Archive for the ‘public schools’ category

Where Is The Center In Troubled Times?

January 18, 2017

When George W Bush was elected in 2000, Bush campaigned as a “compassionate conservative”. What could be better, a mix of pragmatism and concern for others? The wealthy smiled as the Bush Administration made a case for two tax cuts. The evangelical community smiled when government policy turned upon science severely limiting stem cell research and linking foreign aid to impoverished countries’ family planning methods.

And the gates were opened for the neoconservative movement, blindly supporting Israel and simultaneously destabilizing the Arab world. Along came the Patriot Act, secret subpoenas, and Justice Department sanctioned torture.  Hmmm. That America’s part of the world tilted strongly to the right and away from the center would be an understatement.

Barack Obama brought into power countervailing tendencies. Science was again respected as evidenced by renewed concerns about global warming, use of data in forming public policy, and research into solar and wind technology. The Obama Administration pointedly worked to end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and to close the dark spot on America’s image, the Guantanamo Detention Facility. And, most remarkably, the Obama Administration attempted to bring US healthcare into the realm of other world class, modern industrial countries by passing the Affordable Care Act.

The Republican Party, lead by the Tea Party/Freedom Coalition howled in horror about the reckless race to the left. It was not, however, clear that President Obama was guiding America towards the “center” until Bernie Sanders’s campaign revealed much more progressive goals. For many conservatives, however, President Obama’s policies represented socialism, if not outright communism.  To highlight this, the Republican Party’s complete rejection of Merritt Garland’s Supreme Court nomination underscores GOP rejection of centrist governance.

As the Trump Administration readies itself to take office, the Republican controlled Congress appears like the cat ready to eat the canary. The Republican Congress can’t wait to take the country back and “back” will be well to the right of center.

The unknown, strangely is President-elect Trump. Will he focus upon the ideological right or what ever is needed to stimulate economic growth? Will President Trump trade support for right wing ideas in return for support of his growth initiatives? Or, even worse as some conservatives worry, would a President Trump simply be a Democrat in Republican clothing?

“Regaining The Center” may appear a desirable goal, especially in comparison to the conservative hinterlands Republicans boast as the fruits of taking America back. The GOP possesses enough votes in Congress that Republican initiatives can carry the day. “Regaining the Center” may serve the reader well by putting GOP policies in context as a public reminder that Republicans seek benefits for their wealthiest members, at the expense of the average person.  If there are benefits, these pluses flow incidental to their main purpose.

For now, the GOP and the Trump Administration can do pretty much what they wish. In two years and again in four, voters get to assess Republican stewardship.  As with George W Bush’s Administration whose results were mixed but on the big issues, failures, “Regaining the Center” may sound prophetic.  The center may soon appear much less unsettling for independents to shift left of the Trump Administration without doing a full Bernie Sanders.

 

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Time To Wake Up

January 10, 2017

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, is about to lead the country’s largest teachers union into battle. Weingarten has called the Union to attention in anticipation the Trump Administration will declare war on public schools under the umbrella of “more choice”. Secretary of Education nominee, Betsy DeVos, is expected to push for more Charter Schools and more “vouchers” for parents to sent their children to the school of their choice. Does this sound American or what?

Before Weingarten begins to rant and rave about teachers contracts she would do well to re-educate Americans on the great success story Public Education has been. The public school system and education it brought to Americans from all walks of life has been envied around the world. American public schools are often credited with building a more productive work force (white and blue color) when compared to other systems around the world which attempt to maximize the education of the most gifted while losing sight of the average and less able students.

In the recent past American public school test scores have slipped when compared to other leading countries. In most major cities, public schools have become source of concern for students safety as well as education. In Philadelphia, however, Central High School still sends more graduates to Ivy League schools than any other high school in the country.

Across the country. many school districts face severe funding shortfalls as flight to the suburbs has decreased the tax base. Negotiation with Unions more often than not has been confrontational rather than collaborative. Tax payers object to paying higher taxes, cities object to meeting teachers’ unions wage and benefit demands, and teachers unions object to being targeted for failing schools when the resources (in their opinion) are denied.

Many believe Charter schools have served a useful wedge in this regard. Charters have promised a superior education compared to public schools and do not cost tax payers more. Since there are no free lunches and Charters are private, for profit, businesses, Charters must spend less for teachers pay and benefits. Charter supporters then point to the generous public school teachers remuneration and imply public school teachers are over paid. Hmmm.

Suddenly an important conversation is off the tracks. Attention is directed away from whether Charters are delivering superior educational results or simply allowing parents to choose a more desirable environment than public schools.

With the Republican majorities, and a demonstrated fondness for turning a phrase, “more choice” will easily mask the real results Charters bring. To date Charters have not clearly demonstrated a model which is superior to public schools. Simply skimming the best students and leaving the rest in public schools is not a prescription for raising education levels in the US.

To be sure there are Charters which have performed extremely well turning around previously failing schools. Most Charters, however, have not performed as well and on top of that, have selected a subgroup of students (read no difficult to educate or mentally challenged).

Randi Weingarten will do all Americans and her Union members a great service if she puts the emphasis on quality of education given equivalent circumstances (social, economic, challenged students) at the cost per student. And Ms Weingarten might as well call out the trojan horse Charter School advocates are readying.  “More choice” is also code for “vouchers” which would allow parents to send their children to private schools instead of public charters.  Religious groups, including the Catholic Church, have been lobbying for this for years.

Public schools educate all students regardless of background or capability.  In addition to the 1st Amendment, Ms Weingarten might remind Americans that private schools could include Islamic “Madrassas” or ideological schools which teach communism for example.

As vouchers send more students to private schools. public schools will be left with what’s not wanted. Sound like a self fulfilling prophecy?

Lastly, Ms Weingarten would do well if she decided which was more important, teachers’ salary and benefits or work rules.  Labor laws support unions negotiating for both but that has gotten matters to the current statement which encouraged Charters in the first place.  If teacher unions continue to remain adamant, they may wake up one day with very few public schools.

Charter Schools And Vouchers

December 23, 2016

Betsy DeVos has been nominated to become the next Secretary of Education. An heir to the Amway fortune, Ms DeVos has been an active campaigner for charter schools and applying them to improve educational outcomes in Michigan. Her selection seems a logical step for conservatives Republicans.

The next four Republican controlled years will features one “improvement” program after another. President-elect Trump has already trumpeted a huge tax cut and the GOP Congress has nodded their approval. This tax overhaul will liberate our growth engine and American factories will be humming again soon, Trump supporters say.

This may be viewed a highly dubious claim but what is not dubious is that the very wealthiest Americans will receive a “huge” tax reduction.

Ms DeVos boasts about the superior nature of Charter Schools when compared to Public Schools. She is likely to use her national stage to push the creation of Charter Schools across the country. What is also likely is that she will combine Charter Schools with “vouchers” so as to enable many more families to send their children to a quality education. Hmmm.

Ms DeVos’s work in Michigan focused upon the Detroit School System. According the Detroit Free Press, Ms DeVos was quite successful in setting up a large number of Charters in Detroit. Surprisingly Detroit test scores have not improved begging the question why Charters in the first place?

Charters are privately run schools which receive payment from the Public School System. Charters hire teachers for less money than Public School teachers receive and generally avoid all difficult to educate students (leaving them for the Public Schools). These are mini businesses where profit is proportional to the number of students and lower cost of salaries.

The selling point for charters is intriguing. Many are describe as “learning laboratories”, place where outstanding teachers are not held back by seniority rules or bureaucracy in general. In practice only a few nationwide meet this vision.

A second and compelling reason is segregation in the sense that in troubled school districts, Charter Schools seem safer to parents.  Charters along with parochial (private) schools appear to offer a more focused environment.

In most areas, Charters are actually a thinly disguised gambit to break teachers unions and in tern, reduce teachers pay and their political influence.  If teachers unions won’t negotiate, then the “go to” tactic is to establish Charter schools.

Unfortunately, n many situations, teacher unions are so intransigent and so blind to any change that Charters are a necessary evil. But the rush to Charters which the Trump Administration will champion is really about making “vouchers” available in every school district allowing parents to send their children to any school the child is qualified to attend.  The voucher cost would come from Public School District budget diverting funds that would have otherwise supported public education.

Why shouldn’t a parent be able to send their child to any school with a voucher equal to the per capita amount set by the school district, voucher supports will ask? What many of these voucher supporters are not saying is the school of their choice is a private school, usually a religious affiliated school. Vouchers would allow the GOP to reward the Catholic Church along with many individual “Bible Belt” churches as well as satisfy a significant segment of the Republican Party.

All this from Charter Schools which have not raised education levels.  Hmmm.

Ms DeVos, like other advocates, do not deal with what happens to Public Schools or those students not taken by Charters or Private Schools. Will public schools be the school of last resort? Will public schools just wither and die away?

Ironically, public schools were an American innovation and have been the back bone of American Education, raising the average student’s education level. What made America Great was the Public School system.

The 2016 Presidential election has been called a “change” election.  The Charter and Voucher options if they come to pass, will change public education and cement the foundations of a segmented society.  Charters and Vouchers are not part of the path to making America Great Again.

Money Speaks, But Does It Think All The Way Through The Problem

April 2, 2015

In the upcoming Philadelphia mayoral race, big money is making its presence felt. What is surprising is that the big money (from three investors in Susquehanna Investors) expect something in return. What, how can that be?

The three investors are not reticent to acknowledge they expect the potential Mayor to be sympathetic to their cause – more charter schools in the impoverished section of Philadelphia.

Philadelphia, like other large cities, has a huge problem with K-12 education, especially in the 9-12 grades. By this age, the poverty condition from which many of the students come, has subverted the high school’s educational mission into simply survival from gang-like dysfunctional behavior. How can students who want to learn attain an education in this type of environment?

The answer, these investors have said is to syphon the brighter, willing to study students from public schools and put them into charter schools. For parents who fear for their children, this is a very appealing alternative.

The growth of charter schools in other large cities has already answered similar needs for parents so the idea is not novel. The political battle pitting teacher’s unions, school administrators, educational experts, and local residents, however, has settled on a certain number of charters. These investors want to target the poorest sections of Philadelphia and increase the number of charters in these districts. What’s wrong with this?

The Philadelphia situation is close to desperate with graduation rates hovering around 50% and institutional poverty only getting worse as so many young men and women enter the work force with no degree and no skills. Worse, Pennsylvania State legislature has no interest in sending more money for Philadelphia school and the Philadelphia City Counsel is reluctant to raise taxes to close school budget gaps. The conditions of schools in the poorest districts are just getting worse. So again, what’s wrong with charters?

The short answer is charters lead to the increasing the concentration of disciplinary and special needs students in the already dysfunctional schools. More charter schools is equivalent to throwing less fit people out of the life boat so that those more educationally competitive can survive. Hmmm.

If charter schools were required to accept the same population as the public school it replaced, and the non-union, the highly motivated teachers and administrators were put to the task of out performing the current union teachers and legacy administrators, this experiment would soon determine whether “selectivity” or “charter/public was the route to better schools.

Regrettably, more charters shed no light upon what to do with those students who are not taken into a charter school. Maybe these investors “money” has some ideas about that too.