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12/1/2016 – How Betsy DeVos May Complete The Big Money Takeover Of Our Nation’s Schools

THIS WEEK: Trump Will Screw Rural Schools … Assessing Charter Schools … Edu-Business Disasters … Doing Pre-K Right … Language Of ‘Reform’


How Betsy DeVos May Complete The Big Money Takeover Of Our Nation’s Schools

By Jeff Bryant

“Reactions to President-Elect Donald Trump’s announcement of Michigan philanthropist Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education have ranged from high praise, to wary acceptance, to immediate condemnation. What few have noticed is how much her nomination represents business as usual in national education policy-making … No doubt, education policy led by Trump and DeVos will differ from the previous administration, but what’s staying the same is how wealthy private interests will strongly influence policies.”
Read more …


Rural Americans Helped Elect Donald Trump, But His Ideas Won’t Help Their Schools. What Will?


“The central idea Trump has offered so far for improving education – providing billions of dollars in exchange for expanding school choice – makes little sense in [rural] communities. Rural students and families often have no viable choices beyond their local public school … Financial resources are flat-out scarce in many rural schools, and that leads to a far lower quality of education for students in poor communities … Racial segregation … continues to have a catastrophic impact on some rural schools … Schools can’t thrive, and school choice won’t work, without people grappling with this pervasive issue.”
Read more …

The Right Way to Assess Charter Schools

Education Week

“The Economic Policy Institute is publishing a report … [that] looks at the fiscal impact of charter school expansion … [and] suggests moving the conversation away from the individualistic, consumer-choice narrative that market-driven reformers have promoted over the past two decades, and towards one that centers public education as a collective responsibility for communities to provide as efficiently, and equitably, as they can … New charter schools … should take into account the inefficiencies created from having multiple transportation systems, duplicative administrative overhead costs, additional financing fees associated with alternative capital investments, and any transition costs that arise from creating new school systems.”
Read more …

The Road To Disastrous Educational Businesses Is Paved With Good Intentions


“[A] troubling tendency to double down on one’s own preconceptions reflects the millions in other people’s money spent … to design the ‘optimal’ K–12 school model … Even when the initial structure does not prove an obstacle, the intensity of belief … being pursued can lead investors to be dangerously slow in shifting their approach, even in the face of overwhelming evidence of its flaws … Adherents of particular educational business models and advocates of particular educational public policy approaches have a tendency to use very similar language in promoting their views. Their favored instrumentality of change is typically described alternatively as ‘transformational’ or ‘revolutionary.’ In both cases, the evidence suggests that a narrowing of focus, a nuanced appreciation of the particular market structure and context, and an emphasis on the importance of effective execution would go a long way toward improving the probability of successful outcomes.”
Read more …

A Lesson For Preschools: When It’s Done Right, The Benefits Last


“New research out of North Carolina … found that early childhood programs in that state resulted in higher test scores, a lower chance of being held back in a grade, and a fewer number of children with special education placements. Those gains lasted up through the fifth grade … This new research confirms what researchers recently found in Tulsa, OK … In that study, children who attended Head Start had higher test scores on state math tests up through eighth grade … Having a high-quality program is key.
Read more …

‘Reformers’ Stoop Low: They Label Them ‘Government Schools’ To Knock Students, Teachers

Orlando Sentinel

Florida parent Kathleen Oropeza writes, “There is a significant national effort underway … to restyle the delivery system of the American Dream as ‘government schools’ … This isn’t the first time words have been weaponized to achieve a political goal … ‘Reformers’ say that parents must have ‘choice’ … They don’t disclose that the same finite pot of money is funding extra ‘choice’ seats for students, seriously diluting public-school resources … The intentional negative rebranding of public education for political expedience does nothing but advance a profit motive.”
Read more …

How Betsy DeVos May Complete The Big Money Takeover Of Our Nation’s Schools

Reactions to President-Elect Donald Trump’s announcement of Michigan philanthropist Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education have ranged from high praise, to wary acceptance, to immediate condemnation.

What few have noticed is how much her nomination represents business as usual in national education policy-making.

This is not to normalize extremism in politics and government because DeVos certainly has extreme views on a range of issues, as explained below.

But what DeVos represents in a very great sense is how rich people’s grip on the nation’s public education system has reached a choking point.

No doubt, education policy led by Trump and DeVos will differ from the previous administration, but what’s staying the same is how wealthy private interests will strongly influence policies.

Grasping this essential truth matters a lot in the “nasty” politics of education today, where the real debate is not so much about charters and choice as it is about who is in control.

Playgrounds For The Rich

In her best-selling book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, education historian Diane Ravitch includes a chapter on “The Billionaire Boys Club” that documents how education policy has been the result of the ideological convergence of three wealthy foundations that spend the most money in K-12 education: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation.

In another account of the influence of big money on education policy, investigative journalist Joanne Barkan wrote in 2011, “Hundreds of private philanthropies together spend almost $4 billion annually to support or transform K–12 education, most of it directed to schools that serve low-income children (only religious organizations receive more money).” Like Ravitch, Barkan found “the Gates-Broad-Walton triumvirate” to be the most influential in imposing a “market-based” overhauling of public education to include choice and competition coming from charter schools, vouchers, or some combination thereof.

Since those observations, Ravitch updated the roster of the Billionaire Boys Club to include a “girl,” Betsy DeVos.

Of The Donor Class

The $4 billion Barkan traced to wealthy foundations might not sound like a lot of money in a $500 billion effort. But as she documents, spending focused on just the right levers can have a big effect.

Betsy DeVos knows where the levers are.

As Jane Mayer writes for The New Yorker, “It would be hard to find a better representative of the ‘donor class’ than DeVos,” and her husband Dick who inherited the Amway fortune. Betsy’s father Edgar Prince sold his auto-parts business for $1.35 billion, and her brother Erik founded Blackwater, the private military company that supplied mercenary soldiers to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As a recent article by L.S. Hall for Inside Philanthropy recounts, the DeVoses rank right up there with Charles and David Koch as “among the most influential conservative funders over recent decades, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into an array of think tanks, legal groups, leadership institutes, and more.” In their home state of Michigan alone, they have given an estimated $44 million in political donations.

“Like today’s most savvy ideological funders on both left and right,” Hall continues, “the DeVos family has pulled all the levers of power afforded to the wealthy.”

Also, like other philanthropists, their favorite levers are often related to remaking K-12 education.

“DeVos’ efforts in recent years exemplify how top school donors have combined philanthropic and political giving to press their agenda,” writes Hall, an agenda of charter schools and more “choice” that is strikingly similar to the “reforms” advocated by the Walton, Gates, and Broad foundations.

The Revolving Door Stays In Tact

If you want to see the power wealthy foundations can have on the nation’s education policy, look at what they accomplished in the Obama administration.

As Arizona State University professors Sherman Dorn and Amanda Potterton write for Huffington Post, Arne Duncan, who presided over Obama’s education department for seven of eight years, “opened the federal agency’s gates to a powerful network” of private actors and powerful interests that included the Gates foundation and NewSchools Venture Fund, “a venture philanthropy firm that sponsors the growth of charter school chains.”

In both the people Duncan hired and the organizations he used to advance his policies, he relied on “private actors, including leaders of education nonprofits, charter school founders, and other nontraditional school leaders whose essential resources for reform come from the private wealth of major foundations.”

The legacy of Duncan, Dorn and Potterton contend, is his reliance on private actors connected to wealthy foundations and businesses has led to an “ascendant Republican network [that has] used the reform rhetoric and regulatory momentum of Arne Duncan for its own ends.”

For sure, the “ends” these influential organizations have in mind are somewhat different.

For instance, the Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation might disagree about the role of vouchers in a choice agenda.

But what they all agree on is the means to policy-making. So what we’re likely to see in the next administration is the revolving door that sent personnel from the Gates Foundation and the Center for American Progress to the DoE will be re-populated instead with people coming from the Walton Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.

The people may change, but the revolving door stays firmly in place.

Extremist In Charge

None of this is to ignore the level of extremism DeVos brings into education policy.

While DeVos synchs with what wealthy “reformers” want to do to schools, her opinions certainly diverge on other issues that affect education.

As Casey Quinlan of Think Progress, reports, DeVos “has a long record of supporting anti-LGBTQ causes,” including donating (along with her husband Dick DeVos) to “efforts to amend the Michigan constitution to ban same-sex marriage” and contributing “hundreds of thousands to Focus on the Family, a group that supports conversion therapy, which subjects LGBTQ “patients” to coercive “counseling” in an attempt to rid them of their “condition.”

Given this history, one has to wonder, as Quinlan does, how DeVos will regard anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ students in our schools.

In addition to mixing her attitudes on gender into her policies, DeVos may stir in her religious views.

As Rebecca Klein reports for Huffington Post, when Dick DeVos ran for Michigan governor in 2006, he campaigned on schools having the option to teach intelligent design alongside evolution. Also, the DeVos foundation – which wife and husband operate together – has given money to “the Thomas More Law Center, a group that defended a school trying to teach intelligent design.”

There’s little doubt that Betsy DeVos’ religious views, as well as her free-market philosophy, motivate her strong support for education vouchers that enable parents to transfer their children to religious private schools at taxpayer expense.

In an in-depth piece for progressive news outlet Alternet, Rachel Tabachnick calls Betsy DeVos “the four-star general of the pro-voucher movement” and connects her to The Acton Institute, which according to Tabachnick, advocates religious control over government institutions, propagates advocacy for “Biblical Capitalism,” and supports the distribution of materials calling global warming a hoax.

Writing for the Center for Media and Democracy, Lisa Graves notes, the DeVoses, in public statements, have claimed their education efforts “focus on reforming public education and funding for private education because the ‘Lord led us there’ and ‘God led us.’

“‘Our desire,'” Graves continues to quote, “‘is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s Kingdom … to impact our culture [in ways] that may have great Kingdom gain in the long-run.”

A Shift In The Overton Window

In the spectrum of views on education policy, what Betsy DeVos advocates can’t be regarded as anything other than an extreme swing to the right.

As Kristina Rizga writes for Mother Jones, what “DeVos-style school choice policies look like on the ground” in Michigan is a bizarre landscape where charters, most of them for-profit, operate with impunity across the state, replicating failure after failure, sending parents into a never-ending scramble to get their kids a quality education, and pushing public schools to the brink.

As Dave Gilson explains, also for Mother Jones, what DeVos espouses for education will likely shift the Overton Window – a term coined by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank which DeVos financially supports – on what’s acceptable to the public.

“While any discussion of eliminating public schooling may currently seem outrageous,” Gilson writes, “that could change” under a DeVos administration where public schools are disparaged as “government schools” and letting parents transfer their children to religious private schools at taxpayers’ expense is considered a “reform.”

The Most Radical Change Of All

However, in the long term, shifts in the Overton Window may be of much less concern than who is doing the shifting.

In the case of Trump’s nomination, substituting Betsy DeVos for Arne Duncan (current Secretary John King’s influence has been marginal) in many respects is less about a change in ideology than it is about changing the face of a status quo.

In this sense, arguing for or against charters and choice has in many ways become a distraction. Many communities already accommodate charter schools and eagerly embrace the idea of offering parents a range of choices, if the district can afford it. What pisses people off, though, is when private foundations force charter schools on their community and parents are told by powerful outsiders what kind of choices they have.

“We should worry, Dorn and Potterton write, “when policies are shaped substantially outside ordinary public politics by an increasingly private set of actors, whose relationships with the public sphere can simultaneously be rivalrous, symbiotic, and parasitic. One does not need to be paranoid to worry about the concentration of decision-making in the hands of people who are friends and who are not accountable to the general public.”

So whatever you think about who should be the next Education Secretary of the United States, and how extreme or mainstream their views should be, having someone not connected to big money would be the most radical change of all. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’re going to get that.

11/17/2016 – What Student Protests Tell Us About America Under Trump

THIS WEEK: Trump To Push School Choice … Civil Rights Under Trump… School Funding Crisis… Cops As Disciplinarians … Teachers’ Losing Battle


What Student Protests Tell Us About America Under Trump

By Jeff Bryant

“Public schools, as long as they stay truly public, are often the first institutions to reflect society’s most important social trends. In this new era under an oncoming Trump regime, student protests are telling us something is very wrong.”
Read more …


Educators Brace For Change As Some Trump Policies Still Unclear

The Wall Street Journal

“Trump hasn’t provided an overarching plan for education. But he has said that he would reprioritize federal dollars to provide an additional $20 billion for ‘school choice’ to give families more educational options. School choice entails using public-school dollars for alternatives to traditional public schools, such as for charter schools, private schools and online campuses … Presidential candidates didn’t say much during the campaign season on the nation’s new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act … It is unclear where Mr. Trump stands on the law.”
Read more …

Trump Set To Shift Gears On Civil Rights, ESSA, Says A K-12 Transition-Team Leader

Education Week

“The president-elect could significantly curb the role of the department’s office for civil rights when it comes to state and local policies … That could have a big impact on everything from action on school-discipline disparities, to transgender students’ rights … Financial accountability for higher education … would be the another key piece of Trump’s approach to education policy.”
Read more …

Schoolchildren Left Behind

The New York Times

The editorial board of the Times writes, “In 23 states, so-called formula funding – the main type of state aid for kindergarten through 12th grade – is still lower this school year than in 2008 … Inadequate school spending over prolonged periods will leave many students behind, especially low-income children … When state governments ignore the needs of schoolchildren, Washington can and should step in to counter the harm … The Trump administration will have a chance to build on the work of Congress and the Obama administration on the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 … It is the duty of the executive branch to ensure, through regulation and supervision, that the states use [federal] money to provide equal opportunity for poor and low-income children.”
Read more …

Bullied By The Badge?

The Hechinger Report

“Police officers in many schools are becoming the new disciplinarians, arresting students for incidents that once merited a call home or a visit to the principal’s office … In1997, the Department of Education reported that law enforcement officers were present in 10% of public schools at least once per week. By 2014, 30% of public schools had school resource officers, or SROs, the most common type of law enforcement on campuses … Many parents, community members and civil rights activists say the presence of police officers inside classrooms does more harm than good. They complain that officers routinely punish children for small infractions and, in some cases, treat acts that parents categorize as ‘typical teenage behavior’ like criminal activity.
Read more …

What I Learned From Running For Office As Oklahoma’s Teacher Of The Year (And Losing)


High school math teacher Shawn Sheehan writes, “I lost my bid for Oklahoma State Senate last week … My state also voted down a state question aimed at providing a $5,000 base salary increase for all educators by increasing our sales tax by 1% … Now, as a sixth-year math teacher with a master’s degree, my base salary will remain at $35,419. My total compensation, including benefits, amounts to $38,100. My net income per month is just under $2,100 … Teachers received two clear messages from this election. One: you have no place at the State Capitol. Two: we will keep saying we want to fund education, but we won’t follow through.”
Read more …

What Student Protests Tell Us About America Under Trump

While it may be President Obama’s job to ease the country through the change in leadership to a President Donald Trump administration, the rest of the country doesn’t have to go along with it. At least, that’s the message coming from a massive show of protest and resistance in cities and towns across the nation.

An outpouring of opposition coming from students in k-12 public schools and college campuses is especially significant.

Why? Public schools have long been at the frontline of many of the nation’s most significant battles.

Much for the class conflict that ignited during the Great Depression and spawned the New Deal was foretold by the challenges schools faced in educating the massive influx of poor, uneducated immigrant children into the country in the early decades of the 20th century.

In the 1950s and 60s, school desegregation was an epicenter in the Civil Rights Movement that produced landmark Supreme Court decisions such as Brown v Board of Education and Schwann v Charlotte-Mecklenberg.

Today, pubic schools – where non-white students outnumber their white peers and a majority live in poverty – are the nascent sign of the increasing diversity and inequality in the country. It’s no coincidence that the current Supreme Court case considering the rights of transgender individuals in public places arose from an incident in a public school.

So public schools, as long as they stay truly public, are often the first institutions to reflect society’s most important social trends. In this new era under a Trump regime, student protests are telling us something is very wrong.

What Students Are Saying

Student protests exploded as the reality of the election outcome sunk in the morning of November 9.

As The Intercept reports, that day, high school walkouts occurred across the country, with students leaving their classrooms en masse in Phoenix, Boulder, Seattle, and Des Moines, In one school in the Bay Area of Northern California, 1,500 students – half the school – took to the street to express their dissatisfaction with the election results.

“They’re angry … They’re crying and they feel unsafe,” explains the principal of that school to a local news reporter. Protests also occurred in Oakland, Contra Costa County, and San Jose.

As Education Week reports, student protests continued in many places through the rest of the week, from Omaha to Los Angeles where students in 16 schools walked out.

In Omaha, students chanted, “Not my President,” according to a local news source. “Most of us are 15, 16, 17 years old,” said one student. “We feel like we don’t have a say … By doing this, students have a voice.”

College students have joined in the protests as well with huge rallies in Austin, Texas, the University of Connecticut, and American University in Washington, DC, according to Politico.

In Nashville, Tennessee, Vanderbilt students staged a “Protest Against Hate” and walked out of class on Friday, a local news outlet reports. “Since the election, I think people have thought that they can come out of their shells and be blatant with their racism,” one of the protestors is quoted. “It’s been hurtful to me.”

“I came out here because as a black Muslim woman I feel like my identities are being attacked,” another protestor says. “[Since] the election I’ve seen a rise in hatred.”

Student protests continued into this week.

Hundreds of students in highs schools throughout Montgomery County, Maryland left schools and formed miles long protest marches that stopped traffic and slowed commerce in various communities. “We’re trying to show that young people have a voice and we want to be heard,” one of the protestors told a local reporter. “Although we can’t get represented through voting, we can get represented through protesting,” another said.

In Silver Springs, protesting students told the local reporter, “Donald Trump doesn’t represent our views … he represents bigotry in America,” “He doesn’t respect my mother and my sister,” and “I’m Hispanic and I don’t want him to be President. I don’t like the way he speaks about women. It’s not right.”

On the West Coast, student protests continued in Seattle, Portland, the Bay Area of California, and Los Angeles. In nearly every report, the protestors relate the same messages about Trump’s election leading to a rise in hate and division in the country and to widespread fear among families, friends, and communities.

Trump Has Brought Trauma To Schools

There is little doubt that Trumps’ campaign and subsequent election have brought trauma into public education at all levels.

“The country has elected a man who threaded racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic messages and mockery of disabled people through his campaign,” writes Emily Bazelon for the New York Times.. “Donald J. Trump’s victory gives others license to do the same,”

Bazelon, a Times staff writer and author of a highly regarded book on bullying explains that characteristics Trump targeted for insults and inflammatory rhetoric – being non-white, gay, or disabled – describe students who are most apt to be bullied and abused in schools. She cites numerous examples of harassment and racist displays in schools since the election.

An article for Mother Jones reports, “Bullying in schools is out of control since the election,” and cites examples of racist incidents and actions in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Oregon.

Each of these reports points to research conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center that documents over 400 allegations, so far, of election-related intimidation and harassment nationwide.

“People from all types of communities ― black, Latino, Muslim, Jewish, Asian, queer people, women ― have been physically harmed, slandered with hate speech or been the targets of racist graffiti,” explains a review of the SPLC report at Huffington Post.

“In the days following the election, students are already invoking the name of our president-elect while they spread white supremacist messages,” writes Casey Quinlan, the education reporter for Think Progress, the action center for the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

A wave of racist incidents has hit several college campuses as well, reports Politico, citing a specific example in which an Oklahoma student taunted black students from Pennsylvania with violent, racist messages. The fact Trump made “political correctness” a target for his ire and vowed to attack policies seeking to curb bigoted rhetoric has set campuses and college administrators on edge.

According to a report in the New York Times, Trump supporters at Texas State University distributed a flier on campus declaring, “Now that our man Trump is elected … Time to organize tar and feather vigilante squads.”

Other incidents in the article include, a Muslim woman student in San Jose State University who was grabbed by her hijab and choked, and at all-female Wellesley College, “male students from Babson College drove through campus in a pickup truck adorned with a large Trump flag, parked outside a meeting house for black students, and spat at a black female student.”

In addition to hyping up race- and gender-based harassment and abuse, Trump’s campaign rhetoric about immigrants has put many students into fear of being deported or having members of their families abducted by the state.

An article from the state-based Chalkbeat news service reports, “In the wake of a campaign in which Trump talked about ramping up deportations, building walls, and banning Muslims from entering the country, teachers at schools that serve immigrants and their families faced intensely personal questions. Will I be forced to leave? Will my parents?”

Another fear among student and civil rights advocates is that efforts to discontinue harsh “zero tolerance” behavior policies in schools and to end a “school to prison pipeline” that pushes students into the criminal justice system will be curtailed under a government regime that emphasizes “law and order,” as Trump has vowed to do.

How Educators Are Responding

A recent report by PBS News Hour describes some of the steps educators are taking to deal with “the Trump effect” in their schools.

The reporter Kavitha Cardoza notes teachers “are not surprised at all that some of these emotions are spilling into the classroom” because schools are often “microcosms” of society and children tend to absorb whatever is stressing their parents.

“I think it must be so terrifying to be a kid,” a teacher tells a reporter for The Hechinger Report. “To feel like you have no power and these ‘other’ adult strangers are making decisions that could rip away family members. Kids know what racism is and are struggling to understand why and how people in this country could make a leader out of an open racist.”

In numerous interviews, teachers explain steps they are taking to deal with the stress and heightened tension in their classrooms, including teaching students about respect for others and the value of community. Teachers are making a concerted effort to provide students with a calm oasis and to help students with their emotions.

This kind of extra-curricular support is especially important in programs serving high populations of students who don’t speak English as their first language. As a recent report for the Education Writers Association explains, “Many school districts have begun offering additional counseling and support services for students who fear for their futures under the next presidential administration.”

College campuses are taking steps as well. According to the campus newspaper at the University of North Carolina, faculty are going outside their usual curriculums to deal with traumatized college students. “I had half a dozen students crying in class,” one professor explains. “I had never in my life seen something like this.”

“We are going to find a way to support these students,” another professor says. “We will stand with them. We’ll make sure that they are safe.”

A teacher-blogger at Education Week explains why teachers are being thrust into the forefront of addressing the social stress that Trump is fomenting in society. “I don’t strongly support particular candidates in my classroom. That doesn’t feel like my place,” she writes. “Teaching, though, is inherently political. We ask our students to think critically, to question existing systems, to imagine what might be better. We push for them to consider who has power, why, and how we can change those existing and often oppressing structures.”

Further, research shows that learning is stunted when the most basic need to feel safe and respected is not met. Teachers simply can’t do their jobs without addressing the underlying stress and emotions of their students.

We Should Listen To Them

None of this is to say that the Trump administration isn’t legitimate.

He did win the presidency, despite not winning the popular vote. He has told his supporters who are spreading hatred to “stop it.”. And his former campaign manager and current advisor has called on President Obama to speak out against the protests.

But student protests are legitimate too. They’re telling us it’s time for bold stands, not wait-and-see equivocations in the face of rising hatred and discrimination in the nation. We should listen to them.

11/10/2016 – Education Victories Democrats Can Rally Around

THIS WEEK: Trump Takes Charge … Corporate School Scams … Black Teachers … Online Charter Lobbying … Charter School Truths


Education Victories Democrats Can Rally Around

By Jeff Bryant

“Amidst the dead ashes of defeat, where are the red-hot coals that may spark new fire in the populist rebellion that represents the party’s only hope? … Promising tinder can be found in communities that voted on Tuesday against the private takeover of their public schools … The ascendancy of public education as an important progressive cause was prevalent in state and local elections around the country.”
Read more …


Trump Set To Shift Gears On Civil Rights, ESSA, Says A K-12 Transition-Team Leader

Education Week

“President-elect Donald Trump will work to ensure “a new way of how to deliver public education” that focuses on educational entrepreneurship and strong public and private school options … Trump will ‘streamline, at least’ the U.S. Department of Education … [and] significantly curb the role of the department’s office for civil rights when it comes to state and local policies … The president-elect won’t get too heavily involved in ESSA’s rollout.”
Read more …

Corporations Are Taking Advantage Of Our Underfunded Public Schools

Think Progress

“Underfunding of public education presents an opportunity for corporations, as schools desperate for new fundraising mechanisms may turn a blind eye to corporate involvement in schools … Levi’s, for example, has its own campaign in schools involving educational posters of cartoon kids wearing their jeans as part of a water conservation curriculum provided to schools … Schools are considering or are already implementing advertising on the outside and inside of school buses … Uber is encouraging teachers to drive for them by offering them bonuses … Although this involvement may seem innocuous, it is deeply harmful to both students and teachers.”
Read more …

The Burden Of Being A Black Teacher

The Atlantic

“Many black teachers experience constant tension at work between a sense of frustration at being “pigeonholed” into teaching primarily black students … Black teachers said that very ability to manage a classroom meant they were then viewed primarily as disciplinarians and not as educators … The strengths that many black teachers possess and would like to use to benefit children of all backgrounds are the very traits used to limit their professional growth … Black teachers feel … their colleagues are unwilling to recognize their ability to also be subject-matter experts with valuable ideas about pedagogy and curriculum … Teachers of all races and ethnicities quit because they don’t feel appreciated. For black teachers, there’s often the sense of an added layer of disrespect that is specifically tied to race.”
Read more …

Outsized Influence: Online Charters Bring Lobbying ‘A’ Game To States

Education Week

“Despite more than a decade of state investigations, news media reports, and research that have documented startling failures and gross mismanagement in full-time online schools, the sector – dominated by two for-profit companies – continues to expand, spreading into new states and enrolling more students. Virtual charter schools, which collectively receive more than $1 billion in taxpayer money each year, are rarely shut down … The reasons are often a mix of weak state regulations, the millions of dollars spent on lobbying, and the support of well-connected allies … The companies that run these online charter schools often turn to a powerful argument that has fueled much of the decades-long movement to expand school choice: Parents have the right to choose where their child goes to school – even if the school is performing poorly.
Read more …

Five Truths Of Charter Schools

The Progressive

Jeff Bryant writes, “Here’s what everyone needs to know about charter schools … There’s no research consensus that charter schools outperform public schools … There’s no evidence charters produce better long-term outcomes for students … Charters don’t enroll the same students as public schools … Charters tend to intensify racial segregation … Charters tend to practice discriminatory forms of school discipline.”
Read more …

Education Victories Democrats Can Rally Around

Sorting through this week’s humiliating defeat by Donald Trump at the polls, Democrats are having a hard time finding any bright spots in all the darkness. But Trump’s victory was a very close one (he lost the popular vote) and may be easy to reverse in 2020 with a better campaign.

So amidst the dead ashes of defeat, where are the red-hot coals that may spark new fire in the populist rebellion that represents the party’s only hope?

Some of that promising tinder can be found in communities that voted on Tuesday against the private takeover of their public schools.

First, in Massachusetts, voters rejected a referendum called Question 2 that would have forced the expansion of charter schools in the state. Charter schools, which receive taxpayer money but are privately operated, have come to represent another example of the creeping privatization blob rapidly absorbing public infrastructure – transportation, schools, sanitation, prisons, and other essential services – into business pursuits for the wealthy.

As the New York Times reports, voters, “easily turned aside a $26 million effort to increase the number of charter schools” in the state and delivered a victory for public education, a cornerstone of American democracy.

Public school advocate Jennifer Berkshire – a colleague of mine at The Progressive and a Boston resident – points out at her that blog Question 2 was generally an effort by “rich, entitled assholes from New York” to tell Massachusetts voters what’s best for their children. Bay State folks would have none of it.

Opposition to Question 2 came from far and wide, especially from the progressive community, including political icons Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders who opposed the charter expansion.

As Berkshire explains, “The coalition extended well beyond the teachers unions that funded it, growing to include members of all kinds of unions, as well as social justice and civil rights groups, who fanned out across the state every weekend. By election day, the sprawling network of mostly volunteer canvassers had made contact with more than 1.5 million voters.”

Opposition came from nearly every kind of community in the state – urban, suburban, and rural – except for the very wealthiest and whitest counties.

Reacting to the vote tally coming in against Question 2, education historian Diane Ravitch writes on her personal blog, “On a sad night for the nation, it is heartening to see that the people defended their public schools … and won.”

In Georgia, another progressive victory for public schools shone bright through the cloud of misery up-ballot.

In that state, conservatives led by Republican Governor Nathan Deal had placed a referendum on the ballot, called Amendment 1, that would install a state agency to take over the lowest performing schools in the state and hand them over to private management groups that operate charter schools. Again, money from charter school proponents, such as members of the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame and dark money groups, poured into the state to pass the referendum, while teachers unions and public school advocacy groups supported a local opposition made up of labor groups, progressives, community organizers, and black clergy.

Opposition to the charter takeover agency was widespread, with six out of ten voters opposing the bill, according to an Atlanta news outlet, with no votes coming from both Republicans and Democrats. What “galvanized opposition,” according to the reporter was widespread resistance to handing” local operations to for-profit charter school companies.”

The fact that people generally want some say in where and how they can access their schools should surprise no one, but advocates for privatizing the system with charter schools keep missing the point.

In the state of Washington, the threat to public schools appeared on the ballot in the form of a race for state Supreme Court.

Charter proponents – such as Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen and other major contributors to previous attempts to force charters on the state – spent at least $500,000 in an effort to unseat current judges who upheld lower court decisions ruling the method for funding charters in the state unconstitutional. The court had also ruled that the state legislature was not adequately funding schools and had levied a fine of $100,000 a day against the lawmaking body

The judge who wrote the court’s charter school decision Justice Barbara Madsen was the primary target of charter advocates, notes Ravitch in another post on her blog. Madsen won reelection by 64 percent, according to a state news source, the largest margin of victory of the three incumbent candidates.

In Montana, charter school advocates had targeted Democratic Governor Steve Bullock for defeat. Bullock had the temerity to express, according to a state-based news outlet, “I continue to firmly believe that our public education system is the great equalizer. Anyone who says public schools have failed isn’t seeing what’s happening.”

His Republican opponent, who had become rich from selling off his high-tech startup, was the founder of a private school and an advocate for “school choice” that encourages parents to withdraw their children from public school at taxpayer expense.

Bullock received the endorsement of the Network for Public Education, a public school advocacy group Ravitch helped found, for his “strong, support for public education and democratically governed schools.”

NPE’s endorsement quotes Bullock saying although he supports schools being able to apply for “public charter” status, which would provide more “flexibility to innovate and implement new strategies,” governance of schools must remain under the purview of the locally-elected school board and the state education agency. “Public resources should be used to support our outstanding public schools,” he states.

Bullock won in a tight race, but it was a victory nevertheless, and a win for public education.

The ascendancy of public education as an important progressive cause was prevalent in state and local elections around the country – in races for state board of education in Nebraska, in school board elections in Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Detroit.

Of course, support for public education did not win everywhere. There were bad outcomes in state legislative races in California and New York.

Trump has expressed his strong dislike for public schools – calling them “government schools” and a “failed monopoly” – and proposed during his campaign a $20 billion federal block grant to allow states to give vouchers to low-income students to attend whatever school they want. With Trump’s election, school choice and charter advocates now have their strongest proponent in charge of federal policy.

And among establishment Democrats, support for charter schools remains firm. In an astonishing feat of rhetoric, some of these centrist-minded Democrats who support charter schools are conflating Trump’s win with the victories for public education in Massachusetts and Georgia, saying the starkly dissimilar events were somehow equally bad for “kids.”

As these out-of-touch Democrats celebrate the defeats of progressives such as Zephyr Teachout – who campaigned for good public schools and well paying jobs but lost to a charter school advocate backed by Wall Street – we need to remind them that it was establishment Democrats who handed this election to a rightwing populist, void of decency and respect for others and mobilized by hate and division.

These sell-outs to the big money behind “reforms” such as “free trade,” “right to work,” and “school choice” are the ones who are complicit in this defeat. And it’s time progressive Democrats took their party back. Public school advocates in Massachusetts and Georgia just showed us how to do that.

11/3/2016 – This Election Is About School Funding, Democratic Control of Education

THIS WEEK: No To Question 2 … School Climate Matters … College Costs Rise … Georgia Amendment 1 … Privatization Hurts Kids


This Election Is About School Funding, Democratic Control of Education

By Jeff Bryant

“In the upcoming election … education issues [are] getting a relatively large amount of attention in states … Two recurring themes are 1) Who controls schools, and 2) How to save schools from a persistent funding crisis … If you’re discouraged about the lack of substance in this year’s presidential race, there are ample opportunities to support candidates and measures down ballot that will determine the course of education policy, and thus affect the well being of children and the future of our nation.”
Read more …


It’s Not Anti-Charter To Oppose Lifting Cap

Commonwealth Magazine

“Uncapped charter school growth means that municipal budgets … will suffer without a fix to state education financing … Tradeoffs in local budgets … include unsustainable cutbacks for basic city services … Uncapping charter school growth will only speed this growing divide … Uncapped charter growth will surely lead to district reorganization and school closures, but the transition will create inefficiencies that add costs to cities and towns … Keep the cap on charter school growth and seek sensible financing reform to ensure that all of our children succeed.”
Read more …

Positive School Climates May Help Narrow Achievement Gaps, Analysis Finds

Education Week

“Schools where students feel safe, engaged and connected to their teachers are also schools that have narrower achievement gaps between low-income children and their wealthier peers … ‘Schools do matter and can do much to improve academic outcomes … By promoting a positive climate, schools can allow greater equality in educational opportunities, decrease socioeconomic inequalities, and enable more social mobility.'”
Read more …

College Costs Rising Faster Than Financial Aid, Report Says

The Washington Post

“Colleges are putting the brakes on hefty price increases, but tuition and fees are still rising at a faster rate than the financial aid and family income needed to cover costs … Price increases have hovered around 3% … but net prices for a college education are rising … The positive news is that families are taking on less debt to cover the cost of higher education as the economy improves … People who earned a bachelor’s degree in 2015 left school with an average of $28,100 in debt.”
Read more …

Georgia Voters To Decide State’s Role In Struggling Schools

Education Week

“The ballot measure – known as Amendment 1 – has generated heated debate and created strange political bedfellows, with teachers’ unions, the state’s school boards’ association, the Georgia PTA, and some conservative Republicans lining up against the measure. On the other side is GOP Gov. Nathan Deal … the state chamber of commerce, some Democrats, and supporters of charters and school choice … The pro-amendment side has raised $1.2 million toward that effort with contributions from Georgia Leads, a Deal-backed group, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, and 50CAN, an education advocacy group. On the other side, the National Education Association was expected to spend $1.5 million opposing the measure … A poll this month showing that most likely voters are leaning against supporting the measure.
Read more …

The Privatization Of Public Education Is Failing Our Kids

The Progressive

Wisconsin US House Representative Mark Pocan writes, “Wisconsin now has more than 32,000 students statewide enrolled in its voucher plan, even though approximately three-quarters of the new students receiving that public money were already attending private schools. Now they are just doing so on the taxpayer’s dime. States across the country are draining funds from public schools that educate the vast majority of our children and diverting it to a few students in private schools … Public schools are rightly required to educate all our children. Yet many voucher schools … are able to cherry-pick which students they prefer. They could refuse to take in a child who might cost more to educate, such as a child with disabilities … It is unconscionable for taxpayers to continue funding two duplicative education systems, particularly when the one can cherry-pick students and ignore educational standards and dodge showing proof they are working.”
Read more …

This Election Is About School Funding, Democratic Control of Education

If you’re one of those voters who’s been frustrated by the lack of media coverage of serious policy issues in this year’s presidential election, you can look down ballot for meaningful debates on meatier topics in a number of other races.

The news outlet Vox provides a video review of the important down-ballot races highlighting issues in play such as women’s reproductive rights, labor, taxes, government spending, heath care, minimum wages, gun control and marijuana legalization. Its review of state judicial races touches on the impact courts have on critical issues such as marriage equality, green energy, and abortion.

But for some reason, Vox completely ignores education. This is stupid.

Because education is the number one or two spending priority in state budgets, competing with health care, it’s often a heated topic in gubernatorial races. Similarly in state legislative races, as many as 18 legislative chambers in 12 states could switch party control, including Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, Washington, and Wisconsin. Candidates for these offices are generally expected to make their views about public schools a matter of priority in their platforms.

In state judicial races, which the video puts special emphasis on, Vox chose to completely ignore one of the most contentious races in the nation in Washington state, where proponents of charter schools have spent hundreds of thousands to unseat two incumbent State Supreme Court judges. And perhaps most astonishing, Vox provides a brief overview of ballot referendums across the states and completely ignores the colossal contest in Massachusetts, where a proposal to lift a cap on charter schools in that state has generated at least $50 million in campaign spending.

For a run-down of contests where education matters most, Education Week provides an election guide with an extensive review that includes races at all levels, including state education chiefs and school boards.

In a companion article, the reporters see education issues “getting a relatively large amount of attention in states such as California, Indiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Oklahoma,” and in other states, the outcome of many contests “could have a major impact on approaches lawmakers take” to implement the new federal legislation replacing No Child Left Behind Act.

What you’ll notice, if you happen to drill down into the individual races, is that two recurring themes are 1) Who controls schools, and 2) How to save schools from a persistent funding crisis.

Challenging Privatization

In the case of the two ballot measures in Massachusetts and Washington highlighted above, control over local schools hangs precariously in the balance.

In Massachusetts, ballot measure Question 2 allows the state to approve 12 new charter schools a year and hand control of many more public schools to privately operated boards with virtually no local control. Thirty Massachusetts mayors and over 200 local school committees oppose the measure.

Backed by Republican Governor Charlie Baker, a slew of big money coming from charter proponents outside the Bay State is vastly outspending an opposition led by grassroots parent and pubic school advocacy groups funded by state and national teachers’ unions. Prominent progressives such as the state’s senator Elizabeth Warren have expressed opposition to Question 2, with former Vermont governor and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders calling it an attempt by Wall Street to “highjack public education.”

The latest poll shows voters are evenly split with 45 percent of voters in favor of passing and 45 percent opposed.

In Washington, the fight over democratic control of schools pits charter proponents against supporters of public schools as well. In this case, funders of the charter school industry – such as Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen and other major contributors to previous attempts to force charters on the state – have contributed over $500,000 to a campaign to unseat current Supreme Court Judges who upheld lower court decisions ruling the method for funding charters in Washington unconstitutional.

In Georgia, a fight against charter takeovers of public schools in the state is in opposition to a ballot referendum, called Amendment 1, that would install a state agency to take over the lowest performing schools in the state and hand them over to private management groups. Again, money from charter proponents, such as members of the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame and dark money groups, is pouring  into the state to pass Amendment 1 while teachers unions and public school advocacy groups support a local opposition.

The fight for community voice in public schools is affecting congressional and state legislative races too.

In Ohio, US Senate challenger Ted Strickland has accused his incumbent opponent Rob Portman of allowing the state to be “raped by for-profit charter school firms.”

In New York, what may be the “biggest House race of 2016,” according to my colleague Bill Scher, pits Zephyr Teachout, an ally of Bernie Sanders, against her Republican opponent John Faso, who is firmly tied to Wall Street investment firms and the state’s political establishment. Democratic control of schools is an important differential in the race. As reporters from Education Week explain, while Faso has been a big proponent of charter schools, Teachout has maintained her strong support for public education and her opposition to top-down education mandates coming from her state and the federal government.

At the state level, in New York, charter proponents connected to Wall Street investment firms, including hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb, have joined with Wal-Mart heir Alice Walton to pump millions into legislative races to elect candidates sympathetic to their cause while public school advocates wage a grassroots campaign to support backers of local schools.

Charter schools have also become a bone of contention among candidates for legislative offices in Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Arizona. In each case, local public school advocates have joined with teachers to contend with big money donors who want to wrestle control of local schools away from democratic rule to hand them over to private management.

As journalist Jon Marcus for online education news outlet TES writes, these fights for local control over increasing privatization “speak to the high stakes for public schools” and the fear of “for-profit education providers, which covet the contracts under which they may be brought in to operate some charter schools. It’s another vestige of the widening ideological divide in the United States.”

Calling For Increased School Funding

When charters and democratic control of schools aren’t points of contention, education funding is equally if not more prominent in down-ballot elections.

In Oklahoma, an effort to pass ballot referendum Question 779 would increase the state’s sales tax from 8 percent to 9 percent in order to provide, among other things, a $5,000 raise for teachers in the coming year. Oklahoma, according to a recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, has cut state general funding per pupil for education deeper than any other state, slashing nearly 27 percent from its budget since 2008.

In Oregon, Measure 97 would impose a 2.5 percent tax on corporate gross sales that exceed $25 million to provide $3 billion worth of revenue to the state. According to the New York Times, passing the measure “would create the biggest tide of new tax revenue in any state in the nation” to benefit public schools, health-care services, and services for senior citizens.

In California, Proposition 51 would authorize $9 billion in bonds for school construction and modernization, including $3 billion for new construction and $3 billion for modernization of public school facilities to relieve school crowding, make schools safer, and upgrade classrooms to modern standards and technology. Although as much as $1 billion generated by the bonds could be diverted to charter schools and vocational education facilities, the measure has drawn support from public school advocates such as the Network for Public Education.

At the federal level, Democrats have a good chance of retaking the majority in the Senate. While education has not been a prominent issue in many Senate races, there are important consequences should the liberal party retake control of the Senate. Imagine, for instance, the possibilities should Bernie Sanders take over leadership of the Senate committee determining education related legislation.

In governors’ races, North Carolina has become not only one of the most contested races in the country but also a race where education funding has played a dominant role in the debate. As state-based media outlets report, the sparring is over issues of funding for teacher pay, school supplies and textbooks, and pre-k programs.

In state legislative races, Colorado is a state where Democrats have a good chance to take control of the state capital, which will likely, in turn, according to a prominent state media outlet, “almost certainly free up more money for schools in the short-term.”

Get Out And Vote

The above review doesn’t take into account the many school board elections across the nation where local leadership of education often hangs in the balance as advocates for privatizing schools spend big bucks to promote their candidates.

But if you’re discouraged about the lack of substance in this year’s presidential race, there are ample opportunities to support candidates and measures down ballot that will determine the course of education policy, and thus affect the well being of children and the future of our nation.

So go vote.


10/27/2016 – What Obama Never Got About Education

THIS WEEK: Election Warnings To Schools … Wall St. Funding Charters … RTTT Didn’t Work … Achieving Integration … Syrian Children In US


What Obama Never Got About Education

By Jeff Bryant

“Emphasizing education output, while generally leaving input unaddressed, has been a feature, not a bug, of the Obama administration’s education policy all along … The honest truth is Obama and his Education Secretary never made adequate and equitable funding a signature education policy imperative … The legacy of the Obama administration on education will be mostly that he generally didn’t get it.”
Read more …


Fearing Election Day Trouble, Some US Schools Cancel Classes

Associated Press via ABC News

“The fear is that the ugly rhetoric of the campaign could escalate into confrontations and even violence in school hallways, endangering students … School officials … point to the recent firebombing of a Republican Party office in one North Carolina … Anxieties have been stoked by Donald Trump’s repeated claims that the election is rigged and his appeal to his supporters to stand guard against fraud at the polls. Some are worried about clashes between the self-appointed observers and voters.”
Read more …

Wall Street Firms Make Money From Teachers’ Pensions – And Fund Charter Schools Fight

International Business Times

“Executives at eight financial firms with contracts to manage Massachusetts state pension assets have bypassed anti-corruption rules and funneled at least $778,000 to groups backing Question 2, which would expand the number of charter schools in the state. Millions more dollars have flowed from the executives to nonprofit groups supporting the charter school movement in the lead-up to the November vote … Federal and state pay-to-play rules are designed to prevent campaign donations from influencing pension investment decisions … Cash flooding into Massachusetts to support Question 2 has flowed around that prohibition.”
Read more …

Race To The Top’s Impact On Student Achievement, State Policy Unclear, Report Says

Education Week

“There’s no hard-and-fast evidence that Race to the Top, the Obama administration’s $4 billion, signature K-12 initiative had a long-term impact on student achievement or state policy… It is difficult to discern whether Race to the Top had a longterm impact on state policy … Congress has already gotten rid of the program and made it virtually impossible for any future secretary of education to resurrect it.”
Read more …

What Diverse Schools Do Differently: New Report Outlines 10 Promising Approaches


“Schools that successfully enroll a mix of students also manage to create a climate that welcomes everyone … Whether it’s a new school in an old building, or an existing school in a new space – a change of scenery can attract more families of all kinds … Schools that accept students from outside regular zone lines … may attract students of different backgrounds … New admissions policies have also shown moderate success.
Read more …

Most US Syrians Arrivals Are Kids, Now Enrolling In School

Associated Press

“According to the U.S. State Department, nearly 80 percent of the more than 11,000 Syrian arrivals over the past year were children. That’s a larger percentage than most refugee groups, in part because Syrians tend to have larger families and many have managed to stay together despite displacement … There are a couple of obvious outcomes of a policy like this, the most obvious and damning being that if [a] program wants to survive, it has to avoid sending its graduates to low-performing (aka poor and under-resourced) schools. And since teachers most commonly teach somewhere near their community of origin, that means [the program] will definitely consider not accepting students from poor and under-resourced communities … Many of those children are enrolling in public schools around the country, including Chicago; Austin, Texas; New Haven, Connecticut; and El Cajon, [California] … Syrian children face many of the same challenges as other young refugees – limited English, an interrupted education – but they are somewhat distinct in the level of trauma they have experienced.”
Read more …

What Obama Never Got About Education

Education may have been mostly left out of this year’s heated presidential election, but that hasn’t stopped the current, outgoing president from shining a spotlight on his education record.

“We’ve made a lot of progress” on education, President Obama recently announced and pointed to record high school graduation rates of 83 percent as proof. Left-leaning operatives inside the Beltway were quick to capitalize on this announcement in order to start the campaign hailing Obama’s education legacy.

Is this a narrative Democrats should hang their hats on as they approach the post-election period, which, with every passing day, looks like will usher in another Democratic party administration?

Every politician wants to be able to point to statistical proof of how effective their policies have been – how many jobs were created, money saved, crimes reduced, etc. Obama is no different in this regard.

But how good really are his education “numbers,” and are Democrats talking about the education numbers that matter most?

What Do Education Numbers Mean?

As NPR reports, the president’s first big number he pointed to in his recent address was this: “When I took office almost eight years ago, we knew that our education system was falling short … I said, by 2020 I want us to be No. 1.”

What does it mean to be “number one” in education?

When people talk about who is number one in education, they most often point to Finland, which is the country that usually does best on international assessments.

So do we want to be like Finland, which has an economy one-eighteenth the size of ours, and where children don’t even go to school until they’re seven years old? I can’t imagine we’ll ever see a candidate running for major office in the U.S. base a campaign on “the Finnish platform.”

Nevertheless, Obama used the record high graduation rates to “tout his education initiatives,” according to the NPR reporter.

Certainly it would seem that having more students graduate high school than seeing those percentages slipping is altogether a good thing. But it’s not that simple.

As a reporter for Education Week explains, “Many states award a variety of different diplomas, some of which connote strong preparation for jobs and college, and some of which, um, don’t. How much should we rejoice in more teenagers graduating from high school, when some of them have most certainly completed a watered-down course of study?”

That link the reporter includes leads to a study published earlier this year that found “47 percent, or almost half, of American high school graduates complete neither a college- nor career-ready course of study.” The reporter also pointed to evidence of school districts using “credit recovery programs” that shove potential high school dropouts into online learning sweatshops that provide a pathway to graduation that in no way resembles rigorous high school coursework.

And last year, when NPR dug into graduation numbers, the reporters found so many examples of “quick fixes” and efforts to game the system they concluded the final calculation, “isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.”

The implication here is that when you emphasize a numeric outcome, like graduation rates, and then provide incentives to raise those numbers, you’re bound to produce more efforts to game the system and actually lower the quality of education.

Some Bad Numbers Too

This is not to say that we don’t want to see more students graduating high school.

But if we’re going to base education policy just on the numbers, we should look at some of the not so good numbers too.

For instance, according to the latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often called “the nation’s report card,” academic achievement generally is declining under Obama’s watch.

As the Washington Post reported earlier this year, for the first time since the federal government began administering the exams in 1990, math scores for fourth-graders and eighth-graders declined. Reading scores weren’t much better: Eighth-grade scores dropped while fourth-grade performance was stagnant compared with 2013, the last time the test was administered. Achievement gaps between white and minority students remain large.

But the education numbers that have worsened the most are those associated with what’s being invested into the system rather than what’s coming out of it.

Drawing from a new report on government spending on children, Bruce Lesley president of First Focus finds, “Federal support for education has dropped from a high of $74 billion in 2010 to $41 billion in 2015, a decline of more than 40 percent in the last five years … Federal education spending remains 9 percent lower than in pre-recession 2008.”

Beyond the support for education at the federal level, the picture is arguably even worse.

In its most recent report on spending on education, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds, “Thirty-five states provided less overall state funding per student in the 2014 school year (the most recent year available) than in the 2008 school year.” Even in the states where local funding rose, the “increases rarely made up for cuts.”

Local funding for schools, another significant share of education support, generally fell during the same time period. “In 36 states, total state and local funding combined fell between the 2008 and 2014 school years,” the CBPP finds.

This steep decline in education funding is arguably the most significant threat to our children’s education, and thus, the country’s future.

According to a recent review of the research on the systemic correlation between education spending and school quality and student achievement, William Mathis and Kevin Welner, of the National Education Policy Center, find, “While specific results vary from place to place, in general, money does matter and it matters most for economically deprived children. Gains from investing in education are found in test scores, later earnings, and graduation rates.”

In another review of research studies on the importance of adequate and equitable school funding, Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker writes, “To be blunt, money does matter. Schools and districts with more money clearly have greater ability to provide higher quality, broader, and deeper educational opportunities to the children they serve. Furthermore, in the absence of money, or in the aftermath of deep cuts to existing funding, schools are unable to do many of the things they need to do in order to maintain quality educational opportunities.”

What Obama Never Got About Education

Emphasizing education output, while generally leaving input unaddressed, has been a feature, not a bug, of the Obama administration’s education policy all along.

This was the administration whose signature programs, Race to the Top and the waivers to No child Left Behind, demanded states rate schools and teachers based on a “learning output,” which most states took to mean student scores on standardized tests. The president’s Education Department and Secretary Arne Duncan incentivized states to lift any restrictions on the number of charter schools in the system and provided significant grant money to expand their numbers. States were encouraged to spend vast sums of money on new systems to track output data and use them to sort and rank schools, evaluate teachers, label students, and force schools into turnaround efforts that would result in being subjected to even more scrupulous data tracking.

But while the Obama administration obsessed over output numbers, its attention to the inputs in the system was ad hoc and haphazard at best.

At the outset of his presidency, in response to the recession, Obama proposed $100 billion for education and got $787 billion from Congress. But most of that funding was used to shore up state cuts rather than keep pace with student growth and increasing needs. By 2010, federal outlays per student were already in decline and mostly never recovered.

Another big push from the Obama administration came in 2014 when he proposed $1 billion for early childhood education, but that ambitious plan was scaled back to a highly selective grant program instead.

One can argue that there are limits to what the federal government can do about states that inadequately fund education and that a Republican Congress would have blocked any attempt by the Obama administration to create more adequate and equitable education funding.

But the honest truth is Obama and his Education Secretary never made adequate and equitable funding a signature education policy imperative. It wasn’t in the incentives and punishments written into RTTT. It wasn’t in any of the demands for being granted a waiver to NCLB.

As early as 2010, many of the best minds in education policy – education historian Diane Ravitch, economist Richard Rothstein, and education researcher David Berliner – could already see that the Obama administration was going in the wrong direction on education. In an overview of their remarks at the website of the Economic Policy Institute, the three experts describe Obama’s education policies as “a lot like Bush policies.”

“We’ve stopped worrying about inputs,” Berliner is quoted, “yet, what’s coming out of schools is still a function of those inputs.”

By 2016, in his final State of the Union, Obama spoke of only “five major concerns” for education, as The Hechinger Report recounts. K-12 funding wasn’t one of them

The legacy of the Obama administration on education will be mostly that he generally didn’t get it.

Indeed the very place he, or his handlers, chose to tout his work on graduation rates was indicative of how little his administration understands the issue.

As education journalist Valerie Strauss observes on her blog for the Washington Post, Obama spoke at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, DC, a school that has a 100 percent graduation rate. Sounds impressive, until you consider how the school controls the conditions that lead to such a stellar graduation rate.

As Strauss explains, “Banneker is a magnet school where students must apply to get in – but the only entry grades are ninth and tenth. And they must maintain a B- average to stay. Kids who can’t cut it leave, but that attrition isn’t counted against the school’s graduation rate.”

That’s certainly not a vision of universal education we want passed down to the next administration.