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Posts Tagged ‘vouchers’

A ROUGH DRAFT FOR HS REFORM I: Blow Up High School by Offering Vouchers for Students…

May 26, 2020 Leave a comment

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the garden lately, and in doing so am spending a lot of time mulling over how to take advantage of the pandemic crisis to introduce some new ways of doing high school. Based on my personal and professional experience high schools are the worst part of the education system in our country. Here’s why:

  • TRACKING: High School drives the final nail into the equity coffin by segregating students into tracks based on how rapidly they’ve learned up to the point they enter ninth grade and how much control their parents wield.
  • COLLEGE OVER-VALUED: Students who aspire to college get 90% of the attention and time of guidance counselors and teachers because guidance counselors and teachers know how college works and see it as the only way to attain economic well-being.
  • CONTENT OVER-VALUED: There is an aphorism that elementary teachers teach children and secondary teachers teach subjects…. and high schools are set up to reinforce that aphorism. It is unrealistic for a high school teacher to know and care about the lives of 100+ students assigned to them in 4-5 classes but completely realistic for them to be well-versed in one subject area that they can teach to students and assess their progress using some kind of “objective test” that can be rapidly graded. This emphasis on content, in turn, can lead to a siloing whereby no single teacher gets to know and care about an individual student. And the cult of AP testing only exacerbates this emphasis on content over character development.
  • SOCIAL SKILLS UNDER-VALUED: Working on teams, getting along with people from other socio-economic, racial, and ethic groups, and developing healthy relationships with individuals are all part of the hidden curriculum in high schools… but, in many (if not most) cases, high schools are reinforcing tribalism instead of harmony.
  • PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE UNDER-VALUED: There is a premium on the development of abstract skills like the ability to solve complex quadratic equations but no value placed on the ability to put together a nutritious meal from left-overs, to develop and manage a budget, or to complete the paperwork needed to buy a house, start a small business, or apply on-line for a job.

Here’s a solution to all of this: end high school once students pass a basic competency test and give them a voucher for education four the next four years or until the age of 20, whichever comes first. The competency test would be initially administered when teachers certify the student is ready, which ideally would be before the student’s 16ht birthday. The competency test would include:

  • The US Citizenship test: Clearly every graduate should know how the government works if they are to vote intelligently.
  • A Consumer Awareness test: A “consumer awareness” test could be developed by ETS– who would be happy to have a new assessment to replace the SAT which is being phased out. This test would help avoid the debt trap that currently ensnares millions in our country.
  • A Health and Nutrition test: Public schools ostensibly educate students about nutrition and health through the school lunch program and various mandated health courses but there are no high stakes tests associated with either area.

By giving STUDENTS the funds to pursue more education it will emphasize the importance of making prudent financial decisions and underscore the importance of developing a transition plan to go from a world where every hour is scheduled by adults to a world where the student is a self-regulated adult.

Two more elements of the blown up HS will follow in future posts:

  • Mandatory Community Service
  • The Development of a Individualized Post-Graduate Work Plan which includes a personal budget

Stan Karp’s Rethinking Schools Post Full of Chilling Reminders of the Past, Ominous Predictions for the Future

May 21, 2020 Leave a comment

Rethinking Schools editor Stan Karp wrote a post yesterday that is full of chilling reminders from the past and ominous predictions for the future.

In case any public school advocates had forgotten, Mr. Karp offers a scathing recounting of how the Democrats responded to the economic meltdown in 2008 where the relatively scarce funds allocated for public education were used to leverage the ill-starred ideas of “reformers” who hoped to privatize public education by sustaining the test-and-punish models put in place as part of No Child Left Behind. By the time the Obama administration came to an end, public schools were funded more parsimoniously than they had been for decades and the funding mechanisms did not move in the direction of greater equity:

Even as the economy recovered in the years after 2009, the vise of austerity continued to squeeze schools. A recent report from the Shanker Institute documented a 25-year decline in the percentage of personal income that went to state and local taxes.What school finance experts call “effort” — the share of state economies devoted to supporting K–12 education — decreased sharply through 2012 and hasn’t recovered. “This was not an accident or random confluence of events,” the Shanker Institute report noted. “It was — and still is — due in no small part to policymakers’ refusal to raise sufficient revenue to fund public services, including education.”

Expanded federal aid could be used as a lever to increase the “effort” and fairness of state school funding systems. But federal and state policy decisions have instead steadily eroded the funding mechanisms that support public education and left it increasingly vulnerable to repeated crises, with disproportionate impact on high-poverty districts most dependent on state and federal aid.

As bad as things were in response to the 2008 meltdown, they promise to be even worse this time around because the Congress has turned over a massive amount of spending authority to Betsy DeVos…. and in case you think she couldn’t wreak havoc on public education, here’s a reminder of what she’s done without any money at her disposal and what she will be able to do once she has some:

The CARES Act gives her the power to waive Title I funding regulations, which govern the largest federal education program supporting children from low-income families. It also allows her to suspend Title II rules defining professional development and Title IV requirements to “provide students with a well-rounded education” including the arts, mental health services, and training on trauma-informed practices — all crucially important in the current crisis. The CARES Act specifically allows schools to shift money from these areas to purchase “digital devices.” By early April, 28 states had received waivers to reallocate ESSA spending…

DeVos has a long and notorious record of using agency guidance and regulatory action to undermine equity. One of her first acts after being confirmed as secretary was to support the repeal of protections for transgender students, including their right to choose restrooms. She was sued for rolling back protections against predatory lenders at for-profit colleges and threatened with jail by a federal judge for “intentionally flouting” a court order to stop collection proceedings for such loans. DeVos rescinded sexual assault guidance issued under Title IX, a move the National Women’s Law Center said would have a “devastating” impact, and in May released new guidance that weakened protections for victims of sexual harassment and assault. She proposed allowing schools to use federal “student enrichment funds” to purchase guns and used a school safety commission formed in the wake of the Parkland school shootings to recommend repeal of regulations on school discipline practices that were rooted in civil rights concerns. Similarly, DeVos tried to rescind Obama-era rules that required districts to track racial disparities in special education classification rates, an effort a federal judge blocked as “arbitrary and capricious.” In April, DeVos relaxed oversight and accreditation rules for higher education online programs at a time when the pandemic was massively expanding the scale of such programs.

What could go wrong?

Dog Training School, Management School that “Is Not A Cult”, Scads of Private, Religious K-12 Schools Funneled Federal $$$

May 16, 2020 Comments off

It comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed Betsy DeVos and the GOP’s shenanigans in the way they wrote brand executive discretion and no oversight into the stimulus bill to find that she has funneled huge sums of federal money to disreputable for profit schools and established mechanisms for parents to use public funds to “choose” to send their children to parochial schools. It comes as no surprise… but it is still disgraceful and antithetical to the mission of public education which should be the primary mission of the United States Department of Education. Here are some choice “highlights” from Erica Green’s NYTimes article describing DeVos’ decisions:

Ms. DeVos has used $180 million of those dollars to encourage states to create “microgrants” that parents of elementary and secondary school students can use to pay for educational services, including private school tuition. She has directed school districts to share millions of dollars designated for low-income students with wealthy private schools.

And she has nearly depleted the 2.5 percent of higher education funding, about $350 million, set aside for struggling colleges to bolster small colleges — many of them private, religious or on the margins of higher education — regardless of need. The Wright Graduate University for the Realization of Human Potential, a private college in Wisconsin that has a website debunking claims that it is a cult, was allocated about $495,000. All of the colleges could apply for the funds or reject them, and Wright officials said the school did not claim the funds.

Bergin University of Canine Studies in California said its $472,850 allocation was a “godsend.”

“I think we are one of the most important educational institutions out there right now,” said its founder, Bonnie Bergin, who is credited with inventing the service dog.

The article describes guidances written by the USDOE that have the effect of taking money away from high poverty public school districts and channeling them to private and parochial schools. But if such earmarking of funds for poor children is bad, Ms. DeVos’ decision to create “competition” for other funds designed to assist public schools is even worse, as these paragraphs describe:

A competition announced by Ms. DeVos in which states can vie for tens of millions of dollars either to create statewide virtual schools or offer “microgrants” is also drawing fire for mirroring voucher programs that help parents pay for services outside the public school system. The program also stands to benefit virtual education companies that Ms. DeVos has personally invested in.

Representative Robert C. Scott of Virginia, the chairman of the House education committee, said the competition’s point system was weighted in favor of rural areas and voucher-friendly states, rather than those most affected by the coronavirus.

“This program design is indistinguishable from a standard voucher scheme and is the latest attempt by this department to promote privatization initiatives against both the wishes of the American people, and the intent of Congress,”he wrote to Ms. DeVos.

Everyone (including me, I must confess) wants to use the crisis as an opportunity to implement their desired direction for public education. My preferred direction is to provide equitable funding for all children, which would necessarily require more funds for districts serving children raised in poverty. I also prefer a direction that increases the governments oversight of funding and the auditing of school performance using something other than standardized tests. Ms. DeVos, on the other hand, views schools as a commodity that should operate based on the rules of the marketplace.

And here is the bottom line: in electing Donald Trump we have chosen the marketplace over government, Social Darwinism over Safety Nets, politics over science, and plutocracy over democracy. We have a choice facing us again in November. Let’s hope we voters can see the downside of the choices they made in 2016.

No Surprise: Heritage Foundation Sees School Closures as Opportunity to Expand ESAs

March 29, 2020 Comments off

Heritage Foundation education policy specialist Lindsay Burke wrote an op ed piece for Fox News using the emergency closures of public schools as evidence that states need to expand their use of Education Savings Accounts— a wholly predictable and unsurprising conclusion. What WAS surprising to me was that Michael Horn, one of the advocates of the disruption that online education would create, was very clear-eyed about the practical impact of this emergency implementation:

Michael Horn, distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, writes that “all of a sudden, the competition for online learning isn’t live, in-person classes. Those classes are canceled. Now, the alternative is nothing at all.”

Typically, when there is a flood of new entrants into a market (in this case, families thrown into homeschooling out of necessity), one would expect that enabling technologies (such as online learning) would be able to gain a good share of the business — either as a facilitating service or as a viable or even more desirable alternative.

Yet Horn isn’t so “sure we’re in the typical circumstance where the logic and usual patterns of disruption hold,” particularly if students experience “poorly constructed, hastily built online courses by faculty.”

These reservations are especially applicable to higher education, where professors are now being asked to translate in-class lesson plans — including laboratory exercises — into online instructional experiences.

Horn’s reasoned expectations do not stand in the way of the true believers of Education Savings Accounts, though. Here’s how Ms. Burke connects the dots. She begins with this premise:

Freeing up existing education dollars to be more nimble generally and to follow families to learning options of their choice is good policy anytime, and perhaps a critical policy during a global pandemic.

Then, after acknowledging that this interruption of services might not change the minds of parents regarding the current format of schooling, she concludes that the coronavirus’ impact should “…change the way government officials think about education policy.” How so? Well… it appears that the “good policy anytime” argument works here as well!

Students who were already learning online, homeschooling, or accessing private tutors are likely experiencing less disruption in their education. Freeing up existing education dollars to be more nimble generally and to follow families to learning options of their choice is good policy anytime, and perhaps critical policy during a pandemic.

And… here’s added benefit! It’s less costly!

To that end, states should provide emergency educations savings accounts (ESAs) to families for the remainder of the academic year. States should deposit into these parent-controlled accounts 90 percent of what the states would have spent on their children in the public school system from the time public classrooms were shut through the end of the school year.

Families should then be allowed to use their ESA to pay for private tutors, online tutors, special education services and therapists, online courses and curricula.

So, if Mr. Burke’s idea caught on, States could cut 10% of their spending for the balance of the year and parents would froths point forward get 90% of the funds their state spends on average to, presumably, go to the school of their choice.

Jennifer Berkshire Poses Question: Why Aren’t Democrats Running Against DeVos-Trump Agenda? Because They Helped Create It!

March 9, 2020 Comments off

Jennifer Berkshire, a public school advocate who abhors the profiteering that results from deregulation, wrote an article for The Nation describing how running against the Trump-DeVos agenda for public schools has been a winning theme in House elections and COULD be a winning theme nationally. The article describes several campaigns in Texas, Michigan and Wisconsin where the winning candidate was the one who advocated for public schools and suggests that public schools are highly valued in rural sections of the country as well as in affluent suburbs. At the end of the article she outlines the reasons the Democrats are NOT running against the Trump-DeVos platform for privatization and “choice”:

Yet if Democrats are aware that the roiling politics of education offer the party a potential opening in crucial 2020 states, they are keeping it awfully quiet. On the campaign trail and the debate stage, when education surfaces as an issue at all, the presidential contenders stick to bumper-sticker stuff: higher-pay for teachers, more funding for high-poverty schools, fewer high-stakes tests. Nor do the Democrats have much to say about the rural schools attended by one-quarter of American kids. Public education, as the would-be presidents define it, seems to be a city thing. And other than Betsy DeVos’ reliable role as party punching bag, the Democrats have directed relatively little energy towards distinguishing their vision from Trump’s. Indeed far more ink has been spilled over the party’s internecine dispute over charter schools, an issue that barely affects rural and suburban voters, than on the existential threats to public education in must-win states.

In order to capitalize on voter dissatisfaction with GOP education policies, Democrats will have to do more than malign Betsy DeVos. They will also have to draw a sharp distinction from recent Democratic party orthodoxy on public education. For the past three decades, Democrats have embraced the market-oriented thinking that is now reaching its logical conclusion in the form of “education freedom.” By making the rhetoric of individual choice and competition their own, Democrats have inadvertently eroded the idea of education as a public good, making its defense, and the case for higher spending on schools, that much more difficult. And yet, as voters from Texas to Wisconsin to Michigan have demonstrated, public education remains at the very core of Americans’ hopes for their children and their communities. Democrats would do well to listen to them.

In short, Betsy DeVos’ voucher plans are the direct result of Arne Duncan’s Race-to-the-Top ethos of voice and competition and the bipartisanship exemplified by NCLB and ESSA. It appears the Democrats are unwilling to change the narrative they helped create in order to support the argument that public schools need more funding. I hope the party will begin listening to the parents and voters in communities where public schools remain the bastion of hope for the future.

Sorry, Betsy: IDEA Charter DID Use Federal $$$ to Buy Luxury Box Seats for Spurs, Lease a Private Jet

February 29, 2020 Comments off

I was incredulous when I heard Representative Mark Pocan ask Betsy DeVos a yes or no question about the IDEA Charter school’s decision to use federal money to lease a private jet. After recounting the lavish expenditures of the IDEA charter chain, which included the purchase of a luxury box for San Antonio Spurs’ games, and the purchase of one of the Board member’s property for $1,700,000 and the payment of another board member’s real estate fees for that purchase, Representative Pocan posed the following question: “Should a charter school be able to use federal money to lease a jet”. Rather than answer the question, Ms. DeVos attempted to give some context to explain why it wasn’t a “simple yes or no question” to which Mr. Pocan retorted: “Actually, it IS a “yes or no question” at which point he restated the question. Over the course of the next few minutes this dance continued with Ms. DeVos at one point asserting that the claim about the jet purchase was based on a false report.

Because I am willing to give a besieged administrator the benefit of the doubt, I used a Google search to see if the IDEA school leased a jet and found this headline from the Houston Chronicle:

After backlash over $2M luxury jet, IDEA charter schools to stop spending $400K on Spurs tickets

The first two paragraphs of the article by Jacob Carpenter provide an outline of what transpired:

Several weeks after IDEA Public Schools nixed plans to spend millions of dollars on a charter jet lease, the charter network’s leader announced the end of additional “hard to defend” spending practices Thursday, including the purchase of tickets and a luxury box for events at San Antonio’s AT&T Center.

In a letter sent to IDEA’s 7,000-plus employees, CEO Tom Torkelson apologized for spending patterns that have brought unflattering attention to the state’s largest charter school organization. The network’s since-reversed decision to ink an eight-year aircraft lease and its spending on San Antonio Spurs games have drawn criticism from the Texas AFT, an umbrella organization for teachers unions throughout the state.

The caption under Mr. Torkelson’s picture suggested he could offer the a business rationale for the lease and the luxury boxes…. but as Representative Pocan noted in his presentation of these examples of mismanagement (if not outright fraud) none of these actions would EVER pass muster in ANY public school in America. But somehow the GOP has persuaded voters that unregulated capitalism is the best means of providing public services. Here’s hoping whoever the Democratic candidate is that they will be able to set the record of misappropriations before the voters and change their minds… that is unless the neoliberals continue to hold sway in the party.

A Collapsed Roof is the Goal of Betsy DeVos… Will the Supreme Court Allow the Blizzard to Begin

February 20, 2020 Comments off

NYTimes columnist Sarah Vowell wrote a somewhat humorous but ultimately damning op ed article on a Montana lawsuit that could ultimately overturn the intention of the framers of Montana’s recently revised constitution and, in doing so, create a precedent whereby State funds can be funneled into sectarian schools. The suit brought against the state by a parent seeking $150 of state funding to help her underwrite her costs for parochial school hinges on this question: is the small amount allocated to school districts in the name of equitable funding fungible and, if so, can a parent use the funds to provide a de facto voucher for their child to attend a parochial school.

In the article, Ms. Vowell, a Montana native, describes the history of the $150 per student allocation which emanated from a early 1970s constitutional convention, and describes how the loss of that relatively small amount of funding would send shock waves throughout the state and especially hurt this schools who receive the supplement to help offset their lack of a local tax base.

She concludes her article with this synopsis of the situation, which is the basis for the title of this post:

The public schools the framers (of the State constitution) conjured ask the taxpayers to splurge on fairness, not privilege, to pull together, not away. That beekeeper, those clergymen and moms chartered a state in a republic where a first grader on horseback is supposed to be as big and important as the mountains. As the Supreme Court justices ponder whether to upend all that over what appears to be a $150 trifle, I’ll pass along this lesson of Montana winters: A collapsed roof starts with a single snowflake.