Education Opportunity Network

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LA Teachers Make The Case That Charter Schools Are An Existential Threat To Public Education

“Isn’t it reasonable to have some regulations on charters?” asked Ingrid King, a kindergarten and dual language teacher at Latona Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles. She and two of her colleagues spoke to me from the picket lines during the recently resolved teacher strike in her city. When she and over 30,000 teachers and school personnel walked off the job, it closed the nation’s second-largest school system of nearly a half-million students for six days and filled the streets with huge protests.

The strike ended when the district conceded to give teachers a 6 percent pay raise, limit class sizes, reduce the number of student assessments by half, and hire full-time nurses for every school, a librarian for every middle and high school, and enough counselors to provide one for every 500 students.

But the concessions teachers won that will likely have the most impact outside of LA are related to charter schools. The teachers forced the district leader to present to the school board a resolution calling on the state to cap the number of charter schools, and the teachers made the district give their union increased oversight of charter co-locations — a practice that allows charter operations to take possession of a portion of an existing public school campus.

Los Angeles Unified has 277 charter schools, the largest number of charter schools of any school district in the nation. The schools serve nearly 119,000 students, nearly one in five students. The vast majority of charters are staffed by non-union teachers. (Teachers at a chain of unionized charter schools in the city that joined district teachers on the strike are still on strike.) So the quick takefrom some is the teachers’ union made curbs on charter schools part of their demands because these schools are a threat to the union’s power.

But when you talk to teachers, that’s not what they say. They tell you they want to curb charter school growth, not because it threatens their union, but because charters threaten the very survival of public schools.

Teachers see an existential threat

Latona teachers I spoke with described competition from surrounding charter schools as an existential threat to their school and an undermining influence on the public system.

“Charter schools are popping up everywhere and siphoning money and taking away students from our public school,” said King.

“I’ve had a lot of friends teach at charters,” said Linda Butala, an English language and Title I coordinator. “These schools often mean well. But charters have become another level of haves and have-nots in our system.”

The “haves” these teachers referred to are the “more savvy” parents who take advantage of what many charters offer, including smaller class sizes and newer resources and technology.

The disparity is especially acute when the charter is co-located on the same campus as an existing public school. Traci Rustin, a second-grade teacher, recalled that at a previous school where she worked, the charter co-located on the campus “had much fewer teachers and students of color.” The charter students had more abundant and newer technology, the school lunches were more nutritious, and the classroom supplies were up-to-date. And when students returned to the public school when the charter “didn’t work out,” the new technology and resources, along with the funding that had left her school, didn’t transfer back.

“In neighborhoods that are more racially homogeneous,” explained Rustin, “you see more well-abled children in the charter. You see a two-tier system going on.”

“Charter schools are set up to target certain populations of students and aren’t even set up to meet the needs of some students,” said King. And some parents who can’t meet the expectations set down by the charters know they shouldn’t bother trying to enroll their children in charters. Meanwhile, her school has to serve all students and parents and gets the families and children the charters aren’t interested in serving. “This leads to a more segregated system.”

Butala, who also previously worked at a school with a co-located charter, recalled when the charter moved in, her school immediately had to devise ways to place students in more crowded classrooms and share common areas — such as the playground and cafeteria. But it was never clear to her what the charter was being asked to share with her school. She watched the new charter lure students away from her school, often to see them return months later after the funding was lost.

She claimed her school’s test scores were better than the charter’s, but advocates for the charter were adept at convincing parents “the charter was better.”

Charters take their toll

Latona is experiencing a similar fate. The school doesn’t have to deal with a co-located charter, but competition from surrounding charters has taken a toll on the school.

The school’s student enrollment is virtually all Hispanic, with a quarter of the students being English language learners, and 90.6 percent are socioeconomically disadvantaged. Yet, despite this challenging student population, the school significantly outperforms the state on academic measures of English language arts and mathematics and has been steadily improving, boosting proficiency levels by 12 points in ELA and nearly 19 points in math on the most recent assessments.

Nevertheless, Latona’s student enrollment has long been in decline, according to state data. In the 2017-18 school year, the school enrolled 170 students. Five years ago, it was 267; ten years ago, it was 336, and the student body was more racially diverse.

The enrollment declines have resulted in the school having to let go support staff, such as counselors and nurses, who are essential to the health and well-being of the students.

“I see more kids with social-emotional needs we simply are unable to meet,” said Butala. “If the child isn’t okay socially and emotionally, then we can’t be the best teachers we can be. But too often, we’re called upon not just to be teachers but to be parents and psychologists. We’re having to wear too many hats.”

“Maybe if we had the resources and staff we need, we wouldn’t see so many parents transferring their students to charters,” Rustin conjectured.

“Past the tipping point”

The argument Latona teachers make is not lost on parents, many of whom supported the teacher demands and joined them on the picket lines because they see how their schools are being slowly depleted of funding and resources due to charter school expansions.

“We’re past the tipping point on charters in Los Angeles,” Julian Vasquez Heilig told me in a phone interview. Heilig is a professor at California State University, Sacramento and the author of numerous studies on the impacts of accountability-based and market-based education reforms.

Heilig is not doctrinairely opposed to charter schools, as some proponents of charter schools accuse their critics of being. On the contrary, he formerly worked as an instructor in a charter school, was a charter school parent and donor, and at one point served as a charter board member.

“But the situation has changed,” he stated.

The “situation” he referred to is the long-held claim that charter schools, by their very nature, are a positive force in the public school system. The preferred narrative is that charter schools are just another form of “public” school, that competition from charters makes public schools up their game, and when “parents vote with their feet” and choose to transfer their children to charters, money that “follows the child” out of the public school has no negative effects on the remaining students because the school can adapt to a lower student head count.

Heilig and other charter school critics argue that theory of charter schools in no way resembles the realities of charters on the ground. And striking teachers in Los Angeles have opened people’s eyes to that reality.

“Now that class sizes and lack of resources and school support staff have grown intolerable in Los Angeles public schools, teachers are bringing the public’s attention to the reality of what charters have helped create,” Heilig explained.

“Five years ago, we weren’t talking about the financial impact of charter schools. Meanwhile, poor performing charters have been allowed to proliferate in the state,” and the public is largely unaware of the negative impact this has on the public education system. Until now.

The bad math of charter schools

Truth is, the financials of charter schools have never added up.

A 2017 report authored by Gordon Lafer, a political economist and an associate professor at the University of Oregon, looked at the spread of charter schools in California and found “hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent each year without any meaningful strategy.”

Because charter operators often get permission to set up new schools wherever they want, “far too much of this public funding is spent on schools built in neighborhoods that have no need for additional classroom space,” Lafer concluded.

While public school districts can’t build new schools unless increases in enrollment or an influx of school-aged children demands them, charter schools can make the case based on subjective arguments having nothing to do with numbers, and when local school boards deny charter applicants, charter operators can appeal to the county or state board that, more often than not, overrules the local board.

As a result, the report found, “nearly 450 charter schools have opened in places that already had enough classroom space for all students.”

Los Angeles is the poster person of having too many schools chasing after too few students.

District enrollment peaked in 2004 at just under 750,000 and has been dropping ever since, not just due to the growth of charters. A combination of factors — including declining birth rates, population flight to the suburbs, the exorbitant cost of child care, and skyrocketing housing prices that discourage young couples from having children — has led to a steep decline in the population of school-aged children in the district.

Another flaw of charter school financials is that they add layers of administrative and infrastructure costs that public schools are expected to pay for, even though public school budgets are already under stress, and government leaders are unwilling to provide new funding.

“Charters contribute to the funding problems because we’re paying for two school systems,” argued Heilig: the local public one and the privately run charter ones operating like parallel districts to the local schools, with their own duplicative layers of administrative staff and infrastructure. “There’s an incredible amount of waste and inefficiency” in this arrangement.

“Changing our minds about charters”

“Charter proponents aren’t acknowledging these problems,” Heilig said.

Indeed, after news of the LA strike resolution spread, proponents of charter schools and choice responded angrily to limits put on charters.

Nina Rees, president and chief executive of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, told the New York Times that placing a cap on the growth of charter schools is a constraint “we cannot stand for.” And U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, an ardent fan of the charter industry, declared teachers’ unions were “the only thing standing in the way” of the spread of school choice.

But the stark contrast of the rhetoric from charter school hardliners to the reasonable requests of Los Angeles teachers, like Ingrid King, changes a conversation that has long been one-sided and clouded in lofty claims about charters.

“The strike has made me consider how charter school expansion is harming the city,” wrotecharter school teacher Riley McDonald Vaca in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times after seeing how the strike played out.

“As more money is invested in new ideas and new campuses, fewer resources and students are left for the many great programs still trying to gain their footing in our current district and charter schools,” she stated. “I believe in my charter school, but I don’t believe that the charter industry’s mission to increase its share of the educational marketplace in Los Angeles can solve the problems we all face educating children.”

“These issues with charters are coming from the bottom-up,” said Heilig. “Legislators are starting to take notice, and so has the public. We’re clearly changing our minds about charters.”

(Photo credit: Bill Raden, Capital & Main.)

{Originally published at Salon.]

1/10/2019 – “Choice” Has Become An Excuse For Charter And Voucher Schools To Discriminate

THIS WEEK: LA Teacher Strike … Charters Discriminate … #Red4Ed in 2019 … Dirty Secret of Ed Reform … Who Is Stifling Teachers?


“Choice” Has Become An Excuse For Charter And Voucher Schools To Discriminate

By Jeff Bryant

“When prominent advocates for ‘school choice’ … talk about how a market-based approach for education works, the very stories they might cite as successes actually reveal serious shortcomings of charter schools and vouchers, especially about how they can have detrimental effects on parents, children, and communities … While the primacy of parental choice might work well on a bumper sticker … this can create problems in a public education system that is supposed to serve the needs and interests of all students … Charter schools … while [they] advertise themselves as schools of choice, the reality is as much as you choose it, the school chooses you.”
Read more …


As L.A. Teachers Threaten To Strike, Union Leaders Are Fighting A Controversial School Reform Strategy


“If Los Angeles teachers go on strike this week or next, it won’t just be about dollars and cents — it will be part of a broader fight over the role of charter schools and an obscure but influential school reform idea … ‘This approach, drawn from Wall Street, is called the ‘portfolio’ model, and it has been criticized for having a negative effect on student equity and parent inclusion’ … For United Teachers Los Angeles, that includes stopping the growth of charter schools, which are tied closely to the portfolio model. Instead of dictating how schools should be run, school boards should contract out their management to outside groups, portfolio advocates believe. The term ‘portfolio’ came from comparing a school board to an investment manager.”
Read more …

Tailoring The Charter School Population

US News & World Report

“Charter schools and public schools of choice – those in school districts that allow students to choose from any number of schools instead of zoning them to just one – are less likely to encourage students with a history of poor behavior, low academic achievement or special needs to apply. Charter schools, in particular, were less likely to encourage students with a potentially significant special need to apply.… Researchers sent emails from fictitious parents to nearly 6,500 schools … asking whether any student is eligible to apply to the school and how to do so. Each email signaled either a disability status, poor behavior, high or low prior academic achievement, or no characteristic at all … If an email signaled a child had a significant special need, charter schools were 7 percentage points less likely to respond … Students with disabilities are, on average, twice as expensive to educate than students without a disability, and those with severe disabilities, they said, can cost eight to 14 times to educate.”
Read more …

The #RedforEd Wave Is Likely To Build, Not Subside, In 2019

The Progressive

“The wave of education activism shows no signs of ebbing … Educators in Alabama … held the state’s first #RedforEd rally … citing rising health insurance premiums as well as inadequate pay and minimal classroom funding … Teachers in Louisiana, too, are contemplating collective action in 2019, in defiance of their state’s restrictive labor laws … Charter school teachers in Chicago … walked off the job in the nation’s first-ever collective action by charter school employees … Teachers in Oakland, California are currently gearing up to walk off the job, citing pay that is thousands of dollars less than that of teachers in neighboring districts.”
Read more …

The ‘Dirty Secret’ About Educational Innovation

Hechinger Report

“As part of the federal recovery effort to boost the economy after the 2008 recession, the U.S. Education Department suddenly had a big pot of money to give away to ‘innovations’ in education … More than $1.5 billion has been spent on almost 200 ideas … Big chunks went to building new KIPP charter schools and training thousands of new Teach for America recruits to become teachers … Many of the grant projects involved technology … Only 12 of the 67 innovations, or 18%, were found to have any positive impact on student achievement.”
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Arizona: Proposed Teacher Gag Law Part of National Push


Peter Greene writes, “The proposed teacher gag law in Arizona may look like a piece of small-time revenge legislation, but it is actually part of a larger movement to silence teachers in and out of the classroom … If we roll the clock back to January of 2018, we find Dave LaRock, a Virginia choicer, proposing a Teacher Code of Ethics that reads like a rough draft of the … AZ version. But it turns out that LaRock appears to have cribbed his proposal from a website called StopK12Indoctrination … StopK12 posted their version of the Teacher Code of Ethics in June of 2017, and it’s clear that the other teacher codes are all versions of this original … If you decide you want to contribute to the muzzling of teachers, the link will take you to a site that will let you contribute to the David Horowitz Freedom Center … [David Horowitz’s] Center for the Study of Popular Culture has been tagged by the Southern Poverty Law Center as one of the ‘right-wing foundations and think tanks support[ing] efforts to make bigoted and discredited ideas respectable.’ He’s a vocal anti-Muslim who joined the smear party labeling Barack Obama a secret Muslim. He has been very active in trying to squelch liberal voices in college and university teaching positions. And, perhaps most notably, this Steve Bannon buddy was the early mentor of Stephen Miller, the angry voice of racism in the Trump administration.”
Read more …

“Choice” Has Become An Excuse For Charter And Voucher Schools To Discriminate

When prominent advocates for “school choice,” such as U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, talk about how a market-based approach for education works, the very stories they might cite as successes actually reveal serious shortcomings of charter schools and vouchers, especially about how they can have detrimental effects on parents, children, and communities. Take, for example, the case of Krystl Newton.

When the private Christian school Newton’s daughter attended closed, she was able to find a charter school near their home in Wake County, North Carolina, that provided a school culture similar to the private academy, with strict discipline, high academic standards, and none of the “gang stuff” (her words) she heard plagued the public schools.

Her daughter thrived in the new charter, so when Newton’s younger son reached kindergarten age, she was pleased the charter would enroll him under their family-members-first policy.

But after his kindergarten year, when he was ready to move to first grade, there was a problem.

Early in the boy’s development, Newton had observed symptoms of what she came to believe was a developmental disability resembling Tourette’s Syndrome. Although an official diagnosis of the disorder couldn’t be made until the child turned eight, Newton had already consulted specialists and gone to the trouble of developing an Individualized Education Program (IEP), a document that is developed for each public school child who needs special supports due to a physical, mental, or emotional disability. Because her daughter also had a mild form of disability when she enrolled in the charter, Newton assumed the charter would be fully accepting and supportive of her son’s situation too.

But the charter administrators felt otherwise.

“They wouldn’t accept our information,” she told me in a phone conversation, referring to her son’s IEP and other documents advising how to conduct his education program. Instead, the charter administrators said they would rely on their own “team” to develop a plan for her son and would “let you know” what the school would choose to support.

The plan the charter school ultimately came up with had few of the supports her son would need, Newton believed. Also, the school offered no recourse or way for her to appeal their decision. “They really had no intention of accommodating my son’s needs,” she said.

Fortunately, during the summer when her son was between kindergarten and first grade, Newton learned of a nearby public school that had the supports her son needed—including visits from an occupational therapist and access to instruction in a smaller class size. By the time I spoke with her, her son was attending a public middle school and “thriving,” she said. The special education staff had “partnered with our family,” she told me. “It was a terrific move.”

The feel-good story school choice advocates would make of this outcome is that Newton and her children benefited from having a community where there were lots of school options, and the fact they ultimately found a place for her son in a public school, while her daughter eventually graduated from the charter, is proof a market-based system in which parents have to essentially “shop” for schools to find the “best fit” for each child is what works best.

But Julie Mead has a problem with that.

Does ‘All Children’ Mean All?

“When public funds are tied to programs, there’s an expectation that the programs are then accessible to the entire community,” she told me in a phone interview. In Newton’s case, although the charter her children attended received public funds from the state and was subject to federal laws that ensure students with disabilities have free appropriate public education, the charter school was in fact not accessible to all public school children simply by the way it tailored its program to exclude students with more severe disabilities.

Mead, a University of Wisconsin professor, recently co-authored with Suzanne Eckes a policy brief for the National Education Policy Center warning that redirecting public funds to charter schools and voucher programs to pay for private school tuition subsidizes discrimination with taxpayer money.

The brief points to numerous research reports and news accounts finding that private schools participating in voucher programs often deny access to students and families on the basis of religious or sexual identity, learning ability, or fluency in English. Studies also show charter schools often enroll racially and economically homogeneous student populations and tend to have fewer students with special needs.

The authors contend that expanding more charters and voucher programs increases discrimination in schools because federal laws don’t hold public, private, and charter schools to the same standards, state legislatures too often ignore discrimination in creating charter and voucher programs, and privately operated schools have a free hand to design programs to discourage—or even prevent—undesirable students from enrolling.

Charters on Murky Legal Ground

The authors find discrimination is more likely in voucher programs than in charters, because private schools aren’t subject to the same laws as public schools. However, they point out that because of recent court decisions, charters inhabit a murky legal ground where their status as public or private entities is not settled.

In the case of Newton’s son, federal law requires that the charter provide necessary services for his education, no matter how costly and regardless of whether the school had ever offered the services before his enrollment.

But as the NEPC report explains, charter schools have programming authority that allows them to “exclude some populations.” Charters are free to gear their instructional services to specific ethnic or racial student populations. Or, as in Newton’s case, charter school officials can assure parents that their school has the necessary services to provide for a specific disability, and if the parents, as Newton did, opt for a school with existing expertise instead of the charter, then, “in such cases,” the brief explains, “the [charter] school official would not have discriminated, but the result—a school that serves fewer students with disabilities—occurs just the same.”

No doubt, the practices of charter schools will continue to be matters for litigation. However, few parents have the time or wherewithal to take these cases to court, charter authorizers and state officials who oversee these schools have few incentives to enforce stricter non-discrimination guidelines, and the charter industry shrugs off the problem.

But the real value in the NEPC brief is how it takes on the argument made by school choice cheerleaders that evidence of discrimination and exclusion in the privately operated education sector doesn’t matter.

Choice to Discriminate

The brief looks back at DeVos’ contentious budget hearing in the House earlier this year when Massachusetts Representative Katherine Clark asked her how a Department of Education under her leadership would respond to instances when schools receiving federal dollars were found to discriminate on the basis of race or sexual identity. In response, DeVos indicated her emphasis would be on states having “flexibility” and “parents making choices on behalf of their students.”

Since that hearing, DeVos has backtracked somewhat on allowing federal money to go to schools that discriminate against LGBT students, but on numerous occasions when she has been questioned about the problematic track record of school choice, her backstop argument has been that parental choice matters more than academic outcomes or social justice consequences, including increased inequality or discrimination.

Unfortunately, joining DeVos and school choice advocates in the Republican Party in their argument are a lot of Democrats. For instance, Peter Cunningham, communications director for former-U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, has suggested that fighting discrimination that causes racially segregated schools is “maybe … not worth it.”

In op-eds for prominent media outlets, Cunningham has declared that efforts to racially integrate schools have “hit a wall,” and because “ending poverty and integration are politically difficult and financially expensive goals,” the more important aim is to press for “needed reforms” in schools. At the very top of the “reforms” he advocates for are “the rights of parents and the best interests of children.” He declares, “No one can dispute the right of parents to choose their child’s school.”

While the primacy of parental choice might work well on a bumper sticker, Mead explains why this can create problems in a public education system that is supposed to serve the needs and interests of all students.

Understanding the Trade-Offs

“People need to understand what the trade-offs are between these choice options and parent and student rights,” Mead says.

Mead, who started her career as an educator of children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, says the popular view of “choice” espoused by many—that parent choice has primacy over issues of equity—reminds her of what happened after the U.S. Supreme Court Brown v. Board ruling that outlawed racially segregated public schools. In retaliation to the ruling, many states in the South set up segregated academies for white students and justified the schools with arguments for parent choice.

Arguments for the primacy of parent choice today are far more sophisticated, with proponents saying that parents who opt into charter and voucher schools that are racially or ethnically homogeneous are choosing “culturally affirming” schools for their children. School choice proponents decry non-discrimination laws as “one-size-fits-all” impositions on privately operated schools. And rearguard defenders of the accountability movement from the presidential administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama contend that as long as student scores on standardized tests improve, the widespread segregation proliferating in the privately operated education sector doesn’t matter.

Representatives of the charter industry generally fight every effort to ensure their schools don’t discriminate. In North Carolina, where Newton lives, a charter school advocate who appeared at a prominent forum on charters said it was “not fair” for charter schools to have the same percentages and severity of special education students that local public schools have.

The hands-off message the charter industry leaders convey to lawmakers, many of whom receive substantial campaign donations from the industry, is that any regulations with the objective of “protecting students and taxpayers” are “harmful constraints” on their schools. And policies governing their schools should “focus on what a charter school is achieving, not how it does the work.”

These arguments come dangerously close, says Mead, to “transferring guarantees that we should have in society to provide all students with access to education to a permission-based system where we grant permissions to violate guaranteed access.”

She concedes, “It’s certainly difficult to create systems that are non-discriminatory. But if you get a system that departs from those guarantees of access and excludes large parts of the public, it’s no longer politically defensible.”

Her concern is, “As we shift into systems of choice, then we’ll shift accountability from the collective to the individual. So at some point, it leads to a situation where parents who’ve been wronged in the system are told, ‘If you’re not happy then it’s your fault; you should have chosen better.’”

Who Gets to Choose?

No doubt, our public education system has struggled at fulfilling the promise to guarantee an education for every student. But during the previous century, a progressive movement in the country gradually opened the schoolhouse door to students of low-income and working-class families, girls and women, and students of all races, religions, languages, and abilities.

Yes, there are still great inequities in the system. But why would we introduce new agents that likely make inequities worse?

“We need to find ways to ensure equitable access,” says Mead. “I’m not ready to give up that goal.”

What she and co-author Eckes recommend is for Congress to amend federal anti-discrimination laws to ensure state voucher programs operate in non-discriminatory ways and for federal agencies to consider withholding tax-exempt status and other benefits from schools that don’t meet non-discrimination standards.

At the state level, legislatures should include explicit anti-discrimination language in their voucher laws to ensure that private schools participating in publicly funded voucher programs do not discriminate against students and staff. And state lawmakers should adopt or amend charter school laws to ensure that throughout the life of a charter school (from proposal to renewal) there is a regulatory function that ensures every charter is attracting and retaining reasonably heterogeneous student populations.

As for Newton, her experience with school choice has persuaded her to urge parents with special needs children to “give public schools a chance.” About charter schools, she explains that while these schools advertise themselves as schools of choice, the reality is “as much as you choose it, the school chooses you.”

(Originally published by Alternet.)

12/13/2018 – Reflecting On Six Years Of The Education Opportunity Network

THIS WEEK: Charter Politics Changing … Chicago Charter Union Wins … LA Teachers Next To Strike … For-Profit Collages Screw Students … DeVos Employees Hate Her


Reflecting On Six Years Of The Education Opportunity Network

By Jeff Bryant

“A little more than six years ago, a group of public school advocates, political strategists, and progressive-minded educators from around the country met in an informal gathering in Washington, DC, to address the burning question of how to lead a resurgence in progressive values in education policy and politics … The informal group gathered in the Beltway decided to create the Education Opportunity Network to be a strategy and messaging center to bring education policy back to its progressive roots and urge progressive Democrats to add progressive education policy to their lists of issues they would advocate for … Today, after nearly 300 newsletters, more than 360 articles and blogposts, a subscriber base of 60,000 education advocates, nearly a thousand reader comments, thousands of social media followers, and with a media reach that includes prominent national outlets, EON finds itself in a transformed education policy landscape.”
Read more …


New Democratic Governors Show Shift On US Charter Schools

Associated Press

“As Democrats flipped seven governor seats … the incoming governors in California, Illinois, and New Mexico have all said they want to take the rare step of putting a temporary halt on new charter schools. New governors in Connecticut, Kansas, Maine, and Nevada also are expressing less enthusiasm for charters than their predecessors … Democrats see opposing school choice initiatives as a way to resist DeVos and President Donald Trump. While existing charter schools won’t be touched … overall growth will stall and for-profit schools will be in peril .… In California … in the most expensive state superintendent race in U.S. history, in which Marshall Tuck, who previously led a charter school network, lost to union-backed state Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, a fellow Democrat.”
Read more …

The Nation’s First Charter School Strike Has Ended With A Union Victory

Education Week

“The Chicago Teachers Union announced … that the bargaining team for the educators at the Acero charter school network reached a tentative deal with management. The deal agrees to raise pay for teachers and paraprofessionals … The tentative deal also shortens the school year and reduces the teachers’ work day … Union leaders are now heralding the victory as the path forward for educators at charter schools. Just about 11% of charter schools across the country are unionized.”
Read more …

Protesters Shut Down Los Angeles Board Of Education Meeting

Los Angeles Times

“A group of at least 50 protesters shut down the Los Angeles Board of Education meeting early … Two major possibilities color just about everything in Los Angeles Unified — the growing prospect of a teachers strike and Supt. Austin Beutner’s still largely confidential plan for a massive district reorganization. The major theme of the protest, organized by teachers union allies, was support for the teachers, though student demands also were a part of it … District officials and the teachers union have been in negotiations for more than 18 months, and a January strike appears increasingly likely. The two sides are nearly done with fact-finding, the final step of a negotiation process.”
Read more …

What Do Students Do When A For-Profit College Closes?

The Atlantic

“More than 19,000 students [are] affected by the abrupt closure of Education Corporation of America, one of the country’s largest private for-profit college operators, which runs Virginia College, Brightwood College, Brightwood Career Institute, Ecotech Institute, and Golf Academy of America. The for-profit operator had been in a precarious position for some time, given a pending loss of accreditation and access to federal financial-aid funds … When a college closes abruptly, students can often have their federal student loans discharged … Historically only a fraction of students who were eligible for such discharges have ever received them … Even though students may be eligible to get their loans discharged, Lee says, they are unlikely to get any credit for the work they’ve already done, and that doesn’t account for the money they spent out of their own pocket … All of this is happening to a student body not well equipped to weather major setbacks. Statistically, students at for-profit colleges are more likely to be low-income … and are less likely to have the resources to draw on to be able to come up with a good Plan B.”
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Betsy DeVos Gets Bad Reviews From Employees As Morale At Education Department Plummets, Survey Finds

The Washington Post

“The Education Department had a morale drop of 12.4 percentage points — from 59.7% in 2017 to 47.3% in 2018. It was one of the steepest declines among all federal agencies … Over the past year, career department employees have privately complained about DeVos’s leadership, saying their expertise has been ignored by her political appointees to top jobs. And they have expressed opposition to many of the positions she has taken. DeVos rolled back Obama-era civil rights protections for some marginalized students and made it easier for for-profit colleges to operate. DeVos has also limited the ability of employees to work from home and fought with the department’s union … The morale drops are hardly a surprise, given the hostility that Trump and many of his appointees have directed toward the agencies and their missions. DeVos has said she wouldn’t mind if the department closed, expressing her long-standing opposition to federal involvement in local education.”
Read more …

Reflecting On Six Years Of The Education Opportunity Network

A little more than six years ago, a group of public school advocates, political strategists, and progressive-minded educators from around the country met in an informal gathering in Washington, DC, to address the burning question of how to lead a resurgence in progressive values in education policy and politics.

At the time, Republican state governors and legislators were engaged in a withering assault on public schools to strip them of financial resources they needed to educate a population of students increasingly wracked by poverty, homelessness, and the traumas of widespread racism and economic inequity. A Democratic presidential administration led by Barack Obama and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was continuing its campaign to ratchet down more pressure on schools and teachers to conform to practices most educators objected to and increase standardized test scores or face punitive actions. Influential billionaires and private foundations were stoking the coffers of political candidates and think tanks to back charter schools and other market-based forms of competition to public schools. And education policy makers and influential media pundits seemed stuck in a consensus that the nation’s public schools had failed and bad teachers were the problem.

In the political arena, the progressive left had generally left the education battlefield to centrist Democrats and radical Republicans who more often than not agree on how schools should be governed. Public schools had virtually no prominent champions in the progressive faction on Capitol Hill, and progressive advocacy groups uniformly left education policy off their checklists of issues they cared about.

Faced with this bleak landscape, the informal group gathered in the Beltway decided to create the Education Opportunity Network to be a strategy and messaging center to bring education policy back to its progressive roots and urge progressive Democrats to add progressive education policy to their lists of issues they would advocate for.

Beginning with a bold “Education Declaration to Rebuild America,” EON set out a principled agenda based on the progressive ideals of public education as a primary vehicle to provide opportunities for individual advancement, promote social mobility, and share democratic values. The declared goal was to ensure all who envision a more just, progressive, and fair society joined in the fight for the public schools the nation deserves.

Today, after nearly 300 newsletters, more than 360 articles and blogposts, a subscriber base of 60,000 education advocates, nearly a thousand reader comments, thousands of social media followers, and with a media reach that includes prominent national outlets, EON finds itself in a transformed education policy landscape.

Teachers are engaged in massive protest actions to call attention to the lack of resources in schools and the needs for increased funding and relief from the obsession with standardized testing and harsh accountabilities. Grassroots advocacy by students, parents, and community organizers is starting to stymie the steady march of privatization in some communities and bring back democratic governance to school districts that had been deprived of voting rights for years. Prominent news outlets have gone from unfairly bashing classroom teachers to portraying their struggles with empathy. A new slate of Democratic governors has pledged support for traditional public schools and openly expressed skepticism of charter schools and other forms of privatization. And many of the progressive candidates who helped Democrats take back the US House of Representatives this fall vowed to support public schools rather than shutting them down and pledged to put the emphasis back on making neighborhood schools the best they can be rather than funding more alternatives that rarely live up to their promises.

With the holidays approaching, EON will take stock of this transformation and take an extended break to reflect on where this project has been and where it should go from here. Your input in the comment section is welcome, or please leave a comment on the EON Facebook page where today’s newsletter is posted. Here’s wishing you the best of the season and seeing you back here in the New Year.

12/6/2018 – Why Urban Communities Of Color Are Increasingly Rejecting Charter Schools

THIS WEEK: Corporations Screw Schools … HW Bush Was First Reformer … GOP: Defund Public Schools … Color Of School Closings … Social Disruption Hurts Kids


Here’s Why Urban Communities Of Color Are Increasingly Rejecting Charter Schools

By Jeff Bryant

“The tradition in American communities, where local schools have long been governed by democratically elected boards. But that American tradition has been undermined or overturned, especially in communities of color, where less democratic forms of governance have become widespread … For decades, a wave of state takeovers of school districts overseeing tens of thousands of students has stripped elected school boards in these communities of their governing power and denied voters the right to local governance of their public schools. These state takeovers have been happening almost exclusively in African American and Latinx school districts … However, there are recent signs these communities are fighting back and frequently winning to gradually claw back their local, democratic governance.”
Read more …


Corporate Tax Breaks Cost U.S. Schools Billions Of Lost Revenue: Report


“In fiscal 2017, U.S. public schools lost $1.8 billion across 28 states through corporate tax incentives over which most schools themselves had little or no control. The 10 most affected states could hire more than 28,000 new teachers if they were able to use the lost revenues … States and cities have long used abatements, subsidies and other tax incentives to lure companies … ‘Cities … end up granting subsidies in a way that cuts out control by school boards, parents and others’ … In Oregon … Hillsboro School District lost nearly $97 million … The School District of Philadelphia … lost the second most revenue at $62 million.”
Read more …

How President George H.W. Bush Helped Pave The Way For Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

The Washington Post

“George H.W. Bush … calling himself ‘the education president … helped pave the rise of school choice advocate Betsy DeVos … Bush advanced … a national education strategy … pushed for school ‘accountability’ … with standardized test scores as the key metric. And his plan envisioned a new kind of public school that was, essentially, what became the charter movement … The cornerstone of the Bush education blueprint was an elite bipartisan consensus … Bush’s successors — both Republicans and Democrats — … advanced his administrative agenda. Phrases such as ‘standards and accountability’ and ‘school choice,’ once deployed only by policy wonks, are now common terms in the national education dialogue.”
Read more …

County GOP Chair: Oklahoma Should Quit Public Education

Associated Press Post

“Republican leadership in one of Oklahoma’s most populous counties has sent a letter to the state’s lawmakers calling for an end to government-run public schools, or if that is too much, to at least find alternative funding sources for the system besides tax revenue … The letter … requested that the state no longer manage the public school system, or at least consider consolidating school districts. Public schools should seek operational money from sponsorships, advertising, endowments, and tuition fees instead of taxes.”
Read more …

A Generation Of School Closings


“In the time it has taken for a child to grow up in Chicago, city leaders have either closed or radically shaken up some 200 public schools — nearly a third of the entire district … These decisions … have meant 70,160 children — the vast majority of them black — have seen their schools closed or all staff in them fired. That’s more than all of the students and schools in Boston … The idea was to close them and replace them with new ‘renaissance’ schools that promised something better … Chicago has done that again and again, opening in the same time period almost the same number of schools it has closed — 190 … White students have been nearly untouched. In almost 17 years, just 533 white students have experienced a closing … Research reports have suggested that school closings have harmful effects for children who go through them … An analysis of the 2013 closings, found ‘closing schools caused large disruptions without clear benefits for students.'”
Read more …

Students Show Up To School More Often When They See ‘Familiar Faces,’ New Study Finds


“New research shows … social disruption … can affect how often students show up to school. When students have more ‘familiar faces’ around them in class, they’re less likely to be chronically absent … Being surrounded by more familiar faces was linked to higher attendance … Extremely high rates of student turnover … and … attending more schools is correlated with lower academic performance.”
Read more …

Here’s Why Urban Communities Of Color Are Increasingly Rejecting Charter Schools

At a recent school board meeting in New Orleans, more than 100 parents swamped the hearing room, requiring dozens to have to stand. Many of the parents had filled out public comment cards so they would be allowed to address the board.

What most in the crowd came prepared to talk about were their concerns about recent recommendations by the superintendent to close five schools and transfer the students to other schools in the district. Their demand was for the elected board to take a more hands-on role in improving the schools instead of closing them down.

But when Ashana Bigard, a New Orleans public school parent and advocate, realized the board had altered the agenda, and limited parents’ comment time, she decided to speak out of turn.

“How is closing the schools helping our children?” she asked the board members. She pointed out that many of the children in the schools being closed are special needs students with serious, trauma-induced learning disabilities, and now these children are being uprooted and transferred to schools that lack expertise with these problems. “These children have been experimented on for too long,” she declared.

That’s when a district staff member intervened and escorted her out of the room.

A Demand for Real Democracy

Parents’ protesting a school closing is nothing new. But for parents to demand that their local board take more control of the school, and run it directly rather than closing it down, is a twist. That’s because this is New Orleans.

In the bizarre landscape of New Orleans schools, since they were taken over by the state and reorganized after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, all but two of the 79 schools are directed by charter management companies, privately owned contractors that receive taxpayer money to run the schools. The charter management firms have near-complete autonomy, and while the Orleans Parish School Board was recently given the power, by the state, to open and close charters, the day-to-day operations of the schools are still handled by the charters’ appointed boards, generally free from any demands from parents and voters.

It’s that arrangement that is at the heart of these parents’ complaints.

With the elected board’s powers being limited to decisions on opening and closing schools only, “Parents feel they have no voice in the system,” Bigard explains in a phone conversation, and charter operators have way too much power and autonomy to allow school conditions to worsen to the level that closure becomes the only option.

“We need to have our elected board hold charter schools more accountable” for their day-to-day operation, she says. That would mean having the elected board impose the demands of parents and voters on charter management companies and assert more authority on how charters are run.

A more assertive board, Bigard argues, could impose much-needed reforms on the charters rather than closing them down or handing the schools over to a different management company—that will likely do no better than the last one did.

“Parents want real voice and real democracy,” she says.

An American Tradition Undermined

What Bigard and other New Orleans parents are demanding has been the tradition in American communities, where local schools have long been governed by democratically elected boards.

But that American tradition has been undermined or overturned, especially in communities of color, where less democratic forms of governance have become widespread.

For decades, a wave of state takeovers of school districts overseeing tens of thousands of students has stripped elected school boards in these communities of their governing power and denied voters the right to local governance of their public schools. These state takeovers have been happening almost exclusively in African American and Latinx school districts—many of the same communities that have experienced decades of economic decline, high unemployment, and underinvestment in schools.

What tends to accompany these state interventions are mass closing of public schools and the imposition of various forms of privately controlled school models, such as charter schools.

All About Politics, Not Education

Since 1989, there have been more than 100 takeovers of local school districts in the United States, according to Domingo Morel, author of the book Takeover: Race, Education and American Democracy.

In nearly 85 percent of these cases, the districts have been majority African American and Latinx. Also, black communities disproportionately experience the most punitive forms of takeovers, in which elected school boards are disbanded or turned into “advisory” boards, school superintendents previously hired by elected boards have been fired, or governing authority has been handed over to state-appointed managers or private management companies.

Although the takeovers are usually justified for academic reasons, Morel points to research showing takeovers generally do not have a significant effect on school improvement. Instead, what really motivates takeovers, according to Morel, is politics—especially the political undermining of black and brown governance of schools in urban communities.

Morel traces the rising popularity of takeovers to the 1970s and early 80s, when blacks in big cities across the country gained majorities on city councils and school boards. He argues that the power of the rising black electorate created political problems for conservative leaders in state government who did not want to see governance in large urban communities fall into the hands of local lawmakers who were from the opposition.

That political dynamic was at work especially in New Jersey, where, in 1988, state lawmakers passed the first law allowing the state board of education to take control of local school district governance. Two of the state’s largest school districts, Jersey City and Newark, were the first to draw the attention of Republican governors, and those two districts were taken over by the state in 1989 and 1995, respectively.

But while state takeovers have been mostly about politics, in more recent years, another factor strongly motivates these interventions: public school privatization.

A Push for Privatization

“State takeovers and the elimination of locally elected school boards grease the rails of privatization by charter school management groups,” Jitu Brown tells me.

Brown is the national director of Journey for Justice, an alliance of grassroots community-, youth-, and parent-led organizations in 24 cities that oppose privatizing schools and advocate for community-based alternatives instead.

In 2016, Brown and 11 other public school advocates in Chicago made headlines when they staged a hunger strike to protest the closing of Dyett High School. Their demand was to reopen the school as a full-service community school focused on a green energy curriculum. After 34 days of the strike, the district administration relented and reopened Dyett in 2016, as a school for the arts, after $14.6 million in refurbishing.

Brown attributes much of the growth of charter schools to the federal government, especially during the presidential administration of Barack Obama, whose Education Secretary Arne Duncan incentivized privatization through a School Improvement Grants program. The grants required struggling schools in the most vulnerable communities to undergo turnaround efforts that often included handing control of schools over to charter management firms or closing schools and reopening them as charters.

The Obama administration and Secretary Duncan also incentivized charter school expansions through the federal government’s Race to the Top program and through its charter school grant program.

At the same time the federal government was incentivizing charter school expansions, there was a powerful and well-financed movement to eliminate traditional urban school districts and their democratically elected school boards. Funded by right-wing political advocacy groups, influential private foundations, and tech moguls from Silicon Valley, the movement decried the “chaos” of democratically elected school boards and advocated instead for an “open market” where parents take their chances on loosely regulated charter schools.

The push for privatization has been particularly consequential in urban communities of color such as Newark, New Jersey. “Since 2008, the share of students who attend charters in Newark has nearly quadrupled—from 9 percent in 2008 to about 35 percent today,” Chalkbeat reports. “By 2023, that number could swell to 44 percent, according to one estimate, as the city’s charters continue to fill seats that were preapproved by the [former Republican Governor Chris] Christie administration.” About a quarter of the district’s budget—$237 million—goes to charter schools, up from $60 million ten years ago.

But state takeovers and the ushering in of charter management “never address the structural inequity in the system,” according to Brown. Regardless of the change in governance, urban schools for black and brown students continue to be plagued with large class sizes, punitive discipline codes, rotating faculties of inexperienced teachers, and curriculums void of advanced courses in world languages, art and music, and higher-level math and science.

With undemocratic governance, the inequity often worsens, Brown argues. Communities like Newark “have had the right to self-determination snatched from them,” he says. “If they don’t have the right to govern their own schools, then people who take the schools over operate the schools based on their opinions of people in the community,” rather than on the desires of parents and voters.

Fighting Back and Winning in New Jersey

However, there are recent signs these communities are fighting back and frequently winning to gradually claw back their local, democratic governance.

In New Orleans, the community had its first victory in July 2018 when Louisiana gave a locally elected school board power to open and close charters. In Philadelphia, 16 years of governance by a state-appointed commission ended in June 2018, and governance power transferred to a local school board appointed by the mayor. And more recently in New Jersey, three districts—Paterson, Newark, and Camden—voted for democratically elected boards and the power to hold local board members accountable at the ballot box.

State takeovers had ended in Newark and Paterson earlier this year, and Camden is still under state control, but when voters in these communities had the opportunity to decide whether they wanted schools to be run by an elected board or a board appointed by the mayor, they voted overwhelmingly for elected boards.

“To have a chance to regain an elected school board in these New Jersey communities and then see voters come out and actually vote for democracy is a testament to the work of grassroots advocacy groups in these communities,” says Brown, pointing to three Journey for Justice member groups—Camden Parent and Student Union, Parents Unified for Local School Education (Newark), and Paterson Education Organizing Committee. “These groups have achieved a strong victory against inequity and privatization,” he says.

“We have to get totally out from under state control,” says Ronsha Dickerson, a leader of the Camden group. “An elected board accountable to the voters will help us unpeel the corruption in the system.”

Addressing “corruption” was supposedly the reason to impose state intervention in Camden schools years ago. But according to Dickerson, as the state’s authority gradually grew in the city, and democratic control ebbed, the conditions in the schools worsened and corruption increased. Each time democracy declined—during mayoral control, under the watch of a state-appointed monitor, then with state takeover—board members and other officials were increasingly more apt to be chosen from a “political establishment,” she says, “all in the spirit of progressive education but really to benefit the establishment.”

The “establishment” Dickerson refers to has been closely aligned with an invasion of Renaissance Schools, a form of privatization in Camden that transfers administration of a public school to a charter management group or allows a charter firm to “co-locate” a school in an existing public-school campus.

After the state takeover, she says, “no one wanted to talk about Camden schools that were doing well before the takeover—even the ‘mom and pop’ [independent] charters that were doing well. No one wanted to talk about how to roll out what was working in these schools to the rest of the community. Instead, the only focus was bringing in more Renaissance Schools.”

The introduction and expansion of Renaissance Schools has deeply divided the community and has resulted in charges that these schools serve far fewer percentages of students who have learning disabilities or who don’t speak English well.

In Newark, state takeover also led to increased corruption according to Johnnie Lattner of Parents Unified for Local School Education. Similar to Camden, he believes the state-appointed board had become accustomed to selecting members who had links to charter schools.

Although he concedes the influence of the charter industry will likely still exist under an elected board, because of the “money and manpower” behind candidates backed by charter advocates, “Elections are the only way they’ll feel the pressure of parents and voters,” he says.

Changing the Conversation About Privatization

The successful efforts to take back local control and democratic governance of schools by grassroots groups like the ones in New Jersey have “changed the conversation about privatization,” according to Brown.

Of course, no one expects democratically elected school boards alone to fully address the challenges that schools in urban black and brown communities face. Research studies on the impact school boards have on student achievement are few and far between and often find the effects have more to do with how the board behaves rather than the process that created it.

But grassroots organizers fending off privatization and fighting for elected school boards understand a democratically elected board is just the beginning in winning back more parent and citizen voice in their districts. They believe their communities have more leverage when they at least have the opportunity to vote inattentive board members out.

“Was the elected school board in New Orleans before Katrina sometimes inattentive to the needs of parents?” asks Bigard. “Sure,” she says, but under state control, the appointed board wasn’t accountable either. Schools no longer had music and art classes and advanced courses in science and math. Charter schools didn’t follow the laws, especially for how to educate students with disabilities. And parents didn’t have anyone to call to complain to.

“At least now that we have a local board with some authority,” Bigard says, “people are more engaged and invested than I’ve ever seen. And we’re ready to demand board members listen to us and step into their power, or we’ll recall any who don’t.”

To learn more about school privatization, check out Who Controls Our Schools? The Privatization of American Public Education, a free ebook published by the Independent Media Institute.

Click here to read a selection of Who Controls Our Schools? published on AlterNet, or here to access the complete text.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Photo Credit: Charles Edward Miller ( / Flickr

11/29/2018 – The Teacher Walkouts Mattered In The Midterms

THIS WEEK: Dem House To Target DeVos … School Privatization Losses … DeVos Is For-Profit Colleges’ Savior … Choice Increases Segregation … Disaster Capitalism For Puerto Rico


The Teacher Walkouts Mattered In The Midterms

By Jeff Bryant

“To get a better sense of the real impact teacher walkouts had on the midterms, I called on frontline organizers and public-school advocates in states where there was substantial documentation that education would have a big impact on election results. What I found was overwhelming consensus that yes, teacher walkouts this spring had a significant impact on the midterm elections and will continue to reverberate in politics and policy making.”
Read more …


House Democrats Pile On To Scrutinize DeVos


“As many as five Democratic-led House committees next year could take on DeVos over a range of issues … Rep. Mark Takano, expected to lead the Veterans’ Affairs Committee … will be tracking the effect of decisions to scale back Obama-era regulations aimed at curbing abuses by for-profit colleges that enroll tens of thousands of veterans … DeVos will be squarely in the sights of the House education committee, where Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) … has criticized nearly every DeVos policy during the last two years … Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who is in line to lead the Appropriations subcommittee … will focus on ways to ‘hold Secretary DeVos accountable for her agency’s failure to uphold federal protections for our students’ … Rep. Maxine Waters, the presumptive chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee … accused DeVos of a ‘full-on attack on civil rights protections for students’ … The House Oversight Committee could take on DeVos as well. Rep. Elijah Cummings, (D-Md.), the presumptive chairman … expressed concern over DeVos’ treatment of the union that represents her agency’s employees.”
Read more …

The School Privatization Agenda Took A Major Beating In The Midterms


Jeff Bryant writes, “The blue wave that swept the nation in the recent midterm elections was also a broad rejection of recent trends to privatize public education through school voucher programs and privately operated charter schools. From New York to California, new candidates ran and won on platforms opposed to privatization, big-money backers of charter schools suffered humiliating losses, and voters trounced efforts to expand voucher programs that drain public schools of the funding they need … Public education advocates are vowing to take their cause to state capitals and Congress to curb the flow of public money to unaccountable, privately operated education providers.”
Read more …

Betsy DeVos To The Rescue: For-Profit Colleges See A Savior In Secretary

The Washington Post

“Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has led a rescue squad for the nation’s for-profit colleges. Step by step, she has dismantled an Obama-era crackdown on the industry, and she plans to deliver a set of regulations next year that many expect to again boost the industry … These schools, which enroll 2.3 million students and range from small trade schools to large multistate enterprises such as the University of Phoenix, prey on vulnerable students, leaving them with huge debts and questionable credentials.”
Read more …

In Most U.S. Cities, Neighborhoods Have Grown More Integrated. Their Schools Haven’t.


“New research looking at America’s 100 largest cities shows that the diverging trends …. — neighborhoods growing more diverse, as their schools grow more segregated — is not an anomaly … Between 1990 and 2015, 72% of U.S. cities saw their neighborhoods grow less racially segregated, by one measure. 62% saw their schools grow more segregated over that same period … More integrated schools have long been shown to improve academic outcomes for low-income students and students of color. Living in a more integrated neighborhood has also been linked to long-run benefits for younger kids … The rapid increase in school choice, through charter schools and other means, had something to with it … Research has shown that charters either exacerbate school segregation or have no effect on it.”
Read more …

Paul Pastorek, Louisiana Schools Chief After Katrina, Gets Contract In Puerto Rico

Education Week

“Paul Pastorek, the former Louisiana schools chief who helped lead the overhaul of New Orleans’ schools after Hurricane Katrina, has agreed to a contract with Puerto Rico’s Department of Education to provide various services as island schools continue their recovery from their own catastrophic storm, Hurricane Maria in 2017 … Pastorek was superintendent of Louisiana schools from 2007 to 2011 … Teachers’ unions and others vigorously criticized him for being inflexible on policy matters and inattentive to the needs of educators. American Federation of Teachers’ President Randi Weingarten blasted Pastorek’s contract with Puerto Rico, saying in a statement that, ‘Make no mistake, Pastorek and U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos share a vision for education, closing schools, privatization and disinvestment from public schools – and it will mean more disruption.'”
Read more …

The Teacher Walkouts Mattered In The Midterms

Even before the votes from the recent midterm elections were completely counted  – a process that took nearly two weeks in many races – numerous prominent news outlets were quick to report on the supposed failure of the “education wave,” those school teachers and other educators who ran for office up and down ballots across the country. One report that received particularly widespread circulation, by Associated Press, carried the headline “Tough lessons: Teachers fall short in midterm races.” Another for U.S. News & World Report said, “Poor Marks for Teachers in Midterms.” Clever, huh.

Indeed, numerous news outlets seemed eager to reinforce a narrative that despite an unprecedented number of teachers and public school advocates running for political office, “underwhelming voter interest in education” and a “red wall” of Republican opposition were just too much to overcome.

An exception to this shallow reporting was a piece by The Guardian that reported “teachers made huge gains in the midterm elections.”

But the article quotes union leaders in walkout states Oklahoma and Arizona, as well as president of national American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten, even though unions did not lead the teacher walkouts.

To get a better sense of the real impact teacher walkouts had on the midterms, I called on frontline organizers and public-school advocates in states where there was substantial documentation that education would have a big impact on election results. What I found was overwhelming consensus that yes, teacher walkouts this spring had a significant impact on the midterm elections and will continue to reverberate in politics and policy making.

Inspiring Women to Run

In West Virginia, where teachers started the wave of walkouts that rippled across the country, “the teachers strike woke up countless women voters to both run for office and support other women doing the same,” says Gary Zuckett.

Zuckett is the Executive Director of West Virginia Citizen Action Group, a grassroots progressive advocacy that canvassed and phone-banked to elect a slate of candidates who support public schools, environmental protections, affordable healthcare, and other progressive issues.

Zuckett believes the statewide teacher walkouts in the Mountain State inspired a group of first-time candidates, mostly women, to join with other progressive women incumbents to form a unified slate they call Mountain Mamas to press for their issues . Seven of these women candidates won their races, two of whom are women of color won.

Zuckett also attributes the defeats of two powerful Republican lawmakers – Robert Karnes, the vice-chair of the Senate Education Committee who lost in the primary, and Joe Statler, the vice chair in the House who lost in the general election – to their vocal opposition to the teacher walkouts.

Because of the teachers’ labor actions, “lawmakers no longer take elections for granted,” Zuckett says, “and our current governor has already floated the idea to bump teachers’ pay again in the next legislative session.”

Upsetting the Establishment

In Kentucky, the next state after West Virginia to experience teacher walkouts, “Republican incumbents got a lot of opposition they had never seen before, much of it coming from teachers who ran pro-public school campaigns,” Chris Brady tells me. Brady is a second term school board member in Jefferson County, which includes Louisville, who has managed to defeat big-money candidates backed by conservative Republicans two elections in a row.

Brady points to the victory of special education teacher Tina Bojanowski, who unseated two-term Republican incumbent Phil Moffett, as a sign the teacher walkouts mattered in November. At least 10 current or former teachers who ran for office in 2018 won.

“The number of educators now elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives is 14. Half of them are Republicans and half are Democrats,” Gay Adelmann tells me. Adelmann is a public school parent in Louisville and current president of Save Our Schools Kentucky. She recently ran for state Senate in the Democratic Party, losing in the primary with 44 percent of the vote as a first-time candidate with little funding.

Grassroots public school activists animated by teacher walkouts earlier this year, “specifically targeted” legislators who voted against public schools, she tells me. While many of those incumbents won anyway, some prominent lawmakers fell, including the sitting House Majority Leader who lost in the Republican primary to a high school math teacher.

Overcoming Gerrymandered Districts

In Oklahoma, the next state to experience mass teacher walkouts, “this spring’s teacher uprising poured a Blue Wave directly into a glass half full for educators,” writes retired teacher John Thompson for The Progressive magazine.

“Though Democratic gubernatorial candidate Drew Edmondson’s loss to Republican newcomer Kevin Stitt prompted Oklahoma press to dub the November election a “disappointment” for teachers, the story is more complicated,” argues Thompson.

As evidence for the impact of the teacher walkouts, Thompson points to the big jump in the state legislature’s Education Caucus – “growing from nine members to 25 or 26 – and a “near-tripling of the caucus” if legislators who are former educators or who got their starts as education advocates are included in the count.

Thompson points to gerrymandered districts, “where it would seem impossible to elect a Democrat,” that swung blue due in part to education advocacy, including a “Republican stronghold in Oklahoma City,” where four progressive Democratic women won, including a surprising win for Democrat Kendra Horn over incumbent Republican and Steve Russell for a seat in the U.S. House.

“It’s clear that the teacher resistance contributed to a bipartisan sea change in Oklahoma governance, Thompson concludes.

Running Competitive Races

In Arizona, where teachers inspired by their colleagues in other red states walked out of school en masse, “the #RedforEd movement had an enormous impact on the elections,” says Beth Lewis.

Lewis helped form and currently leads Save Our School Arizona, a grassroots organization of teachers, parents, retired educators, and public-school advocates that successfully pushed a referendum onto the ballot, Proposition 305, that let Arizona voters decide the fate of a bill passed in the state legislature that would expand a school voucher program statewide. The defeat of Prop 305 in the November election was a huge win for public schools.

“Because of the grassroots organizing of teachers, parents, and citizens around the state,” says Lewis, “we defeated Proposition by 65 percent and elected Kathy Hoffman, a speech-language pathologist who walked out as part of the #RedforEd movement, to be our State Superintendent.”

While most educators who ran for office in the state lost, there were exceptions that can be credited to the success of teacher activism. In a huge upset, second-time Democratic candidate Jennifer Pawlik, a former elementary school teacher, prevailed in legislative district that had never gone blue, in its current configuration. She calls her victory a product of a “perfect storm” that included coalition-building in her district and the teach walkouts that called voters’ attention to the crisis in Arizona schools.

Many of the educators who lost came excruciatingly close, including Christine Marsh, the 2016 Arizona teacher of the year, who lost her race by only 267 votes. Marsh, a first-time candidate who lost to a well-established Republican incumbent in a district carried by Donald Trump in 2016, had little funding and admits, “It wasn’t easy, teaching full-time and running for office.”

Raising Education Issues Everywhere

What’s also under-appreciated about the impact of teacher walkouts in midterm elections is their influence in states that did not experience walkouts.

In Wisconsin, for instance, education was a top factor, second only to healthcare, in defeating [incumbent Republican Governor] Scott Walker,” says Robert Kraig. Kraig is Executive Director Citizen Action of Wisconsin, a grassroot organization that campaigned hard for Walker’s successful challenger, longtime state school superintendent Tony Evers who called out Walker for his horrible track record on funding education.

“The highly visible strikes emboldened educators and public-school supporters in a way that benefited candidates running on increasing investments in public schools,” says Kraig. The teacher uprisings “also took the issue away from Republicans” when Walker tried to run as an “education candidate” but couldn’t run away from the massive cuts he’d enacted to the system.

Overall, it’s very difficult if not impossible to calculate the real impact teacher activism had in the midterms – especially in states where teachers didn’t walk out – and reports on the power of teacher activism will rely mostly on anecdotes.

One quantitative measure that’s frequently mentioned is a tally of candidates currently employed as teachers from Education Week which shows that of the 177 who filed to run for state legislative seats, “only one-quarter of those ended up winning.”

While that certainly sounds like a poor record, what was the percent of wins for any other occupation running for office in the midterms? Further, when there is a surge of first-time candidates associated with an emerging, grassroots movement not funded by corporate PACs and powerful political groups, what would normally be considered a good showing?

To write off the impact of teachers and education advocates on elections with all-too-clever headlines is slipshod reporting that sells short not only the intelligence of voters but also the power of democracy.


11/15/2018 – What School Funding Advocates Should Learn From Midterm Elections

THIS WEEK: Teacher Walkout Looms In Virginia … #RedforEd In Alabama … School Cops Not The Answer … DeVos Slapped With Lawsuit … Just One Black Teacher


What School Funding Advocates Should Learn From Midterm Elections

By Jeff Bryant

“One of the big winners in the 2018 midterm elections you may not have heard about was education funding. Why this may be news to you is because much in the same way some observers incorrectly concluded the blue wave was merely a ripple, quick takes on last week’s results of important education-related ballot referendums have overlooked important lessons to learn about where and when increased funding for schools can win.”
Read more …


Virginia Teachers Plan To March At The Capital. Will They Shut Down Schools?

Education Week

“The wave of statewide teacher activism seems to be carrying right on into 2019: Virginia teachers will march to the state Capitol building in January. The protest of stagnant teacher salaries and underresourced public schools is scheduled for Jan. 28, a Monday. The grassroots group ‘Virginia Educators United’ is organizing the march in Richmond. If enough teachers participate, the rally could force schools to shut down … Virginia Educators United is asking for teacher pay to be increased to the national average … The group is also asking for the state legislature to restore funding for public schools – this school year, state support was down 9.1% per student compared to 2008-09, adjusted for inflation.”
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#RedForEd: Teachers Rally At Alabama Supreme Court Hearing

“The #RedForEd campaign to raise support for public schools and teachers made its way to the state on Wednesday as hundreds of Alabama educators wearing red t-shirts and windbreakers filed into the Alabama Supreme Court building to hear arguments in a lawsuit filed by the Alabama Education Association. At stake is $132 million currently sitting in escrow, taken from educators’ paychecks for health insurance premiums … Educators and support staff came from all parts of the state, with some taking chartered buses and others driving … ” when we have a classroom teacher with an advanced degree who can’t afford to feed his or her family and has to have a second job, that affects the quality of instruction in the classroom.'”
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Armored School Doors, Bulletproof Whiteboards And Secret Snipers

The Washington Post

“Although school security has grown into a $2.7 billion market — an estimate that does not account for the billions more spent on armed campus police officers — little research has been done on which safety measures do and do not protect students from gun violence … No amount of investment in security can guarantee a school protection from gun violence. Much of what can be done to prevent harm is beyond any school’s control because, in a country with more guns — nearly 400 million — than people, children are at risk of being shot no matter where they are … While the mere presence of the officers may deter some gun violence … Among the more than 225 incidents on campuses since 1999, at least 40% of the affected schools employed an officer.”
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DeVos Sued For Allegedly Failing To Comply With Judge’s Order To Cancel Student Debt

The Hill

“Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was sued … for allegedly failing to cancel student debt for people whose for-profit colleges have shut down. Last month a court ruled that the Obama-era debt regulations had to be implemented after more than a year of delays by DeVos. DeVos released a statement … saying that the department would no longer be seeking to delay the rule. However, Housing and Economic Rights Advocates … has filed a lawsuit alleging that the Education Department is still collecting loans that it should have discharged.”
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Study: Having Just One Black Teacher Can Up Black Students’ Chances Of Going To College

Education Week

“If a black student has just one or two black teachers in elementary school, that student is significantly more likely to enroll in college … Black students who had just one black teacher by 3rd grade were 13% more likely to enroll in college, while those who had two black teachers were 32% more likely … These findings are a continuation of the 2017 study that found that a low-income black student’s probability of dropping out of high school is reduced by 29% if he or she has one black teacher in grades 3-5.”
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Holiday Pause

EON is taking a holiday break from the education scene. Look for the next email in your inbox on November 29.