COVID Learning Loss Over-Hyped

15 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/15/2020

Warnings about learning losses due to the pandemic dominate education media; especially the media created and financed by billionaires. Based on a briefing by NWEA, McKinsey & Company claims “the average K–12 student in the United States could lose $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings (in constant 2020 dollars) … solely as a result of COVID-19–related learning losses.” The Hoover Institute’s CREDO warns “the findings are chilling.”

One of my favorite education bloggers, Nancy Flanagan, says it well,

“Test-data estimates, alarmist language and shady research do nothing to help us with the most critical problem we have right now: keeping kids connected to their schoolwork and their teachers. However that’s offered and as imperfect as it may be.”

The popular blogger Peter Greene goes to the essence of the issue noting:

“So why has CREDO decided to throw its weight behind this baloney? Well, the testing industry is in a bit of a stir right now. The BS Test was canceled last spring, and nobody is very excited about bringing it back this year, either. So the testing industry and their reformy friends are trying to sell the notion that students and schools and teachers are adrift right now, and the only way anyone will know how students are doing is to break out the industry’s products and start generating some revenue data.”

The Billionaire Created Echo Chamber

The first COVID-slide bang on the bell came from the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) which sells MAP tests. Their computer delivered assessments of mathematics and English are given three times each school year; fall, winter and spring. The tests are not aligned to one class level so they are only partially aligned with state curricular standards.

Using data from approximately 350,000 students who took MAP tests in school years 2017-18 and 2018-19, analysts at NWEA created a paper that guessed at what the negative education effects from the school shut downs would be. The paper was published on May 27, 2020 by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University.

In the paper, NWEA stated,

“In this study, we produce a series of projections of COVID-19-related learning loss and its potential effect on test scores in the 2020-21 school year based on (a) estimates from prior literature and (b) analyses of typical summer learning patterns of five million students. Under these projections, students are likely to return in fall 2020 with approximately 63-68% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year and with 37-50% of the learning gains in math.”

“Specifically, we compared typical growth trajectories across a standard-length school year to learning projections that assume students are out of school for the last three months of the 2019-20 school year.”

In other words, NWEA used data from their computer generated testing which is noisy and only reliably measures student family economic status. They massaged this noisy data with debunked growth model algorithms which amplify noise. They assumed that no education at all occurred after March 2020 and correlated the results with disputed summer learning loss research to make their guesses.

Within four days, the famous consulting firm Mckinsey & Company produced its own report based on the NWEA paper. To the NWEA material they added some of their own economic predictions based largely on the work of Hoover Institute’s Eric Hanushek. He rose to prominence producing research showing “that there is no relationship between expenditures and the achievement of students and that such traditional remedies as reducing class sizes or hiring better trained teachers are unlikely to improve matters.”

Mckinsey’s consultants focused much of their report on the damage that is sure to visit minority communities. If the virus is not contained and school is not full time in person, they claim students will lose an average of seven months of learning. And they further state, “But black students may fall behind by 10.3 months, Hispanic students by 9.2 months, and low-income students by more than a year.”

Hard to comprehend how a student falls behind more than a year in one year.

On June 5, 2020, the well known neoliberal publication The Wall Street Journal weighed in. Using the NWEA report, they claimed “remote learning” did not work.

By June 9, the billionaire funded education news outlet, The 74 Media, Inc., jumped in with Learning Losses Will Widen Already Dramatic Achievement Gaps Within Classrooms. Their claim says, “Solid data about the specific concepts each student does or doesn’t understand will be crucial.” They are saying testing is vital.

Another billionaire funded education focused publication, EdWeek, delivered Tips for Measuring and Responding to COVID-19 Learning Loss.”

Based on the NWEA data the education publishing company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published “What Schools Can Do To Make Up For COVID-19 Learning Loss.Market Insider reported that the publishers of I-ready, Curriculum and Associates, says, “According to the findings, while ‘COVID slide’ can be significant, the effects differ markedly based on a range of variables, including age, race, and income level.”

All of these claims are based on one very faulty paper produced by NWEA in May and this is only a sample of what has been published.

The 74 Media, Inc. was founded by the former NBC and CNN news anchor Campbell Brown. It was funded by the Walton Family Foundation, the Gates Foundation and others. Brown was erroneously convinced that teachers unions were protecting sexual predators and her husband Dan Senor, was on the board of Michelle Rhee’s anti-teachers union organization StudentsFirst. To this day, the publication adheres to its anti-teachers union foundation and promotes public school privatization.

The latest article in The 74 about the “COVID slide” along with a report from the Hoover Institute’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes  (CREDO) illustrates the billionaire financed media empire echo effect.

The 74 article says,

“Data released last week by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University provided a sobering estimate of the learning loss caused by school closures: Across 19 states, it ranged from a third of a year to a year in reading, and from three-fourths of a school year to 232 days in math. The report suggested frequent assessment going forward and said new approaches to teaching will be needed to ‘plot a recovery course.”’

This data is based on the much criticized CREDO days of learning metric. The report is saying that students can lose 232 days of math learning in 180 days. It is a specious argument; however their real agenda seems to be advocating “frequent assessment going forward.”

The 74 continues, For the report, CREDO worked with NWEA, a nonprofit assessment organization, to build on earlier estimates of the impact of school closures and the limitations of virtual instruction on student learning.”

CREDO added a projection of individual student future exam results to the NWEA data. It is not all that different than the exam score scandal in England this spring. The British government used projected computer-generated scores to replace exams that were canceled because of the COVID-19 and 40% of their students saw grades tumble. The bottom line is these projections are not that good.

The 74 reports: ‘“The takeaways from this analysis are upsetting, but needed,’ said Jim Cowen, executive director of the nonprofit Collaborative for Student Success, which advocates for high academic standards and holding schools accountable for student progress.” Cowen is also quoted recommending “those annual tests remain the best tool to inform accountability systems, school report cards, and continuous improvement efforts over the long-term.”

The bottom of the Collaborative for Student Success web page reveals, “The Collaborative for Student Success is a project of the New Venture Fund.” If unfamiliar with New Venture Fund, the article Organized to Disrupt details the massive billionaire pro-school privatization funding they receive.

Paige Kowalski, executive vice president of the Data Quality Campaign is quoted by The 74. The article states, “Kowalski stressed the importance of conducting assessments in the spring of 2021 and ‘getting at the heart of the data’ demonstrating why students might not participate, such as school buildings still being closed or parents opting out.”

The Data Quality Campaign lists as partners almost every organization in which billionaires working to privatize public education invest.

CREDO’s Conclusions

CREDO: “First, the findings are chilling – if .31 std roughly equals a full year of learning, then recovery of the 2019-2020 losses could take years.”

If the report was meaningful and learning could be measured in days the findings might be chilling. However the report is a gross use of arithmetic and learning cannot be measured in days. When days of learning related to standard deviation change is used in a study, the study is meaningless.

CREDO: “Second, the wide variation within states (and often within schools) means that conventional models of classroom-based instruction – a one-to-many, fixed pace approach — will not meet the needs of students. New approaches must be allowed to ensure high quality instruction is available in different settings, recognizing that different skills may be needed for the different channels.”

Here it appears CREDO is putting in a plug for competency based education (CBE) delivered by computers. CBE has a history of failure going back to the early 1970’s when it was known as mastery education or as teachers called it “sheets and seats.”

CREDO: “Third, the need for rigorous student-level learning assessments has never been higher.”

This is the apparent purpose of the paper; selling testing. People are starting to realize standardized testing is a complete fraud; a waste of time, resources and money. The only useful purpose ever for this kind of testing was as a fraudulent means to claim public schools were failing and must be privatized.

CREDO: “Fourth, the measures of average loss and the range around it immediately call into question the existing practice of letting communities plot their own path forward.”

Here CREDO has joined with the billionaire promoted call to end democracy and local control of schools. It is UN-American and disgusting. Even the Hoover Institute should be revolted. After all, they used to be champions of the American ideal.

This is not the first time America has faced a crisis and schooling was disrupted. There was the Spanish Flu, World War II, Segregation battles in the south, catastrophic storms, etc. Public school has been the one institution that continually rose to the occasion and taught the children.

Today, without much support from the federal government, public schools are once again stepping up to the challenge. Millions of cyber capable devices have been distributed, internet hotspots have been created and teachers are adapting to teaching on line. It is not wonderful and students are especially missing the social aspect associated with in person school, but it has value and students are learning.

The COVID-slide is about undermining public schools and is not a real phenomenon.

Education Improvement Thwarted by “Reform”

1 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/1/2020

For more than two decades, bureaucratic style top down education “reform” has undermined improvement efforts by professional educators. For budding teachers, beginning in college with the study of education and their own personal experience as students, an innate need to better education develops. However, in the modern era, that teacher energy to improve education has been sapped by the desperate fight to save public education from “reformers,” to protect their profession from amateurs and to defend the children in their classrooms from profiteers. 

Genuine advancements in educational practices come from the classroom. Those edicts emanating from government offices or those lavishly financed and promoted by philanthropies are doomed to failure.

The writer Kristina Rizga conducted a four years’ study of Mission High in San Francisco. She discovered a great school whose students do not test especially well. One of her clarion observations that almost all teachers would hardily second was,

“The more time I spent in classrooms, the more I began to realize that most remedies that politicians and education reform experts were promoting as solutions for fixing schools were wrong.”

Sadly, every business and government sponsored education innovation for the past 40 years has resulted in harm to American schools. Standardized education, standardized testing, charter schools, school choice, vouchers, reading science, math and reading first, common core, value added measures to assess teachers and schools, mandatory third grade retention, computer based credit recovery, turnaround schools, turnaround districts, and more have been foisted on schools. None of these ideas percolated up from the classroom and all are doing harm.

True Education Improvement Comes from Teachers and Classrooms

Before becoming a teachers union in 1906, the National Education Association (NEA) was our nation’s most important influence organization shaping public education policy. The 1891 NEA gathering in Toronto, Canada is still affecting schooling today and the debate engaged in there is still relevant.

It was at this meeting that James H. Baker’s committee made its report on the need for standardizing education. It’s a natural tendency that as a movement matures people will appear who want to standardize it. The main argument for needed standardization was the difficulty high schools were having creating classes that prepared students for entry requirements at Universities because the requirements were so varied. The Baker Committee report led to the establishment of the Committee of Ten and the first curricular standards in the United States in 1894.

In the same meeting’s proceedings, Francis W. Parker of Chicago representing the Cook County Normal School declared:

“The common school furnishes the essential principles in the development and perpetuation of a democracy, and its growth and progress has been purely democratic; it has been and is, ‘of the people, for the people, and by the people.’ … State and national officials are given little more than advisory influences.”

“Our foreign critics mistake variety and honest individual striving for chaos. … But that which is imposed upon a people by any authority below heaven breaks into atoms when the intelligence and power of a people can reach and control it.”

“Centralized power may be a necessity for infancy, but manhood sheds it off for the strong wings of freedom.”

 From Parker’s perspective, the variety in public education led to an organic process in which innovation was judged by educators freely adopting it or rejecting it. The Baker committee’s response to the college preparation issues frustrated educator autonomy. The national standards they called for have a long history of undermining creative thinking and democratic progress.

In Young Zhao’s book Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon there is the story of how the standards based testing system adopted for selecting government employees during the Han dynasty stunted that society’s growth.

It has been estimated that in 600 AD, China had at least a 400-year scientific lead on the rest of the world. So why didn’t the industrial revolution occur in China? Former Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of the World Bank, Justin Yifu Lin says, “I believe the real reason of the absence of scientific revolution was not due to the adverse political environment that prohibited the creativity of Chinese intellectuals, but due to the special incentives provided by the civil-service examination system.”  

Scoring well on these exams was the path to professional success. The Chinese civilization was in the ascendancy when exams focused on Confusion philosophy and government theory were instituted. How can we know if our civilization is headed for a similar kind of trouble?

In his book A study of History, historian Arnold Toynbee provided criteria for judging whether a civilization was in a stage of growth or decline. He wrote:

“We must ask whether, as we look back over the ground we have traversed, we can discern any master tendency at work, and we do in fact unmistakably decry a tendency towards standardization and uniformity: a tendency which is correlative and opposite of the tendency towards differentiation and diversity which we have found to be the mark of the growth stage of civilizations.”

Some of the greatest twentieth century education thinkers warned against allowing schooling to be dominated from the top. In Democracy and Education, John Dewey wrote,

“An aim must, then, be flexible; it must be capable of alteration to meet circumstances. An end established externally to the process of action is always rigid. Being inserted or imposed from without, it is not supposed to have a working relationship to the concrete conditions of the situation.” (Page 122)

“Imposing an alleged uniform general method upon everybody breeds mediocrity in all but the very exceptional.” (Page 203)

“His own purpose will direct his actions. Otherwise, his seeming attention, his docility, his memorizing and reproductions will partake of intellectual servility. Such a condition of intellectual subjugation is needed for fitting the masses into a society where the many are not expected to have aims or ideas of their own, but to take orders from the few set in authority. It is not adapted to a society which intends to be democratic.” (Page 356)

Paulo Freire opined in Daring to Dream: Toward a Pedagogy of the Unfinished,

“Neoliberal doctrine seeks to limit education to technological practice. Currently education is no longer understood as formative, but simply as training.” (Page 4)

The Swiss psychologists, Jean Piaget called Dewey’s discovery-based approach to education “constructivism.” Piaget believed that “children play an active role in making sense of things, ‘constructing’ reality rather than just acquiring knowledge.” The philosophy of “constructivism” is a move away from the educational philosophies of behaviorism and social conservatism advocated by men like B. F. Skinner and Edward K. Thorndike.

In addition to Piaget’s work, there is the slightly different view from the Russian developmental psychologist, Lev Vygotsky. He believed education’s role was to give children experiences that were within their “zones of proximal development,” thereby encouraging and advancing their individual learning. This approach to “constructivism” has lead to the idea of scaffolding. The teacher identifies the student’s needs and helps them through the “zone of proximal development” by questioning or other means until the student no longer needs the aide for constructing understanding.

In the mid-1920s two women who studied progressive education under John Dewey and William Kilpatrick at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College exerted a powerful influence over education policy in California. Helen Heffernan was the state Commissioner of Rural and Elementary Education from 1926-1965 and Corinne Seeds was the Director of the University Elementary school at UCLA from 1925-1957. Their reign saw the most filial, longest and largest implementation of progressive education that ever took place in the US.

However, their methods did not spread to neighboring states and after they left the scene progressive education receded in California. My mother was an elementary school teacher in Idaho for 40-years. I remember her saying in the early 1960s that when children transfer in from California they are usually at least a year behind. Dr. Larry Lawrence in a private interview said that even at the UCLA lab school when Jonathan Goodlad took over, he moved away from many of Corinne Seeds’ practices.

 It seems that teachers found some aspects of progressive education wanting. Unfortunately, about this time, organic development by education professionals was being replaced by centralized authoritarian control.

Top Down Control and Bad Policies

On October 17, 1979 President Jimmy Carter signed legislation elevating the Department of Education to a cabinet level position. Thus the table was set for the federal takeover of public education.

By the time Ronald Reagan’s administration published “A Nation at Risk” a growing call for standards based education had arisen. In the 1960s, psychometrician Benjamin Bloom’s levels of understanding theory had spread widely. Known as Bloom’s Taxonomy, it became the basis for ideas like “mastery education” which has many names and eventually leading to top down education standards.

Vanderbilt University Published a Bloom’s Taxonomy Graphic

IBM CEO Louis Gerstner was so adamant about the need for education standards that in 1994 he even wrote a book about it called Reinventing Education. As the keynote speaker for the National Governors Association (NGA) conference in 1995 which he hosted, Gerstner stated three urgent education goals for 1996: (1) high national academic standards with accountability, (2) the standards must happen NOW, and (3) don’t be sidetracked by academicians.

Corporate titans like Gerstner and Gates foisted their misguided standards on public education. Their costly standards have seriously degraded the development of creative thinking in both students and educators.

Neoliberals like the Charles Koch and the Walton family have joined with religious leaders in the Catholic Church and religious zealots like Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to sell vouchers. Money is being siphoned away from public schools to pay for students to attend private religious schools. Evidence is very clear that student outcomes are harmed when they transfer to voucher schools and public schools are financially harmed. This is the same scheme segregationists used to fight for all white schools after the Brown vs. the Board of Education stuck down “separate but equal” schooling.

The other big school choice agenda is Charter Schools. In his new book School House Burning, Derek Black observes about the plutocrats promoting charter schools,

“In their minds, the scale of justice should tip away from mass democracy and the common good toward individualism and private property. That means less taxes, less government, less public education.”

The fraud and instability of the charter school industry has made this so called “reform” an abject and harmful failure. Because the industry is being finance by draining money from public schools, they are being degraded.

America’s high school graduation rates peaked at about 77% in 1970 and then drifted down for almost four decades to 69% in 2007. In 2012, 81% of the freshman cohort in America graduated on time. These record setting numbers are the result of cheating and computer based credit recovery. It is another top down “reform” that is selling fraudulent corporate products while undermining education integrity.

Mandatory third grade retention for children who score too low on a reading test does lifelong harm to those children and the measuring stick is standardized testing which is very flawed.

Also, these tests are also not capable of measuring teacher or school quality. The only correlated student characteristic with this kind of testing is family wealth. The growth models called Value added measures often used to evaluate teachers are just fancy arithmetic applied to noisy standardized testing data. It is an expensive fraud.

All of these agendas have been forced onto public education by politicians and businessman. Instead of the democratic method of organic development by educators freely adopting what they perceive as the best pedagogy, we have allowed public education to be run by authoritarian methods reminiscent of the former Soviet Union.

Public education run democratically by local communities is the bedrock of American democracy. Today a rising oligarchy is demolishing that 1776 experiment. To revitalize the American ideal, start by freeing public education from a billionaire financed tyranny and associated political malfeasance.

California Plutocrat Education Election Spending

20 Sep

By Thomas Ultican 9/20/2020

Unlike 2018, fewer of the wealthy class appear to be spending so freely to control California school policy, but their spending still dominates campaign spending. Large amounts of money are being spent in an attempt to regain political control of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and there appears to be a concentration of money directed at key county school boards. They are also spending liberally on California state senate and assembly races.

Little Sis Map of Plutocrat Spending for Independent Expenditures

In this election cycle, the three PACs mapped in yellow appear to be the main conduit for billionaire money going to independent expenditures. These expenditures are unlimited as long as no coordination can be shown with a candidate’s campaign. The wealthy real estate developer from Manhattan Beach, California, William E. Bloomfield is pouring his money directly into private campaign companies normally hired by the PACs to produce their media and campaign mailings. The Campaign Company Group shown above is a fictitious company showing the total funding Bloomfield has spent with seven different companies to produce campaign materials for candidates he supports or opposes.

The Battle for LA

LAUSD is by far the largest school district in California and nationally it is second in size only to the New York City School District. Since the introduction of charter schools in the 1990s, LAUSD has become approximately 20% privatized. There are more charter schools in Los Angeles than any other city in the country. Political control of the LAUSD is seen as key to either slowing the privatization train or accelerating it.

In 2020, the four odd numbered LAUSD board seats were up for election. Since the charter school industry already has three board members not up for reelection, they only need to flip one seat to regain control of the board. In 2019, they lost control of the board when Jackie Goldberg received 71.6% of the vote in a special election to replace district 5 board member Ref Rodriquez who pled guilty to conspiracy charges.

During the March primary election both District 1 Board Member George McKenna and District 5 Board Member Jackie Goldberg ended their campaigns for reelection by receiving more than 50% of the vote thus winning the seat. In district 7, incumbent Richard Vladovic was term limited from running. Teacher’s union favorite Patricia Castellanos and the charter industry supported Tanya Ortiz Franklin were the two top vote getters in the primary. They will face off in the general election for the district 7 seat.

The most contentious school board race is between district 3 incumbent Scott Schmerelson and Granada Hills Charter High School employee Marilyn Koziatek. During the primary race, LA Times reporter Howard Blume opened an article writing, A million-dollar attack campaign is underway portraying Los Angeles school board member Scott Schmerelson as greedy, corrupt and determined to score fast cash by exposing children to deadly vaping and McDonald’s French fries.”

Alex Caputo-Pearl, Teachers Union President, said the ads were an “attempt to eviscerate Scott, a lifelong educator and champion of our public schools…. Scott’s likeness is literally made into a caricature, with clear anti-Semitic overtones.” Scott Schmerelson would hardly be the first Jew in Los Angeles to face anti-Semitism. 

Schmerelson finished his educator career as principal for 10-years at Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Middle School in South Los Angeles. He is also a former leader in the Association of California School Administrators.

Schmerelson probably became a more important target for the forces working to privatize public education when he vocally opposed investment banker Austin Beutner as the next Superintendent of LAUSD. He said he wanted a school chief with education experience.

Marilyn Koziatek’s campaign web address says,

“Marilyn is the only candidate who currently works in a public school. She leads the community outreach department for Granada Hills Charter, one of the highest-performing public schools in California.”

First of all, charter schools are not public schools. They are private businesses with a contract to provide services to the government. The public has no democratic influence over them. Secondly, Koziatek has never taught. She does PR for a private company selling education services which pales in comparison to her opponents almost 4 decades working in classrooms and leading schools.

The LA times reported in 2003, “The Los Angeles Board of Education voted Tuesday to convert Granada Hills High School, which has among the best academic records in the school district, into an independent charter school.” (Emphasis added) The article also noted, “Board President Caprice Young hailed the vote as a victory for the charter movement.”

There is a rumor that Koziatek was forced into running by the highly paid Executive Director of Granada Hills Charter, Brian Bauer. The charter’s last tax form 990 (EIN 05-0570400) listed Bauer’s 2017 salary as $271,287. He is also on the board of the California Charter Schools Association.

The independent expenditures for Marilyn Koziatek and opposing Scott Schmerelson by the organization Families and Teachers United is sponsored by the California Charter Schools Association. The Students, Parents and Teachers group supporting Scott Schmerelson and Patricia Castellanos is sponsored by the LA Unified Teachers Union.

In District 7, two Latinas are facing off, Patricia Castellanos and Tanya Ortiz Franklin. Neither candidate appears to have deep experience in education. Franklin taught elementary school for five years and worked part time at Antonio Villaraigosa’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools while she attended law school. Castellanos was a community organizer and works as the Workforce and Economic Development Deputy for LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

In direct campaign contributions, as of 9/14/2020 Castellanos had almost a two to one advantage in contributors 581 to 347 and a money advantage of $206,562 to $95,146. Franklin has a large advantage from independent expenditures with Bill Bloomfield’s $3,327,483 to Castellanos $767,551 from the teachers union founded Student, Parents and Teachers.

In a way, the contest for school board seat 7 is between 27,000 LAUSD teachers and an extremely rich man from Manhattan Beach.

Last month, former assistant US Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch posted, Los Angeles: Vote for Scott Schmerelson and Patricia Castellanos for LAUSD School Board.” She asks if LAUSD will be controlled “by cabal of billionaires who favor privatization by charter schools,” or by parents of the 80% of students who attend public schools?

Spending Directed at the California State Legislature

Campaign data was accessed from the California Secretary of State between September 14 and 17. Total spending for the California State Assembly and State Senate candidates was tabulated for the three PACs and seven plutocrats in the map above. The data is presented in Tables 2 and 3. All 80 Assembly seats are up for election as are the twenty odd numbered Senate seats.

A reasonable analysis of the spending pattern indicates that candidates for State Assembly receiving $5,000 or more are being supported to drive the school privatization agenda. Candidates receiving more than $10,000 probably fall into the category of being heavily influenced and those receiving more than $20,000 are owned.

The candidates receiving less than $5,000 are likely getting those donations to insure they answer the phone and listen.

The spending in the Senate mirrors the spending in the Assembly and the analysis is similar with the exception of the even number candidates. Those candidates who are not on the ballot must be supporting the plutocrat agenda as equally as the candidates receiving more than $10,000.

Kevin Kiley ran for senate seat 1 and lost in the primary. His $30,200 dollars came from 6 plutocrats and EdVoice for the Kids. For the general election EdVoice has sent Brian Dahle, the incumbent who beat Kiley, $1500. Maybe Dahle will not be inclined to answer the phone.

Jim Walton skewed a little from the public school privatization agenda to make 24 direct contributions to republicans running for the California state legislature.

Billionaires Spending on Key County School Board Races

A significant amount of the spending by the three PACs shown in the Little Sis map above was concentrated into the race for five county school boards. The largest amounts were directed toward Alameda, Orange and Riverside counties. Table 4 details the spending.

Some Conclusions

Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”

On the other hand Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Obviously, democracy is compromised when seven plutocrats have the resources to skew election results in their direction. In this election two of the seven identified plutocrats are from Bentonville, Arkansas not California. However, it is becoming harder and harder to convince people to continue privatizing their public schools, to continue wasting money on standardized testing and to continue cutting taxes for plutocrats.

There is some good news. Fewer plutocrats are supporting the privatization agenda than in 2017 and 2018.  In 2017, billionaires spent more than $10,000,000 dollars to swing the LAUSD election and the following year they spent more the $40,000,000 dollars trying to elect Marshall Tuck as Superintendent of Public Instruction. This year the spending is not as intense or as widely distributed.

Residents of Alameda, Orange, Riverside, Sacramento and San Joaquin counties can use Table 4 to identify who to vote against. Residents in the Los Angeles Unified School District can follow Diane Ravitch’s advice and vote for Scott Schmerelson in district 3 and Patricia Castellanos in district 7.  

School Choice is a Harmful Fraud

7 Sep

By Thomas Ultican 9/7/2020

Birthed in the bowels of the 1950’s segregationist south, school choice has never been about improving education. It is about white supremacy, profiting off taxpayers, cutting taxes, selling market based solutions and financing religion. School choice ideology has a long dark history of dealing significant harm to public education.

Market Based Ideology

Milton Friedman first recommended school vouchers in a 1955 essay. In 2006, he was asked by a conservative group of legislators what he envisioned back then. PRWatch reports that he said, “It had nothing whatsoever to do with helping ‘indigent’ children; no, he explained to thunderous applause, vouchers were all about ‘abolishing the public school system.”’ [Emphasis added]

Market based ideologues are convinced that business is the superior model for school management. Starting with the infamous Regan era polemic,A Nation at Risk,” the claim that “private business management is superior” has been a consistent theory of education reform promoted by corporate leaders like IBM’s Louis Gerstner, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Wal-Mart’s Walton family, Bloomberg LP’s founder, Michael Bloomberg and SunAmerica’s Eli Broad. It is a central tenet of both neoliberal and libertarian philosophy.

Charles Koch and his late brother David have spent lavishly promoting their libertarian beliefs. Inspired by Friedman’s doyen, Austrian Economist Friedrich Hayek, the brothers agreed that public education must be abolished.

To this and other ends like defeating climate change legislation, the Kochs created the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This lobbying organization has contributing members from throughout corporate America. ALEC writes model legislation and financially supports state politicians who promote their libertarian principles.

Like the Walton family and Betsy DeVos, Charles Koch promotes private school vouchers.

What is the main motive behind the mega-rich spending to undermine public education? Professor Maurice Cunningham of the University of Massachusetts claims what they really want are “lower state and local taxes.”

John Arnold is the billionaire Enron trader who did not go to prison when that company collapsed. He has joined forces with the billionaire CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, to sell the nation on the portfolio model of school management.  To achieve their goal, they created The City Fund. After its founding in 2018, Bill Gates, Michael Dell and Steve Ballmer all made significant contributions.

In brief, the portfolio model directs closing schools that score in the bottom 5% on standardized testing and reopening them as charter schools or Innovation schools. In either case, they will no longer come under the purview of an elected school board.

Because standardized testing only reliably correlates with family wealth, this system guarantees that schools in poor communities will all eventually be privatized.

In 2014, SFGATE reported, “Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who suggests that democratically elected school boards are the problem with public education, says they should be replaced by privately held corporations.”

When it came to privatizing schools, vouchers were a tough sell. Jeffry Henig of Teachers College noted to writer Jeff Bryant, “The Walton foundation itself was one of the early organizations to transition from vouchers to charters.” In an AlterNet article Bryant explained,

“Henig believes many conservatives view charter schools as a way to “soften the ground” for potentially more private options, though he isn’t entirely sure “the Waltons view charters as a Trojan Horse for eventually providing vouchers universally.’”

John Walton read “A Nation at Risk” and that set off his hyper focus on reforming public education. Throughout the 1990s he campaigned endlessly for new voucher legislation and saw his efforts repeatedly rebuffed. Shortly before his death in 2005, John joined Don Fisher and Buzz Woolley in establishing the Charter School Growth fund. Around the same time the Walton Family Foundation began financing charter school startups in communities across America.

No matter how stinking the thinking, a billionaires beliefs have influence. The billionaire led push to privatize public education is based on at least four completely bogus ideas:

1 – “A Nation at Risk” was a misguided fraud but it is still the motivating prime point for corporate driven education “reform.” Former New York Times Education writer, Richard Rothstein states,

“A Nation at Risk based its analysis of declining student achievement entirely on average SAT scores which had dropped by about half a standard deviation from 1963 to 1980. But much of the decline had been due to the changing composition of SAT test takers — in the early 1960s, the preponderance of SAT test takers were high school students planning to apply to the most selective colleges. By 1983, the demographic composition of SAT test takers had mostly stabilized, and average SAT scores were again rising, not declining.”

2 – The growing belief among wealthy elites that elected school boards are the problem is ridiculous. Saying democracy is a discredited way to run publicly financed organizations and elected boards should be replaced by privately run businesses is UN-American.

3 – Market based ideologues religiously believe in Adam Smith’s invisible hand. They are sure comparative school performance will provide families with improving schools that are striving to win the market. These proponents trust that this system will efficiently remove low-performing schools. A 2015 paper notes,

“This idealized theory assumes that all consumers are equally desirable customers for which providers will compete …  just because parents can voice a choice in the system does not mean they will get the choice they want. In New Orleans, the most desirable schools choose their students to a substantial extent.”

4 – Our present Secretary of Education is emblematic of people who believe it is terrible that public schools have replaced churches as the center of community life. Betsy and Dick DeVos have been using their Amway generated wealth to tear down the separation between church and state. They believe the public should provide vouchers to private religious schools and they promote home schooling.

Choice Drives Segregation by Race and Class

It is well known that integrated schools are beneficial for all races and classes and for the social development of society. Professor Peter Piazza’s “School Diversity Notebook” provides a short summary of the research validating this statement.

Data does not inform the decisions to segregate schooling. As Professor Piazza states, “Decisions to segregate are made in the gut or maybe (sadly) in the heart, but not in the head.”

A Matt Barnum article about school integration discusses what happened:

‘“School integration didn’t fail,’ Berkeley economist Rucker Johnson, who has conducted some of the most far-reaching research on school integration, recently argued. ‘The only failure is that we stopped pursuing it and allowed the reign of segregation to return.”’

Adding more perspective, Sonya Ramsey wrote The Troubled History of American Education after the Brown Decision for the American Historian. It is made available by the Library of Congress. In that paper she reported,

“From 1954 to the late 1980s, the rate of black children attending white schools rose tremendously in the South, from 0 percent in 1954, to 43.5 percent by 1988, only declining after the dismantling of court ordered desegregation plans to 23.2 in 2011. The South remains the least segregated area of the nation. The current resegregation of the public school are due more to the declining support for desegregation by local districts, the federal government, and the Supreme Court. In 2007 Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. stated the following in his majority opinion in two court cases that used race in determining transfer policies and school plans to foster desegregation: “The way to stop race discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” [17] This decision turned a blind eye to decades of racial discrimination in public schools and struck a deathblow to Brown. The federal government’s focus on assessment testing in the 1980s also placed less emphasis on enforcing desegregation.” [Note 17: https://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/29/washington/29scotus.html]

Today’s school choice advocates precisely echo the language and schemes created by southern segregationists in the 1950s.

Last year three researchers – Julian Vasquez Heilig from the University of Kentucky, T. Jameson Brewer from the University of North Georgia and Yohuru Williams from the University of St. Thomas – collaborated on a study of the segregating effects of charter schools. Their paper clearly documents that charter schools are accelerating resegregation. 

In the literature search section of the study, they reported that the conservative oriented “American Enterprise Institute (AEI) conducted a study of the entire universe of charter schools in the United States concluding that parents were self-segregating along racial and class lines but that such segregation was simply a result of a ‘well-functioning education market.”’ [Emphasis added]

The researchers concluded that “Many of the nation’s charters can even be classified as “apartheid schools”—a term coined by UCLA Professor Gary Orfield for schools with a White student enrollment of 1 percent or less.” And “double segregation by race and class is higher in charter schools” than in public schools.

A personal 2019 study of Washington DC charter schools revealed that 64 of the 116 charter schools would be classified “apartheid schools” using Professor Orfield’s definition.

For their study, Heilig at al accessed the Common Core of Data (CCD) – the Department of Education’s primary database on public elementary and secondary education in the United States. This data was brought together with census and zip code data to reveal related school site and community demographic data.

A common defense of charter schools is that they purposely serve highly segregated communities. However, the researchers discovered “even when comparing schools that are located near each other—that charter schools are more segregated than nearby public schools.”

The paper contained six tables revealing the magnitude of segregation comparing charter schools with public schools. The following is Table 4 from the study that details growing charter school segregation in major cities.

Overall, the intensity of charter school segregation in America’s major cities is shocking. However, the city with the most charter schools, Los Angeles, looks relatively OK. This is a bit of an illusion because many of the charter schools in that city serve racially isolated white students.

In February, Anji Williams published “How Charter Schools in Hollywood Uphold the Racist Tradition of Redlining Segregation.” In Hollywood, the public middle school, La Conte, is almost 100% free and reduced lunch while the co-located Citizens of the World Charter School is more than 60% middle class.

The School Choice Advantage

For the Catholic Church and Evangelical Christians like Betsy DeVos, publicly provided vouchers for private religious schools opens a path to taxpayer support for their religious organizations. It is lamentable for their cause that every recent large scale study of vouchers have shown that students perform worse when they transfer to voucher schools.

For the Walton family, John Arnold and Charles Koch, school choice grants a path to undermining public education and lowering taxes. However, “when considering the extant literature on school performance comparisons, the minority of charter schools, at best, provide minimal academic benefits whereas the majority underperform public schools.” Worse yet, charter schools are unstable with half of them going out of business within 15 years.  

For Bill Gates, Reed Hastings and Michael Dell, school choice prepares a path for creating an education technology industry that has the promise of huge future profits. Unfortunately for them, digital learning has proven to have serious limitations. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said in a 2015 report that heavy users of computers in the classroom “do a lot worse in most learning outcomes.

For the white supremacist, school choice presents a path for not having their children attending school with “those people.” The data shows it clearly works for their purposes.

For the mission of public education and the future of America, school choice is an atrocious policy.

Center for Reinventing Public Education the Billionaires’ Advocate

27 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/26/2020

In 1993, Political Science Professor Paul T. Hill established the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs on the University of Washington campus. The research group Hill founded is steeped in public school failure ideology. On their web site Hill let it be known “The Center has a definite point of view.” Among the points listed are:

“The ineffectiveness of big city public schools clouds the futures of millions of children.”

“Incremental efforts to improve urban public education without disturbing the school boards, unions, and central office administrators have failed, largely because roles, missions, and interests of those organizations are incompatible with effective schooling.”

“There are now far too few good public schools in big cities, in part because the entire structure of city school systems, from regulation and funding to teacher selection and professional development, is hostile to school quality.”

“To create good schools in urban areas where academic failure is the norm, we need an entirely different way of creating and operating schools.”

The CRPE 1999 “about” statement says,

“The Center pursues a national program of research and development on such proposals as charter schools, school contracting, choice, and school system decentralization, via alliances with the Brookings Institution, The RAND Corporation, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Chicago.”

Professor Hill, a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute, was a member of Brookings’ cadre of researchers convinced that American public education was failing. Furthermore, they shared a general agreement that market based business principles were central to the solution. They believed teacher’s unions and governance by locally elected school boards must overturned.

In 1990, Bookings had published John Chubb’s and Terry Moe’s book, Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools in which they asserted that poor academic performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.” A few years later, Brookings published Fixing Urban Schools co-written by Hill and Mary Beth Celio. It was a call for running schools by contracting with private operators like the Edison Project.

From its 1993 founding thru 1999, CRPE survived by doing research projects for the Brookings Institute, the Rand Corporation, the United States Department of education, the National Business Roundtable and a few others.

crpe-robinpaul

Hill hired researcher Robin Lake the year after founding CRPE. Lake conducted research on charter schools, contracting, and standards-based school decentralization. She led the evaluation of The National Business Roundtable’s national systemic reform initiative.

Big Money Started Arriving

CRPE was fortunate to be in Seattle, Washington where the world’s richest man decided to implement his opinions concerning education. The fact that he was so rich appeared to be his only qualification for what became an outsized influence over public education.

Bill Gates first big education “reform” initiative was his small schools agenda. He believed that smaller schools were more conducive to learning and retention than larger ones. To implement his small schools scheme, he contracted with CRPE to do evaluations and provide implementation advice.

The CRPE web site reported their involvement stating, “The project, supported by a generous gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, provides a range of services to new and emerging small schools that have an organizational structure and philosophical commitment compatible with the attributes of high achieving schools.”

Because all donations to CRPE go through the University of Washington Foundation, it is often difficult to identify the specific amounts of money granted to CRPE. In 1999, the Gates Foundation donated $2,000,000 to the Daniel J Evans School of Public Affairs to support Northwest Education. It is likely most of that money went to CRPE but not certain.

In 2000, Gates donated another $750,000. This time stating the donation is ‘to develop resources which will promote the creation of small high schools.” It is a reasonable assumption that all of this money was directed to CRPE.

In 2004, CRPE proudly reported,

“Over the past 10 years the Center has received support from many organizations and foundations. We would like to recognize and thank the

In 2009 CRPE Struck Gold

“School choice” has a long history of fermenting segregation. That history stems back to the negative reaction in the South to the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v Board of Education. In Brown, the court overturned the public school policy of “separate but equal” saying it was “inherently unequal” and that it deprived the plaintiffs of the “equal protection of the law” prescribed in the 14th amendment.

Modern “school choice” ideology promoted by many white billionaires is little different from the strategies of southern segregationist in the 1950s and 60s. It still increases segregation and creates an “inherently unequal” and racist education system.

Promoting “school choice” has become a specialty at CRPE.

Doing School Choice Right” was a CRPE project funded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. CPRE listed two salient goals for their study:

    • “Create models for how school districts can oversee public schools in multiple ways—including direct operation, chartering, contracting, and licensing private schools to admit voucher students. This study is conducted in partnership with the National Charter School Research Project.”
    • “Examine issues involved in moving toward pupil-based funding, particularly technical, legal, and regulatory barriers.”

Out of this study, the “portfolio school” management model was created. In October 2009, CRPE published Portfolio School Districts for Big Cities: An Interim Report.” Lead author Paul Hill and associates stated,

“The report introduces the idea of a ‘portfolio school district,’ and shows how some leading school districts have put the idea into practice. A portfolio district is built for continuous improvement through expansion and imitation of the highest-performing schools, closure and replacement of the lowest-performing, and constant search for new ideas.”

In other words, it is an organized idea for managing the charter schools, innovation schools, public schools and voucher schools that make up the mix of schools in a district. Using standardized testing as a proxy for measuring quality, some percentage (5%) of the lowest performing schools will be closed every year. Invariably, the closed school will be replaced by a privatized structure outside of the purview of an elected school board.

Professors David Berliner and Gene Glass are leading experts in the education research community. In a recent article they convincingly demonstrated – again – that the only strongly correlated outcome associated with education standardized testing is family wealth.

That means that under the “portfolio school district” scheme public schools in poor neighborhoods will be closed and replace by privatized “choice” schools.

This novel idea brought CRPE a new mix of funders. Between 2012 and 2018, foundation tax records show that the Walton Family Foundation (EIN: 13-3441466) granted almost $4 million, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (EIN: 56-2618866) granted over $6 million, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (EIN: 26-3241764) granted more than $4.5 million and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation (EIN: 36-4336415) gifted more than $1.3 million.

Unlike the other contributors to the University of Washington Foundation, The Gates Foundation does not explicitly name CPRE in its tax records. The $6 million dollar figure is a conservative estimate made from tax record descriptions.

This year, a CRPE news release stated that the Walton family had granted another $650,000 in support of 2020 operations. The new portfolio model induced funding stream appears to be continuing.

For the fiscal year ending June 30 2018, The University of Washington Foundation (EIN 94-3079432) took in grants totaling $132,838,893. After distributing the money they had a balance of $9,300,536 which is consistent with its past practices. Interestingly, Bill Gates Sr. is a Director of the fund.

By 2019, CRPE quit sharing who it funders are. In 2018, their listed funders were:

    • The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
    • Carnegie Corporation of New York
    • Laura and John Arnold Foundation
    • Michael and Susan Dell Foundation
    • US Department of Education
    • Walton Family Foundation  

Changes at CRPE

CRPE went through big changes in 2012. Paul Hill stepped down as director (semi-retired) and was replaced by his longtime associate Robin Lake. The Center moved from the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs to the Bothell campus also on the University of Washington campus.

That same year, CRPE for the first time announced “policy partners.” They stated, “CRPE is one of five national education policy organizations that co-founded the Policy Innovators in Education (PIE) Network, whose mission is to build, support, and promote a network of education advocacy organizations working to improve K-12 education in their states so that every student graduates world-ready.”

Image Clipped From PIE Home Page

The other “policy partner” listed in 2012 was CEE-Trust. In 2010, Doug Harris and Ethan Gray of The Mind Trust founded CEE-Trust. Its mission was to become a catalyst for new Mind Trust style organizations nationwide promoting school choice. The CEE-Trust web site revealed,

“CEE-Trust is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The Joyce Foundation. CEE-Trust is also grateful for the past support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.”  

After a debacle in Kansas City, CEE-Trust changed its name to Education Cities in 2014. By 2015, CRPE was listing three “policy partners:” Education Cities, Policy Innovators in Education and a new one the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS). Today, CRPE Director Robin Lake is the board chair of NCSECS.

Education Cities was broken up into two new organizations in 2018. The founder, Ethan Gray, became a founding partner at John Arnold’s and Reed Hastings’ new organization The City Fund. Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat reported, “With big names and $200 million, a new group is forming to push for the ‘portfolio model.”’

It appears CRPE has found another deep pocketed “policy partner.”

Charter School Experiment FAILURE Documented Again

17 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/17/2020

Marketing and lack of oversight have obscured the failure of the charter school industry. The latest research reported by Carol Burris and her team at the Network for Public Education (NPE) documents the atrocious going out of business rate among charter schools.

The United States Education Department (USED) has invested more than $4 billion promoting the industry but has not effectively tracked the associated fraud, waste and failures. After 25-years of charter schooling, Broken Promises is the first comprehensive study of their closure rates.

Charter School Myths and Promises

Former American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union President, Albert Shanker, is often cited as the father of charter schools. His Wikipedia entry says, “In 1988, Shanker was the first to propose charter schools in the U.S.” He was not, nor was he central to charter school development.

Five years before Shanker’s famous 1988 speech in which he mentioned charter schools, the Reagan administration had published the infamous A Nation at Risk. In his speech, Shanker was clearly responding to that report as well as President Reagan’s call for choice in education and his own belief that American education was not serving the majority of students well.

At the time, Shanker was reading Ray Budde’s book from which he appropriated the terminology “charter.” In his 1988 speech, Shanker proposed,

“The school district and the teacher union would develop a procedure that would encourage any group of six or more teachers to submit a proposal to create a new school.”

“That group of teachers could set up a school within that school which ultimately, if the procedure works and it’s accepted, would be a totally autonomous school within that district.”

“I would approve such a proposal if it included a plan for faculty decision making, for participative management; team teaching; a way for a teaching team to govern itself; and a provision that shows how such a subunit would be organized so the teachers would no longer be isolated in the classroom throughout their professional lives, but would have the time to be available to share ideas and talk to and with each other.”

The actual development of charter schools was far different. Education Writer Rachel Cohen described what arose,

“At its outset, the real power in the charter coalition was what might be termed the ‘technocratic centrists’: business leaders, moderate Republicans, and DLC members looking for Third Way solutions that couldn’t be labeled big-government liberalism. While charters have drawn praise from other quarters—for instance, some educators and progressive activists see them as tools for racial and economic justice—these groups have never formed the heart of charters’ power base.”

In 1991, Bill Clinton – then Arkansas Governor and Chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) – embraced the technocratic version of charter schools as a “Third Way” solution. Shanker would later complain, “It is almost impossible for us to get President Clinton to stop endorsing [charters] in all his speeches.”

By the time charter schools were birthed in Minnesota, Albert Shanker had agreed with several of the main points presented in “A Nation at Risk.” In accord with the DLC, Shanker stated,

“The reforms that resulted from A Nation At Risk and the other reports constituted a much-needed corrective to the softness of schools in the late ’60s and throughout the ’70s. Yes, we needed schools that had standards, and we still do.”

However, the public school failure belief was based on little more than illusion.

While writing an NPR article on the 35th anniversary of “A Nation at Risk,” Anya Kamenetz discovered that the report “never set out to undertake an objective inquiry.” Two of the authors admitted to her that they were “alarmed by what they believed was a decline in education, and looked for facts to fit that narrative.” The dubious evidence presented in their report would have never withstood a rigorous peer review process.

Some powerful evidence points in the opposite direction and indicates that the results from US public schools in the 60s and 70s were actually a great success story.

One measuring stick demonstrating that success is Nobel Prize winners. Since 1949, America has had 383 laureates; the second place country, Great Britain, had 132. In the same period, India had 12 laureates and China 8.

Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis report on education achievement gaps states, “The gaps narrowed sharply in the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s, but then progress stalled.”

The digital revolution and the booming biotech industry were both created by students mostly from the supposedly “soft public schools” of the 60s and 70s.

In his 1999 book, The Schools Our Children Deserve, Education writer Alfie Kohn described the philosophy of current education reform saying it “consists of saying in effect, that ‘what we’re doing is OK, we just need to do it harder, longer, stronger, louder, meaner and we’ll have a better country.”’

Corporate groups, Third Way Democrats and the AFT all called for manufacturing style standards to be applied to public education. Unfortunately, standards based education has proven to be toxic; leading to jejune classes and the sundering of creativity. Children are learning to hate learning.

In his book Winners Take All, Anand Giridharadas calls modern social reform based on the belief that business leaders and market forces are the sure way to a better society “MarketWorld.” Charter schools are a “MarketWorld” education reform that has brought disruption, harm to public schools and accelerating segregation. They have produced superior marketing not superior education.

Broken Promises

Broken Promises opens by quoting the words of student mother Elouise Matthews to the Orleans Parish School Board:

“I am a parent of Mary D. Coghill [Charter School]. For the last three years I have had to place my kids at different schools each year because the schools keep closing. My child was attending MCPA, that school closed. He then went to Medard Nelson, that school closed. Now, he is at Coghill and y’all are trying to close that school. I am tired of moving my child every year because y’all are closing schools.”

In the modern era of school choice, the one choice New Orleans parent do not have is sending their children to a stable public school. New Orleans is a 100% privatized school district. It is the epitome of “MarketWorld” education reform.

“Broken Promises” looked at cohorts of newly opened charter schools between 1998 and 2017. Ryan Pfleger, Ph.D. led the analysis of charter schools closures utilizing the Department of Education’s Common Core of Data (CCD).

Before 1998, the massive government data base did not uniquely identify charter schools and the last complete data set available for all schools in America was 2017.

Startup charter school cohorts were identified by year and the cohort closure rates were tracked at 3, 5, 10 and 15 years after opening. The overall failure rates discovered were 18% by year-3, 25% by year-5, 40% by year-10 and 50% by year-15.

The NPE team discovered that half of all charter schools in America close their doors within fifteen years.

All Cohort Failure Graphic

Graphic from Broken Promises Showing Charter School Failure Rates

Many charter schools close within their first year of operations. “Broken Promises” shares the story of several of these quick failures. The following story was based on a TV newscast in North Carolina:

On a Thursday morning in September of 2014, parents dropped their children off at the Concrete Roses STEM Academy charter school in Charlotte, North Carolina. Families were handed a notice that the school would close the very next day. The school had claimed (and was funded for) an enrollment of 300 students although actual enrollment was only 126.

 Concrete Roses STEM Academy was open for only one month.

Because Concrete Rose STEM Academy closed before officially reporting attendance to the federal government in October, they do not count as a failed school. In the CCD database, they never showed students thus did not meet the criteria for having opened.

Burris and team document close to a million students being displaced by school closures. These displaced students then put tremendous pressure on public schools which are required to take them in.

“Broke Promises” also cites National Education Association research showing that “52 percent of students displaced by charter closings receive free or reduced-price lunch.”

Census tract maps collated with charter school closures were utilized to understand where the closures were happening. In Detroit for example, they noted that between 1998 and 2015 245-charter schools opened of which 106 had closed (43%) by 2017.

The report states, “Fifty-nine percent of the failures were located in tracts with 30 percent or above rates of poverty, although there were a far greater number of tracts with lower levels of poverty.”

Census Tract Map Showing High Poverty Neighborhoods with Highest Charter Churn.

Mounting Evidence Shows Charter Schools Are Bad Policy

As charter schools started becoming a more significant part of local school districts, fiscal impacts mounted. In 2014, researchers Robert Bifulco from Syracuse University and Randall Reback from Bernard College published a study of the fiscal impacts in the public schools of Buffalo and Albany, NY. They estimated that the net costs in Buffalo were between $633 and $744 per pupil and in Albany between $976 and $1,070 per pupil. Thus, public school students were suffering reduced fiscal support in order to finance charter schools.

In 2016, Professor Bruce Baker of Rutgers University produced Exploring the consequences of charter school expansion in U.S. cities for the Economic Policy Institute. In the summary of this report he stated,

“Other reports have shown how high test scores and popularity of charter schools could be the byproducts of using data from cherry-picked charter schools that serve cherry-picked or culled populations. This report adds further insights for the debate on how expanding charter schools as a policy alternative achieves the broader goal. Specifically, it shows that charter expansion may increase inequity, introduce inefficiencies and redundancies, compromise financial stability, and introduce other objectionable distortions to the system that impede delivery of an equitable distribution of excellent or at least adequate education to all children.”

In 2017, NPE Executive Director Carol Burris produced “Charters and Consequences.” In it she stated,

“… nearly every day brings a story, often reported only in local newspapers, about charter mismanagement, failure, nepotism or outright theft and fraud.”

“This report … is the result of a year-long exploration of the effects of charter schools and the issues that surround them.”

To accompany the report, NPE started an ongoing web page, #AnotherDayAnotherCharterScandal, which catalogues and makes available the horrific charter industry record of fraud and malfeasance.

In 2018, Professors Helen F. Ladd of Duke University and John D. Singleton of Syracuse University published The Fiscal Externalities of Charter Schools: Evidence from North Carolina. Like the study of Buffalo and Albany they found powerful evidence that it was costing schools in Durham, NC $3600 per student lost to charters. The paper also stated, “We find smaller, though sizable, Net Fiscal Impacts in the non-urban districts and considerable heterogeneity across them.”

That same year professor Gordon Lafer of the University of Oregon published Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts.” Lafer stated,

“In 2016-17, charter schools led to a net fiscal shortfall of $57.3 million for the Oakland Unified School District, $65.9 million for the San Diego Unified School District, and $19.3 million for Santa Clara County’s East Side Union High School District. The California Charter School Act currently doesn’t allow school boards to consider how a proposed charter school may impact a district’s educational programs or fiscal health when weighing new charter applications.”

Last year, NPE published two investigations of the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). In Asleep at the Wheel, they stated, “We estimate that program funding has grown to well over $4 billion. That could bring the total of the potential waste to around $1billion.” At a congressional hearing, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaking about the report testified, “The report that you referenced has been totally debunked as propaganda.”

In response, NPE redoubled efforts and in December published Still Asleep at the Wheel where they documented that their conservative claims in the first report under-reported the extent of wasted money and negligence associated with the CSP.

Time to join with the NAACP in their 2018 call for a charter school moratorium. With the industries record of creaming, advancing segregation and self-dealing, charter profiteering can not be accepted. Charters have not delivered significant education improvements just disruption, community harm and fraud. School chartering is a FAILED experiment.

School Choice and White Supremacy like Two Peas in a Pod

9 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/9/2020

In Overturning Brown, Steve Suitts provides overwhelming evidence for the segregationist legacy of “school choice.” He shows that “Brown v Board” has been effectively gutted and “choice proved to be the white supremacists’ most potent strategy to defeat it. In the 21st century, that same strategy is being wielded to maintain segregation while destroying the separation of church and state.

(Note: In this article references to “Overturning Brown” given as Suitts page#)

Defeating Brown

On May 17 1954, the United States Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in the case of Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Chief Justice Earl Warren stated, “In the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.” He added it is “inherently unequal” and plaintiffs were “deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.”

A large portion of the United States was not intensely affected by the ruling but in the Deep South, the response was hostility and a determination to fight. Southern politicians organized a “massive resistance” movement. In Jackson Mississippi, the editor of the Jackson Daily news declared, “This is a fight for white supremacy” (Suitts 31).

Governors and state legislators established commissions or committees “to develop options for preserving segregation.” (Suitts 18)

Wallace and Connor

People like Mississippi Senator James Eastland, Birmingham Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor and Alabama Governor George Wallace are well remembered for their egregious support of “white supremacy.”

Eastland who served in the US Senate for 30-years stated, “I have no prejudice in my heart, but the white race is the superior race and the Negro race an inferior race and the races must be kept separate by law.”

Bull Connor employed Birmingham firemen and policemen using water hoses and police dogs against African-American demonstrators. It was after his arrest during those demonstrations that Martin Luther King wrote his famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail. He stated in the missive, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

In 1958, John Patterson, bested George Wallace for Governor of Alabama. Patterson, a proven segregationist and former Alabama attorney general, had attempted to put the NAACP out of business through a series of harassing lawsuits. The loss prompted Wallace to vow, “No other son-of-a-bitch will ever out-nigger me again.” (Suitts 26)

In 1963, Wallace won the Alabama Governor’s office. In his inaugural address, he attacked governmental overreach in Washington DC and “the illegal 14th amendment.” That is the amendment to the constitution that guarantees all citizens “equal protection under the law.” It was the central argument under-girding the Supreme Court’s “Brown” decision. In the address written by soon to be Klan leader Asa Carter (Suitts 26), Wallace famously called for “segregation now … segregation tomorrow … segregation forever.”

These infamous segregationists were not decisive in stopping what they called the “forced mixing” of students in school. It was the committees and commissions with their schemes for school choice leading to “virtual segregation” that effectively frustrated “Brown”.

Soon after the “Brown” decision, Alabama’s Boutwell Committee reported their plan which aimed for “virtual segregation.” The report decried “forced integration” claiming it would lead to “violence, disorder, and tension for the state and its children.” (Suitts 20)

The primary intellectual force behind the plan was a corporate attorney in Birmingham, Forney Johnston. He was a staunch segregationist who represented Alabama’s Big Mules:” coal, railroads, wealthy industrialists and investors. (Suitts 19)

The Boutwell plan posited four basic strategies for stopping compulsory “mixing” of races in schools. The key to the plan was school choice and not mentioning race as a reason for not admitting a student. The four main points:

  • Eliminate all prohibitions against the operation of mixed schools.
  • Remove from the state constitution any suggestion that there is a right of education and an obligation of the state to fund public school children. The state is to promote education in a manner and extent consistent with available resources, and the willingness and ability of the individual students.
  • Give local school officials the power to refuse admission to individuals or groups whose scholastic deficiencies would compel undue lowering of school standards.
  • Provide vouchers and other tax funds for both black and white children. (Suitts 21)

The plan called for a school choice system that enabled children “to attend all-White schools, all-Black schools, or desegregated schools in a state-financed system of public and private schools.” They called it the “Freedom of Choice Plan.”

The editor of the Montgomery Adviser called it “manicured Kluxism.” The plan was ratified by 61% of Alabama voters in 1956. (Suitts 22)

Southern segregationists often “condemned integration as the work of communists.” (Suitts 32) Adopting the language of University of Chicago libertarian economist Milton Friedman, they began denouncing the “monopoly of government schools” calling it “socialism in its purest form.” (Suitts 59)

By 1965, most voucher programs adopted in Southern states had been declared unconstitutional including indirect expenditures such as tax credits. (Suitts 49) Sill it is estimated that by the 1980s in the eleven states of the former Confederacy as much as 75% of private school white students were virtually segregated. (Suitts 64)

Cornell’s Professor Noliwe Rooks noted in Cutting School that using the federal government’s economic power finally broke the back of state-sanctioned segregation in the South. Rooks shared, “By 1973, almost 90 percent of southern schoolchildren attended integrated schools.”

Re-segregating America’s Schools

When nominating Ronald Reagan in 1984, the Republican Party platform stated its opposition to busing for desegregation, support of private school tuition tax credits and vouchers for low-income students to attend private schools. It was the first time a major political party had called for vouchers.

In his acceptance speech, President Regan asserted, “We must continue the advance by supporting discipline in our schools, vouchers that give parents freedom of choice; and we must give back to our children their lost right to acknowledge God in their classrooms.” (Suitts 72)

Steve Suitts observed:

“…, the southern states’ first plan for defeating court-ordered desegregation, the one that Johnston and Boutwell devised in 1954 in Alabama, is exactly what today’s advocates and supporters of vouchers seek to implement: no compulsory ‘race-mixing’ in schools and no mention of any intent to discriminate. What could be more American than the freedom of parents to choose their children’s school – private or public – with public financial support? (Suitts 91)

Segregation by caste and segregation by class are the two common types of segregation. Caste segregation is by skin tone and class segregation is by economics.

With class segregation, it is perfectly acceptable for a few Black and Brown students to be in a school with a majority of White students if their parents hold the requisite wealth. Both types of segregation are harmful to all students.

The 1975 Supreme Court decision, Milliken versus Bradley, struck down inter-district remedies to segregation. Professor Jack Schneider of the University of Massachusetts claims this decision was the “beginning of the end of school desegregation.” He stated, “In determining that school districts could not be compelled to integrate students across their borders, Milliken dramatically narrowed the promise of the 1954 Brown v. Board case.”

In his Milliken dissent, Justice Thurgood Marshall stated, “Unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together.”

Public School Enrollment by Race Graphic

Brookings Chart Shows Growing Pluralism in American Schools

A paper from the Brookings Institute says, “School districts and metro areas that were released from court-ordered desegregation plans during the 1990s and 2000s showed a marked trend towards greater segregation, especially in the South.”

On the subject of desegregation trends, a Civil Right Project report from UCLA added,

“These trends began to reverse after a 1991 Supreme Court decision made it easier for school districts and courts to dismantle desegregation plans. Most major plans have been eliminated for years now, despite increasingly powerful evidence on the importance of desegregated schools.” (Emphasis Added)

In the 2002 Supreme Court ruling Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the court ruled that publicly funded vouchers could be used to send children to religious schools providing that certain constitutional prerequisites were met. The divided court’s 5-4 decision allowed for taxpayers being forced by state law to send their dollars to religious schools.

In the Espinosa decision handed down this year, the Supreme Court again split 5-4 along what looks more like political lines than lines of legal judgment. Their decision means that if a state gives money to any private schools it cannot refuse money to religious schools.

Last week leaders of the Catholic Church in America penned an opinion piece championing a federal bailout. Cardinal Dolan, Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Gómez called for help with their fiscal problems. They stated,

“The most effective and immediate way to accomplish this is to fund scholarship assistance this summer to families who are economically disadvantaged and need such support. The scholarships would be used at Catholic or other non-government elementary or secondary schools. This approach would be similar to providing Pell grants that can be used at any institution of higher education, including religious institutions.”

In her fascinating book The Good News Club, Katherine Stewart quotes President Ulysses S. Grant’s diametrically opposite advice from that of the Catholic Church leaders. He said in 1876,

“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate. With these safeguards, I believe the battles which created the Army of Tennessee will not have been fought in vain.”

Last fall, the Urban Institute studied where school segregation occurs. They concluded, “Holding school size constant, private and charter schools tend to have higher average contributions to segregation than traditional public schools.”

In the 1990s, charter schools first appeared. Since then, they have been significantly contributing to the re-segregation of America’s K-12 schools. A Brookings Institute study of segregation in schools reported,

“Charter schools are more segregated than TPS [traditional public school] at national, state, and metro levels. Black students in charter schools are far more likely than their traditional public school counterparts to be educated in intensely segregated settings. At the national level, 70 percent of black charter school students attend intensely segregated minority charter schools (which enroll 90-100 percent of students from under-represented minority backgrounds), or twice as many as the share of intensely segregated black students in traditional public schools.”

The growth of both charter schools and private schools has engendered growing segregation among America’s school children. This trend portends a divided inefficient society.

Professors Linda R. Tropp and Suchi Saxena along with many other sociologists and educators have conducted research identifying the clear benefit of and need for school integration. They state, “New social science research demonstrates the importance of fostering sustained interracial contact between youth in order to prepare them to thrive in a multiracial society.”

A research brief by Professor Genevieve Siegel-Hawley of Virginia Commonwealth University states,

“What is clear, however, is that racially diverse schools are not linked to negative academic outcomes for white students. And in a number of subjects, like math and science, diverse educational settings are consistently linked to higher test scores for whites. One analysis of 59 social science articles related to school composition effects on mathematics outcomes found, for instance, that math out-comes were higher at every grade level for students from all racial and SES backgrounds who attended racially and socioeconomically integrated schools.”

Conclusions

Steve Suitts book Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Movement is strongly recommended for anyone interested in American education history or school policy.

To reverse the re-segregation of schools in America, stopping public school privatization is necessary.

The separation of church and state must be reestablished.

Infamous John Deasy Resigned under Suspicious Circumstances Again

29 Jul

By Thomas Ultican 7/29/2020

April 21, the Stockton Unified School District (SUSD) board accepted John Deasy’s letter of resignation effective June 15, 2020. His quitting mid-contract marked the third straight superintendent position he ended in a similar fashion. All three time, the resignation came with ethical charges and legal suspicions.

Stockton, California, was a gold rush town established in 1849. Situated 75 miles down the San Joaquin River from the Golden Gate Bridge at the north end of the San Joaquin valley, it is the farthest inland deep water port in California. Several waterfront scenes for the movie “On the Waterfront” were shot there.

Brando on the Waterfront

Brando “On the Waterfront” in Stockton 1954

Stockton is a small city of about 315,000 people and one of America’s most diverse. The demographic makeup is 42.1% Hispanic, 21.6% Asian, 20.8% White and 11.8 % Black. The city has a more than a 20% poverty rate; however, SUSD reports that 82% of their students live in poverty. The district enrolls 40,000 students into 54 schools.

Why Deasy resigned is not clear. Upon his resignation the 209 Times reported,

“Controversial superintendent John Deasy is out of Stockton Unified School District effective June 15th after agreeing to resign tonight amidst an investigation sources tell us into his actions and possible conflict of interests regarding a contract between board trustee Lange Luntao and the organization he is director of on behalf of Mayor Michael Tubbs, Reinvent Stockton Foundation.”

Bob Highfill of Record Net observed that there has been a 4-3 split on the school board for some time, which was reflected in the 4-3 decision to accept Deasy’s resignation. Board member Scot McBrian said that until this year he had been happy with Deasy’s work.

However, recently Deasy pushed for a $2 million waiver of development fees for a low-income housing project within the district. The reduction in fees to the school district was part of a project being pushed by Stockton Mayor Tubbs. When he did not get the required votes, an angered Deasy reworded the proposal and submitted it again. It was voted down again 4-3.

McBrian also mentioned problematic issues with the unions, the addition of six charter schools and a simultaneous roll-out of English and math curricula objected to by a number of teachers. Controversies surrounding the superintendent were mounting at the time of his resignation.

A 209 Times investigative article delved into the push to privatize public schools in Stockton and the three board member allies Deasy had helping him:

    1. “SUSD Trustee AngelAnne Flores is a current employee of Aspire Charter Schools in Stockton, and is part of a public alliance and voting block along with Lange Luntao and Candelaria Vargas. 
    2. “Lange Luntao is not only the best friend of Mayor Michael Tubbs …, but also simultaneously an SUSD Trustee and the Executive Director of Reinvent Stockton Foundation which is also the “Stockton Schools Initiative” and “Stockton Scholarship”. The Reinvent Stockton Foundation also has a contract with SUSD to farm data of students as well as promote their “stockton scholarships” scheme. 
    3. “Candelaria Vargas, is married to Max Vargas who is the personal assistant for Mayor Tubbs who endorsed and pushed for all three of these Trustees to be elected.

“All three of these SUSD Trustees are not only part of the “Reinvent” network, but are also members of an organization called School Board Partners that are seeking to push a Wall Street inspired “Portfolio” model of big corporate charter schools under the guise of “reform”, in “urban” cities across America including Stockton.”

In 2018, when billionaires John Arnold and Reed Hastings put up $100 million each to found The City Fund, other organizations they support were repurposed. Education Cities was divided into two new school choice promoting organizations, the above mentioned School Board Partners and Community Engagement Partners.

DoWopDonDon Shalvey (twitter handle @doWopDon), who joined with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to found Aspire Charter Schools in 1998, has been working to enhance charter school penetration in Stockton. Today, Aspire is one of three charter schools looking to expand in Stockton. Shalvey left his post as the Gates Foundation Deputy Director of Education Programs, to lead the A+ non-profit organization in Stockton supporting Charter School growth.

As part of their investigation, the 209 Times reviewed and published emails between Shalvey, Deasy and others. They concluded, “What was hidden from the SUSD Board Members was the intimate relationship and secret communications the Superintendent had with Mr. Shalvey and his associates, which led to the fast-tracking of 6 Charter School petitions in SUSD, which were all amazingly approved via Consent Agenda – eliminating any discussion or input from the public.”

Deasy and Tubbs

John Deasy and the Mayor Providing Local Political Support

Mayor Michael Tubbs, a youthful African-American politician, was extremely angered by Deasy’s departure and blamed the four member faction that opposes his personal agenda. Tubbs stated,

“Given the gravity of the circumstances, there should be a serious discussion about whether Mendez and McBrian should be recalled, which I would be in favor of. I’ve heard from community members that are interested in considering a recall and I would be in 100% in favor of that. Our kids deserve nothing less than the best.”

There is a recall the school board effort underway in Stockton.

The obvious question is does Mayor Tubbs realize he has adopted the education agenda of US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the very conservative Walton Family Foundation and the ultra-conservative libertarian mogul Charles Koch? Does Tubbs understand that he has embraced education policies Cornell’s Professor of African-American studies, Noliwe Rooks, derisively labels “segrenomics”; the profiting from selling education to segregated poor communities?

A Legacy of Controversy and Ethical Issues

In 2004, reporter Juliet McShannon writing for the Lookout News in Santa Monica, California noted, “Controversy seems to follow John Deasy.” At the time he had been leading Santa Monica Unified School district for almost three years.

Deasy came to Santa Monica after a five year stint as Superintendent of Coventry School District in Rhode Island. At the relatively small district of 6000 students, Deasy obtained one of the first small school development grants given out by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He also made national news when he launched a “pay for performance” initiative with Coventry teachers.

Standardized testing became his main metric for evaluating teachers, and he terminated the contracts of a number of teachers who did not meet his expectations.

In April 2001, Deasy abruptly resigned from Coventry effective June 1 to take the superintendent’s job in Santa Monica. He left behind financial problems and a small district that did not have time to find a new leader for the 2001-02 school year.

In 2006, Deasy graduated from Eli Broad’s superintendent’s training academy, which trains its candidates in a market-based data driven methodology. Billionaire Eli Broad is well known for his determination to privatize public education.

Deasy left Santa Monica to become superintendent of the very large Prince George’s County Schools in Maryland, the largest majority African-American county in the United States. This would be the first of three straight superintendents’ positions he would resign under suspicious circumstances.

When he arrived in Maryland, Deasy immediately started promoting charter schools and a teacher “pay for performance” agenda.

There was buzz in the area. Baltimore had Andres Alonzo firing teachers and closing schools and just a few miles the other way Michelle Rhee was promising to “fix” Washington DC’s schools by firing teachers and principals. These three superintendents were given the undeserved label “reformers.” It has become clear that they were just “disrupters.”

After two years on the job in Maryland, Deasy resigned.

That October 2008, the Baltimore Sun’s Liz Bowie speculated, “John Deasy is denying there’s any connection, but many people in the education community will continue to wonder whether the Prince George’s County superintendent would be moving on if there hadn’t been a dust-up in the past several weeks over how he got his doctoral degree.”

Bowie reported that “Deasy had been awarded a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Lousville in 2004 although he had only completed nine credits, or about a semester, there.” She also noted that Deasy had given his advisor, Robert Felner, a $125,000 contract from Santa Monica Unified and that Felner’s group received a total $375,000.

On September 29, 2008, a press release stated “The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced today that Dr. John E. Deasy has been named deputy director of its education division within its United States Program.”

Two years later, with a big push from Eli Broad and the LA Mayor he politically supported, Antonio Villaraigosa, Deasy was hired as Deputy Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). In January, 2011, he was named Superintendent.

At the time, other billionaire groups were also spending to influence the district. The LA-based Wasserman Foundation gave a $4.4 million grant, another $1.2 million came from the Walton Family Foundation, and smaller grants came from the Ford and Hewlett foundations to pay the salaries of more than a dozen key senior staffers in the district.

The staffers were working to advance the market-based data driven school reform agenda, charter schools, testing and competition.

Controversy came to LAUSD soon after Deasy took charge. When he walked into a classroom at Washington Preparatory High School being led by substitute teacher Patrena Shankling, he got into a dispute with her over the quality of the lesson plan and fired her on the spot. When a school teacher was implicated in an ugly sex scandal at Miramonte Elementary school, Deasy removed the entire staff from janitor to principal completely ignoring due process but gaining tough-guy headlines.

Deasy pushed charter school expansion and implementation of education technology. Two technology agendas appear to have led to his demise as Superintendent. He rolled out a completely incompetent student digital data system. It failed at scheduling students for classes, recording attendance and inputting grades; it was a disaster. But his I-pad fiasco was worse because it brought legal charges and an investigation by the FBI.

There were many things wrong with the $1.3 billion plan to put I-pads in the hands of every student but the suspicion that the bidding had been rigged put Deasy in legal jeopardy. Emails showed that he had been in negotiations with Apple and curriculum provider Pearson before any competitive bidding process started.

Interim Superintendent Ramon Corzine noted the bidding process had been plagued by “too many innuendoes [and] rumors.”

Deasy resigned before the legal investigation by the FBI and LA County District attorney got under way. This time the Broad Academy stepped in to hire him as “superintendent-in-residence.” That was in 2015.

In 2018, Deasy was off to be Superintendent in Stockton, resigning this year with ethical and legal malfeasance charges mounting.

Reopening Schools Issues and Evidence

21 Jul

By Thomas Ultican 7/21/2020

The President of the United States and his Secretary of Education have demanded schools open with in-person classes five days a week. Many parents are not confident their children will be safe and significant numbers of teachers are profoundly frightened. How does the rhetoric square with credible scientific evidence concerning the Covid-19 pandemic?

President Trump has tweeted,

“In Germany, Denmark, Norway,  Sweden and many other countries, SCHOOLS ARE OPEN WITH NO PROBLEMS. The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election, but is important for the children & families. May cut off funding if not open!”

Michelle Goldberg of the NY Times wrote, “… with their crude attempts at coercion, they’ve politicized school reopening just as Trump politicized mask-wearing and hydroxychloroquine.”

Goldberg goes on to cite American Federation of Teacher President, Randi Weingarten, as saying the administration just made reopening schools more difficult. Randi described Trumps threats to withhold school funding as “empty, but the distrust they have caused is not.”

Weingarten also reported hearing from many teachers who are concerned that reopening would be done rashly.

In an USA Today opinion piece, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the President of America’s largest teachers’ union, charged, “… the Trump administration’s plan is appallingly reckless.” She also points out that the vast majorities of American schools have not returned to their 2008 funding levels and have lain off more than 300,000 employees.

Garcia argues that the Covid-19 induced revenue crisis is making opening schools safely impossible during the accelerating contagion.

Officials within the Trump administration are confidently claiming opening schools can be done safely. At a White House conference on reopening schools, Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services stated, “We can get back to school safely.” Regarding concerns that many schools do not meet Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidance, he stated, “CDC guidance is guidance and no-one should use it not to reopen schools.”

At the same conference, the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Dr. Sally Goza, said AAP “strongly advocates schools open safely.” She stated that “children are less likely to be infected” and “less likely to spread the virus.”

Goza contends that it is critically important for students to be physically present as long as safety measures can be maintained. She added that schools need more resources.

President Trump’s top economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, recently stated, “If we don’t reopen the schools that would be a setback to a true economic recovery.”

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos says “It’s not a matter of if schools should reopen, it’s simply a matter of how.”

The Department of Education under DeVos’s leadership is pushing back against charges that they are politicizing school opening. A released statement said, “if anyone is politicizing this issue it’s the unions, who are Democrats’ operatives, who are fear-mongering and denying the science that says it’s safe and better for kids’ overall health to be back in school.”

Republican state administrations in Iowa and Florida have mandated that all schools in their states reopen 5-days a week with in person instruction.

In California, Democratic Governor, Gavin Newsom has ordered all schools in counties on the coronavirus “watch list” to open online only. That covers about 80% of the students in the nation’s most populous state.

The Washington Post’s Matt Viser reports that Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden has called for flexibility with reopening schools. Biden asserts, “If we do this wrong, we will put lives at risk and set our economy and our country back.”

Viser sums up Biden’s just released plan,

“Biden urged caution, saying that each district should make its own decisions based on local conditions, and that schools in areas with high infection rates should not reopen too soon. He also called on Congress to pass new emergency funding to help the schools.”

These confusing claims and counterclaims motivate looking into the best evidence the scientific community can provide.

What the Evidence Shows

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that “science should not stay in the way of school reopening.” She cited a Journal of the American Medical Association pediatrics study that found the risk of critical illness from Covid-19 for children is far less than the seasonal flu.

She stated, “The science is on our side here.” And added that states need to “simply follow the science” and open schools.

However, McEnany, did not make it clear that the study she cited involved just 48 children treated in U.S. and Canadian intensive care units. It is true that most were not critically ill but 18 needed ventilator treatment and two died.

Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, has noted that several studies from Europe and Asia have suggested that young children are less likely to get infected and to spread the virus. However, he says like the study McEnany cited, those studies are mostly small and flawed.

There is a new study that Dr. Jha describes as “one of the best studies we’ve had to date on this issue.”

The CDC has posted the study, Contact Tracing during Coronavirus Disease Outbreak, South Korea, 2020”, to its website. This large scale study looked at 59,073 contacts traced from 5,706 covid-19 confirmed patients between January 20 and March 27, 2020.

Korean Study Table 2

Korean Study Data Table Indexed by Patient Age

The important point in this table is that infants do transmit covid-19 but at a lower rate (between 1.3% and 13.7%). However, middle school and high school aged children transmitted the disease at a rate equal to all of the older groupings.

In the paper’s literature study, the authors observe, “… a recent report from Shenzhen, China, showed that the proportion of infected children increased during the outbreak from 2% to 13%, suggesting the importance of school closure.”

Schools have been reopening in various countries since this spring. A key characteristic that countries reopening schools took into consideration was virus transmission rates. Solid testing regimes and contract testing were believed essential.

The following table used reopening transmission rates data from a post by Dr. Nan Fulcher and Justin Parmenter plus the transmission rates for July 17th which were derived using the John Hopkins University Covid-19 Dashboard and Worldometer population data.

Covid Per 10,000 Foreign table

All of the counties in the table above with the exception of Israel have maintained low transmission rates while opening schools. In the Israeli case, The University of Washington Department of Global Health reports,

“Two weeks after school re-opening, COVID-19 outbreaks were observed in classrooms, including 130 cases in one school alone. By June 3, there were 200 confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 244 positive SARS-CoV-2 tests among students and staff across multiple schools.”

“Due to the crowded nature of the schools system, physical distancing of students within schools has not been widely adopted and control measures have focused on closing schools with reported cases, extensive testing, and quarantine of students and staff with a potential SARS-CoV-2 exposure.”

In his push to reopen schools, President Trump claims that many countries reopened school with no problem. That seems to be mostly true, however, it omits saying many counties did have issues. New Century Foundation Fellow, Connor Williams notes,

Aside from some early public-health setbacks, France has been able to keep schools open. But other communities have not been so lucky. Israel reclosed some schools after a spike in covid-19 cases. Beijing recently shuttered its schools again as the pandemic returned.”

While it does seem possible to safely reopen schools based on the experience of countries around the globe, the United States faces two major unresolved obstacles; facilities need upgrading and transmission rates need to be controlled.

The following Covid-19 transmission rates were calculated using data from Wikipedia’s 2020 population estimates and the John Hopkins Covid-19 Dashboard.

Covid Per 10,000 table

In addition to this data showing that in most states the Covid-19 transmission rates are ghastly, school facilities on average are in terrible shape.

The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine just issued guidance for reopening schools. The Academies chair for the study, Enriqueta Bond, stated, “One of the shocks to me is that over 50 percent of the school buildings are awful.”

New York Times reporter Apoorva Mandavilli shared in a report on the Academies’ guidance, “Some 54 percent of public school districts need to update or replace facilities in their school buildings, and 41 percent should replace heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems in at least half of their schools, according to an analysis by the Government Accountability Office.”

The Academies guidance says the cost of retrofits will total approximately $1.8 million for a school district with eight school buildings and around 3,200 students.

The evidence shows that most of America is not ready to reopen schools. The retrofits have not been started and the needed financing has not been approved. Transmission rates are out of control.

The Conclusion of Professionals

New York public school teacher, Christine Vaccaro, published an opinion piece in USA Today. Her ending statement is prescient:

“Abandoned by any semblance of national leadership during a raging pandemic, students, teachers and staff are being told to jump into the deep end and return to school buildings. They will be risking their lives and their families’ lives, and endangering their communities to do so. All the precious time and resources spent to implement hybrid models and social distancing protocols will be washed away with the building’s first positive COVID-19 case. Then it will be a hard pivot back home, using the same scattershot remote learning practices developed in an emergency.

“That is why the smartest, most practical strategy is marshaling energy and dollars into developing as robust and equitable a remote learning plan as possible. This is far from ideal. We know remote teaching is not even remotely teaching. But it will save lives, offer the most consistent education for our children this fall — and provide a solid foundation on which to build a stronger hybrid model, later in the year.”

New Century Foundation Fellow, Connor Williams, ended his article succinctly,

It’s time to face the central fact of a pandemic: There’s no way to pretend our way around flattening the curve. Until we actually stop the virus’s spread, efforts to reopen schools in most communities will fail.”

Don’t Sacrifice Teachers and Students to a Neoliberal God

8 Jul

By Thomas Ultican 7/8/2020

The US is not ready to open schools. We blew it. Let’s face reality squarely and quit making outcomes in our country even worse.

New York’s Michael Flanagan Ed. D. wrote,

“The pressure to reopen schools, and return to work, will continue to intensify, no matter how many new cases of Covid-19 there are each day, and the numbers are growing. Businesses, politicians and even health professionals are in the process of trying to convince us that sending our kids back to school will be safe.”

As if to prove Flanagan’s claim, Harvard’s “Education Next” published a Frederick Hess interview with Jeb Bush where he repeatedly emphasized,

“First and foremost, schools have to open with the health and safety of our students and teachers being paramount. But they have to open, or we will have huge economic, health, and social challenges.”

Not to be outdone by “low energy Jeb”, the President of the United States employed his normal elegance when tweeting,

“Schools in our country should be opened ASAP. Much very good information now available.”

Republican Congressmen, Jim Banks of Indiana and Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin, have introduced the Reopen Our Schools Act. Congressman Banks declared,

“Reopening our schools is the lynchpin to reopening our economy. Many parents rely on their kids going to school so they can go to work. To get our society up and running again, we need our children back in school.”

The Economist claims schools should be the first economic institutions to reopen and added,

“Those who work at home are less productive if distracted by loud wails and the eerie silence that portends jam being spread on the sofa. Those who work outside the home cannot do so unless someone minds their offspring.”

These neoliberal forces are promoting the idea that teachers and children must be thrust into an unsafe environment so the world’s economic engines can continue providing decent return on investment. Make no mistake, face to face teaching during this pandemic without proper conditions is fraught with danger.

Political leaders know that so they are racing to pass legislation indemnifying schools from legal liability.  In California, Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, and his coauthor State Senator Susan Rubio, D-LA, introduced AB1384 to shield schools. O’Donnell made this ludicrous statement,

“We need to do everything we can to protect the students, and the schools. My bill will indemnify school districts as long as they follow all the state and local health directives. We still want school districts to use best practices when it comes to student safety.”

In May, Mitch McConnell announced that the US Senate was taking up legislation to protect schools from lawsuits. He stated, “Can you image the nightmare that could unfold this fall when K-12 kids are still at home, when colleges and universities are still not open?”

When it comes to political malfeasance, Florida is determined not to be outdone. Richard Corcoran, Commissioner of Education, is the former Speaker of the House and a charter school owner.  On Monday, he released an order stating, “Upon reopening in August, all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools at least five days per week for all students …”

The forced school reopening amounts to a conscription putting teachers, students and families at risk. Florida trails only New York and California in confirmed Covid-19 cases and Miami-Dade County is a national leader in cases. At this time, Covid-19 cases in the state are spiking to new record levels.

Obviously, Commissioner Corcoran’s order ignores health and safety. It is driven solely by a neoliberal ideology valuing commercial enterprise above human life.

Could-a Should-a Would-a

If the United States had acted decisively in late February and shut down businesses, instituted robust testing, contact tracing and social distancing, we probably could safely open schools now. It is also likely that more than 120,000 victims of the virus would be alive today.

Even in March when it became clear to everyone but a fringe element that we had a huge problem, a united response led by the federal government would have put us in position to reopen in-school education.

Instead of a united effort to effectively meet the Sars-CoV-2 crisis, we experienced politicization and demagoguery.

By the end of March, California had an effective shutdown in place with almost universal cooperation. Then ultra-conservative media started agitating against the shut down.

Purported healthcare professionals like neurosurgeon, Russell Blaylock, started discouraging mask wearing as did the discredited Irish scientist Delores Cahill.

In late April, The Conservative Daily Post reported on claims by two Bakersfield, California emergency room doctors, Dan Erickson and Artin Massihi. These doctors from Accelerated Urgent Care claimed that the nationwide lockdown policies are not an appropriate reaction to the “China-originated novel coronavirus” and were causing other healthcare problems to be ignored.

Kristi Noem, the Republican Governor of South Dakota, publically opposed CDC health guidelines saying, “I believe in our freedoms.” This happened just days after the President of the United States took to twitter and attacked the Democratic governors of Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, calling for their states to be liberated.

Trump Liberate tweet

Attack on Governor Gretchen Whitmer for Implementing CDC Guidelines in her State

This constant degrading of the public response to Covid-19 led to more people joining in protest against state policies. Soon conservative groups were demanding that schools be reopened immediately.

LA Times Open Schools Gaphic

This Los Angeles Times Picture was taken in Orange County May 9, 2020

Because our response to the novel coronavirus was undermined, states do not meet the safety criteria for opening schools.

The Whitehouse has created an opening America website with proposed state or regional gating criteria.  They include:

“Downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses (ILI) reported within a 14-day period AND Downward trajectory of covid-like syndromic cases reported within a 14-day period”

“Ability to quickly set up safe and efficient screening and testing sites for symptomatic individuals and trace contacts of COVID+ results”

“Ensure sentinel surveillance sites are screening for asymptomatic cases and contacts for COVID+ results are traced (sites operate at locations that serve older individuals, lower-income Americans, racial minorities, and Native Americans)”

“Ability to quickly and independently supply sufficient Personal Protective Equipment and critical medical equipment to handle dramatic surge in need”

America’s schools do not meet these “gating criteria.” Covid-19 infections in the United States are accelerating, so out of control that testing with contact tracing is not possible. The following Johns Hopkins graphic makes it clear that this situation will not ameliorate quickly.

Johns Hopkins World Comparison

The Johns Hopkins Graph is Normalized to Daily Cases per Million

Teachers and Students Will Not Be Safe

Neil Demause of Fairness & Accuracy Reporting wrote on July 3rd about opening businesses. He shared,

“Infectious disease experts say that offices can be the perfect petri dishes for viral spread, involving gatherings of a large number of people, indoors, for a long time, with recirculated air. As one study (Business Insider4/28/20) of a coronavirus outbreak at a Seoul call center showed, the virus can quickly spread across an entire floor, especially in a modern open-plan office.”

It is easy to extrapolate the Korean call center to the local 3rd grade classroom.

Dartmouth Immunologist Erin Bromage states, “We know that at least 44% of all infections–and the majority of community-acquired transmissions–occur from people without any symptoms (asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people).” Professor Bromage also notes, “Social distancing rules are really to protect you with brief exposures or outdoor exposures.”

Pennsylvania educator Steven Singer observed, “And even if young people are mostly asymptomatic, chances are good they’ll spread this thing to the rest of us.” The paper Steven cited also states, “Although  clinical  manifestations  of  children’s  COVID-19  cases  were generally less severe than those of adults’ patients, young children, particularly infants, were vulnerable to infection.”

On Monday, The Daily Mail reported, “As many as half of coronavirus patients with NO symptoms may silently suffer ‘disturbing’ lung damage that leaves them oxygen-deprived without knowing it, study finds.”

Education professionals have been publishing concerns recently.

Rutgers University’s Mark Weber Ed. D. posted “How Schools Work: A Practical Guide for Policymakers During a Pandemic.” His list is not exhaustive but it gives the laymen an idea of the practicalities involved with doing school. It includes:

“The typical American school cannot accommodate social distancing of their student population for the duration of the school day.”

“Children, especially young children, cannot be expected to stay six feet away from everyone else during an entire school day.”

“Children cannot be expected to wear masks of any kind for the duration of a school day.”

The author and special education expert, Nancy Bailey, recently posted, 22 Reasons Why Schools Should NOT Reopen in the Fall.Among the 22 were:

“2. How Will the Flu and Covid-19 Tango?… Last January, before Covid-19 became well known, 27 children had died of the flu. What will the dance of these two illnesses look like in the fall?”

“8. Cost for Safety: The Council of State Chief School Officers estimate that schools will need $245 billion to safely reopen.”

“18. School Restrooms: … School bathroom conditions have always been a source of concern.”

“19. Teacher Qualifications: There are not enough teachers for smaller classes for social distancing. Experienced older teachers may not want to get sick. Will schools hire a glut of teachers without qualifications?”

Oakland, California high school history teacher and union organizer, Harley Litzelman, published “Teachers: Refuse to Return to Campus.”  He addressed among other issues, the likely large loss of teachers to the ill-fated open-schools-on-campus-now policy. Litzelman shared,

“A USA TODAY/Ipsos poll found that one in five teachers say they are unlikely to return to campus next year, signaling a tsunami of resignations. Chicago middle school teacher Belinda Mckinney-Childrey told ChalkBeat that “I can’t chance my health to go back. I love my job, I love what I do, but when push comes to shove, I think the majority of us will be like ‘I think we’re going to retire.’” Also, this is personal; my fiancée has serious asthma. She’s the best middle school English teacher I know, but she won’t teach next year if she’s forced to return to campus.”

Merrie Najimy, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, participated in a televised interview about her objection to Governor Baker’s plans to reopen schools. She was asked about the American Association of Pediatrics call for schools to open “as soon as possible.” Aren’t they aligned with Governor Baker’s position? Najimy pointed out, “The AAP does not have practical experience in school and … they are not absolutists.”

Steven Singer posted, “Do NOT Play Russian Roulette with Our Lives – No In-Person Schooling During a Pandemic.” In the article, Steven declares, “Reopening schools to in-person classes during the COVID-19 pandemic is tantamount to Russian Roulette with the lives of students, teachers and families.”

On Monday, education writer, Jenifer Berkshire, tweeted, “The school reopening fight just gets crazier – and more politically confusing. In growing # of states GOP now saying ‘open the schools or else’”

Community leaders, religious leaders and schools will need to work together for a solution to child care. There are many unused recreation centers, school facilities, libraries and church facilities available. Forcing children and teachers into an unsafe situation is not the only way to solve the child care dilemma.

In order to reopen schools safely, there are two non-negotiable imperatives. First, the rampaging virus must be brought under control through testing and robust contact tracing. Second, the US Senate must send schools $245 billion dollars to pay for the social distancing logistics, supplies, staff and transportation enhancements required.

Since there is no way to meet the first requirement and it is unlikely the Republican led Senate will meet the second. Let us quit pretending and concentrate our efforts on creating enhanced distance learning this fall.