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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Charter schools as civil rights issue

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Last summer, the NAACP at their annual convention passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on charter schools until several issues could be explored and addressed. One of the issues with the NAACP was accountability.  Whether charters are public or private, for-profit or not for-profit, these schools are generally not held to the same standard as public schools, though they are supported in part, by public tax dollars.

“The NAACP has been in the forefront of the struggle for and a staunch advocate of free, high-quality, fully and equitably-funded public education for all children,” said Roslyn M. Brock, Chairman of the National NAACP Board of Directors. “We are dedicated to eliminating the severe racial inequities that continue to plague the education system” (NAACP.org).

That was October 2016. In June 2017, the organization again called for a moratorium.

“With the expansion of charter schools and their concentration in low-income communities, concerns have been raised within the African American community about the quality, accessibility and accountability of some charters, as well as their broader effects on the funding and management of school districts that serve most students of color” (US News).

The continuance was the result of a year-long study of the educational needs of inner-city children and based on hearings held in New Haven, Memphis, Orlando, Los Angeles, Detroit, New Orleans and New York.  Testimony came from educators, administrators, school policy experts, charter school leaders, parents, advocates, community leaders and students to gain insight into public education. The report can be found here.

The NAACP expressed concerns that charters perpetuate segregation, subject students to overly harsh discipline practices, divert funding away from traditional public schools and face weak oversight.

Here are the recommendations from the NAACP Board of Directors:

  • More equitable and adequate funding for all schools serving students of color. Education funding has been inadequate and unequal for students of color for hundreds of years. The United States has one of the most unequal school funding systems of any country in the industrialized world. Resources are highly unequal across states, across districts, and across schools, and they have declined in many communities over the last decade. In 36 states, public school funding has not yet returned to pre-2008 levels-before the great recession, and in many states, inner city schools have experienced the deepest cuts. Federal funds have also declined in real dollar terms for both Title I and for special education expenditures over the last decade.
  • School finance reform is needed. To solve the quality education problems that are at the root of many of the issues, school finance reform is essential to ensure that resources are allocated according to student needs. States should undertake the kinds of weighted student formula reforms that Massachusetts and California have pursued, and the federal government should fully enforce the funding-equity provisions in Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
  • Invest in low-performing schools and schools with significant opportunity to close the achievement gap. Students learn in safe, supportive, and challenging learning environments under the tutelage of well-prepared, caring adults. Participants in every hearing stressed the importance of the type of classroom investments that have consistently been shown to raise student achievement. To ensure that all students receive a high-quality education, federal, state, and local policies need to sufficiently invest in: (1) incentives that attract and retain fully qualified educators, (2) improvements in instructional quality that include creating challenging and inclusive learning environments; and (3) wraparound services for young people, including early childhood education, health and mental health services, extended learning time, and social supports.
  • Mandate a rigorous authoring and renewal process for charters. One way that states and districts can maintain accountability for charter schools is through their regulation of the organizations that authorize charter schools. States with the fewest authorizers have been found to have the strongest charter school outcomes. To do this, states should allow only districts to serve as authorizers, empower those districts to reject applications that do not meet standards, and establish policies for serious and consistent oversight.
  • Eliminate for-profit charter schools. No federal, state, or local taxpayer dollars should be used to fund for-profit charter schools, nor should public funding be sent from nonprofit charters to for-profit charter management companies. The widespread findings of misconduct and poor student performance in for-profit charter schools demand the elimination of these schools. Moreover, allowing for-profit entities to operate schools creates an inherent conflict of interest.

Greg Richmond, President and CEO of Charter Schools Authorizers does not agree with the decision. “A great majority of charter schools are all about opening opportunities for students of color, many of whom were stuck in their failing neighborhood schools until quality charter schools opened their doors” (HuffPost). Richmond believes the moratorium will “hurt the very kids the NAACP represents, the kids on charter school waiting lists, whose parents are desperate for a spot in a school that will help their child succeed (HuffPost).

Here’s my favorite two quotes from Richmond. “Their children need good schools, regardless of who runs them”  And “We believe NAACP can right this bad decision, and join us and others in making schools better for more children of color” (HuffPost).

Look closely at what the NAACP is asking for, and you’ll see it really isn’t anything absurd, and charter advocates should support the recommendations- if their motivation is in the best interest of students.  The organization is not asking to shut down charters, only to ensure they are equitable and accountable. So why the protest from Richmond?

Richmond and others sell charters as a civil rights cause, when they are actually segregating public schools even more. The Network for Public Education (NPE) recently wrote how charter schools and voucher programs result in, “separate, unequal schools that isolate black and Hispanic students, English language learners, and students with disabilities in schools with fewer resources and less experienced teachers.”

This is from the National Education Policy Center (2010)

A national study of charter school operated by education management organizations (EMOs) found only one-fourth of these schools had a racial composition similar to public schools. Over 70% had extreme concentrations of either high-income or low-income students. These schools consistently enrolled a lower proportion of special education children than public schools. And well over half the charters did not have a population of English language learners (ELLs) similar to public schools.

NPE addresses the true civil rights issue of charters and vouchers.

The Civil Rights Movement taught us that separate schools for different children will never be equal. Concentrating low-income and minority students, students whose first language isn’t English, and students with disabilities in segregated schools is not a solution for improving the well-being of all children. We need a public system that is about advancing the well-being of all, not just helping some families and children get ahead while leaving the rest behind (Network for Public Education).

What would motivate the NAACP to call for a moratorium?  What would motivate the Charter Schools Authorizers to speak out against a moratorium? What if we put all our energy into strengthening public schools and stop taking money away from schools for social experiments and service opportunities?

How’s that for an idea?

These are my reflections for today.
8/18/2017
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Did you hear the one about _____?

While many of us are busy enjoying the waning days of summer – here's a few stories you may have missed. Maybe they were buried under so much other news dominating the front pages.

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So what if it doesn't work?  The Brookings Institute compiled data for two years on the effectiveness of voucher programs. Four studies with four different research designs came to the same conclusion: “On average, students that use vouchers to attend private schools do less well on tests than similar students that do not attend private schools” (Newsday).  What the study found was that students who remained in voucher programs for three to four years began to make up for what they lost academically in the first two years. What this means is after three or four years of a voucher education supported by taxpayers, students gain some ground but only end up where they would have been without them.

Florida charter dodges a bullet.  A charter school which had received a failing grade (F) for two consecutive years (and D's before that) has closed  but… wait for it…. will reopen as a private school, thus still able to siphon $170 million from the public schools to open as The Orange Park Performing Arts Academy. Administrators have already assured students and parents that they are all eligible to receive scholarships from the state of Florida (Clay Today Online).

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How much for that Governor?  Carol Burris reported this week just exactly how much money has been contributed to Governor Andrew Cuomo (The Answer Sheet)The corporation with the largest number of charter schools under the control of the SUNY Charter School Institute is the Success Academy charter chain, run by Eva Moskowitz.  Her political action committee, the Great Public Schools PAC, contributed $65,000 to Cuomo in 2011-2012 and another $50,000 to date in 2017. Success Academy Chairman Daniel Loeb, founder and chief executive of Third Rock Capital, and his wife, have directly contributed over $133,000 to Cuomo. Since 2015, Loeb has added $300,000 to Moskowitz’s PAC, and another $270,000 to other PACs that support Cuomo. That’s more than $700,000.

Sorry, kids it's just not working out.  Two homeless students in a New Orleans charter school were suspended for not having the right uniforms (Alternet.org). The two boys, ages 7 and 10 showed up wearing new sneakers their mother borrowed money to buy. The school requires solid black shoes, and when the boys showed up wearing sneakers with check marks on them, they were sent home. "Their mother covered up the checks using a black marker, which she thought took care of the problem, but the school said that wasn’t good enough and unless they were in compliance, they couldn’t come back to school" (Alternet.org).

Show me the money. In the City of Brotherly Love is a charter school call Khepera in North Philly has a pretty bad track record. According to Philly.com Khepera has had some problems:

  • Closed early last year because of financial problems.
  • Teachers are still owed back pay.
  • The landlord has gone to court to kick the school out of its building because of unpaid rent.
  • The company that provides special-education teachers, substitutes, and counselors has filed suit, alleging it is owed $90,000 for its staffing services.
  • Khepera failed to make $1 million in payments to the state teachers’ pension fund.
  • The school failed to submit annual financial reports for 2015 and 2016, as required by state law.

The School Reform Commission (SRC) voted in June to begin the process of revoking Khepera's charter. While the SRC considers the fate of the charter, the school will still receive a $400,000 payment from the School District for the academic school year.

It costs how much?  Politico reports this week that the U.S. Marshals Service will charge the government almost $8 million to protect Secretary DeVos for the next six months.  How does that compare? The past four Education secretaries have been protected by the Education Department’s own small security force.

And finally…

Wait, what???  According to Matt Barnum, in 2015-16 something like half of New York City teachers were evaluated in part, by tests in subjects or of students they didn’t teach. While it may only be 53% of the teachers, that number is actually lower than in previous years (City and State).

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These are my reflections for today.

8/11/2017

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A mediocre teacher in every classroom

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In what may be considered a blessing, charter schools are having trouble staffing their schools. To solve that problem in New York, the State University of New York (SUNY) Charter School Institute is going to make it easier to “certify” teachers to staff their charter schools.

Currently in New York, to obtain a teaching license one must earn a graduate degree in education from an accredited university and pass some sort of test or performance assessment. Other states require either a 4 year degree/certification program or a two year alternate route as many states offer as well as the test and/or performance assessment.

According to the New York Times the SUNY proposal states, along with a Bachelor’s Degree, “candidates must have a minimum of 100 hours of ‘field experience’ under the supervision of another teacher, a requirement that could be fulfilled in about two and a half weeks of school.” The  proposal under consideration includes a minimum of 30 hours of classroom instruction. “If, when its charter comes up for renewal, the school is able to show its teachers are producing successful students, the program would be allowed to continue” (Times Union). This certification would apply only to teachers in SUNY charter schools.

Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers hammers back:

“The state requires prospective cosmetologists to receive 1,000 hours of specialized instruction and real estate brokers to get 120 hours of instruction and two years of field experience,” Mulgrew said in his letter to Joseph W. Belluck, the chair of the Charter School Committee at SUNY in Albany. “But SUNY’s proposed regulations would, in essence, let charter schools — many of which have admitted having difficulty hiring and retaining certified teachers — create their own special teaching licenses for anyone who finishes one week of specialized instruction and works only 100 hours in a classroom under the supervision of another teacher or administrator, including those who are not themselves certified” (UFT.org).

Charter school advocates say the proposal would help schools struggling to find quality teachers who are certified in New York.

This begs the question, what defines quality teachers? Put it simply, would you rather have a teacher who graduated from an accredited teacher education program who has passed all the requirements for graduation and state licensure? Or would you rather someone with a Bachelor’s degree in anything and 30 hours of classroom instruction on teaching and no certification, no passing score on a performance assessment, and no pedagogical training? This will not produce quality teachers.

The question I continue to ask, because it frustrates me the most is why aren’t these charter schools opening in affluent suburban communities? (*most charters in NY are in NYC).  Because I have taught in both urban and suburban areas, I am confident when I say a charter school in a middle or high income district, staffed by unlicensed and inexperienced teachers would go over like a lead balloon. But that’s not where the charters are opening.

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Maria Bautista of the Alliance for a Quality Education said the proposed changes are racist.

“We know they’re going to disproportionately impact black and brown children,” Bautista said at a recent SUNY Charter School Committee hearing. “You would never have uncertified teachers teach your children. Why is it OK for black and brown children? That is not OK” (wbfo).

On every level, that is not OK. It’s not okay for the teaching profession, and it’s not okay for the minority and low-income children this will directly impact. Is there an expectation of ignorance with these decisions? Is the SUNY Charter Institute counting on this being an 11th hour decision when no one is paying attention? Yes and Yes.

The following statement comes from the 1983 report from President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education. This report was considered by many to be a landmark event in modern American educational history.  “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform” was controversial at the time, as many believed it did not go far enough to report on the effects of poverty, as low achievement was equated to poor schools instead of neglected communities.  

Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world. This report is concerned with only one of the many causes and dimensions of the problem, but it is the one that undergirds American prosperity, security, and civility. We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people (ed.gov.).

a rising tide of mediocrity – We have persistently failed to address the economic and social injustices that created these communities and then blame schools and teachers for students’ failure. The solution is not to lower the bar of teacher qualifications, rather we should do the opposite. Teach and train more people to be effective in our classrooms-both urban and suburban. Hold teachers to a high standard, and give them the tools they need to succeed.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) a French moralist and essayist once said, “Mediocrity is excellent to the eyes of mediocre people.” As a nation, we must expect excellence in our teachers who will bring out excellence in our students. Anything less is simply unacceptable.

These are my reflections for today.

8/4/2017

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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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Philanthropy and Politics in Education

According to the Center for Public Education, there are several roles of every board of education.

  • School boards look out for students. Education is not a line item on the school board’s agenda—it is the only item.
  • When making decisions about school programs, school boards incorporate their community’s view of what students should know and be able to do.
  • School boards are accessible to the public and accountable for the performance of their schools.
  • School boards are the education watchdog for their communities, ensuring that students get the best education for the tax dollars spent.

The makeup of a school board can heavily influence student achievement. Boards that govern districts with high student achievement scores behave quite differently from boards that govern districts with low student achievement score. “The practices of effective boardsmanship, as detailed by the assessment, have a strong correlation with high student achievement(NSBA).

Much like Congress, if there is a balance, then there is some level of democracy, and decisions can be made fairly and with the best interest of the community – especially the students. In a perfect world, this would be the case, but we don’t live in a perfect world.

Last month in Los Angeles, charter supporters took control of the school board by voting in hand-selected and financially supported candidates. This action will lave long term implications to the nation’s second largest school district, as charter advocates can now advance their agenda of opening more unregulated (and for profit) charter schools, draining the public schools of millions of dollars.

According to the LA Times, this was the most expensive school board election in US history, with the charter advocates far outspending their rivals. Reed Hastings, Founder and CEO of Netflix donated $5 million to the campaign in support of charter advocates. Hastings is a strong proponent of charter schools.  He once serve as the California State Board of Education President- he served from 2001-2005. In a speech this week, Hastings said he “hopes to see the majority of children in the nation’s public schools enrolled in charter schools, something he said he is committed to supporting even if it takes decades to accomplish” (Ed Source).

Along with Hastings, other billionaire philanthropists gave a total of $17 million to the campaign. Eli Broad, another philanthropist and charter supporter donated heavily.

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This week one of the newly elected board members, Nick Melvoin, 31, former Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school teacher said he is not about promoting more charters. Rather he wants to see what is working in public schools and promote those ideas, thus strengthening the public sector (EdSource). Melvoin said the election was more about best practices, not advancing charters. I wonder if Hastings and Broad would agree?

In New York City, the largest public school district in the country, Mayor de Blasio pleaded his case this month to keep control of the public schools with his office. Control of the schools has been with the mayor since 2002 when NY voted to remove the school board, and place responsibility for the schools with the mayor-then Michael Bloomberg. At the time of the decision, there was bipartisan agreement that the old system of the school board was rife with corruption.

The negotiating point for legislators last week was charter schools. Senate Majority Leader John Flannagan wanted approval of mayor control in exchange for more charters. According to WYNC,  Flannagan noted in a statement: “Denying charters the ability to grow and preventing parents’ ability to choose would shut the door on 20 years of proven gains in academic achievement.”  I sure would like to see data to support this claim.

Flannagan said 50,000 more kids are waiting to get in to charter schools and extending mayoral control should be linked to increasing the number of charter schools (WYNC). What he doesn’t say is that reverting to the old school board system will cost the city in excess of $1.5 billion over 10 years (WYNC).

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Late this week, the NY State Assembly passed an omnibus bill with a two-year deal for mayoral control ending the arm wrestle over control of the nation’s largest school system and its 1.1 million students. Assemblyman Charles Barron said, “That was a real victory for the Assembly” (NY Times).

Clearly the motivation in Los Angeles to replace board members with pro-charter advocates is to grow charters. The LA school board was bought by wealthy people who want to push their agenda. In New York there was a clear plan to increase the number of charters, but the Mayor was not on board. So, I guess if you don’t like the rules, change them. Or if you don’t like the school board, buy another one.

Set aside the philanthropy and politics for a moment. For the players in this game, charters are an investment. Is it for financial gain? Control? Is it to prove a point- maybe that unions really are the enemy? Is anyone really thinking about the children?

Diane Ravitch wrote about how corporate privatizers claim that turning public money over to operators of privately-managed contract schools is the “civil rights issue of our time.” I would agree this is a civil rights issue, but not in the way they do.

The NAACP also sees this as a civil rights issue. Last summer the NAACP passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on new charter schools until important issues of accountability were addressed and corrected.

While we might agree on the need for better schools in urban areas, the answer is not unregulated schools with unlicensed teachers who support unethical admissions and discipline practices.  Charters are opening in low-income urban areas, not high-income suburban areas. When the players (philanthropists, politicians) start talking about turning wealthy white suburban schools into charters-staff them with inexperienced and unlicensed teachers, then this will be a very different conversation.

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There is so much transparency in these decisions. I only wrote about LA and NYC. This is happening to school boards all over the country. The privatization movement is gaining momentum, and with support in the White House and the Department of Education, the push is starting to snowball.

We need fair and balanced school board elections which yield fair and balanced decisions. We need billionaire philanthropists to stop monopolizing school boards, schools, teachers, students and parents. They have an agenda – and it is transparent.

These are my reflections for today.

7/1/17

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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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