THINK HOW OUR UNIVERSITIES WENT FROM FULL TIME PROFESSIONAL ACADEMICS TO PART TIME ADJUNCTS LIVING AT POVERTY-----THAT IS WHAT NEO-LIBERALS WITH ARNE DUNCAN AND OBAMA ARE DOING NEXT.
We see this in Maryland as education funding is always on the burner for cuts and in Baltimore City we have a tiered funding system that attaches to students just so O'Malley and Rawlings-Blake can create winners and losers in schools according to how much money parents earn. This is a Republican policy courtesy of politicians running as Democrats.
I always remind Republican voters in Maryland that the goal of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism is to move everyone to poverty just as a third world nation does. So, these tiered levels created today in Maryland will be what just about all schools will see.
First, let's remind ourselves where all these terms come----failing schools, revenue shortfalls and starved budgets-----and quality teachers and education equity. Does anyone think creating tiered funding and charter structures has anything to do with equity? Of course not----they are simply 'progressive words' used by corporate pols.
Private firms eyeing profits from U.S. public schools By Stephanie Simon
NEW YORK Thu Aug 2, 2012 7:46pm IST
Think about the upcoming rollout of new national academic standards for public schools, he urged the crowd. If they're as rigorous as advertised, a huge number of schools will suddenly look really bad, their students testing way behind in reading and math. They'll want help, quick. And private, for-profit vendors selling lesson plans, educational software and student assessments will be right there to provide it.
"You start to see entire ecosystems of investment opportunity lining up," said Lytle, a partner at The Parthenon Group, a Boston consulting firm. "It could get really, really big."
Indeed, investors of all stripes are beginning to sense big profit potential in public education.
The K-12 market is tantalizingly huge: The U.S. spends more than $500 billion a year to educate kids from ages five through 18. The entire education sector, including college and mid-career training, represents nearly 9 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, more than the energy or technology sectors.
Traditionally, public education has been a tough market for private firms to break into -- fraught with politics, tangled in bureaucracy and fragmented into tens of thousands of individual schools and school districts from coast to coast.
Now investors are signaling optimism that a golden moment has arrived. They're pouring private equity and venture capital into scores of companies that aim to profit by taking over broad swaths of public education.
The conference last week at the University Club, billed as a how-to on "private equity investing in for-profit education companies," drew a full house of about 100.
In the venture capital world, transactions in the K-12 education sector soared to a record $389 million last year, up from $13 million in 2005. That includes major investments from some of the most respected venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, according to GSV Advisors, an investment firm in Chicago that specializes in education.
The goal: an education revolution in which public schools outsource to private vendors such critical tasks as teaching math, educating disabled students, even writing report cards, said Michael Moe, the founder of GSV.
"It's time," Moe said. "Everybody's excited about it."
Not quite everyone.
The push to privatize has alarmed some parents and teachers, as well as union leaders who fear their members will lose their jobs or their autonomy in the classroom.
Many of these protesters have rallied behind education historian Diane Ravitch, a professor at New York University, who blogs and tweets a steady stream of alarms about corporate profiteers invading public schools.
Ravitch argues that schools have, in effect, been set up by a bipartisan education reform movement that places an enormous emphasis on standardized test scores, labels poor performers as "failing" schools and relentlessly pushes local districts to transform low-ranked schools by firing the staff and turning the building over to private management.
President Barack Obama and both Democratic and Republican policymakers in the states have embraced those principles. Local school districts from Memphis to Philadelphia to Dallas, meanwhile, have hired private consultants to advise them on improving education; the strategists typically call for a broader role for private companies in public schools.
"This is a new frontier," Ravitch said. "The private equity guys and the hedge fund guys are circling public education."
Some of the products and services offered by private vendors may well be good for kids and schools, Ravitch said. But she has no confidence in their overall quality because "the bottom line is that they're seeking profit first."
Vendors looking for a toehold in public schools often donate generously to local politicians and spend big on marketing, so even companies with dismal academic results can rack up contracts and rake in tax dollars, Ravitch said.
"They're taking education, which ought to be in a different sphere where we're constantly concerned about raising quality, and they're applying a business metric: How do we cut costs?" Ravitch said.
Investors retort that public school districts are compelled to use that metric anyway because of reduced funding from states and the soaring cost of teacher pensions and health benefits. Public schools struggling to balance budgets have fired teachers, slashed course offerings and imposed a long list of fees, charging students to ride the bus, to sing in the chorus, even to take honors English.
The time is ripe, they say, for schools to try something new -- like turning to the private sector for help.
"Education is behind healthcare and other sectors that have utilized outsourcing to become more efficient," private equity investor Larry Shagrin said in the keynote address to the New York conference.
He credited the reform movement with forcing public schools to catch up. "There's more receptivity to change than ever before," said Shagrin, a partner with Brockway Moran & Partners Inc, in Boca Raton, Florida. "That creates opportunity."
Speakers at the conference identified several promising arenas for privatization.
Education entrepreneur John Katzman urged investors to look for companies developing software that can replace teachers for segments of the school day, driving down labor costs.
"How do we use technology so that we require fewer highly qualified teachers?" asked Katzman, who founded the Princeton Review test-prep company and now focuses on online learning.
Such businesses already have been drawing significant interest. Venture capital firms have bet more than $9 million on Schoology, an online learning platform that promises to take over the dreary jobs of writing and grading quizzes, giving students feedback about their progress and generating report cards.
DreamBox Learning has received $18 million from investors to refine and promote software that drills students in math. The software is billed as "adaptive," meaning it analyzes responses to problems and then poses follow-up questions precisely pitched to a student's abilities.
The charter school chain Rocketship, a nonprofit based in San Jose, California, turns kids over to DreamBox for two hours a day. The chain boasts that it pays its teachers more because it needs fewer of them, thanks to such programs. Last year, Rocketship commissioned a study that showed students who used DreamBox heavily for 16 weeks scored on average 2.3 points higher on a standardized math test than their peers.
SPECIAL ED AS A GROWTH MARKET
Another niche spotlighted at the private equity conference: special education.
Mark Claypool, president of Educational Services of America, told the crowd his company has enjoyed three straight years of 15 percent to 20 percent growth as more and more school districts have hired him to run their special-needs programs.
Autism in particular, he said, is a growth market, with school districts seeking better, cheaper ways to serve the growing number of students struggling with that disorder.
ESA, which is based in Nashville, Tennessee, now serves 12,000 students with learning disabilities or behavioral problems in 250 school districts nationwide.
"The knee-jerk reaction [to private providers like ESA] is, 'You're just in this to make money. The profit motive is going to trump quality,' " Claypool said. "That's crazy, because frankly, there are really a whole lot easier ways to make a living." Claypool, a former social worker, said he got into the field out of frustration over what he saw as limited options for children with learning disabilities.
Claypool and others point out that private firms have always made money off public education; they have constructed the schools, provided the buses and processed the burgers served at lunch. Big publishers such as Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have made hundreds of millions of dollars selling public school districts textbooks and standardized tests.
Critics see the newest rush to private vendors as more worrisome because school districts are outsourcing not just supplies but the very core of education: the daily interaction between student and teacher, the presentation of new material, the quick checks to see which kids have risen to the challenge and which are hopelessly confused.
At the more than 5,500 charter schools nationwide, private management companies -- some of them for-profit -- are in full control of running public schools with public dollars.
"I look around the world and I don't see any country doing this but us," Ravitch said. "Why is that?"
So, a strong education sector are now to be replaced by teachers seeing children staring at computer screens all day doing workbook style lessons with no interactions as a good thing. It is cheap and is all that is needed for 90% of students needing only to know how to work. The Ivy League schools are going to put out the leaders after all say Clinton neo-liberals and Bush neo-cons and we add a dash of the wealthy from around the world as immigrants and we don't need you 90% of Americans to have any more education as needed for ordinary jobs!
That's how we did it in the Dark Ages!
Look at this Race to the top talking points on quality educators and then look at a model taken from when America had the best education system and achievement in the world----pre-Reagan/Clinton neo-liberal education reforms---Finland
The Excellent Educators for All Initiative contains three components:
• Comprehensive Educator Equity Plans. ED is asking states to analyze their data and consult with teachers, principals, districts, parents and community organizations to create new, comprehensive educator equity plans that put in place locally developed solutions to ensure every student has effective educators.
• An Educator Equity Support Network. The Department is investing $4.2 million to launch a new technical assistance network to support states and districts in developing and implementing their plans to ensure all students have access to great educators. The network will work to develop model plans, share promising practices, provide communities of practice for educators to discuss challenges and share lessons learned with each other, and create a network of support for educators working in high-need schools.
• Educator Equity Profiles. The Department will publish Educator Equity profiles this fall. The profiles will help states identify gaps in access to quality teaching for low-income and minority students, as well as shine a spotlight on high-need schools that are beating the odds and successfully recruiting and retaining effective educators.
After the announcement, eight teachers and two principals participated in a panel discussion at the Department with Duncan, Wade Henderson, Randi Weingarten and Chris Minnich about educational equity. They discussed what educators need to be effective in high-need schools. Chattanooga Principal Neelie Parker said that her biggest challenge is "finding the workforce to do the work. You need [teachers with] a very different skill set . . . and knowledge about dealing with poverty." Teacher Justin Minkel described the importance of working in a culture that values collaboration, mutual support, and professional autonomy. "Responsibility and delight can coexist," he added, quoting author Philip Pullman.
Why is Finland always used as a comparison for people advocating against education privatization? First, Finland is now ranked at the top in the world and they are top because the education policy they adopted decades ago was the US model for equal protection public education. FINLAND IS TOPS TODAY BECAUSE THEY ADOPTED THE EDUCATION POLICIES FROM WHEN THE US WAS #1........
The point should be for all citizens ----why would we go with the most autocratic structure of neo-liberal education structure when we can simply return to the public education policies that made the US #1 in the world. Our CEOs and leaders all graduated from these public schools with structures now seen in Finland and no other education structure has shown the most education equity. What is being pushed today makes competition and corruption with education scores being skewed to make schools look better and thus raising the stock value of that private charter chain. Please stand up for strong public education by
GETTING RID OF THESE WALL STREET GLOBAL CORPORATE NEO-LIBERALS BY RUNNING AND VOTING FOR LABOR AND JUSTICE IN ALL PRIMARIES.
When you see national justice organizations and churches backing these education reforms in Baltimore City you need to look for new leadership. They are simply doing what they are told and not working for what is best for children or public education.
Let's take a look at what Finland sees as important for teachers and principals-----
The Children Must Play
By Samuel E. Abrams
While observing recess outside the Kallahti Comprehensive School on the eastern edge of Helsinki on a chilly day in April 2009, I asked Principal Timo Heikkinen if students go out when it’s very cold. Heikkinen said they do. I then asked Heikkinen if they go out when it’s very, very cold. Heikkinen smiled and said, “If minus 15 [Celsius] and windy, maybe not, but otherwise, yes. The children can’t learn if they don’t play. The children must play.”
In comparison to the United States and many other industrialized nations, the Finns have implemented a radically different model of educational reform--based on a balanced curriculum and professionalization, not testing. Not only do Finnish educational authorities provide students with far more recess than their U.S. counterparts--75 minutes a day in Finnish elementary schools versus an average of 27 minutes in the U.S.--but they also mandate lots of arts and crafts, more learning by doing, rigorous standards for teacher certification, higher teacher pay, and attractive working conditions. This is a far cry from the U.S. concentration on testing in reading and math since the enactment of No Child Left Behind in 2002, which has led school districts across the country, according to a survey by the Center on Education Policy, to significantly narrow their curricula. And the Finns’ efforts are paying off: In December, the results from the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), an exam in reading, math, and science given every three years since 2000 to approximately 5,000 15-year-olds per nation around the world, revealed that, for the fourth consecutive time, Finnish students posted stellar scores. The United States, meanwhile, lagged in the middle of the pack.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama outlined his plans for reforming U.S. public education, including distributing competitive grants, raising test scores, and holding teachers accountable for student achievement. But there is much Finland can teach America’s reformers, and the rest of the world, about what outside of testing and rigid modes of management and assessment can make a nation’s schools truly excellent.
Finland’s schools weren’t always so successful. In the 1960s, they were middling at best. In 1971, a government commission concluded that, poor as the nation was in natural resources, it had to modernize its economy and could only do so by first improving its schools. To that end, the government agreed to reduce class size, boost teacher pay, and require that, by 1979, all teachers complete a rigorous master’s program.
Today, teaching is such a desirable profession that only one in ten applicants to the country’s eight master’s programs in education is accepted. In the United States, on the other hand, college graduates may become teachers without earning a master’s. What’s more, Finnish teachers earn very competitive salaries: High school teachers with 15 years of experience make 102 percent of what their fellow university graduates do. In the United States, by contrast, they earn just 65 percent.
Though, unlike U.S. education reformers, Finnish authorities haven’t outsourced school management to for-profit or non-profit organizations, implemented merit pay, or ranked teachers and schools according to test results, they’ve made excellent use of business strategies. They’ve won the war for talent by making teaching so appealing. In choosing principals, superintendents, and policymakers from inside the education world rather than looking outside it, Finnish authorities have likewise taken a page from the corporate playbook: Great organizations, as the business historian Alfred Chandler documented, cultivate talent from within. Of the many officials I interviewed at the Finnish Ministry of Education, the National Board of Education, the Education Evaluation Council, and the Helsinki Department of Education, all had been teachers for at least four years.
The Finnish approach to pedagogy is also distinct. In grades seven through nine, for instance, classes in science--the subject in which Finnish students have done especially well on PISA--are capped at 16 so students may do labs each lesson. And students in grades one through nine spend from four to eleven periods each week taking classes in art, music, cooking, carpentry, metalwork, and textiles. These classes provide natural venues for learning math and science, nurture critical cooperative skills, and implicitly cultivate respect for people who make their living working with their hands.
But perhaps most striking on the list of what makes Finland’s school system unique is that the country has deliberately rejected the prevailing standardization movement. While nations around the world introduced heavy standardized testing regimes in the 1990s, the Finnish National Board of Education concluded that such tests would consume too much instructional time, cost too much to construct, proctor, and grade, and generate undue stress. The Finnish answer to standardized tests has been to give exams to small but statistically significant samples of students and to trust teachers--so much so that the National Board of Education closed its inspectorate in 1991. Teachers in Finland design their own courses, using a national curriculum as a guide, not a blueprint, and spend about 80 percent as much time leading classes as their U.S. counterparts do, so that they have sufficient opportunity to plan lessons and collaborate with colleagues. The only point at which all Finnish students take standardized exams is as high school seniors if they wish to go to university.
Regard for students’ well-being is evident in more subtle ways, as well. Since 1985, students have not been tracked (or grouped by ability) until the tenth grade. Furthermore, since 1991, authorities have rejected the practice of holding back underachievers, concluding that the consequences of grade repetition were too stigmatizing to be effective and that students would be better off being tutored by learning specialists in areas of academic weakness.
The Finnish business community and conservative members of the country’s parliament criticized the end of tracking as a recipe for mass mediocrity--but they went silent following the publication of the 2000 PISA results. “PISA was a lucky gift for Finnish educators,” said Kari Louhivuori, the principal of the Kirkkojärvi Comprehensive School in Espoo, who began his career as a teacher in 1974. “We were under attack from traditional forces and needed outside validation of our new way.” (Some testing is thus ultimately necessary, Louhivuori conceded, if only to prove that regular testing is not.) What’s more, there is now strong proof of the economic benefits of the Finnish educational reformation, particularly in the country’s high-tech sector, which is distinguished by Nokia in telecommunications, Orion in medical diagnostics and pharmaceuticals, Polar in heart-rate monitors, Vaisala in meteorological measurement, and VTI in accelerometers. Flanking highways out of Helsinki are research centers for these companies, as well as ones for Ericsson, IBM, and SAP.
The reflexive critique of comparing the Finnish and U.S. educational systems is to say that Finland’s PISA results are consequences of the country being a much smaller, more homogeneous nation (5.3 million people, only 4 percent of whom are foreign-born). How could it possibly offer lessons to a country the size of the United States? The answer is next door. Norway is also small (4.8 million people) and nearly as homogeneous (10 percent foreign-born), but it is more akin to the United States than to Finland in its approach to education: Teachers don’t need master’s degrees; high school teachers with 15 years of experience earn only 70 percent of what fellow university graduates make; and in 2004,* authorities implemented a national system of standardized testing. The need for talent in the classroom is now so great that the Norwegian government is spending $3.3 million on an ad campaign to attract people to teaching and, last year, launched its own version of Teach for America in collaboration with Statoil--called Teach First Norway--to recruit teachers of math and science.
Moreover, much as in the United States, classes in Norway are typically too large and equipment too scarce to run science labs. A science teacher at a middle school in Oslo told me that labs are unfortunately the exception, not the rule, and that she couldn’t recall doing any labs as a student a decade ago. Unsurprisingly, much as in 2000, 2003, and 2006, Norway in 2009 posted mediocre PISA scores, indicating that it is not necessarily size and homogeneity but, rather, policy choices that lead to a country’s educational success.
The Finns have made clear that, in any country, no matter its size or composition, there is much wisdom to minimizing testing and instead investing in broader curricula, smaller classes, and better training, pay, and treatment of teachers. The United States should take heed.
*CORRECTION: This article originally stated that the testing regime was created in 2006. It was created in 2004.
Samuel E. Abrams is a visiting scholar at Teachers College, Columbia University, and he is writing a book on school reform.
Dr. Hunter O’Hara and Dr. Merrie Tinkersley visited Finland, and this is what they learned:
“American Educators Find Surprises in Helsinki and at Home in the United States”
On the basis of Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores, Finnish public schools have ranked at the top, or very near the top in the world in the areas of mathematics, reading and science. Seven teacher education seniors and three teacher education faculty at The University of Tampa traveled to Finland to determine the nature of Finnish success with public education. We visited three public schools; 1) grades K-8, 2) grades 1-6, and 3) grades 9-12. We also visited Metropolia University and the University of Helsinki. At U.H. we had an extended conversation with a teacher education professor.
Prior to our visit, we understood that Finland prides itself for creating school equality across the nation. During our visit, we felt we were able to develop a realistic perception of Finnish public schools. We also spoke with Finnish students, teachers, administrators and parents. We expected to see extraordinarily dynamic, innovative teachers and pedagogy. We anticipated being dazzled with Finnish approaches to instruction, teaching strategies and techniques……such was not the case.
We observed examples of group inquiry/investigation, interdisciplinary thematic instruction, content-driven flexible conversation as well as the use of film for instructional purposes. Approaches such as these are not novel and are modeled, taught and practiced in multiple teacher education courses and internships at The University of Tampa. In terms of teaching strategies, nothing we viewed seemed visionary, extraordinary or new. Rather we noted that some teachers were using very traditional methods such a lecture/question and answer.
What Is Different About Finnish Schools?
Surprisingly for several of us, we did not see technology used in classrooms at all. We saw no use of standardized testing. In fact, we verified that there is no standardized testing in Finland unless the classroom teacher requests such a test for her or his own diagnostic purposes; but never for accountability. Progress is monitored, but the design and timing of exams are left up to the classroom teacher. We saw an egalitarian curriculum that includes substantial coursework in the fine arts, social sciences, the humanities and physical education in addition to mathematics, science and reading. High quality learner-created artwork adorns classrooms and all hallways. Not unlike the United States just a few decades ago, pianos are found in elementary classrooms.
We found that learning environments are noncompetitive. Instead of competition, the focus is on group learning pursuits and class multilogues. Physical education courses focus on fitness rather than competitive gaming. Finnish students do not even compete in inter-school athletics.
Finnish Culture and The Classroom
We did see significant cultural identifiers that directly impact the functioning of the school community and learning pursuits. Finnish learners are afforded a great deal of autonomy and freedom. Correspondingly, significant levels of maturity are expected of learners. Learners are trusted and expected to complete tasks without policing. Starting in first grade, students are expected to serve themselves at lunch and breakfast (free of charge) and to clear after themselves- regardless of their developmental level. Learners spend a significant amount of time in the out of doors pursuing projects and play regardless of temperatures (for Finns, there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing). They know how to manage their frigid climate well. Learners act autonomously on a frequent basis and are free to take their time during transitions and while they are engaged in various projects. For example, there is no lining up and single -file –silent- walking between locations at the elementary level.
Just as cold temperatures predominate the weather, mutual trust predominates Finnish human interaction. As teachers trust learners, learners trust teachers to have their best interests at heart. School administrators trust teachers and learners, and Finnish communities trust teachers and principals to do their jobs well. Just as teachers trust learners, the Finnish government trusts Finnish teachers to structure facilitate and maintain successful learning environments. One principal shared, “I trust that teachers are going to do their own work in their own way.” Another principal indicated to us, “The focus is on trust, instead of accountability, and there are no high stakes tests. What happens in the classroom is up to the teacher.” Schools are never ranked and teachers track their own students. Finns trust their teacher credentialing process. Unlike many United States charter schools, Finns who have no credentials in education do not meddle in school affairs. Due to the prestige and free teacher preparation at the universities, Finland is able to admit only ten percent of the applicants into the teacher preparation programs. The Finnish government does not police schools in terms of learner performance, and the national standards for the various content areas are a succinct few pages.
All Schools Equal in Finland
There are no charter schools in Finland, no school vouchers, no “grading” of schools and no magnet schools. Unlike the United States, the intent in Finland is to assure that all schools are of equal quality. Again, that quality certainly does not owe it’s success to test driven instruction and curricula, nor does it have to do with “teacher accountability” campaigns as they have been called in the United States. Such approaches would have no place in a trust -centered nation like Finland. As has been made clear by their world ranking, Finnish schools are successful without the above questionable practices. Finnish teachers are highly respected and their prestige ranks with that of doctors and lawyers. Again, Finnish teacher preparation is paid for by the Finnish government. All teachers are prepared traditionally through a five year university preparation program. There is no alternative teacher certification in Finland.
Finnish teachers are fully unionized and they earn decent wages. We learned from faculty and administrators in Finland that there is no place for a scripted curriculum if administrators hire well qualified, traditionally prepared teachers. Moreover to be effective in their profession, teachers must be afforded professional autonomy and academic freedom. Many of these essential, teaching success-inducing components have been eroded in the United States over the past few decades.
Naturally, as educators we found Finnish schools to be very attractive, and yet we never lost our faith in the American public schools that had prepared us- the very schools to which we had also dedicated our professional lives. Quite plainly, the successes we saw in Finland should occur in the United States. Not only that, we were made aware that the entire design and implementation of the Finnish school system was based on American education research! As a matter of fact, the United States generates eighty percent of the research in education worldwide. If American education research is a good enough to base the design of one of the very most successful public education systems in the world, why is it not good enough to use in the United States? Furthermore, if we had the answers in the United States, why were we traveling to Finland to find our own answers?
American education privatizers are deliberately ignoring past education research and creating new data and statistics that make their policies look like the best since sliced bread. Of course these reforms have been in flux for several years and not implemented so the data is not real. We have decades of education research that proves the reform policies of today are the opposite of what is needed for quality and equality!
This is a great look at what is happening across the nation. If you can imagine San Francisco being a neo-liberal haven controlled by global corporations think what neo-conservative havens like Baltimore are doing with public school funding. They are completely dismantling equal protection and all established public funding policy that funds all schools near equal levels. Baltimore is ground zero for churches and corporations sending large donations to an individual school while schools across the city are being closed because corporations are not paying taxes and being given all tax revenue to boost corporate profits. Public funding is deliberately being dismantled and the only institutions able to fund services will be churches and corporations and their donations. This is the structure from the Dark Ages where people were not citizens and had no rights and today's democratic humanities and liberal arts-based instruction was only for the rich.....which is where these education reforms are going. The rich only need 10% of US population to work as administrators in this corporate rule scheme and 10% of America is a very small subset of gender, race, creed. This is what we see in the autocratic governments today----this article is long but please glance through!
This is a good look at the inequity of allowing one school to prosper from affluent donations while others are starved of funds. I attended middle-class schools that operated fine with public education budgets and not much PTA action. Bake sales brought extraneous funds----what we have in Baltimore is a school funding situation that hands most of public education funding to corporate education non-profits that then tell parents and students what to do rather than making sure each school is funded well enough to do what is needed. What used to be centralized pooling of donated funds to education to be shared equally to all schools now has Exelon donating $1 million to this charter and the Episcopal Church donating hundreds of thousands to another.
NO ONE WANTS PRIVATE NON-PROFITS WITH MONEY TELLING THEM WHAT THE COMMUNITY SCHOOLS WILL LOOK LIKE! NOBODY!
How Budget Cuts and PTA Fundraising Undermined Equity in San Francisco Public Schools
By Jeremy Adam Smith San Francisco Public Press — Feb 3 2014 - 5:09pm
PUBLIC SCHOOLS, PRIVATE MONEY: Parent fundraising for elementary education in S.F. skyrocketed 800 percent in 10 years. The largesse saved some classroom programs, but widened the gap between rich and poor.
Part of a special report on education inequality in San Francisco. A version of this story ran in the winter 2014 print edition.
Evelyn Cheung is the principal of Junipero Serra Elementary School in Bernal Heights. Matthew Reedy is the principal of Grattan Elementary in the Haight. Both San Francisco public schools faced five straight years of districtwide budget cuts — which hit hardest in 2010 with a $113 million shortfall and last school year came to a more manageable $13 million.
But the belt tightening did not hurt the two schools equally. Cheung was forced to lay off staff and take other drastic steps, like freezing supply purchases for a year. By contrast, Reedy hired new staff and expanded his school’s academic programs, helping raise standardized test scores.
Why? The difference lay in the ability of their parent-teacher associations to raise money. The Grattan PTA has budgeted hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, amounting to almost $1,000 per pupil. At Junipero Serra, where most students come from poor and immigrant families, the PTA raises approximately $25 per pupil.
“Every principal knows which schools have it and which schools don’t,” Cheung said. “We know who are the haves and who are the have-nots. The system just isn’t equitable.”
In an era of shrinking public investment in schools, parents have struggled to hold the line one school at a time. Since the pre-recession year 2007, elementary school PTAs in San Francisco collectively managed to more than quadruple their spending on schools.
With this money, some schools have been able to pay teachers and staff, buy computers and school supplies, and underwrite class outings and enrichment activities. These expenses, previously covered by the taxpayers, are increasingly the responsibility of parents.
But school district finance data, PTA tax records and demographic profiles reveal an unintended byproduct of parents’ heroic efforts: The growing reliance on private dollars has widened inequities between the impoverished majority and the small number of schools where affluent parents cluster.
Unlike some California school districts, which centralize and redistribute funds raised by parents, San Francisco so far has permitted all money raised at a school to stay there. This gives some schools an enormous advantage. School district data show that in 2011 (the most recent year tax records were available), parents of children at just 10 elementary schools raised $2.77 million — more money than those at the other 61 combined.
By bringing in as much as $1,500 per student, the top fundraising schools appear to have been largely insulated from the effects of budgets cuts. Meanwhile, parents at high-poverty schools such as Junipero Serra are seeing shrinking resources for their children. This means laid-off staff, dilapidated libraries, outdated computers and a dearth of essential supplies like pencils and paper.
Photo essay: Two PTA Presidents, Two Realities
Rachel Norton, president of the San Francisco Board of Education, said she and her colleagues were aware of significant disparities in the fundraising capacities of PTAs in the district. But administrators do not track donations, nor do they attempt to interfere with school fundraising.
“I’d never ding parents for raising money to provide more services and extras for their schools, especially in a state like California that has chronically underfunded schools,” Norton said. “The more economically diverse students the schools attract, the better off the schools will be.”
But fewer and fewer schools in San Francisco are attracting economically diverse students. The number of children from poor families is rising across the district, and there are more schools with high concentrations of poverty than there were 10 years ago. Meanwhile, the number of mixed-income schools is shrinking.
The district’s “lottery” system is supposed to keep schools racially and economically diverse by giving preference to students from disadvantaged backgrounds and neighborhoods when assigning spots. But data suggest it has largely failed at that task, perhaps since affluent parents have had the time and skills to game the system, and tend to cluster in certain schools.
Critics of rising income inequality say school districts across the country, in a rush to save public schools with private dollars, created a system in which education is improving for the affluent and declining for the poor.
“Parent fundraising has become more important as state and local funds have dwindled,” said Robert Reich, a former U.S. secretary of labor and now a political science professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who advocates for policies to close the gap between rich and poor.
“If we take the ideal of equal opportunity seriously,” Reich said, “we’ve got to commit ourselves to creating a system of public education in which kids from poor and working-class families have a genuinely equal opportunity to succeed. And we’re falling far short.”
In an effort to address unequal parent fundraising head-on, some Bay Area school districts have pioneered novel solutions that might be instructive to San Francisco. One is aggregating private dollars, and directing them to the schools that need the most help. Other California districts prohibit PTAs from paying for teacher salaries or training, a common practice that can significantly widen inequities among schools.
But with an expected influx of state money this year, San Francisco will have new policy options to address the growing inequities in the district. The city’s schools stand to bring in as much as $21.7 million more as soon as September, through Gov. Jerry Brown’s newly enacted Local Control Funding Formula, which provides extra funds to districts with many disadvantaged students. If student populations remain stable, this new money could grow to $184.6 million annually in eight years.
With a current school district budget $667 million, the new funds would represent an increase of 27 percent.
As San Francisco’s Board of Education prepares to hold public meetings this spring on how to spend the extra funds, the fate of increasingly unequal public schools could be in the hands of parents themselves. That may mean endorsing reforms to ensure more equitable local funding, or agreeing to share fundraising proceeds among schools.
SOME SCHOOLS DODGED CUTS Matthew Reedy started working as a teacher at Grattan Elementary in the Haight in 2002. That was the year the district’s Weighted Student Formula took effect. The policy, devised as a way to help disadvantaged children, provides schools with a base rate of funding for each student, currently $2,896, and adds dollars based on need, such as the number of children receiving special education services, free and reduced-price lunches and lessons in English as a second language. So per-capita funding for schools is highly variable but generally biased toward schools with disadvantaged students.
The goal is not strict equality, but rather equity, meaning preferential funding for schools that need it most. San Francisco schools with many poor and immigrant students have bigger budgets on a per-pupil basis than do affluent schools, whose students are less expensive to educate.
When the formula went into effect in 2002, Reedy said, affluent schools such as Grattan lost funding, and parents felt compelled to make up the difference.
That year, elementary school PTAs in San Francisco brought in a total of just $592,000. But through 2011, their combined budgets had ballooned to $5.32 million, an increase of about 800 percent.
(The Public Press examined data from elementary schools only based on the tax records of legally recognized PTAs.)
As parent fundraising increased, so did the gap between the richest and poorest schools.
In 2010, Reedy became Grattan’s principal. Today, only 21 percent of 359 students there qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. That is one-third the district average, making it one of the wealthiest schools in a district whose students overall have gotten poorer. Not surprisingly, the Grattan PTA is one of the most successful fundraisers in the district.
In the 2012–2013 school year, the PTA at Grattan had a budget of $353,000, about $983 per pupil, on top of the base $2,896 the school receives from the district for each student. The parents rely on an array of labor-intensive fundraising methods: “Count Me In!” parties with ticket prices up to $75, wine raffles and auctions, foundation grants, “Dine Out for Grattan” nights at participating restaurants, and a sophisticated e-newsletter and website.
See Flickr for a photo essay on fundraising for public education by Tearsa Joy Hammock and Luke Thomas
Reedy said Grattan has been spared the sting of budget cuts, thanks entirely to these parent fundraising efforts. “We’ve been able to take PTA money and donate it to our general fund to prevent layoffs,” he said.
Not only did the PTA protect jobs, it expanded Grattan’s academic programs by hiring reading specialists and a technology teacher, and adding a bilingual clerk and a parent liaison to the staff. The PTA also funds an extra teacher, helping Grattan actually reduce its average class size. In all, this school year the Grattan PTA is paying all or part of the salaries of six staff, totaling nearly $224,000. PTA money also supported the library, a garden that doubles as a science lab and a computer lab that is often cited as one of Grattan’s key strengths, among other programs.
Like many principals, Reedy sets spending priorities in consultation with a school site council, which includes parents, teachers and neighbors. Their decision to invest PTA funds in academics has paid off. From 2008 to 2013, Grattan improved standardized test scores from 787 to 923 points on a scale of 1,000, making it one of the district’s academically best-performing elementary schools.
While the sums raised by Grattan’s PTA may seem tiny compared with a district budget of $667 million, Grattan’s example reveals how small — but concentrated — amounts of private money can keep an entire school afloat. For schools with the means, parent fundraising is a solution to budget cuts.
But our analysis finds that the majority of San Francisco schools are unable to raise money at the same level. Indeed, reliance on parent fundraising appears to undermine the equitability goal of the district’s own funding methods.
HOW CUTS CREATE INEQUITY Junipero Serra Elementary is situated between Holly Courts, a low-income housing project, and the hilltop Holly Park in Bernal Heights. Visitors hear more Spanish than English in the school’s hallways — 90 percent of the 269 students are immigrants or the children of immigrants, mainly from Latin America.
As principal, Evelyn Cheung has had to make hard choices in the past five years, in consultation with teachers and parents. One year they stopped buying supplies. The budget for the library fell to $500. Cheung was forced to lay off classroom aides, the nurse, the social worker and all “consultancies” — mainly arts teachers. The layoffs hurt morale more than other cuts, Cheung said, “because it’s people.”
“They have emotional ties, and there are bad feelings when someone is laid off,” she said.
Why can’t Junipero Serra fundraise its way around budget cuts? In part, because the parents have less to give, at least as measured by free or reduced-price lunches. At Junipero Serra, 86 percent of students qualify, more than four times as many as at Grattan.
To qualify for reduced-price lunch in California, a family of four must make less than $42,643 a year. To qualify for free lunch, less than $29,965. Researchers use these markers as proxies to measure poverty.
But those incomes are more meager in San Francisco, which in the past two years has had the most expensive housing in the country, straining the ability of poor families to pay for basic necessities. In San Francisco, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is now $3,942 a month — a stunning rise of $1,000 since the start of 2013.
The desperate situation faced by most of Junipero Serra’s families is, in fact, shared by 63 percent of families throughout San Francisco’s public school system. This represents a 10 percent increase since the start of the recession, which coincided with the start of the budget cuts.
This poverty has also become more concentrated. Data from the district show that the number of schools in which more than three-quarters of students are eligible for subsidized lunch has more than tripled in the past decade. Schools in which fewer than one-quarter qualify increased slightly. Meanwhile, the middle class is disappearing: The portion of schools in between those extremes of poverty and wealth fell, from 66 percent to 52 percent.
While Cheung lauded the ideals behind the weighted student formula, and similar federal programs such as Title I, she said current funding levels were not enough for schools with large numbers of disadvantaged students.
“Many of my parents don’t have the resources that many middle-class families have,” Cheung said. “We have to provide a computer lab and technology training for the kids because they don’t have computers at home. And they will go to middle school very far behind if we don’t provide that support.”
The disadvantages do not stop with electronic devices. “Many of our Spanish-speaking families work two jobs,” Cheung said.
Inflexible schedules that often come with working-class jobs make it hard for parents to volunteer in the classroom, which might otherwise make up for the layoffs of classroom aides, or help kids stay on top of homework — assuming the immigrant parents can read assignments in English. Hectic schedules create barriers to getting involved in the PTA, hurting the school’s chances to raise money and buffer against shortfalls. (See print edition photo essay, “Two PTA Presidents, Two Realities.”)
“They care a lot and they’re involved, but not in the traditional ways,” Cheung said.
THE TWO SIDES OF FUNDRAISING This is how budget cuts perpetuate inequity: Affluent families are able to make up for lost funding by donating both time and money, whereas schools with poor families struggle to fill the gap. School district data show that as the number of students getting free and reduced-price lunch rises, PTA budgets fall. At the 44 elementary schools where a majority of the students live in poverty, fundraising is insufficient to offset budget cuts. Those cuts add stress to communities already struggling with low wages, financial instability and discrimination.
Despite these challenges, Junipero Serra has improved its academic performance. It saw its standardized test scores rise by 36 points in the past two years, to 752. But that is still below what the state deems “adequate yearly progress” and almost 200 points behind Grattan.
Cheung attributes the modest gains to “superhuman” efforts by teaching staff, doing more with less. “It’s a waste of time to be frustrated,” she said. “We just need to build on the strengths that we have.”
For Cheung, the problem is not that other schools have more money — it is that the needs are so different.
After including PTA contributions, per-pupil expenditures for Grattan and Junipero Serra come to within a few hundred dollars of each other. But this equivalency is misleading. Under the district’s weighted student formula, Junipero Serra is supposed to receive more money than Grattan.
The “extra” money going to Junipero Serra through the funding formula is for basic necessities: subsidized lunches, special education, English-language instruction and computers, to which the kids have little access at home. So Cheung’s expenses are higher than Reedy’s, and parents are not as able to help in the classroom to make up for layoffs.
While the kids at Junipero Serra start life on first base, most of Grattan’s are already on third. It is not hard to see why education inequality, as Robert Reich describes it, persists. Grattan does not need to cope with the same chronic insecurities confronting Junipero Serra, where families struggle with the stresses of living on the financial edge both at school and in the home.
“We shouldn’t have to fight so hard to provide kids with a strong foundational education,” Chueng said.
PARENTS NOT TO BLAME Alvarado Elementary in Noe Valley is, in a way, an exception to this trend toward inequity, and might represent the best-case scenario in a system that overall is rigged against poor students.
The school draws poor and working-class Latino students from the Mission, as well as affluent white and Asian families from Noe Valley and the Castro. As a result, it is more diverse than both impoverished schools like Junipero Serra and affluent schools like Grattan. Forty-two percent of Alvarado students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
Carl Bettag, a product designer and father of twin fourth-graders, leads fundraising efforts for Alvarado’s PTA, which this year aims to raise $375,000, or about $721 per pupil. That is considerably more than Junipero Serra, but less than Grattan.
With this money, the Alvarado PTA has staved off layoffs, supported literacy programs and launched and maintained a regionally famous arts program. It has initiated environmental programs, such as solar panels, that also provide learning opportunities.
Bettag said the low-income students at Alvarado benefit most from the fundraising prowess of middle-class families in an income-diverse school.
“If you were to walk into Alvarado, you would find a vibrant, functional school, but you would not find a gold-plated school,” he said. “The science room does not have a sink! Some of the computers don’t work. Alvarado needs all the money and support it’s getting. We have 500 students at the school. It’s the 200 students who are on free and reduced lunch that benefit most from all the effort and money that goes into the school.”
Bettag said he could not ask parents at Alvarado to contribute for other schools, and he was not sure that he should.
“The fundamental problem is that the public schools are woefully underfinanced, and nothing that the PTAs do is going to fix that problem,” he said. “The real problem is not at the local level. It’s at the state level.”
Reich agrees. After serving as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, he has campaigned against economic inequality through books, articles, speeches, TV appearances and most recently the film “Inequality for All.”
“Parents should not be blamed for school inequality,” Reich said. “They should be thanked for making donations to their children’s schools. The problem is not with them. The problem lies much deeper. The problem is that we have a system of school finance that is topsy-turvy. Poor kids tend to end up in the worst schools, with minimal facilities, when they should be getting the best we as a society can offer.”
Unlike School Board President Norton, Reich said he does not believe that a hands-off approach is best for tax-deductible parent donations. Donations by parents to their children’s schools are not charity, Reich argued. It is the opposite — helping one’s own offspring instead of the less fortunate. These tax deductions diminish government revenues that could have gone to rich and poor schools alike.
NO EASY SOLUTIONS Can the system be improved, or are we doomed to perpetuate the cycle of inequality? This problem is not unique to San Francisco. As anti-tax sentiment in recent years has reduced school funding nationwide, parents are increasingly fundraising to keep their own kids’ schools afloat.
In response, some California districts created centralized PTA foundations to redistribute funds to schools based on need (see story on the solution used in the East Bay city of Albany). Others prohibited PTAs from raising funds for personnel or professional development.
The Santa Monica-Malibu school district embraced both solutions in 2011, under Superintendent Sandra Lyon. Today the district’s education foundation is the only way parents can donate money to support teachers and staff.
The key worry about such systems is that they will reduce the incentive for parents to support public schools beyond what they already pay in taxes. Lyon said her district struggled with the transition: “There are still some who believe parent money should stay at their children’s schools, and they are strongly against the change.”
The reform caused some affluent Malibu residents to try to break off from more working-class Santa Monica to create a separate school district. At least one Malibu school refused to participate in revenue sharing.
Overall, the district’s PTAs are struggling to raise as much as in previous years, Lyon said. Still, she sees progress. The foundation launched a $4 million campaign last spring, and by late fall 2013 it had raised $2.4 million.
“Some of our wealthiest Santa Monica schools have the greatest participation,” Lyon said. “Indeed, across Santa Monica schools, some of the loudest opponents have become the biggest champions and are leading the charges at their schools.”
Lyon has seen a culture change in a district heavily divided by social class. “Schools are collaborating in ways they had not done before,” she said. “The inequity in schools had bothered many for years, and so there has been support for the notion that we are working to create a better education for all students.”
The Santa Monica-Malibu district is one-fifth the size of San Francisco Unified. Every education leader interviewed dismissed the idea that such a system would work in San Francisco, largely because of the district’s size and diversity. Most defended the status quo.
If San Francisco moved to such a system, Carl Bettag said, “I think you’d get a lot of parents pulling their kids out of public schools and putting them in private schools. I’d pull my kids.”
Many educators fear losing support from affluent parents, who have the option to quit the public schools altogether and enroll their children in private schools — or flee to suburban schools. Harvey Milk Elementary principal Tracy Peoples said fundraising can create that kind of parental engagement.
“For schools like ours that do not qualify for additional funding based on test scores or student demographics, we depend on the parent community to step in to help raise additional funds for our students,” Peoples said.
Because the San Francisco Unified School District does not keep track of donations to PTAs, parents and educators have not had an accurate picture of how they factor into inequities among individual schools.
But as California moves this year to pour millions of dollars into diverse, high-poverty districts like San Francisco, parents and educators must ask themselves hard questions about which students were hurt most by five years of budgets cuts — and who was rescued by PTA fundraising.
Some parents have led a grassroots movement to counteract the inequities. Alvarado parent Todd David worked with peers in 2008 to launch EdMatch, a Web-based volunteer effort to enlist corporations and philanthropists to match funds raised for San Francisco public schools. The money was distributed to the most impoverished.
“EdMatch is a good system,” board president Rachel Norton said, “because it encourages people to voluntarily opt in, without penalizing parents who are working really hard.” But EdMatch, while noble in intent, has struggled more than five years to increase participation, raising only $100,000 last year — well short of its $6 million goal.
FROM CHARITY TO ADVOCACY The most effective solutions may be political, not charitable.
Reich counsels parents troubled by growing public-school inequities to turn their energies from giving to advocating for reform. He said they should work to raise tax rates for the wealthy, decouple school budgets from property taxes and target state and local resources to the poorest schools.
In a Sept. 4 op-ed for The New York Times, Stanford political science professor Rob Reich (no relation to the coincidentally named Robert Reich) went a step further, proposing that the federal government create a special charitable status for school-based PTAs, so that those who give to poor schools get double deductions and those who give to affluent schools get none.
Norton said the changes in state funding have sparked other possible reform ideas specific to San Francisco.
“We desperately need to reweight the student formula,” she said. This may be the most decisive battle to be waged in the next year on behalf of poor and immigrant schools such as Junipero Serra.
“A well-educated populace is the key to a healthy democracy,” said David, the Alvarado parent, who turned to full-time education activism after a successful Wall Street career. “Public education is an investment, not an expenditure. My grandparents were immigrants. They came to the United States, they got a public education, they lived the American dream. Education is the one way we know that can help each person rise, generation after generation. If you care about the future of America, education for all kids is in all our interests.”
Jeremy Adam Smith is a fellow with the Institute for Justice and Journalism. He edits the website of U.C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is author or coeditor of four books, including “The Daddy Shift,” “Rad Dad” and “The Compassionate Instinct.” His son briefly attended both Junipero Serra and Grattan.