Posts Tagged ‘privatization’

Arizona Platform: Scam or New Model for Public Schools?

September 23, 2020 Leave a comment

I get a weekly newsletter called Cashing in on Kids, a spin off of In the Public Interest, that provides a digest of news stories about for-profit schools. The stories all have a negative spin on the way profiteers are scamming taxpayers. But in some cases, like Erin Clark’s recent post from Report Door, the profiteers are advancing ideas that public schools should consider.

Ms. Clark’s article opens with a description of a platform devised by Prenda that is getting widespread use in Arizona:

To its backers, Prenda microschools represents a “return to the one-room schoolhouse” of the past, empowering parents to educate their children in intimate settings away from the cruel public-school bureaucracy.

But looked at another way, the for-profit company is reaching for something more contemporary, to be the Uber of education.

Anyone can start a Prenda microschool of five to 10 students. And no certification or degree is required to be a “guide” — Prenda’s term for the adult who leads the class — only a passion for helping kids.

Guides use their living rooms as a schoolhouse, much like Uber drivers work in their own vehicles.

Prenda — which is largely based in Arizona but is “rapidly spreading all over the world,” according to its website — has seen a surge in interest during the coronavirus pandemic and doesn’t shy away from the Uber comparison.

Having read about the Uber and Air BnB model in Anand Giradharadas’ book Winners Take All, it was clear that Prenda was taking that model and applying it to the learning pods that are emerging as a “solution” to the remote learning problems faced by many parents. In doing so, as Ms. Clark observes, “Prenda is exploiting gaps in regulation and oversight in the hopes of growing so fast and large that it alters the industry it seeks to disrupt.” And in states like Arizona where the deregulation frenzy has taken hold in an effort to promote lower cost charter schools, Prenda is siphoning taxpayers’ funds to it’s bottom line the same way that Air BnB and Uber are siphoning funds for the “services” they provide to renters and ride seekers.

Technology investors who underwrite businesses like Uber and AirBnB see themselves as champions of freedom, “…fighting for the people against the corrupt power structure“. And free market libertarians see highly regulated “government run” public schools as part of the corrupt power structure and see their new ideas as liberating parents from their monopolistic hold.

But… in some cases the ideas advanced by these technology-based entrepreneurs ARE liberating and have the potential to change the existing structure for the better…. and Prenda’s platform might be a case in point. The idea of using technology to help parents form pods, provide each others’ children with an ungraded “one-room school house” structure is not that different from the Mountain Oaks model I witnessed nearly two decades ago in Calaveras County CA. The idea of matching tutors with students is not that different from the model Ivan Illich advocated nearly 50 years ago in Deschooling Society. The problem with Prenda, as I see it, is not the model itself. Indeed, the model could easily be adapted by public schools to assure that all children are taught by a qualified (if not “certified”) teacher and, I believe, result in a method of instruction that would be far superior to the traditional factory model in place today. The problem is that the profits the platform generates’ like the profits Uber generates, leave the community.

The solution? If community non-profits could develop and support the learning platforms like those developed by Prenda the taxpayers funds would remain in the community and any “profits” would be plowed back into the non-profit entity that manages the platform. That entity would not necessarily be a school district. It could be a regional cooperative group like a BOCES, a consortium managed by a college, or a regional planning commission that employs technologists capable of providing the necessary backroom support for individual school districts. These kinds of platform cooperatives could be a way forward for schools, a means of keeping taxpayers’ funds in the regional if not local economy, and a means of providing a better education for all students.


The POTUS’ Executive Order on “Patriotic Education” a Transparent Distraction from our Country’s Real Problem… and Real History

September 19, 2020 Leave a comment

Time magazine’s Olivia Waxman followed up on her earlier article about the President’s insistence that teachers adopt a “patriotic education” approach to history with a report on a speech he gave at the Library of Congress after issuing an Executive Order establishing the “1776 Commission,” a group that would “promote patriotic education.” Why is this necessary, you ask?

In the course of his announcement, Trump claimed that people on the left want to “bully Americans into abandoning their values, their heritage and their very way of life,” and denounced the forces that he blamed for propagating that view in history classes. He called the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which reframes the story of nation’s founding around the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Virginia, “toxic propaganda,” and he also singled out the late Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States. Zinn’s book, widely used in schools since it was published in 1980, is credited for helping popularize a bottom-up approach to history, as an alternative to telling the story of the U.S. via the top-down achievements of elite white men.

Such approaches to history, which encourage students to challenge long-standing narratives about national heroes, are “ideological poison, that if not removed will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together,” Trump said. Under his plan, he said, “Our youth will be taught to love America with all of their heart and all of their soul.”

Without pointing out that Donald Trump’s love of America did not include a desire to serve his country when called to do so, there are countless other examples of the President’s ignorance of the Federal laws, particularly those dealing with schools. As education historian Diane Ravitch who served in GOP administrations noted in her post on this topic:

Do you think he knows that federal law prohibits any federal official from interfering with curriculum or instruction in the schools? Obviously not, but if he knew, he wouldn’t care since he is convinced that he is above the law.

Federal law 20 USC 1232a prohibits “any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system…”

And contrary to Mr. Trump’s assertion that Howard Zinn’s text is widely used, a check by Politifact found no evidence to support a on a similar claim by Rick Santorum:

In an interview, (education and history professor Sam) Wineburg of Stanford added that “not a single state in the union” has put Zinn’s books on an “approved adoption list for middle or high school. Three big companies, including the biggest, Holt-McDougal, control about 90 percent of the market. They issue conventional, 1,000-page behemoths. … Find me one instance in which Zinn appears on any one of 50 state adoption lists, and I’ll find you a unicorn.

In a Common Dreams article by Brett Wilkins Kevin Kumashiro synthesized the real impetus behind this move by the Trump administration:

Kevin Kumashiro, former dean of the University of San Francisco School of Education, told Common Dreams in an email that Trump’s remarks were but the latest attempt by conservatives to paint critical learning as “divisive, un-American, biased, and inflammatory.”

“Not surprisingly, it is this whitewashed curriculum that often gets framed as objective and neutral, whereas efforts to raise awareness about the discomforting realities of race and racism get framed as, in Trump’s words, ‘toxic propaganda,'” he said, also noting the administration’s recent directive banning federal funding of diversity and anti-discrimination training.

At a rally in Nevada in 2016, President Trump famously stated that “I love the uneducated”. With his party’s short-changing of public education, his education secretary’s desire to put an end to “government schools”, and his desire to interfere with the objective findings of scientists and epidemiologists, the President has done everything within his power to make certain that our nation remains uneducated. Four more years of his leadership will ensure that public schools and with it, critical learning, will come to an end.

The US NEEDS More People to Prosper, But If the US WANTS More People Parents Need More Help

September 14, 2020 Leave a comment

Journalis Matt Yglesias invariably writes thought provoking essays and his recent NYMagazine piece, “The Case for Adding 672 Million More Americans” certainly hits that standard! Derived from his forthcoming book One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger, Yglesias argues that in order for the US to remain economically competitive on the global level it needs to accept MANY more immigrants. Why? Because of the sheer scale of Asian countries like China and India whose populations dwarf ours. As Yglesias notes at the outset of his article:

…against China, we are the little dog: There are more than 1 billion of them to about 330 million of us. Chinese people don’t need to become as rich as Americans for China’s overall economy to outweigh ours. If they managed to become about half as rich as we are on a per person basis, like the Bahamas or Spain, then their economy would be far larger than ours in the aggregate. To become one-third as rich as we are, like Portugal or Greece, would be enough to pull even. To stay on top, we probably need to grow the country threefold — to one billion Americans.

What Yglesias DIDN’T note in this excerpt but may note in his book, China’s ability to make up for lost ground is helped by it’s repressive government which is willing to enslave millions of minority Uighars in the Western part of its country to work for next to nothing so that natives in the heartland of the country can begin increasing its per person wealth rapidly. Ultimately, Yglesias sees our freedom as a means of increasing our population in a selective fashion— IF we wake up to this numerical reality and change our thinking about immigration:

…one advantage the U.S. does have over China is that because it is a beacon of freedom to the world, rather than an increasingly dystopian oligarchy, there are more than 100 million people who would like to move here than America is prepared to allow in. We shouldn’t recklessly throw the borders open to just anyone who happens to show up, but we should recognize that openness to immigration is not just a nice favor the U.S. does for immigrants. That people want to move here is — and historically has been — a strategic asset, and we have a form of creedal civic nationalism that can accommodate a broad range of newcomers.We should be reasonably selective about whom we let in, but we should let in a lot of people.

Needless to say if we abandon the “…creedal civic nationalism that can accommodate a broad range of newcomers”  by re-electing a POTUS who defines greatness by building a wall we will lose this advantage. We could also lose this advantage AND the possibility of expanding our population by failing to address the way our current system makes parenting and education difficult. Yglesias writes:

…though the standard K-12 public-school concept is invaluable, it’s also insanely limited. Children younger than 5 need to be taken care of, as do children of all ages during the summer months and after 3:30 p.m. Young people increasingly need more education than a high-school degree. Providing the public resources necessary to address all these gaps — rather than covering 50 percent of the days for 75 percent of childhood — would be very expensive. But not doing it pushes the costs onto parents and encourages people not to become parents…

And while Yglesias doesn’t say so, it would also discourage the immigration of the parents we WANT to move here and thereby precludes our opportunity to be “reasonably selective” in our immigration policy.

Lack of support for parents also disproportionately disadvantages the poor, as will surprise no one. And yet the scale of the disparity is nevertheless shocking: 21.1 percent of American children are living in poverty, compared with 11.3 percent of German children and just 9.3 percent of Swedish children, even though the U.S. is richer on average than either Germany or Sweden.

By accepting higher poverty levels among children, the US is sending a message that it doesn’t care about them… and a caring parent who wants the best for their child would not be drawn to a country with such a policy. Yglesias concludes his essay with a comparison between his goal that the US needs to accept more immigrants with Kennedy’s goal that we put a man on the moon and comes to this conclusion:

Letting more hardworking and talented foreign-born people move here is not hard. On the contrary, it’s keeping people out that’s hard. Providing financial support so that Americans can have as many children as they say they’d like to is a big change, but there’s nothing particularly difficult about it. Letting builders make whatever kind of housing their customers want to buy is easy. Shifting economic activity to places where land and buildings are cheap is a little more difficult, but it’s hardly a voyage to the moon. Copying a traffic-management paradigm that Singapore implemented in the mid-’70s isn’t hard at all, nor is copying long-standing German commuter-rail practices. These easy things feel hard only because we’ve become accustomed to a political culture that can barely do anything at all… 

…But think of how much healthier our politics would be if there were really a debate about how to accomplish great things rather than a food fight over semi-imagined offenses to “real Americans” that serves as a mask for an endless procession of tax cuts for the rich. Why not make America greater than ever instead?

Whatever liberals’ misgivings about this national project, America should aspire to be the greatest nation on earth. That’s what Americans already think and rightly so. Rather than being paralyzed by racial panic, ecopessimism, or paranoia about the loss of parking spaces, we should try to think this stuff through calmly and systematically — choosing to emulate our forefathers and mothers, who managed to welcome millions of newcomers and ride oxcarts across the Rocky Mountains to build the greatest nation in human history, rather than throw up our hands at every moderately difficult logistical problem and whine that the country is full.

Yglesias avoids emphasizing what I see as an obvious though politically contentious conclusion: that “we’ve become accustomed to a political culture that can barely do anything at all” because we’ve bought into the Conservative thinking of Ronald Reagan that “government is the problem” and the neoliberal thinking that “running Government like a business” is the antidote. We need to embrace the liberal thinking as defined by the Oxford dictionary: we need to be “open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.” Yglesias is offering us a solution to our problems that merits careful consideration. Let’s give it our full consideration.