Archives for category: Supporting public schools

For those of us who are nervous about what President-Elect Biden will do in education, specifically, whether he will revive the failed ideas of Race to the Top, this interview should be comforting. It is a report on a webinar in which Stef Feldman, Biden’s national policy director, spoke to members of the Education Writers Association. It was reported by Erik Robelin in Education Week.

There are many different topics addressed.

This is what she said about charter schools:

“As President, Biden will ban for-profit charter schools from receiving federal funding because he just fundamentally believes that if they aren’t doing right by their students, no one should be getting rich by taking advantage of our kids. He will also, for nonprofit charters, Biden will make sure that we stop funding for charter schools that don’t provide results. Biden believes we shouldn’t be wasting the scarce resources that our public schools need so badly. And we’ll require every charter school, including online schools, to be authorized and held accountable by democratically-elected bodies like school boards and also hold to the same standards of transparency and accountability as all public schools. That means things like regular public board meetings and meeting all the same civil rights, employment, health, labor, safety and educator requirements that public schools must. That’s the fundamental premise of the vice president’s belief that every child, regardless of zip code or parent’s income, race or disability, should have equal access to a high-quality public neighborhood education in their school.”

[Asked to define what “results” charters would need to demonstrate, Feldman said “that would be an important priority for a Biden/Harris Department of Education at the beginning of an administration to figure out some rules to set standards that would measure that.”]

“Vice President Biden doesn’t think that we need to do away with all charter schools. He absolutely wants to support our traditional public schools. But … he feels that the way in which he has designed his policy will allow for charter schools that are delivering results to continue, while also making sure that our funding is focused on our traditional neighborhood public schools.”

On the subject of turning around low-performing schools:

“The first step is to make sure that we are providing these schools with the resources they need to provide a high-quality education to our students. Many times, Title I schools are disproportionately serving students who come from low-income communities. And the schools themselves are under-resourced. Oftentimes, they do not have the basic funding needed to make sure that you have enough teachers, to make sure you have school supplies. … These are schools where they probably have no mental health provider. … They might not even have a school nurse.” 

You can watch the video and see the whole interview.

Mitchell Robinson, a professor at Michigan State University, has advice for state Democratic parties about their message to voters. He suggests what they need to do to attract new voters and turn red legislatures blue. Two big ideas: expand internet access and promote public education, K-16.

He begins:

1. Better, more affordable access to broadband internet service

In a digital age, access to fast, secure internet service is not only a basic human need–akin to utilities like electricity, water, and gas/oil–but it’s a requirement for candidates building a digital campaign infrastructure. Not being able to reliably connect to persons in remote areas of your state, or to those who live in urban areas plagued by internet deserts, severely hampers the ability to convey a candidate’s or party’s message, policy beliefs, or positions on issues. It also leaves persons without reliable internet access to the mercies of our information sources like Fox News or the Detroit News–meaning that they are less informed than someone with no media access at all.

2. Improve support for public education, including community colleges and state universities

One of the single largest predictors of voting patterns is the level of education among a group of potential voters. In general, the more educated a person is, the more likely that person is to vote, and to vote for Democratic candidates. Areas and states with a lower percentage of college-educated voters tend to vote Republican, and more educated areas tend to vote for Democrats. It just stands to reason that increasing the number of college-educated voters would lead to a more Democratic populace.

At the same time, the concerted attacks on public institutions under Republicans have decimated public schools in both our largest cities and the most sparsely populated regions in the country. Aside from race and ethnicity, the demographics and socio-economic issues in cities and rural areas are surprisingly similar–including the damage that has been done by Republican and neoliberal ed reform policies to students, teachers, and schools in both urban and rural communities.

  • Imagine a Democratic platform that features free community college tuition and affordable access to state colleges and universities, and a return to the kind of financial support from state legislatures that was common as recently as the late 1970s.

Open the link and read his other strong ideas to change the political dynamic.

A few days ago, I spoke to a statewide group of public education advocates in Texas, brought together by my friends at Pastors for Texas Children.

For some reason, Texas is ground-zero for the charter industry right now. Betsy DeVos has given over $250 million to the IDEA charter chain (the one that wanted to lease a private jet for its executives, and she recently gave $100 million to the State Commissioner Mike Morath to expand charter schools. Morath was in business; he was never an educator. Businessmen like competition; educators know that competition belongs on the sports field and is not a way to improve schools.

I did my due diligence comparing charter schools to public schools in Texas and this is what I found: charter schools have lower test scores than public schools; charter schools have lower graduation rates than public schools; charter school graduates enter college with lower GPAs than public schools; charters have no effect on test scores and a negative effect on earnings after school. All of these articles and studies were published on my blog.

So, why, I wondered are billionaires like John Walton, Tim Dunn, the Waltons, and DeVos expanding this low-performing sector? What smart businessman would continue to pour money into a failing enterprise?

Public schools are better than charter schools by every measure, but they are underfunded. The Legislature cut the school budget by $5.4 billion in 2011 and has still not restored that funding, even though enrollment has grown.

If competition worked, Milwaukee and Detroit would be the best districts in the nation. Milwaukee has had vouchers and charters for more than 20 years. Sadly, all three sectors perform about the same, and Milwaukee is one of the lowest performing districts in the nation.

I asked the Texas audience whether it would make sense to fund two or three different police or fire departments in the same community. Would that improve their performance? Of course not! It would be a duplication and triplication and would be wasteful. I remembered that in the early 19th century, New York City had multiple fire departments. They would race to the scene of the fire, then fight each other for the right to fight the fire while the buildings burned down.

The Pastors for Texas Children turned these thoughts into a delightful article.

Public schools are a public service. They should be properly funded because they are creating the future. The teachers of Texas and every other state are developing their future leaders and citizens. They are heroes and should be respected and professionally compensated.

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

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

The authors write:

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

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

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

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

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

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.

URL

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!