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In Chicago, Black Families Leave, White Families Arrive, NYTimes Wonders Why. The Answer? The Degradation of Public Schools

February 26, 2019 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes has a lengthy analysis of the forthcoming mayoral election written by Monica Davis headlined: “Chicago, Seeking a New Mayor, Sees Many Black Residents Voting With Their Feet“. The reasons given for this outmigration are myriad, with the best synopsis offered in this paragraph:

“People are frustrated and they’re saying, ‘We’ve just had enough. No more mayors for the 1 percent. This city belongs to all of us, not just the people who live in the Gold Coast,’” Sharon Fairley, a former federal prosecutor who also led an agency that oversees Chicago police, said of the hurdles facing the next mayor. “The biggest challenge that anyone coming into this position now is facing is generating a feeling of inclusiveness.”

One of the actions that undoubtedly contributes to the disenfranchisement of African American was the mayor’s decision to close 50 neighborhood schools and compel children to board buses to attend schools in parts of town where they felt unwelcome. They felt unwelcome not because the schools were predominantly white or middle class, but because the schools were often in neighborhoods where different gangs controlled the streets and where it was impossible for parents to regularly monitor their children’s performance.

Nothing reinforces a lack of inclusiveness like closing a neighborhood school, shunting children to a distant school where they are unwelcome, and stripping the schools of elective programs and support services. Yet the school closure issue barely registered in the lengthy article, warranting only these two passing comments:

Downtown Chicago is booming, its skyline dotted with construction cranes. Yet residents only a few miles to the south and west still wrestle with entrenched gang violence, miserable job prospects and shuttered schools — some of the still-being-identified forces, experts say, that are pushing black Chicagoans to pack up and get out.

Before his announcement, he was facing a wide field of people who said they would challenge him, as well as criticism over a tenure that included conflicts over police conduct, street violence and the closings of schools on the city’s South and West Sides. And Mr. Emanuel’s policies have remained a focal point for criticism from some who now hope to succeed him.

If you want to send a message to voters and residents that they don’t matter and that the political leaders are looking out for the 1% at the expense of everyone else; underfund schools and close those that are underperforming…. and that formula for reform is precisely what is generating a feeling of despair and a lack of inclusiveness in our nation today.

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Cory Booker Has Background, Talent to be President. Too Bad He Opposes Public Education

February 6, 2019 Comments off

For those who follow politics but do not appreciate the devastating impact of privatization, Cory Booker seems like a candidate for President in the mold of Barack Obama: an articulate African American with his roots in urban reform and a steady ascent up the political ladder. But there is one other area where Cory Booker has an unsettling resemblance to Barack Obama: his desire to privatize public education and, consequently, his embrace of ideas akin to those of Betsy DeVos and— yes— Arne Duncan.

For those readers who believe that a Cory Booker candidacy would improve the state of public schools, I urge you to read and bookmark this article by Jacobin’s Eric Blanc. The title, “Cory Booker Hates Pulic Schools” gives you some idea of the contents.

California’s Proposition 13 and New Hampshire’s “Pledge” Have the Same Result

January 24, 2019 Comments off

In “California Schools Were Once the Nation’s Envy. What Went Wrong?”, in a recent article on the LA teachers strike in The Guardian, Andrew Gumbels’ answers the question in two words: Proposition 13.

Ask any public policy expert what single factor contributed most to the decline of California’s schools, and the answer will invariably be the state’s retro version of Brexit: a referendum, passed in 1978 on a wave of populist anger, that was earth-shattering in its impactand has proven enduringly divisive.

Proposition 13 drastically cut and capped property taxes and hobbled the ability of California counties – and, indirectly, the state – to raise money for schools and other key social programs. The initiative, which passed with close to 65% support, was billed as a grassroots tax revolt against a backdrop of high inflation, rising interest rates and a perception of out-of-control public spending. Overnight, the tax revenue available to pay for public schooling was slashed by one-third, forcing the state to step in and make up some – but not all – of the shortfall.

The school system was already in a modest decline – California had fallen from fifth in the country in per-pupil spending in 1965 to 14th – but the decline now accelerated markedly. Within a decade, California was below the national average. It currently ranks 43rd out of 50 states.

“People always come back to Prop 13 because a lot of the other changes since are a result, either direct or indirect, of that vote,” said Jennifer Imazeki, an economist and education specialist at San Diego State University. “It changed the amount of money districts could raise through property taxes and cut revenue dramatically. And the money’s a big part of it.”

Proposition 13, like many populist ideas, was a simple and blunt method for dealing with a complicated problem… and like most simple solutions had several adverse unintended consequences. The schools were predominantly funded by property taxes which meant that property rich communities had great schools and property poor districts had poor schools. When the California Supreme Court passed legislation requiring more resources for underfunded schools, taxpayers rebelled.  A conservative activist, Howard Jarvis, wrote a referendum that was easy to understand— your property taxes will be lower!— and it passed overwhelmingly and forty years later has become sacrosanct: a law that no politician wanted to challenge under any circumstances even though the majority of taxpayers would benefit from a thoughtfully crafted method of funding public education.

New Hampshire, like California, relies exclusively on property taxes and in many jurisdictions, especially those with a limited tax base, the property taxes are onerous even though the schools in those underfunded communities are poor in comparison. And like California, New Hampshire has been sued on several occasions and lost in court on several occasions, but so far no Howard Jarvis has emerged because no Democrat or Republican has ever run for office based on a platform that would replace the property taxes with a broad based and less regressive income tax…. The candidates for Governor take “the pledge” to never impose a broad based tax and, as a result, no legislature in NH has ever voted to impose any kind of broad based tax. So…. after the legislators ignore court decisions for 10-15 years, a new lawsuit if filed by a different set of aggrieved districts and the cycle begins again.

And NH and CA have the same problems: inequitable and generally underfunded schools and a public that doesn’t want to see its taxes go up. The challenge going forward for public education is daunting: to soften the anger directed toward tax recipients that is at the root of the tax-caps. Part of the conservatives pitch to lower taxes invariably includes an undeserving welfare queen, a “greedy teacher” who earns wages and has benefits and pensions in excess of others in the town, or a weak veteran teacher who draws a high wage “because the union protects them”. Today, the conservatives add “inefficient” to the list and seek a moral high ground by offering every child the chance to attend any school they wish without providing enough money to make that assertion a reality. In sum, as it stands now, there is a long list of reasons to oppose a tax hike and a very short list to support it… and few people who seek social and economic justice are willing to link that with tax increases for those in the top 10-20%— which would need to happen if there is any hope of equity of opportunity in the future.

The LA Teachers Strike Adds to the Decline of Reaganomics

January 23, 2019 Comments off

“Reagonomics is on the Ropes”, a post election analysis by Assistant Professor of Management for Legal and Ethical Studies at Oakland U. Michael Greiner suggests that the defeats of the GOP in Kansas and of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is a repudiation of Reagonomics, a repudiation that will be reinforced as the public becomes aware of the adverse impact of the Trump tax cuts.

In the article published in Medium, Mr. Greiner offered a brief history of Reagonomics and concluded that section of his article with this paragraph:

Reagan’s personal popularity, and a pretty robust economy for much of his term, created a myth, one that became the basis for today’s Republican party. At this point, it is a reflexive matter of faith that taxes and regulations should be cut. To Republicans, there is no such thing as a good tax or a good regulation, even if the lack of them result in the problems we have today: high income inequality, huge deficits, and environmental catastrophe in the form of global warming.

Mr. Greiner then showed how this faith in deregulation and low taxes played out in Kansas and Wisconsin, where he sees the recent rebuke by the electorate as two strikes against Reaganomics. He then posits that the Trump tax cuts will be the third strike:

Billed as tax reform, (the tax cuts) fooled nobody. These were simply a give-away to the rich while the difference would be made up by cuts to social programs such as Social Security or healthcare. In this last election, people rejected that policy agenda by a wide margin.

The margin of victory WAS wide, but because the GOP still controls the Senate and the White House the wide margin will not be enough to strike down Reaganomics.

But another blow to Reaganomics AND neoliberalism just hit in Los Angeles where the teachers won a victory in their six-day strike. As reported by Diane Ravitch, the teachers union secured almost everything they sought and the price they paid in terms of public support was minimal. In a post late yesterday she wrote:

The United Teachers of Los Angeles went out on strike on January 14. The strike will end if the membership approves a new two-year contract. The union won almost everything it sought. The teachers will get a wage increase; the district will limit class sizes and eliminate a waiver that allowed class size limits to be voided for economic reasons; there will be full-time nurses in every school, a librarian, more counselors. And more.

After reading the comments, though, I had a sense that the tentative agreement is not universally seen as an unequivocal victory. Several of the commenters felt the union could have gotten more if they dug their heels in and some saw the whole exercise as a political stunt designed to give the unions leaders more clout in California politics. To those commenters, I offered this feedback:

…there is no guarantee that a protracted strike would yield a better outcome and some evidence that a longer strike might erode the good will the teachers now have. The big issue facing CA is the referendum to change Proposition 13 and as Diane notes the local school board elections are critical as well. Any voter antipathy toward teachers would undercut both of those crucial votes and any sense of good will toward teachers will help. From afar, it seems that the teachers are getting as much as they can without compromising their standing in the community.

To which I added a link to Mr. Greiner’s Medium column. It took decades for the GOP to undercut the public’s confidence in public education. It may take decades to win it back. The LA strike and the wildcat strikes across the country are bringing the privatization movement to the public’s attention without adding to the resentment toward “government schools” that the right wing of the GOP promotes. The LA strike is another log in the fire. Let’s keep the blaze going.

The Cato Institute’s Idea About Public Education: Public Funds Should be Used to Promote Religious Segregation

January 21, 2019 Comments off

In a recent op ed post that appeared in The Hill, Neal McCluskey, the director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom argues that public funds should be used to promote schools that segregate students based on their religion, a concept that flies in the face of our country’s longstanding desire to be a tolerant melting pot of racial and religious thinking and undercuts the democratic governance of public schools.

Mr. McCluskey’s article was spurred by the recent reports that Vice President Mike Pence’s wife had begun a teaching job at the Immanuel Christian School, “…which among many policies does not admit actively gay students and forbids employees from engaging in “homosexual or lesbian sexual  activity.” This is clearly consistent with Mr. Pence’s views on homosexuality and also aligns with the views of roughly 30% of the public according to polls cited by Mr. McCluskey. Moreover, it is difficult to condemn Mr. Pence’s wife for taking a job in a school whose values reflect her own.

But Mr. McCluskey believes that ANY parent who shares the belief that their children should be shielded from “homosexual and lesbian sexual activity” should be entitled to a voucher to attend a school that will do so, even if “such sexual activity” is lawful and widely accepted by most citizens. He goes so far as to assert that this segregation by religious belief is desirable because if avoids placing children in an uncomfortable environment and avoids public “battles” over a charged issue:

Indeed, choice systems were sometimes created specifically to end painful wars for public school supremacy among highly religious people like Karen Pence and folks with different beliefs.

Unfortunately, American choice programs only reach about 500,000 students, meaning millions of families have little recourse but to try to impose their will on the public schools.

You may hate Karen Pence’s beliefs and those of the school where she teaches. For your own protection — and a truly free society — you should want school choice for everyone. 

Part of public education’s “hidden agenda” is to resolve these “differences of belief” democratically at the local level and, failing that, through court decisions. As I read this on the MLK Holiday, I cannot help but observe that “choice systems were sometimes created specifically to end painful wars for public school supremacy”. Indeed, in the South the idea of vouchers was developed to sustain the separate but equal schools Brown v. Board of Education eliminated. Our country remains engaged in a “painful war” over race. We once believed that black students shouldn’t share the same water fountains as white students and in the south a “separate but equal” system of public education was created based on that belief. That same kind of belief persists today regarding gay. lesbian and transgender students. In order for a democracy to thrive we need to work though our differences of belief… not separate ourselves based on those differences.

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

January 20, 2019 Comments off

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….

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.