Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Great Test Refusal Information Video for Parents

Much to learn here for New York parents as well as parents from other states:

Tamara Shepherd for Knox County School Board

Among those running for school board this year in Knox County where I taught for 15 years, Tamara Shepherd stands head and shoulders above her opponents as an informed, articulate, and forceful voice for sane and humane public schools in Knox County.  Over the years, I have watched Tamara research the issues and take principled stands on education policy issues that reflect the best interests of children, parents, and teachers.

She is a vocal advocate for public control of public schools, and she does not flinch from making her positions clear on the miseducative and self-serving polices promoted by the billionaires and their hand-picked representatives who have brought divisiveness and stress to the schools of Knox County.

I hope you will support Tamara's campaign.  Below are her responses to the questions for the Voters' Guide.
Questions for Board of Education Candidates February 2014

      Note that candidates were required to confine their answers to 100 words..
Questions for Board of Education Candidates
1. Some say the Board of Education appears to work for the superintendent rather than the other way around. Do you agree/disagree? What changes to board operations would you make to reduce or eliminate the perception?
I agree that this appears to be the case. The problem is likely that the Board of Education (BOE) has recently been asked to opine on too many proposed reforms, too rapidly. There have therefore been several instances in which its members have rendered their votes absent their adequate research of the reforms.
The BOE has also been compromised by a dearth of media coverage to assist them in fully vetting these proposals and their possible ill-effects on students and teachers. It has become necessary for dedicated board members to often undertake their own independent research to inform their decisions.
2. Two Knox County communities are mounting campaigns to override the Knox County Board of Education Three-Year Capital Improvement Plan in order to build middle schools in those two communities. Are you familiar with the contents of the Capital Improvement Plan? What, if any, recommendations do you have for adjusting current priorities?
The BOE should not adjust its current priorities.
The BOE should promptly investigate any obligation to the Gibbs community since a 2007 SCOTUS ruling prohibiting student assignment on the basis of race, but I do not know whether fulfilling that obligation translates into building a new middle school there.
The BOE should also address the consequences of past growth on schools before it addresses anticipated growth in the Hardin Valley community. System wide, 47 schools rely on portable buildings, seven of which presently house ten or more classrooms this way, and 17 schools were built in the 1930s or earlier.
3. Given the state mandate to implement the Common Core State Standards, what do you believe is the Board of Education’s role in addressing issues related to Common Core?
My root concerns are that the math and science standards are too rigid, that they are not developmentally appropriate in the lower grades, that they will result in even more frequent and more costly standardized testing of students, and that they will ultimately widen, not close, the so-called “achievement gap” in student test performance.
I expect that the BOE will soon need to begin advocating with state legislators to re-think their approach to boosting student achievement and especially to re-think their approach to closing the “achievement gap,” so that both goals may be achieved in a more holistic manner.
4. A perception exists among some in the community that the Board of Education is not listening to teachers. How will you address this perception?
The BOE has not listened to teachers. Paramount among teachers’ concerns are this broken and illogical teacher evaluation model, TEAM, as well as the heavy reliance on the volatile student growth measure, TVAAS, which the model employs.
Since state law requires the model (or one similar) and since law also requires the TVAAS growth measure the model employs, that law must be changed by either the legislature or the courts.
I believe on the basis of consultation with two local attorneys that it is both possible and advisable for the BOE to initiate legal proceedings to strike down the law.
5. Is the current funding for Knox County Schools adequate for teacher salaries and school facilities? Please explain your answer.
No, but it is the state, not the county, which is failing to adequately support Knox County Schools. Knox County continues to allocate around 62 or 63% of its total budget to local schools. Meanwhile, the 2013 State Report Card says Tennessee supplies just 36.65% of the KCS total budget, supplies less than 40% of any urban system’s budget, and on average supplies just 48.8% of all systems’ budgets, statewide.
Also, 2010 Census data rank Tennessee 46th nationally in per pupil funding.
Full funding of the state’s BEP 2.0 funding formula for schools would alleviate this problem to some extent.
6. As a member of the Board of Education, would you consider yourself responsible to your constituents or to the county as a whole?
I would consider myself responsible to both, of course, but I would always be mindful of the words of one of our much revered former BOE representatives, the late Dr. Paul Kelley, who often said he felt he represented all Knox County students.

Although his are big shoes to fill, I would strive to grow into them.

Amy Frogge Leads Effort in Nashville Metro to Save Schools from the Charter Zombies

The people of Metro Nashville have stopped listening to the CorpEd PR machine, and thanks to Board Member, Amy Frogge, they are getting some facts about the school privatization that is being led by the billionaires and hedge funders of Wall Street.  Below is a clip from the Tennessean and below that is Ms. Frogge's speech referred to in the piece:
The Metro school board’s fiercest charter school critic called for an “end game” on what future Nashville charters should look like during a blunt speech Tuesday that made accusations of profiteering and corporate interference.
Board member Amy Frogge, calling for Metro to hit the “pause button” to think strategically on charters, used strongly worded closing remarks at the board meeting to argue the district has gotten away from “early visionaries” who saw charters as simply labs of innovation.
“Many charter schools today have become something very different as corporations, not educators, are increasingly involved in setting their directions,” she said. “Charter schools have become competitors with traditional schools for funding and for students.
By Amy Frogge

I feel we are at a crossroads, and we have an opportunity to decide what direction we as a district want to take.  We have taken one step with our resolution to direct charter growth this year, but we need to go a few steps further to identify an endgame.  Last year, I voted against charter schools because of fiscal impact, and I’m inclined to do the same this year unless we come up with a plan.  If we are going to pay more for charter schools, we need to figure out what else to cut from the budget.  Until this year, it appears we have been passively responding to applicants and approving those that meet our requirements. But I think we need a pause button to think strategically about and completely re-envision how to use charter schools in our system.

Here are the questions to consider during this year’s application process and later: 
How many do we intend to have?

How many can we financially support? 

What sort of accountability and transparency will we demand of charter schools?
How will we ensure that charter schools are inclusive of every child, even those with special needs? (Dr. Coverstone has addressed some of this with the diversity plan.)
How do we ensure that all children have access to our charter and choice schools?
Will we require that new charter schools provide the same course offerings as other schools, including art, music and PE, taught by licensed teachers?

I’d like to take a moment to talk about the history of charter schools and what’s happening at the legislative level around this movement.

The early visionaries of the charter school movement imagined that charter schools would be directed and led by teachers who would be granted freedom to try new solutions outside district and principal imposed rules.  Charters were to focus on creativity and innovation in learning, rather than rote learning or performance on standardized tests.  Charter schools were to work collaboratively and in harmony with school districts in an effort to catch children who would otherwise fall through the cracks.

Many charter schools today have become something very different, as corporations- not educators- are increasingly involved in setting their direction.  Charter schools have become competitors with traditional public schools for funding and for students.  These schools, which have only a few years to make test scores before the threat of closure becomes a reality, are often operated by non-educators and staffed by young teachers who work extremely long hours and leave after a few years, keeping costs low.  Charter schools have high rates of principal and teacher turnover. 

Charter schools differ from traditional schools in key ways.  They often operate with additional funding from investors and have the advantage of selectivity.  Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools can limit their total enrollment and admit students only on an annual basis without accepting new students mid-year.  They can set academic, behavior, and cultural standards that promote exclusion of students via attrition.  Charter schools are not required to keep students who are not a good “fit” for their model.  And more broadly, charter schools are “choice” schools, and research has shown that children of engaged parents- those who make a “choice”- tend to perform better in school.

Although there are many involved in the charter school movement who have excellent motives, the charter school movement overall has become increasingly tied to profit motives as corporations interfere with education.   I have watched organizations with shadowy motives exploit our Tennessee legislature.  They operate like vultures, feeding hefty campaign donations and bad information to legislators through their plentiful lobbyists.   They do not operate in good faith. 

The charter movement is nationally funded and driven by organizations like ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), which promotes and protects corporate interests and works to pass legislation that allows corporations access to more profits.  The state charter authorizer came from ALEC, by the way.  The Waltons, owners of Walmart, which is notorious for paying its employees such low wages that they must rely on government assistance to eat, are driving charter legislation.  Hedge funders, banks and the wealthiest Americans can double their investments through generous tax credits in just seven years by investing in charters.  Surely groups like these are not primarily interested in helping low income children.

The goal at the legislative level is to gain access to a steady stream of tax dollars with limited public accountability.  That’s why these special interest groups contend that there should be no democratically elected school boards.  The desired result is to squelch the democratic process in favor of appointed bureaucracy, to take away local control of schools, and to promote less accountability and transparency for charter schools.   

So despite the good intentions of some local charter school operators, teachers, and proponents, these are the reasons I am deeply worried about the growth of charter schools in our district.  I see immense dangers, and we need to set our own limits to protect against the exploitation of students: 

1.  Fiscal impact.  I won’t talk much about this since we’ve discussed this a lot.  But I will say that if you look at cities around the US with large numbers of charters, like Philadelphia and Memphis, they are in financial distress, and traditional schools are not receiving fair funding.  We need to protect against that. 

2.  There is evidence that charter schools may be causing increased segregation, and there is potential to create a separate but unequal system of schools.  Charters and other reform measures can serve to segregate schools not only by race, but also by socioeconomics, by parental engagement or “choice,” and by student ability.  Charter schools, like private schools, often do not serve children with disabilities, particularly those with severe disabilities, or children who do not speak English.  These are the most costly and challenging to educate students.  

Traditional schools are beginning to serve as the dumping grounds for charters and other choice schools.  Just last month I spoke with an East Nashville teacher who told me her low-income school received 30 students back from charter schools in the three weeks before testing.  Another teacher recently interviewed with a charter school whose leader told her directly that they “get rid of” students with behavioral problems.  An attorney who works with families of special needs students recently called me to complain about charter schools releasing challenging children. 

Burdening traditional schools with large populations of challenging to educate students cripples these schools, leading to poor outcomes for students, and our traditional schools serve 95% of our population.  Allowing schools to release challenging students marginalizes the neediest and most vulnerable student populations.  We need to address this issue.

3.  The loss innovation and creativity in the classroom in favor of prep for tested subjects areas and loss of autonomous thinking by students.  Charter schools are all different, of course, but I have general concerns about the lack of substantial time spent on non-tested subjects, including art, music, and PE.  I am also deeply concerned about punitive charter models, like no excuses schools, and I think we need to think long and hard about this issue.  In some of these schools, there may be little to no chance for healthy social emotional learning, which in my view, is more important than standardized test scores. 

4.  Unchecked charter growth and resulting school closures can disrupt communities.   There is no evidence that competition is improving educational outcomes, and we need to protect against creating a revolving door for schools.  Research shows that school closures primarily impact low-income and African-American communities.  Trying out experimental schools at the expense of students and communities should not be the direction we take.     

Based on all I know now, I don’t think it’s a good thing to continue opening corporate model charter schools that compete with existing schools and that have the ability to counsel out students. 

However, here’s what I’d consider supporting: 
·      We should support our existing charter schools, but ensure accountability beyond just test scores for them.  They are part of our system, and they are serving our students.  I think that continued unchecked growth of charter schools in the district will damage those relationships.
·      I would support the use of charter schools as they were originally intended- to try out different strategies that we then take back to existing schools. (As far as I can see, we’re not doing that now, but I could be wrong.)
·      I’d support the use of charter schools as collaborative helpmates to existing schools.
·      I support leveling the playing field by applying the same rules for charter schools and traditional schools, with regard to attrition, accountability and transparency.
·      I’d support ensuring that all schools, including charters, offer a broad curriculum that includes the arts, physical education, foreign language, etc.
·      I would support using charter schools to extend education beyond the classroom to meet needs.  (An example would be Harlem Children’s Zone.)

The brave new technology

Sent to the Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2014

I do not share the enthusiasm about new digital technology in education ("Founding principles in the digital age," April 22).

There is no evidence that the brave new online tests that promise "real time testing" will be any better than those we have now. In fact, we have not even seen them in action: According to Fair Test (, current common core tests are of the old multiple choice variety.

Nor is there evidence that digital tools that present lectures online and reduce interaction with teachers ("flipped classrooms") will improve achievement. This technology is being pushed on classrooms without proper research.

Instead of careful experimentation, the plan is to use nearly the entire student population as experimental subjects.

Jumping in without proper preparation wastes our students' time and will cost taxpayers much more money in the long run.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

original article:

Lack of evidence for flipped classrooms:

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

KIPP Counts on Teach for America for a Reliable Supply Chain of Expendable Teachers

Teach for America plays a crucial role in providing a never-ending supply of disposable teachers for KIPP and the other corporate welfare charter reform schools that are so popular among the cultural sterilization advocates and the vampires of Wall Street.  In the interview segment below, a survivor of KIPP discusses the ongoing teacher sacrifices to CorpEd's Great Maw.

INT:  Let me ask you this question:  if I were a friend of yours interested in teaching at a KIPP school, and I asked you what was it like there, what would you tell me?

R:  I would say honestly, I’ve had that question before.  I would never ever – I told them I wouldn’t wish that experience on my worst enemy.  That’s exactly what I say every time, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.  And I have no enemies, but I wouldn’t wish it if I had an enemy.  I wouldn’t put anyone through that.  Anyone.   It was probably – you give up your life and not only do you give up your life, you’re giving it up for nothing.  It’s not like you’re seeing results.  It’s not like you’re being rewarded appropriately.  I mean there’s no reward for that type of work.  It’s just like you’re being used up and thrown out.  It’s like they’re going to use you up as much as you can take until you realize okay, I’m being used, and then you get out.  My friends quit asking now in _________ --everybody knows what KIPP is like now, so I don’t get that question much anymore.  I have a lot of people who would say they would never go to KIPP, never.  I have a lot of friends that went to KIPP and left.

INT:  When did you realize that you were being used up?

R:  The school leader that I had in 20__ was a very good school leader.  She knew that the pressure was high.  She made you feel a little better.  I believe in 20__ [the following year] they removed her.  They said she was not an effective school leader, and she was.  They removed her and put in a new school leader.  That’s when everything went bad, and she was given total power and I think it went to her head and that’s when I began to feel like I was being used up.  She worked you to the ground.  I mean it was just horrible.  It was horrible.  And you were never allowed to say anything about hey, can I please take a day off or I need a day off.  The previous school leader would say okay, if you need a day off let me know and she would give you one.  And that was just to breathe and run your errands.  You never could run your errands.  Going to the cleaners just doing ordinary things that people do after work, going to the cleaners, going to the doctor, taking dentist appointments, you never had that at KIPP, never.  You don’t have time.

INT:  How did the other teachers response when this school leader in 20__ left?

R:  That’s a very good question.  They were very sad.  Most of the employees that worked with her that we started together in 20__ they left, they quit.  Basically the new school leader hired new teachers.  I never knew any teacher to stay longer than two years.  And that was rare.  The way that those teachers reacted when the new school leader was put in--they quit.  They went on and started doing their own thing.  Most of them were in Teach for America so they either quit Teach for America or they had finished their second year in Teach for America and they went on to med school, law school most of them.  They did their thing.  There were very rare career teachers at KIPP.  They’re just not there.

INT:  Right.  Many Teach for America teachers.

R:  I would say 80 to 90 percent at the school that I was at was Teach for America, absolutely.

INT:  When you say four teachers have nervous breakdowns what do you see?

R:  I’m sorry, what was the last part of that question?

INT:  When you saw this happen in front of your eyes what did you see?  What did you witness?

R:  I saw teachers crying.  I saw them shaking.  Many times in 2010 when they were having problems with one teacher that was having a mental breakdown I would cover her class.  They would ask me to go in there so I would see her leaving and I actually witnessed this woman just unravel.  She was around 25 and I give her advice because I do have a psychology major and I was serving as a counselor also.  I would counsel many teachers into leaving.  I would say look, you know  you’re falling apart.  You’re becoming delusional.  You’re shaking.  You’re crying.  

They would complain of crying daily at night that was very common for a teacher to just cry in front of students, in front of adults.  They were told like go take a break.  This one teacher would just drive around and come back and go right back into the classroom.  She would come out go right back in.  I’m like God, why are you doing this?    And then I saw that happen to four teachers.  And I’m just guessing the number of four--if I really sat down and thought about it, it’s higher than four.  But I can definitely in my mind right now identify four teachers that I saw unravel that had a nervous breakdown and I would just explain it as crying and shaking and talking and not making sense.  Babbling, a lot of babbling.  Asking for help.  Crying.  I felt horrible.  

Some of them, this one that I think of in particular that I saw just completely unravel--her husband would come up to the school.  She would call her husband and he would actually go up there and get her out of the classroom and then that’s when I would come in and we would release her to her husband.  We would not let them leave.  Would not let that teacher drive.  We wouldn’t let her leave the campus without her husband, and this happened about four times, four or five times her husband came in there.

It was very bad.  And having a psychology background I was very familiar with signs of people having a nervous breakdown and what that looked like. . . .