Thomas Edsall’s column in today’s NYTimes poses what I have to believe is a rhetorical question:
Integration Works. Can It Survive the Trump Era?
As I am certain Mr. Edsall realizes, the Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 was based on research demonstrating clear evidence that desegregation made a difference and the notion of “separate but equal” schools was unfair and unconstitutional. And, as I am certain Mr. Edsall would acknowledge, that decision didn’t result in any substantive changes coming out of the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, or Obama administrations— ten consecutive administrations!
Neither party wants to accept the “..clear evidence of the truth of these findings” because they both know from the experience of politicians who did so that there is a price to be paid. This unwillingness to accept the “…clear evidence of the truth of these findings” led both parties to embrace failed ideas like NCLB, Race to the Top, and now, vouchers. While there is “…clear evidence of the truth of these findings” regarding the positive effects of desegregation and– to a lesser degree— more spending, there is NO “…clear evidence of the truth of… findings” that closing schools based on low test scores, launching charter schools, privatizing public education, or using vouchers works. Yet these ideas have bi-partisan support because they don’t cost money AND they require no political courage…. oh, and in some cases the privatizers will make campaign contributions— something that those seeking the desegregation of neighborhoods cannot do.
Evidence that desegregation works WILL survive the “Trump Era”… and evidence that closing schools based on low test scores, launching charter schools, privatizing public education, or using vouchers is NOT the way to fix schools will continue to be gathered…. But unless a political is willing to appeal to the best instincts in voters segregation will continue and public education will continue to be a bi-partisan whipping boy.
When I entered public education as a career I did so with the conviction that public schools provided the best means to lift people out of poverty and into the middle class. In the late 1960s there was hope among those who shared this view that the provision of equal opportunity through quality schools would end racism, poverty, and injustice. This clearly did not come to pass in my lifetime and, based on Mr. Trump’s appointments and the actions of the newly installed Congress, it appears that we will be moving backward for the next two to four years. Here is a sick summary of the decisions made to date:
- Betsy DeVos, an inexperienced anti-public school fundamentalist Christian is now Secretary of Education. Her “solution” to inequity is to provide vouchers for parents. This “solution” has been tried in several cities and states and has consistently failed to provide equity. Instead it has subsidized the tuitions to sectarian schools, for profit-charter schools, and schools that exclude students with special needs or whose “behavior” is unacceptable. If her agenda is implemented it will be a huge step backward for public schools.
- Jeff Sessions, an Alabama politician with a track record of gutting legislation that attempted to provide equitable funding for impoverished African American children and working to deny voting rights to African Americans, is now the nation’s Attorney General. Any efforts to resolve funding inequities through legislation or the courts will cease.
- Ben Carson, who believes that housing subsidies are unnecessary, is now the Head of the Department of Urban Development. Under his leadership, efforts by HUD to place low income housing in affluent communities will cease.
- Amit Pai, who does not believe internet access is a utility, is now FCC chair. This makes it likely that the telecomm industry will be able to institute it’s tiered system of services which will make it impossible for low income parents to provide streaming for their children which, in turn, will limit schools serving children raised in poverty with the same kinds of technology-enhanced programs as children in affluent communities. As noted in a previous post, Mr. Pai has already suspended the implementation of a program instituted to subsidize the costs of high speed internet.
- Mr. Trump’s administration, with the full support of Congress, has abandoned the requirement that federal funds be used to supplement State funds and not supplant them. This means that the original intention of federal funding, which was to compensate for deficiencies in state formulas that relied on property taxes, is eliminated.
These are the broad actions taken to date… and there are rumored changes to the laws for disabled children, social security, and health care that will make life even more challenging for those raised in poverty.
Despite the recent election and the recent actions by the new administration and Congress I still believe public education is the best means of achieving economic and racial justice and for uniting our country. And despite the negativity and divisiveness we are witnessing now I believe that in the long run voters will support politicians who strive to bring out the best in our citizens. My evidence for this belief is the work I have done and observed with grassroots politics… namely school boards. I’ve seen school boards “taken over” in a stealth fashion by fundamentalist Christians, tax-cutting tea party members, and privatizers only to be brought “back to center” in a subsequent election cycle. In my State, New Hampshire, I’ve seen the Tea Party occupy the State House and legislature and then voted out. At all levels, voters disdain negativity and hate. Given the choice and the opportunity, voters prefer a harmonious and tolerant community and a state that provides a reasonable safety net for those who cannot help themselves.
In the coming months, I believe it is important to make certain voters realize that some actions are taking away their opportunities to vote, shredding the safety net that helps those less fortunate, and working to divide us. If the electorate sees this happening, I am confident they will take corrective action.
Two News Stories from Parallel Universes Illustrate the Challenge of Getting a Unified Front on Connectivity
Over the past few days I’ve read two articles on the e-divide that seem to have been written in parallel universes. eSchool News, which tends to be a reliable (if boosterish) site for developments in on-line learning published an article by Laura Ascione with a title that posed the question “Why are rural schools still struggling with high speed internet access?”
Had Ms. Ascione read Walter Eineckel’s Daily Kos article from last Friday, she’d have an answer in the form of its title: “New FCC Chairman Reverses Course and Prevents Nine Companies from Providing Low-Income People Internet”. Mr. Eineckel’s article describes the decision of the newly appointed Republican FCC chairman Ajit Pai to abandon the Lifeline program instituted last year by the Obama administration. While the Lifeline Program was not specifically set up for rural outposts, it WAS designed to provide a healthy subsidy for those who have economic challenges… and given that schools in rural areas typically have 50% of the students qualifying for free and reduced lunch it is clear that they would have benefitted at least indirectly from this program.
As readers of this blog know, I was among those who were frustrated with former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler’s dithering on the decision to make internet access a utility. His delay deferred action on the rules needed to implement this program and made it possible for it to be undone quickly. Had Mr. Wheeler and President Obama made a decision on the status of internet access earlier, as Mr. Obama did with the ACA, undoing the Lifeline Program would have been as difficult as undoing the ACA. This foot-dragging on the widespread provision of internet services has widened the digital divide and limited the possibility of technology serving as a tool for equity. That will be a sad part of Mr. Obama’s legacy and an even sorrier chapter as Mr. Pai jacks up the cost for consumers no matter what their income is.
Betsy DeVos Is In… Jeff Sessions is Waiting in the Wings… and Children Raised in Poverty Sit on the Sidelines
It’s official: Betsy DeVos is now the Secretary of Education by a vote of 51-50… and, as we’ve learned from the Presidential vote, the margin of victory doesn’t matter in the least: Ms. DeVos has the same level of authority as she would have if she had been a unanimous choice and she will likely be acting as if she has a complete and total mandate.
Her appointment is resulting in a shift in the spotlight to other nominees whose credentials are questionable… and the first name on the list of arguably unqualified candidates is Jeff Sessions, the nominee for Attorney General. Unlike Ms. DeVos he has experience that qualifies him on paper… but unlike Ms. DeVos his experience makes him a demonstrably poor candidate. As Ryan Gabrielson reported in today’s Truthdig post, when Mr. Sessions was State Attorney General in Alabama he worked to derail equitable school funding in that state. As Gabrielsson explains, in the early 1990s several judges ruled that Alabama’s funding formula was unconstitutional and then Gov. Guy Hunt, who initially fought the court rulings, “…accepted defeat, and vowed to work with the courts to negotiate a solution for equitably funding all of Alabama’s schools.”
“This is a unique and timely opportunity to make historic improvements in Alabama’s public schools for our children,” Hunt said at a news conference in 1993, “and we will not miss this opportunity.”
Unfortunately for the children attending the schools in the poorest parts of the State, schools that largely served minority students, Attorney General Jeff Sessions stood in the way.
Sessions, elected Alabama attorney general just a year after the courts had begun review of reform measures, didn’t think the state’s courts should have any role in deciding how Alabama educated its children. He hired expensive private lawyers to fight the findings of the court — first at the district level, later at the state Supreme Court level. He succeeded in removing a judge sympathetic to the plight of poor students from the case. He filed appeal after appeal, insisting he be heard even after the state’s highest court issued final decisions. He fought every effort by the court to require that schools in the state’s poorer communities be funded at the same levels as its wealthier ones.
Sessions’s efforts won out — both in the short term, and in the end. His legal jousting across his two years as attorney general effectively prevented any overhaul to the way schools were financed in Alabama, and as a result helped drag out a case that would ultimately collapse years later when the makeup of the state’s top court turned over.
The article describes in detail how Mr. Sessions’ succession of lawsuits protracted the implementation of the formula and eventually, once the composition of the Court itself changed, the whole case was thrown out. The result?
Today, Alabama’s public schools remain a story of inequality. The poorest districts only receive state funds to cover the minimum instruction, but nothing from local property taxes for music or art, or even enough to buy textbooks for each student. Analyses of test scores have shown Alabama ranks low nationally, especially in math, with both white and black students far behind their peers in other states.
Now, this same man– the one who fought to prevent poor minority children from getting an opportunity to attend decent schools after a State Supreme Court ruling– is going to be responsible for ensuring that the laws of the nation are fairly and equitably enforced… that Supreme Court decisions are respected and their decisions implemented whether he agrees with them or not. Alas, Mr. Sessions is likely to be confirmed… and with his confirmation poor minority children will be overlooked and court cases that are not to the liking of Mr. Sessions or Mr. Trump will either be ignored or fought. It will be a long uphill battle to unseat the Republicans in the House and an even longer and tougher battle to displace Mr. Trump in 2020… but this kind of appointment should make it easier for progressives to activate their base.
Dianne Ravitch’s posts yesterday included links to two articles that provide evidence that neither choice nor vouchers provide any improvement to public education nor any greater opportunity to students raised in poverty. While anyone who values evidence based decision making would see these findings as cautionary, it is unlikely that either this administration or the neoliberal “reform” movement will change their thinking on the value of markets as a means of improving education.
The article on the limitations appeared in US News and World Report. Written by Henry M. Levin, the William Heard Kilpatrick Professor of Economics and Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, the article notes that Chile and Sweden have both instituted choice and voucher programs and witnessed a decline in PISA scores, which are used as a measure of the effectiveness of the education system in a nation. Levin does acknowledge that choice and vouchers DO achieve one outcome:
Where school choice has shown powerful effects around the world is the systematic separation of students by ethnicity, social class and religion.
Sweden’s vouchers have increased segregation by social class and immigrant status. Chile’s voucher system has produced one of the most segregated system of schools in the world by family income. In the Netherlands, studies of the school choice system have pointed to school separation of students by ethnicity, immigrant status and family income. A Brookings Institution study found that U.S. charter schools are more segregated racially and socio-economically than public schools in surrounding areas. The Program for International Student Assessment, an important triennial study of international student performance, finds school segregation by social class is associated with school choice.
Although even public schools have segregation challenges typically caused by residential location, school choice tends to streamline the racial, social class and ethnic isolation of students, as well as separate them by political ideology and religion.
For a country called the UNITED States of America, this outcome is clearly negative.
Indiana based blogger Steve Hinnefeld reports on the findings of a report published last summer in the Peabody Journal of Education. The study’s co-authors, Julie Mead, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Jessica Ulm, a doctoral student at IU, examined 25 programs in 15 states and Washington, D.C., that provide public funding for private K-12 schools, including traditional tuition voucher programs and voucher-like programs called education savings accounts. Their findings indicate that the laws that provided vouchers often enabled public funds to be directed to schools that “…discriminate on the basis of religion, disability status, sexual orientation and possibly other factors”. But these findings are unlikely to sway voucher advocates:
Voucher supporters argue that religious schools need to be able to set their own admissions criteria and that rejecting LGBT students comes from a deeply held religious belief. But (Suzanne) Eckes (professor in the IU School of Education) points out that the same argument was once made to keep African-American students out of white schools in the South. The first voucher schools, the researchers say, were publicly funded “choice academies” established to get around the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decision.
“Discrimination is discrimination,” Eckes said. “If you’re going to take public money, you simply shouldn’t be able to discriminate.”
As with the findings on choice, for a country called the UNITED States of America, this outcome is clearly negative.
But as with any evidence that is contrary to the “reform” narrative that calls for the replacement of the “government school monopoly (sic)” with a free market and the replacement of “failing” public schools with privatized for-profit schools or tickets to religiously affiliated schools, this evidence will be promptly ignored and disputed. in the meantime, our schools will continue to be segregated by wealth and increasingly segregated by race… and the notion of being the UNITED States of America will be increasingly harder to achieve.
One of Diane Ravitch’s posts yesterday opened with this paragraph:
Senator Lamar Alexander likes to say that vouchers for religious and private schools are akin to a “GI Bill of Rights for Children,” a transfer of public funds to be spent anywhere.
She then ran an extended counter-argument from a veteran who used the GI Bill who pointed out why the analogy was false. The comment section also included rebuttals to the analogy, including one from frequent commenter Lloyd Lofthouse, a Viet Nam vet, who noted the discrepancy between the actual costs of college and the amount he received to pay for college. In reading his comment, I came to the conclusion that it might be possible to use Mr. Alexander’s analogy to illustrate how vouchers would really work.
Conservatives love to make the argument that vouchers will “help disadvantaged children”. But the amount of money given to parents in the form of vouchers is— like the GI bill— not enough to cover the actual costs of any K-12 school… unless that K-12 school is a for-profit charter that employs non-union teachers. Mr. Lofthouse, like most who took advantage of the GI Bill, had to “…(work) nights and weekends” to supplement the grant he received and also had to borrow money to cover the actual costs. In the meantime students from more affluent households could dedicate their time and energy to their studies.
If vouchers enabled a child in the Bronx to attend Bronxville schools or an elite private school they might be a means of improving educational opportunity… but thanks to public education advocates like Diane Ravitch the public is becoming aware of the real endgame of vouchers: they are designed to undercut funding for public schools everywhere and to support private, parochial, and ESPECIALLY privatized schools.
In writing this post I wanted to make certain I was informed about the GI Bill and that led me to Wikipedia where I found this choice synopsis of the launch of the Gi Bill and its history since then:
During the 1940s, “fly-by-night” for-profit colleges sprang up to collect veterans’ education grants, because the program provided limited oversight. Similarly, for-profit colleges and their lead generators have taken advantage of the post-911 GI Bill to target veterans for subpar products and services. The Veterans Administration, however, does have a GI Bill feedback form for recipients to address their complaints against colleges.President Barack Obama also signed Executive Order 13607 which was to ensure that predatory colleges did not aggressively recruit vulnerable military service members, veterans, and their families.
If the Republican majority in Congress ultimately appoints Betsy DeVos or another voucher advocate to head the Department of Education, I hope that in their capacity of overseeing student loans that they will use former President Obama’s Executive Order as a guide…. that is unless that Executive Order is rescinded by President Trump, which seems likely given Mr. Trump’s personal experience overseeing a college that was fined for predatory recruitment practices.
Diane Ravitch cross-posted a post written by blogger Bill Boyle titled “Betsy DeVos and the Problem of Institutional Racism”. In the post Mr. Boyle suggests that the implementation of the privatization that resulted from NCLB and RTTT was a form of “institutional racism”. This assertion was challenged by many of her readers, including me.
As I wrote in a comment I left, the problem isn’t that the individuals like DeVos, Rahm Emanual, Gates, and the Waltons are racist. The “reform” narrative they bought into is deeply flawed. The narrative crafted by well-intentioned legislators in Washington DC ultimately played into the hands of the privatization crowd and is now leading us to the doorstep of Milton Friedman’s dream of a deregulated privatized free-market education system driven by vouchers.
When Ted Kennedy— hardly a racist— helped pass NCLB he was convinced that the system put in place as a result of that law would help address the inequities of public education. President Obama— again, hardly a racist— instituted his misbegotten RTTT initiative he reinforced the “accountability” model implicit in NCLB. In championing “rigorous interventions needed to turn around the lowest-performing schools”, RTTT encouraged the privatization of “failing” schools, most of which served children raised in poverty. He sincerely believed this kind of “tough love” approach would improve the lives of children of all races. Indeed, until recently organizations like the NAACP supported the accountability systems put in place by NCLB and amplified by RTTT. Why did they abandon their support late last year? In large measure because they saw that the system they initially supported was yielding disproportionate outcomes.
We now know that neither NCLB nor RTTT made any difference whatsoever, and we see that the pro-voucher, pro-privatization crowd is using this “waste of money” as evidence that the only way to help parents in the cities “full of failing schools” is to give them the opportunity to choose the schools their children can attend. And if there are no acceptable public schools to choose from, those parents should be able to enroll in a private school of their choice… even if the school is a de-regulated for profit school or a sectarian school.
When now-President Trump was on the campaign trail seeking African American voters, he talked about the sad state of the cities and schools and gave them this rationale for their support: “What the hell do you have to lose?”
We’re finding out the answer to that question now.
And it’s the same answer DeVos should have learned from based on her experience in Michigan. When you use test scores as the basis for defining “failure” you invariably identify schools serving children raised in poverty as “failing”…. and closing schools is faster, cheaper, and easier than taking the steps needed to eliminate the effects of poverty.
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