Archives for category: Education Reform

Randi Weingarten is not only president of the AFT, she is a lawyer. Below is her reaction to the Supreme Court ruling. She calls it a “seismic shock.” She sees the decision as one more step in the relentless rightwing effort to defund and privatize public schools. She thinks the decision set the stage for an even more radical decision, one that requires states to fund religious school tuition as some states (think Florida, Indiana, Ohio) currently do.

Randi is right, but I was actually relieved that the decision was not far worse. I was afraid that the current Supreme Court, with Trump’s addition of two super-religious justices (Gorsuch and Kavanaugh), would overturn all Blaine amendments and require states to pay religious school tuitions in full. But the decision was far narrower. It said that any state that has a program to fund private schools must admit religious schools to the same program. So Montana, which has a private scholarship program, must include religious schools on the same footing as other private schools. That means that the Espinoza family has won $150 per year for all their troubles.

People like Betsy DeVos and her American Federation for Children, Jeanne Allen and her Center for Education Reform must be terribly disappointed that the decision did not tear down Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation between state and church,” thus compelling states to pay full tuition for students at religious schools, regardless of their ideology, their quality, or their lack of certified teachers. That didn’t happen, thank God!

The public schools, the schools that nearly 90% of all American families choose, the schools that educated the overwhelming majority of the American people, have survived a close call. If Biden wins in November and Ruth Bader Ginsburg remains healthy until Biden’s inauguration, we will in time have a Supreme Court that supports public schools.

Randi warns:

WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued the following statement after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue:

“This ruling in the Espinoza case is a seismic shock that threatens both public education and religious liberty. It is a radical departure from our Constitution, American history and our values. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in her dissent, this ruling is ‘perverse.’

“Never in more than two centuries of American history has the free exercise clause of the First Amendment been wielded as a weapon to defund and dismantle public education. It will hurt both the 90 percent of students who attend neighborhood public schools, by siphoning off needed funds, and, in the long term, those who attend religious schools by curtailing their freedom with the accountability that comes with tax dollars.

“The court’s narrow conservative majority joined with Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, and other wealthy donors and special interests to attack public education and turn the First Amendment on its head. What’s even more disturbing is that some justices wanted to go even further.

“While the court didn’t invalidate the 38 state constitutional provisions that preclude public money from going to religious schools, it came very close. The financial backers of this case will now use it to open the floodgates to litigation across the country.

“I hope the court and the plaintiffs understand that by enabling this encroachment on religious liberty, they are also opening up religion to state control and state interference. With public funding comes public accountability. Upending the carefully constructed balance of free exercise and separation of church and state not only undermines public education, it is a grave threat to religious institutions and organizations.

“In this time of national crisis, we have seen the importance of our public schools. Children across the country rely on public education for far more than just academics: Thirty million kids eat lunch in school, 12 million eat breakfast in school, and schools provide millions more with their healthcare. We should be prioritizing additional resources for public education and other vital social programs, not diverting them to private purposes.

“We are not going to give up. In fact, we are only going to fight harder. Parents, teachers and their unions stood up and fought back—and we will continue to do so each and every day, whether in court, in Congress, in state legislatures or at the ballot box.

“When it comes to Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos’ attacks on public education, we will see them in November.”

The Supreme Court just released a 5-4 decision in the case of Espinoza V. Montana that struck down a provision in the state constitution banning public funds to religious schools.

The decision seems to be narrowly tailored to say that if a state provides aid to private schools, it can’t bar aid to religious schools. I will post expert opinions on this as soon as they are available.

The many rightwing groups arguing on behalf of the plaintiffs (Espinoza) said that the ban was rooted in 19th century anti-Catholic bigotry (Blaine amendments), but Montana’s ban was enacted in 1972.

The decision will be celebrated by DeVos and other conservatives but it is not the knockout blow they were hoping for. If states don’t fund any private schools, they don’t have to fund religious schools. Conservatives were hoping to tear down Jefferson’s “wall of separation between church and state.” That didn’t happen.

The Los Angeles Times reported, in a story titled “Religious Schools Are Entitled to State Grants Given to Other Private Schools, Supreme Court Rules”:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that states may not exclude religious schools from tuition grants that support other private schools.
The justices, by a 5-4 vote, decided that denying grants to students in church schools amounts to unconstitutional discrimination against religion.

The decision is a victory for advocates of school choice, and a setback for those favoring strict interpretation of the principle of church and state separation.

Montana, like more than 30 other states, has a long-standing state constitutional provision that forbids spending tax money to support churches and their affiliates. On that basis, the state supreme court blocked a state-sponsored scholarship program that would give grants to parents sending their children to private and parochial schools.

The Wall Street Journal reported:

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court struck down a Montana constitutional provision banning state aid to parochial schools, ruling that states cannot exclude religious institutions from programs benefiting nonsectarian private schools.

The program began in 2015 and provided up to $150 in tax credits for donations to scholarship funds that helped students attend private schools. State tax authorities determined that donations to religious schools didn’t qualify. Then Montana’s Supreme Court, citing a state constitutional ban on state aid to sectarian schools, struck down the whole program.

Some parents who sought to send their children to Stillwater Christian School in Kalispell, Mont., said they couldn’t afford the tuition without the program, and otherwise would have to rely on public schools.

In an appeal to the U.S Supreme Court, these challengers argued that the state constitution’s ban stems from a 19th century bias against Catholics and their parochial schools—and that the state constitution violated the federal Constitution by discriminating against church schools.

Many other states have similar restrictions, often called Blaine amendments after Rep. James Blaine (R., Maine), who unsuccessfully proposed a similar provision for the federal Constitution.

While anti-Catholic bias helped fuel the 19th century drive for Blaine amendments, Montana argued that its 1972 constitutional convention, which re-enacted the provision, had not been tainted by religious bigotry.

Conservative groups backing the Montana suit hoped it would pave the way for broader taxpayer subsidy of religious schools through vouchers and other programs, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s relaxation of the separation between church and state in recent years.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board has three core beliefs about education.

1. Public schools are horrible.

2. Teachers’ unions are evil.

3. Non-unionized charters and vouchers are the remedy to all that ails American education.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

The three highest performing states in the nation—Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey—have strong teachers’ unions. None of the non-union states are at the top of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Unions fight for adequate resources and decent salaries for teachers, in addition to fighting for teachers’ right to fair treatment on the job. The resources help their students, and the job rights help retain career teachers.

Most recently the WSJ wrote a glowing editorial about the alleged success of vouchers in Florida, one of its favorite states because its governor and legislature have diverted $3 billion from public schools to non-union charters and vouchers. The editorialists are thrilled because Florida just recently expanded its voucher program.

Most vouchers in Florida are used in religious schools, most of which are evangelical Christian schools. The voucher schools are not required to take state tests. They are not required to be accountable in any way. They are not required to hire certified teachers or principals. The voucher schools are allowed to discriminate against gay students, staff, and families. They do not have to adopt the state standards and may use the Bible as their science textbook if they wish. The Orlando Sentinel wrote a revealing series about Florida’s voucher program, called “Schools Without Rules.”

Bear in mind that the size of a voucher—less than $8,000–guarantees that it will be accepted only by low-tuition schools, not by the schools of elite families, where tuition may be as high as $35,000-40,000 a year.

Here is the text of the WSJ editorial:

The headline is “Florida’s School Choice Blowout.”

The subtitle is: “The State Expands Its Successful K-12 Scholarship Program.”

Good news from Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed the biggest private school voucher expansion in U.S. history—giving families in Democratic, union-controlled states another reason to move to the Sunshine State.

Florida established the Family Empowerment Scholarship last year for low and middle-income families. The private school vouchers run between $6,775 and $7,250 per student depending on the grade level, and 87% of recipients come from households below 185% of the federal poverty level (about $48,470 for a family of four). Most are black or Hispanic.

Vouchers had been limited to 18,000 students this year with annual growth capped at about 7,000. This wasn’t enough to meet parental demand, and there are 35,000 eligible students on scholarship waiting lists. Republicans have now quadrupled the cap on annual growth so that 28,000 more students can benefit each year. If the voucher program’s capacity exceeds demand from eligible families, the new law will increase the household-income limit (currently 300% of the poverty line) by 25% so more middle-income families can apply. In short, supply of vouchers will now automatically expand to meet demand.

As a political trade, Mr. DeSantis gave public schools $500 million for salary increases—not that this appeased the teachers unions that oppose all school choice because it forces unionized public schools to compete for students. While voucher studies have shown mixed effects on academic performance, one reason is probably that giving parents more choice forces improvements at public schools. A National Bureau of Economic Research study this year found higher standardized test scores and lower absenteeism among students, especially low-income ones, who attended Florida public schools in areas where more students had access to private-school choice.

Notably, fourth-graders in Washington, D.C., and Miami-Dade in Florida showed the most improvement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores among large urban school districts since 2011. Both Florida and Washington, D.C., offer robust private-school choice and have eliminated teacher tenure. By contrast, student scores in most districts including Houston, Philadelphia and Baltimore have been flat or declined.

Jeb Bush kicked off Florida’s school choice movement two decades ago, and Rick Scott (now Senator) and Mr. DeSantis have built on his success. More than 130,000 students in Florida now receive scholarships. Florida is helping to increase social mobility and future incomes by expanding educational opportunity for all.

Here are the facts:

Florida’s scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a sample test of reading and mathematics in grades 4 and 8 for the nation, states, and some urban districts, have been mostly flat over the past decade. The NAEP scores don’t include voucher schools, because they are not held accountable in any way. The WSJ asserts that Florida is a great “success” story, that its fourth graders showed dramatic improvement from 2011-2019, but that is false. Why leave out the eighth graders? Could it be because the eighth grade scores in both Florida and Miami were flat?

Here are the NAEP results for 2019 in reading.

Here are the NAEP results in mathematics for 2019.

You can look at average scores over time for every state and for urban districts that asked to be tested, including Miami-Dade.

You can compare 2019 to previous years. The WSJ chose to compare 2019 to 2011, but I chose to compare 2019 to 2009. It’s not impressive for Florida or Miami no matter which year you choose.

Let’s check the progress of Florida and Miami on NAEP (public schools only):

Fourth grade reading: Scores unchanged since 2009.

Eighth grade reading: Scores unchanged since 2009.

Fourth grade mathematics: Scores unchanged since 2011 (Remember that Florida retains low-scoring third graders, which tends to inflate fourth -grade scores).

Eighth grade math: Scores unchanged from 2009-2019.

Since the WSJ refers to NAEP as evidence of Florida’s amazing performance, it’s worth noting that Florida has flat-lined for the last decade on NAEP.

We don’t know anything about the “success” of vouchers in Florida, since their students don’t take state tests or NAEP.

But we do know that rigorous voucher studies in other states—Louisiana, Ohio, Indiana, the District of Columbia—have shown that voucher students lose ground compared to their peers in public schools. (See here and here and here.)

Far from “expanding opportunity,” vouchers enable children to attend low-cost schools where they abandon their civil rights protections at the door, are instructed by uncertified teachers, and are likely to fall behind academically or return to their public school. One of the unexplored issues associated with voucher schools is their high attrition rates. When voucher boosters boast about their high school graduation rate, they fail to mention the number of kids who didn’t make it to senior year. Only the elitist Wall Street Journal would think of this as a boon for children and families.

The Relay “Graduate School of Education” was created by charter schools to train charter school teachers on test-score-raising and no-excuses discipline, while using Doug Lemov’s Bible “Teach Like a Champion.” It’s teachers mostly taught in charters.

Relay is called a graduate school, but it has no research faculty, no campus, no library, and at last review, no scholars or anyone with a doctorate.

Nonetheless, Relay has landed some contracts for professional development in districts run by corporate reformers and Broadies. The chancellor in D.C. is Lewis Ferebee, who previously led privatization efforts in Indianapolis.

In D.C., it does professional development for principals.

One principal in D.C. didn’t like Relay’s philosophy.

She was fired.

Parents were not happy.

Ceaira Richardson recited the challenges that make life in her Southeast D.C. neighborhood difficult.

Grocery options are sparse, making it tough to find fresh produce. Crime rates are higher than in other parts of the city. Keeping children safe is not always easy.

But she feels at ease at Lawrence E. Boone Elementary School, a recently modernized, light-filled campus not far from Richardson’s home. There, her three-year-old daughter is already reading. She senses teachers truly care about her child, so much so that she persuaded family members to send their children to the school.

“I told everybody, ‘Enroll in Boone. Enroll in Boone,’” Richardson said.

In recent months, Richardson and other members of the Boone community have rallied around the school’s principal, Carolyn Jackson-King, after they learned the veteran educator was fired and will not return to the position for the 2020-2021 academic year.

Teachers, parents and some D.C. lawmakers have demanded D.C. Public Schools reverse its decision. Jackson-King and her supporters say she was dismissed by the school system because she resisted teaching practices that educators at Boone felt were militaristic and racist.

“I just feel they attempted to control Black bodies,” Jackson-King said.

Ferebee had no comment.

NPR has the story. Intelligence officials included information about the Russian determination to put a bounty on Coalition forces in his daily briefing report.

However, they made a mistake. They put the ominous story in the president’s daily intelligence briefing, which is written. The president doesn’t read. They should have given the information to Fox & Friends. Then he would have noticed.

The New York Times reports that members of Congress want intelligence officials to explain the claims that Russia paid a bounty to Afghan militants to kill soldiers who are American or other Coalition forces.

Trump denies that he was briefed. Is it credible that such an important development would not be transmitted to the president?

Democrats and Republicans in Congress demanded on Monday that American intelligence agencies promptly share with lawmakers what they know about a suspected Russian plot to pay bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan, and threatened to retaliate against the Kremlin.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, each requested that all lawmakers be briefed on the matter and for C.I.A. and other intelligence officials to explain how President Trump was informed of intelligence collected about the plot. Mr. Trump has said he was not made aware of an intelligence assessment about the plot; officials have said that it was briefed to the highest levels of the White House and appeared in the president’s daily intelligence brief.

“Congress and the country need answers now,” Ms. Pelosi, Democrat of California, wrote in a letter to John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, and Gina Haspel, the C.I.A. director. “Congress needs to know what the intelligence community knows about this significant threat to American troops and our allies and what options are available to hold Russia accountable.”

In the Republican-controlled Senate, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he had asked for information as well and expected to know more on the matter “in the coming days.”

“We’ve known for a long time that Putin is a thug and a murderer, and if these allegations are true, I will work with President Trump on a strong response,” he said in a statement. “My No. 1 priority is the safety of our troops. Right now, though, we need answers.”

The C.I.A. declined to comment on Ms. Pelosi’s request.

Members of Congress were caught off guard on Friday when The New York Times first reported that American intelligence had found that a Russian military intelligence unit had secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants in exchange for killing American troops and their allies in Afghanistan. National Security Council officials met in March to discuss the intelligence, but the White House has taken no known action in response.

The Times further reported on Sunday that American intelligences officers and Special Operations forces in the country had informed their superiors of the suspected Russian plot as early as January, after a large amount of American cash was seized in a raid on a Taliban outpost.

American officials believed that the death of at least one U.S. service member was tied to the bounties, and they are reviewing other combat casualties in search of other potential victims, officials familiar with the matter have said.

The White House has not challenged that the intelligence assessment exists, or that the National Security Council held an interagency meeting about it in late March.

But Mr. Trump and his press secretary, Kaleigh McEnany, have both claimed that he was not briefed on the intelligence report. Mr. Trump said in a tweet late Sunday that “Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me” or Vice President Mike Pence.

Lawmakers were left uncertain what to believe, and even members of Mr. Trump’s party sounded uneasy on Monday when asked about the president’s statements.

Representative Mac Thornberry of Texas, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said Mr. Trump’s tweet suggesting he had not been made aware of the reports was “a very concerning statement.”

“Anything with any hint of credibility that would endanger our service members, much less put a bounty on their lives, to me should have been briefed immediately to the commander in chief and a plan to deal with that situation,” he said.

Barbara Veltri is a teacher educator at Northern Arizona University. She has mentored TFA corps members, and she wrote a book about TFA.

In this essay, she notes that Doug Ducey, Republican Governor of Arizona and a favorite of Charles Joch, is an avid supporter of Trump, school choice, and TFA.

She writes:

Tara Kini, wrote, “We’re hearing a lot of conflicting scenarios and projections related to the teacher workforce come fall. On the one hand, there is a fear of massive layoffs precipitated by the Cov-19 recession and state budget cuts. On the other, there are projections of staffing shortages and state budget cuts. (June 25, 2020).

We have been here before.

In 2012, The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that in fiscal year 2013, 35 states were spending less than they did during the recession. Since 2009, more than 200,000 teacher jobs vanished and in spite of teacher movements, states were still not back to pre-recession spending levels of a decade ago, which prompted national Teachers’ Movements and voter initiative to support K-12 teachers.

According to NEA job survey data from my state, Arizona teachers’ starting salaries at $30,404 in 2010 ranked 35th in the nation. Then, even veteran teachers in hard-to-staff assignments, such as special education faced reduced-in-force measures, while novice teachers without focused special needs training, were hired. Then, Arizona paid finder’s fees for Teach For America Teachers of more than 1.5 million dollars (noted on IRS Form 990 over the years 2010-2013).

And now, amid the rising temperatures and Cov-19 numbers, Governor Doug Ducey, who served on Teach For America’s Regional Board of Directors, announced in the Arizona Education Grant on Wednesday, “$500,000 for Teach For America to provide tutoring to students needing extra help.”

This when Wallet Hub (2019) ranked Arizona’s pupil-to-teacher ratio, the worst in the nation.

This when Arizona educators earn less than peers in 48 other states, yet pivoted immediately to prepare, present, and teach to support their students.

The Governor’s Education Grant also includes $700,000 for leadership and $1million for micro grants, that leave open too many questions as to just who will benefit from these funds.

Policies minimized educators in a state that has prioritized and legislated millions of dollars in funding directed towards Teach For America, over the last two decades, with friends in high places. In 2016, Wendy Kopp the founder of TFA was the commencement speaker at Arizona State University.

The Dean of The College of Education serves as a TFA Regional Board Member member. Ms. Kopp addressed the Arizona Legislature and Arizona Chamber of Commerce who overwhelmingly support her initiatives and corps member teachers.

The education non-profit reported:
$1,329,197 on lobbying (TFA IRS 990, 2019) ‘for direct contact with legislators, their staffs, government officials or a legislative body,” (Schedule C, IRS Form 990, 2017, pg. 3);
$45, 222, 433 in government grants (IRS 990, 2016, Part VII, p. 9);
$11, 255, 064 in Publicly Traded Securities/Non-Cash Contributions (IRS 990, 2017, line 9 p. 94) and $9,259 in crypto currency (Average sale price, line, 28).

The non-profit reports, “Program Service Revenue,” in the amount of $23, 415, 992 (Form 990, 2017, line 2A):

“Teach for America has contractual agreements with various school districts across the United States of America to recruit, select, train, and place corps members to teach within their school districts. Teach for America recognizes revenue related to these contractual agreement as earned, that is when the corps member is placed.”

These ‘program service fees’ are ‘finders’ fees’ that schools and districts pay to TFA (up front and in full), even if novice corps members leave their placement any time prior to their two-year commitment. And, Districts pay each TFA corps member’s salary and benefits.

Annie E. posed the question eight years ago, in a May 8, 2012 blog post, “So, is TFA’s mission still about education? If it is, then why take money from huge foundations and corporations whose missions are clearly not about education?”

But there’s more to this….

In a recent interview with CNBC, Merck CEO, Kenneth Frazier shared how he had the opportunity, as a black youth in Philadelphia’s inner city, to “change his life trajectory.”
He boarded a bus and rode 30 miles to the suburbs where he received a rigorous opportunity to learn from lifelong teachers and interact with peers who lived in middle-class and affluent professional neighborhoods.

A lightbulb went on for me at that moment.

As someone who researched, met, mentored and learned from TFA teachers and their students, I recognized that instead of the opportunity for schooling to change his life’s trajectory, corporations, lobbyists, universities, media, philanthropists and policymakers (who I term The CLUMPP Network) opted instead to jointly support, through financing, marketing, in-kind donations (i.e. office space), in-state tuition, and even taxpayer funded AmeriCorps stipends, a Caucasian, female’s undergraduate sociologist thesis in 1989 that she reworked with diligence, focus, and good intent.

The education initiatives that supported black and brown children moving out of high-poverty community schools, as Mr. Frazier experienced, instead brought in, recent college grads who knew nothing about education, weren’t trained, might’ve been idealistic, didn’t stay, uprooted veterans’ local knowledge of the community, but kept poor children of color, exactly where corporations and policymakers wanted them – in schools that were underfunded, with scripted teaching, constant assessments, police presence in schools, no frills curriculum, limited resources for arts, music, sports and, not removed from the realities of systemic poverty.

I chronicled my ethnographer’s notes from their teaching field, over consecutive years.
Then, in the middle of all of financial and environmental crisis when teachers lost jobs, not only was TFA hired, but Arizona, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and others (as noted on TFA tax returns) paid millions of dollars each in finder’s fees to bring TFA novices in (and out) over multiple years – while the kids, and their communities were effected by innovation.

It didn’t matter which tag line: One Day All Children, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, or Every Child Succeeds – the trajectory for poor kids, no matter how many competitions or standardized tests, didn’t match the learning that Kenneth Frazier experienced.

And the reason is this – unlike the educational policies of the 60s that transported a young Kenneth Frazier, from his Philly inner city neighborhood to the suburbs, where he notes that he received a quality education that “paved the way for my admittance to Penn State University (undergraduate degree) and then Harvard law school,” three decades of young people who just happened to be born poor, black or brown, were/are recipients of another social experiment that not only made segregation popular, but profitable – charter schools.

Policies kept poor children of color localized in their communities as suburban communities, fell back on residency requirements and real estate pricing to maintain an us vs. them mindset.

In Stamford, Connecticut my kids were transported, by bus, to a public elementary magnet school, surrounded by “the projects.” The arts and critical thinking curriculum and admissions policy: 50% majority/50% minority; 50% male/ 50% female (with siblings automatically accepted) was supported by community buy-in and integrated schools. The by-product – from a young age, kids learn from and befriend kids from different religions, ethnicities, social class, and race.

So what happened?

From 1990-2020 we saw a systemic attempt to control who gets to be schooled where and by whom. And with limited opportunity for kids to interact, learn, befriend and grow up with children other than themselves, in public schools, the system promotes and finances policies that separate us and keep kids living and learning, within limited societal structures and neighborhoods by bringing in young outsiders and paying for that service.

Over the last two decades, policies embraced by both sides of the political spectrum, advanced homeschooling, tax credits for religious schools, charter schools, encouraged a police presence within low-income schools and limited financial opportunities for programs that benefitted my kids, and Merck CEO Frazier.

The result: The alignment of the “CLUMPP” network of which, TFA was/remains the cog in the wheel that moves and advances an agenda that is predetermined and particularized to keep poor children of color from leaving where they were born, to be schooled in the suburbs.

To taxpayers, teachers and parents across the other 40 U.S. states whose Governors are appropriating pandemic education support dollars…. Examine the funding and think Teachers, not TFA.

David Berliner is one of the nation’s most eminent researchers of education. I am delighted that he sends original posts to me. I have informed him that “mi casa es su casa,” and he is always welcome here.

Why Universities Need Support, Need to Stay Open, and
Need to Have Their Students on Campus

David C. Berliner
Regents Professor Emeritus, Mary Lou Fulton College of Education, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ

Over the last few years higher education enrollment in the USA has declined. The cost of colleges and universities has certainly been one factor in that small but steady drop in enrollment, particularly when return on investment is added to concerns about costs. The steep rise in tuition in recent years has an explanation: It is largely due to states’ disinvestment in their universities and colleges. From 2008, before the start of our last recession, to 2019, before the pandemic, my state of Arizona cut its contributions to higher education 54.9% (Mitchell, Leachman, & Saenz, 2019). When I first came to my wonderful university, I was impressed that tuition was relatively low, and it still is, but it is also 92.4% higher than it was in 2008! (Mitchell, Leachman, & Saenz, 2019)

So, for many, in the midst of this pandemic, the sacrifices that students and their families once made to obtain college degrees now appear to be less reasonable, perhaps even less possible. And families rightly worry that the rewards of a university degree are less tangible, compared to what they were in my generation. Incurring a large debt for attending college, particularly for those who may choose to be teachers, social workers, librarians, historians, or for those who major in literature, seems to many folks not to be worth it. A simple cost-benefit analysis will support that argument.

The current pandemic has produced a shock to our systems of higher education: most families, most institutions of higher education, and all of our American states, are now strapped for funds. Under conditions such as these, enrollments are likely to fall even faster and further than they have in recent years. This, of course, brings in less revenue for our colleges and universities. And that requires universities to employ fewer faculty, thus providing fewer majors and courses, making them seem less valuable than they were. Frank Bruni, in the New York Times, recently noted, “our devastated economy leaves [university] missions and identities in limbo, all but guaranteeing that more students will approach higher education in a brutally practical fashion, as an on-ramp to employment and nothing more.”
Would that matter much? If scenario’s like these are likely, what would be lost? Really, what in the world does a university prepare one for? What is it that a university makes?

When I was younger and part of the administrative team at Arizona State University, we were forced to address these questions. We had to compare ourselves to, and try to determine our competitive advantage over, the still young but rapidly growing University of Phoenix– and its many imitators around the country. We busied ourselves by greatly expanding our offerings and enrollments, and becoming one of the largest and best universities in the world. But the private, for profit, online, diploma granting institutions which were without the expense of the bricks and mortar that make for an authentic campus were growing just as fast as we were. To deal with that, I sometimes had to speak to parents and community members about what we did at our university that was different and of value. What I said then seems as relevant today as it was when we felt threatened by institutions that were cheaper, and where students could complete coursework in much less time. I said that “At our university we make humanity.”

Our public K-12 school system was, at least for the better part of the 20th century, designed for employability. But in the latter part of the 20th century that system was transformed and emphasized preparation for college.

Colleges and universities had then taken on the role of preparation for employability, albeit in the better paying and more prestigious fields such as medicine, law, business, engineering, and the like. Enrollments grew.
But the universities that welcomed massive increases in enrollment had some centuries-old, fuddy-duddy traditions that were not often integral to our K-12 systems. (I use the term fuddy-duddy deliberately. It is a term for a person or institution that is likely to be old-fashioned, traditionalist, perhaps conservative, sometimes almost to the point of eccentricity.)

Engineering, business, computer science, nursing and almost anything else that was practical and being taught at modern universities became, over time, quite acceptable majors. But universities also wanted all of its graduates to have knowledge of the humanities—history, philosophy, literature, art, music–and to learn, as well, something from the more contemporary relatives of the humanities, the social sciences…the human sciences!

Quoting Berry (2009) I told interested community members and parents of those who might enter our university that “Underlying the idea of a university — the bringing together, the combining into one, of all the disciplines — is the idea that good work and good citizenship are the inevitable by-products of the making of a good — that is, a fully developed — human being.”

Further, again quoting Berry (2009), I told them that in particular, what residential colleges and universities are “mandated to make…are human beings in the fullest sense of those words — not just trained workers or knowledgeable citizens but responsible heirs and members of human culture. If the proper work of our public schools and universities is only to equip people to fulfill private ambitions, then how do we justify public support? If it is only to prepare citizens to fulfill public responsibilities, then how do we justify the teaching of arts or sciences? The common denominator has to be larger than either career preparation or preparation for citizenship. Underlying the idea of a university [is the idea of making] a good — that is, a fully developed — human being.”
Some of our teacher education students, or their parents, wanted our college to be more like a trade school, emphasizing the teaching of this or that subject and how to do “discipline.” They all knew of schools that granted degrees in less than four years, where students studied only the minimum needed for employment as a teacher. But I always said to them that any other goal for a university than the full development of a human being, especially for America’s teachers, was unlovely!

So, I defend the humanities and social sciences for all students, asking that they learn more than just the skills needed to code, build bridges, run an industry, or teach! And I argue that the contemporary danger of too many fast-track teacher preparation programs is that the educators they produce may not be the fully developed human beings we want our children entrusted to.

​“So what’s a humanities?” Sam Smith (1979) asked decades ago. He answered his own question this way: “I can’t really give you one answer. But I can give you several. It’s asking why before we say yes. It’s remembering something someone wrote two centuries ago when we can’t remember what we wrote yesterday. It’s mistakes we don’t have to make because they’ve already been made and solutions we don’t have to dream up because someone has already thought of them. It’s how we got where we are and where we might go from here. It’s things we can’t measure yet know have depth and breadth. It’s parts of our culture we might lose like the Indian tribe writing its language down and putting it in a book. It’s parts of our culture that we’re often slow to recognize as such, like the legislature in Georgia finally making “Georgia on My Mind” the state song and inviting Ray Charles to come down and sing it. It’s the moral, philosophical, and historical issues hidden behind the political babble. It’s rights and beliefs and their protection. It’s preserving the past and the future and not just exploiting today. It’s thinking as well as talking, questioning as well as answering. And it’s placing human values and culture at the center of our world and making machines and technology and [some TV channels] serve us rather than the other way around.”

​The fuddy-duddy universities, with their roots in the middle ages, now must address modernity, employability, fiscal exigencies, and the like, but as they do so I hope that they continue to insist that the heart of a university—whatever other activities in which they engage—are the humanities and the social sciences. It is from the university’s offerings in these areas that we form fully developed human beings. And it is why we need students on campus. It is highly desirable to have our youth enmeshed in a culture where the subject matters dealt with in humanities and social science courses are discussed. At least for a few years, before our university students enter the world of work and full adulthood, they should live in an environment that values what is taught and discussed in the humanities and social sciences. That is why our colleges and universities need to stay open and find ways to keep students on campus.

As an example of the possible effects of the humanities and the social sciences, I point to the current protests demanding societal change following the death of George Floyd (and hundreds of other Black Americans). A look at the protesters shows that they are certainly not all Black, and sometimes not even majority Black. African-American protesters have been joined by large numbers of white, college educated citizens, in larger numbers than might have been predicted. The New York Times (Harmon & Tavernice, June 17, 2020) reports that in surveys of recent protests in three cities, 82 percent of white protesters had a college degree! These are white citizens who are more likely to have been exposed to the humanities and social sciences than previous generations, and they learned in those courses what an imperfect nation we have, starting right from its hallowed beginnings.

These better educated, young, patriotic citizens are compelled to stand with their Black sisters and brothers in desiring a more perfect nation. Their experiences in the humanities and social sciences may well be what leads college-educated students of all races to hold more liberal or progressive views, views that are more sympathetic to our nations’ most recent outrages and the protests they inspire.
In fact, among people who identify as progressives, 67% thought that colleges and universities had a positive effect on our country. I think so too. But among those identifying with the more conservative side of our democracy, those who lean Republican in their voting, 59% said that college attendance was having a negative effect on America (Fingerhut, 2017)! This is consistent with the views of one of conservative America’s, heroes, Ronald Reagan. At a press conference in Sacramento on Feb. 28, 1967 Reagan said that taxpayers should not be subsidizing “intellectual curiosity”! Wold renown universities such as the UC Berkeley and UCLA, he said, should shift their focus to teaching workforce entry skills!

The effects of the liberal arts, the humanities, and the social sciences, accompanied by myriad discussions, disagreements, and heated arguments of the issues raised in such courses, at a genuine university do change who we are and what we think of our democracy. Conservatives are right to be wary of fuddy-duddy universities. Hundreds of those institutions may actually have educated our youth in exactly the ways they intended!

But now, a crisis is faced by so many of the institutions that actually did a pretty good job of educating America’s young adults to be thoughtful citizens. The pandemic we are experiencing, Rosenberg (2020) argues, is “uniquely and diabolically designed to undermine the foundations of traditional colleges and universities, [It does so because] we have pathologized closeness. Working side by side with a professor in a laboratory? Forbidden. Meeting with an adviser in an office to discuss one’s academic future? Impossible. Living together, dining together, studying together, [arguing together]? Banned by medical advice and often by governmental edict.” If students’ personal interactions with others on a campus are overly restricted, the changes frequently brought about by the humanities and social sciences are less likely to occur.
It seems that the combination of taking courses in the humanities and social sciences, as well as living in a college community, produce graduates who are better informed citizens: citizens who want to see our country move closer to its ideals; citizens who are more willing to protest injustice. And thus, our universities are graduating citizens more likely to bring about change. Are these improper aspirations for the college experience? And of all the college majors that exist, shouldn’t America’s teacher education programs be the most assiduous in wanting the humanities and social sciences to be a part of every teachers’ university experience? Making humanity is what good universities do and it is really a far more important goal for a university in a democracy than providing the specific course work that develop our nations’ computer programmers, business majors, architects, or teachers.

As Bruni (2020) notes, “A vaccine for the coronavirus won’t inoculate anyone against the ideological arrogance, conspiracy theories and other internet-abetted passions and prejudices that drive Americans apart. But the perspective, discernment and skepticism that a liberal arts education can nurture just might.”
These are difficult times. But if we don’t require a healthy dose of coursework in the humanities and social sciences, paired with a community of learners who discuss the issues raised in those courses, our universities are much less likely to “make humanity.” This may well mean reduced thoughtfulness and caring in our society. It may mean fewer people to stand with those that protest injustice in hopes of making us a better nation. And that, I think, would be a shame.

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Berry, W. (2009). Home Economics: Fourteen Essays. Berkeley Ca: Counterpoint Press
Bruni, F. (2020, June 4). The End of College as We Knew It? Sunday Review, New York: New York Times. Retrieved June 16, 2020 from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/04/opinion/sunday/coronavirus-college-humanities.html

Fingerhut, H. (July 20, 2017). Republicans skeptical of colleges’ impact on U.S., but most see benefits for workforce preparation. Washington DC: Pew Research Center. Retrieved June 16 from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/07/20/republicans-skeptical-of-colleges-impact-on-u-s-but-most-see-benefits-for-workforce-preparation/

Harmon, A & Tavernice, S. (2020, June 17). One Big Difference About George Floyd Protests: Many White Faces. New York Times. Retrieved June 18 from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/12/us/george-floyd-white-protesters.html?searchResultPosition=1

Mitchell, M., Leachman, M., & Saenz, M. (2019, October 24). State Higher
Education Funding Cuts Have Pushed Costs to Students, Worsened Inequality. Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Rosenberg, B. (2020, April 13). How Should Colleges Prepare for a Post-Pandemic World? The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved June 16, 2020 from https://www.chronicle.com/article/How-Should-Colleges-Prepare/248507

Smith, S. (1979, September 17). What’s a humanities? Sam Smith’s Essays. Retrieved June 14 from https://samsmitharchives.wordpress.com/1979/09/17/from-our-overstocked-archives-whats-a-humanities/

While many primary races are too close to call, due to large numbers of uncounted absentee ballots, Jamaal Bowman scored a decisive upset in his race to replace veteran Cingresman Elliot Engel, chair of the House Foreigh affairs Committee.

Jamaal is/was a middle school principal who was active in the opt out movement. He received the endorsement of AOC, Sanders, Warren, and many others, including me.

Here is the speech he gave when his victory appeared certain.

Jamaal will be a strong, clear, and informed voice for the voiceless in Congress.

Do you remember General Tata?

After a career in the military, retired Brigadier General Anthony Tata entered the Broad Academy in 2009, launching a new career. He was soon hired as Chief Operating Officer of the District of Columbia Public Schools, when Michelle Rhee was chancellor. Then on to become Superintendent of Schools in Wake County, North Carolina, where a new school board hired him to dismantle one of the nation’s most successfully integrated districts. He managed to alienate and offend enough people so that the board that hired him was soon swept out by voters.

Mike Klonsky picks up the story of General Tata’s career post-education. As a noted Islamophobe and Trumper, he soon caught the eye of Trump recruiters and is in line for a powerful position in the Defense Department.

Klonsky writes:

FAST FORWARD…So quite naturally, who should pop up yesterday as Trump’s proposed appointee to the third-highest post in the Pentagon? None other than Brig. Gen. Tata himself. The job includes managing policy decisions on everything from Afghanistan and the Middle East to China, North Korea, and Russia, as well as artificial intelligence, hypersonic weapons, and more.

Tata would succeed John Rood, who was ousted as undersecretary for policy in February after being viewed as insufficiently loyal to Trump. He could even be next in the line if the secretary of defense and the deputy resigned or were removed.

Only this time, the recommendation caused the shit to hit the fan.

Among his notorious remarks: He called President Obama “a terrorist leader.”

Another notable citizen-rightwing nut job for this itinerant administration.