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Elections Have Consequences… Unless the GOP Loses

December 8, 2018 Leave a comment

This article by Ron French that appeared in “The Bridge – Michigan’s non-partisan news source”, describes how Michigan’s GOP Legislature, having lost the Statehouse, is now scrambling to pass legislation that dis-empowers the incoming Governor and undercuts the powers of the State Board of Education. The timing of this legislation to effectively change the governance of the state schools is bad enough, but the way the legislation is framed is even worse!

The effort to create a new education commission is tucked into Republican-backed education reform efforts. House Bill 5526 would create an A-to-F grading system for public schools. House Bills 6314 and 6315 would create Public Innovation Districts that wouldn’t have to comply with state regulations on classroom hours of instruction.

The reform bills are unrelated, but each mandates creation of a 13-member Education Accountability Policy Commission that would have broad power over schools.The commission would, for instance, determine the fate of schools that earn an A or an F. (Broadly speaking, Republicans have urged the closure or reduction of funds for low-performing schools while Democrats have pushed for more investment in struggling schools, which often are filled with low-income students who need more academic support.)

Under the… bills, the proposed commission would also determine just how far “public innovation districts” can stray from class-time regulations mandated for traditional public schools. The bill is meant to allow schools more freedom in how they approach education ‒ allowing, for example, students to get credit for internships that might otherwise keep them from meeting state requirements for the number of hours they must be in class….

Grabbing power away from the new Democratic administration “is the whole plan,” said Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, who serves on the House Education Reform Committee. “There are three weeks left in his (Snyder’s) term. And he’d be filling positions that would be filled through the end of Whitmer’s first term. It’s hard to argue you’re not doing it to take power away from the next individual.”

A commission with power over school accountability would look very different under the control of Republicans versus Democrats. A progressive commission would likely push for additional money to failing schools; a conservative commission might give bonuses to schools with high standardized test scores, and close schools with low marks, as Bill Schuette, the losing Republican candidate for governor, proposed during his campaign.

“The commission could shut down a whole host of schools across the state, and most citizens are going to blame the governor when in reality the next governor had no control over it,” Zemke said. “An unelected body that doesn’t report to the executive is … quite scary.”

Unsurprisingly both the current State Board and the incoming Governor are flagging these elements of the bill, protesting them, and threatening lawsuits. But should the legislation pass, the Democrats and the State Board will be hamstrung until their suits work their way through the courts and the GOP will achieve its REAL goal, which is to stymie any efforts to undo what they have wrought over the past several years.

There was a time when the will of the voters was respected… but that time ended when the GOP began to lose power. Senate leader Mitch McConnell set the course for his party when, after Barack Obama was elected, he stated that he would do everything in his power to make sure he was a one-term President,  a promise he kept as the GOP was unified in opposing every action President Obama undertook to improve the economy. Democracy depends on good sportsmanship whereby the losers graciously accept defeat and accede to the will of the voters. The GOP’s actions since 2008 are corroding democracy.

 

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Philanthropy and Democracy Don’t Mix Well… if at all

December 5, 2018 Leave a comment

Medium blogger Hannah Brooks Olson recently posted a story titled “What Can We Expect from Billionaires? The difference between philanthropy and hush money seems smaller than ever“, a story that illustrates the perils of an economy that relies on the good will of philanthropists to fund services that are typically paid for by government. The post if full of juicy quotes, a few of which are offered below:

On the $15/hour wage as compared to Jeff Bezos’ wage:

To a lot of people, $15 per hour sounds like a lot—and indeed, it presents a significant raise to the seasonal workers who reportedly lived in their cars to work seasonal jobs for the online behemoth. It’s the basic minimum wage that millions have been seeking for years, both in the boardroom and at the ballot. But in Seattle, the town that helped make Bezos the billionaire that he is, it’s not nearly enough.

At that rate, a person needs to work more than 100 hours per week to really afford the average one-bedroom apartment in Seattle and not be considered “rent-burdened” by the government. In Washington state, in general, to rent a two-bedroom apartment, you have to earn close to $30 per hour.

Bezos, by comparison, earns nearly $2,500 per second — and pays, by comparison, a fraction in taxes.

Washington State’s regressive tax structure:

…the Evergreen State has the country’s most regressive tax structure. The richest percentile of residents — those who earn more than half a million dollars annually — pay three percent of their income in annual state and local taxes. Meanwhile, those who earn under $24,000 per year — many of whom live below the poverty line — shell out 17.8 percent.

How philanthropy is different from taxes:

Philanthropy is widely believed to be a noble pursuit; we collectively praise those who have more than enough, in part because it’s optional. The ultra-wealthy don’t have to give away their money, but sometimes they do. But it’s worth asking how they got so much money to begin with and whether or not their communities would need it if they had been paying their fair share from the start. Because while philanthropy is great, taxes are essential — and unlike charitable donations, they go to everyone.

And then she gets into the nitty gritty of how taxes are democratic and philanthropy is not… and the consequences of that difference, using pre-school funding as an example:

Whereas philanthropy picks and chooses what gets a benefit, tax dollars are allocated by the will of the people and the people they elect. Philanthropic money goes to whatever organizations wealthy people think are important, with little transparency. And often, those dollars don’t trickle down or benefit the folks who need it the most—for example, a museum filled with sci-fi memorabilia. Arts organizations that cater mostly to other rich people. Sports teams. Pre-schools that are located in “low-income” (as deemed by the organization) neighborhoods and based on a “customer-focused” approach.

The last sentence was especially breathtaking: “customer focused” preschools! While the philanthropists spend millions ensuring that their taxes remain low, while they pit city-against-city in a race to the bottom for tax revenues, they work on developing future customers in their “innovative” preschools.
Ms. Olson’s closing paragraphs are piercing and she concludes with a warning for those who think philanthropy is a good trade off for higher wages, more tax revenues, and better government services:

When billionaires choose to increase wages for their workers, it’s a savvy business decision that benefits the workers and the community, but it’s often cloaked as an act of grace. When they give money to charities, it’s generous and kind, to be sure, but it’s often applauded as enough. More than enough.

It doesn’t feel like enough.

At least, not in Washington state, where billionaires have held much of the decision-making hostage and used the promise of their good-hearted acts as bait for sweeter deals. Not in Washington state, where the poorest folks still pay the most in taxes and are expected to thank the billionaires for whatever scraps they decide to toss down. Not in Washington state, where we’ve tried to warn everyone else, and they don’t seem interested in hearing it.

Consider yourself warned…..

Why Many Younger Educators Don’t Like “Reformers”

December 5, 2018 Leave a comment

I am VERY encouraged by this letter. Like Diane Ravitch I am concerned that the generation of children who only experienced a world of high stakes testing would see that as the only way schools should function. THIS group of aspiring teachers clearly see that there is a better way! Here’s hoping they are the voice of the future!

via Why Many Younger Educators Don’t Like “Reformers”

GOP’s Latest Gambit: Equity in Funding Schools = Socialism

December 4, 2018 Comments off

Diane Ravitch today featured an extended quote from a post by Arizona State School Board Association President and retired USAF officer Linda Lyon who described a question raised at a recent public forum she attended:

I was recently in a public forum on education when a school board member asked me whether my call to address inequities in our schools was a call for the “redistribution of wealth”.

The phrase “redistribution of wealth” is seen by conservatives is a dog whistle for “socialism”, whereby the government confiscates money in the form of taxes from hard-working God-fearing individuals and gives it to undeserving lazy individuals who choose to stay home, watch TV, and eat snack foods purchased with food stamps.

Ms. Lyon goes on to describe how redistribution REALLY works in her home state:

I offer that the redistribution of wealth can also flow the other way as with the privatization of our public schools. Those who already “have” are redistributing the “wealth” of those who “have not”.They do this by encouraging the siphoning of taxpayer monies from our district public schools, for charters, home and private schools. Once slated for the education of all, our hard-earned tax dollars are now increasingly available to offset costs for those already more advantaged.

In Arizona, approximately 60% of our one million public K-12 students qualify for the free and reduced price lunch program, with over 1,000 schools having over 50% of their students qualifying. As you might guess, schools with the highest number of students qualifying for “free and reduced” are located in higher poverty areas and with few exceptions, have lower school letter grades. Zip code it turns out, is an excellent predictor (irrespective of other factors) of school letter grade. According to a study by the Arizona Partnership for Healthy Communities, “Your ZIP code is more important to your health than your genetic code” and a life-expectancy map for Phoenix released three years ago, “found life expectancy gaps as high as 14 years among ZIP codes.”

But, as Ms. Lyon notes earlier in her post, this is in keeping with the ethos of the GOP who until this year dominated state politics:

Social scientist researcher Brené Brown believes it is because of the “scarcity” worldview held by Republicans/conservatives. “The opposite of scarcity is not abundance” she writes, “It’s enough.”Basically, “they believe that the more people they exclude from “having”, the more is available to them.” And, in this binary way of thinking, the world is very black and white (pun sort of intended), e.g., if you aren’t a success, you’re a failure, and should be excluded.

And the plutocratic profiteers are very happy to reinforce the scarcity worldview and use it to help them inflate their bottom line by privatizing public education and other government services…. and Arizona— depending on your perspective— is either on the cutting edge of this privatization movement or a canary in a coal mine:

This shift of taxpayer dollars from public to private hands is clearly a redistribution of wealth. Worst of all, in Arizona, it is a redistribution of wealth with little to no accountability nor transparency. Private, parochial and home schools are not required to provide the public information on their return on investment. And make no mistake, this investment is significant and continues to grow. In 2017 alone, taxpayer dollars diverted from district schools to private school options, amounted to close to $300 million. About $160 million of this, from corporate and personal tax credits with the other $130 million from vouchers. All told, according to the Payson Roundup, “vouchers have diverted more than $1 billion in taxpayer money to private schools. These dollars could have instead, gone into the general fund to ensure the vast majority of Arizona students were better served.

But HAD those dollars gone into the general fund, they would have been “redistributed” based on a funding formula intended to provide an equal opportunity for all children to succeed in school.

Which brings me to an important and often overlooked point: withholding funds from equalization formulas does nothing to harm the presumably indolent parents who want to freeload off those who work hard: it penalizes their children. And when the day comes that their children realize that a minority of relatively affluent taxpayers held them back by withholding money for their schools, a change might happen. I hope the change happens in the context of the ballot box and not through collective action like we are witnessing in France.

 

Indianapolis Star Unapologetically Promotes Business Model for Public Education

December 3, 2018 Comments off

I just finished reading Arika Herron’s Indianapolis Star article describing how public schools are engaged in marketing now that Indiana has embraced school choice. Given the fact that Indiana HAS embraced choice, Ms. Herron’s article does not question the efficacy of advertising and marketing by public schools… but neither does her article offer any voice rebutting the idea. Instead, the article is full of anecdotes and quotes like this:

As the state starts treating schools more like businesses, some advocates of school choice and a more “free market” approach to education say it shouldn’t be a surprise that schools are engaging in more business-like practices.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, said Betsy Wiley, president and CEO of the Institute for Quality Education. IQE is an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that advocates for school choice and has supported education reform efforts.

When they’re done right, marketing initiatives push schools to think more about the programs they offer and the needs of the families that they serve. It can also help parents and families make more informed decisions when choosing a school for their children.

“It is big business,”Wiley said. “Our school system and all that it entails is a service industry, providing education. And it’s more than 50 percent of the state budget.

“I think seeing our schools operate a little more businesslike in a wide variety of areas – promoting the strength of their school through marketing being one – is a good thing and a natural thing.”

At least two other officials are quoted in the same vein… and NO ONE is quoted as questioning the entire premise that schools are a business… and that is a problem from my perspective because eventually the whole notion that public schools are a public good will disappear. And when that day comes, the notion of democracy will disappear as well.

Don’t Call Them “Reformers”; Call Them Plutocratic Profiteers

December 3, 2018 Comments off

Diane Ravitch featured two posts yesterday (here and here) that discussed the desire of  “Reformers” to be called something different. Diane Ravitch has a good idea why this is the case:

It seems the term “Reformer” has become toxic. But the money backing “reform” is so huge that it just keeps stumbling forward, certain about what other people should do, loaded with money and power, but without any examples of success.

She’s right about the toxicity of the term “reformer”… in addition to being inaccurate it is toxic in the minds of those who work in school. I would suggest the term “reformer” be replaced with the term “plutocratic profiteer”.

Reform “think tanks”, especially those underwritten by hedge funders, tend to promote ideas based on the premise that the marketplace is pure and anything that interferes with the marketplace is a problem. The market rewards those who can deliver a product cheaply and efficiently… and government regulations stand in the way of that ethos and democracy slows everything down. The algorithm of hedge funders is to strip away any regulations, disempower employees, find a way to tear up “costly” agreements that are in place, and view any adverse community impact as inconsequential collateral damage.

One of the initial problem business-minded reformers faced was measuring the output of education. That problem was solved when NCLB passed and standardized test scores became the metric of choice for politicians, taxpayers, voters, and the media. By setting cut scores based on norm-referenced tests it was no surprise that 50% of the schools were labelled as “failing”, thereby opening the door for the “takeovers”… the language of hedge funders!

Look at the way vulture capitalists work and look at “school reform” models espoused by the GOP and neo-liberals… and tell me if you see a difference. The public’s imagination has been captured by the idea that the business takeover of schools and government will result in the elimination of “waste, fraud and abuse” and an increase in productivity, which in the case of public education means higher test scores…. And if the latter doesn’t happen, it’s OK because taxes are not going through the roof. Welcome to the plutocracy where the system never changes and the results remain the same: the .01% get richer and the rest of us pay rent.

Are We Becoming Bosnia? The Need for Economic AND Racial Desegregation is Urgent

December 2, 2018 Comments off

As I read this NYTimes article by Barbara Surk about Bosnian schools I was struck by the similarities between the schools described here and the so-called “co-location” of charter schools and public schools in New York City. To make my point I offer these two paragraphs:

The first is a paragraph is taken from the NYTimes article describing the a prototypical divide schools in Croatia:

The school in Travnik, a town 56 miles west of the capital, Sarajevo, embodies the divided country.

The right side for Croat students has been newly refurbished and painted blue by the Catholic Church. The left side for all other students has been left with chipped bricks and peeling yellow paint. Classes are staggered, with a half-hour gap between the two sides, to prevent students from socializing during breaks.

Then there’s the sprawling, indoor gym that only the Croat students use, while all those in the state school attend gym classes in the nearby park, including during hot summers and cold winters.

Now compare that to these paragraphs from a 2014 Room 241 blog post:

As charter schools enter shared space, the lack of bureaucracy and red tape that public schools face is readily apparent. For example, charter school administrators can order (and afford) upgrades like air conditioning, new paint for their spaces and remodeled bathrooms. While this advantage might seem minor, it creates visible differences between the public and charter schools housed in the same building.

Public school students in the building see these visible differences and wonder why their school goes without. The significant amount of private investment in charters allows them a variety of economic advantages as well, leading to catered lunches, upgraded technology, and a variety of other signifiers of their differences from public schools.This creates a clear impression of either being a charter school “have” or a traditional public school “have-not”.

A recent photo essay at MSNBC, “A Day in the Life of a Divided School,” illustrates these differences. The photos contrast PS 149’s crowded classrooms and unused violins in a storage closet — the consequence of a music program closed due to lack of funding — with Success Charter students shown in crisp uniforms with matching backpacks and the space and opportunity to play chess.

According to the NYTimes article, the Croat government is intentionally underfunding the schools for Serbs because they want to:

…(carve) out a Croat-only autonomous region in Bosnia, akin to what the Serbs have achieved in the war through brutal campaigns of expulsions and mass killings of non-Serb population. The Croats did not achieve that in the war, but nationalists have been pursuing it ever since peace took hold.

With some editing, I offer this rationale for the NYC’s decision to provide deregulated Charter schools with classrooms in public schools:

…The mayors want to carve out space in their schools for the children of upper-middle class families to offer them the kind of education those families might experience if they moved to the affluent nearby suburbs. The city government could not achieve that by fully funding all public schools to provide the same kinds of courses and services offered in those suburbs, but by providing “choice” for engaged parents they are able to avoid flight to the suburbs.

The collateral damage in this is that the tests used to screen the students eligible to participate in the “choice” programs that qualify children to attend these deregulated charter schools tend to result in social, racial, and economic segregation. This, in turn, hardens the division between the “haves” and “have nots” in the city. And the shame of this is that NYC parents, politicians, and “reformers” view this direction in their public school system as immutable, irreversible, and— int the minds of some— desirable because “throwing money at the problem” has never worked.

The Croats’ decision to underfund Serbian schools is clearly malevolent. Is the decision to underfund urban public schools equally so?