Hide and Seek

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It has been a few weeks since I’ve written about the Secretary of Education. She hasn’t been seen or heard from much since she dropped a few bombs in DC. If you want to ask Mrs. DeVos what she’s been up to, you’ll have to find her first. She might be hiding and this might be why:

First, the attorneys general of 18 states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia are suing the Department of Education over a rule to protect student loan borrowers that was supposed to go into effect July 1. According to the New York Times, “An existing federal law allows borrowers to apply for loan forgiveness if they attended a school that misled them or broke state consumer protection laws. Once rarely used, the system was overwhelmed by applicants after the wave of for-profit school failures. Corinthian, a for profit school collapsed and led to more than 15,000 loan discharges, with a balance of $247 million. ITT Tech, another for-profit with nearly 40,000 students, shut down in 2016.”

Ms. DeVos froze Obama Administration rules that would have shifted some risk back to the institutions by requiring schools at risk of closing to put up financial collateral. They would also ban mandatory arbitration agreements, which waived students’ rights to a class action lawsuit in cases of misconduct. According to the Los Angeles Times, “No one should be surprised that the Trump administration is going after federal safeguards that protect consumers at the expense of corporate profits.”

Second, Superintendents across the country are speaking out against the deep cuts in Medicaid as it will deeply impact low-income students in a loss of healthcare and special education services.

Third, according to NPR, On July 1, interest rates on federal student loans will cost 4.45%, up from 3.76 %. Graduate Stafford loans will  cost 5.31 % to 6 %, while PLUS loans are up to 7% from 6.31 %.

Fourth,  the budget proposes to cut $143 billion from federal student loans.

And a few more

  • DeVos announced an intention to appoint A. Wayne Johnson, who runs a private loan refinancing company, as the new head of the Office of Federal Student Aid. (Isn’t that like asking the fox to watch the hen house?)
  • She has loosened the rights on civil rights investigations, including issues around transgender students as well as sexual assault at institutions of higher education.
  • She revoked guidance that protected transgender students.
  • And finally, she cut $76 billion by creating one plan for new borrowers to pay their loans based on their income. This would require borrowers to pay a larger share of their income each month than most plans available today.

The Chronicles of Higher Education reported on DeVos’ silence since these devastating  proposed changes were announced.

“There has been a public silence from Ms. DeVos. It has been several weeks since her last open news event. There were two events listed as open on Ms. DeVos’s schedule in the middle of June, but when a reporter inquired about them, he was told they had been incorrectly posted by the department’s web team. The schedule was updated to reflect that the events were closed. There are no public events listed on the secretary’s schedule this week.”

Recently, she said, “My first priority is to protect students”. What students? These proposed cuts impact those who need government assistance the most in order to earn a college degree. I don’t see how students are protected in any of these cuts. Back in the day, those who attended college were wealthy white landowners. Is this the direction we’re heading? Those who are privileged can go to college and those who own loan companies, and open for profit schools are protected from cheating anyone who attends their school and borrows money to do so? That protects investors-not students.

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DeVos finally turned up this week in Denver to speak to one of her favorite conservative groups – the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC).  ALEC is a business-backed group that writes conservative legislation at the state level and advocates for limited government. Her connection to ALEC is deep but not surprising. Her family’s organization, the American Federation for Children, is a financial contributor to ALEC. Her father in-law received ALEC’s “Adam Smith Free Enterprise Award” in 1993, for his promotion of market-based school reform.

DeVos was met by hundreds of Denver teachers, students and administrators who walked in protest from the capitol to the Hyatt where ALEC was meeting. The protesters argued the expansion of vouchers and charters, as they will ultimately destroy public education.

Two recent studies from credible universities came to similar conclusions regarding the success of voucher programs:

The first study, a joint project from Tulane University’s Education Research Alliance and the University of Arkansas’ School Choice Demonstration Project, found that voucher programs did not produce improvement on students’ test scores.

A second study examined the statewide school voucher program in Indiana, one of the largest initiatives of its kind in the U.S. The unpublished study from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Kentucky, which is pending peer review, found that Indiana’s 34,000-student program had a negligible effect on educational performance for children in third grade through eighth grade from 2011 to 2015.

According to NPR, “Her rhetoric was more fiery than it’s been since she assumed her post, as she talked about a “fight”, a “struggle,” and being on the “front lines”. She invoked Margaret Thatcher’s famous line that “there is no such thing” as “society” (NPR).

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She argued this tweet from the AFT. “They have made clear that they care more about a system – one that was created in the 1800s – than about individual students. They are saying education is not an investment in individual students. And they are totally wrong. What, exactly, is education if not an investment in students?”

Back in March, DeVos criticized Denver Public Schools for a weak agenda when it comes to school choice. She said Denver does not provide parents with a voucher program, which the state Supreme Court has twice ruled unconstitutional. The irony here is that her speech  in March was to the Brookings Institute in Washington, which ranked the DPS school choice system as top in the nation for the second straight year this year. She doesn’t know who she’s talking to or what she’s talking about.

ALEC creates a yearly report card on the success of states’ public schools. Criteria for grading includes the level of access to charters and vouchers. Massachusetts and Connecticut are at the top of the list for student performance, but earned a C or C- because of voucher and charter accessibility. The top two states receiving A’s for this are Florida and Arizona, two states with many failing public schools, and a growing number of questionable charters. A successful model employed in these two states (and so many others) which increases student performance gets a C, and states failing miserably but encourage charters and vouchers get A’s.

She argues that her ideals and those shared by her family and other billionaire philanthropists support public education, when their actions support their lack of understanding of public education, and the consistent lack of a model of success for the very ideas they’re supporting. Look at what she’s done in the last month. These decisions do not support public education, nor do they support students.

Meanwhile, back in Washington…

At an event on Thursday, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said school voucher programs were the “slightly more polite cousins of segregation” (USA Today).

These are my reflections for today.

7/22/17

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Author: Meg White

I am a lifelong educator and I hope to use this blog to reflect on what's happening in public education. These are my musings, opinions, and reflections. If you learn from them, good for us. Ignorance is no excuse. I have co-authored a book, "Questioning Assumptions and Challenging Perceptions: Becoming an Effective Teacher in Urban Environments" (available on amazon)

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