School Segregation Driven by Parental Privilege and School Choice

Patrick Wall’s extraordinary examination of an attempt to integrate—racially and economically—two New York City elementary schools, a story in the current issue of The Atlantic, is difficult reading. The difficulty is not that the issues are so complicated but instead that it is hard to face the ugly biases declared openly by parents who invested in New York City real estate only to find they are being zoned out of the exclusive, white, and wealthy neighborhood elementary school they thought they were getting.  It is kind of like reading about Little Rock or Detroit in the 1950s or 1960s.

This is actually a timely article in Donald Trump’s America, where President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are actively promoting school choice. Wall demonstrates all the ways that “privileged parents will still have the most school options—a fact that isn’t great for poor families.”

Wall presents a lot of background about how public schools have become increasingly “highly segregated by both race and income. In 2013-14, the most recent year data are available, more than one in six students attended schools where the vast majority of their classmates were both poor and black or Hispanic—over twice as many as in 2000, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.  Wall quotes a study—by Sean Reardon, of Stanford University, Christopher Jencks of Harvard, and Ann Owens at UCLA—demonstrating that “segregation between poor and non-poor students in public schools grew more than 40 percent from 1991 to 2012.  Rising residential segregation by income has fueled that growth, as most children attend their local public schools.  But families can also opt out of their neighborhood school.  Many districts allow parents to apply to transfer programs, magnet and charter schools, or gifted-and-talented programs as alternatives to their nearest public school. Those options are open to any parent, but the most advantaged families are often best equipped to chart a course to their preferred school.”

And in schools where poverty is concentrated, students “are more likely to be held back in ninth grade, kicked out of school, and taught by an inexperienced teacher, and are less likely to be offered critical classes like calculus and physics….” Wall summarizes research from Stanford’s Sean Reardon: “The link between students’ race, their exposure to poverty, and the quality of the schools they attend is what makes segregation harmful to students….”  Wall continues: ” In the largest study of its kind, Reardon analyzed the test-score gap between white students and black and Hispanic students in every school district in the country. He estimated that roughly one-fifth of the average metropolitan area’s racial achievement gap is due to racial segregation because of the higher poverty rates in schools attended by many black and Hispanic students. ‘School poverty,’ he said, ‘turns out to be a good proxy for the kind of educational opportunities a school can provide.'”

Wall profiles the battle among parents as New York City set out to redistrict an area where one elementary school served the students in a housing project while another served students living in exclusive apartments along the Hudson River. The school defined by its wealth has, over the years, been able to magnify its advantages: “The school, which has won a National Blue Ribbon Award, has such pull among affluent parents that many shop for homes within its boundaries… Once they’re in, parents invest heavily in the school… The parent-teacher association amassed $777,000 last year… The group has funded class trips, theater-workshops, recess monitors, a science teacher, and student laptops… But… (the school’s) abundant resources have led to a shortage of seats.  Even with the building filled above capacity, nearly 100 would-be kindergarteners in the school’s zone had to be placed on a waitlist in 2015.”

What about the poorer school? Our society’s focus on accountability ratings has driven the ruination of the school’s reputation.  Test scores have been low: “Not only were most (students) poor, but nearly one-third had disabilities and almost one-fifth lived in homeless shelters or temporary housing.” And, “In August, after… (a new principal’s) first year… had just ended and her reforms just started, the state branded the school ‘persistently dangerous.’  The label was based on school-reported incidents of student misbehavior, which can range from shoving and bullying to criminal activities.  Some of the incidents dated back to before (the new principal)… arrived.  Teachers said the label was misleading, and pointed to problems with the reporting system (which the state later revamped).  But warranted or not, the designation battered the school’s already weak reputation.”

The battle Wall describes between New York City parents must have been incredibly painful for the parents whose children have hsitorically enrolled in the poorer school, parents who are not really the subject of this article but must have been paying attention as other parents tried to avoid transferring children to the school that serves their own children.  Wall alludes to their pain, quoting one mother: “They say it’s about rezoning… but what they’re worried about is having to integrate with public-housing minority kids.”

Wall summarizes what the wealthier parents are looking for: “The parents wanted a school that was already thriving academically and slush with funding—not one they considered a fixer-upper. The segregation of low-income students of color… had left the school with fewer resources and lower test scores than its neighbors; now privileged parents cited those byproducts of segregation as reasons to avoid the school—thus, maintaining its segregation.”  A state lawmaker representing the New York City neighborhood where the schools are located is quoted about today’s ethos among parents: “Everything’s too competitive. By kindergarten you have to have your kid in ballet and fencing and cooking… It’s too risky now, at least in the eyes of most parents, to sacrifice some years of your child’s education for a greater social good.”

Wall’s story is not entirely pessimistic. A few families being rezoned away from the wealthy school are willing to give the new school a chance, and we know that social change is usually driven by a few leaders.  One parent, impressed with the school’s principal, declared, “Test scores aren’t contagious.”

Wall profiles one of the parents looking to enroll his child in the poorer school: “Among these newcomers, Andrew Chu presented a best-case scenario.  A product manager at a financial-tech firm whose son started pre-K… last fall, he’d joined the school’s leadership team and offered to help start a ‘maker’ program where students could build robots and tinker with 3-D printers.”  With the support of the principal, “Chu began reaching out to MIT professors and a company that sells maker kits… (H)e planned to keep his son… (in the new school) for kindergarten. To him, the entire school was a sort of maker project: A chance to re-imagine what a high-quality education could look like in the 21st century, where student diversity and hands-on learning matter at least as much as test scores and fundraising. ‘I hope I’m not exaggerating,’ he told parents at an open house, ‘but it’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really be part of this process.”

Wall examines the court orders and sometimes idealism that drove school integration in the past. He believes that wealthier parents—those with the power to choose—have always been responsible for racial segregation and concentrations of school poverty.  Money has always driven school choice. There is another subtext in Wall’s piece, however, this time about recent public policy. Two decades’ of accountability-driven ranking and rating of schools measured by the yardstick of standardized tests in addition to the kind of branding  he describes—the poor school publicly rated as “persistently-dangerous”—encourage parents to focus on the ratings.  Every time Wall describes wealthy parents visiting the poorer school and talking with the principal and the teachers, the parents are forced to struggle with evidence that classrooms do not confirm the biases they have formed from the ratings assigned. It is especially hard to challenge the ratings, however, because today’s red lining of the poor schools is not, as in the past, merely relegated to real estate marketing, Today rankings and ratings are being assigned ironically by the school school district itself and driven by state and federal policy. Accountability-driven public policy has condemned schools segregated by poverty in a way that discourages desegregation.

Wall concludes: “Today the idea that parents would consider some notion of the common good when deciding on schools can sound quaint; it certainly runs counter to Betsy DeVos’ vision of unrestricted parental choice.”

Educational Justice Is the Community’s Guarantee of the Conditions for Every Child to Participate Fully

My favorite definition of justice in society’s institutions like public schools comes from an ethicist, J. Philip Wogaman, who frames his definition in the theology of Christianity. His definition could as well be contextualized in any of the world’s major religions: “Justice is the community’s guarantee of the conditions necessary for everybody to be a participant in the common life of society. Ultimately that notion has theological roots. If we are, finally, brothers and sisters through the providence of God, then it is unjust to treat people as though they did not belong. And it is just to structure institutions and laws in such a way that communal life is enhanced and individuals are provided full opportunity for participation.” (Christian Perspectives on Politics, pp. 216-217. Emphasis in the original).

In a public speech a few years ago, I heard the Rev. Jesse Jackson formulate the concept of justice in much the same way: “There are those who would make the case for a race to the top for those who can run, but ‘lift from the bottom’ is the moral imperative because it includes everybody.”

In both of these definitions, justice is defined as society’s responsibility for helping those who struggle. Promoters of school choice, on the other hand, assign that responsibility to the family. They defend parents’ right to choose. Believing that no other institution should overstep the rights of the family, supporters of school choice regularly privilege the institution of family over any public institution.

There are concerns and assumptions here, of course. The most obvious concern is whether it is society’s right to protect children from child abuse in the family, but that is not our subject today. What about school choice?  What are the assumptions being made about education by promoters of school choice?  The first assumption is that all children have parents who have the capacity to choose and who are prepared to make the choice. Capacity, of course, is more complicated than just the financial means, which school choice promoters promise in the form of a tuition voucher. Capacity to choose also must include accurate information about the choice and all of its implications. Then there is also the issue of family stability. Does the family have a stable place to live, for example, and do the parents have the time and emotional health to evaluate all the options, make the choice, and ensure that the child can navigate the route to the new school. School choice is a competition that rewards well informed parents with sufficient social capital and the energy and health to pursue choices.

But society bears some responsibility, doesn’t it, for the children whose parents may not have more informaton than the charter school advertisement on the bus or subway—for parents who may not be able to evaluate whether the choices protect their children’s rights—-for parents who suffer from psychiatric illness? What about children in the foster care system?  What about homeless children whose families are likely to suffer from frequent housing displacement?

School systems  employ staff who consider the needs of such children and to try to design programs for them. And through transparent, democratic governance of public schools, it is intended that the public can undertake to protect the rights of the children—rights that private companies with boards meeting in private cannot be required to protect. Programs that serve children with complex needs are likely to be imperfect because the children they are designed to serve each bring their own challenges. Trying to provide for such children with qualified staff is expensive. In our system of public schools, we have collectively undertaken that responsibility and we must continually strive to do a better job.

Here are some recent examples from the press of instances when the provision of public education has proven essential to vulnerable children.

Early in April, Dana Goldstein writing for the NY Times, profiled a mother, Tamiko Walker, who sought a McKay special education voucher in Florida for her child who had been diagnosed with a disability: “Only after her son, who has a speech and language disability, got a scholarship from the John M. McKay voucher program in Florida did she learn that he had forfeited most of his rights. ‘Once you take those McKay funds and you go to a private school, you’re no longer covered under IDEA—and I don’t understand why,’ Ms. Walker said.” Goldstein continues: “Federal law requires public school districts to assess the needs of special-education students enrolled in private schools. But districts are not obligated to provide those children with the same services they would receive in a public setting—even if a child’s private school tuition is taxpayer funded through a voucher. Private schools that participate in McKay are not required to demonstrate that they use any type of specialized curriculum to meet disabled children’s needs… The state affidavit that parents sign in order to receive a McKay scholarship, for example, says nothing about forfeiting IDEA rights and services. It also does not explain that parents are responsible for any additional fees a private school may charge on top of a voucher, which can range from $5,000 to $23,000.  The Florida Department of Education website provides other materials with more detail on the legal implications of participating in McKay, but the documents are difficult to find and decipher… Many McKay recipients, it appears, do eventually end up back in the public school system. The average length of time in the program is 3.6 years….”

A second example of the need for a public system of education is Noel Anaya’s extraordinary story of her life in foster care beginning when she was a year old and removed, along with her siblings, from her parents’ care: “For most of our lives, we have been separated from one another, bouncing among different foster families, group homes and shelters, working with a constantly revolving cast of social workers, lawyers and case managers.”  Her foster care placements were in the San Francisco Bay area, Michigan, Idaho, and back to a shelter in Los Gatos, California.  While Anaya describes the social workers and case managers, the public schools she attended remain unmentioned and in the background, but it’s clear that wherever she was placed, she was accepted into the public school that, like all public schools, was required to accept and serve her.  We know this because she earned a high school diploma despite her life of serial disruption.  And graduating from high school in California, she discovered she could access continuing public support: “I was lucky to have a caring social worker and a foster mom who pushed me to sign up for community college courses…. I was also lucky to live in California, where foster kids aren’t forced out of the system when they turn 18.  California is one of 23 states, along with the District of Columbia, that accept federal dollars to extend support until age 21…. Another program for former foster kids set me up with college counselors who helped me plan out my education and get an additional stipend.”  Ms. Anaya is on a path to earn a four year college degree.  What’s may not occur to us as we read this extraordinary story is that an education system based on parental choice would clearly not have met Anaya’s needs.

The final example of the necessary role of public schools is in the challenge of homelessness in New York City, as profiled this week by Elizabeth Harris for the NY Times. Harris simply describes the scope of the problem: “The number of New York City public school students living in homeless shelters has increased in each of the last five years, reaching nearly 33,000 in the 2015-2016 school year, the city’s Independent Budget Office said in a report on Monday. That is 4,000 more students than at any point during the previous academic year, an increase of 15 percent.”  Harris quotes Toya Holness, who describes the huge school district’s efforts to support homeless children: “Students in shelter are among our most vulnerable populations, and with the renewed funding of $10.3 million, we are hiring more social workers through the Bridging the Gap initiative, expanding Afterschool Reading Club, providing admissions supports to improve participation rates, and offering more school-based health services.”  Harris adds: “Early last year, the city started offering yellow bus services to any student in Kindergarten through sixth grade who was living in the shelter system. The city said it now provided this busing to more than 750 schools.”  Although Harris doesn’t even consider school vouchers or privatization—the expansion of parental choice—it is obvious in what she writes that in New York City, parental choice would entirely fail to address the massive needs of families lacking affordable, stable housing. The expansion of yellow bus service is intended to help children stay in their original public school without increasing each child’s disruption when the family may move again and again.

Betsy DeVos, our new U.S. Secretary of Education, relentlessly promotes the rights of parents to make educational choices for their children. Insisting that the public shouldn’t tread on parents’ rights, DeVos focuses insistently on individuals’ right to choose. All doctrines of individualism, however, are philosophically grounded in competition. And in the domain of children’s education, the winners of the race are always the children with the most able and stable parents. Public school districts, on the other hand, are premised on the idea that society will do its best to ensure justice for all—“the community’s guarantee of the conditions necessary for everybody to be a participant in the common life of society.”  After all, “‘Lift from the bottom’ is the moral imperative because it includes everybody.” By providing a system of public schools, society itself makes a commitment to do the lifting.

Powerful ECOT Blocks Crackdown on Inflated Attendance Reports from Several Ohio Online Schools

For years and years, Ohio has negligently failed to demand that online charter schools submit accurate attendance records. In the meantime the state has kept on paying the schools for the students they claim to serve. While the state has continued to say it would crack down, oversight has been blocked by power and money.

More specifically, in 2016, the Ohio Department of Education began asking for attendance records, but the largest of the schools, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), said it hadn’t been collecting the information because the state had never asked the school to document that students were spending time online at the e-schools. The state, it said, had required the school to provide 920 hours of curriculum for its students every year, but not to prove the students were actually sitting at their computers using the materials. It seems clear that political contributions to Ohio’s legislators from William Lager, ECOT’s founder and for-profit operator, ensured that the legislature avoided consideration of any kind of law to demand the submission of an accurate student count.

A year ago, the legislature changed the rules and asked the Ohio Department of Education to begin collecting the data.  And the Department conducted a preliminary analysis that showed that ECOT, which collected $109 million for educating the 15,300 students it says it serves, must return $64 million for the 2015-2016 school year alone. ECOT went to court, and after a judge ruled that ECOT must pay back the money and start submitting accurate numbers, ECOT appealed the decision. This blog has been tracking the ECOT scandal.

Patrick O’Donnell reports for the Plain Dealer that, “ECOT lost its first challenge in Franklin County Common Pleas Court and is now appealing its case to the 10th Ohio District Court of Appeals. That court had its hearing on the case earlier this month and a ruling could come in the next couple of months. A dispute over one of the judges on the three-judge panel comparing ECOT founder William Lager, a major donor to Ohio Republicans, to a Russian oligarch could delay that ruling.”

O’Donnell explains that other online schools in the state have also been found inflating their students’ numbers, but as ECOT’s lawsuit drags on, the state education department has been unable to crack down on the smaller virtual academies: “Ohio’s attempts to recover about $20 million in state tax funding from eight online charter schools has stalled for more than six months while a much larger battle over more than $60 million from e-school giant ECOT lingers in appeals court.  The year-long fight between the Ohio Department of Education and ECOT… has also delayed the state legislature from sorting out how to avoid e-school funding controversies in the future.  Eight months after Ohio Auditor Dave Yost called on legislators to find a better way to measure how well online schools educate students and a better way for Ohio to fund the schools, legislators have not acted.  Despite many agreeing that Ohio needs to overhaul its funding of online schools, no one has suggested a single bill, held a single hearing or publicly called for any research.”

Actually Andrew Brenner, the chair of the Ohio House Education Committee, has now proposed a change in the e-school evaluation process.  But it is a change that would relax state oversight instead of strengthening it.  Today, in the way Ohio oversees the many nonprofit organizations that are permitted to sponsor charter schools, there is a requirement, “that the academic performance of the multiple charter schools in each overseer’s portfolio of schools be weighted by the number of students in each school… As the evaluation ratings stand now, the state report card grades for a 10,000-student online school count 50 times as much as grades for a small, 200-student neighborhood charter school.  If the big school has great state grades under current rules, the (sponsor’s) entire portfolio  of schools looks good when results are averaged together. But if the bigger schools have poor grades, as some large online schools do, the entire collection of schools looks bad.” In fact the huge online academies are notorious for their dismal ratings.  O’Donnell quotes Stephen Dyer, a former legislator and journalist describing Andrew Brenner: “He’s doing the ECOT fix. Wonderful.” O’Donnell confirms Dyer’s suspicion: “ECOT and its supporters backed a similar proposal two years ago, but failed to gain legislative support.”

Joe Schiavoni, the minority leader of the Ohio Senate, who has repeatedly proposed a bill to crack down on lax attendance reporting by the e-schools, believes the proposed change is aimed at relaxing standards for the all-powerful virtual academies: “This would be a break for them. The cynic in me says they are looking for a break.”  The bill Schiavoni has introduced in at least two different legislative sessions to regulate collection of attendance records at the e-schools has never made it out of committee in Ohio’s all-Republican dominated legislature.

Despite that many people across the country seem to believe it is possible to regulate charter schools to stamp out fraud and corruption, watching Ohio’s ECOT scandal has convinced me that money and power will render significant oversight impossible. However, in the past week there has been one small bright spot.  Paolo Demaria, Ohio’s relatively new Superintendent of Public Instruction, just turned back $22 million in federal Charter Schools Program funds to the U.S. Department of Education. The federal Charter Schools Program invests in new charter school startups, and to his credit, Demaria says Ohio can’t use all the money because there are not enough quality applicants.

Here is the back story, in case you have forgotten. In the summer of 2015, a huge public outcry arose over $71 million granted to Ohio from the federal Charter Schools Program. David Hansen, the man who wrote the federal grant proposal, was fired because his proposal was based on the false promise that our legislature had cracked down on sponsors of charter schools. But the U.S. Department of Education made the grant anyway. Ohio’s Congressional delegation and especially Senator Sherrod Brown demanded that the U.S. Department of Education provide extra oversight of Ohio’s grant because our state’s regulations have been notoriously weak.

Now Superintendent Demaria explains that Ohio has cracked down—at least somewhat—and due to stronger oversight, the state does not have enough strong applicants to use all the grant money. Again, here is Patrick O’Donnell: “In a letter sent last week, Demaria said the state will use $49 (million) of the $71 million over five years, not the full amount. He said the lower amount ‘more accurately reflects our eligible pool of prospective community school grantees based on our shared priorities’ of only giving money to strong schools.”  Big problems remain with state oversight of the sponsors.  O’Donnell reminds us: “Only five of the more than 60 sponsors in Ohio earned ‘effective’ ratings and none were rated ‘exemplary’ in the fall. The vast majority were rated as ‘ineffective’ or worse… The state is looking to shut down five charter school sponsor authorizers it rated as ‘poor’… as part of a plan to improve charter schools across the state.”

Superintendent Demaria deserves credit for his integrity.  We shouldn’t hold our collective breath, however, about the capacity of Ohio’s legislators to create regulations that might turn off the flow of political contributions.

I Wonder if It Is Possible to Teach a Billionaire Heiress about Opportunity Cost

I learned about opportunity cost as a child, although I had no idea that was the lesson I was being taught. In the spring of 1957, my parents needed to replace our 1947 Dodge.  My sister and I begged my parents to buy a car with four doors, so that we wouldn’t have to scramble to get in the back seat, and my father agreed, finally.  But he said that my sister and I would have to pay for what he believed was an extravagant splurge by giving up our allowance for the rest of the year. I don’t imagine we paid for those car doors with seven months’ worth of our dime allowance, but we did learn that in our family where we didn’t have a lot of money, if you really wanted to buy something expensive, you’d probably have to give up something else.

Years later in college when, as an English major, I took Economics 101 as an elective, I was astonished to discover that economists had actually created a name for that rule my father insisted we practice in our family. Very early in the semester, my professor Robert Haveman, taught us the concept of opportunity cost.  He must have believed this is a very basic concept, because in his little economics textbook, The Market System, Professor Haveman describes it on the third page: “Only a few individuals and no societies possess the means to obtain all of the goods and services they desire. Most of us have to pick and choose…. The decision is much easier if family income increases, but choice is still necessary. The cost of the new item may be considered the loss of the opportunity to spend that income for other purposes. This is the opportunity cost principle applied to individual consumer behavior.” Haveman continues: “The same principle applies to societies because of the scarcity of means relative to ends.”

Betsy DeVos inherited a fortune from her father’s car-parts company, and I presume that in Betsy DeVos’s family economic choices were easier than in my family—without obvious lessons on opportunity cost.  Maybe there could be not merely one car with four doors, but instead several cars filling a garage with four doors. It has certainly become clear that, as our nation’s new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos doesn’t grasp Haveman’s definition of opportunity cost as the concept applies to societies—in this case to school finance.

It happened again last week when DeVos visited the public schools in Van Wert, Ohio. The day after her visit, she had an OpEd column in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in which she complimented Van Wert’s schools. But after a few paragraphs she quickly forgot about the schools she had visited and began pushing her one idea: parents in Van Wert need more choices.  Here is what her column said: “Van Wert is a good school district. It is meeting the needs of many students. Yet the parents or guardians of nearly 20 percent of students who live within Van Wert’s district lines choose to send their children to a nearby district or to a different option in Van Wert instead.  In doing so, these parents are seeking the education that’s best for their child…. Every parent should have that option.  School choice is pro-parent and pro-student.”  Ohio offers public school districts the option to participate in cross-district open enrollment, through which students can take their state aid to a neighboring school district.  Apparently Van Wert participates in open-enrollment, and some parents in Van Wert transport their children to a neighboring town, though there has been a huge argument in the Ohio press since DeVos’s column was published about whether 20 percent isn’t a highly exaggerated figure for Van Wert’s participation in that program.

Betsy DeVos’s column indicates, however, that she missed the “opportunity cost” lesson Van Wert’s parents and educators tried to teach her. Van Wert, a small town near the Indiana border, is different from the urban, inner-ring, Cleveland suburban school district where my children went through public schools, but we have one thing in common: Ohio’s problematic method of funding schools.  For all of the thirty years I’ve known this system, our legislature has been dominated by people who have signed Grover Norquist’s pledge never to vote to raise taxes; many of our legislators also take pride in being members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In Ohio, our legislature has set it up so that we do not have unvoted tax increases. All tax increases including school levies must by voted on at the polls. And… in the DeRolph school funding decision, the courts faulted Ohio’s school funding for being “overly reliant on local property tax.”  And… embedded in our state constitution is a local property tax freeze. Our tax freeze means that any school levy cannot ever generate more real dollars for a school district than on the day it passes.  If property appreciates in value, the state rolls back the voted millage to keep the levy amount flat.

This all means that when inflation naturally occurs, and the state fails to increase its contribution, parents in every school district must create and fund a political committee to go out and campaign for the needed tax increase. The levies sometimes fail, and the parents have to try again, and sometimes again and again.  But inflation keeps occurring and when levies fail, school nurses and librarians begin to cover several buildings, and students on high school football teams have to pay to play. When a levy finally passes, it is very often to get back what was lost—to bring back the librarian to every school library, to make football free, to reduce class size in Kindergarten back below 22 students. In this financial climate—the very definition of opportunity cost—it is difficult for a school district afford something new and glitzy, something like the championship robotics team Van Wert’s voters have managed to fund and that we all learned about last week when Betsy DeVos visited Van Wert.  I learned to understand this public example of opportunity cost back between 1988 and 1991 when I organized a grassroots, door-to-door campaign for three school levies—with 700 volunteers each time ringing doorbells to convince neighbors to vote “yes.”  Then in 1993, I co-chaired a successful levy campaign after two failed attempts. Across Ohio, school levy fights, to be successful, have to be constructed to pull the community together on behalf of the public—the community and all of its children.

Erica Green, the NY Times reporter who traveled to Van Wert to cover the Betsy DeVos school visit, listened carefully. While I know she does not have an in-depth understanding of the school funding complexities behind the comments she reports in her article, she captures some of the urgency of the parents and educators who described the dedication of the Van Wert community to its public schools. Green notes the community’s pride in having passed its levies. She describes what Linda Haycock, newly elected from western Ohio to the state school board said to Betsy DeVos: “Spending federal money or any other taxpayer funds on vouchers for private school tuition is looked on harshly… ‘really theft’…  ‘It’s saying we passed a levy to go to our school district, and it’s really going somewhere else.'”  And Green continues: “Van Wert educators said they believed their biggest threat was school choice. An expanded voucher program would be ‘potentially catastrophic’ for the district’s finances, said Mike Ruen, the district’s treasurer.”

Teachers and school administrators alike carefully explained what would be the implications for Van Wert of the federal budget cuts proposed by DeVos’s Department of Education. Green describes the early childhood literacy specialist telling Betsy DeVos about how any reallocation of Title I funding to support expansion of school choice would undermine a program that helps very poor children with early literacy. Green quotes the school superintendent telling DeVos, “We struggle every day to make ends meet.” Green reports that an elementary school principal told DeVos, “Our funding is the blood, sweat and tears of our community, and we are held accountable for that.”

The parents, teachers, superintendent, and school treasurer in Van Wert were explaining to Betsy DeVos the essence of Professor Haveman’s lesson on the public implications of opportunity cost: “Only a few individuals and no societies possess the means to obtain all of the goods and services they desire. Most of us have to pick and choose.” In Ohio, we already have some school choice and we don’t want it expanded.  Our long experiment with vouchers has meant that tax dollars are taken to support private school education. Charter schools—unregulated and out of control in our state—have created another drain on scarce public school resources. And, as we saw in Van Wert, there is also the option for school districts to participate in cross-district open enrollment. When Betsy DeVos preaches about giving all parents a choice to have the education services they desire, I wonder whether she actually understands that sending money away from the public schools to privatized alternatives removes essential services from the public schools that serve 90 percent of our society’s children.

In a recent column in the Appleton Post-Crescent in Wisconsin—another ALEC-dominated state, where Governor Scott Walker and the legislative majority also adhere to the anti-tax pledge Grover Norquist has encouraged them to sign—Jane Parish Yang, a member of the Fox City Advocates for Public Education, defines the meaning of the public—“how a nation comes into being by shared events and shared values, and how, in our case, a community comes into being with a ‘deep, horizontal comradeship’ and strength from all young people being educated in order to become productive citizens. The founding citizens of Wisconsin knew that shared, democratic values from a public education open to each and every student would be the basis for the community flourishing because of that shared experience. But what would those same founders make of present-day Wisconsin, in which a segment of the citizenry rejects public schools… and wishes to segregate itself within its own traditions but at public expense? That is what proponents of so-called school choice are asking the public to agree to: we choose, you pay.”

Two Wise Articles about High School Graduation Requirements

This week brought two fine commentaries on today’s punitive high school graduation requirements. Stan Karp, an educator, demonstrates widespread flawed assumptions about the need for high school exit exams. And, in a stunning commentary, the Rev. Jesse Jackson exposes the serious flaw in Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to demand that students present proof of a life plan in order to secure a high school diploma.

I hope Stan Karp, an educator and editor at Rethinking Schools Magazine, whose column is published by Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post, is correct when he says it seems to be going out of style to use exit tests artificially to raise the bar for high school graduation: “In the last few years, 10 states have repealed or delayed high school exit exams. California, Georgia, South Carolina, and Arizona even decided to issue diplomas retroactively to thousands of students denied them due to scores on discontinued tests. Although 13 states still use exit testing for diplomas and policies are in flux in several others, the number is down from a high of 27 states during the testing craze promoted by No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Karp’s article exposes the flaws in the myth that high school graduation tests ensure that students hold what has been called “a high-quality diploma.”

Karp lives in New Jersey, which still uses a standardized testing bar for high school graduation. I live in Ohio, where a new graduation plan, scheduled to begin with the class of  2018, requires students to accrue a total score of 18 points from a batch of required end-of-course exams. Projections indicate about a third of Ohio’s high school seniors will not have accumulated enough points to graduate and will be denied a diploma in June of 2018.

Karp opposes high school exit exams, what he calls, “the trapdoors of the education world. These are the tests that tie scores to high school diplomas and push students who miss the mark out of school into the streets, the unemployment lines, and the prisons.” He summarizes the research demonstrating that high school exit exams don’t, as their fans promise, ensure that students are “college and career-ready.” From a report by the New America Foundation, Karp explains: “(R)igorous exit testing was associated with lower graduation rates, had no positive effect on labor market outcomes, and, most alarmingly, produced a 12.5 percent increase in incarceration rates.”

What was the promise and where did it go wrong? “Exit testing relies on several related, flawed premises. One is that standardized testing can serve as a kind of ‘quality control’ for high school graduates, guaranteeing that graduates are ‘college or career ready.’  Another is that they have ‘predictive’ value for future success in academic or workplace situations, and serve a useful gate-keeping function for institutions that ration access to opportunity.  But there is little evidence for these contentions.  The tests don’t reliably measure what they pretend to measure—intelligence, academic ability, college readiness—and they don’t measure at all qualities that high schools should nurture in all young people, like responsibility, resilience, critical insight, and empathy. Although the passing or ‘cut’ scores on standardized exit tests can be manipulated to produce varied outcomes, their main impact is to narrow access to opportunity for some, not to produce better preparation for all… Like the SAT and ACT before them, scores on the new Common Core tests closely mirror existing patterns of inequality and privilege.  Expanding their use would reinforce those patterns rather than disrupt them.”

In a Chicago Sun-Times column this week, the Rev. Jesse Jackson also worries about the way high school graduation requirements contribute to inequality.  Jackson examines the assumptions underneath Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s new high school graduation proposal to require that, to earn their diplomas, high school seniors in Chicago’s public schools must present documentation of college or military enrollment or evidence of a job. (This blog covered Mayor Emanuel’s plan here.)  Jackson exposes Emanuel’s plan as another example of thinking that individuals should pull themselves up by their bootstraps through personal determination. At the same time Jackson lays bare a serious flaw: the problem isn’t so much each high school graduate’s lack of effort to make plan as it is society’s failure to ensure that students’ plans could possibly be realized.

Here are the realities Rev. Jackson describes in Chicago, his hometown: “Chicago has the worst black unemployment of any of the five biggest cities in the country. Across the U.S., a staggering 51.3 percent of young black high school graduates are unemployed or underemployed (that is, forced to work part time involuntarily or giving up on finding a job). A majority of young black high school graduates are looking for full-time work and can’t find it. The mayor’s plan does nothing to address this grim reality. Instead, it erects a paperwork hoop for kids to jump through that is likely to have very little to do with their plans for their lives. Why not go a step further down the reform road? Establish the requirement and then guarantee every graduate a job, with the city acting as an employer of last resort.”

Jackson compares Rahm’s graduation requirement to the 1996 welfare reform, whose technical name betrays what was intended—the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act—that blamed the victims for their poverty. Jackson believes the law  failed because it didn’t follow through with a viable way to expand work opportunity: “Emanuel’s plan is a faint echo of his mentor Bill Clinton’s welfare reforms. In 1996, when Clinton’s welfare reform bill was passed, the rhetoric was all about impoverished single mothers going from welfare to work. The plan was to abolish the welfare guarantee and require that poor mothers go to work after a limited period of time. Great, everyone is for work over welfare. But in order to hold a job, impoverished single mothers need some way to care for their children, job training, a way to get to their job—and a job to get to. None of that was provided in the welfare reform bill that eventually passed.”

Jackson concludes: “Emanuel operates from the theory that poor graduates lack a plan for life after high school.  What they lack, however, is a real job or a real training program that would lead to a job. These kids grow up in impoverished neighborhoods and on mean streets. Often they come from broken homes, without adequate nutrition, with unstable housing. They attend schools with massive needs and inadequate resources. If they make it, they graduate into an economy that has little place for them.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s demand that students present a life plan and the states’ imposition of high stakes graduation exit exams do nothing to address the deeper problem of poverty and inequality that almost nobody ever mentions. Rev. Jackson’s commentary in a Chicago newspaper seems stunningly out of place in today’s plutocratic America where poverty has effectively been hidden. Rev. Jackson’s commentary is short; it is a must-read.

In Ohio a School Voucher Expansion Has Been Introduced in the Legislature. What Does It Mean?

In Ohio, where privatization has been expanding since the 1990s—with five kinds of school vouchers plus a large and unregulated charter school sector—Matt Huffman, a state senator from Lima has proposed consolidating three of the state’s voucher programs into one and expanding its reach into the middle class. Ohioans have been watching school privatization expand for decades, and it is not difficult to predict the impact of the expansion of vouchers.

Unlike some other states, Ohio did not see a rash of new school startups to take advantage of the three voucher programs which would be folded together into the new plan. Vouchers first began in Cleveland and then expanded to other large cities.  Patrick O’Donnell of the Plain Dealer recently documented: “The vast majority, 97% of money from Ohio’s three main tuition voucher programs goes to private religious schools.”  O’Donnell then lists the top twenty schools in the state receiving vouchers. All of the schools are religious. Sixteen are Catholic schools—ten of them in Cleveland; one is a Cleveland-area Lutheran school. Sixteen of the twenty are in Ohio’s big cities, with three in suburbs of those cities, and one in a smaller city. None is located in a small town or rural area. (The fourth and fifth Ohio voucher programs serve only students with disabilities; they are are smaller and unrelated to Huffman’s new proposal.)

While some other states have seen a rash of schools established by entrepreneurs trying to benefit from new voucher programs (see Erin Richards’ piece on Milwaukee), profits to be made from school privatization in Ohio have derived almost entirely from the unregulated charter sector. All sorts of people have rushed to get a piece of the charter school action—non-profits that sought to benefit from becoming sponsors or authorizers just to get the three percent of state money provided for the non-profit that is supposed to provide adequate oversight but rarely follows through—investors like David Brennan who runs White Hat Management Company, which runs the Life Skills Academies that supposedly help adolescents with dropout recovery—William Lager of the on-line Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), which is known for collecting over $100 million in tax dollars ever year even though attendance of up to two-thirds of the students appears to be fraudulent and who owns the two lucrative for-profits that provide all of  ECOT’s curriculum and daily management—the mom and pop operators who have been caught buying expensive vacations and cars with the tax dollars that are supposed to be paying for children’s education.

In Ohio, the vouchers have diverted a large and growing stream of tax dollars (that used to support the state’s over 600 public school districts) to religious schools, usually managed by the state’s Catholic Dioceses. And a primary problem this year as Ohio’s legislature looks at Huffman’s voucher expansion is that the state faces a serious budget crunch resulting from several years of income tax cuts.  Here is Jim Siegel of the Columbus Dispatch: “State revenue is tumbling, led by weakening Ohio income tax collections, and the state budget director is warning lawmakers to prepare for less available money in the upcoming budget… Overall, total state tax collections came in $203 million below estimates in March, leaving that revenue $615 million below estimates through nine months of this fiscal year, or 3.7 percent.  The revenue is coming in low even though state budget officials revised their estimates downward in June of last year by $280 million.  While it’s unlikely to hurt the current budget that ends June 30… the lower-than-expected revenues are expected to negatively impact how much money is available for the new two-year, $66.9 billion budget currently under debate in the House.”

Senator Huffman’s voucher expansion—Senate Bill 85—is to be called Opportunity Scholarships.  The new plan would fold together three different voucher programs—the Cleveland Scholarship (the old Cleveland voucher program), EdChoice, and EdChoice Expansion (both statewide programs that now serve children in low-scoring schools). The Ohio Legislative Service Commission (LSC) explains what would be the fiscal consequences of Huffman’s proposal for the state budget and for school districts. (The Plain Dealer‘s Patrick O’Donnell also summarizes the LSC’s analysis.) First of all, the old voucher programs were designed originally to serve students in poverty.  Huffman’s proposal raises the income cap for students who would qualify to 400 percent of the federal poverty guidelines—which means that for a family of four, children could qualify for a voucher with family income of up to $98,400.  LSC calculates: “Statewide, an estimated 74% of children come from family incomes below 400% of the federal poverty guidelines, the threshold to qualify for an Opportunity scholarship. A total of 1.08 million public regular education students are estimated to be eligible for Opportunity scholarships.  Hypothetically, if all such students opt for the new scholarship, net state costs would be roughly $1.19 billion per year.”  The new bill provides vouchers of $4,650 for students in grades K-8 and $6,000 for high schoolers.

How quickly would this program grow?  The Legislative Service Commission speculates that, “Ultimately, the cost of the program will depend on state appropriation levels.”  In simple terms this means that, because the program funds the vouchers from the state’s general revenue fund, the legislature itself would determine the size of the program through debate about the biennial state education budget and the appropriations process.  There are several ways, however, that the program has built-in growth.  First, once a student has a voucher, that student “may continue to receive the scholarship in subsequent school years until the student completes high school.” Further, the new plan stipulates that students cannot already be enrolled in a private or religious school and apply for the voucher. They “cannot have been enrolled in a chartered nonpublic school in the school year prior to the year for which an Opportunity scholarship is sought.” However, that stipulation omits one very significant group of students: those entering Kindergarten. At issue in Ohio’s old EdChoice voucher program has been the number of children who never planned to attend public school but have instead secured a voucher for Kindergarten at a religious school and then kept the voucher all the way through high school. Additionally the new program automatically qualifies students who already have a voucher under one of the old programs along with the siblings of students who have secured a voucher.

What would be the impact of Huffman’s Opportunity Scholarship vouchers on local school district finances?  While the old vouchers were “deductions of the state foundation aide allocated to the student’s resident district,”  the new vouchers would come right out of the state’s general revenue fund, and the children receiving a voucher would no longer be counted at all in any school’s average daily membership. Here is what the Legislative Service Commission says: “Because the state’s school funding formula is based on enrollment, school districts with students who take the scholarship are likely to lose state aid. Over time, the reduction could be substantial, but ultimately would depend on participation rates. School district expenditures may decrease due to educating fewer students.”  We know, of course, that school districts cannot quickly adjust fixed costs when students leave for any reason. And the Legislative Service Commission reports that, as with the old voucher programs, public school districts would be required to provide school bus transportation to all children within the radius of a 30 minute bus ride to the voucher school from the site of the public school to which the student would normally be assigned.

Finally, Huffman has added an Education Savings Account (one of the pet programs of the American Legislative Exchange Council—ALEC) to his new voucher plan.  The Legislative Service Commission explains: “The bill requires ODE (Ohio Department of Education) to establish and maintain an education savings account for each Opportunity scholarship student whose scholarship amount exceeds the students’ tuition and fees… The bill permits a student or parent to use the money in the student’s education savings account for eligible future primary, secondary, and post-secondary education expenses….”   As with several aspects of Huffman’s new plan, the presence of an education savings account may be a clue to Huffman’s hope for ways to use the plan as a a mere beginning—the barest foundation on which school privatization can be expanded in the future.

The most serious concern about Huffman’s new program is its potentially overwhelming cost.  In the proposed voucher expansion, the public will be paying to educate in private schools a large and growing number of Kindergarten children who would never have attended a public school, and paying for their education all the way through high school.  The new plan also expands the voucher program to qualify families in the middle class—according to the Legislative Service Commission, 74 percent of the state’s children. But there is no plan to expand the state’s education budget to pay for the education of thousands of students who would never have planned to enroll in a public school and would  likely have attended a religious school anyway. The assumption that public school districts can reduce fixed services, dollar-for-dollar when students leave—especially when the public schools will serve the mass of homeless students, disabled students and English language learners, is fanciful.

With five different kinds of vouchers and a plethora of unregulated charter schools, Ohio’s super-majority Republican House and Senate and Governor John Kasich have proven to be enthusiastic supporters of school privatization. Despite that a new report sponsored by the pro-privatization Thomas Fordham Institute found that students in voucher schools have been scoring significantly lower in math on standardized tests, our legislators seem not to be overly concerned.

The public, however, ought to be very concerned about the further diversion of state funding to support private religious schools at a time when voters have already been forced again and again to increase local millage to replace diminishing state education dollars.  The public also ought to be concerned about other significant problems for public schools that will be exacerbated if Ohio vouchers are expanded:

  • Public school districts are required by law to serve all children and adolescents residing within their boundaries; the religious schools accepting vouchers are free to select their students through admissions tests, applications, and interviews.
  • Public schools are required to provide appropriate services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; religious schools are likely not to accept blind or deaf or multiply-handicapped children who require expensive services.  Nor are private schools accepting vouchers required to provide adequate services for English language learners.
  • While the slice of the state education budget for the state’s over 600 public school districts will be inevitably be reduced overall if the private school voucher program is expanded, public school districts in rural areas and small towns will be in the position of losing state dollars to subsidize private religious schools in more populated areas.

Finally, while the U.S. Supreme Court found Ohio’s vouchers constitutional in a First Amendment challenge (the 2002 decision in Zellman v. Simmons-Harris), because the “scholarships” are said to be given to the parents who choose the school (rather than paid as state grants directly to religious schools), many people remain seriously concerned with Ohio’s vouchers as a violation of the Constitutional separation of church and state. While the U.S. Constitution prohibits state “establishment” of religion, and while it protects any person’s “free exercise” of religion, voucher schools across Ohio regularly expect their students to join in the religious practices of the schools’ sponsors.

Student Loan Debacle: What Will Be Response from DeVos Department of Education?

The Obama administration had planned to revamp completely the system by which the U.S. Department of Education administers and collects $1.3 trillion in college loans. The service has been terrible and confusing, say consumer advocates, and some of the contractors have been overcharging borrowers with big fees.

Last week the NY Times editorialized: “Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is inexplicably backing away from rules that are meant to prevent federal student loan borrowers from being fleeced by companies the government pays to collect the loans and to guide people through the repayment process. On Tuesday, she withdrew a sound Obama administration policy that required the Education Department to take into account the past conduct of loan servicing companies before awarding them lucrative contracts—and to include consumer protections in those contracts as well.”  What this all means is that the federal government, as the enormous provider of loans to help students pay for college, contracts out the servicing of those loans to for-profit companies, which can charge fees for their services. The Obama administration had planned to restructure this process, but the Trump administration has now abandoned the Obama administration’s plan.

The NY Times has been investigating, and here is one of its reports on DeVos’s recent action: “With the stroke of a pen… Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s new education secretary, thrust the future of the government’s system for managing federal student loans into confusion. It was a high-stakes move: Her department administers $1.3 trillion in loans on behalf of nearly 43 million student borrowers.  At issue is which companies will handle the bulk of those loans in the future, and how they will do it. Under the Obama administration, the Education Department was on the verge of selecting a single vendor to build a new system for servicing its student loans, in what was expected to be one of the largest federal contracts outside of the military.”

The NY Times reporters, Stacy Cowley and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, provide the background for what is the complicated and poorly understood operation of federal college loans.  Nine different companies have been billing and collecting payments on student loans, but borrowers have complained about poor service: “The Obama administration sought to replace this labyrinthine system with a single entry point—a sea change in how student loan servicing would work. Instead of dealing directly with private vendors, all federal borrowers would gain access to their accounts through an Education Department portal, with standardized forms and processes.”

The Obama administration’s plan was to choose a single contractor, and the Department had been accepting bids. Three finalist companies had emerged from the bidding competition, Navient, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, and a joint proposal from Nelnet and Great Lakes.  A primary condition for the selection of the provider was supposed to be the company’s past performance.

This is an enormously complicated story, and it is unclear to me whether we are headed in a worse or better direction. We must watch closely to see whether the DeVos education department improves oversight. It wasn’t entirely clear, however, that the Obama administration’s plan would have eliminated serious abuses by loan collectors. One of its finalists seems questionable.

It is likely that DeVos and her staff are caving in to pressure from the loan companies’ lobbyists.  Bloomberg reporter Shahien Nasiripour reports: “DeVos formally withdrew the Obama memos. The previous administration’s approach, DeVos said, was inconsistent and full of shortcomings.  She didn’t detail how the moves fell short…. DeVos’s move comes a week after one of the student loan industry’s main lobbies asked for Congress’s  help in delaying or substantially changing the Education Department’s loan servicing plans. In a pair of April 4 letters to leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees, the National Council of Higher Education Resources said there were too many unanswered questions….”

But there is also a big problem with one of the companies the Obama administration had chosen as a finalist for the contract as sole loan collector.  Navient has a long history as the collector of sub-prime, disreputable loans made by the company which spun it off in 2014. An earlier investigation by the same two NY Times reporters—Cowley and Silver-Greenberg— surfaced serious problems: “In recent months the student loan giant Navient, which was spun off from Sallie Mae in 2014 and retained nearly all of the company’s loan portfolio, has come under fire for aggressive and sloppy loan collection practices, which led to a set of government lawsuits filed in January. But those accusations have overshadowed broader claims, detailed in two state lawsuits filed by the attorneys general in Illinois and Washington, that Sallie Mae engaged in predatory lending, extending billions of dollars in private loans to students… (loans) that should never have been made in the first place.”

Investopedia explains the history of Sallie Mae—once involved with government student loans, but today a private for-profit: “Sallie Mae is a private lender, so its direct loans are not federal loans. Basically federal student loans consist of money provided by the U.S. government, while private student loans come from entities such as banks and other financial institutions. There are also instances in which private entities work as loan servicers for certain federal loans on behalf of the government… Up until October 13, 2014, Sallie Mae, while generally known as a private lender, worked as a loan servicer for two federal student loans: the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program and the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program. On that date, Sallie Mae split into two separate companies, and the portion of the company that was in charge of federal loan servicing became its own company, known as Navient.  From that point forward, Sallie Mae has only originated private student loans.” In 2014, when Sallie Mae spun off Navient—which is also a publicly traded, for-profit—Navient became the largest servicer of federal student loans and one of the nine loan collectors with a contract from the U.S. Department of Education.

Cowley and Silver-Greenberg raise serious concerns about subprime student loans originated by Sallie Mae, loans originated while Sallie Mae was fully aware that students would likely eventually default because the education programs for which students borrowed were not really preparing them for jobs: “New details unsealed last month in the state lawsuits against Navient shed light on how Sallie Mae used private subprime loans—some of which it expected to default at rates as high as 92 percent—as a tool to build its business relationship with colleges and universities across the country.  From the outset, the lender knew that many borrowers would be unable to repay, government lawyers say, but it still made the loans, ensnaring students in debt traps that have dogged them for more than a decade. While these risky loans were a bad deal for students, they were a boon for Sallie Mae. The private loans were—as Sallie Mae itself put it—-a ‘baited hook’ that the lender used to reel in more federally guaranteed loans, according to an internal strategy memo cited in the Illinois lawsuit.”  Remember that before 2014, Sallie Mae itself was a primary servicer of student loans.

Illinois and Washington are now suing Navient—still collecting as Fannie Mae’s spinoff—in an effort to get shady, subprime Sallie Mae loans forgiven: “The attorneys general in Illinois and Washington—backed by a coalition of those in 27 other states, who participated in a three-year investigation of student lending abuses—want those private loans forgiven.  In a pair of cases that could affect hundreds of thousands of borrowers, they have sued Navient. The lawsuits cover private subprime loans made from 2000 to 2009.”  The reporters add: “Navient, which is based in Wilmington, Del., has denied any wrongdoing and is fighting the lawsuits. It does not originate any loans itself, but when it split off from Sallie Mae, it kept most of Sallie Mae’s existing loans. It collects payments from some 12 million people—about one in four student loan borrowers.”

In a 2008 after a regulatory crackdown, according to the NY Times reporters,  Sallie Mae discontinued originating subprime student loans, but, Navient, the company it spun off in 2014, is still continuing to collect  money owed from decades old borrowing by students.  The reporters compare the student loan debacle to the subprime mortgage crisis: “These cases have parallels to the mortgage crisis that helped drive the American economy into recession, both in scope—borrowers in the United states owe $1.4 trillion on student loans—and in the details of the misdeeds claimed.  Working together, the lenders and (mostly for-profit) colleges were preying on a vital part of the American dream….”

Clearly the Obama administration’s effort to redesign loan collection and at the same time increase oversight was a very good thing. We should give the Obama U.S. Department of Education credit for pressuring Sallie Mae to spin off its division that processed government loans from Sallie Mae’s own private, for-profit origination of too-often predatory student loans. At the same time we should suspect that DeVos and her department are stepping back for all the wrong reasons from further regulating the private contractors who collect on student loans. It does seem, however, that Navient, one of the three finalists selected by the Obama education department, would have been the wrong choice to be the federal government’s sole federal student loan collector.