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Betsy DeVos’ Message on Capitol Hill: Parents Decide; Equity Doesn’t Matter

May 25, 2017 Leave a comment

In her article in yesterday’s Washington Post, Valerie Strauss described “five startling things” Betsy DeVos told Congress when she presented her budget… items that were startling but not surprising given her advocacy for school choice at the expense of equity and opportunity. The five items are summarized below:

  1. States can allow schools receiving federal money to discriminate based on race and gender issues
  2. States can decide if schools that do not provide funding for IDEA students can receive federal money
  3. Currently, ALL high poverty schools receive more federal money than ALL low poverty schools
  4. The Trump-DeVos choice plan does not shift money away from public schools
  5. Schools receiving federal voucher funds may not be required to meet the same standards as public schools

Ms. Strauss’ article does an artful job of capturing Ms. DeVos’ dodging of the questions by repeating two mantras: parents are the ones who should decide where their child attends school and states should be given more leeway in determining which schools receive federal funds. Evidently Ms. DeVos is prepared to turn back the clock to the era of segregation based on race, warehousing of special needs children in the name of economic efficiency, and wholly inequitable funding…. all in the name of providing funds for religiously affiliated schools whose values match those of the parents.

Ms. Strauss concludes the article with a verbatim transcript of Ms. DeVos testimony which outlined the five principles she used to define the budget she was presenting. Those principles, with my highlights added, are:

  1. “…giving parents more power and students more opportunities”
  2. “…maintaining strong support for public schools through longstanding State formula grant programs focused on meeting the educational needs of the nation’s most vulnerable students, including poor and minority students and students with disabilities.”
  3. “…strong support for the research and data collection activities of the Department.”
  4. “…reduces the complexity of funding for college while prioritizing efforts to help make a college education accessible for low-income students” (see a later post on this blog for what is going to happen to 400,000 students who were bilked by for-profit colleges) 
  5. “…eliminate or phase-out 22 programs that are duplicative, ineffective, or are better supported through State, local or philanthropic efforts.”

So much for the government that opened doors for black children, provided access to public education for handicapped children, and provided supplementary funding to communities who have neither the tax base nor the wherewithal to offer creative and innovative programs.

I will note, though, that Ms. DeVos “startling” testimony does jibe with her “principles” and those of the GOP. Here’s hoping that those principles are roundly rejected by Congress when they enact the budget.

 

Diane Ravitch Identifies Root of Problem: BOTH Political Parties are Beholden to Wall Street… and Wall Street LOVES $$$

May 24, 2017 Leave a comment

In a New Republic article published yesterday, Diane Ravitch savages the Democratic Party for its adoption of an educational policy that mirrors that of the conservative Republicans. And this “inconvenient truth” makes it difficult for them to push back on the Trump-DeVos voucher agenda:

Democrats have been promoting a conservative “school reform” agenda for the past three decades. Some did it because they fell for the myths of “accountability” and “choice” as magic bullets for better schools. Some did it because “choice” has centrist appeal. Others sold out public schools for campaign contributions from the charter industry and its Wall Street patrons. Whatever the motivations, the upshot is clear: The Democratic Party has lost its way on public education. In a very real sense, Democrats paved the way for DeVos and her plans to privatize the school system.

While the “sell out” for campaign contributions is listed last, it rightfully gets the most play in her article as she describes the many candidates who rely on donations from hedge funders who love the idea of replacing publicly governed schools with deregulated privately operated charter schools, emphasizing the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever that these charters improve educational opportunity at all.

Her article concludes with a challenge to the Democratic Party: change their position on public education NOW!

The agenda isn’t complicated. Fight privatization of all kinds. Insist on an evidence-based debate about charter schools and vouchers. Abandon the obsession with testing. Fight for equitable funding, with public money flowing to the neediest schools. Acknowledge the importance of well-educated, professional teachers in every classroom. Follow the example of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who vetoed a bill to expand charters in March. Or Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who insists that charters employ certified teachers, allow them to unionize, and fall under the control of local school districts. Democrats should take their cue from Bullock when he declares, “I continue to firmly believe that our public education system is the great equalizer.”

There is already an education agenda that is good for children, good for educators, good for the nation, and good for the Democratic Party. It’s called good public schools for everyone. All Democrats have to do is to rediscover it.

And here’s the challenge for all of us who value public education— AND democracy: we need to find a political means of achieving the agenda Ms. Ravitch lays out if the Democratic Party does NOT take on the fight against privatization.

More on DeVos-Trump Budget from Jeff Bryant

May 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Blogger Jeff Bryant digs deeper into the DeVos-Trump USDOE budget and finds even more disturbing information on how education funding will be redirected away from children raised in poverty and toward school choice programs. In a post picked up by Common Dreams, Bryant writes:

Trump and DeVos would take $1 billion out of the federal government’s Title I funds – money sent to the states to support educating poor children – to a new grant program that incentivizes those states to fund the competitive privately-operated schools such as charters and religious schools. The grant program, the Post explains is called Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success (FOCUS) that only goes to school districts that “agree to allow students to choose which public school they attend – and take their federal, state and local dollars with them.”

This proposal, often called “Title I portability,” was proposed by Republicans during the Obama administration and met significant opposition from Democrats. The Center for American Progress called the scheme “Robin Hood in reverse” and declared, “Portability actually drives resources away from high-poverty districts and into more affluent ones.”

Nevertheless, Title I portability is based on the general principle that education funding should “follow the child” – a misguided practice many Democrats espouse also – so it continues to live on in the foundation of all school choice initiatives.

What Bryant DIDN’T note in his post is the irony of the GOP using the same carrot-and-stick gambit to promote choice as the Obama administration did in Race To The Top to promote adoption of the Common Core. So much for abandoning the principle of the Federal government dictating to state and local districts!

Bryant closes his post with these paragraphs, which provide some degree of comfort for those of us who believe the DeVos-Trump budget is a disaster… but the final, blog faced sentence tells a chilling truth:

Not many people who’ve already had a chance to comment on this education budget, including Post reporters who brought it to light, think it has much of a chance of getting through Congress.

The circus of scandal that is sidetracking the Trump administration’s plans for tax reform, healthcare, and infrastructure may thwart any progress on his education plan too. But let’s be clear that this budget reflects the education values that have guided, for years, an agenda to privatize public education.

Fact Challenged Administration Doing It’s Best to Prevent the Sharing of Facts

May 21, 2017 Leave a comment

One of the most appalling aspects of the current administration from my perspective is its unwillingness to face facts in ALL arenas. As noted in many earlier posts and in at least one of the White Papers found on this blog, the Obama administration conveniently overlooked the studies presented by statisticians when it came to VAM. But the Obama administration did not make an effort to suppress facts for fear that they might contradict the narrative they were concocting. But, as this May 14 Washington Post article by Juliet Ellperin indicates, the current administration is not only ignoring unpleasant facts, it is preventing them from being collected and/or shared. Ms. Ellperin writes:

The Trump administration has removed or tucked away a wide variety of information that until recently was provided to the public, limiting access, for instance, to disclosures about workplace violations, energy efficiency, and animal welfare abuses.

Some of the information relates to enforcement actions taken by federal agencies against companies and other employers. By lessening access, the administration is sheltering them from the kind of “naming and shaming” that federal officials previously used to influence company behavior, according to digital experts, activists and former Obama administration officials.

As widely publicized, the Trump administration has taken down Federal government websites that provided information on climate change. But until I read this article I did not realize that they had removed links to organizations supporting Syrian refugees, “…the ethics waivers granted to appointees who would otherwise be barred from joining the government because of recent lobbying activities… or the White House logs of its visitors”  But, no surprise, his spokespersons see no problem:

“The President has made a commitment that his Administration will absolutely follow the law and disclose any information it is required to disclose,” said White House spokeswoman Kelly Love in an email Sunday.

The White House takes its ethics and conflict of interest rules seriously,” Love added, “and requires all employees to work closely with ethics counsel to ensure compliance. Per the President’s Executive Order, violators will be held accountable by the Department of Justice.”

As one who supports public education, I find it hard to believe that the White House is at all serious about ethical issues, having appointed a Secretary of Education who has worked hard to dismantle public schools in her home state and owns a collection agency that collects student debt. But the elimination of data from the White House web page undercuts the Department of Education’s mission beyond his decision to appoint an agency head who supports the dismantling of the agency. The USDOE had “technical difficulties” with its FAFSA application materials earlier this year arousing some suspicions given the Trump administrations opposition to providing affordable college and Ms. DeVos has taken steps to withhold some of the consumer protections the Obama administration put in place to protect prospective students from enrolling in fly-by-night for profit post secondary institutions like, say, Trump University.

As time goes on, public school advocates will need to keep a watchful eye on the information no longer available on the web page… information that might be used to help determine which schools are providing quality programs and whether Mr. Trump’s voucher programs are doing anything to improve the educational opportunities for children raised in poverty.

 

The Religious Privatization Prophets OK with Profits from Public Funds

May 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch’s blog yesterday also included a link to “The Privatization Prophets”, Jennifer Berkshire’s post in Jacobin describing the cast of characters who are stealthily supporting the spread of vouchers as a means of simultaneously expanding the reach of for-profit charters and enabling public funds to be used for religious schools. And who do we find on that list? Not the multi-billionaires who underwrote the LA campaign… but some ultra-right wing pro-Christian donors whose names are emerging from the shadows at a national level. And Ms. Berkshire’s description of the rationale for the expansion of vouchers is chilling:

The ultimate aim of the project of which DeVos is now the most visible face is to remove education from the public system. Those “buildings” of which she speaks so disdainfully, the disparaging “status quo” never far behind, represent the entire architecture of public education, and more importantly, its democratic control.

Diminishing this is key to reaching the promised land of privatization. Stodgy school boards are standing in the way of getting there; so are superintendents and parent teacher associations and teachers unions — above all, the teachers unions.

Unfettering the markets is only part of the vision. Control over the process of socializing children, the near-monopoly domain of a system that is both secular and, as the libertarian right deridingly characterizes it, collectivist, is another prize. And if there is some money to be made along the way, well, there’s nothing wrong with that.

As Ms. Berkshire notes, Ms. Devos’ vision appeals to both prophets and those who seek profit. In her post she describes state level efforts to expand vouchers through back-door mechanisms like scholarship funds, and in so doing offers some historical insights on the roots of the antipathy between the affluent and public education and the fundamentalists and public education:

Go back a century and a half and you land roughly in the time of Horace Mann, who ushered in the Prussian model of universal, secular education paid for by the public themselves something that irked the wealthy even back then. They could smell higher taxes coming, and besides, they sent their own children to private schools. The rich have grown no fonder of footing the bill for public schools over the years, but the 150-year-old shift away from the family as the locus of education and to the secular state still rankles.

“There is a segment of the conservative evangelical world that has never accepted public education as a legitimate enterprise to begin with. They think public education is ‘secular,and they are therefore hostile to it,” says Katherine Stewart, author of The Good News Club, which examined efforts by the religious right to infiltrate and undermine public education. For DeVos and her ilk, enabling the flow of public money into schools with conservative religious and ideological programming comes with an added benefit, says Stewart. “It weakens so-called ‘government schools’ that they assert tilt liberal and secular.”

The major donor to the cause of vouchers, in addition to the DeVos family, is the Mercer family, recently profiled in a New Yorker article by Jane Mayer. Ms. Berkshire describes others who have benefitted from the Mercer families’ largesse, who include fringe candidates for office and, most notably, Steve Bannon and Breitbart News. 

But Ms. Berkshire’s most scathing indictment is reserved for the Democratic party:

Long before anyone outside of Michigan had heard of Betsy DeVos, Democrats like Dwight Evans (PA) had enthusiastically joined the war against the teachers unions. And it is Democrats who have pushed to redefine public education in one city after another as an individual parent choice to be exercised in a competitive marketplace rather than a collective, community good.

School choice has been legitimized, not by DeVos et al, but by the likes of Corey Booker, Rahm Emanuel and other reform-minded Democrats. If saving public education is to be a key plank of the #resistance, Democrats will have to join the fight or be swept aside.

In that concluding paragraph, Ms. Berkshire lays bare the stark choice we face if we want to preserve democratically operated public schools: we either need to get the Democratic Party to embrace the traditional democratic governance model of education or create a REAL Democratic Party.

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Betsy DeVos Has the Right Diagnosis… but the Wrong Prescription

May 12, 2017 Leave a comment

As readers of this blog realize, I am no fan of Betsy DeVos… but after reading this excerpt from a speech she gave at the Arizona State University + Global Silicon Valley Summit in Salt Lake City, earlier this week I believe she has correctly diagnosed one of the major problems with public education. In the speech she states that the major reason our schools are floundering is that they are based on the Prussian system devised in the early 1800s…. and this diagnosis is, I believe, accurate. But the major reason our schools are failing children raised in poverty has nothing to do with the Prussian system and everything to do with government policies that have nothing to do with education and everything to do with housing… a point she almost makes but ultimately sidesteps. After decrying the fact that our schools are based on the factory model put in place in the 1800s, she goes on to make a number of valid but disconnected statements, which I have numbered to facilitate my analysis:

  1. The system assigns your child to a school based solely upon the street on which you live. If you’re a block away from a better school zone, too bad. This of course creates a problem for those who don’t have the financial means to move to a different home.
  2. If real estate prices are based on the neighborhood school district, it will always adversely affect the economically disadvantaged. Thus the most vulnerable are trapped in the worse performing schools, while the wealthier families get the better schools.
  3. Our students have fallen behind our peers on the global stage In the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, report, the U.S. ranked 20th in reading, 19th in science and 24th in math. That’s worse than the 2012 PISA ranking which was somewhat higher in reading and math.
  4. And it’s not for a lack of funding. According to their 2012 data, we spend 31 percent more per pupil than the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average on elementary and secondary students.
  5. The facts show our system is antiquated, unjust, and fails to serve students. This is flat-out unacceptable.

Statements #1 and #2 are completely accurate… but offering vouchers that are not worth the amount spent by the “wealthier families”, Ms. DeVos’ favored solution to this problem, will not solve the problem. The only solution to this problem is to have the government institute policies and provide resources that make it possible for low income housing to be put in place so that those “who don’t have the financial means” CAN afford to have their children attend those school.

Statement #3 omits one key fact: the children of “wealthier families” do better than ANY country in the world. Our scores are low because our schools are inequitable… and the schools serving the children raised in poverty are underfunded as are the safety nets needed to provide their parents with the support they need.

Statement #4 omits two key factors: the higher levels spent in affluent districts pull up the mean costs as does the cost for health insurance that school districts, as employers, pay in the US but do not pay in other countries where the government underwrites those costs.

Statement #5 is also inaccurate because our system DOES serve students raised in affluence extraordinarily well…. it is the children raised in poverty who are shortchanged.

Ms. DeVos spends the balance of her speech analogizing public education to telecommunications, and concludes with several points that could have come from this blog (with the exception of the verbiage highlighted in red italics), beginning with a question she posed to a “room full of innovators”:

if you were to start from scratch, what would America’s education system look like?

I doubt you would design a system that’s focused on inputs rather than outputs; that prioritizes seat-time over mastery; that moves kids through an assembly line without stopping to ask whether they’re actually ready for the next step, or that is more interested in preserving the status quo rather than embracing necessary change.

Here’s how I would answer the question I just posed to you: We would build a system centered on knowledge, skills and achievement – not centered on delivery methods. Traditional, charter, private, virtual, and other delivery methods not yet developed: all would be treated as viable options so long as they met the needs of their students.

This starts by focusing on students, not buildings. If a child is learning, it shouldn’t matter where they learn. When we center the debate around buildings, we remain stuck with the same old system where we can predict educational outcomes based strictly on ZIP code.

The system we create would respect parents’ fundamental right to choose what education is best-suited for each of their children. Every individual student is unique, with different abilities and needs. Our education delivery methods should then be as diverse as the kids they serve, instead of our habit of forcing them into a one-size-fits-all model.

So when a school — any school — fails any student, that child deserves the right to move on. The goal is not to promote choice for choice’s sake. The goal is to provide a wide range of quality options that actually help individual children learn and grow in an environment that works for them. For too many Americans, there is only one, single assigned option, and it isn’t working.

But here’s what Ms. DeVos fails to acknowledge: affluent parents already have choice. They can choose to live in a community or neighborhood that has extraordinary schools or pay for the private school that meets the unique needs of their children. It is only the children raised in poverty who are assigned to underfunded schools in the ZIP codes that they are relegated to by government policies that have no choice. Until we face that issue— the issue of poverty– we will continue to have disparate test scores, disparate services for children, and an increasingly divided nation.

It Just Keeps Getting Worse: More Vouchers; Less Money: More Guns….

May 5, 2017 Leave a comment

The last two days of news have been terrible for public education.

I read in Politico’s feed that Betsy DeVos is visiting a parochial school in Washington DC. They managed to write it up factually as follows… with my emphasis added:

DEVOS TO VISIT PRIVATE CHRISTIAN SCHOOL IN D.C. THIS MORNING: The Trump administration’s campaign to promote D.C.’s voucher program continues this morning as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visits Cornerstone, a private school that says on its website it provides a “Christ-centered” education. President Donald Trump on Wednesday touted the program at an event with DeVos and Vice President Mike Pence.Trump said it makes an “extraordinary difference” to students in the nation’s capital, though a recent study found that it had a negative impact on children’s reading and math scores.

They could have described President’s Trump statement as an intentional lie, but it is hard to know whether it WAS a lie… because the President seems oblivious to research on schools.

But today’s Politico feed reported on yet another development on the voucher front:

The Trump administration has quietly reversed an Obama-era policy of denying vouchers to low-income D.C. students who already attend private schools, Morning Education has learned. “We can now provide awards to those students, going into effect next school year,” said Rachel Sotsky, executive director of the nonprofit Serving Our Children, which administers D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program – the nation’s only federally funded voucher program. Private school students have already been applying, although in “pretty small” numbers, Sotsky said. The change is cemented by the fiscal 2017 spending deal just passed by Congress, which flat funds the program at $45 million – and specifically includes language barring the secretary from preventing students from participating based on the type of school they used to attend. That same language was included in previous attempts to reauthorize the program.

What this means is that students whose parents have been paying for sectarian schools will now be reimbursed with a pool of funds that used to be allocated only to non-sectarian public schools. In case this nuance was missed, Politico offers this reaction from the Obama administration when the same provision was proposed in earlier budgets:

“Instead of using federal resources to support a handful of students in private schools, the federal government should focus its attention and available resources on improving the quality of public schools for all students.”

They concluded the section with this: The Trump administration’s reversal is emblematic of its commitment to expand school choice whenever possible.

The latest version of the American Health Care Act, the GOP’s effort to repeal and replace “Obamacare” has a provision that, according to an Education Week post would result in a “projected loss of $880 billion in federal Medicaid dollars (that) will compel states to ration health care for children“. As a letter from a group of education organizations explained to legislators,

Under the per-capita caps included in the AHCA, health care will be rationed and schools will be forced to compete with other critical health care providers—hospitals, physicians, and clinics—that serve Medicaid-eligible children. School-based health services are mandated on the states and those mandates do not cease simply because Medicaid funds are capped by the AHCA. As with many other unfunded mandates, capping Medicaid merely shifts the financial burden of providing services to the states.

Politico also had disappointing news for those who do not believe concealed carry is a good idea on college campuses: 

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has signed a bill that allows concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns on Georgia’s campuses. Last year, Deal vetoed a similar bill. But Deal said he supported this one because it prohibits guns in “sensitive places” on campuses like preschools, faculty offices and sports venues. Deal said “unfortunately” in parts of Georgia “the path to higher education travels through dangerous territory,” but the measure can help protect students going to and from campuses. “At the present time, assailants can, and do, target these students knowing full well that their victims are not permitted to carry protection, even those who are weapons-carry license holders, because they are either going to or coming from a campus where no weapons are allowed,” Deal said.

I do not know why the Governor was not challenged to cite any instances where “…assailants can, and do, target these students knowing full well that their victims are not permitted to carry protection”… but facts seldom carry the day when it comes to legislation involving guns, and as the article noted further on, “Georgia joins nine other states that have provisions allowing the carrying of concealed weapons on public campuses.

So… to recap the week:  

  • More Vouchers, even though research shows vouchers do not improve learning as measured by test scores
  • Less Money, even though school districts serving affluent families seem to think more spending results in better schools
  • More Concealed Weapons, because more guns are ipso facto a good thing.

I don’t think this is a recipe to improve opportunities for all children… but maybe I’m missing something.