The Democrats DeVos Dilemma

January 18, 2017 2 comments

As noted in an earlier post this morning, one of the dilemmas many Democrats face is that they bought into the “reform” narrative that made it acceptable to replace “failing public schools” with deregulated privatized for-profit charter schools… and now that those deregulated privatized for-profit charter schools are also “failing” it opens the door for “reasonable dialogue” on the kinds of radical solutions Ms. DeVos is proposing— like vouchers. As exhibit A I offer the talking points Ms. DeVos released prior to her hearing yesterday, which are full of assertions that Arne Duncan could have made. I’ve highlighted and underlined only those portions of her testimony that would be contrary to the kinds of “motherhood” statements Mr. Duncan would have offered:

  • “My greatest educational influence in life was a public school teacher named Elsa Prince (her mother).”
  • “We recognized that other parents were not able to make similar decisions about their children’s education, based on their income or the zip code in which they lived.”
  • “I share President-elect Trump’s view that it’s time to shift the debate from what the system thinks is best for kids to what moms and dads want, expect and deserve.”
  • “Parents no longer believe that a one-size-fits-all model of learning meets the needs of every child, and they know other options exist, whether magnet, virtual, charter, home, religious, or any combination thereof.”
  • “I will be a strong advocate for great public schools.”
  • “Every child in America deserves to be in a safe environment that is free from discrimination.”
  • “Our nation’s schools are filled with talented, devoted professionals, who successfully meet the needs of many, many children.”
  • “We need to embrace new pathways of learning…Students should make informed choices about what type of education they want to pursue post high school and have access to high quality options.”
  • “President-elect Trump and I know it won’t be Washington, D.C. that unlocks our nation’s potential, nor a bigger bureaucracy, tougher mandates or a federal agency.”
  • “For me, it’s simple: I trust parents, and I believe in our children.”

With the exception of Ms. DeVos insertion of “religious” schools on her list of alternatives to “one-size-fits-all” schooling, these words could have been spoken by Arne Duncan or any Democrat appointee for Secretary of Education and would have received approving nods from the gallery. And her prepared remarks also included a series of statements that could have been ripped from the Democrat “reform” playbook:

Every student in America dreams of developing his or her unique talents and gifts.

Every parent in America dreams of a future when their children have access to schools with the rigor, challenges, and safe environments that successfully prepare them for a brighter, more hopeful tomorrow.

And every teacher in America dreams of breaking free from standardization, so that they can deploy their unique creativity and innovate with their students.

Our nation’s schools are filled with talented, devoted professionals, who successfully meet the needs of many, many children. But even our best schools don’t work for all. This isn’t the fault of teachers, but a reality that all students are unique, learn differently, and excel at their own pace.

Students also face new challenges today. In particular, our high school graduates are having increasing difficulty accessing affordable higher education. Escalating tuition is pricing aspiring and talented students out of college. Others are burdened with debts that will take years – or even decades — to pay off. There is no magic wand to make the debt go away, but we do need to take action. It would be a mistake to shift that burden to struggling taxpayers without first addressing why tuition has gotten so high.

For starters, we need to embrace new pathways of learning. For too long a college degree has been pushed as the only avenue for a better life. The old and expensive brick-mortar-and-ivy model is not the only one that will lead to a prosperous future. Craftsmanship is not a fallback – but a noble pursuit.

Students should make informed choices about what type of education they want to pursue post high school and have access to high quality options. President-elect Trump and I agree we need to support all post-secondary avenues, including trade and vocational schools, and community colleges.

Of course, on every one of these issues, Congress will play a vital role.

If confirmed, I look forward to working with you to enact solutions that empower parents and students, provide high quality options and spend tax dollars wisely.

We will work together to ensure the Every Student Succeeds Act is implemented as Congress intended — with local communities freed from burdensome regulations from Washington. And I look forward to working with Congress and all stakeholders to reauthorize the Higher Education Act to meet the needs of today’s college students…

For me, it’s simple: I trust parents, and I believe in our children.

These are excerpts from her opening statement, many of which are derived from her talking points… and had Mr. Trump selected a public school superintendent or university president who shares these views— and there are some out there— the nominee would have glided through, But Ms. DeVos has other flaws beyond her willingness to spend federal dollars on religiously affiliated schools. Her multi-million dollar donations to state and US legislators, her robust support for anti-public education “think tanks”, her investments in for-profit schools, her donations to charities that advocate “conversation therapy” for gay students, her unwillingness to support an expansion of spending on child care or post-secondary education… each these is a show-stopper for public education advocates.

I think the Democrat party should be grateful that Mr. Trump’s nominee lacks any record of overseeing a large bureaucracy, has spent money in ways that raise ethical questions, and has views on LGBT students and vouchers that are well outside the mainstream. Because if President-elet Trump had nominated a candidate who advocated an expansion of privatization accompanied by more regulatory oversight the Democrat party would be hard pressed to push back given their most recent appointees to that position. MAYBE before the next election cycle the Democrat party will devise a game plan that can differentiate itself from the “reform” narrative. For example, they might adopt a narrative that emphasizes the devastating impact of poverty and racism on the opportunities of hundreds of thousands of children. If the Democrats do not develop a counter-narrative to the “reform” narrative now in place, public education as we knew it before NCLB— with locally elected board oversight and local control over policies regarding schools— will disappear…. and in it’s place we’ll have corporate boards who manage charter chains with an eye on shareholder value.


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NYTimes Report on DeVos’ Hearing Illustrates Republicans Double Standards, Artful Framing of Debate

January 18, 2017 3 comments

I just finished watching the NYTimes video and reading the NYTimes article on Betsy DeVos Senate confirmation hearing held yesterday and find myself bemoaning the Republicans double standard in reviewing appointed and begrudgingly praising Lamar Alexander for his artful framing of the debate as committee chair.

It is appalling to see the Republican party’s dramatic shift in the process used to review of cabinet appointments. When they were in the minority in 2008 and Mr. Obama was the President elect then Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell insisted that the Senators on the hearing committee receive a full report from the Ethics office and an FBI clearance for each nominee before a hearing was convened. From my perspective as a “good governance” advocate, this was eminently reasonable and given Mr. Obama’s choices for each cabinet position and the full staffing in the Ethics office it was possible to do so. Furthermore, as the Times article notes, Committee Chair decided to limit each Senator to a single round of five minutes of questioning of Ms. DeVos, a break from the typical method of providing two rounds of questioning.  As Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut noted, “It suggests that this committee is trying to protect this nominee from scrutiny.” Given Ms. DeVos glaring lack of qualifications and advocacy for funneling public funds to religiously affiliated schools and her advocacy for deregulated charter schools, Mr. Alexander’s structure for the hearings was artful.

But Mr. Alexander’s framing of Ms. DeVos’ qualifications was even more artful. He said opposition to her appointment was based on three elements: her support for public charter schools; her advocacy that poor children be given more choices for where their children attend public schools; and the use of her “considerable wealth” to advance those ideas. Mr. Alexander is no fool. He must know that the opposition to her is rooted in her advocacy for deregulated and privatized charters and her openness to using public funds for religiously affiliated schools. He must know that the value of the vouchers he is advocating for each child are far below the amount any child raised in poverty can use— that is unless they want to attend a cut-rate for-profit charter school or a religiously affiliated school that underpays their staff and can exclude children based on their religious beliefs. He also must know that Ms. DeVos has used her “considerable wealth” to effectively bully State legislators to endorse some of the ideas she advocates, ideas that have not resulted in an improved education for her state.

Mr. Alexander is also an adroit politician… which is why he was able to point out that the Democrat party has also supported “public charter schools”, tacitly inserting the words “deregulated for-profit” in front of that phrase. Moreover, he noted that this is now a popular public sentiment.

And this is where the Democrat party’s record comes into play. Under President Obama the party supported Race to the Top which effectively advocated for the privatization of “failing schools” and thereby facilitated the expansion of privatization. Indeed, the Democrat’s track record on public charters only varies from Mr. DeVos in two significant respects: she wants to strip all regulatory oversight away and she wants to allow public funds to follow children into religiously affiliated schools. And while the public may support public charters, I doubt that they would support the funding of institutions like Trump University that bilk students into paying large sums for a worthless degree or madrases that teach the Koran.

Welcome to the Plutocracy: the 8 Richest People Have More Wealth than the Bottom Half

January 17, 2017 1 comment

The headline and pictures in the NYTimes article tell you a lot about the world economic condition. Here’s the headline:

World’s 8 Richest Have as Much Wealth as Bottom Half, Oxfam Says

And if you click on the link above you’ll see the picture of eight white men, and here’s a summary of how they gained their wealth:

Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, led the list with a net worth of $75 billion. He is scheduled to speak at the forum in Davos this year.

Amancio Ortega Gaona, the Spanish founder of the fashion company Inditex, best known for its oldest and biggest brand, Zara, has a net worth of $67 billion.

Warren E. Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, $60.8 billion.

Carlos Slim Helú, the Mexican telecommunications magnate, $50 billion.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, $45.2 billion.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s creator, $44.6 billion.

Lawrence J. Ellison, the founder of Oracle, $43.6 billion.

Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York and founder of the media and financial-data giant Bloomberg L.L.P., $40 billion.

Technology, finance, and communications dominate the list… and looking at their net worth I have only one question: how much is enough?

We CAN have Both Our Humanity and Technological Advancement

January 16, 2017 3 comments

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed piece by Claire Cain Miller titled “A Darker Theme in Obama’s Farewell: Automation Can Divide Us”. In the essay, Ms. Miller outlines the ways technology is being used to automate jobs in a fashion that displaces low-skilled workers. What the essay fails to emphasize is that this displacement is done to enrich shareholders without regard for the “collateral damage” being done in the name of creative destruction of the marketplace. After reading the essay, I left this comment:

One set of tasks cannot be automated: those requiring a caring, compassionate, and empathetic service provider. These kinds of service providers are valued by retailers— the ideal waitstaff at the restaurant or fast food emporium, the ideal Walmart “associate”, and the ideal help desk worker at the other end of the line when you call to make inquiries about your credit card are all expected to show they care and expected to provide you with the best “customer service” possible, albeit for minimum wage.

In an ideal world— where profit and efficiency are not valued over humanity— health care providers would also be caring, compassion and empathetic. But in our effort to provide efficient and cost-effective health care our insurance companies force health care providers to see as many patients as possible without regard for the way service is provided.

In an ideal world we would find a way to fully fund the jobs that explicitly require caring, compassion and empathy: teachers, social workers, and those who aid the helpless. But, alas, those are all “government jobs” and we wouldn’t want to raise our taxes to fund “government jobs”.

In an ideal world we could realize the benefits of technology without losing our humanity. We could achieve this if we used technology to reduce the workloads of everyone instead of using it to increase the profits of the .01%.

In an ideal world, everyone would work four days, schools would be fully staffed, social service agencies would have larger staffs, and— yes— wealth would be more evenly distributed. We COULD make this happen by design… or we could continue along our current path and achieve the dystopia envisioned by many science fiction writers and, arguably, George Orwell. While we have a choice we should make it.


Martin Luther King Junior’s Other Speech

January 16, 2017 1 comment

On the annual holiday commemorating civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Junior, we often hear excerpts from his inspirational “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963. That speech captured the uplifting spirit of the movement to end racial discrimination and, some contend, contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 roughly six months later. Unless this year is different from the past, though, we are likely to overlook one of Dr. King’s most challenging and thought provoking speeches.

Dr. King’s activism did not end with the passage of the Civil Rights bill, nor did his oratory end with the “I Have A Dream” speech. Over the last four years of his lifetime Dr. King became an outspoken advocate for peace and economic justice for all citizens in the world. In April 1967, Dr. King gave a speech at Riverside Baptist Church that is as relevant today as it was in 1967. Called the “Beyond Vietnam” speech, his address to a group called the Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam included this admonition:

When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

This warning seems particularly pertinent today, because the “giant triplets” have not been conquered and our devotion to “machines and computers, profit motives and property rights” is stronger than ever.

Racism, the first “giant triplet”, is with us more than ever. Over the past several decades we’ve witnessed a re-segregation of our schools and neighborhoods and observed a decline in civility in our public discourse on race issues. Worse, we just concluded an election where 14 states enacted voter suppression laws, some of which federal courts eliminated because they unfairly limited the participation of African American voters. And the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck instituted in 27 states to address “voter fraud” may have prevented over 7,000,000 African American, Asian, and Hispanics from voting.

The extreme materialism Dr. King referenced is our consumer culture that is driven by our belief that “more” is “better”, that possessions— i.e. property rights— are more important than human relationships. To change this perspective, Dr. King advocated a “true revolution of values”, a “shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society”. Looking at his world in 1967, Dr. King urged a chance in perspective:

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

Fifty years later we continue to value things more than people, continue to live in a world and a country that has a glaring contrast of poverty and wealth, and continue to ally with “landed gentry” whose governing principles are antithetical to ours.

And militarism, the third “giant triplet”, dominates our globe today as much as it did in 1967. In identifying the changes needed to achieve his “true revolution of values” Dr, King wrote:

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

Fifty years after this speech, our nation still spends more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift; and many would argue that as a result we are getting ever closer to the spiritual death Dr. King foretold. One of the primary reasons Dr. King decided to oppose the war in Vietnam was the realization that the resources needed to fight poverty were being spent on the military. The situation is no different today. The money spent on fifteen years of war in Afghanistan and fourteen years in Iraq is compounding our debt problems and taking resources away from “programs that contribute to social uplift”.

Were Dr. King alive today I expect he would be discouraged to see the backsliding that has occurred in race issues, frustrated to see how we continue to accept huge disparities in wealth and place a premium on “things”, and disheartened to see how much money we spend on the military. But I also expect he would urge us to seek the same solution he advocated fifty years ago:

Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism…

(O)ur loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing — embracing and unconditional love for all mankind… When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality…

When I recently read Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech I was struck by its prescience and its applicability to our times. But I was also struck by the sense that the speech has been “overlooked” because it’s message is as unsettling today as it was in 1967. Lyndon Johnson, the President of the United States who fought hard to pass the Civil Rights legislation four years earlier, felt betrayed by Dr. King’s opposition to a war the President felt was justified. And Dr. King’s colleagues in the Civil Rights movement also questioned his decision to take a stand on the War in Vietnam, fearing that his focus on the Anti-War issue diverted attention away from their cause. “And 0ver 160 newspapers wrote editorials condemning Dr. King for his “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

As we commemorate Dr. King this year on the eve of the inauguration of a Presidential campaign that divided our country, I believe the overarching message of Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech is crucial. As we passionately debate contentious issues in the coming years we need to heed Dr. King’s words from fifty years ago:

We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.

Note: This appeared as an op ed in today’s edition of the Valley News


Betsy Devos Can SAY She Supports Accountability for De-Regulated Charters… But Her ACTIONS Indicate Something Different

January 15, 2017 Leave a comment

Atlantic writer Allie Gross did a comprehensive analysis of the laws Betsy DeVos cites as “proof” that she is all for accountability for deregulated for profit charters, but the crazy-quilt system she helped underwrite in MI shows otherwise.

First, as noted in countless articles and several blog posts on this site, Ms. DeVos and her family and her cronies have invested millions (if not more than a billion) supporting legislators and “think tanks” that advocate for deregulated charter schools. Thanks in large measure to this largesse, MI has become one of the least regulate and most privatized public school systems in America and serves as a good example of where she would take public education if she was given the chance to frame national policy and/or if she was given the responsibility for determining if a State’s accountability plan passes muster. Based on MI’s so-called accountability law, our country’s public schools are about to travel down a path of utter and complete deregulation and greatly expanded privatization… both of which will lead to dismal failure for children if MI’s experience is any indication. Mr. Gross details the way the MI set-up makes a farce of the term “accountability” and opens the door for profiteers. Here’s a synthesis of the ideas instituted based on the laws she’s underwritten:

  • Schools need to be among the lowest 5% for three consecutive years in order to be considered “failing”, which makes them potentially eligible for closure
  • The “authorizers”— those responsible for management of non-public “failing” schools, can determine how to remedy the failures without closing. Since the authorizers have a monetary stake in the operation of the “failing” schools, the likelihood of closure as an option is slim-to-non-existent.
  • The remedies for a “failing” school include restructuring the grade levels it offers, changing the governing board of the school, or changing the vendor who provides the program
  • The “authorizer’s” decision is final and cannot be appealed
  • A failing school may not have to close at all if “…closing a charter would “result in unreasonable hardship” for students or that there are “insufficient other public school options” available.” This has the effect of keeping “failing” for-profit schools that serve children residing in rural areas and, in some cases, children residing in urban areas from being able to “choose” a “passing” school in a nearby district or neighborhood.

Gross’ excellent article provides more nitty gritty substantiating details… but you can get the idea from this overview: the system is rigged in favor of the profiteers and at the expense of children— especially children raised in poverty.









Harvard, MIT MOOC Study Illustrates Conundrum Faced by Public Schools

January 15, 2017 Leave a comment

I just scanned a report from HarvardX and MITx, the joint venture of those two renowned institutions into the world of MOOCs and it brought to mind a conundrum public education faces in dealing with on-line courses. Here’s an overview of the dilemma:

  • Teachers organizations and state school board regulations are generally opposed to awarding credits to students who earn credits through on-line courses or through any means other than “seat time” …. BUT
    • Teachers need to complete coursework for re-certification.
    • Teacher pay scales are typically designed to offer an advancement in compensation by accumulating graduate courses at an accredited college and, in some cases through the accumulation of “course equivalency units” set by the school district.
    • Teachers are ALL pressed for time and teachers in rural areas are often a great distance away from a site where courses are offered…. SO
  • Colleges, universities, professional organizations, and “edu-preneurs” have developed on-line methods for teachers to complete necessary course work to remain certified AND on-line methods for teachers to earn graduate credits AND courses that students in small rural schools can complete on line… AND
  • Those same colleges, universities, professional organizations, and “edu-preneurs” developed on-line methods for other professionals (e.g. lawyers, medical professionals, any profession requiring a license) to complete necessary course work to remain certified

During my last years as Superintendent this confluence of events posed some difficult questions for us.

  • If other professions grant re-certification through on-line courses why shouldn’t teachers earn their re-certification courses the same way?
  • If  colleges, universities, professional organizations, and “edu-preneurs” have developed on-line methods for teachers to earn graduate credits why should we require them to drive 100 miles round trip to complete graduate courses at the closest State college offering courses— especially when those same institutions were offering courses on-line?
  • If we are willing to offer teachers the opportunity to earn graduate credits for on-line courses, credits that would advance their pay, why should we offer students the same opportunity to earn credit for high school courses that would enable them to graduate earlier? or enable them to expand their part-time work hours? or to devote more time to athletics? or to devote more time to playing on-line games?

As you can see, the advent of MOOCs posed some perplexing questions about the potential for technology to disrupt the usual and customary methods for schooling. The answers to these questions will define the direction of public schooling in the future… as well as the role of school boards, government regulations, and teachers in the future.