Education Opportunity Network

Education Opportunity Network -

7/27/2016 – Is Hillary Clinton’s Pick Of Tim Kaine Another Sign Democrats Are Leaving The ‘Education Reform Camp?’

THIS WEEK: Income Segregation Worsens … How Unions Improve Teaching … Online Charters In Trouble … Colleges Need $30 Billion For Maintenance … Games Charters Play


Is Hillary Clinton’s Pick Of Tim Kaine Another Sign Democrats Are Leaving The ‘Education Reform Camp?’

By Jeff Bryant

“Hillary Clinton’s picking Virginia Senator Tim Kaine for her vice presidential running mate is not apt to ease the ‘anxiety’ or ‘soul searching’ education reformers feel … In reviewing Kaine’s education policy chops, what’s in his record may not be as important as what isn’t: the current education establishment’s policy checklist … The years progressives have put into organizing, voicing opposition to current education policies, and calling for new directions in education are likely having an effect on a new Democratic Party.”
Read more …


Income Segregation In Schools Found To Rise By 40% Since 1990

Education Week

“Income segregation … in the 100 largest districts …. is about 40% higher than in 1990 … This new level of segregation is not caused primarily by the historical separation between poor families and all others … The middle class has been slipping further behind the upper middle and affluent classes … The growing trends in income-based segregation in schools were also likely due to school-choice policies.”
Read more …

What If Everything You Thought You Knew About Teachers Unions Turned Out to be Wrong?


Freelance writer Jennifer Berkshire interviews an author of a recent study who found, “Highly unionized districts actually fire more bad teachers … By demanding higher salaries for teachers, unions give school districts a strong incentive to dismiss ineffective teachers before they get tenure. Highly unionized districts dismiss more bad teachers because it costs more to keep them … Unionized districts also retain more high-quality teachers relative to district with weak unionism.”
Read more …

Oklahoma Joins Ranks Of States and Agencies Cracking Down On Virtual Charter Schools


“Oklahoma is one of many states investigating and castigating virtual charters … California recently arrived at a disputed settlement with for-profit online charter operator K12 Inc. … Ohio’s largest online charter school operator, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), has failed to stall an audit of its financials and attendance records in court … Of every 100 students enrolled at ECOT, 80 do not graduate.'”
Read more …

Long-Neglected Maintenance Threatens To Further Escalate The Cost Of College

The Hechinger Report

After years of budget cuts and continuing austerity, universities and colleges collectively face a shortfall of a record $30 billion for … deferred maintenance or ‘deferred renewal’ to deteriorating buildings and other infrastructure … The problem is compounded by the fact that they nonetheless continue to build more – spending a record $11.5 billion last year – in the hope of attracting students … Some universities are already adding ‘capital renewal fees’ to students’ bills to help them pay for renovations and improvements.”
Read more …

Why Charter Schools Get Public Education Advocates So Angry

The Washington Post

Former high school principal and current executive director of the Network for Public Education Carol Burris writes, “Charters, regardless of their original intent, have become a threat to democratically governed, neighborhood public schools, and questions about their practices, opacity and lack of accountability are increasing as their numbers grow … Democratic school governance is viewed as an obstacle by many charter school devotees … Charter schools control enrollment … Even after initial enrollment, charters lose students through attrition … Some charters are better, and others are worse … What all share, however, is the ability to use the freedom given to them for innovation to shut out democracy, attract the students they want and hide important information from the public, even as they collect taxpayer funds.
Read more …

EON is taking a break next week. Watch for a resumption of the newsletter on August 11.

Is Hillary Clinton’s Pick Of Tim Kaine Another Sign Democrats Are Leaving The ‘Education Reform Camp?’

An education “reform” establishment that has enjoyed the complete support of Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush may be getting nervous.

The policy outline for K-12 education coming from the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign remains vague, but supporters of Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders have substantially altered how public education is framed in the Democratic Party platform, and Clinton has become more strident in her attacks on “for-profit” charter schools and vouchers that allow parents to transfer their children to private schools at taxpayer expense.

At this week’s Democratic Party National Convention in Philadelphia, experienced reporters from Education Week notice that although Clinton generally pledges “to pick up the policy baton from President Barack Obama … it’s tough to say how true that will be when it comes to K-12 education.”

A Politico education journalist at the DNC reports that Shavar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform, a policy group that has gotten used to getting its way in the Obama administration, said, “There was ‘anxiety’ within the education reform movement over the future of [the movement’s] priorities.”

When DFER threw an event at the convention, the EdWeek reporters note the mood was more about “soul searching” than celebrating.

Clinton’s picking Virginia Senator Tim Kaine for her vice presidential running mate is not apt to ease the “anxiety” or “soul searching” reformers feel.

“To be sure, Kaine is not part of the so-called education reform camp,” writes education reporter Lauren Camera for U.S. News and World Report.

Camera correctly tags New Jersey Senator Cory Booker as someone who would have been more favorable to big supporters of the high-stakes testing and charter school expansions that come with reform orthodoxy. But Kaine’s education record diverges sharply from that.

As a mayor, a governor, and a U.S. senator, Kaine has a “hefty education resume,” as Camera writes, which includes support for expanding access to high-quality early learning programs for children from birth to age 5 and increasing access to career and technical education programs and apprenticeships.

Education writers for Politico note Kaine’s work to provide federal student loans for some career education programs, his advocacy for LGBT students’ rights, and his support for improving emergency responses on college campuses and mental health in Virginia following the death of 32 people by gun violence at Virginia Tech in 2007.

But in reviewing Kaine’s education policy chops, what’s in his record may not be as important as what isn’t: the current education establishment’s policy checklist of standardization, high-stakes testing, allowing charter schools to sort students by income and ability, and keeping teachers under the authoritative thumb of test-based evaluations – there’s none of that.

In what may be the most revealing commentary about his education perspectives, an op-ed he wrote for his hometown Richmond paper, Kaine lays out an education agenda of increased personalization, relief from the testing mandates, richer and more varied curriculum, and support and autonomy for experienced teachers. (Hat tip: Bertis Downs.)

Education journalists covering Kaine also never fail to include mention of his wife Anne Holton, who serves as Virginia’s secretary of education. As education journalists at the Washington Post explain, Holton “has worked to reform a standardized testing regime that had been criticized as unnecessarily time-consuming and onerous.”

Holton, the reporters write, has blamed high stakes testing for intensifying the stubborn achievement gap in her state, rather than remedying it as fans of the reform approach say it will.

The article also notes Holton “has opposed the expansion of charter schools and other school-choice measures, and she has pushed for greater investments in public education, including teacher pay raises.”

None of this is what education reformers want to hear.

Kaine and Holton also deserve to be praised for “walking the walk” of progressive schooling by enrolling all their children in the public school system and sending them to racially integrated schools that were majority non-white.

Of course, there’s no guarantee Kaine will influence the education policy direction of a Clinton administration. Nor is this to say Kaine is perfect on education or even the most progressive of possible VP candidates Clinton could have picked.

For instance, Kaine has expressed reluctance to support free universal public higher education, which has become a cornerstone in the populist agenda advocated by Bernie Sanders and his supporters. And as governor, Kaine presided over a period when Virginia made significant cuts to education funding; although, to be fair, this occurred in response to one of the nation’s worst economic calamities in its history.

Also, liberal groups have criticized Kaine for his support of big banks, Wall St. deregulation, and “free trade” – although, he flipped his position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership proposal shortly after becoming the vice presidential nominee.

But none of these factors should veer from the narrative of what is rapidly happening to education policy in the Democratic Party.

As my colleague Dave Johnson explains in his analysis of Tim Kain’s change of heart on TPP, ” Kaine had to change his position” (emphasis mine) on TPP after he was chosen because that’s more reflective of where the Democratic party is going rather than where it’s been.

“This is what happens when people organize and make their voices heard,” Johnson writes. “This is the power of the progressive movement. This is the new Democratic Party.”

The years progressives have put into organizing, voicing opposition to current education policies, and calling for new directions in education are likely having an effect on “this new Democratic Party” too. No wonder people who’ve enjoyed their cushy places at the top are nervous.

7/21/2016 – If Democrats Think Mike Pence Is An Extremist, Will They Stop Supporting His Education Policies?

THIS WEEK: The Trump Effect … Racial Bias In Schools … How Charters Hurt Public Schools … Why Segregation Persists … Who’s Re-Segregating Little Rock?


If Democrats Think Mike Pence Is An Extremist, Will They Stop Supporting His Education Policies?

By Jeff Bryant

“For the past eight years, the Democratic Party’s education agenda has chiefly been based on an idea conceived in right wing policy shops then pushed into the party’s most powerful circles by a very small but wealthy group of individuals … Based on this understanding, it’s not a surprise that extremists such as Mike Pence have been eager to adopt much of this agenda. But in calling out Pence as an extremist, is Hillary Clinton signaling there may be shifts in her party’s education agenda?”
Read more …


Why Are Third-Graders Afraid Of Donald Trump?

The Atlantic

“There are reports across the country of what’s been called ‘the Trump Effect’ … Those working in schools with large immigrant populations say kids are actively afraid about what might happen to themselves and their families if Trump were elected. And explaining the American political system’s checks and balances isn’t much help.”
Read more …

How Racial Bias Affects The Quality Of Black Students’ Education

Think Progress

“Decades of racial bias against black Americans and the legacy of slavery are evident in our classrooms … Schools in the U.S. remain very economically and racially segregated … Students’ quality of education suffers in this segregated school environment … Racially biased school discipline contributes to what’s known as the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ … Black students begin receiving far more suspensions than white children beginning as early as preschool … Black students are also expected to stay engaged and interested in courses that don’t recognize the reality of their lives – and don’t cover the contributions of black political leaders and artists as often as those of white historical figures.”
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How Charter Schools In Michigan Have Hurt Traditional Public Schools, New Research Finds

The Washington Post

“How do some charter schools affect the traditional school districts in which they are located? Disastrously… ‘Overwhelmingly, the biggest financial impact on school districts was the result of declining enrollment and revenue loss, especially where school choice and charters are most prevalent … The higher the charter penetration, the higher the adverse impact on district finances … As the share of students in the district that are going charters increases, there is a causal relationship of a larger share of the students who are left behind in the district who receive special education services.'”
Read more …

One Reason School Segregation Persists


“Researchers tested a broad range of factors that could explain why parents choose a school … Only three of these factors significantly drove parental choice … high test scores, schools closer to home, and schools where their own child would be alongside more peers of his or her same race and class … White and higher-income applicants had the strongest preferences for their children to remain in-group, while black elementary school parents were essentially ‘indifferent’ to a school’s racial makeup, the researchers found. The findings for Hispanic elementary and middle school parents were not statistically significant … Research – and history – show that left to their own devices, parents won’t desegregate schools.”
Read more …

Charter Schools And The Waltons Take Little Rock Back To Its Segregated Past


Jeff Bryant writes, “Progress on racial integration in schools achieved during the Civil Rights period has gradually eroded, and in many cities, schools are now nearly as racially divided as they were 40 years ago … But lengthy presentations of statistical data and litanies of high court decisions tend to overlook places where the fight to uphold the vision of a pluralistic school system is still very much alive –places like Little Rock [Arkansas] … But now, the actors have changed. This time, those being accused of segregating students aren’t local bigots. Instead, Little Rock citizens see segregation as being imposed upon them by outsiders, operating under the guise of a reform agenda.
Read more …

If Democrats Think Mike Pence Is An Extremist, Will They Stop Supporting His Education Policies?

Soon after the announcement that Indiana Governor Mike Pence would be the vice presidential candidate for the Republican Party, word came from Democrats that he was an extremist – and not just your garden-variety extremist.

“The ‘most extreme’ vice presidential pick in a generation,” an article in USA Today quotes a statement from John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

Podesta elaborates, according to the reporter, calling Pence, “an early supporter of the Tea Party” and someone who “‘personally spearheaded’ a religious liberty bill that ‘legalized discrimination’ against gays and lesbians (which he later revised); and he was a leader in the effort to defund Planned Parenthood as a member of the U.S. House.”

“Mike Pence is even worse than you think,” warns a report from left leaning news outlet Salon, arguing he has “the most virulently anti-gay records of any government official” and has “also built his career on restricting abortion rights.”

According to an article in Alternet, Pence is a favorite of Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who fund extreme right wing organizations such Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that writes extremist right wing laws that have been enacted in many states.

Another opinion piece in the Washington Post criticizes Pence for “mocking” working moms.

As for Clinton herself, according to Politico, because the announcement of Pence’s candidacy coincided with her appearance at the annual convention of the American Federation of Teachers, she focused some of her criticism of Pence on his record on education issues. In her address, Clinton “told thousands of cheering teachers union members that Pence is ‘one of the most hostile politicians in America when it comes to public education.’”

Clinton accused Pence of cutting “millions from higher education while he was ‘giving huge cuts to corporations’ … Clinton also said Pence ‘turned away millions of federal dollars that could’ve expanded access to preschool for low-income children.’”

A more dispassionate look at Pence’s education record by Chalkbeat Indiana reveals he “pushed for career and technical education, school choice, and changes to standards and tests.” Despite Clinton’s claim that Pence turned away “millions” in federal money for pre-k education, which is true, Pence also, according to the Chakbeat reporter, pushed “to create a small preschool pilot program” that got “Indiana off the list of just 10 U.S. states that spent no direct state funds to help poor children attend preschool.”

What’s also on Pence’s list of education policy accomplishments are a repeal of the state’s adoption of Common Core Standards pushed by the Obama administration, a prolonged battle with the state superintendent over control of education policy, and lots and lots of “school choice” legislation, including more funding for privately operated charter schools and expansions of the state’s voucher program that allows parents to transfer their students to private schools at taxpayer expense.

In other words, what Pence adopted as his education policies resemble a hodge-podge of what is commonly referred to as “education reform.”

Indeed, organizations that espouse the reform agenda give Pence’s education record rave reviews.

“Mike Pence Is the Veep Education Reformers Need,” declares the Center for Education Reform. CER leader Jeanne Allen declares in her statement, “Mike Pence is a true pioneer of educational opportunity.”

Pro-reform American Federation for Children gushes, “Governor Pence is a longtime champion for educational choice, believing that every child, regardless of family income or ZIP code, deserves access to a quality education.”

At Forbes, reform cheerleader Maureen Sullivan’s list of “seven things” to know about Pence’s education stance reads like a checklist from the reform movement, including charter schools, standardized testing, merit pay for teachers, vouchers, and curriculum geared toward workforce preparation.

So, although Pence has strayed from reform orthodoxy at times – voting against the No Child Left Behind law passed under President Georg W. Bush and steering his state out of the Common Core (which he initially embraced) – he is generally recognized as an education reform leader, making him, in fact, aligned with many Democrats who’d never want to be caught dead supporting what Pence generally espouses.

For decades, both Democrats and Republicans have dined at the salad bar of education reform, with Democrats taking a heaping helping of charter schools but light on the vouchers please, and Republicans insisting on standardization but hold the Common Core now that we’ve gotten a taste of it.

Democrats eagerly sat alongside Republicans at the same education policy table in Indiana too. Most of the education policies Pence supported as governor have been a continuation of policies created by fellow Republicans – his predecessor Mitch Daniels and state superintendent Tony Bennett, who suffered a humiliating defeat during Pence’s tenure. But those policies often drew the praise of former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

In a visit to the state in 2011, Duncan and Bennett commended each other for their “efforts to overhaul education,” according to a local reporter.

In another visit to the sate a year later, Duncan “complimented,” according to a local news source, Bennett and Indiana’s leadership on the state’s expansion of charter schools and state takeovers of local schools – another popular item in the reform salad bar.

A New York Times article from 2013 lumps Duncan and Daniels, along with former Michigan Governor John Engler, together in the education policy arena, writing, “They all sympathize with many of the efforts of the so-called education reform movement.”

Outside of the Obama administration, Indiana education leadership has drawn strong support from StudentsFirst, the education reform advocacy group created and formerly led by ex-Chancellor of Washington, DC schools and avowed Democrat Michelle Rhee.

The leader of StudentsFirst Indiana state chapter has been “a key advisor to Governor Mike Pence,” according to a statement from the organization. Now that StudentsFirst has merged with reform advocacy group 50CAN, which is also led by avowed Democrats, no doubt that organization’s agenda will continue in the Hosier State.

The organization Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) hail Pence’s education priorities and claim the influence of prominent Democrats, including President Obama, have had a lot to do with them.

So why have so many Democrats shared the education agenda of an extremist the party now generally abhors?

When education journalist and Washington Post blogger Valerie Strauss recently asked education historian Diane Ravitch what she would most want to tell President Obama should they ever have a face-to-face meeting, Ravitch replied she would like to tell him, “I will never understand why you decided to align your education policy with that of George W. Bush.”

The fact that Democrats have been supporting an education agenda that was to a great extent conceived in conservative Republican policy shops has been well known among careful observers and thoroughly documented by Ravitch in her books, The Death and Life of the Great American School, and Reign of Error.

“The irony today,” Ravitch explains in her interview, “is that many of the leading figures in the Democratic Party support some of the same education policies as the right-wing extremists in ALEC.”

In an email to me, Ravitch elaborates on more recent collusions between Democrats and Republicans on education policy. “President Obama pulled the rug out [from under public education supporters] by aligning with DFER,” she writes. “DFER money managers were big supporters of his. He was the inaugural speaker when they first met in NYC. After the election, they gave Obama a list of people they wanted in the Education Department. Top on it was Arne Duncan.”

As Dana Goldstein documented for The Nation in 2009, Obama made a decision at the outset of his presidency to listen “to only one side of” the debate on education policy in the Democratic Party. On the winning side were DFER and its wealthy backers from Wall Street who, according to Goldstein, conducted a “highly coordinated media campaign to call into question the work of Obama education adviser Linda Darling-Hammond, once considered a top contender for the job of education secretary.”

After “DFER’s anti-Darling-Hammond talking points,” got prominent attention in major media outlets, Goldstein explains, “Less than two weeks later, Obama appointed DFER’s choice to the Education Department post, Chicago schools CEO Duncan.”

By the time Obama and Duncan rolled out Race to the Top and other education initiatives that directed the course of education policy across the nation, it had “become clear,” Goldstein writes, “that DFER’s idea of education reform is the one driving the Obama administration.”

But the policy ideas never had roots in populist soil. As Goldstein explains, “Lacking a membership base, [education reform’s] lobbying arm is essentially top-down, financed by New York hedge-funders, supported by research conducted at Beltway think tanks, and represented on the ground by a handful of state and local politicians scattered across the country.”

So for the past eight years, the Democratic Party’s education agenda has chiefly been based on an idea conceived in right wing policy shops then pushed into the party’s most powerful circles by a very small but wealthy group of individuals with the ability to push the right levers.

Based on this understanding, it’s not a surprise that extremists such as Mike Pence have been eager to adopt much of this agenda.

But in calling out Pence as an extremist, is Hillary Clinton signaling there may be “shifts in her party’s education agenda,” as American Prospect’s education journalist Rachel Cohen suggests?

An op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, a consistent megaphone for education reform, seems to think so. Calling Clinton’s criticism “an opening,” the author seems to relish a debate on whether policies from an extremist like Pence are best for “low- and middle-income families.”

Public schools advocates in the Democratic Party are eager to have that debate too.


7/14/2016 – Sanders Movement Pushes Democratic Party Platform Toward A Big Fight Over Charter Schools

THIS WEEK: Spending On Prisons Instead Of Schools … Ban Computers In Schools … Pre-K Disaster … Clinton, Trump Avoid Education … Students Who Avoid Debt


Sanders Movement Pushes Democratic Party Platform Toward A Big Fight Over Charter Schools

By Jeff Bryant

“The presidential campaign in the Democratic Party has not put education at the front of the agenda … But Bernie Sanders supporters have teamed up with Clinton delegates to deliver a Democratic Party platform that is much more driven by the values of democracy and support for the public good over private interests and profit … That’s good for education.”
Read more …


Since 1980, Spending On Prisons Has Grown Three Times As Much As Spending On Public Education

The Washington Post

“State and local spending on prisons and jails has grown three times as much over the past three decades as spending on public education for preschool through high school … Taxpayers and public safety would be better served by redirecting investments from incarceration to public schools … The rate of increase in per capita corrections spending outpaced the rate of increase in per-pupil education spending in every state but two, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. In 23 states, per capita spending rose more than twice as fast as per-pupil spending.”
Read more …

Is It Time To Ban Computers From Classrooms?


“Evidence suggests that computer-based multitasking can reduce student learning, not only for those students using devices but also for their distracted neighbors. Even when computers are used for the praiseworthy purpose of taking class notes, computer-using students tend to do more poorly on later tests than their peers who took notes by hand … Being in a condition that allowed computers was associated with a grade drop of about one-fifth of a standard deviation.”
Read more …

Early Education Is A Disaster In U.S., Study Finds

U.S. News & World Report

“Early childhood education … Policies across the U.S. fall short on a number of measurable indicators, including pay, professional development, paid planning time, paid sick leave, and other policies that impact the ability of early educators to teach effectively and remain on the job … Nearly half of … child care workers … were part of families enrolled in at least one of four public support programs, including Medicaid, food stamps, welfare ,or the federal earned income tax credit. That’s compared to 26 percent of the U.S. workforce … Findings come after years of increased efforts by the Obama administration to make early childhood education a major priority.”
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Are Clinton’s And Trump’s K-12 Proposals Really Late?

Education Week

“When it comes to putting out a comprehensive plan on K-12 education, Hillary Clinton circa 2008 was way, way ahead of this year’s version … By November 2007 … seven months before this point in the presidential campaign cycle … Clinton had a very detailed proposal … Donald Trump … is also late to the dance compared to recent nominees. By this point of the game in 2012 … Is it because the issue has become somewhat toxic and touchy? Or is it because this just isn’t really an election about ideas?”
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A Leg Up: How A Privileged Minority Is Graduating Without Debt


“The need to borrow for a four-year degree differs substantially by race and income … 81% of black students must borrow for a bachelor’s degree compared to 63% of white students. Low-income students … are overwhelmingly more likely to borrow … Black and low-income students make up a greater portion of indebted graduates among both dependent and independent students … Debt-free graduates are also more likely to be dependent students … Indebted graduates are also more likely to be student parents themselves.
Read more …

Sanders Movement Pushes Democratic Party Platform Toward A Big Fight Over Charter Schools

Earlier this week my colleague Richard Eskow reported on the impact the populist progressive movement led by Bernie Sanders and others is having on the Democratic Party Platform to be voted on at the party’s national convention in Philadelphia later this month.

Eskow reports that during the Democratic Party Platform Committee meeting in Orlando, where the document underwent the final round of amendments, Sanders supporters “scored some impressive wins” on law enforcement and criminal sentencing reform, climate change and green energy, a living wage, and Social Security expansion.

What about education?

As I reported last week, the original platform document was tepid in its support for progressive education, lacking an overall vision for public education and falling short on providing specific proposals needed to ensure greater access to higher education, to support high-quality K-12 schools, and to address the threat posed by privatization and the charter industry.

Unfortunately, the amendment process in Orlando did not consider adding a progressive vision for public education to the platform, but many of the specifics in the document shifted to the left, thanks mostly to supporters of the Sanders campaign joining with Clinton supporters to press for progressive change.

Specifically, Chuck Pascal, a Sanders delegate from Pennsylvania who will now unify behind Hillary Clinton for president, joined with Troy LaRaviere, the outspoken Chicago school principal who Sanders stood up for after he was ousted from his post by Chicago’s appointed school board, to insist on changes to the document’s positions on testing, school discipline, well-rounded curriculum, funding, and charter schools.

The Sanders supporters teamed up with Clinton delegates, including Randi Weingarten, the leader of the American Federation of Teachers, to deliver a platform that “now takes a stand against the high-stakes testing regime, opposes school closing based on test scores, opposes evaluating teachers by test scores, and emphasizes the importance of democratically-controlled public schools,” as education historian Diane Ravitch writes on her personal blog.

A formal statement released by AFT hails the revised platform as “a refreshing sea change in its approach to public education.”

One way you can tell how much the document has been improved is by noticing the angry objections to the changes coming from centrist “reformers.”

As Valerie Strauss reports on her blog at the Washington Post, “supporters of those reforms are furious at the changes, highlighting a rift in the party over how to improve K-12 education.” As an example, Strauss posts a statement from Shavar Jeffries, president of the Democrats for Education Reform, who Strauss describes as “an influential political action committee supported heavily by hedge fund managers.”

What angered DFER and other centrist reform groups, Strauss explains, are the changes in the platform that back the right of parents to opt their children out of high-stakes standardized tests and oppose using test scores for “high-stakes purposes to evaluate teachers and students.” Strauss also highlights changes made to a section addressing charter schools as a source of contention.

Reporters for Education Week noticed the angry response from centrist reformers as well, writing that the document’s support for opt-out and opposition to using test scores in high-stakes assessments are a “total rejection of the Obama administration’s K-12 agenda.” The EdWeek reporters also notice the differences over the way charter schools are addressed in the platform.

But in the transcript of the amendment proceedings posted by DFER, it is clear that the most contentious change by by far is the one related to charter schools. It’s telling that among all the amendments passed by the committee, the one addressing charter schools was the only one that did not pass unanimously.

Strauss highlights some of the prime sticking points in the new charter school section, principally, the call for “democratically governed” schools. “The two words actually mean a lot in the charter world,” Strauss explains, “given that charter schools are beholden to the boards that grant them charters to operate, not the general public, and that they are not required to reveal key information about their finances and governance to the public.”

Another contentious issue related to charters is the platform’s declaration that these schools should not “replace or destabilize traditional public schools.” This statement, notes classroom teacher and popular blogger Peter Greene, is “a remarkably direct challenge to the modern charter model, which says that disruption and displacement of the public school system is the goal.”

As Greene explains, whereas the original platform’s “definition of Bad Charter was just ‘a for-profit charter’ … This new language defines a Bad Charter as one that does not have democratically-elected governance, does not serve the exact same population as the local public school, and that ‘destabilizes or damages the health of that local public school.’ In other words, the new language offers a much broader understanding of when a charter school is Not Okay than the draft did.”

Nearly everyone commenting on the Democratic Party’s platform notes that these documents are often not terribly indicative of what the party’s candidate supports in the campaign and eventually proposes once elected.

Nevertheless, if supporters of charter schools want to go into the Democratic National Convention opposing “democratically governed” schools and insisting on the right to “replace or destabilize traditional public schools,” be my guest.

The ascendancy of the populist rebellion in the Democratic Party being led by Sanders and others has been very much driven by the values of democracy and support for the public good over private interests and profit. Education has yet to advance to the forefront of this rebellion, but it will not be immune to it.



7/8/2016 – How Education Fares In The Democratic Party Platform

THIS WEEK: Obama Friends Bid For For-Profit College … Kids Are Losing Recovery … Rating Schools … Trickle Down Economics Hurts Schools … Rally For Public Schools


How Education Fares In The Democratic Party Platform

By Jeff Bryant

“Many are saying this platform ‘may be most progressive platform the Democratic Party may have ever had.’ But is it progressive on education? … Currently, the best answer to that question is, ‘Maybe.’”
Read more …


Bid To Buy For-Profit College By Former Obama Insiders Raises Questions


“As the Obama administration cracks down on for-profit colleges, three former officials working on behalf of an investment firm run by President Barack Obama’s best friend have staged a behind-the-scenes campaign to get the Education Department to green-light a purchase of the biggest for-profit of them all – the University of Phoenix… Several key players are either close to top administration officials, including the president himself, or are former administration insiders… The proposed sale carries high stakes… $1.1 billion… If the company were to fail, more than 160,000 students could be displaced and the government would be on the hook for hundreds of millions in student loans.”
Read more …

2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book Finds Stagnating Poverty And Racial Inequity

New America Foundation

“New data… which measures the well-being of children across the nation… reveals… the growing economic instability of American children and families… despite being several years into the recovery… Even though the employment rate has been increasing… 30% of children lived in families where no parent had full-time, year-round employment… 22% of children lived in families with incomes below the poverty line… Future prospects of workers with a high school diploma or less are growing ever bleaker… Children of color… continue to experience negative outcomes at higher rates.”
Read more …

Education Secretary Takes Heat For Pushing Single Rating Of Schools


“California is moving towards establishing a new accountability system made up of multiple measures, in place of the state’s previous… which assigned schools a single ‘summative’ number based on test scores. This new approach has been championed by Gov. Jerry Brown… But under the draft regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Education… states would be required to come up with a single rating for their schools.”
Read more …

The Trickle-Down Myth Meets The Reality Of School Aid

The New York Times

“[Kansas] Gov. Sam Brownback and the Republican-controlled Legislature have… yielded to a state court mandate to either treat poor districts more equitably or see the public school system shut down… The fierce standoff over school financing was an outgrowth of Mr. Brownback’s wholesale indulgence of the Republican trickle-down myth that sweeping tax cuts somehow produce revenue growth, not deficits… As vicious as the fight has been, it may prove to be a mere skirmish in a larger court challenge focused on the State Constitution’s requirement that a properly financed education be provided for all Kansas students.”
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This Friday In D.C., Let’s Rally For An Important Progressive Cause

Campaign For America’s Future

Jeff Bryant writes, “This Friday, a crowd expected to reach into the thousands will throng the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to listen to prominent voices in the progressive movement, such as Rev. William Barber II, address the nation… The cause is about rallying the nation to support its treasured K-12 public school system. The gathering begins at 10:30 a.m., the speeches begin at noon and a march to the White House at 2:30 p.m.… Barber will be joined on the stage by some of the most prominent voices in progressive education policy, including education historian and best-selling author Diane Ravitch, renowned author and social justice advocate Jonathan Kozol, Chicago community activist Jitu Brown, and Youth Dreamers fighters for immigrant justice, among many others.”
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How Education Fares In The Democratic Party Platform

Although education policy has not been a prominent issue in the current presidential race, the Democratic Party’s platform gives the subject some of its just due with a fairly extensive treatment.

In the current draft, which will be finalized on June 8 and 9, there are numerous mentions of education and a special section with over 1,000 words devoted to the topic.

Many are saying this platform “may be most progressive platform the Democratic Party may have ever had.” But is it progressive on education?

Let’s weigh the evidence.

First let’s examine how the Democratic Party platform differs from what’s proposed in the Republican Party’s platform.

The Republican document gets education policy wrong from with the very first sentence by asserting, “Parents are responsible for the education of their children.”

Although it’s true parents certainly need to be involved in their children’s education, have a voice in how schools are run, and take responsibility for encouraging and maintaining their children’s educational development, putting the sole burden for education on parents guarantees inequity of education opportunity and is, frankly, un-American.

Relegating education opportunity to “consumer rights” and “choice,” as the Republicans do, ensures those who are the wealthiest and most enabled in the system have the most opportunity, while less-well-off parents have the least. And since our country’s founding, the American tradition is for education to be a shared burden taken on by the entire population. Virtually every state’s constitution asserts government’s responsibility to provide for an education for elementary and secondary students, a precedent established by the Ordinance of 1785, which predates our national Constitution.

The rest of the Republican platform is studded with the usual bromides about “high standards,” “high expectations,” “accountability,” and “choice” with very little attention to governmental responsibilities for education.

In fact, Republicans bash government’s role in relation to spending on education, making a false assertion that $2 trillion expenditure by the federal government since 1965 has resulted in “no substantial improvement in academic achievement.” According to the best measure available, the National Assessment of Education Progress, scores are up over the past 40 years, and black and Hispanic students have made the greatest gains over that period.

Specific proposals in the Republican’s platform range from removing government financial support for higher education, to providing parents with vouchers to transfer their children out of the public system at taxpayer expense, to getting tough on teachers while leaving the profession open to un-credentialed, untrained recruits.

In other words, remove government’s responsibility to provide for a universally accessible, high quality, and equitable education for every child. Nothing progressive here.

Are Democrats any better?

Unfortunately, the Democratic Party’s platform falls short of asserting a bedrock philosophy for education.

Although, those who drafted the document include a statement about the federal government’s role in “working towards an America where a world-class education is available to every child,” what’s missing is a statement defining education as fundamental right and a collective responsibility.

As public education advocate Jan Resseger writes on her personal blog, Democrats should, at the very least, declare education to be a “common good” and call for “a comprehensive system … that serves all children and is democratically governed, publicly funded, universally accessible, and accountable to the public.”

But instead, the platform highlights a series of isolated issues that, although important, further the perception that education is mostly a technocratic endeavor rather than a moral and political imperative.

So, without a rudder to guide its education positions, how do the Democrats fare in their treatment of specific policy points?

The section devoted to education begins with higher education, which certainly has been a prominent issue in the presidential campaign. The writing is mainly focused on addressing the dramatic increase in the cost of higher education, calling it a “barrier” that government needs to help students overcome.

Specifically, the platform calls for free community college, which would guarantee at least a basic access to higher education opportunity. This idea has some practical validity, as is being demonstrated by the free community college program currently being run in Tennessee.

Nevertheless, the call for tuition free community college, without extending it to four-year university, falls short of the proposal made by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to provide for universal tuition free college. Although the party’s presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton initially eschewed what Sanders proposed, she has since reconsidered and embraced the idea.

So on the subject of higher education, the Democratic platform needs to catch up with its candidates.

On the subject of college student loan debt – a key issue in turning out the vote from millennials – Democrats call for a Student Borrower Bill of Rights and a pledge to allow borrowers with student loans to discharge their debts in bankruptcy. These are admirable proposals but again fall short of the student debt “jubilee” that would reflect both the values upon which this nation was founded and the economic principles that have sustained it through its greatest periods of growth and prosperity.

The platform’s pledge to support “minority-serving” universities, such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities, is worthy, although as classroom teacher and popular blogger Peter Greene, on his personal site, advises those who drafted the document, “You guys may want to take a look at that whole ‘minority’ thing, since particularly in schools ‘minority’ also means ‘white’ at this point.”

The platform’s pledge to crack down on predatory for-profit colleges is also generally worthwhile; although, it’s not clear whether this puts them at odds with the Obama administration’s current effort to include Navient – the loan servicing giant with one of the worst track records for ripping off students – as one of the finalists to help overhaul federal student loan collection practices.

Regarding early childhood education and K-12, the platform lumps the two issues together, a mistake because states generally have no constitutional obligations to provide for ECE.

For sure, providing high quality pre-K education to little kids is vital but not just for the sake of the “workforce,” as the platform seems to suggest.

Much of what is stated about K-12 education amounts to generalities that few can object to but don’t have much of a basis in research and enduring practice. Having “great Pre-K-12 schools in every zip code” is important but not without some consideration of what makes them “great.” Few would object to high standards but standards do little to actually ensure outcomes.

One of the few specifics in the platform is the call for mentoring programs, which certainly have some merit but seem an odd proposal to highlight in a document with national significance. One wonders, as Greene does in his assessment, “Which genius on the committee has a bunch of money sunk in some mentor-consultant business?”

The Democratic proposal wraps up with attention to the issue of charter schools, declaring support for “high-quality public charter schools” (who would support bad ones?) and opposition to “for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources” – an empty rhetorical phrase because charters can operate as non-profits while being connected to all sorts of profitable enterprises.

The issue of charter schools is complicated and hard to address in a broad document like a party platform. But here again, the platform authors could have reasserted the need for schools to be democratically controlled by and accountable to the entirety of the population that the school is intended to serve – which would be a clear statement of opposition to the rapidly expanding industrial approach to schooling being spread by large charter management companies.

In sum the platform’s authors would be wise to consider advice of California education professor Julian Vasquez Heilig to focus on the solutions that have some basis in research.

So does the Democratic platform support education policies that are progressive? Currently, the best answer to that question is, “Maybe.”



6/30/2016 – Are Public Schools And Private Equity A Bad Mix?

THIS WEEK: School Choice Is Chaos … Teacher Stress Hurts Students … Exercise Improves Achievement … Solve Inequality First … SCOTUS Got Fisher Right


Are Public Schools And Private Equity A Bad Mix?

By Jeff Bryant

“It’s true … cities and towns are required to offer citizens a free education … That doesn’t mean that schools aren’t fair game for privatization … Charter schools, for instance, are fundamentally less democratic than public schools. And changing from traditional way of funding education – where taxpayers agree to share costs of schools, and those assets are handed from one generation to the next – to a system in which charter school real estate and operations are controlled by private equity takes control out of the community.”
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A Sea Of Charter Schools In Detroit Leaves Students Adrift

The New York Times

“Michigan leapt at the promise of charter schools 23 years ago, betting big that choice and competition would improve public schools. It got competition, and chaos … 24 charter schools have opened in the city since the cap was lifted in 2011. 18 charters whose existing schools were at or below the district’s dismal performance expanded or opened new schools … It can be a forbidding landscape for families trying to enroll their children, particularly in a city where, historically, federal statistics show that nearly half the adults are not literate enough to function effectively … ‘We’re spreading the money across more and more schools … They’re all under-resourced.'”
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Classroom Contagion: Stressed-Out Students More Common In Classes Where Teachers Are Burned Out

Medical Daily

“Teacher burnout may contribute to stressed-out students and vice versa, suggesting that stress may actually be contagious … This is the first time research has found a potential link between the two … When teachers get stressed from inadequate support in the classroom or poor educational systems, their lessons are less organized and managed. Students, then, are affected by the stress and burnout, in turn increasing their own levels of anxiety.”
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To Do Better In School, Kids Should Exercise Their Bodies As Well As Their Brains, Experts Say

Los Angeles Times

“‘Physical activity before, during and after school promotes scholastic performance in children and youth’ … What’s more, exercise and fitness ‘are beneficial to brain structure, brain function and cognition’”… Recess and physical education classes in school, organized youth sports leagues, and old-fashioned outdoor play … are still a good investment in academic achievement.”
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UN Report: Tackle Inequality To Prevent Children From Dying

Associated Press via ABC News

“69 million youngsters under the age of five will die from preventable causes between now and 2030 if all countries don’t accelerate action to improve health and education for the most disadvantaged … 167 million children will also live in extreme poverty, 60 million won’t be attending primary school, and 750 million women will have been married as children by 2030 unless inequality is tackled now … 147 million children between one- and five-years-old could be saved from preventable death ‘just with a 2% increase in expenditure in 74 countries.'”
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What Other Universities Should Learn From UT

Houston Chronicle

Education professor Julian Vasquez Heilig writes, “We are fortunate today that the Supreme Court ruled that the University of Texas admission plan ‘clearly reconciled the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity’ … Critics of affirmative action in admissions often frame the matter like that: as a rule that says when two exactly equal candidates apply for a spot in a university, the minority candidate is chosen each time. This is a gross and purposeful simplification of what actually occurs … UT was very thorough in its empirical process … This high standard will likely cause those that oppose the consideration of race … to sue colleges or universities that haven’t been so thorough. So my message to my academic brethren … Be sure that your admissions policies are in the best interest of your students and faculty.”
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Are Public Schools And Private Equity A Bad Mix?

A recent article in the New York Times looked at the “dire effects” when private equity firms gain some control over public services like emergency care and firefighting. The reporter should have added education to the list.

As the article explains, most people don’t really know that sometimes when they engage with what has traditionally been the public service sector – basic things we pay our tax dollars for – they are interacting with private interests who have profit as a motive.

This conflict of interest, what the reporters prefer to call “a fundamental tension,” often leads to disastrous results – say, when you call 911 and an ambulance never shows up or your house catches fire and the fire department sends you a big bill for putting it out – all because the private provider wants to cut corners or attach fees in order to improve the bottom line.

But while it’s true, as the article states, “Cities and towns are required to offer citizens a free education,” that doesn’t mean that schools aren’t “fair game for privatization.”

Indeed, just a few days later, a different edition of the Times reported on what private ventures into public education look like in Detroit.

The Turbulent Bazaar Of School Choice

That article by Kate Zernike describes an education landscape where charter schools, taxpayer funded schools that are privately operated, rapidly open and close and parents scramble to get their kids into schools that often deliver a substandard quality of education. Zernike writes:

The unchecked growth of charters has created a glut of schools competing for some of the nation’s poorest students, enticing them to enroll with cash bonuses, laptops, raffle tickets for iPads and bicycles. Leaders of charter and traditional schools alike say they are being cannibalized, fighting so hard over students and the limited public dollars that follow them that no one thrives.

As Zernike explains, the idea was to create competition and choice, so schools would be incentivized to improve or be forced to “go out of business.” Of course, this makes about as much sense as building two competing water systems to see which one operates the best, and then leave the pipes from the “losing” system buried in the ground. But such is the thinking of what is known as “education reform” these days.

Detroit’s system of choice also incentivized a predatory sector to move into the city and figure out how to make a good return on investment by getting just enough students to enroll before “count day” and convincing just enough parents to believe that the school will make their kid a winner despite the fact he or she is woefully below grade level in reading and math achievement.

The predatory nature of the expanding charter school sector is particularly bad in Michigan, where 80 percent of charters are run by for-profit companies, accreditation agencies seem to operate on a “come-one-come-all” basis, and the state’s laissez faire regard for education gives charter management firms lots of leeway to exploit desperate families.

But what’s going on in Detroit is rapidly becoming reality for many American communities, especially in urban centers, where a marketing ethic has taken the place of education expertise in school governance.

Detroit’s market-based school system is a substitute for the traditional system where parents and taxpayers relied on having public schools as anchor institutions in their communities – much like they rely on fire and police stations, parks and rec centers, and the town hall.

The supposed benefit to all this new way of providing education is that parents get a choice about where they send their children to school. But while parents are pushed to pick their schools on the increasingly turbulent bazaar of choice, there are many unanswered questions about who gains and who loses from this.

Indeed, while the first Times article cited above leaves education out of its reporting on the privatization of public services, the second piece leaves unexamined the increasing role of private equity in shaping the risky new education landscape in the country.

Education Endeavor Or Real Estate Venture?

The very same week the Times ran its story about the charter industry’s pillaging of Detroit’s public schools, the Washington Post and other outlets reported on a $250 million gift bequeathed to charters by the Walton Family Foundation.

The Walton Foundation, in case you don’t know, is the philanthropic project of the family who created and operate the Walmart retail chain. WFF and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation are the largest private donors to the charter industry.

As Post reporter Emma Brown notes, this particular capital outlay from the Waltons is “to help urban charter schools deal with a problem that has sometimes slowed their growth: access to facilities.”

WFF’s commitment, called the Building Equity Initiative, “is expected to create space for an additional 250,000 students by 2027,” Brown reports.

If this Walton donation sounds more like a real estate venture than an education endeavor, that’s because the charter industry as a whole is beginning to resemble a playground for private equity.

As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, “Real-estate investors are showing an increasing interest in charter school development as the demand grows for classroom seats and some state and local governments become more willing to help finance charter-school projects.”

That report ticks off a list of private-equity firms that are raising and investing hundreds of millions of dollars for ventures into acquisition, renovation, and construction of new and existing charter schools.

The article warns that the flood of private-equity money into charters can entice otherwise well-meaning charter operators into “costly deals with developers who are more concerned with investment return than educating children.”

The article quotes spokespeople from the investment community who say there’s no other way for charter operators to get the money to expand their industry. But that’s starting to change as well, the article reports, now that many states “backstop tax exempt bond issues for some charter schools, reducing their capital costs when acquiring facilities.”

These publicly financed arrangements come with great risks, however, due to the high failure rates of charter schools. (Remember, a portion of charters is supposed to fail in order to show the system is “working.”). As school finance expert and college professor Bruce Baker warns on his personal blog, the accumulated debt related to charter schools – many whose contracts may expire well before the maturity rate of the revenue bond becomes due – is starting to resemble a bubble.

What About Democracy?

This is not to say that all charter school operators are in it for the money or folks like the Waltons are investing in charters in order to earn profits. Money is not the only capital good. Political control is also a highly prized good, and the more influence private equity has in public education, there is a danger that democratic control over education may decrease.

Charter schools, for instance, are fundamentally less democratic than public schools. And changing from traditional way of funding education – where taxpayers agree to share costs of schools, and those assets are handed from one generation to the next – to a system in which charter school real estate and operations are controlled by private equity takes control out of the community.

The writers for the Times didn’t do it, but connecting these two articles puts public education in its rightful place as a public good – as vital as emergency care, fire and police protection, and municipal water and sanitation services – rather than a private commodity. With this perspective in mind, ensuring guaranteed access will always be more important than providing choice.