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Posts Tagged ‘funding equity’

Neoliberal Center for American Progress Issues Excellent Advice to Newly Elected Governors

January 11, 2019 Leave a comment

I usually reject many of the ideas for public education advanced by the Center for American Progress (CAP) because they tend to reflect the “reform” mode of thinking. But a recently issued set or recommendations for newly elected Democrat governors MIGHT be an indication that their thinking is changing for the better, and MIGHT provide a counter-ALEC framework for Democrat legislators to follow.

Titled “11 Ways New Governors Can Lead on Education Through Executive Actions“, the article by CAP staffers Scott Sargrad, Lisette Partelow, and Jessica Yin outlines some action steps that cold mitigate the direction GOP Governors have moved in the past few years, directions that undercut public education and reinforce the test-and-punish methods advocated by ALEC. Several of the eleven recommendations are related to the creation of task forces or commissions designed to tackle tough issues like school financing, high school re-design, infrastructure funding, and the restoration of teaching as a valued profession. Others look at issues like school safety, discipline, gender equality, and evidence based decision making. One that stood out and offers some glimmer of hope that CAP’s enchantment with charter schools might be over was this one:

7) Initiate an investigation of the for-profit and virtual charter sectors

For-profit online charter schools have made significant inroads in certain states, receiving large sums of state education funding without being held accountable for what are often inferior results.28 In addition to employing questionable business practices that put profits before kids, these schools often have much lower graduation rates than the state average and fail on a number of other academic metrics.29

Governors could request that their attorneys general or an appointed special investigator examine the for-profit and virtual education sectors in their state and produce a report on the sectors’ finances and outcomes, along with other areas of concern. The investigative report should make recommendations to improve the sectors’ transparency, accountability, and requirements in order for such schools to remain open and have their charters renewed. If governors have the authority to do so, they could propose a ban on for-profit, virtual charter schools based on the findings of the investigation. California, for example, enacted such a ban after an investigation led to a multimillion-dollar settlement over false advertising and anti-competitive practices by a large virtual for-profit charter operator.30

I doubt that the Democrat governors of NY and CT will do this, but the fact that CAP is including this while advocating for an examination of funding inequities makes me hopeful that the DNC might be moving away from championing schools like Eva Moskovitz’s Success Academy and providing more funds for public schools that serve economically disadvantaged children. If that is the case, there MAY be a choice in the 2020 presidential election.

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Chicago Schools Can’t Afford Nurses… But Chicago Politicians Can Forgo $2,400,000,000 in Revenue?

January 11, 2019 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch does a good job of flagging gross injustices of urban governments, and of all city governments in America Chicago stands out as being particularly egregious in terms of diverting funds away from public education into the pockets of donors. The most recent case in point is Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s efforts to fast track a tax increment financing (TIF) district before he leaves office in May. Called many things in many cities, a TIF is a de facto diversion of local taxes that could be used for things like roads, schools, and wages for urban employees to real estate developers. Here’s the overview of how Chicago’s TIF funds would be used:

The proposed Roosevelt/Clark TIF would fund $700 million in infrastructure envisioned by developers of The 78 along the south branch of the Chicago River. Meanwhile, the Cortland/Chicago River TIF would encompass the proposed Lincoln Yards development along the river’s north branch.

So developers would receive public funds to help them underwrite the costs of gentrification while schools remain in disrepair and schools are unable to afford nurses because of the lack of money? Oh, and what happens when those funds are diverted from the public coffers to those of developers?

….Ultimately… families across Chicago will have to pay higher property taxes to offset the funds held in these TIF accounts over the next 23 years.

When these kinds of stunts are pulled at the local level, they are understandable and MAYBE taxpayers can mobilize against them. But what is happening in Chicago is a microcosm of what is happening at the national level where tax cuts for millionaires are “starving the beast”. In a year or so, when most taxpayers will have forgotten this shell game, if the GOP remains in control they will claim that “austerity measures are needed” to address the entitlements that are out of control. When developers get a tax break in Chicago schools “can’t afford” nurses. When millionaires and billionaires get a tax cut our government “can’t afford” social security and health care.

Could Maine’s Turnaround be a Harbinger for our Nation

January 10, 2019 Leave a comment

I worked for six years in Western Maine from 1977-1983: three as a HS Principal and three more as Superintendent. At that time, I was impressed with the leadership at the State level. The Commissioner was peripatetic, visiting schools and school districts, giving countless speeches and writing op ed pieces promoting the importance of public schools, and hiring bright people to support him even though his staff was being diminished on an annual basis by an increasingly fiscally conservative legislature.

Since leaving Maine I’ve followed their state politics from afar. I noted that they elected decidedly moderate and independent individuals to lead and represent their State, often rejecting either party by electing independents. Angus King embodied their politics in the 90s and early 2000s. But then the wheels came off when their wasn’t a viable independent-moderate candidate and the voters “chose” GOP candidate and Tea Party darling Paul LePage as Governor. I put the word “chose” in quotes because he won both elections when moderate-to-liberal voters split between two candidates paving the way for LePage to win with 38% of the vote in the first election and less than a majority the second time. Like our current President, Mr. LePage appeals to libertarians and other anti-government minded voters and, like our current President, Mr. LePage holds public schools in contempt. Consequently, like our current President. the Maine Governor appointed an education leader who loathed public schools. Here’s the way Diane Ravitch described his appointee to Commissioner: “Paul LePage appointed a homeschooling parent as Commissioner of Education. He made racist remarks. He followed Jeb Bush as his idol.” 

But now, after eight years of “leadership” by the GOP, the voters elected Janet Mills to office and, as Ms. Ravitch notes in her blog post yesterday, change is afoot. Ms. Mills has chosen Pender Makin, Brunswick’s Assistant Superintendent to be Commissioner, and Ms. Makin appears to be the polar opposite of Mr. LePage’s appointee. In addition to being a public school graduate and public school teacher and administrator, she has a stellar resume:

Ms. Makin has been on Maine’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Group since 2014, and co-founded the Collaborative for Perpetual Innovation, a technical assistance, professional development, and consulting company for people in the education field. She has served on legislative work panels that aim to enhance educational opportunities for Maine students and promote the work of the state’s public schools.

The Maine Principal’s Association named her the state’s principal of the year for 2013-2014, and Makin also earned the MTV Local Hero and Milken Educator awards.

Better yet, from my perspective, she appears to have the right priorities:

Makin said her top priority as Maine’s next education commissioner will be to rebuild trust in the department.

“There’s been a revolving door of short-term commissioner posts, and the constituents – the schools, the superintendents and the districts – at this point have no faith and no trust that the existing structure is able to meet our needs,” she said.

There is also a need to rebuild trust in public education among all Mainers, Makin added.

Equity of access for all the state’s students to the best education possible is another objective. “We have a growing divide between children who are living in poverty and children who are quite privileged,” and there’s a difference between schools in big cities, the suburbs, and remote rural districts, Makin said.

Makin said she also wants to tackle school safety as proactively as possible.

“I would emphasize social, emotional, behavioral mental health supports (and) screenings,” she said. “Attention to those things is going to make us safer than any type of equipment ever will.”

WOW! Imagine that! A commissioner who wants to build public support and trust for public schools, cares about those who are economically deprived, and wants to invest in “social, emotional, behavioral mental health supports” instead of “equipment“. And Ms. Makin sees Maine as a potential national leader:

“I see Maine as being in a prime position to be influencing national education policy, rather than reactively responding to every little whim that’s happening (at the federal level),” Makin said.

“We have the most unique demographics, we have innovative people in our classrooms all across the state,” she added, plus “a lot of passion and determination, hard work, and all the things that make Maine a real leader educationally. I feel that we maybe have squandered every opportunity to highlight that at the national level.”

Makin also said she sees Maine striving to achieve a world-class education for its students and pushing back against federal policies with which it doesn’t agree, instead of “absorbing blindly whatever gets handed down to us.”

She recalled implementation of the “No Child Left Behind” initiative in 2001, which launched a period of externally driven policies that created a culture of fear-driven accountability. Non-educators were telling educators how to teach, she said, and using sometimes punitive methods to try to bring about success.

There are many Pender Makin’s in the pipeline. Vermont’s and New Hampshire’s former state leaders are cut from the same cloth and there are, I am certain, other state level leaders who could lead public schools out of the “culture of fear-driven accountability” if they were given the chance. But as long as Democrats ascribe to the neoliberal reform agenda we will witness the likes of Arne Duncan and John King being tapped to lead at the national level and testing will continue. I hope that Ms. Makin is successful in leading her state and that Maine IS the template for the future.

As those of us who value public schools look at the Democrat candidates for 2020 their position on “reform” should be a litmus test. If we get another six years of test-and-punish it will mean two full decades of carrots-and-sticks. Ugh!

Springfield VT School Nurse Illustrates Need for Health Services Early and Often

December 30, 2018 Comments off

Decades ago, when I was Superintendent in Exeter NH in the mid-1980s, I questioned the value of having two full time nurses in an elementary school that housed 550 students. That was then, but a recent article in our local newspaper, the Valley News, profiling the school nurse at Springfield HS in Vermont describes the situation now. Valley News writer Nora Burr-Doyle does an excellent job of describing the role of the high school nurse in today’s word, which is far different than the world I grew up in and far different from the world in the mid 1980s:

Being a school nurse is about much more than giving out bandages.

Such has been the experience of Jenny Anderson, a longtime nurse working at Springfield High School who recently was named Vermont’s school nurse of the year. She’s seen the profession evolve plenty in her 28 years on the job.

Anderson and the four other nurses tasked with caring for the district’s 1,500 students do tend to cuts and bruises, but they also increasingly find they are helping students to manage mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression.Anderson’s work also has included developing school nutrition policies and preparing for emergencies.

“To get out of our office and do extra things is difficult sometimes, (but) that’s really important, connecting with teachers and students who don’t come to the office,” Anderson said in a recent interview at Springfield High.

The article describes how a highly functioning school nurse operates, but it also makes two important points: that the public fails to appreciate the need for health series in schools and that by the time a child enters high school it might be too late to help them:

One of the goals of teaching the teachers is to help drive home the connection between academics and health. It’s frustrating, Anderson said, that others in the community sometimes struggle to see that link.

“If kids were more healthy, then they would just be so much better behaviorally (and) do better academically,” she said.

While the high school has health educators, the elementary schools do not, Anderson said. Though many elementary school teachers incorporate elements of health education into their lessons, such as gardening and hygiene, and guidance counselors address subjects related to social and emotional wellness, there is no standardized health education curriculum for the elementary schools, she said.

“I feel like risky behaviors are developed by the time they get to junior high,” she said.

Ms. Burr-Doyle does an excellent job of capturing the role Ms. Anderson plays at Springfield HS, but she also captures the way Springfield HS serves as a hub for social services in the community, especially for children whose parents do not have comprehensive health care provided by their insurance:

To try to improve access, the school district began working with Springfield Medical Care Systems this year to provide doctor’s visits and dental cleanings at the schools, Anderson said. As a result, a doctor comes to one of the district’s schools each week. A dental hygienist visits when the school has five or six students in need of cleanings, Anderson said.

“It’s small right at the moment, but I really feel we’ve helped some kids get the services that they need,” Daniels said.

As states struggle to interject mental health services into their schools, they might look to Springfield, VT to see how it could be done through the school nurse’s office and by collaborating with local health care providers.

The Conversation We SHOULD Have About Schools vs. the Conversation We ARE Having

December 28, 2018 Comments off

Medium contributor Arthur Chiaravalli’s recent article, “We’re Having the Wrong Conversation about the Future of Schools” crosswalks many of the points made by Anand Giridharadas in Winners Take All into public education. Like Giridharadas, Mr. Chiaravalli notes the subtle ways the tech plutocrats and testing industry have changed the conversations we are having about public policy in a way that undercuts the structural problems of our economy that are the result of the status quo.

And like Mr. Giridharadas, Mr. Chiaravalli sees the so-called “agents of change” as champions of the status quo, a status quo that rewards “entrepreneurs” and marginalizes or penalizes those who raise questions about the status quo.

After laying out his case that we are having the wrong conversation about public education, Mr. Chiaravalli concludes his post with this:

…reformers peddle the so-called empty doctrines of individualism, personalization, objectivity, entrepreneurialism, and meritocracy—all while exacerbating inequities and deprofessionalizing teachers.

….The primary effect is always to atomize: content into itemized bits, classrooms into individualized projects and timelines, and each of us into solitary individuals pursuing personalized pathways.

Among the many omissions implicit in (the reformer’s) vision is the notion that each student has equal access to a pathway of choice. Once that false premise is established, you are truly on your own.Pull yourself up by the bootstraps, find your own personal road less traveled, dive headfirst into the entrepreneurial shark tank. Unfortunately, far too many smaller-scale reform movements espouse a similar ethos, often flooding Twitter with a toxic positivity that ignores intransigent inequities and injustices.

The reformers who want to isolate us from each other, who promote the idea that since one individual overcomes poverty thanks to grit means that every individual born into poverty can do so, who see the purpose of education as improving the economic growth of our country are leading us down the wrong path and causing us to engage in the wrong conversation about the future. In fact, they are envisioning a future that is based on the premise that what worked for them in the past is what should work for everyone else going forward. That is not reform… it is reinforcement.

In Privatization Debate, it’s the Walton’s Billions vs the NAACP’s Principles

December 26, 2018 Comments off

A recent AP article in that appeared in the Chattanooga Times Free Press described the ongoing debate that is raging in the black community between the NAACP and (presumably) grassroots organizations consisting of parents whose children are enrolled in deregulated for profit charter schools. The lines of the debate have been delineated in several posts in this blog, but here’s how they are outlined in the AP report:

The Walton family, as one of the leading supporters of America’s charter school movement, is spreading its financial support to prominent and like-minded black leaders, from grassroots groups focused on education to mainstream national organizations such as the United Negro College Fund and Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, according to an Associated Press analysis of tax filings and nonprofit grants data….

While some black leaders see charters as a safer, better alternative in their communities, a deep rift of opinion was exposed by a 2016 call for a moratorium on charters by the NAACP, a longtime skeptic that expressed concerns about school privatization, transparency and accountability issues. The Black Lives Matter movement is also among those that have demanded charter school growth be curbed.

One of the big problems in determining who is on which side and who is on the right side is the source of funding for these various groups. As noted in the first paragraph, the Walton family, whose primary motivation appears to be profit, is underwriting what are described as “grassroots groups” along with “mainstream national organizations” making it difficult to know the extent to which these groups are truly speaking their own minds as opposed to the minds of their financial backers.

Another major complication from my perspective is that the engaged parents, those who want and expect the best from their public schools, will do whatever they can to get the best education for their children. And, if their neighborhood school falls short of their standards and a charter school seems better for their child, it is difficult for me to stand in the way of them doing what they believe is best for their child. As a by-stander or as a school superintendent I think it would be problematic to tell them that they should sacrifice the well-being of their child based and instead join with those who are seeking funding reforms so that all of the children in their “short-of-the-standard” neighborhood school can benefit.

Since the non-engaged parents are those most likely to be trapped in single-parent roles, trapped in low wage employment, and incapable of having the time rescources needed to advocate for their children and their children’s neighborhood schools, it is incumbent on principled groups like the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, and hopefully  mainstream national organizations who are not compromised by the lavish funds showered on them by the likes of the Waltons, to advocate for the social justice issue of equitable school funding.

Connecticut Common Cause’s Disturbing Research on the 2018 Election

December 23, 2018 Comments off

In a post yesterday, Diane Ravitch provided a near verbatim description of an in-depth analysis of the impact of Charter PACs on the Connecticut mid-term elections at the state level, noting the names of the individual PAC donors and the candidates who benefitted from the campaign donations offered by the PACs.

Two things I find unsettling:

First, the donors all reside in extremely affluent communities, communities who would no more offer choice to their parents than they would allow high-density low income housing in their community.

Secondly is the number of candidates with “D” behind their name. Virtually all the candidates who benefitted from the largesse of the PACs are Democrats…

And this leads me to the most unsettling question of all:

Will the Democrats be able to find a candidate in 2020 who is not beholden to the venture capitalists, tech moguls, and billionaires who want to “reform” and “personalize” our schools?

Alas… I doubt it….