Education Opportunity Network

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4/27/2017 – With A Wary Eye On DeVos, Students Take Fight For Free Higher Ed To States

THIS WEEK: NOLA Not A Reform Model … Is DC Reform Darling? … False Remediation … School Funding Inequity … Vouchers Hurt Rural Schools

TOP STORY

With A Wary Eye On DeVos, Students Take Fight For Free Higher Ed To States

By Jeff Bryant

“Students who aspire to attend college or who have attended at least some higher education and have incurred loan burdens because of that … have a wary eye on DeVos, and they’re planning to counter whatever she and President Trump do with a renewed push for free higher education … The most alarming hire, so far, is for the head of the very office tasked to oversee civil rights enforcement in schools … But unlike efforts by the Obama administration to take action at the federal level, some student activists are targeting states too.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

New Orleans Charter School Problems Exposed At NAACP Hearing

The Huffington Post

“New Orleans is the nation’s largest and most complete experiment in charter schools … Problems were on display in New Orleans when the NAACP… held a community forum in New Orleans on charters … [The] charter system remains highly segregated by race and economic status. Students have significantly longer commutes to and from school. The percentage of African American teachers has declined dramatically … The costs of administration have gone up while resources for teaching have declined … Students with disabilities have been ill served… Thousands of students are in below average schools. Students and parents feel disempowered.”
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How D.C. Became The Darling Of Education Reform

The American Prospect

“When it comes to education reform, perhaps no city has inspired more controversy and acclaim over the last decade than Washington, D.C. … Proponents point to positive benchmarks … Critics point to large racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps, misleading claims made by the school district’s public relations department, uncritical press coverage, a precipitous decline in black educators, and funding that has been inequitably distributed … D.C. finally produced a publicly funded independent evaluation of its school reforms in 2015 … The review … found some promising evidence of improvements, but the evaluators identified many persistent disparities, and noted a lack of comprehensive, accessible data.”
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How A Little-Known Standardized Test Harms Community College Students

Washington Monthly

“The test that matters for community college students … is called the Accuplacer … schools use to decide who’s actually ready for college classes… If you don’t do well on the Accuplacer, you’re probably going to be put in what are known as developmental, or remedial, classes. More than two-thirds of community college students end up in remediation. Some need to be there. But many probably don’t … An analysis …. looked at who ended up in remedial classes. Nearly half of the community college students who were strongly prepared by the researchers’ measure ended up in remediation.”
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Do Private Donations Reinforce School Disparities?

Education Week

“Private donations can come through parent-teacher organizations, school district foundations, booster clubs, and private companies. Though they account for a fraction of districts’ budgets, the extra dollars can reinforce existing inequities between districts … Since 2006 … per-pupil dollar amount soared from $131 to $863. The uptick isn’t by accident … ‘These districts are using money for what public funding used to cover.'”
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What Does Secretary DeVos Know About Rural Schools? Not Much, Say Advocates

The Daily Yonder

“[Her] market-focused solution isn’t a good fit with rural realities… ‘This idea of rural schools and portability of funds – so that if a child leaves one school and goes another school, then the dollars follow the child – would just be really deleterious for rural schools with small student populations’ … An early indication of DeVos’ stand on rural education will come when the Department of Education releases a congressionally mandated report on rural education in a few weeks.”
Read more …

With A Wary Eye On DeVos, Students Take Fight For Free Higher Ed To States

If you’re worried about the negative impact U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will have on K-12 public schools, you should pay attention to what she’s doing to higher education too.

Fortunately, people who have the most at stake – students who aspire to attend college or who have attended at least some higher education and have incurred loan burdens because of that – already have a wary eye on DeVos, and they’re planning to counter whatever she and President Trump do with a renewed push for free higher education.

But unlike efforts by the Obama administration to take action at the federal level, some student activists are targeting states too.

One such group is Student Action, a project of People’s Action, a national network of grassroots, progressive organizations that work together to advance democracy and a racial, gender, and economic justice agenda.

Recently, staff and volunteers of Student Action from across the country met at the founding convention of People’s Action in Washington, DC, to share their struggles with college debt burdens and kick off their campaign to plan the organization’s push for free higher education.

“People came together to imagine what truly accessible education would look like for our communities,” says Student Action Director Aija Nemer-Aanerud. “Then we plotted out what it would take to get there.”

In addition to taking on DeVos directly, student activists at the meeting spoke of going around her to address root causes that are driving the college debt crisis in the states.

What DeVos Has Done

DeVos recently drew the attention of state attorney’s general in the Democratic party who rebuked her for loosening requirements the Obama administration had placed on college loan servicing companies to ensure student loan holders understand what they owe and how they can pay off their debts.

According to Yahoo News, DeVos’ actions undo reforms that ensure four loan servicing companies that handle over $1.3 trillion in college student debt follow legal requirements that protect borrowers from fraud and exploitation. One of debt servicing companies, the article notes, is being sued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “over allegations it cheated borrowers by deceiving them about repayment options and their rights.”

DeVos’s action follows other concerning developments in how her department may handle college student loan debt.

According to Politico, shortly after Trump took over the federal government, the department “drastically slowed the approval of debt relief to tens of thousands of student borrowers seeking to have their federal loans canceled on the grounds their colleges defrauded them.”

In March, reports Slate’s Jordan Weissmann, the department lifted another restriction the Obama administration had put into place that prevented loan servicing companies from “slapping heavy fees on delinquent borrowers who were trying to catch up on loan payment.”

Then DeVos decided to end efforts the Obama administration had undertaken to streamline its complicated college loan system into a single system and vendor. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren called the move a “‘gut punch’ to the nation’s student loan borrowers,” according to Politico, “because the policies would have made it harder for companies to cheat borrowers.”

DeVos has taken these actions despite the well-known problems‘ with fraud and borrower abuse that are rampant in the college loan servicing industry. This caused editors of the New York Times to ask, “Who’s side is Betsy DeVos on?”

Student Action To Counter DeVos

DeVos’s actions to loosen regulations on college student loans come at a time when students need the support and protection of the federal government the most.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, “State funding for higher education continues to fall” nationwide, which puts funding for colleges and universities more on the backs of students.

A recent analysis by the Brookings Institute finds, as state direct aid to institutions of higher education has “stagnated,” students have come to rely more on financial aid from the federal government to cover the costs of tuition, books, and other expenses.

In an extreme example, Governor Suzana Martinez of New Mexico recently vetoed all state funding for higher education in her state.

Caught between states refusing to fund higher ed and federal loan programs that, under DeVos, are increasingly likely to exploit students needing college loans, Student Action is proposing to attack the root cause of upward spiraling tuition fees by pushing for free higher education at all two- and four-year, public-funded institutions.

With the aid of People’s Action’s national network of grassroots affiliates in 30 states, with more than 400 organizers and other staff, Student Action aims to drive a bottom-up movement for tuition-free college from campuses and communities rather than a top-down effort through politicians and political parties. [Disclosure: The Education Opportunity Network is a partner of People’s Action.]

At their campaign kick-off in D.C., Student Action staff and volunteers from 12 states shared personal stories of their struggles with college debt burdens and their belief in education as a basic human right.

Student activists spoke of having to take on huge amounts of debt burden – many with tens of thousands of dollars in loans – to pursue their education, so they can attain careers and achieve life aspirations.

Participants at the meeting pointed to a potential early win in Illinois, where an effort launched late last year would make Illinois community colleges and public universities free for in-state students. A large contingent from Illinois who were at the meeting talked about how they are mobilizing college campuses to get behind the effort. Their advocacy will join with other progressive organizations in the state who plan to walk from Chicago to the state capital in Springfield later this month to press for free public higher education, among other demands.

Others at the meeting criticized recent tuition-free college plans, like the one recently promoted by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, that are filled with so many exemptions and caveats that substantial numbers of students, particularly the ones most in need, can’t qualify. Instead, Students Action will press for programs that are open to all students, even those who are undocumented or aren’t able to go full time.

Other aspects of what Student Action wants in a plan for free higher education are likely to remain general for now, with policy details looking different in different states and demands driven by grassroots advocates rather than a top-down plan pushed by the organization.

But the goal is to see some form of free higher education winning in some states within five years.

“We can’t afford to wait out Trump,” one participant said.

Says Student Action’s Nemer-Aanerud, “I think we’ve got the energy and the foundation for a groundswell toward free public higher education in the coming years.”

4/20/2017 – Early Signs Betsy DeVos Will Not Support Civil Rights

THIS WEEK: Church And State … Choosing Segregation … Costs Of No Excuses … Screwing College Students … Neovouchers

TOP STORY

Early Signs Betsy DeVos Will Not Support Civil Rights

By Jeff Bryant

“So far, Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has sent numerous signs she is assembling a staff and laying down a policy mindset that seems indifferent – if not outright averse – to the needs of nonwhite students … The most alarming hire, so far, is for the head of the very office tasked to oversee civil rights enforcement in schools.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

In Upcoming Case, Supreme Court Should Uphold Separation Of Church And State

The Century Foundation

“The U.S. Supreme Court … in a closely watched case… could pave the way for state funding of private religious schools … The case involves a challenge to an 1875 provision in the Missouri Constitution which prohibits spending taxpayer funds ‘directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion’ … The federal district and circuit courts … upheld Missouri’s decision not to become entangled with religious institutions. But with President Trump’s appointee on the Supreme Court possibly holding the balance of power, the justices may take a serious step toward dismantling the wall separating church and state – a structure that has served our democracy so well over the generations.”
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When School Choice Means Choosing Segregation

Vice News

“A lawsuit pending appeal with the state Supreme Court alleges the growing segregation in Minnesota’s schools denies an adequate education to poor and minority kids and is the logical and illegal conclusion of the state’s abdication of its responsibility to integrate. It also alleges the state has allowed segregated charter schools to proliferate … Schools with large concentrations of poor or minority children … perform worse … Integration has repeatedly been shown to improve educational outcomes for all students … Charter advocates, for their part, are actively pushing back on the need to integrate at all … Integrating public schools isn’t possible without also integrating charter schools, and neither is possible without a court order.”
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Arresting And Suspending Students Costs City Millions Each Year, Report Says

Daily News

“Arresting and suspending students … cost [New York City] millions each year … more than $746 million … associated with students dropping out of school because of suspensions or arrests … ‘The $746 Million a Year School-to-Prison Pipeline’ calls for fewer student suspensions and the removal of NYPD personnel and metal detectors from public schools … ‘The city has an opportunity here to reinvest some of these funds into supportive programs and opportunities for students.'”
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Betsy DeVos Is Wasting No Time Screwing Over Students Who Borrow Money for College

Slate

“Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been sending some chilling signals lately about how she plans to deal with America’s $1.3 trillion student debt burden … Her department has scrapped Obama-era reforms that were designed to protect borrowers from being gouged or misled by the companies responsible for collecting their loans … DeVos seems less interested in protecting former students than in protecting the predators that have fleeced them for profit.”
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Tax Credits, School Choice And ‘Neovouchers’: What You Need To Know

The Conversation

“As Republican lawmakers craft a tax reform bill … it’s likely that the bill will also include a major education policy initiative from the Trump administration: a tax credit designed to fund private school vouchers … These new vouchers (or ‘neovouchers’) are similar to conventional vouchers in many ways, but there are some important differences … The complexity of the neovoucher approach obscures the fact that it’s really a voucher program, making it less of a political lightning rod … 17 states have tax-credit policies … generating a quarter-million vouchers and growing every year … Proposals are now appearing at a federal level.”
Read more …

Early Signs Betsy DeVos Will Not Support Civil Rights

It was just an Easter holiday party. But it seemed like an occasion that could give the Trump White House an easy opportunity to show racial inclusiveness.

But as the Daily News reports, when the White House staged its first annual Easter Egg Roll, it forgot to invite local school children. News outlets aligned to the Democratic Party, such as Occupy Democrats and Share Blue, were quick to note that while school children in the surrounding neighborhoods are mostly black, the event attendees were predominantly white – including “an all-white band on hand to perform slavery-era spirituals and soul music.”

The Daily News reporter attributes the whitewashing of the Easter crowd at the White House to a problem with “basic logistics,” but anyone paying attention knows all too well there’s a white people problem endemic to the Trump administration.

That problem is acutely visible in a policy arena where racial inclusion may matter most – education.

So far, Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has sent numerous signs she is assembling a staff and laying down a policy mindset that seems indifferent – if not outright averse – to the needs of nonwhite students.

A Growing Racial Divide

DeVos has taken the helm of federal education policy at a time when black and brown school children and youth critically need leaders in the federal government to address their needs.

The number of Latino, African-American, and Asian students in public K-12 schools passed the number of non-Hispanic whites over two years ago. Nevertheless, schools have become more racially segregated than they were 40 years ago.

The weight of research evidence shows when schools are racially and socioeconomically integrated, all students – even the white kids – benefit academically and in their social and emotional capabilities. Yet, without strong federal leadership, states and local districts generally shirk their responsibilities to enforce school integration.

Racial segregation is not the only problem nonwhite students confront in schools. Students of color in our nation’s schools are disproportionally more apt to receive out-of-school suspensions than their white peers, which significantly raises their tendency to eventually get entangled in the criminal justice system. A recent report from the Center for Popular Democracy found that in New York City alone these punitive school discipline programs cost the city more than $746 million annually.

How may we expect a DeVos administration to step up to address these challenges?

Alarming Hires For The Department Of Education

As I reported shortly after her nomination, DeVos has a problematic track record on civil rights, based on her actions in Michigan to promote school choice programs that significantly worsened the state’s racial and socioeconomic segregation of schools.

In one of her earliest moves as Secretary, DeVos announced her department’s decision to end a federal grant program created during the Obama administration to encourage more diversity in schools. Experts on poverty and race had called her handling of that program “a real test of her commitment to school integration.” She flunked it.

More alarming is recent news of how many new hires for the education department have a history of making racially offensive comments and expressing controversial opinions on efforts to level the social and economic playing field for African-Americans and other racial minorities.

Many of the new hires for the education department, Politico reports, have made racially offensive social media comments on Twitter and Facebook. And DeVos has staffed-up with people who have no apparent expertise in education or civil rights and who appear to be mostly white.

The most alarming hire, so far, is for the head of the very office tasked to oversee civil rights enforcement in schools.

As ProPublica reports, DeVos’s new acting head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Candice Jackson, “once complained that she experienced discrimination because she is white,” has spoken out against feminism and race-based preferences, and has favored writings by “an economist who decried both compulsory education and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

A professed libertarian, Jackson has collaborated on numerous politically conservative projects, including a book on the allegations of sexual misconduct against Bill Clinton and had a stint at rightwing legal advocacy organization Judicial Watch.

In addition to their problematic stances on civil rights, many of DeVos’s the new appointments to the department of education also raise concerns about cronyism and conflicts of interest. Many of her new staffers are holdovers of previous Republican administrations, have significant ties to the charter school industry, were employed by the Trump political machine, or have financial interests in for-profit colleges.

Wrong Policies On Race

Moving from matters of personnel to issues of policy, DeVos continues to make public pronouncements that seem antithetical to the interests of civil rights.

Her proclaimed support for “school choice”  – most recently, comparing schools to ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft – ignores how unregulated school choice options often lead to increased segregation in schools.

She regards social justice issues in schools as problems of “character” rather than structural discrimination and racism, according to Think Progress, the action center for left-leaning Center for American Progress. This raises fears among among civil rights advocates that DeVos will focus on supposed flaws of black and brown students rather than address the biased discipline policies that target and jeopardize these marginalized students.

Also, there’s a fear that DeVos and her administration will steer more federal dollars to private schools and charters that create their own policies without outside oversight. These schools have a well-researched track record for suspending black and disabled students at a higher rate than public schools.

These are all signs of an administration that will likely develop policies and support programs that attend to the needs of only some students and, like her boss’s Easter party, will keep marginalized students on the outside looking in.

 

 

 

4/13/2017 – During Resistance Recess, Join The Fight For Public Schools

THIS WEEK: Trump Ends Lead Paint Protections … Vouchers Hurt Special Ed … Importance Of Black Teachers … Charters Aren’t Needed … Lessons From Erie Schools

TOP STORY

During Resistance Recess, Join The Fight For Public Schools

By Jeff Bryant

“Public schools are imperiled, which means our democracy, and our future, is too. If you doubt that at all, just review prominent news stories from the past few days. They present ample evidence of the widespread effort to turn public education into opportunities for private gain … Resistance Recess is an opportunity for you to sound the alarm about what is happening to public education … A new communications tool … has all the talking points and in-depth research you need.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Trump’s EPA Moves To Dismantle Programs That Protect Kids From Lead Paint

The Washington Post

“Environmental Protection Agency officials are proposing to eliminate two programs focused on limiting children’s exposure to lead-based paint, which is known to cause damage to developing brains and nervous systems … Old housing stock is the biggest risk for lead exposure – and the EPA estimates that 38 million U.S. homes contain lead-based paint … Erik Olson, who directs the Natural Resources Defense Council’s health program, said … the move leaves children in dozens of states unprotected.”
Read more …

Special Ed School Vouchers May Come With Hidden Costs

The New York Times

“For many parents with disabled children in public school systems, the lure of the private school voucher is strong … But there’s a catch. By accepting the vouchers, families may be unknowingly giving up their rights to the very help they were hoping to gain. The government is still footing the bill, but when students use vouchers to get into private school, they lose most of the protections of the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act … Private schools that participate … are not required to demonstrate that they use any type of specialized curriculum to meet disabled children’s needs.”
Read more …

Study: Black Students More Likely To Graduate If They Have One Black Teacher

Education Week

“If a low-income black student has just one black teacher in elementary school, that student is significantly more likely to graduate high school and consider attending college … There was an even stronger effect for black boys from persistently low-income homes … Only 7% of public school teachers are black. Research has found that black teachers are less likely to suspend, expel, or give detention to black students, who are disproportionately given exclusionary discipline.'”
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Charter Schools Are Expanding Where They Aren’t Needed – Especially In Los Angeles, New Report Says

The Los Angeles Times

“New research … looks at where charter schools are increasing in number and where schools are needed based on enrollment. The two trend lines do not correspond … especially in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where the number of school-age children has declined even as the number of charters has rapidly grown … Traditional school districts can’t build new schools when real or potential enrollment fails to justify expansion. But those rules don’t apply to charter schools … Massive amounts of public dollars are helping charters acquire property that could end up being privately controlled should charters decide to sell their school sites or go out of business.”
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Erie Pennsylvania’s Schools Are A Canary In The Coal Mine of Education

The Progressive

Jeff Bryant writes, “Schools in low-income communities in many states don’t have the resources to give students access to opportunities that are available in wealthier areas … It’s important to know who to blame for the financial calamities … Better-funded districts simply don’t want more money going to less well-off districts because it would mean money out of their budgets … Charter schools help perpetuate this ‘everyone out for himself’ thinking.”
Read more …

During Resistance Recess, Join The Fight For Public Schools

In this season of resistance, there’s no issue more imperative to your community than the fight for public education.

While Congress is in recess, until April 23, you’ve got opportunity – and a brand new advocacy tool – to inform your local Congressional representatives about the assault on public education and persuade progressives in your community to join in your cause.

Why should you care?

Whether you have school-age children or not, you have a lot at stake in the struggle to ensure public schools continue to benefit the public.

Public education is America’s most collaborative endeavor by far. We all pay taxes to support public schools. Schools are community anchors like main streets, town halls, public parks, churches, and community centers. And we depend on public schools to prepare our future workers, entrepreneurs, and citizens. Public schools are the foundation of our democracy where students learn to respect and appreciate others who are different from them and schools model civic values to students and the community.

But public schools are imperiled, which means our democracy, and our future, is too.

If you doubt that at all, just review prominent news stories from the past few days. They present ample evidence of the widespread effort to turn public education into opportunities for private gain.

Take reporter Emma Brown’s story in the Washington Post. Brown looks at scheme in Florida that uses tax credits to channel billions of dollars in taxpayer funds to private schools that are mostly religion based.

There is no evidence the children do any better academically because they transfer to these private schools. The private schools can cherry pick only those students they prefer to accept to avoid students who may have learning disabilities or behavior issues. Most of the private schools get “consistently poor results” on standardized tests, according to Brown, but are never held accountable.

Brown covers this story because Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is a big fan of the Florida scheme and has pledged, along with President Trump, to roll out something like it nationwide.

If that isn’t disturbing enough, consider a recent news story from the other side of the continent. As the Los Angeles Times reports, a new study by pro-public advocacy group In the Public Interest finds that in California, charter schools are getting billions of dollars in state funding to open in places where they’re not needed and compete with public schools for students and precious education resources.

The report reveals that that three-quarters of these charters do worse on standardized tests than comparable public schools, and hundreds of them have been caught red-handed by the American Civil Liberties Union for maintaining discriminatory enrollment policies. Much of the money taxpayers provide goes to charter schools that are part of large chains that operate statewide and across the country. And charter organizations use public funds to purchase vast tracts of real estate and buildings they profit from and can retain even if the school operation shuts down.

Although the study is confined to California, the findings are likely similar to what occurs in the charter industry in other states, says report author Gordon Laffer, during a media call. What’s also worrisome, says ITPI Executive Director Donald Cohen during the call, is that Secretary DeVos and President Trump are strong supporters of charter schools, pledging to provide federal funds to incentivize the spread of these schools.

Perhaps even more concerning than the spread of voucher programs and charter schools is the expansion of the virtual school industry that relegates students to education programs provided exclusively or mostly over the internet.

A new report from the National Education Policy Center in Boulder, CO provides a comprehensive study of these schools that shows virtual schools generally underperform public schools while offering for-profit companies expanded opportunities to harvest tax dollars. Graduation rates are appallingly low – 43.4 percent in full-time virtual schools and 43.1 percent in “blended” programs. This mostly unregulated industry is expanding with little understanding of how public funds are being used.

You can count on this virtual school industry to continue to expand because it’s being fueled by “school choice” policies advocated by the Trump administration and by market incentives that lawmakers in nearly every state have been put in place.

As vouchers, charters, virtual schools, and other forms of school privatization continue to grow, millions in public tax dollars meant for public education are being redirected into private pockets while local schools that our communities depend on continue to have fewer resources to serve all children and families.

Resistance Recess is an opportunity for you to sound the alarm about what is happening to public education, inform your community, and call on political leaders to take action.

A new communications tool from the Network for Public Education has all the talking points and in-depth research you need to bolster your advocacy.

School Privatization Explained provides you with a series of briefs to challenge the myths of “school choice” and counter the propaganda machine pushing for charter schools, voucher programs, and online learning scams.

An overview of the NPE toolkit by Alan Singer at the Huffington Post calls this resource “a thirteen-point question/answer toolkit to expose the lies and distortions of charter school, voucher, and tax credit advocates.”

Check out the NPE toolkit today, download just the briefs you need to inform your community, and make support for public schools part of the progressive agenda where you live.

 

4/6/2017 – The Schools Betsy DeVos Wants Parents To Choose

THIS WEEK: Segregation Hurts Everyone … Trump Cuts Diversity … College Debt Harms Economy … Free College Returns … Facts On Preschool Suspensions

TOP STORY

The Schools Betsy DeVos Wants Parents To Choose

By Jeff Bryant

“U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos … used this visit to a public school as an opportunity to tell parents they would do better for their kids by sending them to privately run schools … But as her administration encourages parents to leave public schools, what types of schools would she prefer parents choose instead? Based on other schools DeVos has chosen for her itinerary, the possibilities are truly frightening.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Everyone Pays A Hefty Price For Segregation, Study Says

NPR

“Researchers … found that if Chicago – the fifth most racially and economically segregated city in the country – were to lower its level of segregation to the national median … it would have a profound impact … including raising the region’s gross domestic product, raising incomes, and lowering the homicide rate… Less segregation would also make Chicago and its environs more educated, with an estimated 83,000 more people who have bachelor’s degrees, bringing the region an added $90 billion in total lifetime earnings.”
Read more …

Trump’s Education Department Nixes Obama-Era Grant Program For School Diversity

The Washington Post

“President Trump’s Education Department has decided to nix an Obama-era grant program meant to help local districts devise ways to boost socioeconomic diversity within their schools … The Education Department said through a spokesman that the $12 million grant program was discontinued because it would not be a wise use of tax dollars … Research has shown that poor children who go to mixed-income schools fare better academically than poor children who go to high-poverty schools and that such integration doesn’t hurt the performance of affluent students. And yet U.S. public schools have become more segregated by race and class over the past two decades.”
Read more …

Debt Load Could Snag Students, Hurt U.S. Economy: Fed’s Dudley

Reuters

“Rising student loan debt in the United States could ultimately hurt overall home ownership and consumer spending and erode colleges’ and universities’ ability to elevate lower-income students, a top Federal Reserve policymaker said … Aggregate student loan balances $1.3 trillion at the end of last year, up 170 percent from 2006 … There are ‘potential longer-term negative implications of student debt on homeownership and other types of consumer spending … Continued increases in college costs and debt burdens could inhibit higher education’s ability to serve as an important engine of upward income mobility.'”
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Bernie Sanders Just Introduced His Free College Tuition Plan

The Nation

“The College for All Act aims to eliminate tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities for students from families that make up to $125,000 per year. The bill would make community college tuition-free for all income levels. Clearly the bill will go nowhere in a Republican Congress … But [Senator Bernie] Sanders and several of the co-sponsors clearly see the bill as a valuable organizing tool … The act would have the government pay 67% of tuition subsidies at public colleges and universities, while asking state and tribal governments to pay the other third … It would be financed by a tax on Wall Street speculation.”
Read more …

4 Disturbing Facts About Preschool Suspension

Center for American Progress

“47% of the preschoolers who received suspensions or expulsions in the 2013-14 school year were African American, even though they made up only 19% of preschool enrollment. In total, nearly 7,000 3- and 4-year-olds were suspended or expelled from public preschools during the same school year … Disturbing, facts to know about preschool suspension and expulsion … It pathologizes normal child behavior … It can be driven by implicit racial bias … It’s more common in school districts that still use corporal punishment … It may be an even bigger problem in private preschools.”
Read more …

The Schools Betsy DeVos Wants Parents To Choose

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos finally found a public school she could visit where there wouldn’t be protests. It’s on a military base, safely inside the compound of Ft. Bragg in North Carolina.

As a local news outlet reports, DeVos used her appearance at Kimberly Hampton Primary, a school operated by the Department of Defense and funded by the federal government, to make her usual pitch for “school choice,” in this case, in the form of vouchers parents can use to withdraw their children from public schools and send them to private schools at taxpayer expense.

For DeVos to use this visit to a public school as an opportunity to tell parents they would do better for their kids by sending them to privately run schools suggests her leadership will continue to advocate for funding more alternative schools rather than for supporting traditional ones.

But as her administration encourages parents to leave public schools, what types of schools would she prefer parents choose instead?

Based on other schools DeVos has chosen for her itinerary, the possibilities are truly frightening.

DeVos Does CARE

After the Ft. Bragg gig, DeVo’s next stop is CARE Elementary School in Miami, Florida.

CARE is a private school, which DeVos has a well-known preference for. Also, DeVos may want to showcase the school because its name, CARE, stands for Christian Academy for Reaching Excellence.

DeVos’s belief in using education as a way to “advance God’s Kingdom” is well documented.

As Kristina Rizga reports for Mother Jones, the lengthy philanthropic record DeVos and her husband have amassed over many years shows “the couple’s clearest preference is for Christian private schools.”

CARE elementary certainly fits that profile. Students at CARE, according to the school’s handbook, “Attend weekly chapel, they are taught Christian principles with love and respect, and they are exposed to the love and grace of Jesus Christ. Prayer is part of the CARE experience.”

On its website, CARE says the school admits students of “any race, color, national, and ethnic origin” and “does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national, and ethnic origin.” Discriminating based on religion is notably absent.

Since the school’s opening in the fall of 2015, it has gotten significant praise from school choice advocates in South Florida, including the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which endorsed DeVos’s nomination.

FEE was founded by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and has received generous support from DeVos and her foundation. DeVoss has also served on its board of directors.

But what’s most notable about CARE Elementary, is how it’s funded. Although the school is private, it’s completely free.

How can a private school be tuition-free?

Religious Education At Taxpayer Expense

According to FEE’s review of the school, “Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program is a dominant factor in CARE’s ability to offer quality education at no cost to families.” (emphasis added)

DeVos has often praised Florida’s tax credit scholarship program.

This program, and others like it, offers tax subsidies to wealthy people in exchange for their donations to private school scholarships. As Carl Davis explains at The American Prospect, these programs let states use private citizens as “middlemen” in a give-away scheme that ensures wealthy people pay less taxes and private schools get public funds.

The Florida program was initially promoted in 1998 to state lawmakers by a venture capitalist, according to a report from the Florida League of Women Voters by Sue Legg.

When the tax credit scheme was challenged as unconstitutional, Legg explains, DeVos paid a million dollars in 2016 to send thousands of children to the state capital to rally against the suit. The state Supreme Court declined to rule on the case in 2017.

Since its inception, the main success of Florida’s tax credit program has been its ability to send public funds to private religious schools like CARE Elementary. As Legg reports, 82 percent of the funds stemming from the program go to religious schools.

The give-away could be partially justified if students taking advantage of the program performed better academically. They don’t.

Legg’s analysis finds, while ten percent of students benefiting from the scholarships “gained more than twenty percentile points on a nationally normed test, fourteen percent lost more than twenty percentile points.”

But if CARE Elementary sounds like a less then desirable choice for American taxpayers and families, the next school on DeVos’s itinerary is arguably worse.

DeVos Visits A SLAM School

Next on DeVos’s Magical Education Tour is a special kind of charter school, also in Miami.

SLAM Miami a charter school in a chain of charters focused on “Sports Leadership and Management” (hence the name). The schools are most notable for their association with the rapper Pitbull.

“Pitbull (Armando Christian Pérez) is the latest in a long list of celebrities lending their star power to the flourishing charter school movement,” reported NPR when the school debuted.

The school “has a vocational bent as a way to hook kids for whom school is boring,” Pitbull explained to a reporter for the Huffington Post. “They’re already labeling me ‘Mr. Education,'” he said.

Since Miami SLAM debuted, more SLAMs have opened in West Palm Beach, Tampa, and Las Vegas.

While Pitbull may like the idea of being known as Mr. Education, he’s most well-known for his misogynistic lyrics. As the Independent reports, at least one popular female DJ has found the lyrics unbearably offensive and has taken a public stand against playing the music.

The article notes, “Pitbull’s song ‘Timber’, which reached number one last year, includes the lyrics: ‘I have ‘em like Miley Cyrus, clothes off/twerking in their bras and thongs… face down, booty up.’ He also sings: ‘She say she won’t, but I bet she will.’ Other songs include the lines ‘I like that when you fight back’ and ‘Shake that shit bitch/And be off in the club with a hard-ass dick.'”

That sounds like a less than ideal figurehead to have at the helm of an education institution for children, but the management company operating the school may be an even bigger cause for concern.

SLAM charters are in a web of the Mater charter school chain operating in multiple states. SLAM, Mater, and other charter school chains are operated by the Academica education management group, South Florida’s largest education management organization (EMO) with schools in multiple states.

Schools connected to the Academica EMO have a disturbing reputation for shady financial dealings.

Schools As Real Estate Schemes

Whether DeVos knows it or not, SLAM charter’s link to Academica may connect it to an investigation by the federal agency she directs.

As the Miami Herald reports, the Education Department’s Inspector General Office is auditing Academica “as part of a broader examination of school management companies nationwide.”

Specifically, the auditors found that schools in the Mater network operated by Academica, which SLAM is also part of, entered into leases with development companies tied to South Florida real estate mogul Fernando Zulueta who “founded the original Mater Academy in 1998 and was a member of its governing board until Sept. 2004.

“Two of the leases were executed while Zulueta sat on the Mater board,” the Herald reports. “In addition, Mater Academy hired an architectural firm from 2007 through 2012 that employs Fernando Zulueta’s brother-in-law, Florida state Rep. Erik Fresen.”

Fresen, another Herald report notes, is a former lobbyist and employee of Academica.

The conflicts of interest likely run deeper. A previous series of reports by the Herald found, “Cozy political connections, favorable tax treatment and little public oversight has allowed Miami charter school chain Academica to exploit Florida’s laws, build a successful chain of schools, and profit off taxpayer dollars.”

Highlights of the series of reports include details about millions in management fees from these schools going to the parent company (all at taxpayer expense), the exorbitant above-market lease payments Academica charges its schools (also paid by tax payers), and the schools’ track record for enrolling disproportionately lower shares of black, poor, and disabled children.

It’s not at all clear whether SLAM charters are plagued with the same sort of conflicts of interest that other Academica operated schools have. But for DeVos to associate herself with these schools and pose them as better choices for parents than local public schools is concerning.

Whose Choice?

As DeVos concludes this itinerary of school visits, she will have visited at least as many private and charter schools as she has visited traditional K-12 public schools in her tenure as Education Secretary so far.

It’s somewhat understandable DeVos would seek out schools where she is least likely to encounter protestors. During her nomination process, she was the “most jeered” of Trump’s cabinet picks, according to the New York Times. Since her confirmation, she’s done little to improve on her image. In fact, she’s the most unpopular official in President Trump’s administration, according to a recent online survey.

But the schools she chooses to visit and what she says to the educators in these schools continue to convey the message that rather than fulfilling her obligation as a public servant to support public schools, her agenda is mostly about distributing scarce resources for education to other types of schools she would prefer parents choose instead.

The fact these schools may have a religious agenda, may rely on schemes to redirect tax money to private pockets, or may be designed to put education funding at risk to privateers and real estate deals seems not to bother her one bit.

That’s not parents’ choice. It’s her choice.

 

[Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated CARE Elementary School’s full name.]

 

3/30/2017 – A Gorsuch Approval Would Put Vulnerable Students Further At Risk

THIS WEEK: DeVos Dream School … How Trump Cuts Hurt … Special Ed Segregation … Let Kids Play … Trump Hypocrisy On STEM

TOP STORY

A Gorsuch Approval Would Put Vulnerable Students Further At Risk

By Jeff Bryant

“Students with disabilities already face a difficult path through our nation’s education system … With the Gorsuch nomination, Trump appears increasingly willing to respond to the real obstacles these children face by telling them, ‘Tough! You’re on your own’ … Gorsuch’s pattern of disregarding the rights of disabled students merely reflects a pattern of the Trump administration to minimize the needs of these students … The Gorsuch nomination not only continues the pattern of neglect, even antipathy, Trump exhibits toward students with disabilities; his approval would cement this in legal precedent for generations to come.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Welcome To The Private Evangelical School Of Betsy DeVos’ Dreams

The Huffington Post

“The Potter’s House is a private school that is ‘evangelical in nature’ and reportedly teaches creationism alongside evolution. It’s also the type of school that Betsy DeVos … believes can level the playing field in educational inequality… DeVos has been … a donor, volunteer and board member. She has mentioned the school by name in speeches and interviews … Early signs indicate that DeVos will help make it easier for kids to attend similar private, religious schools.”
Read more …

What Would Trump’s Proposed Cut To Teacher Funding Mean For Schools?

Education Week

“President Donald Trump has proposed getting rid of the Title II program, which … aims to help districts and states pay for teacher and principal development, reduce class-size, craft new evaluation systems, and more … Zeroing out Title II could hamper implementation of the new Every Student Succeeds Act, lead to teacher layoffs, and make it tougher for educators to reach special populations of students, or use technology in their classrooms … The money for class-size reduction has helped pay for the salaries of nearly 9,000 teachers nationwide … During the 2015-16 school year, nearly half the money went to the nation’s highest-poverty districts.”
Read more …

The Separate, Unequal Education Of Students With Special Needs

The Hechinger Report

“Children … all over the country – with diagnoses including ADHD, bipolar disorder and, increasingly, autism … are often placed in separate classrooms within public schools and spend large numbers of hours on computers using technology that is not aligned with their specific needs … A Georgia program caught the attention of the Department of Justice, which launched an investigation that lasted several years … According to that lawsuit, the … system violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, both by segregating children with disabilities and by denying them access to an equal education … The case has implications for school systems and children with emotional and behavioral disorders across the nation.”
Read more …

Why Kids Shouldn’t Sit Still in Class

The New York Times

“Evidence builds that taking brief activity breaks during the day helps children learn and be more attentive in class, and a growing number of programs designed to promote movement are being adopted in schools … Children who are more active ‘show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed and perform better on standardized academic tests than children who are less active’ … Students, especially boys, who had daily physical education, did better in school.”
Read more …

The irony In Ivanka Trump’s And Betsy DeVos’s Push For STEM Education

The Washington Post

Education journalist and blogger Valerie Strauss writes, “Ivanka Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visited the National Air and Space Museum in Washington … to ‘highlight the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education’ and to discuss ’empowering young women to pursue STEM-related careers’ … The event came just a short time after President Trump, Ivanka’s father, advanced his first federal budget, which … seeks to wipe out NASA’s education office, which oversees efforts to support women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields, operates camps and enrichment programs, and provides internships and scholarships for young scientists.”
Read more …

A Gorsuch Approval Would Put Vulnerable Students Further At Risk

Students with disabilities already face a difficult path through our nation’s education system, but President Donald Trump appears determined to add to the disadvantages these students already face. His nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court is yet another sign his administration is less than eager to uphold the rights of these students.

Just how rough do these students already have it?

They score far lower on standardized achievement tests, which have become even more of an emphasis in our accountability-driven education system. They’re more than twice as likely to be suspended from school, and they’re much more apt to be bullied at school. They’re less likely to get help in schools, despite legal requirements for schools to provide a free and appropriate education. And while high school graduation rates have hit a record high of 83 percent nationally, graduation rates for these students continue to be mired below 70 percent in 33 states. In seven of those states, the rate is less than 50 percent.

With the Gorsuch nomination, Trump appears increasingly willing to respond to the real obstacles these children face by telling them, “Tough! You’re on your own.”

A vote to approve Gorsuch would be tantamount to saying the same thing.

Luke’s Case

“Gorsuch is a threat to educational equity and the fundamental rights of all Americans,” says Marge Baker, the Executive Vice President for Policy and Program at People for the American Way.

In an email statement, she points to a previous decision in 2008 in which Gorsuch rejected the opinions of lower courts that had ruled an elementary school child with autism had the legal right to a residential school program.

The boy, Luke, faced serious obstacles in navigating day-to-day life, including using the bathroom and navigating public spaces without breaking out into fits of violence. Although the special education program provided by the public schools had helped, it simply wasn’t enough, and Luke’s parents sought financial remuneration from the school district for his extra level of care.

The case required Gorsuch to apply the proper interpretation of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), a key federal law guaranteeing students with disabilities access to a free and appropriate education.

He failed to do that.

Doing ‘De Minimus’

Although three lower courts had ruled Luke’s parents, under the provisions of IDEA, were rightfully due financial compensation from the district, Gorsuch reversed those rulings, arguing his own personal precedent that students like Luke only needed to exhibit gains that were “merely more than de minimis” for the school to show it had complied with the law.

“His reasoning in that case was so extreme that it was actually overturned unanimously by the Supreme Court,” Baker explains. Indeed, in recent ruling on a similar case, all eight justices of the Court rejected the “merely more than de minimis” progress Gorsuch had attempted to set in interpreting federal disabilities law.

Gorshuch’s use of the words “merely more than de minimis” in his ruling is not the only instance in which he has failed to uphold legal precedent in enforcing federal disabilities laws.

‘A Lack Of Regard’

A review of his previous rulings by the National Education Association finds, “his record, when considered as a whole, shows a lack of regard for the struggles and rights of students with disabilities.”

According to NEA, “Gorsuch has written or participated in several cases about the IDEA,” but he has “sided with a disabled student without expressing his personal reservations in only one case.”

NEA’s review concludes, “Given this record, the hard-won protections for students with disabilities could be in peril should Judge Gorsuch be confirmed to the Supreme Court.”

“Gorsuch has gone out of his way to impose extra legal barriers for students with disabilities rather than helping them to overcome obstacles,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia to Scoop, a news outlet covering developmental disability news. “We should all be concerned by this troubling trend in Gorsuch’s record.”

Gorsuch’s tendency to disregard the rights of disabled students  reflects the Trump administration’s routine disregard for their needs.

A Pattern Of Neglect

During the presidential campaign, Trump infamously mocked a reporter with a physical disability to an audience at a public rally.

But the first sign the Trump administration posed a unified threat toward these students emerged in hearings for U.S. Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos .

During her confirmation hearing, when she was asked a question about her views on IDEA, DeVos “displayed at best confusion and at worst a lack of knowledge” about the law, reports Emma Brown of the Washington Post.

When asked repeatedly by Virginia Senator Tim Kaine whether schools receiving federal funds should uphold federal law in their treatment of students with disabilities, she replied, “I think that is a matter that is best left up to the states.”

When Kaine rightly reminded her IDEA is a federal law and failure to enforce it would force parents into difficult life circumstances if the state they happened to live in didn’t treat their children very well, DeVos made vague mention of a program she liked in Florida that provides parents with a voucher they can use to move to a private school.

The Florida program, Brown notes, “requires students to sign away their IDEA due process rights.”

Indeed, school voucher programs, like the Florida one DeVos champions and Trump appears to favor too, do more harm than good to students with disabilities, in the long run.

An analysis by the left-leaning Center for American Progress finds that these programs aid in transferring public schools funds to private schools that “can deny admission outright to students … if their needs are considered too severe. If schools do choose to admit students with special needs, they are not obligated to provide necessary behavioral and educational interventions and can refuse to continue services at any time.”

The Gorsuch nomination not only continues the pattern of neglect, even antipathy, Trump exhibits toward students with disabilities; his approval would cement this in legal precedent for generations to come.

Gorsuch Should Go Down

In his testimony to Senators at Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing, Luke’s father Jeffrey Perkins states, “Judge Gorsuch felt that an education for my son that was even one small step above insignificant was acceptable,” and his ruling on Luke’s case set the dangerous precedent that, “even if a child, as in Luke’s case, was utterly failing to progress in any meaningful global sense, the educational plan would be judged ‘appropriate.’

“Judge Gorsuch eviscerated the educational standard guaranteed by the IDEA,” Perkines concludes. “On behalf of all children – disabled, typical, and gifted – I urge you to deny confirmation of Judge Neal Gorsuch to the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Tell your Senators you agree.