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

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Make It Viral: Strike to Save Public Education March 4

An interesting take from Inside Higher Ed:

The tricky thing about viruses is that it’s impossible to know where they might spread next or what damage they might do if they mutate. The same could be said of “viral” protest movements like the one that started in California months ago.

Talk of a series of March 4 demonstrations across California began in October, and since that time a loosely connected cyber network of angered faculty and students have planned their own protests across the country. What has emerged is the promise of the collective angst of cash-strapped public education -- from K-12 through the college sector -- bubbling over in hot spots from sea to shining sea.

They may face different levels of budget cuts, hail from different institutions and reside in different states, but these activists are all saying -- in one way or another -- “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore!” While that’s a message that many college administrators may privately embrace, since they too feel increasingly shortchanged by the state's budget-setters, the fervor of the protest movement presents a delicate dance for campus and system-level leaders trying to promote their agendas and keep the peace at the same time.. . . .


Lighting Their Fires: a Book Review

Below is my short review of Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Kids in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World, by LAUSD teacher Rafe Esquith. Rafe is a well-known teacher, but I was not drawn to his book based on his accolades. I was drawn to his work because other people in the education world have claimed to based their work on his approach to learning and teaching. My curiosity led me to read all three of his books, visit his Hobart Shakespeareans website, and exchange the occaisonal e-mail and phone call with the friendly fellow (I also hope to visit his classroom someday).

Rafe is a humble man. He tells me he fails every day and every year despite the long hours he puts into his work. There's no illusion that "all kids can learn" if we just had the best teachers, a drill-and-kill approach, or No Excuses pedagogical approaches - and this is coming from a man that is widely considered to be a great teacher by a wide variety of folks.

The book isn't aimed at teachers - it's aimed at parents. That being said, all parents are teachers and many teachers act as a type of parent for their students. One of the things I most appreciate about Rafe is his take on testing:
"Schools today are basing a lot of your child's education on test scores, and I believe in assessing children, but we've made these test scores the be-all and end-all of existence and they're not. These tests that the children take don't measure things that I think will be really beneficial to a child later in life. They don't measure their ability to make wise decisions, their unselfishness, their ability to delay gratification." [Excerpted from this video]
Also, be sure to check out this video of Rafe discussing "bad metrics." He talks about tests being a thermometer, which is certainly a more appropriate way to evaluate learning (and a way to evaluate his teaching). Be sure to note the section where Rafe talks about the "lost in translation" syndrome:
I've had charter schools come to my class and say, "Oh, we're going to be like Rafe," and they turn their schools into these Dickensian prisons and then hold up their test scores and go, "We're a great school, we're a 95." Well I gotta tell you, I've met the kids in these schools. These kids are sad, they're scared, and most important of all, when they go into the world they can't function.
Rafe has many, many important things to say about education. I sent him a copy of my review to ask for feedback and he replied with this short piece of poignant feedback:
I want people to know that [education] is a long, long journey. We need to be patient. We plant seeds, set examples and if we are consistent with our words and deeds, we can produce tremendous young people. It is not a race to the top. It is a marathon and not a sprint.
I hope you enjoy my review. One of the best things about Lighting Their Fires is that it's truly an enjoyable read.

[Note: I have not received any financial compensation in exchange for this review. I purchased Rafe's book with my own funds. I believe there are some new regulations around blogging and book reviews that require me to disclose this information.]

Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Kids in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World

One wouldn’t expect a book about education to begin with a teacher heading to a Dodger baseball game, but it’s also clear that Rafe Esquith isn’t your everyday teacher. His newest book, Lighting Their Fires, is a book about education and learning, but almost none of it takes place in the classroom. Instead, Rafe uses an evening field trip to a baseball game with a number of students to highlight some topics that are rarely addressed in discussions about education. As the game proceeds, Rafe uses a number of rather mundane events to point out the more nuanced logic of his approach to education.

Readers should take note of the subtitle of the book: “Raising Extraordinary Kids in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World.” There’s little doubt that our culture provides some tremendous challenges for children: the ubiquitous access to TV, negative peer influences, and the temptation to think short-term instead of long-term. Rafe suggests a number of tools and skills that can help kids succeed despite these obstacles. The list is rather straightforward, but the reasoning and logic behind the recommendations provides food for thought for parents, teachers, and everyone else involved in education. I’ll highlight a few of Rafe’s suggestions, but you’ll need to pick up his book or check out a copy from the library to get the full list of his valuable tips.

Rafe cuts right to the chase about his feelings towards television, bluntly stating, “Parents, television is killing your child’s potential.” However, Rafe’s take on this is more nuanced than simply limiting a child’s access to screens and mindless programming: “The ultimate goal in raising a child is to get him to turn off his own television set.” Consciously choosing not to passively sit in front of a TV screen requires intrinsic motivation. Simply restricting a child’s access to mind-numbing TV programming does little to help kids understand why it’s important to turn off the tube, which is the real lesson Rafe hopes to teach his students.

Two other chapters dig into a pair of related issues: getting kids intrinsically motivated, and helping children develop the ability to make sound choices for themselves. High achieving kids are successful partly because they have developed their own personal code of conduct, but getting kids to this point is no simple task. A highly rigid school environment relying on punishments to control behavior encourages kids to act (or not act) based on fear, which only restricts their ability to develop a personal code of conduct. But educators should exercise caution when trying to duplicate Rafe’s philosophy: his motto of “Be Nice, Work Hard” and his extended school day (which is optional, but many students take part in the after school and Saturday sessions) have been twisted by others into creating “Dickensian workhouses,” removing the joy and happiness from the classroom. Rafe has extremely high expectations for his classroom and runs a tight ship, but he’s clear about his pedagogical approach: “I am not advocating a sober, joyless, military-style education. Nowhere will you hear more laughter than in room 56.”

There are a few reoccurring themes in Lighting Their Fires. As a fifth grade teacher, Rafe is the last elementary school teacher his students will have before they depart for the middle grades. These middle school years can be some of the most difficult times for students (along with their parents and teachers, too), and the need to demonstrate independence and sound decision-making can make or break a student’s success. LAUSD’s system, which is heavy on charters and full of underfunded public schools, means many parents are required to navigate the maze of school choice in order to find a school for their kid. One of the most important chapters in Rafe’s book deals with how to go about this process: beware of spin doctors, schools only touting test scores, and schools with PR departments (“Any school that would hire a PR person must need one,” says Rafe’s principal and mentor, Mercedes Santoyo). A good mix of younger and older teachers is the best combination; an unannounced visit provides a better glimpse into the school than pre-planned open houses intended to show the school in the most favorable light. Most of these suggestions apply to the K-12 system, but many are relevant for college-going students, too.

The book begins and ends with Sammy, a student with a history of having difficulties in school, struggling to connect with peers, and certainly not a favorite student of any of his previous teacher: he talked out of turn, couldn’t sit still, came to school dirty, and rarely engaged in group activities. Traditional wisdom might inject Sam’s young body with medications, implement a rigid behavior plan, or refer him for excessive testing. Rafe, however, takes the only path that could help Sammy develop alongside his peers: he developed a friendship with Sammy, helping him become excited about American history and build friendships with his peers. Let’s hope other educators can take this approach: treating kids like human beings is the only humane way to educate our kids, and the only way to help them fully develop to their greatest potential.

Lighting Their Fires is an enjoyable read chalk-full of many important tips for both teachers and parents. Rafe’s insights – gleaned from nearly thirty years of teaching – provide food for thought and ample anecdotes about how we can better educate our kids despite the many challenges faced by families, kids, and educators. I hope Rafe continues to teach – and write about his experiences – as the country begins another round of education reform. This long-standing teacher’s advice proposes a mode of education that is far-too-rare these days. Let’s hope Rafe continues lighting fires, both in his students and among his peers.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Virginia's McDonnell Ready to Use State Power to Infuse Segregated Charter Schools

With only three charters opened in the last 12 years, the citizens of Virginia have demonstrated that they do not want charter schools. Governor McDonnell (R), however, sees things differently, and he is apparently willing to shelve his campaign lies about local control long enough to push his segregated corporate charter agenda down the throats of Virginia voters.
From the Washington Post:
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 25, 2010

RICHMOND -- Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell often talks about his long-standing belief that government closest to the people governs best, a philosophy rooted in his conservative principles.

But when he began searching for a way to expand the number of charter schools in the state -- one of his top goals -- he turned not to local government but to the state.

McDonnell (R) proposed this month that those seeking permission to open charter schools -- a publicly funded, privately run education alternative -- be allowed to appeal to the state Board of Education if they are rejected by local school boards, which have the authority to approve or deny applications.

That proposal appears to contradict comments that he frequently made on the campaign trail and in his inaugural address last month.

"More often than not, Richmond knows better about the hopes and dreams of the people than Washington," McDonnell said Jan. 16. "And Galax and Fairfax and Virginia Beach know far better than Richmond."

. . . .

"It's not a good step in the right direction," said John Stevens, chairman of the Loudoun County School Board. "Education across the United States is a local matter."

Stevens (Potomac), a Democrat who runs with no party affiliation, said that he and his board support charter schools but that local officials, particularly in high-performing districts such as Loudoun, know how best to serve their students.

On Monday, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus criticized McDonnell's proposal, issuing a stinging statement that referred to the days of racial segregation. "This is as unconscionable as it is unconstitutional," said Sen. Henry L. Marsh III (D-Richmond). "A lifetime of work to ensure equal access to education, democratic local control of our schools and the opportunity for every child to succeed is under attack."

Virginia's constitution requires that local school boards authorize charter schools. McDonnell does not propose changing the constitution but wants applications to be submitted to the state Board of Education for review and pre-certification recommendations before they go to local school boards.

Under McDonnell's plan, if a would-be charter is rejected by a local board, it could appeal to the state board, which would have the power to approve it. . . .


White Hat Not Renewed in Florida

David Brennan and his White Hat charter management company recently had a charter oversight board decide not to renew one of their schools in Florida, and the shenanigans of the Life Skills Center East are truly shocking. You can check off a laundry list of violations the school has racked up, including, but not limited to, accusations of financial mismanagement, failing to education English language learners (only 1 in 72 received a diploma), and the governing board's lack of due diligence in selecting Brennan's management company. This isn't the first closure for one of White Hat's Life Skills Centers - White Hat had their Life Skills Lakeland (just miles from the Center East location) charter pulled, and they billed the oversight board for $500,000 as they exited from the school. It's not about profits, it's all about the kids, right?

Oh - and 97% of all school funding at both schools went to White Hat, and we're not entirely sure how that money was spent.

We do know, however, that White Hat's President and CEO Quintin Messer, a Broad Resident, gave $250 of his personal money to Banksters for Education Reform back in early 2009 (oops, I mean Democrats for Education Reform). Sure - $250 won't buy you a politician, but it sure shows how the for-profit hucksters know how to pick their allies.

Anyways, here are the juicy bits about White Hat's latest failure. Is the kind of crap DFER and their wealthy funders are willing to turn a blind eye to in their quest to privatize education?

From News Chief's Kara Phelps (Winter Haven, FL)

The Charter Committee took issue with several aspects of Life Skills Center East's budget. The school received about $1.8 million from the school district during the 2007-08 and 2008-09 years. It paid the company hired to manage its operations, the Ohio-based White Hat Management Company, 97 percent of the funds.

The committee expressed concern that the school does not keep sufficiently records with details of how that money is spent. They said Life Skills East did not provide them reports on salaries, benefits, supplies, purchased services, capital outlay and other important information.

The Charter Committee said Life Skills East provided a cost report showing that 39 percent of its budget was spent on the classroom in the 2007-08 school year; in 2008-09, money spent on the classroom declined to 27 percent.

...

In March 2009, the School Board voted to end its contract with Life Skills Center Lakeland for some of the same reasons, among others.

Life Skills Lakeland received $2.1 million from the school district during its four years of existence. It, too, paid 97 percent of those funds to White Hat Management. When the charter school closed last year, no funds reverted to the school district, and the management company also billed the school's governing board for another $500,000.

Friday, February 26, 2010

We're # 1

From the NYTimes:

WASHINGTON — President Obama kicked off a drive Monday to upgrade American education, unveiling a plan requiring states to adopt new reading and mathematics standards and committing his administration to “breaking down some of the barriers to reform.”

Meeting with the nation’s governors at the White House, Mr. Obama stressed the importance of education to America’s economic competitiveness in a tough global marketplace, a theme he has cited in recent days to undergird a number of his domestic priorities.

. . . .

“That’s what we’re up against,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s what’s at stake — nothing less than our primacy in the world. As I said at the State of the Union address, I do not accept a United States of America that’s second-place.”

No one can blame the President for wanting to be #1 in education, especially since we have an long-established No. 1 ranking when it comes to the highest poverty among advanced Western nations. USA! USA!

From the Population Reference Bureau:



Rhee Uses DCPS Employees to Recruit Friendly Testimony

Wicked_Witch-broomstick.jpgWhen you are as popular as the Wicked Witch of the West, it makes a village, or at least a central office, to lasso any support among teachers, staff, or the general public. Now Rhee is using public dollars in an effort to garner enough support to save her own wickedness. From Bill Turque:

School officials are working to make sure they have plenty of friendly voices at the D.C. Council's annual performance oversight hearing on March 15. Testimony at these events tends to become an open-ended infomercial for those unhappy with Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. So Peggy O'Brien, Rhee's family and public engagement chief, is reaching out to those who have had kind words for DCPS and have asked what they can do to help.

"The District of Columbia deserves a more complete picture of the school reform efforts underway," O'Brien writes.

She's even provided talking points: "Test scores and graduation rates are up, facilities have been modernized, our teachers are more qualified, more effective, and better supported, access to technology is system wide, early education is expanding and improving, and programs to address reading and learning problems are proliferating."

And for those who don't have eight or nine hours to spare waiting for a shot at the mike, O'Brien says DCPS will be happy to call with a heads up about an hour in advance of when their turn is likely to come up.

Here's the e-mail in its entirety:

From: Peggy.O'Brien@dc.gov
CC: Katherine.Gottfredson@dc.gov; Jason.Crawford@dc.gov
February 23, 2010
Dear Parents and Friends of DC Public Schools,

I've lived in this community for 40 years, raised two children here, sent them to DCPS. I know that more people than ever are feeling optimistic about DC Public Schools because I talk to parents and community members every day and they tell me so.

And for good reason. Test scores and graduation rates are up, facilities have been modernized, our teachers are more qualified, more effective, and better supported, access to technology is system wide, early education is expanding and improving, and programs to address reading and learning problems are proliferating.

I am reaching out to you because you have expressed your support of DCPS reforms at some point during the past year, either to the Chancellor or to me directly--and we are coming up to a time when expressions of support would be most helpful.

The DC Council will hold a DCPS Agency Performance Oversight Hearing on Monday, March 15, starting at 10 a.m. at the Wilson Building. These hearings are opened with public testimony. People sign up in advance, and then testify in the order in which they have done so. If you are willing to share your story at the hearing, please contact Aretha Latta at 202-724-8196, or email her at alatta@dccouncil.us to be placed on the list. Once you are on the list, we would be happy to call you an hour in advance of when you would be expected to testify if you are not able to attend the entire hearing. Just let us know if you've signed up. You can also submit written testimony if you cannot attend the hearing.

The District of Columbia deserves a more complete picture of the school reform efforts underway. Your testimony can help provide that. Thank you for considering this.

Sincerely,
Peggy O'Brien, Ph.D.
Chief, Office of Family and Public Engagement
Office of the Chancellor
District of Columbia Public Schools

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Moskowitz & Klein; Millot's Final

Be sure to check out Juan Gonzalez's piece in today's New York Daily News, which details the relationship between the charter mega-b**ch and Chancellor Klein. Also, don't miss the 77 pages of e-mails between the two, which includes a nice "thank you" note from Eva to Klein for helping her line up a $1 million donation from the Broad Foundation.

And, don't miss Dean Marc Millot's final thoughts about censorship, Rotherham, and RttT/i3 spending. Let's hope we hear more about Dean's very legitimate concerns regarding the charter school sector.

Driving Schools into the Ground, One Charter at a Time

Despite all the talk about accountability and the relentless assault of the public school system by charter advocates and their wealthy funders, real oversight of charter schools is 1) severely lacking and 2) doesn't have any real power to regulate these private versions of public schools.

Let me introduce you to Chase Academy for Communication Arts, which, despite it's name, is not affiliated with the banking giant. That didn't keep the head of the school, Celia Jones, from treating the school's budget like a credit card: in April of 2007, she was suspended for an assortment of violations related to shoddy finances. But the most egregious abuse was charging students that qualified for reduced lunch prices almost double the amount they should have paid ($1 instead of $.60 - the charter folks sure know how to treat the poor well, don't they!).

Just six months later, the school came under fire again, this time due to nepotism, more financial mishandling, the hiring of a board member as a contractor, and the school's lack of nonprofit status (just like the Imagine Schools folks).

At some point in time, Jones departed the school for greener pastures and a new principal was brought in to right the ship. Serious corrections never panned out, and the school's authorizer, Educational Resource Consultants of Ohio, Inc, released annual reports showing the school was not up to par.

And just today, the school announced that it will be closing, and closing soon - tomorrow, in fact, which gives parents and students all of one weekend to adjust to this major mid-year change. Say what you like about charters or public schools, but mid-year closures clearly does not serve the interest of students, parents, or teachers. In this case, the school will close because their attendance numbers were greatly inflated, although the Ohio DOE spokesperson claims they don't suspect fraud (seriously?). 10TV promises to provide updates as the investigation into how the numbers were so far off.

From 10TV News in Ohio:
Charter School Abruptly Closes, Leaving Parents in Lurch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — An east side charter school plans to close its doors unexpectedly on Friday, after the state cuts its funding.

The Chase Academy for Communication Arts is expected to close at 5 p.m. Friday, 10TV's Andy Hirsch reported.

Some students were sent home with a letter explaining that the school is shutting down after the state stops its funding because of a mix up in attendance figures.

"I don't know what I'm going to do at this point. I'm really shocked," said parent Laretha Haynes.

Haynes, from Canal Winchester, said she had no indication the school would be closing. She put her 9-year-old daughter in the school because of childcare issues.

"I'm upset," Haynes said. "I'm upset because now my daughter doesn't have a school to go to and I live all the way out in Canal Winchester and I don't know what I'm going to do."

The state is cutting off money to Chase Academy because it was over reporting attendance, which is how school funding in calculated, Hirsch reported.

When the error was caught and corrected, the state realized the school already received a full-year's worth of funding.

"We don't have a full picture of what of exactly what happened at this point," said Ohio Department of Education spokesman Scott Blake. "We are doing a review of their enrollments tomorrow. And so you know, maybe then we will have a better picture of how exactly everything unfolded."

Chase Academy staff will be on hand Monday to help answer questions parents have, Hirsch reported.

Most of the academy's students live in the Columbus City School district and CCS said it will welcome those students.

Several state audits of Chase Academy show a history of money mismanagement and the department of education said it will look into how the enrollment figures were so far off, but they do not suspect any fraud.

Watch 10TV News HD and refresh 10TV.com for additional information.

Duncan Advocates Segregated Total Compliance While Giving Lip Service to Control "Restraint and Seclusion"

The hundreds of millions of vulture capital dollars that have gone into the development of the KIPP empire have yielded a much more substantial result than just the few dozen total compliance cults spread across the wide span of U.S. media markets. These segregated cadillacs of child penal pedagogy have inspired a near universal acceptance among urban public schools and urban charter chain gangs of a virulent form of total-control, no excuses regimentation that extends all the way down into urban kindergartens.

Closing the achievement gap without doing anything about socioeconomic disadvantage remains the pipe dream the modern day eugenicists at the Gates Foundation, and it will require a whole new regimen of mind management and behavior buttressing among the children of the poor: KIPP's kiddie-corporate model of shot-gunned happiness treatments through the use of Seligman's positive psychology dog-training tricks is now seen as the intervention to imitate across urban America.

And so it is with a degree of irony that Arne Duncan will never be able to appreciate that ED has just issued new guidance on "restraint and seclusion." Are we not supposed to notice that ED has also advocated KIPP's unique brand of psychological neutering as the final solution to problem of poverty among children? From ED:

Today, the Department posted a summary of state laws, regulations, policies, and guidelines regarding the use of restraint and seclusion techniques in schools:http://www.ed.gov/policy/seclusion/seclusion-state-summary.html. The summary is a result of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s letter issued to Chief State School Officers on July 31, 2009, urging a review of current state policies and guidelines regarding the use of restraint and seclusion in schools. Since August, the Department’s regional Comprehensive Centers have researched and compiled information on state-by-state restraint and seclusion techniques.

“Restraint and seclusion policies should be reviewed regularly to prevent the abuse of such techniques and ensure that schools provide a safe learning environment for all of our children,” said Duncan. “I am pleased that many states and territories have begun to work with their stakeholders to develop or revise current practices. The Department will continue to serve as a resource throughout the process to ensure that all students are safe and protected.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Central Falls, RI Turnaround: Fire All the Teachers

The most constant and reliable predictor of standardized test scores is the income level of student families. Central Falls, RI has lots of families in poverty, almost 3 times the state average (30.1% compared to 12%). The percentage of families with income below 50% of poverty is more than twice the state average (12.5 to 5.2 percent). And these numbers were from before the Wall Street banksters ruined us.

Central Falls has only one high school, Central Halls High, and it has been on the NCLB "Needs Improvement" list for several years now. It is one of those schools that Arne Duncan has sworn to turn around, despite the fact that he nor anyone else plans to do anything about the grinding poverty that is the primary reason for the schools' low scores to begin with.

And so it is that the dope in charge, Frances Gallo, picks one of Arne's possible solutions for turnarounds. Photo from Sandor Bodo for the Providence Journal.

From the NYTimes:

CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. — A plan to dismiss the entire faculty and staff of the only public high school in this small city just west of the Massachusetts border was approved Tuesday night at an emotional public meeting of the school board.

The board voted 5 to 2 to accept a plan proposed by Schools Superintendent Frances Gallo to fire the approximately 100 faculty and staff members at the chronically underperforming Central Falls High School on the last day of this school year in June.

The plan will also create a new school governance structure and requires the high school’s new teachers to take part in “professional development” that meets federal standards.

As soon as the meeting ended, the board went into a closed session and members were not available for comment.

Dr. Gallo said during the meeting that she chose what she called a “turnaround” plan, one of four offered by the state, after the teachers’ union rejected conditions in another state plan that called for increased hours without the promise of salary increases.

“Union leadership went too far because I would not commit to monetary incentives,” Dr. Gallo said.

Teachers and union members said Dr. Gallo and the board had not bargained with them in good faith.

“We have been at the table,” Jane Sessums, president of the Central Falls Teachers Union, said at a premeeting rally at a local park attended by hundreds of teachers, students and supporters. “They have not been willing to bargain.”

Dr. Gallo said she had been instructed by the state commissioner of education, Deborah A. Gist, to choose one of the four state reform plans, which were modeled on federal recommendations and included the school’s closing. Central Falls High is one of six of the state’s lowest-achieving — the only one not in Providence — and has a four-year graduation rate of 48 percent. It has 800 students.

Dr. Gallo has 120 days to submit a more detailed plan to the state.

On Tuesday night, several hundred teachers and students, many wearing Central Falls High’s colors of red and blue, packed into the meeting, shouting at Dr. Gallo and school board members. As a board member read the names of people slated for termination, many people were crying.

Joe Travers, 44, a longtime physical education teacher, said after the vote: “They sat up there, looked us in the eye, told us we were not good enough. That’s an embarrassment.”

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Entertainment Properties: Excited About Charter Profits

Entertainment Properties, a public real estate investment trust, is seeing profits on the rise these days thanks to a booming movie industry (thanks, Avatar) and the expanding charter school market. EP owns 27 schools run by Dennis Bakke and the Imagine Schools, and you can be mighty sure EP will continue expanding into the charter school market until regulators put a halt to their shenanigans.

Here's a recent clip from the Wall Street Journal, which touches on the giddiness of EP as Duncan and Obama push for more and more segregated charter chains implementing a hefty dose of test-based mania and "no excuses" pedagogical approaches for poor, black, and brown students:
One of the few niche businesses that Entertainment Properties is planning to remain in is charter schools. The company owns 27 schools, which are operated by Imagine Schools Inc., and is planning to develop more. [Entertainment Properties Chief Executive David] Brain says the business has great potential because demand and political support for the alternative schools are growing. He said the unlevered returns on charter schools have been between 10% to 12%. "We think there is a major opportunity here" as first movers, he said, saying the company is the only public REIT to invest in charter schools.

Constant Surveillance at Lower Merion School District

From HuffPo:

It's a story that won't go away. Last week the family of 15-year-old Blake Robbins filed a lawsuit against Lower Merion School District near Philadelphia, alleging that the school district activated the Webcam in the student's school-issued MacBook to photograph him in his own home. The school district admitted that it did have the capacity to remotely turn on Webcams and said that it did so 42 times in the past 14 months, but only to "locate a laptop in the event it was reported lost, missing or stolen so that the laptop could be returned to the student."

In a civil complaint (PDF), the Robbins family claims that an assistant principal at the district's Harriton High School accused young Blake of using drugs and cited as evidence a photograph of him taken in his own home via the Mac Webcam. Blake said that the "pills" he was accused of taking were Mike and Ike candies.

Subsequent to all of the hubbub over the case, the district pledged to stop activating the cameras even in the event of a suspected theft and that decision was reinforced on Monday when a federal judge ordered the school to stop activating the cameras. The judge also ordered them to stop taking screenshots from the computers and to preserve all data on the computers pertaining to the alleged Webcam photos. The judge didn't issue an injunction because the school district consented to the ruling.

. . . .

The blog Styde Hax has a summary including student reaction. You can download the webcast here.

The U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI on Monday said that they are investigating whether the district violated federal privacy laws.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Young Conservative Loves Obama Education Agenda, RttT, Merit Pay


Jonathan Krohn, the 14 year old wunderkid of the conservative/Tea Party movement, spoke to progressive radio host, Thom Hartmann, after absorbing the scene at the recent CPAC gathering. You can skip to the 3:25 mark of the video to hear Jonathan "give credit where credit is due" - in this case, Krohn thinks our "socialist" President deserves support for his pro-competition, pro-charter, pay for test score, pro-merit-pay agenda. "Public education is already there and we're not going to be able to abolish it," chimes in the kid - but you sure get the impression that he'd like to.

Krohn's not the only conservative wingnut hoping the Tea Party can influence education: Jeanne Allen, President of the Center for Education Reform (and a former member of the Imagine School's board of directors), penned this piece, which concludes, "Bring on the Tea Party. Next stop - Education Department."

Anti-Gay Group Spreads Propaganda - When Education is Misinformation

If you're a student in the Montgomery Public Schools, chances are your recent report card was accompanied by a pamphlet created by Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), a religiously-based anti-gay group that "educates the public on sexual orientation." Their version of "education" and "sexual orientation" is almost entirely Biblically-based: no matter how you view their materials, it's awfully clear that LGBT = bad. This does not create a safe and welcoming environment for MPS students.

It is entirely legal for PFOX to distribute their materials through the schools, but it raises serious questions: should schools distribute materials that are considered offensive to particular communities? PFOX's message clearly contradicts the lessons taught in MPS health classes - is that really okay? Does MPS distributing the material make it look like the public schools support such a stance?

Sign a petition here to let the Montgomery County Public Schools know this kind or propaganda not only deceives our children, but it sends a terrible message to the LGBT community.

Duncan's "Race" Becomes Forced March

During the few minutes yesterday that I could watch our superlative-spewing jock-Secretary, Arne Duncan, on CSPAN, I learned that Arne doesn't see the RTTT as a race at all but, rather, a unending kind homework practice without instructions that must continue until states get it right. Those states whose applications are rejected by the Gates goons who are designing the applications, reading the applications, giving tutoring on the applications, and judging the applications, are expected to apply again, and again, and again until they get it right, in a kind of tree-mangling, years-long game of high-stakes charades, where tons of paper are shipped back and forth between Washington and starving state departments of ed desperate to just make payroll.

Sensing the absurdity of this non-race fully enacted, Governor Granholm asked, in a not so patient way, if the Dunc would not just tell the states what they are expected to do so that cowed legislatures like Michigan's could simply rubber stamp the papers and get the cash rolling. The truth of the matter is that Gates and Broad (and Obama) do not want to to be the fall guys in, yet, another failed experiment by big business to make education policy. As long as the states are ostensibly in charge of their own reckless "reforms" with regards to public education, no one but the applicants, themselves, can be blamed for the misery that teachers, children, and parents will inherit as a result of the Business Roundtable's takeover of American education.

From the Washington Post:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Many teachers and educators across the United States are at risk of losing their jobs in the next few months, the nation's education secretary told a meeting of the National Governors Association on Sunday.

"I am very, very concerned about layoffs going into the next school year starting in September. Good superintendents are going to start sending out pink slips in March and April, like a month from now, as they start to plan for their budgets," said Arne Duncan, referring to the slips of paper included in some paychecks to notify a person of being fired.

As tax revenues in most states continue to plummet because of weak economies, states and cities are considering cutting education to keep their budgets balanced. Every state in the union except one, Vermont, is required to balance its budget.

The economic stimulus package, pushed last year by the administration of President Barack Obama and approved by Congress saved at least 320,000 education jobs, Duncan told the governors.

The plan included the largest transfer of money from the U.S. government to states in the nation's history, according to the Pew Center on the States.

It created a stabilization fund of $48 billion that provided cash directly to states, mostly for schools. But those funds will likely run out before the end of the year.

Last week, Obama warned of the possibility of layoffs in state governments when the stimulus ends.

Late on Sunday, the White House announced that it will put $350 million into new competitive grants states can use to develop educational standards designed to prepare students for college.

Meanwhile, Duncan said the $1.5 billion "Race to the Top" grants included in the stimulus plan are on track to be distributed soon, with the finalists for the grants announced next week.

Obama has proposed extending the program, as well as expanding it by $3 billion, to fund new education innovations, especially at semi-autonomous charter schools.. . . .

Who could have guessed that it would be the first African-American president who would be in charge of a national education plan that assures the resegregation of American schools.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sanity Prevails in Alabama: No Charters

From the Huntsville Times:

MONTGOMERY - A Senate committee Wednesday effectively killed legislation that would have authorized charter schools in Alabama, a cause championed by Gov. Bob Riley.

In a 13-4 vote strictly along party lines, the Finance and Taxation Education Committee voted to indefinitely postpone the bill. A House committee had done the same last week.

. . . .

Morton has said without the charter school element, Alabama's chances of winning federal grants will be hampered. But Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, and chair of the committee, said that loss could be made up by Alabama's other innovative education programs.

AEA has opposed charter schools, saying it would cause problems in funding both systems.

"That approach (charter schools) is always going to be a niche that some people will argue for," said Hubbert. "There's certainly now beginning to have enough research behind it to suggest it is not the answer to education's problems."

President Barack Obama has allocated $4.35 billion in education nationally for the Race to the Top program.

But Democrats on the committee said since Riley and Alabama's Republican congressional delegation have steadfastly opposed Obama's stimulus funds, it was unlikely the state would receive money under the new education program.

"Here we are again with our head in the trough of so-called stimulus money that may never come to Alabama," said Sen. Bobby Denton, D-Muscle Shoals. "We've got our budget based on stimulus money that almost our entire delegation in Washington voted against. Alabama doesn't deserve to get a penny of stimulus money, according to the votes that were cast."

Denton added that Alabama doesn't need a new program based on stimulus funds.

"What we're going to continue is to perpetuate two Americas (with charter schools)," he said. "And I do not want to do that."

Duncan on CSPAN

Duncan will be addressing the NGA on CSPAN today, 3 pm EST. I believe the CPSAN website will be streaming the event.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wake County's Anti-Diversity Board Majority Ponder Superintendent's Resignation

Photo: TAKAAKI IWABU - tiwabu@newsobserver
What do you get when institutionalized racism at the national level intervenes to buy a school board in order to destroy the nation's most successful school integration and diversity program? Keep an eye on Wake County, NC, and you will see the perfect case study unfolding before our eyes.

One thing you can obviously get is a righteously indignant superintendent who is not afraid to challenge the anti-diversity racist majority on the Wake County School Board. From the News Observer:

Wake County Schools Superintendent Del Burns could be out of a job as soon as Tuesday following his public criticism this week of the new school board majority's agenda.

The board hastily scheduled a special closed-session meeting for Tuesday to discuss whether to remove Burns, who has accused the new majority of engaging in "partisan political gamesmanship." For about $100,000, school board members could approve a payout that would allow them to immediately remove Burns ahead of his announced June 30 resignation date.

"Historically, when have you heard the CEO of a company publicly undermining the authority of his board?" said Debra Goldman, vice chairwoman of the school board. "At this point, you need to look at cutting your losses."

But school board member Kevin Hill, of the board minority, said it would be a mistake to remove Burns so soon. A former teacher and principal, Hill worries what would happen without Burns at the helm of the administration.

"I would hate to lose his direction and guidance with the system before we have the opportunity to bring a new superintendent on board," Hill said Friday. "Even if we were not able to hire a new superintendent by June 30, that would give us time to bring in a well-qualified interim."

There's no deputy superintendent because Burns eliminated the position after he was named superintendent in 2006. Three of his most senior administrators who might be asked to fill in are Chief Area Superintendent Danny Barnes, Chief Academic Officer Donna Hargens and Chief Business Officer David Neter.

Relations fray quickly

The relationship between Burns and the new board majority has rapidly deteriorated since Tuesday, when Burns issued a stinging surprise resignation announcement. He said he could no longer work "in all good conscience" for the school district he has served for nearly 30 years. Soon after the announcement, board chairman Ron Margiotta said he would try to talk Burns out of resigning.

Things worsened Thursday as Burns explained his reasons for resigning in a series of media interviews. He said he disagreed with the direction of the board's new Republican-backed majority, which wants to end the school system's diversity policy in favor of neighborhood schools. Burns said that would lead to a system of rich and poor schools. . . .