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Maryland’s Latest Commission Calls for More Spending, More Responsibilities for Public Education

January 20, 2019 Leave a comment

As a former member of a State “Blue Ribbon” Commission on school funding in the State of Maryland, a commission whose report was immediately set aside because it required higher spending levels, I was interested to read Liz Bowies’s report on the most recent State Commission report in the Baltimore Sun… a report that I believe will quickly be cast aside.

The Kirwan Commission, named for the former Chancellor of the University of Maryland who chaired the group, has ambitious goals:

  • an overhaul of curriculum
  • raising professional standards for teaching
  • a redesign of high schools to include career paths for students that would certify them to be ready for specific jobs after graduation.
  • pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds
  • pre-school for 3-year-olds from low-income families
  • more spending to enhance special education programs
  • new spending for school-based health centers
  • new spending for initiatives to support community schools with large numbers of poor students

And these initiatives require one thing legislators hate to see: a large price tag— $3,800,000,000 over 10 years.

From where I sit, each of these initiatives is worthwhile and, taken together, they would  greatly improve the opportunities for children born into poverty. But from where I sit, I do not believe there is a snowball’s chance in hell that they will be funded. As Ms. Bowie notes, the issuance of the report was delayed from its slated December 2018 release because “….it was too late to get such comprehensive education legislation through this year’s 90-day Assembly session“. Some spending advocates insist that the issuance now will not be a problem:

Maggie McIntosh, a commission member, said that despite the delay, legislative leaders are committed to seeing more funding for education in that budget.

State school funding will increase by at least $236 million next year, McIntosh said, with $200 million set aside by the legislature last year and $36 million added by the governor.

McIntosh said legislators will have to cut from the governor’s proposed budget to identify additional money for public schools.

Whether the legislature will be able to find enough money in the proposed operating budget to fund all of the commission’s 2020 priorities is unclear.

The commission also suggests that the legislature set aside $750 million this session for additional funding for schools in the 2021 budget year.

But… as the blog-faced and underlined sections of Ms. Bowie’s report imply, Ms.McIntosh’s “commitment” to more funding is contingent on cutting the governor’s budget and redirecting this cuts to education… and… even if the happens, the $236,000,000 will fall short of the amount needed to achieve the $3,800,000,000 the Kirwan Commission calls for.

And here’s the real problem: the “reformers” will be able to tout their “solution” of choice and deregulation as the best road forward because it won’t require billions of new dollars and they will satisfy the evangelicals because their “reforms” won’t increase the scope of government interference with parenting by insisting that 4 year olds be placed in school and social services be provided in school.

And the beat will go on….

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Forbes’ Op Ed by Michael McShane Gets the Facts Right, But his Convoluted Conclusion is WAY Off Base

December 19, 2018 Comments off

Earlier this week Forbes published an op ed by Michael McShane, a self described student of “K-12 education, including entrepreneurship and school choice“, titled “Enrollment Fraud Reminds Us That Many Public Schools Aren’t Public“. The article describes a recent lawsuit filed by the DC public schools when they discovered that six of their students resided in a neighboring Maryland district. He followed up this account with the following paragraph:

Lying about one’s residence to gain access to a public school is called enrollment fraud (or residency fraud) and it is something that is more common than you might think.  Philadelphia public radio station WHYY did an in-depth storyabout enrollment fraud back in May that is worth listening to. They even shadowed an investigator who follows students home from school and videotapes them taking out the trash and walking dogs to prove that they are not living where they say that they are.

Mr. McShane reports this as if it is a new phenomenon that has only emerged in the past few years. This is clearly NOT the case! When I worked as an assistant principal in a school district that abutted Philadelphia we routinely culled out a half dozen students a year who were Philadelphia residents thanks to the work of a team of three district employees with anodyne title of “Pupil Personnel Workers” whose job was to gather evidence needed to establish the student’s true residency. The year was 1975— 40+ years ago. Oh, and roughly half of the bogus attendees in our district had been expelled from school in Philadelphia for disciplinary or truancy issues.

And residency fraud was not limited to districts adjoining cities. I encounter this issue throughout my career: as Principal and Superintendent in rural Maine, and Superintendent in affluent communities in New Hampshire, rural Maryland, and upstate New York.

Mr. McShane as a self-proclaimed student of K-12 education accurately identifies one of the major flaws of our existing system:

School district lines often act as invisible barriers to opportunity. Many poor families find themselves on the outside looking in. Prosecuting families that pierce those barriers through nefarious means raises questions that cut to the very heart of our notions of public schooling. Aren’t public schools supposed to take all comers? Aren’t they supposed to be working to limit inequality, not exacerbate it? What would Horace Mann, father of “Common Schools,” say?

…Enrollment fraud is an example of where the reality of public schooling conflicts with the rhetoric of public schooling. No, great public schools aren’t always open to all comers. Public schools can, and do, act to exacerbate inequality. School choice is not something that only occurs when a state allows for charter schools or starts a voucher program…

In fact, the debate around school choice in this country would vastly improve if all of us were simply more honest about the de facto school choice programs that already exist in our communities. Rather than acting like a state “gets” school choice the day that a charter school law is passed, we would recognize that many Americans, from suburbanites to posh urbanites ensconced in exclusive attendance zone enclaves, exercise school choice. The fact that people want to choose a school increases the value of homes within its attendance zone. That premium keeps poor children out of that school. It functions like tuition, making a public school a private one….

Mr. McShane, as a school choice advocate, sees the problem as one of not having enough flexibility in enrollments. He would, presumably, allow the students expelled from Philadelphia Public Schools to choose to attend schools in neighboring districts and perhaps mandate that residents who pay a premium in housing costs and property tax to open the doors of their schools and overcrowd their classrooms with children who live just across the border— or who might commute in on a train, trolley, or bus. His means of addressing Horace Mann’s desire to limit inequality would, presumably, be to ask affluent districts to expand the space inter classroom to make it possible for them to “..take all comers”. 

This idea is preposterous… but it may sadly be as preposterous as raising taxes on those who are affluent so that the funding for all schools and the opportunities for all students can be equitable. The problems Mr. McShane presents have been around for decades… and the solutions involving spending more have been as well. HOW to spend more is the issue. WHETHER to spend more is not. The sooner the public realizes that reality the better off our children will be.

GOP’s Latest Gambit: Equity in Funding Schools = Socialism

December 4, 2018 Comments off

Diane Ravitch today featured an extended quote from a post by Arizona State School Board Association President and retired USAF officer Linda Lyon who described a question raised at a recent public forum she attended:

I was recently in a public forum on education when a school board member asked me whether my call to address inequities in our schools was a call for the “redistribution of wealth”.

The phrase “redistribution of wealth” is seen by conservatives is a dog whistle for “socialism”, whereby the government confiscates money in the form of taxes from hard-working God-fearing individuals and gives it to undeserving lazy individuals who choose to stay home, watch TV, and eat snack foods purchased with food stamps.

Ms. Lyon goes on to describe how redistribution REALLY works in her home state:

I offer that the redistribution of wealth can also flow the other way as with the privatization of our public schools. Those who already “have” are redistributing the “wealth” of those who “have not”.They do this by encouraging the siphoning of taxpayer monies from our district public schools, for charters, home and private schools. Once slated for the education of all, our hard-earned tax dollars are now increasingly available to offset costs for those already more advantaged.

In Arizona, approximately 60% of our one million public K-12 students qualify for the free and reduced price lunch program, with over 1,000 schools having over 50% of their students qualifying. As you might guess, schools with the highest number of students qualifying for “free and reduced” are located in higher poverty areas and with few exceptions, have lower school letter grades. Zip code it turns out, is an excellent predictor (irrespective of other factors) of school letter grade. According to a study by the Arizona Partnership for Healthy Communities, “Your ZIP code is more important to your health than your genetic code” and a life-expectancy map for Phoenix released three years ago, “found life expectancy gaps as high as 14 years among ZIP codes.”

But, as Ms. Lyon notes earlier in her post, this is in keeping with the ethos of the GOP who until this year dominated state politics:

Social scientist researcher Brené Brown believes it is because of the “scarcity” worldview held by Republicans/conservatives. “The opposite of scarcity is not abundance” she writes, “It’s enough.”Basically, “they believe that the more people they exclude from “having”, the more is available to them.” And, in this binary way of thinking, the world is very black and white (pun sort of intended), e.g., if you aren’t a success, you’re a failure, and should be excluded.

And the plutocratic profiteers are very happy to reinforce the scarcity worldview and use it to help them inflate their bottom line by privatizing public education and other government services…. and Arizona— depending on your perspective— is either on the cutting edge of this privatization movement or a canary in a coal mine:

This shift of taxpayer dollars from public to private hands is clearly a redistribution of wealth. Worst of all, in Arizona, it is a redistribution of wealth with little to no accountability nor transparency. Private, parochial and home schools are not required to provide the public information on their return on investment. And make no mistake, this investment is significant and continues to grow. In 2017 alone, taxpayer dollars diverted from district schools to private school options, amounted to close to $300 million. About $160 million of this, from corporate and personal tax credits with the other $130 million from vouchers. All told, according to the Payson Roundup, “vouchers have diverted more than $1 billion in taxpayer money to private schools. These dollars could have instead, gone into the general fund to ensure the vast majority of Arizona students were better served.

But HAD those dollars gone into the general fund, they would have been “redistributed” based on a funding formula intended to provide an equal opportunity for all children to succeed in school.

Which brings me to an important and often overlooked point: withholding funds from equalization formulas does nothing to harm the presumably indolent parents who want to freeload off those who work hard: it penalizes their children. And when the day comes that their children realize that a minority of relatively affluent taxpayers held them back by withholding money for their schools, a change might happen. I hope the change happens in the context of the ballot box and not through collective action like we are witnessing in France.

 

Indianapolis Star Unapologetically Promotes Business Model for Public Education

December 3, 2018 Comments off

I just finished reading Arika Herron’s Indianapolis Star article describing how public schools are engaged in marketing now that Indiana has embraced school choice. Given the fact that Indiana HAS embraced choice, Ms. Herron’s article does not question the efficacy of advertising and marketing by public schools… but neither does her article offer any voice rebutting the idea. Instead, the article is full of anecdotes and quotes like this:

As the state starts treating schools more like businesses, some advocates of school choice and a more “free market” approach to education say it shouldn’t be a surprise that schools are engaging in more business-like practices.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, said Betsy Wiley, president and CEO of the Institute for Quality Education. IQE is an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that advocates for school choice and has supported education reform efforts.

When they’re done right, marketing initiatives push schools to think more about the programs they offer and the needs of the families that they serve. It can also help parents and families make more informed decisions when choosing a school for their children.

“It is big business,”Wiley said. “Our school system and all that it entails is a service industry, providing education. And it’s more than 50 percent of the state budget.

“I think seeing our schools operate a little more businesslike in a wide variety of areas – promoting the strength of their school through marketing being one – is a good thing and a natural thing.”

At least two other officials are quoted in the same vein… and NO ONE is quoted as questioning the entire premise that schools are a business… and that is a problem from my perspective because eventually the whole notion that public schools are a public good will disappear. And when that day comes, the notion of democracy will disappear as well.

Good Guys With Guns + Zero Tolerance + High Stakes Tests + Cuts to Social Services = Criminalization of Youths

December 1, 2018 Comments off

Jacobin writer Alex Vitale describes the vicious circle of criminalization that results when school resource officers are placed in schools with zero tolerance policies, explaining in two concise sentences how the school-to-prison pipeline is constructed.

Young people continue to be criminalized in schools as well. Indeed, delinquency can be assigned to children beginning in toddlerhood — preschools routinely suspend pupils as young as three years old. The undermining of public education through high-stakes testing, cuts to support services, and privatization schemes has been combined with zero-tolerance discipline policies and an increasing number of school police.The result has been high levels of suspension, expulsions, and arrests, especially for students of color and those in special-education programs.

In those two sentences Mr. Vitale connects the dots showing how “reform” of public education as defined by NCLB and RTTT combined with the “hardening” of schools to “protect children” from intruders has created an environment where misconduct in school is criminalized. Worse, though, is the subtle message all children receive when they must pass through metal detectors, remain in a cocoon like campus for seven hours, and endlessly prepare for tests that they must pass if they hope to escape from their incarceration. Unsurprisingly, parents who see their children subjected to this kind of “schooling” long for something different, making the notion of “school choice” especially appealing.

Somewhat ironically and perversely, the only thing that could save the day for our children is the fact that the cost of creating and maintaining a fortress is higher than the cost of providing social service supports… and at some point the taxpayers will revolt and schools just might return to the open and inclusive bastions of democracy that were in place before good guys with guns and high stakes tests were introduced in the name of safety and accountability,

Chalkbeat: “Indiana’s War On Teachers Is Winning”

November 29, 2018 Comments off

“Reformers” can get legislators to suspend regulations but they can’t change the fundamental laws of supply and demand…. nor can they entice creative teachers to a state where teaching to the test is a de facto mandate. The teachers, though, aren’t the real losers in Indiana: the students are.

via Chalkbeat: “Indiana’s War On Teachers Is Winning”

My Thinking: The Democrats in the House Should Spend Time and Energy Legislating Instead of Investigating

November 27, 2018 Comments off

Yesterday’s Morning Report from Politico included a rundown of the various investigations the House Committee chairs might launch. The synopsis is pasted below, with my commentary in red italics. :

HOUSE DEMOCRATS GEAR UP TO TAKE ON DEVOS: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will face new scrutiny next year from as many as many as five Democratic-led House committees. Even as Democrats eye a wide-ranging list of oversight priorities across the Trump administration, DeVos stands out as a major target.

— A handful of the Democrats who are set to wield gavels next year are lawmakers who have long worked on education issues and have been particularly vocal about their opposition to DeVos. Read our full story here — and here’s a guide of what to expect from each of the presumptive Democratic committee chairs:

— Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), poised to be chairman of the House education committee, will have DeVos squarely in his sights. Earlier this month Scott said his top oversight priorities would be the Education Department’s implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, as well as its handling of claims for student loan forgiveness by public servants and borrowers defrauded by their colleges. Maybe Rep. Scott could introduce a bill that forgives student loans.

— Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) , who is expected to lead the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said that a top priority would be oversight of for-profit colleges that enroll veterans — including DeVos’s efforts to deregulate them. “I want to examine the extent to which her rollbacks of regulations negatively impact veterans,” he said in an interview.

— Takano said he’d like to see joint hearings with the House education committee on “the impact of the for-profit industry on our student veterans.” In addition, Takano said he’s “concerned about the reach of for-profits on military bases in terms of their recruitment”—an issue he wants to address by working with the House Armed Services Committee. Maybe Rep. Takano could introduce a bill forbidding the use of federal dollars to pay for tuition of for-profit schools unless those schools accept regulatory oversight and funds are provided to ensure that such oversight is possible.

— Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) , in line to lead the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing education funding, said that taking on the Trump Education Department will be a priority. The panel’s oversight work, DeLauro said, will focus on ways to “hold Secretary DeVos accountable for her agency’s failure to uphold federal protections for our students.”

— DeLauro called DeVos’ record on student debt issues “appalling,” pointing to her efforts to eliminate or scale back the “gainful employment” and “borrower defense” rules enacted by the Obama administration. “I will make sure Secretary DeVos knows Americans want her to protect students and veterans, not the for-profit school industry,” she said. Maybe Rep. DeLauro could introduce a bill that incorporates the “rules enacted by the Obama administration and funds auditors to make certain federal protections for students are in place. 

— Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) , incoming chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee, said that while she’ll largely be focused on big banks and Wall Street, the panel also has jurisdiction over student loan companies and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “I’ll be involved in student loan issues, absolutely,” she told POLITICO.

— Waters has also long railed against for-profit colleges – and forecasted more scrutiny for the industry with Democrats in control of the House. “Just as you saw us put the pressure on Corinthian [Colleges] so that they had to basically close down, I think you’re going to see more work that’s being done on private postsecondary schools,” Waters told POLITICO. Perhaps that “work” might include the passage of legislation that regulates for-profit colleges and, while she’s at it, regulates for profit K-12 schools. 

— Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) is the presumptive chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which could also take on DeVos. Cummings conducted an investigation of CEO pay at for-profit schools during the Obama administration. And this past year, he and Scott expressed concern over DeVos’ treatment of the union that represents her agency’s employees. Maybe his committee could introduce legislation that restores the power to unions that was eviscerated by the Trump administration.  

— DeVos has so far struck a conciliatory tone with Democrats coming to power in the House. “I look forward to working with Congressman Scott and the rest of the committee as well,” she told reporters last week. An Education Department spokesperson declined to comment on how it was preparing for an onslaught of oversight requests.

My thought: hold back on those oversight requests and begin drafting legislation that will empower the government to regulate the for-profit colleges and K-12 schools. In doing so, it might help the public appreciate that their tax dollars are going from the pockets of hard working students and veterans and into the pockets of billionaires and shareholders… and since the agencies have been stripped of money and power “government” cannot intervene on their behalf. The Democrats have an opportunity to do something positive: they can pass legislation that is designed to help middle class Americans. I hope they don’t squander that opportunity by “going after” the Trump administration, for in so doing they will be giving the Trump administration the opportunity to frame the argument. Why give Betsy DeVos and her cronies another chance to convince voters that choice is a good idea. Force them to agree that the regulation of avaricious profiteers is a bad idea.