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Excerpts from 2014 UN Report on Human Rights in North Korea: History of North Korea and Emergence of Kim Dynasty

(For full Document, click here.)

On 21 March 2013, at its 22nd session, the United Nations Human Rights Council established the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Human Rights Council Resolution 22/13 mandated the body to investigate the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the DPRK, with a view to ensuring full accountability, in particular, for violations that may amount to crimes against humanity.

Among the violations to be investigated were those pertaining to the right to food, those associated with prison camps, torture and inhuman treatment, arbitrary detention, discrimination, freedom of expression, the right to life, freedom of movement, and enforced disappearances, including in the form of abductions of nationals of other states. …

Resolution 22/13 urges the Government of the DPRK to cooperate fully with the Commission’s investigation, to permit the Commission’s members unrestricted access to visit the country and to provide them with all information necessary to enable them to fulfil their mandate. Immediately after its adoption, the DPRK publicly stated that it would “totally reject and disregard” the resolution, which it considered to be a “product of political confrontation and conspiracy. In a letter dated 10 May 2013, the DPRK directly conveyed to the President of the Human Rights Council that it “totally and categorically rejects the Commission of Inquiry. Regrettably, this stance has remained unchanged, despite numerous efforts by the Commission to engage the DPRK. …

The Commission reiterated its request to have access to the territory of the DPRK in a letter sent on 16 July 2013 to Mr Kim Jong-un, Supreme Leader and First Secretary of the Workers’ Party of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This letter was unanswered.

The Commission also invited the authorities of the DPRK to send a representative or representatives to scrutinize the evidence and to make submissions during public hearings held by the Commission in Seoul, London and Washington D.C. There was no response to these invitations. …

Before publication, the Commission shared the findings of this report, in their entirety, with the Government of the DPRK and invited comments and factual corrections. A summary of the most serious concerns, in particular those indicating the commission of crimes against humanity, was also included in a letter addressed to the Supreme Leader of the DPRK, Mr Kim Jong-un. To the date of writing of this report, there has been no response. …


During its first meeting in the first week of July 2013, the Commission determined its methodology and programme of work. The Commission decided to pursue the investigation with a maximum of transparency and with due process guarantees to the DPRK, while also ensuring the protection of victims and witnesses.

In carrying out its work, and in assessing the testimony placed before it, the Commission was guided by the principles of independence, impartiality, objectivity, transparency, integrity and the principle of do no harm, including in relation to guarantees of confidentiality and the protection of victims and witnesses. Best practices were applied with regard to witness protection, outreach, rules of procedure, report writing, international investigation standards, and archiving.


In the absence of access to witnesses and sites inside the DPRK, the Commission decided to obtain first-hand testimony through public hearings that observed transparency, due process and the protection of victims and witnesses. Victims and witnesses who had departed the DPRK, as well as experts, testified in a transparent procedure that was open to the media, other observers and members of the general public. More than 80 witnesses and experts testified publicly and provided information of great specificity, detail and relevance, sometimes in ways that required a significant degree of courage.

Public hearings were conducted in Seoul (20-24 August 2013), Tokyo (29-30 August 2013), London (23 October 2013) and Washington, D.C. (30-31 October 2013). The authorities of the Republic of Korea, Japan, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America provided operational and substantive support for the conduct of the public hearings, including by facilitating the identification and hiring of a venue, assisting in the provision of the services of professional interpreters and providing videorecording and transcripts of the proceedings. They also ensured the security of the hearings and facilitated contact with the national and international press corps and relevant civil society organizations and individuals. …

The Commission invited the authorities of the DPRK to attend and, by leave, to ask questions and make representations at the public hearings in Seoul, London and Washington D.C., but received no reply. Instead, the official news agency of DPRK publicly accused the Commission of slander and claimed that witness testimony was fabricated. The Commission repeatedly invited the DPRK to adduce proof of its claims, but received no reply. It also put these claims to witnesses so that they could respond in their own words. Video recordings and transcripts from all public hearings are available on the Commission’s website. The Commission has encouraged members of the public to study the recordings and transcripts in order to form their own opinions of the reliability and consistency of the witness testimony.


Many victims and witnesses who fled the DPRK were prepared to share relevant information, but would not do so publicly as they feared reprisals against family members who still remain in the DPRK. Persons who previously served in an official capacity in the DPRK were often particularly reluctant to be seen to cooperate publicly with the Commission. Some experts on the situation in the DPRK also preferred to be interviewed confidentially in order to preserve space for their direct engagement with the DPRK.

The Commission and its Secretariat conducted over 240 confidential interviews with individual witnesses. These interviews were conducted during visits to Seoul, Tokyo, Bangkok, London, and Washington, D.C. and through videoconferences and telephone calls. …

The Commission also obtained clandestinely-recorded videos and photographs showing relevant sites, documents and correspondence that elucidated alleged violations of human rights in the DPRK. The Commission relied on such material to the extent that it could confirm its authenticity.

The Commission is conscious of the fact that most victims and witnesses cooperating with the Commission had an overall unfavourable opinion of the DPRK’s authorities, though usually not of the country itself or its people. Through its refusal to cooperate with the Commission, the DPRK deprived itself of the opportunity to offer its own perspectives on the human rights situation and to provide information on any advances made in regard to the human rights of its population. …


The DPRK is often referred to as the “Hermit Kingdom” suggesting that the insularity of the North has been characteristic since its beginnings. The largely self-imposed relative isolation of the DPRK today is not, however, an extension of the earlier experiences of pre-modern Korea. It is believed that humans inhabited the Korean peninsula since Neolithic times, with the eventual emergence of settled communities based on agricultural production that led to enough surplus for horses, weapons and armies to sustain centuries of legends of epic battles among various indigenous kingdoms and against outside forces from modern-day China, Japan and Mongolia.

Over the course of pre-modern history, Korea established a class-based system whereby a small aristocratic elite, combining elements of a landed gentry and scholar-officials, eventually to be known as the yangban, ruled over peasants and lower classes that included merchants and labourers. Slavery and indentured servitude were also practised. This class-based system is sometimes characterized as feudal and perhaps more accurately as agrarian-bureaucratic. In theory, this system conferred elite status on men who had passed a rigorous civil service exam and were awarded high-level bureaucratic positions, somewhat analogous to the mandarin system in China. Over time, the yangban became, in practice, a hereditary institution through the family registry system that passed on elite status through the generations, with its self-perpetuating privileges including the right to participate in local councils. …

(Post-WWII Divided Korea and Soviets’ Ushering in Kim Regime)

By 1946, the Soviet Civil Administration devolved authority to the local administration. Kim Il-sung was made head of the Provisional People’s Committee of North Korea. There was less resistance to the Soviet Union’s influence in the North than there was to the United States in the South. In March 1946, the Provisional People’s Committee issued a Land Reform Law which was signed by Kim Il-sung. Land belonging to Japanese entities and individuals as well as large landowners was confiscated and redistributed to former peasant tenants. The land reform in the North was generally successful and helped to strengthen the position of the new regime. In August 1946, the Provisional People’s Committee nationalized industry. Technically, only Japanese owners and Korean collaborators were subject to confiscation, but this effectively included all large and most medium sized industries. Efforts to promote national culture and education were also popular with the people. In 1947, the DPRK launched its first economic plan.

At the top, this early period was marked by intense factional jockeying for power that continued for over a decade. Kim Il-sung began to consolidate his power by placing his supporters, the young guerrillas who had fought with him against Japan in Manchuria—the Guerrilla Faction, into positions of power and purging those who posed a threat to his assumption of authority. In 1946, former Soviet police officer Pang Hak-se was appointed to head the Section on Political Defence of the state within the Security Department, which was the first organization for the political police and counter-intelligence. Pang Hak-se is credited as the founder of the North Korean political police. Despite coming from the Soviet Korean Faction, and not from Kim Il-sung’s own Guerrilla Faction, he maintained lifelong loyalty to him.

Although Kim Il-sung was by most accounts an accomplished guerrilla fighter, he quickly began to bolster his standing through enhancement of his personal record and engendering a cult of personality that has come to characterize the governance of the DPRK and the state’s approach towards freedom of information, opinion and expression. …

Between 1945 and 1948, the 38th parallel turned into a heavily guarded border, while both sides of the divided peninsula contemplated the use of military force to achieve reunification. Tensions and military provocations increased after the respective departures of Soviet and United States forces in 1948. On 25 June 1950, Kim Il-sung, after finally securing support from both Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, initiated the Korean War by sending up to 90,000 Korean People’s Army troops over the 38th parallel in a multi-pronged attack that surprised both the ROK authorities and their United States advisors. Kim Il-sung was staking his claim to the leadership of the entire peninsula based on the perceived illegitimacy of the ROK leadership and expectations of insurgency in the South. … On 27 June 1950, President Truman ordered United States air and naval forces to support the ROK. …

The Korean War ended in 1953 in a ceasefire. On 27 July 1953, the Armistice Agreement was signed by Lieutenant General of the United States Army William K. Harrison, Jr., for the United Nations Command, and General of the Korean People’s Army Nam Il for the Korean People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Volunteers. Over 2 million Koreans had been killed. Around 600,000 Chinese and over 36,000 United States combatants died. … 

United States military historian S.L.A. Marshall called the Korean War the “century’s nastiest little war”. It has also been referred to as the Forgotten War in the United States. The conflict, however, is far from forgotten in the DPRK where the war sacrifices were used to bolster the narrative of Kim Il-sung’s “forging of the nation”. In the DPRK, the authorized history remains that the Fatherland Liberation War was started by the United States, and that Kim Il-sung not only defended the nation but wrought devastation on the American military. This rhetoric continued for decades. For example, food aid from the United States provided during the mass starvation in the 1990s was reportedly explained to the population as war reparations.

The legacy of the Korean War remains unresolved. … There has not been a comprehensive peace treaty. On both sides of the border, there remains fear of invasion and infiltration. In the DPRK, this fear has been instrumental in maintaining a state of emergency invoked to justify harsh governmental rule and its accompanying human rights violations. In this context, perceived political dissidents have been branded as spies in the service of foreign powers. Shortages in food and other essential means of survival have been blamed on a hostile outside world. …


While Confucian principles have remained enmeshed in Korean culture, in the North they were in many ways instrumentalized by Kim Il-sung in the effort to consolidate his authority and that of the Workers’ Party of Korea under his control. The relationship between sovereign and subject that is enunciated as a mutually binding one under traditional Confucian precepts has been stretched to one of absolute obedience to the leader as articulated in the suryong, or Supreme Leader, system established by Kim Il-sung and carried on under Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un. The “Mandate of Heaven”, a Confucian principle, is the right to rule granted to ancient Korean rulers by the gods. This mandate conveyed obligations on rulers to rule justly and fairly and for the benefit of all the people. The Suryong system positioned Kim Il-sung (and his heir apparent) as unchallenged rulers due to their proclaimed wisdom and benevolence under which the general population would live in a prosperous and righteous society. In this way, the suryong system has facilitated the unchecked violation of human rights in the DPRK. …

From the early days of the DPRK, Kim Il-sung and the Workers’ Party of Korea had employed the law and the justice system for purposes of maintaining the Party’s supremacy and suppressing political dissent.

…The Criminal Code currently in use defines “Crimes against the state or the people” (called anti-revolutionary crimes in the past) in such broad and vague terms that the exercise of any number of human rights can be prosecuted as a crime. … Decisions of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the Supreme Leader are generally considered to override formal laws.

(Insular-Hampered Economy)

In the mid-1970s, per capita GNP in South and North Korea was about the same. Once assistance from outside dried up the DPRK did not have the skills or the political will to address its deeply rooted economic problems. For a brief period in the 1970s, the DPRK attempted to borrow funds from the international community. However, the state had no plans on how to re-pay these debts or how to invest these resources into the development of the country. The DPRK went into default on billions of dollars and was unable to borrow further. The choices that the leadership made over the years led to serious food shortages long before the famine of the 1990s. Recurring patterns of shortages are reported as early as 1945-46, 1954-55 and 1970-73. Survival of the political system and its leadership rather than systemic economic development or concern about feeding its population appears to have been the priority of the DPRK leadership.


Kim Jong-il spent 20 years preparing for his succession to power. According to reports, it had actually been his uncle, Kim Yong-chu, his father’s younger brother, who had been the original presumptive heir to Kim Il-sung. Kim Jong-il was eventually able to side-line his uncle and win the confidence of his father particularly through his efforts to expand the cult of personality of Kim Il-sung. It was really in 1972 that the intensity of the cult of personality of Kim Il-sung surpassed those of Mao Zedong or Joseph Stalin. DPRK citizens began to wear badges with his picture in addition to hanging his portrait on their walls. …

Once the Central Committee elected Kim Jong-il to membership of the Politburo and endorsed his selection as Kim Il-sung’s heir in 1974, he deepened the ideological basis of the Suryong system. Kim Jong-il announced the “Ten Principles in Establishing Party’s Monolithic Ideological System” which called for “unconditional obedience” and “all our loyalty” to Kim Il-sung. … The “Central Party” was understood to mean Kim Jong-il. …

Kim Il-sung died in 1994 at the age of 82. In 1997, Kim Jong-il further consolidated his grip on the state security apparatus when he transformed the Social Safety Agency into the Ministry of People’s Security and expanded the overall apparatus. On the basis of these changes, the state security apparatus expanded into a system that rested on five pillars. These continue to be in place under the present Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. …

In many cases, the three main security agencies—State Security Department, Ministry of People’s Security and Military Security Command—competed to show their efficiency in identifying ideological opponents to gain favour with Kim Jong-il. In relation to incidents or issues seen as major political threats, the Supreme Leader or central-level decision-making organs required security agencies to coordinate their investigations. There are reports that semi-permanent structures were set up by secret order of Kim Jong-il and maintained under Kim Jong-un. …

…The DPRK embarked on a quest to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. The DPRK presently has the world’s fourth largest standing army with 1.2 million active troops and 7.1 to 8.3 million in paramilitary reserves. It is believed that the DPRK’s military capability has been steadily decreasing due to obsolescence of equipment, difficulty in training, and lowering of standards for soldiers following the overall decline in nutritional status of the population and its subsequent impact on the height of prospective recruits. As the DPRK has experienced this decrease in capability, it has responded by focusing on the development of nuclear weapons and other “asymmetrical forces” such as special operations forces, chemical and biological weapons, and mini-submarines. Reportedly, the DPRK has one of the world’s largest stocks of chemical weapons. In addition to destabilizing security in the region and further isolating the DPRK, the drive to be a nuclear state has had profound consequences on resource allocation in the DPRK particularly as parts of the population were already reported to be food insecure for some time. …

Between 1996 and 1999, it is estimated that between 450,000 and 2 million people starved to death.

One of the unintended consequences of the human-made famine was the widespread emergence of informal markets. It is estimated that informal economic activities reached 78 per cent of total income for North Korean households a decade after the famine. As the Public Distribution System was no longer able to provide even minimal amounts of food, the authorities were unable to exercise the level of control they had once been able to. The breakdown of social control led to fissures in the blockade on information from outside the country. At the same time, control on the freedom of movement was loosened as large numbers of people attempted to escape from the DPRK and others sought to obtain supplies from China to trade. As many more North Koreans travelled back and forth to China, they were seeing for themselves the relative prosperity of China and received information about the ROK (South Korea) which was vastly different from the official propaganda of the government. The leadership made numerous efforts to rein in the markets and constrain the freedom of movement. These measures met with various levels of resistance. …

Following his stroke [in 2008], Kim Jong-il began to focus more explicitly on the issue of his succession. Until 2001, his first-born son, Kim Jong-nam, had been presumed to be heir-apparent when with several family members he attempted to enter Japan on fake Dominican passports. In early 2009, the official propaganda organs started mentioning the “New Star General”. Formal evidence of the selection of Kim Jong-un as Kim Jong-il’s heir apparent only emerged in 2010. … On 19 December 2011, the government announced that Kim Jong-il had died two days earlier. Dynastic succession promptly moved to the third generation of Kim Il-sung’s family. It appears that this transition occurred without any formal democratic process or effective engagement with the people of the DPRK. …

After assuming supreme power in the DPRK, Kim Jong-un expressed his desire to revive the country’s economy.

The Commission has met with credible international sources who have remarked on increased signs of prosperity in Pyongyang in the past couple of years. They cite the increased use of mobile phones in the DPRK (albeit without international access), believed to number up to 2 million subscribers, as well as the prevalence of new vehicles on the formerly quiet streets. They marvel at the opening of new restaurants which appear to be well-frequented. Some observers have been noting what could be modernizing trends in the DPRK from Kim Jong-un appearing publicly with his wife in contrast to his father and grandfather, the brief appearance of an unlicensed Mickey Mouse dancing with an unlicensed Winnie the Pooh at a state-sponsored musical performance, and the commercial launching of the country’s own home-grown tablet computer. Kim Jong-un himself has also been promoting sports in the DPRK by making public appearances at various athletic events.

At the same time, there has been a clampdown on the country’s borders since Kim Jong-un’s succession to power. The number of North Koreans who have reached the ROK fell significantly in 2012 and 2013. The Commission has received reports of the use of blackmail and coercion against those who have

left the country, including threats to family members in the DPRK to entice them to return to the DPRK. Certainly, a number of Koreans who have returned to the DRPK from the ROK have appeared on state television to express their apparent remorse for leaving and voicing criticism of life in the South. Other control measures that have been reported include Kim Jong-un placing new limits on privately-funded education abroad by elite families.

The sudden execution of Jang Song-thaek, Kim Jong-un’s uncle, in December 2013, appears to be part of Kim Jong-un’s consolidation process. Jang Song-thaek had been considered the “control tower”, due to his role as a guide to the new leader, and was widely considered to be second-in-command within the DPRK power structure. He was the husband of the sister of Kim Jong-il and daughter of Kim Il-sung. Her condition was uncertain at the time this report was finished.

IMG_1105  Kim Jong-Un


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

NY: Moskowitz Plans to Boost Number of Success Academy Grads a Hundredfold by 2028. Um.

On June 07, 2018, NY-based Success Academies (SA) graduated its first senior class: 16 students.

SA was the brainchild of hedge funders Joel Greenblatt and John Petry. In 2006, they hired Eva Moskowitz as the CEO of their schools. They even created a special nonprofit to help pay her salary.

In January 2018, NYC teacher Gary Rubinstein noted that SA’s twelfth graders (then numbering 17, but graduating only 16) derived from 73 first graders in 2006-07, which means that SA graduated in 2018 at best 22 percent of its 2007 first graders. (I write “at best” because SA chooses not to accept new students beyond fourth grade. See Rubinstein’s post for more.) So, SA experiences notable attrition.

Even so, on June 07, 2018, Moskowitz tweeted that she expects the number of SA graduates to increase a hundredfold by 2028:


In order to make that happen, Moskowitz is going to have to figure out how to retain students, with the number of SA graduates in 2028 notably dependent upon the number of SA students enrolled in the elementary grades– the point at which SA refuses to accept new students.

In the case of the senior class of 2028, these students would have been first graders in 2016-17 and second graders in 2017-18. Time to consider some enrollment numbers.

According to New York State Dept. of Ed. (NYSED) school enrollment stats, 29 schools were identified as SA schools in 2016-17. Each school and its corresponding first-grade enrollment is listed below in blue. Furthermore, second grade enrollment for the same 29 schools is also included in green.

  • Union Square: 97  113
  • Hell’s Kitchen: 92  102
  • Harlem 1: 91  94
  • Harlem 4: 93  92
  • Upper West: 101  99
  • Harlem 3: 97  102
  • Harlem 2: 102  115
  • Harlem 5: 92  96
  • Washington Heights: 83  96
  • Bronx 1: 89  82
  • Bronx 3: 90  96
  • Bronx 4: 89  98
  • Bronx 2: 95  110
  • Fort Greene: 95  95
  • Bedford-Stuyvesant 1: 96  89
  • Bedford-Stuyvesant 2: 64  61
  • Williamsburg: 85  92
  • Cobble Hill: 76  74
  • NYC 9: 38  54
  • Prospect Heights: 81  80
  • Crown Heights: 121  123
  • NYC 8: 60  72
  • Bensonhurst: 96  98
  • NYC 4: 63  90
  • NYC 10: 56  65
  • Bergen Beach: 95  87
  • NYC 13: 66  67
  • Rosedale: 93  107
  • Springfield: 91  95

Based upon the above, SA schools had 2,487 first graders in 2016-17. A 2028 graduating class of 1,600 requires roughly 64 percent of these SA first graders need to make it to twelfth grade. (Again, since SA accepts new students through fourth grade, it is possible for there to be greater than 36 percent attrition among the original 2017 first graders, but not realistically by too much.)

However, from 2016-17 to 2017-18, SA schools added 157 students to its class of 2028 cohort, with second grade enrollment for 2017-18 totaling 2,644 students.

Note that after second grade, SA enrollment historically declines.

Moreover, if SA continues to graduate around 22 percent of its original first graders, this means that the SA 2028 graduating class would be around 547 students, which would fall far short of Moskowitz’s projected 1,600. Even if the number of 2028 grads equals 22 percent of total 2017-18 second grade enrollment, the total would be 582 students– still a far cry from Moskowitz’s anticipated 1,600.

In her tweet, Moskowitz also expects 7,000 SA graduates for the ten school years from 2018-19 to 2027-28. Now, she has already declared that 2027-28 to have 1,600, which leaves 5,400 to graduate over the remaining nine school years: an average of 600 graduates per year through 2026-27.

Unless there is some miracle of SA student retention throughout the middle- and high-school years, it isn’t happening.

As it is, on the same day as SA’s first graduation, Moskowitz’s high schoolers made the news for pushing back against her expectation that summer vacation is nothing more than an extended homework session, as the June 07, 2018, NY Daily News reports:

Students are revolting against summer homework “abuse” at Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy High School for the Liberal Arts in Manhattan.

A new petition created by a pair of students says the school must scrap a plan to compel teens to read five books over the eight-week summer break.

While summer reading lists are common at elite public and private schools, mandatory summer assignments are less prevalent, especially at more typical schools.

 And Success Academy students are throwing their support behind the online anti-homework petition launched June 1 that already has 563 signatures — even though the school’s enrollment is only 465.

“The number of my peers I have seen crying and having panic attacks in the hallways is depressing,” the petition states. “We cannot just sit here and let administration continue with this abuse and damage us.”

As of this writing, the SA students’ petition has 656 signatures. The full text of the petition is as follows:


We as a student body have constantly been silenced by the leaders of Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts. We’ve all received the summer homework and the amount of anxiety that has emerged is damning. Specialized schools such as Brooklyn Tech, Loomis Chaffee, Phillip Exeter are the best schools in New York; however, they do not have summer homework of this magnitude. As principals, they believe students should read five books in six weeks.  When one of the principals served as an ELA teacher students only read one book in five months and did no writing assignments in AP Literature outside of test prep.

What we are doing during the summer is what we should’ve been doing during the school year. SAHSLA-MA (SA’s Manhattan high school) and BX (SA’s Bronx high school, housed in same building, different floors), we all must come together and stop being silenced; through the signing of this petition we are not only able to gain support to revise the summer homework but to call attention to the detrimental effects of how overwhelming academic work has been on us.

At this point, the psychological impacts are not even overlooked..they are literally swept under the rug and we cannot just sit here and let administration continue with this abuse and damage us. The school provided us with a seminar about stress management, and in a matter of a week they launched out the immense amount of summer homework right before the day of the standardized SAT II exam. The number of my peers I have seen crying and having panic attacks in the hallways is depressing. We all must call for our parents and shine a light on the drastic decrease in employment of teachers causing us to be orphans without a staff or administration to turn to.

#TellYourParents #SayOurNameNotOurTestScores #WallStreetJournalGotItWrong

If Moskowitz wants to grow her SA high schools, she might need to actually negotiate with her students.

Sixteen is a long way from 1,600.

Eva Moskowitz of Success Academy

Eva Moskowitz (Photo by Benjamin Lowy/Getty Images)


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Utah Asked USDOE for ESSA Testing Waiver to Honor Parents’ Rights; USDOE Said (Wait for It…) No.

On May 01, 2018, Utah state superintendent Sydnee Dickson sent this waiver request to Betsy DeVos’ USDOE regarding parental rights to opt their children out of state tests– as protected by state law. The Every Student Succeeds Acts (ESSA) (the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, or ESEA) requires that 95 percent of eligible students participate in state tests in order to qualify for Title I funding.

A primary concern is that scoring opt-out students’ tests as zeroes skews test-based school accountability and potentially misidentifies “low performing” schools– with opt-outs “highest” at charter and virtual schools. Some excerpts:

The waiver request, if granted, would enable the state to maintain one coherent accountability system, allow Utah to more accurately identify schools in need of improvement, and avoid undermining the transparency of our accountability system, including the ability of policymakers, educators, parents, and students to make informed decisions.

Utah policymakers strongly support parents’ rights in directing and overseeing a student’s education. State law authorizes a parent to excuse a student from taking a statewide assessment…. State law also requires the Utah State Board of Education (USBE) to prevent negative impact to a local education agency’s (LEA) or an LEA’s employees through the school accountability system due to parental opt-out….

ESEA section 1111(c)(4)(E) requires that, for the purpose of measuring, calculating, and reporting on the achievement indicator in the school accountability system, a state education agency must include in the denominator the greater of the number of students participating in the assessments or the number equal to 95 percent of all students. This methodology essentially requires states to include non-tested students as zeros, or non-proficient, in the calculation of the achievement indicator for a school when the assessment participation rate of a school is below 95 percent. …

Parental opt-out in Utah is not highly concentrated in Title I schools or among traditionally underserved student groups. Only twelve percent of the schools with an opt-out rate above five percent are Title I schools (about one-third of our schools overall are Title I schools). Additionally, students who are not economically disadvantaged and not minority are choosing to opt-out of statewide assessments at
higher rates than other student groups….

Utah’s accountability system operates under the theory of action that the accountability indicators accurately measure school performance and therefore: 1) accurately identify gaps in achievement; and 2) accurately identify the lowest performing schools in need of state support and improvement resources. Counting non-tested students as non-proficient in school accountability calculations undermines the validity of the accountability system by inferring that non-tested students are non-proficient. The reality is that the proficiency of the non-tested student is unknown. The intent of the ESSA requirement is presumably to
eliminate perverse incentives to discourage low performing or targeted groups of students from participating in statewide assessments. However, this policy does not translate as intended in a state with liberal parental opt-out laws. …

The accountability system is used to identify low performing schools and direct school improvement resources to the lowest performing five percent of schools in the state, with the intention of advancing student academic achievement. Counting non-tested students as non-proficient in school accountability calculations (ESSA methodology) may redirect resources away from schools where students have the lowest proficiency levels and highest academic needs to the schools with high opt-out rates. Charter schools and online schools in Utah would be disproportionately impacted by applying this methodology because opt-out rates are highest in these educational settings.

USDOE said nothing doing. From USDOE’s waiver denial letter to Dickson, signed by “principal deputy assistant secretary” Jason Botel. The heart of Botel’s reasoning is as follows:

At the core of the ESEA are the requirements that each state that receives Title I, Part A funds adopt challenging academic standards and aligned academic assessments that the State administers to all public students in the State. These provisions ensure that a State holds all students to the same State-determined challenging academic standards and annually measures whether students have learned the content those standards demand. The State assessments provide invaluable information to parents…

Let me stop there.

It’s the parents who are choosing to opt their children out of the tests.

USDOE is led by a “parental empowerment” zealot, Betsy DeVos. However, her parental choice stops short of parents’ choice to forego state tests.

DeVos also frequently defaults to “states’ rights” when pitching school choice (or when simply dodging confrontation about her preference for corporate freedom over student protections, for example).

Perhaps it’s unfair of me to pursue DeVos over USDOE’s denial of Utah’s request for waiver. ESSA was drafted to pretend to empower states. From a post I wrote in June 2016:

ESSA is sneakier than the direct, punitive approach of the testing mandate in NCLB (ESSA precursor, No Child Left Behind). ESSA seals the deal for 95 percent of enrolled students in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school as being required to complete the mandated tests even as it includes a disclaimer that states are not to hinge any opt out laws on ESSA’s Title I testing mandate.

And what does this do? It plays the ends against the middle. In other words, through the ESSA testing mandate– and in this post-NCLB atmosphere of growing parent, student, teacher, and administrator resistance against test-centric reform– schools and districts will be pitted against states regarding the federally required, ESSA Title I tests. Thus, the feds will pressure the states to make that 95 percent testing happen (even as the feds say, “Don’t pin any formal opt out decision on us.), and the states, in turn, are left to strong arm districts and schools (i.e., parents) into forced testing– all of which increasingly provokes parents to increasingly opt out of those federally mandated tests.

So, in Botel’s response to Dickson, USDOE is telling a state, “If you want Title I funding, you better meet the 95-percent testing threshold.”

I don’t think any federal funding will be lost by states without that 95 percent this year; according to ESSA, those states will be allowed to offer a remediation plan to get that testing participation up.

In other words, the federal government expects states to even *remediate* their state laws and local policies ensuring a parent’s right to opt out of ESSA-mandated state tests.

Parental empowerment hypocrisy, as I noted in this March 2016 post:

ESSA plays a game with states via its Title I 95 percent annual testing requirement for grades 3 through 8 and once in high school in English language arts (ELA) and math. On page 36, ESSA traps states into including 95 percent of all enrolled students in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school as the denominator in determining annual measures of achievement on the mandated (yet state-selected) standardized tests. At the same time, ESSA tries to exonerate itself from driving state and local opt out policies by offering a “rule of construction” regarding the right of parents to opt their children out of testing.

ESSA requires the 95 percent of testing for the states even as it says, “Don’t pin your state opt-out policies on us for our federal policy.”

ESSA also requires that states include that 95 percent testing in state accountability systems (page 36).  States, districts and schools are able to apply for “waivers of statutory and regulatory requirements,” but this only puts states, districts, or schools at the mercy of the US secretary of education.

No mercy for Utah.

No surprise to me.

getschooled test


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Betsy DeVos Wants School Safety on Her Terms (Which Might Include Utilizing Vacant Museums)

US ed sec Betsy DeVos garners much press for her inability/unwillingness to forego her plastic smile and school choice infomercialistic speech and instead actually engage in true conversation with those who approach her with real-life situations affecting public education in America.

However, DeVos has no real interest in assisting traditional public education, quite the opposite; she works toward its undoing, including her mannequin-like responsiveness in discussions of the US education budget with members of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on Tuesday, June 05, 2018.

Of course, the biggest news is that DeVos declared that the federal school safety commission created following the Parkland, Florida, school shooting does not have as its commission “per se” looking into the role of firearms. DeVos’ response was quickly followed by a “clarification” from US dept of ed spokesperson Liz Hill, as captured in Salon:

“That’s not part of the commission’s charge, per se,” the education secretary said in response to a question from Senator Patrick J. Leahy, D-VT, about whether the commission would study the impact of firearms in school shootings.

“So we’ll look at gun violence in schools, but not look at guns?” Leahy shot back in response. “An interesting concept.”

“We are actually studying school safety and how we can ensure our students are safe at school,” DeVos responded.

Leahy followed up with a question at the core of the commission’s stated mission, asking whether an 18-year-old high school student should be able to walk into a store and “moments later come out with an AR-15-style gun and hundreds of rounds in ammunition.”

DeVos dodged the question, telling Leahy that the topic was “very much a matter for debate.”

DeVos’ comments contradict the mission statement of the commission. The Education Department’s website says the commission was “charged with quickly providing meaningful and actionable recommendations to keep students safe at school,” including a “discussion on minimum age for firearms purchases.” …

Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the department, clarified after the hearing that “the secretary and the commission continue to look at all issues the president asked the committee to study and are focused on making recommendations that the agencies, states and local communities can implement,” the New York Times reports.
“It’s important to note that the commission cannot create or amend current gun laws — that is the Congress’s job,” Hill added.

No one is asking DeVos’ commission to “create or amend gun laws.”

There’s so much that DeVos could do with this commission– which could have led to a competent response to Senator Leahy’s question.

DeVos could have chosen to convene school administrators, teachers, and students from across the US in order to discuss school safety concerns, including issues of gun violence in schools. She could use such an opportunity as a forum to discuss what works and what does not work in schools and districts across the nation.

Then she could simply compose a report for Congress in order to offer any number of suggestions. Of course, some suggestions might well step on her far-right Republican, “guns for grizzlies” sensibilities.

DeVos could have told Senator Leahy (and the nation), “The Department plans to convene an advisory group comprised of school administrators, teachers, and students from across the nation. Given the unfortunate rash of gun violence in schools, I expect that this advisory group would certainly discuss the issue and seek to offer potential solutions for making our schools safer.”

Had she responded thus, DeVos would have sounded competent, connected, and concerned.

Instead, her “per se” response leaves her (as usual) disconnected and protective of a political agenda– one unwilling to upset a gun lobby.

But she was more than willing to pitch school choice options, including online education, to West Virginia– and once again feature in neon lights her ignorance of state-level concerns. From the Washington Post:

[West Virginia Senator, Joe] Manchin said the federal Education Department was cutting money for basic education programs and boosting money for school choice options that rural areas of West Virginia could not pursue.

MANCHIN: In small rural states, the only choice we have is either improving the education we have or doing without. There’s not an option in some of the rural areas, so I’m concerned about the $3.6 billion that are being cut while at the same time they’re shifting $1.5 billion from critical education programs to school choice. That’s going to be very, very hard. So wouldn’t your choice program simply leave holes in our West Virginia — I mean, the way it is right now, our West Virginia school budget created by these proposed cuts is just going to leave a hole we can’t fill.

DEVOS: Well, sir, the proposal around choice really does offer rural districts opportunities to think differently and to meet students’ needs differently as well, and that’s really sort of the big picture.

MANCHIN: In West Virginia, we’re not trying to — we just can’t afford to start another education system. We don’t have the market where the private market is moving into that. All we’re doing is taking funds away from hopefully enhancing a system, making it better than what we have right now.

DEVOS: But sometimes you can think of choice differently. And I think we often think in terms of infrastructure and buildings, and in rural areas I understand that maybe the biggest challenge is maybe a school not able to offer some AP courses because they simply don’t have enough students. So offering course choice via a virtual classroom is an opportunity to . . .

MANCHIN: That would be great, except I don’t even have Internet connection in most of the rural areas and even cell service.

DeVos then said that some of the school choice funding could be used for connectivity issues. At that point, Manchin invited her to visit some rural areas in West Virginia so she could better understand the issues.

DeVos doesn’t get what it would take to bring online classes to areas that in 2018 still lack cellular service. But she is willing to offer single-sentence solutions.

She certainly has no use for Manchin’s statement, “We just can’t afford to start another education system.” Not to worry, Senator Manchin. Betsy DeVos would just as soon shut down West Virginia’s traditional public schools in favor of school choice that theoretically works– “and that’s really sort of the big picture.”

One more:

In discussing issues of school infrastructure in Rhode Island, DeVos has a novel suggestion to bypass the state’s need for an estimated $30B in facilities repairs, as also captured in the Washington Post:

[Rhode Island Senator, Jack] REED: The American Society of Civil Engineers gives our school facilities a D-plus rating, about a $30 billion gap between necessary repairs to bring them up to standard. And that’s certainly a level that can’t be supported by states and localities alone. … The kids are not being well educated not because they don’t have good teachers. It’s just when the windows are broken and the computers are damaged by rain and all those things. So just what are you doing to address this issue and improving school facilities? …

DEVOS: … As you know, the specifics around school infrastructure were not part of the [president’s] infrastructure proposal, and that really does not fall under the purview of the federal Department of Education. These issues are left to the state and local communities to deal with, and that’s where those are best addressed.

REED: The issue of addressing them goes to, just like highways, roads and bridges, yes, but without federal support they won’t be effectively addressed. We’re spending a lot of time here talking about educational reform, programmatic reform, enhancing teacher skills, etc., when kids are sitting in rooms where the ceilings are falling in, the windows are broken. And shouldn’t you be advocating that the president incorporate this in his infrastructure plan? That this is absolutely critical to education success?

DEVOS: Well, I absolutely think learning environments are important to students. But I also think that we can have an opportunity to think a little more broadly as well. I visited a school last week that is a public middle school located in a public museum. And the whole city is their classroom. And these are the kinds of approaches that I think more schools can be thinking about and utilizing, and I would encourage that because the world has changed.

REED: Madame secretary, that is a novel and  unique experience. … Too many schools are just without basic maintenance and funds for rehabilitation, and it’s an issue that is an educational issue. You do not see the connection between a suitable school facility with adequate heat and windows and an education? That’s disconnected?

DEVOS: I do think that’s part of the educational experience.

Reed then asked her if she would advocate that the president include schools in federal infrastructure spending.

She replied: “Infrastructure is a state and local issue, and it’s a matter for those entities to address and deal with.”

“Not my problem,” says billionaire ed sec.

But Rhode Island’s situation might still be useful to DeVos:

She might shift the focus of her school safety commission away from the g-word by *rethinking* school safety in terms of saving students from dilapidated facilities by housing them in museums– museums with internet connectivity, of course.

Betsy DeVos 3  Betsy DeVos


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Building a Grad Nation— Complete with Gaps and Loopholes

On June 05, 2018, EdWeek published an article entitled, “There Are Now More High Schools With Low Graduation Rates. Why?” The article concerns this report released by America’, entitled, “Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Raising High School Graduation Rates: Annual Update 2018.”

The 84-page 2018 grad report includes a number of interesting tables, including those regarding state graduation rates. For example, information found in Table 3 (page 23) of the 2018 grad report shows large school district progress from 2011 – 2016 by state. What is particularly interesting in Table 3 is the breakdown of percentages of state school districts by their contribution to the overall state graduation rate and what those percentages show.  Just because a state’s graduation rate rises, that does not mean that all district graduation rates are faring well. Consider New Mexico: Even though the overall graduation rate rose 3 percent from 2011 to 2016, for 21 percent of New Mexico districts, the gain was actually greater than 10 percent– which serves to offset the news that almost half of New Mexico’s districts (47 percent) have grad rates that either remained the same or decreased from 2011 to 2016. Too, in Kentucky, the 2011-2016 state grad rate rose a single point. However, 20 percent of its districts had an increase greater than 5.1%– a result hidden by the 48 percent of districts with rates either remaining the same or decreasing.


Given that American public education has long been in the throes of test score and other quantifiable-stat obsession, and given that states and districts have been pushing for ever-higher test scores and grad rates as a condition of fiscal survival, I find it amazing that according to Table 3, in 19 states, at least one in three districts (33 percent) have graduation rates that either remained the same or declined from 2011-2016. But this information potentially remains hidden behind state-level reporting; only one state (Vermont) had no change in its state-level graduation rate from 2011-2016.

Below are some details from the 2018 grad report concerning Table 3:

Within the table, a few patterns can be seen. In four states where substantial statewide efforts to raise graduation rates were undertaken – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and West Virginia – the majority of districts experienced large graduation rate gains, and relatively few had no improvement or backsliding. In each of these states, the median rate of improvement for school districts was very substantial, at least 10 percentage points. In other words, in these states half of the school districts saw improvements that were at least two times greater than the national rate of growth. This is a clear sign that significant high school graduation rate improvements were widely distributed across the school districts in these states.

There is a second set of improving states, however, where statewide gains were driven by a smaller set of districts. In these states, a subset of larger school districts that experienced substantial improvement were able to offset lower rates of growth among the majority of school districts in their state. In New Mexico and New Jersey, for example, more districts saw no gains or back sliding than experienced improvements above the national rate of growth. Yet, in New Mexico, the 32 percent of districts with gains above the national rate and in New Jersey the 20 percent of districts with such gains were able (due to their relative size) to propel both states to
overall graduation rate gains that were greater than the rate of national improvement.

A third set of states fell between these two poles. States like California, Oregon, Mississippi, and North Carolina saw 40 to 60 percent of their school districts growing above the national rate of improvement, which more than offset the substantial number of districts growing at slower rates or going backwards.

Other interesting information can be found in Table 4 (page 28), ” States with the Highest Proportion of Black Nongraduates, 2016.”

Included in the listing of 15 states are several states with notable overall rises in state graduation rates from 2011-2016. Second on the high-Black-nongrad listing is Louisiana, which according to Table 3 has an 8-point rise in overall graduation rate from 2011-2016. However, in 2016, 54.6 percent of Louisiana’s nongraduates were Black, outpacing the percentage of Black students in the 2016 cohort (44 percent). A second example is Georgia, with its 14-point rise in state-level, 2011-2016 graduation rate; 44.2% of Georgia’s 2016 nongraduates were Black, with the overall percentage of Black students in the 2016 cohort at 38.2 percent.

From the 2018 grad report:

In 2016, Black students made up only 15.8 percent of the total graduating cohort, but they comprised 23.5 percent of the nation’s non-graduates. In nearly half of states – 22 in all – Black students made up about a quarter or more of students not graduating in four years, and in two of those states – Mississippi (60.2 percent) and Louisiana (54.6 percent) – more than half of all students not graduating in four years are Black.

Though many of these states in Table 4 have among the highest percentage of Black students in their graduating cohort and higher graduation rates for Black students than the national average, all have a disproportionate percentage of Black non-graduates.

The 2018 grad report also consider states with highest proportions of Hispanic nongraduates in 2016. From the report:

…Hispanic students comprised 23.3 percent of the national graduating cohort in 2016, but they made up 30.4 percent of all non-graduates. In 11 states, the percentage of Hispanic non-graduates is greater than the national average. In three of those states – California (61 percent), New Mexico (59.5 percent), and Texas (59.4 percent) – Hispanic students made up well over half of all non-graduates, though in New Mexico, the percentage of Hispanic non-graduates aligns closely with the percentage of Hispanic students in the cohort. Unlike states with high proportions of Black non-graduates, the majority of states with high proportions of Hispanic non-graduates tend to have lower graduation rates for these students than the national average.

Next, let us consider low-income students. Overall, cohort graduation rates of low-income students have risen from 2014 to 2016; however, in some states, the gap is widening:

Nearly half of the country’s 2016 graduating cohort – 47.6 percent – came from low-income families. While this represents a slight decrease from the 2014 cohort, it emphasizes that low-income students must remain a central focus in efforts to boost graduation rates and educational equity across the nation. In 2016, 77.6 percent of low-income students graduated on time, compared to 90 percent of non-low-income students.

In 2016, 36 states graduated less than 80 percent of low-income students, and one-quarter of those states (nine) graduated less than 70 percent. This shows marked progress from 2011, when all but two states had low-income graduation rates below 80 percent, and 22 of them graduated less than 70 percent of low-income students.

The graduation gap between low-income and non-low-income students ranges from a high of 24 percentage points in South Dakota to a low of 2.8 percentage points in Indiana. Aside from Indiana, Midwestern States were home to the largest graduation gaps for low-income students. States with the four largest graduation gaps and five of the six largest gaps between low-income students and their peers were located in the region.

While states like South Dakota and North Dakota have some of the smallest proportions of low-income students, with cohorts of 29.4 percent and 26.5 percent respectively, more than 40 percent in Michigan and Ohio were low-income.

  • In five states, the gap between low-income students and non-low-income students is greater than 20 percentage points. In total, 39 states had gaps greater than 10 percentage points in 2016.
  • Both North Dakota and Connecticut have graduation rates above 87 percent – well above the national average – but the 2nd and 10th largest gaps, respectively.
  • While gaps between low-income and non-low-income students have decreased in the majority of states over the past six years, 16 states have actually seen the graduation rate gap between low-income students and their more affluent peers increase.

The states with the highest proportions of non-graduates who are low-income differ greatly by geography and overall income-level, illustrating the degree to which high- and low-income states must address the graduation rates of their low-income students. For example, of the 10 states with the largest proportions of low-income non-graduates, three were among the 10 richest states in the country by median household income in 2016 (Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California), while 2 were among the 10 poorest states by median household income (Mississippi and Louisiana) (United States Census Bureau, 2017).

  • In California and Kansas, more than eight in 10
    students who failed to graduate from high school
    were low-income. In 12 states, three out of every
    four students who did not graduate high school were
  • Six states have low-income graduation rates above
    the national average for all students of 84.1 percent
    (Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas,
    West Virginia).
  • While most states saw increases in their low-income
    graduation rate, 10 states – Alabama, Idaho, Illinois,
    Iowa, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma,
    Rhode Island, and Utah – actually saw their
    rates decrease from 2015 to 2016.

The report also includes information on cohort graduation rates of students with disabilities and non-native English speakers. Given the challenge of condensing info from an 84-page report into a blog post, I will only mention the presence of such info and let readers who wish to examine the full report for further details.

In closing, I offer a few additional highlights from the report. In the section entitled, “The Schools Producing the Most Non-Graduates,” is the following info on Michigan, home state of US ed sec Betsy DeVos, who oversees the Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA):

[In Michigan,] the largest number of on-time non-graduates (32 percent) is found in high schools with graduation rates above the national rate of 84 percent. Nearly half its non-graduates, however, are located in alternative schools (24 percent), virtual schools (6 percent), and special education schools (2 percent), or schools of any type with fewer than 100 students (12 percent). The size of this last segment is worrisome, as schools with less than 100 students generally fall outside of the high school graduation rate accountability structure under ESSA. Given that only 8 percent of Michigan’s non-graduates are found in regular and vocational high schools with graduation rates of 67 percent or less, and just 9 percent of such students are in regular high schools with ACGR rates between 68 percent and 83 percent, it seems clear in Michigan that many non-graduates leave traditional high schools with low graduation rates for non-traditional options but do not succeed in graduating on-time. [Emphasis added.]

A takeaway from the above excerpt: It is possible to game ESSA cohort graduation rate reporting by hiding challenging students in smaller schools. This reality is not lost on the 2018 grad report authors:

ESSA set the cutoff point at schools enrolling 100 or more students. States need to be aware of what schools may fall under this cutoff point or if schools are intentionally keeping enrollment below 100 students to avoid accountability.

There is also the question of inflating graduation rates via “credit recovery”:

Over the past decade, there has been a marked increase in the use of credit recovery courses and alternative programs to move off-track students toward their diploma. While some of these courses and programs may be useful for a small subset of students who have mitigating circumstances, many of them fail to provide a rigorous education and prepare students for life beyond high school. Many school districts across the country have become dependent on credit recovery courses to graduate students, and while this often speaks to larger challenges faced by these school districts, credit recovery should be used as a last resort, not a first option.  Additionally, little is known about the quality of most available credit recovery coursework, and more research and evaluation should be done to ensure that schools and districts have the right information when adopting any credit recovery programs.

Alternative programs, including dropout recovery, virtual, and other non-traditional pathways, have become increasingly popular routes to graduation for students who have not had success in high school. Despite becoming the last best option for some students, a significant number of these alternative schools and programs are neither graduating students nor are they providing them with an education that will prepare them for postsecondary or career options. States, especially those with large numbers of these schools, need to examine their quality and determine whether they are helping young people or simply offering meaningless credentials.

Or simply offering meaningless credentials.


I’ll stop there. Feel free to peruse the entire report.



Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

An Anecdotal Offering for Betsy DeVos (MAGA Hat Optional)

In her speeches, US ed sec Betsy DeVos likes to include anecdotes, but not just any anecdotes: DeVos’ selections always highlight school choice as an unfailing solution.

Betsy DeVos 2  Betsy DeVos

In her May 22, 2018, statement before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, DeVos includes one such story at the close of her speech, this one magnifying DeVos’ favorite form of school choice: the voucher:

These reforms are not rooted in a partisan ideology or designed to benefit one group over another. They are not part of a “privatization agenda” or even about a mechanism of delivery.

They are focused solely on students like the daughter of a Philadelphia mom named
Shirley. Shirley lives in a tough area. Her daughter was afraid of being bullied by the kids in her neighborhood. The thought of going to her assigned neighborhood school terrified her daughter and that broke Shirley’s heart.

So Shirley signed up as a driver for a ride sharing company, working before and after her fulltime day job so she could afford tuition to send her daughter to a school that was a better, safer fit. In her case, that was a local Catholic school.

Exhausted and unsure if she could keep up the pace after a year of working multiple jobs, Shirley asked her daughter if she could try her neighborhood school. Her daughter immediately broke into tears.

“I don’t ask to be rich,” Shirley told me. “All I ask is for my children to have a better life than me. If that means I have to keep working three jobs, I’ll find a way. I have to do it for my girls,” she said.

And I know she will.

But no parent – no parent – should be left feeling helpless like Shirley. No parent should  have to work three jobs in order to send their child to a school that is safe, to a school that works for them.

No student in America should ever be denied the equal opportunity to a great education.

Thank you again for the opportunity to share where we have been and where we are going. I look forward to working together in support of all students, and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

I have a question, Madame Secretary:

Why not incorporate the following choice story into your speech? (See here and here.) Your resulting narrative might go something like this:

These reforms are not rooted in a partisan ideology or designed to benefit one group over another. They are not part of a “privatization agenda” or even about a mechanism of delivery.

They are focused solely on students like the son of Philadelphia parents, Joe and Margaux Messina. Joe and Margaux live in a tough area. Their son is afraid of being bullied by kids at his charter school. The thought of going to his charter school disheartens Joey: “They don’t like me; they never did.” When their son awoke to find “Snitching A**. Die Cr***er.” spray painted on his house, he told his father, “I’m scared now.”

So, Joe Messina donned his American flag t-shirt and “Make America Great Again” hat and offered an exclusive interview to the local CBS affiliate, which garnered quite the exchange of critical comments, especially in light of the charter school’s noting that Joe “is no longer allowed on campus because of a pattern of behavior.”

“They let them run that school. It’s a shame to say, they really do,” Margaux said. “They don’t care about the gangs in there; they deny that when there really is.”

“I want to go up to that school and confront the main people, and how am I composing myself, I don’t even know. I’m ready to explode,” offered Joe.

And I know he wants to. But he cannot.

But no parent – no parent – should be left feeling helpless like Joe. No parent should  have to go on CBS News wearing his MAGA hat in order to protest a bullying incident at a school that he thought would work for him but from which he has been banned.

Charter schools are good, but what Joey needs is a better, safer fit. What Joey needs is a voucher to a private school. 

And then, perhaps, DeVos might don her own MAGA hat, a special, nonpartisan one, made just for the occasion. Of course, whether she does so or not would be her choice.

IMG_1102  Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

Mom Catches Two School Employees Mistreating Autistic Son on Tape; School Responds

I have young relatives who are autistic. I spoke with one today, a nephew. It is his birthday.

He has difficulty holding a fluid conversation over the phone. He is much better able to express himself in writing.

Fortunately for my nephew, he is high functioning, which means that he can readily communicate with his caregivers when he feels unsure or unsettled– or even mistreated.

Many children with autism cannot tell trusted adults if others are harming them. In such cases, concerned adults must try to discern when something in the child’s life is amiss by attending to the child’s unspoken behaviors.

Sometimes those who are supposed to care for an autistic child’s needs instead engage in behaviors harmful to their vulnerable charges.

Such was the experience of 12-year-old Camden Davis, who has autism and who attended Hope Academy in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a charter school that “accepts unique students including those with autism.”

IMG_1097  Camden Davis

Camden could not tell his mother about his stress at school or about its causes. However, Camden became aggressive and wet his bed. That was his signal, and his distressed mother decided to send him to school with a recording device in his book bag.

On April 10, 2018, WBRZ reported on Camden’s situation.

Camden’s teacher and teacher’s aide were caught on tape. Milissa Davis originally posted the recording on Facebook but has since removed it. Below is an excerpts from WBRZ:

ADULT: “You’re just writing the word. What is hard about it?”

STUDENT: grunting noise.

ADULT: mocks noise

ADULT: “Camden, why don’t you have anything written down? That’s why you can’t sit with everyone. Tell your momma that.”

ADULT: “Let’s see what they do with him in f****** public school. He was going to go to Live Oak Middle. Uh ah, he wouldn’t make it for a minute.”

One Hope Academy employee was immediately fired, and another is to be fired at the end of the school year.

On April 17, 2018, WBRZ reported that the Hope Academy board met with parents to discuss “proposals… to prevent what happened at the Greater Baton Rouge Hope Academy from ever happening again.” Proposed solutions included cameras, sensitivity training, and improved background checks.

I understand that the Hope Academy board is trying to address a terrible issue. Still, I wonder how individuals specifically hired to nurture special needs students could be so lacking in human decency.

On April 24, 2018, Hope Academy board chair Brandon Black did an interview with WBRZ. From the article:

“While this incident is incredibly unfortunate and should have never happened, it isn’t who we are,” Black said. “It’s a school that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to special needs parents.”

Black says his son has Down’s Syndrome and is thriving at the school.

“I like spelling and math,” Patrick Black told WBRZ.

Although more training is in order for employees, board members at the school said a top-down review will take place with a consultant to review and make recommendations on procedures.

When asked if Black faults Davis for recording the teachers and protecting her child, he responded, “Absolutely not. I have a Down Syndrome child and my child can’t always communicate what problems he’s having and I certainly understand her concern.”

In addition to the measures above, the school is pricing surveillance cameras as an added layer of protection inside the classrooms.

It is good to read that Hope Academy is addressing the issue and validating a parent’s efforts to intercede on her son’s behalf at the same time. it is also refreshing to know that the school’s board chair has a vested interest in his school.

IMG_1101  Brandon Black


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.