"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, January 22, 2021

Gov. Bill Lee to Sacrifice Third Graders to Help Him in 2024?

Revised January 24, 2020

Prior to this week, the last time a Tennessee governor brought the General Assembly into Special Session to pass education legislation was January 2010, and it was all about getting more federal money to pay for the schools that state politicians are unwilling to support.  

Responding to call by Gov. Phil Bredesen (D), the TN legislature quickly met in January 2010 and passed into state law the necessary policies that would make the state a shoo-in for a half-billion dollar federal grant to be provided by Obama's Race to to the Top (RttT).  A core component of Tennessee's half-baked program was to use the money for a test score based teacher evaluation scheme, which added to Tennessee's reputation as an educational laughingstock.

Just this week, Governor Bill Lee (R), has ridden herd over another special session on education, this one ostensibly to address 1) what educational snake oil salesmen call the Covid-related "learning loss," and 2) the reading proficiency emergency at Tennessee's elementary schools.

Since "learning loss" scam is covered in this recent post, let me focus for a moment on Bill Lee's other manufactured crisis, reading literacy. 

Less than two years ago, Lee's Commissioner of Education, Penny Schwinn was providing this spin on recent NAEP results for Chalkbeat:

Tennessee jumped from 34th to 25th in fourth-grade math and moved up three spots to 31st in fourth-grade reading, according to calculations provided by the state education department. For eighth-graders, Tennessee now ranks 30th in both reading and math, up from 38th and 35th, respectively.

Legislation introduced this week by Lee's team adopts an entirely different spin on reading proficiency by TN students:

(3) In 2019, Tennessee's third grade English language arts proficiency rate was thirty-six and nine-tenths percent (36.9%);

(4) In 2019, Tennessee's eighth grade English language arts proficiency rate was twenty-seven and one-tenth percent (27.1%); and

(5) In 2019, Tennessee ranked thirty-first in the nation in fourth grade reading proficiency and thirtieth in eighth grade reading proficiency.

A couple of things are notable about these claims.  First, there are no third grade proficiency rates provided by NAEP.  Grade 4 rates, check.  Grade 8 rates, check.  No grade 3.  

Second, the mendacious and misleading NAEP proficiency rates cited by Lee's folks are simply wrong: 4th grade proficiency in 2019, according to NAEP, was 35%, and 8th grade proficiency was 32%.  

The reason that Lee's henchmen want to mislead the public with manufactured scores for 3rd graders is explained here by Amy Frogge:

. . . here’s the biggest concern about the “learning loss” bill: It will require districts to hold back third graders who are not deemed “proficient” in standardized testing. (Proficiency rates can be manipulated by the state through cut scores.) If you google the term “Mississippi miracle,” you will find that Mississippi used this very same trick to create the appearance of a sudden increase on NAEP test scores. Holding back low-performing third graders creates the illusion of huge one-time testing gains, and implementation of the bill would take place just in time for the 2023 NAEP tests. This is not about best serving the children of Tennessee; it’s about gaming the system. Furthermore, the costs for holding back large numbers of third graders, as mandated by this bill, would be astronomical.

It's not as if we don't know the harmful effects of grade retention on children.  We do.  Even so, Lee up for, um, a presidential bid? in 2024, and he has consciously decided to sacrifice the welfare of Tennessee's poorest children, who inevitably will comprise the vast majority of 3rd grade failures, for the PR boost that he hopes voters will attribute to his miraculous education interventions, just passed.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

ProPublica's Amazing Trove of Videos from Jan. 6 Capitol Insurrection

From ProPublica:

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.
As supporters of President Donald Trump took part in a violent riot at the Capitol, users of the social media service Parler posted videos of themselves and others joining the fray. ProPublica reviewed thousands of videos uploaded publicly to the service that were archived by a programmer before Parler was taken offline by its web host. Below is a collection of more than 500 videos that ProPublica determined were taken during the events of Jan. 6 and were relevant and newsworthy. Taken together, they provide one of the most comprehensive records of a dark event in American history through the eyes of those who took part.

Here is the link.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Recommending: Time to End Tax Breaks for Charter Schools and The Ultra-Rich

“The same day he revealed Cardona as his education nominee, it was announced Biden rehired Reed as deputy chief of staff, despite pre-emptive protest from progressives…” — Jake Jacobs

Educator and writer Jake Jacobs has written an excellent essay that not only explores some of Joe Biden's more questionable appointees, but also curates all of the highly profitable school privatization schemes that the billionaire class have built into their charter heist laws and programs. The piece is entitled Time to End Tax Breaks for Charter Schools and The Ultra-Rich.

Of note is how the essay describes many of TOP👮‍♀️COP Kamala Harris' connections to various techbros, all of whom profit mightily at the public expense. Hope you find the essay as useful as I did.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Curriculum Associates, "Learning Loss," and Corporate Gain

Curriculum Associates (CA) started in a garage in 1969 with four employees, and for twenty years the company marketed supplementary basic curriculum materials to K-12 school systems.  In 1989, the original head of the company, Frank Ferguson, saw the testing accountability writing on the wall, and he expanded the focus of the company into the assessment market with the creation of TEST READY®  Mathematics.  

In 2008, Ferguson stepped down as CEO and hired Rob Waldron, who had previously run Kaplan's after-school tutoring division, which was funded in the early 2000s by billions of NCLB federal education dollars that ended up in corporate coffers.  This is a clip from a 2008 Harper's article by a former Kaplan employee:

In New York City, Kaplan provides NCLB- mandated tutoring for the high school Regents exams and the subject exams administered to students in the third through eighth grades.) Many educators argue that the gains from prep courses are negligible and the programs themselves ultimately harmful, since they drain precious funds and class time. A recent Chicago Public Schools study examining student performance on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills found “little difference between tutored students and those who were eligible but did not receive tutoring.” The price tag for supplemental tutoring in Chicago, which 60,000 students received in the 2004–2005 school year: $50 million.

In Waldron's first year as CEO at Curriculum Associates, CA did $26 million in business. By 2020, CA was doing $260 million a year and was in the top 10 education publishers in the world. 

You see, CA was one of the first companies to see the gargantuan profit potential in Common Core.  In 2008, the company aggressively created and marketed print materials aligned with Common Core. 

Then in 2011, CA entered the computer based assessment and personalized learning market with i-Ready, a diagnostic and instructional tool, once again Common Core based, that put CA in the education industry big leagues.  

Meanwhile, Frank Ferguson, who remained active in the company, decided to turn philanthropist and donate the value of his CA shares in the company.  Rob Waldron was able to find a buyer in Berkshire Partners, where he had previously worked, and in 2017 Ferguson handed over his $200 million to two causes.  Iowa State University received three-fourths of the cash, and the Boston Foundation (a needy organization, for sure) received the balance.

So now Berkshire Partners is a partner of Curriculum Associates, even though Waldron remains in charge of operations.

In October, 2020, Waldron became the only education market CEO to be named to the newly-formed CEO Council for the global Association of Test Publishers (ATP). 

So it is not surprising, then, that McKinsey and Company's insipid report on "learning loss" in reading and math during the Covid pandemic depends upon unreliable and invalid data supplied by, you guessed it, Curriculum Associates. The data are taken from formative diagnostic test results gleaned just after school resumed Fall 2020, which purports to identify student groups who are two grade levels behind.  

And what is grade level, and who determined it?  Well, of course, grade level is determined by criterion-referenced diagnostic tests that mirror Common Core grade-level assumptions, the same tests that Curriculum Associates sells and the same ones Rob Waldron would like to see purchased by every school in the U.S.--rather than just the 30 percent of them that have bought in so far.

Expect Curriculum Associates to expand its role as a major player in the next generation of racist and classist standardized tests and teacher-proof instructional materials.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Good News and the Bad News on Miguel Cardona

First the good news.  Cardona's has deep experience as a teacher, school administrator, and state education commissioner. He understands public school culture, and he understands the challenges of growing up short on privilege.  

Cardona will be the first Secretary of Education to understand the kinds of school environments and programs that allow English learners to thrive while becoming proficient in English and keeping up academically.  As such, he is an advocate for bilingual and dual language programs, which have been shown by an established body of research to be the most effective and efficient strategies for educating English learners.

Cardona believes that all children and teens should have a voice in shaping their own schooling and not be forced in the college-for-all-regardless mold.  Cardona will likely be an advocate for the kind of K-12 magnet schools where students attend based on interests.

Cardona will likely be a strong civil rights advocate and a supporter of integrated schools.  We don't know, however, if he will be the first Secretary since the federal department was created to take seriously the research on the importance of racial and class integration, social capital, and diversity among faculty.

In addition, we don't know how how much Cardona is willing to focus on the importance of the education debt owed to the children of the poor, rather than being fixated, as most admins are, on the testing achievement gap, which has been used as a cudgel for 40 years to beat down teachers and children whose test scores don't live up to the world class expectations of white philanthropists but, rather, realistically reflect the disadvantage of living in a racist and classist society.  In short, we don't know if Cardona will embrace accountability for the continued segregated living and learning of brown and black kids of this nation--embrace it with the same fervor that his predecessors at ED have clung to the corrupt racism of testing accountability.

And then there's the bad news of Cardona's obvious agnosticism in regards to charter schools, which is an admission that he likes things just as they are or likes them enough to embrace the status quo of 7,500+ charter schools, which are draining off $30 billion public dollars every year to operate an alternate segregated system of punishing corporate reform schools. Probably the most telling comment so far about Cardona's take on charters comes from a charter chain CEO:

“I haven’t found him to be pro-charter or anti-charter. It doesn’t seem like he’s focused on governance and structure. What he is focused on are great schools for kids. And I think just more broadly, I haven’t found him to be driven by ideology and politics,” said Dacia Toll, the chief executive officer of Achievement First, which operates the largest network of charter schools in Connecticut and also has schools in Rhode Island and New York.

Not a good sign.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Outgoing Administration Admits Charters are not Public Schools

The latest executive order by troglodyte Trump tacitly admits that charter schools are *NOT* public schools. We all knew that, but it's nice when the vile privatizers tell on themselves. *

While it is good to see DeVos and Trump on the way out, there's little to hope for with Biden. It's already been announced that right-wing, neoliberal hatchetman Bruce Reed will be Biden's Deputy Chief of Staff, and the choice of seemingly apolitical Miguel Cardona is probably for a reason.

At the end of the day Biden was part of the second worst administration for education. The damage doltish Arne Duncan did prior to Trump is what opened the door for DeVos in the first place.

DeVos = Duncan + Dominionism *

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

New Secretary of Education Sweepstakes

Joe Biden's team (Dr. Jill and who else) will be choosing a new Secretary of Education. Of those listed, who's your pick?  If you say Randi (Rhonda) or Lily, your comment will not be posted. 

From WaPo:

Under Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Education Department has rolled back some civil rights protections as well as Obama-era efforts to hold for-profit colleges accountable for poor outcomes. She’s promoted alternatives to public schools and tried to slash federal funding for education. Biden is expected to reverse all of that, with more money for K-12 and higher education, new and revived civil rights protections and a focus on racial equity.

Biden has said he will name a public school educator as secretary of Education, a stab at DeVos, who had no experience with public schools. Many expect that to be someone from the K-12 world. Among those talked about for the job include a handful of big-city school superintendents, such as Sonja Santelises from Baltimore, Janice Jackson from Chicago or Seattle’s Denise Juneau.

Potential picks

Rep. Jahana Hayes

Connecticut congresswoman

Hayes, elected in 2018, is the first Black woman to represent Connecticut in Congress. She sits on the Committee on Education and Labor and has sponsored some higher education measures. Before that, she was the 2016 National Teacher of the Year.

Lily García

Former head of the National Education Association

[Always a dependable corporate education loyalist], García recently stepped down as president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union. Before that, she was an elementary school teacher. She is friendly with incoming first lady Jill Biden, who is a community college teacher and member of the NEA.

Tony Thurmond

California state superintendent

Thurmond is California’s state superintendent, where he has pushed for educational equity, a goal Biden shares. In 2018, the Los Angeles Times endorsed Thurmond, saying he has “an unwavering commitment to at-risk students and a deep understanding of the obstacles they face.”

Randi Weingarten

Head of the American Federation of Teachers

Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teacher union. She previously served as president of the union representing teachers in New York City, and was a high school teacher in Brooklyn. Nominating a labor leader could be seen as an affront to those who favor teacher evaluations and other test-based accountability measures.  [Fact check: Weingarten has never opposed either, and corporate ed reform has nothing to worry about with Randi in the driver's seat.]

Reported by Laura Meckler.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Wishing Away Goliath, Part 5: Backstory for the Suppression of the Sandia Report

See Wishing Away Goliath, Parts 4, 3, 2, 1


In August, 1980 Ronald Reagan kicked off his presidential campaign in Meridian, Mississippi at the Neshoba County Fair, just a few miles down the road from where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964. 

The chosen location for Reagan's initial campaign event was not coincidental. It was intended to send a strong message to white America that the Civil Rights reforms of the 1960s were about to face a new racist counter-reformation if Reagan could be elected.  Reagan's message focused on supporting "states rights" and opposing federal interventions to help the poor. New York Times columnist, Bob Herbert wrote in 2007

. . . . He [Reagan] was tapping out the code. It was understood that when politicians started chirping about “states’ rights” to white people in places like Neshoba County they were saying that when it comes down to you and the blacks, we’re with you.

And Reagan meant it. He was opposed to the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was the same year that Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney were slaughtered. As president, he actually tried to weaken the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He opposed a national holiday for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He tried to get rid of the federal ban on tax exemptions for private schools that practiced racial discrimination. And in 1988, he vetoed a bill to expand the reach of federal civil rights legislation.

Congress overrode the veto.

Reagan also vetoed the imposition of sanctions on the apartheid regime in South Africa. Congress overrode that veto, too. . . .

Last year many were somehow surprised to find fresh evidence of Reagan's racism. Remaining skeptics are encouraged to visit this 2019 article from The Atlantic, which provides an audio clip of Reagan's conversation with Richard Nixon, wherein Reagan refers to an African delegation at the UN as monkeys unaccustomed to wearing shoes.

When Reagan took the presidential reigns of power in 1981, his K-12 education priorities centered on eliminating or maiming the recently-created U. S. Department of Education, pushing school prayer, turning federal education assistance to the poor into block grants that could be used as states saw fit, and creating federal tax credits or vouchers for private school choice.

Undergirding Reagan's agenda was a long-standing hostility to racial desegregation and federal equity efforts, including compensatory programs for the poor, the handicapped, and immigrant populations.  Reagan's election marked the beginning of a counter revolution aimed to quash any and all threats to the white protestant power structure of the U. S, as well as fill all cracks in the insuperable wall of white privilege and white supremacy that protect America's foundational myths of equality and exceptionalism. 

Reagan had come to Washington to proclaim a modern day gated version of the tribal Puritans' city upon a hill, and the GOP's rendition would be no less exclusionary, punitive, and hidebound than the first one established in New England in the 17th Century.

While Reagan conservatives were, otherwise, fixated on market solutions for every social problem, the 1980 GOP Platform "reaffirmed" a commitment for government funding of private schools, secular or otherwise, through federal tax credits to parents:

Federal education policy must be based on the primacy of parental rights and responsibility. Toward that end, we reaffirm our support for a system of educational assistance based on tax credits that will in part compensate parents for their financial sacrifices in paying tuition at the elementary, secondary, and post-secondary level. 

By 1984, the Reagan's reelection platform called specifically for converting Title I, which is the umbrella for education programs to benefit disadvantaged, special needs, and immigrant children, into a massive school voucher program that would essentially eliminate public schools in disadvantaged communities. The platform declared, without apparent irony, that "[c]ivil rights enforcement must not be twisted into excessive interference in the education process."

Over the eight year of Reagan's presidency, the federal education budget went from 12 percent of federal spending to 6 percent

It is noteworthy that the 1980 GOP Platform writers used the fig leaf of equity to cover an, otherwise, grossly naked wish that "low-income" families who were offered private school tax credits would choose to self-segregate in private schools aligned with the poor's unique "cultural and moral values:"

This is a matter of fairness, especially for low-income families, most of whom would be free for the first time to choose for their children those schools which best correspond to their own cultural and moral values.

The other big Reagan education priority of his first term aimed to shift federal education policy away from equality and equity initiatives begun in 1965 with ESEA.  Instead, Reagan would pick up where Nixon left off by priortizing educational accountability for "excellence," as measured by standardized tests, the cheapest and most effective tool for justifying racial and class sorting. To sell testing accountability as a solution, however, he needed a problem that could be turned into a crisis with some effective propaganda and rhetorical massaging.

Diane and Checker to the rescue

By 1980, Diane was getting the intellectual respect that she had sought since talking her way in 1961 into an unpaid, intermittent staff member position at the conservative New York political magazine, The New Leader.  Salary had not been an issue for Diane in 1961, since she had married money and New York political influence just weeks after graduating from Wellesley. 

Diane's other part-time job with the Carnegie Foundation led to an interest in the history of New York City Schools.  Having been rejected for the PhD program by the History Department at Columbia, Diane spent several years writing a historical narrative of the "school wars" within New York City's public schools, which she published in 1974 to good reviews. 

With the power available only to the well connected, Diane was able to have her popular history of New York's public schools accepted as a dissertation by Columbia's Graduate School of Arts and Science and Columbia's Teachers College, and in 1975 she was granted a PhD, even if it was not the one in History that she had wanted.

In 1978, Diane published The Revisionists Revised, a divisive broadside against a new generation of education historians whose work departed from the kind of sunny administrative school histories that, since the days of Elwood P. Cubberley, had turned a blind eye to any social problem that might cast shade on the seemingly unalterable narrative of white America's educational progress

The academic community was shocked by the intensity of Diane's polemical attacks on economists Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, and social historian, Michael Katz, in particular, whose historical analyses of American education closely examined institutional and structural issues around class and race. Apparently concluding that the neoconservative historical narrative was at risk, Diane poured forth enough invective, ridicule, and distortion to leave most everyone other than conservative ideologues shaking their heads. David Tyack concluded his review thusly:

The revisionists seek to highlight what they see as basic contradictions between the present social system and professed beliefs in democracy and equality. In raising this issue-with all its ramifications of class, race, sex, the structure of organizations, and the nature of the political economy-revisionists have done a service to both scholars and policy makers. That their analysis has often been faulty I would readily concede. But Ravitch has not done justice to their insights and has not even served her own belief in liberal democracy by linking it so hopefully with the present forms of corporate capitalism. In her own way she has done what she criticized in her opponents, for she, too, has politicized history.

Even though her book sales suffered, the public emergence of Diane's hard right turn was timed perfectly for the Republican nomination of Ronald Reagan, whose vision of "morning in America" entirely overlooked the children who awakened to hunger every day and who spent their childhoods in underfunded, tracked, and oppressive schools that the privileged used to efficiently reproduce the inequalities of the larger society.

Neither Reagan nor Ravitch showed any concern that growing numbers of observers, both here and abroad, who could clearly see Reagan's "shining city on the hill" was still segregated, unequal, and discriminatory. Both showed the same disdain and hostility toward the social reconstructionist aim for school as a place to advance cultural inclusion, equity, equality, and social conscience.  

Just after Reagan's inauguration in 1981, Diane Ravitch and Chester Finn, Jr. convened a score of conservative culture warriors, academics, testing advocates, businessmen, and political hacks (Grover Norquist and Bill Bennett included) to hash out plans for a new organization, the Education Excellence Network, which would be funded by the Hudson Institute. They saw themselves as "voices in the wilderness, crying out for academic standards and a renewed commitment to rigorous teaching and learning" (p. 9).

Their cries were immediately heard by an attuned Reagan team, and by August 1981, the Reagan Administration had formed the National Commission on Excellence in Education, which issued its report in April 1983 entitled A Nation at Risk (ANAR).

ANAR painted a bleak picture of K-12 education that created a level of hysteria about the role schools played in national insecurity that hadn't been seen since the national hand wringing that had followed the launch of the Soviet Sputnik in 1957.  As one reviewer put it, ANAR claimed that children were drowning in "a rising tide of [educational] mediocrity."

By the time the Reagan Administration issued its over-the-top scare document in 1983, Reagan had honed his message that the "crisis in education" had been brought on by too much civil rights enforcement:

The schools were charged by the federal courts with leading in the correction of long-standing injustices in our society: racial segregation, sex discrimination, lack of support for the handicapped.  Perhaps there was just too much to do in to little time.

This racist narrative took hold in Washington and within the media, and Reagan's message resonated with a white America eager to set aside troublesome thoughts of social change in favor an education reform agenda aimed at getting "back to basics" in ways that could be measured by a system of testing accountability that was clearly racist in method and outcome.

In 1984 Finn and Ravitch offered their own polemical gut punch to schools with their book Against Mediocrity (foreword by Bill Bennett), which critiqued public schools' teaching of humanities. Three years later Ravitch and Finn delivered a screed against the schools' teaching of history with What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?

By Fall 1984, it was clear that the standards and accountability movement was going to be an easy sell. Here's a clip from a November 1984 Kappan article entitled "The Dark Side of the Excellence Movement:" (p. 174)

At the same time these racist policies were going forward, Reagan was cutting the number of number of children covered under Title I, the federal program aimed to provide aid to the underserved.  Between 1981 and 1984, ED records show that a half-million kids lost services (p. 176).

Ravitch and Finn, along with Bill Bennett, were rewarded for their rhetorical hit jobs against public schools with plum jobs at ED. Finn was named Assistant Secretary for Research and Improvement under Education Secretary, Bill Bennett (1985-1988), and then Ravitch was chosen for the same position as Finn in 1991 under Reagan's successor, GHW Bush. 

As head of the Research Division at ED, Finn and Ravitch had immediate access to reports and studies whose findings might be hazardous to the Reagan-Bush education reform agenda.  The 1991 Sandia Report fell squarely into that category, and Diane was at Ground Zero when the successful suppression of the Report went down. 

That story will comprise the final part of this circuitous journey, which will end with Diane's apology 29 years after the suppression of a research report that made clear the scandalous hoax that she helped create and perpetuate, and that caused so much permanent damage to generations of black and brown children.