as visible and politically appealing as the dramatic school closings and wholesale firing of teachers Bloomberg, Christie, Walker and Cuomo advocate or the public’s patience will wear thin. The bullies are winning for now… but in the end one hopes that evidence will show that Farina and de Blasio’s more measured response to struggling schools and students will result in real improvement.

Inclusive Capitalism and Public Schools

January 22, 2015 Leave a comment

Thomas Edsall’s op ed column today, “Can Capitalists Save Capitalism“, describes “inclusive capitalism”, an emerging economic theory Democrats are purportedly embracing in response to their defeat in the mid-terms. The basic premise of this economic theory is the same as Henry Ford espoused when he decided to pay his employees a large enough wage for them to buy his product: the Model T Ford. After reading the article, I left the following comment:

President Obama and all elected officials who advocate “inclusive capitalism” have the opportunity to put it into place by treating public employees differently than employees are being treated in the private sector. If the Democrats want to embrace inclusive capitalism they could do so by denouncing the de-regulation and privatization of public schools, which “broadly undermines the wages and working conditions” of those working in schools. The replacement of career-minded unionized employees with at-will teaching staff and contracted services in lieu of ancillary staff results in more job insecurity, lower wages, and, consequently, a hollowing of the middle class. The privatizers of public education”…function much less effectively as providers of large-scale opportunity” because “…their dominant focus has been on maximization of share prices and the compensation of their top employees.” Privatization of public services is a rejection of inclusive capitalism and an embrace of the winner-take-all mentality that the “winners” want to see kept in place.

The “reformers” want to run schools like a business… but the way businesses operate is to limit the number of wages, hours, and/or number of employees… and that, in turn, hollows out the number of employees who earn middle class wages. Maybe instead of schools running like businesses, businesses might want to run like schools.

Be Careful What You Wish For!

January 22, 2015 Leave a comment

Earlier today Diane Ravitch wrote a post noting that Lamar Alexander quoted progressive blogger and administrator Carol Burris at the hearing he was leading on the reauthorization of ESEA. This resulted in a lot of positive comments from readers.

Throughout the day, though, she had several blog posts excoriating Governor Cuomo’s State of the State speech where he slammed public schools and proposed preposterous “reforms” to the teacher and school evaluation system based on his misguided belief that teachers and the “public school monopoly” are the problem and dismissal of bad teachers and introduction of market forces in schools is the answer. This resulted in a lot of negativity about Cuomo, the Regents, and the privatization movement.

And here’s the problem: based on everything I’ve read about Lamar Alexander’s thoughts about the ESEA reauthorization he wants to decentralize accountability by moving it back to the states where he thinks it belongs… which means that Cuomo and his ilk will be able have their way— which is VERY bad news. That led me to leave the following comment:

I’m VERY skeptical and fearful about where Lamar Alexander is heading… I believe he will be using the RTTT/CCSS overreach as the basis for arguing that STATES should define standards and develop accountability models…. and if that is the case I dread seeing what happens in NJ, MI, IN, WI, OH, and NYS when it comes to deciding how much input to receive from teachers and parents and how much standardized tests will play a role in teacher evaluations. I’m also skeptical and fearful about what the science standards will look like in States where evolution and global warming are called into question. And I’m MOST skeptical and fearful about what will happen when vouchers are offered in states (like NY) where the governor’s have convinced voters that the “government run public school monopoly” needs to be replaced with something that gives the parents a choice. That “choice” idea started in the South during the 1950s when Brown v.Board of Education was filed. I urge everyone who reads this to write your Federal legislators expressing your thoughts on the reauthorization of ESEA.

As noted a week ago, I wrote to both Senators and my house member as well as Bernie Sanders and Peter Welch in VT, both of whom are members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Please do the same… and soon!

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This Just In: Spending on Schools Matters!

January 21, 2015 Leave a comment

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog‘s headline says it all:

When public schools get more money,

students do better

Wonkblogger Max Ehrenfreund, citing a recently completed study by Kirabo Jackson and Claudia Persico of Northwestern University and Rucker Johnson of the University of California, Berkeley,  reports that students in districts where courts ruled that more spending was mandated earned more and were more successful in school than students in similar districts where spending increases did not occur. Ehrenfreund’c conclusion:

The group found that the increased funding had the greatest effect if it was used to raise teachers’ salaries, reduce class sizes or lengthen the school year. That conclusion accords with other research finding that better teachers can have profound effects on how much students learn, since the schools with the smallest classes and the highest salaries can attract the most talented instructors.

Here’s MORE definitive evidence that “schools with the smallest classes and the highest salaries can attract the most talented instructors”. All you folks claiming to favor “evidence based approaches” should take note: small classes + high wages = good teachers. It’s easy and obvious. Let’s stop blaming underfunded schools for their deficiencies and start supporting them at the same level as we support our best public schools.

Spending Priorities Askew

January 20, 2015 Leave a comment

The title of David Brooks’ column in today’s NYTimes got my attention: “Support Our Students”. Unfortunately, Brooks was writing about the wrong set of students. Instead of writing about the  support children raised in poverty require Brooks used his column to criticize President Obama’s proposal to provide free community college to all students. From my perspective both Brooks and the president miss the mark, as my comment indicates:

You could solve a lot of these problems by investing more in public schools. Providing “living expenses” for community college students while cutting SNAP makes no sense. Providing funds for more counselors at the community college while retaining unacceptably high student-to-counselor ratios at high schools makes no sense. Providing funds for remedial education in community college while spending billions on bubble tests makes no sense. Providing child care costs for community college students while cutting back on “welfare” for parents of school-aged children makes no sense. What DOES make sense is providing more money to “strengthen the structures” around Pre-K through grade 12. Unfortunately the people who would benefit most from this spending– the children in those grade levels– are not eligible to vote. Even more unfortunate is the fact that their parents are not major campaign contributors so their voices are not heard.

One more point that neither Brooks or the President are making: the impact of student loans. Because student loans can be used to defray living expenses, many college aged youngsters use the loans to cover their non-tuition costs and if they fail to graduate find themselves struggling to pay off those loans. Reforming the student loan industry should be a part of any legislation that expands the enrollments in community colleges.