Effects of School Choice: Holland, Michigan

segregated-city-divided-town-illustration-by-frits-ahlefeldt

While visiting my mother-in-law she gave me an article titled ‘Urban district, suburban community’ from the March 23, 2016 Holland Sentinel newspaper.  The article focused on the long-term effects of school choice on the Holland Public Schools.

The lead sentence of the article stated rather straightforwardly, “State policies that promote school choice have fueled a changing demographic landscape for many of Michigan’s public schools.”  The article goes on to say that 1,600 students (over 30%) within the Holland Public Schools’ boundaries have used the state’s 20 year Schools of Choice law to attend charter schools or go to neighboring school districts.

What caught my eye was the reporter’s assertion that as a result of school choice, the district “doesn’t represent the town in which it operates” and that Holland has become “a fragmented community that prolongs stereotypes.”  The numbers show the demographic differences between the city and school district:

Holland                  White    Hisp./Latino  Black          Asian

2010 Census             68.9%          22.7%        3.2%            2.9%

Holland Public Schools

2015-16                     37.9%         47.1%         7.4%           2.6%

So even though Holland’s population is about 69% White, only 38% of the students in its schools are White.  Similarly, the town is about 23% Hispanic/Latino but its schools have more than twice that proportion.  What happened?

Superintendent of Holland Public Schools Brian Davis points directly at school choice as the reason why the district’s population doesn’t reflect the community it serves. Davis recalls 1996 (when Michigan’s Schools of Choice law went into effect) as a time when Holland parents began to look at neighboring Zeeland schools as a choice. Zeeland was 94% White (2000 census).   Also, providing school choice was an invitation to start charter schools.  Today, 17% of students attending school in Holland go to charter schools.

Davis said some families chose to attend other schools when they noticed an “increasing free and reduced lunch” student population.  He stated that “middle to upper-middle class families with disposable income” were the ones with enough time and money to drive their kids to neighboring Zeeland or charter schools.  It’s not too hard to read between the lines – because they could afford to white families took advantage of the school choice law and left lower-income Hispanic/Latino and Black families in the Holland schools.

Is it OK that school choice allows parents to create segregated schools?  At what point in time do their children learn to live with people who look different from themselves?  Is this the kind of America we want?

Will The Common Core Work In Honduras?

Today, in lieu of our class on charter schools, we’re going on a field trip to Honduras.  I had an opportunity to join a mission group from Hillside Church in Ft. Worth, TX for a week in the town of Danli, which is about 2 hours east of Tegucigalpa (the capital of Honduras).  If you are interested in learning more about the workHillside is supporting in schools there, go to The Honduras Education Project.

A section of Danli was wiped out by a flood four years ago so the government relocated the residents of that area to Urrutia.  Below is a look at the community:

IMG_5408

The people living here are the lucky ones.  Many in the area live in houses like this:

IMG_5208

With help from the Rotary Club, the school now has two classrooms for mixed grade-level instruction.IMG_5534

The classrooms don’t have electricity but do have a bathroom (without a sewage system).

IMG_5415

Kids have to walk to school on dirt roads.  None of the homes have sewage systems either so you don’t want to walk in the “water” on the road.

IMG_5571

Another area we visited had a multi-classroom school.  Most places in Honduras have barbed-wire on top of high walls.

IMG_5218

Inside the compound of this school there are about 10 classrooms and an auditorium.

IMG_5229

IMG_5296

The “cafeteria” is quite different from those in the U.S.

IMG_5226 (1)

You can get a good tortilla there.

IMG_5331

Schools welcomed us in to give testimony of our faith and to pray with the students.

IMG_5467

Kids enjoyed the skits we put on about Jonah and the whale.

IMG_5270

The Gates Foundation and other supporters of the Common Core, large-scale testing, and tying test results to teacher evaluations think that those systems will help U.S. kids in poverty escape from their environment.  These “reformers” believe the existing conditions in poverty-ridden urban areas are irrelevant to improving education – just give them a better curriculum.  Do you think these “reformers” would also believe that implementing those same systems in Honduras would help these kids out of poverty?

IMG_5539

Gates Foundation. Good Charity or Bad Charity? Final Thoughts

home-vacuum-cleaner-electric-cleaning-appliance

David Tyack and  Larry Cuban’s book Tinkering toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform is one of my favorite books.  They chronicle how Americans have viewed public education as a means to building a better society.  From one-room schoolhouses in the 1800s to the influx of immigrants in the early 1900s to the response to Sputnik in the 1950s, Americans have shaped the purpose of public education.  Americans – not just one person. Not a foundation.

When did we, as a society, give up our responsibility to determine the purpose of public education?  I can remember back in 1985 when the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) went hat-in-hand to the Illinois legislature (again) for a bigger budget and the response was, “If you want more money, you’re going to have to show us that you’re worth it.”  State-wide student testing began shortly thereafter.  The purpose of education then became, “Earn your keep by showing me how good your schools and teachers are” which was not a societal need but an economic one.  Building a better society using public education doesn’t exist in the American consciousness today – and as we know, nature abhors a vacuum.

So if we are unwilling to fill the vacuum of societal purpose for public education, who will?  Bill and Melinda Gates along with Warren Buffett.  They said “College Ready” is American’s societal need and they have defined for public education how to meet that need:

  • Create a standardized “American” curriculum
  • Provide professional development to teachers to ensure they teach to that standard curriculum correctly
  • Evaluate teachers to see if they are teaching the standard curriculum correctly, and if they don’t, remove them from the classroom
  • Use technology to implement the standard curriculum

America didn’t set this agenda.  Recognizing this, the Gates Foundation hedged their bet that American public schools might not want to accomplish their agenda so they support charter schools and alternative schools to demonstrate how it should be done.  They pour money into national professional organizations and to the Council of Chief State Officers to get the Foundation’s agenda done.

“College Ready” is America’s need?  Those kids in Naperville and Winnetka were born “College Ready”.  What a frickin’ joke to the kids in Chicago who are just hoping to survive long enough to make it to the safety of their school tomorrow.

Why did we allow them to control the conversation about the educational needs of America?  How did it come about that the Gates Foundation is telling us, the education professionals, how to do our business?  The sad part is, we let them do this to us because we wouldn’t do it ourselves.  We, as a profession, have been reluctant to get involved in politics, to write the newspapers about what schools need, to stand up and tell someone outside of the teacher’s lounge what our kids need.  Until we, as a profession, are willing to tell everybody what America’s kids need, the billionaires and their foundations will fill the void.

Next time: Vision 2020 tries to fill the void

Gates Foundation. Good Charity or Bad Charity? Part 1

Ying_yang_sign

My wife and I had a great discussion after my last post about the Gates Foundation’s instance that U.S. poverty could be overcome by better schools and teachers instead of a broad-based approach (like the Foundation uses overseas).  She led off by saying, “Isn’t Gates a good guy?  He’s giving away his money trying to help people.”  My response was that putting money into bad ideas doesn’t necessarily help people.  With all the publicity about philanthropy lately this has been a topic of discussion (see the New York Times Op-Ed piece “Good Charity, Bad Charity“).  To be fair, I really couldn’t tell my wife if all the K-12 education projects the Gates Foundation funds are good or bad ideas.

To their credit, the Gates Foundation maintains a list of all the projects they have funded on their website.  I cut and pasted information about the 128 “College Ready” (K-12 education) projects they funded in 2014 into a spreadsheet (ironically a MicroSoft product).  Note: K-12 education projects are not limited to public schools, as will be discussed in Part 2.

So to start with, Wow!  $93.3 million was given out in support of K-12 education projects in one year.  That’s a lot of money but let’s look at it in context.  According to Wikipedia the Gates Foundation has a $42.3 billion endowment ($28 billion from Gates, billions more from Warren Buffett).  Assuming the endowment funds are properly invested, let’s say that portfolio grows at 10.3% per year (the average historical increase of the markets).  That means that the Foundation’s portfolio should increase by $4.4 billion per year.  That Wow! of $93.3 million is only 2.1% of the possible earnings of their portfolio and only .2% of the entire endowment.

Two brief thoughts about $93.3 million.  First, when you spend that kind of money every year it’s going to make a difference – good or bad.  Second, if they really wanted to change (good or bad) K-12 education they could be spending a heck of a lot more.

In order to get a better understanding of what the Foundation was supporting I categorized each of the 128 projects according to the blurb provided on the Foundation’s website (or if that was too vague I went to the project recipient’s website to see what their mission is).  I ended up with 12 major categories plus an “other” category.

Want to know what the top-funded category was?  You’ll be surprised – I think it falls in the “good” category.  Read all about it in my next post.

Reflections on Cody’s Book The Educator vs. The Oligarch: The Poor Get Poorer

Inequality-USA-2014

Pew Research Center

In the book The Educator And The Oligarch Anthony Cody critically examines the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s efforts to reform education and describes a series of blog posts written by Cody and high ranking officials in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which focused on five mutually agreed upon issues.   To me, the key issue was the role of education in the elimination of poverty.

According to Chris Williams, author of the Gates Foundation’s response,

When Bill and Melinda Gates started their foundation more than a decade ago, they made addressing the impact of poverty its central philanthropic mission. They looked at what kept people in poverty around the world, and focused on the challenges that were the biggest obstacles to families moving out of poverty, but were not high enough on the global agenda.  Today the foundation’s top priorities are a reflection of that approach—vaccines that save children from serious illness and death, more resilient and productive seeds that allow families to feed themselves and earn a living, access to contraception to ensure that women can decide when to have children, and a great teacher who can make a dramatic difference in the life of low income students in the United States.

Well said.  But Williams immediately backtracks, saying that that the Gates Foundation doesn’t have enough money to solve the problems of poverty here in the U.S.  They had to “make decisions about how to focus our resources…”  Their decision?  “In the U.S., we focus on giving teachers the tools they need to be most effective.”

In his book Anthony Cody rightly states that the underlying issues keeping people in poverty need to be addressed – that focusing on teacher quality alone (through the analysis of student test scores) will not be enough to move many students out of poverty.  The Foundation’s Williams dismisses the big picture and states “a good education is one of the best avenues out of poverty.”  Why doesn’t the Foundation even want to try to make a difference outside of the classroom?

The Sargent Shriver Center for Poverty Law website cites six Policy Agenda items they are working on.  They include issues such advancing fair statutes for educational and employment opportunities, integrating job training with economic development, expanding access to food and nutrition programs, quality child care, ensuring fair workplaces, and improving access to quality education and skill building opportunities.  Many of these are policy issues, not resource issues.  The Gates Foundation seems more than willing to support policy issues related to the proliferation of charter schools, the expansion of student testing, and the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers – but not poverty.

In his post Williams said, “What we can’t do, however, is address all of the problems that put or keep families in poverty.”  Look back up at Williams’ overview of the Foundation’s mission.  He said, “addressing the impact of poverty [is] its central philanthropic mission” and then talked about what they are doing globally to support that mission.  It doesn’t seem that they are willing to provide the same type of supports here in the U.S.  Couldn’t they throw a few million earmarked for the Common Core implementation or teacher evaluation toward supporting policies in America that save impoverished American kids from “serious illness and death”, guarantee better nutrition for impoverished American kids, and access to contraception for impoverished American women?

Why the laser focus on “improving” American teachers?  It’s not to eliminate poverty here since the Gates Foundation won’t support the same antipoverty policies in the U.S. that they do elsewhere.  In his 2012 Annual Letter Bill Gates said, “Our work in U.S. education focuses on two related goals: making sure that all students graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and that young adults who want to get a postsecondary degree have a way to do so.”  By not working to address the broader range of issues that keep kids in poverty, Gates is implicitly promoting a further widening of the wealth gap.  If successful in improving teacher quality the Foundation will get more middle- and upper-class American kids into college – and better jobs.  The heck with those poor kids.