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Posts Tagged ‘vouchers’

Blogger Peter Greene Notes that Neo-liberals and Friedman-ites are Kindred Spirits

February 13, 2018 Leave a comment

In many previous blog posts I’ve lamented the fact that neither Presidential candidate in 2016 offered much in the way of hope for change in public education policy… and when I read Peter Greene, who’s blog Curmudgucation, post yesterday about the Center for American Progress’s (CAP’s) latest white paper celebrating the fact that under ESSA many states are continuing the “reform” initiatives I was even more convinced that was the case. CAP is often help up as a counter to the right wing think tanks funded by the likes of the Koch brothers. But, as Mr. Greene points out, there isn’t much difference between what the neo-liberal “reformers” beloved of CAP want to do to public schools and what the pro-voucher Friedman-ites want to do.

Mr. Greene described the CAP’s leadership under John Podesta as “…a holding tank for Clinton politicians and bureaucrats who were biding their time, cooking up policy advocacy, while waiting for Hillary to take her rightful place in DC”, citing the unyielding support for the Common Core, for state intervention when a district “fails” based on successive standardized tests, and/or the imposition of “alternative governance structures” if the struggles seem to emanate from Board mismanagement. Mr. Greene has particular scorn for the SIG grants that were embraced by the Obama administration, grants that imposed solutions from the top down and prescribed how funds would be used in schools:

We have the results of the School Improvement Grants used by the Obama administration to “fix” schools, and the results were that SIG didn’t accomplish anything (other than, I suppose, keeping a bunch of consultants well-paid). SIG also did damage because it allowed the current administration and their ilk to say, “See? Throwing money at schools doesn’t help.” But the real lesson of SIG, which came with very specific Fix Your School instructions attached, was that when the state or federal government try to tell a local school district exactly how things should be fixed, instead of listening to the people who live and work there, nothing gets better. That same fundamental flaw is part of the DNA of the takeover/turnaround approach.

The “takeover/turnaround” model— like the voucher model— implies that educators and elected community members are incapable of solving the “problems” in a school, “problems” that are defined by stagnant scores on standardized tests that often vary over time. This just in, CAP: the problems children bring with them school have an impact on their schools and need to be addressed in tandem with the academic program.

 

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National Review Assessment of DC School District’s Flaws is On the Mark. It’s Solutions? Not so Much

February 12, 2018 Leave a comment

I keep going against hope that some day the conservative thinkers will come to the conclusion that public schools will only be successful when we stop pretending that their problems can be solved by “more accountability” and “more competition”. As I read the first 90% of the National Review’s op ed piece by Max Eden and Lindsey Burke, “Fraud and Failure in DC Public Schools“, I thought that was going to be their conclusion… but instead they parroted the canard that “parental choice” is the only way forward.

The opening paragraphs could have been written by Diane Ravitch or any one of the bloggers she quotes from. It describes how the use of metrics like graduation rates, test scores, and suspensions are manipulated by enterprising administrators in an effort to “prove” their schools are improving. And this paragraph captures the flaws of the current “accountability” systems that are based on easily manipulated metrics:

None of this should be surprising. DCPS’s “accountability” system essentially requires principals to post impossible statistical improvements. You can’t make student behavior better through a dictate banning traditional school discipline. You can’t change life trajectories by ordering teachers to graduate students who fail their classes. Do things the old fashioned way — by offering teachers support, encouraging students and giving them structure, and making incremental improvements to curriculum and instruction — and you likely won’t achieve the so-called “transformational” change you’d need to be deemed a successful principal.

Right on! Do things the “old school” way by “offering teachers support” and “giving students structure”! If this appeared in Diane Ravitch’s column it would inevitably conclude with a paragraph calling for more equitable allocation of resources and especially more support for the children raised in poverty. But this was the National Review and so instead of trusting the government to level the playing field and improve schools, we should “trust the parents” by giving them choice.

Yet to skeptics, school choice is problematic because there’s not enough “accountability.” If the “accountability” they seek is metric-chasing mandates, then its absence in school-choice programs is a virtue, not a fault. But to most parents, “accountability” means having a school that’s responsive to their child’s needs. The way to make that happen is to give parents choices, which will encourage schools to pursue safety and academic quality with integrity. True accountability won’t come from forcing school leaders to squeeze schools into producing statistical improvements. True accountability will come only when parents and the community, rather than clueless bureaucrats, are the ones putting pressure on schools.

My hunch is that the National Review writers never worked in or attended a school where parents and the community are not putting ANY pressure on the schools… except for them to keep taxes low and children off the streets. The communities and neighborhoods where this attitude is prevalent are the ones whose schools require some kind of pressure to improve… albeit a slow relentless pressure as opposed to the quick fixes beloved of “reformers”.

I am not naive enough think that the National Review will ever commit to “throwing more money at schools”… but I DO keep hoping they’ll at least see the commonsense value of providing more support to working parents— especially single parents— who are working as hard as they can to make ends meet. When the Betsy DeVos’ of this world talk about parents making an informed choice, they tend to base that recommendation on their experience as children and parents and they tend to believe that everyone else has the same wherewithal as they do when it comes to having enough time to make an informed choice. If that day ever comes, choice might make sense. But without the time and economic resources to make an informed choice, the whole pretext of “choice” is bogus.

 

Disaster Capitalism Comes to Puerto Rico. Is ANYONE Surprised?

February 7, 2018 Leave a comment

When Hurricane Kartina hit New Orleans and forced the closure of all of the public schools in the city, then President Bush and his Secretary of Education seized on the disaster as an opportunity to “transform” the school district replacing the public school system overseen by an elected board with charter schools. Years later, despite evidence to the contrary, the GOP and the neoliberal “reformers” and researchers who supported then hailed this “revolutionary change” as unequivocally good, even though there was mounting evidence to the contrary.

Unsurprisingly, after Hurricane Maria devastated his island the Governor of Puerto Rico is now taking the same tack as the Bush administration took after Kartina, introducing a reform package that replaces the single school district that governs Puerto Rico’s schools with a voucher plan. As reported by Reuters writer Nick Brown,

Speaking in a televised address on Monday, Governor Ricardo Rossello also said every public school teacher in Puerto Rico would receive a $1,500 annual salary increase beginning next school year. It was unclear whether the pay bump would require legislation.

The governor’s remarks came 10 days after the island’s education secretary, Julia Keleher, said she planned to decentralize Puerto Rico’s education department and introduce “autonomous schools.”

The pay raise for teachers presumably will win their endorsement for this plan to introduce “autonomous schools”, but the AFT is not buying it:

The plan met with immediate scorn from the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 40,000 educators in Puerto Rico. AFT President Randi Weingarten told Reuters the plan “doesn’t add up,” saying salary bumps will do nothing without more investment in schools.

“There’s a lot of nice flowery language in here, but … you can’t actually do the things [Rossello] is talking about doing and still divert resources from public schools,” Weingarten said.

The voucher program, projected to begin during the 2019-2020 school year, would allow parents to choose public or private school alternatives, but may face legal hurdles.

Ms. Keleher has a daunting task given the fiscal issues facing Puerto Rico. She has generated considerable criticism before the Hurricane because she needed to close over 150 schools to help balance the budget and she had launched some decentralized BOCES-like service organizations across the state to help provide cost-effective support to the schools. But based on what I’ve read, her forte is applying spreadsheet analyses to the operation of schools in the name of efficiency… and efficiency is not necessarily a hallmark of democracy, though is seems to be an article of faith that it IS a hallmark of the marketplace…. and vouchers are the fastest way to impose market forces onto schools.

In the coming months it will be interesting to see if Puerto Rico moves ahead with it’s “revolutionary idea” or backs off because of the inevitable legal challenges it will face. Stay tuned.

Diane Ravitch’s Criticism of Betsy DeVos Wrongheaded Ideology Overlooks a Practical Reality

February 7, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday Diane Ravitch wrote a post criticizing “Backpack”, a pilot new funding mechanism being launched by USDOE Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Ms. Ravitch described “Backpack” using a quote from Education Week as follows:

“DeVos and her team have been especially interested in the pilot, pretty much from the time they took office. That could be because, in theory, adopting a weighted student funding formula could make it easier for districts to operate school choice programs, since money would be tied to individual students and could therefore follow them to charter or virtual public schools. Importantly, though, districts that opt to participate in the pilot don’t necessarily have to use it to further school choice.”

While I concur with Ms. Ravitch’s insights roughly 95% of the time, occasionally she overlooks the fact that NEITHER political party has advocated for traditional public schools…. which led me to leave this comment:

Lest we forget, Mr. Duncan foisted VAM on the entire nation when he put RTTT together!

I’m not sure that either political party cares much about children. Instead they seek to replace locally elected school boards with for profit charter schools, to prove that “failing schools” can be fixed if you get rid of “bad teachers”, and to avoid any interventions that require additional funds… because “everyone knows” that throwing money at the problems in public education will not fix anything.

Had Hillary Clinton won the election in 2016 we wouldn’t have the blatant libertarianism of Betsy DeVos and her friends the Koch brothers… but I’m not at all certain we would be witnessing a renaissance in progressive learning or the abandonment of the use of standardized tests to measure success.

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Koch Brothers Warning Redux: Voting in ALL Elections, ESPECIALLY Primaries, Is Essential!

February 5, 2018 Leave a comment

On of Diane Ravitch’s posts early yesterday included a link to an article by Jeff Bryant, a politically progressive and reliably insightful blogger on public education issues that covered the meeting the Koch Brothers heard recently that placed public schools in their cross hairs as a major target for “reform” in the coming year. Unlike Diane Ravitch, who often sidesteps criticism of the Democratic Party, Jeff Bryant is not reluctant to criticize the party for it’s failure to stand up to the “reformers” who advocate anodyne sounding initiatives like “choice”. Pulling no punches, he writes:

Democrats, over the years, have pulled away from their historical support for public schools and classroom teachers and have gradually embraced the language of “reform” and “choice” Republicans use. Many Democrats have turned against teachers union, joined the Republican chorus to “bust” the public school “monopoly,” and embraced numerous alternatives to traditional public schools that sap the system of its resources.

The Koch brothers’ 700 cronies contributed $100,000 each PER YEAR. That’s $70 million dollars… more than twice the $32 million the AFT and NEA gave to campaigns in 2016! And while that list is not available to the public, I’m guessing that some on that list might own newspapers and TV stations… I’m guessing the Sinclair broadcasting group and Rupert Murdoch might be on the list…

The unions DO need to push back harder against the neoliberals in the Democratic Party, but they will never have a megaphone as big as the Koch brothers…

And one other problem unions face is resentment among taxpayers that translates into a lack of support for their efforts to provide decent wages and working conditions for their employees. Teachers and school district employees who are union members, unlike most employees in the private sector, receive good health benefits, leave time for illnesses, and defined benefit pensions. The fact that these wages and benefits are underwritten by taxes leads to resentment and that, in turn, reduces the public’s support for public education. As long as the public sector wages and benefits mirrored that of the private sector, support for school district employees was relatively strong. Now that the private sector has embraced the private sector’s concept of employees as “free agents” and former President Reagan’s assertion that “government is the problem” there is less support for school district employees compensation packages.

And last but not least, all who read this blog need to be vigilant at the state and local level. Formerly non-partisan school board races and GOP primaries are places where a small investment by the Koch’s will go a long way toward tilting state legislatures toward the ALEC mindset! Laurence Lessig cautioned in a talk I heard a few years ago that the real damage inflicted on democracy by Citizens United was in the primary elections where small bands of voters could be activated to nominate candidates who hold extreme views on either end of the political spectrum. This has contributed to the polarization as much as the echo chambers on Facebook and other social media. Informed voting in ALL elections is the only cure for this malady.

Koch Brothers Want to Individualize at the expense of Democracy. Only State Legislatures and Local School Boards can Stop Them

February 2, 2018 Leave a comment

From the beginning of my career as an educator, I have been an advocate of individualization as a means of allowing students to progress through subjects at their own rate and to pursue subjects that are especially interesting to them. But my vision for implementing individualization would incorporate self-paced and self-defined learning within a framework where students instruction in social skills, inter- and intra-personal skills, and governance skills would be explicit. The role of teachers would be to monitor and coach students as they proceed through curricula that help them develop hierarchical and factual information and to facilitate dialogue sessions where student learn the skills required to operate in a democracy and make it thrive. A blend of Sal Kahn’s approach to “personalization” of content and the collaborative Harkness method used at Philips Exeter Academy comes closest to the kind of instruction that would achieve this kind of vision. If schools were organized in this fashion age cohorts would gather in groups of 12 to wrestle with age appropriate ethical issues drawn from common readings. The reading need not be complicated or lengthy: Aesop’s fables, for example, could generate in depth dialogue among students no matter what their reading level or their learning pace. From my perspective, the act of gathering around a table to debate and gain an understanding of these issues is the heart of democracy, and absent that kind of opportunity children have no way to learn how to conduct themselves with civility, how to empathize with others, or how to reflect on their own views.

The Koch Brothers, though, have a different view of the ideal education. Where progressive idealists like me want to ensure that students have an opportunity to learn from each other, learn how to collaborate, and learn how to think reflectively, the Koch Brothers view schooling as a sorting machine designed to winnow out the weak and celebrate the strong. “Public Education in Koch Network’s Sights“, Martin Levine’s article in the recent Non-Profit Quarterly offers an unsettling description of the Koch Brothers’ ultimate goal in their effort to change public education. In reading the recent Washington Post article that reported on the Koch Network’s annual meeting, Mr. Levine concluded that democracy itself will be imperiled if the Koch’s vision is adopted across the nation— and sees that as the ultimate end-game for the Koch Network:

The Koch Network’s new strategic focus appears to move beyond debates over school choice, common core curriculums, and testing; instead, they’re working toward longer-term changes in societal thinking. The Network’s vision is one of highly tailored individualized learning, which leaves little space for education to support core democratic values…

In an earlier post on this sameI encouraged local voters to WAKE UP to the Koch Brothers’ stealth funding of political campaigns at ALL levels of government, especially state legislatures and local school boards. A quick read of Mr. Levine’s article makes the alarm more urgent. He concludes his essay with this:

Those who believe public education is a shared responsibility entrusted to local governments will surely want to resist this. Replacing “public” with “individual” is a radical change that could further divide our nation along racial and economic lines as well as serve to undermine notions of equal opportunity. The Koch Network has passion and money to fuel its work. How public school and nonprofit civic advocates respond to these assaults could greatly affect our future.

One thing is clear to me: if “…public school and nonprofit civic advocates” remain on the sidelines we will not only divide our nation along racial and economic lines (and) undermine notions of equal opportunity, we will undermine democracy itself.

ACLU Defines Purpose of “School Choice”… and it has NOTHING to do with Addressing Inequality

February 1, 2018 Leave a comment

Last week was “National School Choice Week” and both advocates and opponents of school choice issued predictable op ed pieces on the issue. One of the most insightful perspectives on school choice came from the ACLU, who unlike the AFT, NEA, or various professional organizations and parent groups, has no dog in the fight for public education in terms of obtaining money. Their argument in opposition to “choice” has to do with what they identify as the real mission of choice:

Rather “school choice” is a catch-all phrase that covers a variety of efforts to effectively privatize public education by diverting public education funds to private sources. It includes home schooling, charter schools, and virtual education, but it is mostly code for private school vouchers and similar programs, such as education savings accounts and tax credit scholarship programs. The school choice movement has been around for decades, working to expand its reach school district by school district and state by state.

In “What Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and Betsy DeVos Won’t Tell You about School Choice”, Heather Weaver, the Senior Staff Attorney associated with the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, looks at what transpired in Indiana during Mr. Pence’s term of office as an indication of where “school choice” is headed and what its true purpose is… and what will happen to our nation’s public education system if “choice” prevails:

Indiana has one of the most expansive private school voucher programs in the country, courtesy of Mike Pence. During his time as governor, Pence “removed the cap on the number of students who could qualify for a voucher to a private school, increased the limits on qualifying family income, and removed [a] stipulation that the student had to try the public school first,” according to a searing analysis of the state’s school choice failures by The Washington Post yesterday.

The result?

Last year alone, Indiana taxpayers financed private school education — nearly all religious — to the tune of $146.1 million “with most of it going to families who would have sent their children to private school anyway.” Oh, and by the way, a 2017 study of Indiana students in grades 3-8 who actually did use the voucher to transfer from a public to a private school showed that the voucher program had a negative impact on students’ academic achievement.

But the movement to direct public funds away from “government schools” to deregulated for-profit charter schools and religiously affiliated private schools serves two purposes for the GOP: it rewards their donors who stand to make a bundle from the expansion of for-profit schools and rewards the Evangelical base who want to keep their children isolated and away from the presumably heathen children who attend public schools.

The ACLU’s opposition to “choice” is based on principle. Ms. Weaver offers several examples that prove that vouchers make no difference in student performance. She also offers evidence that civil rights protections are undermined by school voucher programs, that accountability is minimal, and— worst of all from their perspective, public dollars are flowing into schools that promote religion. She describes the religious schools benefitting from vouchers in the penultimate paragraph:

Schools (receiving public funds) not only discriminate against students and employees based on religion and other grounds, as noted above, but they also do not have to meet the same curricular requirements that public schools do. Many religious voucher schools, for example, teach creationism in science class. They also incorporate religious worship into the curriculum in the form of chapel, daily prayer, or daily scriptural readings and infringe upon basic principles of religious liberty by providing public funds for sectarian proselytizing.

The Trump administration, the GOP, and the “reformers” are promoting a narrative that downtrodden parents are demanding the chance to attend schools that are as good as those in the most affluent districts in their state… and that “choice” will provide them with that opportunity. As Ms. Weaver indicates, that ISN’T what choice is about at all… and the sooner the voters wake up to that realization the better.