Archives for the month of: May, 2017

William Mathis explores the lies at the heart of Trump’s education budget.

He writes:

Trump’s Education Budget: A Paradise Lost?

“But all was false and hollow; though his tongue Dropp’d manna and could make the worse appear the better reason.”
■ John Milton, Paradise Lost, II.I.112

We had a vision of a more perfect nation where democracy and equality were more than aspirations. We believed we could make this piece of paradise real with the unity of the people and the purposefulness of our governments. But this has been reduced to an endless series of false and hollow incantations whose life-span is as transient as its denial in the next morning’s news cycle.

In 1965, the federal government, driven by the obligation to provide equal opportunities to the least fortunate of our citizens, passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It was intended to lift the nation by strengthening our poorest children and schools, improving the quality of teaching, opening the doors of higher education, and providing skills to adults. It embraced the ideal voiced by the late President Kennedy that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” And the emphasis was on building the common good. By widely investing in our citizens, we invest in the health of our society and economy.

Those principles have found no refuge in the work of President Trump and Education Secretary DeVos; all that remains of these great purposes are a confusion of empty words made to appear as if the worst were the better. Larded with phrases like “commitment to improving education” and “maintaining support for the nation’s most vulnerable students,” Trump proposes to slash federal education programs by $9.2 billion dollars, or 13.5%. This is on top of past unmet needs, since federal obligations to poor and special education children have never been fully met. Starved programs are now set to have their rations reduced or cut entirely.

With a remarkable lack of compassion, the Special Olympics budget was zeroed. Twenty-two programs are eliminated including community learning centers, arts, pre-school and teacher improvement.

Blind to clear evidence, every dollar invested in high-quality early childhood education returns eight dollars in positive social outcomes such as reduced unemployment, stable families, less incarceration and the like. Yet the Trump budget treats this wise and productive investment as another area to defund: Head Start and childcare are slotted for small reductions, while preschool development grants are entirely eliminated.

It doesn’t get any easier for poor and middle-class students as they get older. Loan forgiveness programs for new college graduates working in schools or government would be eliminated. Student loan interest would be increased. In Trump’s plan, 300,000 students would lose their work-study jobs. In all, $143 billion would be removed over ten years.

Why make these cuts? The proposal calls for an increase in defense spending of more than $50 billion (a 10% increase) plus tax cuts for the wealthy – and that money has to come from somewhere. By these deeds, a capacity for war is valued more than the needs of the citizenry.

Yet, Trump says “education is the civil rights issue of our time.” This budget raises questions about whether his true objective is to cut civil rights. The proposal’s centerpiece is school choice. The budget seeks to funnel $1.4 billion, in new as well as repurposed funds, into private schools. The “civil rights” framing is stunning doubletalk, since a growing body of independent research shows that school choice segregates students by race, handicap and socioeconomic level.

While there are well-funded partisans who claim that school choice results in better education, an objective look at the data says otherwise. Four recent major studies have examined test-score outcomes for voucher students—in DC, Indiana, Ohio and Louisiana—and all four studies show these students doing worse than if they had stayed in public school. The results for charter schools don’t look good enough to justify the rhetoric. Charter schools and public schools perform about the same in terms of test-score outcomes, with poor schools and exceptional schools being distributed among both sectors. In short, school choice is not a way to increase achievement or equality.

At all levels, the the federal government’s long-standing commitment to tackling inequality is left behind. Instead the budget addresses these concerns by reducing services and by growing a competitive choice system that pits schools and families against each other. In this jarring half-light of contradictions, the worst is claimed to be the better.
The election promises still resonate. Manufacturing was to be restored, the little guy would be taken care of, and the dispossessed would have a champion to restore an imagined great Utopia. Instead, it is a coarsened, contradictory and conflicted selfishness, which lessens the common good. It promises manna but takes from the needy to give to the rich. It is far more dangerous than an education appropriation. Its values threaten our democratic society. Instead of a paradise regained, it is a paradise lost.

William J. Mathis is the Managing Director of the National Education Policy Center and vice-chair of The Vermont State Board of Education. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any group with which he is affiliated.​

Retired teacher Frank Breslin shared with me this poem by Edgar A. Guest. It seems appropriate from this time, when the people at the top seem to be intent on obliterating all progress made in the past 60 years towards a more just society.


Inch by inch and a foot is gained.
Two feet more and a yard is made.
Little by little is much attained.
Ounce by ounce and a pound is weighed.
Day by day and a week has passed.
Four full weeks and a month has flown.
Twelve brief months and we find at last
Out of them all a year has grown.

A day seems long and a mile seems far
And you scarcely notice the yard you’ve gained,
But by that much nearer the goal posts are,
And nearer still when the mile’s attained.
Oh, the hills seem steep when you start to climb,
But upward struggle and don’t you stop,
As the acorn grows to an oak in time,
Little by little you’ll reach the top.

Ounce by ounce and a pound is weighed,
And by and by are the pounds a ton;
Though swift or slow was the progress made,
It is all the same when the goal is won.
For whether you leap or whether you crawl,
You’ll find this truth — and it’s ages old!
That success is merely the sum of all
The tedious inches in miles retold.

~Edgar A. Guest~

The Republican legislators in Oklahoma have decided that cutting taxes is more important than education. They are sacrificing their children and the future of the state.

Emma Brown of the Washington Post reports:

“NEWCASTLE, Okla. — A deepening budget crisis here has forced schools across the Sooner State to make painful decisions. Class sizes have ballooned, art and foreign-language programs have shrunk or disappeared, and with no money for new textbooks, children go without. Perhaps the most significant consequence: Students in scores of districts are now going to school just four days a week.

“The shift not only upends what has long been a fundamental rhythm of life for families and communities. It also runs contrary to the push in many parts of the country to provide more time for learning — and daily reinforcement — as a key way to improve achievement, especially among poor children.

“But funding for classrooms has been shrinking for years in this deep-red state as lawmakers have cut taxes, slicing away hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue in what some Oklahomans consider a cautionary tale about the real-life consequences of the small-government approach favored by Republican majorities in Washington and statehouses nationwide.”

When Betsy DeVos became Secretary, she left the board of Neurocore but did not give up her multimillion dollar financial investment. Ulrich Bosera signed up for Neurocore services in Palm Beach, Florida.

He describes what happened to him, then concludes:

SO WHAT DOES IT SAY that our education secretary is backing Neurocore?

For one, it seems that feeble science doesn’t bother DeVos. The budget document released by her department on Tuesday emphasizes that education decisions should be informed by “reliable data, strong research, and rigorous evaluations.” But like her boss, President Trump, DeVos apparently isn’t one to let evidence get in the way of what she wants to do. A recent study of school vouchers by DeVos’s agency showed that one program dragged down math scores by as much as seven points. Still, DeVos champions voucher programs, dismissing her opponents this past week as “flat-earthers.”

We don’t yet have any indication that DeVos intends to introduce neurofeedback into the nation’s public schools. But her enormous investment in Neurocore is ethically inappropriate. It means she has a financial stake in a particular approach to education. Some brain training companies promote themselves specifically for the classroom, and a few K-12 schools have begun partnering with brain training companies. Oaks Christian School in California provides neurofeedback with the help of an outside vendor, and Universal Academy in Dallas recently signed a contract with the firm C8 Sciences (which promises that it “can close the achievement gap in low performing schools and enhance focus, memory, and self-control to greatly improve academic outcomes!”). For his part, Murrison denies that Neurocore has any plan to go into schools. But the company’s marketing clearly targets children — and their distressed parents.

And certainly the DeVos family has used its connections before to open doors for Neurocore. DeVos’s father-in-law owns the Orlando Magic, and the basketball team has hired a division of Neurocore “to reach performance levels not previously achieved,” according to the company. Quarterback Kirk Cousins’s brother works for Neurocore, and the Washington football player swears by neurofeedback. “I see brain training as being that next thing, the next frontier,” he says on one of the company’s promotional pages.

At the very least, DeVos appears to be dangerously naive about what it takes to help people learn — especially children with special needs.

[Betsy DeVos wants “choice” for special needs kids. In Asia, we saw what that can mean.]

Brain training companies use the veneer of science to promise effortless fixes. In the case of Neurocore, the firm claims that the intervention is “easy,” just a matter of watching TV in its offices a couple of times a week. Other companies peddle games, promising that some online diversions can boost intellect.

But as I wrote in my book on the science of learning, gaining expertise of any kind is difficult. Indeed, some researchers, such as psychologist Lisa Son, believe that more difficult forms of learning are better forms of learning. This explains why quizzing yourself has been shown to be far more effective than re-reading at helping people understand and retain information: It makes the learning experience a little more strenuous.

The same is true for treating cognitive disorders such as ADHD or anxiety: Interventions that work typically cause some personal strain. Effective treatments are often emotionally difficult (like talk therapy), require a lot of personal investment (like behavior modification), come with uncomfortable side effects (like Ritalin) or simply take time (like working out). This makes promises of “fun” and “easy” solutions seem tone-deaf at best, cruel at worst.

Still, scared and anguished parents, hunting for hope, will open their wallets, even if an approach has little scientific support. “A lot of times in autism, families are so desperate for an answer, they literally will take a website as evidence” for a treatment, Tom Frazier, chief science officer for Autism Speaks, told me. “It’s very concerning.”

In his book “Autism’s False Prophets,” pediatrician Paul Offit goes further, pointing out that unproven claims do more than fritter away time and money. They can injure both the healthy and the already sick. “The false alarm about vaccines and autism continues to harm a lot of children,” Offit writes. “Harm from not getting needed vaccines, harm from potentially dangerous treatments to eliminate mercury, and harm from therapies as absurd as testosterone ablation and electric shock.”

I’ll admit that before I stepped into Neurocore, I had little intention of signing up for the company’s treatment. I had read too many articles skeptical of brain training to think that I should pay for its services. But it took talking to experts and a visit to Florida to discover that the firm was also hurtful — a Trump University for people with cognitive struggles. By wrapping weak science in sleek packaging, by promising something that it cannot fully deliver, Neurocore offers false hope to people who need honest help. In this regard, what’s most remarkable is that DeVos, the nation’s foremost pedagogue, is behind it all, promoting a form of education that doesn’t actually seem to educate.

Bloomberg News reported the astronomical amount spent to collect student debt for higher education. This is nuts.

“The federal government has, in recent years, paid debt collectors close to $1 billion annually to help distressed borrowers climb out of default and scrounge up regular monthly payments. New government figures suggest much of that money may have been wasted.

“Nearly half of defaulted student-loan borrowers who worked with debt collectors to return to good standing on their loans defaulted again within three years, according to an analysis by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. For their work, debt collectors receive up to $1,710 in payment from the U.S. Department of Education each time a borrower makes good on soured debt through a process known as rehabilitation. They keep those funds even if borrowers subsequently default again, contracts show. The department has earmarked more than $4.2 billion for payments to its debt collectors since the start of the 2013 fiscal year, federal spending data show.

“The findings, gleaned from the bureau’s analysis of about 600,000 borrower accounts, come as the Trump administration weighs a shakeup of the government’s student loan program. For years, defaults have mounted despite the improving U.S. economy and the money invested in collecting education debt. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos pledged earlier this year to “do a better job” than the Obama administration at managing the department’s loan contractors. Last week, DeVos suggested that the feds should “start afresh….”

“Debt collectors aggressively angle for new business from the Education Department because the contracts are among the most lucrative in the industry. The government values the latest round at $2.8 billion.

“The government often pays debt collectors nearly 40 times what they bring in, federal records show. Take the government’s rehabilitation program, which targets people who have defaulted on their debt—meaning they missed nine months of payments. If a borrower subsequently makes nine on-time monthly payments of as little as $5 during a 10-month period, their loans are returned to good standing and the default is supposed to be wiped from their credit reports 1 . But the CFPB found that more than 40 percent of these borrowers defaulted again within three years.

“Even when borrowers don’t default, debt collection efforts often yield little. Close to 80 percent of borrowers who rehabilitate their debt make the minimum $5 monthly payment, according to a 2015 estimate by the National Council of Higher Education Resources, a lobbying group that represents student debt collectors and servicers. That means the Education Department is paying its debt collectors up to $1,710 per borrower to collect around $45, regardless of whether the borrower continues to make her payments.”

All those billions for debt collectors, but not enough to provide debt-free awards to needy students.

Nancy E. Bailey was there at the beginning, when Florida first embarked on a voucher program for students with disabilities. Now that program is recognized as the Official Camel’s Nose Under the Tent, the entry program that in many other states is followed by vouchers for foster children, vouchers for military children, vouchers for low-income children, then vouchers for everyone. Florida has not been able to build out vouchers because voters turned them down in a 2012 referendum, and the state courts rejected Jeb Bush’s effort to pass a voucher program because it was contrary to the state constitution.

Bailey discovered that the person who pushed the program through was uncredentialed. She expressed great concern for children with disabilities, but she had no experience or training.

She writes:

This is… about eliminating real options parents have with students who have disabilities. Starving public schools where teachers must abide by IDEA mandates, but are incapable of enforcing them due to inadequate funding, is unethical and cruel.

With McKay vouchers, parents flee to schools with no proof of success. How many parents are conned into believing such schools will provide the positive changes their child deserves and that they so desperately seek? Without oversight and rules no one knows—until it’s too late.

Bear in mind that Florida is Betsy DeVos’s model state for charters of every variety, vouchers, tax credits, online schools, and every imaginable way to break down public schools.

I earned my Ph.D. in the history of American education from Columbia University in 1975. It is a fascinating field of study, because the early history continues to be relevant to contemporary debates. At present, the nation is led by people who disparage public schools. They know nothing of the struggles to establish public schools that are open to all, supported by taxes, and tuition-free. I was fortunate in that my mentor was the great historian of education, Lawrence A. Cremin. I can’t help but wonder what he would say if he saw what is happening today, with the rise of a movement to undermine public education and turn it over to corporate chains, religious schools with uncertified teachers, home schooling, computer-based instruction, and all manner of substitutes for public schools staffed by qualified and certified professionals. The fact that this destructive strategy is supported by the federal government is simply bizarre.

This report is a useful overview of the early establishment of public education, even before the adoption of the Constitution. The report was written by Alexandra Usher for the Center for Education Policy.

Read the report here.

Bruce Baker writes here about the ingenious ways that charter schools extract money from their staff. The Gulen schools do it directly; Baker discovered that certain “no excuses” schools do it by requiring their teachers to enroll in the Relay “Graduate School of Education.”

Responding to a post of the same name by Larry Lee of Alabama, SomeDam Poet writes:

“The stories that data never tell”

The stories that data never tell

Are known to the teachers very well

The pride in art

The joy of song

A brand new start

In something long

The growth that’s gauged

By smiles and laughs

And not encaged

By tests and graphs

Kyle Stokes of public radio station KPCC reports that a deal has been struck between the California Teachers Association and the California Charter Schools Association to allow rights for charter school students.

“Parents who believe their child is being “counseled out” of a charter school in California could soon have the right to request a hearing to challenge the student’s removal.

“This provision is part of a broader deal State Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) brokered between charter school lobbyists and teachers union leaders in Sacramento, potentially paving the way for state lawmakers to change state laws governing charter schools’ enrollment or discipline policies this session.

“The deal would amend Assembly Bill 1360, which members of the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee could take up and send to the House floor at their meeting on Friday. Bonta said the legislature’s lawyers are still working out the exact wording for the changes.

“But if the new language meets with all sides’ approval, Bonta will have sewn up a rare agreement between two rival Sacramento heavyweights: the state’s largest teachers union, the California Teachers Association; and the California Charter Schools Association….

“Under terms of the deal, the amended AB 1360 would strengthen or clarify several state charter school laws:

“Discipline policies. The bill would require charter schools to publish a specific list of acts for which a student could be suspended or expelled. The bill also spells out the “due process” rights of a charter school student facing discipline. Depending on the length of the student’s suspension, she could be entitled to oral or written notice of the charges, the right to present alternative evidence or even a hearing overseen by a neutral arbitrator.

‘Non-disciplinary’ dismissals. Critics often allege charter schools attempt to push out students who are costly or difficult to educate, such as special education students. (Charter school advocates say the charges are often overblown.) The amended AB 1360 would outline a similar “due process” procedure for charter school students who are transferred or dis-enrolled for “non-disciplinary” reasons, giving parents up to five school days to request a hearing challenging the students’ dismissal.

“Enrollment preferences. Charter schools are supposed to admit any student who applies so long as there’s space. When applicants outnumber available seats, charter schools must hold random drawings to fill those seats. State law allows charter schools to set limited admissions preferences, such as for pupils who reside in the district — but current law also leaves a big grey area, saying charter schools can enact “other preferences” so long as they’re not discriminatory. Under the deal, AB 1360 would officially allow two “other preferences” that have become common practice among charter schools — preferences for children of charter staff members and for siblings of current charter school students.

“Mandatory parent volunteer hours. California Department of Education officials have said parents cannot be compelled to volunteer their time or donate money to any public schools. Still, last year, the report from the ACLU and Public Advocates found more than 60 California charter schools which required parents to commit to a set number of volunteer hours as a condition for enrollment. The amended AB 1360’s language would explicitly prohibit these volunteerism requirements. (By the way, half of those 60 schools have since changed their policies.)”

This is a big step forward for charters, which have consistently fought off any efforts to regulate their practices.