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Revisiting Predictions on President Trump’s Impact on Public Education II: ESSA

November 30, 2017 Leave a comment

A year ago I wrote several posts on Donald Trump’s appointments and where I saw them leading us. For the next five days I am going to revisit those predictions to see how they panned out. Today I take a look at how ESSA is playing out as compared to predictions I offered in 2016.

Here’s the latest information on ESSA, from a Politico post last week:

ALEXANDER LOOMS LARGE OVER K-12 EDUCATION: Sen. Lamar Alexander made a phone call this summer that quickly changed how Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was enforcing the law governing how public schools are held accountable for educating kids. The Tennessee Republican had publicly and privately admonished a top aide to DeVos, instructing the aide that the law requires the federal government to keep its hands largely off state education policy. When Alexander’s complaints fell on deaf ears, he called DeVos directly. “She thanked me for it,” Alexander, the chairman of the Senate education committee, told POLITICO. Caitlin Emma has the story.

Soon after the call, the Education Department said it was changing how it reviews state education plans developed under the law, possibly shielding the biggest federal concerns from public view by first conveying them in telephone calls with state officials rather than on paper. The review and questioning of states became less intense throughout the summer. Speculation swirled that the Trump appointee whom Alexander blasted, Jason Botel, was leaving the agency or switching jobs. Botel’s public critiques of state education plans, once lengthy and probing, now mostly ask for missing information or clarifications.

Alexander’s intervention at the Education Department shows how he uses his clout to steer DeVos’ agency and shape policy on a defining piece of his legacy – a major bipartisan rewrite of federal education law called the Every Student Succeeds Act. He said he feels like his intervention helped the department “from going off track.” A senior GOP aide said the agency “stopped giving bad advice to states” and stopped questioning matters that belong to state school officials, like setting goals for students and education systems….

Alexander after Trump’s election also worked to find an Education secretary who would uphold his state-centric, hands-off vision for the Every Student Succeeds Act. And he led the congressional effort to scrap an Obama rule for holding schools accountable under the law. But some worry that Alexander’s actions could translate into little to no federal oversight of state education. Critics note the law imposed certain requirements to protect poor and minority students, whose performance often lags behind their peers. They worry whether states will adequately track and provide equal opportunities for at-risk kids or face consequences from the Education Department if they fail to do so.

This confirms some of the fears I expressed when I examined the possible direction ESSA might head under a Trump presidency. From the outset Mr. Trump signaled his intention to provide states with more latitude in funding schools and that combined with his pledge to “…significantly curb the role of the department’s office for civil rights when it comes to state and local policies” is resulting in a diminished focus on equity, desegregation, and a continued emphasis on test-based accountability and “choice” that includes the opportunity for parents to use taxpayers funds to attend parochial schools. ESSA is becoming the worst of both worlds: it incorporates the standardized testing of NCLB with a trend towards “states rights” that will allow for vouchers that can be used for any schooling whatsoever.

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Education Week

November 29, 2017 Leave a comment

http://mobile.edweek.org/c.jsp?cid=25920011&item=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.edweek.org%2Fv1%2Fblog%2F129%2Findex.html%3Fuuid%3D74508

This link leads to an article that describes the daunting task parents face when they are confronted with a bevy of choices for their child’s school… and like the bevy of choices they face at the grocery store there is no guarantee that everyone has the same number of “products” to choose from.

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Revisiting Predictions on President Trump’s Impact on Public Education I: Betsy DeVos

November 29, 2017 Leave a comment

A year ago I wrote several posts on where I thought Donald Trump’s presidency might lead public education. For the next five days I am going to revisit those predictions to see how they panned out. Today I begin with a look at how the appointment of Betsy DeVos is playing out as compared to predictions I offered in 2016.

On November 23, 2016, I opened my blog post on Betsy DeVos’ nomination as Secretary of Education with this:

Just when you thought the future of public education couldn’t be dimmer, President elect Trump turned out the lights with his nomination of billionaire charter proponent Betsy DeVos as his Department of Education head.

The blog post recounted Ms. DeVos complete absence of experience in public education, her advocacy for deregulated for profit charter schools, her desire to offer opportunities for parents to use taxpayers funds for sectarian schools, and her complete contempt for public schools— or “government” schools as she called them. I later wrote an op ed piece that our local newspaper published and have added a “DeVos” tag because I found myself writing repeatedly about her actions as Secretary of Education.

Nothing in the past year has changed by perspective on Ms, DeVos’ intentions. She is clearly opposed to democratically elected school boards and in favor of complete privatization. She is an unabashed proponent of vouchers— vouchers that parents could use to attend any school they wish including sectarian schools. And with 35 state houses controlled by the GOP and a solid majority of legislatures under GOP control we are witnessing a surge in voucher bills unparalleled in history.  And given the trends and legislative actions at the federal and state levels, I also stand by the concluding paragraphs of the post I wrote just over a year ago, which read:

Any hope of any reforms that might lead to more funding for public education went out the window on November 8, and any hope of any relief from the privatization that plagues public education was lost well before that when the race boiled down to Mr. Trump against Ms. Clinton, who was fully on board with the direction “reformers” were taking public education during the Bush and, yes, the Obama administrations.

Here’s the saddest part of this story: digging out of this huge hole dug for public education over two decades will require a heroic effort. I hope a 2020 presidential candidate emerges in the near future to help lead the way.

And even sadder: to date no 2020 candidate has emerged thus far….

Update on the GOP Platform III: The Bible, Sex, and the Constitution

November 28, 2017 Leave a comment

This is the third of three posts providing an update on the implementation of the GOP’s education platform using Politico’s synopsis of the elements of the 2016 Republican Platform that pertain to education with my assessment of progress made in bold red italics:

— On the Bible and abstinence: “A good understanding of the Bible being indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry, we encourage state legislatures to offer the Bible in a literature curriculum as an elective in America’s high schools,” the platform says. Republicans say that “family planning” programs for teens should be replaced with abstinence education. And they oppose “school-based clinics that provide referral or counseling for abortion and contraception.” As noted in some blog posts, several states and school boards are encouraging direct instruction on the Bible and several states have introduced ESAs that can be used for sectarian schools. Abstinence is also back on the front burner, with Betsy DeVos’ supporting “Just Say No To Sex” programs and the GOP’s efforts to pass legislation that makes it impossible for schools to offer counseling or Planned Parenthood to survive. We ARE witnessing the elimination of separation of church and state, sex education, and Planned Parenthood leaflets in the school nurses office.

— On White House directive on transgender students’ rights: The platform says the guidance, which requires schools to allow transgender students to use the restroom or locker room that matches their gender identity, is “at once illegal, dangerous, and ignores privacy issues.” Republicans said they “salute the several states which have filed suit against it.” Advances in transgender rights supported by the US government are under fire across all agencies, including the armed forces where an executive order attempted to ban them from serving. Fortunately the tide has turned on this issue in most parts of the country, including in the boardrooms of corporations. It will be interesting to see if this plank of the platform is emphasized as much in 2020.

— On changing the U.S. constitution: The platform calls for a constitutional amendment protecting the right of parents to direct their children’s education, care and upbringing “from interference by states, the federal government, or international bodies such as the United Nations.” As noted in previous posts, this shift is underway in several states where ESA legislation is in place or being passed providing a means for tax dollars to be used to fund sectarian schools. In the meantime, USDOE is staying on the sidelines in suits brought against states who are enacting these bills. As I cynically noted in my earlier post assessing where the USDOE was headed: hello Christian madrases, good bye to “government schools”

Update on the GOP Platform II: K-12 Education

November 27, 2017 Leave a comment

This is the second of three posts providing an update on the implementation of the GOP’s education platform using Politico’s synopsis of the elements of the 2016 Republican Platform that pertain to education with my assessment of progress made in bold red italics:

— On school choice: Republicans are, unsurprisingly, very supportive of school choice, “especially … innovative financing mechanisms that make options available to all children: education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, and tuition tax credits.” The platform specifically cites the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program as “a model for the rest of the country” that should be expanded. “We deplore the efforts of Congressional Democrats and the current President to eliminate this successful program for disadvantaged students in order to placate the leaders of the teachers’ unions,” the platform says. As noted in multiple blog posts, in virtually every state with GOP legislatures legislation enabling the creation of ESAs has passed and in states where the GOP controls the statehouse the Governors have appointed Commissioners who support deregulated for profit schools and, in some cases, the use of tax dollars to pay tuition to sectarian schools. In those same states, legislatures are enacting bills that undercut union membership. As noted in my original post, affluent communities who are more than willing to pay for their kids to get a good education are unaffected by this shift in funding.

— On testing and the Common Core: Republicans “congratulate” states that have “repealed” the academic standards. And on testing, they find some common ground with Democrats: The platform rejects “excessive testing and ‘teaching to the test’ but supports the need for strong assessments to serve as a tool so teachers can tailor teaching to meet student needs.” The platform also encourages “instruction in American history and civics by using the original documents of our founding fathers.” As is often the case, platforms try to have things both ways. In this case, the GOP wants to eliminate “excessive testing” while retaining “strong assessments to serve as a tool. The bottom line on this is that standardized tests are being retained as the primary metric for school success. As for “instruction in American history and civics by using the original documents of our founding fathers”, State legislatures are likely awaiting model legislation from ALEC on how to mandate instruction on the constitution and American exceptionalism.

— On teachers: The platform says teachers should be “protected against frivolous lawsuits and should be able to take reasonable actions to maintain discipline and order in the classroom … Rigid tenure systems should be replaced with a merit-based approach in order to attract the best talent to the classroom. All personnel who interact with school children should pass background checks and be held to the highest standards of personal conduct.” The USDOE is taking steps to encourage tougher discipline in schools, mostly by ignoring civil rights violations that might have resulted in investigations under the Obama administration. The GOP legislators in Washington and across the country continue to introduce legislation that makes teachers at will employees and requires de facto moral codes for teachers.

— On K-12 spending: Republicans say the Education Department has spent more than $2 trillion dollars “with little substantial improvement in academic achievement or high school graduation rates.” The platform supports the notion of Title I portability, which Republicans failed to include in a reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. “We propose that the bulk of federal money through Title I for low-income children and through IDEA for children with special needs should follow the child to whatever school the family thinks will work best for them,” the platform says. The GOP budget appears to encourage the creation of “block grants” in lieu of the current format that allocates categorical funds. This approach is being used across the nation as states abandon efforts to ensure “adequate education funding” (see recent post on South Carolina, for example). With no push from USDOE for equity and GOP legislators intent on using the budget to accomplish changes that were not achieved through legislation (i.e. the repeal of “Obamacare”), expect to see funding “following the child” in the future.

Update on the GOP Platform I: Colleges and Universities

November 26, 2017 Leave a comment

In November of last year I wrote a post lamenting the fact that President Trump selected Rance Priebus to be his chief of staff. I was concernd because as the former head of the GOP, I believed Mr. Priebus would be pushing for the adoption of the GOP’s education platform. In the intervening months Mr. Preibus has fallen by the wayside, but the GOP’s education platform is alive and well and is advancing without Mr. Priebus’ interventoin at the White House. This is the first of three posts providing an update on the implementation of the GOP’s education platform using Politico’s synopsis of the elements of the 2016 Republican Platform that pertain to education with my assessment of progress made in bold red italics:

— On campus sexual assault: The Obama administration’s crackdown on campus sexual assaults has distorted Title IX “to micromanage the way colleges and universities deal with allegations of abuse,” the platform says. Republicans said that sexual assault reports should be resolved only by law enforcement, rather than by university officials. This has been accomplished with a stroke of Betsy DeVos’ pen. Some campuses welcomed the change, but many stated their intention to retain the standards they adopted in response to the Obama “crackdown”.

— On student loans: Republicans called for ending the federal direct student loan program and restoring greater “private sector participation in student financing.” Even though this will undermine a revenue stream for USDOE, the current GOP budget calls for a marked reduction in loans and includes a plan to increase revenues by ending tax deductions for student loans. Making matters even worse, graduate students will be required to pay taxes on the “compensation” they receive for fellowships and parents who teach in college will have to pay taxes on any in-kind scholarships their children receive. Make no mistake, the GOP does not like or value academics.

— On college accreditation: The platform says that “accreditation should be decoupled from federal financing.” And it also echoes some of the accreditation overhaul ideas that lawmakers like Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have proposed. The document says, for example, that “states should be empowered to allow a wide array of accrediting and credentialing bodies to operate.” Such a model, the platform says, would “foster innovation, bring private industry into the credentialing market, and give students the ability to customize their college experience.” This has come to pass at the state level thanks to the USDOE’s interpretation of ESSA and thanks, too, to Betsy DeVos’ decision to back off on USDOE suits brought against deregulated for profit schools.

— On for-profit education: “We need new systems of learning to compete with traditional four-year schools,” the platform says. “Technical institutions, online universities, life-long learning, and work-based learning in the private sector.” See above…  

— On recent campus protests and student activism: As it has in previous years, the platform laments “political indoctrination” on college campuses. This year, the document specifically criticizes “zones of intellectual intolerance or ‘safe zones” — adopting the term that some student activists have used to describe spaces on campus where marginalized students feel comfortable discussing sensitive issues. Some conservatives have said such efforts keep out contrary viewpoints and infringe on students’ free speech rights. “Colleges, universities, and trade schools must not infringe on their freedom of speech and association in the name of political correctness,” the platform says. The war on “political correctness” continues while unbridled racist, sexist, and xenophobic insults persist. President Trump’s reaction to the confrontations in Charlottesville VA underscored this change in direction from the top. Unfortunately some campuses have reacted badly, blocking the free speech of academics whose views are distasteful which reinforces the Alt Right’s contention that “political correctness” is a form of totalitarian thinking.

SC Supreme Court Defines a “Reasonable Time” for Fixing Funding Formula as “NEVER”

November 25, 2017 Leave a comment

Earlier this week Charleston SC Post and Courier’s Seanna Adcox wrote about the South Carolina Supreme Court’s decision to abandon it’s time table for the legislature in that state to fix the funding formula. As she reported in the article, in 2014 the Court determined that the funding formula adopted in 1977 and amended on several occasions since then was unfair to poor rural schools. In their decision they gave legislators an undefined “reasonable time” to come up with a plan, indicating that the plan didn’t have to include more overall spending. Unfortunately for the students who attend those schools, the legislature did not respond to this decision and they made it clear to the court that they had no intention to do so. Even more unfortunately for these students, the South Carolina Supreme Court justices are elected… and between 2014 and now, the members of the court have changed and, as a result, a new decision was rendered:

The South Carolina Supreme Court has closed a nearly quarter-century long fight for adequate education funding, three years after ordering state legislators to improve opportunities for poor, rural children.

The 3-2 decision releases lawmakers from the high court’s oversight, ending their requirement to overhaul the system with more than 766,000 students.

“I’m afraid this issue has now been put on the back-burner,” said Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, a 25-year veteran of the Legislature. “Without the pressure of the court, I don’t see the General Assembly doing anything.” 

The effort is now entirely up “to the very body that hasn’t done much about it for 24 years other than talk and study,” she said. “It is beyond disappointing — it’s disgusting.”

This is not the first time a Supreme Court decision has been ignored. It has been sixty years— or five generations of students— since Brown v. Board of Education urged that schools be desegregated with all deliberate speed… and five generations later schools are as segregated as ever. If “all deliberate speed” is more than sixty years I suppose defining a “reasonable time” as “never” is at least honest. But one of the justices was dismayed at his colleagues unwillingness to keep pressure on the legislature:

Chief Justice Don Beatty, who wrote the dissenting opinion, said he’s encouraged that the newest House study panel recognizes funding formulas dating to 1977 have created an over-complicated, piecemeal system that needs a complete revamp. But he believes the court’s oversight should continue until legislators have completed their study and come up with a remedy.

Unfortunately, our court has lost the will to do even the minimal amount necessary to avoid becoming complicit actors in the deprivation of a minimally adequate education to South Carolina’s children,” Beatty wrote in his dissent.

So the Supreme Court has united with legislature and the Governor to deprive the children in rural SC schools from having an equal opportunity to gain a good education. This is not what a compassionate country looks like… but at least the taxes are low in South Carolina and the door is open to businesses.