The publisher of the many books written by Theodor Geisl (“Dr. Seuss”) announced that it was suspending publication of six books that contained demeaning drawings of Asian and African figures.

The books that will no longer be published are:

“And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street”

“If I Ran the Zoo”

“McElligot’s Pool,”

“On Beyond Zebra!,”

“Scrambled Eggs Super!”

“The Cat’s Quizzer.”

Having written a book in 2003 called The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Children Learn, I have a long-standing interest in censorship of books, textbooks, and tests. In that book, I came down on the side of free speech and freedom of expression. I did not grapple, however, with the real dilemma presented by books that contained hateful images, even if they were not seen as such when they were first published. I was looking instead at organized efforts to cleanse publications of anything that might offend anyone, like a reference to a cowboy or a landlady or a man wearing a sombrero or an elderly person using a cane.

I wrote about campaigns to remove Huckleberry Finn from class reading lists, to revise Shakespeare to remove bawdy language, and to remove all gendered roles from books.

If I had the chance to revise The Language Police, I would express a different opinion today. I don’t think that children should be required to read books that contain images that are insulting to people based on their race, gender, ethnicity, or religion.

Dr. Seuss wrote wonderful books that did not contain objectionable images. His work will survive. I actually met Theodor Geisl (Dr. Seuss) at a dinner party at the home of Robert Bernstein, the publisher of Random House. He was not a racist or a sexist. The messages that I got from the books I read to my children were humorous, funny, anti-authoritarian, and very appealing to children. My sons learned to read because we read Dr. Seuss so often, again and again, books like “Cat in the Hat” and “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.” Those books taught them the playfulness of language. We also read “I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew,” which had a very important lesson about not imagining that there was some ideal place out there “where they never have troubles, at least very few,” and that it is best to confront the problems you have in the here and the now. I memorized the opening lines of “Happy Birthday to You” because of its wonderful, wacky rhymes. Another favorite “Yertle the Turtle” was an implicit critique of big shots who tried to lord it over everyone else.

So I write as a mother and grandmother who admired Dr. Seuss’s works. Those that contain racist and insensitive images dishonor him. Any offensive images should be cut out.

Republicans have suddenly become big fans of Dr. Seuss, who was a liberal Democrat and a passionate anti-fascist (Antifa). They say that withdrawing his books because of racist imagery is “cancel culture.”

Donald Trump Jr. has been especially vocal about the harm of “cancel culture.” He is suddenly a fan of liberal anti-fascist Dr. Seuss. Real “cancel culture” is trying to cancel the results of a national election because you lost. Real “cancel culture” is suppressing the votes of people who are likely to vote for the other party. The worst “cancel culture” is using your power to cancel democracy.

The wounded Republicans who decry “cancel culture” are worried that the white male dominant culture in which they grew up is slipping away. Trump Sr. said he would put an end to “political correctness,” so that it would once again be fine to make jokes about women and people of color.

Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect expressed his opinion in a Seussian poem:

Kuttner on TAP
If We Ran the Zoo
A lefty named Ted used his art to fight bigots
His books and cartoons were like tolerance spigots.
He located his parables on islands and zoos
And adopted the sweet pen name of Doctor Seuss.

Some of his Sneetches had bellies with stars
They dissed other Sneetches with none upon thars.
The north-going Zax dumbly blocked the way
Of the south-going Zax so that neither could play.

So many of his stories had the same takeaway:
No one is privileged, no race should hold sway.
Our kids grew up with Ted’s tales as teachers
Absorbing the lessons along with the creatures.

Some of his stories were merely in fun
But Ted Geisel’s great cause was to put hate on the run.
His wartime cartoons in the great conflagration
Attacked every brand of discrimination.

In The Lorax Geisel was an early enviro
On gender roles, he was also a tyro.
When Mayzie the bird got weary of egg duty
Horton pitched in and hatched a beauty.

Of course good Doctor Seuss lived in a time
When stereotypes were as common as grime.
Once in a great while, one crept into his whimsy
But against his good deeds the charge of bigot is flimsy.

So swap out some pictures
But please keep the text
And watch who you cancel
For you could be next.

My hunch, having met the real Dr. Seuss, is that if he were alive today, he would change the illustrations in the offending books. And he would applaud the decision to revise them. He was born in 1905; he lived in a time when racism was commonplace and acceptable. It is not any more. And it should never be again. And Dr. Seuss would agree.

I recently interviewed Raynard Sanders, a veteran educator in New Orleans, about his new book The Coup D’etat of the New Orleans Public Schools: Money, Power, and the Illegal of a Public School System.

You can watch it here.

He spoke at length about the blatant racism involved in the takeover and privatization of the city’s public schools. The state leaders (white) had been eager to find a reason to seize control of the district, which had a majority black school board. Ray says that the state commissioner cooked up a tale about missing millions of federal dollars. This same commissioner obtained an audit that showed there were no missing millions, but he continued to keep the story alive to undermine confidence in the elected school board. When the hurricane devastated the city, it was the perfect excuse for the white elite in the city and the state to grab control of the schools, their budget and their personnel. The hurricane became a rationale for firing the mostly African American staff, which was the backbone of the city’s black middle class, and replacing them with young white Teach for America recruits. It is a sobering interview.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently published a study claiming that charter schools do no fiscal harm to public schools, and may even lead to greater funding. Dr. Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Schools, has visited public school districts that are in a deep financial hole because of the financial drain caused by the proliferation of charter schools. She read the Fordham study with care and concluded that it was misleading and inaccurate.

Her article was published on Valerie Strauss’s “The Answer Sheet,” along with a response by the author of the study, Mark Weber. Weber agreed with her main point: – That said, I agree that my report does not provide evidence that charter school growth does not harm school district’s fiscal health. That fact is that this report can’t answer that question. My hope, however, is that it does provide a framework for having a more informed discussion about the costs of charter schools on the entire K-12 system.

Her full post is here.

It begins like this:

A recent study published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, entitled Robbers or Victims: Charter Schools and District Finances, was rolled out with fanfare and sent to policymakers across the country.  When the Fordham Institute sent out its mass email, trumpeting its report, its subject line read: “New report finds charter schools pose no fiscal threat to local districts.” That subject line is a blatantly false and unsupported by their own deeply flawed study.

In the report and its public relations campaign, Fordham cynically attempts to razzle-dazzle the reader with misleading conclusions based on questionable data in hopes of convincing the public that charter schools do no financial harm to public schools. The Walton Foundation and The Fordham Foundation, the Fordham Institute’s related organization, funded the study. It is worth noting that The Fordham Foundation sponsors eleven charter schools in Ohio, for which it receives administrative fees.

The origins of the study, unacknowledged in the report, is author Mark Weber’s 2019 doctoral dissertation. Advocacy organizations are often accused of cherry-picking examples. With Robbers and Victims, Fordham cherry-picked a study on which to base its puffery. In a Fordham podcast and his blog, Weber, an elementary school music teacher who completed his doctoral studies at Rutgers University, reports that Fordham approached him to author their report after they read his dissertation, which is composed of three papers, the first of which is the basis of the Fordham report.

There are differences in substance between the dissertation and the report; however, these are not enough to substantively change results. Also, Robbers or Victims adds two more years of data (2016 and 2017). The research questions are re-phrased, some states were excluded, and several of Weber’s original cautions regarding the interpretation and limitations of his findings are either downplayed or dropped. Glossy bar graphs replace Weber’s tables.

In both the dissertation and the report, Weber attempts to show the association between charter growth and districts’ finances in revenue and spending—as charter schools expand. He found that in most cases in the states whose data he analyzed, revenue and expenditures either increased or stayed the same when the number of students attending charters located in the district went up.  In all cases, there is no evidence of causation, just correlation.

For those not familiar with the distinction, a correlation occurs when two observations follow the same trend line. It does not present evidence that one causes the other. The classic example is the correlation between ice cream sales and murder rates—both are higher during summer months in big cities and then drop as the weather gets cooler. Then, there are hilarious examples of Spurious Correlations that show the associations between such oddities as the age of Miss America and murders by steam, hot vapors, and hot objects.

Fordham’s Petrilli latches onto the correlation and concludes that it appears charters do no financial harm to districts. In their news brief about the report, the National Alliance of Charter School Authorizers take Fordham’s deliberate attempt to deceive one step further saying, “Their findings show that if anything, increasing charter school enrollment has a positive fiscal impact on local districts.”  That is blatantly false and deliberately misleading.  “Impact” means that the study can support a causal inference.  It clearly does not. But that is not the end of this study’s problems.

The Critical Question Not Posed

There is an obvious question that is neither posed nor answered. How do increases and decreases in district revenue and spending compare to districts without charters? Are the comparative rates higher, lower, or the same?

I read the Fordham report and Weber’s dissertation three times in search of that answer or at least a discussion of the limitation. The author never addresses it.

To ensure I was not misinterpreting the analysis, I emailed Professor Bruce Baker of Rutgers University, a national expert on school finance. He is familiar with Weber’s dissertation, having served as his advisor. I noted in my email that even if increases in revenue and spending are associated with charter growth, it is meaningless unless you can compare those increases to those of other districts with no charter schools.

Baker acknowledged the absence of comparative data and then went one step further (quoted with his permission).

“Comparing districts experiencing charter growth with otherwise similar districts (under the same state policy umbrella) not experiencing charter growth is the direction I’ve been trying to push this with a more complicated statistical technique (synthetic control method).

“But even with that, I’m not sure the narrow question applied to the available imprecise data is most important for informing policy. The point is that the entire endeavor of trying to use these types of data – on these narrowly framed questions – is simply a fraught endeavor and one that added complexity can’t really solve.”

Consider the following oversimplification of the problem. Between 2013 and 2018, national spending on K-12 education has increased 17.6% as states recovered from the Great Recession. That is the average. Spending increases in the states ranged from a 2% decrease in Alaska to a 35.5% increase in California. Both states have charter schools. Vermont, with no charter schools at all, had an 18% increase in spending. Florida, which has an ever-expanding charter school sector, increased spending by 11%. Only Alaska (which Weber does not include) did not see an increase. If we look at this from a national perspective, it is a safe guess to expect that revenue followed an upward slope similar to spending. So did the proliferation of charter schools. And so, frankly, did my age.

Maurice Cunningham specializes in digging up the facts about Dark Money (political contributions where the donors’ names are hidden). His expose of Dark Money from the Waltons and other billionaires turned the public against a 2016 state referendum in Massachusetts to expand the number of charter schools, and it was defeated. I wrote about this campaign in Slaying Goliath.

In this post, published here for the first time, he exposes a “parent group” demanding more charter schools in Rhode Island.

Cunningham writes:

Parents who care about public education need to be wary of dark money fronts masquerading as concerned reformers. These are lavishly funded efforts with the goal of privatizing public schools. Rhode Islanders should take a long hard look at Stop the Wait RI.

This operation registered with the Rhode Island Secretary of State as a social welfare organization organized under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue on February 25, 2021. That status allows Stop the Wait to engage in a wide range of political activities including spending on political campaigns. The big advantage for a 501(c)(4) is that it can take in unlimited sums from individuals or corporations, spend generously on politics, and never have to disclose the names of the true donors—the real powers hiding behind the curtain. It’s dark money—political spending with the true interests hidden from the public. Stop the Wait’s web page is pretty explicit—its mission is to “preserve and expand school choice—including access to high-quality public charter schools.” Translation: privatization of public schools.

Privatizing fronts often present as an underdog group of grassroots parents. In politics though, power flows to money and so it’s key to know who is funding such groups. That’s tough with a brand new 501(c)(4) like Stop the Wait, but there are clues.

The first name on the Board of Directors is Janie SeguiRodriguez. Ms. Rodriguez works for the charter school chain Achievement First which is underwritten by among others, the WalMart heir Walton family. She is also on the board of a related corporation organized under 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, Parents Leading for Educational Equity. A 501(c)(3) can do reports, organize, advocate, communicate with the public, but can’t get into political campaigns. Contributions are tax deductible, so taxpayers subsidize this advocacy. Even though PLEE was only organized as a non-profit corporation as of July 13, 2020, only three months later, on October 19, 2020 the Rhode Island Foundation announced that PLEE was one of several organizations it had funded and offered it as an example for its new $8.5 million Equity Leadership Foundation. (It’s a little curious that a foundation funds an organization and evaluate it as a model of success in three months). The Nellie Mae Foundation was more patient—it waited all the way until December 21, 2020 before dropping two grants, one for $40,000 and the other for $120,000 into PLEE’s bank account. Actual check writers often give through donor advised funds, a tax advantaged option that keeps their interest in groups like PLEEever unknown.

Web searches indicate that PLEE has actually been around since 2018. But it couldn’t have taken in sums from foundations until it registered with the IRS. 

Ms. Rodriguez is a political veteran as well. She ran for city council in Pawtucket city wide in 2018 and in ward 5 in 2020, losing both (by two votes in ward 5). Another member of PLEErecently assailed teachers unions in a hearing over reopening Pawtucket schools. Look for more of this from PLEE and Stop the Wait. Across the country similar organizations are funded by anti-worker oligarchs like the Waltons and Charles Koch. Examples of right wing billionaire operations masquerading as parents groups include Massachusetts Parents United and National Parents Union

Using upbeat sounding front organizations funded by unidentified billionaires is what Jane Mayer in her book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right calls “weaponizing philanthropy.” But communities can beat the billionaires. Ask questions, demand answers, accept nothing less than an accounting of the true interests behind dark money fronts like PLEE and Stop the Wait, publicize your findings, contact elected officials. This is your democracy and your public school system.

[Full disclosure: as an educator in the UMass system, I am a union member. I write about dark money.] 

For immediate release

March 5, 2021

Media contact:

Anna Bakalis / 213-305-9654

91% YES: UTLA members overwhelmingly unite behind a safe return

LOS ANGELES — UTLA members have voted overwhelmingly to resist a premature and unsafe physical return to school sites. Over five days of voting March 1 through 5 conducted by Integrity Voting Systems, 24,580 ballots were cast, with 91% Yes ballots (22,480) and 9% No (2,100). 

“This vote signals that in these most trying times, our members will not accept a rushed return that would endanger the safety of educators, students, and families,” UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said.

The vote result means members remain committed to distance learning until the three safety criteria are met:

  • LA County is out of the purple tier
  • Staff are either fully vaccinated or provided access to full vaccination
  • Safety conditions are in place at our schools including PPE, physical distancing, improved ventilation, and daily cleaning

“Last March when educators first closed our classrooms and offices, we didn’t know that a year later we would still be physically separated from the students and communities we love,” Myart-Cruz said. “It has been a painful and difficult year for everyone. As much as educators long to be back to in-person instruction, it must be done safely for the sake of students, staff, and families. That has been our guiding principal from Day 1 of this pandemic.”

With COVID vaccines for school staff rolling out and infection rates decreasing, LA County is making progress toward the necessary conditions for a safe return, but we are not there yet. Some educators are having difficulty securing vaccination appointments, infection rates are still too high in many of the hard-hit communities we serve, and COVID variants could change the trajectory of the virus.

“With this vote, teachers are saying what I am hearing from parents in my community — it’s just not safe to physically return to schools yet,” said LAUSD parent and Reclaim Our Schools LA parent leader Alicia Baltazar. “I want to thank teachers for taking this stand and for all that you have been doing to educate my child during this pandemic.”

The overwhelming solidarity of the vote comes as legislators and Governor Newsom made last-minute changes to AB 86, the school reopening bill, redefining the COVID-19 tiers to try to push districts into returning to in-person instruction at levels that have been considered dangerous for close to a year.

LA continues to be the epicenter of the return-to-school debate, and the pressure on UTLA educators individually and collectively has been intense.

“Teaching in a pandemic is not easy. Standing up for students and our most marginalized communities is not easy. But our members continue to do both of these things, day in and day out because that’s our job,” Myart-Cruz said. 

###

Jennifer Berkshire and I interviewed Charles Siler about his inside knowledge of the privatization movement.

Jennifer is co-author of the important new book (with Jack Schneider) called A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door.

As you will learn in the interview, Charles was brought up in a conservative environment. He studied at George Mason University in the Koch-funded economics department (you can read about it in Nancy MacLean’s excellent book Democracy in Chains, which I reviewed in The New York Review of Books). He worked for the Goldwater Institute and lobbied for ALEC and other billionaire-funded privatization groups.

At some point, he realized he was on the wrong side, promoting ideas that would do harm, not good. He wanted to do good.

He said unequivocally that the goal of the privatizers is to destroy public education. They promote charter schools and vouchers to destroy public education.

He explains that school privatization is only one part of a much broader assault on the public sector. The end game is to privatize everything: police, firefighters, roads, parks, whatever is now public, and turn it into a for-profit enterprise. He predicted that as vouchers become universal, the funding of them will not increase. It might even diminish. Parents will have to dig into their pockets to pay for what used to be a public service, free of charge.

Charles is currently helping Save Our Schools Arizona.

Education Trust, led by former Secretary of Education John King, sent two letters to the Biden administration, urging the administration not to allow states to receive waivers from the mandated federal testing. The signers of the letters were not the same. As State Commissioner in New York, King was a fierce advocate for Common Core and standardized testing.

Leonie Haimson, leader of Class Size Matters, the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, and board member of the Network for Public Education, wrote this about the pro-testing coalition assembled by King:

I asked my assistant Michael Horwitz to figure out which organizations were on the first Ed Trust letter pushing against state testing waivers, but not the letter that just came out, advocating against allowing flexibility by using local assessments instead.  National PTA, NAN (Al Sharpton’s group), LULAC, KIPP and a few others did drop off the list. 

I then asked Leonie if she could add the amounts of funding to these organizations by the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation and she replied:

The largest beneficiary of their joint funding among these organizations has been KIPP at over $97M, then Ed Trust at nearly $58 million, who spearheaded both letters. Also TNTP at $54M, NACSA at $44M, Jeb Bush’s FEE at nearly $32 M and 50Can at $29M. [TNTP used to be called “The New Teachers Project,” and was created by Michelle Rhee.] Michael Horwitz did the research.

Signers on the first letter:

The following orgs were on the second letter, but not the first: many more obviously pro-charter, right-wing and more local organizations:

Leonie Haimson 
leoniehaimson@gmail.com

Follow on twitter @leoniehaimson 

Host of “Talk out of School” WBAI radio show and podcast at https://talk-out-of-school.simplecast.com/

Since today is New Hampshire Day on the blog, I am reposting this article.

Since the 2020 election, Republicans have controlled both houses of the New Hampshire. The governor is Chris Sununu, a very conservative Republican and son of John Sununu, who was chief of staff to George H.W. Bush. In other words, New Hampshire is controlled by very conservative Republicans, even though the state has two Democratic Senators.

Sununu appointed a home schooler, Frank Edelblut, as his Commissioner of Education. His chief credential seems to be his contempt for public schooling.

Edelblut just made a new hire. He chose one of Betsy DeVos’s team to be New Hampshire’s Director of Learner Support. Her name is McKenzie Snow, and she is a voucher advocate like her old boss and her new boss. She was in charge of pushing vouchers while at the U.S. Department of Education. She was a consultant to Trump’s controversial “1776 Commission,” which attempted to promote a conservative version of history, minimizing racism and other shameful episodes in our history.

Although she will be in charge of “learner support,” she apparently was never a teacher.

New Hampshire NPR reports:

If confirmed, McKenzie Snow will direct the Division of Learner Support, overseeing student assessments, technical assistance for schools, student wellness, student support, adult education, and career and technical education.

Prior to working at the U.S. Department of Education for two and a half years, Snow analyzed and advocated for school choice reform as a policy director at ExcelinEd, a non-profit founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and directed by former House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor.

She also worked on educational issues at the conservative Charles Koch Foundation and Charles Koch Foundation Institutes, according to her LinkedIn account.

During her tenure at the U.S. Department of Education and ExcelinEd, Snow championed Education Savings Accounts (ESA’s), which give taxpayer dollars to parents to spend on approved educational programs of their choice, including private school and home school.

Snow’s confirmation is expected at the Executive Council meeting this Wednesday.

Molly Kelly, a former Democratic legislator in New Hampshire, explains what is wrong with the Republicans’ voucher plan. In New Hampshire, as in Florida, Indiana, and other states, the state constitution explicitly prohibits spending public money on religious education. But apparently Republicans believe that the state constitution is just a piece of paper, whose actual textual language is meaningless.

Kelly writes:

Public education is a core tenet of our democracy. That’s why I believe it’s wrong to take money from public schools to pay for vouchers to private or religious schools. Period. But Republicans are prioritizing this dangerous idea with Senate Bill 130, which will only leave more children behind, raise our property taxes, and undermine the quality of a strong public education system.

The so-called “Education Freedom Accounts” legislation being considered by Republican legislators in Concord could not be a bigger misnomer, and the people of New Hampshire, including myself, are not so easily fooled. We know this voucher scheme isn’t about education freedom, just like so-called right-to-work legislation is not about workers’ rights. It’s a way of helping those who have resources and taking from those who don’t, under the title of a scholarship organization.

In our state, we contribute $3,708 in adequacy funding for each student to receive a quality public education. We know that amount must increase. But under the GOP voucher scheme, this funding plus an additional differentiated aid of $895 per student, a total of $4,603 for each “scholarship recipient,” would be taken from public schools and given to private and religious schools — weakening our public schools in the process — with no transparency or accountability for how those tax dollars are spent.

According to the N.H. Private School Review, “the average private school tuition in New Hampshire is approximately $19,393 per year.” (Private elementary schools average $8,511 per year and private high schools average $28,231 per year).

Obviously, a $4,603 voucher is merely a drop in the bucket to pay for education outside of the public system. Who pays for the difference? Parents who can afford it. If parents have resources to send their child to a private or religious school, the state should not take from taxpayers to subsidize that education while hurting everyone else.

Not only does the voucher scheme take from those who need it, but the program is unconstitutional. Under our state constitution, taxpayers’ education dollars are not permitted to be spent at religious schools.

“But no person shall ever be compelled to pay towards the support of the schools of any sect or denomination,” says the NH State Constitution Bill of Rights, Part 1, Article 6 and “no money raised by taxation shall ever be granted or applied for the use of the schools of institutions of any religious sect or denomination,” according to Part 2, Article 83.

Further, in announcing his recent budget proposal, the governor said everyone would pay less in taxes. If the governor supports this bill, he will be taking funding from public schools and asking Granite Staters to pay more in property taxes to make up the funding loss. On top of that, a diminished public school system will drive down property values. Most importantly, though, is that if this bill is signed into law, it would undermine the education system that our children need to receive a quality education and thrive.

Finally, if parents believe their child isn’t thriving in a public school, then we need to do something about that. Let’s make classrooms smaller, decrease the ratio of students to teachers, support our teachers, commit to quality innovative curriculum and invest in better equipment and technology. The last thing we should do is cut back or give up.

We cannot turn our back on the imperative to invest in public education and provide an equal opportunity for all of our students, not just for a few. The public good must remain at the forefront. We need to strengthen our public schools, not take from them. I would argue that is true education freedom.