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Archive for March, 2017

The Big Lie Behind Trump’s Education Budget

March 31, 2017 Leave a comment

Jeff Bryant does his usual excellent job of explaining why “choice” and  vouchers do nothing to help the economically disadvantaged despite what Secretary DeVos, President Trump, GOP politicians, and any number of misguided “reformers” contend.

Source: The Big Lie Behind Trump’s Education Budget

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With Schools-as-Uber Analogy, Betsy DeVos Exposes Ignorance—Again

March 31, 2017 Leave a comment

Betsy DeVos continues promoting schools as a commodity… and some commentators are calling her on it… but most GOP members and “reformers” are loving it!

Source: With Schools-as-Uber Analogy, Betsy DeVos Exposes Ignorance—Again

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Vacant Jobs in Science and Technology Have a Ripple Effect, and Public Education Will Be Affected

March 31, 2017 Leave a comment

I cannot keep up with the adverse impact the Trump administration is having on public education. Today’s NYTimes reportoffers yet another example of how various “redundant” and “unnecessary” government agencies and jobs impact policies that have an impact on public schools. Cecilia Kang and Michael Shear that Mr. Trump has intentionally left scores of positions unfilled in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Why? Here’s one of his advisor’s response, and what Mr. Trump has stated publicly since then:

“Eliminating the O.S.T.P. (or at least electing not to staff it until Congress can act) would not block the president from access to science and technology advice,” James Jay Carafano, who advised Mr. Trump’s transition team, wrote in report issued last summer by the conservative Heritage Foundation. “Rather, it eliminates a formal office whose purpose is unclear and whose capabilities are largely redundant.”

Mr. Trump has echoed that sentiment, at least when it comes to government jobs over all.

Last month he responded to criticism about the high number of vacancies across his administration by telling Fox News that “a lot of those jobs, I don’t want to appoint, because they’re unnecessary to have.”

“You know, we have so many people in government, even me,” Mr. Trump said. “I look at some of the jobs and it’s people over people over people. I say, ‘What do all these people do?’ You don’t need all those jobs.”

Ms. Kang and Mr. Shear describe what some of the people in O.S.T.P. have done in the past… and the list of tasks and accomplishments is impressive:

Mr. Obama turned to the science office during crises like the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa; the 2011 nuclear spill in Fukushima, Japan; and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

The staff of the science office developed the White House’s recommendations for regulation of commercial drones and driverless cars at the Transportation Department. Last year, the staff produced an attention-grabbing report that raised concerns about the threat that robots posed to employment and that advocated retraining Americans for higher-skilled jobs. The staff also put on the annual White House science fair.

In 2011, when lawmakers proposed an online piracy bill known as the Stop Online Piracy Act, internet architecture engineers on the team advised the president to veto the bill because of security and privacy issues it would create.

“The O.S.T.P. is the conduit for scientific perspective and scrutiny to the president and is a priority in White House decision making,” said Danny Weitzner, a former deputy chief technology officer in the Obama administration and now the director of internet policy research at M.I.T.

Under Mr. Obama, the science and technology office included 19 policy advisers in the environment and energy division, 14 in the national security and international affairs division, nine in the science division and 20 in the technology and innovation division.

“We are all sitting on the edge of our seats hoping nothing catastrophic happens in the world,” said Phil Larson, a former senior science and technology adviser to Mr. Obama. “But if it does, who is going to be advising him?”

Current White House officials declined to say how many people remained in each division. But four former officials who recently left the office said that a wave of departures scheduled for Friday could potentially reduce the number of people left to a handful, not counting about eight administrative staff members.

Based on the hasty and ill-informed legislation on internet privacy making its way through Congress and Mr. Trump’s reported desire to end net neutrality it seems Mr. Trump would benefit from advice from scientists with technological know-how. When asked about the delay in filling the key positions, an unnamed spokesman for the President indicated Mr. Trump “… is still reviewing candidates to be his chief science adviser, (and he) considers the science and technology office important and will soon have a new staff for it.”

Actions speak louder than words, though…. and the evidence is overwhelming. Mr. Trump’s inaction on filling slots combined with a budget that recommends cuts of “…$5.8 billion, or 18 percent, from the National Institutes of Health and $900 million, or about 20 percent, from the Energy Department’s Office of Science, which runs basic research at the national laboratories. The Environmental Protection Agency would be cut by 31 percent” show that he does not value science…. and that message will permeate into schools. As the President would say: “SAD!”

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You Thought Your Student Loan Was Forgiven? Think Again! This New Administration is Reneging

March 31, 2017 Leave a comment

In an appalling development, the US Department of Education is reversing its position on a student loan forgiveness program that was instituted in 2007 as the result of bi-artisan legislation passed at that time. In a NYTimes article today, Stacy Cowley reports:

In a legal filing submitted last week, the Education Departmentsuggested that borrowers could not rely on the program’s administrator to say accurately whether they qualify for debt forgiveness. The thousands of approval letters that have been sent by the administrator, FedLoan Servicing, are not binding and can be rescinded at any time, the agency said.

The filing adds to questions and concerns about the program just as the first potential beneficiaries reach the end of their 10-year commitment — and the clocks start ticking on the remainder of their debts.

How many will be affected by this? According to the article 550,000 individuals who work either for the government or for non-profits received approval from the program’s administrator over the past ten years… and up to 25% of the work force may be qualified as well:

The forgiveness program offers major benefits for borrowers, advocates say, to the point of persuading some people to take public service jobs instead of more lucrative work in the private sector. The program generally covers people with federal student loans who work for 10 years at a government or nonprofit organization, a diverse group that includes public school employees, museum workers, doctors at public hospitals and firefighters. The federal government approved the program in 2007 in a sweeping, bipartisan bill.

About 25 percent of the nation’s work force may qualify for the program, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimated. Eligibility is based on a borrower’s employer and whether it meets the program’s rules, not on the specific work an applicant does.

Of that group, those working in non-profits seem to be most at risk since that seems to be the group particularly targeted by USDOE. And why would the Federal government agency administering these loans suddenly decide to renege? Linda Klein, president of the American Bar Association has a theory. She called the department’s response”

…“illogical, untenable and bewildering.” An unreliable certification system “exposes those undertaking public service work — exactly what Congress intended them to do — to crippling financial risk,” she said.

So now idealistic individuals with medical and law degrees who decided to accept low wage assignments in the non-profit and government might be on the hook for loans in excess of $100,000. The drowning of the government in a bathtub is proceeding apace.

 

Diane Ravitch’s Critique of American Psychological Association to Speak Up Misses the Point

March 30, 2017 1 comment

In a blog post yesterday, Diane Ravitch quoted from a comment left by testing expert Fred Smith whose comments echoed these questions:

Why isn’t the American Psychological Association speaking out about the misuse of standardized testing? Where are the professors who teach about testing? Why are they silent when children as young as 8 are subjected to hours of testing? Why are they silent when children in middle school are compelled to sit through tests that last longer than college admission tests? Why are they not defending their own standards for the appropriate use of tests? Is their silence a sign of complicity or indifference?

My comment to this post was this:

The psychologists here are analogous to the economists in the lead up to the calamitous Wall Street crash and, as others have noted, the various researchers who give cover to Big Pharma…There are a few renegades who will speak out against the testing, but the corporate line is that testing and measurement are a good thing because it helps feed the paradigm that schools-are-a-business-whose-bottom-line-is-test-scores… And the best tests are those that can be done quickly and cheaply and yield a number that can be put onto a spread sheet and used to establish a rank order… As long as educators use tests in any way to sort and select, standardized tests will be with us.

In the end, we need to change the implicit paradigm of the factory school where students are batched by age cohorts and measured against their age peers and move to a completely individualized and personalized form of instruction where time is the variable and mastery is constant. Such a system would require no more personnel that we use today but would require everyone working the children to do so in a coordinated fashion. It CAN be done… but only if we shed our current framework of how to educate children effectively.

President Trump’s Starving of USDOE Starts NOW!

March 29, 2017 Leave a comment

In a post yesterday I shared a list of vacancies that exist in key positions in the USDOE and suggested that this was not a bug but a feature. Yesterday’s Politico feed reinforced that notion in it’s lead section on the $3,000,000,000 cut the President is proposing for THIS fiscal year, which has five months left:

After proposing a $9.2 billion cut to the Education Department’s budget for next year, the President Donald Trump is now calling on Congress to slash nearly $3 billion in education funding for the remaining five months of this fiscal year, according to a document obtained by POLITICO. The White House on Friday sent House and Senate appropriators detailed instructions on how they should craft spending legislation to fund the federal government beyond April 28, when the current stopgap spending bill expires.

– The Trump proposal seeks cuts across many federal agencies, but calls for the deepest reductions at the Education Department. The administration proposes $1.3 billion in cuts from the Pell grant program’s surplus this year – on top of the $3.9 billion proposed cut for next fiscal year. The CBO estimates the program will operate with a $10.6 billion surplus next year, but advocates for student aid and Congressional Democrats have blasted efforts to “raid” the Pell surplus and direct that money outside of financial aid programs.

– The White House is seeking to slash in half Title II, Part A funding for the current year. The program helps boost teacher and principal quality through professional development and also funds efforts to reduce class sizes. “Funding is poorly targeted and supports practices that are not evidence-based,” the administration wrote in the document. Trump’s “skinny budget” for next fiscal year called for eliminating the $2.4 billion program entirely.

– Also on the chopping blockfor elimination this year: A $47 million program that provides grants to school districts and other organizations to support physical education programs and a $49 million competitive grant program that provides money for elementary and secretary school counseling. The White House is also proposing to nix a $152 million program to boost math and science instruction and a $189 million program called Striving Readers that provides competitive grants to states to improve literacy instruction. All of those programs were eliminated by the Every Student Succeeds Act, which created a new large state block grant for those types of support and enrichment activities. But that grant program isn’t currently funded under the continuing resolution.

– The Trump plan calls for reductions this year to other agencies that affect education: National Institutes of Health (3.8 percent cut); National Science Foundation (5 percent cut); NASA (nearly 1 percent cut); National Endowment for the Arts (10 percent cut); National Endowment for the Humanities (10 percent cut); and educational and cultural exchange programs at the State Department (23.7 percent cut).

– But the request for cuts – which would be absorbed by federal agencies between April 28 and Sept. 30 – could prove to be too little, too late from the White House, report POLITICO’s Helena Bottemiller Evich and Sarah Ferris. Top Congressional appropriators have indicated that they’re prepared to reject Trump’s calls to gut programs they deem important – and some have said the White House weigh in too late in the appropriations process to affect the outcome for the current fiscal year.

The last section indicates that the first portions might be a purely political ploy… but the first sections DO reinforce the intentions of the Trump administration to diminish programs that help the less affluent children and to slash programs in the arts. The federal role in public education in the Trump/GOP administration will be to funnel block grants to states to use as they choose… and the choice in many states will be to diminish taxes and not enhance equity.

Derrell Bradford’s Thoughtful Insights on the Benefits of Choice

March 29, 2017 1 comment

When I saw a link to an article in the pro-choice, pro-voucher publication The 74 that countered the compelling arguments advanced by NYTimes writer Nichole Hannah-Jones, I was tempted to skip it, believing it would be a shallow and infuriating screed that reinforced the often simplistic positions taken by writers on that website. After reading the article by Derrell Bradford, though, I find myself needing to re-frame and re-calibrate my opposition to choice… particularly in urban settings. And even more surprisingly, I found myself agreeing with Mr. Bradford’s argument in favor of choice that was derived from a quote by Rod Paige, George W. Bush’s appointee to Secretary of Education who launched the “choice” movement embedded in NCLB that ultimately led us to Betsy DeVos:

Former secretary of education Rod Paige once offered that the country’s public schools have two incredible powers. The first is mandatory attendance: you will go to school; and the second is mandatory assignment: you will go to this school.

And even though state constitutional language varies on the kind and caliber of education a child will receive under these edicts, what’s certain is this: When a public institution can conscript you into a school with a long track record of underperformance, the egalitarian spirit of education, available to all, paid for by taxpayers and free at the point of delivery, is not only not served, it is subverted. The moment the state and public schools can force you into something that will likely inhibit your ability to be free and equal in the future — as is the case with children of color in underperforming public schools — you don’t control them anymore.

As noted in many earlier posts, I have long believed that exclusionary zoning and the economic segregation that results from that practice are the root cause of inequality or opportunity and the primary reason that social mobility is thwarted. Equal opportunity is impossible in our current world where children born into a particular zip code benefit from well-funded schools attended by classmates whose parents have college degrees while other children are effectively penalized by being born into a different zip code where schools cannot be well-funded and their classmates are from less educated backgrounds.

From my perspective, there are two ways to work around this issue: one is to provide more funding to less affluent districts and the other is to eliminate attendance zones within districts and between districts.

Providing equitable funding would make certain that if you are required to attend this school in an under-resourced district you can be confident that it has the same resources as that school in a fully-resourced district.  But providing equitable funding would require an increase in taxes and a redistribution of funds. Both of these are an anathema to voters who have been convinced that “throwing money” at schools is not the solution and it is “unfair” to ask those who worked hard for their earnings to “give money” to those who are “takers”.

Eliminating attendance zones between school districts and within school districts would also help eliminate the differences between this school and that school… but doing so would require a means of transporting students to the school of their choice and require some form of a lottery to ensure equitable opportunity. This poses a logistical challenge in all cases, a geographical challenge in some cases, and would result in diminished real estate values in those neighborhoods and communities where affluent residents live. In short, this, too, is unlikely to occur.

This unwillingness to pay more taxes or to allow mobility between and within districts led to the work around called “choice”. By abandoning the requirement that students are assigned to this school based on attendance zones or district boundaries, and creating “charter schools” that can draw from any part of the city or region, parents are able to enroll children in the “school of their choice”. Since the number of charter schools was limited, the schools themselves got the”choice” of students, and they often avoided choosing those children with special needs or those children whose parents failed to submit detailed paperwork. In other words, parents could only go to that school if they and their children passed muster… hardly the egalitarian model Rod Paige envisioned and hardly the egalitarian model The 74 suggests would emerge if schools competed with each other.

This “choice” workaround is based on the paradigm that “schooling” is a commodity and “schools” are enterprises that like shopping malls where consumers can go to whatever store they wish. And like that paradigm, the high-end shopping malls and grocery stores are used by the affluent while those without resources have no malls whatsoever and are forced to buy groceries from bodegas with limited elections.

In the end both Mr. Bradford and Ms. Hannah-Jones are engaged in fantastical thinking. Mr. Bradford believes that unregulated capitalism is inherently fair and there is virtue in selfishness. Ms. Hannah-Jones, like me, believes that in a democracy people will ultimately seek a solution that is fair to all, one that will require those with means to willingly share with those who have less opportunity due solely to accidents of birth. I hope the democracy minded voters will prevail.