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Rachel M. Cohen

Rachel M. Cohen is a writing fellow at The American Prospect

Recent Articles

Sorry, Walmart: Charter Schools Won't Fix Poverty

The Walton Family Foundation may not want to raise wages or lose tax breaks, but education reform alone can't reduce income inequality.

(Photo: Mike Mozart/Creative Commons)
L ast week, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and In the Public Interest released a highly critical report on the Walton Family Foundation’s K-12 education philanthropy, which ended with a call for increased transparency and accountability in the charter sector. The gist of the report is that the Walton Family Foundation—which has kick-started about one in four charters around the country—“relentlessly presses for rapid growth of privatized education options” and has opposed serious efforts to regulate and monitor fraud and abuse. While the foundation supports rapidly scaling up charter networks that have produced promising results, the AFT and In the Public Interest cite a 2013 Moody’s Investment Services report which found that dramatically expanding charter schools in poor urban areas weakens the ability of traditional schools to serve their students, forcing them to lay off teachers, increase class sizes, and cut programs to make ends meet. A month earlier, Philamplify, an...

What Would a Sanders Administration Do on K-12 Education?

The most progressive candidate in 2016 has more work to do in terms of articulating his k-12 ideas on the campaign trail.

Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/AP Images
Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/AP Images Senator Bernie Sanders attends a news conference on May 19, 2015, with members of the National Nurses Association at the Senate swamp on legislation "to eliminate undergraduate tuition at public colleges and universities and to expand work-study programs. P residential candidate Bernie Sanders has excited his base with some bold ideas surrounding higher education. He’s said college should be a right , that public universities should have free tuition , and that public universities should employ tenured or tenure-track faculty for at least 75 percent of instruction , as a way to reduce the growing dependence on cheap adjunct labor. But Sanders’ stances on K-12 issues—arguably more contentious topics for politicians to engage with compared to higher ed and universal pre-K —have garnered far less attention. Here’s what we know so far: 1. He wants to roll back standardized testing, but still supports Common Core. Sanders opposes the expansion...

Why Civic Tech Can't Be Neutral

Harnessing the power of technology to make real social change. 

Rachel M. Cohen
Rachel M. Cohen Catherine Bracy speaking at the 2015 Personal Democracy Forum in New York City. T echnology in the service of democracy—“civic tech”—has become the cause of a growing number of coders, hackers, political strategists, non-profit executives, activists and others who come together at an annual conference called the Personal Democracy Forum (PDF). The most recent meeting in New York City on June 4 and 5 attracted about 850 participants. But as that meeting showed, the civic-tech world is divided on a fundamental question. Some strive to avoid anything that could appear partisan or ideological, while others believe that civic tech’s shared vision cannot come to fruition without challenging power. PDF’s co-founders, Micah Sifry and Andrew Rasiej took a clear position: “Civic tech cannot be neutral,” they said. “When a few have more than ever before, and many are asking for equal rights and dignity, civic tech cannot be simply about improving basic government services, like...

The Uphill Battle of Unionizing a Philly Charter School

How a Philadelphia charter operator can spend tens of thousands of public dollars to fight a union.

Sean Kitchen/ Raging Chicken Press
Sean Kitchen/ Raging Chicken Press Teachers from Olney Charter High School in Philadelphia rally at the Pennsylvania headquarters of ASPIRA, a national charter school operator, on April 30. O n April 30 th , faculty at North Philadelphia’s Olney Charter High School voted 104-38 in favor of forming a union, an NLRB election that Olney’s charter operator, ASPIRA, has since announced they’re challenging . Olney’s union campaign is only the latest in a small but rapidly growing wave of charter union drives nationwide. But few efforts have been as contentious, or as revealing, as this one. Ever since the campaign began three years ago, ASPIRA has pumped tens of thousands of dollars into an elaborate union-busting effort, even as the beleaguered district it’s funded by struggles with massive debt. Unionizing Olney also threatens to shine light on ASPIRA’s questionable finances, at a time when authorities at the state and district level have failed to act. More broadly, the union drive in...

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