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NPE, Diane Ravitch’s Legacy Organization, Offers Qualified Support for Miguel Cardona… In a Nutshell: “It Could Been Worse…and We Are Holding Out Hope!”

January 6, 2021 Comments off

As readers of this blog realize, I am an avid supporter of Diane Ravitch’s writing and thinking about public schools. She has been a voice of reason in a era where cheap, easy, and profitable solutions are being proposed for “failing” public schools… and to amplify her voice she worked to launch the Network for Public Education (NPE), an organization committed to promoting locally governed public education. Like Ms. Ravitch I was neither thrilled nor dismayed with President-elect Biden’s choice for Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona. Unlike, Ms. Ravitch, though, I could not capture my mixture of misgivings and hope. This link to NPE’s recounting of her position will give you the full context of her qualified endorsement, but to save you clicking I am pasting her eloquent analysis of why he is a decent if not exceptional choice and the daunting task he faces. The highlights are mine:

I am still hoping for a Secretary who recognizes that the past twenty years have been a nightmare for American public schools, their students, and their teachers. I am still hoping for someone who will publicly admit that federal education policy has been a disaster since No Child Left Behind and its kissing-cousin Race to the Top, modified slightly by the “Every Student Succeeds Act.” Maybe Dr. Cardona will be that person. We will see.

I believe that the federal government has exceeded its competence for twenty years and has dramatically overreached by trying to tell schools how to reform themselves when there is hardly a soul in Washington, D.C., who knows how to reform schools. Our nearly 100,000 public schools are still choking on the toxic fumes of No Child Left Behind, a law that was built on the hoax of the Texas “miracle.” We now know that there was no Texas miracle, but federal and state policymakers still proceed mindlessly on the same simple-minded track that was set into law in 2001.

Perhaps Dr. Cardona will introduce a note of humility into federal policy. If so, he will have to push hard to lift the heavy hand of the federal government. Twenty years of Bush-Obama-Trump policies have squeezed the joy out of education.Many schools have concentrated on testing and test-prepping while eliminating recess and extinguishing the arts. As an experienced educator, Dr. Cardona knows this. He will be in a position to set a new course.

If he does, he will push back against the mandated annual testing regime that is not known in any nation with high-performing schools.

If he intends to set a new course, he will grant waivers to every state to suspend the federal tests in 2021.

If he intends to set a new course, he will ask Congress to defund the $440 million federal Charter Schools Program, which is not needed and has proved effective only in spreading corporate charter chains where they are not wanted. Two NPE studies (hereand here), based on federal data, showed that nearly 40% of the charters funded by the federal CSP either never opened or closed soon after opening. More than $1 billion in federal funds was wasted on failed charters. Let the billionaires pay for them, not taxpayers, whose first obligation is to provide adequate funding for public schools.

Further, if he wants genuine reform, he will begin the process of writing a new federal law to replace the Every Student Succeeds Act and dramatically reduce the burdens imposed by clueless politicians on our nation’s schools.

Dr. Cardona is known for his efforts to reopen the schools during the pandemic. He knows that this can’t happen without the resources to reopen safely. The pandemic is surging again. It is not over. He knows this, and he will have to move with caution not to put the lives of staff or students at risk.

I will not judge him until I see how he handles not only the present dire moment but the legacy of twenty years of failed federal policy.I am hoping to be pleasantly surprised. Hope springs eternal. We can’t live without it.

He has the right background… he attended and led public schools and championed programs that help ALL children succeed and avoided stepping on the many landmines that exist in the field. Here’s hoping he can inspire politicians to abandon the test-and-punish regimen that has sapped public schools of their spirit without doing anything to improve the opportunities for the most disadvantaged students. I still have hope that our public schools can all function as effectively as those funded by the engaged and affluent parents.

WSJ Op Ed Headline Underscores THAT Newspaper’s Narrative and the Narrative of All Right-Leaning: A Bogus Binary Choice Between “Students and Unions”

December 23, 2020 1 comment

The Wall Street Journal has a paywall, but on some occasions I can work around the paywall and get to an article with a compelling title and opening sentence and on other occasions the article is available through a third party source a day or so later. But when I read the title of one of their latest op ed articles I decided I didn’t need to read anything else. The title?

“Will Biden’s Education Nominee Stand for Students or for Unions?”

My gut level reaction was to pose a question of my own?

“Will the conservative leaning media outlets ever abandon their narrative that unions are ONLY interested in the well-being of their membership and, therefore, working against the students they serve?”

If the unions are balking at opening schools because of safety concerns, how is that NOT a concern parents also share? If the unions seek clean and orderly workplace, how is that NOT a concern parents also share? If teachers are seeking fully functional technology equipped with up-to-date operating systems and software, how is that NOT a concern parents also share?

And here’s a point the Wall Street Journal is overlooking in its false binary choice: when was the last time a Secretary of Education stood for unions in any way shape or form? Did Arne Duncan “stand for unions?”  John King? Margaret Spellings? Betsy DeVos? And did any of these Secretaries of Education “stand for students?” For at least two decades we’ve seen Secretaries of Education who put “accountability” and preparedness for work at the forefront. Did students benefit from this? Given that  the “performance” of students raised in poverty stagnated, NAEP scores (a presumed impartial metric of “performance”) plateaued, and student debt soared, it is hard to see how the policies of former Secretaries “benefited students”. But they each clearly diminished the stature of the teaching profession whether the teachers were in a union or not.

And here’s something for the Wall Street Journal and other conservative leaning media to consider: maybe if a “union first” Secretary of Education was put in place the safety of schools would improve, the orderliness and cleanliness of schools would improve, and schools, parents, and students would have access to the technology tools they need to succeed by any metric. Stop blaming the unions for the conditions created by the economic divide and systemic racism that persists and work with the Secretary of Education and— more importantly— your State Government and local school board to ensure that all students have an equitable learning opportunity.

Betsy DeVos’ Greatest Legacy: The Scornful Term “Government Schools” And Misleading Term “Choice” Shifted the Debate Away from “Equitable Public School Funding” and “Equitable Opportunity”… and in doing so is Convincing Voters that Schools are a Commodity and Not a Public Good

December 20, 2020 Comments off

Education Week reporter Andrew Ujifusa wrote an article describing the four tumultuous years of Betsy DeVos’ leadership and, like many of his education beat colleagues, concluded that her policy impact on public education was limited. He concluded that after all was said and done, she focused on two overarching themes:  

One was the rollback of Obama administration initiatives to increase school diversity, expand transgender students’ rights, and address racial disparities in school discipline. The Biden administration is expected to reinstate these and perhaps others from the Obama era, further cementing the see-saw pattern of the executive branch’s actions in education as presidents come and go.

The other is the failure—so far—of her favored initiatives to become law, even as they generated so much controversy. They include her push to use federal power if not dollars to dramatically expand educational choice; her unsuccessful calls for Congress to cut her agency’s budget, which lawmakers responded to by increasing it; and, more broadly, the Trump administration’s dead-on-arrival proposal to consolidate the Education Department with the Department of Labor. (Whether a new coronavirus relief bill includes the expansion of school choice she’s lobbied for remains to be seen.)

Mr. Ujifusa offers lots of evidence to support his assertions. But I think he misses Betsy DeVos greatest legacy: she shifted the spotlight away from the issues of funding equity and opportunity equity. In doing so she (and her GOP supporters at the State level) has undermined the voters support for public schools by convincing them that education is a commodity and not a public good. Ultimately, Ms. DeVos and her libertarian supporters believe that parents should be able to shop for schools the same way they shop for groceries or apparel, reasoning that such a “market driven” basis for schools would enable parents who reside in an attendance zone where schools are poorly funded would be able to enroll in any school they want to. Their argument is reduced to the soundbite that “any parent should be able to offer their child a choice of schools no matter what zip code they live in”.

This argument is flawed on two grounds: the market does not offer residents in poor communities ANY kind of “choice” for goods that is comparable to residents in affluent communities; and the physical plants that currently provide the most desirable schooling are limited in their capacity.

Two questions illustrate my point: Can a parent in the Bronx walk to or drive to a grocery store or shopping area that compares to what is available in Scarsdale? Can a school in Scarsdale provide space for parents in the Bronx who want to send their child there?

Until the answer to THOSE questions is a resounding “YES” the whole concept of market-based school choice is clearly bogus… and that answer will never be a resounding “YES” until public schools have funding equity AND offer an equitable educational opportunity.

But, as Betsy DeVos and her supporters/enablers know, it is far easier to sell voters on the idea that offering parents a “choice” of where to send their children can solve the problems of equity without raising more money to build and staff schools to the level of those available to the most affluent parents… and over the past four years Ms. DeVos has, in the phrase of Derrick Black, poured gasoline on the fire of “choice”… a fire that NCLB set and a fire that smoldered for years under Obama.

Biden needs someone to put out that fire and shift the debate BACK to funding equity and equity of opportunity. Anything short of that will allow the fire to spread… especially given the dominance of the GOP at the State level.