Posts Tagged ‘social mobility’

Teacher Wildcat Strikes COULD Signal Shift Away From Conservativism…. IF

April 6, 2018 Leave a comment

Washington Post op ed writer E.J. Dionne wrote a column that is heartening for those of us who believe in public education. His essay “New Teacher Activism Signals Revolt Against Conservative Ideology” posits that the teacher strikes we are witnessing is evidence that America is waking up to some basic facts about public education funding and taxation: education cannot be done on the cheap and the GOP tax policies are draining money from middle class workers and sending it to billionaires. He writes:

The red state insurrections are a reminder of something that can be lost in our back-and-forth about school reform: Money matters. You can’t run a decent school system on the cheap. If you could, successful suburban school districts wouldn’t invest so much, and teacher pay is part of this. Genuine reformers aren’t wrong to demand improvements in school quality. But they need to separate themselves unequivocally from those who simply want to trash public services.

Today’s rebellion… is also built on genuine disaffection, in this case over the impact of deep budget cutbacks in conservative states, usually to support tax cuts tilted toward corporations and the well-off.

The teachers are bringing this home by refusing to confine their energies to their own pay. They are highlighting the deterioration of the conditions students face—aging textbooks, crumbling buildings, and reductions in actual teaching time. About 20 percent of Oklahoma’s school districts have gone to four-day weeks.

I wish that I read more about the “…the deterioration of the conditions students face” and less about the relatively high wages and benefits teachers receive for the nine months they work… but I believe the mass media is stuck in a narrative that the GOP promotes whereby taxpayers are forced to pay more and more for schools because UNIONS insist that the employees they represent get more and more money. Mr. Dionne does an excellent job of explaining how real spending for public education has diminished since 2008 and how the GOP’s tax policies are hurting public services in general. Here’s hoping the teachers unions and wildcat strikers do their best to make the public aware of what is REALLY happening as a result of the GOP’s tax-spend-and-borrow policies and how their ideas are not only shifting the money to the wealthy but creating a deterioration of public services that will affect our students into their adulthood.


This Just In: GAO Discovers that Schools Suspension Rates for Black Males are Disproportionately High

April 6, 2018 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch wrote a post yesterday describing the findings of a GAO study team who determined that the suspension rates for young black males is disproportionately high. Quoting from a Politico post, Ms. Ravitch writes:

KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM THE GAO’S SCHOOL DISCIPLINE REPORT: The GAO released fresh evidence Wednesday that black students, boys and students with disabilities are all disproportionately disciplined in the nation’s public schools. The report, based on data from the 2013-14 school year, comes as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos mulls a repeal of Obama-era discipline guidance aimed at curbing such disparities. The numbers in the report are jarring. Black students by far bear the brunt of every type of discipline – from in-school suspensions to expulsions and school-related arrests. For example: While black students accounted for 15.5 percent of all public school students, they represented about 39 percent of students suspended from school.

Ms. Ravitch then lists a series of takeaways from the Politico article, each one underscoring that the guidelines put in place by the Obama administration were necessary and should be sustained. But the GOP, who blames the Obama administration for everything, will not be persuaded. Indeed, as noted in earlier posts, leading GOP Senators including Marco Rubio preposterously blamed the shooting at Parkland on these guidelines that had nothing to do with the shooter in that case.

In an article by Thomas Edsall titled “The Contract with Authoritarianism” he notes the authoritarian mindset is based on the “strict father” model of the family. That model would insist that punishment be swift and even handed with no heed whatsoever to a student’s background. The “nurturant parent” model, in contrast, would look deeply at the causes and conditions that resulted in the misbehavior and find the root causes.

It is clear that our country has embraced the strict father model because it is SEEMINGLY cheap and efficient… but a closer examination indicates that it is neither since prison costs more than the counseling and early interventions that a nurturant parent would value. But in the closed minds of authoritarians, data makes no difference.

Reliance on Property Taxes Exacerbates Economic Divide, Opens the Door to Vouchers

April 3, 2018 1 comment

An extract from a post by Peter Greene included in Diane Ravitch’s blog post yesterday prompted me to realize that the ultimate driving force for privatization of public education is the revenue source. Mr. Greene’s blog post took aim at an op ed piece Arne Duncan wrote suggesting that test-based reform is succeeding. The one paragraph that summarized Mr. Greene’s point is this:

[His] notion that test-based accountability “revealed” achievement gaps is baloney. Educators knew where the gaps were. We’ve always known where the gaps were. We’ve screamed about the gaps. I don’t believe any teacher in this country picked up test results and said, “I’ll be damned! I had no idea these non-white, non-wealthy students were having trouble keeping up!” At best, test-based accountability was a tool to convince policy makers who would listen to data spreadsheets before they would listen to teachers. And even then, policy makers didn’t look at the data and say, “Well, we’d better help these schools out.” Instead, all the way up to Duncan’s office, they responded with, “Well, let’s target this school for closure or conversion or a growth opportunity for some charter operators.”

After quoting at length from Mr. Greene’s post, Ms. Ravitch writes (with my emphasis in bold red italics):

Charter schools are the gateway to vouchers. It is now widely understood that Arne Duncan and his friends paved the way for Betsy DeVos and her all-out war on  public schools. That is now widely recognized, even if Duncan doesn’t admit it.

Reform is failing, failing, failing. The public is wise to the reformers’ real goal, which is to privatize public schools and disparage teachers instead of confronting the real issues of poverty and segregation.

And nothing that Arne writes here changes that fact.

As I reflected on Ms. Ravitch’s conclusion, it struck me that the real gateway to vouchers is public education’s over-reliance on property taxes which has the effect of insulating thousands of students from the ravages of tax cuts or tax caps at the state and/or federal level.

When state legislatures impose deep cuts to public education or the federal government reduces funding, the school boards in affluent communities can increase their property taxes to ensure that the children in their community are insulated from the impact of cuts. Boards in less affluent communities do not have this option, and so their schools suffer. The result: the divide between rich and poor widens but the property tax burden increases in affluent towns as the funding is shifted downward.

In states where state legislatures impose property tax limitations WITH the possibility of local voter overrides— the voters in affluent districts consistently pass supplemental budgets. Thus, they protect their students and communities from the impact of budget cuts experienced in less affluent communities who do not have the tax base necessary to match the funding possible in wealthier districts. And in states where state legislatures impose property tax limitations WITHOUT the possibility of local voter overrides, school boards came up with fee-for-service models that replaced tax revenues with de facto “user fees”: children are assessed for busing, extra-curricular, and, in some cases, text books. In either case where tax caps were imposed, the schools in affluent districts did not experience the impact of limitations while the schools in less affluent districts suffered.

This ability of relatively affluent districts to raise funds to offset lost revenues through increases to property taxes or the institution of fees creates a situation where the parents and children in those districts never felt the impact of STATE tax cuts OR property tax caps. As a result, voters in those districts were indifferent to or, in some cases, fully supportive of test-driven reform because— to paraphrase Mr. Greene— their “white, relatively wealthy students WERE keeping up”. And since they were keeping up they never had to worry about doing poorly on state tests, they never had to worry about their schools being identified as “failing” and closing, and never had to replace their broad curricula with “focused” test preparation classwork.

This system of taxation is the gateway to vouchers because as long as property taxes and “user fees” are the primary source of funding, the voters in affluent districts will remain immune to the impact of STATE tax cuts and may even support them because they are already paying high local property taxes to keep their schools afloat. So when these state-tax-resistant voters in affluent districts hear that the State legislators have a means of helping “other children” in “failing schools” by giving their parents “choices”, a “solution” that requires NO increase in State taxes, they are open to supporting the idea…. And as readers of this blog realize, the privatizers are only too happy to feed them data to support the fantasy that “choice” is the silver bullet that can solve the problems of inequitable funding.

W. Edward Deming said “A bad system will beat a good person every time”… we have a bad system for school funding in place and it is, alas, beating many good people.

In Philadelphia, Voters Decided Enough Was Enough… and Change is Happening

April 1, 2018 Leave a comment

As a former Philadelphian who has bemoaned the decline of funding for public schools in that city and the incarceration of young black men across the country, and one who also holds a strong belief that democracy, while being beaten back by the oligarchs is still the best hope for the future, I am heartened to read that voters in Philadelphia are pushing back against the dominant neoliberal paradigm.

Late last month I read an Intercept article by firebrand journalist Sean King describing how recently elected DA  Larry Krasner is overhauling the entire department in an effort to keep his pledge to transform the office he was elected to. Sean King writes:

In his first week on the job, he fired 31 prosecutors from the DA’s office because they weren’t committed to the changes he intended to make. “Change is never easy, but DA Krasner was given a clear mandate from the voters for transformational change,” his spokesperson said at the time. “Today’s actions are necessary to achieve that agenda.”

Next, Krasner obeyed a court order to release a list of 29 officers from the Philadelphia Police Department that were on a “do-not-call list” — meaning that they were so tainted that they would be considered unreliable as witnesses. The police officers on the list had either been charged with crimes or found responsible for misconduct in internal police probes conducted by the department’s Board of Inquiry. Among the offenses, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the police officers had lied to their fellow investigators, filed false reports, used excessive force, driven drunk, and burgled…

All of that is big, but nothing is as essential and revolutionary as the internal five-page guiding document of new policies that Krasner sent to his staff. While the document appears to have been sent to the staff of the Philadelphia DA’s office on February 15, 2018, it only became public a week ago.

The Intercept article offers a copy of the entire memo, and Mr. King elaborates on its key points, which are summarized in bullet form below:

  • end mass incarcerations and bring balance back to sentencing
  • stop charging sex workers that have fewer than three convictions with any crime and drop all current cases against sex workers who also fit that description
  • avoid convictions if possible and guide cases for diversion programs instead of jail and prison
  • stop the wide-ranging practice of beginning plea deals with the highest possible sentencing and instead, begin those plea deals at the bottom end of the available range of time that can be served. And when less than 24 months is available as a sentence for a crime, house arrest or diversion programs should be used instead of incarceration.
  • add up and justify the exact costs of every single person sentenced to a crime in Philadelphia, where is costs $42,000 per year to incarcerate an individual, more than the average income of a city resident
  • people either be given no probation after incarceration or no more than a 12-month probationary period, given the reality that Philadelphia now has 44,000 people on probation, “…an impossible number to manage”  which leads to a situation where “More serious cases end up being harder to track and follow”

None of this should be a surprise to any voter in Philadelphia, because this is the platform Mr. Krasner ran on, a far different platform than that of one of his predecessors, Arlen Spector, who ran on a law-and-order platform in the 1960s. MAYBE this is a harbinger of an attitudinal shift in the nation: one based on common sense and the desire to save taxpayers money.

Meanwhile, the voters who supported Krasner for DA also rallied to boot out the “School Reform Commission” that decimated funding for the public schools while promoting the ideas of school choice. An article by Greg Windle in Notebook, the publication of Our City Our Schools Coalition in Philadelphia, describes the Coalition’s effort to get the city to suspend PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) agreements in place with the city’s colleges, universities, businesses, and developers. Thanks to some hard nosed analysis by Coalition members, the group issued a report that identified “…four main sources of revenue, which would total $191 million annually“- the most obvious of which was the PILOT agreements which account for $95,000,000 of the $191,000,000 in lost revenue for schools. The article details how the $191,000,000 figure was calculated, and if those revenue sources were tapped the city would receive over $890,000 per school,

“That’s enough to purchase one counselor, one librarian, five teachers, and two secretaries at every single school,” (activist Jessica) Way said. “We don’t need another computer program that makes things more efficient for our teachers; we need people!”

The report went on to note that if property values were updated to match fair market value, that could drive the revenue as high as $301 million annually…. and with 214 public schools in the city that additional $110,000,000 would provide an additional $514,000+ for each school.

Our City Our School has experienced success in its effort to restore control of its public schools to city residents. Given the election of Larry Krasner who ran on a TRUE reform agenda, it is entirely possible that they will succeed in achieving TRUE education reform, which can only occur when the revenues based on taxes are restored, which means those businesses, colleges and universities who take advantage of the infrastructure of the city pay their fair share of taxes and those who moved into gentrified neighborhoods do the same. A city can only be called “livable” if it provides a decent education for ALL the children who live there and it treats ALL of its citizens with respect. It appears that Philadelphia is living up to its old motto: it is becoming a City of Brotherly Love.


Florida Legislators Deregulation of Private For-Profit Charters Mirrors “Economic Development” Tactics Everywhere

March 30, 2018 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch posted an excerpt from a Politico article describing how the Florida legislature is attempting to lure for-profit schools to its state by offering incentives. Here’s an excerpt of the post:

“A controversial program signed into law in June called “Schools of Hope” gives charter school networks designated as “Hope Operators” the ability to open a “School of Hope” within five miles of a persistently low-performing public school. Those operators, collectively, get access to a pot of tens of millions of dollars to cover startup costs, personnel and specialized educational offerings, plus are given the flexibility of being exempt from a long list of state public education laws.

The Florida legislature is doing the same thing to privatized schools as it and other legislatures and local governments have done for private businesses for decades. By offering enticements to lure businesses into relocating the legislators are doing the bidding of profit seekers: they reduce the operating costs (i.e. costs for taxes, infrastructure, and meeting regulatory guidelines) in exchange for jobs— most of which are non-union low-wage jobs that pay just enough to avoid draining the state’s coffers. With this system in place, everyone loses except shareholders… and the biggest losers are public funded enterprises like schools and social services who lose revenue when taxes are waived.

And, unfortunately, this effort to lure private enterprises to a state or city are hardly limited to schools. One only has to look at how states and cities are bending over backwards to get Amazon’s new HQ if you think that this tactic is limited to privatized for profit schools. School buildings and infrastructure are crumbling in every state of the union but virtually every state in the union somehow found the wherewithal to put together a package to bring Amazon to them. And brick and mortar stores are as happy about this development as public schools are happy about the “Schools For Hope”.  Instead of creating a virtuous circle where new businesses bring in new taxes and well paying jobs, State legislators and city councils are creating a series of vicious circles where taxes are reduced and maintenance is deferred in order to entire low-wage enterprises into their communities.

Abington PA School Board Accedes to Billionaire: Names New School For Him

March 29, 2018 Leave a comment

Here, in it’s entirety, is an AP report on the Abington (PA) School Board’s decision to re-name it’s High School:

ABINGTON, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania school board has approved a plan to rename a public high school after Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman, an alumnus who is donating $25 million to the school.

Abington Senior High School would be renamed Abington Schwarzman High School under the plan approved Tuesday. The agenda for the school board meeting says Schwarzman agreed to make the donation in exchange for naming rights, among other things.

A news release announcing the gift last month made no mention of a name change. It said the move was part of a larger effort by Schwarzman to make public schools more open to private donations and to encourage other wealthy donors to support public education.

Billionaire’s substantial donations to their private college alma maters is nothing new nor is naming facilities and classrooms on campuses for those donors. Indeed, Leland Stanford, Andrew Carnegie, and Cornelius Vanderbilt have entire colleges named for them and countless business titans have graduate schools named in their honor. But public schools are supposed to be a different entity altogether. They are supposed to be funded exclusively by the public who, presumably, provides enough funding for the children in their State to fulfill the so-called American Dream where their hard work, diligent study, and positive attitude will enable them to advance economically. When billionaires begin supporting education, it will only make the equal opportunity for schooling more difficult than it is already…. and it is apparently nearing impossibility given the unwillingness of states to increase their broad-based taxes and unending willingness to provide incentives for low-wage businesses to build in their states and/or communities.

And one of the problems schools face is when they name a school after a generous billionaire, their school and community endorses that individual’s life style and the ethos of the corporation they led that yielded their fortune. Stephen Schwarzman, who was profiled a year again Vanity Fairmight not be the role model for aspiring students. And Blackstone’s business model, appropriately called vulture capitalism, might not be the ideal template for our economic well-being. But school boards hard-pressed to find the money for the kinds of renovations they need to make to be competitive in the 21st century need to take money where they can find it… and if that means districts with wealthy alumni can build better facilities and offer better programs than districts in poor areas, sobeit. If the American Dream is dying, public school’s reliance on the benevolence of billionaire philanthropist/alumni will ensure its demise.


Good News from DC: A Bipartisan Rejection of DeVos’ Vouchers

March 22, 2018 Leave a comment

Three media outlets this afternoon reported that the House and Senate, while dedicating more money to education in general, have categorically rejected all of Secretary DeVos’ and President Trump’s plans for vouchers. Here’s the blow-by-blow overview from Politico, with my remarks in bold red italics:

WINNERS AND LOSERS IN THE $1.3 TRILLION SPENDING BILL: Congressional negotiations finally yielded a proposed spending deal late Wednesday that would boost Education Department funding by $3.9 billion and dole out increases for other domestic programs tied to education. The list of winning programs is long – and if Congress can pass the roughly 2,232-page bill by midnight Friday, it will also avert its third shutdown in as many months. This double boost is a VERY positive sign! The increases for “other domestic programs tied to education” MIGHT be a sign that both parties are beginning to realize that the problems faced by schools must be addressed in the context of the larger problems children face outside of school. 

– “After almost a decade of virtually stagnant federal funding for education, Congress has produced a Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations package that provides real increases for education,” the Committee for Education Funding said in a statement.

– Notable K-12 increases: The deal includes $1.1 billion – a $700 million boost – for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants,

WINNERS AND LOSERS IN THE $1.3 TRILLION SPENDING BILL: Congressional negotiations finally yielded a proposed spending deal late Wednesday that would boost Education Department funding by $3.9 billion and dole out increases for other domestic programs tied to education. The list of winning programs is long – and if Congress can pass the roughly 2,232-page bill by midnight Friday, it will also avert its third shutdown in as many months.

– “After almost a decade of virtually stagnant federal funding for education, Congress has produced a Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations package that provides real increases for education,” the Committee for Education Funding said in a statement.

– Notable K-12 increases: The deal includes $1.1 billion – a $700 million boost – for the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, which can be used for school counseling and mental health services, technology investments and STEM education. Both Title I funding for poor students and special education grants – the two largest sources of federal K-12 funding – would see increases. Federal funding for after-school programs would get a small $20 million boost, bringing total funding up to $1.2 billion. And the bill would maintain $2.1 billion in grants for teachers’ professional development and class-size reduction efforts. WOW! This is ALL good! 

– The STOP School Violence Act, which would repurpose a Justice Department program aimed at reducing school violence, hitched a ride on the spending package. The bill, H.R. 4909 (115) , would fund training and other initiatives intended to enhance school safety to the tune of $75 million annually – including paying for physical improvements such as metal detectors, stronger locks and emergency notification technologies. Lawmakers also plan to funnel $47 million to programs within the Education Department and the Health and Human Services Department that address youth mental health, as well as social and emotional learning in schools. This will give the legislators a fig leaf to sho that they “heard” the youth marchers… but it appears that most of the $$$ is going to “hardening” initiatives… and $75,000,000 for that long list of initiatives is a drop in the bucket… as is the $47,000,000 in redirected funds. 

Historically black colleges and universities would get millions more, including a $35 million, 14 percent boost to a program meant to help the schools strengthen their physical plants, financial management, academic resources and endowment-building capacity. Are you kidding me??? $35,000,000 will MAYBE pay for one or two new dorms at one HBC… compare this to the endowment of any Ivy League school and you will see how embarrassingly skimpy this is! 

– Other winners includeHead Start, federal Impact Aid, Pell grant recipients, STEM education and rural schools.

But for those of us who have been appalled at the direction Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump, the Koch Brothers, and yes, the “reformers” are attempting to steer public education, the best news is what WASN’T funded! Here’s more from Politico:

– One of the biggest losers appeared to be Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Lawmakers interfered with her plans to overhaul how the Education Department collects federal student loans, blocking an effort to go to a new system that contracts out individual loan servicing tasks to different companies. They also pushed back against DeVos’ efforts to dismantle her agency’s central budget office, stopping the department from decentralizing some functions of the budget office. More on that from Michael Stratford here– So the efforts to hand off collections to private firms who would ruthlessly dun borrowers who are unable to pay looks to be DOA as is Ms. DeVos effort to disable the budget controls… 

Also losing out were most of DeVos’ school choice proposals, which got scant traction from lawmakers. The only exception: Charter schools got a $58 million boost, bringing the total funding to $400 million. Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal called for $500 million for charter schools. It also proposed a new $250 million private school choice program, which was not funded. And it sought to use $1 billion in Title I funding for poor students to encourage public school choice, which was not included. Bottom line: vouchers are DOA as well! 

The omnibus also would send an additional $8.5 million to the Education Department’s civil rights office, which DeVos has sought to downsize. Appropriators said the money should go toward staffing up the office, from which the administration wanted to cut 46 positions. Appropriators also directed the department to maintain its 12 regional civil rights offices, turning back its proposal to reduce the number to four, according to reorganization plan obtained by POLITICO. A department spokeswoman told the New York Times this week that the plan had been abandoned. I don’t know what the Democrats gave away to get this (assuming they bargained hard for this result)… but this will take the Civil Rights Office off life support in terms of staffing… though I doubt seriously that Ms. DeVos or Mr. Trump will be expediting the posting and filling of these jobs! 

Both the Daily Beast and Salon reported on these funding increases and strategic setbacks with a certain degree of glee. The Daily Beasts article titled Education Secretary DeVos’ Agnda Rejected in Budget Bill recounts the same set of facts in broad strokes, and Charlie May’s Salon article had a subheading that read: “In a rebuff of the Education Department’s leader, Congress’ spending bill diverged from DeVos’ privatized dreams”.

As one who unalterably opposes vouchers, I am heartened that there appears to be no heart in either party to move away from the current governance structure of public education which, despite its flaws, is far superior and far more equitable than any plan that commodifies schools. We have enough evidence that markets work best for the wealthy and hardly work at all for those in poverty. Public education remains the best means for individuals to get out of poverty… and converting schools into fast food-like chains will not increase opportunities no matter what free market thinkers choose to believe.