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Congresswoman Foxx’s Advice to Betsy DeVos: “You can start with: Don’t do anything.”

April 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Earlier this week the “TrumpEd” articlesection of the eSchool Media Website published an by Anna Douglas of the McClatchy news organization titled “Could the Education Department’s Days Be Numbered”. The short answer to the question posed in the title is “NO”… but, as the article notes, NC GOP Congresswoman Virginia Foxx is ready to do everything possible to minimize the impact of the department under Mr. Trump’s and Ms. DeVos’ leadership. Ms. Douglas writes:

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx wants the federal Department of Education to disappear. She wants Washington to stop passing down rules and regulations schools have to follow.

As the new chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, the seven-term North Carolina congresswoman has a powerful forum to talk about all that…

Foxx, who helped lead the writing of the 2016 Republican Party platform and served in House leadership, figures she’ll have to dilute Education Department power bit by bit. Already, she’s championing the use of a rare legislative tactic in Congress to eliminate some Obama administration regulations.

And Foxx is putting pressure on her colleagues in Congress to write the sort of legislation she wants, contending that some past laws were written sloppily and left too much leeway for federal departments to fill in gaps with rules and regulations.

Any federal educational policies, she told McClatchy in an interview, should come from lawmakers–not bureaucrats.

“We’ve got some good laws in place–let Congress do its oversight,” she said. “Sometimes doing nothing from the federal level is good.”

I would hope after seven terms in office that Ms. Foxx would understand the necessity for bureaucrats— not members of Congress— to write policy and develop regulations. Given the arcane financial products on the market, the detailed medical and scientific knowledge required to regulate health providers and consumer products, and the broad scope of Congress’ work it is hard to fathom how “lawmakers” could devise any meaningful policies in those fields.

I would also hope that Ms. Foxx realizes that if the federal government had “done nothing” in the past that poverty and inequality would be even more rampant in our country… and racial equality would be even more retrograde than it is now.

On the other hand, though, Arne Duncan and Barack Obama’s insistence that standardized tests be used as a metric for school quality and teaching effectiveness makes Ms. Foxx’s notion of “doing nothing” seem like a good idea. Indeed, one of the two items the GOP repealed using the Congressional Review Act was a misguided attempt by the Obama administration that “…required states to build a rating system for local teacher education programs, including judging teacher preparation based on student performance.” ETS and Pearson probably bemoaned that decision, but teacher educators and current teachers and administrators should be happy to see a de-emphasis on testing. The other item the GOP repealed, a “requirement to submit detailed school-accountability plans to the federal Education Department“, may or may not be salutary. Had standardized testing been a primary element of the “… detailed school-accountability plans”, in all probability the high-stakes testing regimen would have continued for another decade or so. But it is also possible that allowing the States to develop their own school accountability plans could lead to mis-use of tests by increasing VAM and/or ignoring any disparate scores that minority and low income students attain on such tests.

While ending the Department of Education is unlikely, it IS highly likely that the Department will be stripped of its authority. As Douglas explains:

Democrats in Congress will have limited power as Foxx and other conservatives look for a reset at the Education Department. Foxx said she’d found an ally in Secretary Betsy DeVos.

As things unfold, Foxx’s simple advice to DeVos has been: “You can start with: Don’t do anything.”

Rules, regulations and “dear colleague” letters from the department in the past incensed Foxx. Too often, she said, federal departments use regulations or executive power to distort legislative intent.

“We’re gonna stop this foolishness of letters and then people saying, ‘I’ve got to do this.’ Where is the authority for that? There’s no authority, but the school systems are scared,” she said.

One would hope that instead of “doing nothing” the federal government would pass legislation that intends to level the playing field for all students so that everyone, no matter what zip code they are born into, would have an equal opportunity. Alas, with Foxx, DeVos, and Trump setting the tone I do not foresee that kind of moral leadership forthcoming

 

Supreme Court Could Open the Door for Expansion of Vouchers

April 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s Politico post led with an overview of Trinity Lutheran Church’s appeal to receive state funding for it’s sectarian schools, a case that could open the door to vouchers. Here are the the opening paragraphs:

SUPREME COURT COULD CLEAR ROADBLOCKS TO SCHOOL VOUCHERS: The Supreme Court on Wednesday is set to hear a case that could have huge implications for school voucher programs. At issue is an 1875 provision of Missouri’s Constitution banning public money from going “directly or indirectly” to religious groups, including schools. Similar provisions, called Blaine Amendments, exist in roughly three dozen states and have been a major barrier to school vouchers. They’ve also proved resilient, surviving numerous state ballot repeal efforts – including an unsuccessful Michigan initiative pushed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos nearly two decades ago.

– Religious groups see this and a related Colorado case as their best shots at scrapping the amendments – and they believe Neil Gorsuch, who just took his seat on the high court, will take their side. They point to Gorsuch’s deference to religious rights in other cases. Most notably, while on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, he backed a religious challenge to the Affordable Care Act – joining the panel’s majority in the Hobby Lobby case to rule that the Obama administration could not require a closely-held business to offer contraceptive coverage if that interfered with the owners’ religious beliefs – a decision later upheld by the Supreme Court. In another case, he ruled that a Wyoming prison had to provide a sweat lodge to a Native American for his religious practices.

– Court watchers believe Gorsuch might cast a tie-breaking vote since the court had apparently delayed arguments in the Missouri case until they had a ninth justice. “The justices have likely seen this as a case on which they would have been divided four to four,” said Stephen Wermiel, a constitutional law professor at American University. “They must expect that Gorsuch will be the deciding fifth vote.” Benjamin Wermund has more on that here.

Prior to the GOP’s decision to “go nuclear” to get Mr. Gorsuch appointed, there was some speculation that the hearing scheduled for this case was the driving force behind that decision. With 35 states under GOP control and a President and Secretary of Education who are willing to promote vouchers for religious schools the time is ripe to get a case like this before the Supreme Court. There is, however, one possible fly in the ointment, as noted in the Politico piece:

– There is a chance the case could get tossed out . The case hinges on the state’s denial of Trinity Lutheran Church’s request for a grant to reimburse the cost of resurfacing its preschool playground with recycled tires. State officials said the Blaine Amendment prevented it from aiding the church in any way. But late last week, Missouri’s newly elected Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, announced that he has directed the state agency to consider religious organizations for such grants. The parties on both sides must submit their views by noon today on whether the the announcement makes the legal dispute moot. Even if the justices dismiss this case, they could soon hear the same issues in a pending Colorado case in which the ACLU and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State claim a school voucher program violates the state’s no-aid clause.

Should vouchers be allowed for religious schools a huge shift of funding will occur, draining money for public education that serves all children into the pockets of religious schools who currently serve generally affluent parents who can afford the tuition. Not only will such a decision have an economically unjust impact on our nation, but it will further erode the wall between church and state. Should the case be heard and decided, the battle for equity and separation of church and state will devolve to the states. Here’s hoping that voters will not support the repeal of Blaine amendments and the economic injustice that results.

OCR’s Investigation Into Richmond VA Suspensions Could Indicate Future Direction

April 18, 2017 Leave a comment

After blogging yesterday about the appointment of Candace Jackson– an inexperienced anti-feminist and anti-affirmative action attorney– as de facto head of OCR, I read with interest K.Burnell Evans’ article that appeared in yesterday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch. Titled “US Department of Education Launches Investigation into Richmond Public Schools”, Evans’ article opens with these paragraphs:

The U.S. Department of Education has launched a civil rights investigation of Richmond Public Schools at the request of advocacy groups that say the district’s disciplinary policies discriminate against black students and students with disabilities.

The decision was announced Monday by the Legal Aid Justice Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, which received word last week that the federal agency’s Office for Civil Rights would investigate concerns the organizations submitted in August.

Among them: Black students with disabilities were nearly 13 times more likely than white students without disabilities to receive short-term suspensions, Virginia Department of Education data from the 2014-15 academic year show.

The article details the basis for the complaint, noting that “…at least 1 in 4 students were suspended from eight Richmond Public Schools in the 2014-15 school year, including at two elementary schools”. The article also noted that State had taken action in two other counties with lower suspension rates. But reading on, it seemed less clear that the State would take any action in Richmond’s case.

Although the Virginia Department of Education does collect self-reported student discipline data from school districts, it was unclear Monday whether Richmond Public Schools had been cited for issues of discipline inequity in recent years.

Public school systems for Chesterfield and Henrico counties have.

State Education Department spokeswoman Julie Grimes said the agency does not conduct investigations based on the data. The information is reported to the federal government for funding purposes.

If the State is not using data to take action, why does it bother to collect the data at all? And if it is “…reported to the federal government for funding purposes” are there any consequences at that level if there are marked disparities in suspension rates?

Based on the closing paragraphs, I think I know the answer:

The federal Education Department did not immediately provide information Monday about the percentage of complaints the Office for Civil Rights agrees to investigate. It was unclear when the probe might conclude.

With Candace Jackson at the helm, I doubt that OCR will display much zeal in their investigation… and frankly doubt that any meaningful investigation will take place. Indeed, given the review of rules taking place, I would not be surprised to read that disaggregated data on suspensions will cease in the name of “efficiency”…

DeVos Appointee to Head Office of Civil Rights is Chilling

April 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Last Friday Pro Publica blogger Annie Waldman posted a profile of Candace Jackson, Betsy DeVos’ nominee to serve as de facto head the Office of Civil Rights (OCR)… and it is chilling. Unlike her predecessors, who typically had in depth legal background and experience, Ms. Jackson has “…limited background in civil rights law”. Her inexperience, though, is less problematic than her perspective on the mission of OCR:

A longtime anti-Clinton activistand an outspoken conservative-turned-libertarian, she has denounced feminism and race-based preferences. She’s also written favorably about, and helped edit a book by, an economist who decried both compulsory education and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Jackson’s inexperience, along with speculation that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will roll back civil rights enforcement, lead some observers to wonder whether Jackson, like several other Trump administration appointees, lacks sympathy for the traditional mission of the office she’s been chosen to lead.

My description of Mr. Jackson as “de facto head of OCR” is based on the workaround Betsy DeVos has concocted. Instead of nominating her to head the division, which would require approval by the Senate, Ms. DeVos appointed her as deputy assistant, leaving the inexperienced Ms. Jackson in charge of “…about 550 full-time department staffers, who are responsible for investigating thousands of civil rights complaints each year.” 

As Ms. Waldman notes in her profile of Ms. Jackson, as an undergraduate at Stanford she wrote articles in opposition to affirmative action and feminism, and later was involved in several libertarian organizations, one of which opposed mandatory education. When And in the recent past?

In the past few years, she has operated her own law firm. According to a recent biography on her website, her practice specialized in “business, entertainment, and litigation matters,” for a range of clients, “from restaurants to medical clinics, and from authors and musicians to filmmakers and record labels.”

In 2005, Jackson wrote a book on the allegations of sexual misconduct against Bill Clinton, titled “Their Lives: The Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine.” She gained national attention last October after she arranged for several of Bill Clinton’s accusers to attend a presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Jackson sat with the women in the front of the audience. A few days before the debate, Jackson established Their Lives Foundation. In registration documents, she described two of its purposes as “giving public voice to victims of women who abuse positions of power” and “advocating for and against candidates for political office.”

Less than a week after the debate, Jackson posted on Facebook that her foundation “supports all victims of power abusers,” but labeled Trump’s accusers “fake victims.” Since the initial announcement of her Education Department role, her Facebook page has been taken offline.

And so the person responsible for overseeing “…thousands of civil rights cases per year” is a libertarian, anti-affirmative action, anti-feminist whose only legal experience is in “...business, entertainment, and litigation matters”. These are sad times for progressive educators and those who value social justice.

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“Jesus Was Homeschooled Beginning at Age 12” – Biblical Proof that a Mass Exodus from Public Education is Needed

April 5, 2017 Leave a comment

Last week I read an article describing Dr. James Dobson’s perspective on homeschooling and see a part of the endgame Betsy DeVos is seeking. Titled, “Dobson: Christians Need Mass Exodus from Public Schools”, the WND Exclusive article by Bob Unruh describes James Dobson’s reaction to the findings of Dan Smith from the Nehemiah Institute who determined that if only millennials voted in the 2016 presidential race, the results would have been 504 Electoral College votes for Hillary Clinton and 23 for Donald Trump.

“That shocked me,” Dobson said, noting the far-left agenda pursued by Clinton along with her scandals.

Dobson warned that Christians are losing the next generation.

“They been propagandized and given a philosophy that in many cases is contrary to Scripture and what we believe,” he said.

And how and where have they been propagandized? You guessed it: in “government schools!”

And it’s largely because of the anti-Christian influences of public schools, attended by many impressionable and unprepared Christian children for six hours a day, 180 days a year for 12 or 13 formative years.

They’re exposed to LGBT teachings, evolution, a revisionist form of American history, Islam and worse.

E. Ray Moore of the Exodus Mandate, which encourages Christian parents to homeschool their children or put them in church-run Christian schools, offers Biblical solution to the problem: homeschooling!

“There’s a scriptural pattern,” Moore explained. “The Bible’s clear the Scripture assigns the education of children to the family with assistance from the church, not the government.

Even very young children are mean to each other in public school settings, he said, and many aren’t equipped to handle it.

Moore described the 2016 election as a “reprieve” for Christians, who now have time to correct the agenda of churches to include homeschool or Christian schools.

“If we don’t change the way we do education,” he said, “we’ll lose the country. I’m 73 and those coming behind us do not agree with their own parents.”

Moore said the Bible commands children to be raised in the Lord, and public schools in many ways are overtly hostile to faith. But 80 percent of evangelicals still subject their children to public school classrooms…

“We believe you can make a case with data that the main reason the culture and the next generation are turning away from traditional values, from the Gospel, from Christianity, is primarily because of the indoctrination of the public-school system,” Moore said.

Dobson and Moore noted that even Jesus was homeschooled until he was 12 years old.

In case you missed it, Betsy DeVos advocates legislation that would allow government funds to be used to help advance Dr. Dobson’s and Mr. Moore’s Exodus Mandate. Indeed, when it became clear that Mr. Trump would support the notion of accelerating the movement out of government schools and into sectarian schools as well as his support for anti-abortion legislation the evangelicals decided to support him despite his personal flaws and his obvious worship of the almighty dollar more than Almighty God.

I do agree with Mr. Moore on one point, though.. and that is this: “If we don’t change the way we do education we’ll lose the country.” I think we disagree strongly, though, on the kinds of changes that we need to make.

 

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Union District in Oklahoma Exemplifies Network School Model

April 3, 2017 Leave a comment

David Kirp’s article in yesterday’s NYTimes, “Who Needs Charters When You Have Schools Like These?” describes the success experienced in the Union Public Schools district in the eastern part of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Like most districts in Oklahoma, Union is woefully underfunded. But despite the shortage of money, it is doing an amazing job of educating its largely Latino and poverty stricken population. How? By accepting full responsibility for the well-being of the children who attend and by offering all the children in the school a challenging STEM curriculum…. But I believe the acceptance of responsibility for well being and the caring for each and every student that goes with it are the primary factor.

“Our motto is: ‘We are here for all the kids,’ ” Cathy Burden, who retired in 2013 after 19 years as superintendent, told me. That’s not just a feel-good slogan. “About a decade ago I called a special principals’ meeting — the schools were closed that day because of an ice storm — and ran down the list of student dropouts, name by name,” she said. “No one knew the story of any kid on that list. It was humiliating — we hadn’t done our job.” It was also a wake-up call. “Since then,” she adds, “we tell the students, ‘We’re going to be the parent who shows you how you can go to college.’ ”

Last summer, Kirt Hartzler, the current superintendent, tracked down 64 seniors who had been on track to graduate but dropped out. He persuaded almost all of them to complete their coursework. “Too many educators give up on kids,” he told me. “They think that if an 18-year-old doesn’t have a diploma, he’s got to figure things out for himself. I hate that mind-set.”

The school operates like an institution that is the parent who can show the way and a one-stop community service center:

The school district also realized, as Ms. Burden put it, that “focusing entirely on academics wasn’t enough, especially for poor kids.” Beginning in 2004, Union started revamping its schools into what are generally known as community schools. These schools open early, so parents can drop off their kids on their way to work, and stay open late and during summers. They offer students the cornucopia of activities — art, music, science, sports, tutoring — that middle-class families routinely provide. They operate as neighborhood hubs, providing families with access to a health care clinic in the school or nearby; connecting parents to job-training opportunities; delivering clothing, food, furniture and bikes; and enabling teenage mothers to graduate by offering day care for their infants.

This integration of social services is a universal key component to every high performing public school, as is are the extended hours for child care and/or extra-curricular activities. And while the services offered in the “neighborhood hub” model don’t add a dime to the school budget, they DO require the school to re-format itself, to adopt a new algorithm for success apart from preparing students for the next standardized testing cycle.

Mr. Kirp concludes his article with a paragraph consisting of two questions:

Will Ms. DeVos and her education department appreciate the value of investing in high-quality public education and spread the word about school systems like Union? Or will the choice-and-vouchers ideology upstage the evidence?

I trust he knows the answer… and I sense he shakes his head in dismay as he poses the questions.

President Trump’s Plan for Destroying “Failed” Programs and Departments

March 28, 2017 Leave a comment

Most presidents want to build things to leave a legacy. But from what I’ve witnessed thus far, it is evident that Donald Trump wants to destroy the government as we’ve known it and, in it’s wake, destroy democracy as well. A post published by Diance Ravtich on the vacancies in the US Department of Education positions reinforced this notion. In the post, she draws from fellow blogger Laura Chapman’s post enumerating the positions filled thus far, which are far down on the organization chart, and those that remain vacant, which are key assignments that require an ethics review. Dianne Ravitch summarize the filled vacancies in one blistering sentence: “All of the appointments to date are political cronies of Trump or DeVos.” And Ms. Chapman offers this list of positions that are unfilled:

Deputy Secretary
Under Secretary
General Counsel, Office of the General Counsel

Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director, Office of English Language Acquisition
Assistant Deputy Secretary, Office of Innovation and Improvement

Assistant Secretary, Office for Civil Rights
Assistant Secretary, Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education
Assistant Secretary, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education
Assistant Secretary, Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs
Assistant Secretary, Office of Management
Assistant Secretary, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development
Assistant Secretary, Office of Postsecondary Education
Assistant Secretary, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

Director, Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships
Director, Educational Technology
Director, Institute of Education Sciences
Director, International Affairs Office

Executive Director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education

Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans
Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans
Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Performance Improvement Officer

Ms. Chapman concludes this list with this observation:

On April 3, 2014 about twenty states will be submitting to USDE their ESSA compliance plans. I think these will probably be unopened and just sit “somewhere” because nobody seems to be in charge of Elementary and Secondary Education. These plans run 150 pages or more and are supposed to be “approved” by someone at USDE after they are thoroughly reviewed.

This slow filling of vacancies in the USDOE is a feature, not a bug…. and it is happening in every department Mr. Trump wants to eliminate or make small enough to drown in a bathtub. When State Department of Education officials are forced to wait for months to determine if their plans are approved the complaints about the ineffectiveness of the USDOE will mount and Mr. Trump will have “proof” that the Department of Education should be eliminated and education should be returned to the states where it belongs. He will also have “proof” that the need for regulations regarding the spending of block grants is unimportant which, in turn, makes any number of jobs in USDOE superfluous.

Moreover, Mr. Trump seems to be completely indifferent to public education, so USDOE seems like a good place to stick people who are wholly unqualified to lead. And as an added bonus, many of those appointees have a deep seated antipathy for public schools that will help them sabotage the efforts of a department supposedly committed to the improvement of public education. And if they do a terrible job they will help him “prove” that the USDOE is worthless!

BUT… at the same time, like every politician he spoke of disdainfully, Mr. Trump needs to reward those who did legwork to get him in office by giving them a job…. and like every CEO with an over-large ego he needs to reward sycophants as well….

Finally, this is not the only program that will suffer at the hands of intentionally incompetent leadership or understaffing. Watch what happens in the next few months with Obamacare… Mr. Trump will be making sure that it crashes and burns by underfunding HHS and keeping scores of positions open or filled with people who are opposed to programs they are “overseeing”. The same will be true in Energy, in Interior, and State Departments. In Mr. Trump’s administration, in every department except Defense and Homeland Security, “Small is Beautiful”.