Will work for school supplies

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I attended public schools from Kindergarten through 12th grade. So have my children. The majority of my classroom teaching was in public schools. I teach at a public university.  I am a strong advocate for public schools, and in my work I try to recruit and train pre-service teachers to teach in urban public schools.

I believe the very foundation of our democracy is reflected in offering every citizen a free and appropriate public education. We benefit greatly from a well-educated, informed electorate (which is questionable these days…but I digress).  I also firmly believe the quality of an education should not be determined by zip codes or income levels. That is not equal. Wealthy parents who want to send their children to private schools, have the prerogative to do so, but this should not have any bearing on the quality of education offered to every child in this country attending a public school. Not ever. That is not equal.

As I have so often written in my blog, I have such great disdain for charters and vouchers- because that money is taken away from the very students who need it the most.

Let me get to the point. Like many of you, I’m trying to get my head around this proposed tax scandal being considered in Washington.  As far as I can understand, this is how it will potentially impact public education:  The current bill being considered would offer incentives to private school parents while at the same time cutting the deduction for state and local taxes that fund public schools. That means the wealthiest people in this country would be able to divert their tax dollars to pay for private and parochial school tuition, possibly even before a child is born.

“It’s crazy that we’re eliminating the ability of people to deduct their state and local taxes that go directly to local services, including schools . . . while at the same time providing a $10,000 incentive for folks to send their kids to private schools,” said Sasha Pudelski, assistant director for policy and advocacy at the American Association of School Administrators, which represents public school superintendents across the country (Washington Post).

What else is in the tax bill? This from the Network for Public Education:

  • Both the House and Senate bills dramatically lower the federal deduction for state and local taxes, making it tougher to raise funds for public schools. This means you will be taxed on part of your income already taxed to support public schools.
  • The House bill also eliminates the tax deduction for student loan interest, taxes tuition waivers as income, and eliminates the small tax credit for teachers to buy school supplies.

Before the bill was passed, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said, “This change will have real and significant effects. Your vote will expand options for parents and children spending their own money, and will prioritize the education of the next generation of Americans” (Washington Post).

If I could paraphrase, “Your vote will expand options for wealthy parents spending their own money on private and religious schools, and will take from the poorest (and largest) percentage of families, further expanding the level of income inequality for the next generation of Americans”.  

One more thing this tax bill proposes is to eliminates a $250 tax deduction for teachers who spend their own money on classroom supplies. Really???

Rather than further pontificate on this bill, or this Congress, I am asking for your advocacy for public education. Here’s a link to voice your opinion. Please sign and share. Tell this deplorable Congress that taking funding away from the poorest children and eliminating $250 deduction for teachers is absolutely ridiculous.

These are my reflections for today.

12/8/17

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Still more charter scandals

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This is the fourth blog I’ve devoted to charter scandals. Sadly this could become a monthly post. These stories are from November.

Milwaukee, WI –  Out of 126 teachers at the Milwaukee Charter Prep (MCP) school, 22 are not currently licensed. Milwaukee Public Schools teachers are required to have a license to teach, so are MCP teachers. According to Rob Rauh, the CEO of MCP,  they are “working diligently” with Teach For America and Milwaukee Public Schools to get the applications processed.

Rauh explains why there is a high number of unlicensed staff. Some teachers were recruited from another state. Others are taking part in recruitment programs like Teach For America. Others have pending applications for renewal. But one of the biggest obstacles, Rauh says, is the state’s rigorous certification exam known as the Praxis (Fox.com).

“It’s a challenging test,” Rauh said.  Nghia Foster, who is the Dean of Students for Milwaukee College Prep, struggled to pass the Praxis. “A test does not justify what you can do in a classroom,” Foster said (Fox.com). 

Thirty seven states require students pass Praxis to gain state licensure. Other states require a different exam, but all require a test as a criteria for licensing.

My question: How is reformers answer to failing public schools unlicensed teachers who can’t pass a basic core competency exam?

Chicago, IL –  In 2005 Pamela Strain founded the Beacon Hill Preparatory Academy, a private school for underprivileged children in a south Chicago suburban neighborhood.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Strain is suspected by the FBI of using the school to steal $2.7 million in funds over a seven-year period, including money from federal school lunch subsidies and other grants designed to provide nutritious food to low-income children. “During one visit to the school’s Harvey location in 2015, a state inspector encountered offices with badly outdated equipment and records of a food program that were either missing or incomplete. The school appeared to have no dedicated food prep area, and an empty classroom where food was being stored was infested with moths Chicago Tribune .

Strain, 60, is charged with using school funding to “…pay for a lavish lifestyle, including her home and other properties, luxury cars, spas, salons and shopping sprees at stores such as Victoria’s Secret and Macy’s” Chicago Tribune.

My question: Without oversight from the state, does anyone see why so many people are misappropriating funds?

Dover, DE –  Noel Rodriguez, principal of the Academy of Dover, a charter school was recently charged with embezzling $145,480 from the Academy over a a three-year-period beginning in July 2011. “Rodriguez used the embezzled money for personal expenses such as electronics, gardening and camping equipment, automobile costs, a dog house, personal travel and home improvement items” (Delaware State News).

My question: If this gentleman was under investigation from the beginning, why did it take so long to investigate?

Chicago, IL – Megan Kotarski, 28 was a teacher at the Horizon Science Academy was charged this month with having sexual contact with a 16 year old student. Kotarski is charged with a felony count of aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a victim between 13 and 18 years old (Fox News).

My question: What the hell????

Tobyhanna, PA – Reverend Dennis Bloom, 62, was the former CEO of the Pocono Mountain Charter School, and pastor of the Shawnee Tabernacle Church. This month Bloom was fined $55,000 by the Pennsylvania Ethics Commission for filing deficient financial statements for four years. Additionally he was charged with ethics violations. “According to the commission, Bloom gave his wife a substantial raise and hired his children for positions in the school(Pocono Record).

Bloom founded the K-12 school in 2003 and resigned as CEO of the charter school in 2010 under a cloud of controversy regarding his personal and school finances.  The PA Charter Appeals Board revoked the charter’s license renewal application, because of “excessive entanglement between the school and its landlord, the Shawnee Tabernacle Church” (Pocono Record).

My question again: Without oversight from the state, does anyone see a pattern of misappropriation?

I’ve written of only a few of the multitude of stories about charter scandals. We know what happens when the fox guards the hen house, and we continue to watch it happen. Shame on us.

These are my reflections for today.

12/1/2017

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Reflections in Education

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Sunday marks one year since I began writing this blog. I started it mostly out of frustration from the presidential election, and fear of what this presidency might do to public education in the US. But I also started writing because I wanted to seize an opportunity to inform and educate people on so many issues related to public education, which is a topic near and dear to me. Since November 26, 2016, I’ve had almost 2,000 views and 1,500 visitors. That’s pretty awesome to me because I didn’t think anyone would read it.

If I look at commonalities in my posts, clearly Betsy DeVos’ name appears more than any other. She has become as notorious as the president in her disdain for public education, poor people, while promoting white privilege.

I have written about the push to grow charters and vouchers, along with the almost daily stories of corruption. Last week I wrote how the reform movement is seeping into the distraught island of Puerto Rico. Other topics include the Department of Education, DACA, civil rights, and the school to prison pipeline.

I find tremendous catharsis in writing my reflections, and I am happy with the growing number of faithful readers. Thank you for sticking with me for a year. I hope you find the blogs informative and enlightening. Perhaps leave a comment, or suggest a future blog. I think it would be great to engage in some discourse.

When you read one that resonates with you, I hope you will share it with like-minded people, or people who need to be informed. Ignorance is no excuse.

Thank you for your support. I’ll keep writing, if you keep reading.

These are my reflections for today.

11/24/17

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The devil you know

Last January the education world was rocked by the announcement of Betsy DeVos as the nominee for Secretary of Education. Those of us in the field were riddled with anxiety over her nomination. DeVos is the wife of a billionaire with no experience in public education. She did not attend or send her own children to public schools, and has never worked in a public school. She is, however, a strong advocate for school choice.

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Her tenure as Secretary has been tainted from the start, going back as far as her nomination hearing when she said one reason teachers should have guns is due to the threat of grizzly bears. She is the only cabinet nominee who was given the job by the vice-president’s vote to break the tie.

She visited schools where she was met with protestors. She did not have a clear understanding of the federal role in helping students with disabilities, and no clear understanding of the questionable use of test scores in public schools to measure proficiency. According to the NY Times, “Two weeks after DeVos’s hearing, more than 300 (overwhelmingly Democratic) lawmakers in all 50 states submitted a letter to Congress opposing DeVos. Two powerful national teachers unions helped mobilize thousands of calls to senators’ offices to decry DeVos.”

In July, 18 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against DeVos over the decision to freeze Obama’s borrower defense to repayment which helped forgive student loan debt for people whose for-profit colleges closed amid fraud accusations. Additionally, many senior positions in the department remain unfilled.

Many people in her inner circles have touted her as resilient, focused on her agenda, and unwilling to waiver on her beliefs, despite the constant resistance she has faced from day one. A big blow came when the majority Republican Congress rejected her budget proposal to fund a school choice initiative.

This week the rumor mill has been churning stories of her imminent resignation. Sources close to the Secretary say she has consistently blamed the bureaucracy in Washington as the main reason she has not been able to move her agenda. In a recent interview with Politico magazine, DeVos said the bureaucracy is, “smothering creativity and blocking innovation.”

“Morale is terrible at the department,” said Thomas Toch, the director of FutureEd, an independent education think tank at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy. “I’ll tell you, in Washington education circles, the conversation is already about the post-DeVos landscape, because the assumption is she won’t stay long. I think she’s been probably one of the most ineffective people to ever hold the job” (Metro).

DeVos’ biggest downfall might be attributed to her lack of experience in government as well as public education. So aside from her agenda of turning over any policies supported by the Obama Administration, and providing more school choice-she brought nothing to Washington.

Politico notes, “When it comes to the most contentious debates surrounding America’s K-12 system — vouchers, standards, incentives, tests — DeVos had more tangible influence as a private citizen in Michigan than she does now in Washington.”

Before you get too excited about her resignation.. turns out there isn’t much to the rumor. It started on social media and came from sources lacking credibility. The source hinting at DeVos’ resignation was updated by the end of the week. “The original article stated that officials were planning for DeVos to exit the Trump administration, it has been updated to state that an insider assumes DeVos “won’t stay long” at her post as education secretary (Salon.com).

I have have been very critical of her since day one and I admit I initially felt a sense of relief at the thought she may have finally recognized she’d met her match in Washington. My relief of her pending resignation was followed by concern. As the expression goes, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.” If DeVos were to resign, who would take her place? I shudder at the thought.

These are my reflections for today.

11/10/17

 

 

 

For-profit universities

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For-profit universities are institutions operated by private, for-profit businesses that receive fees from each student they enroll. For-profit education is common in many parts of the world, making up more than 70% of the higher education sector in India, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Indonesia (Shah & Nair, 2013).

Not so long ago, these institutions were touted as the future of higher education  in the US largely because they targeted non-tradition students – meaning they were drawing from a population of older people with jobs who can’t or don’t necessarily want to attend school full-time. Many schools marketed heavily in the business sector, looking to draw students from the corporate world. The selling point was at lower costs, students could attend classes online, and take as many or as few classes as they wanted. There was a boom in enrollment from 1990-2010.

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What has happened since 2010? Regulators started cracking down on the industry’s misdeeds. Here are a few examples.

For-profit colleges are far more expensive than community colleges, their closest peers, but, according to a 2013 study by three Harvard professors, their graduates have lower earnings and are actually more likely to end up unemployed. To make matters worse, these students are usually in a lot of debt. Ninety-six per cent of them take out loans, and they owe an average of more than forty thousand dollars (Surowiecki, 2015).

In an incident involving Corinthians Colleges (with over 24 campuses in the US and Canada) investigators  found  the school lied about job-placement rates nearly a thousand times. In a 2010 undercover government investigation of fifteen for-profit colleges found that all fifteen “made deceptive or otherwise questionable statements” (Surowiecki, 2015). Corinthians and 24 of its subsidiaries filed for bankruptcy in 2015.

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President Barack Obama worked to stop many of the abuses of for-profit schools by cracking down on the industry-which was later blamed for pushing Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech into bankruptcy.

Enter Betsy DeVos. Her connection to for-profit institutions is deep. Recently she hired former DeVry Institute Dean Julian Schmoke who made headlines last year, as he was under fire from state prosecutors and the Federal Trade Commission. DeVry agreed to pay $100 million to students who complained that they had been misled by its recruitment pitch.

DeVos also hired Robert Eitel who now serves as a special assistant to the secretary. Eitel’s former job was as a corporate owner of for-profit colleges. He spent the last 18 months as a lawyer for a company facing government investigations-one that ended with a settlement of over $30 million over deceptive student lending (Halperin, 2017).

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Trump’s pick to be the Education Department’s general counsel, Carlos Muñiz, is a lawyer who provided consulting services to Career Education Corp. which is a for-profit education company under several investigations.

Betsy DeVos’ department is hell-bent on removing many of the Obama administration’s regulations governing the for-profit college sector. Here’s one example:

DeVos has stopped approving new student-fraud claims brought against for-profit schools. The Education Department has a backlog of more than 87,000 applications from students seeking to have their loans forgiven on the grounds they were defrauded, some of which date to the previous administration (Collins, 2017).

As a result, in July 18 states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against DeVos over the decision to freeze Obama’s borrower defense to repayment which helped forgive student loan debt for people whose for-profit colleges closed amid fraud accusations, leaving students without degrees and with piles of debt.

Since the election last November, stocks of for-profit institutions have soared as Trump made clear he supports any plan which will slash government regulations (Cohen, 2017).

Sarah Dieffenbacher borrowed $50,000 in federal student loans to attend Corinthian’s Everest College from 2007 to 2012. While waiting for a reply to her claim to have her loans discharged, she had her wages garnished. Though a federal judge ordered the Education Department in June to rule on her application, they have not rendered a decision (Cohen, 2017).

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee said in September, “It’s telling that Secretary DeVos is once again quick to blame students who were victims of fraud, including many of our nation’s veterans, rather than the predatory for-profit colleges who defrauded them” (Douglas-Gabriel, 2017).

Hard to say what DeVos loves more – unregulated charter schools or unaccountable for-profit universities.

These are my reflections for today.

11/3/17

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Et tu, New Jersey?

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On August 29, 2017 New Jersey Governor Chris Christie attended a ribbon cutting ceremony at the opening of the M.E.T.S. Charter School in Newark.  M.E.T.S., which stands for Mathematics, Engineering, Technology and Science (a spin-off of the more popular S.T.E.M. acronym).  M.E.T.S. also operates a school in Jersey City.

Yesterday it was reported the school would close its doors in June 2018. Students currently enrolled as juniors and seniors will finish the rest of the year, while freshmen and sophomores will be sent back to their neighborhood schools. Less than eight weeks after its doors open with the pomp and circumstance that often follow the highly unpopular governor, the doors will close leaving half the 250-student body without a plan.

This is not the first time these M.E.T.S. students have been displaced. In March,  three Newark charter schools — Newark Prep Charter School, Paulo Freire Charter School and Merit Prep Charter School — were on probation for academic problems. After a school performance review, the NJ Department of Education closed the schools. District officials said 110 of the 140 students in grades 10-12 at M.E.T.S. came from the three closed charter schools — Newark Prep, Paulo Freire or Merit Prep (NJ.com).

In a letter sent home to parents, the Board of Trustees cited their reason, “The M.E.T.S. Newark campus cannot in good conscience say that it is currently equipped to provide the highest level of education to the number of students currently enrolled. High school is such a vital time in a young person’s life, and it would be a detriment to our students to not find a truly appropriate placement for them.”

While no specific details have been provided as to exactly why the school is closing, one report noted, Earlier this month, a 15-year-old student was found with a loaded 9MM handgun at the school. The boy was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon in an educational institution (NJ.com).

The letter to parents also stated that M.E.T.S. teachers and administrators were working to ensure a smooth transition. This is a complete disruption of learning to at least half the students, who now go back to their neighborhood school likely behind their public school classmates because of this disruption. They were allowed to open in August and then realized a few weeks into the school year that they were going to fail. I’m wondering how long it took to realize weren’t going to make it. In New Jersey as in so many other states, there is no oversight, or accountability to charters. M.E.T.S.  got the blessings of the governor to open and seven weeks later there’s a conscience? Irresponsible.

The most hypocritical part of the letter to parents, “We remain committed to our 12th graders and want to ensure you that they will receive an outstanding educational opportunity through the end of this school year that will allow you to graduate from M.E.T.S.” (TapIntoNewark)If your child was a senior, would you trust that?

During Christie’s term as Governor, the number of charter schools has increased from 60 to 89.  The website of the Office of the Governor heralded the charter’s opening:

LEGACY OF UNPARALLELED CHARTER SCHOOL GROWTH: Demonstrating his strong commitment to investing in innovative charter schools that outperform and exceed expectations at every level, Governor Christie today helped cut the ribbon for the new M.E.T.S. Charter School high school in Newark, one of 89 charter schools operating in New Jersey this school year.

Further, the website boasts:

EXPANDING CHARTER SCHOOLS TO PROVIDE HIGH-QUALITY EDUCATION TO UNDER-SERVED STUDENTS: Five new schools – two of which are in Newark — are opening this year, approved by the NJ Department of Education after meeting a rigorous, multi-stage approval process. The review process is in place to ensure the school has the structures in place to ensure academic success, equitability, financial viability and organizational soundness.

Christie described charter schools, as “salvation for families” especially those in urban districts. He has set goals for expanding charter school enrollment and proposed a charter school deregulation plan currently pending before the state Board of Education (NJ.com).

Camden Community Charter School, which was slated to have its charter renewed this year was denied because of poor academic performance. (NJ.com). Why have 20 charter schools closed in NJ? Because they were failing. The amount of money taken away from public schools to (partially) fund charter schools has a direct impact on the public school’s ability to do the job of educating students. Every student who walks away from the public school to a charter school takes with him the per pupil spending money. Why are charters allowed to experiment with schools and children? Because the governor lets them. Children should not be part of a social experiment.

Christie wants less accountability and oversight for charters, and to lower the certification standards required for teachers and administrators, at the same time so many charters continue to show their inability to meet the basic academic needs of students in New Jersey who need the most help (NJ.com). 

Deplorable.

These are my reflections for today.

10/20/17

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The Pot and the Kettle

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Last month Facebook revealed it had discovered 450 accounts and about $100,000 in ad spending Russia used during the U.S. presidential campaign. As a result, the company turned over a copy of roughly 3,000 advertisements identified on its platform as spreading covert Russian propaganda. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees have been investigating any connection Facebook had with Russia. The ads in question potentially caused racial, and other social political tensions during the election (ABC News) (NY Times).

If that wasn’t enough bad press, Facebook has also been scrutinized for encouraging fake news.  Rutenberg and Isaac (2017) wrote, “Facebook has faced criticism for giving too much prominence to fake news; for censoring as offensive an iconic Vietnam War photograph of a naked girl fleeing a bombing attack; and for allegations that members of its “trending topics” team, which is now disbanded, penalized news of interest to conservatives”. As such, the company has issued statements on their policy of publishing so called fake news. The policies prohibit ads that are “violent, discriminate based on race or promote the sale of illegal drugs” (Reuters)

A man generally has two reasons for doing a thing. One that sounds good, and a real one.    ~J. Pierpoint Morgan

In January, Facebook hired Campbell Brown, former host on NBC News and CNN, to lead a team to partner with organizations and journalists to work more effectively with Facebook.  “The addition of Ms. Brown comes as Facebook is struggling with its position as a content provider that does not produce its own content — that is, as a platform, not a media company” (NY Times).

What many people may not know about Brown is she is the founder of The 74. From the website, “The 74 is a non-profit, non-partisan news site covering education in America. Our public education system is in crisis. In the United States, less than half of our students can read or do math at grade-level, yet the education debate is dominated by misinformation and political spin. Our mission is to lead an honest, fact-based conversation about how to give America’s 74 million children under the age of 18 the education they deserve” (The 74).

It is no secret Brown has shown her disdain for teacher tenure and teacher’s unions, while supporting charters and vouchers. As the founder of The 74, Brown came out in full support of Betsy DeVos (The 74). Last fall she hosted a Republican Presidential Primary Debate  which was sponsored “solely by the country’s foremost group promoting vouchers, the American Federation for Children, and hosted by her then-new website, the Seventy Four” (Slate).

So much for non-profit and non-partisan.

Then this happened. The Network for Public Education wanted to purchase an ad with Facebook during what they were calling School Privatization week, instead of School Choice Week. According to Diane Ravitch, “We made it a Facebook ad. It was accepted and all was fine. Then, after a few days, Facebook refused our buys and blocked us from boosting any of our posts. We are still blocked from boosting or buying nine months later.”

Ravitch wants to know why Facebook algorithms don’t recognize ads that interfere in our elections but block criticism of School Choice? And why do Facebook algorithms ignore ads placed by Russian propagandists but block ads placed by the Network for Public Education?

Steven Singer, a teacher and public education advocate wrote a recent article called School Choice is a Lie. It Does Not Mean More Options. It Means Less. No sooner had Singer posted the article to his Facebook page, that he was told his story was blocked for one week, and he received a message saying the story “violating community standards.(gadflyonthewall). According to Singer:

This is just an examination of why charter and voucher schools reduce options for parents and students – not increase them.

It’s an argument. I lay out my reasons with reference to facts and make numerous connections to other people’s work and articles.

I don’t understand how that “violates community standards” (gadflyonthewall).

Do you see where this is going? Maybe this is a lesson in what is and what is not acceptable to Facebook. Or maybe it wasn’t acceptable to Campbell Brown because her new job, as noted above is to lead a team to partner with organizations and journalists to work more effectively with Facebook.”  To work more effectively to do what?

On Singer’s ban, Ravitch wrote, “Steven Singer was censored by an algorithm. Or, Steven Singer was censored by the Political Defense team that tries to prevent any criticism of charter schools and TFA. Singer says he’s been posting similar blogs since 2014 without incident. It’s also no secret that Zuckerberg is a big fan of charters and vouchers.

Singer says he has no idea why this particular blog was blocked, and he may never know. I’m curious as to why all of a sudden Facebook is choosing what content will be available, and what will not.

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I’m curious as to the connection through all of this. Coincidence?  I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe it’s the pot calling the kettle black.

These are my reflections for today.

10/13/17

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