Posts Tagged ‘social mobility’

University of Illinois Professor Links Sessions’ Rollback on Civil Rights with DeVos’s Choice Advocacy

January 22, 2018 Leave a comment

In a blistering op ed piece in yesterday’s Champaign-Urbana News Gazette, Sundiata Cha-Jua, professor of African-American studies and history at the University of Illinois, links Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ rollback on civil rights legislation with Betsy DeVos’ advocacy for school choice. The result is a narrative about the racism inherent in the Trump administration that is chilling and hard to refute. Ms. Cha-Jua opens her essay with these paragraphs:

Though often ridiculed by his master, Emperor Trump, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions has meticulously moved to roll U.S. law, policy and social relations back toward the 19th century.

Given his success in nullifying Department of Justice consent decrees with municipal police departments and his commitment to reversing voting rights and immigration policies, and reviving racialized mass incarceration, it’s understandable that the attorney general has become the focus of anti-fascist social movements. However, Elizabeth “Betsy” Devos, the emperor’s education secretary, is pursuing a similar backward agenda. She has similarly nullified sensible and humane policies on campus sexual assault, civil rights protections for transgendered students, refused to enforce regulations on for-profit-colleges and has vigorously advocated for vouchers and charter schools.

Ms. Cha-Jua then describes how Ms. DeVos’ religious convictions inform her desire to offer publicly funded vouchers for children to attend religiously affiliated schools, and how the voucher schemes she supports were used to keep schools in the South segregated after Brown v. Board of Education mandated the end of that practice. Ms. Cha-Jua offers evidence that the deregulation of charters in Ms. DeVos’ home state of Michigan, deregulation that was the direct result of Ms. DeVos’ financial support for State legislators who shared her views, resulted in diminished funding for public education, lower test scores for those enrolled in deregulated charters, and increased segregation. She concludes her argument in opposition to Ms. DeVos’ deregulation movement noting that the “no excuses” charters that Ms. DeVos and reformers advocate push children of color out, avoiding the consequences of high drop-out rates while reinforcing the school-to-prison pipeline that results in the higher rates of incarceration of African American children.

Ms. Cha-Jua concludes her essay with these two paragraphs:

Given these results, it’s not surprising the NAACP and the Black Lives Matter network called for a moratorium on charter schools.

Though her sphere is more limited, given the importance of public education, Devos’ promotion of charter schools is as dangerous as Sessions’ assault on civil rights.

Here I disagree with Ms. Cha-Jua: I believe Betsy DeVos’ promotion of charter schools is more dangerous because it is reinforcing the “sort-and-select” template of public education that reinforces the racism and racial and economic segregation that exists in our culture today. Public schools can be an incubator for inclusive and open-mindedness that is essential for democracy, but only they provide an equal opportunity for all children and encourage divergent thinking. Charter schools, especially those based on religious convictions and those that do not accept all children, do the opposite. We have educated a generation that believes standardized test scores are a valid basis for identifying the best and brightest despite the evidence that standardized test scores are highly correlated with wealth and the education of one’s parents. Until we acknowledge that reality we will continue to eliminate opportunities for those born into poverty, many of whom could achieve the same degree of success as their more affluent cohorts IF they had the same opportunity.



Deregulated Charters in Ohio: As Sad as Those in Pennsylvania

January 13, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday I posted a story from a CBS affiliate in Pennsylvania reporting that a recent study in that state indicated that after 20 years charter schools were doing worse than public schools on standardized tests, the very metric “reformers” use to determine that public schools are “failing”. Today I look at a recent study in it’s neighboring state, Ohio, which has a charter law with loose regulations and weak oversight. According to the report cards issued by the state of Ohio, urban charters are doing a poor job placing their graduates in college. Blogger Stephen Dyer reports on this finding in a post he made in October that was cross-posted recently by Diane Ravitch:

One of the more interesting — and telling — datasets now available with the state report card is how kids who graduate from Ohio’s schools perform after they graduate. For example, we now know the percentage of graduates who have a college degree within 6 years, as well as how many graduates have enrolled in college within 2 years of graduation.

Looking at these two metrics, it’s remarkable how bad charter school perform. Overall, Ohio school districts have 5 times the rate of students with college degrees that charters have. And Big 8 urban districts (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati. Columbus, Cleveland, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown) have twice the rate.

One of the selling points of the reformers is that public schools do a poor job of preparing students for higher education… and they love to cite statistics indicating how many graduates from charters graduate as compared to the public school graduates, many of whom are allegedly unprepared for the rigors of college.

The worst of the worst in Ohio is the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, a virtual school that raked in millions of dollars that would have otherwise been dedicated to public schools:

Only 109 of 3,794 ECOT graduates from 2010 have a college degree today. That’s an amazing 2.9 percent. Cleveland — which had about 100 fewer 2010 graduates as ECOT (not to mention far greater rates of poverty, special education, and minority students) — had about 3.5 times as many graduates with college degrees as ECOT.

Mr. Dyer concludes his post with these paragraphs, which tell a sad story for taxpayers in Ohio who thought they were getting a bargain when they opened the doors to deregulated charter schools:

Ultimately, education is about preparing children for lifelong success, not just test scores. Earning a college degree substantially increases lifetime earnings and decreases the likelihood of citizens needing to access the social safety net, as well as running into trouble.

According to this data from the state report card, Ohio charter schools, overall, hurt their students’ ability to achieve the million dollar promise of a college education and instead contribute to their students’ ability to access the social safety net over their lifetimes.

After $11 billion spent on charters since 1998, is this really the best we can do?

I think the $11,000,000,000 would have provided a better safety net for children in Ohio, could have increased the salaries of staff members in schools and social workers, could have provided more medical services for children raised in poverty, and could have made the arguably superior public schools even better. But the beneficiaries of the spending described above seldom make political donations of the scale of those who operate for profit charter schools…. and never make the salaries of the CEOs of those enterprises. Here’s hoping someone running for Governor in Ohio seizes on this information and makes a case to voters that their public schools are doing fine and could do even better if they had the $11,000,000,000 that went to deregulated charter schools going into their operating budgets.

Deregulated Charters in Pennsylvania: 20 Years Public School’s Outperform Them!

January 12, 2018 Leave a comment

More than any State in the nation, Pennsylvania went all in for charters as a means of improving opportunities for children enrolled in urban school districts and high poverty school districts. At the same time as they opened the door to deregulated for profit schools, Pennsylvania did nothing to rectify the funding disparities baked into their formulas. Now after 20 years, Pennsylvania charter advocates are shocked to discover that their schools are doing worse than the “government schools”! Here’s the report from CBS news in its entirety:

A new report says Pennsylvania charter schools are not outperforming traditional public schools, and the state’s 20-year-old charter law needs to be beefed up.

The report by the nonprofit Public Citizens for Children and Youth says 21 percent of Pennsylvania’s charters made the grade on the state School Performance Profile, while 54 percent of traditional district schools did.

“Most of our charters are performing in Philadelphia — they are struggling as much as Philly schools, or doing worse,” said Donna Cooper, the nonprofit’s executive director.

At a Center City roundtable to issue the report, talk centered on HB97, a charter reform bill in Harrisburg. Grays Ferry state Rep. Jordan Harris voted for the bill.

“I think it’s unfair to take all of the traditional public schools in the state and all of the charter school in the state and compare them to each other,” said Harris.

The report criticizes HB97 because it doesn’t define a high-quality charter, nor does it allow for a chronically failing charter to be shut down quickly.

Larry Feinberg, a member of the board governing the Pennsylvania School Boards Assocition, says there’s consensus that after 20 years under what the state auditor general has called the “worst charter law” in the nation, change is needed.

“I think there’s agreement in all quarters that it needs to be updated,” said Feinberg. “The devil’s in the details.”

I hope that a future report from CBS will probe the highlighted statements above from Mss. Cooper and Harris. Specifically, I’d like to know why Ms. Cooper sees Philadelphia schools as different from other schools in the state and what she believes the schools need to succeed. As for Ms. Harris, I’d like to know why  it is fair to compare all public schools to each other but not fair to compare all charters to all public schools.

I think both of them know that as legislators the only solution to “failing schools” is to provide them with the resources they need to meet the needs of all the children they serve: the same level of resources that the most affluent districts deem necessary to educate their children.

NH Should Look to Wisconsin’s Experience Before Sealing the Deal on SB 193

January 11, 2018 Leave a comment

In New Hampshire, the state where I reside, the legislature is tantalizingly close to passing SB 193, a watered down voucher bill that would funnel roughly $3,000 per year to each child who opts out of public education and enrolls in a private school or is home schooled. In SB 193’s earlier versions, this de facto voucher would have provided public funds for students already enrolled in private and parochial schools, but because the original version of the bill was poorly crafted and the price tag could not be clearly determined the bill was amended to apply to those who opt out of public schools in the future. But as a post yesterday from Diane Ravitch indicates, the end game in all these voucher programs is to provide vouchers for ALL parents who are not in public schools. in her post titled, “Wisconsin: Expansion of Charters Divides Communities” provides a legislative history of voucher bills in Wisconsin. It underscores the reality that once a legislature passes a “watered down” choice bill, passing a more comprehensive bill in the future is easier… and… worse yet… once such a bill is passed it guarantees the GOP an expanded base of voters. Here’s how:

If a family with three children in parochial school is on the fence politically, it gets off the fence pretty quickly once they learn that one party (the GOP), is willing to pass laws that give them a check to help pay for their child’s education in the name of “choice”… and once they’ve received that check, the other party who wants to repeal that law is perceived as wanting to “take something away”. The GOP is gambling that their de facto giveaway to private school parents will assure them of a voting bloc for generations to come. The fact that the bloc comes at the expense of the unity of communities doesn’t seem to matter. The GOP has shown us at the national level that they favor the billionaires over everyone else. They are showing us at the state level how they will sustain support of middle class voters who prefer religious schools over public education at the expense of those who cannot afford to use the “vouchers” to “escape” the underfunded public schools that will remain in place. At both levels, compassion is taking a back seat to the maintenance of political power.

Education Week Misses the Boat on Op Ed Article Advocating Free Market Solutions to Inequality

January 8, 2018 Leave a comment

I was somewhat perplexed to see that Education Week published an op ed piece by Gary Wolfram, the William Simon Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Hillsdale College in Michigan. Perplexed because the column was a recounting of the same tired arguments Michigan policy makers— and “reformers” have been advancing for at least there decades, arguments that are readily undercut and completely contradicted by all evidence. The title of Mr. Wolfram’s essay – “Make Public Education a Market Economy—Not a Socialist One”– should have been enough to lead to it’s rejection. His unoriginal thinking should have surely led to it’s publication by, say, Fox News instead of Education Week. Mr. Wolfram’s thinking goes like this:

  • There is an abundance of data showing the underperformance of our nation’s public schools. (i.e. international test scores widely discredited by educators dan even politicians)
  • …ineffective education tends to center in large, urban areas (which is where large groups of children raised in poverty are enrolled) 
  • Our nation produces technology so advanced that I could use the phone in my pocket… to take a video of you and email it to someone in London, but at the same time we can’t seem to teach a 4th grader to read in Detroit. (this overlooks all of the inherent glitches in our technology due to it’s desire to innovate-for-the-sake-of-innovation and makes a bogus comparison between an engineering problem and a human problem)
  • ….the reason for this huge disparity is not that we don’t spend enough money on our urban schools… It is that we produce cellphones through the market process, and we produce public education through a system that is basically one of central planning. (…this overlooks that many charter schools far outspend Detroit’s reported per pupil amount and that many neighboring and contingent school districts outspend Detroit as well.) 

The main reason Education Week should have rejected this story is because Michigan is a perfect example of everything that could go wrong with charter schools. A quick series of Google searches reveled that “government” schools in Michigan outperform for-profit de-regulated schools; Michigan has the second most segregated schools in the nation; and Michigan’s funding formulas, inequitable to begin with, are becoming more so. How does this track record in a State that has championed deregulated for-profit charter schools support the notions espoused by Betsy DeVos and other “reformers” that the free market will “…improve the education of the poorest among us by expanding the ability of parents to trust their own judgment and choose the schools that serves their child best”? Short answer: it doesn’t— it demonstrates the opposite.

Local News Reports Good News, Bad News on NH’s Division of Children, Youth and Families

January 6, 2018 Leave a comment

Our local newspaper, the Valley News, featured a front page story by AP reporter Holly Ramer titled “Review: DCYF Cases Appropriately Closed”. The report was prompted during former Governor Maggie Hassan’s term as Governor because she and many in the general public had a sense that the Division of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) was closing cases without performing due diligence on each case and this was leading to the needless death and injury of infants and children. The good news, as reported by consultants Eckerd Connects, was that after sampling 100 case files they found “…only two cases in which caseworkers failed to appropriately intervene or monitor an intervention but in both cases, the children in question currently are safe.” The bad news, for the State, however is this: 

Eckerd pointed out several areas in need of improvement, including documenting that background checks are done on all parents and caretakers; interviewing parents and caregivers who don’t live in the home; and interviewing neighbors and other relatives. But instead of trying to review the remaining cases, the group urged the state to focus on the “urgent need” to address its current workload.

“In particular, available additional resources would be more appropriately targeted to the morethan 2,200 overdue assessments that were open to the agency as of Nov. 16, 2017,” Eckerd wrote. The division is focused on that backlog, said Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers, who noted that the Executive Council recently approved a contract with Child and Family Services to work with the department in closing overdue assessments.

Unfortunately for the children who live in troubled families this is nothing new. For years DCYF has been underfunded, their staff has been underpaid, and because of turnover caseloads are unwieldy and, sadly, result in some instances where a child dies when they “fall through the cracks”. Voters and taxpayers, wanting to avoid facing the obvious solution, which is to raise the compensation level for DCYF employees and increase the DCYF staff, instead look to scapegoat the employees who work diligently and thanklessly to help children and families in need.

But, as readers of this blog realize, this kind of scapegoating is not limited to DCYF. It carries over into virtually every agency that serves disadvantaged populations where the pay is low, the hours are long, and the rewards must be internal because the labors of social workers, medical professionals, …and teachers, who serve in these fields are seldom appreciated by the public at large and often excoriated when they fail. And increasingly, when a publicly funded organization like DCYF fails, the solution is to “introduce competition” or to turn over the function to the private sector. But here’s the problem with the market solution: parents who need the services of DCYF seldom “shop” for them. A family needing services are referred to DCYF by schools, by health professionals, by law enforcement officials, and by courts. Given the desire to suppress costs by all government entities, it is hard to imagine that having an array of agencies to choose from would yield lower costs for taxpayers and better service of children that the current system in place. The root causes of the problems that manifest themselves in family dysfunction are often systemic: and our system that de-values shelves of the disadvantaged, scapegoats the services providers for children in poverty, and suppresses taxes has created a vicious cycle that can only be broken by voters if they are willing to dig a little deeper in their pockets to help their neighbors in need.

Baltimore City Parents Ask Why Their Schools Are Cold… The Answer is $$$$

January 5, 2018 Leave a comment

The Arctic weather the eastern seaboard is experiencing is driving home the inequities in school funding… and also underscoring the importance of making the funding of maintenance a priority year in and year out. An article in yesterday’s NYTimes described the protests and laments from Baltimore City parents regarding the deplorable conditions the students are encountering in schools with poor heating system and inefficient insulation, most notably from leaky windows. The Superintendent of Baltimore City, in an effort to ameliorate concerns and reach out to the teachers and parents who were protesting went onto Facebook. The results were not good:

As Dr. Santelises spoke on Facebook Live, parents and educators weighed in through the comments section, asking where the funding has gone for facilities that primarily affect children of color, and why their children should shiver in cold classrooms while adults figure it all out.

Ayanna Barmore, 31, one of the parents, said in a telephone interview on Thursday that her sons, who are in fourth grade and kindergarten, have been wearing full winter gear indoors and were marched back and forth between cold classrooms and a common area that had heat to warm up periodically.

“They said half of the school was without heat,” she said. “I don’t understand why they do not have a plan to fix it.”

Here’s my hunch: year after year the Superintendent asks for maintenance funding and for capital improvement funds from the state. When the rubber hits the road, the voters don’t want to provide enough funds to operate the schools and the school board and superintendent have to make tough choices. The teachers’ contract needs to be honored, retirement costs need to be paid, class sizes need to be maintained, and materials and supplies need to be provided. All of these budget line items have vocal advocates. No one speaks for the school buildings, though…. so maintenance budgets are chopped. And at the State level, because funds for schools compete against other infrastructure projects, funding for schools is either frozen or cut. And because suburban school districts are growing while urban districts are relatively stagnant and their taxpayers pass referenda that provide local funding, the scarce state dollars go to new buildings instead of the renovation of old ones.

In the final analysis, then, cold classrooms are a manifestation of inequities that are baked into state funding mechanisms for facilities and school operating costs… and the voters who reside in districts where classrooms are warm and plentiful see no reason to help their neighbors who can’t afford to repair their schools.