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National Review Article Purporting Widespread Support for Choice Conveniently Overlooks Some Key Facts

November 18, 2018 Leave a comment

My “For You” feed on Google News offered me an opportunity to read the conservative perspective on school choice in the form of a National Review article by John Schilling titled “Policymakers Should Listen to Voters on School Choice“. In the article Mr. Schilling, who replaced Betsy DeVos as the President of the American Federation for Children, cites several polls done by various choice advocacy groups that indicate widespread support for choice.

The article, however, conveniently overlooks the results of Arizona’s Proposition 305, which sought to repeal a recently enacted law designed to expand vouchers in that state, a proposition that school choice advocates went to court to block, a proposition that was not underwritten by teachers’ unions but rather advanced by 111,000 parents, and a proposition that passed resoundingly with 65% of the voters seeking to cap the voucher program at its current level.

The article also overlooked the high profile defeat of Marshall Tuck in his run for State Superintendent in California and the defeat of “choice champion” Scott Walker in Wisconsin, campaigns that explicitly framed choice as one of the key elements.

Most importantly, the National Review article also opened with a misleading sentence:

Despite a lot of headwinds and massive spending by the teachers’ unions and other opponents of education reform, school-choice supporters did very well in the 2018 midterm elections.

Let’s look at the facts in the Arizona vote, as reported in Ballotpedia:

There was one committee, Yes for Ed AZ, registered in support of a “yes” vote (uphold the law) on Proposition 305. The committee had raised $53,801 and spent $51,875. The top contributor was Every Child Can Learn, Inc., which provided $25,000.[19]

There was one committee, Save Our Schools Arizona, registered in support of a “no” vote (repeal the law) on Proposition 305. The committee had raised $594,032 and spent $535,192. The top contributor to the campaign was Save Our Schools Arizona – 501(c)(4), which contributed $255,774.[19]

We could also look at the California election where Marshall Tuck’s supporters outspent him 2-to-1 and Wisconsin where Scott Walker raised six times as much as his opponent.

There is one cold hard fact that is irrefutable, however…. and it’s this:

American Federation for Children and our affiliates participated in 377 state races to support pro–school choice candidates in 12 states, winning 77 percent of them. Heading into the 2019 legislative sessions, there are now pro–school choice governors and state legislatures in most states in the country.

I don’t have the time to examine the spending in these various races touted by the National Review, but I am very doubtful that the “…massive spending by the teachers’ unions and other opponents of education reform” matched the $5,300,000 “invested” in the 377 races by the American Federation for Children in the primary, runoff, and general elections across 377 races in 12 states, especially given the massive outspending that occurred in the elections cited above.

As long as money can be freely spent by purportedly disinterested individuals, those who spend the most will likely win the most… and democracy loses to plutocracy.

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Reformers’ Worries About Standardized Tests Too Little and Too Late

November 17, 2018 Leave a comment

Two days ago Chalkbeat’s Matt Barnum posted an article describing the epiphany of many reformers regarding standardized tests titled “In a shift, more education reformers say they’re worried about schools’ focus on testing“.

The epiphany is summarized in the opening paragraphs:

“If there is one office in every state I would want to get rid of, it’s the accountability office,” said Andre Perry, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who previously led a charter school in New Orleans. “I would replace that office with some kind of statewide coordination around personalized learning.” No one on the panel with him disagreed.

I think too much time, attention, and resources have been devoted to accountability systems that don’t produce outcomes for students that historically struggled,” Lewis Ferebee, the head of Indianapolis Public Schools, said later.

“The way we’re doing [assessment] now — that is so time-, age-, grade-based — is really constraining for those innovators that are developing models that will support all kids,” said Susan Patrick of iNACOL, an organization that promotes technology-based personalized learning in schools.

To no educators surprise, once No Child Left Behind mandated the use of standardized tests to determine whether a school was succeeding or failing and then tied those test results to the compensation of teachers and made the continued operation of the schools contingent on performing well on the tests, MOST of the teachers time, attention and resources were devoted to passing those tests. And to no educators’ surprise the students who struggled the most to pass those tests were children who came from homes where education was not as important as, say, figuring out where the family would sleep or where their next meal would come from.

And once standardized tests became the basis for judging schools, it became evident to reformers and politicians who were claiming these tests would “prepare students to enter the workforce” that it was necessary to ensure that the tests in every state were based on the same set of skills… which opened the door to the Common Core.

By the time the Obama administration had every state engaged in a Race to the Top, standardized tests were entrenched in the DNA of every school system in the nation and their importance was magnified.

So, nearly two decades later, the “reformers” who wanted a cheap, simple, and fast way to measure “school effectiveness” and “student success” have come to the conclusion that standardized tests, while cheap, simple, and fast, do NOT measure the effectiveness of schools or do an adequate job of measuring individual student learning.

But the tests cannot be abandoned as quickly as they were imposed… because there is not a quick, cheap and easy metric to take their place when it comes to measuring schools or individual student performance… and if it is impossible to do so how can a school be given a low grade and recommended for takeover by a private for profit charter chain? And how can a parent make an informed choice about the school they want to attend.

Mr. Barnum’s article concludes with this offer from a group that has long opposed standardized testing:

“I’m happy to hear that these groups are in fact grappling with and realizing some of the same problems we are,” said Andre Green, the executive director of FairTest, a group that pushes for a smaller role for testing. “Come talk to us.”

I doubt that FiarTest’s phone is ringing off the hook… and that’s too bad because they might have some insights based on what makes sense to teachers and administrators.

Governance Changes in Public Education Undercut Democracy

November 5, 2018 Comments off

Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris co-authored a post advocating the retention of school boards that appeared last week in Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post Answer Sheet. In their essay, Mss. Burris and Ravitch cite multiple sources to support their assertion that the end game for charter operators is to undercut the authority of elected school boards and turn it over to entrepreneurs who are free to operate de-regulated schools funded by taxpayers who, ideally, acquire their education through the use of vouchers.

Burris and Ravitch seem convinced that the primary end for the billionaires who are spending millions on various charter projects is to make even more money. But based on the thinking described in Anand Giridharadas book, Winners Take All, it might well be based on misguided idealism. In one of the opening chapters of the book Mr. Giridharadas describes how the new class of “philanthro-capitalists” view everything through the lens of markets. And these philanthro-capitalists see themselves as the only ones who can solve complex social problems because they alone were capable of developing complex algorithms that underlie the monetization of technology that was formerly a tool for communication. Mr. Giridharadas quotes from a book titled Philanthocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World written by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green in 2008:

Today’s philanthrocapitalists see a world full of big problems that they, and perhaps only they, must put right. Surely, they say, we can save the lives of millions of children who die each year in poor countries from poverty or diseases that have been eradicated in the rich world. And back home in the United States or Europe, it is we who must make our education systems work for every child. 

A couple of paragraphs later, Mr. Giridharadas offers Mr. Bishop and Mr. Green’s description of philanthrocapitalists as wealthy individuals who view themselves as:

“hyperagents” who have the capacity to do some essential things far better than anyone else.They do not face elections every few years or suffer the tyranny of shareholder demands… like CEOs…Nor do they have to devote vast amounts of time and resources to raising money like most heads of NGOs. That frees them up to think long term, to go against conventional wisdom, to take up ideas too risky for government, to deploy substantial resources quickly when the situation demands it. 

Given this way of thinking, it may be that the billionaires are acting out of the misguided belief that they alone have the capacity to do some essential things far better than anyone else and that they are spending their money to make our education systems work for every child. That is, they may believe they are making the world a better place by imposing their enlightened views on those elected officials who presumably do NOT have the ability to do some essential things far better than anyone else… and if that is the case, hubris, not greed, is the motivating force for the billionaires who want to undercut democracy in the name of “reform”.

Surprise! Arizona Parents Abuse Deregulated Vouchers, Understaffed DOE Unable to Monitor Abuse

November 3, 2018 Comments off

Diane Ravitch wrote a post describing a completely predictable outcome: Arizona parents abused debit cards issued by the state to pay for their vouchers… and here’s what is even worse news: there is a proposition on the ballot that would expand this program without expanding the state staff needed to monitor it. What could go wrong?

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Take Three Minutes to See How Deregulated Markets and Citizens United Combined to Steal Millions from Ohio Taxpayers

November 2, 2018 Comments off

This YouTube video made by the Democratic Party of Ohio explains how Bill Lager, the founder of ECOT— the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow– pilfered millions of dollars from Ohio taxpayers thanks to deregulated capitalism bought and paid for by political contributions. Any teacher who votes for Mike DeWine is clearly coming against their self-interest and the self interest of their local taxpayers who had to backfill the money that went to Mr. Lager.

The Closing of New Orleans Charters Evidence that the Invisible Hand Makes Services Disappear

October 29, 2018 Comments off

In a blog post written yesterday, Diane Ravitch describes how over 670 school children were left without a school when a private charter went out of business…. oh, and only two of those children were white and only 5% did not qualify for free and reduced lunch. This just happened in New Orleans, the city where Hurricane Katrina opened the door for wholesale privatization and, supposedly a “miracle” that resulted in improved performance in the public schools.

Much of the post deals with debunking this so-called miracle, but no where does Ms. Ravitch point out the fact that once a service is commodified, the “invisible hand” of the marketplace comes into play and, according to economic theory, everyone will benefit because efficient and well run enterprises will rise to the top and poorly run businesses will be forced to close. But here’s another reality of economic theory that reformers conveniently overlook: the invisible hand of the marketplace creates far more options in marketplaces where there are large sums of money and has no incentive to provide equity. The result is that those who reside in poor neighborhoods and poor towns do not have the same choices and those who live in affluent neighborhoods and communities.

And here’s a sad consequence of the marketplace paradigm: As long as those living in affluence do not have to worry about the impact of the marketplace on their neighborhood schools and as long as they have a wide range of choices when it comes to buying food, clothing and shelter, they can buy into the idea that EVERYONE has that same array of choices and, therefore, endorse the notion that “choice” is a fair means of leveling the playing field.

Schools and public services cannot be commodified… for when they are, the inequities that exist in options for housing, food, and shopping will occur in those services.

 

School Choice Undermining “Our Schools” by Siphoning Off Engaged Parents

October 25, 2018 Comments off

Atlantic writer Amy Lueck’s recent article describes the history of the high school in the United States from Horace Mann’s inception of the idea through today and concludes that the injection of “choice” could undercut the high-minded community building mission of high schools. She opens her essay with this:

In 2016, shortly after she was appointed to the position, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos declared American public schools a “dead end.” Instead, DeVos advocates for “school choice,” code for charter schools, vouchers, and other privatization efforts.

Families who have watched their local schools struggle might agree with DeVos, but her characterization is still troubling. It reflects a distrust of education as a communal goal, not just an individual one. That’s a big change from the objective of American public schools during their first two centuries. Far from being a “dead end,” for a long time the public school—particularly the public high school—served an important civic purpose: not only as an academic training ground, but also as a center for community and activity in American cities.

Ms. Lueck’s essay then describes how high schools evolved into the focal point of many communities and how, for better or worse, they socialized teenagers, as she described in this paragraph that appears early in her essay:

Public schools have also perpetuated racial and economic inequity. But the high school still galvanized a shared, American society. It helped people aspire toward greater equality together, and it used education to bring together diverse interests and people to forge social bonds of support. That effort shaped the American city of the 19th and early-20th centuries. High schools can continue to do this, so long as they can resist being dismantled.

Ms. Lueck doesn’t develop a description of how “choice” IS eroding the broader mission of public education, the mission of helping “…people aspire toward greater equality together”. The consequences of choice, as outlined in yesterday’s post, is that  the children of engaged parents flee the high school leaving “other children” behind thereby undercutting the idea that “OUR children” are in public education together.

So I offer an edit to Ms. Lueck’s subheading to her article, which read:

Public education and its traditions united communities. But “school choice” could put is putting that legacy at risk.

There… fixed it!