Archives for category: Equity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Pasi Sahlberg is a noted Finnish educator whose book Finnish Lessons awakened Americans to the realization that good schools can flourish without standardized testing. He has focused in his work on the importance of creativity and play for children and the dangers of standardization and the free market.

In this essay, he compares the different experiences of students in Australia (where he currently lives) and in Finland (his native land) and tries to figure out what educators have learned because of the pandemic. One glaring fact is inequality. Will there be a will to address that basic and damaging fact of life after the pandemic?

He draws the following lessons:

  1. Address inequalities early. Preventive health care and high-quality early childhood education can go a long way in avoiding gaps early.
  2. Trust teachers as professionals. They know what their students need.
  3. Build self-directedness among students, teachers, and schools. Too many comply with mandates and are lost when it is time to be thoughtful and make decisions on your own.

Sahlberg is resolute that an excellent and equitable education go hand-in-hand.

Jesse Jackson wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times that Black Americans will not fall for Trump’s absurd claims about the great things he claims to have done for them.

https://chicago.suntimes.com/columnists/2020/10/26/21535175/black-americans-vote-trump-civil-rights-jesse-jackson

He wrote:

If a lie is repeated often enough, the truth may never catch up. Donald Trump understands this better than anyone, as he showers Americans with lies — often the same ones repeated over and over — knowing that more voters will hear him than the fact-checkers. 

One of his favorite howlers is his oft-repeated claim that “I’ve done more for African Americans than anybody, except for the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln.” 

No one should fall for the con.

For example, Trump doesn’t come close to Harry Truman who desegregated the U.S. military, an act of simple justice that took immense courage. He’s done nothing as important as Dwight Eisenhower who dispatched troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to overcome resistance to school integration. He can’t hold a candle to Lyndon Johnson, who, working with Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, passed the Civil Rights Bill ending segregation in public facilities, the Voting Rights Act enforcing the right to vote, and the War on Poverty that reduced poverty to levels still not matched.

But comparing Trump to presidents who actually made things better is to fall into his trap, for Trump hasn’t done things for African Americans, he has done things to them. 

He’s embraced the Republican strategy of race-bait politics, only he’s replaced their dog whistles with a bullhorn. He celebrated the neo-Nazis and other extremists marching against civil rights protesters in Charlottesville. He’s scorned African countries and Haiti as “s…-holes,” suggesting the only immigrants he wanted were whites from countries like Norway. 

He sowed racial fears, painting the largely nonviolent Black Lives Matter demonstrators as “thugs,” and the demonstrations as “riots.” He’s tried to rouse support from suburbanites by charging that Biden’s support for affordable housing would “destroy your neighborhood and your American Dream.” He’s labeled cities with large minority populations like New York City as “anarchist jurisdictions” that should be stripped of federal support…

Trump’s Small Business Administration stiffed African Americans in dispensing loans through the Pay Protection Plan. More than 9 of 10 Black-owned small businesses that applied for loans were denied. That led directly to over 40% of Black-owned businesses shutting down in the pandemic. 

Trump measures the economy’s success not by the health of the people, but by the health of the stock market, but while 61% of whites participate in the stock market (although for most the holdings are meager), only one-third of blacks own stocks. Nearly one-half of Black women report that they are unable to pay for necessities like food and housing, even though most work. Over half have less than $200 in savings. Trump doesn’t help. He did nothing to raise the minimum wage and has been actively hostile to unions that help workers bargain a fair wage.

Essential workers are disproportionately African American. Blacks are disproportionately in low-wage jobs, often without employer-based health care. The pandemic has killed Black people at double the rate of Whites. African Americans have suffered the most from Trump’s mismanagement. Blacks have been more likely to be denied health care, and less likely to have paid sick days. 

And Trump has basically been AWOL as the Republican Senate blocked action on a relief plan as unemployment insurance was running out, and states and cities were facing massive cuts in services and jobs — disproportionately held by people of color — in the wake of the pandemic-caused fiscal crisis.

Trump touts the modest criminal justice reforms that he signed off on that will help reduce mass incarceration a bit, but he has actively undermined equal justice under the law. He encouraged police to rough up those that they arrest. He defended vigilantes shooting at those protesting the murder of George Floyd. He terminated the Obama Justice Department’s police department investigations and consent decrees that were reforming police practices. He boasts of arming police forces with military weaponry. He even terminated racial-sensitivity training in the federal government, mostly as a grandstand appeal to his base of angry White men. He’s appointed the most federal Appeals Court judges since Jimmy Carter; not one of them is Black. 

Trump not only has done nothing to revive the Voting Right Act, gutted by the right-wing gang of five on the Supreme Court, he and his party have actively worked to suppress Black voting — passing ID requirements, shutting down polling places, purging voter lists, making registration harder, limiting early voting, undermining vote by mail, gerrymandering districts and more — all designed with laser focus to reduce the Black vote.

In short, Trump has left African Americans in the deepest hole with the shortest rope. Not surprisingly, most won’t fall for Trump’s big con. African Americans — and particularly African-American women — will vote overwhelmingly for Joe Biden. The base for Trump and Republicans will continue to be those not repelled by his racially divisive rhetoric and policies. 

Periodically, however, it is useful to remind people that night is not day, that hate is not love. When Lincoln freed the slaves, they joined the Union armies in large numbers and helped save the Republic. Trump can’t be mentioned in the same breath as Lincoln, and African Americans aren’t about to save him.

Derek Black, Jack Schneider, and Jennifer Berkshire wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer that the future of public education is on the ballot on November 3 (for the record, I got a credit for doing some minor editing).

Should Trump be re-elected, you can count on him and Betsy DeVos to continue their brazen assault on public schools and to continue their demand to transfer public funds to private and religious schools as well as to pour hundreds of millions of federal dollars into charter school expansion. Draining public dollars away from public school has been Betsy DeVos’s life work and she would have four more years to staff the U.S. Department of Education with likeminded ideologues who hate public schools.

The authors write:

When Trump selected Betsy DeVos as secretary of education, many took it as a sign that he wasn’t serious. After all, DeVos seemed to know little about public schools. But that was a product of her extremism. Over the last four years, she has been crystal clear that her primary interest in the public education system lies in dismantling it. For evidence, look no further than her proposed Education Freedom Scholarships plan, which would redirect $5 billion in taxpayer dollars to private schools.

Unmaking public education is a long-standing goal of libertarians and the religious right. Conservative economist Milton Friedman conceived of private school vouchers in 1955, and four decades later was still making the case for “a transition from a government to a market system.” As they see it, public education is a tax burden on the wealthy, an obstacle to religious instruction, and a hotbed for unionism. Rather than a public system controlled by democratic values, they’d prefer a private one governed by the free market. If they had their way, schools would operate like a welfare program for the poor while the rich would get the best education money could buy. The result would be entrenched inequality and even more concentrated segregation than now exists.

This extreme view has never caught on, largely because public education is a bedrock American institution. Many states created public education systems before the nation even existed. Massachusetts, for instance, was educating children in public schools long before tea was dumped in Boston Harbor. In 1787, the federal government explicitly mandated that the center plot of land in every new town in the territories — land that would become states like Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois — be reserved for schools, and that other plots be used to support those schools. After the Civil War, Congress doubled down on that commitment, requiring readmitted Confederate states, and all new states, to guarantee access to public education in their constitutions. In each of these foundational periods, leaders positioned public education at the very center of our democratic project.

The founders and their successors recognized that public education is essential to citizens’ ability to govern themselves, not to mention protect themselves from charlatans and demagogues. Public education is the surest guarantee of individual liberty, the founders understood — no less essential than a well-trained army to the survival of the nation. That’s why they recognized that the education of American citizens couldn’t be left to chance...

We are here to sound an alarm to Republicans and Democrats. The future of our nation’s public schools is at stake. And insofar as that is the case, the democracy envisioned by our founders — one with universal, tax-supported schooling at its core — hangs in the balance.

Donald Trump, as everyone knows, got the best of socialized medicine when he was hospitalized at Walter Reed. He received drugs not available to the general public. One, in particular, was effective, apparently, and he called it a “miracle cure.” It is not currently available to the public; it has not yet been approved by the FDA. But if it is approved, the problems of availability, affordability, and distribution are immense, https://www.wired.com/story/trumps-miracle-cure-for-covid-is-a-logistical-nightmare/as described in this article in Wired.

It’s likely that the Food and Drug Administration will authorize these therapies for emergency use any day now. Before that happens, though, three simple questions must be answered if we’re to avoid turmoil and confusion: Who will be eligible to receive these treatments and have access to them? Where will the therapies be administered? And how muchwill they cost?

No one, certainly not Trump, has figured out the answers to these questions.

Arthur Camins, lifelong educators, knows that teachers can’t change what happens in the next few months, other than by casting their votes. But they can rebuild the foundation of our society by teaching these three things: empathy, ethics, and evidence.

He writes:

My driving force has always been a core assumption: What happens in classrooms has a significant influence on how students think and behave when they emerge into adulthood, and hence when they vote and interact with one another.

I hope students grow up to treat everyone with dignity and respect. I hope they develop the tools to make sense of the natural and social environments in which they live. I hope they develop confidence and passion to act to influence the personal, social, political circumstances around them based on human values.

I know I am not alone in these hopes. I know that most educators are trying. I know most Americans share these hopes. I know that many of us are frustrated and angry that our common dreams for students’ futures are being thwarted. School systems are being diverted from what matters most by persistent inequity and racism, high-stakes testing, efforts to privatize and monetize education, and most recently by pandemic disruption of in-person learning.

I know this: Despite and in response to the challenges, all of us– not just educators and parents– must demand that teaching should focus on what matters most: empathy, ethics, and evidence. Those essential foci cut across all subject areas, all grades, and whether students are engaged at home or in school. Students may lose facts, concepts may fade, and skills may wither but they, like the rest of us, remember how we were treated. In the short term, that influences how, whether, and what students learn. More important, it influences how they will see one another and act as humans for a lifetime.

A well-educated citizenry is essential to democracy. The Education Law Center reports good news for the schools and students of Illinois:

On September 30, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal in Cahokia Unit School District No. 187 v. Pritzker, a case challenging inadequate and inequitable school funding that could potentially alter the landscape of school funding jurisprudence in the state.

The plaintiffs in the Cahokia lawsuit are twenty-two, low-wealth school districts across the state. They filed their lawsuit in 2018, charging that the State of Illinois has persistently underfunded their schools, depriving their students of their right to a high quality education under the Education Clause of the Illinois constitution.

The plaintiffs are represented by Thomas Geoghegan of the law firm Despres, Schwartz & Geoghegan, Ltd. in Chicago.

In 1996, in Committee for Educational Rights v. Edgar, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the Education Clause was a non-justiciable political question because the “quality of education” was not “capable of or properly subject to measurement by the courts.” The Court held that defining the quality of education was a matter for the State Legislature.

In the ensuing years, the Legislature took up that mantle, adopting the Illinois Learning Standards, which detail the specific educational experience to which all students in Illinois are entitled. The State also adopted tests to measure students’ progress on the Learning Standards.

In 2017, in response to intense political pressure, the Legislature enacted the Funding Act of 2017, designed to provide the resources essential for all students to achieve the State’s Learning Standards. In 2018, the State Board of Education determined, pursuant to the Funding Act’s criteria, that an additional $7.2 billion was required to provide adequate and equitable resources for all students. The Funding Act established a deadline of 2027 for full funding of the adequacy amount.

However, even in the first year of the Act’s decade-long phase-in to full funding, the state failed to provide the requisite installment of state school aid. This failure lies as the heart of the Cahokia lawsuit, in which the plaintiffs contend that the State is already so far behind on funding the new formula that full funding will not be achieved even by 2047.

The Cahokia plaintiffs presented data establishing a correlation between inadequate State and local per-pupil funding and failure rates on state assessments. The plaintiffs also demonstrated a wide disparity in passing rates on state assessments between students in low-wealth districts, which are inadequately funded, and in affluent districts.

In July 2018, the State defendants moved to dismiss the lawsuit, contending that the case was beyond the reach of the courts, or “not justiciable,” based on the Supreme Court’s 1996 Edgar ruling. The trial court agreed and dismissed the complaint. In April 2020, in a split decision, the Appellate Court of Illinois affirmed the dismissal, noting that the Legislature’s enactment of the Illinois Learning Standards did call into question the holding in Edgar. However, the appeals court also ruled that overturning this precedent is the exclusive province of the Illinois Supreme Court.

Appellate Court Justice Milton S. Wharton filed a vigorous dissent, asserting that the court has a duty to address the issues in the case “instead of ignoring or postponing this critical issue of utmost urgency and importance to our citizens and our State with an overly broad application of Edgar ‘s holding.” Justice Wharton concluded that since Edgar, the Legislature has “determined the education students must receive” and, as a result, “courts no longer need to make that determination in order to resolve claims that students in under-resourced districts are not receiving the high quality education mandated by our State constitution.”

The Cahokia plaintiffs filed a petition for leave to appeal in the Illinois Supreme Court in July. The Supreme Court’s decision to accept the case provides the opportunity to revisit its decision in Edgar in light of the Legislature’s actions since 1996 that have defined the substantive contours of a quality education for Illinois public school students.

In 2017, in a case very similar to Cahokia, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reconsidered its previous ruling that constitutional education adequacy claims were non justiciable. In William Penn School District, et al., v. Pennsylvania Department of Education, et al., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs (a coalition of school districts, parents, children and advocacy groups) were entitled to proceed to trial on their school funding claims. The Court declined to follow its earlier decision, now holding that it was possible to devise a judicially enforceable standard of educational adequacy. The Court further held that failure to adjudicate school funding claims would make a “hollow mockery of judicial review.”

A similar decision by the Illinois Supreme Court would allow the plaintiffs to proceed to trial to prove their case and would finally provide, as Justice Wharton declared, “an avenue [for] under-resourced school districts like the plaintiffs to insist on funding that is adequate to serve their students” in the manner to which they are entitled under the Illinois constitution.

Education Law Center is providing assistance to the Cahokia plaintiffs’ attorneys and working with the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on an amicus brief before the Illinois Supreme Court.

Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
Education Law Center
60 Park Place, Suite 300
Newark, NJ 07102
973-624-1815, ext. 24
skrengel@edlawcenter.org

If you are looking for a book that explains why public schools are foundational to democracy, Jan Resseger writes, read Derek Black’s Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy.

Resseger writes:

On Monday, this blog examined Derek Black’s important new book, Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy. Black, a professor of constitutional law at the University of South Carolina, threads together the history of an idea first articulated in the Northwest Ordinances of 1785 and 1787, threatened again and again throughout our nation’s history, but persistently revived: that our system of public schools, where all children are welcome and where their fundamental right to education is protected by law, is the one institution most essential for preserving our democratic society…

Derek Black names several problems at the heart of today’s threat to public education: the expansion of school privatization via charters and vouchers, massive fortunes invested by far-right libertarians to attack so-called ‘government schools,’ attacks on school teachers and their unions, and persistent tax cutting by state legislatures and the consequent ratcheting down of state funding for public education: “Before the recession of 2008, the trend in public school funding remained generally positive… Then the recession hit. Nearly every state in the country made large cuts to public education. Annual cuts of more than $1,000 per student were routine.” But the recession wasn’t the only cause of money troubles for public schools: “(I)n retrospect…. the recession offered a convenient excuse for states to redefine their commitment to public education… By 2012, state revenues rebounded to pre-recession levels, and a few years later, the economy was in the midst of its longest winning streak in history. Yet during this period of rising wealth, states refused to give back what they took from education. In 2014, for instance, more than thirty states still funded education at a lower level than they did before the recession—some funded education 20 percent to 30 percent below pre-recession levels.” (Schoolhouse Burning, pp. 31-33) Black cites research demonstrating that states have reneged on their public education promise particularly in areas where the public schools serve poor children: “(W)hen it comes to districts serving primarily middle-income students, most states provide those districts with the resources they need to achieve average outcomes… But only a couple states provide districts serving predominantly poor students what they need. The average state provides districts serving predominantly poor students $6,239 less per pupil than they need.” (Schoolhouse Burning, p. 241)..

All during the recent decade, the federal government’s education policy has also promoted school privatization. During the Trump administration, Betsy DeVos’s efforts to promote vouchers, her lifelong cause, have been well known. But the effort has been bipartisan: “Obama… tapped Arne Duncan… someone whose track record in Chicago involved substantially expanding charters… For the next several years, the federal government promoted and sometimes forced charter school expansion… The Obama administration basically condoned everything states were doing with school funding and made it a little worse. Federal funding for public schools remained flat while the federal budget for charter schools increased by nearly 20 percent between 2008 and 2013. President Obama called for another 50 percent increase for charters on top of that in 2016 (though he didn’t get it). The real surprise, though, is how much Duncan managed to accomplish through administrative action… His biggest coup was the process he set up for doling out innovation funds during the recession. As part of the economic recovery legislation, Congress had set aside a substantial chunk of money for education innovation but didn’t specify exactly what schools could spend it on. Duncan, however, told states that if they wanted access to the money, charter schools had to be part of the mix. States that ‘put artificial caps on the growth of charter schools,’ he said, ‘will jeopardize their grant applications.’… The overall result of these state and federal actions was stark—nearly 40 percent growth in the number of charter schools and 200 percent growth in their enrollment.” (Schoolhouse Burning, pp. 36-37)

Black reminds us that an attack on public schools is an attack on democracy.

In this brief video, Dr. Leslie Fenwick, former dean of the College of Education at Howard University, explains why the “schemes” of corporate reformers always fail. She doesn’t hold back about charters, vouchers, Broad superintendents, and Teach for America.

The video is part of a series of hundreds of interviews of educators, conducted by former teacher Bob Greenberg. He calls his series the Brainwaves Video Anthology. After you watch Dr. Fenwick’s wonderful interview, you should browse his collection. It’s very impressive.