Posts Tagged ‘DeVos’

Biden’s Biggest Blunder and Biggest Broken Promise: Refusing to Abandon Mandated State Standardized Tests

February 24, 2021 Comments off

I was dismayed but not all that surprised that Joe Biden’s administration has decided to proceed with the State standardized tests mandated by ESSA. I was dismayed because I was hoping that despite his dedication to bipartisanship he would keep his promise to teachers that he would dismantle the test-and-punish regimen that has been in place now for nearly two decades at the national level and countless more at the state level. The rationale for giving the tests was particularly lame:

…a letter sent Monday by acting Assistant Education Secretary Ian Rosenblum to state school superintendents (informed) them that the department will not invite state requests for “blanket waivers of assessments” required by the Every Student Succeeds Act, even though such waivers were granted last year due to the pandemic.

It is urgent to understand the impact of Covid-19 on learning,” the letter states. “We know… that some schools and school districts may face circumstances in which they are not able to safely administer statewide summative assessments this spring using their standard practices.”

It is clear that the pandemic requires significant flexibility for the 2020-2021 school year so that states can respond to the unique circumstances they are facing; keep students, staff, and their families safe; and maintain their immediate focus on supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic development,” the letter continues.

Wait? What? If it is clear that “…the pandemic requires significant flexibility for the 2020-21 school year” why mandate an INFLEXIBLE mandate that all states give all students whatever standardized assessments they’ve designed as a metric for “student learning”. And no one needs to give a test to every child in America to “…understand the impact of COVID-19 on learning“… especially since no standardized test EVER showed anything other than what we all know: children from homes in districts or schools with highly educated and engaged parents “outperform” children raised in poverty. Standardized tests have shown us this for decades! Why do we need to show it again? And it doesn’t require the administration of a universal standardized test to “prove” that children who had no access to the internet learned less on Zoom than children with fiber connections. Moreover, what will result from this “finding”? Will schools serving children raised in poverty get more money? Will funds be made available to upgrade internet connectivity in poor neighborhoods and remote communities? We know the answer.

Mercedes Schneider, an insightful blogger who has over 30 years of experience in the classroom, offered these insights:

“…surveying district and state superintendents about what they need in order to provide equitable education opportunities for their students would be a much better use of U.S. Department of Education time and money than spending multiple millions on standardized tests.”

I have been teaching the better part of three decades, and I have yet for any parent to ask me for standardized test scores so that the parent can know how their children are doing,” stressed Schneider. “They ask about grades on class assignments; they discuss specific skill areas that are challenging and ask for help with addressing the specific challenges arising from completing classroom assignments; they discuss supports needed when the children or other family members are facing health issues or other crises at home; they ask for assistance addressing behavior issues, but they never ask for standardized test scores out of a need to know how their children are doing.”

The only good news for teachers is that Betsy DeVos is no longer around at the Federal level. The bad news is that once these results are made public, the 20+ states who have adopted DeVos-ian voucher plans will use the “evidence” to convert more schools to charters… and the Venture Capitalists whose contributions seemingly had some influence on Biden will be very happy. Teachers, on the other hand, will not be so happy.

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Dartmouth Professor Randal Ballmer’s Eloquent Defense of Public Education in the Face of GOP’s ESA’s

February 7, 2021 Comments off

Our local newspaper offers space to local op ed columnists and today’s featured writer, Dartmouth Professor  of Religion Randall Balmer, offers an eloquent defense of public education in his piece titled “Assault on Public Education Shifts to the States“.  In once column, Mr. Balmer provides a concise description of the impact Betsy DeVos’ policies had on states and how it is playing out in New England as well as in the midwest where Mr. Balmer grew up. Rather than paraphrase his penultimate paragraphs, I offer them here verbatim:  

Public schools, free from sectarian influence, have been an essential cog in American democracy, providing students with basic education in civics together with real-world interactions with those beyond their own ethnic, religious and socioeconomic worlds.

That is not to say that addressing the needs of public education is easy. We live in a society that does not value its teachers. Teachers and administrators face stubborn bureaucracies, perpetual funding battles and, at times, unreasonable unions. Some of the most talented teachers finally give up and pursue other, more lucrative careers. In this context, diverting money into private schools sounds like a quick fix. It sidesteps the hard work and the investments required to reclaim the noble legacy of public education in America. But these schemes are myopic and chimerical, especially at a time when we face the challenges of pluralism as never before. I wish I could say that this is not a partisan issue, but I fear it is. The secretary of education for the previous administration devoted her life to the destruction of public schools and relentlessly pursued the evisceration of public education. For decades, Republican-controlled legislatures across the country have deprived schools and their teachers of the resources they need to succeed, often under the pretext of tax cuts that were typically targeted toward the affluent.

Then, after years of starving those schools, these same cynical politicians circle back like vultures to declare public education a failure and propose remedies that would finish off the destruction of one of America’s best ideas.

He concludes with a single sentence that I sincerely hope is true… but fear might get lost in the larger struggle for democracy itself: “The fight for public education, moving now to the states, is far from over”. 

Betsy DeVos + ESAs = End of Blaine Amendments, Siphoning of Public Funds to Religiously Affiliated Schools

February 6, 2021 Comments off

In June, the US Supreme Court overturned a court decision that upheld Montana’s Blaine Amendment prohibiting the use of public funds for religiously affiliated schools. The logic behind the “Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue” ruling was explained in this Wikipedia post:

The ruling effective stated that if the state offered public scholarship funds for a private school, they could not discriminate against religious schools.

The Espinoza case emerged when Montana passed a law offering scholarships to children through Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), a mechanism whereby wealthy donors can get a tax break by contributing to a “scholarship fund” that parents in the state can assess to enroll their children in private schools that meet the needs of their child more than the public schools. The laws that create these ESAs sound as if they have high-minded intent: they want to give parents a choice for their children who are struggling in their local public school. The argument, however, is disingenuous at best and Machiavellian at worst. Some ESA donors are also investors in for-profit schools that can profit from the “choice” parents make; some donors have strong religious convictions and want to buttress parochial schools or support the opening of “Christian Academies”; and some politicians want to cater to parochial schools parents and Evangelicals who believe that public “government schools” are the root of cultural rot.

Wikipedia dryly noted how the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Espinoza case might play out:

As a result, it is expected that states that have similar programs with no-aid provisions in their constitutions will be forced to re-evaluate any program restrictions

And on cue, three New England states are lining up to take advantage of Espinoza. In Vermont, a lawsuit by parents seeking to use tuition funds for a Catholic school in Burlington is wending its way to the Supreme Court and a similar case in Maine is headed that way. In New Hampshire, the legislature is advancing HB 20, which will enable parents to use funds from the state and funds from an ESA to enroll in any school they wish to attend.

The motives in passing Blaine Amendments were not purely rooted in a desire for non-sectarian schooling. Nativism and anti-Catholic prejudice played a role. But in the 1870s when Blaine Amendments were introduced at the state level, public schools were not wholly free from religious influence: they often incorporated Protestant prayers and the readings were often highly moralistic.

Where and when will it end? The satirical writer in me believes that it will take the opening of a chain of Islamic schools or schools sponsored by witches to help voters come to their senses. In the best of all worlds, voters would want to see unity in their communities and in an effort to create that would believe schools should remain free of all religious affiliation. We are not living in the best of all worlds, though… I only hope we will muddle through.

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