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Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

Child Care, Prekindergarten and Vouchers

November 24, 2014 Leave a comment

Today’s editorial praising the bi-partisan Child Care bill reinforced my notion that preschool programming is a vehicle for getting vouchers into schools… and that both the neo-liberals and conservatives are on the same page on the privatization movement. Here are some excerpts from the editorial that led to that conclusion:

The new law, the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act, makes safety and other improvements to the $5.2 billion child care program, which provides grants to states to help low-income parents who work, or are enrolled in job training or school, obtain child care, mostly through federal vouchers.

Existing statutory provisions untouched by the new revisions allow parents to use the vouchers at religious facilities, as long as the child care provided does not involve religious instruction or worship. The wording does leave room for discrimination on the basis of religion in hiring for some positions, although not in admissions. Using public money for hiring that is based on religion raises constitutional concerns. But in 2002, the Supreme Court dismissed constitutional objections to a similar voucher plan in a case involving Cleveland public and parochial schools.

The quid pro quo in the near unanimous support for the voucher model was not explicitly stated, but likely revolves around the need for all members of congress to show they can pass SOMETHING to help working parents and the hope on the part of bona fide liberals and progressives that more money might be forthcoming for programs to help children in need, something the editorial endorses at the end:

What the country needs is high-quality child care that provides an enriching learning environment. And that takes more money.

Here’s the multi-billion dollar question, though: IF a substantial sum of money is available for “… high-quality child care that provides an enriching learning environment” contingent on that funding is contingent on the use of vouchers. It’s no surprise to readers that my answer is: “Do NOT expand the use of vouchers! Allow public schools to oversee the funding an operation of preschool programs.”

Charters, Tracking, Real Estate, and Re-Segregation

November 24, 2014 Leave a comment

Two recent articles illustrate how charter schools and tracking amplify the trend of re-segregation in public schools, a trend that is tied inextricably to zip codes.

Last week Atlantic blogger Sonali Kohli posted an article titled “Modern Day Segregation in Public Schools” that described how the longstanding practice of tracking exacerbates the emerging trend of resegregation using a recent NJ State Board decision to illustrate her point. The problem local districts face is that their use of standardized test scores, GPAs, and teacher recommendations to determine who qualifies for advanced courses or “gifted and talented” courses results in a disproportionate number of white students being placed in classrooms. The USDOE, which requires States to use standardized testing to identify “failing schools”, is intervening and recommending some sort of de facto quota system whereby the districts who using tracking of any kind must ensure that the student populations in advanced levels and/or gifted and talented programs mirror the racial patterns of the district as a whole.

Today’s NJSpotlight features an insightful blog post by Laura Waters titled “Self Selection of Public Schools, New Jersey’s Double Standard” which uses a recent quote from Newark’s CEO Cami Anderson as the jumping off point:

In response to a question regarding a four-point drop in test scores among Newark students enrolled in traditional elementary schools, Anderson acknowledged that the city’s growing sector of public charter schools serves children who are less poor and less likely to be classified as eligible for special-education services.

“I’m not saying they [the charter schools] are out there intentionally skimming,”said Anderson, “but all of these things are leading to a higher concentration of the neediest kids in fewer [district] schools.”

Charter advocates winced and went on the defensive. Charter detractors grinned and high-fived. Both reactions miss the point.

The point Ms. Waters makes is one that I’ve made in this blog on several occasions:  parents in affluent zip codes get a wider range of choices than parents in urban areas serving children raised in poverty:

Given a choice between Newark and Millburn, motivated parents of any means would most likely choose to send their kids to school in the latter, as long as they could afford the freight of the median house cost of $665,000 and an average annual tax bill of $20,439. This sort of self-selection — skimming, if you will — is regarded as a cause for applause, an emblem of good values and good parenting. In New Jersey we embrace school skimming. With our ZIP code-driven district-assignment system, town choice is school choice. If you can afford granite countertops then you can afford great public schools.

Ms. Waters chides those who criticize charters in urban systems for skimming of the best and brightest children of engaged parents without challenging the de facto segregation that results from real estate choices.

But in Newark, a system that allows families to choose more successful, albeit nontraditional, public schools is suddenly suspect. A proud N.J. tradition is transformed into a scourge, simply because we’re talking about poor parents and not rich ones.

Waters describes offers a lukewarm proposal for solving the problem but closes with a statement that poses a conundrum for those of us who do not want to see the expansion of for profit charter schools:

So what’s the answer? Paul Tractenberg half-heartedly suggests county-wide school districts, although he concedes that such a conversion is a “quintessential political third rail” due to New Jersey’s addiction to local control. Whatever that answer is or, indeed, whether it exists, let’s agree that parents should be able to make school choices for their children, and that their right to do so shouldn’t rest on their ability to afford granite countertops.

Here’s the conundrum from my perspective: politics is the art of the determining what is possible as opposed to what is ideal… and what is possible NOW under the system we have in place is offering choices within districts and ensuring that those choices within districts do not result in segregation by race. Charter schools, be they for-profit or not-for-profit, are the most politically viable solution we have NOW. The political reality as I see it is that any solutions that approach the “ideal” (e.g. choice among all schools, equitable funding across the board, early intervention programs for children raised in poverty, county districts that enable the re-drawing of boundaries to achieve racial and socio-economic balance, etc.)  are, to echo Mr. Tractenberg, a “quintessential third rail”.

In earlier posts I’ve proposed a third rail solution with relatively voltage: the redirection of ALL federal funds to less affluent districts in states, like NJ, where civil rights violations are found and/or courts have determined that existing funding mechanisms are unconstitutional. It’s been 60 years since Brown vs. Board of Education and in those years the Federal funding for public schooling has increased substantially and enrollment patterns driven by zip codes have increased segregation across the country. One look at the data cited in each of these articles should persuade anyone that segregation continues within school districts and between school districts and the current tools in play, “strongly worded directives” and de facto quota systems are unsatisfactory and simplistic solutions to deep and complicated problems. Redistribution of federal funding to address issues decided in State and/or federal courts would promote local solutions to these problems.

From my perspective, the ideal solution to all equity issues would be the institution of constitutionally equitable per pupil allocations, the abandonment of age-based cohorts, and the implementation of individualized instruction programs. Such a reformatting of school would help schools develop self-actualized learners who have the interpersonal skills to thrive in the multi-cultural world our students are living in. If we want a fully engaged electorate of well-informed voters we cannot continue operating public schools that segregate students based on their learning rates, the knowledge they bring into schools when they enter, and whether their parents can afford granite counter tops. Such a system only reinforces what we have in place today and the direction we are heading.

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?

Keep Your Eye on the .01%

November 21, 2014 Leave a comment

Several articles of late have emphasized that “the 1%” aren’t the real problem with the effects of inequality in our country, it’s the .01%.

Progressive economist Robert Reich’s essay titled ” If you Want to Know What’s Happened to Our Democracy, Follow the Richest .01%”, describes the effects of inequality in stark terms. After providing lots of statistical information detailing how wide the spread is between the 16,000 people who control 11% of the total wealth in our country, and a description of how this is affecting the debts of the bottom 90%, Reich outlines the political reasons for why we should care about this:

…the top .01 percent have also been investing their money in politics. And these investments have been changing the game.

In the 2012 election cycle (the last for which we have good data) donations from the top .01 accounted for over 40 percent of all campaign contributions, according to a study by Professors Adam Bonica, Nolan McCarty, Keith Poole, and Howard Rosenthal.

This is a huge increase from 1980, when the top .01 accounted for ten percent of total campaign contributions….

All this money has flowed to Democrats as well as Republicans.

In fact, Democrats have increasingly relied on it. In the 2012 election cycle, the top .01 percent’s donations to Democrats were more than four times larger than all labor union donations to Democrats put together.

(And) their political investments have paid off in the form of lower taxes on themselves and their businesses, subsidies for their corporations, government bailouts, federal prosecutions that end in settlements where companies don’t affirm or deny the facts and where executives don’t go to jail, watered-down regulations, and non-enforcement of antitrust laws.

Since the top .01 began investing big time in politics, corporate profits and the stock market have risen to record levels. That’s enlarged the wealth of the richest .01 percent by an average of 7.8 percent a year since the mid-1980s.

But the bottom 90 percent don’t own many shares of stock. They rely on wages, which have been trending downward. And for some reason, politicians don’t seem particularly intent on reversing this trend.

If you want to know what’s happened to the American economy, follow the money. That will lead you to the richest .01 percent.

And if you want to know what’s happened to our democracy, follow the richest .01 percent. They’ll lead you to the politicians who have been selling our democracy.

But why should advocates of public education care about this increasing inequality? An Inside Philanthropy blog post titled “Be Afraid: The Five Scariest Trends in Philanthropy” by David Callahan outlines five reasons:

  1. The growing push to convert wealth into power: (see Reich’s article and this quote from Callahan offers an example in public education: “Look at nearly any sector of U.S. society, and you’ll find private funders wielding growing power. Most dramatic has been the reshaping of public education by philanthropists like Gates and the Waltons, but the footprint of private money has also grown when it comes to healthcare, the environment, the economy, social policy, science, and the arts.

    Whether you agree or disagree with the specific views pushed by private funders, you’ve got to be disturbed by the growing army of hands-on mega donors and foundations that seems to get more clever every year about converting their money into societal influence. Love it or hate it, the Common Core is a great example: In effect, private funders are helping determine how tens of millions of kids will be educated for years to come. And to think that we once saw public education as America’s most democratic institution!”

  2. How philanthropic dollars have become another form of political money: (see Reich’s article for lots of examples)
  3. The decline of the public sector relative to private fundersThis means that as public funding for schools diminishes and schools are privatized the wealth trickles UPWARD instead of ACROSS the workforce. As a result, the extraordinarily wealthy individuals (e.g. philanthropists) who make “generous donations” to public schools have more and more influence in how schools spend money.
  4. The rise of the know-it-all funderSee Bill Gates and any hedge fund manager or technology squillionaire who provides a “generous donation” to schools contingent on the implementation of a program they are certain will be a game-changer. Callahan describes how this is playing out in public education: “In an age of hands-on living mega donors, the possibilities for big screwups are self-evident and we’ve seen some doozies so far—like, say, turning urban school districts upside down to create small high schools and then realizing that this idea wasn’t as brilliant as MS-DOS.”
  5. A rising flood of anonymous moneyThis is playing out as dark money flows into elections for State and County Superintendents, governors, and various referenda on issues like the elimination of tenure, school funding, etc. 

Inequality matters to public education and it matters to democracy. Here’s hoping that the issue gets an airing in 2016… but as long as the richest .01% buy and own our political leaders and buy and control the advertising that is the basis for voters’ decision making having a dialog on this issue will be difficult.

Guns Again….

November 20, 2014 Leave a comment

On the one hand I feel bad posting twice in one day about gun violence, but this article in the Washington Post merits a post of its own. After digging around on Google I’ve learned that six states, OK, MO, IL, TN, AR,  and NJ, specifically mandate active shooter drills for schools while 26 other states require general school lockdown or safety drills. Last year 10 State legislatures considered legislation that mandate “active shooter drills” as outlined in this synopsis written by Lauren Heintz for the National Conference of State Legislatures:

Since the Newtown, Conn., school shooting tragedy in December 2012, state lawmakers have been working on strategies to strengthen K-12 safety and preparedness. One of the most common responses has been to add “active shooter” or “school intruder” drills to the list of general emergency drills that 32 states already require schools to conduct for earthquakes, fires, tornadoes and other potential disasters.

Lawmakers in 10 states—Arkansas, California,  Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee—have introduced such legislation since last year. The bills tend to address only general requirements for the drills, such as how many must be conducted each year and who needs to be involved, rather than specifically what should occur during the drill. Like the laws requiring schools to conduct general emergency drills, the proposed “active shooter” measures give districts and schools the flexibility to implement the type of drill they determine is best for them, from simple discussions and table-top exercises to full-scale operations involving emergency and law enforcement personnel.

To address  concerns that the “active shooter” drills might unduly frighten children, the National Association of School Psychologists has created guidelines for the drills.They include recommendations that school officials steer clear of potentially traumatic stimuli, such as blank bullets or fake blood; collaborate with an outside expert to conduct the drills; and focus on communicating the purpose of the drills with students and families well in advance.

The mandatory active shooter drills provide zealous police forces with an opportunity to use their acting talents as the Washington Post article referenced above indicated. That article featured this picture from an “active shooter drill” staged earlier this year in NJ:

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The picture raised a number of questions in my mind:

  • Who took the picture?
  • Who gave authorization for this to occur?
  • Who authorized the picture?
  • Why are the policeman smiling?
  • Were parents smiling when they received panicked texts from their children?
  • How did administrators handle the influx of panicked parents?
  • Were the CHILDREN smiling afterwards?
  • How did teachers and school personnel handle the panicked children afterwards?
  • Were the TEACHERS smiling afterwards?
  • How did administrators deal with the teachers who were stunned by the unannounced drill?
  • Would the police have arrived before the shooter and his hostage left the school in a REAL “event” of this nature?
  • How would police handle a shooting event if their was already carnage in the school?
  • Do we need to legislate drills for cleaning up wounded bodies since most shooting incidents occur without warning and end within minutes?
  • Who thought this was a good idea?
  • Who drafted the legislation that mandated these drills?

I’ve got a catchy phrase for this kind of legislation: No Child Left Unafraid. I’ll be watching the legislative docket in NH to make sure I get an opportunity to weigh in any legislation they consider about this!

 

 

 

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.

Unions’ Self-Inflicted Wounds

November 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Thomas Edsall’s column today, “Republicans Sure Love to Hate Unions”, describes the systematic efforts of the Republican party to reduce the power of labor unions and, in so doing, diminish the power of the Democrats who benefit from the support of unions. But based on the content of his column, it could just have easily been titled “Neither Party Loves Unions” since he provides lots of evidence that the Democrats are ignoring union issues or— even worse, taking union support for granted— or worse yet, buying into an anti-union stance themselves. The article provided evidence of all three possibilities, noting that the Obamacare penalty for “Cadillac” health care provisions will hurt union members more than anyone else.

As I read this, though, I couldn’t help but notice that in some cases the unions are wounding themselves. In public schools, unions have adopted some of the concepts of their brethren in the auto industry (and, to be fair, Boards have adopted the same concepts in framing their bargaining positions). One particularly short-sighted approach to achieving settlements that enable management to reduce costs while simultaneously enabling veteran union members to get wage increases and retain benefits is to offer lower pay scales and fewer benefits to those to be hired in the future. As these bi-furcated agreements phase in, the newer employees have no reason to support the union and they often harbor resentments against their seasoned partners, resentments that manifest themselves in either NOT supporting the Democratic candidates chosen by the union or by staying home. This lack of enthusiasm for the union is, I believe, an underlying factor in the diminishing number of union members, especially as laws are passed that do not require everyone to pay union dues.

These bifurcated agreements also drive down wages and benefits, and those lower wages and benefits are a drag on the economy.  By agreeing to contracts that undercut wages of new hires the unions, then, are helping the pro-business candidates get elected… thereby closing a vicious cycle.