Archives for category: Betsy DeVos

Last week, I posted my thoughts on “Who Demoralized the Nation’s Teachers?” I sought to identify the people and organizations that spread the lie that America’s public schools were “broken” and that public school teachers were the cause. The critics slandered teachers repeatedly, claiming that teachers were dragging down student test scores. They said that today’s teachers were not bright enough; they said teachers had low SAT scores; and they were no longer “the best and the brightest.”

The “corporate reform” movement (the disruption movement) was driven in large part by the “reformers'” belief that public schools were obsolete and their teachers were the bottom of the barrel. So the “reformers” promoted school choice, especially charter schools, and Teach for America, to provide the labor supply for charter schools. TFA promised to bring smart college graduates for at least two years to staff public schools and charter schools, replacing the public school teachers whom TFA believed had low expectations. TFA would have high expectations, and these newcomers with their high SAT scores would turn around the nation’s schools. The “reformers” also promoted the spurious, ineffective and harmful idea that teachers could be evaluated by the test scores of their students, although this method repeatedly, consistently showed that those who taught affluent children were excellent, while those who taught children with special needs or limited-English proficiency or high poverty were unsatisfactory. “Value-added” methodology ranked teachers by the income and background of their students’ families, not by the teachers’ effectiveness.

All of these claims were propaganda that was skillfully utilized by people who wanted to privatize the funding of public education, eliminate unions, and crush the teaching profession.

The response to the post was immediate and sizable. Some thought the list of names and groups I posted was dated, others thought it needed additions. The comments of readers were so interesting that I present them here as a supplement to my original post. My list identified No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Common Core as causes of demoralization that tied teachers to a standards-and-testing regime that reduced their autonomy as professionals. One reader said that the real beginning of the war on teachers was the Reagan-era report called “A Nation at Risk,” which asserted that American public schools were mired in mediocrity and needed dramatic changes. I agree that the “Nation at Risk” report launched the era of public-school bashing. But it was NCLB and the other “solutions” that launched teacher-bashing, blaming teachers for low test scores and judging teachers by their test scores. It should be noted that the crest of “reform” was 2010, when “Waiting for Superman” was released, Common Core was put into place, value-added test scores for teachers were published, and “reformers” like Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, and other became media stars, with their constant teacher-bashing. For what it’s worth, the National Assessment of Educational Progress flatlined from 2010 onwards. Test score gains, which were supposedly the point of all this “reform” activity, were non-existent on the nation’s most consequential test (no stakes attached).

Readers also blamed demoralization on teachers’ loss of autonomy, caused by federal laws and the testing imposed by them, and by the weakness of principals and administrators who did not protect teachers from the anti-education climate caused by NCLB, RTTT, ESSA, and the test-and-punish mindset that gripped the minds of the nation’s legislators and school leaders.

Readers said that my list left off important names of those responsible for demoralizing the nation’s teachers.

Here are readers’ additions, paraphrased by me:

Michelle Rhee, who was pictured on the cover of TIME magazine as the person who knew “How to Fix American Education” and lionized in a story by Amanda Ripley. Rhee was shown holding a broom, preparing to sweep “bad teachers” and “bad principals” out of the schools. During her brief tenure as Chancellor of D.C., she fired scores of teachers and added to her ruthless reputation by firing a principal on national television. For doing so, she was the Queen of “education reform” in the eyes of the national media until USA Today broke a major cheating scandal in the D.C. schools.

Joel Klein, antitrust lawyer who was chosen by Mayor Bloomberg to become the Chancellor of the New York City public schools, where he closed scores of schools because of their low test scores, embraced test-based evaluation of schools and teachers, and opened hundreds of small specialized schools and charter schools. He frequently derided teachers and blamed them for lagging test scores. He frequently reorganized the entire, vast school system, surrounding himself with aides with Business School graduates and Wall Street credentials. Under his leadership, NYC was the epitome of corporate reform, which inherently disrespected career educators.

Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York City, billionaire funder of charter schools and of candidates running for state or local offices who supported privatization of public schools. He claimed that under his leadership, the test-score gap between different racial gaps had been cut in half or even closed, but it wasn’t true. He stated his desire to fire teachers who couldn’t “produce” high test scores, while doubling the size of the classes of teachers who could. His huge public relations staff circulated the story of a “New York City Miracle,” but it didn’t exist and evaporated as soon as he left office.

Reed Hastings, billionaire funder of charter schools and founder of Netflix. He expressed the wish that all school boards would be eliminated. The charter school was his ideal, managed privately without public oversight.

John King, charter school leader who was appointed New York Commissioner of Education. He was a cheerleader for the Common Core and high-stakes testing. He made parents so angry by his policies that he stopped appearing at public events. He was named U.S. Secretary of Education, following Arne Duncan, in the last year of the Obama administration and continued to advocate for the same ill-fated policies as Duncan.

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Secretary of Education despised public schools, unions, and teachers. She never had a good word to say about public schools. She wanted every student to attend religious schools at public expense.

Eli Broad and the “academy” he created to train superintendents with his ideas about top-down management and the alleged value of closing schools with low test scores

ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), which writes model legislation for privatizing public schools by opening charters and vouchers and lowering standards for teachers and crushing unions. More than 2,000 rightwing state legislators belong to ALEC and get their ideas directly from ALEC about privatization and other ways to crush public schools and their teachers.

Rupert Murdoch, the media, Time, Newsweek, NY Times, Washington Post for their hostility towards public schools and their warm, breathless reporting about charter schools and Teach for America. The Washington Post editorialist is a devotee of charter schools and loved Michelle Rhee’s cut-throat style. TIME ran two cover stories endorsing the “reform” movement; the one featuring Michelle Rhee, and the other referring to one of every four public school teachers as a “rotten apple.” The second cover lauded the idea that teachers were the cause of low test scores, and one of every four should be weeded out. Newsweek also had a Rhee cover, and another that declared in a sentence repeated on a chalkboard, “We Must Fire Bad Teachers,” as though the public schools were overrun with miscreant teachers.

David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core, which undermined the autonomy of teachers and ironically removed teachers’ focus on content and replaced it with empty skills. The Common Core valued “informational text” over literature and urged teachers to reduce time spent teaching literature.

Margaret Raymond, of the Walton-funded CREDO, which evaluates charter schools.

Hanna Skandera, who was Secretary of Education in New Mexico and tried to import the Florida model of testing, accountability, and choice to New Mexico. That state has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the nation, and the Florida model didn’t make any difference.

Governors who bashed teachers and public schools, like Chris Christie of New Jersey, Andrew Cuomo of New York, and Gregg Abbott of Texas

“Researchers” like those from the Fordham Institute, who saw nothing good in public schools or their teaching

Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, who turned Denver into a model of “reform,” with everything DFER wanted: charter schools and high-stakes testing.

Poorly behaving students and parents who won’t hold kids accountable for bad behavior

Campbell Brown and the 74

The U.S. Department of Education, for foisting terrible ideas on the nation’s schools and teachers, and state education departments and state superintendents for going along with these bad ideas. Not one state chief stood up and said, “We won’t do what is clearly wrong for our students and their teachers.”

The two big national unions, for going along with these bad ideas instead of fighting them tooth and nail.

And now I will quote readers’ comments exactly as they wrote them, without identifying their authors (they know who they are):

*Rightwing organizations like the American Enterprise Institute, (AEI), the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Heritage Foundation, even the allegedly Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) for publishing white papers masquerading as education research that promotes privatization.

*Wall St moguls who invented Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) to gamble on & profit from preK student test scores.

*Rogues Gallery. One body blow after another. A systematic 💦 water boarding with no respite. And then we add the Broad Foundation who sent Broad-trained “leadership” so drunk on arrogance and ignorance that the term “School Yard Bully” just doesn’t capture it.
Operating with the Imprimatur and thin veneer of venture capital, plutocratic philanthropy, these haughty thugs devastated every good program they laid eyes on. Sinking their claws instinctively into the intelligent, effective and cultured faculty FIRST.A well orchestrated, heavily scripted Saturday Night Massacre.

*Congress and the Presidents set the stage, but the US Department of Education was instrumental in making it all happen. They effectively implemented a coherent program to attack, smear and otherwise demoralize teachers. And make no mistake, it was quite purposeful

*This list is incomplete without members of Democrats for Education Reform. Add in Senator Ted Kennedy, whose role in the passage of No Child Left Behind was critical. Same for then Congressman and future Speaker of the House, John Boehner, who noted (bragged!) in his recent autobiography that he was essential in keeping President George W. Bush on track with NCLB.

*Let’s not forget Senate Chair Patty Murray. She has been an important player in keeping the worse of Ed Reform legislation alive.

*You have presented a rogue’s gallery of failed “reformers” that have worked against the common good. In addition to those mentioned, there has also been an ancillary group of promoters and enablers that have undermined public education including billionaire think tanks, foundations and members of both political parties. These people continue to spread lies and misinformation, and no amount of facts or research is able to diminish the drive to privatize. While so called reformers often hide behind an ideological shield, they are mostly about the greedy pursuit of appropriating the education that belongs to the people and transferring its billions in value into the pockets of the already wealthy. So called education reform is class warfare.

*The Clintons, whose 1994 reauthorization of ESEA set the stage for NCLB

*Don’t forget the so called ‘liberal’ media, publications such as the New York Times and the Boston Globe who have published pro charter piece after pro charter piece, while simultaneously dumping all over public schools

*I’d like to include a cast of editorialists like George Will, Bill Rhoden, and many others, who have parroted the plutocratic-backed Ed Reform line. Armstrong Williams would certainly be part of this.

*Going back even further into the origins of this madness, I would add to Diane’s excellent rogues gallery those unknown bureaucrats in state departments of education who replaced broad, general frameworks/overall strategic objectives with bullet lists of almost entirely content-free “standards” that served as the archetype of the Common [sic] Core [sic] based on the absurd theory that we should “teach skills” independent of content, all of which led, ironically, to trivialization of and aimlessnessness in ELA pedagogy and curricula and to a whole generation of young English teachers who themselves NOW KNOW NEXT TO NOTHING OF THE CONTENT OF THEIR SUBJECT, typified by the English teacher who told one of the parents who regularly contributes comments to this blog, “I’m an English teacher, so I don’t teach content.” So, today, instead of teaching, say, Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” as part of a coherent and cumulative unit on common structures and techniques and genres of poetry, one gets idiotic test-practice exercises on “inferencing” and “finding the main idea,” with any random piece of writing as the “text.”

*It’s driven by how teachers have been treated the past 4-5 years, especially during the pandemic. Teachers are first responders. We should have been on the list of first-to-be-vaccinated. Schools should have strict mask and vaccine mandates. Teachers are professional educators. We should not be told what and how to teach by ignorant, conspiracy-driven MAGA parents. Public education is a cornerstone of democracy, and we teachers are motivated by a sense of civic duty. We are demoralized by attempts to destroy public education, led by anti-education bible-thumping “leaders” like Betsy DeVos and (in my home state) Frank Edelblut. Public education is being dismantled by gleeful right-wingers, while naive, well-intentioned moderates wring their hands and do little to defend it. It’s tiring to be under constant attack on the front lines, with no support. That’s why teachers are leaving today.

*One tiny example of a routine phenomenon. Teachers got the message pretty clearly: They were at the bottom of the pecking order. The absolute bottom. Micromanaged and undercut at every turn.Excellent points. The heavy handed top-down, bureaucratic demands for “data,” basically serve one goal, to justify the existence of administration.Don’t forget the voracious appetite of publishing companies…We had a district administrator prance around in our “professional; development days” tell use could not read novels or other picture books to the students…ONLY USE PEARSON.”And then 7 or so years later, the district made us THROW OUT every book from Pearson, and they bought new crap curriculum…that program was written by testing industry, not educators, I think it was “Benchmark,” real junk.

*I’d like to mention how I often lose my student teachers when they see the edTPA requirement. They switch majors, and the teaching pool gets even smaller.

*After Skamdera in NM came the TFA VAM sweetheart Christopher Ruszkowski. At least he had 3 years in a classroom, Skammy had none, but the Florida model, you know?

*Children’s behavior is in large part in response to the drill and kill curriculum and endless testing and teaching to the test that has been driving public education since NCLB and the back-to-basics movement that ushered it in. No room for creativity, no room for self expression, no room for innovation. Highly scripted Curriculum like Open Court turned children into little automatons, barking their answers like well trained dogs and turned teachers into task masters. It was a drive to dummy down the curriculum for fear of teaching too much free thinking. And a drive to turn teachers into testing machines and teacher technicians, easily replaced by anyone who can walk in a classroom and pick up the manual. Only it doesn’t work. It was and is developmentally inappropriate and the resulting rebellion in the classrooms if proof of that. No wonder teachers are leaving in droves!

*Under threat of closure of the MA school board in the mid 1800s, Horace Mann turned to the cheapest labor he could find, literate northern females, and deployed the Protestant ethic “teacher as a calling” trope to institute state free-riding on teachers (as opposed to the free-riding of which teachers are accused). Everything in this piece is correct except for the “almost” in the final paragraph. There’s no “almost” about it … free-riding on teachers is an operational feature of a system imported from Prussia, designed to produce cheap, obedient labor by underpaying women. As of 2012, teachers would need to make around 1/3 higher salaries to be paid on the same level as their professional peers. Everyone mentioned in the article is simply this generation’s enactment of the long-standing, systemic class war that preys on gender and race to continue and exacerbate inequity. While naming the current situation is very important, we also need to discuss, address, and shift these deep issues.

*It’s the boiled frog effect over the last 50 years that began as a response to mini-courses, sixties curriculum, obsession over college attendance, professors and teachers walking out to protest with their students, Viet Nam… and the Civil Rights Act. Since 1964, Intentional segregation influenced Local, state, and federal decision making on transportation, health care, insurance, zoning, housing, education funding, hiring, and more. When whites fled the cities and insured two sides of the tracks in towns and two systems evolved, quick fixes became that accumulation of bad decisions and leadership – and slowly, slowly, deterioration became acceptable.

*The list is not dated. It’s illustrative of the accumulation of negativity, quick-fix seeking, acronym-filled, snake-oil salesmen, desperate mayors and governors, obsession with rankings, publisher fixation on common core, NCLB votes hidden under the shadow of 9/11, and keep-everyone-happy state and national professional organizations.

*At the end of 2021 it is far right and left of politics and their rhetoric like CRT and homophobic slurs. So much for especially the “Christian Right.” In their god’s (yes lower case since not The Lord Jesus Christ’s New Testament words of love) name they exclude instead of include to share the good news/word.

*Data, data, data. Yesterday, I commented that I feel sympathetic toward the anti-CRT petitioners. I do. They’re not bad people. They’re just afraid of changing social rules. Their actions are demoralizing, but not dehumanizing. Wealthy corporations and individuals on the other hand , through their untaxed foundations, gave carrots to governments the world over to give the stick to education so that greater profits could be made through privatization and data monetizing. I was once called a 2. I was once labeled the color grey. I was numbered, dehumanized by test score data in an attempt to make education like Uber or Yelp. Not just demoralized, dehumanized. It’s not just who but what dehumanized teachers. It was the wrongheaded idea that education can be measured and sold by the unit. That idea was insidious. The marketing ploy to make my students into consumers who consider their efforts junk unless they are labeled with the right number or dashboard color was insidious. I have no sympathy for the investor class. They are not people with whom I disagree about social issues; they are hostile, corporate takeover wolves out to tear the flesh of the formerly middle and deeply impoverished classes for profit. Not one of the investors in education “reform” or any of their revolving door bureaucrats is any friend of mine. The list of who is long. The list of what is short.

*Jonah Edelman (Founder, Stand on Children); brother Josh Edelman (Gates Foundation: Empowering-?!–Effective Teaching; SEED Charter Schools); Charles & David Koch. Pear$on Publishing monopoly&, of course, ALEC (interfering in our business for FIFTY long years!)

A reader called “Retired Teacher” read Peter Greene’s reflections on Amazon as a model of schooling and posted this comment:

Devious DeVos had the nerve to call public schools a factory model of education. It seems to me that rows of zombie students staring at screens and fed content from an algorithm on a screen much more easily qualifies as a “factory model.” Public education is a model whose goal is mostly about being “through and efficient.” It aspires to bring young people access, opportunity and civics preparation in order to become responsible citizens. It is a pubic institution with noble goals, not an Amazon Warehouse.

The so-called “free market” is a scammer’s delight where the strong feed on the weak and the predators hunt for prey. Believing that the free market will solve education’s problems is as naive as it is reckless. Our young people should be valued, protected and taught well to prepare them for the future as they are the future of this country. They must be ready to address our future needs, and they deserve so much more than being considered a monetized line item in some rich person’s portfolio.

The talented investigative journalist Jennifer Berkshire reports on the changing politics behind charter schools. Democratic support for charters, once led by the Obama administration, is waning. Betsy DeVos made clear that school choice is a Republican goal.

She writes:

In 2019, when West Virginia passed legislation that allowed for the creation of charter schools, it represented yet another feather in the cap of the school-choice movement. Nearly three decades after the creation of the very first publicly funded, privately managed school, in Minnesota, charters now educate more than 3.3 million K-12 students in 7,500 schools across the country, and West Virginia—where lawmakers ignored the fierce opposition of the state’s teachers’ union—became the forty-fifth state to allow them.

Yet today the charter school movement itself is perhaps more vulnerable than it has ever been. Unlikely allies in the best of times, its coalition of supporters—which has included progressives, free-market Republicans, and civil rights advocates, and which has been handsomely funded by deep-pocketed donors and Silicon Valley moguls—is unraveling.

Much of the blame rests on the hyperpolarized politics of the Trump era. Under Betsy DeVos, the lightning-rod secretary of education, Republicans rediscovered their love for private school vouchers and religious education. And with the taste for all things neoliberal on the wane within today’s Democratic Party, charter schools, long the favored policy plaything of the liberal donor class, are simply a harder sell….

The GOP’s most stunning move was to enact, without a single Democratic vote, the Hope Scholarship Program, a sweeping voucher program aimed at moving students out of what the right refers to derisively as “government schools.” Starting in 2022, West Virginia parents who withdraw their children from public schools will receive their child’s state share of public education funding—approximately $4,600 in 2021—to spend on virtually any educational cost: private school tuition, online education programs, homeschooling, tutors, even out-of-state boarding schools. Newly school-age students whose parents never intended to go the public route are also eligible for the funds, which can be banked and spent on future expenses, similar to a health savings account.

While West Virginia’s moves were the most dramatic, legislators in 18 states, including Florida, Indiana, Arizona, and New Hampshire, were close behind, creating private school–choice initiatives or expanding existing ones. Although lawmakers pointed to the pandemic’s shuttering of public schools as part of the justification, schools—both public and private—in most of these states remained open. For all of the bluster from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and others about the importance of in-person schooling, the GOP’s favored school-choice programs increasingly bypass traditional classroom learning altogether. Instead, parents are encouraged to use publicly funded “education freedom accounts” to purchase an array of education “options,” much like television viewers who eschew cable packages for à la carte channels.

Charles Siler, a former lobbyist for the pro-privatization Goldwater Institute in Arizona, says that the GOP’s increasing hostility to public schools could ultimately harm charters as well. “The real target here is taxpayer-funded public education, and that’s a category that includes charters,” said Siler.

Ethan DeWitt of the New Hampshire Bulletin and NPR reported on the partisan divide surrounding vouchers. Republicans budgeted for 28 students but expect between 1,000-5,000 to enroll. Democrats worry that the cost of vouchers will spin out of control.

Both should worry that the evidence base for the efficacy of vouchers shows high attrition rates and meager or negative academic results. Furthermore, the voucher advocates repeat the big lie that a state grant of $5,000 will give poor kids the same opportunities as rich kids, whose families pay far more for private schools.

During a two-hour event sponsored by the conservative advocacy organization Club for Growth, DeVos and Pompeo applauded New Hampshire’s initiative. And they framed the effort to allow public money to help students attend private schools as essential to closing the country’s achievement gap when compared to other developed countries.

Here is a link to Pompeo’s speech.

“The same chance”? Not so. Saying it doesn’t make it so.

Representative Mel Myers, Democrat and ranking member of the NH House Education Committee, sent me the following comment:

You have to remember that this voucher policy was slipped into the budget with no public hearing on this bill version. Our House Education Committee heard a similar bill which was tabled after a rigorous challenge on the part of the Democratic members of the committee. During the remote hearing, over 1000 signed up and over 800 were in opposition. Our Governor Chris Sununu and Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut continue their agenda to dismantle NH education which has always ranked in the top five in the nation.


Rep. Mel Myler

Ranking Dem

House Education Committee

Jeanne Diestch, a former Democratic state senator in New Hampshire, recently wrote about the attention showered on the state’s new voucher program by Republican conservatives like Mike Pompeo, a likely Presidential candidate, and Betsy DeVos. Republicans took control of the New Hampshire legislature until 2020; its Governor, Chris Sununu, is a Republican, and he appointed the state’s commissioner of education, Frank Edelblut, who homeschooled his children. Republicans wasted no time in passing a sweeping voucher bill.

US Conservatives Eyeing NH Vouchers

Diestch wrote in her newsletter:


Why the GOP hates the world’s top education models

When a former Secretary of Education and a future Presidential candidate come to New Hampshire for the rollout of a new state educational policy, you know something important is afoot. The candidate, Mike Pompeo, stated at the event that US schools are falling behind because we have a “public-school monopoly”; adopting NH’s “Education Freedom Accounts” [EFAs] would allow the “free market” to correct this problem. This change is so important to conservatives that the Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity is handing out supportive pamphlets door-to-door in Bedford. So let’s look at three questions:

  1. Why do conservatives want the free market to control education rather than local public-school districts?
  2. Why are so many outside the state so interested in a change inside New Hampshire?
  3. How will all this impact us, the people of the state?

WHY DO CONSERVATIVES WANT FREE-MARKET EDUCATION?
Nations with top education scores all rely on public schools. If the US followed their examples:

  • Teachers would be highly educated, well-paid and respected. In Finland, for example, acceptance for an education degree can be more competitive than medical school.
  • Schools would have shorter vacations, but also shorter school days. In China, elementary students take 90-minute lunch breaks. In Singapore, teachers use the additional time for planning lessons and collaborating on how to improve students’ performance.
  • After the regular school day, learning would continue at home or in tutoring sessions, especially for secondary students. Parents’ role in most successful nations is to ensure children do their three hours or so of assigned homework.

All these top-scoring countries rely on
public-education systems.

(Note that China is not really first; it only submits scores from 4 wealthy provinces.)Why don’t conservatives want to follow these successful models? More school days with highly qualified educators cost more. Companies want to sell high-margin educational software, supported by low-paid trainees, rather than pay education professionals’ salaries. New Hampshire’s EFAs potentially shift millions from public-school teachers and administrators to corporations seeking shareholder profits. In addition, church-based schools are seeking their share of EFAs. Then there is the fact that more-educated people tend to vote Democratic.

WHY SO MANY EYES ARE WATCHING NH EFAS
That is why so many outside New Hampshire are focused on EFAs here. National and international commercial and religious interests will be contributing to Mr. Pompeo and other conservative candidates. Donors hope that if a highly ranked state like New Hampshire can be convinced to hand their taxpayer dollars to unsupervised scholarship funds (see inset below), the rest of the nation will follow.EFAs hide spending detail from taxpayers

EFAs move millions in taxpayer funds from local school board oversight to an independent contractor. The contractor only has to report three things to the Department of Revenue
Administration: amount spent on administration, total number of scholarships, and average scholarship size. The state has no knowledge of who receives how much.
— NH RSA 77 G:5(g)HOW EFAS WILL CHANGE NH
EFAs impact far more than students. When EFAs substitute a $4600 payment for a year of public-school education, someone has to make up the difference. A religious school might charge only $2000 more per year in tuition, but how many low-income households can afford $2000 per child? The upshot is that poor neighborhoods will still need to rely on public schools, but those schools will have fewer per-student dollars to support them. Property taxpayers will have to make up the difference or close schools. The hit will be especially severe in Coos County, where thousands of educators comprise a significant segment of employees. When those schools are forced to close, most educators will move out, worsening Coos towns already dwindling populations and decreasing property values. Our most diverse populations in Manchester and Nashua are also more likely to suffer from the shift in funding caused by EFAs because they have lower incomes. In southern New Hampshire, the census showed that population did increase due to in-state migration. But what families will want to move into a state whose public schools are foundering? The answer is, those families for whom $4600 is enough to send their children to low-tuition religious schools, those families who can already afford expensive private school but would like taxpayers to subsidize them, and those families who want taxpayer funding for parent-guided home education programs. These differ from the workers attracted over the last decade to New Hampshire for its highly rated public schools. How will this affect companies struggling to find employees? No one knows, but the answer will certainly impact our economy.
EFAs will also impact New Hampshire society. Communities forced to close their schools will become less cohesive. Children educated only alongside others with similar backgrounds will have less understanding of the world and their place in it. They will be less able to succeed in the diverse demographics that will make up our nation’s future.
Perhaps conservatives have decided not to follow successful models for improving public education because they do not want the public to be educated. They would prefer people who let corporations and the wealthy take advantage of them, who have been taught to villainize a government that protects public interests.

Readers of this blog have followed the advance of privatization of public school funding for nearly a decade. We know the big foundations and individuals that support privatization. We have followed their activities and watched as all of their strategies have failed to match their promises. The great puzzle, to me, is the indifference of the mainstream media. While they cover political scandals of every variety, they are just not interested in the sustained campaign to divert public money to schools there privately managed,to religious schools, to other private schools, and even to homeschooling. The media rightly criticized Betsy DeVos’s crusade for school choice, but as soon as she left office, they lost interest in the issue. Meanwhile, red states are rushing to open more charter schools and fund more vouchers.

Maurice Cunningham explored this issue in a recent post on the blog of the MassPoliticsProfs. He chastises the Boston Globe, but the same complaint could be directed to most mainstream media.

He begins:

Suppose WalMart swept into Boston and spent millions to acquire Market Basket. The town would go ballistic. It would be covered every day in every media outlet, front page of the Boston Globe. But the Walton Family Foundation of Arkansas—the exact same heartless* mercenaries—spends millions of dollars to take over public schools and it gets ignored. Why is that?

He discusses “Hidden Politics” and “the Politics of Pretending.” He has written frequently about astroturf groups and how they present themselves to a gullible media as authentic spokesmen for parents or for some other groups.

That’s the PR facade, he says. What really matters is: who is funding these groups? Why doesn’t the media care?

I always thought that if out-of-state billionaires could be proven to have entered the state using local fronts to change Massachusetts education policy that would be a great, great, great story. I’ve been proven wrong again, and again, and again. I still think it’s a great story, it’s just a great story that only gets told at a small political science blog. Why is that?

Why is that?

A while back, I read a vitriolic article in a rightwing publication that expressed contempt for the public schools and congratulated Betsy DeVos for trying to cut federal funding for schools.

The article asserted that public schools are “garbage” and the government should slash their funding. A major piece of evidence for the claim that money doesn’t matter was the failure of the Obama administration’s School Improvement Grants program, which spent more than $3 billion and accomplished nothing. The evaluation of SIG was commissioned by the U.S Department of Education and quietly released just before the inauguration of Trump. The report was barely noticed. Yet now it is used by DeVos acolytes to oppose better funding of our schools.

The wave of Red4Ed teachers’ strikes in 2019 exposed the woeful conditions in many schools, including poorly paid teachers, lack of nurses and social workers and librarians, overcrowded classrooms, and crumbling facilities. The public learned from the teachers’ strikes that public investment in the schools in many states has not kept pace with the needs of students and the appropriate professional compensation of teachers. Many states are spending less now on education than they did in 2008 before the Great Recession. They reacted to the economic crisis by cutting taxes on corporations, which cut funding for schools.

Sadly, the Obama-Duncan Race to the Top program promoted the same strategies and goals as No Child Left Behind. Set goals for test scores and punish teachers and schools that don’t meet them. Encourage the growth of charter schools, which drain students and resources from schools with low test scores.

One can only dream, but what if Race to the Top had been called Race to Equity for All Our Children? What if the program had rewarded schools and districts that successfully integrated their schools? What if it had encouraged class-size reduction, especially in the neediest schools? Race to the Top and the related SIG program were fundamentally a replication and extension of NCLB.

When Arne Duncan defended his “reform” (disruption) ideas in the Washington Post, he cited a positive 2012 evaluation and belittled his own Department’s 2017 evaluation, which had more time to review the SIG program and concluded that it made no difference. The 2017 report provided support for those who say that money doesn’t matter, that teacher compensation doesn’t matter, that class size doesn’t matter, that schools don’t need a nurse, a library, a music and arts program, or adequate and equitable funding.

The Education Department’s 2017 evaluation shows that the Bush-Obama strategy didn’t made a difference because its ideas about how to improve education were wrong. Low-performing schools did not see test-score gains because both NCLB and RTTT were based on flawed ideas about competition, motivation, threats and rewards, and choice.

Here is a summary of the SIG program in the USED’s report that the Right used to defend DeVos’s proposed budget cuts.

The SIG program aimed to support the implementation of school intervention models in low-performing schools. Although SIG was first authorized in 2001, this evaluation focused on SIG awards granted in 2010, when roughly $3.5 billion in SIG awards were made to 50 states and the District of Columbia, $3 billion of which came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. States identified the low-performing schools eligible for SIG based on criteria specified by ED and then held competitions for local education agencies seeking funding to help turn around eligible schools.

SIG-funded models had no significant impact on test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment…

The findings in this report suggest that the SIG program did not have an impact on the use of practices promoted by the program or on student outcomes (including math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment), at least for schools near the SIG eligibility cutoff. In higher grades (6th through 12th), the turnaround model was associated with larger student achievement gains in math than the transformation model. However, factors other than the SIG model implemented, such as unobserved differences between schools implementing different models, may explain these differences in achievement gains.

These findings have broader relevance beyond the SIG program. In particular, the school improvement practices promoted by SIG were also promoted in the Race to the Top program. In addition, some of the SIG-promoted practices focused on teacher evaluation and compensation policies that were also a focus of Teacher Incentive Fund grants. All three of these programs involved large investments to support the use of practices with the goal of improving student outcomes. The findings presented in this report do not lend much support for the SIG program having achieved this goal, as the program did not appear to have had an impact on the practices used by schools or on student outcomes, at least for schools near the SIG eligibility cutoff.

What NCLB, Race to the Top, and SIG demonstrated was that their theory of action was wrong. They did not address the needs of students, teachers, or schools. They imposed the lessons of the non-existent Texas “miracle” and relied on carrots and sticks to get results. They failed, but they did not prove that money doesn’t matter.

Money matters very much. Equitable and adequate funding matters. Class size matters, especially for children with the highest needs. A refusal to look at evidence and history blinds us to seeing what must change in federal and state policy. It will be an uphill battle but we must persuade our representatives in state legislatures and Congress to open their eyes, acknowledge the failure of the test-and-punish regime, and think anew about the best ways to help students, teachers, families, and communities.

The findings of the report were devastating, not only to the SIG program, but to the punitive strategies imposed by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, which together cost many more billions. 

My first reaction was, Money doesn’t matter if you spend it on the wrong strategies, like punishing schools that don’t improve test scores, like ignoring the importance of reducing class size, like ignoring the importance of poverty in the lives of children, like ignoring decades of social science that out-of-school factors affect student test scores more than teachers do.

Gary Rubinstein revisits the past decade of failed reforms and notes how frequently the “reformers” made promises and then failed to keep them. Michelle Rhee came on the national scene, appearing on the cover of TIME, then disappeared after helping to sink the mayor of D.C. who hired her. Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein claimed that under their leadership, there was a “miracle” in New York City, but the miracle disappeared when they and their public relations team left office. Jeb Bush touted a Florida “miracle,” but Florida remains mired in the depths of mediocrity when assessed by NAEP. Laurene Powell Jobs promised to “reinvent” the high school and handed out $100 millions to the schools she chose; many failed soon after. We await the “miracle.” Even Betsy DeVos claimed to be “rethinking” school, wondering why we needed public schools at all; now she is busy spreading millions to charter and voucher advocates in the red states.

Gary concluded his review of all the rethinking, reinventing, and rebranding by taking a close look at a school hyped by TFA. He looked at the numbers, and lo and behold, no miracle there.

In this “model” school, the kids are faring poorly:

OK, “So what,” you say, “only 1.1% of their 10th graders passed the science test and 2.7% of their 10th graders passed the math test. What matters is ‘growth.” Well in that department they didn’t fare so well either.

He concludes:

Usually it’s a lot harder than this. They often pick a school that has artificially inflated test scores due to attrition. Keep in mind, this is the school Villanueva Beard chose to highlight. One of the lowest performing schools in test scores and growth in the state of Indiana.

Whether they are ‘rethinkers,’ ‘reinventers,’ or ‘reimaginers’, a reformer by any other name still doesn’t know anything about schools.

The burning question is: When will the billionaires who fund “reform” and “reinvention” decide to stop funding failure?

New Hampshire Republicans are determined to use their new majority in both houses to jam through a generous voucher bill that would offer public money for students to attend any school they wanted, including religious schools, private schools, and homeschooling.

Down party lines, the Senate approved an expansive school voucher bill Thursday that would allow parents to use state education aid for a wide range of alternative educational opportunities for their children. The bill was then immediately tabled on another 14-10 party line vote – a move that enables the body to consider bills with a fiscal impact during the budget process.

Opponents have called Senate Bill 130 the most expansive voucher bill in the country with little accountability and say it would increase local property taxes, not reduce them as supporters claim.

They said the bill is the latest attempt to privatize education at the expense of the children remaining in the public school system.“Public education should be treasured, we should treasure the public education that all of us went through,” said Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester. “All this legislation does is carve public education apart and that is not a good thing.”

Supporters said the bill seeks to help those students left behind and those who do not perform well in the public education setting.

They said the program would not only help students it would save state taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, said the current situation in public education is like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.“The opposition centers on the preservation of an institution even if it is at the expense of the children who attend,” Giuda said. “This bill attempts to care for the children whom our schools don’t work for.”

He said the top reason parents apply to the current business tax credit school scholarship fund are for bullying and discrimination.

The program allows parents who best know their children to find the best fit for their children’s needs, Giuda maintained.

Under the bill, a parent seeking to establish an account would receive between $4,500 to $8,500 per pupil to spend on tuition to any private, religious, or alternative school and on other related educational costs including home schooling, computers, books etc.

The student’s parents would receive the basic state adequacy grant of about $3,700 as well as additional money if the student qualified for free or reduced lunches, special education services, English as a Second Language instruction, or failed to reach English proficiency.

The average grant is estimated to be $4,600.

The program is open to the parents of a student in public —traditional and charter — private or religious school, home schooling, or other alternative educational programs.

New Hampshire has some excellent private schools, some are day schools, some are boarding schools.

The most elite is Phillips Exeter, a boarding school, where the tuition is $55,402. Not likely to accept a single voucher student.

Then there is Brewster Academy, tuition $64,950.

The Dublin School has day students who pay $38,450 and boarding students who pay $66,800.

But if a parent can raise the difference, they might sent their child to Portsmouth Christian Academy, for $15,945 or Concord Christian Academy for $11,200. However, these schools have very small student bodies and are unlikely to find space for a student who is failing in their public school. (Concord Christian Academy has 216 students, perhaps they can make room for one more.)

The state grants will instead underwrite the tuition of students already enrolled in religious schools or being home-schooled. And perhaps a few who are able to find low-quality religious schools with uncertified staff and meager facilities, typically inferior to the public school that the students left.

The Republican legislators don’t care about the experience of other states, where vouchers attract small numbers of students but lead to budget cuts in public schools across the state. If they care to make up for the loss of revenue to public schools, the Legislature will have to raise property taxes. There is no way that vouchers for students currently paying their own way or leave public schools for private schools will reduce the cost of schooling.

It is a shame that none of the legislators consider the research on vouchers. It is not promising. Independent evaluator Mark Dynarski has reviewed many voucher studies and conducted the official evaluation of the D.C. voucher program. He finds that students who use vouchers fall behind their peers in public schools. Voucher schools typically have high attrition rates because the students or their parents realize that the miracles promised never happened. Reviewers at the Center for American Progress described the harm that vouchers do to students. CAP also warned of the dangers that vouchers pose to the civil rights of students. And they warned of the racist origins of school choice and the segregating impact of vouchers.

The Republican legislators are ignorant of the research. They keep repeating Betsy DeVos’s weary cliches, none of which have proven true.

How sad for the children of New Hampshire! How sad for the future of the state.

This interview was recorded by Town Hall in Seattle, which is a great venue for speakers but in COVID Times was recorded remotely. I interviewed them about their important new book, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door.

They had some very valuable insights, and the time flew by. I hope you will take a few minutes and join us.