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Where Does Clinton Stand on Charter Schools?

October 26, 2016 Leave a comment

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have pledged to hold Ms. Clinton’s feet to the fire regarding the promises she has made to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. The NEA and AFT need to do the same. Their endorsements definitely helped Ms. Clinton in the primary and she should be in their debt. 

Ideally, I think Ms. Clinton SHOULD have met with Ms. Jobs and outlined the conditions her administration would set  for (presumably) well-intentioned “reformers” who want to get taxpayer funds  A meeting like that where Ms. Clinton spelled out her intentions would go a long way to assuage those of us who are skeptical of her true thinking on charters.  

At a policy forum in Miami before the Council of the Great City Schools, surrogates for Trump and Clinton clarified their views, sort of. Carl Paladino, remembered in New York for his racist and se…

Source: Where Does Clinton Stand on Charter Schools?

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Wisconsin House Member Seeks GAO Study on Vouchers… and Findings are Unsurprisingly Bad

October 26, 2016 Leave a comment

When he took office a few years ago, Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin House member, asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study taxpayer-funded voucher programs because he sensed that the programs were ripping off taxpayers in his home state where roughly 75% of the 32,000 students receiving taxpayer funds for vouchers to attend private schools were already enrolled in those schools. He reported his findings in an article in The Progressive and they were unsurprisingly negative. Among the findings:

…some taxpayer-funded voucher schools do not require the same teaching credentials as public schools. The report confirmed that many taxpayer-funded voucher programs do not require teachers to meet minimum standards for teacher preparation, further calling into question the legitimacy of these programs.

….many voucher schools, according to the report, are able to cherry-pick which students they prefer. They could refuse to take in a child who might cost more to educate, such as a child with disabilities.

…taxpayer-funded voucher schools can mandate religious requirements for students as a part of admissions criteria.

…a majority of the programs GAO studied do not cap the amount schools can charge for tuition—a hefty price for schools that remain largely untested.

After elaborating on these deficiencies Pocan concludes his op ed piece with this:

Given this new verified information from a nonpartisan resource like the GAO, where do we go from here? In its report, the GAO recommends additional federal Department of Education “incorporate information about providing equitable services in the context of private school choice.” I agree. The Department of Education should provide additional guidance.

But I also think taxpayers must demand greater accountability from private voucher schools. At a minimum, they should be held to the same level of accountability—and the same standards—as our public schools. 

It is unconscionable for taxpayers to continue funding two duplicative education systems, particularly when the one can cherry-pick students and ignore educational standards and dodge showing proof they are working.

We need to have the federal Department of Education clarify the necessary steps to ensure proper oversight of this program, which appears to be a wasteful, failing experiment. After all, this should be about quality education for our kids.

If anything, Mr. Pocan is soft on the USDOE and the GAO. Giving parents more information about the equitable services is a weak recommendation based on the findings he highlighted in their report. It is not only“unconscionable for taxpayers to continue funding two duplicative education systems” it is unconscionable for the USDOE to allow one of those “systems” to “cherry-pick students and ignore educational standards and dodge showing proof they are working” and even MORE unconscionable for the GAO to allow such a thing to occur once it found it happening. In the end the federal Department of Education needs to do more than “clarify the necessary steps to ensure proper oversight of this program”. It should take steps to ensure that programs that “cherry-pick students and ignore educational standards and dodge showing proof they are working” are summarily closed and compelled to refund their funds to the taxpayers who were bilked.


NPR’s Story on Teacher Attrition Underscores REAL Problem With Schools— And it ISN’T Teachers!

October 25, 2016 Leave a comment

NPR reporter Eric Westervelt’s recent report on four teachers who gave up their jobs after attaining a continuing contract illustrates everything that’s wrong with the way public schools are operating today and underscores the fact that the teachers who leave the profession are not those who struggle. On the contrary, Westervelt’s sampling indicates that teachers leave out of frustration about the lack of resources, the emphasis on testing, the toxic environment resulting from the anti-union legislation in many states, and– most sadly, because there is an emphasis on promoting students to the next “grade level” even if they aren’t actually learning the material presented in the classroom.

In each of these cases, the desire to run schools-like-a-business is driving teachers out of the profession. Schools emphasize testing and promotion because the metrics used to determine success are simple and cheap. Promotion rates and test scores, neither of which require mastery of the material by the students, are easy for the public to understand, inexpensive to calculate, and lend themselves to ranking and rating schools and— when invalid algorithms are used— teachers. Schools batch students in “grade levels” based on age and expect them to advance in lockstep through those “grade levels” because that’s the way a product that is manufactured progresses through a manufacturing process. Teachers are discouraged from being in unions and schools are starved of resources because government officials want to limit the costs to taxpayers in the same way that Walmart, for example, strives to limit overhead. The “overpaid teacher” meme is so ingrained today that asking teachers to pay for resources does not seem unfair to “cash-strapped-and-overburdened” taxpayers. The result, as Linda Darling Hammond states in Westervelt’s article, is “Teachers who are well prepared leave at more than two times lower rates than teachers who are not fully prepared”. A vicious circle is in place, especially in those districts with the tightest budgets— the districts serving the children with the greatest needs. Changing this vicious circle will be difficult. It will require the public to see the flaws in the “business model” and the merits of a developmental approach toward teaching and learning. It will require the public to have faith in “secular government schools” instead of schools operated by the “efficient” business sector or religiously affiliated schools. It will require a realization that a quality education, like any quality product, costs more than a shabby product. And it will require a willingness for affluent parents who understand all of this to be willing to pay higher taxes to help their less advantaged counterparts. Those who can afford high priced homes in districts that operate schools with robust programs and who pay teachers well will need to help out those children who had the bad luck to be born into families that struggle economically. When the minds and hearts of the public change, public schools can change for the better as well…. but it will require time, energy, and resources to effect that change.

Obama/Duncan/King Legacy: Good Return on Investment = Good Education

October 24, 2016 Leave a comment

I was pleased to read in Politico that John King, Arne Duncan’s replacement as Secretary of Education, discovered that none of the 15 minority students in a classroom he was visiting in Coolidge Senior High School were familiar with the College Scorecard, the abominable metric devised by the Department of Education to measure the “good outcomes” students should expect from a college program. But I was also distressed to read that Mr. King found this “worrisome” because he thought this College Scorecard provided the kind of information students needed to make their decision about where to enroll in college. And what are the “good outcomes” measured by the College Scorecard? The descriptor of “Affordable Four Year Schools With Good Outcomes” offers the answer:

These four-year public colleges offer their students an affordable higher education, with relatively high salaries. As students weigh the costs and benefits of higher education, it’s especially important to find schools that can offer them the best possible outcomes. For students looking for a high return on investment, these institutions may offer good opportunities.

As progressive liberal arts majors dreaded, the government algorithm used to determine a “good outcome” is driven by the mean wages of graduates… and as a result schools offering technical degrees fare far better than those offering liberal arts degrees. This means that a school like Drexel University, my alma mater, where grads earn over $62,600 is presumably nearly twice as good as Evergreen State College, my daughter’s alma mater, where the average grad earns $32,800. This is, of course, absurd given that Drexel graduates are predominantly engineering and science majors and Evergreen graduates mostly liberal arts majors who work in social services and education.

Over the next several months we’ll read a lot about President Obama’s legacy. Sadly his legacy will include the fact that income is the primary measure of a “good outcome” when it comes to post-secondary education.

School Spending Lower Now than 2008 in 35 States… and No End In Sight

October 24, 2016 Leave a comment

One graph from the Center on Budget and Public Priorities recent report titled “After a Decade, School Investments Still Way Down in Some States” provides a good synopsis of the bad news: 10-20-16sfp-f10

The bad news on funding is even worse for high poverty districts where local property taxes have been unable to fill the gap, particularly in those districts serving children in poverty where the tax bases are low and already overburdened.

The bad news is made even WORSE YET by the fact that Federal spending on education programs like Title One and Special Education is lower as well. Title I, funding for high poverty districts, has declined by 8.3% since 2010 and Special Ed funding is down by 6.4% over that same time period.

And to add insult to injury, spending on school facilities has declined by $28 billion or 37 percent between fiscal years 2008 and 2014 (the latest year available), after adjusting for inflation and employment i education has declined by over 220,000 while enrollments have increased by over 1.1 million during the same time period. This has not only hurt local school districts but eliminated jobs in education and construction, not to mention jobs lost due to the loss of purchasing power in schools as their budgets diminish.

And the real kicker is that in five of the states with the deepest cuts and three other states who cut resources to schools they also cut personal and corporate tax rates during that same time period, presumably on the theory that the savings to the wealthy would trickle down to the schools.

Spending on schools matters, as parents in affluent districts know well. That is why their property taxes and/or fees for public schooling have increased along with their housing values. It would be hopeful if either Presidential candidate saw this as an issue, but neither one has spoken out on the issue and to the bet of my knowledge no Governor is basing his or her platform the need to spend more on public education. Instead, canards about runaway spending on schools are repeated and the need for “reform” is echoed… but the evidence shows that money makes a difference. Too bad evidence doesn’t matter in this day and age.

All Work and No Free Play is a Toxic Mix: Enter the “Playborhood”

October 23, 2016 Leave a comment

The “Anti-Helicopter Parent’s Plea: Let Kids Play” in today’s NYTimes Magazine offers a new name for an old idea: the “playborhood”. The article, by Melanie Thernstrom, describes the effort Silicon Valley parent Mike Lanza had to make to provide his children with the opportunity for free play. Having grown up in a neighborhood where play was unstructured and thus required imagination and initiative on the part of children, Mr. Lanza was distressed at what he witnessed in Silicon Valley as a parent:

Mike found himself up against the fact that in America, the ethos of wealth and the ethos of community are often in conflict: Part of what the wealthy feel they are buying is privacy and the ability to be choosy about whom they socialize with. Mike was determined that his kids would not only know their neighbors but would also see them, every day.

And so Mr. Lanza constructed a free-range play area in his back yard that included many dangerous features and a complete lack of structure and adult supervision:

He designed big neon-yellow plastic signs like those used to warn of wet floors, emblazoned with an icon of children playing and the word Playborhood. He invited kids to parties and gave the signs to their parents, to put in their yards and on the road in front of their houses so their children could “reclaim the streets from cars.”

His notions of free play were not completely embraced by his neighbors, one of whom was Ms. Thernstrom, and some of his ideas of freedom are a little over the top (e.g. allowing his sons to play on the 25′ high roof of their house), but the notion of de-emphasizing achievement and emphasizing liberty resonated with me. Mr. Thenstrom describes the typical Silicon Valley parent’s perspective on child-rearing and offers Mike Lanza’s contrary vision of childhood, which matches my perspective:

 Just as Silicon Valley leads the way in smartphones, Silicon Valley parents think they should be producing model kids, optimized kids, kids with extra capacity and cool features: kids who have start-ups (or at least work at one); do environmental work in the Galápagos; speak multiple languages; demonstrate a repeatable golf swing; or sing arias. To a comical extent, parents here justify the perverted ambition through appeals to research (enlarging the language center of the brain and so forth) while ignoring research on the negative effects on children of being micromanaged.

“What strikes me is that there is this extraordinary level of anxiety,” Mike told me. “Parents don’t have fundamental faith in their offspring.” He dislikes the vast expansion of the role of parenting into every aspect of children’s lives, including curating their children’s hobbies with excruciating care, and he says he aspires to be “the opposite of a tiger parent.” “As a libertarian, one of the biggest problems we have in American society is that children don’t have enough freedom” — children thrive on benign neglect. “Look, there is always a power struggle between children and adults,” he says. “One way to see the present is that the children have been decimated.It’s not good for children that adults have so much control over them.”

One of the books that influenced my thinking about parenting was Neil Postman’s The Disappearance of Childhood. Written in the 1980s, Postman decried the loss of freedom children were experiencing because of the desire of parents to ensure their children were safe and successful. He lamented that the self-regulated pick-up games he experienced as a child were being replaced with formal leagues governed by adults and that the opportunities he had to explore freely in his neighborhood was being lost as anxious parents organized play dates. Thirty years later it seems that the concept of neighborhoods requires an intentionality that used to occur organically, and too many children are suffering from loneliness as a result.

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Christian Science Monitor Asks If Satanists Should Be Allowed to Form Clubs in School… and the Answer is Clear

October 22, 2016 Leave a comment

In an op ed piece in Wednesday’s online version of the Christian Science Monitor staff writer Rowena Lindsay poses the question “Should Satanist Be Allowed to Run After School Clubs in Public Schools?”. The answer is clearly “Yes”. As Ms. Lindsay notes in her articles in a 2001 Supreme Court ruling (Good News Club vs. Milford Central School) the court ruled that the government cannot discriminate against free speech in “limited public forum” – such as after-school clubs in public schools. Those who support Christian clubs are, in many cases, opposed. Based on the CSM’s overview of the issue, though, they don’t have the Constitution on their side:

Rather than advocating evil and devil-worship, the club meetings will focus on games and activities to promote free thinking, according to Lilith Starr, founder of the Satanic Temple of Seattle. After School Satan Clubs have been proposed in Atlanta, Detroit, Washington, Portland, Ore., Tacoma, Wash., Salt Lake City, Tucson, and Los Angeles, and while theses clubs may also be protected under the US constitutional right of freedom of speech and religion, many parents are not happy.

“We believe strongly in religious plurality and we fight for equal representation for all religions,” Lilith Starr, a Harvard graduate, told the Los Angeles Times. “Whenever religion enters the public sphere, like the Good News Club at public schools, we take action to ensure that more than one religious voice is represented, and that is our intent with the After School Satan Club.

From my perspective Ms. Starr is doing a tremendous public service by engaging the communities in a dialogue about where public support for schools should begin and end. School districts who open the door for any religiously affiliated organization would be hard pressed to close the door on any particular religion and those who close any door would be hard pressed to demonstrate an open and inclusive ethos. In my opinion public schools should serve as a marketplace for ideas and, to the end, should offer as many opportunities for civil public debate on issues as possible and offer students as many avenues to explore as possible.

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