Posts Tagged ‘Governance’

This Just In: Bill Gates Has an Outsized Influence on State Education Policy. Why? Read On:

May 20, 2018 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch wrote a post yesterday that had a link to an AP article by Salli Ho that described Bill Gates’ outsized influence in the development of State policy. I offered the following explanation for this evolution in a comment i left…. and here it is:

Here’s the way I see the shift in policy-making: The influence of billionaires is linked to the decimation of State Departments of Education. While many in public school employees bemoaned the regulations that emanated from the “bureaucrats” at the state capitals, there was a time when State legislators deferred to their expertise and allowed them to develop the policies and regulations that dictated what transpired in classrooms. As state $$$ became scarce, the “bureaucrats” were the first to go and when they were gone there was a void in “expert” policy making… a void filled by Blue Ribbon panels of businessmen who complained that the workforce was untrained and unprepared (at the same time as THEY cut back on in house training that formerly trained entry level employees). Eventually the tech moguls and Friedman-ites who saw an opportunity to make $$$ in the “education marketplace” got a foothold and… behold… we now have Bill Gates setting policy and Betsy DeVos promoting vouchers.

Bottom line: if you want educator to set educational policy at any level, you need to provide the funds for high quality staff… which some might interpret as “diverting money away from the classroom”. But now that we’ve witnessed the benefits of having education policy written and implemented by educators, we might re-think that assertion.


Virtual Learning: Godsend or Scam?

May 19, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s Valley News featured an op ed article written by Washington Post contributor David von Drehle praising the virtues of virtual learning. The article profiled recent graduation ceremony of an alternative school in Kansas where:

The bleachers were filled with proud family and friends. But this wasn’t a group that grew up together through ballgames and choir concerts. Alienated from traditional high schools, seeking an alternative, they found the Humboldt Virtual Education Program, one of the largest and best-regarded online high schools in the Sunflower State.After months, even years, of solitary study in internet classrooms, they gathered as a physical community for the first, and probably the last, time.

Mr. von Drehle went on to describe the growth taking place in virtual learning.

Across the United States, online education is booming. Sixth- through 12th-graders enrolled in Florida’s largest full-time virtual high school completed more than 44,000 semesters of classwork last year. In Kansas, virtual school enrollment grew 100-fold between 1999 and 2014, from about 60 students to more than 6,000.

He is particularly impressed with the students who succeeded in the Kansas program, seeing its asynchronous model as helpful for both ends of the spectrum: the student who could not keep up and the student who wanted to complete schooling faster and felt held back. Indeed, Mr. von Drehle’s paeans to virtual learning could be used as selling points by the for-profit fly-by-night operations like ECOT who raked in over a billion of Ohio taxpayers money and graduated a microscopic percentage of the students it enrolled. He writes:

Thankfully, we’ve begun to appreciate that students aren’t stamped from a single mold.

Some do their best learning at their own pace and rhythm. This awakening is surely one reason more Americans are finishing high school: The dropout rate fell from 11 percent to 6 percent between 2000 and 2015, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Well-run virtual education programs are part of that success. Educators with up-close experience of at-risk students understand this — which is why Humboldt’s virtual school includes the daughter of a traditional school principal. And the daughter of a newspaper columnist.

When the nontraditional learner in my family gripped her diploma proudly and gave Siebenmorgen a tearful hug, she became one of more than 400 alumni of a little Kansas town’s very big idea, with hundreds more in the pipeline.

These aren’t students normally celebrated with trophies and scholarships. But I would not bet against them.

In an age of constant change, they’ve seized tools offered by technology and put them to good use.

Instead of dropping out, they stepped up, toward a future that will favor those who see and grab new possibilities. An hour after they marched in, they sailed forth on the stream of lifelong learning, which promises to take them far.

There is one key point about the Humboldt Virtual Education Program that Mr. von Drehe neglected to mention: it is overseen by the local school district in his community, which means that it is a non-profit entity operated by an elected school board whose mission is to provide education for all the children in the region and not a for-profit entity whose mission is to get a high return on investment for its shareholders.

Mr. von Drehe’s oversight on this key governance issue muddles the issue of virtual learning. When virtual learning opportunities are provided by local public schools, as they are in Vermont, New Hampshire, and at least one place in Kansas, they work to educate students who would otherwise drop out of school. When profit is the goal, the ECOTs of this world predominate.


New Orleans Area School District’s Response to “School Safety” Prepares Students for Totalitarian World

May 12, 2018 Leave a comment

Bob Warren’s article in yesterday’s New Orleans Times-Picayune focuses on school uniforms, SROs, mental health workers, and some chilling ideas to increase school safety, but the overall picture that emerges is the creation of a school environment that Kim Il-Jong and Vladimir Putin would endorse.

The headline “More Campus Cops, Student Uniforms Coming to St. Tammany Public Schools” described a public hearing where board members reviewed a report of a recently created school safety group on actions they should take relative to improving safety in the school. The actions included mandating uniforms in all schools in the district (parents currently vote on whether to have uniforms on a school-by-school basis), increasing the SROs from 14 to 41 so that every school in the district has one officer on duty, and adding “mental health” workers. The article also indicates a menu of recommended changes that are on the horizon: that include “…better perimeter fencing at school campuses and more advanced door locks“.

At the hearing the vocal protests came from parents and students at the six schools in the district that do not mandate uniforms.

“I believe in freedom,” Martha McKay, the parent of Mandeville High School students, told the board. A “basic right” would be “what color shirt we’re going to wear today,’‘ she added.

Olivia Christopher, a current junior at Mandeville High, said school safety is important, but that uniforms won’t necessarily get that. “We already all wear IDs,” she told the board.

Another Mandeville High parent, Amy Christopher, told the board a “yes” vote on uniforms would be counter to what parents had decided at the various schools. “I think you have to give parents that opportunity,” she said.

I read this article and looked at the future of the St. Tammany Public Schools and felt a chill go down my spine. Every day a group of uniformed students will walk through high perimeter fences past an armed guard at the entryway who will watch them to see which children might need to be sent to the “mental health worker” for an attitude adjustment of some sort. Perhaps the child who’s shirt is not tucked in properly or the child whose hair is dyed peculiarly might be singled out for a visit to the “mental health worker”. For certain the child who is disruptive will be viewed through the lens of law enforcement, for, as the article indicates, the new SROs will be “…employees of whatever law enforcement agency provides them“, which means at best there will need to be some clear lines of responsibility drawn. At worst, school discipline will become the purview of the police force, a result that might be OK with at least one Board member:

Let our teachers teach and let our law enforcement protect,” board member Michael Dirmann added.

One issue that was given only passing mention in the article but will likely be a source of contention when budgets are put together:

Hiring mental health providers and uniformed police officers – called school resource officers – will cost the district around $4 million annually. and taxpayers could eventually be asked to support a tax to cover the expense.

My hunch is that when the rubber hits the road in the development of next year’s budget, the mental health workers will find themselves on the sidelines but the uniforms for kids and funding for SROs will be intact… as will the one-time expenditures for improved perimeter fences and door locks.

Here’s the bottom line question: What kind of publicly funded facility has secure perimeter fences, sophisticated door locks, armed guards, interior surveillance cameras, and enclose individuals wearing uniforms? I suppose the good news is that the uniformed students might not be required to carry their IDs with them at all times… Oh… and if the mental health workers are cut the students won’t be referred there for counseling. Instead they will be referred to the police departments. This is not the schooling I experienced nor is it the schooling my children experienced. It is likely the schooling of the future, though.

One last thought: Vladimir Putin must be happy that we are willing to trade the freedom of our children for the rights of individuals to own sophisticated weapons. If this is the way public schools will be operated in the future, it will make it increasingly easy for “alternative charter schools” to flourish…

An Insidious Link: Gwinnett Post Op-Ed, NYTimes Report on Koch Brothers Funding of George Mason Professors

May 6, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday the NYTimes ran an article describing the impact of the Koch Brothers decision to underwrite the professor’s salaries at George Mason University (GMU). Thanks to the dogged work of a group who called themselves “Transparent GMU” it became clear that the donations to GMU from the Koch brothers were conditional. After reviewing a stack of documents the University was compelled to release after a fight in court, Transparet GMU released their findings:

The documents reveal in surprising detail that for years, as George Mason grew from a little-known commuter school to a major public university and a center of libertarian scholarship, millions of dollars in donations from conservative-leaning donors like the Charles Koch Foundation had come with strings attached.

As early as 1990, entities controlled by the billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch were given a seat on a committee to pick candidates for a professorship that they funded, the records show. Similar arrangements that continued through 2009 gave donors decision-making roles in selecting candidates for key economics appointments at the Mercatus Center, a Koch-funded think tank on campus that studies markets and regulation. The appointments, which also created faculty lines at George Mason, were steered to professors who, like the Kochs, embraced unconstrained free markets.

More recently, in 2016, executives of the Federalist Society, a conservative national organization of lawyers, served as agents for a $20 million gift from an anonymous donor, and were given the right to terminate installments of the gift at their discretion. Emails disclosed by the university show that Federalist Society officials were also involved in hiring discussions and had suggested a student for admission. In turn, a professor at the law school wrote the society asking for help securing recommendations for prestigious federal judicial clerkships for students active in the society.

But, as the Times article reports, the Koch brothers’ impact went beyond one “little-known commuter school”:

The exact amount of Koch donations to campuses across the country, which frequently are earmarked for programs fostering capitalism and free markets, is unknown. But it is estimated at nearly $150 million from 2005 to 2015, benefiting more than 300 schools. An estimated $50 million of that went to George Mason.

Arrangements between universities and organizations funded by Koch money have come under scrutiny partly because of the work of an activist organization called UnKoch My Campus, the national affiliate of Transparent GMU.

The group and its campus affiliates around the country have pressured universities to reject or rescind Koch-funded agreements and also have demanded disclosures about Koch funding. The movement has recently gained steam on several campuses where faculty members and students have protested Koch-funded centers or professorships, including recent actions at Wake Forest University, Montana State University and the University of Utah.

The conditional appointment of a few professors at a few colleges may not seem problematic, but those professors are cranking out reports and sought after by like minded opinion makers who want to make their case in the media… which brings us to an op ed written by GA college professor Rob Jenkins that appears in this weekend’s edition of the Gwinnett Daily Post. In the article, Mr. Jenkins quotes an authoritative source on the condition of public schools, George Mason University economist Walter Williams:

In April, the U.S. Department of Education released its 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress, otherwise known as The Nation’s Report Card. The results, as George Mason University economist Walter Williams observes, are not pretty.

Nationwide, only 37 percent of seniors were found to be proficient or better in reading. In math, the number was 25 percent.

To counter such clear evidence of educational fraud (as Williams calls it), administrators and elected officials point to healthy graduation rates. That may be true: The graduation rate in 2017, according to the NAEP, was over 80 percent.

Unfortunately, rather than contradicting the narrative of school failure, this statistic merely reinforces it. To quote Williams, “That means high school diplomas … are conferred when 63 percent (of students) are not proficient in reading and 75 percent are not proficient in math.”

Never mind that an economist is hardly an authoritative source when it comes to analyzing standardizer test results, and never mind that these same standardized test results have shown for decades that a school’s zip code determines their ultimate test scores, and never mind that those high scoring schools are typically the highest spending schools… editorialists like Mr. Jenkins have a narrative and they know that they can find an authoritative source by Googling any GMU economist. I imagine any libertarians reading this will say that such bias exists among the liberal elites, but I know of no circumstances where a mega-donor to a university requires  that professors hired as a result of their gifts reflect a specific viewpoint.

And here’s what I find to be the ultimate irony: I cannot imagine any member of the “liberal elite” who doesn’t seek complete academic freedom in their research and writing and doesn’t advocate for such freedom on the campus where they work… Yet we find a libertarian donor who seeks to restrict the academic freedom of the university he is donating funds to. This is what money the money of libertarians ultimately wants to buy: a society of like-minded individuals who see the world as a Darwinian marketplace.

Reliance on Property Taxes Exacerbates Economic Divide, Opens the Door to Vouchers

April 3, 2018 1 comment

An extract from a post by Peter Greene included in Diane Ravitch’s blog post yesterday prompted me to realize that the ultimate driving force for privatization of public education is the revenue source. Mr. Greene’s blog post took aim at an op ed piece Arne Duncan wrote suggesting that test-based reform is succeeding. The one paragraph that summarized Mr. Greene’s point is this:

[His] notion that test-based accountability “revealed” achievement gaps is baloney. Educators knew where the gaps were. We’ve always known where the gaps were. We’ve screamed about the gaps. I don’t believe any teacher in this country picked up test results and said, “I’ll be damned! I had no idea these non-white, non-wealthy students were having trouble keeping up!” At best, test-based accountability was a tool to convince policy makers who would listen to data spreadsheets before they would listen to teachers. And even then, policy makers didn’t look at the data and say, “Well, we’d better help these schools out.” Instead, all the way up to Duncan’s office, they responded with, “Well, let’s target this school for closure or conversion or a growth opportunity for some charter operators.”

After quoting at length from Mr. Greene’s post, Ms. Ravitch writes (with my emphasis in bold red italics):

Charter schools are the gateway to vouchers. It is now widely understood that Arne Duncan and his friends paved the way for Betsy DeVos and her all-out war on  public schools. That is now widely recognized, even if Duncan doesn’t admit it.

Reform is failing, failing, failing. The public is wise to the reformers’ real goal, which is to privatize public schools and disparage teachers instead of confronting the real issues of poverty and segregation.

And nothing that Arne writes here changes that fact.

As I reflected on Ms. Ravitch’s conclusion, it struck me that the real gateway to vouchers is public education’s over-reliance on property taxes which has the effect of insulating thousands of students from the ravages of tax cuts or tax caps at the state and/or federal level.

When state legislatures impose deep cuts to public education or the federal government reduces funding, the school boards in affluent communities can increase their property taxes to ensure that the children in their community are insulated from the impact of cuts. Boards in less affluent communities do not have this option, and so their schools suffer. The result: the divide between rich and poor widens but the property tax burden increases in affluent towns as the funding is shifted downward.

In states where state legislatures impose property tax limitations WITH the possibility of local voter overrides— the voters in affluent districts consistently pass supplemental budgets. Thus, they protect their students and communities from the impact of budget cuts experienced in less affluent communities who do not have the tax base necessary to match the funding possible in wealthier districts. And in states where state legislatures impose property tax limitations WITHOUT the possibility of local voter overrides, school boards came up with fee-for-service models that replaced tax revenues with de facto “user fees”: children are assessed for busing, extra-curricular, and, in some cases, text books. In either case where tax caps were imposed, the schools in affluent districts did not experience the impact of limitations while the schools in less affluent districts suffered.

This ability of relatively affluent districts to raise funds to offset lost revenues through increases to property taxes or the institution of fees creates a situation where the parents and children in those districts never felt the impact of STATE tax cuts OR property tax caps. As a result, voters in those districts were indifferent to or, in some cases, fully supportive of test-driven reform because— to paraphrase Mr. Greene— their “white, relatively wealthy students WERE keeping up”. And since they were keeping up they never had to worry about doing poorly on state tests, they never had to worry about their schools being identified as “failing” and closing, and never had to replace their broad curricula with “focused” test preparation classwork.

This system of taxation is the gateway to vouchers because as long as property taxes and “user fees” are the primary source of funding, the voters in affluent districts will remain immune to the impact of STATE tax cuts and may even support them because they are already paying high local property taxes to keep their schools afloat. So when these state-tax-resistant voters in affluent districts hear that the State legislators have a means of helping “other children” in “failing schools” by giving their parents “choices”, a “solution” that requires NO increase in State taxes, they are open to supporting the idea…. And as readers of this blog realize, the privatizers are only too happy to feed them data to support the fantasy that “choice” is the silver bullet that can solve the problems of inequitable funding.

W. Edward Deming said “A bad system will beat a good person every time”… we have a bad system for school funding in place and it is, alas, beating many good people.

Sioux City Iowa School Board Considers Offering Donors Naming Rights

April 2, 2018 Leave a comment

An article that appeared in the Sioux City Journal on April Fools Day, reported that the school board in that community is contemplating a change in policy that would “…allow major donors to attach their names to gymnasiums, auditoriums or other areas of a school building.” I understand the need for schools to engage in business partnership activities and also realize how difficult it is to do any renovations when state support is scarce to non-existent, but the naming rights issue is not only a local political quagmire, it had a dis-equalizing impact and reinforces the notion that school funding should be based on user fees and not community support based on taxes.

The local political quagmire of naming should be obvious to a school board. What if an arguably disreputable firm—  say a major polluter or a corporation that recently laid off hundreds of workers— wants to improve its standing in the community by donating to the area of a school building? The scene from the Bad News Bears where Walter Matthau’s charges show up with uniforms emblazoned with “Chico’s Bail Bonds” comes to mind. Or what if an alt-right or LBGTQ group want to make a major donation?

As noted in an earlier post on the Abington PA school district, the use of donations from private residents, alumni, or local businesses almost invariably has a dis-equalizing impact. Affluent districts have a larger donor base than districts serving children raised in poverty, and districts with a solid tax base based on having businesses also have a larger donor base for business partners than rural districts with no businesses whatsoever.

Finally, the whole notion that schools should turn to individual donors or local businesses to get funding is contrary to the fundamental idea behind public education. Public schools are a common good that should be supported by everyone in the community— not just those with children in school. They should, therefore, be funded by taxes with as broad a base as possible. When states can shirk their responsibility for helping students by encouraging “partnerships”, they are, in turn, fostering the idea that schools should be funded based on user fees… a concept that necessarily sets public schools on the path for vouchers.

Here’s hoping wisdom and common sense prevail in Souix City when the debate on this issue continues.

In Philadelphia, Voters Decided Enough Was Enough… and Change is Happening

April 1, 2018 Leave a comment

As a former Philadelphian who has bemoaned the decline of funding for public schools in that city and the incarceration of young black men across the country, and one who also holds a strong belief that democracy, while being beaten back by the oligarchs is still the best hope for the future, I am heartened to read that voters in Philadelphia are pushing back against the dominant neoliberal paradigm.

Late last month I read an Intercept article by firebrand journalist Sean King describing how recently elected DA  Larry Krasner is overhauling the entire department in an effort to keep his pledge to transform the office he was elected to. Sean King writes:

In his first week on the job, he fired 31 prosecutors from the DA’s office because they weren’t committed to the changes he intended to make. “Change is never easy, but DA Krasner was given a clear mandate from the voters for transformational change,” his spokesperson said at the time. “Today’s actions are necessary to achieve that agenda.”

Next, Krasner obeyed a court order to release a list of 29 officers from the Philadelphia Police Department that were on a “do-not-call list” — meaning that they were so tainted that they would be considered unreliable as witnesses. The police officers on the list had either been charged with crimes or found responsible for misconduct in internal police probes conducted by the department’s Board of Inquiry. Among the offenses, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the police officers had lied to their fellow investigators, filed false reports, used excessive force, driven drunk, and burgled…

All of that is big, but nothing is as essential and revolutionary as the internal five-page guiding document of new policies that Krasner sent to his staff. While the document appears to have been sent to the staff of the Philadelphia DA’s office on February 15, 2018, it only became public a week ago.

The Intercept article offers a copy of the entire memo, and Mr. King elaborates on its key points, which are summarized in bullet form below:

  • end mass incarcerations and bring balance back to sentencing
  • stop charging sex workers that have fewer than three convictions with any crime and drop all current cases against sex workers who also fit that description
  • avoid convictions if possible and guide cases for diversion programs instead of jail and prison
  • stop the wide-ranging practice of beginning plea deals with the highest possible sentencing and instead, begin those plea deals at the bottom end of the available range of time that can be served. And when less than 24 months is available as a sentence for a crime, house arrest or diversion programs should be used instead of incarceration.
  • add up and justify the exact costs of every single person sentenced to a crime in Philadelphia, where is costs $42,000 per year to incarcerate an individual, more than the average income of a city resident
  • people either be given no probation after incarceration or no more than a 12-month probationary period, given the reality that Philadelphia now has 44,000 people on probation, “…an impossible number to manage”  which leads to a situation where “More serious cases end up being harder to track and follow”

None of this should be a surprise to any voter in Philadelphia, because this is the platform Mr. Krasner ran on, a far different platform than that of one of his predecessors, Arlen Spector, who ran on a law-and-order platform in the 1960s. MAYBE this is a harbinger of an attitudinal shift in the nation: one based on common sense and the desire to save taxpayers money.

Meanwhile, the voters who supported Krasner for DA also rallied to boot out the “School Reform Commission” that decimated funding for the public schools while promoting the ideas of school choice. An article by Greg Windle in Notebook, the publication of Our City Our Schools Coalition in Philadelphia, describes the Coalition’s effort to get the city to suspend PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) agreements in place with the city’s colleges, universities, businesses, and developers. Thanks to some hard nosed analysis by Coalition members, the group issued a report that identified “…four main sources of revenue, which would total $191 million annually“- the most obvious of which was the PILOT agreements which account for $95,000,000 of the $191,000,000 in lost revenue for schools. The article details how the $191,000,000 figure was calculated, and if those revenue sources were tapped the city would receive over $890,000 per school,

“That’s enough to purchase one counselor, one librarian, five teachers, and two secretaries at every single school,” (activist Jessica) Way said. “We don’t need another computer program that makes things more efficient for our teachers; we need people!”

The report went on to note that if property values were updated to match fair market value, that could drive the revenue as high as $301 million annually…. and with 214 public schools in the city that additional $110,000,000 would provide an additional $514,000+ for each school.

Our City Our School has experienced success in its effort to restore control of its public schools to city residents. Given the election of Larry Krasner who ran on a TRUE reform agenda, it is entirely possible that they will succeed in achieving TRUE education reform, which can only occur when the revenues based on taxes are restored, which means those businesses, colleges and universities who take advantage of the infrastructure of the city pay their fair share of taxes and those who moved into gentrified neighborhoods do the same. A city can only be called “livable” if it provides a decent education for ALL the children who live there and it treats ALL of its citizens with respect. It appears that Philadelphia is living up to its old motto: it is becoming a City of Brotherly Love.