"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, February 27, 2017

KY's Worst Charter Bill Ever

Last September when Trump's loss look assured, Kentucky's Tea Party governor, Matt Blevins, threatened violence if his angry white wingnut supporters did not get their way at the ballot box.
“I want us to be able to fight ideologically, mentally, spiritually, economically, so that we don’t have to do it physically.  But that may, in fact, be the case.”
Now Blevins and the enemies of democratic institutions in Kentucky are threatening violence against public schools, with a bill that must break a record in the ways that charters are to be allowed, if the bill passes, to steal from public education. From Lexington Herald Leader:
House Bill 520 is the latest version of charter school legislation that is bad for Kentucky. The worst aspect is that it would require public school monies to be handed over to charter schools.

For example, if a charter were created in Fayette County with 400 students, the Fayette County public schools would be required to cut its budget by $5.2 million and hand it over to the charter each year, possibly requiring 100 teachers to be laid off.

Under HB 520, a charter school could be created in three different ways: a local public school board could authorize it; if an application were rejected, the state board of education could authorize it; and if 60 percent of the parents of a public school voted to convert it to a charter school.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/opinion/op-ed/article134755024.html#storylink=cpy

In this last case, the charter school would continue to be housed in the same public school facility and have the option of using the existing assets of the school.

The proposed legislation makes all employees and teachers of charters eligible for Kentucky state retirement in a system that is already $8 billion underfunded. And they would also be eligible for health and life insurance.

Incredibly, HB 520 would require public schools to transport charter-school students to their schools at the expense of public schools. And more incredibly, it allows charter schools to fine public schools.

Charter school students would be allowed to engage in public school extracurricular activities, even if the public school cannot afford more students to participate. And charter students would be allowed to compete in statewide athletic activities. Just think of a charter school that could recruit the very best high-school athletes from anywhere in the state to create a powerhouse championship team.

HB 520 would allow charter schools to be exempt from zoning and land-use regulations. So, a charter might be able to build an apartment house or bar adjacent to the school, regardless of zoning laws.

The burdens placed on public schools by HB 520 are awesome. For example, If a public school teacher decides to teach in a charter school, the public school would be required to offer a two-year leave of absence. This means that the public school would need to fill that teacher’s position but then two years later might be required to fire the teacher who was then in that position.

In addition, after a charter applicant submits an application, the school board must complete a thorough review process, conduct an in-person interview with the applicant, provide a public forum for local residents’ input, provide a detailed analysis of the application, allow an applicant a reasonable time to provide additional amendments to its application and then approve or deny the application.

But if a school board rejects an application for a charter, the paperwork and bureaucracy required is enormous. If the applicant completes the paperwork required, the local school board must almost automatically accept the application.

If not, the arduous procedure in rejection requires massive paperwork, appeals to the board of education, extensive documentation as to the reasons for the rejection, re-appeals to the board of education then more documentation and finally a decision by the state board.

This legislation could result in fierce court battles costing public-school districts huge amounts in legal fees.

The bottom line is that none of this is necessary to improve K-12 education in Kentucky.

Charter schools offer two things: choice and innovation. But both are now available to public schools through the relatively new legislation called Districts of Innovation. To see how it is already working go to: ket.org/episode/KEDMA_000802/

Marty Solomon, a retired University of Kentucky professor, can be reached at mbsolomon@aol.com.

 




Sunday, February 26, 2017

Deconstructing Steve

It doesn’t take a weatherman to see which way the wind blows, and the winds blow off the high plains of this country, through the prairie and lights a fire that will burn all the way to Washington in November.  --Steve Bannon, 2010
 
Christopher Caldwell, senior editor at the right-wing Weekly Standard, offers an op-ed in the Times that tries to recast the pseudo-intellectual bomb thrower, deconstructionist dilettante, and institutional arsonist, Steve Bannon, into a kinder, gentler image--one that does not remind us of death every time his blotchy, spider-veined visage appears below another headline announcing the latest Trump atrocity.  


It is hard to say why a Weekly Standard guy would come to the defense of Bannon, especially since Bannon is so far Right that he describes the Weekly Standard as a left-wing magazine that he wants to destroy, too.  Bannon made this threat in the same Daily Beast article that quotes Bannon as a self-described Leninist: “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment."

White nationalist booster, Steve Bannon, is the worst example of what can happen when a Goldman Sachs insider, turned Hollywood propagandist, morphs into a postmodern Rasputin-Svengali hybrid hellbent on fitting the white male American oligarchy with tinfoil hats.  

Sadly, Bannon has used and continues to use the most desperate and impressionable elements of the American economic underclass as the muscle to build the walls for his philosophical outhouse.  And worse, he and his reality theorist chums and climate science deniers seem willing to sacrifice modern civilization to demonstrate their conspiratorial ramblings about history are correct.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Trump Dodges Correspondents' Dinner

Oh well.  It's probably for the best, anyway--someone with Trump's thin skin could go home afterwards and kill the world.  Oh, I forgot--he's doing that already.  

All we have, then, are these tidbits from 2011, long before Trump's disaster fantasy became our disaster reality.

First up, O gives it to the Birther-in-Chief at that time, Donald Trump.  Followed by Seth Meyers.



GOP Voucher Plan Provides NPE Fundraising Opp

After Obama brought Arne Duncan to DC to replace the toxic Margaret Spellings as Secretary of Education, a howl went up from racist states rights advocates against any kind federal intervention in education.

The whining and yipping continued, in fact, until Lamar Alexander and the Clintons came up with a plan to replace NCLB with a states rights version of ESEA that was labeled ESSA. ESSA left in place the annual testing empire, neutralized the role of the Secretary of Education, and gave the states rights advocates greater control of federal education dollars.

ESSA is chocked full of charter school stimulus provisions and incentives for more depersonalized computer screen time for kids that, in good Orwellian fashion, is known as "personalized" learning.

With continuing provisions in ESSA to incentivize annual conversions of the poorest and poorest-scoring five percent of schools, everyone at the RNC and DNC expected the gradualist approach to school privatization to rock along until all poor black and brown children were once again entirely segregated, this time in corporate welfare charters free to impose dehumanizing, paternalistic cultural sterilization methods that public schools with public oversight could never condone.

Even though the Alexander/Clinton plan became law, it could be interrupted by the election of insane clown, Donald Trump, who has his own privatization agenda that replaces DNC gradualism with undisguised Bannonist blitzkrieg.

Less than a week after the Trump inauguration, Steve King introduced H.R. 610 in the House, which replaces ESSA with education block grants to the states to use as they see fit.  Sort of. In the event that states don't see fit to use the federal cash to fund charters and vouchers, King's bill requires any states to pass laws allowing school vouchers programs before they can receive federal dollars.
This bill repeals the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and limits the authority of the Department of Education (ED) such that ED is authorized only to award block grants to qualified states.

The bill establishes an education voucher program, through which each state shall distribute block grant funds among local educational agencies (LEAs) based on the number of eligible children within each LEA's geographical area. From these amounts, each LEA shall: (1) distribute a portion of funds to parents who elect to enroll their child in a private school or to home-school their child, and (2) do so in a manner that ensures that such payments will be used for appropriate educational expenses.
Reaction has been swift from the Clinton/Obama DNC and their paternalist patrons in the multi-billion dollar charter reform school industry, all of whom have for years now preferred the gradual privatization and cultural sterilization methods of the "no excuses" KIPP Model schools. 

Leading charter propagandist, Kevin Carey of New America, published a piece at his regular hangout at the NYTimes' TheUpshot, which reminds policymakers of the last three school voucher studies from 2015 and 2016, all of which show negative test score effects for voucher students.  Carey's pitch comes near the end of his voucher research survey:
The new voucher studies stand in marked contrast to research findings that well-regulated charter schools in Massachusetts and elsewhere have a strong, positive impact on test scores. But while vouchers and charters are often grouped under the umbrella of “school choice,” the best charters tend to be nonprofit public schools, open to all and accountable to public authorities. The less “private” that school choice programs are, the better they seem to work.
The Ravitch Basecamp has come out swinging, too, against Steve King's voucher extortion plan in H. R. 610. Ravitch, in fact, has turned this bad tiding into a fund-raiser for her AFT/NEA support team at the Network for Public Education (NPE). 

In NPE's appeal for more letters and more cash, it is interesting to note that there is no mention H. R. 610's planned elimination of ESSA, which, of course, is the current blueprint for school privatization via tech-heavy blended charter schools.  Ravitch fought too hard to get ESSA passed to let it go now, and so she focuses, instead, on demonizing other road to privatization that she and her patrons did not take:
This bill [H.R. 610] would undermine funding to public schools while demanding that school vouchers be allowed for states to receive funding. It would also reduce the nutritional quality of school lunches.
In focusing only on the threat of school vouchers, thousands of letter writers are misled to believe that they are fighting school privatization. In fact, the focus on the school voucher threat ignores the larger present danger of school privatization via charter schools, the same charter schools that have received the seal of approval by Ravitch, the corporate unions, and the DNC.

Wonder why Ravitch is leading the charge only against school vouchers?  Where is the moral outrage against the teacher and student dehumanization of the "non-profit" segregated corporate reform charter schools?

Friday, February 24, 2017

Marsha Blackburn Contracts Trump Lying Virus

Despite the fact that Marsha Blackburn comes across as a Southern version of Sarah Palin (without the charm or intellect), some very creative gerrymandering of the 7th Congressional District in Tennessee has made Blackburn's seat in Congress safe, at least for now.

Like many Republican (and Dem) Congressional reps home for the first time after capitulating principles in favor of Trumpism, Blackburn faced many boos and some tough questioning at her town hall this week in Fairview, a hamlet just west of Nashville.

Following the lead lie by her boss, Trump, about townhalls packed with non-constituents, Blackburn followed suit Wednesday night when she told CNN:
“A little bit less than one-third in the room were actually very (sic) constituents of mine,” the Brentwood Republican told interviewer Anderson Cooper, according to a transcript of the show.

“We had a couple – several that identified themselves as from being outside of the district, a couple from Nashville, one from Murfreesboro,” Blackburn said.
Apparently, Blackburn has forgotten that her district runs from the Kentucky to the Alabama state line and as far west as the white eastern suburbs of Memphis.  If she bothered to host town halls where her constituents live, folks would not have to drive across the state to get their questions answered.  

Or maybe Blackburn did not know that Fairview's mayor polled the crowd prior to her arrival, and found that almost every soul at the town hall was from Blackburn's district.  Or maybe Blackburn has contracted the insidious and highly-contagious lying bug that Trump and Bannon brought to DC a month ago.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Yolie Flores Aguilar email colluding with charter school executives

“PLEASE don’t forward this email. simply state it in your own words.”—Yolie Flores Aguilar

Corporatist Yolie Flores always puts privately managed charters first.This email was addressed to some 60 individuals, including myself, on February 4, 2017. While its authenticity is not absolutely certain, I have researched the email addresses in the email body and they all seem legitimate. The content is consistent with the language that these charter school executives use both in public and internal conversations.

Yolie Flores Aguilar was an employee of the infamous Gates Foundation (of ALEC and Discovery Institute donation fame) while she sat on the LAUSD Board. She brought a resolution to give away new schools built with taxpayer dollars to privately managed charter school corporations.

Here Flores colludes with several well paid charter executives to avoid public mention that her resolution (inappropriately named Public [sic] School Choice) was essentially a real estate bonanza for the lucrative charter school sector. Marco Petruzzi and Ben Austin of Green Dot/Parent Revolution, Judy Burton of Alliance, Mike Piscal of ICEF are the big names in this secret missive. The lot of them have been plagued by scandals, but most of them are still profiting mightily from the charter industry.

Flores is currently running for U.S. Congress. If she's capable of this sort of duplicity and malfeasance while on a school board, imagine her in another position of power to further serve her corporate masters. Arch-reactionary Betsy DeVos would love to have more neoliberal Democrats that support her school privatization agenda of charters-vouchers. DeVos already has corporatists like Corey Booker in her thrall, Yolie Flores would be no different.

The second document should help authenticate this email chain. It's an email from Dr. Danny Weil with Yolie Flores Aguilar's <itsyolie@sbcglobal.net> email address in the to field. I recall she had a blog by the same name (i.e. "itsyolie"), and remember seeing emails from her from that address back in that era.


Yolie Flores Aguilar email colluding with charter school executives by Robert D. Skeels on Scribd

Dr. Danny Weil email with Yolie Flores Aguilar's <itsyolie@sbcglobal.net> email address by Robert D. Skeels on Scribd

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Decaying Buildings and the Rise of Digital Education

by Wrench in the Gears


“DeVos doesn’t think we should be funding school buildings as much as students.” The line caught my eye as I scrolled through social media this weekend. How could it not? I’ve been working hard over the past year to try and convince other education activists that the true endgame of the reform movement is to make school buildings obsolete. So I listened to the video of DeVos speaking to attendees of the Magnet Schools of America National Policy Training Conference in Washington, and there it was at timestamp 11:40: “I don’t think we should be as focused necessarily on funding school buildings, as much as we should be having a conversation around funding students.”
DeVos, being from Michigan, surely knows the deplorable conditions students in Detroit face daily trying to access a free and appropriate public education. And Detroit is not alone. Parsons completed a Facility Condition Assessment for the School District of Philadelphia last month identifying $4.5 billion in deferred maintenance. Over $1 billion of that total involves life safety, code compliance, health hazards, accessibility, and security issues. Think about that. We are asking vulnerable children and school staff to enter buildings that are not safe five days a week, while at the same time the Secretary of the US Department of Education is proclaiming we should not be funding school buildings.

This week I also came across a legislative forecast for Educational Savings Accounts (vouchers) prepared by Jeb Bush’s group Excellence in Education. The info-graphic accompanying the report indicated that my home state of Pennsylvania was one of 13 states identified as having a 75+% chance of implementing ESA legislation in the coming year. Our schools are already in an incredibly precarious financial position after years of austerity budgets and onerous debt service. The combination of intentionally unsafe buildings and ESAs will likely end up pushing more families out of the public school system with devastating consequences for those who remain.

Following on the “don’t invest in buildings” comment was another doozy from Jonathan Swan’s conversation with DeVos featured in Axios “I expect there will be more public charter schools. I expect there will be more private schools. I expect there will be more virtual schools. I expect there will be more schools of any kind that haven’t even been invented yet.” And while some chuckle over that last line, I’m pretty sure she’s talking about “Learning Ecosystems” which exist in concept right now, if not execution. The decentralized cyber-based education model with community drop-in centers would be consistent with her support of market-driven choice and tech-based educational content delivery, as well as her disdain for neighborhood schools being anchors in their communities. In a 2013 interview with Philanthropy Roundtable DeVos noted, “One long-term trend that’s working in our favor is technology. It seems to me that, in the Internet age, the tendency to equate “education” with “specific school buildings” is going to be greatly diminished.”



Saturday, February 18, 2017

Let's Slow Down the Faster Future



Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future, Joi Ito, Director, MIT Media Lab & Jeff Howe
Grand Central Publishing 2016

Kirkus calls this book “exhilarating and authoritative,” two cybergurus offering a “user’s manual to the twenty-first century.”  As a longtime teacher, I find the manual to be flawed. I was interested in the authors’ observation that the failure of Microsoft’s  professionally designed Encarta encyclopedia contrasted with the success of Wikipedia’s amateur-led platform as examples of  push-pull consumerism, with suppliers “pushing” goods toward consumers and consumers “pulling” goods according to their needs, with  Encarta being push and Wikipedia pull. Similarly, AOL, with its traditional push approach originally faltered and Twitter’s pull flourished.

Certainly it’s not surprising that the director  and visiting scholar at the MIT Media Lab would be cheerleaders for technology, but I guess I’m too old to embrace  Moore’s law, which the authors explain thusly: “everything digital gets faster, cheaper, and smaller at an exponential rate,” and this results in “wearable computers. Robots building robots.” We are told that we live in exponential times and “Change doesn’t care if you’re ready.”

 One assertions strikes me as particularly whacky. The authors  insist that compasses are way more useful than maps. “A map implies a detailed knowledge of the terrain, and the existence of an optimum route; the compass is a far more flexible tool and requires the user to employ creativity and autonomy in discovering his or her own path…..a good compass…will always take you were you need to go.” I’d say it depends on where you are and where you want to go. I’m comfortable watching the compass when my hand is on the tiller only  because of my husband’s careful study of  the charts that have given him  detailed knowledge of  the shallows and hazards of Lake Champlain.

It seems astounding that authors who have extolled compasses over maps can be so enthusiastic about KIPP schools, gushing,“KIPP schools have achieved admirable results in communities saddled with failing public schools. They focus on discipline, longer school days, and a steady diet of math, reading, writing, and homework.” The authors choose to ignore devastating research by scholars such as Professor Jim Horn whose Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys Through “No Excuses” documents what it’s like to teach and be taught in KIPP with its straightjacket classroom conditions. No compasses here, only strict schedules that must be obeyed. With breathtaking and heartbreaking examples, Horn shows that teacher behavior becomes reminiscent of subjects in Stanley Milgram’s infamous experiments—all to produce a corps of Blacks who obey orders.


The authors intone about the importance of maintaining “a culture of creative disobedience,” emphasizing that human systems are most resilient at their most diverse. In promoting the assertion that all kids should learn coding, the authors nod toward research showing that “people learn best when they can connect the things they’re learning to their interests, their personal relationships.” After all, the Media Lab did much to promote this. Think of Seymour Papert, the educational theorist, and Logo.  But not for those kids, who need to bark on command.

I can’t think of any school policy further from the Whiplash trumpet of “nonlinear innovation that can act quickly to the kind of rapid changes that characterize the network age.” For a reality check, I would recommend Frank McCourt’s wonderful description of his first attempt at classroom management in  New York City. In Teacher Man he describes the chaos that ensues when  kids swipe a kid’s baloney sandwich and toss it around.  McCourt restores order by grabbing the sandwich, standing in front of the class, and eating it.

The authors insist “When you emphasize practice over theory, you don’t need to wait for permission or explain yourself before you begin. And once you’ve started, if your circumstances change or your development process takes an unexpected turn, you don’t always need to stop and figure out what happened before you go on.” Maybe being married to a theoretical physicist is what caused me to jump at  the first part of this assertion. Think Peter Higgs. In the 1960s  Higgs proposed a theory that could explain the origin of the mass of elementary particles.  Fifty-odd years later CERN announced that they had established the existence of a Higgs-like boson. Experimentally. Theory waiting a long time for practice to catch up.

Not to mention Einstein.

 I also thought of my own experience as a teacher whose classroom practice was transformed by  the “messing around in science” principle introduced by David Hawkins, founder of the  Elementary Science Advisory Center. Hawkins’ work emerged from well-developed child development theory and I drew on it to change the way I taught remedial reading.  Yes, I did need to ask permission before I started buying bones, pendulums, test tubes, and the like. And every day I  watched the children very closely, thinking about what kids were doing , figuring out what it meant, and where and when I could give a nudge. When inspectors from the New York State Education Department came to see why the children’s standardized reading scores had soared, what they saw in practice left them more bewildered than when they had arrived.  I am sure they would have understood a KIPP classroom.

The authors promote some educational principles I applaud, but they are too quick to dismiss public schools and the teachers in them. Years ago, an education foundation hired me to travel the country looking at how elementary teachers were struggling to change the way they taught math. Visiting classrooms in twenty-eight states and looking closely at what was going on taught me that just because teachers weren't doing things my way didn't mean they weren't doing good in addition to doing well. The resulting book was titled Garbage Pizza, Patchwork Quilts, and Math Magic: Stories about Teachers Who Love to Teach and Children Who Love to Learn. It was named "best book for parents" by Child Magazine.

Frank McCourt noted that in all his years of teaching, only one parent asked, "Is my child happy in school?" And when he said yes, she expressed approval and left. That's all she wanted to know. It was a big plenty.

It’s a question all parents should ask. Teachers, too.

Susan Ohanian

Trump Makes Cover of Time Again!


Maher: "While you're watching the clown screw the pony, they're breaking into your car."

Maher's opening monologue is worth 7 minutes:


The rest of the show I can't recommend, except for the part where Larry Gilmore tells nazi defender of child sexual abuse, Milo Yiannopoulos, to "go fuck yourself."  

Yiannopoulos breaks many molds that shatter at least two expectations of white liberals, who would rather see this sad, self-hating dude disappear from the Earth: first, white gay guys aren't supposed to parade Hitlerian ideology and attack the LGBT community.  Second, alt-right media outlets are not supposed to hire gay ideologues.  

I don't see why people are surprised, really.  

If the Third Reich had happened 80 years later, no doubt we would have seen the same kind of social progress that Breitbart has now put on full display.