Tag Archives: charter schools

Cashing in on Fear:  The Catalyst Behind the Trump/Devos Education Budget?

The current focus on public school improvement is flawed.  Politicians, the public, and even some educators are caught up in a oversimplified mindset that lumps all public schools into one huge cesspool of incompetence.  It is dangerous to generalize anything, and public schools are no different.  It is not public schools in general we need to fix, but what is happening within each individual public school that needs our attention.  Many public schools are doing an excellent job educating children, but unfortunately, they are being dragged down the rabbit hole with those that are doing a poor job.

To say all public schools are bad and in need of improvement is a generalization that is simply not true.  According to education researcher John Hattie, the single biggest variance between a good school and a bad school is the quality of the teacher in the classroom.  Dismantling public schools in favor of charter schools and creating an open-door policy for parents to send their child to the school of their choice will not resolve inconsistent quality issues in the classroom.  Due to the human element, classroom quality issues are as likely to show up in charter schools as they are in public schools.  It is not a public school or charter school that makes the difference in a child’s education.  As Hattie points out, it is the quality of what transpires in the classroom that makes a difference.  Simply being hired by a charter school will not make a person a better teacher.  Enrolling a child in a charter school is not a guarantee of academic success or teacher competence in the classroom.  With the future of public schools in jeopardy and a shrinking teacher pool, it stands to reason today’s public school teachers will be tomorrow’s charter and private school teachers, so unless we resolve the quality issue we are doing little more than transferring the problem from one school to another.   Proponents of charters will argue charter schools will only hire the best teachers and cull the weaker ones.  They may try, but I am afraid they may find as the public schools have found, there are not a lot of master teachers walking around looking for a job.  Pile that problem on top of current hiring practices in many charter schools such as hiring unlicensed and inexperienced teachers and you have a recipe for disaster waiting in the wings.  Unless, charter schools can find the magic teacher formula that has eluded public schools, their savior status will quickly fade.  Unfortunately, at that point, we will have to sleep in the bed we have made due to a misplaced focus.

Some will say I am putting the blame on teachers, and yes, I am, but there is enough blame to go around for everyone including school administrators, school boards, politicians, parents, the public, and the students.  Everyone must share in the blame when students do not learn, but in rank order, teachers, students, parents, and school administrators are the most responsible.  Sorry, educators, but that is the bottom line truth in a nutshell.  Sorry, parents and politicians, but charter schools and private schools will not resolve the issue, especially since those schools have the same problem of finding quality teachers as the public schools.  At least, public schools have minimum standards teachers must meet to teach while most charters and privates schools can and often do hire almost anyone off the street.  Therefore, being called a charter school does not make a school better.  Regardless of what politicians say, and many parents believe, parent choice is nothing more than a distraction that takes away from the real education focus needed to fix schools and ensure students learn.  For any school to be successful – public, charter, or private –  the focus must be on quality, attitudes, and commitment. Promoting dismantling public schools shows a lack of commitment in any of these areas, and that lack of commitment has escalated over the past 16 years mainly for one reason – fear.

Since 9/11/2001, America has been at the mercy of fear.  Fear is the root of our current state of dysfunction in all areas of our lives including education.  We are currently in a state of dysfunction that is more dangerous than maybe anything this country has ever faced; we fear terrorists, we fear immigrants, we fear the Republicans, we fear the Democrats, we fear conservatives, we fear liberals, we fear any belief outside our own, and we fear and mistrust the color of a man’s skin.  This is not the first time in our history we have been in such a state of distress, but it is one of the few times in our history we have allowed fear to rule our lives and distract our focus.   In the 1960s, we feared thermonuclear warfare with the Soviet Union, but instead of allowing that fear to distract us, we used it to sharpen our focus.  Out of that fear, we put a man on the moon, built a national highway system second to none in the world, put greater focus on math and science in our public schools, and created the Internet as part of national defense.  Fear created a constructive response rather than the unconstructive response we are seeing today.  Since 2001, we have used fear as an excuse to fight two wars against terrorism with little to show for the loss of blood of the brave men and women who served our country, used fear to turn our political system and nation upside down, used fear to turn citizen against citizen, used fear to isolate ourselves from the world, and used fear to create a dysfunctional education dialogue that threatens to destroy an institution that helped make America great – our public school system.  In the 1960s, we turned fear into productive action while today we have allowed fear to drag us into uncooperative thinking and inaction.

Over the last 16 years, fear has ruled our lives and governed how we respond to events and issues.  Our answer to just about everything today is to lash out negatively, cast blame, and think in short term solutions.  The current dysfunctional focus on public schools is an excellent example.  In the 1960s, when we were caught up in an arms race with the Soviet Union, we did not scrap our education system or try to improve it with our heads in the sand.  Of course, back then, there was an “us versus them” mentality in America and not the present “us versus us” mentality.  Today, there is a political venom flowing through the veins of our country that no amount of antidote is likely to cure.  We are trapped in pockets of group think where outside views are considered a threat and too often solutions are reactions to distractions rather than the real issues.  Charter schools and vouchers are prime examples of such distractions.  These vehicles of parent choice distract from issues such as teacher quality and child poverty.  Such distractions can easily be seen in the education cuts proposed by President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy Devos in their 2018 education budget.  Instead of cutting vital education programs that support millions of public school children across the nation, they could have easily used a portion of the $21 trillion saved by dropping out of the Paris Climate Accord to fund their pet charter school and voucher projects, yet they chose to cut public education by over 9 billion dollars or roughly 14 percent.  Why?  Could it be they understand the best time to push a personal agenda is during times of fear?

Any budget is a statement of values, and the Trump/Devos education budget is no exception.  Anyone who looks closely at the suggested budget cuts and to the areas the cuts are redirected can see the ultimate goal is to dismantle public education in favor of parent choice options.  If passed, the Trump/Devos budget will cut the United States Department of Education funding by $9 billion and redirect $1.4 billion of that money to school choice.  The cuts will eliminate at least 22 programs including $1.2 billion for after school programs which will have a negative impact on 1.6 million, primarily poor, children; $2.1 billion for teacher training which is a vital component for developing quality classroom teachers in both charter and public schools; $27 million for arts education; $72 million dollars for international and foreign language programs; and $12 million dollars for Special Olympics programs.

President Trump and Betsy Devos say the federal government does not need to be involved in these programs.  According to them, the programs being cut can be more effectively handled and funded at the state and local level.  Maybe, they can be handled more effectively at the state level, but how can a poor state such as Mississippi fund these programs when it cannot afford to adequately fund the state public school programs it has?  Mississippi can’t, so where does that leave after school programs, arts education, foreign language programs, and the Special Olympics in the state?  It means either the citizens of Mississippi will pay higher taxes to foot the bill, or those programs will be discontinued.  Likely, the programs will be dropped or phased out.

Most people in Mississippi will feel some concern for losing after school programs, arts education, and especially the Special Olympics, but in a state where so many believe English is the only language needed in America, the loss of foreign language will barely be given a passing thought.  That is a shame.  I have a PhD, but by global standards I am illiterate.  I regret to say I speak one language, English, and although that has been good enough for me, it most likely will not be good enough for my grandchildren and especially my great grandchildren.

I recently read over 80% of the world’s population has access to a cell phone or mobile device, and within a year – a couple at the most – that number will grow to 90%.  According to David Rothkopf, author of The Great Questions of Tomorrow, we are possibly only a couple of years from every man, woman, and child in the world being connected for the first time in history through a man-made system.  Companies like Amazon have already gone global, and others will soon follow.  I am not talking about moving companies overseas; I am talking about Internet presence.  Amazon can touch anyone in the world whenever they please.  That is the future for all of us.  Our kids better be able to communicate with the world when that happens.  They will not only need the latest and the greatest technology tools, but they will also need a second language and preferably a third language if they hope to compete in the world market.  Speaking only one language will no longer be good enough even for Mississippi, yet, we have a President and Secretary of Education who want to cut foreign language programs.  Why?  How does that make any sense at all unless we are in such fear of the world that we plan to remain isolated indefinitely.

A contributing factor to fear is the unknown, and since 2001, as a nation we have been grappling with fear of the unknown:  fear of unseen and often unknown terrorists, fear for our livelihoods amid fluctuating markets, fear of leaders who so often put their personal agendas above the good of the people, fear of losing our guaranteed rights as citizens, fear of changing attitudes and values, and fear our public schools are no longer in capable hands.  We have seen our leaders grasp at straws for solutions, and turn against each other in the process.  We have witnessed politicians wage war on science somehow ignorant to the facts that throughout history governments who denounced science often lost.  We have watched as our leaders and our people have grown closed minded to the diversity that made us the greatest country in the world.  And, now rather than focus on the real issues, of teacher quality, academic support systems, and poverty, we are watching helplessly as our leaders slowly dismantle a once proud education system that produced Americans who revolutionized land and air transportation for the world, turned simple farmers into a skilled labor force for industry, and lay the knowledge foundation that led to the world’s first heart transplant, harnessing of nuclear energy, put the first man on the moon, and produced some of the world’s greatest literary giants.  Unfortunately, our leadership is in the market for a new vehicle, and they will not be satisfied until that vehicle is sitting in the garage with or without wheels.  It is sad, they do not understand there is no need to reinvent the wheel; all that is needed is to fix a spoke or two in the old wheel, so we can focus on what really matters – our children’s future.


©Jack Linton, June 18, 2017


Future School – Darcy’s Ashes

“Imagine with me a Mississippi where schools compete for students.”
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, 2016

“Bull S#$@!” Selena Smith, parent, 2036.

6:30 a.m. Thursday, May 22, 2036

A small unfinished oak box held Darcy’s ashes. Mica wiped a tear and placed her hand on the box. “Today is for you,” she said.

“Mica!” a voice called from the bedroom. “Get in here, now! You know we can’t be late.”

“Yes, Mama,” Mica answered. She kissed her fingers and touched them to the box, and ran to the bedroom.

Selena carefully brushed Mica’s hair. She dare not miss a single smoothing stroke. Her daughter’s future depended on perfection – not only her preparation for the interview, but her hair, and clothes as well. The Primary Interview Committee would be extremely meticulous; they would choose only the best of the best. “Are you nervous?” she asked.

“No,” Mica said. “Miss Brighterstar says I am ready.”

“Your teacher should know,” Selena agreed. Mica’s year one Observatory teacher raved about her academics and felt her chances for selection were better than good. It was the other factors beyond her daughter’s academics that bothered her. Factors such as raised by a single parent with a GED education and their family’s lack of standing in the community would weigh heavily in the Committee’s decision. It wasn’t right, but that was the way it was – right or wrong. She stopped combing and fought back tears. Why didn’t somebody stop them before it came to this? Near sighted politicians, old white men, grandstanding to ignorance had done this to her child. Lies too beautiful not to trust that spoke eloquently about choice and turning education over to the private sector had led America down a path of insanity and betrayal. Where was her choice as a parent now? What had involving the private sector in public education done for her child other than convert her humanity to a commodity?

Mica admired her dress in the mirror. It had been Darcy’s interview dress, which made it extra special even though the dress hem and sleeves were a little worn at the edges. The committee would never see the worn edges though; her mama hand sewed pink ribbons with neatly tied bows along the sleeves and dress hemline. She looked at the picture on the night stand next to the bed of Darcy wearing the dress minus the pick ribbons. Mama said she and Darcy could have been twins; she liked that, but she did not like the worry in her mama’s eyes.

Mama worried about the interview. Mica was not worried at all. She had been reading since age four, and although she struggled with the math introduced in year one Observatory School, she was confident she would be selected. In a class of forty students, she was the best reader and the sorting wall ranked her number two overall academically, fifth artistically, and twelfth athletically. Her best friend, Mijou, ranked number one in athletics, told her she ran like a girl. Mica was rather proud of that. She worried a little that they would most likely be sent to separate schools for their second learning cycle, but at least, they lived close enough to see each other on weekends and during holidays.

“Quit fidgeting,” her mama scolded.

Mica stood straight, and did her best to control her excitement. She could not wait to stand before the Committee. Today, she would make Mama and Darcy proud.

Selena looked at her daughter in the mirror – so brave and innocent. Darcy had also been full of bouncing confidence and innocence for her first interview. Like Mica, she was a strong student confident the Primary Interview Committee would select her. They did not. Quieter and withdrawn afterwards, she continued for six more learning cycles to prepare herself for the next interview, but she never regained the same energy and excitement she had shown for the first one. Selena did not realize the depth of her depression until a month before the Interview of Intermediates when she found her lifeless on the floor next to her bed, clutching the crumbled and worn non-selection letter from The Primary Interview Committee.

Selena blamed herself. A few months before Darcy’s interview, she learned many parents provided a dowry on behalf of their child to the committee. The dowry was not mandatory, but it was highly suggested. Her family and friends begged her to find a way to provide a dowry on Darcy’s behalf to the committee. They argued such a gift, certainly a sizable one, could make a difference who the committee selected or did not select, especially if the competition was close. Darcy’s teacher also recommended a dowry. However, at the time her meager salary barely payed the rent and utilities and put food on the table. Besides, based on her daughter’s grades and sorting rankings, she believed she was a shoo-in for selection. She would not repeat the same mistake. For the past two years, she had worked double shifts, borrowed from friends and family, and did whatever she needed to do to raise the money she prayed would make a difference for Mica. After losing Darcy, she would sell her soul to get Mica into one of the public subsidized charter schools.

Unlike public schools, the corporate charters and specialized academy charters had the best of everything – the best technology, the best facilities, the best resources, the best teachers, and the best students. These schools were the culminating victory of the Republican leadership who had pushed to privatize public school education for years. Privatization became complete in 2022 when private schools merged with charter schools to form Corporate Charters, Sports Academy Charters, and Art Academy Charters. These charters operated under private management and with private dollars subsidized by corporations and organizations such as Apple, HP, Chevron, Walmart, Disney, CNN, Fox News, NFL, NBL, MLB, Creative Artists, Paradigm Talent, and many others. With the newly merged charters on firm financial ground, the states rushed to slash public education spending. States also moved quickly to institutionalize charters as part of their publicly funded K–12 state systems. Next, they passed new laws to create equity funding formulas weighed in favor of the charters. In addition, the charters also continued to benefit from an open voucher system that originally allowed parents to redirect public school funds to the charter of their choice and then later to the charter that selected their child. Charters had every financial advantage, and they were free to develop and follow their own standards and guidelines as well, including overseeing their own accountability. All but bankrupt, public schools remained shackled by state and federal accountability as well as the double standards handed down by charter friendly state legislatures.

While the charters prospered, the public schools descended into chaos as their funding was cut by as much as half, their best teachers were recruited away, and the best students were swept up by the charters in state mandated year one and year seven selection interviews. Under a system originally established as parental choice and hailed as a potential free-market competition for students among schools, competition had ceased. In its place, a systematic means of suppression and entrapment of the poor, minorities, special needs children, and the unlucky had materialized. The American idea that “all men are created equal” lay buried under the exclusiveness of the publicly funded charter system.

Selena understood very little of this, but she understood the system had turned its back on her and her children. Education choice and selection had led to a system that catered to the white middle and upper class; a system that created a new segregated nation. The result was her children, whose only fault lay not in the color of their skin but being born poor, were relegated to second class citizens. The states may as well have posted the “Colored” signs from the mid twentieth century above public school doors. The only difference was this time such signs would read “Not Good Enough,” “Inferior,” or “Rejects.” Through the sorting process, the new American Reich culled the poor, blemished, flawed, and damaged children. The new segregation in America embraced and tolerated only perfection.

Public schools were left with the children the charter schools did not want. As a result, dropout rates soared, teachers taught from behind wire cages, and pre-teen and teen suicide increased dramatically in public schools. Instead of living the American dream of prosperity, public school children were doomed to a life of the “have nots.” For the sake of choice for a few and segregation for all, the only choice and hope for a better future for many was trampled and buried forever. The legacy of a free public education for all children, a legacy that was once the foundation of America’s greatest, lay smoldering. The ashes of children like Darcy spread across America like a cancerous sore. The epitome of political and social malpractice, K-12 public education lay in ruins.

8:30 a.m. Thursday, May 22, 2036

Mica stood before the Committee. She stood with her shoulders back and looked directly into the eyes of each committee member as her mama had schooled her. This was her day! She could feel it.

The chair of the committee smiled and said, “There’s no need to be nervous.”

“I’m not,” Mica said almost too bluntly. Catching herself, she added, “I am proud and excited to be here.” Mama would be pleased; all the committee members smiled and nodded. She grew more confident this was her day.

Selena nervously paced the corridor outside the interview hall. Every few minutes she sat in one of the folding chairs set up outside the door for anxious parents. Each time she sat, she dropped her face in her hands and cried and prayed, and then composing herself, she rose and paced some more. Exactly thirty minutes from the time she entered the interview hall, Mica stepped back into the corridor. Selena had never seen such light in her eyes.

“Mama!” she cried happily. “Mama, Mama, Mama! I did it! I know I made it!”

Selena wiped back tears and embraced her. “I am sure you did,” she said.

Mica was so excited she could hardly say everything she wanted to say quickly enough. “The people on the committee were so nice. They laughed and joked with me just like you do sometimes. One of them even said she liked my dress. They were so nice, and even funny. I had such a nice time.”

“I am so pleased,” Selena said hugging her close. “How did you do on the interview questions?”

“They didn’t ask any of the questions you and Miss Brighterstar rehearsed with me.”

Selena’s heart sank. “You were not asked any questions?”

“No,” Mica smiled. “They said they just wanted to visit.”

Selena squeezed her tighter. Tears flowed.

Mica felt her tenseness, and gently pushed back and looked at her. “Mama, what’s wrong?”

“I’m just happy,” Selena said wiping a tear from her cheek. “I love you so much, and I am so proud of you.”

Sunday, June 1, 2036

Mica did not eat for two days after the letter arrived in the mail. She stayed in her room, refusing to go out or talk to friends. When she spoke, it was only to say, “I’m sorry.” She did not cry, but blankly stared at the stack of books on the floor next to her bed. Books she had read preparing for her interview. She opened the letter and read it for at least the hundredth time.

Selena stayed vigilant refusing to leave her daughter alone for more than a few minutes at a time. She could still see her girls tearing madly into their letters when they arrived in the mail. “Thank you for such a wonderful interview,” the letters began. Selena saw the light flash in Darcy and Mica’s eyes. “We are excited to invite you . . . .” the letters continued. Tears flowed uncontrollably, as she saw her girls jumping and dancing around the room. “. . . to the Interview of Intermediates at the conclusion of your seventh learning cycle” the letters concluded.  Selena had watched helplessly as first Darcy and now Mica’s hopes and dreams collapsed and burned to ashes.


Give me one more chance before we crash and burn, give me one more chance before we reach the point of no return. Unknown


©Jack Linton, PhD January 31, 2016