Archives for category: Supporting 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.

Two of the nation’s leading education experts ponder the implications of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Espinoza decision. Bruce D. Baker of Rutgers University is a school finance expert. Preston C. Green III of the University of Connecticut specializes in education law.

I confess that I was relieved that the Espinoza decision was limited in scope. I was afraid that the religious zealots on the Court might sweep away all barriers to public funding of religious schools. It did not. But Baker and Green persuade me that I was wrong, that Espinoza was another step towards breaking down the Wall of Separation between church and state and should be viewed with alarm.

I urge you to read their analysis of where we are going, how it involves not only vouchers but charter schools, and what states must do to protect public schools.

Donald Cohen of “In the Public Interest” writes that the pandemic reminds the public of the importance and value of public schools. They serve the entire community. They are public, and they belong to the public, not to corporate chains or entrepreneurs.

He writes:

The worst of the COVID-19 outbreak is likely yet to come. But it’s worth taking a moment to think about why it took so long to close the nation’s public schools.

School districts nationwide finally began to close brick and mortar schools at the end of the second week of March, a full week after many college and universities sent students home.

Students, teachers, and parents are now embarking on the largest experiment in online instruction this country has ever seen—and many important questions remain. Will there still be standardized testing? What about kids who don’t have reliable internet access? How will districts ensure data privacy for students and families?

Another question: why’d it take so long to begin the experiment?

It’s simple. Public schools are public goods. They provide basic educational, social, emotional, and even physical needs to not only students and families but also entire communities. Closing them has effects that ripple out beyond school doors. As Erica Green wrote in the New York Times, mass school closings could “upend entire cities.”

Just look at the numbers:

The nation’s public school system serves more than 50 million students, many of whom have parents who work and need childcare during the day.

The federal National School Lunch Program serves food to over 30 million kids annually. Many families rely on school to feed their children meals throughout the school year.

There are more than 3.1 million public school teachers, many of whom are already struggling to get by. Teachers, paraprofessionals, front office workers, bus drivers, janitors, and other school staff rely on public school jobs to make ends meet.

But perhaps most importantly, public schools provide kids with the opportunity to learn alongside their peers. Schools are where the community comes together to learn and grow regardless of skin color, income level, sexual orientation, or any other difference.

Only public institutions—not private markets—can make sure that these basic needs are available to everyone.

The next few days, weeks, and months are uncertain, but one thing’s for sure: we’ll be learning how much public schools really matter to all of us. Some—teachers, administrators, and school staff—already know how important they are…

The Network for Public Education is compiling stories of how the public school community is serving the nation during the outbreak.

Public schools matter because we all benefit from them regardless of whether we have a kid in school. Public schools matter because they’re public goods.

The global coronavirus pandemic reminds us of the importance and value of strong, effective public institutions. We are all in this together. “Everyone for himself” is a recipe for disaster. None of us can solve the problems on our own. The only way to address the disease is by collective action and public leadership.

The widespread closure of schools has made parents and communities aware of the crucial importance of these institutions.

Donald Cohen of the nonpartisan “In the Public Interest” asks why school districts were reluctant to close the schools.

He answers:

It’s simple. Public schools are public goods. They provide basic educational, social, emotional, and even physical needs to not only students and families but also entire communities. Closing them has effects that ripple out beyond school doors. As Erica Green wrote in the New York Times, mass school closings could “upend entire cities.”

Just look at the numbers:

The nation’s public school system serves more than 50 million students, many of whom have parents who work and need childcare during the day.

The federal National School Lunch Program serves food to over 30 million kids annually. Many families rely on school to feed their children meals throughout the school year.

There are more than 3.1 million public school teachers, many of whom are already struggling to get by. Teachers, paraprofessionals, front office workers, bus drivers, janitors, and other school staff rely on public school jobs to make ends meet.

But perhaps most importantly, public schools provide kids with the opportunity to learn alongside their peers. Schools are where the community comes together to learn and grow regardless of skin color, income level, sexual orientation, or any other difference.

Only public institutions—not private markets—can make sure that these basic needs are available to everyone.

The next few days, weeks, and months are uncertain, but one thing’s for sure: we’ll be learning how much public schools really matter to all of us. Some—teachers, administrators, and school staff—already know how important they are.

Stuart Egan, an NBCT high school teacher in North Carolina, reminds us of why teachers protested last year and how the elected officials responded (mostly with silence).

Fortunately, the people of North Carolina have a chance to change the state’s direction by electing a genuine and experience advocate for public education as state superintendent: Jen Mangrum won the Democratic nomination and she will campaign vigorously to restore the state’s once-esteemed public schools as great places for students and teachers and communities.

If you live in North Carolina and you are tired of politicians tearing down the public schools and shifting public money to entrepreneurs and religious schools, vote for Jen Mangrum in November.

Nancy Bailey wisely explains the lesson of the current emergency and boils it down to this fact:

Online learning can never replace human teachers and support staff.

Parents who are staying home with their children have taken to Twitter to express their admiration for teachers. “How do teachers do this all day with 30 children,” they wonder.

Be sure to open her post and check out the links as well as the stuff I did not include here.

Bailey worries that the Ed-tech industry is zooming in to search for profits.

“While Covid-19 is of utmost concern, parents and educators, who’ve worried about the replacement of brick-and-mortar schools and teachers with anytime, anyplace, online instruction, wonder what this pandemic will mean to public education long term. Will this disaster be used to end public schools, replacing instruction with online competency-based learning?

”We’re reminded of disaster capitalism, a concept highlighted by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, how Katrina was used in New Orleans to convert traditional public schools to charter schools. Within nineteen months, with most of the city’s poor residents still in exile, New Orleans’ public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools. (p. 5-6). Who thought that could happen?

”The transitioning of technology into public schools, not simply as a supplemental tool for teachers to use at their discretion, but as a transformative means to remove teachers from the equation, has been highlighted with groups like Digital Promise and KnowledgeWorks. Both promote online learning and it’s difficult to find teachers in the mix.

”Combining this with the intentional defunding of public schools, shoddy treatment of teachers including the unwillingness to pay them appropriate salaries, inadequate resources and support staff, crumbling buildings, and the destruction of public schooling in America, should we not question what placing students online at this strange time will mean in the future to our schools?

The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of brick-and-mortar public schools, she writes.

“In “Coronavirus Has Shown Us the Vital Role Schools Play, But Will America Listen?” Glenda Cohen outlines how parents and the nation need public schools for survival. I have added some additional services and citations.

“Public schools are on the frontline fighting against childhood hunger. According to a CNBC report: Each day, the National School Lunch Program serves over 30 million children. The fact that many children will go hungry without their public school should give us pause.

“Students rely on school counseling. Students rely on school counselors for support.

“Parents need childcare so they can work. Working parents need schools to take care of their children so they can work. When schools close, parents are unable to do their jobs. This has a negative effect on the overall economy.

“Schools provide homeless children with stability. As Cohen points out, many homeless children rely on public schools. U.S. News and World Report claims 1.36 million students in the 2016-17 school year were homeless.

“Students with disabilities need accommodations and services. Most guidelines indicate that during the Covid-19 crisis, students with disabilities must have access to the same services as students without disabilities, but this leaves out accommodations that address the differences. Here are questions and answers from the Department of Education. How will students with autism, ADHD, and many other disabilities get the services they need?

“Shortcomings of Online Instruction

“Many children don’t have access to Broadband. Nearly 12 million children, many living in rural settings, lack access to an Internet connections. While ed-tech enthusiasts will claim it’s a matter of time before everyone has Broadband, looking for funding to do so indicates it will take time for this to occur.

“What happens with student privacy and information? Parents already worry about their child’s online personal identifiable information when they work online at school. How is a student’s online information protected when they work online at home during a public heath crisis? Here’s information about Covid-19 and FERPA.

“Socialization is missing. Speaking to someone on a screen is better than nothing, but it’s still isolating.

“Students work online alone. Many students need guidance and might not be able to focus on screens.
Children enjoy social gatherings that schools provide. The Covid-19 virus has left students agonizing over the field trips and school social events that they will miss, that cannot take place online.
How good is the instruction? There’s no research to show that working only online is better than teacher instruction.

“Parents have to supervise their children. Usually parents have to monitor their student’s work and make sure they stay on task.

“Teachers Are Loved and Respected.

“A college student whose classes were cancelled and switched to online stated they would miss their teacher who had provided extra help and whose class everyone enjoyed.

“Teachers have been the unsung heroes during this Covid-19 crisis. They have struggled the last few weeks to take care of their students, cleaning and disinfecting their classes due to an overwhelmed custodial staff, along with keeping students calm, comforting confused children and teens.

Now they struggle to go online to provide lessons from home. As blogger Nancy Flanagan notes in “Once Again Teachers are First Responders:”

“Keeping a functional learning community together is job #1. Meaning: every child, K-12, who is out of school involuntarily, knows for sure that the adults who have been his/her teachers, playground supervisors or joke-around buddies in the hallway, still care. Staying connected and checking in matter much more than reviewing fractions or watching a dissection video.

“Online learning can never adequately replace public schools and teachers. In such a desperate time, closing public schools due to this pandemic is showing Americans how reliant we are upon those schools to fulfill, not just an educational purpose, but the real social and emotional needs of children and families.

“We’re left with stark revelations about this country’s shortcomings, while at the same time we witness the heroism of teachers and staff who care for all children at this dark time. It is that caring and love that have always been the hallmark of what teaching and public schools have been all about. It is and will continue to be what saves public education and the teaching profession.

“This crisis will not throw students into a future of nothing but online learning. It will instead remind parents and students of how much their public schools and teachers mean to them.

“Or, as American television producer, television and film writer, and author @shondarhimes lamented on Twitter: been homeschooling a 6-year old and 8-year old for one hour and 11 minutes. Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week.

“We must have hope for the future, hope for our democracy, and the great and enduring role of teachers and brick-and-mortar schools, which are temporarily closed.”

I confess that I was very disappointed by the review of my new book in the New York Times. The reviewer thought that I should have presented “both sides,” not argued on behalf of public schools, which enroll 85-90% of American children. If we starve the public schools that enroll most children, we harm them and the future of our society. I debated whether to respond on this blog but then decided against it. Sometimes it is best to remain silent.

Happily, Neil Kulick, a teacher, critiqued the review. He posted his comment here.

Thank you, Neil!

He writes:

Your new book gives public school teachers (like me) hope. You are truly our champion. Thank you.

A while back, I read the review of “Slaying Goliath” in the NY Times. I did not quite like the review. Here is my reply to it:

Readers of Annie Murphy Paul’s review of Diane Ravitch’s “Slaying Goliath” (in the February 2 NYT Book Review) can be forgiven for thinking that Professor Ravitch has lost her way and written a book in which she exults in the failures of all who are interested in strengthening our public schools.

In fact, “Slaying Goliath” is a work of meticulous scholarship that chronicles the failure of every single “reform” in recent decades, most of them market-based (as if children or their teachers were commodities, or schools factories) and virtually all funded by billionaires who know little about teaching and learning but are glad to call the shots when it comes to our schools. Professor Ravitch is not against reform but rather the particular set of “reforms” that have been foisted on our public schools and our teachers and students, including so-called merit pay and the oddity of evaluating teachers based on their students’ test scores. Her book ends with a call for genuine reform, which would require adequately funding our public schools so that they have a fair chance of educating a population that includes so many children born into poverty and who come to school already behind and lacking the supports at home of their more affluent peers. It would also require funding programs to support impoverished families. Our public schools are not broken; our society is.

Professor Ravitch accurately terms those who push (and, astonishingly, continue to push) for these failed reforms “disrupters,” because the purpose or effect of their actions is to undermine the very institution of the public school. And yes, Professor Ravitch does name names. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, for one, is not an advocate of public schools. Rather she favors “choice,” as if that were an end in itself. But that choice does not include a well-funded public school for every child, though if Secretary DeVos had her way it would include a charter school. Charter schools, unfortunately, are generally no better than public schools, and some are militaristic, so that students learn not to question but to obey. Nor are charters known for serving the needs of children with learning disabilities or who have emotional or behavioral problems or for whom English is not their first language. They do, however, succeed in draining money from public schools.

Ultimately, Professor Ravitch is optimistic, believing that today’s “reformers” will inevitably lose, despite their vast wealth, because the “resisters” — parents and grandparents, schoolchildren, and their teachers — are multitudinous and motivated by passion. And they cannot be bought. As a public school teacher, I hope Professor Ravitch is right.

Some might wonder why public schools matter. Apart from the fact that the vast majority of American schoolchildren attend them, public schools are our best hope for a flourishing democracy. In public schools, children from diverse backgrounds come together as one community. They learn together, and they learn from each other. John Dewey understood how essential public schools are to our way of life: “A democracy,” he wrote, “is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience.”* It is just this “conjoint communicated experience” that public schools afford.

Donald Cohen, executive director of “In the Public Interest,” explains a new direction that the organization will take. Not just to say that privatization is bad public policy, but to explain why the public sector can be more efficient and effective at the things it does best. In education, we have seen how privatization exacerbates segregation by race, religion, and social class; we have also seen how it opens the public purse to exploitation by profiteers and grifters who take advantage of public money without public accountability.

He writes:

 

 

 

Over the last ten years, In the Public Interest has educated organizations, leaders, and journalists nationwide about the perils of privatization—how private interests are increasingly gaining control over vital public goods.

We’re going to continue to do that. But we’re also going to start showing what public control over public goods means and looks like—both a governing vision and practical examples from across the country.

Like Kansas City, Missouri, making public transit free for all. Or the Puerto Rican public school that assigned a social worker to every student. Or the small Florida town that opened its own grocery store.

Becoming “pro-public” means a few things:

  • Reclaiming the ideal of the public in a free, democratic society.
  • Arguing that there are market things and public things. They’re different things, like apples and oranges.
  • Ensuring public goods have adequate resources—a more progressive tax system is a must.

So, what are we actually going to do? 

We’ll continue to help build a pro-public movement that can effectively compete to govern in a way that puts public over private and creates public institutions that deliver on that promise.

Everything we do—our research, writings, trainings, policy work—will be oriented towards creating a larger, more inclusive, educated, connected, and active movement competing to govern across the country.

We’ll create tools and conduct training for leaders, organizers, and activists to fully use the tools and powers of governance.

We’ll develop and support new rules and revenue generators to expand access to public goods, rebalance economic power, and eliminate the corrupting influences of money in democracy.

We’ll lift up good things government does and has done—there’s plenty of that too.

And, of course, we’ll do everything we can to stop the spread of reckless privatization schemes.

Stay tuned. And send us ideas: info@inthepublicinterest.org

Read more about our shift to becoming a “pro-public” organization here.

Thanks for being in the fight with us,

Donald Cohen
Executive Director
In the Public Interest