Archives for category: Cruelty

In this editorial, Harold Meyerson plumbs the depths of meanness in the Senate’s majority party. It would be better for the unemployed if more of them were quarantined and unable to vote:

ON TAP Today from the American Prospect
MARCH 26, 2020

Meyerson on TAP

The Senate’s OTHER Vote Last Night—Along Party Lines. As every news-following American knows, the Senate voted unanimously last night to pass a $2.2 trillion stimulus package for our rapidly shrinking economy. But hardly any news-following American knows about the vote that immediately preceded that—on the amendment that four Republican senators introduced to greatly reduce unemployment insurance payments.

The senators’ objection to the agreed-upon UI fix in the stimulus bill was itself widely reported. Because unemployment insurance levels in many states with right-wing governments are so low, Democrats insisted upon the federal government topping off UI payments with an additional $600 a week to the unemployed for a four-month period. Four conservative senators objected on the grounds that that might create incomes for the unemployed that exceeded their pay when on the job. Not surprisingly, two of those senators were South Carolinians Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott. South Carolina, it should be noted, is one of the six states that have never passed a minimum-wage law, and one of the two states (the other is North Carolina) that always place first or second in having the lowest rate of unionized workers—invariably, below 3 percent. In short, it’s no great achievement to make more money off the job than on the job in the senators’ home state, precisely because South Carolina’s historic denigration of workers creates so many poverty-wage jobs. Graham and Scott were like the kids who kill their parents and plead for mercy because they’re orphans.

But here’s the kicker: Surely, the objections of these two troglodytes and their two co-sponsors (Florida’s Rick Scott and Nebraska’s Ben Sasse) were just idiosyncratic social meanness, right?

Wrong. The vote on their amendment was 48-48; the only Republican to join the chamber’s 47 Democrats in voting no was Maine’s Susan Collins. (Fortunately, the Democrats, as part of the agreement on the stimulus bill, had insisted that the amendment require 60 votes to pass.)

If there’s a clearer expression of Republicans’ concern for their fellow Americans who lose their jobs in the pandemic crisis, I sure don’t know it. ~ HAROLD MEYERSON

Valerie Strauss wrote a column in her Answer Sheet blog at the Washington Post about the two most horrifying stories in the past decade of high-stakes standardized testing. Both occurred in Florida, a state where standardized testing is treated as an unerring and essential metric, except for students who use state money to attend religious schools, which are exempt from the state’s testing regime.

So devoted is Florida to standardized testing that all its legislators, the governor and the State Commissioner Richard Corcoran (whose wife runs a charter school) should be required to take the tests required of eighth graders and publish their scores.

You should subscribe to the Washington Post just to read Valerie Strauss.

Strauss writes:

Of all of the absurd and appalling stories that emerged from the standardized test-based school reform movement in the 2010s, there were two that, arguably, best revealed to me how bankrupt and even cruel some of the things policymakers foisted on children could be….

There were stories about teachers being evaluated on the test scores of students they didn’t have and subjects they didn’t teach.

There were stories of high-performing teachers getting poor evaluations because of complicated and problematic algorithms that were used to calculate their “worth” in class — which some reformers said could be ascertained by eliminating every single other factor (even hunger and chronic grief) that could affect how well a child does on a test….

But there were two that still resonate deeply and reveal just how vacant — and mean — some of the policy was. Why recount them? Because as new school reform efforts are being implemented, it is worth remembering that good intentions are not enough and that bad policy has real and sometimes extreme effects on children and adults.

One of these stories was from 2013, when the state of Florida required a 9-year-old boy who was born without the cognitive portion of his brain to take a version of the state’s standardized Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). The boy, Michael, was blind, couldn’t talk or understand basic information. Judy Harris, the operator and owner of a care facility for children in Orlando where Michael was left shortly after birth, told News 13 at the time:

Michael loves music, he loves to hear, and he loves for you to talk to him and things like that, but as far as testing him, or questioning him on what is an apple and a peach, what is the difference? Michael wouldn’t know what that is.”

But the rules said every student could take a test and be evaluated, however severe their disabilities might be. I wrote about the situation at the time and asked education officials in the Florida Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education why this was happening. They all said every student could be assessed. At the time I wrote:

State Rep. Linda Stewart of Orlando told me she didn’t think that a young boy who can’t tell the difference between an apple and a peach should be taking any test, and tried to get officials in the Education Department to step in to stop the charade of Michael taking a test.
She said nobody did. “Nobody wanted to take the responsibility of stopping it,” she said.
Rick Roach, an Orange County, Florida, school board member who was following Michael’s story, confirmed that Michael was in fact forced to take the test, meaning that a state employee sat down and read it to him, as if he could actually understand it.

In 2013, Roach had told Michael’s story to educator Marion Brady, who wrote about it for The Answer Sheet. I recently asked Roach about Michael’s status and he said Michael, now 15, still lives at the home run by Harris.

The second disturbing story was about a boy in Florida named Ethan Rediske, who suffered a brain injury at birth and had cerebral palsy, epilepsy, cortical blindness and the developmental equivalency of a 6-month-old child. He died on Feb. 7, 2014.

In 2013, Ethan was forced to “take” a version of the FCAT over the space of two weeks because Florida still required every student to take one. His mother, educator Andrea Rediske, managed to obtain a waiver so that he didn’t have to take the test in 2014, but it turned out there was a hitch. As Ethan was in a morphine coma dying in a hospital, the state insisted that his family prove he deserved the waiver. The ugliness of the situation was captured in the following email she wrote to Orange County School Board member Rick Roach and to reporter Scott Maxwell, who wrote about Ethan and similar cases for the Orlando Sentinel:

Rick and Scott,
I’m writing to appeal for your advocacy on our behalf. Ethan is dying. He has been in hospice care for the past month. We are in the last days of his life. His loving and dedicated teacher, Jennifer Rose has been visiting him every day, bringing some love, peace, and light into these last days. How do we know that he knows that she is there? Because he opens his eyes and gives her a little smile. He is content and comforted after she leaves.
Jennifer is the greatest example of what a dedicated teacher should be. About a week ago, Jennifer hesitantly told me that the district required a medical update for continuation of the med waiver for the adapted FCAT. Apparently, my communication through her that he was in hospice wasn’t enough: they required a letter from the hospice company to say that he was dying. Every day that she comes to visit, she is required to do paperwork to document his “progress.” Seriously? Why is Ethan Rediske not meeting his 6th-grade hospital homebound curriculum requirements? BECAUSE HE IS IN A MORPHINE COMA. We expect him to go any day. He is tenaciously clinging to life.This madness has got to stop. Please help us.
Thank you,
Andrea Rediske

The cases of Michael and Ethan were not isolated. Since that time, the national obsession with standardized testing has somewhat abated. Many states have moved away from evaluating teachers by test scores and reduced the consequences for low scores. Yet most students are still required to take standardized tests, and problems with them remain.

These stories are two I don’t believe I will ever forget.

On a flight yesterday, I watched a documentary that was a biography of Roy Cohn. It is called “Where Is My Roy Cohn?,” a phrase uttered by Trump when he was disgusted by his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who apparently had some scruples about destroying the Justice Department on behalf of the man who appointed him.

The biography is short. The story is compelling. It portrays a man who had absolutely no scruples, no ethical core, no moral values. He was willing to lie, cheat, steal, twist words, anything to win. Winning was everything. He was a closeted homosexual who gleefully collaborated with his mentor Senator Joseph McCarthy to find and expose other homosexuals. He died of AIDS, but never admitted that he had the disease (he preferred to call it “cancer of the liver”).

The loathsome Cohn was Trump’s attorney and his mentor. He defended the Trump Organization against federal charges that the Trumps excluded blacks from their federally-financed housing projects. He helped to prosecute the Rosenbergs and assure that they got the death penalty. He was the chief lawyer for the Mafia and helped many of its leaders avoid long prison sentences. He was disbarred for stealing from his clients.

It is contemporary history. If you can find it online, watch it. It explains a lot about the world we live in now.

Will Bunch, regular opinion writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, excoriates McKinsey in this column. 

He writes:

In the last few years, McKinsey & Co.’s image as a go-to high-paying job option for the Ivy League’s best and brightest has morphed into something uniquely dark and sinister, as outstanding journalism from the New York Times and others has shed a light on arguably the world’s most secretive company, which never reveals its client list.

Nonetheless, the various scandals swirling around McKinsey have largely registered under the radar screen before last week, when journalists from ProPublica, publishing in the Times, exposed McKinsey’s work on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Two important things to note: a) it was the administration of Barack Obama that hired McKinsey for this task in 2015 and b) ICE officials under the Trump administration, justifiably pilloried for their cruel treatment of migrants, actually thought some of McKinsey’s ideas were inhumane.

 

The expose published by ProPublic and the Chicago Tribune about the isolation of students with disabilities in locked “quiet rooms” got immediate response from the Governor and the State Board of Education in Illinois.

This is known as seclusion.

The governor said he will introduce legislation to end and prohibit the barbaric practice. 

The Illinois State Board of Education announced Wednesday that it will take emergency action to end the seclusion of children alone behind locked doors at schools, saying the practice has been “misused and overused to a shocking extent.”

Responding to a Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois investigation published a day earlier, Gov. J.B. Pritzker called the isolation of children in the state “appalling” and said he directed the education agency to make emergency rules for schools. He will then work with legislators to make the rules into law, he said.

The rules would not totally ban the use of timeout rooms but would end isolation. The state board said children would be put in timeout only if a “trained adult” is in the room and the door is unlocked. Timeouts also must be used only for therapeutic reasons or to protect the safety of students and staff, the board said.

The board also said it will begin collecting data on all instances of timeout and physical restraint in Illinois schools and will investigate “known cases of isolated seclusion to take appropriate disciplinary and corrective action.” State officials had not previously monitored these practices.

H/T to Laura Chapman for alerting me to this important news.

ProPublica and the Chicago Tribune collaborated to produce this shocking investigation of the mistreatment and abuse of students with special needs in Illinois.

This is a story of shameful cruelty to children. Read it and weep.

THE SPACES have gentle names: The reflection room. The cool-down room. The calming room. The quiet room.

But shut inside them, in public schools across the state, children as young as 5 wail for their parents, scream in anger and beg to be let out.

The students, most of them with disabilities, scratch the windows or tear at the padded walls. They throw their bodies against locked doors. They wet their pants. Some children spend hours inside these rooms, missing class time. Through it all, adults stay outside the door, writing down what happens.

In Illinois, it’s legal for school employees to seclude students in a separate space — to put them in “isolated timeout” — if the students pose a safety threat to themselves or others. Yet every school day, workers isolate children for reasons that violate the law, an investigation by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica Illinois has found.

Children were sent to isolation after refusing to do classwork, for swearing, for spilling milk, for throwing Legos. School employees use isolated timeout for convenience, out of frustration or as punishment, sometimes referring to it as “serving time.”

For this investigation, ProPublica Illinois and the Tribune obtained and analyzed thousands of detailed records that state law requires schools to create whenever they use seclusion. The resulting database documents more than 20,000 incidents from the 2017-18 school year and through early December 2018.

Of those, about 12,000 included enough detail to determine what prompted the timeout. In more than a third of these incidents, school workers documented no safety reason for the seclusion…

No federal law regulates the use of seclusion, and Congress has debated off and on for years whether that should change. Last fall, a bill was introduced that would prohibit seclusion in public schools that receive federal funding. A U.S. House committee held a hearing on the issue in January, but there’s been no movement since.

Nineteen states prohibit secluding children in locked rooms; four of them ban any type of seclusion. But Illinois continues to rely on the practice. The last time the U.S. Department of Education calculated state-level seclusion totals, in 2013-14, Illinois ranked No. 1.

The story contains stories of children locked in small rooms, where they urinate on themselves, bang on the walls and doors and scratch them. Some of the children have serious mental or emotional disorders. Some are disobedient. None deserves to be treated with such inhumanity. Experts say that punitive “seclusion” is not only cruel but ineffective.

After reading this report, I asked ProPublica where seclusion has been banned.

This was the answer:

These four states ban any type of seclusion (Georgia, Hawaii, Nevada, Pennsylvania) and that these are the remaining 15 you’re looking for: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Utah, Wisconsin, Wyoming (with varying levels of exceptions).

Thanks to ProPublica for shedding light on this horrible practice.

 

In this post, Jan Resseger challenges Cory Booker’s newly rediscovered support for privately managed charter schools. She says “that school choice privileges the few at the expense of the many.” That’s not quite right. If the charter school is staffed with inexperienced, under qualified teachers, if the charter is operated by grifters intent on profit, if the charter exercises harsh disciplines and has high suspension and dropout rates, if the charter lacks the financial stability to keep its doors open, then the children who enroll in them are by no means “privileged.” Instead they are marks, dupes, collateral damage.

She writes:

The essential point to remember about school choice—whether it is a system of private school tuition vouchers or privately operated but publicly funded charter schools—is that school choice privileges the few at the expense of the many.

The scale of the provision of K-12 education across our nation can best be achieved by the systemic, public provision of education. Rewarding social entrepreneurship in the startup of one charter school at a time cannot possibly serve the needs of the mass of our children and adolescents. In a new, September 2019 enrollment summary, the National Center for Education Statistics reports: “Between around 2000 and 2016, traditional public school… enrollment increased to 47.3 million (1 percent increase), charter school enrollment grew to 3.0 million students (from 0.4 million), and the number of homeschooled students nearly doubled to 1.7 million. Private school enrollment fell 4 percent, to 5.8 million students.”

Booker argues for well-regulated and high-performing charter schools. The problem he fails to acknowledge is that charter schools were established beginning in the mid-1990s by state legislatures smitten with the idea of innovation and experimentation. None of these legislatures, to my knowledge, provided adequate oversight of the academic quality of the schools, and none imposed protections to guarantee the stewardship of public tax dollars.  Malfeasance, corruption, and poor performance plague charter schools across the states. Charter schools have now been established by state law across 45 states where stories of outrageous fiscal and academic scandals fill local newspapers. The Network for Public Education tracks the myriad examples of outrageous fraud and mismanagement by charter schools. Because advocates for school privatization and the entrepreneurs in the for-profit charter management companies regularly donate generously to the political coffers of state legislators—the very people responsible for passing laws to regulate this out-of-control sector—adequate oversight has proven impossible.

 

Nancy Bailey writes here about the long-term damage that corporate reformers (the Disruption movement) have inflicted on two generations of students.

If only students could sue them for ruining their schools! If only teachers could sue them for ruining their profession! If only the public could sue them to disruption their schools and communities!

She begins:

Frustrated by public schools? Look no further than the corporate education reformers and what they have done to public education.

Education Secretary DeVos and her corporate billionaire friends have been chipping away at the fabric of democratic public schools for over thirty years!

The problems we see in public schools today are largely a result of what they did to schools, the high-stakes testing and school closures, intentional defunding, ugly treatment of teachers, lack of support staff, segregated charter schools, vouchers that benefit the wealthy, Common Core State Standards, intrusive online data collection, and diminishing special education services.

Big business waged a battle on teachers and their schools years ago. The drive was to create a business model to profit from tax dollars. Now they want to blame teachers for their corporate-misguided blunders! It’s part of their plan to make schools so unpleasant, parents will have no choice but to leave.

State Senator Sam Bell has been concerned about the punitive discipline in the no-excuses Achievement First charter schools, which is primed for a major expansion in Providence.

He toured an Achievement First charter school, and his worst fears were confirmed.

Please read the entire post, which I condensed.

Senator Bell writes:

On Friday, October 18, I toured Achievement First. It was a chilling experience, an experience I’m still processing.

They wouldn’t let me take any pictures or video.

The start time was 7am. I got there at 6:59. I expected a mob of kids rushing to class, but they must have all already gotten there early. I only saw one or two kids, each of them sprinting. Kids, apparently, fear being late so much that they really aren’t late, despite being forced to wake up at what is an ungodly hour for a middle schooler. My guide, though, was late.

As we started the tour, I noticed black and yellow lines taped on the floor of the hallway. The children, my guide informed me, are all required to walk only on these lines. Several times, I saw adults chastising students for not walking on the lines. Quite literally, students were not allowed to set a toe out of line.

The bathroom doors, I noticed, were all propped open. I asked if it was for cleaning. No, I was told, it was so that the kids in the bathrooms could be watched. They didn’t prop open the toilet stalls, but it still struck me as intensely creepy, a twisted invasion of privacy.

In the classrooms, it was constant discipline. The teachers spewed a stream of punishments, and I often couldn’t even see what the students were doing wrong. The students kept losing points or getting yelled at for things like not looking attentive enough. I can’t imagine what it would be like as a child to be berated constantly, to be forced to never even think of challenging authority. It was, of course, overwhelmingly white teachers berating students of color. (The walls, of course, were plastered with slogans of racial justice.)

The education, if you can call it that, was the most shameless teaching to the test. I was shown what I think was a social studies class, where the children were being drilled to respond to a passage about Rosa Parks like it was a passage on a RICAS ELA test. They were being asked to interpret the passage, not to think critically about what Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott meant for American history and what we can still learn from that act of heroism today.

I was shown another class, where the students were just straight-up practicing to respond to what looked to me exactly like a RICAS short answer question. The teacher went around looking over the kids’ shoulders, basically praising them for checking the boxes of a RICAS grading rubric. (The RICAS grading rubric primarily emphasizes a rigid organizational structure with a single central idea and lots of specific pieces of evidence to support it.) This was far and away the best of the classrooms I saw. It was teaching to the test, yes, but with a teacher who at least showed compassion to the students and focused on building them up instead of tearing them down.

I also saw something they call “IR.” I think it stands for “individual reading,” but I’m not sure. Basically, it was kids sitting quietly and working through exercises in a book. It was the kind of rigid, formulaic make-work that drills kids for taking tests well but does not teach creativity, critical thinking, or passion for learning. It also looked miserable.

Not once did I see a lecture, a group discussion, or a seminar…

And this was what they chose to show me, this was what they showed a critic, this was a hand-picked tour to promote what they do. Although I asked to see one of the computerized teaching classrooms, my guide was unwilling to show me one. I did see posters telling kids to put on their noise-cancelling headphones, open their computer, be quiet, and work through their exercises. To her credit, my guide did basically admit to me that the computerized teaching system was kind of a mess. She said that kids are allowed to opt out of it to do book exercises instead and are no longer forced to wear noise-cancelling headphones if they don’t want to.

I did see several classrooms where the students were taking quizzes on laptops. This of course would be great preparation for taking a computerized standardized test. It struck me how often I saw this, and I wondered how much of the time must have been taken up by practicing taking tests.

Despite the policing of facial expressions, I saw some of the most jarringly sad faces I have seen in a very long time. I remember the look on one young woman’s face. She had been sent out of the classroom. I’m not sure why. I think she was a rebel. She was one of the very few I ever saw not walk on the lines taped into the floor. Her face was contorted into a shockingly intense frown. It almost looked like a caricature of a frown, the sort of frown one might see on an overly dramatic actor on TV but not in real life. My guide saw something different, raving about “faces of joy.”

At one point, rounding a corner, I heard a child scream. I don’t know what was happening, and my guide quickly rushed me away.

What was most missing was social interaction. When were the students supposed to talk to each other? To form meaningful friendships? To flirt and begin exploring romance? And it wasn’t just the lack of small group discussion in the classes or the strict discipline that stopped the students from talking in class. Even in the pep rally I witnessed, the kids weren’t talking to each other. If they tried to, a teacher would appear immediately to discipline them. I saw one kid quickly whisper to another and get away with it once. That was it. Even in the hallway, they weren’t talking. They just marched through the halls on the lines taped into the floor, enduring a stream of rebukes for minor offenses like leaving too large a gap between students.

On a human level, it was hard for me to take. When people tell stories about Providence school tours so bad they are moved to tears, I usually think they’re exaggerating. But I couldn’t stop tearing up at Achievement First, and I had to keep dabbing my eyes with a tissue. Now, I did have the ducts that drain my tears plugged to treat dry eye, so I do cry quite easily. But still….

After what I saw, I can easily see how this approach is great at producing amazing test scores. If you focus solely on test-prep and brutal discipline, yes you will boost test scores. Learning how to do well on a RICAS ELA test is learning how to think the way the test wants you to think. It’s learning not to think different. It’s learning to take the least challenging answer. It’s learning to sit still and robotically churn through boring and pointless questions.

But the human cost is so high. At what point is it worth subjecting kids to such misery? Even if the “achievement” were real learning, would it be worth the misery it takes to achieve it? Putting kids under that kind of stress dramatically increases the risk of lasting mental health damage.

Achievement should not come first. Children should come first.

Achievement First is planning on expanding. They’re asking to open a high school, and now they’re asking for a new elementary school, too. Some politicians, parents, student advocates, teachers, and unions have timidly objected to the funding Achievement First rips away from the already suffering public schools. But for me, the money pales in comparison to the raw human pain. Cruelty towards children is just plain wrong. It’s about people, not numbers in a spreadsheet.

Sometimes, overly mild rhetoric is irresponsible. We have to think carefully about the language we use. Words matter. If we water down Achievement First to a budgetary issue, then the Mayor of Providence will feel justified in letting them expand as long as better charter schools are prevented from opening or expanding in Providence. Instead, we must condemn Achievement First as a fundamentally immoral institution.

Half measures are not enough. No expansion is acceptable. Instead, we must talk about a turnaround plan to revamp and fundamentally reform these schools, returning actual learning to the classrooms, ending cruel discipline, and respecting the human rights of the students. And no turnaround plan will be real, no reforms will be lasting, without replacing the toxic administrators currently in charge with turnaround leaders who have true compassion for the students.