Archive for November, 2016

Trump XIV – Another Distressing Cabinet Pick: HHS Nominee a Staunch Opponent of Medicare, Obamacare

November 30, 2016 1 comment

Today’s NYTimes editorial indicates what low income Americans are likely to face in the future: “Tom Price: A Radical Choice for Health Secretary”… and it isn’t a pretty picture:

Mr. Price, a Republican from Georgia, is a fierce opponent of the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health reform law, and beyond that, supports plans to slash Medicareand Medicaid, which cover tens of millions of elderly, disabled and low-income Americans. He is against a woman’s right to choose and has backed legislation to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding.

…The detailed legislation he introduced most recently in 2015 would destroy the reform law and is a good indication of his philosophy in managing the nation’s largest health programs: cut benefits and leave millions with no health care at all.

His bill would, among other things, roll back the federally financed expansion of Medicaid in 31 states and the District of Columbia, taking coverage away from 14 million poor people. It would severely cut federal subsidies that help individuals and families buy policies on government-run health exchanges. The reduced subsidies would make it hard, if not impossible, for millions to afford the coverage they have gotten since the Affordable Care Act went into effect. And the bill would no longer require insurers to cover addiction treatment, birth control, maternity care, prescription drugs and other essential medical services.

Beyond his commitment to tearing apart the health care law, Mr. Price, who leads the House Budget Committee, published a budget proposallast year that would convert Medicaid into a block grant to state governments. This would reduce federal spending on the program by 34 percent by 2025, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Such a cut would inevitably cause states to offer fewer benefits and reduce the number of people covered, far beyond the 14 million who would lose their coverage if Medicaid expansion is rolled back.

So… keeping score for those who missed earlier blog posts we now have three appointees to Cabinet positions whose actions will punish those who earn least and reward those who earn the most. I always believed America was Great because she looked after those in need and lent a helping hand to anyone who was trying to work their way up. Now we have a President-elect who is making appointments that seem to do the opposite.

Trump XIII – Jeff Sessions’ Selection as AG Will Undo Decades of Efforts to Promote Equal Opportunity for All

November 30, 2016 1 comment

James DeVinne’s recent post in yesterday’s Occupy Democrats blog offered a disheartening analysis of the public education record of President-elect Trump’s nominee Jeff Sessions. While Occupy Democrats is unarguably biased in its reporting, it did not have to dig very deeply to find a host of disturbing reports about Mr. Sessions record as Alabama’s Attorney General nor his public statements on issues that would affect public education.

As was widely reported when Mr. Trump nominated Jeff Sessions, his nomination to be Federal Judge was rejected by his own party in 1986 when various incidents of outright racism were brought to light at that time. Among the incidents cited at the time he was nominated was his unsuccessful effort to charge three civil rights workers who’d helped boost black voting registration in Alabama with voter fraud in the early 1980s… an issue the current Attorney General has addressed in the opposite fashion over the past eight years and an issue that is likely to rear its head in the coming four years.

My concerns about Mr. Sessions, though, are not purely political. They have to do with his perspectives on education for handicapped children and funding for public schools. In a lengthy speech bemoaning the regulations that strangle public education, he specifically cited those that supposedly limit the ability of teachers to discipline students in their classrooms. The Occupy Democrats article included a link to The Daily Kos which included this direct quote from Sessions’ speech:

… we have created a complex system of federal regulations and laws that have created lawsuit after lawsuit, special treatment for certain children, and that are a big factor in accelerating the decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America. I say that very sincerely.

Teachers I have been talking to have shared stories with me. I have been in 15 schools around Alabama this year. I have talked to them about a lot of subjects. I ask them about this subject in every school I go to, and I am told in every school that this is a major problem for them. In fact, it may be the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today.

The “complex system” he referenced in the speech was the one associated with special education, a law that requires a free and appropriate education for all children in the least restrictive environment. Prior to the passage of that law, students who were severely handicapped were often warehoused in facilities that separated them from other children. Students with milder handicaps were often undiagnosed and left behind in school or forced to find ways to accommodate on their own. If their parents were affluent they could often get tutoring paid for by their parents. Otherwise, they often dropped out altogether or created discipline problems that led to their expulsion. Having led public school districts for 29 years and consulted for five years since retiring I know that educating children with special needs is complicated and is expensive. But I also know that it provides support for roughly 15% of the population that would otherwise fail in school. Leaving roughly one-seventh of the children behind would not only be a moral problem, it would also be an economic one. It is far easier and economic to provide intervention at an early age than to treat these failed students when they become adults.

Worse than his identification of educating handicapped children as potentially “…the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today” was Mr. Sessions reaction to a lawsuit brought on behalf of the parents of those children in 30 of the poorest districts in Alabama. Here’s a summary of Mr. Sessions reaction to that lawsuit as reported in the NYTimes: 

Nearly 30 of Alabama’s poorest school districts, with support from disability rights groups, civil rights organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union, filed suit against the state. The most vocal critics of school reform, including the far-right activist Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, warned that it would bring “socialism” to Alabama.

After nearly three years of litigation, Judge Eugene W. Reese of the Alabama Circuit Court found the inequitable funding unconstitutional and ordered the state to come up with a system to remedy the inequity.

Attorney General Sessions led the battle against the decision. He argued that Judge Reese had overreached. It was a familiar war cry on the segregationist right: An activist court was usurping the power of the state’s duly elected officials to solve the problem on their own. For the next two years, Mr. Sessions sought to discredit Judge Reese and overturn his ruling. In one of the twists of austerity budgeting in the mid-1990s, Mr. Sessions had laid off 70 lawyers in the attorney general’s office, and had to find outside counsel to handle the case. Lawyers working on contract for the office were to be paid no more than $85 per hour, but for the challenge to the equity case, the fee cap was lifted.

Mr. Sessions was lauded by fellow Republicans for his efforts. They saw funding inequities as part of the natural order of things, not as a problem to be remedied. And any remedy would entail either the redistribution of funds from wealthier to poorer districts or an increase in taxes. Both positions ran against the small-government, privatization dogma that Mr. Sessions promoted.

SO now we have a pro-privatization pro-voucher Secretary of Education paired with an Attorney General who views the regulations associated with the provision of special education as ““…the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today” and funding inequities as “…part of the natural order of things”. It appears that we are going to Make America Great Again by using ESSA to effectively repeal Brown vs. Board of Education and 94-142 with no effort on the part of the Attorney General to make sure that States follow federal mandates to the contrary. Maybe after three years the voters will see what they have wrought in electing Mr. Trump and realize that government WAS doing good on their behalf and doing it well despite the fact that they were starved for resources.


In Michigan, Courts Determine That Literacy is Not a Right… And No One in Government There Complains

November 30, 2016 Comments off

In the “you can’t make this stuff up” category is the report from Fox News in Detroit Michigan that attorneys for the Governor are asking that a lawsuit against Detroit schools be thrown out because “literacy is not a right”. Here’s the summary paragraphs from the story:

Seven children filed the lawsuit in September, saying decades of state disinvestment and deliberate indifference to Detroit’s schools have denied them access to literacy.
The plaintiffs say the schools have deplorable building conditions, lack of books, classrooms without teachers, insufficient desks, buildings plagued by vermin, unsafe facilities and extreme temperatures.
The Michigan Attorney General asked a federal judge to dismiss a class action lawsuit arguing that Detroit schools are obligated to ensure that kids learn how to read and write. The state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit says: “there is no fundamental right to literacy”.
But, the Michigan Attorney General DOES acknowledge that the State must operate schools:

“Michigan’s constitution requires only that the legislature provide for a system of free public schools”, leaving the details and deliver to specific educational services to the local school districts.
In other words, the state must provide for schools, but there’s no obligation to make them work.
And, notably, the news report did not indicate that the State AG rebutted the plaintiffs claims that Detroit Schools, which have been under state receivership since 1999, “…have deplorable building conditions, lack of books, classrooms without teachers, insufficient desks, buildings plagued by vermin, unsafe facilities and extreme temperatures.” I suppose that’s because the details and delivery of specific educational services are left to the local school district… which in this case is the State. Round and round the attorneys and legislators go… and in the meantime the children in Detroit attend schools that are not required to teach literacy and have deplorable building conditions, lack of books, classrooms without teachers, insufficient desks, buildings plagued by vermin, unsafe facilities and extreme temperatures. And the problem with all this is teacher’s unions? Puh-leeze!

Evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr. Says Trump Wanted to Make Him Education Secretary

November 29, 2016 Comments off

As the punchline of a New England anecdote says, “it could have been worse”…. On the other hand, an evangelical Christian who favors the abolition of the Common Core and sees creation science as a viable mandate might be better for the job of Secretary of Education than a billionaire lobbyist who wants to give every parent a voucher. 

The president of Liberty University says he turned down the job of education secretary in the forthcoming Trump administration for personal reasons. – 2016/11/27

Source: Evangelical Jerry Falwell Jr. Says Trump Wanted to Make Him Education Secretary

Categories: Uncategorized Redux

November 28, 2016 Comments off

This weekend Dian Ravitch featured a post criticizing for its practice of gathering and selling data on students as part of it’s micro-scholarship initiative. While I find this kind of scheme distasteful, I also know that the issue of raising money to go to college is real for most parents, particularly for parents who are experiencing economic challenges themselves. That led me to leave this comment:

This sounded familiar to me and I found that I had reacted to a NYTImes article on this program several months ago.

I am as troubled about the premise behind as I am by the data collection and I see a conundrum in dismissing this kind of program. My concerns are noted in the closing paragraph, “While I wish that a students primary motive was learning for its own sake, our culture and our political environment at this point sees education solely as a means of earning more money.”

And here’s a conundrum: many parents actively discourage their children from pursuing more education because they do not believe it is within their reach financially. When I was principal at a rural HS in ME in the late 1970s I heard this from parents and as superintendent in Western MD in the early 1990s I heard this from the Principals who led the rural schools in that district. I sure that today there are many parents tell their children to not even THINK about college because it is too expensive. If a program like provides some of those students with a means of addressing that very real concern on the part of their parents, MAYBE the trade off is worth it.

Claims of Positive Effects of Mindfulness Effects on Students Are Based on Research; Claims that Buddhism is a “Religion” Unfounded

November 28, 2016 Comments off

The Denver Post ran a feature article by Monte Whaley that described a Mindfulness Program that was introduced into a second grade classroom in one of the Denver region elementary schools. The article did a reasonably good job of describing mindfulness, describing it as “paying attention on purpose without judgment” and noted that it “…is being taught in thousands of schools, board rooms and offices across the country.”  The article also offered links to research conducted by the University of North Carolina, Carnegie Melon University and the National Institutes of Health and offered this description of the benefits to second graders:

Proponents say mindfulness helps students maintain more control of their emotions and surroundings, said Melissa Kaufmann, mindfulness program director and instructor at Creativity Challenge Community.

“When I designed this mindfulness program, I was hoping to teach students to self-regulate and have a toolbox for mindful tactics to use in their daily lives,” said Kaufmann, known as Miss Melissa to her students. “After taking mindfulness classes, students understand how to maintain focus in and outside of schools, how to be aware of their emotions and senses without judgments, and how to be in the present moment.”

As a meditation practitioner I was troubled by the description of the program, which reported that the meditation practices were limited to two-15-minute sessions per month, which hardly seems sufficient to develop the kind self-regulation Ms. Kaufman was trying to achieve. I am certain, however, that fitting the practice into class each day is a challenge— just as finding the time to meditate for 20 minutes a day is a challenge for an adult. But the fruits of the practice, the ability to maintain focus and to be aware of senses without judgments, requires an investment of time. From my perspective, these fruits are far more beneficial than the skills measured by standardized achievement tests.

As a Buddhist practitioner I was also troubled by these sentences which were juxtaposed near the end of the article:

Critics say mindfulness is part of a movement to introduce Buddhist practices into secular classrooms… Kaufmann’s mindfulness session did not mention a higher power or deity.

I would have hoped that Mr. Whaley would point out to readers that the critics are wrong in their assessment about Buddhism practice being a religion. The kind of Buddhism that emphasizes mindfulness isn’t a religion at all and it does not refer to higher powers or deities. Instead it compels students to become more aware of their thoughts and to gain an understanding of how their thoughts filter their perceptions. It is precisely this kind of higher order thinking and centeredness that students need in this day and age of information overload. My thought: maybe the anonymous donor who underwrote the second grade class should offer a program to the Denver Post. 

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Laura Chapman Finds “Philanthrogovernance by Stealth” in Dozens of Cities: But This is the Tip of An Iceberg

November 27, 2016 Comments off

Education blogger Laura Chapman’s research on the long reach of the Broad Foundation was shared in a post yesterday by Diane Ravtich, and Ms. Chapman’s characterization of the foundation’s work as “philanthrogovernance by stealth” is apt. Suspicious of the recent creation of a “local” reform group in Clark County in her home state of Nevada, Ms. Chapman did some digging and found that website of this “local” reform minded group, “Opportunity 180″, indicated it was “…part of the national network of “Education Cities,”… and who was providing the seed money for this organization?

Surprise. Surprise. Surprise. There is the Broad Foundation, not exactly local. If you want to see where else this intended capture of public schools is being engineered, go to the Education Cities Website

A visit to the Education Cities Website showed that Clark County was one of 31 cities where “grassroots” organizations are seeking reform of public schools. And the ultimate source of funding should be no surprise to anyone who follows the privatization movement:

Education Cities are cities where unelected nonprofits, foundations, and civic groups are organized for the purposes of controlling the governance of public education, substituting their judgment for policies and practices forwarded by professionals in education, elected school boards, and citizens whose tax dollars are invested in public schools.

The national work of Education Cites is supported by the Broad Foundation, The Walton Family Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, and Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.

But as indicated in the title, this is the tip of the iceberg. Because the philanthro-capitalists have won the public relations argument when it comes to “reform”, their ideas of turning public schools over to private charter operators have caught fire and any Chamber of Commerce or local “Leadership” council seeking to impose entrepreneurial ideas into the public sector have sprung up like well fertilized mushrooms in a dark forest.

In the 1990s I worked in Maryland and one of the local businessmen was enamored with the nascent charter school movement in NYC. He bought everyone on the local Chamber of Commerce and the Leadership Hagerstown board copies of “The Miracle in East Harlem” describing the work of Sy Fliegel, a MacArthur genius grant recipient who operated charter schools in NYC. He then arranged to have Mr. Fleigel come to our area and give an address to a group of local business leaders and got the local media to cover the event. While many of the businessmen were drawn to the idea, Fliegel’s ideas did not get traction. In retrospect, I think one of the reasons was because at that time there was not sufficient evidence that the schools in the State or our district were “failing” and in need of some kind of dramatic turnaround. Indeed, at that time the district was showing steady improvement in the indicators the State used in the Maryland State Assessment and Performance Plan. Finally, at that time the notion equity among schools in the State and county was dominant making the notion of “choice” an anathema…. and vouchers, the end game of the “reformers”, were considered to be an extreme vision that would have no applicability whatsoever to either our district or our State.

As I write this I am surprised to realize that these events took place over two decades ago, when MD was led by a forward thinking Governor and excellent State Superintendent. I will be interested to see how MD responds should Ms, DeVos secure the nomination for Secretary of Education. I would not be surprised to find that Mr. Fliegel’s arguments for “…“creative noncompliance” with teachers’-union work rules and the bureaucratic red tape” resonate in 2016 thanks to the insistent drumbeat for “reform” that has dominated discussion since the passage of NCLB.

The bottom line in all of this: the Broad Foundation will not need to go into every district in America to get its message out: the “failing schools” narrative has taken hold and the argument for equity has vanished.