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

Monday, August 31, 2009

East Meets West Going In Opposite Directions

American public education has been hijacked by a bunch of know-nothing modern day Babbitts who, not unlike their namesake and his sycophantic sidekicks that Sinclair Lewis immortalized in the novel by the same name, have a scheming self-serving treachery and a blind, incessant faith in their own parochial and dumbed-down materialism that is as intellectually stimulating as a hanky full of ether. This pack of philosophical dimwits and non-curious Georges led by the likes of Bill Gates and his middle brow scribbler pal, Thomas Friedman, have a clear monopoly on the capitalist market dogma that they, themselves, have fallen prey to, along with the high priests of the Harvard Business School whose sacred book of cases never allows them to consider something that hasn't been done before, already. Part of chummy charm of this gaggle of greed merchants and marketeers is that their close-drill navel gazing never requires them to look beyond their small circle of fellow experts for reassurance that they are, doubtless, correct on all things worth considering.

In hoping to stay ahead of the Chinese in all things educational, they may have noticed, had they not been blinded by their own unfailing insights, that the Chinese would like very much to leave behind the kind of educational rigormortis that these same American corporate testocratic bullies have set in motion in the U.S. of A. in ways that threatens our economic viability, creative viability, and our political viability.

A new book to be published next month by Dr. Yong Zhao (ASCD) lays out the case. Be on the lookout for it. Here is the press release from Michigan State U., and here, once more is the link to a video that talks about some of what is in the book.
EAST LANSING, Mich. — America’s increasing reliance on standardized testing as a yardstick for educational success is a flawed policy that threatens to undermine the nation’s strengths of creativity and innovation, according to a provocative new book from a Michigan State University scholar.

By grading student success on government-set standards in a limited number of subjects such as math, reading and science, Yong Zhao argues the United States is eager to “throw away” one of its global advantages – an education that respects individual talents and does not dictate what students learn or how teachers teach.

Zhao’s book, due out in late September and published by ASCD, is called “Catching Up or Leading the Way: The Future of American Education.” He acknowledges his thesis is “diametrically opposed to the more popular view of what American education should be like in the 21st century.”

“Right now we seem to be stuck with the idea of standards as the panacea to fix all of America’s education problems,” said Zhao, University Distinguished Professor of education. “I don’t deny that the U.S. education system has problems, but I don’t feel the problems can be solved by standards and high-stakes testing. Rather, standards and high-stakes testing run the risk of ruining the advantages and great tradition of the system.”

Ironically, Zhao set out to write a book about the “repeated failures” of testing and standardization in his native China. But while Chinese officials are trying to “undo the damages” of that system, the Obama administration seems inclined to continue the limited standards-focused policy established by George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, Zhao said.

“I realized that what China wants is what America is eager to throw away,” Zhao writes in the book’s preface.

Zhao has secured millions of dollars in grant funding from U.S. and Chinese organizations to study and implement educational technology and reform. He travels frequently around the United States to speak to educational groups about the need for diverse, globally focused education. But while most educators agree with him about the need for change, Zhao said they often complain they’re stuck “teaching to the test” to meet state-mandated requirements in select subjects.

Zhao has seen the effects of national standards first-hand. Five years ago he pulled his son out of the 10th grade at a mid-Michigan public school and sent him to a New Jersey boarding school after the youngster failed to post a top writing score on a standardized test and dwelled over how to do better.

“My heart sank as he was explaining to me how he would improve,” Zhao writes of his son, who graduated from the boarding school and is now attending the University of Chicago. “The essence of his strategy was to stop being creative and imaginative.”

Zhao believes the federal government should stop endorsing standardized testing and instead reward schools for offering a diverse set of opportunities – from art to auto shop. He said accountability should be “input-based” rather than “output-based,” with schools being graded on whether they provide safe and clean facilities and a learning environment that provides global learning opportunities.

“I would measure what the schools offer rather than what the schools produce in terms of students, because students’ learning outcomes are affected by so many factors,” he said.

“Most importantly, we need to instill confidence – restore confidence – in our teachers and in our schools, because right now the accountability rhetoric in essence is telling us we don’t trust our educators – that they are not good enough, they are lazy, and that’s not the case.”

NCLB as Well-Planned Explosive Device in Detroit

The time bombs that NCLB planted in every poor rural or urban school in America have been going off with increasing frequency as we move closer the impossible testing targets of 2014. Now with the economic depression providing a kind of financial hurricane in Michigan, Detroit is on the brink of following the pattern of New Orleans after Katrina. Meanwhile, the poor children we knew were failing before NCLB are poorer and falling further and further behind in a demoralized morass, created for the benefit of those ideologues intent upon dismantling the public education system. From The Detroit News:
Marisa Schultz / The Detroit News

Detroit -- Two of the most influential charter school backers in the city are teaming up to bring 25,000 new charter school seats to Detroit within a decade.

Founders of University Preparatory Academy and Henry Ford Academy have formed a nonprofit to recruit some of the country's best urban charter operators to Detroit, nearly doubling the number of charter seats in the city.

"The idea is to go from a city that is widely considered the most dysfunctional urban area in the country, in terms of educational opportunities, and to turn it into a test bed of dozens of different kinds of high-performing schools," said Steve Hamp, founder of Henry Ford Academy.

The effort could be a blow to Detroit Public Schools, which has lost almost half its students since 2000 -- many of them to charters. Each student who leaves takes along about $7,500 in state funding.

The additional charters could provide a financial opportunity for the district, however, because the operators are interested in operating in closed city school buildings.

Robert Bobb, the district's state-appointed emergency financial manager, said he's willing to sell shuttered district schools to charters as long as the price is fair and the buildings are maintained.

The district, Bobb said, will continue to improve with hard work and determination by staff and students.

"(The district) should not spend one second of its energy worrying about the charter school movement," he said.

Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, strongly disagrees with the notion that "charter schools are the answer, when nothing could be further from the truth."

He and other vocal DPS critics believe charters "are capitalizing on some of the dysfunctions of Detroit Public Schools to promote their own agenda," Johnson said. "They are using our children in DPS like they are commodities." . . . .

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Holding Politicians Accountable for Kindergarten Child Abuse

I knew a brilliant guy when I was in school who did not learn to read until he was 8 years old. You probably know someone, too, who was a late bloomer. If the oligarchs now making the calls in our corporate testing schools have their way, a child learning to read at 8 years old will have already failed kindergarten and first grade at least once. And even though the scientific understanding of child development is clear as to the criminal wrongheadedness of failing kindergartners, all the while replacing social play with an academic grind, the federal money now going into early childhood will be used to create schools for our babies that are unethical and abusive unless concerned citizens demand something else. Period.

The Boston Globe has published a close look at this kindergarten abuse in a Magazine piece by Patti Hartigan. Tragically, it paints a picture of principals and teachers caught in a moral vacuum that they are unwilling to break through, the same moral vacuum that low-level perpetrators of the Holocaust were caught in as they did guard duty without a word of protest to the fascist overlords. It wasn't until Nuremberg that the guards of the camps found out that "just following orders" did not relieve them of their criminal culpability and moral depravity. In today's kindergartens, there is no one holding a gun on these principals and teachers who sigh about the criminal acts they are committing against the innocent. Am I suggesting that they quit their jobs? No, I am suggesting that they organize for humane schooling and to act in the most subversive manner possible to preserve the integrity of childhood from the corporationists. If they cannot do that much, then they should, indeed, quit. Otherwise, they should be held responsible by parents and the criminal justice system, just as the cowardly politicians should be for allowing this criminal breach against children to fester.

Here is the last section of Hartigan's story, which captures the moral irresponsibility associated with "just following orders."

Leadership comes from the top down in schools, but even the most enlightened principals and other administrators are bound by state and federal requirements. “In my mind, the expectations for our kindergartners should be a little higher, but that doesn’t mean the practice should be more rigid,” says Valerie Gumes, principal of the Haynes Early Education Center in Roxbury. After 21 years in the field, she says, she is weary of the demands to assess, assess, assess. “I’m not opposed to standards, but the amount of time we spend doing these assessments

. . .” A pause. “It’s really criminal.” A sigh. “But I’m not in charge.”

Anthony Colannino, principal of the MacArthur School in Waltham, objected this spring when the state began requiring schools to administer a standardized test to kindergartners whose first language isn’t English. “If you gave this test to the general population, people would be beating down doors,” he says. “There would be an outcry. If they gave it to my kid, I would say, ‘Tell me what day you are giving it, and he will be absent.’ ”

In fact, Colannino has a 5-year-old son who is about to enter kindergarten in Woburn. He says that his son, like many 5-year-old boys, is spontaneous and active. And since children are now expected to sit quietly for at least part of the day in many kindergarten classes, Colannino is more than a little worried. “He is curious and asks a lot of questions, and my wife and I are concerned,” he says.

What does it say when an elementary school principal fears that his own child won’t thrive in kindergarten? And what is the new emphasis on academics doing to the children? The Alliance for Childhood report contains chilling statistics. In Texas, the rate at which kindergartners were held back rose by two and a half times from 1994 to 2004. And in 2007, a 6-year-old girl in Florida was arrested for having a temper tantrum in school.

And what of Christine Gerzon’s former student, the girl who failed the official proficiency tests but who showed so much potential? “She’s still struggling,” Gerzon says sadly. (The teacher has kept in touch with the girl’s family.) Students get labeled young, at a time when their ability to perform can vary widely from day to day, and it’s hard to shake those labels later on. Children’s impressions of school, too, are formed early, and when they feel like failures at 5, it’s hard to turn that around later. The city of Boston recognized this last year when it formed a public-private partnership with United Way called Thrive in 5, an umbrella agency that is conducting a citywide effort -- starting support and play groups, distributing flyers about health and other kinds of resources, and more -- to help parents prepare their young children for school.

But these grass-roots efforts can only go so far. Early childhood experts have been publishing books, releasing reports, and testifying before Congress, with little change in public policy. Why isn’t anyone listening? “It’s not the educators, it’s the politicians,” says Russell of the Boston schools. “The schools don’t make the decisions. The politicians are making the decisions to meet political needs.” There is also an element of fear among educators, especially in a troubled economy. “You have to be willing to get your wrist slapped a little bit,” says Russell. “If the folks who know what’s right don’t talk about it, we’re never going to get anywhere.”

And now is the time. The Obama administration has pledged billions, but some experts remain wary that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is proposing policy that sounds like No Child Left Behind. “I think he has bought into the standards and testing model,” says Miller. “What we need is a whole reassessment and change of direction.”

Meanwhile, more and more children are “failing” kindergarten, according to the Alliance for Childhood report -- and missing out on the kind of early schooling that does help develop 5-year-old minds. Winifred Hagan is a former kindergarten teacher and a vice president at the Cayl Institute in Cambridge, a nonprofit that sponsors conferences for principals and fellowships for the study of early childhood education. She worries that vulnerable kids are being sent down a path to failure inside a system that was created to meet purely political goals. “Kids are spending hours of their day sitting with pencils and tracing dotted lines,” she says. “And we call that education? We are kidding ourselves.”

Patti Hartigan, a former Globe reporter, blogs about education at http://TrueSlant.com. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Mismatch Between What Science Knows and What Business Does

With the art and science of pedagogy hijacked by the bean counters from business and management, we are guaranteed that children will become dumber until these interlopers are sent packing back to where their expertise can shine, like in running our economy, right??

Have a look at this TED lecture on motivation by Dan Pink, who never mentions, by the way, teacher performance pay or paying students for test scores. HT to DC:

Friday, August 28, 2009

Corporate Reformers Proclaim NCLB Success in Closing Achievement Gaps: Time to Move on to Focus on the Privileged

In a prominent display of post-partisan propaganda, Mike Petrilli and Tom Loveless have an op-ed in the Times today proclaiming NCLB success in raising the test scores of the downtrodden, while making a case for a new focus of NCLB 2.0: assistance to the privileged children in the leafy suburbs. Here is the heart of the big lie that Gates's boys are pumping today:
. . . . High-achieving students might be making incremental progress — but is this new? If they were making similar gains before 2002, then might recent progress have nothing to do with No Child Left Behind? And how did their progress compare with trends for lower-achieving students?

Thankfully, there is a more suitable tool to help answer such questions: the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which tracks achievement changes in 4th, 8th and 12th graders across the country. It found relatively little progress among our highest-achieving students (those in the top 10 percent) from 2000 to 2007, while the bottom 10 percent made phenomenal gains. For example, in eighth-grade math, the lowest-achieving students made 13 points of progress on the national-assessment scale from 2000 to 2007 — roughly the equivalent of a whole grade. Top students, however, gained just five points.
Loveless and Petrilli fail to note that most of the big gains of 13 points took place prior to 2004, before NCLB had a chance to work its magic. Also not mentioned is the fact that since 2000, more states have seen the black-white achievement gaps increase, rather than decrease. As the chart from the NYTimes national analysis shows below (click chart to open in separate frame), the shrinking of the black-white achievement gap has been miniscule where it has decreased at all. For 17 year-olds in reading and 9 year-olds in math, the gap has actually increased since NCLB has a chance to take effect. As Sam Dillon notes:
Although Black and Hispanic elementary, middle and high school students all scored much higher on the federal test than they did three decades ago, most of those gains were not made in recent years, but during the desegregation efforts of the 1970s and 1980s. That was well before the 2001 passage of the No Child law, the official description of which is “An Act to Close the Achievement Gap.”
It is not surprising, however, to see the reform schoolers' focus shift away from the poor. It is obvious that their kind of test-til-you-puke remedy has nothing of use to offer those who aspire to close the achievement gap. In other words, let's change the subject and get it back to helping the privileged. After all, all indications point to the imminent total containment of the poor and the black in corporate charter camps where their scores will be much less important than their attitudes and behaviors.

From the Times:

Segregationist Society Wonders Why Achievement Gaps Persist

The failure chart here is a snapshot of Arlington, Virginia, but it could be Most Anywhere, USA. While corporate reformers berate public school teachers and castigate parents and abuse children with cram-down testing, the story of the return to apartheid schooling remains a non-story for the media and an unacknowledged reality for the dolts in charge of state testing programs.

Where there is apartheid, there is poverty; where there is poverty, there is the achievement gap. Where there is the achievement gap, there is the preservation of privilege for White America. What could be more horrendously elegant? What kind of democracy so clearly embraces an educational system that defines success strictly by race and income? But then, what kind of democracy puts its future in the hands of corporate oligarchs to decide?
By Michael Lee Pope
Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Half a century has passed since the landmark Supreme Court Brown versus Board of Education, but Arlington County Schools still struggles with achievement results that remain separate and unequal. White students in the county enjoy the highest performance on standardized testing, with 97 percent of the county’s white students passing the English test and 95 percent of the white students passing the Math test. When the Virginia Department of Education released testing data earlier this month, white students were the only group to meet the benchmarks.

"I’m very concerned about this," said Emma Violand-Sanchez, a member of the Arlington County School Board. "We need to address the achievement gap, especially with these subgroups."

Although Hispanic students met the benchmark in English, they fell behind in Math. Black students did not meet federal standards in English or Math. Students who have a limited proficiency with English did not meet the federal objectives, nor did economically disadvantaged students. Students with disabilities had the lowest pass rates, with 68 percent of the students passing the English test and 59 percent of the students passing the Math test. State officials wanted to be clear that identifying students who were struggling should not be interpreted as a criticism of the student groups.

"This is not about blaming children," said Charles Pyle, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education. "This is about identifying where there are weaknesses to improve instruction." . . . .
How entirely and blindly pathetic. Perhaps when the fast-food corporate charter schools finally "improve instruction" by replacing all the poor public schools, the demand for accountability will disappear, as will the persistent and embarrassing reality of the death of social justice in education. Left will be children in the brainwashing academic chain gangs or the recalcitrants who will be dumped into the juvenile "justice" system. Finally, privilege will have been maintained and guaranteed for the shrinking white majority--at least until the violence starts. The future of the "democratic republic" is only as guaranteed as the control of it by white America (see the approval ratings of "rightwing terrorists").

Thursday, August 27, 2009

FBI Seizes Philly Charter Records While Federal Investigations Pick Up Steam

As the corporate welfare charter schools, free from any oversight, drain more and more money from the public schools, so does the charter corruption, fraud, and thievery. The latest from Philadelphia, where five charters are now under federal investigation. Via the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Federal agents yesterday seized financial records from a North Philadelphia school, another move in a widening federal probe of area charter schools.

Michael Mustokoff, an attorney for the Community Academy of Philadelphia Charter School, confirmed that FBI agents retrieved the records yesterday morning.

. . . .

At least five Philadelphia-area charter schools are under investigation, their control of public funds and management oversight called into question. Federal authorities are adding resources to the probe.

People familiar with the matter say the list includes New Media Technology Charter School, with campuses in Germantown and Stenton; Germantown Settlement Charter School in Germantown; Northwood Academy in the Northeast; and Agora Cyber Charter School in Devon, which provides online instruction to 4,400 students statewide.

The probe began at Philadelphia Academy Charter School in the Northeast. It started after The Inquirer reported in April 2008 that the school district's inspector general was investigating allegations of financial mismanagement, nepotism, and conflicts of interest at the school.

Former Philadelphia Academy chief executive officer Kevin O'Shea and former board president Rosemary DiLacqua have pleaded guilty to fraud charges and await sentencing in October. The school's founder, Brien Gardiner, committed suicide in May amid reports that indictments were imminent.

The expanding federal investigation has forced the Philadelphia School Reform Commission and the state Department of Education to take a closer look at charters.


How do you personally feel about the future of American education?

I’m panicked, I’m worried. I think if we continue along the path that we’re going, our greatest days are behind us. But, I still believe we can turn it around. That’s why I’m still in the classroom, and I’m gonna do my best. But as long as we embrace “testing is everything,” and as long as we keep shrinking art programs and physical education programs, we’re not in a good place. Those are the things that inspire kids to do great things, so I hope we keep enlarging them, not shrinking them.

The words are those of Rafe Esquith, at the end of an interview currently freely available from Teacher Magazine in a piece called Lighting Fires With Rafe Esquith. Esquith is one of America's great teachers, winner of many awards, a notable author. The key is the impact he has upon his students.

Equith teachers 5th grade at an inner city school, Hobart Elementary, in Los Angeles. He has his kids actually performing (passionately) Shakespeare. He is more than a little "unconventional." Perhaps the best description of what he does can be seen in the title of his 2nd (and best-selling) book (published 2 years ago): Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56.

I am going to strongly suggest that if you have any interest in education and meaningful teaching - as parent, educator, policy maker, or simply citizen/taxpayer - that you take the link to the interview and print it down and save it -- NOW. The link will expire at some point, and you will not want to lose access to this insightful piece.

Let me offer a few more exchanges from the interview, with some observations and commentary of my own.

I think the absolute key is that learning, the education of a child, is a long process, and we are now in the middle of a fast food society. We want instant everything. We even have books now like Algebra Made Easy and Shakespeare Made Easy. But I want teachers and parents to remember that it’s not easy! To be good at anything—anything!—takes thousands and thousands of hours of patient study, and I want people to know that when kids make mistakes or have setbacks, we don’t need to jump all over them for every little thing. This is a long process. I’m hoping that from the lessons of Lighting Their Fires people will understand that I’m trying to teach things that kids will remember after they’ve left my classroom, not just for the test at the end of the year.

not just for the test at the end of the year - and yet the Obama administration wants to tie merit pay for teachers to student performance on those same end of year tests, rather than finding other ways of examining the effects teachers have upon their students. I suspect that anyone who would walk into Esquith's classroom in Room 56 at Hobart would immediately grasp the positive effect he has upon students, regardless of any results either on end of year tests examined separately, or the growth shown as compared either to last year's tests or tests at the beginning of the year.

Esquith talks about reminding teachers of the importance of being themselves. Let me offer a bit of this section, right after he mentions other teachers thanking him for that.
Because a lot of people are telling the teacher not to be yourself. That we’re all supposed to be exactly the same. We’re not. In a country that says it’s supposed to celebrate diversity, we’re not! And that’s what I want those burned-out teachers to remember. Be yourself. You’re valuable, you’re important, and you’re making a difference, even though maybe you’re in a school that doesn’t appreciate what you’re doing. It’s a thankless job, it really is. But when you do it well, it’s a fun job.

It is not only a "fun job," it is absoluting energizing, especially on those occasions when you "hit a home run" and find a way of really connecting with the students.

Here I note that I have insisted my student teachers learn how to be themselves in front of the adolescents in my classroom, who can quickly determine if a teacher is being something different, that is, is in "teacher mode" - for many, that will serve as a barrier, because what the students really hunger for is someone who respects them enough to be genuine with them. By the way, as we mourn the loss of Ted Kennedy, perhaps we should note that so much of the response to him was that he was very much himself, which was a very caring person, in his interactions even with those who opposed him politically, which might be why he was able to find common ground on occasion and become close friends with the likes of Orrin Hatch. Effective teaching also involves the building of relationships through trust, the showing of genuine care. If in fact your real self is not caring towards the students in your charge, I strongly suggest you find another occupation, no matter how knowledgeable about your subject matter you may be.

Esquith talks about the number of former students who come back to his classroom and provide positive role models for his current students. Here I note that I teach mainly 10th graders, and I see a similar effect - they have older siblings who come back to me for college recommendations, or neighbors, teammates, those on the bus who will share their experiences in my classroom. I will not claim I have anything near the impact Esquith does - his students are younger, and for many his is the first such encounter with a caring and challenging adult not related to them. There are many great teachers in our school, and I am fortunate that almost all of my students have already had at least one such encounter before they enter my classroom.

Esquith also talks about how his classroom works:
The idea that kids don’t like school is a myth. Kids love school when it’s fun and interesting. They don’t like school when it’s boring. But you let them do things that are relevant, like play in a rock band, as we do in my classes, and capture their imagination. I think that’s what people see in my classroom─there’s a great energy level, an atmosphere of warmth and humor and hard work all mixed together.

Note especially those last words: an atmosphere of warmth and humor and hard work all mixed together - that combination encourages students who are struggling to keep trying. If I am going to challenge my students to go further, I have to build the trust, lighten the burden with humor, affirm that I know they can do it.

A couple of quotes without comments:
I do think that the goal should be that we’re going to give every child the opportunity to be the best they can be. Right now, we’re not doing that. And as I always tell the kids, “It’s not my job to save your soul, but it’s my job to give you an opportunity to save your own soul.” I can’t make a kid smarter or better, but I can give them the opportunity to become that and show them how to do that. That’s my job, and that’s a parent’s job─creating opportunities.

I’m really hoping is that teachers, when they keep growing, they can grow into themselves. They’re so busy following the script, they stop being themselves. I think if the teacher’s a great cook, then I hope she cooks with the kids as part of the day! Work it into the lesson plan! Because that’s your passion... the good news is, in my classroom, it is absolutely my room. Even though we follow all the standards, my three particular passions, which are baseball, rock & roll and Shakespeare are all a part of that classroom. And it works really well, because I’m good at showing kids how to do those things.

Rafe Esquith is an extraordinary teacher, one of the nation's best. And yet, instead of learning from teachers like him when we make our policy, too often we listen to economists and politicians, we are far too inclined to try to standardize - and not just in how we test. When teachers are empowered - as Esquith is and as I have been fortunate enough to be by 5 principals in three different schools - they commit themselves to their students despite the barriers and obstacles, despite the restriction s of external testing and pacing guides (which often make no sense even as they are supposed demonstrate that we have 'covered" the material for which the students will be held "accountable").

We need to remember that we are teaching students, a collection of individual, unique personalities, not a class or a subject if by phrasing in the latter fashion we lose sight of those individuals. We need to be able to adjust our instruction to the persons before us.

I have a decreasing amount of hair. I'm not sure how much I can afford to lose by setting it on fire. But I know Esquith is right - it is by bringing one's own passion to the task of learning with one's students that I am most effective as a teacher. It is also by providing an environment that the passions with which the students arrive can somehow be included within the classroom as well. Esquith is an elementary teacher - he has his students for the entire day. I teach 6 periods, each of 45 minutes, each with a different collection of students, currently with up to 36 in the room at one time (and that will expand today). It is somewhat different, but still fundamentally the same - I may have less time to accomplish that, and far more specific content with which to connect them, but they are still unique individuals with different backgrounds and interests. I make clear I am passionate and invite them along for the ride.

along for the ride - that means I am traveling that road with them. That is one fundamental concept of teaching which Esquith may not explicitly state, but which underlies his entire approach, and with which I strongly agree.

Esquith will be the first to tell you he does not have all the answers. And perhaps his words may raise more questions, to which he would almost certainly say "good!" It is by asking questions that we can reexamine our thinking and improve our own actions.

Which is why this post has the title that it does.



Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Century Foundation Research Shows KIPP, Aspire, Etc. Not Suited for Duncan's Turnaround Plans

The corporate foundations and investment funds that are now controlling federal education policy have sold the eager President and his goofy sidekick, Arne Duncan, on a half-baked plan to recruit the rock stars of the charter school movement (KIPP, Inc., Aspire, Inc., Uncommon Schools, Inc.) to swoop in and save the lowest performing, i. e. poorest, of the nation's public urban schools. After all, these brand name pedagogical sects have been promoted by their marketing departments and the corporate media as miracle workers in terms of producing smiling, compliant, glassy-eyed children with high test scores and the work ethic of Paris Island Marines.

Well, not so fast, the Century Foundation says. Come to find out, much of the miracle of the charter schools is due to recruitment practices and self-selection of students with parents who insist on academic chain gangs for their children, a predominance of female students who are better performers and less problematic, incredibly high student attrition rates based on shoving out the low performers and recalcitrants, small percentages of special education and English language learners, and a teacher dumping system that can count on a never-ending stream of Teach for America recruits to replace any teacher who may ask a question or depart from the script. Successful teachers are then recruited as new commandants, er, CEOs for new branch locations as they pop up around the country like in the beginning days of Wendy's, Burger King, and McDonalds.

Now it is becoming quickly apparent among the charter insiders that these brand names are going to be dealt serious PR blows if they are actually expected to take over schools without all the screening devices and pushout tactics that makes the KIPPs of the world the mirage makers they really are. The Century Foundation, then, in the following piece, argues that, are you ready, that it is unfair to ask these fragile new institutions to do the hard work that the Secretary has assured us all that they are ready to do. If there is any better indicator that these "no exuses' outfits were designed as marketing tools to sell corporate charterizing at public expense, rather than real alternatives for urban eduation, then I cannot imagine it.

The following piece poste at the Century Blog, which looks at the realities in New Jersey, uncovers findings similar to Woodworth, et al 2008 research on Bay Area KIPP schools. Please note that some of these charter rock stars, even with their selectivity, total compliance, dictatorial personnel policies, etc. are not doing as well as some of the public schools in these urban areas.
. . . .To get a clearer view of how Secretary Duncan’s proposal might work on the ground, I compared students in the three New Jersey charter schools that belong to networks mentioned in his speech with the students in the “5% schools” in their cities. TEAM Academy in Newark and the KIPP Freedom Academy in Camden are both part of the KIPP network; Newark’s North Star Academy is one of the Uncommon Schools. These two cities are home to about 36% of the 63 schools that make up the bottom 5% of the 1,264 New Jersey schools that took the 5th grade state literacy test in 2008. I selected the 5th grade test in English literacy to establish the “5%” pool for three reasons:

· The one indisputable obligation of public education is to teach all kids to read and write well;

· that students need to be strong readers by 5th grade to have a chance for self-education; and,

· that the longest experience of all three charter schools is teaching 5th graders.

The 5% schools were identified by sorting the 2008 NJASK language arts test by lowest to highest mean scale scores and taking the bottom 63 schools.

While Newark and Camden enroll only 3.7% of all fifth graders who took the 2008 test, they supplied 6.7% of students found “partially proficient.” Only 13% of all Camden fifth-graders were proficient (the lowest proficiency rate of any district), versus 59.9% for the state as a whole, and 33.1% among students in the poorest “district factor group.” For reasons not explained, the results for nine of Camden’s nineteen elementary schools were not reported, but eight of the ten that were, fell into the bottom 5% of schools statewide.

Newark students did better on average, in that 32.2% of fifth graders were proficient, but only 24.9% of students in its fifteen “5% schools.” So too, Newark’s proportion of 5% schools was noticeably lower than Camden’s, with 15 of 39 schools for which complete results were reported falling into the bottom category.

If the leadership of either district wanted to turn to a high-performing charter school in its city (a dubious assumption), there are plenty of failed schools to pick from. And, a network-member charter school would have to step forward to inherit such a school (an equally dubious assumption). Under Secretary Duncan’s framework, the district and charter school would have a year to plan the take-over and to assess the quality of the inherited faculty, staff, and facility. So, let’s take a look at the match-up between district schools at the bottom of the barrel and neighboring charter schools that bring a “brand” reputation for effective instruction.

Camden’s KIPP Freedom Academy has been operating since 2004 serving grades 5-8. With 275 students it is about half the size of most of the Camden schools on the “5%” list. In common with other KIPP schools, Freedom Academy operates on longer school day, requires Saturday attendance, and operates during the summer. KIPP students spend almost four hours or 66.7% more time in class each day than do Camden district students, and they spend more days. The added time helps explain why KIPP’s proficiency rate is more than three times that of Camden district (44.6% v 13%). While below the state average proficiency, the difference is great enough to establish KIPP Freedom Academy as a credible take-over candidate. A closer look, however, raises doubts.

The first question is whether KIPP Freedom Academy has the knowledge and experience with young students to take on even one of the smaller failed schools. All eight Camden 5% schools start with either preschool or kindergarten students and go through 8th grade. The requirements for teaching three year-olds or second graders are much, much different. Just because the Freedom Academy folk delight in spending so much time with the bigger, louder, sassier, hormone-hopping middle graders, does not mean that they would do well with small, young children.

The school closest in size, Lanning Square, illustrates a second problem for the KIPP management: almost one-fifth of its students (52 or 18.9%) are classified as disabled, including 36 who spend most of the day in specialized, small classes. KIPP reported that three of its 22 special education students were too severely disabled to be assigned a grade level. These contrasts in the severity and magnitude of special education students raise big questions about KIPP’s suitability as a take-over agent.

A third factor has generated little comment. At least in New Jersey, high-performing charter schools are dominated by girls, and this usually makes a significant difference in academic performance. NAEP has tracked a gender gap in reading that has barely budged since 1992 (eight v. seven scale points in 2007). Girls out-performed boys by 7.8 scale points on the NJ 2008 5th grade literacy test. Meanwhile, girls have closed the “math gap” in the lower grade assessment. The pattern is well-known and well-documented. KIPP Freedom Academy begins with a noticeable advantage in that 55.7% of its students are girls! In the failed 5% schools, conversely, 55% are boys. There is no certain explanation for this enrollment imbalance, although a reasonable hypothesis might be that the parents of younger girls seek alternative schools that are smaller, safer, and more demanding academically.

A fourth question-raiser is the high faculty and student turnover at KIPP Freedom. Basically, the faculty turned over more than twice in just three years. And it loses more than a third of its students each year (36.8%, on average, in the last two years). A sympathetic interpretation is that the leadership of KIPP Freedom is very demanding and is quick to replace teachers who cannot measure up to the high academic expectations and the grueling hours. Or, it’s possible that young teachers feel that the school leadership does not provide enough assistance for such a demanding schedule. A less friendly view of its student mobility is that difficult and under-achieving students are “counseled out.”

This analysis—based on one small charter school in one of the nation’s poorest cities—may be unfair to the KIPP brand. However, since the question is whether Secretary Duncan’s emphasis on charter schools as instruments of improvement is sensible, it must be answered in the context of real places, real schools. Newark offers a bigger base of charters and of failed schools.

Freedom Academy’s Newark cousin, KIPP TEAM Academy, is larger, more experienced (it begins its 8th year in September, 2009), and is launching a primary school in 2009. Moreover, it presents a picture of much greater stability than does Freedom, with its student and faculty mobility rates both around 3%. During the regular 180-school year, TEAM students spend the equivalent of 108 additional days in class instruction (based on the district’s 5 hour, 50 minute daily instruction)! Plus they spend another 28 days! A modest 8.9% of students are classified disabled and there are no English learners.

Yet, Newark district leaders might pause before approaching TEAM. In looking over the results of the benchmark 5th grade literacy assessment, TEAM students did slightly better than the average district student (a mean score of 188.8 v. 185.0), but not as well as the 5th graders in ten of the district’s 38 schools or in four of Newark’s 12 charter schools. If the TEAM leader were really interested in taking on a struggling district school, he might reply, “Hold on, we inherited our 5th graders primarily from district schools and had them for only seven months before the state assessments. What counts is the performance after a year or two.”

Fair enough. However, TEAM students who benefited from four years in the KIPP system, did not perform nearly as well as their peers in four Newark charter schools or in seven district schools. On the 2008 8th grade literacy test, a credible 71.1% were proficient with a mean score of 208.6, but at North Star its 8th graders were 100% proficient and 21% of them “advanced proficient.” So, too, at Discovery Charter, Robert Treat Academy and the Gray Academy did 8th graders perform much better. And the Newark superintendent might have a hard time explaining turning to a charter school for help when so many of Newark’s own schools are achieving at noticeably higher levels (the range of higher scores was from 215.9 at Ridge Street to 220.6 at First Avenue).

There may be KIPP schools elsewhere that merit consideration as take-over candidates in Secretary Duncan’s view, but New Jersey’s KIPP schools are not ready.

When Secretary Duncan made his first official visit to NJ, he selected North Star Academy for his media stop. And for good reason. A key participant in Uncommon Schools, North Star has produced some dramatic results since opening in 1997. Its middle school students consistently out-perform their peers in district schools. While three district schools out-scored North Star’s 5th graders, not one district school came close to its 8th graders in terms of average scale score or proficiency or advanced proficiency rates. North Star enjoys a much more stable student body and faculty, no English learners, and a low 7.0% special education rate. It provides the equivalent of an additional 85 days of instruction time over the Newark public schools.

If North Star’s leadership were willing to take over a failed district school, is there anything that would give the Newark superintendent pause? To start, special education. The fifteen 5% schools have a classification rate averaging 17.9% compared to North Star’s 7.0%. None of the North Star students were severely enough disabled to be placed in an ungraded status. What happens in a class of 25 students when teachers deal not with one or two mildly disabled students but four or five, some with more severe disabilities? A difficult job is made more difficult is what happens.

Second, at North Star 59% of its students are girls, an enormous imbalance that will not be found in any of the failed schools. Not one 5% school has a commanding majority of girls, five are male dominated (Camden Street is 62% boys). Aside from the well-established gender advantage in literacy, a school top-heavy with girls is more likely to enjoy a serious academic, less rowdy, atmosphere.

Third, is North Star’s lack of experience with English learners. As it turns out, only two of the fifteen 5% schools have significant populations of English learners, two have none. Plainly, North Star would avoid selecting a heavily Latino school.

Fourth, in common with its KIPP colleagues, North Star has little experience with primary-grade students, and none with preschoolers. It opened a primary school in 2007. Since its first kindergarten class only finished first grade in 2009, it is premature to judge North Star’s efficacy in preparing literate third graders.

Are these four issues sufficient to eliminate North Star from consideration if it wanted to take on a failed Newark school? Not necessarily. We certainly do not know enough details about the fifteen candidate-schools to be definite. Clearly, North Star should steer clear of schools with high special education and English learner counts. There are four schools that have special education rates between 7 and 9.9% and have only one, two or three English learners that might be worth a discussion. The motivating force should be the opportunity to turn over a school to a leadership group that has demonstrated that it can produce dramatically improved results with students from poor neighborhoods. That is worth is a chat.

This analysis of three charter schools in two NJ cities is not conclusive. There may be charter operators that are ready to take up Secretary Duncan’s challenge. However, the evidence from one state suggests that his approach will produce few opportunities for failed schools. If any. He should support and encourage network charter schools to do what they’ve demonstrated they can do: start effective schools de novo. Suggesting that they take on the toughest instructional problems faced by public schools is premature and unfair.

Secretary Duncan’s attention would be better placed on more certain bets, like expanding opportunities for high-quality preschool and intensive early literacy in the primary grades. This preferred approach requires cooperating with districts that are ready to tie the two programs together. When that happens, even schools without the “hero” principals the Secretary hopes to recruit, can improve dramatically.

White and Suburban, Good: Brown and Urban, Bad

The unalterable stupidity and overt racism that drives the reform schoolers' edu-policy, NCLB, is once more on display in Ohio, as state test scores again show that middle class white folks breed higher test scores than poor black folks. Imagine that. If this shiftless bunch of slackers could just get with that Booker T. Washinton/Barack Obama message of "No Excuses." Fat chance.

This summary is from Janice Resseger, ht to Monty Neill at ARN:
From: Janice Resseger

In the ninth of its "Ten Moral Concerns in the No Child Left Behind Act," the National Council of Churches Committee on Public Education and Literacy declares:
"The No Child Left Behind Act exacerbates racial and economic segregation in metropolitan areas by rating homogeneous, wealthier school districts as excellent, while labeling urban districts with far more subgroups and more complex demands made by the law as "in need of improvement." Such labeling of schools and districts encourages families with means to move to wealthy, homogeneous school districts."
This morning, mid-week of the beginning of school in most local school districts, the Ohio Department of Education released its state school district report cards based on the annual standardized test scores mandated by NCLB. This morning the Plain Dealer reports grades assigned to school districts, grades ranging from "Excellent with Distinction" to "Excellent" to "Effective" to "Continuous Improvement" to "Academic Watch" to "Academic Emergency." Youngstown is the only district in the state with the dismal distinction of Academic Emergency. The newspaper uses letter grades --- A, B, C, D, F --- as shorthand.

The "Excellent with Distinction" districts are for the most part outer-suburbs. Many are actually so far out they are not in Cuyahoga County itself but in Lake, Geauga, Summit, Medina, and Lorain Counties. Some are in the horsey country on Cleveland's far-east side. The "Excellent with Distinction" districts are uniformly wealthy and uniformly white.

In "Academic Watch" are Cleveland and Lorain, as well as East Cleveland and Warrensville Heights, two inner suburbs that have resegregated. Superintendents from several districts try to explain away their scores as they are interviewed --- problems with the special education subgroup, for example.

Clearly NCLB has not helped schools in our area region break the nexus between low achievement and hyper-segregation by race and poverty. Nowhere, however, does the Plain Dealer name this disturbing trend. Rather, it treats the ratings as letter grades awarded for school district quality. The message is that you ought to move your family, if you can afford it, to one of the outer-ring, excellent districts because that is the only place where a good education can be had.

Interestingly, the data published on the Plain Dealer site also allows the reader to search for and read the report card for each charter school, although those ratings are not covered in any of the reporting by the newspaper. Here is a sampling:

Charters well known to be high-quality do receive good ratings: Citizen's Academy-Excellent, Intergenerational School-Excellent, and Constellation West Park-Effective.

Hope Academy Broadway Campus (a David Brennan school) is rated in Academic Emergency with 0 standards met. Life Skills Center Cleveland (another David Brennan school) is rated Continuous Improvement with 0 standards met (the nature of this school's improvement remains a mystery). The Elite Academy of the Arts is rated Academic Emergency with 0 standards met, and Apex Academy is on Academic Watch with 1 standard met.

Important questions the newspaper fails to explore include:

- What does it mean that the "excellent" and "effective" schools and districts are far out in the suburbs?

- Why fail to report (in the printed version of the newspaper) or explore the test scores posted by charter schools if the traditional public schools are to be so graded?

- Will there be any consequences for the charter schools that fail to meet even one standard?

I know this material is likely merely another version of what you are seeing in your own region, but I believe it is important for us to pay attention to what we see and understand locally. It is important that we insist on the naming of the truth.

Ms. Jan Resseger
Minister for Public Education and Witness
Justice and Witness Ministries
700 Prospect, Cleveland, Ohio 44115

"That all citizens will be given an equal start through a sound education is one of the most basic, promised rights of our democracy. Our chronic refusal as a nation to guarantee that right for all children.... is rooted in a kind of moral blindness, or at least a failure of moral imagination.... It is a failure which threatens our future as a nation of citizens called to a common purpose... tied to one another by a common bond." -Senator Paul Wellstone, March 31, 2000

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Kevin Johnson Goes Rhee/Klein/Gates on Sacramento

America, let me introduce you to the second clueless former basketball player pushing the corporate brand of school reform: Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson (thank goodness they have a school board and not mayoral control!).
Kevin was a great point guard with the Phoenix Suns. He could dish out assists and score with the best of 'em. But his education reform agenda - with a white paper released yesterday - was developed after the Education Summit held in Sacramento earlier this year. Here's the agenda from the summit:
A Summit Hosted by Mayor Kevin Johnson

AGENDA as of 2-13-09

7:00 am – 8:00 am Registration

8:00 am – 12:30 pm Morning Plenaries
Welcome: Kevin Johnson, Sacramento Mayor

Panel Discussion: Educational Options
Panel Discussion: Accountability for Results
Panel Discussion: Human Capital

12:30 pm – 2:30 pm Working Lunch
Summit Discussions: Sacramento Focus

2:30 pm – 3:00 pm Closing Session
Report-out from Summit Discussions
Closing Remarks: Kevin Johnson, Sacramento Mayor

Featured Speakers:

o Reverend Al Sharpton
o Cory Booker, Newark Mayor
o Joel Klein, Chancellor, New York City Department of Education
o Michelle Rhee, Chancellor, DC Public Schools

Confirmed Panelists:

Larry Berger, CEO and Co-Founder, Wireless Generation
o Tim Daly, President, New Teacher Project

o Josh Edelman, Executive Officer, Chicago Public Schools Office of New Schools
o Mike Feinberg, Founder, Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP)
o Howard Fuller, Board Chairman, Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO)
Larry Rosenstock, Chief Executive Officer, High Tech High
o Don Shalvey, Founder, Aspire Public Schools [My note: Shalvey is now with the Gates Foundation]
Two thirds of the EEP stooges, Rhee, Feinberg, Gates, CPS, and a host of pro-charter advocates. KJ's white paper reflects the panelist's points of view: bring in TFA/alt. track teachers, bring in New Leaders for New Schools, push more charter schools and EMOs, give each school a grade based on test scores (a la NYC), tie teacher pay to standardized test scores, and use market-based rationale to improve school systems.
KJ's flashy assist attempt will likely result in a turnover (now the privatizers and charter advocates have the ball!). There's a metaphor Duncan might understand.

Obama Education Interview

I'm guessing the "big speech" Obama says he will be making on September 8th is part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's "Get Schooled" programming, a 30 minute documentary featuring Obama, NBA superstar LeBron James, and American Idol Kelly Clarkson. The program will appear on all Viacom channels. It's only fair for Obama to team with the Gates Foundation after the President stole a number of their employees for his education department, state department, and agriculture department.

Arne's Assistant

Below is a short article about Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana, the Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education. You'll notice her connections to a number of philanthropic organizations - Broad, Stupski, Annenberg. She also remembers the time she spent in leveled reading groups as a young child. Leveled reading is part of the standardization crap, the "you can't read that book because you're only a level 15 reader" bullshit that passes as literacy in many of our nation's classrooms. We don't have full-service libraries with librarians in our schools; we don't give teachers the financial resources to stock their room with books; we don't make reading fun for our children - we just give them more testing, more basal readers, more Scott Foresman textbooks, and more DIBELS testing.
I hope Thelma talks to Arne about her horrible experience in a leveled reading group. Arne says he wants kids to love reading. They're not going to love reading when they're stigmatized and drilled, endlessly tested and DIBELed; they'll love reading when they can choose the books they read and find power from the materials they choose to explore. For all the talk about school choice, there's very little dialogue about allowing children to choose their own reading materials.
Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education: Who Is Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana?
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Matt Bewig

The new chief federal official for K-12 education empathizes easily with students who face difficulties in school. Born in 1958 to Mexican immigrants, Dr. Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana arrived at kindergarten unable to speak or read English, and found the daunting task of learning her new language complicated by ostracism from her Anglo classmates. Although her kindergarten teacher was helpful and sympathetic, Meléndez de Santa Ana later recalled a humiliating first grade experience, when a teacher placed her in the slowest group of readers. “They called us ‘the buzzards,’ and all we did was recite the alphabet over and over and over again.” Later, Meléndez de Santa Ana was told by a high school counselor she had no chance of going to UCLA. Proving that counselor wrong, she earned a B.A. in Sociology from UCLA in 1981 and a Ph.D. in language, literacy and learning from the Rossier School of Education at USC in 1995. She was confirmed for her new position on July 24, 2009.

Meléndez de Santa Ana has spent her entire career in Southern California. She worked in the Montebello Unified School District as a bilingual classroom teacher, middle school assistant principal for curriculum and instruction, and elementary school principal. For the Pasadena Unified School District, she was director of instruction for elementary and middle schools. From 1997 to 1999, she was Director of the Los Angeles Annenberg Metropolitan Project, a $53 million school reform project that worked to improve Los Angeles schools, but had mixed early results. Returning to school administration, she served as Deputy Superintendant and Chief Academic Officer at the Pomona Unified School District from 1999 to 2005. Lured back to the nonprofit world, she worked for a year and a half as Program Manager for the Stupski Foundation, a San Francisco-based non-profit focused on district-level reform, from early 2005 through June 2006. Returning to Pomona in July 2006, Meléndez de Santa Ana served as superintendant of the district, which has more than 40 schools serving more than 33,000 students in Pomona and parts of Diamond Bar, until July 2009, when her nomination to the Department of Education was confirmed by the Senate.
Meléndez is also associated with The Broad Foundation, a Los Angeles-based venture philanthropic organization established by Eli Broad. In 2006 she was among 18 business executives, military leaders, and career educators who were selected by The Eli Broad Center for the Management of School Systems to participate in the Broad Superintendents Academy, a 10-month executive management program to train working CEOs to lead urban public school systems.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Cool Reform

The last thing education reform needs is another fad. But Duncan's hoping Obama will help make school "cool" again; and there's this "making geeks cool" article from Wired magazine:
Making Geeks Cool Could Reform Education
By Daniel Roth

Earlier this year in midtown Manhattan, a local venture capital firm staged a daylong conference on school reform. Authors, professors, financiers, and entrepreneurs took over the French Institute's skylighted penthouse and earnestly discussed how embracing "digital culture"—from deploying videogame-style rewards to encouraging kids to develop online reputations—could completely transform education. Outsiders were invited to participate via Twitter, and their ideas were projected on the wall. It was a high-minded, tech-centric affair—until Alex Grodd brought it back to earth.

Although Grodd now runs a site that lets educators share lesson plans, he started out teaching at inner-city middle schools in Atlanta and Boston. The businesspeople in the room represented a world in which innovation requires disruption. But Grodd knew their ideas would test poorly with real disrupters: kids in a classroom. "The driving force in the life of a child, starting much earlier than it used to be, is to be cool, to fit in," Grodd told the group. "And pretty universally, it's cool to rebel." In other words, prepare for you and your netbook to be jeered out of the room. "The best schools," Grodd told me later, "are able to make learning cool, so the cool kids are the ones who get As. That's an art."

It's an art that has, for the most part, been lost on educators. The notion itself seems incredibly daunting—until you look at one maligned subculture in which the smartest members are also the most popular: the geeks. If you want to reform schools, you've got to make them geekier.

"Geeks get things done. They're possessed. They can't help themselves," says Larry Rosenstock, founding principal of eight charter schools in San Diego County collectively called High Tech High. He has come up with a curriculum that forces kids to embrace their inner geek by pushing them to create. The walls, desks, and ceilings of his classrooms teem with projects, from field guides on local wildlife to human-powered submarines. (A High Tech High art project called Calculicious, based entirely on math principles, now hangs in the San Diego airport.) The students all work in small groups as a way to foster shared enthusiasm: Get two kids excited about something and it's harder for a third to poke fun at them.

But more important, Rosenstock keeps the students surrounded by adults. There are no teachers' bathrooms or lounges. Parents roam the halls. And the students are required to present their work to outsiders. This, it turns out, is the key to geekifying education. "A big chunk of the school experience is having them hang out with the adults they could imagine becoming," says private-equity manager Tom Vander Ark, former head of education investments for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a onetime school superintendent. "A big high school has a youth-owned culture. You've got to break that."

The result: One hundred percent of High Tech graduates get into college. Nationally, the college attendance rate for High Tech High's demographic—half are eligible for free lunch, and even fewer have parents who attended college—is about 55 percent. Yet all High Tech students take advanced math and science classes, and many of them end up at universities like MIT and Stanford.

Back on the East Coast, in one of Boston's toughest neighborhoods, Roxbury Prep (where Grodd once taught) uses a similar formula. Almost 80 percent of its eighth graders—nearly all of whom come from families earning less than $28,000 a year—go to college. Their teachers work nonstop to stamp out youth culture: Kids eat lunch in the classroom, they're not allowed to talk in the halls, and they're disciplined for using the word nerd. But it's about the nerdiest school you can imagine; every week, the faculty awards one child a "spirit stick"—a bedpost painted a rainbow of colors—for good grades.

In the public school I attended, that would be a homing beacon for a beating: "There's the nerd with the stick. Jump him!" But in geeked-out schools, that wouldn't happen—because everyone would be a nerd. At the final spirit-stick ceremony last year, 220 kids erupted in applause as a teacher read aloud the 14-year-old honoree's thesis. It started by calling America an "unfair and superficial nation." Hey, kids are going to rebel; better to have them cheered for doing it with contentious ideas.

Friday, August 21, 2009

From Duncan's Mouth

For all intensive purposes, the NewSchools Venture Fund and other education entrepreneurs (read: nonprofits supported by billionaire philanthrocapitalists) have taken over the Department of Education under President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Highlights (err...lowlights) from Duncan's speech about the Investing in Innovation fund (i3), which is available online (registration required):

...our children will be competing with kids from around the world for the jobs of the future. And it is no secret that our only path to long-term economic security and higher productivity is to dramatically improve both the depth and breadth of education in this country.


To meet the President's goals--to reach the finish line--we need transformational change. The islands of excellence that now exist in school districts have to become the norm. The promising solutions that you have all created need to be brought to scale. And our existing market-based and political barriers to far-reaching reform have to recede.


While the Race to the Top program targets states and districts, i3 grants will be awarded to districts and non-profits, including colleges and universities, turnaround specialists, charter schools, companies, and other stakeholders.

Our basic operating premise is that grants for proven programs should be larger than those for promising but largely untested programs. Grants will fall into three categories:

  • First, Pure Innovation grants of up to about $5 million dollars for promising ideas that should be tried.
  • Second, Strategic Investment grants of up to roughly $30 million for programs that need to build a research base or organizational capacity to succeed at a larger scale.
  • And finally, Grow What Works grants that will go as high as $50 million for proven programs that are ready to grow and expand.


For education entrepreneurs, the common standards movement is a huge leap forward because it opens up opportunities to innovate that were effectively closed off before. It is almost impossible to implement imaginative curriculum and assessments at scale when you have 50 different goalposts to march toward, all at once.


Here, too, we have examples to draw on, from Mastery Charters, Green Dot, to the Academy for Urban School Leadership in Chicago. Green Dot and AUSL are engineering successful turnarounds of failing schools with union teachers. [Note: all three are heavily funded by NewSchools Venture Fund - one of Jim Shelton's former employers]


Yet let me remind you that for a quarter century after the 1966 Coleman report, school leaders and superintendents often heard that what happened in schools really didn't matter that much in determining student achievement—what really counted was a student's socioeconomic background.

Today, we know the truth is more complicated—and thankfully, much more hopeful. We know that an effective teacher is the single biggest factor in determining student progress—not race, not class, not socioeconomic status.

The video also includes a presentation by Jim Shelton, former Gates Foundation/Knowledge Universe/NewSchools Venture Fund/McKinsey & Co./LearnNow employee. At one point in the question and answer session after the presentations, Shelton is asked about the DREAM Act, a piece of immigration/education reform legislation. Shelton had no idea about the act, but you can find out more about it in this Counterpunch article I wrote a few months back.