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

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Scandal-Ridden TN DOE Lies to Parents about Opting Out of Tests

Andy Spears recently shared a memo from the TN Department of Education denying denying parents the right to opt out of annual state testing.  Even though the invalid, unreliable, and racist tests have never been morally defensible, they are particularly indefensible during the present pandemic. 

Tennessee's corrupt Education Commissioner and former charter school CEO, Penny Schwinn, continues to circulate a one-page lie that tells parents that opting out of state testing is prohibited by state and federal laws. Any parent receiving this ridiculous memo should ignore it and keep their children safe from these irrelevant, racist, and mideducative tests that only companies that use public education as another vast revenue stream. 

Speaking of revenue streams, Broad Center alum Penny Schwinn has an established reputation for using her office to arrange lucrative no-bid contracts for her cronies in the ed industry. Before coming to Tennessee, she was caught up in a Texas-sized scandal based on playing favorites and passing out no-bid contracts.  

Since coming to Tennessee, Schwinn has continued her corrupt practices in awarding a no-bid management contract for a school voucher program and, more recently, another multimillion dollar no-bid contract for a  company to screen results on third grade reading tests.

As Bill Lee's mentor always said, only the best people. 

Major victory over a corporate charter school chain and their trade association

Indeed, “corporate charter schools—which bear attributes of both public and private enterprises” (101 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. 92, at 6) have long resisted efforts to make them more transparent and accountable to the public from which they draw their funding. Corporate charters schools, and their aggressive trade association, the California Charter Schools Association (“CCSA”), vehemently opposed application of the Brown Act, CPRA, and conflicts of interest laws to charter school corporations. Likewise, as Respondent admits in their pleadings, they opposed AB 1505. Oppo. 12:20.

 Adapted from my Twitter thread.

ON Tuesday, March 23, 2021 I got my second big win in court against a charter school corporation. It was also a major victory over their Califonria Charter Schools Association (“CCSA”) trade association, which tried to use this case to carve out immunity to the California Public Records Act (“CPRA”). I represented @DotKohlhaas in this action.

Here was my tweet from the day before, after skimming through the tentative:

My first win against a corporate charter school was a year ago as third chair in a suit to overturn a wrongful expulsion of a student of color. The Partnerships to Uplift Communities (“PUC”) charter chain (of convicted felon Ref Rodriguez fame) violated that student’s due process rights. Violated isn’t a strong enough word for what they did. PUC unilaterally changed the charges at the appeals hearing and branded the child as a terrorist in his permanent record. Under the tutelage of the brilliant partners at the law firm I was a part-timer at the time (I am currently transitioning to full time there), plus sage advice from @DrPrestonGreen, we built a strong case.

It was my argument that the charter corporation never proved specific intent — a crucial element to Ed. Code § 48900.7, as well as PUC’s glaring lack of notice afforded to the student, that saw the court overturn the wrongful expulsion and give the student their life back.

This latest case was a charter trying to hide all its dirty secrets by not complying with the CPRA. The scandal-ridden The Accelerated Schools (“TAS”) charter chain’s leaders absconded when the community started pushing back and started asking questions about union busting.

Michael Kohlhaas dot org sent sent TAS several CPRA requests in 2018, which they ignored (unlawfully). A year later, I filed the petition for writ of mandate for them. Some ten months later TAS sent some records, but claimed “blanket exemptions” on a bunch of other ones.

The good folks at Michael Kohlhaas dot org documented the part when it was decided to continue with the litigation. This was for Hilda, an amazing educator, and all the other people wronged by TAS/CCSA.

An infamous law firm that only represents lucrative, privately managed charter school corporations staked out the position that any communications with the charter school industry’s trade association — the CCSA — was subject to a range of exemptions under the CPRA.

I suppose I can’t blame them. The charter industry — long used to unaccountably spending tax dollars in total secrecy — fought tooth and nail the imposition of the CPRA and Brown Act added by Ed. Code § 47604.1(b)(2)(A). When the law took effect January 2020, charter school corporations were already looking for ways to skirt the law. At the firm I’m a junior associate at, we use the CPRA for pre-discovery work against charter corporations. Michael Kohlhaas dot org, on the other hand, has used it to expose some of the ugliest, scandalous conduct by an industry already infamous for scandal. Uncovering the vile Nick Melvoin’s sharing Los Angeles Unified School District’s (“LAUSD”) confidential legal strategies with their party-opponent in a lawsuit (the CCSA) was a blockbuster revelation enabled by the CPRA.

Of course, when you start using the sunshine laws on one of the darkest and vilest industries hatched out of the neoliberal project, you’re going to expose a lot of charter school scandals. There’s so many documented here:

Back to TAS claiming blanket exemptions. When I tried to explain the law to them, they responded: “The claim based on your legal analysis that these exemptions do not apply to the records withheld in this matter is incorrect.”

I was a little nervous going into this, but got a great deal of advice from three National Lawyers Guild attorneys who have also represented Michael Kohlhaas dot org in the past like the incomparable Matthew Strugar, Colleen Flynn, and Abenicio Cisneros. The two former helped me with procedural questions and sample pleadings. The latter provided me argument strategies for my reply brief and gave me the best authority to cite on exemptions (Golden Door Properties, LLC v. Superior Ct. of San Diego Cty., 53 Cal. App. 5th 733, 267 Cal. Rptr. 3d 32, 64 (2020), as modified on denial of reh’g (Aug. 25, 2020))(“Golden Door”). How on point was that case? The Court cited that same case three times in their minute order.

We had already prevailed since the lawsuit caused TAS to produce some records last October, but the dispute over the blanket CCSA exemptions was a proxy political battle. TAS surprisingly claimed exemptions on emails that Michael Kohlhaas dot org had obtained via CPRA from other charter school corporations that had followed the law. Weird hill to die on, but this was the CCSA trying to establish blanket exemptions. The Court ruled that every one of those emails was not exempt! A major win for us.

Also, because we caught TAS in (several) obvious lies, including one where they claimed in one pleading that only a small percentage of documents had been exempted, and then had a high-paid TAS executive claim in their sworn declaration that there were “hundreds of thousands” of records exempted. We pointed out that inconsistency, which led to the court granting our request for a privilege log. Better still, the court used Golden Door to order TAS to produce declarations for each record they claim exempt. While we didn’t get everything we put in our prayer, this was a major victory — especially in regards to the claims for blanket exemptions from the CCSA. I’m sure this isn’t the last time they’ll try this strategy, but at least we can share how to argue against it.

The final disposition will be decided in the summer, but TAS having to produce privilege logs supported by sworn declarations totally justified us continuing to litigate after the settlement offer. Let the corporate charter school industry know that they aren’t going to be able to hide their dark secrets anymore. Here’s a few excerpts from my briefs that probably didn’t sit well with the corporate charter school industry, their CCSA trade association, and their hired mercenaries. ¡La lucha continua! https://twitter.com/rdsathene/status/1375727433198936067

Lastly, huge shout-out to Michael Kohlhaas dot org. They’re doing the lord’s work. From exposing self-dealing by tax payer funded Business Improvement Districts (“BIDs”), to uncovering some extremely disturbing activities by the Los Angeles Police Department (“LAPD”), to putting the lucrative, corporate charter school industry on notice that the sunshine laws are coming for them, to using the CPRA to protect the most vulnerable in our communities, as like I always say: “not all heroes wear capes.”

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Best Reason Yet to Boycott Amazon

If you're from a small community whose town was damaged by big box stores and then killed off by Amazon, or if you are an environmentalist upset by Amazon trucks making delivering of toothbrushes in cardboard packaging big enough to fit a microwave, or if you believe that workers should be treated like humans and paid a livable wage unavailable to Amazon's warehouse slaves, then you may want to join me in boycotting Amazon for, yet, another reason.  From WaPo:

. . . [Amazon] has also become a publishing powerhouse — and it won’t sell downloadable versions of its more than 10,000 e-books or tens of thousands of audiobooks to libraries. That’s right, for a decade, the company that killed bookstores has been starving the reading institution that cares for kids, the needy and the curious. 

. . . . Librarians have been no match for the beast. When authors sign up with a publisher, it decides how to distribute their work. With other big publishers, selling e-books and audiobooks to libraries is part of the mix — that’s why you’re able to digitally check out bestsellers like Barack Obama’s “A Promised Land.” Amazon is the only big publisher that flat-out blocks library digital collections. Search your local library’s website, and you won’t find recent e-books by Amazon authors Kaling, Dean Koontz or Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Nor will you find downloadable audiobooks for Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime,” Andy Weir’s “The Martian” and Michael Pollan’s “Caffeine.”

Did I mention how many billions of dollars Jeff Bezos has added to his wealth during the pandemic?  Huffington Post reported in January that 

Jeff Bezos could have personally paid each of Amazon’s 876,000 employees a one-off $105,000 bonus ... and still be as wealthy as he was at the beginning of the pandemic.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Biden's Awesome Plan to Vaccinate School Personnel

Please excuse me for calling Joe Biden blockheaded--I take it all back.  

Yesterday Biden announced that teachers and other school folks will be offered vaccination through participating "federal pharmacies" by the end of March.  The plan is to have one shot in all arms of all school employees who want shots by March 1. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Biden's Blockheaded Approach to Teachers and Covid

Everyone wants schools open, particularly teachers engaged online with disengaged children online. But teachers, being the selfish sort they are, would like live out their lives, rather than dying alone while a machine pumps air into their Covid-melted lungs.  

The Biden Administration messaging on reopening schools that would be safe for teachers and staff has been the biggest mess I have seen from what, otherwise, appears to be a well-oiled machine on top of most of the chaos left by T---p.  Yesterday's appearance by Jen Psaki did not help:

“The CDC is saying in order to be safe, there are a number of steps that can be taken. Vaccinating teachers is one of them,” Psaki said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” before listing an array of other measures, including smaller class sizes, separating children on school buses, providing personal protective equipment to schools and making testing facilities more available.

“Our secretary of education will work with school districts to implement that,” Psaki continued. “So [teachers] should be prioritized. But our science experts are saying it’s not a prerequisite and that’s the guidelines that we follow.”

Let's face it: school systems already crushed by underfunding do not have the resources for this "array of other measures." And they won't have the resources until weeks or months after the Covid relief bill is passed and signed by the President.  So stop pretending, okay?

If Team Biden wants schools reopened, teachers protected, and parents happy, then sign an order to get money immediately to states to vaccinate teachers.  States will do it if they have the money to do it.  How could such a simple solution turn out to be so confounding!

Monday, February 01, 2021

Part 2: Red State Governors Pick Up Where DeVos Left Off

More than 15 years before the Trumpers arrived in DC to initiate the latest "back to basic stupidity" era in all things social, cultural, economic, and intellectual, there was another Republican, George W. Bush, who had his own particular backwards fixation, which found its way into education policy in general and K-3 reading instruction in particular. 

Following his appointment to the Presidency by the Supreme Court in December 2000, Bush's first big initiative was No Child Left Behind, and reading instruction was the centerpiece of that legislation. 

In shaping NCLB reading policy, Bush leaned heavily on NIH neuropsychologist and self-declared reading guru, Reid Lyon, who viewed learning to read "the right way" as important for neural wiring as it was for academic success.  In a 2002 speech, Lyon told a group of Maryland teachers that "[w]e have to realize that education has to take on the same importance as medicine. . . . Teachers are the best brain surgeons around, the best at developing the nervous system." 

Lyon's enthusiasm for regimented phonics instruction as the best way to hard-wire receptive, convergent learners was matched by his animosity toward professional teacher preparation and research-based methods for teaching reading that go beyond . Just two months after Lyon spoke to Maryland teachers about the importance of their craft, he said this at a national policy forum:  "If there was any piece of legislation that I could pass it would be to blow up colleges of education."

Five years later, however, Lyon was helping to launch a for-profit college of education focused on preparing reading teachers the way God and Reid Lyon intended (my bolds): 

What I learned at NIH and what guides our course development at American College of Education is that children's brains can literally be molded, changed, by the teaching they receive. Our goal now is to close the gap between our science tells us about learning and what our teachers apply in the classroom. A graduate degree from American College of Education means that teachers know the science behind how children learn.

Despite five years and over $5 billion spent on Reading First federal discretionary grants that were used to cajole, pressure, and bribe school systems to adopt and implement direct phonics instruction methods, DOE's own research, in both the interim and final reports, showed that Reading First was a big flop. From the NCEE Final Report Summary

The findings presented in this report are generally consistent with findings presented in the study's Interim Report, which found statistically significant impacts on instructional time spent on the five essential components of reading instruction promoted by the program (phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension) in grades one and two, and which found no statistically significant impact on reading comprehension as measured by the SAT 10. 

To add insult to Lyon's injury, a 2007 study by the federal "What Works Clearinghouse" found that the only reading program to pass muster in all reading domains was one that Reid Lyon and the Reading First goons had excluded for its lack of fidelity to the reductionist catechism preferred by right-wing code breakers. From Education Week:

Just one program was found to have positive effects or potentially positive effects across all four of the domains in the review—alphabetics, fluency, comprehension, and general reading achievement. That program, Reading Recovery, an intensive, one-on-one tutoring program, has drawn criticism over the past few years from prominent researchers and federal officials who claimed it was not scientifically based.

Federal officials and contractors tried to discourage states and districts from using Reading Recovery in schools participating in the federal Reading First program, citing a lack of evidence that it helps struggling readers.

The bankruptcy of current education reform initiatives is evident in ongoing attempts to resuscitate explicit, phonics-based methods that seeks to convert learners into compliant code breakers and rule followers, thus using neurological and behavioral patterning to influence children's brain functions. Phonics fanatics believe this can be done "during the reading initiation phase." 

Part 3 will examine the latest efforts to impose the antiquarian science of reading in South Carolina and Tennessee.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Red State Governors Pick Up Where DeVos Left Off, Part 1

It's easy to make a case that Donald Trump was the least informed, least effective, and most racist President since Woodrow Wilson. And it is even easier to do same for his "utterly unqualified" Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

Now that a competent and less racist Administration has saved the Nation from international shame and a domestic nervous breakdown, it is up to red state governors to push forward with the kinds of cruel, bigoted, corrupt, and Christian fascist initiatives that DeVos's hedge fund social planners pushed forward to gain the slimy seal of approval from the criminally-degenerate Trump.

Take Iowa, for instance, where Trump loyalist, Gov. Kim Reynolds, along with the Trumper legislature, is seeking to expand school privatization with publicly-funded "scholarships," i. e., schools vouchers, and a new state charter school law.  The legislation would also expand textbook tax credits, which will provide more private school and home school indoctrination materials for K-12 students who don't attend Iowa's historically-great public schools.
The State of Iowa also plans to make sure that public schools do not teach the social, political, and economic history of slavery in America, a subject that has never been adequately presented in standard school texts--and certainly not in the conservative doctrinaire curriculum now used in many of the Trump-loving "Christian" schools that operate with public financing. 

Specifically, the proposed legislation cancels the use of a history curriculum, the 1619 Project, developed by Iowa native and Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist, Nikole Hannah-Jones.  The 1619 Project essays have been rolled into a curriculum project made available by the Pulitzer Center and are free to the thousands of schools in the U.S. that now use the materials.  
Even so, the Iowa Trumpers plan to withhold education funds from any school that uses the materials from the 1619 Project:
NEW SUBSECTION . 5A. A school shall not utilize any United States history curriculum that in whole or in part is derived from a project by the New York Times, known as the “1619 Project”, or any similarly developed curriculum.
In a recent report on the textbooks that are widely used in much of red state America, education reporter, Rebecca Klein, noted:
. . . a 2017 HuffPost investigation found that about one-third of Christian schools participating in private school choice programs used a curriculum created by these two publishers [BJU Press and Abeka] or a similar company called Accelerated Christian Education, amounting to around 2,400 schools. The number of schools using these company’s products that do not participate in a voucher program likely amounts to thousands more. (Voucher programs allow students to use taxpayer funds to attend private schools.)

If all this were not enough to boost her white pride polling numbers, Reynolds and her legislative counterparts want to do what they can to reestablish segregation in schools by allowing students "to transfer out of schools with a voluntary or court-ordered diversity plan."

Part 2 will have a look at what's going on in SC and TN school politics to alleviate the fears of white nationalists.

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.