Thursday, June 4, 2015

Nevada Abandons Public Education

Nevada has made its bid for a gold medal in the race to the bottom of the barrel for public education. The state's GOP legislature, with help from Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education (a name that belongs in Orwellian annals right next to "Peacekeeper Missile"), has created an all-state voucher system.

This is the full deal. No foot-in-the-door program for poor, disabled, or trapped-in-failing-school students. Next fall every single student in Nevada gets a taxpayer-funded voucher to spend at the school whose marketing most appeals to that student's parents.

The backers of the bill are as delighted as they are divorced from reality. Here's bill sponsor Senator Scott Hammond, quoted in the Washington Post:

Nothing works better than competition.

This statement belongs in the annals of baseless expressions of faith, right next to "I'm sure that he'll leave his wife soon" or "Everything should be fine now that the government guy is here to help us" or "Go ahead and hand me that basket of vipers; I'm sure God will protect me."

In point of fact, not only do many things work better than competition, but competition doesn't really work all that well. And competition certainly does not work well when we're talking about providing an important public service to all people-- not just the ones who win the competition. It's true that when it comes to winning the race or getting the VP job or convincing that hot human to marry you, there can be only one. But what does that have to do with public education? Does Senator Hammond believe there should only be one great school in Nevada and only some students should get to succeed?

There are so many ways in which competition does not belong in public education. Building is a better metaphor than racing. Competition doesn't even foster traditional conservative values. The free market often resists quality rather than fostering it. The market doesn't know what to do with "losers." Charter school competition does not create pressure for excellence. Market competition creates perverse incentives to game the system, and tends to put the wrong people in charge. Choice twists the product in an involuntary market. Voucher system disenfranchise the taxpayers, literally creating taxation without representation and pitting taxpayers against parents. The whole inefficient system depends on lies and fantasies for financing. And if you think competition fosters excellence, just go take a look at your cable tv. Or take a look at how it has worked out in the college market. Finally, don't forget that time that Dr. Raymond of CREDO (charter and choice fans par excellence) declared that the free market doesn't work in education.

Like many school choice programs, Nevada's will actually be a school's choice program. The vouchers will provide poor students with a whopping $5,700. Want to go to Shiny Rich Prep Academy, high-poverty students? So sorry. It turns out your voucher just doesn't quite bring in enough money. Are you a student with issues, problems, or a disability? Sorry-- it's too hard to make money educating you, so we're going to find some means of making you go away.

Though it should be noted-- in one potential windfall for families that aren't all that into the whole edumacation thing, the voucher can be spent on home school supplies.

All of you who can't get into a Really Nice School? You are all welcome to go back to a public school. You know-- the public school that had to cut pretty much everything because it lost a ton of money to vouchers. Have a great time, you reject, but take comfort in knowing that the voucher program made it possible for rich families who were going to send their kids to SRPA anyway to have a bit more money to finance that trip to Paris this summer.

Of course, no piece about FEE's devotion to helping states screw over poor students would be complete without a quote from the reformsters own Dolores Umbridge:

“This is the wave of the future,” said Levesque, whose foundation helped Nevada legislators draft the measure while its nonprofit sister organization, Excel National, lobbied to get it passed. “In all aspects of our [meaning we deserving wealthy folks] life, we look for ways to customize and give individuals [who are the right kind of people] more control over their path and destiny [while freeing them from any requirement to help Those People]. . . . This is a fundamental shift in how we make decisions about education [in the sense that we are allowing the Right People more choice and taking choices and resources away from Those People who really don't deserve them].”

I edited her quote slightly to make sure her meaning was a little more clear.

Nevada was already well-positioned for the Race to the Bottom prize, consistently ranking among the bottom ten states for education funding. With this bold step, they have insured that even that little bit of money will be spent in the most in efficient, wasteful manner possible. Not only will they be duplicating services (can you run two households with the same money it takes to run one?), but by draining funds away from public schools, they can guarantee that those public schools will struggle with fewer resources than ever.

This is not out of character for Nevada. Las Vegas has long been notorious as a place where folks want their tourist industry to be well staffed with lots of cheap labor, but they don't want those workers to be able to actually live in Vegas. Many would prefer that workers simply vanish after they punch out. We want Those People to be in the casinos, serving us drinks, showing skin, and looking happy-- but we don't want Those People to live in our shiny city. While what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas, those who make it happen are not.

Levesque is correct in one respect-- this really is a fundamental shift in how Nevada handles public education, in the sense that this is Nevada throwing up its hands and saying, "Screw it. We're not even going to pretend to try to provide a quality public education for all children in the state."


  1. As a teacher in Clark County for the last 18 years, these people in charge have never supported public education. They have said that no state moneys should go to the schools. The Republican leadership calls us Government monopoly schools. Our governor has said at conservative gatherings that we need to get the public out of public education. They want a wild west market, caveat emptor with a kickback is their modus operandi. I will not miss Nevada when I hopefully retire in a few years.

  2. Normally all of your posts are an absolute delight to read and I savor every word. But I struggled to make it through this one. Not because it wasn't well written - it was, as always. But it's like trying to make it through some of the darker parts of the later Harry Potter books. It's just so sad - oppressive even - that I can't go on. And at least Harry Potter is fiction. Never thought I would be a Chicken Little type, but, seriously, what is this world coming to?

  3. Governor Kasich is probably trying to figure out how to do this in Ohio.

  4. Counterpoint: My single mom struggled to send me to a good Catholic high school an hour away in traffic. Buses were $275 a month. I was mixing with the wrong crowd locally. She owned the house, and paid thousands in local taxes to a school not used. Vouchers would have made her life a lot easier. Jus sayin'

    1. Rescuing the lucky few, at the expense of those left behind, is not a recipe for national success. Your mother's life would have been even easier if the issues closer to your home could have been addressed and resolved.

    2. Dienne, if Laker's concerns were met within a Catholic school that her family valued enough to suffer greatly for, then I assume you are suggesting that the public school "closer to home" should become more like the Catholic school. Do you not see that this is impossible? Your comment is a perfect example of why school choice is needed! Making more money available for parents to attend the schools of their choice will provide more "local" solutions... it will lead to more "local" Catholic (and other) schools!

    3. You make a lot of assumptions. I think Dienne is referring to neighborhood issues, not saying the local school should have been like a Catholic one.

    4. Craig - Laker specifically said he was sent to the Catholic school because he was "mixing with the wrong crowd". Dealing with that "crowd" and the underlying reasons for their behavior would have benefited not only Laker and his mother, but that "crowd" as well.

  5. I appreciate the concern of those who claim they can better pick a school for my child (or "all children") than I can, but I believe I better know what my child and the public needs educationally - and I will trust other parents with the same broad discretion. In a competitive school system, the children in "loser schools" at least have a choice to go elsewhere - more choice than the government system traditionally allows for those in its "loser schools." However, my bigger concern is your assumption that "better schools" look the same to everyone... and they don't. Obviously, your "bottom" schools stand a good chance of being my "top" schools. I'm less into the efficiency of mass education than into school diversity that meets the concerns and educational needs of caring families.

    Further, one of the most vital public interests associated with education is the moral development of children, and First Amendment limitations prevent government schools from effectively working in this area. Nevada is not abandoning public education, it is merely redefining it away from centralized, elitist control. We must redefine public education to include schools that broadly support the public's educational interests... and this new definition will include most "private" schools.

    Though I have extensively read arguments for competition as a rationale for school choice, I agree that it is a limited paradigm that has its merits as well as its drawbacks. However, many of Greene's criticisms fall on the traditional public system as well. It doesn't fit many people's definition of "excellence," it creates "perverse incentives", it "disenfranchises" taxpayers", and look at the "lies and fantasies" that are coming out of many government schools motivated by the pressures of testing and accountability. And Mr. Greene, please avoid the demonization of Nevada's schools choice supporter. It makes little sense for political leaders to intentionally try to undermine their state's education system… unless you think they are merely selfish, bigoted, and stupid. As an American, you should give your fellow citizens a little more confidence then that… Especially since that confidence is not only at the heart of the school choice debate, but at the heart of the "Great American Experiment."

    1. "In a competitive school system, the children in "loser schools" at least have a choice to go elsewhere...."

      No, they don't. That's the problem. "School choice" means that the schools get the choice of which students they want. Any students with behavioral, emotional or learning disabilities/difficulty or uncooperative parents or learning English or too poor to afford bus fare or too dysfunctional to fill out the application or whatever are even more "stuck" in an even more underfunded/underresourced and perpetually punished school with constant turnover and disruption.

    2. (1) What? You know better than anyone what "the public needs educationally"?

      (2) "Obviously, your "bottom" schools stand a good chance of being my "top" schools." What?

      (3) The First Amendment does not preclude teaching children character and ethics. If you want religious moral teachings, obviously that would go against the First Amendment, to teach a specific religious dogma using taxpayer money.

      (4) All the "perverse incentives," disenfranchises taxpayers," and "lies and fantasies" are only a problem in public schools because of money from charter profiteers corrupting the government. That's why political leaders are undermining the educational system.

    3. Dienne and Rebecca - thanks for engaging! We have a messed up educational system(s). ANY time a monopoly is broken up, there is a transition time that is likely worse than the "order" provided by the monopoly. Though I support the move to school choice, I do not like the frequent presentation of Charters as the primary choice to traditional schools - they can be creative in ways government schools cannot, but they must still sterilize education of values and beliefs that bring life to learning. The real benefits to our nation's youth will be seen within schools that can provide education within an ideological framework (i.e. privately run schools).
      (1) I said "I believe that I know"... in other words, someone must define "a good education for the public" and I trust my own perspective more than that of someone else's. And I won't force my perspectives on others. I trust parent control over state control of education.
      (2) Just showing the diversity of people's educational opinions.
      (3) What you say is true, but research shows that secular schools do very poorly at teaching any morality! It is a deep ideological arena where public schools can only wear "waders". If moral development is valuable to the public, we must transfer more educational authority to the private sector.
      (4) I will suggest a study be done to determine why government leaders have such low moral commitments as to knowingly sell out the education of children for graft... I hope it isn't found to be the shallow moral influence of their secular schooling!

  6. Craig Engelhardt is the director of a group called Society for Advancement of Christian Education. They advocate for a Christian education for all. He notes on his blog the fact that he sends two of his children to a public Montessori school because they have special needs the Christian schools can not meet. The irony, in Clark County these very services will be cut because of these vouchers. Thanks for looking out for yourself, remember, as a christian you are your brother's keeper....but I know, not those non christian brothers that need those evil secular schools.

    1. Thanks for the follow-up... but just to clarify...
      *SACE argues that an ideologically based education is a better life foundation than a secular education and that parents should have the final say regarding the educational perspective their children learn. As a Christian organization, SACE works to make Christian schooling available to every family that is interested (and Buddhist, Hindu, Secular, Atheistic, etc. to those who choose those).
      As to programs for those with special needs, yes, the religious community is far lagging (largely because this is an expensive area and the "private" sector can't afford it). Historically, virtually every hospital, school, college and social welfare program was started and run by private religious organizations motivated by their religious compassions. As government largely took over these endeavors, they were forced to secularize and impersonalize. However, research shows many mental, social, and physical benefits that result when these activities are conducted in a shared "religious" context. I believe (hope) the private school sector will reengage many of these compassion ministries with "tools" unavailable to their secular counterparts. I oppose the wide scale secularization of education not to "deprive" but to benefit others.

  7. Peter,

    In Nevada an Arizona,
    the situation for teachers in both states
    are like two canaries in a coalmine...

    Or the tip of the sword... or the earliest
    echo of the coming avalanche...

    whatever... it's early... and I can't
    find the right metaphor.

    This is what ed reform has wrought...
    the de-professionalization of teaching...
    and the downgrading of the caliber of
    the teaching force. Check out this quote
    (from the link BELOW):

    "'I feel like I'm being challenged, which is a definite change," says first-year teacher Jessica Adams. She used to work as a cocktail server at the Planet Hollywood casino and resort on the Vegas strip. Unfulfilled with that career, she joined a fast-track teacher training program to get into the classroom.

    Server Jessica is now Ms. Adams, the fourth-grade teacher.

    "I really enjoy being with the kids and making a difference instead of serving tables," she says with a chuckle.

    The 26-year-old, who has a college degree in hospitality management, now works the floor in a temporary classroom trailer at Robert Forbuss Elementary, an overcrowded school in southwest Las Vegas.

    Now, Jessica... if you're out there reading this, I don't mean to denigrate low-level service work such as cocktail waitressing, or degrees in "hospitality management", but as kids these days say, "WTF!" (What the f-word!)

    Are Bill Gates kids at Lakeside being taught by cocktail waitresses with a couple weeks "training"? Obama's kids? Rahm Emanuel's? Michelle Rhee's? Campbell Brown's?

    The enrollment at ed departments are dropping like an elevator ride at a Disney park... and current teachers are fleeing teaching like... like... like... I can't think of any more metaphors ...

    So what do they have to do in places where this crisis is being felt earliest---and there's no union, or an extremely weak union (i.e. right-to-work-FOR-LESS states)?


  8. Again, let's take a trip to Sin City, U.S.A. and find out
    about the teacher shortage there:

    "Las Vegas: Betting On New Teachers But Coming Up Short"

    The title of the NPR piece is wrong; those in charge in Clark County and Las Vegas are most certainly NOT "betting on" teachers. "Betting" implies you're putting money on the table on the square marked "teachers". They're doing nothing of the kind. They're only betting on... or hoping... that they can continue "cheaping out" on what they have to pay teachers. They believe that they do this, in part, by coming up with ridiculous gimmicks to get teachers to work in lousy conditions and for lousy pay.

    Back to NPR:


    Many veteran educators here say the shortage is undermining morale and student learning.

    "It shouldn't necessarily all be put on the veteran teachers to help the new teachers," says fifth-grade teacher Rob Rosenblatt. The shortage and overcrowding issues, he says, mean more work and more stress for teachers.

    The district increasingly relies on long-term substitutes and online classes to help plug the holes. And there is a critical shortage of qualified substitutes.

    Sarah Sunnasy teaches fifth grade at Bertha Ronzone Elementary School. She has back trouble but says she almost never calls in sick.


    "I've come to school on days where I cried trying to get out of bed," Sunnasy says. "Because I know if I try to call in a sub, there is not going to be anybody there. And I'm not gonna put that pressure on the people that I work with to split my class or cover my class."

    Last school year in the district about 500 teachers quit without giving any reason. One of Rosenblatt's colleagues resigned a few weeks into the new school year. Rosenblatt says he and a colleague have had to pick up all the slack — lessons, report cards, grading and tests.

    "Basically it was the two of us teaching not just our two classes but a third class on top of it. I even told my kids, 'I'm neglecting you guys.' "

    He apologized to his regular class but told them he had to step in because the class next door "just wasn't getting the education they deserved."

    CONTINUED on next post:

  9. Things there are so godawful that to solve the problem, those in charge
    even come up with this idiotic "superhero" teacher recruiting campaign where
    Las Vegas' (i.e. Clark County's) anti-union school superintendent Pat Skorkowsky
    went zip-lining through downtown Las Vegas like a superhero to drum
    up publicity, and where all human resource dept. workers now wear superhero capes.

    I'm not kidding... watch this video of this blithering idiot soaring through the air:

    Hey, Pat Skorkowsky... why don't you just pay educators a decent, (union-negotiated?) salary, with decent benefits, job conditions, etc.? This is a profession, not a low-level service job like cocktail waitressing!!! No... the rich Red States' folks don't want their taxes raised.

    The Ed Week article BELOW has Staci Vesneske, the district's chief human resources officer, implicitly dismissing the notion of raising teachers' salaries will be part of the campaign. There's more details about the "superhero" campaign

    ED WEEK: "One challenge in attracting candidates is wages. The starting salary for teachers there is just under $35,000, less than the national average and lower than other similarly sized urban districts. (The 2012-13 national average teacher starting salary was $36,141.) But that number may appear deceptively low, Vesneske said, because district employees do not pay for Social Security withholdings—the district covers those costs—and there are other financial perks that may make the salary worthwhile, she said.

    "The need for teachers is more crucial in the elementary grades, but the district is looking for candidates in high-need areas such as math, science and special education, Vesneske said. Of the 2,600 teacher candidates the district is seeking, at least 1,000 will be elementary teachers, she said.

    " 'We are still looking for quality,' she said."


    ...but we don't want to have to pay anything for it....
    she should have added.

  10. The top comment from the Ed Week article of Vegas' teacher shortage crisis---written by one "Sir Johnny", nails it:

    9:19 PM on April 10, 2015

    Sir Johnny:

    "$35,000 / year doesn't cut it anymore. Trying purchasing a house for that amount of money as a single person. You want me to fork out $85K for a bachelor's degree (what Pitt or Penn State now cost) and you can only pay $35K ... nope, not going to happen. Doesn't matter if you are paying both sides of Social Security or not. Pay needs to be around $60K/year to make it worthwhile."

    Another comment from "eppie", a licensed veteran teacher in Nevada, says that it's not all about money:


    7:18 AM on April 11, 2015


    "As a licensed Nevada teacher for both elementary and middle school (including math and science), I will not go back in the class room until Common Core, the SBAC testing, and the student data tracking, storing and sharing, is removed from our state. The article failed to mention the reason many NV teachers retired early is because of Common Core."

  11. Antony Gordon fills his pitches for money and for delay of repayment with inspirational messages from Torah, including the admonition it is not permitted to pressure people for repayment. He told some creditors he would make a big push within his religious community to borrow money before Rosh Hashanah, but apparently he did not have much success.

  12. $9 Million Fraud Judgment Against Antony Gordon In Federal Court

    This fraud judgment has led to Antony Gordon Chapter Seven bankruptcy, which is a straight liquidation.

    This (2:13-ap-01536-DS 1568931 Ontario Ltd., an Ontario (Canada Corporati v. Gordon et al) looks like a $9 million dollar fraud judgment in federal court against Rabbi Chanan (Antony) Gordon (an attorney, motivational speaker, and hedge fund manager).