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As Congress Cut Staffers and Leaned on Lobbyists, So Did State Departments

January 19, 2019 Leave a comment

Diane Ravtich wrote a post yesterday that drew heavily from a Washington Post column by a veteran congressman who was lamenting the gutting of congressional staffers who used to provide both sides of the aisle with factual reports on information and data they could use to make informed decisions and write well crafted legislation. The Congressman noted that as they lost this resource, the private sector filled in with lobbyists who could “helpfully” write legislation and regulations. The result was the de facto privatization of legislation.

As I noted in a comment I left, in a parallel universe, beginning in the late 1970s State Departments of Education began hemorrhaging expertise in the same way. When I began my career as a Superintendent it was possible to call someone in the State Department who could offer guidance on an array of issues from staff development to transportation to school construction to curriculum. While many of us in administration and many school boards lamented the “bureaucrats in the State Department”, it wasn’t until they were cut from the State budget and/or retired that we began to realize what we missed. One of the reasons the Common Core was appealing to Governors was that it provided off-the-shelf “expertise” from contractors. So instead of having to hire staff who understood curriculum, the districts could call a 1-800 number and talk to someone who worked for a vendor to get the information they needed. The ultimate result of State Department cuts, then, was an open door for the Common Core vendors to replace the “bureaucrats at the State Department”.

Smaller school districts in particular need expertise in many areas… and if that expertise is not available at the State level they will outsource it elsewhere. Cutting “bureaucrats” opens the door for privatization of expertise… and lobbyists and salespersons are very happy to offer it.

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What is the Employers Role in Skill Development? What is Government’s? What is the Individuals?

January 18, 2019 Leave a comment

I just finished scanning a Politico report titled The Future of Prosperity: Ladders to Success before closely reading the conclusion. Developed by a “working group” of 17 educators, business leaders, and futurists from think tanks, this report examined statistics on post-secondary education and employment and concluded that there is a mismatch between the skills being taught in post secondary education, desired by businesses, and sought by students. Here’s the overarching conclusion of the “working group”:

To meet the needs of a changing economy, the system will need to educate more Americans, in more subjects, at different stages in life, than it has in the past. POLITICO’s working group concluded that to meet that challenge, the current system needs significant disruption—and employers, higher- education institutions and governments will all need to pay a part.

In the minds of the working group, employers need to “…rethink what degrees and credentials they require of applicants and why, improve communication about what skills and jobs are needed, and provide more on-the-job training, including apprenticeships. They also need to come up with ways to certify skills that workers acquire on the job, and participate in efforts to develop new systems to upgrade workers’ skills and retrain displaced workers.”

The working group also urged colleges and universities to provide continuum of programs for those already employed and lacking degrees, focussing on “…stackable and modular courses and credentials that can combine skills and knowledge learned
in a variety of institutions.” They particularly emphasized the need for public institutions to “…move students’ job-training goals closer to the center of their mission.”

They also believe the federal government has a role to play. They need to help develop a “…new and more flexible approach to financial support (that) could open doors for people at more points in their lives“, and “...also incentivize new types of institutions, such as online education providers, built around training and “upskilling.” Finally, thy thought the government could serve as “…trusted repository of information“, effectively serving as the permanent record system tracking the education credentials collected by individuals as they wend their way through life-long education.

Implicit in all of this thinking are the following notions:

  • Employers have some responsibility for developing the talent they require
  • Post-secondary programs can operate independent of the workplaces but need to focus more on job-skills and less on learning-how-to-learn
  • The federal government should keep track of each individual’s work arc and skill development
  • Individuals can make informed choices about their career paths and change their minds as they progress and are ultimately responsible for developing the skills employers need

To be clear, the report makes no mention of the final bullet… of what is expected of individuals— i.e. students and employees. From the working team’s perspective, the employee/student is a cog in their machinery who should be molded based on changing specifications of the workplace.

The current system IS flawed for several reasons… but the major problem with the thinking behind this report from this liberal arts graduates perspective is that it assumes the primary purpose of schooling is the development of work skills. I think schools should build on the inherent love of learning that I witness in my grandchildren as they develop speaking skills, motor skills, and listen to me red them stories…. and that sense of wonder should be built into post secondary work and, as much as possible, even into the work one does to earn a living. And should that wonder be impossible to find in one’s life work, it should be inculcated into their lives outside of work. When employees and students lose that wonder for the world around them, they can quickly lose the joy of life itself.

 

 

 

Bernie Sanders Gets It— His Letter Supporting Teachers in LA Says So

January 18, 2019 Leave a comment

I’m sure readers of this blog are not surprised that I am on Bernie Sanders email list and may also sense (accurately) that I was somewhat disappointed that he did not make his loathing of privatization as clear as he should have in 2016. This email I received yesterday indicates that he is all in for 2020— assuming he wants to run again. I await similar unequivocal support from others part form Robert Ojeda who was scheduled to walk the picket lines. It would be good if some CA legislators donned some red apparel and joined in! Here’s Bernie Sanders’ letter:

Wayne –

There is something happening in Los Angeles that you need to know about and that we all need to do something about.

Today, for the first time in 30 years, more than 30,000 Los Angeles public school teachers are on strike fighting for smaller class sizes and decent wages, for nurses, counselors and librarians in their schools, and against a coordinated effort from billionaires on the right to make money privatizing public education.

Public education is fundamental to any functioning democracy, and teaching is one of its most valuable and indispensable professions.

So how is it that the top 25 hedge fund managers in this country make more money than the combined salaries of every kindergarten teacher?

How is it that the billionaires of this country get huge tax breaks, but our teachers and children get broken chairs, flooded classrooms and inadequate support staff in their schools?

That is what a rigged economy looks like.

In the richest country in the history of the world, our teachers should be the best-paid in the developed world, not among the worst-paid.

So I stand in solidarity with the United Teachers of Los Angeles. Because a nation that does not educate its children properly will fail, and I applaud these teachers for leading this country in the fight to change our national priorities. Today, I am asking you to do the same:

Add Your Name: Tell the striking teachers in Los Angeles that you are following their struggle and stand in solidarity with them. We will make sure your messages of support get to these teachers.

But what we really need in this country is a revolution in public education.

What we accept as normal today with regards to education, I want your grandchildren to tell you that you were crazy to accept.

And in my view, that conversation starts, but does not end, with early-childhood education.

That is not just my opinion. Research tells us that the “most efficient means to boost the productivity of the workforce 15 to 20 years down the road is to invest in today’s youngest children.”

So it is not a radical idea to say that we need to provide free, full-day, high-quality child care for every child, starting at age three, so that they will be guaranteed a pre-kindergarten education regardless of family income.

That is common sense.

But in the twenty-first century, a public education system that goes from early childhood education through high school is not good enough.

The world is changing, technology is changing, our economy is changing. If we are to succeed in the highly competitive global economy and have the best-educated workforce in the world, I believe that higher education in America should be a right for all, not a privilege for the few.

That means that everyone, regardless of their station in life, should be able to get all of the education they need.

Today in America, hundreds of thousands of bright young people who have the desire and the ability to get a college education will not be able to do so because their families lack the money. This is a tragedy for those young people and their families, but it is also a tragedy for our nation.

Our mission must be to give hope to those young people. If every parent in this country, every teacher in this country, and every student in this country understands that if kids study hard and do well in school they will be able to go to college, regardless of the income of their family, that will have a radical impact on primary and secondary education in the United States—and on the lives of millions of families.

That is what we can accomplish by making public colleges and universities tuition-free, because every American, no matter his or her economic status, should have the opportunity for a higher education. And, at the same time, we must substantially lower student debt.

But getting there will take a political revolution in this country, and a radical change in national priorities.

Instead of giving huge tax breaks to billionaires and profitable corporations, we must create the best public educational system in the country. Instead of major increases in military spending, we must invest in our kids.

And today, the most important step in that direction starts with standing in solidarity with the teachers in Los Angeles.

Add Your Name: Tell the striking teachers in Los Angeles that you are following their struggle and stand in solidarity with them. We will make sure your messages of support get to these teachers.

Through our support for these teachers, we have a chance to reaffirm our support for quality public education and the right of all children to receive the best education possible.

Thank you for standing with them.

In solidarity,

Bernie Sanders

ADD YOUR NAME

3 Reasons to Pay Attention to the LA Teacher Strike

January 17, 2019 Leave a comment

If history is any guide, reason #3 is important. When factory workers and miners engaged in grassroots strikes across the country it got the attention of politicians and ultimately led to change. Stay tuned.

Source: 3 Reasons to Pay Attention to the LA Teacher Strike

Categories: Uncategorized

Arkansas Blogger Connects Dots Between Los Angeles and Little Rock… Profiteering Billionaires

January 17, 2019 Leave a comment

Arkansas Times blogger Max Brantley wrote a post yesterday linking the strikes in Los Angeles with the takeover over Little Rock Public Schools that drew on an article in Jacobin to help connect the dots. He opened his article with this quote from Jacobin describing the real goal of the strike in Los Angeles:

The plan of these business leaders is simple: break-up the school district into thirty-two competing “portfolio” networks, in order to replace public schools with privately run charters. As firm believers in the dogmas of market fundamentalism, these influential downsizers truly believe that it’s possible to improve education by running it like a private business.Not coincidentally, privatization would also open up huge avenues for profit-making — and deal a potentially fatal blow to one of the most well-organized and militant unions in the country, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA). As union leader Arlene Inouye explains, “This is a struggle to save public education; the existence of public education in our city is on the line.”

As always, the privatizers adhere to the belief that running ANY public enterprise– be it a school, sanitation department, or tax collection– like a business will reduce costs which will simultaneously add to their bottom line AND provide them with a business opportunity. Its “win-win” for the taxpayers AND the businessmen… the children raised in poverty who no longer have an opportunity to attend a quality school and the middle class city employees who lose their jobs are collateral damage.

Mr. Brantley then describes how recently passed laws in Arkansas are giving deregulated for-profit charter schools free reign in Little Rock and, being a blogger in Arkansas, Mr. Brantley warns people across the country to be on the lookout for bills that are headed their direction to do the same things as happened in HIS state AND Los Angeles:

Those of you around Arkansas who think this is just a Little Rock story best think again. This could happen to you, too.

From Jacobin’s enemies list:

The Walton Family

In a watershed moment for the drive to take over Los Angeles public education, pro-charter billionaires spent an unprecedented $9.7 million to buy the 2017 Los Angeles school board elections. A key funder of this campaign to elect charter school acolytes was none other than the Walton Family, best known as the founders of Walmart.

Having made their fortune through union-busting and infamously low wages, the Arkansas-based Waltons — now the richest family in the world — have spent much of the last two decades bankrolling the privatization of public education. Nominally, this philanthropy is dedicated to improving life prospects for low-income families. Yet as journalist Harold Meyerson notes, “a more direct way to help them would be to give workers at Walmart . . . a raise and to give them more hours.”

For the Waltons, their $2.2 million contribution to the 2017 school board election was just a drop in the bucket. Over recent years, the Walton Family Foundation has given $84 million to Los Angeles charter schools and it has spent $1.3 billion on “school reform” efforts nationwide. And in a further effort to capture the hearts and minds of Angelinos, a Walton-funded media outlet, The 74, took over the well-respected LA Schools Report in 2016.

These initiatives have already had a major impact on Los Angeles. About 18 percent of students now attend charter schools, a rate far higher than in the rest of the country.

As Mr. Meyerson notes, the Waltons could provide living wages to their employees if they wanted to help the needy. And if they wanted to help fund public schools across the country they could stop seeking tax breaks when they locate stores in local communities. And if they wanted to help make our country great again they could sell only products made in our country. But if they did take those actions, their profits would plummet and their art museum in Arkansas would only feature the works of local artists…. which would provide them with support but would not attract national attention.

Has the NYTimes Seen the Light? Diane Ravitch Sees Progress in Op Ed by Miriam Pawel

January 16, 2019 Leave a comment

From my perspective, it is heartening to see the LA teachers strike making national news despite the headline grabbing government shutdown and the ongoing political bickering that accompanies it. But, as noted in earlier posts on this issue, the LA strike HAS national ramifications for it ISN’T about wages and working conditions in a lone district. The LA strike is about an ongoing battle within the Democratic Party about privatization of public services: between the “Reform/Reinventing Government” wing of the party that has embraced the idea that the private sector should take over more and more government functions and the “Roosevelt” wing of the party who sees a strong government as necessary to eliminate poverty and racism and eliminate the distortions in our economy that have emerged since Reagan proposed that “government is the problem”.

Thus far, the NYTimes has reliably taken the side of the “Reform/Reinventing Government” wing of the democrats, going so far as to reject countless articles on the ills of privatization from Diane Ravitch. But in a post yesterday, Ms. Ravitch pointed to an op ed article by fellow education historian Miriam Pawel as evidence that MAYBE the Times has seen the light! In “Whats Really at Stake in the Los Angeles Teachers Strike”, Ms. Pawel describes the recent history of public education in California in general and Los Angeles in particular, tracing the decline in public school quality to the passage of Proposition 13… and tracing the passage of THAT law to racism:

In the fall of 1978, after years of bitter battles to desegregate Los Angeles classrooms, 1,000 buses carried more than 40,000 students to new schools. Within six months, the nation’s second-largest school district lost 30,000 students, a good chunk of its white enrollment. The busing stopped; the divisions deepened.

Those racial fault lines had helped fuel the tax revolt that led to Proposition 13, the sweeping tax-cut measure that passed overwhelmingly in June 1978. The state lost more than a quarter of its total revenue.School districts’ ability to raise funds was crippled; their budgets shrank for the first time since the Depression. State government assumed control of allocating money to schools, which centralized decision-making in Sacramento.

Public education in California has never recovered, nowhere with more devastating impact than in Los Angeles, where a district now mostly low-income and Latino has failed generations of children most in need of help.The decades of frustration and impotence have boiled over in a strike with no clear endgame and huge long-term implications. The underlying question is: Can California ever have great public schools again?

As Ms. Pawel goes on to note, the problems whose roots can be found in Proposition 13 got even worse when deregulated charter schools were offered as the “solution”. These schools siphon funds away from public schools, which creates a cycle Ms. Powell describes in one paragraph:

It’s a vicious cycle: The more overcrowded and burdened the regular schools, the easier for charters to recruit students. The more students the district loses, the less money, and the worse its finances. The more the district gives charters space in traditional schools, the more overcrowded the regular classrooms.

And because billionaire Eli Broad spent millions to elect a pro-charter school board who, in turn, appointed a business-minded Superintendent with no experience, LA finds itself mired in a strike… a strike unlike any witnessed by a veteran mediator:

“In my 17 years working with labor unions, I have been called on to help settle countless bargaining disputes in mediation,” wrote Vern Gates, the union-appointed member of the fact-finding panel called in to help mediate the Los Angeles stalemate last month. “I have never seen an employer that was intent on its own demise.”

Like President Trump and the Tea Party wing who want to diminish the effectiveness of government, the LA school board seems to be intent on ruining what is left of the public school system in Los Angeles. Ms. Pawel concludes her op ed with this sobering description of what is at stake:

This strike comes at a pivotal moment for California schools, amid recent glimmers of hope. Demographic shifts have realigned those who vote with those who rely on public services like schools. Voters approved state tax increases to support education in 2012, and again in 2016. In the most recent election, 95 of 112 school bond issues passed, a total of over $15 billion. The revised state formula drives more money into districts with more low-income students and English learners. Total state school aid increased by $23 billion over the past five years, and Governor Newsom has proposed another increase.

If Los Angeles teachers can build on those gains, the victory will embolden others to push for more, just as teachers on the rainy picket lines this week draw inspiration from the successful #RedforEd movements around the country. The high stakes have drawn support from so many quarters, from the Rev. James Lawson, the 90-year-old civil rights icon, to a “Tacos for Teachers” campaign to fund food on the picket lines.

If this fight for public education in Los Angeles fails, it will consign the luster of California schools to an ever more distant memory.

From my perspective, it IS heartening that voters in California have supported tax increases to upgrade their schools and their legislature is sending more of those funds to economically deprived districts. But if those districts, like LA, use their funds to expand privatization Los Angeles schools will lose their luster forever… and the billionaires will prevail… the Winners WILL Take All.

LA Teachers Strike Is About Charter Schools and High Stakes Testing

January 15, 2019 Leave a comment

Steven Singer offers a good analysis of what the LA strike is about… This strike should garner national attention but it probably won’t because, as Mr. Singer notes, there aren’t stark differences between the Democrats and Republicans when it comes to the question of “school reform”… and this is the case because both parties rely on donations from rapacious “reformers”.

Source: LA Teachers Strike Is About Charter Schools and High Stakes Testing

Categories: Uncategorized