Category Archives: Education

John Oliver tackles, destroys charter schools


Charter schools, those private institutions so beloved by Republicans, have been judged and the results are mixed.

One recent study [open source] concluded:

We estimate the impact of charter schools on early-life labor market outcomes using administrative data from Texas. We find that, at the mean, charter schools have no impact on test scores and a negative impact on earnings.. . .Moving to school-level estimates, we find that charter schools that decrease test scores also tend to decrease earnings, while charter schools that increase test scores have no discernible impact on earnings.  In contrast, high school graduation effects are predictive of earnings effects throughout the distribution of school quality.

More on the study from Education Week:

Texas charter schools on average have a negative effect on students’ future earnings, according to a new working paper by two economists.

Although attending a “no excuse” charter school, which the study describes as having stricter rules, uniforms, and longer school days and years, leads to higher test scores and four-year college enrollment, it has no meaningful effect on earnings.

Other types of charter schools, however, stumble on all three measures: hurting test scores, four-year college enrollment, and earnings.

These findings are almost the opposite of another study of Florida charter school students released in April from Mathematica Policy Research. It found that attending a charter school had little impact on test scores, but students went on to earn higher salaries than their peers in district schools.

Enough with the prefacing, and one with the show.

From Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Charter Schools: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Program notes:

Charter schools are privately run, publicly funded, and irregularly regulated. John Oliver explores why they aren’t at all like pizzerias.

Chart of the day: Partisan divide on education


As with so many other things, public opinion about education in the U.S. is divided on partisan lines. From Gallup:

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UC Berkeley purge: The chancellor has resigned


University of California Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks has handed in his academic robes, the victim of campus sexual harassment and other scandals as well as a petition campaign by faculty members.

And that’s after the spent $200,000 trying to polish his image [below].

From the Washington Post:

UC-Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks announced his resignation Tuesday, a week after Linda Katehi stepped down as UC-Davis chancellor. Both leaders had been embroiled in multiple controversies.

Dirks faced questions about whether Berkeley was too lax in response to sexual harassment allegations against faculty and how the school would surmount steep budget troubles. The Los Angeles Times disclosed last month that he was under investigation for possible misuse of public funds for travel and the personal use of a campus fitness trainer without payment. The Daily Californian student newspaper also reported that the university had spent $9,000 for an emergency exit near Dirks’s office as a security measure in case of protests. All of this undermined the three-year tenure of a historian and anthropologist who sought to rejuvenate undergraduate education at Berkeley and boost public support for higher education’s great public flagships.

“Definitely a significant number of faculty had lost confidence in him,” Robert Powell, a political scientist and chair of Berkeley’s faculty senate, said Wednesday. “The reasons vary depending on different people you talk to.”

Dirks, who took office in June 2013, said he plans to step down when a successor is ready to take his place. When he exits, his tenure as chancellor is likely to have been the shortest at UC-Berkeley in a half century. Edward Strong served in the job for four years, from 1961 to 1965, and Glenn T. Seaborg for three, from 1958 to 1961.

UPDATE: More details from the Los Angeles Times:

In recent weeks, however, pressure for Dirks to resign has escalated. A petition expressing loss of confidence in his leadership was recently signed by more than 45 distinguished professors, including former Academic Senate leaders, members of the National Academy of Sciences, department chairs and heads of research units.

“There was a whole series of really bad steps which shows he’s cut himself off and is unresponsive to the campus community,” said Michael Burawoy, co-chairman of the Berkeley Faculty Assn., who signed the petition.

However, Judith Butler, a professor of comparative literature, expressed concern that maneuvers like the petition occurred among a small group without open discussion by the full faculty. “The real question is who was this small group working in the summer and do they really represent the faculty?” she asked. “I’m not convinced.”

She declined, however, to give an assessment of Dirks’ effectiveness.

Former Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau called the news of Dirks’ resignation “a sad day for Berkeley.”

Butler, a faculty member we respect, raises an interesting point.

Who were the faculty members who wanted Dirks gone?

Dirks came from the humanities, unlike his predecessor Birgeneau, a physicist.

The University of California has been reshaping itself in the corporate model, which is why we have dubbed it Global Corporate University. The priority has been on seeking ways to create revenue by funding research for corporations to buy, both in the hard sciences [witness the Amyris debacle] and in the business school.

Was Dirks, who traditionally emphasized the importance of the humanities, a field that doesn’t produce all that lucrative intellectual property or churn out tomorrow’s business executives, a man out of place at Cal?

It’s worth pondering.

The university’s costly image spinning

We can’t read the full story in the subscriber-only San Francisco Chronicle story, but they do let you read the first paragraph, to which we’ve added another paragraph from the story we found in a news aggregator:

As UC Berkeley prepared to eliminate hundreds of jobs and take millions of dollars in loans to help balance its flagging budget, the campus also paid more than $200,000 to “improve the chancellor’s strategic profile nationally and internationally,” The Chronicle has learned.

The decision to pay outside consultants of the last year to burnish Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ global image is seen by some faculty as the latest in a series of missteps — including his kid glove treatment of star employees who sexually harassed students and colleagues and his uneven handling of the campus; $150 million budget deficit — that led to Dirks’ decision to step down. The companies agreed to “increase exposure and awareness of Dirks’ vision for higher education, elevate the chancellor as a “key thought leader” and “form key partnerships” so that potential donors would understand his philosophy.

The news about the image polishing confirmed suspicions we raised in a blog 16 March post, reprinted in full below [emphasis added]:

The curious case of the missing monobrow. . .

Coming to Berkeley from Columbia University, where Nicholas B. Dirks had served as executive vice president and dean of the faculty of  Arts and Sciences, the new chancellor of the flagship campus of the University of California underwent an amazing transition.

Here’s the image the folks at Cal’s PR department sent out when 8 November 2012 when announcing his appointment:

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And here’s an image of Dirks captured from the apology video just posted:

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So what happened to the monobrow, a furry feature evident in countless photos [for instance] taken before his transplantation to the Golden State from the urban wilds of the Big Apple?

And then there are the eyeglasses. In all but two of the images we found doing a Google image search, Dirks wore his specs at a genial, approachable half staff, yet in the apology video he gazes out from behind glass, the lenses interposing themselves between seer and seen.

And what’s the deal with the flowers, the white blooms often associated with funerals and death?

Maybe its our old anthropological training kicking in, or simply the observation skills honed during five decades of journalism, but our sense is that in coming to image-conscious California Dirks fell into the hands of media handlers.

Mexico’s striking teachers deliver ultimatum


And it’s simple: Move to end the government’s neoliberal education reforms or they’ll walk out before schools open.

President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration has ordered corporate-friendly measures paralleling many of those implemented in the U.S. under the George W. Bush administration, but members of the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación [CNTE, previously] in the state of Chiapas are stepping up their game.

From teleSUR English:

Dissident Mexican teachers on strike for the past three months in the southern state of Chiapas remain firm that they will not go back to their classrooms for the start of term next week if the government doesn’t agree to put “serious and concrete” proposals on the table in a so far “fruitless” negotiation process that continues Tuesday.

In a nationwide meeting Sunday of more than two dozen union locals, representatives of the National Coordinator of Education Workers, or CNTE, accused authorities in the Ministry of the Interior of working to “manage” the conflict without offering clear solutions and “dragging their feet” in the face of teacher demands to overhaul the public education system, La Jornada reported.

“The grassroots are demanding signed agreements,” said members of the Oaxaca section of the CNTE, criticizing weeks of empty talks, according to La Jornada. “There’s still nothing concrete.”

But despite the impasse, the Ministry of the Interior continued to insist that controversial neoliberal education reforms, the main issue for the striking teachers, are still not on the negotiations agenda, El Proceso reported.

Chiapas teachers have said that their decision on whether to end the strike and go back to classes for the start of the school year on Aug. 22 will depend on the outcome of talks with the government Tuesday afternoon, scheduled to begin at 6:00 p.m. local time in Mexico City.

Legislators slam Mexican massacre coverup


On 19 June, government forces attacked striking teachers in Nochixtlan [more here] and elsewhere in the state of Oaxaca, where they had been conducting ongoing protests against corporate-friendly neoliberal education “reforms” designed to strip educators of their classroom autonomy.

The ongoing strikes have been organized by members of the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación [CNTE], a teachers union strong in Southern Mexico and created in opposition to a the government-backed union, the  Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación [SNTE].

On Thursday, members of the government of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Office of the Attorney General [Procurador General de la República, or PGR] offered preliminary results of their investigation of the killings, and promptly drew fire from leftist legislators.

From teleSUR English:

Officials seemed to be more interested in outlining the alleged misdeeds of the residents of Nochixtlan, specifying the investigation into a series of crimes was already open before the massacre took place.

They also went to great lengths to emphasize the alleged presence of weapons in the hands of the civilians in Nochixtlan.

“A relevant fact is that the PGR confirmed that there were civilians carrying weapons and a Federal Police helicopter was damaged by these weapons and a second was damaged by impact of rockets,” said conservative Senator Mariana Gomez del Campo, who also participated in the press conference.

She added that over hundred police officers had apparently suffered injuries.

No police were killed, meanwhile at least ten civilians were killed in different clashes throughout Oaxaca on June 19, six alone were killed in Nochixtlan.

Senator Alejandro Encinas, from the center-left PRD, grilled Higuera on this point during Friday’s session of the special commission of the Mexican Congress following up on the incident.

Encinas said Roberto Campa, the undersecretary for Human Rights from the Interior Ministry, had no problem entering the town in order to interview witnesses and had done so several times.

“Campa went in, talked with the victims, with the authorities … he has assembled the facts … the PGR cannot pretend it has dementia, because it has the elements it needs to go further in the investigation,” said Encinas, as quoted by La Jornada.

In addition, a consortium of human rights organizations were even able to produce a preliminary report, based on interviews with the town’s residents, detailing the human rights abuses committed by the state in Nochixtlan.

Encinas also questioned how the PGR could claim civilians were armed without offering proof.

Mexican striking teachers union leaders freed


The ongoing battle over the neoliberal education reforms in Mexican mandated by the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto excited a storm of protest among teachers in Mexico’s southern states.

The mandate demolishes local school and teacher autonomy, and has been greeted with a regional strike, complete with roadblocks and barricades, provoking massive and violent state repression, with ten or more teachers and their allies dead from police bullets, drawing sharp international condemnation.

The action was ignited by members of the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación [CNTE, previously], a union formed 40 years ago in opposition to the government’s pet union.

One step the government took early on during the recent protests was to arrest and jail two of the union’s top leaders.

And now the leaders are going free, at least for the moment.

From teleSUR Engilish:

Two leaders from the National Coordinator of Education Workers, which has been leading efforts to oppose neoliberal education reforms in Mexico, left jail Friday after a judge ordered their release, though the two still face charges.

Francisco Manuel Villalobos Ricardez and Ruben Nuñez immediately went to greet fellow union members who were assembled at a nearby hotel in the City of Oaxaca for a meeting.

“To those who are mobilized, we owe them, more than anyone, this great struggle,” Nuñez told the assembled trade unionists. Nuñez added that there was still work to be done as many others remained behind bars.

The pair were detained two months ago under questionable circumstances, promoting an outcry from the National Coordinator of Education Workers, known as the CNTE.

Villalobos, who serves as head of the CNTE in Oaxaca, was detained on charges of aggravated robbery stemming from the seizure of textbooks by the teachers union in 2015. Meanwhile, Nuñez, secretary-general of the CNTE in Oaxaca, was detained on allegations of money laundering.

Both deny the charges.

After their arrests, leaders from the union said that the government of Enrique Peña Nieto was resorting to repression to silence critics of their education reform.

Chart of the day: Student loans top debt list


From the Wall Street Journal via Popular Resistance, with a H/T to Undernews:

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