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.

Teachers Getting US Army Virtual Reality Training to Fend off Shooters

December 28, 2017 Comments off

AP writer Curt Anderson’s matter-of-fact report on a new virtual reality training device is as chilling to read as any account of a school shooting. In the article he describes the opportunity for teachers to learn a seven step process to defend themselves against a shooter using a virtual reality program that offers them the chance to change the circumstances of the invasion so they will be prepared for anything. Here’s the opening of the article:

The shooter rapidly fires through the front doors of an elementary school with an assault rifle and blasts his way down the hallway. Screaming children are running for their lives or frozen in fear. Teachers quickly try to decide: barricade the doors, or make a run for it with their students?

Police officers arrive with guns drawn, working their way through the school. Finally they confront the shooter and end the threat.

Using cutting-edge video game technology and animation, the U.S. Army and Homeland Security Department have developed a computer-based simulator that can train everyone from teachers to first responders on how to react to an active shooter scenario. The training center is housed at the University of Central Florida in Orlando and offers numerous role-playing opportunities that can be used to train anyone in the world with a computer.

“With teachers, they did not self-select into a role where they expect to have bullets flying near them. Unfortunately, it’s becoming a reality,” said Tamara Griffith, a chief engineer for the project. “We want to teach teachers how to respond as first responders.”

But the number of shootings and the number of mass shootings has not increased. As a recent Politico article by Grant Duwe reports, the overall murder rate has decreased since 1969 while the number of mass shootings has not changed since the early 1980s. Those mass shootings, however, often have a higher death rate. Moreover, the reporting on murders and mass shootings has increased along with the deadliness of the mass shooting. Grant Duwe’s research reinforces this assertion:

Research shows that the number of victims killed and wounded are the strongest predictors of the extent to which a mass killing gets reported by the news media. Recent growth in the number of catastrophic mass public shootings—combined with the extensive, wall-to-wall news coverage that accompanies these tragedies—likely accounts for the commonly held misconception that mass shootings are now more frequent.

After lamenting the lack of rigorous research mass shootings, contrasting research on tornados, which are far less deadly than mass shootings, Mr. Duwe concludes with this:

The few studies we do have tell us that mass public shootings, while horrific, are, fortunately, quite rare. This apparent paradox—rare yet “routine”—likely reflects the outsized impact that catastrophic mass murders have on our perceptions of public safety. But until we make the investment to find solutions, we won’t really know why these tragedies happen or how to prevent them.

Mr. Anderson’s matter-of-fact report that teachers should “…expect to have bullets flying near them” followed by an unsubstantiated claim that such as circumstance is “…becoming a reality” reinforces the notion that something rare— mass shootings— is in fact “routine”. That is NOT the case and by making it so we are needlessly scaring our children and teachers. But fear promotes viewership and listeners on the radio and so the media persists in reinforcing the notion that catastrophic mass murders are as common as, say, car accidents when, in fact, they are less common than lightening strikes. So instead of spending time training teachers on how to deal with children who face stress on a daily basis we are training them to be prepared for mass murderers… and instead of investing in much needed counseling and health services we are needlessly spending on “good guys with guns”.

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The Department of Justice is Jailing People for Being Poor… and the Children of Those Nonsensically Imprisoned Suffer as a Result

December 28, 2017 Comments off

Chiraag Bains, a former senior counsel in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and a senior fellow at Harvard Law School’s Criminal Justice Policy Program and a fellow with the Open Society Foundations, wrote an op ed article in today’s NYTimes that exemplifies everything that is wrong with our approach to civil rights, crime and punishment, and taxation.

In “Sessions Says to Courts: Go Ahead, Jail People Because They Are Poor”, Mr. Bains describes the Trump administration;s decision to roll back recent guidelines issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ) that precluded the imprisonment of individuals who could not pay fines for arguably penny-ante violations like jaywalking, failure to maintain their properties to community standards, and minor traffic violations. Mr. Bain offered some examples from Ferguson, MO, where this practice was particularly blatant:

Ferguson used its criminal justice system as a for-profit enterprise, extracting millions from its poorest citizens. Internal emails revealed the head of finance directing policing strategy to maximize revenue rather than ensure public safety. Officers told us they were pressured to issue as many tickets as possible.

Even the local judge was in on it, imposing penalties of $302 for jaywalking and $531 for allowing weeds to grow in one’s yard. He issued arrest warrants for residents who fell behind on payments — including a 67-year-old woman who had been fined for a trash-removal violation — without inquiring whether they even had the ability to pay the exorbitant amounts. The arrests resulted in new charges, more fees and the suspension of driver’s licenses. These burdens fell disproportionately on African-Americans.

At the time of our investigation, over 16,000 people had outstanding arrest warrants from Ferguson, a city of 21,000. Untold numbers found themselves perpetually in debt to the city and periodically confined to its jail.

Mr. Bains made a persuasive case for limiting the amount of the fines in places like Ferguson, which he takes great pains to emphasize is NOT an exception but a rule. But Mr. Bain neglected to connect the dots to the root cause of this problem: the unwillingness of legislators in Missouri and other states to create fair and equitable tax structures. The town of Ferguson would not have to use “…its criminal justice system as a for-profit enterprise” if it had a sufficient tax base to provide basic services to its citizens… and if a town like Ferguson lacks the tax base to provide services then those affluent individuals in the State should be asked to pay higher taxes to help their neighbors who, through no choice of their own, reside in tax starved communities. At the very least, the legislators who are enabling towns to use their criminal justice systems to raise  funds in lieu of taxes might consider requiring the creation of community service in lieu of imprisonment. It strikes me that a town could afford to hire some social workers and/or foremen to oversee community service workers for less than it costs to build prisons and hire guards… and those community service providers could help elderly “convicts” with trash removal and cleaning the weeds that overgrow some of the properties.

Mr. Bains also overlooked one other consequence of the periodic imprisonment of those who cannot pay fines. When those who are imprisoned are parents of children, the children suffer… and when the towns are strapped for cash to over costs for day-to-day operations of their community they are inevitably strapped for cash to pay for schools and the social safety net. And who loses when this happens? The children of those raised in poverty. The children who didn’t ask to be born in Ferguson pay the price while the children born into affluence benefit. The vicious cycle of poverty remains in place.

But hiring government social workers would be perceived as “adding a layer of bureaucrats” while hiring prison guards is perceived as “taking action against the criminal element”. And if the prisons are operated by the private sector, as is increasingly the case, the government isn’t involved at all— except to enforce the laws of the land. And if those laws of the land are petty, so be it. And if the laws of the land adversely affect the poor and the black and the brown, it is not a problem in the eyes of the Trump administration and the voters who support them. For me, I am saddened to see the rollbacks to economic and social justice.



President Trump Disdain for State Visits Signals America’s Disdain for Others

December 28, 2017 Comments off

Ever since our country became an international power, we have made an effort to present ourselves as generous and welcoming. After World War II we did this by providing millions of dollars to nations whose cities were decimated by wars, by sharing any surplus food we had with nations whose citizens experienced starvation, and by being full and active participants in the creation of the United Nations. Over the past several years, an America First mentality has emerged: one that does not want to spend money overseas unless it is on armaments; one that does not want to share our bounty with countries that are less fortunate; and one that does not want to seek harmony in the United Nations unless we are looking for “allies” to join us in punishing one of our enemies. This mean spirited attitude is manifested in the election of Donald Trump who, in turn, is reinforcing that mean spirited attitude in the way he conducts business.

Associated press writer Darlene Superville described one element of Mr. Trump’s mean spiritedness in a recent article that reported on the fact that he is the first president in almost a century to skip hosting a state dinner in his first year of office. This is not an oversight on his part. As Ms. Superville notes:

Trump spoke dismissively of state dinners as a candidate, when he panned President Barack Obama’s decision to welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping with a 2015 state visit. Such visits are an important diplomatic tool that includes a showy arrival ceremony and an elaborate dinner at the White House.

“I would not be throwing (Xi) a dinner,” Trump said at the time. “I would get him a McDonald’s hamburger and say we’ve got to get down to work.”

But, as Ms. Superville notes, when our President visits other nations he expects red carpet treatment, and the leaders are happy to flatter him:

Knowing Trump enjoys flattery, Xi pulled out all the stops to impress him on that November stop in Beijing.

The visit opened with an arrival ceremony considered lavish even by Chinese standards, with Trump and his wife, Melania greeted at the airport by Chinese and American dignitaries standing at attention, a band playing military music and scores of flag-waving children chanting “welcome.”

Trump was then whisked away for a private tour of the Forbidden City that included dinner. The meal was a first for a visiting foreign leader at Beijing’s historic imperial palace since the founding of modern China. Trump also raved about an outdoor opera performance.

The following morning brought another welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People featuring a military parade that Trump said was “magnificent.” He said “the world was watching” and claimed to have received telephone calls about it from around the world. “Nothing you can see is so beautiful,” Trump said.

Xi also honored Trump at a state banquet that included video highlights from the Chinese leader’s visit to Florida, along with clips from Trump’s trip and the screening of a video of Trump’s granddaughter, Arabella, singing in Chinese.

That is a marked contrast to Xi’s visit to our nation. He was treated to a luxurious lunch at the President’s residence in Florida, but not given the respectful treatment that comes with a state visit, which Ms. Superville describes as follows:

The White House portion of the visit begins with an elaborate arrival ceremony on the South Lawn, including the pomp of a military honor guard, a troop review and leader statements. The leaders meet privately in the Oval Office before they hold a joint news conference in the East Room or the Rose Garden. The evening ends with the foreign leader as the guest of honor at a lavish state dinner attended by hundreds, including members of Congress, business leaders, celebrities, political donors and others.

The visiting leader also has lunch at the State Department, and sometimes will address a joint meeting of Congress.

Such visits are reserved for when the U.S. wants to put on its “best face” for a particular leader and ally, said Peter Selfridge, who served as a liaison between the White House and visiting foreign dignitaries as U.S. chief of protocol from 2014 to January 2017.

“It’s a really important arrow in a president’s quiver when it comes to the diplomatic nicety side of his work,” Selfridge said.

But our current President sees no need to “put on its “best face” for anyone… and as a retired school leader I find this lack of statesmanship deplorable. It sends a message to our citizens– and children– that we are superior to everyone else on the globe and “the others” in this world should treat us with respect even if we treat them with disdain.

This is the third example in the past three days of President’s Trump disrespect for others. His snubbing of Nobel Prize winners and snubbing of Kennedy Center winners are examples of his disdain for science and the arts and his decision to deny visiting heads of state with the treatment his predecessors offered is an example of his disdain for their nations. For better or worse our children look to the President to set a tone for the nation. The anti-intellectual and xenophobic attitudes we are witnessing in the White House are not the examples we need to thrive in the interdependent world we live in today.

I’ve tagged these recent posts under “self-awareness”, for I fear that we are losing the ability to put our nation in the proper perspective in the 21st century… and I fear that in doing so we are diminishing the greatness our President aspires to.

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President Trump’s Ignoring of Arts: Another Signal of Anti-Intellectualism Run Amok

December 27, 2017 Comments off

Yesterday I wrote a post lamenting President Trump’s failure to celebrate the Nobel prize winners, vowing it as a signal to reinforce his antipathy toward science in particular and his intent to appeal to the anti-intellectualism in out country. No sooner had I written the post than I read an op ed article by playwright Sarah Ruhl in yesterday’s NYTimes reporting that Mr. Trump was not going to attend the Kennedy Center’s annual tribute to artists selected for Medals of Honor. Why?

The president’s team claimed that he did not attend so that the artists could celebrate in peace rather than having a political distraction. But the president votes, as we all do, with his feet.

As Ms. Ruhl notes, this is a peculiar line of reasoning given that many of the recipients have not seen eye-to-eye with the Presidents who typically attend the event and offer comments on the honorees. Mr. Ruhl offered two examples of magnanimity that came from GOP Presidents who awarded medals to recipients who opposed their political positions– Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. In both cases, the GOP Presidents used the opportunity to note the unifying power of the arts. In reporting on Mr. Reagan’s participation at the event, Ms. Ruhl wrote:

…in 1984, before putting medals on Arthur Miller and Lena Horne among other luminaries, he reflected on the way Americans had developed “a culture that was as fertile as this new land” and had continued to innovate in arts and entertainment.

“And today our nation has crowned her greatness with grace, and we gather this evening to honor five artists who have helped her to do so,” he said.

And Mr. Bush was equally magnanimous in giving the award to Barbra Streisand, who persistently criticized his politics. After reading the

After Mr. Bush read her biography, he added,“She’s also been known to speak her mind.” The audience laughed, then applauded. Ms. Streisand later wrote: “President Bush gave me his signature wink and mouthed, ‘We showed ’em.’ I guess in some small way, he and I proved that we could agree to disagree, and, for that weekend, art transcended politics.” The wink and the joke were actually profound — they signaled a functional democracy. 

Ms. Ruhl was saddened to think that Mr. Trump was passing up this ritual celebration of the arts, but saw it, as I do, as further evidence of his anti-intellectualism and an ominous sign for our democracy:

In dictatorships, the artists are often the first to go. Or maybe they are the third to go, after the press and the intellectuals. The refusal of the president to celebrate them is a chilling and clear departure from American values.

It is not only “..a chilling and clear departure from American values“, it is “..a chilling and clear departure from human values“, from the values that enable us to find common ground when we disagree with each other, the values that enable us to live in harmony instead of living in conflict.

In his refusal to honor Nobel scientists Mr. Trump signaled his antipathy toward those seeking the truth in the physical world. In his refusal to honor Kennedy Center artists he signaled his antipathy toward those seeking eternal truths. I hope that his views on the arts and sciences are not adopted by our nation, for if they are, America will no longer be the nation that is a beacon of free thought.

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