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

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Across the Pond...Edison Expanding?

From The Times (UK):

Business will seek to run state schools after shift in political attitudes

Greg Hurst, Education Editor

Businesses are looking to revolutionise state education by bidding to run hundreds of schools, as politicians open the door to new education providers.

Companies want to create national chains of state schools, eclipsing the current groups of charitable academy sponsors, which tend to be small and geographically based.

Although both the Government and the Conservatives say that organisations driven by profit should not run schools, both have created a path for them to enter the sector. Governing bodies of new, or existing, schools can appoint a contractor to operate the school on their behalf — a model used widely in the US.

VT Group, Serco and EdisonLearning are among companies that have applied to be accredited schools providers under a vetting system established by Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, allowing them to be involved in running of a handful of schools.

All three are almost certain to be approved, given their educational experience. After an interval, understood to be two years, they would be able to apply to become accredited schools groups — enabling them to run larger numbers of schools.

Capita, another large company, has decided against seeking to run academies but will continue instead to sell pupil data services to schools.


Continued here.

On Intellectually and Psychologically Sterilizing the Working Poor in the Name of Education and for the Benefit of Walmart

A clip from a post at HuffPo by Joel Shatzky:

. . . .A number of prominent educators, most notably Diane Ravitch, have warned the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, that the testing mania in the guise of accountability is producing bad schooling and low-quality teaching, but these criticisms seem to fall on deaf ears. At least if Duncan would publicly acknowledge "some reservations" about these tests and that their impact on schooling deserves investigation, there might be hope for positive change in the future direction of American Education.

Unfortunately, the people who will be involved in the drafting of the Common Core Standards for grades K-12 of the National Governor's Association and Council of Chief State School Officers will be, for the most part, not educators but business people who, like those from the Educational Testing Service, will be involved in planning even more testing and "Ed Tech" gimmicks as a substitute for sound educational practices. If you wish to make a comment about the future standards of education, please contact this website. The deadline for comment will be April 2nd.

I fear that this "deafness" to reason is not entirely inadvertent; although, I would like to believe that the President has the noblest of intentions, I think that the dirty little secret that most presidents have been aware of over the last forty years is that our economic system can never again produce sufficient high-quality jobs to fit the educational attainments of those who are properly educated and with them the end of the economic aspirations of future generations in this country.

Wal-mart employees do not need a college education for the work that will be available to them and the economic elite will not have to worry about competing for the good-paying jobs with young learners whose inferior, test-driven education will make it more unlikely, if not impossible, for them to climb "the educational ladder of opportunity" to which they aspire. The rungs of that ladder are rotting from a decaying economic system as schooling is being replaced for an increasing proportion of young learners with training for low-level low-paying jobs.

ED Blueprint Reactions

Monty Neill posted a good sampling of reactions to the "Blueprint" at ARN:
The Forum on Educational ACcountability (FEA), which I chair, submitted its recommendations to the House Ed Comm on Friday; it includes evaluation of the Administration's 'blueprint.' . . . . And FairTest has its summary of these proposals on our website, off our home page at www.fairtest.org.

A number of groups affiliated with Rethink Learning Now (some of whom are signers of the Joint Statement on NCLB) submitted comments to the House.

Richard Rothstein's evaluation of the blueprint.

NEA sent a detailed set of recommendations, a summary is here [link to the whole document is adjacent] - they call among other things for testing once each in 4-6, 7-9, then high school.

AASA recommendations including on assessment and accountability.

Thank You, Professor McLeroy

Everyone's favorite wingnut, outgoing Texas SBOE member Don McLeroy, has certainly left his mark on public education in the Lone Star state, but he's also left us with a digital record of his various wisdoms (particularly in the realm of history, geology, and education philosophy).

The video above is from a debate between the dentist and the eventual winner of the election, Thomas Ratliff. It's rather fitting that a large cross is in the background (fair to assume this debate was held in a church), and you can hear McLeroy ruminate over a story told on the Dennis Prager show.

You can skip to the 5:22 mark to hear McLeroy's suggestion for improving inner city education. It's a piece of "wisdom" that is, unfortunately, common wisdom around the country.

And, for just a taste of how different things are down in Texas, the moderator asks the candidates what they'd do to "abolish public education in the state of Texas" (7:55 mark).

McLeroy, surprisingly, is not in favor of abolishing public education, but his a big fan of charters and competition. That is a piece of "wisdom" shared by many in the education field, and it's likely to live on even when McLeroy rides into the sunset.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Duncan Bribery Turns to Blackmail and Extortion

From Firedoglake:

. . . .Race to the Top just announced their first two grant winners, Tennessee and Delaware, yesterday.

I hope we can be honest about what this actually represents: blackmail. It forces states to change their education laws to fit particular notions about how to manage public education in America. And it does so at a time of crippling state budgets, when the Race to the Top funds mean the difference between thousands of teachers laid off or kept on the job, between class sizes expanding or shrinking. Basically, Arne Duncan and the White House are leveraging crisis to make preferred changes in education policy.

And let’s be very clear about this: the changes sought are entirely at the discretion of Arne Duncan and the Education Department. These changes include ideas typically advanced by “reformers” like charter schools, merit pay for teachers and many other “market solutions” for education. You can agree with these ideas or not; I’ve heard arguments on both sides, and it’s important to note that teacher’s unions largely agreed with the changes in Tennessee’s policies that draw the Race to the Top grant. And let’s not be naive in thinking that the federal government doesn’t leverage public money to garner preferred policies in the states all the time – that’s basically how the speed limit works.

But the metrics for winning these stimulus funds comes down to “what Arne Duncan likes about education policy.” I don’t think he’s somehow all-knowing about it, or has access to the best policy prescriptions for every school district in America. The data is not conclusive about the effects of charter schools, or merit pay, or test measurement, or any of the jumble of new ideas in the education sector. It’s just not, no matter what anyone on either side tells you. We could be experiencing “declines” relative to the rest of the world on education based purely by cultural factors and more funding for education in developing nations in Asia and elsewhere. I don’t believe we have the kind of “comparative effectiveness research” to cement that certain kinds of learning environments or school structures beat others; given all the variables, I don’t know that we ever will.

What we do know is that only one side of this debate is withholding funding until their preferred policy prescriptions are enacted. And they’re doing it at a time when the biggest obstacle to education in America in the near-term can be measured in dollars and cents. Giant budget shortfalls in the states mean layoffs for teachers and worse opportunities for students, whether your state has a cap on charter schools or not. The compassionate education policy at this time is not to shock-doctrine states into changing their ways, but in allowing them the means to survive and not fail a generation of students.

The Obama Administration wants to extend the Race to the Top program for the 2011 budget. And that’s their prerogative. But let’s not pretend that’s a decision entirely borne out of a desire for students to reach their educational goals. No, that would look more like giving schools what they need to maintain their current effort.

Angry New Orleans Parents Not Nearly So Thankful for Katrina as Duncan

Paul Vallas, the man who taught Arne Duncan everything he doesn't know about schools, now runs the discriminatory corporate chain gang charters that have replaced public school.s in New Orleans. Parents have seen their children neglected, abused, and pushed out long enough to know that they want their schools back. From the Times-Picayune:

A crowd openly hostile to Recovery School District Superintendent Paul Vallas used a state board of education meeting to raise concerns about whether charter schools are leaving the most vulnerable children behind.

When Vallas stated at Monday's meeting that charters are doing "a heck of a job" educating public school students, the mostly African-American audience responded with jeers. Many speakers called for the return of neighborhood schools and expressed fears that many charters accept only students with high test scores.

Recovery School District Superintendent Paul Vallas
"Charters don't want anything to do with our children. They're sending them away," said Brenda Valteau, who identified herself as a 1961 graduate of George Washington Carver High School. "We're losing our young people to the streets. It sounds like a conspiracy to me."

Most New Orleans public schools were deemed low-performing and in 2005 turned over to the state-run Recovery School District and converted to charters. The Orleans Parish School Board, which once controlled more than 100 schools, retains only 16: 12 of them independently run charters and four traditional public schools.

The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's Recovery School District committee usually meets in Baton Rouge, but it held its meeting at McDonogh 35 High School in New Orleans on Monday. More than two dozen parents, teachers and community activists spoke during the public comment section of the meeting, which sometimes took on a raucous air as speakers made provocative statements and the crowd made its approval or disapproval known.

Darryl Kilbert, superintendent of the Orleans Parish School Board, drew cheers when he called for all of the city's public schools to return to local control. Kilbert's reception contrasted with the audience's skepticism toward BESE members from other parts of the state.

"I urge you to hear the voice of the community. I'm saying to you, it's time to bring our schools back home," Orleans Parish School Board member Ira Thomas said, echoing Kilbert's comments.

Vallas said after the meeting that although the RSD still needs to improve its services for special education students, its charter schools have open enrollment policies and do not exclude anyone. The district is improving test scores and building new schools, soliciting plenty of community input in doing so, he said.

"It's basically the same old, same old. It's a group that wants the schools returned to OPSB," Vallas said of Monday night's crowd. "That's it, that's the thrust, that's the theme."

Some speakers at the meeting pleaded to preserve schools with long traditions of educating the city's African-American students. Others called for a new elementary school and high school in the Katrina-devastated Lower 9th Ward.

Jonas Nash led a group of Joseph S. Clark High School graduates concerned about the school's possible conversion to a charter.

"How can there continue to be a Joseph S. Clark High School, when it looks like it's being phased out?" Nash asked.

Vallas acknowledged that the school might become a charter because it is not meeting academic performance standards. But he tried to reassure the alumni group that Clark will exist under the same name.

"There is going to be a Clark High School. The question is what kind of high school is it going to be?" Vallas said. "As there will always be a Clark, there will always be a John McDonogh, there will always be a Carver. There will be a new high school in the Lower 9th Ward. There is going to be a high school in the Lower 9th, because we secured federal funding."

Cindy Chang can be reached at cchang@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3386.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Cliffside, NJ Students Walk Out to Protest Teacher Cuts

From NorthJersey.com:

The 45-minute protest by hundreds of students included some stinging criticism of Governor Christie’s plan to slash state education aid as part of his attempt to balance the upcoming state budget.

“Right now, he’s creating a fence around our future,” said 17-year-old senior Barbara Hernandez of Fairview, who called the aid cuts misguided.

The governor said later Friday that he believed the teacher’s union had orchestrated the walkout.

“They’re being used,” Christie said, when asked if students should face consequences for the protest. “I don’t blame the kids at all. Those kids are victims. They’re pawns, unfortunately for them.”

Student organizers and a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said teachers pleaded with the students over the school's loudspeaker not to walk out.

“Our members didn't encourage this, they didn't plan this, they had nothing to do with it," said NJEA spokesman Steve Baker. "This is just another example of the governor tying to play politics with education.

Cliffside Park school officials are considering layoffs of 45 staff, including about 20 support staff and custodians, to close a $1.8 million budget gap.

The student protesters organized on Facebook and through text messages after news of the layoffs started trickling out in recent days.

The first protesters, some in T-shirts despite temperatures in the mid 30s, left class just after 9 a.m. and successive waves followed until 400-500 students mingled on the field and marched around the track.

They assembled on the sports field behind the school brandishing signs and chanting “save our teachers.”

The protesters were corralled onto the field and told by administrators they could not walk on the sidewalks surrounding the school.

They held aloft signs reading “Larger classrooms = no education” and chanted the name of one teacher, a coach of freshman sports, who is rumored to have received a layoff notice.

“Grades are going to start dropping,” student Joe Koonce said of the layoffs.

The students went back into class at about 9:45 a.m.

Superintendent Michael J. Romagnino said he wasn’t happy that the students left the building, though he was aware they were going to march. He didn’t see the protest as being against the administration.

“I think it was against the cuts,” Romagnino said. “Most people, including students, understand that if you have to cut $1.8 million out of the budget, the only way you can make that up is by cutting programs and staff.”

Romagnino said the district, which has about 2,700 students, is also considering cutting pre-kindergarten and kindergarten to a half-day and ninth-grade sports, among other measures.

The district will hold a budget meeting on Wednesday at 7 p.m. and a group has handed out fliers urging parents to show up in support of the teachers.

Parents Rafael Concepcion and Lilly Cancar, who is a 1985 graduate of the high school, watched the protest from just off school property. The couple’s two children attend elementary school in Fairview but will go to the high school in a few years.

And the Winners Are . . . The Test Scores

With the first round of bribes being announced today in Duncan's Race to the Trough, it is now apparent that destroying the teaching profession is even more important to the Business Roundtable than containing, segregating, and psychologically neutering the poor in penal pedagogy charter schools. And so it is today that Duncan's classic behavior mod bribery system recognizes Tennessee and Delaware, where the good unions have become partners with the corporations to create a system of teacher evaluation, advancement, and remuneration that will be based on test scores. And the message to the bad union recalcitrance in DC? The ultimate non-reward of being placed 16th out of 16 finalists.

There is another advantage, too, of putting all the bucks on rewarding state plans to develop pay per score systems for teaching: it is the only one of the Oligarchs' reform strategies new enough to not already have a demonstrated track record of failure.

Prince Bloomberg Must Obey Law: School Closures Halted

In a rebuke of the Little Dictator of Manhattan, the Courts have ruled. From NYTimes:

A judge on Friday blocked the closing of 19 schools for poor performance, finding the city engaged in “significant violations” of the new state law governing mayoral control of city schools.

The ruling, a setback to one of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s signature education policies, means the city will have to start over in making its case to close the schools, this time, the judge wrote, with “meaningful community involvement.”

Unless the decision is overturned, it will most likely result in all the schools’ remaining open for at least another year. The law requires the closing process to begin at least six months before the start of the next school year.

The decision cleared the path for high school acceptance letters, which had been delayed because of the lawsuit, to go out to eighth graders around the city.

The decision, by Justice Joan B. Lobis of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, was a victory for the United Federation of Teachers and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which joined more than a dozen elected leaders and parents in suing to stop the closings.

They argued that the city had failed to comply with the mayoral control law passed last year, which required the Department of Education to give detailed “educational-impact statements” describing the effect of each closing on students and surrounding schools.

Justice Lobis agreed with the plaintiffs’ contention that the department had issued boilerplate statements, which she found lacked “the detailed analysis that an impact statement mandates.” She found other procedural violations, including insufficient public notification before hearings.

. . . .

“We are thrilled,” said Christine Rowland, a teacher and the United Federation of Teachers’ representative at Columbus High School. “I think there’s a chance now. It was so hard for us to get anyone to listen in the very tight space of time we’ve had.”

The city has closed 91 schools since 2002, many of them large high schools, replacing them with clusters of smaller schools and charter schools in the old schools’ buildings. Mr. Bloomberg credits the closings with significantly improving graduation rates, which average over 70 percent at the small schools and 63 percent citywide.

When a school closes, current students are allowed to stay until graduation, but no new classes are admitted.

The moves have always generated controversy, particularly when schools proposed for closing had shown some progress. For example, 12 of the schools scheduled to close this year received a grade of “proficient” on their last city quality review, and hundreds of students and alumni citywide spoke out in favor of effective programs at the closing schools, like one devised for mothers and pregnant teenagers at Robeson that offers day care and teaches parenting skills. . . .

Respect vocational education

Respect vocational education
Published in the Santa Monica Daily Press, March 28, 2010


Education secretary Arne Duncan insists that all high school grads should be ready for college and work. If this idea is accepted, a high school diploma will certify the completion of a college prep program.

This will have the effect of making a high school diploma irrelevant for all those who are not interested in college, who have different interests, talents and career paths. It will also mean a continuation of the decline of vocational classes of all kinds, which is not only bad for vocational ed and for the trades, it is bad for everyone.

My dad had a law degree and a CPA, and was highly educated and well-read. He went to a technical high school and took every shop class he could. He loved them. This practical background was extremely valuable to him in his business career. He knew what was happening not only in the offices but also in the factories, fields, construction sites, and warehouses, and had a deep respect for skilled work of all kinds.

Stephen Krashen

Sunday, March 28, 2010

As Go Wake Schools, So Goes Wake's Economic Drawing Card

When the Teabagger majority on the Wake County School Board voted to shut down the nation's premier socioeconomic integration plan, did they consider the repercussions beyond the killing of educational opportunities of the poor? From the News and Observer editorial today:

Is it a mystery? Or is the answer staring us in the face?

Everybody knows that Charlotte is North Carolina's largest city, by a pretty wide margin. Yet the county where Charlotte is located, Mecklenburg, is expected to be overtaken in population by Wake County within the next couple of years. What's going on?

Well, probably several things related to the economy, geography and transportation patterns. But there's also no doubt that a main reason for Wake's turbocharged growth over the past couple of decades has been the fine reputation of its public schools.

People who want or need to relocate find it easy these days to turn up a ton of information about places where they might cast their lot. Computers will be humming with searches as the curious scope out what would await them in Raleigh, Cary, Holly Springs or one of Wake's other towns, large and small.

A family with children will hone in on reports, data, news articles about the school system. There are Web sites that allow exhaustive comparisons to be made. There are rankings of the nation's best high schools. Throw it all in the pot and stir it around, and Wake County has emerged as a surefire winner.

That's not to say there aren't some disappointing stats, especially among students who have to carry the extra baggage of poverty. But for a large school system drawing students from both ends of the economic spectrum, Wake has done pretty darn well. Even where outcomes have fallen short, there's certainly no evidence that kids consigned to schools where most of the students were poor would have done any better.

Further, Wake's reputation has been bolstered by the fact that school quality has been generally strong throughout the county (a few schools struggling to emerge from a rural tradition in which academics tended to take a back seat merely are exceptions that illustrate the rule).

The Wake schools have a track record. Do well at a Wake County high school, and college admissions officers understand that your transcript means something. The economic growth that highly regarded schools have helped generate brings its own set of problems, but by and large they are good problems to have when they come with greater opportunities to work, shop and recreate.

Whether it has all simply been too good to be true turns out to be up to the Wake school board to decide. And the board last week seemingly set out to prove that the model so attractive to those thousands of new families - the same families that are pushing Wake ahead of Mecklenburg in population - actually was a dud.

Ever since the Raleigh and Wake County school systems were merged 34 years ago, the idea has been to operate the schools from a basis of parity. There would not be conspicuous differences in resources or opportunities.

The effect was to minimize neighborhood-by-neighborhood differences in the quality of schools. While the choice of where to live would be influenced by plenty of factors, avoiding the handicaps posed by a school sunk in mediocrity would not be part of the puzzle.

The school board, propelled by a conservative majority that came to power after last fall's elections, now is angling to restructure the system in a way that risks magnifying those quality differences among schools in different parts of the county.

This is to be done in the name of stability and with an eye toward those lagging academic performances by too many students from lower-income families. Stability, however, is a mirage for folks who live in the county's growth zones. And backing away from the policy that has tried to keep urban schools from becoming overwhelmed with poor kids has approximately zero chance of helping them raise their grades and test scores.

The plan is to assign students within attendance zones whose boundaries have yet to be fixed, but which hardly will be able to avoid reflecting local community character. Put simply, that will mean schools in wealthier areas with many built-in advantages and with mirror-image disadvantages in poorer areas. Parity? Kiss it goodbye.

The Charlotte schools have been going down the same road for the past few years - long enough for many schools to sort out by income and race. Maybe it's just coincidence, but there seems to have been a rush to the exits among white families, who on the whole tend to be better off financially. Adjacent Union County has been the state's fastest-growing since 2000 (and the 14th-fastest in the nation among counties with at least 10,000 residents). The Union schools last year were 69 percent white; Charlotte's were 34 percent white.

Where will the Wake rush occur? Will growth pressures become even more intense in the outer-ring suburbs? Will Johnston County become Union's twin? However that plays out, fracturing the school system into zones threatens to sap Wake County's single strongest unifying force, a force that says, "All for one and one for all." Many a child will pay the price, unless people who can't abide the thought of letting that happen make sure that it doesn't.

Editorial page editor Steve Ford can be reached at 919-829-4512 or at steve.ford@newsobserver.com.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

"Whatever we do, they want to make it look like we are dumb morons. They're very effective, dadgummit."

Anything involving Texas State Board of Education Chair Don McLeroy is bound to to be controversial-slash-hilarious-slash-horrifying. His most recent interview does not disappoint. From the Globe and Mail's John Allenmang:

‘They want to make it look like we are dumb morons'

The Texas Board of Education is adjusting its curriculum to reflect conservative values. How do they deal with backlash from those ‘dadgummit' leftists?

The Globe’s John Allemang interviews Don McLeroy, a board member (and dentist).

You've been the leader in the campaign to introduce conservative values into the Texas school curriculum. What's your goal?

We're just trying to remove bias and get accurate history.

Where's the bias?

Here's an example: At the kindergarten level, the standards committee talked about the kids becoming global citizens instead of United States citizens. The bias is their idea that, ‘Oh, we're just part of the world,' instead of emphasizing the uniqueness of being an American. Some of us don't have a problem with seeing America as being a little unique. Here's another example: In eighth-grade U.S. history, the committee deleted, “Describe how religion contributed to the growth of representative government in the colonies.” Well, I was stunned. Our whole country was born out of Biblical ideals and principles.

Speaking of Biblical principles, didn't your committee delete reference to Thomas Jefferson, who actually talked about the separation of church and state?

That's not true. Look, down here there are these groups from the far left. Whatever we do, they want to make it look like we are dumb morons. They're very effective, dadgummit. Jefferson's name was taken out of a list of Enlightenment philosophers in world history because he didn't fit the period of the Enlightenment.


But didn't the increase in government come about because free enterprise failed during the Depression?

If I weren't a dentist, I think I'd enjoy being a teacher, because that's a great question to examine in history class. I'm not an expert, but basically a lot of people think we would have come out of the Depression sooner had it not been for the government interventions.

Continued here for your horror/entertainment.

Charter School by Day, Nightclub by Night?

Club Damani's website doesn't list their exact location: no address is given, and the only directions are "Media St. & Edgemore Rd. (Entrance on Edgemore Rd.)". Those directions lead you to - surprise! - the parking lot (and back entrance) of Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School.

In looking at the events calendar posted on the their website, the club appears to be somewhat of a multi-use community center (albeit one that serves alcohol at some events; and it sounds like the place is open at other times, too). It hosts birthday parties (for adults and kids), baby showers, bridal showers, grad parties, PTA events, and anniversary celebrations.

The news reporter notes charter schools are not subject to the same financial oversight - that's an understatement!

Ravitch Responds to Business Rountable "Thought Leader"

The Business Roundtable's attempts to deconstruct Diane Ravitch's withering critique of corporate education reform is now underway. The other day His Arrogance Andy Rottenham, the self-acknowledged edu-priest of "thought leadership" for numerous corporate sludge tanks including Eli Broad's, had a go at Ravitch in TNR, using terminology for which he had the patronizing courtesy to define for his "thought followership." Here is Ravitch's response, too good to be missed.
A TNR Symposium.

From: Diane Ravitch

To: Andrew Rotherham

Subject: We need to improve our education system—not tinker with models that affect tiny numbers of kids and can’t be replicated.

You complain that, in my new book and in this symposium, I fail to provide the way forward or at least a few silver bullets. You say that I do not show the way forward. So let me give it a try.

First, the punitive approach embedded in NCLB, in my judgment, has poisoned the atmosphere. Teachers feel fearful, beleaguered, and disrespected. A few months ago, a national survey found that 40 percent of U.S. teachers were "disheartened.” I have heard from many teachers (and posted some of their e-mails, often anonymously at their request, on my website at www.dianeravitch.com). They are indeed discouraged because of the blame game that makes teachers the culprits for poor performance.

Second, I am sorry to say that the Obama administration continues to play the blame game and, if anything, has racheted up the rhetoric that accuses teachers of being the root of all educational failure. NCLB gifted us with the utopian goal that all children should be proficient, so, if they are not, someone must be held "accountable." Accountable now means "someone must be punished."

Maybe students are failing because they don't speak English; or because their family lost its home and they have changed schools repeatedly; or because district leaders picked a really bad reading or math program; or because district leaders overloaded their schools with disproportionate numbers of troubled students who disrupt the classroom and make it impossible to learn; or because they have personal problems and don't care about school and cut classes often. No matter the cause of students’ low performance, the teacher will be held accountable. The teacher's head will roll, the principal will be fired, the school will be stigmatized and shuttered and turned over to others--perhaps an entrepreneur who knows how to play with data and make things look better, possibly by getting rid of low-performing students and replacing them with willing students.

If this is a way to improve education, it is certainly not one that other nations follow. Nor is it one that is likely to succeed. With all the current interest in fixing schools, the people whose voices never get into the conversation are teachers and principals, the ones who know from first-hand experience what is working, what is failing, and why. Instead of listening to them and learning from their experience and knowledge, we are now embarking on a national policy (whose roots were firmly planted in 2002) to punish them, brand them as failures, and replace them with fresh faces. We are not likely to improve our schools by stigmatizing those who work in them.

Why not a federal program to encourage states to create inspection teams of expert educators to visit every low-performing school, analyze the reasons for its poor test scores, and make constructive recommendations to improve the performance of its students? Why not recognize that schools present different problems and should not be subjected to blunderbuss punishment? Why not a federal program to determine the validity of different school-improvement or turnaround strategies? We know by now that there is no successful model, so why not invest federal research dollars in identifying some? The last federal report on this topic contained four recommendations to "turnaround" a chronically low-performing school yet admitted that not one of its recommendations was supported by evidence. Let's get evidence, not anecdotes; that's an important part of the federal role.

Here are some answers. We need better teachers. We should have state and even national policies requiring that those who want to teach have a major and a minor in two subjects that are taught in schools. Those with these qualifications must learn how to manage a classroom and how to transmit what they know to young minds. Both content mastery and pedagogical skill are needed, as is on-the-job training under the supervision of expert teachers. We should establish rigorous examinations (not at the eighth-tenth grade levels!) to ensure that incoming teachers are well-qualified in their subjects. When they are admitted to the teaching profession, educators should be regularly observed and evaluated by their principals as well as peer review teams. We need principals who have been master teachers, not newbies who went to a one-year training program called "How to Be a Principal." We need principals with the experience and knowledge to evaluate teachers and to help those who are struggling and want to get better. Principals decide who gets tenure, so it is crucial that they make sound judgments. We need superintendents with deep knowledge of education, because they evaluate the principals and set education policies. It is not good enough to entrust our schools to well-meaning but clueless lawyers, businessmen, and military leaders.

In short, we need a strong education profession. That's what successful nations do. Why should we expect to get better results by turning our schools over to amateurs, no matter how well-intentioned they are? "Reform," unfortunately, has become synonymous with de-professionalism. I think that is a mistake.

We need far better assessments that elicit demonstrations of knowledge and understanding, not just the test-taking skills and the ability to ace the multiple-choice tests that are now so prized. Unfortunately, the Obama administration plans to close schools and fire principals based on the results of tests that even the administration acknowledges are woefully inadequate. This is unfair on its face.

We need, as I have written for about 30-40 years, a solid, content-rich curriculum. We must get rid of this delusion that we can test in reading and math, hand out sanctions based on those tests, yet still supply a good education. We can't. We don’t. All of the incentives favor only basic skills, yet somehow, when our high school graduates get to college, an incredible proportion fail entry tests of basic skills. Why do remediation rates remain so high in basic skills when they have been the singular focus of our national testing system?

Our students should leave high school with a foundation in history, geography, civics, the arts, science, literature, and foreign languages. We must raise our sights.

As for charter schools, I admire the dedication of the thousands of young people who work hard to create good schools under private auspices, but I don't see charters as the solution to our nation's educational needs. Consider that, as I’ve said previously in this exchange, after two decades of agitation for charter schools, they now enroll 3 percent of the total enrollment in public schools nationally. In New York City, often called ground zero for the charter movement, there are 100 charters with 30,000 students, also 3 percent of the city’s overall public-school enrollment. With enormous effort, it might be possible to double the charter enrollment in another five to eight years. Charters would then have 6 percent nationally, perhaps even 10 percent in a city like New York. But who will fix the system that enrolls the remaining 90-97 percent of our students?

If smart people like you devote your time to the charter movement, who will demand the changes that will uplift and transform the vast majority of schools in our educational system? The future of the next generation relies on improving the system, not on tinkering around the edges. We wasted the last eight years; let’s not waste the next eight.

Diane Ravitch is research professor of education at New York University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. She is a historian of education.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Arne Duncan's Chicago Charade Goes National

From Democrcacy Now:
When President Obama’s Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, was the head of Chicago’s Public Schools, his office kept a list of powerful, well-connected people who asked for help getting certain children into the city’s best public schools. The list—long kept confidential—was disclosed this week by the Chicago Tribune. We speak with the Chicago Tribune reporter who broke the story and with two Chicago organizers about Duncan and his aggressive plan to expand charter schools.

Who will profit from the standards?

• MARCH 2, 2010
Education Unit Helps Lift Pearson's Net Profit
Education and publishing company Pearson PLC reported a 46% jump in 2009 net profit to £425 million ($648 million) Monday, boosted by an education business that CEO Marjorie Scardino says could be helped further by U.S. President Barack Obama's push for common state standards in math and reading.
Pearson's North American education division, which comprises the company's largest business and includes Prentice Hall, reported £2.47 billion in sales for 2009, a 5% increase at constant exchange rates.
Overall, the company reported £5.62 billion in sales, up 4% at constant exchange rates from £4.81 billion last year.
The education division's growth could be boosted in the U.S. in the coming year as 48 states develop common core education standards for math and language arts as part of a voluntary state-led effort encouraged by the White House, Ms. Scardino said.
The implementation of core standards would reduce the burden Pearson faces in adapting materials to individual state requirements. It could also open up an opportunity for Pearson to win a new contract measuring the progress of that common-standards initiative. The degree to which Pearson will reap benefits depends on how many states ultimately opt into the common standards and how specific they are.
Ms. Scardino said Pearson could also benefit from $4.35 billion in "Race to the Top" grants the Obama administration will begin distributing to states this year for education innovation and reform. Data systems that measure student success, one of Pearson's key product areas, are an emphasis of the grant plan.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

New York Times Spins NAEP

With an editorial board that remains epically stupid on K12 education matters, it is not surprising to see Sam Dillon's news story today on the new NAEP reading data that preserves the warm glow that the Times always casts on the test and punish corporate reform model for schools. In fact, the headline points away from the disastrous NAEP reading scores released yesterday to the more rosy picture presented in the '09 NAEP math scores.
The scores continue a 17-year trend of sluggish achievement in reading that contrasts with substantial gains in mathematics during roughly the same period.

“The nation has done a really good job improving math skills,” said Mark Schneider, a vice president at the American Institutes for Research and a former official at the Education Department, which oversees the test, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress. “In contrast, we have made only marginal improvements in reading.”

As Dr. Schneider is a political scientist who worked in Bush II's education department, he fails to point out that most of those gains occurred before the high stakes madness of NCLB started (click chart from NYTimes to enlarge). In fact, the gains since NCLB have been incremental, with 8th grade math scores of late flat-lining.

Now today's Times story does have something about the cratering NAEP reading results for 2009, but this, too, is placed on the sunny side of life inside the direct instruction hell holes once known as elementary school. With no good news of any significance to report about the world of parrot reading without comprehension, reporter Dillon goes to corporate reform insider, consultant, and attorney, Susan Pimentel, who has this to say despite all the evidence that indicates otherwise:

For example, Susan Pimentel, an expert on English and reading standards who is a member of the governing board that oversees the test, said that American schools were fairly efficient at teaching basic reading skills in the early grades. . .

Dillon also goes to Hoover Fellow and Koret Task Force member, Tom Loveless, to find something to celebrate :

One group of students, though, has made significant gains in reading over the last decade: the nation’s worst readers. The average scores of fourth graders in the bottom 10 percent for reading increased by 16 points from 2000 to 2009. In contrast, the average scores of the nation’s best fourth-grade readers, those in the top 10 percent, rose by only 2 points during the same period.

“All the progress in reading is being made at the bottom,” said Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Our worst readers are getting better, but our best readers are staying about the same.”

Our worst readers are getting better? Really, Tom and Sam? What the sunnysiders don't bother to report is that 11 of those 16 points gained, indeed, occurred between 2000 and 2003--before NCLB was instituted (click on chart to expand).

Also unreported by Tom or Sam are the 8th grade results for the poorest readers (click chart to enlarge). Here we see NAEP scores actually going down a point since 2002. Of course, Loveless or the Times would prefer to ignore the facts, which show the present day orgy of tabulation as another immoral, damaging, and wasteful episode in American educational history.

Points for Honesty

From David Dunn, executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association (via TexasInsider):
Think of it this way, charter schools are the result of free market capitalism principles applied to education.
If we're following the new Texas social studies standards, the proper label would be "free enterprise" principles, Mr. Dunn.

Does Glasser (Imagine) Play by the Rules?

Sam Glasser, the St. Louis real estate developer with a history making deals with Imagine Schools, is awfully up front about his desire for a piece of Pittsburgh property, Burgwin Elementary School. It's not garnering any respect from the district, and it's probably a pretty darn good indication that Mr. Glasser knows a good deal when he sees one. A 150k investment and the estimated $406k in repairs and upgrades could easily be recouped if, say, Glasser secured a lucrative deal with the potential Imagine charter school (or simply sold the school to SchoolHouse Finance, Imagine's real estate arm; it might eventually end up in the hands of Entertainment Properties Trust). Glasser supposedly offered $350k last September for the very same piece of property. Seems to me that $150k would be a steal - that's 42% of his initial offer.

$150,000 bid for former Burgwin Elementary School won't be considered

By Daveen Rae Kurutz

Thursday, March 25, 2010

City school officials will not consider a $150,000 offer on a closed Hazelwood elementary school.

St. Louis real estate developer Sam Glasser sent a letter and check to the district in an attempt to purchase the former Burgwin Elementary building.

The board had been set to vote Wednesday on selling the building to a Hazelwood nonprofit, but administrators pulled the item from the agenda because of concerns about the nonprofit's financial stability. Solicitor Ira Weiss said the board legally could not approve the offer yesterday.

Chief Financial Officer Chris Berdnik acknowledged receiving a check for $15,000 along with a letter of intent from Glasser. However, Weiss said Glasser did not follow proper procedures to submit a bid.

Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt called the check "utterly irrelevant. There was no cause for it. It was not hand money."

Glasser hopes to lease the building to a proposed community service charter school if he can purchase it. [Ken's note: yeah, that'd be Imagine]

"These people think they don't have to play by the rules," said board member Jean Fink.

Daveen Rae Kurutz can be reached at dkurutz@tribweb.com

Texas and Textbooks: What Could Go Wrong?

From the Dallas Morning News:

A school board vote looms this week on which companies to use, and irregularities have surfaced, raising concerns among Dallas ISD educators, trustees and one major textbook company.

Documents obtained by The Dallas Morning News show:

•The school district's textbook committee is recommending getting books from a publisher that could have been disqualified for breaking selection-process rules – a decision one publisher called "a blatant rewarding to dishonesty."

•Electronic voting by educators was skewed because two publishers were inexplicably missing from the list of companies from which teachers could vote.

•Teachers voted overwhelmingly for one company's elementary books, but the district's textbook selection committee picked another publisher.

The findings are in a district internal investigation, e-mail exchanges and other records that open a revealing window into the lucrative and competitive world of textbook sales. Across the country last year, textbook publishers reported sales of $3.5 billion, and in Texas, almost $500 million in taxpayer money is budgeted to buy books for K-12 students next school year.

You can read the entire article here.

The IRA is looking forward to doing some heavy lifting

In a press release (March 22, 2010), the International Reading Association called for a three-step plan:
" (1) rigorous goals for students' performance, (2) assessments to monitor students' progress toward these goals, and (3) professional development that enables teachers to provide students with the needed instruction.

In other words, tough standards, tests linked to the standards, and teacher training linked to the standards and tests.

IRA President Au commented that (2) and (3) are the hardest to do and will require "heavy lifting" (see note below).

In other words, as soon as the standards are approved, we are going to spend a lot of money on developing and administering tests and designing and doing teacher training.

There is no need for this: There is good evidence that our literacy problem is largely due to the high percentage of children of poverty in our schools, far higher than in other industrialized countries. Children from high-income families do just fine in reading achievement, a fact that indicates that there is nothing seriously wrong with our current approach: Our standards are rigorous enough, we have more than enough tests (far too many), and teachers know what they are doing and don't need to be re-trained so that they will conform to a new set of standards. The problem is poverty.

Even if this were not the case, there is no evidence that tough standards and tests do any good, and there is plenty of evidence that dealing with the effects of poverty does a great deal of good.

In addition, education budgets are already in big trouble and there is tremendous under-funding in crucial areas in schools. The last thing we should be spending money on is new standards, new tests, and "training" to make sure teachers conform to the new standards.

IRA's enthusiasm for this wacky, irresponsible and incompetent plan is bewildering.

Footnote: I have seen the same statement using nearly identical language twice in the last few months:
"'Standards per se just set the destination,' says Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, in an e-mail response to questions. 'They’ve set a good one. To have a prayer of reaching that destination, however, requires – for starters – sound curriculum, effective instruction, and really good assessments. All of that heavy lifting still lies ahead.” ("Uniform academic standards for US students: draft released," Christian Science Monitor, March 10).
"Asked to explain the money's focus on developing more tests, Duncan said developing the standards themselves would be relatively inexpensive. Developing assessments, by contrast, is a 'very heavy lift financially,' Duncan said, expressing concern that the project could stall without federal backing". ("Education chief hopes stimulus will push standards," USA Today, June 14).

The press release can be found at: http://bit.ly/aJquNU


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

NAEP Reading 2009: Had Enough Direct Instruction and Testing Yet?

(Click on any of the charts to enlarge.)

After 7 years of the nation's incredibly expensive subscription to the crackpot school of reading instruction, and after 20 years of non-stop testing with increasingly higher stakes, and after tens of millions of children have been abused, labeled failures, and permanently turned against reading, and after hundreds of billions have been wasted on corporate tests not worth the paper they are printed on, and after thousands of school libraries have been shuttered and librarians cut loose, finally, do you think the geniuses in Washington will get the message?

Fourth grade gaps:
Eighth grade gaps:

Can Anita Dunn Put a Human Face to Michelle Rhee?

More toxic than a drinking fountain in a DC school is the earned reputation of DC's school chancellor, Michelle Rhee. Chancellor Rhee's demeanor of fuming petulance and her public displays of boundless arrogance have become the poisonous trademarks of the new corporate school reform model based on public lies, insider deals, and media manipulation. And with the looming announcement coming a few weeks hence on the crushing of the teachers' union in DC, the Oligarchs have bought Rhee a most well-connected Madison Avenue mouthpiece, now charged with somehow putting lipstick on this angry, dragon. From Bill Turque:

A D.C. schools spokeswoman confirmed Friday that the agency is negotiating a contract with Dunn's firm, Squier Knapp Dunn. The objective is to more effectively handle the heavy load of local and national news media attention that Rhee attracts and to help roll out major stories to greater strategic advantage. The spokeswoman said Dunn has devoted time to District school issues but would not elaborate.

Dunn is expected, however, to assist with an announcement of the long-awaited labor contract between the District and the Washington Teachers' Union, which could be finalized in the next few weeks.

Time will tell if Dunn is up to the task of containing all the lies and smears coming out of Rhee's office and orifice. As Valerie Strauss points out, Dunn could be asking for overtime:

What can you say after you say that D.C. school officials have yet again let down a school community that has been trying for years to get decent conditions for its students and young children to learn in each weekday?

That it isn’t anybody’s fault, really, because the system never had enough money?

Even if it were true that the system didn’t have enough money, that’s no excuse. In fact, there isn’t any excuse anymore for what has happened to the community at Bruce-Monroe Elementary School.

I toured the school six years ago and wrote an article in The Post -- part of a series on crumbling schools -- about the dangerously dilapidated conditions that existed then and had for years before. A committed band of parents and school personnel had tried over and over to get help from the school system authorities. They were paid lip service by superintendent after superintendent.

Now, Bruce-Monroe community members are having the screws put to them again.

My colleague Bill Turque writes here that schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee -- who became the seventh D.C. schools chief in a decade when she took over from Clifford B. Janey almost three years ago -- is reneging on her promise to rebuild three schools closed in 2008. Bruce-Monroe, in Ward 1, is one of them; the other two are Brookland Elementary in Ward 5 and Turner Elementary in Ward 8.

Rhee said that the downturn in the economy, along with overruns on other construction projects, have made it impossible to follow through on the promises. Those promises, by the way, were made by Rhee and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to help get support from neighborhoods for their plan to close 23 schools that had too few students or were in horrible physical condition.

No doubt the economy has had a major impact on the system’s plans, and no doubt construction projects ran over budget. But really, what construction project doesn’t? If I knew it was going to happen, surely the people running it knew, too.

Turque reports that the man in charge of the school modernization effort under Rhee, Allen Y. Lew, is now saying that the whole effort is more expensive than expected, and that the initial approach -- to make some immediate and cosmetic fixes to schools while postponing some of the major systems repairs in a school -- may have been in error. Turque quotes Lew as saying: “We learned that [when] you go into a space you can’t ignore the corridors and the bathrooms and the lobbies and the windows.”

This revelation took this long?

All of this adds up to one big mess for the kids at Bruce-Monroe, who, incidentally, were sent to another unsuitable building, Park View Elementary, where water pipes are broken and mouse droppings are repeatedly found (including in the food supply).

So what do you say after you say the kids are being let down again? That Rhee and Fenty should have found a way to make this happen for these kids.

Leadership is about setting priorities. Ensuring that kids go to school in clean, safe buildings with working bathrooms and pipes and furnaces should be a top priority.

City leaders find ways to get other things done. Rhee, for example, is hiring (with private funds) a special communications expert, former Obama communications chief Anita Dunn, to help her improve her deteriorating relations with city residents. As if what is needed is a better branding effort rather than some straight talk from the chancellor.

Back in 2004, I asked Janey, then the new superintendent, if he would allow me to tour some D.C. schools and write about the deplorable conditions in which children and teachers were being forced to work and learn. He was so new to the job, I told him, that nobody could blame him for the conditions, and he gave me permission.

I visited several schools, including Bruce-Monroe, and wrote stories that described the deplorable conditions in which kids were sitting every day. Here’s some of the Bruce-Monroe story:

D.C. School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey has seen some seriously degraded school buildings around the country, he said, but a tour of Bruce-Monroe Elementary School in the District still gave him a shock: One-quarter of the building has been shuttered for years because of crumbling ceilings, asbestos and other problems; plexiglass windows are so corroded it is impossible to see the sky -- or anything else -- outside; bullet holes pockmark the back doors; lights are dim; wires hang from ceilings; classes share the same large room, with only thin partitions, because there are no walls to separate them, making teaching and concentrating harder than they should be.

"It was awful, just awful," Janey said. "I’ve seen school buildings in New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, everywhere around the country, and this city is among the 10 percent worst -- no, make that 5 percent.

"That's what the principal, teachers, students and parents have been screaming about for years to past school superintendents -- to little avail -- regarding the school on Georgia Avenue in Northwest. "We are so frustrated," said Lilian Hernandez, the head of the school's parent group. "All I want is the best for my son."

It was sad then, and, for some reason, I find it even more so now.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Face of Hate in Wake County Votes to Resegregate

(Photo by Travis Long for the News & Observer)
Despite spirited protests by young people who came to chant, "hey hey, ho ho, resegregation's got to go," racism prevailed this evening as the Wake County School Board voted 5-4 along party lines to end one of the most successful school integration and diversity programs in the U. S. By doing so, the Republican majority, whose campaigns were run by the big money and the old, hateful veterans from the era of Jim Crow, brought Raleigh, Cary, and the rest of the Research Triangle back to the era of separate and unequal schools.

Now the battle must begin again to upend this decision and to restore the dignity of the people of Wake, the majority of whom are not behind this return to apartheid schools. These civil rights that have been denied tonight will be restored, and this grossest of social injustices will find a remedy. This will not stand.

From the News & Observer:

On a 5-4 vote, the Wake County school board’s ruling majority agreed tonight to stop busing students for diversity and to move to a community-based system of student assignment.

The community-based system will be developed during a nine to 15-month period and means the system will stop trying to mix students from different socio-economic backgrounds, even if the change creates more schools with high concentrations of students from poor families.

Board member John Tedesco, point man for the resolution, said the current system already allows for high numbers of high-poverty schools. More than three in 10 Wake Schools now have more than 40 percent students who qualify for free and reduced price lunches, he said.

“We are pretending that the problem doesn’t exist” and that the current solution works, Tedesco said.

The decision came nearly nine hours into a tumultuous day on which chair Ron Margiotta and four fellow Republican members elected last fall stuck to their guns on their anti-busing-for-diversity stand. Faced with some vocal opponents and shouted comments, they beat back multiple amendments by opponents who didn’t want to pass the resolution without more study, more research and more information on its cost.

“If this is going to stand the test of time, it could stand the test of a work session,” said opposition member Kevin Hill.

Board member Carolyn Morrison, who opposed the resolution, introduced an amendment that put the ruling majority in the position of having to vote for or against “a plan that ensures that schools will not become segregated.” Ultimately, the majority didn’t support Morrison’s amendment.

“The eyes of the nation are upon us,” Morrison said. . . .