Cory Booker Has Background, Talent to be President. Too Bad He Opposes Public Education

February 6, 2019 Leave a comment

For those who follow politics but do not appreciate the devastating impact of privatization, Cory Booker seems like a candidate for President in the mold of Barack Obama: an articulate African American with his roots in urban reform and a steady ascent up the political ladder. But there is one other area where Cory Booker has an unsettling resemblance to Barack Obama: his desire to privatize public education and, consequently, his embrace of ideas akin to those of Betsy DeVos and— yes— Arne Duncan.

For those readers who believe that a Cory Booker candidacy would improve the state of public schools, I urge you to read and bookmark this article by Jacobin’s Eric Blanc. The title, “Cory Booker Hates Pulic Schools” gives you some idea of the contents.

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Diane Ravitch’s Recent Post and Steve Nelson’s Recent Article Flag the Debate We Need to Have: How Much is Enough?

February 5, 2019 Leave a comment

A recent post by Diane Ravitch and a recent op ed article by Valley News columnist Steve Nelson underscore the need for us to have a national debate on the question “How Much is Enough?”.

How much is enough for setting income tax brackets? The debate about taxing billionaires sidesteps the question of whether higher tax rates are needed for the top 10%, or top 20% Or the question of whether roughly 50% of the voters are not required to pay ANY income tax?

How much is enough for setting the maximum taxable limit for social security? As written in previous posts, the “social security crisis” could be solved for decades if we eliminated that maximum taxable limit for social security. What aren’t we talking about that?

How much is enough for business tax breaks at all levels? I have railed against the scandalous tax breaks offered to Amazon, Foxconn, and Walmart. But it is possible that small businesses might benefit from some kind of break in their taxes and those kinds of breaks might enable them to stay open and hire local people at a living wage.

How much is enough for the privatization of public services? As a school superintendent for 29 years, there were many instances where it became clear that it was better to hire a contractor to perform work that was to hire staff members. An easy example is plowing snow. In order for school district employees to perform that task the district would need to have trucks capable of pushing large volumes of snow. Tougher questions revolve around the provision of food services, transportation, maintenance, and business support services. Arguing that ALL privatization is bad is akin to arguing that ALL taxes are bad.

How much is enough for regulation? There are undoubtedly regulations that overreach and are needlessly onerous. But the profiteers have persuaded elected officials (and voters) that anything that restricts profits is “over-regulation” and that the market will punish those who pollute too much or treat employees badly. As we witness the dismantling of the EPA, Consumer Protection Agency, and virtually all regulatory controls at the federal level voters MAY be getting to appreciate the role regulations play in their workplace and in our society in general.

How much is enough to ensure our safety at all levels (i.e. national defense spending? local police and fire departments? hardening of schools?) We need to spend SOME money for our Armed Forces and we need to ensure that we take care of those who served our country in the military… but do we need to subsidize corporations that manufacture obsolete fighters, arms manufacturers who supply weapons to our allies (like Saudi Arabia), and private contractors who supply the military at high profit margins (see the question on privatization). We need to have professional police forces and fire departments, but do the police need military grade weapons to protect small towns and suburbs? Do we need armed police officers in every school, church, and shopping mall? We need safe and secure schools, but do those schools need bullet proof windows, 24/7 surveillance cameras, and sophisticated entry mechanisms for every door?

It seems that billionaires can never have enough money and, therefore, to accumulate more and more they can never have low enough taxes. The billionaires have done an admirable job of promoting the idea that ALL taxes are confiscatory, that private businesses can operate more efficiently than government, and that big-hearted philanthropists can move more quickly to solve problems than democratically elected officials and the administrators they hire. Therefore, they have been able to persuade voters that privatization and philanthropy are the answers to the problems facing our country.

As the man elected to the POTUS indicates, the billionaires have done an excellent marketing job. And more importantly, as the appointees to courts over the past GOP administrations indicate, the “long game” of the billionaires is working.

Welcome to the plutocracy.

Maybe we can change our course in 2020.

Seattle Complaint About “Liberal Bias” Has One Flaw: It’s Based on Facts

February 4, 2019 Leave a comment

Dori Monson, a Seattle talk-radio host who describes himself as “right-leaning”, “center right”, and “libertarian“, recently wrote a post for KIRO radio’s website titled “Seattle Public Schools indoctrinate youth with Scholastic reader”. In this post Mr. Monson uses an email from a listener to describe the “indoctrination” as follows:

My daughter attends fourth grade in the Seattle School District. She has a weekly assignment to read the “Scholastic News” reader that is for reading comprehension. This week’s edition had a cover story titled, ‘Women in the House,’ about the increase of women being elected to Congress with some history of women’s suffrage. While I didn’t have any objections with the article for the most part, it’s the cover that I found troubling for several reasons. On the cover are five newly-elected women to Congress, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar.

This cover is the continual far-Left indoctrination by our public schools. First, there are no Republican Congresswomen on the cover. You also have the Socialist agenda being pushed with AOC. The most troubling, however, is that you have two outright anti-Semites represented with Tlaib and Omar, as well as AOC’s association with Al Sharpton and her membership with the Democratic Socialists of America, who support the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement against Israel.

This is how it begins, normalizing people like this by putting them on a cover linked to a story about women achieving.

So… based on one parent’s email Mr. Monson has come to the conclusion that Scholastic is perpetuating some kind of left-wing agenda. Funny… my memory of Scholastic from my teaching and administration days was that it was moderate to a fault and clearly driven by the profit motive… and Wikipedia’s section describing criticisms of Scholastic bears that memory out. Under the heading “Criticism”, Wikipedia offers this critique of Scholastic:

Scholastic has been criticized for inappropriately marketing to children. Also, Scholastic now requires parents to submit children’s names with birth dates to place online orders, creating controversy. A significant number of titles carried have strong media tie-ins and are considered relatively short in literary and artistic merit by some critics.[18] Consumer groups have also attacked Scholastic for selling too many toys and video games to children, rather than focusing on just books. In July, 2005, Scholastic determined that certain leases previously accounted for as operating leases should have been accounted for as capital leases. The cumulative effect, if recorded in the current year, would be material. As a result, it decided to restate its financial statements.

Nothing anywhere about promulgating “leftist propaganda”. Rather, Scholastics biggest problem seems to be violating privacy (in order to sell information on children) or— stated more bluntly— focussing too much on its shareholders!

Nevertheless, Mr. Monson determined that Scholastic was clearly biased and promoting a leftist agenda. But there is a problem with his analysis: in fact the number of female GOP congressmen declined in the 2019 class while the number of Democrats spiked: 
So

So was the report flagging five newly elected Democrats “biased” or factual? And was the decision to flag three of the most diverse members of the newly elected Congress “biased” or factual? Here’s a report from the Washington Post on the day after the election:

The women who ran this year were remarkably diverse — black, Latina, Native American. But noticeably absent on ballots were more Republican women.

“We need to go out and get our women engaged,” said Sarah Chamberlain, president and CEO of Republican Main Street Partnership. “We are being dwarfed by the Democrats. This is something we are going to focus on.”

Yes, I know, it’s the Washington Post a left-leaning publication if there ever was one… but they are quoting the president and CEO of Republican Main Street Partnership for goodness sakes.

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I am left-leaning, progressive, and all in favor of diversity— which is to say I favor democracy! Here’s hoping there is a counter-alining voice to Mr. Monson somewhere on the airwaves.

NY Times Education Reporter Sees Change Blowing in the Wind as Teachers Reclaim High Ground

February 4, 2019 Leave a comment

Dana Goldstein, a veteran education reporter for the NYTimes wrote an op ed piece recently reviewing the changes she has witnessed in the coverage on public schools over the past thirteen years. The biggest change is that the union and teacher bashing that she witnessed at the outset of her career in 2006 has ebbed and in its place is a new respect for both unions and teachers. She writes:

I was at the Democratic National Convention in 2008, when one of the hottest tickets was to a panel discussion in which rising stars in the party, including Cory Booker, then the mayor of Newark, spoke harshly of teachers’ unions and their opposition to charter schools, which are publicly funded, privately run and generally not unionized. Union leaders argue that charters draw public dollars and students away from traditional schools…

Back then, it was hip for young Democrats to be like Barack Obama, supportive of school choice and somewhat critical of teachers’ unions. But now, the winds have changed pretty drastically.The revival of democratic socialism within the party has left many elected officials — even Mr. Booker — much more hesitant, it seems, to critique organized labor. Across the country, red-clad teachers on strike, sometimes dancing and singing, have won the affection of grass-roots progressives over the past year, leading to a new political dynamic around education, just as the Democratic primary field for 2020 emerges…

At this point, I was in complete agreement with Ms. Goldstein’s analysis. But then at the conclusion of that paragraph, she used an oversimplified, deeply flawed, and tired dichotomy to analyze what is happening:

…The emphasis now is on what education experts call “inputs” — classroom funding, teacher pay, and students’ access to social workers and guidance counselors — and less on “outputs,” like test scores or graduation rates.

While she recovered somewhat in the next paragraph by acknowledging that “…both inputs and outputs are important” and that “…the battle is ideological, over what role choice should play in our education system”, she missed the overarching ideological battle: whether public education is a commodity that can be changed through market forces or a public good that must be changed through democratic processes. She also did not make note of the reality that there is no “output” measure that can capture what public schools provide. Neither test scores or graduation rates can indicate whether a student is experiencing daily success in the classroom, is motivated to continue learning after his or her formal education, and is gaining the social and emotional skills needed to support a democracy. Those “outputs” elude fast, cheap, and easy measurement yet they are far more important than the content students are learning. She also overlooks the fact that the inputs needed in today’s public schools are far different than those needed even 13 years ago. Schools are increasingly expected to provide mental health, counseling, and nutritious meals for all students… and the span of students they are expected to educate and care for is expanding as well.

Ms. Goldstein concludes her article with a quote from the late Fred Hechinger, who reported for decades on public schools for the NYTimes:

“I began to realize that a country’s approach to education in general, and especially to its children, could tell more about its social, political and economic background than a whole battery of interviews with politicians.”

What does it say that we are spending no more on schools now than we were when Ms. Goldstein started? What does it say that our so-called “thought leaders” believe public education should be marketed like cars and household appliances? What does it say that despite what we call our federal legislation that we are leaving more and more children behind, we are offering wages that race to the bottom, and we are not providing the funds needed to make certain that every child succeeds?

 

Christiansen’s Clarification: Technology Will Not Disrupt Public SCHOOLS… it WILL Disrupt School SYSTEMS

February 3, 2019 Comments off

In a recent Christensen Institute blog post, Thomas Arnett asserts that the Clay Christensen and Michael Horn’s book, Disrupting Class, never claimed that public education would be disrupted in the sense that that term is applied in business. Here’s his reasoning (with the bold emphases applied by Mr. Arnett and the red italics applied by me):

First, charter schools are not disruptive innovations relative to traditional schools.Disruptive innovations always start out serving people who lack access to mainstream options. But in the United States today, all students have access to some form of public education. This means that charter schools cannot be disruptive because they compete head-to-head with district schools for enrollment.

Second, full-time virtual schools and other purely online options are not disrupting traditional public schools either. Disruptive innovations need a technology that can improve over time until customers see it as comparable to traditional options. But when it comes to schooling, technology cannot substitute for everything parents value in a traditional school. In addition to academic learning, most families value the caretaking role that schools offer for working parents. This important benefit of brick-and-mortar schools has no technological substitute, which means only a small segment of the population will ever be interested in full-time virtual schooling.

Charter schools and virtual schools certainly compete with district schools, but their differences relative to district schools do not make them disruptive.

Mr. Arnett DOES contend that disruption has a place in public education, and that place is at the SYSTEMS level… and because it is taking place at that level it is requiring much more time!

As Disrupting Class points out, online learning enables disruptive innovation in K–12 education. But online learning is not disrupting the K–12 education system. Rather, it fuels disruption within the markets that provide resources to K–12 schools….

Disruptive entrants in the K–12 marketplace offer schools fresh opportunities to better support their students. But using technology to make learning more student-centered will be neither automatic or intuitive. In an EdSurge article, my colleague Julia Freeland Fisher explains that many of the most innovative online-learning technologies have slow adoption curves because they are not plug-compatible with traditional schools. Similarly, some of my recent research points out that schools trying to personalize learning might want to rethink traditional school staffing models; but redefining educator roles and responsibilities is no easy task. Even with all the new opportunities that online learning has to offer, transforming schools still comes down to the hard work of change management.

Disruptive innovation is happening in K–12 education. But it isn’t going to replace traditional schools. Rather, it will change the menu of instructional resources that schools can use to serve their students. To take advantage of these resources, school leaders first need to carefully consider how new tools impact educators capacity. Then they need to implement new tools, programs, and approaches in ways that actually motivate teachers to change how they teach.

As one who attended two presentations to Superintendents where Clay Christensen’s co-author, Michael Horn, talked about the concepts in his the book Disrupting Class, I don’t recall this emphasis on this need for systems changeRather, Mr. Horn was promoting the idea among our group that online learning was going to transform public education the same way the transistor radio changed music and cell phones were transforming communication and media transmission, which meant that delivery of education in brick and mortar schools would go the way of plug-in radios and landlines. Systems change is far more marketable to parents than change that completely uproots the care taking role parents expect from schools and the human interaction that only a teacher can provide.

I think public education needs to change the same way that book stores and public libraries are changing. The old model for book stores and libraries, where there were large endless shelves of books, is being replaced by smaller gathering places where customers can linger on their devices, sip coffee, and seek the advice of the bookseller or librarian on books that are on the market that might be of interest to them. They might even have meeting rooms where like-minded individuals can gather to share insights on a book or do an activity together. Instead of being a single minded store or institution that deals only with printed text, book stores and libraries are becoming gathering places where there is a menu of options for their clientele.

But unlike book stores and libraries, public schools play an important care-giving role. They need to embrace the idea that “…most families value the caretaking role that schools offer for working parents.” and that “this important benefit of brick-and-mortar schools has no technological substitute”.  To that end, when public schools develop their menu of options for parents they might also include space for after school activities like music instruction, medical services, unstructured play with their classmates, and a safe space to hang out. 

This expansion of the school’s menu from offering only academics to providing care-giving would clearly cost more… but I believe a case can be made that it would also save more in the long run. Working parents would not have to fret about whether their children arrive home safely and what activities they are engaged in, the endless shuttling to-and-from after-school activities would cease, and children would have more opportunities to play with each other with light adult supervision. If that is “disruption”, I say bring it on!

Allowing Bible Study in Schools: Another Distraction to the REAL Issue Facing Public Schools

February 2, 2019 1 comment

Over the past week I have read countless articles about the issue of whether public schools should be allowed to offer Bible study. This article by Jeffery Solochek from the Tampa Bay Times gives a good run down of the recent coverage, which was widened even more when President Trump tweeted on the issue. Here’s the opening paragraphs from Mr. Solochek’s article:

When President Trump tweeted his praise for states looking to authorize Bible literacy courses in public schools, it wasn’t exactly a surprise that Florida would be in the mix, given its history. The state — along with Missouri, North Dakota, Indiana, Virginia and West Virginia — has a bill pending (HB 195) in the Legislature that would require high schools to offer an elective course on the Bible and religion.

An existing state law, approved in 2002, already gives school districts the option of providing courses that include the “objective study” of the Bible. The proposed law would require school districts to make those courses available, and students could decide whether to enroll.

The rationale for co-sponsor Rep. Brad Drake, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, is clear.

“A study of a book of creation by its creator is absolutely essential,” Drake said, suggesting the lessons of kindness and tolerance might help reduce other state problems, such as crime.

“So why not?” he asked. “It’s the book that prepares us for eternity, and there’s no other book that does that.”

From my perspective, “Why Not?” is the wrong question. The right question is “WHY???”

One response to that question is offered by Rachel Laser, CEO of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, who sees the proposed legislation as part of “…a design to codify a Christian America“. Ms. Laser sees this bill as building on one introduced and passed last year that requires all public schools in Florida to post the words “In God We Trust” in a prominent place on campus…. a law that was also introduced and passed in several other states.

My response to that question is more malevolent. I see legislators introducing this kind of hot-button legislation as a way of diverting time, energy, and attention away from the real problem facing public schools: the need for more funding and more equitable funding. I am confident that if the local Superintendents who Brad Drake represents were asked to list their most important legislative priorities for the coming session that Bible studies would not even make the list. But then posting “In God We Trust” in schools was not on their list for 2018… Indeed, Mr. Solochek reported on the Superintendents priorities ten weeks ago:

Aiming to protect academic programs while meeting increased security demands, Florida’s school superintendents have created a legislative platform that focuses heavily on convincing lawmakers to put more money into the system.

Is Mr. Drake doing anything to address that issue? Are any Florida legislators doing so? Is President Trump trying to do anything to address that issue?

Florida Superintendents DO trust in God… but their trust in the legislature?

 

The US Expansion of Pre-Schools Provides an Opportunity to Get Funding Formulas Right

February 1, 2019 Comments off

A recent article in the Economist titled “Republicans and Democrats Are Taking Early Education More Seriously” describes the recent consensus that is emerging among politicians in both parties that public schooling needs to extend to younger children. Here;s the paragraph that describes this phenomenon:

The share of three- and four-year-olds enrolled in pre-school has not changed much in two decades. While the average country in the OECD, a club of rich nations, enrolls 80% of its three- and four-year-old children in school, America enrolls just 54%, lagging behind Chile and Mexico.This is true despite abundant evidence of the benefits of early education, especially for disadvantaged children. High-quality pre-school programmes can have lasting benefits, including improving the odds of graduating from school, earning more and staying away from drugs and out of prison. For parents there are gains, too: when their children are in day care, they can work.

In the shadows of a government shutdown and chaotic governance generally, one achievement of President Donald Trump’s administration has gone unnoticed. In 2018 Congress approved more than $5.2bn in “child care and development block grants”, which subsidise child care for low-income families, nearly doubling available funding and indicating a rare example of bipartisan collaboration. Head Start, a federal programme that educates poor children before they enter kindergarten, has also received more funding.

The article, while extolling both the Trump administration’s additional funding that the widespread support for funding at the state levels does NOT look at how that funding will be allocated. If they had examined this, they would find that politicians in both parties are using this expansion of schooling to younger students to promote either vouchers of privatization models for schools. By doing so, they can sidestep the need for government funded buildings, the hiring of teachers at union wages, and the pushback they are likely to encounter if they shift young children out of existing privately operated pre-schools into public pre-schools. If our federal, state, and local governments wanted to do this right, instead of using the expansion of schooling to younger students as an opportunity to privatize they could use it as an opportunity to get the funding for public education more equitable.

Progressive-minded voters need to look closely at how seemingly progressive issues like the expansion of pre-school are being formulated. As I’ve blogged about earlier, the expansion of these programs could well be a means of introducing vouchers into the public schools… an idea I am certain Betsy DeVos has come up with.