Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

Goodbye NCLB and RTTT. Hello Privatization.

December 18, 2014 Leave a comment

After the Republicans swept into office a month ago, it is now clear that both NCLB and RTTT are going to be eliminated AND there will be an increase in the maximum amount available for Pell grants AND the incoming House Education Committee leader is pledging full funding for special education. Yet there is no sense of elation among those of us who have advocated for their demise. Why?

Progressive educators are sitting in stunned silence because they se that the increase in the number of Republican State legislatures and the increase in Republican governors the path for wholesale privatization and ALEC-inspired legislation is clear.

Progressive educators are dismayed because they see that NCLB’s punitive approach, RTTT’s overreach, and the CCSS backlash has played into the hands of privatizers and ALEC… and they see that if the GOP DOES increase funding for special education it will warm the hearts of local property taxpayers and school boards who have absorbed costs for special education for decades.

Here’s a dystopian scenario for the next few months:

  • Urban school districts are turned over to States who then turn them over to for-profit “school management” firms
  • Suburban and rural school boards, parents, and taxpayers are thrilled by the increase in special education funding and are elated that their state tax dollars will be “saved” by the state’s takeover of urban schools
  • Think tanks and university education and economics professors funded by the oligarchs will issue data supporting the cost-effectiveness of the privatized urban school districts
  • Voters with no children in public schools and/or no children in URBAN public schools will indicate their support for these changes in focus groups and neither party will want to undo what the 2015-16 legislature has done
  • Public education will exacerbate the economic divide instead of serving as a means of breaking the vicious cycle of poverty.

After November’s election results, the de-funding of the loathed RTTT, the likely demise of the CCSS, and the plans to fully fund special education it is hard to envision a different scenario that the one outlined above…. but one needs to be developed soon or social mobility will be even more challenging in the future.


“Bad Teacher” Meme Disproven… Again

December 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes had an article with this headline:

New York City Teachers Score Highly Under New Evaluation System

The lead paragraph trumpeted the good news:

Nine out of 10 New York City teachers received one of the top two rankings in the first year of a new evaluation system that was hailed as a better way of assessing how they perform, according to figures released on Tuesday.

This came on top of recent reports that only .4% of the teachers in the state were rated “ineffective”. One would think that politicians, education leaders, and parents would be thrilled with this finding… but instead here are the responses:

“Two percent (of the teachers receiving “ineffective” ratings in NYC) is worrisome,” Sandi Jacobs, the vice president and managing director for state policy at the National Council on Teacher Quality, said of the number of teachers found to be “developing” in the rest of the state. The council has pushed for states to do a better job of identifying ineffective teachers.

Timothy Daly, the president of theNew Teacher Project, an education reform group that advocates more rigorous teacher evaluations, said, “Many districts appear to have completely botched this.”

The New York State education commissioner, John B. King Jr., said in a statement: “I’m concerned that in some districts, there’s a tendency to blanket everyone with the same rating. That defeats the purpose of the observations and the evaluations, and we have to work to fix that.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said he wants to strengthen the evaluation system. On Tuesday, a spokeswoman, Melissa DeRosa, said, “As the governor previously stated, stronger, more competitive, teacher evaluation standards will be a priority” for the next legislative session.

The “reformers” could “prove” students were failing by rigging the cut scores and will subsequently be able to use the cut scores to “prove” reforms work. But when it came to teacher evaluations, the only conclusion the “reformers” seem to reach is that the independent evaluators MUST BE WRONG because WE KNOW THAT BAD TEACHING IS THE REASON STUDENTS FAIL TESTS!  And we will continue pounding that message home and massaging the evaluation system until we can prove it! To paraphrase the t-shirt slogan: “Evaluation “reform” will continue until we prove teachers are failing”…

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The Privatization of York City Schools

December 16, 2014 Leave a comment

AlJazeera America posted an article describing the pending recommendation of the State-appointed “Chief Recovery Officer” to turn all York City schools over to for-profit charters. This action was made possible by enabling legislation passed during Governor Thomas Corbett’s soon-to-be-concluded term, legislation that effectively turned the entire operation of “failing” school districts over to the State. Why the PA legislature would think that state intervention is the solution to “failing schools” is a mystery: they assumed control of the Chester-Upland school district decades ago and it hasn’t improved and the sad saga of the State’s intervention in the Philadelphia district has been lamented in many posts on this site. The bottom line: there is NO evidence that ANY for-profit charter operation will improve student outcomes and NO evidence that the loss of local control contains costs in the schools without cutting services to unacceptably low levels.

And here’s what is really happening in the urban areas in state receivership:  democracy and local rule are being thrown out and a “chief recovery officer” appointed by the state is being given complete and total authority. Voters and taxpayers in York City, Chester-Upland, and Philadelphia should be pushing back on this and insisting that the local school board be given the tools (and money) needed to improve the schools. It doesn’t take an degree in political science or an MBA to see what is going on here: the plutocrats who funded ALEC are getting lower corporate taxes, the opportunity to make profits through the privatization of public services, and the elimination of democracy at the local level. Here’s hoping the incoming Governor will undo this… and here’s hoping his actions are reported in the mainstream media as well as ÂlJazeera.

Daily News Op Ed Gets it Right

December 15, 2014 1 comment

An op-ed article in today’s NY Daily News, typically the source of a lot of privatization blather, is on the money. Written by two “transfer school” staff members, Tyler Brewster and Kate Rubenstein, “School Suspensions Ruin Students’ Lives” describes the absurdity of suspending students for minor offenses and expecting improvements despite years of evidence that this punishment does NOT change behavior. Brewster and Rubenstein provide data supporting this assertion and note the disparate treatment of students who make up the pool of students suspended from school and analogizes it to the “stop and frisk” practice that de Blasio opposed when he was running for mayor: :

According to the Department of Education, there were 53,504 suspensions in New York City during the last school year. Black students make up about 26% of the student population, but were 53% of those suspensions. Students with special needs or disabilities make up 19% of our students but were 36% of the suspensions.

And guess what? The most common reason for suspensions in New York City was “Infraction B-21: Defying or disobeying the lawful authority or directive of school personnel.”

Translation, in many cases: Talking back to a teacher or principal.

What we have here is the stop-and-frisk of school discipline policies. It might have been conceived as a neutral policy, but that’s not the way it plays out in practice. While the Department of Education Discipline Code outlines a range of nine possible responses to a B-21 infraction, far too often the response is still a suspension.

Instead of reflexively suspending students Brewster and Rubenstein offer alternative ideas:

What’s the better approach? Restorative justice programs that challenge students to take responsibility and make amends for their behavior, creating a safer and more positive environment for everyone in the school building. We should also roll out conflict resolution, collaborative problem-solving, peer mediation and mentoring programs.

And… anticipating the pushback from taxpayers, they offer an idea of where the funding might be found:

We often are told we don’t have the resources, training or time to handle conflict and discipline in a constructive way.

And yet we do have about $200 million to place thousands of School Safety Officers in our schools. In fact, there are more School Safety Officers in New York City schools than guidance counselors.

SROs are part of the “good guys with guns” approach to school safety… a method of behavior control that is external and reinforces the notion that having armed policeman on every corner will ensure safety more so than implementing programs that prevent the kind of anti-social behavior that results in suspensions and violence in school. We’ve chose to spend on good guys with guns, surveillance cameras, internet filters, and metal detectors instead of investing in programs that will help us gain mutual understanding and appreciation for each other. What’s wrong with this picture… and what does it portend for future generations?

Money For Nothing

December 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Two recent articles described the findings of a recent study conducted by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI). The Pacific Standard article by Lauren Kirchner, titled “The Cost of Juvenile Incarceration”, describes the broad findings of the JPI analysis, while the Reuters newswire cuts to the chase in it’s lengthy title: “Hidden Costs of Youth Incarceration Nationwide Estimated to Run Between $8 billion and $21 billion per year”.

Both articles describe the folly of this spending. The Reuters article reported that “Research shows that the experience of incarceration increases the likelihood that young people will commit a new offense in the future”. The Pacific Standard article provided some specific data to support that the money was not well spent:

If incarceration were expensive, but it worked, that would be one thing. But, as this report argues, it just doesn’t. About 60 percent of juveniles currently incarcerated are in for non-violent offenses, but research has shown that incarceration itself can increase the probability that they will re-offend as adults.

The Reuters article described the reality that black and Hispanic youth are incarcerated at MUCH higher rates.

…the report also notes that the system does not affect all young people equally. For example, African American youth are incarcerated at a rate nearly five times that of white youth, and Hispanic/Latino youth at a rate twice as high as whites. Even though young people engage in similar behavior, there are big differences in the way young people of color and white youth are treated.

The Pacific Standard dug into the economic analysis more deeply, noting that the costs for incarceration of youth would be even more staggering if the number of incarcerated youth hadn’t declined over the past…. and it notes that the unspent funds COULD have been invested in more effective programs:

“We have seen reductions in incarceration, which is great, but we have not seen those resources be re-invested sufficiently in communities,” said David Muhammad, director of national justice programs at the National Council of Crime & Delinquency. “We can re-invest those resources into things that are much better, like in-home family counseling, academic support, mentoring, and other positive youth-development approaches, to build on the strengths and assets of young people—and not simply focus on their deficits, or the one act of delinquency in their life that forever marks them.”

But we haven’t done so… and consequently we are spending just under $149,000 per incarcerated student on average in our country: more than ten times the average per pupil cost for a school student. Money for nothing….

“Fixes” Column’s Broken Premises

December 12, 2014 Leave a comment

The NYTimes “Fixes” column often includes creative ideas for changing the way we provide needed services to those in poverty or suffering from disease. Today’s column, “Big Ideas in Social Change, 2014“, however, is way off the mark. It offers three ideas that seem to be ripped from the pages of the 1%: Downshifting Jobs; Focus on People’s Strengths, Not Their Needs; and Target the “Social Determinants”. Many of the ideas are unconventional: they are different from the traditional approaches to the challenges those raised in poverty face. But all of the ideas are based are based on conventional wisdom, which is deeply flawed, as noted in the comment I left on the page:

These “Fixes” all seem to assume that we don’t have the money to fix things that are broken in our system… instead of paying those lacking a college degree a decent wage we help them “get an education” by finding welfare benefits and loans that will keep them indebted for years… instead of providing enough funds for the urban schools to employ paraprofessionals and teachers to work over the summer we draft unemployed and/or underemployed parents to volunteer… instead of paying medical professionals to treat illnesses like depression we get people to “cure themselves” by volunteering… instead of providing safe and decent housing for all and funds to monitor complaints by tenants we provide pro bono attorneys to sue negligent landlords… The notion that these “Fixes” are examples of “the perfect getting in the way of the good” is preposterous. These are examples of what results from Reagan’s premise that “government is the problem”; Bush I’s notion of that “a thousand points of light” can take the place of government services; Clinton’s notion that we needed to end “welfare as we know it” by requiring people to work at minimum wage jobs that formerly paid middle class wages; Bush II’s notion that people ought to assume personal responsibility for everything— including the bad luck of being born into poverty; and Obama’s unwillingness to push for single payer health care or a higher minimum wage. All of these lead us to believe “we don’t have the money” to fix what’s broken and reinforce the meme that “government is not the solution”.

The section of this article dealing with the Philadelphia schools use of volunteer instructional assistants was especially lacking in logic. Philadelphia HAD paraprofessional jobs that often paid decent wages and were held by people without teaching degrees… but when the State cut their spending on education many if not all of those jobs vanished. Now we are replacing PAID jobs with individuals drawn from the welfare rolls and from those who are underemployed. We took people who were earning sufficient funds to be independent and making them dependent on the government. How is THAT a “fix”?

Charter Capers

December 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Truthdig reported today on the practice of “sweeps contracts” whereby a NON-profit charter school is paid a flat fee for providing services and then ostensibly sub-contracts all it’s work to a FOR profit organization who’s detailed report is exempt from review by auditors. This funding mechanism is allowed in most States and has led to some charter chains making huge profits at the expense of taxpayers.

I can see now that the distinction I’ve made in this blog between for-profit charters and non-profit charters is insufficient because some “non-profit” charters are in effect fronts for for-profit organizations and, based on this report, those “non-profit” front organizations are intentionally opaque in their financial accounting and intentionally anti-democratic in their operations.

As a superintendent for 29 years I encouraged boards to consider outsourcing non-instructional functions. Whenever school boards outsource a function (like payroll, transportation, maintenance, cleaning, food services, etc) they lose direct control of that function. In exchange, however, they got lower costs for these functions which frees up more funds for the classroom. More importantly school boards no longer had to debate business functions, busses, buildings, and lunch from their agenda giving them more time to focus on instruction. Principals, too, liked the freedom from overseeing bus drivers, food service staff, and custodial staff. While not all outsourcing was advisable– custodial services and payroll provide to be especially problematic— when it worked will it accomplished the goals outlined above.

What’s happening today is different from the selective outsourcing I recommended. As the article indicated, when a school board outsources an entire school it is effectively abrogating its oversight responsibility for the children in that school and abrogating its responsibility to taxpayers to ensure their money is being wisely spent. For some elected school boards, that may be seen as a feature and not a bug: they may be willing to trade savings to taxpayers for loss of control and loss of oversight for the quality of the school… and when the quality of the school is reduced to a test score the savings are MUCH easier to achieve.