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

Saturday, June 30, 2012

From UOON to the Prosti-Suits Running NEA

We, the administrators of United Opt Out National, in order to preserve a free and equitable system of public education in the United States, do solemnly issue an invitation to the leadership, members and ultimately Dennis Van Roekel to take direct and concerted action in the fight to terminate immediately the patterns of negotiation and capitulation leading to policies destructive of public education, of children’s lives, both of which are representative of a derogation of educational professions. We see the most damaging policies as follows: implementation of an untested set of national common standards, punitive high-stakes standardized testing, and the unreasonable evaluation and remuneration of professional educators based on these policies.

We expect the NEA leadership to step forward and live up to its mission of preparing all children to succeed by officially denouncing any policy that undermines public education and ignores the uniqueness of each student and the value of a rich, diverse and dynamic curriculum.  While the nation’s eyes and ears are focused on the largest gathering of educational professionals in the world, we believe it is the undeniable responsibility of Mr. Van Roekel and the NEA membership to clearly state that the punitive use of high stakes testing is unacceptable and must stop.  Additionally, the NEA leaders must denounce the implementation of common core curriculum, which places artificial barriers on teaching, learning and child development.  In reckless pursuit of profit, corporations and other philanthro-capitalist entities are transforming  public schools into sites of fear and surveillance meant to train a compliant workforce. Children are turned into little more than a profit motive for textbook companies and “big data” sets needed to track them as blue chips on the stock exchange.

We believe that a position of non-negotiation by the NEA is necessary for it to show its true commitment to education.  The time for compromise with those who wish to compromise us, is over.  These demands must be clear and unequivocal. By taking a public stand in solidarity against these measures, the NEA (as the largest organized body of educators) has within its power to redirect the course of disaster currently charted for education.  We believe that a failure of leadership and advocacy on the part of the NEA will lead to complicit acceptance and the implementation of policies anathema to the preservation of a free and equitable system of public education. None of us can simply talk the talk any longer.  It’s time to walk the walk.  Will you, Mr. Van Roekel and the NEA leadership, stand up?  Or will you sell out?

We issue this challenge with the optimism that the NEA is still an organization that cares more about the unique needs of students than back-room partnerships. And should Mr. Van Roekel fail to live up to his responsibility and make such a statement, we encourage each and every representative attending the NEA Representative Assembly to stand up and insist that these issues be brought forward, discussed, and voted on by the entire assembly.   We remind every representative that they, too, have a mission, a voice, and a right to be heard. Please, this week, put integrity and the needs of students first.  Bring a resolution denouncing high stakes testing and common core to the floor of the assembly.  Do it now, for next year may be too late.

Should the NEA, its members, leadership, and President choose to remain silent on these issues, we will be forced to advocate for the erosion of support for the NEA and its mission, ultimately leading to its unfortunate, yet deserved, dissolution.  Thus, the NEA’s eventual eradication as a legitimate organization in support of public education will be met with a bittersweet jubilation.  Make no mistake: we do not negotiate with children’s lives. We hope you don’t either..

"ONLY" 59.1% Poor at School in Brooklyn

From the New York Times
June 27, 2012

At One Brooklyn School, a Lesson in the Danger of Success

By Louise Sloan

If you believe the research, statistics and experts, it appears that my son’s elementary school, Public School 9 in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights neighborhood, has been doing everything right. Middle-class, college-educated people are increasingly sending their children there because of its academic excellence, its emphasis on individualized instruction, its commitment to arts education and its progressive, inquiry-based approach.

There’s a warm, friendly feel to the place, which has recently started to more accurately reflect the current demographics of our wonderfully eclectic neighborhood. We’ve got doctors, lawyers, child-care workers, musicians, families that live in homeless shelters, straight families, gay families, moms in burqas and dads with dreadlocks, all nodding and saying good morning to one another at drop-off.
But as a result of achieving such socioeconomic diversity, P.S. 9 just got $360,000 in federal financing pulled from its budget — which had already been slashed to the bone by the city and the state.
That’s because in New York City, federal Title I financing goes only to schools where at least 60 percent of students are poor enough to receive school-lunch subsidies. P.S. 9 is now “only” 59.1 percent poor — a difference of about five students — so our financing was unexpectedly yanked. The city offers a stopgap program called Fair Student Funding, which provides us with a cushion of $200,000, but we’re still $160,000 in the hole. As a result, four teachers are slated to lose their jobs on Wednesday.
Taking money away from a school like P.S. 9 may be following federal policy in letter, but it certainly doesn’t follow it in spirit. In an era where politicians and policy wonks wring their hands about the near-impossibility of an economically and racially integrated public school and try to develop ways to orchestrate that ideal, P.S. 9 is living it.
We are what other schools should be aiming for, if you believe a Century Foundation report released May 30. “There is 50 years of research to suggest that on average, low income students will perform much better in economically and racially integrated school settings, ” said Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the foundation. (There’s evidence that higher income students benefit academically, as well.)
Integration also helps students learn what it means to be an American, how to interact in a diverse society and all that idealistic stuff that may end up holding our increasingly multicultural nation together, Mr. Kahlenberg pointed out.
Economic integration isn’t the only thing P.S. 9 has been doing right, though. As American education outcomes fall further behind those of other industrialized nations, the school has adopted an inquiry-based teaching model and a focus on individualized instruction — the kind of approach taken by Finland, South Korea and other countries that are at the top of the list of the world’s best educational systems, according to the Stanford education researcherLinda Darling-Hammond.
According to Professor Darling-Hammond, schools in the world’s highest-performing nations have two things in common: they invest in teachers and they provide consistent, egalitarian access to good schools.
But in the United States, we’ve had a bizarre patchwork approach ever since the Reagan administration slashed the federal education budget, which shifted a lot of expenses to the states. Rich neighborhoods have good schools, either because property taxes bring in enough money to cover the school’s expenses or because the rich parents can raise enough money to supplement inadequate funding.
Students in poor neighborhoods, meanwhile, might have access to a good charter or magnet school, if they’re lucky and their parents know to apply to one, or they can go to a high-poverty school that receives Title I money.
But when a high-poverty school, because of its success, ends up in that zone between poor and rich, the place where real diversity resides, you get what should be a national priority — decent public education — being dumped into the laps of harried working parents. That’s what seems to be happening at P.S. 9, and it’s started to happen at other successful urban schools across the country, especially since private school is financially out of reach even for many middle-class families these days.
P.S. 9 parents are scrambling to raise the money and keep the teachers. But our parent-teacher organization isn’t even close to being able to raise $500,000 a year the way other schools in wealthier parts of Brooklyn can. Instead, our parent-teacher organization finds itself in the awkward position of asking working families who can’t afford $15 a day in after-school care to help supplement the budget of an educational institution that’s supposed to be free.
One alternative might be to make Title I money available on a sliding scale. Instead of making it an all-or-nothing proposition, begin to reduce disbursements once a school’s poverty rate begins to approach the cutoff percentage. Another, of course, would be to make education more of a national financial priority.
For now, though, the to-do list for P.S. 9 parents looks a bit like this: Take child to school. Check. Go to full-time job. Check. Pick up child, adopt class hamster for summer, check. Put child to bed. Check. Save the school. Check?
We’ll do our best, but there must be a better way.

Louise Sloan is the author of “Knock Yourself Up: A Tell-All Guide to Becoming a Single Mom.”

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Memphis District to Lose $212 Million to Charter Schools by 2016

The story unfolding in Memphis around the consolidation of Memphis and Shelby County Schools gets more and more interesting.  Today one of the Gates front men, Gary Shorb, published a plea in the Commercial-Appeal for all sides to come together to embrace what is essentially a resegregation merger plan written by the Gates Foundation and their political arm-twisting outfit, Stand On For Children (SFC).  SFC has successfully led the anti-teacher, anti-child, and anti-parent fight for corporate education reform in Colorado, Ilinois, Massachusetts, and Tennessee. It is most interesting and the ultimate irony that the County Commission, which supports the "merger" plan, is now accusing outlying Shelby County towns of racism for planning to bail out on this corporate-sponsored apartheid plan for Memphis.

Patrons $250,000+
Josh and Anita Bekenstein Charitable Fund at Combined Jewish Philanthropies
Daniels Fund
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Helios Education Foundation
Jenesis Group
Jonathan and Jeannie Lavine
New Profit Inc.
Rauner Family Foundation
Walton Family Foundation

The mechanism for getting the "merger" done to benefit the corporate charter school industry was to get the ALEC controlled State Legislature to write a law, first, to create a Transition Planning Commission (TPC) to be the public face for the plan, as devised by the corporate foundations.  Kenya Bradshaw, Executive Director of SFC, serves as Secretary on the Commission of 18 appointees (does anyone know who appointed them?  the Gov,? Bill Gates?

Next came the meetings to gather "public input," right?  And next came writing of the plan by the foundation lawyers and economists, with no further public input.

Well, the Plan was released a few days ago, and it is available on the Web.  The Commercial Appeal has published none of the details, so I spent a bit of the morning poring through the 200 page plan.  

Basically, it is plan that squeezes public funding to cover the costs of the hemorrhagic loss of revenue from shifting millions from public schools over to corporate charter operators with a free ride and no public oversight.  Secondarily, it is a plan to replace experienced teachers in urban schools with nominally prepared neophytes who will ply their trade in apartheid total compliance corporate welfare charter schools.  Thirdly, it is an attack on the teaching profession and job security.  Fourthly, it is to a plan to privatize as many school services as possible in order and to cut benefits for the remaining public employees..  

Here below are some choice tidbits with a few of my own comments.  (My bolds within the text)
Overall Shelby County public school enrollment is projected to decline 3% from FY2012 to FY2016, resulting in approximately 147,400 students enrolled in Shelby County public schools by FY2016. The enrollment mix is expected to shift to non-district operators (including charter schools and the ASD), from 4% of total public school enrollment in FY2012 to 19% in FY2016, resulting in approximately 118,700 students enrolled in district-operated schools by FY2016 (p. 13).

The Committee developed these priorities and recommendations with the understanding that Shelby County Schools will not be structured like a traditional school district in 2013–14. With the growth of the Achievement School District (ASD), the Innovation Zone, and charter schools, the district will be a mix of school operators and types. The TPC recognizes that the district does not, and should not, have the authority to mandate some of the recommendations below in charter schools and the ASD (p. 31).
The details on the Achievement School District are not complete, but it will essentially operate without local control or oversight.  It will be run out of Nashville, and it will replace the lowest scoring (poorest) public schools in the state with corporate charters.

Some details on the cost of the new Gates-Walton-Edelman Plan:

Cost Management of Enrollment Shifts
A system with multiple school operators (e.g. District, ASD and charter schools) inherently costs more to operate due to loss of scale with fixed costs being allocated across a smaller volume of students. This multi-operator environment is in place today and is projected to expand irrespective of the merger. To date, the districts have found creative ways to manage the increased costs of the existing multi-operator system (e.g. cutting or shifting 400+ positions out of the General Fund to right-size staff). However, with the projected share of students in non-district operated schools expanding rapidly in the next few years—from approximately 4% in FY2012 to 19% by FY2016 (equivalent to approximately $212M of revenues shifted to charter schools and the ASD in FY2016)—it is critical to implement strategic cost management to ensure each pathway in the Multiple Achievement Paths model is financially equitable to students. The majority of these enrollment shifts are projected to happen irrespective of the merger, and the increased cost of the system is not the “fault” of the district or charter schools. Although merged SCS will continue to be responsible for managing most of these costs, other operators will also contribute as participants who benefit from this overall system (p. 168).

Here are some specifics from the Plan with details about what they mean.  Note that almost 400 public school teachers will be lost in the first 3 years, and the Stand on Children folks are planning to make sure that these teachers lose the opportunity to transfer to the charter system being planned for urban Memphis.  One of the new priorities for the ALEC owned State Legislature will be  “Repealing TCA § 49-5-511 which requires districts to place tenured teachers on a preferred reemployment list if they lose their jobs due to a reduction in force” (p. 195):

From FY2012 to FY2014, the shift of an estimated 9,500 students from district-operated schools to other operators (e.g. charter schools, ASD) will result in a shift of approximately $70M in revenues. Charter school revenue share will continue to be a pass-through to the district and ASD revenue share is expected to be directly provided by the State.

If the merged SCS aggressively implements a set of management practices to manage its school and staffing footprint, it can recover an estimated $58M. This assumes 85% of step-variable costs can be recovered with the district pursuing regular staff right-sizing and active management to hold student-teacher ratios constant. For example, with an estimated decline or shift of 9,500 students from FY2012 to Fy2014, the district will have to make the following types of approximate reductions—390 general education teachers, 60 elective and vocational teachers, 50 clerks, and 15 central office positions—keeping in mind that new teaching and other employment opportunities would be created in the ASD and charter schools.

Other operators’ paying for benefits received (e.g. utilities and maintenance in shared facilities, shared staff, shared services) can help contribute approximately $3M (see Operations Plan chapter for more details on shared services). [Presently, TN state law requires charter operators to pay nothing for these services provided by local districts]

A modest and differentiated contribution from other operators of an estimated 4% (blended average across operator types ranging from 0% to 7% depending on specific choices made by the operators, e.g. full conversion of existing attendance zone in existing facilities contribute 0%, lottery system in existing facilities contribute 5% if choose to share school-level costs) can help recover a further approximately $3M. Enforcing contributions will require a legislative change as current Tennessee law does not allow charter school authorizers to require charter schools to contribute to district overhead. Note that benchmarks of other large urban districts show contributions to range from 2% (Denver) up to 20% (Chicago) (p. 171).

Even if all the cost savings can be implemented, including privatizing custodial and transportation operations and turning over the keys of 21 public schools to charter school operators, the TPC still projects a $57 million deficit in FY 2016.  Below is the wish list that the TPC has developed to try to close the gap created by the drain of education dollars into the corporate charter schools and ASD charter schools.  Note that there is presently no state law requiring charter operators to pay for any shared services, either utility bills, transportation costs, or shared librarians, for instance.
City, county, and state action
There are a number of outstanding issues that require city council, county commission, or state action.
These include:

Securing the $55M in funding from the City of Memphis

Waiving the Shelby County residency requirement for all SCS employees, given the number of current MCS employees who do not reside in Shelby County

Ensuring that all operators (e.g. district, charter schools, ASD) receive state and local funds in the same timeframe

Seeking definitive clarity from the state on to whom the "leveling up" requirement of the Norris Todd Act applies, and securing an agreement on that definition

Advocating for the legislature to implement the approved changes to BEP funding, and for the proposed changes made by the BEP Review Committee. There are reforms passed in the State BEP 2.0 formula that are pending funding for full implementation. Some of these reforms, including an increase in the State share for instructional components in the formula from 70%to 75%, could yield as much as $30M in incremental revenue.

Advocating for the state to provide funding during the merger transition period, per TCA § 49-2-1207 (5), and/or TCA § 49-2-1262

Advocating for the legislature to approve a charter school and ASD holdback, and charter school attendance zones

Repealing TCA § 49-5-511 which requires districts to place tenured teachers on a preferred reemployment list if they lose their jobs due to a reduction in force.

Exploring options to recover the education portion of Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs) (p. 195).

Now if the wish list does not lead to the desired funds, then the TPC has a contingency plan to pay for the ridiculous and needless and expensive turnover of 20 percent of Memphis schools to charter operators.  Here it is:

Contingency Plan
If all four recommendations for additional funding have been exhausted and a budget deficit remains, the TPC has identified potential incremental cost reductions worth $48M as a reluctant contingency plan. This contingency plan is not a recommendation of the TPC. The TPC believes that these types of reductions, which would increase class size and reduce school-level staff, undermine the potential of the Plan to create a world-class educational system, and should only be pursued as an absolute last resort.

The exact initiatives would need to be identified by the district-led working committee; however, some illustrative examples are detailed below. These examples total $48M in annual savings.

Shifting to State minimum ratio of librarians which would result in a $5.5 additional annual savings from about 115 fewer librarians

Retracting investment in additional Assistant Principals and shifting toward a 'SCS minus one' staffing model which would provide an additional $11.4M in annual savings from eliminating close to 100 AP positions

15% reduction in other school staff positions (e.g., clerks, educational assistants, therapists) for an annual savings of $10.5M

Moving to a student-teacher ratio of 'MCS plus one' for an annual savings of $20M resulting from eliminating 280 teachers (p. 177).

1,400 Principals and 1,100 Scholars in New York Alone Press State to End High Stakes Testing Madness

HT to Stan Karp:

The movement against the misuse and overuse of standardized testing continues to grow. Yesterday in NY, 1100 scholars joined 1400 principals in urging the state to replace high stakes testing policies with “multiple pathways” for students and accountability purposes. The NY City Council will consider a national resolution on high stakes testing endorsed by 350 organizations, hundreds of school boards and over 10,000 individuals.
If you think the next generation of tests based on the “common core” will improve things, read the interview below with testing expert Jim Angermeyr, who helped create the new generation tests, but now says he would do away with NCLB, state standards and mandated assessments for “accountability” and “put testing back as a local control issue in school districts.”
New York Civil Liberties Union
“New York’s over-reliance on high-stakes standardized testing harms students, teachers and public schools, with especially harsh consequences for high-need students and the teachers and schools that serve them, according to a letter signed by more than 1,100 New York State professors and released Wednesday by the New York Civil Liberties Union. The experts – from across the state, in disciplines that include education, law, statistics, history, psychology and anthropology – offered professional expertise to help the state generate multiple pathways for accountability. The letter was released during a panel of educators and academics convened by the NYCLU focusing on the problems associated with an over-reliance on high-stakes testing. “Academics across New York call on the State Education Department to explore alternative testing strategies,” said Michelle Fine, distinguished professor of psychology, urban education and women’s studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York who organized the movement behind the letter. “We are eager to work with state education leaders on assessments that meet federal No Child Left Behind guidelines, but would not promote the disparate impact of testing on high-need youth, undermine teacher professionalism or be a criterion for school closings.”
More than 10,000 individuals, 350 organizations and hundreds of school boards have now endorsed the National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing.  Launched by education, civil rights and religious groups including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Educational Fund, United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, Parents Across America and the National Education Association as well as FairTest, the National Resolution urges state officials to “reexamine school accountability.” It calls for a system “which does not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning, and is used to support students and improve schools.” It also asks Congress and the Obama Administration to overhaul No Child Left Behind.
Minneapolis Post
“If I was running the world, I would severely reduce the accountability stakes for tests. I would certainly eliminate things like No Child Left Behind. I would probably take away the current waiver. Even if it looks better, sometimes it's still really the same wolf in different clothing.
I would do away with standards, to be honest. Even though on paper they sound kind of cool, they assume all kids are the same and they all make progress the same way and move in lockstep. And that's just not accurate. Standards distort individual differences among kids. And that's bad.
I would put testing back as a local control issue in school districts. I would take the emphasis off of evaluating and [compensating] teachers. I would put the emphasis on good training for principals and curriculum specialists and teachers on how to interpret data and use it for the kind of diagnosis and assessment that it was originally intended for.
Matthew Di Carlo, Shanker Blog
The Colorado “growth model” is the model for the system being adopted in New Jersey as the basis for the new teacher evaluation ratings and for new “performance reports” that will replace NJ’s current school report cards.
Wall Street Journal
Thomas Kane, a professor of education and economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the faculty director for the Center for Education Policy Research, argues in favor of using test scores in evaluating teachers. Linda Darling-Hammond, the Charles E. Ducommun professor of education and faculty co-director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, Stanford University, argues against.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Online Testing, and How Pearson Sent Wyoming Back to Paper

 WaPo has a story on Delaware's decision to go to online testing, so that now testing can happen all year round.  Tests four times a year rather than one, tests to get ready for tests, and tests to prepare for the practice tests:

The online format allows states to give standardized tests — once a week-long ordeal in the second half of the school year — as often as four times a year. It’s an opportunity that early adopters such as Delaware have already embraced.
“This is so thrilling and exciting for those of us who work with schools,” said Joe Willhoft, executive director of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of two groups developing the new tests. “Not only will we have the end-of-the-year test, but we will also have tests that teachers can use throughout the year that can help students.”

Townsend Elementary, which is located in the Appoquinimink School District, gives students additional computer-based tests each year that teachers say are more fine-tuned than the state exams. “It used to be testing week,” said Charles Sheppard, the principal at Townsend. “Now we just test.”
And then there is this from the Hechinger Report on how Pearson screwed up so badly in Wyoming that the online experiment ended after the first debacle:
By Jill Barshay
Technical problems erupted as soon as Wyoming switched to online testing in 2010. Students were unable to submit their tests after spending hours taking them. At times the questions wouldn’t load on the screen. And ultimately the scores were deemed unreliable.

“We had so many poor kids who had to take the test again,” said Gordon Knopp, technology director of Laramie County School District No. 1, the largest school district in Wyoming.

Online testing was such a debacle that voters threw the state superintendent of education out of office and the state sued Pearson, the company hired to administer the test. (The state reached a $5 million settlement with Pearson, but the outgoing governor decided not to sign it and obligate his successor to the deal.) The state went back to old-fashioned paper, which it still uses.

Wyoming decided to be a trailblazer because the state already had a solid Internet infrastructure. Some schools were streaming videos and had shifted their phone systems online. Trial runs at practice test sites went smoothly. Jim McBride, the former superintendent, said he was hopeful that online tests would soon deliver timely results that could be used to improve classroom instruction.

Instead, the network infrastructure collapsed under the weight of more than 80,000 public school students. Knopp explained that there were two cyber traffic jams. The first was that every school was routed through a single pipe to the Wyoming Department of Education. The Department of Education and Pearson had decided to control the raw test data through a single, private network.

The second jam was unique to Wyoming. The sparsely populated, rural state had set up its public Internet system to connect to the outside world through servers in Fort Collins, Colo. The Internet pathway from the Department of Education to Colorado was used by the entire state of Wyoming.

“We were at the mercy of everyone else,” said Knopp.

Wyoming teachers also complained that school schedules were upended to rotate everyone through a computer lab, which could no longer be used for actual instruction. Some cash-poor schools had outdated equipment that didn’t work.

Knopp predicts problems for every state and district across the nation. “If it’s not the network, then it’s something else,” he said.

Kansas, for example, doesn’t have the resources to manage its school computers remotely. To prevent students from, say, searching for the answer on Google during a test, all the computers would need to be manually “locked out” one by one and used exclusively for testing.

Knopp says that to overcome online bottlenecks, education bureaucrats will have to operate a decentralized computer network like those of Google, Amazon and Netflix.  “They don’t make you go to a single testing center,” said Kopp.

Online companies reroute customers to servers where there is less traffic.

Making Life Miserable for Every Politician, CEO, Corporate Foundation, and Hedge Funder that Supports Corporate Ed Reform

Hound them, rebuke them, throw pies in their faces.  Scream at them, protest, sit up, sit down, go on strike, opt out, join up, scramble their testing databases, burn their tests, just say no, repudiate every effort to initiate the Common Core, online testing, corporate charters, mayoral takeover, parent tricker laws, zero tolerance. Any and all of their anti-democratic, anti-teacher, anti-child, anti-parent bullshit policies must go. 

Let us gather together to counter, to make impossible, the most expensive, extensive, and well-orchestrated attack on public education ever mounted.  They have the money--we have the numbers and the bodies, and the minds.  And god knows we have the spirit and right on our side. Never give up.  Never say yes.  Never negotiate. 

From FairTest below:

National Center for Fair & Open Testing*__*

for further information:

Dr. Monty Neill(617) 477-9792

Bob Schaeffer(239) 395-6773

for immediate release, Tuesday, June 26, 2012




A rising tide of protest is sweeping the U.S. as growing numbers of parents, teachers, and administrators take action against high-stakes testing, according to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest). Instead of "test-and-punish" policies, which have failed to improve academic performance or equity, the movement is pressing for broader forms of assessment they say will enhance teaching and learning. From Texas to New York and Florida to Washington State, reform activists seek to reduce the number of standardized exams. They also want to scale back the consequences attached to test scores and use multiple measures to evaluate students, educators, and schools.

More than 10,000 individuals, 350 organizations and hundreds of school boards have now endorsed the National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing.Launched by education, civil rights and religious groups including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Educational Fund, United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, Parents Across America and the National Education Association as well as FairTest, the National Resolution urges state officials to "reexamine school accountability." It calls for a system "which does not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning, and is used to support students and improve schools." It also asks Congress and the Obama Administration to overhaul No Child Left Behind.

The national movement was catalyzed by Texas where 545 local school boards have adopted a "Resolution Concerning High Stakes, Standardized Testing of Texas Public School Students." The endorsing districts are responsible for educating 3.3 million students, more than two-thirds of the state's public school enrollment.

In Florida more than a dozen countywide school committees serving three-quarters of a million students endorsed the National Resolution. Early supporters included Broward County, the nation's sixth biggest district, and Palm Beach County, the 11^th largest. Then, the state association of school boards annual convention voted to endorse a state-specific version. Dozens of newspaper editorials, opinion columns, and letters to the editor have called for a reduction in testing and an overhaul of the state's assessment system.

The National Resolution has also won support from several school boards in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, area as well as Ohio and Virginia.

The resolutions are not the only form of protest. This spring New York parents organized a boycott of a "field test" designed to develop future questions. Parents at more than five dozen schools held their children out on days the exams were scheduled. Boycotts also emerged in other states. In Snohomish, Washington, 550 parents opted their children out. Campaigns aimed at encouraging more "opt-outs" are underway in California and Colorado.

This summer, assessment reform leaders intend to use campaign season to continue their momentum. They plan to press elected officials and their challengers to take public positions against test misuse and overuse. In St. Petersburg, Florida, for example, voters already convinced seven of eight contenders for the local school board to oppose high-stakes standardized exams. By "bird-dogging" candidate forums, asking pointing questions, publishing opinion columns in local media, and commenting on political blogs, advocates expect to deliver a clear message to those who ultimately make assessment policy: "Enough is enough!"

- - 3 0 - -

- The National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing is online at http://timeoutfromtesting.org/nationalresolution/

Memphis School Consolidation Means More Segregation, Privatization, and Charter Chain Gangs

When Wake County and Raleigh planned and executed a merger in 2000, they consciously adopted a socioeconomic integration plan with the goal of no more than 40 percent free and reduced priced lunch students per school.  Without forced busing but, rather, with the creation of large numbers of magnet schools and with a public outreach program that welcomed the community into the planning process and with a professional development plan for school staff that taught about the strengths of diverse learning environments, Wake County created a system that essentially had no bad schools but, rather, a system where social capital was created and shared, where all boats were lifted as a result, where learning gains were large and widespread. 

Contrast that to the secret and divisive and demonizing process going on in Memphis, where rumors of budget deficits are designed to scare board members into making rash decisions about closing schools and replacing them with charter schools. 

Has anyone on the planning board for consolidation considered an alternative to their plan to turn the intensely segregated school system of Memphis into a total apartheid system with zero tolerance charter schools for the poor run by corporations?  Has anyone really explored why the new K-12 consolidated system must pay for privatized pre-K at exorbitant rates (see this story for what can happen when corporations take over pre-schooling), while public schools must be closed and custodial work is being outsourced to pay for it?  Does anyone in Memphis care that 21 schools--primarily middle schools--are about to be closed and turned over to charter companies, thus disrupting the entire feeder system for large parts of the city's public schools?  Does anyone have any facts on how much money these closures will save, or does anyone care about the human costs and the the costs to the ideal of desegregated schools?

Most importantly, is there a public official in Memphis who is not afraid to propose something different from the plan devised by the Gates lawyers and economists who are playing school policy experts at the expense of Memphis citizens?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Eva Moskowitz, Corporate Welfare Charter Queen

Worth 100,000 words
Priceless photo of Eva pitching by Linda Rosier, NY Daily News.
Commentary by Juan Gonzalez for the Daily News:
Even in public education, the rich keep getting richer.

That's the message the trustees of the State University of New York will send Monday when they vote to approve a huge 50% increase in the per-pupil management fee of one of the city's wealthiest, biggest-spending and most controversial charter school operators.

The Success Academy Charter Schools Inc., run by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, applied in April for an increase from $1,350 to $2,000 in the annual per student payment it receives from the state to run 10 of its charter schools.

SUNY postponed the vote following a public outcry over the agency's failure to disclose any details beforehand.

Not until Friday morning did the agency finally release some documents to justify the increase.

Among them is a May 22 letter from Moskowitz that claims her network has been heavily subsidizing "shortfalls" in its management costs for years through outside donations and grants.

Those high costs have been a result, Moskowitz said, of a "quality and intensity of services that is far higher than nearly any other (charter operator) in New York City," yet she has continued to augment her services despite insufficient fees from the schools.

But with the "deficit ... increasing every year," Moskowitz says, "the current situation is simply unsustainable." In 2010-11 alone, she states, her network's "shortfall" reached $4.7 million.

This will all come as a huge surprise to anyone who has bothered to examine Success Academy's financial reports or who has witnessed firsthand its almost limitless spending .

The Success Network, in fact, is a fund-raising colossus, having received $28 million from dozens of foundations and wealthy investors the past six years, and millions more in state and federal grants.

On its annual tax forms, it has continually reported huge year-end surpluses for both itself and its individual schools. Those combined surpluses currently stand at more $23.5 million.

Hardly the picture of financial woe.

Last year alone, the network spent an astounding $883,119 on "student recruitment" - much of it for glossy flyers mailed to hundreds of thousands of parents; bus stop and Internet ads and an army of paid recruiters to go door-to-door soliciting student applications.

Even other charter schools rarely spend more than a few thousand dollars on student recruitment.

It paid $243,150 to SKD Knickerbocker, a high-powered public relations firm, to supplement its own in-house press people, and another $129,000 to a Washington consulting firm founded by President Obama's chief strategist David Axelrod.

But that wasn't all that Success Academy spent on marketing itself.

The network's first seven schools incurred an additional $912,000 "student recruitment" expenditure last year, most of it going to big advertising and branding companies.

That's comes to more than $3.4 million spent on marketing and drumming up huge numbers of application forms - in just one year.
It is perhaps the most intense campaign to sell a group of charter schools in the history of education.

"Our results prove we are spending resources effectively," Moskowitz said. "With fewer taxpayer dollars than district schools, we have an extraordinary level of student achievement, which is why we have 13,000 applicants this year."

Which, of course, ignores the fact there is no need to spend so many millions of dollars to recruit 10 times more applicants than you can possibly handle.

As for the Success Academy's "extraordinary level of student achievement," that will be the subject of a future column.
For now, despite efforts from parent groups led by New York Communities for Change, SUNY's bureaucrats seems poised to give Moskowitz exactly what she wants - a big fee increase to overcome her "unsustainable shortfall."

Smear Campaign Against Teachers is Freakish, New Low

Perhaps like an alcoholic or drug addict, our children, teachers, public schools and country will have to hit rock bottom before finding a way to recover from the last 30 years of destructive corporate driven ed reform policies that are gutting our nation's public schools. The dire fiscal circumstances of local and state government is yet providing another crisis to be conveniently used as a reason to dismantle democratically elected school boards and replaced with emergency measures such as private for-profit charter operations, state by state.

Sadly, as long as the American people continue to ignore reality and buy into the well-funded propaganda campaign by politicians and business leaders who have NO ACCOUNTABILITY for the havoc they wrought on the economy, they will continue to use teachers and education as a fig leaf for their colossal failures. The same tired, rotted discourse and myths about failing schools is perpetuated in a corporate-owned media in bed with a corporate-owned Congress. 

The conversation about education today is as shallow as the multiple choice tests and common core curriculum being force fed to an entire generation of students. These are the same students  who will need the critical thinking skills, imagination, creativity and resourcefulness to survive in a Third World country saddled with debt, massive economic inequality and that boasts 20% of children living in poverty. 

However,  as long as the profits keep rolling in for companies like Pearson and their shareholders or the wealthy foundations who have bought and paid for both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, pre-kindergarten can be cut in the name of austerity as testing budgets explode under the new common core curriculum standards that will provide a steady stream of profits for years to come.

How much longer will the American people and its elected representatives continue to look the other way in face of the overt subjugation of those who teach our children to high anxiety, stress, and lack of job security so familiar to those in the almighty market-driven private sector where any modicum of humanity is a rare and precious commodity. HT to David Macaray, a playwright with a keen eye for  theatre of the absurd and for standing up to the powerful forces out to destroy the one profession with the ability to actually help this nation progress and succeed in the 21st Century.

John Dewey, the great education philosopher who spent much of his career explaining how education and democracy are mutually dependent on one another said,  "I believe that education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform." 

Ironic isn't it -- the same politicians and business leaders who claim they want the United States to be competitive again in the world economy are actually doing everything they can to undermine that possibility while stuffing their pockets with worthless currency.

Teachers in the Crosshairs

During my twenty-odd years as a union rep in a big-time factory (a 44-acre paper mill), I had occasion to talk to over a hundred people about the things we most regretted in our lives.  It’s true.  That was our topic of discussion….regrets.  Things we hadn’t done but wish we had, things we had done but wish we hadn’t, and things we would do differently if we could go back and repeat them.  The whole gamut.
These conversations weren’t nearly as confrontational or melodramatic as they sound.  They weren’t exercises in psychodrama or brutal self-analysis so much as casual, idiosyncratic ways of passing time on swing-shift or graveyard.  They were fun.  In a highly automated, modern plant like ours you could do your job quite efficiently and still have time to swap life stories with your fellow workers.  Which is what we did. 
The responses were revealing.  Nearly everyone regretted the exact same thing.  They regretted they hadn’t been better students—and not just in high school, but all the way back to elementary school.  These good people regretted that they hadn’t been more mature, that they hadn’t applied themselves more diligently, that they hadn’t paid attention in class, and that they hadn’t buckled down and done their assigned homework.  They more or less regretted their entire attitude toward education.
And while I’m not suggesting that this informal survey was in any way “conclusive,” the difference in responses between men and women was nonetheless surprising.  Virtually every man I spoke to blamed himself for his deficiency.  He readily acknowledged that in elementary school all he did was watch TV and goof off, and that by the time he reached high school he was more interested in girls and cars and sports than school work.
But while the women also regretted that they, too, hadn’t applied themselves, their assessment differed a bit from the men’s.  Women were more willing to fault their parents (particularly their mothers) for not having dogged them enough.  They were critical of their mothers for not having sufficiently “pushed” them to be good students, and for not having “had higher [academic] expectations” for them. 
It didn’t seem that any of these women (most of whom were late thirties or older) were especially bitter, or were playing the martyr card, or were using their moms as scapegoats.  What they were doing was simply looking back on their lives and candidly recalling that a lack of parental-imposed motivation and discipline had hindered them academically. 
In any event, here’s the kicker.  Not one of them blamed their teachers.  More than a hundred people gave reasons for not having done well (or well enough) in school, and not one of them took the easy way out and blamed the system.  Not one person said, “I was a good student, but my teachers were too incompetent to teach me, which is why I didn’t excel in school.”  They all knew that simply wasn’t true. 
And yet, if we believe what we see and hear in the media, the myriad problems with our public schools—from low test scores to a 25-percent drop-out rate—are the fault of incompetent teachers and their “powerful” teachers’ union.  No one dares blame the kids or the parents.  It’s the teachers who are the villains.
With all the lies, omissions, and exaggerations that we’re regularly exposed to, many of us have become understandably cynical.  Personally, I’ve pretty much come to regard everything with a jaundiced eye.  Ever since the needle on my Indignation Dial got stuck in the “You’ve Got To Be Shitting Me” position, very little outrages me.
But this smear campaign against teachers is freakish.  It’s a new low.  What’s worse, even though it’s being driven by reactionary right-wingers, it’s not confined exclusively to the right.  Everyone is buying into it.  Self-avowed “progressives” blame the teachers.  President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan blame them. 
Which is why so many teachers are reluctantly leaving the profession.  This smear campaign is actually forcing good teachers to change careers because they no longer feel it’s worth the aggravation.  Teaching is demanding enough without being accused of incompetence.  So we’re forcing them out.  Is this a great country or what?