School takeover outline
In a breathtaking assault on local school control, the GOP-controlled State Board of Education is set to adopt rules the day after Election Day that could hand operation of struggling schools to for-profit companies. Local taxpayers who footed the bill could find their investments handed over to charter operators with none of the accountability required of locally elected school boards.
The proposed rules formalize procedures, with a clear emphasis on turning operation of the struggling schools to an “outside manager.” The individual or organization selected by the State Board of Education would have the same authority and exemptions as a charter school. Indiana charter schools, however, are exempt from the consequences of the state accountability law. The outside manager has no deadline for improving school performance and seemingly could operate it permanently.
“There is no data supporting improvement or gains that outpace public schools when turned over to for-profit entities,” said Steve Brace, executive director of the Fort Wayne Education Association, the union representing FWCS teachers. “One only has to look at local charters to observe the evidence. The agenda set out by the state superintendent is clear. I pray the public truly understands the consequences when local control is taken from them.”
Voters unhappy with decisions made by their local school board can throw out board members when they stand for re-election. They won’t have the same recourse with a charter school operator empowered by a State Board of Education and Department of Education seemingly intent on privatizing schools.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Bonnie Reiss, California Secretary of Education, published a commentary in the Sacramento Bee, reproduced below.
Here are two letters published in the Sacramento Bee on Oct. 29, responding to Ms. Reiss' commentary:
Re: ("To fix our schools …," Oct 27)
It is offensive that people continue to attack teachers (and unions… aka... teachers collectively) for the issues in education. In addition to being a teacher, I am actively involved in my teachers’ union. Let me share some information with those who don’t seem to “get it.”
Unions are made up of teachers. We are the ones that are in the classrooms doing the work everyday. Teachers are not wealthy business people that have a stake in seeing education fail. In fact, we care about children and choose to work with them to help them succeed.
Teacher effectiveness is hotly debated. Value-added is the cry for some. However, studies show that value-added ratings are unstable. The ratings based on one year are weak predictors of value-added ratings the next year.
Reforming education requires asking help from teachers. Ask us how we know when students are learning. Ask us how we know when they don’t and what we do to support them.
You want to know how to evaluate effective teachers? Ask us how we evaluate ourselves.
Bonnie Reiss ("To fix our schools …," Oct 27) thinks that American schools have fallen behind schools in other countries.
The basis for this statement is our low scores on international tests when compared to other countries. Our scores, however, are only low because we have such a high percentage of children in poverty, compared to other countries that participate in international tests. When we consider only middle-class children who attend well-funded schools, our math scores are near the top of the world.
Our overall scores look low because the US has the highest percentage of children in poverty of all industrialized countries (well over 20%, compared to Denmark's 3%).
Our educational system is not "broken," as Ms. Reiss claims. The problem is poverty.
Viewpoints: To fix our schools, unions must let go of status quo
Special to The Bee, OCT. 27, 2010
Bonnie Reiss (California Secretary of Education)
The New York City Department of Education's stunning announcement that it intends to release teacher ratings based on student test scores and academic achievement is the latest example of a growing national movement to fix our country's broken public education system.
Despite legal action from the teachers union, these school leaders in New York are standing strong in their commitment to release this crucial information.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and an inspiring group of reform-driven superintendents representing more than 1 million students here in California pushed this movement forward with our state's Race to the Top proposal and legislation to make student academic growth a factor in teacher evaluations. This work continues, mainly through the courage and determination of these districts.
Parents, business leaders, civil rights groups and many teachers have reached their breaking point in hearing the continued excuses of national and state teacher unions that use their power to fight for the status quo and block significant reforms to our broken system.
Our public education system is flawed today. It does not hold the adults who care for our children accountable; it does not allow teacher evaluations based on whether students are being given the tools to succeed; it does not allow for differential pay for teachers serving in our most challenging schools, and it gives lifetime tenure usually after two to three years – making it nearly impossible to lay off ineffective teachers.
The superb documentary "Waiting for 'Superman' " shows how remarkably difficult it is for school districts to dismiss ineffective teachers. We see how one in 67 doctors lose their medical license, one in 37 lawyers lose their accreditation and one in 2,500 teachers lose their position. In California, a teacher can receive tenure after two years – no other profession provides that kind of job security. "Waiting for 'Superman' " reminds us of two truths – most teachers are good and many are great, even heroic, but the teachers unions are the enemy of reform and work to protect the status quo at every turn.
Fixing K-12 public education in America and in California is the civil rights issue of our day. As our country has doubled the amount we spend per pupil in the last few decades, our students' achievement in English, math and science has remained flat, and our poor and minority children continue to lag behind. As a result, our country has fallen behind every other major country on our planet.
Funding our schools is important; however, we must make sure to keep our focus on fixing our broken system so that funding goes to the classroom and supports a system that is based on the accountability and effectiveness of the adults in this system – the teachers, principals and administrators who serve our students.
The publishing of teacher ratings by the Los Angeles Times, and now soon the New York City Department of Education, will hopefully mark a historic turning point for our state and our nation in our quest to fix our public school system.
In California, let us continue to choose the courageous reforms that are best for our students over the status quo of the system.
Note from SK: Secretary Reiss' background (sources: Huffpost, Miliken Institute)
* Operating advisor to Pegasus Capital Advisors, a private equity firm committed to investing in and developing scarce resources, commodities and sustainable companies.
* Secretary Reiss experience includes careers as an entertainment lawyer, accountant, producer and writer from 1981 to 1988.
* … was president of the Earth Communications Office, promoting environmental causes, and practiced entertainment and public policy law. She serves on the boards of the after-school program Arnold's All-Stars, The California Dream Team and Maria Shriver's California Conference on Women and Family. Reiss received a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Miami and a law degree from Antioch Law School.
Friday, October 29, 2010
The danger of the Gates call for a new era of elimination is that their immense funding power and influence (witness WHO's instant support) could cause damaging swings in funding and political priorities. As Robert Snow and colleagues have reported, funding for malaria control is falling well behind what it needs to be. Good intentions could cause adverse and unanticipated harms.Similar concerns could be raised regarding the foundation's role in K-12 public education.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
A brief clip from an in-depth investigative piece from NPR:
. . . . The law is being challenged in the courts. But if it's upheld, it requires police to lock up anyone they stop who cannot show proof they entered the country legally.
When it was passed in April, it ignited a fire storm. Protesters chanted about racial profiling. Businesses threatened to boycott the state.
Supporters were equally passionate, calling it a bold positive step to curb illegal immigration.
But while the debate raged, few people were aware of how the law came about.
NPR spent the past several months analyzing hundreds of pages of campaign finance reports, lobbying documents and corporate records. What they show is a quiet, behind-the-scenes effort to help draft and pass Arizona Senate Bill 1070 by an industry that stands to benefit from it: the private prison industry. . . .
From the NYTimes:
Parents of preschoolers who are applying to New York’s top private schools are now coming face to face with the test universally known as the E.R.B., a nerve-racking intelligence exam made more so because there is no do-over if the child has a bad day.Do read on!
But for a select few students who do not score well, there is something of a second chance. Admissions consultants, preschools and some private schools acknowledge that a small number of children every year are permitted to undergo another round of intelligence testing to supplement their results on the E.R.B., which stands for the Educational Records Bureau, the organization that administers the test.
The practice is not publicized on schools’ Web sites, and the psychologists who offer the service do not openly advertise it. Nor is it entirely clear what qualifies a child for another test, although those who are children of alumni or have a sibling already at a school are most frequently granted the option, according to consultants and schools.
“It is a suggestion that we sometimes make to those whom are part of our community and are looking for advice,” said Margaret Metz, the director of admissions at the Nightingale-Bamford School on the Upper East Side. Those families are not getting preferential treatment, she said, but simply have access to the school staff that other families do not.
“We would be out of line to extend that kind of advice to a family we don’t know,” she said. . . . .
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
For Boston's"creative destruction" disruptors, the game is subterfuge, influence peddling, and stealth bombing of the public schools and the teaching profession, when compared to open warfare that has been waged in Chicago and Detroit and New York. So it must come as a rude and embarrassing shock to see hundreds of parents and teachers and students openly and loudly trying to save their public schools, none of which are on the state's Worst list, from being turned into segregated charter properties to benefit the Eli Broads of the Commonwealth.
BOSTON — Hundreds of parents and teachers turned out Tuesday night to protest a Boston Public Schools plan to close or merge eight schools.
The district says the cuts are necessary because of an expected $50 million shortfall next year. There are also as many as 5,000 unfilled school seats because so many kids have transferred to charter schools.
WBUR’s Monica Brady-Myerov joined Morning Edition Wednesday to break down the meeting.
Bob Oakes: What was the mood like at the meeting?
Monica Brady-Myerov: It was loud and angry. Before the meeting started, a crowd was chanting, “Save our schools.” This chanting went on for about 20 minutes. Several hundred parents — some with their children — and teachers came with signs and T-shirts. When the meeting started, they charged the stage as school committee members started to take their seats. Boston school police had to get in front of the stage to keep them away.
This shows how hard it is for any district to close a school because every single one of the schools had a representative there Tuesday night, and they’re fighting this.
What has the school committee told these parents about why their schools need to close or merge?
Tuesday night was a hearing, so the committee members didn’t speak, but in previous communications they’ve told parents their top priority is giving students access to stronger programs. And the schools they want to close just aren’t good enough. So the district is citing MCAS scores or the high-school dropout rate to explain why each school should close, but I should note that none of the schools selected by the district are on the state’s “under-performing” list; they’re not in turnaround status. So there are many schools that are doing much worse in the district and they’ll stay open.
What did the teachers, parents and students tell the school committee?
They each had very personal stories, but the message was the same — these schools are being misrepresented by the district as under-performing as an excuse to be shut down. Kenny Jervis, a parent at Roger Clap Elementary School, says he was taken by surprise when he learned his child’s school would close:
Never before have us as parents, our administrators or those children been told they were an under-performing school. We find we had a bad year. Many people, many things, many teams have bad years. The answer is not closing.Parents also said they learned about these closures through a notice sent home in their kids’ backpacks in early October, and the note said there’d be a meeting that night. They say it’s just all happening too quickly and it’s not fair.
So, what are they asking for now? And are the committee and officials listening?
The parents want the process to start over. The school committee is scheduled to vote on this plan next week and they say the schools would close by the end of this year. And Tuesday night they didn’t say anything about it, so they say they’re listening, but they’re voting in a week. So it’s unclear how much they heard is going to affect their vote.
Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, spoke for teachers:
To close these schools primarily because they are small, or because they want to reuse their buildings or give them to a charter school, is a disservice to all of us who care about good schools, and it will only drive more people away from our schools, especially those schools that work.Superintendent Carol Johnson shows she is listening to some people because she changed one of the plans Tuesday night: She said the district would not close the Community Academy of Science and Health (CASH School) in the Hyde Park complex. They didn’t give a reason why, but the school officials believe it’s because they refuted the district’s numbers and showed that they do have high MCAS scores. So they’ve shown a willingness to change their minds, but the vote is next week.
So there’s no indication at this moment that they’re not going to ram this thing through?
By Caroline Grannan
“Woodside is a great school." -- Emily Jones
The movie “Waiting for Superman” tells the stories of five students around the country who are desperate to escape their “failing” public schools and get into the shining charters that are portrayed as their only chance of success – or at least that’s the tale the movie tells.
One of those stories takes place in my neck of the woods, here in the San Francisco Bay Area. The one white middle-class student among the five kids in the movie is Emily Jones, who lives on the suburban San Francisco Peninsula.
The story that Waiting for Superman tells is that Emily is desperate to escape her district public high school, Woodside High, because she’s a bright student who “doesn’t test well,” and due to Woodside’s antiquated and harmful tracking policies, she’ll be tracked into lower-level classes that will doom her to mediocrity.
She grasps at (as the movie shows it) her only hope – Summit Prep Charter, which does the opposite of tracking, requiring all its students to take six AP courses during high school.
Well, that story is false. Here’s the proof. On this video clip, John Fensterwald of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation interviews Emily.
The part in the movie illustrating how the horror of tracking sent her fleeing to Summit Prep features a graphic showing students on a conveyor belt, with the select few being elevated to higher-level classes and the rest being dropped onto a march to oblivion.
Yet in the video interview, Emily chats freely with John for five minutes and mentions a number of reasons for wanting to go to Summit instead of Woodside – but never mentions or even alludes to tracking. Just after minute five, Fensterwald brings up tracking. Emily comments on tracking only after Fensterwald prompts her.
And in fact, here’s what Emily says about Woodside High: “Woodside is a great school. I really liked it and I really wanted to go there before I saw Summit.”
That’s not what Waiting for Superman portrays. If the movie misled viewers with a false story about Emily, the line “fool me twice, shame on me” applies – we can’t believe anything it shows us.
Meanwhile, parents at Woodside High have created a huge banner and posted it across the front of the school:
“Woodside High School teachers – Man, You’re Super! Thank you for teaching ALL the students in our community!”
To make the real scores less embarrassing to Bloomberg's high-salaried covey of white, thin-lipped Brits running the City's ed charade, Klein has been instructed to email his pal, Arne Duncan, to tell him that the federally-mandated policy of identifying minorities could now be "problematic and confusing:"
. . . NY1 reports that NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein sent an email to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan saying that NYC school officials don't really want to classify students by race, per federal law, "[It] may well be problematic and confusing for many of our community members, particularly Hispanics, and could create a difficult public debate about the collection of this information."Perhaps Duncan, too, will decide that the solution to the minority-white achievement gap is to declare universal color-blindness. Oh, I almost forgot--Dunc has something a more "scientific"way to hide the disparity--it's called value-added growth models.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
When the corporate reformers hatched a plan to release flawed evaluation data in Los Angeles on thousands of teachers, Arne Duncan applauded, despite warnings from the National Academy of Sciences on the use of such data to make any kind of high stakes decisions. Instead of condemning the immoral and irresponsible action that led to a teacher's suicide, Duncan crowed, "What is there to hide?"
These are just two examples of Arne Duncan's dismissive attitude and public disparagement of teachers (who are terrified), the profession of teaching, and public schools. Now read from Duncan's own department part of an official letter issued for use by schools nationwide on the subject of bullying. Will Russalyn Ali call Arne Duncan out as the biggest bully in American schools today?
“Harassing conduct may take many forms, including verbal acts and name-calling; graphic and written statements, which may include use of cellphones or the Internet; or other conduct that may be physically threatening, harmful, or humiliating,” the letter says. “Harassment does not have to include intent to harm, be directed at a specific target, or involve repeated incidents. Harassment creates a hostile environment when the conduct is sufficiently severe, pervasive, or persistent so as to interfere with or limit a student’s [or teacher's?] ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school.”
Here is an amusing but scary video that shows two toy figures in a conversation that tells you everything you need to know about what is driving school reform today: a nonsensical obsession with assessment and data that has brought a rigidity to classes that makes real teaching and learning impossible.
Monday, October 25, 2010
We invite you to add your name to the below statement, initiated by ten prominent education scholars, that urges policymakers to not pursue heavy reliance on test scores for evaluating, rewarding and removing teachers. Links to relevant research on this issue are listed below. Please sign up and tell your friends and colleagues to do so as well. Thank you for your interest.Lawrence Mishel | President, Economic Policy Institute
The heavy use of VAM in a teacher evaluation system will misidentify large numbers of both effective and ineffective teachers. Leading authorities (such as the Board on Testing and Assessment of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Education, and researchers from RAND and the Educational Testing Service and a recent Economic Policy Institute paper by a group of prominent scholars, Problems With the Use of Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers) concur that VAM is too inaccurate to be used as the primary way to evaluate teachers. Most uses of test scores in teacher evaluation, in practice, actually fall far short of the flawed VAM measures because of a lack of appropriate data and the adoption of weaker statistical methods.
Adopting an invalid teacher evaluation system and tying it to rewards and sanctions is likely to lead to inaccurate personnel decisions and to demoralize teachers, causing talented teachers to avoid high-needs students and schools, or to leave the profession entirely, and discouraging potentially effective teachers from entering it. Educational outcomes will suffer as a consequence.Besides concerns about the accuracy of statistical methodologies, other practical and policy considerations weigh against heavy reliance on student test scores to evaluate teachers. Research shows that an excessive focus on basic math and reading scores can lead to narrowing and over-simplifying the curriculum to only the subjects and formats that are tested, reducing the attention to science, history, the arts, civics, and foreign language, as well as to writing, research, and more complex problem solving tasks.
Although standardized test scores of students are one piece of information for school leaders to use to make judgments about teacher effectiveness, such scores should be only a part of an overall comprehensive evaluation.
Legislatures should not mandate and districts should not pursue a test-based approach to teacher evaluation that is unproven and likely to harm not only teachers but the children they instruct.
Eva L. BakerPaul E. BartonLinda Darling-HammondEdward HaertelHelen F. LaddRobert L. LinnDiane RavitchRichard RothsteinRichard J. ShavelsonLorrie A. Shepard
Problems with the Use of Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers | Economic Policy InstituteLink here to add your name.
Letter Report to the U.S. Department of Education on the Race to the Top Fund | National Academy of Sciences
Using Student Progress to Evaluate Teachers: A Primer on Value-Added Models | Educational Testing Service
Getting Value Out of Value-Added: Report of a Workshop | National Research Council
Evaluating Value-Added Models for Teacher Accountability | RAND Corporation
The Stability of Value-Added Measures of Teacher Quality and Implications for Teacher Compensation Policy | National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research
Error Rates in Measuring Teacher and School Performance Based on Student Test Score Gains | U.S. Department of Education
For a full list of resources, click here.
Meanwhile, there are new levels of interest nationwide in socioeconomic integration (except in the U. S. Department of Education) as a way to boost achievement without turning schools into the brainwashing penal pedagogy camps of the KIPPs and their knock-offs. A new study by the Century Foundation, "Housing Policy is School Policy," reminds us once again that education reform is something that does not happen JUST INSIDE the schoolhouse. Until we begin to take seriously this fact, we will continue to treat educational symptoms without addressing the underlying disease, thus allowing the advocates of America, Inc. to continue to savage the public schools.
Valerie Strauss has a discussion going at WaPo, and here is Richard Kahlenberg's piece that addresses some of the concerns that have been expressed regarding socioeconomic integration.
TFA's Wendy Kopp donated $100 to Allen's campaign. Eileen Bakke, VP of the Imagine Schools, chipped in $1,000. Margaret Spellings gave $250, and Harlem Village Academy CEO Deborah Kenny donated $50. John and Laura Fisher both contributed $2,000 as did Lowell Milken. Friends of Charter Schools USA added $500.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Today's education deformers, weaponized with the same antique armaments, advocate for no such distinctions in their education crusade. Everyone should go to college. And besides, there aren't any vocations anymore to require vocational training.
Old habits are hard to break, however, and the evidence for it can be found in the fact that we still use the same primitive sorting devices we used then to do a similar sort of sorting, except now we pretend that poverty is not an excuse for scoring poorly. Back then we just assumed the poor deserved to be poor because of defective germ plasm, i. e., genes. Those who could not be sterilized could be isolated in ghettos, which they were. Today's poor scores by the poor, however, are blamed on bad teaching rather than bad blood, and it doesn't seem to matter that every standardized testing system, whether the SAT or the state tests such as the MCAS, shows almost direct correlation between family income and test scores.
Still everyone must go to college, rich or poor, or so says today's myth. Never mind that the well-heeled send their high-SAT scoring Winthrops and Caitlins to BU and Tufts, while Miguel or Chapelle must borrow heavily to hook up online to one of the predatory for-profit diploma mills that eventually will leave them with debts they can never repay with the worthless degrees they have earned.
But, of course, the bold deformers know none of this history that shows the same exploitative social reproduction happening today that occurred so often during the past hundred years of "reform." But educational history is not the only area of total ignorance on parade by today's billionaire boys' club, all glassy-eyed with positivity and as jittery with entrepreneurial zeal as a bunch of hamsters on new wheels.
Gary Stager picks up the story, with a few good books that could go a long way if today's deformers were not so adamant in remaining totally stupid in every area pertaining to education. From HuffPo:
Shouldn't people bold enough to call themselves "school reformers" be familiar with some of the literature on the subject?
Most of the school leaders who signed last weekend's completely discredited "manifesto," are unqualified to lead major urban school districts. Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein are not qualified to be a substitute teacher in their respective school districts. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan could not coach basketball in the Chicago Public Schools with his lack of credentials. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that they advocate schemes like Teach for America sending unprepared teachers into the toughest classrooms armed with a missionary zeal and programmed to believe they are there to rescue children from the incompetent teachers with whom they need to work. In public education today, unqualified is the new qualified.
The celebration of inexperience and lack of preparation is particularly disconcerting when it comes to education policy. When you allow billionaires, ideologues, pop singers and movie viewers to define reform, you get Reform™.
Reform™ narrowly defines school improvement as children chanting, endless standardized testing preparation, teacher bashing and charter-based obedience schools who treat other people's children in ways that the rich folks behind Reform™ would never tolerate for children they love.
If that were not bad enough, Reform™ advances a myth that there is only one way to create productive contexts for learning. It ignores the alternative models, expertise and school improvement literature all around us. Public education is too important to society to allow the ignorant to define the terms of debate. Great educators stand on the shoulders of giants and confront educational challenges with knowledge, passion and intensity when afforded the freedom to do so. There are a great many of us who know how to amplify the enormous potential for children, even if we are ignored by Oprah or NBC News.
Reading is important for children and adults alike. Therefore, I challenged myself to assemble an essential (admittedly subjective) reading list on school reform. The following books are appropriate for parents, teachers, administrators, politicians and plain old citizens committed to the ideal of sustaining a joyful, excellent and democratic public education for every child.
In A Schoolmaster of the Great City: A Progressive Education Pioneer's Vision for Urban Schools, school teacher and principal Angelo Patri identifies and solves every problem confronting public education. This feat is all the more remarkable when you learn that the book was published in 1917!
Recently deceased Yale psychologist Dr. Seymour Sarason published forty books on a wide range of education issues well into his eighties. A good place to start is The Skeptical Visionary: A Seymour Sarason Reader. You have to admire a guy who published a book with the title, The Predictable Failure of Educational Reform: Can We Change Course Before It's Too Late, twenty years ago! Books written in the 1990s, And What do YOU Mean by Learning, Political Leadership and Educational Failure and Charter Schools: Another Flawed Educational Reform? remain quite timely and instructive.
No serious citizen or educator concerned with the future of education can afford to ignore the role of technology in learning. Jean Piaet's protegé, Seymour Papert, began writing about the potential of computers to amplify human potential in the mid-1960s. His view is a great deal more humane and productive than using computers to quiz students in preparation for standardized tests. All of Papert's books and papers are worth reading, but I suggest you start with The Children's Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer.
Want to see what sustainable scaleable school reform looks like where children are treated as competent? The Big Picture: Education Is Everyone's Business by Dennis Littky with Samantha Grabelle describes urban high schools with small classes, consistent student teacher relationships and an educational program based on apprenticeship. Students don't go to "school" on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They engage in internship experiences in the community in any field that interests them. The other days of the week, the curriculum is based on whatever the students need to learn to enhance their internships. This is not vocational. It prepares students for university or any other choice they make. The Big Picture model has spread across the United States with impressive results.
The biography of Big Picture Schools co-founder Dennis Littky, Doc: The Story Of Dennis Littky And His Fight For A Better School, by Susan Kammeraad-Campbell may be the first school reform thriller. The book chronicles how Littky transformed a failing school and was wrongfully fired the second political winds changed. Anyone interested in "reforming" public education would be well advised to read this exciting page-turner.
MacArthur Genius Deborah Meier has forgotten more about effective teaching and urban school reform than today's entire generation of "reformers" ever knew. Meier is often considered the mother of the small school movement and her work as the founder of the Central Park East Schools and Mission Hill in Boston remain influential inspiration for parents and educators committed to the preparation of learners with the habits of mind required for a healthy democracy. Her book, In Schools We Trust: Creating Communities of Learning in an Era of Testing and Standardization, is a masterpiece sharing the wisdom developed over more than a half century of teaching and school leadership. You should also read Meier's weekly online discussion with Diane Ravitch, the Bridging Differences blog.
The Schools our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and "Tougher Standards" is but one of the many terrific books by Alfie Kohn in which he challenges conventional wisdom on sacrosanct topics like homework, grades, standardized testing and rewards with clarity and evidence. His books are fearless and make you think. His articles are collected at Alfiekohn.com. Alfie's small book, The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools should be on the kitchen table of every parent and teacher. If you're tired of reading, you may watch two terrific Kohn lectures on the DVD, No Grades + No Homework = Better Learning.
Dr. Theodore Sizer was a school principal, Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and unofficial leader of the high school reform movement over the past twenty-five years. His intellect, calm demeanor and practicality led to the creation of the Coalition of Essential Schools and a template by which any secondary school could improve from within. The first book in his "Horace trilogy," Horace's Compromise, tells the story of American high schools, warts and all, through the eyes of a fictional English teacher, Horace Smith. This book and the two that follow share Horace's epiphanies about the shortcoming of American high schools, their strengths and how he and his colleagues can make their school better. The organization Sizer founded, The Coalition of Essential Schools, continues to inspire such local reform efforts one school at a time.
National Book Award-winning author, educator and civil rights activist has been giving voice to the poorest children in our nation and the injustice they face since the 1960s. All of Kozol's books are equal-parts profound, infuriating and inspirational, but the tender and beautifully written, Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope, reminds us why we should care about public education.
Herbert Kohl has shared his insights as a teacher and teacher educator in dozens of brilliant books. His recent anthology, The Herb Kohl Reader: Awakening the Heart of Teaching, should whet your appetite for reading many more of his books.
There is no more fierce or tireless critic of the higher tougher meaner standards and accountability movement than Susan Ohanian. The book she co-authored with Kathy Emery, Why is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools? engages in the old-fashioned "follow the money" journalism we keep waiting for from news organizations. This book will help you understand how we got to reform being defined and advanced by billionaire bullies.
Right before he died last year, respected scholar, Gerald Bracey published, Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality - Transforming the Fire Consuming America's Schools. This book disembowels many of the premises and data used to justify the high-stakes accountability rhetoric and school reform strategies currently being advanced. It's a must read!
Not With Our Kids You Don't! Ten Strategies to Save Our Schools by Juanita Doyon is a short must-read book for parents tired of their schools being turned into little more than Dickensian test-prep sweatshops. The book was written by a fed-up mom, turned activist from Washington who has upended her state's political establishment in defense of the sort of high quality education Americans came to expect before No Child Left Behind.
As the video report by NJN shows, one of those schools scheduled for replacement was a hundred year old relic in Newark, where special ed children meet in broom closets and classes move from room to room looking for dry spots when it rains. No doubt Christie, Booker
Story with video:
By Marie DeNoia Aronsohn
State lawmakers are questioning why the Christie administration has put most of the 52 state reviewed, authorized and fully funded school construction projects on the 2008 Capital Plan on hold. All work at a construction site in Newark for the Oliver Street School has stopped. The same stoppage has happened at schools in Camden, Phillipsburg, and throughout the state. The new head of the Schools Development Authority (SDA) Marc Larkins stated all of the projects listed in the 2008 capital plan –with the exception of a handful of jobs already underway – will be stalled until his department can review them yet again.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Why did the number of students at level 1 [the lowest scorers] plummet? Becase the state lowered the bar and made it easier for students to reach level 2. On the sixth-grade reading test in 2006,students needed to earn 41 percent of the points to attain level 2; by 2009 students in that grade needed only 17.9 percent. In seventh-grade math, students needed to earn 36.2 percent of the points on the test to advance to level 2 in 2006, but by 2009, they needed to earn only 22 percent. The standards to advance from level 1 to level 2 dropped so low that many students could get enough correct answers to pass to level 2 by randomly guessing (p. 79).So in 2009 the Prince of Corporate Education eeked out another term as Mayor (after spending $100 million against a no-name candidate) based on campaign vow to improve schools, a vow that was kept only by cooking the accounting books. Now one year later, with the primary objective of corporate ed reform newly focused on the replacement of professional teachers in the blown up urban schools with white female temporary missionaries from TFA and the alternative knock-offs, Bloomberg wants to publicly display the new downwardly-adjusted student gain scores with the teachers' names attached as a way to burn big F's into the foreheads of thousands of NYC teachers.
Never mind that the National Academy of Science, the vast majority of research scholars, and even the Rand Corporation have all explicitly warned against the use of value-added models for making high stakes decisions, whether involving students or teachers. Even so, it took legal action this week by the teachers' union to stop the release of the scores.
How did the New York Times present the news of this brazen malfeasance on Bloomberg's part? Their headline focuses only on the union response, "Union Plans to Try to Block Release of Teacher Ratings," thus assuring the promulgation of the corporate script based on labeling and framing teachers as rejecting any kind of change. The fact is, of course, that teachers are hungry for change after 25 years of the same antiquated and crippling miseducation that has been foisted onto the nation by the Chamber of
A clip from WaPo:
On Wednesday, New York City education officials announced plans to provide news organizations ratings on teachers that are derived from calculations on how much year-to-year progress their students make on standardized tests.
But on Thursday, a city education spokeswoman said, officials put that plan on hold for several weeks while a state court considers a teachers union petition to block the release.
At issue is disclosure of records that include the names of thousands of teachers.
"We think the public has a right to the information," city education spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz said. She said the ratings are used in tenure and other personnel decisions. . . .
Friday, October 22, 2010
Thursday, October 21, 2010
As I'll lay out below, the Anschutz Foundation, chaired and financed by Philip, is quite fond of some of the biggest players in conservative education advocacy: the Manhattan Institute, Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, Hoover Institution, and the American Enterprise Institute. The foundation also gives to the Freedom Works Foundation, Washington Legal Foundation, and various other influential think tanks/organizations. I won't really get into it here, but it's fair to say this foundation uses their philanthropic arm much the way the Koch brothers do: to further their own conservative agenda while creating a climate that is more friendly for their businesses.
Many left-leaning moviegoers will believe the film must be true: it's produced by that great curly-haired fellow who made 'An Inconvenient Truth.' Never mind his misunderstanding of NAEP cut levels, his misrepresentation of tenure, and his refusal to provide even a slight bit of nuance about charter schools - the public comes away from this flick not even know what they don't know (yes, I've seen it). And, as far as someone like Philip Anschutz is concerned, that's just fine and dandy - it fits right in with the school reform agenda pushed by the think tanks he funds.
Before reading the list below, do know this is not a full list of the foundation's donations - but it is a pretty good summary of the donations to free-market think tanks involved in education policy/reform (with a few other donations tossed in for extra spice). You can see the full list of donations from the last three years here. The foundation also supports Evangelical organizations (Young Life, National Prayer Committee, etc) and other religious groups; the rest of the donations go to community organizations that many people support (Mercy Corp, Boys and Girls clubs, hospitals, Susan G. Komen Foundation), but I'm focusing on the organizations that are explicitly trying to shape public policy.
Without further ado, here's the list of donations made by Anschutz's foundation:
$75,000 to Alliance for Choice in Education
$10,000 to AEI
$10,000 to American Spectator Foundation (Anschutz owns AS)
$15,000 to Americans for Prosperity
$100,000 to Association of American Educators Foundation
$75,000 to Cato Institute
$50,000 to Claremont Institue
$15,000 to Evergreen Freedom Foundation
$10,000 to Freedom Works Foundation
$100,000 to Heritage Foundation
$15,000 to Hoover Institution
$75,000 to Manhattan Institute
$10,000 to Mercatus Institute
$65,000 to Pacific Research Institute
$50,000 to Washington Legal Foundation
$100,000 to Alliance for Choice in Education
$10,000 to American Spectator Foundation
$15,000 to Americans for Prosperity
$45,000 to Cato Institute
$25,000 to Claremont Institute
$7,500 to Freedom Works Foundation
$175,000 to Heritage Foundation
$40,000 to Independence Institute
$10,000 to KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy
$50,000 to Manhattan Institute
$15,000 to Mountain States Legal Foundation
$15,000 to National Right to Work Legal Defense
$30,000 to Pacific Research Institute
$50,000 to the Washington Legal Foundation
$7,500 to AEI
$10,000 to American Spectator Foundation
$5,000 to Americans for Prosperity
$5,000 to Freedom Works
$50,000 to Independence Institute
$20,000 to National Right to Work Legal Defense
$20,000 to Pacific Research Institute
$10,000 to AEI
$5,000 to Americans for Prosperity
$25,000 to Clarement Institute
$50,000 to Manhattan Institute
$5,000 to Mercatus Center
$25,000 to Pacific Research Institute
$35,000 to the Washington Legal Foundation
$5,000 to AEI
$7,500 to Americans for Prosperity
$50,000 to Manhattan Institute
$10,000 to Mercatus Center
$10,000 to Pacific Research Institute
$25,000 to the Washington Legal Foundation
$10,000 to Alliance for Choice in Education
$15,000 to Heritage Foundation
$100,000 to Manhattan Institute
$15,000 to Mercatus Center
$15,000 to National Right to Work Legal Defense
$20,000 to Heritage Foundation
$10,000 to Pacific Research Institute
$10,000 to America's Future Foundation
$250,000 to Denver School of Science and Technology for capital grant
$25,000 to Free Congress Research and Education Foundation
$20,000 to Heritage Foundation
$5,000 to Independent Institute
$10,000 to Leadership Institute (training conservative leaders)
$10,000 to Mercatus Center
$5,000 to Pacific Research Institute
$10,000 to Young America's Foundation
AEI - $7,500
$10,000 to Heritage Foundation
$5,000 to Independent Institute
$40,000 to Mountain States Legal Foundation
$15,000 to National Right to Work Legal Defense
$7,500 to Pacific Research Institute
$10,000 to the Heritage Foundation
$3,000 to the Heritage Foundation to support a lecture series (Heritage 25: Lecture Series)
$5,000 to Independent Institute
$5,000 to Leadership Institute
$15,000 to Mountain States Legal Foundation
$20,000 to National Right to Work Legal Defense for "Operation Liberty Bell" to "alert thousands of Americans of their right to stop union officials from using compulsory dues to elect candidates and support causes that employees oppose."
$10,000 to Washington Legal Foundation
In the article “Ultimate $uperpower: Supersized dollars drive Waiting for Superman agenda,” investigative journalist Barbara Miner looks at the money behind the movie, its promoters and those who will benefit from the movie. She writes, “In education, as in so many other aspects of society, money is being used to squeeze out democracy.” After examining the role of hedge funds, foundations and other players, she asks, “Should the American people put their faith in a white billionaires boys club to lead the revolution on behalf of poor people of color?”
To view the article and/or to obtain a downloadable PDF go to:
When Whittier Elementary School saw their plans for a school library threatened by Daley's wrecking ball, they took action with a sit-in to protect the property from destruction. These parents have won, and their victory must inspire other communities to act to restore the crucial learning resources that the corporate goon squads have targeted as cost-saving measures in communities that corporate America has written off.
Story from Democracy Now, the only national media source willing to publicize this victory over the Oligarchy:
By Kevin Sieff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 20, 2010; 12:53 AM
A textbook distributed to Virginia fourth-graders says that thousands of African Americans fought for the South during the Civil War -- a claim rejected by most historians but often made by groups seeking to play down slavery's role as a cause of the conflict.
The passage appears in "Our Virginia: Past and Present," which was distributed in the state's public elementary schools for the first time last month. The author, Joy Masoff, who is not a trained historian but has written several books, said she found the information about black Confederate soldiers primarily through Internet research, which turned up work by members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Scholars are nearly unanimous in calling these accounts of black Confederate soldiers a misrepresentation of history. Virginia education officials, after being told by The Washington Post of the issues related to the textbook, said that the vetting of the book was flawed and that they will contact school districts across the state to caution them against teaching the passage.
"Just because a book is approved doesn't mean the Department of Education endorses every sentence," said spokesman Charles Pyle. He also called the book's assertion about black Confederate soldiers "outside mainstream Civil War scholarship."
Masoff defended her work. "As controversial as it is, I stand by what I write," she said. "I am a fairly respected writer.". . . .
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
By David Swanson
Remarks at the Lincoln Memorial, October 20, 2010
It's an honor for me to help welcome Robin Monahan and Laird Monahan to this city, not because I can take any pride in this place, but because we can all take pride in what they've done and encourage others to do it. Walking across the country, talking to people directly and through local media outlets and through the internet, and walking here to the seat of our misrepresentative government, is a model for us all.
Phoning in our concerns and expressing them in voting booths, or taking part in Rorschach Test rallies where the demands are so vague that no champions of corruption are in the least bit threatened -- those are all good things, but not sufficient. Walking and talking, educating and organizing are needed too, and everybody can do a little bit of it even if they can't walk the full length of the country.
But what if they did? What if we helped each other do it? World War I veterans tried walking here and refusing to leave. The military attacked its own veterans, but the result included free college educations following the next global fit of militaristic insanity. In many nations around the world people have walked to the capitals and refused to leave when the corruption had not yet reached our current level. Unjust governments and laws have been overturned without violence, but never without resistance.
It's an honor also for me to be supporting MoveToAmend and the Backbone Campaign. We have to build a massive movement from the ground up, and we have to enjoy doing it -- lessons these organizations can teach.
Truckloads of money are being dumped into the upcoming elections, and people seem to be especially concerned that we don't know this time around where it's coming from. The hell we don't. It's coming from the same pluto-pentagon-corporatocracy it came from in lesser amounts last time, and being able to identify specific culprits last time didn't do us a damn bit of good. People are also horrified because some of the groups funneling and laundering the money take in foreign money as well as American. I hate to break it to my fellow Americans, I know what fun xenophobia can be, but the problem isn't the nationality of the money, the problem is quite simply the money which -- there can be very little doubt -- tends to come from people and businesses that have money to spare. This marginalizes and even cancels out the interests of those who do not have any money to spare. That's most people in this country and even more people outside of it.
There are people in this country who want jobs and who have noticed that, rather than hiring new employees, corporations are funding truly stupid and debasing political advertisements that make us all meaner and more ignorant. And we, the owners of the airwaves, don't see a dime of the money spent, which all goes to other corporations to whom we have generously given our airwaves. In an international study released last weak that ranked our nation near the bottom among wealthy nations in terms of enforcing the rule of law, we did score fairly well in the subcategory of not allowing the bribery of elected officials. Why? Because we don't call it bribery. We call it human rights. We call it the human right of corporate humans to freedom of speech for financial speech.
And the human right to bribery produces the same thing that produces it, in a vicious cycle: ever increasing wealth for the very wealthiest, and ever increasing unemployment, debt, foreclosures, and poverty for others. Sure, our government still offers minimal assistance to those out of work. But it does not put them to work in education, infrastructure, or green energy, as a majority of us want. Our so-called representatives oppose the will of the majority on every issue. We want Social Security left alone, though we wouldn't mind seeing those with large incomes pay in at the same rate as those with small. They want to start dismantling the program. We want the wars and the military defunded. They want to fight wars without end, using the excuse of exporting by force our type of government, despite 86 percent of Americans believing our government is broken. If the democracy we pretend to be spreading is broken, is there really a humanitarian side to our wars or are they sadistic through and through?
Most of us could never run for office if we wanted to, unless we knelt before the moneyed interests. Most of us, when we look at the choices in the polling booth, have to vote the evil of two lessers. And of course we should do so, but we also need to follow the Monahan example. Not only is their healthcare plan -- walking -- far more effective than any considered in this town, but they have pointed us in the direction of what is most needed: education and organizing around fundamental principles of the rule of law, which is rapidly being supplanted by the law of rulers.
We can't vote most congress members out no matter how unpopular their actions. We can't compel them to subpoena or impeach when called for, or to refrain when not called for. We can't enforce or even know what laws have been created through Office of Legal Counsel memos or presidential decrees. We can't know who has been pardoned for what when the president provides immunity or the Congress provides bailouts. We've lost habeas corpus and due process. We've handed the legislature over to the filibuster rule. Should we be surprised when Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito declares that,
"ordinary people stubbornly hold on to some old-fashioned beliefs and one of these is the idea that the Constitution means something, statutes mean something, and the role of the judge is to interpret and apply the law as written."
We ordinary people will apparently have to amend the Constitution to say that it means what it says, to say that only people are people, to say that only speech is speech, and even to say that "habeas corpus shall not be suspended" means "habeas corpus shall not be suspended." This could be endless. Because of that task and because of what we're up against in Washington, we may have to do this purely through the states and a new convention.
But whether we amend the Constitution in one way or the other, or rewrite it from scratch, or just bring some honesty to how it is read as currently written, in any case we will need an activist movement across the country to force this change.
Television comedians, good ones but still comedians, are planning to hold a rally here soon to restore sanity, by which they seem to mean quiet down anybody with a raised voice or an insistence on significant and urgent change. The Monahan brothers' website has a post invoking their predecessor, Paul Revere. Imagine if he'd done his job quietly. I want to restore sanity by restoring some fundamental ideas, the ideas the Monahan brothers have crossed the country for. We all need to climb up on rooftops and shout: Corporations are not people! Money is not speech! Plutocracy is not a government of, by, and for the people!
David Swanson is the author of "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union"
As Richard Rothstein points out in Grading Schools . . . (pp. 59-65), the National Academy of Sciences, no less, had grave reservations about the NAEP cut points in 1991, but Ravitch and her standardista friends kept pushing the unrealistic goals. As Bracey subsequently pointed out repeatedly to little effect, if the children in other countries who are cleaning our clocks test-wise were to take the NAEP, they would not be proficient, either. This point was never made, however, by the enemies of public education who used the fantasy proficiency levels to destroy confidence in the public schools.
Perhaps Diane's next book will deal with her role in the destruction of confidence in public schools that she now decries.
From her WfS review:
. . . .The movie asserts a central thesis in today’s school reform discussion: the idea that teachers are the most important factor determining student achievement. But this proposition is false. Hanushek has released studies showing that teacher quality accounts for about 7.5–10 percent of student test score gains. Several other high-quality analyses echo this finding, and while estimates vary a bit, there is a relative consensus: teachers statistically account for around 10–20 percent of achievement outcomes. Teachers are the most important factor within schools.
But the same body of research shows that nonschool factors matter even more than teachers. According to University of Washington economist Dan Goldhaber, about 60 percent of achievement is explained by nonschool factors, such as family income. So while teachers are the most important factor within schools, their effects pale in comparison with those of students’ backgrounds, families, and other factors beyond the control of schools and teachers. Teachers can have a profound effect on students, but it would be foolish to believe that teachers alone can undo the damage caused by poverty and its associated burdens.
Guggenheim skirts the issue of poverty by showing only families that are intact and dedicated to helping their children succeed. One of the children he follows is raised by a doting grandmother; two have single mothers who are relentless in seeking better education for them; two of them live with a mother and father. Nothing is said about children whose families are not available, for whatever reason, to support them, or about children who are homeless, or children with special needs. Nor is there any reference to the many charter schools that enroll disproportionately small numbers of children who are English-language learners or have disabilities.The film never acknowledges that charter schools were created mainly at the instigation of Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers from 1974 to 1997. Shanker had the idea in 1988 that a group of public school teachers would ask their colleagues for permission to create a small school that would focus on the neediest students, those who had dropped out and those who were disengaged from school and likely to drop out. He sold the idea as a way to open schools that would collaborate with public schools and help motivate disengaged students. In 1993, Shanker turned against the charter school idea when he realized that for-profit organizations saw it as a business opportunity and were advancing an agenda of school privatization. Michelle Rhee gained her teaching experience in Baltimore as an employee of Education Alternatives, Inc., one of the first of the for-profit operations.
Today, charter schools are promoted not as ways to collaborate with public schools but as competitors that will force them to get better or go out of business. In fact, they have become the force for privatization that Shanker feared.
Because of the high-stakes testing regime created by President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, charter schools compete to get higher test scores than regular public schools and thus have an incentive to avoid students who might pull down their scores. Under NCLB, low-performing schools may be closed, while high-performing ones may get bonuses. Some charter schools “counsel out” or expel students just before state testing day. Some have high attrition rates, especially among lower-performing students.
Perhaps the greatest distortion in this film is its misrepresentation of data about student academic performance. The film claims that 70 percent of eighth-grade students cannot read at grade level. This is flatly wrong. Guggenheim here relies on numbers drawn from the federally sponsored National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). I served as a member of the governing board for the national tests for seven years, and I know how misleading Guggenheim’s figures are. NAEP doesn’t measure performance in terms of grade-level achievement. The highest level of performance, “advanced,” is equivalent to an A+, representing the highest possible academic performance. The next level, “proficient,” is equivalent to an A or a very strong B. The next level is “basic,” which probably translates into a C grade. The film assumes that any student below proficient is “below grade level.” But it would be far more fitting to worry about students who are “below basic,” who are 25 percent of the national sample, not 70 percent.. . .
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Sent to the Washington Post, October 19, 2010
There is overwhelming evidence that poverty is indeed the problem in education: Studies show that middle-class American children attending well-funded schools are among the highest achievers in the world. The best way to raise school achievement is to protect children from the disadvantages of poverty, through health care, nutrition, and access to books.
The D.C. schools dinner program (October 19) is a strong step in this direction: "Food insecurity" is related to lower reading ability, slower language development, behavior problems, and missing school. Improving nutrition and preventing childhood hunger will raise test scores; "rigorous standards" and more testing will not.
Susan Ohanian has recommended this slogan: No child left unfed.
Berliner, D. 2006. Our impoverished view of research. Teachers College Review 108 (6): 949-995.
Coles, G. 2008/2009. Hunger, academic success, and the hard bigotry of indifference. Rethinking Schools 23, 2.
D.C. schools dinner program aims to fight childhood hunger
By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 19, 2010; 1:13 AM
D.C. public schools have started serving an early dinner to an estimated 10,000 students, many of whom are now receiving three meals a day from the system as it expand efforts to curb childhood hunger and poor nutritition.
Free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch long have been staples in most urban school systems. But the District is going a step further in 99 of its 123 schools and reaching nearly a quarter of its total enrollment. Montgomery and Prince George's Country also offer a third meal of the day in some schools but not on the scale undertaken in the city.
The program, which will cost the school system about $5.7 million this year, comes at a time of heightened concern about childhood poverty in the city. Census data show that the poverty rate among African American children is 43 percent, up from 31 percent in 2007 and significantly higher than national rates.
Officials describe the dinner initiative as having three goals: hedging against childhood hunger, reducing alarming rates of obesity and drawing more students to after-school programs, where extra academic help is available. It is also part of a broader effort, mandated by recent D.C. Council legislation, to upgrade the quality and nutritional value of school food with fresh, locally grown ingredients.
Until this year, most after-school fare was a snack of juice and a muffin or bagel. But for children who spend up to 10 1/2 hours at school - from early care at 8 a.m. to the end of after-care at 6:30, it wasn't enough. Officials started hearing from principals and teachers that not only were many kids hungry for the last few hours of a long day, some of them weren't eating much at home.
"We knew that a lot of kids were only eating at school," said Jeff Mills, director of food services for D.C. schools. And in some cases, "they were taking food home to feed their families," said Alexandra Ashbrook, director of D.C. Hunger Solutions, a group that works to improve nutrition and health for low-income residents.
The District piloted the program at a few schools last year before launching it full scale this fall. The city joins 13 states that serve after-school supper through the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program, which reimburses D.C. $2.92 for each meal.
Kids say the supper is a huge upgrade over the skimpy snacks.
"The chicken salad is good here," said Adam Shepard, 10, a fourth-grader at Thomas Elementary in the Kenilworth-Parkside community of Ward 7. "And the fruit has more flavor."
Kavon Wilson, a fourth-grader at Houston Elementary in Ward 7's Deanwood neighborhood, looked over his turkey, ham and Swiss chef salad and found something not typically offered during meals at home.
"Broccoli," said Kavon as he pulled a piece from the salad and held it between his thumb and index finger. He ate the salad and a banana, a piece of fresh fruit that teachers say is rarely consumed by children in his Northeast Washington neighborhood, and so finished his third meal at school that day.
A Gallup poll conducted for the Food Research Action Center, a nonprofit group that works to widen access to healthy food in schools, found that at least once between 2008 and 2009, 40 percent of D.C. households with children did not have enough money to buy food.
Crecynthia Hall-Cooper, president of PTA at Thomas Elementary, said that she makes an effort to expose her daughter, Christina, 8, to different kinds of produce at home, but many children at the school do not eat many vegetables.
"Most of the fruits they know. They're good with that. But some of them have never seen cauliflower or squash. It's less financial than they have just never been introduced to it," said Hall-Cooper.
Houston Elementary, where 90 percent of the 250 children meet income guidelines for free and reduced-price lunches, is an area of the city that the research group says suffers from poor access to healthy, affordable food.
"A lot of these kids have never seen a pear or held a plum," said David Strong, culinary director for Fresh Start, the catering arm of DC Central Kitchen, which prepares from-scratch meals at seven public schools as part of the District's food overhaul. Stong recalled a back-to-school night last month at Kelly Miller Middle School, also in Northeast Washington, when he asked an audience of parents if they'd had a piece of fresh fruit in the past two weeks.
"Maybe two or three people raised their hands," Strong said.
A 2009 study by the D.C. Health Departmnent concluded that 43 percent of students enrolled in public schools were overweight or obese, one of the highest rates in the nation. It was part of the impetus for the D.C. Council's passage earlier this year of the Healthy Schools Act, which mandated that school menus include low-calorie and low-fat meals.
Menus have been revamped completely. Gone are mystery meat, congealed pizza and vegetables steamed to the consistency of soggy tissues.
Mills' dinner offerings instead feature soy-ginger noodles with sweet-and-sour chicken and vegetables, chicken ceasar wraps and southwest corn, bean and cheddar salad. Every meal also comes with milk and some sort of fresh fruit from a farm in the region.
None of which means that if you serve it, they will eat it. Pizza on flat bread crust with fresh mozzarella and tomato sauce is a favorite. The three-bean salad, not so much.
"I don't eat salad. It makes me sick," said D'Andre, a Houston second-grader, who left his chef salad unopened in its clear plastic container and instead tucked into a bag of Doritos, washed down with a hefty pouch of Kool Aid Jammers Grape juice.
Emanuel Gross, a fourth-grader at Thomas Elementary, passed up his roast beef wrap last week for a bag of Doritos. He said he expected to have a "TV dinner" when he got home. Another student said she was having lasagna that she liked to sprinkle with sugar.
Strong said that getting teachers to buy into the idea of healthy foods also has been a challenge.
"These kids are getting wonderful from-scratch cooking, and then they go back to their homeroom and it smells like a quarter-pounder with cheese, where teachers are walking up and down the hall with their big Wendy's cups," Strong said. "Now we're a little bit past that."