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CHINA Cracks Down of For-Profit Schools… the US, Meanwhile, Looks the Other Way

November 20, 2018 Leave a comment

This morning I read three posts from Diane Ravitch describing scams involving deregulated for profit schools in Nevada, Indiana, and Utah. The articles described the way corporate profiteers are scamming parents and taxpayers by taking over so-called “failing public schools”, in all cases abetted by legislation that opened the doors for deregulated schools in their respective states.

Imagine my surprise when I opened our local newspaper and found a Bloomberg article by Sophia Horta e Costa and Jenny Yu titled “China Cracks Down on For Profit Grade Schools” buried on page A9. Here’s the article in it’s entirety:

Education firms are in the Chinese government’s crosshairs, roiling stocks and reminding investors how quickly their fortunes can change in a country rife with regulatory risk.

RYB Education Inc. and Bright Scholar Education Holdings Ltd. both plunged by records in U.S. trading, while Vtron Group Co. and China Maple Leaf Educational Systems Ltd. sank in Shenzhen and Hong Kong after the government unveiled new rules that prohibit companies from financing for-profit kindergartens via the equity market.

While policy makers say the new rules will help protect consumers, they’ve taken many investors by surprise. That’s adding to jitters in a $5.8 trillion stock market already grappling with a trade war and the weakest economic expansion since 2009.

“The education sector had massive growth potential and was once red-hot among equity investors,” said Steven Leung, executive director at Uob Kay Hian (Hong Kong) Ltd. “It’s a pity that the government is stepping up regulation. What’s more annoying for a lot of sectors which rely heavily on the government is that you can’t expect a timeline, and many sudden changes in policies are a surprise.”

Chinese parents spend an average of $42,892 on their children’s education, almost double that of counterparts in countries like Canada and Britain, according to a report last year from HSBC Holdings Pic. The potential for growth helped propel shares of schooling firms to record highs as recently as June, with recently-listed China New Higher Education Group Ltd. and China Education Group Holdings Ltd. more than doubling in value within six months. Both dropped at least 4.5 percent in Hong Kong on Friday.

In new guidelines for the industry published late on Thursday, China’s government said it wants to build more public kindergartens.

I am not suggesting that we create a regulatory environment like China’s that can “take  many investors by surprise” I AM strongly recommending that our regulators protect consumers and taxpayers by creating a regulatory environment that requires all schools— profit and non-profit— to operate under the same guidelines. When shareholders are rewarded more than parents and children we can see what happens. China saw what was happening and stopped it. MAYBE our country will do the same.

 

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Reformers’ Worries About Standardized Tests Too Little and Too Late

November 17, 2018 Leave a comment

Two days ago Chalkbeat’s Matt Barnum posted an article describing the epiphany of many reformers regarding standardized tests titled “In a shift, more education reformers say they’re worried about schools’ focus on testing“.

The epiphany is summarized in the opening paragraphs:

“If there is one office in every state I would want to get rid of, it’s the accountability office,” said Andre Perry, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who previously led a charter school in New Orleans. “I would replace that office with some kind of statewide coordination around personalized learning.” No one on the panel with him disagreed.

I think too much time, attention, and resources have been devoted to accountability systems that don’t produce outcomes for students that historically struggled,” Lewis Ferebee, the head of Indianapolis Public Schools, said later.

“The way we’re doing [assessment] now — that is so time-, age-, grade-based — is really constraining for those innovators that are developing models that will support all kids,” said Susan Patrick of iNACOL, an organization that promotes technology-based personalized learning in schools.

To no educators surprise, once No Child Left Behind mandated the use of standardized tests to determine whether a school was succeeding or failing and then tied those test results to the compensation of teachers and made the continued operation of the schools contingent on performing well on the tests, MOST of the teachers time, attention and resources were devoted to passing those tests. And to no educators’ surprise the students who struggled the most to pass those tests were children who came from homes where education was not as important as, say, figuring out where the family would sleep or where their next meal would come from.

And once standardized tests became the basis for judging schools, it became evident to reformers and politicians who were claiming these tests would “prepare students to enter the workforce” that it was necessary to ensure that the tests in every state were based on the same set of skills… which opened the door to the Common Core.

By the time the Obama administration had every state engaged in a Race to the Top, standardized tests were entrenched in the DNA of every school system in the nation and their importance was magnified.

So, nearly two decades later, the “reformers” who wanted a cheap, simple, and fast way to measure “school effectiveness” and “student success” have come to the conclusion that standardized tests, while cheap, simple, and fast, do NOT measure the effectiveness of schools or do an adequate job of measuring individual student learning.

But the tests cannot be abandoned as quickly as they were imposed… because there is not a quick, cheap and easy metric to take their place when it comes to measuring schools or individual student performance… and if it is impossible to do so how can a school be given a low grade and recommended for takeover by a private for profit charter chain? And how can a parent make an informed choice about the school they want to attend.

Mr. Barnum’s article concludes with this offer from a group that has long opposed standardized testing:

“I’m happy to hear that these groups are in fact grappling with and realizing some of the same problems we are,” said Andre Green, the executive director of FairTest, a group that pushes for a smaller role for testing. “Come talk to us.”

I doubt that FiarTest’s phone is ringing off the hook… and that’s too bad because they might have some insights based on what makes sense to teachers and administrators.

Medium Blogger Wendy Buchholz Provides the Naked Truth About Standardized Tests

November 10, 2018 Leave a comment

Medium blogger Wendy Buchholz offers a humorous but accurate analysis of standardized testing in her satirical riff on Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale titled “The Emperor is Naked! Hegemony in Education“. After recounting the familiar story of the wealthy emperor who is duped into walking naked in a parade by being convinced that he is wearing a glamorous outfit that only the intelligentsia can observe, Ms. Buchholz draws a parallel to standardized tests:

There is a similar fairytale being told in the public education system. It is labeled “standardized testing,” and it is, in fact, naked educational hegemony. This can be defined as a leadership or dominance of the policy makers and testing corporations over their consumers, advocating a standard of knowledge or ideology that is based on that which maintains their power. In this case, standardized tests are advocated and promoted as adequate measures of intelligence, knowledge and capability, and are maintained as the status quo among public educational leadership. This educational hegemony is dominating a generation of children.

The roots of cultural hegemony are found in the writings of Antonio Gramsci, one of the most important Marxist thinkers in the 20th century. Gramsci defined cultural hegemony as an ideology that maintained a capitalist state, which thereby normalized the ideas of those in power and maintained the current power structure.Power is not achieved through force, but rather the advancement of an ideology that becomes the “common sense” of the masses. Educational hegemony in the public system is built on an ideology that is largely constructed for the purpose of maintaining a power structure, using the vehicle of standardized tests.This practice of testing and test preparation has now fully clothed the public education system, enveloping a large portion of the time that a student spends in school. According to the Washington Post article, Confirmed: Standardized Testing Has Taken Over our Schools. But Who is to Blame? (October 24, 2015), this initiative, brought about in 2002 by the No Child Left Behind Act, consumes 20–25 hours of child’s life, every year. This does not include test preparation time. The average student will take 112 standardized tests from Pre-K through 12th grade. The standardized testing industry is a 1.4 billion dollar industry (Buchholz’ emphasis). That is not including the test prep industry, computer industry, tutoring, coaching, and the assortment of services that are necessary for the implementation of the standardized tests. And the results of standardized tests have never been shown to improve student achievement or teacher performance. (again, Buchholz’ emphasis) In short, the Emperor is, in fact, naked!

Ms. Buchholz is spot on in this analysis of how NCLB led to the takeover of public education, and I think she is correct in her view that standardized testing has the effect of reinforcing the current economic system since affluent children tend to score higher than children raised in poverty. But I am not convinced that most affluent parents see “the vehicle of standardized testing” serving as a means of maintaining the economic status quo nor do they fully appreciate how the political use of testing to advance privatization in lower income communities and neighborhoods ultimately works to the advantage of their children. The effects of the standardized testing paradigm are invisible, and, as Peter Senge would observe, we are prisoners to paradigms we cannot see. I am glad that Ms. Buchholz is showing how this paradigm plays out in public schools.

 

Public Schools Linked to the Election of President Trump? Peter Schrag’s Op Ed MUST be Tongue in Cheek!

November 2, 2018 Comments off

Peter Schrag, identified as the former editorial page editor of the Sacramento Bee and the author of “Final Test: The Battle for Adequacy in America’s School,” wrote an op ed for the San Francisco Chronicle titled “Did American public schools help give rise to Trump?“. Given Mr. Schrag;s background, I have to trust that he intended this to be satirical, though I am sure that the DNC’s neoliberal wing that supports the privatization of public schools might agree with his analysis. In his essay, Mr. Schrag bemoans the fact that public schools have fallen short in teaching children how to think critically and how democracy works. He writes:

maybe the biggest educational shortcoming of the past 50 years has gotten almost no attention, and that’s the failure to adequately teach government, civics and history.Nearly four in 10 American adults, according to the latest polls, still support the presidency of a self-confessed sexual abuser, a chronic liar, an abettor of every form of bigotry, public corruption and violence. Millions still support politicians who work hard to deny the voting franchise to ethnic minorities and other opponents in their own communities. They watch with equanimity as the nation’s prestige and influence abroad, not long ago as great an element of our security as our military, are systematically undercut by the very people sworn to uphold them. They watch quietly as the courts, even the Supreme Court, are politicized…

What did they learn in school? What did the schools not teach? Are we surprised when people deny the science of climate change and global warming when, according to Gallup, some 38 percent of us still reject Darwinian evolution?

Mr. Schrag doesn’t lay the entire blame on public education. He rightfully notes that the decline of unifying institutions, including the press, has also eroded voters’ understanding of how democracy is supposed to function:

No, not all of that can be blamed on the schools. The great industrial unions — the autoworkers, the steel workers, the mine workers, the garment workers, the communications workers — now badly reduced in their membership, once were also great teachers of democracy and great introductions to our democratic institutions.

Our media, the newspapers, the TV networks, most of them, once fostered and catered to national and local communities. They sought to appeal to the common elements in their viewers and their readers, sometimes at the cost of mind-numbing blandness.Some still do, but with ever smaller resources. The internet and so-called social media (really the anti-social media) — few of them with editors or fact checkers — foster and play to separatist subgroups of true believers. As such, they undercut whatever communitarian civic sense the schools still instill.

And he also flags the local school board’s for their small mindedness by banning the reading of books “…that might challenge local prejudices” and thereby promote the kind of open-mindedness needed to function in a democracy. He concludes his assessment of public education with this on point critique: :

More broadly, the “reforms” of the past decades emphasized reading and math, testing and the so-called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects — fitting students for the economy, not for the arts, the humanities, and not for community and citizenship. We’re now paying the price.

I completely agree with Mr. Schrag that schools have lost their unifying mission, their commitment to providing all students with a fundamental understanding of how democracy operates. Worse, they are increasingly militarized, resembling armed fortresses more than ivied halls of learning, And… as I’m sure Mr. Schrag realizes, students didn’t learn about these things in public schools because they weren’t on the high stakes tests that were designed to identify “failing schools” that could be taken over by privatizers. Until we get the profit motive out of schools and get the focus on public education back to the arts, the humanities, community, and citizenship we ill pay an even higher price in the future.

Take Three Minutes to See How Deregulated Markets and Citizens United Combined to Steal Millions from Ohio Taxpayers

November 2, 2018 Comments off

This YouTube video made by the Democratic Party of Ohio explains how Bill Lager, the founder of ECOT— the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow– pilfered millions of dollars from Ohio taxpayers thanks to deregulated capitalism bought and paid for by political contributions. Any teacher who votes for Mike DeWine is clearly coming against their self-interest and the self interest of their local taxpayers who had to backfill the money that went to Mr. Lager.

No Surprise Here: Disaster Capitalism Arrives in Puerto Rico in the form of “Expanded Choice”

November 1, 2018 Comments off

In a development that is no surprise whatsoever to this blogger, Education Week blogger Andrew Uljfusa reports that according to a “Top DeVos Deputy, Puerto Rico Will Be a ‘Beacon’ of School Choice“. Here’s the introductory paragraphs to his article describing this development:

A leading U.S. Department of Education official believes big changes to Puerto Rico’s school system, including a new law permitting charter schools and vouchers, represent a courageous and important step forward after Hurricane Maria.

Frank Brogan, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, praised Puerto Rico Secretary of Eduation Julia Keleher and other government leaders for sucessfully paving the way for charter schools and vouchers, which were both previously illegal in the U.S. territory. In remarks at a Heritage Foundation event Wednesday about school choice in Puerto Rico, he said they would ultimately help improve the long-struggling school system there and provide dividends for the island’s future.

As noted in three earlier posts on the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the vulture capitalists have been waiting in the trees that weren’t blown down by the Hurricane and, as Mr. Uljfusa reports, they are now picking away at the bones of the devastated school system. Vouchers will be available in 2019-20, charters are proliferating, and 250 public schools closed. DeVos’ assistant secretary used his visit to make it clear where the obstructionists are:

“It will in its own way be a laboratory of observation for people all over the country who are going to look to Puerto Rico as a beacon of example of what change can bring,” Brogan said, “especially when you’re in a position to put down at least temporarily the forces who would keep it exactly the way it has always been.”

Those “forces” Brogan referenced consist of mainly of Puerto Rico’s teachers’ union, which fought the creation of “alianza” (essentially charter-like) schools in Puerto Rico. They and others argued the law that created the choice measures would permanently cripple traditional public schools, cause many teachers to leave the island, and lead to a wave of education privatization on the island.Ultimately, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court upheld the law as written.

As noted in recent posts about the impact of “choice” and privatization on New Orleans, Puerto Rico is likely to witness more inequality, more flight from public schools by engaged parents, and less funding for public education as a result. Oh… and also an inferior public school system as a result…

My prediction: stay tuned in the Florida panhandle where I am confident the vulture capitalists are circling as public schools struggle to reopen.

Campbell’s Law Confirmed as Public Colleges Chase High US News and World Report Ratings

November 1, 2018 Comments off

As noted repeatedly in this blog, what gets measured is a crucial element in what gets done, and, as  the use of flawed metric has had a devastating impact on the availability of affordable colleges. In “Undermining Pell, Volume IV“, New America researcher Steven Burd explains how a combination of reductions in State funding and the U.S,News and World Report’s ranking systems have diminished the opportunities for children raised in poverty to attend college, thereby undercutting the opportunities for them to achieve middle class earnings.

Mr. Burd opens the report describing how the state of Maine’s repeated budget cuts compelled it’s flagship college to seek out of state students by offering them scholarships. In doing so, the college attracted more out of state students, but it also witnessed a plunge in the number of “Pell grant” students, that is students who qualify for federal subsidies due to the low income of their parents. This, in turn, meant that fewer children raised in poverty were able to attend the State subsidized colleges, which often serve as the best opportunity for advancement.

Later in the report, he highlights how the US News and World Report’s ratings impact college admissions, with colleges offering more “merit” scholarships that effectively balloons the number of affluent students at the expense of low income students. The result: greater inequality of opportunity. As Mr. Burd writes in one of the concluding sections of the report:

To be sure, a significant number of public colleges and universities are staying true to their mission by keeping their prices low and/or providing generous amounts of need-based aid to the substantial number of low-income students they enroll. These schools are run by leaders like Nancy Cantor, the chancellor of Rutgers University at Newark, and Matthew Holland, the former president of Utah Valley University, who believe that public institutions should value inclusiveness over exclusivity.

But, unfortunately, for every Rutgers-Newark and Utah Valley, there are more public universities like Temple University that have lost track of their historic mission while worshipping at the altar of the U.S. News rankings and pursuing greater prestige. Many of these schools spend tens of millions of dollars lavishing scholarships on upper-middle income, mostly white students from the suburbs or other states, while students with the most financial need are charged a hefty price…

Mr. Burd offers several ways college aid could be transformed to reverse this trend before concluding with this call for policy makers and politicians to make colleges more affordable to low income Americans:

Regardless of which approach policymakers take, it is absolutely vital they act to put the brakes on the merit-aid arms race, which has done great harm to the college aspirations of low-income and working-class students.

For the good of the country, we must do all we can to ensure that colleges live up to their commitments to serve as engines of opportunity, rather than as perpetuators of inequality.

Will it happen? Unless States are willing to spend more for higher education and colleges are willing to ignore the bogus ratings system set up to “rank” them it won’t.