Education Opportunity Network

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The Big Lie Behind Trump’s Education Budget

Public school supporters are angry at President Trump’s budget proposal, which plans to cut funding to the Department of Education by 13 percent – taking that department’s outlay down to the level it was ten years ago. But the target for their anger should not be just the extent of the cuts but also how the cuts are being pitched to the public.

Trump’s education budget cuts are aimed principally at federal programs that serve poor kids, especially their access to afterschool programs and high-quality teachers.

At the same time, Trump’s spending blueprint calls for pouring $1.4 billion into school choice policies including a $168 million increase for charter schools, $250 million for a new school choice program focused on private schools, and a $1 billion increase for parents to send their kids to private schools at taxpayer expense.

The way the Trump administration is spinning this combination of funding cuts and increases – and the way nearly every news outlet is reporting them – is that there is some sort of strategically important balance between funding programs for poor kids versus “school choice” schemes, as if the two are equivalents and just different means to the same ends. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A False Equivalency

Shortly after Trump unveiled the plan, his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos was quick to echo the false equivalency.

“The president promised to invest in our underserved communities and our increased investment in choice programs will do just that,” she is quoted in a report for U.S. News & World Report.

Another ardent proponent of vouchers and charter schools, Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform, praised the plan, calling it “a significant step forward” for “the needs of children and families instead of programs and districts.”

The message being spun out of Trump’s education budget is that it takes money away from those awful “adult interests” – like, you know, teachers to actually teach the students and buildings so students have somewhere to go after school to play sports, get tutored, or engage in music and art projects – in order to steer money to “the kids” who will get a meager sum of money to search for learning opportunities in an education system that is increasingly bereft of teachers and buildings.

Even competent education reporters are falling for this spin, writing that education policy is experiencing a “sea change in focus from fixing the failing schools to helping the students in the failing schools.”

However, there’s evidence that federally funded efforts like afterschool programs and class size reduction tend to lead to better academic results for low-income children, while the case for using school choice programs to address the education needs of poor kids is pretty weak.

The Weak Case For Choice

School voucher programs, like the ones Trump and DeVos seem intent on funding, are particularly ineffective ways to address the education problems of poor kids. Indeed, these programs seem to not serve the interests of poor kids at all.

Studies of voucher programs In Wisconsin, Indiana, Arizona, and Nevada have found that most of the money from the programs goes to parents wealthy enough to already have their children enrolled in private schools.

Voucher programs rarely provide enough money to enable poor minority children to get access to the best private schools. And a new comprehensive study of vouchers finds evidence that vouchers don’t significantly improve student achievement. What they do pose is greater likelihood that students who are the most costly and difficult to educate – low-income kids and children with special needs – will be turned away or pushed out by private schools that are not obligated to serve all students.

Charter schools, another program the Trump budget wants to ramp up funding for, also don’t have a great track record for improving the education attainment of low-income students.

Perhaps the best case made for using charter schools to target the needs of low-income students comes from a study on the impact of charters in urban school systems conducted by research outfit CREDO in 2015. The study indeed found evidence of some positive impact of charters in these communities. But as my colleague at The Progressive Julian Vasquez Heilig points out, the measures of improvement, in standard deviations, are .008 for Latino students and .05 for African American students in charter schools.

“These numbers are larger than zero,” Heilig writes on his personal blog, “but you need a magnifying glass to see them. Contrast that outcome with policies such as pre-K and class size reduction which are far more unequivocal measures of success than charter schools. They have 400 percent to 1000 percent more statistical impact than charters.”

Indeed, choice programs in all their forms, at least in how they are being promoted by the Trump administration and its supporters, seem more interested in diverting money away from public schools than they are intent on delivering some sort of education relief to the struggles of poor families.

Direct Harm To Teachers And Students

In the meantime, the negative, direct impact of Trump’s proposed budget cuts on students, especially those living in low-income communities, will be all too real.

In California, Trump’s proposed cuts to federal grants to hire and support more teachers would short the state $252 million at a time when the state is experiencing severe shortages in teachers.

Trump’s proposed cuts to afterschool programs in New Jersey would threaten the existence of these programs in 50 cites in some of the state’s most economically disadvantaged communities including Newark, Trenton, Paterson, and Union City.

The toll of Trump’s budget cuts on schools in South Florida would amount to $25 million in Broward County and $40 million in Miami-Dade. A program for teacher training would likely be eliminated, and afterschool programs in low-income communities could go away.

Politico interviewed state education leaders to learn the potential impact of Trump’s education budget and found concern across the political spectrum. Republican Oklahoma Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said cuts to federal grants for hiring and supporting teachers come at a time when the state is struggling to fill hundreds of teacher vacancies. And Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester worries about the loss of more than $15 million for afterschool programs.

An analysis by Think Progress, the advocacy center for the left-leaning Center for American Progress, looks at the impact of Trump’s proposed education cuts nationwide and tallies the impact of teacher grant program cuts and cuts to afterschool programs. “Trump’s budget would hinder every state’s ability to deliver critical services and resources to their K-12 students,” the analysis concludes, “impacting thousands of teachers and millions of students.”

The Long-Term Danger

While the direct, negative impact of Trump’s proposed budget cuts seems swift and certain, there is potentially a more long-term danger in perpetuating the myth that the budget trade-off of direct aid versus choice is a valid point of policy debate.

Telling the public that allocating education funding is a battle over whether to pay for direct programs for kids versus stoking the coffers of private schools and the charter school industry is not only disingenuous, it’s harmful to the most vulnerable students and families.

3/16/2017 – What Betsy DeVos Means When She Says ‘Public Schools’

THIS WEEK: Schools Are Falling Apart … Teachers Oppose Trump … Charter School Corruption … School Rankings Suck … College Student Poverty


What Betsy DeVos Means When She Says ‘Public Schools’

By Jeff Bryant

“Betsy DeVos once called public schools a ‘dead end,’ but now that she’s U.S. Secretary of Education, she’s suddenly all for them … Has DeVos had a sudden change of heart? That’s doubtful … What does DeVos mean by ‘public school?’ It turns out that’s becoming a squishy term … at least if school choice advocates have their way.”
Read more …


Public Schools’ Infrastructure Gets Near Failing Grade From Civil Engineers

Education Week

“The American Society of Civil Engineers gave public schools a D-plus in its report card on the nation’s infrastructure … A D grade means that buildings are in fair to poor condition, with many elements nearing the end of their useful life and showing significant deterioration … Nearly a quarter of permanent public school buildings were in fair or poor condition. In more than 30% of public school facilities, windows, plumbing, and HVAC systems were in ‘fair’ or ‘poor’ condition. 53% of public schools needed to make repairs, renovations, or upgrades to be in ‘good’ condition.”
Read more …

Teachers Will Be A Formidable Force Against Trump

The Nation

“Teachers are working to protect undocumented immigrant students, trans students, and any student whose chance at an equitable education is at risk … Educators are pressing for more decisive protections for … immigrant youth, many with refugee and undocumented family members … School districts … in Pittsburgh and several California cities [are] barring ICE agents altogether, without prior government permission.”
Read more …

An Alarming Study Links Fraud In The Enron Scandal To Similar Practices At Charter Schools

Business Insider

“The charter-school industry … is rife with the same types of fraud and mismanagement that led to the Enron collapse … Related-party transactions, or deals between entities that have preexisting relationships, in charter school relationships [have] the same types of activities that Enron executives participated in before the company collapsed … So-called gatekeepers, like the Department of Education and charter school authorizers, must do more to prevent this type of abuse.”
Read more …

A-F School Rankings Draw Local Pushback

Education Week

“As states overhaul their accountability systems under the new federal K-12 law, officials in some are pushing to replace or revamp A-F grading for schools … In some states that already have them, A-F systems have received fierce backlash from local superintendents and school board members. They complain that the letter grades oversimplify student success or shortfalls, increase pressure to pay attention to tests, ignore school quality factors other than test scores, and demoralize teachers and parents. Local officials in at least four states are using this year’s window of opportunity provided by the Every Student Succeeds Act to push back against A-F systems.”
Read more …

A Striking Number Of College Students Are Hungry And Homeless

The Atlantic

“Many more community-college students are homeless or lack food than previously reported … Around two-thirds are ‘food insecure,’ meaning they have limited or uncertain access to nutritionally adequate and safe foods. Around half of these students are also ‘housing insecure,’ meaning they are forced to move often or cannot afford rent or utilities. More striking still is the number of community-college students who are homeless: around 14 percent … Nearly a third of homeless students at community colleges rely on loans to finance their education … Another third of students who are food and/or housing insecure are employed and receive financial aid.”
Read more …

What Betsy DeVos Means When She Says ‘Public Schools’

Betsy DeVos once called public schools a “dead end,” but now that she’s U.S. Secretary of Education, she’s suddenly all for them.

At least that’s what she claims now.

During her nomination process, numerous reporters noted DeVos’s obvious bias against public schools. As education journalist Valerie Strauss reported on her blog at the Washington Post, DeVos “made some controversial statements” about public schools, “calling the traditional public education system a ‘dead end.’” Strauss noted DeVos had once said, “government truly sucks.”

But now she claims to be all for public schools, at least according to reports on her recent speech to a conference of big city school leaders. “I’ve said this before, and it bears repeating,” Education Week reports, “I support great public schools.”

Has DeVos had a sudden change of heart? That’s doubtful.

First, recall her first visit to a public school shortly after taking office. After her brief tour of Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington, DC, DeVos castigated teachers for being in “receive mode … waiting to be told what they have to do.”

So what does her claim of a new-found fondness for “great public schools” really mean?

What Does Devos Mean By ‘Great Public School?’

First set aside the squishy modifier “great.”

There is widespread disagreement on what a “great” school is and how you can tell a school deserves that modifier.

Many states that were coerced into imposing school rating systems to supposedly determine, in an objective way, the quality of schools are in the process of dumping those rating systems. Recently, Michigan, DeVos’s home state, got rid of its rating system.

So what does DeVos mean by “public school?”

It turns out that’s becoming a squishy term too, at least if school choice advocates have their way.

Are Private Schools Public?

As NC Policy Watch, a left-leaning group in North Carolina, reports, the Tar Heel state has been targeted by school choice pressure groups to re-define what it means to be a public school.

The effort, according to education reporter Billy Ball, is “geared toward rebranding for-profit virtual charters and private school recipients of taxpayer-backed vouchers as public schools.”

Ball points to out-of-state school choice proponent Public School Options as an instigator in a campaign to advocate the state’s controversial online charter school, operated by private for-profit company K12 Inc., that’s been “troubled by high dropout rates and flagging academic numbers in its first two years of operation.”

Ball writes, “Public school supporters say the new push … is a misleading new tactic that seems intended to reclassify for-profit virtual charters and private schools as public institutions.”

Similarly, the Florida school choice advocacy group RefinED contends that school vouchers, which allow parents to transfer students to private schools at taxpayer expense, make private schools part of the public school system. The group’s advocacy draws from recent think tank pieces and other sources to argue for “a new definition of public education, which is publicly funded and publicly accountable — and encompasses private schools.”

The intent here is to make you believe that private online schools and voucher funded schools are public schools just because they get public money.

Charter School Slippery Slope

Anyone who has been paying attention to the growth of the charter school industry could see this coming from a long way off.

For years, charter school advocates have insisted on calling their schools public schools.

But charter schools fail the test for what constitutes a truly public institution in many ways.

In a policy brief from the National Education Policy Center, “The Business of Charter Schooling: Understanding the Policies that Charter Operators Use for Financial Benefit,” Bruce Baker and Gary Miron detail how the very structure of the charter schools makes them very different from public schools.

Charters generally aren’t subject to the same disclosure laws as public officials. They can outsource school operations to private entities that can evade transparency laws for open meetings, public access to records, and financial disclosures. And charter organizations often claim exemptions to constitutional (and some statutory) protections that are customarily guaranteed to public school employees and students.

In my own report about charter operations in North Carolina, I find these schools regularly mask how their charitable dollars are spent and how much they profit from related real estate deals and education management firms. A law professor I interview argues that these schools are likely not in compliance with nonprofit law.

These important differences between charter schools and traditional public schools are not generally understood or appreciated by even the most knowledgeable people, which is why charter advocates put so much energy and resources in marketing their operations as “public” schools.

Now their argument is revealed as a slippery slope to claim any private operator can be a public school simply by getting public funds.

Parallel School Systems

None of the options school choice advocates promote – charter schools, voucher supported private schools, online schools operated by private companies – are part of a truly public school system.

They are instead, parallel school systems – each necessitating separate layers of bureaucracy and oversight and each siphoning money out of the taxpayer supported school system.

“When it comes to the education of a child,” DeVos said in her address to urban school leaders, “I am agnostic as to the delivery system, or the building in which it takes place. If a child is able to grow and flourish, it shouldn’t matter where they learn.”

That might sound like a really nice idea.

School choice proponents like DeVos often argue that all that matters is whether students who attend charters, online schools, and private academies do well on standardized tests and that parents are generally satisfied with these choices.

But this argument ignores the tax-paying public that deserves to know whether those outcomes are being achieved without wasting our public dollars, which more often than not, they probably are.

3/10/2017 – Yes, Schools Can Improve; Here’s How

THIS WEEK: Slashing School Spending … Governors Prioritize Funding … Suspensions Cost Billions … Labeling Students Failures … Beating DeVos


Yes, Schools Can Improve; Here’s How

By Jeff Bryant

“The policy agenda Obama set for the nation’s schools was never going to work … Similarly, voucher-funded, unbridled ‘school choice’ DeVos and Trump want is a false road too … Where both sides in the policy debate start is with the assumption that real progress can’t come from schools themselves but must be imposed from outside by folks who aren’t professional educators … What if that assumption is wrong? … Recently, I traveled to a school district to search for answers to that question.”
Read more …


Federal Budget Knife Could Slash Into K-12 Programs

Education Week

“President Donald Trump’s push to drastically reduce domestic spending as a way to boost defense spending could have a significant impact on programs at the U.S. Department of Education, where the biggest streams of funding go toward low-income students and those with special needs … The single biggest budget item included in that amount are Pell Grants for low-income students attending college … The biggest program by dollar amount at the department related to K-12 public schools is Title I, designated for disadvantaged students … It’s also unclear to what extent the Trump administration’s budget would push cuts to programs like Head Start, Preschool Development Grants, and the National School Lunch Program.”
Read more …

State Of The State Education Priorities


“The Education Commission of the States (ECS) released its annual summary of the top education priorities identified by 42 governors … The top priority for governors is school finance … Priorities included increasing overall funding, updating funding formulas, and improving infrastructure. Some governors focused on equity by proposing changes to the dispersal and utilization of state education dollars to improve opportunities for at-risk populations … Other top K-12 priorities included teacher issues such as recruiting, retaining, and better compensating teachers.’”
Read more …

Suspending Students Costs Billions in Economic Losses, New Study Finds

Education Week

“Researchers followed a single cohort of California 10th grade students through high school for three years and found that those who were suspended had only a 60 percent graduation rate … The result: An economic loss of $2.7 billion over the lifetime of that single cohort of dropouts who left school because they were suspended … Researchers said suspensions are still overused in California and that district leaders and educators must do more to further reduce them, especially for special education students, blacks, and Hispanics.”
Read more …

Students’ Worry: Education Technology Might Predict Failure Before They Have A Chance To Succeed

The Hechinger Report

“A high-tech program designed to predict which students are at risk of failure … will be used to label them before they have a chance to make their own impression on a teacher … They want their teachers to get to know them personally, not blindly usher them down a path set into motion by an algorithm … Students … worry that they often don’t get to see the data that is being kept on them, and that computers lack the ability to form human relationships needed to gather contextual information about their lives.”
Read more …

Betsy DeVos’s Education Agenda Can Be Overturned. This City Shows How.

The Nation

Philadelphia City Councilwoman Helen Gym writes, “In Philadelphia, we have learned a thing or two about beating back a top-down, anti-public school agenda. From our experiences, we’ve learned how to build a movement that will not only hold accountable people like Betsy DeVos but will also lift up a vision of vibrant public schools and restore them to the center of our civic life … While the challenges remain large, we’ve shown that the march of privatization and vouchers is far from inevitable.”
Read more …

Yes, Schools Can Improve; Here’s How

In its waning hours, the Obama administration gave conservatives poised to take the reins in Washington, DC a huge gift when it issued a highly negative report on the results of its efforts to rescue the 5,000 lowest performing public schools across the nation.

“Obama administration spent billions to fix failing schools, and it didn’t work,” reads the headline at the Washington Post, where education journalist Emma Brown writes, “One of the Obama administration’s signature efforts in education, which pumped billions of federal dollars into overhauling the nation’s worst schools, failed to produce meaningful results … Test scores, graduation rates, and college enrollment were no different in schools that received money.”

Conservatives are cashing in that gift as quickly as a winning lottery ticket, saying, as newly appointed US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos does in an op-ed for USA Today, that the Obama administration’s failure to boost typical school performance measures proves “throwing money at this problem” will not work.

“They tested their model, and it failed … miserably,” she told a roaring crowd at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference.

The model she and President Trump are expected to push through Congress will provide parents more “school choice,” likely via some sort of school voucher program, and ups the ante for what the federal government is willing to “throw” at the nation’s troubled schools to $20 billion.

Conservative news outlets happily use Obama’s education policy failure as a pivot to support the scheme DeVos and Trump are proposing.

In response, Obama supporters are fighting a rear-guard defense of his policies, cherry-picking data and digging for anecdotes to justify continuance of what his administration did.

If these two factions constitute the “sides” squaring off over federal education policy in the coming years, we’re in for a dreadful debate.

The truth is, the policy agenda Obama set for the nation’s schools was never going to work.

When his administration introduced its “Education Blueprint” in 2010, research experts warned the policies guiding the agenda were poorly grounded in research or not based on any objective studies, and Obama never made any meaningful course corrections as evidence of his wayward agenda mounted throughout his presidency.

Similarly, voucher-funded, unbridled “school choice” DeVos and Trump want is a false road too, and numerous studies have found they have negative effects on students’ academic achievement.

Faced with these two utterly misguided directions for education policy, some argue for a “centrist solution,” as if meeting in the middle of two bad ideas can somehow produce something good.

Where both sides in the policy debate start is with the assumption that real progress can’t come from schools themselves but must be imposed from outside by folks who aren’t professional educators. Both sides believe at their core that traditional school districts either ignore or actively resist innovation and that their processes are so ingrained they’re incapable of change.

What if that assumption is wrong? What if there are school districts that are bucking the “failure” narrative? What could our policy leaders and think tank “experts” learn from them?

Recently, I traveled to a school district to search for answers to those questions.

An Unlikely Success Story

At first glance, Long Beach Unified School District in California is an unlikely subject for a success story.

The school district is big – the third largest district in California, with 84 schools, 78,000 students, and nearly 3,300 teachers.

It’s student demographics resemble those of school districts that are regularly the lowest performing, with lots of racial, economic, cultural, and linguistic diversity. Only 13 percent of students are white, with the rest being mostly Hispanic (56 percent), African American (14 percent), and Asian (7 percent). Nearly 70 percent qualify for free and reduced price lunch, the most commonly used measure for low income. And 23 percent are English Language Learners with another 6.5 percent recently designated English proficient.

Yet in 2015, LBUSD posted high school graduation rates of 81 percent, after a third consecutive year of improvement. According to a local news reporter, “Students of color at Long Beach schools are outperforming their peers countywide and statewide.” She notes. “At several LBUSD high schools, students of color now outperform their white counterparts in terms of graduation rates.”

According to data compiled by the Los Angeles Times, Long Beach surpasses the rest of the state on key education measures such as daily average attendance rates, percent of high school graduates meeting state college level course requirements, and percent of non-white students taking Advanced Placement courses in high school.

A report from McKinsey & Company notes, LBUSD consistently increased its scores on the state’s school performance index, improving by 154 percent between 2004 and 2013, the last year the index was used before the state converted to Common Core State Standards.

In the first year Common Core-aligned exams were given in California, “Long Beach students performed nearly as well as the state average,” writes Lillian Mongeau for The Hechinger Report, despite the challenging demographics of the district. “Students from economically disadvantaged homes here performed slightly better than their economically disadvantaged peers statewide at nearly every tested grade level.”

The district boasts an impressive list of accolades on its website, as well.

Charters? What Charters?

Ask local school administrators and teachers about the LBUSD success story, and you’re not going to hear the same sort of rhetoric that fills the education debate on the national stage.

While LBUSD is a “district of choice,” meaning parents can request to transfer their children to any of the district’s schools, most families stick with their local school. As the LA Times article cited above reports, 75 percent of parents in elementary schools have their children attend their assigned school. That attendance preference drops somewhat in middle school to 62 percent and to 53 percent in high school.

And charter schools? There are only two in the district, and enrollment in charters has dropped from over 1,300 in 2011 to just 174 last school year, according to state records.

Because California adopted the Common Core, LBUSD uses the standards as well, but teachers I met showed little evidence they saw themselves as laboring under onerous standards. In virtually every interaction I had with teachers, the day-to-day work with students and their responses to the students’ interests and needs, rather than adherence to standards, was foremost in the conversation.

Also in Long Beach, student performance is frequently assessed at classroom, district, and state levels, but test scores are never used to rank schools and evaluate teachers, as Obama’s Education Department prescribed.

“The Long Beach Way”

Educators I met up and down the ranks of LBUSD refer to “The Long Beach Way” as a culture of continuous improvement that begins with a respect for teachers and a belief that internal accountability – rather than top-down mandates – is what drives meaningful change.

The Long Beach Way, I learned, is a relentless devotion to the process of “doing school” that puts the essentials of good education – curriculum and instruction and an intense devotion to the well-being of students – at the heart of the work rather than technocratic changes meant to solve problems quickly or disrupt the system.

And while the district has certain “non-negotiables,” real progress is expected to come from the bottom up through collaboration and team work rather than demands and compliance.

So how did Long Beach get here?

When I posed that question to former California State Superintendent Bill Honig, who encouraged me to come see these schools, he replied, “Long Beach could do it because it has a long history of people who put curriculum and instruction first and who were willing to put into place the supports for that.”

Honig maintains that any school district can do this. “But you have to have the clear belief to keep curriculum and instruction first. And you have to have a systems approach that resists simple solutions like firing all the teachers. Lots of folks new to education, especially those with a business background, don’t have that point of view.”

What does that point of view look like in practice? In the coming weeks, I’ll explore that question and look at how these practices are grounded in research and expertise, where else they bubble up in school districts around the country, and how they can be supported and advanced as an alternative to the sorry excuse for an education policy discussion we see playing out at the national level.

I hope you’ll join me.

3/2/2017 – Trump’s ‘School Choice’ Plan: Religious Fundamentalism At Taxpayer Expense

THIS WEEK: DeVos Blows HBCU Moment … Online Schools Suck … State Of ELL Education … Diversity Hits Suburbs … Vouchers ‘False Road’


Trump’s ‘School Choice’ Plan: Religious Fundamentalism At Taxpayer Expense

By Jeff Bryant

“In his recent address to Congress … Trump called out a guest of his in the audience, Denisha Merriweather, who … with the help of a tax credit scholarship program … is the first in her family to graduate, not just from high school, but from college … The school Merriweather attended through the school choice program Trump champions … describes its education program as a ‘spiritual emphasis and biblical [sic] view.'”
Read more …


Betsy Devos Applauds Historically Segregated Schools As ‘Pioneers Of School Choice’

Think Progress

“Following President Trump’s meeting with leaders of Historically Black Colleges and Universities on Monday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released a statement applauding the schools as “real pioneers when it comes to school choice … Lauding HBCUs as “real pioneers when it comes to school choice” overlooks the fact that they were historically the only options available to black students denied entry to traditionally white institutions.”
Read more …

DeVos Praises Virtual Schools, But New Research Points To Problems

The Hechinger Report

“An important study … reveals that online-only schools tend to attract and harm the most vulnerable students … Ohio students with low test scores who enroll in online-only schools tend to fall even further behind. High-performing students fare better, but they still do worse than they would have done if they had not enrolled in a virtual school.’”
Read more …

English Language Learners: How Your State Is Doing


“About 1 out of every 10 public school students in the United States right now is learning to speak English … There are nearly 5 million of them, and educating them – in English and all the other subjects and skills they’ll need – is one of the biggest challenges in U.S. public education today … The vast majority – some 3.8 million ELL students – speak Spanish. But there are lots of other languages too, including Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), Arabic and Vietnamese. Most ELLs were born in the United States, and are U.S. citizens.”
Read more …

The Nonwhite Student Behind the White Picket Fence

The Atlantic

“Suburbs … are going through a metamorphosis, shedding the cocoon of highly educated affluence for a new identity that is browner, poorer, and far more ethnically diverse … The white population declined and the Hispanic population rose in cities as well, but the change seen in the suburbs was sharper … The number of people living in poverty in the suburbs also exceeds that in urban areas.”
Read more …

School Vouchers Are A “False Road,” And There’s Data To Prove It

The Progressive

Jeff Bryant writes, “A report … warns that the push toward vouchers and toward making public schools compete for funding is being driven by ideological preferences rather than evidence that competition and choice actually work … Negative impacts include the propensity of voucher programs to increase racial segregation and their potential to flood the teacher workforce with practitioners who have less training and experience and don’t plan on making teaching a permanent career … They divert resources and energy from more helpful programs, including high quality early childhood education, increased education funding, and teacher professional development focused on delivering better instruction.”
Read more …

Trump’s ‘School Choice’ Plan: Religious Fundamentalism At Taxpayer Expense


President Donald Trump is being praised for a change in tone in his recent address to Congress, but his belligerent attitude toward public education hasn’t changed a bit.

While it’s true he stopped short of repeating his claims that public schools are “broken” and a “government monopoly,” what Trump chose to highlight in his remarks about public schools was a story about a student who left them.

During his education remarks, Trump called out a guest of his in the audience, Denisha Merriweather, who, he says, “struggled in school and failed third grade twice. But then she was able to enroll in a private center for learning, with the help of a tax credit scholarship program. Today, she is the first in her family to graduate, not just from high school, but from college. Later this year she will get her masters degree in social work.”

Education writers were quick to jump on Trump’s shout-out to speculate that an education tax-credit proposal, like the one Merriweather took advantage of in Florida, would be just the sort of plan Trump would try to push through Congress.

“One of the easiest ways Trump could make good on his promise to expand [school choice],” writes Emma Brown for the Washington Post, “is to create a federal tax credit that incentivizes corporations to donate to state programs such as Florida’s. Such a credit could be embedded in a broader tax code overhaul that would need a simple majority in Congress to pass.”

Brown’s report tells you something about how these tax-credit programs work – they give individuals and corporations tax breaks when they donate to nonprofits which then distribute the money in the form of scholarships to private schools. But she doesn’t describe the school Merriweather transferred to and what type of education the public’s money ultimately paid for.

Some would ask, “Does it matter what kind of school Merriweather attended?” True, Merriweather’s story is admirable, and she should be commended for her accomplishments.

But whenever public money is involved, the interests of the common good, not just the fortunes of a single person, must be considered. And while Merriweather certainly benefited from an education tax-credit program, it would be dangerous to project her success story into a public policy intended for all children nationwide.

Poster Person For Privatization?

First, it should be noted this is hardly the first time Merriweather’s story has been used to tout tax-credit scholarship programs.

Merriweather is not simply an industrious student. She’s also a frequent contributor and presenter for Step Up For Students, the state-approved nonprofit in Florida that helps administer the education tax-credit program she benefitted from. According to her profile at the Step Up website, she has been featured prominently in this organization’s communications outreach since 2008. Although she isn’t listed as staff of Step Up, she has been employed as an intern.

Over the past three years, Merriweather has had the opportunity to tell her story in numerous media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, The Hill, the Tampa Bay Times, and The 74 (a pro school choice media site funded by charter school and voucher advocates such as the Walton Family Foundation and the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation). She’s also been the subject of pro school choice profiles in politically conservative news outlets. And after Merriweather was highlighted at Trump’s speech, she was interviewed by Fox News.

None of this is to take away from the sincerity of Merriweather’s writing or the validity of her lived experience. But it needs to be noted that few public school students have had such prominent venues to repeatedly tell their success stories.

Further, the school Merriweather attended through the school choice program Trump champions is no ordinary school.

Religious Fundamentalism At Taxpayer Expense

The private school Merriweather attended and graduated from is the Esprit De Corps Center for Learning in Jacksonville which she has described in testimony she gave last year to a U.S. House Committee as “a church based school, a church that I actually attended.”

According to the Esprit de Corps website, the “vision for the school was birthed from the mind of God in the heart of Dr. Jeannette C. Holmes-Vann, the Pastor and Founder of Hope Chapel Ministries, Inc.” The education philosophy guiding the school is based on “a return to a traditional educational model founded on Christian principles and values. In accordance with this vision, each component of the school was purposefully selected and designed.”

A significant “component” of the Esprit de Corps school is its adherence to a fundamentalist Christian curriculum. Its official listing in a Jacksonville directory of private schools describes its education program as a “spiritual emphasis and biblical [sic] view, which permeates the A-Beka curriculum.”

“A Beka is one of the most widely used K-12 curriculum series for home schooling and private Christian schools,” Rachel Tabachnick explains to me in an email. “This includes many private schools receiving public dollars through voucher and tax-credit programs.”

Tabachnick has collected textbooks used by voucher and corporate tax-credit schools for over ten years, including curriculum from A Beka Book and Bob Jones University Press.

In an investigative article for Alternet in 2011, Tabachnick writes, “Throughout the K-12 curriculum, A Beka consistently presents the Bible as literal history and science. This includes teaching young earth creationism and demeaning other religions and other Christian faiths including Roman Catholicism.”

An A Beka history text she reviews teaches that “socialist propaganda” exaggerated the Great Depression “so that Franklin Delano Roosevelt could pass New Deal legislation” and that the Vietnam War “divided the country into the ‘hawks who supported the fight against Communism, and doves, who were soft on Communism.'”

Tabachnick quotes a fourth-grade A Beka text that celebrates President Ronald Reagan’s presidency under a banner of “A Return to Patriotism and Family Values.” In describing President Bill Clinton’s administration, an A Beka high school history text calls First Lady Hilary Clinton’s effort to overhaul health care a “plan for socialized medicine” and describes Vice President Al Gore as “known for his radical environmentalism.”

Christ Is History, Africans Are Inferior

In her emails to me, Tabachnick shares excerpts from a newer edition of A Beka’s textbook on “History and Civil Government” that teaches, “The first advent of Jesus Christ to earth – His incarnation, birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension – is the focal point of history. History began with God and His act of Creation. It climaxed with God’s act of redemption.” (emphasis original)

In the current edition of A Beka’s 10th grade history text “World History and Cultures in Christian Perspective” Tabachnick shares with me, “modern liberalism” is described as “the desire to be free from absolute standards and morals, especially the Scriptures.”

From this text, high school students like Denisha Merriweather learn, “The beginning of the 20th century witnessed a cultural breakdown that threatened to destroy the very roots of Western civilization. The cause of this dissolution was the idea or philosophy known as liberalism.” (emphasis original)

The curriculum used by Esprit de Corps also taught Merriweather and her African American classmates about the innate inferiority of the African continent and its people.

“The textbooks teach the narrative that the people of African nations descended from Noah’s son Ham and that Ham’s descendant Nimrod led the rebellion against God by building the Tower of Babel,” Tabachnick tells me. This Biblically supported lesson is often referred to as “the curse of Ham,” which has historically been a primary justification for slavery among Southern Christians, according to numerous sources.

In the A Beka text “History and Civil Government,” Adam and Eve are referred to as “the parents of humanity” and racial variations in human kind are described as the result of “recessive traits” due to “(1) a rapidly changing environment, (2) a small population, (3) and extensive inbreeding.”

“Current A Beka texts also falsely claim that only ten percent of the population of Africa is literate and that literacy rates may drop further because of communists shutting down mission schools,” Tabachnick tells me.

A Realistic View?

On its company website, A Beka claims its textbooks teach “a realistic view of time, government, geography, and economics based on eternal truths.”

Of course, parents can decide for themselves if this is the kind of “realistic view” they want their children to learn. But why should taxpayer money pay for it?

According to a 2015 report in the Orlando Sentinel, Florida’s tax-credit school voucher programs, including the one Merriweather took advantage of, have become a cash cow for many of the state’s private schools – sending out about $544 million to families of nearly 100,000 students in the state.

Of the roughly 2,300 private schools in Florida, more than 1,500 accept voucher money, and of these voucher-accepting schools, about 45 percent rely on them for at least half of their students. About 70 percent of these schools are religiously affiliated, “including some where religion is a central focus.”

Now, Trump wants to roll that out nationwide.

2/24/2017 – Trump And DeVos Have A Deceptive Scheme To Push School Vouchers

THIS WEEK: Trump Attacks Transgenders … DeVos Outrages … NCLB Failed … Fair Schools Matter … For-Profits Booming


Trump And DeVos Have A Deceptive Scheme To Push School Vouchers

By Jeff Bryant

“If new reports out this week are credible, and they appear to be, a school voucher program is indeed on the president’s agenda – only it’s not being called that. There are reasons for the deception, and it’s important for progressives to understand how to frame Trump’s scheme before the public debate starts.”
Read more …


Trump Administration Rescinds Transgender-Student Guidance

Education Week

“The U.S. departments of Justice and Education rescinded Obama-era guidance on the rights of transgender students … lifting requirements that schools allow students to use the restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity … ‘This is an issue best solved at the state and local level’ … Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said … A case brought by a transgender Virginia boy against his school district is still due before the U.S. Supreme Court … A lower court granted Gavin Grimm an injunction … While the about-face at the federal level may remove a layer of legal protection for transgender students, it doesn’t change the ability for state and local decisionmakers to determine how to best accommodate transgender students in schools.”
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So Far, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos Is Just What Her Critics Feared

The Washington Post

Valerie Strauss writes, “DeVos has … insulted teachers … bashed protesters … said she would be fine if the department she runs is shut down … did not participate in the first Twitter chat her department had for teachers … made crystal clear that a top priority will be pushing for alternatives to traditional public schools … Close ally of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, DeVos has talked up the Sunshine State’s corporate school reform … heaping praise on a tax credit program to help students with disabilities, the same program that … sparked ‘cottage industry of fraud.’”
Read more …

No Child Left Behind: A Deeply Flawed Federal Policy

Wiley Online Library

Researcher Helen Ladd writes, “Proponents expected NCLB to boost student achievement overall … The overall test score effects of NCLB are clearly disappointing. Moreover, its positive effects on certain subgroups in some grades and subjects were far from sufficient to move the needle much on test score gaps … A ‘broader and bolder’ approach to education, one that addresses the challenges that many disadvantaged children bring to school, was needed. Such an approach would include high-quality pre-school, better health services, and more high-quality afterschool and summer programs of the type that children from middle class families take for granted.”
Read more …

When School Doesn’t Seem Fair, Students May Suffer Lasting Effects

Education Week

“When students believe schools are unfair places, their loss of trust can lead to a lack of engagement that affects them for years … Students who perceive a lack of justice or disparate treatment for certain racial groups may respond with defiant behavior. And discipline for that behavior may cause them to become further disengaged from school, fostering a spiral of defiance that may lead to poor outcomes, such as less likelihood of college enrollment … Black and Hispanic students, who often bear the brunt of inconsistent school discipline, are less likely than white peers to trust their schools.”
Read more …

For-Profit Schools, An Obama Target, See New Day Under Trump

The New York Times

“Since Election Day, for-profit college companies have been on a hot streak. DeVry Education Group’s stock has leapt more than 40%. Strayer’s jumped 35% and Grand Canyon Education’s more than 28% .… Trump ran the now-defunct Trump University … DeVos … is an ardent campaigner for privately run schools and has investments in for-profit educational ventures … Under the Obama administration, the Education Department discouraged students from attending for-profit colleges … [Obama’s education] department identified 800 failing 98% percent of the programs were at for-profit colleges.”
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Trump And DeVos Have A Deceptive Scheme To Push School Vouchers

Since President Trump picked Betsy DeVos to be his new U.S. Secretary of Education, there’s been lots of speculation in the media that his administration, with his secretary out front, would push for a school voucher program that would allow families to withdraw their children from public schools and receive a sum of money they could use to pay for tuition to send their kids to private schools, even ones that are religion based.

Others scoffed at that notion, arguing that getting a voucher program passed through Congress would be too difficult.

But if new reports out this week are credible, and they appear to be, a school voucher program is indeed on the president’s agenda – only it’s not being called that. There are reasons for the deception, and it’s important for progressives to understand how to frame Trump’s scheme before the public debate starts.

As Poltico reports, “The Trump administration is considering a first-of-its-kind federal tax credit scholarship program that would channel billions of dollars to families from working-class households to enable their children to attend private schools, including religious schools.”

What is a tax credit program for education, and why is it just another name for vouchers?

As Education Week’s Andrew Ujifusa explains, “Tax-credit scholarships allow individuals and corporations to claim a tax credit of some kind, in exchange for a donation to an organization that provides scholarships to children. So, unlike vouchers, they don’t involve the government directly providing financial support to parents for school choice.”

But what makes tax credit scholarships the same as vouchers?

In his 2008 book, Kevin Welner, the director of the National Education Policy Center, coined the term “neovoucher” to explain how tax credit programs accomplish the same thing as vouchers, only in a more convoluted way.

In a blog post for the Washington Post, Welner explains, tax credit scholarship programs are a “money-laundering mechanism” that inserts into the transaction a third party – often called a school tuition organization (STO). Instead of taxpayer money being distributed directly to parents as vouchers, credits are issued by the state when tax deductible donations go to an STO. That credit then becomes scholarship money for parents to pay for private school tuition.

So whether the plan is for tax credits or vouchers, in either case, public funding is redirected from public schools to private institutions, and the impact on funding available for public education is the same.

There are reasons for the Trump administration’s deception.

As Welner notes in another blog post for the Post, “Generally speaking, Americans know what vouchers are. Cleveland and Milwaukee have had conventional voucher plans for decades.” Welner should have added Washington, DC to that list of long-standing voucher programs as well.

So the track record for vouchers is well known. And it’s not particularly good.

As education historian Diane Ravitch writes, despite years of offering vouchers to parents, “those school districts are among the lowest performing in the nation on national tests. … When the taxpayers’ precious dollars are divided among two or three sectors, none of them flourishes.”

Further, the general public generally has rejected vouchers every time they’ve been put to a test at the ballot box. Ravitch notes, “When Ms. DeVos and her husband Richard led a movement to change the Michigan state constitution to permit vouchers for religious schools in the year 2000, the referendum was defeated by 69-31%. Even in deep red Utah, the public rejected vouchers overwhelmingly in 2007. Florida was the last state to reject vouchers, in a 2012 vote deceptively named the Religious Freedom Act; it was defeated by 58-42%.”

So to circumnavigate the lousy track record of vouchers and avoid the problem of their widespread public disapproval, school privatization advocates have devised education tax credit programs. But be aware, just as these programs have the same essential ends in mind as school vouchers, they also have the same devastating impact on public schools.

As veteran education journalist Valerie Strauss explains on her blog at the Post, in the 17 states that offer some kind of education tax credits, there are numerous examples of how the programs harm public schools and help spread fraud and abuse in public education systems. Strauss points to a tax credit scholarship program in Florida that sparked “a cottage industry of fraud” and a more recent report from Florida about a “school for students with autism that received money from two tax credit programs in Florida that was abruptly closed after its leaders were charged with Medicaid fraud.”

Numerous studies by education tax credit advocates claiming these programs save money have been thoroughly refuted. And the evidence they drain public education funding continues to mount.

Arizona has perhaps the nation’s most extensive and generous education tax credit program. The program has led to an enormous outflow of funding from public schools.

As an Arizona news outlet reports, the state allows qualified parents to set up “empowerment scholarship accounts” that are funded by STOs to provide families with debit cards worth about $5,200 a year to use on tuition at private schools, many which are religion based. However, as the reporter notes, public schools in Arizona get about $4,200 per pupil from the state, so each $5,200 debit card costs the state general fund an additional $1,000 for every child who leaves a public school for a private or religious school.

Despite the drain on Arizona public school coffers, lawmakers in the state want to expand the tax credit program to include more families, a move that would lead to an additional $24 million cost to taxpayers annually and potentially many millions more, according to the Arizona Republic.

So should Trump’s ideas for a tax credit scholarship program develop into a proposal, and the details become clearer, just remember a school voucher program by any name is still a school voucher program. And it should be dead on arrival in Congress.

2/16/2017 – DeVos’s Stumbles Right Out Of The Gate Are Nothing To Laugh About

THIS WEEK: What DeVos Did … Choice Causes Segregation … School Integration … Voucher Disaster … Trump’s Muslim Ban


DeVos’s Stumbles Right Out Of The Gate Are Nothing To Laugh About

By Jeff Bryant

“Betsy DeVos’s … stumbles right out the gate reveal disturbing characteristics of her leadership … Given her lack of experience … it’s perhaps understandable DeVos would not be very knowledgeable about policy ideas that have helped educators transform schools … But what’s most concerning is that she doesn’t seem the least bit interested in those policy ideas … DeVos … portends a near future of ideological warfare over basic education justice in the country.”
Read more …


Betsy DeVos Is Coming For Your Children


“Unlike, say, Ben Carson and Rick Perry, who are totally ignorant of housing and energy policy and have no relevant experience in their new fields, DeVos is highly qualified to implement her vision – children using vouchers to attend Kiddie Cato Institutes in the back of churches, more or less – for America. After all, she’s done it before … The frightening thing about DeVos, though, is less how dystopian her ideas are than how successful she’s been at imposing them. She’s had her way with Detroit … Detroit went from a public school system with an overlay of healthy alternatives to a mess of unregulated choice where the alternatives have begun to swallow the system whole. This is what DeVos wants to bring to America.”
Read more …

Schools In The Nation’s Capital Are Embarrassingly Segregated

The Huffington Post

“The city’s school segregation problem has been exacerbated by school choice policies like the ones currently championed by President Donald Trump and his secretary of education, Betsy DeVos. Charter schools in D.C. are overwhelmingly black. The city’s small voucher program ― which allows kids to attend private schools using taxpayer money ― is designed to serve low-income children, but has actually underserved black kids, the report says. … The benefits of desegregated schools are well-documented … Racially mixed schools are proven to benefit both white students and students of color.”
Read more …

The Promise Of Integrated Schools

The Atlantic

“Two recent reports offer the latest research to point to hopeful trends as more school districts pursue integration – with promising benefits shown for students of color and their white peers in racially diverse classrooms … In 1996 … just two school districts nationwide … used socioeconomic status as a factor in student assignment policies … Today, 91 school jurisdictions deliberately blend affluent and less-advantaged children, totaling over 4 million students, about 8 percent of K-12 public-school enrollment … Racially integrated schools improve education for students of all races and accomplish one immeasurable advantage: helping youth challenge stereotypes and their implicit biases toward people of different races and ethnicities.”
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Chile’s School Voucher System: Enabling Choice or Perpetuating Social Inequality?

New America

“Chile implemented a universal school voucher program 1981, as part of a series of free-market economic reforms ushered in by Dictator Augusto Pinochet, who rose to power in a 1973 coup d’état … Chile’s voucher program has been widely studied and largely found to have exacerbated inequality, reduced public school enrollment and minimal to no impact on student achievement … Voucher systems are no cure for the inequities that plague our education system.”
Read more …

How The Immigration Controversy Could Drive Up The Cost Of College

The Hechinger Report

“Scores of U.S. schools have come to rely on international students to keep their budgets in the black … That could make [Trump’s] immigration order much more disruptive to higher education than has previously been understood. More than one million international students studied at U.S. colleges and universities last year … Those students added an estimated $35 billion to the U.S. economy … Students from the seven countries in the travel ban alone bring in more than $700 million … Several colleges and universities are already reporting drop-offs in international applications.”
Read more …