How Closing Schools Undermines Democracy

In  2013, a PhD student named Sally Nuamah attended a community meeting in the Chicago neighborhood where she’d grown up and where a public school was slated for closure. Residents talked about the issue in “life or death” terms, recalls Nuamah, who has been studying the long-term impact of the school closures. In this episode, Have You Heard talks to Nuamah about one such impact: a decline in voter participation and support for Democrats. Why would shuttering schools cause a drop in political engagement? And why would local residents fight so hard to keep open schools that, according to many metrics, were failing?Well, you’ll just have to listen and find out! To learn more about Nuamah’s work, visit her website. A full transcript of the episode is now available.

You’re Fired!

The idea that schools can be fixed by firing teachers has become a fixation. In this episode of Have You Heard, Jack Schneider and I discuss the origins of the idea, which he has helpfully distilled here in this amazing graphic. We hear from three Boston teachers whose schools are about to be turned upside down, the lives of their immigrant students made even more chaotic in these unsettled times. As scholar Tina Trujillo explains, the turn-and-churn model of school reform reflects a larger erosion of the idea that public education is public good. Be sure to listen to the very end of the episode (or skip down to the bottom of the transcript below), where we announce our guest for episode #3. Fine, I’ll give you a hint. She was in the running to be Secretary of Education… If you have a question you want us to ask her, flag us on Twitter at @BisforBerkshire or @edu_historian, or leave a comment here. And if you missed episode #1 of this season, Vouchers: a Love Story, you can catch it on Soundcloud, or iTunes.

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The Plutocrat’s Lament

Writer Joanne Barkan argues that for plutocrats like Bill Gates, democracy is a nuisance…

gates-billionaire.jpg (400×266)Jennifer Berkshire: You’re the author of a recent case study on what you call Bill Gates’ *charitable plutocracy,* his years’ long, and many millions-ed campaign to bring charter schools to Washington State. In the interest of the data to which Gates himself is so committed, can you reduce your argument down to a series of numbers? Oh, and please speak in bullet points.

Joanne Barkan:

  • Number of years required to pass a charter school enabling law in Washington State: 17 (1995-2012).
  • Number of statewide ballot initiatives required: 4 (1996, 2000, 2004, and 2012).
  • Total dollars spent by charter school supporters in the 2000, 2004, and 2012 ballot initiatives: $18.7 million. (Practically no money was spent by either side in 1996.)
  • Total dollars spent by charter school opponents in the 2000, 2004, and 2012 ballot initiatives: $2.04 million.
  • Money spent by the Gates Foundation *to give public charter schools in Washington State a strong start* in 2013-2015: $31 million.

And a few other data points your readers might be interested in:

  • Net worth of Bill Gates in 2015: $76 billion
  • Assets of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2016: $44.3 billion.
  • Total receipts of the National Education Association in 2015: $388.8 million.
  • Total receipts of the American Federation of Teachers in 2015: $327.6 million.
  • Average salary of an elementary public school teacher in Washington state (except in special education) in 2015: $60,140.

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*Will Donald Trump Deport Me?* And Other Questions from My Nine-Year-Old Students

A student teacher reflects on what her fourth grade students are learning from Donald Trump…

By Mary Sypek

Trump*Ms. Sypek, what do you think of Donald Trump?* Karim asks. I quickly scramble around in my mind, trying to think of an answer that’s both diplomatic and clear. *I don’t really like Donald Trump,* is what I decide to say, to which he promptly responds, *I don’t like Donald Trump either.* I exhale, hoping I have managed to escape the topic of Trump without too much of a hassle. I am wrong.

It’s literacy time in Ms. Smith’s fourth grade classroom. Students are working with partners and in small groups to read nonfiction books about the US government, and I am working with four struggling readers. I am a student teacher at an urban public school in one of the most diverse cities in Massachusetts. In our classroom of 26, we represent 22 countries.
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Why the Washington State Supreme Court Ruling Matters

The origins of a surprisingly simple decision that could have major implications…

By Martha Carey
Something unusual happened in Washington state late last week. Charter schools came out on the losing end of a lawsuit. In fact, charter schools, as they are currently defined, funded and organized, were actually ruled unconstitutional by that state’s Supreme Court.  And the basis of that decision was surprisingly simple. The charter school law that narrowly passed Washington in 2012 was found to be in violation of the state’s constitution precisely because charter schools have private boards. Continue reading →