Minneapolis and Growing List of Other School Districts Cease Employing Armed Police as School Resource Officers

In the aftermath of the tragic police killing of George Floyd and the widespread protests of police brutality that have followed, the Schott Foundation for Public Education comments: “We want to lift up one ray of hope in this dark moment: The Minneapolis Board of Education made in important step… when it voted to sever its relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department… which until now had been the recipient of more than $1 million in education funds to put its officers in schools… The danger of police officers in schools—and their contribution to creating the school-to-prison pipeline that threatens so many children of color—is well documented and their removal has been a central demand of education justice organizations that Schott is proud to support….”

Several school districts have followed the lead of the Minneapolis Board of Education including the schools of Rochester, New York, and Portland, OregonIt also looks as though the members of the Denver, Colorado Board of Education will vote to terminate the employment of police school resource officers, known everywhere these days as SROs.

In a  short, 2015 guidance document, the American Civil Liberties Union explains why police guards do not belong in public schools: “Many under-resourced schools become pipeline gateways by placing increased reliance on police rather than teachers and administrators to maintain discipline. Growing numbers of districts employ school resource officers to patrol school hallways, often with little or no training in working with youth.  As a result, children are far more likely to be subject to school-based arrests—the majority of which are for nonviolent offenses, such as disruptive behavior—than they were a generation ago.  The rise in school-based arrests, the quickest route from the classroom to the jailhouse, most directly exemplifies the criminalization of school children.”  The ACLU condemns “zero-tolerance policies that automatically impose severe punishment regardless of circumstances. Under these policies, students have been expelled for bringing nail clippers or scissors to school. Rates of suspension have increased dramatically in recent years—from 1.7 million in 1974 to 3.1 million in 2000—and have been most dramatic for children of color. Overly harsh disciplinary policies push students down the pipeline and into the juvenile justice system. Suspended and expelled children are often left unsupervised and without constructive activities; they also can easily fall behind in their coursework, leading to a greater likelihood of disengagement and dropouts.”

Jason P. Nance of the University of Florida Levin College of Law, examines the growing use of school resource officers and the simultaneous growth in the number of students arrested: “In the late 1970s, there were fewer than one hundred police officers in our public schools, but this number grew significantly in the years that followed…. (I)n 1997, there were approximately 12,300 SROs employed by local law enforcement agencies nationwide.  In 2003, the number of full time SROs jumped to 19,900.  In 2007, the number of SROs dropped slightly to 19,088.”

Nance continues: “Although lawmakers, police departments, and school officials expanded SRO programs to enhance school safety in the wake of rising juvenile crime rates and high-profile school shootings, they… expanded SRO programs despite the potentially harmful effects that SROs may have on the educational setting.  For example, strict security measures in and of themselves can harm the educational climate by alienating students and generating mistrust, which, paradoxically, may lead to even more disorder and violence. Furthermore, putting more SROs in schools may involve more students in the criminal justice system, even for low-level violations of school behavioral codes. Indeed, perhaps the most significant challenge of having SROs in schools is that while SROs may be in schools primarily to enhance school safety, many SROs also become involved in student disciplinary matters that educators traditionally have handled and should continue to handle… The problems with SROs handling student disciplinary issues are multifaceted.  Whereas teachers and school officials have advanced academic credentials, receive training in child psychology, discipline, pedagogy, and educational theory, and are accountable to local school boards, SROs are trained in law enforcement, have little or no training in developmental psychology or pedagogy, and are not accountable to school boards. Thus, an SRO’s decision to arrest a student may be based on criteria that are wholly distinct from and even anathema to the best interests of the student or the school as a whole.”

As students are arrested, they are propelled into the juvenile justice system. A 2018 report from the Dignity in Schools Campaign, Police in Schools Are Not the Answer to School Shootings, documents racial bias that too frequently accompanies in-school policing: “Research shows that police officers perceive Black youth differently than they do white youth, and this bias, not any actual difference in behavior, leads to the over-criminalization of students of color.  Police see Black children as less “childlike” than their White peers and overestimate the age and culpability of Black children accused of an offense more than they do for white children accused of an offense…  There are significant harms to young people attending schools that over-police. Research shows that a first-time arrest doubles the odds that a student will drop out of high school, and a first-time court appearance quadruples the odds. The American Psychological Association, Council of State Governments, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have all found that extreme discipline, including arrests, predict grade retention, school dropout, and future involvement in the juvenile and criminal justice systems.  As a result, students face lasting consequences, not only in the justice system, but also when applying for college, the military, or a job.”

Advancement Project has worked for over a decade with other national organizations and school districts to create a respectful overall school climate through the development and implementation of restorative discipline. Restorative discipline emphasizes learning over punishment with the explicit goal of helping students more fully engage in school.  In an online resource for educators, Restorative Practices: Fostering Healthy Relationships & Promoting Positive Discipline in Schools, Advancement Project explains: “Restorative justice is an evidence-based practice effectively used to reduce suspensions, expulsions, and disciplinary referrals. Restorative justice focuses on righting a wrong committed and repairing the harm done… Community conferencing… involves the participation of each person affected by the behavior and allows all stakeholders to contribute to the conflict resolution process.  Community service allows for individuals to restore a harm they may have committed to the school community by providing a meaningful service that contributes to their individual improvement.  Peer juries allow student who have broken a rule and trained student jurors to collectively discuss why the rule was broken, who was affected and how the referred student can repair the harm caused… Conflict resolution programs provide students with problem-solving and self control skills… Peer mediation is a demonstrably effective youth leadership model that trains students to help other students resolve their differences… Informal restorative practices are small ways educators and other school personnel can influence a positive environment… Social-emotional learning teaches skills such as recognizing and managing emotions, developing caring and concern for others, establishing positive relationships, making responsible decisions, and handling challenging situations constructively and ethically.”

Advancement Project explains how restorative practices transform the school climate: “Restorative practices… can improve relationships between students, between students and educators, and even between educators, whose behavior often serves as a role model for students. They allow each member of the school community to develop and implement a school’s adopted core values. Restorative practices also represent a mindset that can help guide adult and youth behavior and relationship management in schools… When the whole school is infused with restorative strategies, it becomes easier to address issues faster and respond in a thoughtful way because the caring and supportive culture is already present.”

One positive development following the tragic police killing of George Floyd and the nationwide outpouring of grief and outrage has been that a growing number of school districts are choosing to handle student discipline in the school itself without armed police patrolling their school hallways and pushing students into the juvenile justice system.

For more resources on the school-to-prison pipeline and problems with armed police employed as school resource officers, check the websites of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, Teaching Tolerance and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Will Congress Provide Fiscal Relief to Public Schools at an Austerity, Subsistence, or Investment Level?

In a NY Times column last week, David Brooks responded to the tragic police killing of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man, and the massive protests responding to the evident racism and inequality that underpin our society: “This moment is about police brutality, but it’s not only about police brutality. The word I keep hearing is ‘exhausted.’ People are exhausted by and fed up with the enduring wealth disparities between white and black, with the health disparities that leave black people more vulnerable to Covid-19, with the centuries-long disparities in violence and the threat of violence, with daily indignities on African-Americans and stains that linger on our nation decade after decade. The killing of George Floyd happened in a context—and that context is racial disparity. Racial disparity doesn’t make for gripping YouTube videos. It doesn’t spark mass protests because it’s not an event; it’s just the daily condition of our lives. It’s just a condition that people in affluent Manhattan live in one universe and people a few miles away in the Bronx live in a different universe. It’s just a condition that many black families send their kids to struggling inner-city schools while white families move to the suburbs and put on black T-shirts every few years to protest racial injustice.”

Brooks correctly identifies the problem: Structural inequality, segregation, and racism permeate our society.  But when it comes to a solution, Brooks looks to individuals, grants to neighborhood groups, and social entrepreneurship. Despite that injustice always involves systemic problems and that justice requires eliminating disparities in the system itself, Brooks suggests national service programs for young people, an endowment for civic architecture, Moving to Opportunity Grants, and even the Betsy DeVos solution, education savings account school vouchers for private education services (with the money coming out of public school budgets) to give parents a choice.

Last week, instead, advocating for federal relief funds for the Covid-19 recession, the National Education Policy Center, the Schott Foundation for Public Education and the Righteous Rage Institute released a plea to Congress not only for enough federal relief dollars to get our public schools running next fall, but also for enough to at least begin addressing historically unequal school funding between rural and urban schools that serve poor children and black and brown children, and the suburban schools that serve primarily privileged white children. The policy brief, released last Thursday, demands that Congress begin confronting structural inequality in the public schools that serve 50 million American children and adolescents, structural inequality epitomized by the alarming unwillingness of states to raise enough through taxes to make up for the uneven local taxing capacities across the nation’s school districts. Even though the state constitutions require formulas to direct more state funds to the school districts which cannot raise enough education dollars locally, those constitutional clauses have been ignored for too long.  Now that state education budgets are collapsing due to job losses, it is likely that those disparities between public services for rich and poor districts will only worsen.

The policy brief, written by Frank Adamson of California State University at Sacramento, Allison Brown of the Righteous Rage Institute for Social Justice, and Kevin Welner of the University of Colorado, demands that Congress consider this question: “If policymakers are willing and able to put trillions toward supporting wealthy investors and bolstering financial markets, how can they deny a fraction of that to our children to save their futures?”

The policy brief begins with a reminder to a Congress which has delayed further fiscal relief to states whose budgets have already begun collapsing: “Let’s be clear: these budget cuts are a political choice by the federal government, which can remedy the situation.”  While, before Memorial Day, the House passed the HEROES Act (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act), a bill including stimulus dollars to relieve pressure on state budgets, the Senate has delayed consideration of this bill.

Adamson, Brown, and Welner outline three options for Congress: “austerity, subsistence, or investment. Austerity—states suffer budget shortfalls unaided by the federal government, leading to massive teacher layoffs and other resource deprivation. Subsistence—the federal government backfills state budgets to maintain the status quo. Investment—the federal government uses this crisis as an opportunity to drive national renewal for our public education system. These options present a core policy choice. Instead of an estimated trillion dollars in overall state budget cuts, the federal government can deploy the same Keynesian approach that got us out of the Great Depression: short-term deficit spending as a public investment to address our present crisis and to increase our potential for generations to come.” (emphasis in the original)

Noting that the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)—the federal stimulus after the 2008 Great Recession—was too limited, the new policy brief addresses a primary concern about current efforts so far to remedy the financial collapse during the current COVID-19 recession—its failure to protect services for children: “The current choices represent a stark contrast. While the federal government has thus far balked at substantially supporting states and local governments, and while it has provided very limited aid to the average person struggling to pay bills in a decimated economy, private investors making risky bets have received ample support. Through the Federal Reserve Bank, the federal government has assured investors that they can continue making those risky bets—or what should be risky bets in a true market system—with very little actual risk… This is an interesting and compelling framing, and it raises the question of whether there is a dollar limit on the future of the nation’s children.”

Adamson, Brown and Welner continue: “In truth, the federal government is uniquely positioned to make large investments in times of crisis to save industries. Such stimulus spending is worth the short-term expenditure because of the long-term payoff of economic recovery… But the federal government is also uniquely positioned to save the public sector…. Stimulus spending in public education has three, interrelated benefits: (a) preserving a foremost public good that is the linchpin for societal well-being; (b) assisting in the economic recovery by providing current jobs and future tax revenues; and (c) preparing high-skilled, high-wage earners who will contribute to the future economy.”

How much federal support do states need to at least maintain the public schools as we knew them before March of 2020? “Public education experts across the country are calling for $175 to $200 billion in federal stimulus funding for PreK-12 education, to cover estimated shortfalls to state and local funding for schools over the next two years. This amount would be the bare minimum needed to fill state and local gaps imposed by the crisis on school budgets; it would simply maintain the current resources in our education system… School closures (this spring) have intensified academic inequities while also exacerbating vast inequalities in access to basic needs.”

The authors enumerate all the academic programs, social services, and child care services schools provide for children, and point out the implications for 50 million children when school resources collapse: “When these resources disappear from schools, they can disappear from children’s lives. This is in part because we ask our public schools to compensate or substitute for missing or inadequate welfare systems… In fact, a core American belief is that our schools play the role of the ‘great equalizer.’  We ask and expect schools to provide the nation’s children with an education that will somehow be of such high quality that it will overcome all the inequalities of larger society. As irrational as that sounds, politicians have made the promise even more absurd by consistently underfunding those same schools. Public education systems have consistently borne the brunt of budget cuts—even in times of economic growth… The impact of education cuts and loss of teaching jobs has never affected all children equally. African American, Native American, Latinx, and low-income children are the hardest hit by austerity… The Great Recession deprived all districts of resources, but it hit the poorest hardest. Affluent school districts lost about $500 per student in state funding, on average, compared to high-poverty districts that lost over $1,500 per student.”

The National Education Policy Center, the Schott Foundation, and The Righteous Rage Institute demand that Congress do more than preserving long-running austerity in the poorest districts or merely just passing enough stimulus dollars to replace state and local dollars being lost due to the recession:

“Our policy makers are on the edge of a precipice. If they step into the budget-cut austerity abyss at this time of great crisis, they will be choosing to harm the nation’s children, and in doing so, to devalue the country’s most important asset. Recovery would become a long and arduous process… As one alternative, they can choose the stopgap, subsistence option of backfilling state and local budgets, which we contend is necessary but not sufficient… The third choice available to policymakers is stimulus investment devoted to our schools and children, especially children of color, in their time of great need, which would provide the extra benefit of saving jobs and creating new jobs to help in combating national unemployment… Refusing the needed funding for public education systems means impoverishing our youth, our communities, our public life—our democracy…  If policymakers are willing and able to put $4.5 trillion of Fed lending into bolstering financial markets through treasury funding, how can they deny a fraction of that to our children to save their futures?”

The new policy brief from NEPC, the Schott Foundation, and the Righteous Rage Institute demands that Congress address the unacceptable racial and economic disparities that underpin our nation’s public schools because of long-running inadequate and inequitable investment —a condition that the Covid-19- driven recession has only exacerbated.

Public Funds Public Schools Website Provides Compendium of Research on School Vouchers

Updated, June 5, 2020 at 1:10 PM Eastern Daylight Time

Ohio was one of the first states, in 1996, to impose school vouchers, and today across Ohio and many other states, vouchers are devastating local school district budgets. Nationally, the nation’s loudest voucher cheerleader, Education Secretary Betsy Devos, continues to promote vouchers and their cousins—tuition tax credits and education savings accounts.  To support advocates for a strong system of public education, Public Funds Public Schools—a project of the Education Law Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Munger, Tolles & Olson—provides a compendium of research exploring whether vouchers are an effective school reform strategy. The research inventory is online. It is, I presume, being updated as new research is released.

In Ohio, at least, legislators try to justify vouchers as the salvation of students enrolled in so-called “failing” schools.  Public Funds Public Schools‘ summary of research studies is invaluable for public school leaders, parents, and community advocates who need to be able to document that vouchers are not, in fact, an effective strategy for expanding educational opportunity for our nation’s poorest and most vulnerable students. In fact, the expansion of vouchers has devastated the very school districts that need greater public investment to serve concentrations of children living in poverty, but vouchers extract essential dollars from those very districts.

Why is this online resource so important? The school district where I live and where we educated our children is the best example I know. Cleveland.com reports that in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District during the current 2019-2020 school year, EdChoice, one of Ohio’s four statewide voucher programs, extracted $7.2 million from the total $21 million in state funding provided to the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school district.  Students living in our school district carried away a third of the district’s total state funding to pay for tuition in private and religious schools, but 94 percent of those students have never been previously enrolled in our district’s public schools. In other words, they have always attended private and religious schools, but the Legislature has now created a program that diverts local school district funds to pay for their private education.

Public Funds Public Schools introduces its research compendium: “Studies of voucher programs across the country have found that students who participate in private school voucher programs fare worse academically than students educated in public schools, and in some cases dramatically worse.  In addition, voucher programs undermine already struggling public schools.  Other damaging effects of vouchers include loss of civil rights protections, increased segregation, and erosion of the separation of church and state.  Private school voucher programs often lack accountability and transparency, yet cost millions of public dollars.”

Public Funds Public Schools organizes its research inventory into 8 sections.

Private School Vouchers Don’t Improve Student Achievement:  Here are summaries of 14 research reports, some as current as 2019 and others dating back to 2008.   Several reports confirm losses in math achievement over time in states including Indiana, Louisiana, and Washington, D.C.  Additionally, “A 2016 study of the Ohio private school voucher program conducted by a conservative think tank, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and funded by the pro-voucher Walton Foundation, found voucher students ‘have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools…Such impacts also appear to persist over time, suggesting that the results are not driven simply by the setbacks that typically accompany any change of school.'”

Private School Vouchers Divert Needed Funding from Public Schools:  Two studies from 2018 and 2017 demonstrate funding losses to public schools in Arizona and Wisconsin.  For example, in Arizona, “the amount spent on private school subsidies from the General Fund… increased nearly 50-fold from $3 million in 1999-2000 to $141 million in 2015-16.”

Private School Vouchers Programs Lack Accountability:  Here are three research studies, including a nationwide study published by Education Week Research Center, showing that of the 29 states with voucher programs,”fewer than half the states require that private voucher school teachers have a bachelor’s degree, and not even a third publicly report student results on state tests or high school graduation rates. The study also found that only three states require private voucher schools to admit students regardless of their sexual orientation, while only six require that students be admitted regardless of their religion.”

Absence of Oversight in Private School Voucher Programs Leads to Corruption and Waste:  The two studies here extend the findings of lack of accountability from the previous section.  A 2017 Florida investigation, for example, found “the hiring of teachers without college degrees, falsification of fire safety and health records, and an absence of consequences for poorly performing schools.”  In Arizona from August 2015 to January 2016, researchers discovered $102,000 in misspending by parents in the state’s Education Savings Account voucher program.

Private School Vouchers Don’t Help Students with Disabilities:  The five studies in this section document that private schools accepting vouchers sometimes mislead parents about the kind of services available and too often fail to protect students’ rights.  One report in 2017 from the National Center for Learning Disabilities, “highlighted the important protections in federal law that students with disabilities lose when they attend private schools using a voucher and the lack of information provided to parents about these rights.”

Private School Vouchers Don’t Protect Against Discrimination   All three reports summarized in this section are recent.  Here are the findings of a 2018 policy brief from the National Education Policy Center: “First, federal law defines discrimination differently in public and private spaces. Second, state legislatures have largely neglected issues of discrimination while constructing private school laws. Third, because private schools are free to determine what programs to offer, they can attract some populations while excluding others.”

Private School Vouchers Exacerbate Segregation:  All five studies in this section examine racial segregation in private schools accepting public vouchers.  A 2018 academic working paper, for example, examined the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (the name for D.C.’s voucher program) since 2003, when the program was launched: “The author found that 70% of participating voucher students were enrolled in heavily segregated schools with 90% or more minority students, and 58% were enrolled in all-minority schools.”

Universal Private School Voucher Programs Don’t Work:  The one study described in this final section is international: The National Education Policy Center examined a universal school privatization voucher program in Chile.  In Chile’s program NEPC shows that schools were explicitly permitted to choose their students.  Not surprisingly poor children found themselves in low-performing schools: “There is plausible evidence that privatization is associated with pervasive discrimination and exclusion among students, low public trust, neglect of civic education, and a tenacious social movement clamoring for a stronger and more inclusive public option.”  NEPC adds something that has also been true of voucher programs across 29 states here at home: “It is extremely difficult to reverse privatization.”

The research accumulated by Public Funds Public Schools confirms the discovery by Christopher (now a professor at Indiana University) and Sarah Lubienski (a professor of mathematics education at the University of Illinois), whose 2014 book describes The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools. The Lubienskis explain: “We were both skeptical when we first saw the initial results: public schools appeared to be attaining higher levels of mathematics performance than demographically comparable private and charter schools—and math is thought to be a better indicator of what is taught by schools than, say, reading, which is often more influenced directly and indirectly by experiences in the home… But after further investigation and more targeted analysis, the results held up. And they held up (or were ‘robust’ in the technical jargon) even when we used different models and variables in the analysis… These results indicate that, despite reformers’ adulation of the autonomy enjoyed by private and charter schools, this factor may in fact be the reason these schools are underperforming.  That is, contrary to the dominant thinking on this issue, the data show that the more regulated public school sector embraces more innovative and effective professional practices, while independent schools often use their greater autonomy to avoid such reforms, leading to curricular stagnation.”  (The Public School Advantage, pp. xvii-xviii)

(This post has been updated to correct that the CH-UH School District in Ohio lost one-third of its state aid to EdChoice vouchers, not one-third of its total budget.)

Community Schools May Be the Best Post-Pandemic Educational Strategy

Jeff Bryant recently profiled Mary Parr-Sanchez, the current president of the National Education Association’s New Mexico affiliate, speaking about what education will be like after the pandemic: “‘I think we’re all going to be different after this… When I first learned of the community schools model, it hit me like a lightning bolt,’ she told me. ‘I loved it because it focused on the academic and nonacademic needs of children, and the focus was on learning and a culturally relevant curriculum, not just test scores.’ Now, she is convinced the community schools model is the most promising way forward for schools as they reopen to the new realities of recovering from the fallout of COVID-19.”

Here is how the New York City Children’s Aid Society’s National Center for Community Schools defines a full-service, wraparound community school: “The foundations for community schools can be conceptualized as a Developmental Triangle that places children at the center, surrounded by families and communities. Because students’ educational success, health and well-being are the focus of every community school, the legs of the triangle consist of three interconnected support systems: A strong core instructional program… expanded learning opportunities… and a full range of health, mental health and social services designed to promote children’s well-being and remove barriers to learning.”

Community schools are designed locally to meet the needs of the particular school community, but they share essential characteristics. The Children’s Aid Society explains that community schools are not mere ad hoc school community partnerships, but are instead the product of careful planning and staffing. A Community School Director—an administrator—partners with the principal to coordinate the social, medical and enrichment services housed in the community school with the academic program. Each community school has a designated lead partner agency, which “maintains a full-time presence in the school and engages in regular joint planning with the Community School Director, the staff, and the community.”

In Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s expansion of community schools in New York City, the lead partner has been the Children’s Aid Society, which enumerates the programs community schools typically bring right into the school building: medical, dental, mental health and social services, innovative after-school, holiday and summer enrichment programs, early childhood programs like Head Start and Early Head Start, parent and family engagement and parent education programs, and other programs for community development.

The American Federation of Teachers has endorsed community schools, provides online resources for the establishment of community schools and has supported their development in West Virginia and Cincinnati, for example. The National Education Association has likewise supported the development of these full-service, wraparound schools. The community schools model has until now been adopted primarily in urban areas. But Bryant’s profile featuring New Mexico’s NEA president, Mary Parr-Sanchez, demonstrates how the adoption of this education model has supported children and the community in a small, impoverished New Mexico village, 10 miles outside of Los Cruces.

Parr-Sanchez believes the pandemic has exposed all the reasons community schools are an appropriate response to families’ needs: “The current crisis is exposing the inequality not only in schools but in our society and making people more aware of the conditions of children.”

Bryant adds: “Indeed, the indisputable lesson the pandemic has taught the nation is that local schools are, like it or not, the nation’s safety net for children and families, and that vast inequities in public education and society at large are blocking children’s access to learning—whether it’s being able to get internet service or having a home where children can do schoolwork. We also learned that teacher-student relationships are at the center of the education process, and when those break down, learning breaks down too.”

Bryant shows why the supports embedded in a community school are so urgently needed in a rural area of New Mexico: “In 2017, the state was tied with Louisiana for the second-highest poverty rate in the nation, 19.7 percent, according to World Population Review. Personal finance site, WalletHub, ranked New Mexico as the worst state in America to raise a family… In its most recent annual state-to-state comparison of overall child well-being, the Annie E. Casey Foundation rated New Mexico at the very bottom. The highly respected analysis was especially brutal in ranking New Mexico 50 in education due to the state’s poor fourth-grade reading test scores (with only 25 percent of students rating ‘proficient’) and high percentage of high school students who do not graduate within four years (29 percent). The state also ranked bottom or near bottom on a number of other factors including health care, economic conditions, and household and community circumstances.  New Mexico, along with Mississippi, has the most children living in high poverty areas—24 percent.” Bryant also cites a recent school finance report from the Albert Shanker Institute ranking New Mexico 13th in the nation on “a measure of the state’s school spending as a percentage of the state’s gross domestic product.”

Parr-Sanchez and her union helped support the development of a community school in Los Cruces beginning in 2013, and the number of New Mexico community schools has grown considerably since then, including the transformation of Dona Ana Elementary School into a community school this past February: “Dona Ana, a rural village about 10 miles outside of Las Cruces, already faced formidable educational challenges…. Family food insecurity is widespread, the community lacks affordable housing, and the local economy is stagnant.” The school principal, Cherie Love, reports: “Reliable transportation and money for gas is also a challenge for our families.”

Bryant adds: “Prior to the opening of its community schools program, Dona Ana was already providing free breakfast, lunch, and a healthy snack to 100 percent of its students and a free dinner and snack to about 120 students enrolled in its extended learning (afterschool) programs.”  When the pandemic struck a month later, Bryant reports that, “because Dona Ana had adopted the community schools model, it had in place the personnel to meet the multiple needs of a traumatized community.”

Principal Love explains: “Our community schools coordinator worked our help desk to provide information to parents and channel their questions to the appropriate departments and people… We provided mental health support to students and their families through our school counselor and our school special education psychologist.”  The school had begun working to help parents expand their children’s access to the internet, and many of the families who attended the classes “have reported that they are now using (their) iPad to support their child’s learning.”

Bryant adds that with the community school program operational after months of previous planning before the pandemic struck, “Dona Ana had in place the partners it needed to bolster support for students and families. Among those partners is New Mexico State University, which provided school supply packets to more than 200 elementary students.  Another partner, local nonprofit Ngage New Mexico, provided parents a webinar in Spanish and English on ‘Creating Effective Home Learning Environments.”

Teacher and state NEA President, Parr-Sanchez hopes the educational crisis caused by the pandemic will awaken people’s awareness about the benefits of community schools in small communities as well as large cities: “After this, I think schools will be viewed as essential and that we can just own that truth without having to fight for it.  So then the issue is how do we do it right, and we look to community schools as a model.  And we fund them.”

What about research on the effectiveness of the community schools model?  Last winter, the Rand Corporation released a  study confirming that like all whole school improvement models, community schools make an increasing difference over time. The RAND study evaluated NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s expansion of community schools across an increasing number of New York City’s public schools: “In particular we found that the NYC-CS has a positive impact on student attendance in all types of schools (elementary, middle, and high schools) and across all three years that outcomes were measured (from 2015-18).  We also found positive and significant impacts on elementary and middle students’ on-time grade progression in all two years for which we have data and on high school students’ graduation rates in two of the three years. Our analyses suggests that the NYC-CS led to a reduction in disciplinary incidents for elementary and middle school students but not for high school students. Finally, we found that NYC-CS had a positive impact on math achievement in the third and final year….”

In its May 5, 2020 newsletter, the National Education Policy Center reports on a study by the University of Texas at Austin’s Jennifer Jellison Holme, who poses a number of questions school personnel and policy makers ought to consider as they implement and improve community schools. Several of the questions are basic to any kind of programmatic educational improvement: “Should classroom learning play a larger role? How can community schools build more on community strengths? How can community schools effectively coordinate with and among their many partners? What is the right balance between grassroots efforts and top-down reforms? What resources are necessary to sustain the reforms and where will they come from? Could more rural areas benefit from community schools?”

Jellison Holme poses one additional question that gets at a much deeper concern: “How can the community schools movement more emphatically address broader structural inequities?” NEPC’s newsletter quotes Jellison Holme exploring the complexity embedded in that question:  “Community schools policies are arguably one of the few efforts within education policy that directly acknowledge, and seek to address, the structural inequities that affect schools, in an era where other policy initiatives gloss over local contextual factors, or treat them as irrelevant… Community schools themselves can be one prong in a policy strategy to address these problems, but they likely will not succeed in isolation from efforts to address these broader issues… In sum, although we applaud the community school approach as a promising solution to massive disinvestment in urban communities, it may not translate into longer term improvements in outcomes for low-income students and their families without coupling it to building capacity and agency within communities, or addressing larger structures of segregation and finance inequity.”

While the Press Covers the Police Killing of a Black Man, Riots, and the Pandemic, Trump Quietly Vetoes Rule to Protect Defrauded Student Borrowers

On Saturday morning, the Washington Post‘s Matt Zapotosky and Isaac Stanley-Becker began their coverage of the state of our nation: “A global pandemic has now killed more than 100,000 Americans and left 40 million unemployed in its wake. Protests — some of them violent — have once again erupted in spots across the country over police killings of black Americans. President Trump, meanwhile, is waging a war against Twitter, attacking his political rivals, criticizing a voting practice he himself uses and suggesting that looters could be shot… Together, the events present a grim tableau of a nation in crisis — one seared by violence against its citizens, plagued by a deadly disease that remains uncontained and rattled by a devastating blow to its economy.”

Few reporters noticed something that President Trump did on Friday under the cover of all the news Zapotosky and Stanley-Becker summarize.  By comparison it seems like a small thing, but it will have a devastating effect on many of the same vulnerable people who have lost jobs due to the pandemic.  On Friday, President Trump vetoed a joint congressional resolution, passed by bipartisan majorities in both chambers of Congress, to overturn Betsy DeVos’s re-write of the “borrower defense to repayment” rule. Trump’s veto will make it much harder for students defrauded by unscrupulous for-profit colleges to force the federal government to forgive their federal college debts. It seems unlikely that Congress will have enough votes to override Trump’s veto.

The Obama era “borrower defense to repayment” rule made it easier for student borrowers with federal student loans to have their loans forgiven if they had been defrauded. However, an enormous backlog of claims has been building since DeVos took over the department and her staff slowed processing of students’ claims. Finally, last September, DeVos’s department rewrote a new version of the rule more friendly to the for-profit colleges and less protective of defrauded student borrowers burdened with enormous debt.

Anger and disagreement has swirled around the “borrower defense to repayment” rule. The Washington Post‘s Danielle Douglas-Gabriel reports that the President’s veto on Friday, “arrives two months after Congress agreed to scrap DeVos’s overhaul of a 1995 law known as ‘borrower defense to repayment.’ The law provides federal loan forgiveness to students whose colleges lied to get them to enroll. An Obama-era update of the statute lowered hurdles for students and shifted more of the cost onto schools but DeVos tried to scuttle the update and then rewrite the rule. The Trump administration finalized its rewrite in September, which limits the time borrowers have to apply for relief and requires them to prove they were harmed financially by the deception. The rule is scheduled to take effect July 1.”

The New York TimesErica Green explains how DeVos’s rule will make loan forgiveness far more difficult: “Even if some borrowers can show they were victims of unscrupulous universities, they could be denied relief unless then can prove their earnings have been adversely affected…  Ms. DeVos’s changes raised the bar for borrower relief claims, requiring applicants to individually prove that a school knowingly misled them and, even if students were bilked, that they were financially harmed by the deception. They also set a three-year deadline on claims.”

The number of such borrowers skyrocketed when several for-profit institutions were shut down. Douglas-Gabriel reports: “The closure of Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute, for-profit chains felled by charges of fraud and predatory lending, resulted in a deluge of claims at the Education Department. Claims continue to mount as other for-profit colleges including Argosy University and the Art Institutes, have folded. The Education Department has received more than 300,000 claims for debt relief to date.”

Throughout her tenure, DeVos has been protective of for-profit colleges and trade schools, dependent for much of their operating budgets on government loans. While some of these institutions have promised programs that will eventually yield fabulous jobs, too often they have left their students unemployed and severely in debt.  Because the for-profit colleges have preyed particularly on military veterans who can bring additional G.I. Bill dollars to their coffers, veterans groups have opposed DeVos’s rewrite of the “borrower defense to repayment’ rule.  Veterans’ groups had pressed President Trump not to veto Congressional action to block DeVos’s new rule. Politico‘s Michael Stratford reports: “Veterans groups lobbied furiously to get Trump to sign the measure… In a statement on Friday before the veto, James ‘Bill’ Oxford, the national commander of the American Legion, said that the group was ‘hoping that President Trump will once again come to the aid of student veterans,’ and that DeVos’s rule made it ‘nearly impossible for veterans to successfully’ obtain loan forgiveness if they were deceived by a school.”

It is easy to miss one of the important issues at play in the debate about college debt and the for-profit higher education sector.  For-profit colleges and trade schools raise over two-thirds of their revenue from federal grants and loans. In her book on the politics of higher education, Degrees of Inequality, Cornell University’s Suzanne Mettler explains how funding for the for-profit colleges and trade schools works: “Notably, these institutions, with only one exception, earned between 60.8 and 85.9 percent of their total revenues in 2010 from Title IV of the Higher Education Act, meaning predominantly student loans and Pell grants… Most received an additional 2 to 5 percent from military educational programs, including the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The sum of these federal government funds added up, as a portion of all revenues collected, to a minimum of 65.8 percent for ITT and a maximum of 93.7 percent for Bridgepoint.  In short, the for-profit schools are almost entirely subsidized by government.” (Degrees of Inequality, p. 168)

And yet, Politico‘s Stratford reports that DeVos claims she wants to save the government money by refusing to erase the debts of students who have been have defrauded: “The Education Department estimated that the stricter rules will reduce loan forgiveness by hundreds of millions of dollars each year, compared with the Obama era policy, saving taxpayers more than $11 billion over the next decade.”

DeVos says one goal of her new rule is to save money, but DeVos has expressed no intention of regulating the for-profit college sector whose very operation is underwritten largely by the federal government.  At the same time, the Trump administration refuses to protect the students themselves—the victims of shoddy operations, fraud, false advertising, and even the sudden closure of the institutions in which they were enrolled—from debts that will in many cases ruin their financial futures.

Betsy DeVos Ignores Congress: Orders Distribution of CARES Act Dollars to Private Schools Instead of Public Schools Serving Poor Children

On April 30, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released informal guidance directing federal Covid-19 stimulus funds to private schools at the expense of the public schools that educate 50 million American children and adolescents.  DeVos is using the pandemic crisis to promote her own agenda supporting the privatization of American public education.  Her recent action also undermines one of the most fundamental purposes of the U.S. Department of Education for which she is responsible.

On Wednesday, the NY TimesErica Green described DeVos responding to criticism from the Council of Chief State School Officers: “Ms. DeVos accused the state education chiefs of having a ‘reflex to share as little as possible with students and teachers outside of their control,’ and said she would draft (a final) rule codifying her position to ‘resolve any issues in plenty of time for the next school year.’ The proposed rule would need to go through a public comment process before it could take effect.”

But the issue is far more complicated than what DeVos claims is public schools’ selfish unwillingness to share.

In the CARES Act, Congress directed the U.S. Department of Education to distribute $13.5 billion to the nation’s public schools according to the principles of the Title I formula.  The Title I formula represents—more than any other policy or program—the very role of the federal government in U.S. public education.  Public schools are created and funded under the 50 state constitutions, but in 1965, when Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement and Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, the federal purpose was to support the education of impoverished children and confront unequal access to education across the states.

Jack Jennings, founder and retired CEO of the Center on Education Policy, describes the history of Title I: “In 1965, (then President) Johnson found the road map leading to enactment of federal education legislation. His approach was to base federal aid on the number of children from low-income families who lived in a school district. This strategy served two purposes. First, it fit well with the temper of the times. Achieving greater equity and focusing on the effects of poverty and hunger were national issues, and fundamental to the agenda of the Kennedy-Johnson administration. And second, it also made room for a compromise on the religious and private school issue. The Johnson administration proposed providing federal support for education services to poor children who attended private schools, while vesting control over the administration of the services with public school districts.” (Presidents, Congress, and the Public Schools: the Politics of Education Reform, p. 23)

Title I was established to provide extra funds to public school districts serving a large number or large concentration of very poor children, and the law specified that Title I would supplement, not supplant, the services states and school districts were already providing. Public school districts were also to provide federally funded Title I services for poor children enrolled in private or religious schools located in their school districts.

Despite that, in March 2020, Congress charged the U.S. Department of Education with distributing federal CARES Act stimulus funds according to the Title I formula, on April 30, Betsy DeVos’s Department of Education released informal guidance changing the way states and school districts are to distribute CARES Act funding. The Washington Post‘s Laura Meckler reports that DeVos’s new guidance helps private schools at the expense of public schools serving poor children: “Congress allocated roughly $13.5 billion to K-12 schools as part of the CARES Act, a stimulus package meant to mitigate the economic damage from the coronavirus crisis. Most of the funding was to be distributed to elementary and secondary schools based on a formula driven by how many poor children they serve. The formula has long allocated some funding for poor children attending private schools. But in guidance sent out to the states, DeVos said states should use a calculation that takes into account the total number of students private schools serve, not just the number of poor students attending. The result is that millions of dollars that would otherwise assist high poverty schools in the Title I program will instead be shared with private schools, regardless of the economic needs of their families.”

Meckler adds that, on May 15, when the House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act, a more recent Covid-19 stimulus bill, the House overturned DeVos’s new guidance on the distribution of CARES Act dollars to private schools: “Subsequent legislation passed by the House would overturn the DeVos guidance, but that legislation is part of a large aid package whose prospects are unclear.”

The Senate has not yet taken up the HEROES Act. Not satisfied to wait for the Senate, on May 20, three prominent members of Congress wrote directly to Secretary DeVos, condemning her April 30 guidance for distribution of CARES Act dollars to private schools. The letter is signed by Robert C. “Bobby ” Scott, chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor, Rosa. L. DeLauro, chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Services and Related Agencies, and Senator Patty Murray, ranking member of the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee.

Representatives Scott and DeLauro and Senator Murray put Betsy DeVos on notice that, “The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), requires local education agencies (local school districts) receiving funds to use a portion of such funds to provide services to low-income students attending private schools that are equitable to services provided to students in public schools in the same manner as under section 1117 of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  However, the department broke with statutory requirements of the CARES Act and longstanding precedent of the equitable services provision in section 1117 of ESEA by issuing guidance that directs LEAs to use emergency relief funds for the provision of services to students at private schools regardless of their wealth or residence… The department’s new policy will direct districts to allocate additional resources and services to wealthier private school students, thereby leaving a smaller amount of funds available to serve public school students.”

The letter continues: “Since 1965, Title I-A has served as a vital source of support for disadvantaged students in schools with high concentrations of students from low-income families. An LEA’s (school district’s) Title I-A allocation is determined by a variety of factors, primarily the number and concentration of low-income students within the LEA… LEAs must set aside a share of their Title I-A funds to serve disadvantaged students attending private schools. The amount of the set aside is based on the number of low-income students attending private schools who reside in participating school attendance areas within the LEA attendance area… Simply put, the Department is directing LEAs to provide equitable services in a different manner from that provided under section 1117 of ESEA, in direct contravention of the plain text of the CARES Act.”

Derek Black, a professor of education law at the University of South Carolina, considers the implications of Betsy DeVos’s new attempt to promote her own agenda supporting private and religious education at the expense of public schools: “I’m a scholar of federal education policy and history who has testified before a congressional commission and federal courts in disputes over federal funds. In my view, this new policy runs counter to what Congress has tried to achieve in public education for the past 50 years and it directly contradicts the CARES Act… The relief package specified that the money would go to school districts based on the number of low-income students they serve. Those are children who are eligible for free and reduced-priced meals. Students whose families are below 185% of the official poverty line—which as of 2020 stands at $26,200 per year for a family of four—fall into this category. The department’s new guidance calls for a different method.  Public school systems are being told to share these new federal funds based on the total number of students who attend private schools—rather than the much smaller number of low-income students in these schools.  In other words, public school districts are being told to reserve funds for roughly 6 million total private school students, of which only an estimated 300,000 are low-income children.  By contrast, 52.3% of the nation’s 50 million public school students are low-income.”

Congress Must Pass Additional Fiscal Relief to Prevent Alarming Cuts to School District Budgets

There is plenty of confirmation from the experts about the 50 states’ desperate need for additional federal relief dollars for school districts to open public schools next fall. Without immediate help from Congress, state budget cuts will diminish educational opportunity especially for the school districts that serve our nation’s poorest children. We must not take for granted that public schools will be able to provide the same programs for our children as they did before what promises to be a deep recession. The pending school funding crisis—across all 50 states—has received scanty coverage in the press, which has paid more attention to whether, how, and when schools can reopen. Here are the grim fiscal realities.

On May 15, the House passed a new federal relief program—the HEROES Act (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act), but the U.S. Senate went on a Memorial Day Recess prior to even taking up the bill.  Education Week‘s Evie Blad reports: “The HEROES Act would create a $90 billion ‘state fiscal stabilization fund’ for the U.S. Department of Education to support K-12 and higher education. About 65 percent of that fund—or roughly $58 billion—would go through states to local school districts. The bill would also provide $1 billion to shore up state and local government budgets that have been hard hit by declining tax revenues as businesses closed to slow the spread of the virus.”

The HEROES Act passed by the House on May 15 is far from perfect.  The New York Times Editorial Board explains: “The Democratic-led House passed a $3 trillion relief package on May 15. That bill was imperfect but it was something.  Mr. McConnell, on the other hand, has repeatedly said he’s in no hurry for the Senate to offer its own proposal.  He has put talks on an indefinite pause, saying he wants to see how the economy responds to previous relief measures. The Senate may get around to putting together a plan when it reconvenes next month. Or perhaps it will be in July.”

School districts cannot plan for essential staff like teachers, counselors, nurses, social workers, and librarians when their state budget allocations are being reduced right now before the fiscal year ends on June 30—with more state budget cuts projected moving into next fiscal year.  The director of state policy research for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Michael Leachman explains: “As economic projections worsen, so do the likely state budget shortfalls from COVID-19’s economic fallout. We now project shortfalls of $765 billion over three years…. States must balance their budgets every year, even in recessions…  The coronavirus relief bill that the House passed on May 15, the HEROES Act, includes substantial state and local fiscal relief… States will need aid of this magnitude to avoid extensive layoffs of teachers, health care workers, and first responders….”

The Economic Policy Institute’s Josh Bivens rejects Mitch McConnell’s argument that Congress should wait and see about the need for additional federal stimulus dollars: “Congress is currently debating a new relief and recovery package—the HEROES Act—that would deliver significant amounts of fiscal aid to state and local governments—more than $1 trillion over the next two years, all told.  This is a very welcome proposal.  The incredibly steep recession we’re currently in is guaranteed to torpedo state and local governments’ ability to collect revenue.  Further, nearly all of these governments are tightly constrained—both by law as well as by genuine economic constraints—from taking on large amounts of debt to maintain spending in the face of this downward shock to their revenues…  Recent justifications for denying aid to state and local governments sometimes rest on claims that this spending has been profligate in recent years. This is absolutely not so—growth in state and local spending has been historically slow for nearly two decades. Given the importance of what this spending focuses on (education, health care, public order), this decades-long  disinvestment should be reversed, not accelerated due to an unforeseen economic crisis.”

In a Rethinking Schools overview of  the educational impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on public education, Stan Karp emphasizes the need for considerable federal relief funding as well as hard work by advocates to ensure that dollars are distributed to help the school districts likely to suffer the most serious cuts—those which serve concentrations of our nation’s poorest children: “The next state of pandemic politics will include a struggle over the scope and dimensions of additional federal aid for states and cities—and potentially, schools. With millions of public workers facing imminent layoffs and a pivotal national election on the horizon, another large relief package seems inevitable.  Equally inevitable will be efforts to shape the legislation to promote competing political agendas and, especially, to facilitate or oppose privatization and austerity.  The stakes for schools are monumental. According to one Education Week analysis, ‘America’s public schools will need $70 billion for three consecutive years in the next round of federal stimulus spending to avoid painful cuts such as teacher layoffs.’… Public school advocates will need to push Congress hard to fight for policies that promote equity over austerity, that ensure public funds go to public schools and public purposes, and that strengthen rather than weaken federal commitments to educational equity.  Key elements should include: multi-year federal funding with strong requirements that states maintain recent levels of school spending and improve the fairness of their funding systems, (and) distribution of federal aid according to progressive formulas that send more funds to higher-poverty districts and schools….”

For Education Week, Daarel Burnette II demonstrates why some school districts will be more severely affected than others.  Burnette quotes David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center: “What’s so stunning about this recession is that poor districts are going to bear the brunt of these cuts because they rely so heavily on state aid and they don’t have the capacity to raise their property taxes.”

Burnette explains further: “Cuts will fall on most school districts to some degree, but those whose budgets are built largely on (local) property tax revenues will suffer less.  Education Week analyzed 2016 school spending data, the latest available, to identify which districts will be most at risk of harm because of their heavy dependence on state aid.  Education Week‘s analysis shows more than 600 districts get more than 75 percent of their aid from their states, putting them at great risk for deep cuts…”

Who are the students who will be most affected?  According to Education Week‘s analysis: “The districts most at risk share demographic profiles—student populations that are heavily black, Latino and low-income—and one crucial trait of their budgets: They get more than half their revenue from state aid… In New York state—the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak—an analysis done by the Education Law Center shows that an across-the-board percentage cut to K-12 spending, which is how legislatures have historically made budget cuts, will be devastating to a district like Rochester but will have little impact on the public schools in Pittsford, N.Y., a suburb which sits just southeast of the city.  Pittsford, where the median household income is more than $116,000, is majority white…  The 5,000-student district, whose leafy cul-de-sacs are lined with large homes, gets more than 76 percent of its money from property tax revenue and only 23 percent from the state… Rochester has for decades had a fraught relationship with New York’s state legislature over school spending. The district spends around $12,500 per student, roughly $1,000 less than the state average. It’s per-pupil spending on students who require special education is about $29,000, which is $3,000 less than the state average… In 2007, New York agreed to ramp up its K-12 spending after losing a years-long court battle over its funding formula. But the state, which was slammed during the last recession, has failed to live up to that promise… For Rochester, the state has fallen more than $86 million behind its funding obligations.”

Congress must pass an additional federal relief package to prevent lasting damage to America’s public schools. If states are forced drastically to cut school funding, it is likely  that the Covid-19 recession will place the heaviest burden on the school districts least able to raise sufficient dollars by raising local property taxes. The victims will be America’s poorest Black and Brown children living in impoverished communities.

Misguiding Public School Policy: The Role of Giant Philanthropy and Technocracy

This blog will take Memorial Day off.  Look for a new post on Wednesday, May 27, 2020.

Several years ago, I was privileged to receive an invitation from a school psychologist at our local high school to visit the school and write about what I saw during that visit. The most memorable experience  was a social science elective class open to high school juniors and seniors—a high school level course introducing political philosophy.  The students were discussing Voltaire’s Candide, and the teacher began by presenting the class with a list of questions for discussion and asking the students to choose where to begin. By challenging the students to begin with the hardest question, which would help them explore what they were struggling to understand, the teacher disarmed the students’ anxieties and gave them the freedom to participate actively. In the discussion that followed—which the teacher struggled to wrap up even as students had to move on to the next class—students engaged each other, the teacher probed the students’ understanding of the book, and students demanded background to fill in their limited experience with this sort of reading. One girl, sitting in a chair at the back of the room near the windows, became so engaged that she climbed up to sit on top of a radiator in order to be able to see everyone who was talking and participate more actively in the conversation.

This is the best high school class I have ever observed. The engagement—between the teacher and students and the students with each other— was spontaneous, emotional, and intellectual. I don’t think that experience could really have happened on Zoom, though I’m sure that same teacher has done his best in these past two months to engage his students in this year’s version of that class.  We all do the best we can in an emergency.  In our current emergency, Zoom and other programs like it are all we have.

I thought about that high school political philosophy class when I read that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has sought the help of Bill Gates to realize Cuomo’s latest proposal—“The old model of everybody goes and sits in a classroom, and the teacher is in front of that classroom and teaches that class, and you do that all across the city, all across the state; all these buildings, all these physical classrooms… why, with all the technology you have?”  These days, so many of us are considering all the ways in which online encounters with our friends and relatives—and children’s virtual discussions with their peers and their teachers—aren’t quite the same as the real live connection we feel when we can sit down and talk or feel the energy that flows among a group of students all together in a classroom.  It feels bizarre that so-called experts and their politician friends are trying to convince us that virtual schools are going to be the future of public education.

Why is Cuomo considering the advice of Bill Gates instead of consulting New York’s teachers who know how to create the kind of engaged high school class I visited all those years ago?  One contributing factor has been the growing role of mega-philanthropy driving education policy.  In a 2014 study, published by the American Educational Research Association, Michigan State University’s Sarah Reckhow and Jeffrey Snyder describe the ways giant philanthropic investment has increasingly shaped public policy across America’s public schools.  Reckow and Snyder document that in the decade from 2000 to 2010, grants from major foundations vastly increased policy advocacy by national  organizations with paid staff who produce reports and have a presence in Washington, D.C.: “As education philanthropy evolves, funds flow increasingly toward national advocacy.  Many of these groups are highly active in policy debates on issues such as common standards and charter school expansion.  Moreover, foundations are finding new strategies to link nonprofit work with advocacy.”

The growth in philanthropic funding for education policy has neither supported traditional public schools nor traditional professional training for teachers and administrators: “Major foundations in education have simultaneously shifted away from funding traditional educational institutions towards support for organizations that could create competition for the public sector. This suggests a pattern of convergence in grant making—major foundations supporting the same kinds of activities and policy priorities.  If foundations are not only funding organizations with similar functions, but also providing financial support for the same organizations, this would indicate significant overlap in the agenda and policy goals of top education funders.”

Reckow and Snyder conclude: “Philanthropy is commonly viewed as a charitable activity, and philanthropists have traditionally approached political advocacy tentatively, if at all.  Yet major education foundations are increasingly politically engaged.  Their work includes supporting groups involved in policy advocacy, funding organizations that promote competition with public sector institutions, and providing convergent funds to key groups advancing favored policy priorities.  Coordinated policy-focused and advocacy-oriented philanthropy provides an important pathway for political influence among foundations… Foundations have simultaneously invested greater sums into jurisdictional challengers while divesting from more traditional educational institutions… Philanthropists have acted as patrons for new voices in education politics, funding increasing numbers of national advocacy groups… Philanthropic support for jurisdictional challengers suggests strong alignment of funding for research, advocacy, and implementation to advance a policy agenda.”

On Monday of this week, the University of Wisconsin’s Kathryn Moeller and Penn State’s Rebecca Tarlau pick up the same theme in an opinion piece in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.  Commenting on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s new partnership with Bill Gates to “reimagine” public education in New York, Moeller and Tarlau declare: “Gates Foundation’s tactics to remake public education during pandemic are undemocratic.”  Describing the role of today’s education philanthropy, they write: “Powerful foundations like the Gates Foundation do not simply impose policies on governments like New York State… Rather, they influence state officials’ consensus about which policies to adopt by positioning themselves as experts on education, garnering widespread support for their policy proposals, and offering economic and organizational support to put those policies in effect.  In our research, we refer to this as a process of ‘philanthropizing consent’ for highly controversial policy solutions.”

While Reckow and Snyder describe the recent philanthropic preference for jurisdictional challengers—charter schools rather than traditional public schools or alternative and quick teacher certification programs like Teach for America— Moeller and Tarlau describe an additional trend in today’s philanthropically driven education policy: (R)esearch shows that philanthropic experts often work to find technical solutions to systemic inequities without addressing their underlying causes.”  The threat to the public operation and governance of public schools is not merely because foundations lack public accountability, but also because their proposed solutions are likely to replace democratic institutions with technocracy.

In an essay “Pangloss, Pandora, or Jefferson,” which was a chapter in the 1998 book of essays, A Passion for Democracy, and reprinted here, the late political philosopher Benjamin Barber considers the problem of rapidly accelerating technology as a potential threat to democracy itself.  Barber reminds readers: “Henry Adams… observed at the beginning of this century that between the years 1800-1900, ‘measured by any standard known to science—by horsepower, calories, volts, mass in any shape… the tension and vibration and volume and so-called progression of society were fully a thousand times greater.’ … The internal combustion engine, and the typewriter came of age between the two World Wars, and television, microchips, and lasers are still more recent. The first computer built after the war filled a large room and performed less complex calculations for its ardent cybernetic attendants than a handheld instrument performs for students today.”

In the more than two decades since Barber published his essay, we now do have the technology to put New York state’s public schools entirely online, which Governor Cuomo seems to believe would cheaper, more efficient, and safer if another wave of the pandemic should hit his state. My sense, however, is that Barber would caution Cuomo about entirely turning over what are today’s democratically governed and operated New York public schools to the technological wizards and tech philanthropists. Barber would worry about our society’s capacity to meet the needs and protect the legal rights of all students if the technocrats were put in charge.

Barber warns: “There are, in fact, at least three prospects for the future of technology and democracy—three scenarios of their relationship—that are within the realm of technological possibility. I will call them, rather fancifully, the Pangloss scenario, which is rooted in complacency and is simply a projection of current attitudes and trends; the Pandora scenario, which looks at the worst possible case in terms of the inherent dangers of technological determinism, and the Jeffersonian scenario, which seeks out the affirmative uses of the new technology in the nurturing of modern democratic life.”

The students in the high school political philosophy class that I observed knew about Dr. Pangloss, Candide’s tutor, who, in any situation saw, “the best of all possible worlds.” Barber explains: “Anyone who reads good-time pop-futurology knows the penchant of the future mongers for Panglossian parody.  Their view of the future is always relentlessly upbeat and ahistorical, mindlessly naive about power and corruption as conditioners of all human politics.  They assume that the technological present and the future it will naturally produce are wholly benevolent and without costs.”  Governor Cuomo, turning to Bill Gates to create an educational future all online to replace “all these buildings, all these physical classrooms,” is a Dr. Pangloss.

The second scenario involves Pandora, the mortal woman created by the Greek gods and given many gifts. One gift was a box she was forbidden to open. Subject to curiosity, Pandora opened the box and released all the plagues, miseries and sorrows of mankind.  Describing the lure of today’s technology, Barber explains: “Pangloss is a peril to every society, but the greater danger to democracy comes form Pandora’s scenario, which envisions what might happen if a government consciously set out to utilize the new technologies for purposes of standardization, control, or repression.”

Of course, Barber prefers what he calls the Jeffersonian scenario: “Despite the potential of the… technology… for abuse, the new technologies, in themselves, can also offer powerful assistance to the life of democracy… In this sense, a guarded optimism is possible about technology and democracy, but only if citizen groups and governments take action in adapting the new technology to their needs.”  However, “In considering the Jeffersonian scenario we do not want to fall into Pangloss’s error and persuade ourselves that technology, properly used, can solve all the problems of democracy. Next to Pangloss, Pandora and Jefferson lurks Icarus, to remind us of the ultimate limits of all human technology—the modern extension of human hubris… Democracy can be reinforced by technology and it can be corrupted by technology, but democracy’s survival depends on human not machine inspiration.”

Michigan Settles Recent Detroit Case, Establishes Right to Literacy as a Federal Precedent

Sunday, May 17, 2020, was the 66th anniversary of the landmark education civil rights case, Brown v. Board of Education. America’s continued failure to realize the promise of the Brown decision has been appalling.

Although Brown and follow-up lawsuits ended de jure segregation (the intentional creation, by law, of segregated schools for black and white children), most Americans have found a way legally to persist in educating their children in racially isolated school settings. Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the early 1970s are well known for protecting separate and unequal public education: the 1973 decision in San Antonio v. Rodriguez, which found that public education is not a federally protected right under the U.S. Constitution, and the 1974 decision in Milliken v. Bradley, which banned cross-district busing for racial integration. Across many school districts, including the schools in big cities like Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and New York, children attend school in buildings that are more racially segregated than they were all those decades ago.

At the end of April, however, in a Detroit case, a three judge panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals established a new precedent, extending federal protection over every student’s right to basic literacy.  The worry in recent weeks has been that the decision would be overturned. Michigan’s legislature had requested the full 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to set aside the ruling of its three-judge panel. Many also worried that the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn the decision.

But the further appeal of this case now seems far less likely. Last Thursday, the state of Michigan settled the case and agreed to a financial remedy.

For the Detroit News, Jennifer Chambers and Beth LeBlanc report: “A historic settlement reached between the state and Detroit students calls for $94.5 million in future literacy funding, a $280,000 payout among seven plaintiffs and the creation of two Detroit task forces to help ensure a quality education for students.  News of the agreement came after the Detroit students were locked in a nearly four-year legal battle with the state for better school and learning conditions. The lawsuit was brought by seven students who argued they were deprived of access to literacy because of a lack of books (and) teachers, and poor building conditions.”

The Washington Post‘s Valerie Strauss reminds readers that this federal case —Gary B., et al. v Whitmer, et al.  was “filed on behalf of students in some of the lowest-performing schools in the long-troubled Detroit Public Schools system. Their underlying case was based on the due-process and equal-protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.”

Strauss outlines the settlement to which the state agreed. Governor Gretchen Whitmer must, “provide $280,000 to be shared among the seven individual student-plaintiffs to access a high-quality literacy program or otherwise further their education, as well as $2.72 million for the district to fund literacy-related supports.”  Whitmer can meet this requirement of the settlement without legislative approval.  Whitmer must also “propose legislation during her first term that would provide Detroit public schools with at least $94.4 million for literacy-related programs and initiatives.”  She must “advise school districts around the state how to improve access to literacy and literacy proficiency, including with strategies such as reducing class, racial, and ethnic disparities; allow for the creation of a non-governmental Detroit literacy equity task force—made up of students, parents, teachers, literacy experts and others—to conduct yearly literacy evaluations in Detroit and provide state level policy recommendations to the governor; (and) create or allow an existing body to serve as a Detroit educational policy committee that will focus on the stability and quality of the overall educational ecosystem in Detroit.”

There is no guarantee, however, that the full financial settlement will promptly be provided to enrich educational opportunity for Detroit’s students. Detroit Free Press columnist Nancy Kaffer describes the very cautious optimism of Mark Rosenbaum, the plaintiffs’ attorney: “Even he concedes that the governor’s support for the plaintiffs’ cause doesn’t guarantee anything.”  While Whitmer herself has agreed to provide $280,000 to be shared among the seven individual student-plaintiffs and $2.72 million for the Detroit school district to provide literacy-related supports, Kaffer warns: “The big ask—that $94 million—will require cooperation from the same Legislature that wanted the ruling tossed out, and which has not been sympathetic to the woes of schoolchildren in Detroit… And that kind of big cash infusion is what it will take to make real change in Detroit schools.”

The Detroit Public Schools were taken over by the state in 2009 and operated by a series of emergency fiscal managers appointed by Governor Rick Snyder. Emergency managers were charged with imposing tight fiscal controls; the Flint water poisoning was the most notorious example. In 2016, after the school district was returned to local control, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti was appointed in May of 2017, to restore stability and educational quality to the school district under the control of the local elected board of education. The Detroit News quotes Superintendent Vitti commenting on last week’s settlement in the case of Gary B. v. Whitmer: “Unfortunately, this settlement does not make the students or the school district whole after the abomination of emergency management. I blame the ugly face of politics for that.” Vitti comments on the importance of Governor Whitmer’s role going forward: “Her legacy has yet to be defined as a transformative force for Detroit’s children educationally. That legacy will be defined by how hard she fights for the proposed changes to per-pupil funding and the district debt restructuring that is named in the settlement.”

There is still a remote chance that, despite Michigan’s settlement of the case last week, earlier legal requests might push the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit to reconsider. An appeal would be dangerous, as the legal precedent—the federal protection of the right to literacy—could be overturned by an appeal.  However, the Detroit News quotes a dean emeritus and professor at the University of Michigan Law School, Evan Caminker, who judges that following a settlement by the state, the full 6th Circuit Court of Appeals is unlikely to reconsider the case: “The settlement should end the matter.”

Two school funding attorneys have also commented to the press this week celebrating the quick settlement of this case, on the assumption that the Gary B. v. Whitmer is now not likely to be appealed.  If the decision stands, it establishes an urgently needed legal precedent nearly fifty years after the U.S. Supreme Court in San Antonio v. Rodriguez decided that public education is not a federally protected right.

Michael Rebell, a school finance attorney at Teacher’s College, Columbia University and the plaintiffs’ attorney in an ongoing Rhode Island case now in federal court, declared, “The (Detroit) settlement impacts our case. There is now a precedent in the 6th circuit.  It is a big breakthrough.  In 45 years, there has been no federal court saying there is any type of right.”

Derek Black, a law professor at the University of South Carolina explains: “Now we have precedent. The principle in this case is so important to not only the children in Detroit, but also to the hopes of children everywhere.”

What’s with Cuomo and Others Advocating for a “Shock Doctrine” Shift to Online Education?

We need to figure out a way to open public schools in the fall.

Parents are going to need to go back to work, and children need supervision, routine, intellectual stimulation and the socialization that comes with going to school.  And, as we have been observing during these recent months, for millions of children, the public school is the only institution positioned to provide opportunities that may be unavailable at home.

A lot of what I am reading about reopening schools and childcare centers, however, addresses some important needs of adults without carefully considering the developmental needs of the children who will be served.  And some of what is being promoted addresses the priorities of the promoters themselves without considering what is needed for the students.

The agenda of Jeb Bush, Eric Schmidt and Bill Gates falls in that last category.  Back in 2007, two years after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Naomi Klein published a book about promoters and philanthropists who took advantage of the New Orleans disaster by pushing desperate politicians to adopt public policies that would benefit the promoter’s ideological obsession or, in some cases, the promoter’s bottom line.  In The Shock Doctrine, Klein explains: “In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and the electricity grid was brought back online, the auctioning off of New Orleans’ school system took place with military speed and precision.  Within nineteen months, with most of the city’s poor residents still in exile, New Orleans’ public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools… New Orleans was now, according to the New York Times, ‘the nation’s preeminent laboratory for the widespread use of charter schools…. I call these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, ‘disaster capitalism.'” (The Shock Doctrine, pp. 5-6)   You will remember that the state’s seizure of New Orleans’ public schools and the eventual creation of an all-charter school district experiment was helped along by a big grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, along with grants from several other foundations.

This same sort of temptation to repurpose a catastrophe seems to have taken possession of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Last week he announced a plan to work with with Bill Gates to create a gigantic statewide experiment with online learning.  Announcing his plan to “reimagine” public education, Cuomo declared: “The old model of everybody goes and sits in a classroom, and the teacher is in front of that classroom and teaches that class, and you do that all across the city, all across the state; all these buildings, all these physical classrooms… why, with all the technology you have?”

And it’s not only Andrew Cuomo who has fallen for the lure of technology. All month, Jeb Bush—Florida’s former governor and chair of the board of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (a pro-privatization think tank that Jeb founded in 2008)— has been promoting a similar agenda. Despite that states are in desperate need of an infusion of federal support to keep teachers employed and class size reasonable, Jeb warns that just using the money to get schools back up and running will be a wasted opportunity: “There will be no end to ways to spend the money: Education is expensive, and there will be plenty of claims on the money. Teacher pensions are depleted. School workers—bus drivers, support staff, administrators—all will want CARES funds to fill gaps in their budges. Then there are public colleges that have lost out on tuition dollars. Trying to spread the money among all these causes would mean not accomplishing much on any of them… (W)ith this pot of money, it is far better to try to make a lasting impact on one big initiative. Governors should entertain what I call ‘long runway’ ideas—areas where the investment will pay off over a long period of time. Think about what has the best payoff: patching a lot of potholes, or rebuilding a major bridge?”

Jeb Bush has four “long-runway ideas” and the first, of course, is digital learning—eliminating the digital divide. Bush expands on this idea: “The digital divide is real. Only two-thirds of rural homes have broadband; low-income families typically lack access to Internet-enabled devices beyond smartphones. But stopping distance learning over equity concerns is a false choice. Many school districts, state leaders and others have figured out how to keep instruction going. Some opened access to virtual schools. Some, supported by private donations, have given laptops and tablets to students who need them… It’s time to learn the lessons from these heroic efforts and plan for a future in which public education can continue without access to classrooms—not just because of a pandemic but because that’s the future of learning… Longer term, all K-12 schools need to adapt to distance learning. Already, one third of college students take courses online.”

Naomi Klein herself reminds us that her “Shock Doctrine” theory is becoming operational in the midst of the current pandemic crisis.  Klein reports that New York’s Governor Cuomo has been seeking guidance not merely from Bill Gates, but also from Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google. While Cuomo asked Gates to lead the effort to “reimagine” New York’s schools, he followed up by inviting Schmidt to lead “a blue-ribbon commission to “reimagine” New York state’s post-Covid reality—with an emphasis on permanently integrating technology into every aspect of civic life. Klein quotes Schmidt: “The first priorities of what we’re trying to do… are focused on telehealth, remote learning, and broadband… We need to look for solutions that can be presented now, and accelerated, and use technology to make things better.”

Klein concludes” “It has taken some time to gel, but something resembling a coherent Pandemic Shock Doctrine is beginning to emerge. Call it the ‘Screen New Deal.’  Far more high-tech than anything we have seen during previous disasters, the future that is being rushed into being as the bodies still pile up treats our past weeks of physical isolation not as a painful necessity to save lives, but as a living laboratory for a permanent—and highly profitable—no-touch future.”

The Nonprofit Quarterly‘s Martin Levine is aghast: “Cuomo saw a crisis too good to waste… His framework for change is to fully harness the marvels of technology and create a public education system highly reliant on a new and untested form of education… He didn’t choose to take on problems known to plague public education, making sure that New York’s schools are properly funded, fully staffed, and well equipped. Nor did he choose to address the critical impact of racism and wealth inequality on student success. Instead, he seeks a magic-bullet cure in technology.  Following the path taken by the foundations and mega-philanthropists… he seems willing to try one more experiment out on his state’s children.”

Levine quotes a statement from Andy Pallotta, the president of the New York State United Teachers, in response to Governor Cuomo’s choice of Bill Gates to lead a “reimagining education” initiative. Cuomo put only two schoolteachers on his practitioners’ panel to help “reimagine” education in New York.  Pallotta represents the state’s teachers who are much closer not only to the needs of children and families but also to the realities of daily life in a public school: “New York State United Teachers believes in the education of the whole child. Remote learning, in any form, will never replace the important personal connection between teachers and their students that is built in the classroom and is a critical part of the teaching and learning process — which is why we’ve seen educators work so hard during this pandemic to maintain those connections through video chats, phone calls and socially distant in-person meetings. If we want to reimagine education, let’s start with addressing the need for social workers, mental health counselors, school nurses, enriching arts courses, advanced courses and smaller class sizes in school districts across the state. Let’s secure the federal funding and new state revenues through taxes on the ultrawealthy that can go toward addressing these needs. And let’s recognize educators as the experts they are by including them in these discussions about improving our public education system for every student.”  What is striking in Pallotta’s recommendations is a plea for the kind of human connectedness that defines traditional public schools and is so essential for the health and development of children.

I give Governor Cuomo credit for wanting to improve online learning and to ameliorate the alarming digital divide among wealthy and poor New York families. Presumably he wants to ensure that the city is better prepared should a second wave of Covid-19 illnesses require a second shutdown.  But his rhetoric—“The old model of everybody goes and sits in a classroom, and the teacher is in front of that classroom and teaches that class, and you do that all across the city, all across the state; all these buildings, all these physical classrooms… why, with all the technology you have?”—tells a bizarre and very different story. Does Cuomo imagine New York’s children sitting quietly, locked in their apartments with their tablets or at their computers while their parents are at work?  Does he believe a machine can keep Kindergartners engaged and on task? Does he believe such a life is desirable for a five-year-old?  Will computer connections online keep kids company and keep them fed? And what about adolescents—young people capable of doing more sophisticated work online and even research—but also known to lack good judgement. Wouldn’t the streets and subways fill up with kids wandering the city on their own?

Harvard political theorist Danielle Allen believes our society is capable of preparing to open public schools next fall if we collectively undertake to make it happen safely. Allen defines the problem not as a technological challenge but instead as political: “There is still time to build testing and contact-tracing programs throughout the country to try to decelerate the spread of COVIC-19 and drive the disease to low enough levels that schools can open safely…  We need schools to be open so that student learning doesn’t suffer further….  We need schools to open so that parents can go back to work fully….  We need schools to be open so that routine provision of food and health resources to needy students… can resume fully….  We need colleges and universities… to be open in the fall so that the many vulnerable institutions among them don’t fail and wipe out a key pillar of our civil society and intellectual infrastructure….  Brown University and the University of California San Diego have begun building infrastructures to conduct routine testing and to run contact-tracing programs on their campuses.  It is not enough, however, that some schools may be able to run programs on their own.”

Allen concludes: “Achieving security in the face of this pathogen should… be a public, not private, endeavor.  Before the start of the school year, we have time to build broad public testing and contact tracing to follow chains of transmission, finding every COVID case, and supporting people in voluntary isolation…. Let’s not waste the rest of the time we have.  If we do, our political institutions will have flunked a basic requirement of governance.”