Archives for the month of: April, 2020

Veteran educator Nancy Bailey knows that public schools will be confronted with the threat of deep Bridget cuts in the wake of the pandemic.

She here presents eight excellent ideas to stave off the pain of budget cuts and save public schools. Betsy DeVos offered her ideas, which are the same-old same-old stale voucher schemes. Privatization only hurts public schools, which enroll the vast majority of American children. Let’s put our money where the kids are.

Bailey explains her eight ideas.

She begins:

1. End charter schools. We can’t afford to fund two different school systems.

2. End vouchers. We already know they are unsuccessful.

3. End high-stakes testing. They waste money and produce no benefits for students.

4. End the Common Core. Ten years after this radical standardization was introduced, its proven to be ineffective.

That’s four of her eight big ideas. Open the link to read about the others.

So sensible.

Tennessee vouchers are on trial right now.

The court proceedings are being live-streamed.

Major civil liberties organizations are opposing the voucher legislation, which applies only to two cities—Nashville and Memphis—whose representatives voted against vouchers. The law passed by one vote—after a reluctant legislator changed his vote when promised that his district would not get vouchers.

The ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Education Law Center are leading the case against vouchers.

Christine Langhoff is a retired teachers in Massachusetts who is an activist on behalf of public schools. She warns here about the unfolding plot to impose a state takeover of Boston public schools. Having been decisively rebuffed at the polls by the state’s voters in 2016, the Walton allies on the state board have found another way to disrupt and control the Boston public schools and install Broadies and other willing allies to advance their privatization agenda.

Christine writes:

Massachusetts’ state board of education has been moving inexorably toward a takeover of the Boston’s schools. On March 13, the same day as schools shut down, DESE announced a MOU with Boston’s superintendent. In response, Alain Jehlen, Board Member of Citizens for Public Schools, is taking a deep dive into how and why the state rates city schools so poorly on the Schoolyard News website.

Here’s Part 1:

“Boston has 34 schools (out of about 125) that rank in the bottom 10 percent in the state. BPS as a whole is 14th from the bottom out of 289 districts. Why is it rated so low?

“One major reason is that the rating system was designed in a way that almost automatically puts Boston and other urban centers with large numbers of low-income students and recent immigrants at the bottom.

“Here’s how it works: The state rates schools and districts mostly according to test scores. But there are two ways they could use the scores. State officials picked the one that makes urban areas look worse.”

https://schoolyardnews.com/one-reason-boston-gets-low-ratings-from-the-state-the-system-is-designed-to-give-bad-marks-to-f6c9ee3418d

The current board of education is loaded up with Walton connected folks. No doubt that has some impact on decision making.

Donald Cohen of “In the Public Interest” writes that the pandemic reminds the public of the importance and value of public schools. They serve the entire community. They are public, and they belong to the public, not to corporate chains or entrepreneurs.

He writes:

The worst of the COVID-19 outbreak is likely yet to come. But it’s worth taking a moment to think about why it took so long to close the nation’s public schools.

School districts nationwide finally began to close brick and mortar schools at the end of the second week of March, a full week after many college and universities sent students home.

Students, teachers, and parents are now embarking on the largest experiment in online instruction this country has ever seen—and many important questions remain. Will there still be standardized testing? What about kids who don’t have reliable internet access? How will districts ensure data privacy for students and families?

Another question: why’d it take so long to begin the experiment?

It’s simple. Public schools are public goods. They provide basic educational, social, emotional, and even physical needs to not only students and families but also entire communities. Closing them has effects that ripple out beyond school doors. As Erica Green wrote in the New York Times, mass school closings could “upend entire cities.”

Just look at the numbers:

The nation’s public school system serves more than 50 million students, many of whom have parents who work and need childcare during the day.

The federal National School Lunch Program serves food to over 30 million kids annually. Many families rely on school to feed their children meals throughout the school year.

There are more than 3.1 million public school teachers, many of whom are already struggling to get by. Teachers, paraprofessionals, front office workers, bus drivers, janitors, and other school staff rely on public school jobs to make ends meet.

But perhaps most importantly, public schools provide kids with the opportunity to learn alongside their peers. Schools are where the community comes together to learn and grow regardless of skin color, income level, sexual orientation, or any other difference.

Only public institutions—not private markets—can make sure that these basic needs are available to everyone.

The next few days, weeks, and months are uncertain, but one thing’s for sure: we’ll be learning how much public schools really matter to all of us. Some—teachers, administrators, and school staff—already know how important they are…

The Network for Public Education is compiling stories of how the public school community is serving the nation during the outbreak.

Public schools matter because we all benefit from them regardless of whether we have a kid in school. Public schools matter because they’re public goods.

Three whistleblowers in the U.S. Department of Education filed complaints that Betsy DeVos overruled internal reviews to award $72 million to the IDEA charter chain.

This is not the way federal grants are supposed to work. Funds are supposed to be awarded based on peer reviews and staff reviews, not awarded as plums by political appointees. This is political interference at the highest level. This award should be revoked.

I have often referred to the $440 million federal Charter Schools Program as DeVos’s private slush fund, and this grant proves that my hunch was right.

Valerie Strauss writes in the Washington Post:

A U.S. congressman is demanding answers from the U.S. Education Department, alleging department employees complained to his office about political interference in the awarding of a multimillion-dollar federal grant to the controversial IDEA charter school network.


Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) sent a letter to the department Monday asking for details and records related to the awarding of the grant.

In an interview, Pocan said “three whistleblowers” told his office that professional staff evaluating applications for 2020 grants from the federal Charter School Program had rejected IDEA for new funding, deeming the network “high risk” because of how IDEA leaders previously spent federal funds.


But according to these whistleblowers, Pocan said, professional staff was overruled by political appointees who ordered the funding be awarded to IDEA. The identities of the whistleblowers were not revealed to The Post, nor were the names of the political appointees.


The Education Department did not respond to a request for comment.


IDEA, a Texas-based charter school network with nearly 100 campuses in Texas and Louisiana serving nearly 53,000 students, said in a statement:
”Peer reviewers from education and other fields evaluate grant applications independently from Department of Education staff. In three of the last four Charter Schools Program competitions, spanning two administrations and including the most recent round of grants, the independent reviewers who evaluated applications gave IDEA Public Schools the highest scores of any applicant in the country. (In 2017, IDEA received the second-highest score.) All of the outside reviewers’ scores and comments are public on the Department’s website, and we encourage anyone doubting the strength of IDEA’s applications and our 20-year track record with students to read those reviews.”


Earlier this month, the Education Department announced it was awarding millions of dollars in new grants to charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated. IDEA was the top recipient, receiving $72 million over five years.

IDEA had previously received more than $200 million in funding over the past decade through the program.



But the network has been dogged by controversy. This month, IDEA chief executive Tom Torkelson resigned after publicly apologizing for “really dumb and unhelpful” plans that included leasing a private jet for millions of dollars and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on San Antonio Spurs tickets.

The Texas Monitor reported last month that Torkelson had flown on a private jet to Tampa to meet with DeVos to discuss “education philanthropy,” records show. The Monitor reported he was the only passenger on a jet that can hold nine people.


Last November, the Education Department’s inspector general criticized IDEA in an audit of data IDEA included in annual performance reviews it submitted to the federal government, required as part of the grants received from the federal Charter Schools Program.
The inspector general concluded that IDEA Public Schools “did not provide complete and accurate information” for all performance measures on annual performance reports over three years and did not report any information for 84 percent of the performance measures on which it was required to report over two years.

Still, IDEA had certified its annual performance reports were “true, complete and accurate.”
The audit also found IDEA “did not always spend grant funds in accordance with federal cost principles and its approved grant applications.”
IDEA acknowledged some of the findings, took issue with others, and agreed with all the recommendations from the inspector general to improve internal procedures.


That inspector general report, together with the suggestion that political appointees pushed through more grant money, should spark an even deeper inspection of IDEA, Pocan said in an interview.
“There needs to be an investigation,” Pocan said. “This would be completely improper to take a program that has to have inspector general reports and a lot of media attention about bad decisions they’ve made, and then to get a grant that wasn’t approved by the professional staff and instead given for political reasons.”

Governor Gavin Newsom laid out his thoughts about a phased reopening of the state, including the possibility of opening schools as early as late a July or early August.

The United Teachers of Los Angeles responded with their thoughts.

The union said:

An early start to the school year in LA would have to be bargained between UTLA and the LA Unified School District, and there has been no discussion about doing so.

California has led the way on flattening the curve of this deadly pandemic by prioritizing people’s health and safety. As the fifth-largest economy in the world, our leaders understand that the economy should serve the people, and not the other way around. We urge our leaders to stay the course, and caution against prematurely lifting social distancing protections by opening schools in a way that would put students, teachers, and families at risk.

Governor Newsom outlined six very sensible metrics — such as the availability of therapeutics to deal with COVID-19 and drastically increased testing and contact tracing capacity — that would determine when it would be appropriate to lift the pandemic protections. We should meet those metrics before setting unrealistic timelines.

There is much that remains unknown about what will happen in the next few weeks or months. It’s wise to wait and see and make sure everyone is safe.

Governor Gavin Newsom has addressed the coronavirus pandemic with admirable calm.

Today, he announced his views about a gradual reopening of the state, depending on the state’s progress in combatting the virus.

Part of his plan–or at least speculation–was the possibility that schools might reopen in late July or early August.

Is this a wise move? I don’t know, neither does anyone else?

Will the disease be under control by then?

There will not be a vaccine. Will the adults who teach and lead and staff the schools feel that the time is right?

Governor Newsom needs to hear from their leaders and work with them to be sure that the schools are safe for both children and adults.

The one overriding lesson of this tragedy is that health matters more than test scores. The grown-ups should stop worrying about children “falling behind,” because everyone is in the same boat. Make sure that everyone is safe.

The Washington Post reports that the Federal Reserve is handing out $500 billion (that’s BILLIONS, not millions) to large corporations, without requiring them to save jobs or limit executive compensation.

Under the program, the central bank will buy up to $500 billion in bonds issued by large companies. The companies will use the influx of cash as a financial lifeline but are required to pay it back with interest.


Unlike other portions of the relief for American businesses, however, this aid will be exempt from rules passed by Congress requiring recipients to limit dividends, executive compensation and stock buybacks and does not direct the companies to maintain certain employment levels.


Critics say the program could allow large companies that take the federal help to reward shareholders and executives without saving any jobs. The program was set up jointly by the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department.
“

I am struck that the administration is relying on the good will of the companies receiving this assistance,” said Eswar Prasad, a former official at the International Monetary Fund and economist at Cornell University. “A few months down the road, after the government purchases its debt, the company can turn around and issue a bunch of dividends to shareholders or fire its workers, and there’s no clear path to get it back.”


Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin defended the corporate aid program, saying that the lack of restrictions on recipients had been discussed and agreed to by Congress. “This was highly discussed on a bipartisan basis. This was thought through carefully,” he said in an interview with The Washington Post. “What we agreed upon was direct loans would carry the restrictions, and the capital markets transactions would not carry the restrictions.”


Democrats asked for restrictions on how companies can use the money from the central bank’s bond purchases but were rebuffed by the administration during negotiations about the Cares Act, said a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). The spokesman said Democrats won meaningful concessions from the administration on reporting transparency in the final agreement. (Transparency requirements do not apply to the small-business loans, the biggest business aid program rolled out to date.)

As usual, the big corporations are protected. Small businesses, not so much.

On a personal note: my brother runs a small business in Florida, booking cruises for customers around the world. His business is closed down since no one is booking cruises. He has eight employees. He applied for a loan as soon as the small business program was authorized. He was approved by the bank but the program ran out of money. He is paying his employees out of his own savings but can’t do so for months on end.

Too bad he is not running a major corporation! He could double his salary and fire his employees.

CNN reports that Trump urged the nation’s governors to give serious consideration to reopening schools.

Some of you might start thinking about school openings, because a lot of people are wanting to have school openings. It’s not a big subject, young children have done very well in this disaster that we’ve all gone through,” Trump told the governors on a teleconference call, according to audio of the call obtained by CNN.

He also asked the Governor of Nevada when he plans to reopen Las Vegas.

Trump owns a hotel in Las Vegas.

The Bald Piano Guy is a very clever public school teacher in Great Neck, New York, who posts musical videos on YouTube expressing his views about education and politics, always with a smile. I erred in thinking he was a NYC teacher.

In this video, he has advice for Betsy DeVos:

Go back to selling Amway/
Teaching really isn’t your thing.”