Ed News, Tuesday, January 17, 2017 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

 “I teach not by feeding the mind with data but by kindling the mind.” 

― Debasish Mridha

Charter Schools, Choice & Vouchers
Sigh.  Another day, another charter scandal.  This one emanates from Florida.  It seems a former employee is accused of stealing $100,000 from the Seth McKeel Academy in Lakeland.  The funds were used for personal travel and other items including a prom dress and false eyelashes.  The “Eight on Your Side” investigative team from station WFLA Channel 8, an NBC affiliate in Tampa, has the sordid details.  “45-year-old Ginger Collins was a former Assistant Director of Academics for the school,” it reports, “until her resignation on September 16, 2016.  She is accused of stealing more than $100,000 from the organization and creating fake companies and website to make her purchases appear legitimate. . . . So where was the oversight?  Eight on Your Side went to McKeel Academy to ask that very question, but we were turned away.”               How successful are those highly touted charter schools doing around the country?  Based on Texas’ system of grading schools on an “A” to “F” scale, the answer is an undeniable “poorly.”  Gary Rubinstein’s Blog did some digging into the results for the universally lauded KIPP schools in the state and reported some startling results.  On the “Student Progress” element 24% received a “Failing” rating and 40% earned a “D” or an “F.”  I don’t know about you, but that’s not a particularly enviable record.  “Reformers always talk about expanding ‘high quality’ charters.  And one of the most famous examples of such a high quality charter chain are the KIPP network of schools.  There are about 200 KIPP schools around the country,” Rubinstein calculates, “and surely there will be many more now that a very charter friendly president has been elected.  KIPP schools are staffed by a large number of Teach For America teachers and alumni and was founded by two TFA alumni.”               Charter schools and vouchers are often sold by the corporate “reformers” and privatizers as ways to offer parents more “choice” when it comes to selecting schools for their children.  In truth, some of those programs are quite exclusionary.  Witness the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Act which was passed by the Republican controlled state legislature in 2013.  The article comes from THE CENTURY FOUNDATION, a progressive think tank headquartered in New York, and is titled “Second-Class Students: When Vouchers Exclude.”  It describes how the Tar Heel State’s voucher program discriminates against a wide range of students.  Question: How does that promote “choice?”  “Under a Trump/DeVos plan, we should expect to see more voucher programs like North Carolina’s emerge,” the author envisions in conclusion, “dressed with the glittery names of opportunity, choice, and freedom.  Do not be fooled.  The opportunities are exclusionary, the choices are constrained, while the freedom belongs to largely unregulated private schools to discriminate on the public dime.”               Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONETHEWALL blog takes a more provocative approach to school “choice.”  He believes the reason charters, vouchers and “choice” are being pushed so strongly has to do with racism.  His commentary is daringly headlined “The Racists Roots and Racist Indoctrination of School Choice.”  He goes back to the landmark Brown v Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision, handed down in 1954, that ordered the integration of public schools to trace the racist roots of school “choice.”  “School choice does not enhance civil rights.  It is inimical to them.  It is part of a blatant policy to make America racist again.  We cannot allow the Trump administration and any neoliberal Democrats who quietly support his ends to undo all the progress we’ve made in the last 60 years.  The bottom line is this – voters don’t want school choice.  It does nothing to better childrens’ educations.  It is a product of segregation and racism and even in its modern guise it continues to foster segregation and racism.  If we care about civil rights, social equality and democratic rule,” he concludes powerfully, “school choice is something that should be relegated to the dust heap of history.  It’s time to move forward, not look back fondly on the Confederacy, Jim Crow and segregationism.”               The corporate “reformers” and privatizers like to make the argument that school “choice” is good for those involved.  On the contrary, Sara Stevenson, a Texas educator, makes the counter argument that it’s really the wrong solution in a commentary in the Austin (Texas) Statesman titled “Why School Choice in the Wrong Choice.”  “One must ask about the motive for the school choice movement.  Public education in this nation is an operation costing about $600 billion annually.  Do these private, charter, cyber and home schools,” she wonders, “want to open their arms to public school students in a gesture of inclusion, or are they after the money?”
Art in the Schools
Can adding an arts curriculum boost overall student achievement?  That’s the focus of a PBS NEWSHOUR segment that was broadcast last week titled “Struggling Schools Benefit From Adding Arts to Learning.”  You can watch the program (7:50 minutes), listen to an audio and/or read the transcript by clicking here.  Jeffrey Brown, the host, visits a couple of charter school in New Orleans that are piloting an arts curriculum created by the company Turnaround Arts.  One campus features actress Alfre Woodward, singer Graham Nash and New York Times columnist David Brooks working with groups of students.  “An independent evaluation conducted of the original eight Turnaround schools,” Brown notes, “showed early success.  Half the schools improved their attendance rates.  The average improvement in math proficiency was 22 percent and reading close to 13 percent.  And discipline problems fell.  At ReNEW Cultural Arts Academy, for example, suspensions were down 51 percent.”
Betsy DeVos
Yeah.  I know.  Here we go again but, in my mind, Betsy DeVos deserves all the criticism she’s attracting (and more!).  Remember, she’s been nominated to be the federal Secretary of Education with responsibility and oversight over all public school students in the U.S.  Her strong advocacy and financial support of charters, choice, vouchers and privatization of our system of public schools is alarming to put it mildly.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, describes the very close relationship between DeVos and Jeb Bush in a piece titled “Jeb Bush May Have Won Something in the Election After All:  The U.S. Department of Education.” “The president-elect has selected a very close Bush ally to be his education secretary.  Betsy DeVos donated to Bush’s unsuccessful presidential campaign,” Strauss points out, “and sat on the board of Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education.  The two share an education reform policy that supports the transfer of public dollars to privately run schools, such as for-profit charter schools and voucher programs that use taxpayer funds to pay for private schools.  They say they are providing parents with choice; critics say they are destroying the public education system.”               The confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos began at 5 pm (EST) today before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.  As it progresses, The New York Times suggests, the questioning of the billionaire heiress could be quite contentious.  The article is headlined “Trump’s Pick for Education Could Face Unusually Stiff Resistance” and outlines what areas certain Senators, mostly Democratic, are apt to explore with the nominee.                The progressive advocacy group, PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY, joined the long (and getting longer every day) list of groups and individuals opposed to the DeVos nomination It reviews a number of other articles that urge the Senate to reject DeVos.  “Ultimately, what is at stake is the future of public education as a core democratic institution,” the note concludes on their website, “that has provided generations of Americans, including immigrants, with the means to become full participants in American society.”               Add the Coalition for Civil and Human Rights of The Leadership Conference to the above list.  Their offering is in the form of a letter addressed “Dear Senator” and is titled “Betsy DeVos is the Wrong Choice to Lead a Civil Rights Organization or American Public Education.”  “On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 national organizations committed to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States,”  it begins, “we are writing to express our strong opposition to the confirmation of Betsy DeVos to be the next U.S. Secretary of Education.  All parents and students in this country – a majority of whom are of color or are low-income–want the best education, support and dignity for their own children.  We stand with them and cannot support a nominee who has demonstrated that she seeks to undermine bedrock American principles of equal opportunity, nondiscrimination and public education itself.”               If you are getting a little tired of READING why Betsy DeVos shouldn’t be approved to be the next Sec. of Education, check out this video (8:15 minutes) from Brave New Films on YouTube.  It prominently features Diane Ravitch and a number of other educators and parents from Michigan commenting on what DeVos did to the public schools in her home state.               Not sure exactly what the DeVos family agenda is about?  It may be much darker than you are aware according to an investigative piece from POLITICO.  It digs deeply into the background of the family and plumbs the recesses of its involvement in the politics of Michigan.  The article is titled “How Betsy DeVos Used God and Amway to Take Over Michigan Politics.”  Subtitled “With Her Nomination as Education Secretary, A Powerful Political Clan Will Bring Its Overt Christian Agenda to Washington.”  “The DeVos family, with Dick and Betsy at the helm, has emerged as a political force without comparison in Michigan,” the author writes.  “Their politics are profoundly Christian and conservative. . . .  and their vast resources (the family’s cumulative net worth is estimated at well over $5 billion) assure that they can steamroll their way to victory on issues ranging from education reform to workers’ rights.”  Diane Ravitch had this to say
about the story: “Just when I thought I had read everything I needed to know about the DeVos family, along comes this brilliant investigative article by Zack Stanton of Politico.  Stanton shows how powerful the DeVos family is, how it works as a tightly coordinated unit, and how it uses its vast wealth to smash the union movement, force school privatization, control the Republican Party in Michigan, and extend its reach to Louisiana, Indiana, Wisconsin, New Jersey, and other states.”               Valerie Strauss’ blog for The Washington Post provides a long list of questions that teachers would like Betsy DeVos to answer.  They obviously cover a wide range of topics.  Here’s one example from a member of the Educator Voice Fellowship: “Lisa Meade (NY): What are the specific strengths of the public school system that you would want to continue to support in your work as secretary of education?”               The L.A. Times has been rather quiet regarding the DeVos nomination.  However, an item appeared on the paper’s website early yesterday morning [Ed. note: It has not appeared in print as of the date the “Ed News” was sent out] with a profile of her and a focus on her active support for vouchers and strong religious beliefs.  “Fifteen years ago, a controversial question about America’s schools dominated headlines, prompted ballot measures in California and other states and led wealthy philanthropists to dig deep into their pockets in the name of educational reform,” it relates.  “Should government money pay for students to attend private — even religious — schools?  Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s pick for Education secretary, whose confirmation hearings begin Tuesday, was one of the biggest backers of the yes camp.  But after voters in some states, including California, gave vouchers a resounding no, the issue fizzled in all but a few, mostly conservative places.  DeVos’ nomination — and the president-elect’s backing — could put vouchers back on the map in a major way.”               Kenneth Zeichner, professor of Teacher Education at the University of Washington explains why he’s against Betsy DeVos becoming the next head of the Dept. of Education.  His comments appear on Diane Ravitch’s blog.  “Betsy DeVos is thoroughly unqualified for the job of Secretary of Education,” he writes.  “She has never attended a public school, sent her children to public schools, taught or worked in a public school district or a state education agency, overseen public education as a governor or governor’s aide, or studied the field of education.  There has never been a more unqualified nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education in the history of the Department of Education.”  That’s pretty succinct and to-the-point!               The “Politics K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK takes a different tack on the DeVos nomination. Instead of criticizing or supporting the action it offers a primer on what to watch for during the hearing in the form of a Q & A.  “It’s finally happening: Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of Education, is set to testify before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee at her confirmation hearing [today].   In the past,” it begins, “confirmation hearings for an education secretary have typically been bipartisan love fests.  But that’s not going to be the case this time around.”  The piece includes a link to her opening statement before the committee.                Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) grills Betsy DeVos about higher education issues during the Senate Education Committee’s confirmation hearing this afternoon.  You can view the confrontation (4:54 minutes) courtesy of the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog by clicking here.                Valerie Strauss, in her column for The Washington Post, has 2 separate stories about today’s confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos.  The first notes that former Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CN) formally introduced the nominee to the committee with glowing words but he also took a few pot shots at the education establishment in the process. The second one reports that Democrats on the Senate Education Committee were quite upset with Chair Lamar Alexander’s (R-TN) decision to limit individual committee members questioning of Betsy DeVos to just 5 minutes and did not allow a second round to take place.  Strauss reviews some of the issues raised during the confirmation hearing and describes the partisan bickering over procedures.  “Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee slammed the confirmation hearing of Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s education nominee, through the Senate education committee,” Strauss writes, “which he chairs — over the objections of Democrats who practically begged for more time to question her.  Democratic members of the committee repeatedly asked for more time to ask DeVos questions . . . .”             Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, blasts DeVos’ testimony before the Senate committee today titling his piece “Ignorance and Arrogance–the Defining Characteristics of the Betsy DeVos Hearing.”  He was unsparing in his criticism.  “During a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) tonight, DeVos showed herself to be hopelessly out of her depth,” Singer grumbles.  “She tried to cover her ignorance by being noncommittal.  But it was obvious that she had no idea what she was talking about more than half the time.”  The rest of his essay is equally scathing.
Support for Public Education
The group Education Deans for Justice and Equity published a statement on the NEPC (National Education Policy Center) website reiterating their strong support for public education and American democratic ideals.  It contains “4 guiding principles” which are briefly explained on the website.  Here’s the first one: “(i) Uphold the role of public schools as a central institution in the strengthening of our democracy.”  This item includes a copy of the full document (7 pages) titled “Public Education, Democracy and the Role of the Federal Government: A Declaration of Principles.”  As of Jan. 11, 175 former and current deans of colleges and schools of education, including a number from California, had signed the manifesto and they are listed alphabetically on pages 4-7.  
Detroit Public Schools Returned to Control of Elected Board
The troubled Detroit Public Schools (DPS) were returned to the control of an elected board for the first time since 2009 when they were taken over by the state and governed by an emergency manager.  The “District Dossier” column for EDUCATION WEEK has a brief item about the change.  “One of the board’s first major tasks,” it mentions, “will be to choose a new superintendent for the 45,000-student school district, which has struggled financially and academically for years.”
California School Finances Spelled Out
Ever wonder how California’s K-12 public schools and community colleges are actually financed?  If you think it’s a simple, straight forward process, think again.  The whole mechanism can be rather esoteric and convoluted.  Much of it is dependent on how Prop 98, passed by voters in the Golden State in 1988, is interpreted according to the “Political Road Map” feature in Sunday’s L.A. Times.  It serves as a primer to a very complicated issue.  “The shorthand to Proposition 98,” it explains, “is that it sets a minimum level for school funding — one that generally grows with the economy — by using a series of complex formulas for earmarking state and local tax dollars.  That usually results in a mandate that hovers around 40% of the state’s general fund, though any honest state budget-watcher will admit the final number — just like the annual prediction of tax revenues — is sometimes subject to political negotiation.”
John B. King Concludes His Term as Sec. of Education 
Pres. Obama officially ends his term of office at noon on Friday when President-elect Trump takes the oath of office.  Obama’s Sec. of Education, John B. King Jr., also concludes his service and offers his valedictory view of the state of education in the U.S. and what he’d like to see his successor accomplish. His commentary appears on EDUCATION WEEK.  “We must get beyond either exalting teachers as heroes who can single-handedly solve all education problems or castigating them for failing to do so.  We should instead recognize that teaching is an incredibly difficult job,” he suggests, “requiring dozens of decisions every hour.  We can invest in teachers’ preparation and development at the same time that we welcome their expertise and leadership on the challenges they face and the issues that affect their students.
Corporate “Reform”
DFER or Democrats for Education Reform is a political action committee that supports charters and opposes teachers unions.  John Thompson, on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, takes a close look at the impact the group has had on education reform in an article titled “DFER Dances Around Trump’s Public School Wrecking Ball.”  He refers to a story that was highlighted in the Jan. 10th “Ed News” headlined “The War on Public Schools.”  Thompson believes the policies of groups like DFER made Donald Trump’s victory more likely because of how they split the Democratic Party regarding an important issue like education.  
View “Go Public” Documentary Online for FREE
And finally, the ALOED Educational Film Series sponsored a screening of the powerful documentary “Go Public: A Day in the Life of an American School District” that offered an inside look at how the Pasadena School District works by having a number of film crews record what parents, students, teachers, coaches, principals, custodians, board members and others did during the course of one school day.  If you haven’t seen the film (90 minutes) or would like to watch it again, it is being made available for viewing for free for one week on vimeo.  Thanks to ALOED member and my Film Series co-chair, Larry Lawrence, for passing that information along.
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)  
Member ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.             


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