Archive for January, 2016

Resegregation Facilitated by Charters? Not to Worry “..because “this is not the civil rights era.”

January 31, 2016 Comments off

Washington Post blogger Valerie Strauss’ post today discusses School Choice Week and, as her headline accurately notes, “What passes for acceptable school choice rhetoric is appalling”. Ms. Strauss’ opening section of her post includes this concise description of pro and anti choice groups:

School choice proponents say that charter schools (including ones run by for-profit companies) offer parents important options for their children’s education and that traditional public schools have failed in many places. School choice opponents say that school choice is aimed at privatizing the public education system and that many of the choices being offered are not well-regulated, sometimes discriminatory and siphon funding away from local school districts.  

She then reprints a blog post from Sarah Lahm, a Minneapolis based writer who formerly worked in public education, who attended a National School Choice Forum at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis… and what she heard would have enraged the namesake of that institution. From my perspective as a progressive, however, it was not surprising.

Ms. Lahm noted that she was disappointed at the lack of bi-partisanship because the panelists consisted of one Democrat who was an advocate of charter schools, one right-leaning Republican, plus one far-right lawyer who wholeheartedly endorsed public funding of religiously affiliated charter schools. Ms. Lahm “...quickly realized how thoroughly (bipartisanship) has become cover for groupthink. If both Democrats and Republicans support the dismantling of our public institutions, then shouldn’t you, too?” Any progressive observing the passage of the “bipartisan” Every Child Succeeds Legislation” rallies that ESSA, like NCLB and RTTT before it implicitly– but perhaps more subtly— supports the dismantling of public schools. It succeeded because neoliberal thinking has captured the center and consequently both Democrats and Republicans support the notion that markets can solve every problem and save every child…. and charter schools are predicated on the notion that schools, like groceries and hardware supplies, are commodities.

And one of the major consequences of the commodification of schools is the notion that segregation is a choice made by consumers. A concept that was appallingly underscored in this section of Lahm’s post:

The morning’s panel began with a quick dismissal of the desegregation lawsuit filed in Minnesota last fall, which, if successful, could require the state’s charter schools to develop and implement integration plans. The panelists seemed to agree that the resegregation happening across the country now is simply due to “parental choice.” Reichgott Junge — the Democrat — declared herself “not neutral” on this topic, and told the audience not to worry because “this is not the civil rights era.” 

Given the free market attitude of charter school providers, Ms. Junge is right, this is NOT the civil rights era… it’s the New Jim Crow era where African American “consumers” are “choosing” to live in neighborhoods full of substandard housing or in dilapidated housing projects while affluent whites “consumers” are choosing to live in pristine suburbs. It’s the same as the bad old days before Brown vs. Board of Education where blacks chose separate but equal schools.

Ms. Lahm, sitting in a forum in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis wonders:

What would our education policy discussions be like today, if America had turned out “less Reaganite” and “more Humphreyish”? The hammering narrative of failure, applied with force to our nation’s public school system, found fertile groundin the Reagan era, of course, through the hyped “Nation at Risk” report. That report helped propel America away from further investment in public schools, and towards school choice schemes (hint: privatization).

Now we have another crossroads: will we sustain the legacy of Ronald Reagan and the free market neoliberalism he espoused or find out what America could be if it were “more Humphreyish”? The next few weeks will tell us.

Call for More Computer Education Misses the Point: Education Without Access is Meaningless

January 30, 2016 Comments off

Here we go again! The NYTimes reports that in an effort to develop a competitive workforce the President is asking Congress for $4,000,000,000 in new funds to improve computer education in the country. And how will this money be used?

…the money will pay for teacher training and instructional materials to increase the amount of instruction in computer science, especially for girls and minorities, the officials said.

The $4,000,000,000 only scratches the surface of the funds needed if we want to improve computer instruction especially for children in poverty or in rural schools. I am currently working as a consultant in a rural VT school district that serves roughly 1000 students housed in seven different schools. As part of the project we needed to determine the costs for infrastructure in the schools in the near future. The administrator responsible for computers estimates that it will cost roughly $300,000 to $500,000 to make it possible for students and teachers to have access to wi-fi in the school. But having wi-fi and access to computers in the school is insufficient if the goal is to provide instruction in computer science. Students need to have computers available to them at home and need to have access to wi-fi in their homes as well.

So… what good is it to train teachers on the use of computers and about computer science if they are housed in schools without access to the web or classrooms without computers. Read my previous post about Flint MI schools and ask yourself what is needed in those schools in order to improve computer instruction…

I doubt that Congress will improve $4,000,000,000 to improve computer instruction even if the amount was sufficient… but if that money were earmarked to fund for-profit charter schools? It might be a different story!

Michigan Voters Who Want to Avoid Taxes as Culpable as Governor Snyder

January 30, 2016 Comments off

The more I read about and think about the crisis of drinking water in Flint Michigan, the more convinced I am that it should serve as a wake-up call for voters across the country. Today’s NYTimes has an article by Amy Goodnough on the long term impact of the short-term “savings” realized by the emergency manager appointed by MI Governor Rick Snyder. In the article Goodnough flagged both the health costs and the costs to schools, which were described in these paragraphs:

About 57 percent of Flint’s 99,000 residents are black, and 40 percent live in poverty, one of the highest rates in the nation for a city its size. Bilal Tawwab, the superintendent of the city school system, said that one school nurse serves the 5,400 students in the district, but that he hoped some of the money flowing into Flint might help open health centers in every school.

He also hoped to make prekindergarten available to every 4-year-old — spaces are limited — and to hire more experienced teachers for special education.

“That’s the piece that keeps me up at night,” he said. “It costs almost double to educate a student with special needs. And our wages, our salaries, are so low.”

Why does Flint have only one nurse for the entire district? Why doesn’t Flint have enough classroom space for a prekindergarten programming every school? Why can’t Flint hire “more experienced teachers for special education“? And why are Flint’s wages and salaries so low? The answer is that Flint is starved for revenues. It’s local property tax base crashed when the auto industry crashed and the State decided the imposition of “emergency managers” was a cheaper and faster way to get the city and State budgets in line.

And when you look deeply into the root causes of this tragedy it becomes evident that Flint’s water problem is the result of the short-sighted thinking that dominates corporations in our country. The anti-democratic laws that enabled the creation of “emergency managers” came from the ALEC playbook and reflect the mentality that ANY government regulation is bad. And what have emergency managers done to the financially troubled cities and school districts in MI? They have imposed austerity measures on citizens and employees in order to make certain bondholders receive their payments on time and that the taxes of their fellow-citizens in the suburbs have low taxes. Rick Snyder appointed the emergency manager who made bad decisions in order to keep the costs low but the MI voters who want to keep their taxes low need to think twice before putting him behind bars… as do those voters who seek low taxes at the expense of those living in poverty.

The corroded pipes, the dilapidated and underfunded schools, and the lack of health care are not limited to Flint MI.  As citizens in this nation we should be willing to pay more in taxes to ensure that our neighbors’ children in cities like Flint MI and destitute small rural communities have the same opportunities as children in the most affluent communities in the state.