Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Efficiency is the Enemy’

As Congress Cut Staffers and Leaned on Lobbyists, So Did State Departments

January 19, 2019 Comments off

Diane Ravtich wrote a post yesterday that drew heavily from a Washington Post column by a veteran congressman who was lamenting the gutting of congressional staffers who used to provide both sides of the aisle with factual reports on information and data they could use to make informed decisions and write well crafted legislation. The Congressman noted that as they lost this resource, the private sector filled in with lobbyists who could “helpfully” write legislation and regulations. The result was the de facto privatization of legislation.

As I noted in a comment I left, in a parallel universe, beginning in the late 1970s State Departments of Education began hemorrhaging expertise in the same way. When I began my career as a Superintendent it was possible to call someone in the State Department who could offer guidance on an array of issues from staff development to transportation to school construction to curriculum. While many of us in administration and many school boards lamented the “bureaucrats in the State Department”, it wasn’t until they were cut from the State budget and/or retired that we began to realize what we missed. One of the reasons the Common Core was appealing to Governors was that it provided off-the-shelf “expertise” from contractors. So instead of having to hire staff who understood curriculum, the districts could call a 1-800 number and talk to someone who worked for a vendor to get the information they needed. The ultimate result of State Department cuts, then, was an open door for the Common Core vendors to replace the “bureaucrats at the State Department”.

Smaller school districts in particular need expertise in many areas… and if that expertise is not available at the State level they will outsource it elsewhere. Cutting “bureaucrats” opens the door for privatization of expertise… and lobbyists and salespersons are very happy to offer it.

Advertisements

Limited and Potentially Pyrrhic Victory in New New Jersey’s Use of PARCC Tests as Graduation Standard

January 1, 2019 Comments off

Diane Ravitch reported in a blog post yesterday that the NJ appellate court prohibited the use of the PARCC test as a graduation standard, declaring at the end of the post that the ruling meant that a summative test, like the PARCC, could no longer be used as a graduation standard…

In reading a report on the ruling from New Jersey 101.5, a radio station in that state, it is evident that the victory against PARCC was more limited:

The court decision on New Year’ Eve may mean that the state will have to retool its testing plans altogether. The three-judge panel said the PARCC regulations violate state law requiring that a graduation test be administered in 11th grade. The PARCC regulations, on the other hand, require a language arts test in 10th grade and an Algebra I test in any year.

The state law requires a single graduation test for 11th grade students, but the PARCC regulations require multiple end-of-course exams.

The judges also found that the PARCC regulations do not allow students to retake the exams or provide non-standardized-testing alternatives in the way the law requires…

Although the lawsuit filed Latino Action Network, the Latino Coalition of New Jersey, the Paterson Education Fund, the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, and the Education Law Center claimed that PARCC discriminated against poor and minority students because of its costs, the judges did not address that controversy, focusing instead on how the regulations violated the Proficiency Standards and Assessments Act enacted in 1979 and amended in 1988.

The act requires that a graduation test be given to all 11th grade students and to any 11th grade and 12th grade student who had previously failed it. Seniors who failed the test but otherwise met all credit and attendance requirements could graduate after completing an alternative assessment that was not a standardized test.

Under the regulations implemented by the Christie administration, students in the 2020 graduating class would have to take end-of-course PARCC exams for all their courses with alternative options for students who failed the 10th grade language test and the Algebra I test.

So… the legal issue wasn’t the use of a summative assessment designed to spread students on a bell curve, it was that PARCC’s regulations conflicted with the State’s regulations requiring that standardized graduation tests be administered in 11th grade , that re-takes be allowed, and that an alternative assessment would be put in place to offer those students who failed the test to complete an “alternative assessment”.  This narrow ruling does not overturn the use of a test to determine if a student graduates… it only requires that the test be administered in a single grade level AND that students be provided with an alternative assessment should they fail the standardized assessment… And there is another alternative: the law dictating the use of tests could be amended to conform to PARCC’s standards OR amended to eliminate the use of standardized testing altogether.

Make no mistake, the court ruling is a victory– albeit a narrow one– for those who oppose the use of high stakes tests… but the months ahead will determine if it is a real victory or a Pyrrhic one.

Open a Charter… Follow the Rules… Rake in the $$$: Nice Work if You Can Get It…. and in Arizona You Can!

December 8, 2018 Comments off

In “How to become a charter school millionaire in 5 easy steps? Ask Eddie Farnsworth“, AZ Central reporter Laurie Roberts describes how Arizona GOP legislator Farnsworth made millions on a charter school he operated by following the rules enacted by the legislature he served in. What are the steps?

No. 1.   Set up charter schools. Collect state money to run the four-school operation then pay yourself $170,000 a year, more than competing school districts with double or more the schools.

No. 2.   Set up a non-profit to buy your schools for $56.9 million. Fill the board with pals and lobbyists whose bills you supported in the state Legislature. Pocket $13.9 million from the sale.

No. 3.   Get that non-profit board to hire your brother to run the publicly funded charter operation. And, oh yeah, to hire you to serve as a consultant.

No. 4.   Continue to rent space to house the schools’ corporate headquarters – at market rate, of course – to score another $79,600 a year.

No. 5.   Loan the charter operation $2.8 million – 60 days’ operating cash – and proceed to collect $478,000 in interest over the next seven years.

As Ms. Roberts indicates in her article, it is unfair to single out Mr. Farnsworth since many others are making millions in the same way. But in my judgment Mr. Farnsworth deserves particular scorn since he is in a position to address some of Arizona’s laws that make this kind of scamming possible.

 

Philanthrocapitalist Reed Hastings’ View of Public Schooling Will Widen Divides

November 9, 2018 Comments off

Reed Hastings, libertarian founder of Netflix and leading funder of the charter school movement in California, has a warped view of public education, one that if brought to scale would undercut public education’s role as a force for equity.

“Reed Hastings: Netflix CEO Goes Nuclear on Public Schools” a lengthy profile of Mr. Hastings by Joel Warner that appeared earlier this month in Capital & Main, describes Mr. Hastings desire to completely destroy the existing governance structure of public schools by replacing elected boards of education with corporate boards who oversee schools that consist largely of internet streaming sites that operate something like Netflix, the corporate he knows best and sees as the best way forward in all operations. In the article Mr. Warner describes how Reed Hastings earned his first millions and decided to use his new found wealth to invest in charter schools:

After the success of his first start-up, the debugging program maker Pure Software, made him a multimillionaire in 1995, Hastings decided to use some of his wealth to tackle the problems he saw in the nation’s schools. “I started… trying to figure out why our education is lagging when our technology is increasing at great rates and there’s great innovation in so many other areas—health care, biotech, information technology, moviemaking,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “Why not education?”

Mr. Warner describes how his decision to tackle education combined with his libertarian beliefs led to his determination to overthrow the governance model for public schools. That, in turn, led him to donate huge sums to the charter school movement and, as a by product, to political campaigns of like-minded politicians in California. ultimately, Governor Grey Davis, who benefitted from Mr. Hasting’s contributions and agreed with the need to privatize public education, appointed Mr. Hastings to the Chairmanship of the State Board of Education in 2000, where Mr. Hastings had a short-lived opportunity to put some of his ideas about public education into policy… and some politicians found his ideas abhorrent:

While president of the board, he aggressively pushed for English-language instruction for immigrant students, adopting a policy that limited federal funding for elementary schools that weren’t teaching at least two-and-a-half hours in English every day. That rule, later overturned, was part of what education observers say was a lengthy dismantling of California’s bilingual education programs. Hasting’s stance on the matter caused Democratic legislators to block his reappointment in 2004, despite the fact that he was a key Democratic donor. “Just because [Hastings] and right-wing Republicans thought it was a good idea to force immigrant children to speak only English in school, he gets to derail bilingual education for a decade?” says Karen Wolfe, a California parent and founder of PSconnect, a community group that advocates for traditional public schools. “That’s not disruption. That’s destruction.”

Mr. Warner describes how Mr. Hastings vision for dismantling the existing governance structure of public education will have an adverse impact on economically disadvantaged families. Quoting Derecka Mehrens, co-founder of Silicon Valley Rising, a campaign to raise pay and create affordable housing for low-wage workers in the tech industry, he writes:

“We see profound consequences, both political and economic, when technology industry leaders take action from a position of privilege and isolation from the very communities they desire to help,” she says. “When tech industry leaders like Reed Hastings call for an elimination of school boards or for more privatization of public schools, they block low-income people from using the one instrument that the powerful can’t ignore – their vote.”

After recounting several examples of charter school failures and several studies that underscore the limitations of technology when it comes to solving the kinds of problems students bring with them to school, Mr. Warner concludes with this:

Undeterred (by these evident shortcomings), Hastings and other school reform-minded tech billionaires want to inject the start-up mentality into the country’s schools, using high-tech solutions to replace human labor and disrupting longtime management and oversight approaches in the name of efficiency.But to Brett Bymaster in San Jose, that’s not the right approach. After all, roughly half of all start-ups fail. What happens to the children who get caught in those failures, like the students left without a school when California Charter Academy folded?

“I have been through several successful Silicon Valley start-ups. I am as techy as they come,” says Bymaster. “But ultimately the problems in our schools are people problems. Technology doesn’t solve people problems. People solve people problems.”

And that phrase… people solve people problems… captures the limitations of technology when it comes to addressing the inequities in our society and restoring public schools to their rightful place as a means of overcoming adversity. Increasing the screen times of children raised in poverty to match that of children raised in affluence will NOT address inequity. Public schools will improve only when they are given the means of addressing “people problems”.

Humanist Entrepreneur Offers Four Ways to Change the Dominant Paradigm

October 15, 2018 Comments off

The Evonomics blog offers weekly articles that offer thought provoking insights into how our economy could evolve into one that serves all consumers and citizens more effectively. This week’s blog offered a post that was an acceptance speech by “serial entrepreneur” Nick Hanauer. And the award he was receiving? The 2018 Harvard and MIT Humanist of the Year. 

His speech was full of pithy quotes about the failed Homo Economicus model that has dominated Western thinking for the past several decades. In the speech, Mr. Hanauer described the flaws of the current economic paradigm and his belief that our perspectives on how the market really works:

I believe (we have) a fundamentally flawed understanding of how market capitalism works, grounded in the dubious assumption that human beings are “homo economicus”:  perfectly selfish, perfectly rational, and relentlessly self-maximizing. It is this behavioral model upon which all the other models of orthodox economics are built. And it is nonsense.

The last 40 years of research across multiple scientific disciplines has proven, with certainty, that homo economicus does not exist. Outside of economic models, this is simply not how real humans behave. Rather, Homo sapiens have evolved to be other-regarding, reciprocal, heuristic, and intuitive moral creatures. We can be selfish, yes—even cruel. But it is our highly evolved prosocial nature—our innate facility for cooperation, not competition—that has enabled our species to dominate the planet, and to build such an extraordinary—and extraordinarily complex—quality of life. Pro-sociality is our economic super power.

In effect, Mr. Hanauer is arguing that that the Ayn Rand philosophy of economics– the so-called “Virtue of Selfishness”– proposed by Milton Friedman that is explicitly endorsed by the Conservatives and implicitly endorsed by the neo-liberals is wrong. Instead of adopting the “Greed is Good” credo we should instead adopt a pro-social credo based on the Golden Rule. If we did use the prosocial approach, here’s what Mr. Hanauer sees as the result… and it is full of great quotes, which are flagged in italicized red:

Properly viewed through this prosocial economic lens, we see clearly that it is our humanity, not the absence of it, that is the source of our prosperity.

But of course, in working to change the way we think about the economy, my ultimate goal is to change the way we act within it. And to this end, I’d like to close by offering four simple heuristics to guide your own actions and activism:

Heuristic number one: Capitalism is self-organizing, but not self-regulating.

The notion of market capitalism as a Pareto-optimal closed, equilibrium system is—to use the technical term—bullshit. Throughout the world, the most broadly prosperous capitalist economies are also the most highly regulated and highly taxed. To be clear: Government investment and intervention is not a necessary evil. It is just plain necessary.

Which leads us to heuristic number two: True capitalism is not shareholder capitalism.

The neoliberal claim that the sole purpose of the corporation is to enrich shareholders is the most egregious grift in contemporary life. Corporations are granted limited liability in exchange for improving the common good. Thus, the true purpose of the corporation is to build great products for customers, provide good jobs for employees, provide a fair return to shareholders and to make their communities stronger—in coequal measure.

Heuristic Three: Capitalism is effective, but not efficient.

Schumpeter’s “perennial gale of creative destruction” has proven extraordinarily effective at raising our aggregate standard of living, but it can also be extraordinarily wasteful, cruel, and unequal—unequal to the point that it threatens to destroy capitalism itself. If our economy and our democracy are to survive the ever-quickening pace of technological change, we must use every tool available to close “the innovation gap” between our economic institutions and our civic institutions.

And finally, heuristic number four: True capitalists are moral capitalists.

Being rapacious doesn’t make you a capitalist. It makes you an asshole and a sociopath. In an economy dependent on complex trust networks to facilitate the cooperative tasks from which prosperity emerges, and when prosperity itself is understood—not as money but as solutions to human problems—true capitalists understand that every economic act is an explicitly moral choice—and they act accordingly.

Mr. Hanauer concluded his speech with this hopeful and uplifting note:

And so, to all the aspiring business and technology leaders in the audience today, I want to challenge you to adopt an alternative credo, far more ambitious—and more humanist—than Google’s “Don’t be evil”: “Be good.” Or maybe, “Always do the right thing.”

And when you do the right thing, do it with confidence that if it is the right thing to do for your customers, for your employees, for your community, and for the planet—then it is also the right thing to do for your shareholders.

I hope the audience heard Mr. Hanauer’s plea and adopts his recommended credo… but I fear that doing right by the shareholders will be a hard paradigm to overcome.

The Free Market in Public Schools is Creating— or Reinforcing the Existence of “School Deserts”

October 14, 2018 Comments off

Andrea Gabor, the Bloomberg chair of business journalism at Baruch College of the City University of New York, recently wrote an op ed article for Bloomberg.com that concisely describes the way privatizers undermined the original intent of charter schools and expropriated the laws passed to enhance them to their own ends. Diane Ravitch quoted from the article extensively in a post yesterday, which included these two paragraphs:

“Now the charter industry is reaching an inflection point. Business backers are pushing to expand charter schools at an unprecedented rate, doubling down on the idea that free markets are the best approach to improving K-12 education. At the same time, critics — some from within the charter movement — are shining a spotlight on the industry’s failures and distortions…

That faith in markets isn’t supported by the evidence, however. Studies show that, on average, charter schools and traditional public schools produce similar results. But freedom from regulation is associated not with success but with especially high failure rates; charter-school performance tends to be weakest in states with the laxest rules for ensuring education quality.

From the efficiency minded business perspective, the charters ARE succeeding by the only metric that counts in the corporate world: they are making money AND they are operating efficiently in the sense that they are delivering the the same results for a lower cost. Given that reality, why would a taxpayer protest against privatization? After all, if their taxes remain stable and the results stay the same why would they complain? . Haven’t they been paying more for the same results for decades?

Moreover, why would any free marketeer be concerned if the parents of children raised in impoverished neighborhoods don’t have the same choice of schools as the parents of children raised in affluence? The answer is they aren’t concerned at all! The privatizers realize that too many parents in affluent communities believe that parents in impoverished communities have the same opportunities as they do. But that is clearly NOT the case. Do the parents of children raised in impoverished neighborhoods have the same choice of supermarkets as the parents of children raised in affluence? Do they have the same choice of gas stations? Of department stores? Of stores that sell clothing? And… is the unregulated “market” responding to this inequality?

The market IS working in the privatization of public schools… and the ultimate result will be the creation— or more accurately— the reinforcement of “schooling deserts” that mirror the “food deserts” that currently exist in impoverished neighborhoods. In the meantime, the privateers will not have to worry about an uprising from the upper middle class parents who are safely ensconced in their well-heeled public schools governed by elected school boards… nor will they have to worry about an uprising from politicians as long as they get the same results without increasing taxes.

As long as the argument is about getting the most possible from as little taxation as possible, the privatizers will prevail. Instead of supporting candidates who want to reinvent government to resemble business we should look to candidates who want to restore the equal opportunities for all, even if it means spending more money and having more government regulation.

In Amazon’s Pre-K World, the Child is the Customer… and Schools are the Marketplace, but in the End, Shareholders are the Ultimate Winners

October 4, 2018 Comments off

Self described “ed-Tech Cassandra” Audrey Watters wrote a guest post for Larry Cuban eviscerating Jeff Bezos’ plan to use his billions in accumulated wealth to open a chain of Montessori pre-schools where “the child will be the customer”. She writes:

The assurance that “the child will be the customer” underscores the belief– shared by many in and out of education reform and education technology – that education is simply a transaction: an individual’s decision-making in a “marketplace of ideas.” (There is no community, no public responsibility, no larger civic impulse for early childhood education here. It’s all about private schools offering private, individual benefits.)

This idea that “the child will be the customer” is, of course, also a nod to “personalized learning” as well, as is the invocation of a “Montessori-inspired” model. As the customer, the child will be tracked and analyzed, her preferences noted so as to make better recommendations to up-sell her on the most suitable products.And if nothing else, Montessori education in the United States is full of product recommendations.

Ms. Watters describes the low wages Amazon workers receive and the notoriously stressful working conditions they experience at all levels of the organization and notes that those wages and working conditions are currently mirrored by preschool employees. She also notes that preschools are now being eyed as a potential cash cow by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs:

Bezos is not alone in eyeing the early education “market,” which has received quite a bit of attention from ed-tech investors in recent years. So far this year, three companies have raised venture capital to help people run preschools and childcare facilities in their homes: Wonderschool, WeeCare, and Procare Software. Last year, VCs poured millions into similar sorts of companies, including Tinkergarten, Sawyer, and Kinedu. Investors in these startups include some of the “big money” names in Silicon Valley: Omidyar Network, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and Andreessen Horowitz, among others. (One of these companies, WeeCare, says it’s also planning to train and license childcare providers, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the micro-certificate, online education, nanodegree folks also jump on this bandwagon. “Uber for Education” or something.)

After noting the demonstrable need for more and better preschool education, Ms. Watters poses the bottom line question:

But are private preschool chains really the path we want to pursue, particularly if we believe that access to excellent early childhood education is so incredibly crucial? Can the gig economy and the algorithm ever provide high quality preschool? For all the flaws in the public school system, it’s important to remember: there is no accountability in billionaires’ educational philanthropy.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, just made national news by raising his minimum wage to $15.00/hour. My hunch is that he made that decision after determining that he can realize sufficient savings by replacing enough staff with robots so that he can make a profit after making these raises. That’s the way the marketplace works: efficiency dictates operational decisions… and as long as the customers are happy any damage to employees and, in this case, the sense of community that public education brings, are collateral damage. Unfortunately measuring the “sense of community” cannot be reduced to dollars and cents or a cold metric like a standardized test score. Anything immeasurable is lost when the path of privatization is pursued.