Education Opportunity Network

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6/23/2016 – Getting The ‘Customer Model’ Out Of Education

THIS WEEK: Schools Aren’t Failures … Ed-Tech Not A Solution … Low Teacher Pay … Chicago School Collapse … America’s School Funding Crisis


Getting The ‘Customer Model’ Out Of Education

By Jeff Bryant

“We’re constantly told schools need to be in step with the needs of businesses, and that education is ‘an investment’ that gets a ‘return.’ The language of education policy is saturated in business values of efficiency, standardization, and productivity. But the truth is most businesses fail.”
Read more …


America’s Not-So-Broken Education System

The Atlantic

“The public-education system is undeniably flawed. Yet many of the deepest flaws have been deliberately cultivated. Funding inequity and racial segregation, for instance, aren’t byproducts of a system that broke. They are direct consequences of an intentional concentration of privilege … It is important not to confuse inequity with ineptitude. History may reveal broken promises around racial and economic justice. But it does not support the story of a broken education system.”
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State-Of-The-Art Education Software Often Doesn’t Help Students Learn More, Study Finds

The Hechinger Report

“Students didn’t get higher grades from using adaptive-learning software, nor were they more likely to pass a course than in a traditional face-to-face class. In some courses the researchers found that students were learning more from adaptive-learning software, but even in those cases, the positive impact tended to be ‘modest.’”
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Teacher Pay Around The World


“American teachers are underpaid when compared to teachers in the nations we compete with … In most industrialized countries relative teacher pay is higher than in the United States … The gaps are even larger for upper secondary than for lower secondary … Making teaching a financially more attractive career isn’t the only thing that matters for who teaches. It does matter though, and probably it matters a lot.”
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Is The Nation’s Third-Largest School District In Danger Of Collapse?

The Washington Post

“Money mismanagement, inadequate funding and failed education policy are combining with a host of other factors to raise the issue of whether the nation’s third-largest school district is in existential danger … The union rejected an independent fact-finders recommendation that it accept a four-year contract offered by the city, and its president, Karen Lewis, said that the district’s financial problems could not solely be laid at the feet of the Republican governor, but also at the mayor’s and district leadership’s.”
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America Faces A School Funding Crisis


Jeff Bryan writes, “In many communities around the country, families with children in schools are increasingly concerned about the conditions of the schools their kids will return to in the fall. Even worse, some are worrying whether the schools will open at all … National per-pupil spending on primary and secondary public schools has dropped for three straight years … In the meantime, student enrollment in public schools continues to grow … A recent review of the research on the effects of school funding on school outcomes … found that spending more money on education tends to benefit students.”
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Getting The ‘Customer Model’ Out Of Education

Recently New York Times columnist Frank Bruni lodged a complaint about college students who “have come to act as customers” in the higher education system.

He argues that because many colleges now feature rich amenities – from sushi bars to water parks – and opportunities for students to have more of a say in how they are educated, that a “customer model” has turned higher education into en endeavor where the focus is on what students have come to expect, “not what is expected of them.”

Instead seeing a focus on “academic rigor” and “intensive effort,” he finds most college students “regard colleges as providers of goods that are measurable and of services that should meet their specifications.”

In some ways, he’s probably right. But it’s not the students’ fault. It’s ours.

Practically their entire academic life, college students have heard schools need to be in step with the needs of businesses and the economy. They’re told their education is “an investment” which will get them a “return” as an adult. The language of education policy is now saturated in business principals of efficiency, standardization, and productivity.

In K-12, school superintendents now call themselves CEOs, and parents are being called customers. The latest policy fads – such as “school choice” and “the money should follow the child” – add to students’ and parents’ expectations that education is more a private pursuit than a public good and that they’d better get what they want for their money.

If Bruni would just notice what his college alma mater, the University of North Carolina, is doing he would see how the students he criticizes are getting their cues from adults. With Margaret Spellings, the former US Secretary of Education under George W. Bush, as the new president governing the entire UNC system, a much more business-minded mentality will preside over higher education in the Tarheel State.

As Zoë Carpenter explains in The Nation, “At the Department of Education, Spellings tried to bring the focus on performance metrics and accountability that drove No Child Left Behind in higher-education policy. She convened a Commission on the Future of Higher Education, whose final report referred to students as ‘consumers,’ and lauded elements of the for-profit education industry for embracing ‘an aggressive, outcomes-based approach.'”

Confronted with this new paradigm where a customer model now dominates people’s expectations, what seems to bother Bruni the most is that somehow the students are getting it easier than they should and getting accommodations they don’t deserve.

But the truth is, they’re getting screwed.

To see the ultimate example of how business thinking can infect education with the worst possible practices, see what has been transpiring in the most consumer-driven education option of them all: for-profit colleges.

As Carpenter writes, “Ironically, it’s the for-profit industry that has failed most egregiously.”

When the independent news agency ProPublica looked at a portion of the for-profit college sector, those that were accredited by Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), it found a litany of scandal and fraud where students were victims and not the self-indulged brats Bruni worries over.

According to the report, these for-profit institutions chalked up the worst graduation rates and highest student college loan median debt levels and loan nonrepayment rates for graduates of any national accreditation agency.

Another report on these scam schools, from the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, found

  • 82 percent, 554 out of 676 institutions, are in the bottom one-third nationally for three-year repayment rates.
  • 62 percent, 389 out of 628 institution, are in the bottom one-third nationally in terms of earnings 10 years after enrollment for individuals receiving federal aid.
  • 57 percent, 362 out of 632 institutions, are in the bottom one-third nationally in terms of the percentage of students who received federal aid and are earning more than a high school graduate 10 years after entering school.

The institutional malfeasance characterizing this subsection of for-profit higher ed is typical for the entire industry.

Another new study, this one by David Halperin for Republic Report, finds “Seven of America’s ten biggest for-profit college companies, which collectively received about $8 billion dollars in taxpayer money last year, have in recent months and years been under investigation or sued by federal and state law enforcement agencies for deceptive business practices.”

Another finding from that report: “The US Department of Education reported that 72 percent pf the for-profit college programs it analyzed produced graduates who, on average, earned less than did high school dropouts. A May 2016 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that for-profit college students, graduates and dropouts combined, earned less after leaving school then they did before they enrolled.”

The Obama administration has introduced a plan to write off the debts of students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges. The plan estimates, according to Politco, one out of every four dollars in loans to for-profit schools offering associate’s degrees or certificates could be eligible for forgiveness. The estimate for for-profits offering bachelor’s degrees is one out of every five dollars in loans.

The editorial board of the New York Times calls Obama’s plan “long overdue,” but also long overdue is some enforcement of a dividing line over education and the need to make a buck.

There’s really nothing ironic, as Carpenter states, about the failure of these schools. It makes perfect sense. Failure is an essential part of business; most businesses, in fact, fail.

But failure is not what we want for education. And if what we want is for students to stop seeing themselves as customers, as Bruni argues, then we have to stop thinking about schools as businesses.



6/16/2016 – How Long Can Big Money Keep Democrats In The Charter School Camp?

THIS WEEK: Chronic Absences … Homeless Students … Transgender Bathrooms … Poor Pay For Pre-K … New Reform Lie


How Long Can Big Money Keep Democrats In The Charter School Camp?

By Jeff Bryant

“In the California Democratic Party’s primary race … many Democratic Party candidates relied on money from the petroleum industry and ‘education reform’ advocates backing charter schools to win their contests over ‘more progressive’ candidates … Charter school advocates also team up with big finance to influence Democratic Party candidates … Although, the issue of charter schools has barely been addressed in the presidential contest, there’s little doubt the subject is clearly a matter of intense and bitter debate down ticket.”
Read more …


More Than 6 Million U.S. Students Are ‘Chronically Absent’


“If students miss 10% of the school year – that’s just two days a month – research shows they are way more likely to fall behind – even drop out … More than 6 million kids are missing 15 days or more of school a year … More than 2 million high schoolers are missing 15 days or more. The figures for minority students are even more alarming: More than a fifth of black high schoolers are chronically absent. It’s 20 percent for Latino high school students and 27 percent for American Indians and Native Alaskans.”
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With Homeless Students On The Rise, Will New Education Law Help?

US News & World Report

“Homeless students are one of the fastest-growing subgroups of students in the U.S. … More than 1.3 million students were homeless during the 2013-14 school year… Students who experience homelessness are more likely than their non-homeless peers to be held back from grade to grade; have poor attendance or be chronically absent from school; fail courses; have more disciplinary issues; and drop out of school … Beginning in the 2016-2017 school year, states will be required under the new federal education law … to report graduation rates for homeless youth. In addition, districts will have more flexibility in how they use some pots of federal funding, and policymakers are hoping they choose to direct more of that toward providing support for homeless students.”
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What Does Research Suggest About Transgender Restroom Policies?

Education Week

“A 2013 national school climate survey of nearly 8,000 LGBT youths between the ages of 13 and 21 found that 63% of transgender students avoided school bathrooms, and 52% of transgender students avoided school locker rooms because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable … Regular access to restrooms can have a direct impact on academic participation and performance … There is currently no evidence of any increase in sexual assaults or other criminal behavior in restrooms in the 18 states and Washington, D.C., that have enacted gender-identity-inclusive public-accommodations nondiscrimination laws.”
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It’s Ridiculous How Little We Pay Preschool Teachers


“Teacher quality matters a lot in the early years … And yet. In spite of the rising need for childcare in this country – approximately 58 percent of mothers of infants work full time – and its increasingly obscene cost, preschool teachers are paid very, very little… an average of $28,570 last year. Daycare worker salaries are even more pitiable, with the average worker making $9.77 an hour in 2015, or $20,320 a year … Daycare workers have joined fast-food employees and other hourly wage workers in the Fight for $15.”
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The New Education Reform Lie: Why Denver Is A Warning Sign, Not A Model, For Urban School Districts


Jeff Bryan writes, “Numerous articles and reports in mainstream media outlets and education policy sites enthusiastically tout Denver as the place to see the next important new ‘reform’ in education policy in action … Denverites tell a different story about Denver-style urban school reform. Instead of a glowing example, they point to warning signs. Rather than a narrative of success, their stories reveal disturbing truths about Denver’s version of modern urban school reform – how policy direction is often controlled by big money and insiders, why glowing promises of ‘improvement’ should be regarded with skepticism, and what the movement’s real impacts are, especially in communities dominated by poor families of color.”
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How Long Can Big Money Keep Democrats In The Charter School Camp?

It’s obvious 2016 is an election year when Democratic candidates need to draw a bright line to differentiate themselves from Republican opponents.

With Donald Trump leading the GOP ticket, and most leaders of his party getting in line behind him, it’s doubtful Democrats will find urgent need to “meet in the middle” on issues such as civil rights, women’s reproductive health and equal pay, immigration, minimum wage, gender equity, and climate change.

There may be some issues that still tempt Democrats to collude with conservatives in order to woo mythological “swing voters.” But the number one fear among top Republican strategists is that Democrats will run “a base campaign, directed toward liberals, maximizing that vote, and electing a devastating ticket.”

How then, do you explain the results of the recent California primary?

A Toxic Mix

As Harold Meyerson recently wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, while the Democratic Party’s presidential candidates, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, ran on populist platforms denouncing “the corrosive role of money in politics” and “condemning the plutocratic consequences of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision,” many Democratic Party candidates down ticket funded their campaigns with big money from two corporate interests.

One interest flooding the election with campaign donations is hardly new to the scene. For decades, the petroleum industry has stuffed the coffers of candidates in both parties to ensure legislation continues to favor oil consumption, stall alternative energy sources, and ensure lax environmental regulations.

The other source of corporate cash in Democratic politics is much newer: charter schools.

As Meyerson explains, in the California Democratic Party’s primary race – where only the top two candidates, from either party, move on to the general election in the fall – many Democratic Party candidates relied on money from the petroleum industry and “education reform” advocates backing charter schools to win their contests over “more progressive” candidates.

According to Meyerson, the combo of big oil and education reform mustered at least $24 million in donations to back candidates who opposed “Gov. Jerry Brown’s effort to halve motorists’ use of fossil fuels by 2030” and who supported “expanding charter schools.”

Meyerson spotlights a number of races around the state where candidates who benefitted from the big oil-education reform combo defeated more progressive Democrats.

Across the Golden State, reports LA School Report, “Education reformers spent big ahead of California’s primary … The millions paid off with all of the candidates they supported advancing to November’s general election.”

That article cites a source stating, “State campaign finance records show that about one-third of a record $27.9 million spent … by independent expenditure committees in legislative races statewide came from three groups supporting education reform.”

How did the charter school industry get mixed up with big oil to gets its way in Democratic Party contests?

Big Money Behind Charters

As education historian Diane Ravitch explains on her personal blog, “Public education in California is under siege by people and organizations who want to privatize the schools, remove them from democratic control, and hand them over to the charter industry.”

Ravitch points to Eli Broad, who made his money in the home building and insurance industries, Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix, and Michael Milken, of junk bond industry fame, as members in a group of “billionaires” who push legislation to expand charter schools and limit regulation of the industry.

The big money, top down campaign to expand charter schools in California is well documented in a recent series of articles by Capital & Main. One article in the series adds the Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy related to the family that owns the Walmart retail chain, to the list of charter “power brokers” who invest billions in creating and expanding these schools.

Big money from these foundations and philanthropists, according to the report, pours into the charter industry to direct fund charter schools, pay for “academic studies” that promote charters, and create “grassroots” organizations that make charter school advocacy look like a parent-led movement.

To influence policy, these same organizations finance “powerful political lobbies such as the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) and “contribute millions of dollars to school board elections in order to replace those perceived to be anti-charter with pro-charter board members, as seen in recent elections in Los Angeles and Oakland, two cities where charter-expansion partisans have been particularly aggressive.”

Democrats Vs. Democrats

In California and beyond, charter school advocates also team up with big finance to influence Democratic Party candidates in state and local elections.

According to a report from the Center for Media and Democracy, an organization calling itself Democrats for Education Reform has been effective in a number of states at getting Democratic candidates to team up with traditionally Republican-leaning financial interests to defeat any attempts to question rapid expansions of unregulated charter schools.

According to the CMD study, DEFR is a PAC “co-founded by hedge fund managers” to funnel “dark money” into “expenditures, like mass mailings or ads supporting particular politicians, that were ‘independent’ and not to be coordinated with the candidates’ campaigns.” The organization and its parent entity also have ties to FOX’s Rupert Murdoch and Charles and David Koch

Colorado is another states where local elections often pit “Democrat versus Democrat” in campaigns where the interests of big money oppose progressive candidates who question the need to expand charter schools and exempt them from transparency laws.

In Tennessee also, the interests of right-wing organizations such as Americans for Prosperity often overlap with Democratic government officials intent on expanding charter schools.

Even in traditionally liberal states such as Massachusetts, progressive Democrats assailing the state’s conservative Republican governor for his push to “privatize” education with more charter schools are opposed by DEFR and other big money interests who declare support for charters, because these schools have had the backing of the Obama administration and, well, it’s about “kids.”

A Down Ticket Debate

Although, the issue of charter schools has barely been addressed in the presidential contest, there’s little doubt the subject is clearly a matter of intense and bitter debate down ticket, where the results of electoral contests can have the most impact on people’s lives.

No doubt, charter school advocates will say their causes’ overlapping interests with big business and  conservative policy ideas is a good thing as it shows opposing sides can “come together” for “the kids.” They’ll insist it’s time those who question these schools to get in line with the big money backing their industry.

But so far this has been an election season that often defies conventional wisdom.

As Matt Taibbi explains in Rolling Stone, this year’s presidential primary had the unusual turn of events where “the all-powerful Democratic Party ended up having to dig in for a furious rally to stave off a quirky Vermont socialist almost completely lacking big-dollar donors or institutional support.”

Taibbi sees many convincing signs that, “People are sick of being thought of as faraway annoyances who only get whatever policy scraps are left over after pols have finished servicing the donors they hang out with.”

Clearly there are enough voters in the Democratic Party base who feel this way to convince some of their party’s candidates and current officials to challenge the wide leeway the charter school industry wants. So maybe more Democratic candidates who’ve tapped charter school money will have some explaining to do.


6/9/2016 – Mindless Underfunding Of Schools Continues

THIS WEEK: Education Inequity Reigns … Suspensions Cost Us Billions … Experienced Teachers Matter … Grades Beat Tests … Business Thinking Hurts Education


Mindless Underfunding Of Schools Continues, Doing Irreparable Harm To Kids

By Jeff Bryant

“High school graduation season is in full bloom in many communities around the nation, but in some places, parents with kids still in schools have to be worried about the conditions of their schools they’ll return to in the fall – or even if the schools will open at all … The Wall Street Journal reports that state lawmakers across the nation, especially in the Midwest, are at seemingly intractable odds over how ‘to make sure the next school year can start on time.'”
Read more …


Disparities Continue to Plague U.S. Schools, Federal Data Show

Education Week

“New federal data show a continuing deep gulf between the educational experiences of traditionally disadvantaged student groups and their peers on a broad range of indicators … Black and Latino students are still more likely to be suspended, more likely to attend schools with high concentrations of inexperienced teachers, and less likely to have access to rigorous and advanced coursework than their white peers … For black, Latino, American Indian, and multiracial high school students, roughly 20% or more are chronically missing from class … Asian, black, and Latino students are more likely than their white peers to be among the 1.6 million students nationwide who attend a school that has a law-enforcement officer but no school counselor.”
Read more …

Suspending Teens Ruins Lives And Costs Taxpayers $35 Billion A Year


“School suspensions are costing American taxpayers $35 billion each year in lost tax revenue and higher costs for publicly funded services … Suspended students are at high risk of dropping out of school … ‘People without a high school diploma earn less, have more health problems, and are more likely to get into trouble with the law’ … Jeff Bryant, director of the Education Opportunity Network, a public-school policy center, told TakePart that the study’s groundbreaking findings are likely the tip of the iceberg.”
Read more …

Does Teaching Experience Matter? Let’s Count the Ways

NEA Today

“‘The common refrain that teaching experience does not matter after the first few years in the classroom is no longer supported by the preponderance of the research … Teaching experience is, on average, positively associated with student achievement gains throughout a teacher’s career … A more experienced teaching workforce offers numerous benefits to students and schools, including greater individual and collective effectiveness in improving student outcomes as well as greater stability and coherence in instruction and relationship-building.'”
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Colleges Send Too Many Into Remedial Classes Who Don’t Need It, Growing Body Of Research Shows

The Hechinger Report

“College administrators typically rely on standardized tests to decide which students should proceed directly to college-level classes and which students should start in remedial courses … Many students who did well on these exams bombed their college classes, and vice versa … If college administrators had simply looked at the students’ high school GPAs, they would have done a much better job at figuring out who needs to relearn high school material and who doesn’t … What students know, or ‘content knowledge,’ isn’t the most important thing … GPAs capture important non-cognitive skills that tests don’t.”
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When Universities Try To Behave Like Businesses, Education Suffers

Los Angeles Times

“Universities are getting cozier with businesses and industrialists, and … are adopting the corporate model of profit and loss as though they’re businesses themselves. Students already are losing out. They’re not only saddled with an increasing share of the direct costs of their education, but are offered a narrower curriculum as universities cut back on supposedly unprofitable humanities and social science courses in favor of science, engineering and technology programs expected to attract profitable grants.”
Read more …

Mindless Underfunding Of Schools Continues, Doing Irreparable Harm To Kids

High school graduation season is in full bloom in many communities around the nation, but in some places, parents with kids still in schools have to be worried about the conditions of the schools they’ll return to in the fall – or even if the schools will open at all.

As states wrap up their budget seasons, many lawmakers are proving they simply aren’t up to the task of adequately funding schools. State spending, which accounts for about half of most public school districts’ budgets, has been in steep decline for a number of years in most states, leaving most local taxing authorities, which provide about the other half, unable to keep up unless the populace is wealthy enough to withstand higher property taxes. (Federal spending accounts for less than 10 percent of school funding, historically.)

Many of these lawmakers say the problem with the nation’s education system is lack of accountability, but  school kids and their teachers are being hurt by government officials not being accountable to adequately and equitably fund our schools.

In Chicago, the nation’s fourth largest school system, the district’s school chief announced schools may not open in the fall due to a budget impasse in the state capital. Separate funding bills in the state House and Senate have drawn the ire of conservative Republican Governor Bruce Rauner who would prefer to inflict on schools a program of tough love that includes a $74 million cut in funding to Chicago.

It’s not like the city’s schools are living in the lap of luxury. Inadequate budgets have driven up class sizes in every grade way beyond the point they are officially permitted. District chief Forest Claypool has already told Chicago principals they should prepare for whopping cuts of between 20 to 40 percent to their school budgets, which will drive class sizes through the roof.

The budget impasse, according to a report from the Associated Press, imperils schools across the state. According to the AP reporter. Democrats want new taxes, “but Rauner first wants pro-business and union-weakening reforms, ideas Democrats say hurt the middle class.”

In other words, no more money for school kids until teachers make sacrifices.

As Rauner was defending his miserly stance, he took a swipe at Chicago schools, comparing them to “crumbling prisons.” That set off a firestorm on Twitter, where Chicago teachers defended the good things their institutions do to provide to students despite the budget cuts.

Actually, if the schools were more like prisons, they might be more apt to get a funding increase, as Rauner has proposed a substantial increase to prison spending for 2016.

Illinois isn’t the only state hell bent on cutting money for schools.

The Wall Street Journal reports that state lawmakers across the nation, especially in the Midwest, are at seemingly intractable odds over how “to make sure the next school year can start on time.”

In Kansas, Republican Governor Sam Brownback has called a special session of the state legislature “after the state’s supreme court last month once again ruled that the state’s funding formula is inequitable and threatened to shut off funding to the schools,” according to a report from Education Week.

The court keeps telling state lawmakers the state is not funding schools based on what they deserve, according to another EdWeek report. State Republican lawmakers have considered various ways to circumnavigate the ruling, including changing the state constitution, but Democrats siding with the court forced their hand by petitioning for the special session.

Meanwhile, schools in Kansas City, Kan., where nearly 90 percent of the students are poor, “had to cut more than $50 million from its already tight budget because of state cutbacks,” according to The Hechinger Report.

The cuts are promulgated regardless of how the schools perform. In the case of Kansas City, schools had been making “double-digit” increases in some measures of achievement prior to the financial cutbacks that started in response to economic downturns in 2008.

Hechinger quotes a district administrator, “’You could see the performance begin to decline as we had to cut back on people, human resources and all kinds of things to support our students.’”

In Pennsylvania, state lawmakers enacted improvements to the state funding formula, a long-standing problem in the state, but left budgets mired at levels below what is needed to make the formula meaningful. Due to the inadequacy of state funding, a statewide survey of local officials finds “at least 60 percent of Pennsylvania school districts plan to raise property taxes and nearly a third expect to cut staff,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. A third of respondents said their schools will increase class sizes in the year ahead.

This time the governor, Tom Wolf, is a Democrat leading the charge for increasing school funding, but the legislature controlled by Republicans “oppose new taxes and say the state needs to cut costs and find new funding streams.”

In Michigan, Detroit public schools will be out of money and unable to make payroll by June 30, according to a report from Reuters. House Republicans narrowly passed a bill to bail out the beleaguered school system, but Democratic leaders and the city’s mayor and teachers call the proposal a wasteful stopgap that funnels more money to charter schools while leaving the district adrift.

The big problem left unaddressed is how the state continues to under-fund schools throughout the system. As a blog post from a district superintendent in the state explains, education funding in Michigan is in a 20-year decline. “This makes it impossible to provide the same level of teacher staffing, instructional materials, facilities maintenance, administration and operations,” he laments.

Outside the Midwest, “natural resource-dependent states” – such as Alaska, Louisiana, Oklahoma and West Virginia – are pulling “millions from their rainy day funds,” rather than raising taxes, to fund schools, according to Education Week. In Louisiana, the budget proposal would still leave schools in the lurch financially, leading to “teacher layoffs, cuts to programs, and cuts to the state’s department of education.”

Arizona is taking generally the same course, passing new legislation that raises education funding by raiding the state’s permanent endowment that supports stable financial resources for schools.

In Trenton, New Jersey, hundreds of teachers and school supporters rallied to protest funding cuts being proposed by the state’s conservative Republican Governor Chris Christie.

In North Carolina, conservative lawmakers are bragging about new teacher raises they just passed, but the state budget cuts millions from principal training, school Internet service, after-school programs, and a scholarship program to help fill shortages in math and science teachers.

“Can [school] districts raise expectations and improve achievement on a shoestring?” asks the author of the Hechinger article cited above. “How little money is too little for schools to function well?”

Maybe instead of cutting school funding to see how low it can go, it’s time we asked instead, “How much money for education is too much?” Indeed, without any real evidence that excess funding in the system is actually harming students and taxpayers, this continued austerity in education spending is mindless.


6/2/2016 – Trump University Shows Why For-Profit Motives Don’t Belong In Education

THIS WEEK: Charter School Fail … School Conditions Worsen … Poor Kids Shortchanged … College Favors The Rich … Education Is Rigged


Trump University Shows Why For-Profit Motives Don’t Belong In Education

By Jeff Bryant

“Sure, Trump University is an outrage. But the lesson to learn goes beyond Trump himself and his alleged crookedness. What’s also likely true is that this egregious institution is yet another example of how profit making and education are a bad mix for all except the few who are able to bank the results.”
Read more …


Failing the Test: Charter Schools’ Winners and Losers

Capital & Main

“Some highly motivated students benefit from charters while others do worse; that the growth of charters places a huge financial burden on traditional public schools that send them into a tailspin and that charters may increase racial and economic segregation… Traditional public schools often go into a steep slide once charters enroll a substantial percentage of motivated students with engaged parents. As a result, traditional public schools are left with a disproportionately high percentage of children with disciplinary problems, as well as with severely disabled students, who are expensive to educate … The problem is made worse by the fact that “charter schools discriminate against kids with special needs’ … Even if many charters perform well, there is an overarching problem with a system that entrusts much of its public education to private institutions.”
Read more …

Title I: Rich School Districts Get Millions Meant For Poor Kids

U.S. News & World Report

“Title I, the largest federal K-12 program … can shortchange school districts with high concentrations of poverty, and benefit larger districts and big urban areas instead of poorer, rural districts and small cities … It also shortchanges smaller high-poverty urban districts, like Flint, Michigan … Changing the formula requires congressional action, which nearly everyone agrees is years away.”
Read more …

A Popular College Investment Promised Students A Career, But Didn’t Pay Off

The Washington Post

“Students who sought vocational certificates at for-profit colleges made an average of $900 less annually after attending the schools than they did before … For-profit college industry swindled students by pressuring them into racking up tens of thousands of dollars in debt while adding comparatively little value to their careers … The average tuition for certificate students at for-profit colleges was $8,118, compared to $712 for community college.”
Read more …

Policies To Help Students Pay For College Continue To Shift Toward Favoring The Rich

The Hechinger Report

“Some government, university and private programs to help Americans pay for college have become more likely to benefit wealthier students than even the most academically talented lower-income ones … The proportion of wealthier students earning degrees continues to rise, while the proportion of lower-income degree recipients is falling … The new movement by states to underwrite public universities based on such things as their graduation rates … Even this well-intentioned scheme, called income-based repayment, tends to favor wealthier students.”
Read more …

The Education System Is Rigged Against Low-Income Students, Even In Kindergarten

The Huffington Post

“Students born into poverty enter kindergarten at a disadvantage to more affluent peers. As they advance through the grades, they receive lower test scores. They’re more likely to drop out and less likely to enter higher education. The all-too-familiar cycle … is getting worse… The impact of educational disparities between affluent and low-income students, as well as between white students and students of color, loom large … Still, interventions that boost positive learning approaches appear promising.”
Read more …

Trump University Shows Why For-Profit Motives Don’t Belong In Education

Revelations from documents connected to Trump University are generating outrage across the political spectrum, from my colleague Terrance Heath, who called it “a scheme to transfer wealth from people who had little,” to the conservative journal National Review which carried an editorial proclaiming it “a massive scam.”

Much of the commentary has focused on the “playbook” that guided sales reps for Trump U in how to coerce prospective students to sign up for the bogus degree program. A review of the document by CBS News highlights the hard sell tactics Trump U staffers used to push prospects into committing many thousands of dollars – upwards of $35,000 – to a course of study that many of those students now concede turned out to be “useless information.”

The outrage is much deserved, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that making a buck off people’s urges to fulfill their education destinies has become commonplace in American society.

As reports of the Trump U documents were breaking, Politico reported on how the Obama administration is currently engaged in a struggle to rein in the practices of for-profit colleges that lure students into degree programs that plunge them deeply into debt without advancing their financial well beings in the long run.

The federal government wants to make it easier for people who believe they’ve been defrauded by these colleges to challenge those organizations in court. And the U.S. Department of Education wants to require for-profit career college programs to better prepare students for “gainful employment” or risk losing access to Federal student aid. But representatives from for-profit institutions such as Kaplan University are lobbying against these attempts to limit their enormous profits

The federal government has already forgiven more than $27 million in debt swindled by for-profit colleges from over 35,000 students, according to a report in The Atlantic.

A new study adds yet more evidence that these for-profit higher education programs do more harm than good. As The Washington Post reports, the study finds that not only do these for-profit programs mire students in huge debts that take many years to pay off; they also have negative effects on the students’ potential incomes. “Students who sought vocational certificates at for-profit colleges made an average of $900 less annually after attending the schools than they did before,” the Post reports. The study concludes students, in general would be far better off if they attend community colleges, which are non-profit public institutions.

As I reported in 2013, the Obama administration’s effort to rein in for-profit colleges such as University of Phoenix, Kaplan, Devry, Corinthian Colleges, and others, has battled conservative Republicans and some Democrats in Washington D.C., who oftentimes receive campaign donations from this roughly $35 billion industry.

More recently, a report by ProPublica recounts how Corinthian College, “the country’s second largest chain of for-profit colleges before it collapsed into bankruptcy last year,” coerced vulnerable students, including those who were homeless, into scam degree programs that left the students deep in debt with few job prospects. Then the company “pushed students to borrow from a bank that Corinthian had undisclosed financial ties to” and lied to federal regulators about its results.

Scamming students for the sake of easy profits is not limited to higher education. In the K-12 sector, for-profit companies are reaping millions in the charter school industry. The most notorious providers in this rapidly expanding market are online charters that deliver the bulk of instruction over the internet. These schools currently enroll less than one percent of students, but they are rapidly growing in many states. The largest providers by far are two for-profit companies K12 Inc. and Connections Academy, which account for 70 percent of students in these programs.

A recent investigative report from a newspaper in the Bay Area of California found a K12 affiliated online charter found “reaps tens of millions of dollars in state funding while graduating fewer than half of the students enrolled in its high schools. It also found that teachers at K12’s California Virtual Academies have been asked to inflate attendance and enrollment records used to determine how much state funding the schools receive.” The report has prompted calls by legislators of both political parties to conduct a state audit of the company.

In Ohio, a statewide online charter has routinely faked enrollment to defraud the state of million, and in Pennsylvania, reports of widespread fraud and poor academic results have prompted an audit of that state’s online charters, called cyber charters.

The academic results of these online charters are similar to results from for-profit colleges: awful.

The most comprehensive study of these schools, conducted last year by a researcher connected to Stanford University, found that these schools have an “overwhelmingly negative impact” on student achievement. As Education Week reports, “More than two-thirds of online charter schools had weaker overall academic growth than similar brick-and-mortar schools. In math, 88 percent of online charters had weaker academic growth than their comparison schools. On average, online charter students achieved each year the equivalent of 180 fewer days of learning in math and 72 fewer days of learning in reading than similar students in district-run brick-and-mortar schools.”

So sure, Trump University is an outrage. But the lesson to learn goes beyond Trump himself and his alleged crookedness. What’s also likely true is that this egregious institution is yet another example of how profit making and education are a bad mix for all except the few who are able to bank the results.


5/26/2016 – Charter Schools Heighten Education Politicization

THIS WEEK: Racial Integration Works … School Conditions Worsen … Nation Hit With School Bomb Threats … Marketing To Kids In Schools … Conservatives Attacking Public Ed


How Charter Schools Heighten The Politicization Of Education

By Jeff Bryant

“Regardless of how you feel about charter schools, because of the way they’ve been forged in the crucible of politics, they’ve become much more political beings than they are institutions of education. Simple mandates to expand these schools, without any attention to these political consequences, will make matters worse.”
Read more …


The Children Of Children Who Went To Desegregated Schools Reap Benefits, Too, Study Finds

The Hechinger Report

“Integration has been a powerfully effective tool for raising the educational levels and living standards for at least two generations of black families … Desegregation was accompanied by more educational spending, and that helped these children learn more and eventually become better educated parents, who would raise their own children to work hard at school … Desegregation had no effect – positive or negative – on how white children fared.”
Read more …

If Students’ Learning Conditions Are Teachers’ Working Conditions, These Students Are in Trouble

The Nation

“A new teacher survey [in New York City finds] … educators are squeezed from both sides, by harsh standards imposed from above, and unmet needs among their students, and are left with hardly any room to do their job … 1 in 5 students in the city’s public schools have disabilities, one-eighth have limited English skills, and more than three-quarters live in poverty. About 1 in 12 kids doesn’t even have a home … Half of students are enrolled at overcrowded facilities … nearly half of respondents report ‘the facilities they work in are not clean, in bad repair, and inadequate for student learning’ … Many teachers indicated that they struggled to cope with students’ social and emotional troubles.”
Read more …

Wave Of Bomb Threats Hits Schools Nationwide

USA Today

“A wave of threats directed at schools across the nation on Monday forced authorities to lock down buildings or evacuate students. The threats, which appear to be driven by automated calls, were directed at elementary, middle and high schools in at least 18 states across four time zones … Bomb hoaxes have the hallmarks of swatting … ‘highly disruptive’ hoax threats that are intended to trigger massive police response … They are often described as robotic, computer-generated voices that call in threats to schools or police departments.”
Read more …

Schools Are Now ‘Soft Targets’ For Companies To Collect Data And Market To Kids – Report

The Washington Post

“Student privacy is increasingly being compromised by commercial entities that establish relationships with schools – often providing free technology – and then track students online and collect massive amounts of data about them. Then they tailor their advertising to keep the young people connected to them … Children who are subjected to ‘constant digital surveillance and marketing at school’ come to accept as normal that corporations play a big role not only in their education but in their lives … Google and Facebook are probably the largest companies that data mine in schools.”
Read more …

Why Oppressing Transgender Students Is An Attack On Public Education

Campaign For America’s Future

Jeff Bryant writes, “But many public schools had already been steadily working at ways to accommodate transgender students well before North Carolina started its attack on transgender rights … Rather than protecting innocent children or defending local schools from federal overreach, what conservatives are doing is a calculated pivot to generate fear among the populace for political gain. And it’s nothing new that they have chosen public schools as the battleground. They always have.”
Read more …

How Charter Schools Heighten The Politicization Of Education

Last year a breakthrough policy brief from the National Education Policy Center exposed some of the financial machinations charter schools engage in to further the interests of profit-seeking entrepreneurs. But what about the political machinations?

The politics of charter schools are less quantifiable than their financials but troubling nevertheless, and the expansion of these schools will no doubt lead to increased politicization of education in local communities.

Consider the following anecdotes.

Florida Fracas

Recently a Florida news outlet reported about a charter school management company that “disappeared from the scene” after being told by the local school board to explain financial and operational problems. The company that operated four schools had racked up $1.8 million in debt after receiving $4.5 million in taxpayer money.

This seems like pretty blatant fraud, but it gets more complicated when politics get involved.

As the article explains, parents and school leaders at one of the schools, Windsor Prep, felt pretty gung ho about their school and responded to its vanishing manager by pitching in, on a voluntary basis, to take over some school operations. However, the board still felt the obligation to address the problems posed: the missing money, the management company scofflaws, and the welfare of lots of students who need more than just enthusiastic amateurs to oversee their education.

While the local board was attempting to sort out the mess another, other issues involving Windsor Prep continued to surface: unaccounted for grant money and $300,000 in mysterious consulting fees.

Based on these ongoing concerns, the school district’s staff recommended putting Windsor Prep and the other charters on a 90-day notice of termination.

Charter school families, mostly from Windsor, flooded the board meeting to express their disapproval. Families expressed their fondness for their charter schools and complained that finding alternatives would be a struggle. School board members responded by pointing out to parents the available seats at local public schools. But many parents contended the public schools are inferior to charters. They point to the “C” letter grades the states have given these schools, even though the school their children attend, including Windsor Prep, are also rated C. Nevertheless, the parents are sure the local public schools are “bad schools.”

To make matters even more supercharged, now a state senator has jumped into the fray to plead the parents’ case to keep Windsor open. According to a local news outlet, “The senator has been a key player in legislation that has empowered more charter schools to operate in Florida and he is a vocal support of giving parents a choice when public schools fail.”

As a local columnist for the same paper observers, it’s hard to blame the parents and the school board when you have a political situation not of their making.

Florida lawmakers, he writes, ” have created an atmosphere that favors charter school operators above almost everyone else.” So charter schools get enough leeway to ensnare their operations in potential financial and academic problems, and local government authorities have to step in to ensure accountability for taxpayer money. But when parents, who’ve been convinced charter schools are the shining alternative to their dysfunctional public schools, get wind of any disruption to their schools, they lash out. And politicians who helped start the whole mess into motion eagerly step in to make themselves look like heroes.

It’s hard to see how there is any positive end to this.

Consider another, yet very different, example of how charters heighten politicization.

Quaker State Quagmire

Recently a Pennsylvania state auditor alerted the Allentown school district that it may have violated state laws when it made a charter school real estate deal with a developer, according to a local newspaper.

The developer Abe Atiyeh had hired a consulting firm to promote two new charter schools for the district. The owner of the consulting firm pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit extortion and bribery offenses and tax evasion, but nevertheless, the proposals for the two new charters remained on the books, and the developer was still eager for a deal.

In January of last year, the school board approved a lease with Atiyeh for the first school, which the district opened in September. Then the board approved an application for the second charter school submitted by Atiyeh to open at a building he already owned.

The deal the board made with Atiyeh to ensure approval of both schools hinged on a pledge from Atiyeh not to open more charter schools and to provide $150,000 worth of advertising to help promote the charter schools.

Where local authorities ran afoul of state law, according to the auditor, was in hiding from the public information about the two pledges from Atiyeh.

This whole affair seems like a simple matter of government transparency. But here again, because of the politics of charter schools, decision-making about charter schools is way more complicated than it seems.

As the news article reports, the state auditor stated the school district was in a “no-win” situation.

Like in Florida, charter schools in Pennsylvania have a significant advantage in gaining approval. Local school boards that block new charters are almost always overturned when the charter applicant appeals to the state. And state statutes governing charters are written with such generous consideration to these schools, courts tend to side with charter operators.

Also, as in Florida, local public schools in Pennsylvania lose millions every year to competitive charters – so much, in fact, that at least on school district in the Quaker State is thinking of getting out of operating high schools altogether.

So if Allentown had tried to block the new charters from opening, the state or the court would likely have overruled the district, and the community would be stuck with the two schools anyway, but without the benefit of the advertising money and the pledge to open no more new charters. If the district had given approval but then insisted on making its agreement with the developer public, the developer would have likely backed out.

Either way, the district loses.

Going To Get Worse

The above two anecdotes are plucked from my newsfeed in just the past few days, but these kinds of political cul de sacs arising from the current ways we create, operate, and govern charter schools happen all the time, all over the country.

Notice also that in both situations, the subject of education is by and large overlooked. Indeed, concerns for teaching and learning never came up because there was too much other flack in the air – the public perceptions of the schools, financial matters involving public money, political deals, and the needs of parents to have a guaranteed school seat for their children.

Regardless of how you feel about charter schools, because of the way they’ve been forged in the crucible of politics, they’ve become much more political beings than they are institutions of education. Simple mandates to expand these schools, without any attention to these political consequences, will make matters worse.