Archives for category: Education Reform

Elected officials in St. Louis County, which has no charter schools, are upset that the state legislature has voted to give them a new charter school, against their wishes. Their efforts to improve the struggling Normandy district will be undermined by the charter school. If you recall, Michael Brown (the teen who was shot and killed in Ferguson, leading to national protests), went to school in the Normandy district.

The possibility of the first public charter school opening in north St. Louis County, within the struggling Normandy school district’s borders, is being met with opposition from some local government leaders.

If approved by the Missouri State Board of Education, the Leadership School will launch in fall 2021 as the first charter school to open outside of either St. Louis or Kansas City in the two decades of the program’s existence.

Several mayors of the small towns that make up the Normandy Schools Collaborative held a press conference Thursday afternoon to voice their opposition to the new school, saying elected representation should be involved in improving the district.

“We say to anyone who wants to come into our community to help in that fight, we welcome you,” said Brian Jackson, the mayor of Beverly Hills. “But we have to say to you, not without us.”

The officials argued Normandy is turning its school system around despite inadequate resources. A charter school opening nearby will further starve the district of funding, they said.

Charter schools — which are publicly funded but run independently from elected local school boards — have opened only in St. Louis and Kansas City since their 1999 creation. They’re allowed by current state law to open outside those two cities if the school district is not fully accredited.

In another story on the same event:

 A charter school is coming to the Normandy school district next fall, despite the most organized opposition since the taxpayer-funded schools first opened 20 years ago in St. Louis.

“We reject the idea of experimenting with our educational system with our children,” said Joyce McRath, a former Normandy School Board member. “The push for charter schools rarely happens in rural communities or communities that don’t look like ours.”

Unfortunately, the Legislature is moving forward without listening to local elected officials. They will open a charter school without considering the damage it will do to the Normandy schools.

Mercedes Schneider reviewed Douglas Harris’s book Charter City in Commonweal. As a teacher in Louisiana and a close observer of the politics of education, Schneider is well positioned to assess the claims on behalf of the all-charter NewOrleans district. Harris is a respected economist who heads the Education Research Alliance at TulaneUniversity, which received a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to study school choice.

Schneider writes about the determination of whites in Louisiana to block integration of the public schools after the Brown decision. When the courts struck down vouchers, “anti-Black sentiment never waned, and decades of white flight from New Orleans followed. Meanwhile, the state diligently set about eliminating economic advancement opportunities for the remaining Black population, limiting employment and housing options while cutting back drastically on education. Soon enough, the city was bereft of a Black middle class and the tax base needed to fund basic services, including public schools. And so, as one might logically expect, the public education situation in New Orleans became dire.“ She wondered whether Harris would acknowledge this history but he did not.

Harris, the director of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans and a professor of economics at Tulane University, focuses instead on data—specifically, on test scores and graduation rates in the years prior to the devastating 2005 storm and in the years that followed, from 2006 to 2015. By his accounting, the numbers went up post-Katrina, which he credits to intervention by the state in the form of charter-school initiatives. Now, data can be compelling, and reformers will often point to metrics like improved test scores to make the case for charter schools. But when I look at the data Harris cites, I think of the audit that’s being conducted at the request of the New Orleans superintendent of schools because of missing test scores and irregularities in high-school transcripts and class credits. I think of the numerous lawsuits calling for the Louisiana Department of Education—which was then run by a champion of the charter reform efforts in New Orleans—to release suspect testing data for independent review. So I can’t say I have confidence in the integrity of the data that Harris has analyzed. 

But that is not my principal concern. What’s more troubling is the narrative Harris spins out about the state takeover itself. That effort was led by Leslie Jacobs, former state school-board member turned businesswoman, who with a handful of other affluent whites form the core of what Harris calls the “reform community.” It was Jacobs who instigated things by drafting legislation that classified most New Orleans schools as “failing.” From there, the reform community—working out of office space provided by Tulane University—moved to sideline the predominantly Black community of New Orleans in its planning. Even as the city’s economy was still reeling from Katrina, the group engineered the mass firing of Orleans Parish School Board teachers. Harris describes the firing as an unfortunate necessity in achieving “reform”—that is, replacing traditional board-led public schools with a portfolio of independently operated charters. But the decision was also motivated by the inconvenient fact that the teachers were unionized, and thus a potential force of resistance. 

She laments the fact that schools have been severed from their communities. Despite the celebration of “choice,” the one choice unavailable to parents is a neighborhood school. When local groups of Black parents have asked if they can apply for a charter, they find that they cannot. Community engagement is important, she says, but it is of no consequence in New Orleans.

Schneider says that the Black citizens of New Orleans have been disenfranchised for decades. The charter takeover of their city’s schools is yet another expression of disrespect for their communities.


During the campaign, Joe Biden made clear commitments to support community public schools. He promised transparency and accountability for privately managed charter schools, as well as a ban on federal funding for charters operated for profit. He also unequivocally took a stand against standardized testing in a public meeting with hundreds of educators in Pittsburgh. NPE board member Denisha Jones asked him at that time if he would commit to ending standardized testing in the schools. He unequivocally said yes.

The Network for Public Education, joined by dozens of other groups, calls on President-Elect Biden to keep his promises.

To add your group’s name, contact NPE.
https://networkforpubliceducation.org/about-npe/

Our friend and ally, Dr. Charles Foster Johnson, recently gave an interview in which he expressed his optimism about the incoming Biden administration. Dr. Johnson is leader of Pastors for Texas Children, which fights privatization and supports public schools. He has opened nine state affiliates, the latest one in Alabama. He is a champion of public schools and teachers and students. He understands that public schools need resources and community support, not competition and punishments.

Among his many insightful comments is this one:

Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos pushed private school vouchers. That is unlikely from the Biden administration. What is more of a threat is continued expansion of charter schools that, basically, are publicly underwritten private schools due to their independent private ownership. Traditionally, vouchers are the privatization model of choice for Republicans (rural Republicans excepted) and charters are the privatization model of choice for Democrats.

Accordingly, the standardized testing racket so enshrined in No Child Left Behind and Race to The Top must be dismantled. Why do we have them when teachers, parents, community leaders and children all hate them? Here’s why: corporate backers of privatization want to measure poor children rather than treasure them. Let’s take the billions we are squandering on burdensome and punitive assessment and re-channel that money back into athletic, musical, artistic and vocational programs that have been so severely cut because of them in the first place.

Jan Resseger writes that the Ohio Legislature is up to its familiar tricks.

While no one was looking, it passed more voucher legislation, again brazenly violating the state constitution, which requires public funding of public schools and forbids public funding of private schools. Let us not forget that former Governor John Kasich was instrumental in this violation of the public trust.

Five years ago right at the end of a spring session of the Ohio Legislature, a group of state senators added a long amendment to House Bill 70, which was about expanding the number of full service, wraparound community learning centers—schools with medical and social services located right in the school. The amendment had nothing to do with the subject of the original bill. The amendment’s purpose was to establish the state takeover of the school district in Youngstown and set up a procedure for state takeovers of other so-called “failing” school districts. A deal had been cut. No opponent testimony was permitted. The Ohio Senate passed the amended HB 70 and sent it back for quick approval by the Ohio House. Within hours, Governor John Kasich had signed it, and without public input, an appointed Academic Distress Commission supplanted the elected school board in Youngstown.

This time the subject is vouchers.

Last spring, just as everything shut down due to the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, both houses of the Ohio Legislature debated changes in the EdChoice voucher program and came up with two separate bills. EdChoice eligibility is currently described by legislators as “performance-based.” The state designates EdChoice schools by these schools’ low ratings on the state’s school district report card, which everybody agrees is flawed. Last spring the program was expected to double in size. At angry hearings, school districts complained because EdChoice vouchers are funded through something called “the school district deduction.” The House plan would have funded the vouchers out of the state budget; the Senate plan kept the school district deduction.

Read the rest of this sorry story. It is especially sorry since legislators already know that vouchers in Ohio do not improve test scores; they actually drag them down. For shame!

The nonpartisan “In the Public Interest” keeps close watch on privatization across all sectors, including education. Corporate interests are preying on the public sector, looking to extract profit from our public dollars. Be vigilant! Sign up to receive newsletters from ITPI.

Students are flocking to poor-performing online charter schools, straining public school budgets.Superintendents in Pennsylvania are warning that increasing enrollment in online charter schools could strain already burdened public school budgets. “There will be public schools, school districts, in a lot of trouble financially,” said Jeff Groshek, superintendent of the Central Columbia School District. Fox 56

Check out In the Public Interest’s two fact sheets on the widespread poor performance of online charter schools: “Why online education can’t replace brick-and-mortar K-12 schooling,” and “Frequently asked questions about online charter schools.”

“Passionate voucher advocate” joins Tennessee executive branch. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has hired Bill Dunn, a former state representative and passionate private school voucher advocate, to join his administration as a special advisor on education. Chalkbeat Tennessee

Charter school being built across from Florida public school. Jacksonville residents are angry about a charter school being built across the street from their public school. “It’s going to draw resources, funding, and it’s going to bring our student enrollment down, and it could very much possibly affect our teachers,” said Lisa Britt, PTA President at Alimacani Elementary School. News4Jax

Betsy DeVos’s “Voucherland” that could’ve been. Retired teacher and education writer Peter Greene gives us a glimpse of the dystopian future that lay in store for public education had Trump won the election. The Progressive

Some good news… At least some people want to help kids rather than cash in on them. Of the ten largest public bond measures on the ballot on Election Day, six were approved, including a $7 billion bond proposal for the Los Angeles Unified School District and nearly $3.5 billion for Dallas schools. WBAP

And make sure to check it out… On December 2 at 5:00 p.m. ET, join Jesse HagopianDenisha Jones, and Brian Jones for a forum to launch the new book, “Black Lives Matter At School.” Haymarket Books

Welcome to Cashing in on Kids, a newsletter for people fighting to stop the privatization of America’s public schools—produced by In the Public Interest.

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I promised myself I would not post anything about Orange 45 unless absolutely necessary. Then I read this. Dave Pell asks a crucial question:

Is a coup still a coup even if that coup is totally coup coup? Yes, Trumpist efforts to overturn the election have been laughable, lawless, and ludicrous, and have officially put the Lame into this Lame Duck session. Rudy Giuliani literally melting down during a conspiracy theory filled presser attended by his son who hours later tested positive for coronavirus certainly had elements of dark (running) humor. Was it hair dye dripping down the side of his face? Was it mascara? My guess is that it was snake oil. Whatever it was, it’s rare that you can spring a leak from both temples and have it be the least embarrassing part of a public appearance. The assertions were so absurd that we felt nostalgic for Rudy’s better days back at Four Seasons Total Landscaping. And yes, amid all the weird theories thrown out by what Jenna Ellis described as the president’s “elite strike force team” there were only a few actual legal claims, all unsubstantiated, except those substantiated by the wrong data. For example, “the affidavit Sidney Powell hyped, which alleges that many precincts in Michigan have more votes than actual voters, is based on data from Minnesota.” At least they picked two states that begin with the letter M. And M&Ms melt in your mouth not on your face. So yes, yes, it’s all meme-ably hilarious. But this administration, with the backing of its party, is also launching very real attack on the core principles of democracy. The GOP’s official Twitter account shared an excerpt of the instantly infamous presser in which Sidney Powell explains that President Trump won by a landslide. General Services Administration Administrator Emily Murphy, whose job it is to certify the clear election outcome, has still refused to do so. President Trump is meeting with Michigan officials in the White House to convince them to reverse the vote in their state. And he’s trying to set up meetings with officials from Pennsylvaniaahead of that state’s Monday vote certification. Will any of this work? Almost certainly not. But if you try to shoot a person on Fifth Avenue and you miss because you’re a lousy shot (or because your leaking mascara-sweat dripped all the way to your trigger finger), it’s still attempted murder. And the president, with almost no pushback from his minions or his party, is attempting to murder American democracy. So it’s funny. But in a very unfunny sort of a way. But for the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of illnesses, and incalculable damage to America and democracy writ large, this would all be funny. 

+ “Trump’s effort to subvert the election results has been made explicit and unmistakably clear. He is no longer merely pursuing spurious lawsuits in state courts; in recent days, he and his lawyers have confirmed publicly that Trump now is trying to directly overturn the election results and the will of the American people by pressuring Republican state legislators to appoint electors who will vote for Trump in the Electoral College instead of Biden. The fact that Trump is almost certain not to succeed in actually remaining in office past January 20thdoes not in any way make this less alarming.” Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker: Trump’s Clown Coup Crisis

+ Why Trump’s Attempts to Overturn 2020 Election Are Unparalleled in US History

+ A long, long, long shot? Yes. Impossible? WaPo: Just because an attempt to steal an election is ludicrous and ham-handed doesn’t mean it can’t work

+ Let the record show that Mitt Romney, from the impeachment to the coup attempt, is the one GOP senator to take a principled stand. He may not be your favorite. He may not have done the right thing every time. But as we remember the enablers, let’s remember those who spoke out. Sasse, Romney pan Trump campaign’s tactics in contesting election

+ Meanwhile, after the hand recount, Biden (on his birthday) won Georgia again. (Does that mean Trump now needs two conspiracy theories for Georgia?)

Johann Neem is a historian of education. He understands the central importance of public education in our democracy.

He wrote this thoughtful, important commentary about the task ahead for the Biden presidency:

Restoring the Democratic Promise of Public Schools: An Integration Agenda for the Biden Administration– Guest Blog Post by Johann N. Neem

The last four years have taught us just how fractured America is. After a decisive but divisive election, President-elect Joseph Biden now begins the most difficult work ever: trying to weave back together a social fabric that has, after years of neglect, come unraveled. Biden has promised “to restore the soul of America.” At the heart of his vision must be a reinvigorated and renewed commitment to the democratic purposes of public education.

 To restore the soul of America, we need to restore the soul of our schools. This means being committed to public schools as sites of integration, where students learn in common, equally, in the same classrooms. This means rejecting the privatization agenda of choice and vouchers, where the logic of the market instead of the commons dominates. It means remembering that public schools are not just serving individuals or families, as our current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos argues, but all of us. It means finding real solutions to the ways in which residential segregation divides us by race and family wealth. Our public schools today reflect our divided soul, with whiter and richer Americans segregating themselves into exclusive neighborhoods with their own schools. All Americans must go to school together. 

 The founders of America’s public schools in the nineteenth century considered their integrative function essential. They imagined schools where native-born and immigrant, rich and poor, would learn to live with and for each other. The new state of Michigan’s first superintendent of public schools John Pierce celebrated public schools where “all classes are blended together; the rich mingle with the poor … and mutual attachments are formed.” 

Our public schools’ founders shared the racism of their time. America’s public schools were segregated both de facto and by law. Black Americans struggled to achieve integrated schools in which all Americans would be treated equally. Sixty years after six-year-old Ruby Bridges courageously entered New Orleans’ William Frantz Elementary School, that struggle continues. President-elect Biden must work for schools that integrate us across our ethnic, racial, religious, and economic divisions. We must learn that we are not enemies, but Americans.

Learning to see each other as Americans also requires a curriculum that integrates rather than divides. The culture wars have torn us apart and undermined our faith in common institutions. Nowhere have the culture wars been more divisive than over the humanities curriculum, and history in particular. We need to move beyond multiculturalism to telling stories about ourselves that bring us together. But to do that, we also need to avoid moving backward to stories that emphasized the experience of one group of Americans—white men—and ignored or erased the experiences of others.

As an immigrant myself, I know how powerful and important public schools can be when they bring diverse people together and welcome them into the nation. By inviting me into these traditions, Americans demonstrated that, despite my foreign origins and brown skin, I was welcome here. This openness was considered a hallmark of American society. We considered ourselves a nation of immigrants, a place where people from around the world could start new lives in a new country.

While the federal government does not determine curriculum for local school districts, the Biden Administration can use its bully pulpit to do the opposite of what Trump did with his. Under Donald Trump, education was weaponized to tear us apart. In response, the Biden Administration should encourage educators to embrace cultural integration rather than division.

A curriculum that integrates across cultural and racial lines is going to be politically challenging. Today, many on the right are suspicious of such efforts. Fed on right-wing media, they respond with anger, especially when riled up by the likes of Trump, who argued, in his speech celebrating American independence at Mount Rushmore, that he and his supporters “will not allow our country, and all of its values, history, and culture, to be taken from them.” He reiterated these words at the first ever “White House Conference on American History.” “Whether it is the mob on the street, or the cancel culture in the boardroom,” the President proclaimed, “the goal is the same… to bully Americans into abandoning their values, their heritage, and their very way of life.”

The Biden Administration will also face resistance from the other side. Today, many on the left worry that to offer a common curriculum is inherently racist or ethnically biased because it privileges some Americans’ stories at the expense of others. Instead, they advocate culturally specific curricula for students based on their ethnic or racial backgrounds. Such an approach also divides rather than unites; it privatizes our history and culture. In contrast, an integration agenda emphasizes the public schools’ democratic aspiration to bring all students into the nation’s common life. Every student deserves to be introduced to American literature and history, as well as such subjects as math, science, and civics. Few Americans get this at home, whether they be native or foreign born. An integrative approach respects students’ diverse backgrounds while preparing all young people to be fluent, competent, and empowered citizens.

The debate between left and right has played out, in negative ways, over the merits of the New York Times’ 1619 Project. The conversation has become, like our culture itself, artificially divided. On one side, Republican Senator John Cotton introduced a bill to prohibit federal funds from being used to teach the 1619 Project. But the left responds, too often, in ways that make finding common ground harder. Thus, Illinois state senator LaShawn K. Ford, as if to prove Trump right, urged that public schools stop teaching all history until the curriculum can be revised to be less racist. As long as we think of our history as “us” versus “them,” rather than a complex story we all share, we will not heal America’s divided heart.

There is no conflict between an integration agenda and telling the truth about the past, unless we imagine that the past has only one truth to tell. For example, the national story means both celebrating our founding fathers for creating a democratic republic and coming to terms with their racism and support for slavery. They were—and we are—imperfect, but the goal of our country, as the Constitution proclaims, is to become “more perfect.” 

Testifying before Congress in June 2019 during hearings about reparations, Ta-Nehisi Coates  argued, “we are American citizens, and thus bound to a collective enterprise that extends beyond our individual and personal reach.” For us to see ourselves as a collective enterprise will require, first, rejecting the privatization agenda of choice and vouchers. The next step is a positive commitment to bridge the boundaries dividing us, whether they be racist and economically exclusive school district boundaries, or curricular boundaries that reinforce our differences. White Americans need to see themselves in the experiences of those with darker skin, and those of us with darker skin must be allowed to consider the history and culture of white Americans ours as well. Our failings and our successes, our good and our bad, our flaws and our promise, and our traditions, belong to all of us. We are all Americans.

The public schools are public. Their mission is to forge a public. They should help young people to move beyond their pre-existing identities to see themselves as part of the nation. In a country so divided that we no longer consider each other fellow citizens, reviving the democratic mission of public schools has never been more essential.

Johann Neem is author of Democracy’s Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America. He explores his own personal experiences as an immigrant growing up during the culture wars in his essay, “Unbecoming American.” Neem teaches history at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.

Carol Burris wrote the following post. Marla Kilfoyle provided assistance. They asked me to add that there are dozens more exceptionally well qualified people who should be considered for this important post: they are career educators who believe in public education, not closing schools or privatization.

The media has been filled with speculation regarding Joe Biden’s pick for Secretary of Education. Given the attention that position received with Betsy De Vos at the helm, that is not a surprise. 

In 2008, Linda Darling Hammond was pushed aside by DFER (Democrats for Education Reform) for Arne Duncan, with disastrous consequences for our public schools. Race to the Top was a disaster. New Orleans’ parents now have no choice but unstable charter schools. Too many of Chicago’s children no longer have a neighborhood school from the Race to the Top era when it was believed that you improved a school by closing it.

But the troubling, ineffective policies of the past have not gone away. Their banner is still being carried by deep-pocketed ed reformers who believe the best way to improve a school is to close it or turn it over to a private charter board. 

Recently, DFER named its three preferred candidates for the U.S. Secretary of Education. DFER is a political action committee (PAC) associated with Education Reform Now, which, as Mercedes Schneider has shown, has ties to Betsy De Vos. DFER congratulated Betsy DeVos and her commitment to charter schools when Donald Trump appointed her.  They are pro-testing and anti-union. DFER is no friend to public schools.

The DFER candidates belong to Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change, an organization that promotes Bush/Duncan education reform, as Jan Resseger describes here. “Chiefs for Change,” you support school choice, even if it drains resources from the public schools in your district, of which you are the steward. In their recent letter to President BidenChiefs for Change specifically asked for a continuance of the Federal Charter School Program, which has wasted approximately one billion dollars on charters that either never open or open and close. They also asked for the continuance of accountability systems (translate close schools based on test results) even as the pandemic rages.

We must chart a new course. We cannot afford to take a chance on another Secretary of Education who believes in the DFER/Chiefs for Change playbook. 

We don’t have to settle. The bench of pro-public education talent is deep. Here are just a few of the outstanding leaders that come to mind who could lead the U.S. Department of Education. Marla Kilfoyle and I came up with the following list. There are many more. 

Tony Thurmond is the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, California. Tony deeply believes in public schools. Prior to becoming his state’s education leader, he was a public school educator, social worker, and a public school parent. His personal story is both moving and compelling. 

Betty Rosa dedicated most of her adult life to the students of New York City.  She began her career as a bi-lingual paraprofessional in NYC schools, became a teacher, assistant principal, principal, superintendent, state chancellor, and now New York State’s interim commissioner. 

Other outstanding superintendents include Joylynn Pruitt -Adams, the Superintendent of Oak Park and River Forest in Illinois, who is relentlessly determined to provide an excellent education to the district’s Black and Latinx high school students by eliminating low track classes, Mike Matsuda, Superintendent of Anaheim High School District and Cindy Marten, the superintendent of San Diego.  

Two remarkable teachers with legislative experience who are strong advocates for public schools and public school students are former Teacher of the Year Congresswoman Jahana Hayes and former Arkansas state senator Joyce Elliot

There is also outstanding talent in our public colleges. There are teachers and leaders like University of Kentucky College of Education Dean, Julian Vasquez Heilig, who would use research to inform policy decisions.  

These are but a few of the dedicated public school advocates who would lead the Department in a new direction away from test and punish policies and school privatization. They are talented and experienced leaders who are dedicated to improving and keeping our public schools public and who realize that you don’t improve schools by shutting them down. Any DFER endorsed member of Chiefs for Change is steeped in the failed school reform movement and will further public school privatization through choice. They had their chance. That time has passed. 

 

 

As the coronavirus surges across the nation, infections are returning to the east coast cities and states that hoped they were done with it.

After New York City suffered more deaths than many states, the city for months boasted a low infection rate. But that rate recently hovered just below 3%. Mayor de Blasio said he would close the schools and revert to remote instruction if the positivity rate reached 3%. It did and today Mayor de Blasio announced that he was closing the schools even though they have a positivity rate well below 1%, even below 0.2%. Strangely, the city is not closing indoor dining and gyms. About 300,000 students returned for in-person instruction. Their parents will now have to make arrangements for childcare.

It’s sad that the mayor is taking an all-or-nothing approach to closing the schools. Schools that have been successful in avoiding transmission should stay open. The data show that schools are not super spreaders.