Tag Archives: DeVos

If Evidence Mattered…

I post fairly frequently about my multiple problems with school voucher programs, and I apologize for the repetition, but really!

Vouchers tend to be a “work around” the First Amendment–a mechanism for transferring tax dollars to religious schools; they steal critical resources from public schools that need those resources; they are re-segregating the schools…I could go on.

Vouchers were marketed as a mechanism allowing poor kids to escape from failing public systems and enroll instead in private schools that would give them a much better education. Proponents also argued that having to compete for students would lead to the improvement of the public schools.

It hasn’t worked out that way. Vouchers are increasingly used by families that would have and could have sent their children to parochial schools with or without them (in Indiana, families making up to 100,000 a year); meanwhile, starving public schools of resources doesn’t exactly help them improve.

Most significantly, research consistently shows that those “superior” private/parochial schools have failed to improve the educational outcomes of the children who use vouchers to attend them.

Brookings recently added to the available evidence

Four recent rigorous studies—in the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Indiana, and Ohio—used different research designs and reached the same result: on average, students that use vouchers to attend private schools do less well on tests than similar students that do not attend private schools. The Louisiana and Indiana studies offer some hints that negative effects may diminish over time. Whether effects ever will become positive is unclear.

The four different studies analyzed by Brookings used four different methodologies, but arrived at the same conclusion: on average, students that use vouchers to attend private schools do less well on tests than similar students who do not attend private schools. The four recent studies thus replicated the results of eight previous research projects, which Brookings also referenced.

The Trump Administration–and especially Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education–have been pushing voucher expansion. DeVos was largely responsible for the expansion of charter and voucher schools in Michigan, and does not appear to be deterred by the fact that student performance declined dramatically. An article in a Michigan newspaper, reproduced in the Washington Post, reported

In Detroit, parents of school-age children have plenty of choices, thanks to the nation’s largest urban network of charter schools.

What remains in short supply is quality.

In Brightmoor, the only high school left is Detroit Community Schools, a charter boasting more than a decade of abysmal test scores and, until recently, a superintendent who earned $130,000 a year despite a dearth of educational experience or credentials.

On the west side, another charter school, Hope Academy, has been serving the community around Grand River and Livernois for 20 years. Its test scores have been among the lowest in the state throughout those two decades; in 2013 the school ranked in the first percentile, the absolute bottom for academic performance. Two years later, its charter was renewed.

Or if you live downtown, you could try Woodward Academy, a charter that has limped along near the bottom of school achievement since 1998, while its operator has been allowed to expand into other communities.

This deeply dysfunctional educational landscape — where failure is rewarded with opportunities for expansion and “choice” means the opposite for tens of thousands of children — is no accident. It was created by an ideological lobby that has zealously championed free-market education reform for decades, with little regard for the outcome.

And at the center of that lobby is Betsy DeVos, the west Michigan advocate whose family has contributed millions of dollars to the cause of school choice and unregulated charter expansion throughout Michigan.

There is much more, and I encourage anyone interested in DeVos’ success in destroying Michigan education to click through, or to Google the numerous other articles chronicling the decline.

As the Brookings article notes, it used to be rare for policy initiatives to be expanded in the face of evidence that those initiatives are having negative effects on key outcomes. But this is an anti-evidence administration. Zealotry, religious convictions and (in Trump’s case) gut instinct–seasoned with breathtaking ignorance– are what guide policy prescriptions in Trump’s Washington.

 

“I Quit”

Principled people who can do so are fleeing the Trump Administration. Those who cannot afford to take the moral high ground–the government workers with mortgages to pay and children to educate–are valiantly trying to hold their agencies accountable to the rule of law.

Talking Points Memo, among others, has reported on the departure of one who just left: the top watchdog overseeing student loans.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s “Student Loan Ombudsman,” responsible for guarding student borrowers against predatory lenders and scammers, has resigned in a scathing letter aimed at acting CFPB director Mick Mulvaney.

“Unfortunately, under your leadership, the Bureau has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting,” Seth Frotman’s resignation letter, obtained by NPR, read. “Instead, you have used the Bureau to serve the wishes of the most powerful financial companies in America.”

Not exactly surprising, in an administration where up is down, failure is success, accurate reporting is “fake news,” and corrupt practices are touted as “good business.”

Frotman’s job was to monitor and review of thousands of complaints from student borrowers. The Obama administration had introduced a number of regulations intended to protect those student borrowers against fraudulent practices; according to Frotman, Mulvaney and Betsy DeVos have worked “diligently” to eliminate those protections.

Frotman’s letter pointed to specific wrongdoing by Mulvaney, NPR reported, including the alleged suppression of a report from his office revealing that big banks were “saddling [students] with legally dubious account fees.”

In May, NPR noted, Mulvaney called for Frotman’s office to be incorporated into the Office of Financial Education, effectively proposing to remove Frotman’s office from direct enforcement actions and shifting it to an educational role.

Regarding another change — the Department of Education’s announcement last year that it would no longer share federal student loan oversight data with the CFPB — Frotman wrote: “The Bureau’s current leadership folded to political pressure… and failed borrowers who depend on independent oversight to halt bad practices.”

NPR has posted a copy of Frotman’s letter here.

My husband often reminds me that–while Americans are distracted by our demented President’s tweets, rages and sundry other embarrassing and destructive behaviors–his administration is busily dismantling the structures of accountable and legitimate governance–stacking the federal courts with right-wing ideologues, eliminating regulations protecting air and water quality, bleeding public schools of the resources needed to educate the country’s children, empowering theocrats, and weakening the rules that restrain the rich and powerful.

Even if November brings the hoped-for “blue wave,” and installs a Congress that takes its oversight responsibilities seriously, it will take years to restore both the rule of law and the American people’s ability to trust that their government is operating on their behalf.

DeVos Strikes Again

Despite the recovery, student loan debt continues to be a “drag” on the economy. As numerous economists have explained, Millennials have not been buying homes (and the furniture and appliances to fill them)at the same rates as preceding generations due to the significant student debt so many of them carry.

Repayment is burdensome enough when the student assuming the debt used it at a reputable institution of higher education, and graduated with a credential that led to employment. But that hasn’t always been the case. For-profit “colleges” making extravagant claims on which they are (knowingly) unable to deliver have ripped off thousands of low-income students–and ultimately, all of us, since those students subsequently default on their government loans.

And then there are the “private” loan servicers, who have gouged other students, and who are protected against loss by government guarantees.

The Obama administration had taken several steps to punish institutions and lenders who  engaged in these practices, and to relieve the students who had been defrauded of all or part of their repayment obligations. But of course, the sympathies of the Trump administration and Betsy DeVos lie entirely with the perpetrators, not the victims.

As the IBJ recently reported,

The nation’s consumer watchdog agency is accusing the Education Department of impeding a lawsuit that could potentially bring financial relief to millions of student loan borrowers.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is suing Navient Solutions, alleging one of the nation’s largest student loan servicers violated consumer protection laws and in some cases caused students to pay back too much on their student loans. But in court filings, the CFPB says the Education Department is refusing to authorize Navient to turn over documents. Without that authorization the federal government, as well as several state attorneys general suing Navient, could find it difficult to show what type of damage the company’s alleged misbehavior caused to borrowers….

Under the Obama Administration, the Education Department and the CFPB agreed to share records and resources in cases of potential violations of student borrowing or consumer protection laws. But after Trump-appointee Betsy DeVos took over, the Education Department rescinded that agreement, calling the CFPB “overreaching and unaccountable” and saying the bureau had no authority to oversee federal student loan servicers.

DeVos has previously acted to protect non-performing for-profit colleges, as Time Magazine reported in May.

Career Education Corporation is one of the companies no longer being investigated by the U.S. Education Department after members of an enforcement office tasked with investigating abuses by for-profit colleges were instructed to focus on other issues, the New York Times reported this week, citing current and former employees. Meanwhile, former executives and consultants from those for-profit institutions have been hired as top advisers to the Education Department under DeVos.

This isn’t a matter of being legitimately “pro-business.” A pro-business administration would help the entire business community by taking steps to reduce the excessive levels of student debt that are burdening economic activity generally, including weeding out the bad actors.

This is a “pro-crony” administration. And if the students suffer, well–they aren’t the political donors whose interests this administration serves.

Attacking The Teachers

There are lots of lessons we can learn from the wave of teachers’ strikes that have erupted around the country. To the extent those strikes have been “wildcat” efforts, we can see the extent to which public sector unions have been neutered by anti-union lawmakers. To the extent that we have become aware of the grievances that prompted these actions, we see the effects of the steady erosion of adequate public funding for public education.

Paul Krugman recently reminded us of the connection between that erosion and Republican tax-cut orthodoxy. Education accounts for more than half the state and local work force, and “at the state and local levels, the conservative obsession with tax cuts has forced the G.O.P. into what amounts to a war on education, and in particular a war on schoolteachers.”

The GOP’s fixation on tax cuts, together with its anti-union ideology (and a particular hatred of teachers’ unions) and in some quarters, a desire to divert public funds to religious schools via vouchers, has resulted in an unremitting assault on public education.

Thanks to a recent report in The Guardian, we learn that opponents of public education fully intend to intensify their ideological attack on public education and the teachers who provide it.

A nationwide network of rightwing thinktanks is launching a PR counteroffensive against the teachers’ strikes that are sweeping the country, circulating a “messaging guide” for anti-union activists that portrays the walkouts as harmful to low-income parents and their children.

The new rightwing strategy to discredit the strikes that have erupted in protest against cuts in education funding and poor teacher pay is contained in a three-page document obtained by the Guardian. Titled “How to talk about teacher strikes”, it provides a “dos and don’ts” manual for how to smear the strikers.

Top of the list of talking points is the claim that “teacher strikes hurt kids and low-income families”. It advises anti-union campaigners to argue that “it’s unfortunate that teachers are protesting low wages by punishing other low-wage parents and their children.”

According to the Guardian, the “messaging guide” has been developed by an organization called the State Policy Network (SPN). SPN is an alliance of 66 rightwing “ideas factories,” that evidently includes members from every state in the nation. SPN also has an $80 million-dollar” war chest” – funded (no surprise) by the Koch brothers, the Walton Family Foundation, and the DeVos family. (If there was any doubt that Betsy DeVos is the antithesis of a person rational lawmakers would install as an education secretary…).

SPN’s previous campaigns have included a plan to “defund and defang” public sector unions. Now it is turning its firepower on the striking teachers….The SPN document urges its followers to attack the walkouts stealthily, rather than criticising them directly. A head-on assault on teachers for their long summer vacations would “sound tone-deaf when there are dozens of videos and social media posts going viral from teachers about their second jobs [and] having to rely on food pantries”, it says.

If moral people find meaning by acting in ways that will benefit future generations–if, as the saying goes,“The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit”-how immoral is this effort?

It isn’t just that these people are refusing to adequately fund the public schools that educate the overwhelming majority of American children. They are also busily polluting the environment and endangering the planet on which those trees must be planted. They are despoiling public lands originally set aside for the enjoyment of our children and grandchildren. They are presiding over the decay of the nation’s infrastructure, and they are intentionally encouraging the tribalism and bigotry that undermine the social cohesion necessary for communities to thrive.

I assume they derive satisfaction from the extra dollars these measures are intended to bring them.

I wish I believed in the existence of hell.

 

Privatization, Florida And Betsy DeVos

Monday was a big day for collusion watchers, and I am becoming more optimistic that this unhinged and unfit child-President won’t serve out his term. That said, the throwbacks, theocrats and corrupt wheeler-dealers who populate the Trump Administration are doing incalculable harm every day.

I know there’s a robust competition for Worst Cabinet Member Ever, but even though Scott Pruitt is a strong contender, I really have to cast my vote for Betsy DeVos. (Apparently, mine isn’t the only such vote; I read somewhere that more people know who she is than any current or previous cabinet secretary, and that her disapproval numbers are off the charts.)

Every day, it seems there’s a new assault on sanity coming from DeVos. I’m particularly enraged (and that’s not too strong a word) by her actions favoring for-profit rip-off colleges, but even her willingness to wink at the private-sector “entrepreneurs” making millions by cheating both government and aspiring students pales in comparison to her pro-voucher fixation.

Recently, the Orlando-Sentinal began an investigative series on Florida’s experience with school privatization; anyone who knows anything about DeVos knows that replacing public schools with private ones, preferably Christian, is her most cherished goal.

As Daily Kos described the report,

Writers Leslie Postal, Beth Kassab, and Annie Martin have put together the first part of what promises to be an infuriating look into the swamp of privatization in Florida’s education system. According to the investigation, private schools in Florida have received $1 billion dollars in scholarship money, while not having to promise much of anything—including hiring teachers with college degrees. And that’s just the tip of the rapidly-melting iceberg.

A few of the hair-raising findings:

The limited oversight of Florida’s scholarship programs allowed a principal under investigation for molesting a student at his Brevard County school to open another school under a new name and still receive the money, an Orlando Sentinel investigation found.

Another Central Florida school received millions of dollars in scholarships, sometimes called school vouchers, for nearly a decade even though it repeatedly violated program rules, including hiring staff with criminal convictions.

One Orlando school, which received $500,000 from the public programs last year, has a 24-year-old principal still studying at a community college.

Upset parents sometimes complain to the state, assuming it has some say over academic quality at these private schools. It does not. “They can conduct their schools in the manner they believe to be appropriate,” reads a typical response from the Florida Department of Education to a parent.

It seems that the Florida program doesn’t require private schools accepting vouchers to comply with those silly standards that public schools are expected to meet, including building codes. They need not show evidence that staff members have been trained to do the tasks the schools claim they can perform. They don’t even have to do background checks– although state law does require schools to do criminal background checks, the law doesn’t require the state to check to confirm that they were actually done.

In recent years, while investigating other problems, the education department caught at least eight schools with staff members who had criminal records. One Osceola school was forced to fire its P.E. teacher and coach when the state discovered his record. But the man now works about a mile away, at another private school that takes scholarship students.

Despite these problems, Florida is one of the states that DeVos is bragging about as she tries to destroy education as we know it. A significant percentage of Florida’s voucher schools must be religious, since DeVos has demonstrated an inability to distinguish between education and fundamentalist Christian indoctrination.

Actually, she has demonstrated an inability to do the job. Repeatedly.