Archives for the month of: August, 2020

Mercedes Schneider writes here about Betsy DeVos’s single-minded effort to divert public school funding to private and religious schools during the pandemic.

As Schneider documents, DeVos excoriates public schools as “static,” but her own brain is locked in concrete.

She has not allowed a fresh thought to enter her head in at least thirty years.

She wants public money for vouchers, she wants to reduce funding to public schools that desperately need it to reopen safely, she cares not a whit about the 85-90% of students in the nation’s public schools. Nothing new. Same old, same old. Her brain needs air.

She sees the pandemic as a grand opportunity to give choices to kids in public schools, chosen by their parents. She refuses to admit that the $5,000-$7,000 that might be available will not open the doors of elite private schools, but will provide access to subpar religious schools. Nor does she 3ver acknowledge the multiple studies showing that the religious schools she admires provide a lesser quality of education than the public schools she despises.

DeVos is a civic disaster. She threatens the public schools that are the heart of our nation’s communities. No wonder the Trump family did not invite her to speak at the Trump Convention. Even they know she is toxic to America’s parents.

Congress passed the CARES Act and included over $13 billion to public schools. DeVos issued a rule requiring that public schools share that money with private schools. Meanwhile, another $660 BILLION in the CARES Act was allotted to the Paycheck Protection Plan to protect small businesses and nonprofit organizations from going bankrupt; public schools were not allowed to apply for PPP, but charter schools and private schools were and did.

Public schools sued to prevent DeVos from compelling them to share their money with private schools (which already enjoyed the bounty of PPP).

Her rule has now been knocked out by two different federal judges. Jan Resseger writes here about the efforts to demand fair play for public schools, which enroll 85-90% of the nation’s students.

While the Republican Party announced the themes of the Republican Convention—“Monday is ‘Land of Promise,’ Tuesday is ‘Land of Opportunity,’ Wednesday is ‘Land of Heroes’ and Thursday is ‘Land of Greatness.'”—the Convention instead dramatized a very old theme: the difference between appearance and reality. Producers, including people from The Apprentice, put together a spectacular show draped in flags. Their purpose: to distract, distort, and dissemble.

The Convention hardly touched on education policy. But last night in his acceptance speech, the President claimed he will “expand charter schools and provide school choice for every family in America.” Donald Trump Jr. and Sen. Tim Scott, (R-SC) also extolled school choice as the future of education, even as, ironically, President Trump himself and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos are demanding that the nation’s 90,000 public schools reopen as the only path to getting America’s parents back to work. Trump and DeVos certainly haven’t been counting on their favorite patchwork of charter schools and private schools to accomplish their systemic goal. The convention’s primary education speaker, Rebecca Friedrichs, the lead plaintiff in an anti-teachers union case called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, not surprisingly, attacked teachers unions. Although she claimed that the unions “are subverting our republic, so they undermine educational excellence, morality, law and order,” you will remember that instead a wave of #Red4Ed strikes during 2018-2019 pushed states like West Virginia and Oklahoma to increase school funding at least a little bit and forced Los Angeles, Oakland, and Chicago to address unreasonable conditions including class sizes of 40 students and a dearth of school counselors in public schools serving concentrations of our nation’s poorest students.

While the Republicans held their convention, Betsy DeVos herself wasn’t having such a good week. She was left off the Convention agenda, and on Tuesday, the Savannah Morning News reported that she visited a reopened public school in Forsyth County, Georgia, where she made a speech: “I think it’s been good that schools are committed to reopening… I know there have been a couple of schools that have had more incidences of students with the virus. The CDC has been very helpful in providing a lot of information and recommendations for how to go about going back to school., and we highly suggest referencing them.” The newspaper countered DeVos’s comment with an analysis by Georgia State University public health professor, Dr. Harry J. Heiman: “According to the White House Coronavirus Taskforce, we are the second worst state in the country for coronavirus transmission… To suggest that not having a mask mandate is a responsible approach, especially for older students, reflects Secretary DeVos’ lack of understanding about both CDC guidelines and the measures necessary to ensure the health and safety of students, teachers, and staff.”

And on Monday, a Florida judge blocked a requirement announced on July 6 by Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran that public schools reopen five days a week for any families who do not opt for virtual learning. The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss reports that Corcoran threatened any districts refusing to reopen with a loss of state funding. Trump and DeVos’s pressure on governors like Florida’s Ron DeSantis, has in this case created confusion just as schools are trying to manage the complexities of educating children in the midst of an uncontrolled pandemic. Strauss quotes Orange County school board member Karen Castor Dentel: “We were under threat of losing our funding and forced to develop models that are illogical and not based on what’s best for kids. But we had to go forward…. I wish the ruling came sooner. Not just that our kids are back in school but in the whole planning stages. We were planning another model that was developmentally and educationally sound and we had to scrap that.” And to add more confusion: DeSantis says he intends to appeal the judge’s ruling.

But the most important public education news is that the second judge this week has now blocked Betsy DeVos’s binding guidance that drove school districts to set aside more than expected federal CARES Act dollars for private schools.

Politico’s Michael Stratford reports: “A federal judge in California on Wednesday halted Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ effort to boost emergency coronavirus relief for private school students. The court ruling blocks DeVos from implementing or enforcing her rule in at least eight states and some of the nation’s largest public school districts. The secretary’s policy requires public school districts to send a greater share of their CARES Act… pandemic assistance funding to private school students than is typically required under federal law. U.S. District Judge James Donato’s order prevents DeVos from carrying out her policy in a large swath of the country: Michigan, California, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, the District of Columbia as well as for public school districts in New York City, Chicago, Cleveland and San Francisco.”

Just last Friday, another federal judge in Washington state, U.S. District Court Judge Barbara J. Rothstein, issued a similar preliminary injunction blocking Betsy DeVos’s binding guidance that federal CARES Act dollars be diverted from the public schools serving poor children to cover the educational needs of students in private schools regardless of the private school students’ family income.

In the statutory language of the CARES Act, Congress directed that CARES Act public education relief be distributed in accordance with the method of the Title I Formula, which awards federal funds to supplement educational programming in public school districts serving concentrations of low-income children. Public school districts receiving Title I dollars are also expected to provide Title I services to impoverished students attending the private schools located within their district boundaries. In the binding guidance she imposed in July, DeVos demanded that per-pupil CARES Act relief for private schools be based on each private school’s full enrollment, not merely on the number of the private school students who qualify for additional services because their families are living below 185 percent of the federal poverty line.

Education Week‘s Andrew Ujifusa elaborates on the meaning of Betsy DeVos’s binding rule, whose enforcement two federal district court judges have now blocked: “The Education Department’s interim final rule, publicized in June and formally issued in July, pushes school districts to reserve money under the CARES Act, the federal coronavirus stimulus plan, for services to all local private school students, irrespective of their backgrounds. That represents a major departure from how education law typically governs that arrangement, in which federal money for what’s known as ‘equitable services’ goes to disadvantaged, at-risk private school students.”

Stratford explores what this week’s court rulings will mean: “The pair of rulings amounts to a major setback for DeVos as she seeks to oversee the roughly $16 billion pot of emergency assistance Congress laid out for K-12 schools in the CARES Act in March… The Trump administration argues that it has the authority to create policy dictating public distribution of the funding to private school students because the CARES Act is ambiguous on that point. But the two judges disagree… Donato ruled that DeVos’ policy is likely to be struck down because she lacks the legal authority to impose her own conditions on coronavirus relief funding for K-12 schools. The judge said Congress’ intent ‘is plain as day’ for how CARES Act funding should be distributed to schools. The judge also said the coronavirus relief law ‘unambiguously’ instructs the funding to be distributed to private school students in the typical manner under federal law based on the number of low-income students.”

John Merrow and I cling to a belief that once upon a time there was a Republican party that was reasonable and genuinely concerned about the future of the nation. We think of people like Eisenhower and McCain.

But Merrow identifies a day when he says the GOP as we once knew it actually died: The day that Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education. Actually, it was two days. The first was when the Senate Committee approved her nomination, with the assent of Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, despite her inability to answer the most basic questions about education law or practice. The second was when the Senate confirmed her.

The Republican Party fell in line behind the most unqualified person in the nation because Trump wanted her. That was reason enough, which mattered more than the fact that she had spent her entire life attacking public schools. Perhaps no less important was that most of the senators who voted to approve her, as Senator Bernie Sanders pointed out at the time, had received large campaign contributions from her. No principle was involved. Just votes for cash.

All the Senators on the committee fell into line and gave Trump the completely unqualified nominee he proposed.

Only one Republican vote on the Senate committee would have doomed DeVos’s nomination. Neither Susan Collins nor Lisa Murkowski was willing to vote no and kill the DeVos nomination. They voted yes in committee, then “No” on the Senate floor, when their votes could not stop her. Vice President Pence, as choreographed, broken the tie to approve this unqualified person.

Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Lamar Alexander were profiles in cowardice. They voted to approve clueless, incompetent Betsy DeVos, who was unleashed to wreak havoc on the nation’s public schools.

Merrow adds:

Fun fact: Trump’s first choice for Secretary of Education was the now-infamous Jerry Falwell, Jr, who told CBS he turned down the job because Trump wanted at least a 4-year commitment that Falwell said he couldn’t make because Liberty University needed him.

Trump also interviewed Michelle Rhee and Eva Moskowitz. Any of them would have demonstrated his hostility to public schools and his determination to undermine them. Too bad Falwell said no. His exposure at this moment would have added to the circus atmosphere of the campaign.

Masha Gessen, a Russian-born journalist, writes in the New Yorker about Trump’s big speech, when he accepted renomination for the presidency. I did not watch. Trump makes me physically ill. I can’t bear to watch people in authority tell boldfaced lies without anyone correcting them. I heard he read from the teleprompter in a sing-song voice, which is always challenging for him because reading is hard for him and he mispronounces words.

On Thursday night, Donald Trump stood on the South Lawn of the White House and spoke for more than an hour. Nominally, this was the final speech of the Republican National Convention, during which Trump accepted the Party’s nomination for a second term as President. (He mangled this procedural line, saying that he accepted the nomination “profoundly,” rather than “proudly,” as his script indicated.) But Trump looked less like a candidate than like a king standing in front of his castle, flanked by members of his dynasty, warning of an insurgency at the gate. The entire four-day spectacle of the Convention seemed designed to assert the existence not of a government, which begins and ends with elections, but of a Trump regime, born of a revolution and challenged by what Trump called “anarchists, agitators, rioters, looters, and flag-burners.”

Trump’s use of the White House, where he appeared every day of the Convention; the Washington Monument, illuminated by fireworks at the Convention’s finale; Fort McHenry, where Vice-President Mike Pence delivered his speech on Wednesday; and the U.S. government-owned Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, where most of the Convention speeches were delivered, is, on the face of it, a violation of the Hatch Act, which bans the use of federal property for campaign purposes. It is also an assertion of impunity: violations of the Hatch Act are punishable by removal from office, but Trump shows that he can get away with this just as he gets away with using the Presidency for personal profit and rejecting congressional authority during impeachment proceedings. It is also a territorial claim. Toward the end of his speech, Trump went on an apparently unscripted riff about the White House: “The fact is, I’m here. What’s the name of that building? But I’ll say it differently, the fact is, we’re here, and they’re not. To me, one of the most beautiful buildings anywhere in the world, and it’s not a building, it’s a home, as far as I’m concerned. It’s not even a house, it is a home.” It is his home, he seemed to say, and the “socialists,” as Democrats were repeatedly—and inaccurately—branded throughout the Convention, are trying to divest him of his property.

The Trump regime represents a break with the past. Unlike at the Democratic National Convention, no past Presidents spoke at the Republicans’ gathering; every night was anchored by Trump’s family members. The Republican Party dispensed with a platform this year, and its entire agenda could be summed up on a single sheet of paper: the Party supports Trump. Most speakers at the Convention talked of Trump as having wrought revolutionary change, ushering in a new political era—indicating, again, that Trumpism is not merely the governing philosophy of another Republican Administration. It is a new system entirely.

Having survived impeachment, Trump understands that he is now beyond the reach of the law. He can do whatever he wants, with impunity. The only force that can stop him is the voters.

Thomas Ultican has yet again performed a public service by investigating a reformy think tank, where people get huge amounts of money from billionaires to tell the world that public schools are terrible and private management is the way to go.

In the linked post, he delves into the philosophy and fundraising genius of the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington.

As Tom shows, it is very lucrative to knock the public schools. Foundations stand in line to offer millions for more evidence that our nation’s public schools, which educated 90% of us (but NOT Donald Trump!), are rotten.

We have been waiting thirty years to see the miracle of charter schools and vouchers and the portfolio model, but no matter. It’s a good living for them that bring bad news.

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education and a retired high school principal and a grandmother, argues in this article that public schools in New York City should reopen. She speaks for herself, not for the Network for Public Education. NPE issued a statement calling for additional federal funds to enable the safe reopening of schools. NPE put the emphasis on the necessity to protect the health and safety of students and staff before reopening. Just for the record, I personally am super-cautious about when it is safe to reopen (I don’t know), but my son who has a second grade child in public school is eager for schools to reopen. These are important discussions. There is no clear answer because none of us knows what might happen in a few weeks or months. Take it as a given that we share the same goals: the safe reopening of schools and a return to in-person learning. The only points of difference–and they are important– is when to reopen and how to determine whether the schools are safe for students and adults alike.

Carol argues that it is time for schools in New York City, which has a very low positivity rate, to reopen.

She writes:

No one knows with certainty whether New York City public schools can successfully remain open this fall. Some believe a second wave of the virus will overwhelm us, and others believe, for the five boroughs at least, the worst is past.

What is not an unsettled question, however, is the harm to New York’s children if they continue to learn exclusively online. The evidence of remote learning’s ineffectiveness is well established. For years, researchers have studied remote education via online charter schools, and from that research, we know what to expect.

The most comprehensive study of K-12 online schools was the 2015 study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University (CREDO). That study concluded that students at full-time online charter schools fell far behind similar students in district public schools or traditional charter schools, equivalent to receiving 180 fewer days of learning in math and 72 fewer days in reading.

Macke Raymond, CREDO director, said that the gains in math were so small, it was “literally as though the student did not go to school for the entire year.”

A 2019 study of Pennsylvania online schools confirmed those results. It found that when compared with public school peers who were learning in person, online students lost “the annual equivalent of 106 days of learning in reading and 118 days in math.”

When it comes to graduating high school students in four years, online learning has terrible results. Half of all online high schools’ graduation rates are below 50%. These failing schools enrolled three in four online students.

Keep in mind, the above results are from a sector with considerable experience in remote learning and a student body whose families actively sought it.
For our youngest students, online learning is especially problematic. It goes against all of the research regarding how young children learn. Experts also warn us of the dangers of electronic screen time to the development of memory, language and thinking skills, in addition to its association with vision disorders and obesity.
Finally, we must consider our experience with remote learning since COVID to date. When I was a teacher, we had an expression, “You can’t teach an empty seat.” That holds true even when the seat is on the other side of a screen. As of May 27, The Boston Globe reported that 20% of all Boston students were “virtual dropouts,” not logging in since the beginning of that month. More than one month into the pandemic, thousands of California students could not be accounted for, and this summer, in New York City, 23% of students never logged on to summer school at all.

Since we closed our school doors, children have not slipped through cracks, they have fallen into canyons.

This is not to argue that we must open schools now across the United States as if the pandemic does not exist. Rather, it is to make the case that in those few states and cities like New York, where the virus is remarkably low, we have a moral obligation to children and our nation to try.

Will it take courage, faith and discipline? It will. Will students who refuse to follow safety rules need to learn from home? Sadly, yes. Should teachers and children with underlying conditions have a remote option? Of course. Openings will not be perfect, and schools may have to close from time to time. But if we throw up objection after complaint as we “get ready to get ready to get ready,” we undermine the trust of parents and fuel the fears of parents and teachers alike.

Even as we did during COVID’s darkest days, New York City can provide the leadership to other major cities, giving evidence of what to do when re-opening their schools as their rates of virus decline.
What we cannot do is try to wait COVID out. Childhood is short, and every year is precious. No politician, pundit or leader can put it on pause.

The Florida Education Association was disappointed in latest court decision:

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Education Association (FEA) was disappointed today that the First District Court of Appeal reinstated a stay on the temporary injunction against Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s emergency order. We look forward to continuing to press our case in court for the sake of students, educators and local communities.

“We are going to keep fighting because lives are at stake,” said FEA President Fedrick Ingram. “This is not about closing schools or opening schools. This is about allowing local districts to do what is best to protect local families. Who rightfully gets to make these decisions regarding safety? Is that state officials in the Capitol bubble, or people in our communities? That power should stay with the districts, where it belongs. Educators and parents don’t need directives. They need good solutions for educating kids during a pandemic.”

In removing the automatic stay on the temporary injunction, Judge Charles Dodson of the Second Judicial Circuit wrote: “The statewide reopening of school during the month of August 2020, without local school boards being permitted the opportunity to determine whether it is safe to do so, places people in harm’s way.” The judge warned that, under Commissioner Corcoran’s emergency order, students, teachers and communities could suffer “potential irreparable injury.”

Especially since the stay has been reinstated, it is in the best interest of our state that this case be decided as quickly as possible. The Florida Education Association would urge the First District Court of Appeal to take Judge Dodson’s words to heart, and to rule in favor of our students, educators and communities, and against Commissioner Corcoran’s unconstitutional emergency order.

As FEA asserts in Florida Education Association et al v. Ron DeSantis, as Governor of the State of Florida et al, emergency order 2020-EO-06 is counter to Florida’s Constitution, which mandates that Floridians have a right to “safe” and “secure” public schools.

Local districts should hold power in making local decisions that can be life or death. They also should have the best possible information in making those decisions, including accurate, up-to-date data on coronavirus infections and exposures in their schools.

Their ability to get that data appears increasingly doubtful. Duval County Public Schools recently was ordered to stop publishing information about Covid-19 exposures and cases in schools. And after inadvertently publishing statewide data on Covid cases in schools last weekend, the state health department pulled back the report, saying it was in draft form. The data will be available in the “coming days and weeks,” the department said.

Earlier, as school districts began to contemplate plans for fall, county health departments were reportedly under orders to restrain what they told districts in relation to the pandemic, and to provide information but not recommendations on opening or closing campuses.

Now many districts are open and struggling to contain the coronavirus. New Covid-19 cases in schools are reported nearly every day in counties throughout the state.

Stephen Colbert and I have one thing in common. We did not watch the RNC.

He explains why.

My explanation is that I can’t waste my time watching liars whose lies go uncontested.

I was there with my husband Richard. Dick was a close friend of Bayard Rustin, one of the day’s organizers. We took the train To Washington. We met with Dick’s law school classmate, Clifford Alexander, who was Secretary of the Army in LBJ’s administration. (Cliff was the father of Michelle Alexander, who later became a celebrated writer.) I was eager to join the march. Dick and I left Cliff in his Office, and we went to the march, to mingle with the hundreds of thousands assembled peaceably on the Mall. It was a thrilling experience, organized by A. Philip Randolph and many labor unions, who supplied money, workers, buses, and organizers.

On this day in 1963, more than 200,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, now known as the March on Washington. The march was the brainchild of civil rights activists A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, who once said, “We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.” They worked diligently for nearly two years, convincing members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to put aside their differences and participate.

The president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, needed support for the passage of his Civil Rights Act, and gave his approval, as long as there would be no violence. Two days of protests, speeches, and sit-ins were planned. On August 27, thousands of people began pouring into the city. They came by bus, train, and air from Milwaukee, St. Louis, Birmingham, California, with water jugs and picnic baskets and Bibles. Chicago and New York declared August 28 “Freedom Day” and gave workers the day off. The city of Washington, D.C., banned liquor sales for the first time since Prohibition, hospitals stocked blood plasma and canceled elective surgeries, and the Pentagon amassed 19,000 troops in the suburbs, just in case things got violent.

There was not one single arrest, and no violence. Marchers linked hands, they sang, and they chanted all the way from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, where the 16th speaker of the day, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., began what would become one of the greatest speeches in history with, “I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”

This past June, half a million protestors were in the streets in multiple cities on a single day in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police.

The founder and headmaster of a charter school in St. Louis admitted to skimming $2.4 million in public funding by inflating enrollment.

This is to be expected when private companies obtain public money without accountability or transparency.

The former head of a failed charter school has pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud charges in a scheme that cost taxpayers $2.4 million.

Michael Malone, who founded St. Louis College Prep, inflated attendance numbers for years as a way to collect more government funding for the struggling school.

“What the former headmaster did through his deception, repeatedly over many years, was take advantage of the Missouri taxpayers, while obtaining an unfair advantage over the St. Louis Public Schools and other area charter schools,” U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri Jeff Jensen said in a news release. “This was not a mistake. Evidence proved Michael Malone’s actions were intentional and, unfortunately he got away with it for years.”

Malone, 44, opened the school in 2011 and served as headmaster until November 2018, when he resigned after an internal review and an investigation by Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway showed he was cooking the books. The school closed in 2019.

As a charter school, St. Louis College Prep was funded through the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The funding is calculated through daily attendance records, and Malone routinely jacked up those numbers to increase funding. At times, those numbers exceeded even the total enrollment by as much as 124 percent…

The fraud meant money that rightfully would have gone to St. Louis Public Schools went to the charter school to educate phantom students, authorities say.