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

Friday, November 30, 2012

Lessons from Katrina

The Shock Doctrine Comes to New Jersey Schools

Just waiting for Arne Duncan to say Hurricane Sandy was the "best thing that happened to the education system" in New Jersey. While the power is out, entire school districts have literally crumbled the poorest are again being left behind, many homeless now and in already underfunded public schools. Christie and Cerf have a plan to use theirr "power sparingly." They will come to save the day because too many schools are failing. No mention of the actual architects of this failure, the government and corporate driven education reformers.

Will New Jersey's parents and teachers stand by as they are sold another jar of snake oil or will they stand up with teachers in Chicago who have finally drawn the line in the sand.

Three months into the school year, more than 250 schools in nearly 90 districts are going through the first phases of the Christie administration’s expanded oversight for schools that show low performance or wide achievement gaps.

Each of the schools designated as Priority Schools or Focus Schools under the administration’s new accountability rules has gone through a state evaluation of its programs called a quality school review (QSR), state officials said yesterday.
The schools are now completing improvement plans for addressing their weaknesses, ranging from new principals to adjusted schedules for more teacher planning to new data specialists in virtually every one of the targeted schools.

The consequences could be significant, based on new regulations released this week that lay out new details on the interventions and the process leading up to them.

Among them -- and sure to generate some controversy – will be requirements that schools that fail to improve enter into agreements with outside organizations to provide direct support.

Other provisions include the state stepping in on staffing, budget and curriculum decisions.

There’s even an appeal process for districts that don’t go along with the state’s demands, although the requirements would be in effect in the meantime.

Not included in the regulations is the possibility that persistently failing schools could be shut down by the state or handed over to charter school organizations to operate.
State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf yesterday did not rule out the possibility of closures, but said that step and even the use of outside organizations are last resorts after all other remedies are exhausted.

He said such consequences would likely be, at the earliest, two or three years away, unless a district defied the state outright.

“It’s a power we would use sparingly, if at all,” Cerf said of the outside partnerships. Of possible school closures, he said that’s “neither the plan nor reflected in the regulations.” Still, Cerf sounded ready for the likely debate over the extent of the state’s powers, saying any criticism that the administration is seeking to dismantle or privatize public schools is ill-founded.

“We have invested more money than ever into our public schools,” he said. “This is about strengthening public schools, and sometimes that gets lost.”

Some of those critics were withholding judgment last night until they could review the new regulations.

The Education Law Center in Newark, the advocacy organization that has led the Abbott v. Burke litigation, had Education Law Center Letter on Regulations threatened a legal challenge] asserting that the accountability measures were being put in place without required regulations. Its director said last night that the state Attorney General’s office responded a month ago that the regulations would be forthcoming.

“We were prepared to file legal action if the Commissioner failed to issue rules governing all elements of new State accountability system,” read a statement from David Sciarra, the ELC’s executive director. “We will carefully review to determine if these rules are legally sufficient.”

The outlines of the state’s plans have been in the public domain for close to a year, as they were included in its successful application for a waiver from the federal No Child Left behind Act, approved last February.

The plans focuses on schools ranked among the very lowest performers on state tests, now called Priority Schools, or those with the widest gaps in achievement between different racial groups and other groups of children, labeled as Focus Schools.

Much of the intervention would come by way of seven new Regional Achievement Centers (RACs) created by Cerf as the centerpiece of his reorganization of the state Department of Education.

But the new regulations add new and greater detail to those plans, as well as the basis for the state enforcement of those rules.

The regulations, issued by the commissioner unilaterally, do not need additional approval from the state Board of Education. There will be a 60-day public comment period before they go into effect.

Among the newest details is the use of outside organizations – termed “qualified turnaround partners” (QTPs) -- for schools that don’t improve. The organizations would be chosen by the education department based on their track records in other districts, Cerf said, and could be private, for-profit or nonprofit.

He said they would be more focused on specific deficiencies in a school, as opposed to overall operations.

“These are schools that by any measure are failing, and the fact is, even today, many such schools are already partnering with these kinds of organizations,” he said, referring to private organizations involved with districts on everything from professional development to preschool to special education.

The organizations’ services would be paid for by the districts, according to the regulations.

Other specific interventions outlined in the regulations include the power to reassign staff, require specific training or curriculum changes, or redirect spending and make other budget decisions.

Cerf said most schools targeted as the lowest achieving have one-third or fewer of their students at grade level in reading or math, and all remedies must be explored.
“We are prepared to do everything and anything to repair that,” he said. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Guest Post: What was DiCarlo thinking?

Dr. John Thompson was an award-winning historian, lobbyist, and guerilla-gardener who became an award-winning inner city teacher after crack and gangs hit his neighborhood.By John Thompson

As conservative school "reformers" bemoan their defeat in the 2012 election, and as some seem to admit the failure of their "reforms," some accountability hawks are doing some self-criticism. For instance, Fordham's Kathleen Porter-Magee says that the reform movement suffers from "group think," and it could be heading for its educational Bay of Pigs. Porter-Magee criticizes her allies' demonization of educators, but she still suggests there is an equivalency in this educational civil war. She still seems to believe that teachers who are fighting back against an unprovoked assault launched against us share complicity in the venous politics of school reform.

Exhibit A in demonstrating that educators' struggle to defend our profession is different is Matt DiCarlo's "Value-Added for the Record." At a time when test-driven evaluations are reeling from political defeats, when many or most teachers want to drive a stake through their heart, DiCarlo, argues that "value-added should be given a try in new teacher evaluations." He is uncomfortable with counting test score growth as 40-50% of a teacher's evaluation, but he seemed willing to count it as 10 to 15% of an evaluation.

When I first read DiCarlo's position, I was stunned. The last thing our schools need is another rationale for standardized testing. It was not shocking, however, that a researcher who writes for the union-affiliated Shanker Institute would take such an unlikely position. Teachers and our representatives come from a tradition which defends dissent. I think he is dead wrong on this one. But, I read DiCarlo's take on value-added as an eloquent testimony regarding the difference between the two sides of the school reform wars. Teachers and unions remain open to the clash of differing ideas. We do not impose litmus tests. So, I offer this critique in that spirit.

DiCarlo is "frequently taken aback by the unadulterated certainty" about "this completely untested policy" known as value-added evaluations. His analysis tends to focus on things he is qualified to discuss, research design details and their policy implications. DiCarlo does not try to be a "armchair policy general when it's not my job or working conditions that might be on the line."

One problem with DiCarlo's position is that there is no offer on the table to reduce the bubble-in component of evaluations to 10 to 15%. If such a compromise were enacted, the harm done by value-added would be diminished. On the other hand, under NCLB graduation and attendance rates often count for about 10%, but few metrics has been subject to as much gamesmanship as those two. And, even though they account for a seemingly small percentage of a school's report card, they have prompted a series of destructive policies, from so-called "credit recovery" to tricks for making absences disappear, that have done real harm to schools.

That leads to the biggest problem with DiCarlo's logic regarding this issue. He sees that "value-added is the front line soldier in that larger war" and, correctly, seeks to deescalate. Then, he makes the leap to viewing value-added for high-stakes decisions as "a related yet in many respects separate question, and a largely empirical one at that." So, "That's the whole idea of giving something a try - to see how it works out."

DiCarlo's proposal ignores the most important half of the equation - students. He seems to be saying that teachers should not fight against efforts to use our students as lab rates. If the most likely outcome occurs and value-added evaluations drive more talent from the schools where it is harder to raise test scores, how long will it take to undo the damage? In districts where value-added prompts more bubble-in malpractice, how long will students pay for that experiment?

But, here's the key point in my disagreement with DiCarlo on his post. If we respect differences in opinions and maintain our faith in the honest clash of ideas, we and our students will win. Especially in regard to high stakes uses of value-added, if policy-makers would also respect the rules of evidence, educators would come out fine. So, education must remain true to the scientific method. We must continue to revere the principle of the peer review of evidence, and that means we respect our colleagues who reach differing conclusions. Nobody is immune to "group think." As long as we welcome opinions such as the one that DiCarlo presented, however, we can make the case that educators obey a set of values that are not equivalent to those of the data-driven crowd.

I still have to ask, however, what was DiCarlo thinking ...?

Dr. John Thompson was an award-winning historian, lobbyist, and guerilla-gardener who became an award-winning inner city teacher after crack and gangs hit his neighborhood. He blogs at thisweekineducation.com, and huffingtonpost.com, and is writing a book on 18 years of idealistic politics in the classroom and realistic politics outside.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New science standards: the rip-off continues

Next Generation Science Standards
“The second public draft of the Next Generation Science Standards, developed by Achieve, is due for release before the new year.”

I posted this comment:

To enforce the standards, there must be tests. And as is the case with other common core tests, they will be administered online. And they will be revised, updated, changed every year, old equipment will be replaced with new equipment. This means not only an initial boondoggle for the computer and publishing world, but a continuing boondoggle forever.
There is no evidence that this will help students. It is an experiment carried out with all of our children as subjects. When it fails, teachers will be blamed. To control teaching, we will then get even more “rigorous” (hard, not better) standards and even more testing, with ever more profits for the .01%.
This will go down in history as one of the greatest rip-offs of all time. It will be paid for from taxpayer money, a classic case of take from the needy, give to the greedy.


In memory of Harvey Milk: teacher witch-hunts are nothing new

First published on Robert D. Skeels for School Board on November 27, 2012.

"Gay people have been slandered nationwide. We've been tarred and we've been brushed with the picture of pornography." — Harvey Milk

Harvey MilkThe current crop of teacher-bashing political opportunists including Michelle Rhee, Ben Austin, Peter C. Cook, Gloria Romero, and Andy Smarick, are nothing new. While it's always been in vogue to attack the female dominated profession, teachers have really been in the crosshairs of reactionaries ever since they won the modicum of protections that unions provide.

San Francisco's Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated 34 years ago today. Milk, who had been a teacher early in his career, was a man who always spoke truth to power. When right-wing extremist John Briggs coined Proposition 6, he relied on the same bigoted thinking that we've seen in recent times with Proposition 32, and other anti-teacher, anti-student, anti-worker initiatives. While the defeat of the Briggs Initiative was clearly a watershed victory for the Gay Rights Movement, it was also victory for labor and public employees, especially school employees.

Milk was no stranger to supporting and partnering with organized labor. His successful partnership with the Teamsters was an excellent example of what today's activists need to be emulating. Milk was savvy to realize that oppressed groups need to work together in order to overcome their oppressions. The fight for gay rights, women's rights, workers' rights, immigrant rights, and all our struggles are one in the same. The other side counts on us being divided.

The corporate and neoliberal forces pushing education reform rely on divide and conquer strategies. They pit parents against educators, students against other students via standardized tests, "lucky" lottery winners against families with special needs children, and we can increase this list ad infinitum. Using deceptive language about "choice," they've begun to destroy one of the great things in our country—universal public education. We need to call out the reformers' false dichotomies for what they are. We need to strengthen the natural alliances between students, educators, parents, and community. We need to tell the privatizers that the only "choices" we want are those that assure equity for all students!

We get there by emulating Harvey Milk's coalition building. We get there by exposing billionaire funded astroturf 501c3s for having the narrow interests of their funders, not our communities. We get there by pushing all unions—especially those in our schools—into social justice unionism. We get there by electing school board members who will be activists and advocates on behalf of their communities.

The struggle continues.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

School to Prison Pipeline in Mississippi

From Alternet, originally published by Colorlines.com by  Julianne Hing 

The Shocking Details of a Mississippi School-to-Prison Pipeline
Wearing the wrong color socks, talking back and being late landed young Cedrico Green in jail. The Justice Department says there are many more students like him

Private Prison Corporation Participates in Public School Drug Raid

Vista Grande High School in Case Grande has this at the bottom of its lengthy list of violations and procedures on its Discipline Page:

The administration retains the right and privilege to issue consequences for acts of behavior not specifically stated herein and to alter any consequences, as they consider necessary. Furthermore, the administration reserves the right to amend any provisions in this handbook which they deem to be in the best interest of the educational process. We promise that students are the focus of all our efforts.

Students must have been the focus of their efforts last month when the principal approved the use of Corrections Corporation of America to participate in a drug raid at the school.  Could this be part of an elaborate Adopt-A-School program, whereby the school collects an institutional bounty for every bed they help fill for one of the County's six CCA hellhole operations. Not a bad idea in this era of shrinking public commitment to public schools.  Big story at Common Dreams. 
This piece is from ThinkProgress:
The nation’s largest private prison corporation appears to be playing a part in drug raids at some Arizona public schools, PRWatch reports. On October 31, Vista Grande High School in Case Grande, Arizona had its first drug raid in the school’s four-year history. Three students were arrested for marijuana possession, and if one is charged with a felony, she could face prison.
One of the four parties involved was Corrections Corporation of America, which operates private prison facilities notorious for poor treatment and violations. Neither the Police Department Public Information Officer nor the high school’s principal saw a problem with the company’s participation:
According to Casa Grande Police Department (CGPD) Public Information Officer Thomas Anderson, four “law enforcement agencies” took part in the operation: CGPD (which served as the lead agency and operation coordinator), the Arizona Department of Public Safety, the Gila River Indian Community Police Department, and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
It is the involvement of CCA — the nation’s largest private, for-profit prison corporation — that causes this high school “drug sweep” to stand out as unusual; CCA is not, despite CGPD’s evident opinion to the contrary, a law enforcement agency. [...]
Despite the obvious differences between CCA and actual law enforcement agencies, those involved in the Vista Grande High School drug sweep seem unable to differentiate between CCA employees and law enforcement officers.

”CCA is like a skip and a hop away from us– as far as the one in Florence,” said Anderson. “We work pretty closely with all surrounding agencies, whatever kind of law enforcement they are– be they police, or immigration and naturalization, or the prison systems. So, yeah, this seems pretty regular to me.”
CCA has a strong presence in the Arizona county, where it operates six facilities. The state recently awarded CCA a contract for 1,000 new beds. Arizona already houses 6,500 of its inmates in private prisons. CCA does not save the state money, either. According to a report by American Friends Service Committee, the state overpaid its private prison industry by $10 million between 2008 and 2010. In return, the facilities had 157 serious security failings.
CCA has been at the heart of controversies across the country: In Idaho, a lawsuit alleges that CCA partnered with violent gangs to save money. At another facility, CCA’s poor treatment of inmates reportedly led to a deadly riot. Not too surprisingly, CCA was also active in the American Legislative Exchange Council until 2010.

Hey, ExxonMobil: Let's Solve This!

ExxonMobil is spending millions in PR lying to us about how committed they are to solving the world's biggest problem: bad teachers.  Meanwhile, their CEO continues as one of the world's richest global warming deniers, even as the grip of climate change begins to cut off our air supply.  It provides me no consolation that Exxon Mobil executives will die along along with the rest of our grandchildren as a result of corporate duplicity, lies, and misleading propaganda.  

Moving forward after Hurricane Sandy has her 15 minutes of infamy, one thing is for sure: ExxonMobil's karma becomes our karma if we are unwilling to act to save the planet from the corporations that are willing to destroy it to meet Wall Street's expectations for the next quarterly report. 

A clip from a Chris Hedges essay at Truthdig and Nation of Change:

Humans must immediately implement a series of radical measures to halt carbon emissions or prepare for the collapse of entire ecosystems and the displacement, suffering and death of hundreds of millions of the globe’s inhabitants, according to a report commissioned by the World Bank. The continued failure to respond aggressively to climate change, the report warns, will mean that the planet will inevitably warm by at least 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, ushering in an apocalypse.
The 84-page document, “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided,” was written for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics and published last week. The picture it paints of a world convulsed by rising temperatures is a mixture of mass chaos, systems collapse and medical suffering like that of the worst of the Black Plague, which in the 14th century killed 30 to 60 percent of Europe’s population. The report comes as the annual United Nations Conference on Climate Change begins this Monday [Nov. 26] in Doha, Qatar.
A planetwide temperature rise of 4 degrees C—and the report notes that the tepidness of the emission pledges and commitments of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will make such an increase almost inevitable—will cause a precipitous drop in crop yields, along with the loss of many fish species, resulting in widespread hunger and starvation. Hundreds of millions of people will be forced to abandon their homes in coastal areas and on islands that will be submerged as the sea rises. There will be an explosion in diseases such as malaria, cholera and dengue fever. Devastating heat waves and droughts, as well as floods, especially in the tropics, will render parts of the Earth uninhabitable. The rain forest covering the Amazon basin will disappear. Coral reefs will vanish. Numerous animal and plant species, many of which are vital to sustaining human populations, will become extinct. Monstrous storms will eradicate biodiversity, along with whole cities and communities. And as these extreme events begin to occur simultaneously in different regions of the world, the report finds, there will be “unprecedented stresses on human systems.” Global agricultural production will eventually not be able to compensate. Health and emergency systems, as well as institutions designed to maintain social cohesion and law and order, will crumble. The world’s poor, at first, will suffer the most. But we all will succumb in the end to the folly and hubris of the Industrial Age. And yet, we do nothing.
“It is useful to recall that a global mean temperature increase of 4°C approaches the difference between temperatures today and those of the last ice age, when much of central Europe and the northern United States were covered with kilometers of ice and global mean temperatures were about 4.5°C to 7°C lower,” the report reads. “And this magnitude of climate change—human induced—is occurring over a century, not millennia.”

Why Schools Are Tools of Indoctrination

Wisdom, be attentive.


Excerpted from Jonathan Schwartz at A Tiny Revolution.

Oliver Stone's Untold, Unboring History of the United States

American history! Whose heart doesn't race when you remember being initiated into its excitement and mystery in high school? There's the Logan Act of 1799! And the presidency of Benjamin Harrison! And the Open Door Policy. And, uh, and the Fordney–McCumber Tariff of 1922...and "A Return to Normalcy"... and the Federal Aid Highway Aczzzzzzzzzzzzzptsphttzzzz.

Almost everyone in high school hates history, and they should. Just 7% of U.S. students say history is their favorite subject, and considering how schools grind American history into mush, it's amazing the number's that high. It's like 7% said their favorite food is unflavored semolina.

Schools accomplish this with one simple technique: leaving out every single thing about U.S. history that's interesting. In high school history classes there's never been any conflict in America – and no one filled with greed, or hate, or lust for power. In other words, no recognizable human beings. Everyone always wanted the best for everybody in the best of all possible worlds. It's been 236 years of interchangeable robots singing "America the Beautiful."

It's obvious why schools have to do this – real history is dangerous. If the people in charge 50 years ago were horribly flawed, students might consider the possibility that the ones in charge now are too. But all people, especially the kind that spend their lives seeking power, are horribly flawed, and its their flaws that make them human and interesting. So schools know they're being constantly monitored by the people currently at the top of the pyramid in case they slip up and accidentally let something interesting into the curriculum. (This is really no exaggeration – while Dick Cheney was doing horrible things in the present, his wife Lynne was constantly on guard against students finding out about horrible things U.S. leaders did in the past.*)

Young Americans have understandably responded to this with massive passive resistance, refusing to learn anything at all about the past. And that's fine with the people running things. Their first choice would be to have kids opening each school day with a hymn to the Rockefellers and ExxonMobil, but failing that they'd rather students know nothing. If kids knew how and why George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, they might ask questions in 2031 when George P. Bush invades Iceland.

That's why you're not going to see a glowing review of Oliver Stone's new book and 10-part Showtime series, The Untold History of the United States, in the New York Times anytime soon. It's just too interesting. Stone, together with the historian Peter Kuznick, has taken almost everything compelling about the last seventy years of American foreign policy and put it all in one place....

...get the book, both for yourself and for any high school history teachers you know who are independently wealthy and won't mind getting fired.


*In fairness to Dick and Lynne, this works the same in every country. According to Anne Elizabeth Moore, a journalist who's spent a lot of time in Cambodia, most younger Cambodians have no idea there ever was such a thing as the Khmer Rouge.


Let us understand that we are a nation of amnesiacs--this induced by convention, by culture (same thing), by commerce, by capital...

Let us understand that our daily lives are FULL of entertainments.  We call these distractions if we are not entertained by them.  But it is our everything.  If you have a smart phone you are distracted.  If you have a FB account you are distracted.  If you write a blog about "real time" events you are distracted.  Or entertained.

Let us understand that adults are no less distracted than children; How is Facebook not exactly like Minecraft in intent and use?

Let us understand that distraction is our very "ground" of discourse.  

Let us choose a "side" and watch.  Choose, go on.  D or R; Ass or Elephant; Progressive Racist or Conservative Racist; Drone A or Drone B.  Or maybe we should stick to education: Aronowitz and Apple; Hirsch (Coleman) and Ravitch; Finn and the Acolytes of Milty.  

Let us understand that your newspaper is literally more to the good as birdcage liner than as honest content for thinking.

Let us understand that college and university is a business with no intention of educating to "equal opportunity."

Let us understand that all proposals by billionaires are eugenicist.

Let us understand that there is NO national interest but one created for mass consumption that serves a narrow and personal interest of oligarchs who own all the weapons.

Let us understand that REAL dissent will lead to your being jailed and deprived of the freedom to live under governing totalities.

Give us this day our daily bread is still our defining interest, our real Golden Rule.  Don't forget to say "please." ("Men bow down to the lord of bread first and foremost."  D. H. Lawrence)

Or, perhaps there is an Everlasting NO out there somewhere...can you hear it?

Jim McIntyre Tries Pushing Knoxville Onto Dollar Guzzling Charter Reform School Bus

If there is another thing that Knoxville does not need and can't afford (besides Lane Kiffin) is a string of corporate welfare charter reform schools that will benefit Wall Street hedge fund investors and philanthrocapitalists like Eli Broad, while draining millions from public schools.  

This was issued this morning:

KCS issues charter school request for proposals
The Knox County Schools is accepting charter school proposals for the 2014-2015 school year to cultivate strong school capacity to provide high quality academic instruction.  Proposals will be entertained both for new charter schools as well as potential conversions of existing schools to charters.
Applicants interested in conversion of an existing school to a charter school, or any non-traditional charter school structure should contact the Knox County Board of Education office to consult with the Charter School Review Chair before beginning the process on February 1, 2013.  Applications for new, traditional charter schools must offer an innovative, compelling and evidence-based plan for a high quality charter school, and demonstrate that the plan was collaboratively developed by a diverse and expert design team.
Any group or individual planning to submit a charter school proposal to the Knox County Schools must first submit a Letter of Intent and evidence of community outreach no later than February 1, 2013 (which is 60 days before the completed application is due to the Knox County Schools on April 1, 2013). Potential applicants who do not submit a Letter of Intent and evidence of community outreach by the February deadline will not be considered during the 2013 application cycle.
Complete details and timelines are available in the charter school Request for Proposal document located on the Knox County Schools website, www.knoxschools.org.  

Monday, November 26, 2012

Louisiana Constitution on Trial and Schools on the Chopping Block

Louisiana has the highest number of black student retentions in the nation to go along with the highest black incarceration rate in the U. S.  The private prison industry is worth $182 million a year when beds are full, and "Louisiana's incarceration rate is nearly five times Iran's, 13 times China's and 20 times Germany's."  To say that it is a police state is hardly an exaggeration, and the charter reform schools in poor black areas are run like junior penitentiaries.  

The State hired a new State Superintendent a couple of years back, a former English major from UVA with TFA credentials. The state's latest scam to privatize public schools, and it comes in the form of a state school voucher program. Now it's up to the Courts:

BATON ROUGE, La. — A Baton Rouge judge will hear arguments next week over whether Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's statewide taxpayer-funded school voucher program and other sweeping education changes were properly created by lawmakers.
After months of behind-the-scenes legal haggling since a lawsuit was filed in June, the court hearing is set for Wednesday. District Judge Tim Kelley set aside three days for the case.
Two statewide teacher unions and dozens of local school boards say the voucher program that is using tax dollars to send children to private schools and other new education funding plans are unconstitutional.
They argue it's illegal to pay for the voucher program, home-schooling, online courses, college tuition and independently run charter schools that won't be affiliated with local school systems through the public school funding formula.
They also claim lawmakers didn't follow the constitutional requirements for filing and passing the education programs and their funding.
"This is about protecting the constitutional rights of all Louisiana's school children -- not just a select few. Our state Constitution promises that every child in Louisiana will be provided with an educational setting that will give them the opportunity to develop to their full potential and that's exactly what we're trying to protect," Joyce Haynes, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said in a statement about the case.

Ohanian: I wonder why The New York Times gives so much space to the opinion of amateurs without even a nod to professionals in the field.

Susan Ohanian responds to Sara Mosle’s What Should Children Read” (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/22/what-should-children-read/)

“I wonder why The New York Times gives so much space to the opinion of amateurs without even a nod to professionals in the field.”

Dear Editor:

Bringing about 20 years more teaching experience than Sara Mosle brought to her out-of-balance article (“What should children read?” Nov. 25), I can cite hundreds of instances of student writing being informed by the fiction they love, though, admittedly, I'm not talking about a fixation on sentence elements that will supposedly lead directly to better corporate memos such as the topic sentences Mosle cites. It would be useful to poll parents, asking how early they want their children’s education stripped of fiction and directed toward the utilitarian, market analysis goals so loved by David Coleman.
Regrettably, Mosle perpetuates the myth that non-teacher David Coleman has a clue of what is developmentally appropriate to students needs, and it is worse than a mistake that she fails to include the judgments of experienced teachers or researchers.
I wonder why The New York Times gives so much space to the opinion of amateurs without even a nod to professionals in the field.


Susan Ohanian

A very short open letter to President Obama

A very short open letter to President Obama

There is enormous frustration and dissatisfaction among professional educators about current educational policy. Many, especially those in the classroom and closest to the children, feel that current policy, one of closing public schools, encouraging privatization, and imposing more testing than has ever been seen on this planet, is badly misguided and will lead to tragic consequences for our children, damage that will take decades to repair.

Professional educators feel that government is not paying attention to their expert opinions, and is paying far too much attention to non-experts. The voices of respected scholars are not being heard, and highly competent professional research done over the last few decades is being ignored.

The US Department of Education must stop demoralizing professional educators and free them to teach with passion.

Rather than submit another long open letter detailing these concerns, here is a simple suggestion. Please hold a private one-on-one meeting with Dr. Diane Ravitch for a serious conversation about education.

As you may know, Dr. Ravitch is a very highly respected and dedicated professional educator, a distinguished scholar, a very clear writer and speaker, and extremely knowledgeable about the major issues in education today. She does not represent any special interest group other than our teachers and our children.

We hope you will be willing, and eager, to meet with Dr. Ravitch, who has become the spokesperson for educators in America concerned about current policy.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Long-Term English Learners: Invest in Libraries and Librarians

Sent to the Daily Breeze (Torrance, CA, Nov. 25, 2012
Most of the proposals to deal with long-term English learners (“California's English language learners getting stuck in schools' remedial programs,” November 25) focus on tracking and measurement. None discuss a cure.
Our research shows that students who develop a pleasure reading habit in English do better on English language tests, and a number of case histories confirm that those who successfully acquire “academic English” were dedicated readers.
California makes this very difficult to happen. Many English learners come from low-income families, which means their primary source of books is the library. California has consistently ranked among the worst in the country in support for school libraries and librarians, and California cities rank near the bottom in support of public libraries.
Instead of dedicating our limited funds to better measurement, we might consider investing in better support of libraries and librarians. Let’s feed the animal and not just weigh it.
Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus, University of Southern California
Author of The Power of Reading (Heinemann and Libraries Unlimited, 2004, second edition).

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Refocusing LAUSD on reading and learning instead of testing

First published on Robert D. Skeels for School Board on November 24, 2012.

It's difficult to explain exactly what being poor is all about, or why access to books and ideas might be as important as a free breakfast. — Walter Dean Myers

The Power of Reading by Stephen KrashenHope Is an Open Book, an op-ed piece by author Walter Dean Myers, was tweeted this morning by educator Susan Ohanian. While written in 2005, Myers' message about access to books is profound and even more urgent today with canned corporate education solutions that narrow curriculum dominating policy. Sadly, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is run by a Superintendent who neither values books, nor libraries. This has to change, and change quickly. We need to shutdown LAUSD's testing-industrial-complex and reopen both our school and classroom libraries. Reopening libraries also means rehiring credentialed librarian-educators. We can pay for that by ditching discredited and expensive attempts to tie teacher evaluations to test scores (VAM/AGT) and use the millions of squandered dollars associated with them. Read with your children, read in front of your children, and let them choose their own reading materials. It's a proven formula for fostering authentic life-long learning.

Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) is a well researched methodology in which students are allowed to choose their own reading materials. Professor Stephen Krashen and his colleagues have found that "[r]ecreational reading or reading for pleasure is the major source of our reading competence, our vocabulary, and our ability to handle complex grammatical constructions." The Power of Reading, Second Edition: Insights from the Research is an excellent text to familiarize oneself with the concepts and research behind FVR.

Division of Labor: Conquering the "Public"

Anthony Cody, in his Living in Dialogue blog, has recently addressed the strategy common among "No Excuses" Reformers (NER) using a corporate playbook to render all that is public private: Cody identifies "division [as] the key weapon that reformers will be using in the years to come."

Divide and conquer has never been more powerful and subtle than it is in the education reform debate, driven by Big Money (Bill Gate), faux-progressives (Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan), and tepid political leadership (Barack Obama).

To the strategies aimed at dividing workers against themselves, the 99% against each other, and whites against the rising tide of Americans of color, I would add the constant shifts in commitments and language that keep all the rest of us in a perpetual state of reaction.

One of the key and effective moves in that playbook is over 150 years old: Demonize public schools. A recent commentary by Arthur Levine highlights how the NER agenda combines divisive discourse and ideas with demonizing public schools in his claim that even the top students in the U.S. pale against international comparisons.

As we should expect, however, combine popular media, NER agendas, and a little bit of data and you get a whole lot of mischaracterizations, information that divides by triggering what appeals to some for the benefit of a few.

Keeping in mind that simple comparisons of test data are often terribly distorting, that ranking is almost always oversimplifying, and that international comparisons are fraught with problems of fair comparisons (see Gerald Bracey, Bruce Baker, and Matthew DiCarlo for help on these problems), Stephen Krashen has examined Levine's claim, exposing that the claims are likely more about dividing than truly engaging with how U.S. public education needs to be reformed. Krashen's analysis follows below.

PISA 2009 Reading Test Results: The US does quite well, controlling for SES. And maybe American scores are “just right.”

by Stephen Krashen

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Arthur Levine discusses the performance of high socio-economic status (SES) students on the PISA math examination, thus controlling for the effect of poverty (the PISA is an exam given to 15 year olds in countries throughout the world). Levine concludes that high social class American students fall in “the middle of the pack” in PISA mathematics.

Levine’s definition of high social class was having at least one parent with a college education. After reading Levine’s article, I decided to do my own analysis. I used a different measure of SES: the PISA index of economics, social and cultural status, and I looked at reading scores for students in 66 countries who were at the 75th percentile of this measure, in other words the upper quarter of socio-economic status.  

According to my calculations, students in only 12 “countries and economies” scored significantly higher than American students on PISA reading and students in 44 “countries and economies” had significantly lower scores. Levine says the US scored in the “middle of pack” in math. Controlling for poverty, they certainly did not score in the middle of the pack in reading but were well within the upper quarter. (See note 1 below; I was unable to find the data necessary to do an analysis of mathematics scores controlling for SES in this way.)

Yong Zhao of the University of Oregon has reported that countries that score high on international tests score low on measures of “perceived entrepreneurial capabilities.”  This result is consistent with research cited by D. K. Simonton in his book Genius, Creativity and Leadership: an optimal amount of formal education is best for creative accomplishment in science and the arts and humanities - not too much and not too little. Simonton also concludes that that those who achieve high scholastic honors do not always attain eminence in their work.

Maybe US scores are just right.

Note 1: American students scored 569 on the PISA reading test, with a standard error of 4.6.  As mentioned, 12 “countries and economies” scored significantly higher (i.e. their scores fell outside the 95% confidence interval around the US’ score, 560 to 578).  

Of the 12 scoring higher than the US, several were not countries. Shanghai is a city, with 23 million people, about 1.5% of the population of China and is a clear outlier: Even Shanghai students in the lowest quartile in socio-economic status scored 500, close to the overall average for all OECD countries.  

Singapore is considered a “city-state” and has a population of five million. Hong Kong is a “special administrative region (SAR)” of China with a population of seven million. Both Singapore and Hong Kong have fewer people than Los Angeles County, states of Michigan or Georgia, all around 10 million.

Thus, only nine actual countries did better than the US. Note also that other countries doing better than the US also have small populations: Finland, 5.5 million, New Zealand, 4.5 million, and Belgium, 11 million. 


Levine, A. 2012. The Suburban Education Gap. Wall Street Journal, November 14, 2012.

Simonton, D.K. 1984. Genius, Creativity and Leadership. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Zhao, Y. 2012. Flunking innovation and creativity. Phi Delta Kappan 94 (1): 56-60.

The scores: (from: Table 11.1.1, PISA 2009, p. 152).

613 (2.8)
597 (2.2)
597 (2.1)
New Zealand
595 (2.8)
595 (3.4)
Hong Kong
592 (2.5)
590 (3.0)
588 (1.7)
584 (2.7)
583 (2.2)
575 (5.4)
572 (4.0)
569 (3.0)
569 (4.6)
568 (2.9)
567 (2.8)
567 (2.0)
565 (3.2)
562 (2.8)
561 (3.2)
560 (4.5)
559 (2.8)
559 (3.6)
556 (1.7)
555 (2.9)
554 (3.4)
554 (2.8)
551 (3.4)
550 (3.1)
550 (1.7)
547 (1,7)
545 (3.3)
Czech Rep
545 (3.3)
545 (3.3)
Czech Rep
545 (3.3)
Slovak Rep
543 (2.7)
541 (3.3)
541 (3.3)
540 (1.4)
539 (3.1)
536 (2.4)
530 (3.1)
522 (4.5)
Russian Fed.
519 (3.2)
512 (6.5)
501 (2.5)
496 (2.3)
495 (3.1)
488 (4.7)
485 (1.9)
474 (3.9)
473 (7.1)
473 (3.9)
469 (2.6)
468 (3.5)
462 (3.4)
458 (4.8)
452 (4.2)
450 (1.4)
447 (4.6)
437 (5.2)
436 (7.7)
413 (4.0)
377 (4.2)