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

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Gates Teacher Eval System Comes Crashing Down

Chalk this one up to another bad idea from the Gates Foundation.  The bad news: the former Gates stooge, Elia, is now running New York schools into the ground. 

From the Tampa Bay Times:
The news came in an email this week from superintendent Jeff Eakins to more than 260 "peer evaluators" and mentors who form the core of the system.

It also arrived as the once-cordial relationship between the district and its teachers union imploded Thursday. The two sides walked away from each other in anger as talks over a salary agreement for the current school year broke down.

Eakins announced in his email he has formed a committee to transition away from the once-touted Gates program, and said a number of employee groups would be on the panel.

Unlike the complex system of evaluations and teacher encouragement that cost more than $100 million to develop and would have cost an estimated $52 million a year to sustain, Hillsborough will likely move to a structure that has the strongest teachers helping others at their schools.

Eakins said he envisions a new program featuring less judgemental "non-evaluative feedback" from colleagues and more "job-embedded professional development," which is training undertaken in the classroom during the teacher work day rather than in special sessions requiring time away from school. He said in his letter that these elements were supported by "the latest research."

That's a radical departure from the classroom observations carried out by full-time evaluators who rated the teachers according to a rubric, or scorecard. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, and his wife Melinda funded the project and others in U.S. cities through their philanthropic organization.

They hoped the system would create a hierarchy of teachers who could be paid based on their skills. Struggling teachers would be given assistance or, in the worst cases, fired or counseled out of the profession.

The foundation was expected to contribute $100 million through 2016, but instead paid $80 million. It is unclear to what extent the organization will continue to be involved in Hillsborough or whether it will forward any more money to the district.

The school district, meanwhile, has spent well beyond the $100 million it pledged, although some of the money was for related projects including a principal training program.

READ MORE: How Hillsborough County's Gates grant became a budget buster

Among the selling points Hillsborough made back in 2009 when securing the Gates foundation's support: a close working relationship between district officials and the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. District leaders praised and promoted the union at public gatherings, and assured teachers that members were equal partners in designing the system.

The Gateses hoped the newly developed systems in Hillsborough and elsewhere would result in all students — especially those with the highest needs — getting quality teachers.

But in a report published Sunday, the Tampa Bay Times showed the project fell short of many of its goals and cost more to sustain than the district could afford.

Lower-income schools continue to hire the newest and least qualified teachers. Test scores are still measurably lower for poor and minority students. And Hillsborough's graduation rate now lags behind other large counties in Florida.

As it rolled out the Gates-funded system, the district agreed to a new pay plan for teachers that added $65 million a year to payroll costs. That amount does not include more than $12 million in performance bonuses, which are now required by state law.

Despite those costs, which were revealed during the summer, the teachers union entered this year's negotiations with hopes of getting raises for teachers and classroom aides, who earn as little as $9.12 an hour.

Negotiations were suspended as district officials grappled with news that they were spending down too much of their reserves.

When talks finally resumed, the union asked for support workers' hourly wages to increase in three phases until they started at $10.77. For teachers, the union wanted everyone to advance a pay year and get an additional $1,000. For the highest-paid employees, the union asked for a 2 percent bonus.

Both sides described the proposal as a first step.

But Thursday's bargaining session was over almost as soon as it began. Mark West, the district's employee relations manager, said because of the district's budget difficulties, he would have little to offer anyone, including the support employees.

"I'm glad you're comfortable leaving your employees living in poverty," union executive director Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins shot back.

"I'm not saying I'm comfortable," West said.

Not long after, Baxter-Jenkins told the district's team, "You might as well just go."

While West spoke of the district's financial difficulties, Eakins did not mention money in his email about the Gates program.

Instead, he cited new research that suggests it is better for teachers to help one another than to mark each other down on scorecards.

"By bridging current research with the knowledge gained from the last six years, we will build an even stronger support model for our students and teachers," he wrote.

"Specifically, this transition will enable highly effective teachers to sharpen their teaching skills as they work directly with students every day. … Both teachers and students will benefit from the collegial relationships that develop over time."

Eakins did not mention the Gates situation, or the Times report, in a four-hour televised School Board meeting Tuesday. But in his email, he said "newspaper articles, social media and the general buzz" around the Gates grant had moved him to address the peer evaluators.

He drew on his own years as an elementary school teacher to praise those who took part in the experiment.

"My peers challenged me to reflect on my practice and provided indispensable guidance starting on my very first day in the classroom and continuing throughout my teaching career," he wrote.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or msokol@tampabay.com. Follow @marlenesokol.

The text of Eakins' letter:

Dear Peers and Mentors,

I wanted to reach out directly to you and bring clarity around HCPS teacher support and evaluation. Between the newspaper articles, social media and the general buzz around the Gates Grant, it seems to me that you deserve clear and timely communication about your role in our district. We learned much from the Gates initiative. And, during my first 90 days as your Superintendent, I visited many schools in our district, observed amazing teaching practices, and listened as many of you shared your own experiences with me.

First, thank you. Thank you for embracing your role as Peer or Mentor and making a personal and professional commitment to growing our teachers. I value your work because as a former teacher, I personally benefited from my fellow teachers' experiences and feedback. My peers challenged me to reflect on my practice and provided indispensable guidance starting on my very first day in the classroom and continuing throughout my teaching career. Lesson planning, classroom management, the challenging parent conference, assessment; you name it – I knew my peers were just down the hallway with the support and feedback I needed to get better. I grew professionally by relying on an expert's feedback. Over time, I returned the favor and benefited tremendously from mentoring the newest teachers at our school. So, I understand the immense value of your role in our district.

As we, as a district, come to the end of the funding portion of the Gates Foundation grant, the goal must be how we take the value that you bring each day to your roles, combined with any lessons learned, to create an even stronger system of support for all instructional staff that can be sustained over time. We should be able to capitalize on the following:

1. The great feedback provided by teachers and leaders.

2. The training that has been delivered around the evaluation rubric, teacher feedback, and the administration of evaluations and observations.

3. The capacity of expertise that has been built among our peer evaluators and mentors regarding observation, evaluations, and teacher feedback.

We should also look at the latest research in the area of evaluation, teacher feedback, and professional development. Much of the latest research points to job-embedded professional development and non-evaluative feedback from colleagues as the mechanisms which create a quality professional growth environment within organizations.

So, armed with all the expertise that we have gained over the last six years, along with current research around best practices, I convened a committee last Thursday made up of classroom teachers, resource teachers, peer evaluators, mentors, school leaders, student service personnel, district leaders, and representatives from the Classroom Teachers Association. I asked the committee to do the following:

1. Review all components of our current evaluation and teacher support system.

2. Develop possible models for teacher support to include:

• Non-evaluative systems of support by colleagues.

• Fully released intensive system of support for teachers who need it the most such as brand new teachers, new teachers to HCPS, and struggling teachers.

• Job-embedded professional development.

• Site-based Teacher-Leaders who support both students through great instruction and teachers through timely observations and feedback.

• Model and/or Demonstration Classrooms where our most effective teachers can share best practices with other colleagues.

3. Identify a Peer and Mentor from the committee to serve as a liaison between Peers/Mentors and the committee.

The goal in HCPS would be that all teachers and instructional staff are afforded daily work environments where students' needs drive their professional development and highly effective experts are available to give them the guidance and feedback just at the time they need it the most.

Our district needs your expertise more than ever as we embark on the next phase of teacher development and support. By bridging current research with the knowledge gained from the last six years, we will build an even stronger support model for our students and teachers. Specifically, this transition will enable highly effective teachers to sharpen their teaching skills as they work directly with students every day and promote job-embedded professional development that aligns with the needs of the school. Both teachers and students will benefit from the collegial relationships that develop over time. Ultimately, this professional network will serve as the building blocks for a strong school and district culture.

The committee plans to meet over the next two months in order to draft structures for our teacher support system. I know what we have learned from the past will continue to guide us in the future. Your work serves as a strong foundation and supports our district's vision of preparing our students for life.

Thank you,

Jeff Eakins, Superintendent

Hillsborough County Public Schools

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

There is Only One Issue: All the Rest Is Peripheral

At some point in the very near future, the people of the Earth must decide if they will continue to allow a handful of obscenely-wealthy individuals and their greedy henchmen to bring an end to human civilization and the extinction of most plants and animals of the planet.  
A clip from the NYTimes today: 
" . . . .If the results are anywhere near correct, and if emissions continue at a high level through the rest of this century, the long-term effect would likely be to drown the world’s coastlines, including many of its great cities.
Continue reading the main story
New York City is nearly 400 years old; in the worst-case scenario conjured by the research, its chances of surviving another 400 years in anything like its present form would appear to be remote. Miami, New Orleans, London, Venice, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Sydney, Australia, are all near sea level and just as vulnerable as New York, or more so. . . ."

Debunking the charter school industry’s “lotteries prevent cherry picking” trope

A brief response to a charter school industry apologist encountered on Professor Ravitch's site:

A threadbare trope of the charter industry (profit and nonprofit alike), is that of “lotteries prevent cherry picking”. Cherry picking, or what we term selective enrollment in more learned circles, is far more easily achieved by attrition. High attrition is facilitated through push out policies (e.g. charter school disciplinary practices, onerous requirements for parents, etc.), through counseling out (a practice used by most Los Angeles charter chains for Students With Disabilities (cf. Office of the Independent Monitor. “Pilot Study of Charter Schools’ Compliance with the Modified Consent Decree and the LAUSD Special Education Policies and Procedures”., Los Angeles: Modified Consent Decree., 2009. Print.)), and a number of other practices. Moreover, students lost (a euphemism) through attrition are generally not replaced with students mid-year (revenue hungry charter operators call this not “backfilling”).

Debunking the charter school industry’s lotteries prevent cherry picking tropeIn addition to effectively selecting their student body through attrition (the de facto “cherry picking,” so to speak), charters frequently screen children out during pre-lottery enrollment through difficult to understand applications, and/or applications that require disclosure of information that discourage families from the process to being with. For example, in Los Angeles, so-called 501c3 “non-profit” charters were found to require parents “to indicate if their child had an IEP or received special education services. Of these, about two-thirds (64.77%) requested that a copy of the IEP be provided with the application. Similarly, 34.83% of the applications asked if a student had a 504 plan, with 79.03% of these requesting a copy with the application.” (Office of the Independent Monitor. “Findings of the Review of Charter Applications and Enrollment Forms”., Los Angeles: Report on the Progress and Effectiveness of the Los Angeles Unified School District's Implementation of the Modified Consent Decree During the 2010-2011 School Year., 2011. Print.)

Teaching at St. Hope Charter Schools: Why Does This Feel Like KIPP?

St. Hope Public Schools is comprised of four charter schools in Sacramento, CA, and they serve to richly supplement the lavish lifestyles for St. Hope's founder and Sacramento mayor, Kevin Johnson, and his wife, Michelle Rhee, who also serves as the Chairman of the Board for St. Hope Public Schools.  
In 2014, almost a third of St. Hope's expenses went to pay administrative costs:
 Inside St. Hope's dehumanizing school environments that are staffed largely by TFA recruits, we find KIPP Model practices, including enforced silence for most of the day, screaming at children, total control of student movement and activity, and "culture reboot" sessions for children whose behavior does not pass muster.
            Along with interviews conducted with former KIPP teachers, three teachers from two other No Excuses charter networks shared their stories for this book.  One was from Ascend Learning, Inc. and the other two were St. Hope Public Schools, Inc.  These teachers were asked the questions asked of former KIPP teachers, and the overlap of their responses was striking.  This should come as no surprise, perhaps, since both charter chains share organizational and pedagogical features derived from the KIPP Model. 
As at KIPP, St. HOPE depends heavily on Teach for America teachers.  At St. HOPE’s middle school, PS7, 15 of the 18 teachers were active TFA corps members in 2014, and one other teacher was a former corps member.  One of the former St. HOPE teachers noted, “our principal, our deans, our superintendent, our HR people, our teachers that get recognized frequently, are all Teach for America alumni.” She said that with St. HOPE’s embrace of TFA, the  “. . . culture completely shifted. And it turned into a teach-to-the-test type environment. And you know, suddenly all of our administration, there were tons of turnover, and then there were tons of turnovers as far as teachers are concerned—so the St. Hope now is just a completely different place than it was three or four years ago.”…
Whether we are examining teaching strategies, curriculum, stress levels, management, discipline, attrition, school environment, parent relations, or intended outcomes, similar issues and problems are encountered by No Excuses charter school teachers, whether at KIPP or one of the many KIPP knockoffs…
Another teacher who had worked at both KIPP and at St. HOPE had similar reactions to the total compliance enforcement.  She said she had learned a great deal working in a charter school before quitting to go to work in a public school, and that she was grateful for the experience.  However, she said, “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone who wanted to be a teacher for the long-term.”  When I asked why not, she said, “It’s exhausting. It’s demoralizing. And it’s just, there are parts of it that are kind of a joke, you know, as far as principals being promoted [from] within, after being teachers for two years, and things like that. You know, totally unqualified people running every aspect of the school.”
            In comparing the two charter school environments, she found St. HOPE a “step down” from KIPP.  When I asked for specifics, she said:
It’s a step down from KIPP as far as the commitment, because they didn’t require us to host Saturday school, which was a requirement at KIPP. I had to be at school, you know, every Saturday. So PS7 did not require us to do that. PS7 did not require us to host students after school and provide them with dinner. You know, we didn’t have to do that. Whereas, at KIPP, we did.
            The other St. HOPE teacher had previously served as a teacher, teacher coach, and public school administrator at both the building and central office levels before returning to middle school teaching at St. HOPE.  She echoed a number of the concerns that I had heard from former KIPP teachers.  She felt pushed into an unfamiliar “mold” that she felt was “disrespectful to the students.”  As someone with a background in research, she found the school’s student expectations “very contrary to what research says about adolescent kids’ need to be able to grow and mature.” When I asked her to be specific she said,
…all of student movement and activity is controlled—l mean completely controlled by the adults. And by that I mean the expectation is that students aren’t supposed to be talking in the classroom, where my belief system says that children can’t learn if they can’t talk—and that structured opportunities to practice language are critical for all kids. 
            She was visited on a regular basis and told her she was “too nice to the kids” and “too soft on them.”  She found “the behavior that they modeled was, you know, very militaristic screaming at the kids—I mean, shouting.”  She found that all the students in the school “were expected to line up in silence, facing front, and accompanied by an adult for every transition in their day.” She said,
…we’d waste 10 minutes [at every transition] lining kids up to meet these expectations, making them, you know, stand silently for a few minutes, walk in silence. If they didn’t, stop them and, you know, do it again. And it just seems bizarre to me. And I tried to meet the expectations of the school, to behave in the way that I was expected to behave, but it just felt awful. I mean, it felt wrong in every way. And when I found myself shouting at kids I just said, this is not right. This is not who I am, and this is, I can’t do this.
            As at KIPP, St. HOPE uses the student paycheck as a way to control student behavior.  Students start the week with 100 dollars in their paycheck and must end the week with at least 70 dollars.  During the week, teachers must carry the clipboard with them at all times and record additions and deletions to student paycheck totals for any offense.  Students who got to Friday with less than 70 dollars on their checks were subjected to “culture reboot.” The offenders were escorted to lunch, where
. . .they would get their food and go eat lunch in silence in a large room that they had, and some of them would have to turn and actually face the wall, but they weren’t allowed to talk. So they had to eat their lunch in silence and then just sit there and do worksheets for the 90 minutes that was this electives period.
She said that everything about the control of movement and control of thinking left her with the sense that “everything about it was cult-like,” and the emphasis on team and school identity could not disguise a school environment where “kids do not feel connected to their school.”   Her realization that her first year with St. HOPE would be her last came on one of her many late evenings at school, as she tried to finish all the work that had be done the St. HOPE way:
I actually tried to drink the Kool-Aid for a while. And so I think there was really a moment where, you know, one of the many, many, many evenings that I was at the school site at nine o’clock trying to finish up what we were supposed to have done, just thinking, this is insane. This is certainly not good for me, and I really don’t think it’s good for them, and I just, I can’t drink the Kool-Aid anymore.
When asked what she would tell a friend who was thinking about applying at St. HOPE, she said, “I’d say, don’t do it. Don’t do it. Let me help you get a job somewhere else. I’ve helped three teachers leave there since I left. What I would tell them is to expect untenable work expectations that are very discouraging.”
New York Times Magazine reported in 2006 that KIPP, Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, Amistad Academy in Connecticut, and North Star Academy in New Jersey consistently shared strategies and methods aimed to produce the high test scores.  That list of KIPP emulators has proliferated since then, and the emulation of KIPP methods with it.  For instance, KIPP’s SLANT model for classroom behavior (sitting up, listening, asking questions, nodding, and tracking the teacher) is a widely shared strategy among No Excuses charters.  New York Times reporter, Paul Tough (2006), noted that David Levin believes that, unlike KIPPsters, “Americans of a certain background learn these methods for taking in information early on and employ them instinctively” (para 39). 
Because KIPP students or the hundreds of thousands of other segregated charter students in No Excuses lockdown schools are not among those “Americans of a certain background,” they “need to be taught the methods explicitly.”  Perhaps more eyebrows would have been raised if No Excuses charter operators like Levin did not have gifted writers like Paul Tough to make the paternalists’ condescension at least vaguely couched.
If Tough had stated explicitly that Levin and Feinberg believe that brown and black children of poor parents must be explicitly programmed to sit up, listen, nod, and track the teacher in order to avoid chaos in the classroom, then the KIPP Model’s ideology of the “Broken Windows” paternalism would have been clear for all to see.  This would surely require the re-framing of the civil rights rhetoric of No Excuses schooling, at least from those elites not entirely sanguine about corporate missionary work aimed to isolate and treat, by behavioral and neurological alteration, the defects of poor children.
Ascend Learning.  (2015).  The Ascend culture.  Retrieved from http://www.ascendlearning.org/design/culture
Dillon, S.  (2011, March 31).  Study says charter network has financial advantages over public schools.  The New York Times.  Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/31/education/31kipp.html?_r=1&
St. Hope Public Schools.  (n.d).  Five pillars.  Retrieved from http://sthopepublicschools.org/five-pillars/
Toch, T.  (2009).  Charter-management organizations: Expansion, survival, and impact.  Education Week, 29 (9), 26-27, 32.
Tough, P.  (2006, November 26).  What it takes to make a student.  New York Times Magazine.  Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/26/magazine/26tough.html?pagewanted=print&_r=0

The TN Taliban Strikes Again, Hoping to Make Bible Official Book

This legislative feat tops the agenda, as the state's citizens get poorer and dumber.  Last month, the Tennessee Legislature had another important item on the To Do list:
The move to make the Bible the state's official book comes a month after Tennessee lawmakers approved a measure to make the Barrett M82 sniper rifle the official state rifle.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

From Philadelphia Austerity and Flint Poisoning of Children

Parents all over the country are angrily attending meetings trying to save their public schools from being handed over to corporate reform school operators who grind their children into grit inside penal testing factories. 

Could there ever be a better example of a total lack of empathy than the one witnessed in this three minute clip from a meeting in Philadelphia, where corporate shill, Mark Gleason, compares Philadelphia's manufactured crisis with the one in Flint, MI.  You could never guess that Mr. Gleason's sympathies would come to rest with the corporate bureaucrats of Michigan who poisoned thousands of children to save a few dollars.  After all, their intentions were as pure as Gleason's conscience is clean:

Monday, March 28, 2016

Duckworth Urges No Grading for Her Failed Character Interventions

When the world found out that psychologist, Dr. Martin Seligman, had met with CIA and Pentagon reps following 9-11 to provide information on how learned helplessness might boost interrogation results, he was quick to deny that he had any inkling that his methods would ever be used for torture.  As Jane Mayer has written,
Professor Seligman says he has no idea why he was called in from his academic position in Pennsylvania, to suddenly appear at this CIA event. He just showed up and talked for three hours about how dogs, when exposed to horrible treatment, give up all hope, and become compliant. Why the CIA wanted to know about this at this point, he says he never asked.    
And even though he sought to assure everyone that his relationship with the CIA had been fleeting, we have since found out that at least Kirk Hubbard, the CIA's Chief of the Operational Assessments Division, felt differently.  In fact, as I record in Work Hard, Be Hard..., Hubbard complained in an internal email about his bosses refusing to reimburse him the money to buy the Seligman children CIA t-shirts and hats: "My office director would not even reimburse me for . . . for CIA logo t­shirts and ball caps for Marty Seligman's five kids! He's helped out alot over the past four years so I thought that was the least I could do. But no, has to come out of my own pocket! And people wonder why I am so cynical!”

Yesterday in the New York Times, Seligman protege, Angela Duckworth, tried the same Seligman strategy of squirming away from responsibility for her part in the neo-eugenic character scrubbing techniques that she and Seligman have been responsible for pushing into schools, via the No Excuses KIPP Model schools.  According to Duckworth, it all came to pass this way:
A decade ago, in my final year of graduate school, I met two educators, Dave Levin, of the KIPP charter school network, and Dominic Randolph, of Riverdale Country School. Though they served students at opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum, both understood the importance of character development. They came to me because they wanted to provide feedback to kids on character strengths. Feedback is fundamental, they reasoned, because it’s hard to improve what you can’t measure.
What Duckworth does not say it that it was the fascination with the work of Seligman that brought Levin to her, just as it had been Seligman's work that had influenced her to seek out a graduate program at UPenn to begin with.  As I write in my book,
Duckworth, herself, grew up the daughter of privileged Chinese immigrants in the middle class town of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and she studied neuroscience as an undergraduate at Harvard (Hartnett, 2012).  After a Masters at Oxford and then a year at McKinsey and Co., Duckworth became the CEO of the online public school rating company, Great Schools, before she altered course to become a charter school teacher on both the West and East Coasts. 
After a late night email exchange with Martin Seligman in 2002 and a face-to-face meeting the next day, Seligman cleared the way for Duckworth to be considered for the doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania, even after the normal admissions process was closed.  Duckworth became Seligman’s protégé, and she earned a PhD in psychology in 2006.  The next year Duckworth was hired as Assistant Professor of Psychology at UPenn.  
The purpose of Duckworth's article from the Times yesterday is twofold.  First, Duckworth seeks to take charge of the character business that her mentor spawned, while further distancing the tainted Seligman from the ghastly regimen of dehumanizing discipline that has become standard operating procedure in KIPP Model schools.

Second, Duckworth seeks to distance her own work from any effort to "grade" the behavior sterilization process known as "performance character improvement" that Levin and other charter industry CEOs have used to subdue children and to turn them into dependable test score producing automatons.  To accept any kind of "character" grading scheme would entail some accountability for KIPP Model schools and the folks who devised their character scrubbing techniquesWhat KIPP research (paid for by KIPP supporters) has found, however, is that the KIPP Model's brutal "character" regimen does nothing to improve character, even as measured within the narrow ranges that Seligman and Duckworth devised for KIPP.  

As Steinberg summarized one part of the Mathematica study,
They [KIPP students] weren’t more effortful or persistent.  They didn’t have more favorable academic self-conceptions or stronger school engagement.  They didn’t score higher than the comparison group in self-control.  In fact, they were more likely to engage in ‘undesirable behavior,’ including losing their temper, lying to and arguing with their parents, and giving teachers a hard time.  They were more likely to get into trouble at school.   Despite the program’s emphasis on character development, the KIPP students were no less likely to smoke, drink, get high, or break the law.  Nor were their hopes for their educational futures any higher or their plans any more ambitious.  
And then there was this from the final part of the Mathematica study:
Across grade levels, we generally find no impacts of KIPP schools on measures of students’ motivation, engagement, educational aspirations, or behavior. . . 
At all three grade levels, KIPP did not significantly affect measures of motivation and engagement related to student self-control, academic motivation, academic confidence, grit, school engagement, or effort in school, including student reports of the time spent on homework. Student behavior was measured only at the elementary and middle school levels; we find no evidence that KIPP schools affect behavior, including indices of positive behaviors, undesirable behaviors, peer pressure, illegal activities, parental concerns about their child, frequency of school disciplinary actions (according to the parent), and the extent to which the child is well-adjusted (pp. xxii)
Given these findings, it is not surprising, then, that Duckworth would distance herself from any effort to grade character interventions, even though her patrons at KIPP insist that their schools are about 49 percent academics and 51 percent character.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Guest Post: Dr. Jill Stein: A failing grade for Obama's Education pick

“Public education is another example where there has been a complete scam [regarding privatization]—charter schools are not better than public schools—and in many cases they are far worse. They cherry-pick their students so they can show better test scores. The treasure of our public schools system has been assaulted by the process of privatization.” — Dr. Jill Stein

Dr. Jill Stein: A failing grade for Obama's Education pick

Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party candidate for President, has consistently articulated the best public education platform of all the candidates. Her basic education tenets are the anthesis of those advanced by the neoliberal corporate education reform crowd:

Education as a Right: Abolish student debt to free a generation of Americans from debt servitude. Guarantee tuition-free, world-class public education from pre-school through university. End high stakes testing and public school privatization.

Her campaign sent out a press release on the woefully inappropriate appointment of John King as Secretary of Education. So well reasoned and written, it warrants reproduction here:

A failing grade for Obama's Education pick

Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party candidate for President President Obama’s choice for Education Secretary has earned a failing grade from parents, students, teachers, and education advocates across the nation.

Former New York State Education Commissioner John King’s education reforms have been such a disaster for NY schools that last year an incredible 20% of students opted out of the Common Core high-stakes tests introduced by King.

King’s corporate education agenda has given Wall Street A+ profits, but has robbed our children of the quality education they need and deserve.

That’s why I’m asking you to join my call today for a public education system that puts our children first, not corporate profits!

How do we know that Obama’s new Education Secretary is the wrong choice to be in charge of our schools? Let’s look at his report card.

John King co-founded Roxbury Academy in Boston, a charter school noted for rigid, authoritarian zero-tolerance policies that gave it one of the highest suspension rates in the state. In some years, students were punished with suspension at a rate ten times the state average or more.

As NYS Education Commissioner, King moved quickly to implement Common Core standards, which the Obama administration coerced schools into accepting by offering “Race to the Top” money while many school budgets were being slashed due to the recession and austerity.

Despite a firestorm of controversy across the state over the rushed implementation of high-stakes testing, as well as the lack of field testing and input from parents, teachers and students, King brushed off these concerns and insisted on ramming his plan through.

Warnings from King’s critics came true in 2013, when just 31% of students passed the new Common Core math and reading tests.

We’ve seen a common pattern with the education agenda pushed by Wall Street and standardized test corporations: high-stakes testing sets up public schools to fail, paving the way for the takeover of education by charter schools with their profits subsidized by taxpayer dollars.

Within two years after King’s disastrous Common Core rollout, 20% of students were sitting out the tests in protest. Even NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, who appointed King as commissioner, told state education officials that “Common Core’s implementation in New York has been flawed and mismanaged from the start.”

So John King gets an A for boosting corporate profits from high-stakes testing, but an F for improving educational opportunities and outcomes for students.

It’s outrageous that both Democrats and Republicans agree on an education agenda that comes from Wall Street profiteers.

Sign and share my call for an education system designed to educate our children, not to enrich corporate profiteers!

As President, I will halt the destructive push for high-stakes testing and school privatization. Instead of teaching to the test, we need to teach to the whole student for lifetime learning.

We also need increased federal public education funding to correct the shameful disparities between rich and poor school districts, and policies to reverse the growing de facto race and class segregation in public schools.

I will work together with educators, parents, and students to create a world-class public education system that works for people, not profit.

Because our children deserve better.

It’s in our hands!

Riding the ‘turnaround’ merry-go-round in the continuing assault on Philadelphia public schools: Part I

By Ken Derstine @ Defend Public Education!

March 27, 2016

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission

The assault on public schools in Philadelphia has entered a new phase. The roots of the current crisis go back to the 2001 state takeover of the Philadelphia School District, the dissolution of the local school board and the creation of the appointed five-member School Reform Commission.  Over the next decade various attempts were made to privatize Philadelphia's public schools. When these plans did not achieve their goal, long-range five-year plans by Superintendents working with the Broad Foundation Superintendents Academy and the Boston Consulting Group were implemented. These plans included starving the public schools of resources while building up charters schools and using funding from various public and private sources for public relations campaigns designed to make charters appealing to parents. This led to the closing of twenty-four public schools in 2013 due to 'under enrollment'.

The current phase of corporate education reform, for a time, shifted the focus from school closings to ‘turnarounds’ of schools in low-income communities. (Note: Though the term 'turnaround' will be used throughout this article since that is how the SRC terms the changes, these changes are really the turnover of public schools to private interests.) This method of privatization was begun in Philadelphia under Paul Vallas (2002-2006), accelerated under Broad Superintendent Arlene Ackerman (2008-2011), and it has continued under current Broad Superintendent William Hite (2012 - Present).

For a detailed history of what has brought us to the present situation see:

 The Seige of Philadelphia Public Schools

The Siege of Philadelpia Public Schools | Update

The Siege of Philadelphia Public Schools is Now a Full-Scale Assault

At the beginning of the current school year, three schools were targeted for turnaround. Parents and teachers have been given no choice in which charter company will take over their schools. Two years ago, when parents were given a choice, they voted overwhelmingly to remain public at two elementary schools. Steel Elementary rejected a takeover by Mastery Charter Schools;  Munoz-Marin rejected takeover by ASPIRA. Both charter companies had engaged in heavy lobbying with the parents and with district officials. Having learned its lesson that starving the public schools, building up charters was not working with parents, the SRC is giving no choice to parents this year. Three schools are to be assigned to a charter company with the final vote in April:

 • Huey Elementary to Global Leadership Academy, which has a record of low performance, a high percentage of uncertified and inexperience teachers, and several corruption scandals.

• Cooke to Great Oaks Foundation. Great Oaks is experimenting with replacing teachers with groups of uncertified, recent college graduates as low-paid tutors supervised by a teacher. The privatization is being fought by parents of the school.

• Wister Elementary to Mastery Charter, which has nine elementary schools, eight middle and high schools in Philadelphia and six schools in Camden, New Jersey. It is aggressively campaigning to expand its district in both cities.

The Battle for Wister

Pearson's Plan to Close the Achivement Gap

S. Krashen

Pearson claims that its artificial intelligence machines will help reduce the achievement gap. Their solution: super-early intervention in learning "basic skills" (Luckin et. al. 42) to ensure "school readiness" and "advise (parents) about strategies for talking to their child, sharing songs, and enjoying books." 
The first is not a good idea: skill-training does not lead to real competence, only better performance on skills tests: eg heavy phonics instruction only helps children pronounce words presented in isolation – it does not contribute to performance on tests of reading comprehension. 
The second does not require expensive technology; see, for example, the Reach Out and Read program, which has produced excellent results by modeling read alouds for parents in waiting rooms during well-child visits, and providing the family with one free book each visit.
The Pearson scheme does not address the major cause of the achievement gap, poverty.  It may even increase poverty by pushing expensive equipment that nobody needs, enriching Pearson, and resulting in less money for services that children of poverty really do need, e.g. food programs, health care (school nurses) and school libraries.

Luckin, R., Holmes, W., Griffiths, M. and Forcier, L. 2016. Intelligence Unleashed: An Argument for AI in Education. London: Pearson.

Skills-oriented programs: Garan, E. 2001. Beyond the smoke and mirrors: A critique of the National Reading Panel report on phonics. Phi Delta Kappan 82, no. 7 (March), 500-509. Krashen, S. 2009. Does intensive decoding instruction contribute to reading comprehension? Knowledge Quest 37 (4): 72-74.
Reach out and Read: Krashen, S. 2011. Reach Out and Read (Aloud): An Inexpensive, Simple Approach to Closing the Equity Gap in Literacy
 Language Magazine 10 (12): 17-19.

Services children of poverty need: Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential:  Out-of-School Factors and School Success.  Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. http://epicpolicy.org/publication/poverty-and-potential;  http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cr/lb/schoollibrstats08.asp
Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, and Westport, CONN: Libraries Unlimited (second edition).

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Most Intrusive Technology of All Time

S. Krashen

The Pearson Publishing Company has suggested that technology not only be used to teach content, as in competency-based programs, but should, at the same time, evaluate students' emotional states (Luckin et. al., p. 25). This is without question the most intrusive idea I have ever seen, not only in education but anywhere.

Pearson provides no details about what aspects of emotion will be monitored, except for these hints: "For example, AIEd (artificial intelligence in education) will enable learning analytics to identify changes in learner confidence and motivation while learning a foreign language, say, or a tricky equation" (page 35) and "AIEd analysis might also identify if and when a student is confused, bored, or frustrated, to help teachers understand and enhance a learner’s emotional readiness for learning."

Pearson has assured us that with their programs, students can go at their own pace and use alternative learning styles: Thus, confusion, boredom and frustration should be nearly non-existent. But what if students do not display what Pearson thinks is the proper "emotional readiness for learning"? If students insist of being bored despite the brave new programs, or if their minds occasionally wander (which could mean that new ideas and understandings are "incubating"), will stimulants be administered? If students are confused and frustrated despite programmers' efforts, will anti-anxiety medication be given?

This is quite possible. Educational "reformers" have already demonstrated that they will stop at nothing to boost test scores and already engage in child abuse in doing so, turning schools into dry test-preparation factories (Horn, 2016).

Horn, J. 2016. Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys Through "No Excuses" Teaching. Rowman & Littlefield.

Luckin, R., Holmes, W., Griffiths, M. and Forcier, L. 2016. Intelligence Unleashed: An Argument for AI in Education. London: Pearson.