Education Opportunity Network

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8/2/2018 – Democrats Who Opposed Privatizing Social Security Should Be Alarmed By A New Scheme Aimed At Public Schools

THIS WEEK: Choice Closes ‘Good’ Charter … Private School Fail … LeBron James Starts A School … DeVos Undermines Civil Rights … EdTech Hurts Learning

TOP STORY

Democrats Who Opposed Privatizing Social Security Should Be Alarmed By A New Scheme Aimed At Public Schools

By Jeff Bryant

“A new marketing campaign about yet another scheme to privatize a valuable public asset is being rolled out across the country, using Wall Street as an analogy to explain how the scheme works. The privatization scheme deserves the same skeptical opposition that Democrats mustered when [President George W.]Bush tried to privatize Social Security … Wealthy private foundations have contributed at least $200 million to create a new group, The City Fund, to ‘push cities to expand charter schools’ … The campaign calls for urban school districts to follow a ‘portfolio model’ of running schools, as if district leaders were investment managers and their schools were collections of different types of equity investments. ”
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NEWS AND VIEWS

What New Orleans Tells Us About The Perils Of Putting Schools On The Free Market

The New Yorker

“A year ago, I volunteered to serve on the board of a charter elementary school in New Orleans … In New Orleans, alone among large urban districts, almost all schools are now charter schools … The board pursued initiatives familiar to any cash-burning startup … [The school], like a business, was compelled to succeed by competition and choice. But, like other charter startups, it was hampered by a market system … No market is just about competition and choice.”
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No Private Schools Aren’t Better At Educating Kids Than Public Schools Why This New Study Matters

The Washington Post

“Researchers who looked at data from more than 1,000 students found that all of the advantages supposedly conferred by private education evaporate when socio-demographic characteristics are factored in. There was also no evidence found to suggest that low-income children or children enrolled in urban schools benefit more from private school enrollment … [Betsy] DeVos has called traditional public schools a ‘dead end’ and long supported the expansion of voucher and similar programs that use public money for private and religious school education … 27 states and the District of Columbia have policies allowing public money to be used for private education through school vouchers, scholarship tax credits and education savings grants.”
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LeBron’s Education Promise Needs To Become This Country’s Promise

The Nation

“LeBron James … opened a new public school in his hometown of Akron, Ohio called I Promise … In addition to meals, job training for parents and even a bicycle and helmet for every student, the school offers a guaranteed college tuition for everyone who goes on to graduate high school … The school is public and not a charter… ‘By partnering with the Akron Public Schools – not trying subvert them or profit off of them with an unaccountable charter – LeBron has demonstrated to the world the power of truly investing in public education.’”
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How Do You Enforce Civil Rights? Under Betsy DeVos, A Stark Shift In Approach.

The Washington Post

“Under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the [Department of Education] is … moving away from the sweeping notion, embraced during the Obama years, that discrimination often occurs even if the people involved have no ill intent and that schools should be held accountable when outcomes differ by race … The transformation is culminating this summer with important policy changes … The agency delayed for two years a regulation aimed at ensuring that school systems are not disproportionately channeling students of color into special-education programs, a practice that studies suggest is widespread. Then, the Trump administration revoked Obama-era federal guidance on affirmative action that had encouraged colleges and public schools to find legal ways to use race in admissions and enrollment. Now, the department is considering repealing documents that direct districts to examine whether they are delivering tougher punishment to African American students than to others.”
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Cellphones In Classrooms Contribute To Failing Grades: Study

ABC News

“New research also shows that using electronic devices can even lower students’ grades … When attention is divided between two tasks, fewer items regarding those tasks may be recalled later … Smart phones can reduce the ability to think to a person’s full potential, and additional research from Stanford University reveals that intense multitasking decreases the efficiency of completing a given task … In a study published in the journal Educational Psychology … The group using devices scored about a half a letter grade lower on exams – the difference between passing or failing for some students … Students who didn’t use a device but were in the same classroom with those who did also scored lower.”
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Summer Pause

EON is taking a summer break from the education scene. Look for the next email in your inbox on August 16.

Democrats Who Opposed Privatizing Social Security Should Be Alarmed By A New Scheme Aimed At Public Schools

Remember when Democrats, at the urging of their progressive base, defeated an attempt to privatize Social Security by President George W. Bush in 2005? As Bush barnstormed the country to sell his plan to let workers place a portion of their payroll taxes in personal account invested in stocks and bonds, “Democrats pushed back, a retrospective for Vox recalls. “In think tanks, on blogs, in activist groups, and in Congress, they sought to rebut the president’s case — arguing that there was no imminent crisis, that private accounts would in fact worsen the program’s financial situation, and that privatization meant putting much of the public’s retirement savings at the mercy of the markets.”

Now, a new marketing campaign about yet another scheme to privatize a valuable public asset is being rolled out across the country, using Wall Street as an analogy to explain how the scheme works. The privatization scheme deserves the same skeptical opposition that Democrats mustered when Bush tried to privatize Social Security.

The Push for a ‘Portfolio Model’

As Chalkbeat reports, wealthy private foundations have contributed at least $200 million to create a new group, The City Fund, to “push cities to expand charter schools and district schools with charter-like autonomy.” The campaign calls for urban school districts to follow a “portfolio model” of running schools, as if district leaders were investment managers and their schools were collections of different types of equity investments.

The portfolio metaphor is quite literally drawn from the stock market, the theory being that when a performance-based accountability system underlies the management strategy for schools, district leaders will act like wise investors and sell, or in this case, close schools that are deemed underperforming, or hand over school operations to a management group, usually a charter school management group.

The mix of schools in a portfolio managed district is by design to include privately operated charter schools, and in some cases, voucher programs that allow parents to send their children to private schools at taxpayer expense. And the long term goal is for district management and local schools boards to get out of the business of day-to-day operations of schools altogether, give schools complete autonomy, and make them accountable solely for their performance outcome, represented, more often than not, by results on standardized tests.

All About Charter Schools

Everywhere it’s been applied, the portfolio model has led to the rapid expansion of charter schools while closing supposedly failed public schools. A “unifying element” in the portfolio model, write William Mathis and Kevin Welner from the National Education Policy Center, “is the call for many neighborhood schools to be transformed into privately managed charter schools. The district’s central-office role would be correspondingly transformed into a manager of this decentralized collection of schools.”

Dozens of cities have already implemented the portfolio model, at least to some extent, including Denver, Indianapolis, Memphis, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Camden and Newark, New Jersey. But the city portfolio advocates love to highlight as an explar of their model is m is New Orleans, where after Hurricane Katrina struck, nearly all the schools were transferred to charter school management organizations or independent charters.

Currently in New Orleans, 95 percent of student attend charter schools and the district is expected to transition to all charter by 2020. Although the local school board has recently been given some authorizing power over charters, board officials have no authority to oversee the day-to-day operations of charter schools.

Few Pros, Lots of Cons

In nearly every case, the benefits of the portfolio model are questionable at best. ” Understanding the effects of portfolio district reform is hampered by messy reform contexts, where portfolios are only one of several major ongoing reforms,” state Mathis and Welner. But there are immediate and acute downsides.

For instance, the role of the public voice is diminished in every case. “School boards are typically shunted aside,” Mathis and Welner explain, “leading to the objection that the policies are a power play about ‘money and power and control.’ State-level advocacy for these policies, moreover, has often been misleading, and characterized by spin and cherry-picked data.”

Further, the rapid expansion of charters introduces education providers that have no clear advantage over public schools and risks public taxpayer dollars and tax-funded school buildings and other facilities to exploitation by charter operators who frequently use the lack of regulatory oversight for private gain.

Another significant risk imposed by having large percentages of children enrolled in charter schools is the negative impact that has on public school finances.

A study of the financial impact of charters on Michigan public schools finances found that “overwhelmingly, the biggest financial impact on school districts was the result of declining enrollment and revenue loss, especially where school choice and charters are most prevalent.”

“The higher the charter penetration, the higher the adverse impact on district finances,” the report’s author contends. He warns that when the numbers of charter schools in a district gets upward of “20 percent or so, the adverse financial impacts on district finances are “sizeable.”

A recent study in California, the state with the largest number of charter schools and charter school students, found that 250 school districts in the state face financial crisis due, to a significant extent, to the steady drain of charter schools on public school system budgets.

“Reasonable people may disagree about education policy,” the report’s author writes.. “What reasonable people should not do, however, is pretend that unregulated charter school expansion comes at no cost.”

What’s a Democrat to Do?

When Democratic party leaders made the decision to oppose Bush’s privatization scheme for Social Security, it wasn’t just good politics – it helped propel the party’s candidates to reclaim control of Congress in 2006. It prevented perhaps millions of Americans from seeing their retirement saving severely damaged by the 2008 meltdown of Wall Street and the ensuing Great Recession. ”

Today, Democrats should feel an obligation to fight the effort to privatize public education in urban communities. Taking up that cause could not only be good politics; it could save the public system that educates millions of school children, who are the future of this country.

(Photo credit: Alejandra, Flickr Creative Commons)

7/26/2018 – A New Push For Charter Schools Should Anger Progressives. Here’s Why.

THIS WEEK: Education A Big Election Issue … Kids Hurt By Spending Cuts … How Trump Harms Students … DeVos Protects For-Profits … DeVos Backs Anti-Union Effort

TOP STORY

A New Push For Charter Schools Should Anger Progressives. Here’s Why.

By Jeff Bryant

“Progressives angered at establishment Democrats who accuse them of being blinded by ideology and divorced from facts when they champion policies pushed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and rising star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez should be equally irritated by a new message from supporters of charter schools and the “education reform” agenda … Much in the same way establishment Democrats admonish progressives for their support of universal healthcare and living wages, the longstanding effort by establishment Democrats to boost private operators of charter schools avoids inconvenient truths about these schools and hides its ideological agenda.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Candidates In Midterms Spar Over School Funding Vs. Taxes

Education Week

“How – or whether – to pour more money into public school coffers has emerged as one of the most divisive issues for states in this year’s midterm elections. In at least 9 states, voters this fall will consider ambitious ballot measures that seek to increase, or in some cases curtail, how much legislatures distribute to schools … Those running for governor in states … While the economy has roared back to life in recent years, public schools in large swaths of the country are still starved for money. State sales tax revenue has flattened as more people shop online … While unemployment is at historic lows, earnings have not rebounded to pre-Recession levels. Options like marijuana and casino tax revenue have failed in the past to generate enough cash to meet schools’ pent up needs. That leaves schools more and more dependent on local property taxes.'”
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The ‘War on Poverty’ Isn’t Over, and Kids Are Losing

City Lab

“Cutting spending on poverty means cutting spending on kids – a downward trend that is already happening … Declaring an end to the war on poverty allows federal agencies to pivot to other goals, namely ‘self-sufficiency,’ which is a watchword for setting strict work requirements for aid … Spending on children is already declining, even as overall federal spending continues to rise since the Great Recession … By 2020, the federal government will spend more on interest payments on its debt than it pays to provide support for children. Children will receive just one cent of every dollar from the projected $1.6 trillion increase in federal spending authorized under the Trump administration … Over the next decade, the children’s share of the budget will drop from 9.4% to 6.9%..”
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The Feds Are Discouraging Districts From Using Race To Integrate Schools. A New Study Points To A Potential Downside

Chalkbeat

“The Trump administration recently made waves by removing Obama-era guidance that offered ways for school districts to consider students’ race in order to diversify and integrate schools. The rollback could have harmful consequences for students … could hurt academic outcomes, including college enrollment, by making racial segregation worse … The spike in segregation corresponded to a decrease in college enrollment for black students by a couple percentage points. There was also an indication of modest declines in test scores in sixth grade and in high school graduation rates.”
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New Trump-DeVos Loan Relief Rule Trashes Students’ Rights, Aids Predatory Colleges

Republic Report

“The Betsy DeVos Department of Education …released a proposed rule to repeal and replace the 2016 Obama borrower defense regulation, which was aimed at cancelling federal student loan debts for people who are ripped off by predatory colleges. The new DeVos rule represents a … total surrender of policy to the for-profit and career colleges whose bad behavior triggered that rule … While the DeVos Department is claiming that gutting the Obama rule will save taxpayers a lot of money, in reality the opposite is true: This DeVos gift to predatory colleges will end up costing taxpayers billions more, while ruining countless students’ lives in the process … the Trump/DeVos rule inserts so many barriers to relief that it would be extremely difficult for any student to prevail”
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Behind The Campaign To Get Teachers To Leave Their Unions

NPR

“[When] the Supreme Court … ruled that these unions cannot collect money, known as agency fees, from nonmembers who are covered by collective bargaining agreements … groups were already ‘spamming [teachers] and trying to get them to opt out’ … The groups behind the opt-out campaign, which describe themselves as conservative, libertarian or free-market, share many donors in common … including the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, and the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative.”
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A New Push For Charter Schools Should Anger Progressives. Here’s Why.

Progressives angered at establishment Democrats who accuse them of being blinded by ideology and divorced from facts when they champion policies pushed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and rising star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez should be equally irritated by a new message from supporters of charter schools and the “education reform” agenda.

Specifically, David Leonhardt, in the opinion pages of the New York Times, draws a false equivalency in the debate on charter schools and accuses “the political left” of “fact-twisting” and being guilty of “classic whataboutism” in questioning the academic record of charter schools and their impact on communities.

“Both sides are to blame,” he says, in a debate over education policy that should be “more around facts than fixed beliefs.”

But much in the same way establishment Democrats admonish progressives for their support of universal healthcare and living wages, the longstanding effort by establishment Democrats to boost private operators of charter schools avoids inconvenient truths about these schools and hides its ideological agenda. And rather than offering a reasoned argument for charters, Leonhardt and other proponents of these schools are attempting to recast a failed agenda into a success.

Where’s the Facts?

As Leonhardt calls for a more “fact based … nuanced” discussion about the supposed superiority of charter schools, one thing he fails to marshal for his argument is, well, facts.

As New York City parent and public school advocate Leonie Haimson writes, the “reams of rigorous research” supporting charter schools Leonhardt claims to exist are generally a no-show in his article. Of the four links to charter studies Leonhardt provides, “three have nothing to do with charter schools, nor are they peer-reviewed studies.”

Because most studies of charter schools show they generally do no better in terms of academic achievement than public schools, Leonhardt’s main point seems to be, “Initially, charters’ overall results were no better than average. But they are now.”

His evidence of this is not clear since he doesn’t even bother to link to a research document. But likely what he means to refer to is a single study on the impact of charter schools in urban communities that contends charter schools generally helped students increase reading and math scores in these systems. But reviews of the study have cast doubt on its findings due to the researchers’ questionable methodology and the exaggerated way the results of the study were reported.

While it’s fair to weigh the evidence of charter schools’ impact on academic achievement against evidence that finds otherwise, Leonhardt chooses to ignore any controversy over the evidence at all, and claims, preposterously, he is the one being fact-based and non-ideological.

One non-controversial fact Leonhardt does bring up is the high propensity of charters to use overly-harsh disciplinary policies. His description of a student walkout at a New Orleans charter over extreme discipline rules is not an isolated situation. Charter schools suspend students more often than public schools do, and the “no excuses” practices many of these schools employ can have negative effects on students.

But more revealing of Leonhardt’s ideological agenda to promote charter schools is what’s left unsaid in his piece.

See No Evil

Ironically, the very next day after Leonhardt’s piece ran, an enormous charter school scandal came crashing to the ground on the opposite coast.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, an operator of a charter school chain in the city, who also served on the district’s school board, had to resign after pleading guilty to using his publicly funded charter school, including its employees (even the low-wage custodians), as a source of funding for his school board campaign, and then lying about it.

The day after, in Pennsylvania, a former head of an online charter school in the state was sentenced to serve 20 months in prison for conspiring to defraud the IRS, siphoning $8 million from the charter school he created to spend on houses, a plane, and other luxuries.

Revelations of these legal and ethical violations on the part of charter school operators are a near daily occurrence.

Yet proponents of charter schools refuse to acknowledge any problems posed by having publicly funded school operations left completely unregulated, bereft of transparency, and accountable only to the very narrow range of test scores they can mangage to produce by using intensive test prep and selective enrollment and pushing out of low performers.

The Bigger Picture

In his Times piece, Leonhardt refers to his previous op-ed in which he extols the success of the New Orleans reform effort that turned that city into a practically all-charter school district.

He notes that after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana took over the system and hired charter school management groups to operate nearly all of the schools. He cites statistical evidence of academic progress compared to students before the storm, based on research provided by an academician who has been given a $10 million, five-year grant from the Trump administration’s department of education to lead a new federal research and development center on programs favoring charter schools.

Yet findings that charter schools have yielded achievement gains for students in New Orleans still remain questionable.

In a ten-year retrospective on the New Orleans school reform model, Emma Brown wrote for The Washington Post, “Many community members feel that the city schools are worse off in ways that can’t be captured in data or graphs, arguing that parents have less voice than they once did and that the new system puts some of the neediest children at a disadvantage, especially those with disabilities or who are learning English as a second language.”

Today, over 20,000 children in New Orleans remain in D- and F-rated schools, based on state rankings, and schools are on a three-year slide, dropping 65 percent from 2014 to 2017. Most of the top-ranked schools are more than 50 percent white, and black students are far less likely to be taught by credentialed teachers, to attend schools ranked A or B, and to have access to advanced courses.

So evidence that charter schools have yielded academic gains in New Orleans or anywhere else are muddled at best. Nevertheless, establishment Democrats like Leonhardt argue charter school skeptics are the ones driven by ideology and twisting of facts.

There’s a reason for the desperate arguments promoted by Leonhardt and other charter school proponents.

Just as the general public supports progressive proposals for universal health care and minimum wage, surveys find that Americans have increased confidence in public schools while support for charter schools has dropped by double digit percentages among Democrats and Republicans.

Now there’s some facts for you.

(Photo credit: Kinga Ka, Flickr Creative Commons)

7/19/2018 – Teachers Join Progressives As Partners “In A Revolution”

THIS WEEK: Teachers Flood Elections … Teachers Fight Back … Republicans Say Arm Toddlers … Boston Is Segregation City … Cuts To Kids Continue

TOP STORY

Teachers Join Progressives As Partners “In A Revolution”

By Jeff Bryant

“Conservatives may believe they accomplished what they’ve endeavored to do for decades with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v AFSCME … but they may have also unintentionally unified progressive Democrats with teachers’ unions as never before … That unification is certainly the image conveyed by the annual conventions of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers that both took place in July … At the AFT meeting, the two former rivals for the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential nomination – former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and current U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont – joined union President Randi Weingarten on stage … All three hailed teachers as partners in a ‘revolution’ … . Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who also spoke at the AFT event, declared, ‘This is a time of crisis, and a crisis for America’s teachers is a crisis for America.’ In her powerful rallying cry, she implored teachers to join other progressives in ‘raising our voices for democracy’ and ‘organize like we’ve never organized before.'”
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NEWS AND VIEWS

With Successful Strikes Behind Them, Teachers Are Now Running For Office

Education Week

“Thousands of angry teachers across the country walked out of their classrooms this spring to protest low wages, cuts to school funding, and other changes to education policy. They scored some legislative victories … Now, scores of teachers are turning from the picket lines to the polls … While teachers running for office is not uncommon, it’s usually not so many or on such a large scale … Teachers running for office have to walk a fine line between their passion for education and their concern about becoming single-issue candidates.'”
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‘Betsy DeVos Is The Worst Secretary Of Education Ever’ — Teachers Union Leaders Come Out Swinging

The Washington Post

“The leaders of the two largest teachers’ unions in the country are coming out swinging after a Supreme Court ruling that dealt a blow to labor organizations’ ability to collect fees … Union leaders attacked the Trump administration and DeVos … mentioned massive strikes staged by teachers in a number of states earlier this year to protest low pay and inadequate education funding, declaring a new era of activism may be here.”
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Sacha Baron Cohen Dupes Former GOP Congressmen Into Declaring Support For Arming Toddlers With Guns To Prevent School Shootings

Alternet

“In a clip for his new Showtime series ‘Who Is America?’, Baron Cohen speaks with right wing Republican lawmakers … Baron Cohen, posing as an Israeli ‘anti-terror expert,’ introduces them to his fake ‘Kinderguardians’ program that purportedly ‘trains’ toddlers as young as three and four to shoot guns … To get their buy-in, he first goes to two right wing extremists and pro-gun activists, then takes those endorsements to the current and former lawmakers.”
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Four Decades After Court-Ordered Busing, Boston’s Education Gap Remains

The Boston Globe

“A computerized system that Boston uses to assign students to schools is exacerbating segregation among the city’s schools while locking out many black and Latino students from high-performing ones … The divide between those who have access to the best schools and those who don’t could not be more stark … The findings illustrate the negligible progress Boston has made in the four decades since court-ordered busing began in closing the gap in educational opportunities: The city’s historically white neighborhoods still have a disproportionate share of high-quality schools, while historically black neighborhoods … have fewer options, even though they have a higher density of students.”
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Share Of Federal Spending On Children Projected To Shrink, New Report Says

Education Week

“The share of federal spending that goes to programs and other benefits for children, including education funding, is expected to decline by more than 25% over the next decade … The recent decline in discretionary spending on education can be pinned at least in part on the Budget Control Act of 2011, which brought sequestration and new caps on federal spending. From 2008 to 2017, federal education spending dipped by 9% … Spending on education and early education, are already a miniscule share of gross domestic product, clocking in at 0.22% and .08% respectively, and both are expected to decline over the next decade.”
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Teachers Join Progressives As Partners “In A Revolution”

Conservatives may believe they accomplished what they’ve endeavored to do for decades with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v AFSCME, which undermined the ability of public-sector unions to raise funds from workers, but they may have also unintentionally unified progressive Democrats with teachers’ unions as never before to form a more powerful grassroots movement.

That unification is certainly the image conveyed by the annual conventions of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers that both took place in July. Union leaders at both events made strong speeches denouncing President Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, vowing to thrive despite Janus, and pledging to harness the energy of the #RedForEd movement that sent teachers out into the streets to protest in state after state across the nation this spring.

The unions also hailed the unprecedented number of teachers running for elected office this November, including a former national teacher of the year.

Partners in a Revolution

At the AFT meeting, the two former rivals for the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential nomination – former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and current U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont – joined union President Randi Weingarten on stage – although not together. All three hailed teachers as partners in a “revolution.”

Clinton, in her speech, placed the union firmly in an “unprecedented outpouring of grassroots activism” for the broad progressive agenda for affordable healthcare, immigrant and refugee students, LGBT rights, and gun safety measures. With a reference to the “wrongly decided” Janus decision, Clinton declared, “Teachers’ unions aren’t going anywhere.”

In his address to the AFT, Sanders placed teachers in the “political revolution” that served as the theme of his political campaign. He called the Janus decision “disastrous” but said it may have “unintended consequences” and become “a big surprise … that helps us rebuild the trade union movement in America.”

Backlash to Janus

Indeed, political and labor journalists have reported that an anti-union decision for Janus could throw employment policies into chaos by opening a Pandora’s box of countersuits from labor groups and a ratcheting up of labor militancy.

Already, there are signs of a powerful union counteroffensive to the Janus decision.

In New York, teachers are going door to door to encourage “fee-payers,” those teachers and school staff who had declined to join the union but were still obligated to pay union fees pre-Janus, to pledge to “recommit” to the union. The campaign thus far has resulted in the American Federation of Teachers and its state affiliates obtaining recommitment pledges from some 500,000 members in 18 states over the past five months, according to the New York Times.

In California, “unions have been preparing for Janus for several years,” reports Capital & Main. Prior to the court’s decision, teachers’ union members voted in favor of raising dues, and the unions conducted outreach to fee-payers to cut their numbers in half.

Public sector unions are engaged in a “Conversations and Cards” campaign to get fee-payers to sign recommitments, an effort modeled after a successful campaign by the United Domestic Workers of America health care workers.

Organized labor’s response to Janus “might represent a paradigm shift that could transform public-sector organizing,” says the C&M reporter. “California has already erupted in a virtual fever of union organizing and membership-building unseen since the public-sector labor movement’s formative heyday in the 1960s and ‘70s.”

“We’ve already had close to 100 percent of our members recommit,” says the president of the Boston teachers’ union. The Illinois state teachers’ union claims to have recommitment cards from 90 percent of its members, the Minnesota teachers union claims to have gotten its number of fee-payers down to only 5 percent of members, and the Pennsylvania teachers union reports its number of recommitments is 30 percent so far.

In legislative action, labor organizing has helped push through new measures in state legislatures to protect unions, including bills in California that improve union access and communications to employees, a Maryland bill requiring new teachers to meet with a union representative, a New Jersey bill that gives unions a broad range of new protections, and in New York a new bill expressly written to counter the Janus ruling and an executive order from the governor to protect public unions from union opt-out campaigns.

‘A Crisis for America’

Conservatives of course are not resting on their laurels after Janus.

As The New York Times reports, The Mackinac Center – a Michigan-based rightwing advocacy group funded by an array of conservative foundations, including those linked to the Koch Brothers and the DeVos and Bradley families – “is planning to spend $10 million this year and $40 million to $50 million over the next two or three years on a ‘national awareness campaign’” to convince current union fee-payers and members to opt out of their unions

The organization’s “My Pay, My Say” campaign funds a national call center, with round-the-clock 20 paid staff, canvasses, and literature campaigns across the country.

Mackinac’s pressure campaign is linked to an even broader effort by the State Policy Network – another rightwing creation of state-based advocacy groups funded by the same web of extremist billionaires – “to persuade public-sector trade union members to tear up their membership cards and stop paying dues,” The Guardian reports.

“The secret push, the group hopes, could cost unions up to a fifth of their 7 million members, lead to the loss of millions of dollars in income and undermine a cornerstone of US progressive politics,” says the reporter.

The unions’ strong counteroffensive to the post- Janus campaigns by conservatives may have been expected, but the full-throated support from Democrats that teachers’ unions are getting was never a sure thing and may be yet another consequence of Janus that conservatives may not have not considered.

Indeed, conservatives may have convinced Democrats that teachers are front-and-center in the fight for the party to regain its representation in government.

In her address to the AFT, Clinton told teachers, “Every American has a stake in what you do … whether they realize it or not.” She implored teachers to reach out to others in the progressive movement and convince them that unions aren’t just about helping workers but uplifting communities.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who also spoke at the AFT event, declared, “This is a time of crisis, and a crisis for America’s teachers is a crisis for America.” In her powerful rallying cry, she implored teachers to join other progressives in “raising our voices for democracy” and “organize like we’ve never organized before.”

(Photo credit: American Federation of Teachers, Facebook.)

7/12/2018 – Kavanaugh Would Advance Betsy DeVos’s Religious Agenda For Schools

THIS WEEK: Sad Schools For Migrant Kids … Labor Organizing Post Janus … Suspensions Hurt Students … GOP Nixes Gun Research … Koch Campus Speech

TOP STORY

Kavanaugh Would Advance Betsy DeVos’s Religious Agenda For Schools

By Jeff Bryant

“President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court … would surely support a legal pathway to what DeVos wants … Kavanaugh’s support of the DeVos agenda for school vouchers and religious education … Should Kavanaugh be confirmed, which is what is expected, DeVos is far more apt to have a Supreme Court that agrees with her.”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

Here’s What School Is Really Like For Some Migrant Children Separated From Their Parents

HuffPost

“Serious challenges, including a lack of experienced teachers, may be undermining the federal government’s efforts to educate undocumented children in its care … It’s not clear how much students are learning, and teachers sometimes serve more as babysitters than educators … Teachers are ‘really trying’ and ‘working hard,’ but they don’t have resources … ‘The kids barely learn anything; they’re watching number videos, listening to reggaetón, and coloring,'”
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Workers Must Get Radical To Fight Back Against Janus

The New York Times

Bryce Covert writes, “The Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v AFSCME … is a wound to the labor movement … Working Americans must now get radical to get heard. Even the lawyer representing the unions warned during oral arguments that when unions are denied agency fees, ‘they tend to become more militant, more confrontational’ … Corporate consolidation has meant Americans have little option but to accept whatever pay and benefits … Big employers force low-wage employees to sign agreements that bar them from working for competitors … Workers will have to reconstruct this countervailing power and find new ways to build solidarity. We’re going to have to get bold again.”
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Do Suspensions Lead To Higher Dropout Rates And Other Academic Problems? In New York City, The Answer Could Be Yes

Chalkbeat

“Do suspensions themselves cause … negative outcomes, or are the factors that led to the suspension in the first place the real culprit? … New research focusing on New York City … suggests that suspensions really do contribute to students passing fewer classes, increasing their risk of dropping out, and lowering the odds of graduating … Suspensions … contributed to a 3% reduction in passing math classes and 4% for English classes. A suspension was also linked to a 2% increase in the likelihood of dropping out the following semester.”
Read more …

House GOP Appropriators Block Funding For Gun Violence Research

Politico

“House Republican appropriators … rejected a proposal to designate millions of dollars for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for gun violence research, voting 32-20 to keep the language out of a fiscal 2019 spending bill. The party-line vote marked Democrats’ latest failed bid to spur studies into preventing firearm-related injuries and deaths … The agency’s ability to study gun violence had been limited by a 1996 provision that prevented the CDC from collecting data to advocate for gun control.”
Read more …

The Dark Money Behind Campus Speech Wars

The Nation

“In May, a new nonprofit group called Speech First sued the University of Michigan in federal court over its speech code, which it claims has a ‘chilling effect’ on young Trump supporters.… Speech First looks like … a highly professional astro-turfing campaign, with a board of former Bush administration lawyers and longtime affiliates of the Koch family. The group is new to the campus culture wars: It incorporated in December and launched in February. But it has already received endorsements from the Department of Justice … No students were involved in founding the group … Its $5 lifetime membership dues … make up a ‘negligible part’ of its funding, which mainly comes from undisclosed backers … The board’s center of gravity is George Mason University, a DC-area school recently revealed to have given the Kochs some sway over academic appointments in departments they funded.”
Read more …

Kavanaugh Would Advance Betsy DeVos’s Religious Agenda For Schools

Immediately after Betsy DeVos took over as US Secretary of Education, numerous education policy experts expressed doubts she’d have much success in enacting her well-documented agenda to impose her brand of Christian religion on public schools and direct more public money to private religious schools. President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, however, is yet another indicator that DeVos’s detractors were wrong, as he would surely support a legal pathway to what DeVos wants.

“In private practice, Kavanaugh backed the government when it sought to support religious interests and challenged schools when they attempted to exclude religious groups,” the Washington Post reports, citing his defense of student-led prayers at high school football games and a religious school club from being barred by school administrators.

In tracing a potential legal pathway from taxpayer money for school prayer and religious clubs to “more sweeping voucher programs,” the Post reporter points to a narrow ruling from the court last year, in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer, that said denying a church-affiliated preschool from receiving a general public benefit, in this case funding for playground resurfacing, violates constitutional protections for the free exercise of religion.

But Kavanaugh’s support of the DeVos agenda for school vouchers and religious education goes way beyond that narrow ruling, and it relies on a bizarre, but long-held view of conservative jurists.

Kavanaugh’s Ties to Voucher Proponents

As the son of a public-school teacher and a volunteer tutor of students in Washington, DC, the Kavanaugh narrative may come across as friendly to public schools, but Kavanaugh was raised in elite private schools and has nothing in his record that would indicate a strong support for public education.

His history of legally undermining the separation of church and state is a fact not in dispute. In his work with the Federalist Society – the rightwing project that has largely engineered today’s high court and compiled the list of potential nominees for Trump – Kavanaugh has led its “School Choice Practice Group” and “Religious Liberties Group.” These groups help the Federalist Society craft its legal arguments on the unconstitutionality of excluding religious options from school choice programs.

Among the primary targets for these groups is to repeal amendments in 39 state constitutions that prohibit direct government aid to educational institutions that have a religious affiliation. This argument already has the Supreme Court’s partial consent, given its ruling last year that ordered a New Mexico Supreme Court to reconsider a decision barring religious schools from a state textbook lending program.

Kavanaugh also has a history of supporting school vouchers that allow parents to use public taxdollars to pay tuition for private, religious schools. In 2000, he represented then Florida Governor Jeb Bush to push through the state’s first school voucher program, which was eventually struck down by the Florida Supreme Court in a 2006 decision.

But just as Kavanaugh and his conservative colleagues were being stymied in state courts, they were blazing a legal pathway for federal support of school vouchers.

Religious Is ‘Secular’

In an appearance on CNN in 2000, Politico reports, Kavanaugh “predicted … that school vouchers would one day be upheld by the Court.”

His comment was in reference to a Supreme Court ruling that year, Mitchell v. Helms, which challenged a federal program that provided all schools, both public and private, with instructional materials and equipment, including computers and film projectors. The split decision to uphold the program was extremely narrow, with some judges tipping the scale in favor deciding that the federal government can provide secular aid to any institution as long as the aid was used strictly for secular activities – presumably, using computers, even when they are helping to operate a religious program, and running film projectors, even when they are showing religious movies.

Defining education-related activities as essentially “secular” provided conservative jurists a huge loophole to use in later rulings to advance religion in public education.

Another narrow decision by the Court in 2002, Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, upheld an Ohio program that gave school vouchers to low-income families even if they used the vouchers to send their children to private, religious schools. In that ruling, the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist argued that in this instance government support for private religious schools was “religiously neutral” because the program was based on the economic means of the student and on the geographic location of the family. The fact vouchers were restricted to low-income children in the district made them “secular.”

“The Ohio [voucher] program is entirely neutral with respect to religion,” Rehnquist argued. “It provides benefits directly to a wide spectrum of individuals, defined only by financial need and residence in a particular school district. It permits such individuals to exercise genuine choice among options public and private, secular and religious. The program is therefore a program of true private choice.”

While Rehnquist was arguing that private funding for religious schools could be religiously neutral and subject to private choice, he was also asserting in other cases that institutional support for religious advocacy in public schools was also a private, neutral activity and thus allowable under the Constitution.

Education Is ‘Neutral’

in a paper for the American Enterprise Institute, Kavanaugh praises Rehnquist’s reasoning.

Among the cases where Kavanaugh took Rehnquist’s side, Lee v. Weisman and Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, court majorities ruled there was clear evidence that when the assets and staff of a school are behind organized prayer activities, then schools are overstepping their boundaries and using public funds to promote religion. Rehnquist sided with the dissent in each case, according to Kavanaugh, arguing against a “strict wall of separation between church and state” and against court precedents that “cordon off public schools from state-sponsored religious prayer.”

Kavanaugh praises Rehnquist for having “had much more success in ensuring that religious schools and religious institutions could participate as equals in society and in state benefits programs, receiving funding or benefits from the state so long as the funding was pursuant to a neutral program.”

Kavanaugh’s argument that religious expression in education settings is somehow neutral occurs again in in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute last year. According to a report by the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Kavanaugh argued that “’religious schools and religious institutions’ should be able to ‘receiv[e] funding or benefits from the state so long as the funding [i]s pursuant to a neutral program that, among other things, include[s] religious and nonreligious institutions alike.’”

Given this line of reasoning, Kavanaugh might agree that a program funding textbooks in schools would be “neutral,” even if the textbooks used in the religious schools taught a version of history that says “the majority of slave holders treated their slaves well” or a version of science that says humans and dinosaurs lived together.

What DeVos Wants

Certainly, the fundamental principle that public money should not be used to advocate religious beliefs in a public school is already at risk.

There are voucher programs in 15 states and the District of Columbia that allow parents to use taxpayer money to pay for tuition at private, religious schools, according to a report by the Network for Public Education. Other states have created school tax credit programs and education savings account programs that are voucher-like but set up differently to deliberately get around the issue of state funding going directly to religious schools.

Each of those programs has been approved along very narrow lines either on the basis of what is allowed in state constitutions, or similar to legal precedent established by the Supreme Court.

But the slippery slope conservatives have been plotting for decades leads inexorably to what Secretary DeVos wants.

In her advocacy for education reform as a way to “advance God’s kingdom,” DeVos envisions a greater presence for religion – the Christian religion – in public schools.

In her advocacy for school vouchers, DeVos compares education to a consumer good – a commodity that is neutral – and a matter determined strictly by “parent choice” and not public governance, even when the public has to pay for it.

Should Kavanaugh be confirmed, which is what is expected, DeVos is far more apt to have a Supreme Court that agrees with her.

(Photo credit: Concit, http://concit.org/separation-of-church-and-state-is-biblical/)

7/5/2018 – After An ‘Educator Spring,’ Teachers Storm Elections

THIS WEEK: Educator Spring … Trump Hates Affirmative Action … Robo-Grading Writing? … Southerners Support Edu Spending … Schools Have Changed

TOP STORY

After An ‘Educator Spring,’ Teachers Storm Elections

By Jeff Bryant

“As an outcome of the wave of teacher walkouts and protests that swept through West Virginia, Oklahoma, and elsewhere – a chain of events increasingly referred to as an “Educator Spring” – “angry educators are flooding down-ballot races,” Politico reports … By taking their cause to the streets and then to the ballot box, teachers have made education a top election issue – not just in states, like North Carolina, where walkouts occurred – but also in states, like Florida, where they didn’t. It’s an electoral phenomenon that is little understood, much less reported on..”
Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

‘Educator Spring’ Spawns Wave Of Teacher Candidates

Politico

“Angry educators are flooding down-ballot races in the wake of recent red-state teacher strikes, accelerating the Democratic Party’s rebuilding process at the statehouse level and raising the prospect of legislative gains after years of decline … The teacher candidacies suggest that the wave of teacher strikes and protests that began last winter in West Virginia and later spread to Oklahoma, Arizona, and elsewhere created a grass-roots political opportunity … The teacher candidates are hoping to unseat conservative majorities that have dominated state legislatures since the Obama years … There are some early signs of success, and not just among Democrats. ”
Read more …

What Trump’s Plan To Ignore Race In School Admissions Actually Means For Students

Mother Jones

“The Education and Justice departments pulled seven Obama-era guidances that laid out how schools could voluntarily promote diversity through admissions and school assignment. In addition to those guidances, the Justice Department pulled 17 other policy directives it deemed ‘unnecessary, outdated, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper’ … ‘To remove the guidances now can only be described as a political attack on efforts to bring communities together and as a policy of separation and division.'”
Read more …

More States Opting To ‘Robo-Grade’ Student Essays By Computer

NPR

“Computers are scoring long form answers … Developers of so-called ‘robo-graders’ … insist, with computers already doing jobs as complicated and as fraught as driving cars, detecting cancer, and carrying on conversations, they can certainly handle grading students’ essays … Several states including Utah and Ohio already use automated grading on their standardized tests … Longtime-critic of automated scoring, Les Perelman … designed what you might think of as robo-graders’ kryptonite, to expose what he sees as the weakness and absurdity of automated scoring … Because computers can only count, and cannot actually understand meaning, he says, facts are irrelevant to the algorithm … Students … will quickly learn they can fool the algorithm by using lots of big words, complex sentences, and some key phrases.”
Read more …

Poll Finds Southern Voters Want More Education Spending

The Hechinger Report

“The majority of voters in 12 Southern states … said states need to adjust funding to improve outcomes in these states … 74% of voters … said there are differences in the quality of education across the South, and 85% of voters said states need to take action to remedy that. According to 84% of voters, the remedy should involve changing school funding formulas to close the achievement gap between wealthy and low-income communities … The majority of the voters polled supported state and local tax increases … Even more voters said their state should ‘shift resources from other areas into education.’ Improving K-12 schools and higher education was a top concern for voters, after the economy and jobs.”
Read more …

Century-Old Decisions That Impact Children Every Day

NPR

“One of the most contentious issues in education today is how much our schools have, or haven’t, kept up with the times … Everything from the dimensions of a room to the height and placement of windows can make certain kinds of learning easier or harder … That standardization, and the image of American schools … is a drum often beaten by critics … The tale … leaves out an entire epoch of school buildings, inspired by the progressivism of John Dewey … These schools were part of a movement to give more autonomy to children.”
Read more …

After An ‘Educator Spring,’ Teachers Storm Elections

Progressives are seeing the stunning upset victory by first-time congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s over a prominent incumbent candidate in New York as a sign of a wave of change coming in the midterm elections, but a perhaps bigger, clearer sign of change is the groundswell of educators entering political contests.

As an outcome of the wave of teacher walkouts and protests that swept through West Virginia, Oklahoma, and elsewhere – a chain of events increasingly referred to as an “Educator Spring” – “angry educators are flooding down-ballot races,” Politico reports.

The numbers are staggering, with nearly 300 candidates coming from just the American Federation of Teachers union alone. Many of them are winning, and not just in the Democratic party.

By taking their cause to the streets and then to the ballot box, teachers have made education a top election issue – not just in states, like North Carolina, where walkouts occurred – but also in states, like Florida, where they didn’t.

It’s an electoral phenomenon that is little understood, much less reported on.

An Angry Wave of Teachers

The specific issues teachers call attention to vary from state to state, district to district, and even school to school.

In West Virginia, poor teacher pay and the state’s dysfunctional employee health insurance program brought teachers to the state capital. In Kentucky, the triggers were unpopular revisions to public employee pensions and the general lack of funding. In Arizona, teachers objected to years of under-funding while the state splurged on school vouchers and charter schools. In Oklahoma, teachers protested against low pay and the lack of a permanent way to increase school funding.

In North Carolina, the list of teacher grievances was long and varied – from unmanageable class sizes to inadequate funding to stressed out work schedules. But for the vast majority of teachers I spoke to at the rally in Raleigh, the economic trigger was the lack of funding across the board. Many believed fixing the funding was the top priority from which so many other issues could then be resolved.

The teachers’ actions brought to light to many who weren’t aware that education funding has not recovered from the Great Recession, and the majority of states fund schools less now than they did in 2008, and teacher salaries have been mostly flat or down since the 1990s.

But there was also a larger context that brought teachers out into the streets.

The Roots of Discontent

“Not since the battles over school desegregation has the debate about public education been so intense and polarized,” writes education reporter Michelle McNeil for Education Week.

Similarly, education journalist and author of The Teacher Wars Dana Goldstein notes that education matters that were once considered settled among policy wonks and Beltway think tanks are now points of strong contention. Her conclusion was that these differences represent a “deep divide” on school reform.

However, the comments from McNeil and Goldstein aren’t from this year. They’re from 2013.

Indeed, this year’s teacher actions arose from a deep well of long simmering discontent in the education community.

This was summed up best by North Carolina teacher Courtney Brown who told me teachers were out en masse because, “We hope people listen to us.”

It’s no secret that recent education policies from federal and state levels are generally mandated without the input of educators, especially rank and file teachers. Neither No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top had strong support of on-the-ground educators, and most policies in politically conservative states either disregard teachers or are downright hostile to them.

The latest example of the disconnect between education policy and the daily realities of teachers’ lives was made evident in reports of the failure of yet another “education reform.”

Recalling Barack Obama’s 2012 State of the Union declaring “bad teachers” as “the problem” behind stagnant learning outcomes, Matt Barnum reports that the idea of designing teacher evaluation systems to reward or penalize teachers based on how their students performed on standardized tests became all the rage after years of advocacy for these systems by rightwing think tanks and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Experienced educators warned this idea was completely unworkable and based on “junk science.” “Now,” Barnum reports, “new research … finds scant evidence that those changes accomplished what they were meant to: improve teacher quality or boost student learning.”

The billion dollar effort, with $575 million coming from Gates, was not only “wasteful” but “damaging,” Bloomberg reports.

Well, DUH, teachers everywhere are saying.

‘Stop. Help. I Can’t Deal with This.’

This disconnect between what a teacher’s-eye view of education sees and what policy makers decide is not new.

In 2015, during a hearing by the Committee on Health, Labor, Education and Pensions on the subject of “Fixing No Child Left Behind,” Rhode Island’s Senator Sheldon Whitehouse observed, “My experience in the education world is that there are really two worlds in it. One is the world of contracts and consultants and academics and experts and plenty of officials at the federal, state, and local level. And the other is a world of school principals and classroom teachers who are actually providing education to students. What I’m hearing from my principals’ and teachers’ world is that the footprint of that first world has become way too big in their lives to the point where it’s inhibiting their ability to do the jobs they’re entrusted to do.”

Whitehouse urged his colleagues, “We have to be very careful that the people who we really trust to do education – the people who are in the classroom – are not looking back at us and saying, ‘Stop. Help. I can’t deal with this.’”

In calling attention to their lousy pay and lack of job security; the aging, dilapidated buildings they work in; the crumbling, the outdated textbooks they give to students; the lack of basic supplies they must buy with their own money; the scarcity of school support staff including counselors, nurses, and librarians; the competition from charter schools and vouchers that siphon funding out of the system, and an education agenda that values testing students over educating them, teachers are pointing to the overwhelming reality on the ground that public schools and the basic right to an education are increasingly imperiled.

If political leaders don’t care about that, then it looks like there are teachers who will run against them and maybe kick their butts out of office.

(Photo credit: Flikr Creative Commons)