Archive for September, 2017

“Hanging” Incident in Nearby Community Calls for Restorative Justice… for Community as Well as Children

September 27, 2017 Comments off

Claremont, New Hampshire, was at one time a thriving and bustling community. It was a regional shopping area and was the site of several precision mills that provided well-paying union jobs. But two things happened to Claremont that led to its decline in population and wealth: the interstate highway route went north of their community which eventually led to the withering of the shopping are in their downtown and corporations racing to the bottom for wages relocated the mills from their community to the South before moving them offshore.

When Claremont lost its tax base, it lost the means of funding schools and other community services. Unable to attain accreditation for its high school in the late 1980s because it could not raise funds to maintain the school building, the Claremont School Board sued the State because it had failed to fully fund a formula that assured equitable funding for all districts in the state. The school board won the lawsuit 20 years ago, but in the intervening years the governors and legislatures have not provided the funding mandated by the court order in 1993.

Near the end of the summer, Claremont made national news. A group of young, white teen age boys took a rope from a broken tire swing, placed it around the neck of an eight year old boy of mixed race, placed the younger boy on a picnic table, and pushed him off. He suffered neck injuries sufficiently serious to warrant a Medivac helicopter trip to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center roughly 20 miles north of the community. The incident was investigated by the Claremont Police Department. These are the facts everyone seems to agree with. The disputed facts are over the issue is the extent to which the white teen-agers taunted the eight-year old victim because of his race and the extent to which his race led to him having the rope placed around his neck. The Police Department’s response is also in question. The parent of the eight year old child were so frustrated with the response of the police they posted the picture of their child’s neck on social media to let the public know what transpired and to share their concern about the Police Departments seeming indifference to the incident.

Jim Kenyon, a local investigative reporter for the Valley News, wrote a column in today’s paper recommending that the young boys who placed the rope around the neck of the eight-year old be subject to restorative justice and not sent to court. He made the recommendation based on an interview he did with Heidi Beirich, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit watchdog organization based in Montgomery, Ala., that grew out of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In the article, Ms. Beirich states her opposition to treating the children who placed the rope around the eight-year-old’s neck like criminals, noting that “If the (children in question) weren’t white supremacists going in, they will be when they get out.” 

Mr. Kenyon notes that providing restorative justice for the children will be problematic because Sullivan County, where Claremont is located, does not offer that alternative. Why? Because they lack the funds to do so! Mr. Kenyon writes:

On July 1, Sullivan County shut down its youth court diversion program. A $55,000 state grant that had funded the program for the previous 15 months ran out.

After private funding couldn’t be found, Sullivan County officials were unwilling to devote taxpayer money — beyond a $20,000 contribution last year — to keep the program going.

The same legislature that neglected to provide sufficient funds for the state’s education formula has withdrawn funding for a court diversion program that could provide meaningful intervention. But Mr. Kenyon, noting the political realities of New Hampshire, concludes that instead of seeking some kind of comprehensive state level funding for restorative justice instead suggests that a neighboring county assume responsibility for the case.

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Kenyon’s assertion that restorative justice is the best solution to this problem. But I also think the ultimate responsibility for the problems in Claremont lie in the State House and legislature that has consistently ignored court orders to provide equitable funding for schools and operated a provide juvenile justice program on a year-to-year system of grants. If you are a child in Claremont you can’t get the same kind of education as your neighbors nor can you get the same kind of justice as your neighbors. How can a child “live free” in a state where there is no equity in school funding and no equity in juvenile justice?


Paul Buchheit Shows How Privatization Divides Us… and Keeps Us Divided

September 26, 2017 Comments off

Paul Buchheit, a college teacher, and founder and developer of social justice and educational websites, posts frequently about inequality in Common Dreams and his most recent post, “How Privatization Cuts Us in Two While Public Institutions Make Us Better People” leads with these paragraphs:

Most people looking to make big money are eager to disparage public systems as inefficient, wasteful, inferior. Many of those people are in a position to starve the public systems of funding, thereby making them less functional, and making the private options look more appealing.

But privatization is not the solution, it is the problem. Properly supported public systems serve more people in a more efficient and less costly way. We might begin by looking at FEMA, the underfunded disaster relief program much maligned for its response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But today it’s a lifesaver for many people. And the alternative is an onslaught of businesses that seek profit among the hurricane victims desperate for water and food and supplies.

Mr. Buchheit then describes the impact of privatization on four elements of the economy: health care; housing; the environment: and, public education. Here’s his analysis of how privatization is a force for divisiveness in public schools:

Betsy DeVos’ state of Michigan is a painful example of the perils of privatization. Michigan’s K-12 system is largely unregulated, with charter schools competing for the same pot of money like so many profit-seeking corporations. The results have been miserable, according to recent nationwide assessments. Student proficiency has faltered, inequality between rich and poor districts has grown, and in places like Holland, MI (Betsy’s hometown) white families have ‘chosen’ their way out of traditional public schools, leaving behind the children of low-income Hispanic migrant workers. Says Western Michigan University professor Gary Miron about the charter experiment: “These are the most vulnerable students we have. Why do we experiment on them?”

But all is well for the banks and hedge funds, and for the Education Maintenance Organizations (EMOs) that buy up properties, lease them to schools for a little while, then sell them to the same schools for millions of dollars in profits.

Public schools, on the other hand, can work very well when the emphasis is on the student-teacher relationship rather than on business models.Jeff Bryant describes some of the attributes of the successful Long Beach, California school system: “respect for teachers…internal accountability…intense devotion to the well-being of students.” This is similar to the much-praised educational system in Finland, where teachers are well-trained, well-paid, highly respected, and trusted to actually teach the kids rather than test them.

Parents want well-supported local schools much more than they want the choice of private options. A 2017 poll conducted for the American Federation of Teachers by Hart Research Associates found that 71% of parents chose “a good quality neighborhood public school” over “more choices of which schools I can send my children to.”

While one might dispute the findings of a survey underwritten by the American Federation of Teachers, the recent findings of the Phi Delta Kappa survey mirror these findings, with 62% of public school parents giving their child’s school an A or B grade and a majority of members of the public opposing the use of public funds for private schools.

But the formula for creating “failing public schools” seems intractable even as it moves from the Federal level to the state level. State governments underfund public schools, affluent communities augment the limited state funding with local property taxes that are relatively easy to raise given their tax base and wealth, and underfunded schools serving children raised in poverty “fail” and are then turned over to profiteers. The rich are getting a better education than the poor, and the stratification that led to these disparate opportunities is reinforced and perpetuated. Privatization DOES cut us in two, and unless those who benefit from the current state of affairs, namely the affluent parents, speak out in favor of economic justice the division will widen and will be increasingly difficult to close.

Public Education is NOT Failing Because it has Not Cured Poverty… It’s “Failing” Because of Short Sighted Public Policy

September 26, 2017 Comments off

Alternet education editor Jennifer Berkshire wrote a post a few days ago capturing the key ideas she gleaned from an interview with historian Henry Kantor, professor emeritus in the Department of Education, Culture and Society at the University of Utah, who’s recently written a book with Robert Lowe, *Educationalizing the Welfare State and Privatizing Education: the Evolution of Social Policy Since the New Deal.* The basic premise of the book is that “… the US gave up on the idea of responding to poverty directly, instead making public schools the answer to poverty.” And what happened when the schools were incapable of addressing the problems of poverty? Here’s Mr. Kantor’s take:

One of the consequences of making education so central to social policy has been that we’ve ended up taking the pressure off of the state for the kinds of policies that would be more effective at addressing poverty and economic inequality. Instead we’re asking education to do things it can’t possibly do. The result has been increasing support for the kinds of market-oriented policies that make inequality worse.

If we really want to address issues of inequality and economic insecurity, there are a lot of other policies that we have to pursue besides or at least in addition to education policies, and that part of the debate has been totally lost. 

Ms. Berkshire summarizes Kantor’s perspective on what has transpired in the political debate on public education as “substituting accountability for redistribution”, and Mr. Kantor elaborates on that notion:

One of the end results of the way the accountability movement has transpired and evolved has been to narrow the questions about educational inequality to very technical questions. If we can just put in place the right teacher accountability system, or figure out the right curriculum standards,  that’s going to solve the problem of schools with large numbers of poor kids not doing as well. What I consider very technical questions bracket the larger questions of why it is we have so many kids concentrated in poor schools. Why do the rich kids get better schools? These aren’t just questions about accountability. They’re  more fundamental questions about class and race and power and inequality. Even though the accountability movement has often couched itself in the language of *no excuses,* and *every kid can learn,* its approach has been to narrow the debate even more and make it harder to address the questions that really underlie why some kids get an education that is so much better than other kids.

Stated somewhat differently, the “technical questions” are ones that can be reduced to numbers on a spreadsheet while the “larger questions” are messy ones that require us to all look within ourselves to examine how we are treating the least advantaged among us.

Later in the interview, Ms. Berkshire asks Mr. Kantor to reflect on the reform movement led by billionaires. His prognosis is spot on:

This seems to be one of those times where you have these really rich philanthropists trying to intervene to improve schooling, largely because they’re trying to legitimate the social system. What they wind up doing, though, is displacing the problems of economic inequality that they’ve created through their own economic policies back onto the schools. They can say: *see — we’re doing something about inequality,* but they’re not doing anything about the way that wealth is distributed or the way their companies work that would more fundamentally and directly impact those questions of inequality.

As noted in a previous post, if the tech billionaires wanted to address inequality and wanted to use technology for good instead of for profit, they would stop seeking local tax breaks and stop off-shoring their work and profits and do everything possible to, in Mr. Kantor’s words, “fundamentally and directly impact those questions of inequality” 

One key overarching point Ms. Berkshire elicited from Mr. Kantor had to do with the underlying belief that poverty can best be addressed by individual effort and NOT by social policy:

 I think what has happened in education policy really parallels what’s happened in social policy more generally. You’ve seen a tremendous disillusionment with the idea of social responsibility and *the public.* We’ve seen a shift in thinking about issues of inequality as a social responsibility to a matter of individual responsibility. Each individual is responsible for their own outcome, which is really how the market works. I think that’s the underlying ideological shift that’s driving education policy, and social policy more generally. 

While he doesn’t say so explicitly, Mr. Kantor’s premise that inequality is a matter of individual responsibility implies that poverty can be overcome by grit and determination and that any form of intervention by the government would undercut that notion. This idea of individual responsibility is easy to sell to those in the middle class voters who want to believe that their standing in society is the result of their personal initiative. I could look at my personal life story and say that I paid for my college degree through hard work and I got my doctoral degree thanks to attaining a merit-based fellowship and I worked my way up the ladder through personal effort and hard work. But the reality is that I was greatly helped by being born white, male, and into a family where both parents were college educated. My good fortune was abetted by being the eldest child in the family order and being taller than average and trained to interact well with adults and other authority figures. Had I been born into different circumstances, I am not certain that my pluck and determination would have yielded the same results. Those of us who have benefitted from social system should do everything possible to make the social system work for those who have been effectively penalized by that same system. If we fail to do so, I fear the system itself will collapse.

Pushing Back Against Foes of Useful Technology

September 26, 2017 Comments off

I am dismayed when I read responses to Diane Ravitch’s posts that rail against personalized education, which she has re-branded as “de-personalized education”. While I sense that her opposition is not to the concept of matching instruction to the needs of a student— which is, after all, the essence of good instruction— but rather opposition to the fact that tech billionaires have expropriated the term from educators whose hearts are in the right place in order to sell products that will add to their obscene wealth.

Public schools can’t turn their backs on technology. The algorithms that are widely used to send us sidebar ads of items we just Googled, that Amazon uses to suggest movies we’d like to see or books we’d like to read, or the NYTimes uses to suggest articles that I’d like to read, COULD have applications in school. And the wealth of information we have collected on children and “archived” on paper in filing cabinets COULD be put to use and more readily accessed through data warehousing.

Here’s my thinking on “personalized education”: The tech moguls who have already made more than they can possibly spend in their lifetimes should allow public schools to use products that embed these algorithms for free instead of packaging them into “products” that they turn around to sell to schools at a profit. As it stands now, tech companies gouge taxpayers at both ends of the equation: they seek tax breaks from communities to locate their businesses (i.e. FoxConn and Amazon), they shelter their profits off-shore (i.e. Apple), and then charge taxpayers for products they dream up and promote through foundations that are ostensibly donating millions to “help” public education.

The system as it exists now provides inordinate rewards to those creating “products” like software, social media sites, and virtual shopping malls. Instead of railing against the billionaires who use their “rewards” to keep the vicious cycle outlined above intact, we need to figure out a way to stem the flow of cash upward. Maybe progressive minded billionaires (assuming such a category exists) could underwrite an ALEC-like organization for public education and draft sample bills for progressive-minded legislators?

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Betsy DeVos Callousness on Full Display: Bilked Students Got “Free Money” By Raising Their Hands

September 25, 2017 Comments off

It’s bad enough that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has decided to pushback against the “Borrower Defense to Repayment” law passed during the Obama administration, but its even worse that she described those who were defrauded by for-profit colleges as only needing to “raise their hands to get free money”.

Most of the defrauded students were first time attendees to post secondary schools who believed the misleading lies told by profiteers because they wanted to make their lives better. “Free money” won’t restore shattered dreams… nor will it restore faith in the system. It will play into the narrative that fools who part with their money should lose out… and only fools would fall prey to the snake oil being sold by colleges who loot taxpayers to make a profit. Too bad voters don’t realize that the money lent to the “fools” who fell for the snake oil scams came from the government…. and ultimately the government— and the taxpayers— lose out.

More Unsurprising Headlines: On-Line Learning Enterprise Bilked Student Borrowers

September 24, 2017 Comments off

Politico reported earlier this week that the Education Department’s Office of Inspector General found that “…the nation’s leading provider of online competency-based education violated federal student aid rules and should return more than $712 million received in student loans and Pell Grants.

After reading Politico’s description of Western Governors University’s wrongdoing, knowing of current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ tendency to give privatizers the benefit of the doubt, and the current President’s personal experience operating a shady “University”, I would be surprised if anything happens to the college. The fact that Western Governors University had to “…navigate a complicated – and sometimes decades-old – set of federal rules governing when they’re eligible for federal aid” and the fact that Western Governors officials “strongly disagree” with the findings led one college official, Scott D. Pulsihper, to conclude that the education department would not follow through on the IG’s recommendations. Mr. Pulsipher was quotes as saying:

We’re willing to think differently (in delivering education to students) There is no doubt that there will be traditionalists who can see some of the things that we do as a challenge.

This traditionalist has some things that Western Governors University as a challenge. Given that “a central issue in the inspector general’s report is the federal requirement that distance education programs provide “regular and substantive” interaction between teachers and students” and the inspector general found that “more than 50 percent of Western Governor University courses don’t provide adequate faculty-student interaction to qualify as “distance education,” I do not see how the school could possibly qualify for federal student aid.

Politico reported that Western Governors University now has 30 days to submit additional information about the audit report – and then the ball’s in the department’s court. There’s no deadline under which the department has to make a decision on the IG’s recommendation… and then they offer the following:

– But many education observers say it’s difficult to envision the Education Department carrying through with such a crippling – and what would likely be unprecedented – $712 million financial penalty against the school. It’s usually politically challenging for the department to impose stiff penalties against any college, much less one that has powerful and bipartisan allies on Capitol Hill. (Some context: The department’s $30 million fine against Corinthian Colleges in 2015 was one of its largest ever.)

– Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in a tweet on Thursday that he was “fully confident the Education Department will reject this Education Department OIG report.”

– And the department is already signaling some support for the institution. “We are currently reviewing the OIG’s report,” department spokeswoman Liz Hill said in an email. “It is important to note that the innovative student-first model used by this school and others like it has garnered bipartisan support over the last decade.”

It may have garnered bipartisan support over the last decade for the same reason that the defense department budget, Big Pharma, and the privatizers of all ills get bipartisan support: lobbyists underwrite campaigns and expect something in return… and the something they all get in return is the mantra that the marketplace will sort these kinds of things out. We know how that’s been working!

US Says No Money for Social Programs, But ‘$700 Billion to Kill People? Yeah That We Have’

September 23, 2017 Comments off

Keep the $80 billion figure in mind (I.e. The amount of NEW funding needed to provide free tuition to public colleges and universities) the next time one of the 89 Senators who voted for this measure says there isn’t enough money to pay for it!

Source: US Says No Money for Social Programs, But ‘$700 Billion to Kill People? Yeah That We Have’

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