Author Archive

Reagan National University, Approved by Accrediting Agency Closed Down by Obama, Is Now Approved. One Problem: It Has No Students, No Campus, No Faculty—

February 15, 2020 Leave a comment

Two USA Today reporters, Chris Quintana and Shelly Conlon, looked into Reagan National University, a for-profit college recently accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools, and saw an immediate problem: “By all appearances, at present it has no students, no faculty and no classrooms.

The article goes on to describe how Betsy DeVos restored capacity of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges & Schools to grant approval to for-profit schools after the Obama administration shut it down because of it’s lax oversight. It also describes the checkered history of “Reagan National University”, which was formerly called Northern Virginia University before that state’s accrediting board shut it down and the college relocated to South Dakota. Why South Dakota?

In some ways, South Dakota was the ideal place for Reagan. The state has among the laxest rules for colleges in the country. State officials merely ask colleges whether an accrediting group has approved them — they don’t independently hold universities accountable.

It is perversely humorous that a college named for a POTUS who championed deregulation is in existence because another POTUS who operated a flimflam college restored an inept accreditor who approved a college that intentionally sought a location in the state with the most lax regulations… It isn’t funny, though, to any of the students who enrolled in this college and took out loans to attend classes. But in the Social Darwinist world that libertarian deregulators live in caveat emptor is the rule and government should stay out of the way of the marketplace.

Trump and DeVos Want to Undo Public Education

February 14, 2020 Leave a comment

This powerful USA Today op ed lays bare the GOP/Trump/DeVos agenda, which is to eviscerate public education. Derek Black concludes his essay with these two paragraphs:

When the nation sought to lift poor whites out of illiteracy and blacks into citizenship at the end of the Civil War, Congress demanded that state constitutions guarantee uniform school systems that provided education to all children. To fund them, they mandated taxes. When the nation was struggling to break free of its Jim Crow discrimination, public education was chosen to lead the way — even as resistors explicitly tried to end public schooling (and replace it with vouchers).

Trump and DeVos have a vision of private education and individual freedom that is more than misleading; it’s dangerous. They are sowing the notion that a fundamental pillar of our democracy is antiquated and oppressive. The truth is that many kids will lose what little freedom they have — and the one social thread that still binds us together will fray even more — if we buy what they are selling.

My Latest Op Ed Questions $$$ For SROs as a Spending Priority

February 13, 2020 Leave a comment

Our local newspaper, the Valley News, prints op ed articles I submit from time to time. Today’s issue features this submission I offered a few weeks ago:

I read with interest recent articles in the Valley News regarding the proposal to fund a school resource officer for the Dresden School District. As one who worked in public education for 36 years, a grandfather of four school-age children, and a Dresden taxpayer, I think the $100,000 needed to fund an SRO — no matter where the money comes from — would be better spent on other ways to improve the well-being of children. Indeed, the more I look at the funding priorities across our region and the country, the more I question our approach to the issue of school safety.

In May 1972, the last year I taught mathematics at Shaw Junior High School in Philadelphia, its secondary schools were staffed with nonteaching assistants assigned to patrol each floor while classes were in session. The district also had police officers at the main entrance and a patrol car parked prominently out front. In a city experiencing violent gang fighting, most parents saw the presence of police officers as reassuring.

From the late 1970s through 1999, the parents and other members of the communities where I worked as a high school administrator and superintendent were concerned whenever a police car appeared at the door of a school building. They saw that as evidence the schools were disorderly or, worse, that drug busts were underway.

That attitude changed following the 1999 Columbine shootings, when two high school students killed 12 of their classmates and a teacher and sent scores of others to the hospital. At that time, I was leading a school district in Duchess County N.Y., whose suburban neighborhoods looked a lot like those around Columbine High School. The shootings occurred in the spring, a time when I convened “coffees” with parents and community groups to discuss the school budgets they would soon be voting on. But no one wanted to talk about the budget or its impact on taxes. Instead, they wanted to talk about security, especially since rumors were circulating that “something was going to happen” in one of our schools.

Soon, newspapers began reporting on discipline incidents that portended the kind of violence witnessed in Colorado. ThePoughkeepsie Journal reported that a student in our district had been suspended for creating and disseminating a “hit list,” and two neighboring districts suspended students for bomb threats. On May 5, the day that “something was going to happen,” the Journal described how schools had “stepped up their secur ity.” The newspaper also offered two quotes that would come to frame the policy debate. “There’s a lot of cooperation going on between schools and law enforcement that you didn’t have a few years ago,” New York State Police Capt. Thomas Fazio told the Journal.

“It all has to do with one thing: the safety of children.” And a parent in my district said the focus should not be on law enforcement, but rather on helping students respect each other. “Those boys in Colorado were taunted and harassed their whole lives,” she observed. “Maybe we should be talking more about that.”

Twenty years and too many school shootings later, the law enforcement approach to school safety has prevailed. We have spent millions “hardening” schools by providing 24/7 surveillance, sophisticated door and window locks, fencing and “active shooter” drills. We have spent millions more placing police officers or security guards at the school door and in the hallways. And yet schools and social service agencies can’t find the funding they need to help children who struggle with mental health issues and feel disconnected from classmates — problems often associated with school shooters.

Recent Valley News stories illustrate these distorted spending priorities.

When schools opened in 2018, the newspaper reported that New Hampshire schools received $28.8 million to improve school security. Contrast that with the $700,000 New Hampshire legislators announced they were providing to help with youth suicide prevention. New Hampshire spent 40 times as much to “harden” schools as it did to prevent suicides.

Vermont’s priorities are no different. Gov. Phil Scott recently announced that, during his term, the state had allocated $5.5 million for “safety enhancements” to 308 schools. Meanwhile, VtDigger reported that 3,322 children under the age of 9 accessed mental health services in Vermont, nearly double the number from 20 years earlier when the number of students was much higher. How much has the state provided to local districts to help address this problem? I await an article offering the answer.

Could the $28.8 million New Hampshire spent on school security upgrades have provided the funding needed to reduce the state’s youth suicide rate? Could the $5.5 million spent for “security enhancements” at Vermont schools helped support the mental health services Vermont children need?

As Dresden School Board members consider seeking money to pay for a student resource officer, I would encourage them to ask how that money might be spent differently. Could it support the restorative justice initiative at the high school? Could it be used to partner with mental health agencies? And finally, is hiring a student resource officer the best way to support the well-being of students in the district?

Wayne Gersen, of Etna, is the former superintendent of the Dresden School District.

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Common Sense Recommendation from NEA and AFT: End Active Shooter Drills NOW

February 13, 2020 Leave a comment

The nations two largest teachers unions just issued a press release calling for the end of the active shooter drills that have become a regular feature in most public schools. Their rationale? The drills traumatize children and there is no evidence that they make any difference in the preparedness of schools.

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This Just In: Higher Compensation = More and Better Teachers

February 12, 2020 Leave a comment

The Deseret TImes (UT) article above includes this unsurprising news: if teachers get higher compensation more undergraduates will be drawn to the profession!

An Envision Utah survey of 4,000 college students confirms what you probably already knew: teacher pay deters many young people from pursuing the teaching profession. And another survey shows it’s the biggest thing we could change to help former teachers come back.

When No Community Exists a School Bus Can Be a Hub

February 11, 2020 Leave a comment

This idea for providing Pre-K programs to remote rural families, or more accurately, child-rearers, touches all the bases. It offers literacy, support services for children, and a wide array of social services for adults… and it is inexpensive. This makes much more sense than trying to get 3 year olds to use computers to learn how to read.

Good News! Trump’s Budget Cuts Charter Schools… Bad News! His Budget Redirects that $$$ to Vouchers

February 11, 2020 Leave a comment

Jonathan Chait’s Intelligencer article yesterday not only undercut President Trump’s scholarship to a young African-American girl from Philadelphia but also revealed it’s true purpose. Mr. Chait opens his article with these paragraphs:

At his State of the Union address, President Trump created an apparently heartfelt moment on behalf of Philadelphia fourth-grader Janiyah Davis. Having been “trapped in failing government schools,” Trump announced Davis would be granted a full scholarship to a private school, personally financed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Except, the Philadelphia Inquirer discovered, Davis doesn’t attend a “failing” school. She attends a high-quality public charter.

That looks like a “big oops” on two counts…. except it seems that it reveals the way the POTUS and the GOP want to fund education going forward. Poor children should rely on rich benefactors if they want to get a high quality education and vouchers should replace all forms of publicly funded schools. Mr. Chait elaborates on the second point in his third paragraph:

Here’s a brief refresher: Charter schools are not the same as private schools. Private schools are funded by tuition dollars, and can select which students to admit. Charter schools are publicly financed, do not charge tuition, and cannot select their student bodies. If they have more applications than available slots, charters typically have to use a lottery. Charter schools and private schools are often confused. A Washington Post story about Trump’s speech says the president appealed to his base on issues like “religious liberty, guns and charter schools,” when, in fact, Trump was touting private school vouchers, not charter schools.

Mr. Chait supports his contention by looking at the budget the POTUS is recommending, a budget that cuts the USDOE’s operations by 8%, eliminates all funding for charter schools, and redirects funds for public schools into a $5 billion dollar tax credit for private school vouchers. He concludes his article with this:

Trump’s plan to cut education funding is a huge political liability. And his proposal to eliminate federal funding for charters should make it clear that supporting charter schools is literally the opposite of Trump’s education agenda. Trump describing a charter school as a “failing government school” in his State of the Union address is not a mistake. It’s his actual worldview.

Alas I fear that these points will be lost on many voters who will miss the nuances Mr. Chait brings to light… and if the President is re-elected unwinding the voucher legislation likely to pass will take years.