Jennifer Berkshire

What the Media Missed About the West Virginia Teachers Strike

The statewide walkout by teachers that shuttered West Virginia's public schools for nine days garnered an enormous amount of media attention. But the teachers’ demands for more money and a fix to spiraling health care costs were only part of the story.

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Why Students Should Go On Strike Over Gun Violence

Teachers in West Virginia demonstrated the power of a huge strike last week. What if students used the same strategy to force politicians to act on gun control?

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Why the Right Wing Is So Interested in Narrowing Down Education into 'Skills'

When California home health aide Maya Luna signed up for community college several years ago, she was after one thing: a better paying job. But taking classes in subjects like history, anthropology and art ignited a love of learning she didn’t know she had, and transformed her into a community activist. A clear success, right? Not if your goal is to mold the next generation of compliant employees.

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Betsy DeVos' Extreme Right-Wing Education Agenda: Report Card for Her First Year

In the latest episode of the Have You Heard podcast, AlterNet education contributor Jennifer Berkshire and co-host Jack Schneider examine the DeVos education agenda, one year in. They revisit some of her most controversial statements, including her comparison of public education to food trucks and her infamous hat tip to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Among their key takeaways: while DeVos continues to be painted as an inexperienced naif, she is a profoundly political actor, and deeply involved in the efforts to transform the U.S. along right-wing, libertarian lines.

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Voucher Schools Are Teaching Kids What Can Only Be Described as Right-Wing Propaganda

The number of private schools that get taxpayer funds via school vouchers or tax credit scholarships is rising rapidly, but few states keep tabs on what these schools are actually teaching. In a recent investigation for Huffington Post, education reporter Rebecca Klein shone a light on three popular textbooks used by private religious schools. While she found materials touting creationism over evolution, or teaching that homosexuality is a sin, Klein also encountered right-wing propaganda embedded throughout these K-12 curricula.

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What the 2016 Election Revealed About the Limits of 'College for All'

For decades, attending college has been the sole recipe for social and economic mobility offered up by Republicans and Democrats alike. But the 2016 election revealed the limits of "college for all." For one, only one-third of Americans actually have bachelors degrees, as Joan Williams points out in her new book, The White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America. Williams, a Distinguished Professor of Law, UC Hastings Foundation Chair, and the founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings College of the Law, argues that higher education has become a way for professional elites to "reproduce" and transfer class status. 

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Charter School Teachers Are Organizing (and Joining Forces with Public School Counterparts)

Non-union charter schools are beloved by billionaire education reformers and school privatization fans, both red and blue. But charter schools also rely upon those same young workers, who as polls indicate, have far more favorable views of unions than previous generations.

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Segrenomics: Cashing In on Our Unequal Education System Goes Way Back

Noliwe Rooks is the director of American studies at Cornell University and the author of Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education. This is an edited transcript.

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Why Keeping Politics Out of the Classroom Is a Disaster for Democracy

In our hyper-polarized era, calls to “keep politics out of the classroom” are routine. But public school classrooms are precisely the place where students should be learning how to discuss and debate contentious topics, according to a new book, The Case for Contention: Teaching Controversial Issues in American Schools, by Jonathan Zimmerman and Emily Robertson. 

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Corporations Are Undermining Public Education, One State at a Time

In the wake of the Great Recession, the corporate lobbies engineered an unprecedented wave of legislation, aimed at lowering labor standards and slashing public services in state after state. But while high-profile attacks on labor unions, as in Wisconsin, garnered the headlines, the top legislative priority of ALEC and the Chamber of Commerce was the privatization of public education.

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Meet the Texas Pastor Who's Standing Up for Public Education - And Taking On the Lone Star State Power Structure

Jennifer Berkshire: Your group, Pastors for Texas Children, which mobilizes faith leaders in support of public schools, seems to have ruffled a few feathers in the Lone Star state. A group with ties to the Koch brothers recently threw some absurd criticisms your way.

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How Closing Public Schools Undermines Democracy

Chicago shuttered some 50 schools in 2013. Since then, voter turnout and support for Democrats in the affected neighborhoods has plunged. What's the connection? In the latest episode of the Have You Heard podcast, AlterNet education editor Jennifer Berkshire talks to political scientist Sally Nuamah about the political fallout from the closures, and why shuttering schools ends up undermining democracy.

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White Spite: Why Education Is at the Center of Trump's Politics of Resentment

Editor's Note: Carol Anderson is the Charles Howard Candler Professor and Chair of African American Studies at Emory University. Her latest book is White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide, the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Ward.

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Betsy DeVos' Vision Goes Way Beyond Privatizing Education - And She Is Alarmingly Close To Realizing It

If Betsy DeVos enjoys the occasional quaff of champagne on her private jet, the recent news that the Supreme Court is poised to deliver a knock-out blow to public sector unions presented a reason to celebrate. The announcement was made just hours before DeVos alit at Harvard last week, where she was the star attraction at a school choice conference. At Harvard’s Kennedy School, DeVos was met by one of the largest protests she has encountered to date: an all-ages demonstration vs just about everything Trump’s Secretary of Education has said and done during the past seven months. Inside, the event was tense, even hostile—another rocky outing in a tenure replete with them. Or at least that is the conventional wisdom. 

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Why School Choice is the Last Thing America Needs to Solve Its Huge Racial Wealth Gap

The gap between how much wealth Blacks and Whites have in the US is stark. If current trends continue, the median wealth of Blacks could fall to zero, even as wealthy Whites remain blissfully, even delusionally, unaware of the economic divide. But what is the source of the racial wealth gap, and how can we upend what is essentially a caste system in this country? AlterNet education editor Jennifer Berkshire talks to Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law, about the federal housing policies that segregated cities, neighborhoods and schools, dividing the economic prospects of Blacks and Whites in the process.

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Education Can't Solve Poverty - So Why Do We Keep Insisting That It Can?

Unions are weak. Wage growth is non-existent. Plutocrats have all the power. And yet the myth that education is all we need to finally "fix" poverty persists. AlterNet education editor Jennifer Berkshire talks with historian Harvey Kantor about how the US gave up on the idea of responding to poverty directly, instead making public schools the answer to poverty. Hint: it all starts in the 1960s with the advent of the Great Society programs. Fast-forward to the present and our belief that education can reduce poverty and narrow the nation’s yawning inequality chasm is stronger than ever. And yet our education arms race, argues Kantor, is actually making income inequality worse.

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How Online Real Estate Companies Are Making School Segregation Worse

Online real estate finders like Zillow and Trulia now let homebuyers shop for properties and schools at the same time. When Jack Schneider, the author of a new book, Beyond Test Scores: A Better Way to Measure School Quality, tried to get these school ratings tools to recommend his own daughter's school in the diverse community of Somerville, MA, he couldn't. Instead the sites inevitably steered him to schools in pricier—and whiter—suburbs. That's because the real estate sites rely on test score data as their measure for determining which schools are the best, what Schneider refers to as "demographic data in disguise." In the latest episode of Have You Heard, Schneider and AlterNet education editor Jennifer Berkshire, discuss how test scores and other current metrics distort our picture of school quality, often fostering segregation in the process, and what a better measure looks like. 

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There's a Big Fight Brewing Between 1 Billionaire and 2 Million School Kids in Illinois Over Funding

While the national education debate is largely focused on Betsy DeVos and school choice, the fiercest fights over the future of public education are playing out at the state level. This week, AlterNet begins a tour across the US to survey some of the biggest education battles. The first stop: Illinois, where Governor Bruce Rauner, a conservative billionaire, seems determined to blow up the state’s schools. AlterNet education editor Jennifer Berkshire talks to Dusty Rhodes, an education reporter for NPR in Illinois, about the high-stakes school funding showdown that's pitting the conservative billionaire Governor against the state's public schools.

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The Right Wing in America Has Long Tried to Destroy 'Government Schools'

Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains: the Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, is one of the most buzzed-about books of the summer. But her book is also about public education, and the right’s long crusade to privatize what they call “government schools.” In the latest episode of the Have You Heard Podcast, AlterNet education editor Jennifer Berkshire talks to MacLean about why public education is in the crosshairs of the radical right, and how the history of private school vouchers, a passion of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, is inextricably linked to efforts by Southern white elites to resist desegregation.

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Deeply Unpopular, DeVos and ALEC in Lockstep in Trying to Destroy Public Education

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ speech to the American Legislative Exchange Council met with protests before she’d even arrived in Denver. But teachers and activists aren’t the only ones objecting to the extreme, anti-public education agenda DeVos shares with ALEC. One of the great questions of our time is just how far to the fringe the right wing of the Republican Party can march before the business-minded set steps in and yanks the chain. ALEC’s education platform is providing a real-time test case.

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Betsy DeVos: The Queen of Obfuscation, Talking Nonsense

After 156 days on the job, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos finally sat down with the media on Thursday. Capping off the start to a controversial listening tour on campus sexual assault issues, DeVos took a handful of questions from reporters and mostly delivered talking points in return.

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'I Quit!' Teachers Are Fed Up - And They're Telling the World Why

When Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Shawn Sheehan decided to leave his job as high school math teacher for a better paying position in Texas, he didn't go quietly. Sheehan left "kicking and screaming," warning Oklahomans that the state's notoriously underfunded schools are teetering on the brink, even as schemes to privatize education in the state gain momentum.

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My Teacher Is an Algorithm: Silicon Valley Billionaires Want to Replace Teachers with Technology

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is in. So is Reed Hastings from Netflix. In fact, it’s hard to find a Silicon Valley billionaire who doesn’t want to disrupt public education by replacing teachers with algorithms.

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For Big Money Donors, School Boards Are the New ‘Must Buy’ Accessory

The recent school board election in Los Angeles drew close to $17 million in donations, much of it in the form of untraceable “dark money” from a familiar cast of enormously wealthy donors.

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Biggest Massachusetts Charter Stops Disciplining Black Students for Hair Braids, But Tells Parents They Wanted to Avoid Costly Court Fight

A Massachusetts charter school that was disciplining Black students for the way they braid their hair, and using equity-ish ling as justification has officially backed down.

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Screw You: Betsy DeVos’ Top Adviser Led a For-Profit University That Defrauded Students and Hoovered Up Federal Student Aid

Editor’s note: Jennifer Berkshire has been covering education issue for more than a decade and writes the HaveYouHeard blog. Christopher Crowley is an assistant professor of teacher education at Wayne State. Follow him on Twitter at @c_b_crowley.

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Want to See How School Choice Leads to Segregation? Visit Betsy DeVos’ Hometown

To see for yourself how school choice leads to segregation, I recommend a visit to Betsy DeVos’ hometown of Holland, Michigan.

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The DeVos Brand of Public School Reform: Unregulated, Profitable, Voucher-Oriented, Meets Resistance in Ohio

Since Betsy DeVos was tapped to be Secretary of Education, I’ve managed to pen close to 20,000 words about her. And now here she was, standing so close to me that I could make out the flat a’s of western Michigan in her voice.

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New Research Shows Greediest Charter School Operators Looting Taxpayers Via Real Estate Deals

(Editor's note: A new report by some of the nation's foremost experts on self-enrichment schemes by charter school operators has compared the worst offenders to Enron, the Texas-based energy company with close ties to then-President George W. Bush that imploded a dozen years ago. Jennifer Berkshire, who writes the HaveYouHeard education blog, interviewed one of the report's authors, the University of Connecticut's Preston Green, about these real estate deals and other taxpayer rip-offs.)

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GOP Operatives Roll Out New Campaign to Lift Cap on Massachusetts Charter Schools

Advocates for expanding charter schools in Massachusetts kicked off an $18 million advertising campaign during the Olympics, but good luck figuring out just which of your favorite billionaires is paying for the ads. As UMass Boston political science professor Maurice Cunningham explains, the "dark money" groups behind the campaign are like Russian nesting dolls, with one 501(c)(4) snuggled inside another. What you won't find is much grassroots support, according to Cunningham, who says the push to lift the charter cap is the work of a handful of wealthy Republican families and some well-known GOP operatives.

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Charter School Expansion is Having Devastating Impact on Public School Finances

What does charter school expansion mean for urban school districts? The words "smoking ruin" best describe the findings of a new study by school finance expert David Arsen of Michigan State University. In an interview with Edushyster.com's Jennifer Berkshire, Arsen explains what happened when Michigan opened the door for rapid charter growth, and why other state's would do well to heed Michigan's cautionary tale. Drawing on twenty years of data, the study, which will appear in the fall issue of the Journal of School Finance, presents the most definitive account to date that unfettered school choice is pushing cities and their schools to the financial brink.

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