Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How TARP Neatly Covered the Real Bailout from the Fed to the Banksters

Bloomberg News has a story this week that provides the details on the how the TARP provided cover for the Fed to dish $7 trillion to American banks.  Cenk Uygur offers the following explication of the article that runs about 12 minutes, along with a nice linkage to the outrage by the 99%.  A stunning civics lesson that should lead any citizen with money remaining in these institutions to move it out to a credit union or local bank.

Misrepresenting Diane Ravitch

Sent to the New Republic, Nov 29, 2011

Contrary to Kevin Corey’s description (Dec 15, 2011, “The Dissenter,”) when Diane Ravitch discusses international test scores, she does not compare the best American schools to other countries’ average scores. Rather, she is citing analyses that consider the effects of poverty.

The crucial finding is that middle-class American children attending well-funding schools do very well on international tests, with scores that are at or near the top of the world. Our overall scores are unspectacular because we have so many children living in poverty, over 20%, the highest of all industrialized countries. In contrast, only 5% of children in high-scoring Finland live in poverty.

High poverty means inferior health care, inadequate diet, and little access to books, all of which have devastating effects of school performance.

The entire national standards/testing movement is based on the premise that our schools are failing, and the chief evidence is international test scores. The studies Ravtich refers to, however, show that the problem is poverty, not bad teaching or a lack of national standards and tests.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Got 4K? Start Teaching Today--in Texas

Online and for-profit teacher "preparation," another innovative job creating strategy from the job creators who created Rick Perry.  A clip from the Hechinger Report:
iteachTEXAS, begun in 2003, is the first for-profit, non-university based alternative certification program to expand across state lines, with the newly created iteachU.S. operating programs in Louisiana and Tennessee. Additional offshoots will soon come to Michigan and at least two other states.

Diann Huber, president of iteachU.S., said the program’s goal is to provide a new career opportunity for people who have been laid off in other industries, like auto workers in Michigan, who may be able to use their knowledge to teach high-need subjects like math and science.

Texas began experimenting with alternative certification programs in the mid-1980s. Then, the state “didn’t regulate who was operating private programs, and people saw that was a way to make a fast buck,” said Rae Queen, the president of the Texas Alternative Certification Association, who also runs a for-profit alternative certification program in San Antonio. Queen said the state now has a much more rigorous application and audit process for certification programs. In 2008, the state also instituted a minimum grade-point average of 2.5 for all teaching candidates.

Still, Queen said the reputation of for-profit programs suffers. “There are some companies out there that say ‘you want to be a teacher, start today,’” she said, “and they’ve done that through their own advertising campaigns.”

Some traditional educators believe that for-profits, which typically charge around $4,000 for a program leading to certification, accept applicants with little regard for demand or how they might perform in the classroom. “The for-profits will take anyone,” said Nell Ingram, director of the Dallas Independent School District alternative certification program, adding that her program will not offer courses in subjects that are not in demand.

Principals offer mixed reviews of teachers hired from for-profit programs. Most say those teachers succeed in the classroom at the same rate as traditionally certified ones, but others report that they seem less prepared.

Bettejean Gosnell, who earned her certificate through iteachTexas about seven years ago and teaches special education in Argyle, said she was the alternative certification “poster child,” a former Nabisco employee whose busy life drew her to online teacher certification courses. But while she said the program “worked out perfect” for her, she said it did not support her once she was in the classroom.

“I remember thinking that I wanted constructive criticism,” Gosnell said, “and I wasn’t getting it.”

The state’s most recent effort to regulate the industry came in the last legislative session, when Representative Mike Villarreal, Democrat of San Antonio, offered a bill that would require potential teachers to spend at least 15 of the mandated 30 hours of practice teaching in classrooms.

The bill struggled to pass — in the end, a watered-down version made it through — because of opposition from some in the for-profit industry, who went after it, Villarreal said, because of their interest in “having as much flexibility as possible to deliver a very simple curriculum with limited time commitment” to process clients.

Vernon Reaser, president of A+ Texas Teachers, testified against the bill at a hearing in March. Reaser said it could have unforeseen practical consequences that could burden school districts and would not necessarily raise the quality of teachers in the classroom.

Reaser, who did not return further requests for comment, supported the changes to the bill that ultimately passed. . . .
Today the iteachU.S. website says that the NCATE site visit is planned for the Spring of 2010.  Hmmm.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Deception 101 - Charter Schools: from co-location to astro-turf parent groups



[click here if you can't hear this audio]

Public School advocates Cheryl Ortega and Robert D. Skeels on KPFK's Politics or Pedagogy with John Cromshow November 17, 2011. Posted on November 20, 2011 by #occupyLAUSD

Support the Paper, Support the Revolt

You don't have to be from New York to support the effort:
Join the thousands of educators and concerned citizens across New York State and our country who support our efforts! Everyone is welcome to support the paper!

Across New York State, there is growing concern about the direction being taken by the  State Education Department. In breathtaking speed, State Education officials have made sweeping changes to how our schools operate, how our teachers and principals are evaluated and how our students are assessed.

As building principals, we applaud efforts aimed towards excellence for all of our students. We cannot, however, stand by while untested practices are put in place without any meaningful discussion or proven research. This is why we have prepared an Open Letter of Concern Regarding New York State's APPR Legislation for the Evaluation of Teachers and Principals. Written by two high school Principals (Dr. Sean C. Feeney and Dr. Carol C. Burris) and reviewed and edited by Elementary, Middle School and High School principals across Long Island, this letter states why everyone who cares about schools should be concerned about New York's APPR Legislation. The letter also articulates a better path forward for our schools and students.

Visit the links on the side to read the paper, support the paper and read the research behind the paper. The key to change is to make your voice heard! Be sure to contact your local legislators in order to express your concerns about the APPR legislation.

New York Principals Standing on Principle, Revolt

"It’s education by humiliation,” Mr. Kaplan said. “I’ve never seen teachers and principals so degraded.”

NYC principals are standing up for teachers and to the state DOE and for the first time in history are finally revolting - a revolt that needs to take place and go viral all across the country. The lack of respect and degradation has finally reached a tipping point. It's about time.

Michael Winerip in the NYT reports How Principals are Protesting the Role of Testing in Evaluations:

Through the years there have been many bitter teacher strikes and too many student protests to count. But a principals’ revolt?

“Principals don’t revolt,” said Bernard Kaplan of Great Neck North High School on Long Island, who has been one for 20 years. “Principals want to go along with the system and do what they’re told.”

But President Obama and his signature education program, Race to the Top, along with John B. King Jr., the New York State commissioner of education, deserve credit for spurring what is believed to be the first principals’ revolt in history.

As of last night, 658 principals around the state had signed a letter — 488 of them from Long Island, where the insurrection began — protesting the use of students’ test scores to evaluate teachers’ and principals’ performance.

Their complaints are many: the evaluation system was put together in slapdash fashion, with no pilot program; there are test scores to evaluate only fourth-through-eighth-grade English and math teachers; and New York tests are so unreliable that they had to be rescaled radically last year, with proficiency rates in math and English dropping 25 percentage points overnight.

Mr. Kaplan, who runs one of the highest-achieving schools in the state, has been evaluating teachers since the education commissioner was a teenager. No matter. He is required by Nassau County officials to attend 10 training sessions, as is Carol Burris, the principal of South Side High School here, who was named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State.

“It’s education by humiliation,” Mr. Kaplan said. “I’ve never seen teachers and principals so degraded.”

The trainers at these sessions, which are paid for by state and federal grants, have explained that they’re figuring out the new evaluation system as they go. To make the point, they’ve been showing a YouTube video with a fictional crew of mechanics who are having the time of their lives building an airplane in midair.

“It was supposed to be funny, but the room went silent,” Ms. Burris said. “These are people’s livelihoods we’re talking about.”

Last year New York was awarded $700 million as one of 11 states, along with the District of Columbia, to win a Race to the Top grant. The application process was chaotic, with Dr. King’s office making the deadline by just a few hours. To win a grant, states had to pledge to follow policy priorities of the Obama administration, like evaluating teachers by student test scores, even though there were no implementation plans yet.

New York committed to an evaluation process that is based 60 percent on principal observations and other subjective measures, and from 20 to 40 percent on state tests, depending on the local district.

In written responses to questions, Dr. King said while there are bugs in the system, “we are confident that as the state law on teacher evaluations phases in over the next couple of years, those educators charged with ensuring its successful implementation will do so professionally.”

Asked if he was surprised by the number of principals who had signed, he wrote, “It’s not at all surprising” that the introduction of a new evaluation system “would produce anxiety.”

Although testing is central to the education reform movement, the word “testing” is considered crude in elite education circles, and in a three-page response to questions, the commissioner never actually used the t-word. However, he did include multiple euphemisms like “data on the growth in student learning.”

“A significant body of research,” he wrote, “demonstrates that an educator’s past impact on student learning is a strong predictor of that educator’s future impact on student learning and a useful component of a fair, transparent, and rigorous multiple measures evaluation system.”

Merryl H. Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents, said that because of the new “scientific, objective” evaluation system, the public would see that teachers were being held to a rigorous standard and would not dislike them so much. “I’m seeing a much more positive focus about teaching, and I like that,” she said.

t is hard to overstate how angry the principals who signed are. Mario Fernandez, principal of Stillwater High School near Saratoga, called the evaluation process a product of “ludicrous, shallow thinking.”

“My gosh, it seems to be slapped together,” he said. “They’re expecting atornado to go through a junkyard and have a brand new Mercedes pop up.”

Katie Zahedi, principal of Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook in Dutchess County. said the training session she attended was “two days of total nonsense.”

“I have a Ph.D., I’m in a school every day, and some consultant is supposed to be teaching me to do evaluations,” she said. “It takes your breath away it’s so awful.”

She said one good thing about the new evaluation system was that it had united teachers, principals and administrators in their contempt for the state education department.

Several interviewed said the most reliable way to evaluate teachers was to make 5-to-10-minute “walk through” visits to their classes several times a month. “My principal is frequently in my class, and that’s the way it should be,” said Marguerite Izzo, a fifth-grade teacher in Malverne, on Long Island, who was the 2007 state teacher of the year.

Ms. Izzo calls students up to her desk, one by one, every day to discuss their work. “It’s the same for children or teachers: immediate feedback is best, while it’s still fresh in their minds,” she said.

The principals’ letter was drafted last month by Ms. Burris and Sean Feeney of the Wheatley School. “We tried and tried to talk to the state, but they don’t listen to us,” Ms. Burris said.

In his responses, Dr. King wrote, “The principals do raise some legitimate concerns that we are carefully addressing.” But he also wrote, “The structure of the evaluation system — including the use of data on the growth in student learning — is set in state statute.” (Translation: Testing full speed ahead.)

About 300 principals out of 4,500 in the state had signed by early November, when Newsday wrote a front-page story about the letter. There has been steady growth since. Three-fourths of Long Island principals have placed their names on the list.

Outside of Long Island, Westchester County has the most principals on the letter, 31.

Only 18 out of 1,500 from New York City have signed. Ms. Burris is not sure if the principals are not aware, or if they fear retribution from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who is a big supporter of using data to calculate growth in student learning.

Tennessee Treasurer, David Lillard, Undercuts Local Decisions to Rein In Corporate Charter Schools

Following the blueprint from Gates and the other Business Roundtable education reform scammers, the Tennessee General Assembly passed laws last year that uncapped segregated corporate charter school expansion and opened the door to the fabulously-lucrative cyber school business, wherein underpaid adjunct teachers in their underwear monitor the "progress" of children working through stacks of 19th Century worksheets on their 21st Century IPads. 

There is evidence, however, that citizens in Tennessee and elsewhere are coming to understand the economic and human costs of turning corporate America loose on their children to educate.  Work hard, be nice, indeed.  Recently the Blount County School Board unanimously rejected the county's first suburban charter school after 7 months of consideration and a final 5 hour meeting on August 2:
The greatest concerns were related to finance. Troy Logan, the system’s fiscal administrator, questioned how the district could absorb the cost of shifting funds to the HOPE Academy.

“The system is going to lose revenue, and the board will have to make cuts based on all things being equal,” Logan said. “However, the children won’t come from one school or classroom.”

“We could lose close to $1 million,” said board member Brad Long in the meeting. “We’d be affecting 11,000 students and benefiting 180 students. Money is my issue. I’m not willing to affect 11,000 students for 180 students.”
Despite the unanimous vote and lengthy deliberations, Republican State Treasurer, David Lillard, summarily concluded that the Board was wrong and there would be no million dollar loss of funds.  Just like that.  And so tomorrow at 10:30 AM, the State Board of Education will make the final determination on whether to support the local decisions by publicly elected officials in Blount County or to toe the new line drawn by the corporate ed reform establishment headed by Michelle Rhee's ex, Kevin Huffman, down in Nashville.

Meanwhile, an even larger decision awaits Mr. Lillard, as the city and county school boards in Memphis and Shelby County have rejected 17 new segregated charter applications that would drain $26 million from severely-underfunded public schools.

Take a couple of minutes to call the Treasurer, Mr. Lillard.  Urge him to support local school board decision making in Memphis, rather than rule by big government.  Isn't that what Republicans are all about?

Tennessee State Treasurer
Tennessee State Capitol, 1st Floor
600 Charlotte Avenue
Nashville, TN 37243-0225
Phone: 615-741-2956


Hours of Operation: Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. CST


The Memphis story from the Daily News:
As the Thanksgiving holiday weekend began, the countywide school board had put the two public school systems’ long-held ambivalence about charter schools on a fast track to Nashville.

The board on Tuesday, Nov. 22, denied the applications of 17 charter schools for Shelby County’s two public school systems claiming the fiscal impact of the schools would be too much of a financial hardship on each system – city and county.

The financial hardship exception is a part of state law that requires each school system to cite specific numbers in terms of student enrollment impact as well as specific dollar figures. The Tennessee treasurer is the arbiter of whether there is a financial hardship the state will recognize.

Memphis City Schools superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash told the board the possibility of 14 new charter schools in a city system that already has 25 with two more starting next year would be too much for a system with charter school growth of one to three per year.

He said it is “glaringly clear that Memphis City Schools cannot now and in the future withstand the financial impact to the district that this many charter schools approved would have on the district.”

Cash estimated the fiscal impact on the MCS budget at $26 million that would have to be shifted from other areas.
Deputy superintendent Irving Hamer described the charter schools as an “unfunded mandate” from state government.

“We actually have never been able to afford it,” he added. “It will compromise the integrity of the operation of Memphis City Schools.”

Shelby County Schools officials had taken an even harder line on charter schools saying they didn’t fit the philosophy of the system. After the old county school board rejected a charter school application last year, the applicant appealed to the state. Tennessee education officials ordered the board to approve the charter school – the first and only in the system.

SCS officials will claim in their application that the two additional charter schools would have an impact of $3.5 million when added with the existing charter school.

The voice vote by the board governing the two still separate school systems was not unanimous but appeared to be well past the 12-vote majority needed.

Some board members said the bid for financial hardship materialized too quickly for them to vote based on a presentation the same night. Board member Vanecia Kimbrow said the proof was not adequate and she could not support the denial of charter schools that otherwise met benchmarks in the application process.

“They only leave our system when they have no other options,” Kimbrow said of parents who choose charter schools. “It is not my job to take that option or that choice away from anyone.”

Board member Jeff Warren, however, said the schools are a financial drain on conventional public schools that still must remain open and run buses even with the estimated 4,545 students Cash’s staff estimates would transfer out of those schools and among charter schools. That’s in a school system with 106,000 students kindergarten through 12th grade.

“We are locally dealing with a national political issue,” Warren argued. “We have legislators in Nashville that are being influenced by a national agenda that says charter schools are the way to go. I think as a local board we need to say … not now and not for Memphis.” . . . .


Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Look at Finnish Schools and Teacher Preparation

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has an excellent piece on the Finnish system, including the video that you see below.  As you watch the short video, listen for how the special education teacher in the poor Finnish school talks about the basic skills that all their children get--it's a very different conception of what is "basic" when compared to  endless test-prep worksheets that non-privileged American children get:



Below is a chunk of the article by Erin Richards. Do go the Journal-Sentinel and have a look at the charts and searchable database:
. . . .Wisconsin's government and demographics differ from Finland in some important respects, but there are still lessons to be learned from the steps this northern European nation has taken to better serve all students and educators, including:

Improving teacher recruitment and training at colleges of education.
Offering a high-quality curriculum with pathways to high-quality vocational training at younger grades.
Emphasizing play and the arts in education.

In the current political environment, it's easy to fixate on the most tenuous aspects of Wisconsin's educational landscape: reduced budgets, teachers who feel like they're under attack, layoffs, larger class sizes, recall efforts.
But outside Wisconsin, there's growing evidence that American education as a whole has stagnated. Recent studies have shown the educational attainment of U.S. students has remained about the same while other countries' students have improved.

Several recent studies have sought to slice international achievement data in new ways. Adjusting for the differences in state, national and international tests, one report shows 56% of Finland's students perform at or above a level considered to be proficient in math, compared with 36% of the students in Wisconsin and 32% of U.S. students on average.
What is referenced just above is the NAEP test.  Note the ridiculousness of the norming of this test--even Finnish children, tops in the world on PISA (see below), just over half would be proficient on the NAEP.  Since the early 90s, the NAEP has been normed in such a way as to use scores to bludgeon teachers and public schools (click here for a recent example from the head of Chamber of Commerce in Knoxville). 
Finland has attracted attention largely because of its students' results on a respected exam known as the Programme for International Student Assessment. Also known as PISA, the test is given to a representative sample of 15-year-olds in participating developed countries every three years. In 2009, Finland's students scored third in reading, sixth in math and second in science out of 65 countries that participated in the exam.

American students scored 17th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math.

But looking at the Finnish system comes with caveats - some characteristics of the country head in the opposite direction from the way things are moving in American education.

For example, Finnish education and government leaders downplay standardized testing. They place more value on developing creativity and independent thought, and don't believe in judging schools by test scores. The country's internal testing of students is so light that the PISA scores came as a surprise for most; many teachers say they knew their students were doing well, just not that well.

Finland has a relatively homogenous population; the country is predominantly white and Lutheran. The U.S. has a diverse population of people from different cultures, with different values and priorities, especially when it comes to education.

Strong believers in equality, the Finns have long supported a system where wealth is distributed more evenly, making it nearly impossible to live in abject poverty. The income ladder ranges more greatly in the U.S., with intense wealth at the top and intense poverty at the bottom.

Some schools in Finland do serve a predominantly low-income population, and the pace of instruction at those schools is indeed slower than at the schools in middle-income areas. But the low-income schools are supported in other ways to try to give all students the tools needed to reach a basic level of education by the end of ninth grade.

Teacher training

Finland has been praised for the way in which it attracts, and subsequently develops, future teachers.

Education at the university level is funded by the government, but the openings are limited, which creates competition. Teacher-studies programs set a particularly high bar for applicants: At the University of Helsinki, a mere 6.7% of those who applied to be primary school teachers were admitted this year to the education school.

That's a lower acceptance rate than the 10% of applicants admitted to the University of Helsinki's schools of law and medicine.

By comparison, the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee accepted 96% of undergraduate students who applied for the 2011 year, and 88% of post-baccalaureate applicants.

Gail Schneider, associate dean of academic affairs at UWM's education school, said there's more going on behind the numbers.
"While our admission numbers may appear relatively high compared to Finland," she said, "considerable levels of self-determination and advising occurs prior to the application process to ensure that applicants hold high promise of becoming committed, exemplary teachers."

At Marquette University, the College of Education accepts only freshman students who rank in the top third of their high school class, Dean Bill Henk said. The college's three-year average shows an acceptance rate of 63%.

Henk is a proponent of making it more difficult to become a teacher. But he worries about whether the current teaching climate in Wisconsin would attract any of the best and brightest to the profession.

Being a teacher in Finland, by contrast, comes with a status of prestige - though not necessarily high pay. Adjusting for currency conversions, teachers in Finland make less in gross salary and pay more in taxes than the average American teacher.

Part of what raises the status of the profession is the rigorous training they have to undergo. Teachers who plan to teach seventh through 12th grade in a specific area, such as math or history or English, need a master's degree in that subject. Classroom teachers - the educators in the younger grades - need a master's degree in a general education field.

"Every teacher has to be a master of something," Nordberg said one afternoon in September in his office after class at the Normal Lyceum of Helsinki.

Nordberg got his master's degree in English. His thesis focused on the way English core modals (can, must, may, etc.) are portrayed in Finnish upper secondary school textbooks. He also had to do a thesis for his bachelor's degree. And another specifically for teacher training.

"It was agony," he recalls of his master's thesis. "But I did it."

Like other applicants to teacher-studies programs, Nordberg had to have high academic marks, pass an entrance exam and pass an in-person interview before he was accepted to the program.

Once in the profession, teachers have a lot of autonomy over their classroom. A national curriculum set by the local government - with input from the national teachers union - explains what should be learned but not how to teach it.
Teachers have control over that part.

"In Finland it's very common for us to write our own textbooks or choose the methods and curriculum or textbooks we want to buy," said Sepoo Nyyssönen, a philosophy teacher at Sibelius High School, an arts-based school in Helsinki.

"I think that's why I feel that teaching is good - you are like the king or queen of your own classroom," Nyyssönen said.

Curriculum

In the 1970s and '80s, Finland sought to eliminate a tracking system that divided students after fourth grade, at age 10. Children who seemed college-bound were offered a more rigorous curriculum, while others were ushered to less academic classes. The Finns instead implemented a comprehensive nine-year system of schooling that goes from age 7 to 16. At that point, students can decide for themselves if they want to go to the college-prep lukio to complete upper secondary school, or if they want to spend the next three years in the vocational high schools, where they can start to learn a trade.

Students can switch between the high school options, however, and choosing the vocational track does not preclude a student from getting into a university.

Recently, there's been more discussion in Wisconsin of breathing new life into vocational training options for high school students, and acknowledging that not all students need or want to pursue an expensive four-year bachelor's degree.

A bill batted around in Madison this legislative session called for more flexibility in substituting vocational classes for certain academic high school credits.

Local advocates of vocational education, such as Tim Sullivan, the former CEO of Bucyrus International Inc., have said that Wisconsin manufacturers have jobs to fill, but can't find qualified local graduates.

Play, social development

Just about everyone believes in the importance of getting children off to a good start in life from birth, but the Finnish government offers resources to make that happen. Taxes are high in Finland as a result: Income taxes are assessed on a progressive scale depending on income and range from 6.5% to 30%. Municipal taxes can range from 16% to 21% of a payer's income.

The trade-off: Parents can take up to about 17 weeks of paid maternity leave, and up to three years of unpaid leave if they wish to care for their children at home in the first years of their child's life.

There's a tradition of women working in Finland, encouraged by the fact that the government pays for day care from infancy to kindergarten. If parents decide to not enroll their child in day care, they receive an additional monthly child home-care allowance.

The government grants parents an allotment of child support money each month until the child turns 18, because it believes that raising children shouldn't be an undue financial burden for families.

Real academic learning doesn't take place until compulsory schooling starts in first grade. And even then, days for students include an emphasis on social skills and development. Being outside is also important - many schools in Finland are flanked by vast playgrounds and forests that allow children to spread out and play before, during and after school.

"If children don't have a good home background, we think they need sports and arts and other activities to help them feel good about themselves," said Irmeli Halinen, head of curriculum development of general education for the Finnish National Board of Education.

"If a child feels good, he learns better," she said.

Halinen said it's not just the education system in Finland, it's the whole support system that makes it happen.

"During the '72 through '77 reforms, there were parents who wanted their kids to have a better education," she said. "It was the time after the wars with Russia, and we were building and investing in technology and industry. We needed people to have a good education and knowledge."

The system is not perfect. Parents still complain about less-than-stellar teachers. School leadership still matters. High-flying students might get neglected in a system set up to improve the bottom and the middle.
But if steady overall improvement is the intent, the country is accomplishing it.

"It doesn't matter where you live here," Nordberg said. "You're going to get a good education."

Speaking expert to celebrity: Two calls for proposals

The age of communication that is upon us includes Twitter and Facebook, both of which are revolutionizing as well as merging the academic/scholarly world with the public and popular media. This is most apparent in the education reform debate. See below two CALLS for proposals (click titles for full information on each volume) to be published as traditional books that I hope will reflect the rising new voices of teachers, scholars, and contributors of all types who care about and seek democratic and emancipatory universal public education:

(1) Becoming and Being a Teacher: Confronting Traditional Norms to Create New Democratic Realities

[Critical Studies in Democracy and Political Literacy series (Peter Lang USA), Paul Carr, Series Editor] 

Contact:
Editor, P. L. Thomas
Education
Furman University
3300 Poinsett Hwy
Greenville SC 29369
864-294-3368 (o)

P. L. Thomas
Education
Furman University
3300 Poinsett Hwy
Greenville SC 29369
864-294-3368 (o)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

What Educational Accountability Still Needs

At right (click to enlarge) is a clip from an incisive piece of work by Haney and Raczek, 1994, p.88.

Naomi Wolfe on How the Feds and Oligarchs Teamed to Crush OWS

Wolfe, writing for the Guardian.  Read it and wonder why, not, why the NYTimes or WaPo did not want this story:
US citizens of all political persuasions are still reeling from images of unparallelled police brutality in a coordinated crackdown against peaceful OWS protesters in cities across the nation this past week. An elderly woman was pepper-sprayed in the face; the scene of unresisting, supine students at UC Davis being pepper-sprayed by phalanxes of riot police went viral online; images proliferated of young women – targeted seemingly for their gender – screaming, dragged by the hair by police in riot gear; and the pictures of a young man, stunned and bleeding profusely from the head, emerged in the record of the middle-of-the-night clearing of Zuccotti Park.

But just when Americans thought we had the picture – was this crazy police and mayoral overkill, on a municipal level, in many different cities? – the picture darkened. The National Union of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a Freedom of Information Act request to investigate possible federal involvement with law enforcement practices that appeared to target journalists. The New York Times reported that "New York cops have arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground and tossed a barrier at reporters and photographers" covering protests. Reporters were asked by NYPD to raise their hands to prove they had credentials: when many dutifully did so, they were taken, upon threat of arrest, away from the story they were covering, and penned far from the site in which the news was unfolding. Other reporters wearing press passes were arrested and roughed up by cops, after being – falsely – informed by police that "It is illegal to take pictures on the sidewalk."

In New York, a state supreme court justice and a New York City council member were beaten up; in Berkeley, California, one of our greatest national poets, Robert Hass, was beaten with batons. The picture darkened still further when Wonkette and Washingtonsblog.com reported that the Mayor of Oakland acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security had participated in an 18-city mayor conference call advising mayors on "how to suppress" Occupy protests.

To Europeans, the enormity of this breach may not be obvious at first. Our system of government prohibits the creation of a federalised police force, and forbids federal or militarised involvement in municipal peacekeeping.
I noticed that rightwing pundits and politicians on the TV shows on which I was appearing were all on-message against OWS. Journalist Chris Hayes reported on a leaked memo that revealed lobbyists vying for an $850,000 contract to smear Occupy. Message coordination of this kind is impossible without a full-court press at the top. This was clearly not simply a case of a freaked-out mayors', city-by-city municipal overreaction against mess in the parks and cranky campers. As the puzzle pieces fit together, they began to show coordination against OWS at the highest national levels.

Why this massive mobilisation against these not-yet-fully-articulated, unarmed, inchoate people? After all, protesters against the war in Iraq, Tea Party rallies and others have all proceeded without this coordinated crackdown. Is it really the camping? As I write, two hundred young people, with sleeping bags, suitcases and even folding chairs, are still camping out all night and day outside of NBC on public sidewalks – under the benevolent eye of an NYPD cop – awaiting Saturday Night Live tickets, so surely the camping is not the issue. I was still deeply puzzled as to why OWS, this hapless, hopeful band, would call out a violent federal response.

That is, until I found out what it was that OWS actually wanted.

The mainstream media was declaring continually "OWS has no message". Frustrated, I simply asked them. I began soliciting online "What is it you want?" answers from Occupy. In the first 15 minutes, I received 100 answers. These were truly eye-opening.

The No 1 agenda item: get the money out of politics. Most often cited was legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process. No 2: reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act – the Depression-era law, done away with by President Clinton, that separates investment banks from commercial banks. This law would correct the conditions for the recent crisis, as investment banks could not take risks for profit that create kale derivatives out of thin air, and wipe out the commercial and savings banks.

No 3 was the most clarifying: draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.

When I saw this list – and especially the last agenda item – the scales fell from my eyes. Of course, these unarmed people would be having the shit kicked out of them.

For the terrible insight to take away from news that the Department of Homeland Security coordinated a violent crackdown is that the DHS does not freelance. The DHS cannot say, on its own initiative, "we are going after these scruffy hippies". Rather, DHS is answerable up a chain of command: first, to New York Representative Peter King, head of the House homeland security subcommittee, who naturally is influenced by his fellow congressmen and women's wishes and interests. And the DHS answers directly, above King, to the president (who was conveniently in Australia at the time).

In other words, for the DHS to be on a call with mayors, the logic of its chain of command and accountability implies that congressional overseers, with the blessing of the White House, told the DHS to authorise mayors to order their police forces – pumped up with millions of dollars of hardware and training from the DHS – to make war on peaceful citizens.

But wait: why on earth would Congress advise violent militarised reactions against its own peaceful constituents?

The answer is straightforward: in recent years, members of Congress have started entering the system as members of the middle class (or upper middle class) – but they are leaving DC privy to vast personal wealth, as we see from the "scandal" of presidential contender Newt Gingrich's having been paid $1.8m for a few hours' "consulting" to special interests. The inflated fees to lawmakers who turn lobbyists are common knowledge, but the notion that congressmen and women are legislating their own companies' profitsis less widely known – and if the books were to be opened, they would surely reveal corruption on a Wall Street spectrum. Indeed, we do already know that congresspeople are massively profiting from trading on non-public information they have on companies about which they are legislating – a form of insider trading that sent Martha Stewart to jail.

Since Occupy is heavily surveilled and infiltrated, it is likely that the DHS and police informers are aware, before Occupy itself is, what its emerging agenda is going to look like. If legislating away lobbyists' privileges to earn boundless fees once they are close to the legislative process, reforming the banks so they can't suck money out of fake derivatives products, and, most critically, opening the books on a system that allowed members of Congress to profit personally – and immensely – from their own legislation, are two beats away from the grasp of an electorally organised Occupy movement … well, you will call out the troops on stopping that advance.

So, when you connect the dots, properly understood, what happened this week is the first battle in a civil war; a civil war in which, for now, only one side is choosing violence. It is a battle in which members of Congress, with the collusion of the American president, sent violent, organised suppression against the people they are supposed to represent. Occupy has touched the third rail: personal congressional profits streams. Even though they are, as yet, unaware of what the implications of their movement are, those threatened by the stirrings of their dreams of reform are not.

Sadly, Americans this week have come one step closer to being true brothers and sisters of the protesters in Tahrir Square. Like them, our own national leaders, who likely see their own personal wealth under threat from transparency and reform, are now making war upon us.

Friday, November 25, 2011

MSNBC: Leaning Forward for the Work Week and A Weekend in the Hole

From Monday thru Friday, MSNBC writers and hosts espouse a well-written version of anti-Fox mainstream messaging, with a reality-based lineup of liberals leaning forward to embrace the humane values and a sustainable multicultural pluriverse that offers a wholesome alternative to hate radio and TV.  However, when Progressive Queen Rachel signs off on Friday evening, the station is transformed into a round-the-clock incarceration desensitizing project, with Lock-Up, Hardcore Lock-Up, Lock-Up in Chains, and Lock-Up and Lock-Down, etc ad nauseum.  For someone who is unaccustomed to such raw cynicism and crass production values, it must seem mystifying.  What will be next? Dancing with the Leg Irons? Or The Amazing Race to the Feeding Line.  How about The Simple Lifer?



Thursday, November 24, 2011

Corporate Education Reform's Slime Machine Goes After NRC Report

Hoover Institution economist, Eric Hanushek, is one of the chief think tank hacks for corporate education reform and the testing-industrial complex.  His work consistently reminds us of the definition of "ecomomist" as "an expert who will know tomorrow why the things he predicted yesterday did not happen today."  As a perfect example of this characterization, Hanushek much prefers to use empirical data to speculate his way toward a shared acceptance of his plutocratic patrons' preconceived notions by building a statistical house of cards inside a hypothesized future that we can only appreciate in the end for its entertainment value, rather than its factual veracity.

For example, econometric fantasizing has come to be Hanushek's stock-in-trade, as is evidenced in a number of Hanushek's recent non-peer reviewed "working papers." In a recent one that was picked up and reprinted as if it had been published in a peer-reviewed journal, Hanushek claims that "replacing the bottom 5-8 percent of teachers with average teachers could move the U.S. near the top of international math and science rankings with a present value of $100 trillion."

Really?

This past Monday, Harvard's edu-biz magazine, Education Next, published Hanushek's latest attack piece on the National Research Council's Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education, a report released last spring with the results of a 9-year investigation into the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of high-stakes tests in U. S. schools for raising student achievement.  Reported in Ed Week and ignored by New York Times (what's new), the NRC's blue-ribbon panel reached two core conclusions that no one, including Hanushek, has refuted or can refute, regardless of how much magical thinking and statistical hyperventilating they engage in:
  • Some incentives hold teachers or students accountable, while others affect whole schools. School-level incentives like those used in No Child Left Behind produce some of the larger achievement gains, the report says, but even these have an effect size of only around .08 standard deviations – the equivalent of moving a student currently performing at the 50th percentile to the 53rd percentile. For comparison, raising student performance in the U.S. to the level of the highest-performing nations would require a gain equivalent to a student climbing from the 50th to the 84th percentile (NRC Press Release).
  • the use of high school exit exams decreases the high school graduation rate without increasing achievement (PDF Summary).
Since few read Harvard's Education Next outside the corporate foundations and think tanks, the oligarchs' media men pitched the Hanushek retread story to one of those rare paid reporters from Huffington Post, whose work load obviously demands stories more numerous than they are researched.  The result is an uninformed and fawning gloss that leaves unchallenged Hanushek's right-wing misinformation.

Below are a few clips from the HuffPo story that require some clarification or outright challenge:
The question of the effects of testing has long plagued education. Few dispute the need to have some way to take stock of what students learn from their teachers. But critics assert that an emphasis on test-related incentives, such as grades for students and grade-based funding for schools, has tamped down on creativity in the classroom, treating kids like identical items on an assembly line -- without the product.
My dear overworked HuffPo reporter, it is not "the question of the effects of testing that has long plagued education," as you write in your piece.  It is the effects of testing, themselves, that have long plagued education, especially since the inception of NCLB and its fanciful testing targets that have blown up so many public schools over the past nine years.  These negative effects have been documented in a mountain of research and by good reporting over the past decade.  As a place to begin, I highly recommend Tested . . . by reporter, Linda Perlstein.  And criticism of the current testing mania is not aimed at criticizing the grading of students, as you clearly suggest.  Rather, the criticism stems from the counterproductive use a single test of questionable quality to determine the futures of children and their teachers and their schools.
The 112-page-long NRC study came at a critical point during the NCLB discussion -- and it read as a manifesto against the use of testing as a tool to promote learning, Hanushek claims.
Please!  A manifesto sets out a platform, a direction, an agenda, a strategy, etc.  The NRC Report is anything but a manifesto, and it does not read like one, as Hanushek would have you, dear HuffPo reporter, believe.  In fact, one of Hanushek's criticisms in the Education Next piece is that the NRC Report lacks specificity in its recommendations, something never missing in a manifesto.  The NRC Report, rather, is the result of a 9-year empirical research study by a group of scholars that the mainstream Education Week called a "veritable who's who of national experts in education law, economics and sciences."  Notably, it does not include Eric Hanushek. 

Importantly, the NRC Report does not compare effectiveness of NCLB to some other testing universe with low stakes, as the following quote from the HuffPo piece indicates.  This is not only misleading--it is dead wrong.
The report found NCLB to be the most effective test-based policy, but even then, it found that the law's programs moved student performance by eight hundredths of the standard deviation, or from the 50th to the 53rd percentile. Other more low-stakes tests were found to show "effectively zero" effects on achievement. According to the NRC report:
Test-based incentive programs, as designed and implemented in the programs that have been carefully studied, have not increased student achievement enough to bring the United States close to the levels of the highest achieving countries.
This is where taking time to read the NRC Report would have been very helpful in reporting on someone else's version of what the Report said. 

Finally, I take exception with this bit of nonsense from the HuffPo article:
Hanushek, an economist, claims that the .08 standard deviation increase in student learning is not as insignificant as the report makes it sound. According to his calculations, the benefits of such gains outweigh the costs: that amount of learning, he claims, translates to a value of $14 trillion. He notes that if testing is expanded at the expense of $100 per student, the rate of return on that investment is 9,189 percent. Hanushek criticized the report for not giving enough attention to the benefits NCLB provided disadvantaged students.

The report, Hanushek said, hid that evidence.
In the very next paragraph, however, HuffPo quotes Hanushek as saying that his wild claim was, indeed, noted in the Report, even though Hanushek clearly believes that his speculations should be regarded as empirical data that the NRC should have highlighted.  This kind of extrapolated nonsense reminds me of another testing guru from a hundred years ago, eugenicist and IQ test promoter, Lewis Terman. Terman, too, was an accomplished propagandist, and he got great reception in the mass media by coming up with IQ test scores out of thin air for historical figures, everyone from J. S. Bach to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  While pulling numbers like this out of your, um, hat makes for great parlor entertainment, no one should take these speculations seriously. Pure hokum, but no less so than Hanushek's econometric hyperbole of $14 trillion or $100 trillion in added value for some, otherwise, worthless test scores.

Finally, HuffPo obviously follows Hanushek's advice and spends the last five four paragraphs documenting the opinions of Paul Hill, one of the NRC panelists whose livelihood is tied directly to the good will and open checkbook of the Gates Foundation.  It would seem that the current mission by the Business Roundtable and the education industry to slime the NRC Report requires the public bad-mouthing even by those panelists who are willing, if their best financial interests require them to do so.
Hill said he was slightly concerned with the report itself, and that its tone was a product of a committee comprised of experts with mixed views on testing. "It said that test-based accountability alone won't raise achievement," he said. "I believe that. Test-based accountability, though, with reasonable supplementary policies … is a good idea."

The apparent anti-testing bias, Hill said, came from those on the committee with backgrounds in education. 
Yes, of course, those ax-grinding educational researchers whose 3 members on the NRC Panel overpowered the other 14 members to hijack a report that would have otherwise presented the worldview of the next generation of testers and tabulators, those visionaries who live for the end of the achievement gap and by its non-arrival.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Newark's Charter Chaingangs Use Facebook Charity as Excuse for No Libraries

From Stan Karp:

Literacy expert Stephen Krashen notes that “Study after study has shown that library quality (number of books available or books per student) is related to reading achievement at the state level national level and international level.” So it’s always a good thing when kids get more access to books.

Yesterday, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and State District Superintendent Cami Anderson announced that a pilot program “dubbed ‘My Very Own Library’ will combine Facebook money plus a $125,000 donation from philanthropist Anne Feeley to give about 5,200 students at eight Newark elementary schools a set of 10 books each.” Mayor Booker called it “part of a series of unprecedented education investments” in Newark.

Using charitable donations to give books to kids is great. But it also points up the gap between private charity and sustainable systemic reform. According to guidelines still posted on the NJ Dept. of Education website “Early Literacy requirements are built into the administrative code and every Abbott district must follow the mandates for full implementation of Early Literacy…Each classroom must maintain a 300-title (minimum) classroom library, as well as a Reading Center (PreK-3), a technology center (K-3), and a writing center (PreK-3). Class sizes cannot exceed 15 for PreK or 21 for kindergarten through third. Each PreK and kindergarten must have an aide.

How many classrooms in Newark and other urban districts in NJ have maintained these literacy supports through recent budget cuts and the rollback of Abbott mandates? Charity can’t substitute for the “unprecedented education investments” children need to succeed.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tata and Tedesco's New High-Poverty Segregated Walnut Creek Elem. Bulging at the Seams

General Tata
When the resegregationist Gang of Five was elected in Wake County, NC in 2009, they set about to dismantle the most successful socioeconomic school integration plan in the U. S.  Fortunately, the voters of Wake County recently booted the Board Chair and three of his lieutenants, thus restoring sanity to educational decision making in Raleigh.

During the brief reign of the neo-racists, however, a new elementary school was completed to serve as the first full-scale return to segregated schooling in Wake County.   At a price tag of $25 million, the new Walnut Creek Elementary was designed with a capacity of 780 children.  On September 22 of this year, the enrollment was 111 over capacity with 891 students.  On October 4, the number was at 902.

All the while, Gen. Tata, the new Broadie superintendent picked by the Gang of Five, did nothing.  Today the enrollment at Walnut Creek is at 936, and according to a terrific report by Cash Michaels, the school was enrolling even more students as late as last week.

Where are all these students coming from?  They are coming from District 2, where Tea Party activist John Tedesco was elected two years ago on a platform of ending school diversity and a return to containment of black children in high-poverty schools.  You see, Tedesco's constituents at East Garner Elementary were eager to dump its poor and brown students from its rolls.  East Garner, with a capacity of 849 students now has 577 mostly white children whose parents are happy to follow the lead of their ethnically-cleansing rep, Little John Tedesco.

We must wonder if the new sane school board majority will allow the incompetent and callous Tata to continue demolishing the reputation of Wake County Schools.  Please read Cash Michaels' report.


Monday, November 21, 2011

"[N]ot the Time. . .to Follow the Line of Least Resistance"

"[N]ot the Time. . .to Follow the Line of Least Resistance"

In a major journal from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), a teacher and scholar laments the current state of implementing the research in language: "A brief consideration will indicate reasons for the considerable gap between the research currently available and the utilization of that research in school programs and methods" (p. 87).

And the discussion of that gap between research and pedagogy leads to this conclusion:
"Most thinking persons agree that the existence of civilized man is threatened today. While language is not food or drink, and will not satisfy the hungry and thirsty, it is the medium by which we must do much of our learning and panning, and by which we must think out solutions to our problems if we are not to solve them by the direct method of force. No sensible person believes that language will cure all difficulties; but the thoughtful person will certainly agree that language is a highly important factor in promoting understanding, and a most dangerous factor in promoting understanding between individuals and between the countries individuals represent. Moreover, language is a significant factor in the psychological adjustment of the individual. This is not the time for the teacher of any language to follow the line of least resistance, to teach without the fullest possible knowledge of the implications of his medium. [emphasis added] Before we, either as individuals or as a Council, experiment with methods of doing specific things or block out a curriculum, let us spend some time with the best scholars in the various fields of language study to discover what they know, what they believe uncertain and in need of study. Let us go to the best sources and study the answers thoughtfully. The game of Gossip is not for us." (p. 94)
While those of us living our lives as teachers, especially teachers of literacy in K-12 settings or in teacher education, may recognize many points above in our current debates about education reform—including some of the debates that simmer below the surface of the workings of NCTE—this piece is by Lou LaBrant and was published in the January 1947 issue of Elementary English (now Language Arts).

Sixty-four years after LaBrant wrote about the gap between research and practice, sixty-four years after she implores us that "[t]his is not the time for the teacher of any language to follow the line of least resistance," educators across the U.S. are faced with the failure of leaders, the public, and professional organizations in the face of the promise of universal public education and its promise to drive the great hope we call democracy.

The Locus of Authority: Our Time for Resistance

At the 100th anniversary annual convention for NCTE in Chicago this past weekend, I presented during a panel on the Council's century of leadership in the field of literacy—reading from the essay above by LaBrant and suggesting how she would have responded to the current calls for Common Core national standards, increased testing, intensified teacher accountability linked to those tests, and accelerating mandates driving teacher preparation and accreditation of colleges and departments of education.

I know from my work as the biographer of LaBrant that she was a powerful voice for the professionalism, scholarship, and autonomy of teachers—including herself and every teacher with whom she interacted. LaBrant, in fact, during the early 1930s when enrolled in her doctoral program at Northwestern University, faced pressure while teaching English to implement required reading lists, textbooks, and benchmark testing, all of which she knew to be flawed practices.

What did LaBrant do?

She fabricated lesson plans with her roommate, the foreign language teacher, and submitted them each week while practicing the pedagogy she embraced—student choice in what they read and wrote, holistic instruction and assessment of literacy. At the end of the year, LaBrant and her students (yes, in the early 1930s) faced end-of-course testing, and LaBrant's students received top scores. Consequently, she was praised by the principal in front of the entire faculty for her dedication to the prescribed policies.

This tension between bureaucratic mandates that seek to shift the locus of authority (consider Freire's distinction between "authoritarian" and "authoritative") away from the teacher and within the standards and tests designed and prescribed by the state is not entirely new (except for the intensity), but neither is the need for teachers to own their autonomy, their professionalism—to be that resistance.

Also at the most recent NCTE annual convention, a convention of celebration, Susan Ohanian, Stephen Krashen, Carol Mikoda, Bess Altwerger, Joanne Yatvin, and Richard J. Meyer proposed a resolution: NCTE will oppose common core standards and national tests. This act of resistance, this act of teacher autonomy and professionalism resulted in what Catherine Gewertz in the Curriculum Matters blog at Education Week describes as: "The National Council of Teachers of English was asked by a group of its members to take a strong stand against the common standards, but it declined to do so."

This is a time when political leaders, the public, and national organizations have abdicated their moral obligation to create and maintain universal public education for all children as a sacred trust between a free people and the promise of democracy.

"This is not the time for the teacher of any language to follow the line of least resistance, to teach without the fullest possible knowledge of the implications of his medium."

References

Freire, P. (2005). Teachers as cultural workers: Letters to those who dare to teach. Trans. D. Macedo, D. Koike, & A. Oliveira. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Freire, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Trans. P. Clarke. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

LaBrant, L. (1947, January). Research in language. Elementary English, 24(1), 86-94.

Where Do Feinstein and Boxer Stand on the Sadism of UC Davis Police?

Chancellor Linda Katehi should be fired--period.  As she preens and postures, her goon squads stand ready for the next excuse to use all their new toys purchased with unlimited Homeland Security cash.  bin Laden must have smiled many times when reading of how his murderous acts turned America into a police state where our core free speech rights can be summarily dismissed by underpaid, ignorant, campus cops with real honest-to-god sadistic streaks.  Sad.  Goddamn sad.

The larger question--what spider hole is Jerry Brown hiding in--or where are the California Ladies of the U.S. Senate?  What do they think of their campus cops?  We could use some of their high-sounding liberal rhetoric at this point:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Christie, Who's Your Mama? Who's Your Daddy?

New Jersey is fast becoming the latest front in the war against teacher unions, tenure and quality public education, all with the help of a new front organization called "Better Education for Kids." Not since No Child Left Behind has such a misleading, clever propaganda campaign been foisted on the public. Even though in terms of performance and community satisfaction, New Jersey's public schools are ranked as one of the highest in the country, some Democrats and nearly all Republicans agree the system needs to be reformed. And, who better to reform the system than hedge fund billionaire David Tepper, the altruistic Michelle Rhee who now gets $50,000 speaking fees as arch enemy number one of teacher unions and the biggest bully in the education reform schoolyard, Governor Chris Christie.

Bridget Harrison, a columnist for The Record in Northern New Jersey, is sounding the alarm on Christie's "education deform":
But the potential problem that the governor and lawmakers are ignoring is the Pandora's box that more privatization of schools could mean in terms of corruption. And in New Jersey, that's a scary prospect.
One proposal backed by Christie is the Urban Hope Act, sponsored by Sen. Donald Norcross, D-Camden. If passed, the act would allow private entities to run "transformation schools" in urban areas where schools struggle to make the grade. Norcross is the brother of South Jersey power broker George E. Norcross III (a strange-bedfellows ally of Christie), and given the likely coalition that will be formed by Christie's Republican backers in the Legislature and Democratic legislators beholden to Norcross, the measure is likely to pass.
Everyone likes hope, and everyone hopes that urban children attending struggling schools will have the hope (and the reality) that those schools are transformed.

But in New Jersey, isn't it likely that some politically connected charlatan somewhere will take the state for a ride, car-jacking New Jersey's taxpayers riding shotgun, with the state's poorest schoolchildren in the back seat?

State legislators raised and spent about $40 million in the last round of elections, in which less than 30 percent of the population voted, and which featured only two marginally competitive elections. Isn't it likely that for-profit entities running some of New Jersey's schools will attempt to ensure their profit by contributing to politicians who shape education policy, who determine if a school can be chartered?

Surely there's a seat belt in this car, right?

Um, not exactly. While charters are officially granted by the state Department of Education, this year an anonymous board of volunteers who are experts on charter school and education made recommendations to the DOE.

Anonymous. Secret.

Unlike elected school boards that decide how to spend our money and run our schools, we don't know who these volunteers are. Who's their momma? Who's their brother? Do they have any direct interest in the decisions they are making? How can we rule out conflicts of interest if we don't even know what their interests are?

There is no doubt that some New Jersey schools need fixing, but the governor and the Legislature must ensure that our state's school system does not become a quagmire of corruption, nepotism and patronage.
These "reformers" have all aligned to make sure the next generation of voters are as ignorant as the one who elected a corrupt bully as governor. Now with the NJEA on its knees and buckling under the pressure as New Jersey's citizens gear up for shopping on Black Friday, Christie and his rich buddies can move forward on privatizing every aspect of education so they can continue to profit while more teachers lose job security, benefits and professional autonomy. Is anyone really paying attention to what's really going on in Trenton? If they were, they might ask why a state with one of the best public school systems in the country is looking to destroy what is actually working, hmmmm....

Here's this story from the Associated Press that provides a glimpse into what New Jersey's public school teachers, parents and students can look forward if the Christie agenda passes.

TRENTON, N.J. — A new organization is seeking to become an authoritative voice in the debate over how to improve New Jersey schools, giving Republican Gov. Chris Christie a deep-pocketed, well-connected and bipartisan ally and the state's biggest teachers union a new foil.

The group, Better Education for Kids, made its presence known in politics this fall when it spent about $400,000 to boost four legislative candidates. For the past few weeks, it's been holding meetings with teachers and education reform proponents to try to find some common ground.

The attempt to build consensus comes just before lawmakers are expected to consider Christie's major proposals for overhauling the state's public education system. Christie wants to reduce tenure protections, establish merit pay for teachers and give children in low-performing schools easier access to better ones, including by using taxpayer money to fund scholarships to private schools. Many of the governor's plans are in line with those pushed by President Barack Obama.

The New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, sees the group as a front for Christie and what they say is an effort to crush the union, rather than as an organization focused on improving schools.
Better Education for Kids, which goes by the name B4K, spent about $1 million over the summer on television and radio commercials promoting Christie's agenda.

It is trying to establish itself as the one organization involved in the debate that is focused entirely on the interests of schoolchildren.

"The one really important difference is that the people we represent are the kids and the families," said Derrell Bradford, executive director of the policy arm of the group. "I know everybody says it's all about that. We have no financial interest in public education, at all. Every other group does. I don't say that in a way that's meant to disparage anyone. We can be about pure activism because we don't have anything to gain from the success of the agenda other than that kids get better educational opportunities."

B4K's founders are two hedge-fund managers: David Tepper, a Democrat, and Alan Fournier, a Republican. Neither had been deeply involved in education policy issues before they started the organization this year.

Their organization is technically two groups in one: a policy advocacy unit and a political action committee. Its political consultants include Jamie Fox, who served as chief of staff for Democratic former Gov. Jim McGreevey and Mike DuHaime, the Republican strategist for Christie's 2009 campaign.

The group also serves as the New Jersey branch of StudentsFirst, an education reform organization run by Michelle Rhee, the former District of Columbia schools chancellor who is one of the best-known advocates for overhauling teacher pay and tenure laws and a despised figure among union activists.

Rhee adopted a teacher evaluation system based partly on student performance. Under it, hundreds of school employees, many of them teachers, have been laid off because of poor performance. While some teachers liked the chance to get more recognition and pay increases, voter anger over some of Rhee's changes was a factor in the defeat of Mayor Adrian Fenty for re-election last year.

New Jersey is different from most states because it has some of the highest- and lowest-performing schools in the country, Rhee said in an interview Friday.

"It has unique challenges; there are tremendous opportunities," she said. "You have a governor who is very, very out front in education reform. He's willing to take it on."

Bradford is a familiar voice in New Jersey education policy circles from his time working at Excellent Education for Everyone, including a stint as executive director before he left for the upstart group this year as executive director. E3, as it is known, focuses on advocating for publicly funded scholarships to send students to private schools. B4K supports the idea, but its main focus is on improving the quality of teachers by paying better ones more and making it easier to fire low-performing educators.

The deputy director is Shelley Skinner, who was a member of Christie's transition team when he became governor.
Justin Barra, a spokesman for the state Education Department, said Friday that, despite the connections, the state does not give B4K any special credence.
"The one really important difference is that the people we represent are the kids and the families," said Derrell Bradford, executive director of the policy arm of the group. "I know everybody says it's all about that. We have no financial interest in public education, at all. Every other group does. I don't say that in a way that's meant to disparage anyone. We can be about pure activism because we don't have anything to gain from the success of the agenda other than that kids get better educational opportunities."
"We welcome an open dialogue with partners across the ideological spectrum on any initiative under way at the department," he said. "Good ideas come from many places, and whether they come from the NJEA or B4K, we're happy to take them into consideration."

NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer sees it differently and sees the group's efforts, and Christie's, as attempts to blame students' problems on teachers.

"It's about crushing unions. That's what it's about," he said. "The unions are in the way of privatization, which is their goal. The way you get unions on the retreat is to take away people's job security."

B4K quickly became a player in New Jersey elections, too. It made about $400,000 in independent expenditures this year to support four state Assembly candidates. That amount is well short of the $1.4 million the NJEA has spent on political efforts this year.

B4K backed four candidates, with split results. Two southern New Jersey Democrats, Gabriela Mosquera in the 4th District and Troy Singleton in the 7th, won. Two Republicans in northern New Jersey's 38th District, Fernando Alonso and Rich Goldberg, were defeated.

Michael Lilley, the executive director of B4K's political action committee, said the group would have spent more on candidates it favored if there had been more competitive races this month.

B4K offered teachers $100 gift certificates in recent weeks for participating in sessions in Camden, Iselin and Elizabeth to talk about teacher evaluation plans. Two more of the private meetings were to be held Saturday.

How teachers should be evaluated is one of the hottest topics in public education in New Jersey and nationally. In a move strongly supported by B4K, New Jersey officials are testing a system in which half of teachers' grades would be based on classroom observations by principals and half on measures of student performance — including improvement by students in grades and subjects where standardized tests are given.

Some teachers welcome the idea that part of their evaluations would be based on an objective standard. But the test-oriented part of the plan bothers the union, which says standardized tests were not meant to be used that way and doing so could mean lesson plans will be changed for the worse.

Christie and B4K would both like to see the evaluations linked to determining which teachers get and keep the protections of tenure, deciding which keep their jobs if there are layoffs, and awarding them merit pay bonuses.
Bradford said the meetings with teachers followed a similar course.

"They start off very contentious and end up better," he said. Teachers, he said, are generally glad to be able to give some input into policies that will affect them, and they sometimes find areas of agreement.

The meetings have been private. He said he would ask some past participants if they would be willing to be interviewed. By Friday afternoon, none were.

Despite NJEA's misgivings about B4K, one union official was scheduled to be on a panel at its Princeton meeting on Saturday.

"She's participating because we're willing to discuss these issues in any forum," Wollmer said in an email. "She's extremely well-versed in evaluation, and played a key role in developing our reform proposals. Besides, B4K may come around."
Perhaps the citizens of NJ will wake up and smell the stench of cronyism and corruption wafting through the halls of Trenton before it makes it's way into the state's poorest school children. You know, the ones who don't have health care or can't afford to get eyeglasses or see a dentist, live in a safe neighborhood with enough police on the street? Yes, Governor Christie, your idea of a better education for kids is low paid teachers with no benefits and a few extra bucks in voucher money to attend one of those privately owned and operated for-profit schools. There's a pile of taxpayer money just waiting to be redirected from those overpaid teachers in NJ who still have health and pension benefits to for-profit corporations who can replace them with computer apps at half the cost.

If you are interested in taking action or getting involved by stopping this train wreck, Save Our Schools New Jersey is an organization that is keeping a close watch on Trenton and fighting to save public education in NJ.