Jacobin blogger Tanner Howard posted an article debunking the Meritocratic Myth that elite universities provide a means for poor and working class students to advance to a higher class. Ms. Howard offered the following data gathered in a recent study conducted by Northwestern University to support her assertion:
The report revealed that most college students at elite universities come from the upper echelon of American society. In fact, thirty-eight institutions enroll more students from the top 1 percent than students from the bottom 60 percent.
And fixing this will not be easy since the cost of attending these elite universities is daunting and most students from the bottom 60% do not qualify for student loans. And even if the lower income students DO get in, they may not have access to all that the university can offer:
Wealthy parents can buy their children into a good school with a strong brand name and a $70,000-plus tuition bill without giving it a second thought. These schools admit and fund a handful of low-income students so they can call themselves economically diverse institutions, even as those students cannot afford to participate in many of their institutions’ quintessential experiences, such as study abroad trips or unpaid internships.
Ms. Howard’s solution to this problem is to offer free tuition to students who qualify for entry into a public university. But, as she notes, public universities have been starved of funds in the recent past, diminishing their appeal to prospective teachers and students alike. She offers City University of New York as a case in point:
The City University of New York system shows that large-scale, well-funded institutions of higher learning can expand access to working-class populations. In fact, five CUNY colleges appear in the top twenty of the 2016 Social Mobility Index, which measures how effectively schools provide low-income students with a low-tuition education and allow them to avoid taking on debt .
The City College of New York, founded in 1851 as the nation’s first free public university, became known as “the Harvard of the proletariat” for successfully educating “the children of the whole people.” City College also established the nation’s first degree-granting evening program, offering numerous opportunities for workers with full-time jobs to work towards a college degree. The CUNY network today serves nearly 275,000 degree-seeking students.
But the neoliberalization of public education has been particularly hard on CUNY students. Between 1990 and 2010, the percentage of funding derived from student tuition at senior colleges nearly doubled, from 21 percent to 41 percent. And in 2016, Governor Cuomo proposed cutting$485 million — a third of the school’s funding — from its budget .
Although Cuomo recently announced his intention to offer free tuition to students coming from families making less than $125,000, his track record gives us reason to pause. Considering that CUNY faculty have received no pay increases in six years, and that adjuncts — many earning less than $30,000 annually — teach half of the school’s students, increasing financial support for students will not restore public universities to their full potential. Robust spending on all aspects of public institutions, including living wages for all faculty and service staff, is just as necessary to promoting successful universities as reducing the cost of admission.
Until quality post-secondary education becomes affordable, the notion of education being a means of economic mobility will remain a myth… and thousands of parents and students will become increasingly disillusion with the way our current system operates. As Ms. Howard writes in the concluding paragraphs:
…Any suggestion that elite schools actually challenge class hierarchy creates a meritocratic myth. Stories like the Obamas’ help perpetuate the illusion that any American, regardless of their origins, can join the 1 percent if they work hard enough. The visibility of a small handful of high-profile success stories obscures the limited possibilities afforded to most poor students.
Elite universities will never offer genuine, mass opportunities for advancement for working-class people. We have to restore public university funding and reduce costs to expand access to higher education to all.
NY Times Article Offers Glimpse of Public Education’s Fight Ahead Under DeVos… and it Will NOT Be Easy!
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…
Sierra Vista AZ Superintendent Kriss Hagerl’s letter to the editor of her local newspaper the Sierra Vista Herald, describes the how AZ’s proposed “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts” would play out in her school district. Having downloaded, read, and bookmarked the Center for Media and Democracy’s (CMD) 2016 report on ALEC’s privatization movement, it is evident that AZ legislators are proposing a bill of the “scholarship genre”, described in the CMD report follows:
A handful of ALEC bills claim to offer “scholarships” for sympathetic populations—like students with disabilities or foster kids—but are actually targeted voucher programs that act as the proverbial “camel’s nose under the tent” to advance a privatization agenda.
One ALEC bill, the Special Needs Scholarship Program Act, carves out vouchers for students with special needs, regardless of family income. Nine states—Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New York, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island—considered similar legislation in 2015, or expanded existing laws. This bill uses taxpayer funds to send vulnerable children to for-profit schools not bound by federal and state legal requirements to meet a student’s special needs that public schools must follow.
Another ALEC bill, The Foster Child Scholarship Program Act, would create a voucher program specifically for children in foster care, and was introduced in Missouri.
“Opportunity Scholarships,” introduced in four states—Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, and New Mexico—earmark vouchers for students in schools deemed “failing.”
The similar Smart Start Scholarship Program, introduced in four states—Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Tennessee—offers vouchers for pre-school and kindergarten on a sliding scale starting with families eligible for reduced price school lunches. The strategy with these bills is to use the notion of helping poor families as a first step towards expanding taxpayer-funded, private “scholarships” to any family, regardless of their ability to afford private school.
ALEC and its allies have additionally sought to move away from the term “vouchers” and towards “education savings accounts,” even though the impact is ultimately the same: to shift taxpayer funds from public schools to private or religious institutions.
Versions of the ALEC Education Savings Account Act were introduced in seven states—Iowa, Illinois, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia—in 2015. The bill subtracts funds directly from state school aid and deposits these funds into savings accounts for low-income students that can be used to pay private school expenses.
And how would this bill affect Sierra Vista, AZ schools? Ms. Hagerl explains that uncertainties regarding enrollments make it impossible to develop budgets since her district must educate all children while “…private schools can choose to be open or can shut their doors at any time.” Moreover, public schools cannot say “we are full; you will have to go somewhere else” nor can they turn away students who are disabled or disruptive. And most unjust is the fact that the private schools and homeschool parents who are siphoning money from public schools do not need to meet the accountability standards established for public schools. Ms. Hagerl writes:
A parent may accept Empowerment Scholarship dollars for their child on a yearly basis and never have to demonstrate their child’s learning in any way. I am at a loss as to how the state has decided to provide taxpayer money from the state’s general fund to parents who opt to take their child out of a public school and send them to a private school or home school them in a program that does not have to keep track of academic progress or be held accountable for student growth and success.
This issue is hitting close to home for me since the NH legislature is considering SB 193, which would effectively accomplish the same ends as the bills under consideration in AZ… and the bill is currently labelled as “ought to pass” and, according to the fiscal note at the end, will have no impact on state finances. Why? Because no additional STATE funds are needed to implement the bill!
After writing this post I intend to be in touch with my local delegation, urging them to oppose this bill, which would clearly have an adverse impact on NH public schools across the state. In the meantime, I urge any readers of this blog to see if your State legislature is proposing “scholarship” bills that get the camel’s nose under the tent…. Because it is evident that privatization and vouchers— and the destruction of “government schools” are the ultimate goals of the legislatures— and not just in AZ and NH!
Pasted below is an open letter I composed for newly appointed NH Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut. I submitted it to the local newspaper who indicated they might find space for it when I emailed it last week. As of today it had not been published… and so I am prospectively posting it for tomorrow. If it doesn’t find its way into print I will mail it to Mr. Edelblut when I return from a weekend trip.
Dear Commissioner Edelblut-
Congratulations on your appointment to Commissioner of Education in New Hampshire. Earlier this month when the Governor nominated you, I wrote to the Executive Council during their deliberations to express my concern about your appointment as Commissioner. As a retired public school superintendent I felt that your lack of experience as a teacher, administrator, board member, or public school parent would place you at a decided disadvantage given the complex challenges facing the New Hampshire Department of Education. Now that you are appointed, I want to offer some thoughts on how you might proceed in your new assignment.
Until a few months ago No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RTTT) effectively dictated state educational practices. With the passage of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), however, states have the responsibility for curriculum design, for the development of student assessments, and for setting the parameters for school accountability. This provides the State Department of Education with an opportunity to transform public schools in New Hampshire in a way that has not been possible for over a decade.
Given this opportunity to replace the top-down system that was imposed by the Federal government in years past, I would encourage you to use a grassroots approach. I urge you to spend as much time as possible in face-to-face meetings with educators, School Board members, and parents to get their views on how to improve public schools. I know that your predecessors made a point of attending Superintendents’ regional meetings and visiting schools that had had exemplary programs, and I know their presence was always appreciated. In those meetings and local visitations we learned from each other and developed a mutual respect and understanding. I am certain the School Boards Association would welcome an opportunity to meet with you to describe the challenges they face governing schools, meeting existing standards, and managing their budgets. I am also confident the NEA and AFT leaders would welcome an opportunity to share their views on how the State department might help teachers succeed in the classroom.
After meeting with those working in the field, I recommend that you draw on the expertise of the State Department staff and a team of practitioners to help develop an accountability system that is less reliant on standardized tests. This revised accountability system will help you define the direction for public schools in the coming years and help school boards and administrators develop long and short term goals accordingly. Under NCLB and RTTT, scores on standardized achievement tests linked to the Common Core were the primary measure of student and school success. These scores determined if school was “in need of improvement” or “failing”. As the scores required for a passing grade rose, almost every school in the state fell short of the mark. Your predecessor, Dr. Virginia Barry and her staff resisted this over-reliance on tests and worked with educators across the state to develop alternatives to these one-size-fits-all assessments mandated by NCLB and RTTT. By capitalizing on their earlier efforts, you can expedite the development of a new accountability plan, one that will not require a complete change in direction or philosophy.
As I am sure you realize from your experience as a legislator, the provision of equitable state funding for schools is an ongoing problem in New Hampshire. The reliance on property tax means that school districts with a strong tax base can raise adequate funds for schools without overburdening homeowners. At the same time, school districts in less affluent communities struggle to hire and retain qualified teachers and maintain their facilities, which in some cases are in dire need of improvement. Should the State be willing to raise more funds for public education or should federal funds become more flexible, I urge you to advocate for full funding of the formula designed to provide equity for those communities who cannot raise sufficient funds through property taxes. This would not only address a longstanding disparity in educational opportunities for children in the state, but also ensure that small rural schools and schools in poverty stricken communities can survive.
I read with great interest that you wanted to move toward a more “personalized” education system where students “could earn credits in traditional classroom settings, through online courses or vocational settings”. As I trust you learned in your recent meetings with members of the State Board, those opportunities already exist for New Hampshire students. Since 2005 high schools have been able to grant credits based on the fulfillment of competencies. By 2008-09, every high school in the state had created their own sets of competencies and they were authorized to award credits outside the traditional classroom based on the mastery of those competencies. Two years ago, EdNext, a publication of the conservative Hoover Foundation, rightfully hailed New Hampshire as a “trailblazer” in the development of this competency based education program, which is the prerequisite for developing an effective personalized learning system. If you haven’t done so, I recommend you read the article by Julia Freeland. It explains the remarkable accomplishments of the State Department of Education to date and provides a good description of the challenges they are facing in scaling up their personalized learning initiative. Drawing on the information in that article and feedback from administrators and teachers in the field, you should be able to build on the foundation Dr. Barry and her staff and fulfill the promise of a wholly personalized education system.
I know that you are an advocate for charter schools. When you visit with school board members, administrators, teachers and parents, you will discover that many who are affiliated with public education also support charter schools. The Department of Education webpage lists 26 charter schools that are governed by publicly elected boards or authorized by the State Board. I believe local school districts and the State Board would support the expansion of charter schools to meet the needs of students who are currently struggling in school. However, I do not believe School Boards, educators, or taxpayers want to see funds directed to for-profit, sectarian, or un-regulated charter schools. They expect all publicly funded schools to be held to the same levels of academic and financial accountability as their local public schools.
In closing, the Commissioner of Education does not “offer a product” or “run a business”. The Commissioner is responsible for overseeing a government agency that delivers a public good, a government agency that develops and implements policies and regulations designed to ensure that the state provides all children in the state with an equal opportunity to receive a high quality education. You are fortunate to have a State Department staff that is committed to this mission and fortunate to be working with School Boards, administrators and teachers who want children to succeed in school and in life. I think you will find that leading schools is as rewarding as it is difficult. I wish you well!
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 monopoly, protected 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”
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.
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.
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…