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Posts Tagged ‘vouchers’

Red States Didn’t Cut As Many Services as Feared… but the Bipartisan Desire for Charter Schools Has Transformed the Debate on Public Schools

August 19, 2019 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed article by Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, that suggests that the GOP has not made as many adverse inroads into public services as Democrats and progressives feared. Mr. Grossman provides compelling data on the limited ability of conservatives to impose their full  agenda at the state level, in large measure because they have to provide balanced budgets. But he misses one big point: the bi-partisan support for charter schools has transformed the debate on public education. After recounting the challenges State GOP legislators faced in trying to cut popular programs, Mr. Grossman offers this summary of the successes the GOP experienced:

Surprisingly, the biggest Republican state success stories came in partnership with Democrats. After decades of tough-on-crime policies, conservative groups joined with liberal foundations to reform criminal justice in several states. Taking advantage of federal action by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and (especially) Barack Obama, conservative legislators helped greatly expand charter schools. Early childhood education and alternative energy promotion also expanded nationwide, largely on a bipartisan basis.

Mr. Grossman overlooked a very significant shift that appears to have taken place as a result of the Democrats adopting the neoliberal idea that public schools should be operated independently of local school boards.

The bi-patrisan support for charter schools means the debate between those seeking governance of public education by locally ELECTED officials as opposed to governance by private UNELECTED boards is over. The debate is now about whether parents’ decisions about where their child attends school should be made as citizens seeking options for government funded services (i.e. charter “schools-of-choice” vs. traditional schools “assigned by the government”) or made as consumers able to choose from a wide array of products (i.e. vouchers). In short, the debate is no longer between attending the “government school” that is funded with state and/or local taxes or choosing from an array of charters approved by the local and/or State Board. The debate is now between choice and vouchers… allowing parents to take their “school tax allocation” and applying to whatever school they wish to attend— on line, nearby, or distant. It appears that there is bi-partisan support for the abandonment of the governance model that has been in place for decades whereby local communities fund schools overseen by elected school boards that their local resident children must attend. Mr. Grossman may not see this as consequential. As a retired public school administrator I do.

Self-Directed Learning: A Place Where Libertarianism and Progressivism Intersect

August 2, 2019 Comments off

A series of articles in the libertarian Cato Institute’s July edition of Cato Unbound offers four essays that describe a point where libertarianism and progressivism intersect: the need to move away from our lock-step factory model of education in the direction of self-directed learning. The opening paragraphs introducing the essays describes the basic libertarian argument for questioning the status quo and re-thinking the voucher plans espoused by their iconic economist Milton Friedman:

Libertarians tend to support school choice. But for whom? In the voucher model, parents may choose among various private schooling options for their children and designate their vouchers to the schools they’ve selected.

But what if school itself is a matter of choice? And what does it look like when students and parents choose unstructured learning instead?Is this unconventional choice an option that libertarians should prefer? Perhaps: much about the conventional experience of primary and secondary schooling is the product of bureaucratization and standardization—and much of that comes directly from state involvement in education.

So what is the relationship between libertarian politics and unstructured schooling? How seriously should libertarians take the idea of scrapping school as we know it, and replacing it with child-directed learning?

As one who read and admired the thinking of A.S. Neill, John Holt, and Ivan Illich, there is an appeal to seeing public education as it exists today wither and disappear. Since the passage of NCLB, education policy has been dictated by the desire of politicians and parents to ensure that children graduating from high school meet “high standards”. But setting such standards without increasing funding or changing the age-based grade-level cohort scheme for schooling has proven to be an impossibility. The result is “failing schools” based on standardized test scores and increasingly dis-engaged students as today’s students find the lessons linked to test scores dispiriting and pointless in a world where they can get answers to questions that concern them directly with a Google Search or the use of an app. In the next few days I plan to explore the ideas presented in these Cato Unbound essays and offer some ideas on how we might change to current paradigm for schooling in a way that helps all children have an opportunity to learn more by directing their own learning.

“Learn Everywhere”, Chris Sununu and Frank Edelblut’s Backdoor Privatization Scheme, Unlikely to be Implemented

July 27, 2019 Comments off

NH Governor Chris Sununu and NH Secretary of Education Frank Edelblut, pro-privatization advocates, concocted a deschooling idea called “Learn Everywhere” that the current State Board of Education adopted over protests from every public education organization. The concept behind “Learn Everywhere” was that the State Board of Education would be able to grant high school credits to students who participated in learning opportunities outside of their public school. This is a wonderful concept… but there was no need for the State Board to adopt such a concept because one was already in place! Several years ago the State Board authorized local boards to do the same thing when they created “Extended Learning Opportunities”. But despite the existence of this opportunity, the State Board decided to get into the credit-granting business itself, an action that would clearly undercut the authority of local boards, and an action that was universally seen as a power grab. Here’s an excerpt from a report in the Manchester Union Leader that appeared when the “Learn Everywhere” proposal was on the verge of adoption:

In a letter to the Board of Education released on Tuesday, the top education groups were united in their criticism of Edelblut’s proposal.

“We believe that as proposed, the ‘Learn Everywhere’ rules trample local control, are highly skewed toward wealthy families, grant graduation credits from non-accredited, non-credential sources, and provide little oversight and limited protections to students with disabilities and their families,” the letter states….

The League of Women Voters echoed that theme in their statement, pointing out that “New Hampshire’s public schools already award credit for work done outside the traditional high school program, including Extended Learning Opportunities coordinated by the local high schools.”

“We urge the State Board of Education to support learning opportunities such as these rather than the ill-defined Learn Everywhere proposal.”

The “Learn Everywhere” proposal passed by a slim majority on the State Board, with Sununu appointees supporting the proposal and holdover board members opposing it.

But passage of a regulation by an agency does not have the force of law. Before an agency’s rule can have the force of law it must be reviewed and accepted by the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules, or JLCAR…. and, as Bill Duncan, State Board member and opponent to the “Learn Everywhere” proposal, wrote in an op ed article in the July 24 Concord Monitor, JCLAR opposes the rule as it is written. Why?

Central to the committee’s concerns is the provision that New Hampshire high schools “shall” accept graduation credits created by private groups accredited by the State Board of Education (SBOE).

Normally, when JLCAR sends a proposed rule back with a preliminary objection, the agency makes the required changes and resubmits the rule to JLCAR for a virtually assured final approval. That does not seem likely in this case.

While merely changing the requirement that schools “shall” accept Learn Everywhere credits to “may” would be the obvious remedy to the key JLCAR objection, SBOE will probably not do that. The whole goal of the Learn Everywhere program is to replace public school courses with privately created graduation credits overseen by the education department.The word “shall” is the heart of the project. So this may become a real battle, one in which both sides will feel the stakes are high.

It is ironic that the GOP, a party that espouses local control over everything, wants to take local control away when it comes to awarding high school credits. But the endgame of all of this is the replacement of public schools with for profit enterprises and/or religiously affiliated schools that are not staffed with certified teachers. That was Frank Edelblut’s vision when he ran for Governor and almost defeated Chris Sununu and has been his mission ever since he took control of the State Department of education.

Mr. Duncan’s op ed article asserts that the JCLAR ruling is likely to stop the complete implementation of “Learn Everywhere”… but it also underscores the importance of having a progressive-minded Governor and legislature in 2020 and thereafter… for if the GOP controlled JCLAR the pro-privatization movement would be gaining steam now. Every election is important… and thankfully the 2018 election restored a degree of moderation to the NH legislature. Here’s hoping it remains that way for the foreseeable future.

Charter Schools Acknowledge Flaws, Flaws that Prove “No Excuses” Approach to Discipline Fails

July 6, 2019 Comments off

After reading Eliza Shapiro’s article this morning in the NYTimes I came away with the sense that MAYBE the tide is turning against charter schools in NYC and, if so, it could be a harbinger of a shift everywhere. The article’s title, “Why Some of the Country’s Best Urban Schools Face a Reckoning”, is misleading at best. It implies that the charter schools who are facing “a reckoning” are “some of the country’s best urban schools”, which perpetuates the NYTImes narrative that charter schools are better than traditional public schools. The article, though, pulls no punches because the data on charter schools indicted that while many of the charters flagged in the article have trumpeted their successes they have papered over their failures. The first two paragraphs set the stage:

When the charter school movement first burst on to the scene, its founders pledged to transform big urban school districts by offering low-income and minority families something they believed was missing: safe, orderly schools with rigorous academics.

But now, several decades later, as the movement has expanded, questions about whether its leaders were fulfilling their original promise to educate vulnerable children better than neighborhood public schools have mounted.

From there, Ms. Shapiro describes how zero tolerance discipline policies ended up emphasizing conduct at the expense of academics, demonstrates that many of the criticisms leveled against the charter schools were warranted, and indicates that both the Governor of NY and the legislature have resisted any further expansion of charters in NYC because of the deficiencies in the programs. Ms. Shapiro describes the new political reality in this paragraph:

Last month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat who has been a crucial supporter of charters, declared that the State Legislature would not lift a cap on the number of new charters issued citywide. By halting charter growth indefinitely, Albany lawmakers have begun to erode the schools’ foothold in the country’s biggest school system.

Will the charter’s loosening foothold in Albany and NYC have an impact on their expansion elsewhere? My belief is that it will except in those parts of the country where charters are unapologetically used to segregate children based on race, religion, and wealth…. and as long as Betsy DeVos has her hand on the tiller and neoliberalism reigns in the Democratic party the resegregation and monetization of public schools will continue and charters will be the vehicle for that trend.

DeVos Adopts Caveat Emptor Approach to Student Debt… Profiteers Smile!

June 29, 2019 Comments off

In an unsurprising “Dog Bites Man” development, Betsy DeVos repealed the Obama era guidelines designed to punish for-profit schools for misleading consumers and replaced them with a set of guidelines designed to provide consumers with more information…. and letting the profiteers off the hook entirely.

NYTimes reporter Erica Green describes it thusly in her article on the topic:

The so-called gainful employment rule was issued by the Obama administration in 2014, right before huge for-profit chains collapsed, leaving students stranded with debt and worthless degrees. Under the new standards, career and certificate programs, many of which operate in the for-profit sector, would have to prove their graduates could find gainful employment to maintain access to federal financial aid. It also would have required schools to disclose in advertisements a comparison of the student debt load of their graduates and their career earnings…

Education Department officials have argued that transparency, not regulation, is the best way to hold all schools — public nonprofits, community colleges and for-profits — accountable for their results. Instead of any accountability measures, it promised to expand an existing database, called the College Scorecard, to provide information on student debt and earnings prospects. The database, which provides information, including loan debt information, for 2,100 certificate granting programs, was unveiled last month.

In short, the USDOE shifted the burden of proof and responsibility from profiteers to consumers… a move that likely foreshadows how the marketplace might work should Ms. DeVos and her libertarian minded charter school advocates have their way with vouchers. The consequence of this shift is described by Ms. Green:

But in rescinding the rule, the department is eradicating the most fearsome accountability measure — the loss of federal aid — for schools that promise to furnish students with specific career skills but fail to prepare them for the job market, leaving taxpayers on the hook to pay back their loans…

Bob Shireman, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and an architect of the rule when he was in the Obama administration, called the repeal “disturbing and shortsighted.”

They are opening the door to operators whose singular focus on gobbling up federal grants and loans for their investors will steer the business toward manipulative recruiting and poor quality training,” he said.

Meanwhile, the relief for thousands of indebted former students of those schools “…whose singular focus on gobbling up federal grants and loans for their investors” is in limbo as the USDOE delays decisions on how to handle the money they owe to the government:

…Ms. DeVos has moved to overhaul that “borrower-defense” rule as well, hoping to give some students only partial relief. That process has been tied up in court proceedings, leaving more than 150,000 student claims in limbo.

“Borrower Defense” is replaced by “Caveat Emptor” and the businessmen “…whose singular focus on gobbling up federal grants and loans for their investors” are relieved and elated… and the edu-preneurs are getting their ads for charter schools geared up for the day when vouchers expand.

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Tennessee’s ESA Shenanigans Illustrate Why Delegating Education Policy to States is a BAD Idea

April 25, 2019 Comments off

A friend on Facebook shared a blog post from Momma Bear, a group of concerned Tennessee parents, grandparents, citizens, and– in a ll probability— teachers who are appalled at what is taking place in Tennessee. It seems that the Governor wants to get a voucher bill passed and in order to secure the votes he needed to do so was offering enticements to legislators if they voted in favor of his plan and threatening funding shortfalls for those who didn’t. The post describes how the House went from a 49-49 deadlock to a tie-breaking 50-48 vote on the voucher bill… and it seems that very few of the votes were cast in favor of the voucher policy itself… rather they were cast to secure funding for better roads and avoiding vengeance.

This is Lamar Alexander’s legacy for weakening the Federal policy guidelines and handing them off to the states…. and I rest my case for the flaws in the ESA legislation.

Millions of Federal $$$ for Charters Wasted Since 2006. Note the Date, Please!

April 23, 2019 Comments off

Jeff Bryant, co-author of a recently released report from the Network for Public Education (NPE), wrote a post for Common Dreams describing Betsy DeVos’ most recent reaction to the report, which was an ad hominem attack of the writers. Mr. Bryant’s summarized Ms. DeVos’ reaction and the NPE’s response in this paragraph:

By denying, distracting, and personally attacking the report authors, she encouraged us to delve further into the evidence that much of the money awarded by the program went to charter schools that are, at best, bungling attempts to start up education businesses that should never have been financed to begin with or, at worst, scam operations that willfully intended to make off with taxpayer money and not suffer any negative consequences.

What I find particularly alarming after reading this post is that the easiest defense of DeVos COULD have been: “The waste, fraud, and abuse happened under the watch of previous administrations and I will be taking the following steps to correct this problem”… because almost all of the documented cases in the NPE report come from actions taken by the DOE under the Obama administration.

She didn’t say that… which means she does not care at all about the need to regulate for profit charter schools or the impact those schools have on the lives of parents, children, and community members.

But here’s what I find even MORE alarming: there are probably at least a dozen Democratic candidates who WILL defend charter schools using that line of reasoning.

My bottom line on charters is that they should be governed by democratically elected boards and subject to the same regulations as public schools.