Compassion without limits: Multnomah County wants more money to address homelessness

homeless1daymaintrash

It looks like Multnomah County has a vested interest in sustaining homeless problems.

On Thursday, Dec. 5, the Multnomah County Commission is scheduled to vote on whether to send a steadily increasing amount of hotel, motel and motor vehicle rental taxes intended for spurring tourism in the Portland metro area to programs aimed at addressing homeless problems in the the county.

Portland’s City Council and the Metro Council have already given their OK to the plan. It would involve amending a Visitor Facilities Intergovernmental Agreement (VFIA) originally signed in 2001.

If you just looked at the agenda for the Dec. 5 Commission meeting, you probably wouldn’t know what’s going on. Agenda item R.6 says:

“Resolution approving the Second Amended and Restated Visitor Facilities Intergovernmental Agreement (Second Amended and Restated VFIGA) between the City of Portland, Multnomah County, and Metro Regional Government. Presenters: William Glasson and Eric Arellano. (10 min)”

What does homelessness have to do with tourism, you might ask.  Bureaucrats and politicians have an answer. The resolution says dealing with homeless problems will “improve the visitor experience”. Specifically, it says:

“The Parties recognize that the area’s economic success has not been uniformly shared by the community and a vulnerable portion of the population has been negatively impacted by rapid increases in housing costs. An increased allocation from the (Visitor Facilities Trust Account ) VFTA as an additive source of funds to support the significant existing regional investments in affordable housing and supportive services to address the root causes of homelessness and its associated livability and safety concerns is appropriate, and will (i) improve conditions for the community and people experiencing homelessness, (ii) improve the visitor experience, and (iii) help Portland remain a desirable travel and tourism destination.”

And without saying so directly, the resolution seems to assume the homeless problem won’t get better with the additional money because the amount going to Multnomah County would steadily increase, more than doubling by 2022. In other words, it looks like the county does better if homelessness persists.

An analysis of the resolution prepared by the Department of County Management says:

“This funding will pay for livability and supportive services, and related operations costs, supporting programs and projects funded by proceeds of the City and Metro bonds approved by voters in 2016 ($258.4 million) and 2018 ($652.8 million)  affordable housing bond measure , respectively, to create affordable homes for low-income individuals.”

Multnomah County already gets $750,000 a year. If the resolution is approved, that would significantly increase to:

  • $2,500,000 in fiscal year (FY) 2019-20 and FY 2020-21,
  • $3,250,000 in FY 2021-22
  • $3,775,000 in FY 2022-23
  • $5,250,000 for FY 2023-24 and beyond.

In other words, the Portland Metro Area is already stressed spending millions every year fighting homelessness, recent bond measures promise much more, and now Multnomah County wants to grab even more (from tourism revenue, no less) to grow its homelessness bureaucracy, feed social-services providers and hype its compassion.

Is this really necessary?

Today may be “Giving Tuesday,” but do we really need to starve other community priorities, bastardize the meaning of tourism promotion, and embrace compassion without limits by endorsing measures like this?

Galling presidential pardons: a bipartisan thing

On Nov. 15, President Trump intervened in the cases of three U.S. service members accused of war crimes.

pardons

Trump signed an Executive Grant of Clemency (Full Pardon) for Army First Lieutenant Clint Lorance, an Executive Grant of Clemency (Full Pardon) for Army Major Mathew Golsteyn, both of whom were accused of murder in Afghanistan, and an order directing the promotion of Special Warfare Operator First Class Edward R. Gallagher to the grade of E-7, the rank he held before he was tried and found not guilty of nearly all of the charges against him.

In taking this action, Trump incurred the wrath of politicians, pundits and many in the general public.

A U.S. defense official told CNN that there’s concern among the department’s leadership that Trump’s pardons could undermine the military’s justice system. CNN and the New York Times also reported that senior Pentagon leadership, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper, urged Trump not to intervene in the three cases.

According to Task & Purpose,  a news site covering the military, several former military leaders echoed the same concerns.

“As President Trump intervenes in war crimes cases on behalf of individuals accused or convicted of war crimes, he … undermines decades of precedent in American military justice that has contributed to making our country’s fighting forces the envy of the world,” Gen. Charles Krulak, former commandant of the Marine Corps, said in a statement.

“I can honestly say I have not talked to a single military officer who would be in favor of pardoning any one of these three,” Gary Solis, a combat veteran and former military attorney who now teaches the laws of war at the Georgetown University Law Center and the George Washington University Law School, told Military.com.

But as contemptible and unwise as Trump’s actions are to many, he is hardly the first president to take such questionable actions.

Barack Obama issued 212 pardons and 1,715 commutations, including one of a 35-year prison sentence given to former U.S. Army soldier Bradley/Chelsea Manning for the largest leak of classified data in U.S. history to WikiLeaks.

President Bill Clinton, never one to be embarrassed by his actions, pardoned his brother Roger Clinton after Roger served a year in prison after pleading guilty to cocaine distribution charges.

In August 1999, President Bill Clinton also commuted the sentences of 16 members of FALN, a Puerto Rican paramilitary organization that had set off 120 bombs in the United States, mostly in New York City and Chicago. The commutation was opposed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons and  Congress condemned Clinton’s action by votes of 95–2 in the Senate and 311–41 in the House.

But Clinton’s most egregious pardon was one he issued on his last day in office, January 20, 2001, when, against the advice of White House aides he pardoned Marc Rich, a former hedge-fund manager. Rich had fled the U.S. during his prosecution and was living in Switzerland at the time. Rich owed $48 million in taxes and had been charged with 51 counts of tax fraud.

ThatsRich

Marc Rich

At the time of the pardon, Rich was No. 6 on the government’s list of most wanted fugitives and had been on the lam, albeit a luxurious one, for 16 years, ever since his 1983 indictment by a grand jury.

Rich’s ex-wife had donated to the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton Presidential Library and Hillary Clinton’s New York Senate campaign, raising considerable suspicion about the pardon and leading former President Jimmy Carter to call the pardon “disgraceful.”

A New York Times editorial called the pardon “a shocking abuse of presidential power.” The liberal New Republic said it “is often mentioned as Exhibit A of Clintonian sliminess.” Not that such allegations ever seemed to bother the Clintons.

And the Clintons reaped benefits from the pardon even after Rich’s death in 2013, as Rich’s former business partners, lawyers, advisers and friends continued to shower millions of dollars on the Clintons.

Of course, Clinton isn’t the only “last day in office” pardoner. Remember Peter, Paul and Mary? In 1970, Peter Yarrow was convicted of taking “improper liberties” with a 14-year-old fan, for which he spent three months in jail. On his last day in office, President Jimmy Carter granted Yarrow a pardon.

President George H.W. Bush was roundly condemned for pardoning, commuting the sentences and rescinding the convictions of six people convicted in the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal during Reagan’s presidency,

Reagan stepped up, too, pardoning New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner after he pleaded guilty to illegally contributing to Nixon’s campaign.

Then there’s Nixon. In 1974, President Gerald Ford granted a “full, free and absolute pardon” to his predecessor Richard Nixon “for all offenses against the United States.” This broadly unpopular action was the only time a president has received a pardon. It caused a huge firestorm because Nixon was so unpopular and because there was suspicion that Ford secretly promised to pardon Nixon in exchange for him resigning and allowing Vice President Ford to succeed him.

So much for punishing bad behavior.

Defending the dedicated employees of the U.S. Department of State: you can help

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch

Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie L. Yovonovitch (center), whose abrupt ouster in May has become a focus of House impeachment investigators.

U.S.  State Department officials have stepped up to at great personal risk to testify before Congress or speak out publicly about the Trump Administration’s’ foreign policy improprieties. One of the costs of their courage is legal expenses.

Early in my professional career, when I was heavily involved in international treaty negotiations, I worked closely with talented Foreign Service Officers and other employees at the Department of State. To a man and woman, they were there because of their love of country and unwavering commitment to its best ideals. They deserve Americans’ support.

U.S._Department_of_State_official_seal.svg

Here’s a way you can help.

The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) has a Legal Defense Fund (LDF) to provide financial assistance to members in cases involving issues of significant institutional importance to the Foreign Service.

Sometimes cases come along where AFSA is unable to provide the time or legal expertise that is required. It is in such instances that the LDF can provide financial support which assists the member in retaining an outside attorney with expertise in a particular area of law. “Unfortunately, this is one of those times,” the AFSA says. “We have members in need as a result of the ongoing Congressional impeachment investigation. “

I just made a contribution. If you agree, put your money where your mind is and make a contribution, too.  (Donations to the LDF are not tax deductible.)

 For more information and donation instructions, visit:

American Foreign Service Association’s Legal Defense Fund

 

 

 

 

Oregon Connections Academy: another failing online charter school

orcanarrowlogo

Oregon Connections Academy (ORCA), an online statewide charter school with 153 teachers serving about 4500 students, has been placed on the state’s a federally mandated improvement list.

I’m not surprised.

I took a close look at ORCA in 2017 and it was clear the school had problems, but I figured things might get better. They haven’t.

Just look at the numbers.

Only 21.9 percent of tested students at the school met or exceeded  math standards in 2018-2019, down from an already abysmal 22.7% in 2017-18.

English language arts (ELA) achievement has been poor, too. Only 41.8% of tested students met or exceeded ELA standards in 2018-2019 and an average of just 42.8% met or exceeded the standards over the past three school years.

School attendance is dreadful as well. Regular attendance during the 2018-19 school year was only 63.4%, and an average of 59.7% over the past three school years. That indicates chronic absenteeism. In 2018 – 2019, just 71% of the school’s students attended more than 90% of their enrolled school days.

Then there are graduation rates and college attendance. Graduation rates at all Oregon public schools, including virtual charters, are calculated the same way by the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) as an “adjusted cohort graduation rate.” That rate is the percentage of all students who graduate from high school with a diploma within a four-year cohort period after they start 9th grade.

Only 57.1% of students in ORCA’s 2014-15 cohort graduated in four years and an average of 61.1% in the past three school years. There was no improvement with students in ORCA’s 2015-16 cohort, who were seniors in 2018-2019. Only 57% of those students graduated in four years.

 

Oregon 2014-15 Cohort Rates for Students Entering High School in 2011-12: 73.82%

Oregon 2017-18 Cohort Rates for Students Entering High School in 2014-15: 78.70%

 

And of ORCA’s graduates, only 41% enrolled in a two or four year college within one year of completing high school, as reported by the National Student Clearinghouse.

WHY DOES OREGON TOLERATE THIS?

ORCAgraduation

An Oregon Connections Academy graduation ceremony

ORCA’s performance fits with national statistics for online charter schools. Nearly three-quarters of students enrolled in virtual charters are attending a high school where fewer than half graduate in four years, according to an analysis by the Education Week Research Center.

I’ve written before about Oregon’s virtual public charter schools. New data reveals that Oregon Connections Academy, and Oregon’s public virtual charter schools as a whole, are still failing their students and the parents who enroll them.

Despite that truth, the schools, also called cyber and online schools, are multiplying like fruit flies. Supporters are intoxicated by their potential and doubters are being pummeled as technical Neanderthals unwilling to accept change.

Virtual charters have taken root across the country and continue to grow, though at a slower rate than in the past.

They are part of a movement that is exploding across the country and enjoys the support of President Donald Trump. Trump has called school choice “the civil rights issue of our time” and appointed Betsy DeVos, a fierce advocate of charter schools, Secretary of Education.

“Families want and deserve access to all educational options, including charter schools, private schools and virtual schools,” DeVos said in 2015, before becoming Secretary.

On June 13, 2017, after being confirmed as Secretary of Education, DeVos told the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, “…as a nation, we are simply not doing a good enough job educating our kids. A system that denies parents the freedom to choose the education that best suits their children’s individual and unique needs denies them a basic human right. It is un-American, and it is fundamentally unjust.”

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Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (R) with President Donald Trump

But the evidence clearly shows that within the charter school movement, the virtual charter industry is not “all about the kids.”

The growth of full-time public virtual charter schools in Oregon offers a case study of a misplaced faith in choice and technology.

ORCA, based in Mill City, is Oregon’s largest public virtual charter school. As noted earlier, its current enrollment is given as about 4500, but that number fluctuates throughout the school year.  On Oct. 1, 2015, for example, the standard date for calculating charter school enrollment in Oregon, ORCA said it had 3,789 enrolled students. But 950 students left during the school year, and others enrolled. At one point during the year, total enrollment went as high as 5,631. At the end of the school year, 4035 students were enrolled.

CLASHING SENTIMENTS

Students, parents and teachers both praise and assail ORCA.

“All in all, ORCA is a fantastic educational experience for those who don’t fit the mold for brick and mortar schools,” a student told a school rating organization.

“This was the perfect fit for our family!,” Andrea Potter Kruse posted on Facebook. “My son was bored in class and getting into trouble. There was horrible communication from the school. We made the switch and my son is loving school again.”

“…my kiddo used to hide in the back of the class and not participate during lessons,” SC wrote about ORCA on Sitejabber. “He’s currently getting the best education of his life. It works for us.”

“Our daughter…has lost motivation and doesn’t really seem to care,” Alyssa E. commented about ORCA on Sitejabber. “At this point, she does the least amount required, which is essentially a lot of busy work and multiple-choice questions.. The teachers are limited by the horrible interface and limitations of the online learning platform. Connections Academy is essentially the K-12 equivalent of the troubled for-profit colleges.”

“Unless your child…has zero interest in doing anything but sitting at the computer for 7-10 hours a day, then I really don’t think this is what you are looking for as an alternative to regular school,” said a parent. “Don’t do this to your child!”

Some teachers praise ORCA for having a hardworking professional staff, flexible schedules, and a commitment to children first.

Other teachers complain about high student/teacher ratios, a revolving door of employees, poor management and profit-driven policies. “Sometimes the bottom line is the goal and not student achievement,” said one teacher.

Both sides of the virtual charter school debate are fighting a raging propaganda war that is almost Darwinian in nature.

Virtual charter champions churn out a torrent of supportive stories, arguing that traditional schools are relics and choice wouldn’t be so necessary if traditional public schools hadn’t utterly failed to meet the needs of children.

Critics argue just as vociferously that the online schools rob traditional brick and mortar public schools of students and public money, lack accountability, exacerbate inequalities of opportunity and worst of all, fail to educate.

IN THE BEGINNING

The public charter school movement in the U.S. has moved quickly from the margins to the mainstream.

Minnesota passed the first state public charter school law in the United States in 1991. The first charter school opened 25 years ago in St. Paul, Minnesota in September 1992.

Still, the virtual public charter sector barely existed in the United States prior to 2000, but it has grown rapidly since then. The siren song of technology as an education savior, particularly for disaffected students who want a non-traditional school setting, is proving irresistible to many parents and children.

Since enacting a charter school law in 1999, Oregon has become home to 21 virtual public charter schools, according to the Oregon Department of Education:

Virtual Public Charter School

School District Sponsor

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Baker Web Academy

Baker SD 5J

Cascade Virtual Academy

Mitchell SD

Clackamas Web Academy

page1image3151288656North Clackamas SD 12

Crater Lake Charter Academy

Eagle Point SD 9

Dallas Community School

Dallas SD 2

Destinations Career Academy of Oregon

page1image3151234976Mitchell SD 55

Fossil Charter School

Fossil SD 21J

Frontier Charter Academy

Gervais SD 1

Insight School of Oregon-Painted Hills

Mitchell SD

Metro East Web Academy

Gresham-Barlow SD 10J

Oregon Connections Academy

page1image3151253920Santiam Canyon SD

Oregon Family School

Harney County SD 4

Oregon Virtual Academy

North Bend SD 13

Oregon Virtual Education

Scio SD 95

Paisley School

Paisley SD 11

Sheridan AllPrep Academy

Sheridan SD 48J

Silvies River Charter School

Frenchglen SD 16

Summit Learning Charter

Estacada SD 108

TEACH-NW

Marcola SD 79J

West Lane Technology Learning Center

Fern Ridge SD 28J

Willamette Connections Academy

Scio SD 95

SHOW ME THE MONEY

Charter schools in Oregon, including virtual charters, are publicly funded, so parents don’t pay tuition. Instead, the Oregon Department of Education distributes State School Fund money to each school district that sponsors a charter school.

Oregon law provides that a sponsoring district must pass on to its charter school at least 80 percent of its per-pupil grant for K-8 students and 95 percent of its per pupil grant for grade 9-12 students.

The system leads to big disparities among sponsoring districts in what they keep and what they pass on to the charter schools. This, in turn, can lead to “sponsor shopping” by charter school operators looking for maximum financial return and minimum oversight.

Ohio once encountered an egregious example of sponsor shopping. Charter school operators there that failed to get authorized or renewed by one sponsor simply shopped around for another.

“It’s been too easy for bad schools to find accommodating sponsors to keep them going…at least partly because sponsors in Ohio have earned fees for selling services to schools even when the schools in their portfolio produce poor results,” wrote two charter school supporters, Alan Rosskamm, CEO of Breakthrough Charter Schools, and Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Under ORCA’s 2005 contract with its initial sponsor, the Scio School District, Scio kept 10 percent of the State School Fund money it received for ORCA students in grades K-8 and 5 percent of the money it received for students in grades 9-12.

In 2005-2006, that translated into $311,358, half of which Scio had to send to the home districts of its ORCA students under Oregon’s charter law at the time.

As ORCA’s enrollment grew, so did the amount of State School Fund money retained by Sic. In the 2014-15 school year, the Scio district retained $1,886,498.34, half of which it had to send to the home districts of its ORCA students.

Scio was ecstatic to see the ORCA money rolling in and looking forward to the windfall continuing.

But while the Scio District and ORCA were in the midst of negotiations on a new contract, ORCA unexpectedly jumped ship. Abandoning Scio, ORCA signed a new contract with the nearby Santiam Canyon School District. The contract began with the 2015-2016 school year.

ORCA’s switch left the Scio School District perplexed and bitter. Not only was ORCA’s departure a shock, but it meant a big hit to Scio’s budget. Scio School District Superintendent Gary Tempel called the revenue loss “devastating” to the tiny district. But the switch was a bonanza for Santiam Canyon.

Charter schools have become cash cows for many school districts that sponsor them. This is even more true since the Oregon Legislature amended the charter school law in 2015 to eliminate the requirement that the sponsoring districts send half of the money they earned back to the home districts of their students. So Santiam Canyon got to keep all of the State School Fund money it held back.

Why, out of Oregon’s 197 school districts, did ORCA decide to switch to Santiam Canyon?

It was probably no coincidence that Todd A. Miller, appointed superintendent of the Santiam Canyon District in July 2013, served as ORCA’s executive director from April 2011 – June 2013.

The other key factor was likely money.

Instead of insisting on the same deal Scio had with ORCA, the Santiam Canyon district agreed to keep just 1 percent of the State School Fund money it received for ORCA.

ORCA also agreed to pay the district a 3.5 percent management fee to support things such as state reporting, business services, special education and other support services, but the payoff to ORCA (and Scio) was still substantial.

In 2014-15, Scio had retained $1,886,498 of the State School Fund money it received because of its sponsorship of ORCA. In 2015-16, Santiam Canyon retained just $1,362,272.49 of the State School Fund money it received because of its ORCA sponsorship. Not only did Santiam Canyon come out ahead because it didn’t have to share any of its money with the home districts of ORCA’s students, but ORCA paid its sponsor $532,235 less with the switch.

Miller defended the deal. “This fee structure does pass through more funds to ORCA than they previously received, yet the school board and I felt this arrangement was balanced for both of us and helped them add additional services to support struggling students,” Miller said.

REELING THEM IN

Oregon started with tough charter school enrollment restrictions.

The state’s charter law initially required that 80 percent of a public charter school’s student body live in the sponsor’s district and that no more than 10 percent of a district’s students could go to a charter school.

Those restrictions, however, lasted only five years. Charter schools can now recruit throughout the state with no limits.

ORCA is particularly aggressive in recruiting new students. Oregonians would be hard pressed to miss the ubiquitous ORCA television ads promoting the school.

The ads, which don’t even use the words “charter school,” are persuasive blends of Wall Street and Madison Avenue that fit right in with Connections Academy’s profit-driven culture.

The result has been a rapid expansion of enrollment at ORCA and other Oregon virtual charters.

Even though I said earlier that ORCA has about 4500 students, it’s actually hard to pin down exactly how many students attend Oregon’s virtual public charter schools at any given time. That’s because enrollment fluctuates wildly during and between school years, with some students going back and forth like ping pong balls.

“Many families enroll in virtual school for a short period of time to address a short-term issue or challenge, academically, socially or personally,” said Allison Galvin, ORCA’s executive director. “Once the family has navigated through the issue, they may decide to return to their previous school. Other families may find online school the perfect fit and remain enrolled.”

ORCA’s NEST

The original vision for Oregon’s charter schools was that they would be small, locally run institutions that would be innovative and flexible. But over time the virtual charter system has become profit-propelled and the structure has changed.

ORCA is a prime example of that. The school is like the smallest wooden figure in a classic Russian matryoshka doll, where wooden dolls nestle one inside the other.

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ORCA is a not- for-profit corporation governed by a Board of Directors.

The Board has a Professional Services Agreement with a for-profit company, Connections Academy of Oregon, LLC (CAO), to operate and manage the school, under the direction of the Board of Directors.

CAO is a wholly owned subsidiary of Connections Education LLC (CE), a MD-based for-profit. CE is a division of UK-based Pearson PLC (LSE:PSON; NYSE: PSO), which reported annual revenue of $5.511 billion in 2018.

Critics of outsourcing the management of charter schools to companies like Pearson argue that it siphons off already limited school resources for service fees, profits, other layers of administration and costly marketing programs, such as television ads and online campaigns.

ACADEMIC NON-PERFORMANCE

ORCA says its curriculum “develops critical thinking and problem-solving skills” and “builds a solid foundation in reading, writing, and mathematics.”

ORCA says that in a 2019 Parent Satisfaction Survey, families gave the school high marks,  A high level of 95 percent of the parents agreed that the program’s curriculum is high quality and that their child is satisfied with the program.

But if they looked closely at academic performance data, parents and students might not be so pleased.

ORCA may offer a superior option for some students, but for many students it does not.

This is consistent with a 2016 national study of virtual charter schools which concluded, “Multiple or expanded measures of school performance reveal that virtual school outcomes continued to lag significantly behind that of traditional brick-and-mortar schools.”

Standard test results for ORCA back that up.

ORCA officials said any evaluation of their academic performance needs to take into account that ORCA takes on many students who stumbled at their former traditional brick-and-mortar public schools. “We have a huge population of struggling learners,” Galvin said.

Research bears this out, documenting that students in virtual charter schools are more likely to come from the lower academic segments of traditional brick-and-mortar public schools.

But other research reveals that it’s the struggling learners who are least likely to be well served by online coursework. In other words, while struggling students are the ones most in need of traditional in-person courses, shuttling them off to online schools is exactly what they don’t need.

The same holds true for college students. Research on students taking online college courses indicates that virtual learning is most challenging for the least well-prepared students.

“These students consistently perform worse in an online setting than they do in face-to-face classrooms; taking online courses increases their likelihood of dropping out and otherwise impedes progress through college,concluded a Brookings Institute study on the “Promises and pitfalls of online education.”

Michael Petrilli, Executive Director of the Fordham Institute, made this point in remarks at an Education Commission of the States’ National Forum on Education Policy.

Because full-time virtual schools require “a kid who’s pretty driven, who has a pretty supportive home environment” for the best chance at success, Petrilli argued, “the schools would benefit from more selectivity and individual review of applications to determine fit, which is not now permitted at public virtual charter schools.”

Research on virtual charter school performance outcomes across the country generally paints a distressing picture linked to test-based outcomes.

A report from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University concluded that the majority of virtual charter school students showed poor learning growth in math and reading when compared to comparable students in traditional brick-and-mortar public schools.

The study also highlighted an intriguing finding, that the problem isn’t charter schools per se, but virtual charters. Being an online school matters more than being a charter school, “the report said.The principal impacts of attending an online charter school appear to be primarily driven by the online aspect of the school, rather than the fact it is a charter school.”

A 2017 CREDO report went even further, concluding that charter school operators with a for-profit orientation post significantly lower student academic gains than those with a non-profit status.

Virtual charter school advocates have an unending list of reasons for their poor performance.

Galvin also attributed ORCA’s low graduation rate to many of the students being way behind in credits when they arrived at the school, so bringing them up to speed can be a long and difficult task.

Left unsaid is that the transfer of many of these students to ORCA may, in a perverse sort of way, help the traditional public schools they come from. That’s because it removes academically struggling students from the rolls, improving graduation rates.

Research suggests this is a national problem.

“School officials nationwide dodge accountability ratings by steering low achievers to alternative programs,” ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit newsroom, has reported.

“When low achieving students leave, for instance, average school test scores increase,” said a report from the California Legislative Analysts’s Office. “This gives the appearance that the school is improving, and it allows the school to focus on the education needs of the more motivated students that remain. In addition, when students marked as ‘problems’ or ‘trouble makers’ drop out, they relieve educators of administrative headaches. As a result, inattention to the needs of these types of students can actually make schools appear more successful.”

COMPUTING ALONE

In E.M. Forster’s 1909 dystopian story “The Machine Stops,” people live alone in small solitary rooms deep under the surface of the earth. Relying on “the Machine” to keep the technology running that allows them to survive, they connect, though rarely, via a Skype-like function on a blue optic plate.

Virtual education can be like that for young people, alienating and isolating.

“A real course creates intellectual joy, at least in some,” Mark Edmundson, a professor of English at the University of Virginia, wrote in a New York Times column. “I don’t think an Internet course ever will. Internet learning promises to make intellectual life more sterile and abstract than it already is — and also, for teachers and for students alike, far more lonely.”

Some assume that virtual schooling for K-12 students must be appropriate and effective because it’s already been proven to work in higher education.

But even in higher education, there are doubts about the suitability of virtual instruction because of its focus on the individual rather than the group. “Learning at its best is a collective enterprise, something we’ve known since Socrates,” Edmundson wrote.

Studies show that the vast majority of students in online K-12 schools suffer because of isolation and the lack of a structured learning environment with required classroom attendance.

Then there’s the question of whether virtual charter schools that take students away from the daily face-to-face interaction of traditional public schools are exacerbating the fraying of the social fabric. That trend was explained in “Bowling Alone”, Robert Putnam’s provocative writing on civic disengagement in the United States.

A powerful tide that once pulled Americans into deep engagement in their communities reversed itself in the late 20th century and has pulled us apart from one another and our communities, Putnam wrote. The result is a society of isolated individuals deficient in social capital.

A “Social Capital Project” report prepared by the staff of a Congressional Committee observed that as Americans interact less with each other, particularly with people outside their immediate circle of family and friends, we trust those outside that circle less. But building broad relationships is exactly what’s needed to collectively develop community, the feeling of being part of something bigger than our close personal network.

In other words, k-12 virtual schooling may be one of the things compromising the health of America’s associational life.

 THE VERDICT IS IN

 The Center for Education Reform, a school choice advocacy group, said recently that the evolution of the charter school movement “…elevated educational choice to its current state as an invaluable good and an essential component of public education.”

Not so fast.

The charter school movement overall may have made significant gains, but the rapid, almost unrestrained, expansion of K-12 virtual charter schools is showing itself to be a mistake.

A 2015 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study found that technology use could positively impact student learning, but only if used in moderation. Overexposure to computers and the Internet actually causes educational outcomes to drop, the study found.

“Students who use computers very frequently at school do much worse, even accounting for social background and student demographics,” the report said.

Similarly, a RAND Corporation study found that students with low test scores who enrolled in online-only schools tended to fall even further behind, rather than recover loses.

At the same time, the movement of big business into the cyber charter school movement is revealing a questionable embrace of for-profit over non-profit public institutions.

What started as individualized efforts by non-profits to serve small, centralized groups of students online has morphed into a huge national business. Already, about 70 percent of students enrolled in virtual charters across the U.S. are attending schools managed by big for-profit companies such as Connections Academy and K12 Inc.

The desire for school choice is understandable, but numerous studies have concluded that full-time virtual charter schools are not the right option for many K-12 students.

“Current online charter schools may be a good fit for some students, but the evidence suggests that online charters don’t serve very well the relatively atypical set of students that currently attend these schools, much less the general population,” said Stanford’s CREDO in a report. “Academic benefits from online charter schools are currently the exception rather than the rule.”

In the same vein, a 2017 report from the Colorado-based National Education Policy Center (NEPC) concluded, “There is…little high-quality systematic evidence that the rapid expansion of (virtual charter schools) the past several years is wise. Research has …consistently found that students enrolled in full-time virtual schools have performed at levels well below their face-to-face counterparts.”

A Fordham Institute study of virtual charter schools reached similar conclusions. “Online schools offer an efficient way to diversify—and even democratize—education in a connected world,” the study said. “Yet they have received negative, but well-deserved, attention concerning their poor academic performance, attrition rates, and ill capacity to educate the types of students who enroll in them.”

The National Education Association (NEA), never hesitant to raise doubts about charter schools, has piled on, too. In July 2017, 7,000 delegates to the NEA’s Annual Meeting approved a policy statement calling for prohibitions on for-profit charter school operations. “…virtual charter schools are never an appropriate part of the public education system as they cannot provide students with a well-rounded, complete educational experience,” the NEA said.

In 2019, The National Education Policy Center cited “the overwhelming evidence of poor performance by full-time virtual…schools”  and recommended: Slow or stop the growth in the number of virtual schools and the size of their enrollments until the reasons for their relatively poor performance have been identified and addressed.”

There’s even an antagonistic split within the charter school sector.

While brick-and mortar and virtual charter schools may be at the same dance, they’re engaged in an increasingly hostile pas de deux.

For a significant number of “students who are attending full-time, fully online schools, the outcomes are pretty devastating,” M. Karega Rausch, vice president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, told attendees at a 2017 panel at an Education Commission of the States’ National Forum on Education Policy.

Other national charter school advocates have also blasted the virtual charter schools sector for chronic underperformance.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now (50CAN) and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) has reported that “…too many of these (full-time virtual charter) schools are not providing a quality educational program to the vast majority of their students, while enrolling too many who are simply not a good fit for attending a fully online school.”

Their report emphasized:

  • “The well-documented, disturbingly low performance by too many full-time virtual charter public schools should serve as a call to action to state leaders and authorizers across the country.
  • It is time for state leaders to make the tough policy changes necessary to ensure that this model works more effectively than it currently does for the students it serves.
  • It is also time for authorizers to close chronically low-performing virtual charter schools.”

There’s also concern that virtual-charters are siphoning off money from other public schools, particularly some that are already in serious financial trouble.

“Some will argue that because we’re not serving those students, the loss of funding shouldn’t be an issue,” said Beth Graser, the Hillsboro School District’s Communications Director. But because those students don’t leave in perfect sets of 30, all from the same grade and the same school, it doesn’t really reduce our costs because we still have to maintain the same levels of staffing and other services.”

Pulling money out of traditional brick and mortar public schools to support virtual charters is thought by many critics to be especially egregious when some of that money goes not to education, but to for-profit management companies.

Oregon’s charter funding rules are also reason for concern.

With the potential for wide variations in sponsoring district fees and levels of oversight, it can be lucrative for virtual charters to go sponsor shopping.

In addition, school districts, particularly small struggling ones that are supposed to oversee the charters they sponsor, have a strong financial incentive to provide more lenient oversight and to ignore problems that might jeopardize the charter’s payments to the district.

Another issue is the wide disparity in amounts of state school fund money sponsoring districts are skimming off the top, leaving varying amounts for actually educating students.

The only groups finding positive results for full-time virtual charters, “have been advocacy organizations supporting charter schools and school choice—and the for-profit corporations operating many virtual schools,” the NEPC claims.

Even though charter schools are public, the movement is being driven, in part, by a loss of faith in traditional public institutions.

A recent Gallup survey reported that Americans have very low confidence in many major institutions. Education has taken a particularly hard hit. While per-pupil expenditures at K-12 schools have been rising, public confidence has been falling. According to Gallup, only 29% of Americans have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the public schools, down from 58 percent in 1973.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that virtual charter schools, given their track record and use of public money, are not the answer.

The market alone cannot be relied upon to provide quality control over virtual charter schools. As Chester Finn Jr., President Emeritus at the Fordham Institute, put it, operating on the principal that quality is in the eye of the beholder, and ignoring school outcomes, is “idiocy,”. “It arises from the view—long since dismissed by every respectable economist—that education is a private good and the public has no interest in an educated citizenry.”

“Once you conclude that education is also a public good—one whose results bear powerfully on our prosperity, our safety, our culture, our governance, and our civic life—you have to recognize that voters and taxpayers have a compelling interest in whether kids are learning what they should, at least in schools that call themselves ‘public,’ “ Finn said.

Despite serious reservations about the efficacy of K-12 virtual charter schools and reams of data calling into question their impact versus brick-and-mortar traditional public schools and even brick-and mortar charter schools, there’s almost sycophantic adoration of the schools by the parents of many attendees and families are increasingly turning to them for their children’s education.

It may be because the debate about virtual charter schools is more about people’s values than academic performance. To a lot of parents and students, virtual charters are really about independence, bonding with like-minded parents, having the option of choice, and escaping from what are perceived as stifling, monopolistic government bureaucracies.

Living in a cocoon of misinformation, they’re not interested in contrary data. And as neuroscientist Tali Sharot observed in her book, “The Influential Mind,” it is hard to convince people with just data. When presented with hard evidence that contradicts their deeply held beliefs, people often work overtime to find reasons to defend those beliefs rather than modify them.

In the 2017 book issued by the Center for Education Reform, the authors argued that these parents should be trusted to make good decisions for their children. “We believe that parents (who see their child come home from school every day) are better able than bureaucrats (who see mostly standardized tests scores) to judge the quality of the school they’ve chosen,” they said.

But the fact is that many K-12 virtual charter schools are like tribute bands, just a facsimile of real education.

Relying solely on the presumed wisdom of the parents to determine the suitability of virtual charter schools is a grievous mistake with potentially damaging consequences for Oregon’s, and America’s, children.

 

 

                                                         

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The union campaign at Burgerville: a quixotic quest

burgervillestrike

Local news is replete with stories about the failure of contract negotiations between Burgerville and the Burgerville Workers Union ands the threat of a worker strike, but most are failing to point out a critical fact — only 111 Burgerville employees at a total of five of the company’s 47 locations have even voted to form a union.

Furthermore, of the 142 employees who were working in those five locations during their respective votes, only 94 of them were still employed at Burgerville as of mid-2019 and the lead organizers of the unionizing effort at three of the five restaurants no longer worked at the company

It’s also likely that most of  the employees now threatening an “imminent” strike will not be at Burgerville long-term because the fast-food industry is grappling with record employee turnover.

According to MIT Technology Review, the turnover rate in the fast-food industry is 150%. In other words, the typical fast food restaurant is seeing its entire workforce, plus half of its new hires, replaced in 12 months.

Burgerville is doing better, perhaps because of its expansive benefits, including health insurance, vacation pay and financial wellness training. Still, the annual turnover rate across all its restaurants in 2018 was 83% (up from 71% in 2017), according to the company.

The union has reportedly asked for a $5 hourly increase for all unionized workers; Burgerville has offered a $1 an hour increase for all workers, which would put them 6 months ahead of a state-mandated minimum-wage increase.

The union says Burgerville’s proposed pay raise is “miserly.” Is it?

According to Glassdoor, a website where current and former employees anonymously review companies and anonymously submit and view salaries, average base pay for hourly crew members is currently $12.  When factoring in bonuses and additional compensation, a crew member at Burgerville can expect to make an average annual salary of $25,298.

For comparison, the typical McDonald’s crew member makes $9 per hour, according to Glassdoor. When factoring in bonuses and additional compensation, a crew member at McDonald’s can expect to make an average annual salary of $19,242.

The typical Wendy’s Crew Member makes $9 per hour., Glassdoor says.  When factoring in bonuses and additional compensation, a Crew Member at Wendy’s can expect to make an average annual salary of $18,738.

In other words, the average hourly pay of Burgerville crew members is already higher than at key competitors.

Could Burgerville afford to pay its employees more? It’s a private company owned by The Holland Inc., so it doesn’t make its financials public. The economy is strong, however, and the fast-food, or quick service restaurant (QSR), industry in the United States, has been doing well, particularly in 2018 and 2019. Workers have reason to believe Burgerville has benefited.

I understand workers’ desire to share in America’s prosperity, but any increase in wages crunches the bottom line and in a highly competitive marketplace only some of additional labor costs can be passed on to price sensitive consumers. The preferred solution for many fast-food businesses is reducing, not increasing, labor costs, largely by leveraging technology to employ fewer people.

Then, of course, there’s the question of whether the union’s demand for “a living wage” at Burgerville is even realistic.

According to a Living Wage Calculator developed by MIT, A living wage is the hourly rate that an individual in a household must earn to support his or herself and their family. The assumption is that the sole provider is working full-time (2080 hours per year).

The Calculator says a living wage for two adults, with one working, and one child in Multnomah County is $26.06 an hour or $54,205 a year. It is delusional to think Burgerville will pay that much to an easily replaceable crew member with limited skills and an expected short tenure.

The fact is, rather than pushing for unattainable wages at Burgerville, current crew members would be better off enhancing their job skills and/or education to qualify for higher paying employment elsewhere.

Who cares about people 7000 miles away?

“Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds and fight Turkey for their own land. I said to my Generals, why should we be fighting for Syria and Assad to protect the land of our enemy? Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte. I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!”

President Donald Trump, Oct. 14, 2019

trumpandstatedepartment

Is President Trump arguing that far away countries are not worth America’s attention?

  • Should the U.S. ignore the freedom seekers in Hong Kong?

Distance from Washington, D.C. to Hong Kong: 8,140 miles

DCtoHongKong

  • Should the U.S. have avoided confronting Hitler?

Distance from Washington to Berlin: 4,167 miles

DCtoBerlin

  • Should the U.S. ignore the threat posed by Russia?

Distance from Washington to Moscow: 4,857 miles

DCtoMoscow

  • Should the U.S. have allowed North Korea and the People’s Republic of China to take over South Korea?

Distance from Washington to Seoul: 6,933 miles

DCtoSeoul

  • Should the U.S. have skipped the North African campaign in WWII

Distance from Washington to Tobruk, Libya: 5,386 miles

DCtoTobruk

  • Should the U.S. abandon Israel?

Distance from Washington to Jerusalem: 5,897 miles

DCtoJurusalem

  • Should the U.S. ignore the threats posed by the People’s Republic of China? (the only one actually about 7,000 miles away)

Distance from Washington, D.C.to Beijing: 6,928.42 miles

DCtoBeijing

Remind you of anything?

America_First_Rally_flyer_April_4_1941?

 

 

Is foreign ownership of U.S. agricultural land a threat to the U.S.? Elizabeth Warren thinks so.

wheatharvesting-wheat-field-in-oregon-buddy-mays

Does growing foreign ownership of farmland threaten family farmers, food supply and U.S. national security.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, a leading challenger in the race for the Democratic nomination for president, thinks so.

Warren says she’s so alarmed about foreign ownership of U.S. agricultural land she wants to ban it.

“Foreign companies and foreign countries like China and Saudi Arabia already own 25 million acres of American farmland,” she posted on Medium on March 27, 2019. “That jeopardizes our food security, which threatens our national security, too.”

She certainly has some support among America’s farmers. “Our rural communities are becoming factory farms for foreign corporations,” argues Family Farm Action, a Kansas City-based organization launched in 2017 to fight for America’s family farmers and rural communities.

In 2018, family farmers packed a Missouri House hearing room to support bills banning foreign ownership of agricultural land. They emphasized the values of family farmers and the deep connections that make them stewards of their land and communities. Foreign-owned companies don’t care about the community because they are so far removed from it, they argued.

“I would hate to see what our forefathers would think of us brokering our American soil off to foreign countries,” said Missouri farmer Terry Spence.

Land law is generally state law in the United States and state laws vary widely.

As of 2017, Six states had laws banning foreign ownership of farmland: Hawaii, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Dakota and Oklahoma.

Oregon’s only restriction was Or. Rev. Stat. §§ 273.255, saying that “Any individual who is 18 years of age or older and who is a citizen of the United States, or has declared an intention to become a citizen, may apply to purchase state lands. “

Warren’s solution? National legislation similar to that enacted in Iowa prohibiting foreign individuals or entities from purchasing farmland for the purchase of farming.

Warren’s acreage figure, drawn from a 2011 Dept. of Agriculture report, is out of date, but it does illustrate a trend.

Foreign investors controlled 13.7 million acres of U.S. farmland in 2004. By 2014, total U.S. farmland under foreign investors’ control was 27.3 million acres, more than twice the level in 2004 and about the size of Tennessee.

By 2016 it was at least 28.3 million acres, according to a report by The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting using data filed pursuant to the 1978 Agricultural Foreign Investment Disclosure Act (AFIDA).  7 U.S.C. 3501 et seq. A thorough review of current law on foreign investment of U.S. agricultural land can be found in the Drake Journal of Agricultural Law: Acquisition and Disposition of U.S. Agricultural Land by Foreign Investors: Federal and State Legislative Restrictions, Limitations, and Disclosure Requirements.

Foreign investors acquired at least 1.6 million acres of U.S. agricultural land in 2016, the largest increase in more than a decade, according to the Midwest Center.

The Disclosure Act requires that foreign owners who acquire, sell or gain interest in U.S. agricultural land must file disclosure paperwork, known as the FSA-153 form, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.

In May 2019, Newsweek made it all sound like the sky is falling, “American farmland is increasingly being bought up by outside investors,” Newsweek wrote. “As NPR noted in a recent report, nearly 30 million acres of U.S. farmland were held by foreign investors in 2015, nearly double the acres owned by foreign investors a decade before.”

That may sound threatening, but the fact is only 2.2 percent of U.S. agricultural land is foreign owned.

And while Warren’s criticism of foreign ownership of agricultural land emphasizes the food security issue, most of that foreign-owned agricultural land is forestland, with pastureland next and then cropland.

The Midwest Center has found that timber companies and renewable energy companies are the biggest group of foreign investors.

forest_property_land_sales_brokerage_alt

For example, EDP Renewables, a Portuguese renewable energy company, and Enel Green Power, an Italian renewable energy company, both control significant swaths of farmland through long-term leases, according to the Center.

In highlighting Saudi Arabia and China, Warren is also overplaying their role in U.S. farmland ownership, probably to make it appear more threatening.

In truth, Canadian investors owned the most U.S. agricultural land nationwide (6.87 million acres) in 2016, followed by The Netherlands (4.87 million acres) and Germany (1.94 million acres). Chinese investors owned 240,000 acres of U.S. farmland., and Saudi Arabian investors even less, just 35,731 acres, according to The Midwest Center.

The state with the most foreign ownership and investment in 2016 was Maine, which had 3.1 million acres that are foreign-controlled, followed closely by Texas at 3 million acres. Alabama, at 1.6 million acres, Washington, at 1.5 million acres, and Michigan, at 1.3 million acres, rounded out the top five, according to the Midwest Center’s analysis.

Oregon was way down the list, with just 315 plots of agricultural land totaling 792,864 acres under foreign ownership out of a total of about 15.9 million acres of agricultural land. That’s about 5%.

Warren seems to have a plan for just about everything. In this case, her plan is wrong. Foreign ownership of agricultural land in the United States or Oregon isn’t a crisis by any stretch of the imagination, no matter how much Warren wants to make it one.