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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.

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Slowly But Surely the Word is Getting Out: Billionaires Are Out to Get Public Education

January 8, 2019 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s Common Dreams featured an article by Lawrence S. Wittner, professor of history emeritus at SUNY/Albany, titled “Do We Really Need Billionaires?”. The answer, clearly, is NO… but their numbers are increasing and their impact on politics and public education are nothing short of devastating.

Mr. Wittner opens with these statistics on the expansion of the number of billionaires:

In March 2018, Forbes reported that it had identified 2,208 billionaires from 72 countries and territories.  Collectively, this group was worth $9.1 trillion, an increase in wealth of 18 percent since the preceding year.  Americans led the way with a record 585 billionaires, followed by mainland China which, despite its professed commitment to Communism, had a record 373. According to a Yahoo Finance report in late November 2018, the wealth of U.S. billionaires increased by 12 percent during 2017, while that of Chinese billionaires grew by 39 percent.

After offering a synopsis of the kinds of the obscene profligacy of many of these billionaires, he notes that in addition to accumulating ostentatious things like gold plated toothpicks the billionaires are also effectively accumulating control over government services… like public education:

…billionaires devote enormous energy and money to controlling governments…  During the 2018 midterm elections in the United States, America’s billionaires lavished vast amounts of money on electoral politics, becoming the dominant funders of numerous candidates.  Sheldon Adelson alone poured over $113 million into the federal elections.

And there IS a clear quid pro quo when donors make contributions. Mr. Adelson, a rabid pro-Israel supporter, only gives to the candidate who most fervently supports his views.

But the most insidious donations are those made by presumably big-hearted philanthropists who have pledged to give away their fortunes:

Admittedly, some billionaires have signed a Giving Pledge, promising to devote most of their wealth to philanthropy. Nevertheless, plutocratic philanthropy means that the priorities of the super-rich (for example, the funding of private schools), rather than the priorities of the general public (such as the funding of public schools), get implemented.  Moreover, these same billionaires are accumulating wealth much faster than they donate it.  Philanthropist Bill Gates was worth $54 billion in 2010, the year their pledge was announced, and his wealth stands at $90 billion today.

And here’s the kicker: in making their donations to causes that sound high-minded like “…the expansion of school choice” or the expansion of technology into public schools, they are unilaterally setting priorities that would normally be set by democratically elected school boards… and— as Adelson’s donations demonstrate— what they are doing at the local level is simultaneously occurring at the national level.

The answer to the question posed in Mr. Wittmer’s title is clearly no… as his concluding paragraph emphasizes:

Overall, then, as wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, most people around the world are clearly the losers.

And there is a sad corollary: as wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, democracy is clearly the loser.

Retired AZ Superintendents’ Call to Require Audits in AZ Charters Illustrates Consequences of Deregulation

January 6, 2019 Leave a comment

One of the article of faith of free-market conservatives is their belief that government regulations are unneeded. Regulations, they assert, create unnecessary paperwork and red tape and, in doing so, stem the destructive forces of creativity that are needed to advance the private sector.

Free-market conservatives had their way in Arizona, and they unleashed creative forces in public education when they passed charter school legislation that removed all forms of regulations from charters. The result, predictably, was abuse as profiteers and charlatans entered the marketplace and fleeced parents, students, and taxpayers while lining their pockets.

Now two retired public school superintendents want to impose some sanity into the management of charters. In an op ed piece that appeared in this past Thursday’s Arizona Capital Times, Denton Santarelli, the former superintendent of the Peoria Unified School District, and Tom Heck, the former superintendent of Litchfield Elementary School District, offer three ideas to reinstate fiscal sanity in the oversight of charter schools:

Charter schools need to be held to the same requirements for an annual comprehensive audit as traditional schools.

Charter schools need to be included in the annual report, Arizona School Districts’ Dollars Spent in the Classroom, conducted by the state auditor general.

Charter schools should be subject to performance audits conducted by the Arizona auditor general and appear before a legislative oversight committee to explain the findings of the performance audit.

In a nutshell, the former superintendents are suggesting that the legislature should impose the same fiscal accountability on charters as they impose on public schools.

While these recommendations seem logical and rational, it would not surprise me if Arizona’s governor and legislature do just the opposite. Because free-markets should be completely free, the legislature should abandon annual comprehensive audits across the board… and while they are at it they should abandon democratically elected school boards. If all schools operated like businesses eventually those who are doing a bad job will be forced out of business. The parents and students bilked by the shoddy and incompetent private schools? Collateral damage….

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Privatization of Security + Tracking Technology Make Total Control by Oligarchs POSSIBLE… Only Democracy Makes it IMPLAUSIBLE

January 5, 2019 Comments off

JSTOR offers a weekly posting of stories written by historians, thought provoking stories like Eric Schewe’s “The World’s New Private Security Forces: The global private market for security has brought with it the need for hiring, measuring, and monitoring security workers in unprecedented ways.

In the article Mr. Schewe describes how the privatization of police forces has enabled billionaire plutocrats to effectively own and control the law enforcement arms of the government. His article puts this trend into historical perspective, but in doing so he fails to acknowledge that the combination of the concentration of wealth and the availability of new forms of technology now make it possible to create de facto totalitarian states where every move of every individual can be monitored making it possible for those in charge to control the entire population.

When the possibility of total control exists, the current trend of hardening public schools is even more troubling. As noted in many previous posts, schools now “routinely” have scanners at their limited access doorway, require photo IDs of anyone in the school, post armed guards on duty throughout the day, have surveillance cameras in every nook and cranny of the school, and require regular drills designed to train students to hide from “active shooters” who are deemed likely to invade their public space despite the fortress-like environment.

In effect, the new hidden curriculum in public education is one that “trains” future citizens to carry IDs ad be prepared to show them to police, to live in a world with 24/7 surveillance, and to be suspicious of anyone who does not conform to the rules imposed by the leaders of their environment.

Mr. Schewe implicitly suggests that the privatization he describes in the article is limited to African and Asian nations… but he is overlooking not only the security arrangements in public schools that are training future citizens but also overlooks the reality that our wars are increasingly being fought by private constructs and  not the “volunteer army” envisioned by our Founders and those who ended the draft in response to the protests against the Viet Nam War.

The combination of privatization of security and the advent of new technologies make the possibility of total control real. It is up to the citizens of democratic countries to make certain that total control remain implausible.

Politico’s Chilling Synopsis of Florida Safety Panel’s Recommendation

January 4, 2019 Comments off

I just finished reading the synopsis from Politico’s daily blog on education that is pasted below:

‘WE NEED TO BE UNLEASHED’: A public safety panel advising Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis called for giving law enforcement more authority in schools.Committee members, meeting by phone Thursday, embraced that recommendation and others made by the Parkland public safety commission in a report sent to state lawmakers Wednesday.

Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, called for eliminating student discipline programs, a recommendation put forth in a school safety report from the Trump administration last year. “We need to be unleashed into the schools,” Bell said, and “show consequences to the kids so that when they grow up and turn 18, we aren’t actually creating a pipeline to the prison system.” POLITICO Pro Florida’s Andrew Atterbury has more.

The last thing schools need is good guys with guns who have an attitude that they need to “…show consequences to kids”. Evidently Mr. Bell shares the view of many conservatives that restorative justice programs, interventions that engage parents, and expanded mental health and school counseling programs are inconsequential. As one who worked as a high school disciplinarian for six years I am curious what kinds of “consequences” the police will offer that do not contribute to the pipeline to prison.

If the purpose of discipline is to change the behavior and thought patterns of students who misbehave, and the purpose of policy is to implement evidence-based programs, I cannot see how unleashing police will help. But then we are experiencing a shut down of our government because a majority of Senators and House members do not see the value of spending $5,000,000,000 on a wall that was supposed to be funded by Mexico, funding that is requested without any evidence that it will make any difference whatsoever.

Bill Gates REALLY Wants NY Parents to Believe in Tests

January 4, 2019 Comments off

I’ve written several posts about Bill Gates, often giving him the benefit of the doubt because I believe in his heart he wants to do what he believes is best for children and the world. His biggest problem is that what he believes is best for children is not what I believe is best… but more important it is not what a vast majority of parents, educators, and researchers believe is best for children.

A case in point is Bill Gates insistence on the use of standardized tests as an accountability tool. Mr. Gates sees standardized tests as the best means to hold students accountable for their learning and schools accountable for their students. To that end, he recently decided to fund a $225,000 grant to the NYS Board of Regents that would provide:

Consistent and targeted communication regarding learning standards, accountability indicators, and other Department policies is key to maintaining transparency and promoting common understanding. In addition, a portion of the grant funding will advance the ability of SED to discern and respond to advocacy and communication needs as we explore opportunities to connect early childhood, K-12, and postsecondary student information. Specifically, both City University of New York (CUNY) and State University of New York (SUNY) are partners in the project.

Reading through the obfuscatory grantspeak, it seems that Mr. Gates has the sense that the parents, teachers, and researchers misunderstand the purpose for “…learning standards, accountability indicators, and other Department policies” that he and his reformer friends favor and that he and his reformer friends can help those of us who fail to comprehend the benefits of said “…learning standards, accountability indicators, and other Department policies” to gain a deep appreciation for their purpose and value. The Board of Regents agreed to accept the grant by a 14-2 vote… presumably hoping that Mr. Gates is correct in his assumption that better communication will change the minds of those who reject the notion that testing is the best way forward and implicitly endorsing his ideas about accountability.

Diane Ravitch flagged this “grant opportunity” in her post yesterday, reprinting an action alert from the New York State Allies of Parents and Education urging NYS residents to correspond with the Board of Regents to have them reconsider and reject the grant. The New York State Allies of Parents and Education’s basis for rejecting the grant was that it provided yet another means of collecting data on students despite the fact that the Regents have yet to develop a coherent policy on data collection that has been taking place for years.

Data collection is a problematic by-product of testing, one that arguably benefits software magnates like Bill Gates. But standardized testing itself is a bigger problem in my opinion for it reinforces all that is wrong with public school education and reinforces the notion that all children learn the same way and at the same rate. It manufactures failure and imposes conformity. Promoting standardized testing is bad… continuing the practice is worse.

 

In Privatization Debate, it’s the Walton’s Billions vs the NAACP’s Principles

December 26, 2018 Comments off

A recent AP article in that appeared in the Chattanooga Times Free Press described the ongoing debate that is raging in the black community between the NAACP and (presumably) grassroots organizations consisting of parents whose children are enrolled in deregulated for profit charter schools. The lines of the debate have been delineated in several posts in this blog, but here’s how they are outlined in the AP report:

The Walton family, as one of the leading supporters of America’s charter school movement, is spreading its financial support to prominent and like-minded black leaders, from grassroots groups focused on education to mainstream national organizations such as the United Negro College Fund and Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, according to an Associated Press analysis of tax filings and nonprofit grants data….

While some black leaders see charters as a safer, better alternative in their communities, a deep rift of opinion was exposed by a 2016 call for a moratorium on charters by the NAACP, a longtime skeptic that expressed concerns about school privatization, transparency and accountability issues. The Black Lives Matter movement is also among those that have demanded charter school growth be curbed.

One of the big problems in determining who is on which side and who is on the right side is the source of funding for these various groups. As noted in the first paragraph, the Walton family, whose primary motivation appears to be profit, is underwriting what are described as “grassroots groups” along with “mainstream national organizations” making it difficult to know the extent to which these groups are truly speaking their own minds as opposed to the minds of their financial backers.

Another major complication from my perspective is that the engaged parents, those who want and expect the best from their public schools, will do whatever they can to get the best education for their children. And, if their neighborhood school falls short of their standards and a charter school seems better for their child, it is difficult for me to stand in the way of them doing what they believe is best for their child. As a by-stander or as a school superintendent I think it would be problematic to tell them that they should sacrifice the well-being of their child based and instead join with those who are seeking funding reforms so that all of the children in their “short-of-the-standard” neighborhood school can benefit.

Since the non-engaged parents are those most likely to be trapped in single-parent roles, trapped in low wage employment, and incapable of having the time rescources needed to advocate for their children and their children’s neighborhood schools, it is incumbent on principled groups like the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, and hopefully  mainstream national organizations who are not compromised by the lavish funds showered on them by the likes of the Waltons, to advocate for the social justice issue of equitable school funding.