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

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The New Eugenics in Harlem

The following comments were offered in response to this post on the boasting of a veteran Teach for America regional manager:
As a teacher educator in NYC, from an elementary education program that just graduated 80 certified teachers, most of whom could not get a job in a public school due to the hiring freeze, I am handling distress call after distress email from recent grads in charter schools. I have been meeting with the first year teachers, visiting them in the classrooms, and listening to their descriptions over drinks on Fridays. This is what it boils down to: we have charter schools proliferating in Harlem, run by white CEOs and founders, who are making large salaries (Eva Moskowitz of the Harlem Success series of schools--chain?--makes in excess of $300,000 per year). The children in these schools are mostly all children of color -- and mostly Black: African American, African, and Caribbean American.

The focus on learning is reduced to getting higher test scores. The focus on behavior is reduced to compliance and punishment and is according to one school leader who resigned, "The most punitive atmosphere I have ever seen in a school in my entire decades-long career." The children are subjected to draconian behavioral expectations for long hours with few breaks for play or recess. The parents are subjected to various humiliation tactics for violations of the dress code. (One of these white-run charter schools reguires girls to only wear dresses.)

I have heard too many of these stories in the past month to sleep well at night. This landscape reminds me of white northerners who went to the South after the U.S. Civil War to set up 'schools' to educate the children of newly emancipated enslaved Blacks. The curriculum of most of these "schools" was designed around the habits and skills needed to serve in positions as housekeepers, child care workers, servants, maids, railroad porters, carpenters and other menial jobs that Blacks were expected to fill.

These white philanthropists wrapped their racism and social control in a mantle of charity and liberalism. Today's so called reformers are clear in their treatment of young Black children: in the name of educational equity, they are repressing and subjugating young children and their families.

What shall we do?

Friday, October 30, 2009

How'd Steve Barr Spend $50,866?

Check this out, right from Green Dot's 2007 990 tax form:
It might be hard to read, but between 2004 and 2007 Barr was erroneously reimbursed $50,866 by Green Dot. How was this money spent? We'll never know. Barr didn't take this money for himself - but why would he? He's pulling in over 200k per year.
Looks like Mr. Barr did what most high-paid CEOs do: mismanage funds. We'll never know how this money is spent - and Green Dot and Mr. Barr are happy to have it that way.

What KIPP Told the Parents

This is an excerpt from a weekly newsletter sent home to KIPP parents (I obtained it from an anonymous source, but it's real). It's dated December 7th, 2008, just a few weeks before Duncan was named Secretary of Education:

In the next few days, President-elect Obama will announce his nominee for Secretary of Education. It’s an important decision because there are two education camps in Obama’s administration: a “reform” camp (which supports charter schools, TFA, higher standards and is embodied by Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee) and an “establishment” camp (which supports teachers unions, more funding and smaller class sizes and is embodied by Stanford professor and TFA-critic Linda Darling-Hammond). The first group believes in disruptive change whereas the second group believes in incremental change. It’s an interesting debate, one worth following. (As an aside, a friend of mine from college and the author of In the Deep Heart’s Core, Michael Johnston, is one of Obama’s leading education advisors)

Here are a few articles on Obama’s imminent Secretary of Ed selection:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/05/opinion/05brooks.html


http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/04/AR2008120403655_pf.html

Seems like they do more than just brainwash kids - they brainwash the parents, too. Be sure to check out the two articles linked in the notice, an awful Brooks piece and the WaPo editorial blabbering, both of which could be considered part of the hatchet-job on Linda Darling-Hammond.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Broad Names Three New Board Members

Three new execs will join the Board of Directors for the Broad Center for the Management of School Systems. The current board includes Joel Klein, Barry Munitz, Dan Katzir, Arlene Ackerman, Richard Barth, Louis Gerstner, Jr., Maria Goodloe-Johnson, Wendy Kopp, Margaret Spellings, and Michelle Rhee. Yikes.
From Reuters:

Broad Center for the Management of School Systems Announces Three New Members of Board of Directors

Thu Oct 29, 2009 8:01am EDT

Broad Center for the Management of School Systems Announces Three New Members of Board of Directors

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 29 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- U.S. News and World Report Editor-in-Chief Mortimer Zuckerman, CityView Executive Chairman Henry G. Cisneros and Chicago Public Schools executive Melissa Megliola Zaikos have joined the board of directors of The Broad Center for the Management of School

Systems, the center announced today. They join 10 other board members who are advising the center as it develops talented urban education leaders across the country.

The Broad (rhymes with "road") Center for the Management of School Systems is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising student achievement by recruiting, training and supporting executive talent from across America to become the next generation of urban school district leaders. The center runs two executive training programs: The Broad Superintendents Academy(www.broadacademy.org) and The Broad Residency in Urban Education(www.broadresidency.org). To date, The Broad Center has trained nearly 300 individuals to hold leadership and management positions in urban school districts.

The three new members of the board of directors will provide strategic counsel to The Broad Center as it seeks to increase the number of top executives trained and placed in urban school systems around the country working to raise student achievement district-wide and reduce chronic income and ethnic achievement gaps. The three new board members are:

-- Mortimer Zuckerman, chairman and editor-in-chief of U.S. News & World Report, publisher of the New York Daily News and chairman, Boston Properties

--Henry G. Cisneros, executive chairman of CityView, former president of Univision and former U.S. secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

-- Melissa Megliola Zaikos, autonomous schools officer, Chicago Public Schools, and a former Broad Resident

"We are fortunate that Mort, Henry and Melissa have committed to helping the center improve its ability to develop effective leaders for our nation's largest school districts, and we appreciate their wisdom, insights and experience," said Eli Broad, founder of The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which funds The Broad Center.

Zuckerman and Cisneros bring extensive executive experience leading some of the nation's largest and most successful media companies and public and private institutions. Megliola Zaikos, a former Broad Resident and former manager at Deloitte Consulting, currently serves as the line supervisor for 95 Chicago schools that have been granted increased autonomy by the school district. She will represent Broad Residency graduates on the board.

... [cont]

Zuckerman, Cisneros, and Zaikos will help guide the Broad Superintendents Academy and Broad Residency in Urban Education. Not a bad pick-up for Eli's henchmen, it's always nice to have a billionaire with a big media outlet on your side. This isn't the first time Eli and Cisneros have teamed up - Cisneros was named to the board of directors of KB Homes back in 2000, and the two men also teamed up for a massive housing project in 2000. As for Zaikos? She's worked as a Broad Resident in Chicago for a number of years, mostly on a Gates-sponsored project focused on redesigning the city's high schools.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Photograph a Recruiter Project

Passed along by Rich Gibson:
From: photographarecruiter@gmail.com
Sent: 10/27/2009 9:53:41 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time
Subj: Photograph A Recruiter

I am an artist and graduate student at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Before coming to graduate school, I taught art at a high school in West Palm Beach, Florida. While teaching, I witnessed the presence of army recruiters in our educational environment. I am initiating a nation wide participatory project, Photograph a Recruiter and am inviting high school students to contribute. The project invites high school students to photograph the military recruiters in their schools! Through the act of looking back at recruiters, students are encouraged to engage in critical discussion about war and recruitment.

The ongoing growing collection of photographs, taken by high school students, will be uploaded on the website www.photographarecruiter.com. Select images will also be printed for exhibit in a traveling Photograph A Recruiter art show. For more information, or to submit image(s), write to photographarecruiter@gmail.com>photographarecruiter@gmail.com

This is a great opportunity to be part of a nation-wide activist anti-recruitment gesture that will also be a collaborative artwork.

Can you help get the word out? Can you send this link (www.photographarecruiter.com) to your email list? tell your friends? tell other anti-recruitment student groups? Let me know if you think of another way to involve more students.

Thank you & let me know if you have questions!

Alyse Emdur
photographarecruiter@gmail.com>photographarecruiter@gmail.com
www.photographarecruiter.com
646 263 0096

NewSchools Venture Fund Invests in Testing's Stranglehold

From a NewSchools Venture Fund press release:

NewSchools Venture Fund Invests $1 Million in The Achievement Network (ANet)

New investment will support organization’s efforts to improve student achievement

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - September 16, 2009 - NewSchools Venture Fund today announced an investment of $1 million in The Achievement Network (formerly called Massachusetts Public School Performance), a nonprofit organization committed to helping teachers and school leaders understand and effectively use real-time student data – test results that are made immediately available to teachers – to improve instruction and increase student achievement. The Achievement Network (ANet) currently serves schools in Boston, New Orleans, and Washington DC. The organization plans to expand to two additional urban markets in 2009-2010, adding services in Chicago and Newark, and will serve a total of 70 schools.

What services, exactly, does ANet provide?

Today, in many schools, teachers administer standardized tests only a few times each year. They receive the results of these tests too late to make substantial adjustments in areas where students may be struggling. Research has shown that the consistent use of test data is a highly effective tool for improving student achievement. Teachers and leaders need real-time data about student performance to immediately understand student strengths and weaknesses and create interventions that meet key areas of need. However, many schools lack the capacity and necessary structures and processes to use data effectively. In response, NewSchools Venture Fund has sought to identify and support strong entrepreneurial organizations that can help schools address this enormous challenge. By filling this critical need in high-poverty urban schools, ANet helps schools take data-driven action to improve student outcomes and close the achievement gap.

Founded in 2005, The Achievement Network helps teachers and principals collect, understand and effectively use real-time data about their students’ performance. In the schools working with ANet, teachers administer ANet-designed tests on a regular and frequent basis. Within 72 hours of a test, ANet provides timely and accurate results to schools, and organizes meetings to work with leaders and teachers to make sure that the data are understood and plans for instruction and remediation are adjusted accordingly.

I put the "Within 72 hours of a test" in it's biggest font because it deserves special attention. The National Academies sent a letter to the DOE regarding the Race to the Top fund, a letter Duncan is almost sure to ignore. One of the critiques was the Department's goal of getting test scores (standardized) back to teachers within 72 hours. This was part of the "rapid-time" turnaround system, a key part of the test-happy system where the teacher doesn't do any grading or evaluating of student work. It's all about continuos testing, particularly the standardized kind, which the Venture Fund laments are given "only a few times each year." Keep your eye on NSVF: they're the mafia of the corporate charter school movement...

Sign the Petition at 350.org

Here!


Grover Norquist's Outfit Helping to Back Rhee Astroturf Group

This reminder to get out the anti-union, anti-public troops in support of Michelle Rhee is posted at Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform website:
From Todd Hollenbeck on Tuesday, October 27, 2009 4:21 PM
With everyone focused on health care and stopping evil invisible gases, we must stop and remember the immortal words of Helen Lovejoy, “Oh, won’t somebody please think of the children!” Well, Helen, that somebody is DC School Reform Now, they are thinking of the children.

This Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 9am, DC School Reform Now will be holding a demonstration on the steps of the Wilson Building (1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW) prior to a City Counsel meeting with Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee. They will be supporting the efforts of Chancellor Rhee and others on the City Counsel to improve DC public school standards through merit pay for teachers, renegotiating union contracts, and firing all teachers and rehiring only the best. These reforms have met with resistance from the teacher’s union which is desperate to keep its power at the expense of the schools and children.

If you are in the DC area, we encourage you to attend and show your support. They also ask that you sign their petition located here. Even if you are not a DC resident you can sign the petition to show your support for better public schools based on merit not on union power.

This demonstration should be an inspiration for others across the country to stand up and demand school reform in all school districts.

From a Scorer with 15 Years Experience Inside the Testing Industry

From an op-ed (ht to Monty Neill) in today's Christian Science Monitor by Todd Farley, author of Making the Grade: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry:
NEW YORK - President Obama's "Race to the Top" initiative promotes an accountability in education that links teacher evaluations with student test scores. While many will point to the potential problems this poses for the classroom, there's something else to think about. This position exhibits considerable confidence in the results returned to students by the standardized testing industry.

That's not a faith I share.The 15 years I spent scoring student essays and written responses to state K-12 tests revealed a process that was less "scientifically based research" (a heady phrase dropped more than 100 times in No Child Left Behind) than a theater of the absurd.

On one of the first tests I scored, I was hired (after barely flashing my college diploma at a human resources representative) to assess high school writing. It was a job granted with the caveat that as temporary workers, we could keep the position only if we passed a "qualifying" test.

We'd have to score enough student essays accurately during a training session to prove we could do the job in a standardized way, a process that allowed the testing company that hired us to claim just how capable, consistent, and qualified its employees were.

It was a nerve-racking experience to know our jobs hinged on those "qualifying" tests, but in the end we part-timers needn't have worried so much.

After two days of training, nearly half the 100 people applying for the job failed the tests and were fired. Our unemployment lasted only about 12 hours. The next morning nearly every one of us flunkies was hired right back, an employment rebirth that occurred just as soon as the testing company realized it was short on personnel.

I asked the HR representative about the 70 percent accuracy on the qualifying test we were required to get in order to keep the job. To which she informed me that they had decided 60 percent was good enough after all.

During my time in testing I was witness to (or party to) every conceivable manner of corporate chicanery and statistical tomfoolery, any shortcut imaginable that would help those for-profit companies get tests scored, deadlines met, and money made.

On one scoring project I managed, for instance, the government agency in charge passed down an edict stating that all scorers had to go through a remedial retraining (group discussions with their peers about scoring rubrics and training papers) after any work stoppage of 30 minutes or more, including their scheduled half-hour lunch break. The government agency in charge said such retrainings would help ensure the student responses were scored within the proper context of "psychometric rigor."

Those retrainings, however, also invariably devolved into time-consuming and contentious debates among the scorers about what score Anchor Paper No. 3 or Practice Paper No. 9 really deserved, theoretical arguments that completely interfered with the project's real goal of slapping scores on student tests.

Because the testing company that hired us was more concerned with scoring tests than achieving any sort of "psychometric rigor," they solved the problem of any extra retraining simply by changing the work schedule, eliminating from our workday any 30-minute breaks.

"From now on," I told the group of temps I was supervising, "we'll take a 29-minute lunch. Enjoy."

Obviously I can't just be pointing fingers here at big, bad corporate America because I am guilty, too, and during my time in testing there were few corners I didn't cut and few rules I didn't bend. I fudged the numbers like everyone else. Much of my career managing scoring projects was spent manipulating statistics to give off the appearance of a test-scoring process that was consistent and standardized even when it clearly was not.

And while I don't mean to imply such statistical skullduggery was the testing industry's official stance, neither could it have been unknown that such things regularly occurred.

Just before I left, for instance, I saw a temporary supervisor chastised and demoted for too obviously cheating on his scoring group's accountability stats, although that harsh reprimand barely slowed down the accused in his charge right up the company ladder. Within a month that same guy – the one whose blatant manipulation of test stats had earned him both a pay cut and a verbal redressing from company management – was given a full-time job as a project manager.

While accountability in education may be an important goal, it's critical to realize how difficult that might be to pin down. The lesson of my career should be that trusting massive corporations that answer to a bottom line to make decisions about American schools is a whole lot different than trusting those men and women who stand every day at the front of the classroom.

Too often in my career the test results we returned had to be viewed not as exemplars of educational progress, but rather as numbers produced in a mad rush to get things done, statistics best viewed solely through the prism of profit. Caveat emptor, Mr. President.

Todd Farley is the author of "Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry."

New York Times Continues to Ignore National Academy Warning on Race to the Top (RTTT)

On April 27 of this year, the White House Press Office offered a press release that offered this:
FACT SHEET: A HISTORIC COMMITMENT TO RESEARCH AND EDUCATION

Today, President Obama will speak before the Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Sciences, and discuss his plans to reinvigorate the American scientific enterprise through a bold commitment to basic and applied research, innovation, and education. . . . .
. . . .
  • The Administration’s $5 billion "Race To The Top" fund will encourage states to improve the quality and supply of math and science teachers, including alternative routes into teaching for math and science teachers and proposals to upgrade teacher training and promote and reward effective teachers. States can also use Recovery Act funds to modernize and renovate new science labs. The Administration is also supporting investments in scholarships to attract and prepare high-quality math and science teachers through the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program and other investments in student aid, a push for rigorous, internationally-benchmarked standards, high-quality curricula aligned to the standards, and better assessments.
Now exactly 6 months later, the National Academy has had a chance to examine the Gates-Broad-Walton plan for American teachers and schools. And they are not impressed. So unimpressed, in fact, that the New York Times and the Washington Post have chosen to conspicuously ignore the recent report issued three weeks ago tomorrow (October 7) and accompanying letter to Secretary Duncan, which outlined the Academy's serious concerns regarding the unscientific approach that USDOE (Gates and Broad) have taken in imposing their plan, packaged as it is with multimillion dollar bribes that starving state departments of education find impossible to turn down.

For any reporter interested in printing the facts, rather than Bill Gates's blathering, here is the link to the Press Release, where the entire report can be downloaded:
WASHINGTON -- The Race to the Top initiative -- a $4.35 billion grant program included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to encourage state-level education reforms -- should require rigorous evaluations of the reform efforts it funds, says a new report from the National Research Council. The initiative should support research based on data that links student test scores with their teachers, but should not prematurely promote the use of value-added approaches -- which evaluate teachers based on gains in their students' performance -- to reward or punish teachers. Too little is known about the accuracy of these methods to base high-stakes decisions on them right now, the report says.

The U.S. Department of Education is developing regulations that explain how the $4.35 billion will be awarded. The National Research Council's report offers recommendations to help the department revise these guidelines.

The report strongly supports rigorous evaluations of programs funded by the Race to the Top initiative. Only with careful evaluations -- which allow effective reforms to be identified and perhaps used elsewhere -- can the initiative have a lasting impact. Without them, any benefits of this one-time expenditure on innovation are likely to end when the funding ends, the report says.

Evaluations must be appropriate to the specific program being assessed and will be easier to design if grantees provide a "theory of action" for any proposed reform -- a logical chain of reasoning explaining how the innovation will lead to improved student learning. Evaluations should be designed before programs begin so baseline data can be collected; they should also provide short-term feedback to aid midcourse adjustments and long-term data to judge the program's impact. While standardized tests are helpful in measuring a reform's effects, evaluations should rely on multiple indicators of what students know and can do, not just a single test score, the report adds.

The Department of Education's proposed guidelines encourage states to create systems that link data on student achievement to teachers. The report applauds this step, arguing that linking this data is essential to conducting research about the best ways to evaluate teachers.

One way of evaluating teachers, currently the subject of intense interest and research, are value-added approaches, which typically compare a student's scores going into a grade with his or her scores coming out of it, in order to assess how much "value" a year with a particular teacher added to the student's educational experience. The report expresses concern that the department's proposed regulations place excessive emphasis on value-added approaches. Too little research has been done on these methods' validity to base high-stakes decisions about teachers on them. A student's scores may be affected by many factors other than a teacher -- his or her motivation, for example, or the amount of parental support -- and value-added techniques have not yet found a good way to account for these other elements.

The report also cautions against using the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal assessment that helps measure overall U.S. progress in education, to evaluate programs funded by the Race to the Top initiative. NAEP surveys the knowledge of students across the nation in three grades with respect to a broad range of content and skills and is not aligned with the curriculum of any particular state. Although effective at monitoring broad trends, it is not designed to detect the specific effects of targeted interventions like those to be funded by Race to the Top.

The study was sponsored by the National Research Council. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. A committee roster follows. . . .

Rhee and Her Astroturf Support Cult Face the Music

If Michelle Rhee really wants to regain the trust of teachers in DC after causing chaos with her firing of hundreds of teachers five weeks after school started, she would resign. That is the only act of contrition that would make teachers and parents believers that she is acting in the best interest of students and their schools. Don't count it, though.

What you may count on, instead, is Rhee to show up today to face an angry City Council with some newly-hired protesters paid for by her billion dollar support groups from the white only CityBridge Foundation, TFA, KIPP, and the vulture, er, venture philanthropists that feed them with their tax-deductible dollars.

Here's part of Bill Turque's report in WaPo today:

. . . .Groups that back Rhee and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty also are mobilizing. D.C. School Reform Now, a nonprofit organization that works to develop grass-roots support for school improvement, has placed fliers in schools calling for a rally Thursday morning on the steps of the Wilson Building to coincide with Rhee's council appearance.

Rhee invested significant time over the winter trying to improve relations with the District's 4,000-member teacher corps. Many educators said they were offended by a Time magazine cover photo that showed Rhee holding a broom, an image that confirmed their belief that she held District teachers in low esteem.

Rhee initiated a series of after-hours chats with small groups of teachers to answer questions and allay concerns. In a February op-ed piece in The Washington Post, she said she did not blame teachers for the low achievement levels of D.C. students. A month later, she wrote a contrite letter to instructors acknowledging that she might have pressed for too many changes too soon.

"In our exuberance to fix everything all at once, we've thrown so many different programs at you," Rhee said. "Please know that this comes from a desire to support you, not inundate you."

But Rhee continues to face deep internal skepticism over IMPACT, a new teacher evaluation system that, for the first time, will assess some District educators on the growth of their students' scores on annual standardized tests. Principals, aided by a cadre of impartial "master educators" from outside the schools, also will judge teachers against an elaborate new framework of requirements and strategies.

In a series of five classroom observations, teachers will be rated in nine categories that involve nearly two dozen criteria, such as clarity in defining a lesson's objective and instilling in students a belief that hard work leads to success. Teachers who score poorly will be subject to dismissal.

Rhee said she took pains to solicit broad teacher input on the new assessment system. But one of the principals who met with her last week said teachers don't trust the evaluation system because they think it is designed to remove them, not help them improve.

"As they see it, Rhee is all show, has already made all the decisions, and sharing feedback with her is pretty pointless," the principal said. "My teachers basically said it was too little too late. They don't ever see her regaining their trust."

The school leader said her instructors, "especially the experienced ones, see this new regime as a type of cult of the true believers. Don't question what they do since they have all the answers."

One Northwest elementary school teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid problems with colleagues and administrators, said recently that the tensions have prompted most instructors who support Rhee to keep a low profile. "Those two or three of us in the system who may support her certainly keep it to ourselves," she said.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Scalia Admits He Would Uphold Segregated Schools

From HuffPo:

In an appearance at the University of Arizona College of Law, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said that if he were on the court in 1954, he would have dissented in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision that ended school segregation based on race.

Appearing on stage with Justice Stephen Breyer, Scalia cautioned against "inventing new rights nobody ever thought existed." Scalia said he advocates an "originalist" approach to the Constitution, warning against an "evolutionary" legal philosophy that he described as, "close your eyes and decide what you think is a good idea.''

Phoenix's East Valley Tribune reported (via Taegan Goddard's Political Wire):

Using his "originalist'' philosophy, Scalia said he likely would have dissented from the historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that declared school segregation illegal and struck down the system of "separate but equal'' public schools. He said that decision, which overturned earlier precedent, was designed to provide an approach the majority liked better.

"I will stipulate that it will,'' Scalia said. But he said that doesn't make it right. "Kings can do some stuff, some good stuff, that a democratic society could never do,'' he continued.

"Hitler developed a wonderful automobile,'' Scalia said. "What does that prove?''

"The only thing you can be sure of is the Constitution will mean whatever the American people want it to mean today,'' Scalia said. "And that's not what a Constitution is for. The whole purpose of a constitution is to constrain the desires of the current society.''


At least Scalia is an honest racist, rather than blue-eyed Roberts variety that hides behind well-honed legal argumentation that turns common sense upside down, while completing the evisceration of Brown that began with Reagan's appointments taking hold in the 80s. Click here for a short stroll down memory lane on the Roberts Court's contribution to the reestablishment of apartheid in America.

The Louisiana Charter Model: Taxation Without Representation

Since Texas developed the model used to blow up American public schools under Bush II, their neighbor, Louisiana has been envious. Smaller, poorer, and even less educated, Louisiana has aspired to inspire educational atrocities of their own just like Texas, and they have. In 2000, they became the first state in the nation to use a single test to determine if elementary school children (grades 4 and 8) would be promoted to the next grade. Even our motivational speaker ex-President would applaud that one, and other states (and NYCity) followed Louisana's dubious distinction, despite what testing experts and psychologists have said about the practice as abuse. (There are big, big lawsuits coming as soon as people wake up to what has happened to childhood in America).

Now under the school leadership of Paul Pastorek, Louisiana is on the throat-cutting edge again, and this past week they earned the accolades of the Gates and Broad puppet, Arne Duncan, for their thoroughly unscientific and non-peer reviewed techniques for determining how State test scores can be used to judge teacher preparation programs. It looks as though Louisiana's State Board commissioned an entirely competent educational psychologist from LSU to step entirely outside his area of expertise to manufacture a quick and dirty way to measure the "value added" by schools of education to the LEAP scores of Louisiana children. The studies are unpublished, and as far I can tell, beyond the readership of anyone not approved by Paul Pastorek.

Now Louisiana has made history on the charter school front. Aside from their replacement of NOLA Public Schools with a charter system in the wake of Katrina (remember "thank you, Katrina, all the time" charter advocate, Phyllis Landrieu), the Louisana Senate snaked through a provision last summer to give charter schools the same funding as public schools (including local dollars), despite the fact that charters are not required to have, and often don't have, certified teachers, equal pay, buses, lunchrooms, libraries, art, drama, athletics--or in the case of virtual charters, EVEN BUILDINGS.

Local superintendents and school boards are rightfully outraged at the fact that their skimpy local tax dollars are now being siphoned off by corporate charter schools that have no public oversight or regulation from the communities that are now required to fund them. From 2theadvocate.com:
A change in Louisiana law last year is forcing local school systems to pay for many new charter schools whether they like them or not.

School superintendents are starting to fight back. Last month, superintendents flooded the state with letters of complaint directed at three proposals to create strictly online charter schools that in two cases would draw students from all over Louisiana.

The superintendents submitted a range of complaints, including the involvement of for-profit companies in these would-be cybercharters, and whether these schools can comply with a raft of state laws.

The complaints prompted the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to postpone consideration of these cybercharters and several other charter school proposals until December.

A key underlying complaint of the superintendents is concern about how the state will determine who pays for these new schools.
The law change is also at issue in a Union Parish lawsuit scheduled to reach a Baton Rouge courtroom Thursday.

Until June 2008, the state solely paid the cost for these charter schools, known as Type 2 charters. Charter schools are exempt from many of the normal requirements imposed on public schools in hopes that they will serve as educational laboratories.

The charter schools relied mostly on the normal state-allocated per-pupil funding that pays for public schools. The state, however, also covered the sizable chunk of money that local sales taxes and property taxes normally covered through a separate annual appropriation.

The Legislature, however, changed that. An amendment on the Senate floor to an unrelated bill late in the 2008 regular session mandated that Type 2 charters created thenceforth would get not only state per-pupil funding, but would also receive a share of local sales taxes and property taxes. . . . .
Jones, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, is blunt about what he thinks of that new law.

“It’s kind of like the Boston Tea Party all over again,” said Jones, superintendent of schools in Rapides Parish. “It’s taxation without representation.”

In this case, local voters approved sales taxes and property taxes for public education in their cities and parishes and made the local school boards the stewards of these funds.

Jones views the redirection of such money to charter schools already rejected by local school boards as an unlawful taking of public funds.

Jones said online charter schools present even more of a problem because they could siphon away local sales and property taxes from every one of the state’s 70 school districts.

Jones said superintendents, along with other public education groups, hope to persuade the Legislature to reverse course when it reconvenes next spring.

Failing that, Jones said, he expects lawsuits will arise, though he said he has no plans at present to head to court.

Keith Guice, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the superintendents have a point.

“I think there is a potential for litigation involving the local taxes going to schools where the tax was approved not for that purpose,” the BESE president said.

Guice, who is from Monroe, is no stranger to this controversy. Just northwest of him in Farmerville, the Union Parish school system is already in court over a new charter school.

The school system is suing the state Department of Education to try to regain more than $500,000 that it estimates is being redirected this school year to the new D’Arbonne Woods Charter School in Farmerville. A hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday before state District Judge Todd Hernandez. . . .

Monday, October 26, 2009

Imagine Schools, Inc. and School Boards: Your Only Vote is "Yes"

A few days ago, a news outlet in St. Louis received a copy of an e-mail sent by Imagine Schools CEO Dennis Bakke. The letter, addressed to the other high-level Imagine employees, detailed Dennis' take on the role of school boards. I received the same letter about a month ago, sent from an anonymous source, but couldn't get Imagine to confirm or deny the legitimacy of the piece. Mr. Bakke makes it quite clear that Imagine - not the community - owns the schools, and the various school boards can only vote "yes" for the for-profit CMO's proposals.
Here's the e-mail, with my bolds (full e-mail posted by St. Louis Post-Dispatch):
From: Dennis Bakke
Sent: Thu 9/4/2008 10:26 AM
To: #DL All School Developers; #DL All National Principals; #DL All Regional Directors; Alan Olkes; Barry Sharp; Eileen Bakke; Isabel Berio; Jason Bryant; Nancy Hall; Roy Gamse; Sam Howard; Octavio Visiedo
Subject: Boards for Imagine Schools
DRAFT (for internal Imagine discussion purposes only)

This draft note includes some thoughts, observations and suggestions about our local school boards. Please feel free to opine on any of the draft comments I make in this email. This is not a legal pronouncement for Imagine Schools or an announcement of official policy. It is simply some preliminary observations and possible approaches to selecting and caring for these important people who help us educate children.

What are we learning about the selection and care of board members for our schools? Most Board members become very involved in the life of the school.
Often, even before the school begins operation, the Board members have taken "ownership" of the school. Many honestly believe it is their school and that the school will not go well without them steering the school toward "excellence". They believe they are the "governing" Board even if that adjective to describe the board has never been used by an Imagine School person. Many become involved in the daily life of the school, volunteering and "helping" teachers and and other staff to get things done. Even those who are not parents, take "ownership" of the school as if they started it. Initially, they are grateful to Imagine (especially Eileen and me) for helping them start the (their) school. I have been to 3 school openings in the last month where I was thanked for helping the local board start the (our) school. In none of these cases did the board have a major role in "starting" the school. They didn't write the charter. They didn't finance the start up of the school or the building. They didn't find the principal or any of the teachers and staff. They didn't design the curriculum. In some cases, they did help recruit students.

Why does it matter? Don't we want local boards to be grateful and helpful and take ownership of the school? "Yes" and "No". I do not mind them being grateful to us for starting the school (
our school,not theirs), but the gratitude and the humility that goes with it, needs to extend to the operation of the school. In all three cases of the new schools I visited this past month, I started my talks by responding to the flowery introduction thanking Eileen and me for helping to start the XYZ school, with a thank you to the Board and others for helping Imagine start ITS school. Most people probably missed the serious point I was making. Besides, it was probably too late in most cases to correct the misconception that we had given to Board members and other volunteers about the nature of governance of the school Imagine had created.

"But Dennis, I need strong Board members or the authorizer won't give me the charter" Even though, some authorizers (or their staffs) use this threat to keep control of our schools, I do not believe it is a significant reason that will stop us from receiving a charter or be rejected. If it does, so be it. If an authorizer is using this as the excuse, it is likely about 5th on the list of real reasons for rejecting the application. Also, we need to examine our definition of "strong board member". As much as we heard about board make-up in New York while we went after the charter, in the end it had no bearing on whether we got the charter.

I suggest that not one application granted or rejected in Florida or Indiana or DC or anywhere else had anything to do with the membership of the board, the governance approach, or the "quality" of the application. It has taken me about 4 years to convince many of you that getting the charter has almost nothing to do with what you put in the application or who your board members are. And, in the one or two cases where it did matter which board members were part of the application, it was likely a disaster for Imagine Schools just waiting to happen.

Most problems we have with Boards were not, however, caused by our developers or regional directors or executive vice presidents choosing the wrong board members. In many cases, I think we didn't make clear their role as a board member before we selected them. Sometimes we let a self-proclaimed Board chair select the Board (Please do not do that). By "we" I start with my own lack of understanding and poor teaching on this subject. I am learning most of these things right along with the rest of you. Whether or not a person has been on a board or not (with the exception of someone who has experience on the board of a major corporation), most people believe that Boards are "governance" boards. In other words, they are "in charge" of the school.

Without you saying anything to them, they will believe that they are responsible for making big decisions about budget matters, school policies, hiring of the principal and dozens of other matters.
This is the way most nonprofit boards work, so no one should be surprised by the assumptions held by the board members you select for an Imagine School.

I suggest that Imagine boards and board members have two significant roles. The first is to "affirm" (vote FOR if legally required) significant items like our selection of the Principal and the budget (if you "need" to give them veto power over our proposed principal, then that would be okay although I don't think in most cases it is essential that they be given that power (check the State law).

Legally, I believe "affirming" is the same as voting "yes". The difference is the assumption that we have made a "recommendation" or decision and want the board to agree formally with that decision.
Before selecting board members we need to go over the voting process and our expectations that they will go along with Imagine unless the board member is convinced that we are doing something illegal. Of course, we want the board member to vote "no" on any proposal that the board member believes is illegal. However, in non legal issues of judgment , we expect them to argue the issue vigorously, but if they can't convince us to change our position, we expect them to vote for our proposal. It is our school, our money and our risk, not theirs.

The second and most important role of board members is to advise us on all matters of employment, policies, school climate, shared values, growth, building, academics and financial. We have school principals and regional directors who are not involving their boards sufficiently in this important advisory role. I think this is a big part of the problems we have had in Atlanta. Board members want to be needed (all of us do). The best way to acknowledge your need for a board member is to keep them informed of what is happening and ask them their advice on ALL significant decisions before the school, including hiring and firing decisions. I believe that most of the problems we have with boards are caused not from taking decision making away from them, but not involving them in the advice process. Remember, the advice process shares your thinking with others and brings them into your circle. Some of you aren't even doing an adequate job of asking your colleagues or your staff or your bosses for advice ,so including the board in that way is going to be even more challenging. I told the Pittsburgh school board that if our principal didn't ask for advice on significant issues like hiring and firing and budget, a new building addition and school policies, that they should give me a call. Not asking advice of the appropriate people before making a decision is a good way to lose a job at Imagine Schools.

None of this will protect you from the person who starts out as an "advisor", but becomes a major problem, thinking he/she are crucial to the success of the school. Sometimes you can protect yourself from board members that you chose, by getting undated letters of resignation from the start that can be acted on by us at any time would also help. Some states allow "founding" boards that can be changed once the school starts.
That is a good idea if we can control who stays and who goes. Maybe you make all terms one year (if legal) so that we can re-nominate who we want. Make it clear that we will propose all new board members. Again, when the legal rules seem contrary to what I have been suggesting, seek lots of advice about how to set up the board before you select members.

There are probably hundreds of other approaches to overcome the "runaway" board problems that can arise if you are not careful.

Please take this area of Imagine life seriously. The Board of Imagine Schools meets once a year. It is made up of very secure people that I have known for a long time. They do not need to be "in control". They are not power hungry. They are encouragers, advisers and people who want to see Imagine grow and succeed. They realize that society places a significant responsibility on them to ensure that we do not participate in illegal activity or do things that will hurt children. They trust that we will do our best to make Imagine the best for parents and students as possible. They know we can't eliminate all the problems and mistakes, but they also trust us to correct those mistakes and overcome the problems when they arrive. They are ready with assistance and advice when we ask for that, but they are comfortable letting Imagine people do their thing.

That is the kind of board members we want for each of our schools. To get them and keep them, we need to tell potential and current board members the truth about our expectations and keep them involved in all the significant successes and problems that occur in the school.
Probably the most important concept that needs to be grasped by potential and sitting board members for our new schools going forward is that Imagine Owns the school, not just the building. Obviously, there are a few legacy school boards for which this will not likely be true, but let's not create new one if at all possible.
Turns out it's real. Very real, and very concerning. But there's more to this story than just an e-mail.
Imagine's CEO and founder Dennis Bakke, (he was founder and CEO of energy giant AES prior to his endeavor into education) is also the author of a book called, "Joy at Work," which claims to revolutionize the workplace. Bakke's philosophy goes something like this: people generally do not enjoy their jobs, employees are afraid to take risks at work, bosses are too controlling, and all this does not fit with the Biblical version of work. I'm serious.
Here is one clip from Mr. Bakke's website:
In Bakke's view, successful business people should be guided by principles and purposes meant to be ends in and of themselves, not techniques to create value for shareholders or to reach financial goals. He is disturbed that society's preoccupation with economics often leads people to calculate their worth as individuals based on their salaries or wealth and to judge their leaders more on financial results than on values.
So, Dennis, the $230 million Imagine Schools made in profits this year was all about principles, not about the money? In another video from Mr. Bakke's site, you can hear the preacher - I mean CMO head - claim, "Every individual is supposed to be a decision-maker" - well, except when they're on one of Imagine's local school boards.

Zero Tolerance for Peaceful Protest at Southwestern College

From Inside Higher Ed:
On Thursday, several hundred students at Southwestern College, a community college outside of San Diego, held a peaceful protest over budget cuts that are leading to the cancellation of more than 400 additional course sections next semester. On Friday, the students got a sign that someone was paying attention to the protest, but they didn't get the response they wanted: Four faculty members were immediately suspended and barred from the campus or using the campus e-mail system. . . .

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Mike Rose Essay

From TruthDig:
Blinded by Reform
By Mike Rose

It’s gotten lost in the splashier news, but big things are going on at the U.S. Department of Education.

Following on the unprecedented federal reach of No Child Left Behind, the Obama administration is extending further and putting serious money behind its education initiatives, inviting states and districts to compete for federal dollars. The department wants to increase the community college graduation rate. For K-12, it wants to stimulate the production of better state standards and tests, measure teacher effectiveness, turn around failing schools and increase the number of charter schools. Through a third initiative it wants to spark innovation and scale up the best of local academic programs.

This is a moment of real promise for American education, from kindergarten through college. It has even created the season’s oddest political couple: With the Department of Education’s blessing, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and the Rev. Al Sharpton are about to tour the country for educational reform.

Reform is in the air. But within many of these reforms are the seeds of their undoing.

For example, the Education Department is putting a lot of stock in charter schools as “engines of innovation”—in fact, it will not consider a state’s proposal if the state has a cap on charters. Yet a number of research studies—the most recent from Stanford—demonstrate that charter schools on average are no better or worse than the regular public schools around them. Some charters are sites of fresh ideas and robust education, but so are magnet schools, and career academies, and—we seem to have forgotten this—regular old schools with strong leadership and a critical mass of good teachers. But the reformers’ overvaluation of charter schools seems to dim their view of these varied manifestations of excellence.

Another example is the department’s attempt to link evaluation of teacher quality to student performance. (Merit pay could also follow.) And, again, the department will not consider a state’s proposal if the state outlaws such linkage of evaluation and student performance.

This linkage has a common-sense quality to it, especially what is called “value-added” analysis: that is, the degree to which a class’ test scores improve from the beginning of the school year to the end. Yet among experts in educational testing and measurement, there is a good deal of disagreement over the legitimacy of using these techniques to judge teacher quality. There are a host of factors that can affect scores: the non-random mix of students in a class, the students’ previous teachers, the lobbying of senior teachers for higher-scoring classes or the assignment of such classes to a principal’s favored teachers. There are also technical issues with the analysis of the test data. And there are significant conceptual concerns about exactly what the tests are measuring. In fact, the National Research Council, the prestigious, nonpartisan government agency, has just issued a statement reinforcing all of these concerns.

The Department of Education champions “evidence-based” and “data-driven” practice. Why, then, does the department espouse approaches that warrant scrutiny?

I think there are three interrelated reasons.

Given the immense pressure in politics for a quick result, there is a tendency in social policy toward single-shot, magic-bullet solutions, solutions that are marketable and have rhetorical panache but are simplified responses to complex problems. Charter schools will transform American education, or the linking of student test scores to teacher effectiveness will pressure teachers to change the way they teach and their expectations for what students can achieve.

This magic-bullet thinking is enabled by the paucity of schoolhouse-level knowledge of teaching and learning in the formation of educational policy. Not many policy analysts have taught school and, with few exceptions, those who have taught spent only a youthful year or two in the ranks. More troubling is something I have witnessed over the years: On-the-ground, intimate knowledge of teaching and learning is not valued, and is seen as an imprecise distraction from the consideration of broader economic and management principles that lead to systemic change. It’s like setting up a cardiology clinic without the advice of cardiologists.

The third element involves the rhetoric of reform. The advocates of the current model of test-based accountability have been very successful in depicting their critics as “anti-reform traditionalists,” as “special interests” or, the kiss of death, as members of the “education establishment.”

There is a lot to say about the accuracy of this depiction, for many who are tarred as establishment traditionalists have a long history of challenging traditional school practice and working to change it. But for now I want to focus on the way this demonizing rhetoric can jeopardize the work of the reformers themselves.

Take, for example, the concern expressed by teachers’ unions about linking student test scores to teacher evaluation. It is easy to characterize these concerns as special-interest pleading, but some of the evidence cited by the unions comes from researchers with no vested interest in teachers’ bread-and-butter issues. (One such researcher is a member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.) When legitimate concerns about reform techniques are easily dismissed as “anti-reform,” then you have a closed policy system, one shielded from self-correction.

It is good news indeed that school reform has become a top national priority, that the ways schools are structured, children are taught and teachers evaluated have become issues worthy of federal attention. But for reforms to be effective and sustained, they need to be grounded on the best we know and examined carefully and from multiple perspectives.

Mike Rose is on the faculty of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and author of “Why School?: Reclaiming Education for All of Us.”

Veteran TFA Manager Reveals "Onward Christian Soldier" Strategy

This interesting account of an overheard conversation on a plane comes from EduFlack, who is an avowed fan of TFA:
. . . .For this flight, I was seated directly in front of a regional manager from Teach for America. As luck would have it, he was a chatter, as was the businessman seated next to him. TFA was asked what he did for living. He stated he worked for an education non-profit called Teach for America. The businessman clearly had never heard of the organization, so he inquired as to whether it was a new group and if it was surviving in the current economy. I think Mr. TFA (who was part of the very first teacher cohort) was surprised that there was someone who had not heard of Teach for America. So he went on to provide a wealth of interesting tidbits and bragging points to demonstrate that Teach for America was not your average bear education not-profit.

Of course, Eduflack's ears perked up, interested to hear how this Teach for America executive (I believe he was a regional manager for sites in a number of states in the south and southwest) would begin describing an organization so well known in education circles to someone so unfamiliar with it. Some of the highlights:

* Teach for America recently embarked on a $142 million fundraising drive, and has already raised more than $149 million
* Teach for America's new strategy is to reach out to more and more charter schools, seeing them as a quicker point to help close the achievement gap. "There are a lot of good charter schools and a lot of bad charter schools," he explained. The key was to find schools that would buy Teach for America whole cloth. And in his eyes, KIPP can do no wrong.
* Teach for America is beloved and has never run into any opposition. In fact, Boston is the first and only school district where any teachers have ever had any problems whatsoever with Teach for America coming in. And isn't that just short-sighted of them.
* Teach for America is becoming so selective that it recently determined a student who "wrote" the new University of Virginia financial aid policy was a questionable candidate. (As an alum of Mr. Jefferson's alma mater, I won't get into the number of underlying issues here)
* The ranks of devout Christians joining Teach for America is growing by the day, in large part because the work of a Teach for America teacher is so demanding that they need the supports that their beliefs provide them to do their secular work well.

What I found most interesting, though, was that the notion of recruiting and placing teachers didn't come up until nearly 10 minutes into the conversation. Teach for America was about school improvement. It was about closing the achievement gap. It was about partnering with schools who couldn't fix themselves. It was about the organization serving poor communities and black communities and such. But the notion of teachers (and teaching for that matter) didn't come up until deep in the conversation, when Mr. TFA wanted to demonstrate how exclusive and competitive Teach for America slots were. Then he began discussing how they place only the best college graduates in schools that need their help, making clear they did not want students who attended education schools or formally studied education. . . .

Wonder why the Waltons, the Fishers, the Gatess and the Broads love TFA and KIPP? So far these two intertwined outfits are the most reliable total compliance sources for mind-scrubbing social control that anyone has devised for the indigenous savages of the inner cities, whose containment and taming is of prime consideration as their numbers continue to swell. More well-intentioned white missionaries, please.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Will Duncan Offer Students, Parents, and Teachers a Refund for Buying a Phony Product?

This week found the Dunc at Teachers College, again bad-mouthing schools of education for not doing a better job at preparing the 21st Century classroom teacher. As Stephen Krashen suggested in a post at ARN this morning, perphaps we should begin to acknowledge it is the fault of business schools for the catastrophic collapse of the American economy. I think we may even draw a correlation between low life expectancy in poor neighborhoods with the quality of M.D. preparation in America. Damn those med schools!

It remains a mystery to me how the Dunc can criticize teacher preparation programs with a straight face and, at the same time, embrace entirely the kind of teacher non-preparation that occurs in the 5-week positive psychology "Fishful Thinking" creepy camps that Teach for America puts on to pretend a preparation for prospective Ivy League resume builders who are being sent in droves into the KIPP chaingangs. Where is the outrage about TFA's lack of methods courses, student teaching, history of ed courses, child development, classroom management, educational philosophy, etc.? Perhaps if schools of education followed TFA's lead and spent more on marketing and recruiting than on instruction, then their reputations would be much more unassailable.

Those ironies are entirely missed by the newspapers and magazines that love to talk about the mediocre ed schools and the crumby public schools. These are the same newspapers and magazines that are moving into their third week of ignoring a National Research Council warning to Duncan and his Gates-Broad-Walton lawyers and economists about the stupidity of their pay-per-score plan for teachers. Perhaps the story will never surface in the mainstream. Perhaps, in fact, we will have to wait for a few years for a lawsuit from disgruntled parents and school systems, who have finally come to realize that the education reforms they were sold by the Duncan and the Business Roundtable made their kids less attentive and dumber and their teachers more depressed and ineffective, much like Disney's Baby Einsteins, Mozarts, and the rest of the junk merchandise sold to parents looking for an edge in the dog-eat-dog world of elementary school test scores.

More Bad News for the Testocracy from NAEP

The new NAEP Math scores are out for 4th and 8th grades, and the news is not good, again, for the NCLB Testocracy. As the chart shows at left (click it to enlarge), gains for 4th graders before NCLB (from 2000 to 2003) are larger than all the gains in the six years of Hell since (from 2004 to 2009).

For 8th graders, the picture is not much better. The gains pre-NCLB from 2000 to 2003 do not exceed but rather equal the gains in twice the time frame from 2004 to 2009.

The achievement gap that NCLB was supposed to close? It closed 4 points in math from 2000 to 2003, but it has only closed ONE POINT in the six years since!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bracey Obituary

If you did not know the work of Jerry Bracey, follow up with some of the pieces noted in this nice remembrance by Greg Toppo:
Gerald Bracey, a longtime education researcher, public schools advocate and tenacious Washington gadfly, died early Tuesday, his wife Iris said. He was 69 and in apparently good health, she said. He passed away in his sleep.

A native of Williamsburg, Va., Bracey had recently moved to Port Townsend, Wash., with his wife.

A longtime fellow of the Educational Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University and its recent partner, the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Bracey was for decades one of the foremost defenders of American public schools, tirelessly arguing that their performance wasn't as bad as reformers of both political parties contended. He often used long-term international comparisons to make his point.

A graduate of the College of William and Mary, he held a Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University and was testing director for both the Virginia Department of Education and the Cherry Creek, Colo., school district.

Bracey was mostly known as a pugnacious, sometimes abrasive critic of D.C. education policymakers, lawmakers and the press, decrying what he saw as their historical ignorance, intellectual laziness and chronic lack of skepticism about the latest education reform.

Charter schools, teacher merit pay, standards-based reform, high-stakes testing — whatever it was, it seemed, he was against it, often for the same reason: None of it, he said, showed replicable results.

An indefatigable contrarian, Bracey in 1991 founded the Education Disinformation Detection and Reporting Agency or EDDRA, dedicated to analyzing reports, dispelling rumors and "rebutting lies" about U.S. public education.

The same year, his annual Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education began appearing in the Phi Delta Kappan education journal. He'd been writing a monthly column for the Kappan since 1984.

In 2006, he began blogging for The Huffington Post, writing for the online site until just weeks ago. Bracey's last essay, posted Sept. 30., was a stinging, detailed criticism of pro-charter-school editorials in The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.

Since last April, he'd also been using Twitter— one of his last tweets read: "Thinking that the light at the end of the education tunnel is a standards freight train coming our way. Gonna hurt bad."

Bracey believed that many "reformers" secretly had it in for U.S. public schools, and that they often used statistics to make what he considered faulty criticisms of the schools. Among the perpetually lengthy titles of his many books are Final Exam: A Study of the Perpetual Scrutiny of American Education and Reading Educational Research: How to Avoid Getting Statistically Snookered.

Another, Setting the Record Straight: Responses to Misconceptions About Public Education in America, tackled 20 "myths" about U.S. public schools, giving advocates ammunition to rebut critics. For instance, one chapter begins, "What do I say when people say, 'Schools won't improve until they're taken over by private companies and run like businesses'?"

But it was likely Bracey's annual Rotten Apples in Education, an over-the-top mock awards newsletter, that made him the most fans and the most enemies.

It took no prisoners and pulled no punches. In 2006, after then-Education Secretary Margaret Spellings compared the No Child Left Behind education reform law to Ivory Soap, saying it was "99.9% pure — there's not much needed in the way of change," Bracey awarded Spellings "The 99 and 44/100ths Pure Crap Award."

While he held President George W. Bush and No Child Left Behind in especially low esteem, Bracey was bipartisan in his loathing, most recently calling out President Obama and his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, on what Bracey called "test abuse," quipping at one point, "These guys don't have a clue."

He took Obama to task earlier this year on the President's assertions that three-fourths of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma.

Not really, Bracey said. Look it up.

Last August, when the topic on the EDDRA listserv turned to Obama's proposed education reforms, an angry Bracey wrote, "How long will it take for people to realize that the education 'reform' proposed by Obama-Duncan is no different from the Weapons of Mass Destruction from Bush (I say this as a depressed person who canvassed for Obama, campaigned for him, donated for him, and voted for him — with my entire family — in Virginia before moving to the blue-secure state of Washington.)"

"He wasn't afraid, but sometimes I know that got him into terrible trouble," Iris said. "He just wanted the truth to come out."

In addition to his wife, Bracey is survived by two grown children from Iris' first marriage, whom he helped raise, as well as four grandchildren.

Friends have established a memorial fund in his name at CU-Boulder and ask that donations be made in his name to fund a doctoral research fellowship.

National Academy of Sciences Releases Report: Will Duncan/Obama Listen

Today, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report critiquing Obama/Duncan's "Race to the Top" agenda, affectionately known around here as the "Race off the Cliff," or "Duncan's Dumbo Circus." Below are some key snippets that, hopefully, Arne has time to read between his pick-up games and bogus "Listening Tour" appearances [all bolds mine; h/t to George Sheridan on ARN]:

The items on any test are a sample from some larger universe of knowledge and skills, and scores for individual students are affected by the particular questions included. A student may have done better or worse on a different sample of questions. In addition, guessing, motivation, momentary distractions, and other factors also introduce uncertainty into individual scores. When scores are averaged at the classroom, school, district, or state level, some of these sources of measurement error (e.g., guessing or momentary distractions) may average out, but other sources of error become much more salient. Average scores for groups of students are affected by exclusion and accommodation policies (e.g., for students with disabilities or English learners), retest policies for absentees, the timing of testing over the course of the school year, and by performance incentives that influence test takers’ effort and motivation. Pupil grade retention policies may influence year-to-year changes in average scores for grade-level cohorts. [p3]

They even toss in a bit about the high-stakes testing regime and the narrowed curriculum:

Moreover, test results are affected by the degree to which curriculum and instruction are aligned with the knowledge and skills measured by the test. Educators understandably try to align curriculum and instruction with knowledge and skills measured on high-stakes tests, and they similarly focus curriculum and instruction on the kinds of tasks and formats used by the test itself. For these reasons, as research has conclusively demonstrated, gains on high-stakes tests are typically larger than corresponding gains on concurrently administered “audit” tests, and sometimes they are much larger. Improvements on the necessarily limited content of a high- states test may be offset by losses on other, equally valuable content that happens to be left untested.

...furthermore...

We encourage the Department to pursue vigorously the use of multiple indicators of what students know and can do. A single test should not be relied on as the sole indicator of program effectiveness. This caveat applies as well to other targets of measurement, such as teacher quality and effectiveness and school progress in closing achievement gaps.

...regarding the use of NAEP as a measuring tool for RTTT:

Although BOTA is a strong advocate for the importance of NAEP in measuring U.S. educational progress, NAEP cannot play a primary role in evaluating RTT initiatives, a role that might be mistakenly inferred from the language in the Department’s proposal.

We propose using the NAEP to monitor overall increases in student achievement and decreases in the achievement gap over the course of this grant because the NAEP provides a way to report consistently across Race to the Top grantees as well as within a State over time. . . . (Section I, footnote 1, p. 37805)

It is necessary to be clear about the distinction between the requirements of an evaluation and the kind of “monitoring” that NAEP can provide. For the purposes of evaluating RTT initiatives, there are at least four critical limitations with regard to inferences that can be drawn from NAEP.

1. NAEP is intended to survey the knowledge of students across the nation with respect to a broad range of content and skills: it was not designed to be aligned to a specific curriculum. Because states differ in the extent to which their standards and curricula overlap with the standards assessed by NAEP, it is unlikely that NAEP will be able to fully reflect improvements taking place at the state level.

2. Although NAEP can provide reliable information for states and certain large school districts, it cannot, as presently designed, fully reflect the effects of any interventions targeted at the local level or on a small portion of a state’s students, such as are likely to be supported with RTT initiatives.

3. States are likely to undertake multiple initiatives under RTT, and NAEP results, even at the state level, cannot disaggregate the contributions of different RTT initiatives to state educational progress.

4. The specific grade levels included in NAEP (grades 4, 8, and 12) may not align with the targeted populations for some RTT interventions.

...and, hopefully, the authors of the recent piece of "crap" about value-added models that appeared in the LA Times are paying attention here:

The term “value-added model” (VAM) has been applied to a range of approaches, varying in their data requirements and statistical complexity. Although the idea has intuitive appeal, a great deal is unknown about the potential and the limitations of alternative statistical models for evaluating teachers’ value-added contributions to student learning. BOTA agrees with other experts who have urged the need for caution and for further research prior to any large-scale, high-stakes reliance on these approaches (e.g., Braun, 2005; McCaffrey and Lockwood, 2008; McCaffrey et al., 2003).

...and more concerns about value-added models:

Prominent testing expert Robert Linn concluded in his workshop paper: “As with any effort to isolate causal effects from observational data when random assignment is not feasible, there are reasons to question the ability of value-added methods to achieve the goal of determining the value added by a particular teacher, school, or educational program” (Linn, 2008, p. 3). Teachers are not assigned randomly to schools, and students are not assigned randomly to teachers. Without a way to account for important unobservable differences across students, VAM techniques fail to control fully for those differences and are therefore unable to provide objective comparisons between teachers who work with different populations. As a result, value-added scores that are attributed to a teacher or principal may be affected by other factors, such as student motivation and parental support.

...and more concerns:

In addition to these unresolved issues, there are a number of important practical difficulties in using value-added measures in an operational, high-stakes program to evaluate teachers and principals in a way that is fair, reliable, and valid. Those difficulties include the following:

1. Estimates of value added by a teacher can vary greatly from year to year, with many teachers moving between high and low performance categories in successive years (McCaffrey, Sass, and Lockwood, 2008).

2. Estimates of value added by a teacher may vary depending on the method used to calculate the value added, which may make it difficult to defend the choice of a particular method (e.g., Briggs, Weeks, and Wiley, 2008).

3. VAM cannot be used to evaluate educators for untested grades and subjects.

4. Most data bases used to support value-added analyses still face fundamental challenges related to their ability to correctly link students with teachers by subject.

5. Students often receive instruction from multiple teachers, making it difficult to attribute learning gains to a specific teacher, even if the data bases were to correctly record the contributions of all teachers.

6. There are considerable limitations to the transparency of VAM approaches for educators, parents and policy makers, among others, given the sophisticated statistical methods they employ.

There's also this little line, which teachers should take very seriously. We know high-stakes, standardized tests do not measure what our students know:

The use of test data for teacher and educator evaluation requires the same types of cautions that are stressed when test data are used to evaluate students

But we all know reformers, philanthropists, and bureaucrats toss caution out the window when they get their dirty little hands on data, and they're far too willing to accept and use test scores as indications of real learning and teaching.
And here's another piece of wisdom that all teachers know, but few politicians or edupreneurs can grasp:

The choice of appropriate assessments for use in instructional improvement systems is critical. Because of the extensive focus on large-scale, high-stakes, summative tests, policy makers and educators sometimes mistakenly believe that such tests are appropriate to use to provide rapid feedback to guide instruction. This is not the case.

...and a bit about "rapid-time" turnaround systems:

The choice of appropriate assessments for use in instructional improvement systems is critical. Because of the extensive focus on large-scale, high-stakes, summative tests, policy makers and educators sometimes mistakenly believe that such tests are appropriate to use to provide rapid feedback to guide instruction. This is not the case.

In addition, BOTA urges a great deal of caution about the nature of assessments that could meet the Department’s definition for inclusion in a “rapid-time” turnaround system.

Rapid-time, in reference to reporting and availability of school- and LEA-level data, means that data is available quickly enough to inform current lessons, instruction, and related supports; in most cases, this will be within 72 hours of an assessment or data gathering in classrooms, schools, and LEAs. (Section IV, p. 37811)

If the Department is referring to informal, classroom assessment methods that can be scored and interpreted by the teacher, a 72-hour turnaround is a reasonable goal. It is important to provide teachers with a better understanding about the types of assessment they can use informally in their classrooms.

If we want to provide better tests than fill-in-the-bubble type (or its click-the-bubble digital counterpart), teachers are the only ones that can perform this work.
The report also urges caution when making international comparisons (an ode to the late Gerald Bracey):
In addition to the aspiration of creating common assessments, the Department’s proposalalso notes the objective of creating assessments that are “internationally benchmarked.” There are several different ways this phrase might be interpreted. However, for assessment results that could be directly compared to their international counterparts, we note that the difficulties that arise in comparing test results from different states apply even more strongly for comparing test results from different countries. For making comparisons internationally, the problems with differing standards, assessments, instruction, curricula, and testing regimes are magnified. In addition, international test comparisons raise difficult problems related to language translation. Because of these challenges, the Department should think carefully about the kind of “international benchmarking” that it wants to encourage states to pursue.
And the conclusion:

In closing, we return to the beginning of this letter, with the importance of rigorously evaluating the innovations supported by RTT funds. Careful evaluation of this spending should not be seen as optional; it is likely to be the only way that this substantial investment in educational innovation can have a lasting impact on the U.S. education system. BOTA urges the Department to carefully craft a set of requirements for rigorous evaluation of all initiatives support by RTT funds.

There's a lot to chew on here.
Interestingly, the report neglects to mention charter schools, a major component of the RTTT guidelines. Strange.
Thoughts?