Archives for category: Education Reform

Mississippi boasts about its gains on NAEP reading scores, but those “gains” were largely the result of holding back students who didn’t pass the third grade reading tests. It’s a form of “gaming the system,” aka cheating.

This article by Bracey Harris for the Hechinger Report tells a different story, a story of unequal opportunity for black children in the state, a history of racism and segregation, a legacy of underfunding black schools, of crumbling schools and high teacher turnover.

Large proportions of black children live in deep poverty, and their schools are ill-equipped to prepare them for college or career.

State leaders offer nothing but gimmicks that have failed elsewhere: merit pay, A-F grades, bonuses for new teachers, and state takeovers. What they have not offered is the funding necessary to give the schools and students and teachers the resources they need. The conservative white legislature has not been willing to do what is needed.

State leaders have attempted to improve the state’s poor educational outcomes in recent years by requiring third graders to pass the state reading test before they can enter fourth grade, offering $10,000 bonuses for Nationally Board Certified teachers to work in the Delta, assigning schools and districts A-F ratings and, on occasion, taking over failing school districts. Mississippi’s newly elected Gov. Tate Reeves, who took office in January, has also proposed paying new teachers a one-time $10,000 bonus to instruct in struggling areas like Holmes.

Mississippi has also made some positive traction after investing $15 million per year, in part to train and coach the state’s teachers on the science of reading and reading instruction, an investment that some officials said helped boost the state’s scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Mississippi ranked No. 1 nationally in gains in fourth grade reading and math, and near the top in eighth grade score gains in math.

To some observers, the NAEP scores suggest the state’s focus on these reforms have helped, a lot. But locals say the reforms don’t go far enough, failing to address the deeper issues of racism and poverty that are embedded in the marrow of the Mississippi Delta. Each year, districts in the region hold back dozens of third graders. At one school in Holmes, Durant Elementary, more than 80 percent of third graders failed the reading test on their first try.

Ellen Reddy, an advocate who has pushed to improve education in Holmes County said the state’s solutions haven’t reduced the challenges that dominate the average school day. Reddy, executive director of the Nollie Jenkins Family Center, said the state has to step in to help districts that struggle to raise money. “The reality is we’ll always fail. We’ll always be a step behind until they put in more resources,” she said. “You get what you pay for.”

Strapped for cash and teachers

Strapped for cash and teachers

Children in communities with a high rate of poverty are at a greater risk of poor health and high levels of stress that require more support in the classroom. Years of research have documented that poverty “creates constant wear and tear on the body” and that safe learning environments, coupled with “responsive parenting and high-quality childcare” can help children progress. But it costs money to train teachers on how to support students and to hire support staff like guidance counselors.

Never underestimate the power of poverty and racism.

In this study of school closures in Detroit, the authors note that the closures were concentrated in black and brown communities. Terrance L. Green, Joanna D. Sanchez, and Andrene J.Castro note this spatial concentration of closures and point out that it typically has negative effects on students.

It reads in part:

Between 2006 and 2013, >1,200 traditional public schools were closed across 26 states in the United States.2 These closures disproportionately occurred in urban school districts that predominantly serve Black and Brown3 students, such as Detroit, Chicago, and New York City (Deeds & Pattillo, 2015; Ewing, 2018).4 In each of these districts, >100 schools have been closed in recent years (Journey for Justice, 2014). According to research, schools that serve larger populations of Black and Brown students with economic need are more likely to be closed than schools with fewer students of color, even when the schools have similar academic performances (Center for Research on Education Outcomes, 2017). Research also indicates that schools mainly serving Black and Brown students are closed even though closures can be detrimental on multiple levels as they affect “every part of the education system from students to teachers to the neighborhoods around the schools and the city as a whole” (Grover & van der Velde, 2016, p. 21).

Scholars who take critical perspectives link school closures to political forces, corporate interests, and the policy contexts that allow neoliberalism to take shape (Lipman, 2011; Pedroni, 2011; Stovall, 2016). The neoliberal education agendas that focus on school closures manifest through policy justifications that render closures as a positive reform mechanism. These agendas purport to remove “low-performing schools” from the “education market” through competition, thereby producing viable schooling options for families (Brummet, 2014; Engberg, Gill, Zamarro, & Zimmer, 2012). School closures are therefore rationalized as good administrative governance, a logical intervention to “failing” traditional public schools, a consequence to underutilization of space, and a fiscally responsible option for distressed districts. However, these arguments for closing schools are still made despite empirical evidence showing that closing schools does not result in large savings, especially for big-city school districts, at least in the short run, without coupling it with large-scale teacher layoffs (Pew Charitable Trusts, 2011).5

Moreover, there is an important relationship among federal, state, and local policy actors in how school closures and charter openings manifest. Federal policy actors6 create a climate for neoliberal education policies that state and local actors in turn implement. As such, federal education policies in the United States have engendered an environment for school closures and the subsequent opening of charter schools in low-income Black and Brown communities (Good, 2017; Lipman, Vaughan, & Gutierrez, 2014). Policies such as No Child Left Behind created a high-stakes accountability environment that made school closures a “commonsense” neoliberal outcome to “underperforming schools.” Under this logic, No Child Left Behind encouraged school closures through market-based school reform policies that punished schools for low performance, introduced incentives, and promoted school choice (Green, 2017; Mintrop & Sunderman, 2009). Similarly, the federal government continued to close urban public schools, while new initiatives promoted the possibility of innovation in charter schools. The Race to the Top competition prioritized school closure as one of its remedies to “underperforming schools” (Deeds & Pattillo, 2015).

At the state and local levels, neoliberal policies have also been used to justify school closures and the concurrent opening of charter schools. This has been coupled with housing, labor, and other city policies that constrain urban life for children and families of color (Ewing, 2018; Green, 2017; Lipman, 2011). For example, research suggests that closing public schools and opening charter schools in Chicago “is linked to policies that mandate dismantling public housing, limit affordable housing options, and support gentrification” (Lipman et al., 2014, p. 3). Consequently, the massive school closures in Chicago—which resulted in >50 school closures in 2013 alone—have produced racialized outcomes leaving some Black communities with few traditional public open-enrollment schools (Lipman et al., 2014).

Impacts of School Closure on Students and Communities

The impacts of school closures on student educational outcomes are neutral at best and negative in other instances (Gordon et al., 2018). Students whose schools have been closed initially experience higher absenteeism and lower test scores, which in some cases decrease over time (Engberg et al., 2012). Research in Chicago suggests, however, that students from the 50 schools that were closed in 2013 experienced long-term negative impacts on their math test scores and grade point averages (Gordon et al., 2018). Furthermore, in schools that have been closed across the United States, students have noted less voice, decreased ability to affect school policies, weaker relationships with teachers, and lower academic performance in the schools that they attended after their neighborhood schools were closed (Kirshner, Gaertner, & Pozzoboni, 2010; Kirshner & Pozzoboni, 2011). While most students in urban districts move to lower or equally performing schools after closure, some studies suggest that when students move to higher-performing schools, they typically experienced better attendance and test scores.7 However, the distance between high- and low-performing schools in many urban cities is so far that it prohibits some students of closed schools from attending higher-performing schools (de la Torre & Gwynne, 2009).

Additionally, the social-spatial and psychological impacts of school closure can be costly. Research indicates that school closures can destabilize communities, interrupt the lives of students and families, and cause receiving schools to become overenrolled (Gordon et al., 2018). The closure of schools can also lead to a type of social death or mourning because the connections among schools, students, families, and communities are lost (Ewing, 2018). The social impacts of school closure also include erasure of histories, student mobility issues, loss of jobs for teachers of color, and fractured school feeder patterns (Buras, 2013; Green, 2017). To compound these impacts, the psychological consequences of school closure interrupt a community’s sense of place and home (Journey for Justice, 2014).

To frame this study, we draw on Peck and Tickell’s (2002) theorization of “rollback” and “rollout” neoliberalism. According to Peck and Tickell, neoliberalism represents “explicit forms of political management, intervention, and new modes of institution-building designed to extend the neoliberal project, to manage its contradictions, and to secure its ongoing legitimacy” (p. 396). Peck and Tickell characterize rollback neoliberalism as a type of dismantling, discreditation, and destruction of public institutions and goods. As the authors note, rollback is historically situated and represents a shift from Keynesian-welfare economics to free market economic theories characterized by marketization and deregulation. For example, rollback neoliberalism destroys public goods and institutions such as public schools, public housing, and labor protection policies (e.g., teachers’ unions and tenure; Lipman, 2013b; Moskowitz, 2017).

Conversely, the authors argue that rollout neoliberalism describes a policy logic that privileges entrepreneurial governance through new construction and consolidations. Rollout neoliberalism therefore engenders new institutions (i.e., charter schools) and policies that create markets in places where they had not previously existed, such as charter school markets in communities that once housed traditional public schools (Lipman, 2013a). Given the proliferation of charter schools in urban contexts and the ways that charter schools are marketed toward students of color, rollout neoliberalism is also imbued with racial consequences.

School closings and dispersion of communities of color tend to be correlated with gentrification and dispersion of the students whose schools were closed, as well as disruption of community institutions.

G.T. (Guy) Brandenburg is a retired teacher who taught for many years in the D.C. Public Schools. He has a sharp eye and digs deep before he writes. He achieved a measure of fame when Michelle Rhee was chancellor. She boasted that as a young TFA teacher she had brought her students’ scores from the 13th percentile to the 90th percentile. A number of national publications quoted this remarkable feat, but Brandenburg did the research. The records for the classroom where she taught could not be found but he was able to find test scores for the school and the cohort and declared that her claim was implausible. Eventually, the mainstream media stopped repeating the claim and understood it as an urban legend.

I knew when I sent SLAYING GOLIATH to Brandenburg that it would be rigorously fact-checked. That’s the kind of reader he is.

Here is his review.


A mother in the Riverhead, New York, School District wrote an opinion article about underinvestment in the small city’s public schools. Years ago, Governor Cuomo slapped a tax cap of 2% on all districts to prove his conservative credentials. In addition, Riverhead has a charter school siphoning off millions of dollars and now wants to expand. This week, voters must pass a bond issue to meet the basic needs of the schools.

Allyson Matwey writes:

Because of the 2% tax cap and the lack of fair foundation aid from our state, which owes our district more than $30 million, our schools have been starved of the money they need to provide our children with the sound, basic education to which they are entitled. 

In addition, we are unique in that the charter school is in our town and costs us $7 million-plus per year.  And now, they want to expand and “build from the ground up” to educate a few more students, which will cost us millions more.  So, we are left with few options as we are faced with a crisis of overcrowded schools and buildings falling into disrepair.  We must ask ourselves, as taxpayers of this community, will we continue to keep the promise of a sound basic education for our and our children’s futures?  …

Two of our schools, Pulaski Street Elementary School and Riverhead High School, are already bursting at the seams.  Both schools are presently at more than 100% capacity, with large class sizes and hallways that are difficult to pass through.  These conditions are neither safe nor are they conducive to our children’s access to a sound, basic education.  The Riverhead School Board has had research conducted by Western Suffolk BOCES that reveals that our enrollment will continue to climb over the next several years. So, what are we to do?  

In order to address this overcrowding as well as the disrepair of some of our buildings’ facilities, the Riverhead Board of Education has put forward two bond propositions to provide us with an opportunity to uphold the promise of a sound, basic education to our children. …

Unless we are willing to make a small sacrifice for all of our children, split sessions at both Pulaski Street and the high school are not a threat but a reality. This could in turn affect sports, music, arts, and other extracurricular activities such as clubs.  For the average assessed home in Riverhead valued at $43,000, Proposition 1 would cost only $16.41/month; Proposition No. 2 will cost only $3/month.  Aren’t our children worth less than $20/month?  And for those wondering about staffing costs, the district has demonstrated and reassured the taxpayers that they are steadfast on not breaching the 2% tax cap.  Through creative financial planning such as retirement incentives and shared services the district appears to be in a good place to hire the additional staff that would be needed anyway.

The writer cites the many achievements of the children and urges local residents to pass the bond issue to meet the basic needs of the schools and their children.

The vote will be conducted on February 25. Every parent, grandparent, and taxpayer should invest in the children and vote YES.

 

 

This is a really great podcast that I enjoyed taping with brothers Mike and Fred Klonsky on their podcast “Hitting Left” while I was in Chicago. We borrowed time from our host Mario Smith, because the show occurred while Mario was on the air. Start with the photograph of the four of us holding baseball bats, the better to hit left with. Mike and Fred are veteran activists. While Mike was a leader of Students for a Democratic Society decades ago, I was a budding neoconservative. I remember reading about this fiery radical and never imagined that one day we would be friends. Fred and Mike asked some interesting questions, and it’s a wide-ranging discussion. Mario, a former art teacher in the Chicago Public Schools joined in. He referred to the”illustrious” Klonsky brothers, and so they shall remain.  We had fun.

The American Federation of Teachers Issued this statement yesterday:

 

Press Release

American Federation of Teachers Passes Resolution to Encourage Support for 3 of the 2020 Democratic Primary Candidates

For Release:

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Contact:

Oriana Korin
Oriana.Korin@aft.org

WASHINGTON—In a telephone town hall on Thursday night with thousands of American Federation of Teachers members and leaders who have been actively engaged in the union’s 2020 presidential endorsement process, AFT President Randi Weingarten, Scranton (Pa.) Federation of Teachers President Rosemary Boland, AFT Vermont President Deb Snell and Boston Teachers Union President Jessica Tang discussed the next steps in the AFT’s plan for supporting candidates as the 2020 Democratic presidential primary continues to unfold.

Weingarten reported on this week’s meeting of the AFT executive council, including the passage of a resolution outlining the next steps in the AFT’s 2020 endorsement process. The board voted to step up what is already unprecedented member engagement in the upcoming election by encouraging locals and state affiliates to support, be actively involved with, or endorse the candidacies of Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders or Sen. Elizabeth Warren, ahead of the selection of more than 60 percent of the delegates by the end of March. The resolution signals to members and leaders that support for any of those three candidates is welcome at this stage of the process before the union makes a national endorsement.

This next phase of the union’s 2020 endorsement process follows record member engagement in the first stage of the presidential primary, with more than 300,000 members participating to date—including the public education forum in Pittsburgh that featured seven candidates, the 10 candidate town halls hosted with members around the country, numerous telephone town halls, several member surveys and polls, five regional meetings, and countless activities at the local and affiliate levels. Several AFT locals and state federations have already made candidate endorsements, as encouraged by the initial endorsement resolution(link is external), passed in March of 2019.

Weingarten said:

“We are fighting for working families and our communities to have the freedom to live, and a voice at work and in our democracy. Donald Trump has proven himself to be an existential threat to the values and aspirations of educators, healthcare professionals, public employees and the communities we serve every day. While several candidates in this race share our values, three in particular—Vice President Biden, Sen. Sanders and Sen. Warren have significant support within our membership. There is a real connection with these three candidates because of their record of working with us over the years on public education, higher education, healthcare, labor and civil rights.

“Given the stakes of this election, the enthusiasm among our membership to engage, and the nature of the democratic nomination process, our board felt strongly that until the AFT makes a national endorsement in the primary process or at the AFT convention, it is important that our affiliates, members and leaders, including the three national officers, be actively involved in supporting and helping Vice President Biden, Sen. Sanders and Sen. Warren.

“It was clear that the time to take this action was now, before all the delegates are chosen and before all of the primaries are over, so that AFT members and leaders can help shape the race and the narrative, ensure our voices are heard, and ensure one of these three candidates emerges as the nominee. Because, make no mistake: We are in the fight of our lives—for a better life for our members and the communities we serve, to preserve our democracy, and to defeat Donald Trump. Ultimately, we must be unified and support the eventual Democratic nominee.”

Boland said:

 

“As a native of Scranton, Vice President Biden knows firsthand about the economic, educational and social issues that matter to our community. He has been a lifelong advocate for strong public schools, labor rights, and access to quality and affordable healthcare—issues important to our members, working families and the students we teach. I, and my members, aren’t just supporting the vice president because of his past record, but also because of his vision for the future—a vision that is focused on strengthening the middle class and providing opportunity for everyone. We are committed to turning out for Joe Biden ahead of Pennsylvania’s April 28 primary, and we resolve to do the same for whomever the eventual Democratic nominee is, too. The stakes are too high to sit on the sidelines.”

 

Snell said:

 

“AFT Vermont has proudly endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president, and our members in higher education and healthcare are already engaged in his movement to bring universal healthcare to every person in this country, and an affordable college education. Sen. Sanders has shown he has the vision, the momentum and the diversity of support necessary to enact bold policy changes that will undo the corrupting influence of corporate power on our economy, and allow working people to access the better-life issues we fight for every day: decent wages, a secure retirement, good healthcare and an opportunity for our families to get ahead. We are committed to helping Sen. Sanders win delegates, and also committed to supporting whichever Democrat ends up taking on Donald Trump in November.”

 

Tang said:

 

“Sen. Elizabeth Warren is the true visionary in this race for president: Her plans for big, structural change make her the clear choice for the Boston Teachers Union and AFT Massachusetts. Sen. Warren’s values are aligned with ours. We strongly support her plans for public education, immigration justice and building an economy that works for all by making it easier for workers in all sectors to join a union and by tackling our nation’s student debt crisis. She has stood with us every step of the way in our ongoing efforts to win the necessary funding and policies to strengthen public education for all, particularly for the students and communities with the greatest needs. This is a critical time for us to show leadership, so we’re proud to stand behind her during the Massachusetts Democratic presidential primary. We look forward to supporting her or whomever is elected as the eventual Democratic nominee.”

 

 

Remember “loose lips sink ships”? I think that was a World War 1 poster, warning defense workers to be careful what they said.

Apparently no one ever passed that warning to Mike Bloomberg. Given that he is a billionaire, he feels free to insult at will.

This post reports a public forum where he compared the AARP to the NRA, complaining that they were a single-issue group that would fight any effort to raise the age when people collect Social Security.

In an event at the Council on Foreign Relations in 2015, presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg likened the 38-million strong American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to the National Rifle Association, criticizing the senior advocates for opposing increases to the Social Security retirement age. The comments match Bloomberg’s consistent record of favoring cuts to social insurance programs, at odds with the current stance on his campaign website….

Speaking at the Economic Club of Chicago in August 2012, Bloomberg took similar aim, expressing his disappointment that “nobody’s going to stand up and say to the AARP, ‘we are going to really cut back your benefits.’” He held out hope for the one politician with the guts to stick it to the elderly and their allies: architect of social spending cuts Paul Ryan.

 

So this is what America has come to.

The chairman of a local Republican party in Virginia threatened a Democratic legislator leading the campaign to restrict access to assault weapons. He threatened to kill him and marched outside his home with weapons.

A Democratic lawmaker who is leading an effort to ban assault weapons in Virginia has asked local prosecutors to consider pressing charges against a gun-toting Republican Party chair who protested outside his home on Saturday.

Del. Mark Levine (D-Alexandria) said Brandon Howard, chair of the Hopewell Republican Party and head of the gun group Right to Bear Arms Virginia, may have violated Virginia statutes related to intimidation and harassment.

Levine referred the case to Alexandria City Commonwealth Attorney Bryan Porter, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Howard posted Levine’s home address to a Facebook event prior to his protest, and read it again in a video he posted to the platform on Saturday.

“I hope you kissed your wife,” Howard said in the video. “I hope you kissed your husband. I hope you kiss your children goodbye before you come and take mine [firearm], because that’s the last time you’d have ever kissed them in your life.”

Levine, who got wind of the protest through the Facebook event, called the police. A third protestor decided to sit it out after seeing the police presence, according to Howard.

Levine told VPM News that he watched Howard patrol the perimeter of his home wielding a military-style semi-automatic shotgun and pistol.

“I just don’t think decisions in America should be made at the point of a gun,” Levine said. “I think that happens in Syria and Somalia and Russia, North Korea, but I think in our country, politicians shouldn’t make up their mind because they’re afraid of being shot.”

Levine’s proposed assault weapons ban cleared the House of Delegates last week; it would allow existing assault weapons owners to keep their guns.

Howard sparked controversy by leading a group carrying assault weapons through the Alexandria Farmers Market. He also launched a run for Hopewell City Council by saying he would give away firearms, according to NBC-12.

The bill to limit access to assault weapons, supported by Governor Ralph Northam, was defeated when four moderate Democrats joined with the Republicans to vote it down. 

 

Sarah Vowell is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times where this article appeared. Proponents of vouchers often claim that the state prohibitions on public funding of religious schools were birthed in anti-Catholic bigotry, based on the Blaine Amendment, which was offered as a Constitutional amendment after the Civil War but failed to be adopted. Many states wrote their own “baby Blaine” amendments to assure that no public money went to religious schools–not just Catholic schools, but religious schools of any kind. The case now before the Supreme Court, Espinoza v. Montana, asserts the claim that refusal to fund religious schools is bigotry towards those schools. Sarah Vowell explains that the Montana constitution was rewritten in 1972. It included a strict prohibition against funding religious schools because the people of Montana can barely afford to pay for the public schools they have. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Espinoza, it will impoverish the public schools of Montana. That is why the suit is supported by the far-right Institute for Justice and their funders such as the Walton and DeVos families.

 

Scrutinizing the avuncular sphinx Chief Justice John Roberts throughout the impeachment trial of President Trump, I kept wondering whether he will preserve or ransack the legacy of the framers we revere — framers like the Republican Betty Babcock and the Democrat Dorothy Eck. It’s the question on all Americans’ minds: Do Mr. Roberts and his eight co-workers fully appreciate the public-spirited grandeur of the winter of 1971-72, when 100 Montanans, including housewives, ministers, a veterinarian and a beekeeper, gathered at the state capital, Helena, for the constitutional convention, affectionately nicknamed the “Con Con”?

The question haunts the current Supreme Court case Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. This newspaper has called the dispute over whether state tax credits can apply to donations for scholarships to private religious schools “a proxy battle over school choice.” However, the back story is so clumsily specific to Montana’s small population and immense geography that the case doesn’t entirely translate to states where people outnumber cows.

The novelist Ivan Doig wrote that in the scruffy Montana of yore, “when you met up with someone apt to give you trouble from his knuckles, the automatic evaluation was ‘too much Butte in him.’” When, as the grateful graduate of a Montana public school, I was determining whether I had a duty to stick up for the Con Con framers regarding the Espinoza case, I spotted a sequence in the web address of an article about it in The Atlantic that read “montana-bigoted-laws.” At that moment this Bozeman girl had too much Butte in her. Dorothy Eck wrote no “bigoted” anti-Christian laws — she was a blatant Methodist!

Before it ended up at the Supreme Court, the Espinoza ruckus started with a $150 tax credit. Montanans will make an appellate-level stink about chump change because that’s the only available change. The tiny tax base is basically eight coal miners, a couple of ski lift operators, that family in Belgrade making organic goat cheese and Huey Lewis.

Kendra Espinoza counted on scholarships to help pay for her daughters’ tuition at Stillwater Christian, a private school in Kalispell. No wonder. At up to $8,620 per year, ninth grade is more than $1,000 higher than undergraduate tuition at the University of Montana. What we called a “band room” at Bozeman High, Stillwater considers a “conservatory.”

School choice partisans pounced when Ms. Espinoza and other private-school parents sued to overturn the State Supreme Court’s ruling that the tax credit for scholarship donations violated the “no-aid” clause for sectarian schools in the Montana Constitution. They argued that it was time to erase “antiquated” anti-Catholic laws against public funding for private religious education. The subtle former state senator Matthew Monforton denounced the law as “Jim Crow for Christians.”

It is worth pointing out that the eighth word of the ’72 Constitutionis “God.” In the first draft of the preamble, some wistful Jeffersonians tried to thank the “Spirit of the Creator” for “the quiet beauty of our state.” They were shot down in the Bill of Rights Committee because “not mentioning ‘God’ specifically would be unacceptable” and so they “voted unanimously to retain Him in the Preamble.” The framers included a priest from Great Falls, Mitt Romney’s cousin Miles, the self-proclaimed “first Roman Catholic ever elected to anything in Yellowstone County,” and enough Presbyterians to warrant their own photo op.

While the ’72 Constitution’s no-aid clause looks similar to its predecessor in the 1889 original, the update was motivated by fortifying public schools, not shunning people of faith. Rethinking education was, along with open government and the right to individual dignity, part of the Con Con’s crusade to take a stand that no one dared dream of at statehood: that Montana would be a state in a republic and not an exceedingly wide company town.

“We were known as the state that wore the copper collar, controlled by the Anaconda Company,” Ms. Eck once said. A swashbuckler for the League of Women Voters, she referred to the copper company lording over the “richest hill on earth” and thus the newspapers and politicians. “There were stories of how their lobbyists would sit in the balcony at the legislature and do thumbs up and thumbs down of how people should vote.”

The Con Con delegates, who arranged themselves not by party but alphabetically, were so preoccupied with the public interest that they agreed public funds could be spent only on public agencies. During deliberations on the no-aid clause, the pastor of Helena’s Plymouth Congregational led the charge of “preserving our public school system,” preaching, “that’s what this issue is all about. I don’t think we ought to dilute that in any way.” (Diluting that is the aim of Espinoza.)

Article X, Section 1, of the ’72 Constitution proclaims that it is the duty of the state to “develop the full educational potential of each person.” That is an expensive ideal in a desolate wasteland. Public schools are supposed to be a volume business, but tell that to the Great Plains. The state of Montana has about 60,000 fewer inhabitants than the number of students enrolled in New York City’s public school system. I have volunteered in that epic system, which is to say I have had to excuse myself from a struggling student to go cry in a bathroom, so I sympathize with an urban kid who might eye a parochial school as her best chance.

That school choice logic doesn’t apply to Montana, where the poorest schools often have the smallest class sizes. The Montana Free Press reported that out in Prairie County, “Terry High School’s sophomore class has just five students this school year.” Starting in first grade, my friend Genevieve would ride her horse Croppy to the Malmborg School near Bozeman Pass; one year she and her brother Pete were half the student body.

When USA Today asked Ms. Espinoza if she had any qualms about what her case could mean for public schools, she insisted, “They have plenty of money.”

How I wish that were true. Last year, the public school district in Kalispell announced $1.7 million in budget cuts, Great Falls recently lost almost a hundred teachers, and Billings just announced about $4 million in cuts that mean canceling fifth grade orchestra and band.

A Supreme Court decision on Espinoza is expected in June. If the justices rule against Montana’s voters, tax credits for private school scholarship donations could surge. Revenue that might revive the Billings fifth grade band program could underwrite the fifth grade band at a pricey Kalispell private school.

Kalispell is the seat of Flathead County, which between 2000 and 2015 added more than 15,000 jobs just as rural Choteau County was losing more than 300. Overturning the no-aid clause will shovel more money into the cities (where most of the private schools are) and kick Choteau while it’s down, thereby thwarting the framers’ plan to spare needy districts from taxing “their residents three or four times as much as rich districts to provide less than half as much money per student.”

The public schools the framers conjured ask the taxpayers to splurge on fairness, not privilege, to pull together, not away. That beekeeper, those clergymen and moms chartered a state in a republic where a first grader on horseback is supposed to be as big and important as the mountains. As the Supreme Court justices ponder whether to upend all that over what appears to be a $150 trifle, I’ll pass along this lesson of Montana winters: A collapsed roof starts with a single snowflake.

Sarah Vowell, a contributing Opinion writer, is the author of “The Wordy Shipmates” and “Lafayette in the Somewhat United States.”

If Senator Bernie Sanders wins the Democratic nomination, you can be sure that Trump will redbait  him on a daily basis. Sanders will be “red meat” for Trump’s ridicule. If you support Sanders, you will hate this column. Be forewarned.

For a preview of what lies ahead, read this column from the Washington Post by Megan McArdle.

The world of comic books, in which characters are constantly dying and being revived or reinvented for a new legion of fans, eventually had to invent a concept known as the “retcon” — short for “retroactive continuity.”
You’ll have noticed the phenomenon in film and television even if you never knew its name: “retconning” means altering an already-established past story line, to cover up growing plot holes or simply to free an author to craft a more enjoyable narrative in the present, one unhindered by the back catalogue.

The term has obvious applications to modern politics. As Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) looks increasingly likely to win the Democratic nomination, left-of-center people are anxious to downgrade Sanders’s self-described socialism into something more politically palatable — like Great Society liberalism, or perhaps, at maximum, a Nordic-style welfare state.

In this, they struggle with an inconveniently well-documented Early Bernie Sanders, with his calls to nationalize “utilities, banks and major industries,“ his kind words for left-wing dictatorships, and his “very strange honeymoon” in the U.S.S.R. — where he blasted U.S. foreign policy before returning home to say “Let’s take the strengths of both systems. … Let’s learn from each other.”

One should be forgiven almost any number of youthful flirtations with bad ideology. But Sanders was in his early 40s when he went gaga for Nicaragua’s brutal Sandinista regime, and 46 during his sojourn on the Volga. In February 2019, when he was refusing to describe Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro as a “dictator,” Sanders was 77.


Forty years seems enough cultivate skepticism about what you’re shown while visiting a Communist dictatorship.

And 77 is certainly old enough to have read the 2019 Human Rights Watch report on Venezuela, which noted that “polls had not met international standards of freedom and fairness,” and went on to state that no “independent government institutions remain today in Venezuela to act as a check on executive power. … The government has been repressing dissent through often-violent crackdowns.” All of which sounds positively dictatorial.

If that wasn’t enough, Sanders might have been convinced when Maduro started using military blockades to prevent humanitarian aid from reaching his own famine-stricken citizens.
Yes, by the September Democratic debate, Sanders had inched around to calling Maduro a “vicious tyrant,” but why was it such a struggle? No regime that is democratically accountable could undertake such a blockade, which is why Great Society Democrats and Nordic-style social democrats don’t hesitate to condemn the ones that do. That sort of reluctance occurs among people who still hanker for something much more radical than Western democracies are prepared to deliver — and can’t quite admit that their idealistic program has birthed yet another moral and economic catastrophe.

Thus, it’s unsurprising to find that Sanders remains considerably to the left of Europe’s moderate social democrats. Economist Ryan Bourne of the Cato Institute argues that even when you compare the current Sanders platform to the British Labour Party’s 2019 election manifesto, the former is more radical. Sanders wants government to absorb a much higher share of gross domestic product, intervene even more heavily in sectors such as health care, and attack capital more aggressively than Labour promised to do under Jeremy Corbyn — and the Corbyn agenda was broadly recognized as a leftward leap in a country whose politics are already well to the left of ours.

MIT economist Daron Acemoglu recently made similar points, tying them directly to Sanders’s claim that he just wants the United States to be more like Denmark or Sweden. As it happens, he says, Sweden once tried a version of Sanders’s proposals to transfer a sizable chunk of corporate ownership and managerial control to workers. This “workplace democracy,” an idea closely associated with democratic socialism, was eventually abandoned by those Nordic social democrats because it poisoned labor relations, and depressed both investment and productivity growth.

Sanders’s undeniable radicalism, and his equally undeniable popularity with an exceptionally motivated portion of the base, presents a problem for Democrats. Young Democrats may think socialism sounds swell, but affluent older suburbanites will balk at both the word and the policies it denotes. With the white working class flocking Trumpward, Democrats needs those suburbanites; just boosting youth turnout probably won’t be enough.

The obvious solution is to quietly persuade suburbanites that the Sanders socialism label is just personal branding, and either retcon his previous radicalism, or write a change of heart into his biography. One problem is that it’s not clear this change of heart actually occurred; a bigger problem is that Sanders appeals to younger voters precisely because “he’s been saying the same thing for 40 years.” But the biggest problem is that his defenders can’t erase the things he’s saying right now.