Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

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.

This Just In: Takeovers Don’t Pan Out!

March 21, 2015 Leave a comment

In the latest item to add to the “failed assumptions of reform” file, add this report from Detroit where Detroit News op ed writer Nolan Finley laments the failure of three “emergency managers” to rectify the financial problems with Detroit’s school system and the likely failures of the fourth one, Darnell Early, who has just taken over. But here’s the kicker: Finley mentions in passing that Governor Snyder has a plan for fixing the schools… and it’s one that will work very well from the Koch Brothers standpoint:

There’s talk of placing all schools, traditional and charter, under a new education czar, who may or may not be (Detroit) Mayor Mike Duggan. Where that leaves Earley and his plan, who knows?

Well I’ve got a wild guess as to where it leaves Darnell Early: on the outside looking in! And where does it leave Detroit school children? The same place. And where does it leave the privatizers who are likely the ones who are promoting the “talk of placing all schools, traditional and charter, under a new education czar”… laughing all the way to the bank. Welcome to the 21st century version of for-profit public schools.

Grassroots Parent Movement Disrupting Education In a GOOD Way: They are Opting Out of Tests

March 13, 2015 Leave a comment

What happens if a standardized test is given and not enough students are present to make its results valid? Will the testing movement be brought to a halt? Will the parents who keep their children home be fined or penalized? Will the children who stay home be held back? Will the administrators and/or political leaders make examples of the opt-out movement?

Based on reports from schools across NYC and NYS it appears that we might get the answer to the question soon! Based on reports my daughter is feeding me from Facebook posts from schools in Brooklyn and countless articles that are arriving daily in RSS feeds, it appears that a REAL grassroots movement is occurring among public school parents who are dismayed over the time their children are losing to tests and their sense that schools will become test preparation factories instead of centers of inquiry. One of the best articles I’ve read on this topic was Jake Dobkins’, “Public School Kids to Cuomo: Don’t Destroy Our Schools” which appeared in today’s Gothamist. In the article Dobkins describes the rally in his neighborhood school in Brooklyn, PS 10, a rally that featured AFT leaders, local politicians, and a small cadre of media. The article stood out, though, because Dobkins captured the essence of everything that is wrong with the testing in a paragraph full of tough questions that “reformers” are not addressing:

Who would want to work a job where half your yearly evaluation was based on something you had very little control over? What would happen if we fired all the teachers with low-scoring classes, since most of those teachers work in schools in the poorest neighborhoods? How would you replace all those teachers? What would New York look like if all the schools were charters, free to curate their classes with high-performing kids? Where would all the other kids go?

He then describes HIS experience as a teacher, how the test-centric curriculum is affecting his twin sister who teaches in a NYC elementary school. He gives readers a behind the scenes picture of how difficult and challenging it is to be a teacher.

My concern about Dobkins coverage and that of the mainstream media is the emphasis on the union’s participation in these protests. I fear that every time the media coverage includes the name of the union president or of the teachers union’s building representative it will lead readers to the wrongheaded conclusion that these protests are being orchestrated by the unions. The coverage will also lend credence to Cuomo’s allies who will inevitably wave the press coverage and claim the union is behind this movement.

Based on my daughter’s experience as a member of the parent’s organization’s political action team at her son’s school in Brooklyn the unions are NOT directing this movement! Indeed, based on many email exchanges I’ve had with her on the issue I sense that the movement to oppose over-testing is organic to a fault. The parents in her school write their own public relations releases, compose their own letters to city, state, and federal officials, and develop strategies for changing the direction they see their school headed if Governor Cuomo’s package passes. And while the parent group’s written materials include links to information provided on teachers union websites and/or to organizations that the unions sponsor, most of their links are to other parent organizations and to articles and written material they’ve prepared reporting the economic and educational impact to their school should Governor Cuomo’s “reforms” pass. After working for 37+ years in public schools, 35+ as an administrator, I know the difference between a union led movement and a parent-led movement and what is happening in NYC and— from what I’ve read— across the state is being driven by parents and it could be formidable and viral if it succeeds…. and it gives me hope…. and as Dobkins writes in his article’s concluding paragraphs, if hope is combined with action it is possible to stop Cuomo’s “reforms” in their tracks:

The only real hope is that if enough people come out for protests like these, perhaps his political calculus will change slightly- although that seems like a long shot. As a parent with a kid in public school, though, and another one starting soon, that’s what I’m hoping for- the alternative, which is a dystopian future where all the public school kids are packed into classes with 40 kids while their buildings are given away to charter schools and their teachers flee for less stressful careers, is just too depressing to contemplate.

If you agree, consider sending the Governor a polite email, asking him to reconsider this position. The budget isn’t done yet, and there’s still time for him to change his mind.

Getting Governor Cuomo to change his mind about his “reform” initiative is an extremely long shot… but it IS possible to get parents across the state to understand the impact of Cuomo’s “reform” package on their child’s school and if parents across the state continue communicating their opposition with their Assemblymen and State Senators there is a better than 50-50 chance their voices will be heard. There is hope if action is taken now.

Painful Lessons Lead to Moynihan’s Rehabilitation

March 12, 2015 Leave a comment

Nick Kristoff’s NYTimes column, “When Liberals Blew It“, marks the nearly complete rehabilitation of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a sub-Cabinet member of the Johnson administration who later became a member of Nixon’s cabinet and ultimately was a three term senator in New York. Moynihan was a persona non grata to the liberal wing of the Democrat party in the 60s based on a report he wrote describing the adverse impact of both slavery and single parent households on the upbringing of young blacks. At the time he issued his report, he was excoriated by many on the left and many black activists for their perception he was “blaming the victim” for their station in life. Kristof selected one quote that captured the antipathy Moynihan generated at the time:

“My major criticism of the report is that it assumes that middle-class American values are the correct values for everyone in America,” protested Floyd McKissick, then a prominent African-American civil rights leader.

When I was a graduate student at University of Pennsylvania in the early 1970s I wrote a report advocating early intervention for children being raised in poverty, recommending more funds for structured preschool education programs like the ones in Ann Arbor Michigan. Many of my classmates at the time echoed McKissick’s criticism, and others, who privately agreed with my proposals later, were quiet— as were other moderate liberals at the time.

The government’s role in mitigating against family dysfunction is not easy to define. We tend to favor keeping children with biological parents for as long as possible even if those parents have limited resources and/or limited parenting skills. We tend to impose economic penalties on wives who want to move out of abusive relationships even though remaining in those relationships exposes their children to violent and aggressive behavior. And, as Kristof notes, we tend to imprison the fathers of too many children reinforcing the vicious cycle of crime and poverty in impoverished neighborhoods. Here’s Kristoff’s analysis of the conservatives’ fundamental error in the fight against poverty:

Conservatives shouldn’t chortle at the evidence that liberals blew it, for they did as well. Conservatives say all the right things about honoring families, but they led the disastrous American experiment in mass incarceration; incarceration rates have quintupled since the 1970s. That devastated families, leading countless boys to grow up without dads.

The conservative’s belief that “government is the problem” also damaged any hope of meaningful early childhood intervention and their ongoing objections to “government schools” makes any expansion of preschool to help needy children highly unlikely. And many of today’s liberals, like their predecessors, are likely to push back at any effort to have the government impose “middle class American values”, especially if those “middle class American values” involved funding any religious organizations or advocating mindless consumption.

One thing IS clear: continuing what we’ve done for the past 50 years will get us nowhere… and one thing we HAVEN’T been doing is spending too much money on this issue. My thought: if we want to break the cycle of dysfunction that has existed for decades and is getting worse, we need to be willing to spend more on early intervention and one unarguable need is access to medical and mental health services for all children, not just those fortunate to have been born in the right zip code. Maybe a latter day Moynihan will emerge— perhaps someone like Robert Putnam— and call for something along these lines so that we can move the debate away from moral issues related to single parent households and toward ameliorating the physical and psychological pain their children struggle with on a daily basis.

New York Daily News Connects the Dots… Hedge Fund $$$ to Cuomo = More For-Profit Schools

March 12, 2015 Leave a comment

This just in! The New York Daily News reports on the link between hedge fund spending on Cuomo’s campaign and the increase in the number of charter schools! The Daily News writes:

Hedge fund executives have unleashed a tsunami of money the past few years aimed at getting New York’s politicians to close more public schools and expand charter schools.

They’ve done it through direct political contributions, through huge donations to a web of pro-charter lobbying groups, and through massive TV and radio commercials.

Since 2000, 570 hedge fund managers have shelled out nearly $40 million in political contributions in New York State, according to a recent report by Hedge Clippers, a union-backed research group.

The single biggest beneficiary has been Andrew Cuomo, who received $4.8 million from them.

Several of the governor’s big hedge fund donors, such as Carl Icahn, of Icahn Enterprises, Julian Robertson of Tiger Management, and Daniel Loeb, of Third Point LLC, are also longtime backers of charter schools.

Loeb is chairman of the board of the Success Academy network run by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz. He’s given $62,000 to Cuomo, while 18 other members of the Success Academy board or their family members have given nearly $600,000 to the governor, according to state campaign records.

The article featured several pictures of the investors… including this one of Daniel Loeb:


Oh… is that the New York Times backdrop? Hm-m-m-m….

Read the article in full and see if you can connect some other dots. Is it possible that Cuomo insistence on using tests might provide evidence to close the “government monopoly” schools? Is it possible that the massive TV and radio commercials have created the conventional wisdom that “schools are failing” and “bad teachers” are the problem? Is it possible that the oligarchs want some of the money that is being spent by the “government monopoly” schools?

The New Yorker’s Take on Cuomo’s Testing Initiative Understates VAM’s Statistical Flaws

March 12, 2015 Leave a comment

The New Yorker provides its readers with a “Daily Comment” feed that provides a column on a timely issue and, it being mid-March, the timely issue is the annual ritual of standardized testing in New York Schools. While I was heartened to see that the New Yorker was covering the emerging grassroots protests in opposition to the testing, I felt that Rebecca Mead’s article, “When a Teacher’s Job Depends on a Child’s Test”, neglected to emphasize the invalidity of the tests that are being used and failed to mention how the Common Core and standardized testing that accompanies the Common Core are being used to undercut the public’s faith in public education and thereby opening the door to privatization. A few phrases from the article will illustrate some of my concerns. To frame the issue of testing and teacher evaluation, Ms. Mead writes:

That teachers should be evaluated is an assertion with which no reasonable person involved with education—from a policy-maker to a parent—is likely to disagree. But how teachers might best be evaluated remains a contested science.

If a reader takes the time to click on the link, they will find that linking teacher evaluations to “growth” as measured by successive standardized tests is NOT “contested” any more than climate change is “contested” for the American Statistical Association has issued a statement indicating that the formulas used by states to evaluate teachers “can’t actually do this with sufficient reliability and validity” and, therefore, should not be used for any personnel decisions.  There is no mention of this anywhere in the article, which is an injustice to those of us who are opposed to the emphasis on standardized testing in public schools.

Further along in the article, Mead writes: “Cuomo’s faith in the results of state tests as the best measure of the abilities of both students and teachers is not universally shared.” At this juncture she emphasizes the political debates on testing at the expense of the educational and statistical ones. While she provides a thorough recounting the thoughtful testimony offered in Albany by Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Farina, she fails to mention the opposition of Superintendents groups, Principals associations, and school boards across the state, all of whom have expressed reservations about Cuomo’s plans based on the lack of educational value of the tests.

Ms. Mead is also remiss in allowing Arne Duncan to have it both ways on the testing issue, writing:

Even Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, whose department ties school funding to test results, has warned that “too much testing can rob school buildings of joy, and cause unnecessary stress,” noting that testing should only be one measure of progress. “In too many places, testing itself has become a distraction from the work it is meant to support,” Duncan wrote last fall.

She either doesn’t know that Mr. Duncan is the one who introduced the linkage of student tests to teacher evaluations with his misbegotten Race to the Top initiative or is giving him a free pass when he makes this disingenuous “warning”.

Ms. Mead provides a good overview of the nascent opt-out movement and notes that New York City is moving away from its reliance on tests as a means of determining placement in magnet schools. And, in the end, Ms. Mead DOES view Governor Cuomo faith in testing as a questionable political move:

In the light of such widespread skepticism about over-reliance on test results—and such widespread consensus about the detrimental effects engendered by teaching to the test—the governor’s doubling down on state test results to assess teachers’ effectiveness seems a questionable calculation.

From my perspective, though, in framing the opposition to testing as “widespread skepticism” Ms. Mead overlooks the settled science on value-added measures in the same way legislators in oil-rich states overlook climate change and, in so doing, perpetuates the public’s belief that standardized tests can be used to measure teacher performance.

Finally, and most importantly, Ms. Mead doesn’t challenge the notion that poor performance on tests is the result of poor teaching and bad schools. The tacit acceptance of Cuomo’s assertion that low test scores can be raised by ridding the schools of ineffective teacher effectively reinforces this meme and consequently reinforces the notion that schools can be “fixed” by firing bad teachers and replacing bad  government monopoly schools with good free-market schools. More than anything, THAT toxic assumption needs to be challenged, for THAT assumption is diminishing the ability to attract people into public school teaching.

Vermont’s Personalized Learning Plans COULD be the New Reality… IF…

March 11, 2015 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch devoted a blog post yesterday to an ongoing debate involving the Rivendell school district just north of where I live and the Vermont Agency of Education (AoE). The Principal of Rivendell Academy, Keri Gelenian, wrote a letter to Rebecca Holcombe, the State Commissioner of Education. Full disclosure: Rebecca Holcombe was a parent in the district I led for seven years and I have some awareness of Vermont’s school districts having consulted in several of them… so I am not an innocent bystander to the balancing act Rebecca Holcombe faces nor am I impartial: I have a deep respect for her ideas about education and her principles.

I also have respect and admiration for the Vermont legislature. Unlike many states that have passed boilerplate ALEC legislation, the Vermont legislature crafts their education bills carefully. They create study committees that include educators and convene hearings that influence the ultimate passage of the laws. Once laws are passed, the State Board, the governing board of the agency responsible for developing regulations, also convenes hearings and seeks input form all those who would be affected. This is the way democracy is supposed to work, which is why it is maddening to read about states like Wisconsin, Florida, Texas and New York who’s governors unilaterally impose “reform” without seeking input from studies involving practitioners.

One of the laws passed during Dr. Holcombe’s tenure as Commissioner is Act 77 which required the implementation of Personalized Learning Plans (PLPs). As described on the Vermont AoE webpage, PLPs will “… help students achieve academic success, be prepared for post-secondary opportunities, and engage actively in civic life.”  By law, all Vermont schools

…will need to ensure that they have designed a PLP process for implementation beginning in the fall of 2015. Schools will be expected to initiate a process for students to identify their goals, learning styles, and abilities and align this with the school’s academic expectations and student’s pathway toward graduation.

If you were the parent of a student attending a middle or high school,

  • Would you rather have one-size-fits-all-standardized tests as the basis for measuring your child’s progress or an individualized learning plan that matches their unique abilities with the academic program offered at the school?
  • Would you rather have the teachers and counselors at the school your child attends give you feedback on your child’s progress or have a print-out from a corporate testing company give you the results?
  • Would you rather have the teachers assess your child’s performance on academic goals YOU set or have a corporate testing company assess your child’s performance on academic goals set by a team of “national leaders”?

As Buckminster Fuller wrote: “The best way to change the current reality is to create a new reality that makes the old one obsolete.” PLPs are a new reality that should make the old reality of standardization obsolete… but the old reality cannot change until the federal government gets out of the way! With all of this as context, here is the comment I left on Diane Ravitch’s blog:

Keep Rebecca Holcombe on your heroes list… as her exchange with Arne Duncan indicates, she is resolute on this issue but needs to tread carefully because of the budget impact to the entire state IF the federal government decided to “make an example” of VT. Under her leadership VT has done a good job in keeping their perspective on the test results.

Instead of protesting the AoE for carrying out the SBAC because of the political realities, I would encourage VT educators to get behind the full and complete implementation of the Personalized Learning Plans (PLPs) developed by the AoE. The PLPs are a better means of measuring student performance than standardized tests. They compel students and parents to plan for the future and they use the insights of teachers and counselors instead of the cold numbers generated by tests. As Buckminster Fuller wrote: “The best way to change the current reality is to create a new reality that makes the old one obsolete.” PLPs are a new reality that should make the old reality of standardization obsolete… but it will only happen if the federal government gets out of the way!