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NY Times Article Offers Glimpse of Public Education’s Fight Ahead Under DeVos… and it Will NOT Be Easy!

February 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Yamiche Alcindor’s NYTimes article on Betsy DeVos’ first week as Secretary of Education is titled “Rough First Week Gives Betsy DeVos Glimpse of the Fight Ahead”. It could just as easily been titled “Betsy’s First Week Gives Public Education a Glimpse of the Fight Ahead”, and the fight will be daunting!

Ms. Alcindor described some of Ms. DeVos mis-steps, including one doozy where she told a conservative news outlet that that teachers at a DC school she visited were “wonderful” but their “attitude is more of a ‘receive mode.’ They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child.” Unsurprisingly, this created a tweet storm where several DC teachers and the ex-chancellor of DC schools took her to task to the point where Ms. DeVos was compelled to send a tweet clarification: “Great teachers deserve freedom and flexibility, not to constantly be on the receiving end of government dictates.” 

As noted in earlier posts on interviews she conducted, Ms. DeVos restricted her interviews to friendly news sources. But the quotes emanating from those interviews, like the tweet she sent to teachers after her visit, indicate her intentions to scale back government oversight, even though it is needed now more than ever. The penultimate paragraph indicates where DeVos’ thinking is on her department:

She did say that the Education Department has historically helped protect students and keep them safe, citing segregation and providing equal opportunities for girls’ athletics, but she said there were few current issues that warranted federal intervention.

I guess that problems with racial and gender equity are all taken care of and the inequities with regard to funding, internet access, and opportunity are all taken care of as well. Nothing to see here… move along…

Bill on Nutrition Eliminates Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965… Yes… You Read that Correctly

February 17, 2017 Leave a comment

In the Orwellian world of the GOP, herewith is a synopsis of a new bill introduced in the house:

Choices in Education Act of 2017

This bill repeals the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and limits the authority of the Department of Education (ED) such that ED is authorized only to award block grants to qualified states.

The bill establishes an education voucher program, through which each state shall distribute block grant funds among local educational agencies (LEAs) based on the number of eligible children within each LEA’s geographical area. From these amounts, each LEA shall: (1) distribute a portion of funds to parents who elect to enroll their child in a private school or to home-school their child, and (2) do so in a manner that ensures that such payments will be used for appropriate educational expenses.

To be eligible to receive a block grant, a state must: (1) comply with education voucher program requirements, and (2) make it lawful for parents of an eligible child to elect to enroll their child in any public or private elementary or secondary school in the state or to home-school their child.

No Hungry Kids Act

The bill repeals a specified rule that established certain nutrition standards for the national school lunch and breakfast programs. (In general, the rule requires schools to increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat free milk in school meals; reduce the levels of sodium, saturated fat, and trans fat in school meals; and meet children’s nutritional needs within their caloric requirements.)

So here’s the bottom line on this: Congress is mandating that states make vouchers available for children to attend to attend religious schools while at the same time eliminating the mandate that they eat healthy foods. So… it is not overreach when the Federal government requires that states provide federal funds for religion but it IS overreach when they require schools to provide healthy and nutritious foods…

Somewhere (presumably in heaven) the Founding Fathers are gnashing their teeth… but not on celery!

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Telecom Plutocrats Persuade Civil Rights Groups to Lobby Against their Self-Interest

February 14, 2017 Leave a comment

Intercept writer Lee Fang posted an article yesterday describing civil rights organizations’ support for the repeal of the regulations that result in net neutrality. As indicated in earlier posts, the new FCC chair, Ajit Pai, is predictably pushing for repeal of net neutrality by rolling back the declaration that the internet as a utility. And, as Fang reports, he is getting support from unexpected sources:

In a little-noticed joint letter released last week, the NAACP, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, OCA (formerly known as the Organization for Chinese Americans), the National Urban League, and other civil rights organizations sharply criticized the “jurisdictional and classification problems that plagued the last FCC” — a reference to the legal mechanism used by the Obama administration to accomplish net neutrality.

Instead of classifying broadband as a public utility, the letter states, open internet rules should be written by statute. What does that mean? It means the Republican-led Congress should take control of the process — the precise approach that is favored by industry.

None of the civil rights groups that signed the joint letter responded to a request for comment.

Why would these groups, who represent minorities that would benefit from net neutrality, lobby to see it end? The answer is obvious: the telecom industry makes substantial contributions to them and is now seeking some written support in return. Fang details that donations each civil rights group has received and describes the role an umbrella lobbying group, the Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council (MMTC), played in orchestrating the letters supporting the end of net neutrality:

(T)he Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council (MMTC), a group funded by the telecom industry… has previously encouraged civil rights groups to oppose net neutrality. MMTC in previous years reported receiving about a third of its budget from industry-sponsored events; its annual summit, which was held last week, was made possible by $100,000 sponsorships from Comcast and AT&T, as well as a $75,000 sponsorships from Charter Communications and Verizon.

MMTC, which acts on the needs of telecom lobbyists, has been accused of “astroturf lobbying” by creating the appearance of grassroots support for the industry.

So the MMTC, “…which acts on the needs of telecom lobbyists” can compose a letter to be signed by the civil rights groups whose organizations receive money from the telecom industry and then actively lobby “on behalf of the civil rights groups who are signatories” on complicated legislation that not only falls outside the mission of the civil rights organizations but also works against those who are supposed to be served by the organization.

Welcome, once again, to the plutocracy.

But, as Fang notes at the end of his article, the MMTC head assures those of us who advocate for net neutrality have nothing to worry about:

Kim Keenan, the president of MMTC, the group that organized the joint letter, has showered Pai with praise. “He is really focused on closing the digital divide. As an advocate, I feel so much pride that that it is a priority for his chairmanship,” Keenan told Multichannel News, a trade outlet.

Mr. Keenan has evidently consumed large quantities of the telecom Kool-aid because nothing in the telecom legislation gives any indication of a desire to close the digital divide and nothing in the Republican platform indicates that desire. The divide will widen and income and education will follow…

 

Two Terrible Ideas Whose Time Has Come… Eliminating Gun Free Schools and Arming Teachers

February 10, 2017 Leave a comment

Earlier this week Think Progress blogger Kira Lerner published a post describing an idea that both President Trump and the GOP led Congress support: the elimination of gun-free zones around schools and the notion of allowing teachers to carry weapons— presumably to “make schools more safe”. Here’s the concept:

On January 3, the first day of Congress’ current session, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) introduced the “Safe Students Act,” an NRA-backed bill to repeal the 1990 ban on guns in schools.

“Gun-free school zones are ineffective,” the Republican lawmaker said in a statement. “They make people less safe by inviting criminals into target-rich, no-risk environments. Gun-free zones prevent law-abiding citizens from protecting themselves, and create vulnerable populations that are targeted by criminals.”

Massie, the chairman of the Congressional Second Amendment Caucus, was joined by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Rep. James Comer (R-KY), Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA), and Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) as cosponsors on the Safe Students Act.

The same day that Massie announced his proposal, Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC) introduced a separate bill that would establish what the NRA likes to call “national reciprocity,” allowing concealed-pistol permits to function across state lines. That legislation also includes a provision that would give state and local officials the authority to set rules for guns in schools.

As of the beginning of February, Hudson’s bill already has 148 cosponsors, including two Democrats. Both bills have been referred to a House Judiciary subcommittee.

The legislators are clearly more beholden to the gun lobby than they are to facts. As Lerner reports:

Gun safety groups point to research that showsgunmen rarely target gun-free school zones. A recent study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Stanford University, and the University of Massachusetts Boston found that 84 percent of the 111 high-fatality rampage shootings from 1966 to 2015 occurred in places where guns are allowed. Just 18 occurred in gun-free zones.

One of the sad realities of the recent weeks is that Orwellian language like “The Safe Schools Act” is acceptable to legislators but facts are not. New the end of her post Lerner draws on the experience of a Sandy Hook CT teacher, who thinks it its preposterous to arm teachers:

The main argument Republicans use for allowing guns in schools can best be summarized by LaPierre’s remarks in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” he said one week after a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six educators at the Connecticut elementary school.

But Abbey Clements, who taught second grade at Sandy Hook Elementary School at the time of the attack, said she is confident that a gun would not have made her students more safe.

“I think there’s this understanding that if you just had guns in these stressful situations, that you would A) Know where the gun is and where the gunman is, and B) How many there are,” she told ThinkProgress. “There’s no way on earth.”

When the gunman entered her school on the morning of December 14, 2012, Clements pulled all of her 19 students into the coat area of her classroom and huddled with them, singing Christmas songs to drown out the noise until police arrived. Clements said she heard hundreds of gunshots blaring from the hallway and had no idea that there was only one perpetrator. “I just assumed it was a gang,” she said.

“There have been people who over the years have asked me, ‘[What if] you had just had a gun, if teachers could have guns?’ Story after story you hear of mass shootings, even law enforcement don’t know where and how many gunmen there are.”

“You just don’t have time to think,” she said.

Despite the flurry of horrific Executive Orders and stealth legislation being proposed by the GOP, we DO have time to think about this issue… and we should do so before action. If we DO think, we’ll keep the Gun Free Zone laws in place.

This Just In: There is “..Clear Evidence of the Truth” that Desegregation Works

February 10, 2017 Leave a comment

Thomas Edsall’s column in today’s NYTimes poses what I have to believe is a rhetorical question:

Integration Works. Can It Survive the Trump Era?

As I am certain Mr. Edsall realizes, the Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 was based on research demonstrating clear evidence that desegregation made a difference and the notion of “separate but equal” schools was unfair and unconstitutional. And, as I am certain Mr. Edsall would acknowledge, that decision didn’t result in any substantive changes coming out of the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, or Obama administrations— ten consecutive administrations!

Neither party wants to accept the “..clear evidence of the truth of these findings” because they both know from the experience of politicians who did so that there is a price to be paid. This unwillingness to accept the “…clear evidence of the truth of these findings” led both parties to embrace failed ideas like NCLB, Race to the Top, and now, vouchers. While there is “…clear evidence of the truth of these findings” regarding the positive effects of desegregation and– to a lesser degree— more spending, there is NO “…clear evidence of the truth of… findings” that closing schools based on low test scores, launching charter schools, privatizing public education, or using vouchers works. Yet these ideas have bi-partisan support because they don’t cost money AND they require no political courage…. oh, and in some cases the privatizers will make campaign contributions— something that those seeking the desegregation of neighborhoods cannot do.

Evidence that desegregation works WILL survive the “Trump Era”… and evidence that closing schools based on low test scores, launching charter schools, privatizing public education, or using vouchers is NOT the way to fix schools will continue to be gathered…. But unless a political is willing to appeal to the best instincts in voters segregation will continue and public education will continue to be a bi-partisan whipping boy.

The Intersection of Bullying, Free Speech, and Religion Likely to Play Out in Disciplinarian’s Offices

February 4, 2017 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch’s post yesterday on the draft of an Executive Order provided quotes from White House spokesman Sean Spicer on the four page document being circulated among White House staff members:

“There’s clearly a lot of evidence in the last couple of years of the government coming in with regulations and policies that have, frankly, denied people the ability to live according to their faith,” Spicer said during his daily briefing. “People should be able to practice their religion, express their religion, express areas of their faith without reprisal. And I think that pendulum sometimes swings the other way, in the name of political correctness.”

This sounds very high-minded and libertarian, but the intention of stemming “political correctness” is to allow people to speak out against LGBT students, against people with different religious convictions, and— arguably— against people of a different race all in the name of religious liberty. That is, it is a license to bully people in the name of religious freedom.

I read of this new Executive Order a day after watching a recently made documentary, Welcome to Leith. The movie describes the efforts of a care of neo-Nazis to take over the governance of a small community of 24 people in the hopes of establishing a place to practice their “religion”, a religion that was not recognized by the State as such but a religion in their minds. The creed of this religion was that of Adolph Hitler and the movie made it clear that while this small band of men seemed like outliers, they represented a group that numbered in the thousands that was loosely linked through social media sites. The only reason the band of neo-Nazis failed in their effort to take over the town was because the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), who tracks the movements of instigators of hate crimes, noticed that several of them had purchased property in the town and alerted the local mayor who was eventually able to rid the community of the gun-toting Neo-Nazi bullies who “patrolled the streets”.

After reading of this Executive Order and watching this chilling documentary, I couldn’t help but think that the first place the intersection of bullying, free speech, and religious liberty is likely to play out is in the high school disciplinarian’s office. If a group of students read about the neo-Nazi “religion” on-line and decide to use that as the basis for taunting LGBT students, Muslims, “foreigners”, Jews, or blacks will this Executive Order preclude disciplinary action? Or… on a less extreme level, what if a group of Christian fundamentalists want to see protections against LGBT students eliminated from the student handbook because it offends their religious beliefs? What if a group of Muslim students taunt a group of Christians?

The Trump voters are not a monolith, but it is evident that there is a faction of that group– as well as the President himself– that despises “political correctness”. From my perspective what they call “political correctness” used to be called “civil speech”. For a President who made no apology for his use of misogynistic language it is unclear where the lines of “civil speech” are any more and it is therefore going to be difficult to draw clear lines on the appropriateness of student speech— especially if that speech can be shrouded in any way in the name of “religious liberty”.

Diane Ravitch ends her post with a quote from a Washington Post article:

“In the event that the order is actually issued, multiple groups are already preparing to challenge it on the grounds that it effectively sanctions discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, women and minorities.”

The lower courts will probably side with those who value civil speech. The new Supreme Court, which might include a justice with views to the right of Anton Scalia, might think differently. Democracy depends on civility, on “politically correct” treatment of each other. Hate speech cannot be shielded by religion… that is unless we are about to enter a period of Christian jihad.

 

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This Just In: Betsy DeVos is the “Most Jeered” Nominee in Mr. Trump’s Cabinet… and Arguably the Least Competent

February 3, 2017 Leave a comment

The NYtimes ran an article today by Dana Goldstein that catalogues the opponents to the nomination of Betsy DeVos and offers counter-arguments from the opposition with statements from groups who support her nomination. Unsurprisingly, the opponents can offer a litany of reasons to oppose her, most of which are drevied from her abysmal performance in front of the HELP committee and her inaccurate responses to questions posed by Senators on both sides of the aisle. The predominant argument FOR her runs along these lines:

Grover J. Whitehurst, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former Education Department official under President George W. Bush (said) “There was a deference to the president and his ability to have his cabinet appointments, and an institutional respect in the Senate. That has evaporated.”

“Poor Mrs. DeVos is a victim of her poor performance in her hearing,” he said, “but also of broader political theater.”

Mr. Whitehurst’s argument in a nutshell is this: if the President wants a person to serve as a Department Head, Congress should go along to get along. It’s the same argument that is used to get a whole list of poor choices for Cabinet positions in place… and democracies suffering as a result.

Welcome to the plutocracy…

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