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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Abington PA School Board Accedes to Billionaire: Names New School For Him

March 29, 2018 Comments off

Here, in it’s entirety, is an AP report on the Abington (PA) School Board’s decision to re-name it’s High School:

ABINGTON, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania school board has approved a plan to rename a public high school after Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman, an alumnus who is donating $25 million to the school.

Abington Senior High School would be renamed Abington Schwarzman High School under the plan approved Tuesday. The agenda for the school board meeting says Schwarzman agreed to make the donation in exchange for naming rights, among other things.

A news release announcing the gift last month made no mention of a name change. It said the move was part of a larger effort by Schwarzman to make public schools more open to private donations and to encourage other wealthy donors to support public education.

Billionaire’s substantial donations to their private college alma maters is nothing new nor is naming facilities and classrooms on campuses for those donors. Indeed, Leland Stanford, Andrew Carnegie, and Cornelius Vanderbilt have entire colleges named for them and countless business titans have graduate schools named in their honor. But public schools are supposed to be a different entity altogether. They are supposed to be funded exclusively by the public who, presumably, provides enough funding for the children in their State to fulfill the so-called American Dream where their hard work, diligent study, and positive attitude will enable them to advance economically. When billionaires begin supporting education, it will only make the equal opportunity for schooling more difficult than it is already…. and it is apparently nearing impossibility given the unwillingness of states to increase their broad-based taxes and unending willingness to provide incentives for low-wage businesses to build in their states and/or communities.

And one of the problems schools face is when they name a school after a generous billionaire, their school and community endorses that individual’s life style and the ethos of the corporation they led that yielded their fortune. Stephen Schwarzman, who was profiled a year again Vanity Fairmight not be the role model for aspiring students. And Blackstone’s business model, appropriately called vulture capitalism, might not be the ideal template for our economic well-being. But school boards hard-pressed to find the money for the kinds of renovations they need to make to be competitive in the 21st century need to take money where they can find it… and if that means districts with wealthy alumni can build better facilities and offer better programs than districts in poor areas, sobeit. If the American Dream is dying, public school’s reliance on the benevolence of billionaire philanthropist/alumni will ensure its demise.


Gun Suicides 14 Times More Prevalent Than School Shootings… Are We Targeting the Wrong Solutions?

March 28, 2018 Comments off

Medium essayist BJ Campbell’s recent post on gun deaths flags the “Left’s” and the media’s obsession with school shootings and as the reason most Americans are missing the point on gun control. The major cause of gun deaths isn’t school shootings, gang violence, or homicide: it’s suicide. and Mr. Campbell contends that our obsession with the school shootings and homicides is leading us down the wrong path if we want to limit deaths. He writes:

Why do the media outlets fail to identify the bulk of the “gun deaths” problem? It’s possible that they’re simply dumb, or careless, but I doubt it. It’s possible that pointing it out wouldn’t be profitable, because it wouldn’t drive clicks from their target market. Or it’s also possible that sympathy for men simply does not fit within the prevailing Blue Church narrative. Pointing out the truth about the data would create too much cognitive dissonance, so it is selectively and intentionally ignored. Instead, we are presented with a view as if men slaying children indiscriminately is commonplace, instead of the predominant truth — mostly it’s men slaying themselves.

Using the chart below, Mr. Campbell makes the case that in order to If we are going to ameliorate gun deaths we need to address suicide and not school shootings or homicide… and not even suicide among teenagers or young adults but suicides among middle aged adult males! 

He then lists the solutions now being offered and demonstrates that each is pointless given the need for suicide prevention.

· Waiting Periods: Statistics do not show that people buy guns to commit suicide, as far as I can find. They’re either going to use one they already have, or choose a different method.

· Banning certain classes of firearms, such as semi-automatic rifles or handguns: You only need the most basic functioning firearm possible to kill yourself.

· Tax bullets: You only need one bullet to kill yourself.

· Blanket gun confiscation: Won’t work, and they (the “Left” and the media) admit it won’t work, except all those times when they don’t.

· Mandatory gun confiscation of depressed people: Terrible, terrible idea, because it would only cause fewer people to go to the doctor for their depression symptoms, making the problem worse instead of better.

This is counter to the narrative used by those who want to focus on the fear factor generated by mass shootings… but it does illustrate a silent problem that Mr. Campbell believes CAN be addressed if it is given the proper and appropriate attention:

Slightly less than 1,000 women die from domestic violence per year in this country, and that’s a big, real problem. You can save six times this many men, simply by talking to them, and asking them nicely to sequester their firearms temporarily. The number of people you could save by doing this is double the number of people who die in gang and drug crime combined. It’s sixty times more than die in mass shootings.

This is easy.

It requires no new laws, no culture war battles, no erosion of rights.

It DOES require a dispassionate examination of data— facts— and a willingness and ability to ignore headline grabbing news stories in favor of silent, small, and persistent personal problems that plague middle aged men. Mr. Campbell DOES provide some food for thought.


Are Smart Phones Making Us Depressed… or is it What We Use Them For?

March 27, 2018 Comments off

I was a late adopter to the Smart Phones… not because I am a technophobe but because I accurately knew that if I had one I could become a compulsive “phone inspector”.  Given that degree of self-awareness that comes from having lived for 70 years, I am able to witness my use of the phone and observe those occasions when I might be trending toward compulsion and recognize when my mood can be altered by information that presents itself on the phone.

I am opening this post with that observation because a colleague sent me an article by Jean Twenge that links ” …increases in depression, suicide attempts and suicide” among teenagers with the advent of cell phones. Using a recent study she and some colleagues published in Clinical Psychological Science, Ms. Twenge found that

…the generation of teens I call “iGen” – those born after 1995 – is much more likely to experience mental health issues than their millennial predecessors.

What happened so that so many more teens, in such a short period of time, would feel depressed, attempt suicide and commit suicide? After scouring several large surveys of teens for clues, I found that all of the possibilities traced back to a major change in teens’ lives: the sudden ascendance of the smartphone.

Ms. Twenge and her colleagues identified a strong link between trends in the rates of depression among teens and smart phone ownership and especially the time spent online, a time that increased markedly since the advent of smartphones:

We found that teens who spent five or more hours a day online were 71 percent more likely than those who spent less than an hour a day to have at least one suicide risk factor (depression, thinking about suicide, making a suicide plan or attempting suicide). Overall, suicide risk factors rose significantly after two or more hours a day of time online.

Ms. Twenge’s post describes the vicious circle that occurs as online time expands: the time online crowds out other more wholesome means of face-to-face interaction and limits sleep, and those losses of productive and healthy time use leads to increased depression. Ms. Twenge concludes her article with the obvious solution:

It might be argued that it’s too soon to recommend less screen time, given that the research isn’t completely definitive. However, the downside to limiting screen time – say, to two hours a day or less – is minimal. In contrast, the downside to doing nothing – given the possible consequences of depression and suicide – seems, to me, quite high.

I would add one other possible solution: mindfulness meditation. As a meditation practitioner for several decades— first through running and later through formal sitting— I found that these practices helped me cultivate self awareness which, in turn, helped me eliminate thoughts and notions that were counter-productive   and hold fast to those thoughts and notions that helped me stay emotionally strong. I am certain that my sorting process is imperfect, but I am equally certain that the process led to iterative inspection of my thought patterns (or “mental formations” as they are called in Buddhist meditation practice). More than anything, it was this self awareness that helped me understand that I needed to disable all of the pre-loaded games from the first computers I purchased and to constantly examine what I am reading and doing as I sit in front of the screen. In this day and age where we are bombarded by information designed to distract us and constantly comparing ourselves to friends and celebrities on social media, it is more crucial than ever to develop some kind of self-awareness…. and it strikes me more and more that it may well fall on public education to provide that self-awareness training. Our national well-being might depend on it.

The NRA Has a Real Opportunity to Lead on Gun Control

March 26, 2018 Comments off

As noted in earlier posts, until the mid 1970s the NRA supported the use of guns in hunting and target sports like skeet shooting. Before then, they supported the government’s efforts to restrict public access to military grade weapons: first in 1934 when mobsters had machine guns and three decades later when Black militants decided to patrol their neighborhoods outfitted like guerrilla fighters in Central America. Once the 2nd Amendment fanatics took control of the organization, though, the NRA insisted that any American should possess ANY weapon they wanted. The fanatics’ “slippery slope” reasoning took hold and before long their organization was downgrading the ratings for politicians who failed to support the “right” for gun owners to purchase bullets that penetrate armor, the requirement that gun owners have locks for their weapons, and, in the most recent outlandish proposal, to own silencers.

The transcript of ABC affiliate KWBE’s radio report made me think that the NRA’s membership is missing a golden opportunity. The report indicates that over the past several years the NRA has made substantial donations to schools to support marksmanship programs and JROTC:

From 2010 through 2016, the charitable subsidiary to the pro-gun group gave $7.3 million in grants to more than 500 schools, school clubs and school districts to fund youth clubs and provide equipment for varsity competitive shooting teams…

Nearly half of the more than 700 NRA grants to schools went through JROTC programs across the country.

U.S. Army Cadet Command, which oversees the JROTC programs, did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

From my perspective as a former school principal and superintendent, I do not see this as a bad thing. As one of the administrators who was quoted in the report indicated, target shooting is an expensive sport and funds for extra-curricular activities are scarce. Moreover, if the control of the club’s “content” is overseen by an educational institution it can ensure that students are using their weapons respectfully. It strikes me as far more worthwhile for students to compete in target shooting outdoors or in a controlled shooting range than to have them playing video games where their shots are killing sentient beings. It is naive of schools to believe that students who are down to school-sponsored shooting clubs might not join, say, alt-right shooting clubs if the schools did not offer them.

I don’t own a gun, but I was enrolled in ROTC as an undergraduate and in that program I learned how to assemble and clean a military weapon, one whose name I cannot recall but one that was NOT an automatic weapon. As part of the course we were required to go to a shooting range and achieve a minimum level of marksmanship, an experience that makes me understand the lure of shooting at targets as a recreational activity. Living in rural areas for much os my career, I also came to appreciate the hunting culture, skeet shooting, and, in the words of John Prine, “shooting empty pop bottles”.

While I am not a fan of the NRA under its current leadership, I know that the current mentality of the NRA is the result of democratic votes within the organization. Before the current fanatical wing of the NRA took control, the leadership advocated gun safety, recreational use of weapons, and the camaraderie of gun owners who engage in sports like skeet shooting and hunting. I have to believe that the majority of NRA members are not supportive of the notion that anyone should be able to buy or possess any weapon at all times. If those members could take back the organization, make the argument for school-based training for weapons in extra-curricular activities sponsored by the NRA, they could have a positive influence on legislators. I don’t know enough about guns to know which ones meet the definition of “assault weapons”, but I do know that the kinds of guns used in the recent massacres were specifically designed to kill human beings and I believe that any weapon designed for that purpose should be severely restricted. And I have enough faith in the rank-and-file gun owners to believe that they could develop a means of defining what those weapons are and MAYBE begin rating their legislators on their willingness to restrict their circulation in the future and to set “red flags” that allow allow law enforcement officials to confiscate them from individuals who are likely to use them to harm others.