Twenty-One Reasons People Hate, Hate, HATE Betsy DeVos



Lesley Stahl: Why have you become, people say, the most hated Cabinet secretary?


Betsy DeVos: I’m not sure exactly how that happened…

I’m more misunderstood than anything.



The above exchange from last night’s 60 Minutes interview highlights an important point about our Education Secretary.


She is deeply unpopular, but not because she’s misunderstood. If anything, she’s understood too well.


We know what she stands for and we don’t like it.


If she was really so misunderstood, why didn’t her answers in the interview veer away from the same usual canned responses she’s given time-and-time-again to the same type of questions?


What’s wrong with schools? NOT ENOUGH CHOICE.


How do we prevent school shootings? LET SCHOOLS ARM TEACHERS.


You didn’t really even need DeVos to show up to the interview to be able to guess with a high degree of accuracy what her answers would be.


In fact, many of her responses seemed to have been coached – as if someone had prepared her with talking points before the interview even took place.


So without further ado, here is my exhaustive list of all the reasons I can think of why people really, REALLY hate Betsy Devos. If I’ve left something out, please feel free to add it in a comment.




1) She didn’t earn her position as Education Secretary. She bought it. And even then it took a tie breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence to shove her down our throats.


2) She wants to spend tax dollars to boost privatized schools in which she has a financial stake.


3) She doesn’t mind taking funding away from public schools to do it.


4) She wants to destroy the entire system of public schools which enroll 90% of America’s children.


5) She doesn’t really know what public schools are, having never attended one or having never sent her children or grandchildren to one.


6) She wants to arm teachers not because it will protect kids from school shooters, but because that boosts her family’s investment portfolio. (i.e. her brother’s mercenary army for hire, Blackwater)


7) She won’t make charter and voucher schools give the same services to special education kids as those provided by traditional public schools.


8) She’s getting rid of students’ civil rights protections while adding protections for nefarious student loan providers and fly-by-night on-line schools.


9) She’s rescinded rules that protected trans students.


10) She’s considering rescinding rules that protect minority students from being unfairly and disproportionately disciplined by schools.


11) She’s made it harder for victims of sexual assault and harassment to report abuse and easier for those accused to avoid prosecution.


12) She talks about state’s rights to determine their own education systems while using the power of the federal government to coerce them to doing things her way.


13) She wastes public tax dollars. She is the only Cabinet member protected by Federal Marshals, which costs us nearly $1 million a month. Whether this is necessary or not, as a billionaire she could save the taxpayers money by taking on this cost, herself.


14) She doesn’t care if the public doesn’t want her at their school or event. She goes anyway and then pretends to be angry that protestors showed up. She doesn’t seem to understand that as a public servant she should serve at our pleasure – not the other way around.


15) She uses tragedy as a photo-op – as she did when she visited the Parkland school to promote arming teachers. She didn’t meet significantly with students or staff. She didn’t listen to their concerns. She even bailed on her own press conference there when the queries weren’t to her liking.


16) She has no problem whitewashing black history as she did when she claimed historic black colleges were pioneers of school choice. In reality they had no choice. For many African Americans at the time, it was create black colleges or forgo post-secondary education at all.


17) She is ignorant (purposefully or not) of the results of her own policies. Her advocacy of school choice in her home state of Michigan has weakened that state’s public schools, not strengthened them.


18) She’s out of touch with average Americans. She’s the richest member of Trump’s cabinet and often travels in her on super luxury yacht.


19) She’s rich not because she earned it, but because she was born into it and married into even more wealth. Moreover, much of her wealth is due to her family’s Amway fortune – basically it’s founded on rooking average people out of their hard earned money with what’s essentially a pyramid scheme.


20) She’s arrogant. She smiles vacantly at topics that don’t deserve a smile – they deserve serious regard.


21) She is extremely biased and partisan. She is supposed to serve the public interest, but her radical Christian Fundamentalism and anti-LGBT activism make her untrustworthy to serve in that capacity. Statements such as “There is enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education… Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom,” do not help.


Okay. That’s all I can think of – though more may pop into mind as soon as I publish this. If I missed something please include it in the comments.


Hopefully this answers DeVos’ question about why she’s hated.


Gadfly on the Road – Reflections on My First Book Signing



So there I was standing at a podium in Barnes and Noble before an audience of 25 people who had come to hear me talk about my book.


Speech uploaded to my iPad – check.


Cough drop – check.


Fear that no one would take me seriously – Oh, double, triple check!


Let me just say there is a big difference between sitting behind a keyboard pounding out your thoughts for consumption on the Internet, and being somewhere – anywhere – in person.


I’ve spoken at rallies. I’ve spoken at school board meetings. I’ve spoken in private with lawmakers and news people.


But none of that is quite like being the center of attention at your own invitation, asking people to take time out of their busy lives and drag their physical selves to some prearranged place at some prearranged time just to hear whatever it is you’ve got to say.


I had been practicing my remarks for weeks after school.


I had a 15-20 minute speech ready to go – a distillation of the main themes in my book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform.”


Would people hear what I had to say?



I surveyed the audience. A few people I didn’t know. But there was my mom and dad, a bit more grey haired than I remembered yet doing their parental duty. There were a few colleagues from work – teachers, aides and substitutes. There were a few students standing in the back with their parents. One of my old high school buddies even showed up though he lived about a half hour away.


And there in the second row was my daughter.


For a moment, the whole world seemed to be nothing but her 9-year-old face – a mix of emotions – curiosity, nervousness, boredom.


In that moment, everything else disappeared. I had an audience of one.


I began.


It was surreal.


I spoke the words I had written weeks before, pausing to look up at the audience when I could.


Somehow I was both more and less nervous. I stumbled over parts that had caused no problems when alone. And I hit other points with more passion and purpose than ever before.


At certain points I found myself getting angry at the people behind the standardization and privatization of public education.


I rebuke these greedy saboteurs just about every week on my blog. But there was something different about putting the words on my tongue in public and letting the vibrations beat a rhythm on the ear drums of those assembled before me.


It was like reciting a spell, an incantation. And the effect was visible on the faces of those in front of me.


I glanced at my daughter, expecting her to be nagging her Pap to take her to the children’s section, but she was as entranced as the others.


And was I kidding myself or was there another emotion there? Pride?



I finished my remarks, getting a few laughs here and there. Anger and mirth in equal measure.


I thanked everyone for coming and took questions.


There were quite a bit.


Which aspect of corporate education reform was the worst?


Is there any way for parents to protect their children from standardized testing?


How has the gun debate impacted the move to privatization?


My mother even asked what alternative methods of assessment were preferable to standardized testing.


It went back and forth for a while.


When it seemed to die down, I thanked everyone for coming and said I would be there for as long as anyone would like to talk one-on-one and sign any books if people would like.


I had a line.


Thankfully, my wife brought me the nicest sharpie marker just before I got up there.


I tried to personalize as much as I could but everything seemed to be a variation on “Thanks for Coming.”


Students came up to me with huge grins. Parents asked more questions about their children. Lots of handshaking and hugs.


Teachers came up to tell me I had done a great job. Many introduced me to their kids – most itty bitty toddlers.


A former student who had already graduated got really serious and said, “It was about time someone said that.”



And it was over.


The store manager told me how many books we sold. I had no idea if that was good or bad, but he seemed well satisfied.


I packed everything up in my car and then went looking for my family.


I found them in the children’s section.


They had picked out a few books Mommy was purchasing. A really nice one about Harriet Tubman among them.


My daughter was sitting alone by a toy train set. She was worn out. It had been a long day.


“Daddy!” she said when she saw me. “You were amazing!”


And that was it.


That was all I’d needed.


She asked me about this or that from the speech. Obviously she didn’t understand the ins and outs of what I had said, but some of it had penetrated.


We talked about racism and why that was bad. We talked about what we could do to help stop it.


The rest of the time she held my hand and took me on a tour of the store.


I have hope for a better world, but if I’m honest, I’m not sure if writing this book or my activism or any of it will ever actually achieve its goal.


As ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime.”


But I’ve shown my daughter where I stand.


I’ve shown her where I think it’s appropriate to stand.


I’ve shown the same to my students, my family, my community.


They’ll do with that what they will.


I just hope that one day when I’m gone, my daughter will remember what I taught her.


She’ll remember and feel my presence though I’m long gone.




Videos of the majority of my speech:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:


Study Suggests Bringing “No Excuses” Discipline Policies from Charter to Public Schools



The teacher begins class by taking out her Glock.


She casually walks to the front of the room and shoots a misbehaving student in the head.


All the others immediately begin working on their assignment.


It sounds like something from a horror movie. But it’s actually not all that far away from what real researchers at the Brookings Institution and Princeton University are suggesting we do.


Sarah Cohodes has written a new report called “Charter Schools and the Achievement Gap” that praises “No Excuses” discipline policies at urban charter schools and suggests they be more widely implemented at traditional public schools serving the poor and students of color.


I wish I were kidding.


Let’s return to the hyperbolic situation with which I began this article.


The noise of a gunshot brings the principal racing to the classroom.


She notices the slumped bleeding body of the shot child and walks up to the teacher ready to physically disarm and arrest her. But then she notices all the rows of neatly placed desks and the children diligently doing their work.


She glances down at a paper here and there and notices that the children are getting most of their work correct.


So she turns to the teacher and says, “Carry on, Ms. C. You seem to have everything under control here.”


That’s perhaps the most immediate concern brought by Cohodes research – it proposes to evaluate a discipline model based solely on its academic results and completely ignores other aspects of the student experience. For instance, how does the model affect students’ social and emotional development? Is it harmful to students’ curiosity, self-motivation and psychological well-being?


Pardon me, but these are important issues.


I don’t care if my fictional teacher’s shoot first discipline policy gets students to do exceptional classwork. My daughter will not be enrolled in that class – nor do I expect anyone would want their child to learn in such an environment regardless of how well it maximized test scores.


Let me be clear. This is hyperbole, but with a point.


“No Excuses” discipline policies don’t result in any gunshot wounds or deaths (to my knowledge), but they do create environments that are not conducive to the flourishing of children.



For instance, at a New Orleans charter school, students were punished for not standing straight, not sitting up straight, for putting their heads down, for closing their eyes for too long, for not tracking speakers correctly with their eyes! Between classes students had to walk single file between the wall and a line marked with orange tape. And they had strict dress codes.


This is not school. It is prison.


And it’s unsurprising that these sorts of discipline policies are found at urban charter schools like the KIPP network serving mostly poor and minority students.


Cohodes champions them because – in her view – they get results.


I say that she is missing the point.


Her view of what is important in school is far too narrow.


Moreover, it’s based on a misconception of what constitutes academic success.


Cohodes concludes “No Excuses” policies work solely because schools with such policies tend to have students who get higher test scores.


This is to make a few assumptions.


First, it assumes that the number of students weeded out by such discipline policies isn’t significant enough to wipe out the apparent increase in scores. The punishment for breaking the rules at these schools is often detention, suspension or expulsion. Every child who is enrolled at the beginning of the year isn’t there by testing time. How do we know that the school hasn’t lost so many students who couldn’t obey the rules that they wipe out any gains in testing?


Second, she is assuming standardized testing provide accurate assessments of knowledge and skills. This is far from an accepted premise. These tests have repeatedly been shown to be both economically and racially biased. Cohodes is assuming that since the students scoring better on the assessments are still poor and predominantly black, what they’re being tested on is fair.


Standardized tests are poor assessments. Multiple choice exams do not possess the flexibility to allow for creativity and depth of knowledge. They simply expect a “standard” student to think a certain way and reward dissimilar students for conforming to that standard.


“No Excuses” charter schools may be better at getting different children to act and think alike, but that is not necessarily an endorsement.


Cohodes concludes that these gains in test scores are ultimately beneficial because they will lead to success at college. However, numerous studies have shown that charter school students end up dropping out of college at higher rates than traditional public school students. They simply haven’t learned how to motivate themselves to learn without the rigid, military structures of the charter school environment. One can imagine similar outcomes for charter students (successful charter students) who immediately enter the workforce.


None of these considerations make it into Cohodes research.


She jumps from the brilliant standardized success of “No Excuses” charter schools to the need to include these policies in traditional public schools.


Cohodes worries that the charter school sector can never fully compete with traditional public schools, so we need to make traditional public schools more like charter schools.


However, I cannot imagine many parents would jump at the chance to have their children treated like prison inmates for the chance of higher test scores.


Unlike charter schools, public schools have school boards. They have to make their decisions in public and are accountable to voters who can come to the public meeting, protest and even run for a seat on the board themselves.


In short, this is a terrible idea.


It is somewhat staggering that a grown adult could look exclusively at the data and come to such a conclusion without considering what it means for flesh-and-blood students.


Not only that, but we’re talking about predominantly black and brown students. Is it somehow more acceptable because we’re talking about turning schools serving darker skinned students into Guantanamo Bay? Would it be as acceptable for rosy cheeked affluent white kids?


This is what happens when you let economists set public policy.


It is essential that we include parents, teachers, psychologist and even students in the processes. Otherwise, we’ll continue to get heartless number crunching offered as sincere solutions to our problems.

Nationwide Charter School Expansion Slowing Down

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Charter schools used to be seen as the hot new concept in education.


But that fad seems to have jumped the shark.


For two decades since the first charter school law was passed in Minnesota, they’ve grown at about 6 to 7 percent nationally.


But for the last three years, that growth has dropped each year – from 7 to 5 to 2 percent.




Even states that historically boasted the most growth are falling behind. Of charter powerhouses Texas, Florida, Ohio and California – only Texas has shown a significant upward trend.




So what happened?


How did the hippest new thing to hit education since the chalk board suddenly hit such a wall? After all, it wasn’t so long ago that every celebrity from Magic Johnson to Andre Agassi to Deion Sanders to Sean “Puffy” Combs to Pitt Bull had their own charter school. Even Oprah Winfrey, the queen of multimedia, donated millions to charter networks in Louisiana, California, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas and her home state of Illinois.


How could something with so much high profile support be running out of gas?


The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) has a theory.


The charter school funded think tank (read: propaganda network) released a report boiling the issue down to three factors: real estate costs, a teacher shortage and political backlash.


Real estate costs? Yes, few public schools want to offer you public property to put your privately run school that will inevitably gobble up a good portion of its funding and turn a portion of that into profit for private investors.


Teacher shortage? Yes, when you pay your educators the least, don’t allow your employees to unionize, and demand high hours without remuneration, you tend to find it harder than most educational institutions to find people willing to work for you.


Political backlash? DING! DING! DING!


Of course, most people who aren’t paid by the charter school industry – as those working for CRPE are – would simply call this a charter school backlash – not political, at all.


This isn’t one political party seeking advantage over another. It’s concerned citizens from both sides of the aisle worried about the practices of the charter school industry.


The general public is starting to understand exactly what charter schools are and why they are a bad idea for children and society.


For instance:
-Charter schools are rarely controlled by elected school boards – they’re run by appointed bureaucrats.


-They are often run for profit –which means they can reduce services for students and pocket the savings.


-They cherry pick which students to enroll and how long to keep them enrolled – they only let in the easiest to teach and give the boot to any that are struggling before standardized testing time.


-And they very often close unexpectedly and/or are the site of monetary scandals where unscrupulous charter school operators take the money and run.


Moreover, it’s no accident that much of the criticism of charter schools comes from people of color. About one quarter of all charter school students are black, whereas black students make up only 15 percent of enrollment at traditional public schools.


To put that in perspective, approximately 837,000 black students were enrolled at charter schools during the 2016-17 school year. Yet civil rights organizations are concerned that this over-representation is having negative consequences on students of color.


The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has issued numerous criticisms of charter schools most recently calling for a moratorium on them. So has the Movement for Black Lives and the Journey for Justice Alliance.


In addition to the concerns already mentioned, civil rights advocates are concerned with the tendency of charter schools to increase racial segregation.


Seventy percent of black charter school students have few white classmates, according to a study by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.


But some charters are even worse. More than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had student bodies made up of at least 99% minority students, according to an Associated Press analysis from three years ago. And it’s getting worse!


Certainly increasing segregation is a problem even at traditional public schools, but nothing like the numbers we’re seeing in the charter school sector.


Civil rights leaders know that “separate but equal” schools don’t work because when they’re separate, they’re rarely equal.


For instance, charter schools suspend students at a much higher rate than traditional public schools. Some charters suspend more than 70% of those enrolled, according to an analysis from the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles.



Researchers found the situation is even more dire for minorities. Black students are four times more likely to be suspended than white students, and students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended as non-disabled students.


With all these problems dogging their heels, it’s no wonder that the charter school juggernaut is starting to lose momentum.


Instead of concentrating solely on why these schools are losing popularity, we should also ask what set them shooting off into the stratosphere in the first place.


After all, no one was really crying out for private schools run with public money.


No one, that is, except big business and greedy investors looking for a quick buck.


Since the Clinton administration, charter school investments get automatic tax credits that allow investors to double their money in as little as 7 years. Lobbying at the state and federal level by charter schools and their investors and contractors have enabled a monetary scam to enrich private industry at public expense.


Put simply, charters are not subject to the same instructional, operational, fiscal, accounting or conflict of interest rules as traditional public schools. Therefore, in most states it’s perfectly legal for a charter school operator to give his brother the instructional contract, his sister the maintenance contract and his uncle the textbook contract. He can replace the teachers with computer programs and apps, while his own privately held company rents and leases the school building at a hefty markup – all with public money.


And somehow that’s still called a “public” school.


We have to face this simple fact: Charters took off not because they were a good idea to help kids learn, but because they were an excellent way to make a lot of money off of the government. It was a way to steal money meant to help children.


What we’re seeing in terms of a backlash is just a more common realization of the motives behind charter schools echoed in the negative consequences these schools leave behind.


And in the Trump era, charter schools can’t hide behind a friendly face like Barack Obama.


The neoliberal agenda is as fervently being pushed by the right wing as the left – more so.


This slowdown may signal that people have gone beyond politics.


We don’t care what the left and the right wish to sell us. We’re not willing to buy the charter school boloney anymore. If our policymakers want to continue getting our votes, they may need to give in to what the people actually want and stop trying to lead us over the cliff and feed us to the sharks.

School Choice Week – Choosing Away Your Choice



School Choice Week is one of the greatest scams in American history.



It is a well-funded, thoroughly organized attempt to trick parents into signing away their right to make educational choices about their children.






It goes like this:



Salesman: Would you like a choice?



Parent: Sure!



Salesman: Then just agree to never have another choice again.



That’s it in a nutshell.



Choose not to choose.



When you decide to send your child to a so-called choice school – a charter or voucher institution – you lose almost every other choice about what happens at your child’s school.



Sound impossible?



Let me count the decisions you lose by signing on the dotted line.



When you send your child to a school paid for with public money but run by a private organization, you lose:



AN ELECTED SCHOOL BOARD, so you have no say about what the school does.



OPEN DOCUMENTS, so you have no right to see budgets, spending agreements, bids, contracts, etc.



OPEN MEETINGS, so you have no public place to speak up to the people who run your school.



RIGHT TO SELF-GOVERNMENT, so you have no right to run for a leadership position on the school board. Instead you’re at the mercy of appointed flunkies.



THE RIGHT OF ENROLLMENT, so school operators get to choose whether your child gets to attend, unlike public schools which have to accept your child no matter what – so long as you live in the district.



QUALITY SERVICES, so school operators can cut services for your child and pocket the savings as profit or use it to advertise to get more paying butts in seats.



QUALITY TEACHERS, because most charter and voucher schools aren’t required to hire educators with 4-year degrees, and since they don’t pay as well as public schools and often refuse to let their teachers unionize, they attract less experienced and distinguished educators.



DIVERSE CLASSMATES, because charter and voucher schools increase segregation. Your children will be educated with more kids that look just like them. That’s healthy!



And that’s merely at MOST privatized schools. But that’s not all. At some privatized schools you can lose even more! You may also lose:



COMMON SENSE DISCIPLINE POLICIES, so your children will be held to a zero tolerance discipline policy where they may have to sit quietly, eyes forward, marching in line or else face aggressive public reprimands and harsh punishments.



AN UNBIASED SECULAR EDUCATION, so your children will be taught religion and politics as if they were fact all funded by public tax dollars! Hear that sound? That’s our Founders crying.



FREE TIME, so you’ll be required to volunteer at the school regardless of your ability to do so. Gotta’ work? Tough!



MONEY, so you’ll have to pay tuition, buy expensive uniforms, school supplies or other amenities.



And if your children are struggling academically, you may also lose:



ENROLLMENT, so your child is given the boot back to the public school because he or she is having difficulty learning, and thus costs too much to educate.



You lose all that if you decide to enroll your child in a charter or voucher school!



But that’s not all!



If you DON’T decide to send your child to a so-called choice school, you can still lose choice!



Why? Because of the rubes who were fooled into give up their choice. When they did that, they took some of your choices, too.



Because of them, you still lose:



-NECESSARY FUNDING, because your public school has to make up the money it lost to charter and voucher schools somewhere, and that means fewer resources and services for your child.


-LOWER CLASS SIZES, because your public school has to fire teachers and increase class size to make up for lost revenue.



-FAIR ASSESSMENTS, because the state and federal government require your child to take unfair high stakes tests to “prove” your public school is failing and thus justify replacing it with a charter or voucher schoolas if those have ever been proven to be better, but whatever! CA-CHING! CA-CHING!



This is what you get from School Choice Week.



It’s a uniquely American experience – selling the loss of choice — as choice.



And all the while they try to convince you that public schools are the ones that take away your alternatives.



Yet public schools are where you get all those things you lose at privatized schools.



You get elected school boards, open documents, open meetings, the right to self-government, the right of enrollment, quality services, quality teachers, diverse classmates, common sense discipline policies, an unbiased secular education, free time and money! That’s right! You actually get all that and more money in your pocket!



I’m not saying public schools are perfect. There are many ways they need to improve, but it’s difficult to do so when many of the people tasked with improving these schools are more concerned with sabotaging them to make room for privatized systems.



These are paid employees of the charter and voucher school movement who want to kill public schools – BUT THE KILLER IS ALREADY IN THE HOUSE!



Imagine if we dedicated ourselves to making our public school system better!



Imagine if we committed to giving parents and students more choices in the system and not trying to replace that system with one that gives all the benefits and choices away to corporate vultures!



So, yeah, School Choice Week is a scam.



But, hey, enjoy those yellow scarfs.



The Further You Get From Public Schools, the Greater the Chance of Child Abuse



A California home-school where parents shackled, starved and abused their children is a symptom of a larger disease.



And that disease is privatization.



David Allen Turpin and his wife, Louise Anna Turpin, were arrested after police found the couple’s 13 children living in deplorable conditions in their Perris, California, home.



Some of the children were actually young adults but were so malnourished investigators at first mistook them for minors.



It is a situation that just could not have happened had those children been in the public school system.



Someone would have seen something and reported it to Child Protective Services. But school privatization shields child predators from the light and enables a system where minors become the means to every adult end imaginable.



Let me be clear. Privatization is defined as the transfer of a service from public to private ownership and control.



In education circles, that means home-schools, charter schools and voucher schools – all educational providers that operate without adequate accountability.



We are taking our most precious population – our children – and allowing them to be educated behind closed doors, out of sight from those tasked with ensuring they are getting the best opportunities to learn and are free from abuse.



And since home-schooling operates with almost zero oversight, it is the most susceptible to child neglect and mistreatment.



Children who in traditional public schools would have a whole plethora of people from teachers to counselors to principals to cafeteria workers who can observe the danger signs of abuse are completely removed from the home-school environment.



Home-schooled children receive their educations almost exclusively from parents.



While most moms and dads would never dream of abusing their kids, home-schooling provides the perfect cover for abusers like the Turpins to isolate children and mistreat them with impunity.



It is a situation that at least demands additional oversight. And at most it requires we rethink the entire enterprise as dangerous and wrongheaded.



Charter and voucher schools at least utilize whole staffs of people to educate children. The chances of something like this happening at these institutions is much smaller. However, both types of school also are much less accountable for their actions than traditional public schools.



And that is the common factor – responsibility. Who is being held answerable when things go wrong? At traditional public schools, there is a whole chain of adults who are culpable for children. At these other institutions, the number of people in the hot seat shrinks to zero.



Much of that has to do with the regulations each state puts on privatized schools.



Just look at the regulations governing home-schooling.



In 14 states including Delaware, California and Wisconsin, parents don’t have to do anything but let the school district know they’re home-schooling. That’s it! And in 10 states including Texas, Illinois and New Jersey, you don’t even have to do that!



Kids just disappear without a trace. If no one reports them missing, we assume they’re being home-schooled.



But even in states that appear to be more exacting on paper, the reality is a virtual free-for-all.



Take my home state of Pennsylvania. To begin home-schooling, parents must notify the superintendent, have obtained a high school degree themselves, provide at least 180 days of instruction in certain subjects and maintain a portfolio of their child’s test results and academic records.



That sounds impressive. However, this doesn’t really amount to much in practice because these regulations have few teeth. Hardly anyone ever checks up to make sure these regulations are being met – and they’re only allowed to check up under certain circumstances and only in certain ways and at certain times!



Even when it comes to charter and voucher schools, most states, including Pennsylvania, go little further than that.  



Frankly, most of the time we don’t know what happens in charter and voucher schools, because few state governments insist on audits, unscheduled visits or reports.



For instance, though few charter or voucher schools starve, lock up or torture students, many have zero tolerance discipline policies. Few would claim even these controversial behavior management systems sink to the level of some home-school parents who have allegedly withheld food and bound children’s hands with zip ties. But adolescents being forced to sit silently with their eyes looking forward, hands on the table or else receive loud rebukes – as they are in many charter or voucher schools – may qualify as another kind of abuse.



Moreover, all privatized schools can withhold providing a proper education. Home-school parents can refuse to teach their children not just truths about science and history but the basics of reading, writing and math. Likewise, charter and voucher schools can cut student services and pocket the savings as profit. And no one is the wiser because the state has abrogated its responsibility to check up on students or even require they be taught much of anything at all.



Meanwhile, none of this is possible in the traditional public school setting because it must operate in the light of day. It is fully accountable to the public. Its documents are public record. Decisions about how it should be run and how tax dollars are spent are made at open meetings by duly-elected members of the community.



Some, including myself, would argue that the regulations required of public schools by the state and federal government are sometimes too onerous, unnecessary or even just plain dumb. But that doesn’t change the fact that regulations are necessary. It just leaves open the question of which ones.



The bottom line is this: Public school is the equivalent of teaching children in an open room with qualified educators that have proven and continue to prove they have no criminal record and are able and ready to educate.



Privatized schools are the equivalent of teaching children in a closed room with educators who may not deserve the name and may or may not have deplorable criminal pasts.



Looked at in the abstract, no one in their right mind would conceivably suggest the latter is a better educational environment than the former. However, we have been subjected to an expensive propaganda campaign to make us think otherwise.



Look. I’m not saying public schools are perfect. Certainly students can be abused there, too. The media salaciously reports every doe-eyed teacher who stupidly has a sexual relationship with a student – whether it be at a public or privatized school. But in comparison with the worst that can and often does happen at privatized schools, these incidents at public schools are extremely rare (1 in 800,000) and of much less severity.



Though both are bad, there is a world of difference between the infinitesimal chance of being propositioned by your high school teacher and the much more likely outcome of being treated like a prison inmate at 13 by the charter school corporation or being starved, shackled and beaten by your parents!



Human beings aren’t going to stop being human anytime soon. Wouldn’t it be better to entrust our children to an environment with regulations and accountability than letting them go off in some locked room and just trusting that everything will be alright?



Our posterity deserves better than privatization.



They deserve the best we can give them – and that means fully responsible, fully regulated, fully accountable public schools.

Public Schools Best Fulfill Dr. King’s “Purpose of Education”



What is the purpose of education?


Is it to train the next generation of workers?


Or is it to empower the next generation of citizens?


Is it to give children the skills necessary to meet the needs of business and industry?


Or is it to provide them the tools to self-actualize and become the best people they can be?


In today’s world, our leaders continue to insist that the answer to the question is the former corporate training model. Knowledge is only valuable if it translates to a job and thus a salary.


But we didn’t always think that way.


As another Martin Luther King Day is about to dawn this week, I’m reminded of the man behind the myth, a person who clearly would deny this materialistic view of learning.


When we think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we usually think of the towering figure of the Civil Rights Movement who gave the “I have a dream” speech during the March on Washington in 1963.


However, as a teacher, I find myself turning to something he wrote in 1947 when he was just an 18-year-old student at Morehouse College.


While finishing his undergraduate studies in sociology, he published an essay in the student paper called “The Purpose of Education.”


Two sections immediately jump off the page. The first is this:


“We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living.”


So for King it wasn’t enough for schools to teach facts. It wasn’t enough to teach skills, math, writing, reading, history and science. The schools are also responsible for teaching children character – how to be good people, how to get along with each other.


It’s a worthy goal.


But 2018 contains a far different educational landscape than 1947.


When King wrote, there were basically two kinds of school – public and private. Today there is a whole spectrum of public and private each with its own degree of self-governance, fiscal accountability and academic freedom.


On the one side we have traditional public schools. On the other we have fully private schools. And in the middle we have charter, voucher and home schools.


So which schools today are best equipped to meet King’s ideal?


Private schools are by their very nature exclusionary. They attract and accept only certain students. These may be those with the highest academics, parental legacies, religious beliefs, or – most often – families that can afford the high tuition. As such, their student bodies are mostly white and affluent.


That is not King’s ideal. That is not the best environment to form character, the best environment in which to learn about people who are different than you and to develop mutual understanding.


Voucher schools are the same. They are, in fact, nothing but private schools that are subsidized in part by public tax dollars.


Charter schools model themselves on private schools so they are likewise discriminatory. The businesses who run these institutions – often for a profit – don’t have to enroll whoever applies. Even though they are fully funded by public tax dollars, they can choose who to let in and who to turn away. Often this is done behind the cloak of a lottery, but with no transparency and no one checking to ensure it is done fairly, there is no reason to believe operators are doing anything but selecting the easiest (read: cheapest) students to educate.


Charter schools have been shown to increase segregation having student bodies that are more monochrome than those districts from which they cherry pick students. This is clearly not King’s ideal.


Homeschooling is hard to generalize. There is such a wide variety of experiences that can be described under this moniker. However, they often include this feature – children are taught at home by their parent or parents. They may or may not interact with their academic peers and the degree to which they meet and understand different cultures is variable to say the least. They may meet King’s ideal, but frankly the majority of them probably do not.


So we’re left with traditional public schools. Do they instill “intelligence plus character”?


Answer: it depends.


There are many public schools where children of different races, nationalities, religions, and creeds meet, interact and learn together side-by-side.


Students wearing hajibs learn next to those wearing yarmulkes. Students with black skin and white skin partner with each other to complete class projects. Students with parents who emigrated to this country as refugees become friends with those whose parents can trace their ancestors back to the Revolutionary War.


These schools are true melting pots where children learn to become adults who value each other because of their differences not fear each other due to them. These are children who not only learn their academics as well – if not often better – than those at competing kinds of schools, but they also learn the true face of America and they learn to cherish it.


This is the true purpose of education. This is the realization of King’s academic ideal and his civil rights dream.


However, this is not the case at every public school.


While there are many like this, there are too many that are increasingly segregated. In fact, in some areas our schools today are more segregated than they were at the time of Dr. King’s assassination.


These are schools that get the lion’s share of resources, that have the newest facilities, the widest curriculum, the most affluent clientele.


So, no, not even all public schools meet this ideal. But those that don’t at least contain the possibility of change.


We could integrate all public schools. We could never integrate our charter, voucher and private schools. That goes against their essential mission. They are schools made to discriminate. Public schools are meant to be all inclusive. Every one could meet King’s ideal, if we only cared enough to do it.


Which brings me to the second section of King’s early essay that pops off the page:


“The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.”


Seventy one years ago, King was warning us about the situation we suffer today.


When we allow academics to be distinct from character and understanding, we put ourselves at the mercy of leaders with “reason, but with no morals.”


We put ourselves and our posterity in the hands of those like President Donald Trump, the fruit of a fully private education.


Racism and privilege become the defining characteristics of a class without character, in King’s sense.


If we want to reclaim what it means to be an American, if we want to redefine ourselves as those who celebrate difference and defend civil rights, that begins with understanding the purpose of education.


It demands we defend public schools against privatization. And it demands that we transform our public schools into the integrated, equitable institutions we dreamed they could all be.