Thomas Ultican: Neoliberal Forces Dominate Public Education in Sacramento
Retired teacher and blogger Thomas Ultican looks at the inroads made by neoliberals in California, focusing on two new bills–one that extends charter school life span and another than seeks to monetize dyslexia. Reposted with permission.
Two pieces of legislation are racing through California’s state legislature both advancing the school privatization agenda. A third piece designed to protect taxpayers from the ravenous charter industry has been squashed. Public schools and sound pedagogy are being harmed by a radical market based ideology. Democrats continue their complicity in this conservative agenda.
Governor Newsom’s Charter School Give Away
A few weeks ago, Oakland school board Trustee Mike Hutchinson raised alarm bells about Governor Newsom’s education budget trailer bill. Hutchinson wrote on Facebook, “Buried on page 95 is a clause that would extend the length of every charter school’s charter, so that every charter school in California will get two extra years before they would be required to go through a renewal process.” California’s Department of Finance definition states, “The Trailer Bill Language is the implementing language of the California State Budget Bill.” It is where California governors execute their agenda.
Oakland School Board Trustee Mike Hutchinson
For his first chief of staff, Gavin Newsom selected Ann O’Leary. That was a very clear signal that he would not be a reliable friend for public schools. O’Leary was on Hillary Clinton’s senate staff in 2001 where she was deeply involved in writing the No Child Left Behind education bill. She was latter a senior policy advisor on Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and is a well known neoliberal who has been a long time cheerleader for the charter industry. Although O’Leary resigned as Chief of Staff this past December, her neoliberal ideology seems to permeate Newsom’s education policy.
From Page 7 of 22 – 2021-22 Governor’s Budget / May Revision Trailer Bills
“Section 47607.4 is added to the Education Code, to read: 47607.4. Notwithstanding the renewal process and criteria established in Sections 47605.9, 47607, and 47607.2 or any other law, effective July 1, 2021, all charter schools whose term expires on or between January 1, 2022, and June 30, 2025, inclusive, shall have their term extended by two years.” (Emphasis added)
Early this year, California Democratic State Senator Anthony Portantino proposed SB237 mandating dyslexia testing and intervention. It appears to be speeding through the state legislature with little opposition. On June 1st it passed on the senate floor with 39 yeses, zero no’s and one did not vote. The legislation awaits a final vote on the assembly floor.
The bill stipulates a specific set of dyslexia testing for all students kindergarten through third grade and requires the “State Board of Education to establish an approved list of culturally, linguistically, and developmentally appropriate screening instruments” to meet the mandate. The legislation also calls on local school districts to use “structured literacy instruction.”
Jan Malvin is a retired University of California researcher with a PhD in Educational Psychology from Northwestern University. She states,
“Formal diagnostic assessment is the only way to identify dyslexia or decoding challenges. The drive for universal screening and other dyslexia-specific policy is ‘a privatization agenda in which public schools become mandated consumers for a growing dyslexia industry, and in which the nature of instruction for students with reading difficulties is narrowly prescribed.”’
While the idea of dyslexia is not a new concept, many current papers make the point that “across more than a century, researchers have failed to consistently identify characteristics or patterns that distinguish dyslexia from other decoding challenges.” In a December 2020 report for the Literacy Research Association, Peter Johnston and Donna Scanlon of the University at Albany stated, “Current efforts at dyslexia screening are misleading about 50 percent of the time.”
While many children do have trouble learning to read and there is reason to believe dyslexia is real, a simple industry provided screening test for K-3 students is likely to misidentify significant numbers of students; labeling some as dyslexic who are not and missing an equal number who are.
Many researchers like Rachael E. Gabriel of the University of Connecticut point out that while the called for “structured literacy” approach has not been disproven even the US Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse states it is “not supported by evidence.”
The list of supporters for SB237 is long and the only California organization that was formally opposed to SB237 in time to be listed in the state’s bill analysis is Californians Together. They were a group formed in 1988 to fight against that year’s proposition 237 which prohibited bilingual education. Tax records show that they are a modest in size non-profit headquartered in Long Beach, California.
Other organizations that have since announced their opposition to SB237 include the California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE), California School Boards Association (CSBA), Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), and California Teachers Association (CTA).
No Charter School Reform or Taxpayer Protection
When San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan brought down the $50 million A-3 charter scam, she noted, “People v. McManus revealed many weaknesses in the State’s education system in the areas of fraud enforcement, student data tracking, auditing, school finance, and oversight of charter schools.”
To address these weaknesses Assembly Members Daniel O’Donnell, Cristina Garcia, and Kevin McCarty introduced AB1316. The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) expressed strong opposition to the bill. As education writer Carl Peterson observed, “Unfortunately, AB1316 was placed in the inactive file by a political system unwilling to risk the wrath of the California Charter School Association.”
This year is turning into a very bad year for public education in California. Neoliberal Democrats and the CCSA are having their way.