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Congresswoman Foxx’s Advice to Betsy DeVos: “You can start with: Don’t do anything.”

April 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Earlier this week the “TrumpEd” articlesection of the eSchool Media Website published an by Anna Douglas of the McClatchy news organization titled “Could the Education Department’s Days Be Numbered”. The short answer to the question posed in the title is “NO”… but, as the article notes, NC GOP Congresswoman Virginia Foxx is ready to do everything possible to minimize the impact of the department under Mr. Trump’s and Ms. DeVos’ leadership. Ms. Douglas writes:

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx wants the federal Department of Education to disappear. She wants Washington to stop passing down rules and regulations schools have to follow.

As the new chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, the seven-term North Carolina congresswoman has a powerful forum to talk about all that…

Foxx, who helped lead the writing of the 2016 Republican Party platform and served in House leadership, figures she’ll have to dilute Education Department power bit by bit. Already, she’s championing the use of a rare legislative tactic in Congress to eliminate some Obama administration regulations.

And Foxx is putting pressure on her colleagues in Congress to write the sort of legislation she wants, contending that some past laws were written sloppily and left too much leeway for federal departments to fill in gaps with rules and regulations.

Any federal educational policies, she told McClatchy in an interview, should come from lawmakers–not bureaucrats.

“We’ve got some good laws in place–let Congress do its oversight,” she said. “Sometimes doing nothing from the federal level is good.”

I would hope after seven terms in office that Ms. Foxx would understand the necessity for bureaucrats— not members of Congress— to write policy and develop regulations. Given the arcane financial products on the market, the detailed medical and scientific knowledge required to regulate health providers and consumer products, and the broad scope of Congress’ work it is hard to fathom how “lawmakers” could devise any meaningful policies in those fields.

I would also hope that Ms. Foxx realizes that if the federal government had “done nothing” in the past that poverty and inequality would be even more rampant in our country… and racial equality would be even more retrograde than it is now.

On the other hand, though, Arne Duncan and Barack Obama’s insistence that standardized tests be used as a metric for school quality and teaching effectiveness makes Ms. Foxx’s notion of “doing nothing” seem like a good idea. Indeed, one of the two items the GOP repealed using the Congressional Review Act was a misguided attempt by the Obama administration that “…required states to build a rating system for local teacher education programs, including judging teacher preparation based on student performance.” ETS and Pearson probably bemoaned that decision, but teacher educators and current teachers and administrators should be happy to see a de-emphasis on testing. The other item the GOP repealed, a “requirement to submit detailed school-accountability plans to the federal Education Department“, may or may not be salutary. Had standardized testing been a primary element of the “… detailed school-accountability plans”, in all probability the high-stakes testing regimen would have continued for another decade or so. But it is also possible that allowing the States to develop their own school accountability plans could lead to mis-use of tests by increasing VAM and/or ignoring any disparate scores that minority and low income students attain on such tests.

While ending the Department of Education is unlikely, it IS highly likely that the Department will be stripped of its authority. As Douglas explains:

Democrats in Congress will have limited power as Foxx and other conservatives look for a reset at the Education Department. Foxx said she’d found an ally in Secretary Betsy DeVos.

As things unfold, Foxx’s simple advice to DeVos has been: “You can start with: Don’t do anything.”

Rules, regulations and “dear colleague” letters from the department in the past incensed Foxx. Too often, she said, federal departments use regulations or executive power to distort legislative intent.

“We’re gonna stop this foolishness of letters and then people saying, ‘I’ve got to do this.’ Where is the authority for that? There’s no authority, but the school systems are scared,” she said.

One would hope that instead of “doing nothing” the federal government would pass legislation that intends to level the playing field for all students so that everyone, no matter what zip code they are born into, would have an equal opportunity. Alas, with Foxx, DeVos, and Trump setting the tone I do not foresee that kind of moral leadership forthcoming

 

Supreme Court Could Open the Door for Expansion of Vouchers

April 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s Politico post led with an overview of Trinity Lutheran Church’s appeal to receive state funding for it’s sectarian schools, a case that could open the door to vouchers. Here are the the opening paragraphs:

SUPREME COURT COULD CLEAR ROADBLOCKS TO SCHOOL VOUCHERS: The Supreme Court on Wednesday is set to hear a case that could have huge implications for school voucher programs. At issue is an 1875 provision of Missouri’s Constitution banning public money from going “directly or indirectly” to religious groups, including schools. Similar provisions, called Blaine Amendments, exist in roughly three dozen states and have been a major barrier to school vouchers. They’ve also proved resilient, surviving numerous state ballot repeal efforts – including an unsuccessful Michigan initiative pushed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos nearly two decades ago.

– Religious groups see this and a related Colorado case as their best shots at scrapping the amendments – and they believe Neil Gorsuch, who just took his seat on the high court, will take their side. They point to Gorsuch’s deference to religious rights in other cases. Most notably, while on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, he backed a religious challenge to the Affordable Care Act – joining the panel’s majority in the Hobby Lobby case to rule that the Obama administration could not require a closely-held business to offer contraceptive coverage if that interfered with the owners’ religious beliefs – a decision later upheld by the Supreme Court. In another case, he ruled that a Wyoming prison had to provide a sweat lodge to a Native American for his religious practices.

– Court watchers believe Gorsuch might cast a tie-breaking vote since the court had apparently delayed arguments in the Missouri case until they had a ninth justice. “The justices have likely seen this as a case on which they would have been divided four to four,” said Stephen Wermiel, a constitutional law professor at American University. “They must expect that Gorsuch will be the deciding fifth vote.” Benjamin Wermund has more on that here.

Prior to the GOP’s decision to “go nuclear” to get Mr. Gorsuch appointed, there was some speculation that the hearing scheduled for this case was the driving force behind that decision. With 35 states under GOP control and a President and Secretary of Education who are willing to promote vouchers for religious schools the time is ripe to get a case like this before the Supreme Court. There is, however, one possible fly in the ointment, as noted in the Politico piece:

– There is a chance the case could get tossed out . The case hinges on the state’s denial of Trinity Lutheran Church’s request for a grant to reimburse the cost of resurfacing its preschool playground with recycled tires. State officials said the Blaine Amendment prevented it from aiding the church in any way. But late last week, Missouri’s newly elected Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, announced that he has directed the state agency to consider religious organizations for such grants. The parties on both sides must submit their views by noon today on whether the the announcement makes the legal dispute moot. Even if the justices dismiss this case, they could soon hear the same issues in a pending Colorado case in which the ACLU and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State claim a school voucher program violates the state’s no-aid clause.

Should vouchers be allowed for religious schools a huge shift of funding will occur, draining money for public education that serves all children into the pockets of religious schools who currently serve generally affluent parents who can afford the tuition. Not only will such a decision have an economically unjust impact on our nation, but it will further erode the wall between church and state. Should the case be heard and decided, the battle for equity and separation of church and state will devolve to the states. Here’s hoping that voters will not support the repeal of Blaine amendments and the economic injustice that results.

Small Michigan District Sees the Light, Ends “Merit Pay”

April 18, 2017 Leave a comment

As readers of this blog realize, I oppose “merit pay” for teachers on a number of grounds, several of which were exemplified in the decision of Whitmore Lake Public Schools decision to end what they called “merit pay”— a laughable bonus of $100 for each teacher who was rated effective and $500 for teachers rated very effective. Based on an article by Lauren Slagter in Michigan Live, Whoitmore Public School Superintendent Tom DeKeyser announced to the Board that he was suspending the merit pay plan because “…while people are happy to receive it – has become negative” adding that “We’ll find another way to reward our highly effective teachers through collective bargaining.”

The article went on to note another problem DeKeyser encountered with his version of “merit pay”: it was linked to test scores and when the State changed their tests it became “…difficult to draw conclusions about teaching quality from students’ scores.” 

Patti Kobeck, president of the Whitmore Lake Education Association, offered her insights on merit pay:

“By taking the merit pay away and rewarding teachers in other ways, I think it will change the atmosphere. We’re here for the kids. Without merit pay, teachers can stop worrying about what another teacher is getting and worry about what they’re giving the kids.

In general, merit pay isn’t an effective way to motivate teachers to perform their jobs better. Small gestures of appreciation can be more meaningful, she said, because of the lack of respect for their profession many teachers feel.

After reading the closing paragraph of this article it is abundantly clear that an increase in base pay would go a long way to improving morale in Whitmore Lake:

Whitmore Lake teachers currently are under a one-year contract that granted them 1-percent raises, following a 4.9-percent pay cut they took under a 2014 to 2016 contract. The current contract expires June 30, 2017.

Hopefully other small districts will learn from Whitmore Lake’s misguided effort to offer bonuses based on test scores and restore the compensation levels before offering bonuses.

OCR’s Investigation Into Richmond VA Suspensions Could Indicate Future Direction

April 18, 2017 Leave a comment

After blogging yesterday about the appointment of Candace Jackson– an inexperienced anti-feminist and anti-affirmative action attorney– as de facto head of OCR, I read with interest K.Burnell Evans’ article that appeared in yesterday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch. Titled “US Department of Education Launches Investigation into Richmond Public Schools”, Evans’ article opens with these paragraphs:

The U.S. Department of Education has launched a civil rights investigation of Richmond Public Schools at the request of advocacy groups that say the district’s disciplinary policies discriminate against black students and students with disabilities.

The decision was announced Monday by the Legal Aid Justice Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, which received word last week that the federal agency’s Office for Civil Rights would investigate concerns the organizations submitted in August.

Among them: Black students with disabilities were nearly 13 times more likely than white students without disabilities to receive short-term suspensions, Virginia Department of Education data from the 2014-15 academic year show.

The article details the basis for the complaint, noting that “…at least 1 in 4 students were suspended from eight Richmond Public Schools in the 2014-15 school year, including at two elementary schools”. The article also noted that State had taken action in two other counties with lower suspension rates. But reading on, it seemed less clear that the State would take any action in Richmond’s case.

Although the Virginia Department of Education does collect self-reported student discipline data from school districts, it was unclear Monday whether Richmond Public Schools had been cited for issues of discipline inequity in recent years.

Public school systems for Chesterfield and Henrico counties have.

State Education Department spokeswoman Julie Grimes said the agency does not conduct investigations based on the data. The information is reported to the federal government for funding purposes.

If the State is not using data to take action, why does it bother to collect the data at all? And if it is “…reported to the federal government for funding purposes” are there any consequences at that level if there are marked disparities in suspension rates?

Based on the closing paragraphs, I think I know the answer:

The federal Education Department did not immediately provide information Monday about the percentage of complaints the Office for Civil Rights agrees to investigate. It was unclear when the probe might conclude.

With Candace Jackson at the helm, I doubt that OCR will display much zeal in their investigation… and frankly doubt that any meaningful investigation will take place. Indeed, given the review of rules taking place, I would not be surprised to read that disaggregated data on suspensions will cease in the name of “efficiency”…

DeVos Appointee to Head Office of Civil Rights is Chilling

April 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Last Friday Pro Publica blogger Annie Waldman posted a profile of Candace Jackson, Betsy DeVos’ nominee to serve as de facto head the Office of Civil Rights (OCR)… and it is chilling. Unlike her predecessors, who typically had in depth legal background and experience, Ms. Jackson has “…limited background in civil rights law”. Her inexperience, though, is less problematic than her perspective on the mission of OCR:

A longtime anti-Clinton activistand an outspoken conservative-turned-libertarian, she has denounced feminism and race-based preferences. She’s also written favorably about, and helped edit a book by, an economist who decried both compulsory education and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Jackson’s inexperience, along with speculation that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will roll back civil rights enforcement, lead some observers to wonder whether Jackson, like several other Trump administration appointees, lacks sympathy for the traditional mission of the office she’s been chosen to lead.

My description of Mr. Jackson as “de facto head of OCR” is based on the workaround Betsy DeVos has concocted. Instead of nominating her to head the division, which would require approval by the Senate, Ms. DeVos appointed her as deputy assistant, leaving the inexperienced Ms. Jackson in charge of “…about 550 full-time department staffers, who are responsible for investigating thousands of civil rights complaints each year.” 

As Ms. Waldman notes in her profile of Ms. Jackson, as an undergraduate at Stanford she wrote articles in opposition to affirmative action and feminism, and later was involved in several libertarian organizations, one of which opposed mandatory education. When And in the recent past?

In the past few years, she has operated her own law firm. According to a recent biography on her website, her practice specialized in “business, entertainment, and litigation matters,” for a range of clients, “from restaurants to medical clinics, and from authors and musicians to filmmakers and record labels.”

In 2005, Jackson wrote a book on the allegations of sexual misconduct against Bill Clinton, titled “Their Lives: The Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine.” She gained national attention last October after she arranged for several of Bill Clinton’s accusers to attend a presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Jackson sat with the women in the front of the audience. A few days before the debate, Jackson established Their Lives Foundation. In registration documents, she described two of its purposes as “giving public voice to victims of women who abuse positions of power” and “advocating for and against candidates for political office.”

Less than a week after the debate, Jackson posted on Facebook that her foundation “supports all victims of power abusers,” but labeled Trump’s accusers “fake victims.” Since the initial announcement of her Education Department role, her Facebook page has been taken offline.

And so the person responsible for overseeing “…thousands of civil rights cases per year” is a libertarian, anti-affirmative action, anti-feminist whose only legal experience is in “...business, entertainment, and litigation matters”. These are sad times for progressive educators and those who value social justice.

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Shocking Education Report Shows Taxpayers Paying Hundreds of Millions for Unneeded and Inferior Charter Schools @alternet

April 15, 2017 Leave a comment

The headline tells you what lies ahead… because President Trump doesn’t heed findings…

California’s dismal record serves as a warning as Trump administration gears up for massive K-12 privatization. A blockbuster report detailing how California’s charter school industry has wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars by opening and building schools in communities that don’t need them and often end up doing worse than nearby public schools, is a nationwide warning about how education privateers hijack public funds and harm K-12 public schools.

Source: Shocking Education Report Shows Taxpayers Paying Hundreds of Millions for Unneeded and Inferior Charter Schools @alternet

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During Resistance Recess, Join The Fight For Public Schools

April 15, 2017 Leave a comment

  Jeff Bryant  does an excellent job of synthesizing all that is wrong with privatization of public schools. I am fortunate that my legislators at both the state and federal level understand this reality. If yours don’t, please take the time to take Mr. Bryant’s advice and let them know. I am stunned at the number of people who are unaware of what is happening to the public schools in this country.

Source: During Resistance Recess, Join The Fight For Public Schools

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