Everyone’s worried about the budgetary fallout that will affect public schools after the corona virus pandemic is over. The situation appears grim. Meanwhile, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her friends are still seeking to privatize public education. The CARES Act has given her free rein.
Governor Andrew Cuomo warns that without federal assistance, school funding across New York could be cut in half. In Virginia, a much-needed teacher and state-worker raise is likely gone, and a free student community college program could lose $71 million. Most school districts are like Alameda, California, which seem secure for now, but have questions about the future. In some states school staff are already being furloughed.
DeVos approved $13.2 billion to states with few strings attached. She says,
Now is the time to truly rethink education and to get creative about how we meet each student’s unique needs.
The rest of us can and should rethink education too. Here are suggestions as to how to cut expenses, tax dollars, and focus on what’s best for students. They are not in any specific order. I welcome additional thoughts and ideas. They are our schools too, Betsy.
1. End Charter Schools
Why do we have two separate school systems that work against each other? This is the time to rethink charter schools. In “Federal Charter Schools Program a Fountain of Corruption and Disruption,” Thomas Ultican provides compelling reasons why charters have seen their day.
When Bill Clinton first pushed charter school legislation, it was promoted as an experiment. The experiment is now 25-years old. This new class of privatized schools has come with many unintended consequences. They have driven up education costs through the inefficiencies associated with running dual systems; they have undermined teacher professionalism; they have weakened one of the great pillars of democracy in America and they have diminished the role of schools as a unifying historical entity in neighborhoods. Unfortunately, they have not unleashed dramatic innovation and improvement; just disruption.
He reviews two Network for Public Education signature studies that detail the troubled charter industry.
One is “Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Recklessly Takes Taxpayers and Students for a Ride,” by NPE Executive Director, Carol Burris, and journalist Jeff Bryant. The authors describe charter abuse and fraud.
Hundreds of millions of federal taxpayer dollars have been awarded to charter schools that never opened or opened and then shut down. In some cases, schools have received federal funding even before securing their charter.
The report irritated Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who continues to ignore the fraud surrounding these schools. She wrongly defends them. Charters have never surpassed real public schools well enough to justify their continued existence.
Some charters get high test scores (and are accused of skimming to get the “best” students), some get the worst scores in their states, and most get scores about the same as public schools with similar demographics. In the one all-charter district in the nation, New Orleans, about half the schools are rated D or F by the state. Although the charter industry sings their praises, it’s clear that charters have no secret sauce to lift up every child.
Despite this, after the Covid-19 hit, DeVos quickly siphoned $200 million to charter schools.
This country should no longer fund fly-by-night charters run by educational management operations. Any inclusive, successful charter schools, run by credentialed teachers and parents, should be placed under the umbrella of the local school district as alternative schools. There they can be monitored and held accountable.
2. End Educational Scholarship Programs
It’s common knowledge that students who attend voucher schools don’t do as well as students in public school. Like charters, voucher schools are largely unaccountable to the public.
These programs offer little choice, since it’s ultimately the schools that decide whether to accept students.
The country must focus on quality public schools for all children. Elected school boards that listen to their constituents and invite parents and teachers to the table are what’s needed. Community schools belong to the citizens.
3. End High-Stakes Testing
Assessment is a tool for teachers to understand student progress. High-stakes testing is overkill and based on gotcha politics to end public education and cast teachers as failures. School districts never required such draconian testing.
It’s estimated that $1.7 billion is spent in this country annually on high-stakes testing. That figure comes from a 2012 study by Matthew M. Chingos.
Teachers can evaluate students if class sizes are reasonable and should be trusted to use the evaluative measures, they find comfortable and expedient to identify the skills students need to learn.
Other assessment that’s a concern for parents is tied to social-emotional learning. Teachers must be prepared to identify emotional-behavioral difficulties in their students, and to recognize trauma. But it is not necessary to do widespread online emotional and behavioral testing and data collection on children. Many of these tests compromise a child’s privacy.
Emotional-behavioral observational assessment has always been available. These tests are personal and should be between counselors, school psychologists, teachers, and parents at the school.
4. End Common Core State Standards
Initial spending on Common Core for each state amounted to $8.3 billion.
Common Core is embedded into the curriculum, but teachers should have the freedom to break away from this boondoggle. Common Core hasn’t been shown to improve achievement. Not another cent should be spent on aligning curriculum activities to these standards.
Teachers understand child development and can teach using materials and programs they trust. Funding should go towards their requests.
5. End Student Surveillance
An Education Week report by Thomas Kane of Harvard, an economist who worked on the approximately $1 billion failed Measures of Effective Teaching project for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “Schools Are Staring Down a Fiscal Tsunami. Here’s What States Need to Do Now” suggests spending $13.5 billion of federal K-12 funding to “mobilize” schools. It sounds like surveillance.
Kane wants to require districts to build systems to track online student engagement and social problems. I can’t think of anything parents want less!
If we want children to succeed after this mess is over, this country is going to have to get behind the credentialed classroom teachers who do the work of instructing children.
6. End Certain Online Programs
Quit giving tax dollars to online schools like K12 Inc. and Connections Academy. A 2018 report by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), “Full-Time Virtual and Blended Schools; Enrollment, Student Characteristics, and Performance, Recommends” state:
Policymakers should slow or stop the growth in the number of virtual schools and in the size of their enrollments until the factors responsible for their relatively poor performance have been addressed. Online schools have done little to adequately prepare students.
No time is better than now for this to occur. The research documenting the poor results of these programs is long. Here’s another by the AFT, “A VIRTUAL FAILURE K12 Inc. Puts Cash over Kids.”
In 2019, K12, Inc. topped $1 billion in annual revenues. Connections Academy made $6.7 million. Both are known for strong lobbying efforts.
Here’s more from Oregon over their use of Connections Academy.
Only 21.9 percent of tested students at the school met or exceeded math standards in 2018-2019, down from an already abysmal 22.7% in 2017-18.
English language arts (ELA) achievement has been poor, too. Only 41.8% of tested students met or exceeded ELA standards in 2018-2019 and an average of just 42.8% met or exceeded the standards over the past three school years.
School attendance is dreadful as well. Regular attendance during the 2018-19 school year was only 63.4%, and an average of 59.7% over the past three school years. That indicates chronic absenteeism. In 2018 – 2019, just 71% of the school’s students attended more than 90% of their enrolled school days.
The NEPC study recommended carefully monitoring “blended schools.” This seems prudent. We know that technology can be useful when teachers are a part of instruction. Much of the online learning now seems to be most effective when teachers work remotely with students who they know.
A national committee made up of teachers, parents, and university researchers needs to evaluate the glut of online programs on the market to determine which ones have merit.
7. End Advanced Placement
Once a program to give high achieving students a class or two to see how college classes feel, now AP classes have become a status symbol of those who do well in school. The more AP, the higher a student is ranked. The College Board has privatized public education. David Coleman, who helped bring us Common Core, is president. Last we heard, he gets a total compensation of $750,000 a year.
Complaints surround AP. Why do high schools need to pay an outside company to tell teachers what and how to teach? Parents often push their students to do AP because they see it as a way for their student to get through college faster, deferring college costs. But many schools don’t recognize AP and students miss out on introductory college courses.
AP classes are often geared to teaching to the test. AP has been criticized for leaving out critical science labs.
Let teachers determine how to instruct students who require advanced instruction and provide them the resources and equipment they need to teach.
8. End For-Profit Colleges
Why did Congress fail to put heavier restrictions on Betsy DeVos when it came to funding for-profit colleges? Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) wrote DeVos a letter saying that the Cares Act should not include for-profit college funding. If DeVos were to include these schools, she was to demand accountability measures be put in place.
DeVos announced that for-profit schools would be eligible, and she addressed some of Congress’s requests.
Why fund for-profit colleges? It seems preposterous that the government is giving billions to these schools to bail them out, while they also must now pay a settlement to forgive the loans students took out as they were swindled by these schools.
EDMC [ Education Management Corporation, owner of a law school and four major postsecondary school chains] was “operating essentially as a recruitment mill,” said U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, in announcing a $95.5 Million settlement that also included forgiveness of $100 million in student loans.
The Obama administration tried to curtail for-profit schools. This country should no longer pour money into nonprofit or for-profit schools that fail to demonstrate success.
The questions surrounding how public schools will return should be about getting back to some normalcy, not wasting money on ideologues’ school dismantling efforts. DeVos’s ideas are not about reinstating democratic public schools that run more creatively or efficiently. They’re about ending democratic public education, free schooling for all. It’s time we say no to her schemes.