Posts Tagged ‘Governance’

David Leonard is 100% Right about the Need for a Pro-Government Stance but 100% Wrong About Pre-K

January 18, 2020 Leave a comment

As is often the case when I read David Leonard, I find myself nodding in agreement with roughly 90% of what he writes and then scratching my head in bewilderment with one or two points. In that respect he is the neoliberal analog to David Brooks who often grounds his thinking in Eastern philosophy but somehow ends up with pro-Capitalist conclusions.

David Leonard’s most recent column, “F.D.R. Got it. Most Democrats Don’t” is a case in point. The column opens with a description of a map FDR distributed in 1936 showing where government spending resulted in tangible improvements to citizens in every corner of the country. He contrasted that kind of government policy and spending with what happened during the Obama and Clinton administrations…. and finds the neoliberal plans wanting.

In recent decades, Democrats have too often forgotten this lesson. They have created technocratically elegant policies that quietly improve people’s lives, like tax credits or insurance subsidies. The problem with this approach is that it does little to build popular support for government action.

Put it this way: How many projects can you name from Barack Obama’s stimulus program? Can you name any project or agency that Bill Clinton created?

The only “project” that I can name from the Obama stimulus program is the reprehensible Race to the Top program and Clinton’s signature legislation was to “End Welfare as we Know It”. Both neo-liberals passed legislation that was based on the Reagan premise that “Government is the Problem” and only the private sector can save the day.

Bottom line: David Leonard is 100% right in identifying the problem.

But Mr. Leonard then goes on to use Elizabeth Warren as the exemplar of advocating the kind of programs Democrats should embrace flagging her desire to create the office of Consumer Finance Protection Office during the Obama administration as a case in point. He then writes:

Warren’s presidential agenda has several other easily understandable ideas, like a $200-a-month increase in Social Security benefits, a price reduction for insulin and other popular drugs, the cancellation of up to $50,000 in student debt and a wealth tax. During a recent interview with her, I mentioned that she seemed to believe that bigger ideas were sometimes easier to accomplish than more modest ones. “I do,” she replied. Big ideas can inspire people; tax credits do not.

This left me with one question: did Mr. Leonard interview Bernie Sanders? If so, why didn’t he give a list of the “easily understandable ideas” Mr. Sanders is advocation? If not, maybe he should sit down with him and give him a chance to tick off the kind of spending he would advocate.

But this omission of Sanders’ ideas was not the real head scratcher. The highlighted section was:

The next Democratic president, whoever it is, shouldn’t repeat this mistake. In climate policy, this would mean putting more emphasis on a green-jobs program than on a hated carbon tax. In education, it could mean creating a “public option” for pre-K. In every area, it also means making sure that government functions well.

As I have written on several occasions in this blog, the worst thing that politicians could do is to create a model for pre-K that incorporates anything that resembles a voucher program. If pre-K is commodified in the name of “choice” and parents who want child care are offered a de facto voucher to pay for child care it will lead to an unravelling of the “government schools” that are charged with the mission of educating all children. In short, nothing could be more wrong-headed than the creation of a “public option” for pre-K. But Democrats have shown a proclivity for wrong-headedness when it comes to public education, sidestepping the need for more funds by doubling down on the reform movements notion that privatization is the way forward… and neoliberal cheerleaders like David Leonard are one of the reasons why this happens.

Cost Cutting Conservative Canadian Leaders Reveal True Purpose of E-Learning: Saving Money!

January 16, 2020 Leave a comment

The Toronto Star uncovered documents indicating that Ontario’s Conservative Premier Doug Ford’s vision for the expansion of e-learning had nothing to do with improving opportunities for students and everything to do with saving money. As reported in Press Progress the Star wrote:

“A ‘confidential’ government document obtained by the Star shows Premier Doug Ford’s government considered keeping online learning optional until 2024 and planned to slash school board funding while creating courses to sell to other jurisdictions at a profit …

Marked “not for distribution,” the six-page document also envisioned allowing students to get high school diplomas “entirely online” starting in September 2024 …”

The Star report offered more details, indicating an intent to cut funding to school boards by by $34.8 million starting September 2020, $55.8 million in 2021, $56.7 million in 2022 and $57.4 million in 2023-2024 with that level of savings continuing in perpetuity while offering “…a full catalogue of online ‘gold standard’ courses,” an oxymoron to be sure.

The memo also called for school boards to gradually increase their on-line offerings and go into the business of marketing their courses to other districts outside of the province in order to generate revenue.

The Ministry of Education did not dispute the existence of the document, but they did contend that the notion of replacing teachers with computers was not part of the overall plan and that privatization was not part of their long term agenda. i doubt that many teachers or school boards are trusting those words after hearing for months that e-learning was all about students.


What Role Should Faith Based Institutions Play in ECE

January 16, 2020 Leave a comment

This thought provoking article from Quartz describes the very positive role faith based institutions are playing in Rwanda, a role that is both practical and perilous from a policy perspective.

The role of these religious organizations is practical because the organizations can provide space, a means of engaging parents who might otherwise keep their children home, and a means of coordinating with other agencies to provide additional support.

The peril is that the groups could use the preschool program to proselytize and/or recruit students for religious schools instead of public schools.

Our country is similar to Rwanda in that ECE is under funded and therefore often understaffed or operated on a purely voluntary model. We are also similar in that there are religious organizations who have space and community leaders thereby making it enticing to seek partnerships between the government and religious organizations to provide cost effective programs for preschoolers. With some forethought and firewalls something could be worked out… but without either of those elements the separation of church and state could be corroded.

Alabama Legislature, State Department of Education Are Poster Children for Poorly Crafted and Executed Charter Laws

January 14, 2020 Leave a comment

I just finished reading guest columnist Larry Lee’s op ed in the Alabama Political Reporter and came away bewildered by what transpired in that state and even more confused about what was supposed to happen. Mr. Lee, a former local school board member, opens the article with this paragraph:

It is nigh impossible to figure out what is going on with charter schools in Montgomery.  Whether it is by design, deception or a bushel of inaptitude, the situation is clearly defying sections of the charter law and thumbs its nose at what is legal and what is not.

Mr. Lee appears to be a good writer, a clear thinker, and a board member committed to improving public education. But, despite his craftsmanship as a writer and cogency, it required two readings to figure out how Alabama’s charter law was supposed to work… but only one reading to see how easy it was to muddy things up given the convoluted governance model built into the legislation. To make a long story short, it seems that despite the teeth that appear to be in the law, if anyone wants to launch a charter school the door is wide open and the regulatory agencies are toothless…. and they are made worse by the reality that the law is poorly designed, intentionally opaque and confusing, and overseen by a State department that displays a bushel of ineptitude. The losers in all of this are the children whose district decided to get on the charter train, for they are likely being served by schools that are populated with unqualified teachers, avaricious administrators, and poorly written curricula. But the taxpayers are probably happen as are the lobbyists who undoubtedly helped the legislature write the bills that made this possible.

Deseret News Examines Impact of Philanthropy on the Public Sector and Finds it Wanting

January 5, 2020 Leave a comment

Gillian Friedman of the Deseret News recently wrote and compelling article based on this question:

Is philanthropy a threat to democracy?

It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I believe the answer to that question is a resounding “YES”… and while Ms. Friedman’s response is more equivocal, her overall response is the same as mine. Indeed, a couple of her quotes show that her concerns mirror mine in this regard:

….when billionaires step in to provide public services, it can also give them disproportionate influence over public policy and circumvent taxpayer input or oversight, argues Rob Reich, co-director of Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, in his book “Just Giving: Why Philanthropy is Failing Democracy and How it Can Do Better.”

Big donor philanthropy … is an exercise of power — the attempt to direct private assets toward some public purpose,” wrote Reich. “It is a form of power that is unaccountable, low on transparency, donor directed, and by default perpetual. Big philanthropy is a plutocratic element in democratic society…”

Because charitable donations are tax-deductible, philanthropy can essentially keep money in the private realm that would have otherwise been managed by the government.

But for the government to spend tax money on a certain program or public service — schools, roads, health care — taxpayers must vote on the expenditure, or vote for the elected official making the decision on their behalf (who can then be voted out). For example, when the Democrats pushed through Obamacare, the blowback was so strong it catalyzed the rise of of the Tea Party Caucus and arguably led to the Democrats losing control of the House.

On the other hand, a philanthropist can choose to spend their money how they like, funding certain kinds of research, or education, based on their own worldview, political orientation, or religious beliefs, without complete transparency.

Ms. Friedman offers the counter-argument to this kind of dark power, but it is weak, especially when one looks at specific examples of philanthropy as it applies to public education:

Because philanthropies aren’t run by people worried about getting reelected or making a profit, they can stay focused on their values and make bolder decisions and riskier investments than politicians or business owners.

“It is precisely that freedom to go against the status quo and be a bit anti-democratic that has allowed philanthropy to move the needle on a lot of social issues because it’s able to go against the public opinion at the time and take on unpopular causes and drive social change,” said Davies.

After all, democracy isn’t a perfect system, said Davies. When the only way to express one’s opinion is by getting the most votes at the ballot box, it can create a “tyranny of the majority,” he said.

Philanthropic foundations can help make up for that by funding important causes that might get overlooked by the will of the majority— such as supporting minority religions, or animal rights, or pushing for innovations in fields such as disease prevention, climate change or cancer research.

Philanthropy has a really important role to play in making sure the minority’s views can be heard, and bringing some of those issues to mainstream political attention,” said Davies. “And that’s good for democracy.”

The most notably philanthropists in education have promoted for-profit charter schools and/or technology-based interaction in charter and public schools that are hardly an effort to make sure the minority’s views are heard… and the most crucial need of education, the abandonment of the long-standing grouping of students by age cohorts… remains unchanged by philanthropists, most of whom base their “innovative ideas” on the continuation of the traditional model for schools. As for its impact on democracy, there are few institutions in the US more democratic than the local school board… and I am not aware of any efforts by any philanthropists to use elected boards to drive change. Rather, virtually every public education innovation funded by philanthropy is managed by an un-elected board whose meetings do not need to conform to public law.

Is philanthropy a threat to democracy?

Absolutely… especially when billionaires starve districts from tax revenue and introduce “innovations” to solve the problems created by short-changing schools.


Yale Legitimatizes Eli Broad’s “Run-Schools-Like-A-Business” Model… and the Washington Post Misses It!

January 4, 2020 Comments off

Our local newspaper, the Valley News, just reprinted a December 5 Washington Post article by Susan Svrluga extolling the Broad Foundation for providing a free education to aspiring urban Superintendents through their business school. The article leads with a quote from a Florida Superintendent describing her experience as a newly appointed county Superintendent:

Barbara Jenkins studied education, and she worked in schools for years. But when she was named a superintendent, she was still surprised by the abrupt change in responsibilities. “You think a superintendent is like the lead principal or lead teacher for a school district,” she said. “But you have to think more like a CEO of a major corporation.”

The choice of Barbara Jenkins to represent the typical Broad alumni is disingenuous at best and dishonest at worse given that the typical “Broadie” is someone who might have worked for a couple of years as a teacher and then accepted an assignment as a “CEO” in a district where a school board (usually one appointed by a mayor) outsourced leadership services or where a mayor who was given the authority to oversee schools decided to “reform” them by applying business principles.

I am surprised the Washington Post, who features Valerie Strauss as a reliably anti-“reform” blogger and writer published an article that overlooked the Broad program’s flaws.

Charles Blow’s Assessment of the 2010 Decade Misses One Point: We No Longer Have PUBLIC Schools

January 3, 2020 Comments off

As the 2010 decade concluded, manny NYTimes columnists, including Charles Blow, wrote op ed essays assessing the changes that took place. Mr. Blow’s essay, titled “The Decade We Changed Our Minds“, highlighted some positive changes that occurred over the past decade, focussing especially on our country’s changed attitudes toward sexual orientation and drug use. In the column, Mr. Blow offers survey data substantiating this change in thinking while noting that the pushback against these trends continues despite the sentiment supporting a wider acceptance.

But as I noted in a comment I posted, there is one other area where America changed its mind: we no longer think of the institutions that educate our children as PUBLIC schools; we think of them as GOVERNMENT schools. Worse, both the Democrats and GOP think that marketplace competition is needed in order to improve the schools because we have long ago accepted that BUSINESS organizations are for more effective and efficient than GOVERNMENT. We believe this so much that as the decade concluded we elected a “shrewd businessman” to run our country.

I hope that the 2020s we find our faith in government restored, for in a democracy government is overseen by elected officials who are accountable to the voters who put them in office. In a privately held business the owner is beholden to no one and in a publicly held enterprise the CEO is beholden to stockholders who, in most cases, want to see increased profits despite the impact that results to the well being of employees and the public. In my idealistic view, I would hope that we change our minds in two ways in the coming decade: we have our faith in government restored and we abandon shareholder primacy in favor of a model that places a higher value on the well-being of humanity than the well-being of shareholders.