Archives for the month of: March, 2017

I am writing this post for the journalists who cover education. Please fact-check every word that DeVos says. She literally doesn’t know what she is talking about.

This is the New York Times’ report on Betsy DeVos‘ press conference at Brookings.

She claims that the Bush-Obama policies of test-and-punish failed because throwing money at the problem doesn’t work. Any teacher could have told you that NCLB and Race to the Top were failures, not because they threw money at the problems, but because they spent money on failed strategies of high-stakes testing, evaluating teachers by test scores, closing schools, and opening charters.

She is so ill-informed that she would be well advised never to speak in public.

Her comparison of selecting a public school to hailing a taxi is offensive: schooling is a right guaranteed in state constitutions, taking a cab or car service is a consumer choice. She was echoing her mentor Jeb Bush, who compared choosing a school to buying a carton of milk, when he addressed the GOP convention in 2012.

As you will see if you read the account in the story, she has the unmitigated gall to say that her crusade for consumer choice in education–whether charters, vouchers, homeschooling, cyberschooling, whatever–serves the “common good.” What an outrage! Providing a high-quality public school,in every zip code serves the common good. Tossing kids to the vagaries of the free market subverts the common good. Anyone who has been reading this blog for any period of time has learned about the entrepreneurs who open charter schools to make money, about the sham real estate deals, about the voucher schools that teach science from the Bible, about the heightened segregation that always accompanies school choice. Wherever George Wallace and his fellow defenders of racial segregation are, they are rooting for DeVos.

Furthermore, she is utterly ignorant of the large body of research showing that charters do not get better results than public schools, voucher schools get worse results, and cybercharters get abysmal results.

Then she makes a crack about how America’s scores on international couldn’t get worse. She is wrong, and Grover Whitehurst should have told her so. Our scores on the international tests have never been high. Over the past Hal century, we have usually scored in the middle of the pack. Yes, our scores could get much worse. We could follow the Swedish free-market model and see our scores tumble.

Grrr. It is frustrating to see this kind of ignorance expressed by the Secretary of Education, although Arne Duncan should have lowered our expectations.

Please read “Reign of Error” and learn that test scores are the highest ever for whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians (although they went flat from 2013-2015, probably in response to the disruptions caused by Common Core); graduation rates are the highest ever; dropout rates are the lowest ever. When our students took the first international test in 1964, we came in last in one grade, and next to last in the other. But in the years since, our economy has surpassed all the other nations with higher scores. The test scores of 15-year-olds do not predict the future of the nation.

In 2013, long before Trump decided to run for president, he signed a lease with the federal government to renovate a beautiful and historic building called the Old Post Office near the White House and convert it to a luxury hotel. The lease prohibits any elected official from participating in the profits of the venture.

Given the unambiguous language of the lease, it seemed certain that Trump would sell it to another hotel operator. After all, foreign dignitaries might book space there as a way to curry favor with the president. It would appear to invite graft.

Trump decided he would not give up the lease.

A few days ago, the General Services Administration issued a lengthy opinion concluding that Trump’s control of the hotel was not a conflict of interest. Besides which, the property was producing revenue. So what’s a conflict of interest when money’s being made?

“Government officials overseeing the Trump International Hotel’s lease with the federal government have determined the deal is in “full compliance” despite a clause in the agreement barring any “elected official of the government of the United States” from deriving “any benefit.”

“In a Thursday letter to Eric Trump, the president’s son now overseeing the hotel, the project’s contracting officer found the company met the terms of the lease because the president had resigned from a formal position with the company and the organization had restructured an internal operating agreement so he received no direct proceeds from the D.C. hotel business while in office.

“In other words, during his term in office, the president will not receive any distributions from the trust that would have been generated from the hotel,” said the contracting officer, Kevin M. Terry.

“Terry also praised the project for turning a partly empty government office building into a hotel that had already generated $5.1 million for the government by the time it opened in the fall.

“Thus the lease turned a building that had been costing taxpayers millions of dollars per year into a revenue-generating asset,” Terry wrote.

“The announcement by the General Services Administration allows Trump’s company, which he still owns, to continue to benefit from a contract ultimately overseen by his administration, a situation that ethical experts have called unprecedented and a conflict of interest that puts the president’s personal financial situation ahead of taxpayers.

“Trump signed a 60-year lease for the government-owned Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue in 2013, then spent more than $200 million turning the project into a luxury hotel.

“Since the election, Democrats on Capitol Hill have constantly pressed the agency to address concerns raised by Trump’s profiting from the lease deal.

“Reps. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) and Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) sharply criticized the decision, saying the GSA’s decision rendered the lease provision “meaningless” and relied on news articles and corporate language to justify its ruling.

“This decision allows profits to be reinvested back into the hotel so Donald Trump can reap the financial benefits when he leaves the White House,” they wrote. “This is exactly what the lease provision was supposed to prevent.”

“Since Trump took office, GSA officials and Trump Organization representatives have been negotiating changes to the company’s corporate structure and landed on an agreement in which the president would still profit from the hotel but not receive those profits until he leaves office.”

The Old Post Office Building was not dilapidated. It housed several small federal agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for Humanities. Just two of the agencies Trump wants to eliminate.

By the logic of the contracting officer, Kevin Terry, every federal office building should be turned into condos, shopping malls, and hotels to generate revenues, instead of costing taxpayers millions by using them for government functions.

Trump continues to shatter tradition with every passing day.

If you ran a for-profit corporation that provides facilities for kids with disciplinary and academic issues, what would you call your chain of alternative high schools? Utopia High? No. Great Scholars High? No. How about Camelot? Bingo! A magical place of hope and possibility. In an age of alternative facts, open deceit, and fake news, why not?

This investigative article was conducted by the Teacher Project at Columbia School of Journalism, with support from Pro Publica.

“Officials in three cities are rethinking their relationship with for-profit Camelot Education, which runs alternative programs for more than 3,000 students with emotional, behavioral, or academic difficulties.

“In Philadelphia, a councilwoman is seeking more information about the city’s alternative schools, including their disciplinary practices, in the wake of a report on alleged physical abuse of students by Camelot staff members. Camelot has a contract with the Philadelphia school district for almost $10 million a year to run four schools. Alternative schools typically take in students who have left regular high schools after violating disciplinary codes or falling behind academically.

“There is almost zero public data about these schools,” Helen Gym, the councilwoman, said in a recent interview. “These are very vulnerable young people who end up in these programs where a lot of information about them drops off the books.”

“In addition, Teach for America’s Philadelphia branch said it will no longer place teachers in Camelot schools. While the decision to end the partnership after this school year is not related to abuse allegations, “We take allegations of this kind very seriously,” the organization said. Tremaine Johnson, a former executive director of Teach for America in Philadelphia, expressed concern in an interview about what he called Camelot’s “incarceration type of environment.”

“Camelot also suffered a setback in Houston, where it manages one school under an $8.6 million contract. On March 9, a day after ProPublica and Slate published the report on Camelot, the Houston school board voted unanimously to end the contract with the company and bring management of its alternative school operations in-house. It’s unclear if the decision was related to the article.

“And in Columbus, Georgia, the school board Monday night delayed a vote on hiring Camelot to take over alternative education programs in Muscogee County School District. It decided to hold two public forums first so that residents can learn about and respond to the proposal.”

CBS News ran a story about the mysterious Gulen charter chain and the reclusive cleric behind it. Former Turkish teachers at the large chain claimed they were required to kick back as much as 40% of their salary.

The story is complicated, and few people outside the education world ever heard about it.

Turkey has accused the Gulen movement of fomenting a coup. Since the failed coup, the Turkish government has jailed thousands of people alleged to be Gulen allies. This is confusing to a public that knows little about international affairs, to which the media pays less and less attention every day as their budgets shrink due to competition with the Internet.

Meanwhile, the FBI has been investigating various Gulen charters for years, with no report.

Here is the part that puzzles me: why are local community public schools outsourced to an organization that has no connection to the community, whose board consists entirely of Turkish men, which relies on HB1 visas to import Turkish teachers, some of whom have poor English skills?

The central purpose of public schools is to teach the responsilities and rights of American citizenship? Can this be outsourced to foreign nationals?

At the Brookings celebration of school choice, Secretary DeVos said that people should choose a school like choosing Uber or some other alternative to the traditional public school. She is clueless about the role of public education in a community and in a democracy.

Picking your mode transportation is a consumer good that you pay for; public education is both a public good and a right.

From the transcript of the video (please post the link if you can find it):

“Separately, the report argues that ‘There is no question that alternatives to the traditional school district model are destructive of the traditional school district model.’

“Many would read this and conclude that such
alternatives (or choices) are destructive of traditional public schools and of the students they serve.

“But I would argue that these alternatives are constructive, not destructive, for students, parents and teachers.

“Let me offer this example from a different part of our daily lives.

“How many of you got here today in an Uber, or Lyft, or another
ridesharing service? Did you choose that because it was more convenient than hoping a taxi would drive by? Even if you didn’t use a ridesharing service, I’m sure most of you at least have the app on your phone.

“Just as the traditional taxi system revolted against ridesharing, so too does the education establishment feel threatened by the rise of school choice. In both cases, the entrenched status quo has resisted models that empower individuals.

“Nobody mandates that you take an Uber over a taxi, nor should they. But if you think ridesharing is the best option for you, the government shouldn’t get in your way.

“The truth is that in practice, people like having more options. They like being able to choose between Uber Pool, Uber X,
Lyft Line, Lyft Plus, and many others. Or when it comes to taking a family trip, many like options such as Airbnb.

“We celebrate the benefits of choices in transportation and lodging. But doesn’t that pale in comparison to the importance
of educating the future of our country? Why do we not allow parents to exercise that same right to choice in the education of
their child?”

Mercedes Schneider had the stomach to watch Betsy DeVos and Grover Whitehurst talk about their favorite subject –School Choice–at Brookings today. She noticed their careless use of business language to talk about schools, at one point referring to them as “franchises.”

As I said, Mercedes has a strong stomach, as I find this use of lingo from the business world nauseating. A public school is not part of a chain. It is a community institution.

Unlike charter schools, public schools are fixtures in their community. They are not like shoe stores or fast food restaurants.

When anyone talks about franchises in the same breath with schools, they are not talking about public schools.

The website Chalkbeat posted an article about the sunny side of Secretary DeVos.

She likes really good programs!

Like Florida’s tax credit programs for vouchers! (Which sucks tax dollars away from public schools)

Like Milwaukee’s school choice programs! (Which have produced no positive results for students in 26 years)

Like Nevada’s Achievement School District (which does not yet exist and is modeled on Tennessee’s failed Achievement School District; unmentioned: most of Nevada’s charters are failing schools by the state’s metrics–Nevada needs an Achievement School District for failing charters)

She is cheerleader-in-chief for school choice. Given her deep-seated antagonism for the democratically-controlled community public schools that 90% of our nation’s children attend, we should expect a change of heart.

By we should expect unsentimental, critical reporting.

A friend sent me this article but I decided not to post it because I didn’t know how to fact-check its sensational allegations.

It contains some serious allegations about relations between Trump and the Russian mob. This is way outside my field of expertise but I was nonetheless shocked by the implications.

Then today USA Today ran a front-page story echoing much of the same material.

This is amazing stuff.

This is our nation at risk.

Clearly the House Intelligence Committee has been compromised by the behavior of its chairman Devin Nunes.

Does our government have the capacity to launch a credible investigation of these serious charges?

The billionaires are circling the Los Angeles public schools again, trying to gain control of the school board so they can shift half the students into privately managed charter schools that are free to pick the students they want and kick out the ones they don’t want.

They have targeted Steve Zimmer, the current president of the Los Angeles Unified School District, as a barrier to their insidious plans.

The Network for Public Education Action Fund enthusiastically endorses Steve Zimmer for re-election. He came in first in the primaries with nearly 48% of the vote against several competitors. Now, he is running against the runner-up, who has been funded by the privatizers of the California Charter School Association.

If you live in District 4 in Los Angeles, please volunteer to help Steve. If you don’t, please send him a contribution so he can get his message out.

School board elections are notorious for low turnout. Help Steve reach parents and concerned citizens.

Stop the billionaire putsch!

Many readers are asking the same question: Why isn’t the American Psychological Association speaking out about the misuse of standardized testing? Where are the professors who teach about testing? Why are they silent when children as young as 8 are subjected to hours of testing? Why are they silent when children in middle school are compelled to sit through tests that last longer than college admission tests? Why are they not defending their own standards for the appropriate use of tests? Is their silence a sign of complicity or indifference?

Testing expert Fred Smith wrote in a comment here:

“Not only should the American Psychological Association be petitioning against these exams–but APA should be joined by the National Council on Measurement in Education and the American Educational Research Association in condemning the NYS tests, their publisher and misusers.

“The three organizations jointly set forth and revise the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing. They deal with fundamental matters of “validity, reliability, test development and administration, score comparability and supporting documentation.”

“It serves no one well when they don’t speak out against testing malpractice and abuse. I have yet to hear them comment on how statewide testing programs under NCLB, Common Core and ESSA have failed to meet their Standards. Unlike the American Statistical Association, which has stepped in to sharply and decisively repudiate the Value-Added Model for evaluating teachers, these three professional organizations have stayed above the fray.

“One area in which they should have critiqued the New York State Testing Program is the withholding of complete and timely technical data by which independent reviewers can judge the quality of the ELA and math tests. This opens into questions concerning the lack of transparency about the exams. But there is much to be questioned regarding test development and administration.

“Finally, where are the college and university professors who specialize in the field of tests and measurements? They must know that what’s going on is wrong. Why haven’t they joined forces to speak out against ill-conceived and damaging state testing programs?”