Archive for January, 2017

Devos Looks Like She’s In… Edelblut is Likely to Follow in NH… and Schools Serving Disadvantaged Students Lose

January 31, 2017 Comments off

Here’s the NYTimes story on Betsy DeVos clearing her first hurdle: getting through the HELP Committee in the Senate. The article seems to intimate that some GOP members might push back… but I fully expect the votes in opposition to her to go along party lines.

Tomorrow the NH Executive Council will vote on Governor Chris Sununu’s nominee for Commissioner of Education, Frank Edelblut, his main foe in the Republican gubernatorial primary who is a successful business who homeschooled all seven of his children.

So… at the national level we have a pro-voucher Secretary of Education with no public school experience who has spent millions of dollars campaigning for legislation that would eviscerate public education and in my home state of NH we will likely have a Commissioner who is a homeschooling businessman with no experience in public administration.

What could go wrong?

And most importantly, who will stand up for disadvantaged children who will be the only ones left behind in America’s public schools.

It’s time to develop a counter-attack….. and it won’t be electing another neoliberal like Obama whose appointees, as noted in earlier posts, were not much different from DeVos in terms of their attitudes toward privatization.

When an Ed Tech Entrepreneur Opposes DeVos, MAYBE Someone Will Pay Attention

January 31, 2017 Comments off

Today’s Google feed included a Forbes article by an Ed Tech entrepreneur Courtney Williams titled “Why Entrepreneurs Should Really Care About Public Schools”, an article I expected to be supportive of the candidacy of Betsy DeVos based on the title. But Mr. Williams has a different take. He opens his essay making the case that his fellow entrepreneurs should realize that their future depends on an education system that provides a strong workforce:

…here’s a newsflash: your company’s future employees are likely sitting in a public school classroom at this very moment. Are they getting the education they deserve? Are they getting the training to equip them with the relevant 21st-century knowledge and skills that will prepare them to work in your company 10 to 20 years from now?

Chances are, if they live in white, upper-middle-class communities, they will be just fine. But what about kids from poor families? What about kids of color, many of whom are born into poverty and can only avail themselves of schools that are underfunded and in many cases, unsafe? We all know the research about changing demographics. That research is real. Our country is getting browner and poorer, and those are the children who will build our products, sell our technology, and run our franchises. As entrepreneurs, we have no choice but to care about how they are educated.

Mr. Williams then expresses his reservations about Ms. DeVos as being the person to lead public schools:

At first, I was intrigued by Betsy DeVos. She is an “outsider” who is not part of the current system. My hope was that a fresh perspective could shed new light on what has become an alarming problem. She, like me, is also a charter advocate, who sees value in offering parents alternatives to traditional public schools. And to top it off, she is a big fan of integrating technology in education, a subject that is near and dear to my heart. But as I started looking closer, I’ve discovered that we have some real differences. We disagree on vouchers as a means for school choice… Her strategy is to help kids by moving them out of the public school system rather than committing to the hard work required to make the public school system better. She has called public schools a “dead end” in the past and her policy proposals speak to that belief.

I’m also worried about how she will fund the voucher system–her core policy suggestion. The program will cost the federal government over $20 billion dollars. Will she cut funding from Title 1 and other programs designed to help low-income kids? Will the vouchers funnel money away from public schools? Will this mean that public schools will have less funding…? How will these changes impact the delivery of education to the vast majority of our country who rely on public education? As entrepreneurs, we should be very concerned about policy choices that are not based on valid research and which may have the unintended consequence of making matters worse, thereby forcing us to fish for talent in an ever-shrinking pool of qualified candidates over the next 10 to 20 years. Our fortunes are inextricably linked to a well-educated workforce and we need a Secretary of Education who will improve public education instead of tearing it down.

Policy issues and concerns aside, my biggest objection to Betsy DeVos is that, at a very basic level, she seems to lack both the knowledge for the job and a commitment to doing the hard work required to acquire that knowledge.

He concluded the article with a summary of examples of the embarrassing unpreparedness Ms. DeVos displayed in her testimony before the Senate HELP Committee, ending with this:

I firmly believe that our future success, and the success of every entrepreneur for that matter, depends on our public schools and the children they educate. Those children are the workforce of tomorrow and if our schools fail them, then we too shall fail.

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Ms. Warren’s Conditional Conditional Acceptance of Dr. Carson Does Not Bode Well… and it Requires Her Staff to Keep Track of Broken Promises

January 30, 2017 Comments off

While the Senate is awaiting responses from the Ethics Committee on Betsy DeVos. Washington Post blogger Valerie Strauss reports that Democrats on the HELP Committee that is reviewing her nomination are awaiting responses to scores of questions they sent to her. In the meantime, several nominations of equally unqualified nominees to cabinet positions have been approved, including that of Ben Carson. Dr. Carson, like Ms. DeVos, was nominated to oversee a huge bureaucracy, the Department of HUD, that he publicly decried. And Dr. Carson, like Ms. DeVos, received scores of questions from Democrats who expressed strong opposition to the appointment. But Mr. Carson’s appointment glided through the committee and the Senate, receiving support from reliably Progressive Senators like Warren and Sanders. Senator Warren’s inbox and Facebook page was overrun with objections to her support for Dr. Carson, leading her to offer this explanation for her vote in his favor:

Warren explained that she sent Carson a nine-page letter with detailed questions on a host of issues she considers central for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), including providing housing assistance, fighting homelessness, preparing for natural disasters, and protecting the LGBT community.

“Dr. Carson’s answers weren’t perfect. But at his hearing, he committed to track and report on conflicts of interest at the agency. In his written responses to me, he made good, detailed promises, on everything from protecting anti-homelessness programs to enforcing fair housing laws,” Warren wrote. “Promises that — if they’re honored — would help a lot of working families.”

Based on Senator Warren’s rationale for her vote in support of Ben Carson, all Ms. DeVos needs to do is provide answers to the questions Ms. Warren posed and she’ll get an affirmative vote. Ms. Warren will then hold Ms. DeVos accountable any time she breaks those promises. Given Mr. Trump’s nominees, if Ms. Warren applies this logic to every nominee her staff will be working overtime to track promise-keeping… and in the meantime the public will suffer the consequences of broken promises and the failed ideas that both Dr. Carson and Ms. DeVos advocate.

I keep hoping against hope that someone will raise a principled objection to candidates who publicly express the belief that the agency they are heading is unnecessary or imposes unnecessary regulations. Instead, if they make promises that are contrary to their expressed beliefs and their track record we see qualified support.

In the coming week, I expect to react to not only the appointment of Betsy DeVos but also the appointment of the equally unqualified Frank Edelblut to NH Commissioner of Education. With leaders like this at the head of public education in the nation and my home state I fear for the future of our schools.


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What Values ARE We Teaching in Schools… and What Values SHOULD We Be Teaching in Schools

January 29, 2017 Comments off

As noted in this blog and in almost every publication I read, there is a tremendous pushback against Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of education. This pushback has led opponents to dig deeply into the myriad donations Ms. DeVos and her husband have made to anti-public school organizations and, in doing so, they have uncovered some alarming speeches and reports. In a post yesterday, Diane Ravitch flagged a Huffington Post article by Rebecca Klein that reported on one such speech:

A conservative Christian group with ties to Donald Trump education pick Betsy DeVos once released a promotional video that proudly featured a speaker describing how Adolf Hitler and others indoctrinated children.

The undated video by the Student Statesmanship Institute ― which trains Christian kids to bring their “biblical worldview” to politics and media careers ― opens with a speech by Michigan leader Richard Posthumus, who describes how Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin used children to spread their message.

“Sometimes, it seems like it’s very hard to change the world, the world is so big,” Posthumus says in the video, over a dramatic soundtrack. “But what SSI has done is equip young people with the tools to go out and be ready for the competing ideas that’s in this world.”

The video immediately cuts to another comment.

“Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Lenin: They knew one thing, that to change a culture, to change a country, they had to reach the children,” he says.

This statement reflects the thinking of many that our public schools are NOT “equipping young people with the tools to go out and be ready for the competing ideas of in this world”. Based on this statement, I sense that SSI is seeking to have the “Christian kids” infuse their work with a “biblical worldview”, an effort that is antithetical to the values I believe are needed to provide students with the skills students need to succeed in the world they are about to enter. And what are those skills? A recent article by Penny Loretto in The Balance provides a good list that mirrors virtually every list I scanned in a quick on line search:

The ability to assess a situation is important in all career fields. Being able to gather information and understand multiple perspectives is critical to moving up in your career.

No matter what the job most of them require a minimum understanding of computers. As a recent college graduate you will have a heads up due to your knowledge of word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software, and email.

The ability to manage multiple priorities by being adaptable and flexible will make you a successful employee in almost any field. Things are changing so rapidly in today’s job market that anyone who cannot change course in mid-stream is bound to be left behind.

The ability to solve problems through creativity and a logical thought process will make you a very valuable member of the team. From handling customer complaints to managing a small or large group of people, these skills are a must.

Since so many jobs require people to effectively work teams in order to get work done, one of the things that employers look for when hiring on new people is previous examples of working on teams either in the classroom or previous internships or jobs. 

The ability to plan, organize, and set realistic goals to get the work done in a realistic timeframe, is most important for anyone starting a new job.

Since many company decisions are based on gathering and analyzing data, it’s imperative that a company’s employees know how to take the raw data and translate it into something meaningful and concrete.

The ability to determine the best course of action based on evaluating all options on logic and fact, directly results in creating intelligent solutions to any problem.

The ability to direct and motivate others is a skill that employers extremely value in the workplace. Employees that move up quickly in an organization usually possess this valuable skill. It is also a skill that can be learned through specific training and experience.

The SSIs predominant goal of training “…Christian kids to bring their “biblical worldview” to politics and media careers” is antithetical to the boldfaced items above. Someone trying to impose their views on other individuals will not be able to “gather information and understand multiple perspectives”, “be adaptable or flexible”, “solve problems through creativity and a logical thought process”, “take the raw data and translate it into something meaningful and concrete”, “(evaluate) all options on logic and fact”, or “direct and motivate others”. These inter-related skills all require the ability to be empathetic: to strive to understand the other person’s viewpoint and find a middle ground between their viewpoint and yours or generate a new way of thinking about things that draws on both backgrounds. If one is unable to understand their own mental formations they will be incapable of understanding another person’s.

While I do not believe SSI’s values will help provide students with the skills listed above, I am not certain that our public schools are based on values that will help develop those skills. Our measurement systems place no value on the instruction of “soft skills” and our schools implicitly overvalue competition and undervalue cooperation. The values our schools need to inculcate will have to wait for a future blogpost… but any insights readers might provide are welcome.

Lamar Alexander’s Analogy that Vouchers are Like the GI Bill MIGHT Backfire

January 28, 2017 Comments off

One of Diane Ravitch’s posts yesterday opened with this paragraph:

Senator Lamar Alexander likes to say that vouchers for religious and private schools are akin to a “GI Bill of Rights for Children,” a transfer of public funds to be spent anywhere.

She then ran an extended counter-argument from a veteran who used the GI Bill who pointed out why the analogy was false. The comment section also included rebuttals to the analogy, including one from frequent commenter Lloyd Lofthouse, a Viet Nam vet, who noted the discrepancy between the actual costs of college and the amount he received to pay for college. In reading his comment, I came to the conclusion that it might be possible to use Mr. Alexander’s analogy to illustrate how vouchers would really work.

Conservatives love to make the argument that vouchers will “help disadvantaged children”. But the amount of money given to parents in the form of vouchers is— like the GI bill— not enough to cover the actual costs of any K-12 school… unless that K-12 school is a for-profit charter that employs non-union teachers. Mr. Lofthouse, like most who took advantage of the GI Bill, had to “…(work) nights and weekends” to supplement the grant he received and also had to borrow money to cover the actual costs. In the meantime students from more affluent households could dedicate their time and energy to their studies.

If vouchers enabled a child in the Bronx to attend Bronxville schools or an elite private school they might be a means of improving educational opportunity… but thanks to public education advocates like Diane Ravitch the public is becoming aware of the real endgame of vouchers: they are designed  to undercut funding for public schools everywhere and to support private, parochial, and ESPECIALLY privatized schools.

In writing this post I wanted to make certain I was informed about the GI Bill and that led me to Wikipedia where I found this choice synopsis of the launch of the Gi Bill and its history since then:

During the 1940s, “fly-by-night” for-profit colleges sprang up to collect veterans’ education grants, because the program provided limited oversight.[8] Similarly, for-profit colleges and their lead generators[9] have taken advantage of the post-911 GI Bill to target veterans for subpar products and services.[10] The Veterans Administration, however, does have a GI Bill feedback form for recipients to address their complaints against colleges.[11]President Barack Obama also signed Executive Order 13607 which was to ensure that predatory colleges did not aggressively recruit vulnerable military service members, veterans, and their families.[12]

If the Republican majority in Congress ultimately appoints Betsy DeVos or another voucher advocate to head the Department of Education, I hope that in their capacity of overseeing student loans that they will use former President Obama’s Executive Order as a guide…. that is unless that Executive Order is rescinded by President Trump, which seems likely given Mr. Trump’s personal experience overseeing a college that was fined for predatory recruitment practices.

Update on Trump Political Appointee: She’s Un-Appointed!

January 27, 2017 Comments off

This just in as of this morning’s Politico post:

A controversial field organizer for Donald Trump’s campaign appears to have abruptly left her new Education Department job – three days after her hire was announced. Teresa UnRue of Myrtle Beach, S.C., was named in an investigation by The Associated Press last year for sharing racially charged content on social media. POLITICO reported earlier this week that she was on a list of 17 new individuals joining the Trump administration’s Education Department. But updated transition information obtained by POLITICO Thursday shows that UnRue’s name has abruptly vanished from that list of new hires.

– It’s unclear what position UnRue, who once said that she would “take a bullet” for Trump, had at the agency. When reached by phone Thursday, UnRue directed questions to the Education Department’s press office. An Education Department spokesman said “the department doesn’t comment on personnel matters.” Caitlin Emma has the story.

– UnRue shared a video on Facebookin July of “a black man eating fried chicken while shaming fellow black people,” the AP reported last year. The man in the video asks, “Why are you mad about slavery? Y’all weren’t no damn slaves.” UnRue wrote of the video, “Had me crack’n up!! Thank you! Please share this with people.” In other posts, UnRue shared a statement that said, “We need Islam control, not gun control.” She also linked to a website that alleged the U.S. government assassinated Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last year.

Maybe we can shame others who are unqualified into resignations….

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As Opposition to DeVos Swells, Hope for Her Rejection Builds

January 27, 2017 Comments off

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: DeVos is a bad candidate… but… the Democratic party just chose two pro-privatization Secretaries of Education who differed only in the fact that they did not want federal dollars going to sectarian schools… and the fact that they weren’t billionaires… 

There may be enough opposition to Education Secretary pick Betsy DeVos to overturn her nomination, as activists, teachers, and members of Congress step up their resistance.Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday said he would vote against DeVos, stating that the billionaire heiress and proponent of privatization would “single-handedly decimate our public education system.”

Source: As Opposition to DeVos Swells, Hope for Her Rejection Builds

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