The PBS Controversy

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

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

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

Here’s a synopsis of the film:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More Charter News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are my reflections for today.

6/17/17

 

 

 

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

Betsy DeVos

There’s a lot of talk  this week of Betsy DeVos’ appointment to Secretary of Education. Who is Betsy DeVos? She’s a billionaire philanthropist with no degree in education, no experience in education, and no teaching experience.Hmmm…. what’s her appeal?

You may be hard pressed to find another person who is more of an advocate of charter school expansions and vouchers.  According to the Kate Zernicke of the NY Times,”For nearly 30 years, as a philanthropist, activist and Republican fund-raiser, she has pushed to give families taxpayer money in the form of vouchers to attend private and parochial schools, pressed to expand publicly funded but privately run charter schools, and tried to strip teacher unions of their influence” (11/23/16).
Each time a child leaves a public school for a charter, the per pupil spending amount goes with them. Vouchers essentially give the per pupil spending amount to each family to use on private or parochial schools thus allowing taxpayer dollars to pay for parochial education. Many, like DeVos, say  this is a good idea because urban schools are failing. This is a  generalization. While there are issues facing urban schools that are not issues for their rural and suburban counterparts, taking more money away from urban schools and putting it towards unregulated and sometimes for-profit schools is an unproven response, and threatens public education-often considered the foundation of our democracy.

Longitudinal data is inconclusive as to whether charters fare any better on standardized tests than public schools. Many are currently facing litigation for misappropriation of funds, questionable behavioral practices, and often publish misrepresented graduation rates. Keep in mind, they must show success on order to keep their charter open. They’ll say they have an 85% graduation rate, but that’s 85% of the students who remain after students dropped out or were asked to leave as they were not likely to graduate.

Look at it another way.

Consider a suburban family- likely one or two parents or a care giver home before and after school, able to feed and clothe the children appropriately, have time to read to them, monitor homework, and provide health insurance benefits to ensure wellness. Far too many people wrongly assume those living in poverty don’t value education, but never consider that working two and three jobs doesn’t allow them to be home before school to feed their children, after school to monitor homework, drive to after school sports practices, dance classes, religious classes, or other extracurricular activities. Often these families do not have health insurance to cover wellness or sickness.It’s not because they don’t care, but because they’re working so many hours just to make ends meet, they must choose one over the other. I’ve ever met a family who says they don’t value education.This is simply not true.

A potential Secretary of Education who has never spent a day in a classroom, a staunch advocate for charter schools and vouchers is a frightening prospect. I have spent over 30 years in the public schools-in one capacity or another. I spend a considerable amount of time in urban schools, working with teachers, connecting to communities, and trying to teach pre-service teachers how to teach  in urban environments.

I know first hand the damage charters can cause children, and the ramifications to urban schools that would likely face deeper budget cuts. This means cuts to programs and services which are all but guaranteed in the suburbs. Why is it okay to allow charters to open in urban areas, yet none are open in middle and upper class neighborhoods? If you live in the suburbs, how would you feel about a school opening which would take money away from the neighborhood school (think programs and services that would be cut), where students could be hand selected for admission (remember it’s unregulated), be managed by someone with no educational background, and have classes taught by someone who has had no formal education/training in education?

With so many notable scholars, researchers, and educators in this country who have spent their lives advocating for all children, I am frustrated none were considered for this cabinet post. Rather, Eva Moskowitz (see Success Academy Charter in NYC), Ben Carson (yes, the neurologist and former presidential candidate), and Michelle Rhee (remember the debacle in DC Public Schools a few years ago?) were on the short list.

Betsy DeVos is a frightening consideration for Secretary of Education. No experience, no educational background, and she sees the world from a lens only  1% of the country see through. Billionaire philanthropist. Advocate for charters and vouchers. Not appealing.

These are my reflections for today.

11/26/16