Why “Competitive Marketplaces” are an Awkward Fit for Education

October 21, 2016 Leave a comment

If one picture is worth a thousand words, this set of drawings is a novella worth reading.

Math with Bad Drawings


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Salon: The New York Times and the Washington Post Should Do Their Homework about Charter Schools

October 20, 2016 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch and Salon writer Steven Rosenfeld forcefully and accurately counter the NYTimes and Washington Post editorial boards. in their support for the NAACP. Bravo! 

Steven Rosenfeld, writing at Salon, notes that both the Washington Post and the New York Times warned the NAACP not to pass the resolution to halt the expansion of charter schools. Both editorials …

Source: Salon: The New York Times and the Washington Post Should Do Their Homework about Charter Schools

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963,000 Millionaires in NYC COULD Make a Positive Difference

October 20, 2016 Leave a comment

An essay by Mike Jackson in the Daily Beast has me re-thinking my stance on private donations to public schools. He opens his essay with a startling statistic: 963,000 millionaires reside in New York City! Mr. Jackson contends that asking these millionaires to pay higher taxes to underwrite public education is a bad idea because there is no way public schools could ever raise enough taxes to match the amount spent in private schools. He writes:

…Some activists and educators believe that private support for public schools isn’t “progressive.” They believe that the mere mention of the words “external” or “private” are threats to teachers and insults their understanding of the role that poverty plays in the existence of the achievement gap. In their view, the only ideologically pure way to improve public education is by demanding more public funds.

I believe there’s a practical problem with this approach. This year, the New York City Department of Education will spend $23 billion to serve just over one million students, translating to $23,000 per student. That’s roughly 25 percent of the entire New York City budget, and it’s unrealistic to think there will be the political will to raise taxes enough or cut other areas sufficiently to allow for a doubling of the education funding.

That’s likely what it would take to achieve something close to parity with private schools. At many private boarding schools, tuition now regularly exceeds $58,000 per year. Their boards then direct additional funds annually from multimillion-dollar endowments to offer scholarships to low income students.

Instead, he suggests that some of these millionaires become engaged with a particular public school by committing TIME in addition to MONEY and, in doing so, gain a better understanding of the challenges urban youngsters encounter day-in-and-day-out. That engagement, in turn, might lead the engaged millionaire to make contributions to their adopted public school in the same way an affluent parent makes donations to their child’s PTO. As Mr. Jackson notes:

The difference isn’t just money—it’s the culture of support surrounding the students. Most urban, lower-income parents don’t have the means, the time, or in some cases the education to advocate for their children in the same way a private school’s PTA can. And public schools don’t have individual boards of trustees to advocate for them.

As one of those “ideological purists” who sees the need for moe funding for schools across the board, I am opposed to funding schemes that allocate equal (and and often low) funding levels to all schools in the name of equity and then allow affluent schools to raise millions from their parents. This model DOES undercut funding equity and DOES undercut the notion of equitable opportunity for all students. But as a pragmatist, I find Mr. Jackson’s ideas appealing. In his concluding paragraphs, he notes that there are “…500 millionaires in NYC for each of its 1,856 public schools” and imagines what it would be like for children at those schools if 500 volunteers showed up at an urban school in an under-served neighborhood to help kids write better college essays. He concludes with this heartening idea:

Education reform has barely been a topic of conversation in the general election, let alone the presidential debates. But it’s one of the few areas where there is a proven path for transcending the divisiveness that characterizes contemporary politics while making measurable progress in closing the income gap and achievement gap, one person at a time.

Mr. Jackson, unlike some of his wealthy counterparts, acknowledges that money DOES matter, and also understands that the “culture of support” matters even more. His form of reform makes sense… there must be a way some imaginative and creative politician in NYS or NYC could help Mr. Jackson spread this idea around.

US Raises Social Security Taxes for “Higher Income” Americans… but not NEARLY Enough!

October 19, 2016 Leave a comment

The Wall Street Journal today reported that the social security tax “cap” from its current level of $118,500 to $127,200. It’s about time! As the NYTimes noted in an editorial on the difference between the candidate’s positions on this issue, In recent decades, “…the wage ceiling has not kept up with the income gains of high earners; if it had, it would be about $250,000 today.” And here’s a mathematical reality: someone who makes a billion dollars a year makes $2,739,726 a DAY…. or over $340,000 per HOUR if they worked an 8 hour day or just over $170,000 per HOUR if they worked 16 hours every day of the year… In effect after working just under an hour a billionaire hits the cap on social security… that is IF the billionaire even works in the sense that, say, a school teacher works…. But, according to Fox news and most Republicans we don’t want to get into this argument because it might start a class war… better we should argue about race, transgender bathrooms, and the infidelities of candidates… MAYBE in the last debate and in the final weeks of this campaign we will get into a substantive analysis of the economy and the wealth disparity that is making a mockery of the notion that everyone has an equal opportunity for success in this country… or maybe that unicorn will come to my bird feeder…


NAACP’s Call for Charter School Moratorium Invites Corporate Criticism

October 18, 2016 Leave a comment

Common Dreams shares my perspective and that of countless others that the “reformers” are failing poor and minority children and a reassessment is long overdue. The shrill voices on the sideline are an indication that the NAACP has struck a sensitive nerve among the billionaires. Kudos to them for doing so!

Despite pressure from corporate media and education reformers, the nation’s largest civil rights organization voted on Saturday to approve a resolution calling for a moratorium on charter school expansion at least until issues of non-transparency and inequity are meaningfully addressed.Saturday’s vote codified one taken by delegates to the NAACP’s national convention in July, and demands a moratorium until:

Source: NAACP’s Call for Charter School Moratorium Invites Corporate Criticism

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Middle School Social Studies Dilemma: How to Teach About Elections When Campaigns are Toxic?

October 18, 2016 Leave a comment

The NYTimes ran a thought provoking and even handed article describing the dilemma faced by Brent Warthke, an Eau Claire WI middle school social studies teacher: how do I introduce Presidential politics to a group of 8th grade students in my social studies class? Back when I attended middle school (in the early 1960s when it was Junior High School), when I taught middle school (in the early 1970s), and when I led school districts (from 1980 onward) the issue of how to teach about politics was fairly straightforward: do not display any biases and try to make certain students understood both sides of the issues being debated. This year the challenge is how to present a toxic and vulgar campaign without having students sent to the office. In the words of one middle school student quoted in the article:

“We self-censor a lot,” said Connor Felton, 12. “I think if you repeat some stuff that Trump says, you could get sent down to the principal’s office. Maybe even expelled.”

Indeed, if a student teased a fellow student who was handicapped or fat or if a male student made references to grabbing a female by her genitals or sneered about her period they would be sent to the office… not because it was “politically incorrect” but because it is demeaning, bullying, and uncivil. Similarly if a teacher or administrator overheard a group of white students jeering at a group of immigrant students they would find it intolerable and put a stop to it.

Part of public education is learning how to conduct debates civilly and to gain a clear understanding of each student’s perspective on issues. This is part of the explicit and implicit curriculum because it is part of the explicit and implicit conduct we expect from each other and we expect our police to enforce. The saddest reality of this election is that the students who are being exposed to national politics for the first time are learning what Mr. Trump, Ms. Clinton, and themes media are teaching them… and I don’t believe it’s the lesson Mr. Warthke and his counterparts are wanting them to learn about how democracy functions.

In Taking a Knee the Beaumont Bulls Get Death Threats, Racial Slurs, and….Kicked Out of League

October 18, 2016 Leave a comment

In yet another case of children leading the way in seeking racial justice, the NY Daily News’ Shaun King reports on an incident in Beaumont TX that has a chilling effect on the First Amendment, a chilling effect on young athletes across the country who want to display their solidarity in seeking racial justice, and a chilling effect on the coaches and parents who want to support their children in giving voice to their concert about the treatment of black Americans. King describes the incident in Beaumont in these paragraphs:

(W)hen the San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided during the NFL preseason to not stand for national anthem, it didn’t take long for the echoes to be heard in Beaumont. Students, coaches, and parents there not only follow the league closely, but feel like the plight of injustice in America is their own. Police brutality, wrongful arrests and racial violence plague black folk in Texas and Louisiana. Within days of Kaepernick staging his protest, the coaching staff of the Beaumont Bulls, led by head coach Rah-Rah Barber, privately discussed the possibility them taking a knee before their next game, before ultimately deciding against it. The coaches didn’t want to impose anything on the players. To their surprise, though, the young boys came to them and told them they wanted to take a knee. The shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of police just two months prior had not only shaken Kaepernick and the Beaumont Bulls coaching staff, they deeply bothered the young students as well.

So, on Sept. 10, after getting permission from league officials, the staff and students of the Beaumont Bulls football team took a knee before their game. They won 27-0 and garnered national attention for their demonstration. Within 24 hours, the kids and their families began receiving death threats and racist taunts both online and off. The executive board of the team and the league issued strong statements of support backing the boys, but within a few days it all began eroding.

With very little explanation, in spite of the previous support, the Beaumont Bulls students, staff, and parents were told by their executive board not to take a knee in their following game on Sept. 17, but they defied the request and did it anyway. Again, they won their game, and the team was unified, but the bottom was about to fall out. The boys were scheduled to have a bye the following week. During that time, the executive board made a decision that shocked the whole league. They suspended Coach Rah-Rah Barber, who was not only a great coach, but a mentor and hero to many of the boys, for the rest of the season.

The suspension was based on dubious charges and after much soul searching Coach Barber’s assistant resigned and the team, in protest, refused to attend the next practice and indicated they would NOT practice until their beloved coach was reinstated. The league’s response to this?

Determined to play a game of chicken with these young boys, the executive board decided that instead of reinstating the coaches and allowing the protests, they’d simply cancel the rest of the season — and that’s exactly what they did, the parents say. The Beaumont Bulls, in spite of paying fees for a full season, and being in the league playoff race, had the rug pulled out from under them. No sports team in the country has faced this much opposition in response to Star Spangled Banner protests.

King rightfully declared that the children in this case were exemplary and the league was shameful. This athletic program was not affiliated with public schools, but it reflects the attitude of public institutions toward political protests, and it is an attitude that I find troubling. The adults who leveled death threats to the players and taunted them with racial slurs should be punished. Coming down hard on those who make death threats and racial taunts is not an act of “political correctness”, it is an act that is necessary if we are to function as a civil society. By ignoring the misconduct of the adults who engaged in these activities and penalizing the children who silently demonstrated their opposition to “…police brutality, wrongful arrests and racial violence (that) plague black folk” the league is sending a horrible message. Here’s hoping the adults overseeing the league reconsider this decision and reinstate the Beaumont Bulls.

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