Archives for category: Education Reform

This notice appears in Garrison Keillor’s “The Writers’ Almanac”:

It’s the birthday of poet Sylvia Plath (books by this author), born in Boston (1932). She was an excellent student, and she went to Smith College with the help of a scholarship endowed by the writer Olive Higgins Prouty. One summer during college, she was chosen to be a guest editor for Mademoiselle magazine. She was only 20 years old, and she had already been published in Seventeen, Mademoiselle, The Christian Science Monitor, and other newspapers. Her summer started off well. She went to lots of parties and discovered that she loved vodka. But she was having trouble writing poetry and short stories, and she worried that she was a failure as a writer. Then she got notice that she had not been accepted for an advanced creative writing course at Harvard, taught by the writer Frank O’Connor. She was so depressed that she attempted suicide. Her benefactress, Olive Prouty, paid for her stay in a mental hospital and psychiatric care.

Plath returned to Smith and graduated with the highest honors in 1955. She won a Fulbright scholarship to study at Cambridge University, and there she met and married the poet Ted Hughes. In 1960, she gave birth to a daughter and published The Colossus, the only book of her poems to be published during her lifetime. It got minor reviews in various British publications. In 1961, she was excited to find an American publisher; she wrote: “After all the fiddlings and discouragements from the little publishers, it is an immense joy to have what I consider THE publisher accept my book for America with such enthusiasm. They ‘sincerely doubt a better first volume will be published this year.'” And on the date of its publication in 1962, Plath wrote to her mother: “My book officially comes out in America today. Do clip and send any reviews you see, however bad. Criticism encourages me as much as praise.” But The Colossus was even less noticed in America than in England; there were only a handful of reviews, many of them just a paragraph long.

Plath decided to write a novel based on her experience during the summer when she worked at Mademoiselle. She referred to the novel as “a pot-boiler” to family and friends, but she had high hopes for it. She won a fellowship to work on the novel, and the fellowship was connected to the publishers Harper and Row; but once she finished it, the editors there rejected it — they thought it was overwritten and immature. The Bell Jar was published in England in January of 1961 under a pseudonym, Victoria Lucas. It got good reviews, but not great. A month later, Plath committed suicide.

Many people learned about Plath only after her death, reading her poems in obituaries and news stories. In the next couple of years, her poems appeared regularly in magazines like The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly. In 1965, a collection of poems called Ariel was published posthumously and received major reviews in all the big papers and magazines. In Britain, Ariel sold 15,000 copies in its first 10 months, and Plath’s popularity continued to rise. The Bell Jar was finally published in the United States and stayed on the New York Times best-seller list for six months.

Sylvia Plath wrote: “Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

Betsy DeVos traveled to Kentucky to sell her used goods (schmattes is the Yiddish term): charter schools and vouchers.

For DeVos, a pandemic is the perfect time to push school privatization. Day in, day out, for 30 years or so, DeVos has been promoting charters and vouchers.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – School choice supporters should “insist” that state and federal policymakers back measures like public charter schools and scholarship tax credits amid the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Monday…

“I know in all of the years that I have advocated for state-level policy empower parents, never before have we had an environment like we have today, and so I believe that now is the time to raise voices more loudly than ever before and to insist on policy changes that need to take place….”

David Patterson, communications director for the Kentucky Education Association, said DeVos should focus on helping public school districts weather the COVID-19 pandemic, which has “spiked to its highest peak ever” in the state.

“Instead, she drops in for a day to push a political agenda that has been proven disastrous in states and school systems all across the country,” Patterson said in a statement. “Betsy DeVos has a habit of visiting Kentucky and discussing education without ever actually meeting with the public educators who teach 88 percent of all K-12 students across the commonwealth.”

Never before has the United States had a Secretary of Education who despises public schools.

When Kentucky had a Republican Governor, Matt Bevin, DeVos showed up to sell privatization. Bevin got a charter law passed, but he couldn’t get funding. Vouchers went nowhere.

Now Kentucky has a Democratic Governor, Andy Beshear, who was elected by teachers and public school parents.

Sorry, Betsy, time is running out. Your merchandise is old. It’s not innovative. Its time stamp is dated and past due. Go back to Michigan.

Sheldon Whitehouse, Senator from Rhode Island, gave a masterful presentation on the power of dark money at the confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Please take 30 minutes and watch it. If we don’t put a stop to the power of dark money, we will lose our democracy.

Senator Whitehouse names names. He details the “Scheme,” the money trail, the big donors (where they can be identified) who are buying our democracy and choosing Supreme Court Justices.

Their three big legal goals right now: to overturn Roe v. Wade; to overturn the gay marriage decision; to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

The Republicans are rushing through Judge Barrett’s confirmation so that she can be a member of the Supreme Court when Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) is argued on November 10.

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher, writes in the Progressive about the epic failure of a for-profit virtual school in Oklahoma.

The Epic virtual charter school was well positioned to benefit from the demand for remote learning during the pandemic. But it just happened that its great moment was spoiled by the state’s discovery of financial irregularities.

On October 12, Oklahoma’s Board of Education demanded that Epic Charter Schools, a statewide online charter, refund $11 million to the state. The decision came after the first part of a state audit showed that Epic charged the school district for $8.4 million in improperly classified administrative costs between 2015 and 2019, as well as millions of dollars for violations that the state previously failed to address.

The second part of the audit will investigate the $79 million in public money that was directed to a “learning fund,” an $800 to $1,000 stipend for students enrolled in Epic’s “One-on-One” individual learning program. While the funds were intended to cover educational expenses, a search warrant issued by the Oklahoma State Board of Investigation found that they may have been used to entice “ghost students,” or students that were technically enrolled—and therefore counted in Epic’s per-pupil funding requests to the state—but received minimal instruction from teachers.

Despite the controversy surrounding Epic, the school has received a total of $458 million in state funds since 2015, according to the audit report. More than $125 million of this money went to Epic Youth Services, a for-profit management company owned by the school’s co-founders, David Chaney and Ben Harris. 

Following the audit’s release, the Oklahoma Virtual Charter School board began investigating forty-two potential violations that could lead to the termination of the contract allowing Epic’s One-on-One program to operate. 

The state money flowed freely to Epic at the same time that the state underfunded its public schools.

The state chose to fund a for-profit charter instead of trusting the advice of its educators about proper use of online learning:

Although Oklahoma’s education leaders couldn’t have foreseen that schools would be confronted with the coronavirus, they could have done a better job at creating the infrastructure for quality online learning. Rather than take the for-profit shortcut, they would have done better to follow the rubriclaid out in 2019 by the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA), which called for: 

Highly qualified teachers certified in the courses taught;

Virtual courses that supplement in-person learning once the school—working in cooperation with parents—identifies the options that are educationally appropriate and best fit each student’s needs;

Equity to ensure students have a “place” where they have opportunities for extracurricular activities, access to transportation, nutrition and counseling services, along with immediate remediation as soon as the teacher identifies that a student is struggling;

Transparency on financial and data reporting.

Following CCOSA’s advice would have provided more financial transparency, but the biggest advantage would have been in terms of the “people side” of education. 

CCOSA’s framework would have monitored students who were not attending or slipping further behind. It would have laid a foundation of trust and communication. Its system of using technology and teamwork to improve learning would have been invaluable when in-person instruction was shut down without warning. 

Several smaller districts had already made thoughtful efforts to provide holistic virtual instruction and blended learning, as they wrestled with corporate school reform mandates and budget cuts. 

If the state hadn’t gambled on Epic as the pioneer for online instruction, those efforts could have led to digital technology being used in a fairer and more equitable way.  

Why listen to respected educators when for-profit sharks are in the water?

The Boston Globe reports that Chelsea, Mass., is about to launch a bold experiment in addressing the persistent problem of poverty.

Chelsea, one of the poorest cities in the state, is about to host a bold experiment in reimagining capitalism, one that may answer an age-old question: Can giving away money with no strings attached help people out of poverty?

Beginning in November, about 2,000 low-income families will be given $200 to $400 a month, money that can be used for anything from food to paying bills. The trial, with $3 million in seed money and set to run for four months at first, is a version of the universal basic income concept that has long been debated, tested in small measures, but not implemented by any country. Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang made it a plank of his brief presidential campaign.

The Chelsea pilot may seem like a simple way to support families living on the brink during the pandemic, but the social experiment could have broader implications — perhaps shedding light on the argument over whether giving money away without conditions encourages poor people to quit their jobs or spend it unwisely, or empowers them to make decisions to break the cycle of poverty…

To United Way chief executive Bob Giannino, the real value of the Chelsea pilot is removing the indignities of receiving public assistance — whether it’s standing in line for food or battling a bureaucracy for benefits. Giannino knows the feeling too well, having grown up in a family that relied on government handouts.

“The tactic is putting money on a card so people can buy their own food,” Giannino said of the Chelsea program. “The strategy is independence. The strategy is dignity.”

If you live in Sacramento, you have an opportunity to flip the board because four of seven seats are up for grabs.

Fortunately, there is an excellent pro-public school slate with four outstanding candidates, each of whom has been endorsed by Sacramento City Teachers Asociatuon, SEIU Local 1021, the Sacramento Central Labor Council and the Sacramento County Democratic Party.

The billionaire boys (and girls) club wants to buy the school board. Don’t let them.

Vote for :

Lavinia Grace Phillips for District 7

Lavinia Grace Phillips, a social worker for Sacramento’s Child Protective Services and the president of the Oak Park Neighborhood Association is running for SCUSD school board in Area 7. The incumbent is Jessie Ryan.

Jose Navarro for District 3

Jose Navarro, is an information technology specialist who works for California’s Franchise Tax Board. He is a member of SEIU Local 1000. He is running for the SCUSD school board in Area 3. The incumbent is Christina Pritchett.

Chinua Rhodes for District 5

Chinua Rhodes, is a community organizer with Mutual Housing California. He currently serves on the City of Sacramento’s Parks and Community Enrichment Commision and the SCUSD LCAP. He is running for the SCUSD school board in Area 5. The incumbent is not running.

Nailah Pope-Harden for Area 4

Nailah Pope-Harden, is a community organizer and statewide climate policy advocate. She is a Sac City schools graduate. She is running for the SCUSD school board in Area 4. The incumbent is not running.


Nükhet Varlik, a historian at the University of South Carolina, studies the history of diseases and public health. In this article, she reveals that epidemics and pandemics seldom completely disappear. Only one epidemic–smallpox–has been eradicated. Many others survive.

She writes:

A combination of public health efforts to contain and mitigate the pandemic – from rigorous testing and contact tracing to social distancing and wearing masks – have been proven to help. Given that the virus has spread almost everywhere in the world, though, such measures alone can’t bring the pandemic to an end. All eyes are now turned to vaccine development, which is being pursued at unprecedented speed.

Yet experts tell us that even with a successful vaccine and effective treatment, COVID-19 may never go away. Even if the pandemic is curbed in one part of the world, it will likely continue in other places, causing infections elsewhere. And even if it is no longer an immediate pandemic-level threat, the coronavirus will likely become endemic – meaning slow, sustained transmission will persist. The coronavirus will continue to cause smaller outbreaks, much like seasonal flu.

The history of pandemics is full of such frustrating examples.

Whether bacterial, viral or parasitic, virtually every disease pathogen that has affected people over the last several thousand years is still with us, because it is nearly impossible to fully eradicate them.

The only disease that has been eradicated through vaccination is smallpoxMass vaccination campaigns led by the World Health Organization in the 1960s and 1970s were successful, and in 1980, smallpox was declared the first – and still, the only – human disease to be fully eradicated.

We can all do our part to reduce the danger of COVID-19 by wearing masks and social distancing. When there is a vaccine available, we should take it. It may never be completely eradicated, but we can protect ourselves and our communities by following the practices that scientists have agreed are effective.

A few days ago, I spoke to a statewide group of public education advocates in Texas, brought together by my friends at Pastors for Texas Children.

For some reason, Texas is ground-zero for the charter industry right now. Betsy DeVos has given over $250 million to the IDEA charter chain (the one that wanted to lease a private jet for its executives, and she recently gave $100 million to the State Commissioner Mike Morath to expand charter schools. Morath was in business; he was never an educator. Businessmen like competition; educators know that competition belongs on the sports field and is not a way to improve schools.

I did my due diligence comparing charter schools to public schools in Texas and this is what I found: charter schools have lower test scores than public schools; charter schools have lower graduation rates than public schools; charter school graduates enter college with lower GPAs than public schools; charters have no effect on test scores and a negative effect on earnings after school. All of these articles and studies were published on my blog.

So, why, I wondered are billionaires like John Walton, Tim Dunn, the Waltons, and DeVos expanding this low-performing sector? What smart businessman would continue to pour money into a failing enterprise?

Public schools are better than charter schools by every measure, but they are underfunded. The Legislature cut the school budget by $5.4 billion in 2011 and has still not restored that funding, even though enrollment has grown.

If competition worked, Milwaukee and Detroit would be the best districts in the nation. Milwaukee has had vouchers and charters for more than 20 years. Sadly, all three sectors perform about the same, and Milwaukee is one of the lowest performing districts in the nation.

I asked the Texas audience whether it would make sense to fund two or three different police or fire departments in the same community. Would that improve their performance? Of course not! It would be a duplication and triplication and would be wasteful. I remembered that in the early 19th century, New York City had multiple fire departments. They would race to the scene of the fire, then fight each other for the right to fight the fire while the buildings burned down.

The Pastors for Texas Children turned these thoughts into a delightful article.

Public schools are a public service. They should be properly funded because they are creating the future. The teachers of Texas and every other state are developing their future leaders and citizens. They are heroes and should be respected and professionally compensated.

The Network for Public Education Action is proud to endorse Melissa Romano in her campaign to become Superintendent of Public Instruction in Montana.

Romano, a 16-year career elementary math teacher and the 2018 Montana Teacher of the Year, has been recognized as a leader in her field. 

This is Romano’s second race against opponent Elsie Arntzen. In 2016 Romano lost the election by a narrow 3% margin. Arntzen, a voucher supporter, was a state legislator prior to becoming State Superintendent. As a legislator she voted consistently for school choice legislation, and as Superintendent has continued to support school choice initiatives.

The Billings Gazette recently reported that school choice is a “line in the sand” for Romano. She has been endorsed by three prior State Superintendents who served from 1989-2017. In their endorsement of Romano, they accuse Arntzen of “attending private school rallies, applauding budget proposals that would cut millions from Montana’s public schools, mismanaging her office, and illegally diverting aid to private and for-profit schools.”

Romano is a strong supporter of a robust public preschool program, but opposed state funds flowing to private preschools.

Please be sure to cast your ballot for this career educator and public school supporter on November 3rd.

You can post this endorsement using this link.

No candidate authorized this ad. It is paid for by Network for Public Education Action, New York, New York.

The charter industry and the billionaires want to replace Scott Schmerelson with a charter employee. They want to buy control of the LAUSD school board.

Don’t let them! Stand with Scott, a veteran educator and a champion of public schools.

Tell the billionaires that the public schools of Los Angeles are not for sale!