Peter Greene Reviews Performance of DeVos as “Mom with an Axe”

Peter Greene watched the first full performance of Betsy DeVos playing the role of Secretary of Education and characterizes her “mom with an axe.”

The first thing he notices is the DeVos Look, which he calls “church lady smirk….like it amuses her to imagine that all those Lessers are just having fits that she is this amazing. It is the look for which ‘supercilious’ was coined, and it’s not a good look on anyone, let alone a starched white heiress. Her Trump-approved minder should really help her with that.”

She pushes the idea that while other people believe in institutions and buildings, she believes in children! Got that, you building-huggers? Anyone who disagrees with her is promoting adult concerns, while she on the other hand, cares for children, in her selfless way. If only everyone chooses, without any regulation or oversight, everything will turn out for the best. It worked for her.

It won’t do to fix the schools we have, because Obama tried, he failed, and there’s no point throwing money at them. Ah, says Peter, strange to hear from a woman who throws millions at the schools and causes she does like.

When she and Whitehurst get to the question and answer, he asks some normal questions like, how do you measure the success of your policy of full frontal choice, and she coyly responds that she is not “a numbers person.” As long as parents have many choices, and they are free to choose, things will go swimmingly. Whitehurst asks, but what if academic outcomes get worse under your plan, and she answers, things are so terrible now that they can’t get worse.

Now, questions from the audience. Won’t unfettered choice promote segregation? Answer, of course not. Question, what if parents make bad choices, doesn’t the government have a role to protect them? Answer, parents don’t make bad choices. The free market always works. If parents choose a school, it must be good.

“This is another DeVosian mystery– the implication that public schools are operated by a bunch of lying liars, but charter and private school operators are somehow more virtuous? Or is the belief here that the Free Market somehow forces people to be honest or else they’ll be deselected. Does she believe that people won’t choose you if you’re a big fat liar, because I’m pretty sure DeVos is serving at the pleasure of the living embodiment, the walking proof that lying can actually be a great way to succeed in the Free Market.”

Performance over, curtain falls.

Something tells me this line of thought–if that’s what it is–will be repeated again and again, with an occasional new anecdote about a student who was saved by a voucher or whose life was blighted by a terrible public school.

As the Warner Brothers cartoon series “Looney Tunes” used to say at the end, “That’s all there is, folks.” Was that Daffy Duck or Porky Pig or Bugs Bunny?

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DeVos Thinks She is Promoting the “Common Good” by Attacking Public Schools

I am writing this post for the journalists who cover education. Please fact-check every word that DeVos says. She literally doesn’t know what she is talking about.

This is the New York Times’ report on Betsy DeVos‘ press conference at Brookings.

She claims that the Bush-Obama policies of test-and-punish failed because throwing money at the problem doesn’t work. Any teacher could have told you that NCLB and Race to the Top were failures, not because they threw money at the problems, but because they spent money on failed strategies of high-stakes testing, evaluating teachers by test scores, closing schools, and opening charters.

She is so ill-informed that she would be well advised never to speak in public.

Her comparison of selecting a public school to hailing a taxi is offensive: schooling is a right guaranteed in state constitutions, taking a cab or car service is a consumer choice. She was echoing her mentor Jeb Bush, who compared choosing a school to buying a carton of milk, when he addressed the GOP convention in 2012.

As you will see if you read the account in the story, she has the unmitigated gall to say that her crusade for consumer choice in education–whether charters, vouchers, homeschooling, cyberschooling, whatever–serves the “common good.” What an outrage! Providing a high-quality public school,in every zip code serves the common good. Tossing kids to the vagaries of the free market subverts the common good. Anyone who has been reading this blog for any period of time has learned about the entrepreneurs who open charter schools to make money, about the sham real estate deals, about the voucher schools that teach science from the Bible, about the heightened segregation that always accompanies school choice. Wherever George Wallace and his fellow defenders of racial segregation are, they are rooting for DeVos.

Furthermore, she is utterly ignorant of the large body of research showing that charters do not get better results than public schools, voucher schools get worse results, and cybercharters get abysmal results.

Then she makes a crack about how America’s scores on international couldn’t get worse. She is wrong, and Grover Whitehurst should have told her so. Our scores on the international tests have never been high. Over the past Hal century, we have usually scored in the middle of the pack. Yes, our scores could get much worse. We could follow the Swedish free-market model and see our scores tumble.

Grrr. It is frustrating to see this kind of ignorance expressed by the Secretary of Education, although Arne Duncan should have lowered our expectations.

Please read “Reign of Error” and learn that test scores are the highest ever for whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians (although they went flat from 2013-2015, probably in response to the disruptions caused by Common Core); graduation rates are the highest ever; dropout rates are the lowest ever. When our students took the first international test in 1964, we came in last in one grade, and next to last in the other. But in the years since, our economy has surpassed all the other nations with higher scores. The test scores of 15-year-olds do not predict the future of the nation.

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GSA Rules That Trump Ownership of D.C. Hotel in Government Property is No Conflict of Interest

In 2013, long before Trump decided to run for president, he signed a lease with the federal government to renovate a beautiful and historic building called the Old Post Office near the White House and convert it to a luxury hotel. The lease prohibits any elected official from participating in the profits of the venture.

Given the unambiguous language of the lease, it seemed certain that Trump would sell it to another hotel operator. After all, foreign dignitaries might book space there as a way to curry favor with the president. It would appear to invite graft.

Trump decided he would not give up the lease.

A few days ago, the General Services Administration issued a lengthy opinion concluding that Trump’s control of the hotel was not a conflict of interest. Besides which, the property was producing revenue. So what’s a conflict of interest when money’s being made?

“Government officials overseeing the Trump International Hotel’s lease with the federal government have determined the deal is in “full compliance” despite a clause in the agreement barring any “elected official of the government of the United States” from deriving “any benefit.”

“In a Thursday letter to Eric Trump, the president’s son now overseeing the hotel, the project’s contracting officer found the company met the terms of the lease because the president had resigned from a formal position with the company and the organization had restructured an internal operating agreement so he received no direct proceeds from the D.C. hotel business while in office.

“In other words, during his term in office, the president will not receive any distributions from the trust that would have been generated from the hotel,” said the contracting officer, Kevin M. Terry.

“Terry also praised the project for turning a partly empty government office building into a hotel that had already generated $5.1 million for the government by the time it opened in the fall.

“Thus the lease turned a building that had been costing taxpayers millions of dollars per year into a revenue-generating asset,” Terry wrote.

“The announcement by the General Services Administration allows Trump’s company, which he still owns, to continue to benefit from a contract ultimately overseen by his administration, a situation that ethical experts have called unprecedented and a conflict of interest that puts the president’s personal financial situation ahead of taxpayers.

“Trump signed a 60-year lease for the government-owned Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue in 2013, then spent more than $200 million turning the project into a luxury hotel.

“Since the election, Democrats on Capitol Hill have constantly pressed the agency to address concerns raised by Trump’s profiting from the lease deal.

“Reps. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) and Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) sharply criticized the decision, saying the GSA’s decision rendered the lease provision “meaningless” and relied on news articles and corporate language to justify its ruling.

“This decision allows profits to be reinvested back into the hotel so Donald Trump can reap the financial benefits when he leaves the White House,” they wrote. “This is exactly what the lease provision was supposed to prevent.”

“Since Trump took office, GSA officials and Trump Organization representatives have been negotiating changes to the company’s corporate structure and landed on an agreement in which the president would still profit from the hotel but not receive those profits until he leaves office.”

The Old Post Office Building was not dilapidated. It housed several small federal agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for Humanities. Just two of the agencies Trump wants to eliminate.

By the logic of the contracting officer, Kevin Terry, every federal office building should be turned into condos, shopping malls, and hotels to generate revenues, instead of costing taxpayers millions by using them for government functions.

Trump continues to shatter tradition with every passing day.

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Slate: For-Profit Alternative Schools Accused of Abusive Treatment

If you ran a for-profit corporation that provides facilities for kids with disciplinary and academic issues, what would you call your chain of alternative high schools? Utopia High? No. Great Scholars High? No. How about Camelot? Bingo! A magical place of hope and possibility. In an age of alternative facts, open deceit, and fake news, why not?

This investigative article was conducted by the Teacher Project at Columbia School of Journalism, with support from Pro Publica.

“Officials in three cities are rethinking their relationship with for-profit Camelot Education, which runs alternative programs for more than 3,000 students with emotional, behavioral, or academic difficulties.

“In Philadelphia, a councilwoman is seeking more information about the city’s alternative schools, including their disciplinary practices, in the wake of a report on alleged physical abuse of students by Camelot staff members. Camelot has a contract with the Philadelphia school district for almost $10 million a year to run four schools. Alternative schools typically take in students who have left regular high schools after violating disciplinary codes or falling behind academically.

“There is almost zero public data about these schools,” Helen Gym, the councilwoman, said in a recent interview. “These are very vulnerable young people who end up in these programs where a lot of information about them drops off the books.”

“In addition, Teach for America’s Philadelphia branch said it will no longer place teachers in Camelot schools. While the decision to end the partnership after this school year is not related to abuse allegations, “We take allegations of this kind very seriously,” the organization said. Tremaine Johnson, a former executive director of Teach for America in Philadelphia, expressed concern in an interview about what he called Camelot’s “incarceration type of environment.”

“Camelot also suffered a setback in Houston, where it manages one school under an $8.6 million contract. On March 9, a day after ProPublica and Slate published the report on Camelot, the Houston school board voted unanimously to end the contract with the company and bring management of its alternative school operations in-house. It’s unclear if the decision was related to the article.

“And in Columbus, Georgia, the school board Monday night delayed a vote on hiring Camelot to take over alternative education programs in Muscogee County School District. It decided to hold two public forums first so that residents can learn about and respond to the proposal.”

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CBS Tracks Gulen Charter Schools

CBS News ran a story about the mysterious Gulen charter chain and the reclusive cleric behind it. Former Turkish teachers at the large chain claimed they were required to kick back as much as 40% of their salary.

The story is complicated, and few people outside the education world ever heard about it.

Turkey has accused the Gulen movement of fomenting a coup. Since the failed coup, the Turkish government has jailed thousands of people alleged to be Gulen allies. This is confusing to a public that knows little about international affairs, to which the media pays less and less attention every day as their budgets shrink due to competition with the Internet.

Meanwhile, the FBI has been investigating various Gulen charters for years, with no report.

Here is the part that puzzles me: why are local community public schools outsourced to an organization that has no connection to the community, whose board consists entirely of Turkish men, which relies on HB1 visas to import Turkish teachers, some of whom have poor English skills?

The central purpose of public schools is to teach the responsilities and rights of American citizenship? Can this be outsourced to foreign nationals?

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