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NC GOP Legislators Drastically Cut Public School Funding. Now They Point to Flight of Students as Proof that Choice is Necessary

July 15, 2018 Leave a comment

The Charlotte News and Observer Editorial Board wrote a scathing editorial this weekend excoriating the action of the NC legislature toward public education. The editorial opens noting that “Advocates of school choice are heartened by new numbers showing that nearly 1 in 5 North Carolina students are opting out of traditional public schools. Many children are instead attending charter schools or private schools or being educated at home.

These “advocates” of choice believe this shift in enrollment patterns is a positive trend because it is evidence that “…parents are gaining educational options for their children and traditional public schools are being sharpened by the competition.” The editorial board, however, sees through this argument:

But the truth is quite different. What’s happening in North Carolina is that a concerted effort by the Republican-controlled General Assembly is starving public schools of resources and encouraging the expansion of educational options that lack standards and oversight.

…There’s nothing wrong with school choice itself.There’s nothing wrong with school choice itself. Parents have chosen to send their children to private schools and religious schools since schools have existed. But it is wrong to encourage the expansion of school choice by making traditional public schools less effective and less attractive.

The latter is what has happened since Republicans took control after gaining majorities in the state House and Senate in 2011. The 100-school cap on charter schools was lifted and the resulting proliferation of charters in some districts is draining funding.

Meanwhile, despite much talk about raising teacher salaries, the legislature has favored tax cuts over investment in public education. Adjusted for inflation, per-pupil funding is less today than it was 10 years ago.But even as funding shrinks, the legislature is mandating smaller class sizes and putting letter grades on public schools. The grades only advertise the obvious: the greater the poverty, the lower the grade.

Educational options are fine, but the foundation of public education also must be protected. Fortunately public school teachers are taking steps to protect that foundation. The group Red4EDNC plans to form a “Teachers Congress” that will press for more school funding and slow the shift of traditional school funding to charter schools and vouchers.

If North Carolina is going to foster school choice, it should first ensure that choosing a traditional public school anywhere in the state is an excellent choice.

Given the caveat at the beginning of one of the paragraphs, “…there’s nothing wrong with school choice itself”, it’s possible that the editors at one time offered qualified support for offering options to parents. Indeed, given the disingenuous “civil rights” sales pitch offered by “reformers” it is probable that op ed pieces appeared on the pages of the paper promoting the virtues of “choice” by advocating “competition”.

It is heartening to see the editorial board expressing strident opposition to “choice” and to acknowledge that legislators who advocate choice among schools should first ensure that choosing a traditional public school anywhere in the state is an excellent choice. I only wish that editors in states who are beginning to redirect public school funds toward charter schools and choice would read this editorial and understand that any effort to expand charters and choice without expanding funding for schools across the board has the effect of diminishing funds for traditional public schools. If the pool of funds for public education does not expand at the same time as choices for public education expand traditional public education will suffer and privatization and profiteering will advance.

 

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President Trump’s Supreme Court Pick Will Support the Tearing Down of the Wall Separating Church and State

July 10, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s Politico education post written by Kimberly Hefling provided an analysis of the views of the potential nominees for the Supreme Court in terms of public education policy. Ms. Hefling’s synopsis of Brett Kavanaugh, the judge now nominated to fill the vacancy created when Justice Kennedy retired, reads as follows:

Kavanaugh, who has one of the more lengthy legal records of all the candidates, cheered the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s efforts to reverse what Kavanaugh deemed the Supreme Court’s attempts at “erecting a strict wall of separation between church and state” — especially when it comes to schools — in an essay Kavanaugh wrote for the American Enterprise Institute in December.

He wrote that “a majority of the Court throughout his tenure and to this day has sought to cordon off public schools from state-sponsored religious prayer. But Rehnquist had much more success in ensuring that religious schools and religious institutions could participate as equals in society and in state benefits programs, receiving funding or benefits from the state so long as the funding was pursuant to a neutral program that, among other things, included religious and nonreligious institutions alike.”

Kavanaugh noted that “without the line of Rehnquist cases … we never would have seen” last year’s ruling in Trinity LutheranChurch of Columbia vs. Comer, which said that states cannot exclude religious institutions from state programs that have a purely secular intent.

He also predicted in 2000 that school vouchers would one day be upheld by the court. That came during an appearance on CNN’s “Burden of Proof,” in which he said a Supreme Court ruling that year that said federal funds could be used to buy computers for religious schools would lay the groundwork for such a future ruling, according to a transcript of the show.

The essay referenced in the first paragraph was a paean to former Supreme Court justice William Rehnquist, who Mr. Kavanaugh viewed with admiration, particularly when it came to his interpretation of the wall separating church and state. In his essay Mr. Kavanaugh wrote:

William Rehnquist… persuasively criticized the wall metaphor as “based on bad history” and “useless as a guide to judging.” Rehnquist said that the true meaning of the Establishment Clause can be seen only in its history…

…Rehnquist was central in changing the jurisprudence and convincing the Court that the wall metaphor was wrong as a matter of law and history. And that Rehnquist legacy continues, as we see in recent cases such as Town of Greece v. Galloway, which upheld the practice of prayer for local government meetings. And without the line of Rehnquist cases beginning with Mueller v. Allen, we never would have seen last term’s seven-to-two decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer. In that case, only two justices found an Establishment Clause problem in a state program that provided funds to schools, including religious schools, for playgrounds. There again, the Rehnquist legacy was at work.

Given Mr. Kavanaugh’s track record on issues involving separation of church and state and the mindset of the current Secretary of Education and Attorney General, it would not be surprising to see a case involving vouchers for religiously affiliated schools finding its way to the Supreme Court… and given the bent of many State governments when it comes to vouchers such a case will not be difficult to find.

Unlike Mr. Kavanaugh and his cohorts and the prevailing trend to erode the wall separating church and state, I do not believe the wall metaphor was based on bad history but rather common sense and the Founders antipathy for any unification of church and state. Indeed, many of the original settlers of our country were refugees from countries whose governments banned their religious liberty. In writing the constitution the last thing any of the Founders sought was a government that espoused any specific religious affiliation.

I fully expect Mr. Kavanaugh to be appointed. A former clerk for Justice Kennedy, Mr. Kavanaugh does not appear to be radical enough to warrant rejection and his views on church-and-state, while different from mine, are increasingly seen as “mainstream” for as Mr. Kavanaugh noted in his speech, Mr. Rehnquist did alter the prevailing sentiment on the wall metaphor. The only hope for reversing this trend is when a madrassa sues to seek equal protection under the law when a xenophobic state legislature denies them funding.

NPE Offers a Grading System for the States that Makes Sense

July 9, 2018 Leave a comment

The Network for Public Education (NPE), the public education advocacy group founded by Diane Ravitch, has used the letter grading system beloved of “reformers” to illustrate how states are performing in their efforts to resist two changes “reformers” are seeking: the expansion of deregulated charter schools and vouchers. In a brief overview of their work, the authors provide several paragraphs underscoring the overarching purpose of public education and offer this paragraph describing the effects of “reform” advocates who want to privatize the existing system of education and thereby undercut democratic local governance:

The attack on public education is also an attack on equal opportunity and civil rights. Although privatization advocates claim that private schools advance the quality of education, this is a tenuous argument to make in the face of the reality that too often there is little to no public accountability, fiscal transparency or maintenance of civil rights protections for students in privatized programs. History is replete with battles fought and sacrifices made to protect the civil rights and ensure the equality of opportunity for all students regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability or other immutable characteristics. The proliferation of privatization programs in the states and the redirecting of public resources for the benefit of a small percentage of the student population belies this principle of equality of opportunity for all students. Privatization in public schools weakens our democracy and often sacrifices the rights and opportunities of the majority for the presumed advantage of a small percentage of students.

They conclude with an overview of the purpose of their report card:

This report card… provides a vital accounting of each state’s democratic commitment to their public school students and their public schools, by holding it accountable for abandoning civil rights protections, transparency, accountability and adequate funding in a quest for “private” alternatives. It is designed to give citizens insight into the extent of privatization and its intended and unintended consequences for our students and our nation.

If critics of NPE’s findings— likely to be Red State legislators and Governors— argue that their grading system is too simplistic, they might want to look at the grading “systems” they use to conclude that public education is failing and their belief that “running schools like a business” is the solution.

Betsy DeVos’s Message to Bilked College Students: Caveat Emptor

June 13, 2018 Comments off

As noted in earlier posts, the USDOE under Betsy DeVos’ leadership seems ready, willing, and capable of throwing those students who enrolled in fraudulent degree programs under the bus in the name of the free market. Evidence of this reality was presented earlier this week when Ms. DeVos reinstated the so-called “watchdog” agency that accredited bogus educational enterprises. As reported in an article by Erica Green in yesterday’s NYTimes, Ms. DeVos used a flimsy bureaucratic procedural argument to distance herself from the decision to reinstate the formerly discredited “watchdog” group, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, or Acics. As Ms. Green reported, this agency was stripped of its power in the waning months of the Obama administration:

Acics was stripped of its powers in December 2016 amid the collapse of two for-profit university chains, Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech, where students were encouraged to take on debt based on false promises, including jobs after graduation. The accrediting body was held responsible for allowing the schools to employ predatory recruitment practices.

The scandal rocked the for-profit college industry, which became a target of the Obama administration. And taxpayers are still covering the fallout as the DeVos Education Department manages more than 100,000 applications for debt relief totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. On Monday, a judge in San Francisco was set to hear arguments that the department should grant full loan relief to Corinthian students. On Wednesday, an Indianapolis court is set to approve a $1.5 billion settlementfor aggrieved ITT students.

But, according to her spokesperson, Ms. DeVos is powerless in this case because of a procedural snafu in the Obama administration’s decision to suspend Acics:

Education Department officials said that despite the March report (which condemned Acics), Ms. DeVos was obligated to reinstate Acics as an accrediting body for colleges and universities because of a federal court order that had faulted the process the Obama-era department had used to terminate its recognition. A federal judge sent the decision back to Ms. DeVos for reconsideration.

“The secretary did not make the determination to reinstate Acics,” Liz Hill, a department spokeswoman, said in a statement. “This department can’t operate on or enforce a decision that was found invalid by the court.”

Many critics strongly disagree with this assertion:

Advocates say that Ms. DeVos is using the court order as a convenient excuse.

They note that the judge did not vacate the 2016 decision, and that Ms. DeVos was not compelled to reinstate Acics. The report provides the most up-to-date evaluation of the organization, which still oversees dozens of colleges. In March, Acics was accused by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, of accrediting “visa mills,” used by foreign students to come to the United States with minimal scrutiny.

“This report makes clear that Acics is a wholly unfit and unreliable evaluator of higher-education institutions,” said Robert Shireman, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and a former Obama Education Department official. “Betsy DeVos may be content with ignoring the overwhelming outside consensus on Acics’s performance, but she cannot deny the expert opinions of her own staff.”

If this was the only time Ms. DeVos saw fit to overlook experts it might be possible to accept her decision. But like her predecessors, she has ignored evidence that VAM is invalid, that test-and-punish reforms have not improved public education, and that equitable funding is needed to close the performance gap between students attending affluent schools and those attending poverty-wracked schools. In this case, Ms. DeVos appears to be acting in the best interest of for-profit diploma mills that issue worthless degrees. It may just be coincidental that the man who appointed her led such an enterprise.

GreatSchools” Not So Great Premise: Standardized Test Mirror “Greatness”

June 11, 2018 Comments off

I have often blogged about the absurdity of rating schools based on easy to collect data, especially when that data is standardized test scores. A recent Medium post by Ali McKay, The Problem with “GreatSchools”, describes the flaws with the rating algorithm that “service” uses. Ms. McKay, who describes herself as “A white lady with kids digging into the practices of equity and anti-racism”, decries the Great Schools ratings. After describing the warmth and inclusiveness of her low rated racially and socio-economically integrated school, (by GreatSchools scheme), she offers this insight:

So what, exactly, is GreatSchools measuring? Mostly socioeconomic status, it turns out. In fact, Jack Schneider, an historian and researcher who studies schools, has written that factors the schools can control usually explain only about 20% of test scores. That means at least sixty percent of test scores is determined by socioeconomic status. Low income students will tend to score lower and high income students will score higher — and this is regardless of where they go to school. Much has been written about why, but, as just one example, researchers have found that poverty affects kids’ language environments. And, middle and upper class parents are, from day one, cultivating their kids’ language and other skills, setting them up to stay in the middle or upper class.

Ms. McKay, in the spirit of fairness, does note that GreatSchools is aware of the problem and attempting to address it:

GreatSchools seems to be aware that there may be a problem, and changed their ratings late in 2017 to include an equity component. This component accounts for 28% of a school’s rating… Their website says:“We believe that every parent — regardless of where they live or how much money they make — needs reliable information in order to ensure their child is being served by their school.” They have many pictures of Black and Brown families on their site.

Ms. McKay doesn’t “do the math”, but clearly the 28% factor is mathematically unlikely to identify a “low performing school” that effectively differentiates instruction into a higher classification. It DOES provide a fig leaf to indicate they are open to data beyond standardized test. But, as Ms. McKay notes elsewhere in her essay, it is a very small fig leaf given that:

…(standardized test) scores… account for 47% of GreatSchool’s school rating for elementary schools (and a whopping 72% if you add in their ‘Student Progress’ on tests factor). This means that (their ratings) are mostly telling you to find high socioeconomic students and avoid lower socioeconomic students (and English language learners, kids who qualify for special education services, and so on . . .).

So if these scores are only a proxy for affluence, what is a parent to do if they are seeking a school that includes a mixed demographic? Ms. McKay offers a common sense approach:

Take the two tour pledge: set foot inside two schools. You wouldn’t buy a house without going in it, so why do so with your child’s education? When we were deciding on our current school, we toured and we talked to teachers and parents. It didn’t take that much time, and walking around and seeing the actual people in the building was the most important factor for us.

Second, remember that parents tend to pass along the dominant narratives, whether they are actually true or not.They will tell you a school is “good” or “bad”, even though they might not have ever been in the school they are talking about… Researchers like Jennifer Jellison Holme and others have found this to be true(i.e. that families listen to and value a school based on what other privileged parents say about it).

And then, investigate your values and your goals for your kids. I am guessing your goals for your kids when they are 50 is not that they had high test scores. Like me, you probably want a lot more than that for them. Like me, you might be anxious about academics or anxious that not being around high achieving peers or watching screen time at school sometimes (gasp!) will hurt their prospects as adults in a competitive world. Anxiety is a small price to pay for seeking justice and dismantling systems of segregation and racism. And, it makes me feel icky but it bears repeating: socioeconomically advantaged kids will get high test scores wherever they are, because of the luck of their birth.

From my perspective we need more parents to take on that icky feeling and acknowledge that where their kids go to high school will have less bearing on the household they come from and the friends they make when they are in school… and that friendships with children of different races and socio-economic status are only possible if their children attend schools that are not economically and racially homogenous.

And here’s the challenge for GreatSchools and the education reformers who help underwrite it: choices about schools would vanish IF public education was funded adequately and affluent parents acknowledged that their children would not suffer if they attended school with those of other races and economic backgrounds. That was the vision of our founders, who hoped that democracy and upward mobility would be maintained through a public school system that served ALL children equally.

Whatever Donors Want… Donors Get… Especially if the Donors are the Waltons

June 9, 2018 Comments off

The Republican candidate for Governor is wiling to see his votes on de facto vouchers to the Waltons. This story from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution illustrates everything that is wrong with politics in general and the influence of donors on education policy at the state level.  Here’s a synopsis: one GOP candidate for governor, Lt. Governor Cagle, who controlled the items to be considered in the legislature, was told by the Walton family that if he failed to bring a badly written bill to a vote they would make a $3,000,000 donation to his opponent. He caved in and advanced the bill.

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Charter School Workaround on Low Test Scorers: Place Them in a Private School!

May 28, 2018 Comments off

Yesterday Diane Ravitch posted about a publicly funded Florida charter school that had the chutzpah to open a private school for those students who were deemed likely to score poorly on the State accountability test. Here’s how Ms. Ravtich described the gambit:

“Several days before the Florida Standards Assessments began near the end of the school year, 13 third-grade students suddenly transferred from the Palm Harbor Academy charter school to a newly created private school on the same school campus, run by Palm Harbor Academy governing board chairman the Rev. Gillard Glover.

With one exception, all of those 13 students had one thing in common: They were at least one full grade behind grade level. Many of the children were multiple grades behind grade level. Another five students in other grades, all at least two grades behind grade level, were also transferred out of Palm Harbor and into the private school at around the same time.

“The students’ transfer to a private school meant that they didn’t take the state assessments required of public school students — and, therefore, didn’t drag down the school’s state scores and school grade. A failing school grade would have meant shuttering the school, School Board Attorney Kristin Gavin said, because the school got a D last year.

“The school district has portrayed the moving of the students as an attempt by Palm Harbor to skirt the school grade process, at a cost to the students: Those with disabilities who were moved were not being provided state-mandated support, district officials said, at the newly created private school, the Academy of Excellence.”

The article from the Palm Coast Observer included details on the other misdeeds of the school, which included their decision to hire a teacher who had been dismissed from a nearby public school for abusing children. It also included a more detailed recounting of the Palm Harbor Academy governing board chairman, the Rev. Gillard Glover. Reverend Glover claimed that the school administration was shifting the students to the newly created school because the parents sought the transfers and that the newly created private school had been in the works for over a year. But the public records did not substantiate this claim. The Palm Coast Observer also indicated there were other problems with the charter school:

Other issues included the district’s assessment that the school had repeated issues with students record keeping, and that its bus was regularly late, meaning that students were missing instructional time.

District staff who visited the school had on several occasions found tables of students still eating their breakfasts in the cafeteria at 9 a.m. or 10 a.m., Gavin said.

Time will tell if the Flagler School Board will close the school… but the politicians in Florida’s state house will be unlikely to do anything to ensure that parents are fully informed of the ability of charter schools to deliver the kind of education needed for their children to succeed.