Has Privatization Benefitted the Public? | naked capitalism

April 9, 2019 Leave a comment

To ensure public acceptability, some benefits accrue to many in the early stages of privatization in order to minimize public resistance. However, in the longer term, privatization tends to enrich a few but typically fails to deliver on its ostensible aims.
— Read on www.nakedcapitalism.com/2019/04/has-privatization-benefitted-the-public.html

It is easy to see how this analysis applies to public schools… and sad to know how few people are aware of this…

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Washington Post’s Explains DeVos’ Complicated Shell Game Involving ESAs, Justifiably Awards Her 3 Pinocchios for Lying

April 9, 2019 Leave a comment

As Washington Post writer Salvador Rizzo’s article on Betsy DeVos’ latest budget illustrates, the ALEC gambit of Education Savings Accounts is easy to sell to voters under the rubric of “choice” and complicated to explain as a device to siphon scarce tax dollars out of the pockets of public employees and into the pockets of billionaires. Here’s the way the gambit works:

Billionaires donate a large sum of tax deductible money to a charitable “Education Savings Account” that a presumably “needy” family can use as a de facto voucher to attend a school of their choice if their child has the misfortune of being assigned to a “failing school.” The effect of this writ large is that the federal government loses income— in the case of the DeVos budget $5,000,000,000 worth— and local districts are “held harmless”. The fact that the funds lost at the federal level are not necessarily those earmarked for schools is offset by the fact that at the same time as Ms. DeVos is advocating for this income loss at the Federal level she is also proposing a budget that cuts $8,800,000,000! In the words of Mr. Rizzo: “A clever bureaucratic design cannot paper over the reality of money going in and out.” 

If this concept were floated in a world where the use of these funds for sectarian schools or unregulated for-profit schools was prohibited it might be a means of helping “needy” children escape from “failing” schools. But the world we live in isn’t set up that way. In the world we live in STATES get to define which schools are deemed to be “failing” and too often they base that determination on flawed metrics that identify over 70% of the public schools as deficient. In the world we live in STATES get to define which students are deemed to be “needy” and too often they base that determination on income levels that identify over 70% of the families as requiring subsidies to attend non-public schools— including those families who are already enrolling their children in those schools. In the world we live in STATES get to pass legislation based on the same kind of “clever bureaucratic design” and end up diminishing STATE funds away from their budgets while diminishing funds for public schools since most state funding formulas are based on enrollments.

Long story short: if this kind of “clever bureaucratic design” was limited to the federal government it wouldn’t be nearly as bad as it is if STATES were not using the same “clever bureaucratic design” to cut public school funding. As Woodward and Bernstein learned decades ago when they were unravelling the Watergate scandal, if you want to find the source of a problem… follow the money. And in this case the money is leaving the pockets of teachers and going into the pockets of the billionaires who get tax deductions when they make contributions to Education Savings Accounts.

Jeff Bryant’s Three Questions Wreaked Havoc at the US Department of Education… But Shine Light of Duncan’s and Devos’ Lax Oversight of Charters

April 9, 2019 Leave a comment

As noted in a previous blog post, Jeff Bryant co-authored a recent report demonstrating that billions of federal dollars were wasted on charter schools that never opened or operated for only a short period of time. One of Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism posts over the past weekend drew from one of Bryant’s recent articles in AlterNet describing how three questions he posed to several Department of Education bureaucrats reportedly “created havoc” in that department. It seems that during the Obama administration some of the charter schools that received large sums of money from the federal government basically took the money and ran. As a result a directive was issued requiring that some kind of audit be issued by any entity receiving funds for charter schools. That, in turn, led to Mr. Bryant’s recent inquiry at the Department of Education. He wrote:

This is to inquire about the current grant application review process used for the Charter Schools Program Grants to State Entities. Specifically, in 2015, the Department published an “Overview of the 2015 CSP SEA Review Process.” My questions:

  1. Can you provide a similar document describing how the grant review process is currently being conducted for the Charter Schools Program Grants to State Entities?

  2. If not, can you briefly comment on how the grant review process used for the Charter Schools Program Grants to State Entities aligns with or varies from the Overview referenced above?

  3. Regarding a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to State Education Agencies in 2015 emphasizing the importance of financial accountability for charter schools receiving federal dollars, was there any follow-up by the Charter School Program to ascertain how many SEAs complied with this request and what was the nature of the new systems and processes put into place by SEAs to provide for greater accountability?

Send on March 8, the emails he received a voice mail in response on March 15. Here’s Mr. Bryant’s recounting of what happened (or more accurately what DIDN’T happen) next:

On March 15, I received a voicemail message from an official in the public affairs division of the department asking me to call her back. The message started out nice enough but then veered toward criticism. “Apparently you have sent his request to multiple people,” she said (emphasis original), “and that just creates havoc for everyone.”

When I immediately called her back, I explained I had merely sent my inquiry to the contacts provided on the relevant sections of the department’s website. “That’s understandable,” she replied, but for “future reference” I was told to send inquiries to “a director”—though I’m not sure who that is. And I was told again my questions had “created havoc” in the office but that department staff members were “working on it” and would “take a few days.”

As of this writing, I’ve yet to receive any other replies.

Mr. Bryant went on to report that this kind of stonewalling regarding the performance of charter schools is nothing new: it happened in the Obama administration as well as the Trump administration. The sentiment in favor of charters and opposed to “traditional” public schools seems to be baked into the DNA of the department. Here are the concluding paragraphs of Mr. Bryant’s report:

On the issue of how a federal agency could allow charter operators to rip off American taxpayers with impunity, and generally suffer no adverse consequences for their acts, DeVos acknowledged that waste and fraud in the charter grant program had been around for “some time.”

That much is true.

It was under Arne Duncan’s watch that the federal charter grants program was greatly expanded, states were required to lift caps on the numbers of charter schools in order to receive precious federal dollars, and the administration Duncan served in insulted public school teachers by proclaiming National Charter School Week on dates identical to what had always been observed as Teacher Appreciation Week.

And most of the wanton charter fraud we detailed in our report that ran rampant during the Duncan years is now simply continuing under DeVos, with little to no explanation of why this is allowed to occur.

So at least we have that clear.

When and will it change? That is a question every candidate for President in the Democratic party should be asked and their answer should be heeded… for if it isn’t the “waste and fraud in the charter grant program” that has been around for “some time” will certainly continue in perpetuity.

A Debate Over the word “Democracy” in Michigan’s Social Studies Curriculum Lays Bare Conservatives’ Opposition to the Term… and the Concept

April 8, 2019 Leave a comment

A front page article by Dana Goldstein in today’s NYTimes should give everyone in the nation pause. Titled “Is the US a Democracy? A Social Studies Battle Turns on the Nation’s Values“, the article describes a five-year battle over the definition of the government of our country. In a country where it is seemingly impossible to achieve consensus on the teaching of subjects like reading and mathematics— let alone evolution, climate change, and reproduction— it is not surprising that reaching a consensus on social studies is difficult. But unlike the debates where the facts are clear, social studies content focuses on shared values, and as one who worked in public education for four decades I would have thought that politicians, parents, teachers, and voters would readily agree that we live in a democracy. I write this knowing that I do not believe it is the case— but believing that no organized group would want to argue the fact. As Ms. Goldstein writes, though, I am off-base with that presumption: a proposed revision of Michigan’s standards drops the word “democratic” from “core democratic values,” and reduces the use of the word “democracy”. Why?

The changes were made after a group of prominent conservatives helped revise the standards. They drew attention to a long-simmering debate over whether “republic” is a better term than “democracy” to describe the American form of government.

That the two sides in that tussle tend to fall along party lines, each preferring the term that resembles their party name, plays no small part in the debate. But members of the conservative group also brought to the table the argument that K-12 social studies should be based on a close, originalist reading of the United States’ founding documents.

They contended that the curriculum ought to focus more on the nation’s triumphs than its sins.And they pushed for revisions that eliminated “climate change,” “Roe v. Wade” and references to gay and lesbian civil rights.

Given a desire to base social studies on “a close, originalist reading of the United States’ founding documents”  the elimination of the terms “…”climate change,” “Roe v. Wade” and references to gay and lesbian civil rights” makes perfect sense! After all, the founders didn’t want to allow anyone but white, male landowners to vote. And those who penned the original documents could not foresee the impact that industrialization, advances in medical science, and changing morays might have nearly 250 years in the future.  Indeed, the founders realized that they were not writing a set of commandments since they provided a means of amending their original document, probably because they realized that 250 years prior to the writing of the Constitution literacy was barely in place and the notion of democracy was fanciful given the monarchies and feudal economic systems in place.

The article describes the protracted process that carefully expanded the number of participants in the writing process as it attempted to draft a set of standards that would allow every student in the state to “see themselves” in the instruction. But despite all of the efforts to be inclusive, at this juncture the definition of our government remains elusive. Ms. Goldstein writes:

But in the days before the document was to be sent to the State Board of Education, fundamental questions about how to describe American government and citizenship had not been resolved.

It was not just that some Democratic-leaning committee members liked the term “democracy” while some Republican-leaning members preferred “republic.” The debate was really about bigger disagreements that transcended party lines: about how to deal with populism and protest, and about whether the United States is a unified entity of citizens or a conglomeration of groups divided by race, class, language and other identities.

On March 7, the heads of all the subcommittees gathered at the Historical Society of Michigan in Lansing to go through the draft one last time. The laptop screen of the head writer, a district social studies consultant named Dave Johnson, was projected onto the wall as he made last-minute revisions in a Google document.

It strikes me that process of developing the standards, something I called “management by rough draft” when I was leading schools and school districts, is an apt description of our governing model at it’s best. And when the process was complete, here’s how it ended up:

The list of core values that the standards writers eventually agreed on was “equality; liberty; justice and fairness; unalienable individual rights (including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness); consent of governed; truth; common good.”

And after months of sometimes bitter debate, the group decided these values could still be called “democratic.” As part of a compromise, the nation’s political system would be referred to primarily as “American government,” but also, in some instances, “constitutional government” and — yes — “democracy.”

But the conservative lawmaker who protested initially and whose protests led to the lengthy and contentious debate, was not pleased.

Mr. Colbeck, the former state senator who had helped write the previous draft, was displeased. Calling the nation a democracy was not “politically neutral and accurate,” he said.

As one who leans left, I agree. I believe we are now living in a plutocracy…. and I would have to believe that Mr. Colbeck and his anti-democratic colleagues who support an originalist interpretation of the Constitution would be OK with that. After all, Mr. Colbeck is a white male who owns land… HE would be able to participate in making decisions about the direction our country is headed.

In the end, Ms. Goldstein final sentence concludes that our debate about who we are will continue…. and implicitly agrees that the management-by-rough-draft will persist:

The process of retelling the nation’s history — deciding what gets left out and who is heard from — never ends.

I hope she is right… and that the pendulum that is now swung in the direction of the plutocrats who want to change the core values of our nation swings to the left.

NYTimes Article on China’s Surveillance Bears Chilling Resemblance to Hardened Schools

April 7, 2019 Leave a comment

Earlier this week the NYTimes ran an article by three journalists full of photographs illustrating how the Chinese government turned a city in the Western part of the country into a virtual prison. The plan required the hiring of hundreds of police, the installation of thousands of surveillance cameras, the systematic collection of data from those cameras, and the use of the data to segregate non-compliant and non-conforming citizens— especially Muslims— from the rest of the presumably “law-aiding” and “normal” residents. Oh… and to make the cameras function more efficiently some older sections of the city that had a maze of alleyways were demolished and replaced with open spaces that could more readily be monitored. And finally, citizens and children are coached to bring misbehavior of their neighbors and classmates to the attention of authorities and any child who acknowledges that they are being taught the Koran by their parents is separated and assigned to a re-education facility.

As one who has read and written frequently about the implicit message the hardening of schools sends to children and the potential for abuse when masses of data are collected, I found an unsettling parallel between the actions of the Chinese government and the actions our local governments and school districts are recommending when it comes to monitoring children in school. This is not the world I want to see anyone live in… and it is certainly not the world I want my grandchildren to live in… but it DOES look a lot like the world we want to create for our public schools.

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“Dog Bites Man”: Devos Denies Defrauded Students Debt Forgiveness Despite Court Order

April 6, 2019 Leave a comment

In a “dog bites man” story, the NYTimes reported that the Department of Education under Betsy Devos’ leadership has refused to comply with a court order that they forgive the debts incurred by students who were defrauded by profiteering colleges. The Times’ Erica Green writes:

The Education Department failed to approve a single application for federal student loan relief in the second half of last year, according to new department data that signals that students who claim they were cheated by their colleges cannot count on help from Washington anytime soon…

Since taking office, Ms. DeVos has tried to overhaul the 2016 process started by the Obama administration that was supposed to pave an easier road for students to secure loan relief after their colleges are found to have misled them with inflated claims of false promises of jobs. The Obama administration approved nearly 30,000 such claims, estimated at $450 million, in its last year in office. The Education Department approved 16,155 from Jan. 1, 2017 to December 31, 2018.

To translate: in the final ONE year of the Obama administration, 30,000 secured debt relief. I the first TWO years of the Trump administration 16,155— roughly half as many students secured debt relief. And contrary to Ms. Devos’ protests it has less to due with litigation by plaintiffs trying to pry more money from profiteers and more to do with the mindset of those leading the department.

Roughly midway through the article there was this exchange between Senator Dick Durbin and Ms. DeVos:

“Don’t you have a heart?” Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat, asked Ms. DeVos at a hearing on the department’s budget, where he cited 140,000 “victim students waiting on your department to give them relief so they can get on with their lives.”

“No student should be defrauded, and if fraud is involved, there are consequences, and there will be consequences,” Ms. DeVos replied. “But we should not be judging institutions by their tax status. Let’s be very honest here; there are bad actors on both sides of the equation.”

She added, with some indignance, “Let’s talk about the nonprofits that are doing a bad job, that are subject to bribes, that are lying in order to improve their U.S. News and World Report statistics,” referring to the recent college admissions scandal rocking Ivy League and other elite institutions.

Were I Mr. Durbin, I would express my complete agreement with Ms. DeVos on her final point and then pose the question of what she intends to do with those colleges who are found to be lying in order to improve their US News and World Report standings and ask what kinds of metrics her department is working on to replace those metrics…. for absent metrics like those that resulted in evidence of students being defrauded the entire college landscape will soon be dominated by snake-oil salesmen.

Ms. Devos, her boss— Mr. Trump, and the GOP are all in favor of Darwinian Caveat Emptor Capitalism where the consumer is at fault when they are misled. Maybe a form of Darwinian Democracy will result in a change of thinking in Washington DC.

An Argument to Reinstate the Draft Misses Two Points… But Makes Several That Need to be Considered

April 5, 2019 Leave a comment

Danny Sjursen, a young retired military officer, wrote a thought provoking post for Common Dreams titled “Was Ending the Draft a Grave Mistake?” He believes it was… and I tend to agree with him with a huge caveat.

Mr. Sjursen’s reasoning is that if we had the draft in place now politicians would be less likely to commit troops to unwindable wars in remote outposts and less likely to spend huge sums of money on military misadventures. His solution, “...a lottery system (with no college or other elite deferments) that gives draftees three options: serve two years on active duty right after high school, serve six years in the reserves or go straight to college and enroll in the ROTC program” is off the mark, though. Instead, I would prefer that all 18-year olds perform two years of community service in a milieu that would require them to come in contact with citizens outside of their typical orbit.

In sum, I see two major points Mr. Sjursen misses in his analysis:

First, the biggest obstacle to re-imposing the draft is the war profiteers lobby. Not only do we run the military like a business, we’ve outsourced a lot of the military functions to private corporations and those making a bundle by providing “support” are unlikely to buy into an expanded military.

And second, a universal service obligation does not require military service. It could take the form of community service. With a shredded safety net and crumbling infrastructure and a complete lack of opportunity for those raised in affluence or in segregated communities to ever cross paths with those raised in poverty or those of a different race or creed it is imperative that we find a way to restore that opportunity ASAP. A community service/military service mandate wold do that.