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New Orleans Tribune’s Withering Editorial Shines a Light on Failure of “Reform”

November 23, 2017 Leave a comment

In an editorial that excoriates the “reform” movement in their city, the New Orleans Tribune bluntly outlines the shenanigans that took place at all levels in order to reinforce their “success” narrative. Near the beginning of their extended editorial, the writers offer this grim description of how the takeover by privatizers affected parents:

Schools opening.

Schools closing.

Schools changing from one charter manager to another.

A tortuous admissions in which parents crossed their fingers and hoped—no prayed—that some computer algorithm’s random selection would work in their favor. It was also a process that some schools were allowed to exclude themselves from altogether.

This brings us to the bogus notion of school “choice” that reformers have held up as a blessing for parents and students, when, in fact, the only entities that exercise any real choice in admissions have been the charter schools—not parents, not students.

Unelected boards not bound to parents or taxpayers determining school policies and deciding how money is spent.

Many parents even uncertain as to who they could or should call if they had problems, questions or complaints—the OPSB member they elected or the board actually governing the school.

Kids waiting in the early dawn to catch a school bus from one part of the city to another and getting home at dusk because neighborhood schools have become non-existent. And even if there was one just a block away from home, the question became was it a quality school? And even if it was, could your child get a seat there?

In one section of their essay they describe how the state department manipulated test scores to help “prove” their reform efforts were succeeding, how they willfully hid problems they identified with some of the privatizers, and how difficult it was for parents to get the information they needed to make an informed choice about the schools:

The state education department, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Louisiana legislature have messed with the numbers since Katrina—lowering the minimum SPS to facilitate the takeover, raising it again to hide its failure. It is hard to tell up from down, especially with a LDE and other leaders that have done everything in their power to “muddy up the narrative” and “take some air out of the room” (LDE Superintendent John White’s words from 2012 taken from e-mails in which he was discussing damage control in response to revelations about sketchy private schools receiving state money through school vouchers). The LDE has even taken to withholding comprehensive data from those attempting independent analysis and research into the academic progress and education reform.

Under the state’s Freedom of Information law, citizens have requested data such as voucher programs’ exact enrollments and costs, and demographics of voucher students; test-score distributions and technical reports; details of School and District Performance Score calculations to verify accuracy and credibility; charter schools’ enrollments, charters and leases; and exact enrollment numbers. Those requests have been repeatedly thwarted by John White. So do we really know how these scores and letter grades are being determined? Do they line up with the same standards the state used to engineer the wholesale takeover of our schools? Or does the game remain rigged?

Meanwhile, a state audit released in early October 2017 panned how Louisiana’s education department monitors charter schools and urged the LDE to improve how it measures school performance of the charter schools attended by more than 53,000 public school students—most of them here in New Orleans, but also across the state.

As the editors note throughout their essay, none of these actions was a surprise to them, for they had attempted to alert the public to the failure of “reform” all along. Their conclusion, after their blistering assessment of “reform” is this:

There are those who suggest the local education battle is a lost cause and that the widespread operation of our schools by charter managers is here to stay. From time to time, we become a bit dismayed and almost accept that position ourselves. But we have fought too long for what is right, and we won’t stop demanding the complete and absolute return of local schools to real local control, even if we stand alone.

Our mantra of late—taken from the words of Dr. Louis Charles Roudanez, founder of the historic New Orleans Tribune—is that it is time for us to be leaders ourselves. It is way past time that those who portend themselves as leaders of our community take a stand on the issue of public education in New Orleans. Far too much time has already been wasted.

In New Orleans, the privatization of all public schools has not worked… and as noted in earlier blog posts the takeover by states has proven to be a failure in every state…. and 35 states have lawsuits pending on the issue of inequitable funding. Is possible that providing more funds for the schools serving children in poverty might be the best solution to this problem?

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This Just In: Reformers Like Dan Loeb are Arrogant Know-it-Alls

November 23, 2017 Leave a comment

An article by Shane Goldmacher in yesterday’s NYTimes described a series of email exchanges between billionaire charter school advocate Daniel Loeb and Richard Buery, an African-American deputy mayor. In the email chain, Mr. Loeb condescendingly admonished Mr. Buery for his lack of understanding about how charter schools were helping African American children and how Mr. Buery was putting “…(his) bureaucracy, the union puppets you serve, over the interest of little vulnerable black children and their families.” Mr. Buery’s response was priceless:

Mr. Buery, who is African-American and is credited by the de Blasio administration as the architect of its universal prekindergarten initiative, wrote in the same email chain, “Do you really not see the hubris of your lecturing me about the plight of black children and what they need?”

Mr. Goldmacher offers a short, pointed description of Mr. Loeb’s writing style in this paragraph:

Mr. Loeb, a billionaire hedge fund manager, is known in the business community for his aggressive and acidic letters to other companies he is targeting as an activist investor.

And concludes with these paragraphs describing Mr. Buery’s responses:

Despite the tenor of many of Mr. Loeb’s missives, Mr. Buery mostly replied gently.

“Everyone who disagrees with you about something isn’t despicable or a bad person. We’d all get a lot further if we could keep that in mind,” he wrote to Mr. Loeb earlier this year. “Hope you’re having a beautiful day.”

When pundits wonder why we’ve lost our civility in public discourse, they should bear in mind that “government bureaucrats” like Mr. Buery are NOT the problem. It is arrogant billionaires like Mr. Loeb who are only interested in taking over “failed public schools” the same way they invest in corporations who are on shaky financial ground.

More on Net Neutrality’s Demise

November 22, 2017 Leave a comment

After writing a post on the end of net neutrality based on a NYTimes article I opened and read Emily Wells lengthier and more detailed article in Truthdig. Ms. Wells’ article featured this quote, which is especially germane to the argument that the end of net neutrality will have a disproportionate effect on marginalized and disenfranchised communities:

Carmen Scurato, director of policy and legal affairs for the National Hispanic Media Coalition, released a statement on the unique threat the rollback would pose to people of color:

Repealing Net Neutrality is no small matter, especially for Latinos and people of color who already face substantial barriers in getting online, staying online and having high quality Internet. Despite the obstacles, we strive to tell our stories, build businesses, learn, get jobs, express ourselves, and organize online. Today, the Trump FCC is telling Latinos and other consumers that their voices will only be heard as far as their wallets can carry them, by paving the way for paid prioritization. Shifting responsibility for resolving consumer issues to the Federal Trade Commission, which currently lacks the jurisdiction and resources to effectively handle them, is a sad statement of what the FCC stands for today-corporations over consumers.

The FCC is no different than any government agency in that regard, as the oligarchs impose their will on the consumers by promoting the argument that the competitive marketplace will assure consumers that they will be taken care of.

 

Net Neutrality Is Dead… and So, Too, is the Opportunity for Technology as a Means of Achieving Equitable Education

November 22, 2017 Leave a comment

To no one’s surprise (or at least not to MY surprise), the GOP dominated FCC yesterday announced that it was repealing a set of regulations that resulted in “net neutrality”. As described in Steve Lohr’s article in today’s NYTimes, this does not appear to be a big deal for public schools. Here’s his description of th backdrop:

The net neutrality rules were passed in 2015 during the Obama administration when Democrats controlled the F.C.C.

The goal was to adapt regulations in such a way as to acknowledge the essential role of high-speed internet access as a gateway to modern communication, information, entertainment and economic opportunity. So the F.C.C. opted to regulate broadband service as a utility — making the internet the digital equivalent of electricity and the telephone.

By making “the internet the digital equivalent of electricity and the telephone” the FCC was guaranteeing that every customer served would receive the same level of service… which means that every customer would have the same rate of uploading and downloading speeds. Thus, presumably, a child who has a smartphone in public housing in the Bronx would get the same speed internet as a child in a posh penthouse in Manhattan and a school with internet access in a poverty stricken community in Appalachia would have the same speed internet as a student at, say, Phillips Exeter Academy.

But with the repeal of net neutrality, these rules no longer apply. As Mr. Lohr writes, the biggest concern of those who support net neutrality:

…is that the internet will become pay-to-play technology with two tiers: one that has speedy service and one that doesn’t. The high-speed lane would be occupied by big internet and media companies, and affluent households. For everyone else there would be the slow lane.

If this rule applied to electricity and telephone service, electrical companies and phone companies could charge higher rates for those in geographically remote areas and, arguably, lower their baseline services to offer different levels of service for different kinds of customers. This is what could easily occur with the internet where homes like mine (and similar “geographically remote” homes) that are not served by cable companies will never get the same level of service as homes a half-mile away that DO have connectivity to the cable system. Moreover, the current speeds for the internet will be the baseline moving forward, which means that those seeking higher speeds (and the computer applications that are available with hose higher speeds) will need to pay more or settle for what they have. This will inevitably result in a widening divide between the affluent and the-rest-of-us and will bake in the existing disparities forever…. and potentially make them worse in rural America where competitive markets do not exist, as Mr. Lohr explains:

But a weakness in the free-market argument, industry analysts say, is that in some regional and rural markets, households have only one internet provider available to them. That undermines the theory that competition will protect consumers.

Roger L. Kay, an independent technology analyst, predicted that larger bills — not content blocking — would be the most likely result. If the big internet and media companies will have to pay their carriers more for high-speed services, the expenses will trickle down to households.

Consumers, Mr. Kay said, “will end up paying higher prices for essentially the same service.”

The parents of children in affluent households will pay the bills and their children will have access to all the advances that occur in the delivery of services… and so will the schools that serve those children. The parents of children in poverty-stricken households and the schools they attend may opt out of the internet altogether… And, as a result, their children will miss out on learning opportunities and the economic divide will widen.

This Just In: If You Pay Teachers Less and Disrespect Them Teacher Supply Will Diminish

November 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Mother Jones reporter Patrick Caldwell offered a gloomy but predictable result of six years of Scott Walker’s leadership in Wisconsin:

Wisconsin’s attack on public sector unions has created a shortage of public school teachers, as teachers retire and look for jobs in other states and fewer young people embark on careers in education:

The school of education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison never used to have trouble attracting applicants with dreams of becoming teachers. Its graduate program is ranked fourth in the country by U.S. News & World Report, and until recently, its undergraduate program in elementary education typically received between 300 and 400 applications for its 125 spots. Now, says Michael Apple, a professor in the program, it only gets about one applicant per opening.

And why might teacher candidates in Wisconsin look elsewhere? Mr. Caldwell offers one very good reason: the compensation for teachers has dramatically fallen over the past six years! How much?

A new study from the left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) offers a new set of numbers to quantify the effects of Act 10 on public education in Wisconsin. Median compensation—salary and benefits—was $10,843 lower in the 2015-2016 school year than before Act 10, a 12.6 percent reduction.

And while the compensation for the “greedy teachers” has diminished the taxpayers did find the money needed to “attract new businesses” to Wisconsin by offering outlandish incentives to the tune of $3,000,000,000! It’s always important to attract new businesses! New teachers? Not so much! But instead of offering higher compensation, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the GOP in the state have a better idea! Lower the standards for certification!

But as Mr. Walker launches his campaign for a third term as Governor, he remains undaunted and unaffected by the facts. He’s certain he’s improved schools and will continue to do so if elected, as Mr. Caldwell notes in his closing paragraph:

Meanwhile, earlier this month Walker announced his intention to run for a third terms as governor. “I love traveling the state and hearing how the things we’re doing are helping,” Walker said in a digital ad kicking off his reelection campaign. “But there’s more to be done. Investing in training for our workers. Helping people create jobs. Making our schools even better.” But as he continues traveling the state, Walker will have to explain how the teacher shortage created by his anti-union law has improved schools.

 

When Intelligent Design is Offered, Thank the Bi-Partisan Passage of ESSA Which Enables the Spread of “Stupid Ideas”

November 20, 2017 Leave a comment

I have long believed that some kind of national standards are required in all curriculum areas, Bill Gates’ unilateral efforts to impose the Common Core via Race to the Top notwithstanding. The pushback to Mr. Gates’ initiative and Arne Duncan’s efforts to impose top-down testing resulted in the Every Student Succeeds Act, a bi-partisan bill that empowered State’s to devise their own curricula, their own assessments, and their own means of accountability.

Yesterday’s NYTimes featured an article by Cyde Haberman describing on result of this shift of power back to the States: the re-emergence of the debate on whether to include evolution in the curriculum as “scientific fact” or present it side-by-side with theories like intelligent design. And, no surprise to this blogger, the intelligent design crowd is making headway. Mr. Haberman offers a detailed description of a law passed in Louisiana and tested in courts and concludes that other states are likely to pass similar bills:

Thus far, the Louisiana law is proving to be bulletproof. No court case has been brought against it, even if Dr. Miller says somewhat dismissively that this is only because “the First Amendment protects you against imposition of religious ideas in the public schools — it doesn’t protect you against the introduction of stupid ideas.”

And Louisiana does not stand alone. Tennessee, home of the Scopes trial, passed a comparable law in 2012. Efforts along the same line have been tried in other states, including Mississippi, Alabama, Indiana, South Dakota, Missouri, Florida and Oklahoma.

With the passage of ESSA and the abandonment of the common core, expect more states to adopt curricula that abandon science… and at some point, who knows, maybe students will be required to demonstrate an understanding of intelligent design in order to earn a diploma. Nine states down… 41 to go. And for my friends in New Hampshire, please pay attention! It could happen in our state.

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School Choice Bill Advances in New Hampshire… Depressed District Budgets Sure to Follow

November 19, 2017 Leave a comment

I read with despair a brief report from AP describing the narrow passage of SB 193, erroneously referred to as “the school choice” bill. Here’s the description:

The House Education Committee last week narrowly approved an overhauled version of a Senate-passed bill that would allow parents to use public money to send children to private schools.

The bill would provide parents with the state’s basic per-pupil grant of roughly $3,000 to be used for private school tuition or home schooling.

To qualify, parents would have to have a household income less than or equal to 300 percent of the federal poverty limit, live in an underperforming school district, have a child with an individual education plan or tried unsuccessfully to enroll a child in a charter school or get an education tax credit. Opponents argued the program would violate the state constitution, which says no person shall be compelled to pay to support a religious school.

The practical impact of this is that many middle class parents who currently pay for tuitions to private schools and most of the parents who home school children will access the $3,000 voucher depriving public schools of funds they currently use to educate the children who are already enrolled in their schools. The chart below depicts the federal poverty level for the current year:

Given that the median household income in New Hampshire is $70,303 any school-aged family with more that two children is likely to qualify regardless of the school’s performance level. Furthermore, given that the definition of an “underperforming school” is fluid from year-to-year. In 2012 the New Hampshire State Department of Education identified over 300 schools as being in “need of improvement”, and that number is based largely on test results whose cut scores can be manipulated. Finally, national statistics indicate that 14.6% of New Hampshire students have IEPs. The net effect of these factors makes it probable that at least 50% of the students currently enrolled in public schools might be eligible for the $3,000 vouchers that would be made available through SB 193.

But the potential loss of revenue due to the outmigration of current students is the least of the problems for public schools. Based on data from the A to Z Homeschooling site, there are roughly 6,000 homeschooled students in New Hampshire, a number that could be marginally higher given New Hampshire’s relatively lax enforcement of homeschooling. And the Private School Review web page reports that there are 319 private schools in New Hampshire, serving 29,983 students. Assuming that half of the homeschool students and half of the private school students are eligible for and access the $3,000 voucher offered by SB 193, public schools could lose $654,000 to educate students who were not enrolled in their schools based on a formula used by Reaching Higher NH.  Given that many of those private schools are located in communities that serve children raised in poverty, the loss of the revenues will be devastating. Moreover, the funds that would be diverted from these high poverty schools would be given to parents who are relatively affluent, some of whom would be earning more than the median income for the state.

This bill was passed by a 10-9 margin in the House Education Committee, with one Manchester Democrat voting to support the bill. That legislator is clearly in a bind since the city she represents has 30 private schools enrolling over 3,374 students. But if half of those children qualify for the voucher, Manchester could lose over $61,340 in revenue to educate children who are not enrolled in the schools today but might have been at one time in their schooling. That amount is roughly the cost of one FTE teacher.

I am in the process of confirming my analysis on this… but any way one looks at this bill it is wrongheaded and detrimental to public schools in New Hampshire. Alas, that is the direction our Governor, legislature, and Commissioner want the state to take.