Education Opportunity Network

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4/20/2017 – Early Signs Betsy DeVos Will Not Support Civil Rights

THIS WEEK: Church And State … Choosing Segregation … Costs Of No Excuses … Screwing College Students … Neovouchers


Early Signs Betsy DeVos Will Not Support Civil Rights

By Jeff Bryant

“So far, Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has sent numerous signs she is assembling a staff and laying down a policy mindset that seems indifferent – if not outright averse – to the needs of nonwhite students … The most alarming hire, so far, is for the head of the very office tasked to oversee civil rights enforcement in schools.”
Read more …


In Upcoming Case, Supreme Court Should Uphold Separation Of Church And State

The Century Foundation

“The U.S. Supreme Court … in a closely watched case… could pave the way for state funding of private religious schools … The case involves a challenge to an 1875 provision in the Missouri Constitution which prohibits spending taxpayer funds ‘directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion’ … The federal district and circuit courts … upheld Missouri’s decision not to become entangled with religious institutions. But with President Trump’s appointee on the Supreme Court possibly holding the balance of power, the justices may take a serious step toward dismantling the wall separating church and state – a structure that has served our democracy so well over the generations.”
Read more …

When School Choice Means Choosing Segregation

Vice News

“A lawsuit pending appeal with the state Supreme Court alleges the growing segregation in Minnesota’s schools denies an adequate education to poor and minority kids and is the logical and illegal conclusion of the state’s abdication of its responsibility to integrate. It also alleges the state has allowed segregated charter schools to proliferate … Schools with large concentrations of poor or minority children … perform worse … Integration has repeatedly been shown to improve educational outcomes for all students … Charter advocates, for their part, are actively pushing back on the need to integrate at all … Integrating public schools isn’t possible without also integrating charter schools, and neither is possible without a court order.”
Read more …

Arresting And Suspending Students Costs City Millions Each Year, Report Says

Daily News

“Arresting and suspending students … cost [New York City] millions each year … more than $746 million … associated with students dropping out of school because of suspensions or arrests … ‘The $746 Million a Year School-to-Prison Pipeline’ calls for fewer student suspensions and the removal of NYPD personnel and metal detectors from public schools … ‘The city has an opportunity here to reinvest some of these funds into supportive programs and opportunities for students.'”
Read more …

Betsy DeVos Is Wasting No Time Screwing Over Students Who Borrow Money for College


“Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been sending some chilling signals lately about how she plans to deal with America’s $1.3 trillion student debt burden … Her department has scrapped Obama-era reforms that were designed to protect borrowers from being gouged or misled by the companies responsible for collecting their loans … DeVos seems less interested in protecting former students than in protecting the predators that have fleeced them for profit.”
Read more …

Tax Credits, School Choice And ‘Neovouchers’: What You Need To Know

The Conversation

“As Republican lawmakers craft a tax reform bill … it’s likely that the bill will also include a major education policy initiative from the Trump administration: a tax credit designed to fund private school vouchers … These new vouchers (or ‘neovouchers’) are similar to conventional vouchers in many ways, but there are some important differences … The complexity of the neovoucher approach obscures the fact that it’s really a voucher program, making it less of a political lightning rod … 17 states have tax-credit policies … generating a quarter-million vouchers and growing every year … Proposals are now appearing at a federal level.”
Read more …

Early Signs Betsy DeVos Will Not Support Civil Rights

It was just an Easter holiday party. But it seemed like an occasion that could give the Trump White House an easy opportunity to show racial inclusiveness.

But as the Daily News reports, when the White House staged its first annual Easter Egg Roll, it forgot to invite local school children. News outlets aligned to the Democratic Party, such as Occupy Democrats and Share Blue, were quick to note that while school children in the surrounding neighborhoods are mostly black, the event attendees were predominantly white – including “an all-white band on hand to perform slavery-era spirituals and soul music.”

The Daily News reporter attributes the whitewashing of the Easter crowd at the White House to a problem with “basic logistics,” but anyone paying attention knows all too well there’s a white people problem endemic to the Trump administration.

That problem is acutely visible in a policy arena where racial inclusion may matter most – education.

So far, Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has sent numerous signs she is assembling a staff and laying down a policy mindset that seems indifferent – if not outright averse – to the needs of nonwhite students.

A Growing Racial Divide

DeVos has taken the helm of federal education policy at a time when black and brown school children and youth critically need leaders in the federal government to address their needs.

The number of Latino, African-American, and Asian students in public K-12 schools passed the number of non-Hispanic whites over two years ago. Nevertheless, schools have become more racially segregated than they were 40 years ago.

The weight of research evidence shows when schools are racially and socioeconomically integrated, all students – even the white kids – benefit academically and in their social and emotional capabilities. Yet, without strong federal leadership, states and local districts generally shirk their responsibilities to enforce school integration.

Racial segregation is not the only problem nonwhite students confront in schools. Students of color in our nation’s schools are disproportionally more apt to receive out-of-school suspensions than their white peers, which significantly raises their tendency to eventually get entangled in the criminal justice system. A recent report from the Center for Popular Democracy found that in New York City alone these punitive school discipline programs cost the city more than $746 million annually.

How may we expect a DeVos administration to step up to address these challenges?

Alarming Hires For The Department Of Education

As I reported shortly after her nomination, DeVos has a problematic track record on civil rights, based on her actions in Michigan to promote school choice programs that significantly worsened the state’s racial and socioeconomic segregation of schools.

In one of her earliest moves as Secretary, DeVos announced her department’s decision to end a federal grant program created during the Obama administration to encourage more diversity in schools. Experts on poverty and race had called her handling of that program “a real test of her commitment to school integration.” She flunked it.

More alarming is recent news of how many new hires for the education department have a history of making racially offensive comments and expressing controversial opinions on efforts to level the social and economic playing field for African-Americans and other racial minorities.

Many of the new hires for the education department, Politico reports, have made racially offensive social media comments on Twitter and Facebook. And DeVos has staffed-up with people who have no apparent expertise in education or civil rights and who appear to be mostly white.

The most alarming hire, so far, is for the head of the very office tasked to oversee civil rights enforcement in schools.

As ProPublica reports, DeVos’s new acting head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Candice Jackson, “once complained that she experienced discrimination because she is white,” has spoken out against feminism and race-based preferences, and has favored writings by “an economist who decried both compulsory education and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

A professed libertarian, Jackson has collaborated on numerous politically conservative projects, including a book on the allegations of sexual misconduct against Bill Clinton and had a stint at rightwing legal advocacy organization Judicial Watch.

In addition to their problematic stances on civil rights, many of DeVos’s the new appointments to the department of education also raise concerns about cronyism and conflicts of interest. Many of her new staffers are holdovers of previous Republican administrations, have significant ties to the charter school industry, were employed by the Trump political machine, or have financial interests in for-profit colleges.

Wrong Policies On Race

Moving from matters of personnel to issues of policy, DeVos continues to make public pronouncements that seem antithetical to the interests of civil rights.

Her proclaimed support for “school choice”  – most recently, comparing schools to ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft – ignores how unregulated school choice options often lead to increased segregation in schools.

She regards social justice issues in schools as problems of “character” rather than structural discrimination and racism, according to Think Progress, the action center for left-leaning Center for American Progress. This raises fears among among civil rights advocates that DeVos will focus on supposed flaws of black and brown students rather than address the biased discipline policies that target and jeopardize these marginalized students.

Also, there’s a fear that DeVos and her administration will steer more federal dollars to private schools and charters that create their own policies without outside oversight. These schools have a well-researched track record for suspending black and disabled students at a higher rate than public schools.

These are all signs of an administration that will likely develop policies and support programs that attend to the needs of only some students and, like her boss’s Easter party, will keep marginalized students on the outside looking in.




4/13/2017 – During Resistance Recess, Join The Fight For Public Schools

THIS WEEK: Trump Ends Lead Paint Protections … Vouchers Hurt Special Ed … Importance Of Black Teachers … Charters Aren’t Needed … Lessons From Erie Schools


During Resistance Recess, Join The Fight For Public Schools

By Jeff Bryant

“Public schools are imperiled, which means our democracy, and our future, is too. If you doubt that at all, just review prominent news stories from the past few days. They present ample evidence of the widespread effort to turn public education into opportunities for private gain … Resistance Recess is an opportunity for you to sound the alarm about what is happening to public education … A new communications tool … has all the talking points and in-depth research you need.”
Read more …


Trump’s EPA Moves To Dismantle Programs That Protect Kids From Lead Paint

The Washington Post

“Environmental Protection Agency officials are proposing to eliminate two programs focused on limiting children’s exposure to lead-based paint, which is known to cause damage to developing brains and nervous systems … Old housing stock is the biggest risk for lead exposure – and the EPA estimates that 38 million U.S. homes contain lead-based paint … Erik Olson, who directs the Natural Resources Defense Council’s health program, said … the move leaves children in dozens of states unprotected.”
Read more …

Special Ed School Vouchers May Come With Hidden Costs

The New York Times

“For many parents with disabled children in public school systems, the lure of the private school voucher is strong … But there’s a catch. By accepting the vouchers, families may be unknowingly giving up their rights to the very help they were hoping to gain. The government is still footing the bill, but when students use vouchers to get into private school, they lose most of the protections of the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act … Private schools that participate … are not required to demonstrate that they use any type of specialized curriculum to meet disabled children’s needs.”
Read more …

Study: Black Students More Likely To Graduate If They Have One Black Teacher

Education Week

“If a low-income black student has just one black teacher in elementary school, that student is significantly more likely to graduate high school and consider attending college … There was an even stronger effect for black boys from persistently low-income homes … Only 7% of public school teachers are black. Research has found that black teachers are less likely to suspend, expel, or give detention to black students, who are disproportionately given exclusionary discipline.'”
Read more …

Charter Schools Are Expanding Where They Aren’t Needed – Especially In Los Angeles, New Report Says

The Los Angeles Times

“New research … looks at where charter schools are increasing in number and where schools are needed based on enrollment. The two trend lines do not correspond … especially in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where the number of school-age children has declined even as the number of charters has rapidly grown … Traditional school districts can’t build new schools when real or potential enrollment fails to justify expansion. But those rules don’t apply to charter schools … Massive amounts of public dollars are helping charters acquire property that could end up being privately controlled should charters decide to sell their school sites or go out of business.”
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Erie Pennsylvania’s Schools Are A Canary In The Coal Mine of Education

The Progressive

Jeff Bryant writes, “Schools in low-income communities in many states don’t have the resources to give students access to opportunities that are available in wealthier areas … It’s important to know who to blame for the financial calamities … Better-funded districts simply don’t want more money going to less well-off districts because it would mean money out of their budgets … Charter schools help perpetuate this ‘everyone out for himself’ thinking.”
Read more …

During Resistance Recess, Join The Fight For Public Schools

In this season of resistance, there’s no issue more imperative to your community than the fight for public education.

While Congress is in recess, until April 23, you’ve got opportunity – and a brand new advocacy tool – to inform your local Congressional representatives about the assault on public education and persuade progressives in your community to join in your cause.

Why should you care?

Whether you have school-age children or not, you have a lot at stake in the struggle to ensure public schools continue to benefit the public.

Public education is America’s most collaborative endeavor by far. We all pay taxes to support public schools. Schools are community anchors like main streets, town halls, public parks, churches, and community centers. And we depend on public schools to prepare our future workers, entrepreneurs, and citizens. Public schools are the foundation of our democracy where students learn to respect and appreciate others who are different from them and schools model civic values to students and the community.

But public schools are imperiled, which means our democracy, and our future, is too.

If you doubt that at all, just review prominent news stories from the past few days. They present ample evidence of the widespread effort to turn public education into opportunities for private gain.

Take reporter Emma Brown’s story in the Washington Post. Brown looks at scheme in Florida that uses tax credits to channel billions of dollars in taxpayer funds to private schools that are mostly religion based.

There is no evidence the children do any better academically because they transfer to these private schools. The private schools can cherry pick only those students they prefer to accept to avoid students who may have learning disabilities or behavior issues. Most of the private schools get “consistently poor results” on standardized tests, according to Brown, but are never held accountable.

Brown covers this story because Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is a big fan of the Florida scheme and has pledged, along with President Trump, to roll out something like it nationwide.

If that isn’t disturbing enough, consider a recent news story from the other side of the continent. As the Los Angeles Times reports, a new study by pro-public advocacy group In the Public Interest finds that in California, charter schools are getting billions of dollars in state funding to open in places where they’re not needed and compete with public schools for students and precious education resources.

The report reveals that that three-quarters of these charters do worse on standardized tests than comparable public schools, and hundreds of them have been caught red-handed by the American Civil Liberties Union for maintaining discriminatory enrollment policies. Much of the money taxpayers provide goes to charter schools that are part of large chains that operate statewide and across the country. And charter organizations use public funds to purchase vast tracts of real estate and buildings they profit from and can retain even if the school operation shuts down.

Although the study is confined to California, the findings are likely similar to what occurs in the charter industry in other states, says report author Gordon Laffer, during a media call. What’s also worrisome, says ITPI Executive Director Donald Cohen during the call, is that Secretary DeVos and President Trump are strong supporters of charter schools, pledging to provide federal funds to incentivize the spread of these schools.

Perhaps even more concerning than the spread of voucher programs and charter schools is the expansion of the virtual school industry that relegates students to education programs provided exclusively or mostly over the internet.

A new report from the National Education Policy Center in Boulder, CO provides a comprehensive study of these schools that shows virtual schools generally underperform public schools while offering for-profit companies expanded opportunities to harvest tax dollars. Graduation rates are appallingly low – 43.4 percent in full-time virtual schools and 43.1 percent in “blended” programs. This mostly unregulated industry is expanding with little understanding of how public funds are being used.

You can count on this virtual school industry to continue to expand because it’s being fueled by “school choice” policies advocated by the Trump administration and by market incentives that lawmakers in nearly every state have been put in place.

As vouchers, charters, virtual schools, and other forms of school privatization continue to grow, millions in public tax dollars meant for public education are being redirected into private pockets while local schools that our communities depend on continue to have fewer resources to serve all children and families.

Resistance Recess is an opportunity for you to sound the alarm about what is happening to public education, inform your community, and call on political leaders to take action.

A new communications tool from the Network for Public Education has all the talking points and in-depth research you need to bolster your advocacy.

School Privatization Explained provides you with a series of briefs to challenge the myths of “school choice” and counter the propaganda machine pushing for charter schools, voucher programs, and online learning scams.

An overview of the NPE toolkit by Alan Singer at the Huffington Post calls this resource “a thirteen-point question/answer toolkit to expose the lies and distortions of charter school, voucher, and tax credit advocates.”

Check out the NPE toolkit today, download just the briefs you need to inform your community, and make support for public schools part of the progressive agenda where you live.


4/6/2017 – The Schools Betsy DeVos Wants Parents To Choose

THIS WEEK: Segregation Hurts Everyone … Trump Cuts Diversity … College Debt Harms Economy … Free College Returns … Facts On Preschool Suspensions


The Schools Betsy DeVos Wants Parents To Choose

By Jeff Bryant

“U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos … used this visit to a public school as an opportunity to tell parents they would do better for their kids by sending them to privately run schools … But as her administration encourages parents to leave public schools, what types of schools would she prefer parents choose instead? Based on other schools DeVos has chosen for her itinerary, the possibilities are truly frightening.”
Read more …


Everyone Pays A Hefty Price For Segregation, Study Says


“Researchers … found that if Chicago – the fifth most racially and economically segregated city in the country – were to lower its level of segregation to the national median … it would have a profound impact … including raising the region’s gross domestic product, raising incomes, and lowering the homicide rate… Less segregation would also make Chicago and its environs more educated, with an estimated 83,000 more people who have bachelor’s degrees, bringing the region an added $90 billion in total lifetime earnings.”
Read more …

Trump’s Education Department Nixes Obama-Era Grant Program For School Diversity

The Washington Post

“President Trump’s Education Department has decided to nix an Obama-era grant program meant to help local districts devise ways to boost socioeconomic diversity within their schools … The Education Department said through a spokesman that the $12 million grant program was discontinued because it would not be a wise use of tax dollars … Research has shown that poor children who go to mixed-income schools fare better academically than poor children who go to high-poverty schools and that such integration doesn’t hurt the performance of affluent students. And yet U.S. public schools have become more segregated by race and class over the past two decades.”
Read more …

Debt Load Could Snag Students, Hurt U.S. Economy: Fed’s Dudley


“Rising student loan debt in the United States could ultimately hurt overall home ownership and consumer spending and erode colleges’ and universities’ ability to elevate lower-income students, a top Federal Reserve policymaker said … Aggregate student loan balances $1.3 trillion at the end of last year, up 170 percent from 2006 … There are ‘potential longer-term negative implications of student debt on homeownership and other types of consumer spending … Continued increases in college costs and debt burdens could inhibit higher education’s ability to serve as an important engine of upward income mobility.'”
Read more …

Bernie Sanders Just Introduced His Free College Tuition Plan

The Nation

“The College for All Act aims to eliminate tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities for students from families that make up to $125,000 per year. The bill would make community college tuition-free for all income levels. Clearly the bill will go nowhere in a Republican Congress … But [Senator Bernie] Sanders and several of the co-sponsors clearly see the bill as a valuable organizing tool … The act would have the government pay 67% of tuition subsidies at public colleges and universities, while asking state and tribal governments to pay the other third … It would be financed by a tax on Wall Street speculation.”
Read more …

4 Disturbing Facts About Preschool Suspension

Center for American Progress

“47% of the preschoolers who received suspensions or expulsions in the 2013-14 school year were African American, even though they made up only 19% of preschool enrollment. In total, nearly 7,000 3- and 4-year-olds were suspended or expelled from public preschools during the same school year … Disturbing, facts to know about preschool suspension and expulsion … It pathologizes normal child behavior … It can be driven by implicit racial bias … It’s more common in school districts that still use corporal punishment … It may be an even bigger problem in private preschools.”
Read more …

The Schools Betsy DeVos Wants Parents To Choose

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos finally found a public school she could visit where there wouldn’t be protests. It’s on a military base, safely inside the compound of Ft. Bragg in North Carolina.

As a local news outlet reports, DeVos used her appearance at Kimberly Hampton Primary, a school operated by the Department of Defense and funded by the federal government, to make her usual pitch for “school choice,” in this case, in the form of vouchers parents can use to withdraw their children from public schools and send them to private schools at taxpayer expense.

For DeVos to use this visit to a public school as an opportunity to tell parents they would do better for their kids by sending them to privately run schools suggests her leadership will continue to advocate for funding more alternative schools rather than for supporting traditional ones.

But as her administration encourages parents to leave public schools, what types of schools would she prefer parents choose instead?

Based on other schools DeVos has chosen for her itinerary, the possibilities are truly frightening.

DeVos Does CARE

After the Ft. Bragg gig, DeVo’s next stop is CARE Elementary School in Miami, Florida.

CARE is a private school, which DeVos has a well-known preference for. Also, DeVos may want to showcase the school because its name, CARE, stands for Christian Academy for Reaching Excellence.

DeVos’s belief in using education as a way to “advance God’s Kingdom” is well documented.

As Kristina Rizga reports for Mother Jones, the lengthy philanthropic record DeVos and her husband have amassed over many years shows “the couple’s clearest preference is for Christian private schools.”

CARE elementary certainly fits that profile. Students at CARE, according to the school’s handbook, “Attend weekly chapel, they are taught Christian principles with love and respect, and they are exposed to the love and grace of Jesus Christ. Prayer is part of the CARE experience.”

On its website, CARE says the school admits students of “any race, color, national, and ethnic origin” and “does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national, and ethnic origin.” Discriminating based on religion is notably absent.

Since the school’s opening in the fall of 2015, it has gotten significant praise from school choice advocates in South Florida, including the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which endorsed DeVos’s nomination.

FEE was founded by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and has received generous support from DeVos and her foundation. DeVoss has also served on its board of directors.

But what’s most notable about CARE Elementary, is how it’s funded. Although the school is private, it’s completely free.

How can a private school be tuition-free?

Religious Education At Taxpayer Expense

According to FEE’s review of the school, “Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program is a dominant factor in CARE’s ability to offer quality education at no cost to families.” (emphasis added)

DeVos has often praised Florida’s tax credit scholarship program.

This program, and others like it, offers tax subsidies to wealthy people in exchange for their donations to private school scholarships. As Carl Davis explains at The American Prospect, these programs let states use private citizens as “middlemen” in a give-away scheme that ensures wealthy people pay less taxes and private schools get public funds.

The Florida program was initially promoted in 1998 to state lawmakers by a venture capitalist, according to a report from the Florida League of Women Voters by Sue Legg.

When the tax credit scheme was challenged as unconstitutional, Legg explains, DeVos paid a million dollars in 2016 to send thousands of children to the state capital to rally against the suit. The state Supreme Court declined to rule on the case in 2017.

Since its inception, the main success of Florida’s tax credit program has been its ability to send public funds to private religious schools like CARE Elementary. As Legg reports, 82 percent of the funds stemming from the program go to religious schools.

The give-away could be partially justified if students taking advantage of the program performed better academically. They don’t.

Legg’s analysis finds, while ten percent of students benefiting from the scholarships “gained more than twenty percentile points on a nationally normed test, fourteen percent lost more than twenty percentile points.”

But if CARE Elementary sounds like a less then desirable choice for American taxpayers and families, the next school on DeVos’s itinerary is arguably worse.

DeVos Visits A SLAM School

Next on DeVos’s Magical Education Tour is a special kind of charter school, also in Miami.

SLAM Miami a charter school in a chain of charters focused on “Sports Leadership and Management” (hence the name). The schools are most notable for their association with the rapper Pitbull.

“Pitbull (Armando Christian Pérez) is the latest in a long list of celebrities lending their star power to the flourishing charter school movement,” reported NPR when the school debuted.

The school “has a vocational bent as a way to hook kids for whom school is boring,” Pitbull explained to a reporter for the Huffington Post. “They’re already labeling me ‘Mr. Education,'” he said.

Since Miami SLAM debuted, more SLAMs have opened in West Palm Beach, Tampa, and Las Vegas.

While Pitbull may like the idea of being known as Mr. Education, he’s most well-known for his misogynistic lyrics. As the Independent reports, at least one popular female DJ has found the lyrics unbearably offensive and has taken a public stand against playing the music.

The article notes, “Pitbull’s song ‘Timber’, which reached number one last year, includes the lyrics: ‘I have ‘em like Miley Cyrus, clothes off/twerking in their bras and thongs… face down, booty up.’ He also sings: ‘She say she won’t, but I bet she will.’ Other songs include the lines ‘I like that when you fight back’ and ‘Shake that shit bitch/And be off in the club with a hard-ass dick.'”

That sounds like a less than ideal figurehead to have at the helm of an education institution for children, but the management company operating the school may be an even bigger cause for concern.

SLAM charters are in a web of the Mater charter school chain operating in multiple states. SLAM, Mater, and other charter school chains are operated by the Academica education management group, South Florida’s largest education management organization (EMO) with schools in multiple states.

Schools connected to the Academica EMO have a disturbing reputation for shady financial dealings.

Schools As Real Estate Schemes

Whether DeVos knows it or not, SLAM charter’s link to Academica may connect it to an investigation by the federal agency she directs.

As the Miami Herald reports, the Education Department’s Inspector General Office is auditing Academica “as part of a broader examination of school management companies nationwide.”

Specifically, the auditors found that schools in the Mater network operated by Academica, which SLAM is also part of, entered into leases with development companies tied to South Florida real estate mogul Fernando Zulueta who “founded the original Mater Academy in 1998 and was a member of its governing board until Sept. 2004.

“Two of the leases were executed while Zulueta sat on the Mater board,” the Herald reports. “In addition, Mater Academy hired an architectural firm from 2007 through 2012 that employs Fernando Zulueta’s brother-in-law, Florida state Rep. Erik Fresen.”

Fresen, another Herald report notes, is a former lobbyist and employee of Academica.

The conflicts of interest likely run deeper. A previous series of reports by the Herald found, “Cozy political connections, favorable tax treatment and little public oversight has allowed Miami charter school chain Academica to exploit Florida’s laws, build a successful chain of schools, and profit off taxpayer dollars.”

Highlights of the series of reports include details about millions in management fees from these schools going to the parent company (all at taxpayer expense), the exorbitant above-market lease payments Academica charges its schools (also paid by tax payers), and the schools’ track record for enrolling disproportionately lower shares of black, poor, and disabled children.

It’s not at all clear whether SLAM charters are plagued with the same sort of conflicts of interest that other Academica operated schools have. But for DeVos to associate herself with these schools and pose them as better choices for parents than local public schools is concerning.

Whose Choice?

As DeVos concludes this itinerary of school visits, she will have visited at least as many private and charter schools as she has visited traditional K-12 public schools in her tenure as Education Secretary so far.

It’s somewhat understandable DeVos would seek out schools where she is least likely to encounter protestors. During her nomination process, she was the “most jeered” of Trump’s cabinet picks, according to the New York Times. Since her confirmation, she’s done little to improve on her image. In fact, she’s the most unpopular official in President Trump’s administration, according to a recent online survey.

But the schools she chooses to visit and what she says to the educators in these schools continue to convey the message that rather than fulfilling her obligation as a public servant to support public schools, her agenda is mostly about distributing scarce resources for education to other types of schools she would prefer parents choose instead.

The fact these schools may have a religious agenda, may rely on schemes to redirect tax money to private pockets, or may be designed to put education funding at risk to privateers and real estate deals seems not to bother her one bit.

That’s not parents’ choice. It’s her choice.


[Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated CARE Elementary School’s full name.]


3/30/2017 – A Gorsuch Approval Would Put Vulnerable Students Further At Risk

THIS WEEK: DeVos Dream School … How Trump Cuts Hurt … Special Ed Segregation … Let Kids Play … Trump Hypocrisy On STEM


A Gorsuch Approval Would Put Vulnerable Students Further At Risk

By Jeff Bryant

“Students with disabilities already face a difficult path through our nation’s education system … With the Gorsuch nomination, Trump appears increasingly willing to respond to the real obstacles these children face by telling them, ‘Tough! You’re on your own’ … Gorsuch’s pattern of disregarding the rights of disabled students merely reflects a pattern of the Trump administration to minimize the needs of these students … The Gorsuch nomination not only continues the pattern of neglect, even antipathy, Trump exhibits toward students with disabilities; his approval would cement this in legal precedent for generations to come.”
Read more …


Welcome To The Private Evangelical School Of Betsy DeVos’ Dreams

The Huffington Post

“The Potter’s House is a private school that is ‘evangelical in nature’ and reportedly teaches creationism alongside evolution. It’s also the type of school that Betsy DeVos … believes can level the playing field in educational inequality… DeVos has been … a donor, volunteer and board member. She has mentioned the school by name in speeches and interviews … Early signs indicate that DeVos will help make it easier for kids to attend similar private, religious schools.”
Read more …

What Would Trump’s Proposed Cut To Teacher Funding Mean For Schools?

Education Week

“President Donald Trump has proposed getting rid of the Title II program, which … aims to help districts and states pay for teacher and principal development, reduce class-size, craft new evaluation systems, and more … Zeroing out Title II could hamper implementation of the new Every Student Succeeds Act, lead to teacher layoffs, and make it tougher for educators to reach special populations of students, or use technology in their classrooms … The money for class-size reduction has helped pay for the salaries of nearly 9,000 teachers nationwide … During the 2015-16 school year, nearly half the money went to the nation’s highest-poverty districts.”
Read more …

The Separate, Unequal Education Of Students With Special Needs

The Hechinger Report

“Children … all over the country – with diagnoses including ADHD, bipolar disorder and, increasingly, autism … are often placed in separate classrooms within public schools and spend large numbers of hours on computers using technology that is not aligned with their specific needs … A Georgia program caught the attention of the Department of Justice, which launched an investigation that lasted several years … According to that lawsuit, the … system violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, both by segregating children with disabilities and by denying them access to an equal education … The case has implications for school systems and children with emotional and behavioral disorders across the nation.”
Read more …

Why Kids Shouldn’t Sit Still in Class

The New York Times

“Evidence builds that taking brief activity breaks during the day helps children learn and be more attentive in class, and a growing number of programs designed to promote movement are being adopted in schools … Children who are more active ‘show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed and perform better on standardized academic tests than children who are less active’ … Students, especially boys, who had daily physical education, did better in school.”
Read more …

The irony In Ivanka Trump’s And Betsy DeVos’s Push For STEM Education

The Washington Post

Education journalist and blogger Valerie Strauss writes, “Ivanka Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visited the National Air and Space Museum in Washington … to ‘highlight the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education’ and to discuss ’empowering young women to pursue STEM-related careers’ … The event came just a short time after President Trump, Ivanka’s father, advanced his first federal budget, which … seeks to wipe out NASA’s education office, which oversees efforts to support women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields, operates camps and enrichment programs, and provides internships and scholarships for young scientists.”
Read more …

A Gorsuch Approval Would Put Vulnerable Students Further At Risk

Students with disabilities already face a difficult path through our nation’s education system, but President Donald Trump appears determined to add to the disadvantages these students already face. His nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court is yet another sign his administration is less than eager to uphold the rights of these students.

Just how rough do these students already have it?

They score far lower on standardized achievement tests, which have become even more of an emphasis in our accountability-driven education system. They’re more than twice as likely to be suspended from school, and they’re much more apt to be bullied at school. They’re less likely to get help in schools, despite legal requirements for schools to provide a free and appropriate education. And while high school graduation rates have hit a record high of 83 percent nationally, graduation rates for these students continue to be mired below 70 percent in 33 states. In seven of those states, the rate is less than 50 percent.

With the Gorsuch nomination, Trump appears increasingly willing to respond to the real obstacles these children face by telling them, “Tough! You’re on your own.”

A vote to approve Gorsuch would be tantamount to saying the same thing.

Luke’s Case

“Gorsuch is a threat to educational equity and the fundamental rights of all Americans,” says Marge Baker, the Executive Vice President for Policy and Program at People for the American Way.

In an email statement, she points to a previous decision in 2008 in which Gorsuch rejected the opinions of lower courts that had ruled an elementary school child with autism had the legal right to a residential school program.

The boy, Luke, faced serious obstacles in navigating day-to-day life, including using the bathroom and navigating public spaces without breaking out into fits of violence. Although the special education program provided by the public schools had helped, it simply wasn’t enough, and Luke’s parents sought financial remuneration from the school district for his extra level of care.

The case required Gorsuch to apply the proper interpretation of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), a key federal law guaranteeing students with disabilities access to a free and appropriate education.

He failed to do that.

Doing ‘De Minimus’

Although three lower courts had ruled Luke’s parents, under the provisions of IDEA, were rightfully due financial compensation from the district, Gorsuch reversed those rulings, arguing his own personal precedent that students like Luke only needed to exhibit gains that were “merely more than de minimis” for the school to show it had complied with the law.

“His reasoning in that case was so extreme that it was actually overturned unanimously by the Supreme Court,” Baker explains. Indeed, in recent ruling on a similar case, all eight justices of the Court rejected the “merely more than de minimis” progress Gorsuch had attempted to set in interpreting federal disabilities law.

Gorshuch’s use of the words “merely more than de minimis” in his ruling is not the only instance in which he has failed to uphold legal precedent in enforcing federal disabilities laws.

‘A Lack Of Regard’

A review of his previous rulings by the National Education Association finds, “his record, when considered as a whole, shows a lack of regard for the struggles and rights of students with disabilities.”

According to NEA, “Gorsuch has written or participated in several cases about the IDEA,” but he has “sided with a disabled student without expressing his personal reservations in only one case.”

NEA’s review concludes, “Given this record, the hard-won protections for students with disabilities could be in peril should Judge Gorsuch be confirmed to the Supreme Court.”

“Gorsuch has gone out of his way to impose extra legal barriers for students with disabilities rather than helping them to overcome obstacles,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia to Scoop, a news outlet covering developmental disability news. “We should all be concerned by this troubling trend in Gorsuch’s record.”

Gorsuch’s tendency to disregard the rights of disabled students  reflects the Trump administration’s routine disregard for their needs.

A Pattern Of Neglect

During the presidential campaign, Trump infamously mocked a reporter with a physical disability to an audience at a public rally.

But the first sign the Trump administration posed a unified threat toward these students emerged in hearings for U.S. Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos .

During her confirmation hearing, when she was asked a question about her views on IDEA, DeVos “displayed at best confusion and at worst a lack of knowledge” about the law, reports Emma Brown of the Washington Post.

When asked repeatedly by Virginia Senator Tim Kaine whether schools receiving federal funds should uphold federal law in their treatment of students with disabilities, she replied, “I think that is a matter that is best left up to the states.”

When Kaine rightly reminded her IDEA is a federal law and failure to enforce it would force parents into difficult life circumstances if the state they happened to live in didn’t treat their children very well, DeVos made vague mention of a program she liked in Florida that provides parents with a voucher they can use to move to a private school.

The Florida program, Brown notes, “requires students to sign away their IDEA due process rights.”

Indeed, school voucher programs, like the Florida one DeVos champions and Trump appears to favor too, do more harm than good to students with disabilities, in the long run.

An analysis by the left-leaning Center for American Progress finds that these programs aid in transferring public schools funds to private schools that “can deny admission outright to students … if their needs are considered too severe. If schools do choose to admit students with special needs, they are not obligated to provide necessary behavioral and educational interventions and can refuse to continue services at any time.”

The Gorsuch nomination not only continues the pattern of neglect, even antipathy, Trump exhibits toward students with disabilities; his approval would cement this in legal precedent for generations to come.

Gorsuch Should Go Down

In his testimony to Senators at Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing, Luke’s father Jeffrey Perkins states, “Judge Gorsuch felt that an education for my son that was even one small step above insignificant was acceptable,” and his ruling on Luke’s case set the dangerous precedent that, “even if a child, as in Luke’s case, was utterly failing to progress in any meaningful global sense, the educational plan would be judged ‘appropriate.’

“Judge Gorsuch eviscerated the educational standard guaranteed by the IDEA,” Perkines concludes. “On behalf of all children – disabled, typical, and gifted – I urge you to deny confirmation of Judge Neal Gorsuch to the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Tell your Senators you agree.

3/23/2017 – The Big Lie Behind Trump’s Education Budget

THIS WEEK: School Choice Pushback … Vouchers Feed White Flight … Schools As Sanctuaries … Student Loan Defaulters Targeted … Words That Hurt Schools


The Big Lie Behind Trump’s Education Budget

By Jeff Bryant

“Public school supporters are angry at President Trump’s budget proposal, which plans to cut funding to the Department of Education by 13 percent … 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 … The way the Trump administration is spinning this combination of funding cuts and increases … 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.”
Read more …


School Choice Fight In Iowa May Preview The One Facing Trump

The New York Times

“Few topics in education are more controversial than the idea of diverting public money to private institutions, and Iowa has become a study in the kind of political fights that may be in store for the administration … The pushback has come from groups traditionally opposed to the idea … but also from some conservatives … A Des Moines Register poll of 802 Iowans in February found that 58 percent opposed using public funds to pay for private education, while 35 percent supported the idea.”
Read more …

Trump’s Signature Education Goal Has A Long History With White Flight

The Huffington Post

“President Donald Trump’s proposed budget set aside $250 million for a still-opaque ‘private school choice program’ … Betsy DeVos claimed at her confirmation hearing that school choice programs lead to more integrated schools … The history of school voucher programs is tied up with ideas of white supremacy. To avoid school desegregation … some Southern states created tuition grants to allow white students to attend all-white private schools in the 1960s … White students continue to dominate private school demographics, in part because of this racist history.”
Read more …

How Schools Are Trying to Make Undocumented Kids And Their Parents Feel Safe


“Schools have been proactive in hopes of alleviating the anxiety of immigrant children, emphasizing that they remain open to everyone … Even in districts that aren’t taking pains to make immigrants feel safe, US law already provides a fair number of protections for undocumented students … But … immigration experts say there are few legal options available to protect undocumented students and parents who are en route to ‘sensitive locations’ like school or church.”
Read more …

Trump Administration Rolls Back Protections For People In Default On Student Loans

The Washington Post

“Days after a report on federal student loans revealed a double-digit rise in defaults, President Trump’s administration revoked federal guidance Thursday that barred student debt collectors from charging high fees on past-due loans … The action does not affect any borrowers whose loans are held by the Education Department, according to the department. It could, however, impact nearly 7 million people with $162 billion in FFEL loans held by guarantee agencies. Nearly half of the total outstanding student debt in default comes from the FFEL program.”
Read more …

Words That Hurt Our Public Schools, And Ones That Help

By Jeff Bryant

“Many, attribute the success of the anti-public movement to the vast wealth of individuals in big business and finance. That wealth helps for sure. But I would argue that they have a weapon more valuable than money: It’s the English language … The war of words on the public sector has had some of its greatest success in the effort to dismantle public education … Let’s look at some of the words used to assault our schools and consider how we can fight back.”
Read more …

Words That Hurt Our Public Schools, And Ones That Help

[The following is a transcript of a presentation to grantees of the Schott Foundation for Public Education]

I want to start off today with a story about my mom. Trust me, I’ll eventually transition to talking about education. But my mom’s story illustrates how attitudes are affected by media and language.

My mom was born in 1923 on the plains of North Dakota. Her dad, my grandfather was a farmer-rancher. Her mom, my grandmother, ran the house and brought in laundry, sewing, and other work from neighbors.

But then commodity prices fell through the floor and the Great Depression hit. Then my grandfather’s farm blew away in the Dust Bowl. Talk about a perfect storm.

With hardly any income of their own, my grandparents turned to the public sector, the government, for financial assistance. Through what was called the Work Progress Administration, the WPA, created by the Franklin Roosevelt presidential administration, my grandfather got a position operating a grain elevator in eastern Montana.

With a steady source of income, my grandparents could provide for my mom and her three other siblings. Things weren’t always easy. When my mom knocked out a front tooth in a toboggan accident, she had to have a wooden peg fill the empty space until they had a chicken to pay the dentist and they could travel to a town that had a dentist.

Nevertheless, my grandparents, neither who completed more than an elementary school level of education, had access to local public schools for their children, each of whom graduated high school. My mom was the first person, and the first woman, in her extended family to attend community college and then a public state university to earn her degree in nursing education. She was recruited by the US Military to serve in the Nurses Corp training nurses for the frontline troops in World War II.

That job was her ticket out of her small, rural community and led her to move to Dallas, Texas to accept a position in nurse education at a major metropolitan hospital in the late 1940s. It was there that she met the man who would eventually be my father.

Government Is The Problem

By the time I came along, a lot had changed in my parents lives. And by the time I reached my teenage years and began to develop more of an awareness of the larger world, I noticed my parents’ attitudes toward public institutions were changing. Government services and public workers had become subjects of scorn.

If the line of customers at the Post Office was long, it was because of lazy postal workers. When a vehicle needed an inspection sticker or a household project needed a permit, it was government meddling in our lives. Local news stories about any breakdown in municipal services were attributed to “typical” government ineptitude. City busses were irritants in the roadway. Taxes were a theft of family income.

By the time Ronald Reagan became president in the 1980s, it became popular for political leaders to say, as Reagan was fond of saying, “government is not the solution to our problem, government IS the problem.” My parents were happy cheerleaders for that, especially my mom, despite her personal history of getting a hand-up in life from public services.

So what happened?

Now it’s true that governments at all levels have been less than perfect institutions. The local government where I grew up sure didn’t do a very good job of serving low-income black and brown school children.

But in a democratic society, “government” is ultimately up to us, and what it does is an expression of what we want to do for ourselves.

So what the critics of government are saying, really, is that they have a problem with democracy.

It’s important to know government wasn’t turned into a four-letter word by happenstance. It happened by design.

The War On Government

The liberalism of Roosevelt’s Great Society that dominated politics in the 1950s and 60s was the enemy of those who wanted society to be structured to better serve their interests rather than democratic interests. And by the late 60s and early 70s, these forces marshalled their considerable resources to overturn the public’s role to determine the public good.

I could go on all day about the history of this, about 20th century American conservatism, the Lewis Powell Memo, and the shifting of the Overton Window. There are whole books about it: Winner Take All Politics by Jacob Hacker, Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas.

My parent’s antipathy toward government could have been the result of multiple factors. But there’s no doubt that during their conversion, forces were hard at work conditioning Americans to fear the words “social” and “public,” as if those words are evil or anti-American

Whether or not you accept the existence of “the vast rightwing conspiracy,” which is what Hillary Clinton would come to call this movement, you can’t deny the impact of a decades-long assault on public institutions and public service workers.

In 2012, the Brookings Institute examined public-sector employment trends over the last three decades and found that government employment had dramatically contracted, both in absolute numbers and as a share of the population. Today, public sector jobs as a share of all employment are at a 30-year low, falling from 9.6 percent in the 1980s to 9 percent 30 years later.

A 2015 article in the New York Times looked at public sector employment and found that even as local and state economies were recovering from the 2008 recession, public sector jobs were continuing to decline, accounting for 1.8 million fewer jobs than in 2007.

The decline in public sector employment has hit black families particularly hard. Roughly one in five black adults works a government job. Black wage earners are about 30 percent more likely to have a public sector job than non-Hispanic whites, and twice as likely as Hispanics.

Many, attribute the success of the anti-public movement to the vast wealth of individuals in big business and finance. That wealth helps for sure.

But I would argue that they have a weapon more valuable than money: It’s the English language.

Language As A Weapon

The war on the public sector uses the power of language on every front. For instance, slashing financial resources for the public good is called tax relief. Laws preventing industrial pollution from fouling our shared environment are called stifling regulation. Public financial assistance for the poor is called a government give-away program. Funds we collectively pool to ensure our financial security in old age are branded entitlements.

What makes these words powerful are the ideas behind them. As George Lakoff writes in his seminal book Don’t Think of an Elephant, words are representations of values, and the war of words is really a conflict over what values are going to guide our nation – whether, for instance, we’re going to have a government that works for the common good, or one that enforces the power of the wealthy few.

I would also argue that the war of words on the public sector has had some of its greatest success in the effort to dismantle public education. (See, I told you I would eventually get to education.) You can see its success in the fact that now politicians in both parties, to quote veteran education journalist Jay Mathews of the Washington Post, basically copy each other on education.

Let’s look at some of the words used to assault our schools and consider how we can fight back:

Public Education Is Broken

How often do you read that “America’s schools are failing” and “public education is in crisis”?

Is there any truth to this? Not really.

In the only longitudinal measure of student achievement – the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAPE – American students have improved substantially over the past 40 years. In general, the improvements have been greatest for African-American and Hispanic students, and among these, for the most disadvantaged.

The percentage of kids scoring “below basic” on the NAEP has plummeted in both reading and math in both fourth and eighth grade for every racial group except Native Americans. Average reading and math scores for each subgroup in the fourth and eighth grades have also climbed steadily.

High school graduation rates are at an all-time high, and almost half of all American high school students now head off to college each year – also an all-time high.

The story of American education is actually about steady progress – slow, that’s true – but progress nevertheless.

Does this mean that there are no struggling schools in America? Of course not. Does this mean public schools universally work for every student? No.

But the rhetorical frame that public education is a failure is used to convince people the whole system is bad and that it’s collapse has been inevitable.

The way we fight back against this misleading rhetoric is to ask why are there broken schools and who broke them?

Education Is About Getting The Best For Your Child

These days, politicians like to talk about education like it’s a “competition” to get students over the bar or up to speed.

Terms like “college or career ready” and getting young children “ready to learn” all perpetuate the idea that the only purpose of education is to get individuals to a next stage or an end goal.

This rhetorical frame is used to convince people that once their own children are provided for then that’s all that matters.

It ignores that education is really about developing our societal capacity. We want all citizens educated so our whole society prospers.

That’s why early state constitutions in the U.S., like those of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, stressed the importance of a system of public schools. That’s why the Land Ordinance of 1785 provided for public school financing in new territories. And the earliest advocates for public schools – Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Horace Mann – all agreed that democratic citizenship was a primary function of education.

Turning our collective investment in education into a competition to get to the top ensures there will be winners and losers. Designing a school system that maximizes self-interest means only those who already have advantages get what they want.

Instead of telling parents their children need to be well educated so they can compete, we should say children need to be well educated so they can take part in a democratic society.

Money Should Follow The Child

This is a favorite of advocates for charter schools and vouchers that let parents transfer their children to private schools at taxpayer expense.

The idea has a gloss of sensibility to it because education budgets often come with per-pupil expenditures.

But the idea that the money should follow the child when students leave a public school for other options is a bad financial decision.

First, schools have what are called “stranded costs”. When a public school loses a percentage of students to charter schools or a voucher program, the school can’t reduce costs by an equivalent percent. The school still must pay the same utility, maintenance, transportation, and food services costs. The school must still carry the salary and benefit costs of administrative staff, custodial services, and cafeteria workers. The school may not be able to reduce teaching staff because the attrition will occur randomly across various grade levels, leaving class sizes only marginally reduced.

In Philadelphia for instance, a recent study found when a student leaves the school district for a charter school, the public system is left with nearly $5,000 in continuing costs. A study in Boston found the stranded cost is $7,000.

A research study of school districts in Michigan found that choice policies significantly contribute to the financial problems of Michigan’s most hard-pressed districts. When the percent of students attending charter schools approaches 20 percent, there are sizeable adverse impacts on district finances.

Because schools can’t reduce expenses incrementally, they cut support staff – such as a reading specialist or librarian. They cut courses – such as art and music. And the whole capacity of the school diminishes.

Further, students aren’t a “one-off” expense. The cost to educate each student varies a lot. Students with disabilities or who don’t speak English as their first language often cost significantly more to educate. So as a school loses students, it may often find itself left with a larger percentage of its highest-cost students.

Instead of saying money should follow the child, we should say children don’t come with a price tag, and that every school needs to have enough resources to meet the needs and interests of all its students.

Money Doesn’t Matter

How often do you hear the argument that we can’t fix the problems in schools by “throwing money at them.”

We constantly hear that schools are incredibly wasteful and they have to do better with the money they have.

Arne Duncan loved to call this “the new normal.”

It’s also just not true. Yes America does spend more money per student than most other industrialized countries. But remember, this is an average and there is incredibly wide variance in the system.

The richest 25 percent of school districts receive 15.6 percent more funds from state and local governments per student than the poorest 25 percent of school districts. That’s a national funding gap of $1,500 per student, on average, a gap that has grown 44 percent since 2001.

When spending has increased, about half of the increases, according to economist Richard Rothstein, come from serving students with disabilities and immigrant students who don’t speak English.

But in total, most states spend less money on education today than they did in 2008 – some of them a lot less. And national per-pupil spending has dropped 3 years in a row. In the meantime student populations continue to increase.

But does money even matter? Numerous studies say yes.

According to one of those studies by Rutgers University professor Bruce Baker, on average, higher per-pupil spending produces better results. School resources that cost money — like class size reduction or higher teacher salaries — tend to be positively associated with better student outcomes.

This is especially true with low-income students. One study found that a 20 percent increase in per-pupil spending had virtually closed the high school graduation gap between poor students and their wealthier peers and it got far more of those students into college.

So instead of talking about the need to “tighten our belts” and adjust to the “new normal” we need to talk about giving schools the resources that are necessary to address all their students’ needs and interests.

Schools Should Be Run Like A Business

How often do you hear people say, “If we ran a business the way we operate schools, it wouldn’t be in business very long”?

We’re told that education is too inefficient and not productive enough, that schools need to focus on “quality improvement” and “zero defects.”

We’re told that teachers resist change, that schools are a bureaucratic monopoly, and that more competition needs to be introduced into the system.

So now superintendents call themselves CEOs and parents are called customers.

This rhetoric distorts the mission of education.

First when people say run schools like a business, they don’t say what kind of business? Coal mines aren’t run like restaurants.

Second, most businesses fail. Do we really want schools that are constantly failing? How is that good for kids?

Third, you’ve all heard the Papa John’s tagline “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza.” Well, as Jamie Vollmer has pointed out, schools can’t control their ingredients. They have to educate all children with the resources they are given by the community.

Lastly, businesses are not democratic institutions. Schools must be democratic if we want parents and taxpayers to have input into how schools are run. And schools must model democracy if we want children to be prepared to function in a democratic society.

So instead of comparing schools to businesses, we should talk about schools as essential infrastructure, like fire and police protection, roads and bridges, and our electoral process.

Any School Getting Public Money Is A Public School

Yes, you heard that right.

According to school choice advocates, the public school system should give parents the option to choose from an array of school options, some of which aren’t truly public.

When a school choice pressure group recently descended on the capital of my home state North Carolina, they advocated for the state’s Virtual Academy, an online school run by private for-profit operator K12 Inc. Other “public school options” the group advocates for are “tax-credit funded scholarship programs” that help families pay for private school tuition.

Similarly, the Florida school choice advocacy group RefinED contends that school vouchers, which allow parents to transfer students to private schools at taxpayer expense, are part of a public school system.

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.

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:

Charter school buildings are often privately owned by the school founders, or by an affiliated company or private trust, even if the building was originally purchased with taxpayer money.

Sometimes, the materials, furniture, and equipment in the schools are owned by a private charter management company, and if the school closes, the charter “owner” may keep those assets, even though they were purchased with taxpayer money.

While most public schools are governed by democratically elected public boards, most charter schools are run by appointed boards who are not directly accountable to the community.

Unlike public schools, charters can define the number of enrollment slots they wish to make available. They do not have to take students mid-year and do not have to “backfill” seats, that is, accept students to fill open spots when students leave.

Generally, charter schools don’t have to follow the same due process rules for students and employees that public schools follow. They can set their own academic, behavior, and cultural standards regardless of community norms.

And while public schools are obligated to share information about their operations, charter schools have very narrow requirements for what information they report and can restrict public access.

Despite these obvious differences, the charter industry lobby has been very successful in convincing politicians and policy makers that their schools are public. And now the same sort of logic is being used to claim other private education operators are in fact public schools too.

Cornerstones Of Effective Communication

But none of these options – charter schools, voucher supported private schools, and 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 our public schools.

I can go through many more of these phrases that are used to dismantle the public education system. But what I want to leave you with today is some news about a new tool to help you wage this rhetorical war and also a bit of advice on how to plan your own messaging.

First, later this month, the Network for Public Education will debut a new online toolkit to help grassroots public school advocates deal effectively with the powerful advocacy groups who want to privatize our public schools. Part of what I shared with you today is included in this new tool because I helped write it. But the content goes into greater depth. I’m not able to share any samples with you today or give you a website to go to, but if you leave me your card, I’ll send you the website address when it becomes available.

And I’d truly be remiss if I didn’t close out with some advice on how to craft your own messages, at least based on what’s worked for me. It’s what I call a four-cornerstone approach:

1. Don’t address the audience. Address the reader. In the marketing and advertising industry, which I’ve been part of for over 30 years, successful campaigns are not about moving whole audiences. They’re focused on persuading tiny segments. Typical promotions expect to get very small percentages of response, often 1 percent or less. So when communicating about education, target your message to an individual, such as a parent who’s considering enrolling her child in a charter, a taxpayer who no longer has children in schools but cares how his money is being spent, or a local official who doesn’t want to be exposed for putting children at risk. When you narrow the scope of your message you’re far more apt to increase its impact.

2. Emotion is more persuasive than facts. Do I really need to explain this? Look who we elected president. In a standoff of emotions vs. facts, emotions win every time. Research studies have found that people generally make decisions mostly on emotions and use facts and reason to back their decisions up. The best way to generate emotion is to tell stories. Also, use metaphors, but be sure to pick ones based on good values. Arne Duncan wanted us to buy into a Race to the Top, which was a terrible metaphor.

3. Start where people are, not where you want them to be. This is not the same thing as compromise. But what you can do is create an idea or course of action which will lead to what you want in the long run. Those who want to dismantle public education have been masterful at this. They persuaded school supporters to accept standardized testing of schools so that once a school can be deemed a failure it can be punished and closed. They made it acceptable for politicians of all stripes to support charter schools, which now makes it easier to argue that any education provider getting taxpayer funds is part of the public school system. We need to build these kind of slippery slopes for our side.

4. Refine and repeat. You have to whittle down arguments into digestible chunks that you repeat over and over. People too often make the mistake that they have to be relevant to the latest headline or change the messaging because people might be getting bored with it. But staying on message has a snowball effect over time.

My Story Ends

Finally, speaking of stories, I need to tell you the end of mine.

After my dad died, my mom never remarried and gradually withdrew from many of the activities she had enjoyed. Far from the family she left behind in Montana, with two of her sons living on opposite ends of the continent, her third son whose business frequently took him out of town, and her aging friendships dwindling every year, she spent most days alone except for a home care nurse who came three days a week and sons who could visit on the weekends and holidays. Attempts to persuade her to move closer to her family up north or move closer to one of her sons were in vein.

After her fourth fall, we realized she had to be institutionalized in a nursing home.

When I would visit her in the home we would sit in her room and watch TV. Her favorite channel was Fox News. During my visit, I would help her into her wheelchair and take her on a walk around the facility. Because residents were required to keep their doors open, as we wheeled through the corridors we could hear what others were watching. Nearly every TV was tuned to Fox News.

After two years in the home, my mom passed away quietly in her sleep one night.

As we were going through her things, we came across boxes of old photos. Some showed her with her classmates in their trim white nursing uniforms graduating from the University of Montana in Missoula.

There were photos from her years with the Nursing Corps too, showing her working with the trainees bound for the front. And we found photos of her in rank with the Corps, dressed in stately gray uniforms with epaulettes and caps, sometimes marching in holiday parades.

On the hunch these photographs had historical value, we sent them to a municipal museum in Missoula where they are now on public display for all to see.

[Stay in the fight for our public schools by following our education project, the Education Opportunity Network.]

[Correction: Previous citation of international assessment data was deleted due to unreliable source.]