Friday Reading List: Former Department of Education Officials React to the Current Administration

Former United States Secretary of Education John King, Jr. is in U.S. News & World Report slamming the Trump administration's budget:

Yes; we believe in personal responsibility. We understand America's self-concept as the place where all people can lift themselves up by the proverbial bootstraps and improve themselves ... we recognize that you can't pull off an upset if the game is rigged against you and that those of us who were not born into privilege sometimes need a boost from our teammates ... And that's precisely why the Trump administration's recently released 2018 budget is such a deeply problematic assault on the American Dream. It eliminates many of the critical supports that give people the opportunities and tools to better their lives, particularly through a net cut of more than $10 billion to education.

What's so offensive about the Trump budget is that it couples these deep gashes in the social safety net with both increases in military spending, and huge tax cuts for wealthier Americans. One cannot claim with a straight face that this budget about fiscal conservatism; it's about cruelty to those with less.

Matt Lehrich, writing at Education Post, wonders if current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos understands the federal role in civil rights enforcement:

In a budget hearing yesterday, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) pressed DeVos on whether her plan for school choice would allow federal dollars to flow to private schools even if they discriminate against LGBT students. DeVos offered her standard fare in response: those choices would be up to states ... DeVos couldn’t think of one. Here was the United States Secretary of Education saying that if a state wanted to give federal dollars to a private school that only admitted White students, that would be fine by her. Want to reject any student who’s gay or Jewish or has a disability? That’s ok too, she was implying. We’re just here to dole out the cash. Of course, such a scheme would never hold up in court. But it laid bare the moral vacuity of the commonly-professed view that the federal government should just get out of the way and let states figure it out.

Lehrich went there, didn't he? What's impossible to tell is whether DeVos truly doesn't care if schools discriminate, or whether she's oblivious to the fact that some TOTALLY WILL when given the chance. Either way, she's ...

Finally, a bit of shameless self-promotion: for your weekend read, be sure to check out the longer piece I wrote in reaction to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu's speech about the removal of Confederate monuments from his city:

 

 Have a great weekend!

We Don’t Need More White Dudes in Charge of Things, But the Ones Who Are Should Be More Like Mitch Landrieu

Last week, the city of New Orleans removed four monuments commemorating the Confederacy from the city’s public spaces. The action was the result of sustained pressure from local activists at "Take 'Em Down NOLA," like Angela Kinlaw, Malcolm Suber, and Michael "Quess?" Moore.

To mark the event, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu delivered a stunning speech that is getting a lot of attention, during which he dismantled a false, yet sticky, narrative about the Civil War:

… the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy. It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it … These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for. After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city.

I debated whether to write anything about this speech, because my normal rule of thumb is:

“White dudes shouldn’t congratulate other White dudes just for doing the right thing.”

 

But the remarkable thing about Landrieu’s speech is that, in 2017, his ability to tell the truth about the past renders him an exceptional member of the coterie of White-men-who-still-run-shit. Landrieu mentions slavery eight times in a twenty-minute speech, while naming the rape, torture, and violence that accompanied America’s foul practice of systematic dehumanization. He calls the Confederate monuments “symbols of White supremacy,” while wondering aloud why his city offers no visual reminders that New Orleans was America’s most active marketplace for trafficking enslaved people.

In recounting these facts of history, Landrieu, with a bit of exasperation, says, “Surely we are far enough removed from this dark time to acknowledge that the cause of the Confederacy was wrong.”  

He’s right to be anxious about what constitutes “The Obvious” in America. Telling a consistent, factual story regarding this country’s history of slavery and racial violence is undermined by the same false narrative that was perpetuated by these monuments. The narrative receives the balance of its oxygen from textbooks, history teachers, cable news, and unsubtle paeans to making America great again.

This is the ACTUAL original text from one of the monuments that Landrieu ordered removed. For real. 📷: : Jonas Chartock 

This is the ACTUAL original text from one of the monuments that Landrieu ordered removed. For real. 📷: : Jonas Chartock 

It is rare for a politician – let alone a White southern one – to challenge this sanitized mythology in such stark terms. Georgia Governor Zell Miller tried in 1993, when he implored his state legislature to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state's flag, arguing that to reject his plea meant identifying Georgia with the “dark side of the Confederacy.” President Lyndon Johnson also tried during his 1965 commencement address at Howard University, asserting that “white America must accept responsibility” for “centuries of oppression and persecution of the Negro man.”

What is striking about Landrieu, Johnson, and Miller is that they all told the truth, even though that truth is a direct challenge to White supremacy, from which they all benefit, whether they like it or not. The false narrative about the American South is hard to uproot not just because White people can choose to ignore their privilege to their own benefit, but also because the myth is more appealing than the truth. There is no joy in acknowledging that your ancestors were complicit in the systematic dehumanization of millions of enslaved people, and it’s hard to find pride in hearing that your grandparents’ heroes were bigoted losers. The lies start as a coping mechanism, but after centuries of metastasizing they have become a giant dam behind which we contain the crushing power of our collective past.

As James Baldwin said, though, "To accept one's past - one's history - is not the same thing as drowning in it.”

The only way to prevent ourselves from drowning in the real pain of our collective history is to stop aggrandizing the traumatizing events of our past. Landrieu spares no words in correcting the record, but he offers a life preserver of sorts to the folks set adrift by the accurate version of the war. Towards the end of his speech, he proffers a new narrative to replace the old one:

… we are becoming part of the city’s history by righting the wrong image these monuments represent and crafting a better, more complete future for all our children and for future generations. And unlike when these Confederate monuments were first erected as symbols of white supremacy, we now have a chance to create not only new symbols, but to do it together, as one people … It is in this union and in this truth that real patriotism is rooted and flourishes.

Landrieu casts pluralism as patriotic, offering a rebuttal to the ugliest corners of our contemporary discourse.

Roadside billboard in Harrison, Arkansas, 2017.

Roadside billboard in Harrison, Arkansas, 2017.

White supremacist rally in Virginia, 2017.

White supremacist rally in Virginia, 2017.

The reality of pluralism in this country, however, has never matched the aspiration of its idealized form, just as the removal of the symbols of White supremacy does not mean its inevitable demise. Pluralism in practice too often means that people of color continue to be on the receiving end of institutional racism, while White folks get to celebrate having a Black friend or two. Correcting the narrative is a necessary, yet insufficient, component of making this country a more just place for people who don’t look like Mayor Landrieu.

The future of American life will be much less White than its present, and as a result its political leadership should become much less White – not to mention much less male – than its current incarnation. Many White people struggle with this idea, because they view that outcome as an inevitable loss. The only thing we have to lose, though, is a false sense of unearned superiority. We must tell different stories if we’re going to have a different America, and the next generation of American political leaders should aspire to speak the truth about our past. They should speak that truth not just so that all of us can hear, but so that all of us can see our past and future selves in the narrative. Mitch Landrieu offered both words and deeds last weekend. Neither were perfect, but they’re a good start

Thursday Reading List: Equity Lawsuits, Creative Testing, and Blurry Lines Between Public and Private

The team at Blavity reports that the Southern Poverty Law Center is bringing a lawsuit against the Mississippi state education system:

The SPLC lawsuit claims that the schools attended by the plaintiffs' children "lack textbooks, literature, basic supplies, experienced teachers, sports and other extracurricular activities, tutoring programs, and even toilet paper." The group claims that in a white supremacist effort to prevent the education of blacks, the state has effectively watered down education protections that guarantee a "uniform system of free public schools" for all children. "From 1890 until the present day, Mississippi repeatedly has amended its education clause and has used those amendments to systematically and deliberately deprive African-Americans of the education rights guaranteed to all Mississippi schoolchildren by the 1868 Constitution," the suit states.

My prediction is that we're going to see much more litigation on education funding in the coming years. Since the 1990s, state legislatures have been the preferred venues for education policymaking, while the courts have been quiet. It's hard to imagine this particular United States Supreme Court being a friendly venue for an equity suit, so keep an eye on the state courts to see which arguments hold sway among moderate judges.

Elsewhere in the South, Madeline Will of Education Week looks at a Virginia district that is experimenting with new kinds of assessment:

With classmates, parents, teachers, and even the Roanoke County schools superintendent standing before him, high school senior Bubba Smith took a deep breath and set the two-story Rube Goldberg machine into motion. The contraption, which performed a series of complicated actions to lift a banner, was part of Bubba's fourth-quarter grade for his AP Physics class ... Nestled in the heart of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, the Roanoke County district has joined 10 other districts in the state that make up a Networked Improvement Community focused on implementing student-led assessment to bring about a deeper level of learning ... The project, supported through private philanthropy, is seeding 17 cutting-edge approaches across the country that vary in size and scope, to better understand how assessment can play into a more personalized, student-centered, competency-based learning process.

I'm here for this. The education world needs to find some sort of equilibrium around testing, wherein we use standard assessments for basic skills, but use more creative instruments for deeper learning. The trend in the last generation has been towards greater standardization, so as schools experiment with methods like these, we should be vigilant against over-correction. We need some way to assess basic literacy and numeracy for young students, otherwise we will perpetuate huge opportunity gaps.

Elsewhere, Allie Gross of The Atlantic looks at the blurry line between religious and charter schooling in Michigan:

In March, Cornerstone [School] announced that starting next year, its flagship private Christian school would stop providing primary- and middle-school classes. Instead, a charter, employing the same staff and using the same curriculum, would take over. Families from the religious school would help new families get to know the new school, Brockman explained. The words “Centers of Hope” glimmered in gold typeface above her as she spoke ... Pinpointing where the religious school ended and the charter school began was difficult. Parents sitting in the room may have wondered: Am I at a meeting with Cornerstone Nevada, the flagship, independent, religious school? Or am I listening to a talk about Cornerstone Jefferson-Douglass Academy, the soon-to-open public charter school? The two entities couldn’t help but brush against each other.

At the risk of oversimplifying things, there are two kinds of policy wonks that support charter schools: innovators and privatizers. The innovators think charter schools are a critical part of accelerating change from within the construct of public schooling, whereas the privatizers want to replace public oversight of schools with deregulated market-based accountability. The innovators are committed to the idea that "charter schools are public schools," but instances like the one reported above are a giant complicating factor in that message. That's why innovators should be very concerned when the United States Secretary of Education says that the federal government should not be in the business of dictating education rules to states.

Finally today, Alex MacGillis is in The New York Times Magazine with a long profile of Jared Kushner's real estate empire:

Tenants complained about Westminster Management’s aggressive rent-collection practices, which many told me exceeded what they had experienced under the previous owners. Rent is marked officially late, they said, if it arrives after 4:30 p.m. on the fifth day of the month. But Westminster recently made paying the rent much more of a challenge. Last fall, it sent notice to residents saying that they could no longer pay by money order (on which many residents, who lack checking accounts, had relied) at the complex’s rental office and would instead need to go to a Walmart or Ace Cash Express and use an assigned “WIPS card” — a plastic card linked to the resident’s account — to pay their rent there. That method carries a $3.50 fee for every payment, and getting to the Walmart or Ace is difficult for the many residents without cars ... property managers, instead of putting pink or yellow late notices and court summonses discreetly in mailboxes or under doors, post them in public — on the front doors of townhouse units or on lobby walls or lobby doors of apartment buildings.

Read the whole thing, because the level of disrespect for vulnerable families is stunning. In particular, the Kushner-owned companies have filed hundreds of lawsuits against low-income families to collect small sums; when families are unable to defend themselves against the Kushner's formidable legal teams, courts allow Kushner and his company to garnish former tenants' wages. It seems like making the rich richer on the backs of the poor is a Trump-Kushner family value.

Have a great day ...

Tuesday Reading List: The Trump-DeVos Budget, Leave Kids' Hair Alone, and a Bold Speech

Betsy DeVos gave a speech to voucher enthusiasts last night, and Emma Brown of The Washington Post parsed the words for clues about the administration's education agenda:

Many education observers had expected her to lay out a specific policy proposal, such as a federal tax credit that would funnel public dollars toward scholarships to private and religious schools. Trump has pledged to spend $20 billion per year expanding school choice. But DeVos said nothing about tax credits or any other specific policy, saying only that Trump would propose something big — and that the administration would not force states to take part ... She also said the administration would refrain from “bribing states with their own taxpayers’ money,” a not-so-veiled reference to President Barack Obama’s initiative to offer billions of stimulus dollars to states that adopted his preferred education policies. The Trump administration, however, plans to offer $1 billion to local public school districts that agree to adopt choice-friendly policies, according to budget documents obtained by The Washington Post.

For those of you keeping score, when your political opponent offers resources to states in exchange for reforms, it's a "bribe." When you do it, it's a "$1 billion offer."

Got that?

In the meantime, Andrew Ujifusa of Education Week tells us what to expect in the actual budget documents from DeVos and the White House:

We know Trump wants to create a new $1 billion grant program under Title I spending for disadvantaged students to allow them to choose the public schools of their choice. But how would that funding work if it is outside the traditional Title I spending structure (which relies on formulas to get money to districts)? If it is optional, what will be the terms under which states would apply for the money? And would there be limits on which public schools they could use the money for?  ... Would most of the cash go for actually dispensing vouchers to students, or for research into vouchers? What would be the research standards the department would apply to voucher studies? And which students would be eligible for any voucher funds?

Despite the clear lack of detail-orientation among the top officials in this administration, it's safe to assume that there are worker bees at the department of education sorting through the plausibility of various options. For context, it was a Big Deal when the Obama administration moved almost $5 billion of federal funding into school improvement grants ... and that was amidst a historical increase in federal education spending, tied to the stimulus (ARRA) passed in 2009 to ameliorate the effects of the Great Recession. Title I is a block grant from the federal government to states, and it is distributed based on a formula. States count on that money form year to year, which means they're liable to get fussy (read: call their United States Senators) if anything significant happens to the money.

In other news, Jeremy Fox of The Boston Globe is following the Massachusetts charter school with the discriminatory hair policy:

The board of trustees of a Malden charter school unanimously voted to suspend a controversial policy that punished students for wearing hair braid extensions, a rule that many said discriminates against black and biracial students. The Mystic Valley Regional Charter School eliminated that provision of the school’s dress code for the rest of the academic year on Sunday, after meeting privately for more than two hours to discuss a letter from Attorney General Maura Healey saying that the policy was unlawful.

We've been following a spate of these stories on the blog recently, and I hear a new instance of policing Black hair in schools just about everyday. I don't have much more to say about this, except:

For a soupçon of good news, check out this speech from New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, as reprinted by The Pulse Gulf Coast. Landrieu delivered this address, as his city removed four public memorials to the Confederacy:

The historic record is clear: the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity. First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy. It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots. These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.

The whole speech is remarkable, especially coming out of the mouth of a southern politician who identifies as White. Read the whole thing. This country needs to reckon with its actual history, not a fictionalized one. As James Baldwin said, “To accept one's past - one's history - is not the same things as drowning in it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought."

Have a great day!

Monday Reading List: Betsy DeVos's 1st 100 Days Riles the Left-Right Divide in Education

The reporting team at The Hechinger Report looked at Betsy DeVos's first 100 days as United States Secretary of Education. Emmanuel Felton identifies a point of tension at the core of her agenda:

Many in conservative circles see her primary role as using the bully pulpit to advance school choice policies, but government-backed school vouchers for private schools, which is something she’s vigorously supported for decades, have really taken a beating recently. Study after study have shown that students at private schools using vouchers do no better and sometimes even worse than similar peers who remain in public schools. That helped anti-voucher lawmakers in Tennessee scuttle a voucher push there. After proposing bills each of the last seven years, pro-voucher lawmakers in that state thought that this would be their year. Lawmakers have instead promised to study how to best hold these private schools accountable and come back with a new bill next year. And that’s a state where Republicans control all branches of government. That underscores just how murky the path forward is for her policy agenda.

DeVos has made significant changes to higher education policy without Congress. Making a large new federal investment in vouchers would require an act of the legislature, though, which is unlikely. As such, DeVos is looking to carve out dollars from existing federal programs to incentivize states and districts to use their resources to support vouchers.

In an interview with Chalkbeat's Matt Barnum, the head of Democrats for Education Reform - Shavar Jeffries - calls DeVos's voucher obsession a "sideshow," while pointing out that his organization supports accountable public charter schools:

It’s not a slippery slope to support public schools that are accountable to the public, that have to comply with the same civil rights law, the same accountability standard, that have to be transparent in terms of their finances, that are non-profit, so there’s not any profit motive, there’s not any distribution of any margins to investors — but to bring innovation to public education ... We’ve seen in other domains — in the healthcare space, we see that public healthcare benefits leverage both hospitals and doctors who are run by governmental bureaucracies as well as nonprofit hospitals, as well as doctors who work for nonprofits. Same in the housing space — you have public housing run by governmental bureaucracies and then you also have nonprofit community development corporations that provide housing. To us it’s the same sort of model. We don’t see any slippery slope at all because they’re held accountable to the same rules, the same standards, the same kind of values that motivate public investment.

Read the whole interview, because Jeffries outlines a compelling case for what belongs in a progressive education reform agenda, and what does not. Vouchers enjoy minimal support within his coalition, and they don't seem to work, so he justifiably can't throw his chips in with that agenda. He also discusses the friction between the political left and right in the education reform coalition. In the last couple of years, that friction has felt irreconcilable.

Derrell Bradford, writing at The 74, thinks that folks need to put on their big kid pants and push past the tension:

A retreat from the political realities of what it takes to make change — real change, not just the kind that makes partisans happy, but the kind that actually alters culture in a way that unmakes what is broken so something better can be created — isn’t just selfish, it’s self-interested. And it ignores the most important of factors: that change of this kind, and of this scale, can’t be done alone. We don’t need new edges; we need a new center. So consider this: If your partisan values are more important to you than your education reform values, perhaps you should ask yourself if you are in the right place, at the right time, doing the thing that is best for you and your beliefs. I happen to be an ed reformer first — my moral and professional compasses point in the same direction, and I act in a fashion that is aligned around changing policy for kids. This is also to say I am a Democrat second, and being one informs my view on reform — particularly on issues of equity — but is in service to that view.

Bradford reaches back into the history of Civil Rights and reminds us that social change often requires partnership among uncomfortable bedfellows. That said, social change also requires political champions and organized power. The left-leaning political leaders who have championed reform causes - whether President Barack Obama or Senator Cory Booker or the late Ted Kennedy - have been Democrats first and education reformers second. As Jeffries points out in the earlier interview, EVEN reform-y Democrats do not support the agenda that DeVos is pushing, so there's little reason to pursue a bipartisan coalition at the federal level right now. As the say, "It takes all kinds," and sometimes politicians have to do politics.

Finally today, Anemona Hartocollis, writing in The New York Times, looks at connecting rural students with elite colleges:

Most low-income students rely on their parents for college advice, and many of them end up going to colleges that are less rigorous than they can handle, the research shows. Her organization, the College Advising Corps, places recent graduates in public high schools for two-year stints as full-time college advisers, where they make up for a widespread scarcity of college counselors and bring their own recent experience to bear on the college application process ... Some critics say that these efforts are too focused on transforming the lives of the most brilliant tier of low-income students. What about the students who are merely competent? Others say that steering all the smart teenagers to a few elite colleges may be good for those particular students, but may worsen the social and economic stratification of American society — there will be no more small-town philosopher-car mechanics.

I do not understand this criticism. Of the myriad problems facing our country, I'm not sure that the shortage of philosopher-car mechanics appears on the list of the top billion.

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On a more serious note, if someone wants to be a car mechanic, s/he should become a car mechanic. But the institutional barriers to pursuing that sort of career either live outside of the formal education system, or are solved by making local investments in career education. If someone wants to be a philosopher, he or she needs access to the elite corners of higher education, and there are massive financial, cultural, and institutional barriers to that endeavor. In other words, when there are too many elite philosophers from rural America, and too few auto mechanics in those towns, I will gladly weep. Until then ... have a great day.

Friday Reading List: Conservatives Risk Hugging School Choice to Death and Other Stories

(Dear Readers: I am traveling this week, so the daily "Reading Lists" may be abbreviated. I also may post them at idiosyncratic times. Thanks for your patience!)

Reporters at The Washington Post got a preview of the Trump administration's education budget:

Funding for college work-study programs would be cut in half, public-service loan forgiveness would end and hundreds of millions of dollars that public schools could use for mental health, advanced coursework and other services would vanish under a Trump administration plan to cut $10.6 billion from federal education initiatives, according to budget documents obtained by The Washington Post. The administration would channel part of the savings into its top priority: school choice. It seeks to spend about $400 million to expand charter schools and vouchers for private and religious schools, and another $1 billion to push public schools to adopt choice-friendly policies.

Early report suggest that the school choice incentive fund might work like the Obama administration's signature education program, Race to the Top. Some conservative policymakers are worried about this unmitigated embrace of school choice. Here's Rick Hess in USA Today:

Trump is a historically unpopular president. In the history of presidential polling, no president has ever polled this low, this early. Trump is polarizing and crude, while his administration is clumsy and gaffe-prone. So, school choice would not only risk being branded as TrumpChoice, but it would be fronted by an unpopular and divisive president. Democrats who are open to school choice but who despise Trump might wonder if they’re missing something when it comes to school choice (this happened to plenty of Republicans who weren’t sure what to make of the Common Core, but who figured that — if Barack Obama was out front pushing it — they were probably wise to be leery).

The comparison to Common Core is a good one, as that issue enjoyed support among centrists in both parties. That said, Common Core was unpopular on both the far-right AND the far-left. I don't really understand how the rightwing base of the GOP feels about school choice. Either way, Hess is right that reformers need to back away from Trump, and fast. I just wish that Trump's flagrant sexism, racism, and anti-immigrant attitudes had been sufficient to elicit such a reaction before.

The divide over school choice goes beyond partisan politics. Whereas there is significant bipartisan agreement about charter schools, vouchers remain polarizing. The Associated Press has more in Education Week:

For two decades, a loose-knit group that includes some of the country's wealthiest people has underwritten the political push for school choice, promoting ballot initiatives and candidates who favor competition for traditional public schools ... The movement has been cleaved into two camps: those who want to use choice to improve public schools and others, like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who want to go further by allowing tax money to flow to private schools through vouchers, government-funded scholarships or corporate tax credits. The differences that once seemed minor are at the heart of a potential seismic shift in the school-choice movement.

The reporters looked at charitable donations and campaign finance reports to determine how the biggest education reform donors have split over the issue of vouchers. I buy their analysis of the funder dynamics, but the emphasis on donors is another sign that the reform coalition has suffered from overemphasizing a top-down approach to change.

Finally today, Breanna Edwards of The Root has ANOTHER story of a Black student being punished for wearing her natural hair:

The junior at the private Montverde Academy in Lake County, Fla., said that she is known for her curls but never thought she would be singled out because of them. “I received a call saying that my daughter needed to get her hair done and she wears her natural and I was kind of taken aback by it,” her dad, Eric Orr, said. Eric Orr said that a school administrator called and said that Nicole’s style wasn’t in line with the dress code.

This incident was in a private school, but we have seen this same pattern in traditional public schools and charter schools as well. School administrators - not to mention employers - need to understand how offensive it is to deny people the ability to wear their hair naturally. If your school's dress code explicitly forbids hairstyles associated with certain races or ethnicities, it's a racist policy. Period.

Have a nice weekend ...

Wednesday Reading List: Education Politics in LA and Free College is Possible, But No Panacea

(Dear Readers: I am traveling this week, so the daily "Reading Lists" may be abbreviated. I also may post them at idiosyncratic times. Thanks for your patience!)

Yesterday in Los Angeles, pro-charter school candidates won local school board elections, effectively creating a pro-reform majority on the city's school board. The Los Angeles Times looks at the ramifications:

The charter school movement has long been a major force in Los Angeles school circles. But the victory Tuesday night by pro-charter forces — who dramatically outspent rivals in what was the most expensive election in school board history — gives them the opportunity to reshape the district. The election marks a defeat for teacher union forces, who have long been a power center in L.A. school politics. With their new majority, charter school backers can press their campaign to expand such schools across the city. Charter forces have long been critical of how the LAUSD is run. Now they will have to show they can steer the massive, often frustrating, bureaucracy better.

There are interesting lessons here, both for education activists and for political strategists more broadly. From an education standpoint, this looks like a big win for the pro-reform camp. It's important to remember, though, that reformers lost critical races in the last two LA school board elections, while spending mightily in those cases as well. In other words, this election wasn't just about money.  Long-term grassroots organizing and the indefensible performance of the system surely were powerful factors.

Second, as Sarah Favot of The 74 points out, Bernie Sanders publicly endorsed the incumbent board president in the race, who lost by a whopping twenty point margin. 

At some level, it's easy to overdetermine the meaning of this outcome, as hyper-local education politics can be remarkably insulated from broader political trends ... but it's notable the Sanders's electoral coattails couldn't even lift an incumbent in a school board race in deep blue Los Angeles.

In other news, David W. Chen of The New York Times looks at free college in Tennessee:

In Tennessee, where Ms. Riel and other members of Tennessee’s first cohort of scholarship recipients graduate this spring, community college enrollment numbers are up by a third, while the amount that students are having to borrow from the federal government is down, though it is unclear what effect the money is having on on-time graduation, a key goal of the New York plan. And at least some of the state’s four-year colleges have faced declining enrollment, as more students use community college as a steppingstone to a four-year degree ... What Tennessee did exceptionally well, by all accounts, was promote the Promise program by emphasizing a simple yet powerful message — free tuition — and gradually winning over hundreds of school officials and community leaders.

That final point is critical, as many proposals to make college "free" are dressed-up versions of existing student loan policies. We need to dispense with the gimmicks and policy kludges. If we want to make college free, we should make it free ... it shouldn't come with a loan that explodes unpredictably like floating-interest-rate mortgage.

Affordability is not the only barrier to college success, however, Here's Nick Ehrmann, writing in The Atlantic:

The goal of the “free-college” movement is, of course, to help more students access the benefits of a college education. To make that happen, it is necessary for policymakers to examine why that’s not happening today ... The prevailing academic-achievement ideology in the United States sends a clear message to young people: Higher education provides a ticket to a better life. Schools routinely hang college banners from classrooms starting in kindergarten, intending to create a college-going culture that is consistently reinforced by teachers, principals, parents, even U.S. presidents. But for decades, as more and more students celebrated reaching the “finish line” of K-12 education with admissions letters in hand, very little of the discussion of the improving rate of both high-school graduation and college enrollment has examined whether students are growing intellectually and becoming prepared for success in college-level coursework.

Wait, so free college for everyone won't solve all of our problems?

Sigh. I guess the search for a panacea continues. Have a great day!

Monday Reading List: Lackluster Results for Community Schools and Loosening Restrictions on Shady Colleges

(Dear Readers: I am traveling this week, so the daily "Reading Lists" may be abbreviated. I also may post them at idiosyncratic times. Thanks for your patience!)

Matt Barnum at Chalkbeat looks at recent data on "community schools" interventions:

The precise details of community schools vary from place to place, but they generally emphasize a holistic model, by addressing factors — poverty, health, behavior — that might impede academic success. Previous studies of similar programs have pointed to positive impacts, but the latest analyses, conducted by the research group MDRC and released last month, offered more tepid results ... This intervention appeared to be effective in improving student attendance in elementary school and graduation in high school, but did not raise test scores — and in fact might have had a negative impact on middle schoolers’ math scores.

It's hard to argue that the "wraparound" non-academic supports are valuable additions to the lives of children. The challenge I have observed with this model, though, is that community schools often offer those non-academic supports, to the exclusion of providing interventions that lead to great teaching and learning in the classroom. Great teaching is hard, and we can't pretend that the main thing getting in its way is the behavior and disposition of the children.

In The Hechinger Report, Lillian Mongeau looks at the strategies schools are using to attract more Black principals:

Several studies have demonstrated pronounced benefits for black children with same-race teachers, ranging from better math performance to higher graduation rates. And although the body of research on the effects of same-race principals is still relatively small, it does point to black student benefits: for example, a national study published in the March 2017 Elementary School Journal found that black students are more likely to be recommended for gifted programs in schools that have a black principal ... Yet in 2012 only about 10 percent of public school principals were black while 16 percent of public school students were black, according to a 2016 U.S. Department of Education report on diversity among educators. The same report showed that only 7 percent of principals were Hispanic compared to 24 percent of public school students.

Sounds like we need to have a conversation about representation at ALL levels, for Black and Latino educators.

Finally today, Patricia Cohen (no relation) of The New York Times looks at the Trump administration's reluctance to crack down on malfeasance in the for-profit college sector:

Current and former employees, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation, said tight restrictions have been put on staff members scrutinizing for-profit institutions, constraining their contact with other state and federal agencies without high-level approval — a contention a department spokesman denied. Some state officials who had collaborated with the Education Department in bringing legal cases against for-profit schools say their joint work has ground to a halt. They also say they are troubled by an apparent slowdown in granting debt relief to students who were cheated.

I hate to be presumptuous, but this move was PROBABLY predictable, given the president himself paid a $25 million settlement last fall to sweep his own for-profit school's misdeeds under the rug.

Not that there's mounting evidence of this administration's propensity for serving its own interests ahead of those of the America people ... or anything like that  ... have a great week!

Friday Reading List: When Violence Intrudes on Teaching, Updating Career Education, and Whither Public Trust in Our Institutions

Fredrick Scott Salyers, a New York City teacher, in in Chalkbeat, discussing how state violence against people of color affects his teaching:

I’ve shown them clips from popular films like “Selma” and “Fruitvale Station” and prepared lessons on the civil rights movement, and I’ve done my best to ground it all in the subjects I was hired to teach — American history, composition, and college readiness. My hope is that these films will encourage my students to connect today’s police violence to our nation’s history of racial injustice. And, because there are no easy answers, they’ll simply be encouraged by the perseverance of those who came before them. I can’t help but worry I’m sending them mixed messages, however, teaching them lessons on resistance while also policing their conduct day to day. As an administrator and one of few black male teachers in my school, I’m often charged with disciplining students. I find myself having a familiar talk with many of them: “get good grades,” “respect authority,” “keep your nose clean.”

It's a powerful and personal perspective, and I won't add needless commentary.

Sharif El-Mekki is a Philadelphia-based educator whose mission it is to get more Black teachers into the classroom. In Philly's 7th Ward he's shares his confusion as to why one of his city councillors would resist that idea:

This year at my school we’ve been proud to host two teacher residents. They are both Black and have worked under the guidance of master teachers, co-planning and observing expertly designed lessons, and then practicing them. These two teachers have worked hard, attended graduate classes, delivered instruction, received coaching and feedback, practiced applying best practices, analyzed data, and developed their skills. And they are both students in the Relay Graduate School of Education ... Unfortunately, there are some people in positions of power and influence who proclaim “radical” statements and “revolutionary” thoughts, but in the end align themselves with the status quo, in spite of the evidence. Most notably I’m speaking of vocal Philadelphia Councilwoman Helen Gym, who wants to challenge the “radical” idea that a non-traditional graduate school program can have an impact on preparing teachers for our city.

Regular readers of this blog know that I have heterodox views on education policy that don't align neatly with either the "status quo traditionalist" forces or the "reform" camp. This knee-jerk resistance to new ideas, though, is what drives me nuts about the traditionalists. As El-Mekki notes, the Relay program is trying to place 20 new teachers in a city with thousands of teachers. Councillor Gym is reacting as if this is a beachhead to destroy public education as we know it. It's no secret that teacher preparation in this country is notoriously weak; you can't claim to be for improving schools on Monday, then assail modest innovations on Tuesday. Something's gotta give.

In other news, Catherine Gewertz is in Education Week, examining the obsolescence of some high school career programs:

What's happening here in rural Tennessee reflects a growing focus nationally on building high-quality career and technical education programs. Leaders in the field are acutely aware that too many career tracks have trapped young people in low-paying jobs with dim growth potential ... In Tennessee, districts can offer state-approved programs of study within 16 "career clusters," or they can create their own, as Warren County did with mechatronics, and get the state's permission to offer them. But any program must be backed up by data proving that it meets a labor-market need and that it offers students the opportunity to pursue higher education.

The range in quality among career and technical programs is enormous. I've seen great technical programs in robotics and home healthcare that prepare students for legitimate careers ... and I've seen "apparel repair programs" that may has well have been sweat shops. As more and more Americans came to view college as the primary route to lifelong prosperity and family security, technical education fell out of fashion. But it needs to regain some credibility, because ...

... as Jon Marcus at The Hechinger Report points out, Americans are increasingly questioning the benefits of a college education:

Three-quarters of Americans think it’s easier to succeed in life with a college degree than without one, but only 43 percent say private, nonprofit universities and colleges are worth the cost, according to a new poll. Fifty-eight percent say colleges and universities put their own interests ahead of those of students, and only one in four believe the higher-education system is working well, the survey, commissioned by the foundation New America, found.

Some days I think that we're close to the absolute nadir, vis-a-vis public trust in the essential institutions that make our democracy function. I hope we can reverse the trend soon. Have a great weekend ...

Thursday Reading List: Multiage Classrooms, Religious Vouchers, Student Loans, & Casual Racism

Stuart Miller is in The Atlantic, examining the efficacy of the multiage classroom:

Multiage education is not a return to the one-room schoolhouse of yore, in which students of all ages learned different subjects in one space. Instead, students from (typically) two grades learn together in an environment that, advocates say, encourages cooperation and mentoring while allowing struggling students enough time to master material ... Today, multiage classrooms remain an anomaly in America. Little research is being done on them in elementary schools—and the results are inconclusive—while virtually no research has ever investigated the effects of  multiage classrooms in middle and high schools, likely because so few exist ... Yet multiage advocates say the traditional approach of dividing students into single grades based on an arbitrary birth-date range is illogical.

The model is compelling, and it's the sort of approach that requires flexibility in staffing, scheduling, budgeting, and academic programming. It's no surprise, then, to see this model gaining traction in independent schools and public charter schools, where innovation faces fewer barrier. While this approach might not work for everybody, I have a little secret: NOTHING in education works for EVERYBODY!

Ok, I'll chill, but the point stands. Finding a single educational approach that works for every student at all times should not be the objective of public policy, because that will never happen.

Dylan Peers McCoy of Chalkbeat looks at the religious makeup of schools accepting vouchers in Indiana:

Voucher advocates, including current U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, say they want families to be able to choose from a diverse marketplace of schools. But Indiana’s complicated school choice system offers little incentive for secular schools to take vouchers — leaving largely religious Christian schools benefiting from the state funds ... Private schools that are not focused on serving poor students often charge upwards of $20,000 a year, more than four times the average voucher amount, and usually have their own scholarships to hand out. And private schools with highly unusual approaches might not want to accept the stringent testing requirements that Indiana places on voucher schools. The result: Of the 313 schools across Indiana that received vouchers this year, 306 are either part of a religious network, such as a Catholic diocese; have overtly religious names; or proclaim their faith on their websites, according to a Chalkbeat analysis.

This is a problem. If you create a state program, and the consequence of that program is to send 90% of that program's resources to private religious institutions, I don't care about the "intent." I'm not a constitutional scholar, but this triggers all of my "establishment clause" alarms. This is one of the three major reasons I don't support vouchers:

1) They use state funds to create religious institutions.

2) They lead to WORSE student results, in part because they lack accountability.

3) They are marketed under false pretenses. They do not give poor families the same options that wealthy ones have, as this article makes abundantly clear.

In other news, Susan Dynarski is in The New York Times talking about the Trump administration's recent moves on student loans:

Tens of millions of Americans together owe more than a trillion dollars in student debt ... But with a series of regulatory changes, the Trump administration is taking us in the wrong direction, making student loans riskier, more expensive and more burdensome for borrowers. First, the Education Department has weakened accountability for the companies that administer student loans. Second, it has made it more difficult for borrowers to apply for, and stay enrolled in, income-based payment plans. Third, Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, has given banks more leeway to charge borrowers high fees — as much as 16 percent of the balance owed — if they fall behind.

I understand why some fiscal conservatives are worried about expanding access to higher education, because of the high price tag. They also should be infuriated by the extent to which student loans have become a corporate welfare program.

Finally today, Black Katie of Blavity talks about experiencing casual racism in the nonprofit sector:

The [executive director] and her casual racism came to signify everything wrong with the nonprofit sector.  I had encountered similar racism in academia, the private sector, and government, but I naively thought I would get a racist reprieve at a nonprofit that purported to align with many of my core beliefs ... Not only did I come to the conclusion that the work I was doing didn’t matter, I started to question how effective the nonprofit could be in their mission if they saw a large swath of the people they claimed to serve as a cartoonish monolith instead of whole people ... The implicit bias I witnessed at this nonprofit wasn’t an anomaly; it’s indicative of a larger problem in nonprofits across the country. Despite being 30 percent of the overall workforce, people of color only make up 18 percent of nonprofit staff.

If you work in a nonprofit - particularly if you are white - I encourage you to read this piece. I have encountered many people in my career who think they deserve a "pass" on certain behaviors, because their hearts are in the right place.

Yeah, not so much. Have a great day!