Archives for category: Vouchers

If Jeb Bush should run for President, this article bears re-reading.

Bush spoke at a rightwing policy conference in Michigan, where he “trashed” public schools.

“MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. — Jeb Bush praised charter schools and slammed traditional public schools and teachers unions in a speech here Wednesday, saying that public education “dumbs down standards to make adults look better,” a phrase often used by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

“We must expand [school] choice,” said Bush, delivering a keynote speech at the annual Mackinac Policy Conference in northern Michigan. “Our governance model includes over 13,000 government-run monopolies run by unions.”

“Since he left office, the former Florida governor has become an evangelist for a certain strand of education reform; through his $19 million Foundation for Excellence in Education, he advocates for online education, grading schools based on test scores and forcing students to repeat grades if they don’t pass standardized exams.”

Bush is also an ardent fan of vouchers.

In his speech, he praised Michigan’s charter sector. Not everyone agrees with his enthusiasm. The Detroit Free Press ran a series of articles in July 2014 concluding that the state of Michigan spends $1 billion every year on charters with no accountability.

Here are the newspaper’s findings:

“What the Free Press found:

A yearlong Free Press investigation of Michigan’s charter schools found wasteful spending, conflicts of interest, poor performing schools and a failure to close the worst of the worst. Among the findings:

Charter schools spend $1billion per year in state taxpayer money, often with little transparency.

Some charter schools are innovative and have excellent academic outcomes — but those that don’t are allowed to stay open year after year.

A majority of the worst-ranked charter schools in Michigan have been open 10 years or more.

Charter schools as a whole fare no better than traditional schools in educating students in poverty.

Michigan has substantially more for-profit companies running schools than any other state.

Some charter school board members were forced out after demanding financial details from management companies.

State law does not prevent insider dealing and self-enrichment by those who operate schools.”

Margaret (Macke) Raymond, leader of the CREDO studies of charters, recently completed a study of charters in Ohio. She concluded that public schools outperform charter schools.

In explaining her findings at the Cleveland Club, she made a statement that shocked free-market zealots:

“This is one of the big insights for me. I actually am kind of a pro-market kinda girl. But it doesn’t seem to work in a choice environment for education. I’ve studied competitive markets for much of my career. That’s my academic focus for my work. And it’s [education] the only industry/sector where the market mechanism just doesn’t work. I think it’s not helpful to expect parents to be the agents of quality assurance throughout the state. I think there are other supports that are needed. Frankly parents have not been really well educated in the mechanisms of choice.… I think the policy environment really needs to focus on creating much more information and transparency about performance than we’ve had for the 20 years of the charter school movement. I think we need to have a greater degree of oversight of charter schools, but I also think we have to have some oversight of the overseers.”

This was not what one of her sponsors, the Walton Family Foundation, expected to hear.

Good for Macke!

Larry Miller is a member of the Milwaukee school district. Milwaukee has been a district subjected to the reform nostrums of choice for the past 25 years. It has a large charter sector and a large voucher sector. The shrinking public schools have a much larger proportion of students with disabilities than the other two sectors, which don’t want them. Despite the skimming practices of the two privatized sectors, neither the charter or voucher sectors outperform the public schools. Choice has not lifted all boats; in fact, it has shown no results other than to shrink the public schools. The city’s “independent” evaluator says that the voucher schools have a higher graduation rate, but that higher rate is accompanied by a 44% attrition rate.

 

Now the business community and other “reformers” in Milwaukee decided that having lots of charters and voucher schools is not enough. They want the whole district to be converted to a New Orleans-style charter district. Apparently no one told them that the majority of charter schools in the Recovery School District in New Orleans are rated D or F by the charter-friendly state. Or that the New Orleans district is ranked 65th out of 68 districts in the state in academic performance.

 

Milwaukee school board member Larry Miller here briefly reviews the nation’s four “recovery-style school districts”: the one in New Orleans, the Achievement School District in Tennessee, the Education Achievement Authority in Michigan, and the Opportunity Educational Institution in Virginia. The bottom line: parents lose representation and voice; staff are fired; academic achievement is stagnant.

EduShyster, aka Jennifer Berkshire, interviews political economist Gordon Lafer in this post. He explains the role of corporate education reform in a broad economic and political context. This is one of the most enlightening interviews she has conducted. I urge you to read it.

 

She asks Lafer whether Walmart is helping poor kids get a better education by swelling the coffers of the Walton Family Foundation, which generously funds charters and vouchers across the nation.

 

He replies:

 

First of all, the thing that correlates most clearly with educational performance in every study is poverty. So when you look at the agenda of the biggest and richest corporate lobbies in the country, it’s impossible to conclude that they want to see the full flowering of the potential of each little kid in poor cities. To say *I want to cut the minimum wage, I want to prevent cities from passing laws raising wages or requiring sick time, I want to cut food stamps, I want to cut the earned income tax credit, I want to cut home heating assistance. Oh but, by the way, I’m really concerned about the quality of education that poor kids are getting*—it’s just not credible. You’re creating the problem that you now claim to want to solve….Walmart has no trouble filling positions and operating with very high turnover because what’s demanded of people who work there is so little. They’re certainly not asking *where are we going to find more people who can do algebra and craft well-written paragraphs? In fact, the big problem with the *send every kid to college* argument is that there aren’t jobs for these kids after they graduate. You cannot find an economist who predicts that more than one-third of jobs in the US are going to require a college degree in our lifetime. The real question is not how can everybody be a college graduate, but how can people make a decent living. And here is where you see that the same corporate lobbies that are pushing education reform are doing everything possible to make that harder.

 

EduShyster pushed Lafer to explain how the corporate reform agenda made sense–especially the combination of budget cuts for the public schools combined with tax cuts for corporations. Lafer answered:

 

I think the direction that the most powerful forces in the country is pushing is a bleak and frankly scary one—that at some level they want us to forget the idea of having a right to a decent public education, which is one of the last remaining entitlements, and make it more like health care, which is increasingly seen as a privilege. What’s being done to schooling is, I think, devastating on its merits. It has ideological implications for lowering expectations for what you have a right to as a citizen or a resident. And it raises big, profound questions: How does your experience in school affect, not just your skill set for employment, but your sense of yourself as a person and what you think you deserve from life? I think that for the real one percent, the big political challenge is *how do we pursue a policy agenda that makes the country ever more unequal and that makes life harder for the vast majority of people without provoking a populist backlash?* One of the ways of doing that is by lowering people’s expectations, and one of the key places to do that is in the school system.

 

The good news is that the interview ends on a hopeful note. We can’t abandon hope, because if we do, we are lost from the get-go. We must believe that a political awakening will happen if we work hard enough to make it happen, and that the Robber Barons will be tamed. American history runs in cycles, historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., argued, and we must not give up believing that we can make change. Because we can.

 

 

 

The Sun-Sentinel published an editorial calling on Florida’s courts to review the state’s rapidly growing voucher program, which now enrolls 69,000 students. Despite the fact that the state constitution bans spending public funds on religious schools, either “directly or indirectly,” most of the state’s voucher students attend religious schools. In 2012, the voters of Florida defeated a constitutional amendment that would have deleted the language banning the funding of religious schools. The vote was not close: the proposal failed by a margin of 58-42.

 

The voucher program started in 2002-03 with a limit of $50 million, targeting poor students. This year, the limit on the voucher program is $358 million. With a 25% increase allowed every year, the program may expend $904 million by 2018-19. It is no longer limited to poor students, but is available to families near the state’s median income of $62,000 for a family of four.

 

So how in the world is it legal or constitutional to pay for students to attend religious schools in a state explicitly prohibits expending public money for religious schools?

 

The editorial says:

 

The lawsuit rests on two points. The Florida Constitution bans the spending of public money “directly or indirectly” on religious schools. Diversion of corporate taxes owed to the state through a nonprofit called Step Up for Students and given to parents as vouchers, the plaintiffs argue, does not get around the constitutional ban.

 

Also, the Constitution requires that the state provide a “uniform” system of public schools. Florida Education Association Vice President Joanne McCall calls the voucher program a “parallel” system.” Voucher schools don’t have to give the FCAT or any of the other punitive tests that have so angered parents across the state. Voucher schools must give only a national achievement test.

 

John Kirtley, chairman of “Step Up for Students,” which is authorized to administer the voucher program, actively lobbies for voucher expansion (Step Up for Students receives many millions from the legislature for its role). And its leaders in turn give money to legislators to protect and expand the program.

 

The Sun-Sentinel writes:

 

Kirtley and his wife gave roughly $524,000 in the last election cycle, almost all of it to Republicans. Kirtley also is chairman of the Florida Federation for Children, which successfully targeted voucher critics with roughly $1.3 million in campaign contributions.

 

Voucher supporters portray critics as hostile to school choice for minorities. Whatever compelling anecdotes supporters use, however, there is no compelling evidence the program is succeeding. Example: If minorities are benefiting, why do black students score 20 points lower than white students on those tests?

 

No state has a bigger voucher system. Last year, Florida spent $286 million on just 2.7 percent of all students. Iowa spent $13.5 million on 2.6 percent of its students.

 

Florida is on the way to spending $1 billion on a program with questionable accountability that could be the start of an attempt to privatize public education.

 

Legal review of the voucher program is long overdue.

As the previous post shows, the Education Justice Center declared that Nevada has one of the worst funded and most inequitable school systems in the nation. However, the new Republican majority in the State Legislature has a new agenda that does not involve funding:

School prayer. The right to carry weapons on college campuses. End collective bargaining. Vouchers. Merit pay. Firing “bad” teachers. The new majority doesn’t like unions because teachers get too much money and that causes budget problems. Probably the legislators figure if they pay teachers less, they can recruit better teachers. The Governor wants vouchers, but he would have to get the voters’ approval to change the state constitution. Voters have never approved vouchers in any state, so legislators will probably come up with “opportunity scholarships” to subsidize private school tuition.

 

 

Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Minden, said that without question improving public education is the top priority of the caucus.

“We will see what the governor wants to do,” he said. “He leads our party and our state. Parental choice is the biggest issue but not the only one. We need to reward good teachers and get rid of bad teachers. We need to see if we can streamline school district administration.

“Obviously throwing money at it isn’t working,” Wheeler said. “We need parental involvement.”

Wheeler has requested a school prayer bill, and said the motivation is to ensure that students are not punished for engaging in prayer, such as making the sign of the cross after a touchdown in a high school football game.

Kevin Teasley, who is CEO of a small charter chain with schools in Indiana and Colorado, with new ones planned for Louisiana, admits that Indiana is overwhelmed by an explosion of charters and vouchers.

 

He writes:

 

After years of being in the minority, reformers suddenly found themselves in the rare position of actually being able to pass legislation during the Daniels administration, and now in the Pence administration.

 

These actions have been done with the best of intentions, but the result caused chaos, and reasonably so. Legislators added new charter authorizers; implemented new test schedules, new graduation measurements and tests, new standards, and new school accountability measures; and, yes, even created a new competitor called voucher schools.

 

All the while, schools and authorizers have had to adjust on the fly.

 

Adding to the challenge, groups wanting to “help” grow the movement work full time to raise scarce philanthropic dollars to create even more competition by recruiting out-of-state “best-in-class” charter models. Two groups approved to create multiple charters—BASIS and Rocketship—have announced they are not coming to Indiana after all.

 

Schools are opening with a fraction of the students they planned to serve. Phalen Leadership Academy planned for 300 but opened with 150. Indianapolis Academy of Excellence planned for 230 but opened with fewer than 80. Carpe Diem planned on 173 and opened with 87. The list goes on and on.

 

Inconsistent accountability measures contribute to the chaos. In the past 10 years, the state has gone from a “probation to exemplary” grading model to an A-F model. Neither is accurate nor helpful.

 

Many charters have too few students (see above) or grade levels to be graded accurately. For example, since 2012, ChristelHouse received an A, an F and a B. KIPP Indy received an A, a C, and this year, a D.

 

And now the Legislature plans to change the system again. The inconsistency, and some argue political, grading of schools has diminished what credibility the process might have had.

 

Hoping to stabilize the charter sector, he calls for time and patience. But these things are clear from his candid account: There are no waiting lists for charters; schools opening and closing; grading schemes written by politicians: This is chaos. It has nothing to do with improving education.

 

Politico reports that Jeb Bush won’t back down on Common Core, choice–vouchers, charters, online charters–and the rest of corporate reform that offers huge opportunities for entrepreneurs. It was his conference, and he offered a line-up of star speakers, including Condoleeza Rice, a newly minted education expert who promotes charters and vouchers, and Amanda Ripley.

Rice apparently doesn’t know that vouchers have produced no academic gains in Milwaukee, Cleveland, or D.C.

“- Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio concluded the conference on Thursday night with a wide-ranging discussion about education reform. Rice said the public school system is in and of itself unequal, and defenders of the “status quo are on the defensive.” Critics of school choice like to say that it’s taking money away from public schools, she said. “Well, what can they do? They can get better,” she said to applause. Wealthier families are already sending their children to private school and disadvantaged families are trapped in failing schools, she said. “We need to give parents that wouldn’t otherwise have the means to send their children to a school system that works for them,” Rice said.

- The national summit continues today with a lineup of guests including OECD Director for Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher, New Mexico state education chief Hanna Skandera, Louisiana Recovery School District Superintendent Patrick Dobard and author Amanda Ripley. The agenda: http://bit.ly/1zDYtjJ Watch live: http://bit.ly/1F4X74r”

Will Bush’s full-throated support of Common Core hurt him in Republican primaries? Will choice mean anything if every school has the same standards and the same tests?

This is a terrific article by civil rights attorney Wendy Lecker about the madness of our nation’s obsession with standardized testing.

 

She writes:

 

Last year, President Barack Obama committed hundreds of millions of dollars to brain research, stressing the importance of discovering how people think, learn and remember. Given the priority President Obama places on the brain in scientific research, it is sadly ironic that his education policies ignore what science says is good for children’s brains.

It is well known that play is vital in the early grades. Through play, kindergarteners develop their executive function and deepen their understanding of language. These are the cornerstones of successful reading and learning later on.

At-risk children often arrive at school having heard fewer words than more advantaged children. This deficit puts at-risk children behind others in learning to read. Scientists at Northwestern have recently shown that music training in the early years helps the brain improve speech processing in at-risk children.

Scientists at the University of Illinois have demonstrated that physical activity, coupled with downtime, improves children’s cognitive functions.

Scientists have also shown that diversity makes people more innovative. Being exposed to different disciplines broadens a student’s perspective. More importantly, working with a people from different backgrounds increases creativity and critical thinking.

These proven paths to healthy brain development are blocked by Obama’s education policies, the most pernicious of which is the overemphasis on standardized tests.

Despite paying lip service to the perils of over-testing, our leaders have imposed educational policies ensuring that standardized tests dominate schooling. Though standardized tests are invalid to measure teacher performance, the Obama administration insists that students’ standardized test scores be part of teacher evaluation systems. Both under NCLB and the NCLB waivers, schools are rated by standardized test scores. Often, a high school diploma depends at least in part on these tests. When so much rides on a standardized test scores, tests will drive what is taught and learned.

Just last month, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan declared that yearly standardized testing is essential to monitor children’s progress. Setting aside the fact the new Common Core tests have not been proven to show what children learn, data shows that a child who passes a standardized test one year is overwhelmingly likely to pass the next year. Therefore, yearly standardized testing is unnecessary.

 

She adds:

 

The result? More than 10 years of high-stakes test-based education policy under NCLB and the waivers has narrowed curricula. Schools de-emphasize any subject other than language arts and math. In kindergarten, play has all but been eliminated in favor of direct instruction, and social studies, art, music, science, physical education and other subjects are disappearing. School districts at all grade levels are forced to reduce or eliminate these subjects to pay for implementation of the Common Core and its testing regime. Lansing Michigan last year eliminated art, music and physical education from elementary schools and the state of Ohio is considering the same. Recess has disappeared from many schools. The Obama administration promotes policies that increase school segregation yet have questionable educational value, like school choice. Consequently, school segregation continues to rise.

 

If we don’t end our obsession with picking the right bubble, marking the right box, we will ruin the education of a generation of children.

 

 

The Ratliff family in Texas are heroes of public education, they are moderate Republicans, and they been steadfast advocates for public schools.

They recently co-wrote an article that explains why vouchers are the wrong path for Texas.

“Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant is a former state senator and lieutenant governor of Texas; Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant represents District 9 on the State Board of Education; state Rep. Bennett Ratliff of Coppell represents District 115 in the Texas House.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 118,398 other followers