$2,000,000,000,000 Bailout Winner: For-Profit Colleges!

March 26, 2020 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes article describing some of the fine print in the $2,000,000,000,000 bailout and this one sentence paragraph describes one sector that won:

And for-profit colleges will be able to keep federal loan money from students who drop out because of the coronavirus.

Further down in the article, which enumerates many intended and perhaps unintended beneficiaries of the new bailout, is a description of WHY the profiteering colleges would benefit:

A provision in the bill would allow all colleges to retain federal funds allocated to help educate qualifying students, even if the students in question dropped out because of coronavirus-related emergencies. While the provision applies to all colleges, critics of for-profit colleges contend that, because those schools tend to have higher dropout rates, they would be able to retain more of the money they collect via federal loans to their students than would traditional nonprofit colleges.

“What’s happening now is causing a crisis for all sectors of higher ed, and I understand the intent, but it would disproportionately help for-profit schools because their dropout rates are higher than other segments of higher ed,” said Toby Merrill, the founder of the Project on Predatory Student Lending.

In a massive spending bill like the one passed by the Senate it is impossible to push back on each and every flaw, but the fact that this was not flagged earlier is, the cynical part of me believes, an indication that for-profit education institutions that benefit because they fail large numbers of students are not an anathema to the leadership of the Democratic party. I hope my cynicism is misguided.

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Another Positive Outcome of Covid 19 Outbreak: Internet Inequality in the Limelight

March 24, 2020 Comments off

Over the past several days i’ve read countless articles on the impact of internet access inequities on student learning during the time interval when schools are closed. One of the best articles is an interview with MIT’s Justin Reich by Sarah Kleiner of the Center for Public Integrity titled “Yawning Gaps in Learning Expected During Pandemic“.  The reason for these gaps is explained in the Mr. Reich’s response to Ms. Kleiner’s first question, which was whether schools were prepared for this shift:

Schools use all kinds of technology to varying degrees, but the technologies to support in-class learning only partially overlap with the technologies needed to support distance learning. But certainly our schools, especially urban and rural schools, are dreadfully underfunded, and that insufficient investment will be increasingly revealed in the weeks ahead. Schools were not only unready in the sense of not having enough technology, but unready in the sense of having been woefully underfunded at least since the growth of 1970s era anti-government, austerity policies.

The greatest gap will be in K-12 education, where parents play a key role in educating the child even if the child’s education is on-line. Ms. Reich notes that the parents who will suffer most are those who will be laid off from work who will be under severe stress and looking desperately for some means to provide food, clothing ad shelter for their children. Those parents will be hard pressed to serve as the “coach and teacher” an online learner requires at home, for that is an essential element for success:

Most K-12 virtual schools are what we might call “coached homeschooling.” They depend upon a full-time parent as a coach and teacher. There is no viable model for elementary schools to provide remote instruction without every child having a parent, sibling or other guardian to instruct, assess and coach them.

In most cases, affluent parents have the wherewithal to provide that kind of support and to have the online tools available in their houses. Children of hourly employees are not so fortunate.

Reich… points out that internet access is a scarce commodity for many Americans. Just 56 percent of adults in households earning below $30,000 have broadband internet at home, and about 17 percent of adults access the internet at home through a smartphone only.

And so… as always seems to be the case, the rich get richer and the poor fall further behind. MAYBE the widening technology disparity will become clearer and get the attention it deserves.

Another Possible By-Product of Covid-19: We MIGHT Be Disabused of the Notion that Government Should be Run Like a Business

March 23, 2020 Comments off

A few days ago, Al Jazeera reporter Andrew Mitroveca wrote and scathing article about President Trump titled “Trump Proves Yet Again that Businessmen Should Not be President“. The article could just as easily been titled “Trump Proves Yet Again that Government Cannot be Run Like a Business“, a premise that is explicitly raised in the opening paragraphs of the article:

Nations should be governed as if they are companies.

Nations should be governed by men or women who have owned a company – preferably a big company.

For generations, this has been the neo-liberal mantra about how nations are organised, who is best qualified to lead and how citizens are expected to play a deferential role at the behest of owners turned presidents or prime ministers.

Donald Trump is the personification of the idea that chief executive officers can slip into the Oval Office from the corner office with ease and acuity, despite the murky means by which they may have achieved their corporate “success”.

The corollary to this CEO to POTUS trajectory is that, once in place, the former businessman will expertly swing a machete to slash the waste, bureaucracy, regulations and duplication that exists in “bloated” governments.

For several years as a public school Superintendent I fell prey to the notions advanced by David Osbourne and Ted Gaebler in their seminal book “Reinventing Government”, a book that both Bill Clinton and Al Gore used to guide them doing their terms of office from 1992-2000. And Osbourne and Gaebler were not the only gurus promoting the idea that business principles could be used to govern democratic institutions like school districts and city governments. Tom Peters lionized the business ethos William Donald Schaefer brought to the management of Baltimore city in his book In Search of Excellence and many periodicals for school administrators picked up on that line of thinking. Indeed, several urban districts, including NYC and Seattle, appointed Superintendents with no background whatsoever in public education on the theory that managing a school district was no different from managing a large complicated bureaucracy like a business or a military operation.

Donald Trump embodies everything that is wrong about the notion that a top-down CEO can solve the complicated problems that face a government… and his character flaws only magnify the inherent flaws of “running government like a business”. Mr. Mitroveca mercilessly illustrates the flaws of electing a business-minded individual to President, especially a seamless self-promoter like Donald Trump:

….No one should be surprised that a businessman who lied habitually would lie habitually as president. No one should be surprised that a floundering businessman would flounder as president. Nor should anyone be surprised by the profound, even fatal, human consequences of Trump’s lies and incompetence.

Clearly, Donald Trump is not the first president to have leveraged the vaunted neo-liberal title of “businessman” into president.

Armed with a Harvard Business degree, a stint as an oil executive and coownership of the Texas Rangers baseball club, former Republican President George W Bush, rode first into the Governor’s mansion in Austin, Texas and then into the White House.

Bush’s tenure as president is defined by one calamity after another. Each one was a repudiation of the sophomoric notion that running a business is remotely akin to running a government with complex, nuanced duties and responsibilities at home and abroad.

A cursory glance at his record confirms this. Bush assured himself, Americans and the world that the post 9/11 invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan would be quick, easy, cheap and effective. He was wrong on every count. The exclamation point of his disastrous geopolitical folly was declaring memorably: “Mission accomplished.”

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana, breaching levees, obliterating countless communities and killing thousands. Bush, America’s then CEO president, grudgingly returned to Washington from his 29-day vacation on a Texas ranch. Detached and aloof, Bush hovered above the carnage in a helicopter and boasted, with Trump-like, reality-defying bravado, that a top relief official was “doing a heck of a job”. 

And, finally, in 2008, a stunned Bush was reduced toa talking mannequin as the US economy collapsed and teetered towards depression after the sub-prime scam suddenly unravelled.

Mr. Mitroveca concludes his article with this blunt assessment of why it is a bad idea to run our nation like a business:

So, taken together, Trump and Bush have established:

Nations are not companies.

Nations should not be governed as if they are companies.

Nations should be not governed by men or women who have devoted their private lives to making money.

This same idea can be universally applied to anyone who sees the profit motive as the best means of achieving efficiency in any level of government.

Washington Post’s Narrative of School Reform Movement is Flawed, But It’s Conclusion is Accurate: Reform Failed

March 19, 2020 Comments off

Yesterday’s Washington Post featured an extended article by Kevin Carey on public education titled “The Demise of the Great Education Saviors“. It’s subtitle explains who the saviors were support to be:

Charter schools and testing were supposed to right historic wrongs.                                                                 Now they’ve run out of political steam. What happened?

Having lived through all of the history in the article and served as a public school administrator during the period of history Mr. Carey described, I found his narrative flawed. He oversold the virtues of testing asserting that Robert Kennedy saw testing as a means of achieving equitable outcomes in the face of districts who were fighting against school segregation, downplaying the GOP’s privatization agenda, dissociating the Common Core from Bill Gates misguided philanthropy, and insinuating that the virtues of competition could still save the day. Despite these flaws, his story ends with a clear and accurate conclusion: the reform movement failed.

And I also think Mr. Carey did a decent job of answering his question about “what happened?” in two key sections of the story he weaves. The first section offered an anecdote about Shannon Carey, an Oakland CA teacher who worked in a segregated and struggling elementary school beginning in 1992. After describing how Ms. Carey’s elementary school eliminated after school enrichment programs in favor of an extended school day and doubled the amount of math instruction, he offers this insight:

“For the record,” Carey says, “my teacher friends and I knew it was terrible from the start. These carrots and sticks with adults who were working in underfunded schools with 32 students per classroom? Really? You’re going to punish us for our migrant students who learned English two years ago, their test scores? It was very clear that it was setting us up to restructure. For privatization.”

…Teachers like Shannon Carey and her friends and millions like them sensed mistrust in how NCLB spoke to them. They felt infantilized and disrespected. Because the law did so little to fix the financial and social inequality baked into the education system and the larger society, they felt set up to fail. So they rejected it, in ways large and small.

Mr. Carey countered Ms. Carey’s contention that NCLB’s intent was to restructure and privatize by offering statistics on how few schools were actually closed— a misleading data point since the restructuring more frequently took the form of offering students the “choice” to attend a charter school. It is noteworthy that Mr. Carey offered no rejoinder to the sense teachers had that they “felt infantilized and disrespected”. Nor did he offer a rejoinder to their sense that they were “set up to fail” because “the law failed to fix the financial and social inequality baked into the education system and the larger society“. I suppose being of a quantitive mind Mr. Carey diminished these “feelings”… but in the case of the feelings they had of being set up, the facts are that neither NCLB or RTTT did anything to redress the “financial and social inequality baked into the education system and the larger society” and because of this oversight (or, less charitably, negligence) on the part of lawmakers, teachers in schools like the one where Ms. Carey taught WERE in fact punished for the low test scores their migrant students achieved… and likewise NYC teachers in schools serving a large population of homeless children whose absentee rates were high were punished… and teachers in underfunded schools in property poor districts were punished… In the meantime, teachers in affluent districts like the one I led from 2004-2011 paid no attention to minimum competency tests whatsoever because there was never any danger that they would be placed on a “watch list” for an extended time period. The result? While districts proximate to mine were struggling to maintain reasonable pupil-teacher ratios we were debating whether to offer swimming and rowing as interscholastic sports.

The second telling section of Mr. Carey’s article came at the end, where he described the status of the Education Trust, the school reform think tank he worked for from 2002-2005… and whose credo he still seems to believe— with some notable caveats, which I highlighted in bold red italics!

The Education Trust is now run by Obama’s second education secretary, John B. King Jr., a former schoolteacher, charter-school leader and New York state commissioner of education. “I’m more optimistic than many about the future of school reform,” he told me. For all the political controversy around the Common Core, he notes, 41 states and the District of Columbia remain on board.

King believes that accountability can succeed if it works alongside other critical changes, including more-equitable funding, higher-quality curriculums and better training for teachers. He points to a recent bipartisan deal in Massachusetts to boost school funding alongside accountability for student learning. States including Texas and California have taken advantage of the decade-long economic expansion to send large sums to high-poverty schools. Others may follow suit. King’s is a more pragmatic and incremental approach to improving education, one that recognizes, and pays, the price of democracy that confronted Robert Kennedy in 1965.

Of course with the Dow declining precipitously and unemployment forecast to rise to 20% it appears the “decade-long economic expansion” is over… and with it the other critical changes Mr. Kind calls for are likely to disappear as well… Here’s hoping the reform movement disappears with it…

We’re Witnessing a Huge Experiment that is Doomed to Fail

March 17, 2020 1 comment

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This Forbes article provided studies to support the flowing two facts about online learning:

It doesn’t work and it requires LOTS of parental oversight, oversight that will be lacking and fruitless even if it is present.

Some Positive Consequences of Covid 19: SATs and State Standardized Tests Cancelled

March 17, 2020 Comments off

CNN reported today that the College Board announced it is cancelling the May administration of the SAT and that the ACT, which also administers college placement exams in the US, announced similar measures regarding its April test. This won’t necessarily mean the end of the use of SATs and ACTs as screening for college entry, but if students are unable to take the tests and report their scores to colleges it might accelerate the movement away from their widespread us.

And SATs are not the only standardized tests to go by the boards. Both Texas and Washington State announced that they were cancelling the administration of their standardized tests. And Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post suggests that more cancellations of tests may be in the offing:

At least 33 states and the District have closed schools, many in the middle of spring standardized testing season. States use the results for different purposes, including to meet a federal testing mandate designed to assess how schools are helping students learn. There are other tests, too, including for high school graduation, third-grade retention and school voucher eligibility.

As with the SATs and ACTs, this won’t necessarily mean the end of the use of these tests for “…high school graduation, third-grade retention and school voucher eligibility” forever… but it will allow legislators to pause and MAYBE hit the reset button on their use.

 

The Lack of Sick Leave One Consequence of the Demise of Unions

March 15, 2020 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes includes an editorial titled “The Companies Putting Profits Ahead of Public Health”. Disgustingly and disgracefully fast food companies are the biggest culprits when it comes to insisting that its employees come to work even if their ill, a phenomenon that led to this finding:

Most American restaurants do not offer paid sick leave. Workers who fall sick face a simple choice: Work and get paid or stay home and get stiffed. Not surprisingly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2014 that fully 20 percent of food service workers had come to work at least once in the previous year “while sick with vomiting or diarrhea.”

…Companies have long sought to obscure the details of their sick leave policies, but The Times has obtained new data from The Shift Project, a nationwide survey of tens of thousands of retail workers conducted by the sociologists Daniel Schneider of the University of California, Berkeley; and Kristen Harknett of the University of California, San Francisco. While the federal government reports aggregate data on benefits, the Shift Project data — from its most recent surveys in 2018 and 2019 — provides a look at the benefits offered by individual corporations, published here for the first time. This makes it possible to name names.

The vast majority of workers at large restaurant chains report they do not get paid sick leave, except in the minority of states and cities where it is required by law. The list of malefactors includes the giants of fast food, like McDonald’s, Subway and Chick-fil-A, as well as sit-down restaurants like Cracker Barrel, Outback Steakhouse and the Cheesecake Factory.

And it’s not just restaurants. The data also shows most workers at the supermarket chains Wegmans, Kroger, Meijer and Giant Eagle reported that they did not get paid sick leave.

The lack of sick leave is not only a strain on the workers who need to show up when they are not feeling well, it exacerbates the spread of epidemics.

…Companies that do not pay sick workers to stay home are endangering their workers, their customers and the health of the broader public. Studies show that paying for sick employees to stay home significantly reduces the spread of the seasonal flu. There’s every reason to think it would help to check the new coronavirus, too.

How did it get this way? The NYTimes editorial doesn’t mention it explicitly, but I know from personal experience as a part-time worker and a former school Superintendent that the lack of unions representing employees plays a major role in this change-for-the worse.

Back in the late 1960s I worked as a part-time cashier at Dale’s Supermarket in Philadelphia. At the time I initially bemoaned the union dues deducted from my paycheck but came to understand that the contract provided sick leave, insurance (if I opted for it), and assurances that scheduling would be done a week in advance using a seniority-based algorithm. Dales eventually went out of business, in part because competitors paid lower wages to non-union at-will employees who got none of those benefits. The government has made it increasingly difficult for employees to organize and has done nothing to guarantee voters a living wage, health insurance, sick leave, or predictable work schedules. The result is a boatload of folks who are one paycheck away from disaster and a small number of plutocrats who wrote the rulebooks to put them there. Those who fall off the precipice when their part-time hours are cut will be wanting a safety net. Here’s hoping the libertarian legislators who wrote the rules since the Reagan administration repair the ones they took away in the name of the magic of the free market.

As a public school administrator for 35 years, 32 of which I headed or participated in negotiations with labor unions, I witnessed the erosion of the influence of unions– especially in the non-certified staff areas. While teachers unions maintained their foothold in collective bargaining, school districts increasingly outsourced things like food services, custodial services, and transportation to the private sector. This lowered the operating budgets of school districts, making the “shareholder-taxpayers” happy, but diminished the wages and eroded the working conditions of those who formerly worked for the school district. With every successive recession that occurred from 1980, when I began my career as a Superintendent, through 2011 when I retired, more and more services were “outsourced” which meant fewer and fewer “public” employees were governed by the union contracts.

This shedding of union employees in the public sector mirrored what was taking place in the economy at large: it benefitted those who could afford homes and pay property taxes and hurt those who earned the least and were most likely to live in rental properties or in “affordable” homes.

MAYBE one positive effect of the Covid-19 outbreak will be a collective dawning that our system as it is set up now benefits fewer and fewer individuals and those who are benefitting do so at the expense of everyone else. My fear is that the survival-of-the-fittest mentality that undergirds our current system will prevail and the current stratified arrangement we have in place today will become even more baked into our economic system than ever.