Search results for: "legislatures"

Denis Smith worked for many years in the Ohio State Department of Education, finishing his career in the Office of Charter Schools. He writes in the Ohio Capital Journal about the existential threat posed to our democracy and our society by the privatization of public schools. His advice: Be careful what you wish for.

In the last few months, Americans have witnessed a series of assaults by the political right on key parts of the bedrock principles of democracy. Those attacks include new restrictions on voting rights in more than half of the states, the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by thousands of insurrectionists, and most recently, clear evidence that the former president pressured the top leadership of the Justice Department to help him overturn the 2020 election results.

Certainly these scary developments are newsworthy and have garnered banner headlines and filled airtime on the evening news. But these high-profile assaults on our democracy have served to obscure another, perhaps even more serious threat, an added variant and supplement to the seditious behavior of insurrectionists and a twice-impeached president who encouraged their assault on democracy.

In the midst of the chaos caused by angry militia types working to keep in power a rogue administration, and being mindful of the distraction these events have caused, it’s past time to get educated about the future viability of public education.

While the U.S. Capitol was placed under assault some months ago, public education has been targeted for forty years, when Ronald Reagan signaled his followers that the public sector was undesirable and that private enterprise was always preferable in the nation. His attitude was immortalized in his remark that “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”

This observation has been interpreted by the right as a command from Reagan himself to privatize about everything in the public sector — except the military — as part on an ideology which holds that a private enterprise is always preferable to a public function. That thinking has morphed into a crusade to destroy perhaps the most recognized and common artifact in any community: the public school.

Individual liberty v. community responsibility

For those who know this institution’s place in American history, the terms public school and common school are used interchangeably, and the leading proponent who believed that every community should offer a program of education was Horace Mann, considered the father of American public education. In his role as the first commissioner of education in Massachusetts, Mann believed that “education should be free and universal, nonsectarian, democratic in method, and reliant on well-trained professional teachers.”

As Mann’s nineteenth-century idea of the common school spread across the new American Republic, in villages, small towns and cities where a community’s shared and accepted values were honored and embraced, the little red schoolhouse became an icon, the force that helped to mold the very idea of community.

That was the America we recognized until several decades ago.

Today, attacks by insurrectionists attired in their cammies and state legislators dressed in business suits are hard at work to undermine that very sense of community, of place. Instead of embracing the idea of place, the community and its schools which educated generation after generation, those same legislators mumble vaguely about something they call “socialism” or “government schools” and instead espouse something else called “educational choice.”

That word choice, used often in the same sentence with freedom, serves as the anti-government elixir peddled by legislators to further encourage insurrectionists and religious zealots who do not accept the idea of community – and its public or common schools.

And with the frequent use by the right of such terms as choice, freedom, and liberty, that tattered social fabric we should be concerned about is worn down even more.

Indeed, words – particularly those three – have consequences.

Several years ago, the New York Times columnist David Brooks critiqued the work of author Marcia Pally, who observed that Americans project a prominent duality – a need to explore as well as be “situated” – i.e., having a sense of community. But today, our very sense of community is under stress, a weakened social fabric fueled by politicians who in their continuing mischief and purposeful vandalism promote divisive policies that result in the transfer of public funds away from our common schools to support private, religious, and charter schools.

In spite of these destructive policies adopted by state legislatures that are antithetical to societal cohesion, the need for community comes at the very time, in Pally’s analysis, when the forces of global migration, globalization, and the internet are proving to be transformative and thus challenge the very idea of community, of being situated.

But it was Brooks’ added observation that a fourth force, in the form of individual choice, gained my attention then and now, particularly in the current and growing national atmosphere that proclaims it’s all about me and my freedom to choose, regardless of compelling community needs, including health, safety, and the transmission of a common cultural heritage, as Horace Mann, John Dewey, and other visionaries labored to establish in another, more unified time in our history.

The byproduct of this thinking — that it’s all about me — centered as it is on the individual and not the community, is seen in both the Capitol insurrectionists and the anti-vaxxers. These protesters are seemingly also armed with the idea that personal freedom and individual choice trump any responsibility in caring for the well-being of others, whether by wearing a mask or being vaccinated against COVID.

To hell with elections. It’s all about me and what I believe, we are being told by those who protest the warnings of scientists and public health experts. And to hell with masks and vaccinations. We don’t need tyranny, they tell us.

And while we’re at it, to hell with the idea of community. When it’s all about me and what I believe, there is no room for what you value.

It doesn’t take many dots to connect this thinking with the deterioration of the idea of community, of being situated, and of having common values like the public schools that were created to serve all the youth in a particular community. We hold that truth (or should we use the past tense now?) to be self-evident. Not.

But in all of this, of slogans like freedom and choice, be careful what you wish for.

In my reaction to Brooks and his review, I wrote this in April 2016:

“…how we preserve freedom serves to illustrate the certainty of unintended consequences for conservatives, viz., how can you promote the concept of choice, particularly educational choice, as a desired public policy outcome, while also warning about weakened community cohesion and a frayed, tattered, strained social fabric”?

Five years later, I stand by those words. In light of recent events, that strained social fabric is even more fragile, and approaching an irreparable state of repair. It follows that with such disrepair, the idea of community in this country may soon be on a ventilator.

Cookie-cutter legislation

The enemy, it seems, is within. We witnessed this bashing of democracy with the images of militia-types beating police with flagpoles. Another version of that assault is the introduction of cookie-cutter legislation, some of which was crafted by the Koch-funded American Legislative Council, which exists to destroy education by taking the word public out of it, and replacing elected local school boards with charter schools whose boards are hand-picked by for-profit chains rather than being elected by voters in a community.

When state legislators vote to create educational vouchers that subsidize private and religious school tuition with public funds, they are making a decision to support schools that often teach content that has not been subject to a thorough review process, as public schools are. By contrast, vouchers mean that students can now be attending schools, free from state regulation, that may not even teach science or other subjects, or use instructional materials that do not support appropriate knowledge about our world.

The image of a caveman and a dinosaur, coexisting in an earlier time, as displayed in a Kentucky museum, comes to mind. It’s not too hard to imagine that under a voucher scheme, if a church affiliated with the museum operated a school and offered a curriculum in line with such a view, it could be eligible for state educational choice dollars.

Yes. Your tax dollars. And mine.

But where is the proper public purpose for taxpayer support of such an imagined school? Right now, for example, the proposed expansion in some states including Ohio of so-called educational choice vouchers to religious schools could make such situations possible in the future. One wonders what would happen if private and religious schools would first be required to agree to a set of very detailed assurances, including the teaching of specific courses of study consistent with the curricular offerings of local public schools, before receiving any state funding in the form of educational vouchers.

I think we know the answer to that. It’s called having it both ways – getting public money with no accountability and no strings attached.

The purpose of public schools

And then there is the subject of citizenship and our common heritage. Besides its purpose to produce skilled and literate individuals, public schools have also been charged to prepare young people to be caring and ethical citizens. By contrast, it can be argued that with private and religious schools, their own unique missions may not place civic-related ideals in the top rank, but instead subordinate civic education and awareness to a more narrow or sectarian purpose that mirrors the defining purpose of the school.

But if in the name of freedom and educational choice there is already enough concern about the use of public tax dollars to help fund private, religious and charter schools and thus undermine public education, weaken our democracy, and further damage our social fabric, there is yet another problem created by the actions of state legislatures to fund religious schools through vouchers.

It’s the Establishment Clause.

A product of The Enlightenment, the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause was crafted by the nation’s founders, who knew that religious wars had consumed Europe in the centuries preceding the American Revolution. Currently, in my home state of Ohio, a coalition of school districts is preparing a court challenge to check the legislature’s intent to expand the state’s voucher program as not only a violation of the constitutional prohibitions against supporting sectarian schools but also a violation of the Ohio Constitution’s purpose to establish a “system of common schools.”

I trust that this language from the Ohio Constitution is illustrative of how other states establish a system of public education.

[Article VI, Sec. 2 Education] The General Assembly shall make such provisions, by taxation, or otherwise, as, with the income arising from the school trust fund, will secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the State; but, no religious or other sect, or sects, shall ever have any exclusive right to, or control of, any part of the school funds of this State.

Certainly, private and religious schools do not meet the definition of a common school that must be supported by public funds, yet in the name of educational choice there is a nationwide movement to expand voucher programs that will support private and religious schools, in spite of any Establishment Clause violation and other legal prohibitions.

So we return to the purpose of the common school as a unifying force to build community and not be a dividing force, as private and religious schools will be, if they are put on an equal footing with public education through support with public funds.

If all of these issues might seem to be troublesome, there is one which will likely prove to cause the most damage: How can you maintain the concept of E Pluribus Unum when public policy seems poised to support all types of schools and thus erode the idea of the common school, in this case the Unum in our national motto, as the essential driver to ensure that children who come from many backgrounds form a single nation through our common schools?

Indeed, we know that the mission of public education is to prepare young people to be skilled, literate, and ethical citizens. But that’s only part of it.

Let’s take a look at the Unum part of the equation. In an essay about the role of public education written two decade ago, Kenneth Conklin, a Hawai’i philosophy professor, raised some concerns about how a fragmented educational system can itself cause a fragmented society.

“If an educational system is altered, its transmission of culture will be distorted,” Conklin wrote. “The easiest way to break apart a society long-term without using violence is to establish separate educational systems for the groups to be broken apart.”

Public tax dollar support of private, religious, and charter schools clearly represent the establishment of separate educational systems. Such tax support violates the very idea of Horace Mann’s common school, the very image of democracy in every community.

Conklin provides some additional advice for us to consider:

“A society’s culture can survive far longer than the lifespan of any of its members, because its educational system passes down the folkways and knowledge of one generation to subsequent generations. A culture changes over time, but has a recognizable continuity of basic values and behavioral patterns that distinguishes it from other cultures. That continuity is provided by the educational system.” (Emphasis mine)

What’s next?

We’re in trouble. A community thrives on consensus, of shared values. The actions of agents of disinformation spreading lies about vaccines have undermined confidence in science and public health. And if we lose a consensus about public education and the shared values it represents, we have lost our democracy.

But there is hope.

In reaction to this assault on public education in Ohio, a group of 85 school districts have joined to challenge the intent of the Ohio General Assembly to greatly expand the Educational Voucher program and put private and religious schools on an equal footing to receive tax dollars siphoned away from constitutionally established common schools. Their position is that Article VI of the Ohio Constitution makes no provision for publicly supported but parallel and competing forms of education supported by public funds.

The Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, which was itself established twenty-five years ago to ensure fair state funding for school districts irrespective of wealth, is facilitating the legal efforts of districts in challenging the constitutionality of educational vouchers and the blatant violation of the Establishment Clause in establishing funding for religious schools. With so much at stake for future state funding of public school districts, more districts are expected to join this lawsuit in the coming weeks

So what is the lesson to be learned from public support of private and religious schools, along with the privatization of what is left of public education?

Be careful what you wish for.

If you think freedom and choice are the purest ideals to possess and not a sense of community to hold us together, most prominently seen in our public schools, think again. Every vote in every state legislature to offer or expand choice in the end represents a choice for disunion, for a fragmentation of our cultural heritage, a basis for community – and our very nationhood.

We are on the brink. If there is not a counter-movement to roll back this destruction of our communities by the Ohio General Assembly through the planned destruction of the common school, we will get what we deserve.

Yes, be careful what you wish for.

Accurate link: https://ohiocapitaljournal.com/2021/09/16/public-schools-vouchers-privatization-and-educational-choice-be-careful-what-you-wish-for/

Jesse Hagopian is a high school teacher in Seattle and a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement. This column appeared on Valerie Strauss’ blog, The Answer Sheet, at the Washington Post. .

I must be honest. I haven’t been this scared about beginning the school year since I was a kindergartner clutching my mom’s hand on the first day of school.


As a teacher in the Seattle Public Schools, I know I’m not alone in my distress as the first day of school approaches. It’s not just the usual butterflies I still get (even after 20 years of teaching) before school starts in anticipation of meeting a whole new group of youths and knowing I will need to figure out how to meet the needs of a very diverse group of learners.

This year’s back-to-school anxiety is generated from two pandemics: the delta variant of the coronavirus and bills banning teaching about structural racism from Republican Party politicians.

Covid has many educators fearing for their lives and the lives of the families whose children they teach. And the bills banning teaching about structural racism have educators fearful for their jobs and their ability to be true to their students about the history of this country.

Beginning in the spring of 2021, a rash of GOP-sponsored bills proliferated in state legislatures around the country with the stated goal of banning any teaching that “the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist.”

According to Merriam-Webster, “fundamental” means “serving as an original or generating source.” Given the genocide of Native American people and the enslavement of African people in the land that became the United States before its founding, you literally can’t teach about U.S. history without talking about systemic racism.

Already in eight states in the United States of America — Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, New Hampshire, Arizona and South Carolina — it is illegal to teach the truth to children.

To date, some 28 states have introduced legislation that would require teachers to lie to students about structural racism and other forms of oppression. The state education boards in Florida, Georgia, Utah and Oklahoma have introduced guidelines banning an honest account of the role of racism in society.

The 1619 Project, and two of the organizations with which I organize — the Zinn Education Project and Black Lives Matter at School — have become some of the primary targets of this right-wing attack.

In addition, individual teachers have come under vicious attacks for daring to teach the truth. Matthew Hawn, a teacher in Tennessee, was fired from his job for assigning a Ta-Nehisi Coates essay and a poem by Kyla Jenee Lacey about White privilege. A teacher named Amy Donofrio was fired for having a Black Lives Matter flag in her classroom. At least four administrators in Southlake, Tex., left amid hostile conditions created from a backlash to diversity and inclusion efforts that they were helping to lead.

Even in states without the bills that ban teaching about structural racism — such as Washington — educators are facing a backlash for teaching the truth about American history and current events.
A teacher in the Tri-Cities area had physical threats made against her for signing the Zinn Education Project’s pledge to “Teach the truth — regardless of the law.” (The last part is no longer part of the pledge.) Seattle school board candidate Dan Harder ran a campaign opposing critical race theory in schools. The Chehalis School District passed a resolution that explicitly states students will not be taught that people are “guilty or innocent” based on their race — a straw man argument that suggests educators who teach about racism are trying to shame White people, rather than help youths understand the way multiracial movements can challenge structural racism.

In the face of these attacks, the Zinn Education Project and Black Lives Matter at School have launched the #TeachTruth campaign in an effort to push back against these racist bills.
A central component of the #TeachTruth campaign is an online pledge to teach the truth — regardless of bills trying to outlaw honest history — that has already garnered more than 7,200 signatures.

The African American Policy Forum has joined with Black Lives Matter at School and the Zinn Education Project; all three groups are planning rallies and mobilizations for this weekend. Additionally, Black Lives Matter at School is organizing a national day of action in schools on Oct. 14 — George Floyd’s birthday — and is calling on educators to teach lessons that day about structural racism and oppression.

As part of this weekend’s action, educators and organizers in Seattle are planning a rally at Yesler Terrace — the first racially integrated public housing project in the United States. Many of my students over the years have lived in Yesler Terrace, and it has housed generations of low-income Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC), refugees and people with disabilities. But city policy has undermined the Yesler Terrace project, as organizers of the Seattle rally pointed out in their news release:

Yesler Terrace used to consist of 561 homes for low-income residences. The new development at Yesler Terrace only consists of about 300 apartments that are owned by the Housing Authority and have rent set at 30 percent of the household income. The rest of the apartments are privately owned and rented at market rates. There is less low-income housing in Yesler Terrace now.

Policies that have reduced the number of public housing units available in BIPOC communities — after generations of bank redlining restrictions — reveal the way that structural racism works and why it is so important for students to be racially literate.

Yet when teachers help students understand the way structural racism operates, right-wing politicians howl that they are politicizing the classroom. The reality is, however, that students are already talking about these issues and demanding that educators address them.

Students are asking us about why their schools and neighborhoods are so segregated, why there are so many cases of police brutality, why it is so hard to vote, or why more people of color are dying of covid. Educators can either deceive students about the powerful role of structural racism in answering these questions, or they can help students better understand the world they live in so that they can change it.

For me and many educators around the country, there’s no choice. We are teaching honest history because it’s our duty.

I certainly have apprehensions about the school year starting during a pandemic and knowing that the kind of teaching I do can make me a target.

But I also know what side of history I’m on. As the great educator Septima Clark, called the “Queen Mother” of the civil rights movement, once said: “I believe unconditionally in the ability of people to respond when they are told the truth. We need to be taught to study rather than believe, to inquire rather than to affirm.”

State legislatures and even school districts are banning ”critical race theory,” typically based on misinformation about what it is and what it isn’t. The laws and bans are sweeping, and many teachers assume they are prohibiting
discussions of racism, slavery, the KKK, or anything that might make white students feel uncomfortable. Where such views become law, the accurate teaching of American and world history becomes impossible. There have been many shameful episodes in history, and students deserve to learn about them honestly, not sugar-coated.

The National Education Policy Center posted an interview with Professor Adrienne Dixson, a scholar of CRT, who explained what CRT is and what it isn’t. Here is a small part.

Q: In just a few sentences, what is critical race theory?

A: CRT is a theoretical framework that originated in legal scholarship in the late 1980s. The founding CRT scholars were dissatisfied with anti-discrimination laws and the legal scholarship that informed it because they felt it didn’t adequately address the role of race and racism and relied too heavily on incremental change. CRT was introduced to education in the 1990s to address similar dissatisfaction with research in education that scholars believed did not fully account for race and racism. Moreover, scholars felt that multicultural education had become co-opted and no longer had the potential to adequately address inequities in education writ large.

Q: There are a lot of misconceptions out there about CRT. In a few sentences, please tell us what critical race theory IS NOT.

A: It is not about training people to “be” anti-racist. It is not a static or pre-packaged cur-riculum that is sold to K-12 schools or even universities. It is not focused on making White people feel guilty. It is not Black, Asian, Latinx or Indigenous Supremacy. It is not Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.

Q: What does critical race theory add to our thinking?

A: Critical Race Theory helps us think more carefully about how our policies and practices create barriers that prevent equitable participation and success in the educational enterprise

Education Week posted a story by Stephen Sawchuk about seven local school boards that have passed resolutions to ban CRT. There is quite a lot of confusion about what it is, and districts are taking actions that have a chilling effect on discussions of racism, inclusion, and diversity, as well as honest teaching of history.

Sawchuk writes:

This year’s tumultous debates over whether American racism exists, who perpetuates it, and how it should be taught in K-12 classroom settings has saturated the nation’s thousands of school districts. 

About 26 states now have taken steps to curb various aspects of how teachers discuss with students America’s racist past and how districts fight systemic racism. Many take effect this fall, and some of them contain penalties for teachers and administrators, including the loss of their license or fines. 

But as some of the fiercest critics of race-related teaching acknowledge, the most important level of governance over what is taught, which materials are selected, and what training is provided is at the school district level

Communities are defining “critical race theory” in different ways, drawing on everything from scholarly sources, to popular bestsellers on race, to talking points from conservative pundits and critics.


Jinnie Spiegler of the Anti-Defamation League writes in Education Week about the importance of teaching anti-bias education and the history of systemic oppression.

She writes:

As of August 12, 26 states have introduced bills or taken steps to restrict or limit the teaching of racism, sexism, bias, and the contributions of specific racial or ethnic groups to U.S. history. Twelve states have enacted bans, either through legislation or other avenues. Amid the pandemic, these laws add a consequential layer of intimidation, fear, and disrespect for educators. It’s a hard time to be a teacher right now.

Critical race theory is an academic framework that seeks to understand and examine how the law and policies perpetuate racial disparities in society (e.g., health care, education, legal, criminal justice, housing, voting, etc.). We know that CRT is notwidely taught in K-12 schools, nor is CRT a curriculum or teaching methodology. However, the purpose of these laws—beyond politics and inciting energy for upcoming elections—is an attempt to restrict or prevent teachers from teaching about racism, sexism, equity, and other forms of systemic oppression.

These laws can potentially prevent teachers from reading a children’s book about the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, reflecting on Black Lives Matter and what to do about police violence, understanding current day hate symbols like noose incidents and their historical context of racial terror, and much more.

Why We Need to Teach About Systemic Racism and Other Oppression

These restrictions are concerning precisely because they contradict one of the most important goals of education—to teach young people how to think critically and foster a more just and equitable society so that all people can learn, live, and thrive. To do that, students need to understand what bias and injustice are, how they manifest in society—particularly in systemic ways through our institutions—the historical roots of bias and oppression, and how those injustices have been historically and continue to be challenged and disrupted.

The laws and resolutions now being passed by states and districts will have a chilling effect on what teachers think they are allowed to teach. Given the vagueness of these laws, many students will be deprived of honest history.

Jan Resseger writes here about the importance of honing the message about the importance of public schools. She refers to an article previously posted here by Chris Lubienski and colleagues about the language that reaches the public. You can be sure, she says, that the far-right is working day and night to advance the destruction of public schools. She notes with disappointment that Secretary of Education Cardona has not laid out his vision for public schools (he was even the main speaker for the national charter schools conference, which simultaneously compete with public schools and claim to be public schools). We can’t wait for him to do it.

She writes, in part:

In some states, the new school year has already begun, the COVID Delta Variant is surging, and already everybody is worrying, and legitimately so, about whether and how public schools will reopen. But that is not really the deepest concern for many of us who care about the future of public schools.

Certainly far-right ideologues investing millions of dollars to push corporate school reform and promote school privatization are messaging their own agenda instead of focusing on whether or not schools reopen in person or whether students and/or teachers are required to vaccinate or wear masks. Newspapers, many of which are losing their education reporters to collapsing advertising budgets, have pretty much opted for the obvious topic—school reopening and masking requirements.  You can be sure, however, that ALEC is instead doggedly promoting the expansion of vouchers as its members lobby inside state legislatures, and Nina Rees, who leads the National Association of Public Charter Schools, is ignoring the effects of COVID-19 while she loudly demandsthat Congress continue to fund charter schools operated by for-profit charter management companies.

Message discipline is a priority for the far right, and, when Betsy DeVos was Trump’s education secretary, her consistent framing was, in one respect, a plus for public school advocates. She was the perfect foil we could attack week after week as she harangued against “government schools,” rejected the need for a “system” of education, and enthused about serving the needs of individual children and catering to the taste of individual parents. Not once did DeVos acknowledge the benefit of public schooling as the center of the social contract.

We could thank Betsy DeVos for keeping us on message, but Chris Lubienski of Indiana University, Amanda Potterson of the University of Kentucky, and Joel Malin of Miami University in Ohio worry about the longer term impact of the language of the far fight on public education policy. These education policy researchers remind us: “Language shapes the ways we think and feel about ourselves and others, institutions such as our schools, and (more generally) about our world. As applied to education policy, it matters whether our nation’s public schools are described as such, or if instead they are framed as ‘failing government schools,’ like they were by President Trump in his 2020 State of the Union Address. Accepting this truth about the power of language holds many implications. So what happens when language is used to build up narratives that contradict accumulating evidence? Can language reconfigure our perceptions of schools in ways that re-orient their purpose?  More specifically, we assert that disparaging language about our schools unhelpfully limits our policy imaginations. Likewise, we show how casting schools as ‘businesses’— and parents as ‘customers’—shapes commonsensical assumptions about the purposes of public schools, but ignores much of the research evidence about how public schools function…  Regarding this language and imagery, for educational leaders and community stakeholders, we encourage vigilant critical analysis of the language used regarding education.”

Certainly under President Biden, the situation for public schools has improved. Biden has articulated support for public schools and public school teachers. And apart from the language he uses, he has made a lot more federal funding available through COVID-relief.  He has promoted—in his FY22 federal budget proposal—investing in Title I with significantly more money for schools in America’s poorest communities, addressing the federal government’s decades-old failure to fund the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and radically expanding federal investment in wraparound Full Service Community Schools.  But Miguel Cardona, Biden’s Education Secretary, has failed to use language to frame a well conceptualized public school agenda. So far, he has chosen not to speak much at all about the past 20 years of corporate, high-stakes-test-based school accountability.

In the absence of vision from Secretary Cardona and with the rapid decline of sufficient exploration of the key issues in the press, it seems important to devote some serious attention to framing a disciplined set of principles. Lubienski, Potterson, and Malin’s article challenged me clearly to name the principles by which I frame this blog. That way, I’ll be able to check back every week or so to be sure I’m staying on-message.

Here are five principles which, I believe, make up the foundation of this blog.

  1. An equitable and comprehensive system of public schools—publicly operated and regulated by law—is essential for protecting the right of every child to appropriate and equitable services and for ensuring an educated public.
  2. School privatization threatens our public schools, threatens educational equity, and threatens who we are as a nation. No state can afford to support three education sectors—traditional public schools, charter schools, and publicly funded private schools.
  3. Rejecting high-stakes, test-based public school accountability is essential for the future of public education. High-stakes testing has narrowed and undermined what our teachers can do in America’s classrooms, undermined the reputation of public schools and public school teachers, driven privatization and public school closures, exacerbated racial and economic segregation, and undermined the future of children and adolescents living in concentrated poverty.
  4. Our society must ameliorate the effects of past and ongoing racial and economic injustice and aggressively support the public schools that serve our nation’s poorest children.
  5. Public school funding across America’s schools is urgently important. Taxation ought to be progressive and must raise enough money to pay for essential basic services including small classes and necessities like libraries and music and art programs. State and federal funding must be distributed equitably to compensate for the alarming disparities in local taxing capacity across America’s public school districts.

Please open the link and read the rest of her excellent post.

At the peak of the Teacher Revolt in 2018, educator Tina Bojanowski ran for a seat in the Kentucky legislature and won. She was re-elected in 2020. She is a teacher in the public schools of Jefferson County (Louisville).

In this video, she explains to her fellow legislators that their efforts to ban “critical race theory” are nonsensical. There are real problems to be addressed, like youth suicide, gun violence, and COVID.

She surveyed her colleagues and found that they were confused about what they were allowed to teach to comply with the law’s requirement that they must avoid any mention of racial superiority or anything that would make students uncomfortable. One teacher asked how she could teach about World War 2 without mentioning Hitler’s claims of Aryan superiority. Another said that history includes many actions that might make students uncomfortable.

Her brief statement illustrates the value of having working educators in the state legislature and the folly of state legislatures passing laws mandating what teachers are not allowed to teach.

Heather Cox Richardson is an American historian who teaches at Boston College. She writes an informative blog called “Letters from an American.” This one appeared recently.

She writes:

On July 9, 1868, Americans changed the U.S. Constitution for the fourteenth time, adapting our foundational document to construct a new nation without systematic Black enslavement.

In 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution had prohibited slavery on the basis of race, but it did not prevent the establishment of a system in which Black Americans continued to be unequal. Backed by President Andrew Johnson, who had taken over the presidency after an actor had murdered President Abraham Lincoln, white southern Democrats had done their best to push their Black neighbors back into subservience. So long as southern states had abolished enslavement, repudiated Confederate debts, and nullified the ordinances of secession, Johnson was happy to readmit them to full standing in the Union, still led by the very men who had organized the Confederacy and made war on the United States.

Northern Republican lawmakers refused. There was no way they were going to rebuild southern society on the same blueprint as existed before the Civil War, especially since the upcoming 1870 census would count Black Americans as whole persons for the first time in the nation’s history, giving southern states more power in Congress and the Electoral College after the war than they had had before it. Having just fought a war to destroy the South’s ideology, they were not going to let it regrow in peacetime.

Congress rejected Johnson’s plan for Reconstruction.

But then congressmen had to come up with their own plan. After months of hearings and debate, they proposed amending the Constitution to settle the outstanding questions of the war. Chief among these was how to protect the rights of Black Americans in states where they could neither vote nor testify in court or sit on a jury to protect their own interests.

Congress’s solution was the Fourteenth Amendment.

It took on the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision declaring that Black men “are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word ‘citizens’ in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens.”

The Fourteenth Amendment provides that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

The amendment also addressed the Dred Scott decision in another profound way. In 1857, southerners and Democrats who were adamantly opposed to federal power controlled the Supreme Court. They backed states’ rights. So the Dred Scott decision did more than read Black Americans out of our history; it dramatically circumscribed Congress’s power.

The Dred Scott decision declared that democracy was created at the state level, by those people in a state who were allowed to vote. In 1857, this meant white men, almost exclusively. If those people voted to do something widely unpopular—like adopting human enslavement, for example—they had the right to do so and Congress could not stop them. People like Abraham Lincoln pointed out that such domination by states would eventually mean that an unpopular minority could take over the national government, forcing their ideas on everyone else, but defenders of states’ rights stood firm.

And so, the Fourteenth Amendment gave the federal government the power to protect individuals even if their state legislatures had passed discriminatory laws. “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” it said. And then it went on to say that “Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”

The principles behind the Fourteenth Amendment were behind the 1870 creation of the Department of Justice, whose first job was to bring down the Ku Klux Klan terrorists in the South.

Those same principles took on profound national significance in the post–World War II era, when the Supreme Court began to use the equal protection clause and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment aggressively to apply the protections in the Bill of Rights to the states. The civil rights decisions of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, including the Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing segregation in public schools, and the Loving v Virginia decision permitting interracial marriage, come from this doctrine. Under it, the federal government took up the mantle of protecting the rights of individual Americans in the states from the whims of state legislatures.

Opponents of these new civil rights protections quickly began to object that such decisions were “legislating from the bench,” rather than permitting state legislatures to make their own laws. These opponents began to call for “originalism,” the idea that the Constitution should be interpreted only as the Framers had intended when they wrote it, an argument that focused on the creation of law at the state level. Famously, in 1987, President Ronald Reagan nominated Robert Bork, an originalist who had called for the rollback of the Supreme Court’s civil rights decisions, for a seat on that court.

Reacting to that nomination, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) recognized the importance of the Fourteenth Amendment to equality: “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, Blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy….”

It’s a funny thing to write about the Fourteenth Amendment in the twenty-first century. I am a scholar of Reconstruction, and for me the Fourteenth Amendment conjures up images of late-1860s Washington, D.C., a place still plagued by malaria carried on mosquitoes from the Washington City Canal, where generals and congressmen worried about how to protect the Black men who had died in extraordinary numbers to defend the government while an accidental president pardoned Confederate generals and plotted to destroy the national system Abraham Lincoln had created.

It should feel very distant. And yet, while a bipartisan group of senators rejected Bork’s nomination in 1987, in 2021 the Supreme Court is dominated by originalists, and the principles of the Fourteenth Amendment seem terribly current.

Of course, if today’s U.S. Supreme Court were truly originalist, Justice Amy Coney Barrett would not be eligible to serve on the Court, women would not have the right to vote, blacks would not be considered citizens, and so on.

Republicans have whipped up a frenzy in the states and in the conservative media that they control about “critical race theory.” They are blowing up the issue because it benefits their party in two ways:

First, it distracts public attention from the violent and unprecedented assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. They want to pretend that day—where their own lives were at risk—never happened. It was like “a normal tourist visit,” as one House Republican member said. It was a day of infamy that should never be forgotten, but Republicans are trying to bury it.

Second, the CRT dispute is the kind of cultural wedge issue that fires up the Republican base. They cheer as legislatures pass laws that would criminalize teaching about racism and sexism, because some students might feel bad to learn what really happened in the past.

Nikole Hannah-Jones is a celebrated journalist who has won major awards for her work. The current controversy was launched in reaction to “The 1619 Project,” which she organized and to which she contributed the introductory essay about the resilience of racism. It waspublished in a full issue of The New York Times magazine.

You know the story by now about how the journalism school at the University of North Carolina offered her the Knight Chair of Race and Investigative Journalism. But when the faculty decision reached the board of the university, they decreed that—unlike her white predecessors—she would not be offered tenure.

In response to ongoing protests by students and faculty, the board took another vote and agreed (9-4) to reverse their original decision and to offer her tenure. Hannah-Jones rejected their grudging offer and will instead create a journalism center at Howard University, the most prominent Historically Black University in the nation.

Mercedes Schneider posts here the story behind the scene, as written by Joe Killian of NC Policy Watch. Killian fills in the blanks about the influence on the original decision by Walter Hussman, the wealthy and conservative magnate who donated $25 million to UNC for the journalism school, which was renamed the Hussman School of Journalism. Initial reports suggested that he did not use his influence to affect the board’s decisions. Killian says otherwise.

Valerie Strauss wrote the following on her blog “The Answer Sheet” at the Washington Post:

Here’s a very short quiz:

The Hillsborough County School Board in Florida met this month to consider a dozen proposals to open new charter schools or extend the operating agreements on others. The board considered data, recommendations of its staff and testimony from community members about the charters, which are funded by public tax dollars but privately operated.

Then it voted to approve four and deny eight (not always accepting the staff’s counsel). Four of those denied were requests from existing schools to keep. The decisions were made by the board made after members learned about poor academic outcomes, violations of federal law and other issues at some of the schools. Those four schools are supposed to now close and their students must find other schools.

What did the charter-school-loving administration of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) do? Did it let the local school board do its work without state interference? Did it point out what it considered errors in the process and offer to help the board resolve them? Or did it threaten to withhold funding from the district over the four existing charters that were told to close?

It’s Florida, where Republican officials have long since abandoned the pretense that they believe communities should run their own public schools without micromanaging from Tallahassee or that they want to maintain the integrity of traditional public school districts.

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran took the last option, sending a letter to the board which said it had violated a state statute by closing down four schools and gave the board a deadline to explain itself and change course or else face the loss of millions of state dollars.

Board lawyers are planning to challenge Corcoran’s interpretation of the statute, but district officials say that isn’t expected to stop Corcoran from trying, somehow, to keep the schools open. School board Chair Lynn Gray said in an interview that the panel was going to fight him, though, she added, “It could cost us.”

The Florida Department of Education did not respond to queries about Corcoran’s threat to Hillsborough.

The Hillsborough episode is the latest in repeated attacks on public education and local control — long a tenet of the Republican Party — by Florida GOP leaders. DeSantis made clear his disdain for traditional public schools in 2019 when he espoused a new definition of “public education,” which was heartily approved by then-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

DeSantis said in a tweet, “Look, if it’s public dollars, it’s public education.” That would mean that public education includes private and religious schools that discriminate against LGBTQ and other people that offend them but still receive taxpayer funds through vouchers and similar programs.

Betsy DeVos and her allies are trying to redefine ‘public education.’ Critics call it ‘absurd.’

That is what critics of DeSantis and his “school choice” agenda say is the ultimate goal of the governor and his allies: to privatize public education.

“They are systemically trying to eliminate public education,” Gray said, noting that charter school supporters were trying to open charters in areas where Hillsborough’s very best public schools are located — and in areas where there are not enough traditional public schools to handle the growing population of Hispanic immigrants.

“They are very, very strategic about where they are putting them,” she said. “It’s very well planned.”

DeSantis and other state officials say that parents know best what their children need and that school choice programs are designed to give them options. They say, correctly, that some traditional public schools have failed students, but don’t mention the charter schools that have done the same.

In fact, the charter school sector in Florida has long been troubled. Though Republicans in the state have prevented strict oversight of the sector — even while micromanaging public school districts — Florida has long had one of the highest annual charter school closure rates in the country, involving schools that were closed after financial and other scandals. The state has also poured billions of taxpayer dollars into voucherlike programs despite no concrete evidence that the private and religious schools receiving the money have boosted students’ academic trajectories.

And so attacks on traditional public school districts just keep on coming from the DeSantis administration.

It is worth recalling what the St. Augustine Record newspaper said about Corcoran in an editorial in 2018, which was headlined, “Rest in peace, public education.”Let’s not beat around the political bush: Putting former House Speaker Richard Corcoran in charge of Florida education is like hiring Genghis Khan to head the state Department of Corrections.The charter school fox is heading for the Department of Education hen house and, for public schooling, that’s finger-lickin’ bad.Corcoran is a coercer, a brawler and politician who rewards fealty while marking opponents for payback. Those who know him would say he’d be flattered by the description.

Florida newspaper: ‘Rest in peace, public education’

DeSantis, a close ally of former president Donald Trump, had ordered all school districts to open last fall while most of the country’s districts stayed close despite high coronavirus rates, giving only a few permission to stay shut a little longer than the others.

You might think that Hillsborough is No. 1 on the administration’s list of school districts in which to meddle — but that is only if you didn’t know that DeSantis had his sights set on removing Robert Runcie, the recently departed superintendent of Broward County from the first day he took office as governor in January 2019.

DeSantis pushed for Runcie to be removed by the local school board that hired him, blaming the superintendent in part for poor security at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Senior High School in Parkland, where a mass shooting occurred in February 2018. DeSantis knew he didn’t have the authority to unilaterally remove Runcie and his school board kept supporting him. So the governor called for the creation of a grand jury that indicted Runcie earlier this year on a single count of perjury — the details of which have still not been revealed.

Runcie’s attorneys say that the perjury charge — which stems from an investigation into Parkland shootings and was expanded to include other issues — was politically motivated. So do some of the members of the board, which accepted Runcie’s resignation in the wake of his arrest on the charge in late April.Story continues below advertisement

There was also the incident late last year in which Corcoran — who said publicly in September 2020 he would encourage everyone “never to read” The Washington Post or the New York Times — announced that he had “made sure” that a veteran teacher in Duval County Public Schools had been “terminated” from her position. Education commissioners in Florida don’t actually have the power to fire a teacher.

Amy Conofrio was moved to a nonteaching position by the district after she refused to remove a Black Lives Matter flag above her classroom at Robert E. Lee High School, where 70 percent of the students are Black. District spokesperson Laureen Ricks said at the time in an email that the employee in question (who was not named in county statements) was being investigated for several incidents, none of which were named.

Results of the probe into Donofrio, who had co-founded a student-driven organization called the EVAC Movement which worked to empower Black students to work for positive change, have not yet been released.

Florida’s Republican leaders have been in the national news lately for other education moves, which include:


* A new law that bans critical race theory from being taught in Florida classrooms, though it isn’t clear that any classrooms actually teach it. CRT is an intellectual movement that examines the way policies and laws perpetuate systemic racism. Republican-led legislatures in numerous state are or have already passed legislation to restrict how teachers can address systemic racism — a reaction to the social justice movement that arose out of protests against the May 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Teachers across the country protest laws restricting lessons on racism

  • A new law that, among other things, requires public universities to assess “viewpoint diversity” on campus each year through a survey developed by the State Board of Education. DeSantis and other conservatives had frequently lamented that conservatives and their views are given short shrift in higher education.

It is worth recalling what the St. Augustine Record newspaper said about Corcoran in an editorial in 2018, which was headlined, “Rest in peace, public education.”Let’s not beat around the political bush: Putting former House Speaker Richard Corcoran in charge of Florida education is like hiring Genghis Khan to head the state Department of Corrections.The charter school fox is heading for the Department of Education hen house and, for public schooling, that’s finger-lickin’ bad.Corcoran is a coercer, a brawler and politician who rewards fealty while marking opponents for payback. Those who know him would say he’d be flattered by the description.

Florida newspaper: ‘Rest in peace, public education’]

Timothy Snyder, an authority on totalitarianism, draws a straight line in this article that appeared in the New York Times from Stalin’s efforts to purge history of negative facts about the Soviet Union to the current mania among Republicans to control the teaching of American history and censor shameful facts in our history.

Professor Snyder reminds us of Stalin’s brutal campaign to crush Ukraine, where nearly 4 million people died, most from starvation, after their crops were seized.

He writes:

Ukraine was the most important Soviet republic beyond Russia, and Stalin understood it as wayward and disloyal. When the collectivization of agriculture in Ukraine failed to produce the yields that Stalin expected, his response was to blame local party authorities, the Ukrainian people and foreign spies. As foodstuffs were extracted amid famine, it was chiefly Ukrainians who suffered and died — some 3.9 million people in the republic, by the best reckoning, well over 10 percent of the total population. In communications with trusted comrades, Stalin did not conceal that he was directing specific policies against Ukraine. Inhabitants of the republic were banned from leaving it; peasants were prevented from going to the cities to beg; communities that failed to make grain targets were cut off from the rest of the economy; families were deprived of their livestock. Above all, grain from Ukraine was ruthlessly seized, well beyond anything reason could command. Even the seed corn was confiscated.

The Soviet Union took drastic action to ensure that these events went unnoticed. Foreign journalists were banned from Ukraine. The one person who did report on the famine in English under his own byline, the Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, was later murdered. The Moscow correspondent of The New York Times, Walter Duranty, explained away the famine as the price of progress. Tens of thousands of hunger refugees made it across the border to Poland, but Polish authorities chose not to publicize their plight: A treaty with the U.S.S.R. was under negotiation. In Moscow, the disaster was presented, at the 1934 party congress, as a triumphant second revolution. Deaths were recategorized from “starvation” to “exhaustion.” When the next census counted millions fewer people than expected, the statisticians were executed. Inhabitants of other republics, meanwhile, mostly Russians, moved into Ukrainians’ abandoned houses. As beneficiaries of the calamity, they were not interested in its sources.

The Soviet Union and Russia now have gone to great lengths to deny the Ukrainian genocide. Russia has passed laws to make it illegal to speak or write honestly about the crimes of the Soviet Union. Snyder calls such action “memory laws.”

These Russian policies belong to a growing international body of what are called “memory laws”: government actions designed to guide public interpretation of the past. Such measures work by asserting a mandatory view of historical events, by forbidding the discussion of historical facts or interpretations or by providing vague guidelines that lead to self-censorship. Early memory laws were generally designed to protect the truth about victim groups. The most important example, passed in West Germany in 1985, criminalized Holocaust denial. Perhaps unsurprisingly, other countries followed that precedent, and banned the denial of other historical atrocities. The West German law was controversial to some advocates of freedom of speech; succeeding measures were disputed on the grounds that the Holocaust was in a special category. Yet these early laws could be defended as attempts to protect the weaker against the stronger, and an endangered history against propaganda.

The new memory laws are meant to protect the powerful, not the victims of past atrocities, by denying that such atrocities ever occurred.

Then Snyder turns to the current movement in GOP-controlled states to limit or ban teaching the history of racism because it might reduce patriotic pride or it might make some students uncomfortable.

This spring, memory laws arrived in America. Republican state legislators proposed dozens of bills designed to guide and control American understanding of the past. As of this writing, five states (Idaho, Iowa, Tennessee, Texas and Oklahoma) have passed laws that direct and restrict discussions of history in classrooms. The Department of Education of a sixth (Florida) has passed guidelines with the same effect. Another 12 state legislatures are still considering memory laws. [Editor’s note: Add New Hampshire to the list of states that have passed laws limiting what may be taught about the past.]

The particulars of these laws vary. The Idaho law is the most Kafkaesque in its censorship: It affirms freedom of speech and then bans divisive speech. The Iowa law executes the same totalitarian pirouette. The Tennessee and Texas laws go furthest in specifying what teachers may and may not say. In Tennessee teachers must not teach that the rule of law is “a series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups.” Nor may they deny the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, words that Thomas Jefferson presumably never intended to be part of an American censorship law. The Idaho law mentions Critical Race Theory; the directive from the Florida school board bans it in classrooms. The Texas law forbids teachers from requiring students to understand the 1619 Project. It is a perverse goal: Teachers succeed if students do not understand something.

But the most common feature among the laws, and the one most familiar to a student of repressive memory laws elsewhere in the world, is their attention to feelings. Four of five of them, in almost identical language, proscribe any curricular activities that would give rise to “discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex.”

History is not therapy, and discomfort is part of growing up. As a teacher, I cannot exclude the possibility, for example, that my non-Jewish students will feel psychological distress in learning how little the United States did for Jewish refugees in the 1930s. I know from my experience teaching the Holocaust that it often causes psychological discomfort for students to learn that Hitler admired Jim Crow and the myth of the Wild West. Teachers in high schools cannot exclude the possibility that the history of slavery, lynchings and voter suppression will make some non-Black students uncomfortable. The new memory laws invite teachers to self-censor, on the basis of what students might feel — or say they feel. The memory laws place censorial power in the hands of students and their parents. It is not exactly unusual for white people in America to express the view that they are being treated unfairly; now such an opinion could bring history classes to a halt…

The American memory laws do not usually even refer to specific historical events over which they enforce orthodoxies; in this sense they are one step more advanced than the Russian memory laws. But the moments when the new laws do venture into specificity are illuminating. “Examples of theories that distort historical events and are inconsistent with State Board approved standards,” the Florida Department of Education’s new policy states, “include the denial or minimization of the Holocaust, and the teaching of Critical Race Theory, meaning the theory that racism is not merely the product of prejudice, but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons.”

This is a striking repetition of the rhetorical tactic of the Russian memory law of 2014: In both, the crimes of the Nazis are deployed to silence a history of suffering — in Russia to deter criticism of the Stalin era, in Florida to forbid education about racism. And in both cases, the measures in question actually make the Holocaust impossible to understand. If it is illegal in Russia to discuss the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of nonaggression between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, then it is impossible to discuss how, where and when the Second World War began. If it is illegal in Florida to teach about systemic racism, then aspects of the Holocaust relevant for young Americans go untaught. German race laws drew from the precedent set by Jim Crow in the United States. But since Jim Crow is systemic racism, having to do with American society and law, the subject would seem to be banned in Florida schools.

We are living through a dangerous and absurd period in which Republican-controlled states are passing laws to criminalize the teaching of factual history. But schools are not hermetically sealed boxes. Students see television, and they know they are being taught a literally whitewashed version of our history.

How many history teachers will comply and teach lies?

A while back, I read a vitriolic article in a rightwing publication that expressed contempt for the public schools and congratulated Betsy DeVos for trying to cut federal funding for schools.

The article asserted that public schools are “garbage” and the government should slash their funding. A major piece of evidence for the claim that money doesn’t matter was the failure of the Obama administration’s School Improvement Grants program, which spent more than $3 billion and accomplished nothing. The evaluation of SIG was commissioned by the U.S Department of Education and quietly released just before the inauguration of Trump. The report was barely noticed. Yet now it is used by DeVos acolytes to oppose better funding of our schools.

The wave of Red4Ed teachers’ strikes in 2019 exposed the woeful conditions in many schools, including poorly paid teachers, lack of nurses and social workers and librarians, overcrowded classrooms, and crumbling facilities. The public learned from the teachers’ strikes that public investment in the schools in many states has not kept pace with the needs of students and the appropriate professional compensation of teachers. Many states are spending less now on education than they did in 2008 before the Great Recession. They reacted to the economic crisis by cutting taxes on corporations, which cut funding for schools.

Sadly, the Obama-Duncan Race to the Top program promoted the same strategies and goals as No Child Left Behind. Set goals for test scores and punish teachers and schools that don’t meet them. Encourage the growth of charter schools, which drain students and resources from schools with low test scores.

One can only dream, but what if Race to the Top had been called Race to Equity for All Our Children? What if the program had rewarded schools and districts that successfully integrated their schools? What if it had encouraged class-size reduction, especially in the neediest schools? Race to the Top and the related SIG program were fundamentally a replication and extension of NCLB.

When Arne Duncan defended his “reform” (disruption) ideas in the Washington Post, he cited a positive 2012 evaluation and belittled his own Department’s 2017 evaluation, which had more time to review the SIG program and concluded that it made no difference. The 2017 report provided support for those who say that money doesn’t matter, that teacher compensation doesn’t matter, that class size doesn’t matter, that schools don’t need a nurse, a library, a music and arts program, or adequate and equitable funding.

The Education Department’s 2017 evaluation shows that the Bush-Obama strategy didn’t made a difference because its ideas about how to improve education were wrong. Low-performing schools did not see test-score gains because both NCLB and RTTT were based on flawed ideas about competition, motivation, threats and rewards, and choice.

Here is a summary of the SIG program in the USED’s report that the Right used to defend DeVos’s proposed budget cuts.

The SIG program aimed to support the implementation of school intervention models in low-performing schools. Although SIG was first authorized in 2001, this evaluation focused on SIG awards granted in 2010, when roughly $3.5 billion in SIG awards were made to 50 states and the District of Columbia, $3 billion of which came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. States identified the low-performing schools eligible for SIG based on criteria specified by ED and then held competitions for local education agencies seeking funding to help turn around eligible schools.

SIG-funded models had no significant impact on test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment…

The findings in this report suggest that the SIG program did not have an impact on the use of practices promoted by the program or on student outcomes (including math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment), at least for schools near the SIG eligibility cutoff. In higher grades (6th through 12th), the turnaround model was associated with larger student achievement gains in math than the transformation model. However, factors other than the SIG model implemented, such as unobserved differences between schools implementing different models, may explain these differences in achievement gains.

These findings have broader relevance beyond the SIG program. In particular, the school improvement practices promoted by SIG were also promoted in the Race to the Top program. In addition, some of the SIG-promoted practices focused on teacher evaluation and compensation policies that were also a focus of Teacher Incentive Fund grants. All three of these programs involved large investments to support the use of practices with the goal of improving student outcomes. The findings presented in this report do not lend much support for the SIG program having achieved this goal, as the program did not appear to have had an impact on the practices used by schools or on student outcomes, at least for schools near the SIG eligibility cutoff.

What NCLB, Race to the Top, and SIG demonstrated was that their theory of action was wrong. They did not address the needs of students, teachers, or schools. They imposed the lessons of the non-existent Texas “miracle” and relied on carrots and sticks to get results. They failed, but they did not prove that money doesn’t matter.

Money matters very much. Equitable and adequate funding matters. Class size matters, especially for children with the highest needs. A refusal to look at evidence and history blinds us to seeing what must change in federal and state policy. It will be an uphill battle but we must persuade our representatives in state legislatures and Congress to open their eyes, acknowledge the failure of the test-and-punish regime, and think anew about the best ways to help students, teachers, families, and communities.

The findings of the report were devastating, not only to the SIG program, but to the punitive strategies imposed by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, which together cost many more billions. 

My first reaction was, Money doesn’t matter if you spend it on the wrong strategies, like punishing schools that don’t improve test scores, like ignoring the importance of reducing class size, like ignoring the importance of poverty in the lives of children, like ignoring decades of social science that out-of-school factors affect student test scores more than teachers do.