John Oliver’s Ignorance About Public Schools Is Painful

August 25, 2016 Leave a comment

While I was sent links to this by many of my progressive friends, including my daughter, and links were included on many progressive websites, like Diane Ravitch, I thought readers might want to see how “the other side” views this issue… and join me in scratching my head in bewilderment…. 

John Oliver’s most recent show repeated union talking points that parents have realized are lies that consign millions of kids to piss-poor schools.

Source: John Oliver’s Ignorance About Public Schools Is Painful

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Presidential Candidates Both Entangled with For-Profit Colleges with Questionable Track Records

August 25, 2016 Leave a comment

Much has been written over the past several months about Trump University’s horrible track record and until earlier this week I was surprised that Hillary Clinton didn’t make his oversight of his eponymous college more of a campaign issue… But then I read an article on Facebook earlier this week and one today in the NYDaily News on Bill Clinton’s service as “honorary chancellor” of Laureate University and it became clear why Ms. Clinton has steered clear of specific criticism of her opponent. Why? Well… it seems that as “honorary chancellor” Mr. Clinton was paid over $17,000,000 over a five year period that ended just before Ms. Clinton declared her run for President, Doug Becker, the founder of Laureate contributed $5,000,000 to the Clinton Foundation, and as Secretary of State Ms. Clinton made certain Mr. Becker was invited to dinners where he presumably could come in contact with people seeking college education for its citizenry. As for Laureate itself,

…one of Laureate’s largest schools in the U.S., Walden University, was found to have burdened students with the second-highest debt load of any American school, according to a 2015 study by the Brookings Institution.

Three of the five schools the company runs in the U.S. have been under what the federal Education Department calls “heightened cash monitoring” due to questions over its finances, CNN reported this week.

So while Ms. Clinton promises to “…“crack down” on for-profit schools operating in “lawbreaking” ways” her husband and the Clinton Foundation was willing to accept millions from a college whose finances were under review by the Education Department. All of this makes Ms. Clinton’s pledge to avoid privatization of public education seem hollow and any specific criticism of Mr. Trump’s “University” difficult to level. To quote Paul Simon: “Any way you look at it you lose”.


One Texas Teacher’s Note To Parents Starts National Debate on Homework

August 24, 2016 Leave a comment

Both the NYTimes and NYDaily News featured stories on a second grade teacher in Texas who sent a note home at the beginning of the school year declaring that she would not be assigning homework. The NYTimes article by Christine Hauser reported on it this way:

This month, Brandy Young, a second-grade teacher in Godley, Tex., let parents know on “Meet the Teacher” night that she had no plans to load up her students’ backpacks.

“There will be no formally assigned homework this year,” Ms. Young wrote in a note that was widely shared on Facebook. “Rather, I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success. Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside, and get your child to bed early.”

Ms. Hauser noted that this debate is not limited to a lone district in Texas:

Other conversations about homework are humming in town halls and online… (and) discussions on blogs like or reveal a belief that the workload assigned to students may be too heavy…. The National PTA and the National Education Association endorse a 10-minute guideline: Time spent on after-school work should not exceed 10 minutes a grade level a night. “That is, a first grader should have no more than 10 minutes of homework, a sixth grader no more than 60 minutes and a 12th grader no more than two hours,” the National PTA says…

Just yesterday a group of high school classmates and I debated this topic based on our experiences as students in the 1960s, parents in the 1970s and 1980s, and now as grandparents. None of us could recall being assigned any homework in the early grade levels and we all had fond memories of our childhood spending time after school wandering in the woods, playing with friends, and reading or daydreaming. We all lamented the increasing pressure applied to children children to be successful from the very outset of school, pressure that is manifested in things like mandatory homework in second grade. Indeed, I doubt that our group from the Class of 1965 would endorse the National PTA and NEA guidelines for homework: we’d prefer seeing elementary age children completely free from homework and given the opportunity to spend their free time, well, FREE. Each of us had independently come to the conclusion that Scandinavian countries, who start formal schooling later and do not rely on tests or excessive homework, have it right and our regimented system that labels children early and pushes them relentlessly has it wrong.

But as long as the public perceives schools as factories that “assemble” educated children we will continue to pile on work in the misguided belief that more work = more productivity…

Civil Rights Organizations Pushing Back Against “Reformers” Who Advocate For-Profit Charters

August 23, 2016 Leave a comment

After years of reading that “school reform” is rooted in and allied with the civil rights movement, it is heartening to read that three civil rights groups— the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, and the Southern Poverty Center— are pushing back. Sunday’s NYTimes featured an article by Kathy Zernike highlighting the emerging rift between civil rights organizations and the for-profit charter schools they portray as “...the pet project of foundations financed by white billionaires”:

In separate conventions over the past month, the N.A.A.C.P. and the Movement for Black Lives, a group of 50 organizations assembled by Black Lives Matter, passed resolutions declaring that charter schools have exacerbated segregation, especially in the way they select and discipline students.

Instead of standing on the sidelines as charter schools take over public education in urban areas, civil right groups are beginning to see the corrosive effects of charter school cherry-picking on the students left behind in underfunded public schools. As Zernicke notes:

Although charters are supposed to admit students by lottery, some effectively skim the best students from the pool, with enrollment procedures that discourage all but the most motivated parents to apply. Some charters have been known to nudge out their most troubled students.

That, the groups supporting a moratorium say, concentrates the poorest students in public schools that are struggling for resources.

But the NAACP and Black Lives Matter are not alone in their disdain for charter schools. The Clarion-Ledger, a part of the USA Today newspaper chain, reports that the Southern Poverty Law Center is filing a suit against the Mississippi state government to “…strike down the Mississippi Charter School Act” because:

The Mississippi Constitution requires schools to be under the supervision of the state and local boards of education to receive public funding. But under the act, charter schools receive public funding even though they are exempt from the oversight of the state Board of Education, the Mississippi Department of Education and local boards of education.

While only 3% of the state funds currently go to charter schools, those filing the suit know where this train is headed and want to make sure it doesn’t leave the station.

“I sent my children to a public school because I believe in traditional public schools,”Cassandra Overton-Welchlin, a plaintiff in the case and mother of two children enrolled there, said in the news release. “I’m outraged that state and local tax dollars are funding charter schools in a way that threatens the existence of important services, including services for those with special needs, at my child’s school. As a taxpayer, I expect my property tax dollars will be used to support traditional public schools, which educate the vast majority of students in Jackson.”

Here’s hoping these public actions by traditional and new civil rights groups compels “…the pet projects of foundations financed by white billionaires” from making the claim that their efforts to tap into what they call the “potentially profitable public school market” is a civil rights issue!

Governor Kasich Condemns Welfare Reform While Embracing “School Reform” That Leads to Joblessness

August 22, 2016 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed piece by former Presidential aspirant and current Ohio Governor John Kasich. In his essay, Mr. Kasich singles out the “one-size-fits-all” approach for special condemnation:

But today, it’s clear that our welfare system is still deeply flawed, thanks in part to later changes from Washington. In 2005, Congress pulled power back from the states, reducing local flexibility by enforcing a one-size-fits-all approach that sets arbitrary time limits on education and training for people seeking sustainable employment. As a result, too many lives are thrown away by a rigid and counterproductive system that treats an individual as a number, not as a person who is desperate to gain new skills and opportunities in life.

As anyone who is familiar with “school reform” realizes, Ohio was one of several states who embraced the test-and-punish model of schooling with Ohio simultaneously rushing to institute market-based deregulated charter schools to help meet the needs of those students who could not pass the graduation test the first time around. The performance of these schools drew criticism from the Fordham Institute, which is usually a reliable cheerleader for “reform”:

Using student-level data collected by the state Department of Education from 2006 to 2010, the analysts report dropout counts and rates for Ohio’s high schools, both district and charter. While the report is chock-full of data, the pieces that are most jaw dropping relate to Ohio’s virtual and “dropout-recovery” schools. For example, in 2009–10, Virtual High School, operated by Cincinnati Public Schools, had a 93 percent dropout rate (196 dropouts over the school year, relative to a baseline high school enrollment of 211) and the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) had a dropout rate of 53 percent (2,908 dropouts relative to an enrollment of 5,468). The dropout rates for Ohio’s brick-and-mortar dropout recovery schools were worse, some greater than 200 percent, meaning that these schools had more than twice the number of dropouts than their baseline enrollment. These appalling statistics should call into question the efficacy of Ohio’s virtual and dropout-recovery-school programs. Still, these statistics could be more illusion than reality, for dropping out of school tends to be a process over time rather than a discrete event. Hence, it is not resolved whether dropouts should be entirely attributed to a student’s final schooling destination—a thorny issue that the report acknowledges. For instance, consider a student who went to Cleveland Metropolitan School District in grades K–8 but then went to one year at a dropout-recovery school before dropping out. Should the dropout-recovery school be held wholly accountable? Probably not. Nevertheless, as the report highlights, there are too many “dropout factories” among Ohio’s high schools—and, as evidenced, too many of the state’s second-chance “recovery” efforts fail to get our high schoolers to the finish line.

So while he condemns the one-size-fits-all approach to welfare reform, Mr. Kasich is all in on the one-size-fits-all approach to public education and, in doing so, has created more drop outs among low income students than most states in our country… and, as the Fordham Institute notes, the drop out rates of the so-called “recovery schools”, on-line for profit schools specifically designed to help students who fail the one-size-fits-all graduation examination, are especially appalling. If Mr. Kasich wants to address job placement for 16-24 years olds, he would be wise to abandon “reform” in K-12 schooling.

If We Can Conquer the FRESHMAN Fear of Failure, Why Not Conquer the KINDERGARTEN Fear of Failure

August 21, 2016 Leave a comment

David Kirp’s Fixes column in today’s NYTimes describes an intervention used at a college that halved the failure rate of Freshman “students from disadvantaged backgrounds”. As part of their orientation to college, these incoming students were asked to either read “…upperclassmen’s accounts of how they navigated the shoals of university life” or “…were introduced to research online showing that intelligence isn’t a static trait or the luck of the genetic draw, but can grow through hard work.”  My reaction: if this works for college freshmen who have been subjected to years of schooling, imagine how influential this might be for Kindergarten students whose parents struggled in school, parents who were repeatedly given the message that they were failures, and parents who unwittingly transferred that message to their children. And if these messages can’t be absorbed by Kindergartener’s through reading or self-directed study, maybe successful “graduates” from their elementary school could visit class and explain “…how they navigated the shoals of elementary school life” or a visit from a respected community member who would explain that “… intelligence isn’t a static trait or the luck of the genetic draw, but can grow through hard work.”  And maybe the teachers and administrators in the school would learn something from the show-and-tell activities like this as well.

Crude But Accurate Tweet Rant Captures Conundrum of Towns Left Behind… and the Need to Change “The School Game”

August 20, 2016 Leave a comment

Chris Arnade, a Ph.D. physicist who worked on Wall Street for 20 years spent three years traveling around our country to places most people never see… and he came away frustrated at what he witnessed and full of insights about poverty. In a succession of 29 tweets, Arnade describes the major conundrum faced by those who find themselves stuck in towns with no future. Noting that “the elites” advise those who reside in factory towns where the factory is no more to move. But as Arnade observes, that is easy advice in the abstract but often impossible in the real world. In a tweet he rebuts that notion:

Move where? Moving is giving up on one of the few things they have. Their family. Their roots. Some also can’t move. Because obligations… Because moving means competing on a playing field built by the elites primarily for the elites… It means assuming another set of values…

Sure. Some will move. Some should move. Primarily the younger folks who buy into the system. Get an education. Get out….For the rest. Those not great at playing the school game. Those who place value on more nebulous things than .

Sh** will keep sucking

As one of the “elites” derided in Arnade’s rant I think he’s onto something. If you can’t “play the school game” or value “family and roots” or have “obligations” of one form or another, then moving out of a city, town, or backwater with no economic future is out of the question. And as things are set up now, to succeed at “playing the school game” often does mean assuming another set of values, and those are often values that place one in an uncomfortable and/or untenable position with regard to family and friends.

There IS a way out of this, though, and that is to change the rules of the school game to honor and accept those who place a higher value on “family and roots” and adapt to those who don’t strive exclusively after money. Maybe instead of seeking compliance with norms as defined by those who are good at the school game we talk to those in the community who are good at the LIFE game and adapt schooling to meet their standards.