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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The PBS Controversy

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PBS was in the headlines this week. Some affiliate stations are airing a controversial documentary called, “School Inc.” The film is narrated by Andrew Coulson, former director of the Cato Institute which stands in strong support of privatizing public education. Coulson, who worked hard to get this film out, died suddenly in 2016. He once said public schools were government run, and believed there had been no innovation in public education in 100 years. Coulson often spoke of how competition drives innovation, and how a free market can improve public education in America.

Coulson was a brilliant man who devoted his life to studying and advancing freedom through school choice.
Governor Jeb Bush

In the film, Coulson supports unregulated, for-profit schools, where teachers can sell their lessons to students on the Internet. He portrays miraculous charter schools that show innovation. He uses New Orleans as an example of the success of this approach. New Orleans is far from exemplar on anything related to public education. After Hurricane Katrina, nearly 5,000 teachers were fired, and charters replaced public schools. The results have been mixed-mostly unsuccessful, costly, and discriminatory.

Here’s a synopsis of the film:

This three-part documentary, produced by Free To Choose Media, reveals many unfamiliar and often startling realities: the sad fate of Jaime Escalante after the release of the feature film Stand and Deliver; Korean teachers who earn millions of dollars every year; for-profit schools in India that produce excellent results but charge only $5 a month; current U.S. efforts to provide choices and replicate educational excellence; and schools in Chile and Sweden in which top K-12 teachers and schools are reaching large and ever-growing numbers of students. With its beautiful visuals, surprising twists, and energy, School Inc. takes you on a personal, highly insightful journey.

Looking at who supported funding for this film explains a lot. According to Diane Ravitch, The Anderson Foundation is allied with Donors Trust, where donors can make contributions that can’t be traced to them.  Other contributors to Donors Trust include the Koch brothers’ and the Richard and Helen DeVos foundation (yup). Another sponsor of the film is the Gleason Family Foundation aka Center for Educational Reform which is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and pro-education privatization group.

Is the controversy over this documentary because it is a one-sided film supporting charters and vouchers?  Is it that no evidence was provided to support any of the claims in the movie? Maybe it’s because there was no mention of how public school teachers are bound by high stakes testing and accountability, which limits innovation. Or that charters are selective in their admissions process so much that their classrooms do not mirror their public school counterparts?

Coulson mentions  schools in South Korea as exemplar, though there is a high rate of competition which comes at a cost for students, and high stakes testing is the main focus of their drive to success. There is also mention of merit pay for teachers who raise students’ test scores. Study after study has shown merit pay does not yield higher test scores.

In response to an email query on the airing of the film, PBS said the network tries to, “offer programs that reflect diverse viewpoints and promote civic dialogue” and that School Inc. is “an independent production that reflects the personal viewpoint of series creator Andrew Coulson” (Strauss).

PBS has “high editorial standards that ensure that the creative and editorial processes behind the programs offered on PBS are shielded from political pressure or improper influence from funders or other sources.” Yet, the organization offered no explanation when asked why the major supporters of the film are pro-charter.

The controversy is that PBS prides itself on balanced views to informing the American public, and this is not balanced; it is one-sided. Heavily funded by pro-charter and voucher foundations only gives the public a one-sided view. This is the clear message pro-charter and voucher proponents want to sell. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know where I stand on charter schools. I try to provide evidence to support my claims, as it is about presenting factual information-even if opinion is in there.

When I teach my students to write a good research paper, I tell them to find the counter-point to their paper, and address it. What would critics argue about the points in the paper? I tell them to address them clearly, which eliminates any bias and makes for a stronger paper. Often I have students present both sides to a controversial issue- and to do so in such a way the audience cannot tell which side they favor. This would have been a good idea for this film.

These are my reflections for today.                                                                                            6/24/17

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More Charter News

Here’s a compilation of recent headlines about charter schools across the country. As you read, keep in mind this is the direction the current administration is going with regards to charters and vouchers.

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The Ohio State Auditor reported a charter school that was closed due to mismanagement in 2015 owes the state $340,000. “The shutdown, for mismanagement, came after the school had received its per-pupil aid from the Ohio Department of Education for the 2015-16 school year” (Columbus Dispatch).

Gene V. Glass, one of the nation’s most distinguished education researchers, wrote of parents applying to a charter school in Arizona. Parents who registered their child early for kindergarten received a letter of acceptance but in March were asked to fill out another form where they noted  their daughter required speech therapy, which they did not indicate on the first application. They were then told the child was unaccepted and would need to reapply through an open lottery.

The principal of the Crescent Leadership Academy, a charter school in New Orleans, was fired after he was filmed wearing Nazi rings and participating in a “white genocide” tape. The students in the school are almost all African-American (The Root).

A judge in New Orleans found that Delta Charter violated the terms of the desegregation  plan. The local school board in Concordia is seeking reimbursement of millions of dollars, and wants the judge to require the charter school to cancel its enrollment and create a plan of a more inclusive and diverse student body. The plan would include offering transportation to the school which would make it possible for more black students to attend (NOLA.com).

This story from South Carolina explains how foreign investors are buying green cards by investing in charter school construction, and the middlemen are raking in money at  high interest rates. Specifically, Jared Kushner’s sister secured investments in Kushner real estate deals in Beijing, where she promised green cards to investors of at least $500,000.

Three Detroit-area charter schools are closing in June after years of low test scores. This will leave hundreds of families to find new schools before fall. Many of these families have not yet been notified (chalkbeat.org).

In California, the East Bay Times reports an audit released this week suggests Livermore’s two charter schools misappropriated public funds, including a tax-exempt bond totaling $67 million, and mainly pointed the finger at former CEO Bill Batchelor. According to the Times, the Tri-Valley Learning Corporation, “failed to disclose numerous conflict-of-interest relationships; diverted, commingled and/or misappropriated public funds, including tax-exempt public bonds totaling over $67 million with various private entities; and contributed to an environment of significantly deficient internal controls” (East Bay Times).

In Indiana, four private schools with a consistent record of academic failure were approved by the State Board of Education to begin accepting publicly funded vouchers for incoming students (WFYI). “The schools  had been rated a D or F on the state’s accountability system for at least two consecutive years” (WFYI). Indiana Governor Holcomb recently signed a law allowing private schools to seek a one-year waiver from the requirement of  reporting years of academic improvement to become eligible for the vouchers. The school is being rewarded for failure.

On Thursday, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a controversial and contested bill awarding $419 million to grow charter schools in the state. According to the Miami Herald, “The bill will make it easier for privately managed charter schools to further expand in Florida and to receive additional taxpayer funding to boost their operations. It also includes a wide range of other provisions including daily school recess for most elementary school students and $30 million in extra funding to expand a voucher program that helps kids with disabilities.”

The Florida bill was in heavy opposition from public school advocates across the state and across the country.  Superintendents, elected school board members, parents, teachers are concerned about provision in the bill forcing districts to share millions of local tax dollars earmarked for school construction. Before signing the bill, Scott said, “When I was growing up, I had access to a good quality education, and every Florida child should have the same opportunity” (Miami Herald). Define ‘good quality education’, Mr. Scott?

Diane Ravitch reported today that the New York State Senate is holding a deal to renew mayoral control unless NYC Mayor De Blasio agrees to allow more charter schools.

The Trump administration is pushing a plan to increase funding, fully support charters and vouchers – expand privatization to include vouchers, virtual schools, homeschooling, and other alternatives to public education all unregulated, and many for profit. All of this with very  little research or evidence to support their success.

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What’s happening in Washington, and across the country is disturbing. Politicians are promoting failed and discriminatory practices, and the implications of these failed practices will be felt far and wide, and for a very long time.  What’s reported in the news consistently is a pattern of fraud, misappropriation of funds, discriminatory acceptance practices, and rewards for failure.

What’s happening in your state? Where do your elected officials stand on these policies? If you don’t know, it’s time to find out.

These are my reflections for today.

6/17/17

 

 

 

Staring in the face of segregation – again

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While there are charter schools which are extraordinary and diverse, most are neither. We are reading more of their failures, and less of their successes. Moreover, what’s being reported is an increasingly high level of corruption and misappropriation of funds nationwide. Additionally, studies are finding an alarming increase in segregation in urban schools resulting from charters. Why? Charters are handing admission tickets to students who fit a profile, and that profile does not include English Language Learners or students with special needs. While public schools must accept and teach all students, charters (because they are unregulated) can pick and choose students. This reminds me of the blueberry story about the teacher who schools the businessman about choice.

School choice. DeVos says it’s what parents really want. What is the real danger in school choice?

In 1954, after the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision, parents rallied to create private non-religious schools where their white children could attend without forced desegregation. These so called ‘segregationist academies’ popped up mostly in the south, where desegregation was slow to implementation. Parents could choose to send their students to inexpensive private schools and ignore the law. While many died out in the 1960s and 70s, some still exist. Rather than desegregate, parents and families left and created their own schools. Between this and white flight, public schools were more segregated than before. What is most frightening is – since 1954 not much has changed.

Are charter schools the new public segregationist academies?  The very students charter schools were created to support are getting pushed out. Millhiser (2015) wrote that “American schools are more segregated today than they were in 1968.” Camera (2016) wrote in U.S. News that, “While much has changed in public education in the decades following {this} landmark decision and subsequent legislative action, research has shown that some of the most vexing issues affecting children and their access to educational excellence and opportunity today are inextricably linked to race and poverty.”

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What comes from publicly funded, unregulated charters and vouchers? to In a study conducted at Stanford University, Reardon (2016) found that “racial segregation is inextricably linked to unequal allocation of resources among schools; and  policies that don’t address this will fail to remedy racial inequality. In sum, racial integration remains essential for reducing racial disparities in school poverty rates” (Rabinovitz, 2016). This is the real problem.

In 2014, The General Accounting office was tasked with studying racial and socioeconomic isolation in the US. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) was part of the committee  requesting the study. After reading the report, Scott said, “The GAO report confirms that our nation’s schools are, in fact, largely segregated by race and class. What’s more troubling, is that segregation in public K-12 schools isn’t getting better; it’s getting worse, and getting worse quickly, with more than 20 million students of color now attending racially and socioeconomically isolated public schools” (Anderson, 2016).

In a study conducted by The Civil Rights Project , the executive summary noted, “Our analysis of the 40 states, the District of Columbia, and several dozen metropolitan areas with large enrollments of charter school students reveals that charter schools are more racially isolated than traditional public schools in virtually every state and large metropolitan area in the nation.”

“School choice is not really about freedom. Freedom, of course, is a bedrock American value. But the kind of “freedom” associated with the flight away from integration and toward racial isolation will never lead to a more truly free United States” (Wong, 2017).

These stories came out just this week:

Diane Ravitch reported this week that the head of a now-closed Los Angeles charter school was charged with embezzlement, misappropriation of public funds, and money laundering.  This charge came the day after the election that handed control of the Los Angeles school board to charter promoters.

The Miami Herald reported this week that the Florida legislature, which has many members with direct connections to charters, passed HB 7069 which is a damaging piece of legislation that will benefit charters and harm public schools. Parents of public school students have been writing Governor Rick Scott and urging him to veto the bill. According to Clark and Gurney, “At least two privately managed charter schools in Hialeah — publicly advertised this week that they would give parents five hours’ credit toward their “encouraged” volunteer hours at the school, so long as they wrote a letter or otherwise urged Gov. Rick Scott to sign HB 7069.

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Corrupt. Misappropriating funds. A mirrored image of the segregation problems of 60 years ago. This is discrimination by race, economics, and in many cases language. This should sound the alarms. We learned from history segregation wasn’t constitutional, or ethical, and didn’t have a place in this country. There was resistance, but there was also persistence. Segregation still has no place in this country.

If we don’t understand the problem we cannot work toward a solution. I often feel as if I’m sitting by the tracks waiting for the train wreck everyone expects. Trump and DeVos are very much a part of the problem, and will never see viable solutions, largely because their solutions do not address the problems – rather they make the problems worse. As a nation of educators, students, graduates, advocates, activists, concerned parents, concerned citizens, and elected officials it is up to us to speak our opposition to the failing practices that are supported in Washington and in most State houses across the country. Someone needs to pull the brake to avoid the collision we all know is coming. Not if. When.

These are my reflections for today.

5/27/17

 

 

DeVos: HBCUs “pioneers of school choice”

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were created in response to the Jim Crow laws in the South that mandated enforced segregation. These laws institutionalized educational disadvantages, resulting in shutting out black students from traditionally white schools. They were created in slave states after the Civil War.

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Last week I watched the video of Betsy DeVos giving a commencement speech at Bethune- Cookman University which is an HBCU. In the video, students stand and turn their backs to DeVos in peaceful protest. This controversy arose over statements DeVos made in February to a group of HBCU leaders. According to Douglas-Gabriel and Jan (2017) of the Washington Post, after a meeting with HBCU leaders, DeVos praised their schools for identifying “a system that wasn’t working” and taking it upon themselves to provide the solution.  DeVos said HBCUs “started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education.”  She said HBCUs are “living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality” (Washington Post).

Tweets poked fun of her characterization of HBCUs as about school choice— “as if white/colored water fountains were about beverage options” and comparing the Montgomery bus boycott to “pioneering new scenic walking paths.” (Washington Post).  

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Selena Hill of Huewire said, “This display of public outrage should serve as a wake-up call to DeVos and the Trump administration: It’s going to take a lot more than photo ops and empty speeches to win over black students. Black institutions deserve protection, more federal funding, and better public schools that prepare students of color for college. Anything less is unacceptable” (Huewire).

Some say the protest was appalling, disrespectful-saying students should have their diplomas taken away, and should have used this as an opportunity for engagement and discussion with the Secretary.

I’ll play devil’s advocate. What if what DeVos was saying is that HBCUs were “pioneers of school choice” because black students weren’t afforded an education due to segregation so they found a solution to a problem and created colleges and universities with opportunities for learning. She might think they were pioneers, but at the same time she has  oversimplified racial segregation, the Fourteenth Amendment and discrimination.

Putting the past aside is one thing – understanding the past is another. Equating discrimination and segregation to pioneering choice fails to acknowledge the discrimination in the first place. Blacks were forced to create their own schools because the laws of this country did not protect them- in fact Jim Crow Laws supported discrimination and segregation.

I’m reminded of recent comments by HUD Secretary Ben Carson who said slavery was considered “hope for freedom”,  and slaves were “immigrants coming to a land of dreams and opportunity.” If I remember correctly, slaves were forced into a life of servitude-often abusive, always inhumane. They were not here by choice, nor did they have much opportunity. DeVos’ statement about choice and Carson’s statement about slavery ignore  reality. From their perspective, DeVos and Carson thought they were speaking the truth. It’s hard for me to interpret their words as anything other than ignorance. George Santayana said it best, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

My guess is the Secretary was not randomly selected to give the commencement address at Bethune- Cookman, nor was she shocked by the reaction from the students. I would bet money this was as contrived as Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery. This was a planned visit, a canned speech, and likely nothing more than a publicity stunt. I would also guess that DeVos had no idea what an HBCU was before taking office-but maybe was schooled just after she learned she was giving the address.

The #1 rule of public speaking is to know your audience.

These are my reflections for today.

5/24/17

 

 

1.6 million poor kids lose in ED budget

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The White House released the proposed education budget this week. The budget is harmful to public education- cutting teacher training and funding to reduce class size, and ending the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which would affect 400,000 students. And no surprise to anyone who has been following, charter schools would receive $500 million in new funding, an increase of 50%. This is  bothersome.

Equally as disturbing is the $1.2 billion cut of the 21st Century Community Learning Center. This program provides after school academic enrichment for 1.6 million children in the US (ThinkProgress). Children who benefit from this program generally come from high poverty, under-performing schools.

According to the program’s 2014–2015 performance report:

  • 80% of parents whose children are served by after-school programs say that those programs helped them keep their job.
  • 65.2% of teachers reported an improvement in homework completion and class participation for students served by the program.
  • 56% of teachers reported improvement in student behavior (ThinkProgress).

Halley Potter, a fellow at The Century Foundation whose work focuses on educational inequality said, “Their stated reason for cutting after-school programs is the idea that there isn’t evidence quickly boosting student achievement.”

This budget is adding $500 million to a voucher program which has very little evidence to support its effectiveness (especially with regard to the positive effects on children living in poverty), while cutting programs which positively affect 1.6 million poor children and data supports its effectiveness. How does this make sense?

With data collected from 30 states, the program’s performance report shows how this program has an overlapping positive impact on the children and  families who participate. Let’s not forget the report which came out recently showing how the DC voucher program was not working.

What’s in the budget for DeVos?  “An additional $158 million for salaries and expenses in the Education Department.” A portion of this money will go for increased security for DeVos, who has contracted the U.S. Marshals Service instead of the ED’s security team (The Fader).

This budget is aligned with what Trump and DeVos have been pushing all along – the privatization of public schools. It’s interesting to note that with all the president has on his plate lately, he still has time to destroy public education and ignore the needs of so many children in this country.

DeVos and her husband are deeply rooted in their evangelical Christian beliefs. Her actions and her beliefs seem to take distinctly different positions on educating poor children. The irony is not lost on me.

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If you would like to get involved in the campaign to let your representatives in Congress know how you feel about the proposed budget: https://networkforpubliceducation.org/2017/05/act-now-stop-cuts-public-education/

These are my reflections for today.

5/20/17

Michelle Rhee – Back in the News

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Remember her? The former Chancellor of  DC Public Schools. She was called the face of reform of public schools in the US-especially in DC. On her first day on the job she said, “I am Michelle Rhee. I’m the new chancellor of the D.C. public schools … and no, I have never run a school district before” (CNN). Nailed it.

She has no degrees in education, and three years of classroom experience with Teach for America (TFA). In her first year with TFA in the Baltimore City Schools, she failed miserably. So on the first day of her second year, she took a different approach. “I wore my game face. No smiles, no joy; I was all thin lips and flinty glares. My mistake the first year was trying to be warm and friendly with the students, thinking that my kids needed love and compassion. What I knew going into my second year was that what my children needed and craved was rigid structure, certainty, and stability” (Substance News).

She taught second grade.

According to Kugler (2010), “Rhee admitted that she taped shut the mouths of her young students because she could not control their talking”.  According to Rhee, she tried the tape method after she was unable to keep the little ones from making noise when she marched them through the hallways to lunch. In an even more disturbing revelation  Rhee laughed about when the tape was removed hurting the children- some even started to bleed (Substance News).

In 2007, after three years with TFA, Rhee was appointed as School Chancellor by DC’s newly elected Mayor Adrian Fenty. In her time in DC, she closed schools and fired teachers. Lots of teachers. According to Deal (2008), Rhee, “… gained the right to fire central-office employees and then axed 98 of them. She canned 24 principals, 22 assistant principals, 250 teachers and 500 teaching aides. She announced plans to close 23 underused schools and set about restructuring 26 other schools (together, about a third of the system). And she began negotiating a radical performance-based compensation contract with the teachers union that could revolutionize the way teachers got paid” (The Atlantic).

She spent three years as a highly polarizing figure in DC, and a self-proclaimed change agent for what’s wrong with public schools, though there is no data to support her success. She left the job in 2010 when Fenty lost his reelection bid for mayor.

Well she’s back in the news this week. Rhee and her husband, former Sacramento mayor and NBA player Kevin Johnston started a charter school chain called St. Hope in Sacramento, CA. Rhee is on the Board, and though her husband was a founder, he is no longer affiliated with the chain.

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The Los Angeles Times reported this week that teachers at St. Hope want to unionize, citing growing discontent over the schools’ management and high turnover of staff, teachers, and administrators. A majority of teachers, school psychologists, and other certified educators signed a petition to be represented by the Sacramento City Teachers Association (which is an affiliate of the California Teachers Association and the National Education Association).

The chain’s four schools employ about 100 teachers. One teacher said, “Our desks are old, we have to fight for resources for kids — and when we asked where the money’s going, we never get a full answer” (Phillips, 2017). The union says that educators are frustrated with the network’s lack of transparency regarding school finances and their evaluation system. Salaries fluctuate by as much as $10,000 a year, based on observations from “often overworked and inconsistent” administrators (Brown, 2017). A science teacher, earned an unsatisfactory rating after creating a new course, at the school’s request, then received his contract for the fall: “It was for $10,000 less than he’d made the year before” (Toppo, 2017).

“Our kids deserve consistency,” said Kingsley Melton, a government teacher at Sacramento Charter High, who is in his sixth year of teaching there. “In many cases, our students come from homes where there is no consistency. They need us to be the constant and not the variable.” Kingsley said teachers also want more transparency from the administration—“We have never seen a budget,” he said. “We don’t know where the money goes and why” (Will, 2017). Melton also said, “Next year I’ll have my seventh principal — and I’ll be in my seventh year” (Toppo, 2017).

In response to the request for unionization, Chief of Schools Shannon Wheatley expressed disappointment in employees who want to form a union. Wheatley said he had worked for a traditional public school “that prioritized the needs of adults before those of children.” …I came to St. Hope so that I didn’t have to deal with union politics and adult issues dominating the day”  (Phillips, 2017).

Rhee has offered no comment.

Another charter school story with a different twist. Another story of Michelle Rhee doing what she does. With Betsy DeVos taking all the news lately, thanks to Michelle for providing fodder for this week’s blog, which could have been called Charters and unions: The continued failure of educational reform.  People always say of weather forecasters – how can they be wrong 100% of the time and still have jobs?  Is this also true for reformers?  I’m going with yes.

These are my reflections for today.

5/13/17