Archives for category: Hoax

Garry Rayno of InDepthNH reports on opposition to the funding of New Hampshire’s expansive voucher plan, which has never been submitted to a public referendum. A lawsuit has been filed to block the use of public school funds for unaccountable vouchers. The voucher program, serving mostly kids who already attend students in private and religious schools, is far more expensive that its sponsor low-ball projections.

CONCORD — A bill to expand the uses for the state’s Education Trust Fund ran into opposition Friday as opponents said it would give the new Education Freedom Account program a blank check without accountability.

The prime sponsor of House Bill 440, Rep. Glenn Cordelli, R-Tuftonboro, said the bill simply “cleans up and codifies” what is in legislation elsewhere in statutes and comes at the Department of Education’s request. He noted the current trust fund statute does not address money for kindergarten or leases for charter schools.

“This bill clarifies (sections of law),” Cordelli said, “so there is a full picture of what comes out of the Education Trust Fund.”

However, those testifying in opposition at a public hearing Friday before the House Education Committee, said the bill is not a “housekeeping measure” but an attempt to divert millions of dollars to the Education Freedom Account program from public schools without sufficient accountability.

“The program was funded for two years as a pilot program and now you are giving it a blank check,” said David Trumble. “Why take a huge gamble. You built a program with no foundation for it and now you want to build a tall skyscraper on it.”

HB 440 would allow the Education Trust Fund to be used to pay for Education Freedom Account grants to parents and for phase-out grants to school districts losing students to the program.

The bill also changes the funding for the state’s portion for charter school leases from the general fund to the Education Trust Fund.

The Department of Education would be able to use 1 percent of the money in the Education Trust Fund to administer the EFA program, under the bill.

The Legislative Budget Assistant was not able to determine the cost of the changes in the bill because the department had not responded at the time of the bill’s printing, but noted the 1 percent going to the department would be $10.6 million in the current fiscal year, and $11 million in fiscal year 2024 and $11 million in fiscal year 2025.

The use of the fund for the EFA program is being challenged in court as the plaintiffs claim the program uses money earmarked for public education for private programs.

The suit challenging the funding for what has been described as the most expansive voucher program in the country, claims money raised by the Lottery Commission, and money from the Education Trust Fund may only be used for adequate education grants to school districts, citing the law creating the fund in 1999.

The suit, brought by Deb Howes as a citizen taxpayer, who is also president of AFT (American Federation of Teachers)-New Hampshire, seeks an injunction blocking the state from using any more of the Trust Fund Money to fund the EFA program.

Speaking at the public hearing, Howes reiterated her opposition to the bill, saying it is not a housekeeping measure.

“If money is coming out of (the Education Trust Fund),” she said, “does not mean it should be coming out of it.”

Public school and district tax money is not limitless, Howes said, noting it is all coming out of taxpayers pockets.

“When you run short of money,” Howes said, “you are going to shortchange the 160,000 kids in public schools.”

Please open the link to read the rest of the article.

For Immediate Release: For more information, contact: Carol Burris, NPE Executive Director, 718-577-3276, cburris@networkforpubliceducation.org

PRO-VOUCHER SPECIAL INTERESTS WORK TO FUNNEL PUBLIC FUNDS INTO UNACCOUNTABLE AND EXTREMIST NETWORKS

The Network for Public Education (NPE) calls for the immediate cessation of ESA voucher payments to homeschoolers and all other non-school-based “individualized” instruction programs based on the discovery of an online homeschooling network whose primary purpose is to teach young children to be Nazis. According to the report in the Huffington Post, its numbers thus far are in the thousands, but the greater threat is how its existence exposes the dangers of publicly-subsidized vouchers designed to fund extremist beliefs.  Such programs, including so-called micro-schools, operate with almost no curricular supervision or public fiscal oversight, allowing them to legally indoctrinate children with a distorted hate-filled curriculum directly supported by public funds.

NPE President Diane Ravitch stated, “Our nation fought a World War to defeat Nazism. Public funds should not be used to propagate hatred of our fellow citizens. Public education exists to foster mutual respect among all citizens. Our public dollars should be used to teach the shared values of democracy, especially the rule of law, the equality of every person, the importance of free and fair elections, and the value of education in pursuing a life of dignity and purpose.”

Seven states now fund programs solely supervised by families with no control over whether a sound academic curriculum is taught. Eight states have introduced legislation that would either start or expand such programs. 

“These ESA voucher programs, which are mislabeled as scholarships and saving accounts, have been subject to fraud and abuse,” said Dr. Carol Burris, NPE executive director. “NPE has long held concerns that funded at-home programs might teach children misinformation or a radical curriculum of hate. This Neo-Nazi homeschool network now confirms our deepest fears.”

Many ESA voucher laws do not require the parent to present evidence that the student has learned anything to receive thousands of dollars in public funds.

In states that have adopted voucher plans, the academic results for students who left public schools are “disastrous,” says Josh Cowen, a professor at Michigan State University and a veteran voucher researcher. In addition, 75-80% of voucher funding goes to students already enrolled in private or religious schools. 

NPE also calls on every state to carefully review its homeschool laws. Eleven states do not require homeschoolers to report that their child is homeschooled, making a mockery of state compulsory education laws. No states have laws that would prevent the teaching of hate curricula.

“As more states adopt laws that fund unregulated radical schooling arrangements, we must ensure that children’s emotional and physical well-being are guarded. While we cannot protect children from those parents who would fill their minds and hearts with hate, we can at least ensure that our tax dollars are not supporting such instruction,” Burris concluded.

The use of public funds to support extremist and anti-social agendas, unfortunately, has a long track record for the privatization community, especially as today’s unpopular modern school vouchers being pushed in legislatures across the country have evolved from the segregationist reaction to the Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court ruling.

The Network for Public Education (NPE) was founded in 2013 by Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody. Its mission is to protect, preserve, promote, and strengthen public schools for current and future generations of students. We share information and research on vital issues that concern the future of public education. For more information, please visit: networkforpubliceducation.org

This post appeared on the Network for Public Education blog. It shows the common theme of vouchers in other states: They subsidize the students who are already enrolled in private schools. The legislation was signed into law by Governor Kim Reynolds.

Ed Tibbetts: Few Iowa families will have more choices with GOP ‘school choice’ plan

Ed Tibbetts substacks at Along the Mississippi. In this op-ed for the Iowa Capital Dispatch, he looks at the true cost of Kim Reynolds’ voucher plan.

He writes:

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds says her plan to use taxpayer money to pay for private schooling gives people a choice to educate their kids where they want.

But that’s not what her plan says. Just look at the details: Only certain families with kids in public schools will get that choice.

What this plan really does is pay people who already are sending their kids to private schools.

Like many voucher programs, this one really sticks it to rural taxpayers.

Forty-one counties in Iowa have no private schools, according to the group Common Good Iowa. Another 23 counties only have one private school.

What choice do those kids and their parents have?

Not much.

What Reynolds’ plan really does is take their tax money and send it to families who live somewhere else.

But while this program may have an impact on taxpayers, its impact on students will be meager.

Rural or urban, though, even the governor’s own proposal acknowledges relatively few people will get this money. About 33,000 Iowa kids go to private schools now, and the governor says when her plan is phased in, that number will nudge up to about 38,000.

That’s not much of a change: Just 5,000 kids.

Meanwhile, approximately 500,000 Iowa kids will remain in underfunded public schools.

Do the math: Her plan only pays for 1% of Iowa kids to go from public to private school, but the costs balloon to roughly $340 million a year when phased in – or 9% of the basic state aid going to public schools now.

And like the several voucher plans being rocketed through red state legislatures right now, the Iowa plan is being fast-tracked–quick, before the voters notice!

The plan also is being moved quickly. That’s because the governor knows the longer this lingers, the better people will be able to grasp the consequences. The longer a light is shined on it, the more people realize this plan isn’t supposed to enable them to make a choice, but to pay for people who already have made it.

In the meantime, it sucks money away from the vast majority of public-school students who will remain in classrooms where districts already struggle with rising costs while the state turns a blind eye; in schools where our state spends less per pupil than most other states in the country; in schools where teachers whose salaries lag will eventually go to places where their skills are better rewarded and they aren’t scorned in service of the culture wars.

Read the full piece here. 

You can view the post at this link : https://networkforpubliceducation.org/blog-content/ed-tibbetts-few-iowa-families-will-have-more-choices-with-gop-school-choice-plan/

Jan Resseger looks behind the daily news and ties together fast-moving events in the red states. The sudden proliferation of voucher programs is no accident, she writes, nor is it a response to public demands. It is a carefully crafted, well-funded strategy to defund public schools, to smash teachers’ unions, and to implement a rightwing ideology that does not benefit students or improve education.

She writes:

This week in Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds signed an Education Savings Account, universal voucher program into law. And last week in Utah, the same kind of voucher plan took the first step toward adoption when it was passed by Utah’s House of Representatives.

The Des Moines Register reports on Iowa’s new vouchers. The program will “phase in over three years and eventually allow all Iowa families to use up to $7,598 a year in an ‘education savings account’ for private school tuition. If any money is left over after tuition and fees, families could use the funds for specific educational expenses, including textbooks, tutoring, standardized testing fees, online education programs and vocational and life skills training. The $7,598 per private school student is the same amount of funding the state provides to public school students and is expected to rise in future years… The bill allows the Iowa Department of Education to contract with a third party to administer the education savings accounts, but the state has not yet issued a request for proposals from companies seeking to manage the funds.”

It would appear that the Iowa Legislature tried to calm the fears of the public school community by promising that, “Public school districts would also receive an additional $1,205 in funding for students receiving education savings accounts who live within the public school district’s boundaries.” But despite that promise, a drop in overall public school funding is expected: “By the fourth year, the (Legislative Services) agency estimates public school districts will receive $49.8 million in new per-student funds for private school students within the public district’s boundaries. The agency also expects a net decrease of $46 million in public school funding as a result of more students attending private schools.”

It is hard to keep track of all the states that now have school vouchers or are considering voucher programs and to know which states have the latest flavor of vouchers—Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Most ESA programs, unlike Iowa’s, don’t even require that families use the vouchers at private schools. In most places, ESA’s can be used for educational programs, for educational tools and materials like books and computers, and for homeschooling. In some states families can use the money for so-called micro-schools in which families come together and hire a teacher to work with children in someone’s home.

Why is there so much so much legislative activity about expanding vouchers? Several factors are important to consider, and many of them were the subject of economist Gordon Lafer’s analysis in The One-Percent Solution. Lafer’s book focused on the public policy that flowed from state legislatures after the Tea Party wave election in 2010, but his observations are still on point as we begin 2023. Lafer enumerates all the reasons why far-right ideologues and big corporate moneyed interests seek to undermine and privatize public schools: “At first glance, it may seem odd that corporate lobbies such as the Chamber of Commerce, National Federation for Independent Business, or Americans for Prosperity would care to get involved in an issue as far removed from commercial activity as school reform. In fact, they have each made this a top legislative priority… The campaign to transform public education brings together multiple strands of the agenda… The teachers’ union is the single biggest labor organization in most states—thus for both anti-union ideologues and Republican strategists, undermining teachers’ unions is of central importance. Education is one of the largest components of public budgets, and in many communities the school system is the single largest employer—thus the goals of cutting budgets, enabling new tax cuts for the wealthy, shrinking the government, and lowering wage and benefit standards in the public sector all coalesce around the school system… There are always firms that aim to profit from the privatization of public services, but the sums involved in K-12 education are an order of magnitude larger than any other service, and have generated an intensity of corporate legislative engagement unmatched by any other branch of government. Finally, the notion that one’s kids have a right to a decent education represents the most substantive right to which Americans believe we are entitled, simply by dint of residence… (F)or those interested in lowering citizens’ expectations of what we have a right to demand from government, there is no more central fight than around public education. In all these ways, then, school reform presents something like the perfect crystallization of the corporate legislative agenda.” (The One-Percent Solution, pp 128-129)

It is hard for public school advocates to mobilize nationally against the expansion of vouchers. Voucher battles are fought state by state because public education and the funding of public education is a state-by-state issue. Advocates are likely to focus on public education legislation in their own state and not to pay attention to what’s happening elsewhere. And citizens are not likely to pay much attention to what is happening in the legislature. Once again, Gordon Lafer identifies the problem: “(M)any of the factors that strengthen corporate political influence are magnified in the states. First, far fewer people pay attention to state government, implying wider latitude for well-funded organized interests… Apart from labor unions and a handful of progressive activists, the corporate agenda… encounters little public resistance at the state level because hardly anyone knows about or understands the issues… So, too, corporate lobbies’ financial advantage is magnified in the states. Citizens United marked a sea change in state as well as federal politics.” (The One Percent Solution, pp. 34-36)

Christopher Lubienski, a professor of education policy at Indiana University who has studied the impact of school privatization and the politics around privatizing public schools, recently published a reminder that school privatization is driven by the power of the corporate agenda. Expansion of vouchers has never been an expression of voters’ overall preference: “School choice is continuing to expand across the United states…. But these successes often come in spite of overwhelming voter opposition to school choice programs… According to the pro-voucher organization EdChoice.org, the U.S. has over 75 publicly funded private school choice programs, including vouchers, and education savings accounts, as well as another 45 charter school programs. But all of these programs have been implemented by legislators, not the electorate… In fact, voters have been allowed to weigh in on school choice programs only nine times since 2000, and they almost always reject them, often by overwhelming margins. Only twice did school choice programs pass through the ballot box. In 2012, Georgia voters empowered their legislature with the ability to create charter schools. That same year… Washington voters passed a charter school referendum.”

Who are the far-right advocacy groups and think tanks powerfully promoting Education Savings Account vouchers? They include the usual suspects: the American Legislative Exchange Council and a state- by-state group of think tanks that are ALEC’s partners in the State Policy Network, EdChoice, the Goldwater Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Institute for Justice, which provides two model laws—“Education Savings Account Act: Publicly Funded,” and “Education Savings Account Act: Tax-Credit Funded“—so that state legislators can merely adapt a canned statute to their own state’s particular needs. SourceWatch reports corporate funding streams for these and other far-right think tanks that promote vouchers—funding from the Koch Brothers, the Bradley Foundation, and investments from the Donor’s Capital Fund, a powerful investor of corporate dark money since the 2010, U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United.

In the past two years, the campaign to undermine public schooling and promote the expansion of vouchers has developed a new strategy to convince parents that their children in public schools are being brainwashed by critical race theory and surrounded by discussion of gender and sexual orientation. In a new report published by the Network for Public Education this week, political scientist Maurice Cunningham traces the money behind what may appear to be a spontaneous emergence of parents’ groups—Parents Defending Education, Moms for Liberty, and No Left Turn in Education. Cunningham points to clues that these are not local grassroots groups of parents; their websites, for example, betray a big investment in communications. And while, for example, the founders of Parents Defending Education (PDE) claim to be a bunch of working moms, Cunningham explains: “PDE took in $3,178,272 in contributions and grants in 2021… Donor’s Trust, a dark money donor associated with the Koch network donated $20,250 to PDE in 2021. The Achelis & Bodman Foundation which funds voucher and charter school programs and targets public education, contributed $25,000. Searle Freedom Trust, another right-wing donor with ties to Donors Trust, contributed $250,000 in 2021. We don’t know all the names on the checks, but we do know that those checks had to be pretty large, that the attorneys and consultants sit at the hierarchy of right-wing operatives, and that the board members and staffers are connected to the highest levels of conservative donors including the Koch network.”

The same people who are promoting vouchers are working to scare parents with the huge, culture war campaign driven by identifiable funders and a mass of dark money supporting an education marketplace and undermining parents’ confidence in public schools. But as Christopher Lubienski, the scholar who has studied the effect of the privatization of public education reminds us, expanding vouchers has not improved the outcomes for our children: “(R)ecent research is repeatedly showing that… vouchers are not a good investment. Although publicly funded vouchers may be propping up some private schools that might otherwise go out of business, they are not really helping the people they purport to help. In fact… study after study shows that students using vouchers are falling behind where they would have been if they had remained in public schools. Thus, policymakers might think twice about defying voters on initiatives that actually cause harm to children.”

The political theorist Benjamin Barber warns that school choice does not really provide freedom for families: “We are seduced into thinking that the right to choose from a menu is the essence of liberty, but with respect to relevant outcomes the real power, and hence the real freedom, is in the determination of what is on the menu. The powerful are those who set the agenda, not those who choose from the alternatives it offers. We select menu items privately, but we can assure meaningful menu choices only through public decision-making.” (Consumed, p. 139)

Gary Rayno writes in InDepth NH about a Democratic proposal to put the State Department of Education in charge of the voucher program. Called “Education Freedom Accounts, the program was sold as a way to help low-income students in bad public schools transfer to better private schools. But about 75% of the students getting voucher money were already enrolled in private and religious schools. The free-market State Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut (who home-schooled his own children) projected that the program would cost $3.3 million, but it has actually cost $27 million in its two years of operation. Edelblut promised it would cut property taxes, but the cost of the program is projected to grow.

Rayno writes:

CONCORD — Several lawmakers seek changes to the new Education Freedom Account program with a package of bills addressing issues raised in its first two years of operation.

The program was included in the state’s two-year operating budget passed in 2021, and has been significantly over budget projections with more students than anticipated and what many view as insufficient oversight.

“It is hard to have oversight,” said the prime sponsor of House Bill 626, Rep. David Luneau, D-Hopkinton, “when you don’t have transparency, when you don’t have the data to look at.”

The bill, which had a public hearing Wednesday before the House Education Committee, would have the Department of Education administer and manage the program instead of the Children’s Scholarship Fund NH, which receives 10 percent of the program’s grant distribution under its contract with the state. The organization’s no-bid contract was approved by the Executive Council soon after the program was approved in the state’s operating budget.

The program allows the money parents receive to roll-over from year to year, unless the amount exceeds what would be a quarterly payment.

If the student graduates, leaves the freedom account program or is removed from the program for misuse of funds, the parents would be required to return any excess money to the Education Trust Fund under the bill.

The bill would also require students in the program to take one of the statewide assessment tests required of public school students as a comparison of how well the students in the program are doing, Luneau said.

Luneau and other supporters of the change say the program needs more oversight, accountability and transparency given the millions of dollars being distributed to parents.

The state has spent about $27 million during the first two years of the program, well above the $3.3 million budget Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut projected would be the cost.

He asked for $30 million each year of the next biennial budget in requests to the Governor’s Office.

Luneau told the committee that is $90 million in the first four years of the program coming out of the Education Trust Fund, and $9 million of it going to the scholarship fund.

He said he believes with added staff, the department could manage and administer the program for much less money and have the data needed for better accountability, transparency and assessment.

Why use tax dollars to pay the overhead of a private company, when you are already paying the department to oversee kids’ education in the state, Luneau said.

To date, about 75 percent of the funds for the program have gone as subsidies to parents of students who were enrolled in private or religious schools prior to the program’s start.

Of the 3,000 students in the program this year, about 700 attended a public school the year before.

Luneau said the reports include the kids who were in private and religious schools before the program began to show how successful it is, but that is not saving any taxpayers money but is using money from the Education Trust Fund.

Luneau is prime sponsor of another bill prohibiting using the money as a subsidy for private or religious school tuition.

Supporters of the program sold it as a way for lower income parents to afford to find the best education opportunities for their students while saving property tax dollars for taxpayers.

Luneau said taxpayers who fund public schools receive a great deal more accountability, oversight and transparency of their tax dollars than they do in the freedom account program, adding the reports the scholarship fund has provided are laughable; they are so incomplete.

The view of Republican legislators is that parents alone offer accountability. If they don’t like the program, they will leave it. Since 3/4 of them are already enrolled in private and religious schools, they should be overjoyed that the taxpayers are underwriting the cost.

Open the link and read the rest of the article.

Billy Townsend writes in the Tampa Bay Times about how Florida politicians game the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores to boast about unearned “success.” The gaming consists of bragging about fourth grade scores (which are high) while ignoring eighth grade scores (which are unimpressive).

The big Florida trick is third grade retention—holding back the children in third grade who have low reading scores. This artificially boosts fourth grade scores. But then comes the eighth grade scores, and Florida falls behind. They can’t hide the low-scoring students forever.

He writes:

A close look at ‘the Nation’s Report Card’ shows how Florida fails its students as they move up through the grades.

A few years ago, just before COVID hit, a Stanford University study of state-level standardized tests showed that Florida’s “learning rate” was the worst in the country — by a wide margin.

Florida has the worst learning rate, according to a Stanford study.
Florida has the worst learning rate, according to a Stanford study. [ Provided ]

Florida students learned 12 percent less each year from third to eighth grade than the national average from 2009 to 2018. The next worst state was Alabama, according to The Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University. Florida’s political and education leaders completely ignored that finding.

Contrast that deafening silence with the hype and misinterpretation that comes with the release of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), “the Nation’s Report Card.” When those results came out last fall, Gov. Ron DeSantis crowed on Twitter that, “We kept schools open in 2020, and today’s NAEP results once again prove that we made the right decision. In Florida, adjusted for demographics, fourth grade students are #1 in both reading and math.”

Tellingly, DeSantis ignored the eighth grade results, which came out far worse than fourth grade — just as they have in every NAEP cycle since 2003.

The “Nation’s Report Card” is a snapshot of group proficiency taken by different cohorts of kids every two years in reading and math in fourth grade and eighth grade. It produces state-by-state results and proficiency rankings. It does not track individual kids year over year. But it does tell you how Florida’s fourth and eighth graders compare with students in other states. I crunched the data, and here’s the bottom line: Florida’s students perform worse as they move up through the grades. There is consistent, massive systemic regression with age. And the gap is widening.

This is a state failure, not a local one attributable to individual districts. Yet, in every NAEP cycle, Florida politicians and education leaders brag about fourth-grade NAEP results in press releases.

But ignoring the eighth grade results or the “learning rate” study does not change these facts:

· Florida kids regress dramatically as they age in the system. Since 2003, Florida’s eighth grade rank as a state has never come close to its fourth grade rank on any NAEP test in any subject.

· The size of Florida’s regression is dramatic and growing, especially in math.Florida’s overall average NAEP state rank regression between fourth and eighth grade since 2003 is 17 spots (math) and 18 spots (reading). But since 2015, the averages are 27 spots (math) and 19 spots (reading).

· No other state comes close to Florida’s level of consistent fourth to eighth grade performance collapse. In the last three NAEP cycles — 2017, 2019 and COVID-delayed 2022 — Florida ranked sixth, fourth and third among states in fourth grade math. In those same years, Florida ranked 33th, 34th and tied for 31st in eighth grade.

· For comparison, Massachusetts typically ranks at or near #1 among states on both the fourth grade and eighth grade NAEP for math and reading. Its eighth grade rank has never been more than one spot lower than fourth.

· Florida has never matched the U.S. average scaled score on eighth grade math NAEP.

· In COVID-marred 2022, Florida’s eighth grade scale scores in reading and math both lost 8 points relative to the national average, compared to fourth grade. That’s larger or equal to the overall collapse of NAEP scores nationwide attributed to COVID.

To restate, what happens every NAEP cycle between fourth and eighth grade in Florida matches and mostly exceeds the negative impact of COVID. Overall, recent NAEP cycles show Florida collapsing from elite test scores in fourth grade reading and math to abysmal in eighth grade math and average in eighth grade reading, even after its much-hyped approach to COVID in 2022.

And, worse, there is no reason at all to believe Florida’s test performance regression with age stops at eighth grade. The only two years the NAEP tested 12th graders — 2009 and 2013 — the Florida collapse worsened significantly with further age, but against a smaller pool of states.

Willful ignorance, useless testing

So what to make of this?

You can rest assured that your top education officials know all about Florida’s eighth grade NAEP and learning rate failures, which is why they never discuss them. I suspect these test data realities helped drive Florida to drop its big state growth test — the Florida Standards Assessment — and move toward a “progress monitoring” regime this year that may or may not create functionally different data reporting models.

The discourse around Florida’s NAEP performance — and the catastrophic learning rate that we ignore on our state tests — makes me deeply skeptical of standardized tests and their use in our education systems and society. I see them as punitive political and social sorting tools, rather than “assessments” designed to help individual children reach their potential.

Forget whether test results are valid or biased. We can’t even accurately describe what the test results say — on their face — about the success of our state school system. So what use are they?

Florida’s politicians, education leaders, policy community and journalists should look at these results and ask this basic question: The data tells us your child will regress dramatically every year he or she stays in the Florida system. What’s going on?

If we can’t do that, then why do we force standardized tests on kids at all?

What we should be studying

I’ve been attempting to draw attention to this dramatic Florida regression dynamic for years. So I was pleased to the see the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board and Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Addison Davis notice and publicly address the massive drop in test performance between fourth and eighth grade in Florida on the 2022 NAEP. But I was puzzled by suggestions that it was something new, caused by COVID. It isn’t; and it wasn’t.

Indeed, if we took standardized tests seriously as diagnostic and development tools, we would have long ago started asking: What causes this? What changes need to be made beyond rebuilding and supporting a developmentally focused teacher corps? What are the system quirks of Florida that cause this dynamic?

Here are some good questions to ask and study:

· Why doesn’t “learn to read, read to learn” work in Florida?

One of our treasured education cliches is “learn to read” so you can “read to learn.” It’s essentially the policy justification for imposing mass retention on third graders, as Florida does. And yet, although Florida routinely ranks high fourth grade NAEP reading, our readers immediately lose massive ground relative to other states. The data shows that Florida’s often punitive emphasis on “learn to read” by third or fourth grade creates no benefit in “reading to learn” in later grades — in math or reading. Why not?

· What is the role of mass third grade retention in Florida’s fourth grade peak and subsequent collapse?

Florida pioneered mass third grade retention based on reading standardized test scores in 2003. This prevents the lowest scoring third grade readers from taking the NAEP with their age cohort in fourth grade. And when that low scoring third grader finally takes the fourth grade NAEP, retention has made it as if he or she is a fifth grader taking the fourth grade NAEP.

Florida law theoretically subjects more than 40 percent of Florida’s roughly 200,000 public school third graders to retention because of low scores. A smaller — but still significant — number is actually retained. Florida does not appear to publish that actual total number of third graders retained.

· What is the cost to the individual children and overall system performance?

Essentially all data shows that ripping kids away from their age cohort because of testing leads to significant human harm and increased drop out rates over time.

Is that affecting Florida’s learning rate for older kids and the eighth grade NAEP collapse? A 2017 study of a cohort of southwest Florida students showed that seven years after retention, 94% of the retained group remained below reading proficiency. It also showed that third and sixth graders find retention as stressful as losing a parent.

· How many voucher third grade testing refugees are there? What effect do they have on the fourth grade NAEP?

Third grade retention is not Florida’s only way to get low scoring fourth graders off the books for the NAEP. It’s been well-established that Florida over-testing and third grade retention is a primary sales tool for vouchers.TheOrlando Sentinel’sPulitzer-worthy “Schools without Rules”report in 2017 about voucher schools reported: “Escaping high-stakes testing is such a scholarship selling point that one private school administrator refers to students as ‘testing refugees’.”

How many testing refugees are there? And how does Florida’s massive voucher program — America’s largest and least studied — affect performance on the NAEP by allowing low scoring kids to duck it?

· What effect do voucher school dropouts have on scoring when they return in massive numbers to public schools?

At the same time, 61 percent of voucher kids abandon the voucher within two years (75 percent within three years),according to the Urban Institute, in the closest thing to a study ever done on Florida vouchers.

Enormous numbers of “low-scoring” kids duck third and fourth grade tests and then come back into the public system to be counted in the eighth grade NAEP and other yearly tests. That’s likely a recipe for score collapse. But there is no hard data to analyze. Florida is long overdue for such a study, and voucher advocates know it will be a data bloodbath.

Perhaps that’s because independent studies of smaller state voucher programs — with much greater oversight — shows attending a voucher school will “meet or exceed what the pandemic did to test scores,” according to Michigan State researcher and former voucher advocate-turned-critic Josh Cowen.

· Does chasing test scores kill test scores over time?

Test-driven instruction isn’t engaging. Kids come to understand how useless these tests are to their lives; and they behave accordingly. Teachers come to hate the test-obsessed model and leave the profession. How has that affected test scores?

A longstanding waste of human potential

For me, the eighth grade NAEP and “learning rate” failures are evidence that we’ve wasted a generation of human potential and severely damaged Florida’s teaching profession. Will anyone “follow the data” where it leads? Will anyone ask: Should our kids peak at age 9 and decline inexorably from there?

I believe Florida has long had one of America’s worst test-performing state school systems because of its governance model and intellectual corruption and pursuit of useless measures and fake accountability.

I

Billy Townsend was an award-winning investigative reporter for The Lakeland Ledger and Tampa Tribune. He oversaw education reporting as an editor for The Ledger. He has been an independent writer and journalist since 2008, focused on Florida history, education and civic systems. He was an elected Polk County School Board member from 2016-2020. Today he writes the Florida-focused email newsletter “Public Enemy Number 1.” He can be reached at townsendsubstackpe1@gmail.com.

Peter Greene explains school issues better than anyone. In this post in the Bucks County Beacon in Pennsylvania, he explains why vouchers fail, why renaming them doesn’t make them better, and why anyone who cares about the quality of education should forget about vouchers/ESAs.

He writes:

School Vouchers Have Been A Disaster—Now Advocates Are Trying To Rename Them

What you need to know about education savings accounts, a kind of “super-voucher.”

Although a sizable number of Republican candidates in the 2022 midterm elections who were counting on school vouchers to be a winning issue—including Tudor Dixon in Michigan, Kari Lake in Arizona, and Tim Michels in Wisconsin—went down to defeat, school vouchers are not about to go away. Voucher advocates are instead changing the name and pushing for education savings accounts (ESAs).

ESAs are legal in around 10 states so far, but if this new idea for promoting school choice hasn’t already been proposed in your state, it may be appearing there soon. Here’s what education savings accounts are, how they work, and what policymakers and families in your state should consider before rushing headlong into adopting this idea.

What Are ESAs?

Education savings accounts are a kind of super-voucher. While traditional vouchers give parents a chunk of taxpayer money that they could use for tuition at the school of their choice, an ESA gives parents a chunk of taxpayer money that they can spend on private school tuition or a variety of other educational expenses.

Tennessee’s ESA law offers a typical list of eligible expenses that not only include private school tuition and fees but also textbooks, school uniforms, tutoring, transportation to and from school, computer software, tech devices, summer school tuition, and tuition and fees at a postsecondary school.

ESAs provide a wider range of choices—and a wider range of ways for vendors to get their hands on education tax dollars without having to open a whole school to get voucher money.

ESAs also provide political cover. Vouchers have frequently been rejected by voters, so voucher proponents, on Twitter and in legislative discussions, have opted not to use the label of “voucher” for ESAs. They may further try to sweeten the rebranding by using terms such as “education scholarship accounts” and “education freedom accounts.”

The money comes to parents by way of a company hired to handle these funds. Step Up for Students and ClassWallet are two examples of these “scholarship management” companies. These companies handle the actual disbursement of the monies, often through debit cards; they also take a cut of the funding.

Where Does ESA Money Come From?

Funding for an ESA program can come from several different paths.

One pathway is via tax credit programs that allow corporations and individuals to contribute directly to “scholarship” funding while getting a dollar-for-dollar tax credit. Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposed this on a national scale with her failed Education Freedom Scholarships.

Proponents like to say that tax credit funding does not involve any government spending, which is technically correct because the money never touches government hands. But because it is a tax credit, it does cost the taxpayers. A million dollars in tax credit scholarships means $1 million of revenue the government does not get, leaving a hole that must be made up either by raising taxes or cutting other state and federal programs. Kentucky set up tax credit scholarships to fund its ESA program; the tax credit scholarship program was thrown out in December 2022 by the state’s supreme court for being “unconstitutional.

Another pathway to ESA funding comes from new laws enacting “backpack funding,” where per-pupil funding that would have gone to the student’s home school district goes to the student’s ESA instead. This can be particularly damaging in states like Arizona, where the money is pulled from the student’s assigned district even if the student has always attended private school. In other words, the school’s operating revenue is reduced by the per-pupil funding, but its operating costs are reduced by zero dollars.

ESAs can also be funded by taking the money off the top of the state’s education budget, meaning the costs of the vouchers hit all school districts, whether they have students choosing vouchers or not.

In addition, a suggestion was made that pandemic relief funds be distributed via ESA-style programs (Oklahoma was one state that tried it).

GOP legislators have also tried to propose that federal funding intended for poor students or students with special needs, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), be turned into school voucher programs, a particularly ironic proposal, as students usually give up their rights under IDEA when they move out of the public education system. This repurposing of federal funding for education will no doubt become part of the rhetoric used for ESA funding.

How Are Tax Dollars in ESA Spent?

Tracking how tax dollars are spent in ESA programs is difficult if not impossible because these programs have hardly any accountability.

ESAs, like vouchers, have proven to be a way to use public tax dollars to fund private religious schools. In fact, in states where voucher programs exist, vouchers primarily fund religious schools (particularly Catholic ones). While the separation of church and state, when it comes to education, is already being increasingly whittled away, ESAs, like vouchers, allow states to circumvent that wall entirely.

Further, there are few checks in place to ensure that ESA money is spent on legitimate education expenses. In Arizona, parents spent $700,000 of their ESA money on beauty supplies, clothes, and other questionable expenses. In Oklahoma, pandemic relief funds were disbursed ESA-style, and when news broke that about half a million dollars in funds had been used to buy things like Christmas trees, gaming consoles, and outdoor grills, the state passed the buck.

Ryan Walters, who was just elected as Oklahoma’s education chief, bragged that the private sector would be a “more efficient way” to handle the funds, and he gave ClassWallet freedom to administer the state’s ESA program. But ClassWallet has admitted that it has “neither responsibility for, nor authority to exercise programmatic decision making with respect to the program or its associated federal funds and did not have responsibility for grant compliance.” In other words, nobody is checking to see how the money is really spent.

In most ESA programs, parents can select from an official list of vendors. One might assume that such a list would include vendors that have been screened to make sure that they are qualified providers of high-quality materials and instruction, but one would be wrong. In many states, a vendor is included in the list after simply meeting some very basic requirements. Tennessee’s ESA program leaves oversight of education vendors largely up to the management of its private contractor. Arizona’s ESA program doesn’t even have a list of approved schools, vendors, or providers, leaving the destination of taxpayer funding up to the “discretion” of the account holder.

The argument is that free market forces will keep vendors in line and that parents’ ability to make choices will work better than government regulations. One might also argue that the Food and Drug Administration should be shut down and the market should be allowed to regulate food manufacturing behavior. If a company gets sloppy or cheap and starts producing poisoned food, the market will correct it. All we have to do is let some consumers be poisoned in the process.

Not only are taxpayers’ interests unguarded in ESA systems, but parent and student interests are unguarded as well. Parents have to navigate an unregulated marketplace, an asymmetrical market where sellers have far more information than buyers, and where marketing materials take the place of useful information.

What Risks Do ESAs Pose to Students and Families?

Whether school choice advocates are pushing vouchers or ESAs, they frequently fail to mention the most fundamental issue for students and their families—private schools do not have to admit anyone they don’t wish to admit, either by placing various barriers in the way (not offering transportation or meals) or by simply putting restrictions in place.

That was one of the takeaways from Carson v. Makin, a Supreme Court decision that declared that Maine must allow voucher money to go to religious private schools, even if they are clearly discriminatory. Many ESA laws include a sort of non-interference clause that declares that accepting voucher money does not make the school a state actor, and the state may in no way dictate to the school how it will operate. In other words, they may teach what they want and discriminate as they like, even if they accept taxpayer dollars. Students with special needs, as well as LGBTQIA+ students, find they may have far fewer “choice” options than others.

ESA programs fail to protect students in other important ways. Should a family run out of ESA money, or find that they’ve been bilked by a bad vendor, or even be dumped by a vendor that goes out of business midyear, there are no real protections for families of students. Some school choice advocates have suggested that this risk would be minimized by providing third-party consumer reviews via a service like Yelp. But generally, it’s assumed that the invisible hand of the market, wearing its caveat emptor ring, is supposed to do the job of quality oversight.

In one striking example, an ESA bill proposed in Utah in 2022 included a requirement that parents sign a statement that they “assume full financial responsibility for the education” of their child. That means if they run out of voucher money or get left high and dry by a bad vendor or find the vendor incompetent, they are on their own. Presumably, in such a situation, a student would have no recourse but to return to a public school, though that school might get zero funding for that student.

Do ESAs Improve Education Results?

Most importantly, study after study shows that voucher programs in all their forms do not foster excellence in education. ESAs are a newer creation and so have been studied less, but given that the ESA system has even fewer guardrails than traditional vouchers, there’s no reason to think that the educational results would be any better.

In any case, under ESA, poor educational outcomes would be the parents’ problem, and the solutions we’ve seen for this problem are grim.

For instance, some voucher proponents (including DeVos) suggest a low-cost use for vouchers would be microschools, in which a handful of students gather in someone’s home around a computer with some online lessons while an adult “coach” keeps an eye on things. It’s not anyone’s first choice for a great education, but if that’s what you can afford—well, enjoy your choice.

That is the heart of voucher programs, whether you call them vouchers or education savings accounts or freedom scholarship accounts; they get the government out of the school business and turn education into a commodity that is the responsibility of parents alone. In voucher world, the state hands you your debit card and washes its hands of you. “Enjoy your freedom, and good luck.” And if an excellent education is not readily available because the ESA money is inadequate or your child has special needs, and your local public school is struggling with reduced funding, well, that’s your problem.

It’s all about the three D’s—disrupt, defund, and dismantle. Call the voucher system whatever you would like, but it is about reducing education from a public good and shared societal responsibility to a simple consumer good.

This article was produced by Our Schools, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Peter Greene

Peter Greene is a recently retired classroom secondary English teacher of 39 years. He lives and works in a small town in Northwest Pennsylvania, and blogs at Curmudgucation.

The AFT commissioned a highly reputable polling form to find out how voters think about the big education issues. The poll was conducted after the election last November. Bottom line: Voters want better, well/resourced public schools; few are interested in the Republican agenda of fighting “wokeness,” censoring books, and choice.

New Polling Reveals GOP/McCarthy Schools Agenda Is Unpopular and at Odds with Parents’ Priorities

Latest Data Show Parents, Voters Reject Culture War Agenda, Support Academic Focus and Safe Schools Instead

WASHINGTON—The American Federation of Teachers today released new national polling that shows voters overwhelmingly reject House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s anti-school, culture war agenda. Instead, voters want to see political leaders prioritize what kids need to succeed in school: strong fundamental academic skills and safe and welcoming school environments. 

“The latest education poll tells us loud and clear: Voters, including parents, oppose McCarthy’s agenda to prioritize political fights in schools and instead support real solutions, like getting our kids and teachers what they need to recover and thrive,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. 

“Rather than reacting to MAGA-driven culture wars, voters overwhelmingly say they want lawmakers to get back to basics: to invest in public schools and get educators the resources they need to create safe and welcoming environments, boost academic skills and pave pathways to career, college and beyond.”

According to Geoff Garin, president of Hart Research Associates: “One key weakness of the culture war agenda is that voters and parents reject the idea that teachers today are pushing a ‘woke’ political agenda in the schools. Most have high confidence in teachers. Voters see the ‘culture war’ as a distraction from what’s important and believe that politicians who are pushing these issues are doing so for their own political benefit.”

Polling conducted by Hart Research Associates from Dec. 12-17, 2022, among 1,502 registered voters nationwide, including 558 public school parents, shows that support for and trust in public schools and teachers remains incredibly strong: 

  • 93 percent of respondents said improving public education is an important priority for government officials.
  • 66 percent said the government spends too little on education; 69 percent want to see more spending.
  • By 29 points, voters said their schools teach appropriate content, with an even greater trust in teachers.
  • Voters who prioritized education supported Democrats by 8 points.
  • Top education priorities for voters include providing:
    • students with strong fundamental academic skills; 
    • opportunities for all children to succeed, including through career and technical education and greater mental health supports, as examples; and 
    • a safe and welcoming environment for kids to learn.
  • According to voters, the most serious problems facing schools include:
    • teacher shortages;
    • inadequate funding; 
    • unsafe schools; and 
    • pandemic learning loss. (And, critically, voters and parents are looking forward to find solutions: by 85 percent to 15 percent, they want Congress to focus on improving schools through greater support, rather than through McCarthy’s investigation agenda.)

“COVID was terrible for everyone,” added Weingarten. “Educators and parents took on the challenges of teaching, learning and reconnecting and are now asking elected officials to focus on the building blocks of student success. Instead, legislators in 45 states have proposed hundreds of laws making that harder—laws seeking to ban books from school libraries; restrict what teachers can say about race, racism, LGBTQIA+ issues and American history; and limit the school activities in which transgender students can participate. Voters are saying that not only are these laws bad policy—they’re also bad politics.”

In state after state in the November midterms, voters elected pro-public education governors and school board candidates and rejected far-right attacks on teachers and vulnerable LGBTQIA+ students. 

The survey’s confidence interval is ±3.0 percentage points.

Click here for toplines, here for the poll memo and here for the poll slides.

https://www.aft.org/press-release/new-polling-reveals-gopmccarthy-schools-agenda-unpopular-and-odds-parents-priorities

The short answer is: Nothing. At least in Washington, D.C.

The story in New York is different.

Federal and local prosecutors are investigating whether his multiple lies broke any laws. Anne Donnelly, the local prosecutor in Nassau County, where he was elected, is a Republican, and she too has opened an investigation.

The New York Times, which broke the original story, reported last night:

Federal and local prosecutors are investigating whether Representative-elect George Santos committed any crimes involving his finances and lies about his background on the campaign trail.

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have opened an investigation into Mr. Santos that is focused at least in part on his financial dealings, according to a person familiar with the matter. The investigation was said to be in its early stages.

In a separate inquiry, the Nassau County, N.Y., district attorney’s office said it was looking into the “numerous fabrications and inconsistencies associated with Congressman-elect Santos” during his successful 2022 campaign to represent parts of Long Island and Queens.

It was unclear how far the Nassau County inquiry had progressed, but the district attorney, Anne Donnelly, said in a statement that Mr. Santos’s fabrications “are nothing short of stunning.”

Why are the Republicans in Congress silent?

Charlie Sykes, who used to be a conservative Republican, writes in The Bulwark that Kevin McCarthy needs Santos’ vote. End of story. His colleagues are saying “He’s learned his lesson,” although he remains defiant. Santos says “Everyone embellishes his resume.” But the proper word is not “embellish,” it’s “lie.” The Congressman-elect lied about his education, lied about his employment, lied about his religion, lied about his family. What part of his resume is true? No one knows.

Probably none of it except his name.

Sykes writes:

Of course, a political party with any sort of intact immune system would move quickly to send this sociopath back to ScamLand, whence he came.

But this is the GOP circa 2022, and so it faces a painful dilemma. With a narrow majority in the House, Republicans (and especially Kevin McCarthy) need his vote, of course.

But that’s not the real problem here, is it?

After years of ignoring, enabling, and rationalizing Big Lies and small ones, it will now be exceedingly difficult for the GOP to find their misplaced conscience that might morph into outrage and something like a moral standard. As Nick Catoggio writes:

Anyone willing to set aside their qualms about Trump for the sake of holding executive power logically should be willing to set aside their qualms about Santos for the sake of holding legislative power

So, not surprisingly, GOP leaders are either silent, or in a forgiving mood.

To deepen the puzzle of Santos, read this article in The Daily Beast about one of his big donors.

David Brooks is a regular commentator on PBS Newshour every Friday night. He is typically banal but inoffensive. This past Friday, he was both banal and offensive.

Judy Woodruff asked him and his colleague Jonathan Capehart to choose people who deserve something nice or a piece of coal in their Christmas stocking. Brooks said he would give the President’s Chief of Staff Ron Klain a model train set for his stocking, but he would give ”the teachers’ unions” a piece of coal because they bear a large share of the blame for the “long, overly overly long” school closures that affected “student attainment” (he meant test scores, not attainment) and that have impaired the “lifelong prospects of a generation of young people,” widened inequality, and impaired social mobility (view here, at 10:51 minutes in or the last segment of the hour). He didn’t name any other villains, just the unions.

This is wrong on many counts.

The teachers’ unions didn’t cause the closures. The pandemic did.

Many teachers were fearful for their lives. Some were immunocompromised or lived with family members who were vulnerable. They reasonably wanted reassurance that schools would reopen safely, and that’s what the AFT demanded in a series of policy documents—starting in April 2020–calling for a safe reopening. By that, the union meant regular testing and sanitizing, masking, social distancing to the extent possible, and ventilation in classrooms. The Trump administration wanted the schools open with no money for safety measures.

Districts went online not because the unions told them to but because the CDC recommended it, and normal concern for the safety of staff and students prevailed.

No one knew at the time what the right course of action was, so school boards and superintendents erred on the side of caution, to protect the lives of staff and students. Was this unreasonable? As a grandmother, I don’t think so.

Stay open and take chances or close the school and shift to virtual learning? It was a tough decision, and it was not made by the teachers’ unions.

Success Academy in New York City is a high-profile charter chain. Its teachers are not unionized. Its CEO Eva Moskowitz decided to close the schools and go virtual in mid-March 2020. In January 2021, Moskowitz decided to close the schools for the year, go virtual, and shorten the calendar by a month. Other non-union charter schools followed SA’s lead.

During the shutdowns, teachers taught virtually, and some double-tasked by teaching some students online and some in their classes.

The demands and uncertainties of the pandemic, coupled with the absurd attacks on teachers for teaching honestly about U.S. history and the outlandish claims that teachers were”grooming” their students for sexual deviance, were profoundly demoralizing. Many teachers left the profession. The number of new entrants has shrunk. Not a word of sympathy or concern from David Brooks.

As for his assertion that the lives of an entire generation have been blighted because of school closings, that is simply hysterical speculation. Very few students liked virtual learning, nor did teachers. But it was necessary for a time. There is no reason to believe that students were irreparably harmed. They are resilient and will bounce back if their teachers get the resources they need and lower class sizes.

It would be far better to hear Brooks advocate on behalf of teachers on national television rather than trot out the tired rightwing cliche about “evil” teachers unions.

Teachers need support, not disrespect. They have had a much more difficult three years than David Brooks.

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For David Brooks’ benefit, here is the AFT reopening plan issued in April 2020.

https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/media/2020/covid19_reopen-america-schools.pdf

This post was also written for Judy Woodruff, so that she won’t be blindsided the next time David or any other guest spouts anti-union, anti-teacher propaganda.