Archive for March, 2018

As Anticipated, After Circling for Months the Vulture Capitalists Have Landed in Puerto Rico… and They Are Feasting on Public Schools

March 31, 2018 Comments off

A few months ago, when Hurricane Maria pummeled Puerto Rico, several prescient analysts predicted it wouldn’t be long before the vulture capitalists swept into the island and privatized the public schools. From all I’ve read, the public education system in Puerto Rico was struggling. It operated as one centralized system that was challenged in its effort to provide an equitable education to all children on the island and had a complex bureaucracy that was ineffective at best. Like many urban districts in the US with big bureaucracies, the Puerto Rico public schools also suffered from another problem: a lack of resources. The hurricane, then, was a crisis that provided an opportunity to re-think the way education was delivered on the island… and that, in turn, opened the door for those who view market reforms as the solution to seize the day. And, from what I read in an ABC News report based on an AP article, the market-based “reformers” have convinced the Puerto Rico legislature to do just that:

Puerto Rico’s governor signed an education reform bill Thursday to create charter schools and vouchers and help turn around a department long known for its bureaucracy and struggles to administer dwindling resources.

The bill aims to decentralize the Department of Education and ensure that 70 percent of its budget reaches schools. In addition, it will provide teachers with their first raise in a decade starting next year.

Officials said the charter schools pilot program will be implemented in 10 percent of schools across the U.S. territory. The schools have not yet been identified, but those with low academic achievement will be a priority, said Education Secretary Julia Keleher.

Meanwhile, the private school vouchers will be limited to 3 percent of students starting in the 2019-2020 academic year.

And, after 600 amendments were added to the bill, it has gained the support of the union, who evidently is willing to cede control of 10% of the “marketplace” to privatizers and another 3% to children who seek to abandon public schools in favor of private schools, some of which might be sectarian. Evidently, Randi Weingarten sees this as a good quid pro quo in order to get raises for the teachers who remain in public schools.  From where I sit, Mr. Weingarten’s willingness to let the camel get it’s nose in the tent is a mistake. One look at states like AZ where privatization gained a foothold should illustrate that the private sector and their lobbyists will incrementally siphon funds away from public schools and expand on the economic divide.

Ms. Weingarten should realize that the appetite for profit is voracious.Once the privatizers get a foothold, they will incrementally siphon funds away from public schools into the charters and vouchers. The brakes might be applied now, but as we’ve witnessed in the mainland, ALEC will do everything possible to put the petal to the metal in the future.

Florida Legislators Deregulation of Private For-Profit Charters Mirrors “Economic Development” Tactics Everywhere

March 30, 2018 Comments off

Diane Ravitch posted an excerpt from a Politico article describing how the Florida legislature is attempting to lure for-profit schools to its state by offering incentives. Here’s an excerpt of the post:

“A controversial program signed into law in June called “Schools of Hope” gives charter school networks designated as “Hope Operators” the ability to open a “School of Hope” within five miles of a persistently low-performing public school. Those operators, collectively, get access to a pot of tens of millions of dollars to cover startup costs, personnel and specialized educational offerings, plus are given the flexibility of being exempt from a long list of state public education laws.

The Florida legislature is doing the same thing to privatized schools as it and other legislatures and local governments have done for private businesses for decades. By offering enticements to lure businesses into relocating the legislators are doing the bidding of profit seekers: they reduce the operating costs (i.e. costs for taxes, infrastructure, and meeting regulatory guidelines) in exchange for jobs— most of which are non-union low-wage jobs that pay just enough to avoid draining the state’s coffers. With this system in place, everyone loses except shareholders… and the biggest losers are public funded enterprises like schools and social services who lose revenue when taxes are waived.

And, unfortunately, this effort to lure private enterprises to a state or city are hardly limited to schools. One only has to look at how states and cities are bending over backwards to get Amazon’s new HQ if you think that this tactic is limited to privatized for profit schools. School buildings and infrastructure are crumbling in every state of the union but virtually every state in the union somehow found the wherewithal to put together a package to bring Amazon to them. And brick and mortar stores are as happy about this development as public schools are happy about the “Schools For Hope”.  Instead of creating a virtuous circle where new businesses bring in new taxes and well paying jobs, State legislators and city councils are creating a series of vicious circles where taxes are reduced and maintenance is deferred in order to entire low-wage enterprises into their communities.

Data Show Schools are Safer Than Ever. Are We Overreacting to Shootings? Are Kids Rebelling to Invasion of Privacy?

March 29, 2018 Comments off

Today’s edition of Politico’s Morning Edition featured this story on school safety:

CRIME ON THE DECLINE IN NATION’S SCHOOLS: New federal data out this morning shows crime in public schools has actually dropped, even as concerns over school safety have spiked following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The data from the National Center for Education Statistics is the most up-to-date snapshot of crime in the nation’s schools since the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead and sparked a national debate about school safety.

The report touches on a slew of issues – including security measures on campuses, training for teachers and discipline policies – likely to be central to discussions by the Trump administration’s school safety commission, which began meeting this week (more on that below). We have the full story, but here are the highlights:

Just 3 percent of students ages 12 to 18 reported being the victim of a crime at school during the 2015-16 school year, the most recent period for which data is available – a big drop from the 10 percent of students who said they were the victim of a crime two decades before.

Public schools have dramatically beefed up security measures: Almost 60 percent of schools had campus security during the 2015-16 school year – up from 42 percent a decade before. The percentage of schools using security cameras, meanwhile, jumped from 19 percent in 1999-2000 to 81 percent in 2015-16. The percentage of public schools that controlled access to school buildings rose from 75 percent to 94 percent during the same period.

Nearly all public schools had a plan in place for potential school shootings. Ninety-two percent had such plans, up from 79 percent in 2003.

Almost half of all schools trained teachers on recognizing early warning signs of student violent behavior, even though most schools – about 76 percent – provided training for classroom teachers on recognizing physical, social and verbal bullying behaviors. Just 30 percent provided training on recognizing signs of students using or abusing drugs or alcohol.

The percentage of schools reporting crimes to police reached its lowest point since at least 1999 during the 2015-16 school year, with 47 percent of schools reporting one or more crimes to the police. During the same school year, 37 percent of public schools took at least one serious disciplinary action – including out-of-school suspensions lasting 5 days or more, student removals with no services for the remainder of the school year and transfers to specialized schools.

 1999 is a sensible baseline year, for that is the year two disaffected students entered Columbine High School with high powered automatic guns and shot several of their classmates. And since then virtually every school in America (94%) has limited access to their buildings, devised plans to implement should a school shooting occur  (92%), and almost no students (3%) were crime victims. 60% of the schools now have security guards of some form, and 79% have cameras, a four-fold increase since 1999.

All of this data on school safety leads to two questions:

  1. What additional action can schools take to become hard targets?  If only 40% do NOT have security guards, only 6% leave their buildings un-secured, and only 21% lack surveillance cameras, what more does the public want or expect? Should there be more guards? Should the guards be armed? Should there be more cameras installed? Should the schools have razor wire fences?
  2. Is it possible that the students are implicitly protesting their loss of privacy? Given the close supervision in a contained environment, maybe the students are seeking spaciousness… freedom from being on camera while they in a locked fishbowl patrolled by security guards.

Before we spend another dollar creating “hard targets” we should examine the cold, contained environment we’ve created for the children in our country.

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