Clinton’s Pro-Charter School Comments Draw Boos from Teachers Union

July 10, 2016 Leave a comment

I missed this when it was published… but am re-blogging it because I love the last quote by Esquire’s Charles Pierce: 

“Education is not a damn marketplace,” he said. “We ought to learn this pretty soon.”

Hillary Clinton was booed at a National Education Association (NEA) event on Tuesday after suggesting that public schools have something to learn from their charter counterparts.

Source: Clinton’s Pro-Charter School Comments Draw Boos from Teachers Union

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Rebranding “Public Schools” as “Government Schools”

July 10, 2016 Leave a comment

Julie Bosman’s NYTimes article today describes how conservatives, particularly libertarian conservatives, have replaced the term “public schools” with the term “government schools”, a change in terminology that Wichita Eagle editorial writer Davis Merritt accurately described as “…a calculated pejorative scorning both education and anything related to government.

I’ve lamented this terminology in earlier posts and was interested to read that the term was first coined by Pat Moynihan in the late 1970s but gathered steam in the recent past. Ms. Bosman explains why:

The use of the term “government schools” is part of a broad education agenda that includes restraining costs. The far-right and libertarian wings of the Republican Party are pushing the state to loosen its laws to allow more charter schools. They oppose programs that offer free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches, believing that schools have become part of the “nanny state” — another politically charged term — and are usurping the role of parents.

Fortunately some parents and the vestigial “moderate” Republicans are pushing back on this term, as well they should. Public schools, after all, are not governed by some remote and alien force in Washington DC or, in the case of Kansas, Topeka. They are governed by local school boards who still have a say over who they hire, the raising of local taxes, and how the curriculum is delivered.

And here’s the maddening irony of all this: those who want to impose “market forces” on public schools are imposing the reliance of standardized tests on school boards and, in doing so, are imposing standardized curricula on the schools. Moreover, many of the fundamentalists who are drawn to the notion that “government” is “bad” want to control the material taught in the “government schools”, insisting that religion and patriotism be incorporated in the curriculum at the expense of topics like evolution and global warming.

Here’s hoping those of us who view public education as the last best hope of democracy can change the peg on this discourse and remind voters that they are the government controlling their local schools and the policies set in DC and State capitols.

Job Training Expensive? Not Compared to Food Stamps or Prison.

July 9, 2016 Leave a comment

Eduardo Porter’s recent article in the NYTimes Economic Scene section champions job training and flags the underfunding our country makes when it comes to job training as compared to our economic counterparts. Using the story of a participant in Per Scholas, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit offering low-income workers training in information technology, Mr. Porter offers evidence like Per Scholas offer a leg up to those who graduate.

As much as I favor the ideas Mr. Porter advances in his article, I fear that he is overselling job training, particularly when he describes those who complete the program as being on “…a career path offering a shot at progress” because she landed an IT job at Barclays. Mr. Porter has presumably noted that “career paths” are few and far between in the workplace and large banks like Barclays are likely to embrace the introduction of technologies that “increase productivity” by eliminating jobs that can be managed remotely by robots. Mr. Porter also presumably understands that corporations who value the bottom line would favor outsourcing IT work to sub-contractors in lower wage foreign countries over paying higher taxes to fund grants to non-profit organizations like Per Scholas. Mr. Porter must realize that bringing programs like Per Scholas to scale— particularly in rural areas and small towns affected by large scale joblessness— is highly unlikely. Last but not least, Mr. Porter must also realize that the biggest challenge to joblessness is the need to create more jobs for those who lack the fundamental skills to gain the IT certifications his exemplary student attained.

I agree with his bottom line, though:

…$6,700 spent to provide one low-wage worker with the skills employers need is a small amount compared with the wage gains she could make in a few years. And there are other savings to keep in mind. More than one-third of workers who entered the WorkAdvance program, for instance, were getting food stamps, which they would not need if they earned more.

Or consider that it costs $31,000, on average, to keep an American in prison for one year. One-quarter of the workers enrolled in the WorkAdvance experiment had a criminal record.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States government spends only 0.03 percent of its gross domestic product on worker training. Denmark, whose policies to bring workers into work have gained praise around the world, spends proportionately almost 18 times as much. France spends 12 times as much; Germany seven times.

Americans’ main problem may not be that there are no solutions for the workers’ plight. It is just easier, not to say more politically rewarding, to scream at the Mexicans and the Chinese.

Maybe one of the candidates running for office will look at the cost-benefit analysis of food stamps and/or prison vs. job training or the economic competitiveness issue implicit in the OECD job training data and conclude that we need to invest more in that area… but instead I expect one candidate “to scream at the Mexicans and the Chinese” while the other candidate sticks to talking points that neglect the underlying problems in our country created by under-taxation and wishful thinking.  

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David Brooks Celebrates Human Nature’s Natural Compassion, Overlooking Conservatism’s Natural Darwinism

July 8, 2016 Leave a comment

David Brooks, an orthodox old-school conservative, seems incapable of connecting his humanity with his political thinking. In today’s column, “The Power of Altruism”, he offers several examples of research that demonstrates the fundamental compassion that humans possess and then laments that selfishness is viewed as the primary motivation for human behavior. He writes:

When we build academic disciplines and social institutions upon suppositions of selfishness we’re missing the motivations that drive people much of the time.

Worse, if you expect people to be selfish, you can actually crush their tendency to be good…

To be a good citizen, to be a good worker, you often have to make an altruistic commitment to some group or ideal, which will see you through those times when your job of citizenship is hard and frustrating. Whether you are a teacher serving students or a soldier serving your country or a clerk who likes your office mates, the moral motivation is much more powerful than the financial motivations. Arrangements that arouse the financial lens alone are just messing everything up.

Given the research cited in this column and this compelling paragraph, how can conservatives like Mr. Brooks possibly believe merit pay for teachers is a good idea? CAn’t they see that by encouraging teachers to earn more money by virtue of increasing test scores they are making an altruistic profession into a utilitarian one. They are, in Mr. Brooks’ words, “manipulating an institution that arouses the moral lens” and converting into one that is based solely on bloodless test scores. As a result, neoliberal and conservative “reformers” are creating a school culture that is “less cooperative, less trusting, less effective and less lovely.”

As a result of the “reform” movement we are taking children who are naturally caring and converting them into young social Darwinists who want to build their resumes so they can get into good colleges and earn lots of money. When will we collectively realize the damage we are doing to children as a result of this ‘reform” and cultivate the caring nature of children instead of feeding their competitive fire?  Given the recent passage of ESSA and the desire to measure the effectiveness of post-secondary education based on earnings I don’t expect to see a change any time soon unless opinion writers like Mr. Brooks come to their senses and begin advocating a more humanitarian approach to education.

Public Ed Advocates Wary of Democratic Establishment—And Here’s Why

July 8, 2016 Leave a comment

I hope Ms. Clinton, the celebrated inventor of the the “listening tour” when she was running for the Senate as a carpetbagger, gives Diane Ravitch an opportunity to meet with her. I’m willing to wager Ms. Clinton HAS given the hedge-funders who underwrite privatized charter schools a chance. 

Amid fights over trade deals, climate policy, and the minimum wage, the battle to save U.S. public education from the forces of corporatization and privatization has gotten minimal attention during the Democratic presidential primary.Diane Ravitch wants to change that.

Source: Public Ed Advocates Wary of Democratic Establishment—And Here’s Why

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The EPA’s Foot Dragging Yet Another Example of Systematic Oppression of the Voiceless

July 7, 2016 Leave a comment

The NYTimes editorial on the EPAs foot-dragging on the civil rights complaints regarding the location of refineries and hazardous waste disposal is yet another example of how governments take advantage of neighborhoods who have no voice because they have no wealth. The opening paragraphs of the editorial define the problem:

An oil refinery in a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Beaumont, Tex. A hazardous waste disposal site in Chaves County, N.M., a largely low-income, largely Hispanic area. Two power plants in Pittsburg, Calif., where most of the residents are from minorities.

These facilities were the subject of civil rights complaints filed with the Environmental Protection Agency more than 10 years ago. The complainants in most of them are still waiting for decisions.

The editorial then explains how the appeal process is supposed to work… and how it really works:

Under the rules, the E.P.A. is supposed to decide within 20 days of a complaint whether to investigate, and to issue a preliminary finding within 180 days. But in practice, the agency takes an average of 350 days just to determine whether it will investigate, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity, and a number of investigations by the agency have been open for years. The office has dismissed or rejected more than 90 percent of the complaints it has received and has never made a formal finding of discrimination.

The siting of refineries and waste sites that pollute the air are classic NIMBY (not in my back yard) issues… but their siting in poor neighborhoods is no different and arguably less insidious that the siting of charter schools in poor neighborhoods. When an ugly and/or smelly enterprise is needed to sustain our life style that enterprise is seldom located in an affluent community. Refineries, large scale solar arrays, warehouses, and wind farms are placed in neighborhoods or communities who will not launch campaigns to fight against them forcing the further degradation of those areas.

Similarly, the promotion of charter schools as the solution to “failing public schools” occurs in poor neighborhoods. Well funded districts like Scarsdale and Bronxville are not the targets of privatization; underfunded schools in urban neighborhoods are. And the impact is more insidious than the installation of a refinery or waste disposal site because when charter schools are offered the funding for public schools is degraded and the engaged parents withdraw their children from the public schools to enroll in charters. The net effect is to co-opt the engaged parents at the expense of the voiceless and disengaged parents and to co-opt the civil rights element of funding by “solving” the problem of inequitable schooling through “the magic of the marketplace”.

62 years ago the Supreme Court put an end to separate but equal. The children today are still waiting to see the results of that decision…. and charter schools are NOT the solution.

Economic and Racial Desegregation in NYC: One Area Where Incrementalism Makes Sense

July 6, 2016 1 comment

As one who believes that racial and socio-economic desegregation are needed for schools to succeed, and one who is extremely disappointed in the direction our schools are headed in this regard, I was heartened to read Elizabeth Harris’ article in today’s NYTimes on the small bore grassroots efforts underway in NYC to change the demographics in city schools. Ms. Harris’ article is not as derisive as it’s headline,”Small Steps But No Major Push to Integrate New York’s Schools”. Instead of decrying the lack of a “major push”, Ms. Harris offers a rationale for the way Chancellor Farina and Mayor de Blasio are approaching the issue of economic and racial diversity. Given the hand they were both dealt, over a decade of school choice and zoning policies that promote gentrification and a disproportionate number of economically disadvantaged children in public schools, Ms. Farina and Mr. de Blasio are using small bore “controlled choice” and “affordable housing” initiatives. In an early paragraph Ms. Harris describes the “givens” in NYC public education:

In a system in which about 75 percent of students are poor and nearly 70 percent are black or Hispanic, these efforts depend on some degree of local socioeconomic diversity. In gentrifying sections of Brooklyn, rich and poor live near one another, as they do in parts of Manhattan where public housing projects are next to expensive apartment buildings. But in most city school districts, where poor children live near other poor children, no such diversity exists. There, meaningful integration would require major intervention. 

Some politicians, particularly those representing sections of town where gentrification has not occurred, want the kind of major intervention needed to ensure “meaningful integration”. But “major intervention, like bussing children from, say, Park Slope or the Upper East Side to the Bronx or unilaterally redrawing district attendance zones to force 75-25 splits in demographics, will not achieve the kind of “meaningful integration” desired by pragmatic progressives like Ms. Farina and Mr. de Blasio.

It took 12 years for Mayor Bloomberg to institute the convoluted school-choice system in place and he did it incrementally and persistently. If Ms. Farina and Mr. de Blasio are given the same amount of time, it is conceivable that they can use “choice” and “affordable housing” to achieve “meaningful integration” to increase the opportunities for all children in the district, particularly if they receive the finding they need to provide wraparound services to the neediest children in the city.

And here is one point that Ms. Harris failed to acknowledge: unlike their predecessor, both Ms. Farina and Mr. de Blasio have identified diversity as necessary and good and both leaders are taking steps to increase diversity as a result. Instead of blaming teachers and unions for the “failure” of public schools, they are implicitly acknowledging that the environment of children plays a role in their success and improvement of schools requires an overall improvement in the quality of life for ALL children in the city. Here’s hoping Ms. Farina and Mr. de Blasio stay the course and get the funding they need to move forward.