Cook County, Ill., has nearly 150 elementary and high school districts. Students in the Pittsburgh metro area are assigned to 105 different local districts. More than 500 districts are scattered across Oklahoma, with fewer than 1,300 students enrolled in each.
Numbers such as these have long drawn the ire of policymakers, and in an era of budget cutbacks, “fragmented” school districts serve as prime targets for consolidation. At the beginning of this year, lawmakers in Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma all introduced legislation aimed at merging school districts or combining their administrative duties. But such proposals frequently are met with fierce opposition from parents and teachers.
School districts with very small enrollments are actually quite common across the country. A Governing analysis of federal data from the 2013-2014 school year found that a third of all local districts were made up of only one or two public schools. Nearly half of all districts nationally -- 46 percent -- serve fewer than 1,000 students. While many of these districts are in rural or outlying areas, 2,050 are in metro areas.
The crux of the pro-consolidation argument is that merging smaller districts will allow for deploying limited resources more efficiently.
The most high-profile recent consolidation fight has played out in Oklahoma, which faces a severe budget shortfall stemming from lower oil revenues. One proposal would consolidate most of the state’s K-8 districts that have earned “D” or “F” ratings with nearby independent districts. State Rep. Lee Denney, the bill’s sponsor, says she wants to cut overhead costs and enable districts to offer a greater variety of subjects -- particularly in math, science and foreign languages -- to better prepare students for college. “In Oklahoma, our rural cities often think we’re trying to take away their community and sense of pride,” 'Fragmented' School Districts: A Complicated and Controversial Issue:
For decades, the major landmark of Balut, Tondo, a densely populated slum squeezed against Manila’s North Harbor, was a monumental pile of often-smoldering trash nicknamed Smokey Mountain. “It used to be sort of pretty, actually,” says Nellie Cruz, a lifelong resident. She points to the spot, now bulldozed, across a reeking, garbage-strewn canal from where we stand with her 13-year-old son, Aki.
The scene is humble, yes, but Nellie, a single mother, isn’t destitute or desperate. She’s a modern, upwardly mobile megacity dweller, the kind you’re equally likely to meet in Shanghai or São Paulo, except with better English skills—the legacy of the Philippines’ history as a US colony and one key to its current economic growth.
Both Nellie and Aki carry iPhones, for example, though the devices were given to them by Nellie’s sister, a nurse, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Cruzes’ immaculate, doll-size family compound has a caged rooster in the front yard, Christian inspirational wall decals, and a strong Wi-Fi signal. In contrast to the screen-time panic among US parents, Nellie is OK with her only child spending time in his attic bedroom, gaming and browsing science pages on Facebook, rather than out on the street exposed to the pounding sun, the omnipresent filth, and the drug gangs on the corner.
The same protective but ambitious impulses were at work when it came to choosing a school for Aki. He attended Catholic institutions when he was younger. Then Nellie lost her job in marketing. So for sixth grade, Aki went off to public school.
“There were 58 students in one classroom,” he tells me. “Only some of us, the Section 1s”—top performers—“got to sit in the classroom. The others studied in the corridor.” Nellie didn’t like her quiet, polite child having to mix it up with kids “from all walks of life,” as she puts it.
So for seventh grade they found a new option at the other end of the street from the public school, housed in a former umbrella factory. The sign outside reads “APEC Schools: Affordable World Class Education From Ayala and Pearson.”
APEC isn’t just new to Tondo or Manila. It’s a different kind of school altogether: one that’s part of a for-profit chain and relatively low-cost at $2 a day, what you might pay for a monthly smartphone bill here. The chain is a fast-growing joint venture between Ayala, one of the Philippines’ biggest conglomerates, and Pearson, the largest education company in the world.
In the US, Pearson is best known as a major crafter of the Common Core tests used in many states. It also markets learning software, powers online college programs, and runs computer-based exams like the GMAT and the GED. In fact, Nellie already knew the name Pearson from the tests and prep her sister took to get into nursing school.
But the company has its eye on much, much more. Investment firm GSV Advisors recently estimated the annual global outlay on education at $5.5 trillion and growing rapidly. Let that number sink in for a second—it’s a doozy. The figure is nearly on par with the global health care industry, but there is no Big Pharma yet in education. Most of that money circulates within government bureaucracies.
Pearson would like to become education’s first major conglomerate, serving as the largest private provider of standardized tests, software, materials, and now the schools themselves.
To this end, the company is testing academic, financial, and technological models for fully privatized education on the world’s poor. It’s pursuing this strategy through a venture called the Pearson Affordable Learning Fund. Pearson allocated the fund an initial $15 million in 2012 and another $50 million in January 2015. Students in developing countries vastly outnumber those in wealthy nations, constituting a larger market for the company than students in the West. Here in the US, Pearson pursues its privatization agenda through charter schools that are run for profit but funded by taxpayers. It’s hard to imagine the company won’t apply what it learns from its global experiments as it continues to expand its offerings stateside.
The low-cost schools in the Philippines are one of Pearson’s 11 equity investments in programs across Asia and Africa serving more than 360,000 students. Two of the most prominent, the Omega Schools in Ghana and Bridge International Academies based in Kenya, have hundreds of campuses charging as little as $6 a month. They locate in cheaply rented spaces, hire younger, less-experienced teachers, and train and pay them less than instructors at government-run schools. The company argues that by using a curriculum reflecting its expertise, plus digital technology—computers, tablets, software—it can deliver a more standardized, higher-quality education at a lower cost per student. All Pearson-backed schools agree to test students frequently and use software and analytics to track outcomes.
Not every Pearson-backed chain will succeed, but the Pearson’s Quest to Cover the Planet in Company-Run Schools | WIRED:
How Undocumented Students Are Turned Away From Public Schools
In the landmark 1982 decision in Plyler v Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled all children are entitled to a public education, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. The fact that this is established law hasn’t stopped some states and school districts from imposing numerous obstacles that have prevented many undocumented students living in the United States (approximately 750,000) from registering for school. The scope of the efforts to block this fundamental right is the focus of a new report published by the Georgetown University Law Center’s Human Rights Institute and the Women’s Refugee Commission.
“U.S. law is clear on this point – no child in the United States should be excluded from public education,” said Mikaela Harris, a Georgetown Law student and co-author ofEnsuring Every Undocumented Student Succeeds, “What we found is that that doesn’t always play out in practice.”
The researchers spent one year examining the practices and policies in school districts in Georgia, New York, but most closely in North Carolina and Texas. They interviewed government and school officials and families with undocumented children to determine how some communities, according to the report, “have barred immigrant children from enrolling or meaningfully participating in school by creating intentional and unintentional barriers.” In some schools, students are turned away outright; in others, they are “discouraged” from enrolling.
But, as one social service provider told the researchers, “there is a fine line between discouraging and denying enrollment.”
The recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) raids to detain and deport families who crossed the border in 2014 has fostered a climate of fear and anxiety that has prevented many children from even attempting the school enrollment process.
The families who do make this effort routinely face a wall of obstacles, ranging from delays over complicated paperwork to being turned away from classrooms as the result of a districts’ arbitrary – and usually erroneous – interpretations of residency rules and state laws. Meanwhile, a lack of translation and interpretation services leave families helpless and uninformed about the enrollment process.
The researchers interviewed “Juan,” a 16-year-old who fled violence in Honduras to travel alone to Texas. Attempting to enroll, he was initially turned away by the school principal, who believed Juan would not pass the state test. Fortunately, the teenager had a community advocate by his side who could speak on his behalf. Juan was soon admitted, although he quickly discovered that the school was ill-equipped to provide the kind of one-on-one support he desperately needed.
The reluctance to enroll undocumented students out of concern that they will drag down the school’s performance on statewide standardized tests is prevalent in some of the communities profiled in the report. One 17 year-old student recounted to the researchers that she was told that she could not start school until How Undocumented Students Are Turned Away From Public Schools - NEA Today:
Public Schools Belong to the People—Not Just Mayors, CEOs, or the President
In Chicago, Troy LaRaviere has been fired from his principal position at Blaine Elementary School, partly because he sided with parents against high-stakes testing. Those who fondly regarded the outspoken administrator were stunned to learn of his ousting by mail. LaRaviere has been critical of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and others in the school system.
I’d like to know why parents were not given some say into such a drastic firing decision. Why weren’t they included in the discussion concerning his behavior? Was it because all the parents would have cheered for LaRaviere?
On Monday, former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan returned to Washington DC to speak at a Georgetown University conference. Trailing a wake of failed initiatives and toxic politics, Duncan once more leapt at the chance to impugn the motives of those who disagree with him on questions of education policy. Eager to justify his refusal to feel unduly bound by federal law, Duncan said of the lawmakers who wrote the Every Student Succeeds Act, "Without naming names of senators, how many times do you hear them talk about kids . . . about African-American kids, and Latino kids, and special needs kids and English-language learners?" He said, "We can have honest debate on lots of things but where is your heart coming from? What's your true motivation? I doubt the motivations of some."
Well. One thing I've learned during a quarter-century in education is that there is no value in attacking one another's motives. It's a dead end and a recipe for destructive division. Indeed, the notion that we should only engage those whose motives pass a litmus test shows a disturbing ignorance about how democratic government works. Free nations rest upon the capacity of reasonable people to disagree about important things. Serious people understand that debates over federal education policy reflect honest disagreement about what government can do, should do, and how to go about it—and not just who cares about kids. If you don't accept that, the rationale for democratic government crumples. If you're sure you are good and your opponents are evil, then your obligation is to impose your will—the law be damned.
That brings us back to Mr. Duncan. While I deplore much of what he did during his tenure at the Education Department and think he did some real harm while in office, I observed upon his departure last fall that, "I grant his sincerity, even as I profoundly disagree with much that he did . . . He strikes me as a good man who took on a demanding job and did it in the best way he knew how. By all accounts, he was good to his colleagues and subordinates, and a beacon of personal integrity. That counts for a lot."
Mr. Duncan never granted that same courtesy or respect to those who disagreed with him. Taken with his own virtue, Duncan has blithely treated all but his yes-men and fellow travelers with disdain. As Secretary, in 2013, Duncan told the American Society of Newspaper Editors that concerns about the Common Core were solely the product of a lunatic "fringe." He famously belittled the concerns of "white suburban moms" for fearing the Common Core because it would reveal that "their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were." He dismissed Republican concerns about Obama's preschool proposals as "morally indefensible" and tantamount "education malpractice"—and then later expressed bewilderment at his trouble drumming up GOP support. He insisted he had no choice but to issue waivers from No Child Left Behind because Congress wouldn't do its job, and then did his best to sabotage Congress's efforts to reauthorize the law.
Those convinced that they really care and uniquely get it can find it easy to dismiss any disagreement or concern as a sign that others just don't. It doesn't help that Duncan spent the better part of a decade surrounded by sycophants who seemingly shared his belief that he possessed a singular concern for the nation's kids—and courtiers who were only too happy to sing his praises in pursuit of access or funding, as long as he shared their priorities.
Fast forward to Monday, when Duncan was asked if he would apologize for having asserted, on his way out of office, that the Every Student Succeeds Act wouldn't limit the Department of Education in practice because, "Candidly, our lawyers are much smarter than many of the folks who were working on this bill." In his response, Duncan was initially scornful, saying, "My one sentence is that important? Are you kidding me?" He then flippantly allowed, "I'm happy to apologize, happy to do whatever, you know." Finally, he added, "Let's get to work." One cannot help but reflect how much more compelling Duncan's "apology" would have been had he not simultaneously announced that some of those he wants to work with are unnamed bigots of suspect motivation.
While in office, aided by billions of stimulus dollars, his NCLB "waivers," and some off-the-leash lawyers, Duncan operated more like a Chicago pol than the U.S. Secretary of Education. He sabotaged trust in the executive branch's commitment to the law of the land and the Constitution. He helped turn teacher evaluation and common standards from sensible ideas into rushed, clumsy, and divisive litmus tests. He brought the snippy partisanship of Chicago to America's educational conversation and casually cast aspersions on the judgment or motives of those who disagreed with him.
Since 2009, Arne Duncan has done more than anyone to inject into education the distrust, divisiveness, and indecency of contemporary American politics. He came to office backed by bipartisan goodwill—at Duncan's confirmation hearing, Senator Lamar Alexander said that president-elect Obama had "made several distinguished Cabinet appointments" but "I think you are the best" of them—and cavalierly did his best to fracture it. He politicized nearly all that he touched. He shows no understanding of any of this, much less any hint of remorse. I am through granting him the presumption of goodwill that he denies to others.
In Shakespeare's Macbeth, when reporting that Cawdor died with honor, Malcolm observes, "Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it." It's too bad that Mr. Duncan didn't figure this out regarding his own departure from public office. Instead of magnanimity, reflection, or statesmanship, he's opted for bluster and braggadocio. As for Mr. Duncan's belated and insincere "apology," he can keep it. He's done enough harm. I can only hope that, at long last, he will take his certitude and self-righteous meanness back to the streets of Chicago.Mr. Duncan's Sad Legacy - Rick Hess Straight Up - Education Week: