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

Monday, April 06, 2020

Mike Petrilli: Fail All the Poor Kids and Pass the Affluent

The headline writers at WaPo couldn't quite bring themselves to put in bold print what Mike Petrilli is advocating in today's opinion piece.  

Their headline leads the reader to believe that Dr. Mike is talking about everyone returning to the same grade in the Fall:

Schools should consider keeping kids in the same grade this fall

But only some kids:

Perhaps middle and high school students can overcome these challenges, given their ability to work and read independently. But most low-income, low-performing elementary students will struggle mightily, almost surely falling even further behind [link is to Kevin Huffman's op-ed that I blogged on March 29: http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2020/03/mutual-parasitism-coronavirus-and.html]. Thousands of Title I schools nationwide, serving upward of 10 million students, are full of kids fitting this description.
The routines, indeed.  After 6 months away from No Excuses corporate charter schools and the urban public schools that emulate them, the children of the poor will require new rounds of social, emotional, and mental booster shots to further strengthen their immunity against any autonomous thought and action that they might have encountered while away from chain gang schooling. 

According to the Petrilli plan for next Fall, children who are held back in their current grade levels in the Fall should then be administered a standardized test to determine their levels of deficiency.  Those who should have been passed to begin with will then move ahead. (Never mind the logistical nightmares of re-leveling classes after school begins).

And, of course, Dr. Mike has a prescription for instruction in these failed groups next Fall: more homogeneous grouping, more tutoring, and more "personalized" screen time (just in case another pandemic hits, even though these same children won't have any more internet access then than they have now).
The next step would be for teachers to develop plans for each pupil to make progress, aimed at getting them to grade level by June. The plans should involve as much small-group instruction as possible, with kids clustered according to their current reading or math levels, plus some online learning opportunities in case schools are closed again. Those who are furthest behind could get regular one-on-one tutoring from specialists.
If Dr. Mike's pedagogical solution sounds remarkably similar to the corporate welfare charter school planning book, you would be right.  And even though failure-for-the-poor plan sounds and looks and smells like repeating the same grade, which research shows is counter-productive, Dr. Mike says we should not think of it that way: "This would be different from just 'repeating the grade,' which, research shows, rarely helps students catch up."

Petrilli ends his op-ed by reminding us that we could have avoided all this confusion if schools had already adopted the latest public education demolition plan, "personalized learning:"
It would have been far better if U.S. schools had embraced “personalized learning” long before the crisis hit — whereby kids move at their own pace, rather than in lockstep with their peers.
But, but, what would happen to homogeneous grouping!?


Saturday, April 04, 2020

Self-Selected Fiction: The Path to Academic Success?

Self-Selected Fiction: The Path to Academic Success?
Stephen Krashen
CATESOL Newsletter, in press

The Common Core emphasized nonfiction and the use of “informational” texts in order to prepare students for academics. But there is exciting news: there is evidence showing fiction might do a better job. And the best kind of fiction may be the fiction students select themselves, not “assigned reading.”

All this comes from recent research. 


Studies done with speakers of English as a first language not only show that reading fiction a better predictor of vocabulary size among adults than nonfiction (Sullivan and Brown, 2014. Centre for Longitudinal Studies, University of London), but also that the vocabulary used in fiction is what young readers need for academic success: 
*  McQuillan (Reading Matrix, 2019) examined the vocabulary used in 22 novels written for young people (e.g. Nancy Drew, Twilight) and reported that the texts included 85% of the words on academic vocabulary word lists, and many appeared frequently enough to make acquisition of these words likely: 44% appeared 12 times or more.  
* Rolls and Rogers (English for Specific Purposes, 2017) found that if a person read one million words of science-fiction (about a year’s worth of pleasure reading), the reader would encounter nearly all of the 318 science words that appear on a list of words that appear in different areas of science, with nearly half (445) appearing ten or more times.
* Green (Lingua, in press) examined over 5000 contemporary novels, and concluded that they contained more than 90% of the academic vocabulary in students’ high school textbooks in a variety of subjects.

Self-selection helps makes sure the reading is interesting; In Lee (RELC Journal, 2007), university level Taiwanese students of English as a foreign language who did self-selected reading made superior gains in general vocabulary compared to comparisons who did assigned reading, and gains for “academic” words were not significantly different, confirming that self-selection is helpful for academic language development. The books read by both groups were largely fiction. 


Fiction is not only a good source of academic vocabulary, it is also an important source of academic knowledge. Studies (e. g. Stanovich and Cunningham, Cognition, 1992) show that those who read more know more about history, literature and science. 
Among adults who are regular readers, a large percentage of what they read is fiction; about half of what women read and about one-third of what men read (National Endowment of the Arts, 2015; p. 86) is fiction.

Does fiction do a better job teaching content than study? Maybe. Filback and Krashen (Knowledge Quest, 2002) found that frequency of voluntary reading of the bible was more closely related to biblical knowledge than years of formal “bible study.”

It may be the case that we can best prepare our ESL students for academic success not with painful drills and exercises and demanding (and sometimes boring) informational texts but by providing them with easy access to reading material that they find extremely interesting. 
It may be the case that path of pleasure is more effective than the path of pain.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Mutual Parasitism: Coronavirus and Charter Virus

When Kevin Huffman left Tennessee after four years of running down the State's public schools the way his ex-wife, Michelle Rhee, did prior to being run out of Washington, DC, Tennessee's teachers and superintendents were overjoyed.  Under Huffman's toxic reign as Commissioner of Education,
[m]ore than 50 superintendents . . . publicly questioned his leadership, several teachers unions expressed "no confidence" . . .; and . . . a group of 15 Republicans . . . called for his resignation.
Many believed that Huffman's poisonous reputation among schoolmen and schoolwomen in Tennessee would guarantee him a leading role in the ongoing efforts by billionaires to monetize and privatize public education.  And sure enough, just like the vastly unpopular Chris Barbic, who mismanaged Tennessee's charter school hothouse, the Achievement School District, before he left under a cloud, Huffman landed a leading role as Partner with City Fund.  

City Fund is generously supported by the same group of oligarchic high rollers who have been working to destroy public schools for the past twenty years:
. . . the [Reed] Hastings Fund, Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Dell Foundation, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation were funding the effort. The Walton Family Foundation and the Ballmer Group are also funders . . .
No doubt Huffman is now hoping for a big shipment of federal coronavirus relief dollars to his portfolio of corporate charter schools.  He hints as much in a recent Washington Post op-ed, where he touts Achievement First charter resources as a partial solution to state takeover of Providence, RI schools, just as he celebrates the good work by the Chiefs for Change, who are offering advice to school districts on how to "collaborate" with charter schools during the crisis. Um.

But the real focus of Huffman's op-ed is to remind readers that homeschooling or virtual schooling are dangerously deficient and could do lasting damage.  Underneath this veneer of concern for children is the real fear of damage to the real estate empires and corporate welfare agencies that charter schools represent and enable. 

In fact, Huffman has some advice for what Congress should do in the next round of relief legislation: 
For the next round of stimulus, appropriators could send significant funding to districts and schools with the most low-income students to make up lost instructional time. 
You know, those communities where City Fund is most intent to spread the charter virus, where resistance is minimal and the opportunity is maximal for running roughshod over parents, children, and teachers.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Open Letter to LAUSD Board regarding Citizens of the World Charter School Corporation

A copy of this letter was sent to each individual member via email

March 11, 2020

Dear Members of the Board of Education:

I am an educational rights attorney and law professor here in Los Angeles. I am writing you regarding the Citizens of the World Charter School Corporation (“CWC Corp.”), an alleged non-profit benefit corporation that operates a number of privately managed charter schools authorized by the Los Angeles Unified School District (“LAUSD”).

CWC Corp. is currently trying to occupy a portion of a public school, Shirley Avenue Elementary School, under the provisions of Proposition 39. I will not discuss the myriad flaws, inequities, and attendant problems associated with Proposition 39 in this communication. I do, however, want to ask you to put off any consideration of allowing CWC Corp. to move forward with its hostile occupation of a public school while they have seemingly repeatedly refused to pay their legally obligated bills to LAUSD.

As you know, charter school corporations utilizing Proposition 39 to force their hostile occupations of public schools are obligated to pay over-allocation fees in certain circumstances. CWC Corp. currently owes LAUSD hundreds of thousands of dollars in over-allocation fees. Before allowing them any further opportunities to continue operating in bad faith, LAUSD should collect all payments past due and obtain written assurances from CWC Corp. that they will pay their obligations in the future.

Children in Los Angeles public schools are starved for resources. Our students go without school librarians, full-time health-care professionals, adequate access to services, etc. Meanwhile, just three years ago, CWC Corp.’s Executive Director Mark Kleger-Heine received a staggering salary of over $231,000.00 USD (see CWC Corp.’s 2017 Form 990 Part VII). This disparity of resources is by design, and underlies the purpose of the charter school industry. Public school students go without, while charter school executives collect fat checks.

As a member of the LAUSD Board of Education, I hope you will turn your attention to resolving this matter not only with CWC Corp., but with all of the charter school corporations that are in arrears in their over-allocation fee payments with LAUSD.


Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Mr. Krugman, Stick to Economics

Paul Krugman won a Nobel Prize in Economics, but he is as dumb as the rest of us about politics--even though his status would never allow him to admit as much. 

The morning after Super Tuesday, he offers this analysis on Twitter:

Of course, it's Bernie's fault that he lost. We know it has nothing to do with the former and current DNC kingpins pulling every lever of power and influence to scare the scared people into voting for Biden. If Bernie were just a little more "magnanimous," rather than uppity and honest--he would have had a chance on Super Tuesday. 

And yet--if there was ever a time that honesty, brutal as it might sound, was required to address the imminence of climate catastrophe and mass extinctions, it is now. That is why the Biden victory yesterday is so utterly sad. Not because he won't beat Trump if nominated--any of the candidates would beat Trump--but because he will beat Trump and have nothing to offer to activate a solution to environmental calamity. 

Biden's mirroring of Wall Street's necrophilous environmental policy will be catastrophic because it will ignore any remaining opening for action that we have during this decade.

If elected, Biden will leave us, then, with no option but to turn the movement that Bernie spawned in the U.S into the most massive guerilla operation of environmental death resistance that has not yet been imagined. 

One outcome is certain; those who persist in the killing will not fare well, regardless of political label.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Mike Feinberg's Lawyers Go After Abused Hispanic Family

In what has to be one of the greatest power disparities in the history of charter school sexual abuse, Mike Feinberg and his high-rolling legal team faced off against a girl and her mother last week at a hearing to determine if the predator KIPP founder will be able to keep his teacher's license after being fired for sexually abusing a middle school child.

Reading the excerpt from the Texas Tribune article below, it's not a tough call.  We will still have to wonder, however, if Feinberg will be able to buy his way clear.
. . . . In a petition calling for the hearing, a TEA lawyer said Feinberg allegedly performed a “yearly check up” on the former student, then a fifth grader attending KIPP in Houston in the late 1990s. While the two were in his office, the petition alleges, he placed his hand inside her shirt and rubbed up and down between her breasts and belly button. He had her “touch her toes while he ran his finger from her neck to her waist,” it says. 
A week or two later, Feinberg is alleged to have told the student he lost the file and had to redo the exam. He “took her back to his office,” closed the door and had her partially disrobe, the TEA petition claims. He inserted a Q-tip into her vagina for a few seconds and then instructed her to return to class, it says. He was a teacher and the principal of the school at the time. 
In testimony at the certification hearing Wednesday, the former student said she “felt confused” after the incidents. She put on her clothes, went back to class, and told her mother about it after returning home. Although her mother was upset, the student asked her not to share the information with her father. “I thought my dad was going to blame me for it and hit me,” she testified. 
Asked why she didn’t tell the school or police, the student responded, “They wouldn’t believe me because of my race.” She said she wanted to leave the school right away, but her mother didn’t know how to explain it to her father. She left a year later. “I wasn’t comfortable” anymore, she said. 
The student’s mother largely confirmed her daughter’s account. 
“I was in very bad shape. I started crying with her,” the mother testified through a Spanish translator. “I wanted to say something, but my daughter didn’t let me. We needed to talk to my husband, but we were scared of him because he was very strict and tough with her and with me.” 
Feinberg’s lawyers [called more than a dozen witnesses and] worked to dismantle the student’s testimony. Feinberg sat pensively observing, sometimes taking notes on a yellow legal pad, during much of the testimony. He winked at his wife as he sat down to testify; they clutched hands after he finished speaking and rejoined his lawyers at their table. 
“That did not happen … absolutely not,” Feinberg responded to detailed questions about the student’s allegations. Asked if he contended she was lying, he gave a long pause: “I contend that what she is saying are not the facts.” Asked why she would lodge the allegations, he said, “That would just be speculation.” . . . .

Bloomberg's Corporate Higher Ed Plan

Quotes from The Intercept:

Who would be tougher on student loan repayment than Betsy Devos? 
The plan also goes backward in some places and would also slash the benefits borrowers receive under an income-driven student loan repayment program, capping the amount that can be forgiven after 20 years for people in income-driven repayment plans. Currently, there is no cap. 
Whose plan would likely devastate enrollment at HBCUs and tens of billions less in financial assistance than Sanders or Biden or Warren?
Another plank of the oligarch’s higher education plan commits to tripling direct federal Title III funding to historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and other minority-serving institutions. But that increase amounts to just $7.5 billion over 10 years, while former Vice President Joe Biden, for instance, has proposed $70 billion in that sort of funding, and Sanders has pushed for $50 billion.

Despite the promise of additional funds, Bloomberg’s plan may rankle HBCUs. When the Obama administration made a similar proposal around free community college, HBCU leaders warned that the alternative would likely be taken by a substantial number of students who’d otherwise have gone to an HBCU, devastating enrollment. Biden’s plan covers community college or provides full grants for two years at an HBCU or equivalent HSI.
Who would use higher ed as a jobs training program to save corporations money?
The plan also includes an apprenticeship proposal that is geared to the private industry, which is likely to anger union leaders. . . .
. . . . Corporations over the previous decades have essentially ended their efforts at workforce development, pawning that off on workers. Instead of offering higher wages to encourage an increase in the supply of labor in particular fields, companies have instead complained about a “skills gap” and pushed for the federal government to subsidize training programs and even the wages of workers. Bloomberg’s plan sympathizes with those companies. 

Monday, February 17, 2020

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Cheryl Ortega for UTLA Director of Bilingual Education

Maestros Unidos Los Angeles con Oaxaca

Cheryl Ortega’s tireless advocacy and effective activism for students and bilingual education stems from her years of dedication to the same. There is no better choice for United Teachers of Los Angeles’ (UTLA) Director of Bilingual Education. Her vast experience, institutional knowledge, and devotion to providing students bilingual programs is peerless. Let all persons know that I endorse and strongly support her candidacy for reelection.

— Robert D. Skeels, Education Rights Attorney and Law Professor

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Parnas and Fruman Brief Trump on Need to Remove Ambassador

This could be any two-bit Manhattan gangster being briefed by his hit men, but in this case, it happens to be the President of the United States taking advice from his henchmen, whose job it is to get a foreign government to stage a phony investigation designed to help Trump win the 2020 election.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Is Phonics Effective?

Latest meta-analysis available here.  Abstract below:
There is a widespread consensus in the research community that reading instruction in English should first focus on teaching letter (grapheme) to sound (phoneme) correspondences rather than adopt meaning-based reading approaches such as whole language instruction. That is, initial reading instruction should emphasize systematic phonics. In this systematic review, I show that this conclusion is not justified based on (a) an exhaustive review of 12 meta-analyses that have assessed the efficacy of systematic phonics and (b) summarizing the outcomes of teaching systematic phonics in all state schools in England since 2007. The failure to obtain evidence in support of systematic phonics should not be taken as an argument in support of whole language and related methods, but rather, it highlights the need to explore alternative approaches to reading instruction.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue

“In the long run, charter schools are being strategically used to pave the way for vouchers. The voucher advocates, who are very powerful and funded by right-wing foundations and families, recognize that the word voucher has been successfully discredited by enlightened Americans who believe in the public sector. So they’ve resorted to two strategies. First, they no longer use the word “vouchers.” They’ve adopted the seemingly benign phrase “school choice,” but they are still voucher advocates.” — Jonathan Kozol

The end goal of school privatization projects like charter schools has always been vouchers. While both charters and vouchers prevent the public from being able to control the curriculum taught with public dollars, vouchers are far worse in that regard. Vouchers represent an attack on democratic institutions and they represent an attack on rationality in general. Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a case about to be heard in front of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), could open the flood gates to scare community tax dollars being squandered on dominionist curricula and schools that can openly discriminate.

Vouchers mean Jeanne Allen's dream of teaching children that Jesus rode dinosaurs will finally come true
image by Monty Propps https://b3ta.com/board/7293522

With a SCOTUS populated by arch-reactionaries like Kavanaugh and Gorsuch, it's highly likely that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment will either be ignored or explained away in order to justify funding extremist religious organizations. You know Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue represents a major threat to public education when charter-voucher promoting organizations like the Center for Education Reform file an amicus brief in favor of the right-wing plaintiff. Reactionaries Jeanne Allen and Paul Clement also got a piece published in Time in favor of using public funds to teach religious extremism.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

NOLA KIPP High School Using Students to Fill Teacher Gaps

What happens when your charter school brand is so poisonous that you can't find enough teachers to staff up?  Administrators at Booker T. Washington KIPP HS have come up with a self-serving answer: recruit high school students to teach other students.  

KIPP stands to save millions of dollars when the program is fully operational, and KIPP might even be able to grow its own unique brand of prison guards teachers who may be arm-twisted into coming to work at KIPP once they are actually certified to teach.  

Meanwhile, students must depend upon other students for what they are taught.  A clip:
KIPP's new program, called the Alumni Teaching Force, allows students to get in-classroom experience helping younger kids, and then college support after their senior year. If students are interested in becoming educators, assigned counselors help them map out coursework to make sure they're on track to get needed credentials or certifications. 
With the program, officials also hope to build a teacher pipeline back to KIPP New Orleans, which next school year will operate nine campuses throughout the city. If students get an A in the class, they're guaranteed a teaching or staff position at one of those schools after getting their certificate.

"Bug In Ear" Coaching Marketed by Bug in Brain Consultants

If there is a bad idea out there being pitched for the education industry to make some bucks while pushing more social control and surveillance, Education Week is sure to be on the story.  A recent entry is something called "Bug In Ear" coaching, whereby the teacher wears an earpiece while simultaneously teaching and receiving instructions from a coach at a remote location.

How any classroom teacher could think this is a good idea is ridiculous on its face. It was developed by salesmen selling total compliance discipline and marketed first through KIPP (Kids in Prison Program). 
Here is an account of one former KIPP teacher who shared her experience with this intrusive and entirely disrespectful intervention:
One teacher’s low point came as a result of being chosen as the new teacher who would get “special help” from a consultant hired by KIPP to help the school better monitor student behaviors that this teacher had never known were so important until she came to KIPP: 
The consultant had what he advertised as a sure-fire system based on constant narration of good and bad behaviors that all teachers were to apply. This new teacher admitted she was both skeptical and somewhat resistant, which ended in her having to wear an earpiece as the consultant stood in the back of the room whispering instructions into her ear: 
. . . if they had their hands on their desk, or if they were tracking me when I was giving directions, or like, if their backpack was not on the back of their chair, or if they were wearing their sweater instead of their sweater being in their cubby, or on the back of their chair, or if they still were writing when I had said, “pencils down". 
. . . it just really bothered me that I had to do it this specific way, and it got to the point where he had me wearing like an earpiece, and he was standing in the back of the room, watching me lead my class, and I was so uncomfortable, I was sweating, and then, I had to do this sequence of directions the way that they wanted me to, and he would tell me into my earpiece what I was supposed to be saying to the kids. And it was just really weird, because there were like 27 kids; they were really good kids, but they had to be like perfect, and I—I just—I didn’t believe in it, and I didn’t agree with it, and [in] meetings with him I was crying, talking to this consultant, saying like I just don’t believe in this—I don’t get it, and I was just really encouraged, like well, this is how we’re doing it, so this is how we need you to do it.