Archives for category: Supporting public schools

Katherine Stewart and I were invited by the Massachusetts Historical Society to discuss the assault on public schools by the religious right, libertarians, billionaires, and entrepreneurs.

Stewart is the author of an important new book called The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism.

Since Massachusetts was the birthplace of public schools, it was a fitting venue for our conversation.

Webinar recorded 30 September 2020 — Will Public Education Survive?: A Look at the Threats to Education Systems from Privatization and Religious Nationalism with Katherine Stewart and Diane Ravitch, New York University The rise of the Religious Right has coincided with the privatization movement in public schools. While some may feel that this is coincidental, there is reason to believe there is a directly causal relationship between these two factors. Two scholars, from different disciplines, will discuss how their work comes together to help explain the history and current state of efforts to diminish, if not dismantle, the American public education system. Katherine Stewart has written on the rise and increasing power of the Religious Right in her book The Power Worshipers. She will be joined by Diane Ravitch who has written extensively on education and, in her recent book Slaying Goliath, explores the history of the school privatization movement and the efforts to oppose it.

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NPE Action previously endorsed nine Senate candidates:

Mark Kelly-Arizona

Jon Ossoff-Georgia

Theresa Greenfield-Iowa

Barbara Bollier-Kansas

Amy McGrath-Kentucky

Sara Gideon-Maine

Steve Bullock-Montana

Cal Cunningham-North Carolina

Jaime Harrison-South Carolina

We endorse three more candidates for the United States Senate:

Doug Jones-Alabama

Gary Peters-Michigan

M.J. Hegar-Texas

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

Resseger writes:

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

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

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

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

Jan Resseger read Derek Black’s new book–a history of American public education by a constitutional lawyer–and loved it.

I read Black’s book and interviewed him on a Zoom about the book. I too loved it. Black makes clear that public education is the central American tradition, an idea envisioned by the Founding Fathers and realized over decades as an engine of our democracy. In a multicultural, diverse society, public schools bring students together from many backgrounds, to live and learn together.

Her review begins:

Derek Black’s stunning new book, School House Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy, threads together a history that has rarely been collected in one volume. Black, a professor of constitutional law at the University of South Carolina, presents the history of an idea first articulated in the Northwest Ordinances of 1785 and 1787, threatened again and again throughout our nation’s history but persistently revived and reanimated: that a system of public education is the one institution most essential for our democratic society. And, while the specific language defining a public education as each child’s fundamental right is absent from the U.S. Constitution, the guarantee of that right is embedded in the nation’s other founding documents, in the history of Reconstruction that followed the Civil War, in the second Reconstruction during the Civil Rights Movement, and in every one of the state constitutions.

Today’s post will skim the history as Derek Black presents it; on Wednesday, this blog will explore how Black believes both public education and democracy are threatened today.

While the U.S. Constitution never formally names public education as the nation’s fundamental and necessary institution, the provision for public education is the centerpiece of the Northwest Ordinances of 1785 and 1787: “The Ordinances, and education’s role in them, however, cannot be so easily dismissed. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 is one of the most significant legal documents in our nation’s history and the current United States Code treats it as such… In many important ways, the history and effect of the Constitution and the Ordinances are inseparable. First, the documents were passed by many of the same people… Second, the Northwest Ordinance’s substance is a constitutional charter of sorts. Practically speaking, it established the foundational structure for the nation to grow and organize itself for the next two centuries. Precise rules for dividing up the land, developing the nation’s vast territories, and detailing the path that these territories would follow to become states are not the work of everyday legislation. They are the work of a national charter.” (Schoolhouse Burning, pp. 64-65). “The 1785 Ordinance specified how every square inch of the territories would be divided into counties and towns. Every new town had to set aside one-ninth of its land and one-third of its natural resources for the financial support of education. And every town had to reserve one of its lots for the operation of a public school.” (Schoolhouse Burning, p. 62) The Northwest Ordinances named the urgent purpose of public education and prescribed a means of funding the schools.

Jumping way ahead to the early 1970s, after President Richard Nixon replaced Chief Justice Earl Warren with Chief Justice Warren Burger and the U.S. Supreme Court moved away from the principles embodied in Brown v. Board of Education, Black describes the significance of San Antonio v. Rodriguez, the U.S. Supreme Court case which declared that because the U.S. Constitution itself does not explicitly protect the right to public education, public schooling is not a fundamental right. Black believes the founding documents should be read to include the Northwest Ordinances and that the fundamental role of education is further affirmed through our nation’s troubled history: “(I)f you asked modern legal scholars whether education is a fundamental right protected by the federal Constitution, they would tell you no, and they would be correct in one sense. The United States Supreme Court (in a 5-4 decision) refused to recognize education as a fundamental right in 1972, reasoning that the Constitution neither explicitly nor implicitly protects education. The Court feared that nothing distinguished education from the various other things that are important in life, like food and shelter. The foregoing history, however, reveals that education is far different than anything else government might offer its citizens (other than the right to vote). The nation’s very concept of government is premised on an educated citizenry. From its infancy, the United States has sought to distinguish itself with education. More particularly, education has been the tool though which the nation has sought to perfect its democratic ideas.” (Schoolhouse Burning, p. 133)

And she continues:

I hope you will read Derek Black’s new book, for these comments merely skim the surface of his fascinating history of the American idea of public education. As he concludes his history, Black summarizes the book’s thesis: “The foregoing principles—the right to an adequate and equal education, making education the state’s absolute and foremost duty, requiring states to exert the necessary effort (financial or otherwise) to provide quality educational access, placing education above normal politics, and expecting courts to serve as a check—are all in the service of something larger: the original idea that education is the foundation of our constitutional democracy. Education is the means by which citizens preserve their other rights. Education gives citizens the tools they need to hold their political leaders accountable… Democracy simply does not work well without educated citizens.” (Schoolhouse Burning, p. 224) Black reminds us, however: “The founders articulated educational goals not with any certainty that they would spring into reality simply by writing them down, but in the hope that we might one day live into them.” (Schoolhouse Burning, p 71)

Jan Resseger describes a grassroots effort to stave off the persistent assaults on public schools by the Republican-controlled legislature and state officials. Ohio has a large and low-performing charter sector, as well as a well-funded voucher sector that has produced no gains for students.

The privatization movement has harmed the public schools that most students attend without providing better schools. While the nation has struggled to survive the pandemic, Ohio’s legislators have remained focused on expanding their failed choice plans.

Resseger describes the work of the Northeast Ohio Friends of PublicEducation and their decision to create a website to educate the public.

Resseger writes:

In this leaderless situation with schools struggling everywhere, no matter their efforts to prepare, questions of policy have just sort of faded away—except that the privatizers are doggedly trying to co-opt the chaos in every way they can. In Ohio, the Legislature has taken advantage of the time while the public is distracted by COVID-19 to explode the number of EdChoice vouchers for private schools at the expense of public school district budgets, to neglect to address the injustices of our state’s punitive, autocratic state takeovers of the public schools in Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland, and to put off for over a year discussion of a proposed plan to fix a state school funding formula so broken that 503 of the state’s 610 school districts (80 percent) have fallen off a grossly under-funded old formula.

In recent years, most Ohio school districts have been getting exactly as much state funding as they got last year and the year before that and the year before that even if their overall enrollment has increased, the number poor children has risen, or the number of special education students has grown. And all this got even worse under the current two-year state budget, in which school funding was simply frozen for every school district at the amount allocated in fiscal year 2019. That is until this past June, when, due to the revenue shortage caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Governor cut an additional $330 million from the money already budgeted for public schools in the fiscal year that ended June 30, thus forcing school districts to reduce their own budgets below what they had been promised. With much hoopla in the spring of 2019, the new Cupp-Patterson school funding plan was proposed. A year ago, however, research indicated (see here and here) that—partly thanks to the past decade of tax cuts in Ohio and partly due to problems in the new distribution formula itself—the new school funding proposal failed to help the state’s poorest schools districts. The analysis said that a lot of work would be required to make the plan equitable. New hearings are planned this fall, but nobody has yet reported on whether or how the Cupp-Patterson Plan has been readjusted.

In this context, discussions in the Northeast Ohio Friends of Public Education focused on our need to help ourselves and the citizens in our school districts find our way. What are the big issues? What information will help us explore and advocate effectively for policies that will ensure our schools are funded adequately and that funding is distributed equitably? In Ohio, how can we effectively push the Legislature to collect enough revenue to be able to fund the state’s 610 school districts without dumping the entire burden onto local school districts passing voted property tax levies? How can we help stop what feels like a privatization juggernaut in the Ohio Legislature? And how can federal policy be made to invest in and help the nation’s most vulnerable public schools?

The idea of a website emerged, with the idea of highlighting four core principles—with a cache of information in each section: Why Public Schools? Why More School Funding? Why Not Privatization? and Why Educational Equity? Although we have noticed that much public school advocacy these days emphasizes what public school supporters are against, we decided to frame our website instead about what we stand for as “friends of public education” even though our opposition to charter schools and private school tuition vouchers is evident in our website.

Educating the public is a crucial step in reclaiming the narrative from entrepreneurs, libertarians, and cultural vandals.

Please join me on September 23 at 7 pm EST as I talk with Derek Black about his terrific new book, Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy. The discussion is sponsored by the Network for Public Education. Derek Black is a professor of law at the University of South Carolina who specializes in civil rights law. Hos excellent scholarship demonstrates that the Founding Fathers wanted a free and universal public school system for the new nation. Those now attacking it are vandals!

Nancy Bailey writes that the best way to fire Betsy DeVos is to vote for Biden and Harris.

She writes:

If you’re Democrat or Republican, and you care about public education, vote for V.P. Joe Biden to remove Education Secretary Betsy DeVos from the U.S. Department of Education! Four more years of Betsy DeVos means the end of public education.

With a President Biden, public schools have a chance of surviving. With a President Trump, they don’t. It’s as simple as that.

You may be thinking, Democratic leadership has failed public education in the past. Many were disappointed in the Obama administration’s Race to the Top.

Once there’s a President Biden, the country can remind him of this. But the odds of losing our schools with a President Biden is less of a worry now than leaving DeVos in her perch at the U.S. Department of Education.

There are dozens of reasons to check the Biden/Harris ticket. Public schools affect every other issue on the ballot, every issue we face as a nation. Democratic public schools are the backbone of the nation.

She goes on to explain why we all should be worried about the damage Trump and DeVos can do if given four more years to transfer public funds to non-public schools.

Emily Harris teaches A.P. U.S. History at Will Rogers High School in Tulsa. She writes here about her faith in the public schools. She is concerned that some students have enrolled in the EPIC virtual charter school, which has a horrible record and operates for profit.

I am a teacher at Will Rogers High School. My husband, John, is a teacher at Nathan Hale High School. We are proud our 1-year-old son, Andrew, will become a fourth-generation Tulsa Public Schools student. As generations of our family have done before us, we will choose Tulsa Public Schools. My grandmother is a Central Brave. My father-in-law is a Will Rogers Roper. My mother is a Hale Ranger. My father, husband, sisters and I are Edison Eagles.

Our public schools are part of the fabric of what makes us Tulsans. Many of you reading this can say the same about your family. These schools have history. They have tradition. They have proud alumni. We cannot give up on them.

Tulsa Public Schools began the 2019-2020 school year planning for a $20 million budget shortfall caused by years of improper state funding and declining enrollment. Despite more than a decade of underfunding, many Tulsa Public Schools teachers have persisted in challenging working conditions. These teachers know what it is like to face obstacles and overcome them for hope that all students will reach their full potential. Tulsa Public Schools teachers will carry the same tenacity and spirit of optimism with them as they take on the challenges presented to them this school year.

The Tulsa Public Schools of my parents’ generation did not have to compete for students with suburban districts and online charter schools. Recent reports show that Epic, an all virtual charter school founded in 2011, is seeing a recent surge in enrollment. It has now surpassed Oklahoma City and Tulsa to become our state’s largest school district. Epic Charter Schools may sound like an appealing option to parents in the short term, but data from an Oklahoma Watch investigation in 2019 showed that only 14.7% of Epic graduates enrolled in an Oklahoma public college or university compared to 43.6% of Tulsa Public Schools graduates. This is concerning as it points to the assumption that Epic’s model is more about compliance to meet graduation standards rather than preparation for a student’s life beyond K-12 education.

Epic is contributing to declining enrollment in Tulsa Public Schools. The result is critical state funding being siphoned away from traditional public schools. Unlike Tulsa Public Schools, Epic is a statewide school district, and does not serve as a pillar of our community. When our community supports Tulsa Public Schools, they are undoubtedly making a worthwhile investment in the future of Tulsa….

Here’s what I do know for certain: I will spend each day working in my empty classroom on the fourth floor of Will Rogers High School. I will do my best with technology to teach American history and serve Tulsa students from a distance. I will work with my talented colleagues to collaborate and come up with creative solutions to challenging and unprecedented issues. We will carry with us a mindset to serve students first.

I choose Tulsa Public Schools, and I will continue to serve Tulsa students for many years ahead. The possibility of a truly equitable Tulsa community for all depends on your support of our public school system. I assure you, my students’ hopes and dreams are worth it. Teachers cannot wait for the day when we get to see our students in person. Until then, I ask that you please have faith in teachers. Have faith in Tulsa Public Schools.

Jan Resseger points out the contrast between the two major parties’s treatment of public schools. Trump treats them as a babysitting service. Joe Biden’s wife Jill gave her Convention speech from a high school where she was a teacher. Trump and DeVos pledge to defund them. Biden and Harris pledge a massive infusion of funding. Trump pledges four more years of massive neglect. Biden and Harris pledge respect.

Johann Neem, historian of education at Western Washington University, wrote an article in USA Today about the threat that COVID-19 poses to the future of public education. Affluent parents, he notes, are making their own arrangements. Some have created “learning pods” and hired their own teachers. Others will send their children to private schools, which have the resources to respond nimbly to the crisis. He recounts the early history of public schools and points out that they became essential as they served an ever-growing share of the community’s children.

Neem writes that the increase in the number of charter schools and vouchers, as well as Betsy DeVos’s relentless promotion of charters and vouchers, has already eroded the stature of public schools.

He warns:

We are at a moment of reckoning. The last time public schools were closed was when Southern states sought to avoid integration. The goal then was to sustain racial inequality. Even if today the aim is not racist, in a system already rife with economic and racial inequality, if families with resources invest more in themselves rather than share time and money in common institutions, the quality of public education for less privileged Americans, many of whom are racial minorities, will deteriorate.

His warnings are timely. Others warn that home schooling will increase so long as pinprick schools stay closed or rely on remote learning.

But there is another possibility: Eventually, schools will open for full-time, in-person instruction, when it is safe to do so.

How many parents will continue home schooling when their children can attend a real school with experienced teachers and a full curriculum and roster of activities? How many parents will pay $25,000 or more for each child when an equivalent education is available in the local public school for free? At present, only 6% send their children to charter schools. How likely is that to increase when new charters close almost as often as they open?
How many parents want vouchers for subpar religious schools, when only a tiny percentage chose them before the pandemic?

My advice: Don’t panic. Take care of the children, their families, and school staff. Fight for funding to make our public schools better than ever. After the pandemic, they will still be the best choice because they have the best teachers and the most children.