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Home | Tag Archives: education issues

Tag Archives: education issues

Op-Ed: Charter School Funding – It is a Scam

It is not difficult to log onto any local political blog and read commenters complaining about how “their” tax dollars are being misspent.

Typically, the complaints are accompanied by claims of corruption, mismanagement, evil doing and all sorts of back door, smoky room wheeling and dealing.

It has to be true they might say, because they once knew a friend of a friend who used to work in a department that was down the hall from wherever the mismanagement de-jour happens to be taking place who heard a guy at the next urinal in the restroom talking on his cell phone about it.

One thing is clear however, these folks really don’t like it when government entities spend tax dollars on things that they don’t think is worthy.

Public school districts are especially ripe targets, mainly I think, because most of the folks commenting are far removed from being in school and have no real skin in the game other than, at least in Texas, the property taxes that go towards educating our children.

One wonders then, with all the concern about misspent tax payer dollars among this group, why there is no hue and cry from local political bloggers about a recent report that outlined how Public Charter Schools have wasted over ONE BILLION dollars of taxpayer money over the past few years through a Federal program designed to expand charter schools throughout the nation.

The Report, “Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Recklessly Takes Taxpayers and Students for a Ride,” details how a Federal program, the Charter Schools Program or CSP, designed to increase the number of Charter Schools (something championed and administered by the inept Secretary of Education Betsy DeVoss) across the country has literally handed billions of dollars to the charter school industry without any kind of followup or regulation. (Remember that charter schools , while still quasi-public schools, are in fact businesses, not unlike any private business you can think of.)

Among the findings of the report:

Between 2009-2016 close to one in four of the awarded grantee Charter schools either never opened their doors to begin with, or closed, leaving their students and parent to fend for themselves.

Between 2006-2014, the program’s own data showed that one out of three were out of business by 2015. In California, the state with the most charter schools, 306 charter schools received money, 75 never opened their doors and of the ones that did, 39% closed.

The Department of Education (DOE) provided no oversight of the grants, and simply allowed the awardees to take the money and do as they saw fit. In other words, the DOE actually assisted in the scam, never asking for a return of the money, never even checking to see that the money was spent according to the awardee’s grant application.

The program works like this: Once an award is given by the Feds, the money is sent to the State, where the State Education Agency oversees the dissemination of the funds. Once the money is given to the states, the DOE, in the words of Tony Soprano, pretty much “fugetaboutit.”

Among the scammers, according to the report’s co-author Jeff Bryant writing in AlterNet were a “Michigan charter that isn’t a charter at all, it’s a Baptist church—to the artfully deceptive—like the Hawaii charter that received a grant in 2016 and still hasn’t opened, doesn’t have a location, and its charter hasn’t even been approved.”

Perhaps the worst case scenario was the “Innovative Schools Development Company” in Delaware that won multiple awards beginning in 2013, never opened a school until 2015, continued to receive over $2 million in grant funds, closed it’s one school that was open due to low enrollment and poor management , yet somehow still was able to apply and receive additional CSP grants even though THEY HAD GONE OUT OF BUSINESS.

In Texas, the New York Times recently reported on the CSP-funded East Austin College Prep, where vermin invaded offices and classrooms. The roof leaked. Yet for all this, the school paid almost $900,000 in annual rent to its landlord who is also its founder, Southwest Key Programs, the nation’s largest provider of shelters for migrant children who you may remember ran the Migrant Shelter in far east El Paso country for a time. The federal charter grant program gave the school a grant to start the school through its Texas state grant administer by the Texas Education Agency.

Locally, the IDEA Charter Schools have also received part of their funding through the CSP, to expand programs across Texas including El Paso. But that is another column altogether.

It is a scam. It is a grift program, without oversight or transparency. No one knows who the reviewers for the grants are, nor who is in charge of dispersing funds.

Yet, not surprisingly, President Trump’s 2020 budget proposes increasing funding for the charter grant program by 13.6 percent, from $440 to $500 million, and DeVos, who never met a charter school she didn’t orgasm over, praised this increase as a step forward for “education freedom.”

Indeed, in a recent Congressional hearing DeVoss, when confronted with the facts of the amount of waste and fraud occurring in the program simply responded …we need more charter schools, not less.“.”

The rich get richer at the expense of the taxpayer, who in essence are paying private businesses to open or stay open despite the fact that there is no research to show that there is any kind of need or want.

So come on self proclaimed indignant taxpaying watchdogs! Get on the ball! Start making some noise about the Ponzi scheme racket that is going on right under your noses in the name of “education choice” being funded by the Federal Government and administered by the state of Texas.

This is exactly the corruption, mismanagement, evil doing and all sorts of back door, smoky room wheeling and dealing that you love to blog and complain about. No tin foil hat required. The heavy lifting has been done for you.

These are “your” tax dollars actually being wasted.

Where is your outrage?

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: We are teaching kids for jobs that don’t even exist yet – A 2019 Update

“We are teaching kids for jobs that don’t even exist yet.”

Most teachers have heard that phrase, or some variation of it, during a professional development somewhere along in their career journey.

It became popular around 2007 along with a video by Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod called “Shift Happens” which successfully started many conversations about what schools need to do to get their students ready for a world that we a) cannot see b) cannot imagine and c) are not prepared for.

You can see the latest version of the video here:

That phrase about “jobs that don’t exist” has been used to ask educators about what is important in education, and has been a stimuli for a multitude of sessions, where educators look at what is really needed in education.

For instance a question that comes up again and again is whether or not students need to know “factoids,” those little pieces of information that they probably will never in their lives need to know expect to impress someone at a dinner party, but can be easily looked up on the internet.

Does a student need to spend time learning that the General that led the Union Soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg was Major General George Gordon Meade? Probably not. Yet some classes spend inordinate amounts of time learning those kind of minutia.

Now, the conversation has shifted even beyond that, with some questioning if students need to learn how to do such intricacies as differential equation problem solving, when there are faster and much more accurate technology means to do the same thing.

Perhaps, some like Wolfram Alpha founder Stephen Wolfram have speculated, that students should learn more about what type of problem to be used in what situation, and let the computers do the “heavy lifting” of computation.

Any decent education system should focus on the future, that place where students will spend the rest of their lives living in. However I think that the statement about preparing students for jobs that do not exist needs to have a corollary question to go along with it: “Are we preparing students for jobs that will not exist in the future?”

One doesn’t need to take a trip into a time machine to see that many jobs we currently have are going the way of the Dodo bird. Speaking at a recent workshop, EdSurge founder Betsy Cocoran said that “Any job that can be systematized can be automated.”

What does that mean exactly, to “systemitize” a job? Essentially, any job that currently requires steps, from A to B to C to final product can be systematized. Think of making a car. That is a very systematic process.

Part 1 is added to Part 2, to Part 3 and so on until a car is born. An assembly line of almost any kind is ripe for automation. But often , we think of “systematized” jobs as those in big industries like manufacturing.

Now, with artificial intelligence, jobs that we once thought could not be systematized are indeed on the verge of being sytemitized. Everything from CPAs to lawyers, mortgage brokers, even entire fields in medicine like X-ray technician and sonogram reader are on their way to the dustbin of history.

Machines have already shown that they can read and identify cancers in mammograms better than humans , can diagnose disease better than humans , and can even tell strikes and balls better than human umpires. It is not hard to see that jobs that require drivers, from trucking to airlines are going to be automated in the near future.

Newspapers today are using “robotic journalists” to write stories without any human help. You probably have read a robotic news article and had no idea it was written by a machine. And it was possible because every single one of these examples can be systematized. Truck driving, cooking, hamburger flipping, plane flying, bank tillering CPA-ing, lawyering, are all on the AI chopping block.

Are we training students for jobs that are not going to exist in the future?

If it can be systematized, then yes, we are. Education needs to be looking at training students for jobs that require a new way of looking at the job market. What kind of jobs SHOULD we be training students to have in the future? According to Career Addict, there are three types of careers that are pretty safe for now from the rise of systemized automation:

  • Creative Jobs: Artists, scientists, writers, poets, musicians, actors, Those job require inspiration, something AI just won’t have in the foreseeable future.
  • Relationship Based Jobs: Even though AI has its foot in the procedural doorway of medicine, there still will be a need for doctors and other types of professions that rely on building relationships with people.
  • Unpredictable Jobs: Those jobs that require someone to be in an unpredictable situation such as an emergency service worker, a plumber (or any trade that requires immediate help from an unpredictable situation).

Are we preparing our students for jobs that won’t be affected by AI, perhaps even teaching them to be in AI as programmers and not receivers of the programs, or are we preparing them for careers that won’t exist 15 or 20 years from now?

Good educators should be preparing students for the future. Great educators should be preparing students for how to navigate it.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: Sorry, Kids Don’t Need Cursive Writing to Understand Historical Documents

Take a look at this meme that rears its ugly head once in a while across the Internet especially on Facebook:

For those of you that cannot read cursive, it says;

“Kids who can’t read cursive handwriting can’t read historic documents. Support cursive in the curriculum.”

I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s start with the probably obvious: Some people, and I am gonna guess it is people that have not been in a school in decades, are upset that cursive handwriting is no longer being taught in many school districts across the country.

There are many very good reasons for this, but the most obvious one is that a child does not need to understand or write in cursive in order to communicate in today’s world.

Printed word, audio, video, and other forms of communication are all taking over from the cursive writing of old. And computers don’t put out content in cursive, unless you tell them to.

Of course, this meme was probably made by some older, more conservative person that think our kids need to be able to READ primary source historical cursive documents that are from the early years of the United States. However, MOST historical documents are not written in English, are not written in English cursive, and are not from the United States.

And chances ARE that the ones written in English are probably written in Olde English, which most people, students or not, would have a difficult time understanding anyway.

So let’s take a look at some of those “primary source documents” that kids are supposed to be able to read. Start with the most obvious: The Declaration of Independence:

This is the CURRENT condition of the Declaration of Independence that is in the National Archives: Faded almost to the point of transparency. I have actually seen the document up close and personal. It is very close to being illegible. Even if a student could read cursive, it would be of little or no use. The writing is that bad.

How is that “Need to be able to read cursive working for you?

Let’s look at another primary source: The US Constitution:

Again, faded, almost illegible.

So historical documents were all written in cursive? The meme makes it sound like it. But like most memes, it is almost totally false and creates a story that cannot stand up under the facts.

Back to the Declaration of Independence. Most Americans do not know the original was printed in PRINT form, distributed across the colonies and THEN written in cursive later:

Imagine yourself as a typical middle school student. What is easier to read and understand: The written-in-cursive faded version we have in the National Archives or this version also in the National Archives, although in the virtual National Archives?

The point is, the printed version or for that matter the web version, unless there is some compelling reason otherwise, is almost ALWAYS easier to read and understand than the “historic” cursive version. Unless you are Nicolas Cage and need to steal the original document to find the hidden treasure map on the back using lemon juice and a candle, chances are the printed version will work just fine.

Consider the TEXAS Constitution: It was and always has been, printed. Never cursive:

The Japanese Surrender Documents at the end of World War 2: Printed.

Your mortgage papers? Printed.
Your divorce decree? Printed.
The local newspaper (if you even know what that is): Printed.
Textbooks? Printed.
Most online content? Printed.
Want to buy a car? I hope you can read printed script.

In fact, I bet you cannot think of an important document other than your High School diploma that didn’t use print script.

For those that insist that you still need to WRITE cursive to understand historical documents, consider the Magna Carta, written in 1215 in LATIN in print script,  and the basis for much of our Constitution, here is what it looks like:

Here is a transcript in English.  Now, tell me, what is easier to understand? Unless your Latin is good, I suspect you liked the English PRINTED translation.

These types of internet memes are usually put out by nostalgic people thinking that the world they remember was better than the world they live in now. Sadly, they don’t seem to understand that in many aspects, the world they once knew is gone, and had been replaced by something even better. Why, I can’t even recall a time when the Fox News headline scroll was written using as cursive font.

Let old ways die. Just because YOU did it, does not mean it was better. It is totally okay to remember your past, but don’t force it on the rest of us.

The world has gotten much better over the years. Much better.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: You Now Have No Excuse Not To Learn

Recently, a local opinion columnist wrote that he had “…no appetite for anything modern.” In 600 words he was able to castigate modern movies, sports, music, women who are “no longer coy,” the #takeaknee movement, and basically anything that has happened in the world after say, 1955 as being culturally irrelevant, vulgar, or corrupt.

Beethoven: Okay.

Roll Over Beethoven: Not Okay.

Shakespear: Okay.

Shakespear in Love: Not Okay.

Campbell’s Tomato Soup: Okay.

Warhol’s Tomato Soup Can: Not Okay.

Women silently playing tennis: Okay.

Women making noises while playing tennis: Not Okay.

You get the idea. Some older people are like that. The “good old days” will always be better than today in that fog of memory that reminisces on the good and expunges the bad.

“Never mind we had polio and segregation, dammit women stayed at home and wore dresses!” Such as it has always been with older people. But like Carly Simon once sang “…I’ll stay right here, cuz these are the good old days.”

Years from now, some grumpy columnist will write about how back in 2017, things were better that they are now. (The irony of course is that his “I hate everything modern” screed was delivered over the internet.)

It is too bad that he has that idea of “everything new is bad, everything old is good.” Actually, by almost any matrix he could think of, the world is far better off today than at anytime in the past despite all of those ungrateful, kneeling, grunting athletes.

According to Our World in Data, right now, the world has the lowest levels of people living in extreme poverty, illiterate citizens, childhood mortality, people living in totalitarian societies, the number of children per mother, and the amount of education each person on the planet is receiving.

Those are not numbers from the last fifty or one hundred years. Those are numbers across all of human history. EVER. You and I are literally living in the greatest time in mankind’s history. Really. You may feel it is a Dickensonian worst of times, but on the big picture level, it really is the best of times.

One sign of the “things are better now than ever before” is the availability to almost anyone on the planet of free educational materials that had never been available before. Because of advances in technology, complete courses at the high school and college level on almost any topic are readily accessible to anyone with a connection to the internet.

Would you like to take a course on Classical Mechanics from Stanford University with Professor Leonard Susskind? Just click here. How about a Public Economics course from Harvard?

Apple created iTunes U several years ago as a repository for free courses from postsecondary schools from across the globe. Since then, literally thousands of complete courses have been uploaded.

Got an iPad or an iPhone? You can go to Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Open University, even NMSU. Hundreds of universities participate. All for free. You don’t get the college credit, but you can take the course at anytime, at any age.

A 15 year old interested in Aerodynamics can challenge herself with by taking a free course from Harvard.

In addition to the free courses in iTunes U, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) are giant online courses open to anyone in the world that wants to take them.

In 2011, Stanford University opened a MOOC on Artificial Intelligence that had over 160,000 students from all over the world attending, all for free.

Since then, organizations like EdX (edx.org) have created hundreds of courses, most for free, all online, for anyone anywhere. There for the taking, like a giant buffet of learning. All you have to do is load your plate.

I pity anyone that has no appetite for “the modern.” “The modern” has allowed us to bring learning to anyone, anywhere for little or no cost. The playing field, where once only the elite or the chosen had access to knowledge is quickly being leveled because of “the modern.”

You can afford free. You can make time for anywhere, anytime learning.

You are out of meaningful excuses. You have no excuse not to learn, to improve yourself, and at the same time your little slice of humanity.

I have a great appetite for that kind of modernity.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback. Feel free to leave a comment.

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