Detroit’s Children Sue For Equity… and Unburdened by State Oversight, They Get Superintendent’s Support

September 19, 2018 Leave a comment

USA Today reporters Chrissie Thompson, Michelle Miller, Maite Amorebieta and Joseph Annunciate wrote an article describing the decision of students from five of Detroit’s worst-performing public schools to appeal the decision of the U.S. District Court in Detroit to reject their lawsuit based on the premise that they had a constitutional right to be educated. Their argument was that literacy is a necessary prerequisite for voting, accessing the courts and serving in the military and since the revenue starved Detroit schools were incapable of guaranteeing literacy they should be fully funded.  The article opened with these two paragraphs describing the high school one of the plaintiffs attended:

Jamarria Hall’s Detroit high school reminded him of a state prison: chains on the doors, disgusting food and dirty water, bathroom stalls without doors. No computers, tablets or SMART Boards. The few books he saw in the school were older than he was.

“Is this really a school? Like, this has to be a movie,” Hall said he thought. “People were getting set up to fail.”

Later the article quotes their Superintendent, Nicholai Vitti, as noting that the conditions in Detroit would be unacceptable in nearby suburbs.

That wouldn’t be allowed at suburban schools, Vitti said. In other words, he said, “racist” policies created the mess at Detroit’s public schools– a mess he’s trying to fix, although with a limited budget.

“When people aren’t listening at the legislative level, if former governors don’t listen and don’t take heed to the challenges that children are facing, then you have to resort to other measures,” Vitti said. “And so parents resorted to the courts in order to hear their voice.”

What USA Today failed to mention– and Mr. Vitti undoubtedly intentionally failed to underscore– was that until a year ago the Detroit schools were under the control of the State and the state appointed “emergency managers” were forced by the State to impose austerity measures that undercut the ability of schools to provide a basic education to the students. Without referencing the governance issue, USA Today did flag the deficiencies:

The school system wasn’t receiving enough money from the state, so teachers weren’t trained in how to teach to current education standards, Vitti said. The curriculum was inappropriate for each grade level and was several years outdated.

Only 10 percent of students are reading at grade level. The school district needs $500 million to update its crumbling schools, and the district’s financial structure post-bailout only allocated $25 million to spend on such endeavors.

And the article did note the disparities that exist between the suburban schools bordering Detroit and the city itself, quoting the plaintiff Jamarria Hall:

“Grosse Pointe is right across the city border line. Right across,” Hall said, describing a well-to-do suburb. “iPad, tablet, SMART Boards everywhere. Their floor is glossy. Glossy clean. There’s no metal detector, no security guard. And it’s right across the border line.”

Right across the border line… a border line that is more impenetrable than the border between the US and Mexico. But in today’s United States, we want secure borders everywhere… especially between those raised in affluence and those raised in poverty.

 

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Abandoning Norm Referenced Tests Means Abandoning it’s By-Products

September 18, 2018 Leave a comment

I just finished reading Diane Ravitch’s post titled “The Obsolete and Costly American Faith in Testing“. The post draws from an Education Week article by Alyson Klein which calls for a more holistic approach to testing… but her article falls short of what is really needed, which is a total and complete abandonment of any effort to use tests and data to rank and rate individual students and schools.

As I noted in a comment I left on Ms Ravitch’s post, the faith in norm-referenced testing is rooted in our need to compare. As parents, if we worried less about how our child was doing compared to our neighbor’s child we wouldn’t be testing for anything: we would, instead, be celebrating our child’s growth and their unique talents and skills. Instead too many parents obsess over how their child is doing compared to other children and “the norm” and norm referenced tests that yield a bell curve are perfect for doing that. Norm referenced tests were introduced in the 1920s as a means of sorting and selecting children for placement into tracks… and they took hold because we love to compare. If we really believe and expect ALL children to learn, we should abandon norm-referenced tests as a metric… and while we’re at it we should abandon everything associated with norm-referenced tests: tracking; determining “valedictorians”; identifying “gifted and talented” students; and separating out “special education” students. All of these are by-products of norm referencing.

 

Hurricane Florence COULD Be a Teachable Moment for Those Wishing to Drown Government in a Bathtub

September 18, 2018 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch wrote a heartfelt post yesterday to friends in the Carolinas that appears below in its entirety:

Dear Friends,

We are watching the ordeal of your region with concern.

The whole nation is watching.

We send you warm wishes for your safety.

At a time like this, we are reminded about why people need to work together, help one another, and count on their neighbors and communities. In times of crisis, everyone stands together, without regard to race or religion or economic status. It should be like that without a crisis.

We look forward to the day when your beautiful part of the world is rebuilt, restored, and revived.

Meanwhile, stay safe.

One of the commenters noted that “…only 3% of the people in North Carolina carry flood insurance, and 8% in South Carolina. With climate change and crazy storms the new normal, homeowners should rethink the value of flood insurance for their properties. That $400 hundred dollars that you think is unnecessary could wind up costing you many thousands or even your home.”

As I noted in a comment I made on the post, WE are insuring them with our tax dollars… and that’s not a bad thing from my perspective. The Koch brothers and the GOP want us to forget that one of the reasons we pay taxes is to create a pool of funds that people can draw on when they find themselves temporarily in need of food, clothing, and shelter. By demonizing the so-called “takers” the anti-tax crowd has convinced the public that they will never need to avail themselves of the government services they are starving by avoiding taxes. MAYBE a silver lining from this will be a realization that government IS the solution to large and complicated problems like a hurricane that floods communities…. But, alas, it is also possible that the cuts to FEMA and the redirection of FEMA funds to ICE will result in long waits in line or unanswered phone calls or emails that will be blamed on “incompetence” when the real culprit is the GOP’s desire to drown government in a bathtub.

Perversely, it takes a disaster like Florence to drive home the point that government is NOT the problem and COULD be a solution IF it was funded adequately and rationally. Will that lesson be learned? If so, who will teach it?

Vulture Philanthropists Overshadowed by Tech Philanthropists… and They Like it That Way

September 17, 2018 Leave a comment

Peter Greene, who writes the Curmuducation blog, recently wrote a post titled “Stop Calling it Philanthropy” that decried the so-called generosity of the technology moguls who are trying to “reform” education.

In theist he describes the recently widely publicized “reform” efforts of Mark Zuckerberg, Lorene Jobs, and Bill Gates, each of whom has donated substantial sums of money to persuade schools to invest in strategies that will arguably increase their corporation’s profits. But Peter Greene’s protest is more heartfelt. AS a public school teacher he resents seeing some technology titan imposing his or her will on his life’s work in a way that allows them to take credit without assuming any responsibility:

…(the philanthropists) get to feel like philosopher kings and queens without having to do any of the hard parts. And they get to avoid the part where someone of lower stature says, “Your ideas are bad and destructive and dangerous.” It lets them have control without responsibility or consequences for their bad choices.

But I think the situation is even worse than Peter Greene describes… because a lot of the “reform” money is coming from hedge fund philanthropists who made their $$$ as vulture capitalists. These “philanthropists” dodge federal, state and local taxes which starves public schools of the money they need to operate effectively. These same “philanthropists” then invest in “grassroots” tax-exempt organizations, some of whom promote the notion that market competition is the solution to all problems and others of whom promote the notion that standardized test scores are the ideal proxy for “success”. These “philanthropists then persuade the public that they have a “product” that can improve the “failing” schools. In some cases the “product” is a technology-based solution like ECOT, but in most cases the solution is the same blunt instrument they’ve used in the private sector: outsourcing the work to lower wage employees who can deliver the same product for a lower cost.

The hedge fund philanthropists view “failing” public school districts the same way they view “weak” corporations. Their plan is to take them over the same way they’ve taken over businesses in the private sector: by getting enough seats on the boards to dictate the “corporate policy”. They are using their vulture capitalism skills to take over the school boards… then replace experienced teachers with high legacy costs with low-wage charter school chains or CAI companies they operate. They can then pocket the “profit” and use it to start the cycle all over again. These vulture philanthropists look at the tax dollars currently going into public education as a pot of gold… and they are going after the big fish in the urban pond first knowing that eventually the smaller fish will follow.

Robert Reich Connects the Deregulation Dots: Guess Who Wins and Who Loses?

September 16, 2018 Leave a comment

In a short but comprehensive essay in Truthdig that fittingly features a picture of Betsy DeVos, Robert Reich connects the dots on deregulation and explains how it benefits the wealthy while punishing the poor. The post in Truthdig also includes this excellent video explaining how deregulation benefits the shareholders at the expense of “customers”:

As I wrote on my Facebook post, the GOP motto should be caveat emptor.

Categories: Uncategorized

The teacher pay penalty has hit a new high: Trends in the teacher wage and compensation gaps through 2017

September 15, 2018 Leave a comment

This EPI study looks not only at WAGES but also TOTAL COMPENSATION… and in doing so flags one of the points made in several earlier posts: voters’ resentment against teachers is based on the favorable benefits teachers receive. As the chart below indicates, over the past two decades the benefits advantage between teachers and other employees has expanded. The result: as teachers health benefits and pensions have improved over time many voters have encountered the opposite and so their resentment toward teachers has increased.

Source: The teacher pay penalty has hit a new high: Trends in the teacher wage and compensation gaps through 2017

Categories: Uncategorized

Here’s an Idea for Philanthropists… and Our Country: Spend on Children!

September 14, 2018 Leave a comment

Quartz offers articles from a wide range of sources on a wide range of topics and earlier this summer they published an article by Jenny Anderson and Dan Kopf titled “Dear Powerful People, Here’s the Case for Investing More in Little Kids“. The article highlights recent research done on small children that shows that small investments in medicine and food can make a huge difference in the well being of children in all nations.

When I read the article I immediately thought of two sets of “powerful people” who might heed this advice: philanthropists who are looking for a chance to use their money to help those less fortunate; and developed countries who are seeking a way to influence the thinking of citizens in countries that are war torn. Maybe if philanthropists spent as much on small impoverished children as they spent on fancy university buildings we might have fewer “failing schools”… and maybe if our country spent as much on refugee children as they spent creating those refugee children with drone strikes our nation might be viewed more favorably.