Archives for category: Vouchers

A North Carolina judge ruled voucher legislation unconstitutional because it gives money intended for public schools to private and religious schools. He ordered an immediate halt to the program.

Yvonne Brannan of PublicSchools First NC sent the following response, which included a video of Judge Robert Hobgood reading his decision:

“PLEASE watch this– you will better understand why this is so critical!! Hobgood is brilliant — he clearly points out how children will be denied the promise and privilege of public education if in a private setting where they have no constitutional rights!!!! EVERYONE must get this!! Rs and Ds…please understand the common good of public education for us all must be protected!!!! THIS IS A WIN FOR all children – regardless of race, income, gender, ZIP CODE!!!

“Our forefathers gave us this gift!!! THANKS TO the Great leaders of the past and thanks to fair courts!!

PLEASE CELEBRATE by joining me on Sat at 3:30 pm at the Bicentennial Mall for Moral Week of Action EDUCATION DAY!!

“I CANNOT STOP WATCHING THIS!
http://www.wral.com/news/state/nccapitol/video/13911824/”

As Stephanie Simon of politico.com put it, it’s been a bad week for the Common Core. Yesterday, The conservative journal Education Next showed a precipitous drop in support by teachers in only one year–from 76% to 46%. It seems that the more they learn about the standards, the less they like them.

Then today the annual poll by the Gallup organization and Phi Delta Kappa revealed growing public opposition to the Common Core. Last year, most people were not sure what they were; now, as they know more, support is diminishing. The most important reason for opposition: people say the Common Core standards limit the flexibility of teachers to do what they think is best. While 60% of the public oppose the Common Core, 62% of public school parents oppose them.

Some other important findings in the Gallup/PDK poll:

Local public schools get high marks from public school parents at the same time that American public education gets low marks. This seeming paradox shows the success of the privatizers’ relentless attacks on public education over the past decade. For years, the public has heard Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Jeb Bush, and other supporters of privatization decry American public education as “broken,” “obsolete,” “failing.” Their message has gotten through. Only 17% of the public gives American education an A or a B.

At the same time, however, 67% of public school parents give an A or B to the public school their oldest child attends.

Public school parents do not like standardized tests. 68% say they are not helpful. 54% of the public agrees.

Approval of President Obama’s “performance in support of public schools” has plummeted since 2011, when it was 41%. In 2014, approval of the President was down to 27%.

The public is confused about what charter schools are, but 70% favor them. About half think they are public schools and that they are free to teach religion. 57% think they charge tuition, and 68% think they select students based on their ability. My guess: as the public learns more about the misuse of public funds by some charter schools, about frauds, nepotism, and conflicts of interest, these numbers will decline.

Only 37% of the public and public school parents support vouchers.

Here is the Washington Post summary of the poll.

Here is coverage of the Gallup poll from Edsource in California.

This may be the most important article you read this week, this month, or this year. It was published last year, and I missed it. But, wow, Bruce Baker nails what is wrong with “education reform.”

Basically, the public has been sold a bill of goods. We have been told that charters, vouchers, tuition tax credits, and other means of removing governance from the public sector to the private sector will produce schools that are more transparent and more accountable. We are also told–though Baker doesn’t explore it here–that these choices will produce education miracles for poor and minority students (that’s not true either).

What Baker demonstrates in detail is that charter schools and voucher schools are less transparent and less accountable than public schools. Furthermore, in these alternative settings, students forego their constitutional rights. In truly private schools, like voucher schools, we can’t expect accountability or transparency. The charters, however, constantly call themselves “public” schools, yet refuse to be audited, refuse to disclose their finances, and shun the accountability and transparency they promise.

As we have seen again and again, whether in Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Indiana, or other states, charter management organizations claim that their charters are public, but organization running them is private and has no obligation to open its books to anyone. In some states–although Baker doesn’t go into this– the legislature makes sure that charters are not held accountable because of adroit lobbying by the charter industry or generous campaign contributions to key legislators.

Baker writes: “Whatever problems do exist with the design of our public bureaucracies, I would argue that we should exercise extreme caution in accepting uncritically the belief that we could not possibly do worse, and that large scale privatization and contracting of private entities to provide the public good is necessarily a better and more responsive, more efficient, transparent and accountable option.”

Baker avers that the issue of students’ rights is not trivial. He writes:

“Rather, day after day, week after week, we are subjected to more and more vacuous punditry by self-proclaimed “expert” pundits displaying an astounding ignorance of education law and callous disregard for our system of government and the U.S. Constitution.

“For example, it would appear that charter schools that are not “state actors” (which may include most that are governed by boards of private citizens and especially those managed by private companies/EMOs or CMOs) may require students to abide by disciplinary/conduct codes which involve compelling those students to recite belief statements about the school (mottos, pledges, loyalty oaths), obligatory participation in indoctrination activities and imposition of financial penalties for disciplinary infractions, none of which would be permissible in traditional public schools. Government entities – state actors – may not compel speech and especially may not compel statements of belief.

“So then, what is a family to do when no traditional public schools are available to them (as is practically the case in many areas of New Orleans and increasingly the case in other higher charter market share cities)? Should parents have to choose which rights to forgo? [picking the school with the financial penalties over the one requiring daily recitation of a loyalty oath?]

“Can (as some belligerent civic illiterate, pundits believe) entire urban school systems be replaced with charter schools – or the traditional public schools adopt the lessons of “chartering” which involve infringement of constitutional rights? Is it reasonable to assume that the entire student population of a city would be placed in a position of necessarily forgoing their rights to free expression, free exercise?

“I hear those reformy pundits cry… “but who cares about a little constitutional protection here and there if we can squeeze out an extra point or two on state assessments [via selective attrition of low performing peers]? They’ll be better for it in the long run!”

“Yeah… sure… that’s all well and good for someone else’s kids. I for one believe the constitution continues to have a purpose and that constitutional rights should be equally available to all people’s children. I believe that constitutional protections are a key element of an accountable education system available to all – not just some.

“This is a big freakin’ deal. An important policy trade-off to consider, if you will. This is a critically important tradeoff to consider when adopting policies that expand non-state-actor charter schooling, even if some marginal academic gain can be achieved….Poor and minority children should not be disproportionately required to forgo constitutional protections (and a variety of statutory protections) to gain access to those few additional test score points. Further, no-one is telling them that they even have rights to begin with – especially those pitching the charter expansion policies (constantly spewing the rhetoric of the “publicness” of charter schooling).”

Baker is appalled that some state education agencies now play an advocacy role for charters, forgetting tat their first obligation is to the public. He writes:

“Taken to the extremes, State Education Agency and public media flaunting of chartery miracles has created a distorted market for those charters that are least proven on the market (perhaps in some cases, lemons), with those charters that are most proven already over-subscribed and not needing to compete openly. So, those most available on the market are those whose actual performance/quality is far lower than that which is capturing the headlines and receiving accolades from state officials. [not quite a true market for lemons since the price - education "credit" is fixed ... though perhaps I can expand on this at a later point].”

Baker was once an advocate for charters. What turned him off? Boasting, miracle claims, disregard for evidence by the charter industry and its enthusiastic flacks in the media:

“It is the absurd punditry, intentional obfuscation and complete disregard for legitimate data/analysis on charter schooling that have perhaps soured my taste for the movement more than anything else (bearing in mind that I was a founding member of the AERA special interest group on Charter School research and, at the time, was largely an advocate myself).”

In a truly wonderful article in Sunday’s New York Times, David Kirp of the University of California at Berkeley lays waste the underpinnings of the current “education reform” movement. Kirp not only shows what doesn’t work, he gives numerous examples of what does work to help students.

Kirp explains in plain language why teaching can never be replaced by a machine. Although the article just appeared, I have already heard about angry grumbling from reformers, because their ultimate goal (which they prefer to hide) is to replace teachers with low-cost machines. Imagine a “classroom” with 100 students sitting in front of a monitor, overseen by a low-wage aide. Think of the savings. Think of the advantages that a machine has over a human being: they can be easily programmed; they don’t get a salary or a pension; they don’t complain when they are abused; and when a better, cheaper model comes along, the old one can be tossed into the garbage.

David Kirp dashes cold water on the reformy dream. Today’s reformers devoutly believe that schools can be transformed by market mechanisms, either by competition or technology. Kirp, author of “Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools,” says that the tools for the improvement are not out of reach and do not depend on either the market or technology. His common-sense formulation of what is needed is within our reach, does not require mass firings or mass school closings, privatization, or a multi-billion dollar investment in technology.

But Kirp writes:

“It’s impossible to improve education by doing an end run around inherently complicated and messy human relationships. All youngsters need to believe that they have a stake in the future, a goal worth striving for, if they’re going to make it in school. They need a champion, someone who believes in them, and that’s where teachers enter the picture. The most effective approaches foster bonds of caring between teachers and their students.”

Reformers have made test scores “the single metric of success, the counterpart to the business bottom line.” The teacher whose students get high scores get a bonus, while those whose students get low scores get fired, just like business, where low-performers are laid-off. And, just like business, where low-profit stores are closed, and new ones are opened “in more promising territory, failing schools are closed and so-called turnaround model schools, with new teachers and administrators, take their place.”

Kirp says bluntly:

“This approach might sound plausible in a think tank, but in practice it has been a flop. Firing teachers, rather than giving them the coaching they need, undermines morale. In some cases it may well discourage undergraduates from pursuing careers in teaching, and with a looming teacher shortage as baby boomers retire, that’s a recipe for disaster. Merit pay invites rivalries among teachers, when what’s needed is collaboration. Closing schools treats everyone there as guilty of causing low test scores, ignoring the difficult lives of the children in these schools — “no excuses,” say the reformers, as if poverty were an excuse.”

Kirp throws cold water on the reformers’ favorite remedy: “Charter schools,” he writes, “have been promoted as improving education by creating competition. But charter students do about the same, over all, as their public school counterparts, and the worst charters, like the online K-12 schools that have proliferated in several states, don’t deserve to be called schools. Vouchers are also supposed to increase competition by giving parents direct say over the schools their children attend, but the students haven’t benefited.”

As we have frequently noted, Milwaukee should be the poster child for both voucher schools and charter schools, which have operated there for nearly 25 years. Yet Milwaukee is one of the nation’s lowest performing cities in the nation on the federal NAEP tests. Milwaukee has had plenty of competition but no success.

What’s the alternative? It is obvious: “talented teachers, engaged students and a challenging curriculum.”

Kirp points to the management ideas of W. Edwards Deming, who believed in the importance of creating successful systems in which workers were chosen carefully, supported, encouraged, and enabled to succeed by the organization’s culture. The best organizations flourish by supporting their employees, not by threatening them.

Kirp identifies a number of models in education that have succeeded by “strengthening personal bonds by building strong systems of support in the schools.” He refers to preschools, to a reading and math program called Success for All model, to another called Diplomas Now, which “love-bombs middle school students who are prime candidates for dropping out. They receive one-on-one mentoring, while those who have deeper problems are matched with professionals.”

Kirp cites “An extensive study of Chicago’s public schools, Organizing Schools for Improvement, identified 100 elementary schools that had substantially improved and 100 that had not. The presence or absence of social trust among students, teachers, parents and school leaders was a key explanation.”

Similarly, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, “has had a substantial impact on millions of adolescents. The explanation isn’t what adolescents and their “big sibling” mentors do together, whether it’s mountaineering or museum-going. What counts, the research shows, is the forging of a relationship based on mutual respect and caring.

Despite the success of programs cited by Kirp, which are built on personal relationships, “public schools have been spending billions of dollars on technology which they envision as the wave of the future. Despite the hyped claims, the results have been disappointing.”

Kirp concludes that “technology can be put to good use by talented teachers,” but it is the teachers who “must take the lead. The process of teaching and learning is an intimate act that neither computers nor markets can hope to replicate. Small wonder, then, that the business model hasn’t worked in reforming the schools — there is simply no substitute for the personal element.”

David L. Kirp is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of “Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools.”

Joy Resmovits of Huffington Post reports that Michelle Rhee is stepping down as leader of StudentsFirst, a group she founded in 2010. She is likely to remain a board member. She recently changed her name to Michelle Johnson.

“StudentsFirst was launched on Oprah’s TV talk show in late 2010 and immediately set ambitious goals, such as amassing $1 billion in its first year and becoming education’s lobbying equivalent to the National Rifle Association. Its policy goals focused on teacher quality, teacher evaluations, school accountability and the expansion of charter schools. But the group has failed to achieve some of its major goals. After revising its fundraising goal to $1 billion over five years, the group only netted $62.8 million in total: $7.6 million in its first year, $28.5 million in its second year and $26.7 million between August 2012 and July 2013. The group also has seen much staff turnover, cycling through at least five prominent spokespeople since 2010.

“After the group began, it saw some legislative and electoral successes. It claims credit for changing more than 130 education laws in many states. It has released report cards ranking states on their education policies, supported candidates through political action committees, and lobbied state legislatures and governors on reform issues.”

Although Rhee always claimed to be a Democrat, most of her group’s campaign contributions went to conservative Republicans. Last year, StudentsFirst honored Tennessee State Representative John Ragan as “education reformer of the year,” despite the fact that he was co-sponsor of the infamous “don’t say gay” bill). She opposed unions, tenure, and seniority, and she supported vouchers and charters. She was a leader of the privatization movement as well as the movement to evaluate teachers by test scores. Ironically, her successor in the District of Columbia announced yesterday the suspension of test-based evaluation of teachers, a move supported by the Gates Foundation.

Resmovits speculates that former CNN news anchor Campbell Brown will become the face of the movement to strip due process rights from teachers. StudentsFirst, however, is unlikely to have the national visibility that it had under Rhee’s controversial leadership.

Our wise friend Edward Berger took some time off from blogging, did some serious reflection, and has returned with some blockbuster posts.

This one is called “Never Again! Now the Evidence is Irrefutable.” He describes three groups of reformers.

http://edwardfberger.com/

He begins thus::

“While America was asleep at least three groups have moved to control American Education:

“Group one, the most damaging, is motivated by gaining access to the tax dollars citizens pay for public education. They hide behind a pretense of serving children and building America’s future. They are ruthless pirates who have no allegiance to anything but their own wealth and power. They are often hedge fund managers. Many are successful entrepreneurs who believe that because they created or inherited wealth, they are experts in every field…..

“Group two, a large mixed group made up of those who call themselves “education reformers.” Typically, these “reformers” do not have an education background, any legitimate certification, and any, or very little teaching experience. They have grand visions of themselves which manifest in a drive to change and profit from a system they are unable to accurately define and do not understand. None of these self-appointed change agents are focused on what our children need.
Those with this narrow, self-serving mindset accept that something is true without checking or affirming it. (i.e., Bad teachers are the problem). They claim to have hunches or insights that will correct problems. A woman who typifies this limited thinking is Michelle Rhee. She demonstrates a myopic way of thinking that is not productive. That is, if you threaten and hurt people they will get in line behind your assumptions or get out of your way. Bill and Melinda Gates are part of this way of thinking. If you devise tests that are designed to fail children and their teachers, you will motivate them and purge the profession – or so this tragic way of thinking plays out…..

“I have observed that almost every attempt to reform schools is accompanied by threats, punishments, bribes, and fear-generating ideologies. High Stakes Testing, Common Core, PARCC, the SAT, are all threat-based approaches. Most State testing programs are threat-reward based. (Teach what we tell you to teach and your school will get an “A” rating).
Fifty years ago many teachers used tests as threats and punishment. Today, teachers are aware of brain-based studies and no professional educators believe that fear, pressure, and student abuse are acceptable in a learning environment.
Why then does the USDOE (Arne Duncan), Pearson – a foreign company extracting billions of dollars from American schools – continue measurement systems that are not educationally viable, and in fact block learning? The answer is simple. They actually believe that people are motivated, learn, and work harder when they are threatened and under pressure. There is no evidence to support this, but of course, they are fact-adverse.

“Group three, is a collection of individuals and groups who cling to radical ideologies. At one end of the spectrum we find fundamentalists who advocate many types of non-scientific belief. We observe End Times preaching, and morality and sexual access based on the will of old white men. These sects or cults do not want public education. They reject equality between the sexes. They want to control what is taught. They want to control what the rest of us learn.”

These are the tried-and-true tenets of education in a democratic society:

“• We do not experiment on children.
• We honor and get to know each child, even those who are hurt and will not score well on summative tests. Unless the system is overloaded – not enough resources and too many children assigned to a teacher – no child is left behind.
• We honor a long history of One Nation united by our education system through common values, comprehensive curriculum, one overall language, and free K-12 education for every child.
• We reject the false assumption that schools can be run for profit. Profits take money away from children/schools. These are dollars that must go to services for children.
• School governance must follow democratic principles, starting with elected officials and elected school boards, and not mayoral control, politically appointed czars, or would-be oligarchs from the Billionaire Boys Club (think Eli Broad).
• We have a proven system of certification and competence. Educators are constantly evaluated by parents, administrators, peers, and students. This is the reason there are very few “bad” teachers.”

After many years of being rebuffed at the polls, the pro-voucher forces seemed to have given up. Voucher supporters turned to charter schools as their best hope for wresting public dollars out of public schools and putting them into private hands. But in recent years, vouchers have made a comeback. The Wisconsin legislature approved vouchers for Milwaukee in 1990, and the Supreme Court refused to overturn the law. Then the Ohio legislature approved vouchers in Cleveland, and a Republican-controlled Congress installed vouchers in the D.C. Schools. Other states have enacted tax credits or other means of subsidizing nonpublic schools, and few are willing to cal their voucher programs by their true name. instead they are “opportunity scholarships,” because they know the public doesn’t like vouchers. Thus far, the evaluations have failed to show any academic advantages for voucher schools. Some have a higher graduation rate than their peers in public schools, but their attrition rates are so high that it’s hard to cite the graduation rate (of those who did not drop out) as a victory. Despite the lack of results, and despite the lack of any popular mandate, the voucher movement continues to grow.

As I have learned in various public debates, voucher proponents make outlandish claims. Evidence is irrelevant. They claim success even when none exists.

It is time, I thought, to consider the philosophical and political case against vouchers. In this post, it is stated by Nicholas Meier. It may not surprise you to learn that Nick Meier is the son of famed progressive educator Deborah Meier.

Nick Meier’s first argument against vouchers is economic. Society is unwilling to pay the cost of elite private schools for all.

His second argument is about who gets to choose:

“The other issue is who chooses. Most private schools have selective admission, and limited space. Since unlike public schools they get to choose their students, even if the voucher fully paid for them (which of course it will not), they would still most likely cream the easiest students to teach, leaving the more difficult to teach children in the public schools.

“These two factors in combination would end up subsidizing private schools and middle and upper class families at the expense of public schools and the poor that are left in them. This would further segregate our schooling system into the haves and the have-nots.

“Since I have never heard voucher proponents either suggest that vouchers should be at the levels necessary to have them cover the full cost of most private schools, nor to force private schools to take those children, I find their arguments disingenuous.”

Not even charter schools pass muster, in Meier’s view:

“Why I still do not favor even this [charter schools] is that it fundamentally changes the purpose of public schools. Traditionally we have considered the education of the next generation to be a concern of society as a whole. In fact, virtually every society has considered this to be true throughout history. For this reason, locally elected school boards have governed our public schools.

“Charter schools and voucher systems make schooling a private consumer choice. In the charter and voucher systems consumers choose among the choices offered them, but have no guaranteed right to have a say about the schooling other than making that choice. Those who do not have children in the schools have no say at all. Private schools are run privately, and do not have to answer to the public. Charter schools usually have to answer for test scores and financial responsibility, but even there it is to the state and not in any direct way to the local public. While charter schools have governing boards, they select their own members of those boards. This gives control of the content of schooling to those who run the schools, often for-profit concerns, but even if not, private concerns of some sort. While our government is not perfect, should I really trust those who have private agendas and do not have to answer to the public to decide the how and what of our next generation’s schooling? Public school boards are elected, and have open meetings; private schools do not have to. Even if the charters do have open meetings, they are often run by national organizations and so are inaccessible and would probably just say, “Don’t send you child here if you don’t like our agenda.”

“Vouchers and charters are about redefining the public as consumers rather than citizens, which is part of a larger corporate agenda to destroy public institutions and the limit the power of the public.

“For the above (and other) reasons, I see truly public schools as the only answer for those committed to a democratic society.”

Lindsay Wagner reports in NC Watch that a judge in North Carolina said it was okay to dispense $10 million for private school vouchers before the courts rule on whether vouchers are constitutional. The far-right legislative leader Thom Tilles said the budget for vouchers would grow by another $800,000.

Do you think President Obama or Secretary Duncan will speak out against this diversion of public funds to private and religious schools?

The Koch brothers arranged a panel discussion about vouchers and why they are beyond wonderful. It wasn’t a debate. All four members of the panel supported vouchers. No one was there to say that voucher schools have never outperformed public schools, that voucher schools promote segregation, and that voucher schools divert money from public schools. The controversial Steve Perry from Connecticut, a state which has no vouchers, strongly endorsed them.

Fortunately, a few brave souls joined the audience and asked questions. One of them was a parent who went right to the heart of the matter. He was not intimidated by the stacked panel.

“Some were there to offer a counter view. T.C. Weber, a Metro Nashville school parent, questioned the “end game” of diverting funding from public schools.

“Are you looking to destroy the public system that we already have and build a new one based on your ideas?”

T.C. Weber is a hero of public education. I am delighted to add him to our honor roll for his courage and his commitment to democratic institutions.

Read this fascinating article in Slate by Ray Fisman, an economist at the Columbia Business School.

In the early 1990s, the Swedish government fell for Milton Friedman’s ideas about school choice. More students in Sweden go to privately-run and for-profit schools than any other developed nation in the world. “Swedish school reforms did incorporate the essential features of the voucher system advocated by Friedman. The hope was that schools would have clear financial incentives to provide a better education and could be more responsive to customer (i.e., parental) needs and wants when freed from the burden imposed by a centralized bureaucracy. And the Swedish market for education was open to all, meaning any entrepreneur, whether motivated by religious beliefs, social concern, or the almighty dollar, could launch a school as long as he could maintain its accreditation and attract “paying” customers.”

For a time, things looked promising. But no more.

“Advocates for choice-based solutions should take a look at what’s happened to schools in Sweden, where parents and educators would be thrilled to trade their country’s steep drop in PISA scores over the past 10 years for America’s middling but consistent results. What’s caused the recent crisis in Swedish education? Researchers and policy analysts are increasingly pointing the finger at many of the choice-oriented reforms that are being championed as the way forward for American schools. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that adding more accountability and discipline to American schools would be a bad thing, it does hint at the many headaches that can come from trying to do so by aggressively introducing marketlike competition to education.”

He concludes, quoting a charter founder:

“Maybe the overall message is, as Norman Atkins of Relay GSE put it to me, “there are no panaceas” in public education. We tend to look for the silver bullet—whether it’s the glories of the market or the techno-utopian aspirations of education technology—when in fact improving educational outcomes is a hard, messy, complicated process. It’s a lesson that Swedish parents and students have learned all too well: Simply opening the floodgates to more education entrepreneurs doesn’t disrupt education. It’s just plain disruptive.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 108,207 other followers