Wednesday Reading List: Election Results, What's in a Name, and Regulatory Arbitrage

Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat looked at the education implication of yesterday's elections:

Education is on the ballot on Tuesday. It’s an off-year election, but that means school board and mayoral contests are especially likely to be on the ballot — in other words, in many places voters are electing the politicians who most directly control schools. There are also two big governors’ seats up for grabs ... In Denver, four seats on the board are up for grabs — just enough for critics of the current direction to grab control and reverse course if they sweep the available seats.

As of this morning, the Denver race looks like a split decision. Here's Melanie Asmar from the Denver Post:

Two school board candidates who agree with the direction of Denver Public Schools and two who want the district to change its trajectory were leading Tuesday in a hard-fought election for control of the state’s largest school district. Four seats on the seven-member Denver school board were up for grabs. As of late Tuesday, only one of the races remained close: a two-person contest in central-east Denver’s District 3.

In recent years, reform-oriented groups and teachers' unions have spent millions of dollars on school board races, not just in Denver, but also in places like nearby Douglas County and Los Angeles. While the acrimony in these races has been higher than people are accustomed to seeing, the vast majority of decisions about education are made at the local level, so perhaps the heightened competitiveness of these races is a necessary antecedent to actual educational progress.

giphy (6).gif

In other news, Melinda D. Anderson is in The Atlantic, examining what it's like to attend a school named for a Confederate general:

In the aftermath of the 2015 massacre of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, and the convicted shooter’s celebration of Confederate imagery, public attention turned to monuments of Confederate generals in public spaces. The debate was reignited this past August when white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in a city park, resulting in violent clashes and a young woman’s death. With these tragedies, public schools across the country named after Confederate leaders came under increased scrutiny. Yet the implications—socially, emotionally, and academically—for black students who attend public schools emblazoned with the names of Confederate leaders have gone largely unexamined.

Anderson examines the shame, confusion, and self-esteem issues that can emerge in students who attend schools that embrace Confederate iconography. No student should have to attend schools named after the leaders of a treasonous rebellion who fought to preserve the right to permanently enslave Black people. Would you want to attend Joseph Goebbels Middle School?

giphy (7).gif

Finally today, Beth Hawkins of The 74 looks at recent attempts to curb the expansion of a questionable network of schools in South Carolina:

South Carolina has been fertile ground for for-profit charter school companies and their trade associations. In particular, online-only virtual schools, like those K12 runs, have taken off in the state, enrolling some 10,000 of South Carolina’s 26,000 charter school students. The largest are publicly traded. The corporations that run the schools have spent lavishly to ensure the state remains a friendly place to do business. According to South Carolina campaign finance records examined by The 74, seven for-profit school operators and the association that represents them spent nearly $1 million on lobbying and donations to candidates between 2010 and June 2017, the most recent deadline for filing disclosures ... Almost all of the research on virtual schools document dismal results. In the most definitive examination, in 2015 the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University, better known as CREDO, found the schools have an “overwhelming negative impact” on student growth.

Hawkins does a nice job unpacking a range of issues, including one of my pet favorites, the idea of "authorizer shopping."  "Authorizers" are the state sanctioned entities that can issue charters. In places like South Carolina, where laws and regulations are lax, there are many authorizers, and groups that want to start schools can pick among the authorizers to find the ones who will provide the least rigorous oversight. While school choice zealots argue that this shopping is part of a functioning market, they are wrong on both the ideology and the facts.

In other fields this practice is called "regulatory arbitrage." If the term sounds familiar, it's because that's what many mortgage lenders, banks, and hedge funds did in the early 2000s to avoid having their fraudulent financial instruments scrutinized. Banks at the time argued that old school regulators - like the Federal Reserve - were incapable of understanding the complexity of their new financial products. This practice, wherein banks shopped for the regulators who offered the least scrutiny, was one of the factors that led to the collapse of the United States economy in 2008.

Not all regulations are good, and there are many education practices and policies that hamper innovation and student achievement. But not all deregulation is good either, and the educational practices in South Carolina are causing the same race to the bottom that led to Michigan, Ohio, and Arizona having hundreds of dreadful, unaccountable charter schools. It should stop.

Have a great day!