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NY Times Article Offers Glimpse of Public Education’s Fight Ahead Under DeVos… and it Will NOT Be Easy!

February 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Yamiche Alcindor’s NYTimes article on Betsy DeVos’ first week as Secretary of Education is titled “Rough First Week Gives Betsy DeVos Glimpse of the Fight Ahead”. It could just as easily been titled “Betsy’s First Week Gives Public Education a Glimpse of the Fight Ahead”, and the fight will be daunting!

Ms. Alcindor described some of Ms. DeVos mis-steps, including one doozy where she told a conservative news outlet that that teachers at a DC school she visited were “wonderful” but their “attitude is more of a ‘receive mode.’ They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child.” Unsurprisingly, this created a tweet storm where several DC teachers and the ex-chancellor of DC schools took her to task to the point where Ms. DeVos was compelled to send a tweet clarification: “Great teachers deserve freedom and flexibility, not to constantly be on the receiving end of government dictates.” 

As noted in earlier posts on interviews she conducted, Ms. DeVos restricted her interviews to friendly news sources. But the quotes emanating from those interviews, like the tweet she sent to teachers after her visit, indicate her intentions to scale back government oversight, even though it is needed now more than ever. The penultimate paragraph indicates where DeVos’ thinking is on her department:

She did say that the Education Department has historically helped protect students and keep them safe, citing segregation and providing equal opportunities for girls’ athletics, but she said there were few current issues that warranted federal intervention.

I guess that problems with racial and gender equity are all taken care of and the inequities with regard to funding, internet access, and opportunity are all taken care of as well. Nothing to see here… move along…

Global Capitalism = Borderless Economy = Scary Results

February 19, 2017 Leave a comment

On Thursday, Diane Ravitch posted an excerpt of a report from Buzzfeed that described how Betsy DeVos’ brother, Eric Prince, was expanding his services into China. An unapologetic global capitalist, according to a former associate

“He’s been working very, very hard to get China to buy into a new Blackwater. He’s hell bent on reclaiming his position as the world’s preeminent private military provider.”

Given our current administration’s inconsistency in enforcing the laws on the books and it’s consistency in acting on behalf of its donor base, it would not be surprising for them to look the other way on this issue or even modify the law to enable Mr. Prince to expand his business abroad on the logic that any government regulation of free enterprise is necessarily a bad thing. After reading this post, I left the following comment:

All of the corporations are eager to sell their products to anyone who will buy them and equally eager to locate their headquarters in whatever State will charge them the lowest taxes. As a result these corporations are not beholden to any government and they are disdainful of any government that tries to regulate them.

When any corporation that manufactures commodities that we want to buy inexpensively locates its headquarters offshore, our politicians shrug and say they are powerless to do anything about it. When those same corporations use de facto off-shore slave labor to provide the cheap flat screen TVs, electronic gadgets, and other products our consumers love to purchase our politicians shrug and say they are powerless to do anything about it. When those same corporations seek to build factories in countries with lax environmental laws and consequently pollute water and foul the atmosphere, our politicians shrug and say they are powerless to do anything about it.

Eric Prince’s “product” is “protection”… and like his fellow global capitalists he is eager to sell his product to anyone who will buy it. He doesn’t care if the buyer is a despot or a democratic leader because he and his shareholders only care about the bottom line. And again, our politicians shrug and say they are powerless to do anything about it.

It isn’t too difficult to connect the dots and see a dystopian future unfolding as Eric Prince eagerly hires “protectors” who want to avoid working for the slave wages being paid in factories… and those “protectors” who are thrilled to avoid the drudgery of the factory floor are not only OK with the “new world order”, they are willing to do whatever it takes to keep that “new world order” in place. And once again, our politicians shrug and say they are powerless to do anything about it.

I hope that we don’t come to the point where an interlocking directorate of global CEOs formulate a global governance structure that is indifferent to borders and beholden to an ever shrinking number of shareholders. The best way to avoid such an outcome is to vote out of office any candidate who shrugs and says they are powerless to do anything about it. There are steps they can take, the first of which is to explain to voters why it is important to regulate capitalism so that the dystopia outlined above to not come to pass.

MAYBE public education could help… but it is unlikely given our current leadership.

 

NY Taxpayer’s Letter Illustrates Effectiveness of GOP Message

February 18, 2017 Leave a comment

My daily Google Alert provides me with a wide array of writings on public education, which include letters to the editor.  Thursday’s feed included a letter sent to the Albany Times Union by Kingston NY resident Ronald Dietl, which is printed influx below with my italics added:

The opposition by the United Federation of Teachers union to the nomination of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education caused me to write this letter. From what I read, the union is concerned about her support of school vouchers and charter schools. Most recently, the concern is that she was never a teacher and didn’t send her children to public schools.

Let’s consider not being a teacher and no personal interaction with public schools: I’m positive the chairman of Ford Motor Co. couldn’t assemble an automobile to save his life. He has staff reporting to him to deal with the everyday realities of that. His responsibility is to set goals and expectations, monitor end results and take corrective actions.

The real union concern is competition for money going into public education. At the moment, public education in New York state and elsewhere operates as an unregulated monopoly, protected by law and compliant taxpayers. Vouchers, money given directly to parents to allow them to choose the school they want to educate their children, and charter schools, one of the options to existing private schools, means competition for taxpayer money to educate children.

What our public school system and the unions should be focusing on is what makes parents choose to opt out of public education and choose an alternative. They need to do some serious introspection and determine what changes public education must make to remain competitive. And, then, they need to present a new face and enter the world of competition.

As the heading on this post indicates, this letter indicates the effectiveness of the GOP’s messaging, which is rooted in the politics of Ronald Reagan and the economics of Milton Friedman. One of President Reagan’s first actions was to break the air traffic controller’s union by firing every one of them who was on strike and replacing them with new hires who were at will employees. When he did that with impunity, it sent a message to every GOP politician who followed him that public unions could be broken and sent a message to every public union that if they went on strike they could conceivably lose their job and would most certainly NOT have public sentiment on their side. Thus, the bogeyman in Mr. Dietl’s view (and the view of many taxpayers like him) is the public union… in this case the United Federation of Teachers.

And if the union is the bogeyman, who is the hero— or in this case heroine? The “outsider” who brings managerial expertise and a fresh perspective to an intransigent bureaucracy. Despite the absence of any supporting evidence, Mr. Dietl is convinced that Betsy DeVos has the same level of managerial expertise as the CEO of a major automobile manufacturer and will hire or inherit a staff prepared to deal with the “everyday realities” of the Department of Education. As noted in earlier posts, it appears that the Trump administration views the Education Department as superfluous and an ideal place to reward evangelically minded donors with government jobs. While I hope that Ms. DeVos will retain key administrators who can eat with the “everyday realities” of the Department of Education, I have the unsettling sense that she is intent on undercutting the efforts to provide equity and fairness in public education and promoting the competition so beloved of the Friedman-ites.

And it is evident from Mr. Dietl’s letter that the Friedman school of economics has gripped not only the GOP but the voters at large. Mr. Friedman and his acolytes believe that unregulated markets are fair, just, and efficient and that any government interference in the form of regulations interferes with this inherently “good” balance. To those who believe in the magic of the marketplace, competition among vendors will always result in the best products emerging. With that mindset, vouchers are the best way to deliver the “product” of public education for they enable the “consumer”— intros case parents— to purchase the product from an array of choices in the same way they purchase, say, breakfast cereal. So when Mr. Dietl and those who share his perspective suggest that those who work in public education need to present a new face and enter the world of competition, he is endorsing the ideas of Mr. Friedman and placing his faith the in magic of the marketplace. No matter that “the marketplace” for rural education is as limited as it is for groceries and gasoline: if people choose to live in the boondocks they are accepting a world with limited choices. No matter that “the marketplace” for parents living in poverty stricken urban neighborhoods is as limited as it is for groceries and gasoline: those in poverty are undeserving of public support.

Unfortunately, those who want to undercut a public good like education create myths that the public embraces in the face of facts that contradict those myths… and the biggest myth about public education is that it is an unregulated monopolyprotected by law and compliant taxpayers. Anyone who has worked in public education can tell you that it is heavily regulated, is subject to countless lawsuits and subject to endless changes in the law, and has few “compliant taxpayers”. I would guess that Mr. Dietl has seldom voted in favor of a school budget and views those who do vote for the passage of budgets as “compliant”… but I am confident that the school board and administration in his community worked diligently to prepare a budget that was full of compromises in order to secure passage. And education is a “monopoly” for the same reason roads, water, and police and fire protection are a monopoly. Schools provide a public good and as such they need to be uniformly available to all citizens.

The demise of the equal opportunity for learning may be the result of the demise of the so called American Dream whereby each successive generation does better than the previous one. But if we want to restore that dream, we need to do whatever it takes to restore our public schools.

I Share Bob Braun’s Frustration with NJ “Pro-Public Education” Lobby’s Muted Response to “Charter Cancer”

February 17, 2017 Leave a comment

With the election of Donald Trump and a GOP House and Senate, his appointment of Betsy DeVos, and 35 Statehouses under the control of the pro-privatization GOP, it is NOT the time for incrementalism in the defense of public education. And in a State like NJ, where both Republican Governor Christie and former Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker wholeheartedly supported privatization of public schools it would seem especially important to launch a strong movement in support of public education.

But, as blogger Bob Braun notes in his post yesterday, the organizations that would typically be advocates for public education are muted in their opposition to the privatization of public schools or, in the case of newly elected Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, complicit in their expansion. Braun attended a conference called “New Jersey Education Policy Agenda for the Next Gubernatorial Administration” and offered this dispiriting analysis of the proceedings:

Participants in the conference danced around the danger of charters–but they are starving public schools. Yet even charter critics like Mark Weber–better known as the blogger Jersey Jazzman–offered palliatives when, in fact, bulldozers are needed. Charters suspend and expel 20 to 30 times more students than do public schools, a good way of enhancing their student test results, and such behavior raises serious moral as well as political issues.

Charters are cancers. There are no good cancers–and charter schools are metastasizing throughout education.

Mary Bennett, a former Newark high school principal,  spoke about governance–specifically the return of local control to the Newark schools. But she neglected to mention that the path to local control was impeded, not by the will of the Newark people willing to fight for their schools, but by the unfortunate deal cut between Christie and Mayor Ras Baraka to end criticism of Christie’s policies in the city, including the vast expansion–doubling in ten years–of charter school enrollment.

Baraka, in short, impeded the pace of a return to local control and now takes credit for expediting it. The dangers public schools face now cannot allow such delusional political thinking–the enemies in Washington are too real and too powerful.

In the audience, Newark activist Roberto Cabanas pointed out the obvious: If the people of Newark just waited out Christie’s term, local control would be returned in 2018 when he leaves–even if Baraka had lost to pro-charter Shavar Jeffries in the 2014 mayoral contest. All the marches and rallies and speeches were pretty much useless.

“We could have done nothing and achieved the same result,” he said.

Don’t forget these were the activists, the advocates, the good guys, at the conference. But they argued against tinkering with the school aid formula, wrung their hands about seeking an end to charter schools completely, held out little hope about seriously integrating the public schools of the state, and believed that a mayor who hires school board members really means it when he talks about independent public education.

Even if (Democrat) Phil Murphy is elected, public education in New Jersey–and throughout the nation–is in serious trouble.

It is underfunded.

It is racially segregated.

It is in danger of being swept away by charters.

Its employees are demoralized.

It has been targeted for destruction by a national administration unlike any other in the history of the republic.

In short, without aggressive action to restore the promise of public education, it will continue to lose support among those who will turn to nuts like Trump and DeVos to find answers in alternatives like vouchers, private schooling, and home-schooling.

Half-measures will not move the needle… for public education has experienced 16 years of relentless “reform” led by politicians who believe that charters and choice are the solution when, as Braun indicates, funding, de-segregation, and community support are needed.

Telecom Plutocrats Persuade Civil Rights Groups to Lobby Against their Self-Interest

February 14, 2017 Leave a comment

Intercept writer Lee Fang posted an article yesterday describing civil rights organizations’ support for the repeal of the regulations that result in net neutrality. As indicated in earlier posts, the new FCC chair, Ajit Pai, is predictably pushing for repeal of net neutrality by rolling back the declaration that the internet as a utility. And, as Fang reports, he is getting support from unexpected sources:

In a little-noticed joint letter released last week, the NAACP, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, OCA (formerly known as the Organization for Chinese Americans), the National Urban League, and other civil rights organizations sharply criticized the “jurisdictional and classification problems that plagued the last FCC” — a reference to the legal mechanism used by the Obama administration to accomplish net neutrality.

Instead of classifying broadband as a public utility, the letter states, open internet rules should be written by statute. What does that mean? It means the Republican-led Congress should take control of the process — the precise approach that is favored by industry.

None of the civil rights groups that signed the joint letter responded to a request for comment.

Why would these groups, who represent minorities that would benefit from net neutrality, lobby to see it end? The answer is obvious: the telecom industry makes substantial contributions to them and is now seeking some written support in return. Fang details that donations each civil rights group has received and describes the role an umbrella lobbying group, the Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council (MMTC), played in orchestrating the letters supporting the end of net neutrality:

(T)he Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council (MMTC), a group funded by the telecom industry… has previously encouraged civil rights groups to oppose net neutrality. MMTC in previous years reported receiving about a third of its budget from industry-sponsored events; its annual summit, which was held last week, was made possible by $100,000 sponsorships from Comcast and AT&T, as well as a $75,000 sponsorships from Charter Communications and Verizon.

MMTC, which acts on the needs of telecom lobbyists, has been accused of “astroturf lobbying” by creating the appearance of grassroots support for the industry.

So the MMTC, “…which acts on the needs of telecom lobbyists” can compose a letter to be signed by the civil rights groups whose organizations receive money from the telecom industry and then actively lobby “on behalf of the civil rights groups who are signatories” on complicated legislation that not only falls outside the mission of the civil rights organizations but also works against those who are supposed to be served by the organization.

Welcome, once again, to the plutocracy.

But, as Fang notes at the end of his article, the MMTC head assures those of us who advocate for net neutrality have nothing to worry about:

Kim Keenan, the president of MMTC, the group that organized the joint letter, has showered Pai with praise. “He is really focused on closing the digital divide. As an advocate, I feel so much pride that that it is a priority for his chairmanship,” Keenan told Multichannel News, a trade outlet.

Mr. Keenan has evidently consumed large quantities of the telecom Kool-aid because nothing in the telecom legislation gives any indication of a desire to close the digital divide and nothing in the Republican platform indicates that desire. The divide will widen and income and education will follow…

 

For-Profit School Failures Reminiscent of Bank Failures… and the Problem in Both Cases Is Too LITTLE Regulation

February 12, 2017 Leave a comment

An article by Elizabeth Olson in the Dealbook section of the NYTimes on Wednesday of this past week reinforced the notion that the profiteers who operate for-profit schools are heading for a crash similar to the one experienced by those who sold toxic mortgages. And like that crash, the taxpayers will likely bail out those who made loans to these questionably accredited schools in the same way we balled out the banks who made loans to questionably song mortgage products.

In this replay of the 2008 mortgage crash, the banks issuing loans effectively colluded with the for-profit schools who lured marginally prepared students to enroll in programs that would earn a degree that would land them a high paying job. This is analogous to the same way shady mortgage officers lured prospective homeowners to take out loans for houses they could not afford, loans that the new homeowners could never realistically pay back. In the mortgage crash, auditing firms like Moody’s overlooked obviously toxic mortgage products, assigning them artificially high ratings that misled investors.  In the case of for-profit schools, the American Bar Association, the organization charged with accrediting the for-profit schools, played the role under-assertive regulators. In both cases the group that suffered most was the individuals striving to fulfill a dream: the home-owner who never should have been issued a mortgage and the prospective student who was uninformed about the poor quality of the school they selected and, in some cases, was unqualified to enroll in the program at all. In both cases the group that suffered least was the money lenders and the profiteers who misrepresented their product.

In the case described in Ms. Olson’s story, the Charlotte Law School was the for-profit school offering a program that promised to land the graduates a high-paying job in the law field. The Education Department issued the loans, which helped underwrite that Department’s operations in lieu of a tax hike. And the American Bar Association (A.B.A) and the Education Department itself under-regulated the “marketplace”. The whole house of cards started to collapse when the Obama administration decided to crack down on for-profit schools with unacceptably low graduation and job placement rates… and whose students were not paying back their loans. Here’s what happened then:

The Obama administration cracked down on for-profit schools whose students did not graduate or failed to pay off loans after earning degrees that had little value in the job market. Charlotte Law found itself among them, the first law school to have its federal student aid severed.

Its problems have placed greater scrutiny on the A.B.A. and its accrediting arm in their role as watchdog for legal education.

“The system we have now was designed for times when schools were flush with students and cash, and accreditors just had to make sure those were used well,” said Rick Bales, a professor at Ohio Northern University’s law school, and its former dean. “It was not designed for crises, and there is more than one law school now facing problems.”

Critics of Charlotte Law say it has enticed unqualified students. Many graduates, they say, have racked up considerable debt but failed to find higher-paying legal jobs. According to A.B.A. data, only 26.3 percent of recent Charlotte Law graduates had full-time jobs that required passage of the state bar and another 10 percent were in jobs where a law degree was preferred.

As federal law school debt mounts, discontent with the accrediting process has been building. Last summer, Education Department officials asked bar accreditors why so few graduates of low-performing schools had found bar-required employment. According to a transcript, when asked how many law schools had lost their accreditation for low bar passage rates, the A.B.A.’s answer was none.

A recent review of the 205 accredited law schools, by the nonprofit Law School Transparency, found that 51, including Charlotte Law, were in the “extreme risk” or “very high risk” category for graduate success.

The obvious solution here is to tighten up the regulations so that schools who “entice unqualified students” are put out of business and fewer uncollectible loans are issued. But the chances of that happening in an administration that is seeking to repeal Dodd-Frank and seeking to de-regulate for profit schools are virtually non-existent.

As you can tell from the chain of events above and the chain of events that led to the crash of 2008, connecting the dots is difficult… indeed I may have missed some of the details in the sequence. But one thing IS clear: the lack of regulations contributed mightily to both the mortgage collapse and the pending student loan collapse and in both cases the middle class taxpayers are covering the costs and the bankers and loan officers are unharmed. THAT point needs to be emphasized if there is any hope of reform… But with Betsy DeVos about to take over the Department of Education I expect to see more toxic loans and more fly-by-night profiteering schools emerging.

President Trump’s Appointments, Republican Actions Undercut Equity, Opportunity

February 9, 2017 Leave a comment

When I entered public education as a career I did so with the conviction that public schools provided the best means to lift people out of poverty and into the middle class. In the late 1960s there was hope among those who shared this view that the provision of equal opportunity through quality schools would end racism, poverty, and injustice. This clearly did not come to pass in my lifetime and, based on Mr. Trump’s appointments and the actions of the newly installed Congress, it appears that we will be moving backward for the next two to four years. Here is a sick summary of the decisions made to date:

  • Betsy DeVos, an inexperienced anti-public school fundamentalist Christian is now Secretary of Education. Her “solution” to inequity is to provide vouchers for parents. This “solution” has been tried in several cities and states and has consistently failed to provide equity. Instead it has subsidized the tuitions to sectarian schools, for profit-charter schools, and schools that exclude students with special needs or whose “behavior” is unacceptable. If her agenda is implemented it will be a huge step backward for public schools.
  • Jeff Sessions, an Alabama politician with a track record of gutting legislation that attempted to provide equitable funding for impoverished African American children and working to deny voting rights to African Americans, is now the nation’s Attorney General. Any efforts to resolve funding inequities through legislation or the courts will cease.
  • Ben Carson, who believes that housing subsidies are unnecessary, is now the Head of the Department of Urban Development. Under his leadership, efforts by HUD to place low income housing in affluent communities will cease.
  • Amit Pai, who does not believe internet access is a utility, is now FCC chair. This makes it likely that the telecomm industry will be able to institute it’s tiered system of services which will make it impossible for low income parents to provide streaming for their children which, in turn, will limit schools serving children raised in poverty with the same kinds of technology-enhanced programs as children in affluent communities. As noted in a previous post, Mr. Pai has already suspended the implementation of a program instituted to subsidize the costs of high speed internet.
  • Mr. Trump’s administration, with the full support of Congress, has abandoned the requirement that federal funds be used to supplement State funds and not supplant them. This means that the original intention of federal funding, which was to compensate for deficiencies in state formulas that relied on property taxes, is eliminated.

These are the broad actions taken to date… and there are rumored changes to the laws for disabled children, social security, and health care that will make life even more challenging for those raised in poverty.

Despite the recent election and the recent actions by the new administration and Congress I still believe public education is the best means of achieving economic and racial justice and for uniting our country. And despite the negativity and divisiveness we are witnessing now I believe that in the long run voters will support politicians who strive to bring out the best in our citizens. My evidence for this belief is the work I have done and observed with grassroots  politics… namely school boards. I’ve seen school boards “taken over” in a stealth fashion by fundamentalist Christians, tax-cutting tea party members, and privatizers only to be brought “back to center” in a subsequent election cycle. In my State, New Hampshire, I’ve seen the Tea Party occupy the State House and legislature and then voted out. At all levels, voters disdain negativity and hate. Given the choice and the opportunity, voters prefer a harmonious and tolerant community and a state that provides a reasonable safety net for those who cannot help themselves.

In the coming months, I believe it is important to make certain voters realize that some actions are taking away their opportunities to vote, shredding the safety net that helps those less fortunate, and working to divide us. If the electorate sees this happening, I am confident they will take corrective action.