Posts Tagged ‘Economic Issues’

PISA results are in… And Neither the “Reformers” or Politicians Will Like Researchers’ Conclusions

December 7, 2016 Leave a comment

Amanda Ripley’s NYTimes Upshot article on the PISA results will not go over well with the “reform” crowd or the politicians who fail to face the facts on equitable funding. The PISA tests, (Programme for International Student Assessment) is an international study of 15-year-old school pupils’ scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading.conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It has been given every three years since 2003 and the results of the assessments are publicized a year later. During the intervening years, statisticians and psyshometricians analyze the results and draw conclusions about the effectiveness of various national strategies for improving schools… and the findings are not particularly helpful for the “reformers”. Here’s why: the only piece of good news in the results was an improvement in equity where: “One in every three disadvantaged American teenagers beat the odds in science, achieving results in the top quarter of students from similar backgrounds worldwide.” But Ms Ripley could not link this to anything associated with the “reform” movement. Her synopsis of the PISA analysis was:

Generally speaking, the smartest countries tend to be those that have acted to make teaching more prestigious and selective; directed more resources to their neediest children; enrolled most children in high-quality preschools; helped schools establish cultures of constant improvement; and applied rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms.

Of all those lessons learned, the United States has employed only one at scale: A majority of states recently adopted more consistent and challenging learning goals, known as the Common Core State Standards, for reading and math. These standards were in place for only a year in many states, so Mr. Schleicher did not expect them to boost America’s PISA scores just yet. (In addition, America’s PISA sample included students living in states that have declined to adopt the new standards altogether.)

So Ms. Ripley concludes that the US has only employed one of the proven methods “at scale”… and then goes on to note that this “at scale” improvement was NOT adopted by all the States and had not been adopted in time for it to have any impact on the test results. So what DID result in the improvement of the performance by our disadvantaged students? We know it was’t more money… we know it wasn’t an effort to make teaching a more selecting and honored profession…. we know it wasn’t an upgrade of our virtually non-existent preschool program… and it wasn’t the Common Core. Is it possible that our teachers are doing a better job out of sheer pride in the craft? I believe that is the case, but that idea will never see the light of day in the NYTimes because it contradicts the “reform” narrative that teachers are the problem and more money isn’t needed.

Despite Ms. Ripley’s misplaced enthusiasm for the Common Core and failure to acknowledge the good work of teachers in our country, she does draw the right conclusion at the end of her article:

As we drift toward a world in which more good jobs will require Americans to think critically — and to repeatedly prove their abilities before and after they are hired — it is hard to imagine a more pressing national problem. “Your president-elect has promised to make America great again,” (PISA administrator) Mr. Schleicher said. But he warned, “He won’t be able to do that without fixing education.”

And the fix Mr. Trump is proposing has nothing to do with the need to make teaching more prestigious and selective; to direct more resources to their neediest children; to enroll most children in high-quality preschools; to help schools establish cultures of constant improvement; or to apply rigorous, consistent standards across all classrooms. The PISA results in 2018 will likely reflect his efforts… and they are unlikely to show that we are on the right track.


Building Social Networks Key to Improving Lifestyles, Life… and Schools

December 6, 2016 Leave a comment

I’ve often drawn posts from the NYTimes Fixes column, edited by Tina Rosenberg. In a column Ms. Rosenberg posts today she looks back over the past year and identifies three “big ideas” that substantially changed our society for the better, all of which are based on the notion of building human capital. The “big ideas” were captured in three phrases: “Share a Little of That Human Touch”: “Use Tech to Democratize”; and, “Make the Better Choice the Easy Choice”.

In the “Human Touch” section Ms. Rosenberg describes how face-to-face contact between those in need and service providers and/or those in need and volunteers can make a huge impact on both those offering the service and those receiving it. She doesn’t say so explicitly, but the kinds of social networks she describes here fend off loneliness, which can be painful and debilitating.

The use of technology to democratize suggests that the on-line technology should make it possible for individuals of all backgrounds in our county and the world should be able to access the same kinds of services and opportunities available to the affluent earners in our country. In this section Ms. Rosenberg describes how cattle farmers in Africa can now purchase insurance, how anyone can invest in a socially responsible way, and how the internet can provide legal assistance for those who cannot afford attorneys and consequently “…lose their apartments, their children and their jobs” when they fall behind on bill payments.

In the last section on making good choices easy Ms. Rosenberg describes how the placement of trash receptacles reduces littering and how inexpensive and readily available birth control reduces abortion and unwanted pregnancies… and offers evidence to support these findings.

The article begins with a description of the Thread program in Baltimore schools that effectively combines all three of these components. Thread is a late intervention program that provides intense support for for ninth grade students in the lowest quartile of their cohort. Here’s an excerpt that describes the program:

My colleague David Bornstein reported that Thread surrounds each of its students — most of whom face serious problems at home — with an extended family of up to five volunteers (the number drops as the child ages) for 10 years. They are always on call. Their motto could be “by any means necessary.” One volunteer might show up at a child’s house to take him to school at 7 a.m., another at 10 and yet another at noon. Consistency is essential. Volunteers can’t switch among children, and once a child signs on, he or she can’t leave or be expelled.

“Relationships are the key things that bring about real changes,” said Sarah Hemminger, a founder of Thread. The program is small but scalable. Bornstein writes that one impressive and valuable thing is the social connections it creates between groups of very different people.

In an era when we are increasingly isolated from each other by generational, income, and political, philosophical, and spiritual beliefs we connecting with others who are “very different” would go a long way to building bridges instead of securing walls. We can do so face-to-face, on-line, or by taking advantage of the random meetings we CAN create by getting out in the world in venues that our towns have created for us to mingle in. It’s a bit early for resolutions, but one of mine for 2017 is to meet more people outside of my social, educational, and geographical silo.


Paula Dwyer Asserts Education Department Cannot be Eliminated. She MIGHT Be Wrong!

December 5, 2016 Leave a comment

Our local newspaper, the Valley News, featured an article by Bloomberg op ed writer Paula Dwyer title “Why the US Education Department Never Dies” offering a list of reasons why it would be impossible for the incoming Trump administration to close the Education Department despite his promise to do so. After seven years of Arne Duncan’s leadership, I’m not so sure I would be unhappy with the collapse of the department, but since it’s very existence serves to keep public schools in the some kind of national spotlight closing it might be read as a signal that public schools matter less. After reading her article which was presumably written to make the case for the USDOE’s continued existence, though, I was completely unconvinced.

At the outset of the list she included a series of functions that could be transferred to other departments. Here’s my take on how the functions of USDOE could be delegated or, in the case of student loan oversight, eliminated completely:

  • Roughly 1/3 of its budget is for Pell Grants, which Senator Cruz indicates could be managed by the Treasury Department.
  • The department oversees the $1.3 trillion in student loans, and from many reports does a poor job of it. In a Trump administration it isn’t hard to imagine that being transferred to another Cabinet post or agency and deregulated… or better yet, handed over to the banking industry. The banks made astute decision on housing loans (sic), let them decide who receives student loans and determine what the rates will be.
  • Roughly 1/5 of the USDOE budget is for Title One funds, which Mr. Trump could conceivably give directly to the states to launch voucher programs. His HHS Secretary, you know, Mr. Price who wants to defund Planned Parenthood, would assume oversight of this program if oversight was necessary. Or maybe the AG, Jeff Sessions who sees Special Education as a complicated boondoggle, could enforce the use of the $20,000,000 sent to the states for Mr. Trump’s voucher plan.
  • As noted in earlier posts, the OCR adjudicates discrimination cases that occur within the context of public and post-secondary education. These could easily be shifted to the AG’s office. Indeed, this would make perfect sense given the Republican platform calls for local police forces to handle more of the Title IX harassment cases at colleges.

At the end of the article, Ms. Dwyer concludes that even though “conservatives see the Education Department, like Obamacare, as a symbol of federal intrusion and wasteful spending”, she believes it will safe during the Trump regime. Why?

…it’s an open question whether DeVos would really devote much time to getting rid of her Cabinet-level job, especially when she has the bully pulpit she has always wanted to push vouchers, charters, school choice and other causes that she and her husband, billionaire businessman Dick DeVos, have long championed.

Some of what the department does meshes with the agenda of Trump and DeVos, including spending $350 million to expand charter schools. If she and the president-elect really want more school choice and voucher programs, isn’t a federal thumb on the scale the best way to push them?

So back to the original question: Will the new Republican president and the Republican Congress finally kill the Education Department? I would bet no.

I tend to agree with this conclusion with one caveat. There is some conjecture that Ms. DeVos will be overmatched by the bureaucracy she is leading and frustrated with her inability to make the kinds of changes she advocated as an outsider. If that happens, it could open the door for Mr. Trump to declare the Department as being dysfunctional and implementing a plan for its dissolution. As I write this I am confident that the Heritage Foundation is dusting off a plan it wrote several years ago that will make that happen.


Jacobin Article on MA Movement’s Successful Effort to Defeat Charter Expansion is uplifting

December 3, 2016 Leave a comment

As readers undoubtedly sense, I have been disheartened by the recent election results and deeply concerned about what they portend for the future of public education. If you share that mindset, I encourage you to read Jacobin’s article “Public Education Can Win”. The article is an edited transcript of an interview between Elizabeth Mahoney and Carlos Rojas Alvarez, the student field director for Save Our Public Schools Massachusetts. Mr. Alvarez partnered with a host of coalitions help defeat Article 2, a proposition funded by billionaire “reformers” that would lift the cap on charter schools, opening the floodgates for privatization. Only 7 years out of high school, Mr. Alvarez looks like a force to be reckoned with. The interview reveals him to be insightful, articulate, and determined… but willing to collaborate with groups some of his colleagues perceive as “enemies”. In sum, he appears to be an astute politician in the best sense of that word. When asked why he believed his relatively underfunded group of student volunteers, parents, and teachers were able to defeat the billionaire privatization advocates at the ballot box, Alvarez offered this hopeful analysis:

Overall, there was a recognition that public services like education need to stay public and need to serve all people. People are not interested in creating special, more elite, more selective, isolated systems of education as a way to address the issue.

That “recognition” required the assembly of a cadre of foot soldiers who knocked on doors, convened forums, and went to great lengths to explain to voters what “choice” and “charter schools” were really about… and it wasn’t about helping poor and disenfranchised children.

When Ms. Mahoney asked about the role the teachers unions played, Alvarez was quick to give them credit, despite the fact that as recently as five years ago his student organization was not on the same page with them.

We were able to see and learn that labor unions, however messy they can be, however much they are on the wrong side of issues — and historically on the issue of race teachers’ unions have often been on the wrong side of history — are essential. Through this connection we saw that we cannot have an educational justice movement without teachers, without the labor union that protects them.

Today I think that anti-union sentiment is changing and we’ve been able to have lots of conversations with other young people about the importance of teachers’ unions and about workers — how people are treated at the workplace.

One of the fundamental pieces of misinformation put out by the charter school movement is that teachers are not doing their jobs well, that teachers’ unions are protecting bad teachers, that their salaries are bloated, that we have to bust the union, fire teachers, and pay them way less.

When people are desperate and can’t see their child succeeding, they turn against the teacher and blame them for the failures of the system. To combat this we’re working to foster conversations that help students develop a class analysis about the importance of supporting and strengthening teachers unions as a way to achieve true educational justice.

Mr. Alvarez’ principled and pragmatic approach needs to spread to the Democrat party. If the party will not embrace the democratic socialist stance of Bernie Sanders, they should at the very least stand up for the workers in the country who are underpaid, overworked, and— in many states— precluded from organizing. Based other support for Bernie Sanders, it appears that many young people have absorbed the message that teacher’s unions were developed for the same reason as unions in coal country and factories: teachers were seeking a living wage and safe and sane working conditions. In addition, and especially given the blacklisting that seems to be emerging, the unions need to protect the free speech for themselves and their students.

I came away from reading this with a ray of hope. I have to believe that there are other young Americans like Mr. Alvarez who are ready, willing, and able to assume the leadership of a movement that will push back against the privatization of public services and the plundering that is besetting our economy on all fronts.  Here’s hoping their voices can be heard!

Trump XVI – Make Americas Schools Great Again

December 3, 2016 Leave a comment

I wrote a letter to the editor of our local newspaper, the Valley News, and in the email that included the letter I indicated a willingness to submit an op ed piece. The editor asked for a submission and I ended up writing three different pieces. Herewith is the one I decided to submit. I’m going to send the other two today after I proofread them one more time. The others are less wonky: one is a satirical letter to the Governors, which my wife thought some people might take seriously… and the other was a reworking of the Tax Racket post I wrote years ago. I’m not sure that any will be published but am now convinced that the very least I can do is continue blogging about the impact Mr. T

President-elect Trump ran for office as a businessman who would bring his acumen to bear on the operation of the government. As part of his plan to make government run more efficiently, Mr. Trump championed the idea of privatizing public schools and freeing the privatized schools from onerous regulations. In this way he would break up the “monopoly” of “government schools”. Given his campaign rhetoric, it is not surprising that Mr. Trump selected billionaire philanthropist Betsy DeVos to serve as Secretary of Education. Ms. DeVos supports vouchers and the privatization and deregulation of public schools and post-secondary institutions as well.


As one who cherishes public education and one who witnessed how they changed the lives of children from all walks of life during my 38 years as a teacher and administrator, I am deeply concerned about the damage Ms. DeVos could inflict on public schools. I am especially concerned because the education platforms of President-elect Trump and the Republican party are in alignment with Mr. DeVos’ thinking. Here are some areas where changes might occur in education policy in the coming months, changes that would help Mr. Trump, the Republican Party, and Ms. DeVos realize their goals:


  • Portablity” of K-12 federal funds: With Congress now under Republican control and Mr. Trump seeking funds to keep his promise of providing $20,000,000,000 “of existing federal dollars” to fund a new voucher program to give parents choice, there is speculation that Congress might re-open the debate on the use of federal funds. The Republican party, Mr. Trump, and Ms. DeVos would like to see federal money for low income and handicapped children “follow the child” to “whatever school” works best for them. In their minds those schools include religious and private schools that are not required to follow the same regulations as “government schools”. If that issue is re-opened, Ms. DeVos might have an opportunity to craft regulations that mirror the language in the Republican platform, which seeks a voucher-like program that could direct funds to schools that are not governed by school boards.


  • Flexibility” in the use of federal funds: The original intent of federal legislation in the 1960s was to supplement the funding of districts serving needy children. To ensure that the federal funds were spent in accordance with that intent, federal regulations govern the use of those funds. Many school boards, administrators, and state and federal politicians find these regulations as cumbersome and controlling. In the name of “flexibility”, Congress could empower States to use these funds any way they wished. Doing so, however, could have a dis-equalizing impact since there is no assurance States would use the funds to help schools serving children raised in poverty.


  • Expansion of de-regulated for-profit post-secondary education: Given the President-elect’s experience in operating a for-profit post secondary university (sic), the Republican party’s advocacy for “new systems of learning to compete with traditional four-year schools”, and their platform calling for college accreditation to be “de-coupled from federal financing”, Ms. DeVos is likely to write regulations that facilitate the expansion of for-profit post-secondary schools. Those schools might include institutions like Mr. Trump’s University as well as on-line institutions that could take the place of traditional four-year colleges.


  • A shift in the Department’s stance on social, civil rights issues: Over the past several years the United States Department of Education issued directives on issues like the disciplining of handicapped children, bullying, transgender rights, and athletic equity. Many of those directives are contrary to positions taken by Mr. Trump, Ms. DeVos, and the Republican Party. Some of the directives in place may be replaced or rescinded and others will be amended to reflect the philosophy of Ms. DeVos. Also, it is likely the Office of Civil rights will make different choices about the cases they pursue and will be likely to reach different conclusions when they do investigate a case.


These policy shifts will change public education in subtle and, in some cases, imperceptible ways. But as Mother Jones writer Dave Gilson notes in an article on Donald Trump’s views about public education, a subtle change in terminology can change public’s perception of schools over time: In a 2002 speech at the Heritage Foundation, Dick DeVos (the husband of Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos) advocated a shift in how conservatives talk about America’s schools. “‘Public schools’ is such a misnomer today that I really hate to use it,” he said. “I’ve begun to use the word ‘government schools’ or ‘government-run schools’ to describe what we used to call public schools because it’s a better descriptor of what they are.At the time, you might have been hard pressed to find a prominent Republican politician willing to use such a loaded term. Fourteen years later, the president-elect is talking about our “failing government schools.”


As Ms. DeVos takes over as Secretary of Education, I expect to hear frequent laments about “failing government schools”. I also expect to hear more about “giving parents and students more choices”, about States “needing more flexibility”, about the need to eliminate “regulations that strangle innovation”, and about the need for competition in public education the same way we have competition in the marketplace.


I sincerely hope I am wrong, but I do not expect to hear praise for the hard work of public school teachers, or praise for the long hours elected school boards commit to operating those “government” schools, or hear about the struggles many children face outside of the school and the efforts schools make to help children face those struggles. And I certainly don’t expect to hear that “fixing” the “failing schools” is a complicated problem that will require a coordinated effort by the community at large. And finally, I don’t expect to hear that more money is needed to Make American Schools Great Again.

Trump XV – Choosing Corporate Welfare Over Public Investment

December 2, 2016 Leave a comment

The newspapers the past two days have been full of news about the jobs Mr. Trump saved in Indiana by getting Carrier to pledge to keep one of its factories operating in Indiana. But an op ed piece by Christian Weller in today’s NYDaily News points out the wrongheaded approach Mr. Trump used to save these jobs.

Not all specifics are yet known, but the deal — the fulfillment of a crucial promise made by Trump during his presidential campaign — appears costly. Indiana state government, where Mike Pence is still governor, offered some tax incentives for Carrier to stay. These may well have been sweetened with additional, albeit vaguer, promises of future help from the federal government.

Tax giveaways are politically expedient, but they tend to be wasteful. Even though agreements often promise to put decent jobs first, there is nothing to force companies like Carrier to actually spend the money on jobs rather than on, say, bonuses for executives.

And even if Carrier made an ironclad pledge to keep all those rank-and-file jobs for now, governments have no mechanism to ensure such jobs will stay for a long period of time. This means that Carrier could choose to move the jobs to Mexico next year, and still keep its benefits. This would especially be the case if Trump cannot deliver on his promises of slashing taxes and rolling back regulations, for instance.

Mr. Weller didn’t delve into the “trickle down” effect of the tax incentives and tax cuts that made it possible to retain Carrier. As noted in one of my earlier posts, offering “tax relief” is a losing proposition. In their zeal to seek and retain Carrier’s jobs, Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence effectively gave their parent corporation a large sums of money, money that ultimately comes from taxpayers. Mr, Trump and Mr. Pence did this because if they failed to respond to the requests for relief or lost to Mexico in a race-to-the-bottom for wages they could be voted out of office.

Who loses in these “tax relief” efforts? The rank and file tax payers who must backfill the revenues lost when Carrier is given a break on its property taxes and pay for the “incentive package” that Carrier receives— an incentive package that is offered unconditionally. And if the taxpayers DON’T want to see their taxes raised or cannot raise their taxes any higher they are forced to limit public services like the maintenance of roads, the policing of their communities, and– yes– the operation of their public schools.

Mr. Weller explains the impact near the end of his op ed piece:

States already engage in plenty of this corporate welfare. Do we need more of it?

Spending more money on ineffective retention deals leaves less money to invest in good policy. Better uses of the funds would be improving infrastructure, beefing up access to fast broadband and lowering the costs of higher education.

Trump will claim he wants to do all those other things, too — but the public purse is limited. To govern is to choose. America needs more infrastructure spending for good jobs in the future. The Carrier deal and others likely coming down the pike could tie the new administration’s hands.

The business community is watching this scenario VERY carefully…. and if this de facto extortion works for Carrier it will be attempted frequently in the coming months. Here’s hoping Mr. Trump makes better choices on how to spend scarce taxpayer funds in the future.

Trump XIII – Jeff Sessions’ Selection as AG Will Undo Decades of Efforts to Promote Equal Opportunity for All

November 30, 2016 Leave a comment

James DeVinne’s recent post in yesterday’s Occupy Democrats blog offered a disheartening analysis of the public education record of President-elect Trump’s nominee Jeff Sessions. While Occupy Democrats is unarguably biased in its reporting, it did not have to dig very deeply to find a host of disturbing reports about Mr. Sessions record as Alabama’s Attorney General nor his public statements on issues that would affect public education.

As was widely reported when Mr. Trump nominated Jeff Sessions, his nomination to be Federal Judge was rejected by his own party in 1986 when various incidents of outright racism were brought to light at that time. Among the incidents cited at the time he was nominated was his unsuccessful effort to charge three civil rights workers who’d helped boost black voting registration in Alabama with voter fraud in the early 1980s… an issue the current Attorney General has addressed in the opposite fashion over the past eight years and an issue that is likely to rear its head in the coming four years.

My concerns about Mr. Sessions, though, are not purely political. They have to do with his perspectives on education for handicapped children and funding for public schools. In a lengthy speech bemoaning the regulations that strangle public education, he specifically cited those that supposedly limit the ability of teachers to discipline students in their classrooms. The Occupy Democrats article included a link to The Daily Kos which included this direct quote from Sessions’ speech:

… we have created a complex system of federal regulations and laws that have created lawsuit after lawsuit, special treatment for certain children, and that are a big factor in accelerating the decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America. I say that very sincerely.

Teachers I have been talking to have shared stories with me. I have been in 15 schools around Alabama this year. I have talked to them about a lot of subjects. I ask them about this subject in every school I go to, and I am told in every school that this is a major problem for them. In fact, it may be the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today.

The “complex system” he referenced in the speech was the one associated with special education, a law that requires a free and appropriate education for all children in the least restrictive environment. Prior to the passage of that law, students who were severely handicapped were often warehoused in facilities that separated them from other children. Students with milder handicaps were often undiagnosed and left behind in school or forced to find ways to accommodate on their own. If their parents were affluent they could often get tutoring paid for by their parents. Otherwise, they often dropped out altogether or created discipline problems that led to their expulsion. Having led public school districts for 29 years and consulted for five years since retiring I know that educating children with special needs is complicated and is expensive. But I also know that it provides support for roughly 15% of the population that would otherwise fail in school. Leaving roughly one-seventh of the children behind would not only be a moral problem, it would also be an economic one. It is far easier and economic to provide intervention at an early age than to treat these failed students when they become adults.

Worse than his identification of educating handicapped children as potentially “…the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today” was Mr. Sessions reaction to a lawsuit brought on behalf of the parents of those children in 30 of the poorest districts in Alabama. Here’s a summary of Mr. Sessions reaction to that lawsuit as reported in the NYTimes: 

Nearly 30 of Alabama’s poorest school districts, with support from disability rights groups, civil rights organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union, filed suit against the state. The most vocal critics of school reform, including the far-right activist Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, warned that it would bring “socialism” to Alabama.

After nearly three years of litigation, Judge Eugene W. Reese of the Alabama Circuit Court found the inequitable funding unconstitutional and ordered the state to come up with a system to remedy the inequity.

Attorney General Sessions led the battle against the decision. He argued that Judge Reese had overreached. It was a familiar war cry on the segregationist right: An activist court was usurping the power of the state’s duly elected officials to solve the problem on their own. For the next two years, Mr. Sessions sought to discredit Judge Reese and overturn his ruling. In one of the twists of austerity budgeting in the mid-1990s, Mr. Sessions had laid off 70 lawyers in the attorney general’s office, and had to find outside counsel to handle the case. Lawyers working on contract for the office were to be paid no more than $85 per hour, but for the challenge to the equity case, the fee cap was lifted.

Mr. Sessions was lauded by fellow Republicans for his efforts. They saw funding inequities as part of the natural order of things, not as a problem to be remedied. And any remedy would entail either the redistribution of funds from wealthier to poorer districts or an increase in taxes. Both positions ran against the small-government, privatization dogma that Mr. Sessions promoted.

SO now we have a pro-privatization pro-voucher Secretary of Education paired with an Attorney General who views the regulations associated with the provision of special education as ““…the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today” and funding inequities as “…part of the natural order of things”. It appears that we are going to Make America Great Again by using ESSA to effectively repeal Brown vs. Board of Education and 94-142 with no effort on the part of the Attorney General to make sure that States follow federal mandates to the contrary. Maybe after three years the voters will see what they have wrought in electing Mr. Trump and realize that government WAS doing good on their behalf and doing it well despite the fact that they were starved for resources.