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In Oklahoma Public Education is NOT OK, and at least one Teacher is Abandoning the GOP as a Result

October 19, 2018 Leave a comment

New York Magazine writer Sarah Jones interviewed Oklahoma public school teacher Emily Ozmet and the article that resulted, “I’m a Teacher in a Red State. The Teachers Strike Turned my Ballot Blue“, explained how a lifelong member of the GOP was finally persuaded that her worldview was wrong. In doing so, the article also underscored how difficult it is to change the long held convictions of educated individuals who work in social services, even when those individuals, like Ms. Ozmet, have experienced the difficulties of living on low wages and struggled in school because of disabilities.  By extension, the article underscores the extraordinary difficulty progressive politicians face in changing the minds of less educated individuals who do NOT work in social services and have NOT experienced living on a minimum wage. In reading sections of the article, I was struck by how doggedly Ms. Ozmet, the GOP teacher, held onto her ideas about trickle down economics and how doggedly some of her faculty colleagues held fast to the notion that kids with disabilities and kids whose parents struggled to keep a roof over their heads could succeed if only they applied themselves. Based on the reading of this article, here’s what is required to “convert” someone raised in a GOP community to be open to considering “bigger government”:

  • Experience as a special education student in an underfunded district
  • Experience as a low-wage worker attempting to make ends meet despite working long hours
  • Experience working with children who are doing their best but still falling short of the unrealistic expectations set for them given their maturity and ability
  • Experience being dismissed and disrespected by the GOP politicians they elected, politicians who hold them in contempt and belittle their ability to understand the political realities of lowering taxes for corporations
  • Ability to analyze complex and opaque budgets that show the true priorities of the GOP politicians they elected
  • Ability to see that how money gets spent is a far more important indicator of what a political party believes than what the politician says

After reading about Ms. Ozmet’s long road to moving from a lifelong supporter of the GOP and their platform, we find that what ultimately got her to remove the scales from her eyes was the realization that the GOP politicians she supported for her entire life were not interested in the future or in the well-being of children. Here’s what eventually undercut her support:

Previously, whenever I heard people say Republicans are out for the rich and don’t care about the poor, I’d think, “No, I’m not rich. I care about the poor and I know so many Republicans who do too.” But I learned a lot of politics is about how you appropriate money, and how you set up various social services.After we talked to our representatives, the teachers would huddle over dinner, break out our computers, and pore over the budget. We were students, breaking down the information in ways we could understand. We learned that money was flowing to private prisons and oil companies; they get money, and social services just don’t. It changed the way that I saw the entire Republican Party. You value what you put your money in.

It would be naive to think that the Democratic party was not beholden to the privatization movement, especially in the South where the Walton’s have had a huge impact on the political landscape. But it would be equally alive to think that the GOP will ever change it’s thinking about “the government” or to suddenly begin thinking that more funding is needed to help those being raised in poverty.

Facts and figures persuaded an Oklahoma teacher who had dyslexia and ADD as a child and worked for $9.50/hour before becoming a teacher. What will it take to persuade a factory worker or rancher who believes his taxes are being squandered by “the government” and who believes “teachers have it a lot easier than I do”? It won’t be easy.

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DeVos Gets PR For Destruction of Public Education… But REAL Destruction is by GOP at State Level

October 13, 2018 Leave a comment

A recent Cincinnati.com op ed article by Dan Mooney underscores the reality that Betsy DeVos is not leading the charge against public schools at the State level, she is jumping in front of a parade that has already started and well underway… especially in Ohio a state led by a supposedly “moderate” Republican.

Mr. Mooney opens his op ed noting that the GOP at all levels is opposing public education despite the fact that 88% of the school age students attend those schools. Why? Because there is a lot of money to be made in privatization… and Mr. Mooney offers some specific examples of how it has been done in Ohio:

  • Akron businessman David Brennan whose “...lobbyists helped draft Ohio’s original charter legislation” and made “…$1 million in political contributions to elected GOP officials.” His “White Hat” and “Life Skills” schools, who at one time dominated the market, were “among the lowest performers in the state [and] were plagued from the start with allegations of padded enrollment and skirting accountability.” Mr. Brennan ultimately “…sold off his Ohio charter school empire to other profiteers, but only after pocketing a bundle of money.
  • Bill Lager, of the now infamous ECOT (Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow), a “virtual” charter that collected more than $7000 annually per “student”, but had no classrooms. “Students” were shipped cheap PCs, and more than $1 billion in state dollars flowed to ECOT. But many of those “students” may never have logged on.  An audit disclosed more than $80 million in overbilling. Rather than refund taxpayers, ECOT shut down, leaving parents scrambling and  taxpayers holding the bag. How did Mr. Lager get away with this? As Mr. Mooney explains, “…$2 million in campaign cash to (mostly) GOP candidates and committees” helped a lot, and his recent contribution of $50,000 to the current GOP ticket of Mike DeWine and Jon Husted should help him pocket more in the future.
  • And the notorious Fetallah Gullen operates 17 Ohio charters funded an all expenses paid trip to Turkey for the former Ohio speaker of the house, Cliff Rosenburg, who, like Mr. Gullen is under FBI investigations for shady dealings.

Mr. Mooney closes his essay with this question:

Will Ohio voters rebel against this war on our public schools; or will all that charter cash buy the GOP another four years of dominance in Columbus?

My version of this question: Will voters turn out to vote against GOP legislators at the state level who have declared war on our public schools; or will all the privatizers cash buy the GOP more time to drain resources from the locally controlled public schools?

Backpack Full of Cash Underscores Charter’s BIGGEST Advantage: Only Engaged Parents Apply

October 10, 2018 Leave a comment

For a number of years (and posts) I have contended that the biggest advantage charter schools have over public schools is that they only draw from the population of parents who are engaged. This point has been driven home to me since my grandchildren are both enrolled in NYC public schools and I’ve witnessed the hoops parents are required to jump through to “choose” which school they wish their child to attend: the application process for middle and high schools is even more daunting than college since there is no common application. Worse, if “school of your choice” is one of the most prestigious ones you must attend one of their orientation sessions, a particularly difficult task for a working single parent.

Durham Herald Sun reporter Matt Goad reported on a screening of “Backpack Full of Cash”, a movie being shown across the country that informs parents and voters about the way privatized charter schools skim off the best students and, maybe even more importantly, scarce public funds. The article highlighted the fact that charters enroll only children from households where the parents are engaged, derive their operating costs from existing pools of funding for public education thereby diverting funds away from existing public schools, and, because they operate “efficiently” save the taxpayers money.

The movie focuses on two urban districts, Philadelphia and New Orleans. But as the closing quote in the article indicates, it has relevance in North Carolina:

“These things that are talked about in Philadelphia and New Orleans have happened in North Carolina and have happened at an incredibly rapid pace,” Durham school board member Natalie Beyer said.

How rapidly?

The cap on the maximum number of charter schools allowed in North Carolina (100) was lifted in 2012. That year, nearly 45,000 students were enrolled in charter schools. Currently, 185 charter schools, including two online or virtual charters, operate in North Carolina, serving 101,000 children. Charter school students make up nearly 6.5 percent of the total student population for grades K-12.

North Carolina recently increased its spending on education, but as of last December it was still spending 8% less per pupil that before the onset of the Great Recession. Yet in the face of this diminished funding, the legislature in the state has diverted more and more funds to charters and loosened regulations on the operations of charters. Why? I think that if one follows the money the answer will be revealed.

Arizona’s Education Savings Accounts: The Billionaires’ “Vouchers in Disguise”

October 6, 2018 Comments off

In early September the Guardian’s Steven Greenhouse wrote an article that included a paragraph that offered an excellent summation of Education Savings Accounts (or ESAs), the billionaire “philanthropists'” latest gambit to expand the privatization of public schools. The primary focus of the article was the ongoing efforts of Arizona parents and teachers to stop the expansion of ESAs and restore public education funding to a level that will put the public schools back on their feet. How bad are things in Arizona?

One study found that Arizona, at $7,613, is the third-lowest state in public school spending per student, while another study found that from 2008 to 2015, school funding per pupil had plunged by 24% in Arizona, after adjusting for inflation – the second-biggest drop in the nation.

Determined to push back against this short-changing of public schools, six determined parents decided to launch a referendum effort to push back against the recent action of the Arizona legislature that had enacted a law that was characterized as “the nation’s broadest school vouchers law”, a law that allowed state-raised taxes to be used on private or religiously affiliated schools. Over the summer these parents gathered over 110,000 signatures and got the referendum they sought on the ballot this November. What happened next?

…the Koch brothers’ political arm, Americans for Prosperity, sued to block the referendum. A judge dismissed the lawsuit and approved the referendum for 6 November – it’s called Proposition 305. The vote will be closely watched by people on both sides of the debate as the Kochs and DeVos hope to spread the voucher scheme and opponents look to Arizona for clues on how to stop them.

Near the end of the article, Mr. Greenhouse quotes Lily Eskelen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, who said what has happened in Arizona is “part of a scheme to undermine public education”.

“We know exactly how the plan goes,” she said. “You underfund the kids who need the most. You starve the public schools. You take away the funding so they can’t deliver quality services, and then when things get so bad that nobody wants to work in the schools, the voucher salesmen, the vultures, swoop in and do this nice little bait and switch. Instead of fixing the schools, they say let’s make sure you have the same program as wealthy kids at private schools.” But vouchers, she said, don’t begin to deliver on that promise.

IF the handful of parents succeed in stopping the legislature by passing a referendum it won’t help in many states because not every state has a referendum mechanism. That means parents and teachers who care about public education will need to watch their State elections carefully. During the past legislative session in New Hampshire the legislature narrowly avoided the passage of a bill that would have greatly expanded Education Savings Accounts. The NH legislators wrote their law using the ALEC handbook funded by the Koch brothers and their pro-privatization allies. Like their Arizona counterparts, the NH GOP legislators are starving public education claiming there isn’t enough money to pay for the state formula that equalizes funding so that the kids who need it most get an adequate education… BUT, they did manage to “find” funding to help underwrite ESAs. NH doesn’t have a referendum mechanism, but it DOES have a ballot box referendum. Here’s hoping the voters ensure that they elect a legislature that will abandon ESAs.

This Just In: Well Funded Schools CAN Make a Difference… BUT Many Schools Serving Children Raised in Poverty Are Systematically Underfunded

October 3, 2018 Comments off

Medium blogger Jeremy Mohler recently analyzed the findings of a report from the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) titled Confronting the Education Debt and came to a disturbing conclusion:

(The report) tells a tragic story: the rich are getting richer, and our public schools are broke on purpose. And it comes to an indisputable conclusion: black, brown, and low-income students and their schools are owed billions of dollars.

His synopsis of facts that support his hypothesis are astonishing:

Between 2005 and 2017, the federal government neglected to spend $580billion it was supposed to on students from poor families and students with disabilities. Over that same time, the personal net worth of the nation’s 400 wealthiest people grew by $1.57 trillion. (MY NOTE: Look at the difference between Billion and Trillion!) 

Seventeen states actually send more education dollars to wealthier districts than to high-poverty ones.

Over 1.5 million students attend a school that has a law enforcement officer, but no school counselor. The school policing industry was a $2.7 billion market as of 2015.

These three facts underscore the warped priorities of our nation: we have policies that:

  • transfer money designed to serve the disadvantaged to billionaires
  • send more money to affluent districts than high poverty ones in 1/3 of the nation
  • spend more on safety than we spend on support

But Mr. Mohler does flag another fact included in the report:

many public schools do in fact work, but only when they are fully resourced, which tends to be in white, middle class, and affluent communities.

The report also concludes what readers of this blog have read repeatedly: that injecting market forces into public education will accomplish worse than nothing. It will drain resources from public schools and divert them to profiteers… and the public schools serving children raised in poverty will be the most likely ones to become privatized since those are the schools that are “failing”. And why are they “failing”? Because in 17 states they are receiving less than affluent districts! The vicious circle of poverty continues…. and the sad reality is that we are doing nothing to break that circle.

 

Kavanaugh Hearings and DeVos’s Repeal of “Obama Guidance” Intersect

October 1, 2018 Comments off

An article by AP reporter Maria Danilova that appeared in several newspapers across the country flagged an unsettling link between Betsy DeVos’ decision to repeal the so-called “Obama Guidance” on investigations of sexual misconduct on campus and the allegations brought forth by Christine Blasey Ford against Supreme Court nominee Bret Kavanaugh. Some background:

During the Obama administration the Department of Education issued a “Guidance” document establishing a lower threshold of evidence in campus hearings on sexual misconduct with the expectation that those who experience sexual assaults while on campus would bring those cases forward so that campuses would be safer for women. This was unsettling for men and conservatives, who generally supported the existing thresholds. Ms. Danilova does a good job of laying out the arguments on both sides:

DeVos has argued that the policy put in place under President Barack Obama is skewed against the accused. She is expected to issue new rules in the near future.

At stake is whether schools should require higher standards of evidence when handling complaints and whether both parties should have access to that evidence. Also under review is the use of mediators and the possibility of the accuser and the accused cross-examining each other.

DeVos’ new guidelines are expected to address whether schools should have to investigate as soon as they are aware of alleged misconduct or only after a student files a formal complaint.

Many victims of sexual violence never take that step. Ford didn’t, and only acted decades later when she learned that Kavanaugh was on a short list for the Supreme Court.

Advocates point to the Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal at Michigan State University and say that victims are shocked and unwilling to relive their traumatic experience. They say it should be the school’s responsibility to investigate.

But those who support Ms. DeVos decision to roll back the “Obama Guidance” do so based on their sense that any allegations of sexual misconduct assume put the burden of proof on the accused:

In conservative circles, “the sympathy right now is very strong with the concern that some men are wrongly accused,” (Fordham President Mike) Petrilli said. “This is an administration that cares about its base.”

A student may choose whether to report an assault to police or to have it investigated by a university under Title IX. Some students choose not to report attacks in part because police and the courts require higher standards of evidence. Students also may feel more comfortable dealing with university investigators than with police following a trauma.

Petrilli said the Senate hearing demonstrated that universities, like Congress, are ill equipped to handle such cases.

“If people were faulted, that should be handled by the justice system rather than asking universities to create some shadow system themselves,” he said.

Cynthia Garett, who heads Families Advocating for Campus Equality, said one false accusation can ruin a student’s life. She said many of the accused students she represents experienced traumatic flashbacks when they watched Kavanaugh testify. Garett said she supports DeVos’ plan to give a greater voice to the accused.

Where do colleges stand on this issue? A year ago an article by Andrew Kreigbaum in Inside Higher Ed noted that even if the 2011 Obama Guidance is rescinded many elements of the guidance are now enshrined in law.

The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013 prescribed new standards for campus disciplinary proceedings. And a number of court decisions involving Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 lawsuits have backed up the finding that institutions have an obligation to investigate and adjudicate campus assaults.

The impending debate is likely to focus as a result on questions involving the standard of evidence that should be used in reaching decisions and the ability of students to challenge the other party in the course of proceedings.

“The Title IX regulations and court precedent make clear that schools have a responsibility to respond promptly and equitably to reports of sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, including sexual assault,” said Alexandra Brodsky, a lawyer at the National Women’s Law Center and a co-founder of Know Your IX. “Schools will still need to provide accommodation necessary to help survivors stay in school and keep learning. They will still have to take steps to protect the larger campus community. They will still have to have a fair disciplinary process to investigate reports.”…

Brodsky said courts in other noncampus settings have found options to allow the accused to question an accuser’s account without direct confrontations.

“The guidance provided helpful insight into best practices for putting together effective truth-seeking investigations that don’t create a hostile environment,” she said. “Revoking the guidance deprives schools of clarity and of helpful advice.”

Based on what I’ve read about in local and national media since the issuance of the “Obama Guidance”, it is evident that campuses across the country have had heartfelt debates on how to address the topic of sexual assault and, in doing so, have raised awareness of the issue among current students and alumni and between campus police forces and local law enforcement officials. Moreover, the campuses have been compelled to examine the conduct of students on campus that might contribute to sexual assaults… specifically the drinking that takes place in schools… the drinking that contributed to Mr. Kavanaugh’s alleged misconduct.

Given that most of the Guidance is now enshrined in law, Ms. DeVos and the political winds that are blowing against her, she might be advised to wait on making a decision on rescinding this Guidance… but then again, given the pending election and the need to activate the GOP’s base, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a debate on both the guidance AND the Violence Against Women Act which is under review. We are living in contentious and interesting times.

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Waiting to Enforce Complete Criminal Background Checks for Preschool Teachers: What Could Go Wrong???

September 28, 2018 Comments off

Here is a near verbatim excerpt from yesterday’s Politico News Feed:

The Trump administration announced Wednesday it will delay portions of an Obama-era rulethat required Head Start centers to complete background checks with fingerprints for their employees by Sept. 30, Pro’s Mel Leonor reports.

— HHS — which operates Head Start — announced the delay in a notice published in the Federal Register, which says programs will now have until September 2019 to comply. HHS officials said they are concerned that programs won’t be able to meet the background check requirements in time, “without assuming unintended regulatory and administrative burden.

— Before hiring an employee, the rule requires Head Start centers to conduct a sex offender registry check and obtain criminal background checks with fingerprints from a state agency or the FBI.Once those benchmarks are cleared, the rule gives centers 90 days to complete the outstanding criminal background check and run the employee’s name through the child abuse and neglect registry in their state, if one exists.

— The National Head Start Association, which represents Head Start centers, said programs will continue to adhere to current background check requirements until they are able to come into compliance with the new standards. The current standards, which are less stringent, don’t specifically call for criminal background checks that include fingerprints.

Shame on the National Head Start Association for being on the wrong side of this issue… and I hope that none of the employees hired in the coming year turn out to be listed on the FBI’s listing, the child abuse and neglect registry, or the sex offenders listing. But if they are, I expect the National Head Start Association to testify on their behalf.