Wrong Lesson From Sandy Hook Shootings

By now, there have been plenty of negative reactions to last week’s defeat of sensible gun regulation in the U.S. Senate due to the power of the gun lobby to have more sway with senators than popular opinion has. In his Rose Garden address, President Obama was incredulous that legislation favored by 90 percent of … Continue reading “Wrong Lesson From Sandy Hook Shootings”

By now, there have been plenty of negative reactions to last week’s defeat of sensible gun regulation in the U.S. Senate due to the power of the gun lobby to have more sway with senators than popular opinion has.

In his Rose Garden address, President Obama was incredulous that legislation favored by 90 percent of Americans couldn’t get 60 votes in the Senate.

News stories about the bill’s defeat invariably referenced the origin of the bill in the “tragedy” of the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Even former U.S. House Representative Gabrielle Giffords – an ardent backer of the bill and a victim of gun violence herself – castigated the senators’ fear of the gun lobby as a shameful contrast to “the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended by a hail of bullets.”

The quick take on this might lead you to believe that the massacre of innocent school children in Newtown has had little to no effect on how Americans have dealt with school safety and gun proliferation.

You would be mistaken.

Legacy Of The Sandy Hook Shootings

Although connecting the Sandy Hook shootings to high-profile legislation in D.C. seemed to impart little power to passing the bill, the aura of that tragedy has quietly been at work producing all kinds of other actions around the country

While federal lawmakers hesitated and then faltered to take action on restricting gun commerce, policy makers elsewhere in America have had no problem using the Sandy Hook shootings to rationalize new ways to turn school buildings into harsher, more punitive environments for the students who populate them.

The result is likely to be more students – particularly students of color – having disciplinary issues that result in suspensions, expulsions, arrests, and referrals to the criminal justice system, and what has become known as America’s “school to prison pipeline” will quite probably grow ever larger unless this wave of nonsense stops.

More Guns And Guards In Schools

Following the Sandy Hook shootings, there were widespread reports of school districts adding more police presence, in the form of “campus resource officers,” to their campuses.

As this article in The Atlantic  reported, following the killings, there was “a spate of new bills proposed at the state level – including in Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Virginia – to either allow educators to carry weapons or to add armed guards to public schools.”

Altogether, The Sunlight Foundation, found that, post-Sandy Hook, 36 states were considering legislation related to guns on school grounds with “the vast majority of these bills” making it “easier for school personnel, guards, and volunteers to carry guns on campus.”

As the Politics K-12 blog at Education Week observed, the Obama administration helped move this effort along by providing “incentives for schools to hire resource officers . . . by giving priority to applicants who plan to use the U.S. Department of Justice’s COPs grants.”

The National Parent Teachers Association noted the White House’s move to encourage more guns and guards in schools and declared that action a “disappointment.”

What’s wrong with heightened “school security?”

What More Guns And Guards Do To Schools

As the above-mentioned article in The Atlantic noted, “about a third of states already allow school personnel to carry concealed weapons on campus,” so there is a long and well-researched track record for what happens when school and government officials respond to violent incidents by stocking schools with more guns and guards. That track record is not good.

As a recent op-ed in the Raleigh News and Observer noted, “on the heels of the Columbine High School massacre,” schools “rapidly increased deployment of law enforcement officers.” This resulted in “soaring rates of suspension, dropouts and school-based arrests and court referrals” that pushed students committing school infraction into the juvenile and criminal systems.

A recent article in The New York Times also looked at the track record for adding more guns and guards in schools and found “the most striking impact of school police officers so far, critics say, has been a surge in arrests or misdemeanor charges for essentially nonviolent behavior – including scuffles, truancy and cursing at teachers – that sends children into the criminal courts.”

“Nationwide,” the report continued, “hundreds of thousands of students are arrested or given criminal citations at schools each year” with Texas setting the worst example, “where police officers based in schools write more than 100,000 misdemeanor tickets each year.”

“A large share are sent to court for relatively minor offenses, with black and Hispanic students and those with disabilities disproportionately affected,” the report found.

When a Washington, D.C.-based civil rights group studied the results of increased police presence in schools, their investigation found that officers were so rarely called upon to address real emergencies that they found “something else to do” and became “the de facto disciplinary arm of the school.”

As reported by USA Today’s Greg Toppo, increased police presence in schools resulted in a spike in students being arrested in school “for things like disorderly conduct” that previously would not involve the criminal justice system.

One of the researchers, testifying before Congress just three days before the Newtown shooting, explained that school discipline is “increasingly handled by law enforcement, and today, students are more likely to be arrested for minor in-school offenses.”

According to Toppo, her testimony included the statistic that harsher, more punitive security measures in schools have resulted in over 3 million students being suspended and over 100,000 students being expelled nationwide, each year.

There’s Money For Guns And Guards

At a time when most states are cutting education budgets, and depressed property taxes are reducing local revenues for schools, lawmakers are having no problem finding cash to spend on guns and guards in schools.

According to The Center for Public Integrity, post-Sandy Hook, a state legislative delegation in Florida approved a proposal to increase property taxes to pay for more school police, “at an annual cost of up to $130,000 per officer.”

A bill in Mississippi “set up a $7.5 million school-security fund.” Alabama legislators proposed “a lottery to pay for a $20 million plan to put police officers in every school.” And Indiana lawmakers weighed a measure to “set aside $10 million to offer grants to schools to hire local police to post in schools.”

Minority Students Hit Hardest

The increased rates of suspensions and expulsions that result from more police presence in schools are particularly devastating for students of color.

According to a report in The Christian Science Monitor, the number of school suspensions nationwide has grown dramatically in recent decades, from nearly 1.8 million students – 4 percent of all public-school students – in 1976, to, by 2006, 3.3 million – 7 percent of all students. “In addition to the suspensions, 102,000 students were expelled – removed from school for the remainder of the year or longer – in 2006.”

Suspensions and expulsions for certain groups – “particularly African-Americans, Hispanics, and those with disabilities” – are disproportionally high,” the report found, with African-Americans making up 18 percent of the students but “accounting for 46 percent of students suspended more than once, 39 percent of students expelled, and 36 percent of students arrested on campus.”

An even more recent report, this one from The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles Civil Rights Project, found “an increasing gap between suspension rates of black and white students,” with “24 percent of black students” getting the brunt of harsh discipline measures while only “7.1 percent of white students” experienced the same treatment.

According to a write-up of the report in The Huffington Post, “Most of the suspensions came not in response to violent behavior, but for minor infractions such as dress code violations or lateness. The research also found that suspensions increase the likelihood kids will drop out of school and commit crimes.”

Some Say “Enough!”

The strong correlation of guns and guards in schools to increasing rates of school suspensions, expulsions, and arrests has not gone unnoticed, and a growing number of educators and lawmakers have expressed concern that society will pay down the road for more jobless and incarcerated young people.

In fact, a different article about the study from the UCLA Project, quoted one of the report’s authors who noted, “The likelihood of dropping out from school can rise to 32 percent for a ninth-grader who’s been suspended just once.”

The civil rights coalition that produced the research from The Advancement Project, cited above, took action to preempt more guns and guards in schools with a “Gun Free Way to School Safety” recommending schools “focus on prevention of crisis situations through creation of a positive school culture,” enact “appropriate security measures” that don’t involve law enforcement personnel, and develop a “school crisis plan.”

Recently, the National School Boards Association released a report declaring that the use of out-of-school suspensions had reached a “crisis” level. The report, released in conjunction with the National Opportunity to Learn campaign (a funder of the Education Opportunity Network), included new policy guidelines for “discipline policies aimed at ending excessive and discriminatory out-of-school suspensions.”

Education Week reported that NSBA declared “School board members should lead the charge to reduce, if not eliminate, the practice of out-of-school suspensions and instead push comprehensive strategies for preventing the removal of students from school for disciplinary reasons.”

Students have spoken out as well, organizing in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and elsewhere in separate yet connected efforts to promote a process called “restorative justice.”

These and other recent actions got the attention of the editorial board of The New York Times, who last week expressed concern about “a larger police presence in schools” that can “create a repressive environment in which children are arrested or issued summonses for minor misdeeds — like cutting class or talking back — that once would have been dealt with by the principal.”

The editors called for “greater transparency in the reporting process to make the police even more forthcoming” and more efforts “to dismantle . . . the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Their recommendation: “Districts that have gotten along without police officers should think twice before deploying them in school buildings.”

Truly, isn’t this the least we can do?

If the horrendous crime that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary can’t provide the impetus for positive action on gun control, let’s make sure it doesn’t provide the rationale for turning schools into extensions of a brutal, uncaring culture we want our children to abhor.

Despite Education Funds, Obama Budget Unites Progressive Opposition

Now that every major media outlet has weighed in on the budget that President Obama introduced last week, the conventional wisdom is that Obama has proposed a “balance” of new revenues and spending cuts with an emphasis on sacrificing “entitlements” enjoyed by old people in order to increase “investments” in children. This sensibility was most … Continue reading “Despite Education Funds, Obama Budget Unites Progressive Opposition”

Now that every major media outlet has weighed in on the budget that President Obama introduced last week, the conventional wisdom is that Obama has proposed a “balance” of new revenues and spending cuts with an emphasis on sacrificing “entitlements” enjoyed by old people in order to increase “investments” in children.

This sensibility was most obvious in a quote in The New York Times from Virginia Senator Mark Warner who talked about “the math on entitlements” causing the federal government to “squeeze early-childhood programs … Head Start,” and “education.”

Warner continued, “There’s nothing progressive about a business or any other enterprise to invest less than 5 percent of its revenues on the education of its work force … and that’s what we’re doing.”

The “rift” the Times article refers to over the Obama administration’s budget became even more obvious when a broad coalition of progressive groups took to the streets in immediate opposition to Social Security cuts – known as “Chained CPI” – while the Center for American Progress hailed the budget’s proposals for early childhood education as “historic,” and Democrats for Education Reform gave the it “high praise” for it education measures.

The narrative that there’s a sort of generational warfare breaking out in the Democratic Party is remarkably false, though. Because Social Security spending is completely independent from the budget, it in no way puts a “squeeze” on how much the federal government spends on education and children.

Further, Democrats who fear opposition to Social Security cuts included in the Obama budget runs the risk of scuttling worthwhile spending on the younger generation should rest assured their fears are unwarranted.

What the Obama administration is proposing for education is in no way worth the sacrifice being demanded from the elderly, disabled, and poor.

What’s Being Praised

For sure, education items in the Obama administration’s proposed budget seem attractive at first glance.

As Education Week’s Alyson Klein observed, the proposed new outlays would increase the U.S. Department of Education’s spending “to $71.2 billion for fiscal year 2014” – a “4.6 increase” over what the DOE was spending before the automatic sequester cuts took effect.

“This would constitute the largest expansion of educational opportunity in the 21st century,” the article quoted Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

What’s most often praised in the budget plan is the new money allotted for a big expansion of prekindergarten programs. The Center for American Progress, in the article cited above, labeled the program a “bold new $75 billion investment in preschool over 10 years,” claiming the investment “would significantly shrink the preschool-access gap by helping states establish and expand high-quality programs.”

Other big-ticket items in the budget proposal were to boost the federal government’s spending on competitive grant programs, including

  • $300 million for a “competitive-grant program aimed at helping high schools better prepare students for post-secondary education and the workplace and focus on science, math, engineering, and technology.”
  • $1 billion more for a new Race to the Top competition focused on higher education.
  • A big increase for the School Improvement Grant program, including $125 million for “school turnarounds.”

So, what could be wrong with these?

What’s Problematic

Despite the near-universal praise for the Obama budget’s support for early childhood education, more critical takes on the proposal have turned up some serious problems.

As The Huffington Post’s Joy Resmovits pointed out, the proposal does not “require states to actually expand preschool offerings. Rather, it would give incentives for them to do so.”

Paraphrasing early education expert Sara Mead, Resmovits noted, “The federal government can’t mandate that states expand preschool,” so many states that have been unwilling to expand these services will quite probably continue to do so.

Resmovits likened the proposal to the Affordable Care Act, with its optional health insurance exchanges that have been rejected by 21 states.

“But the preschool incentive may be even less compelling to states than Obamacare,” Resmovits wrote, “since Preschool for All doesn’t help governors fulfill a federal mandate.”

Raising further complications, Sara Meade, who Resmovits cited, had more to say about the Obama preschool proposal at the blog site Education Sector.

Meade wondered about other impediments to implementing the pre-K program, such as whether “quality requirements” would “make states hesitant to take the funds.”

She also noted that at the 10-year target range for new federal outlays, as a percent of funding for early childhood education, would actually be “lower than the current federal share of all government spending on early childhood education (where federal funds account for the majority of public dollars).”

How does this “incentivize” states?

The increases to competitive grant programs in the proposed budget pose complications as well. There is emerging evidence that requirements for federal education grants often result in new costs to school districts that exceed the money rewarded in the grant.

Many school districts across the state of New York, an RTTT winner, have come to the realization that “no one did the math,” as one school superintendent put it, to see whether the federal grant would cover the costs of the very heavy strings attached.

School officials, according to this account, “are finding they will have to spend significantly more – perhaps 50 to 100 times as much, in some cases – to meet Race to the Top’s demanding requirements.”

Yet, many of the districts either got no federal money or “received grants of less than $50,000.”

Similarly, in Ohio, which was awarded its RTTT grant in 2010, “about 80 districts and charter schools across the state” recently backed out of participating in the program because “school officials realized that grants weren’t enough to cover the requirements attached to them.”

What’s Missing

While backers of the Obama budget like to recite the big numbers associated with the proposal’s preschool and competitive grants, what they often fail to mention is that the budget areas where the federal government has traditionally had the most effect on education – Title I grants for disadvantaged students and special education funds stemming from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – have been completely level-funded.

This is especially problematic at a time when the nation is experiencing sharp increases in child poverty; now 23 percent of all children live in poverty.

Further, the federal government’s obligation to cough up its share of spending on special education students is long overdue. As this blog post recently pointed out, the original legislation establishing IDEA obligated the federal government to pay up to “40 percent of the average per-pupil expenditure.”

But federal expenditure levels are currently nowhere near 40 percent, making special education, essentially, “an unfunded mandate.”

These are indeed glaring omissions in what the administration is proposing.

Educators Voice Concerns

It’s telling that even a constituency normally reflexively supportive of increased education spending – the nation’s teachers’ unions – is none too pleased with the president’s proposals.

One communiqué from the National Education Association called the budget proposal “a mixed bag for those who care about students, schools and working families” acknowledging that the budget proposal cuts the “social safety net.”

In a more formal statement, NEA president Dennis Van Roekel repeated this concern, stating the budget failed at being “balanced and fair by demanding more of the wealthiest and corporations while staying true to our nation’s commitment to seniors and those most in need.”

Van Roekel also lamented that spending increases are in the form of competitive grants that states have to apply for. “This is disappointing,” he said, “because competitive grants leave too many students behind.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, also voiced “serious concerns” about the budget’s cuts to Social Security and Medicare that “are irresponsible and untimely.”

What Just Happened?

In the conventional wisdom of how Washington is supposed to work, things aren’t going to plan.

Those aligning with the “special interests” devoted to education funding should have been bought off by the carrot dangled before them rather than joining the resistance defending what heretofore have been “old people’s issues” – Social Security and Medicare.

Things may yet work out as the David Brookses of the world would have it, where Democrats “get a lot of the good ideas” the pundit class has allotted to them – such as, um, making more men “marriageable” (?) – while Republicans get to “restructure” America to benefit their corporate benefactors rather than ordinary Americans.

But what seems equally, if not more so, likely is that progressive Democrats have rallied around a unifying principle to defend the common good.

What has become the galvanizing issue today – defending Social Security – will perhaps set a precedent for resistance in the future from a coalition that unites the “special interests” of young and old.

When Making Deals In DC Hurts Kids

Everyone at all familiar with the Judgment of Solomon has to be aghast as political leaders reverse that Biblical wisdom and proceed to “split the difference” over who gets whose way on matters affecting children. Instead of putting the interests of children first, there’s a prevailing wisdom among political centrists inside the Beltway that “compromising” … Continue reading “When Making Deals In DC Hurts Kids”

Everyone at all familiar with the Judgment of Solomon has to be aghast as political leaders reverse that Biblical wisdom and proceed to “split the difference” over who gets whose way on matters affecting children.

Instead of putting the interests of children first, there’s a prevailing wisdom among political centrists inside the Beltway that “compromising” with radical conservatives is the only serious approach to governance and policy-making. So when “hard fought” compromises are reached in the back corridors of the nation’s capital, centrists hold self-congratulatory press conferences, but the lives of children are cleaved in two. We see this in deals made over sequestration, in the new budget being proposed by the Obama administration, and regarding school security measures.

The Centrist Rejection Of Solomon’s Wisdom

Recall that when King Solomon was confronted by two interested parties vying over the well being of a child, he threatened to serve both parties involved by hacking the kid in two.

This caused one party to stubbornly press its case and say, “Go ahead,” while the other party abandoned its own personal interests for what was in the best interest of the child in the long term. Solomon – understanding the long-term best interests of the child, and not the needs of the vying parties, was central to the matter – was able to rule justly and correctly. That’s called wisdom.

But in today’s political climate, the “centrist Solomons” in charge begin with the belief that compromise must rule the day and let the sword fly. This is called realistic.

Solomon Says: “Sequestration”

If you question at all how political centrism has damaged the lives of children, consider the recently enacted financial sequester. This sterling example of bipartisan legislation is now rolling out its appalling effects on the most vulnerable children.

As Sam Stein and Amanda Terkel report at Huffington Post, among the first and most affected by sequestration are “hundreds of lower-income parents forced to game out major life adjustments to accommodate cuts to Head Start” – the federal preschool program delivering educational, health, and nutritional services to disadvantaged young children age 3 to 5.

“Across the country,” they report, “drastic measures to meet the 5-percent cut, as mandated under the sequester,” are resulting in reduced access to programs, early closures, and curtailed services. “In Wisconsin, 700 families could end up losing Head Start access. In Cincinnati, nearly 200 children are at risk. In Oklahoma City, that number is 100.”

A report by the National Education Association found two Head Start programs in Indiana that “removed three dozen students by random drawing in order to offset the coming budget slashing.”

Beyond the negative impact to Head Start, the sequester also harms children attending schools in rural and military and Native American communities.

According to a blog post in Education Week, provisions of the sequester are forcing “rural communities nationwide must repay $17.9 million” in funds used primarily for education services.

CBS News recently told about the sequester’s effects on Impact Aid that provides “$1.2 billion annually to 1,400 school districts nationwide near military bases and Indian reservations.”

The sequester cuts $60 million of that funding. The report quoted a school administrator whose district is affected by the cuts, “You should have excellent schools for our military that has done so much for us, and to cut them is just callous.”

A Budget Compromise On Kids

In striving for a Grand Bargain in his new budget, President Obama also mostly abandons the interests of children for the sake of a compromised deal.

In what The Washington Post describes as a “break with the president’s tradition of providing a sweeping vision of his ideal spending priorities, untethered from political realities,” the budget deal, according to a Bloomberg report, doesn’t include any stimulus spending related to the interests of children.

Although, according to Education Week’s Politics K-12 blog, money in the budget is allocated to a new effort to expand access to pre-K education, those funds are provided by a back door method – “raising federal taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products” – rather than a straightforward new revenue stream investing in the nation’s children.

Like the proposed cuts to Medicare and Social Security that are built into the president’s budget, according to The New York Times, the Obama administration’s shortcomings on child-centered spending is all due to “his willingness to compromise with Republicans.”

If budgets are supposed to reflect values, then what we are seeing again is the interests of Beltway bipartisanship winning out instead of the interests of children.

Where Spending Continues Unabated

While centrist Solomons search for the place where they’ll cut the kids, at least one party to the deal is continuing to pursue its own self-interests unabated.

While cuts roll out of DC, conservative Republicans across the country are demanding that state and local lawmakers go on a spending spree on arming schools with more guards, guns, and security paraphernalia.

Accompanying the National Rifle Association’s push to get more guns in schools, lawmakers in 36 states have introduced legislation to put more guns in schools, according to a report by the Sunlight Foundation.

“The vast majority of these bills would make it easier for school personnel, guards, and volunteers to carry guns on campus.”

The report notes that the NRA and its backers have, “played tough on this issue,” taking every opportunity – even after the horrendous killing of school children in Newtown, CT – to press its case, not compromise.

The negative effects on children of ratcheting up these security measures on schools are multifaceted. Studies conducted where there already is widespread presence of armed guards and strict security in schools have generally found that these measures tend to lead to more students being pushed out of school and into the criminal justice system.

Writing at Huffington Post, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman, recently wrote

There is no evidence that armed guards or police officers in schools make children safer. An armed guard at Columbine High School in 1999 and a full campus police force at Virginia Tech in 2007 were unable to stop the massacres that occurred at both schools. A 2010 review of existing research found no evidence that the use of police to handle school disorders reduces the occurrence of problem behavior in schools but there is evidence that over-policing leads to a new set of problems. (emphasis original)

Instead of arming schools, Edelman recommends “better ways for providing an effective model school safety plan, that an include an emphasis on “relationship building . . . consistent reinforcement of positive norms . . . and individualized approaches to student discipline and intervention that seek to address root causes of misbehavior rather than to punish indiscriminately.

Effort to put more weaponry in schools are not only damaging to children, they are expensive.

As the recent post at the blog for the National School Board Association noted, “Public schools spend billions each year on school resource officers, according to a report on NPR’s Marketplace Morning Report. One officer could cost between $50,000 and $80,000 per year, depending on the district.”

A recent report in the local newspaper in Charlotte, NC found that that the school district was struggling to come up with “an added $800,000 required by a change in the city formula for paying school resource officers.”

So while political leaders in DC make the federal deficit the defining interest of the nation, elsewhere, conservatives are promoting huge new expenditures for their constituents, and the interests of children get completely lost in the deal making.

That any Democratic administration would find the interests of the NRA as a place to compromise on the well being of children is appalling.

“Splitting The Baby” Not An Option

The way that the Wisdom of Solomon has been interpreted by America’s leaders today resembles the cruder version, reflected, according in the Wikipedia article cited above, in the legal profession, where attorneys propose a simple compromise they call “splitting the baby.”

But that’s not how Solomon’s judgement became “an example of profound wisdom” and not what we need for the well being of our youngest citizens.

Occupy The Department Of Education Ushers In America’s Angry Spring

No offense, but the Lyndon Baines Johnson Department of Education building in Washington, DC is not a pretty sight. Crossing the National Mall on 4th street, you pass between the glisteningly modern National Air and Space Museum and the sculpted brown stone of the National Museum of the American Indian to come face to face … Continue reading “Occupy The Department Of Education Ushers In America’s Angry Spring”

No offense, but the Lyndon Baines Johnson Department of Education building in Washington, DC is not a pretty sight.

Crossing the National Mall on 4th street, you pass between the glisteningly modern National Air and Space Museum and the sculpted brown stone of the National Museum of the American Indian to come face to face with what can only be described as a monument to bland austerity.

It was at the base of this concrete and glass slab that a band of public school teachers, university professors, librarians, parents, and students gathered to speak out against the nation’s current regime of testing students, firing teachers, and closing public schools.

For four straight days, speaker after speaker spoke, shouted, and sang into a microphone placed near the entry way of a building bearing the name of an American president who arguably did more to advance the well being of poor people than any other political leader in American history. The group railed at the building and its occupants – especially Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The speakers exhorted the audience to chant protestations to the building, turn their backs to it, shake their fists at it, and curse it.

Why so much anger thrown toward a very big, ugly building?

“You’re hurting children!” The crowd shouted. “You’re spreading injustice! You’re harming teachers! You’re ruining schools! You’re shredding democracy! You’re selling out the common good to private corporations!”

These are things, it would seem, worth getting upset about – if it weren’t happening in a capital city where getting upset is viewed as unseemly.

Of course, like most undernon-funded grassroots efforts, the speakers were not vetted through a PR staff that would normally accompany a DC event. So one speaker said something reprehensible that everyone else participating in the event deeply regretted.

But even though the agitators gathered on the plaza in front of the DOE were mostly ordinary citizens of no obvious distinction, the speakers were anything but that. As The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss observed, the speaker roster included education historian and NYU professor “Diane Ravitch, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, veteran educator Deborah Meier, early childhood expert Nancy Carlsson-Paige, and language acquisition expert Stephen Krashen.”

Writing at Strauss’ site, Amy Rothschild noted the event, called Occupy the DOE 2.0, drew “leading scholars and teachers, who have decades of classroom, school, and university leadership guiding them. They are demonstrating in front of the Education Department because the people working inside have ignored their message.”

At the website of Mother Jones, one of the event organizer, Peggy Robertson explained the protest was organized because “liberal school advocates are deeply unhappy with President Barack Obama’s education reform agenda.” She called policies such as Race to the Top “No Child Left Behind on steroids.”

Writing at the online site of Empower Magazine, Occupy participant, Denisha Jones explained that this was the second anniversary of the event. The original rationale for the event was to raise people’s awareness “about the dangers of high stakes standardized testing, school closings, for-profit charter schools, and the billionaires club that is destroying public education.”

Although the crowds for both events have been relatively small, the organizers and participants this year, Jones, maintained, have been pumped up significantly by recent events, such as the successful Chicago teachers strike and the boycott of standardized testing in Seattle and elsewhere.

The resistance tactic of boycotting or “opting out” of high-stakes testing was a focal point of the event. The first four speakers, who were the principal event organizers, each exhorted parents to exclude their children from the tests, teachers to refuse to give them, and students to refuse to take them.

But based on what the rest of the event’s speakers said, and conversations heard in the audience, it’s broadly acknowledged that problems with current education policies extend way beyond testing alone, and just saying no to tests is not viable in every situation.

Parent activist Leonie Haimson, and founder-leader of a grassroots group Class Size Matters, warned that current education policies are headed toward a “two tiered system” in which more well-off parents get to send their children to schools with small class sizes and well-rounded curriculum, while less well off parents are relegated to schools with big class sizes, narrow, test-driven curriculum, and governance dominated by “big data” rather than research-based practices.

Early childhood education expert Nancy Carlson Page warned that the same kind of reforms damaging elementary-secondary education are being pushed down to the classroom of youngest children.

While she applauds the Obama administration’s recent proposals to make pre-K education more accessible, she worried that the designs of programs being pushed by the new policies would follow the same mistaken guidelines of Race to the Top and other edicts that mandate standards and accountability without regard to the developmental needs of young children.

“The expectation that little kids are going to learn the same things at the same rate at the same time is wrong,” Page declared.

Literacy expert Stephen Krashen warned about the unprecedented level of testing in American schools – “more than we have ever seen on the planet.” Krashen decried the “enormous costs” of the testing mandates – New York City and the state of Florida alone are expected to spend more than half-a-billion dollars each just to enable the Internet connections the tests require. He pointed out how in tough economic times these expenditures take away from more worthy basic needs like expanded breakfast and lunch programs, school nurses, and libraries with books.

And then there were the stories. Counter balancing the current fad to base education policy solely on numerical data – regardless of the merit of the source – this event offered an abundance of stories about the reality in schools today.

Katie Osgood who currently works on a child and adolescent inpatient psychiatric unit in Chicago recounted her experiences in dealing with the traumatic fallout of school reform measures.

“Every year I am getting more kids coming into our unit as a direct result of the pressures of high stakes testing,” she explained. “Kids not only feel the pressure themselves but they understand the pressures being put on teachers.”

“The busiest admission weekend in the history of our hospital was the week before the tests this year,” she observed.

Osgood also relayed incidents of children being traumatized by school closures and harsh discipline policies employed in charter schools that don’t follow the regulations that are required of traditional public schools.

“We’ve had incidents where students actually die when schools are closed and the children have to cross dangerous neighborhoods to get to their new schools,” she recounted. “Children also come to my hospital because they are depressed and angry that their friends have been physically hurt when they are transferred to new schools. One kid who was so afraid and angry he stopped going to school and was classified as mentally ill by the school administration.”

“We also see students traumatized by harsh discipline policies in charter schools – schools that punish students by making them run up and down stairs or stare at walls – and schools that charge parents fees for their children’s misbehavior. Then when kids refuse to go to these schools they are called sick. They aren’t sick. The charter school is sick.”

Numerous teachers and administrators spoke about being compelled to engage in education practices they believe compromise their professional ethics.

Teacher Kris Nielsen, formerly with Union County Public Schools in North Carolina and now in New York, compared academic targets based on test score results to retail sales quotas. “Kids are not dealt the same hands but have to meet the same quota, which isn’t fair,” he maintained. “Also the targets are meaningless to students.”

Chicago teacher Phil Cantor spoke about children in his school being rated and grouped by test scores with the “bubble kids” being targeted for more intense instruction because they have “the best chance of moving out school off probation.”

“Our students aren’t test scores,” Cantor declared. “Policies that only see them that way harm kids, and these policies are destroying public education around the country.”

Amidst the critiques of the current administration there were proposed solutions as well, including smaller class sizes, services that attend to students’ health, nutrition, and emotional needs, and increased access to libraries, art and music programs, and other academic pursuits that are often cast aside due to wave after wave of testing.

But make no mistake, the mood of the crowd was indeed angry, and when the throng gathered to march to the White House, their numbers grew from a few score to 200 – 300. As a police contingency escorted the demonstrators along the National Mall, onlookers shouted encouragement, with some jumping off the sidewalk to join in, so the crowd grew as it advanced down the street.

Do such outpourings make a difference? Who knows, but progressives everywhere need to understand that we are about to head into a very angry season. The same administration assaulting public schools is about to be the first Democratic presidential office to cut Social Security and Medicare – the New Deal compacts that support the nation’s poor and middle class.

We should be angry. But this anger is too readily dismissed by the current cynicism dominating media outlets these days.

As Richard Eskow recently observed, “It has become a tired rhetorical gambit of self-described ‘centrists,’ . . . to paint their opponents as agitated (presumably as a contrast to their own calm rationality). This maneuver is routinely deployed to imply that anyone who doesn’t embrace their ideology – and it is an ideology – is overly emotional and therefore somewhat less rational than they are.”

Progressives who believe in the need for change can’t be deterred.

Instead, we must embrace the reality that there will likely be much more angry shouting at big buildings in the nation’s capital. And eventually the people in those buildings will have to come out and talk to us.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Is Right-Wing School Reform (Texas) Toast?

by Jeff Bryant It’s a conventional wisdom among Democrats to write off the state of Texas as a land of gun wielding troglodytes who genuflect to Rush Limbaugh and swill Fox News Kool-Aid. (Full disclosure: I was born and raised in the Lone Star State.) But it may surprise most Democrats that the education policies … Continue reading “Is Right-Wing School Reform (Texas) Toast?”

by Jeff Bryant

It’s a conventional wisdom among Democrats to write off the state of Texas as a land of gun wielding troglodytes who genuflect to Rush Limbaugh and swill Fox News Kool-Aid. (Full disclosure: I was born and raised in the Lone Star State.)

But it may surprise most Democrats that the education policies that our current Democratic administration advances were, in a large part, invented in the oh-so awful red state of George W. Bush and Rick Perry.

The widespread idea that government operatives working in cubicles buried deep in the bowels of state capitals can monitor the “effectiveness” of schools in the hinterlands of the country was a scheme born and enacted first in a state known to be among the most oppressive in its treatment of people who Democrats like to refer to as “the least of these.”

But 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 that brought thousands of people into the streets to protest deep cuts to the state’s education budget became a mass outcry against education policies that enforce high-stakes testing and accountability systems.

Education historian Diane Ravitch declared Texas the place where reform “madness” started and where “the vampire gets garlic in its face and a mirror waved and a stake in its heart.”

Former Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott talked about turning in his “reformer card” and described promoters of school accountability schemes as people who are “selling two ideas and two ideas only: No. 1, your schools are failing, and No. 2, if you give us billions of dollars, we can convince you [of] the first thing we just told you.”

And Texas school superintendent John Kuhn called the pushback to school reform measures, “our San Jacinto.”

If Texas set the precedent for the last 20 years of education governance, is it now the state about to hurl the current reform model into the dustbin of history?

A Texas-Sized Mess

A recent article in that bastion of radical leftist thought, The American Conservative, took us “back in time” to recount how education policies that became the law of the land got their start in cowboy culture.

The author of the article, Texas Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken, explained, “For the past two decades, excessive emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing and a one-size-fits-all focus on preparing all students for college came to dominate education policy in Texas and later, in Washington, D.C. with the passage of the Bush-Kennedy “No Child Left Behind” legislation.”

To trace this history, Pauken actually dialed his time machine back even further to the 1980s when computer mogul and zany presidential candidate H. Ross Perot pushed for a “basic skills test” requirement for earning a Texas high school diploma. A test-based accountability system gained momentum in the 1990s when state lawmakers decided to use test scores and passing rates to categorize schools as “Exemplary,” “Recognized,” “Acceptable,” and “Low Performing.” (Sound familiar?) http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/education/2010-03-13-education13_ST_N.htm

Pauken noted, “These categories … had little to do with measuring whether schools were preparing students for success in college or for meaningful employment. But the labels played well from a public-relations standpoint.”

Then, during the Bush governorship, local school districts throughout Texas ratcheted up their attention to the “performance measurements put in place by the state particularly the testing system.”

Now, 15 years later, according to Pauken, “The state’s one-size-fits-all accountability system pressures school districts to spend an inordinate amount of time teaching to the test. As one teacher told me, it all becomes a numbers game to get the most students to pass the single test.”

The test driven approach, according to Pauken, has led to a narrowed curriculum that has produced “worker shortages in the skilled trades,” declines in student performance on college entrance exams, and “a serious problem with high school dropouts.”

The Myth Of The Texas Miracle

Nevertheless, the Texas approach to education policy provided the model for accountability measures pushed by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top and other measures.

Writing at the website of “liberal” MSNBC, Jason Stanford recounted pretty much the same history that Pauken imparted.

Even when scores on the state assessments rose, Stanford explained, “SAT scores dropped. Researchers discovered that the Texas tests designed by Pearson primarily measured test-taking ability.” And “over all Texas lost ground to the rest of the country.”

Both men pin a lot of the blame for test-crazed education policies on a Democrat, Sandy Kress, Bush’s chief education adviser. According to Stanford, Kress convinced Bush, “The ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ was holding back minority students in failing schools. His solution: if Texas made all schools give the same tests, the state could direct resources where they would do the most good, and eventually African-American and Hispanic kids would catch up to the white kids. It was a great theory, and initially the scores rose.”

This became known as the “Texas Miracle,” according to Stanford, and once Bush became president, “Kress lobbied Sen. Ted Kennedy to add bipartisan legitimacy” to NCLB, which then “spread the Texas Miracle to the other 49 states.”

The Texas Miracle started to collapse when CBS News exposed Texas school officials routinely hiding drop out figures.

But Republicans and Democrats alike remained united in thinking that test pressures would eventually yield higher achievement levels for all students. But if that were indeed the case, wouldn’t those higher levels have started to become reality in the place were test pressures have been in place the longest?

Holding School Accountability To Account

To answer that question, Texas-based education professor Julian Vasquez Heilig has spent a lot of time examining the results of the Texas education regime. Writing at his own website, he found, over the past decade, the state’s students have performed “poorly,” relative to other states, on the benchmark National Assessment of Education Progress exam, a.k.a “The Nation’s Report Card.

“Texas dropped 21 spots in 4th grade math, four spots in 4th grade reading, and eight spots in 8th grade reading,” Heilig observed.

“As a former employee of the Houston Independent School District, we inside the belly of the beast had access to our data and knew accountability hadn’t delivered on the scale that was being promoted in the popular press,” Heilig explained.

When Heilig and other reform-doubters warned testing pressures were producing “teaching to the test, push-out of children, and the narrowing curriculum,” they were summarily dismissed by those “still drinking the high-stakes testing and accountability Kool-Aid.”

“The reason why we’re seeing, well, what we’re seeing, after 10 years of No Child Left Behind is the fact that we didn’t close the gaps, the fact that our graduation rates haven’t gone anywhere, our dropout rates haven’t improved because Texas never did that in the 1990s,” said Heilig. “Accountability had never delivered that. It had never done it. And that’s why over the last 10 years now that we have Texas-style accountability and policy in the whole United States, the reason why it didn’t deliver is because it never delivered in Texas then.”

Testing Backlash Breaks Out

The extent of the test mania now appears to know no bounds.

A recent article in The New York Times reported that gym teachers around the country are being forced to incorporate test-prep into PE by teaching reading, writing and arithmetic as well as sports and exercise.

In Chicago, kindergartners may spend up to a third of their class time taking tests.

Educators, parents, and students are pushing back – not just in Texas, but around the country.

Prominent and respected school superintendents from around the country are now speaking out against the damage being done by over-testing plus the misuse of testing in Charlotte, NC, Montgomery County, MD, and Sacramento.

A test boycott started by teachers at a high school in Seattle drew national press. Parents and students joined in support of the teachers, and now the boycott has spread to Portland, OR.

High school students in Providence, RI recently staged a “zombie protest” to protest a high stakes test required for graduation.

“We are finally waking up,” Heilig concluded in his blog post cited above.

The Next “Education Bipartisanship”?

So with both conservatives and liberals questioning the whole school accountability movement, Democrats need to reconsider their support for these flawed policies.

The notion of accountability came from a desire – approved by both political parties – to create a mechanism to ensure that schools everywhere didn’t overlook the rights of poor and minority children to receive the same quality of education  their white, better-off peers get.

More than a decade after NCLB became law, the achievement gap hasn’t closed, schools have become more segregated, and there’s evidence that test-driven accountability mandates are doing irreparable harm to students everywhere.

People who happen to actually know something about education have proposed alternatives to the testing craze. Democrats who want to avoid getting blind-sided by the next bipartisan agenda for education had better start checking those alternatives out.