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Posts Tagged ‘Governance’

This Just In: The GOP Wants to Rip-Off Student Borrowers to Help For-Profit Colleges

September 14, 2019 Leave a comment

You don’t need to pass laws to help your your donors and to disestablish government agencies you don’t believe in. All you need to do is appoint a cabinet member who will revise regulations to minimize the strength of that agency and help your financial backers. And if the regulations can’t be revised, the cabinet member can slow down the process of implementing the regulations or make the process dysfunctional. In the end, the goal of making the government so small it can drown in a bathtub can be accomplished.

If you don’t believe this description of how to make a government agency dysfunctional is accurate, look no further than Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. As noted in Adam Minsky’s Forbes article, Betsy DeVos is making a concerted effort to gut the student loan forgiveness program put in place when the Obama administration learned how for-profit schools were preying on unsuspecting students by encouraging them to take out student loans. He writes:

The Borrower Defense to Repayment program was established in 2016 following the high-profile collapse of for-profit schools like Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institutes. The program was enacted to provide student loan relief for borrowers who had been defrauded by predatory schools.

The basic premise of the program is that students who were subjected to rampant fraud or misrepresentations by their  school, and who were saddled with debt and a useless degree, should have a mechanism to request student loan forgiveness. This, coupled with stricter federal oversight of for-profit schools and greater accountability for their educational and career outcomes, would hopefully diminish widespread abuse of federal aid by predatory institutions.

Since DeVos took over the Department of Education in 2017, her administration has made consistent efforts to eliminate or water down the program. The Department of Education initially tried to re-write the regulations governing the program, only to have those new rules thrown out by a federal court following legal challenges. Her office has also been effectively ignoring around 160,000 applications for loan forgiveness submitted by student loan borrowers, leaving them in limbo.

Mr. Minsky’s article then offers a description of the recently released rules that will go into effect, all of which put the burden of proof on the borrower and give the lenders an upper hand. The net effect is the diminishment of protection for students who have been bilked by profiteers. He concludes his article with this:

The chairman of the House education committee, Rep. Bobby Scott, accused the administration of “sending an alarming message [that] schools can cheat student loan borrowers and still reap the rewards of federal student aid.” And the Project on Predatory Student Lending announced that it intends to challenge the new rules in court.

One thing is clear: the Borrower Defense to Repayment program remains embattled and in legal limbo.

One more thing is clear: that “legal limbo” is hurting the pocketbooks of the borrowers at the expense of the shareholders of the private for profit colleges.

Red States Didn’t Cut As Many Services as Feared… but the Bipartisan Desire for Charter Schools Has Transformed the Debate on Public Schools

August 19, 2019 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed article by Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, that suggests that the GOP has not made as many adverse inroads into public services as Democrats and progressives feared. Mr. Grossman provides compelling data on the limited ability of conservatives to impose their full  agenda at the state level, in large measure because they have to provide balanced budgets. But he misses one big point: the bi-partisan support for charter schools has transformed the debate on public education. After recounting the challenges State GOP legislators faced in trying to cut popular programs, Mr. Grossman offers this summary of the successes the GOP experienced:

Surprisingly, the biggest Republican state success stories came in partnership with Democrats. After decades of tough-on-crime policies, conservative groups joined with liberal foundations to reform criminal justice in several states. Taking advantage of federal action by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and (especially) Barack Obama, conservative legislators helped greatly expand charter schools. Early childhood education and alternative energy promotion also expanded nationwide, largely on a bipartisan basis.

Mr. Grossman overlooked a very significant shift that appears to have taken place as a result of the Democrats adopting the neoliberal idea that public schools should be operated independently of local school boards.

The bi-patrisan support for charter schools means the debate between those seeking governance of public education by locally ELECTED officials as opposed to governance by private UNELECTED boards is over. The debate is now about whether parents’ decisions about where their child attends school should be made as citizens seeking options for government funded services (i.e. charter “schools-of-choice” vs. traditional schools “assigned by the government”) or made as consumers able to choose from a wide array of products (i.e. vouchers). In short, the debate is no longer between attending the “government school” that is funded with state and/or local taxes or choosing from an array of charters approved by the local and/or State Board. The debate is now between choice and vouchers… allowing parents to take their “school tax allocation” and applying to whatever school they wish to attend— on line, nearby, or distant. It appears that there is bi-partisan support for the abandonment of the governance model that has been in place for decades whereby local communities fund schools overseen by elected school boards that their local resident children must attend. Mr. Grossman may not see this as consequential. As a retired public school administrator I do.

Self-Directed Learning: A Place Where Libertarianism and Progressivism Intersect

August 2, 2019 Comments off

A series of articles in the libertarian Cato Institute’s July edition of Cato Unbound offers four essays that describe a point where libertarianism and progressivism intersect: the need to move away from our lock-step factory model of education in the direction of self-directed learning. The opening paragraphs introducing the essays describes the basic libertarian argument for questioning the status quo and re-thinking the voucher plans espoused by their iconic economist Milton Friedman:

Libertarians tend to support school choice. But for whom? In the voucher model, parents may choose among various private schooling options for their children and designate their vouchers to the schools they’ve selected.

But what if school itself is a matter of choice? And what does it look like when students and parents choose unstructured learning instead?Is this unconventional choice an option that libertarians should prefer? Perhaps: much about the conventional experience of primary and secondary schooling is the product of bureaucratization and standardization—and much of that comes directly from state involvement in education.

So what is the relationship between libertarian politics and unstructured schooling? How seriously should libertarians take the idea of scrapping school as we know it, and replacing it with child-directed learning?

As one who read and admired the thinking of A.S. Neill, John Holt, and Ivan Illich, there is an appeal to seeing public education as it exists today wither and disappear. Since the passage of NCLB, education policy has been dictated by the desire of politicians and parents to ensure that children graduating from high school meet “high standards”. But setting such standards without increasing funding or changing the age-based grade-level cohort scheme for schooling has proven to be an impossibility. The result is “failing schools” based on standardized test scores and increasingly dis-engaged students as today’s students find the lessons linked to test scores dispiriting and pointless in a world where they can get answers to questions that concern them directly with a Google Search or the use of an app. In the next few days I plan to explore the ideas presented in these Cato Unbound essays and offer some ideas on how we might change to current paradigm for schooling in a way that helps all children have an opportunity to learn more by directing their own learning.

Vermont Story on Delayed Test Results Illustrates Everything Wrong with Testing

July 29, 2019 Comments off

Our local paper, the Valley News, reprinted an article by Lola Duffort titled “School Test Score Data Nine Months Overdue“. This is unsurprising given the ambitious scope of the State’s new Annual Snapshot “dashboard” and the fact that the current State Department of Education is woefully understaffed. And this problem of ambitious analytics combined with understaffed state departments is not limited to Vermont. This toxic combination is a systemic problem brought about by federal legislators allowing and encouraging states to include more and more data on their “report cards” on the heels of states deciding to cut back staffs following the 2008 economic collapse, often making those cuts on data collection departments where much of the work was outsourced.

In an earlier article Ms. Duffort described the new expanded “dashboard” as follows:

The Vermont Agency of Education has released its first Annual Snapshot, a new online dashboard that will allow anyone to take a look at how each of the state’s public K-12 schools are doing, using a variety of new indicators.

The Snapshot is an intentional pivot away from the standardized-testing focused era of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which was widely criticized by educators — particularly in Vermont — for emphasizing too narrow a measure of school performance. The successor law to NCLB, the Every Student Succeeds Act, still requires testing, but it also allows states to name several new standards for appraising schools…

…the Snapshot aims to allow the public to see not just traditional measures of school performance – like test scores and graduation rates – but also information about school climate, staffing quality, spending priorities, and personalization.

As one who has written frequently about the inanity of rating schools based solely on test scores, I fully support this new direction by Vermont. But, as one who worked with state departments for 29 years and witnessed their de-staffing over that time period, I also understand that delivering on this promised expansive data will be difficult… and it will be especially so in Vermont where it appears the new commissioner is loathe to add staff:

The agency is “seriously understaffed,” said Sen. Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden, who chairs the Senate Education Committee.

“It’s resulted in delays and errors and a general inability to do their jobs. I’ve been trying to light a fire under Secretary French and this administration for a year now, to pick up the pace of hiring, but they seem content to continue running the agency well below full strength,” he said.

Staffing capacity at the agency worried House lawmakers enough last session that House Education chair Rep. Kate Webb, D-Shelburne, and Government Operations chair Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas, D-Bradford, held a joint hearing on the subject. The agency has lost about a fourth of its staff to budget cuts since the Great Recession.

But Webb said that, as for the test scores, she was “not concerned at this time,” since students, teachers, and districts have access to their individual results.

Sorry, Ms. Webb… but the whole point of providing the Snapshot was to provide MORE information than test results and providing those results nine months after the tests were administered is, to be blunt, ridiculous and useless. If a teacher failed to return a high-stakes test to a student nine months after the test was administered they would be looking for a new career. For the Annual Snapshot to serve ANY valid educational purpose it needs to be in the hands of teachers, administrators, and Board members within weeks— not nine months later. Moreover, between October 2018 and August 2019 it is likely that 1/4 of the school board members and a similar percentage of principals and teachers will change, especially in the small rural schools that constitute much of Vermont. Complicating matters even more, there are several new Boards in place now as a result of Act 46, making the late delivery of data even more problematic.

The solution, as always, is more resources— in this case for State Departments of Education. But finding support to pay for “bureaucrats” whose primary purpose is enforcement of regulations adopted by the legislature and State Board and the delivery of reports on a wide array of issues is not easy. It’s far easier to outsource data gathering, skimp on regulatory enforcement, and complain about the inefficiency of the State Department of Education…. because, well, “government is the problem”.

Reagan’s Revolution, Norquist’s Quest Complete: Distrust in Government at All Time High

July 28, 2019 Comments off

Nearly four decades ago Ronald Reagan declared that government was the problem and twenty years later, GOP operative Grover Norquist declared his desire to shrink the federal government so that it was so small he could drown it in a bathtub. in 2010, as the GOP blocked any efforts by the Democrats to increase government spending, NYTimes columnist and Nobel economist Paul Krugman summarized the GOP’s strategy as follows:

“Rather than proposing unpopular spending cuts, Republicans would push through popular tax cuts, with the deliberate intention of worsening the government’s fiscal position. Spending cuts could then be sold as a necessity rather than a choice, the only way to eliminate an unsustainable budget deficit.” He wrote that the “…beast is starving, as planned…” and that “Republicans insist that the deficit must be eliminated, but they’re not willing either to raise taxes or to support cuts in any major government programs. And they’re not willing to participate in serious bipartisan discussions, either, because that might force them to explain their plan—and there isn’t any plan, except to regain power.

As readers of this blog realize, the GOP has shown itself willing to ride the coattails of a boorish charlatan in order to fulfill its plan to regain power… and the combination of tax cuts enacted by the GOP and their free spending on the military we now have an unsustainable $1,000,000,000,000+ deficit. Worse, as a result of the GOP’s persistent message that “government is the problem” and it’s profligacy now that it is in power, government IS the problem and, according to the most recent Pew Research Poll, voters trust in the government is at an all time low and waning. But that is not the worst news. As Matt Stevens reported earlier this week:

It will probably come as no surprise that most Americans distrust the federal government.

A new study released Monday by the Pew Research Center has found that to be true, and that Americans largely perceive trust in Washington to be shrinking. But the deep skepticism is not reserved solely for politicians, according to the survey: Almost two-thirds of respondents said they thought trust in each other had declined, too.

The report paints a rather dreary picture of how Americans today feel about their political leaders, the news media and their neighbors down the block.

Later in the article, Mr. Stevens dug deeper into the findings, and what he found is particularly disturbing but unsurprising to this “high truster”:

In general, those who were more likely to be “high trusters” were older, more educated and had higher household incomes than “low trusters.”

“Americans who might feel disadvantaged are less likely to express generalized trust in other people,” the report said.

The generational gap in trust that emerged was especially striking. Almost half of young adults between the age of 18 and 29 fell into the low trust category. The same was true about only one-fifth of respondents 65 and older.

Over all, the Pew study found that three-quarters of Americans thought confidence in the federal government was slipping, and 64 percent said the same about trust in each other.

It is completely unsurprising that those in the 18-to-29 demographic have low trust in government: they were raised in the post-Reagan era and came of age when Grover Norquist was promoting his ideas that big government was ipso facto a bad thing and taxes were ipso facto confiscatory and unnecessary. Why would anyone growing up in that era have trust in an institution that was “the problem”.

It is also unsurprising that most Americans sense that confidence in the federal government is waning. Those who voted for Trump did so based on the belief that he would drain the swamp and those who did not vote for him now feel that the leadership in Washington is either corrupt, incompetent, or both. As for the loss of trust in each other, based on what I read on social media, the tendency to “other-ize” is exacerbating educational, political, and economic divides. Many “friends” on social media make disparaging remarks about Trump voters, seeing them as an uniform mass that embraces racists, misogynists, and anti-intellectualism… and I sense that those with Trump 2020 bumper stickers look at my “friends” with the same disdain. How can we trust each other if we draw conclusions based on one’s support for a particular political party?

Despite the gloomy findings in the Pew poll, there was some good news:

On a more positive note, the survey found that strong majorities of both Democrats and Republicans wished trust would rise.

More than 90 percent of both groups said they thought it was important to improve the level of confidence Americans have in government and in each other. And more than 80 percent thought such improvement was possible.

How can trust increase? A 66-year-old woman who responded to the survey has a good answer:

“Each one of us must reach out to others. It takes interaction with people face-to-face to realize that we do all inhabit this space and have a vested interest in working together to make it a successful, safe, and environmentally secure place to live. No man is an island.”

Get off social media and get into the flow of life in the community. Try to find a way to interact with people who hold different political views, who are in a different generation, who see the world differently. Democracy will work only if and when we do so.

“Learn Everywhere”, Chris Sununu and Frank Edelblut’s Backdoor Privatization Scheme, Unlikely to be Implemented

July 27, 2019 Comments off

NH Governor Chris Sununu and NH Secretary of Education Frank Edelblut, pro-privatization advocates, concocted a deschooling idea called “Learn Everywhere” that the current State Board of Education adopted over protests from every public education organization. The concept behind “Learn Everywhere” was that the State Board of Education would be able to grant high school credits to students who participated in learning opportunities outside of their public school. This is a wonderful concept… but there was no need for the State Board to adopt such a concept because one was already in place! Several years ago the State Board authorized local boards to do the same thing when they created “Extended Learning Opportunities”. But despite the existence of this opportunity, the State Board decided to get into the credit-granting business itself, an action that would clearly undercut the authority of local boards, and an action that was universally seen as a power grab. Here’s an excerpt from a report in the Manchester Union Leader that appeared when the “Learn Everywhere” proposal was on the verge of adoption:

In a letter to the Board of Education released on Tuesday, the top education groups were united in their criticism of Edelblut’s proposal.

“We believe that as proposed, the ‘Learn Everywhere’ rules trample local control, are highly skewed toward wealthy families, grant graduation credits from non-accredited, non-credential sources, and provide little oversight and limited protections to students with disabilities and their families,” the letter states….

The League of Women Voters echoed that theme in their statement, pointing out that “New Hampshire’s public schools already award credit for work done outside the traditional high school program, including Extended Learning Opportunities coordinated by the local high schools.”

“We urge the State Board of Education to support learning opportunities such as these rather than the ill-defined Learn Everywhere proposal.”

The “Learn Everywhere” proposal passed by a slim majority on the State Board, with Sununu appointees supporting the proposal and holdover board members opposing it.

But passage of a regulation by an agency does not have the force of law. Before an agency’s rule can have the force of law it must be reviewed and accepted by the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules, or JLCAR…. and, as Bill Duncan, State Board member and opponent to the “Learn Everywhere” proposal, wrote in an op ed article in the July 24 Concord Monitor, JCLAR opposes the rule as it is written. Why?

Central to the committee’s concerns is the provision that New Hampshire high schools “shall” accept graduation credits created by private groups accredited by the State Board of Education (SBOE).

Normally, when JLCAR sends a proposed rule back with a preliminary objection, the agency makes the required changes and resubmits the rule to JLCAR for a virtually assured final approval. That does not seem likely in this case.

While merely changing the requirement that schools “shall” accept Learn Everywhere credits to “may” would be the obvious remedy to the key JLCAR objection, SBOE will probably not do that. The whole goal of the Learn Everywhere program is to replace public school courses with privately created graduation credits overseen by the education department.The word “shall” is the heart of the project. So this may become a real battle, one in which both sides will feel the stakes are high.

It is ironic that the GOP, a party that espouses local control over everything, wants to take local control away when it comes to awarding high school credits. But the endgame of all of this is the replacement of public schools with for profit enterprises and/or religiously affiliated schools that are not staffed with certified teachers. That was Frank Edelblut’s vision when he ran for Governor and almost defeated Chris Sununu and has been his mission ever since he took control of the State Department of education.

Mr. Duncan’s op ed article asserts that the JCLAR ruling is likely to stop the complete implementation of “Learn Everywhere”… but it also underscores the importance of having a progressive-minded Governor and legislature in 2020 and thereafter… for if the GOP controlled JCLAR the pro-privatization movement would be gaining steam now. Every election is important… and thankfully the 2018 election restored a degree of moderation to the NH legislature. Here’s hoping it remains that way for the foreseeable future.

PA School Lunch Brouhaha Exemplifies All That is Wrong With Internet

July 22, 2019 Comments off

I first read about the overly aggressive memo about delinquent school lunch accounts on my phone feed. Fox Mews reported on it and I could imagine Fox and Friends having a field day. Later I saw a CNN account of the story and this morning the NYTIMES has a story. The bottom line is that a rogue food service administrator and the school attorney got together and concocted an ill advised letter that was sent to parents whose students owed money to the school for lunches. I dare say that such incidents occurred at least once a month SOMEWHERE in the US during the 29 years I served as a school superintendent… but the boneheaded mistakes did not become national news… they were taken care of at the local level. When local mistakes by overly aggressive administrators become national news it makes everyone’s job in the public sector tougher… and takes up bandwidth in national news reporting that COULD be used to inform the public of the big picture challenges public schools face.

www.nytimes.com/2019/07/20/us/school-lunch-bills-overdue-payment.html