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David Leonard is 100% Right about the Need for a Pro-Government Stance but 100% Wrong About Pre-K

January 18, 2020 Leave a comment

As is often the case when I read David Leonard, I find myself nodding in agreement with roughly 90% of what he writes and then scratching my head in bewilderment with one or two points. In that respect he is the neoliberal analog to David Brooks who often grounds his thinking in Eastern philosophy but somehow ends up with pro-Capitalist conclusions.

David Leonard’s most recent column, “F.D.R. Got it. Most Democrats Don’t” is a case in point. The column opens with a description of a map FDR distributed in 1936 showing where government spending resulted in tangible improvements to citizens in every corner of the country. He contrasted that kind of government policy and spending with what happened during the Obama and Clinton administrations…. and finds the neoliberal plans wanting.

In recent decades, Democrats have too often forgotten this lesson. They have created technocratically elegant policies that quietly improve people’s lives, like tax credits or insurance subsidies. The problem with this approach is that it does little to build popular support for government action.

Put it this way: How many projects can you name from Barack Obama’s stimulus program? Can you name any project or agency that Bill Clinton created?

The only “project” that I can name from the Obama stimulus program is the reprehensible Race to the Top program and Clinton’s signature legislation was to “End Welfare as we Know It”. Both neo-liberals passed legislation that was based on the Reagan premise that “Government is the Problem” and only the private sector can save the day.

Bottom line: David Leonard is 100% right in identifying the problem.

But Mr. Leonard then goes on to use Elizabeth Warren as the exemplar of advocating the kind of programs Democrats should embrace flagging her desire to create the office of Consumer Finance Protection Office during the Obama administration as a case in point. He then writes:

Warren’s presidential agenda has several other easily understandable ideas, like a $200-a-month increase in Social Security benefits, a price reduction for insulin and other popular drugs, the cancellation of up to $50,000 in student debt and a wealth tax. During a recent interview with her, I mentioned that she seemed to believe that bigger ideas were sometimes easier to accomplish than more modest ones. “I do,” she replied. Big ideas can inspire people; tax credits do not.

This left me with one question: did Mr. Leonard interview Bernie Sanders? If so, why didn’t he give a list of the “easily understandable ideas” Mr. Sanders is advocation? If not, maybe he should sit down with him and give him a chance to tick off the kind of spending he would advocate.

But this omission of Sanders’ ideas was not the real head scratcher. The highlighted section was:

The next Democratic president, whoever it is, shouldn’t repeat this mistake. In climate policy, this would mean putting more emphasis on a green-jobs program than on a hated carbon tax. In education, it could mean creating a “public option” for pre-K. In every area, it also means making sure that government functions well.

As I have written on several occasions in this blog, the worst thing that politicians could do is to create a model for pre-K that incorporates anything that resembles a voucher program. If pre-K is commodified in the name of “choice” and parents who want child care are offered a de facto voucher to pay for child care it will lead to an unravelling of the “government schools” that are charged with the mission of educating all children. In short, nothing could be more wrong-headed than the creation of a “public option” for pre-K. But Democrats have shown a proclivity for wrong-headedness when it comes to public education, sidestepping the need for more funds by doubling down on the reform movements notion that privatization is the way forward… and neoliberal cheerleaders like David Leonard are one of the reasons why this happens.

Bad News Betsy Blistered by Guardian

December 30, 2019 Comments off

Guardian writer David Smith wrote a blistering essay outlining the many ways Betsy DeVos has undermined public schools in her short tenure as Secretary of Education. Here are some highlights, beginning with Randi Weingarten’s assessment:

“We’ve had plenty of Republican as well as Democratic secretaries of education but none of them, even those who believed in alternatives to public education, actually tried to eviscerate public education,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Here is someone who in her first budget tried to eliminate every single summer school programme, every single after-school programme, and who has done everything in her power to try to make it harder for us to strengthen public [sector] schools.”

Then there’s the federal court’s assessment:

DeVos is currently attacking a programme, known as “borrower defense to repayment”, intended to forgive federal loans for students whose colleges misrepresent the quality of their education or otherwise commit fraud. The programme was expanded under Barack Obama but DeVos has been accused of stalling it for more than a year while she altered the rules and made it harder for students to get loan relief, resulting in a large backlog.

Last month, a federal judge held DeVos in contempt for violating an order to stop collecting loan payments from former Corinthian Colleges students, a for-profit college chain that collapsed in 2015 amid allegations that it lied about the success of its graduates in order to get students to enroll.

And centrist MD legislator John Delaney’s take:

“If we were grading her on a report card, I would give her very low grades if not a failing grade,” he said by phone from Iowa. “The reason I think she has not been a successful secretary of educationwas obvious from the day she was given the job, which is she doesn’t believe in the public education system in this country. She would voucherise the whole system if she could.”

But the most chilling quote from Mr. Delaney was this one:

Delaney warned: “We have to be careful not to be so preoccupied with every single ridiculous thing the president does because, to some extent, it might be a strategy to distract us from the bad policy that’s actually getting done.Obviously the things he did with Ukraine deserve this attention they’re getting. But in some ways he’s the bright, shiny light and every little tweet causes people to just be incredibly preoccupied.

“Meanwhile, environmental regulations are getting rolled back. Ethanol waivers are being granted. There are proposals to spin off the entire student loan portfolio of the Department of Education. The list goes on and on and on of real policies that are happening that deserve much more attention. She has largely kept her head down and gone about her business, which I think is ideologically driven and hasn’t attracted that much attention.”

John Delaney is onto something insidious: while the President issues ridiculous tweets that occupy bandwidth on the evening news his appointees and the anti-government wing of the GOP are doing horrific damage to our country… damage that will cost billions of dollars and, in all probability, decades to repair.

Mr. Smith’s article concludes with this prediction from Neil Sroka, an activist from Michigan:

“(Betsy DeVos)… scion of wealth and privilege has never had a real job but made it her life’s work to attack public schools, teachers and students. She only escapes scrutiny because so much incompetence, grief and evil comes out of this administration that she’s been able to ride out the storm. But she’s made it much more likely we’ll get a Democratic education secretary who’s a real champion for teachers.

Sroka’s prediction will only come true if we elect a Democrat who opposes the neoliberal agenda. If the Democrats choose someone in the mold of Barak Obama or Bill Clinton they will likely get a secretary of education in the mold of Arne Duncan, someone who will never be held up as “…a real champion for teachers”.

Michigan Spent Millions for Charter Schools That Never Opened…. But Is Prepared to Spend Millions More

December 30, 2019 Comments off

Michigan Public Radio reporter Dustin Dwyer provided his listeners with a synopsis of a study done by the Network for Public Education (NPE) that determined that 72 of the 257 charter schools receiving federal funding never opened… a dubious record that was unmatched by any other state in the union. But that’s not the worst:

Another 40 charter schools in Michigan that received money have since closed. In total, 44% of the schools that won grants are no longer open.

Despite that, Michigan is moving ahead with the latest round of the federal program, which could send an additional $47 million to the state’s charter schools.

Mr. Dwyer reported that some of the Michigan State Board members expressed misgivings over the oversight of these funds, but the majority of members endorsed the continuation of the program and State Superintendent Michael Rice “…told members of the State Board of Education at a meeting Tuesday that he’s asking the Michigan Department of Education to keep a closer eye on funding for the next round of grants.” Given NPE’s analysis, it seems that he or his predecessor failed to do this in the past:

The report from the Network for Public Education lists several examples from Michigan in which charter school operators paid themselves, or their family members, tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees for schools that never opened.

Given the loose regulations governing charter schools it is no surprise that “entrepreneurs” are seizing the opportunity to make money at the expense of taxpayers. But those who favor the application of the marketplace model for the public sector will be quick to point out that failing schools, like failing restaurants, failing casinos, or failing hotels, will close. The collateral damage to the “customers” in schools, though, is more far reaching than the collateral damage to customers in other failed businesses.

Short Term Thinking Poisons Schools as Well as Businesses

December 22, 2019 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes feared an op ed article by Ryan Beck and Amit Seru titled “Short Term Thinking is Poisoning American Business”. In my opinion, the article describes the result of businesses and economists adopting Milton Friedman’s credo of shareholder primacy, a phenomenon Mr. Beck and Mr. Seru describe in the closing two paragraphs:

Milton Friedman, who popularized the notion of shareholder primacy and pursuit of profit, once lamented that business leaders are often “incredibly shortsighted and muddle-headed in matters that are outside their businesses but affect the possible survival of business in general.”

Friedman was right. The modern economy is not working for too many people, who have begun to equate short-term thinking with free-market capitalism and have had enough of both. The survival of business in general demands that we take the long view.

As I noted in a comment I posted, Friedman WAS right that “…business leaders are often “incredibly shortsighted and muddle-headed in matters that are outside their businesses but affect the possible survival of business in general.” But Mr. Friedman himself was shortsighted when he advocated the idea of shareholder primacy because shortsightedness and muddle-headedness was a direct result of that notion. Outsourcing, downsizing, off-shoring, “optimizing” work schedules, eliminating pensions and robust health insurance all increase the bottom line but undercut the well being of employees and, as a result the economic health of our country. Until we restore the notion that corporations need to put the well-being of their employees ahead of the well-being of shareholders we will continue to have “short-sighted” business leaders.

And here’s what makes matters worse from my perspective: part of the notion of privatization is that the use of “business principles” will drive down costs and improve performance of public schools. Many privatized schools have illustrated how they accomplish this feat: they assume no legacy costs; require no new construction and thereby avoid debt service; they offer minimum compensation to new and inexperienced teachers to avoid matching the wages and benefits afforded to those veteran teachers in public schools; and they limit their students to those whose parents have either the fiscal ability or commitment and engagement required to complete the often complex and/or time consuming application processes. In short, they limit the enrollment of “difficult” children or children with disengaged parents while simultaneously limiting the amount they need to spend per pupil by limiting total compensation packages to their staff.

And… if the executives in these for profit charter schools turn a profit they get duly rewarded in the same short term rewards as their counterparts in business: a bonus or wage boost that results in compensation that far exceeds that of the teachers delivering the instruction. The short term thinking in schools is likely to turn out the same way as the short term thinking in business: a situation Mr. Bent and Mr. Seru describe as follows:

Short-term business practices are polluting our environment and harming our health and well-being for the sake of quick payouts.

We’re polluting school environments with tests and harming the health and well-being of teachers and students as a result. Time to pull the plug on profiteering in schools.

NYTimes Deceptive Headline and All But One of Their “Picks” Mislead Readers

November 27, 2019 Comments off

The NYTimes headline to an article written by Erica Green and Eliza Shapiro reads:

Minority Voters Chafe as Democratic Candidates Abandon Charter Schools

There are at least four problems with this headline and the article.

The first is this fact, which is buried near the end of the article:

Black and Latino approval for the (charter) schools remained basically steady at about 47 percent for each group.

47% hardly constitutes a majority of “minority voters” and I daresay if you asked them a narrower question, one that reflects the actual position of the Democrats, they would lean toward the positions the candidates are actually, taking, which is not “abandonment” but rather “regulation”.

Which brings me to the second point: each and every candidate quoted was not opposed to ALL charters. Indeed, the most progressive of the candidates, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, made it clear that they opposed deregulated and/or for-profit charters.

The third problem is that the NAACP, arguably a voice for African Americans, took a stand against charter schools in 2016 that is, in fact, the basis for both Warren’s and Sanders’ positions, a fact that the article DID highlight:

Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders say their education plans would address the causes of educational inequality, in part, by significantly increasing funding for high-poverty schools.

Both plans echo the N.A.A.C.P., which called in 2016 for a moratorium on new charter schools. Mr. Sanders has gone further than Ms. Warren by linking charters to school segregation.

Josh Orton, a spokesman for Mr. Sanders, said the senator believed that “all students deserve a world-class public education, regardless of their ZIP code.” He added that “too many charter schools are unaccountable and contributing to privatization.”

Finally, the article references the progressive candidates’ position of cutting federal funding for schools without noting the facts referenced in yesterday’s post noting that nearly 25% of the $4,000,000,000 allocated went to schools that never opened!

To make matters worse, the article went overboard posting fingers at unions as the driving force behind the shift away from charter expansion. And not only did they do so in the article, they amplified this position in the comments they selected as “picks” with the two leading ones deriding unions as greedy and uninterested in the welfare of children.

I could go on… but instead I am going to paste in a comment by Chris Gray, of Chicago that captures my thinking on the NYTimes coverage of this issue perfectly:

This is a very deceptive article. The data point given shows that fewer than half of black and Latino Democrats approve of charter schools, even as they’ve plunged much lower among white Democrats. Most of the “activists” cited in this article are simply representing the interests of their financial backers and racializing support for charter schools because they know how that plays in Democratic quarters and liberal media outlets set up to focus on identity politics. These faux activists aren’t really representing blacks and Latinos, they’re representing money. Charter schools provide a means to privatize and capitalize on public schools. They divert tax money from the socialized system into one that is set up for the benefit of capitalist investors. They cherry-pick the best students and leave the rest in the old system, and even then they don’t show better results overall. The problem with the education of low-income minorities is one of poverty and institutional racism. The problem is not public schools. Setting up a separate system where Wall Street receives a dividend primarily helps Wall Street, which is paying for this astroturf activism.

Elizabeth Warren’s Charter Funding Cuts Misrepresented

November 26, 2019 Comments off

Unsurprisingly yet maddeningly the mainstream press continues to misrepresent Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to cut federal funding for charter schools, a misrepresentation that is at best unwittingly misleading and at worst intentionally so. A recent article by Carol Burris and Kevin Welner that was reprinted in Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post column explains how the plan has been presented incorrectly:

…The commentary (of those who oppose Warren’s plan) hinges on this claim: that Warren’s “education platform includes eliminating federal funding for charter schools.” In reality, Warren’s plan would greatly increase the federal funding provided to…charter and public schools.

To understand why, consider two other elements of Warren’s education plan. First, she proposes quadrupling Title I funding so that it rises to levels that have long been pledged by Washington politicians but never reached. Secondly, and similarly, she would more than double federal funding for students with special needs served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) — again aiming for levels long promised but never fulfilled.

Both Mr. Welner and Ms. Burris have done extensive research on the charter schools that benefitted from federal funding and each independently came to the same conclusion: over $1,000,000,000 of the $4,000,000,000+ went to charter schools that never opened and a lion’s share of the money went to charter chains:

The federal Charter Schools Program, which began as a modest experiment in 1995, has turned into a cash cow for a number of organizations that lobby on behalf of charter schools, for real estate developers through its facilities program, and for the huge multimillion dollar charter chains that are constantly seeking to expand.

Warren’s proposal is to stop this waste while also providing greater support to all schools, both public and charter, as they do their best to provide learning opportunities to students in real need.

In short, Ms. Warren seeks to redirect public funds to public institutions and eliminate the middleman: the profiteers who seek to increase revenues by cutting costs and limiting compensation for workers. Such ideas fly in the face of what passes for conventional wisdom– that businesses operate more efficiently than public institutions— in this case “government schools”– and the market place can best sort out winners and losers. Changing THAT paradigm seems to be every bit as difficult as changing the paradigm that students must be batched by age cohorts and tested annually to ensure that they are making progress. Our schools will never improve as long as those paradigms remain in place.

Will “Caveat Emptor” Apply to K-12 Parents who are Misled by Profiteers

November 25, 2019 Comments off

apple.news/A4Zq6WFo7TvWe-UKPrf278w

If Betsy DeVos has her way the principle of caveat emptor will apply to K-12 as well.