Archives for category: Inequity

CBS News reported on an analysis by the U.S. Treasury showing that the richest Americans avoid paying $163 billion each year.

The top 1% of Americans are avoiding paying an estimated $163 billion in taxes a year, according to the Treasury Department. In contrast, more than 99% of taxes on regular incomes — paid via a paycheck — get paid.

That discrepancy is pushing the estimated tax gap, the amount of money owed by taxpayers that isn’t collected, to nearly around $600 billion annually, and to approximately $7 trillion in lost revenue over the next decade, the Treasury Department finds.

Tax evasion is concentrated among the wealthy in part because high-income taxpayers are able to employ experts who can better shield them from reporting their true incomes, the Treasury Department argued in a blog post. More complicated incomes such as partnerships and proprietorships – more frequent among high earners — have a far greater noncompliance rate that can hit as high as 55%.

“The tax gap can be a major source of inequity. Today’s tax code contains two sets of rules: one for regular wage and salary workers who report virtually all the income they earn; and another for wealthy taxpayers, who are often able to avoid a large share of the taxes they owe,” wrote Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy Natasha Sarin.

Meanwhile our roads, bridges, tunnels, and other vital infrastructure are underfunded. Schools need to invest in physical improvements. Class sizes are too large, especially in urban districts. Teachers are underpaid in comparison to other professionals with the same education credentials.

Taxes are too low on those who can most afford to pay them. Tax avoidance is thriving while our society’s basic needs are not.

It’s past time for nation building at home.

This clear and thoughtful article was written by Michael Turmelle, director of education and career initiatives, New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. The Republican-controlled legislation intends to pass sweeping voucher legislation that would harm the public schools attended by the great majority of the state’s children.

He writes:


If you have ever needed a hospital or a pharmacy; driven on well-engineered highways; eaten food that was grown and shipped safely; felt the protective assurance of our armed forces and intelligence services; used a cell phone; gotten a vaccine to guard against a deadly disease, then you have benefited from public schools.

This is the social contract we have made: since we all rely on an educated populace to do countless things we all depend on every day, we all chip in to a system of public schools to educate people. We all agree to support this common good that benefits us all — whether our kids happen to be in school, or if we even have kids of our own. 

We all need strong public schools because we need all our children to be able to get the robust education that will allow them to go on to become the nurses and doctors, the engineers and entrepreneurs, the public-health researchers and food-safety inspectors, the firefighters and intelligence analysts and teachers who will support our communities and economy tomorrow. 

The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation is in the midst of a 10-year initiative to improve outcomes for New Hampshire children and families who face significant barriers to opportunity.

Public K-12 schools play a critical role in providing that opportunity by delivering on the very American promise of an education for all — no matter how much money your parents have, or where you live, or the color of your skin or if you get around on your feet or in a wheelchair. null

But the public good that is public education is being imperiled in New Hampshire in ways that put children’s education and the well-being of our communities and our economy at risk.

How? 

By inequity.

Some schools in New Hampshire have well-paid veteran teachers, top-notch facilities, state-of-the-art equipment and resources. Some districts struggle to pay dedicated educators, have constant teacher turnover, patched-together buildings and outdated resources. The former are in wealthy towns, the latter are not. 

And disparities in funding correlate with disparities in outcomes.

In New Hampshire, according to an independent report produced for the state’s Commission to Study School Funding: “The highest poverty school districts have the lowest student outcomes. The negative relationship between poverty and outcomes is very strong.” 

New Hampshire’s state constitution mandates that the state provide an “adequate” education to all children. Since a coalition of “property-poor” towns sued the state in the 1990s, various funding formulas have been applied by the legislature — all of which have continued to rely predominantly on local property taxes to foot the majority of the bill for public education. The amount the state sends to districts remains far below what districts must spend. Another group of districts sued the state in 2019, asserting state adequacy aid would need to triple to meet the basic requirements set out in state law. The state Supreme Court sent the “ConVal lawsuit” (so named for the Contoocook Valley school district, one of the districts that brought the suit) back to Superior Count in March for a trial. Manchester and Nashua, the two largest districts in the state, joined the suit this month.

All children in every public school in New Hampshire (not just the ones in wealthy towns) should have the resources, facilities and teachers needed to ensure them a world-class education and the best outcomes possible. Our current unequal system of supporting schools creates two separate and unequal classes of education for our kids, robbing too many of them of the American promise of equal opportunity.

By a troubling move toward privatization. 

Running through some recent proposed legislation and public discourse is a disquieting attack on the idea of public education as a public good. 

The school voucher program being considered by the legislature is a system under which taxpayer-generated state aid earmarked to educate children in public schools is redirected to private schools or home education.

Voucher programs would risk further exacerbating funding inequity in New Hampshire schools and leaving the most vulnerable children — the ones who rely most on the promise of public education – in schools with fewer resources, increasingly inadequate facilities and diminished opportunity. An analysis by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Reaching Higher New Hampshire shows that the program would cost the state nearly $70 million in new state spending over three years.

Vouchers do not help kids do better. Multiple independent studies from states that have implemented vouchers have shown that voucher programs do not improve academic outcomes. Voucher programs also deepen racial segregation in schools (which has also shown to diminish outcomes for all children) and leave LGBTQ students vulnerable to discrimination.

Taking public funds from our public schools to pay for private education is not a good answer for how to make our schools stronger for the nine out of 10 of New Hampshire’s children who use them.

Just like public fire departments, highways and health departments, public education is a public good that benefits us all. And just like all those other things, it deserves robust investment, access to it should be equitable — and we absolutely cannot do without it.

You may recall that sociologist and author Eve Ewing wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times that said it was time to end the debate about charter schools and celebrate all good schools, whatever they are called. This is one of the talking points of the charter industry, which prefers the public not to notice how many charter schools close every year, how many are low-performing, and how many are run by non-educators who turn a handsome profit.

My response was here.

The New York Times published letters to the editor about the Ewing article. Only one was favorable, written by Jeanne Allen, who runs a charter advocacy organization called the “Center for Education Reform,” funded by rightwing billionaires and Wall Street financiers. CER promotes all kinds of school choice and is hostile to public schools.

The first letter was written by Denis Smith of Ohio, who has appeared on this blog:

To the Editor:

Re “End the Fight Over Charter Schools,” by Eve L. Ewing (Op-Ed, Feb. 23):

Why do we allow two separate but seemingly parallel systems of education, using scarce public funds that are taken from traditional public schools to fund charters, a seeming experiment gone awry? Why do we allow one entity that is accountable and has governance conveyed from the voters in each community and allow the other to avoid the same transparency and accountability?

Here in Ohio, charters are exempt from 150 sections of law that the public schools must be in compliance with to legally operate, yet the public schools are required to support charters with the school district’s transportation system and other services at no cost.

So no, we can’t stop fighting about the subject of charters until we have the same rules for both. If one is exempt from wholesale sections of the law, then by definition it is not a public school but something else, a school that acquires public funds to operate yet has its own rules and is free from much oversight.

Denis D. Smith
Westerville, Ohio
The writer, a charter school critic, is a former consultant in the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school office, responsible for assuring legal compliance in the operations of these schools.

Veteran blogger Steve Hinnefeld writes about education in Indiana. In this post, he describes a controversy in the Legislature about whether a portion of a district should be allowed to secede in order to join a “whiter” district.

Some Indiana House Republicans lost their cool last week when Democratic colleagues dared to raise the issue of race. According to the Indianapolis Star, the Republican legislators “shouted down and booed Black lawmakers during floor debate on a bill that some see as discriminatory.”

Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, became emotional and walked off the House floor when Republicans interrupted his attempt to speak, the Star reported. Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, began talking about his own experiences with racism and “was met with ‘boos’ from several … GOP lawmakers.”

But Porter and Smith were right. Lawmakers were debating House Bill 1367, which would allow Greene Township in St. Joseph County to secede from South Bend Community Schools and join John Glenn School Corp. Greene Township’s population is 98% white, according to census data, while nearly three-fourths of South Bend students are Black, Hispanic or multiracial. John Glenn’s enrollment is 90% white and less than 1% Black. How can you debate a bill like that and not talk about race?

Indiana’s Legislature is encouraging school choice, of course, despite the fact that these choice policies are desegregating schools across the state. Black legislators are outraged, as they should be.

When legislators promote laws that make schools more segregated, their actions should be scrutinized.

The same should apply to Indiana’s state-sanctioned open enrollment policy, in which families may transfer their children from the school district where they live to another, provided there’s room. The policy accounts for about half the “school choice” in the state. In theory, it lets parents choose the public school that best fits their children’s needs, as long as they can provide transportation. In practice, families are leaving racially diverse urban schools for mostly white suburban or rural districts.

Muncie Community Schools, for example, where 57% of students are white, lose nearly a quarter of their prospective students through inter-district transfers. Many go to nearby districts where over 90% of students are white. Figures are similar for Marion Community Schools, where 48% of students are white and many leave for districts that are 80% or more white.

The resegregation that is occurring across the nation, especially in the South, has been hastened by the secession of white families who want their children to enroll in a whiter district.

The VOX article continues:

In one recent case in Alabama, white families in Gardendale–a suburb of Birmingham–attempted to secede from the Jefferson County school district. A lower court judge approved their request, but it was overturned by an appeals court.

While the Gardendale plan was ultimately halted, other school secessions have been allowed to occur, the secession study authors note. “It’s hard not to look at many of these instances of secession and see them as a modern-day effort by Southern whites to avoid diverse schools,” Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, a study co-author and an associate professor of educational leadership, policy, and justice at Virginia Commonwealth University, said in a press release. “This is especially true given the obstacles to comprehensive cross-district integration policies.”

As these efforts continue, and in some cases accelerate, the study authors caution that more attention needs to be paid to the impacts of school secessions, which they call “a new form of resisting desegregation amid the growing diversity of the South’s public schools.”

“Secession has weakened the potential for greater school integration across the South’s broadly defined communities,” the researchers note, “fracturing White and Black and White and Hispanic students into separate school systems.”

The secession movement in the South has reached Indiana, where it appears to be gaining traction. Will the courts stand by the Brown vs. Board decision of 1954?

The Biden administration chose a pro-testing advocate, Ian Rosenblum of Education Trust New York, to announce the decision that states must administer the federally mandated tests this spring. Miguel Cardona has not yet been confirmed as Secretary of Education nor has Cindy Marten been confirmed as Deputy Secretary. Who made this decision? Joe Biden? Jill Biden? Ian Rosenblum, who has not yet been confirmed as Deputy Assistant Secretary? (The Assistant Secretary has not even been announced.) Is the Obama administration back?

Joe Biden said unequivocally at a Public Education Forum in Pittsburgh when he was campaigning that he would end the federal mandate for standardized testing. Denisha Jones, lawyer, teacher educator, board member of Defending the Early Years, and the Network for Public Education, asked candidate Biden if he would end standardized testing. Watch his answer here.

This is hugely disappointing, first, because it is a broken promise; second, because it imposes standardized testing in the midst of a pandemic when access to education has been grossly uneven and unequal; third, because it diverts the attention of teachers and students to a meaningless exercise.

Please read this article that I wrote a few weeks ago for Valerie Strauss’s blog: What You Need to Know about Standardized Testing. It begins with the history of IQ testing, which was the forerunner to standardized testing, and shows its relationship to eugenics and racism.

In the middle, I summarize the pointlessness of the tests:

Politicians and the general public assume that tests are good because they provide valuable information. They think that the tests are necessary for equity among racial and ethnic groups.

This is wrong.

The tests are a measure, not a remedy.

The tests are administered to students annually in March and early April. Teachers are usually not allowed to see the questions. The test results are returned to the schools in August or September. The students have different teachers by then. Their new teachers see their students’ scores but they are not allowed to know which questions the students got right or wrong.

Thus, the teachers do not learn where the students need extra help or which lessons need to be reviewed.

All they receive is a score, so they learn where students ranked compared to one another and compared to students across the state and the nation.

This is of little value to teachers.

This would be like going to a doctor with a pain in your stomach. The doctor gives you a battery of tests and says she will have the results in six months. When the results are reported, the doctor tells you that you are in the 45th percentile compared to others with a similar pain, but she doesn’t prescribe any medication because the test doesn’t say what caused your pain or where it is situated.

The tests are a boon for the testing corporation. For teachers and students, they are worthless.

Standardized test scores are highly correlated with family income and education. The students from affluent families get the highest scores. Those from poor families get the lowest scores. This is the case on every standardized test, whether it is state, national, international, SAT, or ACT. Sometimes poor kids get high scores, and sometimes kids from wealthy families get low scores, but they are outliers. The standardized tests confer privilege on the already advantaged and stigmatize those who have the least. They are not and will never be, by their very nature, a means to advance equity.

In addition, standardized tests are normed on a bell curve. There will always be a bottom half and a top half. Achievement gaps will never close, because bell curves never close. That is their design. By contrast, anyone of legal age may get a driver’s license if they pass the required tests. Access to driver’s licenses are not based on a bell curve. If they were, about 35 to 40 percent of adults would never get a license to drive.

If you are a parent, you will learn nothing from your child’s test score. You don’t really care how he or she ranks compared to others of her age in the state or in another state. You want to know whether she is keeping up with her assignments, whether she participates in class, whether she understands the work, whether she is enthusiastic about school, how she gets along with her peers. The standardized tests won’t answer any of these questions.

So how can a parent find out what he or she wants to know? Ask your child’s teacher.

Who should write the tests? Teachers should write the tests, based on what they taught in class. They can get instant answers and know precisely what their students understood and what they did not understand. They can hold a conference with Johnny or Maria to go over what they missed in class and help them learn what they need to know.

But how will we know how we are doing as a city or a state or a nation? How will we know about achievement gaps and whether they are getting bigger or smaller?

All of that information is already available in the reports of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), plus much more. Scores are disaggregated by state, gender, race, disability status, poverty status, English-language proficiency, and much more. About 20 cities have volunteered to be assessed, and they get the same information.

As we approach the reauthorization of the Every Student Succeeds Act — the successor law to No Child Left Behind — it is important to know this history and this context. No high-performing nation in the world tests every students in grades 3 to 8 every year.

We can say with certainty that the No Child Left Behind program failed to meet its purpose of leaving no child behind.

We can say with certainty that the Race to the Top program did not succeed at raising the nation’s test scores “to the top.”

We can say with certainty that the Every Student Succeeds Act did not achieve its purpose of assuring that every student would succeed.

For the past 10 years, despite (or perhaps because of) this deluge of intrusive federal programs, scores on the NAEP have been flat. The federal laws and programs have come and gone and have had no impact on test scores, which was their purpose.

It is time to think differently. It is time to relax the heavy hand of federal regulation and to recall the original purposes of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act: to distribute funding to the neediest students and schools; to support the professional training of teachers; and to assure the civil rights of students.

The federal government should not mandate testing or tell schools how to “reform” themselves, because the federal government lacks the knowledge or know-how or experience to reform schools.

At this critical time, as we look beyond the terrible consequences of the pandemic, American schools face a severe teacher shortage. The federal government can help states raise funding to pay professional salaries to professional teachers. It can help pay for high-quality prekindergarten programs. It can underwrite the cost of meals for students and help pay for nurses in every school.

American education will improve when the federal government does what it does best and allows highly qualified teachers and well-resourced schools to do what they do best.

One of the first and most important decisions that Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona will make is whether to grant waivers to the states that want to suspend the annual federal testing mandated by the Every Student Succeeds Act. Some states–like New York–intend to request waivers, in light of the turmoil and unequal access to education caused by the pandemic. Others–like Texas and Arkansas–plan to proceed with their regular testing program regardless of the harm inflicted on students, teachers, and families by the past year.

Education Trust, headed by former Secretary of Education John King, has organized several groups to demand that Secretary Cardona refuse any requests by states for waivers. It makes no sense for a group of corporate reformers to insist that the Secretary of Education reject the requests of states that sincerely believe their students will be harmed if the federal government refuses to grant waivers at their request. Shouldn’t states have the authority to decide what is in the best interests of their students?

As I explained in my article in the Washington Post, the standardized tests have no diagnostic value. The tests are given in the spring, and the results are returned in the fall, six months later. Teachers never learn what their individual students do or do not know. The tests do not help the students or their teachers. They do not reduce inequity. They do not narrow or close achievement gaps. Because of the tests, schools have sacrificed the arts, civics, history, science, even recess. They have harmed the quality of education.

It is time to turn the corner on two decades of failed test-and-punish strategies. The last NAEP showed that the kids at the very bottom actually lost ground in recent years, despite (or because of) the heavy emphasis on testing. If we really cared about equity, we would reduce class sizes in the high-needs schools and make sure that they were staffed with experienced teachers. There are many positive ways to improve the schools, and more standardized testing is not one of them.

What can parents do? Opt out. It is wrong to test students this spring when access to education was disrupted by the pandemic. Do not allow your child to take the tests. They are pointless and meaningless, this year more than usual.

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, shares ideas about teaching in difficult times.


My high school and GED students always loved wrestling with the ideas presented by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Bruce Springsteen. I’m sure they would now agree that America needs both – Coates’ Between the World and Me, centered around Coates’ letter to 15-year-old son, and the 71-year-old Springsteen’s Letter to You. Actually we need both masterpieces and Kamilah Forbes’ HBO adaptation of Coates’ advice on how to “become conscious citizens of this beautiful and terrible world.”

Coates’ Between the World and Me tackles “the question of my life,” which is “how one should live within a black body, within a country lost in the Dream.” It focuses on the fatal police shooting of his fellow Howard University student, Prince Jones. It illustrates how “the plunder of black life was drilled into this country in its infancy and reinforced across its history, so that plunder has become an heirloom, an intelligence, a sentience, a default setting to which, likely to the end of our days, we must invariably return.”

But as Michiko Kakutani observed in her New York Times review, such assertions “skate over the very real — and still dismally insufficient — progress that has been made,” but Coates occasionally acknowledges there have been improvements. Kakutani writes, “His book often reads like an internal dialogue or debate.” And, seeming to concur with that interpretation when discussing the HBO presentation, Coates says it is evidence that “the story America tells about itself and how it tells it is a statement on how much things have changed.”

In the wake of the string of murders by police of unarmed black Americans that are now videotaped, the brilliant 80-minute program prioritizes the police shooting of Prince Jones in Prince Georges County. The location is important because Between the World and Me described the county as a “great enclave of black people who seemed, as much as anyone, to have seized control of their bodies.” But even there, “Prince was not killed by a single officer so much as he was murdered by his country and all of the fears that marked it from birth.”

It takes a full book, however, to recount the story of Coates who was raised in Baltimore, the son of a Vietnam veteran, who was a Black Panther and a librarian. As a student, Coates missed the wider historical context of racism. But the Howard faculty did “their duty to disabuse me of my weaponized history.” He reached a balance, however, and as an Atlantic Magazine reporter he drove a revision of the history of the New Deal, the post-WWII Fair Deal and the GI Bill. Despite the good they did for white people, Coates documents the lies perpetuated by these chapters of the “American Dream.”

Perhaps counter-intuitively, that leads to another set of truths found in Springsteen’s lyrics, as well as his autobiography, exploring the “Pax Americana” of his youth. He explains how working class kids or, at least, white youth during “the American Century,” were “destined to live the decent hardworking lives of their parents … if they could scoot through these years of wild pounding hormones without getting hurt or hurting someone else.” Bruce was acculturated into a value system where you “remain true to your crew, your blood, your family, your turf, your greaser brothers and sisters and your country. This was the shit that would get you by when all of the rest came tumbling down.”

As told in “My Hometown,” when Springsteen was 8-years-old, he would sit on the lap of “my old man,” a troubled World War II veteran who was the beneficiary of the GI Bill, and see its bounty, riding “in that big old Buick and steer as we drove through town.” Springsteen’s dad would “tousle my hair and say son take a good look around, this is your hometown. This is your hometown. This is your hometown. This is your hometown.”

But even this dream for white industrial workers was foreclosed. Deindustrialization led to racial violence and with the shotgun blast which signaled, “Troubled times they had come to my hometown.”

It is no criticism of Coates’ wisdom to say it should be complemented by Springsteen’s story of economic injustice done to “black and white” which derailed the progress that was once real. “The Boss” sings of the tragedy which undermined much of the best of the “American Dream:”  “They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks. Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back to your hometown.

Your hometown. Your hometown Your hometown.”

Three decades later, Springsteen’s “American Skin” also supplements an understanding of the mindsets which have murdered so many black bodies. He begins the story of the “41 shots,” in Harlem, which kill Amadou Diallo as he tried to give his wallet to the police, through the cops’ eyes as “as they cross the bloody river to the other side.” Springsteen then sings about a black mother giving “the talk” to her son:

If an officer stops you, promise me you’ll always be polite
And that you’ll never ever run away
Promise Mama, you’ll keep your hands in sight”

He concludes:

Is it a gun (is it a gun), is it a knife (is it a knife)
Is it a wallet (is it a wallet), this is your life (this is your life)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in your American skin

During this era of “Deaths by Despair,” which took off in the white working class America that helped boost Trumpism, Springsteen is the “last man standing,” the only survivor of his original band. He also uses multimedia poetry to make sense of America’s “dark evening stars. And the morning sky of blue…”

He has:

Got down on my knees
Grabbed my pen and bowed my head
Tried to summon all that my heart finds true
And send it in my letter to you

The CD doesn’t include the word “Trump.” I only saw what I believe is one clear reference to  him in “The Rainmaker.” It begins with “Parched crops dying ‘neath a dead sun. We’ve been praying but no good comes.” As they face, “The dog’s howling, homes stripped bare,” they admit, “We’ve been worried but now we’re scared.”

This fear opens the door to “the Rainmaker, a little faith for hire.” And the Rainmaker says that “white’s black and black’s white.” 

Getting back to the essential contribution of HBO’s Between the World and Me, Bruce Springsteen is my favorite poet/musical artist, but Kamilah Forbes draws on an all-star cast who place Coates’ “tactile, visceral” account of the “central truth” about the “domination of black bodies” in a profound context.  I’d say the amazing power of the images of the “entire diaspora” successfully allow Coates to speak the hardest truths without becoming excessively morbid. To really grasp Coates’ contribution, his indictments of America must be read along with the celebration of the multicultural, multigenerational expressions of black families, music, dance, art being sketched on the screen, and indomitable energy that Forbes brings together.

(I must also add that those touching scenes remind me of Springsteen’s videos of family, friends, and fellow musicians.)

The film version of Between the World and Mecombines historic and contemporary images family photos and videos, such as a baby boy feeding a candy bar to his dad, as well as historic battles, and the joyous dancing of children who would be killed, unarmed, by the police. Coates’ descriptions of Howard University as his “Mecca” juxtaposes the exuberant expressions of college students’ performances with that of tailgate parties of alumni reliving their Howard energies. Coates concludes this compilation of photos and films by saying they hold “power more gorgeous than any voting rights act.” 

Coates’ book – as opposed to a television special – had the space to acknowledge that white Americans also are a “new people.” They are “like us, a modern invention.” Coates concludes, and the awesome cast of the video also demonstrates how, “They made us into a race. We made ourselves into a people.”

I expect Coates would agree that both the indictments and the glories of American culture can be best understood when his books’ horrific truths are juxtaposed with both – the multiple genres of the HBO presentation and Bruce Springsteen’s versions of history which are also presented in multiple genres of lyrics, music, autobiography, and film.    

Per Kornhall is a widely published Swedish scholar of education. He wrote this post for the blog. Sweden and Chile are the two nations that decided to introduce privatization into significant parts of their national school system. The results are alarming. Since the same free-market forces are at work in the United States, it is important to follow events and trends in those nations.

The school experiment that split Sweden

Sweden is often seen in the United States as part of a homogeneous Nordic sphere; small cold countries with midnight sun, fair-skinned population, small social democratic idylls with equal free healthcare, good schools and a high standard of living. The reality is never as simple as our prejudices and one of the things that now characterizes Sweden is that we in important areas of society have left the common Nordic tradition of a cohesive school.

The Swedish school was built on a liberal and social democratic basis, starting with an elementary school reform in 1878 and then with careful and scientific work to design a “School for all”. The unit school that would serve the entire population was launched in the 1960s and all pieces were in place in the late 1970s. It was a building where thorough investigations, researchers and politicians were used and collaborated. One of the countries that looked at Sweden and tried to emulate the system that was built was Finland. But because Finland, unlike Sweden, had a poor economy after World War II, it took them a little longer to build a similar system. We will return to them.

When a Swedish school minister, Göran Persson, in a reform proposal in 1990 wanted to summarize the Swedish school’s situation, he wrote that it was a world leader in knowledge and above all in equivalence. He brags that in Sweden it does not matter which school you go to. The quality of education was the same all over the country, in all schools, and he believed that it was the strong central control of the school that had had this effect.

But the strange thing about this text is that it is part of a reform proposal that begins the great Swedish school experiment. This is the text where this successful Swedish equivalent school begins to be dismantled. The first step was that the state backed away and handed over responsibility for the teachers ‘and principals’ appointments, and salaries to the country’s 290 municipalities.

At the same time, a change was made in the school’s control system. New Public Management had begun to spread around the world and the Swedish school’s rigid rule management was to be replaced by goal management and the teachers would go from a well-paid collective with predictable salary development to individualized salaries. Governance and collective was to be replaced by competition and individuality. And it did not stop at teachers’ salaries.

In 1992, due to the municipalization, the school was in somewhat of a limbo state. The decentralization was carried out (despite strong protests from teachers), and the state authority that had so far managed the school system was dismantled. At that time Sweden got a prime minister, Carl Bildt, with strong connections to the United States. Among other things, he had been educated in the United States on an American scholarship. (He collaborated early in his career with US authorities so that they had access to otherwise secret information about talks before a government was formed in Sweden, for example). He now led a government with a clear ambition for a system change and a revolutionary neoliberal agenda. An agenda that stipulated that citizens should become customers in a welfare market system.

The new government was taking advantage of the vacuum in the school area and quickly implemented a private school reform that was taken directly from Rose and Milton Friedman’s book “Freedom to Chose”. It was a reform that stood in stark contrast to previous reforms in the school area in Sweden. It was not preceded by any investigation and does not contain any calculations of consequences. It was a system change they wanted, and they did not want to waste time on details and investigations (as can be seen in this interesting document from the time: http://kornhall.net/resources/Odd/OECD-1992.pdf).

School systems are large and slow systems. The consequences of the changes in the regulation first began to become visible only on a small scale and have since grown to become very powerful in the last decades. In addition to a small increase in the last two times of the PISA survey, Sweden, for example, between 2000 and 2012 was the country that fell the most of all countries in results. This created a PISA shock in Sweden which led mostly to the teaching staff being blamed for this.

But really, it was obvious in the OECD analyses what had happened, namely that what had been the Swedish school’s great pride: equality, had begun to deteriorate. What drove the fall in Swedish results in PISA was that the low-achieving students had started to perform much worse. It became clear that the school–that was based on the basic values ​​of both the French Revolution, Protestantism and Social Democracy on the equal value of all human beings–no longer existed. The differences between schools have increased dramatically. This at the same time as the status of the teaching profession declined and an increasingly serious shortage of teachers was established. 

But, an interesting thing about the Swedish market experiment is that we have a control group. Finland, which I mentioned earlier, more or less copied the Swedish system but did not follow Sweden’s into the neoliberal agenda. In recent decades, Finland has also dazzled the world with its results in PISA and other surveys, both in terms of results and not least in terms of equivalence. It really doesn’t matter which school you go to in Finland. In all schools, you are met by qualitative teaching delivered by a skilled and motivated teaching staff. So we have a control group. We know that the Swedish reforms led to an overall worse system. Yet so far there are no real attempts to turn back the clock in Sweden. I will come back to why at the end of this post.

What were the decisions that were made in the early 1990s and what were their consequences? I have already mentioned the municipalization, the abolition of regulations in favor of goal management, and the individualization of the teaching staff. What the neoliberal government led by Carl Bildt added to this was that it opened up state funding of schools for private schools, also such that were run for profit. In the case of establishment of private schools, the responsibility was moved away from the municipalities so that whoever wanted to start a school could do that wherever they wanted without local authorities being able to say anything about it. It was the principles of the free market that should apply. The private schools get paid as much per pupil as the pupils of the municipal schools in that municipality receive on average. Instead of placing students in the nearest school, school choice was also introduced.

So what has happened to the national school system in Sweden is that from being a societal commitment to ensuring that every child has a good school in their vicinity, it became a school market. Parents “buy” an education through their school choice and the school vouchers that follow the student. This voucher is the only funding a school in a typical municipality in Sweden has as income. You do not balance at all according to class size, fixed costs or any such variable. The only mechanism that remains to ensure that the school’s compensatory mission is not too compromised is a writing in the national Educational Act that the municipalities should weight school fees so that children with tougher conditions have a higher one. But there is no national control over what such a distribution should look like.

It may be important to say this again. Sweden thus went from a nationally equivalent and high-performing school system to a mediocre and unequal school market. A market where it is important for everyone, public as well as private, to relate to the fact that parents and students are customers.

This has for example led to extensive grade inflation. Since grades become something you can compete with, there is pressure on teachers to set high grades. This had, for example, the consequence that during the period in which the fall in knowledge results was shown by the OECD in PISA surveys, the average grade rose in Sweden. 

Two other important consequences of the market are the shortage of teachers and a galloping segregation. In a typical Swedish city today, children from well-educated parents gather in for profit private schools, while working class children and immigrants attend the schools of the public school system.

In fact, this division is also what gives rise to the profits of the large private school groups. Tuition fees have become a lucrative asset. Take in many students, hire a few cheap teachers and you have money ticking into your account. But the equation is based on the fact that you attract children to your school who are relatively easy to teach, i.e. children of highly educated people. These children do not need as many resources. Which enables you to make a profit in schools.

And we’re talking about a lot of money. We are talking about tens of millions of dollars per school group in pure profit per year. The incentive to make money in schools is so strong that it is expected that for the capital Stockholm, the majority of students will soon go to such groups’ schools rather than to public ones. Then the school system in Stockholm will no longer be public but be mainly privately owned.

In addition to a shortage of teachers (30% of those who teach Swedish K1-9 are now not trained teachers), reduced knowledge results, inequality and segregation, the market model has also led to another consequence that strikes at the heart of Swedish public culture and self-image. Sweden has traditionally had very little corruption at the state level. It is a country that is usually among the least corrupt when comparing different countries. One of the reasons, and something that Swedes are usually very proud of, is what is called the principle of openness. That is, everything that is paid for by tax money must be fully transparent. Both as a journalist and as a citizen, you must be able to request the documents you want to see from a municipal or state authority at any time. It should be possible to hold the administration accountable quite simply. But this completely disappeared from the school sector a few months ago.

The Swedish statistical authority suddenly realized that Swedish school statistics should be regarded as trade secrets and thus could not be disclosed or made available. This means that grades and other results from Swedish schools, the institution central to democracy, are now secret. This has upset many, but we do not yet see that this will lead to any major change in the system. Sweden is right now trading transparency for the right to make money on schools.

The contrast to Finland could not be greater, but instead the situation begins to resemble a completely different country. There is only one country that went down the same path as Sweden and that was Chile. Also introduced in Chile, albeit 10 years earlier, and as a result of the US-backed coup d’etat where a school system based on Milton Friedman’s ideas and directed by the so-called Chicago boys (University of Chicago, where Professor Friedman was based). Over time, the school system has also passed into private hands. School choice and school fees and a school market were also introduced there. Here, too, the gaps in the school system grew to finally explode a few years ago in student revolts that forced changes. The consequences of the neoliberal reforms simply became too serious and central elements of the market model are now reversed in Chile, such as the profit motive for running a school.

Despite all the consequences in Sweden which are clearly described also in Swedish governments’ own investigations, in PISA data, in other reports from the OECD and in research, and despite the fact that all teachers’ unions as well as school leaders’ unions agree that the system is not good, there is no real political will to create a change. A majority of parties in the Swedish parliament is for the current system. Why?

One of the answers is a bit up in this text. There are millions of reasons for the companies that make big money on the Swedish model to try to keep the system intact. What has been done in Sweden has not only created a school market but has also let in a completely different driving force in the debate about the school. The school has become an important place for the actors’ lobby organizations, think tanks and networking. They are not prepared to give up their golden calf without a fight. And as long as you have the children of the most influential parents in your schools, you also have no pressure from parents for change in a system that serves the majority worse than it did before.

For our Nordic neighbors, the Swedish situation is now a clear warning signal as to why market and school are not a good combination. In the control group, Finland, just a short boat ride away from Stockholm, children continue to mix in the same schools, being taught by motivated and well-trained teachers. For them, Sweden has become the deterrent example. The outside world needs to be aware that the companies that make money at Swedish schools want to see similar systems in other countries.

In the dark picture I drew, one must remember that Sweden is a relatively rich country. That all children are allowed to go to school, that there is a well-developed preschool, that very many children go on to higher education and so on. Compared to many school systems in the world, it works well, but compared to our Nordic neighbors, we are on a journey towards inequality, larger gaps and polarization, which worries me, teachers, school leaders and a large part of the population. Just recently, a lively debate is also taking place, where the priority of profit interests in the debate is questioned in editorials of right-wing newspapers. 

But it took a long time before we got there. The development, both in Sweden and Chile, is a strong warning to other countries not to go the same way.

For more information on how a Swedish school market was established, see Chapter 4 in Frank Adamson et al. (2016). Global Education Reform. How Privatization and Public Investment Influence Education Outcomes. New York. Routledge.

Per Kornhall, per@kornhall.sehttp://kornhall.net/styled-8/

James Hohmann reports that Guiliani received the same special treatment as Trump and was released from the hospital. Since he recovered so easily, he still opposes mask mandates.

Wednesday was one of the deadliest days in American history, as the coronavirus killed 3,140 people. This is 673 more Americans than the Japanese massacred in their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. It is more than twice the number of souls as perished aboard the Titanic.

In another record, 106,000 Americans are currently hospitalized with covid-19. President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is no longer among them. He flashed reporters a thumbs-up as he was driven away from MedStar Georgetown University Hospital at around 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

“Back 100% and lost little time,” Giuliani tweeted this morning.

The former New York mayor said he received remdesivir, dexamethasone and “exactly the same” treatment that Trump got in October when he was hospitalized, which the president has often credited for his speedy recovery.

“The minute I took the cocktail yesterday, I felt 100 percent better,” Giuliani said in a Tuesday afternoon interview with WABC, a New York talk radio station. “It works very quickly. Wow! … By the next morning, I felt like I was 10 years younger.”

As beds fill up, patients who need hospital care — for the virus or for something else — cannot get it. Many intensive care units are overwhelmed. More and more places face looming, life-and-death decisions about rationing care.

Giuliani himself acknowledged that he got “celebrity” treatment. He said the president’s doctor, apparently referring to White House physician Sean Conley, talked him into being admitted. “I didn’t really want to go to the hospital, and he said, ‘Don’t be stupid,’” Giuliani recounted. “We can get it over with in three days if we send you to the hospital.”

But the VIP treatment for Trump and his crew, including access to the best cocktails of experimental drugs, seems like an important part of the explanation for why the president and his inner-circle continue to speak so flippantly about the dangers of the virus that has now killed at least 288,000 Americans.

Just like Trump after he got out of Walter Reed in October, Giuliani emphasized during his talk-radio appearance that his four-day stay in the hospital has not changed his perspective about the virus or lessened his opposition to mask mandates. He expressed no contrition for his pattern of reckless behavior that forced the Arizona legislature to close for this week and public health officials in Michigan to encourage people who attended a state legislative hearing at which Giuliani spoke to self-quarantine. Giuliani even claimed that covid-19 is “a curable disease at this point.”

“I have exactly the same view,” he said. “I have also been through cancer. … Things happen in life. You have to go with them. You can’t overreact to them. Otherwise you let the fear of illness drive your entire life. … I’d rather face risk than live in a basement all my life.”

In this post, Bill Moyers conducts an important interview with investigative journalist Anne Nelson, who talks about her new book, SHADOW NETWORK: MEDIA, MONEY, AND THE SECRET HUB OF THE RADICAL RIGHT.

Read this and you will understand the dark forces that are undermining our democracy and our democratic institutions, including our public schools.

BILL MOYERS: Let me begin with the most current part of the story, which comes just a little bit after your book is published when the conservative movement is facing a very decisive encounter with the very forces it’s been trying to defeat now for 40 years. How do you think the shadow network reads the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court? What are they making of it?

ANNE NELSON: Well, I think that they consider it a great triumph and a kind of culmination of 40 years of effort. And I demure a bit at the term conservative because this is, for me, the radical right. It is so far to the right of mainstream American public opinion that I feel that it’s in a different category both in terms of its ideology and its tactics. But they decided way back in the day of Paul Weyrich, one of the architects of the movement that they–

BILL MOYERS: In the early 1970s, right?

ANNE NELSON: We’re going back to the ’70s and even earlier, because he was active on the Barry Goldwater campaign. And he was frustrated time and again by moderates in the Republican Party and people who were willing to work with Democrats to advance policy and solutions to public problems. And he created organizations and tactics that he openly declared should destroy the regime, as he called it, which would be the U.S. government as we’ve known it for the last century.

BILL MOYERS: Paul Weyrich is the man I remember saying–

PAUL WEYRICH: I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populous goes down.

BILL MOYERS: He was essentially saying, as a newly anointed leader of the religious right, what their philosophy was. The fewer people vote, the better their chance.

ANNE NELSON: That’s right. And from the beginning, in terms of their electoral tactics, it has been a matter of weaponizing certain churches and pastors and really exerting tremendous pressure on them to use churches as instruments of a radical right ideology. And then using similar tactics to suppress votes for Democrats, especially in key battleground states.

BILL MOYERS: So that’s why you conclude in your book they were to the right of the Republican Party. They were not just an offshoot of the Republican Party. They were not just fundraisers for the Republican Party, but they were ideologically and organizationally taking the Republican Party far to the right.

ANNE NELSON: Absolutely, and somewhat to my surprise, I found that their prototype was the Southern Baptist Convention, where they decided that in order to move it to the right, they had to use questionable tactics to elevate their supporters to key positions of influence and purge the Southern Baptist Convention of moderates in the seminaries and in the colleges and among the pastors. And it was a fairly ruthless process, and once these tactics were developed, they applied it to the Republican Party. And you had the same kind of tactics going on of purging moderates, some of whom had been in office for years.

BILL MOYERS: I should point out to some of our younger listeners and readers that the Southern Baptist Convention at the time and still today was the largest Protestant denomination in America. You know, something like it eventually reached 16 and a half million members scattered throughout the South and the West. We’ll come back to them in a moment. What do you think about the NEW YORK TIMES’ assessment that Amy Coney Barrett represents a new conservativism rooted in faith. That’s how their headline described a three-page portrait of her life and career. Does that make sense to you?

ANNE NELSON: Not entirely, because as a conservative Catholic, she follows in the footsteps of others such as Brett Kavanaugh and Antonin Scalia. So that’s not very new. And what I look at in my book SHADOW NETWORK is how these interlocking organizations support each other. The book is about the Council for National Policy– a radical right-wing organization that is very secretive, and it brings together big donors like the DeVos family and oil interests from Texas and Oklahoma and political operatives. And, for example, members include the leadership of the Federalist Society. Well, Amy Coney Barrett was a member of the Federalist Society for a number of years and is still a speaker at their events. It includes the head of Hillsdale College, which is one of their campus partners. Amy Coney Barrett was commencement speaker for Hillsdale College this year. So, there are all of these organizations that have been turning their wheels to promote her really for several years going back. She appeared on previous lists of potential nominees for the Supreme Court, and I don’t believe she would have been included in those lists had she not confirmed to their traditional idea of an activist judge.

BILL MOYERS: They knew what they were looking for.

ANNE NELSON: And I should add that one of the most powerful components in the Council for National Policy is the anti-abortion movement. Organizations such as the Susan B. Anthony List and Concerned Women for America and other interests, which are anti-environmentalist interests from the fossil fuels industry. So, I think that we’ve seen a roadmap of what to expect moving forward.

BILL MOYERS: Tell me, who does make up the Council for National Policy?

ANNE NELSON: So, the Council for National Policy has traditionally been around 400 members. From the beginning, it’s included people with big money, a lot of them from the Texas and Oklahoma oil industries, but also the DeVos family of Michigan from the Amway fortune, and Betsy DeVos, of course. So, it has the big money to pay for things. It’s got the leaders of so-called grassroots organizations. Now, I say so-called, because they do not spring from the grassroots the way that you would expect from the name. They are organized with a great deal of money from the top down. So, for example, the National Rifle Association– their leadership is part of the CNP. They get money from the donors, they organize their millions of members, and you combine these with the strategists and the media owners. And I spend a lot of time in my book talking about the power of fundamentalist and conservative radio in swing states. Things that people on the East Coast overlook to a terrible degree. And the same thing with fundamentalist broadcasting, which has really several of these broadcasters — the Christian Broadcasting Network, the Trinity Broadcasting Network have really turned into outlets replicating the messaging from this organization. So, you have them interlocking and interacting and each supporting each other’s function. And I should explain something here, which is that they represent historically a white, Protestant, I’m sorry, but male-dominated patriarchy–

BILL MOYERS: No, that’s okay.

ANNE NELSON: And I have to say that demographically its time has passed. The United States has become more diverse religiously, ethnically, and racially. And they recognize that their core positions are not supported by the majority of Americans. So, they went to the limit, pulled out all the stops to get Trump elected by a tiny margin, but they doubt that they can do that again. The signs are not good. What they can do is make their hold on the federal courts concrete through the Supreme Court, and therefore, get majorities in cases like gerrymandering, voter suppression, and their political activation of the churches with tax-exempt status. And further their hold on power through the courts.

BILL MOYERS: So which part of the shadow network do you think chose, mentored, and groomed Amy Coney Barrett for this moment?

ANNE NELSON: Well, I have to speculate here. But I would see a fairly straight line from her position to Leonard Leo’s. Now, Leonard Leo is a very conservative Catholic. He was the operational figure of the Federalist Society for a number of years, and recently he shifted from that position to an even more activist position. Amy Coney Barrett was already a member of the Federalist Society. The Federalist Society has a pipeline through the lower federal courts, which she benefited from. So, in terms of this Catholic interaction they would be quite close to each other. Another key figure is Carrie Severino, who is from the Judicial Crisis Network, which was co-founded by Leonard Leo. And again, very right-wing Catholics who have tended to be overlooked while people focus on the fundamentalist Protestants. But Ralph Reed, who has been somebody who’s been active with the fundamentalist politicization for decades declared openly years ago that the next step to their campaign was to enlist the Catholic vote. And they’ve been aggressively doing that in recent years.

BILL MOYERS: And then there’s Don McGahn who was for three years Donald Trump’s chief White House counsel, graduate of Notre Dame, admirer of Amy Coney Barrett, who was scouting himself for recruits to bring up, train, groom, and put into the mix for potential Supreme Court justices. And I read that he was highly enthusiastic about her, had talked to Leo and that they had you had both these White House and legal forces behind her, knowing that she was one of them.

[The interview continues. I urge you to open the link and read it in full to understand the secret network that is currently running the federal government and selecting justices for the Supreme Court.]