For Profit U

In episode #14, Have You Heard talks to Tressie McMillan Cottom about her new book, Lower Ed, and the push to make education *risky*…

In this episode of Have You Heard, we talk to Tressie McMillan Cottom about the rise of for-profit colleges, and *risky* higher ed that saddles low-income students with debt and questionable credentials. And we discuss the growing push to make K-12 more risky, including busting up public institutions and shifting the burden of choosing an *education option* as Betsy DeVos likes to call it, onto parents. Cottom’s new book Lower Ed is a must read, and this episode of Have You Heard is a must listen. As she points out, the same free market that we’re now entrusting with the futures of kids and adolescents also gave us cheese whiz. Cottom’s book and our conversation threatened to deplete my store of adjectives (*fantastic*!) and inspired Jack to make one of his famous charts.

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School Turnarounds in the Age of Trump

When bad education policy and immigration politics collide, the result is uncertainty and anxiety for immigrant students…

Kristen Leathers with some of her students at Boston’s Brighton High School.

By Kristen Leathers
A few weeks ago, I received a letter from the Boston Public Schools informing me that I’m being let go from Brighton High School where I’ve taught for the past 10 years. I wasn’t the only one. Brighton High and two other Boston schools were deemed turnaround schools last fall and every staff member in each of these schools, from the headmaster to the paraprofessionals, was excessed. When faced with questions about the future, I told my students that I am still committed to working at Brighton High and teaching them, but I can offer them no assurances as I have none for myself.

We recently did a project in my intermediate ESL class where students wrote a letter about how the turnaround process was affecting them and what they felt would be needed to fix Brighton High School. We’ve been talking a lot about current events and I felt that it was important for them to find and use their own voices. Many of them talked about how devastating it is to be losing their teachers. They described this place as a refuge and a second home; losing that makes them feel frightened, anxious and confused. Continue reading →

Why I’m Saying Farewell to EduShyster

It’s time for me to wave goodbye to the man with the outstretched hand…

Since I started this blog back in 2012, I’ve gotten occasional complaints that the name EduShyster is anti-semitic. When one of these arrived last week, I started to compose what has become my standard response: that whole books have been written on this topic, and that historians have traced the etymology of the word back to its very first appearance in 1843, in a New York newspaper crusading against political and legal corruption. And then I stopped. As any English teacher worth her salt can explain, meaning and context go hand in hand. Our current context is that anti-semitism has roared back with a vengeance and has taken up residence in the highest office in the land. Even the slightest possibility that I might be lumped in with that kind of hate is too much. Now is the time to speak up against all kinds of intolerance, and so I’m taking this opportunity to wish EduShyster farewell.

If you’ve followed the evolution of my blog, you know that I started out as an anonymous commentator, taking aim at all things education *rephorm.* Snark was my weapon, along with wine by the boxful—a sort of metaphor for the volume of intoxicants necessitated by the edupreneurial schemes and scams that I spent my days untangling. Along the way, the blog morphed into something more serious. There was so much I didn’t understand, and so I sought out people who knew things and used my blog as a way to make complex ideas more accessible. I also discovered that my curious nature—OK, nosy—translated into a reporting skill I didn’t know I had. I’ve now raised money from readers and traveled to Chicago, New Orleans and Michigan, talking to anyone who will talk to me, and producing actual journalism. Who knew??? Last year I launched a story-driven podcast series called Have You Heard that sought to *disrupt* the debate over the future of public education by passing the mic to parents and students whose voices are too often missing from the conversation.

Now it’s time for another change. As of 2/08/2017, the blog formerly known as EduShyster is the Have You Heard blog. Rolls off the tongue, right? While the man with the hand will still be making occasional appearances, this next iteration of my writing and podcasting will be unmistakably mine. I’ll be doing more long reported pieces, like this one, this one, this one, and this one. At the top of my list is a skeptical look at the latest edu-frenzy to sweep across Massachusetts: the empowerment zone. And believe it or not, after devoting some 10,000 words to our new Secretary of Education, I still have more to add—like what was really behind the shade that Eli Broad threw at Betsy DeVos. Season 2.0 of the Have You Heard podcast will sound different too. I’ve joined forces with Jack Schneider, who you may know on Twitter as @edu_historian. Our biweekly talk show on education in the time of Trump starts this week. (Note: you can subscribe on iTunes—just search for Have You Heard under news and politics).

Before I go there is one thing I could really use your help with. Now that I’m officially consigning @EduShyster to the dustbin of history, I need a new Twitter handle. If you have a suggestion send it to jenniferberkshire@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got some work to do…

Jennifer

 

Georgia Has Something on Its Mind

When voters in Georgia go to the polls, they face another decision besides Clinton versus Trump…

Have You Heard heads to Georgia where voters are about to decide whether to give the governor the authority to create a new Opportunity School District. Proponents say Amendment 1 is a way to help kids, opponents say that everything about the ballot question is misleading—down to the words that introduce the question to voters before they vote: *Provides greater flexibility and state accountability to fix failing schools through increasing community involvement.* Because nothing brings the community together like a state takeover!

Note: Since I traveled to Atlanta, Amendment 1 has imploded in the polls. I think if you listen in to what these parents and voters have to say, you’ll hear why. Thanks for listening!

Aaron French: Hey, everyone. Welcome to this addition of Have You Heard, I’m Aaron French.
Jennifer

Berkshire:

I’m Jennifer Berkshire. Aaron, I can tell by your, somewhat far away sound, that you must be in the remote Have You Heard production studios.
French: I am indeed, in a very super secret location.
Berkshire: Do you know where I am?
French: There’s definitely something different about your voice. I can’t quite place it.
Berkshire: If you’re picking up on a slight southern accent, it’s not because I’m making fun of you. I’m in Georgia.
French: What are you doing down there?
Berkshire: I headed down to Georgia with my microphone because there’s a hotly contested question on the ballot that voters are going to be weighing in on. They’re voting on whether to amend the state constitution to give the Governor the power to take over struggling schools.
French: My understanding is what makes this really unique is that it’s the first time in history that any state has put this kind of question on a ballot for elections.
Berkshire: That’s correct, and what I discovered as I went around and talked to people who are directly affected by the question is that they have a lot to say.
French: Let’s hear from them then.
Berkshire: When voters in Georgia go to the polls, they face another decision besides Clinton versus Trump. They’ll also be weighing in on a single divisive sentence. Shall the constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the State to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance? Got that?
Kimberly Brookes: You’re changing the Georgia constitution, that is major.
Berkshire: By amending the state constitution voters will the State the authority to take over some 140 struggling Georgia schools. It’s called an Opportunity School District, modeled on what happened with the New Orleans public schools after Katrina. While these independent state-run districts are now popping up around the country, what makes Georgia different is that it’s the first time the question has been put before voters. You can put parent advocate and Atlanta native Kimberly Brooks down as a no.
Brookes: It’s just misleading. Pretty simple, should the Governor’s Office intervene for failing schools. There are psychological triggers. That’s my own view of that. When you think of failing, that’s horrible. You think of these little kids. You think of the teacher. “Oh, my god, yes” but “no” because what is not said is very broad. How are you defining failing?
Berkshire: If you want to see just how intense the debate over Amendment 1 has gotten, go no further that a discussion around the preamble. Those are the 14 words on the ballot that introduce the school takeover plan to voters. “Provides greater flexibility and state accountability to fix failing schools through increasing community involvement.”
Brookes: What does this mean? Will the parent be able to have a voice over a school in their area? If you’re a parent and you’re a tax payer and you contribute a lot to your taxes, do you want to not even have a say-so in your superintendent because they are going to be appointed? Do you not want to have any say-so in the operations and the spending of the school? Because you’ll lose those rights. Do you know that?
Berkshire: The answers to these questions are buried deep in the legislation that will go into effect if voters approve Amendment 1. With new powers the State can step in and close schools with persistently low test scores. It can turn them over to charter operators, it could run the schools directly or jointly with the local school board.
The decisions will largely be in the hands of a state-appointed superintendent. In other words, it’s complicated and, as Brooks sees it, political.
Brookes: Some of my, and I say my parents because they are mine, they’re hard working people, and they have a lot of other challenges. If the school system has the responsibility to do it. They should not be concerned about when their child goes to school any politics in one of the, supposed to be, most safest places and sacred structures, elementary school.
Berkshire: Brooks started advocating for parents back in 2012 when the Atlanta public schools closed a dozen schools. Community meetings were held for parent input. She says that even though parents spoke up, they weren’t heard. She’s worried that the Governor’s school take-over plan will eliminate the little voice that her parents do have.
Brookes: I decided to become an advocate because a lot the parents that I served as a PTA president, it was an eye opener for me. I didn’t realize the social problems that they had that influenced their ability to be involved in their children’s lives and to even understand what quality education looks like. I felt that it was my responsibility to start advocating for parents.
Berkshire: The question of whether of amend the Georgia constitution will be decided by voters across the state. The schools that dominate the take-over list are largely congregated in and around Atlanta. They have something else in common too. According to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, the schools on the list are attended by students who are overwhelmingly African American and low income.
Valerie Williams: Washington High was established in 1924. It was the first African American high school in the southeast. People came from far and near to matriculate here. We’ve had proud alumnus such as Martin Luther King, Jr. We have Lena Horne. We have Pearlie Dove, Nipsey Russell, Louis Sullivan.
Berkshire: That’s Valerie Williams. She’s a alumni of Booker T. Washington High School on Atlanta’s west side. It’s been on and off the list of schools that could, potentially, be taken over. It’s not the only historic African American school whose fate hangs in the balance.
Williams: What this would means for us is that, how can a state even allow a school that’s on the National Historic Registry be even in this place? That’s not only the Booker T. Washington, it’s the Frederick Douglass, it’s the Benjamin E. Mays. The schools of whom are named after great African Americans. How can you not be intentional about the success of these schools?
Berkshire: When Williams thinks about community involvement she has in mind the huge community of people who attended historic black schools like Booker T. Washington. While voters may be determining the future of these schools, Williams says their potential take-over is also a threat to the past.
Williams: What this would mean to us is our 90+ years of legacy and history would be gone. There is no other school, there is no other place in the world like our Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, Georgia.
Berkshire: If creating a state-run school district that scoops up struggling schools isn’t the answer, what is? Williams says that when she looks at successful schools in the Atlanta area, she sees a clear difference.
Williams: What I believe we need is the same equitable resources that schools that are being successful have. If we receive the equitable amount of resources in personnel that have made the north side successful, we would be successful.
Berkshire: Williams would also like to see the Governor whose the driving force behind the Opportunity School District, focus much more on the communities around the schools especially at a time when neighborhoods like hers in west Atlanta are gentrifying rapidly. It’s poorest residents risk being left behind or pushed out altogether.
Williams: If the Governor was very intentional about really pulling people up from the bootstrap, it’s not just education. You have to go into these communities. You have to show people a difference. You have to show people without displacing them.
Berkshire: By now you’re probably getting the sense that the debate over Amendment 1 in Georgia isn’t just about struggling schools or accountability. It’s about history and resources, who gets to make decisions and, above all, it’s about race. Take one of the ads that’s been airing in favor of the ballot question.
Audio of Yes on 1 Campaign ad: I think it’s devastating that there’s 68,000 children that are in failing schools.
Our children cannot wait for a good education. They deserve a good education.
The Opportunity School District is not going to affect those that are already doing well.
This is an opportunity to help those students that have been failing for decades.
I just can’t imagine what those other parents have to go through. That’s why I’m voting yes for the Opportunity School District.
Vote “yes” on Question 1.
Kent McGuire: Even in the advertising that’s on television and, now, you have a person on camera, basically, saying to us, “Don’t worry, you can vote for this. This is about other people’s kids.”
Berkshire: Kent McGuire is the head of the Southern Education Foundation, a group that got it’s start 150 years ago as part of the effort to help Blacks in the South assimilate after the Civil War. He says that he can’t help but recall Georgia’s past when he considers the proposal to set up a separate school district for students who are overwhelmingly poor and African American.
McGuire: It makes you worry that this is about creating a dual system, not about creating one really high quality system for all kids. It does make you worry about that a lot.
Berkshire: The campaign to sell Amendment 1 to voters is heavy on feel-good buzz words, opportunity, achievement, accountability. McGuire says he’s noticed one notable omission. There’s no talk about what schools that are part of the Opportunity School District will actually do. Nothing about teaching or learning.
McGuire: There is no underlying vision for teaching and learning that has been expressed here or revealed, none. I don’t think people, the architects of this, believe we have a design problem in our education system. They just think we have a managerial one. That is the tip of the iceberg, is the point I would want to make.
Berkshire: Amendment 1 is running strong among backers of Georgia’s Republican Governor Nathan Deal. They’re not the only ones who support it. Priscilla Davenport says that while many of her DeKalb County neighbors are opposing the Opportunity School District, you can put her down as a “yes” vote.
Priscilla Davenport: For me, as a parent, I feel that I know what has not worked in more than 10 years. I’m willing to make a change, to try something new.
Berkshire: Davenport grew up in this metro-Atlanta county, and she says she can still recall a time when it’s schools were a draw.
Davenport: When I was younger and living in DeKalb County School District was the top school district. Everyone was moving to attend the schools in DeKalb County.
Berkshire: Today, though, Davenport’s daughter attends a high school that’s on the state take-over list. Davenport says she chose to send her daughter to the school instead of a charter or magnet because it had been slated to undergo a transformation. Four years in, she’s frustrated that not much seems transformed.
Davenport: The education level did not really increase even though the funding and the programs were put in place. A lot of those things, maybe they just didn’t work. I’m not sure but, for sure, the education level of the school did not increase. The enrollment dropped because a lot of people after seeing that, they decided to take their children to other schools.
Berkshire: Davenport says when she looks at the list of schools that could be taken over by the State, she notices something else they share besides the demographics of the students. Few of them have really active and engaged parents.
Davenport: If you check the research on parent involvement, most of the passing schools have high parental involvement and welcoming parents and gathering parents and doing things with parents and involving parents in the educational process of their children.
Berkshire: Listening to Davenport, I’m struck by just how much she sounds like parent advocate Kimberly Brooks who’s leading the charge against Amendment 1. If Brooks fears for what a state take over will mean for parental involvement in the future, Davenport says schools like her daughter’s make it way too hard for parents to make their voices heard now.
Davenport: I did realize that as parents are actively involved in the school, it’s always not a welcome door with the leadership. When you are going in school and you’re participating and you’re being very active in your child’s education life, that’s not always wanted on a higher level.
Berkshire: Davenport says she’s under no illusion that a state run take-over will be a cure-all to the problems confronting schools like those in DeKalb County. In fact, she’s aware that similar efforts in other states have been controversial and have produced, at best, mixed results.
Davenport: No one knows whether this will work or not but we are hoping that it will work if it pass because, at least, it opens a door for our community to address education.
Berkshire: Even staunch Amendment 1 opponent Kent McGuire says he has to give the Governor some credit for raising the issue of how best to educate students in Georgia who need the most help.
McGuire: We’re not saying schools that aren’t performing well don’t need help, we do. Let me commend the Governor for taking an interest in the lowest performing schools in Georgia. He was right to do so. The real question is, what’s the best way to do that.
Berkshire: Thanks for tuning into another installment of Have You Heard. If my math is correct, that brings us up to episode #8 which means that our 10-part series is almost over. If you really like what you’ve been hearing and maybe want to encourage us to do more, or have ideas about episodes we haven’t touched on, this would be a good time to drop us a line. You can find us on Twitter. I’m @EduShyster, and Aaron is @AaronMoFoFrench. Until next time, I’m Jennifer Berkshire, and that’s what we’ve heard.

If You Have a Voice, Use It

Have You Heard road trips to Lawrence, Massachusetts to hear what students have to say…

On a frosty spring Saturday (does New England have any other kind???), Have You Heard co-creator Aaron French and I piled in the car and motored to Lawrence, Massachusetts to spend the day listening to students who, it turns out, have quite a lot to say. These student writing leaders and story tellers, part of an organization called Andover Bread Loaf that I’ve written about here, are determined to write a different future for themselves and their city. You’ll be dazzled by their eloquence… But wait – there’s more! The students also have something to say about the city’s schools, subject to a state takeover five years ago, and widely recognized as a turnaround success story, and a model for struggling districts elsewhere. Except that no one appears to have talked to the students in Lawrence who were being turned around. Working with the Lawrence Youth Council and Elevated Thought, a local arts organization, students surveyed more than 600 of their peers across the city, asking them questions like *what kind of subjects would you like to study?* *how do you like to learn?* and *what opportunities are missing for kids in Lawrence?* Their findings, and the months they spent researching education, inspired this remarkable film called What Is Education? In other words, episode #4 of Have You Heard is a multi-media affair both eye-opening and ear opening.

Don’t forget that sharing is caring, and feel free to send comments to jennifer@haveyouheardblog.com. You can also find the Have You Heard team on Twitter: @EduShyster and @AaronMoFoFrench.