Posts Tagged ‘Parent engagement’

An Merging Perspective as an Austerity Mindset Emerges: School Funding as Fee For Service

July 25, 2017 Leave a comment

I had a second takeaway from Jeff Bryant’s recent Common Dreams article that dealt with two mindsets emerge from austerity budgets. The first mindset is the sense that school children are a burden on taxpayers. Thus, schools should be funded at a minimal level to relieve businesses and taxpayers. The second mindset is that cost shifting to parents is acceptable for schools the same way it is acceptable for other services like trash collection,

While I’ve written many posts about the first mindset, it dawned on me that the second mindset is more subtle and more insidious. As we slowly adopt a fee-for-service mindset for schools, differences in services a community offers for schools will increasingly reflect a community’s wealth. This is already underway in New England. Just as the garden clubs in affluent small towns in New England make sure the medians and small public spaces are lined with flowers, parents in those same communities will make sure their schools provide excellent opportunities for their students. When I drive through small towns where the garden clubs beautify their communities I appreciate their effort and have no expectation that every town should have the same kind of flower beds because beautification is nice but not necessary. But when I drive through small towns with decrepit schools and forlorn playgrounds, I invariably feel dismay.

Charlotte NC Newspaper Article Illustrates How Game is Rigged… But Doesn’t Say So

July 21, 2017 Leave a comment

The title of Keung Hui’s article in the Charlotte News Observer poses this question: “NC Public School Enrollment Falls As More Choose Other Options. What Does That Mean?”. Unfortunately the article doesn’t explicitly give the right answer, which is: “It means the system is now rigged against public schools”… but it does offer lots of evidence to support that response. These quotes, for example:

Keith Poston, president and executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, says the expanded choice is part of a concerted political strategy to paint the public schools as failing. As an example, he cited the state’s school performance grades – A through F – that are largely based on the passing rates of students on state exams.

“It’s not an accident that we’re seeing an increase in scrutiny of public schools through testing and grades, which tell us nothing more than the socioeconomic status of the students at the school, and those same test grades are being used to justify providing more private options,” Poston said…

“There are very powerful and well-funded interests that are seeking to profiteer off public education at the same time that our public schools are being tested and stigmatized by school performance grades,”

Lawmakers have made a number of education-related changes including:

  • Lifted the cap on the number of charter schools and made it easier for them to expand their enrollment. Charter schools are taxpayer-funded public schools that are free from some of the regulations that traditional public schools must follow;
  • Created a voucher program to help families who meet income guidelines pay for tuition at private schools;
  • Created programs for parents of special-needs students to pay for their child’s tuition at private schools and cover other education-related expenses;
  • Made it easier for home-school students to take classes from people who are not their parents.

Natalie Beyer, a Durham school board member, said the state has been pursuing a privatization agenda in education that’s moving taxpayer dollars away from democratic oversight.

“It’s alarming for taxpayers because in North Carolina we have state law that has created a separate-but-unequal loosely regulated system of (charter) schools,” Beyer said. “When I look at any measure of student achievement, statewide or nationally, all the research shows the best investment is in a high-quality public school system.”

Mr. Hui presents the facts to support the conclusion that the legislature has rigged the system against public schools. The standardized tests will rate 50% of the public schools as “failing”, and those will be the schools serving children raised in poverty. State funds formerly directed exclusively to public schools governed by elected boards are now being given to parents who enroll their children in private schools. Private schools are deregulated, which means they are allowed to hire non-certified teachers, not required to offer free-and-reduced meals, not required to admit students with IEPs, and not required to meet building codes and transportation codes that apply to public schools. And the lack of “democratic oversight”, mentioned in passing, means that many charter chains are governed by out-of-state “edupreneurs” who have no abiding interest in the children they serve beyond an assurance that they pass the state tests and follow whatever discipline codes they put in place.

Not only did Mr. Hui not draw the obvious conclusion that NC’s system is rigged against public schools, he used language that implicitly identified schools as a commodity:

Traditional public schools still educate the majority of students, with their 1.4 million children representing 82.1 percent of the state’s K-12 students. But the market share was at 86.6 percent in the 2010-11 school year.

This kind of reporting reinforces the perspective of profiteers who want voters to conceive of public schools as competing in a marketplace. When education reporters use this kind of terminology, it is further evidence that the cards are stacked against public education because the “marketplace” favors deregulated private schools overseen by profiteers who answer to shareholders over tightly regulated “government schools” overseen by elected officials who answer to voters.

And to further reinforce the profiteers, Hui concludes his article with this quote from Darrell Allison, president of Parents For Educational Freedom in North Carolina, a pro-choice, pro-privatization advocacy group who said:

When our backs are against the wall, when we’re forced to change, that’s where innovation comes from. That’s where creativity comes from. I’m betting on our traditional public schools and our non-traditional public schools.”

What Mr. Allison is implying is that competition will yield innovation and creativity, one of the articles of faith of the profiteers. But innovation and creativity are hard to come by when your primary focus is on improving test scores that are based on socio-economics. It’s even harder to come by when you have to educate all the children who reside in your county and you have to do it with less money. So what does it mean that “NC Public School Enrollment Falls As More Choose Other Options”? The answer is clear: the game is rigged against NC Public schools.

Education Tax Credits Save Taxpayers Money, Destroy Public Education

July 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Late last month a Progressive article by Dora Taylor outlined four things about education tax credits (aka Education Savings Accounts in NH) that Betsy DeVos and her allies at ALEC do not want the public to understand. Marketed as a means of providing low income students with “scholarships” that enable them to enroll in private schools, they actually divert state funds to middle class parents who are already enrolled in parochial schools. Ms. Taylor opens the article with a description of how these tax credits work:

Education tax credits are similar to school vouchers. A voucher is money paid by the state to cover private school tuition for a student. Voucher money comes straight out of public school funds.

Vouchers are unconstitutional in eighteen states and one of the reasons is that the money can go to a religious school, crossing the line between church and state.

In a “scholarship tax credit program,” the money bypasses the state and instead goes through a go-between, a “scholarship granting organization” to a private school to pay a student’s tuition in full or in part. Typically, these organizations keep 10 percent of the money as they pass through funds to private schools.

A scholarship granting organization distributes money to students, who are purportedly “low income”, to attend a private school the organization has selected to include in its portfolio. Granting organizations can select the schools they do business with, whether they are religious schools or schools that are unaccredited.

While these groups have set a standard for “low income” —a family of four with an income of $64,750 or less—family income is not a determining factor for many of the students who receive the scholarships.

This convoluted system effectively replaces locally elected school boards with a state appointed scholarship granting board that determines schools worthy of scholarships and the eligibility of students who can attend those schools…. but this aspect of the law creating “education scholarships” is not part of the marketing campaign…. and that is intentional. After providing an overview of the tax credits, Ms. Taylor identifies four elements of education tax credits that Betsy DeVos and ALEC do NOT want the public to realize:

  1. Education Tax Credits Deplete State Budgets: Instead of providing additional resources to enable “poor” students to choose private schools to attend, ALEC’s boilerplate legislation diverts current education funding to these scholarship funds…. and that’s on top of revenue they lose when billionaires make tax-deductible donations to these scholarship funds, some of which might go to for-profit charter schools the self-same billionaires invest in!
  2. Education Tax Credit Programs Benefit the Wealthy: ALEC’s boilerplate legislation calls for donors to scholarship funds to effectively receive a subsidy for making a contribution. As Ms. Taylor reports, donors receive “a dollar-per-dollar write off on Federal taxes and, in some states, it can be used as an additional write-off on state taxes. With a donation to a scholarship grant-making organization, a person, company or corporation can benefit financially, sometimes doubling the tax write-off.” So a billionaire can “donate” a large sum to a scholarship fund and receive both a federal and a state deduction that offsets the donation… and a corporation that likely gets some kind of local tax-credit to locate or remain in a state similarly receives a tax credit at the federal and state level! And in both cases, the donors can claim they are helping disadvantaged children expand their opportunities. Also, as noted above, states can set a “low income” standard that is relatively high and thus enable middle class parents who are currently sending their children to a private school to qualify for a scholarship… even if that school is a parochial school (see #4). 
  3. Education Tax Credit Programs Pose Significant Risks to Children: Since the schools receiving scholarships are overseen by a non-public entities, they are not subject to federal or state standards. Thus schools receiving scholarships can discriminate, barring special needs students and permitting religious instruction… which leads to the fourth factor.
  4. Education Tax Credit Programs Divert Public Money to Religious Indoctrination: While there is evidence that Betsy DeVos wants to use her position to allow public funds to flow to schools with religious affiliations, I do not believe ALEC’s shares that intent. However I do believe the billionaires who underwrite ALEC appreciate the political clout they can garner if they develop programs that appeal to the evangelical base of the GOP. Thus, an essential element of all legislation is to permit public funds to flow to all private schools, including those operated by churches, synagogues, and mosques.

The marketing of “Education Tax Credits” is artful. What voter wouldn’t want to have more tax credits available to them? What voter could oppose giving parents and children more choices in terms of schooling? What voter could oppose a law that will augment state funds with donations from generous billionaires enabling funding for schools to increase without imposing higher taxes? And what voter would be willing to pay higher taxes to help poor kids in another part of the state when those kids will be able to qualify for scholarships funded by someone else? Advocates of funding equity, of public education governed by locally elected school boards, and of opportunities for all children have a steep uphill fight in the years ahead.



Conservative Conundrum: If Culture Causes Poverty, How Can LESS Government be the Solution?

July 8, 2017 Leave a comment

Conservative columnist George Will’s recent op ed essay, Sequence to Success, describes the findings of researchers in both conservative and liberal camps that conclude that economic success if more likely when parents are married before they have children. He summarizes this formula as follows:

First get at least a high school diploma, then get a job, then get married, and only then have children. Wang and Wilcox (of the conservative American Enterprise Institute), focusing on millennials ages 28 to 34, the oldest members of the nation’s largest generation, have found that only 3 percent who follow this sequence are poor.

Predictably, Mr. Will and the AEI researchers attribute this to a cultural decline which they link to “the “intelligensia” and Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. How was this link established, you ask? Here’s why the “intelligensia” are responsible for this problem:

…the intelligentsia see the success sequence as middle-class norms to be disparaged for being middle-class norms. And as AEI social scientist Charles Murray says, too many of the successful classes, who followed the success sequence, do not preach what they practice, preferring “ecumenical niceness” to being judgmental.

And how, exactly, did LBJ’s Wr on Poverty contribute?

In healthy societies, basic values and social arrangements are not much thought about. They are “of course” matters expressing what sociologists call a society’s “world-taken-for-granted.” They have, however, changed since President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed “unconditional” war on poverty. This word suggested a fallacious assumption: Poverty persisted only because of hitherto weak government resolve regarding the essence of war — marshaling material resources.

So… what are the solutions Mr. Will’s friends at AEI offers

Wang and Wilcox recommend education focused on high-level occupational skills, subsidizing low-paying jobs, and “public and private social marketing campaigns,” from public schools to popular media, promoting marriage toward the end of the success sequence.

Which leads to several questions:

  • What, exactly are the “high level occupational skills” education should focus on? Won’t the government need to decide this?
  • If these “high level occupational skills” require post secondary education and, if so, how will those who are raised in poverty afford them? Won’t the government need to provide funds?
  • As for subsidizing low-paying jobs, won’t the government need to provide those funds? And where, I wonder, will those funds for the necessary subsidies come from? Higher taxes?
  • Who will develop and write the “public” social marketing campaigns? It would seem to be a role the government would play!
  • And how will the government handle the fact that not all married couples are heterosexual?

As a conservative, I cannot imagine Mr. Will would endorse having the government defining the “high level skills” education should focus on— that would be socialist! Nor can I imagine him endorsing the need for more government funds for scholarships for those children struggling in school… and I certainly couldn’t imagine him ever supporting a government program that would subsidize low paying jobs. As for the government launching social marketing campaigns that promote social values… unless they are rooted in the Bible I doubt that any GOP conservative would endorse them!

As a conservative, I imagine Mr. Will and his AEI think tank colleagues would advocate for some sort of market-based solution that involves cutting taxes on businesses by developing incentives for them to make contributions into scholarship funds or offering some kind of bonuses to low-wage employees. As for setting the norms on marriage, I cannot imagine ANY way ANY conservative would willingly cede this to government.  All of the questions above and the paragraphs that follow describe a conundrum conservatives face when they try to address the seemingly intractable problem of “the intergenerational transmission of poverty” WITHOUT the government.

As a progressive democratic socialist I have no qualms about the government assuming the roles outlined above so long as they are responsive to an informed electorate and not a group of plutocratic campaign donors. My only conundrum is how to inform the electorate that a problem exists and to activate them to see that the problem cannot be solved without help from the government.


Standardized Tests Giving Us Smart Fools… But Our World Seeks Wisdom, Not Knowledge

July 2, 2017 1 comment

Diane Ravitch’s blog provided a link to a Scientific American interview with eminent psychologist and testing expert Robert Sternberg who recently received recognition from the Association for Psychological Science Association for his lifetime contributions to psychology. In the introductory paragraph to the interview, edited by Claudia Wallis, she describes Dr. Sternberg’s thinking on intelligence as follows:

Sternberg, who has studied intelligence and intelligence testing for decades, is well known for his “triarchic theory of intelligence,” which identifies three kinds of smarts: the analytic type reflected in IQ scores; practical intelligence, which is more relevant for real-life problem solving; and creativity.

In the interview, Dr. Sternberg decries public education’s emphasis on analytic knowledge, which has resulted in an increase in IQ scores of 30+ points over several decades but has not yielded the kind of knowledge required to sustain a highly functioning society. Here’s Dr. Sternberg’s synopsis:

Tests like the SATACT, the GRE—what I call the alphabet tests—are reasonably good measures of academic kinds of knowledge, plus general intelligence and related skills. They are highly correlated with IQ tests and they predict a lot of things in life: academic performance to some extent, salary, level of job you will reach to a minor extent—but they are very limited. What I suggested in my talk today is that they may actually be hurting us. Our overemphasis on narrow academic skills—the kinds that get you high grades in school—can be a bad thing for several reasons. You end up with people who are good at taking tests and fiddling with phones and computers, and those are good skills but they are not tantamount to the skills we need to make the world a better place…

What I argue is that intelligence that’s not modulated and moderated by creativity, common sense and wisdom is not such a positive thing to have. What it leads to is people who are very good at advancing themselves, often at other people’s expense. We may not just be selecting the wrong people, we may be developing an incomplete set of skills—and we need to look at things that will make the world a better place.

Of course looking at “…things that will make make the world a better place” is the easy part. Agreeing on those things, teaching those things, and measuring those things will be the challenge. Ms. Wallis probes Dr. Sternberg on “Wisdom” and got the following responses:

Wisdom is about using your abilities and knowledge not just for your own selfish ends and for people like you. It’s about using them to help achieve a common good by balancing your own interests with other people’s and with high-order interests through the infusion of positive ethical values…

You learn wisdom through role-modeling. You can start learning that when you are six or seven. But if you start learning what our schools are teaching, which is how to prepare for the next statewide mastery tests, it crowds out of the curriculum the things that used to be essential. If you look at the old McGuffey Readers, they were as much about teaching good values and good ethics and good citizenship as about teaching reading. It’s not so much about teaching what to do but how to reason ethically; to go through an ethical problem and ask: How do I arrive at the right solution?

When Ms. Wallis asked if we have less wisdom now than in the past, Dr. Sternberg had a sharp response:

Not only do we not encourage creativity, common sense and wisdom, I think a lot of us don’t even value them anymore. They’re so distant from what’s being taught in schools. Even in a lot of religious institutions we’ve seen a lot of ethical and legal problems arise. So if you’re not learning these skills in school or through religion or your parents, where are you going to learn them? We get people who view the world as being about people like themselves. We get this kind of tribalism.

Dr. Sternberg didn’t say so explicitly, but the kind of tribalism that sets todays ethical standards comes from “cultures” that celebrates “outlaws” and anti-establishment behavior. Voters knew that Donald Trump was a misogynist who cheated on his wife, a ruthless businessman who viewed cheating on his taxes as a shrewd business move, and an anti-intellectual who loved “the uneducated” and despised the “intellectual elites”. The tribal cultures that hold Mr. Trump in high esteem, the tribal evangelical culture, and the tribal gun culture ultimately elected a man who opposed the rule of law and the establishment. And Dr. Sternberg seems this tribalism as a by-product of our test culture that places a premium on teaching individual test-taking skills at the expense of “teaching good values and good ethics and good citizenship“.

I concur with Dr. Sternberg. What gets tested gets taught, and we have ignored testing for the complicated and relatively difficult to measure inter-personal and intra-personal skills that lead to “good values and good ethics and good citizenship” favoring instead the relatively inexpensive and easy to measure analytic skills associated with reading and arithmetic. We haven’t taught the important skills and we are witnessing the by-product when those who do not possess the skills needed to thrive in our new economy band together  in tribes of like-minded world views. Is there a way out of the woods? Dr. Sternberg remains optimistic:

If one could convince even a few universities and schools to try to follow a different direction, others might follow. If you start encouraging a creative attitude, to defy the crowd and to defy the zeitgeist, and if you teach people to think for themselves and how what they do affects others, I think it’s a no-lose proposition. And these things can be taught and they can be tested.

In a world that increasingly operates in echo chambers and a world where “choice” may result in children focusing even more on test-taking skills and attending schools with fellow tribal members, it may be difficult to encourage creative, independent thinking that defies the crowd and defies the Zeitgeist. We faee an uphill battle in getting back to common ground where all of our citizens agree on what constitutes “good values and good ethics and good citizenship“.


Privatization Undercuts Public Schools’ Mission to Educate Care of ALL Children

June 16, 2017 Leave a comment

I get Diane Ravitch’s posts in one feed at the beginning of each day and it often leads to serendipitous juxtapositions. Yesterday was a case in point where she posted an op ed article by Arthur Camins from Huffington Post early yesterday and then posted a summary of the National Education Policy Center’s (NEPC) critique of a report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Education Cities advocating that States use ESSA funds to replace democratically elected school boards with either state-managed school districts or privatized charter schools.

Camins’ essay, titled “Why We Should Care About the Education of Other Children”, underscores the fact that one of the primary missions of public education is to prepare tomorrow’s citizens. He makes the case in his opening paragraph:

It is time to care about the education of other people’s children. Other people’s children are or will be our neighbors. Other people’s children – from almost anywhere in the United States and beyond – could end up as our coworkers. Other people’s children are tomorrow’s potential voters. How, what, and with whom they learn impacts us all. That is why we have public schools, paid for with pooled taxes. They are designed to serve the public good, not just to suit individual parent’s desires.

Mr. Camins’ emphasizes that this ideal is being undercut by today’s political consensus that parents should focus primarily on the well-being of their own children. This consensus is embodied in the bi-partisan ESSA legislation that applies this principle by giving states more control over how they spend money in the same way that “choice” programs and vouchers presumably give parents more control over how money is spent for their own children. He offers a concise analysis of the three prongs of this consensus, and where this consensus ultimately leads:

…“Just worry about your own child. Do whatever you must to find the best school for her.” That is the thinking behind the current bipartisan embrace of three key features of charter schools and the renewed Republican push for vouchers: Schools competing for student enrollment; Parents competing for their children’s entry into the best-fit school of their choice; Schools governed privately rather than through democratically-elected school boards. As these strategies gain acceptance and spread, the result is to undermine education as a collective effort on behalf of the entire community. Divided parents and their communities end up with little collective voice. Similarly, without unions, teachers have no unified influence. Millions of personal decisions about what appears to be good for a single child at a moment in time is a recipe for divisiveness, not collective good. 

On the same day, Ms. Ravitch offered the rebuttal of a Fordham Institute report that advocated that States use their ESSA funds to give parents a bigger voice in their child’s education by directing funds to vouchers and other choice initiatives. Written by researcher Gail L. Sunderman of the University of Maryland, the NPEC critique notes the Fordham Institute report:

…omits research that would shed light on the (choice) models, and it fails to take into account the opportunity costs of pursuing one set of policies over another. It also relies on test score outcomes as the sole measure of success, thus ignoring other impacts these strategies may have on students and their local communities or the local school systems where they occur. Finally, and as noted above, support for the effectiveness of these approaches is simply too limited to present them as promising school improvement strategies.

In effect, Ms. Sunderman suggests there is no basis in research for supporting any policy that gives parents more choice— and, as noted in previous posts, there is a lots of evidence that indicates vouchers erode educational performance at the overall level. That is, when the focus is on educating my children while ignoring other children ALL children pay the price… and communities pay the price as well.

Mr. Camins hits the nail on the head when he explains why we persist in supporting policies that ignore other children and create huge and widening divisions in school quality. He suggests the the reason so many of our schools are failing is not because of the absence of choices for parents. Rather, they are

…the result our country’s refusal to do anything substantive about the residential segregation and distrust that continually enable, perpetuate, and exacerbate inequity. The differences are the result of growing inequality, concentrated poverty, and the purposeful oblivion of those who live comfortable stable, if insulated lives. The differences are the result of an intentional political campaign to convince folks in the middle of the socioeconomic spectrum– whose lives are hardly easy or secure– to blame other people who struggle even more, rather than the wealthy 1% who wield the levers of economic and political power.

It may be subversive to suggest that those at the very top of the economic pyramid are intent on keeping those in the lower 99% at each other’s throats, but the evidence seems to support Mr. Camins’ assertion. Here’s hoping those in the “lower 99” start looking out for each other..

NYTimes Explains Betsy DeVos World View: Help Only Those Who Want to Help Themselves

June 11, 2017 Leave a comment

In an article in today’s NYTimes, Erica Green provides an in-depth background on Betsy DeVos’ upbringing and suggests that it is the root for her subsequent advocacy for school choice. The article offers an even-handed description of the network of non-public Christian Schools in Western Michigan, all of whom are making a genuine effort to serve disadvantaged children in their region. But in doing so, they overlook one key factor: the children who are struggling the most in public schools are the children whose parents are incapable of providing them with the support they need to succeed in ANY kind of school… the parents who, for whatever reason, cannot navigate the application systems required to “choose” schools like those underwritten by Betsy DeVos. Instead, those who support the kinds of choice Ms. DeVos advocates, which would allow parents to enroll in schools that are specifically designed to segregate children based on religion, tend to demonize the unions public school teachers being to. The article concludes with a series of observation made by John Booy, the head of the Potters School that Ms. DeVos has championed in her speeches:

Mr. Booy said two things separated his school and his old public school: teacher involvement and parent buy-in.

Though teachers are not unionized, they are certified, and all are required to sign off on their application that “I accept without reservation the school’s statement of faith.” Parents are required to sign a similar statement, attend all three annual parent-teacher conferences and commit to 25 hours of service a year or leave the school. No one has had to leave. The school has a waiting list of more than 200.

Mr. Booy rejects the notion that his school is doing harm to public schools.

“Even though we’re not a public school, we’re educating for the public good,” he said. “I think we need to be more about saving a child than a child saving the system.”

If the Potters School is the paradigm for “choice”, it appears that only parents who are willing to sign off on a “statement of faith” and who have the wherewithal to “commit to 25 hours of service a year” will be allowed to “choose”. If you limit the pool of children you seek to save to children whose parents can meet those standards, you are clearly damaging the system and harming public schools… but you might be meeting one of Ms. DeVos’ declared goals of public education, which is to “advance God’s kingdom.”