Archive for December, 2016

Think about the Children in El Paso

December 24, 2016 Comments off

The children, as always, are collateral damage to policies that are politically popular… 

They are afraid. They wonder if they will be deported. They worry about their family. They don’t know if they can visit their grandparents.   Some asked their teachers about the electora…

Source: Think about the Children in El Paso

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The “Undeserving Poor” vs. the “Undeserving Corporations”

December 24, 2016 Comments off

One of Diane Ravitch’s posts yesterday included a link to a Washington Post op ed piece by Charlotte Rampell titled “Why the White Working Class Votes Against Itself”. In the article, Ms. Rampell suggests that many Trump voters supported him because they “..believed any Big Government expansions would disproportionately go to the “wrong” kinds of people — that is, people unlike themselves.” But I felt the most compelling rationale for the Trump support is found in this paragraph:

Rhetoric this election cycle caricaturing our government as “rigged,” and anyone who pays into it as a chump, has only reinforced these misperceptions about who benefits from government programs and how much.

Diane Ravtich emphasized a different element of Ms. Rampell’s column. She wrote

Trump played the demagogue role perfectly, stirring  resentment of the Others, the equivalent of Welfare Queens, living an easy life because of government benefits.

The narrative of the “undeserving poor” and “welfare queens” who live “an easy life because of government benefits” gained traction in the Reagan era and has not been countered effectively since. But the narrative conveniently overlooks a large group of “deserving poor”: children. As educators we should repeatedly emphasize the point that children born into poverty didn’t make ANY “bad choices” and don’t “deserve” the consequences of the presumably “bad choices” their parents made.

And here’s the conundrum: public education and public agencies could make a difference in the lives of children born into poverty if they were given the resources… but giving more money to “the government” is seen as “wasteful spending” and, as Ms. Rampell notes, “…anyone who pays into it is a chump”.  So the public tends to sympathize with corporations who pay no taxes to “the government” and view the President-elect’s unwillingness to pay taxes as evidence that he is a “good businessman.” And voters fail to see the connection between corporate tax avoidance and their own tax bill. When corporations offshore their profits to avoid paying taxes to the government and seek tax benefits from all levels of government in exchange for low-paying jobs, is it any surprise that local and state taxes increase for the average citizen?

One would hope that those born into wealth would be full of gratitude for their good fortune. But many (if not most) of the billionaires who inherited their wealth (e.g. the Kochs, the Waltons, the and– yes– the Trumps and DeVos) fuel narratives about how the “undeserving poor” need to work harder and how “the market” can solve virtually every problem, especially if the market is free of regulation and turned over to private enterprise. And when those same corporations suppress wages, send jobs overseas, and spend billions on automation to maximize the profits of their shareholders, is it any surprise that there are fewer jobs and lower wages in our country?

The only way to break this vicious circle is to make voters aware of the way the economic system is rigged against them and for the billionaires. Until that message penetrates we will continue to have billionaires scolding the rest of us for the bad choices we made and lecturing us about the way the invisible hand guides the economy in a fair and just fashion.

Somewhere Ronald Reagan is smiling benignly and assuring us that it is morning in America…. And from the same place, FDR is  thinking America should be in mourning.

NC’s Sorry History on Race Underpins “Coup” By Republicans

December 23, 2016 Comments off

The Republican Party used to be the “The Party of Lincoln” and the Southern Democrats used to be called “Dixiecrats”… but ever since Richard Nixon launched his Southern Strategy in the late 1960s the two parties have reversed roles… and as a result African Americans continue to retain a second class citizenship status. This is the meta-story behind elections in the South, and the tension that results nationally is particularly notable in North Carolina, a border state that is split down the middle in a very schizophrenic way in terms of its politics. It is a state where an outright racist like Jesse Helms could hold onto a senate set while a progressive like James Hunt was Governor.

In a Progressive blog post Jeff Bryant describes the latest case of schizophrenia in North Carolina where, most recently, a Democrat held the State Superintendent post while a tea party Republican held the Governor’s post. When this was the case, the Governor held considerable power over education, with the ability to appoint State Board members and members to the University of North Carolina Board of Regents. But in November, voters in North Carolina narrowly elected a Democrat to the State House and a pro-privatization Republican to be state superintendent while retaining Republican majorities to both chambers of the State legislature. As part of a “coup” to reduce the impact of this election, the House and Senate in NC convened a hastily called “special session” where they stripped the governor of many powers…. many of which will have an impact on public education:

Republicans robbed incoming Democratic Governor Roy Cooper of his ability to change the composition of state and county boards of elections, diluted the governor’s appointment authority, and rigged the timing of county board leadership to favor Republicans.

Republican lawmakers took away the incoming governor’s ability to make appointments to the State Board of Education and the boards of trustees of University of North Carolina system, made cabinet appointees subject to approval by the senate, and cut the number of appointments the governor can make for government jobs from 1,500 to 425.

The attack on the incoming governor’s power over education appointments is especially radical, as it transfers power from the state board to the new state superintendent of public instruction, Republican Mark Johnson, who defeated the Democratic incumbent, June Atkinson, in November.

Jeff Bryant uses the balance of the article to describe the underlying reason for the attack on education, which is race. To get a historic analysis of the relationship between public education and race, Bryant interviews historian Timothy Tyson, who serves as the Education Director of the North Carolina NAACP. Mr. Tyson offers this synopsis of NC’s sordid history of education:

In Tyson’s account, conservative North Carolinians have always attacked public education as a means of waging political warfare. In the post-Civil War years, white conservatives were generally opposed to public schools. They regarded education as belonging to the privileged class who could afford to pay for it.

Under Reconstruction, however, the state’s Constitution was rewritten in 1868 to include, among many other provisions, the state’s obligation to provide a sound, basic, and free education to every citizen… and by the late 1800s, (a) fusion movement (of black voters joining forces with white progressives) had succeeded in substantially increasing state spending on public education.

As the turn of the last century neared, however, a growing “white supremacy campaign” grew in power until it wrested state government away from the progressive coalition in 1900 and installed… measures to strip the vote from black North Carolinians.

This (resulted in a) separate and unequal system of public education, enacted largely to keep political power in the hands of white conservatives, is what built the social order of segregation, which prevailed until the Civil Rights Movement toppled it in the 1960s.

“Education is foundational to North Carolina’s sense of itself as a progressive southern state,” Tyson insists.

But, as Jeff Bryant notes with dismay, the Democrats in North Carolina have not embraced public education in North Carolina or elsewhere in the South:

What doesn’t make sense is that many Democrats – in the South and elsewhere –  don’t defend public schools very forcefully, even as they stand up for voting rights and democratic principles.

Indeed, the trend for nearly thirty years has been that Democrats compromise with Republicans on education—by accepting privatization efforts like vouchers and charter schools, for example, by agreeing to sustain inadequate funding levels, and by stifling the voices of classroom teachers and their unions.

The lesson for Democrats from the Republican Carolina coup is that public education is a cornerstone of our democracy, and closely related to the fight for voting rights, racial justice, and a more equal society. Democrats must resurrect the conviction of their fusion heritage to fight for free, accessible, and high-quality public schools for all children.

I share Mr. Bryant’s perspective on the Democrats. Both President Obama and their 2016 candidate Hilary Clinton supported privatization efforts and watered down school choice as a means of providing “equity” while side-stepping the unjust housing patterns that are leading to re-segregation of schools.

And I would take Mr. Bryant’s conclusions a step further: what we are witnessing now in NC we are likely to witness even more in the coming years unless the Democrats “resurrect the conviction of their fusion heritage”. If Democrats and citizens allow Mr. Trump’s prospective appointees to carry out their mission of disabling the various agencies they are heading we will all be living in a country that resembles NC more than a country that resembles, say, CA, OR, WA, or VT. Our children are depending on us to restore democracy.

In Historic Decision, Canada Declares Internet Access a Fundamental Right for All

December 22, 2016 Comments off

If our country REALLY wanted to provide equitable opportunities for all of its citizens it, too, would take this step… but alas, we are more interested in providing those that have with more and MOST of all a huge profit to the monopsonies who rule the telecom world… 

In what is being described as a “historic” decision that will have a significant impact, particularly on the lives of those living in rural and First Nations communities, Canada’s telecom agency on Wednesday issued a new rule declaring high-speed internet a basic service “necessary to the quality of life” of all Canadians.

Source: In Historic Decision, Canada Declares Internet Access a Fundamental Right for All

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SC Legislature’s Reaction to School Shooting? Concealed Carry for School Employees

December 22, 2016 Comments off

This fall a 14 year-old homeschooled student in SC shot his father with a handgun and then drove two miles to a nearby elementary school in Townville where he shot several several students on the playground, one of whom, Jacob Hall, subsequently died. An unarmed 30-year old volunteer firefighter interceded and turned the shooter over to police who arrested him. The shooter never entered the school.

In response to this incident, the Blaze reports that the SC legislature is introducing several bills that bear the victim’s name, many of which would allow school districts to permit their teachers to carry concealed weapons on school property.The Blaze article highlighted one of the bills introduced by Rep. Joshua Putman that would:

…create a special public school concealed weapons permit. Educators and employees would have to attend a live shooter training from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

Putnam’s legislation allows for school district officials to restrict what ammunition can be loaded in the firearms teachers have on school grounds. It would also allow for the firearms to be secured and kept in approved holsters.

The school board chair in the county district where the Townville shooting took place was not happy about this legislation, preferring  law that would mandate and fund officers in every school in the state:

Tom Dobbins, chairman of Anderson School District 4 school board, said Monday that he hoped legislators would find the money to hire more law enforcement officials instead of arm teachers as a “knee-jerk reaction.”

He argued that arming teachers is just a “cheap way out” that could “end up with more fatalities,” according to the (local newspaper) Independent Mail.

Neither of these proposals would prevent an incident like the one described in the accounts of the shooting I read on line. An armed teacher might have shot an injured the 14-year old brandishing a handgun, but would not have been on the playground to prevent him from shooting students. An armed guard at the front door would not have prevented the shooting either. Chain-link fences with razor wire would not have prevented the incident either. And as I read through the articles reporting on the September 2016 incident I could find no explanation of why the young man with a gun was being home schooled, why he shot his father, how he got the handgun, and why he chose to shoot children on a playground at this rural elementary school. Maybe an examination of the shooter’s motives would yield a better way to prevent future shootings. Maybe homeschoolers need to be monitored more closely to ensure their mental health is sound. Maybe safety locks need to be put on handguns in homes so that a 14 year old cannot use them even if they gain access to them. Maybe these solutions would be expensive, but they might actually prevent a future incident and save the lives of more children than giving more guns to more adults in school.

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NYC: Comptroller Audits Eva, Chastises Success Academy for Poor Financial Controls

December 21, 2016 Comments off

This is a “dog bites man” story on one level… OF COURSE de-regulated organizations have accounting flaws! But the media should continue issuing reports of financial mismanagement by charters and anti-deregulated charter pundits should reference them as frequently pro-deregulated charter pundits trumpet the few studies that “prove” their efficacy. 

New York City’s Comptroller Scott Stringer released his long-awaited audit of one of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter schools, Harlem Success Academy 3. Moskowitz fought the audi…

Source: NYC: Comptroller Audits Eva, Chastises Success Academy for Poor Financial Controls

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Texas Education Leader Succinctly Argues Against Vouchers… But Misses the Reason They Appeal to Voters

December 21, 2016 Comments off

Several states have gone all in for vouchers (LA, IN, WI come to mind), and under Governor Dan Patrick’s administration TX is likely to be named to that list. Gary Godsey, the executive director for the Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE), the state’s largest educator group and the voice of public education, is not buying the idea and he contends that parents and voters across the state are not buying it either:

Abandoning our neighborhood public schools, however, isn’t something the majority of Texans want. While political salesmen like Patrick and Trump and the organizations that support them like to wax poetically about supporting “school choice” programs, such as taxpayer savings grants and education savings accounts (ESAs), these programs are nothing more than vouchers. Unlike real choice programs that help families find the best fit for their children, the true purpose of every voucher program is to decrease the state’s responsibility to properly fund a quality education for every child while directing education dollars that are spent to political supporters.

Mr. Godsey is on the mark when he argues that the majority of Texans do not want to abandon neighborhood public schools. But what he misses is that virtually every voucher program that purports to provide a range of “choices” for students implicitly retains the existing district boundary lines and thereby sidesteps the need to address the economic segregation and racial re-segregation that is occurring in our nation’s schools. And adept voucher marketers know how to present their concepts in a fashion that makes it clear that the boundary lines will be inviolate thereby assuring affluent parents that they do not have to worry about the possibility of their district having to open its doors to children who are raised in poverty or children of different races or cultures. Arguing against vouchers while arguing for “neighborhood schools” can play into the hands of those who market falsely vouchers as a means of mobility and access to quality schools.

Mr. Godsey DOES advance arguments against vouchers that both support equity and undercut the voucher marketeers and hose who think schools should run like a business:

Our society’s commitment to public education, as enshrined in the Texas Constitution, places a responsibility on our legislature to ensure we have a public education system capable of properly educating every child who comes to the schoolhouse door. Voucher schools, on the other hand, can pick and choose who they take and are inherently exclusionary. As a result, the population of students who might benefit from a voucher is substantially limited and the schools available to all students are significantly harmed. Under this proposed system, students with special needs, such as learning or physical disabilities, language barriers, or behavioral challenges, would mostly likely be left behind. 

Schools aren’t businesses, and they shouldn’t be run like them. Businesses can choose what type of product they want to sell and how to sell it, and if the product is not up to their standard, it gets sent back or destroyed. Our schools’ products are children, and we can’t send them back – we must build them up. We cater to their education needs, whether our students be homeless, rich, poor, abused, frightened, rude, or brilliant! 

Godsey concludes by arguing that the best thing the Texas Legislature could do to improve education is provide it with the funds it needs, specifically referencing the $5,400,000,000 in cuts in 2011:

Our energy and resources would be better spent on the public education system than on a limited voucher experiment. Restoring all the funding cut from public schools in 2011 would help us battle overcrowded classrooms, provide the latest and greatest technology to students, and offer better pay and support for great teachers so that they stay in the classroom longer and do the most good.

But TX legislators have the voting public right where they want them: they can offer to restore some of the funds to districts serving children raised in poverty by linking them to vouchers and appear both high-minded and “innovative” in their approach while leaving neighborhood schools in place in the leafy suburbs where parents would push back if their schools were forced to accept voucher enrollees from nearby districts serving less well-to-do children.

This, too, is what plutocracy looks like.