Archive for February, 2015

For Profit Colleges Are The Real Villain

February 28, 2015 Comments off

Cathy O’Neill gets it completely right in this post, which includes the stunning report that for-profit Corinthian “…obtained $1.4 billion in federal grant and loan dollars in 2010 alone, more than the 10 University of California campuses combined for that same year” and this great quote: “When education becomes a profit center, things go awry: admissions counselors become salespeople, students become consumers to be wrung for every last dime, and administrators become executives who cash out while students and taxpayers are left with the tab.” And we want to “reform” monopoly public schools by replacing them with deregulated for profit charter schools?


Scott Walker has recently made waves in Wisconsin by surreptitiously attempting to change the mission of the University of Wisconsin, and by threatening to remove $300 million of federal aid to the University of Wisconsin, citing the “laziness of professors” as a problem in need of a solution. On the one hand, he’s right to say there’s a crisis in higher education. But on the other hand, he has the wrong villain.

Instead of focusing on state schools like U of W, we should be investigating the toxic for-profit college industry. For-profit colleges have mushroomed in the last decade and tend to represent themselves as a solution to a very real problem; namely, that it’s become increasingly difficult to get a good job out of high school.

People who have been told to get a degree to pull themselves out of poverty are often faced with two options: enrolling at…

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Common Core vs. State Standards

February 28, 2015 Comments off

Reading “Happy Talk History”,Timothy Egan’s NYTimes column yesterday, and “Who Should Decide How Students Learn About America’s Past”, Jacoba Urist’s Atlantic post earlier this week reminded me how important it is to have a uniform set of academic standards for our country, standards that we can find broad agreement on and expect all our students to master. Both columns address the legislative debacle in Oklahoma where a fundamentalist Christian member of the House in Oklahoma introduced a bill to defund AP History because it was too critical of America and to put in its place a curriculum that emphasized the Christian roots of our country. Happily the bill was ditched after the committee voted 11-4 to advance it, in large measure because of the huge national embarrassment the legislation created for the state.

But I fear the re-write of history by Oklahoma’s legislature is a sneak preview of what will happen if the federal government gives States “flexibility” to set their own standards and devise their own accountability measures. The reauthorization of No Child Left Behind intends to do just that and, in doing so, will presumably address the concerns of both those who believe we are testing kids too much and those who believe the federal government is imposing its will on states through the Common Core. If States like Oklahoma are giving the chance to write their own curriculum Common Core opponents may have regrets… and yes, I know the Common Core is limited to Math and Reading but if states are allowed to set standards what will preclude them from setting standards in science that deny global warming and question evolution or setting standards in history that gloss over the troubling past we have with regard to slavery and the treatment of native Americans. And those who believe we are placing too much emphasis on tests may rue the day Andrew Cuomo’s “reforms” are put in place instead of those advocated by Arne Duncan… and Cuomo’s test-based “reforms” may be tame compared to what comes out of the midwest or south. Indeed, it is not too hard to envision a “testing” race analogous to an “arms race” or “the war on drugs”… a testing race where states try to outdo each other by setting every increasingly impossibly high standards to prove they are more rigorous than their neighbors.

I am not at all unhappy to see Arne Duncan’s wings clipped, but AM disappointed that President Obama used Race to the Top as his signature “education reform”. Instead of insisting that states use computers to administer standardized tests he could have insisted that states use technology to help each student develop individualized learning plans. Instead of moving toward a one-size-fits-all curriculum mode he could have gone where Vermont is headed. The inability of Congress to modify NCLB created a crisis early in Obama’s administration, a crisis that was amplified by the economic crisis the nation was facing. Obama wasted both his political capital and capital investment on Race To The Top… and that, more than anything, led to the pushback against the federal government that is being addressed in the reauthorization. He’s sowed the wind and is reaping the whirlwind.

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Cuomo Arousing Sleeping Giants

February 27, 2015 Comments off

When I was Superintendent in Dutchess County NY the union president at the time lamented the fact that the younger members of the union had no appreciation for the battles she and her generation fought to secure the wages, benefits and working conditions that were a “given” in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The grassroots political activism of the unions was nascent and the sound economy at that time made it relatively easy to achieve collective bargaining agreements that both the taxpayers and the unions found acceptable. As a result parents, taxpayers, and teachers unions experienced a relatively positive relationship and public education was viewed in a generally positive light.

Since that time, and especially since the implementation of universal standardized testing that resulted from the passage of No Child Left Behind, the public has been fed a steady diet of reports that “public schools are failing” and the only solution is to close them down and turn them over to the states. The “failing schools” meme was not enough for some politicians, however. Governors like Scott Walker and Andrew Cuomo assigned blame for the “failing schools” on “incompetent teachers” who are protected by “union contracts”… and instead of advocating the passage of laws that would streamline dismissal procedures for administrators or enable local school boards to remove arguably excessive and complicated procedural protections, Mr. Walker and Mr. Cuomo sought to eliminate unions altogether and impose invalid means of evaluations that would presumably identify the “incompetent teachers” whose performance was responsible for the low standardized test scores.

This tactic worked for Scott Walker in Wisconsin: he’s eviscerated the public employee unions in his state and imposed irrational and irresponsible teacher evaluation methods with the full support of the legislature and yesterday used that “crushing victory” as evidence that he can take on ISIS. Andrew Cuomo is about to see if he can pull off a similar tactic in NYS… but in doing so he is awaking two sleeping giants: the teachers unions and public school parents.

Those union members who have been inactive for decades are seeing that their jobs threatened and their existence challenged and they are getting aroused. And, as noted in an earlier post, without prompting from the unions the parents organizations in schools across NYC and the state are getting aroused as well. And as videos like the one I linked to earlier today are circulated more and more parents will see how Mr. Cuomo’s “reforms” designed to address a “crisis” ultimately undermine local control and local schools.

Both Governor Walker and Governor Cuomo are arousing progressive-minded voters to realize that they need to find candidates to challenge the conservative and neoliberal leaders who are stripping unions of their contractual rights, parents and board members of control of their schools, and voters of their opportunity to weigh in on the direction their states are headed…. and democracy is taking a beating as a result.