Firing– well make that REPLACING— All the Teachers Didn’t Work… So… Now What?

December 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Anyone who follows public education closely remembers the Central Falls (RI) school district’s inglorious 15 minutes in the national news in 2010. When their test scores tanked the “reform minded” State Superintendent, local Superintendent, and elected school board had the solution: fire all the teachers. Here’s Diane Ravitch’s summary of the events at that time… and what happened earlier this month:

One of the lowest performing districts in the state is Central Falls, the impoverished district where everyone was fired in 2010 to “reform” the schools (then the firing was withdrawn, but almost every adult in the school was gone within two years, because [as “reformers” insist] low scores are caused by “bad teachers”).

So why no improvement?

Remember Central Falls, the smallest and poorest district in the state?

The harsh treatment of the entire staff of the high school in 2010 received national attention. It was one of the first blows of the corporate reform movement. Those who led the campaign threatened to fire the entire staff—the teachers, lunch room ladies, and everyone else. The leaders were treated as heroes by Arne Duncan and President Obama. Zero tolerance for staff!

Now, eight years later, apparently less than 10% of the students are “meeting or exceeding expectations,” whatever that means.

In 2010 “meeting or exceeding expectations” was based on NECAP scores— despite the fact that NECAPs were not designed to measure such a thing. Now it is based on RICA scores, and those scores are no better now than they were eight years ago. Why? According to an article by Kevin Andrade in the Providence Journal one of the parents who attended a recent meeting shed some light on the reasons:

Maria Cristina Betancur took hold of the microphone as 42 people looked on in the Central Falls High School cafeteria Wednesday night. She spoke passionately in Spanish — often fighting back tears — about the difficulties that many families in the school district face. After a minute, she paused and asked a question of her audience.

“Those of you who don’t speak Spanish, did you understand me?” she queried, looking around the room and into the silence before switching to English. “So, now you know how people feel at homes where they do not understand the language. They do not understand assistance. They need to understand more.”

And the school “reformers” need to understand that “more” is the answer: more bi-lingual teachers who can work with parents (54% of the residents do not speak English as their primary language); more funds to provide more services to children in need (the budget increases have been a paltry 1.9% per annum since the school staff was recommended for dismissal), and, as MS. Betancur noted, more understanding.

As the comments continued, another parent described how the “failing school” is failing children and, in so dong, explained where some of the funds might be found:

When public comment began, Jahaira Rodriguez spared no one’s feelings, listing several incarcerated men who she said attended Central Falls schools.

“Today they are serving terms in prison, and we did that,” she said. “This [education system] is a disservice to our students because they will not be considered hard-working because of where they come from.”

“Funny that we find the money to incarcerate them but not to educate them,” she said.

There is always more money to incarcerate criminals and never enough money to provide the kind of education and support they need to stay out of jail…. and always a way to shift the blame for the struggles of poor children to classroom teachers who work hard in dire conditions but never a way to find funds to help improve those conditions. Welcome to the plutocracy where more money raised by higher tax rates on the most affluent among us is NEVER the solution.

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Open a Charter… Follow the Rules… Rake in the $$$: Nice Work if You Can Get It…. and in Arizona You Can!

December 8, 2018 Leave a comment

In “How to become a charter school millionaire in 5 easy steps? Ask Eddie Farnsworth“, AZ Central reporter Laurie Roberts describes how Arizona GOP legislator Farnsworth made millions on a charter school he operated by following the rules enacted by the legislature he served in. What are the steps?

No. 1.   Set up charter schools. Collect state money to run the four-school operation then pay yourself $170,000 a year, more than competing school districts with double or more the schools.

No. 2.   Set up a non-profit to buy your schools for $56.9 million. Fill the board with pals and lobbyists whose bills you supported in the state Legislature. Pocket $13.9 million from the sale.

No. 3.   Get that non-profit board to hire your brother to run the publicly funded charter operation. And, oh yeah, to hire you to serve as a consultant.

No. 4.   Continue to rent space to house the schools’ corporate headquarters – at market rate, of course – to score another $79,600 a year.

No. 5.   Loan the charter operation $2.8 million – 60 days’ operating cash – and proceed to collect $478,000 in interest over the next seven years.

As Ms. Roberts indicates in her article, it is unfair to single out Mr. Farnsworth since many others are making millions in the same way. But in my judgment Mr. Farnsworth deserves particular scorn since he is in a position to address some of Arizona’s laws that make this kind of scamming possible.

 

Here’s why urban communities of color are increasingly rejecting charter schools @alternet

December 8, 2018 Leave a comment

As always, Jeff Bryant gets to the heart of the issue. This clear-eyed description of how takeovers of “failing schools” changes nothing in terms of student performance but changes everything in terms of the schools’ responsiveness to parents… and voters. If we want to restore democracy, it needs to start at the local level and work it’s way up…. 

Parents and grassroots organizations are pushing for elections as the only way to hold schools accountable. At a recent school board meeting in New Orleans, more than 100 parents swamped the hearing room, requiring dozens to have to stand. Many of the parents had filled out public comment cards so they would be allowed to address the board.

Source: Here’s why urban communities of color are increasingly rejecting charter schools @alternet

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Elections Have Consequences… Unless the GOP Loses

December 8, 2018 Leave a comment

This article by Ron French that appeared in “The Bridge – Michigan’s non-partisan news source”, describes how Michigan’s GOP Legislature, having lost the Statehouse, is now scrambling to pass legislation that dis-empowers the incoming Governor and undercuts the powers of the State Board of Education. The timing of this legislation to effectively change the governance of the state schools is bad enough, but the way the legislation is framed is even worse!

The effort to create a new education commission is tucked into Republican-backed education reform efforts. House Bill 5526 would create an A-to-F grading system for public schools. House Bills 6314 and 6315 would create Public Innovation Districts that wouldn’t have to comply with state regulations on classroom hours of instruction.

The reform bills are unrelated, but each mandates creation of a 13-member Education Accountability Policy Commission that would have broad power over schools.The commission would, for instance, determine the fate of schools that earn an A or an F. (Broadly speaking, Republicans have urged the closure or reduction of funds for low-performing schools while Democrats have pushed for more investment in struggling schools, which often are filled with low-income students who need more academic support.)

Under the… bills, the proposed commission would also determine just how far “public innovation districts” can stray from class-time regulations mandated for traditional public schools. The bill is meant to allow schools more freedom in how they approach education ‒ allowing, for example, students to get credit for internships that might otherwise keep them from meeting state requirements for the number of hours they must be in class….

Grabbing power away from the new Democratic administration “is the whole plan,” said Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, who serves on the House Education Reform Committee. “There are three weeks left in his (Snyder’s) term. And he’d be filling positions that would be filled through the end of Whitmer’s first term. It’s hard to argue you’re not doing it to take power away from the next individual.”

A commission with power over school accountability would look very different under the control of Republicans versus Democrats. A progressive commission would likely push for additional money to failing schools; a conservative commission might give bonuses to schools with high standardized test scores, and close schools with low marks, as Bill Schuette, the losing Republican candidate for governor, proposed during his campaign.

“The commission could shut down a whole host of schools across the state, and most citizens are going to blame the governor when in reality the next governor had no control over it,” Zemke said. “An unelected body that doesn’t report to the executive is … quite scary.”

Unsurprisingly both the current State Board and the incoming Governor are flagging these elements of the bill, protesting them, and threatening lawsuits. But should the legislation pass, the Democrats and the State Board will be hamstrung until their suits work their way through the courts and the GOP will achieve its REAL goal, which is to stymie any efforts to undo what they have wrought over the past several years.

There was a time when the will of the voters was respected… but that time ended when the GOP began to lose power. Senate leader Mitch McConnell set the course for his party when, after Barack Obama was elected, he stated that he would do everything in his power to make sure he was a one-term President,  a promise he kept as the GOP was unified in opposing every action President Obama undertook to improve the economy. Democracy depends on good sportsmanship whereby the losers graciously accept defeat and accede to the will of the voters. The GOP’s actions since 2008 are corroding democracy.

 

Communities Getting Wise to Corporate Welfare… and Corporations are Pusing Back

December 7, 2018 Leave a comment

A November 5 Atlantic article by Alana Semuels described grassroots movements on the west coast to force large tech companies to pay higher taxes to help their communities deal with problems created by the presence of these corporations. in the article, Ms. Semuels describes the phenomenon thusly:

For decades, technology entrepreneurs have established their headquarters in the San Francisco Bay Area, created products that changed the way we live, and reaped millions doing so. But at the same time, the cities around these companies have become harder and harder to live in. Housing prices and homelessness are rising, roads are clogged, transit is over capacity. Tech companies aren’t necessarily causing these problems, but they do have a lot more money than anyone else in today’s economy. So cities are asking those who benefit the most in this economy to pay more money to help solve urban and suburban problems…

In San Francisco, Mountain View, and East Palo Alto, ballot referendums would impose additional taxes on big companies to solve problems related to a lack of affordable housing and funding for transportation. And tech companies are being forced to ask themselves whether they’re willing to play an active role in changing their neighborhoods, not just the world at large.

“We have to come to some kind of reckoning that when you make millionaires out of people, and they buy houses for millions of dollars, other people are going to be on the end of that,” Glenn Kelman, the president and CEO of Redfin, which supported the Seattle head tax, told me about tech leaders. “We’ve always viewed ourselves as the hero of every story, and we’re about to see that we may be the enemy of this one.

They may well be the enemy because when their tax breaks go into the pockets of their billionaire board members and those board members decide to spend their money on foundations that fund projects outside of the local area, residents are forced to ask why their schools are underfunded, housing is impossible to find, and roads are hopelessly clogged.

Much of the article focused on Proposition C, a referendum that sought to modify the tax structure in San Francisco in a way that would help the government— NOT philanthropists–  address homelessness. One tech CEO supported the passage for hard-headed business reasons:

Philanthropy alone also can’t solve all the problems facing some of these cities.Benioff and Friedenbach, of the Coalition on Homelessness, said that the only way to solve San Francisco’s homelessness problem is to spend more — treat more severely ill people, permanently house more people, prevent more evictions, create more emergency shelters and more public restrooms. “With 7,500 homeless, this has gotten way beyond any one particular philanthropist,” Benioff told me.“We all have to come together to make this happen.”

Proposition C DID pass, despite the mixed support it received from tech companies whose CEOs did not see eye to eye with Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce’s CEO. It would be refreshing to see Mr. Benioff gather like minded CEOs to support voters coming together to solve complicated problems like homelessness, mental health… and public education. Maybe instead of focusing time and energy on creating “customer focused” education the CEOs could focus time and energy creating “citizen focused” education.

There IS One Way to Dispel Asian Parents’ Anger: Upgrade ALL NYC High Schools

December 6, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s NYPost featured an article by Selim Algar describing a meeting NYC DOE officials held in Manhattan and the anger expressed by a group of Asian parents upset over the recent proposal that the SHSAT serve as the sole admissions criteria to elite high schools. Ms. Selim described the essence of the BOE’s proposal presented by Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack as “...a plan that aims to increase black and Latino enrollment at the primarily Asian and white schools by scrapping a single-test-score admission system.” At the gathering attended by 350 people, Mr. Wallack described the current admissions process, which is based on the scores on a single test given early in 8th grade, as “…a needless educational barricade,” saying that the DOE is trying “to find a way that is objective and transparent that gives us more information about a way a student has performed that we believe is better and fairer.”

Many parents, particularly Asian parents, do not find the admissions criteria to be unfair or ineffective. Ms. Selim writes:

Several Asian speakers highlighted the outsized toll the new plan would exact on their community.

Asian kids — including Chinese, Korean, Bangladeshi and Pakistani students — make up roughly 60 percent of the population at the city’s eight specialized high schools.

At the most prestigious campuses such as Stuyvesant HS and Bronx Science, their numbers are higher.

“This proposal is nothing about education and all about division,” said objector Wai Wah Chin. “We are going to look at your race and say, ‘Oh, your parents cook the food, deliver it, they wash your clothes, but you can’t get in. Because we don’t like your race or national background.’ ”

For reasons that are complicated and not completely clear, Asian students tend to score better on standardized tests than American students, and students raised in poverty tend to score worse than children raised in affluence. From a cold analytic perspective, this difference would matter less if the tests had any predictive value in terms of a students ability to perform well in class. The SHSAT, like it’s kin the SAT, provides a nebulous “achievement” score that has no ability to determine whether a student scoring in the 95th percentile will succeed in class any more than a student who scores in, say, the 90th percentile. Indeed, on the SAT it is conceivable that missing one question might result in that kind of disparity in results. So, when a single test is the sole basis for admission many children who are arguably qualified to enter an “elite” program are left out.

The answer to this is to either expand the admission criteria to include things like GPA, teacher feedback, and unique student talents or to expand the number of “elite” high schools. As NYC is finding, altering the admissions criteria creates a zero-sum game that divides winners and losers. The second alternative, though, is costly and could result in those seeking to be identified as “elite” feeling that their status is eroded by expanding the number of students who qualify.

It is inevitable that individuals will sort themselves out over time and define themselves  based on comparisons with others. As much as possible, though, that sorting should occur organically and ideally without anyone being identified as a “loser”. The sorting in NYC is analogous to the sorting that happens in high school sports where 50 teams vie for a state championship and all but one team is defined as a loser. No matter how it is presented to an 8th grader, if they took the SHSAT and did not get into an “elite” school, they feel like the runner-up to the State Championship… and they are likely to see themselves as “losers”. The reality is that many of those “losers” will bounce back and be successful despite their relatively low test scores. But if any of those students see their failure to score high on a test as a defining moment, it is a loss to our society. No single test should define winners and losers… and every school system should be designed to offer an opportunity for students to find out where they can shine.

Philanthropy and Democracy Don’t Mix Well… if at all

December 5, 2018 Leave a comment

Medium blogger Hannah Brooks Olson recently posted a story titled “What Can We Expect from Billionaires? The difference between philanthropy and hush money seems smaller than ever“, a story that illustrates the perils of an economy that relies on the good will of philanthropists to fund services that are typically paid for by government. The post if full of juicy quotes, a few of which are offered below:

On the $15/hour wage as compared to Jeff Bezos’ wage:

To a lot of people, $15 per hour sounds like a lot—and indeed, it presents a significant raise to the seasonal workers who reportedly lived in their cars to work seasonal jobs for the online behemoth. It’s the basic minimum wage that millions have been seeking for years, both in the boardroom and at the ballot. But in Seattle, the town that helped make Bezos the billionaire that he is, it’s not nearly enough.

At that rate, a person needs to work more than 100 hours per week to really afford the average one-bedroom apartment in Seattle and not be considered “rent-burdened” by the government. In Washington state, in general, to rent a two-bedroom apartment, you have to earn close to $30 per hour.

Bezos, by comparison, earns nearly $2,500 per second — and pays, by comparison, a fraction in taxes.

Washington State’s regressive tax structure:

…the Evergreen State has the country’s most regressive tax structure. The richest percentile of residents — those who earn more than half a million dollars annually — pay three percent of their income in annual state and local taxes. Meanwhile, those who earn under $24,000 per year — many of whom live below the poverty line — shell out 17.8 percent.

How philanthropy is different from taxes:

Philanthropy is widely believed to be a noble pursuit; we collectively praise those who have more than enough, in part because it’s optional. The ultra-wealthy don’t have to give away their money, but sometimes they do. But it’s worth asking how they got so much money to begin with and whether or not their communities would need it if they had been paying their fair share from the start. Because while philanthropy is great, taxes are essential — and unlike charitable donations, they go to everyone.

And then she gets into the nitty gritty of how taxes are democratic and philanthropy is not… and the consequences of that difference, using pre-school funding as an example:

Whereas philanthropy picks and chooses what gets a benefit, tax dollars are allocated by the will of the people and the people they elect. Philanthropic money goes to whatever organizations wealthy people think are important, with little transparency. And often, those dollars don’t trickle down or benefit the folks who need it the most—for example, a museum filled with sci-fi memorabilia. Arts organizations that cater mostly to other rich people. Sports teams. Pre-schools that are located in “low-income” (as deemed by the organization) neighborhoods and based on a “customer-focused” approach.

The last sentence was especially breathtaking: “customer focused” preschools! While the philanthropists spend millions ensuring that their taxes remain low, while they pit city-against-city in a race to the bottom for tax revenues, they work on developing future customers in their “innovative” preschools.
Ms. Olson’s closing paragraphs are piercing and she concludes with a warning for those who think philanthropy is a good trade off for higher wages, more tax revenues, and better government services:

When billionaires choose to increase wages for their workers, it’s a savvy business decision that benefits the workers and the community, but it’s often cloaked as an act of grace. When they give money to charities, it’s generous and kind, to be sure, but it’s often applauded as enough. More than enough.

It doesn’t feel like enough.

At least, not in Washington state, where billionaires have held much of the decision-making hostage and used the promise of their good-hearted acts as bait for sweeter deals. Not in Washington state, where the poorest folks still pay the most in taxes and are expected to thank the billionaires for whatever scraps they decide to toss down. Not in Washington state, where we’ve tried to warn everyone else, and they don’t seem interested in hearing it.

Consider yourself warned…..