Archives for the month of: April, 2020

Every Wednesday at 7:40 pm EST, the Network for Public Education has hosted a conversation about education. All the conversations are archived here.

In the first one, I discussed my new book SLAYING GOLIATH with Carol Burris.

In the second one, I talked to Pastor Charles Foster Johnson of Pastors for Texas Children about their fight against vouchers and for public schools.

In the third one, I asked Mercedes Schneider about her new book and her skill at investigative reporting.

In the fourth one, I discussed the effects of the pandemic on early childhood education with ECE experts Denisha Jones and Susan Ochshorn.

Jan Resseger points out that Betsy DeVos has spent her years in office berating public schools and claiming that children and families are on their own when it comes to school choice. She reminds us of a speech DeVos gave at an ALEC conference where she scoffed at the very idea of a school system. Each of us, in her view, rows our own boat, without regard for others. We are definitely not in this together as a society or a community.

In that same speech, DeVos endorsed the rugged individualism of Margaret Thatcher, DeVos spoke of Thatcher admiringly:

I was reminded of something another secretary of education once said. Her name was Margaret.  No, not Spellings — Thatcher.  Lady Thatcher regretted that too many seem to blame all their problems on “society.” But, “who is society,” she asked. “There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families” — families, she said — “and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.”
The Iron Lady was right then and she’s still right today.

Every family on their own, no sense of mutuality, no connectedness with others. No society to protect the weak and to guarantee rights and responsibilities.

Then came the pandemic, and the world changed. Betsy is still singing the same tired song but the rest of the world recognizes that we are indeed knit together as communities and as a society, with shared responsibilities and needs. society does exist, and we all need it to function effectively. its terrifying to be on your own at a time of great peril that threatens us all, but is especially hard on the most vulnerable and weakest members of our society.

At such a time as this, we gain new appreciation for the ties that both bind and protect us. We turn to public institutions and count on them while the 1% lock themselves away in their cocoons.

She writes:

Despite public schools’ limitations in these virtual schooling months, and despite the inequity that surrounds and permeates them, however, the systemic presence of public schools—spread across small towns, city neighborhoods and suburbs; funded with state-constitution-driven formulas; organized with predictable curriculum; and staffed with millions of teachers educated about pedagogy, developmental psychology, educational philosophy, and their particular academic disciplines—leaves these institutions better prepared to serve students and to survive the current crisis with a strong foundation. Public schools are more stable than the many other institutions families need in these times when most parents have to hold jobs outside the home in order to survive.

Market-based solutions abandon children and families to fight for their survival on their own. The strong will manage. The weak will not. The inequities that already exist will deepen. DeVos’s do-it-yourself philosophy serves the haves and imperils everyone else. We must rebuild systems built around the needs of children and families and the principle of equal educational opportunity for all, accepting that society exists for our mutual protection.

In this post, Tom Ultican takes a close look at the takeover and privatization of the Indianapolis school district, funded by billionaires and managed by a well-funded group called The Mind Trust (which, of course, claims to be deeply concerned about “civil rights,” while stripping parents of color of their right to elect a school board that represents them). By Ultican’s reckoning, nearly 64% of the students in Indianapolis now attend privately managed schools.

He writes:

With the introduction of Innovation schools in 2015, Indianapolis Public Schools quickly became the second most privatized taxpayer supported schools system in America. It has zoomed past Detroit and Washington DC in the privatization sweepstakes to only trail the poster child for disaster capitalism, New Orleans. The right wing billionaire funded organization, The Mind Trust, has played a major role in this outcome.

He provides a handy list of the major funders of this betrayal of the public trust. Leading the charge is the Lilly Endowment, with a donation of $22.7 million, followed by the City Fund (Reed Hastings and John Arnold) at $18 million. And there are other familiar names, well known in the disruption industry.

Ultican traces the history of the disruption/privatization industry in Indianapolis and finds that its origins can be traced to the far-right extremists of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch brothers. You will not be surprised to learn that Teach for America and TNTP (the organization founded by Michelle Rhee) are integral to the privatization of Indianapolis’s schools. And Relay “Graduate School of Education” (the one with no real faculty or campuses or professors or researchers or library) is also in the mix.

Ultican reviews the sorry situation in Indianapolis, where disrupters have pulled the wool over the eyes of the public and the media with their dazzling sums of money, and he speculates about why billionaires are so devoted to undermining public schools and the teaching profession:

Why are billionaires spending so much to undermine professionalism in public education? It is probably not altruism. More likely, they want to reduce the biggest cost associated with education; teacher’s salaries. In the antebellum south, plantation owners preached anti-tax ideology because they owned the most and paid the most. Today’s billionaires aren’t much different. Most of them won’t put their children in public schools and really don’t value high quality public education. It seems the big motivation is to reduce tax burdens and simultaneously create new education industries.

Andy Hargreaves consults with eight education ministries about education strategy, after a long career as professor and researcher at Boston College. He is currently working with Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Iceland, Finland, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Uruguay. This article in The Conversation summarizes what schools have learned thus far in responding to the pandemic. What will schools look like when we someday emerge from the crisis?

One of my university projects connects and supports the education leaders of six countries and two Canadian provinces to advance humanitarian values, including in their responses to COVID-19.

From communication with these leaders, and drawing on my project team’s expertise in educational leadership and large-scale change, here are five big and lasting issues and opportunities that we anticipate will surface once school starts again.

Extra student support needed

Support will be needed for our weakest learners and most vulnerable children to settle down and catch up. (Shutterstock)
After weeks or months at home, students will have lost their teachers’ face-to-face support. Many young people will have experienced poverty and stress. They may have seen family members become ill, or worse. They might have had little chance to play outside.

Rates of domestic abuse and fights over custody arrangements have been on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many children will have lost the habits that schools teach them — sitting in a circle, waiting your turn, knowing how to listen and co-operate. More than a few will exhibit the signs of post-traumatic stress.

A lot will have spent hours looking at smartphones or playing video games.

And the learning gaps will undoubtedly widen between children from poorer and better-off homes.

Although governments may be anticipating upcoming austerity, we’ll actually need additional resources. We’ll need counsellors, mental heath specialists and learning support teachers to help our weakest learners and most vulnerable children settle down and catch up.

Prioritizing well-being

Well-being will no longer be dismissed as a fad. Before this crisis, there were murmurings that student well-being was a distraction from proper learning basics. No more.

It’s now clear that without their teachers’ care and support it’s hard for many young people to stay well and focused. Being well, we’ll appreciate, isn’t an alternative to being successful. It’s an essential precondition for achievement, especially among our most vulnerable children.

More gratitude for teachers

Teacher Angie Stringer, with a ‘Stringer loves her students,’ at a car parade in March 2020, in Suwanee, Ga. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Teachers are among the unsung heroes of COVID-19: preparing resources and guidance for remote learning, dropping off school supplies in plastic boxes, connecting with kids and their parents to make sure they’re OK — even while many have kids of their own at home.

Parents are fast coming to appreciate everything their teachers do.

It’s hard enough when parents have two or three kids at home all day now. Many will surely realize just how hard it must be to have 25 to 30 or more in a class. Once the working world regains a degree of normality, we won’t take our essential workers for granted so much. Teachers will be among these.

Vocational skills and training

Trades before social distancing: The dignity and importance of vocational education, skills and training will be reflected in what we teach.

The pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of the global economy to collapses in essential supplies. So Canada will look to bring some of its essential manufacturing back home.

There will therefore have to be a related push for vocational skills and training, and higher status for schools and programs that provide it.

It’s now obvious how much we depend on and need to value all our essential workers like care home workers, construction workers and retail staff who serve us from behind plexi-glass. My widowed Mum raised three boys while she cleaned people’s homes, worked in local stores, and cared for other people’s children. There was nothing unskilled about what she did.

While no one quite agrees on what it means to be “working class,” what’s clear is it involves sectors of work, pay levels and a generational accumulation of cultural and social capital, dispositions and tastes.

When the regular economy starts up again, some people will feel proud to call themselves working class once more and insist on the financial and broader recognition that goes with it.

This also implies rethinking the gig economy and its impact on people’s lives, as well as what kinds of learning position people to survive tumultuous changes, experience mobility and build meaningful lives.

More and less tech for education

During COVID-19, there’s been a mad scramble to find technology to support learning at home. But in our ARC Education project network, the deputy minister of education in one provinces informed us that upwards of 30 per cent of students don’t have internet access or digital devices at home.

As money gets tighter, families on the edge of poverty may also have to choose between maintaining internet services or putting food on the table.

Student Jillian Reid, 9, works at a laptop in Cremona, Alta., in March 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Uruguay, one of the countries in our project, set up an arms’ length government innovation agency in 2007. Every child was given a personal device and an internet connection. This stimulated more than a third of the country’s schools to develop projects in which innovation and deeper learning, not just technology, are in the foreground.

In this pandemic, technology has supplemented teaching and teachers; not replaced them. During the first week of school closures in Uruguay, use of the agency’s platform increased by 1,100 per cent. Canada needs to develop a coherent and comprehensive national approach to tech connectivity and learning that will support all schools.

Conversely, there will also be less technology. We certainly need better digital resources. But anyone who thought that online learning can replace teachers will be rapidly disabused of the idea — especially parents stuck inside with children when kids can’t concentrate or self-regulate.

We’re in a long, dark tunnel at the moment. When we emerge, our challenge will be to not proceed exactly as before, but to reflect deeply on what we have experienced, and take a sharp turn in education and society for the better.

Gary Rubinstein reports that KIPP has taken advantage of the coronavirus shutdown of schools to close two of its charters in the ill-fated “Achievement School District” in Tennessee. Once hailed as a model for other states to copy, the ASD has been a flop.

Rubinstein has followed the ASD from its early days, so filled with promise and boasting, to its collapse.

The Tennessee Achievement School District, or ASD, is the Edsel of school reform. Created with a Race To The Top Grant and developed by TFA alum Kevin Huffman, who was state education commissioner at the time, and TFA alum Chris Barbic, the first ASD superintendent, the ASD completely failed in it’s mission to ‘catapult’ schools from the bottom 5% into the top 25% in five years. It is now eight years into the experiment and hardly any of the 30 ASD schools even made it out of the bottom 5%. Not to worry, both Huffman and Barbic resigned and are doing very well with their new project called The City Fund.

Three of the 30 ASD schools are run by KIPP. Five days ago I read in Chalkbeat TN that two of those KIPP schools are shutting down at the end of this school year. On the KIPP Memphis website they explain to the families “While the community welcomed our network with open arms, we’ve been unable to fulfill our academic promise to our students, teachers and families at KIPP Memphis Preparatory Elementary and KIPP Memphis Preparatory Middle. We understand that these closures will have significant implications on our families. However, we strongly believe this decision is in the best interest of our entire KIPP Memphis community and is a step in the right direction to improve our organization’s ability to build a stronger network of schools.”

Tennessee is where the value-added and growth metrics were developed and these two schools ranked at the bottom of the state. Out of a 4 point scale, one of the schools got a 1 and the other got a 0.1 in growth.

Incidentally, KIPP currently has 13 schools in Tennessee. Of those 13 schools, only 11 have growth scores for 2018-2019, five of those (including the two that are now closing) had growth scores between 0 and 1 and two had growth scores between 1 and 2. So of the 11 schools with this rating, 7 had below to very below average ‘growth.’ Reformers are going to have to make up their minds: Is KIPP a fraud or are growth scores a fraud — they can’t have it both ways.

In other words, Kippsters, we are outta here! Sorry, kids, we just couldn’t help you!

But with tens of millions of federal dollars awarded by Betsy DeVos, there may soon be another KIPP, opening near you.

For Immediate Release
April 29, 2020

Andrew Crook

AFT Launches Landmark Plan to Safely Reopen America’s Schools and Communities

Union issues blueprint for imagining a new normal for public education, public health
and our economy in the age of COVID-19

WASHINGTON—The American Federation of Teachers has released a detailed road map that, in the absence of a COVID-19 vaccine, charts a path to safely and responsibly reopen school buildings and other institutions crucial to the well-being and economic vitality of our communities.

The 20-page, science-based “Plan to Safely Reopen America’s Schools and Communities” sprung from an intense collaboration of public health professionals, union leaders and frontline workers to prepare for what happens next in the period between flattening the curve and truly eradicating the virus.

It features five core pillars that inform our decision to reopen the country based on the science as well as educator and healthcare expertise—not on politics or wishful thinking.

To gradually reopen, we need to:

1. Maintain physical distancing until the number of new cases declines for at least 14 consecutive days. Reducing the number of new cases is a prerequisite for transitioning to reopening plans on a community-by-community basis.

2. Put in place the infrastructure and resources to test, trace and isolate new cases. Transitioning from community-focused physical distancing and stay-in-place orders to case-specific interventions requires ramping up the capacity to test, trace and isolate each new case.

3.​ Deploy the public health tools that prevent the virus’ spread and align them with education strategies that meet the needs of students.

4. ​Involve workers, unions, parents and communities in all planning. Each workplace and community faces unique challenges related to COVID-19. To ensure that reopening plans address those challenges, broad worker and community involvement is necessary. They must be engaged, educated and empowered.

5.​ Invest in recovery: Do not abandon America’s communities or forfeit America’s future. These interventions will require more—not less—investment in public health and in our schools, universities, hospitals, and local and state governments. Strengthening communities should be a priority in the recovery.

The blueprint acknowledges Americans’ eagerness to return to some semblance of “normal.” But to do so, we must meet an unprecedented challenge: figuring out how to reimagine our society and the physical places we hold dear—public schools, places of worship, workplaces, restaurants and more—in ways that put our ultimate priorities first: the safety and well-being of working families, especially frontline workers, and the economic health of society.

Our schools, in addition to educating students and acting as centers of the community, enable parents to work outside the home, meaning their safe reopening is a pivotal—if not the most pivotal—factor in remaking the country.

The comprehensive document addresses complexities and provides specific guidance for transitioning from lockdowns to other public health approaches. And it is the only plan we know of that marries the instructional and social-emotional needs of students and the logistics of programming in schools with the imperative to adopt public health tools that prevent viral transmission.

It shows how, in response to the crisis, we must plan and align logistics, educational strategies and public health approaches into one coherent response. And it is expected to evolve as the data, and the facts, change.

AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “America is staring down a singular challenge that will require all of us to come together and negotiate a safe path forward. By drawing on facts and science, and the expertise of educators and healthcare practitioners, we have drafted a bold five-point plan that aligns necessary public health tools, student instructional needs and logistics to gradually—but safely, equitably and intentionally—reopen our schools and communities.

“Our blueprint serves as a stark contrast to the conflicting guidance, bluster and lies of the Trump administration. The input of educators and healthcare workers, as well as parents, is crucial in making any reopening plan work. They are the eyes and ears, and are indispensable in making any plan work safely and effectively. We hope this blueprint will be the start of a real discussion on reopening schools, universities and other workplaces that allows our workers and families not only to dream of a safe and welcoming future, but to realize it.”

The plan can be read here.

Follow AFT President Randi Weingarten:

The American Federation of Teachers is a union of 1.7 million professionals that champions fairness; democracy; economic opportunity; and high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for our students, their families and our communities. We are committed to advancing these principles through community engagement, organizing, collective bargaining and political activism, and especially through the work our members do.


American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO
Communications Department • 555 New Jersey Ave. N.W. • Washington, DC 20001 • T: 202-879-4458 • F: 202-879-4580 •

AFT Teachers • AFT PSRP • AFT Higher Education • AFT Public Employees • AFT Nurses and Health Professionals

Andrew Cuomo is once again revealing his marked disdain for K-12 education in New York.

He created a task force with 116 members that includes a broad cross-section of people from across the state, including at least 10 from higher education, but also big wheels in the real estate industry, the financial sector, sports teams, and leaders of commerce. The only significant group not represented on his vast task force is K-12, unless you consider Bloomberg’s chancellor from a decade ago (Dennis Walcott) to be a representative of a sector in which he is no longer active.

This article about the representatives from western New York includes a full list of task force members.

The task force includes the chair of the board of the City University of New York, William Thompson, and the chair of the board of the State University of New York, Merryl Tisch, but does not include Betty Rosa, the chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, which is responsible for all of K-12 and higher education and the certification in professions in the state. Nor is any other member of the Board of Regents included, nor is any member of a teachers’ union, nor anyone from an elected school board, nor any teacher or parent advocate.

It is as though the entire K-12 school system, the largest entity in the state, which enroll 2.5 million students, does not exist. Cuomo didn’t think it necessary to name anyone familiar with the issues of schools today or the problems of reopening them.

In response, Chancellor Betty Rosa has announced that she will establish a statewide task force of informed stakeholders to plan for the reopening of the state’s schools. They will communicate with the Governor’s task force. Dr. Rosa has been a teacher, principal, and superintendent.

Governor Cuomo, meet Chancellor Rosa. Talk to her. She knows more about K-12 schools than anyone on your task force. She will offer wise counsel.

Randi Weingarten of the AFT and Lily Eskelsen Garcia of the NEA warned that teachers would take action if schools were opened before it was safe to do so.

The nation’s two biggest teachers unions say they would consider strikes or major protests if schools reopen without the proper safety measures in place or against the advice of medical experts — raising the possibility of yet more school disruptions.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, previewing a reopening plan first with POLITICO, said funding is needed for a host of public health measures for schools, including personal protective equipment. Collective bargaining, strong enforcement of safety standards and protections from retaliation will be important for teachers and staff so they feel safe to speak up as schools try new approaches, she said.

If schools are reopened without proper safety measures, “you scream bloody murder,” Weingarten said. “And you do everything you can to … use your public megaphones.”

Teachers are united after more than two years of strikes for more state funding and they have “tremendous power” as advocates for children’s safety, said Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association. She didn’t rule out strikes if state leaders move prematurely on a reopening of schools, and she said she believes parents would protest too.

Andrew Cuomo has become a national star because of his calm, sane commentaries about New York’s fight to stop the spread of the coronavirus and his compassion for those who have lost their lives and those who risk their lives.

But, Liam Olenick writes, Cuomo is already reverting to his role as a fiscal conservative at a time when additional cuts to public services will endanger those who need them most. Olenick, a teacher, points out that Cuomo steadfastly refuses to tax the richest New Yorkers to help those who will suffer from budget cuts.

The headline says it all: “In Cuomo’s New York, Everyone’s Being Asked to Sacrifice Except the Rich.”

Olenick writes:

Gov. Cuomo just announced another round of $10 billion in cuts to public services in New York, including reductions in aid to public schools, health care and social services. This follows the similarly egregious cuts he imposed on Medicaid and public schools through the state budget process in early April.
Although Cuomo presents these cuts as a virtuous necessity in a time of crisis, they are in fact, entirely avoidable and should be reversed immediately by the Legislature.

As a public school teacher, I know firsthand that these cuts will have dire consequences for public school students in New York City. Our students are already disproportionately bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. The vast majority of students come from the very same historically marginalized communities of color enduring the most death, income loss and instability because of the crisis. Now the governor proposes to dig the knife in further by making it that much harder for schools to support their students through this nightmare…

The governor insists these cuts are needed because we’re in a fiscal crisis and tax revenue is decreasing. But he is conveniently ignoring the fact that New York’s ultra-rich are doing just fine.

But instead of taxing their second, or even third homes via a pied-a-terre tax, implementing a stock-transfer tax or passing an ultra-millionaires income tax, he chose to cut funding for Medicaid, public schools and social services.

If these cuts become permanent, when schools reopen, hundreds of thousands of students who need more academic and mental health support than ever will find that their schools no longer have social workers or counselors, that class sizes are dangerously large and that after-school programs are closed for business. Parent associations will also have a much harder time raising supplemental funds because of the deepening economic crisis caused by COVID and many, many more students will require urgent mental health and academic support as they recover from trauma and missed time in school.

It’s no coincidence that the majority of New York state’s wealthiest billionaires are also Cuomo donors. It’s also not a coincidence that many of these same donors are big charter-school funders.

As public schools grow even more decrepit because of Cuomo’s proposed cuts, the charter schools that Cuomo has allowed to expand in New York state with little oversight will be able to recruit more public school students, justifying even more charter school expansion and public school closures.

Cuomo is a national star when he talks about shared sacrifice in confronting the pandemic. His voice is a welcome contrast to Trump’s incoherence and lack of humanity.

But when it comes to education, Cuomo resembles Trump in his refusal to prioritize and protect public schools and their students.

The Alliance for Quality Education, which advocates for full funding of public schools, urges all New Yorkers to contact their legislators to prevent Governor Andrew Cuomo from slashing the budget.

From: Jasmine Gripper
Subject: Urgent action to stop Cuomo’s cuts to public schools!

Governor Cuomo is about to make devastating cuts to public school funding, as early as next week.

When they passed the budget earlier this month, State Legislators handed unprecedented power to the Governor to alter the state budget throughout the year. As we approach the first budget-revision deadline on April 30th, Cuomo has released a “plan” that outlines massive 20 percent budget cuts across the board. Experts say that would bring schools aid back to 2014 funding levels.

We must stop these devastating cuts!

Cuts this deep pose an existential threat to the fabric of our public education system. Governor Cuomo has made it sound like austerity is the only option for the state to make ends meet amidst a financial and public health crisis — but austerity measures and cutting essential funding to public schools will only make this crisis worse.

Instead of balancing the budget on the backs of Black and Brown students:

New York State can immediately borrow money from the federal government at near-zero interest rates to provide cash needed to keep our schools funded.

State Legislators can raise revenue with new tax brackets for billionaires and millionaires. New York is home to some of the wealthiest people in the world. But our state also has some of the worst inequality in the nation, including our spending on public education. Not only can our State Legislators raise revenue here in New York — they have a moral obligation to do so.

Congress can act quickly to provide additional relief to New York in the form of a fourth stimulus package that will ensure that the state cannot make additional cuts and allow the federal dollars to be the relief it is intended to be.

Cuomo’s proposed cuts would cause unprecedented harm and set back the education of thousands of students. This is going to be especially true once schools reopen and students will have to not only catch up academically, but have to deal with the loss and trauma they experienced from COVID-19.

We have just days to stop massive cuts to public schools, and it is going to take all of us urging our elected leaders — at the state and federal level — to fight for our children. We cannot allow Governor Cuomo to take even more from those who have the least to give — Black, Brown and low-income children and families — so that the ultra-rich can keep getting richer.

Write to your State Legislators and representatives in Congress now, and urge them to take action to prevent Cuomo’s cuts. New York’s Congressional delegation must fight for a stimulus package that will protect our students. And when the State legislature convenes, the first item on their agenda must be taxing the wealthy to invest in our schools and communities. Send an email to your representatives now!

Governor Cuomo isn’t New York’s supreme leader. Once he makes his official proposal public, the legislature will still have 10 days to approve it or strike it down. State Legislators cannot stand by idly and allow the Governor to make oppressive cuts to public schools. Speaker Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins must call the legislature back to Albany immediately, so they can take the actions needed to prevent Cuomo’s disastrous plan for cuts. Email them now.

In solidarity,

Jasmine Gripper