Archive for January, 2018

Proof that a Blind Squirrel Will Occasionally Find a Nut: Betsy DeVos’ View of Bush and Obama “Reform” is Spot on… BUT…

January 26, 2018 Comments off

Readers of this blog know that I am no fan of Betsy DeVos, but I must acknowledge that her assessment of the Bush and Obama administration’s results is on the mark….and this headline summarizes her point well:

Nothing Presidents Barack Obama or George W. Bush did in education reform really worked

As Valerie Strauss reported in a blog post last week in the Washington Post, Ms. DeVos “…delivered her first speech of 2018 and flatly declared that school reform efforts under Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush had not worked…” Had she stopped there she would have won my unequivocal praise for her insights. But she went on a little longer and, in doing so, demonstrated her lack of understanding about “reform”. in examining the two administrations, she stated:

We saw two presidents [George W. Bush and Obama] from different political parties and philosophies take two different approaches. Federally mandated assessments. Federal money. Federal standards. All originated in Washington, and none solved the problem. Too many of America’s students are still unprepared.

This is wrong on two counts. The approaches the two administrations took were identical… and both came from the misguided belief from the hinterlands that schools could only be improved if they were standardized like cars or computer software.

She also saw fit to characterize the standardized-test obsessed DOE as “a giant nod to union bosses”, none of whom, to the best of my knowledge, favor the “reform” endorsed by BOTH political parties.

Ms. Strauss’ post includes the speech in it’s entirety, but focusses on the points Ms. DeVos DIDN’T make but should have.

  • The market driven “choice” model of reform Ms. DeVos favors had not improved any schools anywhere
  • The charter schools Ms. DeVos favors provide less opportunities for teacher-led initiatives than the traditional “government schools” she disdains
  • The Common Core is NOT dead: it’s been effectively re-branded and re-inforced at the state level because when ESSA gave states greater latitude they did not seize the opportunity. Instead the great majority of states adopted test-driven metrics that are based on— you guessed it— the Common Core!

As is often the case with Ms. DeVos and her fellow reformers, they get the “bullet points” highlighting the flaws of public education correct. Who could disagree with this statement?

Our children deserve better than the 19th century assembly-line approach. They deserve learning environments that are agile, relevant, exciting. Every student deserves a customized, self-paced and challenging life-long learning journey. Schools should be open to all students — no matter where they’re growing up or how much their parents make.

That means no more discrimination based upon Zip code or socio-economic status. All means all.

But who could agree that the solution implied in the next paragraph, that deregulated market-based reform is the way to improve schools?

It’s about educational freedom! Freedom from Washington mandates. Freedom from centralized control. Freedom from a one-size-fits-all mentality. Freedom from “the system.”

Let me translate what Ms. DeVos is really saying. “Washington mandates” means those pesky desegregation orders. “Centralized control” means requiring all children to learn how democracy works and how to think independently. “One-size-fits-all” means providing children in less affluent areas with the same funding levels as children in wealthy areas. “The system” in this case means government funding and regulation that ensures equal opportunity for all…. and the provision of revenues through a fair and just system of taxation.



There IS a Deep State… and It’s Name is ALEC… and It’s Face is the Koch Brothers

January 26, 2018 Comments off

Of late, much has been written about the Deep State, which The Nation writer Greg Grandin describes as:

…a vernacular way of describing what political scientists like to call “civil society,” that is, any venue in which powerful individuals, either alone or collectively, might try to use the state to fulfill their private ambitions, to get richer and obtain more power.

Those who believe the mechanisms required to maintain “civil society” somehow create a coordinated effort by the heads of government agencies to get wealthy and impose their will at the expense of taxpayers are likely to oppose “the government” in general and are especially susceptible to the ideas of the “Deep State”. Those who oppose “the government” don’t like it’s regulatory arm that requires them to get permits to put additions on their homes, to keep their cars maintained, to buy auto insurance, and— now— to buy health insurance. They especially don’t like the “confiscatory taxes” the government imposes on them: taxing their income, the products they buy at the store, skimming off money for retirement and health care, and imposing fees on a host of services.

After reading “Big Money Rules“, Diane Ravitch’s review of two recent books in the NY Review of Books, I am persuaded that there IS a “Deep State”… and it’s name is ALEC and it’s face is the Koch Brothers. In her essay, Ms. Ravitch reviews Nancy MacLean’s “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth for America and Gordon Lafer’s “The One Percent Solution: How Corporations Are Remaking America One State at a Time.” The essay provides a stunning description of how the Koch brothers used their incredible wealth to create and populate think tanks with libertarian economists and political scientists who crank out studies supporting their beliefs and used their influence among their billionaire peers to create the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It is hard to understate the influence of ALEC the stance of today’s GOP and the legislation being written in state legislatures across the country. Ms. Ravtich describes ALEC’s impact in these paragraphs:

ALEC writes policy reports and drafts legislation designed to carry out its members’ goals.* It claims, Lafer writes, “to introduce eight hundred to one thousand bills each year in the fifty state legislatures, with 20 percent becoming law.” The “exchange” that ALEC promotes is

between corporate donors and state legislators. The corporations pay ALEC’s expenses and contribute to legislators’ campaigns; in return, legislators carry the corporate agenda into their statehouses…. In the first decade of this century, ALEC’s leading corporate backers contributed more than $370 million to state elections, and over one hundred laws each year based on ALEC’s model bills were enacted….

Lafer contends that ALEC and its compatriots are engineering what he calls “a revolution of falling expectations.”  They have cynically played on the resentments of many citizens, purposefully deepening antagonism toward government programs that benefit unspecified “others.” Many people are losing their economic security while others are getting government handouts. Why should others get pensions? Why should others get health insurance? Why should others have job protections? Why should unions protect their members? “We are the only generation in American history to be left worse off than the last one,” reads a post from the Kochs’ advocacy group Generation Opportunity urging young people in Michigan to vote down a ballot proposal to raise the state’s sales tax. “We are paying more for college tuition, for a Social Security system and a Medicare system we won’t get to use, $18 trillion in national debt and now an Obamacare system—all that steals from our generation’s paychecks.”

What’s especially frightening to me is that the Koch brother’s notions about social security, medicare, and government programs have permeated the mindsets of all Americans, particularly the younger generations. I am dismayed to hear my daughters who are in the 30s and 40s declare matter-of-factly that they do not expect to benefit from social security or Medicare because “we’re going to run out of money”… which is correct if and only if the low taxes and libertarian ideas espoused by the ALEC prevail. But there is nothing in the constitution and nothing in the laws of the economics that indicates that the government will run out of money despite what Koch-funded think tanks want the public to believe.

In 2014, just before the mid-term elections, I heard Bernie Sanders speak to roughly 90 people at Dartmouth College. He spent 30 minutes of his time explaining about the Koch brothers, a topic I wrongly assumed most in attendance knew about. I heard him give talks to increasingly large audiences over the next several months and every time he spoke he explained how the Koch brothers were using their money to buy influence. Here’s what is frustrating to me— and I am certain frustrating to him: the coverage of his campaign focussed more on immaterial and bogus issues like “Bernie Bro’s”, polls, and intramural squabbling in the DNC and seldom on his stance against plutocrats like the Koch brothers. The essence of his campaign and that of all progressive candidates is opposition to the REAL Deep State, which is the influence of money on politics and, most importantly, on the shared ideals of our nation.

Six months ago I wrote a post the made reference to Ms. MacLean’s book that concluded with this paragraph:

How do we turn this around? Only by appealing to the higher angels in people. Service learning projects, the creation of clubs at public schools that promote humanitarian causes as opposed to athletics and careers, and direct instruction and direct experience in how democracy works would all be helpful. As long as schools are viewed as career-preparation we are reinforcing the go-it-alone ethos that led us to where we are today…. where those who have made their fortune are loath to share it with others. The result of this ethos is an economy where the .1% cling to their “earnings” while the vast majority of the workforce works from paycheck to paycheck.

Everything that has happened in the last six months— especially the “tax reform” bill— reinforces the final sentence of this conclusion. Until the mainstream media— and the party that supposedly opposes the GOP ethos— hammers on inequality the same way ALEC hammers on unions, “the government”, and taxes we can expect the revolution of falling expectationsto continue unabated.




Weapons in School: A Personal History… and Ronald Reagan’s Change of Heart

January 25, 2018 1 comment

In the early 1970s I taught at Shaw Junior High School in Philadelphia. In May, 1972, the last year I taught at that school, a student was stabbed to death in a scuffle that occurred in the lavatory across from my classroom. At that time, Philadelphia staffed its schools with non-teaching assistants and had police officers assigned to guard the building. Knives and guns were forbidden in schools, but, as the incident in the bathroom indicated, enforcing the prohibition was difficult.

Two years later I became Assistant Principal at a nearby suburban high school of 650 students. In that capacity I confiscated knives from students,  removed baseball bats from lockers of students who were not on the baseball team but had threatened to harm classmates over squabbles that occurred in the neighborhoods outside of school, and asked those attending basketball games to allow me to inspect their overcoats in search of guns that were rumored to be on their person. I count myself as fortunate to have avoided injury on one occasion when I disarmed a student who had a knife in a fight with another student and to have never encountered a situation where a student was armed.

In the late 1970s I became Principal in a rural Maine school district where I was asked to impose greater discipline on the students who attended. I was told (and during my first year witnessed) students often scuffled in the hallways and often brought “buck knives” to school, knives they used most frequently to vandalize property but which could have been used to injure each other in scuffles. In writing the student handbook for the school, I banned the possession of knives and guns, a move that was widely supported by the teachers but questioned by many students and parents— particularly during hunting season when many students went hunting before school and left their rifles in the vehicles they drove to school. The ban seemed commonsensical given the experiences of my predecessor, but it did result in the need for me to replace six tires over the course of the year and to have many heated exchanges with parents and students who questioned the need for the ban, which they viewed as coming from my experience “in the city”.

For the years that followed, when I became a school superintendent in that same rural Maine district, in the Seacoast section of New Hampshire, and a Western Maryland district, I cannot recall any issues involving the prohibition of knives and guns in schools. The bans were in place, enforced on rare occasions by administrators, and never an issue at the Board level. In each these assignments I worked on the State Superintendents Association’s legislative committee and I cannot recall any debates on the issue of weapons in school at the legislative level.

All of that changed in 1999 when Columbine occurred. By that time I was leading a large suburban district in Upstate New York, a district that had homes like those pictured in the Denver suburb where two students brought high-powered weapons into a high school and killed several of their classmates. The Columbine incident occurred at the time I was convening “coffees” to discuss the school budgets that would be voted upon in mid-May, and the discussions that followed my 15 overview of the budget had nothing to do with school finance and everything to do with security in schools. The issue of school safety was exacerbated when a rumor circulated that a group of students was going to come to an unnamed school in our region with assault weapons on May 5th, Cinco de Mayo, with the intent of killing classmates. While no one could find the source of this rumor, it persisted to the extent that my colleagues and I experienced a decline in attendance in their high schools on that day.

Since Columbine, the debates about guns in schools, the need for “good guys with guns” in schools, the need for surveillance equipment, and the need for better locks has resulted in a counter-movement in the gun-owning community. Since Columbine States have moved away from laws preventing weapons in schools by passing concealed carry laws, open carry laws, and, in the case of New Hampshire, laws that prevent local school boards from passing any restrictions whatsoever on guns in schools. All of these laws that allow the proliferation of guns are based on a “slippery slope” theory that if state legislatures— or local school boards— pass laws or policies that limit the acquisition of guns, limit the kinds of guns that can be sold, or limit places where guns can be carried, soon those same legislative bodies will be passing laws that confiscate guns altogether.

It would be wonderful if legislators ignored the NRA, who promotes these laws that encourage the widespread use of guns and promotes the “slippery slope” thinking. It would even be better if gun owners had some assurance through the law and some faith in such an assurance that “the government” has no intention of confiscating any weapons they possess unless there is substantial evidence that they intend to use them to harm people. But recent experience in Oregon indicates gun rights advocates will spread misinformation on any legislation designed to protect family members, school children, and members of the public from gun owners who a court has determined are likely to use the weapons to harm others.

And so we find ourself in a world where 297 school students were killed in 137 school shootings between 1980 and 2013 and 200 school shootings and 94 deaths since the Sandy Hook incident at the end of that year and the end of 2016 and school boards concerned about the well being and safety of their children have no means of excluding those with weapons.

In retrospect, I’m glad I began my career as a school-based administrator in the 1970s when it was still possible to screen spectators for concealed weapons and still possible to send students home with the rifles they perched on the gun racks on their pick-up trucks. There were only two mass shootings at public schools during an era when common sense prevailed in terms of gun ownership, an era when Ronald Reagan saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons” and that guns were a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” The party of Ronald Reagan has changed its thinking since then… in part because the context has changed. Ronald Reagan had just signed the Mulford Act which forbid the public carrying of loaded firearms, a law he believed “would work no hardship on the honest citizen”. California’s Mulford Act was introduced in 1967 in response to members of the Black Panther Party who were conducting armed patrols of Oakland neighborhoods. If such an incident took place today, where would the GOP stand? Where would the NRA stand?

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