Friday, August 22, 2014

Dumber and Then Huffman

Is dumberer a word?  TN's state ed chief and TFA cult member, Kevin Huffman, told the New York Times yesterday that TN would not back down on using invalid, unreliable, and unfair methods to evaluate teachers in Tennessee.  Do "the best interests of children" really require us to ignore science, common sense, and public opinion? 
Some states will continue to use test results in teacher evaluations. In Tennessee, for example, Kevin Huffman, the commissioner of education, said the scores would remain a part of performance reviews. In an email, he added that he hoped states would make decisions on whether to use the evaluations “based on the best interests of kids rather than political expediency for adults.”

Arne Duncan: Just Sucking

As he watches Bill Gates' Common Core spinning quickly now before it heads down the toilet bowl, Arne Duncan has once again offered too little too late to save the latest miseducative boluses of the profiteers and privatizers at CorpEd. Trying to suck the air out of the Resistance by offering one year off from the high stakes part (for teachers) of the testing idiocy (which is half of what Bill Gates has offered) doesn't make Bill Gates look like a good guy--it just makes Duncan look more like an out-of-touch fool.

This statement yesterday from FairTest:
Today's announcement that the U.S. Department of Education will consider proposals from states to delay test-based teacher evaluation reflects belated recognition of the growing movement against standardized exam overuse and misuse.  It is a sign that national politicians are starting to pay attention to constituents who are saying "Enough is enough" . . .

Unfortunately, the Obama-Duncan proposal fails to address the real problems. It only offers to suspend testing consequences for educators, not for students and schools, even though all education stakeholders are scheduled to be evaluated by the same, unproven new exams.  And, it offers a delay of only one year, when even the Gates Foundation proposed two years.

Instead of this minor concession, the nation really needs an indefinite moratorium on high-stakes tests and consequences to allow the development of new assessment practices that actually support learning and teaching.

The Administration's initiative is merely an attempt to buy time for the implementation of another round of counter-productive federal policies that double down on the failure of the past decade of test-and-punish programs. This cynical action will only further energize the many parents, teachers and community activists calling a thorough overhaul of assessment policies."

Americans again rate local schools higher than schools of the nation

Groundhog Day: Americans Again Rate Local Schools Higher than Schools of the Nation
Stephen Krashen

As is the case every year, the PDK/Gallup poll (September 2014) found that people rate their local schools much more positively than they do schools in the US in general.  

The differences, as usual, were striking: Fifty percent of respondents said they would give the public schools in their neighborhood a grade or A or B, but only 17% would give public schools in the nation A or B.  When asked about the school their oldest child attends, 67% said they would give the school at A or B, suggesting that those who have more information about local schools rate them more highly.

Gerald Bracey (2009) gave a logical explanation for this phenomenon: "Americans never hear anything positive about the nation's schools," noting that "negative information flows almost daily from media, politicians, and ideologues."  The finding that American students score at the top of the world on international tests when poverty is statistically controlled (e.g. Carnoy and Rothstein, 2013) is never mentioned.

Education Secretary Duncan (also in 2009) gave his opinion of why people think local schools are better than schools in general: "Too many people don't understand how bad their own schools are." Duncan said that the public needs to be "woken up" to see that their own children are being short-changed. In other words, parents are not to be trusted on evaluating the quality of their own child's education, despite the fact that they are daily witnesses to the results of their child's schooling.

Bushaw, J. and Calderon, V. 2014. Try it again, Uncle Sam: The 46th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 96(1): 8-20.
Bracey, G. 2009. Experience outweighs rhetoric. Phi Delta Kappen 91(1): 11
Carnoy, M and Rothstein, R. 2013, What Do International Tests Really Show Us about U.S. Student Performance. Washington DC: Economic Policy Institute. 2012.
Duncan, A. 2009. Quality education is our moon shot. Phi Delta Kappan 91(1), 24–9.
Krashen, S. and Ohler, J. 2009. The Bad Schools Syndrome.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

See KIPP Co-Founder, Dave Levin, Model Totalistic Control & Compliance at Million Dollar Summit

Robert Lifton labeled the extraordinarily high degree of social control characteristic of organizations that operate reform programs as their totalistic quality (Lifton 1961). This concept refers to the mobilization of the entirety of the person's social, and often physical, environment in support of the manipulative effort. Lifton identified eight themes or properties of reform environments that contribute to their totalistic quality:
  • Control of communication
  • Emotional and behavioral manipulation
  • Demands for absolute conformity to behavior prescriptions derived from the ideology
  • Obsessive demands for confession
  • Agreement that the ideology is faultless
  • Manipulation of language in which cliches substitute for analytic thought
  • Reinterpretation of human experience and emotion in terms of doctrine
  • Classification of those not sharing the ideology as inferior and not worthy of respect
  • (Lifton 1961, pp. 419-437, 1987).
Keep it Up - A Balloon Metaphor at KIPP School Summit 2014 from KIPP Foundation on Vimeo.

MA Taxpayers Fed Up With Up Expansion of Segregated Corporate Charters

This is the beginning of the end for another failed experiment by profiteers and businessmen to feed on public education.  From the Boston Globe:
Voter support for more charter schools in Massachusetts appears to be weak, according to a new Boston Globe poll, highlighting a politically risky situation for charter school supporters if they pursue a ballot question.

The poll found that 47 percent of respondents opposed raising a state cap on the number of charter schools that can operate in Massachusetts, compared with 43 percent who favor such a change.

The results mean that charter school advocates would have to launch a compelling campaign to convince voters that opening more charter schools would be beneficial to students, said John Della Volpe, founder and chief executive officer for SocialSphere Inc., which conducted the poll for the Globe.

“They have their work cut out for them,” Della Volpe said. “What I mean by that is they would need to make the case why changing the current situation would result in significant more benefits for children.”

Resistance to raising the cap, Della Volpe said, could hinge on another significant finding in the poll: 72 percent of respondents said they were “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with the quality of education provided by their local school systems.
‘It’s not a simple sell that charter schools are better for our students. I think people believe in the potential of real public education. They are not willing to abandon their local school system.’
A defeat at the ballot box could deliver a crushing blow to charter school advocates, even possibly dooming future attempts to convince the Legislature to raise the cap. That’s because weary legislators could point to the referendum results and say they don’t want to betray the wishes of voters. . . .

Money For Tanks And Tear Gas, But None For Education

From The Real News Network:

Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou is a Freeman Fellow with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. A St Louis, MO, native, the Rev attended high school there and has strong family ties to the area. He is the Pastor for Formation and Justice at the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, MA, and is spending the summer as a Scholar in Residence at the Martin Luther King Education and Research Institute at Stanford University. 

"I was speaking with a schoolteacher in the Ferguson-Florissant School District the other day, and she was saying that it amazed her that all of this money for tanks and tear gas--yet she had to write a grant to get iPads for her students and had to personally buy dictionaries for her students. And so the kind of economic, disproportionate crisis, in terms of the way in which people are experiencing deprivation, should all bring us to our knees.

I think the numbers are in 2013 some $450 million have been provided to municipalities vis-à-vis in-kind contributions from the Pentagon, combined with other resources spent for the militarization of police. Yet teachers have to spend their own money to buy dictionaries. And so that is a metaphor for our situation, that the dictionary, the language, the discourse of democracy is so impoverished that perhaps the only word that we should be using in the lexicon of American democracy is shame."

To listen to the entire interview, click here.

Read Ken Derstine to Understand CorpEd in Philadelphia

Here is the intro:

Prior to becoming Secretary of Education in the Obama administration, Arne Duncan was the Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Public Schools for seven years. Until he became Secretary of Education, Duncan was on the board of the Broad Foundation. The Broad Foundation is one of the leading “philanthropies” promoting privatization through its Broad Superintendents Academy. Duncan laid the groundwork for the subsequent closing of fifty Chicago schools as part of the Broad strategy to transfer public schools to charter management companies.

This launched Chicago on a two-tier school system: one of charter and private schools for students from middle class and better off working class families, and the other for low-income families left behind in public schools starved of resources and support. This has become the template for the corporate education reform drive to privatize public education in urban districts across the U. S.

In Philadelphia, the task of advancing a two-tier school system has now been taken up by School Reform Commission Chairman William Green. Former City Councilman William Green IV was appointed by Governor Tom Corbett as Chairman of the SRC on February 21, 2014. The SRC is the appointed body that has managed the School District of Philadelphia since the state takeover dissolved the Philadelphia School Board in 2001. (Three members are appointed by the Governor and two by the Mayor.)
Read the rest here.

Tennessee's No-Growth Model for Minorities: 4% of Black Students Meet All ACT Benchmarks in 2014

As shown above, 8 percent of black students met 3 or more benchmarks in 2013.  

Below is the chart showing the percentages of students meeting all four benchmarks in 2014 (click to enlarge):

New PDK/Gallup Poll Shows 60 Percent of Public Opposed to Common Core

We'll be posting from the new 2014 PDK/Gallup poll of public attitudes toward the public schools.  Here's the one that caught my eye first:

New York's High Stakes Test Data of "Diminished Usefulness" Due to Opt Out Numbers

New York parents and students who opted out of the last round of testing should be proud and energized, even though the state's chief miseducator remains unbowed so far by the opt out numbers that are finally coming to light. 

This school year should be one of organizing resistance in every town and village to choose education and reject the unending corporate testing agenda that is destroying what's left of legitimate school learning practices.

From the Buffalo News:
. . . . The new standards are more rigorous, involving more writing across all subject areas, a greater emphasis on nonfiction and a different approach to math that requires students to work through complex, multistep math problems.

The result – at least in the first two years with the test – has been dramatically lower performance, even among suburban school districts that historically performed well.

And those scores now factor into teacher evaluations, although educators can’t lose their job because of their students’ state test performance.

Still, that’s little comfort to administrators in districts where large numbers of students opted out, something they say affected their overall performance and diminished the usefulness of the results.

In West Seneca, for example, the percentage of students who opted out at each grade level ranged from 27 percent to 63 percent.

“We respected the rights of parents to make a decision,” said Mark Crawford, superintendent of the West Seneca schools, where about a third of students opted out of the test.

“We knew that our opt-out numbers were very significant and would have an impact on the achievement levels for students, especially for Levels 3 and 4,” he added. “So at the moment, I can’t tell you what it means from the state’s point of view.”  . . . .

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The common core does not address the real problem

Sent to the Washington Post, August 20, 2014

The Post has reported that according to a recent PDK/Gallup poll, the "Common Core educational standards are losing support nationwide" (August 19). The poll asked those opposed to the Common Core why they were opposed, giving them several possible reasons.
The options did not include the reasons many educators oppose the Common Core: There is no need for a radical change in curriculum or testing. Substantial improvement will come only when we deal with the real problem: Poverty. When researchers control for the effect of poverty, American test scores are near the top of the world. Our unspectacular overall scores are because the US has the second highest level of child poverty among all 34 economically advanced countries (now over 23%, compared to high-scoring Finland’s 5.4%).
Poverty means poor nutrition, inadequate health care, and lack of access to books, among other things. All of these negatively impact school performance.  Instead of protecting children from the effect of poverty, the common core is investing billions in an untested curriculum and massive testing, despite research showing that increasing testing does not increase  achievement.
Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Tennessee Schools Soar to 43rd in ACT National Standings

Tennessee's now in its 22th year of a failed experiment that began in 1992 to use value-added assessment to improve Tennessee schools.  In 2013 Tennessee ranked 46th among states for composite ACT scores.

This year Tennessee is 43rd for the ACT composite score, but the state still ranks 48th in math, with only Mississippi and Hawaii behind the proud home state of the Sanders Model.  The other long-time experimenter with the Sanders Model of value-added testing is North Carolina, which ranks 47th this year in ACT scores.

Huffman and Haslam, however, have bought the headlines, with this one in the Tennessean:  "Tennessee students make big gains in ACT scores."

You be the judge.  Charts enlarge when you click them.  From the ACT Profile 2014:

Poem by Doug Storm


The girth and grip of the tulip trunk thrust
Wrist deep into the soil of the school playground
Fronts an edifice risen only to crumble.

Unfallen and aged, escaping the steel chain,
Your crown unbestowed, no body bends
supplicant to you, though all are at base abject.

You seek no fealty but stand resounding
against the proclamations of pretenders.
When your reign ends so all succession.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Apartheid Schooling in New Jersey

Bob Braun's Ledger: on One Newark
I remember standing in line at the career fair at the New Jersey university where I received my Master of Arts in Teaching and certification to teach secondary history and social studies. The line at the Newark table was vacant. No one, not one person, was interested in starting a career in Newark New Jersey public schools. Despite financial incentives, jobs in Newark and Camden public schools are still plentiful.
Bob Braun has been tirelessly covering education in New Jersey on his blog.  What is happening in Ferguson, Missouri, where schools budgets and services have been cut, should be a warning sign that people can only take so much oppression, discrimination and segregation.
The battle for Newark's children is also underway.
“We are going to go where others have not wanted to go,” said Robert Pickett, a lawyer with years of experience in the city. “We are going to talk about what no one wants to talk about.”
That would be unspeakably segregated schools in Newark where 90 percent of the children are black or brown in a county, Essex County, where some nearby towns—like Millburn and Fairfield and Nutley—have school enrollments that are 90 percent or more white.
Like the children of Newark, the children of Ferguson do not need more budget cuts, they need wrap around social services, physical education, art, music, dance, tennis and all the other essential programs children have in the private schools and wealthy suburbs.  They don't need more multiple choice tests and measurements.
So much for No Child Left Behind closing the achievement gap. Ferguson, MO has popped that balloon.  What will the impact be on the Value Added Measurements (VAMS's) of Ferguson's schools if students miss the first weeks of the school year because their city is under siege?
The Governor should hold teachers accountable because after all, we wouldn't want to give in to the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Fox News Viewers at Socialist Health Clubs

I work out at a city-owned health club, where old men who hate government come in their white tennis shoes and walk on the new municipally-owned treadmills, while watching the babes on FoxNews hand out to them their morning doses of hate.  They walk, glower, and sour without apparent purpose other than to make their hearts harder as hard as their arteries.

But yesterday I figured out how to get old white men to turn off Fox News.  All you have to do is have on a scientist to share the details of an autopsy of a black kid murdered by a white cop.  These wheezing geezers were switching channels all over the club faster than they can hit the porno delete key when their wives pop in with their afternoon prune juice cocktails.

I'm sure they were tuning in later in the day, however, to get the real story of what happened in Ferguson from Murcoch's stable of those bitter blonde babes who are paid big money to keep America's bile ducts pumping, 24/7.

More Bogus Research from UofArkansas's Walmart School of Ed Reform

What a shame that a great state university like Arkansas would allow billionaire bullshit "research" to sully its good name!

NEPC has reviewed the recent charter school "research" study by Jay Greene and his team and found it severely lacking in most everything that research requires to be legitimate:

BOULDER, CO (August 19, 2014) A recent report from the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform (DER) on charter school productivity asserts charter schools are more effective in producing achievement on standardized tests and are also less costly per pupil than traditional public schools. A new review released today finds the report’s claims suffer from multiple sources of invalidity, rendering the report useless.

Gene V Glass, Regents' Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University, reviewed The Productivity of Public Charter Schools for the Think Twice think tank review project of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC).

The report uses findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and “revenues received” to support its claim that charter schools spend less per pupil than traditional public schools and produce achievement as good as or superior to that of traditional public schools.

In his review, however, Glass points out that  the report inaccurately employs NAEP test results, and that its calculation of expenditures in charter and traditional public schools relies on questionable data. The report, meanwhile, also discounts the fact that demographic differences between the two sectors are highly correlated with NAEP performance. In short, Glass says, “The sector with the higher percentage of poor pupils scores lower on the NAEP test.”

Taken together, the report’s flaws leave readers with little evidence on which to base any valid conclusions, Glass concludes. He predicts, however, that despite its many shortcomings, charter school supporters will attempt to use the findings to advocate expanded funding for charter schools. In that respect, he writes, “The report continues a program of advocacy research that will be cited by supporters of the charter school movement.” 

Workforce Investment Act Becomes $3 Billion Handout to Predatory "Colleges"

No bills get through Congress these days without an overwhelming amount of money to be made by both sides of the corporate aisle.  Such a bill sailed through last month without so much as racial slur at the President, something quite unheard of in the age of an ostensibly-black Commander in Chief.

The legislation is called the Workforce Investment Act, and it's worth $3.1 billion to corporate higher ed profiteers who convert government retraining assistance to building corporate empires that offer nothing in return except tens of thousands in additional debt to the unemployed people who can least afford it.

Congress has been on this fool's errand of retraining for jobs that don't exist since the 1960s, when policy elites decided that job creation programs were too expensive and too divisive, in that most white folks preferred to keep minorities dependent on handouts, rather than to allow them into the middle class with real job opportunities.  Such a policy allows for black folks to be contained and castigated at the same time for being lazy louts.  A win-win for both race and class supremacy.

A clip from the NYTimes article:

". . . .Millions of unemployed Americans like Mr. DeGrella have trained for new careers as part of the Workforce Investment Act, a $3.1 billion federal program that, in an unusual act of bipartisanship, was reauthorized by Congress last month with little public discussion about its effectiveness. Like Mr. DeGrella, many have not found the promised new career.
Instead, an extensive analysis of the program by The New York Times shows, many graduates wind up significantly worse off than when they started — mired in unemployment and debt from training for positions that do not exist, and they end up working elsewhere for minimum wage.
Split between federal and state governments — federal officials dispense the money and states license the training — the initiative lacks rigorous oversight by either. It includes institutions that require thousands of hours of instruction and charge more than the most elite private colleges. Some courses are offered at for-profit colleges that have committed fraud in their search for federal funding. This includes Corinthian Colleges Inc., which reached an agreement last month with the federal Education Department to shut down or sell many of its campuses. . . ."

Sunday, August 17, 2014

CTA Joins Forces with CorpEd to End Teacher Due Process

By Alan Gilman
28 June 2014
On June 25, Democratic California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 215, legislation which streamlines the teacher dismissal process. The bill was lobbied heavily by the California Teachers Association (CTA) which joined with the right-wing anti-teacher organization EDVoice to get the bill passed.

The issue concerning the process for firing teachers rose to prominence in 2012 when a teacher in Los Angeles was charged with committing 23 counts of lewd conduct upon several of his students.

Although the teacher later pled guilty and was sentenced to 25 years in prison, the right wing seized upon the fact that the teacher had not been immediately fired. This in turn led to a campaign to “protect” children from “dangerous” teachers by making it easier to fire teachers who engage in serous criminal activity against their students, as well as teachers who “underperform.”

The CTA, in order to demonstrate its usefulness to the state, and in particular to the Democratic Party which controls the state legislature, became one the principal proponents of legislation to expedite the dismissal of the teachers that it represents.

The CTA is the largest labor union in the state of California, representing 325,000 education employees working in public school districts, community colleges and public universities.

In 2013, a CTA-supported bill to accomplish the same goal was passed by the legislature only to be vetoed by Governor Brown who felt it was “too rigid and could create new problems.” To accommodate the Governor’s concerns, this year the CTA joined with EdVoice, a reactionary private advocacy organization, to submit a new bill which was unanimously passed this month by both chambers of the Democratic-controlled California legislature.

Under the prior law, school districts could immediately remove from the classroom any teacher accused of immoral conduct or a serious crime and could keep the accused teacher away from students until the facts of the case had been determined.

To the CTA, however, as well as their right-wing accomplice, EdVoice, the fundamental due process rights of teachers interfered with the “need” to expeditiously fire teachers accused of such conduct. The CTA web site blames school districts for failing to act against such teachers and, as a consequence, for the last three years the CTA “has supported legislation to streamline the dismissal process while protecting students and educators.”

The union further urged its members to email their state senators and assembly members to vote for AB 215 because it “prioritizes, updates and streamlines the teacher discipline and dismissal process – saving time and money, while protecting students and ensuring an educator’s right to due process.”

Introduced by Democratic Assembly member Joan Buchanan, AB 215 was promoted as a means for quickly ousting teachers who are accused of “egregious crimes,” in particular sexual abuse. The language in the bill, however, establishes that protecting students from sexual abuse is not its only aim. Section 2 of the bill states that a teacher may be dismissed for any of a number of causes, including “dishonesty, unsatisfactory performance, [and] evident unfitness for service.” There are no guidelines for determining what conduct is covered by any of these three charges.

Moreover, the new law sets forth a “hearing process” in which the accused employees are allowed to “defend themselves” against accusations. Section 11 outlines the specifics of this process. After school authorities send a written notice to the accused employee, he or she must request a hearing in 30 days to respond to the charges; failure to do so could result in immediate dismissal.

This legislation would also impose a “Commission on Professional Excellence” to decide the fate of the employee. This body would consist of an administrative law judge, a person picked by the governing board of a school district, and another picked by the employee.

Additionally, the new law allows charges to be filed based on alleged misdeeds that occurred at any time during the employee’s tenure. While the bill guarantees that proceedings must begin no later than six months after the charges are brought against the accused, they must be completed no more than seven months after the employee requests a hearing. This could conceivably result in a mere month-long hearing process.

The timing and unanimous support for the passage of this legislation was in large part a response to the ruling in Vergara vs. California, which was decided on June 10, 2014 by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu. In his ruling in Vergara, Judge Treu threw out the state's system for dismissing teachers because the cost and time required were too prohibitive. The judge also ruled that a number of basic rights of teachers were unconstitutional, including tenure and seniority rights. As Vergara is being appealed, the passage of AB 215 will serve as the legal mechanism for instituting and implementing the expeditious firing of teachers that the Vergara decision had mandated. (see The California teacher tenure ruling and the war against public education: )

The passage of AB 215, along with the Vergara decision, has revealed how the unions, Democrats, right-wing advocacy groups and the courts have joined forces in attacking the right to a quality public education by expediting the process of firing teachers, thereby clearing the way for the mass removal of more experienced and better-paid educators.

Blaming and attacking teachers for the failure of public education serves to mask how poverty, mass unemployment, vast social inequality, and the gross underfunding for education are the real causes for the crisis in public education.

California ranks at the bottom of all states in its per-pupil expenditures, at $8,342 (in 2011), according to Education Week. This amount is 30 percent below the national average of $11,864, reflecting the consistent shortchanging of the K-12 system by the state.

Teaching is Not a Business!!!

CreditEleanor Davis
Continue reading the main storyShare This Page
TODAY’S education reformers believe that schools are broken and that business can supply the remedy. Some place their faith in the idea of competition. Others embrace disruptive innovation, mainly through online learning. Both camps share the belief that the solution resides in the impersonal, whether it’s the invisible hand of the market or the transformative power of technology.
Neither strategy has lived up to its hype, and with good reason. It’s impossible to improve education by doing an end run around inherently complicated and messy human relationships. All youngsters need to believe that they have a stake in the future, a goal worth striving for, if they’re going to make it in school. They need a champion, someone who believes in them, and that’s where teachers enter the picture. The most effective approaches foster bonds of caring between teachers and their students.
Marketplace mantras dominate policy discussions. High-stakes reading and math tests are treated as the single metric of success, the counterpart to the business bottom line. Teachers whose students do poorly on those tests get pink slips, while those whose students excel receive merit pay, much as businesses pay bonuses to their star performers and fire the laggards. Just as companies shut stores that aren’t meeting their sales quotas, opening new ones in more promising territory, failing schools are closed and so-called turnaround model schools, with new teachers and administrators, take their place.
This approach might sound plausible in a think tank, but in practice it has been a flop. Firing teachers, rather than giving them the coaching they need, undermines morale. In some cases it may well discourage undergraduates from pursuing careers in teaching, and with a looming teacher shortage as baby boomers retire, that’s a recipe for disaster. Merit pay invites rivalries among teachers, when what’s needed is collaboration. Closing schools treats everyone there as guilty of causing low test scores, ignoring the difficult lives of the children in these schools — “no excuses,” say the reformers, as if poverty were an excuse.
Charter schools have been promoted as improving education by creating competition. But charter students do about the same, over all, as their public school counterparts, and the worst charters, like the online K-12 schools that have proliferated in several states, don’t deserve to be called schools. Vouchers are also supposed to increase competition by giving parents direct say over the schools their children attend, but the students haven’t benefited. For the past generation, Milwaukee has run a voucher experiment, with much-debated outcomes that to me show no real academic improvement.
While these reformers talk a lot about markets and competition, the essence of a good education — bringing together talented teachers, engaged students and a challenging curriculum — goes undiscussed.
Business does have something to teach educators, but it’s neither the saving power of competition nor flashy ideas like disruptive innovation. Instead, what works are time-tested strategies.
“Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service”: That’s the gospel the management guru W. Edwards Deming preached for half a century. After World War II, Japanese firms embraced the “plan, do, check, act” approach, and many Fortune 500 companies profited from paying attention. Meanwhile, the Harvard Business School historian and Pulitzer Prize-winner Alfred D. Chandler Jr. demonstrated that firms prospered by developing “organizational capabilities,” putting effective systems in place and encouraging learning inside the organization. Building such a culture took time, Chandler emphasized, and could be derailed by executives seduced by faddishness.
Every successful educational initiative of which I’m aware aims at strengthening personal bonds by building strong systems of support in the schools. The best preschools create intimate worlds where students become explorers and attentive adults are close at hand.
In the Success for All model — a reading and math program that, for a quarter-century, has been used to good effect in 48 states and in some of the nation’s toughest schools — students learn from a team of teachers, bringing more adults into their lives. Diplomas Now love-bombs middle school students who are prime candidates for dropping out. They receive one-on-one mentoring, while those who have deeper problems are matched with professionals.
An extensive study of Chicago’s public schools, Organizing Schools for Improvement, identified 100 elementary schools that had substantially improved and 100 that had not. The presence or absence of social trust among students, teachers, parents and school leaders was a key explanation.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the nationwide mentoring organization, has had a substantial impact on millions of adolescents. The explanation isn’t what adolescents and their “big sibling” mentors do together, whether it’s mountaineering or museum-going. What counts, the research shows, is the forging of a relationship based on mutual respect and caring.
Over the past 25 years, YouthBuild has given solid work experience and classroom tutoring to hundreds of thousands of high school dropouts. Seventy-one percent of those youngsters, on whom the schools have given up, earn a G.E.D. — close to the national high school graduation rate. The YouthBuild students say they’re motivated to get an education because their teachers “have our backs.”
The same message — that the personal touch is crucial — comes from community college students who have participated in the City University of New York’s anti-dropout initiative, which has doubled graduation rates.
Even as these programs, and many others with a similar philosophy, have proven their worth, public schools have been spending billions of dollars on technology which they envision as the wave of the future. Despite the hyped claims, the results have been disappointing. “The data is pretty weak,” said Tom Vander Ark, the former executive director for education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and an investor in educational technology companies. “When it comes to showing results, we better put up or shut up.”
While technology can be put to good use by talented teachers, they, and not the futurists, must take the lead. The process of teaching and learning is an intimate act that neither computers nor markets can hope to replicate. Small wonder, then, that the business model hasn’t worked in reforming the schools — there is simply no substitute for the personal element.