Archives for category: Education Industry

During the mayoral campaign in New York City, Eric Adams won the support of many leaders of the city’s orthodox Jewish community, which often votes as a bloc for the candidate who promises to protect their insular world and the flow of government funds. In a recent speech to a Modern Orthodox Jewish audience, Mayor Adams said that the city’s public schools should try to duplicate the “achievements” of the city’s yeshivas (most of which are run by Hasidim, not Modern Orthodox). The Hasidic yeshivas have been heavily criticized for their failure to teach a secular education.

This is astonishing.

Mayor Adams was probably just pandering to his audience, but he revealed profound ignorance about the failure of yeshivas, as well as profound ignorance about his own city’s public schools, which have produced Nobel Prize winners and generations of scientists, scholars, business leaders, performers, professionals, and other successful people.

The private yeshivas for the children of Hasidic Orthodox Jews have been criticized by an organization of some of their graduates called Young Advocates for a Fair Education for failing to teach English and other subjects, leaving graduates unprepared for life.

The New York Times reported that the city’s yeshivas had received over $1 billion in public funding but were academic failures. Typically, they don’t take state tests, but when one of the larger Hasidic schools administered the state tests in reading and math, every student failed.

This was “failure “by design,” said the Times.

The leaders of New York’s Hasidic community have built scores of private schools to educate children in Jewish law, prayer and tradition — and to wall them off from the secular world. Offering little English and math, and virtually no science or history, they drill students relentlessly, sometimes brutally, during hours of religious lessons conducted in Yiddish.

The result, a New York Times investigation has found, is that generations of children have been systematically denied a basic education, trapping many of them in a cycle of joblessness and dependency.

Segregated by gender, the Hasidic system fails most starkly in its more than 100 schools for boys. Spread across Brooklyn and the lower Hudson Valley, the schools turn out thousands of students each year who are unprepared to navigate the outside world, helping to push poverty rates in Hasidic neighborhoods to some of the highest in New York.

The story about Mayor Adams’ obsequious speech to Modern Orthodox leaders was reported by a newspaper called Shtetl:

In a speech given Wednesday night, mayor Eric Adams suggested that yeshiva students are better off than public school students, and that religion should be in schools “anywhere possible.”

The speech was given at an event for Teach NYS, which is part of the Orthodox Union, which represents Modern Orthodox Jews. In it, Adams condemned yeshiva critics, but made no distinction between Hasidic and Modern Orthodox schools. A September report from the New York Times found that many Hasidic yeshivas fail to provide an adequate secular education, to the point where some boys graduate high school without speaking fluent English. The Times also found that teachers at some Hasidic yeshivas regularly use corporal punishment.

In 2015, New York City’s education department announced it would investigate complaints about the quality of secular education in Hasidic schools. (The complaint did not include Modern Orthodox schools, which generally provide a thorough secular education.) In January, the state education department ordered that the city complete its investigation no later than June 30, including specific reviews of individual schools.

The mayor began his speech by painting a grim picture of the secular world. He described problems that children across the city and country face, such as cannabis and fentanyl use, harmful use of social media, and mental illness, suggesting that yeshiva students don’t have these problems.

“The children are in a state of despair at an epic proportion, but instead of us focusing on how do we duplicate the success of improving our children, we attack the yeshivas that are providing a quality education that is embracing our children,” he said.

“I saw numbers just the other day, asking questions about what is happening at our yeshivas across the city and state. At the same time, 65% of Black and brown children never reach proficiency in the public school system,” Adams said, citing a statistic that he uses often in speeches. “We’re asking what are you doing in your schools. We need to ask, what are we doing wrong in our schools, and learn what you are doing in yeshivas to improve education.”

“We need to be duplicating what you are achieving,” he said.

Adams also discussed the role of religion in government.

“Let’s embrace those that believe in the quality of this country and the quality of this state, and uplift families, and children, and education, and that appreciate the religious philosophies that are a part of the educational opportunities,” he said. “I don’t apologize for believing in God.”

“Faith is who we are,” Adams added. “We are a country of faith and belief, and we should have it anywhere possible to educate and to help uplift our children in the process.”

“You were there for me when I ran for mayor,” Adams concluded, to loud applause. “I’m going to be there for you as your mayor.”

In City Council District 44, which includes most of Hasidic Boro Park, 56% of voters picked Republican Curtis Sliwa in the 2021 mayoral election.

On election night in 2021, Mayor-elect Adams was surrounded by prominent supporters on the podium, including leaders of the Hasidic community.

A man who knows so little about yeshivas or public schools or the reasons for separation of church and state should not be in control of the New York City public school system.

In Texas, people with strongly held conservative Christian beliefs wanted to send their dollars to a cellphone service that shared their values. Before long, such a company came into being, and it’s now selling mobile service to customers across the state. The money generated has been used to win control of four school boards.

NBC reported:

DALLAS — A little more than a year after former Trump adviser Steve Bannon declared that conservatives needed to win seats on local school boards to “save the nation,” he used his conspiracy theory-fueled TV program to spotlight Patriot Mobile, a Texas-based cellphone company that had answered his call to action.

“The school boards are the key that picks the lock,” Bannon said during an interview with Patriot Mobile’s president, Glenn Story, from the floor of the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, in Dallas on Aug. 6. “Tell us about what you did.”

Story turned to the camera and said, “We went out and found 11 candidates last cycle and we supported them, and we won every seat. We took over four school boards.”

“Eleven seats on school boards, took over four!” Bannon shouted as a crowd of CPAC attendees erupted in applause.

It was a moment of celebration for an upstart company whose leaders say they are on a mission from God to restore conservative Christian values at all levels of government — especially in public schools. To carry out that calling, the Grapevine-based company this year created a political action committee, Patriot Mobile Action, and gave it more than $600,000 to spend on nonpartisan school board races in the Fort Worth suburbs.

This spring, the PAC blanketed the communities of Southlake, Keller, Grapevine and Mansfield with thousands of political mailers warning that sitting school board members were endangering students with critical race theory and other “woke” ideologies. Patriot Mobile presented its candidates as patriots who would “keep political agendas out of the classroom.”

Their candidates won every race, and nearly four months later, those Patriot Mobile-backed school boards have begun to deliver results.

The Keller Independent School District made national headlines this month after the school board passed a new policy that led the district to abruptly pull more than 40 previously challenged library books off shelves for further review, including a graphic adaptation of Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl,” as well as several LGBTQ-themed novels.

In the neighboring city of Southlake, Patriot Mobile donated framed posters that read “In God We Trust” to the Carroll Independent School District during a special presentation before the school board. Under a new Texas law, the district is now required to display the posters prominently in each of its school buildings. Afterward, Patriot Mobile celebrated the donation in a blog post titled “Putting God Back Into Our Schools.”

And this week at a tense, eight-hour school board meeting, the Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District’s board of trustees voted 4-3 to implement a far-reaching set of policies that restrict how teachers can discuss race and gender. The new policies also limit the rights of transgender and nonbinary students to use bathrooms and pronouns that correspond with their genders. And the board made it easier for parents to ban library books dealing with sexuality.

To protest the changes, some parents came to the meeting wearing T-shirts with the school district’s name, GCISD, crossed out and replaced with the words “Patriot Mobile Action ISD.”

“They bought four school boards, and now they’re pulling the strings,” said Rachel Wall, the mother of a Grapevine-Colleyville student and vice president of the Texas Bipartisan Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting school board candidates who do not have partisan agendas. “I’m a Christian by faith, but if I wanted my son to be in a religious school, I would pay for him to go to a private school….”

Initially, Patriot Mobile’s founders said their goal was to support groups and politicians who promised to oppose abortion, defend religious freedom, protect gun rights and support the military.

After the 2016 presidential election, the company’s branding shifted further to the right and embraced Trump’s style of politics. One of Patriot Mobile’s most famous advertisements includes the slogan “Making Wireless Great Again,” alongside an image of Trump’s face photoshopped onto a tanned, muscled body holding a machine gun….

Patriot Mobile has also aligned itself in recent years with political and religious leaders who promote a once-fringe strand of Christian theology that experts say has grown more popular on the right in recent years. Dominionism, sometimes referred to as the Seven Mountains Mandate, is the belief that Christians are called on to dominate the seven key “mountains” of American life, including business, media, government and education.

John Fea, a professor of American history at the private, Christian Messiah University in Pennsylvania, has spent years studying Seven Mountains theology. Fea said the idea that Christians are called on to assert biblical values across all aspects of American society has been around for decades on the right, but “largely on the fringe.”

Trump’s election changed that.

“It fits very well with the ‘Make America Great Again’ mantra,” Fea said. “‘Make America Great Again’ to them means, ‘Make America Christian Again,’ restore America to its Christian roots.”

What next? Will every religion set up its own cell service? Why?

The blog of the Network for Public Education posted Justin Parmenter’s concern about the latest meddling into education by the state’s Republican-dominated General Assembly. The NPE blog is curated by the estimable Peter Greene. Justin Parmenter is an NBCT high school teacher in North Carolina.

Teacher Justin Parmenter monitors anti-public ed shenanigans in North Carolina. He explains in a recent post a bill to force adoption of Hillsdale College’s “patriotic” curriculum.

Parmenter writes:

Legislation filed in the North Carolina General Assembly last week would authorize Beaufort County Public Schools to ignore the state’s standard course of study and instead teach a controversial social studies curriculum developed by a conservative Michigan college with close ties to former President Donald Trump.

The bill was filed by Rep. Keith Kidwell, who represents Beaufort, Dare, Pamlico and Hyde counties.

The curriculum Kidwell is proposing be used in Beaufort County’s public schools was created by Michigan-based Hillsdale College after white fragility over Nikole Hannah-Jones’s 1619 Project prompted former president Donald Trump to issue an executive order setting up what he called a “patriotic education” commission.

Trump said at the time that the commission was intended to counter “hateful lies” being taught to children in American schools which he said constituted “a form of child abuse.”

Trump appointed Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn to chair the 1776 Commission near the end of his presidency in 2020.

The commission’s report, published on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January 2021, was widely criticized by actual historians as a whitewashed take on American history for its downplaying of Founding Fathers’ support for slavery and quoting Dr. Martin Luther King out of context in order to create a falsely rosy view of race in the United States, among other reasons.

Hillsdale College released the “1776 curriculum” in July 2021. In its “Note to Teachers,” the curriculum reminds anyone who will be using the curriculum to teach children that “America is an exceptionally good country” and ends with the exhortation to “Learn it, wonder at it, love it, and teach so your students will, too.”

In North Carolina, current state law gives the State Board of Education the authority to develop a standard course of study which each school district is required to follow. The state’s current social studies standards were adopted in 2021 over objections of Republican state board members who said the standards portrayed America in a negative light and amounted to critical race theory.

Kidwell’s bill comes just days after Representative Tricia Cotham’s party switch handed North Carolina Republicans a veto-proof supermajority in the legislature. That means there’s a good chance this Trump-inspired, whitewashed version of American history will end up on desks in Beaufort County, and there’s no reason to think other counties won’t follow suit.

According to DPI’s Statistical Profile, more than half of Beaufort County’s 5,821 public school students are students of color. Those students deserve to have their stories and their ancestors’ stories told. Those students and all students deserve to learn real American history, warts and all, not a watered-down, Donald Trump-conceived version designed to make white people feel comfortable.

Read the full post here.

Jim Hightower is a Texas populist who has observed the state’s hard rightward swing with dismay. In this post, he flays the profiteers who are attacking teachers and public schools. You should consider subscribing to his blog.

He writes here in honor of teachers:

I’m a child of privilege. Not the privilege of money (I come from a family of small-town working people). But it was my privilege to grow up in the public schools of Denison, Texas.

There I received the rich blessings of dedicated classroom teachers, a diverse student body, playground socialization, librarians, coaches, cafeteria and custodial workers, student politics, vocational training… and a deep appreciation for the unifying value of community and the Common Good.

That’s why I’m flabbergasted by today’s clique of corporate profiteers, theocratic zealots, and laissez-faire knuckleheads who’re lobbying furiously across the country to demonize, defund, and dismantle this invaluable social benefit. If ignorance is bliss, they must be ecstatic!

Public schools do have some real problems: Politicians constantly slashing education budgets, professional burnout created by understaffing and low pay, the devastating strain of a killer pandemic, and a new-normal of assault-rifle murders. But the profiteers, theocrats, and knuckleheads aren’t interested in those, instead focusing on what they say is the fatal flaw in public education: Teachers.

Yes, the claim is that diabolical educators are perverting innocent minds by teaching America’s actual history, showing students that the full diversity of humankind enriches our society, and presenting our Earth as something to be protected, not plundered. And worse – OMIGOSH – many classroom teachers are union members! So, teachers suddenly find themselves political pawns in the GOP’s culture war. “Our schools are a cesspool of Marxist indoctrination,” squawked Sen. Marco Rubio, and Donald Trump squealed that schools are run by “radical left maniacs” and “pink-haired communists.”

These right-wing Chicken Littles are demonizing America’s invaluable educators because they need someone for people to hate, providing cover for their unpopular plot to privatize education. But hate can easily backfire on hatemongers – and local teachers are a whole lot more popular than conniving politicos and profiteers.

A nonpartisan journalism project called Wisconsin Watch released an alarming report about voucher schools that openly discriminate against LGBT students and students with disabilities. State law requires them to admit all who apply but not to enroll those from these disfavored groups.

State law for public schools prohibits discrimination on these very same grounds. In other words, public schools may not discriminate against these two groups, but publicly-funded voucher schools may and do.

Among the voucher schools, discrimination against gay students and families is usually on religious grounds. Voucher schools may exclude students with disabilities for any reason, such as lack of staff or resources.

Wisconsin has funds 52,000 students in 373 private voucher schools, or 6% of all students in publicly funded schools. This year the state spent $444 million on vouchers. “About one-fifth of voucher schools have 90% or more of their students on vouchers, what one scholar describes as “private in name only.” Republicans want to expand voucher availability by removing any limits, so that public funds underwrite tuition for rich kids.

Wisconsin is considered the birthplace of the “school choice” movement. The nation’s first publicly funded private voucher program began in Milwaukee in 1990. Initial restrictions, such as limiting vouchers to secular schools, have disappeared as the program has expanded. Today, 32 schools — including at least one with an anti-LGBTQ+ stance — have their entire student bodies on publicly funded vouchers.

Legal discrimination against students who are LGBTQ+ or have disabilities results from a lack of state-level protections; a federal exemption that allows religious entities to discriminate against LGBTQ+ students and another that requires schools taking federal funds to make only minor adjustments for students with disabilities; and a state education agency constrained by punctilious rules and decades of litigation.

One of the cardinal goals of publicly-funded education is equal opportunity for all. In voucher schools, it’s equal opportunity for some. We are reminded once again that “school choice” means SCHOOLS CHOOSE.

Perry Bacon, Jr. is a relatively new columnist at the Washington Post. He joined the Post a year ago and writes about national and state politics and race. His latest column in the Post startled me and perhaps others, because the Post editorial board has been an enthusiastic supporter of the worst kinds of punitive corporate reform. The Post editorial board frequently defended No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the teacher-bashing by Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan. Seldom was a contrary view expressed, except on Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet blog, which was a haven for critics of the failed reforms based on testing, punishment, and privatization.

The article begins:

America’s decades-long, bipartisan “education reform” movement, defined by an obsession with test scores and by viewing education largely as a tool for getting people higher-paying jobs, is finally in decline. What should replace it is an education system that values learning, creativity, integration and citizenship.

Joe Biden is the first president in decades not aggressively pushing an education agenda that casts American schools and students as struggling and in desperate need of fixing. He has not stated that “education is the civil rights issue of our time,” a sentence said by presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. His administration has backed policies, such as an expanded child tax credit, that view giving people more money, not more education, as the main way to reduce poverty.

There is a push from experts and politicians across partisan lines, including from Biden, to get employers to stop requiring college degrees for so many jobs. There is also a growing defense of college students who study English, literature and other subjects that don’t obviously lead to jobs in the way that, say, engineering does.

An education gospel is being dismantled, one that was 40 years in the making. In 1983, the Reagan administration released a report called “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform.” It warned that America’s status as an economic powerhouse was under threat because its students were doing so much worse than those from other industrialized nations on standardized tests. That report put education reform on the national agenda and explicitly tied it to economic growth.

But this education fixation wasn’t just about the economy. The two parties couldn’t agree on racial policy. Democrats wanted more funding and explicit policies to help Black people and heavily Black areas to make up for past discrimination, and the Republicans largely opposed them.
What Democrats and Republicans could agree on was making education a priority. So Republican politicians, particularly Bush, pumped more money into schools, as Democrats wanted. And Democrats broadly adopted the view that education was the main way for Black people to make up for the effects of racism, thereby shifting responsibility for Black advancement from the government to individual African Americans, as Republicans wanted.

Eventually education, particularly getting a college degree, became viewed as the primary way for economic advancement for not just Black people but people of all races who weren’t born into the middle class.
The result was a bipartisan education fixation for much of the period between 1990 and 2016. It included the expansion of charter and magnet schools as an alternative to traditional public schools; an obsession with improving student test scores; accountability systems that punished schools and teachers if their kids didn’t score well; increased government spending on college loans and grants as part of a movement to make college essentially universal; and a push for Black students in particular not to just get college degrees but ones in “STEM” fields (science, technology, engineering and math) that would help them get higher-paying jobs.

This agenda was racial, economic and education policy all wrapped into one.

The problem is that this education push didn’t work. While the number of Americans who have graduated from high school and college have skyrocketed in the past three decades, wages and wealth haven’t grown nearly as much. Black people in particular haven’t seen economic gains matching these huge increases in education levels.

The remainder of the column nails the point: the education reform movement of the past few decades is a failure. It’s time for fresh thinking, centered on the idea that education is first and foremost about learning, not test scores.

But if the real aim of education policy is no longer really economic and racial policy, what should its goals be? Neither party seems to have a clear answer. Most Democrats defend teachers, a core party constituency, and extol public schools and community colleges, trying to shed the Democrats’ reputation as the party for graduates of Ivy League schools. But they don’t have a broader theory of education policy.

The Republicans are doing something much worse. At the state level, they are largely abandoning public schools and instead aggressively pushing universal voucherlike programs for K-12 education to help as many families as possible to enroll their kids in private and/or religious schools. They are also casting K-12 public school teachers and in particular college professors as propagandists who impose liberal values on students. At the college level, Republicans are trying to force out left-leaning faculty and push campuses to the right.

I certainly prefer the “teachers, professors and public schools are good” perspective (the Democratic one) over “teachers, professors and public schools are bad” (the Republican one). But neither is a real vision for American education.

Here’s one: Our education system should be about learning, not job credentialing. Schools and universities should teach Americans to be critical thinkers, not automatically believing whatever they heard from a friend or favorite news source. They should make sure Americans have enough understanding of economics, history and science to be good citizens, able to discern which candidate in an election has a better plan to, say, deal with a deadly pandemic. They should foster interest and appreciation of music, arts and literature.

They should be places where people meet and learn from others who might not share their race, class, religion or ideology. Our schools and universities should of course also provide people the core skills for jobs that actually require higher education. They should provide a path to becoming a doctor, lawyer, professor or any profession that requires specialized training without going into debt.

What our education system should not be is 16 years of required drudgery to make sure that you can get a job with stable hours and decent benefits — or a punching bag for politicians who have failed to do their jobs in reducing racial and economic inequality.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that billionaire Jeff Yass is behind a new super-PAC that is attacking progressive candidate Helen Gym in the closing days of the mayoral campaign.

ProPublica wrote about Jeff Yass and so did I.

Jeff Yass is a major funder of charter schools. Although he attended New York City public schools, he hates public schools and supports privatization. He is a MAGA Republican. He opposes abortion. He is a major funder for MAGA Republicans and grievances. The anti-public school lobby called the Center for Education Reform administers the annual Yass Award to charter schools (public schools need not apply).

I hope the Democrats who vote in Philly know who is behind the anti-Gym ads.

Vote for Helen Gym for Mayor of Philadelphia!

The Orlando Sentinel reported today that the State Education Department had rejected 35% of the social studies textbooks submitted for review because of leftist content. The DeSantis administration objects to any references to “social justice” or negative references to capitalism.

Leslie Postal of the Sentinel wrote:

Florida rejected 35% of the social studies textbooks publishers hoped to sell to public schools this year and forced others to delete or change passages state leaders disliked, including references to “why some citizens are choosing to ‘Take a Knee’ to protest police brutality” and “new calls for social justice” after the death of George Floyd.

A press release from the Florida Department of Education on Tuesday said 66 of 101 textbooks submitted have been approved, many after making changes the state demanded. On April 6, the department gave approval to only 19 of the books but then worked for the past month to get publishers to update their texts.

The goal was “materials that focus on historical facts and are free from inaccuracies or ideological rhetoric,” said Education Commissioner Manny Diaz in a statement.

The textbooks are for elementary and middle school social studies classes as well as civics, economics, U.S. history and world history courses.

In addition to social justice topics, some of the textbooks initially rejected failed to accurately describe communism and socialism, the department said, and those passages were revamped to emphasize the negatives of both economic systems…

The process became highly political a year ago, however, when the state initially rejected 42 math textbooks, a historic number, and touted the news with a press release that said, “Florida Rejects Publishers’ Attempts to Indoctrinate Students.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration sounded a similar alarm Tuesday.

“The political indoctrination of children through the K-12 public education system is a very real and prolific problem in this country,” tweeted Bryan Griffin, DeSantis’ press secretary. “Just look at some of these examples from textbooks submitted this year to @EducationFL.”

Griffin highlighted a passage from a middle school textbook that described a socialist economy as one that “keeps things nice and even and without unnecessary waste.” The passage went on to say, “These societies may promote greater equality among people while still providing a fully functioning government-supervised economy.”

The department did not indicate what textbook included that passage but shared the new version about “planned economies” that replaced the one about socialist economies. The new passage reads, “Critics say these planned economies have slow development and fewer technological advances” in part because they limit “human incentive. In other words, why do anything if the government is eventually going to do it for you?”

The other examples the department shared included two related to social justice, police brutality and racism. The elementary school textbook that mentioned people taking a knee during the National Anthem as a form of protest was deleted as “not age appropriate,” the department said. So was a passage from a middle school book that discussed “new calls for social justice, including the formation of the Black Lives Matter group and the protests after the killing of Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer.”

The department also disliked that a middle school textbook about the Holocaust asked, “What social justice issues are included in the Hebrew Bible?” The line was changed to “What are some of the key principles included in the Hebrew Bible?”

The DeSantis’ administration last year claimed the math books contained critical race theory, the idea that racism is embedded in American institutions, and other unacceptable topics such as social emotional learning and culturally responsive learning.

DeSantis and other Republicans argue CRT aims to make white children feel guilty and to teach children to hate the United States and that, while traditionally a graduate school topic, its tenets have seeped into K-12 classrooms. The Legislature last year passed what the governor dubbed his “stop woke” act that outlaws the teaching of the concept in public schools.

Opponents of DeSantis’ efforts argued the real aim was to prevent children from learning about tough topics such as slavery and racial discrimination and said they feared it would lead to a whitewashing of history.

Most of those who reviewed the math textbooks — math teachers and professors — found nothing objectionable in the texts, with only three of about 70 reviewers raising concerns about CRT. Eventually, many of the rejected books were approved after making some changes. The three reviewers who raised questions about the math textbooks were a member of the conservative Moms for Liberty group and two people affiliated with the Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian school in Michigan aligned with the DeSantis administration.

The math book rejections stunned school district administrators, who had already made plans to purchase the rejected textbooks — which were part of a longer list first posted to the education department’s website. As they typically do, committees of teachers and curriculum experts reviewed the books before recommending which ones should be purchased and had not found material they found objectionable.

The districts needed to buy new math textbooks last year and new social studies textbooks this year to make sure their instructional materials match with new state standards for those subjects.

Mindful of what happened last year, Orange County Public Schools decided to select both first and second-choice options for new social studies books this year. The Orange County School Board approved its list of recommended books April 25, but the district has not yet made any purchases, which could cost more than $21 million.

The social studies textbooks OCPS selected as its top choice for elementary schools is on the rejected list the education department released Tuesday. The district could go with its second-choice option, which is approved, or wait to see if the other wins approval in the coming weeks.

Jonathan Chait wrote an excellent article about the Republican plan to control, destroy, and censor American education. It is the cover story in this week’s New York magazine.

Chait and I have long disagreed about charter schools and will continue to do so. The article does not get into privatization, and the Republicans’ determination to divert public money to religious and private schools via vouchers. Nor does it touch on the growth and scandals of the charter industry. It’s hard to ignore privatization as a main line of attacking the public purpose of public schools, but Chait covers culture war issues only.

Chait says that, in the view of conservatives, left wing indoctrination occurs in religious schools, private schools, and charter schools, so choice will not solve the problem (the problem being the left wing capture of the culture). The answer, then, for the rightwing is to capture control of the institutions and replace left wing indoctrination with rightwing indoctrination.

The article digs into the Republican effort to destroy academic freedom, freedom to teach, freedom to learn, and to turn American schools and universities into purveyors of rightwing ideology. Two central figures in this conspiracy are Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and rightwing ideologue Chris Rufo.

Florida is indeed the model for the Republican attack on education. It is here that the Governor boasts about his Stop WOKE Act, which blocks teaching about topics that might cause discomfort (especially teaching factually accurate accounts of racist brutality in American politics); his Don’t Say Gay Act (which eliminates any instruction about homosexuality in K-3, recently amended to grades K-8); his successful capture of tiny progressive New College and to turn it into the Hillsdale of the South; his intention to take control of the state’s public colleges and universities, eliminate tenure, and purge progressive professors; and his encouragement of censorship of books about race, racism, and gender issues. Add to these DeSantis’ demonizing of the minuscule number of transgender students, as well as his bullying of drag queens, and you have a major state that has embraced fascism and scapegoating of powerless minorities. Florida is also notable for the billions it spends on lightly regulated charters and unregulated, unaccountable vouchers.

Readers of this blog are familiar with DeSantis’ war on public schools and higher education, and his control of curriculum and leadership. I can’t think of another state where the Governor has moved so aggressively to control every aspect of public education. Others have recognized the limits of their power. DeSantis does not.

We also know that Florida recently enacted universal vouchers, offering to subsidize the tuition of rich students. And that the wife of the Republican Speaker of the House, then state education commissioner, Richard Corcoran, now president of New College, started a charter. And that many legislators are financially tied to charters.

This article is about the culture wars, however, not privatization.

Chait writes:

Republicans have begun saying things about American schools that not long ago would have struck them as peculiar, even insane. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has called schools “a cesspool of Marxist indoctrination.” Former secretary of State Mike Pompeo predicts that “teachers’ unions, and the filth that they’re teaching our kids,” will “take this republic down.” Against the backdrop of his party, Donald Trump, complaining about “pink-haired communists teaching our kids” and “Marxist maniacs and lunatics” running our universities, sounds practically calm.

More ominously, at every level of government, Republicans have begun to act on these beliefs. Over the past three years, legislators in 28 states have passed at least 71 bills controlling what teachers and students can say and do at school. A wave of library purges, subject-matter restrictions, and potential legal threats against educators has followed.

Education has become an obsession on the political right, which now sees it as the central battlefield upon which this country’s future will be settled. Schoolhouses are being conscripted into a cataclysmic war in which no compromise is possible — in which a child in a red state will be discouraged from asking questions about sexual identity, or a professor will be barred from exploring the ways in which white supremacy has shaped America today, or a trans athlete will be prohibited from playing sports…

While there have been political battles over the schools for many years, but this controversy is different. Republicans are going for the jugular. They believe that “the left” has taken over the nation’s educational institutions and is determined to indoctrinate the next generation to despise their own country. Nothing could be more ridiculous, but facts don’t get in the way of their culture war.

He writes:

The Republican Party emerged from the Trump era deeply embittered. A large share of the party believed that Democrats had stolen their way back into power. But this sentiment took another form that was not as absurd or, at least, not as clearly disprovable. The theory was that Republicans were subverted by a vast institutional conspiracy. Left-wing beliefs had taken hold among elite institutions: the media, the bureaucracy, corporations, and, especially, schools.

This theory maintains that this invisible progressive network makes successful Republican government impossible. Because the enemy permanently controls the cultural high ground, Republicans lose even when they win. Their only recourse is to seize back these nonelected institutions….

“Left-wing radicals have spent the past 50 years on a ‘long march through the institutions,’” claims Manhattan Institute fellow and conservative activist Chris Rufo, who is perhaps the school movement’s chief ideologist. “We are going to reverse that process, starting now.”

Many institutions figure in Republicans’ plans. They are developing proposals to cleanse the federal workforce of politically subversive elements, to pressure corporations to resist demands by their “woke employees,” and to freeze out the mainstream media. But their attention has centered on the schools. “It is the schools — where our children spend much of their waking hours — that have disproportionate influence over American society, seeding every other institution that has succumbed to left-wing ideological capture,” writes conservative commentator Benjamin Weingarten.

Republicans are afraid that the liberal bias of schools and colleges is turning their children into liberals, intent on advancing social justice. They feel a sense of urgency about gaining control of these agencies of indontrination.

DeSantis’ approach is straightforward: Taxpayers pay for schools. Why shouldn’t they control them? Why shouldn’t they tell them what to teach and what not to teach?

Chait errs in describing Florida’s efforts to restrict the accurate teaching of African American history. He writes:

It is possible for legislatures to restrict some of the pedagogical fads of recent years without preventing children from learning unvarnished historical truths about slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow, and its aftermath. Reports have described bans on lessons that make students feel guilty, when they have merely restricted lessons that instruct them to feel guilty, a reasonable thing to ask. Commentators on the internet likewise depicted Florida as banning the teaching of African American history, when in fact the state merely objected to elements of the AP African American History curriculum, ultimately resulting in a revised version.

This is understating the active role that the DeSantis team played in squashing the brutal facts about African American history in Florida and the U.S. The Stop WOKE Act banned teaching “critical race theory,” which most people can’t define but assume that it refers to systemic racism. The DeSantis team has banned textbooks in math and social studies that showed any interest in “social justice.”

DeSantis and his education commissioner didn’t “merely object” to parts of the AP African American History course, they threatened to exclude the AP course and test from the state’s schools altogether, a move that would likely be followed by other deep red states. This hits the College Board where it hurts, in their revenues. DeSantis has objected not only to CRT, but to “social-emotional learning,” which he sees as indoctrination but which typically means exercises in perseverance, self-control, and other workaday approaches to collaboration and respect for others. Like what I learned in elementary school many decades ago.

Are there teachers who go too far in imposing their own beliefs (from both the left and the right)? Surely. But Chait observes:

A broader problem with the wave of conservative legislation is that it is responding to a wildly hyperbolic version of reality. In a very large country with a fragmented education system, there are going to be plenty of examples of outrageous or radical teaching in the schools on a daily basis without necessarily indicating anything about the system’s overall character. As conservatives grew alarmed about left-wing teachers, their favorite media sources started curating examples of it to stoke their outrage.

DeSantis projects Florida as a model for the nation, and he looks to Hungary as a model for Florida. Its leader Viktor Orban has tamed the universities by controlling them. Chris Rufo recently spent a month in Hungary, learning how Orban has silenced the left.

Orbán’s example has shown the government’s power over the academy can be absolute. DeSantis is simply the first Republican to appreciate the potential of this once-unimaginable use of state power to win the culture wars. Even before DeSantis’s plan has passed, Republicans in North Carolina, Texas, and North Dakota rushed out bills to eliminate tenure for professors.

I urge you to read the article in full. Aside from his leaving out privatization as the keystone of the Republican attack on public schools, the article fails to mention the big money behind the culture wars and privatization. DeVos, Walton, Koch, Yass. They are an important part of the story. And there are many more (I have a long list of billionaires, foundations, and corporations funding privatization in my book Slaying Goliath.)

Chait’s incisive analysis is a good primer for the elections of 2024. Implicit are the many reasons why Democrats must be prepared to defend teachers and professors, to protect both schools and universities from the takeovers planned by Republican legislators, to gear up for the fight against censorship, to resist incipient fascism, and to hold the line for our democratic principles.

Privatizers have boasted for years that charter schools are superior to public schools because students should not be confined to schools by their zip code (I.e. their neighborhood). But a charter school in Philadelphia used student zip codes to exclude kids from their “lottery.” The lottery was rigged to keep out kids from certain neighborhoods.

Each of the 800-plus Philadelphia families who applied for seats at a nationally recognized charter school thought their children had a fair shot at a spot in this year’s upcoming freshman class. Pennsylvania law guarantees it.

But some had no chance at all.

A top executive at Franklin Towne Charter High School said this year’s lottery was fixed, with students from certain zip codes shut out, and others eliminated because they — or their older siblings — exhibited academic or behavioral problems. Some children were also excluded because Franklin Towne’s chief executive didn’t want to take anyone from a particular charter elementary school, in the event he might have to pay for their transportation.

Patrick Field, Franklin Towne’s chief academic officer and an administrator at the school for 17 years, said the lottery tampering was ordered by Joseph Venditti, the longtime former CEO. Venditti abruptly resigned Feb. 27, citing health reasons, after Field alerted the charter’s board chair about the lottery issues…

The Inquirer reviewed a summary of the January lottery results showing that 205 students of 813 who applied were offered seats. The accepted students came from 22 zip codes; in 17 other city zip codes, none of the students who applied got in.

It is astronomically unlikely — with odds of 1,296 trillion — that no students would be selected from those zip codes if Franklin Towne conducted a random lottery as is required, an Inquirer analysis found.

Field, who is still employed by Franklin Towne, said he chose to alert authorities and come forward to The Inquirer because children are being cheated, and becausetaxpayers are footing the bill. Charters are independently run but publicly funded.

“As an administrator in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I don’t have a choice,” Field said. “As an ethical person, I’m just heartbroken that we’re doing this at a school that I’ve given so much of my life to.”

A high school of 1,300 in Bridesburg, Franklin Towne boasts strong academics, with a 97% graduation rate in 2021. It previously was named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.

The charter also has fielded allegations over its enrollment practices. Though it’s required to admit students from across the city, Franklin Towne’s enrollment is primarily white — a demographic mismatch in a primarily Black school district — a concern raised in 2018 at a School Reform Commission meeting. It has previously been accused of discriminating against special-education students.

Mercedes Schneider reviewed the story and found that it sounded “fishy.” A mostly-white school in a mostly-black district? And no one knew? The selection process at this charter school has been funny for a long time.