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Posts Tagged ‘Governance’

This Just In: Our Public “Government” Schools are Governed Democratically

October 24, 2019 Comments off

I recently received tis comment/question from a commenter:

Whom do you think should make decisions about a child’s schooling – his or her parents, or bureaucrats? 

Here was my response:

First and foremost, I do not believe the consumer model applies to education. Rather, schools are a public good that should be robustly funded through a fair and equitable system of taxation. If we ever had such a fair and equitable funding system all public schools would provide all children with a fully comprehensive education. Clearly, we don’t have that.

For better or worse parents currently “choose” their schools based on where they “choose” to live. Under this system “bureaucrats” have no say on where parents “choose” to live… nor do they have a say in setting boundaries in large In multi-school districts. The decision on school boundary lines is ultimately made by democratically elected school boards or democratically elected mayors. The decision on who chooses to live in affluent communities or affluent neighborhoods is not made by bureaucrats either. History is replete with examples of how democratically elected officials developed policies or passed laws that preclude enrollment across pre-existing school district boundaries.

Bottom line: in our democracy, if parents want to make unrestricted choices about where their children attend schools they need to elect officials who will support their thinking on that idea. And… if parents want fair and equitable funding of our existing public schools they need to elect officials who will support their thinking on that idea.

For the 29 years I served as a public school superintendent (or “chief bureaucrat”) there were several times when I wished the publicly elected School Boards I worked for saw things the way I did…. and EVERY year I bemoaned the fact that State legislators did not place a high enough premium on equitable school funding. In the end, though, I realized that the folks I worked for were elected by the voters in the community I served and reflected the views in that community. As Churchill famously said,

democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

I don’t like everyone who has been elected and I have yet to find any politician who shares each and every value I hold dear… but I don’t want to trade democracy for other forms that have been tried from time to time.

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Warren Joins Sanders in Call to Ban For-Profit Charters, Use Wealth Tax to Fund Better Public Education

October 22, 2019 1 comment

As posted several weeks (or maybe MONTHS) ago, Bernie Sanders had separated himself from the pack of other presidential candidates by declaring his outright opposition to for-profit charters and his desire to use Federal funds to help level the playing field for public school financing. Now, according to a report by Bloomberg’s Misrelyna Egkolfopoulo, Elizabeth Warren has joined Bernie Sanders in the unreserved support for public schools… and doing him one better by offering a specific plan for funding her initiatives… and plan that calls for the transfer of $800,000,000,000 from the pockets of the top .1% to the neediest school districts. Oh… and Ms. Warren also threw down the gauntlet on those who are selling student data for commercial purposes:

Besides her vow to bar Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google from collecting student data to market products, Warren would ban the sharing, storing and sale of data with information identifying individual students to block educational technology companies and for-profit schools from selling their data to corporations. She would also tighten restrictions for companies that lobby school systems that receive federal funding.

And for-profit charter school operators will not be happy with her either:

Warren also would ban for-profit charter schools and halt federal funding to expand such schools, which she said have been an “abject failure.” She would toughen accountability requirements, direct the Internal Revenue Service to investigate any non-profit schools that break the law and expand enforcement of Justice Department whistle-blower actions for schools that commit fraud against taxpayers.

And finally, for teachers across the country, Ms. Warren would re-direct money to help increase their compensation and increase the ability of teachers’ unions to thrive.

The Massachusetts senator said she’d use some of the $450 billion in funding in her plan to increase teacher pay. She promised to replace DeVos with a former teacher and give public employees such as teachers more negotiating power while making it easier for them to join a union.

In a race to define differences among the various Democrat party aspirants, it is clear that Warren and Sanders have seized the highest ground possible in supporting democratically operated public schools. For the sake of the professionals who work in schools and the children who attend them, I hope one of them prevails in the primaries. We cannot afford another four years of the current underfunding and disrespect for public education.

Fanfare Over Business Roundtable’s Commitment to Responsible Leadership Undercut by Investors

September 29, 2019 Comments off

This morning’s NYTimes features an article by business writer David Gelles titled “The Week CEOs Got Smacked“, a recounting of the decision of boards of directors to fire some of the leaders from the Business Roundtable who advocated corporate responsibility. I read this article on the heels of watching the Netflix Documentary “American Factory“, a clear-eyed look at the trade-offs necessary if our country hopes to re-enter the manufacturing marketplace given the current political and corporate governance structure. That governance structure is controlled by a small group of plutocrats who explicitly set government policy in China and Russia and have an increasingly large voice in setting government policy in our country. I have long believed that both economic systems are regressing toward a mean where a small group of shareholders of borderless corporations and autocratic governments control the remainder of the global workforce. This perspective makes me want to strengthen democracy in hopes that our elected officials will create a government that will develop regulations that assure corporate responsibility.

China’s de facto form of economic control is best described by the term “command capitalism”, which is defined in a 1998 book by J. L. Porket here,  The current US economy is best described as “state capitalism”, which is defined by Wikipedia here. Neither of these systems has a place for corporate responsibility and neither has a place for democracy.

Porket’s description of “command capitalism, as noted above, was written in 1998— before the advent of Big Data and before China emerged as the economic powerhouse that it is today. One section of Porket’s analysis of the inherent flaws of command capitalism should be re-examined. He suggests that the government cannot exert full control over the economy because “...at least some information received by it is insufficient, incomplete, unreliable, inaccurate and distorted.” With todays trove of data and the ability to synthesize that data to identify consumer tastes and trends, the government may be able to exert near full control over the economy. Moreover, as the American Factory movie illustrated, the lack of opportunities for unskilled labor in the US is compelling our country to accept the wages, hours, and working conditions that exist in China in the name of “efficiency” and profit.

At the same time, our country is increasingly beholden to a faceless group of “shareholders” whose insatiable demand for profits drives corporate and government policy. This section of the Wikipedia definition of “state capitalism” describes my perception of where the US economy stands:

Noam Chomsky, a supporter of libertarian socialism, applies the term ‘state capitalism’ to economies such as that of the United States, where large enterprises that are deemed “too big to fail” receive publicly funded government bailouts that mitigate the firms’ assumption of risk and undermine market laws and where private production is largely funded by the state at public expense but private owners reap the profits.[11][12][13] This practice is in contrast with the ideals of both socialism and laissez-faire capitalism.[14]

Chomsky’s description of the economy is captured in the aphorism that in our economic system today “corporate leaders pocket profits while taxpayers cover the costs of risk”. In the movie, Fuyao Glass received $10,000,000 from the taxpayers in Dayton Ohio to bring 800 jobs to the area, which sounds like a large number until that is compared to the 2000 jobs that GM provided… and sounds even worse when views learn that the new jobs pay $14/hour, roughly half of what GM workers received.

American Factory describes the course we are on… one where the need to reward shareholders exceeds the need to retain a civil democracy where the pursuit of happiness is differentiated from the pursuit of money or, as is increasingly the case, the pursuit of survival.

How can we change direction?

On the governance level, we need corporate leaders to stay the course of the direction of the Business Roundtable and, ideally, advocate that all corporations adopt the B-Corp principles that place employee well being in the forefront of their mission.

On the political level, we have to place a higher value on the “pursuit of happiness” and a lower value on the pursuit of material well being. In the framework described by Arthur Brooks at a recent lecture at Dartmouth College, we need to emphasize endogenous goals and deemphasize exogenous goals.

But the ultimate transformation that is necessary to change our thinking is one of spirit. We need to spend more time and energy helping each other and less time trying to “beat out” the competition.

And last, we might want to examine our compulsion to be as efficient as possible. Throughout the movie there was a relentless focus on efficiency— a focus that was in place in the factory where I worked in Work Standards in Dearborn Michigan in 1966. In the concluding scene of the movie, a Chinese engineer was proudly demonstrating how he would improve efficiency in the Fubayo glass factory: he had designed robots to replace the humans. The ultimate standard for efficiency IS a robot: it will do a job with repeated and uncomplaining precision for hours on end without any interference from life outside the factory. Humans cannot compete with robots if efficiency is the standard.

 

 

 

 

SRO Arrests 6 and 8 Year Old at Florida Charter School

September 23, 2019 Comments off

Newsweek reported that an SRO arrested a 6 and an 8 year old child at a Florida charter school. All I am say is that I hope the day never comes when this kind of thing is NOT newsworthy. The link to the article follows:

apple.news/AVYckp9SZRwOrEgJI0L-YNA

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

September 14, 2019 Comments off

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.