Will Charter Schools Survive The Charter School Movement?

America’s education polices are brimming with contradiction. Schools, we’re told, need more standardization, but parents need more choices, which standardization precludes. Teachers need to be held to more accountability, but entry into the teaching force needs to be easier with fewer qualifications. This kind of contradiction applies to one of the more contentious ideas often … Continue reading “Will Charter Schools Survive The Charter School Movement?”

America’s education polices are brimming with contradiction. Schools, we’re told, need more standardization, but parents need more choices, which standardization precludes. Teachers need to be held to more accountability, but entry into the teaching force needs to be easier with fewer qualifications.

This kind of contradiction applies to one of the more contentious ideas often equated to school “reform” as well – charter schools.

Just as states across the country are ramping up efforts to increase the number of charters, loosen government regulations of these schools and transfer accountability responsibilities from local boards and education administrative bodies to charter enthusiasts, proponents of charter schools are calling for tougher oversight of these schools that would result in many more of them being closed down.

If all that seems at cross-purposes to you – and potentially, a colossal waste of time and money, not to mention a risky experiment on our children – then you simply do not understand the guiding principles of what has become known as the “charter school movement.”

The existence of charter schools is, of course, nothing new. But the creation and expansion of charter schools is now being referred to as not just an idea for creating better schools in a community but as a “movement” with a messianic goal to expand the power and influence of education “reformers.”

While the intent of some charter backers may have at one time been for educators and parents in a community to create a different learning space for students who weren’t being well served, that’s all changed now. Charters have instead ventured into a brave new world of a movement contradictory to the ends it purports to serve.

The Face Of Charter Movement-Building

If you’re not clear that the charter school movement is now mostly about creating charter schools for charter school’s sake, look at what’s happening in North Carolina.

This past week, a new bill was introduced in the state Senate that would significantly weaken the oversight of the state’s charter schools and expand their numbers. An analysis by Rob Shofield of the left-leaning NC Policy Watch group, stated that “the proposed legislation makes charter schools even less accountable than they already are” by “replacing review bodies with cheerleaders,” diluting the qualifications of teachers allowed to work in the school, and keeping funds appropriated for failing charters in the hands of private interests instead of returning money to the state.

These concerns caused the editorial staff of The Charlotte Observer to notice that the bill would remove “a lot of charter school accountability.”

Nevertheless, according to the progressive NC policy Watch group, the bill had the “full support” of charter school activists and the conservative belief-tank community in the state.

This charter school proposal in North Carolina is not an isolated case. Other, similar bills have been trumpeted by conservative lawmakers in Arkansas, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas. According to Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post, “more than half of the states with charter-school laws” now provide loopholes to circumvent charter regulation.

In some states, charter enthusiasts are now even pushing for these schools to be exempted from new Common Core standards and assessments that are being demanded of traditional public schools across the nation.

The wave of charter school loophole proliferation is decidedly counter to what leading charter proponents have been proposing.

What About Charter “Quality?”

Shortly after this current school year began, the principal trade group for charters, The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), proposed the need for “tougher laws” governing charters and “said it’s time to rein in growth and focus on quality” according to USA Today’s Greg Toppo.

NACSA reported their concern arose from the finding that “as many as 1,300 charter schools are in the lowest 15 percent of schools.” Nevertheless, states allowed the vast majority of charters to continue operation, blocking “fewer than one in seven schools” from renewal of their contracts.

Stories of low-quality charter schools, in fact, have now become routine in local and national news.

This past week, school officials in Ohio reported that a new rating system developed by Governor Kasich’s administration would grade over 70 percent of the states’ charters schools “F.”

The president of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools said the grades “skewed charter schools’ results” because some of the student populations the charters serve are more challenging. But certainly traditional public schools serve many of these same challenging student populations as well.

Meanwhile, another recent report from Ohio, revealed the state’s “charter schools cost the state twice as much per student as traditional schools” to operate.

Outside Ohio, education historian Diane Ravitch looked at a recent study about the record of charter schools in Milwaukee, which extends over 20 years. She found, “There is no significant difference between the performance of public schools and charter schools. However, public schools in Milwaukee are more successful with the poorest students than are charter schools.”

Also recently, a Stanford study looked at the issue of charter school quality and found similar troubling signs that underperformance among charters was a significant and widespread problem. According to the study, “the performance of charter schools varies widely, even after state policy differences are taken into account,” and “high-performing charter schools are in the minority.”

Further, the study found there was great “uncertainty of successful replication” of good quality charter schools. For instance, charter school “chains, called Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) “on average are not dramatically better than non-CMO schools in terms of their contributions to student learning.”

Although the researchers concluded that some CMOs perform vastly better than others, the same can be said for traditional public schools, which casts doubt that there is something magic about charters that would give them vast powers to improve the performance of American K-12 education in general.

Last week, widespread problems with poor quality charter schools prompted The New York Times to declare in an editorial:

Despite a growing number of studies showing that charter schools are generally no better – and often are worse – than their traditional counterparts, the state and local agencies and organizations that grant the charters have been increasingly hesitant to shut down schools, even those that continue to perform abysmally for years on end. If the movement is to maintain its credibility, the charter authorizers must shut down failed schools quickly and limit new charters to the most credible applicants, including operators who have a demonstrated record of success.

The revelation that charter schools have a quality problem is not lost on charter backers. Back to the USA Today article, Toppo quoted charter school proponent Caprice Young, “onetime head of the California Charter School Association,” who said the move to toughen standards on charters was “long overdue.”

Another charter advocate, Nina Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, chimed in that “authorizers” needed to “to get it right, whatever the numbers may be.”

Forgive My Noting

Certainly if more charter schools are going to be shut down, someone has to do it. There has to be criteria for the closures, a system of notification and appeal, and a plan for determining what to do with students when their schools are closed. A board of charter school chums appointed by the governor hardly seems up to the job. So something that resembles “government regulation” and someone resembling “government regulators” seems to be in order here.

Also, when charters are shut down, it would seem to make sense to create a means of ensuring charters of a similar nature don’t replace the closed schools. That also undoubtedly requires something resembling dreaded “government bureaucrats.”

Further, when charters do out-perform regular neighborhood schools, someone has to ensure they aren’t simply gaming the system. For instance, a recent analysis at the website of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution looked at student populations of Georgia’s charters and saw a “demographic discrepancy between their student body and that of the area they serve,” which would likely skewer the charter schools’ academic results higher.

These discrepancies went beyond race and income. Author Jay Bokman noted that in rural parts of the state, “charters attract students who would otherwise attend private schools,” which would artificially push their numbers up higher. Also, because “charters can require parents to volunteer as a condition of attendance, they draw families in which parental involvement – and the workplace and transportation flexibility needed to be parentally involved – are a given.”

Bookman concluded, “That dynamic is an important reason to leave the authority to create charters with local officials who know their own communities”  – in other words, more bureaucracy.

In short, the whole movement-driven notion that charter school proliferation should be enabled by lifting regulations and bureaucracy is completely contradictory to the imperative for higher quality charter schools.

A Pogo Moment For Charter Schools

An impartial observer of charter schools, Rutgers professor Bruce Baker, once hoped charters would be a possible source of “some creative, energetic leadership . . . that might be associated with a mission-driven start-up school, coupled with an ounce or two of deregulation.”

Recently, however, his perception has changed. “This whole movement has gotten way out of control – it has morphed dramatically – especially the punditry and resultant public policy surrounding charter schooling. Sadly, I’m reaching a point where I now believe that the end result is causing more harm than good.”

Baker concluded, “Many charter schools, and certainly the political movement of charter schooling, are no longer operating in the public interest.”

Really, a quote from the USA Today article cited above said it all. When confronted with the evidence that poor quality charter schools are now more-so the norm than not, NACSA’s leader Greg Richmond declared, “We didn’t start the charter school movement in order to create more underperforming schools.”

What Richmond apparently didn’t realize is that when you morph an idea or a strategy into a “movement,” you’re no longer in charge of where the movement leads.

For any charter school enthusiast concerned about creating good schools, this is your Pogo moment when your search for the “enemy” of your “movement” has led you to a mirror. Look closely. Whether charter schools survive as a legitimate outcome of the collective effort of local citizens to educate children or become a scourge of low quality institutions devouring the common good for the sake of its own proliferation now depends mostly on you.

EON #7 – Mar 20-26, 2013

THIS WEEK: Fight Over Obama’s Pre-K Plan … New York City Kids Struggle With Mental Illness Or Emotional Problems … Civil Rights Groups Reject Parent Trigger … Few Options For Kids From Failing Schools … State Higher Education Cuts May Harm Students And The Economy TOP STORY The Democratic Party’s Anti-Democratic Education Policy By Jeff … Continue reading “EON #7 – Mar 20-26, 2013”

THIS WEEK: Fight Over Obama’s Pre-K Plan … New York City Kids Struggle With Mental Illness Or Emotional Problems … Civil Rights Groups Reject Parent Trigger … Few Options For Kids From Failing Schools … State Higher Education Cuts May Harm Students And The Economy

TOP STORY

The Democratic Party’s Anti-Democratic Education Policy

By Jeff Bryant

“Chicagoans are speaking out loudly and forcefully against a plan to close schools … While the rationale for closing the schools, or not, gets quickly into the weeds  … what has gone completely unaddressed is the incoherence that an edict of this nature has been promulgated by a mayoral administration claiming the mantle of the Democratic party.” Read more …

NEWS AND VIEWS

The Looming Fight Over Obama’s Pre-K Plan: It’s Not Just About the Money

Huffington Post

Education professor Barbara Beatty writes, “There is a less discussed fight looming within the ranks of early childhood educators themselves, and it’s over more than money and preschool effects. It’s about the kind of preschool education President Obama is proposing … Many preschools, already desperate for funding, may be forced to choose between taking money they need and academic teaching and testing they think will damage young children’s development and play.” Read more …

 

One In Five City Kids From 6 To 12 Struggles With Mental Illness Or Emotional Problems

Education News

“More than 145,000 [New York City] children – roughly one in five – between 6 and 12 struggle with mental illness or other emotional woes, a new study has found … It’s likely that the severity of mental-health problems among youngsters is even worse than indicated … Only 17 percent of kids whose parents identified them as having behavioral problems got assistance … ‘Our state needs adequately funded traditional public schools open to all. Our state needs elected officials who act to ensure [public schools] viability.'” Read more …

 

Florida Civil Rights Groups Reject Parent Trigger Bill

Blogging Black Miami

“Proponents of parent trigger bills in Florida and other states frequently explicitly state that minority parents support such bills … but two civil rights groups in Florida … have drafted resolutions opposing the bill.” Read more …

 

Parents Have Few Options When Moving Kids From Failing Public Schools

The Lens

“A key failure in New Orleans’ lauded landscape of choice-based educational reform: In a city where parental options abound, how many of the choices are reputable ones? … More than seven years into the New Orleans choice experiment, documents and interviews reveal the schools are so academically anemic that the [Recovery School District] fell short in its attempts to comply with federal policy requiring school districts to offer higher quality alternatives to students in failing schools.” Read more …

 

Recent Deep State Higher Education Cuts May Harm Students And The Economy for Years to Come

Center On Budget And Policy Priorities

“State cuts to higher education funding have been severe and almost universal … Colleges and universities have … [1.] increased tuition to help make up for lost state revenue … [2.] constrained spending  … often in ways that reduce the quality and availability of their academic offerings … Reinvesting in public higher education should be an urgent priority for policymakers who are concerned about the long-term economic success of their state and its residents.” Read more …

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The Democratic Party’s Anti-Democratic Education Policy

Chicago, the city famous for “big shoulders,” has a big mouth, too. Spurred by an alarming level of school building closures – 61 in all – mandated by Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration, Chicagoans are speaking out loudly and forcefully against a plan to “downsize the facility footprint of the district.” A point being made … Continue reading “The Democratic Party’s Anti-Democratic Education Policy”

Chicago, the city famous for “big shoulders,” has a big mouth, too.

Spurred by an alarming level of school building closures – 61 in all – mandated by Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration, Chicagoans are speaking out loudly and forcefully against a plan to “downsize the facility footprint of the district.”

A point being made most vociferously, according to Huffington Post, is the blatant discriminatory context of the closures due to the fact that “the schools slated for closure are all elementary schools and are overwhelmingly black and in low-income neighborhoods.”

While the rationale for closing the schools, or not, gets quickly into the weeds – are the schools really “underutilized” and “under performing,” does the city really have a budget “emergency” – what has gone completely unaddressed is the incoherence that an edict of this nature has been promulgated by a mayoral administration claiming the mantle of the Democratic party.

Once upon a time, the Democratic Party had this reputation for promoting policies that were supportive of educating African American children. It was left-leaning factions of the Democratic Party that led efforts to desegregate schools, use Title I funds to ensure some equity of funding for schools that poor kids attend, and push for the rights of teachers working in those schools to have some say in ensuring school children were well served.

The idea that the way to improve the education of African American children is to close their schools seems bizarre from the point of view of anyone purporting to be a Democrat.

For sure, lots of schools serving low-income kids in Chicago are problematic. And that appears to be true of many schools serving low-income kids across the country. But insisting those schools close their doors is akin to proclaiming during a crime wave that we must close the police precincts.

Even stranger, the actions of mayor Emanuel’s administration appear to align with an entrenched Democratic Party elite in Washington, DC who want to enforce a school governance policy that restricts the input of students, parents, teachers, and citizens who are most affected by education policies.

For a party that once bristled at being called “The Democrat Party” vs. “The Democratic Party” for reasons of ideological purity, this is indeed a weird turn of events.

But when it comes to education policy, the Democratic Party has become unmoored from its fundamental values and become aligned with a movement that is fundamentally anti-Democratic.

Chicagoans are calling out Democrats for this betrayal – for good reason – and so should everyone else.

Chicago School Closings Are A Big Deal

The official number of students affected in the Chicago school closing is 30,000 – certainly a big deal even for the nation’s third largest school system.

The disruption doesn’t stop there. According to Education Week, there will also be 11 more schools targeted to have a charter school co-located in their buildings, and six schools are designated for “turned around,” which can involve mass firings of school staff.

The response from Chicago Teachers Union leader Karen Lewis was to dub Emanuel “murder mayor” for “murdering public services.” She vowed, “some of us are going to put our bodies on the line” to defend the schools.

Parents joined in the outcry as well, with a school walkout, protests at City Hall, and one activist group organizing a bus tour to picket the homes of members of the Chicago Board of Education.

About 30 protestors descended on branch offices of Bank of America to link outrage over school closings to the lack of accountability in the nation’s financial sector. The protestors point of outrage was Bank of America’s interest-rate swaps that “reportedly take $35 million from CPS annually.” The deal locked in interest rates of “3 percent to 6 percent for loans negotiated during the Great Recession” even though the Federal Reserve has now lowered interest rates to less than half percent.

A massive rally to protest the closings is set to take place in downtown Chicago at 4:00 p.m. on March 27.

The Weak Case For School Closings

In defense of his administration’s edicts, mayor Emanuel – refreshed from a ski trip “out West” – stated that closing schools was “investing in quality education.”

One wonders if the mayor would rationalize shutting down the city’s fire stations on the same basis – as “investing” in property protection.

But wonkier arguments for the closures pull from the Very Serious Land of fiscal conservatism – that never-never place where bureaucrats armed with Excel claim the ability to know the “performance” of institutions they have never set foot in and the power to pull wondrous “savings to the public” out of a magic hat.

A report produced by a network of education researchers looked at this notion that school closings would lead to better “performance” and immense “savings” and found otherwise.

The report by CReATE, “a network of over 100 professors from numerous Chicago-area universities,” looked at the justifications the Emanuel administration has given for the closings and found them to be mostly baseless.

First, the review concluded that closing schools does little to raise the academic achievement of children in under-performing schools. The researchers cite from studies of school closings previously conducted in Chicago and elsewhere which found that the vast majority of students from shuttered elementary schools moved from one underperforming school to another underperforming school.

The students from the closed schools did no better in their new schools. In fact, they were more apt to do worse – scoring lower on tests in the year following closure and experiencing increased risk of school violence and eventually dropping out.

Closing schools also tended to have negative effects on the students who were in the schools that remained open. Transferring students from the closed schools into the open ones led to increased class sizes and overcrowding.

The disruption to students’ peer relationships, relationships with adults, and “social and emotional supports” caused schools with highly mobile student populations to lag behind stable schools by “one grade level on average.”

And those wondrous savings that closing schools would produce? According to the report, the savings promised are supposed to come from leasing, selling, or repurposing the closed schools. But Chicago is “having difficulty disposing of the schools they have already closed.” In fact, “school closings in six cities showed that school closures did not save the school districts as much money as was hoped.”

In fact, a different study showed that closing schools in Washington, DC actually cost the city $40 million.

Unfortunately, Chicago is not alone in experiencing a rash of school closings. According to reports, “Several major U.S. cities, including Philadelphia, Washington and Detroit,” are experiencing the same thing.

Behold The New Authoritarianism

What’s driving school closure mania is a belief, coming principally down from Washington, DC, that education governance should be increasingly intolerant of listening to and following the voices of parents and citizens on the ground.

This new authoritarianism for education governance was on display on a computer screen near you – just as events in Chicago were unfolding – when a panel of “education policy experts” assembled in the Capital City to pronounce their views on how schools everywhere should be run.

Not too surprisingly, operatives from conservative belief tanks were quick to denounce any school governance approach that is most apt to ensure our public schools remain democratic institutions – things like local control, elected school boards, and public ownership.

“Too many cooks,” the conservatives railed, comparing public institutions that We The People built with our tax dollars, willingly and gladly sent our children to, and supported for the benefit of other people’s children to a “monopoly.”

Representing left-leaning people in the discussion, supposedly, was Cynthia Brown from the Center for American Progress who astonishingly chimed in with a “bipartisan” stamp of approval for less democracy in school governance.

“We’re in agreement,” Brown proclaimed as if she alone embodied the opinions of Democrats everywhere.

What the panel preferred to the “too many cooks” approach was a range of sparkling new policy ideas like private operation of schools, business models (where real monopolies exist) driven by an all powerful CEO, and, most notably, “mayor control.”

Mayor control means that instead of an elected school board, the mayor gets his or her pick of who runs the schools. Funny – this happens to be the method of school governance in Chicago and other cities experiencing mass school closings that parents and citizens object to.

No matter to the Center for American Progress who happened to release a new report extolling the wonders of mayoral control just as the whole notion is being strongly contested by Democratic Party activists in big urban districts across the country.

This love for all things authoritarian is certainly nothing new for Republicans who have tended to be fans of things like military interventions and stronger police states.

But how strange that people calling themselves Democrats – who battle Republicans over restrictive voter ID laws and push for the enfranchisement of immigrants – feel that when it comes to education governance less public voice in the matter is a good thing.

Once upon a time, minority populations actually looked to Democratic Party leaders in the halls of the Federal Government to push for the empowerment of grassroots community and parent groups. Now, there are clear signs that type of leadership no longer exists – at least when it comes to school governance.

People in Chicago know that and are speaking out. Everyone else needs to listen.

EON #6 – Mar 13-19, 2013

TOP STORY Where Are Progressives In The Fight To Save Public Schools? By Jeff Bryant “People calling themselves ‘progressives’ have tended to unite with conservative Republicans when it came to education – even while they chose to fight tooth-and-nail on other issues. But the Washington Consensus on education was illusionary – and actually a capitulation … Continue reading “EON #6 – Mar 13-19, 2013”

TOP STORY

Where Are Progressives In The Fight To Save Public Schools?

By Jeff Bryant

“People calling themselves ‘progressives’ have tended to unite with conservative Republicans when it came to education – even while they chose to fight tooth-and-nail on other issues. But the Washington Consensus on education was illusionary – and actually a capitulation from Democrats. … And now that the real intentions of the reform agenda are starting to play out on the ground, there are signs that progressives are making the fight for public schools another front in a broader grassroots struggle.” Read more…

Waiting For Recovery: U.S. Public Schools Continue To Lose Jobs

Reuters

“As the latest data shows momentum gathering in U.S. private-sector employment and overall unemployment dropping to a four-year low of 7.7 percent, government jobs – education positions in particular – are still disappearing … about 361,000 jobs in the sector have been eliminated … with 4,500 local government education jobs shed in the first two months … State spending on education dipped to 19.8 percent of total outlays in fiscal 2012, the first time it has accounted for less than 20 percent, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.” Read more…

School Maintenance Report Shows Need For $542 Billion To Update, Modernize Buildings

The Huffington Post

A report from The Center for Green Schools finds, “America’s schools are in such disrepair that it would cost more than $270 billion just to get elementary and secondary buildings back to their original conditions and twice that to get them up to date … Horror stories abound about schools with roofs that leak, plumbing that backs up and windows that do little to stop winds … The problems often start at the local and state levels [and] large disparities between schools in areas of high poverty and those in more affluent areas.” Read more…

Influx Of School Police Raises Worries

Education Week

“The rarity of deadly school incidents must be weighed against the likelihood that an influx of officers will raise the stakes on school discipline and funnel students into the juvenile-justice system for matters administrators should handle in-house … The charge to make the police presence at schools universal worries even groups that support the addition of officers … Over time, civil rights groups say, some school police officers have grown far too involved with discipline matters, often with bad consequences for students. … While federal data show the rate of juvenile arrests has declined nationwide, such arrests are on the rise in pockets.” Read more…

New York Parents Furious At Program, inBloom, That Compiles Private Student Information For Companies

New York Daily News

In New York, “education officials will hand over personal student data to a new private company to create a national database for businesses that contract with public schools … Parents are furious that New York is joining eight other states in adopting the model without giving families a chance to opt out of sharing delicate information … InBloom, a 3-month-old database, is funded primarily by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. built the infrastructure for the new electronic portal. The state spent $50 million in federal grants to partner with inBloom and finalized its agreement in October to share data with the fledgling company.” Read more…

Better Colleges Failing to Lure Talented Poor

The New York Times

“Most low-income students who have top test scores and grades do not even apply to the nation’s best colleges … The pattern contributes to widening economic inequality and low levels of mobility in this country … The colleges that most low-income students attend have fewer resources and lower graduation rates than selective colleges, and many students who attend a local college do not graduate. Those who do graduate can miss out on the career opportunities that top colleges offer.” Read more…

Where Are Progressives In The Fight To Save Public Schools?

This week, here was Paul Krugman’s assessment of the current policy agenda governing the nation’s public schools: “We have the illusion of consensus, an illusion based on a process in which anyone questioning the preferred narrative is immediately marginalized, no matter how strong his or her credentials.” Except, Krugman wasn’t writing about education policy, actually. … Continue reading “Where Are Progressives In The Fight To Save Public Schools?”

This week, here was Paul Krugman’s assessment of the current policy agenda governing the nation’s public schools:

“We have the illusion of consensus, an illusion based on a process in which anyone questioning the preferred narrative is immediately marginalized, no matter how strong his or her credentials.”

Except, Krugman wasn’t writing about education policy, actually. He was writing about the nation’s run up to the Iraq War ten years ago. “Support for the war,” Krugman recalled, ” became part of the definition of what it meant to hold a mainstream opinion. Anyone who dissented, no matter how qualified, was ipso facto labeled as unworthy of consideration.”

Krugman compared the type of “groupthink” that preceded the war in Iraq to the current false consensus driving our nation’s flawed economic policy. But he may as well have been writing about the nation’s education policy as well.

For years, federal education policies have been characterized by a “Washington Consensus” that public schools are effectively broken and only a market based reform agenda will fix them.

People calling themselves “progressives” have tended to unite with conservative Republicans in this consensus – even while they chose to fight tooth-and-nail on other issues.

But the Washington Consensus on education was indeed illusionary. And now that the real intentions of the reform agenda are starting to play out on the ground, there are signs that progressives are making the fight for public schools another front in a broader grassroots struggle agains corporate hegemony.

Education Consensus Was A Collusion

In the 2012 elections, veteran education reporter Jay Mathews of The Washington Post. noted that whenever education was the focus, Republican and Democratic candidates “have been happily copying each other.”

The general shared agenda held that schools were in need of broad, top-down “reform” driven by stricter standards, high-stakes testing, and competitive charter schools – in short, a free-market perspective adopted from the business world that would base decisions on “objective data” gathered through testing and competitive ratings to weed out “bad” teachers and schools.

Although this agenda has been mostly driven by the federal government, it has gradually been implemented by most states too, as evidenced by the widespread adoption of test-based school and teacher evaluations and the rapid increase in the numbers of charter schools nationwide.

Like the “groupthink” Krugman noted above, education policy has been a consensus without diversity and without the input of skeptics.

A recent op-ed appearing in Education Week described perfectly how this “illusion of consensus” has been maintained over the years.

Declaring, “greater cooperation across political and ideological lines is badly needed in education,” Capitol Hill insider Jack Jennings described how he “put together an advisory group of people with different opinions” to determine whether the federal school policy known as No Child Left Behind was meeting its goal of increasing student achievement, especially for “historically low-performing groups of students.”

This panel was replete with the usual suspects we see time and again from The Very Serious People in America’s political class: a couple of respectable higher ed folks, an economist, and a preponderance of Beltway belief tank operatives.

There was no one who worked day-to-day in public schools – no district administrators, no school principals, and no classroom teachers in a leadership position. There were no representatives from school boards or parent organizations. No one from the civil rights or social justice community.

But the supposed magic of this panel was that it was “Bipartisan” – that is, if you think having two conservatives, a “nonpartisan,” and a decidedly centrist Democrat (Jennings himself) constituted “political diversity.”

Nevertheless, Jennings declared the panel’s work an unmitigated “success” because it showed that NCLB – a policy now held in such exceptional disrepute, states go to incredible lengths to become exempt from it – had achieved some modest achievement gains.

The panel’s success, of course, was all due to this unbelievable level of “cooperation and compromise.”

If Jennings and other Beltway insiders really wanted more of a consensus view, they should have populated their panel with the kind of diversity that comprised the Commission on Equity & Excellence  which recently concluded that instead of achieving modest gains, federal policies for education have resulted in “schools in high poverty neighborhoods…getting an education that more closely approximates schools in developing nations.”

What Jennings’ tale of reaching “across the aisle” illustrated is that education policy-making among our leadership has been not so much a Washington Consensus as it has been a Washington Collusion.

Writing in Jacobin, Micah Uetricht observed that when the subject is education policy, “Democrats have swallowed the Right’s free market orthodoxy whole.”

Uetricht elaborated:

High-stakes standardized testing, merit pay for teachers, school closures, privatization and union-busting through charter school expansion, blaming teachers and unions for the dismal state of poor urban schools, an unshakable faith in the free market as the Great Liberator of the wretched, over-regulated student masses – all proposals and ideas [are] embraced and promoted by much of the Democratic Party, including President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

But a change is in the wind.

Chicago Teachers Strike:  When Progressives Woke Up?

Uetricht applied his analysis of the Democratic sellout on education to the reform agenda in Chicago, What he found:

Chicago has long been one of the principal testing grounds for neoliberal education reform. Mayor Richard M. Daley, a Democrat from a Democratic political family in that most Democratic of big cities, and Duncan, then CEO of CPS, crafted Renaissance 2010, a program begun in 2004 which pushed closures and ‘turnarounds’ of neighborhood schools and replacing them with nonunion, publicly funded charters, and is largely the basis for the Race to the Top program Duncan currently oversees as Secretary of Education.

Rahm Emanuel and the Board of Education – which includes billionaire hotel heiress and Democratic Party power player Penny Pritzker – have continued this push, particularly around school closures. Currently on the table is a proposal to close 100 unionized neighborhood public schools around the city and replace them with 60 nonunion charters – a move that would simultaneously decimate the union’s membership, redirect public money to privately-run charters that lack basic mechanisms for public accountability, slash teachers’ salaries and benefits, and cause massive disruption in the poor black and brown neighborhoods where the majority of closures would take place.

“The shift towards the destruction of public education through the embrace of the free market was well-known among Chicago teachers,” Uetricht noted.

But then something changed. Instead of entrusting the Democratic Party to “sway back” towards supporting a more progressive agenda, the Chicago Teachers Union decided to take a “more confrontational stance.”

That more controversial tone led to a teacher strike. The strike was strongly backed by Chicago voters and parents,  and the teachers eventually won the day by framing their demands on students’ basic education needs rather than obscure market-speak about “effective” schools and “value added” teaching.

The concessions teachers won “included textbooks for all students on the first day of school, 600 new teachers in the arts and physical education, and mandatory recall of laid-off veteran teachers (rather than replacing them with young, inexperienced, cheaper teachers) when positions become available. Teacher evaluation based on standardized testing was negotiated to its legal minimum, 30 percent – contrasting with the Obama administration’s push under Race to the Top to increase the proportion of teacher evaluations based on standardized tests.”

What happened in Chicago – where people on the ground took control of the narrative and made it about fighting the free market assault on the common good – is now spreading to other communities.

Education’s Progressive Pushback Is Spreading

A notable example of resistance to the corporate takeover of public schools is the campaign in Bridgeport, Connecticut to oust Paul Vallas as interim school superintendent.

Vallas is the granddaddy of free-market education reform resulting in more privatization of public schools. After stints in leading school reform campaigns in Philadelphia, Chicago, and New Orleans, Vallas left in his wake school systems that had been massively “reformed” but still, somehow, are in need of more reform, necessitating more “churn” in school closures and competitive charter schools – a hallmark of market-based reform. How this can be touted as a great success is indeed only possible in “illusionary consensus world.”

What happened in Bridgeport is that progressives got wind of this nonsense and decided it smelled pretty bad. After Vallas was hired as interim superintendent, people on the ground noticed not only was his track record troubling, he also didn’t legally meet the qualifications for the office.

What ensued was a grassroots push-back led in part by the progressive Connecticut Working Families Party. The campaign consisted of an online petition, knocking on doors, a staged sidewalk rally, and a retired teacher flown in from Chicago to testify about Vallas’ past transgressions.

The teacher, Gloria Warner, said, “It just makes me sick to hear that Paul Vallas is trying to do to this city what he did to Chicago. While Paul Vallas was wasting billions of taxpayer dollars, and making hundreds of thousands for himself, I had to spend my hard earned money to buy materials so that I could do my job.”

And parents have spoken up:

JoAnn Kennedy, a parent of two students at Bridgeport’s Bassick High School said, “Every day I sees the mess that is going on. Teachers are afraid to speak up. No teaching is going on. We need leadership that puts students first.”

Another Bridgeport parent, also a board member, Sauda Baraka said, “I expect a Bridgeport superintendent to have the required state certifications . . . with less emphasis on testing and more emphasis on providing school buildings with the necessary support to ensure student success.”

And parent and board member Maria Pereira said “I am not convinced that Paul Vallas is doing the best job for our students. He has a long record of privatizing schools, and turning tax dollars over to corporations, and I am deeply troubled with his decision to repeatedly violate CT State laws by awarding over $13,000,000 in no bid contracts.”

Although Vallas’ illegal contract ended up getting approved, by a consensus-dominated board, there is ample evidence that the community is energized to continue to press the case.

A Movement Grows In Brooklyn

Similar to Bridgeport, citizens in New York City have mobilized against school privatization efforts. According to the local education blog, Gotham News, “The [Mayor] Bloomberg administration has relied heavily on co-location, the practice of allowing one school to open in another school’s building, to open new schools. Its critics say the arrangement breeds unnecessary tension and takes resources away from existing schools.”

As colocations have redirected resources from neighborhood schools to privately operated charter schools – which frequently benefit from donations from foundations endowed with Wall Street money – more neighborhood schools experienced overcrowding and adverse conditions that interrupted students’ learning.

One colocation proposal in particular, at the Brownsville Academy High School in Brooklyn, drew stiff resistance. The colocation – which called for placing a K–5 elementary charter school in the same building as a “last chance” high school, with students “ranging from ages 17 to 21” – would privatize the public space of a school that was A-rated according to the DOE and was valued by the students for having small class sizes and more personal attention.

When a governing panel hand-picked by the mayor approved the Brownsville colocation, Jason Lewis, for the Village Voice, reported that students from the school “stayed until 11 p.m. pleading with the panel to reconsider. They were trying to figure out why the panel would potentially disrupt one of the city’s rare high-performing transfer high schools to co-locate an elementary school.”

The approval of the Browsnville colocation and others, despite objections from citizens, prompted Lewis to observe, “Anyone who fought against the recent round of co-locations can now rest assured that they never had a say.”

But the Brownsville school community was determined to have a say. According to a report from another NYC education news blog, School Book, “Dozens of Brownsville students fought the co-location with the help of the group New York Communities for Change. Arthur Schwartz, an attorney, filed the suit on the students’ behalf, arguing that co-locating another school in the building would violate the rights of special-needs students who would lose the individualized attention needed in the classroom.

The lawsuit, combined with grassroots activism fomented by the NYCC group, pressured the DOE to rescind the colocation.

But the opposition to colocations isn’t satisfied with one victory. On the contrary, “To actually have them withdraw their proposal for Brownsville Academy, it means a lot,” said Amelia Adams, deputy director New York Communities For Change, in the Village Voice. “It builds momentum. We see this as an opportunity to continue organizing so that colocations aren’t rammed down people’s throats.”

A House Of Cards About To Collapse

The progressive awakening to mistaken education policies driven by the Washington Collusion is not limited to Bridgeport and New York. Nor is it confined to the issues of school leaders and colocations.

Across the country, there is a growing resistance to the emphasis on high-stakes testing that provides the infrastructure supporting market-based education policy, from school closures and ratings to teacher evaluations and merit pay.

FairTest, website for The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, recently reviewed the spreading resistance:

A nationwide protest movement against the stranglehold of high-stakes testing on our schools has escalated to a rolling boil. Boycotts, opt-out campaigns, demonstrations, and community forums are among the tactics being pursued in cities such as Austin, Seattle, Portland, Oregon, Chicago, Denver and Providence. Meanwhile, the number of signers of the National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing continues to grow.

Education historian Diane Ravitch has observed that the false consensus driving education policies is essentially a “house of cards” about to “come tumbling down.” When it does, it will be grassroots progressives who push it over.

EON #5 – Mar 6-12, 2013

The Disempowerment Of Public School Parents By Jeff Bryant “The parent trigger has been relentlessly marketed to parents and policy makers as an ’empowerment’ that enables parents to conduct a petition campaign in their community to fire their school’s staff and change its governance. But what are the results? A new video “Parent Triggers: Another … Continue reading “EON #5 – Mar 6-12, 2013”

The Disempowerment Of Public School Parents

By Jeff Bryant

“The parent trigger has been relentlessly marketed to parents and policy makers as an ’empowerment’ that enables parents to conduct a petition campaign in their community to fire their school’s staff and change its governance. But what are the results? A new video “Parent Triggers: Another Reform Misfires,” released by the Education Opportunity Network, recently looked at the results of the parent trigger in Adelanto , California and found that rather then uniting parents in doing what’s best for children, the parent trigger brought deception, division, and disruption to the community.”

How Is This Not A National Scandal?

Dispatches From The Underclass

A Chicago blogger writes “90 percent of students affected by public school closings in Chicago are African American, a rate that doesn’t match up  with the city’s racial demographics … School closings are the latest trend among privatization and charter school advocates who seek to dismantle public education (and teachers unions) to turn a profit. So far they’ve been largely successful because it’s happening on the backs of poor black communities.”

Which States Have Academic Performance Targets That Vary By Race?

NBC News

“To date, the Department of Education has approved waivers from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) for 34 states and the District of Columbia. These waivers allow states to set new academic performance targets for their students, as long as they make substantial gains in reducing the achievement gap in six years. Because of this, 23 states have now set targets that vary by race.”

Sequestration Cuts Deep In Underfunded Rural Schools

National Education Association

“As the sequester cuts take effect, $9 million will be cut from funding set aside for rural schools alone. These schools will also face massive cuts to programs such as Title I funding for low-income schools and IDEA for special education … Rural schools are also serving a growing number of students … enrollment has risen by more than 22 percent … This growing population has been met with fewer and fewer resources for many of these schools.”

Voters Send Mixed Signals To School Reformers In L.A.

Washington Post

” Voters keep sending signals that they have very mixed feelings about corporate-based school reform. The latest signs come from Los Angeles, where Tuesday’s races for three Board of Education seats resulted in one defeat, one win, and one runoff for supporters of school reform. The reason it matters is that Los Angeles is the second largest public school district in the country, and people around the country were watching the elections as a kind of bellwether.”

How Washington Could Make College Tuition Free (Without Spending a Penny More on Education)

The Atlantic

“With what the federal government spent on its various and sundry student aid initiatives last year, it could have covered the tuition bill of every student at every public college in the country … Instead of handing money to students and parents, the federal government could instead send the cash down to the states, on the condition that local legislatures kept per student funding at a certain level, and colleges lowered their tuition rates.”

Diane Ravitch Launches New Education Advocacy Counterforce

Education Week

“Education historian Diane Ravitch, a fierce critic of current education reform trends, is launching a new advocacy organization that will support political candidates who oppose high-stakes testing, mass school closures, and what her group calls the ‘privatizing’ of public schools. The new Network for Public Education is meant to counter state-level forces such as Democrats for Education Reform, Stand for Children, and Students First.”

The Disempowerment Of Public School Parents

For years, policy initiatives stemming from right wing belief tanks have been wrapped in the rhetoric of positive outcomes that are, in fact, the complete opposite of what the measures are really intended to do. A bill called Clear Skies that called for more pollution. Another called Healthy Forests incentivized cutting down valuable trees. No … Continue reading “The Disempowerment Of Public School Parents”

For years, policy initiatives stemming from right wing belief tanks have been wrapped in the rhetoric of positive outcomes that are, in fact, the complete opposite of what the measures are really intended to do.

A bill called Clear Skies that called for more pollution. Another called Healthy Forests incentivized cutting down valuable trees. No Child Left Behind, perhaps the crowning glory of duplicity, worsened the education of disadvantaged children it was purported to magically improve.

But without a doubt the most enduring of these wolf-wrapped-in-sheep’s-clothing ideas is the promise of “school choice” that’s been promoted to parents since the presidencies of Nixon and Reagan.

Sold as a way to “empower” parents to improve the education attainment of their children, school choice initiatives take on many forms, including vouchers, “scholarships,” and tax credits. But the most radical form of school choice is the so-called “parent trigger.”

The parent trigger has been relentlessly marketed to parents and policy makers as an “empowerment” that enables parents to conduct a petition campaign in their community to fire their school’s staff and change its governance.

This has all the rhetoric of democratic activism – a majority of the parents deciding “what’s best” for the education of their children. But what are the results?

So far, the trigger has only been carried out to its fullest extent in one school: Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, California.

A new video “Parent Triggers: Another Reform Misfires,” released by the Education Opportunity Network, recently looked at the results of the parent trigger in Adelanto and found that rather then uniting parents in doing what’s best for children, the parent trigger brought deception, division, and disruption to the community.

Thus, parent trigger bills join the ranks of other school choice schemes that are proliferating across the country. And rather than giving parents more control of the trajectory of their children, these policies are leaving more parents overwhelmed and powerless.

Welcome To The School Choice Maze

So what should parents expect when the parent trigger or any other school choice scheme comes to town?

In New Orleans – perhaps America’s choiciest school district, where 70 percent of students attend charter schools – most of the schools remain the lowest performing in one of the lowest performing states, and parent activists have come to the conclusion that choice means “a choice to apply” while still remaining “trapped” in the same lousy schools.

A recent article in The Washington Post told the story of how the city’s complex school choice landscape has resulted in more parents having to hire education consultants who can help navigate the system. More than 40 percent of the District’s 80,000 students attend charter schools.” Even when parents do choose traditional public schools for their children, “more than half do not attend their assigned neighborhood school.”

“It’s just totally overwhelming,” complained one parent.

And the results? DC schools have the lowest high school graduation rate in the country and an ever-widening gap between high and low performing schools.

Parents in New York City face a similar, if not more daunting, “school choice maze” that leaves thousands of children “shut out” of any real choice at all. Parents trying to navigate the complex system end up “feeling inadequate, frustrated, and angry.”

Not to worry, school choice advocates reassure us.

We’re told to rejoice in the fact that while “it used to be that when it was time to find a school for the kids, most Americans looked no further than the neighborhood school.” Now we have a wonderful “open” system where our precious little darlings get to “compete” against the precious little darlings of our friends and neighbors.

Just make sure you’re one of the “smart parents” who knows how to “work the system.

School Choice: Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

How could choice possibly lead to fewer options for parents?

In cases where parents are forced to charter or private schools, the schools operate with less regulation than a typical public school, so they can practice abhorrent discipline policies, deny access to hard-to-teach students, or, if it is a private school, teach a religion-based curriculum that would never be allowed in a traditional public school.

So all of a sudden a “choice” becomes a consequence where parents don’t have the leverage of any democratic governing system.

Further, more taxpayer dollars diverted to charter and private schools means less money for traditional local schools, which affects the options of the parents “left behind” in their community schools.

And regardless of the choice scheme, more well off parents will always have the means to game the system while less well off parents are left scrambling in the wake of a more competitive landscape.

The parent trigger is all this and more.

Parent Trigger Pablum

Writing at Huffington Post, Mary Bottari from the Center for Media and Democracy has explained where the parent trigger came from:

While parent trigger was first promoted by a small charter school operator in California, it was taken up and launched into hyperdrive by two controversial right-wing organizations: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Heartland Institute.

The bonus of the trigger is that the parent activism comes with the supposed feel-goodiness of kicking some schoolteacher butt. If enough parents in a community sign a petition they can force the school governance body to do one or more of the following, according to Bottari: “1) fire the principal, 2) fire half of the teachers, 3) close the school and let parents find another option, or 4) convert the school into a charter school.”

Over 20 states have considered laws enacting the parent trigger, and according to Wikipedia, seven states have passed those laws: California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Connecticut, Texas, Indiana, and Ohio.

Now lawmakers are pushing parent trigger legislation all over the place: Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.

This is indeed school choice on steroids. But is it “empowering?

Looks Good In Fiction

To date, the most ambitious marketing effort for the parent trigger has been the Hollywood production of Won’t Back Down, a movie starring the popular actresses Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal. In which a Parent Empowerment Law is used by a group of sympathetic parents to wrestle school governance away from educators, who are negatively portrayed.

According to the grassroots parent advocacy group Parents Across America, “While the movie depicts an inspiring story of parental revolt, actual efforts to use the Parent Trigger have been driven by billionaire-funded supporters of privatization, and have sparked acrimony and division. None of these efforts has actually improved a school.”

The movie, according to PAA, resulted from a collaboration between Rupert Murdoch and Philip Anschutz, “an oil-and-gas billionaire who co-produced the anti-teacher film, Waiting for Superman,” and who gives financial support to “organizations that oppose gay rights and support teaching creationism in schools. Anschutz has also donated to Americans for Prosperity, founded by the Koch brothers, which opposes environmental regulations and union rights.”

Reviewers of the film called it “inept and bizarre” . . . “sentimental and hackneyed.” And it completely tanked at the box office.

But among the many insults committed by Wont’ Back Down, and there were many, probably the worst was the movie gave the parent trigger a pretty face by casting something that has actually never been done in an aura of moral certainty and right-headedness.

The truth, it turns out, isn’t so pretty.

Another Reform Misfires

Our video, “Parent Triggers: Another Reform Misfires,” interviewed witnesses to the implementation of this mistaken policy in Adelanto. In talking to real people, rather than actors, we learned that the trigger agenda was propelled into the town by an outside organization called Parent Revolution.

According to an article in Mother Jones, Parent Revolution is “funded primarily by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation, the Eli and Edyth Broad Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation.”

We also learned that rather than empowering parents, many parents felt they were deceived in signing the petition.

According to local media accounts, most parents had no idea the change in the school would bring in a charter operator, and 93 parents who had signed the petition filled out forms to rescind their signatures.

This prompted the district board to initially reject the petition in March of last year.

The rejection prompted deep-pocketed Parent Revolution to eventually take their case to court where, in July, a judge ruled the petition could not be revoked.

According to an article at Huffington Post, “In the fall, the district tried to implement curriculum changes and an alternative governance committee comprised of parents in place of a charter conversion. But in October, another judge ruled the district must let the charter conversion press on.”

Now the board has selected a charter, which will take over next school year.

But anyone thinking this is a “happy ending” like in Won’t Back Down needs to actually listen to the teachers and parents in Adelanto.

They talk of how their community has been divided and how their children’s learning has been disrupted for what is a completely unproven idea coming from rich people outside their town.

Rather than feeling empowered, they feel disenfranchised.

Get Ready For More “Choice”

Although Won’t Back Down was so unpopular it was quickly taken off the market, the movie isn’t going away.

As education historian Diane Ravitch warned from her blog site, “with the help of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,” the movie is being shown “to legislators in conservative states, hoping to keep their campaign alive with a zombie film that died months ago.”

As long as the even more enduring zombie of school choice remains a right-wing bromide, the parent trigger – like its cousins, vouchers and tax credits – is going to continue to be sold to parents as an empowerment. But parents don’t need any more false promises about the power of choice. What they need from the nation’s leadership is a guarantee that all children have access to high quality schools.

EON #4 – Feb 27-Mar 5, 2013

Sequester Cuts Confirm Republicans Are Party Of Deadbeat Dads by Jeff Bryant “… Some of the hardest hit by the budget cuts will be children … Deadbeat dads are famous for withholding financial support from children. So Republicans seem to fit the mold here … Republicans are going to deny this. Conservatives are going to … Continue reading “EON #4 – Feb 27-Mar 5, 2013”

Sequester Cuts Confirm Republicans Are Party Of Deadbeat Dads

by Jeff Bryant

“… Some of the hardest hit by the budget cuts will be children … Deadbeat dads are famous for withholding financial support from children. So Republicans seem to fit the mold here … Republicans are going to deny this. Conservatives are going to claim the cuts aren’t that big of a deal – or are even actually a good thing. But Democrats need to call them out for their negligence and stop playing the role of the ‘ineffectual mom’ who fails to confront the harm being done to children.”

Why Are Walmart Billionaires Bankrolling Phony School ‘Reform’ In LA? (Bill Moyers)

Peter Dreier, a professor at Occidental College, observes, “Los Angeles has been ground zero in an intense debate about how to improve our nation’s education system. What’s less known is who is shaping that debate. Many of the biggest contributors to the so-called ‘school choice’ movement – code words for privatizing our public education system – are billionaires who don’t live in Southern California, but have gained significant influence in local school politics.”

 The Dark Side Of Choosing School Choice (Teaching Speaks Volumes)

A teacher and parent in North Carolina reflects on school choice and concludes, “If we were we in an ideal world, where schools were really funded  … I might be a stronger proponent of a choice model … All our schools should be special … [but] we’ve created a system cloaked in the party line of empowering students and parents, where the reality has school systems and educators fighting over the last scraps like dogs over the last lean bone.”

Teachers Say They Are Unprepared for Common Core (Education Week)

“Even as the Common Core State Standards are being put into practice across most of the country, nearly half of teachers feel unprepared to teach them, especially to disadvantaged students … more than two-thirds said their schools were not well prepared … and only two in 10 said their states were … Nearly three in 10 have not had any training at all. Of the 70 percent who have… three in 10 have had only one day or less … 31% reported having had two to three days … Teachers showed grave concerns about the children’s prospects for mastering the standards.”

The Non-Reformy Lessons Of KIPP (School Finance 101)

“We’ve heard lots of talk about no excusesness and its (supposed) costless (revenue neutral) effectiveness and potential to replace entire urban school systems … The reality is that what underlies the KIPP model, and that of many other ‘high flying’ no excuses charter organizations, are a mix of substantial resources, leveraged in higher salaries, additional time … reasonable class sizes, coupled with a dose of old-fashioned sit-down-and-shut up classroom/behavior management and a truckload of standardized testing. Nothin’ too sexy there. Nothin’ that reformy. Nothin’ particularly creative.”

Student Loan Delinquencies May Top 30 Percent (Huffington Post)

“The Federal Reserve Bank of New York released data on Thursday showing skyrocketing levels of student debt over the past decade … Excluding student loan borrowers who delay repaying debts through so-called forbearance and deferral plans, the New York Fed’s data shows that nearly one in three people with student loans are now more than 90 days behind on payments — a significant jump from 2004. Experts said the data is further evidence that recent college graduates are facing a punishing world of high unemployment and increasing student loan balances.”

Sequester Cuts Confirm Republicans Are Party Of Deadbeat Dads

It’s a popular analogy among fans of the political game to call Republicans the “Daddy Party” and assign “Mommy Party” to Democratic folk. The source of this analogy is generally understood to be George Lakoff, a professor of linguistics who wrote the book Moral Politics in 1996. This book postulated that Americans tend to comprehend … Continue reading “Sequester Cuts Confirm Republicans Are Party Of Deadbeat Dads”

It’s a popular analogy among fans of the political game to call Republicans the “Daddy Party” and assign “Mommy Party” to Democratic folk.

The source of this analogy is generally understood to be George Lakoff, a professor of linguistics who wrote the book Moral Politics in 1996. This book postulated that Americans tend to comprehend governance through the metaphor of the family, with conservatives preferring a “Strict Father morality” – which values discipline, hard work, and self-reliance – and liberals having a “Nurturant Parent morality” in which people are better off by helping each other.

Aside from the fact that interpreting “nurturant” as “Mommy” seems more than a bit sexist, the analogy has endured, with Republicans especially loving the hunky, manliness of being seen as “Daddy.”

But what if Daddy is a deadbeat?

That’s certainly a reasonable conclusion to draw in light of Republican’s refusal to negotiate a halt to massive budget cuts – called “the sequester” – that began on Friday.

It’s been widely reported that some of the hardest hit by the budget cuts will be children:

  • Pre-natal children will feel the brunt of $353 million in cuts to nutrition, care, and education for their pregnant moms.
  • An estimated 30,000 children in low-income families will lose access to childcare assistance due to $121.5 million in cuts.
  • 70,000 fewer children will have access to early childhood education due to $424 million in cuts to Head Start.
  • Children in K-12 schools, who happen to be poor or who have learning disabilities will be especially hurt by $725 million in cuts to Title I and $600 million to special education.

Deadbeat dads are famous for withholding financial support from children. So Republicans seem to fit the mold here.

Of course, Republicans are going to deny this. Conservatives are going to claim the cuts aren’t that big of a deal – or are even actually a good thing. But Democrats need to call them out for their negligence and stop playing the role of the “ineffectual mom” who fails to confront the harm being done to children.

Deadbeat Dad – Who, Me?

A cornerstone of being a deadbeat dad is to deny you’re one.

That was all too apparent during the sequester negotiations as Republicans stretched credibility to amazing limits in their denials of deadbeatism.

Republicans continued to withhold financial support for the nation’s children by claiming, bizarrely, that any government spending on children now – when they actually need services for their proper development – somehow robs them of their future.

Anyone with at least a casual knowledge of the research on the benefits of early childhood education knows that denying children access to that opportunity will likely have more detrimental impact on their future than any increase in the federal debt that might result from providing those services.

In one amazing feat of deflection, Republican Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama (tip to deadbeat dads: always get a female to speak for you) blamed Obama for the cuts while making the case that the sequester should still go through with different, “more responsible” cuts.

Blaming cuts to kids on “Mommy” Obama is more than a stretch. The origins of sequestration, as Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum explained, can be traced to Ronald Reagan, who ironically, may have also coined the term “deadbeat dad.”

And while it’s true that the Obama administration put sequestration on the table during the legendary Grand Bargain negotiations, Republican leaders in the House, notably Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan, made sequestration the default by refusing any other reasonable option.

So Republican denials of any responsibility for the sequester’s impact on children are acutely hollow. As my colleague Richard Eskow observed, “Congress did this.” And with Republicans controlling the House, where appropriations in Congress start, they own it.

The Showy Spend

Another trait that truly unmasks deadbeatedness is the father who withholds money for children’s basic needs while spending on extravagances that are mostly about inflating his own Daddy image.

Like a deadbeat dad who splurges on a trip with his kid to Disneyworld but won’t fork over for groceries and the college fund, Republicans who were gutting federal spending for children’s healthcare and education recently introduced the tough-sounding Protect America’s Schools Act, which would provide $30 million to put armed guards in schools.

Don’t do this, said a panel of experts testifying at a House committee meeting, last week.

Rather than putting more armed cops in schools, the panelists pleaded for “more counselors, better communication between adults on campus and students, and additional, thoughtful emergency planning.”

Although turning public schools into armed lockdown units sounds like the fatherly thing to do, panelist David Osher, a “school climate guru” called the idea “very dangerous,” and said, “The real challenge in schools is not the low-incidence and very traumatic events . . . [but] low-level aggression that takes place persistently.”

Backing up Osher’s assertion was the testimony of a school counselor in southern California, Vincent Pompei, who said, “Mass shootings like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School make headlines, but they are rare. Students are far more likely to encounter gang violence, bullying, and harassment in everyday life.”

He called for “counseling, support, and other mental-health services” while noting, “Caseloads have grown so much that counselors only have time to put out fires – when we should be preventing fires from igniting in the first place.”

But the “stern Daddy party” prefers a showy spend on guns and cops instead.

It’s For Their Own Good

Another hallmark of deadbeatism is to claim that withholding financial support is either not such a big deal or even a good thing – to “toughen the kid up,” so to speak.

This inclination is rampant among conservatives in their reaction to the sequester cuts. In an article in USA Today, a spokesperson from a conservative belief tank pooh-poohed the cuts as “pretty small.” And an operative from the libertarian Cato Institute concluded the cuts to schools not only won’t have a “devastating” effect but would thin the herd of “too many public school employees.”

Even more extreme, if that’s possible, are those who’ve said the warnings about school cuts due to the sequester are a “Chicken Little moment” because schools have already gotten their federal cash.

What these serial withholders don’t acknowledge is that public schools have already been the victims of massive budget cuts. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has pointed out,

States have made steep cuts to education funding since the start of the recession and, in many states, those cuts deepened over the last year. Elementary and high schools are receiving less state funding in the 2012-13 school year than they did last year in 26 states, and in 35 states school funding now stands below 2008 levels – often far below.

Reflecting this reality, half of school principals responding to a nationwide survey stated that their school budgets had been slashed in the past year, and 35 percent reported flat spending.

School budget cuts since the economic crisis began have led to massive losses in teachers’ jobs already. Way back at the beginning of the school year, Huffington Post’s education journalist Joy Resmovits reported that over 300,000 teachers had lost their jobs nation wide, leading to a 4.6 percent increase in the average student-teacher ratio. These layoffs have certainly played a role in the slow growth in employment for several years.

So schools are already on a financial cliff and are extremely vulnerable to toppling over the edge.

Also, anyone claiming that cuts from the sequester won’t have immediate impacts on schools simply doesn’t understand the nature of the cuts or how school budgets are made.

Reporters at Education Week’s Politics K-12 blog looked at the cuts and concluded that 1,200 districts nationwide – which have a lot of Native American students, students whose parents work on military bases, or have federal land near the district – “would get hit fairly soon.” Many of these districts have already prepared for the hits, but that hardly softens the blow.

Furthermore, news of the sequester cuts comes at a time when school boards and administrators across the country are going into budget planning mode where they have to propose their spending levels for the next school year to state officials who control how federal dollars are allocated to schools. Anyone who has observed the budget planning process for any length of time knows that any hint of funding cutbacks in the future gets reflected immediately in current school budgets, because local school officials have to show they are living within their means to obtain future funds.

So any deadbeatist downplaying of the magnitude and immediacy of the cuts is generally unfounded.

How To Respond To Deadbeat Dads

The only way to respond to deadbeat dads is to identify them when you see them.

Now there are Republicans who quite literally are deadbeat dads.

But more importantly, Democrats need to speak out more forcefully in opposition to deadbeat ideology.

Republicans actually believe that cutting government spending on children is the responsible thing to do. Bringing up George Lakoff again, who happened to be observing the family drama of the sequester negotiations from the Huffington Post, “Ultra-conservatives believe that the sequester is moral, that it is the right thing to do.”

Because Republicans have the “moral sense” of a stern father who thinks “liberty is maximal personal responsibility” and providing for the common good is “an immoral imposition on their liberty,” cutting government is always the right thing to do in their minds – even when it harms children.

There are troubling signals coming from prominent Democrats that they could be caving to the deadbeat Dads.

Too many bipartisan-minded Democrats are enamored with the mistaken Bowles-Simpson budget plan that would shackle the country with unreasonable spending constraints.

Analysts at the Economic Policy Institute looked at the Bowels-Simpson plan and observed that although the proposal “doesn’t explicitly cut items like education, it prescribes funding levels that make it “pretty much impossible” not to make “drastic cuts” to all public investments, including education.

Too many Democrats adhere to the false belief that what the nation’s children need are more exposure to force and weaponry rather than schools that are adequately equipped and staffed to address safety concerns, mental and physical health problems, bullying and aggression, and pervasive violence that invades from surrounding neighborhoods.

When Democrats don’t openly and vehemently oppose the deadbeat Dad agenda, they are refusing to fulfill their obligation to be a nurturing overseer of the nation’s youngest citizens. When Democrats compromise on spending for false priorities that don’t really benefit children, they are colluding with deadbeat ideology.

Democrats should know that more education cuts are not the way to go. Instead, the Federal Government must help states and communities rehire teachers and rebuild schools, which would do a lot to rebuild our economy and increase employment levels. This is the proper role of a responsible father: creating a solid financial future for all kids.

If the American “family” is going to ever work in favor of children,  we certainly don’t need a deadbeat Dad in charge. But also we need a more effective “Mom” who will speak up and act for the children’s sake.

EON #3 – Feb 19-26, 2013

Is Right-Wing School Reform (Texas) Toast? by Jeff Bryant What happened this weekend in the Texas capital of Austin revealed a groundswell of resistance, from multiple political factions, against what has been heretofore defined as “education reform.” A rally brought thousands of people into the streets to hear education historian Diane Ravitch declare Texas, the … Continue reading “EON #3 – Feb 19-26, 2013”

Is Right-Wing School Reform (Texas) Toast?

by Jeff Bryant
What happened this weekend in the Texas capital of Austin revealed a groundswell of resistance, from multiple political factions, against what has been heretofore defined as “education reform.” A rally brought thousands of people into the streets to hear education historian Diane Ravitch declare Texas, the place where reform “madness” started, would be where “the vampire gets … a stake in its heart.”

Sequestration Cuts To Education Programs Threaten To Widen Education Gap Between Rich And Poor (Think Progress)

“The achievement gap between school districts in high-income neighborhoods and those in low-income ones is already more canyon than crack, and if $1.7 trillion in automatic sequestration cuts are allowed to go into effect on March 1, that gap could grow even wider … Dozens of education programs would face reduced funding … to low-income students.”

Teacher Survey Shows Record Low Job Satisfaction In 2012 (Huffington Post)

“Teachers’ job satisfaction plummeted in 2012, reaching an all-time low, according to a survey … The least satisfied teachers are those who work in schools that have slashed budgets, and who have less time for collaboration with peers and professional development … The survey comes as states are implementing education reform policies favored by the Obama administration.”

Conservatives Declare War On College (Salon)

“Bobby Jindal doesn’t want the GOP to be the ‘stupid party,’ but fellow governors are plotting to wreck higher ed … Florida’s Rick Scott, Texas’ Rick Perry and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker all see themselves as education reformers, and they are all seeking ways to lower the cost of college education while at the same time cutting state funding support.”

It Takes a B.A. to Find a Job as a File Clerk (New York Times)

” The college degree is becoming the new high school diploma: the new minimum requirement, albeit an expensive one, for getting even the lowest-level job … Jobs that didn’t used to require a diploma — positions like dental hygienists, cargo agents, clerks and claims adjusters — are increasingly requiring one … This up-credentialing is pushing the less educated even further down the food chain.”

Florida Needs No Advice From Jeb Bush On Education Policy (Palm Beach Post)

“Former Gov. Jeb Bush has an undeserved reputation as an education reformer. Florida’s recent education progress has come not from implementing Mr. Bush’s policies but from cleaning up after them … Gov. Rick Scott’s frantic reversals in preparation for a reelection run – he has called for teacher raises not linked to the [standardized tests] – show how unpopular Mr. Bush’s education legacy is.”