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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

More on Betsy DeVos' love affair with Florida's charter school system


Here's a follow-up on yesterday's post about Betsy DeVos' love affair with Florida's "choice" system, a system of charters and vouchers that she's practically paid for. DeVos recently named Florida's "choice" system as her "model" or "blueprint" for the rest of the country. Republicans are currently drafting legislation that would take the state's tax-credit (voucher) system nation wide.

But a closer look at that system exposes it as part of the problem rather than a solution for failed schools.

Let's start with DeVos' faulty premise that school vouchers (tax credits to pay for private and religious school tuition) and the state's vast network of privately-owned charters are needed as escape routes from the state's "failing" public schools.

Failing schools in Florida's racially-segregated school system, means those schools graded F, based on student FCAT scores. Since those standardized test scores correlate more with concentrated poverty that anything going on in the classrooms, "failing" has become a code word for poor, black or Latino. The A-F grading system in turn, drives the state's real estate market, pushing up home prices around high-scoring schools and reinforcing segregation in both schools and housing.

Sociologists call it social-reproduction, a system that replicates and widens racial and class inequality and transmits it from one generation to the next.

Sunday's Miami Sun-Sentinel ran a story on South Florida's reported "record number of schools labeled as failing".
It used to be rare to have more than a handful of F-rated schools in any of the three counties. But this year, there were a whopping 66 in South Florida. Broward County had 29, Miami-Dade County, 20, and Palm Beach County, 17. The figures include district-run and charter schools.
As if to reinforce my point, the article continues:
 Most of this year's F-rated schools have been D-or F-rated in the past, and all serve students in high-poverty areas.
Sunshine charter alternative school in Orlando
NOT ALL SCHOOLS ARE 'FAILING'... USA Today reports that Florida's network of charters and alternative schools provide a "release valve" for wealthier, high-scoring schools like Olympia High in Orlando.
Tucked among posh gated communities and meticulously landscaped shopping centers, Olympia High School in Orlando offers more than two dozen Advanced Placement courses, even more afterschool clubs, and an array of sports from bowling to water polo. U.S. News and World Report ranked it among the nation’s top 1,000 high schools last year. 
Olympia’s success in recent years, however, has been linked to another, quite different school 5 miles away. Last school year, 137 students assigned to Olympia instead attended Sunshine High, a charter alternative school run by a for-profit company. Sunshine stands a few doors down from a tobacco shop and a liquor store in a strip mall. It offers no sports teams and few extra-curricular activities.
Sunshine’s 455 students – more than 85 percent of whom are black or Hispanic – sit for four hours a day in front of computers with little or no live teaching. One former student said he was left to himself to goof off or cheat on tests by looking up answers on the internet. A current student said he was robbed near the strip mall’s parking lot, twice.
 Sunshine takes in cast-offs from Olympia and other Orlando high schools in a mutually beneficial arrangement. Olympia keeps its graduation rate above 90 percent — and its rating an “A” under Florida’s all-important grading system for schools — partly by shipping its worst achievers to Sunshine. Sunshine collects enough school district money to cover costs and pay its management firm, Accelerated Learning Solutions (ALS), a more than $1.5 million-a-year “management fee,” 2015 financial records show – more than what the school spends on instruction.
Get the picture?

Schools can only be labeled as losers when there are winners to compare them with. As charters and private alternatives re-segregate the system, they are often used to siphon off money and resources from public schools. But they can also be used to siphon off low-scoring kids and potential dropouts from the high-rated, wealthier and often whiter schools.

They can also mask the system's dropout rates. When students are re-assigned to charter alternatives, they are often on a path to dropping out. But they aren't counted as such by the A-rated schools they came from. This masking of dropouts goes on, not just in FL, but in school districts nation-wide.

According to the Sun-Sentinel:
Orlando is one of 83 school districts, from Newark to Los Angeles, where regular schools increased their graduation rates by at least one percentage point from 2010 to 2014 while sending more students into alternative education...Such a pattern could indicate that traditional schools are weeding out students at greater risk of dropping out, although there are many reasons why graduation rates rise.
A good reason to be skeptical about "miracle schools" and reported record-high graduation rates.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Why DeVos is making Florida's charter system her 'model'. She practically owns it.

Betsy DeVos husband Dick, who own the Orlando Magic, spent millions buying pro-"choice" politicians.
Florida's charter schools are among the worst in the nation. The state's so-called "choice" system of charters and vouchers is highly segregated, riddled with corruption and mismanagement (like FL state government in general) and has been rocked by scandal after scandal. 

Gov. Rick Scott has diverted hundreds of millions of dollars away from public schools to bankroll politically connected charter operators. Scott, who's been advised on school policy by Michelle Rhee, is privatization crazed and even tried to privatize FL's health-care system as well as the state's prisons.

Therefore, I was not surprised to hear Trump's ed secretary, Betsy DeVos point to Florida's "choice" system as her model and "blueprint" for K-12 education. 

"I would point to Florida as being one that has had a variety of options for the longest period of time," DeVos told Frank Beckmann, a conservative radio talk show host on WJR, based in Michigan. She said the state, which has charters, also offers both a tax credit scholarship, something DeVos and company may push in Washington, potentially through legislation previously introduced by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, and vouchers for students in special education.
Billionaire DeVos, who owns a home in FL and who's part owner of the Orlando Magic, has more good reasons to favor the state's charter/voucher system. She helped pay for it. She's used her wealth to underwrite the election campaigns of pro-choice, anti-union school board candidates (both Republican and Democrat) across the state. The Sunshine State is second only to Michigan in the number of individual candidates DeVos or her husband wrote checks to during the past five years. Overall, members of the DeVos family, including Richard DeVos Sr., have donated more than $2 million to Florida candidates for state office and committees since 1996, according to the state database.

The money DeVos sent to the Volusia school board candidate back in 2014 was part of an effort to boot an incumbent she viewed as hostile to Florida's biggest school voucher program, which now pays to send to more than 97,000 children from low-income families to private schools. The strategy worked. The candidate DeVos backed won. So did another school board candidate she contributed to that year in Indian River County, for the same reason.

An NPR report found that Florida charters openly and illegally violate the rights of disabled students.  In fact, a recent Miami Herald investigation found that few charter schools in Florida  even try to serve students with severe disabilities. Statewide, 86% of charter schools do not have any students classified as severely disabled. That's despite state and federal laws that require charter schools to give equal access to these students.

Florida saw more charter schools shut down than any other state last year, according to a new report from the pro-charter National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Charters in the state are closing at nearly the same rate they are opening.
Florida might be expected to have a large number of closures since it has 656 charters, the third-most in the country, but the report shows the Sunshine State’s closure rate is disproportionately high. Florida is home to slightly less than 10 percent of the charters operating in the country, but accounted for nearly 14 percent of closures last school year.
Some charter advocates, like the National Alliance, argue that school closings are a good thing, a measure of accountability. But they ignore the great harm done to children and parents when schools close, especially in mid-year and lives are disrupted, student/teacher relationships broken and student mobility increased. All these negatives hit hardest of course, on the state's black and Latino families.

The Orlando Sentinel ran a series on Florida school re-segregation via charter schools. 

According to Sentinel writer Dave Weber:
Segregation is making a comeback in Florida's public schools with the new wave of charter schools springing up across the state. One out of eight charter schools has a student body with 90 percent or more of a single race or ethnicity, an Orlando Sentinel analysis of the state's 456 taxpayer-financed charters shows. That compares with one out of 12 traditional public schools.
Florida parent activist Rita Solnet did this interesting little research project.
Out of curiosity, I googled "successful charter schools" and "failing charter schools." About 20,200 results (0.22 seconds) related to "successful charter schools". About 76,600 results (0.23 seconds) related to "failing charter schools."
My favorite Florida charter scandal story had to do with the great Academica Charter hustle. It's my favorite because it carried way beyond FL and even involved celebrities like Pit Bull and Rep. Erik Fresen, a Tea Party Republican who chairs House Education Appropriations hearings on charter expansion. Fresen's sister Maggie, and brother-in-law, Fernando Zulueta run Academica Charter Schools, one of the country’s largest and wealthiest for-profit charter school management firms, with more than 90 schools in Florida alone.

Read all about it here and here. 

Can't you see why Sec. DeVos would find FL's charter system so attractive?

Monday, February 20, 2017

WEEKEND QUOTABLES

Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. -- The Nation
Rick Ayers
Threats and bluster might work when you are building a casino but they don’t really work on the world stage. -- Huffington Post

Betsy DeVos
"Critics want to make my life a living hell." -- Washington Post
DeVos flees D.C. school protest
“I said I’d like to visit a public school with her, and then I’d like her to visit a choice school with me,” DeVos told Axios Thursday, recounting a recent phone call with Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). -- The Hill
Former WaPo Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein
 “Trump's attacks on the American press as 'enemies of the American people' are more treacherous than Richard Nixon's attacks on the press...We are into terrible authoritarian tendencies." -- CNN

Teacher/Author Tim Mullen
The rhetoric about “fixing” failing schools is only political posturing until the real discussion about what is happening in the communities and homes of those students is addressed. -- AJC, Get Schooled





Friday, February 17, 2017

TUNE IN THIS MORNING

Our in-studio guest, Bill Ayers. 
The Klonsky brothers are back on the air this morning at 11 (CST), live and streaming on Lumpen Radio, WLPN 105.5 FM from Bridgeport (the Daley's old hood) on the south side of Chicago.

We’re trying to stay profanity-free, according to FCC regs this morning, so I’ll try and refrain from using the word “PUZDER” while we talk education, politics, education, and social justice, and whatever else is whirling around the Trumpisphere.

You can tweet your comments or questions using hashtag #HittingLeft17 and we'll try and read them on the air.

Our in-studio guest this morning is distinguished scholar, prolific author, and long time radical political activist, Dr. William Ayers. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Why are Democrats smearing peaceful anti-Trump protests?


DeVos protest in D.C.
“Nothing about a firm commitment to free expression obliges us open our doors to (much less to provide platforms for) those who incite hatred and violence against refugees, immigrants, and minorities—that is, against our students, teachers, co-workers and neighbors.” -- Letter from coalition to IOP Director David Axelrod.
This morning's Sun-Times has columnist Mark Brown imploring Univ. of Chicago students to "Let Loathsome Lewandowski Speak", as if they had any official say in the matter.

A coalition of organizations, which includes groups such as UofC Resists and Graduate Students United, protesting former Trump campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski’s scheduled visit tomorrow, asked the school’s Institute of Politics, run by Democratic Party operative David Axelrod, to withdraw its invitation to Lewandowski and to “stop providing a platform to surrogates of the Trump administration” -- a reference in part to last month’s visit by Trump press secretary Sean Spicer. 

Axelrod claims he welcomes "peaceful protest" but refuses to "shut down" Lewandowski, implying that Trump's guy is just another campus walk-on and that violence-prone students are trying to deprive him of his free speech.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Lewandowski is a highly-paid provocateur who, along with the likes of racist creep Milo Yiannopoulos, are speaking everywhere, raking in big bucks in campus speaking fees and attracting massive militant protests whenever they appear. 

Anti-DeVos protests in Alaska
Citing recent incidents that included Neo-Nazi posters appearing on campus, the UC coalition criticized the university for not doing more in response. If the Lewandowski event proceeds as planned, the groups say they will protest to “express outrage at the normalization of racism, bigotry and violence.”

That's exactly what students everywhere ought to be doing. It's their most fundamental constitutional right and duty as citizens to speak out against racism and injustice. There's never been a more important time in history to exercise that right.

Along with Brown, it's powerhouse liberal Democrats like Axelrod,  AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten and former Obama schools chief Arne Duncan, who are directing their main blows leftward, as they did throughout the presidential campaign, and doing their best to discredit the so-far peaceful anti-Trump protests.

It's what they do. It's what they did in response to the youth movement around the Bernie Sanders campaign and the Black Lives Matter. It keeps them respectable in the eyes of their patrons.  It's also among the things that cost them the election -- by alienating lots of young activist voters -- and could do the same in 2018 and 2020.

Weingarten ran with a fake news story and condemned protesters opposed to Betsy DeVos' visit to a D.C. middle school. She falsely claimed that the demonstrators had "almost knocked down" DeVos as she tried to enter the school. But a CNN video debunked her claim.

Duncan joined in the condemnation and praised DeVos for her photo-op visits to the very schools she claims she wants to privatize and Christianize.


No, it's not a matter of agreement or disagreement on "any issue". Trump and appointees from DeVos to Sessions, to Pudzer, along with Alt-right and white supremacist allies are perpetrating a racist, neo-fascist coup and total takeover of government. They should be resisted at every turn.

It's right to rebel against injustice.


Monday, February 13, 2017

WEEKEND QUOTABLES

A demonstrator wears handcuffs Saturday, as thousands rally in Washington Square Park to protest the immigration raids and New York City's policing policy. Photo Credit: Steven Sunshine
Chicago activist Ja'Mal Green tells Chris Hayes 
"Nobody has really said it, but his name is Rahm Emanuel. This mayor that we have in the city of Chicago does not care about black people. I want to put that on the record. ...We're walking past boarded up schools, boarded up houses, they're knocking down with red Xs with no plan to redevelop, mental health facilities shut down, the unemployment rate is the highest in Chicago than it is around the country. If you want to talk about violence, you've got to talk about the economics, not police." -- Washington Free Beacon
Cristina Jimenez, executive director of United We Dream
“This is clearly the first wave of attacks under the Trump administration, and we know this isn’t going to be the only one." -- Washington Post
 Gillian Christensen, spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security
"ICE dislikes the term 'raids,' and prefers to say authorities are conducting 'targeted enforcement actions.'” -- Washington Post
Obamacare opponent, Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA)
Says he doesn’t want to hold town halls because “since Obamacare and these issues have come up, the women are in my grill no matter where I go.” -- Think Progress
Donald Trump 
"Trust me, I’m like a smart person.” -- Answer Sheet

Friday, February 10, 2017

Brother Fred & I will be HITTING LEFT & streaming live this morning.

Ald. Munoz
Tune in this morning at 11 (CST) for week 2 of Klonsky Brothers, HITTING LEFT on Lumpen Radio at 105.5 FM and streaming live here. Fred and I will be joined by Chicago's 22nd Ward Ald. Rick Munoz, who definitely hits lefty.

He's a member of both the Progressive Caucus and the Latino Caucus in the City Council. His Little Village ward is the main debarkation point for Chicago's one million Mexican immigrants.

It's a perfect time to talk to Rick as #PEEOTUS blames "immigrant gang members" for Chicago's rising murder rate. Says he wants to invade our Sanctuary City, round up immigrants and have posse of sheriffs running the city.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he's willing to deal with Trump. But what possible deal could he make? If Trump agrees to "give us more resources", will Rahm agree to... do what? Abandon Sanctuary City? What?

And what's up in the upcoming race for mayor? In the last election, Rick backed his mentor, Chuy Garcia. What about this time around?

Can't wait to hear Rick's response.

Tune in and Tweet us at #HITTINGLEFT17.