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Archive for February, 2015

Citizens United, Medical Report Cards, and VAM

February 25, 2015 Comments off

Today’s Taking Note blog post in the NYTimes reports on Governor Cuomo’s decision to close down the State’s “Doctor Report Card” web site because ” it costs too much at $1.2 million a year“. Well going into the new Common Core New York was spending over $10 million per year on standardized tests and the new testing program that is required to provide Value Added Measures will require an even greater outlay of state funds.

So… at the same time Cuomo is closing a relatively inexpensive web page that provides worthwhile and helpful information about doctors he is promoting a costly and statistically flawed method for assessing the performance of teachers whose information is worthless. I suspect in both cases his political donors might be influencing his thinking.

Charter Regulation MIA

February 24, 2015 Comments off

Last week ProPublica blogger Marian Wang posted an essay on Truthdig with the provocative title “When a Wildlife Rehab Center Regulates Charter Schools: Inside the Wild World of Charter Regulation”. The article described the convoluted accountability models used to “regulate” charter schools in MN, MI, IN, PA, and OH, models that allow nonprofit institutions like the Audubon Center of the North Woods to become the largest charter school overseer in Minnesota— responsible for 32 schools! The article cites examples of the consequences of lax oversight, ranging from ‘lavish executive salaries (and) conflicts of interest” in Philadelphia charters, the “considerable loss of State funds” in OH, and widespread miseducation in ALL states where oversight was lax. While it is hard to single out any one State’s flaws, I found the example of Indiana charters “shopping” for the most permissive regulators the most troubling. The idea that a school can seek out the regulatory body is analogous to the idea that a bank can shop for an auditor who will give them a favorable rating… and we’ve seen how that form of “self-regulation” worked out in the banking industry.

After reading the article I came away more convinced than ever that every state needs a robust Department of Education with sufficient staff to oversee not only public schools but also charter schools that use public funds…. and also came away more convinced than ever that the State legislatures’ decisions to de-fund State Departments has de-clawed their ability to regulate and the majority of legislatures want it that way.

Fixing the Community College Conundrum: Unpreparedness = High Drop-Out Rate AND Debt

February 24, 2015 Comments off

Last week Eduardo Porter’s column, “The Promise and Failure of Community College” highlighted the conundrum community colleges face: because so many students who enroll are unprepared for the coursework they drop out before completing the coursework. For decades I have offered a straightforward cost-effective solution to this problem: require high school sophomores to take the community college placement examination before making their course selections for 11th and 12th grade. These test results could be used as a diagnostic and vocational tool illustrating to students the specific gaps they need to fill in their remaining years in high school if they wish to pursue post secondary schooling. By alerting the students to those gaps with two years left in high school it would be possible for a larger number of them to avoid paying for non-credit-bearing courses when the enroll in the community college in their state. More importantly, the results could be used to begin a conversation between the guidance counselors and students about how the final two years of high school could help prepare them for the future.

Why wouldn’t this idea work? One of the realities that Porter and other columnists fail to mention is that community colleges and similar two-year institutes would lose large sums of money if they didn’t offer remedial courses…. and for that reason the post-secondary schools might push back if legislators insisted that they standardize their placement examinations and allow them to be administered in the 10th grade. Administering diagnostic preparation tests in 10th grade would be far more beneficial than administering summative standardized tests in 11th grade and would cost states far less than the standardized assessments required today. So… what are we waiting for!

When MSNBC is Debating “The Existence Of Public Schools” We Are In Trouble!

February 24, 2015 Comments off

Those of us who are advocates for public education as a means of providing an equal opportunity for all now find ourselves fighting for the very premise of public education itself. In a recent MSNBC blog post, reporter Steve Benen suggests that the concept of public education, like the concept of the minimum wage, Medicare, and Social Security is under assault as hard right conservatives frame the debate over funding going forward. Benen provides an example of how hard core conservatives are now staking out the claim that public schools should be abandoned:

Fox host Lisa “Kennedy” Montgomery suggested getting rid of the nation’s public schools during a discussion on Thursday’s “Outnumbered.”
Kennedy’s comments came during a segment about an Oklahoma bill, approved by a House committee, that seeks to eliminate AP US History. The bill asserts that the current iteration of the course doesn’t show “American exceptionalism,” instead highlighting “what is bad about America.” (NOTE: See earlier blog posts on this topic here and here for an appalling example of how one state intends to address the Common Core.)
The Fox host said, “There really shouldn’t be public schools, should there?  I mean we should really go to a system where parents of every stripe have a choice, have a say in the kind of education their kids get because, when we have centralized, bureaucratic education doctrines and dogmas like this, that’s exactly what happens.”
If one obscure Fox News talking head was making this argument it would be bad enough, but as Benen notes this argument is getting some traction:
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), a likely Republican presidential candidate, has said many times that he doesn’t believe public schools should exist. Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) hasn’t gone nearly that far, but he did champion a voucher scheme in his home state – a step towards privatization – and recently condemned public education as “government-run, unionized monopolies.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is also clearly not a fan of public schools, and celebrates “alternatives  to conventional public education.”
At the state and local level, this kind of talk is arguably even more common. Last year the vice-chair of the Ohio House Education Committee condemned public schools as “a socialist system.”
And as we talked about the other day, it’s hard to forget the Texas Republican lawmaker whosaid of public schools several years ago, “Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education, free medical care, free whatever? It comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell.”
Steve Benen concludes his post with this:
But what was once an unheard of idea is slowly becoming a little more common. For education proponents, this isn’t good news.
To which I add: Steve! Don’t you see that MSNBC’s reporting on this validates the argument that “public school monopolies” are “socialist plots” and is thereby adding to the commonality of this argument? Instead of countering the argument framed by the Fox News crowd MSNBC could do a better service for public schools by advancing the arguments FOR public education… but it appears that that train has left the station and now public schools will be arguing for their very existence on a supposedly “liberal” media outlet. We’ve got an uphill fight ahead of us!

 

The Dark Side of “Free Agent” Employment… and it’s Link to Privatized Public Schools

February 24, 2015 Comments off

In 2002 futurist Daniel Pink wrote a book titled Free Agent Nation that forecasted a future where employees would be unencumbered by employers’ constraints and be free to, in effect, offer their services to the highest bidder. Robert Reich’s Huffington Post essay describes how that concept has played out in reality… and it has not been advantageous for employees! Instead, it has enabled employers to race more rapidly to the bottom in wages, increase hours, and eliminate benefits altogether. As a result, those who develop the logistical plans to deploy “free agents” are making millions while those operating as “free agents” get lower take home pay, less control over their work schedules, and are on their own when it comes to health insurance and pensions.

Reich describes how FedEx and Uber have recruited transportation workers to deliver packages or taxi fares. It is not difficult to see how a deregulated for-profit charter operator could use the same gambit to recruit low wage on-line-teacher-tutors to manage the “personalized learning plans” of scores of students. This would make the cost-per-student far lower than the amount allocated by states and providing a large profit margin for themselves. Indeed, this is not too far removed from the model for-profit post secondary schools use by hiring adjuncts to teach classes either on-line or in rented bricks-and-mortar spaces!

Reich’s essay, then, describes how “reformers” would like to see public schools operate. If they break the “stranglehold” the “government run public school monopoly” and are freed of the “stifling regulations” the “reformers” would be able to replace union workers with at-will contract employees. This would not only “save taxpayers” money and “contain runaway costs” but put money in the pockets of the oligarchs who hope to enter this potentially lucrative market. And the really good news for the profit seekers? They wouldn’t have to take on ALL public schools. They’d leave the affluent districts alone and go after the high poverty districts where parents have no political standing and have kids in schools that are underfunded and understaffed. If you don’t think this is the agenda of the reformers, I invite you to look at the City of Philadelphia and the State of Pennsylvania where something like this scenario is playing out even now.

 

The Manufactured Education Crisis and the Bogus Solution

February 23, 2015 Comments off

“Knowledge Isn’t Power”, Paul Krugman’s op ed column today, takes on the canard that businessmen cannot find enough skilled laborers because of a skills gap. After several paragraphs describing how this “skills gap” notion has become an accepted truth, he counters with this paragraph:

(T)here’s no evidence that a skills gap is holding back employment. After all, if businesses were desperate for workers with certain skills, they would presumably be offering premium wages to attract such workers. So where are these fortunate professions? You can find some examples here and there. Interestingly, some of the biggest recent wage gains are for skilled manual labor — sewing machine operatorsboilermakers — as some manufacturing production moves back to America. But the notion that highly skilled workers are generally in demand is just false.

After debunking the notion that the “skills gap” is the reason we have inequality, he concludes with these paragraphs:

Now, there’s a lot we could do to redress this inequality of power. We could levy higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and invest the proceeds in programs that help working families. We could raise the minimum wage and make it easier for workers to organize. It’s not hard to imagine a truly serious effort to make America less unequal.

But given the determination of one major party to move policy in exactly the opposite direction, advocating such an effort makes you sound partisan. Hence the desire to see the whole thing as an education problem instead. But we should recognize that popular evasion for what it is: a deeply unserious fantasy.

But as I noted in my comment, Krugman doesn’t acknowledge another reason the billionaires are promoting the “skills gap”:

Here’s what is happening right now, Dr. Krugman.
The investors have created a “crisis in education” and simultaneously introduced a solution: markets! You see if the monopolistic public schools are expensive, inefficient, and ineffective the solution is to subject public schools to the free market where they will become less costly to taxpayers, far more efficient in the delivery of services, and, yes, miraculously egalitarian. The folks who offer this as the solution to closing the gap between students in affluent districts and students in high-poverty districts conveniently overlook the fact that the “market” has not provided residents in the Bronx with the same array of choices in shopping as the residents in Scarsdale…. But no matter! Even if the market fails to provide equal opportunity for all at least the “wasteful spending” on education will no longer go to those greedy teachers… it will go to the shareholders of the privatized companies who operate the deregulated for-profit charters. As your article implies, those who have the power are not seriously interested in addressing inequality; they are more interested in keeping the power structure just the way it is.

The businessmen promoting the “skills gap” are the same group who are bending the ears of governors and state legislators… and those of us who want to see public education as the means of achieving equity are fighting an uphill battle because the siren song of “free, unregulated markets” resonates with many voters and the idea of using vouchers to attend ANY school resonates with parents who are currently paying out of pocket to attend private schools. In fighting this uphill battle it would be helpful if columnists like Krugman saw what is happening and called out the politicians on it now… before it is too late.

 

Money Buys Access to Power and Businessmen are Getting A Good Return on Their Investment

February 23, 2015 Comments off

Diane Ravitch reported in a blog post yesterday that in New York State the Charter Lobby spent more last year than unions did. Most of Ravitch’s post is drawn from a Capital article that provides a detailed accounting of the spending by public education lobbies, and it proves that the organizations representing practitioners are being vastly outspent by private investors. What the article fails to mention is that the businessmen who are spending their own funds are getting a good return on their investment. Not only are they getting free rent for their charters, they are getting tax breaks that help their bottom line and they are framing the terms of the debate.

As I noted in a comment I left, here’s what is especially problematic: even Democrat Governors, who should be on the side of labor unions, do not want a picture of them meeting with the State teachers union president to appear anywhere in print. They might be seen with the Executive Director of the School Boards Association but even the State Superintendents Association would be hard pressed to get on the schedule of the Governor. Conversely, Governors would gladly appear with the head of the State’s Business Roundtable or a leader of the State’s “reform” movement in education. As a result of this access, the State’s Business Roundtable President will get the ear of the Governor in private while the union president won’t even get a photo op… and the businessmen will eagerly tell the Governor who should be appointed to the State Board or a “Blue Ribbon Committee” on schools while the unions’ thoughts– OR those of the State School Board Association or State’s administrative organizations are not actively sought or valued.

The bottom line: Governors and legislators are hearing only what businessmen tell them and aren’t giving practitioners the time of day… and with 31 Republicans in Statehouses and the majority of the others are neo-liberals like Cuomo I don;t expect to see a pushback against reform any time soon… and I also expect these statehouses to be eagerly awaiting their opportunity to introduce “flexibility” into the Federal mandates.