Is It True that Nobody Really Knows What to Do to Help Struggling Schools?

Early this week, in a column for the Washington Post, Emma Brown wondered: “What should America do about its worst public schools?” Does anybody know?  Brown notes that not one of the plans states are submitting to the U.S. Department of Education, as required by the Every Student Succeeds Act, seems to include a solid plan to help the lowest scoring public schools.

Brown explains: Congress thought it had answers for the problem of low-performing schools when it passed No Child Left Behind in 2001. The bipartisan law, meant to fight what president George W. Bush called ‘the soft bigotry of low expectations,’ laid out consequences for schools that failed to meet escalating performance targets. After a school missed targets for two years, students were allowed to transfer out. After three years, schools had to offer free tutoring. After four and five years, there was a menu of options, from replacing the curriculum to firing staff, reopening as a charter school, or turning over management to state authorities… A decade after the law passed nearly everyone agreed it was broken… Despite some bright spots and success stories, a federal analysis released this year showed that, on average, test scores, graduation rates and college enrollment were no different in schools that received the money than in those that did not.”

The new version of the federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), keeps the tests but turns the responsibility for school improvement back to the states. Brown adds: “Many in the education world, from state superintendents to teachers unions, applaud this hands-off trend. Each struggling school faces unique circumstances… and deserves a tailored solution shaped by community input—not a top-down directive from faraway bureaucrats.” But Brown quotes several people who worry that scores are unlikely to rise under the new law—most notably the far-right Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Michael Petrilli, who surmises, “We don’t know what to do about chronically low-performing schools. Nothing has worked consistently and at scale.”

I certainly agree that nothing we’ve tried lately has worked consistently and at scale. The question about whether we know how to support the schools in our poorest communities, however, has been addressed over the years by academic experts and people with a range of experience in the schools that struggle.  It turns out there is widespread consensus about policies we ought to try.  Here are three examples.

First, last November in Lessons from NCLB for the Every Student Succeeds Act, William Mathis and Tina M. Trujillo of the National Education Policy Center examined the new law’s potential to improve schools: “(T)he new law continues to disaggregate data by race and by wealth (and adds new sub-groups) but shows little promise of remedying the systemic under-resourcing of needy students.  Giving the reform policies of high-stakes assessment and privatization the benefit of the most positive research interpretation, the benefits accrued are insufficient to justify their use as comprehensive reform strategies.  Less generous interpretations of the research provide clear warnings of harm. The research evidence over the past 30 years further tells us that unless we address the economic bifurcation in the nation, and the opportunity gaps in the schools, we will not be successful in closing the achievement gap.”  The report continues: “Above all else, each state must ensure that students have adequate opportunities, funding and resources to achieve state goals…  States must shift toward an assistance role and exercise less of a regulatory role… Under ESSA, school performance will now be measured using a system that incorporates one or more non-academic indicators…. These non-academic indicators provide states their strongest new tool for maximizing educational equity and opportunity…. States and districts must collaborate with social service and labor departments to ensure adequate personal, social and economic opportunities.”   Finally Mathis and Trujillo  recommend that any effective school improvement strategy would include, at the very least, early education, an extended school year and day, de-tracking, class size reduction, and school-community partnerships.

Second, just weeks ago, the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization spoke for communities of color in a report from a year-long task force that has held a series of hearings across the United States. The specific topic of the NAACP’s report is the organization’s proposed moratorium on new charter schools until significant oversight of these schools is increased. But the NAACP’s task force felt compelled to add recommendations to its report about the urgent need to address generations of underfunding and inequality in the schools located in communities of color: “More equitable and adequate funding for all schools serving students of color. Education funding has been inadequate and unequal for students of color for hundreds of years. The United States has one of the most unequal school funding systems of any country in the industrialized world.  Resources are highly unequal across states, across districts, and across schools, and they have declined in many communities over the last decade.  In 36 states, public school funding has not yet returned to pre-2008 levels—before the great recession, and in many states inner city schools have experienced the deepest cuts.  Federal funds have also declined in real dollar terms for both Title I and for special education expenditures over the last decade.”

The NAACP concludes: “Invest in low-performing schools and schools with significant opportunity to close the achievement gap… To ensure that all students receive a high-quality education, federal, state, and local policies need to sufficiently invest in: (1) incentives that attract and retain fully qualified educators, (2) improvements in instructional quality that include creating challenging and inclusive learning environments; and (3) wraparound  services for young people, including early childhood education, health and mental health services, extended learning time, and social supports.”

Finally, writing a year ago to then-Education Secretary, John B. King about the Every Student Succeeds Act, the Vermont State Board of Education criticized what its members anticipated would be the continuation of too much testing and too many sanctions, without any real effort to address the impact of concentrated poverty on the students in the lowest scoring schools: “(W)e have strong concerns and reservations about ESSA. Fundamentally, if we are to close the achievement gap, it is imperative that we substantively address the underlying economic and social disparities that characterize our nation, our communities and our schools.  With two-thirds of the score variance attributable to outside of school factors, test score gaps measure the health of our society more than the quality of the schools.  Consequently, the continuation of a test-based, labeling and ‘assistance’ model (broadly seen as punishment) has not only proven ineffective, but has had a corrosive effect on the confidence of the people.  The encouragement of privatization has been harmful to local democracy, has further segregated a too fragmented nation and has diluted rather than focused valuable resources.”

For all these reasons, on the very topic of ESSA’s potential for improving schools, this blog surmised last Friday that in a climate of tax cutting and austerity budgeting at the federal level and in many states, we won’t see much school improvement under ESSA. Across the states, schools are unequally funded, with struggling rural and urban schools overwhelmed as well by student poverty that is being exacerbated by budget cuts to the health and social service programs needed by the same students who attend the poorest schools. No Child Left Behind never delivered the necessary resources to jump-start school improvement nor has Congress attached significant resources to ESSA. And Trump’s budget proposal does not increase the Title I formula, the one federal funding stream designed to support schools serving concentrations of children living in poverty.

It turns out that the problem of struggling public schools is not really the lack of knowledge about what to do to begin helping the teachers and students in these schools. Our society instead has a moral problem: widespread lack of public will in the United States to help children trapped by concentrated poverty. We refuse to invest in the services that would enrich the lives of our poorest children and support their public schools. We keep talking instead about a far cheaper strategy: creating private lifeboats to help a few children escape.

How Will the DeVos Department of Education Implement the Every Student Succeeds Act?

Between 2002 and the end of 2015, many who care about U.S. public education lived and breathed strategies for ending No Child Left Behind’s rigid and punitive accountability mechanisms. The law was supposed to make all public schools accountable for improving schooling, especially for children in poverty and children in racial and ethnic groups who have historically been marginalized. NCLB was supposed to ensure that every child in America would be proficient by 2014. Its strategy was using fear as the motivator—driving everybody to work harder to avoid terrible sanctions like teachers being fired, schools being closed, and schools being turned over to private operators.

But, although teachers were fired, and schools were closed, and schools were turned over to private contractors, test scores did not rise appreciably and achievement gaps did not close.  And, because test scores in the aggregate reflect family and community economic levels, the schools that were closed or privatized were too often in the big city neighborhoods the law was supposed to help and the teachers who were fired were too frequently black and brown teachers living and teaching in those cities.

So… when Congress replaced No Child Left Behind with a newer version of the federal education law—the Every Student Succeeds Act, many people hoped for more support for the poorest schools in America’s big cities.  And supporters of public school improvement were not sorry that the Republicans who dominated Congress in December 2015 seemed to want to soften the “punish” part of test-and-punish. The testing part, unfortunately, remains: once every year in grades 3-8 and once in high school.  But the punish part was turned over to the states, who were told they must set goals for improving test scores and find ways to reach those goals.  It was all pretty vague—and lots of people worried that what it really meant was a return to states’ rights.  That worry paled, however, compared to a widespread consensus that it is impossible to punish schools into raising test scores.

Then a year later Betsy DeVos, the devoted privatizer and strong supporter of less regulation of education, arrived to lead the U.S. Department of Education. People began watching as, in the spring of this year, states began submitting their required ESSA plans—their goals for raising test scores and their strategies to push schools to reach those goals. Everybody was shocked in early July when DeVos, the de-regulator, allowed her department to demand that Delaware make its plan tougher on accountability. Here is Erica Green of the NY Times:  “Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who made a career of promoting local control of education, has signaled a surprisingly hard-line approach to carrying out an expansive new federal education law, issuing critical feedback that has rattled state school chiefs and conservative education experts alike.”

Green describes Senator Lamar Alexander, the Republican chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, pushing back at the Republican Secretary of Education: “Proponents, especially congressional Republicans and conservative education advocates, believed that a new era of local control would flourish under Ms. DeVos…. But her department’s feedback reflects a tension between ideology and legal responsibility.”

It turns out that the person at the Department of Education who has been reviewing states’ ESSA plans is Jason Botel, an acting assistant secretary of education. (His appointment has not yet come before the Senate.) Botel is a longtime corporate school reformer whose background includes stints at KIPP charter schools and Maryland’s chapter of 50CAN, an advocacy organization supportive of strong accountability for public schools. Erica Green quotes Botel advocating for a strict interpretation of the wording of ESSA, which spells out that states’ plans must be ambitious: “Because the statute does not define the word ‘ambitious,’ the secretary has the responsibility of determining whether a state’s long-term goals are ambitious.”

Senator Alexander responded: “I think we have a case of an assistant secretary who hasn’t read the law carefully… The heart of the entire law… was that it’s the state’s decision to set goals, to decide what ‘ambitious’ means, to make decisions to help schools that aren’t performing well.” (What this means is a little unclear, as in the past test-and-punish was defined as “helping” schools that aren’t performing well.)

On Monday morning of this week, the Department of Education, in a notice published in the Federal Register, answered Senator Alexander’s concerns—clarifying what sort of evidence it will require from states to ensure their accountability plans are ambitious.  Here is Sarah Sparks of Education Week explaining how the Department will interpret the rules: “For the most part, the rules tweak or clarify existing rules to incorporate ESSA’s four increasingly rigorous levels of evidence: …To use an intervention or approach for school improvement under ESSA, it must be backed by research that is strong (experimental trials), moderate (quasi-experimental), or by promising studies that don’t meet the higher standards of rigor but still statistically control for differences between the students using an intervention and those in a control group. For topics aside from school turnaround where there just is no rigorous research, states and districts can test an intervention while conducting their own study.”

Also this week, Betsy DeVos signed off on the ESSA plan Delaware had presented and Botel had rejected, though the state tweaked the application a bit to satisfy the Department. Alyson Klein summarizes for Education Week: “Delaware made some tweaks to its plan, and clarified some things for the department. The state gave some more information to show why its goal of cutting the number of students who don’t score proficient on state tests in half by 2030 is, indeed, ambitious.  And it explained that all public high school students do, in fact, have access to the courses, tests, and other measures the state wants to use to figure out whether students are ready for college and the workforce. Delaware also moved science test scores to another part of its accountability system, at the behest of the feds… Apparently, all that was good enough to convince DeVos—who has final say over giving a state plan the thumbs up or down—to approve Delaware’s ESSA vision.”

What seems clear is that ESSA enforcement is not Betsy DeVos’s top priority. It also seems that the Department, under DeVos’s leadership, is not going to make waves with powerful Congressional Republicans like Lamar Alexander.

It is also clear that federally driven, test-based school accountability is not going away. One can only hope that academic researchers and the Department of Education will watch carefully to see if any of the evidence-based strategies states impose under ESSA as the response to low test scores do begin to deliver real improvement in our nation’s struggling schools.

My prediction is that in a climate of tax cutting and austerity budgeting at the federal level and in many states, we won’t see much school improvement. Across the states schools are unequally funded, with struggling rural and urban schools overwhelmed as well by student poverty that is being exacerbated by budget cuts to the health and social service programs needed by the same students who attend the poorest schools. No Child Left Behind never delivered the necessary resources to jump-start school improvement nor has Congress attached significant resources to ESSA.  And Trump’s budget proposal does not increase the  Title I formula, the one federal funding stream designed to support schools serving concentrations of children living in poverty.

Momentum Grows Against VAM Evaluations of Teachers, but Eradication of VAM Will Take Time

Earlier this month, Christopher Tienken, a professor of education leadership, management, and policy at Seton Hall University published a short commentary on research he and colleagues have been conducting about whether standardized tests ought to be used for high stakes policy decisions.

He writes, “Every year, policymakers across the U.S. make life-changing decisions based on the results of standardized tests. These high-stakes decisions include, but are not limited to, student promotion to the next grade level, student eligibility to participate in advanced coursework, eligility to graduate high school and teacher tenure. In 40 states, teachers are evaluated in part based on the results from student standardized tests, as are school administrators in almost 30 states. However, research shows that the outcomes of standardized tests don’t reflect the quality of instruction, as they’re intended to… The results show that it’s possible to predict the percentages of students who will score proficient or above on some standardized tests. We can do this just by looking at some of the important characteristics of the community, rather than factors related to the schools themselves, like student-teacher ratios or teacher quality. This raises the possibility that there are serious flaws built into education accountability systems and the decisions about educators and students made within those systems.”  Tienken and his colleagues have been investigating issues associated with the aggregate poverty (or wealth) in the communities where schools are located.

Questions about the reliability and validity of standardized testing, reports Rachel Cohen for The American Prospect, are finally contributing to growing doubts about the use of what is known as Value-Added Modeling (VAM) to evaluate teachers. VAM, writes Cohen, is “a controversial statistical method aimed at isolating each teacher’s effectiveness based on… (her) students’ standardized test scores.” VAM models are supposed to measure the “value added” by each particular teacher.

Concerns about VAM are not new. In the spring of 2014, the American Statistical Association warned: “(V)ariation among teachers accounts for a small part of the variation in scores. The majority of the variation in test scores is attributable to factors outside of the teacher’s control such as student and family background, poverty, curriculum, and unmeasured influences. The VAM scores themselves have large standard errors, even when calculated using several years of data. These large standard errors make rankings unstable, even under the best scenarios for modeling.”

A year later in June of 2015, the American Educational Research Association added, “Because of the adverse consequences of faulty evaluations for educators and the students they serve, use of VAM in any evaluation system must meet a very high technical bar… (T)he validity of inferences from VAM scores depends on the ability to isolate the contributions of teachers and leaders to student learning from the contributions of other factors not under their control. This is very difficult, not only because of data limitations but also because of the highly nonrandom sorting of students and teachers into schools and classes within schools. The resulting bias will not be distributed evenly among schools, given wide variation in critical factors like student mobility…. Therefore, due caution should be exercised in the interpretations of VAM scores, since we generally do not know how to properly adjust for the impact of these other factors.”

Nevertheless, the use of VAM to evaluate teachers has become widespread—driven by federal policy. Cohen traces the history, beginning with the influence of recommendations by the New Teacher Project and the National Council on Teacher Quality, both programs that oppose teachers unions and have sought to spread alarm about the quality of American teachers. “In 2009, an education reform group known as The New Teacher Project (TNTP) issued an influential report finding widespread ‘institutional indifference to variations in teacher performance.’… TNTP recommended an overhaul of teacher evaluations, urging districts to develop systems that rate teachers ‘based on their effectiveness in promoting students’ achievement’—which meant evaluating them by their students’ scores on standardized tests. The report heavily influenced the Obama administration’s $4 billion Race to the Top program, which rewarded states that created new evaluation systems based on student test scores and value-added modeling. (The administration also used No Child Left Behind waivers to incentivize similar policies.)” Basically Arne Duncan’s U.S.Department of Education drove states to adopt VAM for evaluating teachers as a condition for states to qualify for a waiver from NCLB’s ill-conceived punishments.

Cohen adds that, “By 2015, the anti-testing backlash had gained steam across the country, in part because the federal government had pushed for test scores to be used to evaluate teachers across all grades and subjects. States had begun to require assessments in such traditionally untested areas like art and early elementary. Parents, teachers unions, and conservatives rallied together for a rollback of federal testing mandates. With the enactment of the Every Student Succeeds Act in late 2015, they succeeded.”  But although the federal government eliminated its requirement that states evaluate teachers with standardized test scores, many states have kept on using VAM to rate teachers.

Teachers and their unions have protested the unfairness and inaccuracy of VAM evaluation systems. Cohen summarizes lawsuits filed in a number of states by teachers and their unions, but these cases have been very hard for teachers to win.  For example, a federal judge in Florida in 2013 wrote an opinion that explained why courts have often found that while VAM may be unfair, it is not illegal: “In 2013, the National Education Association and its Florida affiliate filed a federal lawsuit challenging a state law that required at least half of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on VAM. In practice, this meant that teachers in non-tested grades and subjects were graded based on the test scores of students they didn’t teach… Together, the seven public school teacher plaintiffs in Cook v. Chartrand argued that Florida’s law violated their equal protection and due process rights. But in 2014, a federal judge ruled against them, concluding that while the rating system seemed clearly unfair, it was nonetheless still legal. ‘Needless to say, this Court would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would fine this evaluation system fair to (teachers in non-tested subjects), let alone be willing to submit to a similar evaluation system… This case, however, is not about the fairness of the evaluation system. The standard of review is not whether the evaluation policies are good or bad, wise or unwise; but whether the evaluation policies are rational within the meaning of the law.'” The decision was upheld on appeal.

Cohen reports, however, that teachers are encouraged by a judge’s recent decision in a Houston case: “The lawsuit centered on the system’s use of value-added modeling (VAM)…. United States Magistrate Judge Stephen Smith concluded that the metric’s impenetrability could render it unconstitutional. If, he wrote, teachers have ‘no meaningful way to ensure’ that their value-added ratings are accurate, they are ‘subject to mistaken deprivation of constitutionally protected property interests in their jobs.’  More specifically, he continued, if the school district denies its teachers access to the computer algorithms and data that form the basis of each teacher’s VAM score, it ‘flunks the minimum procedural due process standard of providing the reason for termination in sufficient detail to enable (the teacher) to show any error that may exist.'”

Beyond the courts, reports Cohen, even prominent education “reformers” have begun to question the reliability of VAM-based teacher evaluations.  Jay Greene, the director of the far-right, Walton-funded think tank at the University of Arkansas, the Department of Education Reform, has begun raising questions. Cohen describes her interview with Greene: “In an interview with the Prospect, Greene… said that test-based accountability advocates tend to imagine either that existing accountability systems are already designed according to best practices, or that states will eventually adopt best practices. “But there’s no sign that this will happen…'”

Despite widespread evidence of its flaws, VAM modeling has unfairly damaged the reputation of the teaching profession and seriously undermined morale. We have begun to see a shift in attitudes, but it will take considerable and persistent advocacy to rid VAM entirely from state policy.

NAACP Publishes Extraordinary Report from its Task Force on Quality Education: Please Read It!

Yesterday the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, released an extraordinary report from a national Task Force on Quality Education, convened last October by the NAACP’s board of directors.  The Task Force was charged with investigating the operation of charter schools across the states in response to a resolution passed by the NAACP last October that demanded  a moratorium on new charter schools until four conditions are met: that charter schools be subject to the same transparency and accountability as public schools; that public funds not be diverted to charter schools at the expense of public school systems; that charters cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate; and that charters “cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.”

Soon after appointing the Task Force, the new report explains, the NAACP’s board of directors realized the group must investigate not only the operation of charters but also the broader issue of “the protection of quality public education for all inner-city children.” The resulting Task Force on Quality Education was charged to hold hearings across the country and to report its findings this summer at the national NAACP convention, currently underway, in Baltimore. Hearing sites were seven U.S. cities: New Haven, Memphis, Orlando, Los Angeles, Detroit, New Orleans, and New York.

I encourage you to read and reflect on the entire, and very readable, thirty page report, because even the report’s excellent executive summary cannot convey the authenticity of the comments from testimony across so many very different communities. Derrick Johnson, the NAACP’s vice president, is quoted from his own testimony at the Task Force’s Detroit hearing: “Here’s the moral walk: That the same quality and equity that a child would receive in Bloomfield Hills is guaranteed for every child in the city of Detroit… that we insist (on) a system, not hodgepodges of opportunity, but a comprehensive system for all children.”

A short primer on charter schools begins the report with a definition of charter schools: “Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are nearly always privately operated by an appointed board under a written contract (or ‘charter’) with a state, district, or other organization, depending on the state… Charter schools generally have flexibility from many laws and regulations that govern neighborhood public schools, as long as the charter school meets the terms of its charter.”

The report seeks  to be scrupulously fair—with a section on “perceived benefits of charter schools” and another on “perceived problems with charter schools.”  In the section on perceived benefits, charter operators, parents and supporters are quoted telling the Task Force that charters graduate many children who later matriculate to college. Many charter schools, according to their proponents, “take and keep all students as other public schools do.”  Some charters are said to do a very good job serving children living in poverty. The report explains: “As would be expected, charter school advocates and operators believe that their schools offer a strong education, and many argue that it is a better education than many neighborhood public schools.”  The report describes parents, students, and community members who “love their charter school because it provides ‘the best education.'”

But many who came to the Task Force’s hearings testified about problems in particular charter schools. Educators, parents and community members told of even bigger problems in states with poor oversight of charter schools and the states that fail to regulate charter school authorizers.

  • The Task Force heard about problems of access and retention—of exclusionary enrollment and push-out practices particularly for children with special needs. “In New Orleans, the Southern Poverty Law Center had to bring a lawsuit against the Recovery School District because so many special education students were rejected from all the charter schools they applied to.”  “Witnesses explained that while a charter school may claim to be open to all students, between reserving seats prior to any lottery process, selective enrollment, the use of exclusionary discipline processes, and counseling out of students, it may actually be exclusive.” “Bob Wilson, a member of Journey for Justice from Chicago, Illinois, testified about a local study (which) f0und that Chicago charter school expulsion rates were more than 1,000% higher than those of Chicago Public Schools on a per-pupil basis.”
  • People testified to the Task Force about uneven school quality. “Dr. Earl Watkins, Chair of Mississippi State NAACP Education Committee, explained that under Mississippi Code 372847: No more than 25% of teachers in a charter school in Mississippi may be exempt from state teacher licensure requirements.  Administrators in charter schools in Mississippi do not have to be certified, and can hold only a bachelor’s degree to be a principal in that school… (Compare this to) traditional public schools where the threshold is 5% of staff can teach out of field or not be certified, and principals in public schools in Mississippi must be certified as administrators…”  While proponents of charters brag that charters can be closed for poor quality (unlike traditional public schools), if such schools are closed, “Black students are particularly susceptible to being impacted by school closures… Charter schools are far less stable schooling options for communities than traditional or magnet schools.”  Testifying from Broward County, Florida about the closure of 30 charter schools due to poor quality, a witness explained: “Broward County School District enrolls over 271,000 students and has over 300 schools. Closing 30 schools, 10% of the schools, represents a significant disruption to students’ education and district’s operations.”
  • Lack of accountability and transparency in the charter sector was reported to the Task Force as a serious issue from place to place. The report compares oversight in Tennessee in contrast to Michigan: “The extent to which charter schools are financially accountable and transparent often varies depending upon the strength of individual state charter laws.  For example, according to testimony on Tennessee State charter laws, ‘The schools are required to have audits, they’re required to report on academic achievement, financial management, and organizational facilities every year and report this information to districts and to the state.’ Compare this to Michigan, where according to the Detroit Free Press, ‘Michigan taxpayers pour nearly $1 billion a year into charter schools. But state laws regulating charters are among the nation’s weakest, and the state demands little accountability in how taxpayer dollars are spent and how well children are educated.'”  Poor oversight and accountability are also exemplified by significant variations in charter school staff salaries including charter school operators paid, in one case, a quarter of a million dollars and in another instance half a million dollars per year.  Finally there is all the money spent to lobby for the perpetuation of poor regulation of charters—such as in Massachusetts in November 2016, when out-of-state Wall Street hedge fund managers, the Walton family and dark money PACs spent $25 million to lobby to raise the state’s cap on the authorization of new charters. The pro-charter lobbying frenzy failed to block regulation in this case, but the problem remains in many states.
  • The Task Force reports that it heard about school choice and charters reducing access for children to schools in their own neighborhoods, requiring long commutes in some cities on public transportation: “One of the side-effects of extensive chartering is that children do not have a right to attend school in their neighborhood.  In many communities, all of the neighborhood public schools have closed.  Children may be rejected for admission from nearby charter schools or be unable to attend because nearby charters are full—or there may be no nearby schools at all… In some communities, like Detroit and Memphis, enrollments in neighborhood public schools are decreasing due to smaller populations in these cities and to charter schools enrolling more students.”
  • Then there is the issue of for-profit charters: “Approximately 12% of U.S. charter schools are run by for-profit companies and approximately 15 states allow virtual schools, many of which are operated by for-profit organizations. In some cases the non-profit charter is run by a for-profit management company, to whom the nonprofit pays substantial fees.”

Summarizing concerns raised by witnesses who testified across seven community hearings—accountability issues, concerns about transparency, problems with disparate access for students and disparate standards, and concerns about authorizing and funding—the NAACP Task Force concludes: “Multiple parents and community members described the need for the state or district to govern all schools—traditional and charter—so that there’s one system of democratically-accountable, high-quality schools.  This system would help students and families make sense of the variety of education options and ensure that all schools support student learning.”

Describing the need to replace educational fragmentation with systemic oversight, the Task Force quotes Tonya Allen, President of Detroit’s Skillman Foundation: “Not only is that a disaggregated system, there are 14 different entities that make decisions today about whether you open or close schools, and not one of them are necessarily coordinated.  There’s no mandate on that.  So, what we’ve gone from is basically a school system to what many would say (is) ‘a system of schools,’ except we have no system.  Okay.  So there’s no planning, there’s no support… So basically if you’re a parent and you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to choose a school, it’s basic hunger games for you… Families are desperately looking for places, and we have nothing in our community… And so we have a hyper—I mean a hyper-competitive environment where you can have all of these various entities working in one geographic domain… There’s nobody, literally nobody in charge of the children in (the) the city of Detroit.”

The NAACP’s Task Force concludes: (W)hile high quality, accountable, accessible charters can contribute to educational opportunity, by themselves, even the best charters are not a substitute for more stable, adequate and equitable investments in public education in the communities that serve our children.”

The NAACP’s Task Force makes five excellent recommendations.  I agree with all of them, and I’ll list them here (quoted from the report):

  1. Provide more equitable and adequate funding for schools serving students of color.
  2. Invest productively in low-performing schools and schools with significant opportunity and achievement gaps.
  3. Develop and enforce robust charter school accountability measures: (a) create and enforce a rigorous charter school authorizing and renewal process; (b) create and enforce a common accountability system; (c) monitor and require charter schools to admit and retain all students; (d) create and monitor transparent disciplinary guidelines that meet ongoing learning needs and prevent push out; (e) require charter schools to hire certified teachers.
  4. Require fiscal transparency and equity regarding the sources of revenues and how those resources are allocated.
  5. Eliminate for-profit charter schools.

I believe the primary importance of this report is in the moving and compelling narrative it creates of a disastrously uncoordinated and poorly regulated experiment that has hurt poor children and their families—especially black and brown children in the big cities where the charter experiment has been focused. The NAACP’s Task Force has significantly shaped a coherent narrative when nobody else has succeeded—connecting the dots across the 43 states where charter schools operate under 43 state laws.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner Leads Ideological Fight Against School Funding Fairness

In an ugly special legislative session in early July, Illinois finally enacted a budget when the Legislature overrode Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto. It is the first budget the state has had since Rauner was elected governor over two years ago. But the wrangling between Republican Governor Rauner and the Democratically dominated Illinois Legislature continues.  On Monday, Rauner called another special session of the Illinois Legislature—beginning today—to resolve an impasse on school funding that threatens to hold up money necessary to start the upcoming school year.

Although the majority-Democratic legislature overrode Rauner’s veto to pass the budget, school districts cannot access their state funds because the formula to determine the distribution of state funds for school districts remains blocked.  The legislature has passed a new “evidence-based” school funding formula intended to equalize school funding, but, through a legal technicality, has not yet sent the budget to Rauner.  Legislative leaders fear Rauner will use what Illinois calls his power of “amendatory veto.”

Parsing out what’s going on in Illinois is confusing.  Here is a summary of what’s been happening and what it means.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH ILLINOIS SCHOOL FUNDING?   The Education Law Center’s National Report Card on School Funding identifies Illinois as fourth from the bottom of all the states in school funding fairness. The only states that do a worse job of using state funds to compensate for notoriously uneven local capacity to raise school taxes are Nevada, Wyoming, and North Dakota.  For WTTW, Chicago’s PBS station: Amanda Vinicky explains: “An over-reliance on local property taxes means that as much as $32,000 is spent on each pupil attending a school in a wealthy area, while spending on a student growing up in an area with low property values can be in the $4,500 range.”

WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE-BASED SCHOOL FUNDING PLAN?   This is the substance of a new law, Senate Bill 1, passed by both houses of the Illinois Legislature but not yet signed into law by Governor Rauner.  John O’Connor and Sophia Tareen, writing for the Associated Press explain: “The legislation would revise the way the schools receive state aid for the first time in two decades. The method funnels money to the neediest school districts first after ensuring that no district receives less money than last school year.  That includes a $250 million-a-year grant for the financially-troubled Chicago schools for programs funded separately in other districts and a requirement that the state pick up the annual $215 million employer portion of Chicago teachers’ pensions.”

THE POLITICS   Illinois is a split state with both houses of the legislature dominated by Democrats but a very conservative Republican as governor. After members of the legislature overrode Governor Rauner’s veto of a state budget that was years overdue, Rauner fired many of his key staffers and hired what Natasha Korecki at POLITICO describes as “several members of the Illinois Policy Institute, a lightning-rod conservative think tank, in their place….”  The Illinois Policy Institute is so far to the right that it is a member of the State Policy Network, a group of libertarian “think-tanks” at the state level that work with the American Legislative Exchange Council to develop and promote right-to-work and school privatization legislation and distribute model bills to be introduced in legislatures across the fifty states.

WHAT IS AN “AMENDATORY VETO”?   O’Connor and Tareen explain: “Illinois is one of just seven states that give its governor the power of amendatory veto.  It allows a governor to return legislation with ‘specific recommendations for change.’ But according to the state Supreme Court, that does not include changing a bill’s ‘fundamental purpose’ or making ‘substantial or expansive’ changes.” Governor Rauner has threatened to use his power of amendatory veto, which is why the bill has not yet been sent to Rauner.

THE SCHOOL FUNDING BILL WAS PASSED ON MAY 31. HOW COME IT HASN’T REACHED THE GOVERNOR’S DESK?   Vinicky at WTTW explains the mechanics of the delay: “Democratic Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, says given Rauner’s veto threat, he used a parliamentary procedure known as a ‘motion to reconsider’ to put a hold on the measure. That prevents the governor from killing it with his veto pen, and from signing it into law. There is no limit on how long the hold can last.”

SO WHY IS GOV. RAUNER THREATENING TO VETO AND CHANGE PART OF THE SCHOOL FUNDING PLAN?   The problem is that the Legislature has allocated money to help the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), which have been teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Chicago Public Schools is the state’s largest school district, and it serves an enormous number of children who need services due to concentrated poverty, special education programs, and programs for English language instruction. And there is a two-decades’ old pension crisis. The state contributes to the pension system for all of the state’s other school districts, but Chicago’s pension system is on its own.  Earlier this week, Reuters summarized: “Escalating pension payments have led to drained reserves, debt dependency and junk bond ratings for CPS, the nation’s third-largest public school system. The governor called the CPS pension funding ‘a poison pill’ in the legislation, adding that it should be taken up separately.

Heather Cherone for Chicago’s DNA Info explains further: “Rauner again said he plans to issue an amendatory veto that would remove the $300 million the legislation would send to CPS to cover current and past-due pension payments, which amounts to a ‘bailout of Chicago’s broken teacher pension system’ that the governor’s office said would take ‘away critical resources from school districts across the state.'”

Partly due to lack of equity in the state’s funding system, the Chicago school district has depended on borrowing for years, most notoriously from its teachers’ pension fund. The teachers’ pension fund has been in crisis, and it is clear that the pension crisis is not the fault of the teachers, who have paid their individual contributions. Maureen Kelleher, writing for the Chicago Reporter, explains that it stems from 1995, when the state created mayoral control that included sweeping financial changes: “The biggest revenue shift came from combining several property tax levies—including one earmarked to pay for teacher pensions—into one fund that could be used to pay current operating expenses. That year, $62.2 million was diverted from pension payments to operating expenses.” And the school district has persistently failed to pay its full contribution to the fund and diverted pension funds for school operating expenses—basically borrowing out of the teachers’ pensions to run the district. In the summer of 2015, Kelleher concluded that unfunded liabilities in the pension fund totaled $10 billion.

The Chicago Sun-Times editorial board castigates Rauner for pitting “Chicago against the rest of Illinois”—Chicago that educates 19 percent of the states public school students while, even under the new plan, receiving “only 16 percent of the state’s funding for education.”

Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown describes the common ground achieved between school leaders and advocates in Chicago and in smaller communities downstate as the Legislature developed the plan: “They found common ground with Chicago Public Schools in developing a formula that benefits both by recognizing their shared challenges—notably high percentages of students from poor families who are more costly to educate.” Brown profiles small-town school superintendents  “who have been holding town forums to explain the benefits of Senate Bill 1 to their residents,”  including Rolf Sivertsen, the “superintendent of Canton Union School District 66, about 30 miles west of Peoria. His district has 2,600 students in grades pre-k through 12th. Sixty percent of these students come from low-income families.  The school district would receive $760,000 more if Senate Bill 1 becomes law.”

It appears that most people in in Illinois and the legislators who represent them want to move forward with an unbiased system of funding schools, including fairness for the beleaguered Chicago Public Schools. Bruce Rauner’s ideological rigidity is blocking an equitable solution.

After Six Months, What Has Trump-DeVos Department of Education Accomplished?

Six months into the Trump Administration, it is time to consider what’s happened in public education policy under the leadership of Betsy DeVos at the U.S. Department of Education. Here are brief updates.

Office of Civil Rights (OCR)—Just this week, Betsy DeVos announced that she is “returning” the OCR “to its role as a neutral, impartial, investigative agency.”  Caitlin Emma explains at POLITICO, “In a July 11 letter to Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, DeVos asserted that the department’s civil rights arm under the Obama administration ‘had descended into a pattern of overreach, of setting out to punish and embarrass institutions rather than work with them to correct civil rights violations and of ignoring public input prior to issuing new rules.”  When a complaint is filed, DeVos has established new procedures to look at individual violations without an in-depth exploration of whether the specific alleged violation is an indication of systemic problems during the prior three years.  DeVos has also stopped pushing hard to protect the rights of transgender students, and seems to be weakening Title IX enforcement around sexual abuse.  This week, DeVos has run into huge pushback from Senator Patty Murray, who has demanded the resignation of Candace Jackson, the acting OCR chief, who recently commented that 90 percent of sexual assualts on campus “fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk,’ ‘we broke up, and six months later I found myself under a Title IX investigation because she just decided that our last sleeping together was not right.'”  Senator Murray and many others are concerned about two issues here. First, the Office of Civil Rights is not intended to be a neutral investigative agency. It is charged with investigating civil rights complaints and ensuring that the law is enforced to protect students whose rights violated. Second, the head of the Office of Civil Rights is not supposed to be expressing her own bias in advance about complaints that are likely to be brought to the agency.

Higher Education—DeVos is delaying two Obama-era rules that were designed to protect students from unscrupulous recruitment by for-profit colleges, particularly trade schools that depend for nearly 90 percent of their operating funds on federal grants and loans. Default rates are alarming, which means that the Obama-era rules were also designed to protect taxpayers. DeVos’s Department of Education is delaying enforcement of these rules as a prelude to rewriting them.

  • Gainful Employment Rule—Writing for Inside Higher Education, Andrew Kreighbaum explains: “The rule was crafted to put a spotlight on programs producing graduates with extremely high ratios of debt to income—and to eventually remove access to federal aid if they don’t improve.”  Many of these programs have been lying about what students are likely to earn once the students have earned certificates, and students are then unable to make their loan payments. The gainful employment rule required schools to publish the average debt to income ratio students were likely to experience after graduation. Kreighbaum reports: “When Betsy deVos announced the delay of key provisions of the gainful-employment rule… she said the Obama-era regulation would limit the kinds of education students could pursue.”
  • Borrower’s Defense Rule—Here is the purpose of this Obama-era rule, according to POLITICO‘s Michael Stratford: “The rule, known as ‘borrower defense to repayment,’ sought to make it easier for defrauded student loan borrowers to seek debt forgiveness.  They also prohibit colleges from requiring students to resolve complaints against their school through arbitration rather than in court… Obama’s regulations were meant to clarify and make uniform the standard for which borrowers could seek forgiveness—for example when a school makes a ‘substantial misrepresentation’ to students.  The rules also set up a more formal system for allowing the Education Department to stick the predatory colleges, rather than the taxpayers, with the cost of loan forgiveness. But the government would still pick up the tab where the school became defunct.”  Bill Chappell, a reporter for NPR, explains that the rule, “was negotiated after two large for-profit chains—Corinthian Colleges and the ITT Technical Institute—shut down hundreds of campuses following regulatory crackdowns in recent years.  The rule would allow borrowers to have their loans forgiven if a state has successfully taken action against a for-profit school.” In early July, eighteen states and Washington D.C. filed a lawsuit against education secretary Betsy DeVos to prevent the delay in enforcement of this protection for students preyed upon by unscrupulous for-profit institutions.

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—When Betsy DeVos is asked about school accountability, she flips the subject to her own libertarian bias by saying something like, “I suggest we focus less on what word comes before ‘school,’ whether it be traditional, charter, virtual, magnet, home, parochial, private, or any approach yet to be developed, and focus instead on the individuals they are intended to serve. We need to get away from our orientation around buildings or systems or schools and shift our focus to individual students.” DeVos defines school accountability very simply as “school choice.” By choosing the school that works for their kids, DeVos says, parents are holding schools accountable.

But that doesn’t seem to be how staff in the Department of Education are responding to the school improvement plans being submitted by states as required by ESSA (the December 2015, reauthorization of the federal education law—the replacement for the 2001 No Child Left Behind).  When Congress reauthorized the law, it left in place the requirement for annual testing but at the same time gave more latitude to the states to set goals and make plans for school improvement. What all this meant wasn’t worked out before the Obama administration was replaced by Trump-DeVos.  States have, as required, been submitting drafts to be reviewed by the Department of Education, and staff have been sending back the plans with recommendations that states be more rigorous in the goals they set and how they are going to get there.

Hence, a conflict has arisen between the Republican administration and the Republican Congress. Alyson Klein, Education Week‘s federal education reporter explains: “Sen. Lamar Alexander, R.Tenn., one of the main architects of the Every Student Succeeds Act, thinks Jason Botel—the acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, and one of the education department’s key point people on ESSA—should take a closer look at the law he’s been charged with implementing. ‘I think we have a case of an assistant secretary who hasn’t read the law carefully,’ Alexander, chairman of the Senate education committee, said in an interview.  ‘The heart of the entire law… was that it’s the state’s decision to set goals, to decide what ‘ambitious’ means, to make decisions to help schools that aren’t performing well.'”

There remains enormous controversy over NCLB’s test-and-punish, sanctions-based philosophy of school accountability. Many, including this blogger, believe NCLB damaged the most vulnerable schools and communities and failed to support school improvement. But the issue currently is that despite Betsy DeVos’s relentless, libertarian claim that parents are responsible for accountability through school choice, her staff are taking what the chair of the Senate HELP Committee believes is an overly punitive approach to ESSA enforcement. We can expect the debate over school testing and accountability to continue.

Federal Money for Private School Tuition via Vouchers, Tuition Tax Credits, and Education Savings Accounts—While Betsy DeVos speaks like a broken record about school choice, the only federally funded school tuition voucher program of any kind remains in Washington, D.C.  A House appropriations committee released a budget draft on July 12 that seems to leave out for the next year an expansion of the kind of widespread programs DeVos has championed.  Here is the Washington Post’s Emma Brown: “The House GOP also appears to have largely rejected Trump’s proposals to expand private-and public-school choice, according to education advocates who have studied an Appropriations Committee bill released Wednesday afternoon… Trump had sought $1 billion to encourage public school districts to adopt choice-friendly policies, and another $250 million to expand private school voucher programs.  The GOP budget bill appears to leave out both.”  The public school choice program left out of the House bill is for Title I Portability, a program that was debated and rejected by Congress during the 2015 reauthorization of the federal education law.

The D.C. voucher program, dating back to 2004, was reauthorized by Congress in May as part of this year’s 2017 federal budget deal. As part of that deal, Congress reauthorized the program until 2019 and imposed the requirement that the schools that receive the vouchers must become accredited by 2021.  D.C. Vouchers currently serve 1,100 students with vouchers of up to $8,452 for elementary or middle school and up to $12,679 for high school, according to Mandy McLaren and Emma Brown for the Washington Post.

McLaren and Brown reported earlier this week that, “it’s impossible for taxpayers to find out where their money goes: The administrator of the D.C. voucher program refuses to say how many students attend each school or how many public dollars they receive. It’s also not clear how students are preforming in each school. When Congress created the program in 2004, it did not require individual private schools to disclose anything about student performance… Congress sends about $15 million each year to a nonprofit administrator of the program that, in turn, gives scholarships to District children for use at private schools.”

After the Washington Post sent inquires to the 47 private schools that participate, 15 responded by reporting the number of students they serve. While Sidwell Friiends has been enrolling one or two voucher students each year, Beauvoir elementary, whose campus is on the grounds of the Washington National Cathedral and whose tuition is $35,000 per year, enrolls none.  “But at the Academy for Ideal Education—which offers ‘stress free, holistic learning that helps students integrate the right and left hemispheres of their brains,’ according to its website—27-30 students are on vouchers… Thirty-nine of 45 students—87 percent—of students at Academia de la Recta Porta International Christian Day School… are on vouchers… Eighty-one percent of students at Calvary Christian Academy, in a church in Brentwood, pay tuition with vouchers… Critics also say some students with special needs have a hard time using vouchers.  Private school profiles published by Serving Our Children, the voucher administrator, show that one in five do not serve students with learning disabilities; half don’t serve students with physical disabilities; and two-thirds don’t serve students learning English as a second language.”

To summarize—Betsy DeVos has said she intends to “neutralize” the Office of Civil Rights, which can only be interpreted as weakening its role. DeVos is delaying rules to protect borrowers who have been defrauded by unscrupulous for-profit colleges.  While DeVos promotes school accountability through parental school choice, her staff are busy demanding continued test-and-punish accountability from the states. And finally, the D.C. voucher program remains the only federally funded tuition voucher program, despite that DeVos has declared the expansion of several kinds of school vouchers to be her priority.

Trump’s Budget Proposal Neglects Children and Defines Human Decency Down

From the perspective of the welfare of America’s children, the assumptions underneath President Donald Trump’s 2018 federal budget proposal are deeply troubling. The budget reinforces the theory that everybody ought to be earning a living, but except for Ivanka Trump’s idea for six weeks of newborn parental leave, there really isn’t any recognition that child rearing is a kind of work. The budget reflects that as a society we have just come to expect that children are raised, but we neither pay much attention to how that’s supposed to happen nor respect those who do the rearing. According to that logic, we fail to honor not only the work of mothers and fathers but also the work of child care providers. The minimum wage is so low that these workers qualify for Medicaid and SNAP (today’s name for food stamps). The President’s new budget slashes federal funding for Medicaid and for SNAP and fully eliminates a well respected and federally funded after-school program designed to enrich children’s lives in the hours before their parents finish work.

And there are big questions about whether Ivanka’s parental leave program would work for low-income parents. Here is the Center for Law and Social Policy: “In the midst of this grim context for working families, the budget attempts to throw them a small bone with a plan to offer six weeks of paid parental leave to care for a new child. In reality, though, this proposed program would do very little for low-income families. If states set wage replacement comparable to the unemployment insurance rates, that would leave many low-income workers unable to make ends meet while on  leave and therefore unlikely to use the program.”

The NY Times editorial board is blunt in its condemnation of the priorities in Trump’s budget proposal: “Food stamps work. Each month they help feed 43 million poor and low-income Americans, most in families with children and working parents. Food stamps, officially the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, keep millions of people from falling into poverty each year and prevent millions of poor people, many disabled or elderly, from falling deeper into poverty. They also improve the future prospects of poor children by fostering better health and graduation rates… President Trump’s budget plan would destroy the food stamp program, on the pretense that it discourages work. That’s nonsense, because most adult recipients either work or are unable to do so because of age or disability. A more plausible explanation is that cutting food stamps would help to offset the cost of huge tax cuts for the rich.”

The Child Welfare League of America lists programs that help children and their families but are being eliminated altogether in Trump’s budget: the Social Services Block Grant, the 21st Century Afterschool Learning Centers, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and the Community Development Block Grant.

The budget further reduces Medicaid, much below the cuts already passed last month in the House effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Here is the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: “The budget would cut health assistance to low-and moderate-income people by $1.9 trillion over ten years: 1) $1.3 trillion from the House bill to ‘repeal and replace’ the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that the budget endorses—which would take health insurance from 23 million people, raise out-of-pocket health costs for millions more, and substantially weaken key protections for people with pre-existing conditions—and 2) $610 billion Medicaid cuts on top of that.”

First Focus adds that the budget also makes deep cuts to the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program: “As with Medicaid, the Trump budget proposal not only slashes funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), it fundamentally restructures the program.  Despite proposing a two-year extension for CHIP through 2019, it cuts allotments by a staggering $5.8 billion or 21 percent. CHIP is an enormously successful bipartisan program that covers 8.9 million kids and, since its inception in 1997, has reduced the number of uninsured children by an astounding 68 percent. But its funding is set to expire on September 30, so Congress must act to extend the program as soon as possible.”

The Center for Law and Social Policy puts some of this into context: “The budget slashes or eliminates a wide range of other crucial programs that help stabilize low-income families. For example, it eliminates assistance for low-income families and seniors to pay heating and cooling bills. It takes the Child Tax Credit (CTC) away from children living with immigrant, tax-paying parents who file their taxes using an Individualized Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)—a group of about 5 million children, the vast majority of whom are U.S. citizens.  And it would cut the TANF block grant by 10 percent for all states—and more for some—on top of a 30 percent reduction in the block grant as a result of inflation since its enactment 20 years ago, sharply reducing state resources to help low-income families avoid destitution.”

The Center for Law and Social Policy also summarizes budget cuts that will make college less affordable for lower income students: “For low-income students pursuing postsecondary education, the budget is a perfect storm of cuts—making it far harder for students to complete the education they need to move up on the job.  The budget proposal would slash funding for the Work-Study program by almost 50 percent, eliminating employment for more than 300,000 low-income students working their way through college, about 25 percent of whom have an income below $12,000. The budget would also remove $3.9 billion from the Pell Grant budget, threatening to destabilize the program, which already covers less than 30 percent of the average cost of college attendance. The maximum Pell Grant amount is proposed to be frozen at $5,920, which would end the past five years of automatic inflation adjustments. The budget also proposes to eliminate Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, which helps cover college costs for more than 1.6 million students with the greatest need each year; abolish subsidized student loans, which prevent interest from accruing on college loans for low-and moderate-income students while they are in school; and end loan forgiveness for students who go into lower-paying public service careers”

While cuts to K-12 federal education programs seem small compared to some of these reductions to health and human services programs that serve families and children, remember that states and local school districts provide the bulk of education funding. Federal funds for education are, however, essential and have already been radically reduced in recent years due to budget austerity through sequestration. Here is Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explaining years’ of slashing federal funding for what is called Non-Defense Discretionary Spending (non-entitlement spending for domestic programs and foreign aid): “As expected, the budget slashes non-defense discretionary (NDD) programs by $54 billion below the already-austere sequestration level for 2018 and by a remarkable $1.6 trillion over the next decade—taking NDD spending in 2018 to its lowest level as a percent of the economy in six decades—and after ten years, to levels as a percent of the economy not seen since the Hoover Administration and possibly even earlier… Indeed, his proposed NDD funding levels strain credulity. In 2027, the Administration calls for cutting funding for NDD programs $218 billion below the 2017 level, adjusted for inflation—that is, cutting NDD 41 percent by 2027.”

Although this budget will certainly not be enacted by Congress as proposed, the Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz accuses the Trump administration of “giving a license for… extremism in thinking about the social fabric in our country.” The NY Times editorial board echoes Stiglitz’s concern: “The proposed cuts have little chance of enactment, but they are still dangerous. Extreme proposals are a way to make less extreme proposals seem acceptable.”  This budget encourages Americans to embrace radical individualism, abandon commitment to the social contract, and define decency down.