Posts Tagged ‘privatization’

Chan Zuckerberg, Lorene Jobs, and Joel Barker’s Rule About Paradigms

September 18, 2017 Leave a comment

As readers of this blog realize, I am no fan of billionaire plutocrats who attempt to make a profit from public services… which makes this blog offering a qualified defense of Priscilla Chan and Lorene Jobs something of an outlier. And given that this defense is in the context of an article opposing the two billionaire’s efforts to “reform” Philadelphia public schools, (see several posts lamenting the sorry state of public schools in my former hometown) it’s even more of an outlier!

The post was prompted by an op ed piece by Lisa Haver, a retired Philadelphia teacher and co-founder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools lamenting the impact of two billionaires on public education policy in Philadelphia. Ms. Haver provides a brief background on each of the women and a brief description of the ideas they want to “impose” on teachers, with her commentary on their limited qualifications edited out:

Priscilla Chan is a physcian and wife of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, now the world’s fifth wealthiest person. Laurene Jobs is the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and the world’s fourth wealthiest woman. Neither has a degree in education or any experience teaching in public schools, but both have embarked on massive projects to impose their ideological visions of education on schoolchildren across the country.

The recently established Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is funding the development and distribution of software that would create an online profile of each student’s “strengths, needs, motivations, and progress” and may, according to a June Education Week article, “help teachers better recognize and respond to each student’s academic needs while also supporting a holistic approach to nurturing children’s social, emotional and physical development.”

…Meanwhile, CZI is investing in lobbying for legislation that would enable the imposition of this unproven program in schools and districts across the country in the same way the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation successfully lobbied for the use of Common Core standards in all 50 states before they had been tested in a pilot program.

Laurene Jobs… and her XQ Institute bought an hour on the four major TV networks to simulcast a star-studded (but not educator-studded) extravanganza  to hawk her plan to “reimagine” the country’s high schools — mostly by using more technology… (and) When you run a technology company, not surprisingly, the answer to everything, including the things you know nothing about, is more technology.

I share Ms. Haver’s concern about CZI’s investments in legislation without any evidence that the programs CZI is advocating work, and I share her dismay that these programs are not emerging from qualified classroom teachers. But I also realize that in many cases the best ideas about how to change the dominant paradigm come from those outside of the system. The notion that paradigms are changed most often by outsiders is one of the cardinal principles of paradigm change that Joel Barker discovered in his groundbreaking work in the 1980s and 1990s.

I am willing to accept the possibility that neither Ms. Chan nor Ms. Jobs are seeking profits with their efforts to improve education and I DO believe that advances in technology, algorithms and brain science that are being exploited by market researchers should be applied to public education. Finally, I would prefer that such exploitation be introduced by non-profit foundations and NOT by private corporations seeking to exploit children in the name of profits. The fact that the source of funding for these foundations is from the spouses of billionaires instead of government funded researchers or publicly funded colleges and universities is unfortunate… but the fact that the funds are being invested in public education and not for-profit charter schools is a step in the right direction.

My bottom line: I hope that those who oppose change driven by those “unqualified to teach” based on certification standards might be open to ideas provided by “outsiders” whose hearts are in the right place no matter their source of revenue. In this era, we need billionaires who support the principles of public education more than ever.



Stanford Report Finds that Privatized Charters Do Worse Than ANY Type of School.. Why Isn’t THIS a Big Story?

September 10, 2017 Leave a comment

Earlier this week, both Diane Ravitch and the Atlantic magazine reported on the release of a report from Stanford University that studied the effectiveness of various kinds of charter schools, and the results show that so-called “government schools” with their “regulations that strangle innovation” do far better than privatized de-regulated charter schools. Here’s the understated finding from the of the Executive Summary of the report on “For Profit” charter school results:

Results also vary by the for-profit/non-profit status of the charter organization. Charter schools which are non- profit have an average effect size of 0.02, equivalent to an additional 11 days, in both math and reading. Charter school students attending a school run by a for-profit company have math growth which is 0.02 weaker than their VCRs and reading growth which is not significantly different from the VCRs. The difference in growth between for- profit and non-profit charter schools is equivalent to 23 additional days of learning in math for students attending a non-profit charter school and 6 days additional learning in reading for non-profit charter students.

And later in the report, the for-profit charters (or Vendor Operated Schools— VOS) are singled out for the mediocre performance:

…Schools that contract with external vendors for much or all of the school operations post lower results than network operators that maintain direct control over their operations.

…For-profit operators have results that are at best equal to the comparison traditional public school students (reading) or worse (math).

I have grave misgivings about the expansion of charter schools, mainly because as they function today they primarily draw from a pool of engaged parents who have the wherewithal to complete applications for their children that are time consuming and require an understanding of process that many parents might find daunting. Drawing from this pool of parents, it is not surprising to find that charters in general do better than their so called “local market”, a term that implies that schools should be engaged in a completion with each other for students. And when a for-profit entity draws from this group of select parents and does the same or worse, there is only one group who benefits: the shareholders of the for profit enterprise. That is NOT what our economy or our country wants from its public schools.

In an Evidence Based World, Deregulated Charter Schools Would be Banned. In Our World of Magical Thinking About Free Markets, They Will Expand… and Children Raised in Poverty Will Lose

September 8, 2017 Leave a comment

This weekend the NYTimes publishes its semi-annual Education issue, and the articles from that special supplement have been emerging in the past couple of days indicate that our country is ignoring evidence about the seemingly intractable problems facing our public schools.

The title of one of the articles by Mark Binelli, “Michigan Gambled on Charters. Its Children Lost“, provides a sweeping analysis of the profound failure of deregulated charter schools in Michigan. Sold to the voters as a means of equalizing funding and outcomes in public schools across the state in the early 1990s, deregulated for profit charters have done neither. Funding disparities persist and those districts taken over by the state and managed by the private sector instead of local school boards have not improved the outcomes or opportunities for children. Here are a couple of pieces of evidence Mr. Binelli offered in his article that describe the adverse impact of the vaunted free market after more than two decades:

…a Brookings Institution analysis done this year of national test scores ranked Michigan last among all states when it came to improvements in student proficiency. And a 2016 analysis by the Education Trust-Midwest, a nonpartisan education policy and research organization, found that 70 percent of Michigan charters were in the bottom half of the state’s rankings…

The 2016 report by the Education Trust-Midwest noted: Michigan’s K-12 system is among the weakest in the country and getting worse. In little more than a decade, Michigan has gone from being a fairly average state in elementary reading and math achievement to the bottom 10 states. It’s a devastating fall. Indeed, new national assessment data suggest Michigan is witnessing systemic decline across the K-12 spectrum. White, black, brown, higher-income, low-income — it doesn’t matter who they are or where they live.

Charters continue to be sold in Michigan as a means of unwinding the inequality of a public-school system in which districts across the state, overwhelmingly African-American — Detroit, Highland Park, Benton Harbor, Muskegon Heights, Flint — grapple with steep population declines, towering financial obligations, deindustrialization and the legacy of segregation. By allowing experimentation, proponents argue, and by breaking the power of teachers’ unions, districts will somehow be able to innovate their way past the crushing underfunding that afflicts majority-minority school districts all around the country. In reality, however, a 2017 Stanford University analysis found that increasing charter-school enrollment in a school district does little to improve achievement gaps. And in unregulated educational sectors like Michigan’s, there’s evidence that charters have actually increased inequality: A 2015 working paper by the Education Policy Institute determined that Michigan’s school-choice policies “powerfully exacerbate the financial pressures of declining-enrollment districts” — and districts with high levels of charter-school penetration, the authors found, have fared worst of all.

So the evidence is in: Michigan’s adoption of a free market model has NOT resulted in greater equity of opportunity and, even worse, has diminished the overall quality of education in all schools in the state. In the face of this evidence, one would expect that policy makers and politicians would abandon the idea that the free-market could solve the problems facing public schools. But instead, we have a Secretary of Education whose family funded politicians who support the “wild west” free market approach and who retains her faith in the free market… and we have a political party who also supports the survival-of-the-fittest approach of the free market over the equal opportunity approach of a “nanny state”.

Mr. Binelli matter-of-factly describes the reality of the problems facing public education in Michigan in this paragraph near the end of his article when he describes Mildred C. Wells Academy, a K-7 charter school in Benton Harbor, a small, poverty stricken district in SW Michigan overseen by the Bay Mills Indian Community, an Ojibwa tribe with over 2,000 members and 5.5 square miles of reservation land located over 300 miles away on Lake Michigan. Here’s the assessment of the school offered by B.M.C.C. charter leader Mickey Parish”

The school’s facilities, a pair of modular buildings, were “very poor,” and the same went for student test scores, though Parish stressed the context: “The level of learning is comparable to that of the local public-school system, which is dismal. So ours is dismal.” B.M.C.C.’s curriculum specialist, Kathy Tassier, pointed to selective testing gains, and suggested that the students had been motivated to “really take ownership for that growth” after learning of another local charter’s slated closure. Tassier meant the remark as a compliment. But inadvertently or not, she’d applied the language of market capitalism, of increasing productivity via brutal Darwinist competition, to a group of K-7 students. They could have been assembly-line workers being warned that the factory would close if the Chinese kept eating their lunch.

And why is the performance dismal? Because Benton Harbor’s students are raised in poverty and not afforded the same opportunities as the children in Bloomfield, an affluent suburb north of Detroit where the public schools are exempt from the brutal Darwinist competition because their taxpayers are able and willing to pay a premium for their schools. And why will the performance remain dismal? Because those in Bloomfield who are able and willing to pay a premium for their schools want to believe that the magic of the marketplace will solve the problem more than “throwing money at it”. Evidently, money thrown at schools in their district makes a difference… but money thrown at schools in other districts doesn’t.


No Surprise: ALEC’s Report Card Aligns With Betsy DeVos’ Agenda… Big Surprise: Too Few People are Aware of ALEC’s Force

August 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Nearly two years ago I heard Bernie Sanders speak to a small gathering at Dartmouth College. At the conclusion of the talk, I remember commenting to my wife that I thought he spent too much time explaining the power of the Koch brothers to his audience, to the point where I sensed a degree of restlessness in the audience. But when i shared that idea with others I knew I was surprised to find that few of the otherwise well-read people I know were aware of the Koch brothers… and a politically savvy individual I knew expressed dismay that the general public was unaware of their impact.

I trust that after two years of Bernie Sanders’ speeches and appearances on national television all but the Trump loyalists (and perhaps hardcore Fox News fans) are aware of the billions the Koch brothers and their allies spend. But I am not certain that the public is as aware of one of the Koch brothers’ biggest beneficiaries and most insidious lobbying groups in our country, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). While I know I have written often about this group, I am also painfully aware that most people in this country are unaware of the group and, after hearing of them, might dismiss any alarm about them as conspiratorial.

Washington Post education writer, Valerie Strauss, did a good job of shedding light on ALEC earlier this month and makes a compelling case that they are having a powerful effect on public education policy. ALEC, like many lobbying groups, issues an annual “Report Card” ranking various national and state legislators. And like many lobbying groups, ALEC also offers legislators sample bills to submit. But unlike most lobbying groups, ALEC’s legislative agenda is broader in scope and supported with billions of dollars in potential campaign donations. As Ms. Strauss writes to those unfamiliar with ALEC:

If you don’t know about ALEC, you should. It is a member organization of corporate lobbyists and conservative state legislators who craft “model legislation” on issues important to them and then help shepherd it through legislatures. It describes itself as being dedicated to promoting “limited government, free markets and federalism,” though the New York Times called it essentially a “stealth business lobbyist.”

And with 35 Statehouses and a majority of State legislatures under the control of the GOP, and with most of the legislatures led by citizens as opposed to “professional politicians”, what could be a better use of political action funds than “helping” pro-business GOP legislators craft bills that free businesses from regulations?

As noted above, ALEC issues Report Cards on many issues, public education being one of them. A review of what ALEC includes on it’s education Report Card is chilling for anyone who wants to see education funding equitable and overseen by locally elected school boards. Ms Strauss writes:

The latest report card was issued seven months ago, and it is highly revealing. The introduction says that the states were graded in six categories — “academic standards, charter schools, homeschool regulation burden, private school choice, teacher quality, and digital learning,” but it concedes that the most weight went to charters and vouchers “because they represent the parent-centered, choice-driven future of education in the 21st century.”

Once a year the ALEC legislators gather for a conference and it was no surprise to me to read that one of their guest speakers was Betsy DeVos, whose education agenda aligns perfectly with the direction ALEC’s “investors” want our country to follow.

In the concluding paragraphs of her article, Ms. Strauss illustrates the preposterousness of ALEC’s Report Card’s emphasis on charters by showing the deficiencies of ALEC’s highest rated states and the qualities of it’s lowest rated states. In effect, ALEC doesn’t care if a state turns out high percentages of graduates who attend college, has high graduation rates, or good results based on test scores. All that matters is whether the State has a “free market” for public education.

By promoting “limited government, free markets and federalism” ALEC is neglecting graduation rates, college and workforce readiness, and the well being of students. It IS, however, providing opportunities for unfettered earnings and opportunities for “edu-preneurs” and lower taxes for all businesses. Hallelujah!

Temple University Study Finds Nearby Charter’s Boost Performance of Public Schools— But ALSO Prove Pro-Public Education Advocate’s Points

August 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Atlantic writer Alex Zimmerman reports on the findings of a study by Sarah Cordes, a professor at Temple University, that concluded that proximity to a charter school boosted the performance of public schools as measured by standardized achievement tests. Why?

(Ms. Cordes) suspects that her findings are the result of the competition stoked by charters.

“I think having that close a proximity might really get administrators to get their act together,” she said. “Part of it is just that it’s really hard to ignore a charter school in your building.”

But as Mr. Zimmerman notes later in his article, two other factors might have an impact as well, factors that pro-pulic education advocates have argued for:

Cordes also points to the budgetary effects of charter schools. Somewhat paradoxically, given charter critics’ arguments, competition from charter schools led to more average spending per student at traditional schools—between 2 percent for schools that are further away to 9 percent for co-located schools.

Though she did not look at whether decreases in enrollment had adverse effects on programming that wouldn’t be measured by reading and math test scores or survey data, Cordes said future research should look at whether enrollment drops lead to smaller class sizes, which have been shown to boost learning.

So… as is often the case in research on charters vs. traditional schools… it is difficult to draw any clear cut solution because we are left with two questions:

  1. If spending had increased by 2 to 9 percent per student would the traditional schools’ scores have increased by the same amount?
  2. If class sizes had diminished by 2 students per classroom would the traditional schools’ scores have increased by the same amount?

It would be wonderful to find out the answer to these questions… but unless overall spending increases we will never know.


MO “Government Schools” that Introduce On-Line Learning “Proof” That Competition is Needed

August 19, 2017 Leave a comment

An article by Teresa Mull in Townhall, a conservative publication, asserts that a recently introduced on-line learning program by the Springfield (MO) Public Schools “proves why public education, even if taxpayers are paying for it, should act and be treated as though they are companies in the private sector.” She reaches this conclusion, in part, because their Superintendent, John Jungmann, led them there with his explanation for why his district decided to offer 40 courses on line:

Springfield Public Schools (SPS) is hardly acting altruistically. As the News Leader noted, it wants to attempt to “beat for-profit virtual schools to the punch.” Superintendent John Jungmann told the News Leader, “with private companies looking to expand in the state, it was important to come up with a local solution.”

As a conservative columnist Ms. Mull’s article is full of criticism for “government schools”, which, in her world, innovate only because of the nascent competition. Moreover, anything that takes children out of the clutches of union-dominated “government schools” is a good thing: This paragraph offers an example of the reasoning that girds Ms. Mull’s ideas about public schools:

SPS’s online offerings will still align to the state’s learning standards, which means they’ll likely be limited in what they can teach and how, and they’ll have to comply with the silly left-wing ideologies of government school administrators. But at least fewer kids will be forced to spend time in government school buildings, where time is often wasted and bullies cause unnecessary harm.

The article is worth a read if only to gain an understanding of the invalid assumptions that drive the pro-privatization and anti-“government school” movement. In Ms. Mull’s ideal world, where we are “…a nation free from government schools and odious teachers unions, wherein parents responsible enough to bring another human into this world are also responsible enough to ensure that human is educated without the government’s help” we would also be a world where atomistic students are “protected” from children who do not share the identical values of the parents, from exposure to the multiculturalism that defines the public forums in our nation, and from the chance to learn information that might be unsettling and uncomfortable. It is not the world that this “silly left wing” ideologue sees as viable or desirable.

Hoover Institution Survey Finds Diminishing Support for Charters, Which is GOOD News… Continuing Support for Testing, Which is SAD News

August 15, 2017 Leave a comment

The lead story in today’s Education Week feed by Arianna Prothero provides an overview of the results from a recent survey conducted by EDNext, a journal published by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. The survey was designed to determine support for and opposition to various public education policies. The good news for those of us who oppose the expansion of charter schools and the privatization that it facilitates, is that broad public support for charter schools is falling. The somewhat troubling news is that “…opposition toward school vouchers and other similar policies that direct public aid toward private schools has softened.” a finding that is somewhat mitigated because support for vouchers has not increased.

From my perspective, though, the worst news in the survey was described as an afterthought that didn’t even warrant a header in the column:

Testing and holding schools accountable for student performance continues to have broad support across members of both parties. About two-thirds of respondents agree with the federal requirements to test students in math and reading every year from the latter elementary grades through middle school and once in high school.

To me this finding is disturbing on several levels. It shows that a solid majority of voters equate “test results” with “education quality”. It’s framing insinuates that “grade levels” based on age cohorts are a “given”— that time must be constant and performance must be variable. And it implies that the public still believes there should be some kind of consequence associated with schools that enroll students who do not fare well on standardized tests.

In short, the governance of schools remains fluid in the minds of those composing the survey and those responding to the survey, but the structure of schools remains fixed: they must be organized by age-based grade levels. Until the structure of schools is called to question, summative standardized testing will remain entrenched and performance will vary among age cohorts. Once we are free from the factory paradigm, we can move toward mastery learning based on formative assessments and structured teacher observations.