Betsy DeVos needs to go back to school

Katherine Clark asked her about discrimination:

Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.) said that one private school in Indiana that is a voucher school says it may deny admission to students who are LGBT or who come from a family where there is “homosexual or bisexual activity.” She asked DeVos whether she would tell the state of Indiana that it could not discriminate in that way if it were to accept federal funding through a new school choice program. Clark further asked what DeVos would say if a voucher school were not accepting African American students and the state “said it was okay.”

To Clark’s question about whether she would step in, DeVos responded: “Well again, the Office of Civil Rights and our Title IX protections are broadly applicable across the board, but when it comes to parents making choices on behalf of their students …”

This should have been an easy question to answer: all schools need to abide by federal standards to get federal money, but for some reason DeVos couldn’t just say that. I wonder why? Is it because she really thinks that schools should be allowed to discriminate or if she just doesn’t know how the law works?

She was also asked about students with disabilities:

Lowey noted that in voucher and voucher-like programs in which public money is used to pay for private school tuition and educational expenses, families are often required to sign away their IDEA protections, including due process when a school fails to meet a child’s needs. Lowey asked DeVos if she thought that was fair.

DeVos responded that it should be up to the states to decide how to run their own programs, and then she referred to a tax credit program in Florida, where tens of thousands of students with disabilities attend private school with public money. Florida is one of those states that requires voucher recipients to give up their IDEA rights.

So she’s fine with those students losing federal protection.

She doesn’t seem to know that high poverty schools tend to have less funding:

In her first answer, the secretary said she believed high-poverty school districts do get more funding than wealthier districts, which is most often not true. In the second response, she said she believes high-poverty school districts get more federal funding than wealthier districts.  That is not always true.

She doesn’t think private schools should be held to any standards:

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) discussed a private school that took public dollars even though it said students could learn how to read by simply putting a hand on a book. He asked her if she was “going to have accountability standards” in any new school choice program.

Her response: States should decide “what kind of flexibility they are going to allow.”

Wow.

Let’s look at the Trump administration

We all heard the cries that liberals needed to give Trump a chance, so let’s look at two departments under Trump.

First let’s look at the EPA under Scott Pruitt:

  • thinks its mission is to help the fossil fuel industry:

This new agenda for the EPA, bitterly opposed by many of the agency’s staff, was unveiled at the Harvey mine in Sycamore, Pennsylvania, on Thursday. Pruitt, who was presented with an honorary mining helmet, said the federal government’s “war” on coal was over in a speech to assembled miners.

“The coal industry was nearly devastated by years of regulatory overreach, but with new direction from President Trump, we are helping to turn things around for these miners and for many other hardworking Americans,” said Pruitt.

Though Pruitt insisted that clean air and water will be maintained in this purge, the choice of venue for the announcement was jarring.

Consol Energy, which operates the Bailey Mine complex which includes the Harvey mine, was fined $3m in August for discharging contaminated wastewater into streams that flow into the Ohio river. In the settlement with the EPA and the justice department, it emerged that the mining operation exceeded effluent limits at least 188 times between 2006 and 2015.

He also doesn’t seem to care about pesticides:

The EPA administrator also recently decided to reject the conclusion of his own agency’s scientists who recommended that a widely used pesticide, chlorpyrifos, should be banned from farms.

EPA scientists warned that the pesticides could cause severe harm to children and farm workers, but Pruitt said chlorpyrifos would not be banned in order to provide “regulatory certainty” to businesses.

And he has his priorities straight (bold added):

The EPA has been targeted by the Trump administration for stringent budget cuts. The agency has drawn up a plan that would lay off 25% of its employees and scrap 56 programs, including pesticide safety, lead toxicity and environmental justice. There would be new funding, however, for a 24-hour security detail for Pruitt.

  • He really seems to want increased pollution from coal:

The hulking Gallatin Fossil Plant sits on a scenic bend of the Cumberland River about 30 miles upstream from Nashville. In addition to generating electricity, the plant, built in the early 1950s by the Tennessee Valley Authority, produces more than 200,000 tons of coal residue a year. That coal ash, mixed with water and sluiced into pits and ponds on the plant property, has been making its way into groundwater and the river, potentially threatening drinking water supplies, according to two current lawsuits.

A new rule regulating the monitoring, safe storage and disposal of coal ash went into effect in 2015. This past week, however, Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said in a letter to a Minnesota environmental official that the agency would reconsider the rule and delay the 2018 compliance deadline for states.

President Trump’s top environment official called Thursday for an exit from the historic Paris agreement, in what appeared to be the first time such a high-ranking official has so explicitly disavowed the agreement endorsed by nearly 200 countries to fight climate change.

Speaking with ‘‘Fox & Friends,’’ Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt said, ‘‘Paris is something that we need to really look at closely. It’s something we need to exit in my opinion.’’

‘‘It’s a bad deal for America,’’ Pruitt continued. ‘‘It was an America second, third, or fourth kind of approach. China and India had no obligations under the agreement until 2030. We front-loaded all of our costs.’’

Then there’s Betsy DeVos, that supremely unqualified leader of the Department of Education.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is inexplicably backing away from rules that are meant to prevent federal student loan borrowers from being fleeced by companies the government pays to collect the loans and to guide people through the repayment process.

On Tuesday, she withdrew a sound Obama administration policy that required the Education Department to take into account the past conduct of loan servicing companies before awarding them lucrative contracts — and to include consumer protections in those contracts as well.

A suit brought by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau claims that Navient saved itself money by steering borrowers into costly repayment strategies that added billions in interest to their balances. But as Stacy Cowley and Jessica Silver-Greenberg reported in The Times on Monday, states’ lawsuits are especially damning with respect to Sallie Mae — the company that spun off Navient in 2014.

Most people would think that such a company shouldn’t get more business with the federal government, but not our Secretary of Education.

  • She hired someone even less qualified than she is, which I would have thought was impossible:

The new acting head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights once complained that she experienced discrimination because she is white.

A longtime anti-Clinton activist and an outspoken conservative-turned-libertarian, she has denounced feminism and race-based preferences. She’s also written favorably about, and helped edit a book by, an economist who decried both compulsory education and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Now that’s impressive. Scott Pruitt has sued the EPA and Rick Perry now heads an agency he once wanted to get rid of, but the new head of the Education’s Office for Civil Rights has worked for someone who was against the Civil Rights Act and compulsory education. You can see her thinking in these quotes:

“As with most liberal solutions to a problem, giving special assistance to minority students is a band-aid solution to a deep problem,” she wrote. “No one, least of all the minority student, is well served by receiving special treatment based on race or ethnicity.”

“In today’s society, women have the same opportunities as men to advance their careers, raise families, and pursue their personal goals,” she wrote. “College women who insist on banding together by gender to fight for their rights are moving backwards, not forwards.”

It’s almost as if she doesn’t believe racism or sexism exist, which is kind of weird for a head of a civil rights division.

She’s also blatant in her hypocrisy and partisanship:

In 2005, Jackson wrote a book on the allegations of sexual misconduct against Bill Clinton, titled “Their Lives: The Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine.” She gained national attention last October after she arranged for several of Bill Clinton’s accusers to attend a presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Jackson sat with the women in the front of the audience. A few days before the debate, Jackson established Their Lives Foundation. In registration documents, she described two of its purposes as “giving public voice to victims of women who abuse positions of power” and “advocating for and against candidates for political office.”

Less than a week after the debate, Jackson posted on Facebook that her foundation “supports all victims of power abusers,” but labeled Trump’s accusers “fake victims.”

 

This same kind of thing is true in almost every part of the Trump administration, which is why we didn’t want to give Trump a chance. We knew how bad he could be.

Education under Trump

Democrats worried about how the new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would be with student debt given that she had invested in a company that collect defaulted loans. They were right to be worried:

The U.S. Education Department late Thursday rescinded an Obama-era rule that prohibited student loan guaranty agencies from collecting jumbo fees from defaulted borrowers who quickly resume paying.

Currently, guaranty agencies — the bodies that administer federal loans made before 2010 — aren’t allowed to collect fees from borrowers who respond within 60 days to a default notice and then enter into (and honor) a repayment agreement. Those rules were put in place in July 2015.

The Obama-era rule on collection fees was linked to a court case that started in 2013, in which a borrower sued United Student Aid Funds (USA Funds) for hitting her with a $4,500 charge from a 16% collection fee. She owed $18,000 at the time her loans went into default, but she responded to USA Funds and agreed to a repayment plans.

This isn’t the final decision (they also link to the actual letter):

The two-page “Dear colleague” letter from the Trump administration walks back the department’s previous stance on the grounds that there should have been public input on the issue.

“The department will not require compliance with the interpretations set forth” in the previous memo “without providing prior notice and an opportunity for public comment on the issues,” the letter said.

I have a feeling they’re not going to be asking for any public input in the near future. This doesn’t affect loans that have been taken out recently:

The rule only applies to debt from the Federal Family Education Loan (often called FFEL loans) Program, which was phased out during Obama’s first term. The department started lending directly to student borrowers in 2010, so the rule won’t affect anyone who’s taken out loans in the past several years.

but I have a feeling that these loans directly from the Education department aren’t going to be around for much longer.

It also appears that the President might be thinking about reopening Trump University:

Less than a month after Betsy DeVos was sworn in as its top official, the U.S. Department of Education announced Monday evening that it would delay until July 1 an effort to crack down on career training programs that load students up with unpayable debt.

The biggest winners: the more than 800 higher educational programs that claim to lead to “gainful employment” but flunked the department’s January excessive debt test—mostly for-profit art and cosmetology schools. These programs can now continue to recruit applicants (at least until July 1) without having to warn them about alumni’s oppressively high debt loads. The schools can also take this extra time to seek data showing that their graduates’ student loan bills are actually below the official “excessive debt” cutoff. That means bills must be no more than 12% of the average student’s gross earnings, as reported to the Social Security Administration, and no more than 30% of their discretionary income.

and:

As chief compliance officer for a corporate owner of for-profit colleges, Robert S. Eitel spent the past 18 months as a top lawyer for a company facing multiple government investigations, including one that ended with a settlement of more than $30 million over deceptive student lending.

Today, Mr. Eitel — on an unpaid leave of absence — is working as a special assistant to the new secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, whose department is setting out to roll back regulations governing the for-profit college sector.

It appears that the only thing the Trump administration wants to teach you is: if you’re not rich we’re going to screw you.

Only Unions pressure anyone

It’s interesting how things work when people talk about issues where unions weigh in:

Perhaps she was honestly torn. As Michael Jonas pointed out in CommonWealth magazine, the Massachusetts senator is a longtime proponent of school choice. In her 2003 book, “The Two-Income Trap,” she endorsed a system of vouchers to support attendance at any public school.

But in a statement put out on Monday, Warren said that she will be voting no on Question 2. “Many charters schools are producing extraordinary results for our students and we should celebrate the hard work of those teachers and spread what’s working to other schools,’’ she said. But, after hearing from both sides, “I am very concerned about what this specific proposal means for hundreds of thousands of children across our Commonwealth, especially those living in districts with tight budgets where every dime matters. Education is about creating opportunity for all our children, not about leaving many behind.”

Warren can play an important role in this debate. I only hope her decision really is about equal opportunity for all and not about caving in to union pressure.

The writer, Joan Vennochi, says:

When it comes to Question 2, you can put me down as “conflicted.” This campaign pits suburbs against urban communities and unions against business groups that despise organized labor. All supposedly in the name of “the children.”

and yet nowhere does she seem to question anybody who is voting Yes on Question 2 even though its backers will be spending millions to push it. It’s interesting how that works.

Some good news

Given the dystopia that Donald Trump paints for the current state of the US, it’s good to look at actual statistics to see what’s really happening:

  • Violence is way down from its peak in the 1990’s (although there is some sign that it might have increased a bit in the last year or so):

From 1993 to 2014, the rate of violent crime declined from 79.8 to 20.1 per 1,000.

Since 1993, the rate of property crime declined from 351.8 to 118.1 victimizations per 1,000 households.

The number of murders in New York City really drives this home: there were 2262 murders in 1990 and 352 in 2015. That is an astonishing drop.

The national teen pregnancy rate has declined almost continuously over the last two decades. The teen pregnancy rate includes pregnancies that end in a live birth, as well as those that end in abortion or miscarriage (fetal loss).* Between 1990 and 2010 (the most recent year for which data are available), the teen pregnancy rate declined by 51 percent—from 116.9 to 57.4 pregnancies per 1,000 teen girls.

For the fourth straight year, the U.S. high school graduation rate has improved — reaching an all-time high of 82 percent in the 2013-2014 school year, the Department of Education announced Tuesday.

  • The private sector has been adding jobs for the longest stretch ever:

The White House is right about the numbers. The “longest streak” claim was true in 2014, as the Washington Post’s Fact Checker found back then, and the streak has only grown. This was the 73rd straight recorded month of private sector job growth (barring revisions).

  • Drug use is down among teens (this is from June 2016):

This year’s Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey of drug use and attitudes among American 8th, 10th, and 12th graders continues to show encouraging news, with decreasing use of alcohol, cigarettes, and many illicit drugs over the last 5 years—many to their lowest levels since this survey’s inception; no increase in use of marijuana among teens; decreasing use of synthetic drugs; and decreasing misuse of prescription drugs. However, the survey highlighted continuing concerns over the high rate of electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) use and softening of attitudes around some types of drug use, particularly a continued decrease in perceived harm of marijuana use.

For many substances, past-year use has declined to the lowest levels since the MTF survey began. This includes heroin, synthetic cannabinoids, Vicodin®, methamphetamine, amphetamines, inhalants, Ecstasy, alcohol, and cigarettes, among all ages surveyed; hallucinogens, Ritalin®, OxyContin®, bath salts, and over-the-counter cough medicines among 8th and 10th graders; cocaine among 8th and 12th graders; and prescription pain relievers (narcotics other than heroin), sedatives, and crystal methamphetamine in 12th graders (the only grade sampled for these substances). Past-year use of illicit drugs was reported by 23.6 percent of 12th graders.

There are still large problems in the US, but, in many ways, the US is in better shape than ever.

Math and the American Heritage Education Foundation

Like everyone else, I get a lot of spam in my email boxes. Sometimes they can be fun. Case in point:

Dear Teachers and Citizens,
A unique Social Studies/U.S. History reference text book is now available!
The American Heritage Education Foundation (AHEF) announces a new resource/text that reveals the connection between America’s historical founding ideas and the Bible..
The Miracle of America: The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief
By Angela E. Kamrath, American Heritage Education Foundation
This would be the group that wrote a history book for Houston strongly based on a work by W. Cleon Skousen, a far right crazy in the mold of the John Birch Society (for example, he believed Eisenhower was a Communist dupe).
It seems their mailing list is about as accurate as their history: they send an email about a high school history book to a college math teacher. Hey, maybe I’ll use it for a probability course?

The University President as CEO

The University of Iowa selected a new President. Let’s see how this has gone:

Harreld, a former IBM executive with no experience in higher education administration, had “a clear lack of faculty support,” Faculty Senate President Christina Bohannan told the Iowa Board of Regents in the Sept. 2 email. Choosing him over three other candidates who were warmly received would “destroy the goodwill” with faculty leaders and prompt calls for a no-confidence vote in the regents, she warned.

A day later, the regents voted unanimously to make Harreld the school’s 21st president and gave him a five-year contract, sparking protests from faculty and staff.

Board President Bruce Rastetter has said the regents considered Harreld the best leader for the university and received feedback from the “greater Iowa community” as well as from campus.

The clear lack of support is shown in this poll which shows that 89.3, 93.1 and 98.3% of faculty members thought the other 3 candidates were qualified while 2.5% thought Harreld was qualified (4.9% of non-faculty thought he was qualified).

Well, the faculty and students will get over it, right? Not so far:

Faculty members at the University of Iowa on Tuesday voted no confidence in the statewide Board of Regents, less than a week after the regents fanned a controversy at the state’s flagship university by unanimously appointing J. Bruce Harreld as its next president.

But that’s just the faculty, what about students? Oops:

Both the UI Student Government student senate and the UI Graduate and Professional Student Government passed votes of no confidence in the board Tuesday night.

“The voice of the undergraduate student body was not seriously considered in the final selection process,” according to the UISG resolution, which stressed that undergraduate students comprise 73 percent of the UI enrollment. “The undergraduate student body has overwhelmingly expressed their discontent and frustration over the regents’ dismissal of their concerns in the selection of the new president.”

The graduate student resolution revisits the board’s vow throughout the presidential search process to value feedback from the UI community.

“However, it is clear that this ‘open’ search was truly not transparent, and the collective voices of all the constituencies at UI were not taken into account and further, actively ignored,” according to the resolution. “It is unfortunate that the board took this action in the face of such fierce and vocal opposition from the UI community.”

Well, the board will certainly be feeling meek now. Umm:

Board of Regents president Bruce Rastetter described the faculty’s vote as a sign that professors were resisting changes needed to make the school’s business practices sustainable.

“We are disappointed that some of those stakeholders have decided to embrace the status quo of the past over opportunities for the future,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

That would be this Rastetter:

Bruce Rastetter, an agribusiness mogul who’s made a fortune in pork, ethanol and farm real estate, has long worked behind the scenes to help bankroll conservatives across the country, but Saturday is a public coming out party of sorts for Rastetter as he hosts the first-ever Iowa Agriculture Summit. It’s an event designed to promote farm policy in a state where pigs outnumber voters 10 to one, but it’s also a bold display of the political power Rastetter has amassed — and a reminder to candidates that his endorsement would be a big get ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

I worry very much about what such a person means by “opportunities for the future” and it seems most of the students and faculty at the University of Iowa agree.

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