Inequality at the Center of Chicago Charter School Strikes

December 11, 2018 Leave a comment

This Common Dreams article is an excellent companion piece to Paul Buchheit’s article. It offers substantial evidence that “reformers” who offer privatization as the solution are in fact looking at deregulated for profit charter schools as a cash cow that will enable them to sidestep not only government regulations but also the wages, hours, and working conditions unionized teachers won for teachers over the past several years.

Source: Inequality at the Center of Chicago Charter School Strikes

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Paul Buchheit’s Alarming Look at the Inequitable World We Live in Now… And Our Children Will Live in Tomorrow

December 11, 2018 Leave a comment

The Inequality to be Suffered By Our Children” Paul Buchheit’s latest post for Common Dreams, describes the increasingly privatized world we live in and how that environment is impacting the world today and in the future for our children… and it is a disturbing reality. As always, Mr. Buchheit pulls no punches, offering this lead paragraph to set the stage for his essay:

The fortunate ones will not be suffering. In the past eight years, the richest 5% of Americans have increased their wealth by $30 trillion — almost a third of total U.S. wealth — while the poorest 50% have seen their average wealth drop from $11,500 to $9,500. There is ample evidence for a nation soon to be made even more unequal by the transfer of wealth from rich baby boomers to their children and grandchildren, who will have done little if anything to earn it. The middle class will be further crippled by the ongoing growth in inequality. Unless progressive policies are demanded by American voters, most of our children and grandchildren will suffer from the continuing expansion of a Great-Depression-like wealth gap that already “dwarfs” the rest of the developed world.  

Mr. Buchheit then offers several illustrations of how privatization of public services, an idea endorsed by both political parties, prevents the suffering of the most affluent Americans while adding onto the suffering of everyone else. And what is the income of  “the richest 5%”? A quick Google check indicates it could be anywhere from $130,000 upward based on a statistical calculation. But one chart in Wikipedia indicates how the income of the highest wage earners is unbelievably higher than that: As this chart illustrates, the top 400 wage earners have colossal earnings compared to the top 1.5%, whose earnings approach $1,000,000 per annum. And Mr. Buchheit cites studies and analyses that show that more and more of the wealth at the top is being transferred to heirs, many of whom are transferring it completely out of our economy through tax shelters.

These children of the ultra rich, though, are joined by their colleagues in the top echelons when it comes to displacing public services though privatization… and it isn’t hard to see where this is leading us:

The kids (raised in top earning households) will never have to worry about health care. They’ll continue their parents’ trend of paying ‘concierge’ doctors to visit their mansions or yachts, where emergency rooms are equipped with heart monitors, ultrasounds, x-ray machines, and blood analyzers. If a hospital stay is required, they might look into a $2,400 per day penthouse hospital suite complete with butler and grand piano.

In case of fire, they can follow the example of Kanye and Kim and hire a private firefighting service.

For security, the already proliferating private police forces are certain to fill the protection needs of the kids with newly-acquired estates. But private officers tend to be undertrained compared to public police; their acts of aggression are rarely reported; and in some states private forces are not even subject to investigation through the Freedom of Information Act.

And since the individuals who make these stratospheric wages are unwilling to share their largesse to provide services for everyone else by paying their fair share of taxes, public services are diminishing and more and more middle class children will experience the kinds of hospitals, schools, and emergency services that poor children encounter today.

Mr. Buchheit concludes his essay with this sobering news for those who see the Democrats as the group that can turn our current system around:

Democrats have not been the answer to all this. Both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton were buddies with Wall Street; Obama spent public money on drone warsClinton decimated the safety net and increased mass incarceration.

Greater equality of wealth and opportunity can only be achieved through progressive policies, now and in 2020. That is the hope of people who care about the needs of society rather than one’s position on a billionaire list.

Mr. Buchheit didn’t say so, but as readers of this blog know both President Clinton and President Obama advocated the privatization of public schools and public services as a means of “reinventing government” and playing into the overarching message of Ronal Reagan that government is the problem and running-government-like-a-business is the solution. Here’s hoping that Mr. Buchheit’s message about the need to expand progressive policies reaches a large audience.



Good News For Underachievers (and the Well-Being of Students): Straight A’s Do NOT Translate to Success in Life

December 10, 2018 Leave a comment

In writing this post, I initially thought I would title it “This Just In: Grades Don’t Matter” because I thought that the lack of a correlation between high grades and “success” was as self evident as, say, the correlation between poverty and test scores. But I went with the title above because, as one who was labelled an “underachiever” because I failed to earn straight A’s in middle school I think it better reflects the reality of the mindset of public education when I attended school in the 50s and 60s, a mindset that persists today.

The post was prompted by an article in the Sunday NYTimes by Adam Grant titled “What Straight A Students Get Wrong”, and the “what” is that in the final analysis the grades you earned in high school and college do not matter once you get in the real world. In his op ed, Dr. Grant describes counseling a distraught college junior who had just received her first A-, a blot on her academic record that she was certain would doom her to some kind of second class citizenship in the future. Dr. Grant then revealed what underachiever like me have known for decades and used to comfort ourselves (or rebut our parents):

Getting straight A’s requires conformity.Having an influential career demands originality. In a study of students who graduated at the top of their class, the education researcher Karen Arnold found that although they usually had successful careers, they rarely reached the upper echelons. “Valedictorians aren’t likely to be the future’s visionaries,” Dr. Arnold explained. “They typically settle into the system instead of shaking it up.”

Dr. Grant then offers a long list of individualists who did poorly in school but made a name for themselves in their chosen areas of interest: Steve Jobs, J.K. Rowling, and Martin Luther King, Jr. He could have provided a much longer list, but those three clearly made the point.

He concludes his essay with advice for universities, employers, and students, suggesting to students that they recognize that “…underachieving in school can prepare you to overachieve in life” and that getting a B might be the best thing for them.

I wholeheartedly agree. As a high school student I never aspired to be valedictorian, perhaps because I did not (and still do not) have the temperament needed and did not (and still do not) see the point in it. As a parent I celebrated the first B my children brought home in high school because I knew that they would no longer be able to become valedictorian and would, therefore, be able to dedicate their time to other pursuits… ones that satisfied their curiosity and not the needs of the schools.

There is a place for evaluation in school. Students need to master fundamental math skills and need to be coached to become good communicators. And once students have these baseline skills in place— and certainly by the time they are in college– there is no need for assigning letter grades or numeric grades. Narrative descriptions of a student’s performance are far more beneficial to the student and compel the teacher to get to know each student in their class deeply.

Alas… binary pass-fail grades on fundamentals and narrative descriptions once a student has progressed to higher levels of education do not yield rankings, and without rankings there can be no “competition” and without that, well, what? I suppose some will posit that without competition our “economic system” will collapse. I prefer to believe that without competition the well-being of children will improve and our political system will improve. Evidently I am not alone in this belief. The renegades who did not conform in school and spent their time working on computers send their children to Waldorf Schools and Montessori programs where doing things and being human is valued more than getting good grades and conforming to a system that measures skills needed in the early 20th Century. Maybe it’s time to re-think grades altogether… in doing so we would necessarily be re-thinking school.

The Trump Administration’s Lunch Standards Pleases Large Food Companies, Will Create Large Children

December 9, 2018 Leave a comment

In keeping with the Trump administration’s efforts to undo everything put in place by the Obama administration, the USDA is rolling back the standards set by his predecessor in 2010:

This week, the United States Department of Agriculture announced its final plans to lower nutrition standards for grains, flavored milks and sodium in school cafeterias that were part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and that Michelle Obama, the former first lady, had advocated.

The changes, all of which will go into effect by July, apply to school meals that qualify for at least some federal reimbursement.

The changes include the restoration of white bread, flavored (and sweetened) milk products, and an allowance for higher sodium content. With no sense of irony, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue offered this reaction to the Obama era regulations on flavored milk products: “I wouldn’t be as big as I am today without chocolate milk”

And Mr. Perdue isn’t the only person who is happy:

The School Nutrition Association, an advocacy organization that represents school-food professionals, cheered the new regulations in a news release on Thursday, praising the Trump administration for its flexibility with the standards. The group counts many of the country’s largest food companies among its backers.

it is no surprise that profiteers love these changes to government regulations…. and no surprise that they are represented by an organization that has appropriated the term “Nutrition” to serve their ends.

Julia Jacobs NYTimes article on this subject concluded with these paragraphs:

Karen Perry Stillerman, a senior analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said it was unclear why the Trump administration would backtrack when schools were in good standing with the nutritional goals. A 2016 news release from the U.S.D.A. said that more than 99 percent of schools in the country reported that they were meeting the Obama-era standards.

Ms. Stillerman said she would prefer that the government offer extra help to schools that were not meeting the nutritional requirements rather than lowering the standards across the country.

“It seems like a small thing,” she said. “But the behavioral research shows you have to offer nutritious food to kids over and over and be consistent.”

It may seem like a small thing, but that small thing could help mitigate the obesity epidemic that is creating large students and adults… large and unhealthy. And I have to believe that Ms. Stillerman knows exactly why “the Trump administration would backtrack”: it’s because his predecessor put the guidelines in place and the guidelines are a clear example of government regulations that can be readily mocked by his supporters.


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Firing– well make that REPLACING— All the Teachers Didn’t Work… So… Now What?

December 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Anyone who follows public education closely remembers the Central Falls (RI) school district’s inglorious 15 minutes in the national news in 2010. When their test scores tanked the “reform minded” State Superintendent, local Superintendent, and elected school board had the solution: fire all the teachers. Here’s Diane Ravitch’s summary of the events at that time… and what happened earlier this month:

One of the lowest performing districts in the state is Central Falls, the impoverished district where everyone was fired in 2010 to “reform” the schools (then the firing was withdrawn, but almost every adult in the school was gone within two years, because [as “reformers” insist] low scores are caused by “bad teachers”).

So why no improvement?

Remember Central Falls, the smallest and poorest district in the state?

The harsh treatment of the entire staff of the high school in 2010 received national attention. It was one of the first blows of the corporate reform movement. Those who led the campaign threatened to fire the entire staff—the teachers, lunch room ladies, and everyone else. The leaders were treated as heroes by Arne Duncan and President Obama. Zero tolerance for staff!

Now, eight years later, apparently less than 10% of the students are “meeting or exceeding expectations,” whatever that means.

In 2010 “meeting or exceeding expectations” was based on NECAP scores— despite the fact that NECAPs were not designed to measure such a thing. Now it is based on RICA scores, and those scores are no better now than they were eight years ago. Why? According to an article by Kevin Andrade in the Providence Journal one of the parents who attended a recent meeting shed some light on the reasons:

Maria Cristina Betancur took hold of the microphone as 42 people looked on in the Central Falls High School cafeteria Wednesday night. She spoke passionately in Spanish — often fighting back tears — about the difficulties that many families in the school district face. After a minute, she paused and asked a question of her audience.

“Those of you who don’t speak Spanish, did you understand me?” she queried, looking around the room and into the silence before switching to English. “So, now you know how people feel at homes where they do not understand the language. They do not understand assistance. They need to understand more.”

And the school “reformers” need to understand that “more” is the answer: more bi-lingual teachers who can work with parents (54% of the residents do not speak English as their primary language); more funds to provide more services to children in need (the budget increases have been a paltry 1.9% per annum since the school staff was recommended for dismissal), and, as MS. Betancur noted, more understanding.

As the comments continued, another parent described how the “failing school” is failing children and, in so dong, explained where some of the funds might be found:

When public comment began, Jahaira Rodriguez spared no one’s feelings, listing several incarcerated men who she said attended Central Falls schools.

“Today they are serving terms in prison, and we did that,” she said. “This [education system] is a disservice to our students because they will not be considered hard-working because of where they come from.”

“Funny that we find the money to incarcerate them but not to educate them,” she said.

There is always more money to incarcerate criminals and never enough money to provide the kind of education and support they need to stay out of jail…. and always a way to shift the blame for the struggles of poor children to classroom teachers who work hard in dire conditions but never a way to find funds to help improve those conditions. Welcome to the plutocracy where more money raised by higher tax rates on the most affluent among us is NEVER the solution.

Open a Charter… Follow the Rules… Rake in the $$$: Nice Work if You Can Get It…. and in Arizona You Can!

December 8, 2018 Leave a comment

In “How to become a charter school millionaire in 5 easy steps? Ask Eddie Farnsworth“, AZ Central reporter Laurie Roberts describes how Arizona GOP legislator Farnsworth made millions on a charter school he operated by following the rules enacted by the legislature he served in. What are the steps?

No. 1.   Set up charter schools. Collect state money to run the four-school operation then pay yourself $170,000 a year, more than competing school districts with double or more the schools.

No. 2.   Set up a non-profit to buy your schools for $56.9 million. Fill the board with pals and lobbyists whose bills you supported in the state Legislature. Pocket $13.9 million from the sale.

No. 3.   Get that non-profit board to hire your brother to run the publicly funded charter operation. And, oh yeah, to hire you to serve as a consultant.

No. 4.   Continue to rent space to house the schools’ corporate headquarters – at market rate, of course – to score another $79,600 a year.

No. 5.   Loan the charter operation $2.8 million – 60 days’ operating cash – and proceed to collect $478,000 in interest over the next seven years.

As Ms. Roberts indicates in her article, it is unfair to single out Mr. Farnsworth since many others are making millions in the same way. But in my judgment Mr. Farnsworth deserves particular scorn since he is in a position to address some of Arizona’s laws that make this kind of scamming possible.


Here’s why urban communities of color are increasingly rejecting charter schools @alternet

December 8, 2018 Leave a comment

As always, Jeff Bryant gets to the heart of the issue. This clear-eyed description of how takeovers of “failing schools” changes nothing in terms of student performance but changes everything in terms of the schools’ responsiveness to parents… and voters. If we want to restore democracy, it needs to start at the local level and work it’s way up…. 

Parents and grassroots organizations are pushing for elections as the only way to hold schools accountable. At a recent school board meeting in New Orleans, more than 100 parents swamped the hearing room, requiring dozens to have to stand. Many of the parents had filled out public comment cards so they would be allowed to address the board.

Source: Here’s why urban communities of color are increasingly rejecting charter schools @alternet

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