Archive for October, 2019

The Upshot Reaches an Obvious But Important Conclusion About Advantaged vs. Disadvantaged Children

October 29, 2019 Comments off

The Upshot, an online publication of the NYTimes, features articles that use data analysis to draw conclusions about a wide range of topics. Earlier this week, it featured an article by Emily Oster describing the evidence on child-rearing practices that reaches an obvious but important conclusion about children raised in advantanged homes vs. this raised in dis-adavantaged homes: there is a huge disconnect between the kinds of choices advantaged parents face as compared to those dis-advantaged parents face. While affluent parents debate the merits of nutrition or various pre-school programs dis-advatanged parents are choosing between paying the heating bill versus paying for school lunch. These two paragraphs near the end of Ms. Oster’s article provide a good synopsis of this difference:

This disconnect between the debates parents have and the data on child outcomes has societal implications. Policies in the United States that focus on helping less well-off families and children have a much greater impact. Many families live with limited access to health coverage and are forced to make choices between, say, food and medicine. Children with lunch debt face “lunch shaming” in many districts — and some are denied the option of hot meals. There is good evidence that high-quality pre-K programs like Head Start can improve school readiness.

And yet many of our parenting discussions are driven by, effectively, elite concerns. What is the best organic formula? Food mills versus “baby-led weaning.” Breast-feeding for one year, or two? And, of course, preschool philosophy. These concerns occupy thoughts and Facebook discussions, but they also occupy the news media, at least some of the time.

But, as I am confident Ms. Oster knows, placing a “focus on helping less well-off families” will require those advantaged families to dig a little deeper in their pockets to pay higher taxes or, heaven forbid, asking shareholders to forego a small percentage of profits that they “earn” when the corporations they invest in save on taxes.

Because no one wants to run a campaign that suggests taxes will increase for those who are advantaged, glib “solutions” like school choice come into play. The idea behind “school choice” is that parents would be free to choose whatever school best meets the needs of their child in the same way that they can choose organic formula or breast-feeding or the preschool with the philosophy that matches theirs. The reality is that disadvantaged parents are so bogged down in making choices between food and medicine that they do not have the luxury to examine alternatives the same way as their more affluent colleagues. But the idea of “choices” is an easy and inexpensive salve to a complicated and costly reality.

Until we begin to face the fact that not every parent has the same range of choices and that some choices are limited due to circumstances well beyond the control of the disadvantaged parents themselves we will continue to reinforce the economic system we have an continue to widen the economic divisions in our country.

A few weeks ago, Bernie Sanders posed this question to a crowd of 26,000 who came to a rally for his candidacy:

Are you willing to fight for that person who you don’t even know as much as you’re willing to fight for yourself?”

If we do not answer yes to that question, we are not our brother’s keeper… we are buying into the Social Darwinism that business is based on… we are denying the opportunity for advancement to huge swaths of our country.

While Impeachment Captures Headlines, DeVos Defies Courts, Denies Relief to Debtors, Is Fined

October 29, 2019 Comments off

The entire for-profit post secondary schooling program has been in a shambles for years, a reality that always made it hard for me to understand why either party thought the privatization of public schools would be a good idea. At some juncture near the end of the Obama administration, the Department of Education decided it was time to clamp down on the schools who were bilking students out of money and driving up debt. To show the for profit schools that they meant business, USDOE went to suspended the debts accumulated by students who attended an especially egregious profiteering school, the Corinthian Colleges.  The Trump administration decided to reverse the Obama era’s ruling and re-imposed the debts. The student debtors went to court and the courts mandated that the debts be suspended. When Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos pushed back, USDOE was held in contempt of court and fined $100,000.

On the day the court made this ruling, Democracy Now reported that the USDOE’s top loan official, A. Wayne Johnson, resigned in disgust and pledged to do whatever it takes to relieve students of over $1,000,000,000,000 in onerous debt. After his resignation, Mr. Johnson told the Wall Street Journal,

We run through the process of putting this debt burden on somebody … but it rides on their credit files — it rides on their back — for decades. The time has come for us to end and stop the insanity.”

The insanity reigns in every department in the US Government as anti-regulatory appointees in each department wreak havoc on consumer protection, environmental protection, and workers rights. And as regulations are slashed, the staffing positions required to enforce those regulations are cut. As science is ignored, civic minded scientists are leaving departments in droves and research on medicine, climate, and nutrition are abandoning positions that remain unfilled. Inevitably, when the budget is put together for the next fiscal year and the ones thereafter, the lost tax revenues will “require” that unfilled staffing positions be cut, that “revenue sources” like student loans be retained, and that cuts that are “making the economy grow” be kept in place. The inevitable result: the rich will get richer and the poor will become intractably mired at the bottom of the economic ladder.

This was a great country when I was growing up. Making it “great again” requires not more de-regulation…. but more help for those who need it.

This Just In: Our Public “Government” Schools are Governed Democratically

October 24, 2019 Comments off

I recently received tis comment/question from a commenter:

Whom do you think should make decisions about a child’s schooling – his or her parents, or bureaucrats? 

Here was my response:

First and foremost, I do not believe the consumer model applies to education. Rather, schools are a public good that should be robustly funded through a fair and equitable system of taxation. If we ever had such a fair and equitable funding system all public schools would provide all children with a fully comprehensive education. Clearly, we don’t have that.

For better or worse parents currently “choose” their schools based on where they “choose” to live. Under this system “bureaucrats” have no say on where parents “choose” to live… nor do they have a say in setting boundaries in large In multi-school districts. The decision on school boundary lines is ultimately made by democratically elected school boards or democratically elected mayors. The decision on who chooses to live in affluent communities or affluent neighborhoods is not made by bureaucrats either. History is replete with examples of how democratically elected officials developed policies or passed laws that preclude enrollment across pre-existing school district boundaries.

Bottom line: in our democracy, if parents want to make unrestricted choices about where their children attend schools they need to elect officials who will support their thinking on that idea. And… if parents want fair and equitable funding of our existing public schools they need to elect officials who will support their thinking on that idea.

For the 29 years I served as a public school superintendent (or “chief bureaucrat”) there were several times when I wished the publicly elected School Boards I worked for saw things the way I did…. and EVERY year I bemoaned the fact that State legislators did not place a high enough premium on equitable school funding. In the end, though, I realized that the folks I worked for were elected by the voters in the community I served and reflected the views in that community. As Churchill famously said,

democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

I don’t like everyone who has been elected and I have yet to find any politician who shares each and every value I hold dear… but I don’t want to trade democracy for other forms that have been tried from time to time.

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GOP Proposed that Public School Spend Millions on Unproven and Invasive Surveillance Technology

October 24, 2019 Comments off

How can any members of the GOP support this mandate without money for surveillance technology that will cost local taxpayers millions and won’t do anything to help school children get the services they need. Why? Because the NRA likes it!

The Beat Goes On… DeVos’ USDOE Continues Funding Unaccredited For Profit Colleges… and Taxpayers and Students Are Paying the Price

October 23, 2019 Comments off
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International Tax Emergency. A Critical Time for Developing Nations to Speak Up!

October 23, 2019 Comments off

As long as corporations can offshore their funds into tax havens those nations that lose tax revenues will suffer. In the case of developing nations it means the lack of basic necessities. In the case of developed countries it means increasing inequality. If this issue is resolved it will help our country provide more money to our tax coffers which could result in a greater redistribution of funds for schools.

Source: International Tax Emergency. A Critical Time for Developing Nations to Speak Up!

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Warren Joins Sanders in Call to Ban For-Profit Charters, Use Wealth Tax to Fund Better Public Education

October 22, 2019 1 comment

As posted several weeks (or maybe MONTHS) ago, Bernie Sanders had separated himself from the pack of other presidential candidates by declaring his outright opposition to for-profit charters and his desire to use Federal funds to help level the playing field for public school financing. Now, according to a report by Bloomberg’s Misrelyna Egkolfopoulo, Elizabeth Warren has joined Bernie Sanders in the unreserved support for public schools… and doing him one better by offering a specific plan for funding her initiatives… and plan that calls for the transfer of $800,000,000,000 from the pockets of the top .1% to the neediest school districts. Oh… and Ms. Warren also threw down the gauntlet on those who are selling student data for commercial purposes:

Besides her vow to bar Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google from collecting student data to market products, Warren would ban the sharing, storing and sale of data with information identifying individual students to block educational technology companies and for-profit schools from selling their data to corporations. She would also tighten restrictions for companies that lobby school systems that receive federal funding.

And for-profit charter school operators will not be happy with her either:

Warren also would ban for-profit charter schools and halt federal funding to expand such schools, which she said have been an “abject failure.” She would toughen accountability requirements, direct the Internal Revenue Service to investigate any non-profit schools that break the law and expand enforcement of Justice Department whistle-blower actions for schools that commit fraud against taxpayers.

And finally, for teachers across the country, Ms. Warren would re-direct money to help increase their compensation and increase the ability of teachers’ unions to thrive.

The Massachusetts senator said she’d use some of the $450 billion in funding in her plan to increase teacher pay. She promised to replace DeVos with a former teacher and give public employees such as teachers more negotiating power while making it easier for them to join a union.

In a race to define differences among the various Democrat party aspirants, it is clear that Warren and Sanders have seized the highest ground possible in supporting democratically operated public schools. For the sake of the professionals who work in schools and the children who attend them, I hope one of them prevails in the primaries. We cannot afford another four years of the current underfunding and disrespect for public education.