Bruce Baker: The Relationship Between States’ Charter Schools and Fiscal Effort

May 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch’s posts yesterday included this one which features a chart prepared by Bruce Baker illustrating the FACT that as the percentage of charters in a state increase, the funding for public education decreases. As I noted in a comment I left, this is not a bug… it’s a feature.

Source: Bruce Baker: The Relationship Between States’ Charter Schools and Fiscal Effort

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Diane Ravitch Identifies Root of Problem: BOTH Political Parties are Beholden to Wall Street… and Wall Street LOVES $$$

May 24, 2017 Leave a comment

In a New Republic article published yesterday, Diane Ravitch savages the Democratic Party for its adoption of an educational policy that mirrors that of the conservative Republicans. And this “inconvenient truth” makes it difficult for them to push back on the Trump-DeVos voucher agenda:

Democrats have been promoting a conservative “school reform” agenda for the past three decades. Some did it because they fell for the myths of “accountability” and “choice” as magic bullets for better schools. Some did it because “choice” has centrist appeal. Others sold out public schools for campaign contributions from the charter industry and its Wall Street patrons. Whatever the motivations, the upshot is clear: The Democratic Party has lost its way on public education. In a very real sense, Democrats paved the way for DeVos and her plans to privatize the school system.

While the “sell out” for campaign contributions is listed last, it rightfully gets the most play in her article as she describes the many candidates who rely on donations from hedge funders who love the idea of replacing publicly governed schools with deregulated privately operated charter schools, emphasizing the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever that these charters improve educational opportunity at all.

Her article concludes with a challenge to the Democratic Party: change their position on public education NOW!

The agenda isn’t complicated. Fight privatization of all kinds. Insist on an evidence-based debate about charter schools and vouchers. Abandon the obsession with testing. Fight for equitable funding, with public money flowing to the neediest schools. Acknowledge the importance of well-educated, professional teachers in every classroom. Follow the example of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who vetoed a bill to expand charters in March. Or Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who insists that charters employ certified teachers, allow them to unionize, and fall under the control of local school districts. Democrats should take their cue from Bullock when he declares, “I continue to firmly believe that our public education system is the great equalizer.”

There is already an education agenda that is good for children, good for educators, good for the nation, and good for the Democratic Party. It’s called good public schools for everyone. All Democrats have to do is to rediscover it.

And here’s the challenge for all of us who value public education— AND democracy: we need to find a political means of achieving the agenda Ms. Ravitch lays out if the Democratic Party does NOT take on the fight against privatization.

Are Racism and Economics the Cause of White Flight… or is it Greed and Politics

May 23, 2017 Leave a comment

This weekend the NYTimes published an op ed article by Leah Bouston, a professor of economics at Princeton, titled “The Culprits Behind White Flight”.  In the article Ms. Boustan posed this question: “Did whites leave cities for racial reasons or for economic ones?” Her unsatisfying answer, which she elaborates in detail, is that both played a role…. and while her answer is somewhat glib given the space provided in an op ed article, it is, alas, accurate.

The article might be seen by some as being too dismissive of racism. Those who leave the city because “those poor people” moved in could just as easily be leaving because “those BLACK people” or “those HISPANIC people” moved in… It is difficult to disentangle the economic issues from the race issues but it is clear that when businesses abandoned cities and towns their tax base erodes… the erosion that takes place when neighborhoods flip is more subtle but equally consequential.

In my lifetime I watched entire neighborhoods in Philadelphia “flip” from white ethnic enclaves to black and/or Hispanic neighborhoods as a result of “good ideas” like urban redevelopment, interstate highways, and “public goods” like new stadiums for professional sports teams. In some cases politicians, banks, and real estate agents and magnates worked collaboratively or in a mutually beneficial fashion to determine which neighborhoods would benefit from government and private investments and which neighborhoods would, consequently, be marginalized. In all cases of this “redevelopment”, those with money benefitted in the end. Gentrification is the latest anodyne term for this practice of “transforming” the city to make it “more livable” and, thus, more attractive to the middle class be they black or white. But gentrification has arguably contributed to the economic and racial stratification of neighborhoods within cities, creating racial and economic enclaves that isolate poor and racial minorities in the same way that city boundaries did in the middle and end of the 1900s.

Sadly, I think that our country has a notorious history for failing to accept or assimilate immigrants no matter their race or religion. It took the Irish several generations to be accepted as equal even though their skin color was the same as those who identified themselves as “American”… and the self-evident difference between blacks and whites compounds the problem of assimilation. And hate groups, like the Klan, opposed Catholics as well as Jews and blacks and Mormons… Despite these organizations inspired by hate and the racism that seemed impermeable, our country banded together in the early 1960s to enact legislation to remedy racial and economic inequality and groups seeking racial and economic justice brought cases to court that overturned laws and previous cases that were based on racial prejudice. Those legislators and jurists changed the laws… but the hearts of some have not been transformed as yet and we are now at a point where our darkest instincts are being reinforced.

So what is the answer? I think that idealistic urban dwellers MIGHT be able to facilitate integration by advocating higher taxes that would be directed strengthening neighborhood K-12 schools. If every neighborhood that was gentrified had strong neighborhood schools the whole choice apparatus would be unnecessary and the whole arcane application process that goes along with it would be unnecessary. For example, gentrification in Brooklyn has added appreciably to that borough’s tax base making it possible to provide the services needed to support the transformation of neighborhoods, setting up a virtuous circle for those who can now afford to live in the better neighborhoods. But does the borough or city do enough to help those who have been forced to reside in marginal neighborhoods or less affluent boroughs because of their race or lack of economic wherewithal? Has the borough or city thought of the upgrade of public education in the same way they’ve thought of the upgrade of public spaces and/or public transportation? Would borough or city residents be willing to pay a surtax to help upgrade neighborhood schools?

I know this: businesses and/or commuters from the suburbs who benefit from the businesses located in urban centers are VERY reluctant to pay surtaxes despite a strong moral argument that can be raised to do so. Moreover, it’s likely that requiring businesses located in an urban center to pay a surtax would result in those businesses leaving the city altogether. This has happened to many small cities up and down the east coast as businesses fled the Northeast for regions that offered tax incentives and workforces willing to accept lower wages…. before fleeing the country altogether. 

Last but not least, politicians hove failed to advocate for more government spending. I contend that their unwillingness to make a case to raise taxes to provide assistance to those who need it most contributes to the dis-integration of our public schools and the consequent disintegration of the unity that we presumably value as a country. It fuels our basest instinct— selfishness– and undercuts the moral imperative to help those who cannot help themselves. Consequently, we’ve created a system that perpetuates racial and economic segregation. 

This is not an optimistic outlook given where we are now— especially given the news of President Trump’s budget that promises to shred an already tenuous safety net.  But I remain optimistic because most of the people I know want to see a change in direction and are working locally to make change happen. A small band of Sierra Club members got our town to vote to become free of fossil fuels by 2050 and a small band of people stand on the corner of the town common on many evenings waving signs that read “Black Lives Matter”. They might be voices in the wilderness but I see them as harbingers of what will come next. 

Study Identifies 52 Genes with Links to Intelligence. What are the Consequences for Schools?

May 22, 2017 Leave a comment

The NYTimes writer Carl Zimmer reported today that scientists have linked 52 genes to “human intelligence”, a “…significant advance in the study of mental ability” that could have repercussions in public education in the future. As Zimmer writes at the outset of his article, and emphasizes throughout, these findings do NOT mean that intelligence is immutable:

These genes do not determine intelligence, however. Their combined influence is minuscule, the researchers said, suggesting that thousands more are likely to be involved and still await discovery. Just as important, intelligence is profoundly shaped by the environment.

Still, the findings could make it possible to begin new experiments into the biological basis of reasoning and problem-solving, experts said. They could even help researchers determine which interventions would be most effective for children struggling to learn.

I was frustrated to read this, because it is possible that researchers could use science to inform instructional practices… but only if the Federal government provided the funding for the kinds of research that would be required. I was even more frustrated to read Mr. Zimmer’s conclusion about actions that could be taken to rectify the proven links between genes and the presence of lead in water and the absence of iodine in certain foods. At the conclusion of his article, Mr. Zimmer wrote that Paige Harden, a psychologist at the University of Texas, who was not involved in the study, looked at the findings and concluded:

…we don’t have to wait for such studies to change people’s environments for the better. “We know that lead harms children’s intellectual abilities,” she said. “There’s low-hanging policy fruit here.” 

In a rational world where scientific findings matter, the regulating of lead would be “…low-hanging policy fruit”. But in the world we are living in today “government regulations” are viewed as a cumbersome obstacle to profit-making and, therefore, should be avoided. Here’s hoping that science prevails over politics in this battle.

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Eugene Stern: How Value Added Models are Like Turds

May 22, 2017 Leave a comment

I didn’t get a chance to react to this on my own blog… and I’m glad I didn’t because this is not only a better explanation of the flaws in Dr. Sanders methodology but also offers a more pungent alternative to using standardized achievement test scores!

mathbabe

This is a guest post by Eugene Stern, originally posted on his blog sensemadehere.wordpress.com.

“Why am I surrounded by statistical illiterates?” — Roger Mexico in Gravity’s Rainbow

Oops, they did it again. This weekend, the New York Times put out this profile of William Sanders, the originator of evaluating teachers using value-added models based on student standardized test results. It is statistically illiterate, uses math to mislead and intimidate, and is utterly infuriating.

Here’s the worst part:

When he began calculating value-added scores en masse, he immediately saw that the ratings fell into a “normal” distribution, or bell curve. A small number of teachers had unusually bad results, a small number had unusually good results, and most were somewhere in the middle.

And later:

Up until his death, Mr. Sanders never tired of pointing out that none of the critiques refuted the central insight of the value-added bell…

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Educational Choice vs. School Choice vs. the Implicit Mission of Public Schools

May 22, 2017 Leave a comment

Christensen Institute’s article on last week’s blog by Michael Horn made a distinction between educational choice and school choice, noting that while school choice is getting a lot of publicity (and notoriety), the real change in the format of public education might be emerging in educational choice. And what is educational choice? It is a method parents can use to access some aspects of schooling in traditional public schools while accessing other aspects on line or in other venues. Here’s Michael Horn’s description:

…rather than have the school control the educational experiences, as occurs in course access, a subset of parents, particularly at the elementary school level—both public and home-school—are opting to manage their children’s education and customize a mix of public brick-and-mortar school, online school, home school, and even some private school (such as private music lessons) experiences. In other words, a student might take her core academics online at home, come in to the local elementary school for arts and physical education, and then enroll in a music academy for private piano lessons. Or the core classes could be at the public school and extracurricular activities could be delivered online. All of this is possible in Florida because of FLVS’s Flex program, which allows students to attend part-time.

After describing the technological change process in detail, Mr. Horn posits that what is happening in Florida with an increasing number of parents opting for this “customized mix” of educational models is also emerging as a trend nationwide:

Outside of Florida, the emergence of a wide variety of micro-schools points to a similar phenomenon. The families who send their children to micro-schools often want an option other than home schooling that will personalize learning for their child’s needs. And they are often thrilled if it’s a stripped-down, small school that students attend a couple days a week where they can customize their children’s experience around the edges, in areas like music, science, engineering, sports, and so forth. In other words, it’s perfectly fine that the school itself offers something limited in an area because the parents will find another way to provide students with that experience. This is actually something parents of home-schooled children have done for years, but increasingly some seem to be saying that they would like some of the benefits of the local public school, for which they are paying with their tax dollars, as they do so.

Having just spent the week-end at an Air BnB site that is located in the home of two individuals who operate a small private school that fits the description of the micro-school described above, I can see one problem with this trend. If parents are allowed to access public funds to attend a school that effectively reinforces the values of the parents, it could lead to a further Balkanization of our country. The school in question reinforces that value I would like to see in all public schools. It espouses harmony with the environment; collaboration, and cooperation among students; independent thinking and learning by individual students; and and ethic of multiculturalism. But around the corner from this school, it is conceivable that another school with a militaristic, survivalist curriculum could be created. In effect you would be fragmenting the population into micro-value systems where one school would be wearing tie-dyes and another wearing camouflage and neither group would be exposed to the other. One of the implicit purposes of public education is to reinforce the notion that our country is a melting pot. That is, we are united as a nation despite our differences of religious and secular beliefs and that unity is an overarching value we share. While the housing patterns and district borders might work against this notion and might even lead cynics to declare that unity is a myth as opposed to an aspiration, I fear that encouraging the dissolution of public schools through this kind of educational choice will lead to even more Balkanization than we already have in place.

In the end, I find that Mr. Horn’s justification for moving in this direction is even more disturbing: it could save taxpayers money!

The net impact on public financing… was actually positive to the tune of roughly $400 to $500 saving per student, not insignificant in a state where total per pupil funding hovers around $8,500 in any given year.

In his closing paragraph Mr. Horn DOES acknowledge that the ultimate consequences of implementing widespread educational choice are indeterminate:

If programs like this expanded, could those savings be redirected to students most in need? And how do the students of families who avail themselves of this choice do academically, socially and from an extracurricular perspective? Many questions to be asked and answered, but this development is an intriguing wrinkle that takes us well beyond the national theme of school choice.

I like the idea of micro-schools, but only if there is some assurance that they do not isolate children from others who hold different values and beliefs. We need to maintain (or perhaps restore or even impose) economic, racial, ethnic, and religious diversity in public schools if we hope to change the national trend of corrosive divisiveness. If we hope to make that change in the future, we need to make it happen in public schools today.

More on DeVos-Trump Budget from Jeff Bryant

May 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Blogger Jeff Bryant digs deeper into the DeVos-Trump USDOE budget and finds even more disturbing information on how education funding will be redirected away from children raised in poverty and toward school choice programs. In a post picked up by Common Dreams, Bryant writes:

Trump and DeVos would take $1 billion out of the federal government’s Title I funds – money sent to the states to support educating poor children – to a new grant program that incentivizes those states to fund the competitive privately-operated schools such as charters and religious schools. The grant program, the Post explains is called Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success (FOCUS) that only goes to school districts that “agree to allow students to choose which public school they attend – and take their federal, state and local dollars with them.”

This proposal, often called “Title I portability,” was proposed by Republicans during the Obama administration and met significant opposition from Democrats. The Center for American Progress called the scheme “Robin Hood in reverse” and declared, “Portability actually drives resources away from high-poverty districts and into more affluent ones.”

Nevertheless, Title I portability is based on the general principle that education funding should “follow the child” – a misguided practice many Democrats espouse also – so it continues to live on in the foundation of all school choice initiatives.

What Bryant DIDN’T note in his post is the irony of the GOP using the same carrot-and-stick gambit to promote choice as the Obama administration did in Race To The Top to promote adoption of the Common Core. So much for abandoning the principle of the Federal government dictating to state and local districts!

Bryant closes his post with these paragraphs, which provide some degree of comfort for those of us who believe the DeVos-Trump budget is a disaster… but the final, blog faced sentence tells a chilling truth:

Not many people who’ve already had a chance to comment on this education budget, including Post reporters who brought it to light, think it has much of a chance of getting through Congress.

The circus of scandal that is sidetracking the Trump administration’s plans for tax reform, healthcare, and infrastructure may thwart any progress on his education plan too. But let’s be clear that this budget reflects the education values that have guided, for years, an agenda to privatize public education.