Shanker and Friedman

Albert Shanker was past president of the United Federation of Teachers (1964 -1985) and past president of the American Federation of Teachers (1974-1997). During his tenure at  AFT, Mr. Shanker brought up the idea of a public school where teachers would have the opportunity to experiment with new,  innovative ways of teaching students.  In these so-called charter schools, teachers would have the opportunity to create high-performing educational laboratories to model for traditional public schools (NY Times).

The idea of charter schools was inspired by Shanker’s 1987 visit to a public school in Cologne, Germany. Teachers made critical decisions about what and how to teach their students, and stayed with the same students for six years. Students in Cologne came from a mix of abilities, family incomes and ethnic origins.

Teachers making critical decisions???  Richard M. Ingersoll, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, found that where teachers have more say in how their school is run, the school climate improves and teachers stay longer (NY Times) This is also supported by data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showing that low-income fourth graders who attend economically integrated schools are as much as two years ahead of low-income students stuck in high-poverty schools.

So what happened to Shanker’s idea?

Ten years after his visit to Germany, charter schools morphed into something very different from his original idea, as conservatives promoted charters as more of an open marketplace where families would have the opportunity to choose schools.

What conservatives were creating however, were more segregated schools. Charter schools on average are more racially and economically segregated than traditional public schools, according to a recent study from the Civil Rights Project at U.C.L.A.

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Today we see a strong push for more charters, which are problematic on so many levels; segregation is only one of them.

In 1955 Milton Friedman had an idea that was also radical for its time. Friedman, a Nobel Laureate economist, was among the first to propose the financing of education be separated from the administration of schools, the core idea behind school vouchers (Education Next).

In his famous essay written in 1955 “The Role of Government in Education, Friedman argued that there is no need for government to run schools. Instead, families could be provided with publicly financed vouchers for use at the K-12 educational institutions of their choice. The idea boiled down to taxpayer funded but privately run schools. Such a system, Friedman believed, would promote competition among schools vying to attract students, thus improving quality, driving down costs, and creating a more dynamic education system.

According to Friedman, families should have the freedom to choose which school to use their funding. A voucher is equal to the government’s per-pupil spending amount. This would allow parents to pick a school and use the voucher to cover all or part of the tuition. Friedman said school choice would help racial minorities. “There is not a single thing you could do in this world that would do more to improve the condition of the black people in the lowest income classes …than the voucher scheme” (Washington Examiner).

Many argue that Friedman’s essay, published a year after the Brown v. Board decision, addresses the question of vouchers and school segregation, but perhaps in a way that supported segregation. First, he said: “I deplore segregation and racial prejudice.” Then he asserts his opposition to “forced non-segregation” of public schools (Dissent).  Friedman stood behind a Virginia law that authorized school vouchers, arguing it would have the “unintended effect of undermining racial segregation” (Dissent).  Mixed messages.

According to Leo Casey, executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute, “empirical studies of vouchers programs in the United States and internationally show  they increase segregation in schools” (The Century Foundation).

Halley Potter of the Century Foundation writes, “The best available data on the impact of school vouchers, tracking the movement of students in two different voucher programs that enrolled mostly black students, shows that voucher students by and large did not see an increase in access to integrated schools as a result of the programs. Two-thirds of school transfers in one program and 90 percent of transfers in the other program increased segregation in private schools, public schools, or both sector” (The Century Foundation).

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In an administration with a high level of distractibility (what I call the “look over here”), and an agenda to privatize public education, we must be mindful of what is being said and how it’s different from what history has taught us. What started as an innovative idea is now leading the privatization movement, but it is far from its original intention.

Privatizing public schools is being advocated by the secretary of education, billionaire philanthropists and others who are profiting from this movement, and the general public who is taking the hand fed bullshit about this being the cure for the ills of American public education.

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These are my reflections for today.

2/9/18

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Taking the high road

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We are the sum of our thoughts and actions. In trying times it’s never easy to take the high road, but it is always the right choice to maintain your moral compass, your personal code of ethics, and your values in the most difficult times. Taking the high road is not about looking good to others, it’s about coming out of a situation feeling good about how you handled yourself.

This year I found myself in a difficult situation where I was faced with the decision to take the high road or not. Despite the level of adversity, to me there was only one choice. It wasn’t easy, but I could not handle myself any other way. First and foremost I wanted to feel good about myself. I also recognized others were watching me to see how I would handle the situation, including my children and I would not miss an opportunity to model for them.

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know I have devoted quite a bit of space to the Secretary of Education. I do not support the policies she is advocating, and I am opposed to her lack of credibility and experience to be in the position she holds in this administration.

This leads to my thinking for today. If I were to have an opportunity to speak with DeVos, what would I say to her. I would think about it like an elevator pitch, where I’d have a very brief period of time to say what I wanted to say. My first thought might be to purge myself of the anger and frustration over her continued push to privatize public education and marginalize so many children in this country. I might talk about the awareness she lacks in having any idea what children and families go through each day just to survive, let alone succeed in school. I could talk about the ridiculous number of charter scandals every day across this country, and the research demonstrating how her agenda of vouchers and charters is a failing proposition.

But I wouldn’t do that. I would take the high road. I would want her to remember what I said – not because I was negative and nasty, but because my message to her was delivered with integrity and professionalism.

It might go something like this:

“I am a teacher educator, life-long supporter of public education, and an advocate for training pre-service teachers to teach effectively in urban environments. My research and publication agenda supports my advocacy and my teaching. You and I view public education from very different lenses. I am a product of public schools, and I have spend most of my teaching career in public institutions. I believe the very best teachers should be recruited and trained to teach in urban areas, and full funding for schools should be given to provide the tools and services schools need to be successful. I believe the investment in public education is ethically and morally the right thing to do, and will save lives, reduce or eliminate prison overcrowding, increase productivity, support economic growth, reduce crime and healthcare costs – to name a few benefits.

You have a tremendous opportunity in your position to advocate for children who have no voice. Your choice is to hear them and help them. But first you must get to know them and understand them, rather than just decide for them. Your legacy can be that you gave voice to the voiceless, and advocated on their behalf. Your legacy can be that you leveled the playing field when it came to ensuring every child-regardless of their zip code-has an equal opportunity for a ‘free and appropriate public education’.

This country has some of the most brilliant educational researchers and public education advocates. Have a conversation with them, and use their experience, research and expertise to learn more. What will your legacy be to the underrepresented children of this country?”

Taking the high road is never easy, but there’s less traffic, and the view is magnificent.

Happy New Year.

These are my reflections for today.

12/29/17

ECOT

No, that’s not a typo, though writing about EPCOT would be more fun that what I’m writing about today. Electronic Classrooms of Tomorrow, or ECOT is the largest online charter school in Ohio.  There is an attractive website touting themselves as “a tuition-free, fully accredited online public school education.” There are so many charter scandals being reported almost daily, and ECOT is just one more.  The most egregious claim against the school is for inflating their enrollment.

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In 2016 ECOT reported an enrollment of 15,322 full-time students. The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) reports that number was inflated by roughly 143% as the actual number of enrolled students was 6,313 – a 60% difference. The travesty in this story is the $6,900 ECOT received from the state for each student “enrolled”.  In 2016, ECOT received a total of $106 million from the state (Dispatch).  For the second year in a row, the school is fighting with the state about repaying millions of dollars. The school owes over $60 million.

According to The Alliance Review the school has been misrepresenting data in other ways:

ECOT counted some students who reported completing more than the required 920 hours of annual “learning activities” as more than a full-time student, and asked for more funding. Curious to know how one becomes more than a full-time student.

Students are required to log 920 hours of time on their computers. One report from ECOT showed a student logged on for 300 consecutive hours, and another straight through from Christmas Eve through New Year’s.  Looks like ECOT’s computer tracking system will count student participation as just having the computer was logged on to the system, regardless of how long, or whether or not they’re actually interacting with the system.

Last summer, the school voted to cut its budget and lay off 250 employees – but not to cut $22 million in annual payments to its founder Bill Lager, who owns two companies that provide management and software services to ECOT. (WOSU). Nice work if you can get it.

ECOT argues that state law entitles them to full funding for a student as long as the student doesn’t drop out or isn’t removed from school due to truancy triggered by failing to log in for 30 consecutive days.

State Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni, said ECOT “has been ripping off taxpayers and cheating students out of a proper education.  ECOT should pay back the money it owes the state immediately” (Dispatch).

In September, state officials told the school it must also repay an additional $19.2 million, based on a review of the school’s 2016-17 student-login records. In recent months,  the ODE withheld more than $10 million from its monthly payments to ECOT, in an effort to recover more than $60.3 million in per-pupil funding the school improperly claimed during the 2015-16 school year with the falsified enrollment statistics (Dispatch).  At last count, ECOT owed $112 million.

In October  the school threatened to shut down in the middle of the school year. They claim the ODE’s efforts to recover the now $80 million dispute is having “a fatal impact” on its operating budget (WOSU).  Ya think????

If ECOT closes, hundreds of educators and administrators would lose their jobs, and thousands of academically struggling students would be displaced.

This week the Ohio Supreme Court rejected ECOT’s request for an injunction or expedited appeal, even though the state’s largest charter school says it will run out of money by March. This is the latest defeat to the charter program.

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According to Education Week, four out of thirteen virtual schools in Ohio have already shut down as a result of attendance and funding disputes.  Provost Academy, the Marion Digital Academy, Southwest Licking Digital Academy, and the Virtual Community School either closed or suspended operations before the start of school this year. Southwest Licking Digital Academy was found to owe the state $140,000 and the Virtual Community School was found to owe $4.2 million (Education Week).

The exhaustive argument ECOT uses to remain open is how devastating it would be for students to return to their already failing schools, saying many will just drop out of school altogether. Nobody at ECOT considers how devastating it is to take money from schools, thus diminishing their ability to provide services children need to succeed all the while the CEO still gets paid $22 million.

Unconscionable.

These are my reflections for today.

12/22/17

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Will work for school supplies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are my reflections for today.

12/8/17

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Reflections in Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are my reflections for today.

11/24/17

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Bill Gates’ new project

Back in 2000, Bill Gates threw his hat into the ring of “fixing” public education. He spent millions and millions of dollars on an idea to break big high schools into smaller schools.  After a few years he abandoned this idea as the test scores of high school students in the smaller schools didn’t climb, as he had hoped.

Next came his support of aligning teacher performance evaluations to student test scores. Not only is this a highly researched and unproven idea, it became one of the conditions for any state applying for Race to the Top funding. In order to qualify, states had to connect teacher performance with student test scores. This, too failed.

Then came Gates’ idea of Common Core Standards.  While many states went ahead with the adoption of national curricula standards, test scores did not improve after implementation. This may be, in part, because they were written by non-educators, never piloted, and cost school districts millions to implement; many abandoning millions of dollars worth of textbook series’ adoptions because they didn’t align with the new standards.

This week, Gates announced he is investing $1.7 billion to “bolster public education in the United States.” He made the announcement this week, saying “Education is, without a doubt, one of the most challenging areas we invest in as a foundation,” Business Insider. Perhaps this is because his investments have not been paying off.

Where will the money go this time? Nothing specific was outlined in his announcement. However he hinted the money will be divided like this:

Roughly 60% of the funding will go toward supporting “the development of new curricula and networks of schools that work together to identify local problems and solutions,” Gates said. A large chunk of those problems involve schools that are effectively segregated based on race.

Another 25% will go toward “big bets” — programs that could change public education over the next 10 to 15 years (no further details provided).

And 15% will address the sector of charter schools, which Gates believes are vital for helping kids with moderate to severe learning disabilities receive a high-quality education Business Insider.

First, the development of new curricula. Back in 2014, Sue Desmond-Hellman, Gates Foundation Director said of Common Core Standards, “Unfortunately, our foundation underestimated the level of resources and support required for our public education systems to be well-equipped to implement the standards. We missed an early opportunity to sufficiently engage educators – particularly teachers – but also parents and communities so that the benefits of the standards could take flight from the beginning” (Washington Post).
Creating new curricula did not work the first time, and now Gates wants to spend more money trying again.  At what cost (again) to school districts?

Next, programs that could change public education.  In 2016 a scathing editorial in the Los Angeles Times called, “Gates Foundation failures show philanthropists shouldn’t be setting America’s public school agenda” (LA Times).  In the editorial,

The Gates Foundation is clearly rethinking its bust-the-walls-down strategy on education — as it should. And so should the politicians and policymakers, from the federal level to the local, who have given the educational wishes of Bill and Melinda Gates and other well-meaning philanthropists and foundations too much sway in recent years over how schools are run (LA Times).

And finally,  charter schools. If you are a frequent reader of this blog or any other source for news on public education, you know how that’s going. Charter scandals. More charter scandals. Even more charter scandals… Florida, Michigan, Ohio, New Mexico, Mississippi, Arizona, New Jersey, California, Louisiana, and so many others. Previous blogs I’ve written on charters are here, here, here, and here. Charters rob low-income districts of funding, and run without accountability. Another failed reformer idea.

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Mr. Gates is a smart, successful business man. Here are a few questions he and his foundation should consider: What could $1.7 billion buy low-income school districts? Teachers? Technology? Support Services? Books? Professional Development? Modern facilities? Healthcare? Clean water? Parent education? After-school programs?

He’s building a house of cards, but at least it’s with his own money.

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These are my reflections for today.

10/27/17

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Lunch Shaming

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Michael Padilla is a state senator from New Mexico. As a child, he spent many of his school days mopping floors so he could have lunch. He befriended cafeteria workers for a piece of bread or a left over sandwich. Padilla grew up in foster homes where lunch money was an exception (NPR).

Della Curry made national headlines a few years ago as a cafeteria worker in Aurora, CO who gave lunch to a child who was crying because she didn’t have lunch money and she was hungry. The act of a good Samaritan  was defined by district and federal policy as stealing. Curry was fired (NPR). Scott Simon wrote, “The school district says students from poor families can qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. Curry says those programs overlook students from families who may struggle, but don’t quite qualify — if that’s the word — as poor” (NPR).

Stacy Koltiska was a cafeteria worker in Pittsburgh, PA. Last year she quit her job when she was forced to take lunches away from two students and replace them with sandwiches because the families owed more than $25. These were elementary students. High school students don’t even get the sandwich. Koltiska posted to facebook her experience with the school district. Remembering the day, she said “His eyes welled up with tears. I’ll never forget his name, the look on his face” (CBSnews)Koltiska said what these children experience is humiliating and embarrassing, and she fought for this practice of so called lunch shaming to stop.

Earlier this year, Padilla introduced legislation in New Mexico which would prevent any child from being lunch shamed. When the bill was introduced, he read about other schools and policies of lunch shaming.

Some provide kids an alternative lunch, like a cold cheese sandwich. Other schools sometimes will provide hot lunch, but require students do chores, have their hand stamped or wear a wristband showing they’re behind in payment. And, some schools will deny students lunch all together (NPR).

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       School districts practicing lunch shaming would use this stamp on a child’s arm.                                It says, I need lunch money.

Padilla’s bill – the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act, which became law in April, requires the USDA, which administers the federal school meal program, to require all school districts have a written policy on how to deal with students who can’t pay for their lunch, or have an outstanding balance with the district. Since the introduction of this bill, Padilla has heard from lawmakers from other states who are interested. California state Sen. Robert Hertzberg (D) introduced the Child Hunger Prevention and Fair Treatment Act.

New York took a different approach to the problem. Beginning fall 2017, free lunch is available to all 1.1 million students, regardless of income level. Seventy five percent of students in NY already qualified for free or reduced lunch (NY TImes).

The new initiative reaches another 200,000 children, saving their families about $300 a year per child. These additional lunches are not expected to cost the city more money, thanks to the federal Community Eligibility Provision program, under which schools that offer free lunch and breakfast to all children are reimbursed based on students’ poverty level. By taking advantage of the federal Community Eligibility Provision, schools can increase reimbursement for meals — thus wiping out meal debt — while they improve nutrition, eliminate stigma and cut administrative costs. (NY TImes).

New York City joins other cities such as Boston, Chicago, Dallas, and Detroit who have put an end to lunch shaming. Unfortunately there are still too many districts still employing barbaric practices of lunch shaming. Humiliating a child for being poor is a horrific practice. I applaud districts for working with district, state, and federal policies to eliminate such practices.

These are my reflections for today.

9/29/2017

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