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

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Los Angeles privatization pushers take second biggest slice of reactionary Walton pie

"[T]here should be no education marketplace." — Dr. Diane Ravitch (celebrated education professor and author)

In the long run, charter schools are being strategically used to pave the way for vouchers. - Jonathan Kozol
The indefatigable Valerie Strauss posted an excellent piece yesterday discussing where and how funds from the arch-reactionaries of the Walton Family Foundation were divvied out to various entities engaged in the privatization of public education. Second in funding only to the voucher dystopia and Michelle Rhee wasteland of Washington D.C. is Los Angeles, which saw the Ayn Rand worshiping Walton fortune heirs dump $11,981,508 into any organization proffering poverty pimping.

Time doesn't permit covering all of Los Angeles based privatization outfits on the list, but a cursory glance at some of our more notorious and egregious local offenders was worth compiling.

Camino Nuevo Charter Academy

It's no small irony that Los Angeles based corporate charter chain Camino Nuevo Charter Academy (CNCA), which claims that it wants its students to become "agents of social justice with sensitivity toward the world around them" is on this list. Camino Nuevo Elementary School #3 got $250,000 from the right wing extremists at the Walton Family Foundation who also fund anti-gay, anti-female, anti-union, and a host of other reactionary causes and organizations. Seems to me that you can't teach the principles of social justice if you're taking money from organizations whose entire purpose is to perpetuate and exacerbate injustice. Perhaps that's why CNCA doesn't mention the Walton Family Foundation on their donors page, they don't like being exposed for the charlatans that they are. Like all corporate charters, CNCA is slick in that they ape the language of social justice, while conveniently pouring money into their executives' pockets. Just one look at the composition of their board should remind people who CNCA really serves.

Sure enough, in practice CNCA's principles and actions reflect that of their funders. Remember this tidbit from the Broad Residency FAQ:

[P]rivate sector experience is important because there are business best practices which can improve the way the education organizations are operated.

I'm always wondering which of the three core business practices (lying, cheating, and stealing) Broadytes [1] are referring to. Well in this case it's lying. Camino Nuevo has been claiming that their newly selected principal chosen to run what was formerly a public school site recently handed over to CNCA was nothing less than a Professor at LMU's School of Education. Turns out he was nothing of the sort, but playing fast and loose with the truth is a hallmark of corporate charter chains.

Parent Revolution (née Los Angeles Parents Union)

Also prominent on the list is The Heartland Institute's sister organization, Parent Revolution (née Los Angeles Parents Union). The foppish millionaire from Benedict Canyon, Ben Austin, and his market minions stacked a cool half a million dollars in Wal-Mart blood money. Much of this was probably used for promoting Austin, Schwarzenegger, and Romero's corporate charter hostile takeover enabling law, the so-called Parent Empowerment Act. Many people know the law by the moniker Austin coined — the Parent Trigger — a vile name as I've discussed before:

[S]ince the wealthy Ben Austin, who lives in an affluent area that is "87.5% white and the median household income is $169,282," is blissfully unaware of how culturally loaded, and frankly racist, the word trigger is to use in conjunction with low income areas like Compton. Most importantly, [Caroline] Grannan, who is one of several experts on Parent Revolution, points out the organization is "not a parent group but was founded by charter school operators, backed financially by billionaires and corporate interests."

Parent Revolution are certainly no strangers to the kind of values and society the Arkansas Robber Barons envision, being experts in stoking "the subtle, insidious racism that fuels the charter/voucher movement."

I was puzzled recently seeing a gushing article discussing a seemingly self colonized former Teach For America and current Parent Revolution employee Christina Sánchez who described herself as an Ivy League Revolutionary. Apparently Ivy League graduates consider it "revolutionary" to take funds from the Broad/Gates/Walton Triumvirate to carry out a reactionary agenda of privatization. I suppose hosting forums with The Heartland Institute, quoting The Hoover Institutions' Andy Smarick, and pandering the wealthy westside racism are all part of the revolutionary's toolkit — if you're a teabagger.

The Parent [Counter]Revolutionaries recently attacked the distinguished Dr. Diane Ravitch, citing an another amateurish article by Matthew Yglesias — their third favorite writer after Ben Boychuck, and Andy Smarick. It's amazing what you can do with Walton Family Foundation money!

Green Dot Public [sic] Schools

The list clearly states: Green Dot Public Schools $500,000. This is remarkable, since Green Dot's well heeled CEO Marco Petruzzi stood in front of an auditorium full of students, parents, teachers, and other members of the Ánimo Justice community, a school he just closed by fiat, and said:

"We have no money. We're a non-profit. We don't have a rich guy that even [sic] gives us extra."

Seems that there is some cognitive dissonance to work out here. Since Petruzzi's salary eats up almost half of the that half a million, perhaps he really can't tell that the Walton fortune heirs are "rich guys" (and a gal) that give Green Dot money all the time, and they're not the only ones. This reliance on plutocrat funders certainly goes a long way towards explaining why the original Alain Leroy Locke Charter High School petition contained language requiring students "demonstrate a belief in the value of capitalism."

California Charter Schools Association (CCSA)

$3,940,652 of the Walton money went to the notorious California Charter Schools Association (CCSA), which was founded by right wing bigot and nativist Steve Poizner. It is currently led by serial liar Jed Wallace.

An activist from the grassroots organization Echo Park Moms for Education recently asked me for a brief description of the CCSA, so let me reproduce part of the email here:

CCSA is a trade association for charter-voucher schools, essentially a Chamber of Commerce for charters. Their primary purpose is to grow charter school market share.

CCSA is funded by both the membership dues their member schools pay, and the same plutocrat foundations that fund school privatization in general. For example The Walton Family Foundation, Broad Foundation, Gates Foundation, and others.

In addition to marketing and growing market share, the CCSA sells "products" and "services" to their constituent charter members. Insurance, consulting, loans, and the like. Even though they are all supposedly "non-profits" they sure sound like regular businesses at this point no? Of course all the businesses they deal with to provide services are for profit enterprises, so you can kind of figure out what's really going on there, given that they have a steady steam of taxpayer money pouring in. Consider this charter executive's scheme to make money, and you'll see what I mean.

Their motives are to continue to privatize as many schools as possible. Not only because the end goal of the people and foundations that fund them is to privatize (and profitize) the entire system, but because Charter Management Organizations have to continually grow market share in order to keep up with the costs associated with running schools while paying astronomical salaries to their executive staff.

Public education represents an annual 500 billion expenditure. Corporate vultures don't miss those kind of things. The celebrated author Jonathan Kozol discussed this: "The education industry represents, in our opinion, the final frontier of a number of sectors once under public control... represents the largest market opportunity... the K-12 market is the Big Enchilada." — Montgomery Securities prospectus quoted in Jonathan Kozol's "The Big Enchilada."

CCSA is the neutron star that Mayor Villaraigosa and the Coalition for School Reform funded Los Angeles Unified School District Board members orbit.

Special Mention for ICEF

Two ICEF schools are on the list for a quarter million each. ICEF, which was going to be swallowed up by a competitor, but the corporate merger fell through, has seen millions of plutocrat funds thrown at it in an attempt to save it. Moreover, neoliberal darling Caprice Young was brought in and now charter crook Parker Hudnut, a long time Broad/Gates plant in LAUSD, is going to be given a chance to navigate the sinking ship to the ocean floor. Given that millions of taxpayer dollars have vanished in addition to millions of dollars from the ideologically charged plutocrats willing to float ICEF at any price, two things come to mind:

First, with all that money missing with no explanation and former ICEF chief Mike Piscal having fled the state to a cushy charter post in Nevada, why aren't more people asking "where's the money Mike?"

Second, isn't it funny how the corporate lackeys in the reactionary Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) crowd who constantly parrot their Cato, AEI, Hoover, and Fordham mentors in saying you cannot save public education by throwing money at it, suddenly change their tune as soon as one of their privatized charter voucher schools are in trouble? If it's run by a private corporation, they're happy to throw money at it, and lots of it! Coincidence?

Mitigating Damage

In the end the damage done by years of privatization funding of this magnitude will be difficult if not impossible to ameliorate. While providing information about these nefarious foundations and their motives is helpful, it doesn't replace the dire need for grassroots organization and struggle on the ground. Los Angeles, like every other city that's targeted by the plutocrats that want to end public education, must begin to create community and parent organizations big enough to demand that the school districts remove every administrator (starting with Superintendent John Deasy) that's been planted by billionaires engaging in right wing social engineering. It means activists being able to explain to entire communities who funds astoturf groups like Parent Revolution and what their real goals are. It means community, parents, students, and teachers forming meaningful coalitions to take direct action against standardized testing and begin implementing worthwhile curriculum like project based learning, bilingual and ethic studies programs, and problem posing pedagogy. Those things would represent a true turning away from the status quo.

We have a lot of work cut out for us, but many people are beginning to see through the corporate smoke screens and the slick DFER opportunism. If you believe in public education and social justice, now is the time to fight. You can start by supporting the Save Our Schools March & National Call to Action. ¡El pueblo unido, jamas sera vencido!

[1] I know most people are inclined to call the graduates of the Broad Residency in Urban Education and Broad Superintendents Academy Broadies. However I prefer to call them Broadytes, since it sounds appropriately like troglodytes. Broad's vile institutions are essentially a School of the Americas for poverty pimps and privatization pushers.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Oceans Dying As NYTimes Gives Front Page Environmental Coverage to Bad Cable Boxes

The real story from Slate:
The oceans are in a far worse state than previously thought, according to a prestigious group of scientists. Of course, doom-and-gloom environmental stories are so common they’re almost yawn-inducing. But this one is different, insists Time’s Bryan Walsh. The state of the oceans never gets the coverage it really deserves and a report issued by the International Program on the State of the Ocean reveals things are more dire for the marine world than previously thought.

Sure, there’s overfishing, and global warming has created dead zones in the oceans. But the truth is far more frightening as we are “at high risk for entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history,” notes the report written by a global panel of experts. In what is the report’s most stark and shocking suggestion, scientists say that the unprecedented loss of species could be directly comparable to the five great mass extinctions of prehistory. Indeed, the panel of 27 scientists say that a “combination of stressors is creating the conditions associated with every previous major extinction of species in Earth’s history.”
Also shocking is how the scientists detail that the speed and rate at which the oceans are degenerating is much faster than anyone had previously predicted, notes the Independent. In fact, the scientists say that the first steps of a mass extinction may have already begun and some entire marine ecosystems may vanish within a generation. . . .
So there was a big story in the newspaper of record, right?   Not so much--the only mention was on the NYTimes' Green blog, out of sight of oligarchs like the high-rolling Koch Boys who work overtime on new ways to deny the undeniable fact that the future of civilization and most species on Earth hangs in the balance unless humans act radically to slow global warming during this and the next decade.  This is the ballgame.  No more playing if we lose this one.

So what does the Times think is important enough environmentally to put on the front page of the last Sunday edition?  A big story of inefficient cable boxes that consumers must do something about, while the oligarchs like the Koch Boys commit environmental genocide and crimes against the Earth never get called out by the corporate media, nor are they ever mentioned as perpetrators of mass extinction.

Just the tip of iceberg from SourceWatch:

Climate denial and delay

Fighting greenhouse gas regulations

ALEC vs. regional climate accords, 2011 - hidden involvement in at least 6 states
For more detail, see the "Climate Change" section of ALEC.
"The...Koch brothers and their dirty-energy buddies are now bent on dismantling one of the nation’s last hopes for doing anything about climate change in the near term: regional climate accords.

Today, a total of 32 states are active participants or observing members in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the Northeast, the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord, or the Western Climate Initiative. [ But ] that number will get a lot smaller if the American Legislative Exchange Council — a D.C.-based conservative advocacy organization funded by Koch family foundations, ExxonMobil, and other oil companies and big corporations—gets its way.

ALEC offers legislative templates to state lawmakers who don’t want the hassle of writing their own conservative bills....[and] has produced 800 to 1,000 pieces of so-called “model legislation.” [access to which is restricted]... which makes it difficult to trace a bill’s language back to ALEC. But...it looks like the template has been getting a lot of use lately. Language that regurgitates all of the right’s favorite—and in many cases fallacious—anti-cap-and-trade talking points has cropped up in nearly identical form in resolutions or bills in at least six states...Last year in Michigan...This year...in Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington...New Hampshire.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Rhee Finds Respect Among Governors Without Any

By Suzy Khimm for the Washington City Paper:
For those who viewed Michelle Rhee as an anti-union bully, the past few months have offered lots of chances to say “toldya so.” Soon after resigning as the D.C. Public Schools chancellor in October, Rhee began appearing with Republican governors who were busily making war on public-sector unions. But if longtime Rhee critics felt vindicated, another group has been less sanguine: left-leaning education reformers who worry that her moves could help tie education reform to a larger conservative agenda to crush organized labor.

Since the launch of Rhee’s advocacy organization, StudentsFirst, the optics certainly haven’t been favorable for her fellow Democratic reformers. In October, pugilistic New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie asked her to become his education commissioner. Rhee turned him down, but called herself a “big fan” of his plans to weaken the state’s teachers’ unions. Months later, Rhee became an adviser to Rick Scott, the Tea Party favorite who, as Florida’s governor, has fought to erect new barriers to collecting union dues. And when an even higher-profile clash over public-sector unions began this year in Wisconsin, Rhee was lauding its right-wing governor, Scott Walker, for taking an “important” step to rein in teacher pensions and “limit what they bargain.” . .  .

Brooklyn Ascend Brought to Earth by Former Teacher, Part 3

In this email, Emily Kennedy recounts what happened at the Brooklyn Ascend's abusive testing sweatshop during what was supposed to be Spring Break, 2011:

Spring Break Academy
In the months leading up to the state exam, we began to hear about the need to target our “bubble kids.”  In New York State, a child needs to score a 3 on the state exam in order to be considered “proficient.”  The “bubble kids” were those who had demonstrated that they were close to achieving proficient scores, or had indeed scored 3’s on mock exams (which we gave out each month) but not by enough points that we could feel confident they would pass the real test in May.  These were the kids, we were told, that we really needed to “zero in on.”  

And so the school came up with a plan to have these kids come in over their spring vacation for “Spring Break Academy,” so that they wouldn’t “slip” during this time.  To me, the idea sounded cruel.  After asking them to sit day after day in “STAR” (hands folded in front of them, backs firmly against the back of their seat, and eyes on the teacher at all times) from 7:30 to 4:30, while we forced endless test prep down their throats, and then asking most of them to stay an extra hour after school for tutoring, and then demanding that they also complete an hour of homework each night, we were then requesting to take away their vacation time to have them practice even more of the same inane test-prep memorization?  How was any of this supposed to lead to any real, meaningful learning for these kids?  And how could any of my colleagues believe that this was honestly part of a mission to give these kids an education that was actually of any value?  

What killed me, however, was that when our school director put out a request to have teachers work at Spring Break Academy, it was couched in this language of "making a monumental difference in our scholars lives" and "putting them on the path to college."  I still don't know whether or not our school director, who is a Teach for America grad, honestly believes he is acting in the best interest of the children, or if his desire for Brooklyn Ascend (and himself, too, I would imagine) to appear successful (with bar graphs to proving that our school is "closing the achievement gap") is so great that he simply has to remain in denial about what he is actually demanding of these kids.  
At any rate, despite being offered a fairly sizable compensation for working at Spring Break Academy, I declined to take the job.

(By the way, the “bubble kids” did get to spend half an hour each day of Spring Break Academy doing artwork.  When we returned from Spring Break, it was all over the walls – murals covered in phrases like “Ace the Test!” and pictures of kids saying, “Yay!  I passed!”) 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Media literacy, the common core standards, and the menu fallacy

Beach and Baker, in Ed Week, argue that "core standards must embrace media literacy." http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/06/22/36baker.h30.html?r=813299394#comments

The question that first needs to be asked is whether we should have common core standards at all. The idea of standards seems to be innocent and common-sense, but the current movement, from the beginning, has been a means to establish national tests, which are unnecessary (we already have plenty of tests that do the job very well; in fact, we have far more than we need), and expensive (MUCH more expensive than we originally thought).

Susan Ohanian has made this analogy: Proposing standards is like giving out menus to the starving. To extend the analogy, instead of providing food, we are debating what should be on the menu.

We can discuss standards only after we protect children from the effects of poverty (no child left unfed; better health care, access to reading material).
Here is a media and information-literacy activity for all of us.
Examine Arne Duncan's speeches, especially those in which he first announced the need for the common core.
Examine, in detail, the US Dept of Education documents supporting the common core and the related national tests, such as the Blueprint from the US Department of Education.
Examine media reports, comparing those selected for publicity by the NCTE Inbox and other organizations with those posted on susanohanian.org. See especially reports on who will profit financially from the common core standards and national tests.
Examine research related to the standards and national testing movement. Start with Berliner. Reread Bracey, Alfie Kohn.
Read documents both defending and criticizing the common core standards and national testing movement. Start with One Size Fits Few (Ohanian).

Critical literacy? YES
Common-core standards and national tests? NO

"What Research Says About the Effect of Teachers" EWA

Everyone should look closely at this new report from the Education Writers Association:

"What Research Says About the Effect of Teachers" 

By Stephen Sawchuk

There key points based on solid research of the evidence:

(1) "Are teachers the most important factor affecting student achievement?  It can be said:
Research has shown that the variation in student achievement is predominantly a product of individual and family background characteristics. Of the school factors that have been isolated for study, teachers are probably the most important determinants of how students will perform on standardized tests." 
(2) "Are value-added estimations reliable or stable?
It can be said:
Value-added models appear to pick up some differences in teacher quality, but they can be influenced by a number of factors, such as the statistical controls selected. They may also be affected by the characteristics of schools and peers. The impact of unmeasured factors in schools, such as principals and choice of curriculum, is less clear."
(3) "What are the differences in achievement between students who have effective or ineffective teachers for several years in a row? 
It can be said:
Some teachers produce stronger achievement gains among their students than others do. However, estimates of an individual teacher’s effectiveness can vary from year to year, and the impact of an effective teacher seems to decrease with time.  The cumulative effect on students’ learning from having a succession of strong teachers is not clear."
(4) "Do teacher characteristics such as academic achievement, years of experience, and certification affect student test scores? 
It can be said:
Teachers improve in effectiveness at least over their first few years on the job. Characteristics such as board certification, and content knowledge in math sometimes are linked with student achievement. Still, these factors don’t explain much of the differences in teacher effectiveness overall."
(5) "Does merit pay for teachers produce better student achievement or retain more-effective teachers? 
It can be said:
In the United States, merit pay exclusively focused on rewarding teachers whose students produce gains has not been shown to improve student achievement, though some international studies show positive effects. Research has been mixed on comprehensive pay models that incorporate other elements, such as professional development. Scholars are still examining whether such programs might work over time by attracting more effective teachers."
(6) "Do students in unionized states do better than students in states without unions?  
It can be said:
Students tend to do well in some heavily unionized states, but it isn’t possible to conclude that it is the presence or absence of unions that cause that achievement."

Brooklyn Ascend Brought to Earth by Former Teacher, Part 2

This is the second email that I received from Emily Kennedy prior to our interview.  I am using Emily's name because she wants wanted it that way, and it should not be construed as affecting the anonymity that I have assured, and will assure, to other interviewees involved in my current research project involving former teachers of KIPP.
Dear Teacher Friends and Other Like-Minded Folks,

By now, a lot of you have heard about the experience I had teaching at charter school in Brooklyn this year.  I hope my ranting wasn't too much, but if it was, you may want to skip to the next paragraph of this email so you don't have to hear it all again.  To the rest of you, however, I'd like to share a little bit about what I saw happening at this school. 
Our students, whom we were required to refer to as "scholars," were required to remain silent and sit with their hands folded in front of them for virtually the entire day. There was close to zero peer interaction at any time, and we were not allowed to plan any hands-on or inquiry-based learning activities at all (activities that are meant to spur curiosity, for example, and foster critical thinking skills).  Beginning in December, we were required to teach only test-prep lessons - which were mostly scripted by supervisors, and mostly focused on tricks they could use to get "right answers," rather than developing genuine forms understanding - until the state test, which was in May.
My group of students, deemed by mock-test data to be the "lowest-performing" in the school, were no longer allowed to have science and social studies like the rest of their peers; instead, they received an extra hour of reading comprehension and math instruction each afternoon.  (Since it's [writing] not tested, by the way, there were absolutely no writing lessons throughout the entire day.)  I wasn't allowed to differentiate lessons to help students with different learning needs find success, because it was considered an inefficient teaching strategy.  Not surprisingly, the same students - mostly those with ADHD and learning disabilities - struggled day in and day out to meet the same "high expectations" as the rest of their peers, and fell further and further behind.  [IEPs for special needs students never made to the classrooms.]
Additionally, my students were asked to spend an extra hour either before or after school participating in tutoring, where they did even more test prep.  For most of my students, that meant a school day that ran from 7:30 to 5:30, with only a 15 minute break for indoor recess - which, by the way, was only allowed if they also finished the hour of homework we gave them each night.   Perhaps worst of all, the pressure to pass the tests was not even remotely concealed from the kids.  Instead, they were constantly informed that they would not go to fourth grade if they failed.
Needless to say, I had many miserable kids - constantly complaining of stomachaches, headaches, and fatigue - in my class.  If ever they slumped in their seats, however, or nodded off during class, we were required to mark the behavior as a "correction" on a chart, and tell them that their "excuses" would not be accepted.  (Teachers, by the way, received only a 15 minute lunch break during the day, so we also complained of stomachaches, headaches, and fatigue. Needless to say, [too] our excuses were also not accepted.)    

I don't know yet how the kids ended up doing on their state exams.  For their sake, I hope they did well and will all get to move to the next grade.  If they pass, however, it will have come at the expense of so many other valuable skills that I deeply believe children should be getting in school and that they will undoubtedly need for the rest of their lives - the opportunity to learn with and from one another, for example, or to learn to think critically and creatively about problems without having the solution spelled out for them right away.    

Please don't get me wrong - I am not saying that charter schools, in general, are necessarily a problem, and I am certain that there are many that are much more child-centered and oriented toward real and deep forms of learning than the one I worked at.  But my experience at this school has left me deeply troubled.  Through movies like "Waiting for Superman," most of us have heard by now about how there are certain schools that are "closing the achievement gap." 
 But I have begun to suspect that this claim is largely an empty one, even if the test scores they post are impressive. When I hear about how children are educated at schools like KIPP or Harlem Success, for example - which are frequently held up as the models of education that we should be aspiring to give all urban children - I hear of many of the same practices that I witnessed at the charter I worked at.  And so I wonder, are these children really getting the type of education they deserve?  The type of education that most of us got as children?  If they are being silenced and their education is being treated like a product that can be churned out of a factory, as they were at the school I worked at--do good test scores really mean anything?    

Certainly, there is room for debate on issues of choice, testing, and accountability in public schools.  But I have become deeply worried about the direction that current education policies are taking us, particularly in the world of urban education.  I'm worried for teachers, and the type of teaching we'll be able to do as time goes on, and I'm worried about the kids, and the type of education they'll be getting.   

And so - and this gets to the real point of this email - I think it's time to have our voices heard, and I want you to join me.  From July 28th-31st , I'm planning to attend a conference and rally in Washington, D.C. called "Save our Schools and National Call to Action."  The "guiding principles" of the rally are 1) equitable funding for all public school communities, 2) an end to high-stakes testing for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation, 3) teacher, family, and community leadership in forming public education policies, and 4) curriculum developed for and by local school communities.  Take a look at the link http://www.saveourschoolsmarch.org/ for more details.  (And, education-buffs, notice that the key-note speakers are going to be Jonathan Kozol and Diane Ravitch.)  

If you have time, please take a look at the link, and consider joining me in D.C. that weekend.  It probably won't change any policies right away, but hopefully, it will spark much-needed conversation about what is happening in today education policy and the direction things are moving in.  And maybe it will help some people, who may have forgotten, remember that education is really about giving children opportunities to grow and succeed in all sorts of different ways - not just teaching them tricks to pass tests.

Thanks so much for listening, and please let me know if you're interested in coming with me that weekend.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bitter Lessons from Chasing Better Tests

In a New York Times Op-Ed (22 March 2009), E. D. Hirsch Jr. argued, "We do not need to abandon either the principle of accountability or the fill-in-the-bubble format. Rather we need to move from teaching to the test to tests that are worth teaching to."

This refrain parallels the contradictory messages coming from the Obama administration that claims supporting a change to the culture of testing in NCLB, but then argues for better testing. 

Secretary of Education Duncan, in a speech about NCLB reauthorization (24 September 2009), acknowledged concerns about testing, but immediately took the same position as Hirsch: "Until states develop better assessments--which we will support and fund through Race to the Top--we must rely on standardized tests to monitor progress--but this is an important area for reform and an important conversation to have."

A better test is all we need?

Nothing could be further from the truth. We have been searching for the perfect test for a century now in education, and that has led us to the "reliability" and "validity" traps. In other words, technically Hirsch is right, but authentically, a test will never be anything more than a pale reflection of what any student knows.

Let's consider first something we claim is much less important than education (although that claim may be tenuous)--football. 

It would be quicker and cheaper to design a multiple-choice test that is well designed (high reliability and validity) and replace all football games, including playoffs, in order to determine high school, college, and professional championships.

Imagine Friday nights across the US with teams lined up in desks bubbling frantically to reach the state championship!

But we would never stand for this.

Somehow, however, this is exactly what we call for again and again as a solution for improving the education of our children in a free society--higher standards, more testing, and greater accountability.

The flaws of testing and accountability are failing our students and our society. Those failures include:

• A culture of testing perpetuates the misconception that teaching and learning somehow exist within an educational vacuum--as if the lives of children are suspended when they walk through the doors of school. Accountability principles that hold people accountable for conditions beyond their control will always fail, but that is what we do in education.

• Test data are never a pure representation of learning. A test score is impacted by effort of the student, quality of the test, conditions of the testing day and time, and a number of other factors that have nothing to do with learning. Multiple-choice tests, as well, are always impacted by guessing.

• Teaching to a test and seeing learning as a static body of knowledge are the lowest possible visions of teaching and learning. A basic argument of John Dewey that we have failed to see in this country is that education can never fully anticipate what any student needs to know, but schools can prepare children to be expert learners, something that a multiple-choice test as a goal or a measurement can never capture.

• The best test possible can only be an approximation of learning. Any test must reduce what is being measured and depend on statistical approximations to create the perception that we are measuring something much larger than we are. As James Popham has argued, a test provides us data from which to make inferences, but at best those inferences are approximate--unless you make the test so direct and simplistic as to create a situation where we are collecting data that means almost nothing.

• Once we make any test sacred, that test replaces the larger and more authentic goals of school. Instead of reading, students take test-prep to be tested on reading; instead of writing, students take test-prep to be tested on writing. . .and the list goes on. Testing and teaching to a test are always asking less of our students.

Correlations, validity, and reliability are powerful in the world of statistics, and they sound impressive when we call for making our schools more rigorous. But in the end, teaching and learning are human endeavors that are messy, chaotic, and nearly impossible to reduce to simple measurements that truly mean anything of value.

Calls for better tests are merely digging a deep hole even deeper. The solution to better schools is not better tests but inviting students to read, write, and think for hours each day throughout the school year, never lifting their heads or pencils to get ready for a test.

But we must place a more challenging and engaging school day--one not concerned with tests--within a social commitment to the lives of children outside of school as well. Hungry children care little about tests or reading--nor should they.

If we want better and even eager readers in this country, we don't need better reading tests, we need students who are actually reading; if we want highly literate and critically thinking young people to enter and rejuvenate our free land, spending much of their schooling trying to get a higher test score is not the solution, regardless of the test they are chasing.

And if we persist in calling for better tests while ignoring the burden of poverty on children's lives, those children will continue to learn the bitter lesson about what we truly value as a people.

[Originally published in a slightly different form at OpEdNews.com on 27 August 2010]

Squeeze out unnecessary testing, not librarians

Squeeze out unnecessary testing, not librarians

Sent to the New York Times, June 25, 2011

The US Department of Education is planning the most massive and expensive testing program ever seen on the planet, far exceeding the already unacceptable level of testing demanded by NCLB. There is no evidence that the new tests will work and plenty of evidence that they will not. If they fail, students and teachers will suffer, but testing companies will keep their profits and will get to try again.

At the same time, schools are "squeezing out librarians" (June 25). Study after study shows that quality school libraries staffed by a credentialed school librarian are related to higher reading scores.

For a fraction of the cost of the new standards and tests, which have no research support, we could easily improve our libraries and staff them with knowledgeable librarians, an option with plenty of research support.

Stephen Krashen

Research on impact of credentialed school librarians on reading achievement reviewed in Schools Libraries Work! (2008), Scholastic Library Publishing. Available at: http://www.iasl-online.org/advocacy/make-a-difference.html

Original Article: In Lean Times, Schools Squeeze Out Librarians http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/25/nyregion/schools-eliminating-librarians-as-budgets-shrink.html?emc=eta1

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Brooklyn Ascend Brought to Earth by Former Teacher, Part 1

Everyone who knows anything knows that KIPP can only remain a billionaire's choice boutique option for segregating urban children who are desperate enough that they will forego their childhood and suffer years of repeated indignities for a chance at an education, which amounts to a miseducation built upon unceasing test prep and a behavioral catechism more suitable for a penitentiary than a school. 

Unfortunately, the total compliance and total surveillance model of KIPP has inspired a number of high-flying knock-offs like Brooklyn Ascend and its two sister schools in Brooklyn, which use the familiar chain gang methods to denigrate, demean, and destroy the spirits of kids, all in the twisted and debased name of equal opportunity for children who are captive to poverty.  Social justice in blackface is the only adequate way to describe this caricature of equal education.

Little do parents know what goes in these corporate madrassa hellholes, and little did anyone else know until a former teacher stepped forward to call a spade a spade.  Her name is Emily Kennedy, and it wasn't until she read the "tremendously disturbing" book by Ascend's founder, Stephen Wilson, entitled "Learning on the Job: When Business Takes on Public Education," that her unsettled feeling about the goings-on at Brooklyn Ascend began to come into sharp focus.  In Emily's initial email to me, she said that "my experience at Brooklyn Ascend has been nothing less than depressing, demoralizing, and at times even shockingly upsetting."

As we were arranging an interview, she sent me this email with some of those disturbing details as her year at Brooklyn Ascend was winding up:
Just so you know a little bit more about what I have experienced at Brooklyn Ascend, here are some highlights from my year:
  • In December, after giving our third graders a mock exam and realizing that their test scores were not looking very good, our administrators decided to do a third-grade "restart," in which they rearranged the classes and schedules so that the lowest performing "scholars" were all in one class (my class).  [Emily was hired as special needs teacher.]
  • Third grade teachers were required to return to work over Christmas break (including New Years Eve) for special "training" in "Teach Like a Champion" techniques [the book by Doug Lemov that has replaced teacher preparation and professional development in these chain gangs].  During this training, a lady named Sue Welch from "Building Excellent Teachers" instructed us on what our first day back with the kids would look like:  four hours (8-12pm) of teaching nothing but procedures.  When I asked if perhaps we should do something to make it at least a little more "fun," she told me that fun was absolutely not an "appropriate objective."   
  • In order to boost test scores, science, social studies, and Spanish were removed from the schedule of the low-performing group.  Instead, we were required to teach an additional reading and math block during this time.
  • Scholars [the word that has replaced children] in the low-performing group were required to attend after-school-tutoring sessions for more test prep.  So, after going to school from 7:30 to 4:30, they needed to stay an extra hour for more test prep - in addition to completing the hour of homework that we are required to give each night.  (8 year olds!!)  Needless to say, I had many kids falling asleep in class and having frequent stomach aches.  Our school director - a TFA grad - thought that if we brought more of the "j-factor" to our classroom (joy factor) that they would be more motivated.  To him and other Doug Lemov zealots, this means doing cheers like "Pick of your pencil and YOU WILL BE REWARDED!" in between long independent work sessions. . . .
  • Small-group guided reading (when we were once able to choose books that the kids would really enjoy) was replaced with small-group test-preparation sessions, where teachers were given scripted lessons and packets that mimic the reading comprehension portion of the New York State test.  
  • All lessons from February break onward were based on specific skills that our "data analyst" determined for us by looking at results from the mock exams.  
  • During the testing weeks, we had "pep-rallies" each morning in which they kids had to do chants about how they were going to ace the tests.  

I could go on.  I am so angry that this is what our country is allowing education to become.  


Friday, June 24, 2011

Please test us too: A bad solution to a non-existent problem

The US Department of Education is planning the most massive and expensive testing program ever seen on the planet, far exceeding the already unacceptable level of testing demanded by NCLB.

The Department of Education will require, as before, summative testing at the end of the academic year, but will also require testing several times during the academic year (interim testing), and the plans include the option of pre-testing in the fall to be able to measure growth during the school year.

The Department will, as before, test students in math and reading, but is also encouraging testing other subjects as well, and the National Science Council is eager to cooperate, recommending new standards and tests in science ("Successful K-12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics," National Science Council, 2011).

All this is in response to a STEM crisis that may or may not exist (e.g. David Berliner, in Pereyra et. al. (Eds), PISA Under Examination. Amsterdam: Sense Publishers.)

Even if the STEM crisis were real, there is no evidence that all these new standards and tests will improve achievement, and plenty of evidence that it won't (e.g. Krashen, S. A Fundamental Principle: No Unnecessary Testing (NUT), available at sdkrashen.com. The National Science Council report provides only mildly suggestive evidence supporting standards, p. 27.).

The new standards and tests will also cost billions, not only to develop and revise the tests, but also to administer them on-line. This is money that is badly needed elsewhere.

In short, the National Council of Science proposal to toughen science standards and add more tests is a bad solution to a problem that may not even exist.

The GREAT Teachers and Principals Act: Not a great idea

The Growing Excellent Achievement Training Academies (GREAT) Teachers and Principals Act (H.R. 5218) promises to set up special academies with high admission standards, use "innovative" clinical approaches to teacher education, and focus on "achievement" (increasing test scores).

GREAT is based on a false premise, addresses a non-existent crisis, and ignores the real crisis.

The false premise: "Studies show that nothing makes a bigger difference to learning that great teaching." No. Out-of-school factors, especially poverty, have a much larger impact. The best teaching in the world will have little effect when children are hungry, in poor health, and have little or no access to reading material.

Non-existent crisis: There is no evidence of a serious crisis in teaching quality in the US. Studies show that American students from well-funded schools who come from middle-class families outscore students in nearly all other countries on international tests. Our average scores are less than spectacular because we have the highest percentage of children in poverty of all industrialized countries (over 20%; in contrast, high-scoring Finland has less than 4%).

The real crisis: What this means is that the "problem" with American education is not teaching quality but poverty. Poverty means inadequate nutrition, inadequate health care, exposure to environmental toxins, and little access to books, all of which are strongly associated with lower school performance.

We are all interested in improving teaching and school administration. There is, however, no evidence that our schools of education are failing and there is plenty of evidence that our first priority at this time must be to protect children from the effects of poverty:

This means

*"no child left unfed,"

* adequate health care for all children, and

* access to quality libraries.

We can do this for a fraction of the investment we are now eager to make in new standards, new tests, and high-sounding training academies.

If all of our children had the same advantages middle class children have, our test scores would be at the top of the world.

Scores are Up in Newark--Murder Scores, That Is

By 65 percent.  Meanwhile, the most fabulously-grandiloquent and morbidly-obese governor in New Jersey history cuts more police officer position in Newark, while cops in his leafy suburbs earn six figures for writing traffic tickets.  Christie is also slated to sign a bill choking off collective bargaining by public employees, despite his lie 3 months ago that he supports collective bargaining.  Plus cut pension and health care benefits for public employees in order to sustain the hundreds of millions in tax cuts for Jersey's millionaires.

Not to worry, though, for Newark's ostensibly-black and oratorically-gifted mayor, Cory Booker, has just completed a swing down to Atlanta to rally 4,000 charter school troops to redouble their efforts at creating more of the segregated total compliance testing sweatshops that have proven so effective in culturally neutering and psychologically sterilizing black and brown children across urban America:
Charismatic Newark Mayor Cory Booker told the annual National Charter Schools Conference in Atlanta this morning, “This room is full of modern-day freedom fighters who refuse to accept what is and demand every day what we know can be.”

In fiery rhetoric suitable for a civil rights rally, Booker called for an end to an achievement gap that he described “as wide as the Grand Canyon.” He applauded an effort by charter schools “to transform pitfalls into pools of potential.”
Freedom fighters, do you hear!  Yes, we can return to segregated chain gang schools, Cory.  Hallelujah! and Amen. But it's gonna take your help and the help of every oligarch throughout this fair land.  Do go on, Brother Cory:
“This is not our children’s fault. It is our fault,” Mayor Booker said. “We must stop playing the blame game where we blame the parents or the teachers or the politicians or the community. This is what the charter movement is about. Democracy is not a spectator sport where you stand on the sidelines and give colorful commentary.”

Charter school advocates “do not let their fear grow bigger than their faith. They do not let their inability to do everything stop their determination to do something,” he said to applause.

“We are part of a charter school community under attack in every single state,’ Booker told the 4,000 attendees. “We are part of a charter school community that is trying to show the nation that our children should be our focus, that we not have vilification of children in charter schools.”
We know whose fault it is, whatever "it" is.  Do you hear that, you anti-charter child vilifiers?  Just to make sure you understand, to be against corporate charter schools is to be against children!  Corporate foundation charter schools are under attack, I say, in every single state, even the ten states that don't have charter schools.  Amen! Under attack by those public employee union scumbags.  But don't worry, for Cory's mammoth white friend, Gov. Christie is on the job back home to deal with that rabble.

Booker ended with a flourish that, no doubt, channeled Booker T. Washington at another big Atlanta meeting in 1895, when Booker T. became one of the true black elites of his day when he said
In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.
Think global economy, amen, Brother Booker.

Which gets us back to where we began this little rant: the murder rate in Newark:
Booker talked about the 13-year-old shot and killed in Newark over the weekend in an argument that the mayor says was over a girl. He bemoaned the high incidence of homicides among young black men and the school-to-prison pipeline.

“We fought the greatest war on American soil for the liberation of our people yet we imprison more and more of our own in prisons of ignorance every single day.”
I know, Cory, it is all just too ironic for words, even for someone with your gift for them.

Duncan's Extortion Plan for NCLB Waivers Faces Roadblock

I was wondering if Congress would ever notice Gates and Broad carrying away K-12 education policy.  After all, Team 2 (R) has its own group of oligarchs to pay homage to, and they will not stand by and see Team 1 (D) carve off all the good pieces of this multi-billion dollar goose called public schools.  From the NY Times:
In a sharp rebuke to the Obama administration, the Republican chairman of the House education committee on Thursday challenged plans by the education secretary to override provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Law, and he said he would use a House rewrite of it this year to rein in the secretary’s influence on America’s schools.

Responding to Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s promise to grant states waivers to the education law’s most onerous provisions if Congress failed to rewrite it, the committee chairman, Representative John Kline of Minnesota, sent Mr. Duncan a letter on Thursday demanding that he explain by July 1 the legal authority that he believed he had to issue the waivers.  . . . .

. . . . Mr. Duncan has predicted that unless the law is rewritten quickly, 80,000 of the nation’s 100,000 public schools could be declared failing this fall, demoralizing educators and paralyzing administrators with red tape. 
Notice that the demoralization and paralysis was no concern as the poorest 30 percent of schools were blown up during the past 9 years. Only when the demoralization and paralysis reaches into the leafy suburbs do the neolibs spring into action.
This month, Mr. Duncan said that if Congress failed to rewrite these and other provisions by September, he would use his executive powers to waive them — but only for states that agreed to embrace the administration’s education priorities. He used that formula in the Race to the Top grant competition, awarding money to states that opened new space for charter schools, for instance. 
In his letter, Mr. Kline asked Mr. Duncan to explain how the Department of Education had the authority to grant waivers “in exchange for reforms not authorized by Congress.”. . . .

. . . . “If you read the waiver language in the law, the secretary absolutely does not have the right to arbitrarily think up good reform ideas and require that states do them in return for waivers,” said Frederick Hess, a director at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group. “That’s a violation of constitutional design.”

Meanwhile, some states are taking matters into their own hands. On Tuesday, Idaho’s superintendent, Tom Luna, said his state would not lift its mandated testing targets this year, as required under the federal law. “If Congress and the administration will not act, states like Idaho will,” Mr. Luna wrote.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wall Street Bottomfeeders Circling NJ Schools

HT to Stan Karp:

Star Ledger, 6.23.11
"What do we want? A vote! When do we want it? Now!" while an assortment of politicians pledged obeisance to what these parents demanded: An end to the unchecked growth of charter schools.

Wall Street Journal 6.23.11
A new group backed by two hedge-fund founders is taking aim at New Jersey's largest teachers union. Better Education for Kids wants to end the use of seniority in teacher-hiring decisions . . . and weaken tenure. . . . It's the first major foray from the hedge-fund community into New Jersey's education-reform scene. Hedge-fund managers and employees have been active in New York education circles for years, as support for charter schools came into vogue.

KIPP's Underwhelming College Completion Rates Are Even More UnderWhelming

 Rupert Murdoch’s education czar, Joel "McChoakumchild" Klein, has a blog post at Valerie Strauss’s page today that touts, once more, a sketchy report published by the KIPP Home Office on KIPPster college graduation rates:
KIPP followed its 8th grade graduates, who were overwhelmingly from poor (85%) and minority (95%) families, and found that, ten years later, 1/3 of them had graduated from college, a rate that was about four times their expected graduation rate and the same as that of white students. 
Let me see if I can offer a little context for this claim.
In the SRI study (2008) of five KIPP schools in the Bay Area, researchers found at least a 45 percent attrition rate among students in five Bay Area KIPP corporate charter schools between grades 5 and 8:
 Together, the four schools began with a combined total of 312 fifth graders in 2003-04, and ended with 173 eighth graders in 2006-07 (see Exhibit 2-3). The number of eighth graders includes new students who entered KIPP after fifth grade (p.12) (my bolds).
So the combined 8th grade cohort from the five schools was 55 percent of what it was 4 years earlier, and this 45 percent attrition rate includes recruits along the way who enter the Bay Area KIPPs in grades 6, 7, and 8.  We do not know how much the original 2003-2004 5th grade cohort actually shrank. 55 percent?  65 percent?

In determining college completion rates for KIPP’s recently-released college completion report, the KIPP Home Office conveniently uses as a baseline the percentage of students who finish 8th grade at KIPP's segregated chain gangs, rather than the percentage of kids who complete all four grades at KIPP.  This brand-protecting approach does not take into account the 45 percent (or more) attrition rate between grades 5-8.

KIPP’s home office folks declare that “as of March 2011, 33 percent of students who completed a KIPP middle school ten or more years ago have graduated from a four-year college” (Executive Summary).   If we were to actually take into account the large number of low-performing and resistant students that KIPP “loses” between grades 5 and 8, the percentage of college completers when compared to the number who begin at KIPP would be cut by almost half.

Even so, let’s use the KIPP-friendly number of 55 percent completion rate for grades 5-8.  When multiplied by .33 (college completion rate for students who completed KIPP before 2001), we find that 18 percent of those KIPPsters who began KIPP in 5th grade 14 or more years ago have actually completed college. 

Now this 18 percent is still slightly more than double the national low income college completion rate arrived at by the KIPP Home Office, if we can believe the 8.3 percent figure for “comparable students from low-income communities across the country,” which is based on extrapolations from some often-incomplete U. S. Census data interpreted by Tom Mortenson.  Note, too, that Mortenson’s 8.3% graduation rate for students from families in the bottom quartile of income is based on attainment by age 24, six years past high school, whereas KIPP’s numbers of 33% college grad rates are for KIPP graduates who may be as old as 27 or 28.  

In any case, KIPP’s use of Mortenson’s extrapolations to arrive at its 8.3 percent college graduation rate for low income students should be taken with a big grain of salt, particularly in light of the true difficulty in getting accurate college graduation data based on income:
A major issue in higher education is the disparities in enrollment, persistence, and attainment among low-income students.  IPEDS [Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Systems] does not collect income data on students and therefore does not have the ability to provide graduation rates by student income (American Council on Education, 2010, p. 9).
The bottom line: the graduation rate, at best, for students who began KIPP fourteen or more years ago is an underwhelming 18 percent, almost half of the rate reported by the KIPP Home Office, which has not bothered to submit its college completion "research" procedures for peer review. Given the unlimited financial resources of the KIPP network of hedge funders and billionaires, along with its ongoing and unceasing assistive interventions to get former KIPPsters through high school and into and through college, this 18% figure is even less impressive. 

With a similar level of resource allocation in public schools for mentoring, coaching, and advising beyond middle school, one can only imagine what the results could be if the same billionaire investment and energy went into creating socioeconomically diverse public schools where kids actually learn to think, rather than being trained as culturally-neutered and positivized drones who only know how to say “how high?” when Authority says “jump.”

That scenario, however, is not in keeping with "preparing for the global economy," which means working harder, longer, and for less. Oh yes, and being nice about it in the meantime.