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Tag: "education"

Public-Private Partnerships and Free Market Mythologies

[ 54 ] June 1, 2017 |

Given the post-apocalyptic hellscape that is the Trump administration, any of us would gladly take the Obama administration, even with its weaknesses on some issues. However, if there’s one area where the two administrations overlap, it’s in the privatization of education. Rachel Cohen has a typically excellent report on so-called “Pay for Success” programs that encourage private investment in social programs that, if successful, the government pays back with interest. Pushed by the Obama administration, much of this was in education and there are plenty of connections already with Trump officials.

Chicago’s Pay for Success project launched in 2014, and aims to improve students’ kindergarten readiness, boost third grade literacy and reduce special education services. Goldman Sachs, Northern Trust and the Pritzker Family Foundation invested $16.9 million into the program, with the potential to roughly double their investment over the next 18 years. The bulk of those returns would come from reducing special education services for the 2,600 program participants—about $9,100 per child.

Undergirded by narratives of wasteful government spending and market-driven accountability, a small group of philanthropists, financiers, and policy leaders have helped elevate the Pay for Success model quickly over the past few years. State and local governments have launched 16 such projects across the U.S since 2012, tackling a range of issues from foster care and education, to criminal justice and public health. Dozens more wait in the pipeline.

At its best, advocates say that Pay for Success could foster greater government accountability, fund needed programs in cash-strapped political climates and potentially save the public money down the line. “Innovative models like Pay for Success … shift the risk of achieving targeted outcomes away from the taxpayer and enabl[e] governments to pay only for what works,” said Andrea Phillips, the Vice President of Goldman Sachs’ Urban Investment Group.

But at its worst, Pay for Success can leave taxpayers paying substantially more than if their governments had just funded programs directly, cement narratives of fiscal austerity and incentivize misguided social outcomes.

Free market mythology plopped on our kids! Great! What about Trumpers?

Federal support for Pay for Success continued to mount steadily under the Obama administration. In 2015, Congress passed the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA)—the successor to No Child Left Behind—and changed the law to allow states and school districts to use federal dollars to fund Pay for Success projects. The move was applauded by groups excited about leveraging public money with private partners, and criticized by others for the same reason. Senator Orrin Hatch, (R-UT), largely responsible for the inclusion of Pay for Success in ESSA, said “rather than being limited by what federal bureaucrats at the Department of Education think best, funding should be more connected to local innovation and successful outcomes.”

Lexi Barrett, a former policy advisor in Obama’s DOE who also served on his Domestic Policy Council, left the executive branch in 2014 to work as the policy director for America Forward, where she pushed for Pay for Success’s inclusion in ESSA. Now she works as the director of National Education Policy at Jobs for the Future, which was recently awarded $2 million in Department of Education grants to spearhead Pay for Success projects in career and technical education.

“The fact is you have very senior level officials leave the federal government and then turn around to lobby and influence their former agencies,” says Craig Holman, the government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, which advocates for tougher restrictions on former federal employees.

The Obama administration laid the groundwork for Pay for Success, paving the way for its potential expansion under Trump—who has declared his intent to expand public-private partnerships across all sectors of government.

A bipartisan commission established last March by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) will be issuing formal recommendations later this fall on how to grow the evidence-based policy movement. America Forward lobbied for this federal commission, and Jeffrey Liebman serves on it. And a bipartisan bill—the Social Impact Partnership to Pay for Results Act—was reintroduced this past January, which would direct at least $100 million to states and local communities to expand Pay for Success projects.

Meanwhile, in March, Trump announced the creation of the White House Office of American Innovation, charged with improving government and society in collaboration with the “private sector and other thought leaders.” With its stated plans to tackle areas like workforce development and the opioid crisis, PFS supporters have been eyeing the Office of American Innovation as a potential new base of federal support. Senior White House advisers, including Goldman Sachs alumni Gary Cohn and Dina Powell, were even tapped to help guide the new agency. Before joining the Trump administration Powell herself had led Goldman’s “impact investing” initiatives, a portfolio that includes Pay for Success.

Truth of the matter is that Obama has an awful lot to answer for with his terrible education policies, not to mention his fundamental faith in free market mythologies.

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Charter Myth Busting

[ 71 ] April 27, 2017 |

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Rachel Cohen has an outstanding article in Democracy Journal on the real evolution of charter schools. There’s a pervasive myth that American Federation of Teachers president Albert Shanker started the idea, and this myth has been powerful for charter advocates because it sounds like it comes from the unions that are now fighting it. Shanker did comment on charters and he said some unfortunate things that can be contextualized by what was happening with education at the time. But it is damaging. Where do charter schools really originate?

In the 1970s, deregulation was the name of the game.
Efforts to deregulate major sectors of government took root under Ford and Carter, and continued to escalate throughout the 1980s under Reagan. From banking and energy to airlines and transportation, liberals and conservatives both worked to promote deregulatory initiatives spanning vast sectors of public policy.

Schools were not immune. Since at least the late 1970s, political leaders in Minnesota had been discussing ways to reduce direct public control of schools. A private school voucher bill died in the Minnesota legislature in 1977, and Minnesota’s Republican governor Al Quie, elected in 1979, was a vocal advocate for school choice.

Two prominent organizations were critical in advancing school deregulation in the state. One was the Minnesota Business Partnership, comprised of CEOs from the state’s largest private corporations; another was the Citizens League, a powerful, centrist Twin Cities policy group. When the League spoke, the legislature listened—and often enacted its proposals into law. In 1982 the Citizens League issued a report endorsing private school vouchers on the grounds that consumer choice could foster competition and improvement without increasing state spending, and backed a voucher bill in the legislature in 1983. The Business Partnership published its own report in 1984 calling for “profound structural change” in schooling, with recommendations for increased choice, deregulation, statewide testing, and accountability. The organized CEOs would play a major role throughout the 1980s lobbying for K-12 reform, as part of a broader agenda to limit taxes and state spending.

Efforts to tinker with public schooling took on greater urgency in 1983, when Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education released its report, A Nation At Risk. This influential (though empirically flawed) document panicked political leaders across the country. Among other things, the report concluded that American public schools were failing—“eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity”—with ill-prepared teachers and low-quality standards. Its authors tied the country’s economy and national security to the supposedly poor performance of U.S. public schools, and Reagan capitalized on the alarm. His narrative fit snugly within the larger Cold War panic, and as in Minnesota, national business leaders were happy to promote this new movement.

School choice was not specifically mentioned in A Nation at Risk, though Governor Quie, who was then serving as a member on the National Commission, tried to get such recommendations included. But reformers didn’t have to wait long for a national endorsement. In 1986, the National Governors Association, chaired by Tennessee’s Republican governor Lamar Alexander, backed school choice in its Time for Results report.

Back in Minnesota, Rudy Perpich, a member of the Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party, was elected as governor for his second non-consecutive term in 1983. (He had first served from 1976-1979.) During the four years that Quie governed Minnesota, Perpich worked on a global business committee for a supercomputer firm, and returned to government deeply shaped by his corporate experience.

Ember Reichgott Junge, the state senator who would author Minnesota’s—and the nation’s—first charter school bill, described Perpich’s role bluntly: “According to the history books, Minnesota DFL governor Rudy Perpich had nothing to do with passage of chartering legislation. In reality, he had everything to do with it.”

I guess Minnesota has brought us more than just horrible food.

Anyway, the power of the Shanker myth is an important one and Cohen elaborates on it.

The mythological origin story of charter schools—the Shanker myth—has served an important role in keeping the charter coalition together. The idea that charters come from unions lends a certain weight-of-history inevitability to school reform. It suggests that everyone has agreed that change must come, and the only question is from who, and what it’ll look like in the end.

Besides, on some level, the dramatically compelling nature of the story—unions creating their own greatest antagonist—keeps people from digging deeper. As a writer, it’s easy to want to believe it. This author would know, having once subscribed to it herself.

But the Shanker tale may have also helped undermine progressive school choice advocates, who find themselves chasing a vision that has never played a major role in the inner circles of school reform. Most charters are more segregated than traditional public schools, are non-union, and when charter educators do mount union campaigns, they almost always face tremendous opposition. If the promise of unionized, integrated, teacher-centered charters has proven devilishly difficult to fulfill, it may be, in part, because the movement’s leaders never took it very seriously to begin with.

The Shanker myth also leaves those who support traditional public schooling, in its original form, stranded in a political no man’s land. And right now, those people are in the fight of their lives, looking for firmer footing. More broadly, the Democratic Party has grown wary of the Third Way policies of the 1990s, suspecting they provide little defense against a resurgent right. As the charter coalition enters a new, treacherous era, the consensus history of charter schools may at last meet some resistance.

Opting Out

[ 38 ] March 11, 2017 |

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Good news out of Minnesota, where the number of high school juniors opting out of the bogus standardized testing that has significantly hurt American education has jumped significantly.

In 2016, 2,227 high school juniors opted out of the MCA tests statewide. That’s just a drop in the bucket, compared to the 55,975 students who did take it. But it is more than three times the number of eleventh grade students–694–who opted out of the MCAs in 2015.

This is a startling jump, taking place in schools and cities as diverse as suburban St. Louis Park, rural Pine City and Minneapolis. (The examples below pertain only to the Math MCA tests for high school juniors.)

In 2016, ten Pine City juniors refused the MCA tests, while 102 students took the test; that’s a small but significant bump up from the three students who refused the tests in 2015. At St. Louis Park High School in 2016, 87 juniors sat for the MCA tests while 66 students opted out. But in 2015, just one student refused the MCAs.

An eye-popping 209 juniors at Minneapolis’s Henry High School opted out of the math MCAs in 2016. That’s a huge leap from 2015, when just eleven students refused the tests. Only seven percent of Henry’s 1,100 students identify as white and eighty-percent live in poverty, according to federal standards. This might help poke holes in the story that only “suburban moms” and white, wealthier kids are pushing the opt out movement. And, across town at Roosevelt High School, 66 juniors took the math MCAs in 2016 while 98 opted not to. Like Henry, Roosevelt is not a majority white school and almost seventy percent of its students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Over at South High School–Minneapolis’s largest and most diverse–so few students took the MCAs in 2016 that there are simply blank spaces on the Department of Education’s spreadsheet for the school. That’s because, when fewer than ten students take the tests, the data has to be blocked out for privacy reasons. In 2015, 306 students–or nearly ninety percent of eligible juniors–at South did not take the tests.

Let’s hope this movement for quality education instead of test prep continues and grows. Taking back our schools means actually learning and helping students’ minds and curiosity grow instead of sitting for bogus exams.

Jim Crow as School Choice!

[ 115 ] February 28, 2017 |

Betsy DeVos, reminding everyone that the “saying the quiet parts loud” remark we used to make about the Republican Party’s racist statements is completely antiquated in an era of open racism.

I have some other images of freedom-loving choice here:

Here’s someone who is choosing to oppress white choice in Birmingham.

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Here’s some people choosing to live in poverty.

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Here’s people who chose to be sent across the Atlantic as slaves.

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You’d like to think that openly racist statements promoting Jim Crow America as a model for the present would get DeVos fired, but who I am kidding. It all just makes Rand Paul’s dream to overturn the Civil Rights Act more likely.

DeVos

[ 69 ] February 7, 2017 |

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Betsy DeVos confirmed.

It’s a loss and I think it’s pretty clear that McConnell gave permission to Murkowski and Collins to vote no while knowing that he wouldn’t lose anyone else in the caucus. But it’s an expected loss and it has severely discredited her and the fascist administration that she represents so well. What we need to do is to keep up the pressure on all the remaining nominees, especially that of Nathan Bedford Forrest for Attorney General, while also continuing to publicize and embarrass the administration on the policies coming out of these clown-run departments. I also think this helps to define the fight on public education. Whereas Obama was woefully terrible on public education, his worst policy position by far, Democrats can now stand up with full-throated support for public schools. Congressman Mark Takano has taken a leadership position on this issue and his program is excellent. I would watch people like Cory Booker on this. Booker of course has also been horrible on this issue. If he switches from that, it’s a sign of the pressure working. The Washington consensus on education is dead. Let Republicans own the disaster to follow. Attack, attack, attack. And support good public schools.

Government by Friedman

[ 87 ] January 17, 2017 |

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Betsy DeVos is a devotee of Milton Friedman and will be bringing his ideas about education into the Department of Education.

Milton Friedman, patron saint of the free market, died in 2006, but his ideas about public education live on in the thought and deeds of Betsy DeVos, likely the next U.S. Secretary of Education. The two are ideological soulmates—a fact that justifiably panics supporters of public education.

In a 1955 essay called “The Role of Government in Education,” Friedman laid out his plan for K-12 schooling, which boils down to this: taxpayer funded but privately run. The government would provide each child, through parents or guardians, funds in the form of a voucher to pay for what the government considers the minimum adequate education. Parents and guardians would then choose what education services to purchase on the free market. For Friedman the choices included private for-profit schools, private nonprofit schools, religious schools, and “some even” run by the government. Today Betsy DeVos and other free-market education reformers add home schooling and private online schooling to the mix. They also support privately run charter schools, financed directly by the government, not by student voucher money.

It’s a wealth of privatized choices meant to squeeze out, as much as possible, the least appealing alternative for free-market ed reformers: neighborhood public schools.

Taxpayer funded but privately run is how “privatization” of the public sector works in the United States. In countries where the government owns major companies or industries—for example, Aeroflot in Russia or the UK’s National Health Service—privatization means selling off enterprises to new owners in the private sector. In the United States, the government hands over control to private entities, but the taxpayers keep on paying. The most familiar U.S. example is the privatization of federal prisons.

In 1996 Milton Friedman and his wife Rose (also an economist) launched the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice as “the nation’s only organization solely dedicated to promoting their concept of educational choice.” “Choice” is the ed-reform movement’s euphemism for privatization. All the tools used to create choice—vouchers, charter schools, tax credits for private school tuition, tax credits for individuals and businesses that create private school scholarships, “education savings accounts” (usually government-funded debit cards used for various private-school expenses, not just tuition)—siphon tax dollars out of the public school system and into private hands. DeVos has worked with and donated to the Friedman Foundation, recently renamed EdChoice.* Their visions for the future of K-12 education coincide.

There are massive problems with all of this course, including the neoliberal privatization of public goods, the looting it includes, and the anti-democratic tendencies. But the resistance to this faces another big problems–that the neoliberalization of education has been so embraced by Democratic Party elites, including Barack Obama and Cory Booker.

A useful model for DeVos comes from the outgoing ed-reformer-in-chief, Barack Obama. He allocated $4.3 billion from the 2009 “stimulus package” to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who used it to create the controversial Race to the Top program. More than thirty states competed for RTTT grants by committing to a detailed list of K-12 reforms—reforms that often required changing state laws. In exchange for money, resource-strapped states agreed to evaluate teachers, at least in part, according to student scores on standardized tests; raise or eliminate any caps on the number of charter schools; and “turn around” low-achieving schools by turning them into charters, replacing the teachers and principals, or closing them. Many states found that implementing the reforms cost more than they received in grant money. Much worse, the reforms undermined public school teachers, robbed many neighborhoods of their most stable institution, and introduced into the public system less accountable, often poorly performing schools and financial malfeasance by private operators. But the free-market ed reformers were thrilled. By opening the way for rapid charter school expansion, the Obama administration made the nation’s first significant progress toward privatization.

I have long said that education policy was Obama’s worst policy arena and the impacts of this and his henchman Arne Duncan are enormous. Cory Booker of course went down this road in Newark, bringing in Mark Zuckerberg, whose expertise on education consists solely of his wealth. How did this happen? How did we get to a bipartisan agreement on the neoliberalization of education? That’s a key question for us to figure out.

When did Americans stop talking about public K-12 education as the keystone of a strong democracy, as the incubator for citizenship, shared values, and social cohesion in a diverse nation, as the only educational institution obligated to serve every child who appears on the doorstep? Conservatives don’t bear sole responsibility for changing the conversation. The Clinton and Obama administrations reduced K-12 education to little more than the required stepping stone to a college degree that leads to successful competition in the global economy. That’s a meager sales pitch, making it all too easy for K-12 schooling to be chopped up into products sold on the market.

The only counterweight to “choice” is excellent public schools, and so the only way to save public education (which is largely very good in the United States) is to improve it where it needs improvement. Hundreds of thousands of public school teachers and administrators commit themselves to the task everyday. The job also belongs to everyone who sees the need to rebuild American democracy. In the face of privatization, we are all stakeholders in the public good that is public education.

The answer is rooted in the deregulation craze that began in the 1970s, the rise of the modern corporate lobby that began in the same decade, the concomitant reduction and erasure of American unions, the rise of the DLC and Clintonism as the central tenet of the Democratic Party that it is only just now recovering from, and the long-time American deification of the wealthy. But maybe it’s also rooted in white backlash and the desegregation of schools (even if actual integrated public schools rarely happened without busing). Like other public services, once the government was seen as working for black interests, white people turned on them with a fury with the self-privatization of the religious school or private school as a response to keep white children away from black kids. Combined with suburbanization, the withdrawal of tax dollars from urban districts, and media stories of the horrors of inner cities, it became all too easy to decide that public education was a problem that only corporations could solve.

This Day in Labor History: November 17, 1968

[ 62 ] November 17, 2016 |

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On November 17, 1968, the New York State Education Commissioner reasserted control over the Ocean Hill-Brownsville school district in Brooklyn, ending the strike by teachers that started when African-American activists fired white teachers in their schools in violation of the union contract. This fraught incident represented the difficult relationship between organized labor and other social movements in the 1960s and 1970s, demonstrated the increased militancy of teachers unions during this period, and suggested the complexity of labor’s responses to social groups making new demands upon society.

In 1967, African-Americans in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville neighborhood, working with a pretty wide variety of white allies, demanded community control over their schools. More than 95 percent of the students were African-American or Latino and about 2/3 of the teachers were white. Such demands were increasingly common among communities of color during this era, especially among Chicano activists in the Southwest. They believed their schools were failing because of their inherent racism of the educational system. They believed the teachers were racist too. They wanted the students to learn about their history, read literature written by black writers, and be part of the revolutionary change demanded by Black Power activists nationwide. The city allowed Ocean Hill-Brownsville and a couple of other districts to experiment in community control beginning in 1967. Much of this community control movement nationwide had a strong anti-union element to it, especially among whites who supported it. One architect of the idea wanted to “destroy the professional education bureaucracy,” i.e., the unions.

The teachers were members of the United Federation of Teachers. They were largely Jewish and many considered themselves liberals or leftists. Other teachers were indeed pretty racist. This was a tricky issue. African-American parents had real concerns. On the other hand, the teachers had a collectively bargained contract. The head of the UFT was Albert Shanker. The contract he had negotiated with the city allowed teachers to advance through a serious of standardized tests that could allow them to move ahead depending on how they did on them. This merit-based system Shanker and the rank and file believed represented teachers effectively. It did indeed serve the white teachers well. But as standardized teachers often go, African-American teachers tended not to score as highly. So the tests and the contract did institutionalize racism.

Responding to this, the community activists fired several white teachers, violating the contract. Black teachers and whites who were not union members but committed to community control of the schools replaced them. Shanker and the UFT when ballistic and 350 teachers in the district went on strike on May 22. The community fired them all. Technically this meant that they were returned to the New York central school district office, where they would have to show up and hang out all day rather than actual firing, but it was effectively firing the teachers. This strike was a foretaste of the broader response once the new school year started in the fall. The activists behind community control wanted to ensure the fired teachers would never work again. Said the head of the community board who fired the teachers, “Not one of these teachers will be allowed to teach anywhere in this city. The black community will see to that.”

Shanker himself and the UFT as an institution had worked for civil rights. They had actively supported Freedom Summer in 1964. The UFT’s field rep in Ocean Hill-Brownsville was Sandra Feldman, a member of Harlem CORE and a volunteer during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. But this was a bigger principle for the union. No union can survive if they can’t defend members’ jobs from arbitrary dismissal. Said Feldman, “From the point of view of the union, it was a totally basic issue. You’re talking about nineteen people who were told in effect: ‘You haven’t got jobs anymore.’ The Union really had no choice.”

The strike shattered the long alliance between Jews and African-Americans in New York politics. The UFT’s official stance on ethnicity was a melting pot idea that promoted teaching about ethnicity in the context of a Cold War nationalism that promoted individual achievement and consensus politics. The black activists in Ocean Hill-Brownsville rejected this liberal pluralism, especially the teaching of black history as equivalent to the European ethnic groups who had assimilated into American society. Of course black history is very different than European ethnic history, with systemic discrimination not only defining African-American life in 1968, but today. And many of the activists were openly anti-Semitic. One black teacher wrote a poem about Shanker that read “Hey Jew boy, with that yarmulke on your head, you pale faced Jew boy, I wish you were dead.” Most of the New York left sided with the black activists, arguing the UFT was not acting in good faith. Others, including A. Philip Randolph and Michael Harrington, spoke out in favor of the UFT. Said Randolph, “If due process is not won in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, what will prevent white community groups from firing black teachers or white teachers with liberal views. What will prevent local Birchites and Wallaceites from taking over?” The AFL-CIO also supported their UFT brethren.

Mayor John Lindsey was initially supportive of the community control plan. But Shanker was frankly much more powerful than the people promoting this idea. The school year started with the entire school system going on strike for 36 days. 54,000 of the city’s 57,000 teachers walked out. The strike quickly forced Lindsay to backtrack. The Ocean Hill-Brownsville schools still operated despite the strike, although with the teachers striking outside, the education was not exactly effective. Over one million students had no school. Finally, on November 17, the state took direct control over Ocean Hill-Brownsville, ending the community control. The fired teachers were reinstated and the new teachers let go. Conflict at the school and in the community remained high. Albert Shanker became nationally famous over the strike.

Woody Allen would later portray Albert Shanker as the man who blew up the world in Sleeper. He would be posthumously granted the Medal of Freedom by President Clinton. Sadly, I don’t have to say which President Clinton.

I borrowed from Andrew Hartman, A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars, Peter Levy, The New Left and Labor in the 1960s , and Dana Goldstein, The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession to write this post.

This is the 200th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

ITT Is No More

[ 52 ] September 6, 2016 |

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One of the Obama’s administration’s signature late achievements is going after for-profit colleges.

Embattled for-profit college company ITT Educational Services, Inc. is officially shutting down its academic services, the company announced on Tuesday. Most of the 8,000 employees working for the company’s for-profit college, ITT Technical Institutes — which has about 40,000 students attending around 130 campuses in 38 states — will lose their jobs.

The shuttering of the college comes as no surprise. Last week, ITT Tech stopped enrolling students at all of its campuses after the U.S. Department of Education prohibited the company from enrolling students who rely on federal student aid. And although this was the final nail in the coffin, ITT has been dealing with increasing scrutiny of its operations for years.

Last year, the department put ITT on the heightened cash monitoring list for filing its financial information late and the Securities and Exchange Commission announced fraud charges against two ITT executives. The SEC’s director of its division of enforcement, Andrew Ceresney, claimed that the executives “made numerous material misstatements and omissions in its disclosures to cover up the subpar performance of student loans programs that ITT created and guaranteed.”

In 2014, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued ITT for predatory student lending, arguing that the college encouraged students to take out expensive private loans that they would most likely default on. And this year, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey sued ITT for misleading job placement rates.

Good riddance. I feel terrible for all the people without the cultural capital to know better think that this was a good option for them and took out loans to do so.

NAACP and Charter Schools

[ 17 ] August 30, 2016 |

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Above: Charter school hacks

Glad to see the NAACP come out against charter schools and the fraud that they offer African-Americans a better education.

With charter schools educating as many as half the students in some American cities, they have been championed as a lifeline for poor black children stuck in failing traditional public schools.

But now the nation’s oldest and newest black civil rights organizations are calling for a moratorium on charter schools.

Their demands, and the outcry that has ensued, expose a divide among blacks that goes well beyond the now-familiar complaints about charters’ diverting money and attention from traditional public schools.

In separate conventions over the past month, the N.A.A.C.P. and the Movement for Black Lives, a group of 50 organizations assembled by Black Lives Matter, passed resolutions declaring that charter schools have exacerbated segregation, especially in the way they select and discipline students.

They portray charters as the pet project of foundations financed by white billionaires, and argue that the closing of traditional schools as students migrate to charters has disproportionately disrupted black communities.

There’s also the many problems with how charter schools operate:

Although charters are supposed to admit students by lottery, some effectively skim the best students from the pool, with enrollment procedures that discourage all but the most motivated parents to apply. Some charters have been known to nudge out their most troubled students.

That, the groups supporting a moratorium say, concentrates the poorest students in public schools that are struggling for resources.

Charter schools “are allowed to get away with a lot more,” said Hiram Rivera, an author of the Black Lives platform and the executive director of the Philadelphia Student Union.

Charters are slightly more likely to suspend students than traditional public schools, according to an analysis of federal data this year. And black students in charter schools are four times as likely to be suspended as their white peers, according to the data analysis, putting them in what Mr. Brooks calls the “preschool to prison pipeline.”

Another platform author, Jonathan Stith, the national coordinator for the Alliance for Educational Justice, chose a charter school in Washington for one of his children because it promised an Afrocentric curriculum. But he began to see the school driving out students. It was difficult, he said, for parents to push back against the private boards that run the schools.

“Where you see the charters providing an avenue of escape for some, it hasn’t been for the majority,” he said.

Mr. Stith came to think the money would be better spent on fixing the traditional public school system.

Once again, the problem of education is the problems of poverty and inequality. If you want to improve public education, you don’t give over public monies and responsibility to private entities. You work to fix poverty. But where’s the money for that? Plus if you fixed poverty there might be room for teachers’ unions and we couldn’t have that now, could we. After all, who is more concerned about a child’s education, a Silicon Valley investor or a teacher trying to reach out to a children and pay her mortgage at the same time?

The Senate Will Really Miss Its Modern Cato

[ 92 ] August 20, 2016 |

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Ron Johnson has some ideas about history education.

JOHNSON: We’ve got the internet ― you have so much information available. Why do you have to keep paying differently lecturers to teach the same course? You get one solid lecturer and put it up online and have everybody available to that knowledge for a whole lot cheaper? But that doesn’t play very well to tenured professors in the higher education cartel. So again, we need destructive technology for our higher education system.

WISPOLITICS: But online education is missing some facet of a good ―

JOHNSON: Of course, it’s a combination, but prior to my doing this crazy thing [of being in the Senate] … I was really involved on a volunteer basis in an education system in Oshkosh. And one of things we did in the Catholic school system was we had something called the “academic excellence initiative.” How do you teach more, better, easier?

One of the examples I always used ― if you want to teach the Civil War across the country, are you better off having, I don’t know, tens of thousands of history teachers that kind of know the subject, or would you be better off popping in 14 hours of Ken Burns Civil War tape and then have those teachers proctor based on that excellent video production already done? You keep duplicating that over all these different subject areas.

We shouldn’t have art in schools anyway because that’s for queers and communists, but if we do, let’s just show Bob Ross shows.

The Senate is really going to go downhill when Russ Feingold replaces Johnson.

Does Rheeism Work? No, Except for Crushing Unions

[ 199 ] June 3, 2016 |

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Jonathan Chait wasn’t happy with my response to him last week, where I talked of his hackish Rheeist beliefs in destroying teacher unions and replacing them with charter schools. Of course, supporting these policies pays for his house since his wife is a charter school advocate, which he admitted for once.

For teacher unions and their supporters, Rhee remains the premier antagonist, where her name remains a curse word. Erik Loomis laments that the Obama administration still “believes in Rheeism.” Casey Quinlan, writing for ThinkProgress, castigates the Obama administration for citing D.C. reforms as a model. Bruce Vail has a whole article for In These Times lamenting the fact that Rhee’s successor, Kaya Henderson, has continued her policies (quotes from union sources: “[Rhee] is still here, but in the form of Kaya Henderson”; “It’s Rheeism without Rhee,” etc.)

But here is an odd thing that none of these sources mention: Rhee’s policies have worked. Studies have found that Rhee’s teacher-evaluation system has indeed increased student learning. What’s more, the overall performance of D.C. public school students on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) has risen dramatically and outpaced the rest of the country. And if you suspect cheating or “teaching to the test” is the cause, bear in mind NAEP tests are not the ones used in teacher evaluations; it’s a test used to assess national trends, with no incentive to cheat. (My wife works for a D.C. charter school.)

Does Rheeism work? Despite what Chait suggests, the evidence largely does not suggest that it does. Many studies suggest charter school students do no better or worse than public school students on standardized tests. At best, it’s probably a draw. But that’s not the only measure of whether a school is working. Like it or not, schools do more than just educate students. They also socialize and shape them over a period of thirteen years, counting kindergarten. And they really fail by those measures. These charter schools that Chait claim work so well suspend black and disabled students at rates higher than public schools. These schools have no tolerance for behavior that comes out of difficult home lives or disability and so they resource to punitive discipline. Instead, they talk about successful students having “grit,” naturalizing the problems that poor students face instead of facing the real problems students face. This is not an education system that works.

Let us also remember how often the pro-Rheeist studies prove to be methodologically flawed and influenced by the results the charter school advocates desire. Allow me to quote from my Boston Review piece on charter schools in New Orleans:

Time and again, test score fraud and false research has put the lie to many such claims about the benefits of charter schools. The Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives, Cowen’s post-presidency lobbying group that aims to turn New Orleans into a giant experiment for charters, released a 2014 report lauding its success. However, the institute soon had to completely repudiate its own report for its flawed methodology. Despite well-funded charter industry “studies” claiming improved test scores, the nonpartisan Spencer Foundation and Public Agenda has found, “There is very little evidence that charter and traditional public schools differ meaningfully in their average impact on students’ standardized test performance.” On New Orleans schools specifically, the Investigative Fund has written, “seventy-nine percent of [New Orleans] charters are still rated D or F by the Louisiana Department of Education.” Moreover, it has chronicled how the emphasis on test scores and college preparation has led charter schools to eject low-performing students who would require additional help to overcome the tremendous class and race-based barriers that impede their educational success.

Let us also remember why Michelle Rhee left her job in Washington. Her tenure as a unionbuster shoving her agenda down the throats of parents and the community was so controversial that it cost the Washington mayor his job, forcing her to resign. I guess firing principles on national television makes Rhee look tough and independent and people like Chait love that, but that is a horrible and capricious managerial style that is disastrous in the real world.

What galls me in the end is the idea that bad teachers, or more specifically, teachers unions protecting bad teachers from being fired, is the primary reason for problems in education. This just makes no sense. First, teacher unions don’t want bad teachers either. What they want is for school districts to go through contractually negotiated processes for disciplining and then firing teachers. This is to protect teachers from capricious and tyrannical management practices. And that drives privatizers nuts because their own anti-union mentality simply can’t abide that workers would have any power. Second, the problem with public schools is the intertwined curses of poverty and racism. If you want better public schools, crushing unions does nothing to help these kids. What helps them is money, both in terms of jobs for their parents and in terms of more money in their schools. Suburbanization, white flight, and now gentrification have all contributed to these problems. Anything charter schools might provide these kids is just window dressing covering up the structural issues at the heart of the problem.

Third, I fail to see the justification in the entire testing regime at the heart of the privatizers and charter school advocates. The idea that teachers primary means of evaluation should be the test scores of their students has enormous implications for both teachers and students. First, it drives good teachers out of poor schools. Why would they stay in these schools when their jobs depend on bringing kids with difficult lives up to a certain standard when they could teach in the suburbs and get there easily? Second, it means that first graders are doing test prep classes when they could be at recess, fourth graders are doing test prep when they could be in art, sixth graders are doing test prep when they could be in band. But like the anti-liberal arts bias that now pervades higher education, these reformers don’t care about recess or art or band. They want test scores. This hurts children’s lives.

And if Jonathan Chait isn’t a unionbuster, he will be totally fine with charter school teachers unionizing. If he’s not, then fundamentally his goal is unionbusting.

Chait Hates Teachers’ Unions! To the Fainting Couch!

[ 194 ] May 26, 2016 |

Diane-Ravitch-Reign-of-Error

There must have been some future teachers in activist groups at the University of Michigan 25 years ago, because Chait is taking ill-informed and gratuitous shots at teachers’ unions, blaming them for opposing an Obama administration plan:

The policy fight in question is an Obama administration proposal to require school districts to use Title I funds to help their poorest schools more than their richest ones. (Even within a school districts, more affluent schools often spend more per child than poorer schools.) Not surprisingly, organizations like the NAACP, the Children’s Defense Fund, and the National Council of La Raza support this idea. Also unsurprisingly, Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate Education Committee, opposes it. What may be surprising to some is who has joined Alexander: the two giant teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, who have signed a letter supporting Alexander.

Why would the unions oppose a plan to shift resources to poor public schools? Because one of the reasons for the disparity in funding between rich and poor schools is the structure of teacher contracts, which tie compensation to length of tenure. As Kevin Carey explains, imposing federal requirements on how districts spend money can be “disruptive” to these existing contracts. What’s more, unions have grown deeply opposed to a stronger federal role in public education. The Obama administration has used federal education funding as a lever to drive evidence-based reforms in education. And those reforms have often changed policies unions would like to keep in place — especially the longstanding practice of teacher tenure, which pays teachers on the basis of years served (rather than how well they teach), makes replacing ineffective teachers nearly impossible, and requires that layoffs be conducted on a last-in-first-out basis.

And so unions have increasingly defined their agenda as a defense of “local control” against — though they’re too delicate to use the term — big government. Diane Ravitch, the pro-teacher union activist, has written Wall Street Journal editorials repeating the “local control” mantra, and urging Republicans to roll back Obama’s reforms. On her blog, you can find Ravitch cheering on Alexander’s challenge to Obama’s education secretary, John King and hosting columns with titles like “The Federal Government Is the Enemy of Public Schools.” If they were not being made on behalf of a union, nobody would mistake these ideas for anything other than conservatism.

Chait might cry about Diane Ravitch saying mean things about Obama’s terrible education policy, but he evidently never got past the title, which is about the disaster of charter schools and No Child Left Behind. In this case, the federal government is indeed the enemy of public schools.

To say the least, Chait is misconstruing the arguments of the teachers’ unions. The argument about protecting their own contracts is not what Chait makes it out to be. It’s not as if the teachers’ unions have negotiated massively better contracts in rich school districts than in poor ones. Note where Chait plays around to make it look like the argument is about money:

Because one of the reasons for the disparity in funding between rich and poor schools is the structure of teacher contracts, which tie compensation to length of tenure. As Kevin Carey explains, imposing federal requirements on how districts spend money can be “disruptive” to these existing contracts.

This is disingenuous. If you link on the Carey piece, here’s what he writes:

Marguerite Roza, a Georgetown University scholar, has found that many districts spend up to a third less per pupil in poor schools compared with others. This can happen for various reasons: because wealthy parents unduly influence budget allocations, for example. It can also happen because most teachers are paid using collectively bargained salary schedules that reward longevity. Senior teachers tend to cluster in wealthy schools, while schools where many children are poor often churn through large numbers of novice, badly paid teachers.

But fixing such funding inequities can be expensive, as well as disruptive to longstanding arrangements of which teachers get to be in which schools. That’s why the unions, districts and state leaders wrote the letter urging Mr. King to “refrain from defining terms and aspects of the new law” — the essence of regulation — “especially as it relates to the ‘supplement, not supplant’ provision.”

This has nothing to do with money. It has a lot to do with two things Chait does not address. First, it’s about working conditions. The reality is that it’s easier for teachers to work in wealthier school districts or, more relevantly given how teacher employment works, in wealthier schools within the same district. I’m not saying it’s a good thing that experienced teachers leave poor schools for this reason, but on a personal level, who doesn’t understand this? Second, it has to do with the growing connections between test scores and employment. I and others have talked about how tying test scores to employment gives teachers additional incentive to get out of poor schools. Yet Chait doesn’t mention this at all, a policy he supports and castigates teacher unions for opposing.

It’s fine if you want to oppose the teachers’ unions on the policy question here. It’s really complicated. What needs to happen in education policy is that the pie needs to be larger, with the extra money going to poor schools. But that’s not going to happen. Chait admits the other issue, and in fact the only thing that is actually going to create equality of opportunity in education: fighting poverty.

Defenders of the status quo do have arguments, sort of. For instance, Laura Moser argued recently that teacher-tenure rules may be bad, but “the fight over teacher tenure is something of a red herring if you believe, as I tend to, that the real scourge of public schools isn’t bad teaching, but poverty and (re)segregation.” It is true that eliminating poverty, and finding a way to get rich and poor families to live side-by-side would do a great deal of good for the public-education system. But, on the off chance that this doesn’t get accomplished in the near term, the choice is to use the government to help poor students as effectively as possible in an unequal society, or leave them at the mercy of a system that is failing them.

Yes, actually, alleviating poverty is far and away the most important piece of the solution to school inequality. If Chait spent more time attacking Republicans for their many pro-poverty policies, this would be a lot more useful. Instead, he goes after unions, who are doing what unions are supposed to do, which is protect their own members. Right now, their members have some leeway to choose the school where they work. Why would they give that back in exchange for nothing but more testing and more firings for working in poor schools? I’m sure some 22 year old Teach for America kid straight out of Brown with no training can just replace those teachers!

When reading people like Chait, the question that comes to mind is, “How does he think liberal change actually takes place?” He and so many other nominally left-of-center pundits routinely define themselves as taking the most possibly left position and attacking anyone to the left of that. That’s because, I think, they have dreams of setting policy from nice offices in Washington, creating the Great Society without talking to any of the people this will affect, all no doubt while wearing great suits the likes of which they saw Don Draper wear. But if you want to create liberal policy, and if you look at the history of successful liberal policy making, what has to happen is on the ground activism. That means people in the streets, it means having buy-in from affected people, it means making deals with labor unions or even encouraging unions to take leading roles. The Social Security Act didn’t happen because FDR and Frances Perkins thought it was the right thing. The same with the National Labor Relations Act. LBJ didn’t push for the Civil Rights Act because he thought it was just good policy making. All of these things take social and political pressure from below. And people like Jonathan Chait hate the thought of that because activists can be intense and sometimes say mean things and yell a lot and might oppose you when you are a good smart college newspaper writer.

It’s not as if the teacher unions oppose better schools for poor kids. They think the Obama administration’s ideas are bad for their members. They want more money for poor schools. They don’t want to get fired for teaching in conditions that are out of their control. They reject the testing regime that is failing our students, forcing first graders to spend hours doing test-taking exercises where they once had recess and art. This is a disaster. Teachers’ unions oppose it. I think the Obama administration’s approach here is bad, as it has been on public education through its entire tenure. I think there could be compromises here–providing financial incentives for good teachers to teach in poor districts, disconnecting test scores from employment, etc. But of course, that’s not going to happen because the administration believes in Rheeism. So does Chait. They are both wrong.

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