Want to improve your children’s chance of academic success? Research says send them to public schools

I’m not sure whether it was the author or the headline writer, but someone in the New York Times produced a headline that certainly constitutes false news: “Dismal Results from Vouchers Surprise Researchers.” The problem with it is that those researchers who have been paying attention already know that public policy driving families to put their children into private schools will achieve dismal results. Objective researchers in the pursuit of knowledge aren’t, or shouldn’t be surprised that kids using vouchers to attend private schools experience declines in academic performance. Perhaps Kevin Carey, who wrote the article, or the unknown specialist who composed the headline, meant to say that it surprised right-wing policy wonks and political pundits, who for the better part of a quarter of a century have been pushing vouchers, charter and private schools as a means to destroy teachers’ unions and produce new income streams for businesses.

Certainly Carey, who directs the education policy program for the ostensibly non-partisan think tank New America, must have read The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools, a 2013 study by Sarah Theule Lubienski and Christopher A. Lubienski that demonstrates without a doubt that public schools outperform private schools when we correct raw data to account for wealth, per student spending, disabilities and other factors. I wouldn’t expect the Times headline writer to know of this important book, as a Google search at the time it came out revealed just one review in the mainstream media. The media doesn’t like to review books that disprove the current political nonsense, whatever it is.

Using two recently generated large-scale national databases, the Lubienskis show that demographic factors such as wealth and disabilities explain any advantage seen in private school performance in the 21st century. Private schools have higher scores not because they are better at educating children but because their students come mostly from wealthy backgrounds. After correcting for demographics, the Lubienskis demonstrate conclusively that gains in student achievement at public schools are great and greater than those made at private ones. The Lubienskis take on the critics of real educational reform, the politicians and other factotums of the rich who don’t want to do anything that requires greater spending on students, such as teacher certification programs and curriculum and instruction advances. The Lubienskis show that these reforms do work.

The latest research reported by Carey in his Times article concerns the results on standardized tests of students who have used voucher programs to enroll in private schools. Vouchers, which right-wingers and Republicans have been pushing for years, give money earmarked for public education to families, which they pay to private schools to educate their children. The never-proved principle underlying vouchers, first proposed by right-wing economic mountebank Milton Friedman, is that giving parents choice will improve public education by forcing it to compete with other schools.

Over the past few years, Republican legislatures have implemented widespread voucher programs in a number of states such as Indiana, Louisiana and Ohio. As Carey reports, vouchers have largely failed to improve school performance, and in fact, have harmed the performance of many children:

  • Indiana children who transferred to private schools using vouchers “experienced significant losses in achievement” in math and saw no improvement in reading.
  • Children, primarily poor and black, who used vouchers to switch to private schools in Louisiana, achieved negative results in both reading and math; elementary school children who started at the 50th percentile in math and then transferred via voucher to a private school dropped to 26th percentile in one year.
  • A study financed by the right-wing, anti-union Walton family and conducted by a conservative think tank found that Ohio students using vouchers to attend private schools fared much worse when compared to their peers in public school, especially in math.
  • It turns out that the best charter schools, another variation on school choice liked by the right wing, are those that are nonprofit public schools open to everyone and accountable to public authorities. The more “private” a charter school, the worse its student perform.

There could be many explanations for the lousy performance voucher students in private schools achieved compared to public schools, but I think it comes down to the simple fact that the teachers tend to be more experienced, more educated and more professional in public schools. Why is that? Because they are better paid.

In the real world, the best get paid the most. The best lawyers tend to make the most money. The best accountants tend to make the most money. The best writers—business and entertainment—tend to make the most money. The best musicians tend to make the most money. Forget the obscene fact that Beyoncé makes about 200 times what the concertmaster for the New York Philharmonic and the masterful jazz pianist Orrin Evans do. They both do quite well when compared to the average piano teacher who gives lessons at the Jewish Community Center or YMCA.

Public school teachers make more money than private school teachers. Doesn’t it make sense that they would therefore do a better job and that public schools would therefore do better in quantitative comparisons?  I know that there are some very competent and dedicated private school teachers, but in general, how could the aggregate of private school teachers keep up with public school teachers, who make so much more money?

The reason that public school teachers make more money is one of the primary reasons right-wingers want to dismantle public schools: unions. Right-wingers hate unions because they force employers to pay better wages to employees, leaving less profit for the company’s owners and operators. In unionized workplaces, employees make a far larger share of the pie than in nonunionized ones. Thus by leaving public schools and going into private ones, children leave an environment in which their teachers are highly paid but administrators make less than they would in the private sector for an environment in which teachers are paid less and administrators more, and if the school is for-profit, money is siphoned off as profit for investors. By definition, less money is spent on education in private schools. That is, unless the tuition is so high that the voucher covers only a small part of it, in which case the voucher is merely a subsidy to the wealthy, who likely would have sent their children to the chichi expensive private school no matter what.

The reason companies bust unions is greed. Greed also plays a major role in the insistence against all facts and reasoning that school choice will solve every educational challenge. Choice is the preferred answer because it doesn’t involve spending more money and raising taxes. In fact, over time, vouchers can be used to cut educational budgets if the stipulated voucher amounts do not keep up with inflation.

Despite the fact that taxes on the wealthy are still at an historic low for a western industrial democracy, rich folk and their political and policy factotums do not want to raise the taxes needed to create an educational system that works for everyone. Here are some of the things that we could do with added tax revenues earmarked to public education:

  • Smaller classroom sizes for elementary and middle school children.
  • Computers for every student in every class.
  • A return to the days of art, music and other enrichment programs.
  • New textbooks that reflect the latest findings in science and social science.
  • More special programs for both the disabled and the gifted and talented.
  • True school choice, which involves vocational programs in the technology, hospitality and healthcare industries for high school students.

Keeping their taxes low and busting unions are not the only reasons well-heeled ultra conservatives advocate for vouchers. Some, like our current Secretary of Education, hope to profit by investing in for-profit schools. Others, and again Secretary DeVos is among them, want to use public funds to finance the teaching of religion in private religious schools. Perhaps not ironically, moral education of the masses and suppression of unions seem always to go hand-in-hand since the industrial revolution of the 19th century. In this sense, religion is a form of social control and a social solvent that dissolves the perception of class differences.

Thus, when you hear Trumpty-Dumpty, DeVos and other supporters of voucher programs for education spout their pious homilies, remember that they have absolutely no interest in providing our children with a high-quality education that prepares for a meaningful life and rewarding career. Nor are they dedicated to a higher principle they call freedom that trumps all other concerns in a free society. Remember, there are all kinds of freedoms, such as freedom from hunger, from ignorance, from illness, from pain. Be it education or healthcare, when they cry freedom, they only mean freedom of choice or freedom to make money unencumbered by social concerns.

No, it’s neither an interest in America’s children nor dedication to principle that motivates the rich folk behind the school choice movement. It’s simple greed.

At emotional heart of transgender issue is dignity versus anger. In Trump’s world, anger wins out

The latest Trump-GOP assault on human and civil rights has arrived: the rollback of Obama administration rules that have allowed transgender students to use the schools’ public bathrooms of the sex with which they identify.

Legal arguments on the issue seem always to reduce to the question of whose rights are more important — the transgender person’s right to use the bathroom of choice or the rights of those offended to  think that a person of another sex might be in the bathroom with them. I was originally on the wrong side of this issue, until a close gay friend of mine pointed out the danger to transgenders who want to appear in public looking like the sex with which they identify and thus risk a beating or worse if they use a bathroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificate.  Moreover, when we consider that all pertinent female business is conducted in stalls — i.e., without significant visual contact with others — we realize that the “harm” caused to those others is imaginary in all senses of the word, whereas the harm suffered potentially by all trans people is very real.

Making trangenders use the bathroom of the sex on their birth certificates thrusts on them a decision between four terrible choices, all informed by rejection and fear: 1) Appear in public as what you are and do not use the bathroom, no matter how badly you have to go; 2) Appear in public as what you are, use the bathroom and risk harm; 3) Appear in public “in hiding” by dressing like the sex on your birth certificate; 4) Don’t go out in public. By contrast, no such terrible decision is thrust upon those who object to trans people using the bathroom of the sex with which they identify. First of all, it is very unlikely they will encounter a transgender individual, since so relatively few exist. Secondly, if they do encounter one wherever the location, they won’t know the person is transgender for certain, even if they suspect or think they know. For the most part, the offended party has to be consciously looking to be offended and consciously inferring something offensive.

A “who’s harmed” analysis thus falls heavily on the side of protecting the rights of transgenders.

At the heart of the bathroom issue, however, is the basic meaning of human dignity in our society. The dictionary meaning of dignity is the quality of being worth something, of being honored and esteemed. In other words, dignity is intricately tied to society and to interactions between people. Dignity is the feeling we have that others respect us as free and individual, consider our feelings, think we are law-abiding, are not laughing at us, and do not think we have committed a social mistake.

All dignity, in the bathroom and elsewhere, is mostly a social construct. In some societies, people have no problem doing their business in the open in front of others. And even in our society, we have a sliding scale of what we’ll do and who we’ll do it in front of. Things that are okay in front of a sibling or lover might not be okay in front of strangers. What’s okay at age 5 may be taboo at 15. We may temporarily suspend our definition of bathroom dignity when in the armed forces or on a camping trip. Lyndon Johnson sat on the can with the door open talking to aides as a sign of his power over others.

As a society, Americans put a price tag on bathroom dignity when we decided not to make public bathrooms a series of small water closets or a big room with a number of completely closed off stalls. These private rooms would enable public facilities to become unisex. In both Spain and the Netherlands, stalls in public bathrooms are almost everywhere individual rooms with real locks and even door knobs; and when they are mere stalls, the walls and doors extend from floor to ceiling.  Even in the few public bathrooms in which there is space at the top or the bottom of stalls, it is never more than an inch or so. In both countries, the toilets are always well stocked and clean, even in bus and train stations. Spanish and Dutch societies display respect for the individual reflected in the privacy they give everyone to do what is a very private action for most people. Contrast with America, where high school students in many public urban high schools today have to sit on the porcelain throne in a low-walled, doorless stall.

In America, we would rather cut corners, save a little money and provide less private public bathroom facilities. If Americans valued dignity in the bathroom as much as the Spanish and Dutch do, the challenge of accommodating the bathroom needs of transgenders in public places wouldn’t exist.

A failure to value individual human dignity results in placing the hypothetical rights of those offended by the thought of seeing a trans person in the bathroom over the real rights of  transgenders, who will certainly lose dignity by looking like a woman in the men’s room or a man in the women’s room. They may also lose a pound of flesh or a few teeth, as well. Safety issues aside, a thirst for dignity is at the heart of the desire of the transgendered to use the bathroom of the sex with which they identify.

By contrast, the emotional component of being offended by a trans person in the bathroom is anger, which may be caused by a variety of factors: because the trans person is different, because the viewer’s religious sensitivities have been offended, or perhaps as a reaction to her her-his own confused sexual feelings that contradict what her-his role models say is morally right.

Thus, by not allowing trans people to use the bathroom they want to use, the Trump administration has said it values the anger of some over the dignity of others, which is par for the course for Trumpty-Dumpty. It’s worth noting that lots of thinkers have proposed the idea that if one group is denied dignity or the concepts associated with dignity by a society, everyone in effect is denied it. No one has ever said that about being denied the right to be angry, although the right to express anger in legal, nonviolent ways is protected under the First Amendment. It’s in the nature of a free society to favor the rights of those who are seen as offensive more than those who take offense.

Let’s speak truth to power. Those who want to overturn the Obama transgender rule are doing so for so-called religious or moral reasons. They want to impose their religious value system on the rest of the country. At heart, they oppose all forms of sexuality except heterosexual relations, and those should preferably be between a man and woman who are married to each other. If they can’t outlaw  transgenders, they want to chase them into dark corners, not only to render them invisible but also to make the lives of the transgendered harder than they already are. Moreover, opposition to transgender rights serves as wedge for a slew of other prejudices -– against gay marriage, other LGBTQ rights, abortion, birth control, and sexual self-determination.

Trump’s war on immigrants comes home. Guess what? It’s part of a larger war on our economy & values

The other day I was at a friend’s house when her housekeeper Kelly (not her real name) announced that my friend would probably never see her again. It turns out Kelly is an undocumented worker from a Caribbean country, something my friend never knew since she contracted with a cleaning service, which she assumed handled employment procedures and policies.

Kelly is leaving America now before she is captured in a routine Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) round-up and deported. Her reasoning is impeccable: If she leaves now, she can take her possessions. If she waits until she is picked up, she will likely lose everything not in her immediate possession. The fact that all three of her children in her home country now have good middle class jobs and she has a grandchild back home helped to tip the scales in favor of leaving America.

Kelly is one frightened lady. She quickly reeled off ICE raids she has heard have occurred recently: at the Atlantic Avenue subway station, a major transportation hub in Brooklyn; in Brighton Beach, home of many Russian immigrants; throughout Queens, which is the most ethnically diverse place in the galaxy. She rattled off location after location where immigrants tend to congregate that have been felt the wrath of the ICEmen and ICEwomen coming.

Kelly wasn’t reacting to the raids per se, but to the increased publicity about the raids. My encounter with her came before Trump’s Draconian executive order greatly expanded the categories of undocumented immigrants who would be priorities for deportation. The statistics show that Trump’s ICE is not picking up or deporting undocumented individuals with any greater frequency than Obama’s ICE did. Of course, one of the dirty little secrets of the Obama Administration was the zeal with which his Department of Homeland Security rounded up and deported the undocumented. Kelly, who has never been in trouble with the law anywhere for anything, is reacting not to statistics, or even to her own experiences. Her fears primarily are a response to Donald Trump’s troglodytic chest-thumping and ugly threats. And she is not alone. As the news media have reported, immigrant communities across the country are feeling an overwhelming anxiety over raids and deportation, greater than what they have ever felt before.

We ended up having a lengthy conversation with Kelly. Besides cleaning houses for the service, she also has independent clients, which makes her, as she put, “an entrepreneur.” She certainly displayed many traits of successful entrepreneurs like practicality and a certain business cunning. It also turns out that Kelly is well-versed in current events and seems to know more about immigration trends, the economy and the constitution than the blowhard who won the vote in the Electoral College in the last presidential election. A talented person who is a great asset to her clients and to the overall community. America is a lesser nation without her.

According to all studies, America will be a lesser nation without the millions of people Trump wants to deport.   For example, about seven years ago, a study by economist Giovanni Peri for the Federal Reserve Bank (THE FED) of San Francisco found that when immigration increases, the wages of the average U.S. worker increases a little and that the productivity of the entire economy improves. More recently, Peri and another economist, Andri Chassamboulli, have found that deporting undocumented immigrants decreases employment and would lower the wages of native born Americans, while legalization of the undocumented would increase both employment and wages for American citizens. In other words, sending the undocumented home, as the Trump Administration wants to do, hurts the overall economy and all workers.

Most of the upper middle and solidly middle class people who supported Hillary Clinton (who we should never forget was one of the most qualified presidential candidates in American history and defeated Trump by almost three million votes in the popular election) have expressed sincere empathy with immigrants, Muslims, poor women, those without college diplomas and others who seemed the likeliest victims of Trumpian and Republican wrath, greed and stupidity. Many of those who are well off without being rich have acted on that empathy by attending demonstrations, writing Congressmen and donating to organizations fighting Trump’s policies or helping its victims.

I think for the most part, though, those of the upper middle and solidly middle part of the wealth spectrum thought they wouldn’t be hurt by a Trump Administration, especially once the stock market started to soar. They have jobs, healthcare, money in the bank, and ancestors who came from Europe. I think many have felt a little guilt over the fact that they would probably continue to thrive under Trump’s America. I have no studies on this issue, but see a lot of evidence of it on social media.

But there’s no reason for those who are well off but not rich to feel guilty, because the big hurt Trump and the GOP are planning for America will affect everyone but the very rich. As more immigrants—legal and otherwise—return or are returned to their native countries, the economy will shrink. Business and individuals will find it harder to fill the jobs that immigrants tend to take because native born Americans don’t want them—housekeepers, dishwashers, taxi drivers, short-term laborers, farm workers. Meanwhile, the Republican plan to “fix” the Affordable Care Act will end up raising the cost of health insurance for everyone, even those few people who did not benefit from its implementation. Dismantling pollution regulations will also raise healthcare costs for everyone, as more people will get sick. Wait. There’s more! If Trump gets his way and tariffs on imported goods rise, everyone will end up paying a lot more money for everything they buy. Everything. Lowering taxes on the wealthy will not create any more jobs in the private sector, if the history of western capitalism since before the 19th century holds true, but will reduce government jobs as programs shrink to pay for the additional tax cuts. Lower taxes on the wealthy will soon enough create another bubble in the stock market and/or other assets, as rich folk search desperately for places to park all the extra money they have. History again tell us what will happen. The bubble will burst. Billionaires may lose a couple of hundred million. Those in the upper middle class may lose their retirement savings. The economy will be savaged, putting millions of people who aren’t independently wealthy out of work all along the income spectrum.

There’s a whole mess of pain coming for everyone but the ultra-wealthy.

Not first time GOP deal with a foreign government has helped it win presidential elections while out of power. Nixon & Reagan did it

If the past serves as any predictor, the Senate will not impeach Trump for the large number of contacts his factotums had with Russian intelligence officials before the election, even if we discover that Trump struck a deal to have Russian hackers help him win the election.

No matter that such a deal would be treasonous and clearly against the law. No matter that such a deal would offend our sense of fair play. No matter that such a deal would go against the best interests of the United States.

It’s par for the course for Republican candidates to ask foreign powers to intervene in American presidential elections. It’s what Nixon did in 1968, when he persuaded the South Vietnamese government not to come to the negotiating table in Paris until after the election. In one of the closest elections in history, it’s clear that Nixon’s Democratic opponent, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, would have won if his boss, Lyndon Johnson, had been able to declare that peace talks had begun. Nixon promised the South Vietnamese government that if it refused to negotiate until after the election he would get it a better deal. What he gave us instead was seven more years of war, illegal bombing and the ultimate abandonment of his South Vietnamese partners.

Asking a foreign power to fix an election is also what Ronald Reagan did in 1980. It is well documented that Reagan representatives and the Iranian government struck a deal to postpone release of the American hostages that Iranian radicals took a year earlier. If the Iranians had released the hostages in October, there is no doubt that the surge of positive feeling sit would have sent through the electorate would have turned the election in President Carter’s favor. But Reagan offered the Iranian government something it desperately wanted: guns to battle Iraq. So Reagan made an illegal bargain to sell weapons to a country that at the time was officially an enemy. And what did it do with the money? It used it to support the Contras, a rightwing ragtag guerilla force trying to overthrow the democratically elected government of Nicaragua. Like Nixon, Reagan piled illegality on top of illegality by helping the Contras despite the fact that Congress had voted specifically to ban U.S. military aid them.

During both the Nixon and the Reagan Administration, plenty of people inside and outside of government knew about these treacheries. There were hearings on what became known as Iran-Contragate, but Reagan got a pass, as everything was blamed on subordinates and the Washington establishment pretended that Reagan knew nothing about supplying the Contras. Nixon was and remains untouched by his treasonous negotiations that went against what the American government was trying to do and what the American people wanted it to do. In retrospect, undermining the negotiations and policy of the sitting American government seems like a worse offense than the third-rate Watergate burglary, especially since both involved cover-up operations.

Thus it would be a major break in precedence for a Republican Congress to attempt to dismiss Trump from office for committing treason while a candidate. There may be a Congressional investigation or two about Trump’s pre-election dealings with the Russian government. Other, lesser heads may roll. But while treason is a cause for impeachment, treason while a candidate evidently is not.

Times gives torture advocate John Yoo another chance to rehabilitate himself by blaming Trump for doing worse

In its continuing attempt to characterize as illegal the Trump Administration’s ban on immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim countries, the New York Times has either allowed itself to be manipulated by a long-time supporter of torture or doesn’t really mean it when its editors frequently write that the Times thinks torture is illegal.

How else to explain why the Times published an opinion piece by torture advocate John Yoo?

Yoo, as some will remember, was the Bush II lawyer who wrote the infamous Justice Department memo that said, among other things, that:

  • Waterboarding is not torture
  • Torture does not begin until injury to a vital organ
  • If the President of the United States orders it, it isn’t torture
  • The President is not bound by any international agreements regarding torture.

In his article titled “Executive Power Run Amok,” Yoo goes over some of the actions Trump has already taken that Yoo believes are unconstitutional, such as the orders to build a wall, pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, fire acting attorney general Sally Yates and halt immigration from selected countries.

The American Enterprise Institute scholar begins his article by stating the obvious: that he is a strong defender of the power of the executive. He explicitly states that he feels himself the heir of Alexander Hamilton in advocating the “unitary executive,” which essentially means that the Constitution grants the president all powers not expressly given to other branches of the government. Using himself to demonstrate how truly unique Trump’s power grab has been, he writes, “But even I have grave concerns about Mr. Trump’s uses of presidential power.”

Yoo, and the Times, are both saying that even this extreme advocate of presidential power thinks Trump has overstepped the bounds of presidential power.

But the power Yoo gave the president was to approve something illegal and immoral, and that’s the problem. By presenting Yoo as yet another expert in presidential power who says Trump is acting against the constitution, the Times gives de facto approval to Yoo and the actions he advocated. Here is the key statement in Yoo’s latest attempt at rehabilitating himself by being a mainstream expert on Constitutional law:

“As an official in the Justice Department, I followed in Hamilton’s footsteps, advising that President George W. Bush could take vigorous, perhaps extreme, measures to protect the nation after the Sept. 11 attacks, including invading Afghanistan, opening the Guantánamo detention center and conducting military trials and enhanced interrogation of terrorist leaders. Likewise, I supported President Barack Obama when he drew on this source of constitutional power for drone attacks and foreign electronic surveillance.”

Note all the deception in this paragraph: Like others in the Bush II, he refers to torture as “enhanced interrogation.” He equates torture with invading Iraq and opening a detention center as “extreme” measures taken to protect the country. He calls Gitmo a “detention center,” which kind of misses the point that torture occurred there. He connects his advice that torturing is okay to constitutionally questionable actions Obama took.

All these things are okay, Yoo proclaims, but not what Trump is doing. By accepting Yoo’s premise that action A and B were okay but actions C and D are not, the New York Times accepts Yoo’s assertion that torture is legal if the president orders it.  Yoo did not write, “What I recommended was illegal and so are Trump’s actions.” No, what he is saying is he may have taken it to the extreme, but he remained within the lines, whereas Trump has crossed over into illegality.

This article is not the first time since the revelation of Yoo’s central role in justifying the establishment of a torture gulag that the Times has given him a chance to enhance his reputation by appearing as an expert in its pages. Why does a supposedly liberal newspaper continue to participate in the rehabilitation of this intellectually bankrupt individual? Are the Times editors that stupid that they don’t see they are being used? I know politics makes strange bedfellows, but rightwing, centrist and leftwing scholars, pundits and politicians are falling over themselves to distance themselves from Trump’s obnoxiously racist and stupidly counterproductive immigration ban. Couldn’t the editors find someone else for their daily “Trump is a dangerous ignoramus” guest column?