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Portland OR’s Hears a Cautionary Tale About Good Guys With Guns… and Illustrates How Costs WILL Shift in the Future

December 17, 2018 Leave a comment

Elise Herron’s Willamette Week story of the harrowing experience of a Beaverton school district student who was accused of stealing a calculator illustrates everything that is wrong with “hardening” schools… and the fiscal realities facing Portland Schools in their effort to secure more police is even more harrowing!

The description of an incident that involved Gregory McKelvey, a student of color, when he attended middle school in Beaverton OR, a suburb of Portland, opens the story:

“He got a warrant to investigate me for a stolen calculator,” McKelvey writes, “that I didn’t steal. He kicked down my door after school one day with eight other cops in riot gear with guns drawn on my Grandma.”

McKelvey alleges he and his grandmother were held at gunpoint as officers trashed his room and confiscated belongings. He says he spent the next few years “always terrified” at school.

It also led to Mr. McKelvey becoming an anti-SRO activist.. for good reason:

“The problem is, for many people, that cop is not a good guy,” McKelvey says. “I think that a lot of white people and white parents that hear these stories think that it’s just so outlandish and outrageous that it couldn’t be possible because it doesn’t happen to their kids. But it happens to so many kids that the stories are just going to continue to flood in.”

McKelvey hopes that sharing about his experiences with his school resource officer will shed light on how police presence affects students of color.

“The focus on the calculator I know seems outrageous,” McKelvey says, “but I would prefer the focus to be on years long intimidation of the threat of arrest [students of color experience] when white kids don’t have to deal with that. They get detention.”

As bad as Mr. McKelvey’s experiences were, the decision of the Portland School Board to spend $1,000,000 to add more nine SROs is even worse. Prior to this year, the POLICE budgeted the SROs. By assuming the fiscal responsibility for the SROs the Portland School Board is spending precious resources on enforcement instead of using those funds to provide more counsellors, more mental health workers, and more support for students. In effect, fear has trumped love in Portland. No wonder students of color are angry.

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Robert Reich on the Perils of Privatization in Public Services

December 16, 2018 Leave a comment

Robert Reich’s blog posts regularly appear in several progressive blogs and on Facebook posts from friends who are Bernie Sanders supporters. One of his recent posts, Privatization Can’t Solve Our Country’s Ills, offers five instances where privatization should be avoided, with specific Mr. Reich’s examples regarding public education italicized:

1. Don’t privatize when the purpose of the service is to bring us together – reinforcing our communities, helping us connect with one another across class and race, linking up Americans who’d otherwise be isolated or marginalized. 

…This is why we value public education and need to be very careful that charter schools and other forms of so-called school choice don’t end up dividing our children and our communities rather than pulling them together.

2. Don’t privatize when the service is less costly when paid for through tax revenues than through prices set by for-profit corporations. 

In the case of public education, don’t tout tax savings when profiteers are pocketing large sums and at-will employees are underpaid.

3. Don’t privatize when the people who are supposed to get the service have no power to complain when services are poor. 

This is why for-profit schools are located primarily in low income areas.

4. Don’t privatize when those who are getting the service have no way to know they’re receiving poor quality. 

The marketers of for-profit colleges, for example, have every incentive to exploit young people and their parents because the value of the degrees they’re offering can’t easily be known. Which is why non-profit colleges and universities have proven far more trustworthy.

5. Finally, don’t privatize where for-profit corporations face insufficient competition to keep prices under control. 

This is where the profiteers hope that public education heads…. because it is exactly where tech corporations and Big Oil have “evolved”.

Mr. Reich concluded with this paragraph:

In other words, for-profit corporations can do some things very well. Including, especially, maximizing shareholder returns. But when the primary goal is to serve the public, rather than shareholders, we need to be careful not to sacrifice the public interest to private profits.

A video at the end of the post is worth watching….

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Chicago: A Happy Ending to the Charter Teachers Strike

December 14, 2018 Leave a comment

Because I doubt that the reporting on this strike will focus on the humanitarian efforts of the union, I am glad that Diane Ravitch flagged Harold Meyerson’s coverage of this provision:

“As a conclusion of their five-day strike—the nation’s first at charter schools—the teachers not only secured raises for themselves but also a groundbreaking provision to protect their students, whom the union’s attorney described as “overwhelmingly low-income Latino,” from the agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (aka ICE).

via Chicago: A Happy Ending to the Charter Teachers Strike

I’m a Postal Worker. If You Get Mail in a Small Town or Suburb, Listen Up!

December 14, 2018 Leave a comment

The costs to deliver mail, internet, medical services, and schools to rural areas is higher no matter who provides it… but if you think the privatization of these services will result in competition that will, in turn, lower costs, Ive got a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn…. and a computer at home that cannot be connected to broadband…

Source: I’m a Postal Worker. If You Get Mail in a Small Town or Suburb, Listen Up!

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“You’re Worth $1 Trillion. Why Do You Need Our $3 Billion?” Angry New Yorkers Confront Amazon Execs at City Council Meeting

December 14, 2018 Leave a comment

MAYBE the public is waking up to the impact of these kinds of tax breaks for corporations… I hope that if Amazon IS rejected in NYC that the city will redirect the $$$ they wanted to “invest” in Amazon into their sagging infrastructure… it will pay back a whole lot more in the long run than Amazon

Source: “You’re Worth $1 Trillion. Why Do You Need Our $3 Billion?” Angry New Yorkers Confront Amazon Execs at City Council Meeting

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“Knowledge Building”, Like Test Scores, Correlates with Poverty

December 13, 2018 Leave a comment

Forbes education writer Natalie Wexler’s recent article, “Why Knowledge Building Curricula Matter More Than School Choice” overlooks several fundamental realities. Contrasting the positions of “choice” critic Diane Ravitch and Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the pro-charter Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Ms. Wexler analyzes school choice to the choice one can make when purchasing toothpaste. She asserts that such a choice is bogus because:

…the vast majority of schools—especially at the elementary level—offer the same dangerously flawed approach, regardless of whether they’re charters or not.”

And what is that “dangerously flawed approach?

Government ratings focus on annual reading and math scores, just as the toothpaste ratings focused on yearly cavity rates. Schools can sometimes boost test scores in the elementary years by focusing on comprehension “skills.” But, as cognitive scientists have long known—and as few educators, education professors and education reformers are aware—the most important factor in comprehension is background knowledge. In high school, when the classwork and the tests start assuming more knowledge and vocabulary, things fall apart.

Kids with highly educated parents arrive at school with more knowledge and vocabulary and continue acquiring it outside school… (and) that enables them to get higher test scores, because they’re better able to understand the reading passages. But their schools get the credit, regardless of whether they actually provided the knowledge.

In Ms. Wexler’s world, the lack of a curriculum based on knowledge-building is the problem, a problem that she believes is slowly being addressed:

The good news is that several elementary curricula that do focus on building knowledge have recently been developed, and an increasing number of schools—in both the charter and traditional public school sectors—are adopting them. But they still constitute only a small fraction of the total, and school rating systems, which place primary weight on test scores and little or none on curriculum, don’t help parents find them.

But Ms. Wexler’s world, like that of E.D. Hirsch, the founder and chairman of the Core Knowledge Foundation, poverty is an immaterial exogenous factor and test scores that measure “core knowledge” replace those that (presumably) measure academic achievement. And that world, devoid of the realities of poverty and politics, has nothing to do with the real world public education lives in.

Ms. Wexler concludes her essay with this analysis of the school choice debate:

I agree with Pondiscio that it’s unfair for wealthier parents to have the ability to choose a school while lower-income parents don’t. And I agree with Ravitch that charter schools have drained resources from traditional public schools and made it harder for many to succeed. But I also think that, given the far more fundamental problems with our education system, those issues are largely beside the point.

Unfortunately, by viewing the “fundamental problem with our education system” as being the lack of a curriculum based on “knowledge building” Ms. Wexler overlooks the REAL fundamental problems, which are the underlying disparities in preparedness for school caused by poverty and the overriding desire to use standardized testing to measure “school effectiveness”.

Teaching is Not the Job I Took on in 1970… It’s Far More Demanding and Far Less Rewarding Intellectually and Financially, and Far

December 13, 2018 1 comment

At the end of last school year, teachers in at least six states rose up to protest their wages and working conditions. Why? A story at the beginning of the school year identified the cause in a from page article:

….The country’s roughly 3.2 million full-time public-school teachers (kindergarten through high school) are experiencing some of the worst wage stagnation of any profession, earning less on average, in inflation-­adjusted dollars, than they did in 1990, according to Department of Education (DOE) data.

Meanwhile, the pay gap between teachers and other comparably educated professionals is now the largest on record.In 1994, public-school teachers in the U.S. earned 1.8% less per week than comparable workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a left-leaning think tank. By last year, they made 18.7% less. The situation is particularly grim in states such as Oklahoma, where teachers’ inflation-adjusted salaries actually decreased by about $8,000 in the last decade, to an average of $45,245 in 2016, according to DOE data. In Arizona, teachers’ average inflation-adjusted annual wages are down $5,000.

Whether EPI is left leaning is immaterial since numbers do not lean to the left or the right: they only go up and down and, in the case of relative wage comparisons, cannot be skewed. And anyone who argues that a decline in salaries has been offset by higher spending on supplies or improvements in working conditions would be wrong: spending has declined absolutely in a majority of states and the consequences are obvious in all school districts except those that serve the most affluent children:

The decline in education funding is not limited to salaries. Twenty-nine states were still spending less per student in 2015, adjusted for inflation, than they did before the Great Recession, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, leaving many public schools dilapidated, overcrowded and reliant on outdated textbooks and threadbare supplies.

To many teachers, these trends are a result of a decades-long and bipartisan war on public education, born of frustration with teachers’ unions, a desire to standardize curricula and a professed commitment to fiscal austerity. This has led to a widespread expansion of charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, and actions such as a move in the Wisconsin legislature in 2011 to strip teachers’ pensions and roll back collective bargaining rights. This year, Colorado lawmakers voted to raise teachers’ retirement age and cut benefits.

But what Time Magazine fails to mention is its complicity in this “…decades-long and bipartisan war on public education” that “…led to a widespread expansion of charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated“. These covers from a decade ago illustrates how Time and Newsweek, then even more widely read than they are today, covered public schools:

Contrast that with the three covers Time used to at long last recognize how teachers have been short-changed over the past 25 years:

Teaching is much harder now than ever, and yet we continue to celebrate billionaires who fund charter schools and lionize tyrants like Michelle Rhee who promise to sweep “dead wood” out of schools…. and we then wonder why it is increasingly difficult to find college graduates who want to enter teaching.

As one who sat across from the NEA and AFT for decades, it might be surprising to see MY thinking on this issue: the best hope for public education is an expansion of unions. I can recall discussing the stagnation of unions in the late 1990s with the union president in an upstate New York school district. She was lamenting how difficult it was to find younger teachers who were willing to put in the extra hours necessary to take on leadership roles in the school and especially saddened to find the more and more of the new teachers we were hiring were not enthusiastic about paying their dues. She recalled the strikes that unions led in the late 1960s and early 1970s in NYS that led to the (then) decent wages, benefits, and working conditions. MAYBE data like that gathered by EPI and stories about teachers like those featured on the September 2018 Time magazine covers will restore the teachers’ collective understanding of how unions helped them achieve the levels of compensation and begrudging respect of the communities they served. There was no agency shop when unions first formed… there was only mis-treatment by heavy-handed boards and legislators that compelled teachers to band together. MAYBE 2019 will be the year that teachers re-form unions to push back against school “reform”.