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Posts Tagged ‘DeVos’

$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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Our Emerging National Experiment on On-Line Learning

March 13, 2020 Comments off

If we had a functional United States Department of Education, they would be working feverishly to devise some kind of means of measuring the impact of a national experiment we are about to embark on. As most readers of this blog undoubtedly realize, as of today four states have cancelled classes and scores of colleges– including some the “brand name” universities— are cancelling their spring semesters. All of these educational institutions, from Harvard to rural schools in Michigan, are offering on-line instruction in lieu of the traditional on-campus model. The billion dollar question for schools and colleges is this: will having students take course on-line make any difference in what they learn? The answer is that given our crude means of measuring “what students learn” we will never know.

Because our primary metric for measuring learning is the standardized test, and since on-line instruction can be targeted to the kinds of content that is readily measured on those tests, it is entirely possible that children learning on screens at home will do at least as well on these tests as children who were taught at school. Should that be the result, I can imagine advocates of virtual learning will use it as evidence that on-line learning is as good as traditional learning and advocates of efficiency will see it as evidence that we are spending needlessly.

But offering online courses as an alternative has one major self-evident drawback: high speed internet is not universally available or affordable. I live five miles away from Dartmouth College by car but cannot get broadband and my cell phone gets one bar indoors and two bars in my driveway. I have a dsl connection but need to pay a premium price for it, a price that might not be affordable if I were making even $15/hour. Online learning that consists of more than electronic spreadsheets, then, is not available for all children in same way as traditional brick-and-mortar instruction.

But there is another side to this experiment that cannot be overlooked: public schools do far more than educate children to do well on standardized tests. As Business Insider reports, one result of the closure of schools is that millions of children will no longer have access to the free meals served in public schools. For the 11 million children who come from food insecure homes this will compromise their health as surely as being exposed to classmates with Covid-19. Absent any clear protocols from the federal government, states and/or local school districts are left to fend for themselves in developing a means of providing meals for children who will otherwise go hungry. And schools do more than provide nutritious meals. They provide medical assistance, counseling, and psychological support for children that might otherwise be lacking.

Another practical issue for working parents is that public schools provide childcare. If schools close due to weather cancellations, many working parents scramble to get short-term coverage for their children or take personal leave if it is possible for them. If schools are closed for an extended period of time, how will working parents cope? And if parents are working from home who will get the use of the bandwidth?

And finally, schools an colleges employ thousands. If schools close and on-line instruction is offered, some contest teachers will presumably oversee the online instruction in some fashion. But will ALL the teachers be needed? And what will happen to bus drivers? Cafeteria workers? The custodial and maintenance staff? Will their fate be determined on a district-by-district basis or will state or federal guidelines be developed?

We are embarking on a massive experiment in the way we educate children and we are flying blind as we do so. But we may learn some valuable lessons as a result of this experiment. We may begin to appreciate that standardized tests fail to measure what is important about public schools. We may begin to appreciate the expanded mission of public schools. We may begin to appreciate the social benefits children get from interacting with their peers. And we may appreciate the key role public education plays in the local and national economy. And finally, we may appreciate the need to provide for those children who would not receive three meals a day, a warm room, or encouragement if it were not for their local schools.

 

Jennifer Berkshire Poses Question: Why Aren’t Democrats Running Against DeVos-Trump Agenda? Because They Helped Create It!

March 9, 2020 Comments off

Jennifer Berkshire, a public school advocate who abhors the profiteering that results from deregulation, wrote an article for The Nation describing how running against the Trump-DeVos agenda for public schools has been a winning theme in House elections and COULD be a winning theme nationally. The article describes several campaigns in Texas, Michigan and Wisconsin where the winning candidate was the one who advocated for public schools and suggests that public schools are highly valued in rural sections of the country as well as in affluent suburbs. At the end of the article she outlines the reasons the Democrats are NOT running against the Trump-DeVos platform for privatization and “choice”:

Yet if Democrats are aware that the roiling politics of education offer the party a potential opening in crucial 2020 states, they are keeping it awfully quiet. On the campaign trail and the debate stage, when education surfaces as an issue at all, the presidential contenders stick to bumper-sticker stuff: higher-pay for teachers, more funding for high-poverty schools, fewer high-stakes tests. Nor do the Democrats have much to say about the rural schools attended by one-quarter of American kids. Public education, as the would-be presidents define it, seems to be a city thing. And other than Betsy DeVos’ reliable role as party punching bag, the Democrats have directed relatively little energy towards distinguishing their vision from Trump’s. Indeed far more ink has been spilled over the party’s internecine dispute over charter schools, an issue that barely affects rural and suburban voters, than on the existential threats to public education in must-win states.

In order to capitalize on voter dissatisfaction with GOP education policies, Democrats will have to do more than malign Betsy DeVos. They will also have to draw a sharp distinction from recent Democratic party orthodoxy on public education. For the past three decades, Democrats have embraced the market-oriented thinking that is now reaching its logical conclusion in the form of “education freedom.” By making the rhetoric of individual choice and competition their own, Democrats have inadvertently eroded the idea of education as a public good, making its defense, and the case for higher spending on schools, that much more difficult. And yet, as voters from Texas to Wisconsin to Michigan have demonstrated, public education remains at the very core of Americans’ hopes for their children and their communities. Democrats would do well to listen to them.

In short, Betsy DeVos’ voucher plans are the direct result of Arne Duncan’s Race-to-the-Top ethos of voice and competition and the bipartisanship exemplified by NCLB and ESSA. It appears the Democrats are unwilling to change the narrative they helped create in order to support the argument that public schools need more funding. I hope the party will begin listening to the parents and voters in communities where public schools remain the bastion of hope for the future.

Sorry, Betsy: IDEA Charter DID Use Federal $$$ to Buy Luxury Box Seats for Spurs, Lease a Private Jet

February 29, 2020 Comments off

I was incredulous when I heard Representative Mark Pocan ask Betsy DeVos a yes or no question about the IDEA Charter school’s decision to use federal money to lease a private jet. After recounting the lavish expenditures of the IDEA charter chain, which included the purchase of a luxury box for San Antonio Spurs’ games, and the purchase of one of the Board member’s property for $1,700,000 and the payment of another board member’s real estate fees for that purchase, Representative Pocan posed the following question: “Should a charter school be able to use federal money to lease a jet”. Rather than answer the question, Ms. DeVos attempted to give some context to explain why it wasn’t a “simple yes or no question” to which Mr. Pocan retorted: “Actually, it IS a “yes or no question” at which point he restated the question. Over the course of the next few minutes this dance continued with Ms. DeVos at one point asserting that the claim about the jet purchase was based on a false report.

Because I am willing to give a besieged administrator the benefit of the doubt, I used a Google search to see if the IDEA school leased a jet and found this headline from the Houston Chronicle:

After backlash over $2M luxury jet, IDEA charter schools to stop spending $400K on Spurs tickets

The first two paragraphs of the article by Jacob Carpenter provide an outline of what transpired:

Several weeks after IDEA Public Schools nixed plans to spend millions of dollars on a charter jet lease, the charter network’s leader announced the end of additional “hard to defend” spending practices Thursday, including the purchase of tickets and a luxury box for events at San Antonio’s AT&T Center.

In a letter sent to IDEA’s 7,000-plus employees, CEO Tom Torkelson apologized for spending patterns that have brought unflattering attention to the state’s largest charter school organization. The network’s since-reversed decision to ink an eight-year aircraft lease and its spending on San Antonio Spurs games have drawn criticism from the Texas AFT, an umbrella organization for teachers unions throughout the state.

The caption under Mr. Torkelson’s picture suggested he could offer the a business rationale for the lease and the luxury boxes…. but as Representative Pocan noted in his presentation of these examples of mismanagement (if not outright fraud) none of these actions would EVER pass muster in ANY public school in America. But somehow the GOP has persuaded voters that unregulated capitalism is the best means of providing public services. Here’s hoping whoever the Democratic candidate is that they will be able to set the record of misappropriations before the voters and change their minds… that is unless the neoliberals continue to hold sway in the party.

USA Today Article Exposes USDOE’s Flawed Logic on Deregulation

February 28, 2020 Comments off

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As reported recently in this blog, a USA Today investigative team determined that a for profit college with no students or faculty members was fully accredited by ACSIS, an organization that was barred from accrediting colleges by the Obama administration because it had approved several programs that were not able to provide jobs for graduates or support for their students. One of Betsy DeVos’ first actions as Secretary of Education was to restore ACSIS’ status as an accrediting agency. Why?

DeVos has made it one of her priorities to roll back some of the federal regulations around accreditation. Her argument: Fewer regulations could allow colleges to create training programs quickly to fill holes in the workforce. Critics say cutting back the rules would make it easier for shoddy or predatory institutions to take advantage of students. 

In the case of Reagan University the critics were right. And if you guessed that ACSIS accredited Reagan U you have been paying attention!

Benton Harbor’s Segregated Schools are Betsy DeVos’ Sordid Legacy

February 21, 2020 Comments off

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This Time magazine article describes how the market driven for-profit laissez-faire funding model adopted in Michigan resulted in a school system that is racially and economically segregated. This is where our entire country is headed thanks to the notion that “choice” is more important than equality.

A Collapsed Roof is the Goal of Betsy DeVos… Will the Supreme Court Allow the Blizzard to Begin

February 20, 2020 Comments off

NYTimes columnist Sarah Vowell wrote a somewhat humorous but ultimately damning op ed article on a Montana lawsuit that could ultimately overturn the intention of the framers of Montana’s recently revised constitution and, in doing so, create a precedent whereby State funds can be funneled into sectarian schools. The suit brought against the state by a parent seeking $150 of state funding to help her underwrite her costs for parochial school hinges on this question: is the small amount allocated to school districts in the name of equitable funding fungible and, if so, can a parent use the funds to provide a de facto voucher for their child to attend a parochial school.

In the article, Ms. Vowell, a Montana native, describes the history of the $150 per student allocation which emanated from a early 1970s constitutional convention, and describes how the loss of that relatively small amount of funding would send shock waves throughout the state and especially hurt this schools who receive the supplement to help offset their lack of a local tax base.

She concludes her article with this synopsis of the situation, which is the basis for the title of this post:

The public schools the framers (of the State constitution) conjured ask the taxpayers to splurge on fairness, not privilege, to pull together, not away. That beekeeper, those clergymen and moms chartered a state in a republic where a first grader on horseback is supposed to be as big and important as the mountains. As the Supreme Court justices ponder whether to upend all that over what appears to be a $150 trifle, I’ll pass along this lesson of Montana winters: A collapsed roof starts with a single snowflake.