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

 

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

Pitbull and Betsy DeVos

This week our Secretary of Education was visiting schools in Miami where she took time to visit a charter school opened by Armando Christian Pérez, better known as Pitbull. Yes the same rap artist who has been criticized for his offensive and misogynistic lyrics. That guy.

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According to Mark Caputo of the Miami Herald, “The Miami-born son of Cuban exiles is helping build a Little Havana charter school that opens next month and was a featured speaker at the 2013 National Charter Schools Conference in Washington, D.C., where he wowed the crowds.” In his own words, Pitbull said, “I’m so used to making records that to be up here speaking to you all actually makes me nervous.” …Right.

The school, called Sports Leadership and Management (SLAM) and has been criticized for its affiliation with the for-profit company Academica, which was featured in The Miami Herald’s “Cashing in on Kids” series two years ago. In the last 10 years, Florida’s charter school movement has grown into $400-million-a-year for-profit industry backed by real-estate developers and promoted by politicians, but with little oversight.

State Rep. Eric Fresen, a Miami Republican who has family and financial ties to Academica, said in a written statement, “He thought the sports theme was a great hook to get kids engaged in education, especially in Little Havana, so he offered to help promote and brand it,” Fresen added. “There is no financial motivation. He’s very rich on his own right already.” (Miami Herald,)

DeVos says Florida is a national model for school choice. A national model?  According to US News and World Report, Florida ranks #46 in states with the worst public education system in the country- ranking ahead of Arizona, South Carolina, New Mexico and Nevada. and slightly behind Louisiana and Mississippi. Increasing charters in Florida supports the visions of Jeb Bush who advocated strongly for more charters. 46th out of 50. I would say this IS a national model, but not the same way the Secretary thinks it is.

In 2015, Diane Ravitch wrote that Florida hit a milestone with over 300 failed charter schools. She also said, “one in six of them either are running a debt or “had material weaknesses with their internal financial controls.”   In 2016, a report from redefinED found that “Florida saw more charter schools shut down than any other state last year, according to a new report.”

Florida has roughly 10 percent of the charters operating in the country, but accounted for nearly 14 percent of closures last school year. The Sunshine State was only slightly better than Arizona and Texas.

What’s the cost to taxpayers?  According to Fred Grimm of the Miami Herald,

Failed charter schools not only leave students in the lurch and teachers out of jobs — Florida taxpayers are stuck with enormous financial losses.

Last month, the Associated Press reported that since 2000, about $70 million in state money earmarked for construction and building improvements had disappeared with failed charter schools. Nineteen charter schools in Miami-Dade County closed after taking in $7.9 million. In Palm Beach County, $9 million in building expenditures went down the tubes with 21 charter schools. Broward’s 19 defunct charter schools lost $16.5 million (2016).

What’s DeVos’ interest in Florida?  Follow the money. DeVos has strong family ties to Florida; she and her Amway heir husband own a home in Vero Beach, and her father-in-law owns the Orlando Magic basketball team.

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Florida – a state noted for many things like sunshine and oranges- ranks 46th in public schools, has the highest rate of charter school closure among the 50 states, and a Secretary of Education who wants this to be a national model.

90% of children in this country attend public schools, which by all intents and purposes, (and contrary to popular opinion) are doing just fine. So her idea is to support this experimentation of new charters started by celebrities and take more money away from the overwhelming majority of students who attend public schools.

Great idea, Mrs. DeVos. What could go wrong?

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These are my reflections for today.

4/8/17

The Department of Education

There has been discussion of eliminating the Department of Education (ED), as many feel  decisions should be made at the state level, thus reducing the need for a federal office. In fact, the ESSA gave many decisions back to the state, especially with regard to testing and curricula.   What are the responsibilities of the ED?

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The United States Department of Education  was founded on October 17, 1979, and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter. The mission of the Department of Education is “to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access” (Ed.Gov). It engages in four types of actions:

  1. Establishes policies related to federal education funding, administers distribution of funds and monitors their use.
  2. Collects data and oversees research on America’s schools.
  3. Identifies major issues in education and focuses national attention on them.
  4. Enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination in programs that receive federal funds.

Ensuring equal access. That’s a hot topic these days. The current Secretary considers school choice as equal access. Those who live in great neighborhoods have equal access, but those who live in inner cities do not have equal or access.

The Department carries out its mission in two major ways. First, the Secretary and the Department play a leadership role in the ongoing national dialogue over how to improve the results of our education system for all students. This involves such activities as raising national and community awareness of the education challenges confronting the Nation, disseminating the latest discoveries on what works in teaching and learning, and helping communities work out solutions to difficult educational issues.

Second, the Department pursues its twin goals of access and excellence through the administration of programs that cover every area of education and range from preschool education through postdoctoral research (Ed.Gov).

Here’s a perspective on the roles and responsibilities of the ED from Diane Ravitch who worked as the Assistant Secretary of Education under George W. Bush.

“The ED has no capacity whatever to assure or ascertain quality of education. Very few people who work there have a view about what education is or should be. That is not their job. Most have worked for ED for many years, regardless of which party is in power. They do not express their views. They do their job. They write checks, collect data, review contracts. They can tell you how many students are served in which programs. They can determine how much money is allocated and spent. The Department consists of clerks and bureaucrats. I was there. Nothing has changed. Educators are in schools, not at the U.S. Department of Education.”

As Secretary DeVos considers her legacy for students in this country which will likely include an increase in unregulated charters, a voucher system, the elimination of the ESEA and deep changes to the ESSA, let’s hope she understands the mission.

Promote student achievement. Fostering educational excellence. Ensuring equal access.

These are my reflections for today.

3/18/17