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New Orleans Tribune’s Withering Editorial Shines a Light on Failure of “Reform”

November 23, 2017 Leave a comment

In an editorial that excoriates the “reform” movement in their city, the New Orleans Tribune bluntly outlines the shenanigans that took place at all levels in order to reinforce their “success” narrative. Near the beginning of their extended editorial, the writers offer this grim description of how the takeover by privatizers affected parents:

Schools opening.

Schools closing.

Schools changing from one charter manager to another.

A tortuous admissions in which parents crossed their fingers and hoped—no prayed—that some computer algorithm’s random selection would work in their favor. It was also a process that some schools were allowed to exclude themselves from altogether.

This brings us to the bogus notion of school “choice” that reformers have held up as a blessing for parents and students, when, in fact, the only entities that exercise any real choice in admissions have been the charter schools—not parents, not students.

Unelected boards not bound to parents or taxpayers determining school policies and deciding how money is spent.

Many parents even uncertain as to who they could or should call if they had problems, questions or complaints—the OPSB member they elected or the board actually governing the school.

Kids waiting in the early dawn to catch a school bus from one part of the city to another and getting home at dusk because neighborhood schools have become non-existent. And even if there was one just a block away from home, the question became was it a quality school? And even if it was, could your child get a seat there?

In one section of their essay they describe how the state department manipulated test scores to help “prove” their reform efforts were succeeding, how they willfully hid problems they identified with some of the privatizers, and how difficult it was for parents to get the information they needed to make an informed choice about the schools:

The state education department, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Louisiana legislature have messed with the numbers since Katrina—lowering the minimum SPS to facilitate the takeover, raising it again to hide its failure. It is hard to tell up from down, especially with a LDE and other leaders that have done everything in their power to “muddy up the narrative” and “take some air out of the room” (LDE Superintendent John White’s words from 2012 taken from e-mails in which he was discussing damage control in response to revelations about sketchy private schools receiving state money through school vouchers). The LDE has even taken to withholding comprehensive data from those attempting independent analysis and research into the academic progress and education reform.

Under the state’s Freedom of Information law, citizens have requested data such as voucher programs’ exact enrollments and costs, and demographics of voucher students; test-score distributions and technical reports; details of School and District Performance Score calculations to verify accuracy and credibility; charter schools’ enrollments, charters and leases; and exact enrollment numbers. Those requests have been repeatedly thwarted by John White. So do we really know how these scores and letter grades are being determined? Do they line up with the same standards the state used to engineer the wholesale takeover of our schools? Or does the game remain rigged?

Meanwhile, a state audit released in early October 2017 panned how Louisiana’s education department monitors charter schools and urged the LDE to improve how it measures school performance of the charter schools attended by more than 53,000 public school students—most of them here in New Orleans, but also across the state.

As the editors note throughout their essay, none of these actions was a surprise to them, for they had attempted to alert the public to the failure of “reform” all along. Their conclusion, after their blistering assessment of “reform” is this:

There are those who suggest the local education battle is a lost cause and that the widespread operation of our schools by charter managers is here to stay. From time to time, we become a bit dismayed and almost accept that position ourselves. But we have fought too long for what is right, and we won’t stop demanding the complete and absolute return of local schools to real local control, even if we stand alone.

Our mantra of late—taken from the words of Dr. Louis Charles Roudanez, founder of the historic New Orleans Tribune—is that it is time for us to be leaders ourselves. It is way past time that those who portend themselves as leaders of our community take a stand on the issue of public education in New Orleans. Far too much time has already been wasted.

In New Orleans, the privatization of all public schools has not worked… and as noted in earlier blog posts the takeover by states has proven to be a failure in every state…. and 35 states have lawsuits pending on the issue of inequitable funding. Is possible that providing more funds for the schools serving children in poverty might be the best solution to this problem?

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Navigating the Health Care Market Requires “Agents”… Navigating “Choice” in Schools Will Require the Same

November 12, 2017 Leave a comment

An article in today’s NYTimes by Robert Pear describes an emerging market niche in the health care industry: “…insurance agents and brokers who are often paid by insurers when they help people sign up.” It seems that with the Trump administration’s cuts to support the enrollment process, many people seeking information about health insurance options are turning to consultants, many of whom receive commissions from some of the health insurers. Mr. Pear writes:

The administration said in a recent bulletin that it was “increasing partnerships” with insurance agents and viewed them as “important stakeholders” in the federal marketplace, where consumers are now shopping for insurance. But some health policy experts warned that a shift from nonprofit groups, which are supposed to provide impartial information, to brokers and agents, who may receive commissions for the plans they recommend, carries risks for consumers.

“Insurance agents can educate consumers about the marketplace, and that is a good thing,” said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute. “But I worry that they work on a commission and therefore have a financial incentive to steer consumers to particular products, which may or may not be in the consumer’s best interest.”

In its bulletin, the administration said agents and brokers who are registered with the federal marketplace can “get sales leads” and new clients. And it offered them tips for “making the most of your marketplace participation during this open enrollment period…”

Buying health insurance is unquestionably complicated, which is one reason why Medicare was put in place. It ensures that the elderly will not be unwittingly taken advantage of by insurance companies and also ensures that the elderly will receive baseline health care. Medicare is also an illustration of how a well functioning and well funded government program can help citizens receive essential– and complex needs– at a relatively low cost since those administering the program have no stake in making a profit. Indeed, the cost-effective operation of Medicare makes many voters question why “the marketplace” is a valid mechanism for funding health care for those under 65!

My daughter lives in NYC where parents are provided with the opportunity to enroll their children in the school of their choice. Witnessing her experiences with the “opportunity”, it is clear to me that providing public schooling is as complicated as providing health care. Indeed, there are a number of parents who seek the advice and counsel of consultants who are familiar with the complicated system needed to navigate the application process and to sift through the schools that are available so that the child can get the optimal experience out of their schooling.

In reading Mr. Pear’s article, it strikes me that public education is like “Medicare for All” with one key difference: where we have effectively defined and funded a baseline of medical care that we, as a society, agree we should provide for all citizens over the age of 65, we have not agreed upon and funded a baseline of education that we, as a society, should provide for the children in our nation. At this writing a majority of states in this country, including my home state of New Hampshire, have pending litigation on the funding formulas for their schools because we are failing to meet the baseline standards set forth in the State’s constitutions. But instead of addressing the root problem with the funding mechanisms, which is the lack of insufficient revenues earmarked for public schools, many states— including my home state– are developing “choice” mechanisms that will presumably address the inequities by allowing parents to “shop for schools” the same way we can now “shop for health insurance”.

The failure of the ACA is a failure of the marketplace. Free markets cannot provide universal services in a fair and equitable fashion. The free market will not, for example, provide access to high speed internet in my relatively isolated part of the community I live in. The free market would not maintain the road I live on or the electric service I receive at an affordable rate. And if I was shopping for health care as a 70 year old I might not be able to afford it in the marketplace.

If the marketplace is incapable of assuring adequate and equitable health care for all of its citizens, why do we think that the marketplace will solve the dilemma of providing adequate and equitable educational opportunities for all of the children in a state?

The bottom line is this: we need to restore our faith in the ability of government to assure the delivery of fair and equitable public services and recognize that unregulated free markets will fail to do so. We need to acknowledge that some basic services and needs can only be met by the government and engage in a debate over which level of government can do it most effectively. And last, but not least, we need to acknowledge that the taxes we pay to the government at any level are the price we pay to live in a safe and healthy world.

 

US News and World Report’s Argument that Choice Leads to Racial and Economic Integration is Full of Holes

November 10, 2017 Leave a comment

The title of a November 9, 2017 US News and World Report article by David Osborne and Emily Langhorne, “Charter Schools and School Choice Can Promote Integration in Public Schools“, is technically accurate but actually wrong…. and Mr. Osborne and Ms. Langhorne’s arguments supporting the title are full of holes.

The article begins with this overview:

Charter schools are public schools operated by independent organizations, usually nonprofits. They are freed from many of the rules that constrain district-operated schools. In exchange for increased autonomy, they are normally held accountable for their performance by their authorizers, who close or replace them if they fail to educate children. Most are schools of choice, and unlike magnet schools in traditional districts, they are not allowed to select their students. If too many students apply, they hold lotteries to see who gets in.

Mr. Osborne and Ms. Langhorne then turn to their sights to the one group who opposes these presumably wonderful opportunities for students: the teachers unions!

Not everyone acknowledges the potential of public charters and school choice to spur integration in America’s schools. Last summer, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten went so far as to label the school choice movement “the only slightly more polite cousin of segregation.”

In most charter schools, teachers choose not to unionize. Union memberships have shrunk as charter sectors have grown, so it’s no surprise that teachers unions hate charter schools and, by extension, school choice.

Anyone who’s read this blog or any other blog that supports public schools governed by elected boards serving all children in their community knows that choice advocates like to play on the resentment voters feel toward public unions in an effort to divert attention from their true agenda, which is to privatize a public service that has the potential to earn billions of dollars for a small group of elite investors. And anyone who took and passed Economics 101 realizes that paying the lowest wages possible will maximize profits, making unionization an anathema. And anyone who has tracked the record of privatizers knows that teachers in those schools are seldom given the opportunity to make the choice to join a union.

But Mr. Osborne and Ms. Langhorne aren’t done making flawed assertions. They accurately contend that any “…conversation about integration quickly runs into this brick wall of residential segregation. Most of the previous methods for integration implemented by our traditional public school systems have failed. For instance, boundary shifts have spurred animosity between neighborhoods, and busing accelerated “white flight” rather than promote inclusion and increase integration.

Based on my experience and observations, the animosity seldom exists between neighborhoods: it exists in white and/or affluent neighborhoods who are afraid of having their children being required to attend schools with “those” children, where “those” children are of a different race or economic standing. I can’t think of any instance where parents of children born in poverty asked to remain in underfunded schools or where parents of black and brown students asked to remain in schools that served only children of color. Housing values, redistribution of taxes, and racism are the root of “animosity” when redistricting is proposed or boundaries are changed between districts.

Mr. Osborne and Ms. Langhorne then offer illustrations of cases where large districts have created intra-district choice to good effect. These case studies prove that their title is accurate: Charter Schools and School Choice CAN Promote Integration in Public Schools. And the choice programs of the districts in question— with the exception of New Orleans— are the result of decisions made by school boards who were elected by the public and their schools are all governed by policies written and enacted by those elected boards.

But the collateral damage caused by the creation of charter schools is grossly understated. The change away from the traditional governance model of public schools results in a lack of accountability. When locally elected boards held to open meetings laws are replaced with privately owned and operated schools transparency disappears. When regulations are loosened in the name of “limiting restrictions” the working conditions for students and employees is weakened and students find themselves attending schools in converted storefronts in strip malls or, even worse, sitting in front of computers in their bedrooms. And when a poor performing charter school is closed or replaced the students lured to that school are left in the lurch.

Segregation by race and economics are seemingly intractable… but one action by a democratically elected legislature could remedy both problems. What if a State legislature raised sufficient funds to provide the same level of resources to schools serving children in poverty as are available to schools serving children in affluent neighborhoods. That would be a giant step toward creating funding equity. And what if a State legislature required that children in overcrowded and under resources schools be assigned to neighboring districts where class sizes are smaller? It strike me that such an action would cut through the residential segregation that is currently blocking the integration in public schools.

But instead of upsetting the choices the affluent voters are making relative to their residence or requiring those same affluent voters to pay more taxes, the school choice advocates seem inclined to take a course that not only retains residential choice, but offers a “free market” opportunity to “solve” these intractable problems. The result, unfortunately, is not a reinvention of American schools: it is a reinforcement of racial and economic segregation.

 

Two Bloggers Take Down NYTimes for Editorial Advocating Charter’s Ability to Hire Anyone

November 5, 2017 Leave a comment

I was busy yesterday morning so I missed an opportunity to react quickly to an editorial that appeared in yesterday’s New York Times titled “The Best Charter Schools Deserve More Leeway on Hiring”… so instead, with a tip of the hat to Diane Ravitch who shared these posts, I’m going to highlight the cogent arguments advanced by bloggers Arthur Goldstein and Peter Greene.

Mr. Goldstein, who blogs as NYC Educator, bluntly titled his post opposing the editorial: “NYTimes Endorses Low Standards”. Mr. Goldstein quotes the NYTimes editorial followed by his own thoughts:

New York’s high-performing charter schools have long complained that rules requiring them to hire state-certified teachers make it difficult to find high-quality applicants in high-demand specialties like math, science and special education. They tell of sorting through hundreds of candidates to fill a few positions, only to find that the strongest candidates have no interest in working in the low-income communities where charters are typically located.

Curiously, it’s escaped the Times’ notice that public school teachers work in every single one of those communities without exception. And if we take this paragraph at face value, it clearly states that the strongest candidates have no desire to teach at these charters. Why is that? Is it because of the neighborhoods they’re in? Or could it possibly be that they don’t wish to work under substandard conditions in Moskowitz test-prep factories? Maybe they don’t feel like giving scripted lessons and wish to develop their own teacher voice.

I would add two other possible reasons “…the strongest candidates have no desire to teach at these charters”: they may want to take jobs that pay a lot more money in the affluent suburbs or they might want to make teaching a career and not a two year “community service” project.

Mr. Greene, whose blog is titled Curmudgucation, offers several observations in his post titled “NY Times Offers Dumb Endorsement”. I found one that criticized the editorial board’s fact-checking especially insightful:

The editorial notes that charter schools “made good on their promise to outperform conventional public schools,” which is a fact-check fail two-fer. First, it slides in the assertion that charters are public schools, even though NYC’s own Ms. Moskowitz went to court to protect her charter’s right to function as a private business, freed from state oversight. If NYC charters are public schools, then McDonald’s is a public cafeteria. Second, it accepts uncritically the notion that charters have “outperformed” anybody, without asking if such superior performance is real, or simply an illusion created by creaming and skimming students so that charters only keep those students who make them look good.

The second point is especially important given that the SUNY board that oversees charters in NYS’s especially convoluted governance structure is only going to offer “the highest performing” charter schools this opportunity. If the highest performing charters are the ones that lure the highest performing students (i.e the skimmed students) then it will become increasingly difficult for the charters who serve ALL students to qualify for this “benefit”.

Mr. Greene saves his strongest criticism for the NYTimes critique of the current certification process:

And then there’s the intellectually sloppy assertion that it is “beyond doubt … that the state certification process is failing to provide strong teachers in sufficient numbers to fill the demand.” No, no it’s not. If I can’t buy a Porsche for $1.98, it is not beyond doubt that automobiles are being manufactured in insufficient numbers. What’s beyond doubt is that charters (like a few gazillion schools in the US) are having trouble finding people who want to work for them under the conditions they’re offering. If the New York Times can’t find enough good reporters to work for them for $2.50 an hour, the solution is not to just drag anyone off the street who can peck at a keyboard, and the New York Times editorial board damn well knows it.

This brought to mind an anecdote shared with me in one district where I worked. My predecessor was invited to meet with business leaders in the district, one of whom ran a clothing store. When the clothing store operator, who was notorious for offering only the lowest possible wages in order to keep his overhead down, complained that the school was turning out poor products and asking for outrageous sums of taxpayer’s money my predecessor had a good retort. He complained about a shirt he purchased on sale at the businessman’s store, indicating that the buttons came off after only two wearings and the threads on the collar frayed quickly. The store owner asked the brand of the shirt. My predecessor shared the brand name, and the businessman said he should have spent a little more money and gotten a different brand…. to which my predecessor replied: “I think you’ve made my point”.

If editors want better public schools they should look at the schools that are the best in the region by any measure and recognize that they pay a premium for their teachers. They just might conclude that money matters in the operation of schools the same way it matters in the purchase of shirts.

Philadelphia Schools to be Freed From State Oversight… Now What? Generocity Offers a Deeply Flawed Solution

November 4, 2017 Leave a comment

I was simultaneously heartened and deeply dismayed to read Julie Zeglen’s Generocity article encouraging philanthropists to invest in Philadelphia’s public schools despite the lack of clarity about how the school district would be governed.

I was heartened for two reasons. First, I was glad to see that the state effectively acknowledged that their takeover strategy was a failure. Their inability to bring about success through the elimination of presumably ineffective elected boards, through privatization efforts, and through bare bones funding should lead observers to conclude that each and every one of those concepts is flawed. Secondly, I was heartened to see someone in the philanthropy community advocating donations to the public schools and not to private enterprises designed to supplant public schools.

But I was deeply dismayed for two reasons. First, the urging of philanthropy is wrongheaded. As the article implicitly indicates, philanthropists can pick and choose where to donate their funds and this can often lead to disproportionate funding if the philanthropic funds are not coorddinated. An easy example of how this plays out is in the awarding of scholarships to graduating seniors in any high school in America. Invariably, if the awarding of scholarships is not coordinated in some fashion, all of the scholarship money will go to a handful of students– and this has the effect of diminishing the motivation of many students to view academics as a means to advancement.  But how could the funding of Philadelphia Schools be coordinated? The answer is that it could be done in a fair and even handed fashion by a democratically elected school board that receives an adequate and predictable revenue stream…. and that brings me to my second misgiving: Ms. Zenger makes no mention of the need for wholesale tax reform, including the elimination of tax incentives like those Amazon is seeking from some as-yet-identified city or metropolitan area. If every corporation in Philadelphia paid their fair share of taxes and every CEO who resides in the PA suburbs that ring Philadelphia paid a higher rate on their income taxes the elected school board in Philadelphia would have the adequate and predictable revenue stream it needs to improve the schools it oversees.

And this leads to to the bottom line on the “failing” Philadelphia schools: The legislature might throw int he towel on its efforts to govern the school district but it will NEVER concede that increasing revenues for Philadelphia through taxes is a necessity. After all, that would be “throwing money at the problem” and that never works… except in the affluent suburbs where the CEOs reside.

PAY ATTENTION MASSACHUSETTS! Dark Money Funding School Board Races in Smaller Districts

November 2, 2017 Leave a comment

In earlier blog posts I’ve written about the money spent by “reformers” on urban elections and referenda, and many of these elections (i.e. Los Angeles, Chicago) and referenda (i.e. Massachusetts and California) garnered national attention. But Maurice Cunningham’s recent WGBH blog post Diane Ravitch linked to in one of her posts yesterday has chilling news for small towns across Massachusetts: the groups that underwrote their failed initiative to expand the number of charter schools is still in place and it is making donations to smaller districts. Having worked in a NY district where the community was divided over the role of unions and the “overpayment” of teachers compared to the general populous, I can only imagine that this will lead to more and more divisiveness at the board level and, consequently, less and less of a focus on the kinds of policies that affect children in schools. When the Malden Ward 3 school board race and the Framingham Town meeting delegate race are attracting thousands of dollars in donations, there is no way democracy or free speech is being served. Privatization, though, just might be benefiting.

Andre Perry, Writer for The Root, Links DeVos’ Deregulation with Weinstein Accusations

November 2, 2017 Leave a comment

From time to time, the Google feed on Public Schools offers an insightful article from an unfamiliar source, and yesterday’s feed offered a particularly compelling one by Andre Perry from The Root titled “Betsy DeVos, Our Education System Produces Harvey Weinsteins and We Need to Change That.” In the article, Mr. Perry links Ms. DeVos recent decision to roll back the standard for filling complaints on sexual harassment to the recent headlines regarding the predatory behavior of Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood producer who used the “casting couch” to determine which female ingenues he would feature in films. Mr. Perry asserts that Ms. DeVos’ decision to set a higher bar for sexual harassment complaints will, in effect, restore the “Harvey Weinstein” culture on campus. Here’s Mr. Perry’s assessment of the changes Ms. DeVos made:

In late September, DeVos rescinded an Obama directive, also known as the “Dear Colleague Letter” (pdf), on how campuses should handle sexual assaults under Title IX, the federal policy on sexual discrimination. The letter reminded campus officials that they were responsible for preventing sexual harassment and violence, and provided examples of remedies and enforcement strategies. DeVos repealed the Obama policy largely based on a defense of people wrongfully accused of sexual assault.

“There are men and women, boys and girls, who are survivors,” DeVos said in her speech on Title IX in September. “And there are men and women, boys and girls who are wrongfully accused.”

Incredibly, DeVos used an “All victims matter” rationale to rescind the Obama directive. The speciousness of this argument is made apparent by the fact that not once did she utter the word “sexism” in her prepared remarks.

While I generally reject arguments that our education system is responsible for social ills, I am open to the idea that some practices in place in schools and colleges are. Mr. Perry makes a compelling case that the changes made by the Obama administration with regard to filing harassment complaints placed the victims in a better position to step forward with their accusations:

We should treat Weinstein as an individual monster—and as a product of our educational system. The former we cannot change, but how our schools and colleges treat victims and the accused, that we can.

President Barack Obama sought to prioritize the rights of the victims by telling colleges to allow accusers to appeal not guilty findings, to discourage cross-examination of accusers and to accelerate verdicts. Obama urged colleges to consistently use the “preponderance of evidence,” or what is more likely than not, standard in sexual assault cases. The preponderance of evidence is considered the lowest degree of evidence necessary to establish proof, which empowers women to name rapists. The higher the standard for proving an assault, the less likely it is that women will come forward.

Mr. Perry recounts the series of actions– and missteps– that led to Ms. DeVos’ decision and concludes that it is wrongheaded and reinforces the kind of macho culture that made the Harvey Weinstein’s of this world feel omnipotent and females feel powerless:

In the tussle between the powerful and the powerless, DeVos has sided with “the Man.” DeVos’ interim guidance misses the point that powerful men, even within the noblest of institutions, abuse their power to the detriment of women.

We tend to look at colleges as being progressive or conservative. But we also need to look at them as male-dominated and protecting the interests of men. Even though women make up more than 56 percent of collegians, men constitute 70 percent of college presidents.

Campuses should give victims the benefit of the doubt in cases involving sexual assault. In addition, colleges are the first and last line of defense against a criminal-justice system in which “only a quarter of all reported rapes lead to an arrest, only a fifth lead to prosecution, and only half of those prosecutions result in felony convictions,” according to Know Your IX, a survivor- and youth-led organization focused on ending sexual and dating violence. On and off-campus, due process seems to favor men.

It is sadly evident that the current POTUS is unlikely to support any change that would give due process to victims, and also evident that there are females who are willing to retain and defend the status quo. As Mr. Perry writes in his concluding paragraph, in light of the accusations leveled against Mr. Weinstein and the series of other accusations that are cascading out, the so-called “Obama standard” is necessary:

In the wake of Weinstein, what is more likely than not is the tradition of powerful academic institutions protecting male interests. The reason powerful men get away with rape and harassment is that systems protect them. And until we challenge the systems in our educational institutions, men like Weinstein will continue to find sanctuary in them.

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