Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

Privatization: A Zombie Idea That Cannot be Killed

April 24, 2015 Leave a comment

Paul Krugman’s column in today’s NYTimes describes several “zombie policies” that the Republican presidential candidates are recycling endlessly, ideas that are either demonstrably false or demonstrably bad. An economist, Krugman focussed primarily on the fallacious idea of “fixing” social security by increasing the age when people collect and the trickle-down theory that began during the Reagan administration and refuses to die despite the fact that it has never worked. After reading the column, I added one of my favorites: privatization!

Here’s another zombie idea: privatization of public services will lead to competition which, in turn, will lower costs and improve quality! One problem with this zombie idea: BOTH political parties are buying into it! That’s why we have the ACA instead of single payer; it’s why we have for-profit charter schools instead of equalized funding for public schools; it’s why we have Blackwater fighting our wars; it’s why we want to close our post offices; and ultimately its why so many lobbyists are spending so much money.

Alas, as noted in earlier posts, the American public has unquestioningly accepted the notion that markets are better than government and we are literally and figuratively paying the price. Here’s hoping someone will be able to persuade the voters in 2016 that the private sector is not necessarily more efficient or effective than the government.

The Consequences of Opting Out MAY be the Loss of Federal Funds

April 23, 2015 Leave a comment

In what could have national ramifications, a post in Politico suggests that the STATE may have the power to withhold FEDERAL funds from districts who fail to participate in the testing.

Here’s the context for this story:

Last year, parents across NYS launched a campaign to opt out of the state tests because they feel that the emphasis on test results is undermining the curriculum in their districts, placing inordinate and inappropriate pressure on their children, and providing them with no information whatsoever about their child’s mastery of the information tested. Teachers unions tacitly supported this movement for the same reasons, emphasizing the flaws in using value added measures for evaluating them and the lack of useful information made available following the testing.

Sensing the growing opposition to the testing regimen, Governor Cuomo included a provision that 50% of the teacher evaluation be used on test results in his budget proposal. When this proviso didn’t fly in the legislature, he accepted a compromise that would allow the Regents to determine the extent to which testing would be the basis for evaluations. As noted in earlier posts, this effectively gave Cuomo a green lift to proceed with VAM since the majority of the Regents and the Regents chair are supporters of the testing regimen Cuomo wants to put in place.

Last year the opt-out campaign was marginal… but this year nearly 200,000 parents have opted out of the testing program, teachers unions have explicitly supported the opt-out movement, and some school boards and superintendents have formally and publicly endorsed the movement. As it became evident that parents were not in support of the movement, Tisch and Cuomo both made claims that they their hands were tied win it came to withholding of federal funds… but as Politico notes that may not be the case:

State officials had previously suggested that the matter was out of their hands. Representatives for the U.S. Department of Education and the state Education Department have said the federal government could withhold Title I funds—grants for schools that serve low-income students—if fewer than 95 percent of students in an individual school or district take the tests, and Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday also said the federal government holds the power to decide whether to withhold funding.

But public statements and regulatory guidance from both the U.S. and state education departments suggest the decision is not totally up to the feds.

“They [federal officials] seem to indicate—I’m hearing that we have discretion, but we will find out how much discretion we have,” state Board of Regents chancellor Merryl Tisch told Capital on Tuesday. “If we do have discretion, we intend to use it.”

Duncan has put Tisch and Cuomo in a bind! Here’s why. Affluent districts with high opt-out percentages and low Title One allocations have less to lose than districts serving children raised in poverty that have high opt-out percentages and high Title One allocations. Thus, if Tisch and Cuomo use the withholding of Federal Title One funds as a penalty they will be hurting children raised in poverty more than those in affluent districts.

And Tisch may have put herself in a bind with her assertion that the Regents intend to use any discretion they have because if they DO assert themselves by withholding the marginal funds from affluent districts they will unleash a massive protest. IF the Regents intend to withhold funds they need to do so quickly because local budgets will be adopted in May and presumably Boards will be advised of their State funding in advance of those budget votes.

Finally, Duncan’s position in NYS may have created a problem for himself: If NY State can withhold federal funds as a penalty, why couldn’t ANY state do the same? And does this ability to withhold funds mean that States have the authority to re-allocate the federal dollars they receive?

It seems to me that a can or worms has just been opened in NYS and conceivably across the country. We may see some interesting fireworks in the coming weeks!

1,500,000 Missing Black Men Wreak Havoc on Families… and Public Schools

April 21, 2015 Leave a comment

An astonishing article in the NYTimes reports that 1,500,000 black men are “missing”… and reason for their absence is prison. A demographic analysis prepared by Justin Wolfers, David Leonardt, and Kevin Quealy is full of charts and graphics and offers this sobering statistic:

Perhaps the starkest description of the situation is this: More than one out of every six black men who today should be between 25 and 54 years old have disappeared from daily life.

The article also includes this paragraph, which describes how this statistic plays out in the creation of stable families:

The disappearance of these men has far-reaching implications. Their absence disrupts family formation, leading both to lower marriage rates and higher rates of childbirth outside marriage, as research by Kerwin Charles, an economist at the University of Chicago, with Ming-Ching Luoh, has shown.

The black women left behind find that potential partners of the same race are scarce, while men, who face an abundant supply of potential mates, don’t need to compete as hard to find one. As a result, Mr. Charles said, “men seem less likely to commit to romantic relationships, or to work hard to maintain them.”

The imbalance has also forced women to rely on themselves — often alone — to support a household. In those states hit hardest by the high incarceration rates, African-American women have become more likely to work and more likely to pursue their education further than they are elsewhere.

This imbalance plays out in schools where single parent families cannot earn as much as dual wage earners and/or commit time and energy to engaging in the life of their children in and out of school. The solution to this is complicated, but it is clear that our policies of incarceration are affecting African American males far more than any demographic group. Something has to change.

The Seemingly Intractable Conundrum of School Boundaries

April 18, 2015 Leave a comment

My daughter in Brooklyn sent me a link to an article from The Brownstoner, an on-line newsletter for borough residents, titled “How To Research Schools Before Making Your Real Estate Decision”. She insightfully indicated in the email that the the inability of some parents to afford houses in the neighborhoods with good schools contributes to the allure of charter schools.

I’ve written several posts in the past on this issue and am writing again because I’ve believed for decades that economic heterogeneity should be an important element in public education. The schools I attended growing up in West Chester PA and Tulsa OK included children of parents who came from all walks of life. As a result the little league team I played on in OK had the sons of presidents of banks and oil companies as well as kids from single parent homes who needed to have their gloves donated. In PA the high school served the children of farmers, factory workers, college professors, and white-collar workers like my father who commuted to work in Delaware and, in some cases, Philadelphia for work. The classes were homogeneously grouped, but the buses, athletic teams, and extra-curricular activities included a demographic cross section. My sense is that school demographics have changed since the time I grew up as demographic divisions between communities increased and hardened, in large measure because of zoning regulations in the suburbs and red-lining practices in urban areas.

How do we get out of the spiral we’re in whereby homeowners pay a premium to acquire houses in the best school districts which increases their property tax-base and property values in one town or neighborhood while diminishing the tax-base and property values in another town or neighborhood. The answer is relatively simple IF we believe all children should have the same opportunity to succeed in school. We should provide the schools in low income neighborhoods with the same resources available in high income neighborhoods… and one of those resources is the chance to be in classes, on sports teams, and in clubs with children from different economic backgrounds. While we like to claim a desire to provide an equal opportunity for all children, our inaction on this topic speaks much louder than our words.


Hillary’s Choice in Public Education: Democracy or Plutocracy

April 15, 2015 Leave a comment

Progressive columnist Ruth Coniff wrote a syndicated column describing and oversimplifying Hillary Clinton’s quandary in taking a position on public schools. Coniff poses two options: should Hillary Clinton support her party’s current neo-liberal test-and-punish regime that promotes the privatization movement or should she support the status quo? As Coniff points out, the privatization movement is not improving things for students though it arguably helps taxpayers by limiting spending increases and clearly helps those who are profiting from the “… shady schemes that channel public funds into private schools”. 

As I’ve written in previous posts, presidential candidates DO have a third option, neither of the above! A Presidential candidate who wanted to educate the populous could share some readily available facts on public education that reveal that children raised in poverty have a completely different and qualitatively poorer experience in public school than children raised in affluence, in large measure because they have fewer dollars spent on them even though their needs are greater and also because they enter school with learning gaps that result from poor nutrition, poor health services, and, in some instances, insufficient parent engagement. Instead of accepting the conventional wisdom that “throwing money at the problem” won’t solve the problems facing public education, a progressive candidate might suggest that money needs to be spent on programs that help a child raised in poverty before they enter school. A progressive candidate might suggest that those states who are failing to meet their constitutional mandates for equitable funding must do so before they receive any federal funding. A progressive candidate might focus on the obstacles a child raised in poverty faces instead of the burdens a taxpayer faces or the irresponsibility of the parents. A progressive candidate might champion the efforts of elected school boards who struggle to raise funds to help the children in their community instead of championing “the marketplace” solutions offered by profiteers who promote “choice” and de-facto vouchers… choices that are limited and vouchers that can only be used within the town boundaries.

My fantasy is that the 2016 presidential election will get voters out of the “status quo” versus “reform” debate and reveal that the only children public schools are failing are those raised in poverty and the only way to change that is to address the gross inequality in our economic system. My sense is that a Clinton candidacy will not change the debate— it will only reinforce it and ultimately end to the demise of public education as a means of providing an informed electorate.

New Hampshire’s Competency-Based Learning Getting Traction

April 13, 2015 Leave a comment

I was heartened to read two articles describing a pilot program underway in four New Hampshire School districts. This paragraph from Julia Freedland’s article in the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Learning weekly newsletter provides a synopsis of the program:

New Hampshire’s Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) pilot will allow locally managed assessments to count toward federal accountability requirements. New Hampshire’s PACE project began in 2012 as an opt-in effort for districts to coordinate local approaches to performance assessment. Starting this year, the four PACE implementing districts—Sanborn Regional, Rochester, Epping, and Souhegan—will administer the Smarter Balanced assessment once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school (in three grades instead of seven). In all other years when students aren’t taking Smarter Balanced assessments, the PACE districts will administer carefully designed common and locally managed “performance assessments” that were developed by the districts themselves and validated at the state level.

Some background: in 2005 the New Hampshire State Board of Education adopted a policy that eliminated seat time as the primary basis for awarding high school credit. This opened the door for school districts to put competency based programs in place at the high school level, a door that few districts walked through during the five years that followed… and a door that many school boards were reluctant to open at all. In the high achieving New Hampshire School District district I led from 2004-11 we already had independent study courses in place that awarded competency-based credit. These courses were available to students who excelled in certain areas and wanted to pursue independent research projects in that area and, on a limited basis, to students who needed a different format for learning. Expanding this concept to all courses was difficult for two reasons: it required more marginally higher staffing than the traditional model and it required a change from the traditional method of grading and grouping of students— a change that could result in lower SAT scores and/or confusion in admissions offices of elite colleges.

I believe the cost differentials could be minimized if not eliminated altogether if a school system adopted competency-based learning across the board and could prepare spreadsheets to illustrate this. But I am not so certain that politicians, school boards, parents, and traditional colleges will be easily persuaded that the abandonment of the Carnegie Unit is feasible. New Hampshire’s experience illustrates how difficult a change like this is. Former State Superintendent Nick Donohue succeeded in getting the State Board to adopt his proposal to abandon “seat time” and a decade later four of the 90+ districts in the State are experimenting with an alternative to standardized testing that is based on the assumptions implicit in that action… and doing so on an experimental basis. How much longer will it take for other districts to join in? This paragraph from Stacy Khadaroo’s Christian Science Monitor article suggests it will take some time:

New Hampshire hopes to slowly scale up the experiment. There are other districts waiting in the wings to switch to the performance-based assessments as early as next year, (Sanborn HS Principal) Mr. Marion says. He’s also aware of a handful of states eager to move in this direction, though he wonders if they might get “skittish” when they find out how much work it’s taken to develop and vet the new assessments.

The combination of gridlocked politicians, sluggish school boards, tradition-bound teachers and parents, and timid leaders will make change a daunting a challenge. The only hope is that the weariness over standardized testing will accelerate the changes students need.


Sin Tax Bonanza! Pot Proceeds Provide Colorado Public Schools With Avalanche of Revenue

March 29, 2015 Leave a comment

The moral debates over the legalization of marijuana are quickly disappearing as legislators look at the results of excise taxes in Colorado. As reported in Britain’s Daily Mail tabloid and the US magazine The Week, Colorado’s taxes on marijuana have increased tenfold bringing in $2.3 million in revenues. Most states I’ve worked in dedicate gambling revenues and/or alcohol revenues to schools and when it is necessary to find new revenues the solution invariably is to raise “sin taxes”. Given that there is diminishing evidence that marijuana in and of itself is a “gateway drug” and given the lack of political courage on the part of many legislators as evidenced by their unwillingness to raise broad based taxes to fund schools, it seems likely that more and more states will look at the revenues garnered by Colorado and follow suit.

I am in favor of legalization for four major reasons. First, it will end the real gateway element of marijuana use, which is breaking the law. Marijuana use requires the buyer to break the law in order to make a purchase and, consequently, the widespread use of marijuana makes lawlessness acceptable.   Secondly, given the fact that lawless people are dealing the drug, it increases the probability that the “sales personnel” will market higher potency drugs that are for more dangerous and addictive than the lower grade marijuana that a regulated marketplace would make available. It is the sale of drugs by lawless marketeers that makes marijuana into a “gateway drug”, not the drug itself. This leads to the third reason I am in support of legalization: doing so would ensure that the THC dosages are lower and less addictive. Fourth, and of greatest interest to legislators, it would bring new revenues to state coffers while arguably diminishing costs for law enforcement and prisons. The additional revenues could be earmarked for schools, drug treatment, early childhood education, or the general coffers. Legal marijuana will feed legislators’ addictions to quick and painless fixes to revenue gaps… expect to see it spread rapidly in the coming decade.