School Policy Heralds Trump’s Defeat

Bad news for the Splitter-In-Chief: Trump’s divisiveness is cracking his electoral foundation. Could it bring him down in 2020? After all, it has already transformed school politics.

Here’s what we know: At 538, Daniel Cox examines Trump’s waning support among younger white evangelicals. We know white evangelical voters have always been one of Trump’s firmest pillars of support, but Trump’s style—especially his anti-immigrant furor—does not play as well with young white evangelicals as older ones.

white evangelical youth immigration

…will immigration antagonism split Trump’s base?

As Cox writes,

Two-thirds (66 percent) of young white evangelical Christians (age 18 to 34) say that immigrants coming to the U.S. strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents, a view shared by only 32 percent of white evangelical seniors (age 65+). A majority (54 percent) of older white evangelical Christians believe that immigrants are a burden on American society.

Could Trump split his base? Could he drive away younger white evangelicals in his furious efforts to placate and mollify older white evangelicals? Hard to say. Plenty of younger white evangelicals still say they like Trump, although only a quarter of them say they like him a lot.

If school politics are any indication, though, I’d bet that Trump’s penchant for dividing people will hurt him in 2020. Why? Because his Ed Secretary has already sparked a revolution in the politics of charter schools. As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware, one of the reasons why charter schools have had such success is because they attracted unusual bipartisan support.

evangelical youth and trump 538

…still a lot of Trump-ism in there.

Just a few years ago, leading Democratic candidates such as Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Beto O’Rourke were loud and proud supporters of adding more charter schools. Now, Democrats are falling all over themselves scrambling for the exits.

There are a lot of reasons why, including a spate of teacher walk-outs and increasing accusations of charter-school segregation. The biggest single reason, though, IMHO, is Trump. Trump and his Ed Secretary Betsy DeVos have turned charter schools into a Trump thing.

Charter schools used to win support from both parties, from Arne Duncan as well as George W. Bush. They used to be one of the few areas in which both progressives and conservatives could agree, even if they did so for different reasons. The Howard Fullers out there could push charters for anti-racist reasons, even as the Walton Foundation pushed them for very different reasons.

Trump has put an end to all that. Charter schools are now political poison for Democrats.

What’s the lesson for younger white evangelicals and the 2020 election? Just this: Trump’s horse-in-a-hospital leadership style tends to divide people. It has already revolutionized charter-school politics. It seems entirely plausible that it will drive away younger white evangelicals who don’t share their elders’ anxieties about America’s future.

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Charter Schools and 2020: The Huge Elephant in the Classroom

It’s not just about the unions. As we gear up to hear leading Democratic 2020 candidates at the National Education Association forum this afternoon in Houston, pundits keep missing the point about charter schools and our new political landscape.

nea forum

I, too, …erm…would just like to say that I have always advocated the position I recently adopted…

One thing is hard not to notice: Leading Democrats have flipped on charter schools. Until very recently, leaders like Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Beto O’Rourke were positively rosy about the prospects of improving education with charters. No longer. Even Senator Booker, the candidate most thoroughly associated with charter reform, has backpedaled.

For some reason, pundits keep missing the obvious explanation for this important partisan realignment. Writers assume that the only reason Democratic hopefuls bash charters is to please the NEA and other teachers’ unions. As Bloomburg put it,

On charter schools, the top Democrats seem intent on placating teachers’ unions at the expense of low-income families.

Another pro-charter activist warned Democrats like Beto O’Rourke that “pandering” to union interests won’t pay off in the end. “The Presidential campaign trail,” she writes,

is littered with candidates who have won the union endorsements and never made it to the White House or even the nomination. They should remind themselves that our north star in education must be what’s best for children.

Will we see candidates pandering to the NEA this afternoon? Probably. I can’t imagine many of them pushing for more charters and voucher programs in front of this crowd. But there is a bigger, more obvious reason for this; candidates aren’t simply telling the audience what it wants to hear.

Here’s the scoop: Like most education-reform ideas, charter schools could never possibly deliver on the inflated promises of advocates. As historians know—and as I’m finding more and more as I complete the research for my book about America’s first urban school-reform movement—school reform ideas tend to follow a predictable pattern. Confronted with intractable social problems, reformers and politicians glom on to a “silver-bullet” idea that promises to save education in one fell swoop.

Charter schools were never the solution to America’s social and educational problems. They are also not the problem. Some charter schools do a great job of educating children. Some don’t. Since the 1990s, however, charter schools have been unfairly touted as the Next Big Thing, the cure-all for structural problems such as poverty, inequality, racial segregation, and underfunding.

betsy devos dolores umbridge

All Hufflepuffed up.

Until 2016, leaders from both parties embraced this convenient political fiction. It wasn’t the rise of union-backed teacher protests that killed it. Rather, it was the rise of Queen Betsy, the stumbling elephant in the ed-reform china shoppe. By associating charter schools with only the Trumpist wing of the GOP, Queen Betsy has forced Democratic hopefuls to swing the other way.

Do Democratic candidates hope to secure NEA votes? Sure. Will they bash charters to do so? Most likely. But the real elephant in the classroom is Queen Betsy. By making charter schools her signature issue, she has forced a widespread political realignment on the issue.

Betsy DeVos Has Saved Public Education

No one expected it. When Queen Betsy first took her position, her Dolores-Umbridge-style floundering was painful to watch and frightening for those of us who care about public education. Two years in, however, it is plain as day: DeVos’s sheer terribleness has forced a political realignment on the issue of charter schools. Charter schools used to be seen by both parties as the next great hope for public education. Now they are seen as a GOP stalking horse.

We’re used to it by now, but think back to DeVos’s shockingly inept interview on 60 Minutes in 2018. She evinced scant understanding or even interest in key educational issues. As Chris Cillizza wrote at the time,

DEVOS: Well, in places where there have been — where there is — a lot of choice that’s been introduced — Florida, for example, the — studies show that when there’s a large number of students that opt to go to a different school or different schools, the traditional public schools actually — the results get better, as well.

STAHL: Now, has that happened in Michigan? We’re in Michigan. This is your home state.

DeVOS: Michi — Yes, well, there’s lots of great options and choices for students here.

STAHL: Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?

DEVOS: I don’t know. Overall, I — I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better.

STAHL: The whole state is not doing well.

DEVOS: Well, there are certainly lots of pockets where this — the students are doing well and —

If I was a boxing referee, I would have stopped this exchange about halfway through. If you are the secretary of education, you have to know you are going to be asked about the effects of school choice — particularly in your home state. So, if you’re going to argue that school choice has made public schools better, you had had better find a whole hell of a lot better spin that “I don’t know.”

And here’s Colbert’s take:

DeVos’s theory is that if you take money away from public schools and give it to charter schools, that will somehow help the public schools. It’s a system called . . . Stupid.

Before the DeVos era, politicians and pundits of both major parties tended to embrace charter schools as our most promising school-reform idea. No longer. Democratic 2020 hopefuls are scrambling to distance themselves from charter schools. Those who have the closest ties to the charter movement, like Senator Cory Booker, have the most work to do. As The (charter-loving) Economist put it,

Mr Booker is trying to navigate these treacherous waters. His proposed education manifesto for 2020 is to increase funding for educating special-needs children and to pay teachers more. These proposals are fine. Yet Mr Booker is the only candidate with a serious educational achievement under his belt—and the essential ingredients of that turnaround are not what he is promising now. His campaign replies that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for education reform.

It’s not only about charter schools. Other market-y style education reforms have become similarly tainted with DeVosite. Teach For America, another reform plan long despised by progressives but embraced by both major parties, has come under increasing fire. California is considering ditching the program and cities such as Houston already have.

betsy devos dolores umbridge

All Hufflepuffed up.

In a way, it’s a shame. The smart answer when it comes to TFA, charter schools, or any other reform plan is always “It depends.” Some charter schools have offered great educations to low-income students. Some TFA teachers have done great jobs, and sacrificed a lot to do it.

Because of Queen Betsy’s Trumpish cloud, however, charter schools have reached Chernobyl-level toxicity for Democratic politicians. And that means the idea of charter schools will no longer carry the day as it has done for the past thirty years. In the long run, that’s good news for public education as a whole.

WaPo Needs to Get Its Ears Checked on Charter Schools

Everyone else heard it. Even way up here in the woods of upstate New York we heard it. Every political person except for the editors of the Washington Post seems to have gotten the message loud and clear. As a bi-partisan program, charter schools are dead. There’s no need for Democrats to hug the corpse. Maybe a medical analogy that invokes the late great Gene Wilder will help get the message across.

Here’s what we’re talking about: Today the editors of the Post issued a rebuke to Democratic politicians like Bernie who have turned their collective backs against charter schools. As they wrote,

We hope candidates keep in mind the polls that consistently show support for charters among black and Hispanic voters. It’s easy to oppose charters if you are well-off and live in a suburb with good schools.

The editors make a strong point. For students with no decent public schools nearby, the promise of higher-quality charter schools has always been appealing. And for that reason, political progressives have long supported the charter movement.

But no longer. The WaPo editorial team seems to have missed the changes that have swept the education-reform community over the past three years. Leading Democratic contenders like Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Beto O’Rourke had close ties with charter schools in the past, but they have all backpedaled furiously. (Well, maybe not Senator Booker.)

It’s not just that. Recent teacher strikes in Chicago have driven a broad-shouldered stake through the heart of the charter idea. Similarly, other ambitious school plans from the 1990s have died a shuddering death. There’s one big obvious reason for all this, and I think a medical analogy might help make sense of it.

When the charter-school movement took off in the 1990s, it had amazing success because it managed to do what very few political ideas can do. Namely, it attracted support from left, right, and center. The idea of publicly funded schools without all the red tape of regular public schools appealed to everyone who thought that regular public schools weren’t doing the job. And that’s a lot of people.support-for-charter-scools by raceNevertheless, historically speaking the idea of siphoning tax money away from the public-school network is a radical one, and it only held appeal as long as two factors remained true. First, large numbers of people needed to believe that public schools were in a state of desperate dysfunction. Second, people needed to believe that charters were a shared endeavor, still part of the broader vision of public education for all.

The first part is still true. At least, the WaPo editors continue to believe it. As they wrote this morning,

The most enduring — and unforgivable — civil rights offense in our country today is the consigning of so many poor, often minority children to failing schools.

The second part isn’t. At least, people don’t believe it. The obvious reason for that is the new educational sheriff in town, Betsy DeVos. Queen Betsy has become the public face of the charter school movement. Not Howard Fuller. Not Cory Booker. Not even Arne Duncan. Betsy DeVos.

And when Betsy DeVos becomes the face of charter schools, then the idea of charters takes on all the baggage of Team Trump. No Democrat wants to go to bat for charter schools anymore, you sillies, because they don’t want to buy a ticket on the Trump Train.

Consider this gruesome analogy: When would you agree to let doctors amputate your leg? Things would have to be pretty desperate, right? But if it seemed like the only way to prevent an even bigger health catastrophe, you’d go along with it. Before you did, though, you’d want to hear from a bunch of doctors and surgeons. You’d want to be convinced that the radical procedure was really necessary.

The idea of charter schools is just like that. It is a radical change to America’s public schools, and one with serious negative consequences. Funneling scarce dollars away from low-resource public schools and into charter schools is obviously no one’s first choice, but people were willing to risk it in order to get some students into better schools.

They were willing to try it, in large part, because all the experts lined up behind it. From Howard Fuller to Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee to Cory Booker, it seemed as if leaders from both parties agreed that the radical plan was the least-worst idea.

Not anymore. Secretary DeVos has managed to combine a striking ignorance about public education with a patent disregard for pressing educational issues. She has managed to unite left and right in opposition to her country-club blundering. And she has associated all her efforts with her fervent pro-charter agenda.

To drive the analogy home, it is like you are considering a radical amputation, and there’s only one doctor who tells you it’s a good idea: Dr. Frankenstein.

When the editors of the Washington Post urge Bernie and the other Democratic contenders to stay true to the charter dream, they are giving terrible advice. They are asking Democrats to stick their necks out for President Trump. They are asking Democrats to ignore the changes in ed-reform thinking of the past two years and pretend not to know which way the wind is blowing.

Should Bernie and the rest continue to support high-quality public schools for low-income people? Absolutely! But there are other ways to do it–ways besides the dead dream of charter schools. For the editors of WaPo to ask Bernie to support charter schools is like asking him to show up at a campaign rally wearing a MAGA hat.

TFA on the Rocks?

America loves a winner…until it doesn’t. Recent moves in Texas and California against Teach For America have me wondering—has the tide turned? Is TFA joining charter schools as a school reform that used to be popular on both sides of the aisle, but is now for the GOP alone? And if so, why now? There is one obvious reason that deserves more attention.

chicago charter protest

Which side are you on, Democrats?

Here’s what we know: As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware, the idea for Teach For America was to get graduates of elite colleges into low-resource schools. TFA teachers promised to teach for two years. The plan was twofold. First, founder Wendy Kopp hoped to give low-resource schools an infusion of talent and enthusiasm, even if it was only temporary. Second, by experiencing life in low-resource schools, TFA alums—the thinking went—would be better-educated themselves about the challenges of real-life schools.

The program was a big hit for a while. Back in the late 20th century, almost a fifth of Harvard grads applied. School districts offered perks to the program, hoping to attract TFA teachers. Over the years, though, TFA also generated a lot of criticism. How could five weeks of training be enough? Why should no-experience teachers be acceptable in low-resource schools?

And now it seems those criticisms have begun to attract political support. They have moved beyond progressive howls in the wind. Houston has banned TFA teachers. California is thinking about doing the same. As one California lawmaker explained,

Our most vulnerable students are getting our least trained teachers. If they’re good enough for poor, low-income schools, why aren’t they good enough for the Beverly Hillses of the world? . . . Why do low-income schools have to be the guinea pigs?

Such criticisms are nothing new. TFA has always been unpopular among the progressive crowd. But now there seems to be a new political momentum against the program. What happened? Why did TFA suddenly become politically vulnerable?

To this reporter, the political swing against TFA is part of a broader realignment of education politics. For decades now, Democrats and Republicans have agreed on market-based “reforms” of public education. Charters, vouchers, tax-savings accounts, and alternative-certification programs were embraced on both sides of the aisle.

No longer. Democratic contenders for 2020 are scrambling to disavow their charter-loving pasts. Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Beto O’Rourke are all re-positioning themselves as charter skeptics, when they all enthusiastically promoted charter schools in the recent past.

The obvious culprit? The string of teacher strikes over the last two years has changed things. The strikes and protests have polarized the issue of public education. For Democrats, now, the primary goals are not to tweak TFA and charters to achieve best results, but rather to oppose any programs that stink of anti-teacher free-marketeering.

The Unfair Way These Democrats Will Lose on Schools in 2020

The charter-school window is closing fast and many 2020 Democratic hopefuls will likely get hurt as it snaps shut. Part of the phenomenal success of the charter-school movement since 1991 has come from its ideological flexibility. As Queen Betsy stiffens that ideology into a sour blend of Jesus, Koch, and Trump, it looks as if Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker will all face awkward questions.

Betsy DeVos Confirmation Hearing, Washington DC, USA - 17 Jan 2017

Kneel before the charter-school Queen!!!

Like many changes in America’s culture-war landscape, this one happened fast. Since 2016, charter schools have been seen more and more as a conservative scam, a way to rob public schools of needed funding. Why? The honors should go to Queen Betsy. Her single-minded focus on increasing “choice” has made it difficult for anyone else to agree.

It wasn’t always this way. Of course, some on the left have always abhorred charter schools. But others haven’t. The unique appeal of charter schools between the 1990s and 2016 was that they appealed to everyone who thought public schools were lacking. And lots of progressive folks have always found big problems with public schools.

Exhibit A: My student-teaching mentor back in the 1990s. He was the best teacher I’ve ever seen, and he was chomping at the bit to start a charter school as soon as Missouri passed its charter law. For him, it was all about cutting red tape and getting educational resources into the hands of underserved kids. He and a small group of fellow progressives had outlined their plan for a wrap-around progressive school, one that would use truly child-centered teaching methods and provide a host of other services for families such as day care, medical care, and meals.

Beto_El_Paso_IVP_TT_PLACEHOLDER

I LOVE–erm…I mean I HATE charter schools.

Or consider activists such as Milwaukee’s Howard Fuller. Though prominent civil-rights groups such as the NAACP oppose charters, Fuller has always seen them as the best hope of low-income African American families. For families trapped in dysfunctional school districts, Fuller argues, charters and vouchers provide a desperately needed escape hatch.

In the past, then, charters and “choice” were embraced by both the left and the right. Anyone who thought the current public-school system was failing could jump on the charter-school bandwagon. For politicians who wanted to be seen as “doing something,” charter schools were the thing to do. That has changed, though, and today’s leading Democrats will find themselves hard pressed to explain their pro-charter pasts.

booker on oprah

…here’s Superman.

President Obama got out in time to avoid tough questions, but his administration pushed hard for charters. Many other Democratic politicians did the same. Beto O’Rourke now tells crowds,

We will not allow our public tax dollars to be taken from our classrooms and sent to private schools.

However, back when it was fashionable for hyper-educated dilettantes to open charter schools, his wife did just that.

Cory Booker might be in an even worse position. Backed by Facebook and Oprah, then-Mayor Booker endorsed a huge expansion of charter schools in Newark.

warren two income

What did you know and when did you know it?

And Elizabeth Warren has recently bashed charters, but until recently she was a huge supporter. Nothing exacerbated the social divides in America, Warren argued in her 2003 book The Two-Income Trap, as much as did the brutal economic and racial segregation of the public-school system. The solution? Charters, vouchers, and “choice.” As Warren argued back in 2003,

The crisis in education is not only a crisis of reading and arithmetic; it is also a crisis in middle-class family economics. At the core of the problem is the time-honored rule that where you live dictates where you go to school. . . . A well-designed voucher program would fit the bill neatly.

Unfortunately for these Democratic hopefuls, the tide has turned and they will be left high and dry. It’s not fair, of course. Back when Booker, O’Rourke, and Warren touted “choice,” they had every reason to think they were on the side of the progressive angels. Thanks to Queen Betsy, however, supporting charter schools these days feels like a deal with the devil.

Why We’re Doomed

We all knew it was going to be ugly and stupid. I’m still surprised, though, when people say these things with a straight face. Conservative pundits lump middle-of-the-roaders like me into a vast, scheming “secular Left . . . who cannot stand the presence of religion in everyday  life.” Lefties blast middle-of-the-roaders like Cory Booker into the conspiratorial Right. No wonder we can’t have a decent convo.

First, my alleged anti-religiosity. After my recent commentary about Karen Pence in the Washington Post, Ben Shapiro took to the tube-waves to rebut. At about 19:30 in this segment, he hoped to redefine Ms. Pence’s ordeal. Instead of an old-fashioned fight between religious groups, Shapiro insisted, what we’re facing now was an outright fight by powerful secular forces against traditional religion as a whole.

Shapiro argued that people like me assume that there is no legitimate traditional religion anymore. People like me, Shapiro said, see conservative religion as only

a basket of bigotries masquerading as religion.

I won’t rebut Shapiro’s rebuttal, though I will point out that SAGLRROILYBYGTH have offered much more powerful and insightful counterarguments to my Pence commentary in these pages.

The point this morning is bigger and it’s not only about my hurt feelings. It’s not even about conservatives alone. Pundits on the left tend to shoot their mouths off just as wildly. For example, though I’m not a fan of Senator Cory Booker’s (fading?) support for charter schools, I can acknowledge that he often endorses traditional progressive political positions.

Yet, as Molly Ball noted a few years back in The Atlantic,

Booker has faced a steady drumbeat of criticism from sites like Daily Kos, where a contributor asserted last year that he “would actually be much more at home in the Republican Party.” Booker’s team has grown all too familiar with the rap that he is “some sort of Manchurian candidate for the right,” as his campaign spokesman, Kevin Griffis, put it to me with a sigh.

The problem is bigger than Cory Booker or Karen Pence. It’s even bigger than Ben Shapiro. In a sensible system, pundits on both sides would rush to include as many people as they can on their team. Ben Shapiro would notice that my argument wasn’t really against traditional religion at all. Cory Booker would be welcomed into a big-tent Left and encouraging to squeeze every possible progressive drop out of his role.

That’s not what happens. Instead, as pundits on both sides try to get clicks by excoriating their natural allies, the left-right divide only gapes ever wider.

How Facebook Can Save America

It won’t be by buying new computers for schools. It won’t even be by dumping bajillions of dollars into schools. But Mark Zuckerberg’s recent announcement that he plans to donate 99% of Facebook shares—some 45 BILLION dollars’ worth—might just make a difference if he can learn from his mistakes.

facebook-zuckerberg-chan-launching-private-school-thumb-525x403-16272

Take my money…Please!

You’ve seen the story by now. Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have pledged oodles of their nerd-gotten gains to help low-income families. Good for them. The danger is that they will continue to misunderstand the nature of the relationship between schooling and society.

Money helps. But in the past, philanthropists in general and Zuckerberg in particular have misunderstood the basic relationships involved. As a result, big money has not made a big impact.

You may have read about Zuckerberg’s ill-fated promises in Newark. Charmed by Mayor Cory Booker, Zuckerberg pledged up to $100 million in matching funds to improve Newark schools.

As journalist Dale Russakoff described in her book The Prize, big dreams petered out into only meh results. Russakoff blamed poor communication between philanthropists, city managers, teachers, and parents. The money, she argued, did not go to the right places at the right time, because Zuckerberg and Booker took a “knight in shining armor” approach to complicated educational problems. Instead of communicating with interested locals, they hired fancy $1000-a-day education consultants. Instead of building a consensus about problems and solutions, they dictated solutions and labeled people as problems.

There is a more basic difficulty, however, that Russakoff did not address. She argued that the roll-out of the Newark plan was flawed and ill-considered. At a more foundational level, however, even the best-considered plans to fix society by fixing schools are doomed.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Schools can’t fix society. Schools ARE society.

In other words, if a society is racist, dominated by a wealthy elite, and strangled by cultural divisions, a new set of textbooks, computers, or state standards will not change that. Throughout the twentieth century, as I argued in my recent book, conservative activists repeated progressives’ attempts to reform society by reforming schools. Without the proper understanding of the ways schools function in society, such plans are doomed before they begin.

Consider the sobering example of Native American education. As a recent article in Politico described, government-run schools are a failure. And they fail despite the fact that they spend more money per student than do comparable schools.

The Facebook folks have made some worrying noises. In announcing their gift, they suggested that they were still trapped in their old, mistaken views. They seemed to be saying that society can be healed—poverty can be alleviated—if only we can make sure that all kids have good schools. It is just not that simple.

In their announcement, for instance, Zuckerberg and Chan declared that their money would help level the social playing field. As they put it,

You’ll have technology that understands how you learn best and where you need to focus. You’ll advance quickly in subjects that interest you most, and get as much help as you need in your most challenging areas. You’ll explore topics that aren’t even offered in schools today. Your teachers will also have better tools and data to help you achieve your goals.

Even better, students around the world will be able to use personalized learning tools over the Internet, even if they don’t live near good schools. Of course it will take more than technology to give everyone a fair start in life, but personalized learning can be one scalable way to give all children a better education and more equal opportunity.

Watch out! Despite their qualification that “it will take more than technology to give everyone a fair start in life,” it sounds as if the rest of their plan depends on their assumption that the right technology can indeed do just that.

To be fair, they make smarter noises elsewhere. They have also argued, for example, that

“We need institutions that understand these issues are all connected.” . . . Only with schools, health centers, parent groups, and organizations working together, they said, “can we start to treat these inequities as connected.”

That is exactly right. Only if we understand that young people are more than just schoolchildren can we see the problem with earlier philanthropic efforts in education.

We need to be careful about the conclusions we draw. Some observers have concluded that since increased spending on schools does not lead to utopia, we don’t need to increase funding for schools. That’s not right.

Rather, we need a better analogy. Spending money on schooling is not like putting a Band-Aid on a gut wound. Rather, spending money on schooling for low-income students is like building a three-legged stool with one strong leg. Only one. Because the other two legs are harder to reach, they are usually ignored. But a three-legged stool needs three strong legs, not just one. The legs need to be improved at the same time, in the same degree, in order to make a real difference.

I’ll say it again and then I’ll be quiet: We DO need to pour money into schools.  But not ONLY into schools.  We need to address questions of poverty and structural racism.