Archives for category: Cardona, Miguel

During the campaign, Joe Biden promised to stop standardized testing. He acknowledged the damage it does to children and education.

Please sign the petition to remind him of his promise.

Ann P. Cronin is a former Connecticut Distinguished English Teacher of the Year, a school district administrator, and creator of award-winning programs for the teaching of English in middle schools and high schools. At her blog, she asks about Miguel Cardona’s vision for the future.

She writes:

When I ask Connecticut teachers about Miguel Cardona, those who know him or have worked with him say that he is really nice guy who knows what the challenges in our classrooms are, knows how to help teachers to improve their teaching, and respects public schools. All good.

The majority of Connecticut teachers who don’t know him personally say that he has been largely quiet as Commissioner and are critical that he seems more interested in keeping schools open than in caring about public health, including the welfare of teachers, students and students’ families during the pandemic. 

But what is his vision for teaching and learning that he will bring to the U.S. Department of Education? When appointed Commissioner of Education in Connecticut 19 months ago, he stated that his goals would be to:

  1. Make a positive impact on graduation rates.
  2. Close the achievement gap.
  3. Ensure that all students have increased access to opportunities and advantages that they need to succeed in life.

It is reasonable to assume that the goals he had for Connecticut 19 months ago will be goals that he will now bring to the country. Those goals, however, are “old hat” and don’t have a record of being successfully accomplished.

The goals themselves are worthy ones, but they need a new interpretation which would give rise to a dramatically new vision and radical new actions. The questions are: What would that new vision and new actions look like? And is Dr. Cardona open to that vision and those actions?

Cronin points out that it easy to “raise the graduation rate,” as many districts now do, by offering “credit retrieval” or “credit recovery” courses, a quick computer course that involves minimal learning but provides credits. The goal ought to be, she says, not raising the graduation rate but something like the graduating of well-educated high school students. Currently, graduation rates make good headlines but can mean very little in terms of student learning.

Charter schools have mastered the trick of raising graduation rates by pushing out students who are unlikely to graduate on time.

She asks for something more: a genuine vision that involves improving the quality of education, not improving the data.

How refreshing!

Ann Cronin, retired teacher in Connecticut, posted a letter on her blog written by another Connecticut teacher and addressed to Secretary of Education-Designate Miguel Cardona:

Jeannette C. Faber writes to tell Dr. Cardona that it is time to end standardized testing, now!

Dear Commissioner Cardona:

Connecticut is proud that you, our Commissioner of Education, was chosen as the Biden/Harris administration’s Secretary of Education. 

Educators support your dedication to: increasing graduation rates, closing the achievement gap, and ensuring equity for all students. All educators should be committed to making these goals a reality. America’s children need and deserve this. 

However, educators also know that the regime of profit-driven standardized testing will not improve teaching and learning. They never have.

  • If educators are forced to teach to a test in order to increase graduation rates, students are merely learning how to take a test. This is antithetical to what 21st-century learning should look like: problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, project-based learning, capstone projects, creativity, and more. 
  • If schools are pressured to close the achievement gap, but their only tools are computer programs that hold students hostage to rote “learning”, then students are not experiencing rich and meaningful learning. Only 21st-century learning experiences will increase graduation rates that are credible and that actually prepare students for a growingly complex world.
  • If equity means giving students in impoverished areas less rich and meaningful learning, by continuing the standardized testing regime, the equity gap will only increase. What students in impoverished areas need is much more of what students in more affluent areas already have. Connecticut’s discriminatory per-pupil expenditure disparity tells the whole, sad story. 

Dr. Cardona, what holds schools back from making meaningful progress are ill-conceived federal mandates. These mandates have never improved the quality of teaching and learning. They never will. Test scores may have increased. As well as graduation rates. However, those are meaningless if they are not products of rich and meaningful teaching and learning. 

No standardized test can measure 21st-century skills. Hence, standardized tests cannot cultivate the acquisition of those skills.

We ask you, Dr. Cardona, to recommit yourself to the vital goals you have set by shifting the paradigm. Shift how we achieve those goals. That requires ending the testing regime started with George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (2002 – 2015) and continued with Barack Obama’s “Race to the Top” (2012 – 2016).

We, Dr. Cardona, are asking Connecticut’s teachers, parents, and students to send a strong message to you by refusing the standardized testing planned for this spring.  

We are also asking all who oppose the standardized-testing regime to sign this petition, which will be delivered to you, Dr. Cardona.

We are all trying to survive a global pandemic. In my 25 years in the classroom, I have never seen my students so stressed, depressed, and anxious. It is unnecessary and insensitive to add to the weight of their mental health struggles by adding the stress of standardized testing. Also, when thousands of stressed, depressed, and anxious students are forced to take a standardized test, will the results be accurate? Were they ever really accurate? Able to capture what students know and can do? Teachers know the answer: No!

Now is the time to end standardized testing

#RefuseTheTest 

#DoNotTakeTestingToDC. 

A faithful teacher,

Jeannette C. Faber – MS, MALS, EdD

The Connecticut Mirror wrote a revealing in-depth analysis of Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona’s life, career, and education ideas.

His meteoric rise has been well documented. He grew up in poverty. He started public school in Meriden, Connecticut, not speaking English. He saw education as his route to a better life.

He became a teacher, then a principal, then assistant superintendent of the Meriden district of 8,000 students. From there, he was tapped to become State Commissioner of Schools.

From the outside, the Meriden Public Schools system looks like a network of struggling city schools.

The state has designated it an Alliance District and one of the “lowest-performing districts” since more than one-quarter of the students are multiple grades behind in English, math and science. It is also an economically isolated district that spends 30% less per student than the state average despite three-quarters of its students coming from low-income families. And the school ratings often used in real estate listings don’t look favorably on the district, either.

This is where Miguel Cardona — President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to become the next U.S. education secretary — grew up and spent 21 years of his 23-year career as an educator. And his experiences there — his battles and the district’s successes — will likely be front-of-mind as he coordinates policy for all the public schools in the country.

Cardona has never put much weight into titles, and he has grown used to defying low expectations set upon him and his students.

In Meriden, it meant broadening opportunity by opening access to advanced-level courses to drastically more students, embracing the Common Core standards and the accompanying tests that raised the bar for where students should be academically, providing emotional support and interventions for students acting out rather than suspending them, and setting up programs to help more high school graduates navigate to college.

Cardona also took the lead in Meriden to fine-tune controversial education reforms aimed at teacher accountability that were being pushed onto his district by state and federal officials into a model that the local union eventually supported.

Meriden’s results are ahead of most districts’ throughout the state on arguably the most important benchmark — the share of students who meet their growth targets and are on track to catch up or stay ahead.

Statewide, 33% of students from low-income families were on track to catch up in English Language Arts, compared to 39% of the poor students in Meriden by the end of the 2018-19 school year, the last year Cardona was the district’s assistant superintendent before becoming state education commissioner. In math, 37% of poor students in Meriden were on track, compared to 34% statewide. The growth of Meriden students also jumps out compared to the state’s 32 other “low-performing” Alliance Districts.

The share of Meriden students from low-income households reaching their growth targets has outpaced state averages nearly every year since 2014-15, when the state first started measuring whether students were on track to catch up.

The leader of Biden’s education transition team, Linda Darling-Hammond, served on a panel with Cardona when he was an assistant superintendent and was very impressed. That meeting was probably the key to his remarkable ascension.

This article provides insight into the educator who will lead the U.S. Depatnentbof Education in the Biden administration.

Valerie Strauss writes in her Washington Post blog called “The Answer Sheet” about the growing number of states that want waivers from the federal requirement for annual testing. DeVos granted waivers last year but said she would not do it again. But she will be gone. Now it is up to Joe Biden and Miguel Cardona to decide whether it is wise to subject students to high-stakes standardized tests in a year where schools have repeatedly opened and closed, beloved teachers have died, family members have fallen ill, and many families are without food or a secure home.

I am sorry that the Secretary of Education-in-waiting describes the standardized tests as “an accurate tool,” because the only thing they accurately measure is family income, disability status, and English language proficiency. There are cheaper ways to get this information than to subject millions of children to useless standardized tests of reading and mathematics The tests are completely useless and provide no information to teachers about student progress: None. As Strauss points out, the results come in months after the tests were given, the students have different teachers, the teachers seldom see the questions and are not allowed to discuss them, and they never discover how their students answered any given question.

Let me repeat: The tests benefit no one other than the testing corporations, who collects hundreds of millions of dollars. Whatever we want to know about test scores and “achievement gaps” could have been gleaned at far less cost and inconvenience from the biennial National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), which was canceled this spring. The annual tests for individual students in grades 3-8 should have been canceled instead. No high-performing nation gives a standardized test to every student every year as we do.

Strauss writes:

There are growing calls from across the political spectrum for the federal government to allow states to skip giving students federally mandated standardized tests in spring 2021 — but the man that President-elect Joe Biden tapped to be education secretary has indicated support for giving them.

The issue will be an early test for Miguel Cardona, the state superintendent of education in Connecticut whom Biden picked for education secretary, and his relationship with teachers and others critical of giving the exams during the coronavirus-caused chaos of the 2020-2021 school year.

The current education secretary, Betsy DeVos, approved waivers to states allowing them not to administer the annual exams last spring as the coronavirus pandemic led schools to close. She said recently she wouldn’t do it again, but Biden’s triumph in November’s elections means the decision is no longer hers. It’s up to Cardona — assuming he is confirmed by the Senate, as expected — and the Biden administration to decide whether to provide states flexibility from the federal law.

The annual spring testing regime — complete with sometimes extensive test preparation in class and even testing “pep rallies” — has become a flash point in the two-decade-old school reform movement that has centered on using standardized tests to hold schools and teachers accountable. First under the 2002 No Child Left Behind law and now under its successor, the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, public schools are required to give most students tests each year in math and English language arts and to use the results in accountability formulas. Districts evaluate teachers and states evaluate schools and districts — at least in part — on test scores.

But just how much the scores from the spring tests ever reveal about student progress, even in a non-pandemic year, is a major source of contention in the education world.

Supporters say that they are important to determine whether students are making progress and that two straight years of having no data from these tests would stunt student academic progress because teachers would not have critical information on how well their students are doing.

Critics say that the results have no value to teachers because the scores come after the school year has ended and that they are not allowed to see test questions or know which ones their students got wrong. There are also concerns that some tests used for accountability purposes are not well-aligned to what students learn in school — and that the results only show what is already known: students from poor families do worse than students from families with more resources.

Enter Cardona into this testing thicket. Biden last week surprised the education establishment by naming Cardona, who less than two years ago was an assistant superintendent of a 9,000-student school district. One big factor in his favor for the Biden team was that he has not been a partisan in the education reform wars of the past two decades. Yet he won’t be able to avoid it over this issue.

Last spring, Connecticut, like other states, did not administer spring standardized tests after receiving waivers to the federal law from DeVos.

Cardona has said he wants students to take the exams this spring but with a caveat: He doesn’t want the results used to hold individual teachers, schools and districts accountable for student progress on the scores. (DeVos, too, had said she would have granted that kind of flexibility to states in 2021.)

“This [academic] year, we want to provide some opportunity for them [students] to tell us what they learned or what gaps exist so we can target resources,” Cardona said at a recent news conference before he was tapped by Biden, according to the Connecticut Post.

The education department he heads in Connecticut released a memo in October calling state assessments “important guideposts to our promise of equity.” It said: “They are the most accurate tool available to tell us if all students — regardless of race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, English proficiency, disability, or zip code — are growing and achieving at the highest levels.”

Cardona’s press secretary, Peter Yazbak, said the Biden transition team was answering all questions about his role as education secretary. The Biden team did not immediately comment about whether the new administration would consider providing waivers from the tests.

Cardona is already facing a growing chorus of voices who are demanding some flexibility from the federal law, including some that say forcing students to take the tests for any reason is a waste of money and time.

The Council of Chief State School Officers, a nonprofit that represents state education chiefs, released a statement this month calling for unspecified flexibility around the spring testing requirements. While its members are “committed to knowing where students are academically,” it said, “states need flexibility in the way they collect and report such data.” The CCSSO said it wants to work with the Biden administration “on a streamlined, consistent process that gives states the flexibility they need on accountability measures in the coming year.”

Others were more direct, including the two major teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. In a letter to the Biden transition team, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote:

“We know there are concerns that not having this data will make student achievement during covid-19 and particularly deeply troubling equity gaps less visible, that this will mean two years of lost data. However, there is no way that the data that would come out of a spring 2021 testing cycle would accurately reflect anything, and certainly not accurate enough to hold school systems accountable for results. But curriculum-linked diagnostic assessment is what will most aid covid-19 academic recovery, not testing for testing’s sake.

Another issue is whether the tests can be administered to all students safely this spring. Millions of students are still learning remotely from home as the pandemic continues to infect and kill Americans. Though Biden has called for the safe reopening of most schools within 100 days of his inauguration, it is not clear whether that will happen or whether the tests can be securely administered online.

Bob Schaeffer, interim director of a nonprofit called the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, which works to stop the misuse of standardized tests, noted that DeVos recently sought the cancellation of the 2021 administration of the national test known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) because it could not be administered effectively and securely.

“IF NAEP is cancelled for 2021 due to pandemic-related concerns, how can federal and state mandated exams be administered safely and accurately this academic year?” Schaeffer said. Meanwhile, his group, FairTest, has launched a national effort for a suspension of all high-stakes standardized tests scheduled for spring 2021.

This is why a waiver strategy is so necessary,” it says.

It’s not only state superintendents, teachers unions and testing critics who are looking for flexibility from the federal testing mandate.

As early as June, officials in Georgia said they would seek a waiver from the spring 2021 tests. DeVos’s Education Department denied the request, so this month, state officials agreed to dramatically reduce the importance of end-of-course exam grades for the 2020-2021 school year. They will have virtually no weight on students’ course grades.

In South Carolina, SCNOW.com reported, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, a Republican who is among Trump’s strongest supporters, signed onto a letter calling for a testing waiver for spring 2021, as did Rep. Tom Rice (R).

Scores of Texas state representatives from both sides of the political aisle have joined to ask State Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to seek necessary federal waivers to allow the Texas Education Agency to cancel the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, test in the 2020-2021 school year.

A letter, sent by the office of Democratic Rep. Diego Bernal said: “The covid slide, an academic deficit that the agency has widely recognized, has resulted in students, across the state, being behind grade-level in nearly every subject. Instead of proceeding with the administration of the STAAR as planned, the agency, along with our districts and campuses, should be focused on providing high-quality public education with an emphasis on ensuring the health and safety of students and educators.”

In Ohio, Dayton schools Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli recently said that that state should seek a federal waiver from the spring standardized testing, WHIO-TV reported. “Using the standardized testing as we typically have done is inappropriate and ineffective,” Lolli said.

“The only thing it does is it rates poverty,” she said. “We know that the lowest scoring schools across this country are schools that have high numbers of children who live in poverty. That’s the only thing we’re doing [by testing] is identifying those locations once again.”

In North Carolina, the State Board of Education in early December tentatively approved a proposal that would have students take the exams but that would ask the federal government if it can have flexibility in how it uses the scores of the tests.

In Colorado, advocates for English-language learners have asked the state Board of Education to cancel ACCESS, the test these students take annually, or to make sure parents know that they can opt their children out without penalty.

Other actions are being taken in other states to persuade officials to seek and lobby for federal waivers, and that is likely to pick up in pace as spring approaches.

Jake Jacobs is a middle school art teacher in New York. He is the co-administrator of the New York BadAss Teachers Association, an organization of militant activist teachers.

He writes:

Joe Biden’s recent nomination of Miguel Cardona as a relatively lesser-known, less controversial selection for Secretary of Education was telling. It shows the incoming administration’s reticence to take a side in the ongoing battle over school choice and standardized testing, just like most members of Congress and the major U.S. media.

On the campaign trail, Biden drew cheers from teachers for his promise to end standardized testing, but he noticeably never added any such policy to his website. As was well known by teachers in those audiences, federally mandated tests provide no educational benefit but are the fuel in the engine driving charter school expansion.


President-Elect Biden did vow to cut federal funding to for-profit charter schools, however this affects only about 12% of charters (who could easily change their model while still enriching their for-profit management arms). Biden has acknowledged charter schools siphon money away from public schools, agreeing to new language in the (non-binding) DNC platform to discourage charters from discriminating against high-need students but as we know well, Democrats for many years have bent to pressure from deep-pocketed industrialists seeking ever more charter schools


Not much has changed since the same billionaires threatened to fund other candidates if Hillary Clinton didn’t continue to signal support for charters. Remember Eli Broad’s explicit ultimatum to withhold campaign cash if Hillary sided with teachers against charter schools? We do. 


But Broad also donated money to then-senator Kamala Harris, and like many ultra-wealthy education reformers, Broad made good use of the “revolving door”, hiring Biden’s former chief of staff Bruce Reed (2011-2013) to run his foundation. 


AS THE DOOR REVOLVES: The same day he revealed Cardona as his education nominee, it was announcedBiden rehired Reed as deputy chief of staff, despite pre-emptive protest from progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Squad who objected to Reed’s past hostility to safety net programs like Social Security. A former top advisor to President Bill Clinton, Reed’s own bio touts his oversight of the 1996 welfare reform law, the 1994 crime bill, and the Clinton education agenda.


Starting in 2015, Reed was a senior advisor for Emerson Collective, the “social change” LLC founded by billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs who is also close to Vice President-Elect Harris. Though it’s not clear how Reed might influence Biden’s decision-making on K-12 education, he is expected to have a “major role” as Biden’s Deputy Chief of Staff particularly shaping technology and data privacy policy. And echoing Trump, Reed calls for the elimination of Section 230 which protects internet companies from lawsuits over user postings.
In 2014, while serving as CEO of the Broad Foundation, Reed made worrisome comments to Hillary’s education advisors, suggesting in private that whole cities could be mass-charterized in the wake of natural disasters, calling New Orleans an “amazing story”. Reed also voiced support for personalized digital learning using the Summit Charters model.


TAX BREAKS LINKED TO CHARTERS: It’s great to see watchdog groups expose significant waste and fraud in the charter school industry, but because U.S. media is so silent about the political influence of pro-charter billionaires, hardly any attention is paid to the generous federal tax credits enriching investors through “nonprofit” charter school construction and financing as public schools struggle for resources. One such program, the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC), did make it onto Biden’s web page, showing he wants to expand the credit to $5 billion per year and make it permanent.


It might not be controversial to use a seven year, 39% tax refund to incentivize wealthy investors to start caring about economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in dire need of manufacturing plants and low-income housing, but why does the NMTC favor charter schools over traditional public schools which are literally crumbling on our heads? 


I tried to find whose idea it was to include charter school construction, financing and leasing deals in the NMTC. 
The program itself traces back to 1998 when a “membership organization” called NMTC Coalitioncomprised mostly of banks, investment funds, developers, LLPs and LLCs came together under the management of Rapoza Associates, a large DC lobbying and government relations firm who supplies policy briefs and “comprehensive legislative and support services to community development organizations, associations and public agencies”. Sound a lot like ALEC?


Legislation was championed by then-Speaker Denny Hastert and Texas Rep. William Archer, both Republicans. The program was signed into law by President Clinton and went live as past of the Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000, but it appears charter schools weren’t included until 2004. The California charter nonprofit ExEd claims to have “pioneered” NMTC charter financing deals, boasting of dozens under their belt. By 2017, more than $2.2 billion in NMTC allocations were deployed to expand charter schools nationally.


The contention was that although charter schools receive operational funding for enrolled students, they must procure and finance their own space, thus they needed a helping hand from Uncle Sam. Today however, 27 states have enacted legislation granting some level of access to district facilities, suggesting some re-examination is in order.


Operators also contended that their charter renewal terms, usually five years, are shorter than typical mortgage terms which range from 10 to 30 years. Thus the need for charters to quickly show results introduced a perverse incentive, driving all-out obsession for good scores on standardized tests so the school can not only guarantee their charter renewal, but demonstrate to lenders they are a safe bet (or attract even more expansion capital). 
STAKES RAISED FOR TEST SCORES: Because the NMTC tax credit and a host of other federal programs give charters significant fundraising advantages over public schools, it provides financial impetus to target nearby public schools for closure. Anything that can be done to raise scores – or lower the competition’s scores – will help their chances. This not only gives rise to round-the-clock test prep, but the notorious practice of cherrypicking students. 


The shiny new facilities help attract the best test-takers, while rigid “zero tolerance” discipline policies are employed to dump “troublesome” kids back on the public schools. Even though the deck is stacked, superior test scores create the “secret sauce” narrative used to sell politicians on charters and drum up support for more tax breaks.


Over the decades, poverty-stricken areas have been repeatedly carved up and designated as “Enterprise Communities”, “Empowerment Zones”, “Renewal Communities” or “Promise Neighborhoods”. In 2004, President Bush announced the “Opportunity Zones” program which Donald Trump renewed in his 2017 tax reform law, with support from Democrats like Cory Booker. This program could potentially dwarf the NMTC because it allows tax credits and deferments for trillions in untapped capital gains income. 


Although Opportunity Zone deals are available to public schools, they would need to first sign over their property to investors. But it’s not clear these programs even work. Besides being rife with cases of abuse like the Steven Mnuchin or Rick Scott front-page patronage scandals, a University of Iowa study of 75 enterprise zones in 13 states found little to no economic benefit and noted other harmful impacts such as displacement, gentrification, or giveaways for development in up-and-coming areas that would have happened anyway. 


As chronicled by Network for Public Education and noted by Congress, the array of creative charter school flim-flams has been incalculable – from exorbitant CEO salaries, predatory leases and consulting fees to management firms charging taxpayers to buy out a school’s name and logo. Even school districts got into the act, authorizing charters schools so as to generate oversight fees that help plug budget gaps. But there’s a marked difference between sketchy charter operators and multi-billion dollar programs designed to help charters replace existing schools.


SWEETENING THE POT: The tax credits, designed by the rich for the rich, are only the first layer of the subsidy onion for charter schools though. Linked to the tax breaks are tax-exempt charter school financing bonds traded in investment markets, and then even more inducement via a secondary tranche of bonds leveraged by government subsidies to backstop the first set of bonds against default. One such program, administered through the infamous No Child Left Behind Act is the Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities Program, which not only assumes downside risk, it artificially buoys bond ratings and lowers interest rates for the borrower. 
These credit enhancements can be backed by federal or state funds, banks or private investors but again, the guarantees may be tied to academic performance benchmarks which precipitate discrimination against high-need students. 


To lure developers into distressed neighborhoods, enormous bond guarantee and credit enhancement funds (starting at $100 million) were created under the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) program, enacted as part of the 2010 Small Business Jobs Act. Charter school developers were among those offered access to long-term credit at below-market rates. In 2012, twelve of these CDFI fund management groups came together to form the Charter School Lenders Coalition, underwritten by usual suspects the Gates and Walton Foundations. The collaborative melded together ALL of the aforementioned programs with a stated goal of lobbying congressional reps to support more charters. 


Earlier this year, high-profile Democrats including Senators Sanders, Warren and Van Hollen co-sponsored legislation that would automatically deploy CDFIs in areas impacted by natural disasters or economic crises. 
If all these financial instruments are starting to sound complicated, it’s no accident – I’ve spared readers most of the dizzying acronyms like CDEs, CMOs, UDAGs and QALICBs, but the less everyday people understand, the greater the chance this all flies under the radar. Even the developers – be they charter operators or wealthy financial backers – require a lot of hand-holding by intermediaries to guide them through the maze of policy intricacies and applications. 


This is where yet another funding stream comes in, namely the federal Charter Schools Program, or CSP, which since 1994 has grown to into a $440 million annual slush fund for discretionary grants found to be so wasteful a third of 2006-2014 grantees never opened or quickly folded. Other recipients were found to be buying skyboxes or private jets, or unscrupulously charging themselves rent in cities and towns where local authorities are ill-equipped for oversight.


PULLING OUT THE STOPS: By the time Betsy DeVos took the helm, the U.S. Dept. of Education wasn’t just awarding start-up money to school-level charter developers but to all manner of other financial intermediaries including charter associations, nonprofits, state educational agencies, charter authorizers, and credit enhancement funds. The DeVoses know well that raining money on these entities will enrich real estate and banking interests, trickling down onto pro-charter candidates, local PACs and friendly media outlets. A week before the 2020 election, DeVos shamelessly announced the Trump Administration will start ignoring the crystal-clear prohibition on federal funds for charters affiliated with religious organizations, rupturing the separation of church and state. 


The NMTC technically expires on Dec. 31, 2020 but proposals for renewal have been very popular – the 2019 bill in the Senate had 37 bipartisan co-sponsors including Minority Leader Schumer, Amy Klobuchar and center-left Senators Jeff Merkeley and Sherrod Brown. The House version had 130 co-sponsors including Karen Bass and 22 other members of the Progressive Caucus. 


If there was an amendment to remove the exclusive carve-out for charter schools from the NMTC, it would allow the community investment to continue (for better or worse) but take the finger off the scale in the competition for educational resources. 


Such an amendment may not deter anti-union oligarchs like the Koch family bent on undermining public education. It may not deter data-mining tech billionaires seeking lucrative contracts or access to captive student audiences. It may not deter neoliberal social engineers who think their wealth ordains them to rejigger education as they see fit. It may not deter Betsy DeVos and her ilk from crusading for taxpayer-funding of religious schools.


But it could deter the garden-variety investor just looking to turn a buck, and it could bring attention to the little-understood giveaways to charter school investors. Also, it will flush out members of Congress afraid to go on record either for-or-against charters. As the battles over public education funding rage on, we hope incoming House members will infuse new energy into the fight, showing Biden, Harris and other policymakers the real-world harms and inequity built into charter school tax credits.

As a new year begins, and as a new administration prepares to take charge of the U.S. government, our fight to support and improve public education goes on.

The Network for Public Education is and will continue to be the single largest voluntary group advocating on behalf of public schools. We had humble beginnings, starting with a bank account of a couple of thousand dollars and a board of enthusiastic parents and educators. We now have a full-time executive director (Carol Burris) who is helped by three amazing part-time workers.

We are not like the City Fund, which opened its doors in 2018 with $200 million in the bank (thanks to billionaire John Arnold and billionaire Reed Hastings). The City Fund exists to push high-stakes testing and to destroy community-based, democratically-controlled public schools. It has no members; we have about 350,000 who work with us. The “reformers” have tons of money and malevolent intentions.

Last year, we issued two bombshell reports that showed the failure of the federal Charter Schools Program, which doles out $440 million every year, mostly to corporate charter chains. We discovered and documented–using U.S. Department of Education data–that about 35-40 percent of the federally funded charters either never opened or closed not long after opening. They are the day lilies of American education, and they waste money that should go to support under-resourced public schools.

We published a report about the 1,200 or so charters that double-dipped into CARES funds intended to save small businesses. The charters, whose funding from public sources, never ceased, collected from $1-2 Billion from the Paycheck Protection Program. All of the data are available in public sources, but you have to know where to look to see that some very savvy charters and charter lobbyists cleared huge sums of PPP money (some collected $1 million or more) while public schools each collected only about $134,500.

We will continue to support real public schools, the kind that are publicly accountable to public officials. We will push the Biden administration to regulate or eliminate the federal Charter Schools Program and stop funding failure. We will fight against high-stakes testing and the misuse of standardized tests.

We will demand a suspension of federally mandated testing this spring and turn our energies toward removing the federal mandate for annual testing, which has manifestly failed to provide equity or excellence. We will remind the public that tests do not reduce achievement gaps; they are measures, not remedies. Mainly, they measure family income. Why waste hundreds of millions of dollars measuring family income?

Yes, knowledge is power, and we generate the knowledge you need to fight for public schools as the democratic institution that they are.

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Peter Goodman is a veteran observer of education policy and politics in New York City and State.

In this post, he asks, who is Miguel Cardona?

The answer is that Cardona will do what Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden want him to do.

He remains an unknown quantity. The only thing we know for sure is that he will roll back whatever damage DeVos did in her four year tenure.

Will he grant waivers from the federally mandated standardized tests this spring?

Will he seek to roll back 20 years of failed education policy?

Will he pare back or ask Congress to eliminate the federal Charter Schools Program, which hands out $440 million every year to start new charters? CSP started during the Clinton administration with the intent of helping little teacher-led or mom-and-pop charters get a start. It has since turned into a behemoth that helps corporate charter chains like KIPP, Success Academy, and IDEA expand.

Stay tuned.

I was interviewed by Amy Goodman and Juan González about President-Elect Biden’s choice of Miguel Cardona. He needs not only to reverse Betsy DeVos’s four disastrous years, but 20 years of bad federal policy.

Here it is.

Andrea Gabor has some good ideas about what the new Secretary of Education must do.

President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for education secretary, Miguel Cardona, will face a host of pandemic-related challenges that have disproportionately affected the nation’s neediest students. In addition to learning setbacks, the prolonged isolation has caused social and emotional trauma. 

The challenges will continue to mount once the Covid-19 crisis is over.

Government resources will be strained at all levels, and continued Republican control of the Senate would likely limit extra funding available for K-12 education. 

In the absence of significant support for state and local governments, beyond the money included in any year-end stimulus package, Cardona, who has been Connecticut’s education commissioner, will need to concentrate on closing funding inequities between poor and affluent school districts in order to avoid the kind of educational setbacks that followed the 2008 recession. 

Although recent data indicate that the learning losses this fall, compared with the same period last year, have not been as dire as predicted, those results likely mask high numbers of missing kids — children who lack technology for online learning or whose parents are unable to supervise their remote schooling. 

States and localities are responsible for the lion’s share of spending on public education; yet, as of 2015, only 11 states had funding formulas where high-poverty schools receive more funding per student than low-poverty schools, down from a high of 22 in 2008.

When states cut back on their share of aid during the Great Recession, school funding came to rely increasingly on local property tax revenue, benefiting districts with high property values and hurting those where the values are low. 

Though it may sound counterintuitive, an important first step the new administration can take to improve educational equity is to abandon the regimen of annual standardized tests that has dominated federal educational policy-making, especially under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. 

Under the best circumstances, standardized tests do little to measure actual achievement, let alone improve it; indeed, the relentless focus on English and math in every grade from third through eighth has shortchanged the teaching of science at the elementary level as well as civics. Given the difficulty of administering tests during a pandemic, any results obtained next spring are likely to be more flawed than ever.

Eliminating or sharply curtailing standardized tests would save states as much as $1.7 billion and allow districts to reallocate resources. For perspective, that is over 4% of the $39 billion the federal government spends on K-12 education, based on 2018 figures. 

Instead, districts could administer diagnostic tests developed by local educators that provide quick feedback for teachers. (The typically long lag time on standardized test results means teachers can’t easily tailor instruction to student needs.) Testing by the National Association of Educational Progress, which is considered the nation’s report card, provides “the ideal gauge” for measuring Covid-19’s impact on students and should not be canceled; NAEP provides state-by-state comparisons and takes demographic criteria like race, income and disability into account. 

Cardona should also see to it that the Education Department rewrites the eligibility rules for supplemental federal funds that are meant for the poorest schools. These so-called Title 1 funds constitute the largest share of federal education spending. One major flaw with the Title 1 formula is that under current rules, 20% of the money meant for poor students, or about $2.6 billion, ends up in districts with a higher proportion of wealthy families (partly because large, more affluent districts often have enough poor students to qualify for the aid). Changing the funding formulas could be politically difficult if it means taking money away from better-off districts — a problem that could be mitigated by stimulus funding now being debated in Congress. 

The new stimulus bill approved by Congress calls for about $54 billion in funding for K-12 schools. The Biden Education Department should ensure that it isn’t zeroed out for other uses by the states, as Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York did with $716.9 million in education benefits from federal stimulus aid last spring. Cuomo’s cuts shredded the part of the budget that provided extra funding to districts with comparatively low tax bases.

Instead, federal money should be used to reward states that promote funding equity, as well as local desegregation efforts — ideas Biden has endorsed. States that could benefit include California, which has a 10-year blueprint to expand early childhood programs and pre-K, and Arizona, where voters just approved a ballot measure to raise money for educator salaries by taxing the state’s highest earners.

Working with other government agencies, like Health and Human Services, and rewriting Title 1 rules could help tap additional funding for community schools, turning them into hubs that provide counseling, basic medical services and food. A recent study found that providing such “wraparound services” in New York City schools, for example, increased attendance and graduation rates, as well as some test scores. 

Similarly, by working with the Federal Communications Commission and advocating for changes in telecommunications tax policy, the Education Department could help improve the internet infrastructure in vast swaths of the country, urban and rural, where well over one-quarter of children live in households without web access. Poor internet service has proved an enormous educational liability during the pandemic. Government could raise $7 billion in additional revenue for improving broadband services if it reversed the prohibition on taxing existing internet services. 

Finally, Cardona’s department can offer states matching grants to shore up community colleges, which receive far less per-pupil funding than four-year colleges, yet serve as a stepping stone to the middle class for low-income students. This will be especially important during a post-pandemic downturn when community colleges are likely to face large cuts and would provide a much more targeted boost for poor students than a broad program of forgiving college loans. 

Just before the pandemic, at least a dozen states were still financing schools at well below pre-2008 levels; student test scores and graduation rates suffered as a result. The lessons from the 2008 recession, when high-poverty districts lost $1,500 in spending per pupil, three times the loss in affluent districts, suggest that unless both the Education Department and the states distribute money more equally, the damage to poor districts will be long-lasting.