Archive for December, 2017

VP Biden’s Domestic Advisor Advocates for Foster Children… But in Doing So Undercuts Real Problem and Reinforces Private Sector “Power”

December 31, 2017 Comments off

Yesterday’s NYTimes  op ed piece featured an by former VP Biden’s Domestic Advisor Sherry Lachman that drew attention to a devastating consequence of the opioid epidemic: an increase in the number of foster children. The article offers statistics like these on the impact of opioids on foster care and the impact of foster care on the later lives of children:

As more Americans struggle with opioid addiction and find themselves unable to perform their duties as parents, children are pouring into state and county foster care systems. In Montana, the number of children in foster care has doubled since 2010. In Georgia, it has increased by 80 percent, and in West Virginia, by 45 percent. Altogether, nearly 440,000 kids are spending this holiday season in foster care, compared with 400,000 in 2011..

…Children who have been in foster care are five times more likely to abuse drugs. As many as 70 percent of youths in the juvenile justice system have spent time in the child welfare system. One-third of homeless young adults were previously in foster care. Black children are twice as likely as white children to wind up in foster care and face its devastating effects, a symptom of our country’s disparate treatment of black and white families who experience similar challenges.

The article offers heart wrenching examples of how foster children are shuttled from home to home or, even worse, into warehouse-like dwellings full of other foster children. Near the end of the article, Ms. Lachman offers some ideas on how best to fix the problem that this increase in foster care is creating:

Children in foster care desperately need their help. We cannot put the entire burden of fixing the system on the backs of overworked, underpaid social workers. Our government must treat the child welfare crisis like the emergency it is and respond with more funding and better policies. We need more philanthropists, advocates and celebrities to champion this cause and more families to open their homes and hearts.

We particularly need companies and professionals with private-sector expertise to partner with child welfare agencies and bring the system into the 21st century. Marketing experts can help recruit foster parents and spread the word about the 100,000 foster children who are available for adoption. Customer service specialists and user-centered designers can help children and families better navigate the system. Data scientists can use analytics to predict and prevent child abuse and reduce the number of kids who enter the system in the first place.

Had Ms. Lachman elaborated on the need for more funding and better policies, she would have my wholehearted support. But her call for companies and professionals with private-sector expertise and her notion that …Data scientists can use analytics to predict and prevent child abuse and reduce the number of kids who enter the system in the first place are completely wrongheaded.

I am certain the “overworked, underpaid social workers” posses the kinds of “private-sector expertise” she values, but given their hectic schedules and the emotionally drain that comes from overwork and the nature of their assignments they are unable to apply those skills because they are doing everything humanly possible to meet the demands of their job. As one who worked for decades as a public school administrator I know how overwork and relatively low compensation can debilitate and demoralize individuals who possess the same skill sets as individuals who work in the private sector. Instead of calling in consultants who work in the private sector, it would be far better to provide more jobs in the public sector see that public sector employees can unleash their own talents for recruitment, marketing, and means for navigating the system. 

Similarly, if social work agencies were staffed adequately they would not need data scientists to “predict and prevent child abuse”. The factors that lead to opioid abuse are known to anyone who examines our economic and judicial system. Our current economy provides only dead-end jobs for those lacking a post-secondary degree and virtually no jobs whatsoever for those who have been convicted of crimes of any kind. If we had better policies for education, if we insisted that the minimum wage was a living wage, if we stopped imprisoning people for being unable to pay fines for petty violations we just might reduce the number of our citizens who turn to opioids out of despair and the number of citizens who sell opioids in order to make ends meet.

Ms. Lachman’s notion that private sector expertise and technology will save the day is classic neoliberal thinking. It endorses the idea that “government can’t solve problems” and “private-sector expertise” can. It sees technology as the deus ex machina that will free us from the need for more public sector employees and the higher taxes that would result from hiring more people.

This just in: private sector expertise and technology will not end opioid addiction and the collateral damage it brings. Economic and social injustice creates the environment that leads to addiction…. and those problems can be solved by more funding and better policies. Those problems can be solved by government.



Laura Chapman’s Analysis of Trojan Horse Organizations Funded By Billionaires Raises a Question

December 30, 2017 1 comment

Yesterday’s posts by Diane Ravitch included a recounting of an analysis done by blogger Laura Chapman that described how billionaire reformers create faux grassroots organizations or “partnerships” in cities where the reformers want to offer or expand for-profit charter schools. These organizations all have high-minded mission statements and often have catchy names like “Boston Schools Fund, Empower Schools” or “Accelerate Great Schools” Cincinnati, OH) or “Great Public Schools Now (LA)”, but their ultimate goal, in Ms. Chapman’s concise terms, is “to eliminate democratically elected school boards and fold public schools into a portfolio of contract schools that receive public funds but are privately operated.

As I read this post, it raised one question that has been troubling me for months: Why don’t progressives fund at least one “think tank” that espouses the benefits public funding for public projects? Where is the pushback against the neo-liberals who ceded ground on government programs when Bill Clinton and Al Gore “reinvented government” in the 1990s? Where is the coordinated pushback against the charter movement  launched by NCLB and reinforced by RTTT? Where is the Progressive’s analog to the Powell Memorandum that laid out the case for less government and offered a blueprint to make it happen? Instead of pushing back against the anti-government and pro-business positions taken by the right wing of the GOP, the Democrats moved the “center” by embracing the privatization ideas put forth in Osborne and Gaebler’s book Reinventing Government.

Here’s a message that I believe progressives need to broadcast: incompetence and corruption occurs in all organizations but is less likely to occur in organizations whose books are open to the public and whose actions are reasonably regulated. By transferring public projects and the operation of public enterprises like education to the private sector, the government is eliminating the opportunity for public scrutiny. By passing legislation that deregulates the private sector in the name of supporting free enterprise, the government is compromising the safety of workers and the general public. By enabling businesses to place a higher value on shareholders than employees, the government is suppressing wages, withholding benefits, and diminishing the well-being of citizens.

Democracy operates at a much slower pace than business and the flaws of public enterprise are widely known because public enterprise operates in the sunshine. The movement to “reinvent” government by privatizing inefficient operations or introducing competition to seek lower costs is a movement away from democracy and a movement away from fair treatment of employees. When the operation of school lunches, for example, are turned over to the private sector, those businesses are answerable to shareholders. Those businesses turn a profit by lowering wages and benefits, cutting as many corners as possible in portion sizes, and eliminating “inefficiencies” like home made soups and breads. The taxpayers love the lower costs, the shareholders love the higher profits, and the administrators who oversee the program love the reduction in headaches. The only losers are the children and the employees.

In an Era Where Education Policy is Nationalized and Board Races are Funded by Outsiders, Politics and Education are Intertwined

December 29, 2017 Comments off

In a post she wrote yesterday, Diane Ravitch explained why she finds it necessary to be “political” in her blog on public education. She wrote this in response to her being named the most “overtly political thought leader” in public education in 2017:

If you don’t like bad policies, you have to become political.

If you want change, you have to become political.

If you don’t like decisions made by the U.S. Department of Education or your state legislature, you have to be political.

If you don’t like the idea of turning Title 1 and special education funding into a honey pot for vouchers, charters, and home schooling, you must be political.

If your governor and legislature want to privatize education and destroy the teaching profession, you must be political.

If you want to protect children, teachers, and public schools from profiteering predators, you must be political.

I confess.

I am overtly political.

It is a strange role for a scholar and a historian. I am supposed to observe.

But when you observe malfeasance, fraud, lies, propaganda, corruption, and error, you can’t stand by as a detached observer. You just can’t.

You have to get political, get up, act, raise your voice, fight for what you believe in.

That’s why I am political.

When I launched this blog six years ago, I intended to make it apolitical. My career as a public school Superintendent led me to be apolitical, largely because school board races in the states where I worked were non-partisan and political discourse was counterproductive to achieving the goals of the districts where I worked. Though I served on the legislative committees of my State professional organizations during my first 17 years (1981-1997), I seldom felt that out group was fighting against a national movement that opposed public schools. Indeed, the only “national” bills we opposed in that time frame tended to be ones that national Christian organizations attempted to introduce that would limit the ability of counselors to provide services to children, loosen home schooling regulations, and forbid the instruction of “secular humanism”. We tended to weigh in on financial issues, mandates that would expand our curricula without providing additional funds (i.e. teaching animal husbandry to elementary children; requiring all children to receive first aid training; mandating RNs in each school; etc.), and “local bills” that had potential State-wide ramifications. There was no dark money funding local board elections and no billionaires funding national initiatives like the Common Core… and no one in the White House who sought to nationalize assessments. In effect, despite President Reagan’s effort to politicize public education, despite President George H.W. Bush’s efforts to mobilize volunteers to help public schools perform more effectively, and despite Bill Clinton’s efforts to engage the nation in “reform” by passing Goals 2000, public education remained a local and State level issue.

All that changed with NCLB, which created a de facto national assessment for public schools and a de facto national rating system for public schools. As I came to the end of my career, I was appalled when the Obama administration reinforced the test-driven policies that were embedded in NCLB when he used millions in federal funds to launch RTTT, which required the use of tests as the primary metric for measuring school and teacher performance. As Superintendent in NH, wrote a White Paper on the issue that then Commissioner Ginny Barry shared with my colleagues as a basis for determining a response. After lengthy deliberations, NH decided to opt out of the original applications. Ultimately, NH was one of the last states to sign to RTTT, in large measure because school boards and administrators in our state place a high value on local control and are generally suspicious of any top-down mandates— particularly those that do not come with funding.

After retiring in 2011 I launched this blog intending to refrain from interjecting national political issues. But after reading Reign of Error, Diane Ravitch’s book on the movement to privatize public education, and reading extensively about the trends toward privatization, I found politics creeping into my writing. When Mr. Trump was elected, though, all bets were off… particularly when our current Governor, Chris Sununu, replaced the widely respected Ginny Barry with Frank Edelblut, a businessman-turned-politician with no experience overseeing public schools, no children who attended public schools, and a public record that expressed nothing but disdain for teachers and public education.

I DO find political activism to be frustrating, however. My local State legislators, local House member, and both local Senators are wholly supportive of the letters I write and the positions I take… but they are now foreclosed from having any voice as the GOP drafts legislation behind closed doors. I will persist in being political, though, because to do otherwise is to accept the direction our country is headed… and democracy depends on forcing the doors open when legislation is being written, depends on having one’s voice be heard, and depends on engagement when doors are slammed, ears are closed, and dissent is unwelcome.