The ED NEWS
A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues
[The Ed News will be taking a break for some summer travel.
Look for the next edition on Friday, August 25.]
And now to the news.
“Education has multiple purposes, but learning how to ask essential questions
and how to challenge dogma, tradition, and injustice
in appropriate and constructive ways is its highest purpose.”
Vouchers & Charters
The Trump administration is a huge supporter of vouchers or voucher-like programs to allow taxpayer dollars to be used at private or parochial schools. So how successful are students that take advantage of vouchers? The headline of an op-ed in Newsday provides a succinct answer: “On Vouchers, the Evidence is in, and it’s Not Good.” Peter Montgomery, the author, is a senior fellow at People for the American Way, a progressive advocacy group founded by television producer Norman Lear in 1981. “Evidence has been accumulating over the last two years,” Montgomery writes, “that many students in voucher programs have lost significant educational ground in math and reading. One study released last year was actually financed by a pro-voucher foundation and conducted by a pro-voucher think tank, and even it found that voucher students in private schools did worse academically than their peers in public schools.” He reviews several recent studies on voucher programs including the only federally-funded one, at least so far, in Washington, D.C. Several of the inquiries were highlighted in previous editions of the “Ed News.” Here’s Diane Ravitch’s take away from the article above: “Voucher advocates have generally dropped the claim that vouchers ‘save’ children or that nonpublic schools are superior to public schools. Instead, they have retreated to advocating for choice. Consumerism is their fallback position. Choice for the sake of choice.” Ann Cronin, a retired English teacher in Connecticut, is thankful for the recent NAACP report (highlighted in the “Ed News”) that was critical of charter schools and urged them to become more accountable and transparent. A friend of Cronin’s posed 2 key questions regarding charters back when the concept was still in its infancy. Cronin returns to those queries on her blog, Real Learning CT, and suggests the NAACP Task Force study provides some interesting answers. “The NAACP Task Force Report insists that children of color have the same rights as white suburban children,” Cronin concludes. “How sad that in 2017 that right still needs to be demanded. But it does. The NAACP Task Force Report must be listened to and enacted in order to make real the civil rights of children.” Is the charter school industry really interested in educating children or making a killing in the real estate market? That’s the question tackled by Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, and you can probably guess his answer comes down on the latter idea. Some shrewd businesspeople create separate legal entities to own the school buildings and then arrange to lease them back to the charter school thus raking in huge rental profits. If the charter should close they “own” the buildings that were actually “rented” using taxpayer money and can sell them off for a sizable gain. Clever scheme! Huh? “Folks advocating for public education often miss this aspect of the charter industry,” Greene notes, “because it’s not really education related. It is, however, big money related. It’s why some critics of charters characterize them as more of a real estate scheme than an educational one.” If you think this has to be an isolated situation, guess again. Greene mentions several states where it’s fairly common practice. “This is the most underreported story of the charter world: The big money is in the real estate,” Diane Ravitch complains on her blog, “not necessarily the students.” If you take the above story one step farther you get charter management companies that “own” the school buildings buying and selling them to other investors in search of . . . .what? Educational excellence? Who are you kidding? They are after PROFITS! You appear skeptical that this could happen. Read this next article and you’ll see it’s all too real. The COMMERCIAL PROPERTY EXECUTIVE website has the details of the sale of a couple of charter campuses in Florida. [Ed. note: I’m sure you’re thinking: “Dave, where do you find these sources?” Sorry, it’s a secret. As a serious journalist, you know, I can’t reveal my sources. Actually this one came from Diane Ravitch’s blog.] Sadly, it seems, there is growing investor interest in these kinds of deals the story notes. I always thought schools were in the business of educating students. I guess I’m naïve–for some charter operators, it’s all about the PROFITS! Here’s what Ravitch had to say about this issue: “My reaction on reading this story: revulsion. It is stories like this that persuades me that the very concept of charter schools is wrong,” she laments, “especially when they operate for-profit and when they are part of a corporate chain. They are not about education; they are not about learning; they are not about children; they are about money and profit. Allowing the education of American children to be distorted by this greedy industry is a blight on American society.” The editorial board of the Charlotte News & Observer is highly critical of the voucher program in North Carolina. The $4,200 that families get can barely cover tuition at the least expensive schools and doesn’t come close to covering other expenses and the cost of high end private schools. So what’s the point? The editorial believes that it’s simply a thinly veiled attempt to eliminate the public school system in the Tar Heel state. “Parents with kids in public schools where arts and physical education programs are threatened, where the best teachers are leaving the profession to earn a better living, might point directly to Republicans in the General Assembly as the culprits,” it charges. “This voucher program was little more than a slap at public schools, which Republicans have targeted since taking control of the General Assembly in 2011. It is a bad idea that is getting worse, and getting more expensive, and the only positive in it is in the eye of the beholder – private school enrollment has gone up since the program started.”
LAUSD School Board Races Influenced by Large, Late Donations
Money can have a HUGE impact on election results even on seemingly mundane school board races. Prime example: the May 16th LAUSD school board elections. Some sizable donations arrived late in the campaign, from a local philanthropist and a wealthy businessman, that helped tilt the balance toward pro-charter candidates in two key races that, in the end, helped shift the board to a 4-3 majority for charter proponents. A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times describes what took place. The headline reads: “Late Donations From Eli Broad and Others Helped Charter Advocates Shift Power on L.A. School Board.” “In all, outside groups — mainly charter backers and teachers unions — spent nearly $15 million, a record, on behalf of candidates in three school board races. (The candidates spent $2.2 million on their own campaigns, with many contributors similarly invested for or against charters and unions.) More than $1.4 million reached California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates after the deadline when the contributions would be disclosed before the election,” it reveals. “CCSA Advocates spent much of its money directly. It also funneled dollars to allied or affiliated groups, some with misleading names — Parent Teacher Alliance (which is not the PTA) and LA Students for Change, which was not a grassroots student group.” Diane Ravitch had this reaction to the above item: “The billionaires strike again, intent on destroying public education and democracy, and opening even more privately managed, privately owned and nonunion charters.”
The Teaching Profession
Mercedes Schneider was invited to a screening of a brand new documentary film titled “Passion to Teach.” It is produced by career teachers Sandria Parsons and Bart Nourse and celebrates the magic that takes place in thousands of classrooms around this country every day between talented, dedicated public school teachers and their students. Schneider reviews the film on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29. “The film focuses on the experiences of Connecticut middle school teacher, Amy Lake. A central theme of Passion to Teach is the indispensability of the teacher-student relationship in fostering intrinsically-motivated, lifelong learning in students,” she enthuses, “and the symbiotic nature of the teacher-student dynamic as one that contributes to lifelong learning in career teachers.” A 5-minute trailer leads off the piece. You can view the official website for the film by clicking here. Teaching is, and should be considered, a profession. However, it seems more and more corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies would like to treat it as just another minimum wage job. That way it saves them money for their charter or private schools and they make more PROFIT for themselves. The co-authors of an essay for The BITTER SOUTHERNER website pose a simple question: “Are Teachers Professionals?” and they provide a simple answer: “Yes.” They explain, in detail, why they believe that position. “You may feel that this month’s column is a rant from a couple of teachers who are tired of seeing their profession diminished in popular culture, as well as by state legislatures and the federal government. We do appreciate a good rant, but our intent is deeper. We hope that by making the case that teachers are indeed professionals, then we can move on to a harder question: Why aren’t they always treated as such? All over this country,” they urge, “teachers need you to listen to their hard-earned professional judgment. This might be more crucial here in the South, where teachers’ unions are nonexistent and right-leaning legislators continually move to privatize education, thus sending the message that business people are more knowledgeable about teaching and learning than those who have dedicated their lives to understanding teaching and learning.” Betsy DeVos has apparently been working her “magic” in her home state of Michigan. Her fervent support for charters, vouchers and school “choice” has decimated the teaching profession in the state according to a depressing story in ALTERNET. It’s titled “No One Wants to Become a Teacher in Betsy DeVos’ Homestate.” It’s subtitled “The number of college students who want to become teachers plummets in Michigan, a state where the teaching profession has been under siege.” Enrollment in teacher prep programs has declined 23% in the past 2 years and over 50% since 2008. “Whether these numbers portend a coming teacher shortage is unclear. But it does reflect,” the article points out, “a trend that has been ongoing for some time, said Abbie Groff-Blaszak, director of the Office of Educator Talent with the state Department of Education. Not only are fewer aspiring teachers entering programs, but fewer are completing them, and there’s been a decrease in teaching certificates issued by the DOE.” The story identifies several factors leading to the decline in teacher candidates in Michigan Just imagine what the profession will be like once DeVos finishes working her sorcery on the rest of the country! Yikes! What do/did you think of the professional development at your school? A new national survey of 6,300 teachers reports that most “Have ‘No Say’ About Decisions About Their Own PD,” according to a story on the “Teaching NOW” column for EDUCATION WEEK that features the poll. “This creates a disconnect between the professional learning teachers want and what they receive. Teachers indicated that they strongly prefer collaborative learning held during the work day and on campus,” it reports, “but just 25 percent of respondents said the majority of their PD takes place during school hours. Nearly half said a majority of professional learning takes place on inservice days or in the summer.” Jeff Bloom describes himself as a teacher, teacher educator and researcher. On his Jeff Bloom’s Blog he explores “The Myth of Teaching & the Myth of the Teacher.” He reviews some misconceptions regarding those 2 broad topics and probes why the corporate “reformers,” privatizers and their allies are so intent on denigrating the teaching profession. “Politicians and corporations have been battling it out for control of education in the United States for well over a century. Why has there been such an interest in controlling education? If you control education,” he explains, “you can control the population. Corporations are interested in profits, and a true democracy is a threat to maximizing profits. As corporate and political control has increased over the past few decades, teachers are under incredible pressure to conform to the demands. From teacher education programs to their schools and school districts, the pressure to march in-step with the corporate agenda is incredibly intense.”
Some Businesses Get Tax Breaks That Impact Public Schools
Here’s an issue I wasn’t aware of. EDUCATION WEEK looks at the situation in a story titled “Tax Breaks for Big-Box Stores Can Drain Money From Schools.” It explains how certain retailers are able to get substantial breaks from local property taxes based on a rather bizarre loophole called “dark store theory.” Wait until you read what this entails and my use of the word “bizarre” may not seem so far fetched. Any reductions in local tax assessments effect public schools and other community services directly. “Local governments depend on property tax revenues to help finance schools, fire and police, parks, libraries, and roads,” the article mentions. “That’s why assessors worry about the potentially sweeping impact the tax loophole could have on essential community services. When big-box retailers prevail in lowering their assessments, it can shift more of the tax burden to homeowners and to smaller, local businesses which may not have the legal firepower to push back on how their stores are appraised. Of course, schools depend on revenue generated from homeowners and local business owners as well, so the entire school finance ecosystem could see some form of impact.” An interesting graphic accompanies the story that illustrates “The Costs of ‘Dark Store’ Tax Loopholes” in Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Texas.
Ever heard of “work-based learning?” Neither had I. It’s a growing trend that allows high school students to earn academic credit by working as auto mechanics, ski instructors, at financial investment companies or other positions as a story in THE HECHINGER REPORT details. It focuses on a program in Vermont and follows several students who are involved in work-based learning. “Work-based learning programs are slowly gaining traction in Vermont and other states,” it mentions, “as schools consider ways to better prepare students for college and careers. Educators and experts say such programs may engage disengaged students, increase graduation and attendance rates, and help students develop career goals at an earlier point in their lives.”
Transgender Student Sues Her Private School
A transgender 8-year-old filed suit against her former Orange County private school claiming it wouldn’t let her be the girl she wanted to be. An article in yesterday’s L.A. Times describes the situation and the subsequent suit. “The lawsuit, filed last week in Orange County Superior Court, alleges that Heritage Oak Private Education in Yorba Linda would not let Nicole, who goes by Nikki, dress as she chose, use the bathroom of her choice and go by female pronouns,” it notes. “The complaint contends that the school violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act, a California law that outlaws a broad range of discrimination, including by sex or sexual orientation, and that it fraudulently advertised itself as nondiscriminatory and focused on the ‘whole child.’” Interestingly, the young girl will be attending an Orange County public school this year.
Trump and Education
Now that the GOP “pledge” to repeal and replace Obamacare has gone down to defeat, the Trump administration turns to another one its pet policy initiatives–tax reform. Just like ending Obamacare had some serious education ramifications, tax reform has the same. The “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK identifies “Five Big Things at Stake for Educators in GOP’s Quest for Tax Reform.” This issue has received scant attention during the first 6 1/2 months of the Trump administration but you can expect that to change as the Republicans pivot from a stinging healthcare failure to tax reform. You may be surprised at what that policy includes. Here are 2 of the 5 things from the list that could be part of any formal proposal: “1) The State and Local Taxes Deduction and 2) The Classroom-Expenses Deduction.” The piece explains the effect on education of each of the 5 items.
Finding and Retaining Good Principals
The problem of hiring and retaining good teachers is a major concern for many school districts. The same can be said for principals. When a good one comes along you’d like to keep him/her forever. What should a district do to find and keep those good principals? Jody Spiro, director of education leadership at the Wallace Foundation, has “4 Things Districts Can Do to Find (and Keep) Good Principals.” Her commentary appears in EDUCATION WEEK. 6 large, urban districts (none from California) received grants from the Wallace Foundation to implement a program devised by the organization for selecting and keeping strong school leaders. Here’s one of the suggestions from Spiro’s list: “• Don’t forget about preservice training.”
The Solar Eclipse
And finally, on Monday, Aug. 21, portions of the U.S. will be treated to a total solar eclipse. In Los Angeles, a little less than 70% of the sun will be covered. That happens to be a school day and some districts will have already commenced the new school year. (The LAUSD begins classes on Aug. 15.) So, how are schools planning to deal with this rare phenomenon? Some are turning it into teachable science lessons and others are closing for safety reasons since staring directly at the sun for any length of time is extremely dangerous. Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, discusses how various districts are dealing with the eclipse. Her piece includes statements put out by superintendents to parents and students about the decisions they have taken and what their schools are planning to do. You can find information about how the eclipse will appear in Los Angeles on the timeanddate website by clicking here. As of the publication time of this edition of the “Ed News,” the LAUSD has a brief item on their website with educational links about the eclipse provided by NASA. Happy viewing. The last time an eclipse of this type swept across the entire U.S. was in 1918.
*Dr. Prince is president emeritus of Hampshire College and before that had a distinguished career as a professor and administrator at Dartmouth College. He has held numerous leadership roles in civic and community organizations including the American Bar Association, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Joyful Child Foundation, Five Colleges, Inc. and Friendship Public Charter Schools. He is the author of Teach Them to Challenge Authority.