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A Conundrum Schools Face: Why Advocate Spending on SROs and Protection When 5% of Mass Shooters are Under 20?

February 28, 2018 Leave a comment

After reading an excellent editorial by Andrew Rosenthal in today’s NYTimes, I was compelled to respond with a comment that the newspaper “picked”:

“Everytown found that only 5 percent of the mass shooters it studied (over the past decade) were under 20.”

This makes me wonder why we are emphasizing the need for us to protect kids from each other by encouraging “if you see something say something” policies. It also makes me wonder if the emphasis on spending money on physical intervention (i.e SROs) and “protection” (i.e. door locks, surveillance cameras, and lockdowns) is as important as spending money on personal intervention (i.e social workers, psychologists, counselors, smaller pupil-teacher ratios, etc). Politicians seem to be willing to support money for police personnel and “things” to prevent violence in schools that would, presumably, be committed by students despite the fact that only 5 percent of the mass shooters were under 20… but those same politicians seem unwilling to support spending for personal interventions that might address the problems that ultimately manifest in the form of gun violence later. Mr. Rosenthal is correct: banning weapons designed to kill enemy troops is the best and most cost effective means of addressing school shootings.

This comment is particularly germane in my home state where the governor intends to spend $18,000,000 on “protection” while advocating passage of an Education Savings Account bill (SB 193) that will diminish the funding available for public schools making it increasingly difficult for them to fund the personal interventions that could really make a difference.

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Time for Unity Among Organizations Representing School Boards, Teachers, Administrators, and Parents

February 28, 2018 Leave a comment

Over the past several days President Trump has received massive publicity on his irrational response to the mass killings in schools: namely, his proposal to arm and train teachers. But as one who opposes virtually every idea advanced by Mr. Trump and the GOP, I must give the devil his due: the AFT and NEA and countless student and parent organizations had to use bandwidth to push back against his preposterous idea… And as post by Diane Ravitch indicates Mr. Trump’s idea spurred legislative action in FL…

As one who believes that military grade weapons should not be available to citizens (and I’ll leave it to legislators to debate what constitutes “military grade”), I find it maddening that every time a mass murder occurs the NRA makes deeper inroads!

The NYTimes had an insightful article this weekend on how the NRA makes this happen. As the article notes, the NRA doesn’t buy legislators, it buys influence. Here’s a quote from the article:

To many of its opponents, that decades-long string of victories is proof that the N.R.A. has bought its political support. But the numbers tell a more complicated story: The organization’s political action committee over the last decade has not made a single direct contribution to any current member of the Florida House or Senate, according to campaign finance records.

In Florida and other states across the country, as well as on Capitol Hill, the N.R.A. derives its political influence instead from a muscular electioneering machine, fueled by tens of millions of dollars’ worth of campaign ads and voter-guide mailings, that scrutinizes candidates for their views on guns and propels members to the polls.

“It’s really not the contributions,” said Cleta Mitchell, a former N.R.A. board member. “It’s the ability of the N.R.A. to tell its members: Here’s who’s good on the Second Amendment.”

If those of us who seek sane legislation on guns could get behind one organization who turned out voters whose rabidity matched that of the NRA voters we MIGHT be able to turn the tide… And the recent spate of school shooting MIGHT make it possible for NSBA. NEA, AFT, AASA, and national PTA leaders to coalesce to get parents, teachers, and community members to vote out legislators who are proposing irrational bills like those just enacted in FL. If those groups banded together to form a “Safe Schools Alliance”, they might be able to form a muscular electioneering machine,  fueled by tens of millions of dollars’ worth of campaign ads and voter-guide mailings that would “scrutinize candidates for their views on guns and propel members to the polls”. If those who seek sane legislation in the name of providing a safe place for students to attend school, for dancers to attend night clubs, for concert goers to see performers, for cineasts to see movies, or for worshippers to attend churches, synagogues or mosques, we need to get together a group who will identify who’s SANE on the Second Amendment.

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Janus Case Pit Individual Rights Against Collective Bargaining

February 27, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard arguments in the Janus vs. Illinois case, which pits the first amendment rights of an individual employee who receives union benefits against the ability of a union to engage in collective bargaining. As a school superintendent who sat across the table from the NEA in five different states, I felt that the most effective middle ground on this issue was to have the union differentiate their costs for political action from their costs for representing employees and to also differentiate their dues accordingly. This kind of differentiation was deemed acceptable by the US Supreme Court in the 1977 Abood vs. Detroit case, which is summarized in the Encyclopedia Brittanica below:

Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, legal case in which the U.S. Supreme Court on May 23, 1977, ruled unanimously (9–0) that agency-shop (or union-shop) clauses in the collective-bargaining agreements of public-sector unions cannot be used to compel nonunion employees to fund political or ideological activities of the union to which they object. The court nevertheless held, by a 6–3 majority, that nonunion employees in the public sector may be required to fund union activities related to “collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment purposes.”

Through the years since 1977, school districts began to bargain for the kind of differentiation described in Abood as states passed enabling legislation that made agency shop a permissive part of bargaining.

Through the years since 1977, the libertarian wing of the GOP has sought to overturn the second half of this ruling by asserting that the First Amendment rights of individual employees should preclude any compulsion to pay any dues. Presumably, the individuals who are filing these cases are indifferent to the collective efforts of their colleagues to raise wages or improve working conditions. In effect, they want their individual perspectives on collectivism to overturn any of the bargaining agreements achieved though bargaining.

According to many articles I’ve read in the past few days, including this one in Education Week, It now appears that the Supreme Court will overturn the requirement that nonunion employees pay anything for union activities, a decision that is likely to undercut the union’s ability to represent their colleagues and, potentially, undermine existing collective bargaining agreements. Here’s the union argument in a nutshell:

David L. Franklin, the solicitor general of Illinois, who was defending Abood along with Frederick, said that the state has an interest “at the end of the day in being able to work with a stable, responsible, independent counterparty” in the unions who will “be a partner with us” in contract negotiations.

But here’s where public sector unionization will ultimately lead, based on Justice Kennedy’s analysis:

Kennedy suggested that also meant that the unions “can be a partner with you in advocating for a greater size workforce, against privatization, against merit promotion, for teacher tenure, for higher wages, for massive government, for increasing bonded indebtedness, [and] for increasing taxes.”

Based on headlines I’ve read, it seems that the rights of the individual have prevailed. When the case is characterized as pitting unions forcing individuals to pay-to-play as opposed to unions being forced to represent individuals in grievances who fail to support their representatives, the framing favors the libertarian perspective over the collective perspective… and communitarianism loses out to atomization. The irony in all of this is that conservatives who tend to oppose unions simultaneously lament the loss of communitarianism. But at the same time, conservatives tend to favor the marketplace over any form of collective employee rights. In short, it appears that conservatives support collective efforts so long as they do not require increased cost to taxpayers or diminishment of the shareholders profits…. and the economic divide we experience now is the result.

Newsmax Trumpets Terrible Idea Proffered by Blackrock Billionaire… Business Insider Blows Holes in it

February 26, 2018 Leave a comment

Two outlets reported recently on a speech to a group of public school superintendents given by billionaire Steven Schwarzman. Newsmax, a libertarian-conservative outlet, published an short synopsis of Mr. Schwarzman’s speech titled “Billionaire Warns Public Schools Need Private Financing”. The Newsmax article, which is based on an extended piece from Business Insider, trumpets Schwarzman’s terrible idea, which is that public schools seek private funding from billionaires like him to augment their funding. Why? Because, according to Schwarzman,

“The middle class economically has shrunk,” he told B.I. “The monies aren’t there in the same way. I think we have to recognize that and figure out what to do about it.”

And things will only get worse, according to Schwarzman.

“I think the roadblocks are basically just tradition,” Schwarzman told B.I. “What I’m talking about is just typically not done.

“Sometimes in life you just have to adapt.”

But Business Insider’s article flags the problem with Mr. Schwarzman’s idea, a problem is underplayed in Newsmax:

Regardless of fortitude and determination, some districts will have more potential funds to mine than others. Not every school has an alumnus like Schwarzman, who has deep pockets and an enduring commitment to education — he has donated hundreds of millions to a variety of education causes.

Such a model has the potential to exacerbate school inequality, according to Sean Corcoran, who studies education financing issues as an a ssociate professor of economics and education policy at NYU Steinhardt.

“School districts’ reliance on private funding is slim-to-none,” Corcoran said, “but where it does exist it tends to be in wealthier communities.”

Astonishingly, Mr. Corcoran seems open to the idea of having billionaires make contributions despite the dis-equalizing impact it would have on public schools and despite the fact that the billionaire’s largesse would have the effect of setting spending priorities for publicly governed institutions. And even more astonishingly, the Superintendents in attendance were “ebullient”, giving Mr. Schwarzman a standing ovation. And no mention was made that the Abington PA school district that benefitted from Mr. Schwarzman’s largesse was one of the most affluent in PA: Abington spends more per pupil than 95% of the other districts in the State!

In the end, though, neither Mr. Corcoran nor the Abington Superintendent see the philanthropy of billionaires as a panacea.

But (Mr. Corcoran) doesn’t believe the notion represents a realistic cure for public school funding ills, and he says it would become a problem if people started treating private donations as a substitute for local tax dollars and state aid.

(Abington Superintendent) Sichel, despite her district’s recent good fortune, isn’t convinced private donations are a magic elixir or a replacement for public funding, either. She points out that Schwarzman’s gift is not a substitute for a district operating budget, which in Abington currently stands at $159 million, 28% of which comes from local funds.

“In Abington, this is not replacing an operating budget at all. This is $25 million for a targeted gift for building and renovating a high school. It’s a very targeted gift,” she said.

But, she says, to stay competitive and offer students the best programs and opportunities, public schools have to give it a try.

“This may not be a panacea, but it sure is another avenue to pursue,” she said.

Spoken like a Superintendent in a very affluent district where such an avenue exists… but having worked in both affluent and needy districts I feel it is inherently unfair for billionaires to make gifts to districts that are already well off compared to their neighbors and even “distant relatives”… especially if those gifts are “very targeted”. I am reminded of the response to a question raised at a meeting with the president of a college with a large endowment about “his decision” to spend millions on a golf shooting range in a student athletic facility. He remarked that a large gift for the overall facility was contingent on including this feature. That’s where “very targeted” donations lead.

Kansas Legislature Hires Consultants from Texas to Study Funding Issues… The Name of the Texas A & M Grad School is a Tip Off on How This Will End

February 25, 2018 Leave a comment

Here’s the key paragraphs from an article by Tim Carpenter published yesterday in CJOnline.com, the Topeka Capitol Journal’s online news outlet:

The Republican-led Kansas Legislature hired advisers from outside the Capitol’s bubble to execute a fresh accounting of the cost for educating the state’s 490,000 students. It follows the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling in October that a $300 million increase in state aid approved by the 2017 Legislature fell short of equity and adequacy mandates in the constitution. That increase spread among the state’s 286 districts was financed with a controversial income tax hike.

Lori Taylor, a professor in the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, told education committee members why previous comprehensive cost studies were flawed or outdated. The two most influential evaluations applicable to Kansas were published in 2006 and 2011.

“Things have changed enormously in this state since the time frame in which these prior analyses were conducted,” Taylor said. “The expectations are different. The metrics are different. The economic environment, to a certain extent, is different. All of those changes cast doubt on the current applicability of the prior work.”

Taylor and Jason Willis, who works with the nonprofit WestEd consulting firm, said cornerstones of their study would be student needs, the price of labor, economies of scale and operational efficiencies. The data dive will shine light on school-by-school, student-by-student expenditures. The report will incorporate results from English and math test scores from the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 academic years.

A Republican led legislature is seeking a non-partisan analysis of their deficient financial plans from a professor in the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University? If I am a Democrat in Kansas I would be suspicious of this choice right off the bat… and my suspicions would be particularly aroused when I learned that the report will examining “…economies of scale and operational efficiencies” would be targeting school closures as a means of savings but omitting any analysis of transportation or food services whose funding shortfalls are compelling districts to use local revenue sources. And I’d be VERY concerned to learn that the analysis of “economies of scale and operational efficiencies” WILL include “… bloated reserve accounts maintained by school districts”, a concern of GOP legislators who believe those accounts are being built up by increases in STATE funding.

And if these elements of the study were not sufficient reason for concern, this issue raised by unnamed legislators should be:

During the three-hour meeting, Taylor was dismissive of criticism related to excerpts from Texas court opinions in a 2005 school finance case that indicated her research on behalf of the Texas Legislature was “not credible” and “seriously flawed.”

“I have a deep experience with these policy issues,” said Taylor, a Salina native. “I am a very good choice to be the expert for this project.”
It sounds as if her “deep experience” was a study done 12 years ago, an interesting perspective given her assertion that studies completed within the past 12 years in Kansas were deemed to be “outdated”. The concluding paragraphs indicate where this study is headed:

The report on instructional and administrative costs of operating public schools in Kansas is due March 15. The Supreme Court set an April 30 deadline for the Legislature’s fix for constitutional shortcomings.

Attorneys for the plaintiff school districts in the case said the remedy could require an additional $600 million annually. Prior to resigning, Gov. Sam Brownback recommended the 2018 Legislature adopt a bill phaseing in a $600 million increase over five years.

House and Senate Democrats expressed frustration with the consultants’ presentation and speculated their report would be distorted to support arguments of some GOP legislative leaders that total education spending of $4 billion annually was constitutionally adequate.

“This will be the best study money can buy,” said Senate Minority Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.

Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, said the hearing set the table for the consultants’ low-ball cost recommendation. The conservative GOP leadership will use the report as leverage until centrist Republicans agree to a modest increase in state aid to schools rather than the full amount justified, he said.

“This is the seventh week of the session and we’ve done nothing on school finance,” said House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita.

This might be the 7th WEEK of the legislature, but it has been at least the 7th YEAR Kansas public schools have experienced underfunding at the state level and the 7th YEAR children have experienced cutbacks in their programs… except in the most affluent districts in the state where local property taxes can offset the cuts in state aid.

This is a cautionary tale for every state in the union because the “Kansas model” of trickle down economics is being used at the national level and the laws that led to this funding model are taken from the ALEC playbook being used in every state in the union. As a result, we’re NOT getting the best schools money can buy in every district in America… we’re getting them only in themes affluent districts in our nation…

“Efficient” Outcomes Based Education Good for “Second Tier” Colleges and Learners… Not So Much for Affluent Students

February 25, 2018 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed piece by Molly Worthen, an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, titled “The Misguided Drive to Measure ‘Learning Outcomes’“. In the article, Ms. Worthem describes the cottage industry that has sprung up around the demand that colleges prove that students are receiving a good return on investment through the use of standardized assessments that “measure” whether students are mastering skills like “truthseeking” and “analyticity.” In her essay, Ms Worthem also notes that this desire to measure “outcomes” is particularly emphasized in second tier colleges, particularly those state and proprietary colleges designed to serve first generation students. At the same time, the “elite” colleges effectively ignore the entire movement, signaling a disdain for any effort to measure what a college education provides for its students. Near the end of her article, Ms. Worthem offers this observation:

“Teaching it is not a cheap or efficient process. It does not come from trying to educate the most students at the lowest possible cost or from emphasizing short, quantifiable, standardized assignments at the expense of meandering, creative and difficult investigation.”

In a comment I left at the conclusion of the article, I noted that this drive for efficiency is the fallacy in the entire “reform” movement in public education, which is designed to use standardized tests to identify “best practices” that can be scaled up to help “deficient schools” improve their performance as measured by standardized tests. The “failing” public schools serving those who do poorly on standardized tests, like the “less prestigious colleges”, gear their curriculum to increasing their test scores while the public schools serving affluent and well educated children– who do well on these tests without coaching— offer a wider array of courses and opportunities.

What I didn’t note in the comment was this: the “elite” colleges do not make any effort to strive for affordability any more than “elite” private schools or “elite” public school districts. The parents who spend their own funds to pay tuition for elite private schools or pay a premium on their housing to reside in affluent school districts do not view their spending as “throwing money at a problem”. Rather, they see the premium prices they pay for schooling and housing as an investment. In the meantime, those who resent paying taxes for “other children” see low test scores as evidence that their precious tax dollars are being spent wastefully. The desire for cheap and efficient education only exists when voters are seeking a rationale for lower taxes and when voters see education as an “expense” as opposed to an “investment”.

More on The Preposterous Notion and Alarming Consequences of Arming Teachers

February 24, 2018 Leave a comment

I read Diane Ravitch’s post from late yesterday regarding the latest reports from the Sun Sentinal newspaper in Florida that indicate “…several Broward sheriff’s deputies waited outside” the HS where a shooter with an automatic weapon was on a rampage. Why? As Diane Ravitch writes:

The “good guys”with the guns did not even attempt to stop the “bad guy”with an AR-15. They knew they were outgunned and they failed to do their duty….

And therein lies the problem… once a decision is made to arm teachers and/or provide more armed guards the police will quickly note that if the police have only a pistol they will be “outgunned” by the bad guys… and an arms race will ensue. And the NRA’s predictable solution will be: give the teachers and “good guys” better weapons, give them body body armor, and make the schools less inviting targets for “bad guys”….

And here’s the alarming consequence of this reaction: kids who learn to live in a world with surveillance cameras, armed guards, and walls with razor wire will be safe and secure… Big Brother will look after them…

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