Category Archives: Essays

Essays on a variety of topics related to teaching and learning.

DeVos Shows What Vouchers are About

(If you really want to understand Betsy DeVos and her priorities, I don’t think you need look much further than this post from Diane Ravitch’s Blog)

Diane Ravitch's blog

When she was questioned by Congress, Betsy DeVos let the cat out of the bag about vouchers.

The U.S. Department of Education will hand out money for vouchers and will not enforce civil rights laws.

“She lifted the curtain on school vouchers and made clear exactly what this system of using taxpayer funds to pay for private and religious schools is.

“It’s a way for some parents, particularly bigots, to get taxpayers to subsidize their attempts to evade or break the law.

“The revelation came during DeVos’s testimony before Congress about President Donald Trump’s proposed new federal budget and that budget’s effect on education.

“DeVos found herself questioned by U.S. Rep. Katharine Clark, D-Massachusetts. Clark inquired about Lighthouse Christian Academy, a voucher school here in Indiana — Bloomington, in fact — that boasts that it will deny admission to students who might be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The school…

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A Writer Checks Out Betsy DeVos’ Quack Brain Training Center

(Here’s more essential reporting from Diane Ravitch’s Blog on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. You know, as a fan of cheap comedy, I loved the Dumb and Dumber movies; that doesn’t mean, however, that I think they should inform federal education policy.)

Diane Ravitch's blog

When Betsy DeVos became Secretary, she left the board of Neurocore but did not give up her multimillion dollar financial investment. Ulrich Boseris, a journalist, signed up for Neurocore services in Palm Beach, Florida.

He describes what happened to him, then concludes:

SO WHAT DOES IT SAY that our education secretary is backing Neurocore?

For one, it seems that feeble science doesn’t bother DeVos. The budget document released by her department on Tuesday emphasizes that education decisions should be informed by “reliable data, strong research, and rigorous evaluations.” But like her boss, President Trump, DeVos apparently isn’t one to let evidence get in the way of what she wants to do. A recent study of school vouchers by DeVos’s agency showed that one program dragged down math scores by as much as seven points. Still, DeVos champions voucher programs, dismissing her opponents this past week as “flat-earthers.”

We don’t…

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DeVos Hires Top Official at For-Profit University to Help “Right-Size” Department of Education

(This post from Diane Ravitch’s Blog doesn’t require any elaboration, I guess.)

Diane Ravitch's blog

Jennifer Berkshire reports that Secretary Betsy DeVos has turned to a top official from the scandal-plagued for-profit higher education industry to “right-size” the Department of Education.

As the New York Times said when his appointment was announced:

“As chief compliance officer for a corporate owner of for-profit colleges, Robert S. Eitel spent the past 18 months as a top lawyer for a company facing multiple government investigations, including one that ended with a settlement of more than $30 million over deceptive student lending.”

Eitel worked for Bridgepoint Education Inc., which took over a small private college in 2005, called Ashford College. Bridgepoint turned it into a colossus of online higher education. In 2005, Ashford had 300 students. By 2010, it had more than 80,000.

Berkshire interviewed Christopher Crowley of Wayne State, who explained how the business leaders of the new enterprises turned a struggling small college into a profitable success:

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“Don’t Like Betsy DeVos? Blame the Democrats”

(Here’s something from Diane Ravitch that I think is well worth a few minutes of your time, especially if you’re concerned with the disastrous educational policies coming from the Department of Education under its current, grossly under-qualified secretary, Betsy DeVos.) 

Diane Ravitch's blog

I wrote this article for The New Republic.

It explains how Democrats set the stage for DeVos’ anything-goes approach to school choice by their advocacy of charter schools. Charters are the gateway to vouchers. We have seen many groups like Democrats for Education Reform try to draw a sharp distinction between charters and vouchers. It doesn’t work. Once you begin defaming public schools and demanding choice, you abandon the central argument for public schools: they belong to the public.

The political side to this issue is that the Democratic Party sold out a significant part of its base–teachers, teachers unions, and minorities–by joining the same side as ALEC, the Walton family, and rightwing conservatives who never approved of public schools.

Their pursuit of Wall Street money in exchange for supporting charters helped to disintegrate their base. To build a viable coalition for the future, the Party must walk away…

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Write a Letter to Your Representative in Congress to Protect Federal Education Funding!

(Here’s something from Diane Ravitch’s Blog that bears repeating, for reasons that I assume are obvious. Both Diane Ravitch and the author of this post, Leonie Haimson, have done much to keep the problem of class size front and center in educational policy discourse.”

Diane Ravitch's blog

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, sent out the following bulletin:

It was just revealed that Congress is due to vote on an education budget early this week which would cut Title IIA funds by $300 million. President Trump’s budget would eliminate these funds altogether for the following year.

Please write Congress today: Urge them NOT to cut Title IIA funds – which many districts use to keep teachers on staff to prevent further class size increases. In NYC, $101 million of these funds are used to keep approximately 1000 teachers on staff.

As I explained in a recent piece in Alternet, districts throughout the country have already lost thousands of teaching positions since the Great Recession which were never replaced — increasing class sizes in many schools to sky-high levels.

For more on the myriad, proven benefits of smaller classes, check out our research summary here

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Screens and Cognition

If your school is dealing with rules concerning cell phones, and more specifically, smartphones, then I wish you luck. I won’t win any friends with the administration of my school in noting–as I have to the administration itself–that it has failed in its attempt to arrive at a sensible policy regarding these devices. In fairness to the principal and assistant principals of this institution, this is a very complicated and challenging area in which to formulate disciplinary code.

Educators can muster many reasons for prohibiting the use of smartphones in school. At the very least, they are a serious distraction and impede learning. It now appears that these devices may impair cognition and stunt brain development, perhaps permanently. For some time I’ve been waiting for the science on this, particularly science that teachers can use to design teaching activities that raise students’ consciousness about the risks theytake when they use smartphones excessively. My own sense is that until we educate students about the hazards of these devices, we don’t stand a chance of competing with them, let alone assisting students in developing their own understanding of the hazards of the excessive use of smartphones.

So, lo and behold, this morning when I woke up, I heard a short squib on the BBC about the problems associated with excessive social media use–which is the mainstay, I expect, of patterns of smartphone use among adolescents. I can’t find the exact link, but if you search “BBC Social Media Report” in your preferred internet browser, you’ll find that the BBC has done an comprehensive job covering this.

After getting myself to Lower Manhattan on the 5 train, I turned on my computer, opened Diane Ravitch’s Blog, scrolled down a few posts, and found that she posted yesterday this excellent post from Edward Berger (which actually links to a podcast) on the dangers of excessive screen use among children.

In my not especially humble, but nonetheless formed-from-direct-experience, opinion, smartphones are one of the major educational issues (and this, remember, in an environment where someone as manifestly unqualified as Betsy DeVos can be named Secretary of Education) facing teachers. Until we develop pedagogy around the cognitive hazards of excessive screen time, we will play a losing game with smartphones.

NYC: Parents Holding Sit-In to Demand Removal of Principal

(Here’s a very sad piece of news from Diane Ravitch’s Blog on one of New York City’s most storied schools, Central Park East 1, founded by the legendary Deborah Meier. Over the years, I’ve dealt with and heard about incompetent administrators drunk on their own perception of their power, but this surely is a new low.)

Diane Ravitch's blog

Central Park East 1 elementary school was founded by Deborah Meier many years ago. It is an iconic progressive public school in East Harlem that has attracted a diverse student enrollment. Debbie wrote to tell me that the school is interible trouble now. Its current principal is opposed to the original philosophy of the school. Parents are demanding her removal:

“***Breaking Update: Following a meeting of more than 100 parents, teachers and community members, families have been occupying their school at CPE1 since 6:30pm on Thursday, April 6th. The DOE has promised to send someone to meet with occupying families at 8am. Parents are asking Mayor de Blasio to step in and resolve the crisis at CPE1 by removing Principal Garg immediately. Supporters and families will be holding a press conference and rally at 8:30am to explain their demands and next steps in their struggle.***



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