An Open Letter to Two New Republican Governors: Scott and Sununu

December 4, 2016 Leave a comment

An Open Letter to Governors-elect Sununu and Scott-

The following is my attempt at satire: a letter directed to two newly elected Governors in Vermont and New Hampshire. While I have no reason to think Governor-elect Scott could enact these proposals, it is entirely possible Governor-elect Sununu might! Here’s the letter:

As you begin your term of office you each have a golden opportunity to change the course of public education in your respective states. This is especially the case now that states have broader discretion on the use of federal funds for education thanks to the passage of Every Student Succeeds Act by Congress. And given President-elect Trump’s nominees for Secretary of Education and Attorney General you’ll probably get even more leeway in spending. And to provide even more opportunity for change, each of you each of you will be able to appoint new State Board members and the heads of your education departments. The stars are aligned for you to make some big changes in the direction of public schools in your states!

 

In an effort to help you capitalize on this opportunity, I am offering a modest proposal on actions you can take to replace stolid “government schools” managed by elected school boards with agile and efficient “free enterprise schools” managed by MBAs with a deep understanding of market fundamentals.

 

First, you need to replace your current chief education officers with business leaders or philanthropists. Anyone with a background in public education will be incapable of implementing the kind of market-based program needed to truly reform “government schools”. An educator will be reluctant to use technology to disrupt the traditional classroom instruction that requires human interaction and will be inclined to work with and listen to the unionized teachers. An entrepreneur or philanthropist will see the value of running schools like a business. If you really want to be bold, you might replace the entire State Board and state department with an education management company. They have worked effectively in Michigan and in several urban areas and there is no reason to think they couldn’t do an equally effective job managing a state department.

 

Second, you need introduce legislation that will give all parents choice when it comes to selecting their schools. Instead of requiring students to attend a “government school” in their community, give parents the flexibility to enroll their children in a virtual school, a religiously affiliated school, a non-profit school, or a private for-profit school of their choice. After all, you aren’t forced to buy your groceries at a single “government store” or eat at only one “government restaurant”. Why should the children in your state be compelled to attend a “government school” in their town that functions like a monopoly?

 

Third, you need to cap education spending. Everyone knows schools have plenty of money! By cutting the budget you will force the market-based “free enterprise schools” to respond by hiring lower wage employees and using technology to help students prepare for the standardized tests whose scores will help parents decide which school is best for their child. To help the “free enterprise schools” in their efforts to secure the low-wage help they need you’ll probably need to introduce right-to-work legislation to bring an end to the unions who drive up the costs of “government schools”.

 

Fourth, you need to enact legislation to eliminate school districts and superintendents. These elected boards and administrators exist solely to enforce government regulations. We don’t have elected boards or high-priced administrators overseeing or enforcing government regulations on private businesses. If consumers don’t like the service they get from a business, they stay away from it and eventually it closes. The same thing will happen with “free enterprise schools”. If a school doesn’t give the kind of services parents are seeking, they will eventually go out of business. And if the parents sue the failing “free enterprise school” for poor performance the CEO can follow our President-elect’s lead and settle with them for a small fraction of the potential award.

 

In looking at these recommendations you might be concerned about displacing employees in school districts and elected officials on school boards. There is no need for concern. The teachers in “government schools” will be happy to work for the “free enterprise schools” even if the wages and benefits are lower. And if they don’t want the jobs, there are thousands of recent graduates who would welcome the work. Those aspiring educators may not have college degrees or the teaching certificate issued by the government, but that is a small price to pay to create the kind of deregulated environment public education needs. As for the displaced elected board members, they can devote their free time and boundless energy volunteering in the “enterprise schools” or the many sectarian schools that will benefit from the voucher plans you enact.

 

In looking at these recommendations you might also be concerned about legal action if special education students are shortchanged or if funding inequities occur because some communities raise additional funds to augment the state vouchers so their residents can attend fancier schools. You have no need to worry! Jeff Sessions, Mr. Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, views special education as “…the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today” and as Alabama Attorney General he fought to retain a funding mechanism that the State Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional because it underfunded the poorest school districts in the state. Given his record, he is unlikely to block you if you move forward with any voucher plan and if Congress is so inclined he may even support legislation that would allow you to use special education funds to help reduce the need for additional taxes.

 

With deregulation, privatization, and free market ideas at the forefront in government today, the sky is the limit when it comes to making wholesale changes in public education. If you need any help drafting the laws needed to accomplish these ideas, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has some off-the-shelf legislation that will enable you to take prompt action. My advice to you is to act quickly before the public catches on to the direction privatization and deregulation is leading us.

Jacobin Article on MA Movement’s Successful Effort to Defeat Charter Expansion is uplifting

December 3, 2016 Leave a comment

As readers undoubtedly sense, I have been disheartened by the recent election results and deeply concerned about what they portend for the future of public education. If you share that mindset, I encourage you to read Jacobin’s article “Public Education Can Win”. The article is an edited transcript of an interview between Elizabeth Mahoney and Carlos Rojas Alvarez, the student field director for Save Our Public Schools Massachusetts. Mr. Alvarez partnered with a host of coalitions help defeat Article 2, a proposition funded by billionaire “reformers” that would lift the cap on charter schools, opening the floodgates for privatization. Only 7 years out of high school, Mr. Alvarez looks like a force to be reckoned with. The interview reveals him to be insightful, articulate, and determined… but willing to collaborate with groups some of his colleagues perceive as “enemies”. In sum, he appears to be an astute politician in the best sense of that word. When asked why he believed his relatively underfunded group of student volunteers, parents, and teachers were able to defeat the billionaire privatization advocates at the ballot box, Alvarez offered this hopeful analysis:

Overall, there was a recognition that public services like education need to stay public and need to serve all people. People are not interested in creating special, more elite, more selective, isolated systems of education as a way to address the issue.

That “recognition” required the assembly of a cadre of foot soldiers who knocked on doors, convened forums, and went to great lengths to explain to voters what “choice” and “charter schools” were really about… and it wasn’t about helping poor and disenfranchised children.

When Ms. Mahoney asked about the role the teachers unions played, Alvarez was quick to give them credit, despite the fact that as recently as five years ago his student organization was not on the same page with them.

We were able to see and learn that labor unions, however messy they can be, however much they are on the wrong side of issues — and historically on the issue of race teachers’ unions have often been on the wrong side of history — are essential. Through this connection we saw that we cannot have an educational justice movement without teachers, without the labor union that protects them.

Today I think that anti-union sentiment is changing and we’ve been able to have lots of conversations with other young people about the importance of teachers’ unions and about workers — how people are treated at the workplace.

One of the fundamental pieces of misinformation put out by the charter school movement is that teachers are not doing their jobs well, that teachers’ unions are protecting bad teachers, that their salaries are bloated, that we have to bust the union, fire teachers, and pay them way less.

When people are desperate and can’t see their child succeeding, they turn against the teacher and blame them for the failures of the system. To combat this we’re working to foster conversations that help students develop a class analysis about the importance of supporting and strengthening teachers unions as a way to achieve true educational justice.

Mr. Alvarez’ principled and pragmatic approach needs to spread to the Democrat party. If the party will not embrace the democratic socialist stance of Bernie Sanders, they should at the very least stand up for the workers in the country who are underpaid, overworked, and— in many states— precluded from organizing. Based other support for Bernie Sanders, it appears that many young people have absorbed the message that teacher’s unions were developed for the same reason as unions in coal country and factories: teachers were seeking a living wage and safe and sane working conditions. In addition, and especially given the blacklisting that seems to be emerging, the unions need to protect the free speech for themselves and their students.

I came away from reading this with a ray of hope. I have to believe that there are other young Americans like Mr. Alvarez who are ready, willing, and able to assume the leadership of a movement that will push back against the privatization of public services and the plundering that is besetting our economy on all fronts.  Here’s hoping their voices can be heard!

Trump XVI – Make Americas Schools Great Again

December 3, 2016 Leave a comment

I wrote a letter to the editor of our local newspaper, the Valley News, and in the email that included the letter I indicated a willingness to submit an op ed piece. The editor asked for a submission and I ended up writing three different pieces. Herewith is the one I decided to submit. I’m going to send the other two today after I proofread them one more time. The others are less wonky: one is a satirical letter to the Governors, which my wife thought some people might take seriously… and the other was a reworking of the Tax Racket post I wrote years ago. I’m not sure that any will be published but am now convinced that the very least I can do is continue blogging about the impact Mr. T

President-elect Trump ran for office as a businessman who would bring his acumen to bear on the operation of the government. As part of his plan to make government run more efficiently, Mr. Trump championed the idea of privatizing public schools and freeing the privatized schools from onerous regulations. In this way he would break up the “monopoly” of “government schools”. Given his campaign rhetoric, it is not surprising that Mr. Trump selected billionaire philanthropist Betsy DeVos to serve as Secretary of Education. Ms. DeVos supports vouchers and the privatization and deregulation of public schools and post-secondary institutions as well.

 

As one who cherishes public education and one who witnessed how they changed the lives of children from all walks of life during my 38 years as a teacher and administrator, I am deeply concerned about the damage Ms. DeVos could inflict on public schools. I am especially concerned because the education platforms of President-elect Trump and the Republican party are in alignment with Mr. DeVos’ thinking. Here are some areas where changes might occur in education policy in the coming months, changes that would help Mr. Trump, the Republican Party, and Ms. DeVos realize their goals:

 

  • Portablity” of K-12 federal funds: With Congress now under Republican control and Mr. Trump seeking funds to keep his promise of providing $20,000,000,000 “of existing federal dollars” to fund a new voucher program to give parents choice, there is speculation that Congress might re-open the debate on the use of federal funds. The Republican party, Mr. Trump, and Ms. DeVos would like to see federal money for low income and handicapped children “follow the child” to “whatever school” works best for them. In their minds those schools include religious and private schools that are not required to follow the same regulations as “government schools”. If that issue is re-opened, Ms. DeVos might have an opportunity to craft regulations that mirror the language in the Republican platform, which seeks a voucher-like program that could direct funds to schools that are not governed by school boards.

 

  • Flexibility” in the use of federal funds: The original intent of federal legislation in the 1960s was to supplement the funding of districts serving needy children. To ensure that the federal funds were spent in accordance with that intent, federal regulations govern the use of those funds. Many school boards, administrators, and state and federal politicians find these regulations as cumbersome and controlling. In the name of “flexibility”, Congress could empower States to use these funds any way they wished. Doing so, however, could have a dis-equalizing impact since there is no assurance States would use the funds to help schools serving children raised in poverty.

 

  • Expansion of de-regulated for-profit post-secondary education: Given the President-elect’s experience in operating a for-profit post secondary university (sic), the Republican party’s advocacy for “new systems of learning to compete with traditional four-year schools”, and their platform calling for college accreditation to be “de-coupled from federal financing”, Ms. DeVos is likely to write regulations that facilitate the expansion of for-profit post-secondary schools. Those schools might include institutions like Mr. Trump’s University as well as on-line institutions that could take the place of traditional four-year colleges.

 

  • A shift in the Department’s stance on social, civil rights issues: Over the past several years the United States Department of Education issued directives on issues like the disciplining of handicapped children, bullying, transgender rights, and athletic equity. Many of those directives are contrary to positions taken by Mr. Trump, Ms. DeVos, and the Republican Party. Some of the directives in place may be replaced or rescinded and others will be amended to reflect the philosophy of Ms. DeVos. Also, it is likely the Office of Civil rights will make different choices about the cases they pursue and will be likely to reach different conclusions when they do investigate a case.

 

These policy shifts will change public education in subtle and, in some cases, imperceptible ways. But as Mother Jones writer Dave Gilson notes in an article on Donald Trump’s views about public education, a subtle change in terminology can change public’s perception of schools over time: In a 2002 speech at the Heritage Foundation, Dick DeVos (the husband of Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos) advocated a shift in how conservatives talk about America’s schools. “‘Public schools’ is such a misnomer today that I really hate to use it,” he said. “I’ve begun to use the word ‘government schools’ or ‘government-run schools’ to describe what we used to call public schools because it’s a better descriptor of what they are.At the time, you might have been hard pressed to find a prominent Republican politician willing to use such a loaded term. Fourteen years later, the president-elect is talking about our “failing government schools.”

 

As Ms. DeVos takes over as Secretary of Education, I expect to hear frequent laments about “failing government schools”. I also expect to hear more about “giving parents and students more choices”, about States “needing more flexibility”, about the need to eliminate “regulations that strangle innovation”, and about the need for competition in public education the same way we have competition in the marketplace.

 

I sincerely hope I am wrong, but I do not expect to hear praise for the hard work of public school teachers, or praise for the long hours elected school boards commit to operating those “government” schools, or hear about the struggles many children face outside of the school and the efforts schools make to help children face those struggles. And I certainly don’t expect to hear that “fixing” the “failing schools” is a complicated problem that will require a coordinated effort by the community at large. And finally, I don’t expect to hear that more money is needed to Make American Schools Great Again.

Trump XV – Choosing Corporate Welfare Over Public Investment

December 2, 2016 Leave a comment

The newspapers the past two days have been full of news about the jobs Mr. Trump saved in Indiana by getting Carrier to pledge to keep one of its factories operating in Indiana. But an op ed piece by Christian Weller in today’s NYDaily News points out the wrongheaded approach Mr. Trump used to save these jobs.

Not all specifics are yet known, but the deal — the fulfillment of a crucial promise made by Trump during his presidential campaign — appears costly. Indiana state government, where Mike Pence is still governor, offered some tax incentives for Carrier to stay. These may well have been sweetened with additional, albeit vaguer, promises of future help from the federal government.

Tax giveaways are politically expedient, but they tend to be wasteful. Even though agreements often promise to put decent jobs first, there is nothing to force companies like Carrier to actually spend the money on jobs rather than on, say, bonuses for executives.

And even if Carrier made an ironclad pledge to keep all those rank-and-file jobs for now, governments have no mechanism to ensure such jobs will stay for a long period of time. This means that Carrier could choose to move the jobs to Mexico next year, and still keep its benefits. This would especially be the case if Trump cannot deliver on his promises of slashing taxes and rolling back regulations, for instance.

Mr. Weller didn’t delve into the “trickle down” effect of the tax incentives and tax cuts that made it possible to retain Carrier. As noted in one of my earlier posts, offering “tax relief” is a losing proposition. In their zeal to seek and retain Carrier’s jobs, Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence effectively gave their parent corporation a large sums of money, money that ultimately comes from taxpayers. Mr, Trump and Mr. Pence did this because if they failed to respond to the requests for relief or lost to Mexico in a race-to-the-bottom for wages they could be voted out of office.

Who loses in these “tax relief” efforts? The rank and file tax payers who must backfill the revenues lost when Carrier is given a break on its property taxes and pay for the “incentive package” that Carrier receives— an incentive package that is offered unconditionally. And if the taxpayers DON’T want to see their taxes raised or cannot raise their taxes any higher they are forced to limit public services like the maintenance of roads, the policing of their communities, and– yes– the operation of their public schools.

Mr. Weller explains the impact near the end of his op ed piece:

States already engage in plenty of this corporate welfare. Do we need more of it?

Spending more money on ineffective retention deals leaves less money to invest in good policy. Better uses of the funds would be improving infrastructure, beefing up access to fast broadband and lowering the costs of higher education.

Trump will claim he wants to do all those other things, too — but the public purse is limited. To govern is to choose. America needs more infrastructure spending for good jobs in the future. The Carrier deal and others likely coming down the pike could tie the new administration’s hands.

The business community is watching this scenario VERY carefully…. and if this de facto extortion works for Carrier it will be attempted frequently in the coming months. Here’s hoping Mr. Trump makes better choices on how to spend scarce taxpayer funds in the future.

Chinese Bands and US Charters: Sorting by Eugenics and Sorting by Parent Engagement

December 2, 2016 Leave a comment

I read an article in yesterday’s NYTimes with a mix of astonishment and revulsion. The article, by Didi Kirsten Tatlow, describes a music program in China where students are enrolled in band programs and assigned musical instruments in the band based solely on their physical attributes. Titled “In China, Eugenics Determines Who Gets in School Band”, Ms. Tatlow’s article describes the method “Teacher Wang” uses to identify prospective musicians. Here is an excerpt from the article that describes his meeting with the parents of the future band members:

Mr. Wang, whom parents addressed only as “Teacher,” (a sign of respect common here) stood before a giant white screen on which he projected a power point full of instrument images. “I’ve chosen your kids, one by one, out of a thousand kids.” Mr. Wang was referring to band C, the third in the school which trained the youngest students, some of whom would eventually rise through the ranks to band B and on to A, at which point they would perform at overseas gigs.

“I’ve looked at their teeth, at their arms, their height, everything, very carefully,” Teacher Wang said. “We don’t want anyone with asthma, or heart problems, or eye problems. And we want the smart kids; the quick learners.”

“Your kids were chosen not because they want to play this or that instrument, but because they have long arms, or the right lips, or are the right height, say for the trumpet, or the drums,” he said.

This sounded appalling to Ms. Tatlow, but ultimately she accepted the program in large measure because her daughter wanted to be a part of it and evidently possessed the physical and intellectual qualities Teacher Wang was seeking.

In some respects US schools in the 50s and 60s were no different: students were sorted into homogeneous batches based on their intellect and upbringing— and until 1954 they were also sorted based on race, a vestigial method of sorting that remains in place today on a de facto basis. As an elementary student I was among the group in my PA elementary group that were “smart kids”. I was in the highest reading group and did well in math without much effort. When my father was transferred to Oklahoma I was identified as “gifted and talented”, largely because 4th grade in that state was comparable to 3rd grade in PA. When he got transferred back to PA, though, I was in for a rude awakening. I was no longer deemed to be a “smart kid”. Rather, I was a “kid from Oklahoma” and was consequently placed in a mid-level section of students. I excelled in my classwork, but when the team of teachers met with my parents to discuss my placement in one of the higher groups they were told there was no room in those classes. And so for the next five years I remained in the “second tier”.

Schools today avoid that kind of rigid homogeneous grouping within the school… but they achieve homogeneity in a different fashion. Schools in affluent communities effectively screen out the “middling” students because their parents cannot afford housing in those towns. Charter schools in cities can screen out children of indifferent or working parents because their enrollment procedures require a level of engagement that is virtually impossible in a single parent household or in a household where both parents work. So the schools in less affluent areas and the non-charter schools in the city tend to have students whose parents are less engaged. And here’s where our sorting arrangement and that of the Chinese music teachers are similar: a child born into a US family where the parents are unwilling or unable to engage in their schooling has no more chance at success than a child born in China who lacks the physical and intellectual qualities sought by Teacher Wang. The result in both cases is a tremendous waste of talent.

Why Professor Watchlist Gets My Teaching Values Completely Wrong

December 1, 2016 Leave a comment

I just wrote a post that included a quote from this article by Robert Jensen, who I had a chance to hear a year ago at a symposium on climate change. The article, like his presentation at that symposium, is thought provoking and insightful.

From a “critique” of my work on the recently launched website Professor Watchlist, I learned that I’m a threat to my students for contending that we won’t end men’s violence against women “if we do not address the toxic notions about masculinity in patriarchy … rooted in control, conquest, aggression.”

Source: Why Professor Watchlist Gets My Teaching Values Completely Wrong

Categories: Uncategorized

“Watchlists” for Professors a Precursor to “Watchlists” for Teachers?

December 1, 2016 Leave a comment

The news has been full of reports of a “Professor Watchlist” assembled by a conservative group called Turning Point USA. Described in Common Dreams blogpost by Deirdre Fulton as “…a round-up of academics accused of “discriminat[ing] against conservative students and advanc[ing] leftist propaganda in the classroom,” the list was assembled by Turning Point USA based on “pre-existing news stories,” though the organization encouraged its readers to “submit a tip” if they become aware of “professors that advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.”

To understand what Turning Point USA views as a “radical agenda”, it is helpful to see what they view as the kind of lessons they value. Their mission statement is a good place to look:

(The) right-wing non-profit Turning Point USA (TPUSA)… stated mission “is to identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.”

By that standard anyone teaching economics courses that suggest deficit spending is necessary, that government regulation is necessary, and that some aspects of the government shouldn’t be privatized would qualify as a “radical”. Basically, anyone who questions the virtues of deregulated free market capitalism would be deemed “radical”.

Ms. Fulton’s post includes a quote from Robert Jensen, a University of Texas Journalism Professor who is among the 200 professors included on the initial list, that describes why this kind of watch listing is particularly threatening now:

It would be easier to dismiss this rather silly project if the United States had not just elected a president who shouts over attempts at rational discourse and reactionary majorities in both houses of Congress. I’m a tenured full professor (and white, male, and a U.S. citizen by birth) and am not worried. But, even though the group behind the watchlist has no formal power over me or my university, the attempt at bullying professors—no matter how weakly supported—may well inhibit professors without my security and privilege.

If we define “radicalism” using the framework of TPUSA and these watch lists expand as “tips” are submitted by TPUSA adherents, I can imagine school boards across the country embracing similar watch lists devised by groups who develop their own definitions based on teachers who promote evolution, who advocate desegregation, and who advocate taxes on the 1% to raise funds to strengthen the safety net. And as vouchers for private schools and non-union privatized schools increase under the watchful eyes of the nominee for Secretary of Education more and more classroom teachers will be inhibited in their ability to assign books that question “…the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.” There is a toxic mix of policy change that is about to occur and those of us who are prepared to question it may find ourselves on watch lists. It is imperative that we take a stand to make certain that our grandchildren are able to explore a wide range of ideas and draw their own conclusions about how our economic system should work.