Elizabeth Warren on DeVos Watch

For many of us (myself included), student loans were the only way to get through college-along with menial jobs on campus and seasonal summer employment. We borrowed what we could with the promise to pay it back-one payment at a time. Many of us also remember the payment books that arrived in the mail the day after graduation. Every time you made a payment, you ripped out a stub and sent it with the check. Finishing a payment book felt really good – until the next book arrived in the mail.

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The cost of attending a four year college has skyrocketed, while loans available to students are shrinking. The proposed budget from the Department of Education (ED) will cut loan subsidies for low-income students essentially making it more expensive for students borrow money for college.  According to CNN Money, if approved, this budget would also slash the number of Work Study jobs for college students in half. And 2.9 million fewer low-income students would receive subsidized loans. More than 6.9 million borrowers received a subsidized loan this year, for a total of $22.6 billion.

Next year, the Trump budget proposes shifting some money toward unsubsidized loans, which will accrue interest while students are still in school (the one thing we had going for us is the interest didn’t begin to accrue until after graduation). DeVos also reversed a policy preventing student loan debt collectors from charging sky-high fees to students desperately trying to catch up on their student loans” (CNN).

There is some history (and contentiousness) behind federal student loan programs in the department.  During the Obama administration, Congress gave ED control of the federal student loan program, with the intent to remove the middlemen from the program and eliminate profits that private banks skimmed off the system. But now, years after the transition, the department seems to want to ignore the original intent of the change and instead administer a trillion-dollar loan program for the financial benefit of everyone except the students (CNN). “By one estimate, the federal student loan program turned a profit of $1.6 billion in 2016”, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CNN Money).

In April, DeVos rolled back the Obama administration’s attempt to reform how student loan servicers collect debt. Navient is one of the largest corporations that services and collects on student loans. The withdrawal of the Obama administration guidelines could make Navient a likely contender for a government contract, which will renew in 2019. Navient shares moved higher after the government released DeVos’s decision (Bloomberg). This corporation is also not without its own controversy.

Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) recently cited a story of Navient, “When the Department failed to hold giant student loan servicer Navient accountable after the company was fined nearly $100 million by other federal law enforcement agencies for allegedly overcharging thousands of active-duty military personnel, I called them out and helped trigger an independent investigation. Those efforts ultimately helped push the Secretary of Education to begin refunding money to over 80,000 military borrowers and to commit to a complete overhaul of the federal contracts with student loan servicers” (CNN).

Navient is still in the news. According to Bloomberg, “in January, state attorneys general in Illinois and Washington, along with the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, sued Navient over allegations the company abused borrowers by taking shortcuts to boost its own bottom line. Navient has denied the allegations.”

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The level of activism and accountability in government has increased since this administration took office in January. It’s so important to be informed. This week, Elizabeth Warren launched a new website called DeVos Watch. The site includes a video explaining why she launched the site, as well as what she hopes the outcome will be.

That’s why today I am announcing a new project to hold Secretary DeVos’ Department of Education accountable. DeVos Watch will seek information about the Department’s actions and inactions around federal student loans and grants and highlight the findings. People can also participate directly by tracking the Department’s actions, submitting oversight suggestions or filing whistleblower tips.

Accountability is about making government work for everyone. Regardless of political party, I’m hopeful that other policymakers will join me in efforts to hold the Department of Education accountable for serving our students — not the industries that make money off them. We all have an interest in a well-run, fiscally responsible, corruption-free student aid program that puts students first. That is Secretary DeVos’ job — and it is Congress’ job to make sure she does it.

There should be transparency in government, and I applaud Warren’s efforts to hold the ED publicly accountable for their decisions. I applaud her nonpartisan efforts to do what’s right for students seeking financial assistance to attend college. We should encourage a highly educated workforce. That so many bright smart, driven people cannot afford to go to college, and that so many more leave school with a mountain of debt is counterproductive.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?

For the 2014–15 academic year, the average annual price for undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board was $16,188 at public institutions, $41,970 at private nonprofit institutions, and $23,372 at private for-profit institutions (NCES).

What do other countries do? Germany eliminated tuition because they believed that charging students $1,300 per year was discouraging Germans from going to college. Chile is doing the same. Finland, Norway, Sweden and many other countries around the world  offer free college (source). Maybe this isn’t such a radical idea. But for now, we keep an eye on DeVos and the ED.

These are my reflections for today.

6/3/17

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

 

The Voucher Sell Just Got Harder

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A study conducted by the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), found that students in Washington DC’s federally funded voucher program performed worse academically, particularly on math test scores, after a year of private school. Reading scores were also lower, but researchers say that was not statistically significant (statistical significance helps to quantify if results are likely due to chance or  other factors).

The District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) was created by Congress in 2004 to provide tuition vouchers to low-income parents who want their child to attend a private school. This is the only federally funded program in the country.

The program selected students to receive scholarships using a lottery process in 2012, 2013, and 2014, which allowed for an experimental design that compared outcomes for a treatment group (995 students selected through the lottery to receive offers of scholarships) and a control group (776 students not selected to receive offers of scholarships) (source).
This table shows the impact of the program after one year (source).

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There have been numerous studies conducted recently on the effectiveness of vouchers, data is consistent that children from low-income families who attend private schools on vouchers do not perform better. According to Rios (2017):
  • A November 2015 study of Indiana’s voucher program determined that students who attended private school through the program scored lower on math and reading tests than kids in public school.
  • In Louisiana, students who attend private schools through the voucher program showed significant drops in both math and reading in the first two years of the program’s operation, according to a February 2016 study by researchers at the Education Research Alliance of New Orleans.
  • Researchers at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank, concluded in a July 2016 study of Ohio’s voucher program that students who took part in the voucher program fared worse academically than those who attended public schools (Rios, 2017).

All this comes on the heels of this administration posturing to dump $1.4 billion into more federally funded voucher programs. Mrs. DeVos had few things to say about the findings of the DC study.  She has long argued that vouchers help poor children escape from failing public schools. In defending the DC program, she said,  it is part of an expansive school-choice market in the nation’s capital that includes a robust public charter school sector. She added, When school choice policies are fully implemented, there should not be differences in achievement among the various types of schools (Brown, 2017).

I guess she didn’t read the study.

Opponents of vouchers read it, and were quick to stand behind the study.

  • Martin West, a professor of education at Harvard, said the D.C. study adds to an emerging pattern of research showing declines in student achievement among voucher recipients, a departure from an earlier wave of research (Brown, 2017).
  • Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA.), who sits on the Senate Education Committee, said that given the findings of the study,  DeVos should “finally abandon her reckless plans to privatize public schools across the country” (Brown, 2017).
  • Bobby Scott (D-VA.), serving as ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, slammed the DC voucher program in a statement to the Associated Press. “We know that these failed programs drain public schools of limited resources,” he said, “only to deliver broken promises of academic success to parents and students” (Rios, 2017).

According to the website for the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the OSP – offers scholarships – sometimes called vouchers – to low income children in the District of Columbia to attend a participating D.C. private school of their choice.  Ninety seven percent of participating children awarded scholarships are African-American and Hispanic, with an average income for participating families less than $22,000 per year. Nowhere does it say how successful the program is, because it isn’t. Nor does it say how students are better served, because they aren’t.

DeVos continues to sell the federal voucher program, and so far it’s working because she’s still talking. She wants to replicate the ineffective DC voucher program and take it on the road. The pricetag? $1.4 billion.

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A snake oil salesman knowingly sells fraudulent goods or who is himself (or herself) a fraud, quack, or charlatan.

These are my reflections for today.

5/6/17