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“Privatizing Education: The GOP Sees School Vouchers As A Political Panacea

A few months ago, following a lengthy “autopsy,” the Republican National Committee unveiled a lengthy blueprint for the party’s recovery, and though there wasn’t much in the way of policy prescriptions, there was one issue the document mentioned three times: “school choice.”

“School choice,” a poll-test euphemism for private school vouchers, is generally characterized by GOP leaders as a way for Republicans to reach out to minority communities, position themselves as caring about domestic policy, and weaken labor unions, all at the same time. According to the Washington Times, the party is apparently taking the idea quite seriously.

A Republican Party still reeling from the November elections is hoping that advocating for school choice can help the GOP recapture moderate voters, arguing that the issue provides a natural link between their limited-government philosophy and the average voter’s desire for good local schools.

Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican speaking to grass-roots activists in Concord last week, said the party can bolster its national image by making school choice — giving parents the ability and the funds to choose between competing public and private schools for their children — a more prominent part of its message.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal hit a similar note two weeks earlier, saying at a fundraiser in Manchester that the issue is a political winner because it saves money and produces better results.

The policy is also being touted by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), among others.

I can appreciate the appeal among Republican policymakers, who generally don’t have much of a policy agenda to speak of. By pushing vouchers, GOP officials and candidates get to pander to social conservatives and satisfy the party’s libertarian wing, all while infuriating teachers’ unions. That the idea ostensibly gives Republicans a “compassionate conservative” veneer is gravy.

So why haven’t we heard more about this lately? Largely because vouchers aren’t the political panacea the GOP has been waiting for.

For one thing, there are serious constitutional concerns, as Jindal was recently reminded when his state Supreme Court scrapped his in-state voucher scheme.

Indeed, as we discussed last year, all problems that have plagued vouchers for years haven’t gone away — if you’re familiar with the larger debate, you’ll recall serious concerns over public funding of religion; leaving behind students in sub-par schools; and giving tax dollars to unaccountable private operations, many of which have little to no standards for quality education.

What’s more, there’s very little evidence that vouchers actually help students in any measurable way, despite many years of research.

And while we’re at it, let’s also note that Republicans are convinced this is a political winner for them, but there’s no evidence to support that, either — vouchers have polled poorly for many years; they’ve failed repeatedly when put on statewide ballots; and though Mitt Romney endorsed vouchers last year, he was generally afraid to talk about his position, probably because he didn’t want to deal with the political opposition.

The fact remains that conservatives have talked about vouchers and privatizing education for several decades now, and it’s never been a political winner for the right. There’s no reason to believe this new push will be any more successful than the previous ones.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 30, 2013

June 1, 2013 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A No Good, Very Bad Year”: Louisiana Supreme Court Strikes Down Bobby Jindal’s Voucher Plan

This just isn’t Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R) year. First his plan to end state hospice care was deemed so unpopular, he had to back down. Then his regressive tax plan, which would have eliminated state income taxes altogether, was rejected by his own allies.

And now his school voucher scheme has been rejected by state courts, too.

The Louisiana Supreme Court has ruled that the current method of funding the statewide school voucher program is unconstitutional. Act 2, part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s 2012 package of education reforms, diverts money from each student’s per-pupil allocation to cover the cost of private or parochial school tuition. The act authorizes both the Louisiana Scholarship Program and the new Course Choice program.

The vote was 6-1, with Justice Greg Guidry dissenting. The plaintiffs in the case include the Louisiana Association of Educators, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana School Boards Association.

The ruling states that the per-pupil allocation, called the minimum foundation program or MFP, must go to public schools. Justice John Weimer writes, “The state funds approved through the unique MFP process cannot be diverted to nonpublic schools or other nonpublic course providers according to the clear, specific and unambiguous language of the constitution.”

Jindal’s voucher policy has been plagued by a series of problems, including directing public funds to “schools” with truly bizarre lesson plans, and financing religious ministries led by some, shall we say, eccentric pastors.

But in the end, Jindal just couldn’t get around the fact that the state constitution won’t allow him to divert public education funds to private entities.

It’s all part of the governor’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 7, 2013

May 9, 2013 Posted by | Education Reform | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Deadly Policies Of Red States”: Lots Of Students Are Being Left Behind

Last week, 35 former Atlanta educators were forced to take a perp walk, reporting to law enforcement authorities for arrest in connection with the nation’s biggest (so far) academic scandal. It was a disturbing spectacle. Once among the pillars of metro Atlanta’s middle class, they’ve been reduced to pleading that they don’t belong in jail.

And that may be true. The charges of a widespread conspiracy to cheat may represent the ambitions of a local prosecutor rather than any top-down plot carried out by a confederacy of criminals. But I don’t waste sympathy on the defendants: They deserve the ignominy of association with thugs.

I’m reserving my pity for the students in Atlanta’s public schools. They’re the victims of this massive fraud, the helpless pawns of adults who callously overlooked the needs of their charges and focused on preserving their careers.

Unfortunately, that’s been a recurrent theme in 40 years of school-reform efforts across the country. Whether represented by unions or organized as a powerful voting bloc or both, public school educators have put their paychecks front and center, discounting the needs of their students. Even good teachers — dedicated, hard-working and inspiring ones — have rallied to protect their peers, some of whom don’t deserve their support.

Atlanta’s scandal has reinforced long-standing criticisms of widespread testing in schools, a strategy that was exalted by George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. The critics are right: The overdependence on standardized tests has calcified instruction, failed students and encouraged fraud. Educators in poor neighborhoods, where students are more likely to score poorly, are singled out for official reproach.

Conversely, teachers, principals and superintendents who show miraculous results — turning failing students into suddenly brilliant ones — are showered with praise, promotions and, frequently, money. It’s no wonder, then, that some Atlanta teachers had after-school “parties” where they erased students’ answers and replaced them with the correct ones.

While Atlanta may have the best-documented case of test-related fraud, it’s by no means the only one. In an exhaustive investigation published last year, USA Today found evidence of fraudulent test scores in six states and Washington, DC. Even the vaunted Michelle Rhee, who led a reform effort in Washington, has been implicated, accused of turning a blind eye to suspicious test results.

But for all the problems associated with No Child Left Behind, Bush deserves credit for this much: He recognized the failures of public schools that are not doing very much to educate children from less-affluent homes. He described a culture freighted with “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” a phrase that still rings true.

For years, too many teachers in low-achieving schools have blamed their failures on children and parents, describing homes in which discipline is poor, mediocrity is lauded and failure is acceptable. If those teachers believe there is nothing to be done to improve the academic standing of those children, why teach? If the children are too “dumb” or too deprived to profit from their instruction, why do they stay?

Reams of research bear out the complaints of educators who say teaching poor kids is challenging: Children from less-affluent homes are more likely to read below grade-level, to need special help, to score poorly on standardized tests. But that hardly means they can’t learn.

They need teachers who believe in them. Those who believe they’re being unfairly tarnished by unworthy students don’t fit the bill. As psychologists point out, kids pick up those signals easily enough and behave as the teachers expect them to. In other words, they learn little or nothing.

In addition to dedicated teachers, those children need a community that’s also committed to them. That includes the politicians, activists and church groups who spend an inordinate amount of time defending educators rather than demanding good schools for the kids.

As Atlanta’s disgraced educators surrendered last week, a group of activist preachers — Concerned Black Clergy — assembled to suggest that racism was involved. “Look at the pictures of those 35,” said the Rev. Timothy McDonald. “Show me a white face.”

Would that McDonald and his allies were as concerned about Atlanta’s public school students, 80 percent of whom are also black.


By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, April 6, 2013

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Education Reform, Educators | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ineffective And Disastrous”: Why The NRA’s Plan To Put Armed Guards In Every School Won’t Work

Before we just laugh away the NRA’s plan to put armed guards (either police or volunteers) in every school in America, it’s worth at least asking: Would it even work? People who actually study gun violence were not impressed.

“The statement by the NRA is without any evidence that it would be effective,” said Dr. Fred Rivara, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington and the editor-in-chief of the pediatrics division of the Journal of the American Medical Association, in an email to Salon.

In fact, there was an armed sheriff’s deputy at Columbine High School the day of the shooting. There was an armed citizen in the Clackamas Mall in Oregon during a shooting earlier this month. There was an armed citizen at the Gabby Giffords shooting – and he almost shot the unarmed hero who tackled shooter Jared Loughner. Virtually every university in the county already has its own police force. Virginia Tech had its own SWAT-like team. As James Brady, Ronald Reagan’s former press secretary and gun control advocate, often notes, he was shot along with the president, despite the fact that they were surrounded by dozens of heavily armed and well-trained Secret Service agents and police.

“It’s kind of fantasy thinking to assume that armed citizens are going to take out the bad guy and that nothing will go wrong,” Daniel Webster, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, told me last week for a separate article on why the answer to gun violence is not more guns.

And what happens to the guns while they’re sitting around waiting for a mass killing to occur? They could be discovered by a suicidal student, unintentionally fired by a child or even inadvertently set off by a police officer, like this Oakland, California, cop who shot himself in front of a classroom full of students three years ago.

Today, Dr. Jerome Kassirer of Tufts University’s School of Medicine wrote that arming school teachers and nurses is a bad idea. “If we judge by recent experiences, this strategy is wanting. In Florida, a ‘neighborhood watch coordinator’ killed an unarmed boy who was acting suspiciously; and near the Empire State Building, police fire injured 9 pedestrians while they were subduing 1 shooter. Would ‘more guns’ lead to fewer gun deaths? Unlikely.”

Instead, the experts call for expanding federal support for gun violence research (Congress has statutorily limited gun violence research for political reasons since the 1990s), protecting doctors’ rights to ask patients about guns, and the passage of common-sense gun regulations like a ban on high-capacity magazines.

Arthur Kellerman, a prominent gun violence researcher now at the RAND Corporation, worried the NRA’s plan would only increase the number of guns that could cause harm. “Armed guards? Do they have any idea how many schools, kindergartens, day cares, ball fields, and playgrounds there are? Where would this stop?” he asked in an email.

Meanwhile, as Josh Barro points out, schools are already relatively very safe. There were just 15 homicides out of a population of 55.6 million K–12 students in the 2008–09 school year (giving you a 1 in 3 million chance of being killed at school), and students outside of school are twice as likely to be victims of serious crimes as those inside schools. Matt Yglesias adds that the NRA’s plan is a horribly inefficient use of resources, as you’re better off using those extra police officers elsewhere.

“Rather than seize this opportunity to show the American public the NRA can be a rational partner committed to preventing more innocent children from being murdered, we saw an NRA leadership today that was reactionary, tone deaf and out-of-sync with the majority of gun owners in this country,” Alicia Samuels, the communications director for the Johns Hopkins’s gun research center told Salon. “Wayne LaPierre is not in a position to speak on behalf of every parent, child, teacher and school administrator in this country whose lives would be most impacted by this fanatic, dangerous idea. The only people who benefit from this extremist more-guns mentality are gun manufacturers.”

Watch this 20/20 special from 2009 where they set up a realistic experiment to see if people are even capable of responding to school shootings effectively. The answer? Almost certainly not.


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, December 21, 2012

December 23, 2012 Posted by | Guns, Public Safety | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The NRA Shoots Itself In The Foot”: A Shill For Gun Manufacturers And The Home Of Unhinged Conspiracy Theorists

The National Rifle Association finally weighed in on the gun debate today, in a news conference (albeit one in which they took no questions) setting out their feelings at this critical moment. And they gave the movement for greater restrictions on guns the biggest favor it could have hoped for. While the organization was once devoted to marksmanship and gun safety, in recent years it has increasingly become a shill for the gun manufacturers that fund it and the home of unhinged conspiracy theorists. As it showed today, the worst thing it can do for its cause is to step into the light.

You can read Wayne LaPierre’s entire statement here, but here’s a choice excerpt:

We care about the President, so we protect him with armed Secret Service agents. Members of Congress work in offices surrounded by armed Capitol Police officers.

Yet when it comes to the most beloved, innocent and vulnerable members of the American family — our children — we as a society leave them utterly defenseless, and the monsters and predators of this world know it and exploit it. That must change now!

The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters — people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them. They walk among us every day. And does anybody believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school he’s already identified at this very moment?

The italics and exclamation points are in the original. LaPierre went on to say, “There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people.” Gun manufacturers? Nope. Hollywood! He went on to blame the news media, and even added a little doomsday prepper rhetoric (“Add another hurricane, terrorist attack or some other natural or man-made disaster, and you’ve got a recipe for a national nightmare of violence and victimization”). And then came the proposal: What we need to do, LaPierre said, is immediately place armed police officers in every school in America.

So the NRA’s plan is this: Make sure that as many people as possible buy as many guns as possible and are allowed to take them into as many places as possible. And then, as this army of “monsters and predators” descends upon our schools, have someone there to return fire. Sounds reasonable.

If the NRA had just kept its head low like it did after every other mass shooting we’ve had in recent years, it would have done itself a favor. But I think that in years to come we may look back on this press conference as one of the key moments in a change in how people and legislators think of the NRA. It was a big public reminder, to people who may not have been aware of it, that these people are crazy. Even many gun owners, and many of the NRA’s own members, think the positions the organization takes are too extreme. When it’s this public about its dream vision of the society it would like to see, where every public place, from streets to supermarkets to parks to restaurants to schools, is nothing more than a gun battle waiting to happen, people are going to recoil in disgust. And to repeat, that includes lots of people who own guns.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 21, 2012

December 22, 2012 Posted by | Guns, Public Safety | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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