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Has the NYTimes Seen the Light? Diane Ravitch Sees Progress in Op Ed by Miriam Pawel

January 16, 2019 Leave a comment

From my perspective, it is heartening to see the LA teachers strike making national news despite the headline grabbing government shutdown and the ongoing political bickering that accompanies it. But, as noted in earlier posts on this issue, the LA strike HAS national ramifications for it ISN’T about wages and working conditions in a lone district. The LA strike is about an ongoing battle within the Democratic Party about privatization of public services: between the “Reform/Reinventing Government” wing of the party that has embraced the idea that the private sector should take over more and more government functions and the “Roosevelt” wing of the party who sees a strong government as necessary to eliminate poverty and racism and eliminate the distortions in our economy that have emerged since Reagan proposed that “government is the problem”.

Thus far, the NYTimes has reliably taken the side of the “Reform/Reinventing Government” wing of the democrats, going so far as to reject countless articles on the ills of privatization from Diane Ravitch. But in a post yesterday, Ms. Ravitch pointed to an op ed article by fellow education historian Miriam Pawel as evidence that MAYBE the Times has seen the light! In “Whats Really at Stake in the Los Angeles Teachers Strike”, Ms. Pawel describes the recent history of public education in California in general and Los Angeles in particular, tracing the decline in public school quality to the passage of Proposition 13… and tracing the passage of THAT law to racism:

In the fall of 1978, after years of bitter battles to desegregate Los Angeles classrooms, 1,000 buses carried more than 40,000 students to new schools. Within six months, the nation’s second-largest school district lost 30,000 students, a good chunk of its white enrollment. The busing stopped; the divisions deepened.

Those racial fault lines had helped fuel the tax revolt that led to Proposition 13, the sweeping tax-cut measure that passed overwhelmingly in June 1978. The state lost more than a quarter of its total revenue.School districts’ ability to raise funds was crippled; their budgets shrank for the first time since the Depression. State government assumed control of allocating money to schools, which centralized decision-making in Sacramento.

Public education in California has never recovered, nowhere with more devastating impact than in Los Angeles, where a district now mostly low-income and Latino has failed generations of children most in need of help.The decades of frustration and impotence have boiled over in a strike with no clear endgame and huge long-term implications. The underlying question is: Can California ever have great public schools again?

As Ms. Pawel goes on to note, the problems whose roots can be found in Proposition 13 got even worse when deregulated charter schools were offered as the “solution”. These schools siphon funds away from public schools, which creates a cycle Ms. Powell describes in one paragraph:

It’s a vicious cycle: The more overcrowded and burdened the regular schools, the easier for charters to recruit students. The more students the district loses, the less money, and the worse its finances. The more the district gives charters space in traditional schools, the more overcrowded the regular classrooms.

And because billionaire Eli Broad spent millions to elect a pro-charter school board who, in turn, appointed a business-minded Superintendent with no experience, LA finds itself mired in a strike… a strike unlike any witnessed by a veteran mediator:

“In my 17 years working with labor unions, I have been called on to help settle countless bargaining disputes in mediation,” wrote Vern Gates, the union-appointed member of the fact-finding panel called in to help mediate the Los Angeles stalemate last month. “I have never seen an employer that was intent on its own demise.”

Like President Trump and the Tea Party wing who want to diminish the effectiveness of government, the LA school board seems to be intent on ruining what is left of the public school system in Los Angeles. Ms. Pawel concludes her op ed with this sobering description of what is at stake:

This strike comes at a pivotal moment for California schools, amid recent glimmers of hope. Demographic shifts have realigned those who vote with those who rely on public services like schools. Voters approved state tax increases to support education in 2012, and again in 2016. In the most recent election, 95 of 112 school bond issues passed, a total of over $15 billion. The revised state formula drives more money into districts with more low-income students and English learners. Total state school aid increased by $23 billion over the past five years, and Governor Newsom has proposed another increase.

If Los Angeles teachers can build on those gains, the victory will embolden others to push for more, just as teachers on the rainy picket lines this week draw inspiration from the successful #RedforEd movements around the country. The high stakes have drawn support from so many quarters, from the Rev. James Lawson, the 90-year-old civil rights icon, to a “Tacos for Teachers” campaign to fund food on the picket lines.

If this fight for public education in Los Angeles fails, it will consign the luster of California schools to an ever more distant memory.

From my perspective, it IS heartening that voters in California have supported tax increases to upgrade their schools and their legislature is sending more of those funds to economically deprived districts. But if those districts, like LA, use their funds to expand privatization Los Angeles schools will lose their luster forever… and the billionaires will prevail… the Winners WILL Take All.

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The 2020 Litmus Test: Do You Support the UTLA?

January 14, 2019 2 comments

As noted in previous posts, the United Teachers of Los Angeles are about to go on strike against the school board in that district. They are not only striking for the traditional bread-and-butter issues that unions seek (i.e. higher wages and better working conditions“) they are also striking for more social services for students in the schools, more elective offerings for students, and fewer charter schools. In short, they are opposing everything the pro-privatization board stands for.

And this excerpt from a Forbes article by Peter Greene explains, the Los Angeles strike has national ramifications: 

…When Los Angeles teachers walk out, it will resonate across the country because the issues they walk for are about the health and survival of public education for children in their communities, and those are the same issues that teachers all across the country are struggling with as well. That’s what makes this strike, like last year’s wave of state strikes, different–many teachers will see it not as simply a local battle, but as a skirmish in a larger national fight.

Here’s something to watch for in the coming days: will ANY of the POTUS wannabes in the Democratic Party come out in support for the UTLA? This should be a litmus test for both the NEA and the AFT when they decide which candidate they should support in the 2020 election. In my opinion, any candidate who takes the side of the school board AND any candidate who equivocates or remains silent regarding their support for the UTLA should be rejected as a candidate for President in 2020. From what I’ve read about the union’s demands, they are clearly on the side of public school students and parents. The NEA and AFT should use this strike as a means of identifying which candidates will support public education in 2020.

NYTimes David Kirp Sees Promise in Community Schools

January 13, 2019 Leave a comment

The Community School Comes of Age, the NYTimes David Kirp op ed article from earlier this week, describes how the community schools are getting a foothold in New York City. I was heartened to read this, because the “community school” described in Mr. Kirp’s article is very much like the “network school” that is the overarching theme of this blog. Mr. Kirp uses NYC’s Island School, a K-8 school serving 50 students most of whom are homeless, as the prototypical community school and uses a recent RAND Corporation study as evidence that this model is succeeding:

A 2017 RAND Corporation study of the first wave of New York’s community schools concluded that they are generally on the right track. They are staying open longer and finding new ways to help their students. They’re working with families and relying on mentors to persuade students of the value of education.

These practices are critical, according a 2017 report from the Learning Policy Institute (where I’m a senior fellow) and the National Education Policy Center. That study combed the voluminous research to identify the elements of a good community school. When schools both “support academic success and social, emotional and physical health” and “offer a promising foundation for progress,” the report concluded, research shows that students’ reading and math scores go up and they’re more likely to graduate. Fewer of them skip school. And they act out less often.

The broad mission of community schools can pose problems… especially when the administrators are pulled in many directions:

Most community school principals, the RAND evaluation noted, have built solid relations with partners — nonprofit groups, government agencies and businesses that can connect their school with essential services. But some reported feeling whipsawed between what they saw as competing priorities: giving students the extra support they need, versus increasing test scores.

“We’re mandated to do lots of different things,” one school leader complained. “There needs to be a real understanding of how much time do we have in a school day, in a school year.”

Mr. Kirp’s article included one very good and very consequential finding:

The community school approach represents a sea change, for it rejects the “no child left behind” belief that test scores are all that matter.Studies show that Americans are losing faith in that approach. In a 2018 survey of 3,000 adults, conducted by Columbia University Teachers College, two-thirds agreed that “students cannot develop basic academic skills without community resources, health and community services to students and families.” This isn’t a partisan issue — more than half of self-described conservatives concurred.

And this finding leads to an important question as we enter the 2020 election: which candidate will look at the fact that 2/3 of the voters agree that “students cannot develop basic academic skills without community resources, health and community services to students and families” and pledge to eliminate the test-and-punish approach that does absolutely nothing to provide the necessary community resources, health and community services to students and families? And more importantly, will the NEA and AFT use this finding to continue to push for schools to provide the community resources, health and community services to students and families? 

 

 

LA Teachers Strike Breaks New Ground… Could Re-Define Union’s Mission

January 12, 2019 Leave a comment

Two recent articles I accessed through Diane Ravitch’s blog indicate that the teacher’s strike in Los Angeles is about more that wages, hours, and working conditions: it is about governance, support services, and equitable opportunity for students.

Capital and Main writer Bobbi Murray’s article on January 11, 2019, outlines the risks the union is taking by striking and the rewards it might reap, but as the subheading of the article indicates, their bold demands might make it difficult to know what constitutes a victory. Ms. Murray frames the issues this way:

For 21 months negotiations have ground on between UTLA and the second-largest district in the nation. (The Los Angeles Unified School District enrolls 640,000 students.) The more nuts-and-bolts issues on the table include union demands for a 6.5 percent pay raise, a limit to class sizes (that can now hover around 38 pupils per classroom), and a push for more support staff such as nurses and librarians.

Kent Wong, executive director of the University of California, Los Angeles’ Labor Center, notes that UTLA’s demands have moved away from larger raises and toward more funding to alleviate the deep education cuts that have been made over the years.

“It is important to understand the bigger forces at work here,” said Wong, who added that the pro-charter forces have invested millions of dollars to elect a pro-charter majority on the Los Angeles school board to shift resources from public schools to charters.

All strikes are risky undertakings and it’s an axiom that no one wins a strike. But a UTLA walkout would dramatically raise the stakes by casting the strike as a challenge to the creeping absorption of public schools by private charter management organizations.

“A strike is a big deal,” Wong said, because “you have this massive privatization scheme that’s been gutting support for public education and resources for public education. That’s the broader scenario that’s at stake here.”

In effect, the teachers in Los Angeles are not only embarking on a traditional strike that  pits teachers seeking higher wages and better working conditions against a school board that wants to operate as cheaply and efficiently as possible, it is striking against a group of presumably high-minded philanthropists who want to control public education and change it and it is striking to restore deep cuts to public education that have occurred since the economic melt down in 2008. Given these broad goals, what would a union victory look like? Nelson Lichtenstein, who directs UC Santa Barbara’s Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy offers this response:

“One definition would be very concrete things [like raises and staffing issues] —the union could win some of that… The other definition is bigger—it could be the re-funding of public education in California and the country. This kind of strike is a powerful impulse to tell the [Democratic] supermajorities in Sacramento to modify Proposition 13, to bring new sources of funds so that school districts are not starved.”

Earlier this week Education Dive writer Linda Jacobsen wrote that the Los Angeles teachers are also seeking community schools, which provide wraparound services for students. In effect, the community school model describes how additional funding for schools would not only go into the pockets of teachers, it would expand the array of services available to students, making it clear that teachers are not only looking out for themselves, they are also seeking what is best for the children they serve:

Community schools are highlighted as part of the union-led Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools platform, nationally and in Los Angeles. And in a 2017 article for Center X at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Caputo-Pearl mentioned community schools in describing the union’s campaign to see the state or at least LAUSD spend $20,000 per student by 2020.

It would mean a nurse in every school. It would mean a librarian in every school. It would mean actually having restorative justice programs, staffed with people whose job it is to help develop restorative practices,” he said. “It would mean another one of our common good proposals around investing in a community schools model. It would mean more schools with wraparound services, with real breadth of curriculum in ethnic studies, music and the arts.” 

In several urban districts, teachers unions have been actively involved in supporting the community school model. Unions “provide a vehicle to quickly reach cohesiveness between schools and communities,” José Munoz, the director of the Coalition for Community Schools, wrote in an email. “That communication power helps harness and scale best practices nationally.”

Community schools develop in many ways, but they typically include formal partnerships in which community organizations provide schools with wraparound services such as health, mental health and after-school programs, and a separate coordinator position is created to make it all work. Unions view the strategy as a way to address many of the nonacademic issues — such as food insecurity, mental of physical health needs, or a lack of enrichment opportunities — that interfere with students’ learning.

“All of these issues walk into a classroom whether you want it or not,” Karen Alford, a vice president for the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) in New York City, said in an interview. Alford leads the union’s “community learning school” initiative in which the union is the lead community agency and pays for a full-time community school director (or coordinator) at 31 schools across the district.

These articles illustrate the broad frame the unions are using to define their demands, and also indicate that the unions… NOT the school boards, politicians, or administrators… are taking the lead in coordinating the services children need.

As one who forged partnerships with health departments, the department of social services, and several non-profits when I was a county superintendent in Maryland in the 1990s, it is sad to see that few if any school leaders are advocating for community schools today and even sadder to see that few if any political leaders are pushing for them. But it is very heartening to see that rank-and-file teachers recognize the need for such services and are willing to incorporate demands for these services in their collective bargaining battles.

Community schools that provide coordinated wraparound services to students are the best way forward to address the needs of children raised in poverty… and with the majority of public schools educating students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, it is essential that unions promote this model. Bravo to the teachers for standing up to the philanthropists who seek to strip them of their power and offer factory model schools that assume every child can succeed with grit and perseverance.

A Prediction I Made That Came True…. and It’s NOT a Good Thing!

January 11, 2019 Leave a comment

Shortly after President Trump was elected I predicted that there would be an uptick in bullying in public schools, and a year later I reviewed my predictions and was dismayed to discover that the bullying HAD increased. Today, Michelle Goldberg’s NYTimes op ed piece offers further evidence that bullying in middle school has indeed increased… but only in those counties where Trump was supported by voters. Indeed, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia, the greater the support for Trump, the greater the increase in bullying behavior. Overall, in counties that supported Ms. Clinton the rate of bullying has decreased.

As Ms. Goldberg and the researchers note, this is a correlation, not necessarily proof positive that Trump voters are encouraging bullying… but:

(The researchers) don’t claim to have discovered that a region’s backing for Trump causes an uptick in reports of bullying, only that the two are correlated. Still, it’s not hard to imagine that kids who spend their time around Trump enthusiasts might be getting the message that picking on racial minorities, and those who deviate from traditional gender norms, is O.K.

The norms have changed, and not for the better. Getting back to pre-2015 norms— those that were in place before Mr. Trump declared he would run for President— may prove to be as difficult as getting tax rates back to pre-Reagan levels. In both cases, our democracy will suffer.

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My Talk on Billionaires that Concludes with the Ultimate Political Question: How Much is Enough?

January 9, 2019 Leave a comment

This afternoon I gave a talk at the local Rotary Club that posed the question: Are Billionaires Good for America? A link to the power point presentation that served as the outline for my talk is provided below. It contains a lot of information that will likely be familiar to readers of this blog but, much to my surprise and dismay, was unfamiliar to most of the members in the club. It concluded with a slide that asserted that there is one question we need to ask: how much is enough. Here are the areas the slide suggests we need to pose the question “How Much Is Enough”?

•For setting income tax brackets?

•For setting the maximum taxable limit for social security?

•For corporate tax breaks at ALLlevels?

•For privatization of public services?(i.e. Police? Fire departments? Highways? Schools? Etc, etc)

•For deregulation? (i.e. for safety? the environment? Wages and working conditions? )

•For safety at all levels? (i.e. for defense? Hardening schools? Police? Fire departments? )

And here’s a link to the entire presentation:

billionaires

 

My Sadness Upon Reading Politico’s Poll on the Public’s Priorities for Education

January 8, 2019 Leave a comment

Politico writer Benjamin Wermund offered this synopsis of the public’s view of the priorities for public education:

EDUCATION PRIORITIES FOR CONGRESS: Americans in a new poll of education priorities say they have a couple of top assignments for the new Congress — slash student debt and boost funding for public schools

The majority of Americans — both Republicans and Democrats — said “finding ways to lessen student debt” and “increasing spending on K-12 public education” were “extremely important” goals for the Congress in a poll by POLITICO / Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Respondents were given a list of six education policy areas and asked which they believe are “extremely important” for Congress to tackle. Seventy-nine percent picked cutting student debt, making it first on the list. Seventy-six percent selected public education funding, putting it second.

There’s also broad bipartisan support for more federal spending on school buildings — a boost for Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the chairman of the House education committee, who wants schools included in any infrastructure bill Congress may pass. Increasing federal spending on school buildings landed fourth on the list, with 66 percent of Americans saying it is important.

Why am I saddened by these findings? Because I daresay a poll in 2008 would have found the same items on the list and would have found the House, Senate, and White House under the control of the Democrats, the party that presumably would be in full support of funding public education and a party that had a rare opportunity to enact blog legislation that would expand the support for public schools. In the words of then POTUS’ Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanual,

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before”

Alas, the crisis the POTUS faced in 2009 was the last best hope for accomplishing the kinds of things you could not do before… and the Democrats squandered that opportunity by expanding the avenues of indebtedness for college students and neglecting the infrastructure of public education completely. In 2009 we needed debt relief for students, we needed new school buildings, we needed broadband in every corner of the country… and we got Race to the Top….

The last crisis went to waste…. maybe the next crisis will result in a restoration of the public schools and services government should be providing for us.