State School District Ratings and Report Cards: Educational Redlining and Steering?

In his recent book, The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein shows how explicit government policies following WWII—Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans, low-interest Veterans Administration home mortgages, government sanctioned insurance-writing policies, and others—have caused the racial segregation of America’s cities and suburbs. What we have called de facto segregation—segregation that just happened somehow—was really driven by explicit policies written or sanctioned by the government.

As I think today about states’ rankings and ratings of school districts and specific schools within districts, Rothstein’s book comes to mind. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) (which replaced No Child Left Behind) requires labeling of schools. Congress has said that states must test students every year and then—based on the test scores and graduation rates and at least one other factor the federal government and states choose to use—rate schools. Congress says the purpose of this exercise is to help parents know about the quality of their children’s schools.

Some states like Ohio go further.  They aggregate all the indicators into an overall grade, what is known as a summative rating.  Some states classify schools into categories—Excellent-Good-Failing; others award  “A”-“F” grades on a school district report card. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act does not require summative ratings; it merely says states must create a way to tell parents about the quality of schools—based on test scores, graduation rates, and one or more other characteristics states choose to use.

Ohio has chosen to use summative letter grades for school districts—“A” through “F.” A couple of years ago, I began really to think through the implications of Ohio’s school district report cards when I was invited to a forum on education sponsored by our local fair housing agency, Heights Community Congress (HCC), which has been working since the 1970s to prevent block busting, disparate treatment and steering under the Fair Housing Law.  Fair housing advocates at HCC had become very concerned about the school ratings published online by real estate listing companies like Zillow and Trulia.  Aren’t these companies really engaging in steering? Aren’t they, in fact, pushing families to choose to look at real estate listings in school districts where the schools get an “A” and to avoid the communities where the schools get a “C” or an “F”?  Isn’t what is happening really a sort of educational redlining?

What struck me as I sat at HCC’s forum—even before I read Richard Rothstein’s book about government sponsored segregation—was this fact: The school ratings published by companies like Zillow and Trulia are not calculated by educational experts and statisticians hired by Zillow and Trulia. These companies are simply using the data gathered under the federal education law and used by our state government, by federal requirement, to rate the schools in each community. The companies are merely publishing the state’s ratings. Isn’t government complicit in educational redlining? Isn’t the state of Ohio itself complicit, by ranking schools, in steering real estate buyers to what test scores tell us are desirable school districts?

Here are some educational implications from experts that put the topic of educational redlining in some perspective. You have previously seen this information in this blog, but I’ll quote it again because it is so important.

First there was Sean Reardon’s 2011 report on growing residential segregation by income—which correlates tightly with segregation by race.  Reardon used a massive data set to document the consequences of widening economic inequality for children’s outcomes at school. Reardon showed that while in 1970, only 15 percent of families lived in neighborhoods classified as affluent or poor, by 2007, 31 percent of families lived in such neighborhoods. By 2007, fewer families across America lived in mixed income communities. Reardon also demonstrated that along with growing residential inequality and residential segregation by income is a simultaneous jump in an income-inequality school achievement gap. The achievement gap between the children with income in the top ten percent and the children with income in the bottom ten percent, was 30-40 percent wider among children born in 2001 than those born in 1975, and twice as large as the black-white achievement gap.

Second there is Daniel Koretz, in his urgently important 2017 book, The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better, explaining how the test scores that are so central to states’ school ratings don’t really measure the quality of the schools but instead reflect the aggregate economic level of a school’s families and neighborhood:  “One aspect of the great inequity of the American educational system is that disadvantaged kids tend to be clustered in the same schools. The causes are complex, but the result is simple: some schools have far lower average scores…. Therefore, if one requires that all students must hit the proficient target by a certain date, these low-scoring schools will face far more demanding targets for gains than other schools do. This was not an accidental byproduct of the notion that ‘all children can learn to a high level.’ It was a deliberate and prominent part of many of the test-based accountability reforms…. Unfortunately… it seems that no one asked for evidence that these ambitious targets for gains were realistic. The specific targets were often an automatic consequence of where the Proficient standard was placed and the length of time schools were given to bring all students to that standard, which are both arbitrary.” (The Testing Charade; Pretending to Make Schools Better, pp. 129-130)

Currently the Ohio Legislature and the State Board of Education are re-evaluating Ohio’s school district report cards.  I’m personally delighted to see politicians looking at problems in the report cards, and especially pleased that some critics of our current report cards are looking more deeply at the injustices in this rating system and not merely trying to manipulate the algorithms used in the calculations.

The Plain Dealer‘s Patrick O’Donnell reports on a bill  introduced in the Ohio House by Rep. Mike Duffey for the purpose of revising the state report cards. Duffey does worry about how the formulas work in the current report cards: “Gap Closing” and “K-3 Literacy” “are either counter-intuitive or just too hard for parents to understand.”  And Duffey believes student growth should “matter more,” but thinks “educators don’t trust how ‘value -added,’ Ohio’s main growth measure, is calculated.”

More important, however: Duffey is discerning about the systemic injustice in the current system: “(R)eport card ratings almost always make poor districts look bad, compared to affluent ones… A-F grades lead to a punitive approach to schools and should be dropped.”  Yes, Yes, Yes!

O’Donnell adds: “His bill would create a new report card with no A-F grades because they ‘produce a particularly visceral emotional response from parents,’ Duffey said, that can doom tax votes for schools, even when a school is doing well. ‘Sometimes an F is representative just of the demographics of the district….'” “‘We should move away from the winners and losers approach to the report card,’ Duffey told the education committee last week.”

Duffey would like Ohio’s school report cards “also (to) highlight special course offerings or extracurricular activities schools offer.”  He is making the radical proposal that in Ohio, the state could possibly give school districts high marks for a fine music program, a great high school newspaper, a robotics team, or an effort to replace punitive school discipline with conflict mediation and restorative justice. He is absolutely correct that parents would like to learn about such special offerings.

I have a personal bias in all this, of course.  I live in an inner-ring suburb of Cleveland, a community where our family chose to educate our children. It is a mixed income community where black and white children go to school together.  I am so tired of reading about all of the white, affluent suburbs in the outer-ring whose schools, according to the state, “earn” an “A” rating, while high quality schools in the communities around mine get low grades from the state.

Representative Duffey is right that low grades on the state report card make it hard to pass the school levies. What is worse, however, is that the state has been condemning poorer and racially diverse communities with a system of educational redlining. Although this sort of thing has not yet been made explicitly illegal by any current law, fair housing advocates at Heights Community Congress would understand the state school report cards as a form of explicit steering.


Red States: Waking Up to Public Responsibility for Educating Children?

This is the first of two updates on this spring’s wave of walkouts by schoolteachers.  Today’s post will examine the fiscal implications.  Tomorrow’s will explore what the walkouts may mean about shifting attitudes across some of the Heartland’s Red-states.

In a fine piece for NPR’s All Things Considered, Cory Turner provides some context for the fiscal crisis beneath walkouts across a number of states: “How did we get here? When you put that question to people who study teacher pay, you’ll often hear something like this: ‘I have been saying, Why aren’t (teachers) in the streets?  What took them so long?‘ says Sylvia Allegretto, a labor economist at the University of California, Berkeley.  She’s compared teachers’ weekly wages to workers with similar levels of experience and education and says teachers consistently earn less.”

In a brief for the Economic Policy Institute, Allegretto’s bar graph displays the nationwide disparities in pay between schoolteachers and other college graduates—but it is a lot worse in some places than others.  Oklahoma’s teachers have been making only 67 percent of the income of their college-educated peers in other fields.  Arizona’s teachers (the lowest-paid) have been making 62.8 percent; West Virginia’s teachers 74.6 percent; and Kentucky’s teachers about 78.8 percent. Across the United States, teachers’ wages average 77 percent what others make with equivalent education, and in not one state do teachers’ salaries exceed what their peers are making.

Turner also quotes Bruce Baker, the school finance expert at Rutgers University: “‘Teachers in Arizona are actually at the bottom of the heap…. And teachers in Oklahoma are pretty near that’… He mentions Tennessee and Colorado as other states with a teacher wage gap.  ‘What’s really so striking to me is that it’s had to get this bad. It was kind of like that slow boil over time.'”

Turner adds: “When you focus on teacher salaries, which make up the lion’s share of schools’ spending, data published by the Education Department show that, after adjusting for inflation, U.S. teachers earned less last year, on average, than they did back in 1990. In Oklahoma, teachers’ wages averaged $45,245 last year, down roughly $8,000 in the past decade. Over the same span, in Arizona, teachers’ wages are down roughly $5,000.”

Turner also addresses the myth of the gold-plated teacher pension: “(I)n many states, teachers don’t qualify for Social Security benefits, either. So they really depend on that pension.”  However, new teachers usually have to teach in a school district for five years even to qualify for the pension system. Turner quotes Chad Aldeman, who edits a publication about teacher pension systems: “In the median state, about half of all new teachers won’t stick around long enough to qualify for any pension at all.”  And while school districts must pay, on average, 17 cents on retirement costs for every dollar in teachers’ salaries, Aldeman explains: “Of that 17 cents, about five of it is actually going in benefits, and 12 cents of it is going to pay down unfunded pension obligations.”

One reason the massive walkouts have exerted so much pressure on legislatures is that huge salary disparities across state borders have fed teacher shortages in states paying less.  Teachers in West Virginia have been leaving for Maryland and in Oklahoma for Texas.  POLITICO’s Caitlin Emma quotes Tulsa School Superintendent, Deborah Gist speaking from her cell phone as she marched with striking teachers from Tulsa to Oklahoma City. Gist compared the average teachers’ salary in Texas at $52,575 to the Oklahoma average of $45,245: “I’ve had superintendents in Texas thank us because they hired our teachers. It creates an extraordinarily unstable situation.” Emma adds: “The Sooner State has had to issue emergency certifications to thousands of people in recent years to staff classrooms, raising concerns about qualifications.”

What have teachers won so far through the mass walkouts?  Though teachers have won raises and in some cases school funding boosts, legislators have not been willing to restore cuts to progressive income taxes or to bring back capital gains taxes on wealthy residents and corporations.  Sadly, regressive sales, consumption and sin taxes have prevailed.

Last month West Virginia’s teachers achieved a five percent raise, after the state’s governor had previously offered only one percent. And the state will give the five percent raise to all state employees. It is still unclear where the money will come from as the Governor has promised not to increase taxes.

In Oklahoma, teachers also will get a significant raise, though not the kind of increase they’d hoped for to increase overall school funding. The NY TimesDana Goldstein and Elizabeth Dias report: “In a deep-red state that has pursued tax and service cuts for years, teachers won a raise of about $6,000, depending on experience, while members of schools’ support staff will see a raise of $1,250…  To fund the measures, as well as some limited new revenues for schools, the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin instituted new or higher taxes on oil and gas production, tobacco, motor fuels, and online sales. The state will also allow ball and dice gambling, which we will be taxed.”

After days of striking, Kentucky’s teachers returned to their classrooms after the legislature passed a budget that increases funding for K-12 education and a tax plan to pay for the increase, but Governor Matt Bevin vetoed the spending plan and the taxes to pay for it.  So, last Friday, Kentucky’s teachers closed school for an additional day and brought their enormous presence back to Frankfort. The legislature responded, according to the Associated Press report: “With the chants of hundreds of teachers ringing in their ears, Kentucky lawmakers have completed an override of Gov. Matt Bevin’s veto of a more than $480 million tax hike that helps pay for increases in public education spending.”

The Washington Post‘s Jeff Stein adds that Kentucky’s funding scheme, important as it is, is the definition of regressive: “The plan would flatten Kentucky’s corporate and personal income-tax rates, setting both at 5 percent. Currently, Kentucky’s corporate tax rates runs between 4 and 6 percent, while its income-tax rate ranges from 2 to 6 percent. The new flat rate of 5 percent for everyone means that small companies and Kentuckians with below-average incomes will face tax hikes, and higher earners will get tax cuts. The bill attempts to make up for those cuts by nearly doubling the cigarette tax and imposing sales taxes on 17 additional services, including landscaping, janitorial work, golf courses and pet grooming.”

Pressure from teachers’ walkouts in all these states and a #RedforEd movement threatening its own walkout in Arizona seems to have awakened Arizona’s Governor Doug Ducey, who announced a plan late last week to raise teachers’ salaries 20 percent by 2020. The Arizona Republic reported: “Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday boosted his proposal for teacher raises next year to 9 percent, up from 1 percent he proposed in January, saying lawmakers would work through the weekend to figure out how to fund the plan.  Coupled with 5 percent raises the following two years—and the 1 percent raise given last year—Ducey said his proposal would give teachers a ‘net pay increase’ of 20 percent by 2020.”

Columnist for Tucson’s Arizona Daily Star, Tim Steller warned, however, on Saturday that it’s too early to celebrate in Arizona: “Everybody was right that the governor’s announcement was hopeful news, but this is no time for teachers or the #RedForEd movement to declare victory and stash away their crimson shirts. The only thing that has gotten them this far is collective action and increasing pressure. They cornered the governor in an election year, and they shouldn’t let him out till they’ve got their raises and increased school funding in hand… Ducey’s dramatic announcement was a great relief, but it was just words. It was a proposal to use money of unclear origin to raise the pay for teachers but not other employees like counselors and teachers’ aides. It’s a good gesture, but so far nothing more.”

Meanwhile on Sunday, April 8th, legislators in Kansas—under pressure from the state’s supreme court which had, last October, set an April 30 deadline for compliance with its earlier court order to increase school funding—passed a $534 million increase in school funding over five years. The state’s funding for public schools had collapsed in recent years as a result of former Governor Sam Brownback’s  failed experiment with tax cutting and supply side economics. However, after some hope early in April that the Legislature has likely appropriated enough money to meet the Kansas Supreme Court’s expectation, it turns out there was an $80 million flaw in the math behind the plan. The Associated Press‘s John Hanna reports: “The bill approved by lawmakers early Sunday was meant to phase in a $534 million increase over five years, and with the flaw, the figure is $454 million or perhaps a little less.” After a two week break, the Legislature will now return on April 26. There seems to be hope that the miscalculation will be fixed.

In these all-Red states across the Heartland, it is clear that a reckoning has begun. But so far there is neither clear agreement that paying taxes is a responsibility of citizens and businesses nor that taxation should be progressive with the heaviest responsibility falling on those who can best afford to support the public. At least, driven by the voices and actions of desperate schoolteachers—and in Kansas by a supreme court enforcing the state constitution—governors and legislators are having to face that their citizens seem suddenly to agree that there is a floor beneath which education services must not fall. And there seems to be an awareness that enough well qualified teachers are at the heart of what is necessary. That is a positive development.

NAEP Scores Flatline, Achievement Gaps Persist. Millions of Children Are Still Left Behind

For almost two decades since the passage of No Child Left Behind, our society has been operating according to an educational policy scheme by which we say we’ve been holding educators accountable. The two year National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores were released this week, however, and while experts are parsing the meaning of the difference of a couple of points of gain or loss at fourth or eighth grade on the new  scores, what is clear is that No Child Left Behind has neither significantly raised student achievement nor closed racial and economic achievement gaps.

For the Washington Post, Moriah Balingit reports: “The gap between high- and low-achieving students widened on a national math and science exam, a disparity that educators say is another sign that schools need to do more to lift the performance of their most challenged students.  Averages for fourth-and eighth-graders on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also called the Nation’s Report Card, were mostly unchanged between 2015 and 2017.  The exception was eighth-grade reading scores, which rose slightly.  But scores for the bottom 25 percent of students dropped slightly in all but eighth-grade reading.  Scores for the top quartile rose slightly in eighth-grade reading and math.  The slippage among the nation’s lowest-performing students raised concerns among educators and experts….  Peggy G. Carr, associate commissioner for the National Center for Education Statistics, said there were no statistically significant changes when it came to different categories of students.  This means black and Hispanic students continue to trail their white counterparts on the exam. Students from low-income households also performed below the national average, as did special-education students, though they posted significant gains in 2017 compared with two years earlier.”

Unlike state-by-state achievement tests mandated by the 2002 No Child Left Behind and continued under the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, the NAEP is given to a representative sampling of students across all the states. Its purpose is to gauge the overall state of public education across the nation, not to compare scores for particular states or schools.  There is no test-prep for the NAEP.

Education Week‘s Sarah Sparks summarizes the 2017 results: “Across the board struggling American students are falling behind, while top performers are rising higher.”  This certainly reflects the growing gap noticed by Stanford University sociologist Sean Reardon who, several years ago, used a massive data set to document the consequences of widening economic inequality for children’s outcomes at school. Reardon showed that while in 1970, only 15 percent of families lived in neighborhoods classified as affluent or poor, by 2007, 31 percent of families lived in such neighborhoods. By 2007, fewer families across America lived in mixed income communities. Reardon also demonstrated that along with growing residential inequality is a simultaneous jump in an income-inequality school achievement gap. The achievement gap between the children with income in the top ten percent and the children with income in the bottom ten percent, was 30-40 percent wider among children born in 2001 than those born in 1975, and twice as large as the black-white achievement gap.

In an Education Week follow-up on the release, also this week, of a special subset of NAEP data comparing the scores of large urban school districts, Sparks declares that over time, “America’s large urban districts have been improving faster than the nation as a whole.” Scores in cities of over 250,000 are rising more quickly than the scores of other students, but rising so slowly that it will take decades for them to catch up if growth continues at the current rate. A basic score on NAEP is the lowest level, while proficient is scored in such a way that students deemed proficient are achieving at somewhat above an average level. Sparks describes the trend of rising scores among urban students: “These gains are a mixed blessing: Urban 4th graders scored on average at the basic level in math and reading. Urban 8th graders scored on average at the basic level in reading and below basic in math. Yet, 27 percent of urban 8th graders scored at or above the proficient level in reading in 2017, up 8 percentage points since 2007.  That’s faster than the 5 percentage-point reading growth for students overall.”

For the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Patrick O’Donnell describes a mixed bag of gains and losses for students in that very poor city: “The major bright spot was in eighth-grade math, where Cleveland had the third-highest increase among cities. That placed Cleveland’s scores ahead of the Baltimore, Detroit, Fresno and Milwaukee districts and in a tie with Shelby County (Memphis), Tenn. The district also mostly held on to a sizeable gain it made in fourth grade reading between 2014 and 2015, the previous NAEP test, falling just a single statistically insignificant point. But fourth grade math and eighth grade reading scores had the worst and third-worst drops out of all tested cities.”

The Detroit Free Press’s Lori Higgins reports discouraging scores in that other very poor Rust Belt city: “In Detroit, students had the worst performance not only among large, urban districts but also compared with all states in fourth- and eighth-grade math, as well as fourth-grade reading.  Detroit shared the bottom spot with Cleveland for eighth-grade reading.”

This year the NAEP was administered online to 80 percent of students, and there has been complaining that the change may have lowered scores. However, Peggy Carr of the National Center for Education Statistics explained to the Post‘s Balingit that scores were formally adjusted to compensate for the online administration of the test—and to make the scores comparable with the older paper-and-pencil version: “Research shows digital assessments are tougher for students than paper-and-pencil tests. So, Carr said, her federal center adjusted results so the change in format ‘would not influence the comparisons and trends that we are reporting.'”

The stated purpose of federal policy in education since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2002 has been to hold schools accountable for raising achievement among the nation’s lowest scoring students and to close achievement gaps. In the meantime, as the teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky have shown us this month, states have cut funding for education due to the economic recession of 2008 and continued tax slashing across many states.  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has documented this trend, with 29 states in 2015 providing less overall funding, adjusted for inflation, than in 2008. In 19 of those states, local school districts also cut funding. Comparing 2018 general fund, per-pupil formula funding in 12 states for which that data is currently available, CBPP reports that Oklahoma, Texas, Kentucky, Alabama, Arizona, West Virginia, Mississippi, Utah, Kansas, Michigan, North Carolina, and Idaho spend considerably less today than they did in 2008.

Nobody traces small changes in NAEP scores to particular causes from school district to school district. Surely, however, three major trends are implicated in the flattening of NAEP scores over time.

  • Our society has not addressed deepening poverty and widening inequality, at a time when growing research demonstrates that family and neighborhood poverty affects children’s achievement at school.
  • Nearly two decades of education policy has focused on punishing public schools—too often the schools in our poorest communities—by closing schools, by firing teachers and principals, by charterizing schools, or by imposing portfolio governance.
  • As school teachers are now exposing, funding in too many places has collapsed below acceptable levels.

Arizona Supreme Court Denies In-State Tuition for Dreamers

This morning I am thinking about higher education for Dreamers, students who were brought here as young children by their undocumented parents, students who have grown up in our communities but who have been relegated to the shadows without protection of significant rights by law.  The term “Dreamer” comes from the name of the law to protect their rights—a law whose passage these young people have been seeking now for almost two decades, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

I first learned about the academic challenges these students face nearly twenty years ago from a high school counselor in Arizona who explained to me that the valedictorian at her school could not qualify for in-state tuition or a college scholarship to a public community college or university in her state.  Neither could such a student qualify for a Pell Grant or a federally guaranteed college loan.  The counselor was beside herself; she didn’t know where to turn to find help for this student. At that time the lack of protection for these students was unknown to me, and I was shocked.

Since that time, eighteen or so states have created their own laws to allow these students to matriculate with their peers (and pay the same tuition) at their state colleges and universities. But the right is still regularly contested as legislators try to block these laws and as they are tested in court.

To protect undocumented young people from deportation, President Barack Obama established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2014. To qualify, a young person must have arrived in the United States before 2007 and have met several other conditions. Although President Obama protected Dreamers from deportation and created their right to drivers licenses and work permits, however, under federal law he was unable to establish their right to in-state college tuition or federal student loans or grants.

On Monday of this week, the problem of a state’s denial of in-state college tuition once again made the news.  The Arizona Supreme Court upheld an appeals court decision denying Dreamers’ right to Arizona in-state tuition.  The Washington Post‘s Samantha Schmidt reports: “The Arizona Supreme Court on Monday ruled that young immigrants protected from deportation under an Obama-era program will no longer be eligible for in-state tuition at the state’s public colleges. The court unanimously agreed with the Arizona Court of Appeals, which ruled that federal and state laws do not allow Maricopa Community Colleges to grant in-state tuition to Deferred Action for Childhood recipients, also known as ‘dreamers.'”

The difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition will prevent a number of students from continuing their education. Schmidt explains: “The decision means that Arizona college tuition costs could double or even triple for DACA recipients. In-state tuition for the next school year at Arizona State University, for example, is $9,834, while nonresident tuition is $27,618…. Arizona residents pay $86 per credit hour at the Maricopa Community Colleges, while nonresidents pay $241.”

In a short update from Fronteras, Jorge Valencia explained on Monday: “The unanimous ruling from the seven-member court stems from a lawsuit brought by the Maricopa Community Colleges District, which wanted to give in-state tuition to students who had been brought to the country illegally as children.”  Maricopa County encompasses greater Phoenix.

In a policy brief, Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA), explains federal law as it applies to in-state tuition for Dreamers. According to NASPA, the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) denies the right to in-state tuition. The language is confusing: “(A)n alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a State (or political subdivision) for any postsecondary education benefit unless a citizen or a national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit… without regard to whether the citizen or national is a resident.”  This statement would seem to mean that any state with different in-state and out-of-state tuition rates could not grant in-state tuition to a young person who is a resident of the state but who lacks U.S. citizenship.

NASPA then explains how a number of states states have justified their policies that do grant in-state tuition to Dreamers:  “(S)tates have argued that in attempting to stipulate tuition requirements, the federal policy infringes on a fundamental right of the states, and a number of states have instituted policies which determine state residency regardless of immigration status, using instead location of high school attendance as the primary indicator.”

The National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) explains further: “Supporters of the legislation argue that the requirement to receive in-state tuition is based on high school attendance and graduation, not residency, and so it is not in conflict with IIRIRA.”

In a 2015 policy brief, NCSL identifies 18 states which have, since 2001 granted in-state tuition for undocumented graduates of their states’ public high schools: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.  In the same document, NCSL names three states that have at one time or another specifically prohibited the granting of in-state tuition for undocumented students who are graduates of their high schools: Arizona, Georgia, and Indiana.  NCSL adds, “Alabama and South Carolina go one step further and prohibit undocumented students from enrolling at any public postsecondary institution… At lest five states—California, Minnesota, New Mexico, Texas and Washington—allow undocumented students to receive state financial aid.”  Some states have given their Boards of Regents permission to grant in-state tuition; these include Rhode Island, Hawaii, and Michigan. Virginia’s attorney general has granted in-state tuition to students enrolled formally in DACA.

The National Conference of State Legislatures adds that the right to free public K-12 education was guaranteed in a 1982 decision of the United States Supreme Court: “Due to the landmark 1982 Plyler v. Doe U.S. Supreme Court decision, states are required to provide all students with K-12 public education, regardless of students’ immigration status.  Although the court did not declare education a fundamental right, it was determined that a ‘public education has a pivotal role in maintaining the fabric of our society and in sustaining our political and cultural heritage; the deprivation of education takes an inestimable toll on the social, economic, intellectual, and psychological well-being of the individual, and poses an obstacle to individual achievement.’ ”

I believe this is a moral issue. What kind of society would deny the kind of basic rights we all take for granted to young people who have lived for almost their entire lives in our communities? These young people are our own children’s peers.  In the language of the decision in Plyler v. Doe, doesn’t the deprivation of higher education also take an inestimable toll on the social, economic, intellectual, and psychological well being of the individual, and doesn’t higher education also play a pivotal role in maintaining the fabric of our society and in sustaining our political and cultural heritage?

The Washington Post‘s Schmidt reminds readers that the news about the Arizona Supreme Court’s denial of in-state tuition “also comes as the DACA program as a whole is in limbo. The Trump administration planned to phase out the program and rescind work permits for hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients beginning March 5.  But federal district judges in California and New York issued nationwide injunctions blocking these plans.” President Trump made full-funding for his border wall a condition Congress must meet before he claimed he would sign a bill extending DACA, but when Congress promised the funding, the President changed his mind and demanded all sorts of further restrictions on legal immigration. Dreamers face an unknown and precarious future.

While Teachers’ Walkouts Highlight Inadequate Funding of Schools, Inequity Remains Unaddressed

This blog has recently been tracking the walkouts of teachers in states where legislators have been chronically underfunding public education, states where teachers’ pay ranks among the lowest in the nation.  (See here, hereherehere and here.) These are states in the heartland, many where the children and the teachers are mostly white.  The walkouts by teachers have been happening in all Red states that lack political checks and balances because their governors and both houses of their legislatures are dominated by far-right Republicans.  Schoolteachers are walking out to call their legislators’ attention to the fact that rampant tax cutting is cheating the children. These teachers are calling everybody’s attention to the plain fact that in these states funding for the public schools has been dropping.  The recent walkouts by teachers have put a face on the problem of inadequate school funding.

But there is another very different school funding problem across America.  Very often it is a problem not centered in the capital city of the state—the place where the legislature meets.  In Michigan where Lansing is the capital city, this problem is greatest in Detroit. In New York, where Albany is the capital city, this problem centers in New York City, Syracuse and Buffalo.  In Wisconsin, where Madison is the capital city, this problem centers in Milwaukee. And in Illinois, where Springfield is the capital city, this problem is most serious in Chicago.  This other problem, of course, is alarming school finance inequity, exacerbated when legislators from rural areas and small towns fail to grasp the challenges for children and teachers in the schools of our largest cities, all of them segregated by race, all of them struggling with concentrated poverty, and virtually all of them encircled by rings of wealthy suburban school districts.

This is, of course, not a new problem. In 1991, Jonathan Kozol lamented: “‘In a country where there is no distinction of class,’ Lord Acton wrote of the United States 130 years ago, ‘a child is not born to the station of its parents, but with an indefinite claim to all the prizes that can be won by thought and labor. It is in conformity with the theory of equality… to give as near as possible to every youth an equal state in life.’ Americans, he said, ‘are unwilling that any should be deprived in childhood of the means of competition.’  It is hard to read these words today without a sense of irony and sadness.  Denial of ‘the means of competition’ is perhaps the single most consistent outcome of the education offered to poor children in the schools of our large cities….” (Savage Inequalities, p. 83)

In the introduction to a 2005 edition of his landmark 1996 history of Detroit, Thomas Sugrue explores what he calls “the urban crisis”: “It is dangerous to let our optimism about urban revitalization obscure the grim realities that still face most urban residents, particularly people of color. Acres of rundown houses, abandoned factories, vacant lots, and shuttered stores stand untended in the shadow of revitalized downtowns and hip urban enclaves. There has been very little ‘trickle down’ from downtown revitalization and neighborhood gentrification to the long-term poor, the urban working class, and minorities…. And despite some conspicuous successes–often against formidable odds—community development corporations have made only a small dent in the urban economies and housing markets. Local nonprofits have the will but ultimately not the capacity to stem the larger processes of capital flight that have devastated the city… American cities have long reflected the hopes as well as the failures of the society at large. From the mid-twentieth century to the present, American society has been characterized by a widening gap between rich and poor, between communities of privilege and those of poverty. Despite a rhetoric about race relations that is more civil than it was in 1950, racial divisions by income, wealth, education, employment, health, and political power remain deeply entrenched.” (The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, pp. xxv-xxvi)

In 2011, the Stanford University sociologist, Sean Reardon, used a massive data set to document the widening economic inequality that Kozol and Sugrue had been describing and to show the consequences of widening inequality for children’s outcomes at school. Reardon showed that while in 1970, only 15 percent of families lived in neighborhoods classified as affluent or poor, by 2007, 31 percent of families lived in such neighborhoods. By 2007, fewer families across America lived in mixed income communities. Reardon also demonstrated that along with growing residential inequality is a simultaneous jump in an income-inequality school achievement gap. The achievement gap between the children with income in the top ten percent and the children with income in the bottom ten percent, was 30-40 percent wider among children born in 2001 than those born in 1975, and twice as large as the black-white achievement gap.

So, what did our society do to respond?  In 2002, Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act, which demanded that states test students every year and use the scores to evaluate schools and their teachers. Punitive turnarounds were prescribed for the bottom five percent of schools—virtually always in the poorest neighborhood of our cities where poverty is concentrated—and those turnarounds included firing principals and teachers, closing schools, or charterizing them. The law operated through threats and punishments for schools unable to raise scores quickly without acknowledging that such schools might need greater investment to build the capacity and services so that the schools themselves would not be overwhelmed by the challenges brought by concentrations of children struggling with extreme poverty.

In an extremely important 2017 book, Harvard professor Daniel Koretz describes nearly two decades of damage wrought by this test-and-punish law, which was premised on the belief that, if sufficiently pressured to raise test scores, teachers would be able to do so: The law’s framers “acted as if… (schools alone could) largely eliminate variations in student achievement, ignoring the impact of factors that have nothing to do with the behavior of educators—for example, the behavior of parents, students’ health and nutrition, and many characteristics of the communities in which students grow up.” (The Testing Charade; Pretending to Make Schools Better, p. 123-124) “One aspect of the great inequity of the American educational system is that disadvantaged kids tend to be clustered in the same schools. The causes are complex, but the result is simple: some schools have far lower average scores…. Therefore, if one requires that all students must hit the proficient target by a certain date, these low-scoring schools will face far more demanding targets for gains than other schools do. This was not an accidental byproduct of the notion that ‘all children can learn to a high level.’ It was a deliberate and prominent part of many of the test-based accountability reforms…. Unfortunately… it seems that no one asked for evidence that these ambitious targets for gains were realistic. The specific targets were often an automatic consequence of where the Proficient standard was placed and the length of time schools were given to bring all students to that standard, which are both arbitrary.” (The Testing Charade; Pretending to Make Schools Better, pp. 129-130)

Bill Mathis and Kevin Welner summarize the way our society responded when, despite widening inequality and growing economic and racial segregation, federal law imposed sanctions and turnarounds on urban public schools: “As policy makers and the courts abandoned desegregation efforts and wealth moved from cities to the suburbs, most of the nation’s major cities developed communities of concentrated poverty, and policy makers gave the school districts serving those cities the task of overcoming the opportunity gaps created by that poverty.  Moreover districts were asked to do this with greatly inadequate funding.  The nation’s highest poverty school districts receive ten percent lower funding per student while districts serving children of color receive 15 percent less.  This approach, of relying on under-resourced urban districts to remedy larger societal inequities, has consistently failed.  In response, equity-focused reformers have called for a comprehensive redirection of policy and a serious attempt to address concentrated poverty as a vital companion to school reform.  But this would require a major and sustained investment.  Avoiding such a commitment, a different approach has therefore been offered: change the governance structure of urban school districts.  Proposals such as ‘mayoral control,’ ‘portfolio districts,’ and ‘recovery’ districts (also referred to as ‘takeover’ or ‘achievement’ districts) all fit within this line of attack.” (“The ‘Portfolio’ Approach to School District Governance,” a brief that is part of a 2016 series from the National Education Policy Center, Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking)

Just as in today’s battles for education funding—in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky—teachers have pushed back against the punitive school turnaround policies promoted by the federal government during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. In one memorable instance, a teachers union courageously confronted underfunded school “reform” based on school turnaround through school closure.  In the fall of 2012, the Chicago Teachers Union, having worked closely with parents and community groups across the city, went on strike to protest not only teachers’ salaries and benefits, but also Illinois’s notoriously inequitable school funding, and also the power of mayoral governance under Rahm Emanuel and his prescribed “portfolio” school reform plan.  In her book, The Teacher Wars, Dana Goldstein describes the leadership of CTU president Karen Lewis: “Lewis called Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s reform agenda—especially his policy of using low test scores to select fifty schools for closure in poor neighborhoods, sometimes replacing them with non-unionized charter schools—‘a corporate attack on public education… This is warfare now.’ ” (The Teacher Wars, p. 221)

We must hope that this month’s walkouts by teachers create enough pressure to force legislators to raise school funding that is adequate to the need to invest in schools and in teachers’ salaries in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky. The problem of inequity, however, is more daunting. Despite an enormous body of scholarly research and writing by academics and despite decades of work by social justice activists and organizers, we have not developed the political will to distribute sufficient funding to meet the needs of public schools in urban communities where poverty is concentrated.  The Kerner Commission named the problem of inequity 50 years ago:  “No American-white or black-can escape the consequences of the continuing social and economic decay of our major cities. Only a commitment to national action on an unprecedented scale can shape a future compatible with the historic ideals of American society. The great productivity of our economy, and a federal revenue system which is highly responsive to economic growth, can provide the resources. The major need is to generate new will–the will to tax ourselves to the extent necessary, to meet the vital needs of the nation.”

After 17 Years, Local School Board to Replace State Oversight in Philadelphia

What will happen in  Philadelphia as Pennsylvania releases the school district from 17 years of badly bungled state control?

In a piece this week for Our Future, Jeff Bryant marks the emergence of the School District of Philadelphia from state oversight: “State control of Philadelphia’s schools came to an end in November 2017, when the state-imposed School Reform Commission (SRC), which governed the schools, voted itself out of existence…. The transfer of governing power is expected to be completed by June 30.”

The School District of Philadelphia has been a centerpiece of corporate school reform for years and years. The issues have always been money and the myth that privatization would relieve the state budget by establishing efficiencies to lower the expenses in the state’s largest and among its poorest school districts.

In 2000-2001, the state seized control of the district, established an appointed School Reform Commission to replace the locally elected board of education, and forced the resignation of Superintendent David Hornbeck. Reformers wanted test scores raised and deficits obliterated without having to increase the state budget to compensate for outrageous school funding inequity. At the time, writes Samuel Abrams in his fine book, Education and the Commercial Mindset: “The differences in per-pupil expenditure in Pennsylvania were indeed striking. While Philadelphia, for example, spent $7,944 per student in 2000-2001, the five school districts along the Paoli/Thorndale Line—traditionally known as the Main Line—of the region’s commuter rail system, taking suburbanites southeast into Philadelphia and back, spent, on average, $11,437 per student…. Philadelphia was, in other words, expected to educate its children spending 70 percent as much per pupil as the school districts of Great Valley, Haverford, Lower Merion, Radnor, and Tredyffrin-Eastown.  Making matters worse, children in Philadelphia came to school with many more needs than their peers in the leafy Main Line suburbs…. Over the previous five years for which data are available, Philadelphia spent, on average, 68 percent as much per pupil as its neighboring Main Line school districts.” (Education and the Commercial Mindset, pp. 100-101)

The state then contracted with Edison Schools, the private management company, to evaluate the future of the School District of Philadelphia. Edison prescribed abolishing the elected board of education, replacing it with an appointed School Reform Commission of which one of the five members would be appointed by Philadelphia’s mayor and the other four by the governor. The new SRC imposed turnaround plans on many schools. Edison Schools, according to the recommendation in its own study of the district, eventually took over management of 20 of the city’s public schools. Ironically Edison almost went broke trying to run schools while cutting costs to try to live up to what it had promised in an underbid. Education often costs more than privatizers promise. (Education and the Commercial Mindset, p. 136)

The School Reform Commission’s implementation of the plan has been problematic for two reasons. First, Philadelphia’s schools were drastically underfunded under state leadership by the tax slashing Governor Tom Corbett, and the rapid expansion of parasitic charter schools has undermined the host public school district.

Jeff Bryant describes the impact of austerity education budgeting by Corbett and his tax slashing legislature: “More budget cuts ensued after the recession of 2008 and the election of Republican Governor Tom Corbett in 2010, who cut about $860 million from public education in his first budget… By 2014, the condition of Philadelphia schools had become a national scandal.  Report after report recounted Philly schools with leaky roofs, busted windows, rodent and mold infestation, and no sports or athletic programs and no instrumental music classes.  Schools had to zero-out budgets for extracurricular activities, textbooks, and supplies. Most full-time school nurses, counselors, and librarians were let go, and class sizes ballooned to outrageous levels with 40-plus students in elementary classes and over 60 students in high school classes.”

And in 2012, the School Reform Commission hired the Boston Consulting Group to develop a Portfolio School Reform Plan that focused on closing schools and opening charters instead of increasing funding. Bryant describes the impact of rapid expansion of charter schools: “The booming market for charter schools in Philadelphia worsened the funding situation in the district schools… As public school money followed students moving to charter schools, at a cost of $8,569 per student, the public schools were unable to reduce costs due to staff, building and transportation fixed costs.”  Because the state reimburses schools at a flat rate for special education students, charters were able to skim off students with the least expensive disabilities, stranding blind and deaf students, and students with multiple handicaps in the public schools.

As the School District of Philadelphia emerges from state oversight in June 2018, it will be managed by a local school board appointed by the Mayor Jim Kenney. Bryant describes intense interest by local advocates suggesting names of potential board members: “A 13-member nominating panel made up of parents… educators, public school activists, former school officials, and local business and non-profit leaders has generated a list of 45 school board nominees from which Kenney will select nine appointees by the end of March.  The nominating panel received 500 applications… in less than two months and interviewed about 80 potential finalists.”

Among the challenges for the new local school board, however, will remain state government. While the state will no longer control the governance of the School District of Philadelphia, the state remains responsible for inequity that continues in school funding.  Although voters replaced Governor Tom Corbett with a Democrat, Tom Wolf, and although the legislature finally passed a new funding formula two years ago, the Philadelphia NewsMaddie Hanna reported last November that the state has chronically failed, despite state governance under the SRC, to address massive problems in Philadelphia: “(I)n the last decade, the amount of state money distributed to Philadelphia schools—about $1.5 billion—has remained nearly the same, when adjusted for inflation. In terms of per-pupil subsidy, Philadelphia ranked 225th among the common wealth’s 501 districts in the 2015-2016 school year; in 2010, it was No. 139.”

The new school board will also need to assess the role of Portfolio School Reform—the kind of plan that expands the number of charters even though charter schools in Pennsylvania operate as parasites eating their host.

Governors Walker and Kasich Starve School Budgets, Redefine Education as Workforce Prep

In his fine book, The One Percent Solution, Gordon Lafer describes the red-state wave that occurred in the November 2010 election: “In January 2011, legislatures across the country took office under a unique set of circumstances.  In many states new majorities rode to power on the energy of the Tea Party ‘wave’ election and the corporate-backed Red Map campaign.  Critically, this new territory included a string of states running across the upper Midwest from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin, that had traditionally constituted labor strongholds.  In addition, this was the first class of legislators elected under post-Citizens United campaign finance rules, and the sudden influence of unlimited money in politics was felt across the country.” (The One Percent Solution, p. 44)

Scott Walker became the Governor of Wisconsin in January of 2011, just as John Kasich became Governor of Ohio, and both states became Republican trifecta states, with both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office controlled by Republicans.  Walker and Kasich continue as governors of their respective states, though Ohio’s term limits will sideline John Kasich after 2018.  Tax slashing— with disastrous implications for public colleges and universities, among the many services of state government—has characterized both governors’ terms.  Although we might imagine that the programmatic needs of each state’s essential public institutions drive state budgeting, years of austerity in Ohio and Wisconsin are now reshaping what have in the past been thought of as essential public institutions.

A report late last summer from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) describes “a lost decade in higher education funding,” in which “state cuts have driven up tuition and reduced quality.”  CBPP reports that Ohio’s funding for its public universities has fallen 15.2 percent since 2008—a drop of $1,073 per student when adjusted for inflation.  Wisconsin is omitted from CBPP’s charts and tables because, “Wisconsin state lawmakers changed the funding model for Wisconsin’s Technical College system, shifting support from the local property tax to state General Purpose Revenue.”  But, “Excluding this shift, per-student funding fell by $1,626 or 24.8 percent, over 2008-2017.”  In both states tuition has risen. “Public colleges and universities also have cut staff and eliminated programs.”

Here is how Gordon Lafer describes severe cuts to Wisconsin’s state university system: “As the economy improved, Wisconsin ended the fiscal year on June 30, 2013, with a surplus of over $750 million. Rather than restoring badly needed services, Walker initiated a new round of tax cuts; eight months later, the state was facing a $2 billion shortfall for the 2015-17 budget cycle. Throughout this period, critical public services remained severely underfunded. By 2014, the state was providing $1,014 less per (K-12) student than it had in 2008…. It’s spending on higher education had been cut by 22 percent over the same period, and in early 2015 Walker announced plans for a 13 percent reduction in funding for the University of Wisconsin system—the largest in the state’s history….” (The One Percent Solution, p. 73)

Ohio’s public universities have also been experiencing a revenue shortage. A year ago, Zach Schiller of Policy Matters Ohio presented legislative testimony on the proposed 2018-19 Ohio biennial budget. Schiller worried about the danger of more tax cuts on top of all the other tax cuts imposed by John Kasich and the legislature since 2011: “For more than a decade, Ohio lawmakers have focused on income tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest at the expense of adequate investment in communities and people.”  Schiller examined the effects of a decade of tax cutting on specific state services including higher education: “College in Ohio remains unaffordable. Nationally, Ohio is ranked 45th highest in college costs with community colleges and public universities costing 11.5 percent and 14.5 percent more than the national average, respectively. We remain $150 million a year below the target for need-based college financial aid…”

Ohio’s Governors Kasich and Wisconsin’s Governor Walker have attacked not only their states’ higher education budgets but also the very ideal of public colleges and universities. In Ohio, Governor Kasich has attempted structural changes intended to turn education into mere workforce preparation.  In September of 2017, Kasich created a 27 member Executive Workforce Board that included no teachers or principals from the state’s local school districts, no leader of a public four-year university, and only two current or former leaders of community colleges. The Akron Beacon Journal‘s Doug Livingston describes a “group… packed with legislators, a couple of county commissioners, a hospital administrator and mostly company executives.”  One idea that Governor Kasich inserted into the 2018-19 state budget (It was later removed after an enormous public outcry.) was a requirement for public school teachers to undertake workplace externships as part of maintaining state teacher certification.  The purpose of the externships was defined: to help teachers “see what it’s like to work outside the classroom so they can better match their students to the needs of local employers.” Kasch’s Office of Workforce Transformation also recommended, though the idea was later deemed unworkable, that each school district’s superintendent appoint three members of the business community to become non-voting members of the district’s school board.

Now in March 2018, Kasich has gone further. In the recently proposed House Bill 512, Governor Kasich and legislative allies seek to subsume into the Governor’s Executive Workforce Board both the responsibilities of the State Board of K-12 Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction along with the Board of Regents of the state universities. Kasich has already virtually demolished the Higher Education Board of Regents by failing to fulfill his responsibility to appoint its members when resignations occur. Here is how the editorial board of the Akron Beacon Journal describes the merger at the heart of HB 512 along with some questions and concerns: “The bill would merge the departments of higher education and education, plus the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation…  The governor did not consult widely or effectively. For one, Paolo DeMaria, the state school superintendent and a logical source for input, was not asked for his thoughts by those putting together the proposal…  The governor already controls two of the three offices that would be merged. The potential exists for having considerable clout with the third, the Department of Education, along with (the) state school board… Yet though the department plays a big and obvious role in the work mission, the governor did not put the state superintendent on the workforce transformation board.  Neither has the governor filled seats on the state Board of Regents overseeing higher education. The nine-member board currently has just two members.”

We’ll see what happens with Ohio’s HB 512.  While there appears to be massive opposition to the governor’s plan, both houses of the legislature are are made up of supermajorities of Kasich allies.  One reason the Governor’s plan to subsume all of education governance into workforce preparation is widely unpopular is that it turns over democratic authority for public education education from a State Board of Education (with eleven of the nineteen members publicly elected) to a Cabinet agency appointed by the governor.  Governor Kasich’s plan is also unpopular because many understand education as more than job training, both at the elementary and high school levels and also in the state’s universities.

While Ohio’s Governor Kasich has tried to shift the state’s approach to education through governance changes without explicitly denying the relevance off the humanities and the social sciences, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker has been far more blunt in his attack on a well rounded college education.  Back in 2015,  Walker’s 2016-17 budget proposal included not only a 13 percent cut in funding for the University of Wisconsin system, but—right in the budget bill—Walker inserted language to change the University’ historic mission statement, known as the Wisconsin Idea, a formal definition of the purpose of education that has been part of state law for over a century.

In the Washington Post last Thursday, Valerie Strauss published the Wisconsin Idea that Walker tried unsuccessfully to re-write: “The mission of the system is to develop human resources, to discover and disseminate knowledge, to extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campuses and to serve and stimulate society by developing in students heightened intellectual, cultural, and humane sensitivities, scientific, professional, and technological expertise and a sense of purpose. Inherent in this broad mission are methods of instruction, research, extended training and public service designed to educate people and improve the human condition.  Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.”

Strauss reminds readers about exactly how Walker tried to rewrite the Wisconsin Idea in the state budget bill—“dropping ‘search for truth’ and ‘improve the human condition’ and replacing them with ‘meet the state’s workforce needs.'”

While Wisconsin’s governor was not able to get his new “workforce” definition of education substituted for the Wisconsin Idea, today, due partly to budget cuts passed by Walker and the state legislature, one of the University of Wisconsin’s campuses faces a radical redefinition of its mission and re-shaping of its course offerings.  On March 5, 2018, leaders of one of the University’s branches, the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, announced they faced a $4.5 million deficit. Strauss explains: “In 2015, Gov. Scott Walker… successfully sought from the legislature a $250 million cut from the tuition-reliant university system—an 11 percent reduction. That was on top of funding cuts in the hundreds of millions of dollars during the previous decade. Legislators also removed the principles of tenure and shared school governance from state law, thus giving administrators more power to lay off tenured faculty and unilaterally make decisions in which faculty and students once participated.”

Strauss reports that now in 2018, a new plan at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point eliminates 13 majors in the liberal arts—the humanities and social sciences.  Majors being terminated are American studies, art, English, French, geography, geoscience, German, history, music literature, philosophy, political science, sociology, and Spanish.  The University will continue to offer some classes in these disciplines along with a teacher certification program that incorporates courses in some of these areas.

As the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point eliminates majors in the liberal arts, it is adding  all kinds of career-driven new majors. The hope is to attract tuition-paying students to majors that appear to lead directly to employment: chemical engineering, computer information systems, conservation law enforcement, finance, fire science, graphic design, management and marketing, aquaculture, captive wildlife ecosystem design and remediation, environmental engineering, geographic information science, master of business administration, master of natural resources and doctor of physical therapy.

Without a major in philosophy, it is less likely that anyone at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point will be aware of the warning from John Dewey, perhaps America’s most famous philosopher of education, and someone who cared very much about the role of education for shaping democratic citizens.  In a Pedagogic Creed written in 1897 Dewey defines what ought to be the included in our schools and universities and the danger of the kind of job-specific training Scott Walker and John Kasich are pushing: “The only possible adjustment which we can give to the child under existing conditions is that which arises through putting him in complete possession of all his powers. With the advent of democracy and modern industrial conditions, it is impossible to foretell definitely just what civilization will be twenty years from now.  Hence it is impossible to prepare the child for any precise set of conditions.  To prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities; that his eye and ear and hand may be tools ready to command, that his judgment may be capable of grasping the conditions under which it has to work, and the executive forces be trained to act economically and efficiently.”