Archives for category: Competition

There was a time long ago when public schools were thriving, and Catholic schools were also thriving. They were not in competition for students or money. But as our financial demands began pressing on both sectors, Catholic schools began closing and struggling to survive. Among rightwing ideologues, it became conventional to proclaim Catholic schools as “better” than public schools because they were free to kick out the students they didn’t want.

Mollie Wilson O’Reilly, an editor at Commonweal, calls on certain tabloids (i.e. Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post) to stop using Catholic schools to shame public schools. She hearkens back to that long-ago ethic when the different sectors served different populations and knew it.

The Post is unlikely to cease its attacks on the city’s public schools, because Murdoch loves school choice and lionizes charter schools. The Post eagerly prints press releases from Success Academy without ever bothering to fact-check or to acknowledge that SA is an exemplar of high attrition rates and high teacher-turnover rates.

O’Reilly writes (and this is only part of her article):

I can’t comment on the soundness of the decisions being made by the New York City Department of Education. But I know who I see using the pandemic to stuff their pockets, and it isn’t fat-cat maintenance workers. The Post’s implication that public-school educators are unconcerned with their students’ wellbeing is disgraceful. And while it is true that Catholic schools can be a lifeline for students served poorly by public education, I have also known families who have moved their children out of Catholic schools because the public system provides—is required to provide—services for learning disabilities and other special needs that Catholic schools can’t always accommodate. “Putting education first” is not as simple as it sounds.

Catholics should be standing in solidarity with all our neighbors as we do our best to cope with this crisis. We degrade our witness when we allow Catholic schools to be used in a propaganda campaign against public services—or against an honest reckoning with the facts. As the 2020 election approaches, conservatives are eager to exploit the Catholic school success story to advance the claim—let’s call it what it is, a conspiracy theory—that liberals are dishonestly playing up the threat of COVID-19 to make President Donald Trump look bad.

The truth is, my kids and their schoolmates are part of a broad experiment to find out whether masks and distancing and all the other safeguards in place are enough to prevent the spread of the virus. All of us, public and private, parents, teachers, and administrators, are looking for the best way forward in a highly unstable situation. That situation is not the fault of teachers’ unions, or lazy public-school janitors, or even (despite his many sins) Bill de Blasio. It is a direct consequence of the reprehensible failure of the Trump administration to protect Americans from COVID-19. We are all still scrambling, months after schools first shut down in March, because we have inadequate testing and tracing, no national recovery plan, and a president who undermines public trust and sneers at his opponent for wearing a mask. The real scandal we’re all facing isn’t the lack of a functional school system. It’s the lack of a functional federal government.

Andy Hargreaves, a scholar of international renown, participated in a virtual seminar in South Korea about post-pandemic education.

His 20-minute presentation is brilliant, pithy, and compelling.

Look for it on this YouTube video. He starts at about 22:00 minutes and concludes at about the 43:00 minute mark.

He urges South Korea and the rest of the world not to “return” to austerity, competition, high-stakes testing, and education that is subservient to GDP, but to pursue a very different path.

To learn about that different and very alluring vision of the future, take 20 minutes of your time, watch and listen.

I recently read Pawan Dhingra’s new book Hyper Education, which explores the competitiveness that some parents feel about their children’s schooling and their fear that their children might be “falling behind.” This pressure, as many here have noted, makes children feel stressed out and deprives them of imaginative and creative activities. I invited Professor Dhingra to write a précis of his book for readers of the blog, and he kindly obliged.

Hyper Education and The Attack on Public Schools

Attacks on the public school take many forms, some of them even outside of the school system. For-profit tutoring centers like Kumon, Mathnasium, etc. have a role to play in educating children. But how big of a role and how much they should be supported by our federal government – that’s a different question. They have become some of the fastest growing companies in the country and show no sign of slowing down, especially under Covid, with significant implications for our public schools.

While one might imagine that it’s mostly children in learning centers who need support catching up to grade level, more and more it is children in higher-income families looking to get ahead. For my new book, Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough, I spent time with many parents, educators, learning center directors, children, and more around the pursuit of education outside of school.

Due to people like Bill Gates, parents are told that their schools are failing their children and cannot be trusted. As parents seek external for-profit learning options in response, it erodes the centrality of the public school. Even if we could get equal funding for our schools and avoid budget cuts, we would find growing educational inequality as some families afford to take advantage of these options.

Teachers see the effects in their classrooms of extracurricular academics. A third-grade teacher sees stressed and anxious children who are, “not talking. Being almost non-verbal. Overreacting to a small problem.” A health educator told me, “The thing that breaks my heart – because I’m an educator, I love to learn – is when I talked to high school students about what do you like about school. [They] respond, ‘Nothing. I hate it.’”

It is not only students who can suffer. Children in the classroom who have been exposed to such different amounts of knowledge complicates the entire teaching effort. Parents start to disrespect how much their kids are getting from school. A second-grade teacher was frustrated with the lack of appreciation. “I think if parents come one day, they would go, ‘Those teachers deserve a medal! How do they do it every day?’ And we do.”

I am not against students pursuing academics outside of school, and in fact I think it can be a wonderful thing for children depending on their interests, other commitments, and family atmosphere. But what we are seeing is a new normal in education that is prone to grow under Covid as parents wonder about their schools’ academic content. We need to understand what is motivating parents to seek extra learning, how the children feel, and hear from teachers. But right now, these voices are talking past one another. Only then can we work towards a school system that values compassion, solidarity, and equity.

Pawan Dhingra is a professor Of American Studies at Amherst College with over 20 years of teaching experience. His most recent book is Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough. He can be reached at You can learn more at and follow him @phdhingra1

In this excellent article, Stephanie Jones, Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Georgia, draws a contrast between a real crisis–the pandemic–and the scare rhetoric of children “falling behind” in some mythical race. The only beneficiaries of the fake crisis are the testing corporations.

Jones writes:

Some crises are real and extremely difficult to prevent and respond to, like a highly contagious virus that is easily spread throughout communities. Other crises are human-created, easily preventable and also easily eliminated, like worrying about what students’ test scores in reading and math will be when they return to school.

Almost any teacher will tell you that the current tool of choice to attempt to measure student learning and teacher effectiveness – high-stakes testing – has distorted the purposes and possibilities of public education beyond recognition. Decades of research on assessment and testing back-up and validate their perceptions of tests, painting a very clear picture that high-stakes testing does extensive damage and provides very little helpful information.

This is critical for all of us (parents, community members, educators, leaders) to remember in this moment because we are hearing more crisis language about students “falling behind” during the pandemic school closures. But this particular “crisis” is only possible in a world of high-stakes testing. In other words, the tool that humans have created and continue to use to try to measure student learning created this crisis of falling behind.

Take for example the alarmist tone and language of the recent editorial essay in The New York Times “The Coronavirus’s Lost Generation of Children” (the original headline on Twitter) and similar pieces that weaponize the very language and metaphors tied to testing and have been used to dehumanize education for 20 years. Words they use — setbacks, losses, grim, disastrous, catastrophic, “hobble an entire generation,” aggressive remedial plans — are irresponsible and panic-inducing during our country’s biggest health, economic, and social crisis in a lifetime. These words also spin the ideological web that education is a race. One obvious problem with a race metaphor is that some people win races and some people lose races, which also means that some people are “ahead” in the race and some people will always be “behind.”

Please open the link and read the piece in its entirety.

Bear in mind that standardized tests are normed on a bell curve and the bell curve never closes. The gap is a social construction that guarantees there will always be a top half and a bottom half.

Lamar Alexander and Roy Blunt are senior Republican Senators who chair important committees. In this article, they propose a “shark tank” competition for government agencies, believing that the funding and the competition will ramp up the number of tests produced. They admit that the federal government has failed to supply the numbers of reliable tests needed by the American public to feel safe and ready to resume work.

Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) is chairman of the Senate’s health appropriations subcommittee.

As I read the article, I couldn’t help but think that the premise of the article is silly. The scientists at NIH and other federal agencies need more funding but they don’t need a “shark tank” to spur them on. The scientists know the gravity of the situation. They are doing the best they can with the resources they have. If they need more resources for staff and equipment, they should get it without the phony spur of a “race.”

They should be encouraged to collaborate, not to compete. Science works best when scientists share what they know worth their peers.

Alexander and Blunt rely on the same thinking that leads to “merit pay,” which has always failed. That thinking presumes that most professionals are slackers and won’t do their best without incentives. It was wrong for teachers and it’s wrong now for scientists.

Give them the resources needed to do their job and let them do it without hokey tricks or “shark tank” competition. They want to develop better tests; they want to find a cure. They don’t need a prize to motivate them.

Peter Greene once again nails a basic fact: education is not a business, and it can’t be run like a business.

Business ideas work well in the world of commerce, where businesses compete to provide a better product or better service. Probably there will be readers who question how well business is functioning right now, as megastores like Walmart gobble up neighborhood stores, destroying Main Street, and as online giants like Amazon threaten to gobble up all brick-and-mortar stores, even Walmart.

Greene writes, and I quote him in part:

We are living through yet another demonstration of the ways in which market-based approaches fail, and in some cases, fail really hard.

Long Term Preparation Is Inefficient But Essential

Back when I was a stage crew advisor, there was a pep talk I had to give periodically to crew members, particularly those working in the wings as grips or fly. “I know that you sit and do nothing for a lot of this show,” I’d say, “but when we need you, we really need you. In those few minutes, you are critical to our success.” In those moments we were talking about, every crew member was occupied; there was no way to double up or cut corners.

Emergency preparation is much the same. It’s economically efficient to, for instance, keep a whole stockpile of facemasks or ventilators. Big-time businessman Trump justified his cuts to various health agencies by citing business wisdom:

And rather than spending the money—I’m a business person. I don’t like having thousands of people around when you don’t need them. When we need them, we can get them back very quickly.

This turns out to be just as smart as disbanding the fire department and figuring you’ll just round up personnel and equipment when something is actually on fire. It doesn’t work. And as we have witnessed, it leaves you unprepared to deal with the critical moment when it arrives.

But the market hates tying up money in excess capacity or emergency readiness, because you’re spending all that money on capacity that isn’t being used this second. Are those guidance counselors and school nurses seeing students every single minute of the day? Well then, we should be able to cut them back. Are we sure that every teacher is teaching the maximum number of students possible? Couldn’t we just put some of those students on software? This is why so many business heads are convinced that public education is simply filled with waste–because there seems to be so much excess capacity in schools.

But in many schools, there’s not enough excess capacity. When a student is in the middle of a crisis, we should be able to respond immediately, whether it’s a personal crisis, a medical crisis, or an educational issue. The response should not be “tough it out till the counselor is on duty tomorrow” or “we’ll just wrap that in some gauze until the nurse comes in three hours from now” or “I know you need help with the assignment, but I can’t take my attention away from the other thirty-five students in this classroom.” And that’s on top of the issue of preparedness, or having staff and teachers who have the capacity–the time and resources and help– to be prepared for the daily onslaught of Young Human Crises. When wealthy people pay private school tuition or raise their own public school taxes, this is what they’re paying for– the knowledge that whenever their child needs the school to respond, the response will come immediately.

Sure, you can cut a school to the bones in the name of efficiency, but what you’ll have is the educational equivalent of a nation caught flatfooted by a global pandemic because it didn’t have the people in place to be prepared.

Competition Guarantees Losers

Ed Reformsters just love the bromide about how competition raises all boats and makes everyone better. And yet, the pandemic’s free market approach to critical medical supplies doesn’t seem to bear that out. States are being forced to compete with each other and the federal government, and all it’s doing is making vendors rich. This is free market competition at its baldest– if you have more money, you win. If you have less money, you lose. At some point, if it has not already happened, some people in this country are going to die because their state, municipality or medical facility will not have enough money to outbid someone else.

The free market picks losers, and it generally picks them on the basis of their lack of wealth. The notion that losers can just compete harder, by wrapping their bootstraps in grit, is baloney. It’s comforting for winners to believe that they won because of hard work and grit and not winning some fate-based lottery, and it also releases them from any obligation to give a rat’s rear about anyone else (“I made myself, so everyone else should do the same”).

A system built on picking losers and punishing them for losing is the exact opposite of what we need for public education. You can argue that well, we just want free market competition for schools and teachers, but if that kind of competition is in the dna of the system, it will stomp all over students as well, just as all free market businesses pick customers to be losers who don’t get served because they aren’t sufficiently profitable. Kind of like a low-revenue state or old folks home that can’t get its people necessary supplies because they don’t have enough wealth to bid with.

“Compete harder” just means “be richer.” It is not helpful advice.

Please open the link and enjoy the rest of his good essay on why business thinking and cost cutting doesn’t work in education.

Two Wisconsin legislators published an opinion piece about the harm that school choice is doing to the state’s public schools.

Jon Erpenbach and Sondy Pope object to the way that vouchers have taken money away from public schools without the compose top of the governed.

It hasn’t been long since many Wisconsinites have had to vote on referendums to keep their public school doors open, and now in this new year, our schools continue to be underfunded. This spring 50 school districts will go to referendum, with 29 seeking $915 million in operating costs alone.

During last year’s budget deliberations, Gov. Tony Evers put forth a proposal that would have made significant investments in our public schools. Many of his ideas stemmed from the Republican controlled Blue Ribbon Commission on K-12 education. Unfortunately, the task force recommendations could not make it past the Republicans on the Joint Committee on Finance, including $10.1 million from sparsity aid for rural districts compared to the Governor’s plan. Senate District 27 lost $600,000 alone due to Republican rejections of their own recommendations, with 82 other districts statewide also losing funds.Fast forward to this year, andinstead of doing their jobs and convening for a special session to address the farm crisis, Republicans chose to hold a political rally to promote voucher schools.

Unfortunately, while taxpayers will be voting on referendums this April, voucher school operators are able to take $145.5 million from property taxpayers with zero transparency, oversight or ability to vote “no.”

On Jan. 8, 2020, Senator Bewley (D-Mason), Representative Considine (D-Baraboo), and both of us introduced Senate Bill 661 (SB 661), to prohibit the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) from making reductions in the amount of state aid that is paid to school districts, unless the voters agree to the reductions by a referendum vote.

Under current law, school choice programs are able to drain funds away from public schools, and SB 661 would give power back to Wisconsinites to decide how they want their tax dollars spent.

A recent memo released by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau shows that vouchers caused $145 million in aid reduction to public schools. That amount is up 30% from last year, and this problem is only going to grow if it is not addressed. The trend in tax dollars going away from public schools towards unreliable voucher programs shows the decline to our education system at the expense of our taxpayers. Wisconsinites should have a choice in whether or not they want to fund two separate education programs, and that is why we introduced the bill to bring accountability back into the fold.

For-profit education is chipping away at our democracy with misinformation and misleading standards for education, with the approval of our current presidential administration. Wisconsin Democrats believe in doing what is best for our children, and unfortunately, forcing taxpayers to fund competing education systems will only hinder their future.

Nimet Eren, principal of the public Kensington Health Sciences Academy, runs a public school for 465 students that is open to all and offers four career pathways. Recently the school learned that a new charter would open nearby offering the same program. 

The principal was told that the competition would “help” her school by providing a “model” of what her school was already doing successfully.

She writes:

During the summer of 2019, the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP), a nonprofit organization that invests in educational projects across the city, met with me to discuss the goals we had for our school. We talked extensively about what we have learned from the partnerships we have created, especially in medical settings. Then, PSP asked to visit us on Sept. 25 for the morning. It was a wonderful visit, and our teachers and students were engaged in great learning, as they are every day. The day finished with an in-depth conversation about the challenges of building partnerships with settings such as hospitals and clinics.

Then, before Thanksgiving break, I received an email from PSP stating that they had “an exciting opportunity for KHSA” and that they wanted to share it with me. I was, of course, elated and scheduled a meeting with them on Dec. 2.

The news they wanted to share was that they were giving seed money to a potential charter founder to form a health sciences charter high school in North Philly. I was confused. How was this an exciting opportunity for KHSA?

It actually felt like creating unfair competition for my school for resources that are already scarce, especially because charters can manipulate admissions and enrollment policies to their benefit, and neighborhood schools cannot.

I asked PSP how this charter school would be helpful to KHSA, and they said that my school “could learn from their charter model.” I replied that we are trying to build a model for our neighborhood students and that we need support. They then explained what I believe is the real answer as to why they were not investing in us: Because KHSA is a neighborhood school and not a charter school, they cannot control enrollment for their dream school.

Although it might appear that KHSA does not want a health sciences charter school to exist just because they copied our school’s theme, that is not the reason. The reason actually is that many charter schools create the illusion that they are educating children better than neighborhood high schools. The reality is that neighborhood high schools are serving our highest-needs children and that society should be investing the most in them.

The children who come to my school each day are the most resilient, charismatic, and loving people I have ever known. Some of my students’ reading and math levels are not as high, but that’s not their fault. It is society’s fault for not better supporting the children who are most in need. PSP’s explanation of why it is not investing in a neighborhood high school perpetuates this inequity.

I testified at the school board meeting on Dec. 12 and a charter school hearing on Dec. 20. I have had countless conversations with colleagues and opponents and have thought tirelessly about the charter vs. traditional school debate. I have heard so many arguments for both sides of the story, but the idea that I find the most compelling is one shared by one of my teachers, Jenifer Felix: Parents want what’s best for their own children. Teachers want what’s best for all children.

The problem with school choice is that it creates segregation. Choice takes away limited resources from inclusive neighborhood schools and leads to even fewer resources being spent on our students who are most in need.

Former superintendent Tom Dunn wrote a blistering critique of federal and state interventions into education that were lies, all lies.

And the promises and lies continue despite the failure of all the previous promises.

He writes:

As a former school superintendent, one of my most important, difficult, and frustrating responsibilities was trying to stay abreast of state and federal laws governing education. It was during this time that I had my eyes opened to how politics at the state and federal level really works. Suffice it to say that what I learned was disturbing.

First of all, to this day, the sheer number of proposed and/or passed bills makes the task of staying current nearly impossible. I imagine this is a political strategy meant to keep people as confused and overwhelmed as possible. The number of laws that made no sense and were sold to the public with misinformation and lies was staggering.

I felt perpetually conflicted about being forced to implement mandates that were, frankly, bad for kids. The irony is how often the very politicians who denounce bullying use their power to beat adults into submission with their ill-conceived laws. In education, they do this through threats of financial penalty against districts that dare disobey them, by threatening the professional licensure of educators who don’t do as they are told, and/or through character assassination of those who dare question them.

For at least three decades, politicians have claimed their goal has been to close the achievement gap between children who are successful in school and those who are not, and, by their own admission, their laws haven’t worked. They have failed while wasting billions of our tax dollars.

In the early 1990’s, politicians told us that if they could force all schools to follow the same academic standards, the achievement gap would be eliminated. But, the gap still exists.

Similarly, politicians promised us that forcing kids to take state approved tests, with schools, teachers, and principals being “held accountable” for their students’ performance, the achievement gap would be eliminated. But, the gap still exists.

The public was also assured that if laws were enacted “guaranteeing” that every child must achieve a politically determined level of achievement, all children would be successful. But, the gap still exists.

They lied, because none of these factors are primarily responsible for the gap.

One of their most egregious lies has been that the lack of competition in public education has been the culprit. People pushing this narrative actually pretended as if competition didn’t already exist. But, of course, it did through private and home school options, not to mention other opportunities, such as boarding schools. But, that fact interfered with their narrative, so they ignored it.

We were told that just a little more competition would generate new, more successful learning environments in which kids who were failing could flourish. It would also, we were assured, force the public schools to improve.

Early on, this expansion of competition was in the form of charter schools. Politicians told us kids deserved them, because they would no longer be “trapped” in poor public schools. Of course, they failed to mention that many of these charter schools were owned by large campaign contributors who were becoming quite wealthy on the backs of our neediest kids.

These same politicians remained strangely silent when the test data that they worship clearly showed that kids were often leaving higher performing public schools to attend lower performing charter schools. In other words, what they said would happen wasn’t happening.

But, ignoring that fact, politicians continued to expand school choice options to allow parents to use tax dollars to attend private schools. This was done through the Education Choice Scholarship (EdChoice) Program. The Ohio Department of Education web site claims that EdChoice “provides students from underperforming public schools the opportunity to attend participating private schools.”

The problem with this justification is that it isn’t true. The criteria for “underperforming” is written in such a way that even the highest performing public schools can be defined as such. In other words, the law allows parents to use tax dollars to fund their children’s private school education while “escaping” very high performing schools. This exact scenario has occurred in one of the top scoring school districts in the state, the Solon Schools.

At last, in Ohio, a fearless truth-teller, fed up with lies and empty promises.


Valerie Strauss is not surprised yet disappointed that Betsy DeVos kicked off her “back to school tour” at a religious school in Milwaukee, flaunting her contempt for the vast majority of students who attend public schools. By doing so, she showed her agenda: privatization of public schools and transfer of public money to religious schools.

It is ironic that she chose Milwaukee to demonstrate the benefits of school choice. Milwaukee has had choice for three decades: charters, vouchers, and a shrinking public school sector.

All three sectors are faring poorly. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Milwaukee is one of the lowest performing cities in the nation.  Students in religious schools, charters, and public schools are doing poorly.

Competition raised no boats. Milwaukee demonstrates the failure of school choice.

Betsy DeVos either doesn’t know or doesn’t care.