Archives for category: Vouchers

I get excited whenever I see an article in the New York Times that speaks common sense about education. It is a newspaper with national reach. Television producers of news shows always read the Times. I get a sense of hope.

Brittany Bronson, a regular contributor to the Op-Ed page, has an article about the voucher program in Nevada, and she sees how it will work. It won’t help poor kids. It will be used by middle-parents to exit the public schools. It will reduce the diversity in public schools.

Vouchers won’t cure what ails our low-income families. They will only reinforce the assumption that our private schools are successful and public ones are not, that the education system is broken. But it’s not the schools alone that are broken; they are a loose wheel in a system that is malfunctioning on a much grander scale.

In Nevada, about one in four children live in poverty, not because their schools have failed them, but because their parents juggle multiple jobs on a stagnant minimum wage, have little job security and are denied paid time off.

The Anne E. Casey Foundation argues that improving the well-being of children in poverty requires a two-generation approach, meaning you can’t improve the situation for children without addressing the economic realities of their parents. Its 2015 report states that, “Boosting low family income, especially early in a child’s life, can have lasting positive effects on cognitive development, health, and academic achievement.”

These economic challenges present direct conflicts with the type of parental involvement and support that are necessary for quality education. Erratic and unpredictable work hours make it difficult to organize transportation to and from school and after-school child care. Long workdays limit parents’ ability to ensure that children’s academic responsibilities outside of school are being met. Low wages without benefits make it impossible to afford enriching activities outside the classroom or quality health care that plays a crucial role in academic success.

Nevada parents do need choices, but far more than these vouchers can provide.

When he began to run for the Republican nomination for President, Jeb Bush stepped down as chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), which he founded to spread the gospel of high-stakes testing, tough accountability, charters, and vouchers. The new chairperson is Condoleeza Rice, who shares Jeb’s views on corporate reform. FEE will hold its “national summit” in Denver on October 22-23. You might want to plan to attend to learn about the campaign to privatize public education. Be sure to check out the sponsors. I can promise that you will not learn anything about the financial scandals that have plagued the charter industry or the disappointing results of vouchers at this conference.

This is the official reaction of the National Education Association to the new PDK-Gallup poll.  The three key findings that the NEA highlighted are that the American public thinks there is too much testing; 41% of the public think that parents should have the right to opt their children out of standardized testing; and only 31% support vouchers that send public money to pay for private schooling.

WASHINGTON – The 47th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, which was released today, reinforced—yet again—what students and educators nationwide have been saying: there is too much emphasis on standardized testing.

“All students, regardless of their ZIP code, deserve a great public school education. But the high stakes obsession of test and punish has only served to widen the gap between the schools in the wealthiest districts and those in the poorest,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “We must reduce the emphasis on standardized tests that have corrupted the quality of the education children receive. The pressure placed on students and educators is enormous. We wantstandards to succeed and be challenged by teaching critical thinking and problem solving skills, as well as creativity.”

NEA has been instrumental in advocating for policies that do just that. As Congress is considering reauthorization of the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act), key aspects of NEA’s Opportunity Dashboard have been a part of the discussion. The Dashboard includes a menu of indicators of school quality and student-centered success, such as access to advanced coursework, school counselors or nurses, and fine arts and regular physical education. Our focus should be on ensuring access to those types of programs because they are much more likely to lead to student success than rote memorization and bubble tests.

Key findings of the 47th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools include:
• 64% say there is “too much emphasis on testing”
• 41% say parents should be able to opt their children out of standardized testing
o 57% of Blacks say parents should not be allowed to excuse their child
o Among Hispanics, that margin is 45%
o But among Whites, 41% said “no” while 44% said “yes”
• While 57% of public school parents give their local schools an “A” or “B” for performance, that drops to 19% when asked to rate public schools nationwide
• 95% of Americans rated “quality of the teachers” as very important for improving local public schools, putting it at the top of a list of five options
• Nearly all adults surveyed (84%) support mandatory vaccinations for students attending public schools
“NEA fully supports parents and supports our affiliates who take a stand against tests that serve no educational purpose,” said García. “But making it easier for parents to opt out is not the end game. The end game is designing a system where parents and educators don’t even consider opting out of assessments because they trust that assessments make sense, guide instruction, and help children advance in learning.”
The poll also showed that many Americans have come to accept school choice and charter schools as part of the education landscape. But that support declines when vouchers are introduced. Only 31% of Americans favor allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at the public’s expense.

“School vouchers divert essential resources from public schools to private and religious schools, while offering no real ‘choice’ for the overwhelming majority of students and their families— and particularly not for the parents of children with special needs, low test scores or behavioral problems,” said García.

This is the press release about the annual PDK-Gallup public opinion poll about U.S. education. As usual, most people think highly of their local public schools but not of American education, which is not surprising in light of the well-financed corporate reform campaign to undermine confidence in American public education. Since 1983, the public has heard that our public schools are “failing, declining, broken,” yet our nation continues to lead the world by most measures of productivity and economic stability, technological innovation, scientific discovery, and economic growth.

The big takeaway in the poll is that the public is disillusioned with the emphasis on standardized testing in their local public schools. Amazingly, nearly half the public supports opting out of mandated standardized tests, which until recently was a very controversial idea. This show of support is great news for the Opt Out movement, which is likely to grow in the future.

54% don’t want their public schools to implement the Common Core standards; only 24% of the public support the Common Core standards and 25% of public school parents.

The idea of school choice (among public schools) has grown acceptable to a majority, but only 31% support vouchers (that number is in the body of the report).

A few notable findings: one, the public “strongly opposes any federal role in holding public schools accountable.” This is no doubt a response to 13 years of No Child Left Behind, along with six years of Race to the Top, both of which have produced angst and few benefits.

When you read the complete report, you will also discover that 55% of the public opposes the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers, as do 63% of public school parents.

Parents are very concerned about the underfunding of their public schools, which leads to larger classes and fewer resources for activities that should be part of schooling.

Another notable finding: “A strong majority — about eight in 10 — of the U.S. public believes the effectiveness of their local public schools should be measured by how engaged the students are with classwork and by their level of hope for the future.” This strong public sentiment against using test scores to measure the quality of public schools suggests that the public is fed up with the test-and-punish regime of the past 13 years. That’s good news. I hope candidates for public office will take note. The day may be coming when the public holds elected officials accountable for damaging their public schools and promoting privatization.

This is the press release:

PUBLIC DISLLUSIONED WITH STANDARDIZED TESTING
BUT SPLIT ON PARENTS OPTING OUT, PDK/GALLUP POLL FINDS

47th Annual Poll of Public Attitudes Toward Public Schools Shows
Strong Support for Public School Choice, But Not Private Vouchers

ARLINGTON, Va., Aug. 24, 2015 — The public believes there is too much emphasis on standardized testing in their local schools but are split almost evenly on whether parents should have the right to excuse their children from such testing, a new survey shows.

Sixty-four percent say there is “too much emphasis on testing” and 41% say parents should be able to opt their children out of standardized testing. A majority (54%) oppose having local teachers use the Common Core Standards to guide what they teach.

However, blacks and Hispanics are somewhat more likely than whites to say that results of standardized tests are very important to improve schools and to compare school quality. Blacks also are more likely than whites to say that parents should not be allowed to excuse their child from taking standardized tests.

A strong majority — about eight in 10 — of the U.S. public believes the effectiveness of their local public schools should be measured by how engaged the students are with classwork and by their level of hope for the future.

These and other findings are included in the 47th annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. Conducted annually by PDK International in conjunction with Gallup, the poll is the longest-running survey of attitudes toward education and thus provides an extensive and trusted repository of data documenting how the U.S. public’s views on public education have changed over the decades.

For the first time, the 2015 poll is able to report opinions among whites, blacks and Hispanics because of the addition of a web-based poll with a larger sample of 3,499 U.S. adults.

“By expanding our poll and disaggregating by demographics, we’re now able to better understand and convey more deeply how different groups of Americans experience public education,” said Joshua P. Starr, the chief executive officer of PDK International. “National survey results and averages are important, but they’re a starting point for deeper conversation on why there are different opinions among different groups of Americans. Policymakers need to look at those differences.”

Overall, with consistency, the U.S. public believes their local schools are doing a good job though they say they are underfunded; supports charter schools but not vouchers for private schools, and strongly opposes any federal role in holding public schools accountable. While 57% of public school parents give their local schools an “A” or “B” for performance, that drops to just 19% when asked to rate public schools nationwide.

A majority — 64% — say parents should be able to choose any public school in their community for their child to attend. And if parents could choose any public school, they say their top priorities would be the quality of teachers, the curriculum, discipline and class size, not standardized test scores or successful athletic programs.

Nearly all adults nationally (84%) support mandatory vaccinations for students attending public schools.

When asked to rate the importance of knowing how students in local schools perform on standardized tests compared with students in other school districts, about one-third of blacks (31%) and Hispanics (29%) think comparisons with other districts are very important compared with 15% of whites.

When asked if public school parents should be allowed to excuse their child from taking standardized tests, 57% of blacks say parents should not be allowed to excuse their child. Among Hispanics, that margin is 45%. But among whites, 41% said “no” while 44% said “yes.”

Overall, 54% of the public opposes teachers using the Common Core State Standards to guide what they teach. However, 41% of blacks favor that approach compared with 21% of whites.

A majority of blacks — 55% — give President Obama a grade of an “A” or “B” for his support of public schools compared with 17% of whites.

“African-American children often end up in lower-performing and under-resourced schools and I think these results suggest an important segment of the black community thinks the federal government could do a better job than local and state governments in holding schools and educators accountable,” observed Starr.

Nationally, 2015 is the 10th consecutive year in which the public identified lack of financial support as the biggest problem facing local school systems. U.S. adults are consistent in saying that the most important idea for improving public schools is to improve teacher quality; in 2015, 95% considered “quality of the teachers” to be very important, putting it at the top of a list of five options.

“The 2015 survey results highlight significant issues for education leaders, communities and policymakers,” Starr concluded. “The public wants more state and local leadership on education issues; they want more effective teachers, and even if they don’t like the brand name ‘Common Core,’ they want a strong curriculum that engages students in classes that aren’t too large. The poll results make clear what the public wants; the question is whether policymakers and leaders will respond accordingly.”

Starr, the former superintendent of the Stamford, Conn., and Montgomery County, Md., school systems, became CEO of PDK International in June. He succeeded William J. Bushaw, who retired after 11 years in the post. Starr holds a doctorate in education from Harvard, a master’s degree in special education from Brooklyn College and a bachelor’s degree in English and history from the University of Wisconsin.

PDK, a global network of education professionals, has conducted an annual poll with Gallup every year since 1969. The poll serves as an opportunity for parents, educators and legislators to assess public opinion about public schools. The latest findings are based on a web survey of 3,499 U.S. adults with Internet access plus telephone interviews with a national sample of 1,001 U.S. adults. Both surveys included a sub-sample of parents and were conducted in May 2015.

Additional poll data are available at http://www.pdkpoll.org. The margin of sampling error for the phone survey is ±4.79 percentage points at the 95% confidence level; ±3.02 percentage points for the web poll; ±8.7 percentage points for the Hispanic population surveyed in the web poll, and ±7.9 percentage points for the black population surveyed in the web poll.

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A few days back, I wrote a post about a freshman Democrat in North Carolina, Graig Meyer. Representative Meyer had written a column that seemed to accept the reality (finality?) of vouchers and that called for setting accountability standards for schools receiving voucher money. He noted that many such schools do not have certified teachers and do not take state tests.

Rep. Meyer contacted me and said the purpose of his article was to begin a dialogue about setting accountability standards for the voucher schools, so that children were protected, as well as taxpayer dollars. He emphasized that it was critical to run strong campaigns against legislators who passed the voucher law. I agreed with him.

He wrote:

“My goal in offering the column was to start building some groundwork for adding accountability and measurement standards to the voucher law. I believe that if a private entity takes public funds for education, it must accept public scrutiny in the use of those funds….

“I appreciate you and my other friends who have challenged me this week. I assure you that I have lost no energy for the fight to maintain strong public schools and policies that strengthen families and communities.”

I wrongly accused a good man of “throwing in the towel.” I apologize.

I invited Rep. Meyer to join the Network for Public Education’s third annual conference next April in Raleigh, and he graciously accepted. He will meet hundreds of activists fighting for public education across the nation.

You should join us too. April 15-17, 2016. Raleigh, North Carolina. Save the date.

Graig Meyer is a Democrat and a freshman representative in the North Carolina General Assembly. His wife is a teacher in a low-performing, high-poverty school. In this post, he concludes that the state court’s 4-3 decision to permit public funding of vouchers is decisive. He is throwing in the towel even though he knows that most of the students who use vouchers will attend schools that have unaccredited teachers and zero accountability. He knows that the voucher program will harm public education.

“Among my Democratic colleagues, there is broad agreement there are many problems with the current voucher program. There’s little to no accountability for the schools where vouchers are spent. The majority of voucher schools are unaccredited. Many use a curriculum that teaches that dinosaurs lived beside humans and that slaves were treated well. Some are home schools that were never before eligible to receive taxpayer funds. None of them have to participate in any type of testing or assessment that will tell us whether the voucher program is actually leading to better educational outcomes than the public schools.”

Despite all this, he seems ready to throw in the towel. After all, it is now “settled law,” by 4-3. Racial segregation was once settled law. But Graig has no fight in him.

Come on, Graig, stand up to the privatizers. Fight for the public good. Take back the towel. Don’t be a quitter.

If you want to get rid of public education, unions, and the teaching profession, Scott Walker should be your candidate. As this article shows, he dances to ALEC’s tune.

He prides himself for breaking public sector unions in Wisconsin. At one campaign stop, he said that his victory over the unions proved that he could beat terrorism.

He is a wrecking ball for public education. He has expanded charters and vouchers. He is a cheerleader for privatization.

He is ALEC’s boy.

What is ALEC? Read here. It is the organization that works on behalf of deregulation, corporate profits, and privatization. It writes model legislation for states. Inexplicably, the IRS allows it non-political, charitable (c3) status, although it is deeply partisan.

Alabama sage Larry Lee, a strong supporter of public education, ordered 100 copies of “Education Inc.” he offered it free on his blog and was flooded with requests from across the state.

“Within 24 hours I had more requests than I could fill. They came from 38 counties, from nine school superintendents, from a bunch of principals, from deans of schools of education, associations and more. Person after person said they wanted to show this to their club, to their retirees group, to their neighbors, at education workshops, etc.”

To get your own copy, go here.

Stanley Kurtz has a very interesting article at the conservative National Review, calling out Jeb Bush for pretending that he does not really support the Common Core standards and that he is in favor of local control. At the Republican debate last week, Jeb was questioned about his strong support for Common Core, and he equivocated, trying to leave the impression that he had no particular allegiance to Common Core. He said, “I don’t believe the federal government should be involved in the creation of standards, directly or indirectly, the creation of curriculum content. That is clearly a state responsibility.”

As Kurtz documents, Jeb has been one of the loudest cheerleaders for Common Core, even though federal involvement in its creation (requiring its adoption as a condition of eligibility for Race to the Top funding) and in directly subsidizing Common Core testing (PARCC and Smarter Balanced Assessment) arguably violates federal law. Federal law explicitly bans any federal interference in curriculum and instruction, and no one can say with a straight face that CCSS has no connection to or influence on curriculum and instruction.

Kurtz is particularly good in describing the Orwellian language of “education reform,” in which reformers say the opposite of what they mean. Readers of this blog have long seen the way that “reformers” twist words to pretend that their corporate-model names and policies are “for the children” (like Students First, Students Matter, Children First, Democrats for Education Reform, Education Reform Now, Stand for Children, and other poll-tested obfuscations of reality).

Kurtz writes:

The story of the profoundly undemocratic process by which Common Core was adopted by the states doesn’t end there. A devastating account by The Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton (hardly a Geroge Will-style conservative) lays it out. Federal carrots and sticks, along with massive infusions of Gates Foundation money, at a moment when state budgets were stressed to the breaking point by the financial crisis, stampeded more than forty states into adopting a completely untested reform, often sight unseen or before the standards themselves had been finalized.

A deliberative process that ought to have taken years was telescoped into months. In nearly every case, the change was made without a single vote by an elected lawmaker, much less a statewide public debate. And all the while, the Obama administration intentionally obscured the full extent of its pressure on the states.

Common Core proponents have concocted a fiction according to which this travesty of federalism and democracy was “state led,” using the fig leaf of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA), which helped to develop the plan. CCSSO is a private group, with no known grant of authority from any state. Likewise, NGA is a private group, and seems not to include all governors (the list of dues-paying members has not been made public, at least in previous years). None of this can begin to substitute for a truly “state led” process, which would change education standards via legislatures and governors, after full consultation with the public. The Obama administration has dismissed legitimate complaints about this process as a kind of conspiracy theory, yet its own liberal supporters have praised its tactics as a clever ruse to circumvent the constitutional, legal, and political barriers to a national curriculum.

I am sorry to say that Jeb Bush has been a leading supporter and cheerleader of this process from the start, often portraying what was in fact an illegitimate federal power-grab as a sterling example of local control.

In a co-authored 2011 opinion piece making “The Case for Common Educational Standards,” Bush and New York educator Joel Klein deny federal overreach and present the states as voluntarily enrolling in Common Core. They speak of two testing consortia “of the states,” without noting federal financing of these national consortia. Bush and Klein portray a program explicitly designed to create uniform national standards as embodying “the beauty of our federal system.” Day is night.

Kurtz goes on to show how Jeb worked with Obama and Duncan to maintain the fiction that Common Core was “state-led” and was the answer to our problems:

The Washington Post recently reported on Jeb’s appearance with Obama in March of 2011 to push the president’s education agenda. Bush’s alliance with the Obama administration on education policy was in fact broad and deep. They differed on school choice, yet were aligned on much else, Common Core above all.

Consider the following 2010 video of an appearance by Obama education secretary Arne Duncan at Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. Duncan goes on about how many states have adopted Common Core (between 7:10 and 9:50), while repeatedly denying federal responsibility for the change. The secretary doth protest too much, methinks.

After Duncan’s talk, he and Jeb jointly take questions from the audience. Here it becomes obvious that on education policy, Jeb sees himself as allied with Duncan and Obama — in opposition to local-control-loving conservatives (as well as liberal teachers’ unions). Jeb’s political solution to attacks on the Common Core is to “push the two groups who are not reform-minded further away from what I think is the mainstream.” (See video between 27:30 and 29:30.)

There are two errors in the account above. First, Jeb and Obama do not differ on school choice except for vouchers. It may be awkward for an author to admit in a conservative publication that the Obama administration has been all-in for charters and private management of schools. Duncan has been a cheerleader for privately-managed charters and Common Core. Indeed, the administration has not fought vouchers, even as they spread from state to state. Duncan has been strangely silent on the subject of vouchers. Nor has the Obama administration done anything to defend collective bargaining, other than lip service. On March 11, 2011, Jeb Bush, President Obama and Secretary Duncan were in Miami celebrating the successful turnaround of Miami Central High School, ignoring the thousands of protestors encircling the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker was enacting legislation to cripple the public sector unions (but not fire and police unions!).

The second error in Kurtz’s account is to assert that the teachers’ unions were against Common Core. Both the NEA and the AFT were early supporters of Common Core; neither has renounced the standards.

And there is another error in this claim: Bush touts his education accomplishments as Florida governor, and they were real. But Jeb raised a bottom-performing state to average, which is easier than moving from the middle of the pack to the top.

Many critics think that Jeb Bush’s education accomplishments are a sham. His A-F school grading system punishes the schools with the neediest children. His dramatic expansion of charters has created a corrupt industry of hucksters who open and close charters and take the money to the bank. He fought for vouchers, tried to amend the state constitution, but was rebuked at the polls on vouchers by a vote of 58-42. Florida has a lower graduation rate than Alabama. With “accomplishments” like this, he could destroy public education and ruin the nation.

This is something new. Two rightwing, pro-voucher advocacy groups are sponsoring a debate on August 19 among Republican hopefuls in Londonderry, Néw Hampshire.

In the past, presidential debates have been sponsored by the League of Women Voters or national television channels. This debate, however, is sponsored by two organizations–Campbell Brown’s “The 74” and Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children–that promote charters and vouchers and oppose teachers unions and tenure.

This would be like holding a debate sponsored by the National Rifle Association, the tobacco industry, or advocates for abortion.

The audience will hear plenty about “our failing schools” but they are not likely to hear that test scores on NAEP are at their highest point ever, as are graduation rates. Or that dropout rates are the lowest ever. Prepare to hear the sponsors rattle on about how terrible our schools are, how lazy and greedy our teacher are, and why we need to privatize our schools. Don’t expect to hear anything about the nation’s high child poverty rate or a blunt admission that poverty is tightly correlated with poor academic performance.

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