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Stand for Children’s Pitch is Appealing… It’s Track Record is Appalling

July 10, 2019 Leave a comment

Yesterday I got an email from someone named Anna Chaney that landed in my junk file. The message line read: “Take action: Stand for quality public education”. I decided to pull it out of the junk bin and read it. The message resonated. Underneath a logo for an organization called “Stand for Children” and surrounding a picture of a mother helping her daughter with schoolwork It read:

Wayne,

When my family was homeless, school was a haven for my daughter, Tara. It offered her stability and a chance to just be a kid during a difficult and uncertain time.

Once we found a place to live, I had time to become more involved with her school. That’s when I learned it had an F-rating. I was devastated. I knew Tara needed an excellent education if she was going to excel in the future (she wants to be President one day), so I teamed up with other frustrated parents to take action.

Thanks to the determination of families, my daughter’s school now has new leadership and more educational resources in the classroom.

All children deserve to attend a public school that unlocks their potential and lets them thrive.

It had a link to click on where you could sign a petition if you believed “every child deserves access to a high-quality public education” and another link where you could “join the fight for quality public education today” and at the very bottom one of those bright boxes that invited you click on if you wanted to TAKE ACTION.

I clicked on none of the links… but “Stand for Children” sounded vaguely familiar and I seemed to recall that it was one of those many organizations with appealing names and appalling track records. A quick Wikipedia check confirmed my recall. After giving a generally positive overview of Stand for Children, Wikipedia had a section about the organization headed “Criticism” that included the following:

Critics of the group assert that it represents business interests.[16][17]—major funders include the Walton Family and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations. Education policy analyst Diane Ravitch criticized the group for opposing teacher’s unions and seeking to impose standardized testing on public schools.[18]Susan Barrett, former volunteer co-leader of a Stand for Children team in Portland, Oregon, left the organization due to concerns that corporate donors and wealthy board members influence reforms.[19] In 2009, Stand for Children volunteers in Massachusetts witnessed an organizational change in favor of promoting charter schools. The former volunteers organized to protest a ballot initiative filed by Stand for Children. Former Stand for Children volunteers said the ballot measure puts the careers of teachers at the mercy of a rating system while doing nothing to improve teaching in schools.[20]

Regarding Stand For Children’s success in Illinois, Edelman stated: “They essentially gave away every single provision related to teacher effectiveness that we had proposed — everything we had fought for in Colorado. We hired 11 lobbyists, including four of the absolute best insiders and seven of the best minority lobbyists, preventing the unions from hiring them.” He further stated, “There was a palpable sense of concern if not shock on the part of the teachers’ unions of Illinois that Speaker [of the House Mike] Madigan had changed allegiance and that we had clear political capability to potentially jam this proposal down their throats the same way that pension reform had been jammed down their throats six months earlier.”[21] The Chicago Tribune called Stand for Children “a new force in Illinois politics.”[22] In all, two Chicago newspapers published editorials in favor of Performance Counts.[23][24][25]

Some journalists[who?] questioned the $2.9 million raised by Stand for Children’s Illinois PAC due to the affiliate’s recent[when?] formation and fundraising in the months before a new Illinois law capped campaign contributions for individuals and corporations.[26] These funds, donated by a small number of businesspeople giving hundreds of thousands of dollars each, led detractors question the organization’s grassroots support in the state.[27]

So… here’s my general guidance to people who want to help improve their school… beware of national organizations with catchy titles and bold missions. They all tend to be funded by billionaires whose agenda is NOT the advancement of public education but the advancement of privatization. In a world where President Trump can claim to be a supporter of the environment, it is not surprising to find that an organization seeking privatization of public schools can call itself “Stand for Children”.

 

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Charter Schools Acknowledge Flaws, Flaws that Prove “No Excuses” Approach to Discipline Fails

July 6, 2019 Leave a comment

After reading Eliza Shapiro’s article this morning in the NYTimes I came away with the sense that MAYBE the tide is turning against charter schools in NYC and, if so, it could be a harbinger of a shift everywhere. The article’s title, “Why Some of the Country’s Best Urban Schools Face a Reckoning”, is misleading at best. It implies that the charter schools who are facing “a reckoning” are “some of the country’s best urban schools”, which perpetuates the NYTImes narrative that charter schools are better than traditional public schools. The article, though, pulls no punches because the data on charter schools indicted that while many of the charters flagged in the article have trumpeted their successes they have papered over their failures. The first two paragraphs set the stage:

When the charter school movement first burst on to the scene, its founders pledged to transform big urban school districts by offering low-income and minority families something they believed was missing: safe, orderly schools with rigorous academics.

But now, several decades later, as the movement has expanded, questions about whether its leaders were fulfilling their original promise to educate vulnerable children better than neighborhood public schools have mounted.

From there, Ms. Shapiro describes how zero tolerance discipline policies ended up emphasizing conduct at the expense of academics, demonstrates that many of the criticisms leveled against the charter schools were warranted, and indicates that both the Governor of NY and the legislature have resisted any further expansion of charters in NYC because of the deficiencies in the programs. Ms. Shapiro describes the new political reality in this paragraph:

Last month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat who has been a crucial supporter of charters, declared that the State Legislature would not lift a cap on the number of new charters issued citywide. By halting charter growth indefinitely, Albany lawmakers have begun to erode the schools’ foothold in the country’s biggest school system.

Will the charter’s loosening foothold in Albany and NYC have an impact on their expansion elsewhere? My belief is that it will except in those parts of the country where charters are unapologetically used to segregate children based on race, religion, and wealth…. and as long as Betsy DeVos has her hand on the tiller and neoliberalism reigns in the Democratic party the resegregation and monetization of public schools will continue and charters will be the vehicle for that trend.

Foxes Guarding Henhouses in Department of Education

June 17, 2019 Comments off

A few days ago I wrote a post about Pennsylvania’s laws that allowed profiteers to make billions by creating for-profit charter and cyber schools that siphoned taxpayer dollars away from revenue starved public schools. In fairness to the public school profiteers, they were not the only ones taking advantage of a system that rewarded them for converting tax dollars into profit: the post secondary for profit schools led the way…. that is until the Obama administration took some steps to close loopholes and enforce regulations that penalized these bad actors for their pillaging.

But with Betsey DeVos at the helm of the USDOE and Mr. Trump in the White House all-things-Obama are out the window and the profiteers are backing up their wheelbarrows to take advantage of guaranteed loans to attract students to their low cost-high profit enterprises. And who will be overseeing the newly de-regulated procedure for protecting the taxpayers money from being abused? That would be Diane Auer Jones… a former employee of the USDOE who resigned from the George W. Bush administration’s USDOE because she thought THEY were too strict with their accreditation procedures and joined an accrediting agency that was dis-credited by the Obama administration. The whole sordid story was described in a NYTimes article last week by Erica Green, who stuck to the facts which led to an inevitable conclusion: the foxes are now overseeing the henhouse. This paragraph from the middle of Ms. Green’s article summarizes the state of affairs:

Consumer protection advocates see the rules as part of a larger plan to allow Ms. Jones’s allies in the for-profit industry to proliferate and operate with few guardrails. Some of the proposals reflect wish lists that for-profit and career schools have lobbied for in Congress. They throw a safety net to accreditors and programs that have struggled to meet departmental standards.

When legislation cannot be passed to deregulate, the next best thing is to appoint administrators who will “be flexible” in enforcing the regulation and, if necessary, make wholesale changes that have the effect of legislation. Once again, taxpayers should get a firm grip on their wallets! The shareholders of for profit schools are after your money!

Pennsylvania’s Charter Law Overreach FINALLY Gets Charter Scams on National Radar

June 14, 2019 Comments off

The original idea of charter schools, the one conditionally proposed by Albert Shanker who has undoubtedly turned over several times in his grave when his name is invoked by privatizers, was to allow public school teachers to create alternative programs within the context of the existing governance structure of public education law. The schools would use public funds to operate their schools, but the funds would flow through public schools boards governed in conformance with existing legislation.

Those who viewed “government regulations” and “union red tape” as the primary problems in public education, and especially members of that subset who also saw an opportunity to make a great profit with a small investment, began beating the drum for charter schools and helped enact NCLB, the biggest door-opener for their business model since it called for the creation of choices for parents who attend “failing” public schools.

No state did more to open the door to profiteers than Pennsylvania and, as Jeff Bryant writes in Common Dreams, no state has more scammers in the “virtual school” market. Mr. Bryant carefully researches his articles and does an excellent job of describing exactly how the profiteers passed seemingly innocuous legislation that enabled Pennsylvania charter schools to now collect “…over $1.8 billion annually and account for over 25 percent of the state’s basic education funding.” Like all state funding formulas, Pennsylvania’s is opaque… but with the help of fellow blogger Mark Weber (aka Jersey Jazzman) he describes the way current laws siphon money away from public schools who must education every child to charters who can exclude, say, special education students that public schools must education.

And how are those charter schools doing, you ask? Here’s Mr. Bryant’s answer:

If charter schools guaranteed some kind of education premium—a significant boost in test scores or other measure of academic achievement—then perhaps that could justify the extra costs public schools incur to provide some parents a choice. But in Pennsylvania, that’s hardly the case.

According to a recent study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, charter school students in Pennsylvania, when compared with their counterparts in traditional public schools, make similar progress on reading exams but fare worse in math. The study also found significant variation in performance within the charter industry—with cyber charters performing especially poorly and urban brick-and-mortar charters perhaps providing some academic benefits to African American and Hispanic students.

There is a silver lining to this outrageous example of greed, though, and it is described in the final paragraph:

In states like Pennsylvania, the upward spiraling costs are now fueling “a growing resistance to charters as any kind of answer to education problems,” Dan Doubet, executive director of Keystone Progress says. “People are catching on that inserting a private middleman into public services doesn’t diminish the costs of government.”

And since Pennsylvania is hardly the only state that opened the door to scammers (Ohio, for example might be even worse!), it’s embarrassing headlines combined with current Education Secretary Betsy Devos’ shilling for charters is compelling several Democratic Party candidates to speak out against profiteering in public education in particular ad the public sector in general. Hopefully, thing have gotten so bad they can’t get any worse…

Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris Are Right About Bernie!

June 13, 2019 Comments off

Earlier this week, Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris, two leading anti-privatization activists, wrote an op ed piece for the NY Daily News titled “Bernie is Right On Charter Schools“…. and they offer lots of evidence to support Bernie Sanders’ position that charter schools need to be regulated and under the control of elected officials. They close their op ed with this:

Unfortunately, the charter industry is now overrun with scoundrels profiteering from people of color. Thank you, Bernie Sanders, for standing up and being willing to expose the scams that the charter establishment refuses to acknowledge or fix.

Thank goodness one of the 20+ candidates is speaking out forcefully against privatization and thank goodness two of the anti-privatization voices are amplifying his position.

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A Billionaire Who Gets It: Our Education System Cannot Compensate for the Injustices of Our Economic System

June 12, 2019 Comments off

Billionaire entrepreneur Nick Hanauer offers a mea culpa in an Atlantic article that appeared inCommon Dreams titled “Sorry, But Just Having Better Public Schools Will Not Fix America”. He opens the post with this confession:

Long ago, I was captivated by a seductively intuitive idea, one many of my wealthy friends still subscribe to: that both poverty and rising inequality are largely consequences of America’s failing education system. Fix that, I believed, and we could cure much of what ails America.

This belief system, which I have come to think of as “educationism,” is grounded in a familiar story about cause and effect: Once upon a time, America created a public-education system that was the envy of the modern world. No nation produced more or better-educated high-school and college graduates, and thus the great American middle class was built. But then, sometime around the 1970s, America lost its way. We allowed our schools to crumble, and our test scores and graduation rates to fall. School systems that once churned out well-paid factory workers failed to keep pace with the rising educational demands of the new knowledge economy.As America’s public-school systems foundered, so did the earning power of the American middle class. And as inequality increased, so did political polarization, cynicism, and anger, threatening to undermine American democracy itself.

But Mr. Hanauer came to understand that this narrative lays the blame for all of society’s ills on public education without acknowledging the impact of those same ills on the schools…. and he came to conclude that the “egg” of economic dysfunction led to “chicken” of “failing schools”.

What I’ve realized, decades late, is that educationism is tragically misguided. American workers are struggling in large part because they are underpaid—and they are underpaid because 40 years of trickle-down policies have rigged the economy in favor of wealthy people like me. Americans are more highly educated than ever before, but despite that, and despite nearly record-low unemployment, most American workers—at all levels of educational attainment—have seen little if any wage growth since 2000…

For all the genuine flaws of the American education system, the nation still has many high-achieving public-school districts. Nearly all of them are united by a thriving community of economically secure middle-class families with sufficient political power to demand great schools, the time and resources to participate in those schools, and the tax money to amply fund them. In short, great public schools are the product of a thriving middle class, not the other way around. Pay people enough to afford dignified middle-class lives, and high-quality public schools will follow. But allow economic inequality to grow, and educational inequality will inevitably grow with it.

By distracting us from these truths, educationism is part of the problem.

And educationism has distracted us mightily with its efficiency driven spreadsheet mentality whereby schools are “measured” and rank-ordered using seemingly precise standardized tests and other cheap and easy metrics and penalizing those schools that fall short for reasons that have nothing to do with their effectiveness and everything to do with the socio-economic factors of the children attending them. Mr. Hanauer goes on to burst other bubbles of his billionaire brethren, undercutting the narrative of the “skills gap”, the “under-educated workforce”, the need for more STEM, and the underlying belief that better schools will take care of the unarguable economic divide. And Mr. Hanauer does so with facts and data that counter the story lines embraced by the edu-philanthropists. His solution for improving public schools is one that is unsettling… and one rooted in de facto redistribution:

All of which suggests that income inequality has exploded not because of our country’s educational failings but despite its educational progress. Make no mistake: Education is an unalloyed good. We should advocate for more of it, so long as it’s of high quality. But the longer we pretend that education is the answer to economic inequality, the harder it will be to escape our new Gilded Age.

However justifiable their focus on curricula and innovation and institutional reform, people who see education as a cure-all have largely ignored the metric most predictive of a child’s educational success: household income.

Mr. Hanauer then lays out a series of facts his counterparts will, alas, be unlikely to accept and ideas they will also be unlikely to embrace:

Indeed, multiple studies have found that only about 20 percent of student outcomes can be attributed to schooling, whereas about 60 percent are explained by family circumstances—most significantly, income. Now consider that, nationwide, just over half of today’s public-school students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches, up from 38 percent in 2000. Surely if American students are lagging in the literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills our modern economy demands, household income deserves most of the blame—not teachers or their unions.

If we really want to give every American child an honest and equal opportunity to succeed, we must do much more than extend a ladder of opportunity—we must also narrow the distance between the ladder’s rungs. We must invest not only in our children, but in their families and their communities. We must provide high-quality public education, sure, but also high-quality housing, health care, child care, and all the other prerequisites of a secure middle-class life. And most important, if we want to build the sort of prosperous middle-class communities in which great public schools have always thrived, we must pay all our workers, not just software engineers and financiers, a dignified middle-class wage.

His idea that employers could find qualified workers if they paid them more seems obvious to any student of Economics 101 in college… but in our era of outsourcing, robotics, and downsizing the profiteers seem content to displace workers in favor of accumulating profits.

Mr. Hanauer concludes his article with this Big Idea which no billionaire is likely to accept and only a handful of politicians are willing to talk about:

Educationism appeals to the wealthy and powerful because it tells us what we want to hear: that we can help restore shared prosperity without sharing our wealth or power. As Anand Giridharadas explains in his book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, narratives like this one let the wealthy feel good about ourselves. By distracting from the true causes of economic inequality, they also defend America’s grossly unequal status quo.

We have confused a symptom—educational inequality—with the underlying disease: economic inequality. Schooling may boost the prospects of individual workers, but it doesn’t change the core problem, which is that the bottom 90 percent is divvying up a shrinking share of the national wealth. Fixing that problem will require wealthy people to not merely give more, but take less.

And fixing the problem will require people like me who are comfortable but not billionaires, to accept a reality described in a pin that reads: “End Economic Inequality: Tax Me”.

This Just In: USDA Study Shows That Students Like Nutritious Food!… And THIS Just In: The USDA Findings Were Buried

June 11, 2019 Comments off

The Washington Post’s Laura Reiley recently wrote a story describing the findings of a USDA study that effectively supported the reforms to the lunch program introduced by the Obama administration, reforms that increased the nutritional content of the meals without increasing the waste. The findings themselves are compelling:

The best news was that the Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2010), a multi-component measure of diet quality, shot up dramatically for both school-provided breakfasts and lunches.

For the 2009-2010 school year, the score for breakfast was an abysmal 49.6 out of 100 (even lower than the overall American average of 59), rising to 71.3 by the 2014-2015 school year. In that same time frame, the lunch score went from 57.9 to 81.5. The score for whole grains in school meals went from 25 to 95 percent of the maximum score, and the score for greens and beans rose from 21 to 72 percent.

In addition, there was greater participation in school meal programs at schools with the highest healthy food standards. And the study found food waste, a troubling national problem in the lunchroom, remained relatively unchanged.

Better nutrition: check… greater participation: check… food waste unchanged: check. Mission accomplished in terms of achieving nutrition and participation and no increase in food waste. This seems like a story that illustrates how government can work! This seems like a story that warrants wide coverage! But, alas, nutrition, like everything else, is driven by politics and politics is driven by money so this report was effectively buried and ignored. Here’s Ms. Reiley’s opening paragraphs:

The U.S. Agriculture Department has good news it seemingly wants nobody to know about.

On April 23, the USDA released its “School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study,” with no news release, no fanfare. The link on the USDA website disappeared for several days after that and was altogether inaccessible before reappearing under a different URL.

Later in the article Ms. Reiley offers an additional explanation about the (ahem) understated release:

It seems fairly outside of the norm for a federal agency to release a study that directly contradicts what the administration’s position is,” explained Elizabeth Balkan, food waste director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That’s why it was released very quietly.”

But the current administration is obsessed with deregulation, and loosening the relatively tighter requirements necessary to ensure a healthy meal fulfills their overarching goal:

“The Trump administration wants to tick off the maximum number of regulations it can say it rolled back,” Margo Wootan, vice president for nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said. “It’s another tick mark on the deregulatory agenda.”

And the deregulation of nutritious meals is only one of the deregulatory efforts that undercuts the well-being of citizens. The NYTimes reported recently on 83 EPA rules the administration modified, many of which will increase air and water pollution and almost all of which ignore climate science.

And if the voters and children suffer as a result of deregulation, who benefits? I think anyone who reads this blog knows the answer: shareholders and the plutocrats.