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Diane Ravitch Identifies Root of Problem: BOTH Political Parties are Beholden to Wall Street… and Wall Street LOVES $$$

May 24, 2017 Leave a comment

In a New Republic article published yesterday, Diane Ravitch savages the Democratic Party for its adoption of an educational policy that mirrors that of the conservative Republicans. And this “inconvenient truth” makes it difficult for them to push back on the Trump-DeVos voucher agenda:

Democrats have been promoting a conservative “school reform” agenda for the past three decades. Some did it because they fell for the myths of “accountability” and “choice” as magic bullets for better schools. Some did it because “choice” has centrist appeal. Others sold out public schools for campaign contributions from the charter industry and its Wall Street patrons. Whatever the motivations, the upshot is clear: The Democratic Party has lost its way on public education. In a very real sense, Democrats paved the way for DeVos and her plans to privatize the school system.

While the “sell out” for campaign contributions is listed last, it rightfully gets the most play in her article as she describes the many candidates who rely on donations from hedge funders who love the idea of replacing publicly governed schools with deregulated privately operated charter schools, emphasizing the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever that these charters improve educational opportunity at all.

Her article concludes with a challenge to the Democratic Party: change their position on public education NOW!

The agenda isn’t complicated. Fight privatization of all kinds. Insist on an evidence-based debate about charter schools and vouchers. Abandon the obsession with testing. Fight for equitable funding, with public money flowing to the neediest schools. Acknowledge the importance of well-educated, professional teachers in every classroom. Follow the example of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who vetoed a bill to expand charters in March. Or Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who insists that charters employ certified teachers, allow them to unionize, and fall under the control of local school districts. Democrats should take their cue from Bullock when he declares, “I continue to firmly believe that our public education system is the great equalizer.”

There is already an education agenda that is good for children, good for educators, good for the nation, and good for the Democratic Party. It’s called good public schools for everyone. All Democrats have to do is to rediscover it.

And here’s the challenge for all of us who value public education— AND democracy: we need to find a political means of achieving the agenda Ms. Ravitch lays out if the Democratic Party does NOT take on the fight against privatization.

Fact Challenged Administration Doing It’s Best to Prevent the Sharing of Facts

May 21, 2017 Leave a comment

One of the most appalling aspects of the current administration from my perspective is its unwillingness to face facts in ALL arenas. As noted in many earlier posts and in at least one of the White Papers found on this blog, the Obama administration conveniently overlooked the studies presented by statisticians when it came to VAM. But the Obama administration did not make an effort to suppress facts for fear that they might contradict the narrative they were concocting. But, as this May 14 Washington Post article by Juliet Ellperin indicates, the current administration is not only ignoring unpleasant facts, it is preventing them from being collected and/or shared. Ms. Ellperin writes:

The Trump administration has removed or tucked away a wide variety of information that until recently was provided to the public, limiting access, for instance, to disclosures about workplace violations, energy efficiency, and animal welfare abuses.

Some of the information relates to enforcement actions taken by federal agencies against companies and other employers. By lessening access, the administration is sheltering them from the kind of “naming and shaming” that federal officials previously used to influence company behavior, according to digital experts, activists and former Obama administration officials.

As widely publicized, the Trump administration has taken down Federal government websites that provided information on climate change. But until I read this article I did not realize that they had removed links to organizations supporting Syrian refugees, “…the ethics waivers granted to appointees who would otherwise be barred from joining the government because of recent lobbying activities… or the White House logs of its visitors”  But, no surprise, his spokespersons see no problem:

“The President has made a commitment that his Administration will absolutely follow the law and disclose any information it is required to disclose,” said White House spokeswoman Kelly Love in an email Sunday.

The White House takes its ethics and conflict of interest rules seriously,” Love added, “and requires all employees to work closely with ethics counsel to ensure compliance. Per the President’s Executive Order, violators will be held accountable by the Department of Justice.”

As one who supports public education, I find it hard to believe that the White House is at all serious about ethical issues, having appointed a Secretary of Education who has worked hard to dismantle public schools in her home state and owns a collection agency that collects student debt. But the elimination of data from the White House web page undercuts the Department of Education’s mission beyond his decision to appoint an agency head who supports the dismantling of the agency. The USDOE had “technical difficulties” with its FAFSA application materials earlier this year arousing some suspicions given the Trump administrations opposition to providing affordable college and Ms. DeVos has taken steps to withhold some of the consumer protections the Obama administration put in place to protect prospective students from enrolling in fly-by-night for profit post secondary institutions like, say, Trump University.

As time goes on, public school advocates will need to keep a watchful eye on the information no longer available on the web page… information that might be used to help determine which schools are providing quality programs and whether Mr. Trump’s voucher programs are doing anything to improve the educational opportunities for children raised in poverty.

 

It’s the End of April… the Senseless Season of Rating High Schools

April 27, 2017 Leave a comment

I wrote this post exactly a year ago and it is applicable today and probably will be applicable every year for the foreseeable future… and the last paragraph is especially relevant given the direction President Trump and the GOP are headed…. 

Over the past several days my Google feed has been full of articles like this one from Connecticut trumpeting the top 10 schools in the State. Having lived in various parts of the Northeast I look at these articles with bemusement because they prove what we already know: selective high schools, high schools located in affluent communities, and high schools that spend the most outperform any and all high schools serving children in less affluent communities who educate every child that walks in the door.

But human beings thrive on competition of all kinds and so we need to compare one school to another and revel in “victory” when our sports team, school, college, or corporation is rated higher than our neighbors and are especially “victorious” when they are ranked number one. But there is an inherent unfairness in rating public schools using metrics like student-teacher ratios, inputs– like the number of books in the library or computers available for students, or number of course offerings, or test results— like mean SATs, AP scores, and/or state test results. All of these metrics are highly correlated with the wealth and educational level of parents and have nothing to do with the ability of teachers to engage students or the climate in the school. They conflate selectivity and affluence with “quality”.

But the bigger question is this: why rank schools at all? The notion of ranking things is to provide “consumers” with information they need to make an informed decision. Choice, then, is implicit in rankings. And the existence of a “marketplace” is implicit in choice.

When cars are rated by speciality magazines like Car and Driver or generic periodicals like Consumers Report they do so on the premise that a buyer wants specific information about a specific kind of vehicle they are looking for in the marketplace. In doing so, however, they do not rank small, low cost compact cars against costly SUVs and declare that the costly SUVs are superior to the compact cars. Both vehicles can get you to the same destination but only some people in the market place can afford the expensive SUVs… and some people in the market place cannot afford any new car… and others cannot afford any car at all. The only people who care about rankings, then, are those who can afford and want a new car… and the ratings are especially important to those who can afford the expensive SUVs.

Market economics do not apply to a public good like education. EVERY child should be able to have the same opportunities for schooling, not just the children of those who can afford to live in neighborhoods where schools have the inputs– like the number of books in the library or computers available for students, or course offerings— that enable those attending to achieve the test results that yield the higher rankings.

Those who want schools to operate like the marketplace believe the “market” is a way to provide all parents with the opportunity for their child to attend “the school of their choice”. These advocates fail to see that the mechanisms they advocate, like vouchers, reinforce the economic segregation in place today… that is unless the vouchers offered are worth the price tag of the “most expensive SUV” on the lot. The bottom line is this: if the vouchers cannot underwrite the cost of a “any new car” some parents will be relegated to the used car lot and will only be able to afford dilapidated jalopies and we will be perpetuating the system in place today. And if a fair voucher system requires the infusion of huge sums of money, why not use that money to fund the system we have in place now?

Congresswoman Foxx’s Advice to Betsy DeVos: “You can start with: Don’t do anything.”

April 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Earlier this week the “TrumpEd” articlesection of the eSchool Media Website published an by Anna Douglas of the McClatchy news organization titled “Could the Education Department’s Days Be Numbered”. The short answer to the question posed in the title is “NO”… but, as the article notes, NC GOP Congresswoman Virginia Foxx is ready to do everything possible to minimize the impact of the department under Mr. Trump’s and Ms. DeVos’ leadership. Ms. Douglas writes:

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx wants the federal Department of Education to disappear. She wants Washington to stop passing down rules and regulations schools have to follow.

As the new chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, the seven-term North Carolina congresswoman has a powerful forum to talk about all that…

Foxx, who helped lead the writing of the 2016 Republican Party platform and served in House leadership, figures she’ll have to dilute Education Department power bit by bit. Already, she’s championing the use of a rare legislative tactic in Congress to eliminate some Obama administration regulations.

And Foxx is putting pressure on her colleagues in Congress to write the sort of legislation she wants, contending that some past laws were written sloppily and left too much leeway for federal departments to fill in gaps with rules and regulations.

Any federal educational policies, she told McClatchy in an interview, should come from lawmakers–not bureaucrats.

“We’ve got some good laws in place–let Congress do its oversight,” she said. “Sometimes doing nothing from the federal level is good.”

I would hope after seven terms in office that Ms. Foxx would understand the necessity for bureaucrats— not members of Congress— to write policy and develop regulations. Given the arcane financial products on the market, the detailed medical and scientific knowledge required to regulate health providers and consumer products, and the broad scope of Congress’ work it is hard to fathom how “lawmakers” could devise any meaningful policies in those fields.

I would also hope that Ms. Foxx realizes that if the federal government had “done nothing” in the past that poverty and inequality would be even more rampant in our country… and racial equality would be even more retrograde than it is now.

On the other hand, though, Arne Duncan and Barack Obama’s insistence that standardized tests be used as a metric for school quality and teaching effectiveness makes Ms. Foxx’s notion of “doing nothing” seem like a good idea. Indeed, one of the two items the GOP repealed using the Congressional Review Act was a misguided attempt by the Obama administration that “…required states to build a rating system for local teacher education programs, including judging teacher preparation based on student performance.” ETS and Pearson probably bemoaned that decision, but teacher educators and current teachers and administrators should be happy to see a de-emphasis on testing. The other item the GOP repealed, a “requirement to submit detailed school-accountability plans to the federal Education Department“, may or may not be salutary. Had standardized testing been a primary element of the “… detailed school-accountability plans”, in all probability the high-stakes testing regimen would have continued for another decade or so. But it is also possible that allowing the States to develop their own school accountability plans could lead to mis-use of tests by increasing VAM and/or ignoring any disparate scores that minority and low income students attain on such tests.

While ending the Department of Education is unlikely, it IS highly likely that the Department will be stripped of its authority. As Douglas explains:

Democrats in Congress will have limited power as Foxx and other conservatives look for a reset at the Education Department. Foxx said she’d found an ally in Secretary Betsy DeVos.

As things unfold, Foxx’s simple advice to DeVos has been: “You can start with: Don’t do anything.”

Rules, regulations and “dear colleague” letters from the department in the past incensed Foxx. Too often, she said, federal departments use regulations or executive power to distort legislative intent.

“We’re gonna stop this foolishness of letters and then people saying, ‘I’ve got to do this.’ Where is the authority for that? There’s no authority, but the school systems are scared,” she said.

One would hope that instead of “doing nothing” the federal government would pass legislation that intends to level the playing field for all students so that everyone, no matter what zip code they are born into, would have an equal opportunity. Alas, with Foxx, DeVos, and Trump setting the tone I do not foresee that kind of moral leadership forthcoming

 

OCR’s Investigation Into Richmond VA Suspensions Could Indicate Future Direction

April 18, 2017 Leave a comment

After blogging yesterday about the appointment of Candace Jackson– an inexperienced anti-feminist and anti-affirmative action attorney– as de facto head of OCR, I read with interest K.Burnell Evans’ article that appeared in yesterday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch. Titled “US Department of Education Launches Investigation into Richmond Public Schools”, Evans’ article opens with these paragraphs:

The U.S. Department of Education has launched a civil rights investigation of Richmond Public Schools at the request of advocacy groups that say the district’s disciplinary policies discriminate against black students and students with disabilities.

The decision was announced Monday by the Legal Aid Justice Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, which received word last week that the federal agency’s Office for Civil Rights would investigate concerns the organizations submitted in August.

Among them: Black students with disabilities were nearly 13 times more likely than white students without disabilities to receive short-term suspensions, Virginia Department of Education data from the 2014-15 academic year show.

The article details the basis for the complaint, noting that “…at least 1 in 4 students were suspended from eight Richmond Public Schools in the 2014-15 school year, including at two elementary schools”. The article also noted that State had taken action in two other counties with lower suspension rates. But reading on, it seemed less clear that the State would take any action in Richmond’s case.

Although the Virginia Department of Education does collect self-reported student discipline data from school districts, it was unclear Monday whether Richmond Public Schools had been cited for issues of discipline inequity in recent years.

Public school systems for Chesterfield and Henrico counties have.

State Education Department spokeswoman Julie Grimes said the agency does not conduct investigations based on the data. The information is reported to the federal government for funding purposes.

If the State is not using data to take action, why does it bother to collect the data at all? And if it is “…reported to the federal government for funding purposes” are there any consequences at that level if there are marked disparities in suspension rates?

Based on the closing paragraphs, I think I know the answer:

The federal Education Department did not immediately provide information Monday about the percentage of complaints the Office for Civil Rights agrees to investigate. It was unclear when the probe might conclude.

With Candace Jackson at the helm, I doubt that OCR will display much zeal in their investigation… and frankly doubt that any meaningful investigation will take place. Indeed, given the review of rules taking place, I would not be surprised to read that disaggregated data on suspensions will cease in the name of “efficiency”…

Florida’s “Schools of Hope” Based on Wishful Thinking, Faulty Logic

April 1, 2017 Leave a comment

The Florida GOP, having had charter school laws on the books for more than 20 years and having no evidence whatsoever that they are more successful than public schools, has now introduced old wine in new skin in the form of “Schools of Hope”. As reported by Kristen Clark in the Miami Herald, the Florida GOP is proposing a “…bold– and costly– idea” to help the 77,000 students who are “trapped” in failing schools.

They want to spend $200 million in 2017-18 to entice “the best of the best charter schools in the entire country” to set up shop near Florida’s failing traditional schools and establish “schools of hope” that would offer a better education — and better chance to succeed — to those students currently in struggling neighborhood schools.

Republican House leaders say traditional public schools and county school districts have had ample opportunity, flexibility and resources to turn around perpetually failing schools, but the results haven’t yielded enough success.
And what does the “schools of hope” legislation offer in place of “traditional public schools and county school districts”?

(The bill) provides a pathway for a nonprofit charter school operator “with a record of serving students from low-income families” to set up and run a “school of hope” for a minimum of five years in a community where there is a perpetually failing traditional school that’s eligible to receive Title I federal funds.

The bill offers some guidance on what criteria would be required for a “hope” operator, but which operators ultimately get that status would be up to the State Board of Education. Operators with that designation would then have access to grants, loans and other state funding from the $200 million pot to build their “school of hope,” train teachers, recruit students, promote community engagement and implement their innovative strategies.

Each “school of hope” would have to be able to accommodate the entire student population of the struggling public school — potentially allowing the new “school of hope” to muscle out the traditional neighborhood school.

As Ms. Clark reports, there are several Democratic party legislators who contend that the failure of schools is tied to the conditions in the community that are beyond the reach of educators:

But some Democrats, school board members, public school teachers and parents caution that the solution isn’t as simple as bringing in out-of-state operators to run brand-new schools that could essentially replace languishing neighborhood schools.

The problems are far more complex than who the teacher in a classroom is or which principal leads a school, they say; it’s generational and systemic poverty that plagues these students — who are most often black or Hispanic and who also face racial and geographic disparities in their educational opportunities.

“When you look at these communities where these schools are, there are some common threads to all of them: Poverty, you have kids having kids, and a lot of times these kids don’t know how to be parents,” said Port St. Lucie Democratic Rep. Larry Lee, who said he grew up in such a community.

“We’re bringing in external forces in these school districts and asking them to turn it around,” he said. “Sometimes I, as a black man, go back into the area where I grew up and, at times, even I am not accepted because they say, ‘You don’t live here anymore.’ You need people in those communities to buy in.”

Some other legislators note that the $200,000,000 infusion of new funds would be better spent supporting existing schools and, I would note, making the safety net more secure. For example, if the legislature REALLY wanted to support children in need they should give serious consideration to expanding Medicaid funding so that they can offer health benefits associated with the so-called Obamacare bill. Instead, the market-drivenlogic of the GOP would rather make more choices available to the “consumers”. And then there’s this little detail Ms. Clark interjects near the end of her article:

Several House Republicans involved in the legislation — such as Corcoran, Bileca and Diaz — have connections to the charter-school industry.

And one of those legislators, Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., the House Pre-K-12 education budget chairman, was quoted as characterizing the funding of this $200,000,000 choice plan as a “moral responsibility”.  The marketplace, unfortunately, is amoral… and it is the government’s responsibility to balance the scales so that students in those schools in poverty stricken areas have the same chance for success as students in affluent schools. Until that happens, there will be no “schools of hope”.

President Trump’s Starving of USDOE Starts NOW!

March 29, 2017 Leave a comment

In a post yesterday I shared a list of vacancies that exist in key positions in the USDOE and suggested that this was not a bug but a feature. Yesterday’s Politico feed reinforced that notion in it’s lead section on the $3,000,000,000 cut the President is proposing for THIS fiscal year, which has five months left:

After proposing a $9.2 billion cut to the Education Department’s budget for next year, the President Donald Trump is now calling on Congress to slash nearly $3 billion in education funding for the remaining five months of this fiscal year, according to a document obtained by POLITICO. The White House on Friday sent House and Senate appropriators detailed instructions on how they should craft spending legislation to fund the federal government beyond April 28, when the current stopgap spending bill expires.

– The Trump proposal seeks cuts across many federal agencies, but calls for the deepest reductions at the Education Department. The administration proposes $1.3 billion in cuts from the Pell grant program’s surplus this year – on top of the $3.9 billion proposed cut for next fiscal year. The CBO estimates the program will operate with a $10.6 billion surplus next year, but advocates for student aid and Congressional Democrats have blasted efforts to “raid” the Pell surplus and direct that money outside of financial aid programs.

– The White House is seeking to slash in half Title II, Part A funding for the current year. The program helps boost teacher and principal quality through professional development and also funds efforts to reduce class sizes. “Funding is poorly targeted and supports practices that are not evidence-based,” the administration wrote in the document. Trump’s “skinny budget” for next fiscal year called for eliminating the $2.4 billion program entirely.

– Also on the chopping blockfor elimination this year: A $47 million program that provides grants to school districts and other organizations to support physical education programs and a $49 million competitive grant program that provides money for elementary and secretary school counseling. The White House is also proposing to nix a $152 million program to boost math and science instruction and a $189 million program called Striving Readers that provides competitive grants to states to improve literacy instruction. All of those programs were eliminated by the Every Student Succeeds Act, which created a new large state block grant for those types of support and enrichment activities. But that grant program isn’t currently funded under the continuing resolution.

– The Trump plan calls for reductions this year to other agencies that affect education: National Institutes of Health (3.8 percent cut); National Science Foundation (5 percent cut); NASA (nearly 1 percent cut); National Endowment for the Arts (10 percent cut); National Endowment for the Humanities (10 percent cut); and educational and cultural exchange programs at the State Department (23.7 percent cut).

– But the request for cuts – which would be absorbed by federal agencies between April 28 and Sept. 30 – could prove to be too little, too late from the White House, report POLITICO’s Helena Bottemiller Evich and Sarah Ferris. Top Congressional appropriators have indicated that they’re prepared to reject Trump’s calls to gut programs they deem important – and some have said the White House weigh in too late in the appropriations process to affect the outcome for the current fiscal year.

The last section indicates that the first portions might be a purely political ploy… but the first sections DO reinforce the intentions of the Trump administration to diminish programs that help the less affluent children and to slash programs in the arts. The federal role in public education in the Trump/GOP administration will be to funnel block grants to states to use as they choose… and the choice in many states will be to diminish taxes and not enhance equity.